Craig Russell- The Quiet Death of Thomas Quaid

9781780874883Lennox liked Quiet Tommy Quaid. Perhaps it’s odd for a private detective to like – even admire – a career thief, but Quiet Tommy Quaid was the sort of man everyone liked. Amiable, easy-going, well-dressed, with no vices to speak of – well, aside from his excessive drinking and womanising, but then in 1950s Glasgow those are practically virtues. And besides, throughout his many exploits outside the law, Quiet Tommy never once used violence. It was rumoured to be the police who gave him his nickname – because whenever they caught him, which was not often, he always came quietly. So probably even the police liked him, deep down. Above all, the reason people liked Tommy was that you knew exactly what you were dealing with. Here, everybody realized, was someone who was simply and totally who and what he seemed to be. But when Tommy turns up dead, Lennox and the rest of Glasgow will find out just how wrong they were…

Hallelujah! After a too-long intermission, The Quiet Death of Thomas Quaid, the fifth in Craig Russell’s unmissable Lennox series has arrived. Having reviewed the previous four books, Lennox, The Long Glasgow Kiss, The Deep Dark Sleep and Dead Men and Broken Hearts, the Raven is cock-a-hoop that the inimitable Lennox has returned and in some style…

So let’s get a grip on that excitement and try to bring you a measured, thoughtful and calm review of The Quiet Death of Thomas Quaid, as this could all too easily just slip into a chain of superlatives as a testament to the sheer brilliance of Mr Russell. Taking us back again to the post war years of 1950’s Glasgow, Lennox is still plying his trade as a private detective after the emotional crisis in his personal life he is still subconsciously at least, trying to come to terms with. Fret not, if this is your first foray into the series, as Russell makes it easy to catch up with the salient events of the previous books, and provides ample background to the mercurial and charming Lennox. When Lennox is retained by a shifty stranger to acquire, not entirely legally, some important documents he calls on the help of career thief, the eponymous Thomas Quaid, to assist him. The dire results for the wee, quiet man Quaid, sets Lennox on a dangerous path to avenge his friend’s death, and uncover a conspiracy with far reaching results.

Writing this review from the perspective of a dedicated reader of the series, I was instantly immersed back into this world despite the lengthy hiatus between books. Russell once again places Lennox front and centre of all the action, with his inherent easy charm underscored by the dangerous, bubbling tension that exudes from him. Lennox’s natural humour and cynicism permeates the book once again, in the good old style of the hard-boiled private investigator tradition, but he is as always a man of determination, deep-seated morality, and not averse to getting his hands dirty. Or his knuckles bruised. He has some shady gangster connections, with Russell once again referencing The Three Kings; a disparate trinity of gangland bosses who control and manipulate the criminal world of Glasgow, and Handsome Johnny Cohen, one of the three bosses, has a significant part to play in this book. Lennox is also assisted in his mission by the brilliant ‘Twinkletoes’ McBride, (think bolt-cutters and This Little Piggy), a haystack of an enforcer whose woeful attempts to improve his word-power by regular reading of the Reader’s Digest leads to some excruciating mispronunciations and, by turn, moments of biting wit. Throughout the characterisation of his main protagonists, and the assorted miscreants, schemers, and ne’er- do-wells, that thwart their path, Russell has again drawn a colourful and engaging world, which you cannot help but be drawn into completely. The lightness of touch applied to some of the characterisation is balanced beautifully by some moments of raw emotion and introspection that give an added weight and differing perception to the reader of the tough guy characters, once again spotlighting Russell’s intuitive and accomplished stature as a writer.

Russell perfectly evokes the feel of the period, with the shabby, downtrodden air of a city recovering in the aftermath of war, and the incessant need for the criminal underclass to keep a foothold in the economic recovery of the city with the opportunity to make an illegal buck or two. Cut through with the dry wit of the laconic Canadian Lennox, the nod to the hard-boiled genre in terms of dialogue and pace, superb plotting and peopled with a colourful cast of supporting characters, Russell has done it again. I love this series. More please…and soon… Highly recommended.

