April 2015 Round- Up and Raven’s Book of the Month

_DSC0185 (Common Raven)Need to take a breath after the cut and thrust of a busy month of reading, reviewing, and blog touring! Started the month with Joanna Briscoe talking about her new book Touched, a quick stop on the blog tour for Graeme Cameron’s quirky crime thriller Normal, an extract from Liz Nugent’s Highsmith inspired debut Unravelling Oliver, a cover reveal for Tim J. Lebbon’s The Hunt, a birthday bash for Lisbeth Salander from Stieg Larsson’s Millennium trilogy, and a guest post by M. J. Carter celebrating the release of The Infidel Stain. All accompanied by a great month’s reading, which has given me an incredibly tricky dilemma for nominating my book of the month. May is sure to be an equally busy month as there are four blog tours on the horizon, my annual outing to the brilliant CrimeFest event in Bristol, and a teetering stack of review copies in need of some serious reading. Can’t wait…

Books read and reviewed:

Graeme Cameron- Normal

Helen Giltrow- The Distance

Thomas Mogford- Sleeping Dogs (www.crimefictionlover.com)

Bernard Aichner- Woman of the Dead

Bill Daly- Double Mortice (www.crimefictionlover.com)

Liz Nugent- Unravelling Oliver

Tod Goldberg- Gangsterland

Anna Jaquiery- Death In The Rainy Season

Dolores Redondo-The Invisible Guardian

Mark Henshaw-The Snow Kimono

Raven’s Book(s) of the Month

berEven stevens, level pegging and totally impossible to decide between aredeath Bernhard Aichner’s gritty and spare Woman of the Dead, alongside Anna Jacquiery’s Death In The Rainy Season, an evocative and emotional follow up to her accomplished debut The Lying Down Room. Two very different reading experiences for different reasons, but both completely compelling and thought provoking. European crime fiction at its finest…

Liz Nugent- Unravelling Oliver

9780241965641With the current trend in domestic noir exerting a firm grip on the crime genre at the moment, I must confess that I have started and failed to finish a number of recent offerings. Having recently taken part in the blog tour for Unravelling Oliver  by Liz Nugent, my interest was, however, piqued by this one, reading the first chapter over five days on five blogs. Billed as being similar in style to both Patricia Highsmith and Barbara Vine (two authors that I admire greatly) I did embark on this book with some excitement, so how did it fare?

The book opens with a snapshot of a violent attack by a husband, successful children’s author, Oliver Ryan on his docile wife Alice, who illustrates his aforementioned books. Their marriage has seemingly been one of relative comfort and bliss, so how on earth can such a violent event have come to pass? The novel then takes us back through five decades to chart the events of Oliver’s life, leading up to this point, through his own eyes, and through the viewpoint of other people he encounters along the way. As we become immersed in the formative years and experiences of Oliver Ryan, it turns out that there is much more to him than Alice or others have ever seen, and as his past catches up with him, will we ever truly unravel the mystery of Oliver?

This is a relatively slim read, so much so that I read the book in two sittings, but what Nugent so effectively does throughout the book, is make it practically impossible to put down. With the changing narrative voices, each melds seamlessly together, revealing the mercurial Oliver as a human prism, of different moods and motivations, so you are practically champing at the bit to find out piece by piece as to how his character has been shaped by events. There is a glorious sense of claustrophobia to Nugent’s authorial style, so reminiscent of both Highsmith and Vine, so this comparison is more than justified. Nugent subtly manipulates our perception of Oliver throughout, both in her characterisation of him, and in the reportage of other more empathetic characters that provide a deeper insight into his psyche. The story pivots between Ireland and France (the scene of some particularly unsettling events) as the story of Oliver develops, sweeping us effortlessly from one location to the other. This provides an opportunity for us to see Oliver from all sides be it through his unsettled childhood, his life as a relatively carefree graduate, and his later success as an ostensibly happily married man with a solid career as an author. As each delineation of his life unfolds, with a good dose of human tragedy, his disregard for the feelings of others (particularly potent in his ‘stealing’ of Alice from all round good-egg Barney), and a strong sense of psychopathic leanings in his psyche, Oliver is revealed as a fascinating character, and sure to manipulate your sympathies. The novel also providing an intriguing exploration of the old adage of nature vs nurture, as the harsh reality of Oliver’s gradually familial connections come to light.

