June 2016 Round Up and Raven’s Book of the Month

_DSC0185 (Common Raven)I’ve already had my say about the farcical EU referendum, and the ensuing anger and unease that accompanied its outcome, so let’s get onto the fun stuff:  the books, the books. This has been a very productive month for the Raven in terms of books read, and if you’re currently considering what to be reading over the summer there are some real crackers here…

SJI Holliday- Willow Walk

Bill Daly- Cutting Edge

Chris Ewan- Long Time Lost

Jack Grimwood- Moskva

A. A. Dhand- Streets Of Darkness

Gunnar Staalesen- Where Roses Never Die

Michael Grothaus- Epiphany Jones

Emma Cline- The Girls

Eric Rickstad- The Silent Girls

Colin Winnette- Haint Stay 

Colin Winnette- Coyote  

John Sweeney- Cold

The additional good news is that I have another four reviews waiting in the wings- Clare Carson- The Salt Marsh, Simon Booker- Without Trace, Anna Mazzola- The Unseeing and Pierre Lemaitre- Blood Wedding. July is an absolute corker for crime publishing and there are further treats in store.

20 booksHowever, my 20 Books of Summer Challenge hosted by Cathy at 746books.com is progressing less well than expected. I have read the giddy total of…2… mmmm… not great. So I will hang fire on posting reviews for these two until I can provide a more fulsome post for you… *slapped wrists* (However, Raven’s mum has read 7 of her 20 picks. That’s just plain showing off…).

 

Raven’s Book of the Month

I can honestly say that June has been a reading pleasure, and pretty much all of the list above entertained, gripped or thrilled me to some degree. I was particularly taken with SJI Holliday’s Willow Walk, Jack Grimwood’s Moskva, and the bearded genius that is Colin Winnette.

92ec49_6e4d53e237f2437cb87cd049f0b4cfaaAnd speaking of bearded genius, the accolade of Book of the Month goes to the hirsute Michael Grothaus for the truly extraordinary, unsettling and singularly strange Epiphany Jones. A book that repulsed, mystified and enchanted me in equal measure, and one that rolled around my subconscious for days after reading. As I said in my review, it’s not for everyone, but this one thought it was just swell.

Summer Thrills- Chris Ewan- Long Time Lost, Jack Grimwood- Moskva, A. A. Dhand- Streets Of Darkness

It is this time of year when peoples’ thoughts turn to summer holidays, and as a bookseller I begin to receive the inevitable requests for the best books to take to while away the time on the plane, on the beach, in a soggy tent, tramping through the forests of Borneo…

So with this in mind here are some recent reads that more than deserve a bit of that precious hand luggage space.

chris

CHRIS EWAN: LONG TIME LOST

Nick Miller and his team provide a unique and highly illegal service, relocating at-risk individuals across Europe with new identities and new lives. Nick excels at what he does for a reason: he’s spent years living in the shadows under an assumed name. But when Nick steps in to prevent the attempted murder of witness-in-hiding Kate Sutherland on the Isle of Man, he triggers a chain of events with devastating consequences for everyone he protects – because Nick and Kate share a common enemy in Connor Lane, a man who will stop at nothing to get what he wants, even if it means tearing Nick’s entire network apart.

Having quickly established himself as one of my particular favourites Ewan brings us, Long Time Lost, which takes us on a chilling adventure throughout Britain and Europe, focusing on the work of a small team on a personal mission to protect individuals under witness protection. From its suspenseful opening to a beautifully weighted unfolding of a dark and dangerous tale, this book totally justifies the label of ‘unputdownable’. What struck me as I was reading was the sheer cleverness of plotting that Ewan demonstrates throughout, fortified by a band of characters that range from emotionally damaged, to quirky, to downright dastardly. The two main protagonists of Nick and Kate are incredibly appealing, and with both having more layers than a proverbial onion, Ewan slowly draws back the curtain on the tumultuous events in their lives that have shaped Nick’s role as a protector, and how Kate’s character evolves as she finds herself increasingly under threat as a valuable witness. Ewan uses feints and red herrings to great effect, wrong footing our perceptions of certain characters as the story progresses. By slickly moving from country to country there is a wonderful momentum and sense of movement so just as you adjust yourself to the mortal danger our protagonists face, you are speedily transported to another setting where more tension awaits you. This also makes it incredibly difficult to know when to stop reading, as there is a real sense of you wanting to see what’s around the next corner. It’s thrilling, unpredictable and engrossing. Highly recommended.

(With thanks to Faber for the ARC)

 

moskva

JACK GRIMWOOD: MOSKVA

Red Square, 1985. The naked body of a young man is left outside the walls of the Kremlin; frozen solid – like marble to the touch – missing the little finger from his right hand.

