Fergus McNeill- Ashes of America

It’s 1953, and an optimistic America is shaking off the hurt of World War II. Russia is defeated and Germany is now an ally. Former soldier Frank Rye is a small-town cop in rural Missouri, but the war has left him cynical and selfish. When his actions lead to the murder of a fellow officer, guilt drives him into a vengeful hunt for justice. His search for the killer will drag him deep into his own past, to the wartime summer of 1944, when he was stationed in neutral Switzerland, to a clandestine world of love and lies. To unmask the killer, he must uncover the truth about the war and about himself…

It’s been a long wait for a new book from Fergus McNeill, but all good things come to those who wait, some of us less patiently than others, and Ashes of America is a more than welcome return from this always excellent author…

From the outset this book ticked a huge amount of boxes for me, with a split narrative set in post war 1950s Missouri, and also 1940s war-time Switzerland. McNeill captures effortlessly, the zeitgeist of the post war era in America, and immerses us in a period where everyone was touched in such measure by the seismic events of this conflict. None more so than his main character Frank Rye, a cop in Missouri, whose back story surrounding his wartime service brings a real vigour and excitement to what could easily just be a linear tale of betrayal and murder. With the brutal killing of a fellow cop in a real wrong time, wrong place scenario, Rye quickly realises that someone is baying for his blood, and finding himself suspended, he sets out on a maverick mission to catch the killer. All well and good, but here’s the thing that McNeill does so well. By pivoting us back to Rye’s clandestine activities in Switzerland during his army service, McNeill has achieved the not so achievable feat of presenting us with two seemingly unrelated narratives that mirror the energy and suspense of each other.

As a fan of spy thrillers, and crime fiction, this provided a hugely enjoyable reading experience. The 1940s Switzerland based story is a perfect example of a well executed spy story, which thanks to McNeill’s excellent rendition of atmosphere and location, sees us following Rye through the twisted streets and dark corners of this beautiful Swiss setting, chasing shadowy figures, relying on his smarts, and trying to avoid physical harm. When I was reading this, I was instantly reminded of the black and white hues of Carol Reed’s The Third Man as Rye seeks to make sense of the strange situation he finds himself in, and the array of secretive characters he becomes inextricably entangled with in this wartime subterfuge. McNeill employs a real smoke and mirrors feel to this storyline, keeping us and Rye himself in a shroud of uncertainty as to why he is there, and who exactly can be trusted as everyone seems duplicitous to one degree or another. It is a beautifully crafted espionage tale, punctuated by newspaper excerpts, keeping us firmly rooted in this idyllic setting with its own claustrophobic intensity whilst reminding us of the war raging on elsewhere.

In 1950s Missouri, as Rye pursues a murderer and his female accomplice from his backwoods station to Kansas City, there is all the tension and suspense of a crime thriller, where in all the best tales, Rye turns maverick cop, but in true Jack Reacher fashion, reveals a few more sensitive facets to his character, that the opening of the book has firmly disabused us of. With a steely determination and a ready fist, Rye succeeds in antagonising most of those he encounters in his path, which leads to an exciting and tense counter-narrative, which then whips you back to the alpine subterfuge, and the slightly different pace, intensity but no less exciting storyline. When encountering a character like Rye, tough, dogged and cynical in outlook, I almost always take to them, and I quickly thought that there would be a real mileage to this character in further books, dependent on whether he reached the end of the book in one piece. Well, you’ll have to find that out for yourselves, and I would urge you to find this out for yourselves. Really enjoyed this one, and good to see the return of Fergus McNeill.

Highly recommended.

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With thanks to the author for the ARC

Buy Ashes of America:  Amazon UK & Amazon.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

September 2015 Round Up and Raven’s Book of the Month

_DSC0185 (Common Raven)Hurrah! September was relatively free of I.T. gremlins so have managed to catch up a bit with myself. An excellent month with three blog tours- including the now-you-see-it-now-you-don’t Simon Toyne article on Solomon Creed, a review of debut author Rod Reynolds’ The Dark Inside, and a review of The Defenceless the second book from the excellent Kati Hiekkapelto. I’ve travelled far and wide in my crime reading this month, and I’ve also managed to squeeze in a couple of fiction titles too. If my trusty Dodo Pad (which organises my life) is correct, there are three more blog tours scheduled for October, including a debut that is quite simply brilliant, and will knock your collective socks off. Intriguing huh? A good month’s reading and some further treats, as always, lie in store…

Books reviewed this month:

Piero Chiara- The Disappearance of Signora Giulia 

 Alberto Barrera Tyszka- Crimes

Rod Reynolds- The Dark Inside

Hester Young- The Gates of Evangeline

Anthony Horowitz- Trigger Mortis

Kati Hiekkapelto- The Defenceless

Fergus McNeill- Eye Contact

RAVEN’S BOOK OF THE MONTH:

25807823In a break from tradition, I’m awarding my book of the month to a book that I haven’t actually posted a full -length review of. Hey, that’s the way I roll sometimes…

Top honours this month go to Steve Mosby’s I Know Who Did It, which brilliantly reprises elements of his earlier thriller The 50/50 Killer which is still for my money one of the best crime books ever written.

