#ARisingMan Blog Tour- Abir Mukherjee- Guest Post- 5 Books That Inspired Me + Review

Abir Mukherjee c_ Nick Tucker MAIN PHOTOA RISING MANDelighted to be taking part in a special blog tour marking the release of Abir Mukherjee’s masterly Calcutta set debut A Rising Man, the writing of which led to him winning the Telegraph Harvill Secker Crime Writing Competition. Here’s Abir on the 5 books that have inspired him as a writer, and influenced him to put pen to paper…

 

1Doors Open – Ian Rankin

I’m a huge fan of Ian Rankin and have read all of the Rebus books. However it’s one of his stand-alone books, Doors Open, which is one of the novels that inspired me to write. It tells of how a gang of ordinary guys (albeit one of them is a millionaire) set out to steal a number of paintings. The plot is inspired and the twist in the tale is fantastic. In many ways, it’s the perfect crime. I rather hoped Mr Rankin would write a sequel to it, but he hasn’t yet.

 

11A Quiet Flame – Philip Kerr

As with Ian Rankin’s work, I will read pretty much everything Philip Kerr produces. I think his character, Bernie Gunther, an investigator in Nazi Germany and in the post war period, is a brilliant creation. I love novels with an ambiguous, conflicted protagonist, and for me, Bernie Gunther is the gold standard. All of the Gunther novels are excellent and I’ve been hooked since I picked up his Berlin Noir Trilogy about ten years ago. My favourite to date, though, has been A Quiet Flame, in which Bernie finds himself in post war Argentina, alongside a bunch of unsavoury characters including Adolf Eichmann. Bernie is tasked with hunting down a serial killer targeting young girls in a method very similar to another crime he investigated back in Berlin.

 

111Gorky Park – Martin Cruz Smith

To me this book is a classic. It is the first of Cruz Smith’s Arkady Renko novels, and still my favourite. Set in the late Cold War period, Renko is chief investigator for the Moscow Militsiya, who is assigned to a case involving three corpses found in Gorky Park, who have had their faces and fingertips cut off by the murderer to prevent identification. I first read this book when I was still at school and I thought it was brilliant. It’s the novel that first piqued my interest in the sub-genre of good detectives upholding a corrupt system, and it’s one of the few books I’ve read several times.

 

1111The Byomkesh Bakshi stories – Sharadindu Bandyopadhyay

Not so much any one book, but a whole series of stories this time. Byomkesh Bakshi is an Indian detective created in the 1930s by Sharadindu Bandyopadhyay. Byomkesh is India’s answer to Sherlock Holmes, though he prefers the term ‘Seeker of Truth’ to ‘detective’. The stories are set in Calcutta and have been Indian favourites for generations.

 

11111Killing Floor – Lee Child

More than anyone else, it was Lee Child who inspired me to write. I was running late one morning and caught an interview with Lee Child on breakfast TV. He recounted how, having never really written before, he’d started writing at the age of forty. I’d never read any of his work till then, but I went out that day and bought a copy of his first book, Killing Floor, and devoured it within forty-eight hours. I was amazed at how simply written and well plotted it was. I’d recently had an idea for a story centred on a British detective who travels to India after the First World War, and reading Killing Floor gave me the motivation to put pen to paper.


Raven’s Review

A RISING MAN“1919. Calcutta. Captain Sam Wyndham, former Scotland Yard detective, is a new arrival to Calcutta. Desperately seeking a fresh start after his experiences during the Great War, Wyndham has been recruited to head up a new post in the police force. But with barely a moment to acclimatize to his new life or to deal with the ghosts which still haunt him, Wyndham is caught up in a murder investigation that will take him into the dark underbelly of the British Raj. A senior official has been murdered, and a note left in his mouth warns the British to quit India: or else. With rising political dissent and the stability of the Raj under threat, Wyndham and his two new colleagues – arrogant Inspector Digby and British-educated, but Indian-born Sergeant Banerjee, one of the few Indians to be recruited into the new CID – embark on an investigation that will take them from the luxurious parlours of wealthy British traders to the seedy opium dens of the city.”

From the very beginning with its wonderfully Chandler-esque opening line, “At least he was well dressed. Black tie, tux, the works. If you’re going to get yourself killed, you may as well look your best,” I was totally in the thrall of this book from start to finish. Not only is the writing whip smart and intuitive with a clever and engaging plot, but the depth of the historical research to so vividly portray the teeming life of this beautiful, yet socially and racially torn, outpost of the former British Empire sings from every page. I always think that historically drawn fiction treads a difficult line between force feeding the reader too much factual detail, or being too sketchy on how well it integrates the historical aspect which then doesn’t draw the reader into the reality of the period. Not only does Mukherjee present Calcutta and its social and political tensions with such clarity of detail, and the heinous crimes perpetrated by the British at Amritsar, but he also weaves into the story the echoing resonance of the trauma of WWI in the characterisation of his main protagonist Captain Sam Wyndham.

