A Reading Round Up- Clare Carson- The Canary Keeper/ Rob Hart- The Warehouse/ Laura Sims- Looker/ Neil Broadfoot- No Man’s Land/ Becky Chambers- To Be Taught, If Fortunate

Time for another quick round up as the ‘I’ve read these’ mountain continues to grow, but time for reviewing decreases for a little while. Although not going the whole hog with a reviewing spreadsheet, (the pinnacle of blogging time management), plans are afoot for some better time organisation, so hopefully will be up to full speed soon as I’ve read a host of excellent books of late. Anyway, let’s get to it and hope you enjoy this eclectic mix of recent reads…

Clare Carson- The Canary Keeper: London, 1855. In the grey mist of the early morning a body is dumped on the shore of the Thames by a boatman in a metal canoe. The city is soon alive with talk of the foreign killer and his striking accomplice: a young woman dressed in widow’s weeds. Branna ‘Birdie’ Quinn’s sleeplessness led her to the river that morning, but was it only thoughts of her drowned husband that kept her awake? She has always been wilful, haughty, different… but is she a murderess? To clear her name, Birdie must retrace the dead man’s footsteps to Orkney and the far north. A dangerous journey for a woman alone, but one she must make in order to save her neck from the hangman’s noose…

A definite change of direction and style from one of my favourite authors, and despite not being a massive reader of historical crime fiction, I enjoyed this book very much indeed. The story traverses between 19th century London and Orkney, and opening with the discovery of a dead man on the fetid shore of the River Thames, Carson immediately places us firmly in the feel and atmosphere of this burgeoning city.

As with her previous series, Carson once again demonstrates her intuitive and precise approach to scene setting, and as we journey with Birdie to the remote reaches of Scotland, as she flees a trumped up murder charge, Carson cleverly draws comparisons between the claustrophobic intensity of le in a teeming city, and that of a small coastal community. Carson also expands the story significantly to draw on the story of the ill-fated journey of William Franklin to Canada and beyond, and having recently read Michael Palin’s book Erebus, about Franklin and his exploration, it was really satisfying to have an overlap in the realms of fiction and fact, demonstrating again Carson’s attention to detail and her skilful interweaving of the plain facts into incredibly readable fiction.  Aside from the historical accuracy and sense of time and place, Carson creates in Birdie a truly empathetic and brave protagonist. From the familiar surroundings of her life in London, this determined and feisty girl embarks on a journey of discovery, not only to a completely alien community, but on her own mission to unmask a murderer and clear her name. Again, Carson adroitly mixes a commentary on the patriarchal nature of the time and how women’s lives are defined and shaped by their correlation to such an ardently male society, but cleverly pushes a subtext of how women can escape from, or manipulate this overarching definition of 19th century society. Indeed, the female characters within the book all demonstrate this inner will to defy and challenge the patriarchal norm, and exhibit a strength of character that is to be admired, despite the perilous situation that Birdie amongst others find themselves in.

There is always a slight flicker of tension, but also anticipation when an author you admire decides to travel a different path with their writing. However, my fears were quickly assuaged and Carson has only succeeded further in endearing myself to her writing, her superlative plotting, characterisation, and her innate ability to thoroughly immerse her reader in the world she presents. Highly recommended.

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Rob Hart- The Warehouse: Amidst the wreckage of America, Cloud reigns supreme. Cloud brands itself not just as an online storefront, but as a global saviour. Yet, beneath the sunny exterior, lurks something far more sinister. Paxton never thought he’d be working Security for the company that ruined his life, much less that he’d be moving into one of their sprawling live-work facilities. But compared to what’s left outside, perhaps Cloud isn’t so bad. Better still, through his work he meets Zinnia, who fills him with hope for their shared future. Except that Zinnia is not what she seems. And Paxton, with his all-access security credentials, might just be her meal ticket. As Paxton and Zinnia’s agendas place them on a collision course, they’re about to learn just how far the Cloud will go to make the world a better place. To beat the system, you have to be inside it…

As a person employed in the increasingly fragile bricks and mortar bookselling trade, I have my own axe to grind about the almost world domination of a certain online retailer. Consequently, I felt honour bound to read this fictional critique of the world of globally powerful organisations that control, monitor and manipulate our shopping habits. I absolutely loved this clever and inventive thriller set in the world of Cloud, that bears more than a passing resemblance to the all powerful corporations currently strangling free enterprise, and consumer choice across the globe. Within the Cloud all workers are monitored, corralled and totally controlled, so although they have the dubious honour of a job where millions don’t, Hart constructs an interesting analysis of this grand manipulation of the workforce, and how easily these people can find their services dispensed with. Indeed, this world that Hart has constructed is scary in the extreme, as elements of it already exist in certain workplaces, and to be honest some of the other indignities that the workers suffer are all too easy to imagine coming to pass as the years progress. As each layer of scurrilous corporate behaviour is revealed, Hart has produced not only a tense, nerve shredding thriller, but a damning indictment on the world of big business, that will strike a chord with most people I’m sure who care about the evils of certain areas of global capitalism.

