A Quick Round-Up- Clare Carson, Hans Olav Lahlum, David Lagercrantz, Bram Dehouck, Simon Toyne

With the end of the year so rapidly approaching, and a pretty full-on work schedule to accompany it, thought that instead of just staring at the pile of the books that still need reviewing, I should really be getting on with it. Short and sweet reviews coming up…

carson Jim is a brilliant raconteur whose stories get taller with each glass of whisky. His daughter Sam thinks it’s time she found out the truth about her dad. On holiday in Orkney, Sam spies on Jim as he travels across the island. What has he hidden in the abandoned watchtower? Who is he meeting in the stone circle at dusk? And why is he suddenly obsessed with Norse myths? As Sam is drawn into Jim’s shadowy world, she begins to realise that pursuing the truth is not as simple as it seems.

I heard Clare Carson speaking at a crime event earlier this year, and at last have read her debut thriller, Orkney Twilight and what a rare treat it was. From the outset I found myself completely involved in the unique father-daughter relationship between the shadowy and almost unknowable Jim and the feisty and sharp witted Sam. I loved the way that Carson explores their relationship throughout the book, as their paths of trust and mutual empathy converge and diverge, as the secrets that Jim carries, in his work as an undercover police officer, begin to impact on Sam, as she seeks to discover more about her father. The interactions and dialogue that Carson conjures around them is made all the more powerful by the invisible gaps that have appeared through long periods of estrangement, and there is a real sense of two people so utterly alike behaving as if the opposite was true. I was utterly entranced from start to finish, not only by the strength of the characterisation, with a relatively small cast of protagonists, and the engaging plot, but by the lyrical quality of the prose, underscored by the allusions to Norse myth and Scottish folklore and the beautiful realisation of location throughout. There is a subtle claustrophobia woven into the book, not only in the realms of human understanding, but played out cleverly at odds under the large skies of the Scottish isles that hold sway over much of the action. Outstanding.

(I bought this copy of Orkney Twilight)

human-flies-978144723276601Oslo, 1968. Ambitious young detective Inspector Kolbjørn Kristiansen is called to an apartment block, where a man has been found murdered. The victim, Harald Olesen, was a legendary hero of the Resistance during the Nazi occupation and at first it is difficult to imagine who could have wanted him dead. But as Detective Inspector Kolbjørn Kristiansen (known as K2) begins to investigate, it seems clear that the murderer could only be one of Olesen’s fellow tenants in the building. Soon, with the help of Patricia – a brilliant young woman confined to a wheelchair following a terrible accident – K2 will begin to untangle the web of lies surrounding Olesen’s neighbours; each of whom, it seems, had their own reasons for wanting Olesen dead. Their interviews, together with new and perplexing clues, will lead K2 and Patricia to dark events that took place during the Second World War.

Again, I’m a little late to the party with this one, but having already purchased the next two in the series, Satellite People and The Catalyst Killing, shortly after finishing this, you can tell I was impressed. With a more than obvious nod to the heyday of the Golden Age, Lahlum has cooked up a wonderful blend of Christie-esque plotting, with a traditional locked room mystery. With the action centred on an Oslo apartment block with its finite number of inhabitants, Lahlum carefully constructs a tale of secrets, lies and totally captures the whole notion of the sins of the past resonating in the present. As each inhabitants true character and devilish motivations for murder come to the fore in the course of the investigation, Lahlum invites us to play detective along with K2 to uncover a murderer. The writing is crisp, playful at times, and exceedingly dark at others. Although I did guess the killer relatively early on in the book, I did enjoy the little twists in the narrative which did make me doubt the cleverness of my own deductions, and with the formidable duo of keen detective, and his wonderfully barbed relationship with the spiky, but keenly intelligent Patricia was a joy to read. Excellent.

(I bought this copy of The Human Flies)

9780857053503 Lisbeth Salander and Mikael Blomkvist have not been in touch for some time. Then Blomkvist is contacted by renowned Swedish scientist Professor Balder. Warned that his life is in danger, but more concerned for his son’s well-being, Balder wants Millennium to publish his story – and it is a terrifying one. More interesting to Blomkvist than Balder’s world-leading advances in Artificial Intelligence, is his connection with a certain female superhacker. It seems that Salander, like Balder, is a target of ruthless cyber gangsters – and a violent criminal conspiracy that will very soon bring terror to the snowbound streets of Stockholm, to the Millennium team, and to Blomkvist and Salander themselves.

