A Deadly Trio- Domenic Stansberry- The White Devil, Carl-Johan Vallgren- The Tunnel, Steinar Bragi-The Ice Lands

The chilling story of a young American woman in Rome, an aspiring actress, who- together with her brother- is implicated in a series of murders dating back to her childhood. She plays a deadly game, alternately intimate and distant, a cipher of unwholesome impulse, and erotic intrigue…

My, my, my, what a dark and sordid tale of jealousy, desire, and cold-blooded murder this proved to be… and I absolutely loved it. With a down-to-the-bone, spare prose style, so resonant of the American hardboiled noir tradition, and scenes that would not be out of place in a Fellini classic, The White Devil is quite simply perfect in its execution. As we become more deeply entwined with this ice-cold female narrator, Victoria, who slowly reveals her tangled and murderous early history, and the strange dynamics at play in her relationship with her brother Johnny, I began to fear more and more for the unsuspecting individuals whom they set in their sights. The book has the pace and sudden shock value of pure classic Hitchcock, and indeed there is a superb visual quality to Stansberry’s writing, as he leads us amongst the upper echelons of Italian society, the starry world of the movies, and the dimly lit and dangerous streets, that lay behind the glamourous façade of Rome.

In addition, Stansberry draws on themes of politics, religion, and money, drawing on the marked differences, and frames of reference, that Victoria and Johnny as Americans abroad harbour, sharply putting into focus their new world gaucheness, and drive to succeed at any cost,  both to themselves or others. I loved the style of Stansberry’s writing, both in its tautness, and, at times, supreme subtlety, and the eminently unlikeable cast of characters with their selfish intentions, or inherent stupidity, exposed as the dastardly Victoria and Johnny inveigle themselves into their world. Woe betide them…

Hardboiled noir to die for. Highly recommended.

(With thanks to Molotov Editions for the ARC)

 

Private investigator Danny Katz is trying to track down his former drug dealer. Ramón and his girlfriend Jenny have both vanished leaving behind a lot of unanswered questions. How come Ramón suddenly found himself in possession of the mother-load of drugs? And is Jenny really who she claims to be?

Katz’s investigation leads him to the darkest corners of Stockholm’s porn industry and once again his old addiction threatens to control him. Ultimately only one thing seems certain – someone is willing to do whatever it takes to keep Katz from discovering the brutal truth…

What begins as a seemingly ordinary crime heist novel, The Tunnel quickly evolves into a multi-layered and very enjoyable Sweden set thriller, driven by the archetypal social analysis, and strong characterisation that defines Scandinavian crime fiction. As the individual stories of its three main protagonists and friends, Jorma, a  career criminal, Katz, a reformed drug addict, and Eva, an emotionally troubled woman who works for the police, play out, Vallgren draws us into a sordid world of sex trafficking and violence.

For me, Vallgren’s portrayal of these three contrary, but nonetheless totally appealing characters, is the lynchpin for the enjoyment of the book, and I found myself utterly engaged with them throughout. There is a nice sense of balance in their characterisation as they are not all paragons of virtues, finding themselves susceptible to their own singular vices and desires, and with Katz in particular Vallgren is given the opportunity to explore Swedish society, and to draw on the Jewish roots of his character to spin the story off in another direction. The central plot is unsettling, bleak and exposes the seedy underbelly of drug addiction and the sex industry, and the manipulation of those who find themselves caught up in, or profiting from this nefarious trades. I also liked the ending that is not neatly tied up with a bow, but instead is quite bleak and uncertain. Vallgren is the closest writer I have found to Cilla and Rolf Bjorland (Spring Tide, Third Voice) who also specialise in social realism, and troubled-but-empathetic characters, and will now be hastily backtracking to read the first book by him, The Boy In The Shadows. A top Scandi-noir recommendation from me.

(With thanks to Quercus for the ARC)

 

Set against Iceland’s volcanic hinterlands, four thirty-somethings from Reykjavik – the reckless hedonist Egill; the recovering alcoholic Hrafin; and their partners Anna and Vigdis – embark on an ambitious camping trip, their jeep packed with supplies.