I liked the way that these momentous moments in history were brought centre stage at times, but then also cleverly just playing out in the background against the murder investigation adding a sense of the ebb and flow to the story and keeping the reader’s interest throughout. I also enjoyed the way that the interactions between the main characters and their responses to one another added another dimension to the difference in their societal position or racial status again reflecting the tensions of the time. This is very much in evidence by not only Wyndham’s experience as an ‘incomer’ to India, and the barriers to his investigation that he experiences, but also in his own interactions with his fellow Englishman, the prickly Inspector Digby, and the delightful Sergeant Banerjee. The interplay between these three incredibly disparate men was a source of pleasure throughout the book, and the development of their differing relationships, both personally and professionally, gave a further emotional pull on the reader’s empathy to these characters. Wyndham is a particularly complex man with previous trauma, and the loss of the love of his life, placing its own unique strain on his psyche. However, despite his insomnia and wavering dependence on chemical pick-me-ups, what Mukherjee so assuredly shows is Wyndham’s singular integrity as a man, his open mindedness, and his ability to place himself apart from his compatriots in order to fully investigate this case, finding his way in an alien and corrupt society.

So, A Rising Man, bulging with beautifully controlled historical detail, the atmospheric backdrop of Calcutta, a twisting and dangerous murder investigation, and a wonderfully drawn cast of characters, did not disappoint in the slightest. A strong contender for my top 5 of the year, and a completely absorbing, and thoroughly enjoyable debut. Highly recommended.

A Rising Man by Abir Mukherjee is published by Harvill Secker on 5 May 2016 (priced £12.99)

Catch up with or follow the tour at these excellent sites…

Tour poster A RISING MAN- use this one

 

 

 

 

 

A Raven’s Eye View of CrimeFest 2015- with added hilarity…

bHaving posted an eminently sensible round-up of some of the highlights of CrimeFest 2015 at Crime Fiction Lover  including the terrific interview by Lee Child of Scandinavian crime legend Maj Sjowall, the announcement of a plethora of awards, and some fascinating debut novelists’ panels, I thought it would be fun to share a few of the more light-hearted moments to entertain you. I endeavoured to attend as many panels as possible to bring you some more highlights. Hope you enjoy…

#1. A large percentage of the Icelandic population believe in elves, and in precise statistical terms there are on average 1.5 murders a year. Yes, 1.5…. The elves are invariably convicted.

ONLINE REVIEWS: One panel was asked to bring along to their event, their favourite 1* review posted online. Inevitably “the book arrived late” or “the courier dumped it in my next door neighbour’s garden” featured, but my personal favourite was “I wouldn’t even give it to the charity shop”….

#2. One author revealed he has a ‘f**k radar’, to judge the potential response of the assembled throng to potential profanity….

GETTING PUBLISHED: There was a terrific selection of Fresh Blood panels, featuring debut authors, with an incredibly interesting collection of tales about the road to publication. Blood, sweat and tears (and more) featured heavily, but the general consensus was DON’T GIVE UP, the road may be difficult but the end result cannot be beaten, and you will not regret it. The fact that I’ve come back with a list of debut authors to read now is testament to this.

#3 It was possible during WW2 to steer a certain make of Russian tank with your feet resting them on another person’s shoulders. Bet not many of you knew that….but why would you?

THE MOST HILARIOUS PANEL: CFIwGa_WYAAjsMG Moderated by bon vivant crime and YA author Kevin Wignall, I had a feeling that this one would be full of laughs. Stepping bravely into the breach were A. K. Benedict, J. F. Penn, Oscar de Muriel Mark Roberts to talk about Things That Go Bump In The Night– the blending of crime with the supernatural. Peppered with probing questions such as ‘Do you have pets and what are their names?’ accrued from Wignall’s children’s events, and the left field responses particularly from the quirky Roberts, this panel quickly descended into comic chaos. Rest assured though, we did find out enough about the panellists’ passion for the supernatural to seek out their books, and a round of applause to them all for the entertainment!

#4. It is recommended to do one hour of yoga before your first CrimeFest appearance to calm your thoughts…(or even before attending one of Kevin Wignall’s panels- see above)

THE MOST CONTENTIOUS PANEL: There was an extremely feisty discussion at the Playing God With Your Characters panel comprising of Stav Sherez, Amanda Jennings, David Mark and Linda Regan, moderated by Christine Poulson. When discussing how your characters’ voices and actions dictate how they appear in the plot, we were taken on a strange flight of fancy about how the characters appeared to be real in one case with no control over them whatsoever, pitted against the more down to earth opinion that you control your characters, and use their characteristics to drive and inhabit the central plot. It got a little heated, until tactfully diffused by another member of the panel.  But we loved it. As did, I suspect, others on the panel too.