However, before you begin to think that this is all a bit preachy and big business bad, free enterprise good, Hart has actually produced a damn fine, unsettling and nerve shredding thriller, that will appeal to most readers of dystopian fiction. This is Nineteen Eighty-Four for contemporary times, whilst not losing the thrust of the thriller form, with action, suspense and pace beautifully controlled throughout. Both Paxton and Zinnia are compelling characters, and I really liked the way that Hart builds their relationship and depicts their sharply contrasting experience of life within the Cloud. Zinnia’s militancy is superb from the get go and she is a total firebrand, set against Paxton’s slowly growing awareness of the suppression of the corporation, and the ethical dilemmas he proceeds to do battle with.  This is certainly one of the most tightly plotted and clever dystopian thrillers that I have read for some time, and a grim reflection on the all too recognisable power of the virtual retailing world. Highly recommended.

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Laura Sims- Looker: The Professor lives in Brooklyn; her partner Nathan left her when she couldn’t have a baby. All she has now is her dead-end teaching job, her ramshackle apartment, and Nathan’s old moggy, Cat. Who she doesn’t even like. The Actress lives a few doors down. She’s famous and beautiful, with auburn hair, perfect skin, a lovely smile. She’s got children – a baby, even. And a husband who seems to adore her. She leaves her windows open, even at night. There’s no harm, the Professor thinks, in looking in through the illuminated glass at that shiny, happy family, fantasizing about them, drawing ever closer to the actress herself. Or is there?

A slim but ultimately satisfying read, very much in the territory of Notes On A Scandal, but with a nod to the familiar creeping unease of writer like Patricia Highsmith. This is  an intense and claustrophobic read, depicting the maelstrom of envy and covetousness that one woman exhibits, as she studies the seeming perfect life and family of ‘The Actress’ who lives in her street. As the intensity of her scrutiny and jealousy increases, Sims ramps up the transition of  The Professor from her initially emotionally wounded and depressed state into something increasingly akin to a Hitchcock thriller, as she slowly makes inroads into ingratiating herself into The Actress’ life. I read this pretty much in one sitting, and would suggest that this is the perfect way to approach this book to really get the full experience of the increasingly creed unsettling tale that Sims unfolds. Although I found the ending a little disconcerting, for the most part I enjoyed the book, and how Sims carefully manipulates our empathy and relationship with this woman on her descent to irrational behaviour, and how emotional trauma can take an individual on a strange and troubling path in their lives. Recommended.

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Neil Broadfoot- No Man’s Land: War is coming to No-Man’s Land, and Connor Fraser will be ready. A mutilated body is found dumped at Cowane’s Hospital in the heart of historic Stirling. For DCI Malcolm Ford it’s like nothing he’s every seen before, the savagery of the crime making him want to catch the murderer before he strikes again. For reporter Donna Blake it’s a shot at the big time, a chance to get her career back on track and prove all the doubters wrong. But for close protection specialist Connor Fraser it’s merely a grisly distraction from the day job. But then a bloodied and broken corpse is found, this time in the shadow of the Wallace Monument – and with it, a message. One Connor has received before, during his time as a police officer in Belfast. With Ford facing mounting political and public pressure to make an arrest and quell fears the murders are somehow connected to heightened post-Brexit tensions, Connor is drawn into a race against time to stop another murder. But to do so, he must question old loyalties, confront his past and unravel a mystery that some would sacrifice anything – and anyone – to protect.

Neil Broadfoot is a consistently excellent crime writer and I have read many of his books, so all the signs were there that this would be a cracking good read- and so it proved to be. What I like about Broadfoot’s books is the less linear and more complex plotting that he employs, tackling big themes but never losing sight of the fact that his characters caught up in these webs of deceit need to be credible. In Connor Fraser, ex police officer and now security specialist, Broadfoot has has come up trumps, marrying the image of the tough guy with a more cerebral edge, similar to genre stalwart Jack Reacher. Fraser is a character that will appeal equally to men and women, and supported by another great character in the shape of female journalist Donna Blake, who proves an excellent foil for him but also being a likeable and determined protagonist in her own right. Broadfoot slowly fleshes out both his principal characters, putting them through the wringer, but not afraid to balance their more dangerous experiences with some good character analysis, particularly Blake balancing her compulsion for career advancement with the attendant difficulties of being a single mother. As the story segues between Fraser’s former experiences in Northern Ireland, and a series of pretty visceral and inventive murder around Stirling, Scotland. Broadfoot keeps the action flowing, as a dark conspiracy comes to light, affording Broadfoot the opportunity to put a more socio- political slant on the main plot, which resonates with the troubled times we currently find ourselves in. Very pleased to report that the first of this new series augurs well for further books, and there will be much to enjoy from Broadfoot in the future. Highly recommended for thriller lovers everywhere- it’s a damn good twisty one…

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81KAJMvXg5L__AC_UY218_ML3_Becky Chambers- To Be Taught, If Fortunate: At the turn of the twenty-second century, scientists make a breakthrough in human spaceflight. Through a revolutionary method known as somaforming, astronauts can survive in hostile environments off Earth using synthetic biological supplementations. They can produce antifreeze in sub-zero temperatures, absorb radiation and convert it for food, and conveniently adjust to the pull of different gravitational forces. With the fragility of the body no longer a limiting factor, human beings are at last able to explore neighbouring exoplanets long suspected to harbour life. Ariadne is one such explorer. On a mission to ecologically survey four habitable worlds fifteen light-years from Earth, she and her fellow crewmates sleep while in transit,  and wake each time with different features. But as they shift through both form and time, life back on Earth has also changed. Faced with the possibility of returning to a planet that has forgotten those who have left, Ariadne begins to chronicle the wonders and dangers of her journey, in the hope that someone back home might still be listening.