Victims of the financial crisis, the purpose of the trip is to heal both professional and personal wounds, but the desolate landscape forces the group to reflect on the shattered lives they’ve left behind in the city. As their jeep hurtles through the barren land, an impenetrable fog descends, causing them to suddenly crash into a rural farmhouse.

Seeking refuge from the storm, the group discover that the isolated dwelling is inhabited by a mysterious elderly couple who inexplicably barricade themselves inside every night. As past tensions within the group rise to the surface, the merciless weather blocks every attempt at escape, forcing them to ask difficult questions: who has been butchering animals near the house? What happened to the abandoned village nearby where bones lie strewn across the ground? And most importantly, will they ever return home?

With a nod to Halloween, felt it right to include The Ice Lands in this wee round-up. I would probably describe this as an existential version of The Blair Witch Project, mixed up with Lost with shades of On The Road. I must confess, that for large portions of the book, including the not the most easily comprehensible ending, I was rather confused at quite what the jiggins was going on. Suffused with the dark, bleak and completely terrifying landscape of rural Iceland, and the creepy inhabitants of a house that I’m fairly sure was not constructed of gingerbread, four unwitting, and not entirely likeable egotistic individuals find themselves privy to a nightmare experience. With enough schlock horror moments to keep you on the edge of the seat, and some not always welcome diversions into the world of scientific academia which were initially quite interesting and then waned, Bragi has constructed a unique blend of traditional shocker, and highbrow horror, that chills and perplexes in equal measure. I was dying throughout for these frankly annoying characters to reach grisly ends, but did they? That would be telling. As much as I was confused by some aspects of this tale, I did make it to the end, having had a sense of enjoyment, and frustration, in equal measure. I think overall I liked it, but at times it was just a little…how can I put this… too much up itself for a totally enjoyable reading experience. Sort of recommended.

(With thanks to Macmillan for the ARC)

 

 

November 2015 Round-Up and Raven’s Book(s) of the Month

_DSC0185 (Common Raven)Aside from a nasty viral thingummy afflicting the Raven last month, luckily it did not affect my reading too much, so a not too shoddy 11 reviews posted, and some in reserve for December. I actually really enjoyed my reading this month, as it was a good mix of debut and established writers, and a variety of locations and styles. Also, after my wee moan last month at the crime dramas on British TV, my mood was lifted considerably by the return of Scandinavian treat The Bridge, and the truly excellent London Spy which is both compelling and beautifully acted and filmed. To lift the spirits even further Luther is back on the BBC on the 15th December. Swoon….

Well silly season is now upon us, so after a pretty impressive book tally in November, December may be a bit more sporadic thanks to the demands of working in retail at Christmas. I’m taking part in a blog tour in conjunction with the marvellous The Booktrail  which will feature some cracking crime books across a host of blogs, so keep an eye out for that. Also, 2016 is knocking at the door, with an influx of next year’s releases plopping through the door, so every moment not spent recommending and selling books to harassed Xmas shoppers, will be spent reading as much as physically possible! Oh, and how could I forget? My Top Five Reads of 2015 beckons- best put my thinking cap on…

ravenxmasHave a great month everybody. Ho, ho, ho and all that!

Books Read and Reviewed

 Matthew Frank- If I Should Die

Alice Thompson- The Book Collector

Luca Veste- Bloodstream

Andrew Mayne- Angel Killer

Hugo Wilcken- The Reflection

Jo Nesbo- Midnight Sun

Caroline Mitchell- Don’t Turn Around

Denzil Meyrick- Whisky From Small Glasses

 Barbra Leslie- Cracked

Mari Hannah- The Silent Room

Cilla and Rolf Borjlind- Third Voice

Raven’s Book(s) of the Month

An incredibly tough month to pick from, with many of these appealing to me in different ways. So very honourable mentions to two of my favourite writers Mari Hannah and Luca Veste for keeping the British police procedural and thriller genre so vibrant and engaging with The Silent Room and Bloodstream respectively. Thanks to Hugo Wilcken for stretching my little grey cells with The Reflection, to Barbra Leslie for the kooky high octane Cracked, and loved the Gothic intensity of Alice Thompson’s The Book Collector– great cover too!

