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

_DSC0185 (Common Raven)March proved a fallow month as my reviewing mojo seemed to temporarily desert me- only four books reviewed- slapped wrists! I also seemed to spend too much time giving some books the benefit of the doubt, and read past my forty page rule with dire results. I persisted with one for 200+ pages (out of 700), but just couldn’t face any more of it, and a few others fell by the wayside too.  However, to even up my reviewing this round-up includes a couple more that I didn’t get around to reviewing in March, so keep reading…

April will definitely prove more fruitful where I am taking part in four blog tours for David Jackson- A Tapping At My Door, Manda Jennings- In Her Wake, C. J. Carver- Spare Me The Truth and Melissa Ginsburg- Sunset City. There are also a few releases from March to race through, and a plethora of great crime fiction publishing scheduled for April and May. Exciting times for crime fiction fans. Also I would implore you to catch up with the televisual treat that is Follow The Money– a terrific new Scandi-drama currently airing on BBC4- featuring mesmerising performances from Bo Larsen and Natalie Madueno- it’s brilliant! Am also slightly in mourning at the end of The Night Manager which was totally gripping and kept me hooked, but have high hopes for its replacement Undercover starring Sophie Okonedo and Adrian Lester in the 9pm Sunday night slot on the jolly old BBC. We shall see…

Books read and reviewed:

Quentin Bates- Thin Ice

Kate McQuaile- What She Never Told Me

 Yusuf Toropov- Jihadi: A Love Story

Katie Medina- Fire Damage

I also read…

9781910477250_190x290Pascal Garnier- Too Close To The Edge

Recently widowed grandmother Éliette is returning to her home in the mountains when her micro-car breaks down. A stranger comes to her aid on foot. Éliette offers him a lift, glad of the interruption to her humdrum routine. That night, her neighbours’ son is killed in a road accident. Could the tragedy be linked to the arrival of her good Samaritan?

Being a confirmed devotee of the late, great, Pascal Garnier, it was lovely to discover another of his bijou, but dark and disturbing treats. He has such a singular knack for taking the reader into a surprising and,  at times, darkly humorous direction in such a compressed length of fiction, and Too Close To The Edge is no exception. After a rustic and genteel opening charting the life of widow Eliette newly ensconced in her French rural retreat, Garnier disrupts the apparent new-found harmony of her life in an exceptionally violent manner, with sex, drugs and twisted emotions, coming to thwart her peaceful existence, but also allowing her room to discover elements of life that she has had no experience of, and the change her perception of the world undergoes through this. It’s deft, violent, funny and perfect, further demonstrating the void that the much-loved Garnier leaves in his wake.

(With thanks to Gallic for the ARC)

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Steffen Jacobsen- Retribution

On a warm Autumn afternoon, Tivoli Gardens – Denmark’s largest amusement park – is devastated by a terrorist attack. 1,241 people are killed. The unknown bomber is blown to bits; the security forces have no leads. One year later, the nation is still reeling, and those behind the attack are still at large. Amidst the increasingly frustrated police force, Superintendent Lene Jensen is suffering the effects of tragedy closer to home. Everyone is aware the terrorists may soon strike again. Then Lene receives a strange call. A young desperate Muslim woman needs her help, but by the time Lene reaches her she’s already dead – supposedly suicide. Already suspicious, Lene’s initial investigations suggest that the woman was unknowingly part of a secret services research project. Silenced by her superiors, Lene turns to her old ally Michael Sander to dig deeper. But with even her allies increasingly adamant her actions are a risk to national security, Lene begins to understand that finding the truth might be the most dangerous thing of all.

As part of my mission to get everyone in the world reading Danish crime author Steffen Jacobsen ( I’ve previously reviewed When The Dead Awaken and Trophy ) this is his latest. With recent events in Brussels a stark reminder of the danger posed by terrorist action, Jacobsen addresses this theme sensitively, but with brutal honesty throughout the book. Jacobsen constructs a twisting and pulsating examination of the difficulties faced by the security services and police in thwarting terrorism, and takes the reader from homeland Denmark to the Middle East in the course of the story. By presenting the reader with numerous viewpoints of the war on terror, and the innocents and not-so-innocent caught up in its wake, there is always a sense of brutal reality to his writing, without the gung-ho one dimensional view of events so often seen in thriller writing with this particular premise.

