January 2016 Round Up and Raven’s Book of the Month

_DSC0185 (Common Raven)As we proceed into the new year, January has found the Raven in slightly pensive mood as to the direction of my blog, and what I review.  Having read fellow bloggers’ reading resolutions, I have decided to come up with a couple of my own….

So, first off, I have pretty much dispensed with my e-reader and consigned it to the interstellar realm of oblivion- a bottom drawer. In my work life I spend my whole day recommending books, proper paper books, and the tactile experience of reading,  and that really is where my heart lies.  I find it such a soulless experience reading on an electronic device , and more often than not just scan down the screen of text so I’m not actually taking in everything I read, which isn’t right for me, or fair to the authors whose work I’m trying to engage with. So from now on, it will be a very rare occurrence for me to read on an e-reader. Viva la book!

I also want to concentrate more on debuts, authors I have not reviewed before, and those strange quirky European delights- a shift of focus that began to a certain degree last year. I will probably post less on mainstream authors as I usually have to read the big new releases as part of my remit as a bookseller, and they are invariably very widely reviewed with a higher profile, whereas I do get a vicarious thrill out of discovering new crime authors and hollering about them. Looking at the next couple of months proof pile, there will be a plethora of debuts hitting this blog!  Obviously, I will still enjoy reading and reviewing  time with my old favourites. You know who you are….

And I have to make time to read more fiction. I had a spell last year where I read over 20 crime books back-to-back, neglecting my overflowing pile of fiction, and leading to a little bit of crime burn-out. There’s some brilliant fiction debuts winging their way to us over the next few months,  I’ll give you an early tip for Anatomy of a Soldier  by Harry Parker out in March- the only book that has ever reduced me to tears, and one of the most honest, harrowing and poignant depictions of war I have ever read. Also there’s some great rediscovered classics coming up for air. Currently in the thrall of Thomas Savage- The Power of the Dog from 1967 which is a sublime mash-up of Annie Proulx and Cormac McCarthy.

So, to January which was chockfull of blog tours, giveaways and some great reads:

BOOKS READ AND REVIEWED

Craig Robertson- In Place of Death

Kevin Wignall- A Death In Sweden

 Nadia Dalbuono- The American

 Ragnar Jonasson- Nightblind 

Tim Baker-Fever City  

Coffin Road book jacketI also read and largely enjoyed Peter May- Coffin Road– a return to the wild outposts of Scotland, with an interesting commentary on the environmental havoc we are waging on our bee populations, alongside an intriguing plotline involving murder and memory loss. Although I didn’t think it was quite as strong as some of his previous books, a Peter May on an offish day is still a delight.

aaaDavid Mark’s Dead Pretty saw a series going from strength to strength, and it is always a delight to spend time in the company of freckled faced detective Aector McAvoy in Humberside. Although I was slightly discombobulated by one of his main characters acting so far out of character, as to be almost unrecognisable, Mark has once again produced an emotional and engaging rollercoaster of a police procedural.

51x9Zv9I5-L__SX323_BO1,204,203,200_And of course, Stuart MacBride’s In The Cold Dark Ground the 10th outing for the wonderful Logan ‘Lazarus’  Macrae and his ex-boss the acid-tongued DCI Steel. Pathos, violence and humour all the way, and always a pleasure, never a chore.

RAVEN’S BOOK OF THE MONTH

theamericanAs I have genuinely enjoyed every book I reviewed this month, this was yet again a tough choice, but Nadia Dalbuono- The American has triumphed. With a  compelling and quixotic central police protagonist, shifting timelines and locations, and interesting commentary on the nefarious and corrupt grip of the Vatican and the CIA,  this intricately researched and gripping tale was an intelligent and hugely satisfying read. Highly recommended and an early contender for the end of the year Top 5.

 

 

Kevin Wignall- A Death In Sweden

oRDkfvQySUDan Hendricks is a man in need of a lifeline. A former CIA operative, he is now an agent for hire by foreign powers on the hunt for dangerous fugitives. It’s a lethal world at the best of times, and Dan knows his number is almost up. His next job could be his last—and his next job is his biggest yet.

The target sounds trackable enough: Jacques Fillon, who gave up his life trying to save a fellow passenger following a bus crash in northern Sweden. But the man was something of an enigma in this rural community, and his death exposes his greatest secret: Jacques Fillon never existed at all.

Dan is tasked with uncovering Fillon’s true identity—but can he do so before his own past catches up with him?

