July 2014 Round Up and Raven’s Book of the Month

_DSC0185 (Common Raven)Another busy month on the blog with no less than three blog tours for Dan Smith, John Burley and Tim Adler, and although not as many reviews posted as normal, a lot of reading has been going on to get ahead for the jam packed August release schedule (see below).  July also heralded the start of International Crime Month in the UK and there was the traditional Theakston’s Harrogate Crime Festival. Belinda Bauer’s Rubbernecker claimed the prize of Crime Book of the Year, and the other books on the shortlist included:

Elly Griffiths- Dying Fall

Malcolm Mackay- The Necessary Death of Lewis Winter

Peter May- The Chess Men

Denise Mina- The Red Road

Stav Sherez- Eleven Days

 

 And so to the books:Reviewed this month:Dan Smith- Red Winter

M. J. Arlidge- Eeny Meeny

Tim Adler- Surrogate

A. D. Garrett- Believe No One

Chris Carter- An Evil Mind

Neely Tucker- The Ways of the Dead

Georges Simenon- A Man’s Head (www.crimefictionlover.com)

Raven’s Book of the Month

neely Neely Tucker: The Ways of the Dead

To be honest, this was one of the easier months to decide on a best read, despite the visceral charm of Chris Carter’s An Evil Mind, and the previously reviewed Red Winter from Dan Smith, as this book just sang to me from the first few pages. This Washington DC based thriller illustrates perfectly all that is good and true about contemporary American crime fiction, and taking as its starting point a real life crime case from the 1990’s, just had me completely hooked throughout. The plot and characterisation were compelling and emotive, as well as the realistic detail afforded to the racial and economic tensions, behind the glamour and wealth of the seat of America’s political power. A superb read, and I would be very surprised if this one doesn’t feature strongly in my traditional best five reads of the year.

Also read with reviews coming in August:

Erin Kelly- Broadchurch (at Crime Fiction Lover)

Malcolm Mackay- The Night The Rich Men Burned

Marco Malvaldi- The Art of Killing Well (at Crime Fiction Lover)

K. T. Medina- White Crocodile (including a feature about the inspiration for the book)

Kanao Minato- Confessions

Kevin Sampson- The House On The Hill (including a feature on the writing of the book)

Andrea Maria Schenkel- The Dark Meadow

Kevin Stevens- Reach The Shining River

 

 

 

Dan Smith- Red Winter

Product DetailsIt is 1920, central Russia. The Red Terror tightens its hold. Kolya has deserted his Red Army unit and returns home to bury his brother and reunite with his wife and sons. But he finds the village silent and empty. The men have been massacred in the forest. The women and children have disappeared. In this remote, rural Russian community the folk tales mothers tell their children by candlelight take on powerful significance and the terrifying legend of Koschei, The Deathless One, begins to feel very real. Kolya sets out on a journey through dense, haunting forests and across vast plains as bitter winter sets in, in the desperate hope he will find his wife and two boys, and find them alive. But there are very dark things in Kolya’s past. And, as he strives to find his family, there’s someone or something on his trail…

Following last year’s remarkable Ukranian set thriller The Child Thief, Smith returns with another foray into the dangerous and inhospitable territory of Eastern Europe, transporting the reader to the icy wastes of Central Russia 1920. From the very first page you are instantly filled with a sense of dread observing through a returning soldier’s eyes, a village lying still and silent with only the sounds of nature to fill the void. As Nikolai Levitsky observes the Marie-Celeste like environs of his former home, it becomes clear that something evil has cast its pall over the village; the men have been slaughtered and along with these men’s families,  Levitsky’s wife and children are nowhere to be found. Could this really be the work of Koschei, the Deathless One, a terrifying figure from Russian folklore or  is Levitsky’s fate tied to the consequences of a country in the grip of political and military terror…

What strikes me most about the book is the breadth and depth of Smith’s depiction of location and atmosphere, as we follow Levitsky’s cross country quest in search of his family. As a reader your senses are assaulted at every turn with the harsh and uncompromising nature of the landscape, chilling you to the core as the weather and terrain hamper Levitsky’s progress. In my naivety I believed that there are only so many ways of describing the biting conditions of a Russian winter, but Smith consistently implements such vivid descriptions of these surrounds that further embed themselves in your mind, constantly enriching your reading experience. Likewise, the grim realities of survival within these conditions are unflinchingly described throughout, so much so that you cannot look away and that touch on your humanity as to how people can carve a life for themselves with so much poverty and fear. Not only do they have to survive the daily grind, but find themselves unwitting victims in a turbulent and blood-stained period of Russia’s political history.

No character embodies these characteristics more than Nikolai Levitsky himself, a soldier and officer, now compelled to desert, who is cast into an emotional turmoil by the death of his brother, the disappearance of his family, and a man striving to come to terms with and escape from the horrors he has witnessed in the theatre of war. Levitsky is an essentially moral man, beginning to question his deepest held beliefs and assuming the role of a questing knight as his journey unfolds, and by his interactions with those the damaged souls he encounters along the way; Anna, a young girl who has lost her family, and with Tanya and Lyudmila, two fearless women who have their own reasons for tracking the Koschei. As their courses collide with the vestiges of Levitsky’s previous military life, there are powerful scenes of violence and heartbreak that are truly haunting, and which typify not only the propensity for immoral actions in a war torn country, but what betrayals people must stoop to in order to survive.

With its spare and uncompromising portrayal of  the historical period, the intertwining of perfectly placed references to traditional Russian folklore, the harsh environment that chills you to the marrow throughout, and a cast of characters that cannot fail to engage the reader, Dan Smith has produced another remarkable thriller, that is easily worthy of a place in my best reads of 2013 so far. Superb.

Growing up, Dan Smith followed his parents across the world to Africa, Asia and South America. Now living in Newcastle with his family, his writing is still inspired by all corners of the globe. His debut novel DRY SEASON won critical acclaim and an array of prize nominations, including a shortlisting for the Author’s Club Best First Novel Award. His second novel DARK HORIZONS was followed in 2012 by THE CHILD THIEF. Find out more about Dan at  www.dansmithbooks.com Follow on Twitter @DanSmithAuthor

 Dan Smith, acclaimed author of The Child Thief and his new novel Red Winter will be at The Murder Room forum from the 15th to 21st July 2013 to answer your questions about his books and the life of an author. Post your questions and Dan will be there to answer them!http://www.themurderroom.com/forum/

(With thanks to Orion for the ARC)