A Quick Round Up-Sara Flannery Murphy- The Possessions/ Mikel Santiago- Last Night At Tremore Beach/ Nicolas Obregon- Blue Light Yokohama

4133aZlueGL__SX317_BO1,204,203,200_For five years Edie has worked for the Elysian Society, a secretive organisation that provides a very specialised service: its clients come to reconnect with their dead loved ones by channelling them through living ‘Bodies’. Edie is one such Body, perhaps the best in the team, renowned for her professionalism and discretion. Everything changes when Patrick, a distraught husband, comes to look for traces of his drowned wife in Edie. The more time that Edie spends as the glamorous, enigmatic Sylvia, the closer she comes to falling in love with Patrick and the more mysterious the circumstances around Sylvia’s death appear. As Edie falls under Sylvia’s spell, she must discover not only the couple’s darkest secrets, but also her own long-buried memories and desires — before it’s too late…

Billed as a thriller, a ghost story and as a tale of sexual obsession, The Possessions was one of the strangest reading experiences I have encountered for some time. With comparisons to the work of such estimable authors as Margaret Atwood, Kazuo Ishiguro and Daphne Du Maurier, Sara Flannery Murphy encloses the reader in a world of grief, guilt, love and obsession where irreality, spirituality and human emotions are inextricably entwined…

Curiously I am still unsure as to how much I really enjoyed this book, despite being initially enraptured at its highly original approach to the bridging of the gap between the living and dead. Equally, at first I was held in the thrall of the author’s emotive and completely accurate exploration and characterisation of the human response to personal loss and the assimilation of grief. She explored well the feelings of guilt and emotional stress that the recently bereaved experience, and the need for us to hold on to the one we have lost on some level to eventually move on to emotional closure. Her depiction and description of these differing but highly intense feelings of grief could not be faulted. By using Eurydice (whose name conjures up images of mythical strangeness) an isolated and emotionally closed off individual to act as a conduit from living to dead was expertly handled from the beginning, but as her strange relationship with the recently bereaved Patrick comes to the forefront, I started to find myself doubting her credibility. There was an escalating amount of repetition as the book progressed, with the author re-treading themes and images that started to irk me as the book progressed, and I began to care less and less about Eurydice’s increasing involvement with the spirit of Patrick’s dead wife. As a very obvious plot reveal came to life, I began to falter, and despite reading to the end, I felt strangely unsatisfied by what at first had held my interest entirely, and undoing my initial general crowing about this weirdly good book I was reading. One to make your own minds up about.

(With thanks to Scribe for the ARC)

TREWhen Peter Harper, a gifted musician whose career and personal life are in trouble, comes to northwest Ireland and rents a remote cottage on beautiful, windswept Tremore Beach, he thinks he has found a refuge, a tranquil place in a time of crisis. His only neighbours for miles around are a retired American couple, Leo and Marie Kogan, who sense his difficulties and take him under their wing. But there’s something strange about the pair that he can’t quite figure out. One night during one of the dramatic storms that pummel the coast, Peter is struck by lightning. Though he survives, he begins to experience a series of terrifying, lucid and bloody nightmares that frame him, the Kogans and his visiting children in mortal danger. The Harper family legend of second sight suddenly takes on a sinister twist. What if his horrifying visions came true, could tonight be his last…?

With one reviewer billing The Last Night At Tremore Beach as a cross between Don’t Look Now and Straw Dogs, I can only concur thus leaving me only a little to say about this one. I found it a slightly unbalanced affair, although I was intrigued by the back story of Peter’s coast dwelling neighbours, and the secrets in their shady past. With shades of Dean Koontz and Stephen King in the portrayal of Peter’s supernatural gift, I felt that this was to some extent, a bit superfluous to the plot, as a more linear depiction of his uncovering, and being threatened by, his neighbour’s former lives could have been portrayed without this. It felt a little padded. Peter’s character left no real impact on me, and found him generally a bit woolly around the edges. However, on a more positive note I did enjoy Santiago’s attention to the geography of this barren Irish coastline, and how he built tension through the secluded position of this location, and the natural elements that assailed its shores. A mixed bag.