Regular visitors to my blog have probably noticed my reticence to review more of the widely hyped and talked about books of the year, and such was the case with this book on its release. With a torrent of global reviews, and probably the most talked about book of the year, resurrecting the ghost of the marvellous Stieg Larsson, I will just add a little note on my experience of the book. As the start of a proposed trilogy, and the brilliant premise of keeping Lisbeth and Mikael away from each other as long as possible in the course of the book, Lagercrantz truly grabbed the bull by the horns in seeking to emulate Larsson’s writing style. I was very convinced by it, and felt he really captured the flow and narrative style of one of the most compelling and much loved crime thriller trilogies that Europe has produced. I thought the author captured the nuances of character, socio-political concerns and pure narrative tension so resonant of the original books. There were some nice little allusions to previous events, and the quirks in the relationship between Lisbeth and Mikael that we are so familiar with throughout. The plot was well-crafted, intelligent and exposed some hidden aspects of the scientific and social media worlds in a thought provoking and highly interesting way, whilst never losing sight of keeping the continuity and feel of the original books. Highly recommended.

(With thanks to Maclehose Press for the ARC)

ssSeasons come and go in provincial Blaashoek, where the town’s superficial harmony is upended by the arrival of a wind park – a blessing for some, a curse for others. The irritating hum of the turbines keeps butcher Herman Bracke, known far and wide for his delicious ‘summer paté’, awake at night. He falls prey to a deadly fatigue and gradually loses control over his work, setting off a series of blood-curdling events, with fatal consequences for the townspeople. Life in Blaashoek will never be the same again.

Now it’s time for one of my weird and wonderful discoveries in the world of bijou but perfect European crime thrillers. Winner of the Golden Noose and the Knack Hercule Poirot Readers’ Prize, this is a twisted little tale of country folk in the small community of Blaashoek. An early warning should be given that despite its brevity this is not a read for the faint of heart or the weak of stomach! It’s bloody, blunt, scatological in detail, and near the knuckle, but with a charming echo of the style and black humour of my much beloved Pascal Garnier, I couldn’t resist it (albeit with some squirming in my seat whilst reading). The characters are perversely charming, but brutally despatched at regular intervals, and I loved Dehouck’s construction of this small community with its petty jealousies, suspicions and the dark events that ensue as modern technology encroaches on their closed lives. It’s like the blackest version of Midsomer Murders you could possibly imagine, infused with the dark, psychological tinge of the finest Scandinavian crime fiction, and I loved it. Yes I did. Loved it.

(With thanks to World Editions Ltd for the ARC)

And finally…

41OgxOimpgL__SX323_BO1,204,203,200_

A plane crashes in the Arizona desert.

One lone figure emerges alive from the wreckage.

He has no memory of his past, and no idea of his future.

He only knows he must save a man.

But how do you save someone who is already dead?

I am now going to admit to a serious, but entirely flattering from of blog envy. On its release many of us participated in the blog tour for Solomon Creed, with a series of interviews, guest posts by Mr Toyne as well as a plethora of reviews. Having posted a guest article as part of the tour, I was more than ready to commit my own views on the book to screen, but then I read this review by Matt at  Readerdad.co.uk Not only is this one of my favourite reviews by a fellow blogger it’s been my pleasure to read this year, but it also so closely mirrors my own thoughts on the book, that it seems foolish to submit a pretty identical review! Like Matt, I was totally swept up in the location of the book, the unerring mystery surrounding the enigmatic central character of Solomon himself, and held in thrall by Toyne’s interweaving of religious precepts and the feel of the book as a reworking of Solomon as an ‘everyman’  fused with medieval quest, that so powerfully defines the canon of English literature. It is a masterful and intelligent thriller, with slight echoes of Stephen King and Lee Child, but still set apart from these and others that populate the current thriller market that you are in for a treat. Hats off to Mr Toyne once again and take a bow sir….

