A Quick Round Up- Chris Carter- The Gallery of the Dead/ Elly Griffiths- The Dark Angel/ Craig Robertson-The Photographer

Here are three authors that I read on an incredibly regular basis, but aware that they get reviews from far loftier reviewers than myself, here are just a few thoughts on their latest releases…

That’s what a LAPD Lieutenant tells Detectives Hunter and Garcia of the Ultra Violent Crimes Unit as they arrive at one of the most shocking crime scenes they have ever attended. 
 In a completely unexpected turn of events, the detectives find themselves joining forces with the FBI to track down a serial killer whose hunting ground sees no borders; a psychopath who loves what he does because to him murder is much more than just killing – it’s an art form.
 Welcome to The Gallery of the Dead.

There’s always a wonderful sense with Chris Carter that his books have a what you see is what you get feel about them, and that’s not to deride them in any way. I hesitate to use the word formulaic, but you know that there will be a central killer, brutal, mentally unhinged, and with an arsenal of gory methods of despatching their victims, to fulfil their own twisted raison d’etre. With his background in criminal psychology, Carter never fails to unnerve his readers with a plethora of individuals capable of haunting our dreams. The Gallery of The Dead ticks all the boxes as usual…

Deranged killer operating from what he believes is a perfectly normal mind-set

Interesting/bloodcurdling/”ugh gross” methods of despatching victims 

Detectives Hunter and Garcia, (who have acquired a near superhero/indestructible status from their preceding investigations) doggedly pursuing said killer, but wearing their underpants inside their trousers and not over the top of a pair of tights

Hunter beginning to realise that maybe he should be succumbing to his more ‘base’ needs and dallying with a member of the opposite sex 

An absolute belter of a closing line that references an earlier book, and is set to unleash a whole host of trouble for Detective Hunter… 

Some women read delightful nauseatingly pastel books with winsome singletons to turn on, tune in. and drop out. To unwind I read Chris Carter, the master of the dark, the dangerous and the seriously twisted, and The Gallery of the Dead is an absolute cracker.

(With thanks to Simon and Schuster for the ARC)

Dr Ruth Galloway is flattered when she receives a letter from Italian archaeologist Dr Angelo Morelli, asking for her help. He’s discovered a group of bones in a tiny hilltop village near Rome but doesn’t know what to make of them. It’s years since Ruth has had a holiday, and even a working holiday to Italy is very welcome!
So Ruth travels to Castello degli Angeli, accompanied by her daughter Kate and friend Shona. In the town she finds a baffling Roman mystery and a dark secret involving the war years and the Resistance. To her amazement she also soon finds Harry Nelson, with Cathbad in tow. But there is no time to overcome their mutual shock – the ancient bones spark a modern murder, and Ruth must discover what secrets there are in Castello degli Angeli that someone would kill to protect.

I will say from the outset that over the course of the Ruth Galloway books, I have had an up and down relationship with them, but feel almost a sense of guilt if I decide not to pick up the next in the series. The Dark Angel reaches the landmark of ten books, featuring the everywoman character of Galloway, who set apart by her sheer ordinariness, intelligence,  frequent crisis of confidence, and somewhat unbelievably tangled personal relationships, has accrued a significant following of readers in her wake.

I will be honest, and say that this book didn’t really fill me with any sense of satisfaction. As the whole love triangle, now love square, rumbles on unabated, I felt that Griffiths focussing on the machinations of this neglected to provide any sort of interesting plot, despite despatching both Ruth and her on/off/on/off/on/off lover policeman Harry to the steamy surrounds of Italy. The central ‘mystery’ that Ruth finds herself embroiled was all a wee dull, and I didn’t really care who was being killed and for what reason. Also I think that Griffiths has slightly shot herself in the foot, by despatching a character one book too early, as the continuing existence of this person could easily have let them survive a bit longer to spice things up a bit. In fact, the way they were despatched was a bit ludicrous too. Also it felt a bit one-out, one-in as the closing sentence of the book heralds the reappearance of a figure from Ruth’s past, who may or may not add a bit of energy to the series.

On a more positive note, I always appreciate Ruth’s witty asides, and her day to day battles with weight, appearance, and desperately seeking to not say the wrong thing at the wrong time. I love her groundedness, and her professional demeanour, along with the insight into archaeology that arise from the books. I will read the next one, and undoubtedly the next, but unfortunately The Dark Angel didn’t quite hit the spot for me this time.