(With thanks to Simon and Schuster for the ARC)

BLInspector Kosuke Iwata, newly transferred to Tokyo’s homicide department, is assigned a new partner and a secondhand case. Blunt, hard as nails and shunned by her colleagues, Assistant Inspector Noriko Sakai is a partner Iwata decides it would be unwise to cross. A case that’s complicated – a family of four murdered in their own home by a killer who then ate ice cream, surfed the web and painted a hideous black sun on the bedroom ceiling before he left in broad daylight. A case that so haunted the original investigator that he threw himself off the city’s famous Rainbow Bridge. Carrying his own secret torment, Iwata is no stranger to pain. He senses the trauma behind the killer’s brutal actions. Yet his progress is thwarted in the unlikeliest of places. Fearing corruption among his fellow officers, tracking a killer he’s sure is only just beginning and trying to put his own shattered life back together, Iwata knows time is running out before he’s taken off the case or there are more killings . . .

So saving the best until last, I was incredibly impressed with Blue Light Yokohama based on the real life, and still unsolved, slaying of a family in Japan, and the suicide of its lead investigator. Obregon has beautifully manipulated and used the details of this original case to construct a real slow burning thriller that kept me gripped throughout. Aside from referencing a real case which is one of my favourite tropes in crime fiction, there is a consistency of atmospheric building of tension, punctuated by moments of extreme stress and violence that demonstrates what a good writer Obregon is. His characters, particularly Iwata and Sakai, are completely believable, and undergo real trials by fire throughout, with their reactions and actions also entirely plausible. The story of female officer Sakai is heartrendingly honest and how her story plays out moved me greatly.

Although the book does not contain the level of attention to Japanese culture and social mores as that of an authentically Japanese author, the strength and gradual build up of an excellent plot cancelled out this slight disappointment. I delighted in the red herrings and false alleyways that Obregon navigates us through, and there were genuine moments of utter surprise and shock throughout. I felt emotionally invested in both the story and the personal travails of Obregon’s protagonists, and knowing that this book was so firmly grounded in reality further added to my enjoyment. When I finished this book I tweeted that I needed to take a breath. I guarantee you will too.  Highly recommended.

(With thanks to Penguin/Michael Joseph for the ARC)

 

 

February 2017 Round-Up + more… and Raven’s Book of the Month

_DSC0185 (Common Raven)After a little hiatus in January, my reading rate has improved significantly, but alas, I am still a little off the pace in terms of reviewing. So, I’m going to cheat a wee bit, and incorporate a few additional reviews into this round-up, before I storm into March where five reviews await already, as there are some cracking releases coming up.

Happy reading!

BOOKS READ AND REVIEWED:

Jonelle Patrick- Painted Doll   Claire Macleary- Cross Purpose  Andrew Taylor- The Ashes of London  Kate Rhodes- Crossbones Yard  J.P. Delaney- The Girl Before  Rory Clements- Corpus   Su Bristow- Sealskin  SJI Holliday- The Damselfly  Orlando Ortega-Medina- Jerusalem Ablaze

I was mightily impressed by Paradise City by Joe Thomas, which takes us deep into the throbbing heart of Sao Paulo, Brazil, and the violent favela known as Paraisopolis. Low ranking detective Mario Leme drives through this favela everyday, as this is where his wife, Renata, a lawyer, was gunned down a year previously, the victim of a bala perdida– a stray bullet. One morning at the same spot, Leme witnesses a car careering out of control, but sees that the driver has several bullet wounds, although the incident is written off as a traffic accident. Leme finds himself embroiled in a tale of murder and corruption at the highest level, which puts him at odds with his superiors, and onto a dangerous path. What I liked most about this book was the colour and exuberance that Thomas injects into his vivid realisation of the pulsating favela, albeit suffused by violence. There is a wealth of local vernacular sprinkled throughout the book, and for those, like myself, who know little of Brazil, Thomas paints a broad and wide reaching picture of the social and financial chasm that exists between the different stratum of San Paulo society. Also, Leme, is an incredibly empathetic character, regularly overcome and clouded by grief by the loss of his wife, but also portrayed throughout as a decent man, a fair detective, and more importantly feeling his way back to normality, and the recovery of a life torn apart. Highly recommended.