Well, here is a major revelation for everyone, but I have hardly ever read science fiction, and over the years I cannot recall ever finishing a book that I have idly picked up in this genre. I’ve always found this strange as I do have an abiding fascination with space and enjoy movies in this genre. Finding myself, book-less one lunchtime at work and drawn by the cover, I picked up a proof of this one. Between lunchtime and finishing the commute home, I had fair whipped through it, and was really pleasantly surprised to find that I thoroughly enjoyed my first foray back into this genre for some time. I obviously didn’t know a huge amount about Chambers started but was delighted to find out that her writing is informed by her own family’s involvement in the world of space, giving a glorious reality to the experiences of Chambers’ characters, and although speculative, sowing the seeds of possibility for generations to come. I loved this microcosm of humanity, with just four principal characters, and how they co-exist in such a compressed space, millions of miles and years away from home, and how we are given such an insight into their relationship with each other. I also liked the passion that each character exhibits for their own particular specialism be it geology or meteorology for example, and went into complete geek mode for the more intricate science that Chambers balances with her examination of these peoples’ lives, hopes, fears and thirst for discovery. Needless to say, I shall be seeking out other books by this author, and would like to extend a personal thank you for awakening a new interest in me for this genre- fortunately, I have been taught… Highly recommended.

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(Thanks to Head of Zeus for a copy of Clare Carson- The Canary Keeper, Bantam Press for  Rob Hart-The Warehouse, and Hodder for Becky Chambers- To Be Taught, If Fortunate. I bought Laura Sims- Looker and Neil Broadfoot- No Man’s Land)

 

 

 

***COVER REVEAL*** Amer Anwar- Brothers In Blood

brothers-in-blood-cover

 

WINNER OF THE CWA DEBUT DAGGER

THE MUST READ THRILLER OF 2018

A Sikh girl on the run.
A Muslim ex-con who has to find her.
A whole heap of trouble.

Southall, West London. After being released from prison, Zaq Khan is lucky to land a dead-end job at a builders’ yard. All he wants to do is keep his head down and put the past behind him.
But when Zaq is forced to search for his boss’s runaway daughter, he quickly finds himself caught up in a deadly web of deception, murder and revenge.
With time running out and pressure mounting, can Zaq find the missing girl before it’s too late? And if he does, can he keep her – and himself – alive long enough to deal with the people who want them both dead?

“An engaging hero, a cunning plot, and a fascinating journey into Southall’s underworld. We’ll be hearing a lot more from Amer Anwar.”

– Mick Herron

“A fine debut novel. With his engaging characters and skilful plotting, Anwar brings a fresh and exciting new voice to the genre.”
 Ann Cleeves

Raven’s review…

Winner of the CWA Debut Dagger Award, Brothers In Blood marks the start of an incredibly promising crime thriller writing career for Amer Anwar. This one of the most vibrant and edgy crime thrillers I have encountered for some time. From the very start of the book, I was completely immersed in the trials and tribulations of central protagonist Zaq Khan, who through the fickle finger of fate finds himself entangled in a very dangerous situation indeed. Subject to blackmail and intimidation, he is tasked with uncovering the whereabouts of his boss’s errant daughter, Rita, who has ostensibly run away from an impending forced marriage. Finding himself at odds with his boss, Rita’s two meat-headed brothers, and ghosts from the past seeking to inflict some serious physical damage upon him, Zaq needs to be resourceful, cunning and more than a little devious to survive this trial by fire…

Zaq is a truly likeable and engaging character, who immediately gets the reader on side with his mix of easy humour, craftiness, and genuine good guy demeanour. Anwar instils him with a honesty and charm that has you rooting for him from the outset, as pressure is brought to bear on him from all angles. He’s fast-talking and quick thinking, and despite the hole he finds himself in does not lose his keen sense of morality to extricate Rita, and by extension, himself, from a nasty situation.  I loved his interactions with his best mate Jags, and the solid camaraderie that exists between them, despite the twist in fate that sees their lives having progressed on two very different courses. I also admire Jags’ natural ability to act as a second mother to Zaq in terms of tea-making and painkiller providing as his mate gets into a succession of scrapes, and is always happy to play second fiddle to Zaq’s suicidal plans. This has to be one of the greatest friendships forged in crime fiction, and is a constant source of delight throughout. Anwar’s band of bad boys, out for Zaq’s blood are equally well depicted, slow, dull-witted, and handy with their fists, and allowing for some exciting and very well written fight scenes, where there is a realistic and palpable pain. There’s nothing worse than a fight scene where everyone is seemingly unmarked by the experience, and boy, does Zaq take some punishment.

