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Vive La France!(2) Pierre Lemaitre- Three Days And A Life/ Herve Le Corre- After The War/ Antonin Varenne- Retribution Road

En l’honneur de la fête nationale, voici une sélection des thrillers Français qui ont impressionné, déplacé et ravi le Corbeau dans la même mesure.  Ou en d’autres termes, un billet de blog je pourrais simplement étiqueter, voici trois de mes livres préférés de l’année, qui ne risquent pas d’être dépassé n’importe quand bientôt. Hélas, ma collègue française serait un mauvais service à ces critiques, pardonnez-vous à l’anglais! 

Bonne lecture à tous et à toutes!*

Antoine is twelve years old. His parents are divorced and he lives with his mother in Beauval, a small, backwater town surrounded by forests, where everyone knows everyone’s business, and nothing much ever happens. But in the last days of 1999, a series of events unfolds, culminating in the shocking vanishing without trace of a young child. The adults of the town are at a loss to explain the disappearance, but for Antoine, it all begins with the violent death of his neighbour’s dog. From that one brutal act, his fate and the fate of his neighbour’s six year old son are bound forever. In the years following Rémi’s disappearance, Antoine wrestles with the role his actions played. As a seemingly inescapable net begins to tighten, breaking free from the suffocating environs of Beauval becomes a gnawing obsession. But how far does he have to run, and how long will it take before his past catches up with him again?

Being a confirmed admirer of Pierre Lemaitre’s books to date, I rather enjoyed the subtle shift of style and location that Three Days And A Life reveals. Turning his attention away from the big city to the rural backwater of Beauval, Lemaitre constructs a slower and more introspective novel than we have come to expect from him, but equally produces a more heightened, and psychologically deft portrayal of human frailty and morality…

Time after time, I become disappointed, and as you know more than a little incensed, by the unnatural narrative voice given to young protagonists. Consequently I avoid reading many books that have a pre-sixteen narrator or central character. With Antoine, the dislikeable little person that he is, Lemaitre captures beautifully his perception of the world, and his reactions to the consequences of his severe misdemeanour. Antoine is realistically imbued with a child’s thought processes, as to how to conceal and avoid punishment of his crime, and I enjoyed the authenticity of his under-developed sense of morality, which he seems to carry quite happily into his adult years too. I thought the portrayal of his mother was also excellent, and how Antoine’s childish perception of her as just his mother actually spoke volumes to the reader about her true emotional state. Equally, I loved the depiction of parochial small town jealousies, and ill-feeling, that reminded me of the observational prowess, and skewed morality that is so familiar in the works of the late Pascal Garnier. Lemaitre reveals a boiling pot of tension and envy that perfectly fits with the feel of a small community under pressure, and the distrust of their neighbours.

The latter stages of the book are hewed from Antoine’s re-visitation of childhood events from an adult perspective, and Lemaitre’s control of his narrative once again comes to the fore. With Antoine being as utterly self-absorbed as he was as a child, but perhaps with a greater perception of the fall out for others from his actions, and indeed, closer to home, there is another twist in store for the reader, and there was me beginning to worry that the king of the psychological twist would disappoint! Once again, a precise and engaging translation from Frank Wynne allows us to fully appreciate this tawdry and morally ambiguous tale of childhood mistakes, and Lemaitre has again demonstrated his flexibility and natural flair as a storyteller. Three Days And A Life is entertaining, thought-provoking, and as always highly recommended.

(With thanks to MacLehose for the ARC)

 

1950’s Bordeaux. Even now, the Second World War is never far from people’s memories, particularly in a city where the scars of collaboration and resistance are more keenly felt than ever. But another war has already begun. A war without a name, far away across the sea, in Algeria, where young men are sent to fight in a brutal conflict. Daniel knows what awaits him. He’s heard stories. Patrols, ambushes, reprisals, massacres, mutilations, all beneath a burning north African sun. He has just a month left before he leaves but, haunted by the loss of his parents and sister in the atrocities of the last war, Daniel questions why he is even going to fight in the first place. Meanwhile, past crimes are returning to haunt Albert Darlac, the godfather of Bordeaux: corrupt police chief, fascist sympathiser and one-time collaborator. Before long, a series of explosive events will set off a spiral of violence that will bring the horrific legacy of wars past and present to the streets of Bordeaux…

During the reading of After The War, I posted on social media that “This is astonishing. I have been moved, perplexed, disturbed, and enthralled in equal measure” and to be honest, in the wake of finishing it, I could simply leave it at that. Comprising of past and present timelines, the dual locations of the seedy underbelly of 1950’s Bordeaux, and the contentious French conflict in Algeria, and with one police protagonist that is evil incarnate,  Herve Le Corre has produced a truly uncompromising, multi-layered masterpiece…