(With thanks to Arcadia Books for the ARC)

Having made a new year’s resolution to myself that I would endeavour to read more historical crime fiction, I was made aware of E. S. Thomson and Beloved Poison by one of my bookselling colleagues, who couldn’t recommend it highly enough. Set in the crumbling St Saviour’s Infirmary in the 1850’s the story centres on Jem Flockhart, an apothecary’s daughter who disguises herself as a man to practice her medicinal craft. It is a world of stinking wards, visceral medical procedures, and professional rivalries. As the demolition of the hospital looms, six tiny coffins are discovered, which provide a strong link to Jem’s past, and as a series of murders ensue, she finds herself in terrible danger. I thought this was a terrifically bawdy romp, with a host of beautifully named characters that Dickens would be proud of. Thomson’s precise and graphic description of the disinterment of bodies from the graveyard attached to the hospital,  the medical practices of this time, and the detail of the more natural cures available to apothecaries of the era, were rich and lively in a darkly delicious way, bringing a colour and vivacity to the whole affair. This worked perfectly in tandem with a well plotted and sporadically shocking plot, as Thomson so adroitly immerses us in a tale of murder, sex and jealousy peopled by blundering doctors, whores, sharp tongued servants, and the wonderfully empathetic Jem herself, disguised as a man with the necessary toughness of demeanour, but at the mercy of her finer feelings as a woman. I fair scuttled through this one, with its colourful characters, menacing atmosphere and brilliant period detail. Sordid, rumbustious and totally enjoyable. Highly recommended.

(I bought this copy of Beloved Poison)

I cannot resist the allure of a new title from Chris Carter (One By One,   An Evil Mind ) and his dynamite pairing of detectives Robert Hunter and Carlos Garcia of the LAPD. Once again in The Caller our intrepid duo are drawn into the nasty world of another completely loco serial killer, who operates via the world of social media, exacting some wonderfully visceral, and cruel and unusual punishments on his victims and those closest to them. Throw in a hitman looking for revenge on the killer too, whilst hoping to dodge the radar of Hunter and Garcia, and what Carter dishes up is a spine chilling, violent, read in one sitting (in subdued lighting if you dare) serial killer thriller with some very nasty surprises indeed. Typical Carter fare, but highly enjoyable nonetheless.

(With thanks to Simon and Schuster for the ARC)

Raven’s Book of the Month

Without a single moment of doubt, hesitation or procrastination, it can only be…

sealskin

Mesmeric and lyrical writing, weaving a folkloric tale

that will enchant you from beginning to end. 

 

 

 

#BlogTour- Orlando Ortega-Medina- Jerusalem Ablaze

image001In Jerusalem’s Old City a young priest and a dominatrix converse in the dying light; on Oregon’s windswept coast a fragile woman discovers a body washed up on the beach after a storm; and in Postwar Japan a young protege watches his master’s corpse burn, with bitter thoughts blazing in his mind. An eclectic collection of thirteen short stories…

I do love it when I am approached by publishers offering me books that take me outside of my comfort zone, as they so often provide some magical reading experiences. Jerusalem Ablaze is one such example, as I rarely read short stories of any description. So it was with a wonderfully blank mental slate that I dived into this intriguing collection…

Orlando Ortega-Medina has produced a remarkable volume of stories that are not only far reaching in terms of location, but also in the very recognisable aspects of human emotion he weaves into his character’s individual experiences. Across the stories, he addresses the themes of love, death, ageing, sexuality, family conflict and obsession with an intuitive and engaging style, that at times brings the reader up short to truly sit up, and think about what they have just read. For the purposes of this review, and so as not to mar your discovery of all the stories in this collection, I just wanted to write a few words on a couple of the stories that made me sit up and think too.