#4. You could be routinely called upon to hold the reins of a police horse while the officers nip into the venue to use the facilities…

FANGIRL MOMENTS: I’m sure that most attendees had a list of authors that they were bursting to meet, but equally to retain a certain decorum in the face of those that you particularly admire. No squealing. So, in this spirit, can I say a personal thank you to Anthony Quinn, Tom Callaghan, Grant Nicol, Thomas Mogford, Steve Cavanagh and William Shaw, amongst others, for their good-natured and friendly response at being cornered by me trying not to gush about how brilliant they all are. Thank you chaps! (Be sure to check out my reviews in the Reviews 2014/15 tabs).

#5. Crime authors drink..a lot…

HEARTWARMING MOMENTS: CFIdK0GWYAAG0jmIn the interview with Lee Child there wasn’t a dry eye in the house when Maj Sjowall spoke so movingly about the loss of Per Wahloo, and how her writing could not continue without his presence in her life. Also the refreshing wide-eyed and humble response of Ragnar Jonasson at gaining the No. 1 spot in the Amazon book chart, during the festival, for his exceptional debut Snow Blind. It was a delight to witness, and congratulations. On a personal note, I would like to thank William Ryan (I tip my hat to you sir!) , David Mark, Quentin Bates (great curry!), Stav Sherez (have I met you?!), Simon Toyne, Steve Mosby and others for remembering me, and greeting me like an old friend, despite not having seen them all for a while. Likewise, the warm glow of meeting up with fellow bloggers old and new, made for an entertaining and thoroughly enjoyable time. We rock! And finally, the hardiness of the Icelandic contingent in the face of a 4am flight from Bristol on Sunday morning, and lasting so long in the bar on Saturday night.

Lastly, a big thanks to the organizers, authors, publishers, bloggers and readers for one of the best CrimeFests to date. It was a blast, and if you’re a crime fiction fan and you’ve not been, you should. You’ll love it. Piqued your interest? Visit the CrimeFest website here

K. T. Medina- The Inspiration for White Crocodile/ Review

White Crocodile jacketWhite Crocodile is a thriller set in the land minefields of northern Cambodia. When emotionally damaged mine-clearer, Tess Hardy, travels to Cambodia to find out the truth behind her ex-husband’s death, she doesn’t know much about the country or its beliefs. On arrival, she finds that teenage mothers are going missing from villages around the minefields, while others are being found mutilated and murdered, their babies abandoned. And there are whispers about the white crocodile, a mythical beast who brings death to all who meet it. What Tess uncovers in her search for the truth is far more terrifying and globally wide ranging than she could ever have anticipated – a web of lies stretching from Cambodia to another murder in England and a violent secret twenty years old.

KT MEDINA

Here, author K.T. Medina explains the inspiration for her crime debut, White Crocodile

” The white crocodile represents death in Cambodia. When the Khmer Rouge took control of Cambodia – heralding five years of mass genocide, depicted in the famous film The Killing Fields – the white crocodile was seen rising out of the Mekong river. When a family member dies, Cambodians will hang a flag depicting a white crocodile outside their home to signify that death has stolen a loved one. The story of the white crocodile is an ancient one. Five hundred years ago, the only daughter of King Chan Reachea, King of Cambodia, was eaten by a huge white crocodile whilst swimming. The King ordered his men to find the crocodile and kill it. After many weeks of searching, the beast was found in a river far in the North-East of Cambodia, a hundred miles from where the Princess was eaten. 
The King killed the crocodile and took the body of his daughter from its stomach. Then he ordered that a Buddhist stupa – a temple – be built to bury his daughter. Twenty innocent young women were executed and buried around the stupa so their souls would haunt the stupa and protect it from destruction for all time. Ever since, Khmers have believed that the white crocodile signifies death.

MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERAWhite Crocodile is my debut novel and is very personal to me. I had the idea for the novel while I was responsible for land-based weapons at Jane’s Information Group, the world’s leading publisher of defence intelligence information. As part of that role, I spent time in Cambodia, working alongside professional mine clearers. I was privileged to be able to get to know both Western and Khmer clearers and to meet Khmers – both adults and children – who had lost limbs to land mines. I also visited many of the locations that appear in White Crocodile, such as the Red Cross Hospital for the victims of land mines. There are huge numbers of amputees in Cambodia, including very young children who, in many cases, thought that the anti-personnel mine they found was a toy. Cambodia is a stunning country, but it is also a tragic one and an unbeatable setting for a dark and disturbing thriller.

