Craig Russell- The Devil Aspect

1935. As Europe prepares itself for a calamitous war, six homicidal lunatics – the so-called ‘Devil’s Six’ – are confined in a remote castle asylum in rural Czechoslovakia. Each patient has their own dark story to tell and Dr Viktor Kosárek, a young psychiatrist using revolutionary techniques, is tasked with unlocking their murderous secrets.
At the same time, a terrifying killer known as ‘Leather Apron’ is butchering victims across Prague. Successfully eluding capture, it would seem his depraved crimes are committed by the Devil himself.
Maybe they are… and what links him with the insane inmates of the Castle of the Eagles?

At the close of the book, Craig Russell has included a small piece on why and how he chose to write this, and the depth of research he undertook in its creation. With its sublime mix of history, both societal and psychoanalytic, folklore, murder and mental disturbance, this is a real edge of your seat read, so settle back and find out why…

The book follows the progress of a grisly murder case, where a woman is eviscerated in the same style as Jack The Ripper’s victims some decades earlier. As the murderer stalks the street of Prague, a connection is made between the perpetrator the dark stories concerning the inhabitants of a mental asylum, and the apocryphal history of the haunted Hrad Orlu castle itself. Russell sucks us in completely to this ever more sinister tale, where we bear witness to the escalating violence of the killer in Prague, and the gradual unveiling of the Devil’s Six incarcerated in the asylum, and their uniquely horrific stories. However, what sets this apart from a slightly creepy horror story, are the fascinating strands of narrative that Russell fleshes the story out with, so we also get an insight into the heightening political tensions in both Czechoslavakia and Europe, the differing schools of thought regarding the treatment of mental disturbance, some truly creepy stories arising from Czech folklore, and a stark reminder of the tissue thin boundaries between sanity and insanity. Not only is this a skilfully rendered and haunting story of madness and murder, but the incorporation of these other facets make for an admittedly eerie but utterly fascinating read as we are so immersed in this period, and bear witness to the slowly evolving revolution in the treatment of the insane, continuing with, or challenging the work of Freud and Jung.

The characterisation in The Devil Aspect is top notch, and I really enjoyed the way that Russell toys with our perceptions of who is good or evil. Everyone is to some degree or another touched by madness, be it in their professional capacity, their interactions with the patients themselves, in the darkest corners of their own psyches sparked by events in their formative years, or the burgeoning of the present itself and the increasing hostility and restlessness sweeping across Europe. I am reluctant to dwell too much on individual characters themselves, as I really want you to be as surprised and shocked as I was as Russell slowly shines a spotlight on each, incorporating more than a few ‘bloody-hell-I-didn’t-see-that-coming-moments’ as he delves into their psyches. Suffice to say your sympathies and belief in some of the characters may be sharply turned on its head as you get more and more involved in this one.

Mwahaha…

So gird your loins everyone, as this book is guaranteed to haunt your dreams and undoubtedly some of your waking hours too. It’s clever, skilfully blending the worlds of science, detection and superstition, populated with an intriguing set of characters, and Russell uses the twin locations of Prague, and the remote forest setting of the Hrad Orlu asylum to the creepiest nth degree. Thoroughly enjoyed this one, so can not be anything less than highly recommended.

(With thanks to Constable for the ARC)

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

_DSC0185 (Common Raven)August has been a bit of an emotional rollercoaster for the Raven, what with one thing and another, and some big decisions are now having to be made in the light of recent events. Consequently, my reading and blogging have been seriously impacted, and this has been quite a light month in terms of books read and reviews posted. I normally manage to read at least three books a week, but have been struggling to get through one! So big apologies for my severely depleted output, my sporadic catching up with social media and the acknowledgement of my fellow bloggers’ excellent posts. Am now in a state of ‘catch-up’, and hopefully there will be a much happier Raven back in the zone. Something good has got to happen soon, right?…

BOOKS READ AND REVIEWED:

James Nally- Dance With The Dead

Rod Reynolds- Black Night Falling

Robert Bailey- Between Black and White

Russel D McLean- And When I Die

Craig Russell- The Quiet Death of Thomas Quaid

Raven’s #20BooksofSummer: the first eight…

Chris Abani- Song For Night

Peter Watts- Echopraxia

Paraic O’Donnell- The Maker of Swans

Cynthia Ozick- The Puttermesser Papers

S. E. Craythorne- How You See Me

Robert Edeson- The Weaver Fish

Diana Rosie- Alberto’s Lost Birthday

David Peace- Tokyo Year Zero

Raven’s Book of the Month:

9781780874883With a lengthy hiatus in this excellent series I was delighted that Lennox has now made a more than welcome reappearance. As I said in my review, Russell perfectly evokes the feel of 1950’s Glasgow, with the shabby, downtrodden air of a city recovering in the aftermath of war, and the incessant need for the criminal underclass to keep a foothold in the economic recovery of the city with the opportunity to make an illegal buck or two. Cut through with the dry wit of the laconic Canadian Lennox, the nod to the hard-boiled genre in terms of dialogue and pace, superb plotting and peopled with a colourful cast of supporting characters, Russell has done it again. If you haven’t discovered this series for yourselves yet, I would urge you to seek them out. Excellent.

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Craig Russell- The Quiet Death of Thomas Quaid

9781780874883Lennox liked Quiet Tommy Quaid. Perhaps it’s odd for a private detective to like – even admire – a career thief, but Quiet Tommy Quaid was the sort of man everyone liked. Amiable, easy-going, well-dressed, with no vices to speak of – well, aside from his excessive drinking and womanising, but then in 1950s Glasgow those are practically virtues. And besides, throughout his many exploits outside the law, Quiet Tommy never once used violence. It was rumoured to be the police who gave him his nickname – because whenever they caught him, which was not often, he always came quietly. So probably even the police liked him, deep down. Above all, the reason people liked Tommy was that you knew exactly what you were dealing with. Here, everybody realized, was someone who was simply and totally who and what he seemed to be. But when Tommy turns up dead, Lennox and the rest of Glasgow will find out just how wrong they were…

Hallelujah! After a too-long intermission, The Quiet Death of Thomas Quaid, the fifth in Craig Russell’s unmissable Lennox series has arrived. Having reviewed the previous four books, Lennox, The Long Glasgow Kiss, The Deep Dark Sleep and Dead Men and Broken Hearts, the Raven is cock-a-hoop that the inimitable Lennox has returned and in some style…

So let’s get a grip on that excitement and try to bring you a measured, thoughtful and calm review of The Quiet Death of Thomas Quaid, as this could all too easily just slip into a chain of superlatives as a testament to the sheer brilliance of Mr Russell. Taking us back again to the post war years of 1950’s Glasgow, Lennox is still plying his trade as a private detective after the emotional crisis in his personal life he is still subconsciously at least, trying to come to terms with. Fret not, if this is your first foray into the series, as Russell makes it easy to catch up with the salient events of the previous books, and provides ample background to the mercurial and charming Lennox. When Lennox is retained by a shifty stranger to acquire, not entirely legally, some important documents he calls on the help of career thief, the eponymous Thomas Quaid, to assist him. The dire results for the wee, quiet man Quaid, sets Lennox on a dangerous path to avenge his friend’s death, and uncover a conspiracy with far reaching results.