In a guest post at Reader Dad, Ortega- Medina talks about his experience of writing short stories, and makes reference to After The Storm, my particular favourite in the book, and the number of revisions he made to it, right up until the point of submission to his publisher. This story runs to about 18.5 pages, but to me encompassed the emotional breadth and detail of a book many times this length. Focussing on a woman’s chance discovery of something on a beach (no spoilers here), Ortega-Medina constructs a story that is heart-rending and thought provoking, on the breaks in communication, and loss of awareness that occurs in many personal relationships. The story is darkly strange but underscored by an innate feeling of truth and observation that takes hold of the reader, and even in the aftermath of reading reoccurs in one’s thoughts. Susan’s actions seem so totally alien and discomforting at first, but when seen through the eyes of others, are imbued with a real sense of poignancy. Also, the author’s depiction of this wild coastline where Susan and her husband dwell in their secluded lighthouse, is described with such clarity that you can sense the thrashing sea spray, the keening of the gulls, and the smell of the seaweed. Perfect compacted prose that reveals a world of emotion.

The intensity of Susan’s experience set against the broad, unending landscape of the natural world is mirrored in  Star Party, where the theme of human relationships is played out beneath a huge expanse of sky where people have gathered to star watch. I like the way that Ortega-Medina transposes the small but intense insecurities and problems of his protagonists against this broad canvas, which puts our relative importance in the universe in perspective, but never lessening the real concerns of his characters’ lives. Equally, in The Shovelist, the financial security of an old man and his wife is seen to be dependent on the coming of the snow, and his neighbour’s willingness to pay him to shovel their driveway, a fairly humdrum problem you would think, but one that in the author’s hands, explores community and the realisation of, and sympathy for,  other’s troubles.

As much as every story works in this collection as a self contained tale, the two part story of An Israel State of Mind had me wanting more. Narrating the events of a young man and his girlfriend’s trip to a kibbutz, I loved this tale of pent up emotion and unresolved love,  the exploration of difference and misunderstanding, all within the framework of a shared, and what should be a life affirming experience. I think it’s a real feat of Ortega-Medina’s writing that he so quickly enables the reader to connect on an emotional level with his characters in this story and others, when whole books can pass you by without this essential connection as a reader. I still want to know what happens to these characters beyond what is written here.

So as a non-widely read short story reader, I gained much from Jerusalem Ablaze, and it has honestly awakened an appreciation of the form for me. An alternately dark, emotional, tender, and violent contemporary collection that I enjoyed greatly. Highly recommended.

(With thanks to Cloud Ledge Books for the ARC)

Catch up with the blog tour at these excellent sites:

blog-tour-jerusalem-ablazetb

Catching Up…

_DSC0185 (Common Raven)To begin, I would like to thank all of you who left such lovely messages here and on Twitter during my self imposed break from blogging. Although little has been resolved on the personal front, I have continued to read, but circumstances have curtailed the production of reviews. Realising I’m about a gazillion books behind, here for your delectation and delight is a round-up of some terrific, and not so terrific, smorgasbord of reads that have helped keep me sane along the way and more to come. It’s good to be back, and enjoy!

painted-dollFirst up, all the way from the USA is a highly readable Japanese set thriller, Painted Doll by Jonelle Patrick. Part of the Only In Tokyo series. Tokyo detective Kenji Nakamura is more than a little distressed to discover that the death of his mother ten years previously in a supposed accident, is actually connected to a string of murders of young women attributed to the Painted Doll Killer. What follows is not only a complex and compelling investigation to catch a killer, but also a brilliant study of Nakamura’s emotional turmoil when dark secrets from his own familial background come to the surface. Patrick balances both facets of the book with a deft touch, producing a genuinely gripping crime thriller which wrong-foots and perplexes the reader throughout, and drawing us in emotionally to Nakamura’s travails both professional and personal. The case proves itself to be violent and disturbing in equal measure, and there are some good turns of pace in the narrative. The book is steeped in Japanese cultural references, and proved to be incredibly enlightening about the conflicts of old fashioned tradition, and contemporary society, and the gaps between the generations, as well as being highly informative on Japanese life generally. Suffice to say, I will be seeking out the other instalments of the series. Highly recommended.

