#Blog Tour Sergio Olguin- The Fragility of Bodies

When journalist Veronica Rosenthal hears about the suicide of a local train driver who has jumped off the roof of a block of flats, leaving a suicide note confessing to four mortal ‘accidents’ on the train tracks, she decides to investigate. For the police the case is closed (suicide is suicide), for Veronica it is the beginning of a journey that takes her into an unfamiliar world of grinding poverty, junkie infested neighborhoods, and train drivers on commuter lines haunted by the memory of bodies hit at speed by their locomotives in the middle of the night. Aided by a train driver informant, a junkie in rehab and two street kids willing to risk everything for a can of Coke, she uncovers a group of men involved in betting on working-class youngsters convinced to play Russian roulette by standing in front of oncoming trains to see who endures the longest. With bodies of children crushed under tons of steel, those of adults yielding to relentless desire, the resolution of the investigation reveals the deep bonds which unite desire and death…

Right, where on earth do I begin, to get across to everyone how intensely, sublimely brilliant The Fragility of Bodies is? A book shot through with painful truths and gritty realism, and with the ability to put its reader through a whole gamut of emotions with its pared down prose, perceptive exploration of the human compulsion to make connections, and larger themes of trust, exploitation and social injustice. This is a huge, important book hiding behind the deceptively simple label of an Argentine noir thriller, but has much to say about the nature of human relationships, and the power and exploitation of the few on the lives of the many…

With such a self assured, dogged, yet emotionally turbulent central character as journalist, Veronica Rosenthal, I was instantly entranced by her. She sets about her investigation into the worrying trend of suicides on local railway lines, with verve and energy; a verve and energy that also extends to the more base needs of her character, and the mutual seduction that occurs in the course of her investigation. She is flighty and independent, in relation to her friends and siblings, but she has a real strength of character and essence of self control, that her peers can only aspire to. Not only does Olguin put his readers through the emotional mangle, but Veronica is tested constantly in her pursuit of the truth behind the pattern of suicides occurring on train tracks of late, sucking her into a world of bribery and exploitation that will prove dangerous in the extreme. I can truthfully say that she is one of the most well-realised, compelling and authentic female characters that I have encountered for a long time, and this mix of tenacity and bravery, is beautifully tempered by the more impulsive, reckless and passionate side of her nature, be it in her professional or personal life.

The breadth of crime fiction set in South America has been a recent revelation to me, and Olguin naturally captures the grinding poverty, misplaced optimism, and dangerous existence of the lower classes of Buenos Aires society. Young boys believe that football is their ticket out of the slums and the path to riches, but putting them squarely into the path of those that would exploit them, and such is their desperation to escape the clutches of poverty and to help their families, or just to feel valued that they are easily coerced into the dark activities of the adults in whom they trust. Olguin perfectly captures the conflicts that arise in these young boys, lured into a dangerous form of ‘chicken’ to satisfy the men who place bets on these youngster’s bravery and ultimately survival, with the lure of a hundred pesos.

The world of these boys is unflinchingly depicted by Olguin, capturing the deprivation of the neighbourhoods they live in, the struggles of their families, and the thin line that exists between survival and criminality in the dangerous world of the favelas. Olguin’s depiction of this world is written with sharp clarity appealing to the reader’s senses, and which cannot fail to move the reader’s emotions too, but what is also detectible is the thin veneer of hope that lies behind the most meagre of lives, the feeling that not all is lost, and that a sense of morality can breach the divides Olguin so truthfully depicts. As long as journalists like Veronica, and honest citizens seek to expose the morally bankrupt despite the risks, there can always be hope, despite the inherent danger in society of those in positions of power.

The Fragility of Bodies has rocketed into my best books of the year, and all I can say to Sergio Olguin and his wonderful translator Miranda France, is that I am already salivating for the next in the series to be translated. This book shocked, moved and completely absorbed me from beginning to end, and think this will leave a few of my future reads trailing in its wake. Gritty, beautifully prosaic, and intensely moving, I cannot do justice to the power of this book, which moves the emotions, sparks the social conscience, but pays heed to the need of a thriller to excite and entertain us too, with a truly compelling central character. Highly recommended.