So completely level pegging for November’s accolade are these two, actually published further back in 2015 but a joy to finally get to! Intelligent, well crafted, and totally compelling reads that I would urge you to discover for yourselves…

 Matthew Frank- If I Should Die   Cilla and Rolf Borjlind- Third Voice

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Cilla and Rolf Borjlind- Third Voice

516Hfm+VA8L__SX324_BO1,204,203,200_Samira is dead. She died last night. But now she is looking down over the roofs of Marseille. She remembers how he strangled her, how he bashed in her skull with an ashtray. How he cut off her head and buried her body in six different places. She hopes someone will find her…some day.Olivia Ronning is still struggling to come to terms with her brutal entry into the world. Cut from the womb of her murdered mother, with only seconds to spare, she is left with haunting dreams, brutal feelings and guilt. When Olivia’s friend Sandra Sahlmann discovers her father’s body hanging in the hall of their house, the police initially assume suicide. But something doesn’t sit right. Having veered away from her budding career as a police office, Olivia knows she should leave this alone – but she is just too close to this case, it’s personal now. Bengt Sahlmann’s suicide/murder lands on Mette Olsater’s desk. Tom Stilton is dragged into Samira’s murder, following a personal request from Abbas. And Olivia for her part can’t let Sandra’s questions go unanswered. The three investigations seem bound to cross paths. Will they all be able to put their former disagreements and personal demons aside and work together to solve their cases – and prevent further people from dying?

Counting myself very lucky that as a bookseller and reviewer I have a never-ending source of books, sometimes the teetering to-be-read pile works against me. Consequently, this is a book that got lost in the mix, but saints be praised that I prised it out after a lengthy hiatus in the books to-be-read mountain! With their previous book Spring Tide having made such an impression on me, and being one of my Top 5 books of last year, Third Voice is the second in the series to feature the terrier-like Olivia Ronning, ex-detective and former street dweller, Tom Stilton and police detective Mette Olsater, With the events of the previous book having caused such rifts in their relationships, Third Voice rejoins them with their lives having taken different turns…

After the thrilling perfection of Spring Tide, the Borjlinds once again draw on their screenwriting credentials (Arne Dahl’s Intercrime, Beck, Wallender) to produce a flawless addition in the shape of Third Voice. Exhibiting their writing versatility with the dual locations of Stockholm and Marseilles, they weave a tale of murder, uprooted loyalties, and sadness that kept me in its thrall from the prologue onwards.

Drawing on pretty much every single one of the seven deadly sins, evinced through the actions of our heroic protagonists and those that would harm them, this book is redolent with the themes and emotions of human experience. Friendship and loyalties torn apart make for a difficult journey for our young protagonist, Olivia, who once again finds herself embroiled in murder, as an alleged suicide case proves to be anything but, putting her in considerable danger. Ex-detective Tom Stilton, a man whose still waters run very deep indeed, proves his constancy when called upon by his friend Abbas to investigate the brutal murder of his one true love. Feisty and experienced detective Mette Olaster, struggling with her health proves a pivotal force in linking the investigations, and mending some broken bridges. Every single one of these characters are mesmerising, being so fully-formed and displaying such different and mercurial aspects of their characters. They are all imbued with a strong sense of morality, and the initial rifts between them are a source of great emotional soul searching. In fact, I would go far as to say that the construction of their individual identities are more akin to the style of characterisation you see more in literary fiction, as the highs and lows of their unique emotional make up contains pathos, tragedy, resilience and where appropriate moments of dark humour. I love these characters, and more importantly as a reader, I care about them.