(With thanks to Quercus for the ARC)

A dawn raid on the home of a suspected rapist leads to a chilling discovery, a disturbing collection of photographs hidden under floorboards. DI Rachel Narey is terrified at the potential scale of what they’ve found and of what brutalities it may signal.
    When the photographs are ruled inadmissible as evidence and the man walks free from court, Narey knows she’s let down the victim she’d promised to protect and a monster is back on the streets.
    Tony Winter’s young family is under threat from internet trolls and he is determined to protect them whatever the cost. He and Narey are in a race against time to find the unknown victims of the photographer’s lens – before he strikes again.

And so to Craig Robertson, whose series featuring DI Rachel Narey, and her other half photographer Tony Winter, does in all senses go from strength to strength. I’ve read every book to date, and there’s not been a duffer yet, and this one ranks easily as quite possibly the most polished and sensitive yet.

The Photographer revolves around the identification of a serial rapist, who seems to be able to defy prosecution, instead given free reign to stir up the misogynistic forces on social media to persecute his accuser, and by extension, Narey herself who is steadfastly working to bring him to justice. I thought this whole storyline was handled beautifully and extremely sensitively throughout, with Robertson not shying from representing the hatred that women endure through sexual violence, and the loathsome trolls of social media who hide behind their keyboards to vent their vicious diatribes and air their foul opinions. I felt that Robertson wrote some scenes with such compassion and depth of feeling that I was genuinely moved, and it is to the author’s credit that he captured this sense of desperation, and persecution so well. I liked the way that Robertson also didn’t resort to a stereotypical sexual predator, which added an extra level of tension in his interactions with Narey in particular, finding herself in confrontation with a successful, intelligent and extremely devious opponent.

As usual, the central relationship of Narey and Winter worked well with the added dimension of their new baby, and as things become more perilous, the welcome reappearance of Winter’s Uncle Danny, who is always a tonic, and a source of comfort to the reader knowing he has their backs. Robertson always achieves a good balance between the professional and the personal, with neither overwhelming the other in terms of the narrative. Likewise his books always have a resounding realism, and it’s always interesting how this resonates with his reader’s own experiences or their views on, or experience of, the issues he constructs his stories around. As usual, highly recommended, and generally a series that it is well worth discovering for yourselves.

(With thanks to Simon and Schuster for the ARC)

November 2014 Round-Up and Raven’s Book of the Month

_DSC0185 (Common Raven)Another busy month of reading and reviewing by the Raven, not only here, but also in conjunction with the brilliant New Talent November feature that has run for a month over on Crime Fiction Lover . NTN November has revealed some great new talents and I’m sure you will all discover some debut crime novels to tickle your fancy!

Elsewhere, there was much talk of Iceland Noir 2014 and check out these sites for some fascinating and informative posts around the events that took place:

Mrs Peabody Investigates

Crimepieces

Euro But Not Trash

In sad news for crime fiction fans everywhere I was called upon to post a tribute to the wonderful P. D. James on her passing. She will be greatly missed amongst readers and fellow authors alike. P.D.James 1920-2014 A Retrospective

On a happier note I was pleased as punch to take part in David Baldacci’s UK Blog Tour with a specially written post on the roles of heroes and villains in his writing and reading- David Baldacci:Giveaway-The-Escape

I also need to pass on thanks again to Andrew James for his nomination for Raven as a Very Inspiring Blogger- much appreciated! Andrew James Writer

December beckons, and with it I will post a series of articles revealing my best reads of the year and new discoveries, as well as the usual reviews and crime news. Working in book retailing, December is a busy, busy month for me, but wearing this hat I would urge you to remember that there is no greater gift than a book! Unless you can afford that natty sports car, or a condo in Florida…

Have a good month 🙂

Books reviewed this month:

Matthew Pritchard- Werewolf

Elly Griffiths- The Zig Zag Girl

Chris Ewan- Dark Tides

Tammy Cohen- Dying For Christmas

J. G. Jurado- The Tipping Point

Nadia Dalbuono- The Few (www.crimefictionlover.com)

Sheila Bugler- The Waiting Game (www.crimefictionlover.com)

Paddy Magrane- Disorder (www.crimefictionlover.com)

Alexander Hartnung- Until The Debt Is Paid(www.crimefictionlover.com)

