#BlogTour Parker Bilal- The Heights “Packed with tension, this was an immersive and compelling read.” @Parker_Bilal @blackthornbks

What starts with the gruesome discovery of a severed head on the Tube soon becomes personal for former DI Cal Drake. After one betrayal too many, Drake has abandoned the police force to become a private detective. He’s teamed up with enigmatic forensic pathologist Dr Rayhana Crane and it’s not long before the case leads them to the darkest corners of the nation’s capital and in dangerously close contact with an international crime circuit, a brutal local rivalry and a very personal quest for retribution. With the murder victim tied to Drake’s past, his new future is about to come under threat…

I read the first of this scorching new series, The Divinities, some time ago and at the close of the review said how much I was anticipating the next book in the series. Well, Parker Bilal has come up trumps again, and just as the first book made it in to my Top Ten of the Year, The Heights may achieve a similar status…

With the two main characters, ex-detective Cal Drake and forensic pathologist/psychologist Dr Rayhana Crane, having now embarked on a closer working relationship in private investigation, Bilal takes this series in an interesting new direction. Drake is as screwed up personally and emotionally as before, with the events of the first book gaining even greater prominence here. Rest assured, the author constructs the story so the reader is fully aware of the previous events, if you missed the previous book. Drake is an interesting character, living life to his own slightly skewed moral compass, and haunted by his previous career in both the military and as an undercover police officer. He is brusque and understandably mistrustful of people generally, but this odd pairing works extremely well, and the small chinks of decency and morality that he seeks to veil do appear from time to time, as he works more closely with the vibrant and outgoing Crane. Not that Crane doesn’t have her own demons, emanating from her very unusual family background, which features heavily in this book, and her own single minded determination, that makes her both forthright and brave. The dynamics of their working relationship propel the plot along at a good pace, and with the differing strands of their investigations, and personal tumult, Bilal does an excellent job of juggling the various tensions that these tangential cases places upon them.

What struck me most with the first book, and to an even greater extent with this one, is the superb characterisation of London itself and how Bilal depicts the essential energy and feel of this teeming metropolis. Having so perfectly captured the chasm between rich and poor in The Divinities, some of this book sees Drake moving about the homeless community in pursuit of an individual crucial to their enquiries. These scenes are written with a real attention to the plight of this community, highlighting how easy it is to fall between the cracks, and what kind of existence this leads to. Likewise, with the story spiralling back to the nefarious deeds of an international crime network involved in drug and people trafficking, and drawing on the particular backgrounds of Drake and Crane themselves, there is a strong multi-cultural feel to the book too. In the scenes relating to Drake’s previous undercover case with the police, Bilal brings a strong thread of realism to the story of his involvement with a witness, Zelda, and her subsequent death, as she sought a better life in Britain only for it to go so desperately awry. I felt a huge amount of sympathy both for her, and for the complex moral dilemma this put Drake through, torn between his duty as a police officer, but also his indebtedness to and dangerous coercion of her to speak out.

Although The Heights makes for, at times, bleak and uncomfortable reading, I was utterly mesmerised by it throughout. Bilal maintains a real energy and pace to the book, and with the story comprising of a number of different strands, there is certainly no opportunity for the reader’s attention to wander. I liked the way that these strands wove in and out with each other, keeping a real control to the narrative arc, and making some interesting connections along the way, and even more excitingly some unresolved issues that may bode well for a further addition to the series. The characters of Drake and Crane themselves, serve as an effective anchor to the book, and through their differences in personality, but an uncanny knack to actually work rather well together, all in all Bilal has hit on a winning combination I feel. Packed with tension and with an adroit rendition of London itself, highlighting the gap between rich and poor, the exploited and the exploiters, this was an immersive and compelling read. Highly recommended.