(With thanks to Bitter Lemon Press for the ARC)

 

 

Catch up with the blog tour at these excellent sites:

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Travels With The TBR #3- Neil Broadfoot-Falling Fast, Paddy Magrane-Denial, Stefan Ahnhem- Victim Without A Face

In the thick of the Christmas rush, as a retail drone currently battling with the lurgy too, time for reviewing has been a bit limited this month. Here’s the last little flurry of books that have made it to the top of the TBR mountain, before my end of year round-up,  and hopefully this little feature will continue next year *eyeing the Eiger sized pile of books yet to be read*….

9781908643537Story-hungry journalist Doug McGregor is out to track down a convicted rapist, on the run after being hounded out of his home by a lynch mob. But a grisly suicide in the heart of tourist Edinburgh piques Doug’s curiosity and diverts his attention – especially once his police contact and occasional drinking partner, DS Susie Drummond, reveals that the victim is connected to a high-profile and controversial politician. Together, they find themselves unravelling a story of secrets, drug abuse, violence, murder…and the ultimate taboo.

Having been meaning to catch up with this author, having seen him at CrimeFest this year and instantly purchasing the first two of this series. It was a wise decision, as I have now discovered a great author to add to my Scottish favourites! I was instantly drawn to the two main protagonists, Doug McGregor- dogged reporter, and his police contact DS Susie Drummond, and the relationship that exists between them. I loved the underlying feeling of them both being slightly square pegs in round holes, with McGregor’s incredible self reliance which tends to alienate others, and Drummond’s former misguided fling with a senior officer which has marked her out as an outsider to her police colleagues. However, although their professional relationship alternates beautifully between frustration and spikiness, there is a mutual respect underpinning everything, leading to some intense scenes that alternate between danger, humour and high emotion, thanks to their razor sharp characterisation.

I thought the plot was superb, and am always gratified by the exposure of political corruption, and this book takes some incredibly dark turns as the truth behind a young woman’s death at the outset of the book comes to light. Broadfoot captures perfectly the nature of family bonds with their sometimes misguided loyalty, and explores the issue of parental responsibility in both its good and worst forms. Equally, the author uses both the location of Edinburgh, and his own background as a journalist, to add further layers of realism to what is altogether a completely absorbing thriller. Highly recommended.


A riot breaks out at Creech Hill Immigration Detention Centre. Zahra Idris, a terrified Eritrean detainee suffering with amnesia, escapes. That evening, Zahra’s psychotherapist, Sam Keddie, finds his girlfriend lying unconscious in their home – the victim of a brutal attack. When Zahra’s solicitor is found dead, drowned in the waters of the Regent’s Canal, Sam becomes convinced that his connection with Zahra is significant – and that someone wants them both dead. He tracks down a frightened, confused Zahra in Amsterdam. But their pursuers are close behind, and Sam and Zahra are soon on the run. As they’re hunted through Europe, Sam races against time to piece together Zahra’s fragile memories and discover why she and those close to her are being picked off – one by one.

Having really enjoyed Disorder , the first of Paddy Magrane’s series featuring psychotherapist Sam Keddie, I’m glad the hiatus has ended and another has appeared! This is real breakneck, edge of your seat thrilling stuff, chockfull of danger, excitement and some very bad men indeed, but tempered by an innate sensitivity to the very contemporary issue of immigration. The character of Zahra, in particular, who has experienced the very worst of human behaviour during her passage to supposed safety in Europe, is mesmeric from the very start, and she holds the reader in the palm of her hand with her mix of,  at times, extreme vulnerability underscored by a steely resolve and bravery to overcome the evil that pursues her. I adored her character, and the way that Magrane uses her so effectively to explore important issues, and bring to the fore elements of corruption, greed and expose those that trade in human exploitation. I also liked the little areas of grey that Magrane employs in relation to one of the men pursuing Zahra, which leads us to reassess our feeling towards him as the tale unfolds.

Despite the more serious issues that the book encompasses, Magrane balances this perfectly with the ‘thriller’ aspect, as Keddie and Zahra are caught up in a  desperate game of cat and mouse across a series of European locations, with all the pace and energy one would expect of the genre. There are some real heart in the mouth moments along the way, and Magrane moves us effortlessly from one impending moment of peril to the next, with a flowing and unbroken narrative. Yes, there are a couple of plot turns which may raise a mildly quizzical eyebrow, but fear not, you are so quickly moved on to more dangerous ground, that these will not deter you. Thrilling, thought-provoking and highly entertaining. What more could you possibly want? Highly recommended.

 

9781784975500Two men are dead. Both had been bullies at school. A single clue has been found at the scene: a class photo from 1982, with two faces neatly crossed out.