White Crocodile is also a story about families: love and hatred, kindness and cruelty, the destructive nature of some families and the long-term damage these families can cause. As part of my degree in psychology, I studied the effect of poor family dynamics on children. The fear and helplessness a child trapped in a severely dysfunctional family feels must be all consuming, and for me was a very powerful emotion to explore in a novel, as was its flip side, intense love and an overwhelming desire to protect. When I had my own children, I realised how incredibly vulnerable they are and what a huge responsibility it is to be a parent, and I tapped into those feelings while writing White Crocodile.

I have a degree in psychology and am very drawn to people who have a different psychology from my own, whether that is in terms of mass cultural beliefs, such as in Cambodia with the white crocodile, or individuals who, perhaps because of their upbringing or life experiences, display an abnormal psychology. The heroine of White Crocodile is Tess Hardy, a ex-British Army combat engineer and mine clearer who, against her better judgment, is drawn to Cambodia to find out the truth behind her violent husband, Luke’s, death. However, whilst Tess is strong, clever and independent, she is also a complex character who has her own very personal demons to deal with.

I am an avid crime and thriller reader, which is why I choose to write in that genre, and I particularly like novels that bring more to me than just a great story. Novels that stay with me long after the last page are those such as Khaled Hosseini’s The Kite Runner – novels that explore real life trauma through the medium of story and unforgettable characters, and that was my aim with White Crocodile.”

Whilst doing a first degree in Psychology, K. T. Medina joined the Territorial Army, where she spent five years, ending up as a Troop Commander in the Royal Engineers. She has worked in publishing, as Managing Editor, Land Based Weapon Systems, at Jane’s Information Group, as a strategy consultant and as a lecturer at The London School of Economics. She now writes full time. Follow her on Twitter @KatieMedina11

Raven’s Review:

White Crocodile jacket

Sometimes, when you read a surfeit of the same genre, books can be quickly put aside, as all to often they begin to repeat the same old tired motifs, and conceits, of crime writing. Sometimes, however, something fresh, new, original and exciting awaits you, and I’m delighted to say that White Crocodile is one such book. Using the backdrop of Battambang in Cambodia, Medina has not only succeeded in constructing a story that adheres to all the tenets of a gripping crime thriller, but also skilfully manipulates this chosen location to integrate the attendant issues of this country still recovering from the ravages of war…

Penned by debut author, K.T. Medina, this book completely defied my expectations in terms of content and the execution of the story. With an incredibly accomplished prose style, that carried the story along beautifully, I felt so closely involved and intimately acquainted with the characters throughout this powerful and moving tale. Tess Hardy is a troubled woman, not only differentiated by her gender in the masculine environment she works in as a mine clearance expert, but also having come out the other side of an abusive relationship- a relationship that is powerfully rendered within the book. As Tess reconciles herself to the breakdown of this relationship, a strange phone call from Luke (her husband), mine clearing in Cambodia, followed swiftly by his death, takes Tess to this strange and dangerous environment. As the link between Luke’s death and a series of young women’s murders in Battambang becomes more evident, Tess finds herself embroiled in not only the day-to-day dangers of her job, in a community steeped in folkloric suspicion, but dark secrets with their roots back in England. Despite the clear and concise drawing of the other characters in the book, it is Tess that is the central lynchpin of the whole story, and she exudes a fascinating combination of emotional strength and weakness throughout. Her utter professionalism as a mine clearer is never in question, holding her own among her male counterparts, but there is a delicious fragility to her at times, that positively impacts on the reader, as she delves deeper into the mystery of the murders, and how the perpetrator of these could be dwelling closer to home than she thinks. As we follow her progress from victim, to defender of these women singled out for death, and finds herself in danger, the reader is utterly immersed in her story, and the mental and emotional strength she attains along the way.

Although, my personal knowledge of Cambodia, has only been accrued through film representations and other fictional books, I felt that the setting, influenced by the author’s own personal experience of the region, was perfect in its rendition. The suffocating heat, the strange belief systems, the heartbreaking visualisations of mine victims, and the prejudices experienced by women within this community, came powerfully to the fore. I was genuinely moved by the plight of the local people, carving out some kind of existence, beleagured by poverty due to the unstable nature of their surrounding environment- an environment whose description Medina carefully balances between both the good and the bad aspects, that impact on the lives of its inhabitants.

I was genuinely impressed by the scope of this crime read, and in common with the best crime writing, I felt that White Crocodile went beyond such a simple label. Packed with colourful description, weighty issues, and an inherent sensitivity to the particular social and economic problems of this region of Cambodia, Medina has achieved something quite special, and more importantly, refreshingly different. A remarkable debut.

Read another review of White Crocodile at Crimepieces

(With thanks to Faber & Faber for the ARC)