Blog Tour- Mari Hannah- The Scandal

When an young man is found stabbed to death in a side street in Newcastle city centre in the run up to Christmas, it looks like a botched robbery to DCI David Stone. But when DS Frankie Oliver arrives at the crime scene, she gets more than she bargained for. She IDs the victim as Herald court reporter, thirty-two-year old Chris Adams she’s known since they were kids. With no eyewitnesses, the MIT are stumped. They discover that when Adams went out, never to return, he was working on a scoop that would make his name. But what was the story he was investigating? And who was trying to cover it up? As detectives battle to solve the case, they uncover a link to a missing woman that turns the investigation on its head. The exposé has put more than Adams’ life in danger. And it’s not over yet…

Following The Lost and The Insider , both of which are really high-calibre police procedurals, we have now arrived at The Scandal, the third book featuring DCI David Stone and DS Frankie Oliver. I’m probably drawing on the biggest review cliché in the world, but this really is a series that goes from strength to strength…

Apart from the superlative structure of Mari Hannah’s books, and her remarkably fluid storytelling, that seems to just hold the reader in her palm of her hand, there are always additional layers of interest in every book. Too often police procedurals are a very linear affair, which probably is my main reason for avoiding most of them, but I am always singularly impressed how Hannah, in a similar way to the Scandinavian tradition of crime writing, throws a penetrating light on social issues, and spotlights those who suffer most in our unequal and unfair society. She achieves this not through soapbox posturing, but by carefully constructing her characters to reflect the effects of these problems in society, and the status quo, so we can make our own judgement call on them. In this book there are some big issues at the forefront of our duo’s investigation, bound up with homelessness, press corruption, and the abuse and exploitation of the elderly- weighty issues that are handled clear-sightedly and sensitively throughout. As a reader that enjoys the ability of crime fiction to more truthfully reflect and explore societal issues, Hannah’s books always hit the spot for this very reason.

Now before you start thinking that this all sounds a bit serious, I’ll throw into the mix the strength of Hannah’s characterisation too, particularly in relation to Stone and Oliver themselves. Their working and personal relationship is a wondrous thing, punctuated by humour, professional respect and periods of complete harmony in how they approach an investigation. However, there is always a slight chaos about their relationship that bursts forth every now and then, as Oliver is no doubt a very savvy detective but likes to go off-road every now and then, and Stone has to balance reining in her more impetuous behaviour, yet seeing where her more intuitive, sometimes secretive, detection takes them. Consequently, there are some wonderful moments of disagreement, class A sulking, and reluctant peace-making that is all rather enjoyable. Like all the best detecting duos, these moments of conflict and parity really make for genuinely engaging and likeable characters, surrounded by an equally strong supporting cast in their professional and private lives, which gives a real added layer of warmth and vibrancy to offset the darkness of  what proves to be a difficult and emotional investigation.

Obviously the portrayal of the North East is top drawer as usual (an area of the country I know well) and completely balanced in drawing attention to the best as well as the dodgy aspects of the area. I always feel a huge tug of emotion as Hannah traverses the region, and love the familiarity I have with the murder sites- if that doesn’t make me sound too much like a twisted weirdo. Joking aside, I will repeat what I have said before that Hannah obviously has a huge pride in, and affection for the region, and this is so tangible throughout her writing, and always a pleasure to read. It goes without saying that I always look forward to the next book Hannah produces, across any of her series, and once again, this is a highly engaging, intelligent, entertaining and well written police procedural. Highly recommended.

(With thanks to Orion Books for the ARC)

Check out an extract of The Scandal at Shotsmag

Catch up with the blog tour at these excellent sites:

 

Blog Tour- Chris Ould- The Killing Bay- Exclusive Extract

51tqvr2jofl-_sy346_Welcome to the next stop on the blog tour marking the publication of The Killing Bay, the second of Chris Oulds’s Faroese thriller series. I reviewed The Blood Strand last year and was highly impressed by this debut introducing the detective duo of Jan Reyna and Hjalti Hentze, drawing a comparison with Peter May’s Hebridean trilogy and the sense of place that Ould conjures up in his writing. Here is an exclusive extract from the new book, and would urge you to seek out this series quick smart…

When a group of activists arrive on the Faroe Islands to stop the traditional whale hunts, tensions between islanders and protestors run high. And when a woman is found murdered, circumstances seem designed to increase animosity. To English DI Jan Reyna and local detective Hjalti Hentze, it becomes increasingly clear that evidence is being hidden from them, and neither knows who to trust, or how far some people might go to defend their beliefs….

