March 2015 Round Up and Raven’s Book of The Month

_DSC0185 (Common Raven)As usual, a busy month of new releases- I love this time of year! In fact, so many new releases to read, that I have not kept up the pace with the reviews. However, this round-up gives me an opportunity to include a quick round-up on a theme. Inspired by the brilliant reports at Crime Fiction Lover from Marina Sofia at the Quais du Polar French crime fiction festival, I have also been reading a few French crime fiction novels this past month.

camilleHaving already waxed lyrical about Pierre Lemaitre in reviews for Alex and Irene, I can safely report that the third in the series, Camille, featuring diminutive detective Camille Verhoeven is a more than satisfying addition to the series. After the violent events of the previous two books, Camille is on more of an even keel with a new love interest, Anne, but following a brutal heist in which Anne is seriously injured, Camille’s world is rocked to its core. Is Anne all that she appears to be, and will Camille attain the happiness and satisfaction in his life and career he is seriously overdue? I found this a much more meditative read than the previous two books, and with the extreme focus on the emotional struggle Camille experiences, the book was packed with poignancy and uncertainty as to how his relationship with Anne and the implications for his long term career would play out. I felt this book did slightly lack the wow factor of the previous two, due to the change of tone, but even so Lemaitre still provides an emotionally rich and engaging crime thriller. Highly recommended.

bussiI suspect that I may be a lone voice in the wilderness but the hugely hyped After The Crash by Michel Bussi, left me distinctly non-plussed. I don’t know if this was due to my lack of emotional engagement with what I perceived as a cast of distinctly disagreeable characters, or my innate irritation at the composition of the book, using the trope of a diary as the central narrative strand. I felt unfulfilled by the plot generally, and to be honest it was a real struggle to finish this one.

I also re-read The Prone Gunman by Jean- Patrick Manchette, and discovered the delights of a previously unknown to me novella by him, Fatale. Outside of my crime reading, I am a huge fan of foreign fiction in translation, particularly  those little jewels of novellas running at less than 200 pages, so Manchette is a delight. Taut, concise, and bluntly observed, his writing is so precise and powerful that it never fails to amaze me how he so easily runs through a gamut of emotions in such a condensed form. Both books are violent, and tinged with a bleakness that is sometimes hard to stomach, but I think his writing provides a hell of a punch. Buy these and read them. You won’t regret it.

And so forwards to April, where there are a couple of blog tours coming up, and a whole host of great new releases. It’s going to be a good month! And I will be posting a review for a possible contender for my book of the year…you’re intrigued now…

Books read in March:

Mari Jungstedt- A Dangerous Game

Steve Cavanagh- The Defence

Glen Erik Hamilton- Past Crimes

SJI Holliday- Black Wood

Ben McPherson- A Line of Blood (www.crimefictionlover.com)

Luke Delaney- The Jackdaw (www.crimefictionlover.com)

Raven’s Book of the Month:

glenIt’s got to be Glen Erik Hamilton’s debut Past Crimes. As I said in my review, the split timeline, the pared down style, and the assured plot structure, was an absolute delight throughout. It’s also great to encounter a debut author, that so compliments your existing favourite authors. With shades of Lehane and Pelecanos, I think there will be more to come from Hamilton… and I can’t wait. Excellent.

BLOG TOUR- Glen Erik Hamilton- Past Crimes- Guest Post: Why I Write About Crime + Review

PASTCRIMES3 (1)It’s the last stop on the Glen Erik Hamilton blog tour to promote his debut thriller Past Crimes. I’m delighted to be hosting a special post by Glen on why crime is his chosen genre and my review of the book follows. It’s no exaggeration to say that you’re going to love this debut… 

Glen2961 v2 (1)Why I Write About Crime

“About as early as I can remember, I would look for the cameras. The bank cameras, that is, which used to be tucked away discreetly in the corners, watching and recording in case anyone decided to make an unauthorized withdrawal. As a boy, I found the whole concept of security from castle moats to bank vaults – fascinating. How do they prevent crime? Or, maybe more intriguingly, what are their limits?

Nowadays that spot-the-camera game isn’t much fun. The cameras are very obvious, even showing their feeds on monitors to the customers, to further discourage crime and promote paranoia. And the little black ceiling bubbles with eyes within are so ubiquitous that it’s a lot harder to count them than find them.

Still, the question lingers: How exactly could one solve that particular puzzle? Disguises? Smoke screen? Hoodies with stealth technology woven right in?

That example obviously had nefarious ends in mind. But not all flouting of the law is so nefarious. On my first trip to Ireland, I made some new friends (easy enough in that land famed for good conversation) and we went out after their workday for dinner and a pint. The pint turned into a few litres as the night went on, and I became acquainted with the brilliant custom of the lock-in.