With the suspenseful premise of a woman who appears to have returned from the dead, a detective haunted by the murder of his young son, and the nefarious reach of an old crime on a current investigation, Mosby’s control of the structure of contrasting narratives and plot points is faultless throughout.

Once again Mosby circumvents the shallowness of some in the genre, by really digging down into the turmoil of the human psyche, with two of his police protagonists having experienced tremendous loss, and provides a thoughtful and empathetic study of life in the grip of grief, and the healing process that follows. However, despite this deeper theme to the book, he never loses sight of the need to construct a clever and intriguing thriller, that will bewitch the reader, providing more than one surprise, an utterly unexpected denouement in the creepiest of settings, and interweaving some interesting perspectives on life, death, grief, psychological disturbance, religion, and the much debated theory of nature vs nurture. Meaty issues, violence, and a well realised blend of police procedural and psychological thriller. Highly recommended, and quite deservedly my book of the month.

 

Fergus McNeill- Eye Contact

fergusFrom the outside, Robert Naysmith is a successful businessman, handsome and charming. But for years he’s been playing a deadly game. He doesn’t choose his victims. Each is selected at random – the first person to make eye contact after he begins ‘the game’ will not have long to live. Their fate is sealed. When the body of a young woman is found on Severn Beach, Detective Inspector Harland is assigned the case. It’s only when he links it to an unsolved murder in Oxford that the police begin to guess at the awful scale of the crimes. But how do you find a killer who strikes without motive?

As promised in last month’s round-up, this is another of the authors I have discovered thanks to CrimeFest- the crime fiction convention- in Bristol. Eye Contact is the first of Fergus McNeill’s books featuring Detective Inspector Graham Harland, which pits him against one of the most sinister, yet charming, serial killers, to grace the pages of a crime thriller…

From the outset, McNeill eschews the whole run-of-the-mill serial killer thriller tropes, and their turgid familiarity, by bringing to us a serial killer that you wouldn’t really mind going to the pub with for an evening of convivial company. Just don’t let him walk you home afterwards. Naysmith is brilliantly portrayed as both a confident, charming businessman, who has a way with the ladies, but also happy to bathe in the respect of his male peers. However, beneath this persona lurks a wolfish, calculating and devious killer, with his personal credo of selecting a fixed time of day, which when it passes, spells doom for the person to make eye contact with him after this allotted time. Hence, he exhibits none of the well-worn traits of your average serial killer with his seemingly random victim selection, and his propensity for stalking his prey to ascertain the absolute prime time for their demise. He hunts outside of his social group, across both genders, and employs different killing methods, whilst upholding a demeanour of respectability underscored by the tiniest flashes of what his outer skin conceals. McNeill balances both sides of Naysmith’s personality absolutely perfectly throughout, and writes him with such an air of authenticity and knowledge that I guarantee you will be held in a spell throughout.

Pitted against the Machiavellian Naysmith, is McNeill’s police protagonist, DI Graham Harland, who in an interesting synchronicity with the man he hunts, carries an equally intriguing and complex blend of character. There is no doubt that Harland is an extremely dedicated and accomplished police officer, but not far from the surface is the underlying grief and anger he carries one year on from his wife’s untimely death. We witness his utter frustration and deep seated hurt as he struggles with therapy sessions, and the flashes of rage and bleak moods, that life in the advent of a loved one’s death so often produces. McNeill draws his character with a sympathetic air, but equally makes us frustrated on Harland’s behalf as he falls foul of his inner torment, sometimes impeding his ability to be the effective police officer we sense he is. As Harland’s investigation intensifies, it is a delight to see these two contrasting male characters get drawn together, whilst cleverly exhibiting similar traits to one another which we recognise, and share a knowing nod about.

Set around the south west, and being an area of the country I’m very familiar with, McNeill’s use of location is staunchly realistic and recognisable throughout the book. With Naysmith roving around in the course of his business and killing activities, McNeill gets the chance to balance the book with rural, suburban and inner city settings, that really underpin the story very well indeed, and each location gives a steadfast point for the reader to visualise either Naysmith’s or Harland’s place within it, being very well-realised.

As is so often the case with the sprawling output of the crime fiction genre, there are authors that slip the net, so to speak. Thank goodness I have discovered Fergus McNeill, as I’m sure that his back catalogue will be swiftly caught up with, and become one of my favourites to recommend. Excellent.