In common with many crime thrillers this is a story driven by, and built on vengeance, as Daniel, a young man, on the cusp of war,  becomes aware of his estranged father returning to Bordeaux to seek revenge on the man who committed the ultimate betrayal during WWII. Through the powerful narrative of Daniel’s experience fighting in Algeria, juxtaposed with Jean, his father’s, meticulous plan to heap as much misery and wrath on Albert Darlac, an immoral, violent and thoroughly odious police detective, Le Corre raises the emotional intensity, and therefore the reader’s engagement with some considerable skill. His characterisation is absolutely superb, with all three male protagonist’s exposing to the reader the very best and worst of human nature, and digging deep into the notion of how we can be morally compelled to do bad things for good reasons. In the character of Darlac, we see the ultimate realisation of the bete noire, with a man whose actions come from the darkest recesses of immorality, and whose revenge on those around him is driven by evil of the highest order. I was equally repulsed and fascinated by him throughout, and will from this day forward acquire the mantle of one of the darkest characters ever to grace the pages of crime fiction.

Le Corre’s depiction of Daniel experiencing the sheer intensity and dubious morality of men’s actions in war was my personal highlight of the book. As a regular reader of contemporary literary  war fiction, I thought that the author’s realisation and visualisation of the terrain itself was perfect in every detail, and the mundanity of a soldier’s life, interrupted with these big, bold and terrifying incidences of combat was hugely affecting on the reader. Le Corre never turns his full gaze away from this harshest of moral issues as to how the men in Daniel’s platoon react so viscerally to attack, and how they vent this rage on the enemy, contravening the rules of war. The scenes he presents are uncompromising, and yes, uncomfortable at times, but so real and necessary to underscore Daniel’s gradual realisation of the futility of that for which he fights, and in which he loses comrades. It was breath-taking in its depiction.

After The War is a behemoth of a thriller, that challenges and perplexes the reader, testing our notions of morality and empathy, and through the adept translation of Sam Taylor, a thoroughly rewarding, if emotionally troubling read. Highly recommended.

(With thanks to MacLehose for the ARC)

 

And last, but by no means least, and quite possibly my book of the year…

Burma, 1852. Arthur Bowman, a sergeant in the East India Company, is sent on a secret mission during the Second Anglo-Burmese War. But the expedition is foiled – his men are captured and tortured. Throughout their ordeal, a single word becomes Bowman’s mantra, a word that will stiffen their powers of endurance in the face of unimaginable suffering: “Survival”. But for all that, only a handful escape with their lives. Some years later in London, battling his ghosts through a haze of alcohol and opium, Bowman discovers a mutilated corpse in a sewer. The victim appears to have been subjected to the same torments as Bowman endured in the Burmese jungle. And the word “Survival” has been daubed in blood by the body’s side. Persuaded that the culprit is one of the men who shared his captivity, Bowman resolves to hunt him down…

I have tried and failed to write a coherent review of Retribution Road, with several attempts, as it’s impossible to do justice as an amateur reviewer to the sheer magnificence of this novel. Adopting the form of an allegoric odyssey, Antonin Varenne has produced a sprawling, magisterial novel that defies comparison to anything I have read before…

Structured as three interlinking parts, and traversing more than 700 pages, I could feel the influence of a quest serving as a plot device in mythology and fiction, with a difficult journey towards a goal, in the character of Arthur Bowman who inhabits, and influences, each stage of the novel. As he journeys from his military service in Burma, then on to Victorian London, and finally to the swathes of  unconquered territory of America in the grip of the gold rush, each section of the book is wonderfully visual, with Varenne depicting each landscape with pinpoint precision. In his use of location the ordinary is made extraordinary, and the reader’s sense of us being such a small inconsequential part of the natural world is continually brought to bear. Bowman is beautifully cast as both avenging angel and pioneer, weighted down by the brutal events in his personal history, and hence a man of changeable moods and impulses that wax and wane during the course of his mission to track down a killer.

The prose throughout is as tender and sensitive, as it is violent and vengeful, and our emotions and feelings are challenged and manipulated throughout, as Bowman navigates through both testing terrain, and human interaction. The book also poses some interesting theories on  morality and immorality, particularly as a consequence of Bowman’s actions, and those of the man he so ardently and doggedly pursues, at intense personal cost. I don’t think it is any exaggeration to say that this is a true magnum opus, and held me utterly in its power along the long road to redemption and justice. It was just a completely wonderful emotional rollercoaster,  suffused with historical detail, and a totally authentic evocation of place. It is a hugely complex and challenging novel, addressing themes of war, religion, revenge, human connection and emotional strife. As ever, Sam Taylor provides a perfect translation, that subtly captures the nuances of Varenne’s intensity of emotion.  I cannot praise Retribution Road enough, and would highly recommend it for fiction and crime fiction readers alike. C‘est vraiment magnifique!  