(With thanks to Black Thorn Press for the ARC)

Missed a post? Catch up at these excellent sites

#BlogTour Quentin Bates- Cold Malice “Bates consistently draws on his own experiences of living and working in Iceland, providing a real grounded feel and heightened sense of realism to his books.” @graskeggur

Reykjavík detective Gunnhildur Gísladóttir tries not to believe in ghosts. But when Helgi, one of her team is certain he’s seen a man who had been declared dead more than fifteen years ago, she reluctantly gives him some unofficial leeway to look into it. Has the not-so-dead man returned from the grave to settle old scores, or has he just decided to take a last look around his old haunts? Either way, there are people who have nursed grudges for years, hoping for a reckoning one day. Even the rumour of his being alive and kicking is enough to spark a storm of fury and revenge, with Gunnhildur and Helgi caught up in the middle of it…

I am already a confirmed fan of this series, having previously reviewed Thin Ice and Cold Breath and it is a still a source of much puzzlement to me that Quentin Bates still remains relatively little known. Aside from his accomplished translations of Icelandic fiction, I generally find that when I recommend his books in my day job as a bookseller, he becomes a firm favourite, so hopefully I can continue the trend here!

Detective Gunnhildur ‘Gunna’ Gísladóttir is, without a doubt, the lynchpin to this series, where she carefully balances her traits of fairness and determinedness, with a sharp wit and her reluctance to suffer fools gladly. There’s a great observation by one of her police colleagues, “Gunna had no problem in being downright offensive if she felt it was called for, and it was a brave man who picked an argument with her,” which on the surface shows the more antagonistic aspect of her character, but is roundly applauded and respected for her instincts and intuition too. When I read these books, I always picture Marge Gunderson from Fargo, as Gunna shares many a trait with her, and I also like the fact that her family life, at times complicated, is always incorporated into the books, giving us an even more rounded sense of her balancing the roles of detective of some repute and as a mother, with the challenges that this brings. You always feel that she clasps a bit between her teeth, and one of the cases is no exception with a suspicious suicide and a tangled web of past secrets, but also a case that leads her to navigate the unfamiliar and unscrupulous art world.  I also enjoyed the way that a closer focus was put on Helgi, one of Gunna’s police colleagues, as he is on the trail of a face from a past presumed dead, whilst coming to terms with another surprise addition to his brood, and trying to control his wandering eye…

What I love about this series, apart from Gunnhildur and her colleagues , is how Bates consistently draws on his own experiences of living and working in Iceland, providing a real grounded feel and heightened sense of realism to his books. Within this story, the author has ample opportunity to draw us into the workaday world of men at sea, and the dangerous and stressful conditions that this work involves. His descriptions of the stormy seas, the sheer hard physical toil of life, and the stress that life away from home wreaks on family are all beautifully described. You get a real sense of the waves crashing around your ears, and the biting cold permeating you to the core. Aside from this, Bates also casts a perceptive eye on the changes that Iceland has experienced, both politically and socially, in terms of the increase in tourism, the development of the capital city, and the fractures that are appearing more on a social level. Again, this serves to draw the reader in closer to the actual landscape and feel of Iceland, as closely as possible, adding another layer of interest to this police procedural.

There is a real comfort to be had in reading a series where the characters and terrain have become increasingly familiar to you, giving you a feeling very much akin to pulling on a comfy jumper, and being instantly enveloped back into this world and with these people. This series does that perfectly, and as I said in the intro, this is probably one that you might like to discover for yourselves, whether you start with Cold Malice or start from the very beginning. Which as we know, is a very good place to start. Recommended.

(With thanks to the author for the ARC)

Missed a post? Catch up at these excellent sites: 

***Author Spotlight*** Anna Jaquiery

I thought the time was right to highlight one of the best French crime authors you may not have read, so very pleased to introduce you to Anna Jaquiery. I had the pleasure of reviewing her previous two books featuring Commandant Serge Morel, The Lying Down Room and Death In A Rainy Season (reviews below) and with the release of the third in the series Wasteland, wanted you all to experience this writer for yourselves.

Wasteland once again features Commandant Serge Morel of the brigade criminelle, a philosophical, sensitive and hugely empathetic detective, investigating two murders of young boys within Villeneuve a sprawling, deprived multi-cultural estate in Paris. “If you grew up in a place like Villeneuve, where you knew there was a pretty high chance you wouldn’t get a job when you left school, where it was hard to stay on a straight path and achieve anything, the only way to be heard was to get really pissed off, and loud, and break things. Otherwise, no one heard. No one was listening”  The racism and poverty that Morel uncovers in the course of his investigation underpins the whole story, and as Morel gets closer to the unmasking of a killer, we are totally absorbed into this melting pot environment.