With reference again to the Borjlinds screenwriting career, their control of narrative pace and plot reveals is absolutely superb. This is a dark and twisted tale with some very unsavoury aspects indeed, but utterly compelling. Their balance between shining a spotlight on one character’s stream of consciousness (for example the stunning revelations of Abbas’ formative years) is balanced perfectly with sequences of jaw dropping tension, suffused with danger and urgency. The little vignettes of character interactions, are offset by not only the perilous investigations, but by the authors’ finely attuned commentary on the societies these individual function in, with the seedy underbelly of the sex industry suddenly counterbalanced with corruption in the business world. Naturally, with the previous lives of both Stilton and Abbas, and Olivia’s involvement in the shady goings-on in the care industry, another tableau of incisive social comment arises on homelessness, drugs and substandard care of the elderly. When the story moves from Stockholm to Marseilles, the continuity and pinpoint descriptions of the locations concerned never wavers, and both appear totally authentic, containing their own air of menace and deprivation.

Quite simply, this will be one of the most perfect Scandinavian thrillers you could wish to pick up this year. All the elements of the genre we admire, combined with the unique visual quality, seamless dialogue, and narrative edge that the Borjlinds can provide with their television scripting. The characters are believable, fallible, and multi-faceted, and will draw you in from the outset. If you’ve not read Spring Tide, don’t worry as you will learn everything you need to know quickly and simply with some flawless back story. However, I would urge you to seek both of them out. Brilliant.

(With thanks to Hesperus for the ARC)

Raven’s Round Up 2014 and Top 5 Books of the Year

_DSC0185 (Common Raven)Another brilliant year of books and blogging, so thanks to all my visitors, the support of my fellow bloggers and the wonderful publicists who provided me with a veritable smorgasbord of reading delights throughout the year! 2014 proved a bumper year of reading with 152 books read over the last twelve months with 70 reviews posted here, and 24 at CrimeFictionLover.com. I did have 30+ books that failed to overcome the Raven’s harsh 40 page rule (if you haven’t grabbed me by then all hope is lost!), and the year comprised of both crime fiction and fiction in a ratio of 3:1.

2015 promises further great reads, and I can see the focus of my blog shifting more towards debut authors, and more crime in translation. I will also be participating in the TBR Double Dog Dare Challenge  from January to March in a vain attempt to conquer the summit of my mountainous To-Be-Read pile! There are some crackers lurking in there as yet unread…

So here for your delectation and delight are the Raven’s Top 5 reads of the year. A Happy New Year to you and hope 2015 is full of great new reads for you all!

 

spring5. Cilla & Rolf Borjlind- Spring Tide

Opening with the unsettling murder of a young pregnant woman at the time of the spring tide, twenty-four years previously and now designated as a cold case: a case which a young police trainee, Olivia Ronning, is designated as a summer project. The plot unfolds in a number of directions, bringing the reader into the world of contemporary Sweden and a series of brutal attacks on the homeless community, cold-bloodedly filmed and uploaded to social media sites, a series of attacks that the police are failing to solve. Slowly, the two cases become intertwined, as Olivia joins forces with ex-police officer Tom Stilton, who served with Olivia’s late father on the original spring tide murder investigation, but is now a member of the homeless community, with all the dangers this presents… With its wonderfully balanced mix of murder mystery, a host of fascinating and multi-faceted characters, and the essential social comment of Scandinavian crime fiction , this was an altogether satisfying read that genuinely kept me reading to the wee small hours…

 

few4. Nadia Dalbuono- The Few

A singularly impressive Italian set crime debut. The story focuses on Detective Leone Scamarcio, the son of a once powerful mafia figure. Scamarcio has turned his back on the family business and is on the Rome police force. He is handed a file containing compromising photographs of the Italian foreign secretary with male prostitutes, and soon after that is embroiled in the disappearance of a young American girl on holiday with her family. As the possible links between the cases are revealed, Dalbuono conjurs up a thriller that is dark, compelling and totally unputdownable, that will appeal to all fans of the more hardboiled Italian crime fiction. Impressive indeed, and with such a mesmeric central character, I see more great things to come from this author…

 

