Raven’s Really Very Belated November Round Up…

And so November is but a distant memory, and the Yuletide season is upon us, welcome news for just about everybody, unless you work in retail. It strikes fear into many a heart when people who obviously never shop during the course of the year suddenly emerge blinking into the dazzling Christmas streetlights, intent on making life as awkward as possible for the hapless shop assistants in their paths. Now call me a masochist, but I really quite enjoy these strange interactions with these mythical beasts, mainly because it gives me a chance to gush about brilliant books, or conversely steer them on the sometimes safer course of a gift voucher, avoiding the inevitable conversation:

What type of books do they like to read? Don’t know, just thought I’d buy them a book.

What was the last book they read? See above.

Do they have any particular interests?

Actually this last question often proves to be the most interesting, as I have sold copious amounts of books on whittling, trains, animal husbandry or the Kama Sutra on the back of this one, fervently hoping the last two interests were not connected. Ho ho ho…

November has been a glorious mash-up of weirdness as far as my reading has been concerned, so while it has been my normal lacklustre performance in actually writing reviews, I have read oodles of books. So four reviews posted-

Margaret Millar- Vanish In An Instant

Mari Hannah- The Insider (Stone and Oliver 2)

Lou Berney- November Road

Chuck Caruso- The Meaning of Blood and Other Tales of Perversity

 

I’ve also read this little bevy of beauties too, all of which I bought, as book bloggers do buy books too you know!

It goes without saying that I am an ardent fan of all things raven related, and so reading the excellent The Ravenmaster by Christopher Skaife was a tremendous source of pleasure. What I love about this book is that Skaife could just as well be sat next to you in the room, just shooting the breeze about his singularly different and totally fascinating job. Laden with interesting historical detail, accounts of Skaife’s exploits in his previous army career, and if course th ravens themselves, this is a joy!

Stick Together by Sophie Henaff, is the brilliant follow up to The Awkward Squad, which introduced us to the chaff of the French police service, transplanted into one investigation unit full of misfits, overseen by the eminently more sensible, though formerly trigger happy, Commissaire Anne Capestan. I love this collection of disparate souls, from there first outing solving cold cases, and now thrust into the limelight of a particularly baffling murder investigation. Fast, furious and funny.

Keigo Higashino’s The Newcomer, features Detective Kyoichiro Kaga of the Tokyo police department, who is a curious blend of Columbo and the Dali Lama. Formed as a series of vignettes into local residents and tradespeople’s lives, Kaga drifts in and out of each story, uniting families, and spreading benevolence, whilst chipping away at his investigation, with his slightly distracted air. I really enjoyed the interplay between Kaga and the community, and also the sweet moments of extreme poignancy that suddenly drop into the narrative. Strange, beautiful and highly recommended. 

I can’t believe how long Back Up has languished on my TBR pile, as this tale of rock ‘n’ roll and murder by Paul Colize was just brilliant from start to finish. As members of a sixties rock band start to meet their deaths in troubling ways, the story criss-crosses between past and present, weaving their story with a mysterious man hospitalised with locked in syndrome. The evocation of one of the most important periods in the development of popular music was perfectly depicted, with numerous references to the known and lesser known artists of the period, in addition to the cleverly crafted murder mystery that lies at the heart of it. Colize’s characterisation, and expression of the strengths and weaknesses of the human psyche was never less than masterful, and the sinister undertones of the reasons for the self destruction of these young men was truly chilling. Excellent.  

Last, but not least, is Adam Sternbergh’s The Blinds with a double recommendation from a bookselling colleague and a fellow blogger Mrs Peabody . Set in a small Texan community in the middle of nowhere, the inhabitants of which have their own disturbing criminal back stories, a murderer is loose and unlike a traditional murder mystery the suspects seem innumerable. The members of this unique community have opted in to an experimental programme, where memories of their previous crimes have been erased, but all with the knowledge that if they leave The Blinds they will most likely turn up dead. Not only has Sternbergh delivered a singularly different premise for a crime thriller, but the level of tension and shock reveals he injects is absolutely compelling. With a broad spectrum of characters who you will like, despise, pity, or empathise with in equal measure, this has to be one of the most unusual thrillers I have encountered. There’s a slight whiff of Stephen King about the main set-up, but Sternbergh easily proves himself equal to the master, and if you’re looking for crime writing with a difference, this is the book for you. Loved it.  

And so I am almost up to date, as the hurly burly of Christmas in retail descends. Now I just have to make a decision on my Top 10 of the Year- never an easy task- but all will be revealed at the close of December as I may not have even read my favourite book of the year yet….  

Happy book shopping everyone! 

 

#Booktrailadvent Day 12- Francis Duncan- Murder For Christmas

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Well, we have now arrived at #Booktrailadvent Day 12  curated by the lovely Susan at the globally appealing The Book Trail , and the Raven is in festive mood, bringing you a rediscovered classic in the shape of Francis Duncan’s 1949 classic Murder For Christmas. So pop on those driving gloves, insert a plum in your mouth, and  jump in the Bentley for a jolly Christmas jaunt to the West Country…

51hkOIVokkL__SX323_BO1,204,203,200_Billed as a classic Christmas mystery with mulled wine, mince pies and murder, I have taken a small step out of my comfort zone, as traditional country house murders are not usually my thing. However, it is with some delight that I can report that I really rather enjoyed this Christie-esque mystery with its oddball cast of characters, and a rather intriguing amateur detective, Mordecai Tremaine…

Mordecai Tremaine, former tobacconist and perennial lover of romance novels,  has been invited to spend Christmas in the sleepy village of Sherbroome at the country retreat of one Benedict Grame. Arriving on Christmas Eve, he finds the revelries in full flow, but tensions run high between an assortment of guests. Midnight strikes and the guests discover it’s not just presents nestling under the tree…there’s a dead body too. A body that bears a strong resemblance to Santa Claus. As the snow intensifies and everyone a possible suspect, it’s up to amateur sleuth Tremaine to sniff out the culprit, and an intriguing investigation ensues.