Once again, Jaquiery writes with a stark clarity, that by its at times dispassionate air serves only to immerse the reader more. She focusses particularly on the younger sister, Aisha of one of the victims, Samir, and through her eyes and perception, far in advance of her teenage years, we see the hopelessness and disparity of life for those within Villeneuve. Aisha is both intelligent and street smart, suffering at the hands of schoolyard bullies, but who has a fierce affection for her late brother and a steely determination that his killer will not go unpunished. As Morel becomes more embroiled in the case, we see his natural empathy to and protectiveness of Aisha develop, that puts both himself and her in the crossfire. With police confrontation and gangs a normal facet of life on this estate the stage is set for a violent conclusion, and Morel and his team are right in the centre of the crossfire.

As the book progresses, we also see more of Morel’s difficult home life, and the growing stress that his father’s mental degeneration places on him, which Jaquiery handles in a clear-eyed and sensitive way. Morel remains philosophical in the face of this additional pressure in his life, and it is these passages relating to him and his father that are both poignant and emotional. I love the way that this author balances these slices of his home life so effectively with the particular stresses ands strains of Morel’s murder investigations, and these only serve to flesh out more what is already a very compelling character. From his interactions with his colleagues, to his natural empathy for the murder victims and their kin, Morel is genuinely one of my favourite police characters, and this series one of the best I have read. I love the sensitivity of Jaquiery’s writing and the way she injects a more philosophical edge to her books through the character of Morel himself.  I would definitely recommend that you seek out this series as soon as you are able. Think you may enjoy them…

Discover the Commandant Morel series: HERE

__________________________________________  

The Lying Down Room introduces us to the charismatic and dedicated Chief Inspector Serge Morel. The story opens in Paris in the stifling August heat, and Morel is called to examine a disturbing crime scene. An elderly woman has been brutally murdered to the soundtrack of Faure’s Requiem, and her body grotesquely displayed. The reasons for this murder and the choice of victim baffle Morel and his team.

But our detective has problems of his own. His father, such an influence in his life, is descending into the grip of senility. If that weren’t enough for him, Morel is having an affair with a friend’s wife, but has become unsettled by the reappearance of his lost love, Mathilde. Like so many other fictional detectives, Morel has a quirky interest to relieve his angst and focus his mind. In his case it’s origami.

As the investigation continues, and further murders happen, his fingers fold faster and faster. He makes a connection between the victims and two individuals – a middle aged man and a young boy – who distribute religious pamphlets in the suburbs. Soon his inquiries take him back into the past, away from Paris into the French countryside, and eventually to the heart of Soviet Russia. A tragic story begins to unfold.

In terms of characterisation, The Lying Down Room contains all the key ingredients needed to herald the arrival of a new detective in the crime fiction genre. Morel is a very carefully constructed and wonderfully realised character. He combines natural charm and humour that immediately resonate. His interactions in both his professional and personal lives allow the many different facets of his character to shine – like the focused and dedicated police officer, and the man thwarted in love. There are some intensely moving scenes between him and his father. This relationship is filled with pathos, adding poignancy to Morel’s situation. Morel is a man of contradictions with his character being all the more emotionally interesting for it, and consequently the scene is set for further exploration of this detective.

The narrative is particularly impressive, with nice, clean delineation between the various strands that come into play within the plot. Not only is the central murder storyline well paced and realistic, but as Jaquiery expands the story to encompass the personal narratives of the perpetrators themselves, she weaves together various locations and timelines. What emerges is an incredibly human tale of lost opportunities and wicked twists of fate that can put an individual on the path towards murder. Cleverly, this aspect of the novel invokes natural sympathy in the reader as we bear witness to the incredibly sad events in our antagonists’ pasts, evinced in the stark portrayal of life in Soviet Russia, and the mental and physical wounds this produces. At times, Jaquiery handles the sheer emotional heartache of some of these scenes more in the vein of literary fiction rather than a genre crime novel.

