August Round Up and Raven’s Book of the Month

_DSC0185 (Common Raven)August provided a real rollercoaster of crime reading, with highs and lows in equal measure. Some I loved, some not so much, but perhaps the most satisfying aspect of the month was finally getting to a couple of books that have been languishing on the bookshelves for far too long. Will try to keep the momentum of this as, over the months, a few reads have fallen by the wayside with the temptations of shiny, new books popping regularly through the letterbox. And as always there are other books read in August to catch up with reviews-wise…

Thanks again to K.T.Medina, for her piece on the inspiration for her superb debut White Crocodile, and to Kevin Sampson for giving us an insight into the world of DCI Billy McCartney, in his new book, The House On The Hill.

So, here for your entertainment is a summary of the month. Hope you discover something good to read!

Books reviewed in August:

Kevin Stevens- Reach The Shining River

K. T. Medina- White Crocodile  

Kevin Sampson- The House On The Hill  

Kanae Minato- Confessions

Andrea Maria Schenkel- The Dark Meadow

Jake Woodhouse- After The Silence

Rachel Howzell Hall- Land of Shadows

J. A. Kerley- The Death Box

Marco Malvaldi- The Art of Killing Well (www.crimefictionlover.com)

Erin Kelly- Broadchurch (www.crimefictionlover.com)

 

Raven’s Book of the Month

Yet another tough decision this month in terms of my top read- I really shouldn’t set myself up for this deliberation and cogitating every month should I?! So, a decision has been made…

reachx2700Despite my continuing affection for the escapades of Kevin Sampson’s troubled detective, Billy McCartney, and my admiration for two debuts this month, K T Medina’s emotive and haunting White Crocodile and Rachel Howzell Hall’s refreshing new thriller,  Land of Shadows, I have plumped for Kevin Stevens with the mesmerising Reach The Shining River. Crafted as beautifully as any contemporary American fiction novel, Stevens underscores his thought-provoking and engaging novel with a pure jazz and blues soundtrack, conjuring up the atmosphere of a troubled period of American history and its attendant issues. Great characters, a well-defined plot and a hugely satisfying read.

 

 

 

 

Blog Tour-Kevin Sampson- Guest Post- The House On The Hill Review

 

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Marking the publication of The House On The Hill- the second in Kevin Sampson’s new crime series to feature DCI Billy McCartney- Raven Crime Reads is delighted to be taking part in the blog tour for the release. Having previously reviewed the first in the series, The Killing Pool , and having just read this new one (reviewed below), I’m sure that you will not only enjoy Kevin’s piece posted here about his multi-faceted character, the mercurial Billy McCartney, but will be more than keen to seek this series out for yourselves too! So with no further ado it’s over to Kevin..

On DCI Billy McCartney

“My concept for the McCartney series was that Billy should be as complex and as much of an enigma as any of the cases he works on. I had (and have) in mind an initial 5 novels, with each instalment revealing a little more about Mac. Only once we’ve digested and understood all 5 ‘episodes’ will the full picture emerge. Until that point, it’s a process of putting all the tiny clues together as we try to get a sense of who Billy McCartney really is.

Having said that, I had a very clear notion of McCartney, his history and what drives him on, right from the start. Mac’s persona is absolutely central to each case, and the way he goes about solving it. He is defined by his own experience, and by his own distinctive morality. Mac perceives himself more as an old-time Lawman than a sophisticated modern detective. He regularly refers to himself putting on ‘the cape’ or ‘the mask’, and these nuances shine a light on Mac’s idiosyncratic approach to the job. He’s the Lone Ranger, dressed in white, chasing the lawless baddies out of town; making it safe for ordinary decent folk. Above all, he wants to make the streets safe for women.

McCartney’s very specific worldview is both informed and challenged by his perception of women. Again, there is something of the old-fashioned hero in him, racing to aid the damsel in distress. In The Killing Pool Mac risks everything in his determination to find and rescue the young runaway, Misha. And in his latest case, The House On The Hill, his obsession with a murdered colleague, DS Millie Baker, drives him beyond the rational remit of the job. He’s in Morocco to infiltrate a major hashish production gang high in the Rif mountains, but it’s the recurring flashbacks about the circumstances of Millie’s death that haunt Mac and spur him on.