 

 mm3. Malcolm Mackay- The Night The Rich Men Burned

With my ardent admiration of Mackay’s previous Glasgow Trilogy, (The Necessary Death of Lewis Winter; How A Gunman Says Goodbye and The Sudden Arrival of Violence)  this standalone proved the equal of its predecessors in every way.  This crime novel put me in mind of a kind of twisted Bildungsroman, as it is heavily centred on the adverse fortunes of two young men, Oliver Peterkinney and Alex Glass. Both are paving their way in the seedy and violent world of Glasgow’s criminal community- a hotbed of violence and criminal rivalries. Completely unflinching in its depiction of violence the book never shies away from the stark realities of life within the criminal fraternity. Oddly dispassionate, with a spare and staccato prose style, Mackay once again illustrates his original and refreshingly different take on the crime genre. Not a comfortable read, and one that will cleverly play with your perceptions of, and attitudes to, the characters within its pages which, I for one, find a much more rewarding reading experience. An excellent read…

 

the-lying-down-room2. Anna Jaquiery- The Lying Down Room

Having talked interminably about how truly brilliant this book is since June, its inclusion in my Top 5 was never in doubt. This is a thought provoking and atmospheric debut, set in France, which opens with the brutal murder of an elderly woman to the soundtrack of Faure’s Requiem. The reasons for this murder, and the choice of victim, baffle Chief Inspector Serge Morel and his team. As more killings occur, Morel makes a connection between the victims and two individuals who distribute religious pamphlets in the suburbs. His enquiries are taken into the past, away from Paris into the French countryside, and eventually to the heart of Soviet Russia. It’s a superbly multi-faceted thriller that plays with your emotions, and preys on the mind long after reading…

 

getImage21. Pierre Lemaitre- Irene

After the pure pleasure derived from Lemaitre’s UK debut Alex (the second in the Verhoeven series) , I was relishing the release of this, the first book. Quite simply this book is terrific, in the first instance with the superb characterisation of the central detective protagonist, Commandant Camille Verhoeven, the diminutive but dogged police officer on the trail of an insidious serial killer, dubbed The Novelist.  I loved the balance that Lemaitre achieves between the stalwart doggedness of this character, the natural sarcasm and humour that arises from his character, and the utter fear that overtakes him as all that he holds most dear is threatened by this barbaric killer. Likewise, I was overawed by Lemaitre’s humility and reverential treatment towards other seminal works of fiction within the crime genre. It is quickly revealed that the killer- The Novelist- is recreating scenes from cult crime novels (be warned- some are exceptionally violent), and throughout the course of the book, Lemaitre also pays homage to some of the finest crime novels produced, with a reverential tone and an altruistic attitude to writers that is rarely encountered. And there’s a twist- brilliant in its execution- that knocked me sideways. Lemaitre’s  control of the narrative, plotting and characterisation is beautiful throughout , and with his more literary writing style, produces a reading experience that truly engages the reader and immerses you fully in the trials and tribulations of his protagonists. Quite simply- perfect…

 

Raven’s Crime Debut of 2014

_DSC0185 (Common Raven)Well, what an incredibly close-fought competition this was and having read so many debuts this year, a mammoth task to select one clear winner! So, in the spirit of fairness, I will give some very honourable mentions to the following before revealing my winner…

 

neelyNeely Tucker- Ways of The Dead: I had a sneaky eye on this one from the minute it arrived into the bookstore where I work, due to the dual temptations of a cover recommendation from Michael Connelly, and a Washington setting promising echoes of George Pelecanos. To be honest, I could not have been any more delighted with this book, as it not only delivered in spades from this starting point, but also imbued all the social critique and wry humour of The Wire too. I know. You’re intrigued now too aren’t you?

Read my review  here

fewNadia Dalbuono- The Few: A singularly impressive Italian set crime debut that I cannot recommend highly enough. The story focuses on Detective Leone Scamarcio, the son of a once powerful mafia figure. Scamarcio has turned his back on the family business and is on the Rome police force. He is handed a file containing compromising photographs of the Italian foreign secretary with male prostitutes, and soon after that embroiled in the disappearance of a young American girl on holiday with her family. With the possible links between both cases revealing themselves to our suave detective, Dalbuono conjurs up a thriller that is dark, compelling and totally unputdownable.