Set around the environs of Southall and its Asian community, the life, colour, languages and atmosphere of this area shines through Anwar’s depiction of its inhabitants. The sights, sounds and delicious aromas of the area bring a vibrancy and liveliness to his descriptions, and gives the reader a real sense of the connections between our main protagonists and their community. The plotting is assured, and I liked the way that Anwar leads us in a seemingly linear direction, which is entertaining enough, but then pulls a couple of startling revelations that take the story in a different direction indeed. The pace is perfectly controlled, and I genuinely found this incredibly hard to put down, as it is punctuated by a glorious mix of fast visceral action, a dash of heart-warming interactions, a further sprinkling of violence and chicanery, and then a steady build up of misdirection to an exciting, and not altogether predictable ending.

I absolutely loved  Brothers In Blood, and having become a little jaded with the British-set crime thriller scene of late, this gave me a right old flying by the seat of my pants reading experience, which seemed fresh and exciting. A cracking new voice on the thriller scene, and yes, I can’t wait to see what Amer Anwar produces next. Pure brilliant and highly recommended.

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Amer Anwar grew up in West London. After leaving college he had a variety of jobs, including; warehouse assistant, comic book lettering artist, a driver for emergency doctors and chalet rep in the French Alps. He eventually landed a job as a creative artworker/graphic designer and spent the next decade and a half producing artwork, mainly for the home entertainment industry. He has an MA in Creative Writing from Birkbeck, University of London and is a winner of the Crime Writers’ Association Debut Dagger Award. Brothers In Blood is his first novel. For everything else, he has an alibi. It wasn’t him. He was never there.

Published by: Dialogue Books
Release date: 6th September 2018
Also available as ebook and audiobook.

Clare Carson- The Dark Isle

Sam grew up in the shadow of the secret state. Her father was an undercover agent, full of tall stories about tradecraft and traitors. Then he died, killed in the line of duty. Now Sam has travelled to Hoy, in Orkney, to piece together the puzzle of her father’s past. Haunted by echoes of childhood holidays, Sam is sure the truth lies buried here, somewhere. What she finds is a tiny island of dramatic skies, swooping birds, rugged sea stacks and just four hundred people. An island remote enough to shelter someone who doesn’t want to be found. An island small enough to keep a secret…

Having been utterly bewitched by Orkney Twilight and The Salt Marsh , it was with some trepidation that I embarked on The Dark Isle as I desperately wanted to be as in awe of this book as the previous two. I’m pleased to say that my fears were completely groundless and Clare Carson has triumphed once again…

The Dark Isle moves seamlessly between two timelines spanning the intensely hot summer of 1976, and the political unrest of 1989, with the poll tax demonstrations firmly rooting us in this particular period. Likewise, the story pivots between London and Orkney within both periods of time, with Carson once again demonstrating her particular skill in scene setting and atmosphere, so unlike other books with split timelines , the reader is instantly transported to, and settled within the locations, even without the date stamps on the chapters. Carson’s depiction of landscape, weather and nature,  is completely entrancing as ever. The rugged wilderness of Hoy which seems to teeter on the edge of the earth is as vital and real as the suburban streets of London that Sam frequents in her formative years, and affords Carson ample opportunity to showcase both, and how they impact on, and play such an important part in Sam’s realisation of the world as a whole, and within her own troubled and secretive family history.

In the London scenes, Carson adopts the viewpoint of a flaneur, with the careful demarcation of Sam’s stomping grounds both as a child and as a young woman. In the wilds of the Scottish Isles, Carson casts Sam as an old style explorer as she works to uncover real history through archaeology, and her own personal history whose secrets lie buried in this  mystical and  unforgiving terrain. The locations are absolutely intrinsic to the development of the storylines, and play as much of a role as any character contained within its pages. There are precise and naturalistic descriptions of flora and fauna which flow beautifully in and out of the narrative, giving a sharp vitality and visual panorama to the reader. Carson weaves in mythical tales, adding to the sense of unknowing that permeates the book, and subtly enlightening the reader on folklore which still remains totally in keeping with the story.

Sam is a complex and engaging character, and this book is no exception. There’s a quote that says “Be like a spy. Keep your true self hidden,” and one that Sam along with other characters all seem to adhere to. With her father’s influence, as a shadowy and secretive undercover operative, I found it fascinating how despite losing him some years previously this influence has steadily increased in her own psyche, and how the more subtle aspects of his personality are revealed in Sam from time to time. She is resourceful, determined, not unnaturally brave, and refreshingly susceptible to the duplicity of others. There’s a realism and truthfulness to her character, that makes us admire her gumption, and empathise with her less glorious moments of naivety, and I have a great affection for her as a character. So as not to unwittingly reveal anything, all I would say to the other protagonists who encourage or seek to thwart Sam’s efforts, is that you will be surprised and frustrated by their various deceptions, and most importantly as you’re reading…trust no one…

I suspect that I will have a similar trepidation when I read Clare Carson’s next book, having been so enamoured with this series to date, but I’m willing to endure it! The Dark Isle is another great addition to this beautifully written series, and I would recommend all three books heartily. Great storytelling, pitch perfect plotting, and a wonderful sense of time and place. Highly recommended.