(With thanks to MacLehose for the ARC)

 

*In honour of Bastille Day, here are a selection of French thrillers that have awed, moved and delighted the Raven in equal measure.  Or in other words, a blog post I could simply label, here are three of my favourite books of the year, that are unlikely to be surpassed any time soon. Alas my schoolgirl French would be a disservice to these reviews so forgive the English!  Happy reading!

Vive La France! (1) Philippe Georget- Crimes Of Winter/ Frederic Dard- The King of Fools/ Emmanuel Carrere- The Adversary

En l’honneur de la Journée de la Bastille, il y a trois livres français criminellement bons pour vous ravir et vous divertir avec adultère, meurtre, femmes dangereuses et hommes stupides. Hélas, ma collègue française serait un mauvais service à ces critiques, pardonnez-vous à l’anglais! 

Bonne lecture!*

 

This winter is going to be a rough one for Inspector Gilles Sebag, for he has discovered a terrible truth: Claire has been cheating on him. Bouncing between depression, whisky, and insomnia, he buries himself in work in an attempt to forget. But his investigations lead him inexorably to bigger tragedies – a woman murdered in a hotel, a depressed man who throws himself from the roof of his building, another who threatens to blow up the neighborhood – all of them involving betrayals of some sort.  Perpignan seems to be suffering from a veritable epidemic of crimes of passion. Adultery is everywhere and each betrayal leads to another dramatic crime…

Inspired by the encouragement of other reviewers to read Philippe Georget, this is my first dip into the Inspector Gilles Sebag series of thrillers. I thought the characterisation was truly excellent both of the cuckolded Sebag, with his melancholy wistfulness, and growing dependence on the demon drink, and the surrounding cast of police characters. Sebag himself is a walking contradiction being so incredibly intuitive and effective in his job, but a mass of neuroses when dealing with the fallout of his wife’s affair, and the increasing strain placed on him by a succession of cases involving adultery.  I loved  his colleague Jacques Molina, a big bear of a man, with his bawdy humour and distinctly non-PC view of the world, and the shifty and duplicitous Francois Menard, jealous of Sebag’s innate ability to read and disseminate a crime suspect and scene so effectively. The interactions and relationships between all three both personally and professionally really held the book together, as well as the intermittent entrance of others affiliated to the police force, and the tensions or humour they brought to the story.  Although I enjoyed the various strands of the plot and its intricacies, regarding cases of murder and suicides arising from a range of adulterous behaviour, I felt that there was a little too much repetition and naval gazing afforded to Sebag as he sought to make connections between his own wife’s betrayal, and the cases he’s involved in.  I like a slow-burner as much as the next person, but sometimes it felt more like stopping than slowing, so felt the book could have been shortened slightly  to a more consistently steady pace. That aside, I did really enjoy the book overall, and will be seeking out others in the series soon. Recommended.

(With thanks to Europa Editions for the ARC)

 

From the moment he first gazes at Marjory across the roulette table in the Cote d’Azur Jean-Marie is entranced, and when their feverish holiday romance comes to an end he decides to take the biggest gamble of his life – to follow the beautiful Englishwoman back to rainy Edinburgh. But Jean-Marie’s luck runs out as soon as he arrives. His infatuation with Marjory draws him into an impenetrable mystery and soon he finds himself with blood on his hands, trapped in the grey-granite labyrinth of the city streets, and running out of time to save his sanity and his life…

The works of Frederic Dard are a constant source of delight for me, and The King of Fools is one of the best I have read to date. With its compelling blend of the suspense of Hitchcock, and the psychological claustrophobia of Simenon and Highsmith, this is a taut and tense tale of infatuation and murder played out on the Cote D’Azur, and the grim, dark streets of 1950’s Edinburgh. Jean-Marie is a wonderfully flaky man, ruled by his baser instincts, that lead him to pursue the pale, and lets be honest, quite unprepossessing Marjory from sensual France to down at heel Scotland. Dard delights in painting a dark and depressing picture of Scottish life, and its environs, that causes the reader to question further the indefatigable will of Jean-Marie to wrest the seemingly hapless Marjory from a loveless marriage. But Dard being Dard, you know that there will be dark deeds afoot, that will explode in a moment of madness, but which of our loved up pair will be caught in the crossfire? That would be telling, and I’m sure you will accrue as much pleasure from finding it out as I did. Dard once again shows his knack for ordinary people being put in extraordinary circumstances, with all the psychological darkness and violence that became his trademark. Highly recommended.