Read my review here

springCilla & Rolf Bjorlind- Spring Tide: Opening with the unsettling murder of a young pregnant woman at the time of the spring tide, twenty-four years previously and now designated as a cold case: a case which a young police trainee, Olivia Ronning, is designated as a summer project. The plot unfolds in a number of directions, bringing the reader into the world of contemporary Sweden and a series of brutal attacks on the homeless community, cold-bloodedly filmed and uploaded to social media sites, a series of attacks that the police are failing to solve. An assured Scandinavian debut that kept me completely gripped…

Read my review  here

 

And the winner is…

 

the-lying-down-roomThe Lying- Down Room is an astounding, emotive and utterly gripping French debut thriller by Anna Jaquiery that it was my great pleasure to review in June. I didn’t think that there was anyone to challenge Pierre Lemaitre (author of Alex and Irene)  in my affections as a French crime author par excellence but delighted to discover that there is. I implore you to discover this one too!

The Lying Down Room introduces us to the charismatic and dedicated Chief Inspector Serge Morel. The story opens in Paris in the stifling August heat, and Morel is called to examine a disturbing crime scene. An elderly woman has been brutally murdered to the soundtrack of Faure’s Requiem, and her body grotesquely displayed. The reasons for this murder and the choice of victim baffle Morel and his team.

But our detective has problems of his own. His father, such an influence in his life, is descending into the grip of senility. If that weren’t enough for him, Morel is having an affair with a friend’s wife, but has become unsettled by the reappearance of his lost love, Mathilde. Like so many other fictional detectives, Morel has a quirky interest to relieve his angst and focus his mind. In his case it’s origami.

As the investigation continues, and further murders happen, his fingers fold faster and faster. He makes a connection between the victims and two individuals – a middle aged man and a young boy – who distribute religious pamphlets in the suburbs. Soon his inquiries take him back into the past, away from Paris into the French countryside, and eventually to the heart of Soviet Russia. A tragic story begins to unfold.

In terms of characterisation, The Lying Down Room contains all the key ingredients needed to herald the arrival of a new detective in the crime fiction genre. Morel is a very carefully constructed and wonderfully realised character. He combines natural charm and humour that immediately resonate. His interactions in both his professional and personal lives allow the many different facets of his character to shine – like the focused and dedicated police officer, and the man thwarted in love. There are some intensely moving scenes between him and his father. This relationship is filled with pathos, adding poignancy to Morel’s situation. Morel is a man of contradictions with his character being all the more emotionally interesting for it, and consequently the scene is set for further exploration of this detective.

The narrative is particularly impressive, with nice, clean delineation between the various strands that come into play within the plot. Not only is the central murder storyline well paced and realistic, but as Jaquiery expands the story to encompass the personal narratives of the perpetrators themselves, she weaves together various locations and timelines. What emerges is an incredibly human tale of lost opportunities and wicked twists of fate that can put an individual on the path towards murder. Cleverly, this aspect of the novel invokes natural sympathy in the reader as we bear witness to the incredibly sad events in our antagonists’ pasts, evinced in the stark portrayal of life in Soviet Russia, and the mental and physical wounds this produces. At times, Jaquiery handles the sheer emotional heartache of some of these scenes more in the vein of literary fiction rather than a genre crime novel.

There is little to fault in this debut, combining as it does a superbly plotted and emotive criminal investigation with the introduction of a police protagonist more than imbued with enough charm and interest to carry the weight of a series. Anna Jaquiery demonstrates all the natural flair and quirks of French crime fiction that fans of Vargas, Lemaitre, et al, will relish reading. More than proud to proclaim this as my debut of the year.