crossIn a change of pace, Cross Purpose by Claire MacLeary, quickly revealed itself to be a quirky, but nonetheless absorbing debut. When Maggie Laird’s disgraced ex-cop husband is found dead in the office of his private investigation business, various distasteful truths come home to roost, leaving Maggie financially strapped, emotionally wrought, and drawn into the dark criminal underbelly of Aberdeen. Through necessity, and some cajoling from her loud, blousy and utterly loveable next door neighbour ‘Big Wilma’, who joins forces with her, the intrepid duo set out to clear the besmirched name of Maggie’s husband, but find themselves navigating some dark and dangerous waters along the way. MacLeary’s prose is assured and engaging, bursting with the liveliness of the Aberdonian vernacular, particularly in evidence in the contrasting personalities and social standing of Maggie and Wilma and in the criminal world of the drugs trade they find themselves immersed in. Not only does MacLeary paint an unflinching picture of the sink estates, and those drawn into the drugs trade, but also a simple but effective study of people doing what they need to, to simply get by or to profit by the misery and dependency of others. I found it interesting how every character had some semblance of damage or insecurity in their characters in some form or another, and the way that these flaws evinced themselves in their actions or moments of epiphany. Despite the grim realities of life that MacLeary explores, the book is underscored by a wonderful black humour at times, which drew more than one chuckle or knowing nod from this reader. Really enjoyed this one, and an impressive debut.

51kvpsnjk6l-_sx323_bo1204203200_Right, from Aberdonian sink estates let’s time travel back to 1666 and the Great Fire of London, in Andrew Taylor’s The Ashes of London, where the body of a man is found in the smoking ruins of St Paul’s Cathedral, stabbed in the neck, with his thumbs tied behind his back. So far, so good, and what unfolds from this is a delicious and vivid exploration of London society, and through a world of cheats and traitors, class and gender oppression, and a damn fine murder mystery. Absolutely central to my enjoyment of this book, apart from the perfectly realised period detail, was the character of Catherine ‘Cat’ Lovett, a young gentlewoman, and daughter of a notorious regicide, condemned to live with grasping relatives. As a result of an attack on her person, she goes on the run, assuming the position of a housemaid, but is drawn into the sphere of the men charged with redesigning London, but into further danger due to her father’s reappearance having plotted against the former king. Cat is a mercurial and striking character, compartmentalized by society by virtue of her gender and class, but with a keen mind and inquisitive spirit which reveals itself in her aptitude for, and interest in the world of architecture. Equally, she is feisty and brave, and has a determination to track down and confront her father at odds with the demeanour that society expects from her being of a certain social class. Taylor’s characterisation throughout is lively and reminiscent of the band of good natured fellows and absolute rotters that inhabit the works of Dickens for example. Outright villains sit cheek by jowl with characters you root for throughout, particularly those labouring for acceptance in the shadow of the sins of their fathers. Taylor conjures up all the sights, smells and atmosphere of the period with aplomb, and provides an intriguing and twisty murder mystery into the bargain too. Recommended.