(With thanks to the author and Head of Zeus for the ARC)

 

A Belated Round-Up- Matt Wesolowski- Six Stories/ Alexandra Marzano-Lesnevich- The Fact Of A Body/ Lone Theils-Fatal Crossing/ The Crime Book

I’ve done my usual trick of reading many, many books, but have then left the writing of reviews for far too long (hangs head in shame, looking chastened etc…) So in this post I will try to provide some kind of cohesive summaries of these, and hopefully you may find something among them to tickle your fancy!

1997. Scarclaw Fell. The body of teenager Tom Jeffries is found at an outward bound centre. Verdict? Misadventure. But not everyone is convinced. And the truth of what happened in the beautiful but eerie fell is locked in the memories of the tight-knit group of friends who embarked on that fateful trip, and the flimsy testimony of those living nearby. 2017. Enter elusive investigative journalist Scott King, whose podcast examinations of complicated cases have rivalled the success of Serial, with his concealed identity making him a cult internet figure. In a series of six interviews, King attempts to work out how the dynamics of a group of idle teenagers conspired with the sinister legends surrounding the fell to result in Jeffries’ mysterious death. And who’s to blame …

With its highly innovative use of the serial podcast structure, Wesolowski’s widely-reviewed and praised Six Stories weaves a dark and disturbing tale of murder, jealousy and teenage angst pivoting between two distinctive timelines. Setting up each individual’s recounting of events surrounding an ill-fated trip as teenagers to an outward bound centre, Wesolowski uses the trope of unreliable narration to the max, as each protagonist’s recollection is laid out before us. The structure works well, causing the reader to question the veracity of each witness’ or suspect’s testimony, although you may pick up on something quite early on, but then delight in having your suspicion’s confirmed. I loved the very naturalistic style of Wesolowski’s portrayal of the wild and dangerous beauty of his imagined location of Scarclaw Fell, which reminded me strongly of the brilliant Turning Blue by Benjamin Myers, where the location so strongly mirrors the darkness and sinister tension of the main plot. Six Stories is certainly refreshingly different with its quirky structure and clarity of description, and Wesolowski taps in perfectly to both the teenager’s experiences, but also intuitively counterbalancing it with their later perspective on events as adults. Highly recommended.

(With thanks to Orenda Books for the ARC)

Before Alexandria Marzano-Lesnevich begins a summer job at a law firm in Louisiana, working on the retrial defence of death-row convicted murderer and child molester, Ricky Langley, she thinks her position is clear. The child of two lawyers, she is staunchly anti death penalty. But the moment Ricky’s face flashes on the screen as she reviews old tapes, the moment she hears him speak of his crimes, she is overcome with the feeling of wanting him to die. Shocked by her reaction, she digs deeper and deeper into the case, realizing that despite their vastly different circumstances, something in his story is unsettlingly, uncannily familiar. Crime, even the darkest and most unspeakable acts, can happen to any one of us, and as Alexandria pores over the facts of the murder, she finds herself thrust into the complicated narrative of Ricky’s childhood. And by examining minute details of Ricky’s case, she is forced to face her own story, to unearth long-buried family secrets, to reckon with how her own past colours her view of his crime…

With more than warranted comparisons to such true crime classics as In Cold Blood and Midnight In The Garden of Good and Evil, Alexandria Marzano- Lesnevich’ s powerful, thought-provoking and intensely moving memoir, recounting the darker periods of her childhood, and her fledgling career in  law is one of the best non-fiction books I have encountered for some time. Tracing and examining her own emotional development from a childhood of abuse and family denial, and her involvement as a young lawyer in one of America’s most thorny and haunting crime cases, The Fact Of A Body raises as many questions as it answers regarding crime and punishment, as well as providing the reader with a deep insight into the life of this remarkable woman whose seemingly firm beliefs in the immorality of the death penalty are so roundly challenged and undermined by the retrial of notorious murderer Ricky Langley. As much as this is non-fiction, the author’s lightness of touch, and her powerful and intensely descriptive, scene setting, gives a feeling of fiction to the whole affair, adding to the reader’s engagement and the sheer readability of the book. One of my personal heroes since my teenage years has been English lawyer Clive Stafford-Smith, due to his tireless quest for justice for death row prisoners in the United States, and the author’s own professional involvement with this remarkable man is strongly bound up in the narrative throughout, adding another layer of interest for this reader. I found this an emotional, compelling and utterly fascinating read, and as only a sporadic reader of non-fiction, this had me completely transfixed. Highly recommended.

(With thanks to Macmillan for the ARC)

When a picture of two Danish girls who disappeared on a boat bound for England in 1985 emerges many years later in an old suitcase from a British second-hand dealer, the journalist Nora Sand’s professional curiosity is immediately awakened. But before she knows it, she is mixed up in the case of a serial killer who is serving a life sentence in a notorious prison, and the quest to discover the truth about the missing girls may be more dangerous that she had ever imagined…

With its satisfying mix of Scandinavian crime thriller, and more than a nod to Silence of the Lambs, I thoroughly enjoyed Fatal Crossing,  first of a series introducing Danish journalist Nora Sand. Nora proves herself an eminently likeable protagonist with her dogged reporter style, and her complicated private life, with the story criss-crossing nicely between Denmark and the UK, balancing well her part-time assimilation from her homeland to her life and work in London. With an intriguingly dark, well-plotted investigation, and the shadow of a notorious serial killer looming large within Sand’s quest for the truth, there were enough twists and tension to keep me reading. As an aside, Nora also provides some great moments of acerbic wit throughout, which provided some good pockets of light relief as the story unfolded. Very keen to read the next one. Recommended.