(With thanks to Mr Toyne waylaid in a hotel foyer for the ARC)

 

 

 

 

 

A trio of tempting crime treats- Gangsterland/The Invisible Guardian/The Snow Kimono

Realising that the official April monthly round-up is but a few hours away, thought I best get a wiggle on tidying up the read pile for the month. Despite powering through a stack of advance reading copies, all of the books below I very naughtily bought during the course of the month, despite my initially extremely noble intention to walk around my place of work with the blinkers on, and to NOT BUY ANY BOOKS! Well, best laid plans and all that. As it happens May is a congested month for reading and reviewing, so much less time to indulge in book buying, and to concentrate on those review copies. Raven says. Hopefully…

todFirst up was Gangsterland by Tod Goldberg: Sal Cupertine is a legendary hit man for the Chicago Mafia, known for his ability to kill anyone, anywhere, without leaving a trace. Until now, that is. His first-ever mistake forces Sal to botch an assassination, killing three undercover FBI agents in the process. He knows this could be his death sentence, so he agrees to a radical idea to save his own skin. A few surgeries and some intensive training later, and Sal Cupertine is gone, disappeared into the identity of Rabbi David Cohen. Leading his congregation in Las Vegas, Rabbi Cohen feels his wicked past slipping away from him. Yet, as it turns out, the Mafia isn’t quite done with him yet. And that rogue FBI agent on his trail, seeking vengeance, isn’t going to let Sal fade so easily into the desert…

Normally I’m wary of any crime book labelled as funny, and effusive taglines testifying to the scale of hilarity contained within, but this was an absolute hoot from start to finish. Arising from a short story entitled Mitzvah, the book is not only a dark and sinister crime caper, set in Las Vegas, but contains some of the sharpest wiseguy humour so reminiscent of the old master Elmore Leonard. The whole set-up for the plot with a sadistic Chicago hitman having to re-invent himself as a rabbi in Vegas, is wacky enough, but I more than bought into this gun-toting, sharp talking and endlessly entertaining read. The characters are brilliant and earthy  whether bad guy, good guy, or those that gravitate between both camps of legality, and the action is fast-paced and totally engaging. If you love Leonard, Hiaasen or Dorsey this will tick all the boxes.

igNext was The Invisible Guardian by Dolores Redondo: The naked body of a teenage girl is found on the banks of the River Baztán. Less than 24 hours after this discovery, a link is made to the murder of another girl the month before. Is this the work of a ritualistic killer or of the Invisible Guardian, the Basajaun, a creature of Basque mythology? 30-year-old Inspector Amaia Salazar heads an investigation which will take her back to Elizondo, the village in the heart of Basque country where she was born, and to which she had hoped never to return. A place of mists, rain and forests. A place of unresolved conflicts, of a dark secret that scarred her childhood and which will come back to torment her. Torn between the rational, procedural part of her job and local myths and superstitions, Amaia Salazar has to fight off the demons of her past in order to confront the reality of a serial killer at loose in a region steeped in the history of the Spanish Inquisition…

Another slice of literary European crime, set in the Basque region of Spain. Although I did find a certain familiarity with the style of the writing, the historical and social detail of an area largely unknown to me, more than compensated for the more linear aspect of the plotting. I found the exploration of local superstitions woven into the plot incredibly interesting, and likewise the references to the Spanish Inquisition added another layer to the sometimes pedestrian characterisation of the police protagonists. Salazar was a strong enough lead for the investigative strand of the plot, and I enjoyed the trials and tribulations of her fiery family that punctuated the book, and the visitation of the past that occurs for her, but overall she was too similar to many female detectives that have proceeded her in the genre to really make much of an impact. Well written and engaging enough overall and would still recommend for the insight into the Basque history and region.

 

snowAnd finally The Snow Kimono by Mark Henshaw: On the same day that retired police inspector Auguste Jovert receives a letter from a woman claiming to be his daughter, he returns to his Paris apartment to find a stranger waiting for him. That stranger is a Japanese professor called Tadashi Omura. What’s brought him to Jovert’s doorstep is not clear, but then he begins to tell his story – a story of a fractured friendship, lost lovers, orphaned children, and a body left bleeding in the snow. As Jovert pieces together the puzzle of Omura’s life, he can’t help but draw parallels with his own; for he too has lead a life that’s been extraordinary and dangerous – and based upon a lie…