(With thanks to Quercus for the ARC)

 

 

Russel D McLean- And When I Die

CpcRLrnWYAAiAxqBorn into one of Glasgow’s most brutal crime syndicates, Kat Scobie has fought long and hard to forge her own path in a world where no choices are given. She thought she’d escaped. She thought she was different. But as her relatives gather to mourn the death of their most feared son, Kat is drawn inexorably back into their hellish world. And she’s not the only Scobie who resents the family dynamic. Because Ray Scobie isn’t dead. He’s near fatally wounded and hell-bent on revenge, and he knows his own father ordered his murder. Now the only person who can stop the carnage is Kat’s ex-lover John, a cop who’s so deep undercover he’s started to lose himself. With his cover crumbling around him, John’s about to discover that families can be murder…

And When I Die from Russel D McLean proved an interesting read from the outset, treading the path of established gangland writers, Martina Cole, Kimberley Chambers et al, by focussing mainly on a female character either at odds with, or fully immersed in the male-centric power of a gangland family. Not being a fan of the aforementioned writers, what McLean provides here is a refreshing antidote in a usually cliché filled genre, in this tense gangland thriller set in the seedy underbelly of Glasgow.

Told from different narrative viewpoints, what McLean perfectly executes is a sensitive and believable depiction of a woman torn between family loyalty, but ingrained with a desperate need to cut these ties and strike out on her own. Kat Scobie had temporarily escaped her violent background, and the relationship she had formed with unbeknownst to her an undercover police officer, John Grogan who so easily infiltrated her family. Returning to Glasgow for the funeral of a family member, Kat is drawn back into the power play of her family, and John’s influence, at considerable physical and emotional stress to herself. She proves an incredibly empathetic and noble character, with a fierce sense of loyalty to one relative in particular, Ray, who finds himself physically threatened, and forced into a violent course of action, inveigling Kat in his personal vendetta. She finds herself increasingly conflicted, and McLean’s characterisation of the emotional turmoil she experiences is absolutely spot on throughout, effortlessly taking the reader with her, and enabling us to fully experience the gamut of emotions she experiences and seeks to come to terms with. McLean carefully interweaves incidents from her past, to bolster the ties between herself and Ray, and there is a taut and uncompromising journey for her as the book progresses.

Equally, McLean imbues his tough male protagonists with a conflicting range of emotional and violent impulses. Ray has a little understood physical condition that negates his ability to feel pain, and undercover officer Grogan is beginning to lose all sense of self due to his deep infiltration into the dark and violent world of the Scobie family, but increasingly conflicted by the powerhouse of emotions that Kat raises within him. McLean carefully manipulates the dialogue and rhythm of speech in his male characters, and in a similar style to fellow countryman Malcolm Mackay, exhibits a wonderful pared down, rat-a-tat rhythm to the prose. With Kat, there is more enhanced interior and exterior monologue, reflecting the differing emotional sensibilities between her and the male characters, and her deeper examination of the inherent danger she finds herself drawn into on her return to the family fold. In his characterisation of both Ray and Grogan, the reader is pivoted from feelings of repulsion to empathy and back again, as both demonstrate a kind of twisted nobility, counterbalanced by selfishness and a violent impulse to survive in this dark world.

McLean was a completely new to me author, and having a previous five thrillers to his name, is a writer I shall be definitely be seeking out again on the basis of And When I Die, a compelling, spare, thoughtful and at times brutally violent thriller. How could I have missed out on him? Recommended.

