Raven’s August Round Up and Books of the Month…

It’s been a while since I did one of these, but having returned to work post-furlough, at the start of August, and my reading and reviewing time now depleted again, this may become a regular feature once more! Mainly, this will be to capture all the books I have read during the month, even if I haven’t had the time to review them, so there will still be lots for you to discover, I hope, so you can beat a path to your local bookshop’s door, either virtually or physically. September heralds the start of a pretty intense publishing period so there will be many books vying for our attention. I, for one, cannot wait!!

So I’ve managed to review just the five books this month:  

Chris Carter- Written In Blood

Will Carver- Hinton Hollow Death Trip

Steve Cavanagh- Fifty Fifty

J. J. Connolly- Layer Cake

Lin Anderson- The Innocent Dead

Almost certainly one of these books will be making an appearance in my Top Ten of the Year, and it was lovely revisiting Layer Cake on the 20th anniversary of its original publication. 

Although I have picked up and put down more than a few overly hyped duffers this month, I have supplemented my crime reading with both fiction and non-fiction this month, which has made a nice change. Was absolutely blown away by Doug Stuart’s Shuggie Bain, really enjoyed Silvia Moreno Garcia’s Mexican Gothic and communing with nature with Helen MacDonald’s Vesper Flights.

However, I absolutely cannot let this round up go by without drawing your attention to quite possibly the two best books I have read this year. I don’t know about other bloggers but sometimes I love a book so much that I feel I cannot do it justice in one of my meandering, waffling reviews, so I’m going to keep it simple (see below) and say that if I do not read another book this year, the memory of these two will hold me in good stead for some time. Yes folks, they are that good…

Have a good month and keep safe, keep sane everybody!

Blacktop Wasteland: the searing crime thriller Lee Child calls 'sensationally good' Kindle EditionBeauregard “Bug” Montage: honest mechanic, loving husband, devoted parent. He’s no longer the criminal he once was – the sharpest wheelman on the east coast, infamous from the hills of North Carolina to the beaches of Florida. But when his respectable life begins to crumble, a shady associate comes calling with a clean, one-time job: a diamond heist promising a get-rich pay out. Inexorably drawn to the driver’s seat – and haunted by the ghost of his outlaw father – Bug is yanked back into a savage world of bullets and betrayal, which soon endangers all he holds dear…

Blacktop Wasteland completely embodies for me what I adore about the cream of American crime fiction- sharp, sassy and superbly written. Think Mosley melded with Winslow by way of Cain. Set in rural Virginia, and echoing the cadence, rhythm and colloquialisms of the speech throughout, this book is at once incredibly high octane and gripping, but underscored by moments of supreme emotion and pathos. Not only is Bug one of the most mesmerising and textured protagonists that I have encountered for some time, but he encapsulates a mass of contradictions as he navigates the thin line between legality and criminality. As he periodically looks back to his former years with his estranged father, and how he himself now wears the mantle of husband, father and son (his elderly mom is an absolute gem of a character too) Bug is revealed to be a complex man with his own brand of morality, but fundamentally decent at heart. Sometimes good men need to do bad things to protect what they love most. This mental struggle that Bug grapples with is tinged with a razor sharp poignancy, and completely immerses the reader in his troubles, and his increasingly pressurised decisions on what to do next.

The action sequences related to the heists are absolutely pounding and filled with an intensity rarely seen outside a visual portrayal of these events, and I applaud Cosby for getting across through words alone the speed and heart-stopping danger of these fast and furious action scenes. Heart -pounding and heart-wrenching this book totally deserves the huge amount of praise thrust upon it so far. S. A. Cosby, on the strength of this book, and his previous work which I have also gobbled up, is destined to be a standout name in American crime fiction for some time to come, and amen to that.

A damn perfect read, and very highly recommended.

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Three-Fifths: 'So incredibly suspenseful' Attica Locke
Pittsburgh, 1995. Twenty-two-year-old Bobby Saraceno is a biracial man, passing for white. Bobby has hidden his identity from everyone, even his best friend and fellow comic-book geek, Aaron, who just returned from prison a newly radicalized white supremacist. During the night of their reunion, Bobby witnesses Aaron mercilessly assault a young black man with a brick. In the wake of this horrifying act of violence, Bobby must conceal his unwitting involvement in the crime from the police, as well as battle his own personal demons…

Although not published in the UK until October, I wanted to draw your collective attention to Three Fifths as soon as possible. This seemingly simple synopsis disguises a work of such intensity and emotion that it will rattle around your mind, and intrude on your thoughts for days after reading it. Despite a relatively slim page count, this book embraces such big powerful themes, that it’s pared down style intensifies to the absolute max. The reader is taken on a poignant and disturbing ride through the ills of urban America and the racial tension that has always blighted America and led to continuing division and disparity.