To be honest, this is one of those books that I could simply list appropriate adjectives for. This book is poignant, evocative, moving, heartfelt, shocking and, unerringly beautiful in equal measure. Such is the complexity of the writing and plotting, that it almost defies its own inclusion into the crime genre, as its literary credentials are plain to see, and the pace and lyrical intensity of the slowly unfurling plot, take the reader on a wholly mesmeric journey. With each strand of the narrative pivoting between separate characters telling their story, and the shifting location from France to Japan, and the unique characteristics of these two societies, rural and city, weaving in and out of the plot, the reader is constantly kept on the back-foot, and deliciously toyed with as to how the plot will develop. Henshaw cleverly harnesses the haunting simplicity of Japanese fiction, with all the style and impetus redolent of European crime fiction, in this utterly enthralling and highly original novel. Wonderful writing, and a book that I cannot urge you strongly enough to discover for yourselves.

 

Bernhard Aichner- Woman of the Dead

ber Billed as a tantalising combination of Dexter, Kill Bill and The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, here for your delectation and delight, is another highly enjoyable slice of European crime fiction. Focussing on the character of Blum, the widowed mother of two young daughters, and the owner of a funeral home, The Woman of the Dead, is a singularly intriguing thriller, that opens with an extremely unsettling scene eight years previously, and then transporting us to the present to a scene of domestic bliss. This picture of homely comfort- a mother, father and two young daughters- is then forcibly shattered when Blum’s police officer husband, Mark, is killed on the road outside of their home, in an apparent hit-and-run. Fighting against the tidal wave of loss this produces, Blum discovers through a series of her husband’s recordings of an interview with a young immigrant woman, that his death is inextricably linked to his investigation into this young woman’s experiences as a formerly imprisoned sex slave. What Blum further discovers is that the men who are guilty of this abuse are notable figures in the local community, and with revenge boiling hard in her veins, Blum seeks to track down this woman, and exact revenge on her abusers, and her husband’s killer. Blum’s role as the avenging angel is clear to see, but what of her own murky past and the secrets she carries within? It was gratifying to see that Aichner had spent six months as an undertaker’s assistant to add credence to the more visceral details of the story, as there is a wonderfully sensitive handling of the everyday business of Blum’s handling of the dead. This sensitivity is beautifully balanced with Blum’s one woman bloody mission to track down and punish her husband’s killer or killers, where her retribution is swift and uncompromising. This is a brutal, and unrelenting read, peppered with vivid scenes of violent that by turns shock and jolt the reader, and with the added frisson of many of these being committed by a woman, the shock value intensifies. Despite the more graphic details (which some readers may struggle with) I was not unduly disturbed by them, and found the balance between Blum’s family life and professional standing, was perfectly weighted with this completely opposite picture we get of her. She is a completely intriguing character, encompassing a blend of strong morality which is then shaken by the slowly revealed less savoury aspects of her past, giving the reader a multi-faceted woman, who will challenge your empathy, as your opinion of her will undoubtedly change and change again as the book progresses. As I have said Aichner pulls no punches where the subject of sexual and physical violence arises, and this merely compounded for me his wider comment on the subject of sex-trafficking and abuse that young women immigrants can encounter in their search for a better life. The fact that Blum as a woman, later aided by Reza an employee at the funeral home, who himself has a back story of violence and immigration, adds a karma-like feel to their pursuit of the guilty, compounding the intensity of Aichner’s sociological observations on the plight of immigrants throughout Europe. It’s a strong message, strongly delivered, of the damaging effects, and the all too common danger and violence that these protagonists encounter, adding again to the power and intensity of the book. Likewise, the simple and dispassionate feel to Aichner’s prose, heightens the emotionally intense and claustrophobic feel to the novel. Perhaps a nod to the translator Anthea Bell is warranted here for the exact and compelling translation that fuels this intensity throughout. I am a huge fan of spare, pared down prose and curtailed dialogue, more commonly observed in American crime fiction, and so this was a eminently satisfying style for me. Overall, this was a brave, unsettling, but hugely compelling crime thriller that I can’t recommend highly enough if you are of stout heart and stomach. European crime fiction at its best. Bernhard Aichner was born in 1972 and lives in Innsbruck, Austria, where he works as an author and photographer. Visit his website here  Anthea Bell has won numerous awards for her translations. Best known for her translation of the Asterix series, Bell was awarded an OBE in 2010 for services to literature. (With thanks to Orion for the ARC)