 

Cilla & Rolf Borjlind- Spring Tide

springThe spring tides are the highest of the year in Nordkoster; the beach will be covered in particularly deep water tonight. Three men on the beach are digging a hole, covertly watched by a young boy. His intrigue turns to horror as he makes out a fourth figure –  the woman for whom the hole is intended. Buried up to her neck in the sand, the high tide is rapidly approaching. Still screaming in terror, the victim takes her last breath as water fills her nose and mouth – in her stomach, she feels her baby kick. And her  waters break. Twenty-four years later, the abhorrent crime remains unsolved; gruesome violence however is still prevalent after all those years. A gang has been beating up and killing homeless people in parks – worse still, they are filming their attacks and broadcasting them on the internet. The police have their work cut out trying to keep abreast of the crime wave. Olivia Rönning hopes to follow in her father’s footsteps and join their ranks in the next few months after she completes her training; she has only one last hurdle to overcome over the summer break, a challenge from her professor to pick a cold case and solve it. Should be simple, she thinks. Little does she know the world she is getting involved in, the danger she faces and the ugly truths she risks uncovering.

Cilla and Rolf Borjlind are an established crime-writing partnership, with their television credits including the twenty-six Martin Beck films based on the hugely influential Sjowall/Wahloo books, the Swedish adaptation of Wallander and the Arne Dahl Intercrime series, recently broadcast on BBC4. So with this pedigree of screen-writing how did Spring Tide measure up?

Opening with the unsettling murder of a young pregnant woman at the time of the spring tide, twenty-four years previously and now designated as a cold case: a case which a young police trainee, Olivia Ronning, is designated as a summer project. The plot unfolds in a number of directions, bringing the reader into the world of contemporary Sweden and a series of brutal attacks on the homeless community, cold-bloodedly filmed and uploaded to social media sites, a series of attacks that the police are failing to solve. Slowly, the two cases become intertwined, as Olivia joins forces with ex-police officer Tom Stilton, who served with Olivia’s late father on the original spring tide murder investigation, but is now a member of the homeless community, with all the dangers this presents. The central joy of this book is that these two storylines are both equally compelling, and as Olivia’s investigation gathers speed, there is a shocking expose of members of the higher echelons of Sweden’s business community and their rum goings-on, linked to the shady world of the sex-trade. So often in books, there is a sense in the reader that they are wishing to return quickly to one strand over another, but I felt that the interweaving between the two, and the sordid realities they throw up in the overall plot were perfectly executed throughout. The writing is tight, precise and unyielding in its blunt descriptions of this world of sex, violence and human relationships. At times, the realities presented have a powerful emotional affect, particularly in the bonds of friendship between the homeless protagonists, and even more so in the re-assimilation of Stilton into everyday life as he is drawn into Olivia’s cold case investigation, and the inherent dangers that lie within a trip to his past and the capture of a killer.

Despite the grim nature of both investigations, this is a book punctuated by moments of teasing humour, redolent of the lighter side of Scandinavian crime fiction, and the repartee between certain characters, and the throwaway humorous remarks are beautifully placed throughout. Both Olivia and Tom are convincing, empathetic and I loved the, at times, wide-eyed naivety of Olivia tempered against her terrier- like and dogged pursuit of the truth in her cold case, and the physical dangers she never shies away from.  She is a lovely character all round in her feistiness, and her sheer empathy to the victims of society ills, which makes the finale of the book all the more poignant as home truths are delivered to her with the force of a runaway train. Tom is a man of exceptional integrity, but fully encompasses the notion of people becoming adrift in society, and the nefarious paths and life choices that can be made- not always the good choices. I loved this multi-layered character and the way that he and Olivia were almost a reflection of each other, despite the wide differences in terms of age and gender, linked by their personal integrity and quest for justice.

So it is with some delight that I read that the second book has been published in Sweden, as Spring Tide is a great opener to a series. With its wonderfully balanced mix of murder mystery, a host of fascinating and multi-faceted characters, and the essential social comment of Scandinavian crime fiction , this was an altogether satisfying read that genuinely kept me reading to the wee small hours. Next one now. Please.

Read another review of Spring Tide here:

Kaggsys Bookish Ramblings

(With thanks to Hesperus for the ARC)