With typical Golden Age panache, Duncan immerses us in a mystery of everyday grasping rich folk, with a finite group of suspects in an atmosphere of entitlement. Throw into the mix the seemingly unassuming character of Tremiane and a taciturn police detective, Superintendent Cannock, and the resemblance to some of Agatha Christie’s finest works is undeniable. Tremaine is a wonderfully affable and good-humoured man, which belies his sharp wits and natural observation of his fellow guests. Having sharpened his powers of detection in a previous case, but now striving to duck under the radar of the attendant publicity,  he cannot resist the temptation of this invite to the home of a man that he has only met briefly, but soon his sleuthing nose is set a-twitching. With all of his fellow guests in the frame for the murder of the be-suited Santa Claus, he finds himself encountering blackmail, embezzlement, greed and thwarted love. Although some of the guests are aware of his sleuthing credentials, there are some token moments of loose lips sinking ships, as Tremaine undertakes his own investigation. Duncan’s characterisation of the guests is also well-drawn throughout from the touching relationship of young lovers Denys and Roger, the grumpy scientist Lorring, the natural ebullience of the lord of the manor Benedict Grame, and the contrasting characters of the mousey Charlotte (Benedict’s sister), the temptress Lucia Tristam, along with others. In the rarefied air of this country house, you get a real sense of a country Christmas, with the popping of the fire, the luxurious surroundings, and the gentle falling of snow outside. It’s all very festive indeed. Apart from the surprise gift of a cold-blooded murder.

To his credit, Duncan keeps the reader in suspense until the final few pages as to the guilty party, and it was refreshing to read a book of this ilk where the culprit remains so well hidden, but with a believable conclusion. As I alluded to, apart from a dipping into Poirot on the small screen, Golden Age mysteries hold little appeal for me as a rule, but this was a welcome surprise. And I didn’t guess the killer. Will you?

Check out the map below from The Book Trail to reveal some more advent surprises. Who knows what you will uncover this Christmas…

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(With thanks to Vintage Books for the ARC of Murder For Christmas)

 

 

 

 

A quick thriller round-up- Tammy Cohen- Dying For Christmas/ J. G. Jurado- The Tipping Point

tammyWhen Dominic – a stranger in the crowd – first approaches Jess during her Christmas shop, she finds him attractive in a tragic sort of way. Jess is gratified by the interest Dominic shows in her. He says she reminds him of his wife, whom he hasn’t seen in months…

The sinister truth is only revealed once Jess goes back to Dominic’s house, where there is a painting of his wife that doesn’t bear the slightest resemblance to herself. There is also a Christmas tree with twelve opulently wrapped presents underneath. “You can open one every day,” he says, “over the 12 days of Christmas.” This is the moment when Jess realises two things. First, Dominic doesn’t intend to let her leave. Second, he’s quite, quite mad…

There are two things to say at about this book. One: there is very little chance that you will predict how things will turn out, and two, I laughed uproariously at several points with the dark humour contained within its pages. These two factors, along with Cohen’s control of the pace, plotting and characterisation, are reasons enough to immerse you in this criminally entertaining Yuletide read.

As the plight of mousey Jess, incarcerated by the totally debonair, but insane Dominic unfolds, you will be visited by equal feelings of perplexity and shock- there are some wonderfully inventive torture methods- and if you’re a vegetarian (like me) prepare yourself for the visitation of one of Scotland’s prized delicacies, and the consequent effects on your stomach! I loved the slightly ‘out-there’ feel of the first half of the book as the claustrophobic and dangerous tension between Jess and Dominic increases over the twelve days of Christmas, and the effects on her disappearance on Jess’  lacklustre boyfriend and her family. As you progress into the second part of the book, well, there are more than a few clever surprises in store that will have you racing to the final page. I hate the use of the word ‘page-turner’, but this totally is a… page-turner! A fun, quick thriller and a source of delight and horror in equal measure…

(With thanks to Transworld for the ARC)

 

tipDr David Evans, a top neurosurgeon at a hospital in Washington, faces the ultimate dilemma: if his next patient leaves the operating theatre alive, his daughter will die at the hands of a psychopath. He has 55 hours to save her.

But Evans’ patient is no ordinary man; he’s the most important person in the US and what happens on the operating table may well change the course of history…

Closely following in the footsteps of the ‘race-against-time’ thrillers of Linwood Barclay and Harlan Coben comes The Tipping Point, originally published in Spanish as ‘El Paciente’. You know the score- kidnapped child whose fate rests on the actions of distressed parent and so on, and to be honest my tipping point, “every human being has a boundary between the comfort zone of their hopes and fears, and the quicksand of their wishes and needs,” arrived quite early on, despite an intriguing enough opening. The pace of the plot is satisfying enough and the grand puppet-master, the mysterious Mr White, who is pulling all the strings for our hapless neurologist, works well enough as a typical baddie. There is a slightly ludicrous side-story involving the professional rivalry of David and a former colleague that did irritate me somewhat, but the general medical details of the mystery of neuroscience was engaging enough. However, maybe due to my having read several similar books, I did find my concentration wandering afar, and unusually, for a book dubbed as a gripping thriller, it was all too easy to move away from it and be reluctant to return. It’s one of those books that would make a pleasing enough film thriller with a stolid male lead, but generally I was a little underwhelmed. Having said that, however,  if your enthusiasm for the Barclay/Coben niche is still intact, this thriller may tick all the right boxes for you…

(With thanks to Orion for the ARC)