I’m aware that I’m writing this for a readership largely in the UK, who may have understood lock-ins long before reaching their own drinking age. I hope those crafty veterans will bear with my naïve enthusiasm.

But for those readers who are unfamiliar: UK law states that pubs and other venues offering alcohol must stop serving at 11:00 at night, and of course, that’s the natural closing time for most. However, there’s nothing that says a pub owner can’t give drinks to a few friends after he or she closes up shop for the night. And if the friends happen to leave a few bills on the bar in appreciation, before the official closing time, that’s entirely up to them. The locked door simply makes sure that the private party isn’t interrupted by customers. Because that would be illegal. Occasionally a member of the Garda (the police) might pop by to share a drink, while off-duty of course, and make sure that the deadbolt on the door is working properly.

Illegal? Arguably, as it’s skirting the rules. Malevolent? Hardly. If anything, the shared wink at the formal law seems to bring small communities and neighborhoods together. In any event, I love the whole idea, and not just because it ends with me having another Guinness. It’s fun to break the rules, so long as no one suffers. Or goes thirsty.

I wouldn’t really want to hijack an armored car, or steal an entire warehouse, or melt the gilt off of cathedral spires. But it is hugely fun to think of solutions to puzzles like these, and then write about them. Breaking the rules, without anyone the worse off for it. And all my crimes confined to the page. Honest, Officer.

Now about that pint…”

A native of Seattle, Glen Erik Hamilton grew up aboard a sailboat, and spent his youth finding trouble around the marinas and commercial docks and islands of the Pacific Northwest. He now lives in California with his family, punctuated by frequent visits to his hometown to soak up the rain. He is currently working on his second novel featuring Van Shaw and Seattle’s criminal underworld. Follow the author on Twitter @GlenErikH and visit his website here

glen

Van Shaw was raised to be a thief, but at eighteen he suddenly broke all ties to that life and joined the military—abandoning his illicit past and the career-criminal grandfather who taught him the trade. Now, after ten years of silence, his grandfather has asked him to come home to Seattle. But when Van arrives, he discovers his grandfather bleeding out on the floor from a gunshot to the head. With a lifetime of tough history between him and the old man, Van knows he’s the main suspect. The only way he can clear his name is to go back to the world he’d sworn to leave behind. Tapping into his criminal skills, he begins to hunt the shooter and uncover what drove his grandfather to reach out after so long. But in a violent, high-stakes world where right and wrong aren’t defined by the law, Van finds that the past is all too present . . . and that the secrets held by those closest to him are the deadliest of all.

I was really quite taken with this debut from Hamilton, I must confess. As regular readers of my reviews know, I am always keen to discover new American writers and what appealed to me about Hamilton was the way that his book neatly bypassed the more simple label of ‘thriller’ and instead, through the strength of his characterisation and observation, was on a par with the very best of American contemporary fiction.

With his main character returning from military service to his old stomping ground and Hamilton’s solid depiction of Shaw’s Seattle neighbourhood, I would have no hesitation in putting this in the same league as Dennis Lehane or George Pelecanos, whose assured grip of the socio-economic representations of the neighbourhoods they depict, add another level to the reader’s experience. Supported by the extremely well-worked double timeline, I was utterly engaged throughout the whole book. The use of the contrasting timelines subtly speeded up or slowed down the reading experience, giving an undulating sense of pace to the book overall to great effect. Sometimes it is easy to be engaged more with one timeline than another, but I found that each enriched the enjoyment of the other, as truths were revealed and we got drawn deeper into the trials and tribulations of Shaw’s world…

I thoroughly enjoyed the way that Hamilton slowly built up a complete picture of Shaw from his troubled childhood, to his teenage years kicking around with best friend Davey, and the ‘criminal’ schooling by his gruff grandfather Dono. Shaw’s formative years are a turbulent affair, interspersed by his grandfather’s criminal activities and incarceration, but we as readers, embark on a journey with Shaw as the light and shade of his character come into sharp focus. The oscillating moral compass of Shaw that we see formed from his youth to his army service adds a real depth to his character, and by extension makes him an incredibly empathetic protagonist. As he seeks to uncover the reasons for the vicious attack on his grandfather that greets his arrival home, Shaw uncovers the nefarious dealings of the old man, calling on some of his grandfather’s less than honest pals for assistance (who are another highlight of the book), and Shaw has to face up to the sins of his own past along the way, leading the book to an emotional and heartfelt conclusion. A highly recommended debut novel, and another name to keep a close eye on…

(With thanks to Faber for the ARC)