Raven’s Best Discovery of 2014…

_DSC0185 (Common Raven)Ooh, I love this time of year, as I cast my mind back to all the wonderful and not-so-wonderful books that I have encountered over the past twelve months. Starting a series of posts on the highlights of my reading year, I feel that I must start with this. My favourite discovery of 2014 has to be Marco Malvaldi, an Italian crime author with more than one string to his bow. I have read and reviewed three of his books this year at Crimefictionlover.com , but am keen as mustard for more people to discover this clever, witty and hugely entertaining writer, with the added bonus of Howard Curtis’ pitch perfect translations. I implore you to enter the madcap world of amateur sleuth Massimo the barman, and the curmudgeonly elderly patrons of his bar, with whom you will share more than a few wry smiles along the way…

gameforfive200Game For Five is the first instalment in the Bar Lume series, which are bestsellers in the author’s native Italy. Set in a small coastal town in Tuscany, the book features Massimo – a barman and amateur sleuth – and a gaggle of hilarious old timers in their 70s and 80s. Between downing shots of espresso, and lively card games, Massimo and his cohorts while away the time chatting and arguing. When a young girl is brutally murdered near their watering hole, and left in a trash can, they start theorising about events surrounding her death.

The victim’s less than moral lifestyle makes everyone think her death is connected to the world of drugs and casual sex in which she was immersed. Two of the prime suspects in her murder are linked to this very lifestyle. Out of their love of gossip and their wit and intelligence, the old friends at Bar Lume begin to pull the case to pieces.

With his connection to the discovery of the body, Massimo is coerced into the role of amateur sleuth and becomes the overseer of this band of merry pensioners. He systematically scrutinises their friends and neighbours. Add into the mix an arrogant yet ineffectual local police officer called Fusco, who investigates the murder, and the scene is set for the amateurs to solve the crime.

The book has an endorsement from Andrea Camilleri, and if you are an admirer of the Inspector Montalbano series you won’t be disappointed. The characterisation is absolutely marvelous throughout, from the hangdog barman Massimo through to the unruly pensioners with their politically incorrect observations and acidic treatment of their neighbours, who are possible suspects.

What I found particularly interesting were the slight differences in the relationships Massimo has with each player in the piece. His elderly customers exasperate and entertain him in equal measure. With the barmaid, Tiziana, there is consistently flirtatious and affectionate interaction. As Massimo becomes more entwined with the murder investigation there are some wonderfully spiky scenes between him and Inspector Fusco. They stiffen Massimo’s resolve to find the real culprit, and bring justice for the victim’s mother, with whom he confers during the course of his unsolicited investigation. Massimo really does don the hat of a detective, systematically eliminating potential suspects, and gradually working out who the real killer is.

He is a multi-layered and empathetic character, and along with the colourful members of the community in which he resides, adds a real texture and solidity to the plot. The unruly old timers are fantastically well-realised, and the barbed wit and general bonhomie between them is a delight throughout the book. They’re full of humour and yet make knowing nods to the frustrations growing old. In relation to the humour, I would make special mention of Howard Curtis’ translation, which seems to convey the atmosphere, dialogue and lively writing style of the author perfectly.

With a great blend of humour and underlying darkness, Game For Five, proves to be an excellent introduction to the owner and customers of Bar Lume and their small community. An entertaining and thoroughly enjoyable read.

Three-Card Monte is the second instalment in the Bar Lume series. Set in a small coastal town in Tuscany, the book once again features Massimo – a barman and amateur sleuth – and a gaggle of hilarious old timers. Between espresso, and lively card games, Massimo and his cohorts while away the time chatting and arguing, but nothing sets their tongues a-wagging more than an unsolved crime.

The Twelfth International Workshop on Macromolecular and Biomacromolecular Chemistry – “What a waste of capital letters,” one character comments – has descended upon the small coastal town of Pineta in Northern Italy. Massimo and Aldo, one of the curmudgeonly pensioners, are to provide catering during its coffee and lunch breaks. Much excitement and speculation ensues when an esteemed Japanese professor dies under mysterious circumstances – it is quickly deemed a homicide.

