November Round-Up and Raven’s Book of the Month

Seem to have taken my foot off the gas slightly in November with only half my average number of reviews *hangs head in shame*, but what I lacked in quantity this month is made up for by quality. Phew, think I got away with that- and I will endeavour to bring you as many reviews as possible in December which will be a busy month for me in my ‘proper job’!

Obviously November and December are extremely busy for those of us employed in bookshops, so on that note, I would send all my best wishes to all the dedicated bookstore employees around the world whose important job it is to put the perfect book, in the right hands, for the right person, which is so crucial to not only our customers, but to the long term survival of our beloved bookstores. Hope all you booksellers have an enjoyable and profitable run-up to the big day, and everyone else remember- there is no better present than a book…

Books reviewed on Raven Crime Reads

A globe-trotting selection this month from London, Liverpool and Manchester to Ireland via Washington, Los Angeles and Sicily. An incredibly different mix of styles and genres that I thoroughly enjoyed reading this month…

Roger A. Price- By Their Rules

George Pelecanos– The Double (Spero Lucas 2)

Brian McGilloway- Hurt ( DS Lucy Black 2)

Andrea Camilleri- The Treasure Hunt (Inspector Montalbano 16)

Ed Chatterton– Down Among The Dead Men (DI Frank Keane 2)

Anthony Quinn– Border Angels

I also read:

Cold CouragePekka Hiltunen- Cold Courage-A young woman has been gruesomely killed, her body abandoned in a car boot in the middle of London as a warning to others. The police have no leads and no clues as to the identity of the victim.
It seems that Lia is the only one who refuses to let the murderer go unpunished.A chance encounter with the mysterious Mari gives Lia fresh hope. But just who is she? Can Lia trust her? Can Lia afford not to trust her?

A very engaging thriller as a young Finnish woman Lia, finds herself involved with a secret investigative organisation known as The Studio, spearheaded by the marvellously intriguing fellow Finn Mari. Mari, and her small band of seeming misfits, who all bring their special skills to investigating murder and corruption below the radar of the established forces of law and order, put me very much in mind of the protagonists in Arne Dahl’s Intercrime series, who all struggle with the accepted behaviours of normal life, but who are all extremely skilled in their professional lives and the seeking of justice. With its strong characterisation and gripping storyline, this is another welcome addition to the Scandinavian crime stable, and a great recommendation for fans of this genre. A good read.

And, I will mention this one, although not a crime book, as it’s more than worth bringing to everyone’s attention….

Product DetailsNick Cole- The Waste Land SagaForty years after the destruction of civilization…Man is reduced to salvaging the ruins of a broken world. One man’s most prized possession is Hemingway’s classic ‘The Old Man and the Sea.’ With the words of the novel echoing across the wasteland, a survivor of the Nuclear Holocaust journeys into the unknown to break a curse. What follows is an incredible tale of survival and endurance. One man must survive the desert wilderness and mankind gone savage to discover the truth of Hemingway’s classic tale of man versus nature.

I originally read the first of this trilogy, The Old Man and The Waste Land, as a Kindle debut, and with my love of the spare style of Cormac McCarthy and the genre of post-apocalyptic fiction generally, found that it ticked so many boxes for me. Delighted to see that all three books have been snapped up by a major publisher and published in this edition, which is well worth seeking out with its incredibly powerful characterisation and assured plotting. A vision of a desperate future, imbued with the strength found in the human spirit in the struggle for survival, and a quality of prose that I have seldom seen bettered in this particular genre. A remarkable trilogy.

Raven’s Book of the Month:

Anthony Quinn- Border Angels

Product DetailsThe border between Northern Ireland and the Republic is a rugged place: cold, windswept, and dark. For the girls brought here from Eastern Europe, it may as well be a war zone. Put to work in a farmhouse brothel near Dunmore, the women are forced into a living hell. One night, a pimp takes one of them for a ride. She is just planning her escape when the car explodes. The next morning, there is nothing left but the pimp’s charred body and the woman’s footprints in the snow. As his forensics specialists turn their attention to the burned corpse, Police Inspector Celcius Daly obsesses over the footprints. Where exactly did the woman come from, and where did she go? It is the sort of question asked only in the borderlands—between North and South, between life and death.

Okay, I know you probably guessed that this would be the winner this month- my reputation as a lover of Irish crime fiction goes before me- but this was genuinely my favourite read of the month. A wonderfully understated detective as the main character, a plot that neatly encompassed all the pressing social and economic issues affecting Ireland today, and a perfectly paced storyline that kept my interest from first to last. What more does one need from a good crime read?

Ed Chatterton- Down Among The Dead Men (DI Frank Keane 2)

At first glance, the bloody crime scene in suburban Liverpool looks like a straightforward murder-suicide – the husband kills the wife and then himself. But what of their missing teenage son, Nicky? Is he their prime suspect or the third victim? With Nicky’s holiday job on a film being shot in the city bringing unwanted press attention, newly-promoted head of the Merseyside Major Incident Team DCI Frank Keane knows that time is running out to find the boy. But all too soon the case starts unravelling into one that will test Keane to the limit – and haunt him to his dying day.