‘At the eastern end of the broadly curved bay, Erla Sivertsen panned her camera along the line of people standing on the grass-covered sand dunes above the beach. More were arriving – men, women and children – coming from the road and a line of parked cars. Some of the men carried ropes and hooks, striding purposefully until they reached the edge of the grey sand, then halting to look and assess. No one went further. That was the way of it. You waited until the whales came to the beach.

At each end of the bay there were groups of AWCA volunteers, easy to pick out through the viewfinder because of the light blue sweatshirt they all wore. AWCA, pronounced as “Orca” by its members, was the Atlantic Wildlife Conservation Alliance. They had been on the islands for nearly two months, but this was the first time they had been scrambled, ready to take action, and it seemed that only a dozen or so had made it here in time. Now, like everyone else, they stood with their attention trained on the sea, watching the line of disparate boats ploughing closer and straining for sight of the whales.

Erla shifted the camera again, adjusting the focus on the telephoto lens. There were nearly two dozen police officers stationed at intervals along the line of the sand dunes, all dressed in tactical gear. Some had been brought in by a naval helicopter – clearly a show of strength by the authorities – and Erla knew that when her footage was edited the dark uniforms and bulky equipment of the police would look truly ominous in contrast to the unarmed AWCA protesters.

Having captured the scene down the length of the beach, Erla stopped filming for a moment and checked the progress of the boats out at sea. She’d witnessed four other grinds in her life – the first when she’d been six or seven years old – and knowing the way things would go now, she’d already planned the footage she wanted to get. Video was not her favourite medium, but she knew it would have the most impact when showing the actual drive. Then she’d use stills for the aftermath of the kill.


The whales were still more than three hundred metres from shore but now there was a growing desperation in their movements. They had sped up and broke the surface of the water more often. Their slick, arching bodies were more tightly grouped, as if they sensed that they were running out of room to manoeuvre. And still the boats came on behind them, grouping them tighter, pushing them in.

Finally the larger boats slowed and stopped to let the smaller craft take over and Erla knew it was time. She moved the camera and refocused on the Alliance protesters at the nearest end of the beach, waiting.

And then it started. At a signal the protesters moved into action, each taking a length of scaffolding pipe from the ground and then running quickly down towards the water. No one pursued them, but there were shouts of protest and gestures of resentment from the locals on the dunes.

The protesters paid no heed. They waded straight into the water, using their metal poles like walking sticks to test the bottom, moving out further through the low, rolling swell until they were thigh deep, spacing themselves out at intervals. And then, in a ragged line, they produced hammers and crow bars from pockets and waistbands and started to bang their submerged scaffolding poles as hard as they could, adding to the noise with shouts and whistles.

It was a tactic no one had anticipated and for a moment the onlookers weren’t sure how to respond. The police shifted uncertainly, but then they seemed to receive an order over their radios and left their positions to jog quickly across the sand and into the water. They were followed by several men from the crowd and when the protesters saw them wading into the shallows they redoubled their noise-making and moved further out into the water.

Because the water hampered everyone’s movements equally it produced the strange effect of a slow-motion game of tag in which no one could outdistance anyone else. Whenever the police made headway towards them, the protesters waded deeper or moved left or right, all the while keeping up their hammering and whistling, which became ever more urgent as the whales got closer to shore.

Erla kept the camera trained on this cat-and-mouse game for a few seconds more, then zoomed out and panned round to the open sea. The whales were concentrated together now and behind them the bullying boats had increased their speed. It almost seemed that the whales and boats were racing each other to be first to the land, but then – a few metres from shore – the whales hesitated, as if realising their mistake. A few made to turn back, but the imperative of the boats prevented it, and then, as the creatures finally reached the shallows, the people on the dunes swarmed forward. They ran across the sand and plunged into the water amidst the thrashing of fins and black bodies and Erla held the shot, zooming in slowly on the churned waters and the first men to seize their prey.

