Raven’s Yearly Round-Up and Top 5 Crime Reads 2016

 

largeWell, what a perfectly horrible year we’ve all had. War, poverty, death, and selfishness on a dizzying scale has defined 2016. We’ve had political meltdown, and our country is now floundering due to the 52% of the British people who really should not have been allowed anywhere near the Brexit vote, by reason of their gross stupidity. (Don’t even get me started on Theresa ‘we know you’re struggling but we don’t give a toss’ May). Then, to cap it all,  the weirdness of the U.S. voting system allowing the ascendancy of one of the most xenophobic and misogynistic individuals to the most powerful position imaginable and I refuse to even utter his name.  Also, I know I am not alone in having personal strife this year too. Yes. It’s all been a bit crap.

book-love-books-to-read-23017145-619-463But, gather round bookish friends and let’s take a moment to rejoice in the good stuff- ‘the books, the books’, I hear you cry. It’s been a superb year for crime fiction this year, and I have discovered some absolute gems along the way. So here’s how Raven’s reading year panned out…

(click on the book jackets for reviews)

 

DEBUT-TASTIC!

With 90+ books reviewed and over 150 read during the year, 2016 has been a bumper year for some damn, fine fiction. (Still 40+ non-starters but we’ll move swiftly on).  I was particularly struck by the quality of the debut authors I have encountered this year. A couple will be featuring in my Top 5, so aside from them, special mentions, and a round of applause to the following…

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THAT DIFFICULT SECOND BOOK…

Also wanted to highlight those authors that blew me away in 2015 with their debuts, and who have now produced second books, the equal of, or even better than their first foray into the world of crime fiction…

deadlyCarson_02_THE%20SALT%20MARSHsuzimedinathe-pleaFever_of_the_Blood

 

6c217d7a427ef735dcbf85b02b5c40a4AND STILL IT GOES ON….

In last year’s round-up I wrote this… It seems that only by dwelling at the outer reaches of the Arctic Circle could you escape the hype surrounding The Girl On The Train by Paula Hawkins. And yet the Raven was unmoved by the sheer intensity of the praise heaped upon this book on its release, and the ensuing avalanche of ‘domestic noir’ thrillers that it helped spawn. There again I didn’t like Gone Girl either. I am the domestic noir Grinch. Enough already.” Unfortunately, I still failed to heed my own advice, and have either abandoned at the 40 page mark, or trawled all the way through on pain of death, a substantial number more of these over the last 12 months.

Resolution for 2017? Quoth the Raven. Nevermore.

Not a single dopey domestic noir thriller will grace my blog in the next year.

WORDS FAILED ME…BUT IN A GOOD WAY…

492ec49_6e4d53e237f2437cb87cd049f0b4cfaaAlthough I am not the most prolific of bloggers, and tend to give breathing/thinking space between finishing books and writing a review, there are some books that with fingers poised over keyboard that prove excessively difficult to review, because they are so damn weird/clever/thought provoking/intense (delete as applicable). Courtesy of Orenda Books, two such books have crossed my path this year, and never has it taken me so long to try and write reviews that reflect the sheer cleverness and thought provoking intensity of these two. Mr Yusuf Toropov, Mr Michael Grothaus, I salute you…

fb929b12453a2ce028c765b5197b1a04THE TBR PILE…

Yes, the behemoth of the TBR mountain looms large on my conscience, but to be honest, there are worse problems to have, and no, I am not going to count the number of books vying for my attention. Have started making a dent with my commute to work, which has afforded me the opportunity to finally get round to reading some excellent authors who had slipped the net, for example Eva Dolan, Neil Broadfoot and Helen Cadbury, and some quirky crime in translation too. I’ll keep chipping away…for at least the next ten years…or more…

And so to the winners, no prizes, but big thanks for your sparkling and enthralling books. Not all of these achieved Book of The Month status but have remained resolutely in the Raven’s mind all year…

Raven’s Top 5 (ish) Books of the Year

5.

A RISING MAN

“Not only is the writing whip smart and intuitive with a clever and engaging plot, but the depth of the historical research to so vividly portray the teeming life of this beautiful, yet socially and racially torn, outpost of the former British Empire, sings from every page.”

4.

aa

“A genuinely terrific thriller; clever, well-researched and beautifully executed, as the action ebbed and flowed, keeping me on tenterhooks throught. There’s scheming, corruption, violence, and a strong sense of the personal cost that power, political envy and money can bring in its wake.”

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“This is an intelligent, thoughtful and emotionally compelling read, peopled by a sublime cast of characters and a balanced and realistic portrayal of weighty issues, firmly located in the fascinating and tumultuous period of post war America. Cut through with moments of raw emotion, thought-provoking social observation, and never less than totally engrossing, Darktown is something really quite special indeed.”

tall-oaks

“There are moments of genuine tension carefully interspersed with warmth and humour, as this band of misfits, for various reasons, go about their daily lives, with the overriding urge to make personal and emotional connections with friends, lovers and relatives. It’s wonderfully plotted, and I enjoyed every minute of it.”