There is little to fault in this debut, combining as it does a superbly plotted and emotive criminal investigation with the introduction of a police protagonist more than imbued with enough charm and interest to carry the weight of a series. Anna Jaquiery demonstrates all the natural flair and quirks of French crime fiction that fans of Vargas, Lemaitre, et al, will relish reading. More than proud to proclaim this as my debut of the year.

______________________________________________________

Always a tense time to be reviewing a second book from an author whose debut you absolutely loved. Anna Jaquiery’s haunting debut The Lying Down Room was a joy to read and review, so much so that it was second in my Top Read of 2014, and is one of the books that I most consistently recommend in my day job as a bookseller, when people are looking for a new slice of Euro crime.

Death In The Rainy Season is the next book to feature Jaquiery’s charismatic and thoughtful French detective Commandant Serge Morel, and marks a change of location from France to the hot climes and unique atmosphere of Cambodia, where the modern socio-economic problems of this country are counterbalanced by its spiritual core. Morel is taking a well-earned sojourn after the vents of the previous book, a welcome break from caring for his father who has been diagnosed with Alzheimers, and a chance to further come to terms with a failed relationship. He finds himself unwillingly drawn into a local murder investigation, when the son of a prominent French minister is found murdered in a down-at-heel hotel room. The victim, Hugo Quercy, oversees a local NGO providing charitable support to street children, and is generally a well-regarded figure in the local community, and  respected by his colleagues. However, as Morel under pressure from his boss back home, joins forces with local Police Chief Chey Sarit, also enlisting the help of grumpy local medical examiner Sok Pran, it quickly becomes clear that Quercy is not quite the man everyone had perceived him to be, and that the conspiracy behind his murder reaches further than Morel and his cohorts could possibly imagine…

Perhaps my first point of reference for my enjoyment of this book should be an appreciation of Jaquiery’s style of writing. Throughout the novel the sense of serene simplicity that her narrative style evokes in the reader is beautifully evinced not only in her evocation of location, but also through the character of her police protagonist Morel. The multi-dimensional facets of the Cambodian setting are sublimely juxtaposed, as Jaquiery carefully balances not only the deep spiritual core of this intriguing country, with the social ramifications of political corruption and misguided economic policies on the Cambodian populace. Where some authors blatantly crowbar in the depth of their research at the expense of the needs of the plot to keep the reader’s interest, Jaquiery intertwines her social detail simply, adding to the richness of the strong central plot, and I learnt much from the quality of this research.

As Morel becomes immersed in the pulsating and bustling atmosphere of Phnom Penh after his initial calm retreat in Siem Reap with its ancient temples and traditional way of life, the sights and sounds of the city form a vital backdrop to his investigation. Likewise, the change of location impacts on Morel himself, as he wanders deeper into the underbelly of the city, and the pressure of the investigation and the demands of home, begin to unsettle his formerly peaceful equilibrium. He is a mesmerising character throughout and one cannot fail to find him empathetic, morally strong and entirely likeable. As he deals with the wife, friends, and colleagues of the victim, whilst slowly establishing a close working relationship with his Cambodian counterpart Sarit, the strength of his character always stands front and centre. Sarit too was instrumental in my enjoyment of the book, as his initial reticence and secrecy at the beginning of the investigation is slowly broken down by his interaction with Morel, and brings instead a sense of understanding and respect between the two men. We share in their frustrations as the investigation progresses, and I loved the slow reveal of the various dynamics of Quercy’s relationships with the possible suspects, and the gradual unfolding of Quercy’s true character as the man behind the myth.

I really cannot fault Death In The Rainy Season in any way, as it contains so many aspects of human interest, emotion, and intrigue along the way. Not only is it a intelligent and compelling tale of murder and corruption, but the quality of the writing and the evocation of its setting and characters make it a rich, multi-layered and totally rewarding piece of crime fiction. I am singularly impressed once again, as I was with The Lying Down Room, and have no hesitation in wholly recommending this one too.