A week later, Alex Marston, the headstrong fifteen year old daughter of the British Ambassador disappears. Army Intelligence Officer Tom Fox, posted to Moscow to keep him from telling the truth to a government committee, is asked to help find her. It’s a shot at redemption. But Russia is reluctant to give up the worst of her secrets. As Fox’s investigation sees him dragged deeper towards the dark heart of a Soviet establishment determined to protect its own so his fears grow, with those of the girl’s father, for Alex’s safety. And if Fox can’t find her soon, she looks likely to become the next victim of a sadistic killer whose story is bound tight to that of his country’s terrible past …

It’s a brave writer indeed who pitches up with an idea for a thriller set in 1980’s Moscow, as we all know and love Gorky Park, and many have failed in its wake. But good news crime buddies, Grimwood has cracked it with the atmospheric and claustrophobic Moskva. With impeccable plotting, research and narrative tension, Grimwood has produced one of the best Soviet set thrillers I have read. Drawing on, and using to great effect, all the inherent and documented fear and suspicion so redolent of Soviet life within this period, Grimwood has crafted a supremely intelligent serial killer thriller, with a depth of characterisation that will draw in admirers of other exponents of this subgenre. As the depth of  conspiracy and concealment begins to reveal itself, frustrating Fox’s investigation of Alex’s disappearance, there is a crackling tension to the book throughout, compounded by Grimwood’s unflinching analysis of the weaknesses and dangers of the Soviet state that so consistently thwart Fox, giving him a slippery grasp on truth amongst the smoke and mirrors emanating from the echelons of power in Moscow. I’ll say no more to avoid spoiling your reading of this one, but you must seek this one out. It’s a terrific read, and Grimwood demonstrates again his real flexibility as a writer. Add to your wish list now.

(With thanks to Penguin for the ARC)

 

9780593076644

A. A. DHAND: STREETS OF DARKNESS

The sky over Bradford is heavy with foreboding. It always is. But this morning it has reason to be – this morning a body has been found. And it’s not just any body. Detective Harry Virdee should be at home with his wife. Impending fatherhood should be all he can think about but he’s been suspended from work just as the biggest case of the year lands on what would have been his desk. He can’t keep himself away. Determined to restore his reputation, Harry is obliged to take to the shadows in search of notorious ex-convict and prime suspect, Lucas Dwight. But as the motivations of the murder threaten to tip an already unstable city into riotous anarchy, Harry finds his preconceptions turned on their head as he discovers what it’s like to be on the other side of the law…

Streets of Darkness is to my knowledge the first crime book set in Bradford that I have encountered, and with only having visited the city a couple of times, my curiosity was instantly aroused with the mouthwatering prospect of unexplored crime territory. Unlike other British police procedural writers, Dhand paints an entirely bleak and unflinching portrait of this city, without the little moments of affection that normally punctuate other writers’ portrayals of their home towns. The image that Dhand portrays of his city is unrelentingly grim and depressing, and there is a downtrodden air amongst its inhabitants that hammers home the true picture of inner city deprivation and neglect that this city has suffered. Even allowing for the rare moments of happiness that Virdee experiences on the cusp of the birth of his first child, his character, with all his personal torments and professional frustrations, is a perfect mirror of Bradford itself. Dhand also highlights the long standing religious intolerance experienced by those marrying outside of their religion- Virdee is a Sikh, but is married to Saima, a Muslim- and I very much enjoyed Dhand’s exploration of the role of religion in their marriage and personal beliefs. Indeed, the attendant problems of faith loom large for Virdee throughout, both personally and professionally, as he becomes embroiled in a violent and dangerous investigation, that soon threatens all he holds dear, against a backdrop of a city thrown into a state of social unrest. Virdee is a traditional maverick, and goes out on a limb in the course of the book, despite operating whilst suspended as a police officer. Despite his downtrodden and naturally pessimistic air I did quite take to him as a character,  but was a little unconvinced by the slightly schmaltzy feel when Dhand turned his attentions to Virdee’s home life.  There was also an annoyingly predictable plot device linked to this that did make me punch the air in frustration as it wasn’t needed, and rather undid the fact that this was a very well-plotted and compelling depiction of inner city strife and burgeoning violence up to that point. However, that niggle aside I would still strongly recommend this debut. Grim, violent and a welcome addition to the British crime writing scene.

(With thanks to Bantam Press for the ARC)

 

November 2014 Round-Up and Raven’s Book of the Month

_DSC0185 (Common Raven)Another busy month of reading and reviewing by the Raven, not only here, but also in conjunction with the brilliant New Talent November feature that has run for a month over on Crime Fiction Lover . NTN November has revealed some great new talents and I’m sure you will all discover some debut crime novels to tickle your fancy!