(With thanks to Pushkin for the ARC)

 

 “On the Saturday morning of January 9th, 1993, while Jean Claude Romand was killing his wife and children, I was with mine in a parent-teacher meeting…” With these chilling first words, acclaimed master of psychological suspense, Emmanuel Carrère, begins his exploration of the double life of a respectable doctor, eighteen years of lies, five murders, and the extremes to which ordinary people can go.

Working for a major book retailer in the UK, we are currently promoting this as our Non- Fiction Book of the Month, and whilst some of my colleagues seem keen to foist this on our customers as a true crime book, I would say that The Adversary is so far off the scale of slasher-style true crime so as not to really resemble a true crime book in its traditional form, the notable exceptions being In Cold Blood and The Executioner’s Song. With a subtle and thoughtful grace, that mirrors Emmanuel Carrere’s dual style as a writer of high quality literary fiction, he presents a tale revolving around a truly Walter Mitty-esque man, whose whole identity and life is built on a tissue of lies and deceit with horrific results. Carrere stands at a distance from his subject for much of the book, although slightly peppering the tale with instances of his own life as a family man, but encourages the reader to form their own opinions, and moral judgement on Romand’s life and crimes. The writing is succinct, and at times, beautifully lyrical as The Adversary explores Romand’s twisted and, at times, inexplicable relationship with the world, leading to an original and disturbing portrait of the mind and psychosis of a killer. Recommended.

(With thanks to Vintage for the ARC)

 

*In honour of Bastille Day here are three criminally good French books to delight and entertain you with adultery, murder, dangerous women and foolish men… Alas my schoolgirl French would be a disservice to these reviews so forgive the English!  Happy reading!

#BlogTour- Simon Kernick- The Bone Field- Extract

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Welcome to the next stop on The Bone Field blog tour marking the release of the new heart pounding, blood pressure raising thriller from Simon Kernick. Marrying the talents of two familiar characters from Kernick’s previous books, DI Ray Mason (The Witness) and former police officer, now private investigator, Tina Boyd (Relentless, Target, The Last 10 Seconds) gird your loins for a fast paced read, full of thrills, spills and unrelenting action…

When the bones of a 21-year old woman who went missing without trace in Thailand in 1990, are discovered in the grounds of an old Catholic school in Buckinghamshire, an enduring mystery takes on a whole new twist. Her boyfriend at the time, and the man who reported her missing, Henry Forbes, now a middle-aged university lecturer, comes forward with his lawyer and tells DI Ray Mason of the Met’s Homicide Command that he knows what happened to Kitty, and who killed her.
So begins a hunt for the truth that will focus on a ruthless crime gang, a rich, dysfunctional family with a terrible past, and a highly ambitious man so cruel and ruthless that he must be brought down at any cost…

‘Adrenalin burst through me as I ran back inside the library, having the presence of mind to shove the phone in my pocket. I heard the one on the doorstep tell the other gunmen where I was and to hurry up, that the cops were coming. They were in a rush now. I had to hope they’d make mistakes.

I grabbed the ashtray from the table and swung round as the guy with the shotgun appeared in the doorway. I threw the ashtray straight at his head and dived out of the way as he pulled the trigger.

The ashtray hit him in the face and he stumbled backwards, putting his hand up to his nose and giving me a split second to charge him. I grabbed the shotgun with both hands, shoving it to one side as he pulled the trigger a second time, sending shockwaves up my arms. At the same time I drove my body into him, sending us both crashing out of the door and into the side of the staircase. I tried to headbutt him but he moved his head to once side, and I caught a glimpse of a thin white scar at the base of his collarbone. His skin was golden brown – mixed race or Asian – but I hardly computed this fact as I tried to stop him from tripping me up.

Out of the corner of my eye I could see a taller gunman, the one who’d been questioning Reedman and Henry, pointing a semi-automatic pistol at me, but it was clear he couldn’t get a good shot in without risking hitting his friend, and I was hanging on to the shotgun like grim death. I think the third gunman was shouting something but I’d been temporarily deafened by the shotgun blast so I had no idea what it was.

My assailant was strong and wiry and he gave me a hard shove, sending us both stumbling back into the library. I hit the bookshelves with a bang and a couple of books fell on my head. He shoved the length of the barrel against my neck, using it to throttle me. It felt burning hot from the discharge of shot but I ignored the pain, lashing out wildly, knowing I was fighting for my life.