Writing this review from the perspective of a dedicated reader of the series, I was instantly immersed back into this world despite the lengthy hiatus between books. Russell once again places Lennox front and centre of all the action, with his inherent easy charm underscored by the dangerous, bubbling tension that exudes from him. Lennox’s natural humour and cynicism permeates the book once again, in the good old style of the hard-boiled private investigator tradition, but he is as always a man of determination, deep-seated morality, and not averse to getting his hands dirty. Or his knuckles bruised. He has some shady gangster connections, with Russell once again referencing The Three Kings; a disparate trinity of gangland bosses who control and manipulate the criminal world of Glasgow, and Handsome Johnny Cohen, one of the three bosses, has a significant part to play in this book. Lennox is also assisted in his mission by the brilliant ‘Twinkletoes’ McBride, (think bolt-cutters and This Little Piggy), a haystack of an enforcer whose woeful attempts to improve his word-power by regular reading of the Reader’s Digest leads to some excruciating mispronunciations and, by turn, moments of biting wit. Throughout the characterisation of his main protagonists, and the assorted miscreants, schemers, and ne’er- do-wells, that thwart their path, Russell has again drawn a colourful and engaging world, which you cannot help but be drawn into completely. The lightness of touch applied to some of the characterisation is balanced beautifully by some moments of raw emotion and introspection that give an added weight and differing perception to the reader of the tough guy characters, once again spotlighting Russell’s intuitive and accomplished stature as a writer.

Russell perfectly evokes the feel of the period, with the shabby, downtrodden air of a city recovering in the aftermath of war, and the incessant need for the criminal underclass to keep a foothold in the economic recovery of the city with the opportunity to make an illegal buck or two. Cut through with the dry wit of the laconic Canadian Lennox, the nod to the hard-boiled genre in terms of dialogue and pace, superb plotting and peopled with a colourful cast of supporting characters, Russell has done it again. I love this series. More please…and soon… Highly recommended.

(With thanks to Quercus for the ARC)

 

 

Craig Russell- Lennox/ The Long Glasgow Kiss/ The Deep Dark Sleep/Dead Men and Broken Hearts

l1 Glasgow, 1953, is a hard city at a hard time. The war may be over but the battle for the streets is just beginning, and shady investigator Lennox is the man in the middle. Standing somewhere between legal and illegal, between honour and greed, Lennox can only be certain of one thing: this is a place where only the toughest and most ruthless survive. The McGahern twins were on the way up until Tam, the brains of the outfit, becomes the victim of a vicious contract killing. Tam’s brother Frankie turns to Lennox to find out who killed his twin. Lennox refuses. Later that night, Frankie turns up dead, and Lennox finds himself in the frame for murder. The only way of proving his innocence is to solve the crime – but he’ll have to dodge men more deadly than Glasgow’s crime bosses before he gets any answers…

A cracking start to a potentially great series and a book which further compounds my disbelief that Russell is so underated in the crime genre as his Jan Fabel series is compelling reading! Anyway, I digress, ‘Lennox’ does for 50‘s Glasgow what Arnott did for 60‘s London with the same assortment of dodgy gangsters, bent coppers and the wonderfully seedy underbelly of post war society. I think what sets this apart is not only the brilliant re-creation of the period but the strength of the characterisation and the blackly comic asides that permeate the book. I liked the fact that Lennox is Canadian and views everything that’s thrown at him with the air of an outsider but by the same token how he has overcome this status to mix with some, by and large, unsavoury characters and who is man enough to take a beating! Teamed with a pacy plot this series is one to watch and I was just itching to read the next…

 l3Glasgow in the 1950s – private investigator Lennox is keeping a low profile, enjoying a secret fling with the daughter of shady bookie and greyhound breeder MacFarlane. When MacFarlane is found bludgeoned to death, Lennox is a suspect. Luckily, he has a solid gold alibi – he was in bed with the victim’s daughter. Lennox is quickly drawn into hunting the killer. It turns out MacFarlane was into some seriously dodgy stuff. One of Glasgow’s notorious Three Kings, crime boss Willie Sneddon, is involved and he’s not a man Lennox wants to cross. But there’s an even bigger player lurking in the shadows and it looks like Lennox is going to get his fingers burnt, badly…