I have the ‘dubious’ pleasure of knowing Mr Wignall, so as he thrust a copy of this into my hand with an entirely understated personal dedication…

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how could I refuse to read and review it? And I did indeed ‘quite like it’.

Oh.

That’s not enough really is it?

You want to know more?

Okay.

With its intriguing opening centring on a bus crash in Sweden, Wignall then envelops us in a tale of a deniable CIA operative on the run, with a truly international feel as the story effortlessly pivots across different locations,  and many moments of betrayal and mortal peril. There is a tightness and simplicity to the writing that will utterly suck you in, the evidence of this being that I pretty much read this in one sitting, completely hooked on the pace and plot twists that come at you with an alarming rate. Wignall always demonstrates a heightened sense of the visual in his books, and there is a real screenwriter’s feel to the book throughout, which proves priceless to engaging the reader’s attention. I also liked the host of contradictions that lay within the character of Dan Hendricks himself, a man shaped by the less savoury activities of his professional life as a CIA operative with particularly dark abilities, but who when seeing former associates systematically eliminated to protect some dangerous secrets, exhibits a degree of nobility seemingly at odds with his dispassionate attitude to life and death. This raises some interesting questions on the issue of morality, and thus enables Wignall to raise the book above the normal narrative of a conspiracy thriller. The dialogue is sharp and punchy throughout (again adding to the overall pace of the book) and there’s a more than satisfying quotient of violence as the plot progresses, and the extent of the conspiracy against Hendricks unveils itself.

I quite liked it. Think you will too.

(With thanks to the author for the review copy)

 

 

 

A Raven’s Eye View of CrimeFest 2015- with added hilarity…

bHaving posted an eminently sensible round-up of some of the highlights of CrimeFest 2015 at Crime Fiction Lover  including the terrific interview by Lee Child of Scandinavian crime legend Maj Sjowall, the announcement of a plethora of awards, and some fascinating debut novelists’ panels, I thought it would be fun to share a few of the more light-hearted moments to entertain you. I endeavoured to attend as many panels as possible to bring you some more highlights. Hope you enjoy…

#1. A large percentage of the Icelandic population believe in elves, and in precise statistical terms there are on average 1.5 murders a year. Yes, 1.5…. The elves are invariably convicted.

ONLINE REVIEWS: One panel was asked to bring along to their event, their favourite 1* review posted online. Inevitably “the book arrived late” or “the courier dumped it in my next door neighbour’s garden” featured, but my personal favourite was “I wouldn’t even give it to the charity shop”….

#2. One author revealed he has a ‘f**k radar’, to judge the potential response of the assembled throng to potential profanity….

GETTING PUBLISHED: There was a terrific selection of Fresh Blood panels, featuring debut authors, with an incredibly interesting collection of tales about the road to publication. Blood, sweat and tears (and more) featured heavily, but the general consensus was DON’T GIVE UP, the road may be difficult but the end result cannot be beaten, and you will not regret it. The fact that I’ve come back with a list of debut authors to read now is testament to this.

#3 It was possible during WW2 to steer a certain make of Russian tank with your feet resting them on another person’s shoulders. Bet not many of you knew that….but why would you?

THE MOST HILARIOUS PANEL: CFIwGa_WYAAjsMG Moderated by bon vivant crime and YA author Kevin Wignall, I had a feeling that this one would be full of laughs. Stepping bravely into the breach were A. K. Benedict, J. F. Penn, Oscar de Muriel Mark Roberts to talk about Things That Go Bump In The Night– the blending of crime with the supernatural. Peppered with probing questions such as ‘Do you have pets and what are their names?’ accrued from Wignall’s children’s events, and the left field responses particularly from the quirky Roberts, this panel quickly descended into comic chaos. Rest assured though, we did find out enough about the panellists’ passion for the supernatural to seek out their books, and a round of applause to them all for the entertainment!

#4. It is recommended to do one hour of yoga before your first CrimeFest appearance to calm your thoughts…(or even before attending one of Kevin Wignall’s panels- see above)

THE MOST CONTENTIOUS PANEL: There was an extremely feisty discussion at the Playing God With Your Characters panel comprising of Stav Sherez, Amanda Jennings, David Mark and Linda Regan, moderated by Christine Poulson. When discussing how your characters’ voices and actions dictate how they appear in the plot, we were taken on a strange flight of fancy about how the characters appeared to be real in one case with no control over them whatsoever, pitted against the more down to earth opinion that you control your characters, and use their characteristics to drive and inhabit the central plot. It got a little heated, until tactfully diffused by another member of the panel.  But we loved it. As did, I suspect, others on the panel too.