Fabian Risk is the lead detective on the case. He’s also one of the children in the photograph. He thought he’d left his schooldays behind. Now his classmates are dying for the sins of their childhood…

You and I both know that you can’t whack a good old slice of Scandinavian noir, so here’s another author to add to your Scandi wish list. Ahnhem has produced a meaty, compelling and impeccably plotted thriller, with a sizeable body count, and increasingly imaginative ways of having despatching the victims, straying into Chris Carter territory with the sheer ghoulishness of some of their deaths. Which was nice.

Fabian Risk proves himself a feisty, and lone wolfish investigator, having recently relocated to his childhood town, after an ‘incident’, putting him perfectly in place to try and outwit a demented killer targeting his school chums. With numerous twists and turns along the way, too convoluted to try and explore here, inevitably Risk finds himself at well, risk, and experiencing an isolation from his police cohorts as the plot thickens.The plot culminates in a slightly clunky and predictable endgame involving a kidnap, but can be slightly forgiven as the story up until that point, and other reveals at the tail end of the book, did diffuse my sense of annoyance somewhat. Certainly enough here to make me seek out the next in the series, and a good recommendation for you Scandi fans out there…

 

Blog Tour- J M Gulvin- #TheLongCount: A John Q Mystery

517UlM8qrSL__SX325_BO1,204,203,200_It’s a pleasure to be taking part in this blog tour marking the release of J. M. Gulvin’s The Long Count, the first of a series featuring Texas Ranger, John Quarrie…

Ranger John Quarrie is called to the scene of an apparent suicide by a fellow war veteran. Although the local police want the case shut down, John Q is convinced that events aren’t quite so straightforward. When his hunch is backed up by the man’s son, Isaac – just back from Vietnam, and convinced his father was murdered – they start to look into a series of other violent incidents in the area, including a recent fire at the local Trinity Asylum and the disappearance of Isaac’s twin brother, Ishmael. In a desperate race against time, John Q has to try and unravel the dark secrets at the heart of this family and get to the truth before the count is up…

With comparisons to Shutter Island and True Detective, my expectations were high for this first outing featuring Texas Ranger John Q. From the very outset of the book Gulvin completely immerses the reader in this particular era of the 1970’s with the reverberations of the Vietnam War playing through the book, and an atmospheric depiction of the sprawling location of Texas. The opening chapter with a real sit up and take notice incident is an absolute corker, that instantly grabs the reader’s attention, and sets the pulse a racing for what is to follow. I loved the sharp cutaway and the instant change of pace in the second chapter, this being the first introduction into the personal world of our erstwhile hero Quarrie. This is a change of rhythm and pace that Gulvin fluctuates between throughout the book, thus ensuring that the more violent aspects of the plot work perfectly in tandem with the more emotional and heart-wrenching interludes, keeping the reader slightly on the back foot, and playing with our responses to the narrative as a whole.

By extension these changes of pace seem to echo in Gulvin’s characterisation throughout the book, and seldom do I encounter a book where every single protagonist- irrespective of how long they appear in the book, or the size of the part they play- are so clearly fleshed out. Quarrie is a man with two personas, as a single father with a young son, James, never happier than in the lively company of James or his Korean War buddy Pious, just shooting the breeze or in his professional status as a dedicated and dogged Texas Ranger. The background story to the loss of his wife never resorts to mawkishness, and in a side plot with James and Pious investigating the history of a train crash in a local river, the real excitement in James’ enthusiasm for his own mystery to investigate comes shining through. This side narrative provides moments of light as Quarrie’s own case finds him drawn into a world of psychological darkness, evinced by the unsettling goings-on at a mental asylum, with a vendetta being waged against those who work there, and the dark personal history of a family with connections to it. The character of Isaac, whose father’s suspicious death is a real lynchpin of the book, is also incredibly well drawn, and as the story develops there are further revelations about himself and the bounds of loyalty his family, in particular his twin brother Ishamel, that hold more than a few surprises…

Gulvin builds the tension of Quarrie’s investigation perfectly, and trying hard to avoid spoilers, there is a real emotional intensity and pathos to this story as Quarrie is drawn into the world of the asylum and those that dwell within it. Obviously being set around forty years in the past, Gulvin engages the reader’s interest further by highlighting what now seem archaic and cruel treatment methods for those with mental disturbance, and drawing on both the Korean and Vietnam conflicts to add weight to the psychological depth of the book. Nothing makes my heart sing more than a book that rises above the commonplace labels of generic crime fiction, and an author that so perfectly insinuates deeper themes, and a well-realised sense of place and history into their work. J M Gulvin has achieved this admirably. Highly recommended.