As two young men try to recover their close ties of friendship, after separation, Vercher depicts their individual frustrations and growing antipathy with a clear and unflinching honesty, that will move and shock in equal measure. There are stark revelations for both, with Bobby trying to keep a solid home for himself and his alcoholic mother, and then being confronted by a blast from the past which turns his world upside down. The shocking details of Aaron’s incarceration, his indoctrination in white supremacy and the simmering violence within him that spills over on his release, is so deftly portrayed that the reader is torn between distaste, and yet an innate sympathy for him. I was genuinely breathless and deeply moved at the end of this one with its bleak denouement, but an utterly necessary one. Few books move me to tears, but there was a definite’ oh there’s something in my eye’ moment at the close of this. Three Fifths is astonishing, important, hugely poignant and very highly recommended.

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#BlogTour- Lin Anderson- The Innocent Dead “The strong characterisation and Anderson’s skill in bringing the forensic science to the fore of the book, whilst never losing sight of the need for a well-structured and engaging procedural is very effective indeed.”

Mary McIntyre’s disappearance tore the local community apart, inflicting wounds that still prove raw for those who knew her. So when the present-day discovery of a child’s remains are found in a peat bog south of Glasgow, it seems the decades-old mystery may finally be solved. Called in to excavate the body, forensic scientist Rhona MacLeod uses the advances made in forensic science since Mary’s vanishing to determine what really happened all those years ago and who was responsible. One key person had been Karen Marshall who was devastated by her best friend’s abduction. Questioned by the police at the time had led to a dead end and the case soon went cold. Now the news of the discovered body brings the nightmares back. But added to that, memories long-buried by Karen are returning, memories that begin to reveal her role in her friend’s disappearance and perhaps even the identity of the killer…

Welcome to the latest stop on the blog tour for The Innocent Dead by Lin Anderson, the latest addition to the Rhona MacLeod series. It has seemed an age since I last read a book in this series, so it was good to catch up with MacLeod and her cohorts once more…

The absolute lynchpin of this series to date is the character of the forensic scientist Rhona MacLeod herself, who has carved an extremely successful and varied career in her chosen field. With the continuing reverberations of her last case, neatly detailed within this book by Anderson, she seems to be back on track and back in control, when this testing case of a crime committed forth five years previously, lands at her door. MacLeod sets about it with her usual professionalism and flair for weeding out those tricky inconsistencies in the evidence, working closely with her police colleagues to reveal the intricacies of these nefarious crime and to zone in on the perpetrator. What I like most about MacLeod is that, her professional career aside, is her refusal to conform to the norm. She has a sense of fun, that had been eroded somewhat by her previous case, but now seems to be back with style, and her personal life is conducted very much on her terms, with no fixed relationships. With her estranged son firmly back in life, and his arse of a father still treated by her with the strongest contempt, this provides an interesting view into what makes her tick, and how she has overcome personal adversity in her life.

DS Michael McNab provides a good counterbalance to MacLeod, their previous personal entanglement aside, being on the surface a bit of an un-reconstructed man, with his love of bikes and a roving eye. However, Anderson really scratches beneath the surface, and we begin to see a more insecure and sensitive side to his character, that you would be forgiven for thinking didn’t exist at all. Still reeling and resentful from his demotion due to the last case  that he and MacLeod worked on, he has a lot to prove if he can get past this resentment and apply himself. His character heralds some nice touches of humour within the book, and with MacLeod’s lab assistant Chrissy McInsh being an absolute hoot, this further lightens the dark investigation they are all involved with.

Although the book could be tagged as a linear police procedural, Anderson’s attention to, and research of, the forensic detail really adds some meat to the bones of the plot. Dealing with an historic murder and a difficult kill site, it is fascinating how modern methods of forensic science so effectively uncover details and evidence from the past. I loved the passages detailing the forensic procedures, the drawing on the work of other branches of forensic and psychological detection, and how with good solid police investigation a community begins to unlock its secrets, and confronts the sins of the past, where previously silence and denial were the rule of thumb.

As I said previously, it’s been a while since I read this series, but The Innocent Dead has certainly ignited my interest  to backtrack to the previous few books. There were a few developments that have happened, that I had missed along the way, and I’m now curious about. The strong characterisation and Anderson’s skill in bringing the forensic science to the fore of the book, whilst never losing site of the need for a well-structured and engaging procedural is very effective indeed. Recommended.

(With thanks to Macmillan for the ARC)

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