_________________________________________________________________

Raven’s Top Read 2019 – Nicolas Obregon- Unknown Male

He is a completely unremarkable man. Who wears the same black suit every day. Boards the same train to work each morning. And arrives home to his wife and son each night. But he has a secret.  He likes to kill people. With just weeks to go before the Olympics and the world’s eyes firmly fixed on Tokyo the body of young British student, Skye Mackintosh, is discovered in a love hotel. Tokyo’s Homicide Department are desperate for a lead. As a last resort they enlist the help of a brilliant former detective whose haunted personal life has forced him into exile thousands of miles away. But it isn’t long before Kosuke Iwata discovers the darkness in the neon drenched streets as Skye, like so many others, had her own secrets. Lies and murder haunt a city where old ghosts and new whisper from its darkest of corners and the truth is always just out of sight..

So we come to the last instalment of Nicolas Obregon’s remarkable Tokyo trilogy featuring former detective Kosuke Iwata. Having previously reviewed both Blue Light Yokohama and Sins As Scarlet and quite frankly, raved about both, I approached Unknown Male with more than a sense of delicious anticipation. What I love about Obregon as a writer is the way he so consistently holds his reader in the palm of his hand and the sense of real storytelling that is so absolutely central to the narrative. I must admit that I find it hard to define what it is about his writing that enthrals me, but will try in my own ham-fisted way to do so…

Firstly I think Obregon’s obvious love affair with Tokyo is absolutely central to this book, and his fearlessness in portraying this city with very much a love/hate edge to his depiction of it: “As he walked, he inhaled a cologne of rubbish, exhaust, wet concrete. No city had more nameless streets or alleyways…To walk through her ways was to be inveigled in her web…She murmured from steam vents and snickered from overflowing gutters.” All through the book the intangible hold of the city both on the main characters, and the general populace is front and centre, with Obregon exposing the pulsing beat of a city where there is a real sense of sink or swim, poverty or success and a constant feel of movement in “this shingle beach of crossed purpose“. Obregon also emphasises how easily people become lost, in this teeming morass of people, whether slaves to a wage, slaves to people basest violent desires, and how people seek to navigate a society that slows for no man. Although our detective figure Iwata is a native to the city, Obregon also instils in him a feeling of having to get to grips with this mercurial city after time abroad, and the very particular problems that arise in having to almost start afresh in navigating its unique idiosyncrasies.

Iwata himself is also a complicated soul, imbued with a deep sense of morality pertaining to his professional standards and the way he conducts himself in relation to this particular investigation. However, back amongst his countrymen he does at times seem like a square peg in a round hole, as his methods and thought process put him at odds with his fellow investigators. He is an outsider, but in that mould proves to be extremely effective at approaching the case from a different angle, and intuitive thinking. The issue of morality is explored in many ways throughout the book both through Iwata who is also seeking some personal retribution, but also through the British female detective Anthea Lynch (who finds herself despatched to Tokyo after a serious blip in her own career) and individuals involved with Skye, the murder victim. Throw into the mix one of the most strangely motivated serial killers I have encountered for some time (the thermos flask-eugh) and what Obregon gives us is a real smorgasboard of the good, the bad and ugly where the lines of morality and decent behaviour become fractured, and at times difficult to discern. People acting in surprising and unpredictable ways give a real emotional heft to this book, and also work beautifully in concealing the real villains of the piece, with revenge being another incredibly strong motif resonating through the characters.

I think it goes without saying that Unknown Male has secured a place in my Top 5 of the year with its masterful depth of characterisation, use of location with Tokyo as a living and breathing entity so crucial to the lives and crimes unfolding within it, and the way that the book keeps you in its grasp from beginning to end. It is the close to a trilogy which left me tinged with sadness as I loved these books so much, but also heartens me that hopefully more readers will discover these for themselves. Absolutely outstanding.

_____________________________________________________________

(I bought this copy of Unknown Male published by Michael Joseph)

 

 

 

 

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:

killing-bay-blog-tour-2-2

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…

CbbB8P0W0AAX_N0

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…