What do you mean, that’s cheating?

They are all set in America.

(My excuse and I’m sticking to it)

3. 

bird

“It’s dark, psychologically tense and packed full of emotion both overt or deliberately disguised, with the reader invited to fill the spaces between.”

2.

dod“The writing is flawless throughout with Beverly being as comfortable with the rat-a-tat rhythm of the young teenagers’ dialogue, and conveying the brutality of their world, to describing elements of the landscape they travel through with the lyricism of some of the best naturalistic American writers.”

1.

blood

“As a crime reader, precise plotting, the control of suspense, and believable characterisation lay at the core of my reading pleasure, and Lemaitre achieves this beautifully throughout. The plot twists are in no way reliant on the suspension of disbelief, or clumsily wrought, leading to a genuinely intriguing, and utterly enthralling, example of psychological suspense.”

———————————————————–

All the best for 2017 everyone

and just remember…

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November (and October!) 2016 Round-Up and Raven’s Book(s) of the Month

_DSC0185 (Common Raven)Well, hello everyone- lovely to see you!

Having just realised that I completely neglected to post a round-up in October, for reasons far too wearisome to go into here, so someone has missed out on the accolade for October’s Book of the Month. That will be rectified forthwith! Still getting to grips with my work/life balance, so despite reading loads thanks to my bus commute, haven’t quite got a handle on finding time to review them all. It’ll sort itself out soon…promise. However, an upside to my new regimen is more time to tackle that TBR pile, and it’s been nice to read books that have been languishing on my shelves for far too long. More of these to come.

So let’s get down to business and bring this blog up to date, as December is with us, and Raven’s Top 5 of the year is on the horizon. Serious stuff which needs to be thought about carefully…in other words, how on earth is this year of stellar reading going to be whittled down to just 5 favourites. Hmmm…..

Have a good month, and just remember that most sensible people would love to be bought a shiny new papery book from your local bookshop for their Christmas stocking!

Raven’s Book of the Month- October

birdAgnes Ravatn- The Bird Tribunal

Samuel Bjork- I’m Travelling Alone

Helen Cadbury- To Catch A Rabbit

Owen Sheers-I Saw A Man

Domenic Stansberry- The White Devil

Carl-Johan Vallgren- The Tunnel

Steinar Bragi-The Ice Lands

Raven’s Book of the Month- November

gaylinDoug Johnstone- Crash Land

Mark Hill- The Two O’Clock Boy

A. D. Garrett- Truth Will Out

Nuala Ellwood- My Sister’s Bones

Eva Dolan- Long Way Home

Davide Longo- Bramard’s Case

Pascal Garnier- The Eskimo Solution

                                    Frederic Dard- Crush

                                                A. L. Gaylin- What Remains of Me

 

Travels with the TBR #1-Samuel Bjork- I’m Travelling Alone, Helen Cadbury- To Catch A Rabbit, Owen Sheers-I Saw A Man

With the new frustration of a lengthy bus journey now extending my working day, I realised that this actually presents a great opportunity to catch up on some of the 150+ books in my to-be-read pile, alongside new releases. Here are the first three books in a regular series of posts…

bjorkWhen the body of a young girl is found hanging from a tree, the only clue the police have is an airline tag around her neck. It reads ‘I’m travelling alone’. In response, police investigator Holger Munch is immediately charged with assembling a special homicide unit. But to complete the team, he must track down his former partner, Mia Krüger – a brilliant but troubled detective – who has retreated to a solitary island with plans to kill herself. Reviewing the file, Mia finds something new – a thin line carved into the dead girl’s fingernail: the number 1. She knows that this is only the beginning. To save other children from the same fate, she must find a way to cast aside her own demons and stop this murderer from becoming a serial killer…

To be honest, I usually have a slight aversion to thrillers that are constructed so whole-heartedly on the use of coincidence, and moments of sheer implausibility but I’m Travelling Alone managed effectively to keep me in its thrall from start to finish, despite my reservations…

Starting with the characterisation of detective Mia Kruger, the archetypal troubled individual, seemingly intent on ending her life and existing on a toxic cocktail of prescription drugs, that would keep most stout-hearted folks from functioning on any kind of level, she proves herself an empathetic and multi-faceted character. Having so roundly criticised other authors for using this foil before, Kruger’s journey from intense psychological bleakness to her reluctant involvement in a particularly dark murder investigation,  Bjork manages to overcome the reader’s initial scepticism regarding her character, and she was, for me, the reason to keep those pages turning. Likewise, her boss, the shuffling and put-upon Holger Munch, with his nefarious familial problems, conforms to some stereotypical character traits, and the coincidence of him being the father of a six-year old daughter, the age of the murder victims, did toy with the credibility of the reader too. However, for the necessity of the final denouement of the plot, it was understandable that Bjork had to travel this path, and Munch and Kruger, prove themselves an effective team despite their vastly different approaches to their work, and this particular investigation.