#4. You could be routinely called upon to hold the reins of a police horse while the officers nip into the venue to use the facilities…

FANGIRL MOMENTS: I’m sure that most attendees had a list of authors that they were bursting to meet, but equally to retain a certain decorum in the face of those that you particularly admire. No squealing. So, in this spirit, can I say a personal thank you to Anthony Quinn, Tom Callaghan, Grant Nicol, Thomas Mogford, Steve Cavanagh and William Shaw, amongst others, for their good-natured and friendly response at being cornered by me trying not to gush about how brilliant they all are. Thank you chaps! (Be sure to check out my reviews in the Reviews 2014/15 tabs).

#5. Crime authors drink..a lot…

HEARTWARMING MOMENTS: CFIdK0GWYAAG0jmIn the interview with Lee Child there wasn’t a dry eye in the house when Maj Sjowall spoke so movingly about the loss of Per Wahloo, and how her writing could not continue without his presence in her life. Also the refreshing wide-eyed and humble response of Ragnar Jonasson at gaining the No. 1 spot in the Amazon book chart, during the festival, for his exceptional debut Snow Blind. It was a delight to witness, and congratulations. On a personal note, I would like to thank William Ryan (I tip my hat to you sir!) , David Mark, Quentin Bates (great curry!), Stav Sherez (have I met you?!), Simon Toyne, Steve Mosby and others for remembering me, and greeting me like an old friend, despite not having seen them all for a while. Likewise, the warm glow of meeting up with fellow bloggers old and new, made for an entertaining and thoroughly enjoyable time. We rock! And finally, the hardiness of the Icelandic contingent in the face of a 4am flight from Bristol on Sunday morning, and lasting so long in the bar on Saturday night.

Lastly, a big thanks to the organizers, authors, publishers, bloggers and readers for one of the best CrimeFests to date. It was a blast, and if you’re a crime fiction fan and you’ve not been, you should. You’ll love it. Piqued your interest? Visit the CrimeFest website here

Kevin Wignall- For The Dogs

Product DetailsWith the news that ‘For The Dogs’ is now making its way to the big screen after a long hiatus since the film rights were picked up, I thought I would take the opportunity to post a quick review of this excellent thriller. Before his current success as a YA writer in the guise of K.J. Wignall (the vampire Mercian Trilogy: Blood, Alchemy and Death), Wignall was a pretty damn nifty crime writer, and is still a regular participant at UK crime festivals. Personally speaking, I think that ‘For The Dogs’ is one of his best in which we see a young woman, Ella, seeking revenge for the seemingly needless slaughter of her family in what looks a traditional gangland hit. Enlisting the help of the mysterious enforcer Lewis, who has been tasked by her late father to protect her, we follow Ella’s descent into her own personal hell as her thirst for revenge utterly consumes her. Lewis is battling with demons of his own, having been estranged from his former partner and daughter through the demands of being an ice-cold killer. He undergoes a metamorphosis during the course of the novel as he reassesses the brutality of his former actions and where he is in his life now, yet when he is needed most seeks to support Ella in her mission. In terms of characterisation it cannot be faulted as Wignall injects an equal amount of sympathy for both Ella and Lewis, whilst revealing the more unpleasant aspects of their ‘true’ natures. The novel has a very ‘European’ feel to it not only in terms of the locations used, but in the overall tone and pace of the story. More is said almost by what is left unsaid and the whole pace and emotion of the narrative lends itself more to a niche foreign language film, so will be interested to see how it emerges at the hands of a big screen production. I would definitely recommend reading the original (although a little difficult to source at the moment- I bought my copy from the US) before seeing the film, as the book would be hugely enjoyable for fans of the ‘European’ crime noir.

Visit the author’s website here: http://www.kevinwignall.com/

Other crime titles by Kevin Wignall:

Who Is Conrad Hirst?People Die

Sam Worthington has  signed on to star in the upcoming thriller For the Dogs, it has been  announced.
The 36-year-old star will play an assassin hired by a college  girl to target the murderers of her family.

Sam Worthington photographed in June 2012

© Rex Features / Alan Pryke / Newspix

The film,  written by The Messenger writer Oren Moverman, will be directed by Salt‘s Phillip Noyce and is based on the novel by Kevin Wignall.
Worthington will also be producing the  film in collaboration with FilmEngine and Full Clip Productions.