Yet McCartney himself is anything but a traditional square-jawed knight in shining armour. He never, ever gets the girl. There is a loneliness that eats away at Mac – a resignation that “for McCartney, it always ends this way.” This, in turn, informs his solitary approach to his work. All too often, Mac’s fairy tales morph into nightmares, and it’s his seeming inability to find love that recurs in his moments of reflection. His consolation is that, through his diligent and often brilliant detective work, he makes the city a safer place to live. As a child he witnessed his own father being shot by armed robbers. If he can prevent other kids going through similar trauma, it has been a Good Day for McCartney.

DCI Billy McCartney presented himself to me well-defined but not quite fully formed. Just as with real people in real life, he is a work in progress, growing and changing as he reacts to different challenges. I have a pretty good idea who he really is. By the end of the fifth book we’ll know for sure. For now though, enjoy more clues about Mac in The House On The Hill.”

 

kevKevin Sampson began his writing career reviewing bands for NME. Based in Liverpool, he wrote about gangs and subcultures for The Face, I-D, and Arena. A lifelong fascination with the criminal underworld, led to Sampson’s Liverpool-set crime novels, Outlaws and Clubland, and his debut film Surveillance. Outlaws was also made as a feature film titled The Crew. Sampson is the author of eight novels and one work of non-fiction. The Killing Pool was the first in the series of the Billy McCartney novels, with a TV adaptation just announced here  Follow him on Twitter @ksampsonwriter.

 

Raven’s Review

9780224097178-largeDCI Billy McCartney has gone to ground, disillusioned with his job. When a runaway turns up on his doorstep, her story plunges Mac back to the summer of 1990, and one of his most traumatic cases. McCartney and his partner DS Millie Baker are in Ibiza, on a joint venture with the Spanish serious crime agency. Their objective: to infiltrate the Liverpool-based drug gang responsible for a wave of ecstasy-related deaths. But their stakeout takes both Mac and Millie to the heart of a dark empire whose tentacles stretch from Ireland to Morocco, and whose activities include industrial-scale drug production – and terrorism. They’re close to their big bust when Millie is abducted by the gang, and killed. McCartney never quite recovers from it. The waif who knocks on Mac’s door twenty-four years later has escaped from those same captors; a dynasty of international dope dealers based high in the Moroccan Rif. What she tells McCartney blasts his apathy away, and sends him on a mission that goes far beyond law and order. This is his chance for redemption.

The House On The Hill is the second in the DCI Billy McCartney series following the excellent opener The Killing Pool (which I waxed lyrical about last year) and can easily be read as a standalone. This new book sees Mac gone to ground, disillusioned with his job, but fate has a surprise a store for him when a young runaway turns up on his doorstep. The tale she has to tell plunges Mac back in time to the summer of 1990, and one of his most traumatic cases, both professionally and personally. The trail she sets him on, takes him and the reader back to the investigation rooted in the 90’s club scene in Ibiza, to his present day pursuit of a drug dynasty in the hills of Marrakech, where extreme danger awaits…

I would say from the outset that what Sampson achieves with ease, both in this and his novels to date, is the ability to so quickly make us so comfortable with the characters he lays before us. Even if you have not read the first book which established the depths and quirks of DCI Billy McCartney’s character, I guarantee that you will take to him, and his rough charm from the earliest beginnings of the book. In this character, Sampson has conjured up a man of sublime contradictions. He has an easy manner, flecked with humour and a cynical eye, but equally is a man haunted by events in his own childhood, and in his professional career as a police officer. Although he is to all intents and purposes a bit of a rough diamond, the wrongs he has born witness to, particularly in the historical case in Ibiza which proceeds the contemporary investigation, has affected him greatly on an emotional level. Both cases call on him to be somewhat of a knight in shining armour, but on a more basic level, are driven by his pure ambition to right the wrongs of the past, and assuage his own sense of guilt. He has a strong moral core, despite his tough guy attitude, and even when up to his armpits in danger retains this outward strength, but is man enough to confess to his inward fear. He is gallant when the female of the species is involved, but our hearts go out to him, as in the true spirit of the moral defender, he is destined to carry a sense of loneliness and isolation about him.