(With thanks to Arcadia Books for the ARC)

An essential guide to criminology, exploring the most infamous cases of all time, from serial killers to mob hits to war crimes and more.

From Jack the Ripper to Jeffrey Dahmer, The Crime Book is a complete study of international true crime history that unpacks the shocking stories through infographics and in-depth research that lays out every key fact and detail. Examine the science, psychology, and sociology of criminal behavior, and read profiles of villains, victims, and detectives. See each clue and follow the investigation from start to finish, and study the police and detective work of each case…

Having treated myself to the Sherlock Holmes Book from the same series. how could I resist this big, bold and beautifully illustrated compendium of dark deeds and murder from across the centuries? With a global representation of murderers, robbers, tricksters and shysters, this covers cases old and new, the well known and the less so, in one visually pleasing and mentally stimulating edition of all things crime. Divided into eight categories including Bandits, Robbers and Arsonists, Con Artists, White Collar Crimes, Kidnapping and Extortion, Murder Cases, Organized Crime, Assassinations and Political Plots and Serial Killers there are a whole host of illustrations, infographics and tantalising titbits to delve into…

The Crime Book not only focuses on the particulars of this myriad of cases, but also explores the world of forensics, psychological profiling, and the media representation of these most notorious of cases. With an introduction by British crime writer Peter James, this is a book that offers much to explore, and the best tips on how to get away- or not- with murder…

Mwahahaha….

(With thanks to Dorling Kindersley for the ARC)

 

 

 

 

Amer Anwar- Western Fringes

Southall, West London.
Recently released from prison, Zaq Khan is lucky to land a dead-end job at a builders’ yard. All he wants to do is keep his head down and put his past behind him.
But when he has to search for his boss’s runaway daughter it quickly becomes apparent he’s not simply dealing with family arguments and arranged marriages as he finds himself caught up in a deadly web of deception, murder and revenge…

Winner of the CWA Debut Dagger Award, Western Fringes marks the start of an incredibly promising crime thriller writing career for Amer Anwar. This one of the most vibrant and edgy crime thrillers I have encountered for some time. From the very start of the book, I was completely immersed in the trials and tribulations of central protagonist Zaq Khan, who through the fickle finger of fate finds himself entangled in a very dangerous situation indeed. Subject to blackmail and intimidation, he is tasked with uncovering the whereabouts of his boss’s errant daughter, Rita, who has ostensibly run away from an impending forced marriage. Finding himself at odds with his boss, Rita’s two meat-headed brothers, and ghosts from the past seeking to inflict some serious physical damage upon him, Zaq needs to be resourceful, cunning and more than a little devious to survive this trial by fire…

Zaq is a truly likeable and engaging character, who immediately gets the reader on side with his mix of easy humour, craftiness, and genuine good guy demeanour. Anwar instils him with a honesty and charm that has you rooting for him from the outset, as pressure is brought to bear on him from all angles. He’s fast-talking and quick thinking, and despite the hole he finds himself in does not lose his keen sense of morality to extricate Rita, and by extension, himself, from a nasty situation.  I loved his interactions with his best mate Jags, and the solid camaraderie that exists between them, despite the twist in fate that sees their lives having progressed on two very different courses. I also admire Jags’ natural ability to act as a second mother to Zaq in terms of tea-making and painkiller providing as his mate gets into a succession of scrapes, and is always happy to play second fiddle to Zaq’s suicidal plans. This has to be one of the greatest friendships forged in crime fiction, and is a constant source of delight throughout. Anwar’s band of bad boys, out for Zaq’s blood are equally well depicted, slow, dull-witted, and handy with their fists, and allowing for some exciting and very well written fight scenes, where there is a realistic and palpable pain. There’s nothing worse than a fight scene where everyone is seemingly unmarked by the experience, and boy, does Zaq take some punishment.

Set around the environs of Southall and its Asian community, the life, colour, languages and atmosphere of this area shines through Anwar’s depiction of its inhabitants. The sights, sounds and delicious aromas of the area bring a vibrancy and liveliness to his descriptions, and gives the reader a real sense of the connections between our main protagonists and their community. The plotting is assured, and I liked the way that Anwar leads us in a seemingly linear direction, which is entertaining enough, but then pulls a couple of startling revelations that take the story in a different direction indeed. The pace is perfectly controlled, and I genuinely found this incredibly hard to put down, as it is punctuated by a glorious mix of fast visceral action, a dash of heart-warming interactions, a further sprinkling of violence and chicanery, and then a steady build up of misdirection to an exciting, and not altogether predictable ending.

I absolutely loved Western Fringes, and having become a little jaded with the British-set crime thriller scene of late, this gave me a right old flying by the seat of my pants reading experience, which seemed fresh and exciting. A cracking new voice on the thriller scene, and yes, I can’t wait to see what Amer Anwar produces next. Pure brilliant and highly recommended.