 The bleak dark violent atmosphere of the first book seeps it’s way into this follow-up- and it’s great! Grubby, earthy and once again peopled with a shady bunch of characters, Russell perfectly evokes the look and feel of Glasgow among it’s seedier elements. The dry wit that ran through the first continues with perfectly placed examples of the Glasgow vernacular pitched against Lennox, our laconic wise-cracking Canadian hero- a series that will run and run and with an ending that will ensure that you will be swiftly seeking out the next in the series ‘The Deep Dark Sleep’…

l2Human remains are recovered from the bottom of the River Clyde. Not an unusual occurrence, but these have been sleeping the deep, dark sleep for eighteen years. Suddenly Glasgow’s underworld is buzzing with the news that the dredged up bones belong to Gentleman Joe Strachan, Glasgow’s most successful and ruthless armed robber. When Isa and Violet, Strachan’s daughters, hire Lennox to find out who has been sending them large sums of cash each year, on the anniversary of Strachan’s most successful robbery, his instincts tell him that this job spells trouble and will take him back into the dark world of the Three Kings – the crime bosses who run the city. He takes the job nevertheless. And soon learns that ignoring his instincts might just cost him his life…

The third in Craig Russell’s excellent ‘Lennox’ series and I would say one of the darkest so far. Our silver-tongued, justice seeking private eye encounters more than one or two physical scrapes through business and pleasure when he takes on two cases that will test him to the hilt. Is it really criminal mastermind Gentleman Joe Strachan that languishes below the grey choppy waters of the Clyde who appears to be sending messages and issuing death warrants from beyond the grave, or are there other forces at work? And what links an American movie star with an aristocrat’s son in a positively salacious incident of blackmail? And how the jiggins is Lennox going to sort it all out whilst still in pursuit of his delectable landlady Fiona, fighting off commando window cleaners and juggling the demands of the Three Kings who rule Glasgow with their iron fists? It’s no walk in the park as our battered and bruised hero grapples with his toughest cases yet with a wonderfully violent denouement that sees Lennox dispensing justice in his own inimitable style but with what consequence? This series just gets better and better in my eyes- accomplished plotting, great characterisation melded with a perfect balance of grim violence and wise-cracking dialogue.

l4November 1956. The world is in turmoil. While the Suez Crisis and the Hungarian Uprising boil away in the background, Lennox has more immediate concerns, like getting his personal life, and his business, back on track. So, when a woman comes into Lennox’s office and hires him to follow her husband, whom she suspects of leading a double life, it seems the perfect case. Straightforward, typical – if a little sordid – and most of all, legal. But as he begins to dig deeper, Lennox realizes that this is no ordinary case of marital infidelity. He finds himself caught by the police in a room with a dead body; pursued by shadowy members of the intelligence community; and once more a target of the Three Kings, the crime bosses who between them run Glasgow’s underworld. Lennox must again draw on the violent, war-damaged part of his personality that he has tried to keep buried, in order to survive…

Having thought that ‘The Deep Dark Sleep’ was more dark in tone than the previous two ‘Dead Men and Broken Hearts’ has gazumped it as Lennox finds himself in the throes of an almost existential crisis. With his personal relationships causing him no end of angst and a seemingly straightfoward case of marital infidelity devolving into an infinitely more complicated caper, Lennox really begins to question his place and occupation on the mean streets of Glasgow. As he tussles with a shadowy world of Hungarian emigres and a positively Scarlet Pimpernel-esque conman he once again finds himself on the wrong side of the law and living on his wits to untangle the nefarious mysteries of the cases he’s involved in. Calling on the personal services on one of my favourite characters Twinkletoes McBride (whose chosen form of torture usually involves feet and boltcutters) there is the development of a wonderful ‘Odd Couple’ humour that lightens the relief of this sombre tale but Mr Russell ramps up the personal pain for Lennox right at the end of the book with….well I can’t tell you what…but it’s very sad indeed although beautifully done.  A great series which I implore you to read.

I am now feeling slightly bereft having reached the end of my many hours spent in the company of Lennox and the brilliant writing of Mr Russell. When’s the next one- it can’t come soon enough!

Have a look at this wonderfully witty interview with Mr Russell himself at: http://www.quercusbooks.co.uk/blog/2012/07/04/quercus-couch-craig-russell/