Through the lens Erla spotted an AWCA sweatshirt, adjusted the focus and managed to zoom in close on an American woman she recognised, just as she was finally corralled between two burly cops. They were all up to their chests in the water and seeing the whales already thrashing in the shallows, the woman appeared to realise she’d failed. When the police officers took her by the arms she just stood there, and as Erla zoomed in closer she was pleased to capture the look of abject misery on the woman’s face. Even at this distance you could see that she was crying with grief. It was a good picture.

Finally lifting her eye from the viewfinder, Erla glanced around. There were a few spectators nearby but everyone’s attention was focused on the whales and no one took any notice of her as she quickly unclipped the camera from its monopod and started down from her vantage point. Her AWCA sweatshirt was well covered by her red waterproof jacket and there was nothing to tell her apart from the other Faroe islanders.’

 

Catch up with or continue to follow the blog tour at these excellent sites:

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Quentin Bates- Thin Ice #IcelandicNoir #ThinIceBlogTour

28925475Pleased as punch to be hosting the next stop on the rolling blog tour for Quentin Bates, and reviewing his new book, Thin Ice, featuring the wonderfully likeable female detective, Gunna Gunnhildur. Replete with a tagline saying ‘snowed in with two psychopaths for the winter’ this certainly draws one’s attention from the outset. So what’s it all about?

When two small-time crooks, Magni and Ossi,  rob Reykjavik’s premier drugs dealer, hoping for a quick escape to the sun, their plans start to unravel after their getaway driver fails to show. Tensions mount between the pair and the two women, they have grabbed as hostages when they find themselves holed upcountry in an isolated hotel that has been mothballed for the season. Back in the capital, Gunna and her team find themselves at a dead end investigating what appear to be the unrelated disappearance of a mother, her daughter and their car during a day’s shopping, and the death of a thief in a house fire. They are faced with a set of riddles but as more people are quizzed it begins to emerge that all these unrelated incidents are in fact linked. At the same time, two increasingly desperate lowlifes have no choice but to make some big decisions on how to get rid of their accidental hostages…

I have read most of the series to date, and I love the way there is that instant feeling of comfort and familiarity with Bates’ style, and the way he marries the positively soap opera elements of Gunnhildur’s private life, with a solid Scandinavian police procedural. Having come to terms with the peccadillos of her son Gisli in the previous book she now has to grapple with the sudden reappearance of a ex-lover, and his impending demise. But in traditional Gunnhildur fashion she keeps calm, despite her burning animosity to her ex, pulls up her all weather bootstraps, and forges on. She is a great character, tenacious and dogged but clear thinking, and I like the shades of light and dark that Bates reveals within her character throughout the series.

Despite the tangled affairs of our redoubtable police officer, I actually rather enjoyed the greater emphasis that Bates places within the main narrative to the bumbling duo of Magni and Ossi. I think it’s fair to say that the plot rather resembles an inverted and twisted version of Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men, with skinny ringleader Ossi, being quickly revealed as a real liability to any hopes of escape from their predicament, and rufty tufty big guy Magni stepping up to be the brains rather than just the brawn. However, with the sensual temptation of Magni’s growing relationship with their younger captive Tinna Lind- the comely daughter and Mata Hari-esque femme fatale of the piece- Magni has to keep a balance with Ossi and Tinna which makes for an interesting development of his character. Although, as it transpires his brain does begin to take rather a backseat to other parts of his anatomy. Ahem. As the ineffective robbers lurch from one disaster to another, their story starts to take a whole other turn, and although I did have my suspicions to the denouement, it was an entertaining journey to the conclusion. Along from some nice violent interludes in the story as Magni and Ossi seek to evade both the police and the bad guy they have crossed, who is definitely out for vengeance, there is a great balance of sauciness, humour, darkness and high emotion. A good addition to a highly enjoyable series.