(With thanks to Saraband for the ARC)

Blog Tour- James Nally- Dance With The Dead

BLOG TOUR

 

 

 

 

 

Having been rather taken with Alone With The Dead by James Nally, introducing us to the hapless DC Donal Lynch, I was more than happy to join in the fun of a blog tour for the second book Dance With The Dead, but would the Raven’s black heart be gladdened again?

jnAspiring actress Elizabeth Smart lands her centre stage role: her mutilated body is found dumped in North London’s red light district. Clasped in her hand is a piece of human hair belonging to an unidentified body of a woman murdered two weeks ago. Aspiring actress Elizabeth Smart lands her centre stage role: her mutilated body is found dumped in North London’s red light district. Clasped in her hand is a piece of human hair belonging to an unidentified body of a woman murdered two weeks ago.PC Donal lands himself a place on the murder squad just as his unconventional brother, journalist Finton, unearths the secret double life of Elizabeth. The bodies mount, each clinging to the strands of hair belonging to the previous victim. The police are convinced it’s the act of a serial killer. But how does Donal convince them it’s not? The only people he can trust are the victims he dances with in his dreams…

It is incredibly satisfying to review a second book in a series that is the equal, if not slightly better than the first. As much as I enjoyed Alone With The Dead, Nally has absolutely nailed it with this outing for Donal and Finton Lynch, and lovely to see the re-appearance of the duplicitious Shep, a senior police officer that treads a very fine line between honesty, and well, dishonesty. From the outset Nally captures the marked differences between siblings Donal and Fintan, and yet the natural repartee, gentle joshing, and loyalty that they have to each other lies at the very core of their relationship. Donal is still a good-natured virginal alcoholic experiencing strange visitations from murder victims, and desperate to escape his banishment to the- excuse the pun- funereal confines of the Cold Case Unit. Eager to inveigle himself in a proper murder investigation, and aided by the rumbustious and completely unscrupulous Fintan, Donal gets the chance, but not without some added complications. Donal is a wonderfully empathetic character, with his bumbling gaucheness, undeniable intuition and as Nally reveals more of his knotty relationship with his father who pops up in this one, any reader could not help developing a certain affection for him. Fintan is equally likeable, exhibiting all the subtlety and charm you would expect of a scurrilous journalist, but deep down- deep, deep, down- has a certain nobility to his character, particularly in relation to his fierce defence and support of Donal, not always for his own benefit. In fact, Nally’s characterisation outside of his main protagonists, is spot on with an assorted cast list of prostitutes, erotic dancers, gangsters, hard men, not so hard men, a flirty forensics officer, and dodgy coppers, and his lightness of touch with the characterisation plays wonderfully well against what is a really quite disturbing investigation.

The plot is terrific, with its pinpoint playing out against a setting of the early 1990’s, which Nally consistently and at times just subtly keeps the reader’s awareness of the period, with cultural, social and political references. With the tentative first steps in the Irish peace process in the background, and proving incredibly relevant to a strand of the story involving Donal’s family, this is a gritty, and at times, perfectly gruesome investigation. Nally introduces some intriguing vignettes concerning forensic detection, and a very novel way of disposing of a corpse, in addition to constructing a seedy, sordid, and dark tale of betrayal and murder. I thought the control of plot was much stronger in this book, and the different emotional, and professional situations, that Donal was manipulated and changed by during the course of this exceptionally bleak murder case. The darker details of Donal’s search for a sadistic murderer is tempered by his positively ham-fisted attempts in matters of the heart, and delighted that, once again, the whole book contains a plethora of sharp one-liners, and flippant jokes that lightens the story along the way ( the Bullitt/Driving Miss Daisy line was a favourite). Kudos for making the  Raven guffaw again. Yep, I liked this one very much. Recommended.

 

(With thanks to Avon for the ARC)

 

 

 

Malcolm Mackay- For Those Who Know The Ending

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Usman Kassar is comfortable in his older brother’s shadow, for now. Staying off the radars of the big players lets him plan big scores with little danger of detection. But dangerous jobs will get you noticed, whether you want them to or not.

Martin Sivok is a gunman without a target. An outsider in a new city who doesn’t know how to make a fresh start. But when you desperately need doors to start opening, someone like Usman might just persuade you to pull at the wrong handle – like the one that opens a safe full of dirty money. Dirty money that the Jamieson organization, one of the most dangerous criminal outfits in town, wants back.