Ed Chatterton bounces back onto the British crime scene with another gripping thriller featuring DCI Frank Keane, introduced to us in the brilliant debut novel, A Dark Place To Die.  Opening with the horrific murder of a respectable couple in a Liverpool suburb, and the disappearance of their teenage son, Chatterton immerses his likeable detective in the pursuance of an incredibly narcissistic killer, taking us into the strange labyrinthine world of the Joseph Williamson tunnels that provides a particularly sinister feel in terms of location, and then a relocation to the bright lights of Los Angeles in search of said killer.

As in A Dark Place To Die, Chatterton uses this plot device of transporting the action across continents (Australia in the previous outing) for Keane to pursue his quarry, and although I wasn’t entirely convinced by some of the strands that this produced, I found with a  slight suspension of disbelief, my attention was still held. This is due to the fact that the pace of the whole affair is unrelenting, and there is an immediacy and sense of urgency about the prose that gets a hold of the reader, compelling you to read this quickly. Fuelled by the great characterisation, in particular of our everyman hero DCI Frank Keane, Chatterton has created a police officer with an appeal that doesn’t rely on the usual cliches, and the shifting and complicated nature of his relationship with his sidekick, the marvellous DI Emma Harris, adds another dimension to the plot. As in A Dark Place to Die, Chatterton pulls no punches in terms of language, violence and sexual reference, although this didn’t feel quite as wonderfully sordid as the first book. The interactions between the police protagonists, in particular, is infused with the natural wit so characteristic of Liverpool,  so some of the darkness is offset with some mordantly funny exchanges, adding to the general fluidity of the dialogue and the interactions between the characters. Indeed, it is probably this aspect of both Chatterton’s books that holds the greatest appeal for me as a reader, as his observation of the weaknesses of human character is always spot on, and his characterisation across gender and social class always has an authentic feel in terms of speech and behaviours. I feel like I know these characters intimately, and this extends to the fascinating and murderous killer that Keane pursues throughout the book, with an inherent balance of charm and evil that makes for a compelling bad guy, seeking to elude our dogged detective.

So, in conclusion, an extremely readable follow up to the superb A Dark Place To Die. Although less dark, sleazy and visceral than Chatterton’s debut, that really set the first book apart, I enjoyed the overall plot and catching up with DCI Frank Keane. Just don’t call him Roy…

Read Raven’s review of the first Frank Keane book here: A-Dark-Place-To-Die/

and Interview-with-Ed-Chatterton

Ed Chatterton was born in Liverpool, England and, working as Martin Chatterton, has been successfully writing and illustrating children’s books for twenty-five years. In addition to his award-winning career as a writer, he has also worked as a graphic designer, university lecturer, commercials director and failed lingerie baron. After spending some years moving between the UK and the US, he emigrated to Australia in 2004 and became a citizen in 2006. He lives in northern NSW and is married with two vampires:

(With thanks to Midas PR for the ARC)

Interview with Ed Chatterton- A Dark Place To Die

 Absolutely delighted to introduce a Q&A with Ed Chatterton. Ed is the prize-winning author of more than twenty children’s novels (published under the name Martin Chatterton). A Dark Place to Die is his first crime novel and he is already hard at work on the second novel in the DI Frank Keane series. Here’s what he had to say and read my review of this gritty debut here: A Dark Place To Die.

 Obviously this is a bit of a transition of style going from a successful career as a children’s author to a gritty crime novelist. How cathartic was it as a writing process as the book is brilliantly visceral and earthy in tone? And why the change of direction or have you always had a hankering to write in the crime genre?

It is a big change, that’s true. I have always been a massive crime fiction reader and always felt I had a crime book (or more) ‘in me’. It took a long time for that book to arrive but I like to think that while it was gestating I was getting better and better at being a writer. Several of my children’s books were for a Young Adult readership and were, essentially, crime fiction. The difference was that there was no sex and definitely no swearing. I’ve written thirty one books prior to ‘A Dark Place To Die’ so I must have learnt something along the way. My children’s fiction is all surreally comedic so this was a definite shift in tone and content. And yes, it was extremely cathartic to let it all hang out after years of editing out the grit. Another reason for the change was that I felt I had a significant amount of life experience to give weight to the book.

As with my beginnings as a children’s writer it started by thinking I could do better than a lot of stuff that’s out there. I’m aiming high: my writing heroes are Elmore Leonard and George Pelecanos. If I can get within touching distance of Leonard I’ll die happy.

How fully formed were the differing characters of DI Frank Keane and his former boss Menno Koopman in your mind when you started writing? Were they the starting point for the book?

I stole the names for most of the characters from friends. Menno Koopman is a Dutch guy I play football with (I did ask him and everyone else for permission). He bears no relationship to the character of Koopman but I wanted to give him a ‘non-Liverpool’ flavour of some sort. This was because I didn’t want the series to be too ‘scouse’. I have ambitions for the books that extend beyond Liverpool and giving Koopman Dutch heritage – not to mention having him live in Australia – helped with that.

