Getting That Blogging Groove Back (1)…

It’s been a while, but now the time has come to get back into the blogging groove! Bearing in mind that due to the shadow of recent upheavals, I didn’t actually read a single book for four weeks, I have made up for it since. Now safe and secure in my new abode- no, I haven’t unpacked all my books yet- I have recouped some of my reading time with a longer commute, and with rooms that actually have proper lighting and heating…long story…Still battling the stress a bit, and recovering from seemingly endless colds, but hopefully fighting fit again soon. Thanks for the lovely messages, and the complete understanding of some publishers for my missing of blog tours, complete ineptitude etc…

In order to make up some ground in terms of reviewing, the next few posts are going to be a snapshot of books read over the course of the last couple of months, so then things will be back on track. Have certainly inflated my to-be-read pile through my fellow bloggers’ reviews of late, and it’s good to be back among you! 

61RX1hDwquL._SX325_BO1,204,203,200_In the spirit of Non-Fiction November, I’ll start with The Mile End Murder by Sinclair Mackay, billed as the case that Conan Doyle couldn’t solve. Detailing the events surrounding the brutal murder of a particularly dislikeable wealthy widow, Mackay reveals the true murderer towards the close of the book, exposing the miscarriage of justice, and the fact of an innocent man having gone to the gallows. Admittedly, Mackay goes proper Ripper Street in terms of his evocation of place, and the grinding poverty of this particular borough of London in the 1860’s, and paints a lively portrait of the period. However, maybe jaded by such wide reading on this particular period it did feel a little cardboard cut-out, and didn’t really bring anything new to this burgeoning sub-genre of British history. It also felt a little repetitive in places, and consequently when Mackay unveiled the true killer I felt more a sense of relief than excited anticipation. Having been bored witless by The Suspicions of Mr Whicher too, maybe this was inevitable…

Far more engrossing was Piu Eatwell‘s exceptional Black Dahlia, Red Rose, revisiting the events of the infamous 1946 murder of Elizabeth Short in Los Angeles. Having long been fascinated by this case, in no small part thanks to James Ellroy’s fictional construction of the same event, Eatwell has produced a perfect combination of reportage, research, and readability. The level of research undertaken by Eatwell is astounding, and her re-creation and analysis of not only the infamous case, but the precise capturing of the era and American society is utterly fascinating. Eatwell pivots the text between contrasting periods, to encompass cultural and historical detail, providing a panopticon vision of American life. Eatwell subtly captures the descent of Short into the mad, bad world of Hollywood with her dreams and aspirations shattered, like so many budding starlets of the era, and then unveils the true identity of the Black Dahlia killer.

I was convinced.

I was also totally gripped by this sublime slice of true crime, with its intriguing asides, titillating footnotes, and the transportation back to this fascinating era of American history. Highly recommended.

Next up American Radical by Tamer Elnoury, with Kevin Maurer, an account of Elnoury’s life as an undercover Muslim FBI agent. In the global war against terrorism and religious extremism, Elnoury provides a remarkable account of his career to date, referencing several operations where he has infiltrated terrorist cells and exposes, as far as possible as still an active agent, some of the techniques the FBI employs to achieve this. There is a beautiful balance in the book between Elnoury’s dispassionate and erudite portrayal of the workings of Islamic extremism, and the level of threat they present, set against his own beliefs as a devout Muslim, which cleverly juxtaposes both the beauty, and manipulation of, the central tenets of Islam. There is an energy and tension to the book throughout, which reads with the pace of a thriller, but underscored by the unsettling truth of the murderous world that Elnoury presents. I was fascinated and fearful in equal measure throughout, and disquieted by certain revelations regarding the world of Islamic extremism. A brave account, and an essential read in these uncertain times. Highly recommended.

(With thanks to Aurum Books and Hachette respectively for The Mile End Murder, and Black Dahlia, Red Rose. I bought a copy of American Radical published by Penguin RandomHouse)

 

Blog Tour- Yusuf Toropov- Jihadi: A Love Story- Review #Jihadi #BlogTour

4Well, this blog tour for Yusuf Toropov’s Jihadi: A Love Story is on to the final furlong, but stopping off today here at Raven Crime Reads for a review of this clever and thought-provoking book…

A former intelligence agent stands accused of terrorism, held without charge in a secret overseas prison. His memoir is in the hands of a brilliant but erratic psychologist whose annotations paint a much darker picture. As the story unravels, we are forced to assess the truth for ourselves, and decide not only what really happened on one fateful overseas assignment, but who is the real terrorist. Peopled by a diverse and unforgettable cast of characters, whose reliability as narrators is always questioned, and with a multi-layered plot heaving with unexpected and often shocking developments, Jihadi: A Love Story is an intelligent thriller that asks big questions. Complex, intriguing and intricately woven, this is an astonishing debut that explores the nature of good and evil alongside notions of nationalism, terrorism and fidelity, and, above all, the fragility of the human mind…

Suffused with unreliable narrators, shifting timelines and locations, addendums to the text encased in grey boxes with a miniscule font, and short diversions from reality, this is not an easy read, and attention must be paid throughout. I really found that a few precious moments reading time snatched throughout the day were not conducive to the pleasure of reading this book, and only when reading substantial sections at a time did the real intelligence and cleverness of this book impact on me more. It is also by extension, one of the most difficult books I have had to review, so bear with me…

The nature of the writing from the outset is challenging, and you may feel a little ‘all-at-sea’ when first embarking on this, until the characters gain a foothold in your mind, and the swift changes of narrative begin to establish a pattern and rhythm. But beware because, as a further ramification of this initial state of confusion, you will be further toyed with by Toropov as things happen, both cruel and unusual that will surprise and shock you in equal measure, further heightening the strange state of unreality, and the pure unpalatable truths of reality that the author seeks to convey. In simple terms, the whole book reads as a memoir, narrated by an American special operative on his return from a particularly ill-fated incursion into an unnamed Islamic state, and the characters and incidents that impact on his personal experience. However, this story then delineates to address far bigger themes, amongst them, the nefarious grasp of religious radicalism counterbalanced by the beauty of true religion, feminism, love and loss, and the clash of cultures that leads to violence and human collateral damage. Consequently, the essential style of this book is difficult to pinpoint as it reads like T. S. Eliot, fused with Homeland, with a soundtrack of The Beatles The White Album (referred to in the aforementioned grey boxes), interspersed with references to the Koran, whilst ultimately fulfilling its criteria as a heightened socially, and culturally aware, literary thriller.

Every single character within the book is shrewdly drawn, causing a gamut of emotions within the reader themselves, from the appalling actions of Mazzoni, an American marine, the religious rabble rousing of Abu Islam, the road to conversion of our main narrator Thelonius himself, and my favourite character Fatima, a good Islamic woman whose personal experiences lead her on an unexpected but completely justified path to revenge and retribution. Between all the protagonists we bear witness to the very best and worst of human behaviour, their prejudices and goodness, and how the predatory nature of some individuals wreaks havoc on the innocent, and undermines our faith in each other. This blend of assured characterisation to pass comment on issues that ultimately affect us all is extremely cleverly done, not with browbeating and preaching, but with a thought-provoking and subtle prod for us to consider our own responses to these weighty issues.

So shut out the world, turn off that phone, ramp up The White Album by The Beatles, and devote time to this to appreciate it fully. It is a challenging and, at times, a difficult read, but this is a good thing. Embrace it, and I think you’ll find this a pleasingly different reading experience.

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(With thanks to Karen at Orenda Books for the ARC)

 

Catch up with, or continue to follow this excellent blog tour at the sites below…

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