(With many thanks to the author for the ARC)

 

#BlogTour- Imran Mahmood- You Don’t Know Me

An unnamed defendant stands accused of murder. Just before the Closing Speeches, the young man sacks his lawyer, and decides to give his own defence speech.

He tells us that his barrister told him to leave some things out. Sometimes, the truth can be too difficult to explain, or believe. But he thinks that if he’s going to go down for life, he might as well go down telling the truth.

There are eight pieces of evidence against him. As he talks us through them one by one, his life is in our hands. We, the reader – member of the jury – must keep an open mind till we hear the end of his story. His defence raises many questions, but at the end of the speeches, only one matters…

Penned by criminal defence barrister Imran Mahmood, You Don’t Know Me, provides a refreshingly different take on the legal thriller genre, challenging the reader, and manipulating our empathy throughout as we listen to the voice of one young man on trial for murder.

The use of the first person narration throughout will admittedly be not to everyone’s taste, as some readers have a real aversion to this narrative structure. However, as the book is structured as a young man giving his own testimony, seeking to win over judge and jury alike, I rather liked the intensely personal nature of this device, and the fact that this leads you to be totally engaged with the unnamed defendant’s lengthy closing statement. By not naming the young man directly, and having every experience of his filtered through his own particular viewpoint, cleverly we actually see more the manipulation of others, the inherent stupidity of his actions and his misguided loyalty through his own damning testimony. The first person narrative, however, is not without problems as sustaining this over 370 pages, leads to a wavering between erudition and rambling, so there were some periods where my attention did falter, unlike in slimmer novels that use the same narrative technique.

Sometimes in order to prove the intelligence and self awareness of the unnamed defendant his language seemed to diversify at times from the street smart vernacular that was more in evidence at the start of the book to a heightened sensibility of his predicament that seemed slightly at odds with the initial perception we have of him as a character. However, I fully appreciate the fact that if the narrative was crammed with repetitive vernacular the lengthy page count would have been inherently more irritating. So, for the most part the sheer conviction and determination of his testimony kept me engaged, as I was drawn into the violent miasma of his day to day life and experiences.

Although, we only experience other characters in the book through this one person testimony, the characterisation throughout shone with clarity. His cohorts of Curt and Ki added a richness and texture to the story, and between them brought out the strengths and fatal weaknesses of our narrator, as they became inextricably bound together as they strive to overcome what seems like a hopeless fait accompli. There is also an unremitting and authentic portrayal of their desire to extricate themselves from their shared experiences in the deprived area they inhabit, and the level of loyalty they display to each other, though clearly being subject to the manipulation and malevolence of others throughout.

To be fair, I admired this interesting and fairly audacious debut in the fact that Mahmood takes a risk with the narrative and structure. I thought that for the most part it gave a realistic portrayal of the lives of its characters, although for me personally the jury is still out so to speak on the final revelation of our narrator’s testimony, but still worth a recommendation for the bravery of its intention.

(With thanks to Penguin for the ARC)

 

Catch up with or continue to follow the blog tour at these excellent sites:

Mark Hill- His First Lie- Review + Extract

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Marking the release of the paperback edition of Mark Hill’s compelling debut thriller, His First Lie (formerly published as Two O’Clock Boy), here’s a timely reminder of why the Raven liked this one so much…

One night changed their lives…
Thirty years ago, the Longacre Children’s Home stood on a London street where once-grand Victorian homes lay derelict. There its children lived in terror of Gordon Tallis, the home’s manager.

Cries in the fire and smoke…
Then Connor Laird arrived: a frighteningly intense boy who quickly became Tallis’ favourite criminal helper. Soon after, destruction befell the Longacre, and the facts of that night have lain buried . . . until today.

A truth both must hide…
Now, a mysterious figure, is killing all who grew up there, one by one. DI Ray Drake will do whatever it take to stop the murders – but he will go even further to cover up the truth…

Casting aside his nom de plume of Crime Thriller Fella, former blogger, Mark Hill marches stridently onto the crime fiction scene with a debut that is compelling and intriguing, and perhaps more importantly a damn good read.  With one of the most ominous and chilling openings that I have encountered this year, as the story draws you in, you would be forgiven for thinking that this would then appear to be a pretty standard London set police procedural. But you’d be wrong. Oh yes, and here’s why…

There is a pernicious killer at work in old London town with the self-styled monicker of the Two O’clock Boy, the reasons for which are gradually unfurled in a real smoke and mirrors tale of childhood abuse, combined with slick police procedural. With its intertwining timelines, depicting the less than savoury goings on at a children’s home some years previously, and the spotlight on DI Ray Drake and his team to solve the current murders, the links between the past and Drake’s own personal history are neatly threaded together. With some degree of frustration, this is one of those books that thwarts the reviewer at every turn, without stepping in a big pile of spoilers, but suffice to say Drake proves an interesting and damaged conduit between past and present, and his character is never less than intriguing and utterly instrumental to this reader’s enjoyment of the book. The plotting is consistently superb, tinged with a real darkness that unsettles and disturbs throughout, and the pacing and balance between the two gradually revealed interconnected time periods is beautifully weighted.