I thought the central murder investigation with the trademark Scandinavian darkness was well played out, drawing in themes of religious fanaticism, and I always enjoy a book that points the finger at the supposedly superior state of grace that accompanies those who hold religion dear. In the rural backwoods there are shown to be dark forces at work, leading to a pacey and gripping conclusion to what is a convoluted but nonetheless intriguing investigation for Munch and Kruger, despite a rather clumsy plot twist involving Kruger herself. I’m Travelling Alone is not without fault, but has enough hooks and tricks to hold its appeal throughout, and to entice this reader to read the next in the series. Recommended.

new-rabbitTwo young boys stumble on a dead prostitute. She’s on Sean Denton’s patch. As Doncaster’s youngest community support officer, he’s already way out of his depth, but soon he’s uncovering more than he’s supposed to know. Meanwhile Karen Friedman, professional mother of two, learns her brother has disappeared. She desperately needs to know he’s safe, but once she starts looking, she discovers unexpected things about her own needs and desires. Played out against a gritty landscape on the edge of a Northern town, Karen and Sean risk losing all they hold precious…

First of all, big kudos to Helen Cadbury, for introducing us in to the world of the Police Community Support Officer, a role oft neglected in the consciousness of not only the British public, but also in the world of crime writing. I immediately liked Sean Denton, with his charming mix of at times wide-eyed innocence, underscored by his strong sense of morality and his determination to see justice served for the victim. This combination of traits that Cadbury instils in his character is absolutely central to the manipulation of the reader’s empathies throughout, and also gives Cadbury scope to show how far Denton progresses professionally in the course of this thorny and sensitive investigation. I also liked the comparison we see in Denton’s character between his professionalism and intuitiveness when donning the uniform, and his hesitant and quite frankly clumsy efforts in matters of the heart. By so effectively balancing these two sides of her central protagonist, you feel as a reader a truthfulness and authenticity to the character, which enhances your reading pleasure. Similarly with the character of Karen Friedman, we encounter a woman who is doggedly searching for answers regarding her brother’s disappearance, and Cadbury takes time to push the boundaries of Karen’s character, drawing her into a criminal world, and testing her resolve as a professional, working at a migrant’s advice centre, and as a wife and mother. Cadbury really puts Karen through the wringer, but never to the point of incredulity, and I found her a particularly likeable character. Her husband, though, has less to recommend him…snake in the grass.

Drawing on the sensitive subject of immigration in the UK , Cadbury keeps a balance and fairness in her portrayal of this subject throughout, without the mealy-mouthed hand-wringing liberalism, that tends to afflict modern British fiction. Cadbury presents the desperation and exploitation of the immigrant community with an almost detached air of realism, that makes their plight all the more affecting, and allows her readers to be gently drawn into to the salient plot-lines that focus on this, while keeping solidly within the bounds of objectivity. This thought-provoking, and extremely well delineated plot carries the book along to a gripping conclusion, with many moments of tension along its way.

Hence, To Catch A Rabbit neatly straddles the bounds of crime thriller and police procedural punctuated by the  feel of contemporary social fiction. Am already eyeing up the second instalment, Bones In The Nest, in my to-be-read pile. Highly recommended.

sheersAfter the sudden loss of his wife, Michael Turner moves to London to start again. Living on a quiet street in Hampstead, he develops a close bond with the Nelson family next door: Josh, Samantha and their two young daughters. The friendship at first seems to offer the prospect of healing, but then a devastating event changes all their lives, and Michael finds himself bearing the burden of grief and a terrible secret.

Okay so not strictly speaking a crime book, but is billed to possess ‘a dark psychological edge’ and have heard comments glowingly positive, and exceedingly negative about this one. I will concede that  the first half of this book held me firmly in its tentacles, and flipping the action from the leafy London suburbs to heat scorched America and the military storyline, I Saw A Man was shaping up to be a terrific read. I was genuinely drawn into the grief-filled world of Michael, and the pernicious military action that had caused his wife’s death. I was also enjoying the intriguing build up of tension as Michael made his way through a neighbour’s house one hot summer’s day, and had even mange to overcome my working class aversion to posh people who do fencing, and my dislike of the name Josh.  And then within two pages it lost me. Totally. With one of the weakest plot contrivances I have encountered for many a year, this formerly well-written and engaging book, waved goodbye to the Raven, as the writing became overwhelmingly overwritten, and any previously held empathy disappeared in a flurry of florid prose. I read the last two chapters to confirm my suspicions at how this tortured storyline would play out. And it did. Oh dear…