Keane is based on a number of cops I know or who I used to know. They were, usually, self-contained, undramatic and professional. They don’t like to be showy and I was determined that while he should be human he shouldn’t be laden with deep character flaws and ticks as so many crime characters seem to be.

The real starting point for the book was the idea of writing about someone who, like me, had emigrated. I’d done it twice; first to the US and then to Australia. There’s something about moving away from your home city/country that gives you a perspective on the place. I have a foot in both places (painful, sometimes) but that was important in the development of the story. I also wanted there to be several strong characters who could (and will) become lead characters. Without being too much of a George Pelecanos worshipper, that’s what he does so successfully. So while Koopman might arguably be the dominant character in ‘A Dark Place To Die’, in the sequel it is Frank Keane who I focus on. Further down the line I’d like Em Harris to become a lead character.

One thing I loved about the book was how the differing locations of inner city Liverpool and the lush green rolling landscapes of outback Australia took on a character of their own. How important was this to the book in the light of you personally uprooting in the same direction as the character of Menno Koopman?

I heard from a detective friend of mine who lives locally that the area I live in (the Northern Rivers) has the highest murder rate per capita in New South Wales. Given that this area is all very lush, with white sand beaches and clear blue ocean that might be surprising. But I subscribe to the view that wherever humanity is there is violence. We are a violent species and our surroundings don’t stop that. From a dramatic point of view there was a nice counterpoint between the two locations. It’s hard enough to write a book of this complexity and have it take place in an unfamiliar setting so it made a lot of sense to place the action in both Australia and Liverpool. And I placed the Australian sections in the areas closet to me. The Gold Coast is about an hour north from where we live and has a thriving criminal fraternity. Once I had a plot device that made sense – a large scale drug deal between Liverpool and Australia – then everything else fell into place. Clearly too, because I had emigrated, there was empathy with Koopman’s mindset which made him easy to write.

At times the book strayed from the normal conventions of crime writing with the emphasis on critical theories and art as expounded by the wonderfully evil character of North. How did the idea of having a well-read if totally psychotic killer come about? And is art a particular interest of yours?

I am interested in art, yes. In fact, the character of North came about as a device in which I could discuss the locations that are important in the narrative. I needed someone who could talk about or reflect on the artistic content so making him an ex-art student made sense. The opening location which takes place amongst Antony Gormley’s ‘Another Place’ sculpture installation was a vital component of the book. Without giving anything away this artistic setting is echoed later in the book. I’m a big admirer of Gormley’s work, particularly ‘The Angel of the North’ and I wanted a way to express that. As a reader I’m always a sucker for art-themed crime fiction (although I was bitterly disappointed by ‘The DaVinci Code’). I went to art school and became an illustrator; something that I still do for both my own children’s books and for other people.

A quite standard question but who are your writing influences and any crime writers in particular who really ‘shake your tree’ so to speak?

I’ve already embarrassed myself by fawning over Elmore Leonard and George Pelecanos so I won’t add to that particular eulogising. There are tons of other writers who I admire: people like PG Wodehouse, Evelyn Waugh, Richmal Crompton. Many of the writers who I think are truly incredible are comedy writers; Larry David and Ricky Gervais spring to mind.

In crime fiction I love Patricia Highsmith – the Ripley books are incredible – and I also have a fondness for some of the Nordic writers. I’m enjoying Asa Larsson’s ‘The Black Path’ right now which might also be because I shared a panel at the Brisbane Writer’s Festival with her last week (she’s terrific). I like Carl Hiassen and Don Winslow and Joe Lansdale. I have something of a man crush on Elliot Perlman after crossing paths with him at a dinner although again I think this may simply be fan madness on my part. Michael Connelly is a wonderful crime writer too. It’s one of my biggest thrills that I was recently taken on by the same agent in LA as him and Dennis Lehane. And I can’t namecheck crime writers without mentioning Arthur Conan Doyle.

What next for DI Keane- is there another book in the pipeline as this was such a strong and punchy debut?

Frank is back, yes! I’ve just completed the first draft of the sequel to ‘A Dark Place To Die’. Myself and Random House are still arguing over the title so I can’t help out on that, but I can say that in this one the action is split into two distinct halves; the first part takes place in Liverpool and the second in Los Angeles. Keane has been promoted to DCI and is a little uncomfortable in the role. When an apparently simple murder-suicide in a leafy Merseyside suburb takes place, he doesn’t imagine for a moment where it will end.

The Liverpool sequences centre on an edgy movie being shot in the city (Liverpool has long been a thriving movie location). the movie centres on the Williamson tunnels. These tunnels – which are real – were built in the 1800’s by an eccentric philanthropist called Joseph Williamson to provide work for unemployed builders. Instead of creating something useful, Williamson built miles of pointless caverns and tunnels under the Edge Hill area of the city. Some of the tunnels are still to be explored. The location echoes the theme of the book which is loosely based on the Greek myth of Theseus and the Minotaur.

I’d like Frank to run for a number of books and I think Random House have every intention of doing that. If not, I guess I can always keep drawing.

‘A Dark Place To Die’ has been optioned by a movie production company so I guess that if that eventuates we’ll definitely be seeing more of Frank. 

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