Elsewhere, there was much talk of Iceland Noir 2014 and check out these sites for some fascinating and informative posts around the events that took place:

Mrs Peabody Investigates

Crimepieces

Euro But Not Trash

In sad news for crime fiction fans everywhere I was called upon to post a tribute to the wonderful P. D. James on her passing. She will be greatly missed amongst readers and fellow authors alike. P.D.James 1920-2014 A Retrospective

On a happier note I was pleased as punch to take part in David Baldacci’s UK Blog Tour with a specially written post on the roles of heroes and villains in his writing and reading- David Baldacci:Giveaway-The-Escape

I also need to pass on thanks again to Andrew James for his nomination for Raven as a Very Inspiring Blogger- much appreciated! Andrew James Writer

December beckons, and with it I will post a series of articles revealing my best reads of the year and new discoveries, as well as the usual reviews and crime news. Working in book retailing, December is a busy, busy month for me, but wearing this hat I would urge you to remember that there is no greater gift than a book! Unless you can afford that natty sports car, or a condo in Florida…

Have a good month 🙂

Books reviewed this month:

Matthew Pritchard- Werewolf

Elly Griffiths- The Zig Zag Girl

Chris Ewan- Dark Tides

Tammy Cohen- Dying For Christmas

J. G. Jurado- The Tipping Point

Nadia Dalbuono- The Few (www.crimefictionlover.com)

Sheila Bugler- The Waiting Game (www.crimefictionlover.com)

Paddy Magrane- Disorder (www.crimefictionlover.com)

Alexander Hartnung- Until The Debt Is Paid(www.crimefictionlover.com)

Raven’s Book of The Month

fewRead as part of the New Talent November feature at Crime Fiction Lover this debut novel really struck a chord with me, and I have now hand-sold all my copies at the bookstore where I work. Yes- it’s that good. Focusing on the less salubrious activities of a group of Italian politicians, and the disappearance of a young American girl on holiday in Italy with her parents, Dalbuono has constructed a compelling plot, that will keep you guessing until the end. Add to that her police protagonist, the charming and determined  Detective Leone Scamarcio, who has seemingly turned his back on his Mafia connections, and what Dalbuono has achieved is a thoroughly accomplished debut crime novel that will leave you itching for another in the series. A truly 5 star read and perfect for fans of top notch Euro crime thrillers.

Chris Ewan- Dark Tides

ceI’m a confirmed fan of Chris Ewan’s crime writing to date and Dark Tides does not disappoint! Beginning with one of the creepiest opening chapters it has ever been my pleasure to read- lone female Claire Cooper- a scary deserted cottage- Halloween 2014 (or Hop-tu-naa as it is dubbed on the Isle of Man) and the scene is set for a slowly escalating tension filled read. Cleverly, throughout the course of book Ewan takes us through a succession of Halloween nights, flipping backwards and forwards between timelines. Consequently, we trace the events in Claire’s life from her younger years, and the traumatic events that have followed her over each Halloween, beginning with the unsolved disappearance of her mother, possibly at the hands of her sinister employer Edward Caine, who I kept picturing as Mr Burns from The Simpsons (insert Homer Simpson shudder here) and his equally weird son Morgan. Following the disappearance of her mother on that fateful Halloween night, Claire grows up slightly introverted until her acceptance by the ‘cool’ gang comprising of Rachel, Callum, David, Mark and Scott, whose increasingly dangerous Hop-tu-naa stunts over the years prove to be their undoing. Particularly when in a dangerous prank they turn their attentions on Edward Caine to avenge Claire’s mother’s disappearance, which ends in extreme violence and find themselves in a killer’s sights…

Thanks to the skilful manipulation and presentation of each timeline, culminating in the present day with Claire now employed as a police officer, Ewan never loses the reader’s concentration. So many authors fall at the first hurdle with time shifts, either confusing when the action is taking place, or not placing enough points of interest in each timeline to hold the reader’s interest. I positively relished entering each different Halloween so see who would perish next, and loved the disparate and, at times, wonderfully gruesome ways in which Claire’s cohorts are despatched to the other side. Equally, the identity of the avenging angel is well-concealed and a few of my theories fell by the wayside as the book progressed, as Ewan twists the plot into another direction and chain of guilt.

Another real strength of the book is the control of the characterisation, and I liked the way that the gradual ageing of the characters was completely authentic as they progressed from impulsive teenagers to twenty-somethings, with the inherent responsibilities or foolhardy actions that many of us experience in our journey from teenage years to adulthood. Claire is wonderfully understated as a central character but her incredible ordinariness is a continual pull for our emotional engagement with her right the way through the book. You find yourself genuinely rooting for her as she balances the demands of her professional life with the haunting demons of her past. As her circle of friends decreases, these vying tensions in her life come to the fore, ratcheting up our fears on her behalf, while she attempts to identify the killer.

I must confess that my only knowledge of the Isle of Man has pretty much been accrued from watching coverage of the TT Race and reading Ewan’s previous books, and to be honest I love the way that Ewan employs his setting as an additional creepy character in the book. The locations of each Halloween prank are beautifully sinister and darkly realised, and I loved the sense of menace that he attributes to the more desolate areas of the island, in much the same way as Peter May’s atmospheric rendition of the Hebrides. Top tip. Don’t go and live on an island. It’s dangerous. (Well, if crime writers are to be believed!)

So I’m pleased to report that Ewan has come up trumps again following the equally compelling Safe House and Dead Line. Dark Tides is tense, engaging, spooky and at times purely terrifying. A nice little chiller- thriller for the long winter nights. Recommended.

(With thanks to Faber & Faber for the ARC)