Raven’s Book of The Month

fewRead as part of the New Talent November feature at Crime Fiction Lover this debut novel really struck a chord with me, and I have now hand-sold all my copies at the bookstore where I work. Yes- it’s that good. Focusing on the less salubrious activities of a group of Italian politicians, and the disappearance of a young American girl on holiday in Italy with her parents, Dalbuono has constructed a compelling plot, that will keep you guessing until the end. Add to that her police protagonist, the charming and determined  Detective Leone Scamarcio, who has seemingly turned his back on his Mafia connections, and what Dalbuono has achieved is a thoroughly accomplished debut crime novel that will leave you itching for another in the series. A truly 5 star read and perfect for fans of top notch Euro crime thrillers.

Elly Griffiths- The Zig Zag Girl

ellyBrighton 1950. When the body of a girl is found, cut into three, Detective Inspector Edgar Stevens finds himself thinking of a magic trick that he saw as a boy: the Zig Zag Girl. The inventor of the trick, Max Mephisto, is an old friend of Edgar’s, having served together in the war as part of a shadowy unit called the Magic Gang. Hence, the story pivots back to their wartime activities, when they were based in Scotland working on plans to thwart a possible German invasion through illusion and subterfuge. Max is still on the circuit, touring seaside towns in the company of ventriloquists, swordswallowers, dancing girls and third rate comics- including another wartime acquaintance of theirs, Tony Mulholland, who dabbles in mesmerism as well. Changing times means that variety is not what it once was, but Max is reluctant to leave this showbiz world to help Edgar investigate, and is only coerced into action when the dead girl turns out to be known to him. Edgar and Max become convinced that the murder is linked to their army service, and when Edgar receives a letter warning of another ‘trick- The Wolf Trap– he knows that they are all in danger…

I always think it’s a brave decision by an established series author such as Griffiths with her hugely popular Ruth Galloway novels, to step outside of the familiar and tackle a standalone (or opener to a possible new series). I had similar fears with Belinda Bauer, on the publication of Rubbernecker, but Griffiths like Bauer has succeeded admirably in my opinion. Having said that, I would partly put my enjoyment of The Zig Zag Girl down to my own fascination with the world of magic, particularly of this period and earlier, so many of the little nods and references to magic resonated very well with me- Hugh D. Nee indeed! However, where I think Griffiths succeeds so well in this book, is the underlying sense of fun that she seems to be having, and that we can participate in, along the way. There are a host of great little comic interludes and one-liners, that add another dimension to what is essentially a more graphic and souped-up classic Golden Age mystery, including the trusty use of tea cup and poison, transported into 1950’s Brighton. The unerring sense of darkness, and the slight seediness and desperation of the world which Max in particular resides in, is set against the lighter comic tone with great effect, reminding me strongly of the brilliant Bryant & May mysteries by Christopher Fowler. Add into the plot the pivoting timeline, charting the beginnings of the less confident Edgar’s and uber confident Max’s friendship, with their undercover and top secret wartime mission, and The Zig Zag Girl, draws us into its own little illusionist’s trick where nothing is quite as it appears…

I am a self confessed fan of Griffiths, and what I enjoy most about her writing is her characterisation, and this book does not disappoint. Every character is incredibly well-delineated, no matter how small or large part they play in the plot. I’ve already identified the essential difference between policeman Edgar and showman Max in terms of confidence, but it’s incredibly interesting to see how this chalk-and-cheese combo, and their understated loyalty to each other, join forces to catch a killer. Likewise, the character of Mulholland is joyous- in common parlance he would be a total **** – and I enjoyed the acerbic mocking by Max of Mulholland’s purported mesmerist skills and comic talent. He has none. There is also a wonderfully credible female character with Ruby, harbouring designs on being a world famous female magician in her own right, who enthrals Edgar, but strangely manages to resist the obvious appeal of the suave and cool Max. These characters draw you in completely, and I genuinely cared about the peril each faces as the story unfolds. So in conclusion, I was rather keen on The Zig Zag Girl, with its terrific blend of light and dark mood, the strength of the characters, the use of the shabby seaside locations, and the careful balance of historic period detail. All in all it’s fun, a jolly good murder mystery, with a few unexpected shocks along the way to jolt the reader. Magic…

(With thanks to Quercus for the ARC, the dinky playing cards and entertaining fridge magnets!)