Born in the UK, JM Gulvin divides his time between Wales and the western United States. He is the author of many previous novels, as well as Ewan McGregor and Charley Boorman’s bestselling travel book Long Way Down. The Long Count is his first John Q mystery and he is currently at work on the follow up. Follow on Twitter @jmgulvin

(With thanks to Faber for the ARC)

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

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D. A. Mishani- A Possibility of Violence

damHaunted by the past and his own limitations, Israeli Detective Avraham Avraham must stop a criminal ruthless enough to target children. An explosive device is found in a suitcase near a daycare center in a quiet suburb of Tel Aviv. A few hours later, a threat is received: the suitcase was only the beginning. Inspector Avraham Avraham, back in Israel after a much-needed vacation, is assigned to the investigation. Tormented by the trauma and failure of his past case, Avraham is determined not to make the same mistakes—especially with innocent lives at stake. He may have a break when one of the suspects, a father of two, appears to have gone on the run. Is he the terrorist behind the threat? Is he trying to escape Avraham’s intense investigation? Or perhaps he’s fleeing a far more terrible crime that no one knows has been committed? No matter how much Avraham wants to atone for the past, redemption may not be possible—not when he’s entangled in a case more deceptive and abominable than any he’s ever faced.

In this evocative and gripping tale of mystery and psychological suspense A Possibility of Violence is the follow-up to The Missing File, the acclaimed first novel in D. A. Mishani’s literary crime series that was shortlisted for the CWA International Dagger Award. Having read  and enjoyed The Missing File, I was looking forward to this, having a fond remembrance of the rather bleak and spare feel of the first book, and the peculiar appeal of Mishani’s unique style.

Unlike, the first book, I made the mistake of reading the first 100 pages or so of this one in rather small chunks, and consequently, due to the seemingly emotional neutrality of Mishani’s writing, I found it slightly difficult to return to it each time. Luckily, however, I rectified this by reading the last 200 pages in a single sitting, so becoming far more embroiled in what later reveals itself as a strangely impersonal and emotionally unsettling read. If I was to really analyse what I liked about the book, where normally emotional engagement with the characters is key, I think it is the sense of disassociation that Mishani brings to his prose and the characters contained within. Although he adopts the traditional tenet of a central detective in Avraham Avraham, I didn’t really feel that I got to know him in the way that others are so defined by the foibles and eccentricities of their characters. Indeed the book opens with Avraham on a visit to his lover Marianka in Belgium, as a precursor to her moving to Israel to be with him, but their relationship has a strange coldness about it, as Avraham is a man not adept at grand gestures. As the book progresses, communication breaks down in advance of her move, and it is not until the end of the book, that the chasm between them is fully explained. Likewise, he gives little of himself away, under the threat of a report regarding his handling of the investigation in the previous book (which is often referred to and explained if you have not read the first book), and the potential implications of this in what could be a contentious current investigation. He has a workman-like doggedness to his character, revealing little of his own emotions, but like all the finest detectives has a natural intuition to what may be being witheld from him, leading him on a different course of investigation which perturbs his superiors. I rather like the stoicism and solidity he exerts throughout the book, as one can sometimes have too much of the deeply troubled or overly extrovert detective characters.

Bearing in mind that the book encompasses the themes of child abuse, and possible marital violence, again, the calm neutrality with which Mishani imbues his central character, is equally reflected in the unfolding of the plot. What could be substantial and highly emotive themes are handled in an understated way, which in a way make the violent acts perpetrated more resonant and affecting. From the initial act of a suspected bomb being placed outside of a nursery school, a violent attack on one of the employees of the nursery, and a connection with a father of two whose wife is suddenly strangely absent, Mishani balances the plot perfectly, using the conduit of Avraham to to tie them together, with the denouement of the book stepping outside the previously more unemotional feel bringing a genuinely heart-rending conclusion. So, my admiration for Mishani remains intact, despite the uniquely unsettling and almost clinical style of his writing. A strange reading experience, but one that I can recommend away from the cliches that define so much of crime writing, and in stark contrast to the all too common schmaltz- paved paths that some police protagonists find themselves on. A good read, and more importantly, something a little different.

(With thanks to Quercus for the ARC)