Any job can have brutal consequences when it threatens the reputation of Nate Colgan. Nate can’t help being frightening; a man with darkness inside him. As the reluctant ‘security consultant’ for a fracturing criminal organization, he knows that unless he recovers the stolen money quickly, much more than his livelihood will be on the line. But if you’ve been forced into a job that you know could be your ending, how hard will you fight to keep it?

I think it’s fair to say that Malcolm Mackay is rather a favourite of mine, having previously, and favourably, reviewed most of his books to date. For Those Who Know The Ending is the latest in his series of Glasgow based thrillers, and once again we are plunged into the seedy underbelly of gangland life…

There is much to admire with Mackay’s spare and precise prose, so clearly in evidence again here, and the clipped dialogue, which perfectly reflects the feeling of his male protagonists as men of action where violence achieves more than conversational intercourse. Interestingly, it’s only when these tough guys reflect on their home situation and their closest emotional ties, that these characters display anything akin to human compassion, and the importance of the women in their lives comes to the fore. It’s also this aspect of their characters that delves beneath their steely and uncompromising roles in their gangland affiliations, and exposes moments of self-doubt. This works as an effective foil to what could just be a linear and superficial tale of male bravado, and harks back wonderfully to the golden age of American hard-boiled noir, when even the most ‘male’ of male characters are unsettled by female influence. This is reflected by Nate Colgan, nominally keeping up the interests of the imprisoned gangland boss Peter Jamieson’s criminal organisation, his hired heavy Gully Fitzgerald, and by Martin Sivok, a gunman of Czech descent trying to forge his path in the badlands of Glasgow, whose domestic situations are drawn on periodically throughout the book, and revealing different aspects of their character in their interaction with their better halves. This serves to heighten the reader’s sympathy as the themes are love and loss are brought to the fore, bringing a sense of emotional poignancy amidst the uncompromising violence.

For those unfamiliar with the series to date, fret not, as once again there is the useful inclusion of characters that have featured previously, so even a nominal reference to a character now deceased or incarcerated is easy to catch up with. I particularly like this feeling of each book being akin to a single act in a lengthy saga, and how the permutations of shifting alliances, and eager newcomers ready to make their mark, fit into the overall story arc. Mackay controls the narrative beautifully, and there is a real sense of us being fully immersed in the double crossing and chicanery that accompanies the story of Sivok and his wily, young associate Usman Kassar, who dreams up financially lucrative schemes to hit the illegal business of predominant gangland figures. Obviously this brings them very much onto the radar of Nate Colgan, endeavouring to keep house for Jamieson’s empire, and Mackay develops a controlled and compelling story with our young pretender, Kassar, and, at times, unwilling cohort Sivok as Colgan seeks his vengeance. As always each character is perfectly formed, and as mentioned earlier, Mackay injects a multi-layered aspect to his characterisation of these main protagonists to great affect. With the world these men inhabit and operate in, there is always a simmering undercurrent of violence, which when it bursts forth is brutal and unflinching, adding a frisson to the whole affair, and ramping up the tension to the nth degree.

Obviously as a devotee of the American hard-boiled noir genre, I am constantly delighted by Mackay’s accomplishment at transposing this style onto his contemporary Glasgow setting, and his now trademark spare prose, so resolutely in evidence again in For Those Who Know The Ending. Equally, the multi-layered nature of his characterisation opens up the more emotive facets of his characters, serving to unsettle the reader and shift our alliances. Impressed once again, and once more, highly recommended.