Elly Griffiths- Dying Fall

Product DetailsRuth’s old friend Dan Golding thinks he has made a discovery that will change archaeology forever – but he needs Ruth’s help. Then, Dan is killed in a fire, leaving Ruth with one clue: the tomb of the Raven King. DCI Nelson is also rediscovering the past. He meets his friend Sandy Macleod, now at Blackpool CID, who tells him there are mysterious circumstances surrounding Dan’s death. A Neo-Nazi group at Dan’s University has been making threats and could be involved. Many of Dan’s colleagues seem fearful and have secrets to hide. Ruth is drawn into the mystery, and where she goes, so does her daughter, Kate. This time, it’s not just Ruth’s life at risk.

 I’m a firm fan of Elly Griffiths’ series featuring the wonderful character of Ruth Galloway and always compare approaching a new book by her as being akin to pulling on those old faithful slippers, grabbing a mug of hot chocolate and stuffing yourself with delicious cake. Although, I admit to being a fan of the more gritty and less mainstream crime noir, there is something I find very appealing about this series. You always know that you will be educated and entertained, as well as being engrossed in a damn good murder mystery and ‘Dying Fall’, the newest in the series, is no exception.

Our favourite forensic archaeologist finds herself embroiled in the seemingly senseless murder of Dan, an ex-university pal who, like Ruth, has forged a successful career in the field of archaeology and may just have stumbled upon the most significant archaeological find ever in Britain. Could Dan have really discovered the final resting place of King Arthur of the Britons, and who is desperate to claim this find as their own and to what sinister end. As Ruth appears to be the final person that Dan made contact with before his death, she ventures North with her daughter Kate, and Kate’s Druidic godfather, Cathbad, in tow to solve the mystery. Cathbad is further drawn into the mystery, with the suicide of one of his oldest friends, and as the plot unfolds,  Ruth and himself find themselves being lured further into danger….

 The essential pull of this series lies within Griffiths’ characterisation of Ruth herself. Ruth is an ‘everywoman’ who consistently succumbs to all those little doubts that most women would recognise within their own characters. She’s in her 40’s, worries about her weight, her choice of clothing, her parenting skills as a single mother, and other people’s perceptions of her both professionally and personally. By the same token, she is an exceptionally attractive character, because of her humanity. She is very perceptive to the thoughts and feelings of others, but interestingly this skill fails to extend to her own personal life as she is blighted by her choice of men and aside from her utter devotion to her daughter, Kate, she has not attained a real sense of harmony in her personal relationships. Her personal life is complicated with regular stalwart,  DCI Nelson being solidly married, but also being the father of Kate’s daughter, and her faltering relationship with the frankly tedious Max brings her no succour either. However, with her natural intelligence and sense of empathy, she makes for a dogged if reluctant investigator into her friend’s death, and this also adds to her overall charm as a character. Supported by Griffiths’ depiction of the eccentric Cathbad, the emerging character of Ruth’s daughter Kate, and the tension of Ruth’s relationship with the inherently likeable DCI Nelson, these characters all work well within the balance of the book, in addition to the characters, Ruth encounters in association with the central murder mystery.

Another point to make about any of Griffiths’ books is the attention to the archaeological and historical strands of the plotting. What I like about the series is how accessible Griffiths’ makes her inclusion of this level of detail as probably most of us only encounter this world through dipping into ‘Time Team’ on the TV! I liked the way that this plot in particular hooked into two of the most seminal mysteries of British history; the existence of King Arthur and the possibility of the discovery of his final resting place, and the recounting of the events surrounding the Pendle witches. By insinuating both of these into the plot, Griffiths, adds another facet of interest to the reader that supports the enjoyment of what, in other hands, could be just a straightforward murder mystery plot. Yes, there are slightly unbelievable plot devices to propel the story onwards, but this in no way detracts from the stronger elements of Griffiths’ writing, and the overall enjoyment to be gained from a well-researched backdrop, and the joy of the interaction between Griffiths’ protagonists. Always a treat…

Elly Griffiths was born in London. She read English at King’s College, London and worked in publishing for many years. Her crime novels are based in Norfolk and feature Dr Ruth Galloway, forensic archaeologist. She lives near Brighton with her husband, an archeologist and their two children. Find out more at www.ellygriffiths.co.uk

THE ‘RUTH GALLOWAY’ SERIES 1-5

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(With thanks to Quercus for the ARC)