I think Liz Nugent is to be congratulated in producing such a well formed, compelling and utterly intriguing psychological thriller, little wonder that reviewers everywhere have been so effusive in their praise. The assured narrative, the engaging cast of characters, the seamless changes of location, and a series of perfectly well-placed reveals, leads to an immensely satisfying read. I heartily recommend this one…

 

Blog Tour- Liz Nugent- Unravelling Oliver- #MeetOliver – Extract 3

CCI0PtgW4AA3BbkIt’s day three of the special ‘Meet Oliver’ blog tour, which gives readers the chance to sample the first chapter of Liz Nugent’s debut crime thriller, Unravelling Oliver, across five blogs in five days.  Following on from yesterday’s extract at Keith B Walters’ site, the story continues here, with the next extract tomorrow at  The Welsh Librarian …

“My wife had finally brought out the worst in me. It was most unexpected. I had always been fond of her, in my way. She was a marvellous cook, for example, after all the gourmet cuisine courses I made sure she attended. Also, she could be very athletic in bed, which was nice. It is terribly sad to think of such things now, considering her current state.

We met at the launch of a book she had illustrated back in 1982. My agent wanted me to meet her with a view to her doing the illustrations for a children’s book I had written that he was pushing around to publishers. I resisted the idea of illustrations initially. They would just distract from my text, I thought, but my agent, I admit it, was right. The drawings made my books far more marketable. We were introduced and I like to think there was an immediate . . . something. Spark is not the right word, but an acknowledgement of sorts. Some people call that love at first sight. I am not so naïve.

Neither of us was in the first flush of youth. Both in our late twenties, I think. But she was lovely in a soft way. I liked her quietness and she made few or no demands on me. She just accepted whatever attention I gave her, and then withdrew into the background without complaint when I did not require her presence.

The wedding happened very quickly. There was nothing to be gained by hanging about. Her frail mother and half-witted brother stood behind us at the altar. No family on my side, of course. We didn’t bother with the palaver

of a hotel reception. We had a rowdy meal in a city-centre bistro owned by a former college friend, Michael. Barney was there. Back then I quite liked him. He was very emotional at the wedding, more than anybody else. One couldn’t blame him, I suppose.

We rented a spacious flat in Merrion Square for a few years. I insisted on a big place because I needed privacy to write. I can only write behind a locked door.

Those were good times. We made a bit of money when nobody else did. It made financial sense that we would collaborate on what was becoming quite a successful series. During the day we would retreat to our separate corners to work. Me, producing my books. She, cleverly matching pictures to my words. She was good at it too. Her work flattered mine appropriately.

I became quite well known as a critic and occasional scribe for the weekend newspapers and for an infrequent guest spot on televised chat shows. In those days, everyone was more discreet and low key about their achievements, their successes. Not like current times – I can’t tell you how often in the last decade I was approached about partaking in a ‘reality’ show. Heaven forbid. Alice avoided all of that, which suited me really. She did not like the limelight and she underestimated her own contribution to the success of my books, insisting that my work was more important, that she was just a doodler. She was timid and didn’t even want it known that we were a husband and wife team in case she would be ‘forced on to the telly’. Rather sweet, and it meant that for a lot of the time I could continue my life as a seemingly single man. It had its rewards. Truthfully, she could not have been a better helpmate….”

 

9780241965641Liz Nugent’s gripping novel of psychological suspense, Unravelling Oliver, is a complex and elegant study of the making of a sociopath in the tradition of Barbara Vine and Patricia Highsmith.

Oliver Ryan is a handsome and charismatic success story. He lives in the suburbs with his wife, Alice, who illustrates his award-winning children’s books and gives him her unstinting devotion. Their life together is one of enviable privilege and ease – enviable until, one evening after supper, Oliver attacks Alice and beats her into a coma.

In the aftermath, as everyone tries to make sense of his astonishing act of savagery, Oliver tells his story. So do those whose paths he has crossed over five decades. What unfolds is a story of shame, envy, breath-taking deception and masterful manipulation.

Only Oliver knows the lengths to which he has had to go to get the life to which he felt entitled. But even he is in for a shock when the past catches up with him.

Liz Nugent has worked in Irish film, theatre and television for most of her adult life. She is an award-winning writer of radio and television drama and has written short stories for children and adults. Unravelling Oliver is her first novel. Visit her website here and join in the chat on Twitter #meetoliver