Equally, Sampson roundly characterises the surrounding protagonists in the book, good guys and bad guys alike, in a realistic and vital way. There are some truly horrible antagonists involved in Mac’s investigations, like drug dealer JJ Hamilton, whose nefarious dealings with the equally hideous drug lord Hassan El Glaoui, a particularly cruel and violent individual, lies at the root of Mac’s troubles. These two men are greedy, ambitious and unrelenting in their manipulation and abuse of others (in particular women) to keep a stranglehold on the drug trail they control. Also, amongst Mac’s police counterparts at home and abroad, over the course of the two cases, there is a nice mix between the good, the bad and the ugly, and of course Al Glauoi’s and Hamilton’s henchmen are carved out in true pantomime baddie style. Boo. Hiss. On a slightly lighter note, I particularly enjoyed the characterisation of the young and in a lot of ways naïve, Yasmina, the runaway who comes to Mac with her personal tale of woe. To avoid plot spoilers, I won’t divulge how she is connected to him, but her resilience (when pursued by the bad guys), balanced with her heart-warming incidental journey to a grand love affair with the spiky, and thoroughly entertaining kick ass Jessica, is a joy.

The dual timelines are powerfully and realistically presented, from the atmosphere of the heyday of Ibiza, underscored with some real trip back in time references to the essential music of this period, and the very unique and sensual casting of Morocco, leading to the breathless denouement. Sampson’s attention to location is one of the real strengths of the book, so much so that the contrasting landscapes he portrays, seem to take on the role of a character in themselves. I found the descriptions of El Glaoui’s hillside hideaway, particularly cinematic, and the events that transpire in its locale, added to the foreboding atmosphere it imparted in the book. The plot is perfectly controlled, with neither half on the dual narrative, weakened by the other, fuelled by tension and danger in equal measure. In common with The Killing Pool, Sampson does not hold back on the more sordid details of the piece, to unsettle us throughout, but like the first book, I rather enjoyed the more grubby and violent aspects of the plot, which further involved me emotionally in this theatre of danger Mac finds himself embroiled in. All in all a terrific follow up to the first book, and if this is only book two of a planned five book series, I cannot wait to see what Mac gets up to next. Bring it on…

 

BLOG TOUR IN FULL:

August 7th  DEAD GOOD BOOKS

August 8th RAVEN CRIME READS

August 9th SHAZ’S BOOK BLOG 

August 10th CRIMETIME

August 11th READER DAD

August 12th THE CRIME WARP

(With thanks to Jonathan Cape for the ARC)

 

 

 

 

 

Kevin Sampson- The Killing Pool

Product DetailsDetective Chief Inspector Billy McCartney discovers a headless corpse in the scrubland close to Liverpool docks. The slaying carries all the hallmarks of a gangland hit – a message from the underworld to snitches, cops and rival gangs. One mile away, a girl staggers into a run-down bar, dazed and confused. The bar’s owner, a career criminal called Shakespeare, cannot get a word out of her.  DCI McCartney is all too well aware that the clock is ticking. The body was one Kalan Rozaki, youngest brother of a notorious crime family – except Kalan is no criminal. For almost a year his brothers have been under full-time Drug Squad surveillance as McCartney slowly closed the net on their heroin trafficking. McCartney’s chief informant on the case is someone with insider knowledge of the Rozaki clan’s operation, their newly deceased baby brother, Kalan. McCartney’s investigation into Kalan’s murder peels back layer after layer of a decades-long dynasty of drug smuggling. Each revelation plunges McCartney back into the dark heart of an unsolved drug crime that weighs heavy on his soul. He wants to catch the Rozakis – badly – but he wants the shadowy men behind their drug empire even more. The closer McCartney gets to Kalan’s killer, the closer he comes to facing down a lifetime’s torment.

 The mean streets of Liverpool loom large in this, the first, of a projected  series featuring Kevin Sampson’s newest creation DCI Billy McCartney- a veritable conundrum of a character that you are guaranteed to love or loathe in equal measure. Opening with the discovery of a mutilated body exhibiting all the hallmarks of a gangland hit, the reader is instantly transported into a dark and gritty read that makes you feel positively grubby, but in such a good way…

The action unfolds across three timelines- 1984, 1997 and 2012- with each period reflecting not only the socio-economic changes of Liverpool, but also the city’s increasing role at the centre of the UK drugs trade. The book reads as a twisted love letter to Liverpool with Sampson incorporating the very best and worst aspects of the city as a frame for the central plot. While I was reading the book, a stanza from Liverpool Poems by the acclaimed poet Adrian Henri kept coming to mind:

And a Polish gunman young beautiful dark glasses
combatjacket/staggers down Little St Bride St blood
dripping moaning clutches/collapses down a back jigger
coughing/falls in a wilderness of Dazwhite washing        

as this to me perfectly reflected Sampson’s depiction of a city courting the desire to establish itself as pulsing centre of cultural modernity and respectability ‘a groovy bohemian melting pot’, but unable to diminsh the sordid underbelly that lurks beneath the face of the inner city. In a recent interview Sampson refers to the underworld noirish settings of ‘The Wire’ and cites the depiction of Jo Nesbo’s Oslo as points of reference for his Liverpool backdrop, and I think that he captures perfectly this pervading feeling of darkness and brutality in the shadowy world of criminality beneath the veneer. McCartney makes reference to the ‘mongrel cesspits’ of other port cities, and has no qualms in including Liverpool in this description, but I feel his derision is underlined by an equal measure of affection for a city at the mercy of change if not always for the better.

The differing timelines work exceptionally well from the plunging of a young female detective into the latent racism, sexism and violence of the 80‘s storyline depicting the growth of the drugs trade with shades of ‘Trainspotting, to the 90‘s with the widespread use of cocaine as a recreational drug, and a focus on the sheer wealth and power of the drug cartels thereby solidifying McCartney’s intent both at home and abroad to foil the men behind this deadly trade. A personal vendetta with one such man fuels McCartney’s intent throughout the  90‘s and 2000‘s with the contemporary storyline in particular seeing McCartney assuming the role of an avenging angel following the death of a young informant, at great personal risk to himself. The overlaps between decades and characters are an extremely effective plot contrivance, and Sampson captures the detail of each period assuredly, so each timeline feels genuine and reflective of the spirit of that particular age.

The characterisation is rock solid throughout with Sampson capturing perfectly the figures within this world of cops, snitches and criminals. DCI Billy McCartney is a man of extreme contradictions, exhibiting a steely determination as he makes his way up the ranks, solidifying his professional reputation through some high profile drug busts and fuelled with an underlying desire to bring to book a taunting nemesis.As an anomaly to his police role, he is not adverse to a chemical pick-me-up, gaining an almost Holmesian effect from this on both his mental processes and his physical stamina. His actions are not always entirely moral but remain true to his own codes of morality, and by and large get results, but he has an unknowability and hard edge to his character which is difficult to like.However, his love of music softens the edges of his character and  Sampson references McCartney’s musical tastes throughout- C&W, Americana punctuated by a little bit of Satie- and interestingly despite his general disconnectedness from the world of personal relationships, McCartney derives pleasure from his attendance at a country and western music night when time allows,  harbouring a small crush on the delectable Dolly Parton a-like, Kylene. He is truly a puzzle wrapped up in an enigma, and was at the very core of my enjoyment of the book. Also on the theme of character, I would highlight Evan Portius Kavangh Esquire aka Shakespeare, a foppish West Indian small time criminal (who according to Sampson bears similarities fashion wise to Chris Eubank) with a nice line in philosophy and an inherent need to rescue a damsel in distress- a shining star in McCartney’s surrounding cast who would surely merit a whole book of his own!

With its sparsity of prose and pitch perfect characterisation, Sampson has established a great foundation for further titles in this series, which I’ve read will take McCartney far and wide in his pursuance of the drug cartels. It’s violent and earthy, and by no means a comfortable read with its uncompromising plot and dialogue, reflecting the deprivation and bleakness of its inner city locale. It packs a punch which I’m more than happy to endure- oh- and did I mention the  killer ending? Marvellous.

Kevin Sampson is the author of eight novels – Awaydays, Powder, Leisure, Outlaws, Clubland, Freshers, Stars are Stars and The Killing Pool – and a work of non-fiction, Extra Time. The Killing Pool will be published 21 March 2013 by Jonathan Cape. See the The Killing Pool book trailer here: http://www.youtube.com/watch

Interview with Kevin Sampson at Low Down magazine www.thelowdownmagazine.com/Thrilling_Time

Discover more about the music of The Killing Pool from Peter Guy’s interview –http://www.peterguy.merseyblogs.co.uk

The Killing Pool is also reviewed at the excellent Crime Fiction Lover: www.crimefictionlover.com/2013/03/thekillingpool/

Raven’s recommends:

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(With thanks to Random House for the ARC)