The blog tour continues tomorrow at Eurodrama  and check out the rest of the tour below…

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Guest Post- M. J. Carter on Edgar Allan Poe

carterThe Infidel Stain is the second book in M. J. Carter’s Blake and Avery mystery series, following on from CWA New Blood Dagger shortlisted and Bailey’s Women’s Prize long- listed The Strangler Vine. In this special guest post Miranda shares her thoughts on all things Poe, and his influence on the early days of the detective fiction genre…

“The Infidel Stain is set in 1841, the same year—not altogether accidentally—that what is arguably the first detective story was published. ‘The Murders in the Rue Morgue’ was written by Edgar Allan Poe, the American writer, poet and genius known best for his brilliant gothic short stories and poems and—quite unfairly as it turned out—for his short, syphilitic, drug-addled, mad life. But that’s another story. This very blog is named in honour of his great poem, ‘The Raven’.

At the heart of the story is an impossible crime: two women brutally murdered in a 4th floor room locked from the inside. Neighbours think they heard the voice of the murderer but they cannot agree what language was spoken. C August Dupin, gentleman of leisure who lives in self-imposed seclusion with his friend the narrator, and goes out only at night, is intrigued by reports and offers his services to the Chief of Police. The solution is clever, extremely creepy, entirely satisfying and Dupin arrives at it with a succession of brilliant imaginative deductions.

Poe wrote two more stories about Dupin. He called them his ‘tales of ratiocination’, Dupin’s name for his method —the idea that through close observation, careful research, the ability to put himself in the mind of the criminal, and deductive reasoning, he can see connections where others cannot.

The point about ‘The Murders in the Rue Morgue’ —apart from the fact that it is still a terrific read—is that in it Poe invented so many of the classic ingredients of the mystery story as its come down to us: the conundrum of the unsolvable crime (‘locked-room mysteries’ are themselves a whole sub-genre), the atmosphere of claustrophobia and night, the clod-hopping police, the clues which the reader can follow, the solution announced at the end and then the reasoning behind it explained. And of course the prototype of the brilliant amateur detective —years before the word ‘detective’ was actually coined. Dupin is an eccentric gentleman outsider who likes puzzles and codes, and closes himself off from human interaction—apart from his unnamed friend who tells the stories. He regards the cases as intellectual challenges to which he applies his method. You can immediately see him in Sherlock Holmes, Poirot, Dorothy L Sayers’ Lord Peter Wimsey, Margery Allingham’s Campion and a slew of others. Conan Doyle acknowledged the debt. He wrote of Poe: ‘Each (of his stories) is a root from which a whole literature developed.’

Even today it is, I think, almost impossible for a mystery writer to completely avoid Poe’s long shadow. Almost inadvertently I find in my own books that I’ve followed him. I have a brilliant detective and a less smart narrator. I made my detective deliberately working class and grouchy, but he is still a classic outsider and I prize his cleverness, his ability to read faces and tells, his creative imagination, and his ability to put himself in other’s shoes. Vive Mr Poe!”

M. J. Carter is a former journalist and the author of two acclaimed works of non-fiction: Anthony Blunt: His Lives and The Three Emperors: Three Cousins, Three Empires and the Road to World War One. Follow on Twitter @MJCarter10

Check out a Guardian feature here on Carter’s penchant for historical crime fiction.

Reviews of The Infidel Stain can be found at:

For Winter Nights

Crime Fiction Lover

9780241146231Calcutta 1837. The East India Company rules India – or most of it; and its most notorious and celebrated son, Xavier Mountstuart, has gone missing. William Avery, a down-at-heel junior officer in the Company’s army, is sent to find him, in the unlikely company of the enigmatic and uncouth Jeremiah Blake. A more mismatched duo couldn’t be imagined, but they must bury their differences as they are caught up in a search that turns up too many unanswered questions and seems bound to end in failure. What was it that so captivated Mountstuart about the Thugs, the murderous sect of Kali-worshippers who strangle innocent travellers by the roadside? Who is Jeremiah Blake and can he be trusted? And why is the whole enterprise shrouded in such secrecy? In the dark heart of Company India, Avery will have to fight for his very life, and in defence of a truth he will wish he had never learned…

9780241966631It’s 1841, and three years after we left them at the close of The Strangler Vine, Blake and Avery are reunited in very different circumstances in London. There has been a series of dreadful murders in the slums of the printing district, which the police mysteriously refuse to investigate, and Blake and Avery must find the culprit before he kills again…