(With thanks to Mantle for the ARC)

Anya Lipska- A Devil Under The Skin

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Having reviewed  Where The Devil Can’t Go and  Death Can’t Take A Joke , which were both excellent, I was awaiting the latest in the series with a keen sense of anticipation, as the ballad of Kiszka and Kershaw continues…

A Devil Under The Skin opens with contrasting fortunes for Lipska’s two main protagonists, Janusz Kiszka, a hard on the outside, soft on the inside, ‘fixer’ for the London Polish community, and Natalie Kershaw, a feisty police officer, recently assigned to the armed response division of the Met. Having been linked together by the events in the previous books, their paths are fated to cross again. Kiszka is floating on air at the prospect of his on/off married lover, Kasia, finally leaving her ne’er-do-well husband Steve, and them setting up home together. Kershaw, however, finds herself temporarily suspended from the force after taking down an assailant, with the inevitable investigation and obligatory counselling that follows. But then Kasia goes missing, and there are a series of brutal East End murders connected to his lover’s disappearance, throwing Kiszka into an intensely personal investigation. Kiszka seeks the help of maverick cop, Kershaw, to unravel the reasons for Kasia’s abduction, entering the seedy underbelly of the East End, and risking everything to ensure his lover’s safe return, but at what cost?

One of the joys of Lipska’s writing is the consummate ease with which she engages the reader into the lives and actions of both Kiszka and Kershaw. It is a delight to encounter such real and vibrant characters, who despite their inherent differences in gender, race and day to day lives, form such an effective duo, throughout this book and the series to date. In her depiction of the burly and taciturn Kiszka, Lipska is given free reign to not only pepper the plot with some wonderfully fruity Polish expressions (glossary included!), but to shine a light on the contrasting aspects of his character. She carefully uses his interactions with Kasia, and his best friend, the loquacious and utterly brilliant Oskar, to reveal to us what lies beneath his seemingly hardcore exterior. Likewise, there is an interesting relationship between Kiszka and Kershaw, that seems rooted in a sense of mutual respect, despite their being on different sides of the law, and a slow burning attraction that Lipska does not overplay, but merely teases the reader with. Kershaw is also wholly believable, and there is a wonderful sense of her carrying a devil on her shoulder, that sometimes overtakes the more sensible course of action she should adopt, leading her to act more impetuously than she should, and rooting us firmly on her side. The character dynamics are a real strength of this book, and give the reader a real sense of engagement. You will find yourself surreptitiously adopting pantomime jeers at the actions of some- yes, I am referring to Kasia’s husband rat-faced Steve- or laughing along with, or fearing the fate of, Kiszka and his cohorts…

With any book being so character driven, there is always an inherent danger of the strength or impetus of the plot being slightly lost in the mix. Not so here. As we are led into some unerringly unsavoury back street goings on in Kiszka’s search for Kasia, and enveloped in the dark, violent world of the East End, the plot unfolds perfectly in terms of place and resolution. Interweaving a series of contrasting locations from rundown pubs, to grubby garages under railway arches, to the seeming respectability of a health club in the country, the action and sense of urgency moves apace. Working completely in tandem with the aforementioned characterisation, my now expanded knowledge of the Polish vernacular, and the careful interplay of lighter and darker moments, this book is pretty much perfect. Doskonały!

anya2Anya Lipska is married to a Pole who lived under Communism before coming to Britain in the early Eighties. Originally trained as a journalist, Anya now writes and produces documentaries and drama documentaries. She has worked on an eclectic range of programmes from Panorama to Scrapheap Challenge, with a rich mix of subject matter, from Leonardo da Vinci to plane crashes, paleo-anthropology to Italian gardens with Monty Don. Lipska is a pen name since, as Anya says “My real surname is impossible to pronounce…”  Visit her website here and follow on Twitter @AnyaLipska.

GIVEAWAY! ****NOW CLOSED***

Well, well, well what has Raven got to offer you? Only a set of all three books- Where The Devil Can’t Go, Death Can’t Take A Joke, and A Devil Under The Skin– and all signed too! And it couldn’t be easier to enter to get your mitts on this brilliant trilogy.

Just leave me your contact email in the comments section (don’t worry I won’t make them visible) or tweet me @ravencrime with the tag #Lipska…. Easy peasy! The giveaway is UK only and submit your entries by midnight Wednesday July 1st. A random entry will be selected as the winner, and your prize will quickly follow. Good luck everyone!