I managed to push him back and we struggled wildly in the middle of the floor. The shotgun went off again and this time the force of the discharge knocked me backwards. One hand slipped from the weapon, and the next second my assailant had slammed the stock against my jaw. This time I lost my grip entirely and fell to the floor, hitting the shelves en route.

I lay on my back, looking up.

The gunman in the ski mask looked back down at me. I noticed then that his jacket had ridden up above the gloved hand revealing the edge of a black, sleeve-like tattoo on his left forearm. I didn’t really look at it though. I was too busy looking at him. He stared back down at me, breathing heavily, his eyes very big, very dark and very cold. The end of the barrel was only a few feet from my face.

I was filled with a leaden feeling of resignation. Death has never been too far away from me, right from my earliest days, so it came as only the smallest of surprises that it had come for me now.

He smiled beneath the ski mask and pulled the trigger…’

 

The Bone Field is published by Century/Penguin Random House on

12th January 2017

Praise for The Bone Field

‘Hang on tight!’ Harlan Coben

‘Breathless’ Sunday Times

‘An addictive thriller full of gritty details and fast frenetic action.’ – Sunday Mirror

‘High Energy, action packed reading that’ll keep your heart rate high and your attention glued to the pages … To be able to maintain such a high level of action and suspense is a real skill and Simon Kernick is a master of the thriller.’ – Damp Pebbles

‘A series? By Simon Kernick? Yes please! [A] powerful, fast moving and intoxicating tale. – Love Reading

‘The Bone Field is one of those intriguing novels that surreptitiously gets under your skin.’ –  Jaffa Reads Too

‘An adrenaline rush of a read’My Chestnut Reading Tree

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Catch up with or continue to follow the blog tour at these excellent sites:

the-bone-field-blog-tour

 

 

 

 

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.

 

Liz Nugent- Unravelling Oliver

9780241965641With the current trend in domestic noir exerting a firm grip on the crime genre at the moment, I must confess that I have started and failed to finish a number of recent offerings. Having recently taken part in the blog tour for Unravelling Oliver  by Liz Nugent, my interest was, however, piqued by this one, reading the first chapter over five days on five blogs. Billed as being similar in style to both Patricia Highsmith and Barbara Vine (two authors that I admire greatly) I did embark on this book with some excitement, so how did it fare?

The book opens with a snapshot of a violent attack by a husband, successful children’s author, Oliver Ryan on his docile wife Alice, who illustrates his aforementioned books. Their marriage has seemingly been one of relative comfort and bliss, so how on earth can such a violent event have come to pass? The novel then takes us back through five decades to chart the events of Oliver’s life, leading up to this point, through his own eyes, and through the viewpoint of other people he encounters along the way. As we become immersed in the formative years and experiences of Oliver Ryan, it turns out that there is much more to him than Alice or others have ever seen, and as his past catches up with him, will we ever truly unravel the mystery of Oliver?

This is a relatively slim read, so much so that I read the book in two sittings, but what Nugent so effectively does throughout the book, is make it practically impossible to put down. With the changing narrative voices, each melds seamlessly together, revealing the mercurial Oliver as a human prism, of different moods and motivations, so you are practically champing at the bit to find out piece by piece as to how his character has been shaped by events. There is a glorious sense of claustrophobia to Nugent’s authorial style, so reminiscent of both Highsmith and Vine, so this comparison is more than justified. Nugent subtly manipulates our perception of Oliver throughout, both in her characterisation of him, and in the reportage of other more empathetic characters that provide a deeper insight into his psyche. The story pivots between Ireland and France (the scene of some particularly unsettling events) as the story of Oliver develops, sweeping us effortlessly from one location to the other. This provides an opportunity for us to see Oliver from all sides be it through his unsettled childhood, his life as a relatively carefree graduate, and his later success as an ostensibly happily married man with a solid career as an author. As each delineation of his life unfolds, with a good dose of human tragedy, his disregard for the feelings of others (particularly potent in his ‘stealing’ of Alice from all round good-egg Barney), and a strong sense of psychopathic leanings in his psyche, Oliver is revealed as a fascinating character, and sure to manipulate your sympathies. The novel also providing an intriguing exploration of the old adage of nature vs nurture, as the harsh reality of Oliver’s gradually familial connections come to light.

I think Liz Nugent is to be congratulated in producing such a well formed, compelling and utterly intriguing psychological thriller, little wonder that reviewers everywhere have been so effusive in their praise. The assured narrative, the engaging cast of characters, the seamless changes of location, and a series of perfectly well-placed reveals, leads to an immensely satisfying read. I heartily recommend this one…

 

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