Massimo reluctantly reprises his role as an amateur detective when summoned by the marvellously ineffectual Inspector Fusco to aid the investigation. With the conference ending in three days, with all delegates heading back to their native countries, there is little time to catch the killer. But fear not. Within the safety of their favourite watering hole, Massimo and his aged band of speculators have their own theories and serendipitous insights into the murder and who is culpable.

From the opening chapter Malvaldi instantly draws us back into his cynical and witty writing style that so impressed in the first book. Koichi Kawaguchi is seen as nervous, apprehensive of Italy’s chaos and of attending the conference. He ponders the travails of the days ahead. Meanwhile, Massimo is blighted by the installation of WiFi in Bar Lume – it only works at one table, under a tree, which is invariably occupied by his stubborn, elderly cohorts. There’s a less than serious tone to this murder mystery, but it’s one that will entertain and delight in equal measure. Malvaldi’s attention to characterisation is superb throughout, as you find yourself, like Massimo, exasperated by his unruly pensioners but thoroughly entertained by their non-PC observations, saucy humour, and scathing complaints about their friends and neighbours.

In common with Andrea Camilleri and Marco Vichi, the inherent wit of the book is tempered by an intriguing murder mystery. Malvaldi has constructed a neat and engaging crime plot, nicely peppered with scientific geekery. It illustrates perfectly the competitive professional rivalries that exist in the scientific professions, and the race to make that one great discovery, and how far others will go to thwart this. The level of detail that Malvaldi insinuates into the plot adds to the overall enjoyment of the mystery, lending a credible feel to the whole affair. His fluid and engaging prose with its perfectly placed vignettes of humour is totally entertaining, but yet sates the thirst of those craving a tricksy and puzzling murder mystery. An absolute gem.

And why not seek out this cheeky little stand alone with its tongue-in-cheek on the Golden Age murder mystery genre…

A country house murder mystery, complete with locked room conundrum and a nod to the Golden Age, The Art of Killing Well is set in a Tuscan castle in the year 1895. It’s the home of the seventh Barone di Roccapendente and his extended family, all of whom seem indolent, rude or quite simply barking mad.

On this particular weekend they plan to hunt wild boar. The Barone has invited not only the reputable photographer Signor Ciceri, but also the real life chef Pellegrino Artusi who is compiling his masterpiece, The Science of Cooking and The Art of Eating Well.

With two cats as companions, and his well-thumbed edition of Sherlock Holmes, Artusi’s presence is an absolute joy, giving rise to the inveterate snobbery of the Barone’s clan, however he is generally indifferent to the supposed wealth and influence of his hosts. Things get underway with a murder. This time, it wasn’t the butler… no, he was the victim. Artusi, with his nose for a mystery, relishes the challenge of unmasking a killer. As he delves into the inner workings of this not so noble family, he uncovers a hotbed of gambling, sexual shenanigans and greed, but can he reveal the true murderer?

Few books make me laugh out loud, but the acidic and wry humour here is pure entertainment. With the gentle intrusion of an omniscient narrator, who provides a series of observations from a contemporary viewpoint as well as injecting dry asides as to the moral integrity of the aristocratic family, the book sparkles with wit. Malvaldi excels in a series of humorous little vignettes, detailing the weaknesses and foibles of these eccentric and incredibly dislikable people. Characters are described variously as having the intelligence of a fruit bowl, or dressing in a cross between a monk’s habit and a grain silo. Much fun is poked at the idiosyncrasies of the rich along with cynical asides about the politics and social mores of the period. The natural alacrity and joie de vivre of Artusi is set against the rather buttoned down dryness of his eminent hosts. The author garners considerable enjoyment from the jokes at their expense.

The rumbustious Artusi is a wonderfully warm and multi-layered character, seemingly intent on just sampling the earthy and rustic Tuscan fare for his cookery book, but actually donning the mantle of detective with consummate ease, walking in the footsteps of his hero Holmes. Added to the mix is local policeman l’inspettore Artistico, who has little time or patience for the demands of the Roccapendente family, but who forms a touching alliance with our chef in the course of the investigation, particularly in the wake of a second attempted murder.