51xx4wfgial-_sx324_bo1204203200_Now to London in the contemporary era in the company of Kate Rhodes’ Crossbones Yard which has been languishing on my shelves for far too long. The first of a series introducing claustrophobia-suffering, relationship-fearing psychologist, Alice Quentin, who finds herself unwittingly drawn into the world of a serial killer by virtue of her consultancy work for the Metropolitan police. Using Crossbones Yard, a neglected piece of London ground that was used as a cemetery for fallen women as a locus, Rhodes weaves an intriguing psychological thriller, with a sublime nod to the real life case of murderers Fred and Rosemary West. Alice is a likeable enough character, fitting wonderfully into the mould of psychologically troubled psychologist- physician heal thyself perhaps- who finds herself in some degree of peril throughout. Perhaps, because of my voracious crime reading, the identity of the perpetrator of the heinous crimes was a little too obvious quite early on, but despite this I had a resolute compunction to read on, as I found Alice a compelling figure throughout, and found the band of emotional misfits and miscreants she encounters both professionally and personally rather engaging. I have bought the next in the series so that’s probably a good recommendation.

31300946And so to the pseudonymous J. P. Delaney and The Girl Before, the first contender for the mantle of this year’s Girl On The Train. Brace yourselves. Despite my resolution to steadfastly avoid any domestic noir thrillers in 2017, I had already signed up for this one and its attendant blog tour. Having read the book, I then bowed gracefully out of the blog tour (thanks to Quercus for their understanding) as I really, really disliked this book for a whole host of reasons. My trademark tag-line of Grand Designs meets Fifty Shades of Grey, probably tells you most of what you need to know, about this tortured tale of enigmatic, but emotionally stunted control freak architect, entrapping hapless young women in a prison of his own creation. Still with me? Good. Excruciating dialogue and clunky plotting dismayed me further. However, with a prime spot on Simon Mayo’s Radio 2 Bookclub, soaring sales, and probably a film, my opinion matters little. One to make your own minds up about.

(With thanks to Jonelle Patrick for the review copy of Painted Doll, Saraband for Cross Purpose and Quercus for The Girl Before. I bought The Ashes of London, and Crossbones Yard.)

May 2016 Round-Up and Raven’s Book of the Month

_DSC0185 (Common Raven)Words cannot express how much I have enjoyed the month of May with a whole two weeks off work, a brilliant trip to the CrimeFest crime writing convention and some jolly good reading too! Had an absolute blast at CrimeFest (superbly organised by Myles, Donna and Adrian *round of applause*) where I attended 18 panels, saw Ian Rankin brilliantly interviewed by Jake Kerridge, and discovered a whole host of new and exciting crime authors through the Fresh Blood sessions. Thanks to all the authors for their wit, intelligence and truly entertaining panels, and for their general good-natured bonhomie in the face of their adoring fans. Lovely to see my favourites again! I would also like to give a special mention to all the authors and publicists who bombarded me with praise for my reviews. I would say that you guys do all the hard work- I am a mere conduit- but thank you, I appreciate it very much. I met a whole host of wonderful people including the blogging posse, Liz, Christine, Victoria, Lisa,  Shaz and Tracey,  where it was lovely to put faces to Twitter handles- you are excellent people- and fab to catch up with some familiar faces from the blogging community too- interesting discussions guys!  As usual there were also late night shenanigans, near the knuckle tales and drunken high jinx- but alas my beak is sealed. Sorry… Can’t wait for next year…

May has been an excellent month in terms of volume of books read, but have let it slide it bit with actually writing reviews. Consequently, there is a small pile of books nestling by the laptop, waiting for their moment in the sun. Their time will come. June will hopefully then be a bumper round-up and with another two blog tours on the horizon, there’s lots of criminal goodies to bring you next month. Have a good one!

Books read and reviewed:

Abir Mukherjee- A Rising Man

J M Gulvin- The Long Count

Steve Cavanagh- The Plea

William Shaw- The Birdwatcher

Tetsuya Honda- The Silent Dead

 

Raven’s Book of The Month:

This month I could easily say all of them! It’s a rare occurrence to love every single book you’ve read, but you wouldn’t go far wrong picking any of these at random, depending on your mood or preferred location. Add them all to your summer reading list. But, having to adhere to my self-imposed convention, I’m choosing the one that really struck an emotional chord with me, with its sublime mix of location, shifting timeline, an appreciation of the natural world, and faultless characterisation. Step forward…

images1

 

 

Tetsuya Honda- The Silent Dead

Untitled%201When a mutilated body wrapped in a blue tarpaulin is found in a quiet neighbourhood, Lieutenant Reiko Himekawa and her squad are assigned the case. As the youngest female detective in the Homicide Division, Reiko has a lot to prove, but she has an undeniable ability to solve crimes. When she uncovers more murders with the same signature, she knows there is a serial killer at work. What is Strawberry Night, the dark web group that links all the victims? And how long will Reiko survive, now the killer knows her name?