There is a real sensitivity in Jacobsen’s writing that makes the reader sit up and think about the events and people he portrays, not only with the prescient events of the book, but also in the additional exploration he makes into psychological territory, particularly evident in the character of Superintendent Lene Jensen, who for my money is one of the most roundly formed, well-written, and interesting police protagonists in the Scandinavian genre. Indeed, Jacobsen exhibits a masterly touch with all of his female protagonists from Lene herself to her boss Charlotte Falster, and mercurial psychologist Irene Adler. He imbues all of these characters with a welcome balance of strength, intelligence and wit, along with a necessary Achilles Heel that is never in detriment to our overall perception of them, but increases our respect and empathy, and more importantly makes them believable. With such an assured use of characterisation, and his natural ability of damn fine storytelling, Jacobsen seldom disappoints, and this tale will keep you on your toes, and totally gripped throughout. A clever, exciting and very readable thriller.

(With thanks to Quercus for the ARC)

Raven’s Book of The Month

….is delayed until next month as choosing just one book from only six reviewed seemed a bit like being asked to choose your favourite child. So these excellent six will be added to April’s tally and there may even be more than one book of the month. Who knows?

See you in April!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Kate McQuaile- What She Never Told Me- Reading Ireland Month 2016 #begorrathon16 #readIreland16

readingMarch always heralds the arrival of the brilliant Reading Ireland Month- celebrating all that is good about Irish books and culture- hosted by Cathy at   746books  and Niall at The Fluff Is Raging  Eager to join in the fun, here is my small contribution to the #begorrathon16, reviewing debut author Kate McQuaile.

41UrW7G50YL__SX324_BO1,204,203,200_Louise Redmond left Ireland for London before she was twenty. Now, more than two decades later, her heart already breaking from a failing marriage, she is summoned home. Her mother is on her deathbed, and it is Louise’s last chance to learn the whereabouts of a father she never knew. Stubborn to the end, Marjorie refuses to fill in the pieces of her daughter’s fragmented past. Then Louise unexpectedly finds a lead. A man called David Prescott, but is he really the father she’s been trying to find? And who is the mysterious little girl who appears so often in her dreams? As each new piece of the puzzle leads to another question, Louise begins to suspect that the memories she most treasures could be a delicate web of lies…

Despite my steadfast resolution to avoid crime fiction of the more domestic variety, I was hearing good things about this one, and so am happy to break my self-imposed resolution. In the spirit of honesty, which I appear to be known for, I did have some issues with this one, but here are my thoughts…

What I really liked about this book was the central premise of the story itself revolving around familial bonds and how memory can be such a deceptive but powerful driving force in how our sense of self is formed. I thought McQuaile captured perfectly the mother/daughter bond between Louise and Marjorie, and the inherent differences in their character which are slowly revealed as the book progresses. As Louise seeks to fill in the gaps in her family background, with her unknown father, and a mother singularly reticent to answer her questions, even as her own mortality catches up with her, I found their relationship totally believable, and striking a few emotional chords with my own background. I thought the gradual unfurling of the truth behind Louise’s identity was perfectly weighted throughout, with a denouement that was both plausible and clever, forcing Louise to completely reassess who she was. Another interesting conundrum McQuaile examines is how easy it is to do the wrong thing, but with the overriding sense that it is for the right reasons, however twisted the logic is behind these actions, and this was painfully brought to the fore when the truth about Marjorie is exposed. Also McQuaile manipulates the truthfulness of memory, and how half-remembered incidents, sensual indicators, and locations impact so strongly on our perception of past events, and the emotions these produce in us.

Less successful for my enjoyment of the book was the personal life of Louise, the relationship with her husband Sandy, an ill thought out dalliance, and a verging on Fatal Attraction storyline that to me seemed slightly unnecessary in the wake of such a strong central storyline. Obviously, to avoid spoilers I can’t go into too much detail, but I felt that aside from Louise’s regret and reasons for not having her own family, the marital woes she experiences would have been easily remedied without the amount of naval gazing, and emotional to and fro that afflict her as the book progresses. As I was enjoying the spirit of detection she exhibits in tracking down her father, I found myself side-tracked by the marital shenanigans, and was champing at the bit to see where her next line of enquiry would take her. Although I did like Louise as a character, her sometimes swift descent into extreme wooliness was slightly frustrating.

To bring this back to the initially positive vibe, there was a strong location of place throughout the book, and I enjoyed the way that McQuaile gave us snapshots of the way that the locations of Ireland and London seemed to surreptitiously shape the behaviour of Louise herself. There was a good contrast between both the city and rural locations as the book progressed, and an intervention of the authorial voice to bring a real sense of colour and life to each location. We clearly see how Louise perceives her former life in Ireland, set against her current residence in London, the sharp differences between the two, and how they subtly impact on her emotions and actions.

All in all I’m rather glad to have put my head above the parapet and broken my domestic noir resolution, as I found this debut by and large both intriguing and enjoyable. Recommended.

(With thanks to Quercus for the ARC)