It is not a thick book, but a fully satisfying one not only due to how the unfortunate butler is dispatched, but also because of how this death unearths such a viper’s nest of corruption. The plot unfolds with all the charisma of a traditional Agatha Christie, but its near-the-knuckle humour and bizarre characters provide an all together more fulfilling reading experience. A perfectly bijou and mischievous crime book, I would be more than happy to read it again in years to come.

(With thanks to Europa Editions and Quercus for allowing me to discover Malvaldi)

Thomas Mogford- Hollow Mountain

Media of Hollow MountainAt the heart of Gibraltar lies the Rock.

At the heart of the Rock lies darkness.

The late-morning sun beats down on the Rock of Gibraltar as bored tourists photograph the Barbary Apes. A child’s scream pierces the silence as she sees a monkey cradling a macabre trophy. A man’s severed arm. In the narrow streets of the Old Town below, lawyer Spike Sanguinetti’s friend and colleague is critically injured in a mysterious hit-and-run. Spike must drop everything and return home to Gibraltar, where he is drawn into a case defending a ruthless salvage company hunting for treasure in the Straits. As Spike battles to save his business, he realises that his investigations have triggered a terrifying sequence of events, and that everything he holds dear is under threat…

 

Having read and reviewed the two previous books, Shadow of the Rock and Sign of the Cross featuring charismatic and slick lawyer Spike Sanguinetti, I could not wait for the third instalment to appear. So here it is, Hollow Mountain, and I think I can confidently say that it does not disappoint…

     The novel opens in Gibraltar with a great scene- you can’t beat an ape appearing with a dismembered human arm and frightening a small child- quickly followed by the introduction of Spike Sanguinetti in Genoa on the trail of his errant former lover, the enigmatic and mysterious Zahra. Theirs has been a tricky relationship played out over the course of the three books, and this wily female continues to elude and frustrate the lovelorn Spike. Throw into the mix an almost fatal accident involving Sanguinetti’s partner in his law firm, and an intriguing tale involving the territorial rights of salvaging sunken ships highlighting also the push-me, pull-you battle over the sovereignty of Gibraltar- the hollow mountain of the title- and what transpires is a multi-faceted tale all played out with Mogford’s superb narrative control. Certainly for me, this tightness of plotting meant that no single strand of the story was more overplayed than the others, which is some feat in a relatively short crime novel.

     Added to the assured control of plot, Mogford once again presents a cast of contrasting and full characters imbued with wit, charm, nastiness or greed in equal measure. Spike Sanguinetti is a charmer, with his air of calm control and suaveness, undone sporadically by not only the pursuit of Zahra, the heartwarming but fraught relationship with his father, but also by his uncanny knack to find himself in the thick of trouble and murder. Mogford’s characters generally have a nifty line in humour in the face of adversity, and there are some lovely laugh out loud moments. I am particularly fond of Spike’s curmudgeonly father Rufus, and the interaction between them, and despite Spike’s protests to the contrary, there are more alike than either would concede. Likewise, Spike’s police associate Jessica Navarro is growing in stature as the series progresses, and will be interested to see how her character is developed further.

     In Mogford’s usual style, the book weaves in little snippets of pertinent information as regards location and socio-political mores as the action pivots between various locations, with Gibraltar itself standing front and centre, bathed in mystery and rich in history. In a nod to psycho-geography, Gibraltar is imbued with almost human characteristics in Mogford’s depiction, and his gradual unfurling of the colourful history of this contentious piece of land over the course of the three books has been fascinating.

     So another thumbs-up from me, and delighted to discover recently that Mogford is on his research travels once again in Italy and Albania for the next book. What on earth will Spike be up to next? Rest assured I look forward to finding out. A great read.

Another review of Hollow Mountain can be found at Crimepieces

My reviews of  Shadow of the Rock and Sign of the Cross

Thomas Mogford has worked as a journalist for Time Out and as a translator for the European Parliament and the UEFA Champions League. While studying to be a lawyer, he looked into practising abroad. Instead, he decided to write a series of thrillers set in the Mediterranean region. Shadow of the Rock introduces Spike Sanguinetti, a lawyer from Gibraltar who is willing to risk everything to protect his client www.thomasmogford.com follow on Twitter @ThomasMogford

(With thanks to Bloomsbury for the ARC)