I will put my hands up straightaway and confess that my prior reading, and knowledge of, Japanese crime fiction is rudimentary at best, so please forgive any noticeable faux pas’ or misunderstandings on my part of the genre. So here we have Raven’s first introduction into this potentially interesting subgenre of crime fiction writing…

Shining a light into the contemporary sinister recesses of the dark web, The Silent Dead, is the first of Honda’s ongoing crime series featuring Reiko Himekawa, a Homicide Detective with the Tokyo Metropolitan Police. In common with the best socially driven crime fiction,  Himekawa is a female detective in an extremely patriarchal institution, and much of the book focuses on not only her as a woman with an emotionally fractured past, but the attitude displayed to her by her male counterparts within the police force. Indeed, this examination of Himekawa, and by extension, her role in this testosterone-fuelled world was central to my enjoyment of the book. Hence, the latent and overt sexism she experiences by word and deed, and her critical self-examination throughout the book, moulds her into one of the most compelling and real female characters I have encountered for some time.

I like the way she continually questions the noble intentions of her chosen career, but yet is self aware enough to realise that this success has made her arrogant in some respects to her relationship with the victims she encounters. I also enjoyed the way Honda stretches and exerts pressure on her to continually reassess her sense of self, as the story develops, and her realisation that she is  prone to moments of weakness, despite her seemingly cast iron intention to overcome the emotional and physical damage caused by a crime in her own past. She is surrounded by a mixed cast of male characters who exhibit contrasting attitudes to Himekawa which range from dislike, to mild flirtation, to professional jealousy, and the casual sexism that defines most of them gives rise to a mixture of feelings in the reader, and toys with our empathies. Equally, I liked Honda’s depiction of the professional and territorial rivalries that exist between the competing police units that spilled over into Himekawa’s investigation, and the attitudes of her counterparts outside her own Metropolitan police department, to her and her team of murder detectives.

The plot is compelling, and there is a killer twist- quite literally- at the close of the book which was wonderfully disguised up to that point. The examination of the dark web and the way that even the most ordinary citizen can be drawn into, and excited by, public execution was a consistent theme in the book as the body count mounted exponentially. So many serial killer thrillers fall victim to obvious tropes within the genre, but this book in common with the best, provided some thoughtful and genuinely intuitive psychological insights into the killer gene that may lurk within us all, and what drives seemingly ordinary people to derive pleasure from violence.

With such  strength in the characterisation, narrative and plot, it does feel a shame to draw attention to the one weakness in the book, which is no criticism of the author. There is a noticeable flaw in the translation of the dialogue, which has the snappy rhythm typical of the American crime fiction genre, but seemed quaintly old-fashioned in some of the turns of phrase used. Indeed, at certain points I felt I had wandered into the black and white world of Dixon of Dock Green, where I expected characters to be all ‘Cor, lummy’ and ‘You’re nicked’. Some of the expressions used just felt a little disingenuous and out of place, but I think this more a consequence of the translation itself than the author’s original intention.

So all in all my first dip into Japanese crime fiction was an extremely pleasurable one, though not without a minor flaw. Loved the characters, the tight plotting, and the playing out of a visceral and psychologically interesting dimension to what could have been just a standard addition to the serial killer thriller genre. Will certainly be seeking out not only more of the books in this series, but this has also sparked my interest in further exploring this crime sub-genre generally. Recommended.

(With thanks to Titan Books for the ARC)

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.