Likewise, the characterisation of both the police protagonists, and the characters connected to the children’s home, both in the past and present is assuredly done. Hill captures not only the naivety, false bravery, and emotional fragility of the children’s personalities, but how this shapes and moulds them and their experiences on reaching adulthood. It’s sensitively and realistically handled, despite the darkness of his central plot, and I guarantee that when certain truths are revealed about this period in some of the protagonist’s lives, your sense of empathy will be roundly manipulated. As I have alluded to, the character of Drake is of tantamount importance to the whole plot, as is the multi-faceted nature of his personality that he presents to the world. I also liked his sidekick, DS Flick Crowley, whose exasperation with Drake, and some personal issues of her own, provide a bit more colour to the whole affair, and provide a strong partnership for future investigations.

So, pleased to report that His First Lie delivers on so many levels, with emotional depth,  strong characters, and an effective and suspense-building use of contrasting timelines, to carry the plot along at a pleasing pace. The Raven recommends. Highly.

But don’t just take my word for it, and have a look at the extract below. Intrigued you will be…

PROLOGUE:
The English Channel, 1986
The boy loved his parents more than anything on this Earth. And so he had to kill them.

Perched on the edge of the bunk, he listened to them now. To the squeak of their soles on the deck above as they threw recriminations back and forth in voices as vicious as the screeching seagulls wheeling in the sky. He heard the crack of the sail in the wind, the smack of the water against the hull inches from his head, a soothing, hypnotic rhythm.

Slap . . . slap . . . slap . . .

Before everything went wrong, before the boy went away as one person and came back as someone different, they had been full of gentle caresses and soft words for each other. But they argued all the time now, his parents – too stridently, loud enough for him to hear – and the quarrel was always about the same thing: what could be done about their unhappy son?

He understood that they wanted him to know how remorseful they were about what had happened. But their misery only made him feel worse. He couldn’t remember the last time he’d been able to speak to them, to utter a single word, and the longer he stayed silent the more his parents fought. The boy plugged his fingers into his ears, closed his eyes, and listened to the dull roar within him.

His love for them was untethering, drifting away on a fierce tide.

Slap . . . slap . . . slap . . .

A muffled voice. ‘Darling.’

The boy’s hands were pulled gently from his face. His mother crouched before him. Her eyes were rimmed red, and her hair was plastered to her face by sea spray, but she was still startlingly beautiful.

‘Why don’t you come up top?’

Her cold fingers tucked a loose strand of his hair behind his ear. For a brief moment he felt a familiar tenderness, wanted to clasp her to him and ignore the bitter thoughts that churned in his head. But he didn’t, he couldn’t. It had been weeks since he’d been able to speak.

A shadow fell across the hatch. His father’s voice boomed, ‘Is he coming up?’

‘Please, let me handle this,’ his mother barked over her shoulder, and after a moment of hesitation, the shadow disappeared.

‘We’re doing the best we can.’ She waited for her son to speak. ‘But you must tell us how you feel, so that we can help you.’

The boy managed a small nod, and hope flickered in his mother’s gaze.

‘Your father and I . . . we love you more than anything. If we argue it’s because we can never forgive ourselves for what happened to you. You know that, don’t you?’

Her eyes filled with tears, and he would do anything to stop her from crying. In a cracked voice, barely more than a whisper, he heard himself say, ‘I love you.’

His mother’s hand flew to her mouth. She stood, hunched in the cabin. ‘We’re about to eat sandwiches.’

Moving to the steps, she spoke brightly, but her voice trembled.

‘Why don’t you come up when you’re ready?’

He nodded. With a last, eager smile, his mother climbed to the hatch and her body was consumed by sunlight.

The boy’s heel thudded against the clasp of the toolbox beneath his berth. He pulled out the metal box and tipped open the lid to reveal his father’s tools. Rasps, pliers, a spirit level. Tacks and nails, a chisel slick with grease. Lifting the top tray, the heavier tools were revealed: a saw, a screwdriver, a peen hammer. The varnish on the handle of the hammer was worn away. The wood was rough, its mottled head pounded to a dull grey. He lifted it, felt its weight in his palm.

Clenching the hammer in his fist, he stooped beneath the bulkhead – in the last couple of years he’d grown so much taller – to listen to the clink of plastic plates, his parents’ animated voices on the deck.

‘Sandwiches are ready!’ called his mother.

Every night he had the same dream, like a terrible premonition: his parents passed him on the street without a glance, as if they were total strangers. Sooner or later, he knew, this nightmare would become a reality. The resentment they felt that their child had gone for ever, replaced by somebody else, someone ugly inside, would chip away at their love for him. Until there was nothing left.

And he was afraid that his own fierce love for them was slowly rotting, corroded by blame and bitterness. One day, when it was gone completely, other emotions would fill the desolate space inside him. Fury, rage. A cold, implacable hatred. Already he felt anger swelling like a storm where his love had been. He couldn’t bear to hate them, yearned to keep his love for his parents – and his memories of a happy time before he went to that place – uncorrupted, and to carry it with him into an uncertain future.

And so he had to act.

Gripping the hammer, the boy moved towards the hatch. His view filled with the blinding grey of the sky and the blur of the wheeling gulls, which screamed a warning to him that this world would always snatch from him the things he cherished, that life would always be this way. He stepped onto the windblown deck in the middle of a sea that went on for ever.

Slap . . . slap . . . slap . .