Marc Pastor- Barcelona Shadows

Barcelona ShadowsIn 1917, Barcelona’s infamous Raval district is alive with outlandish rumours. A monster is abducting and murdering young children. The police are either powerless to prevent his terrible crimes,or indifferent to them, since they concern only the sons and daughters of prostitutes. But Inspector Moises Corvo is determined to stop the outrages, and punish their perpetrator. His inquiries take him on a tour of the Catalan capital,through slum, high-class brothel and casino, and end in a stomach-turning revelation…

Originally entitled La Mala Dona – The Evil Woman – Barcelona Shadows fictionalises the real events of 1911-1912 involving the serial disappearance of young children. Drawing on his own experiences as a crime scene investigator, Pastor is well placed to produce more than one shiver down his readers’ spines, as he recounts the events of these sinister disappearances, and the fears of the community that a real life vampire walks amongst them in this compelling and unsettling novel. With more than a nod to the penny dreadful genre of 19th century literature, and scattered with references to Conan Doyle, and Edgar Allen Poe,  you are instantly drawn into this dark story, overseen by the omnipresent narrator of Death himself, and what a tale it is…

This book pulls no punches from the opening bodysnatching scene, with a dark jibe at the use of a headless corpse, which did appeal to my dark sense of humour. There are children playing with bones, overstuffed flies that have feasted on bodies, details of autopsies, with a good coating of the visceral nature the crimes themselves. There are beautifully Dickensian-esque characters that lodged in my imagination as toothless stinking ragbags with glorious names such as One Eye and Blackmouth and the insane Doctor von Baumgarten with his creepy medical investigations. Cleverly, in his depiction of the main detectives, the charming womaniser Corvo and his earnest counterpart Malsano, there was a nod to the more contemporary motifs of crime fiction, as they endeavour to solve the disappearances and subsequent murders under the gaze of an idiotic boss, with more than a dash of sardonic wit a la Montalbano or Rebus. I really took to this crime fighting duo, in particular Corvo, described as no longer a defender of good folk as toughened by his experiences as he no longer believes in good folk and as an old dog, grim-faced and filled with vices, but with a tenacious zeal for clearing the streets of scum, but at what personal cost to himself? The perpetrator of the crimes in the book, the hypnotically chilling and manipulative Enriqueta, takes on all the childhood nightmare inducing qualities of Baba Yaga or the gingerbread house dwelling witch of fairytale tradition, and equally frightening to think that in the real life case that Pastor draws on that the chief suspect in the child snatching was indeed a woman. As her madness intensifies during the book, ably supported by three dim-witted men bowing to her every whim, the plot twists and turns, transporting the reader along effortlessly as more horrors are unveiled at every turn.

I think that there is a specific intention by Pastor for the city to assume a character of its own in the book, and the depiction of the grinding poverty and the population’s propensity for an unerring superstitious belief all adds to the very atypical 19th century feel of the book, as the setting is so resonant of the industrial geography of Northern England and even London itself. Barcelona is referred to in phrases such as ‘a city of mask and lies’, and equally as a coldhearted being that, ‘keeps pretending nothing is going on’. There is a feel itself that the city is endeavouring to thwart the investigations of the police, and keep its dark and dirty shadows filled with fear for the general populace. The well-crafted descriptions of the city itself all add to the overall disturbing nature of the book and the crimes contained within it and achieved for me a narrative equally on a par with the psycho-geographic mastery of writers such as Peter Ackroyd with Hawksmoor or Iain Sinclair’s Slow Chocolate Autopsy

I concede that this dark tale, populated by a cast of grotesques and infused with a visceral wit, may not be to everyone’s taste, but it really tapped into the dark imaginings of the human psyche. All in all, a clever, parodic novel that will appeal to those who actively search out something different within the crime genre and an entirely satisfying read at that.

Marc Pastor studied criminology and crime policy, and works as a crime-scene investigator in Barcelona. He is the author of four novels: Montecristo, Barcelona Shadows, awarded the Crims de Tinta prize in 2008, L’any de la plaga and Bioko. Richly atmospheric, his work spans a range of genres, from Sci Fi to Gothic via the adventure novel. Barcelona Shadows is first book published in English. Follow on Twitter @DoctorMoriarty. Marc Pastor’s first UK TV appearance- http://bbc.in/1fhKk12 

(With thanks to Pushkin Press for the ARC)