September Round-Up and Raven’s Book of the Month

_DSC0185 (Common Raven)Another busy month in the world of reading and reviewing for Raven, with the added excitement of taking part in September Classics at  Crime Fiction Lover – a whole month of features, guest posts and reviews with classic crime writing at their core.  Go and have a look why don’t you? It was great to participate in this as it gave me a chance to wax lyrical about two of my favourite American crime authors.  Here are the links if you want to take a peek, and who knows what other criminal classics you might discover on the site…

The Enduring Excellence of the 87th Precinct

Lost Classics- Arthur Lyons

Judging by my teetering to-be-read pile, October will be an equally full-on month of criminal delights as well as a busy time at work, so I will endeavour to bring you all as many reviews as physically possible. Indeed, the fun begins tomorrow with an exclusive Q&A with Dwayne Alexander Smith to mark the paperback release of the wonderful Forty Acres, so don’t miss that. Once again, I hope you find something amongst the last month’s reading to tickle your crime fancy, and thanks for reading!

Books reviewed this month:

D. A. Mishani- A Possibility of Violence

Malcolm Mackay- The Night The Rich Men Burned

Mark O’Sullivan- Sleeping Dogs

Matt McGuire- When Sorrows Come

Louise Phillips- Last Kiss

Sam Millar- Black’s Creek

Arnaldur Indridason- Reykjavik Nights (www.crimefictionlover.com)

Tom Grieves- A Cry In The Night

Jennifer Hillier- The Butcher

 

Raven’s Book of the Month

mmDespite the plethora of good reads this month, this was a far easier decision than normal! After the standout Glasgow Trilogy, The Necessary Death of Lewis Winter How A Gunman Says Goodbye and The Sudden Arrival of Violence  Mackay returned with a new stand alone that lacked none of the punch that the first three books provided.

Centring again on the seedy underbelly of Glasgow, and life among the criminal classes, this was another gripping and terse read that kept me hooked, and as the story plays out, Mackay effortlessly ramps up the tension to a well played out and unsettling conclusion. A truly excellent read, and strongly illustrative of the wealth of talent on the Scottish crime writing scene.

 

 

 

 

Special Feature- Irish Crime Fiction Round-Up

In recognition of the saturation coverage of the vote for independence in Scotland, I thought now is the time for a special feature. On Irish crime. I like to be different. I have recently read the latest releases from three authors I have reviewed in the last year. Mark O’Sullivan, whose debut novel Crocodile Tears featured the utterly engaging DI Leo Woods; Matt McGuire with his striking Belfast set police procedural Dark Dawn , and Louise Phillips’ intriguing psychological thriller The Doll’s House So without further ado, feast your criminal eyes on these…

Mark O’Sullivan- Sleeping Dogs

slGangland boss Harry Larkin has taken three bullets and lies dying in a Dublin hospital. Amongst his delusional ravings to Senior Ward Nurse Eveleen Morgan, one name stands out: Detective Inspector Leo Woods. Harry’s message for his old ‘friend’ Leo: find my daughter Whitney. Leo is drawn into the murky world of the Larkin family, a hell he thought he had escaped from thirty years earlier. With the help of Detective Sergeant Helen Troy, his search for Whitney turns up more questions than answers, more darkness than light…

O’ Sullivan’s debut novel Crocodile Tears made a strong impression on me last year and snapped at the heels of my final selection of the Top 5 crime reads of 2013. Introducing the slightly curmudgeonly and many-layered police officer DI Woods, I was struck by how O’Sullivan circumvented the normal bog-standard police procedural with his attention to characterisation and the more literary quality to his prose throughout. Sleeping Dogs has done little to undermine my initial favourable impressions of his writing, once again giving rise to an extremely character-driven story, centred on the investigation of the shooting of local figure Harry Larkin. Ultimately, the whys and wherefores of this shooting is of little importance in the book, as the cast of characters on both sides of the investigation provide the real strength of the book. With the connection between DI Woods and Larkin established by their interactions some 30 years previously at the height of the Troubles, Woods is caught offguard by Larkin’s dying entreaties to find his missing daughter. What transpires is an extremely engaging tale of dark family secrets and lies, where the truth is hard to find, causing Woods and his team to embark on a tricky and at times heart wrenching investigation. Add into the mix an intriguing side plot involving a Libyan intern, and his connection to Larkin’s missing daughter Whitney, a mixed-up kid troubled by the dark goings-on close to home and O’Sullivan neatly enfolds us into a plot full of red herrings and partial truths. Woods is as appealing as in the first, embarking on a touching romantic interlude, but in the footsteps of the lovelorn Inspector Morse, doomed to disappointment. His predominant sidekick DS Helen Troy, provides not only a credible female detective, but is a good sounding board for the more intense Woods, and the interplay between them is also an added point of enjoyment throughout. A great follow up to a strong debut,  and definitely a series to be added to your must read lists.

Mark O’ Sullivan is the recipient of a number of prestigious awards including two Reading Association of Ireland Awards, the Eilís Dillon Award and three Bisto Merit Awards. He has also received the Prix des Loisirs as well as two White Raven Book Awards. In addition he has written radio drama for RTE and contributed to Lyric FM’s Quiet Corner.

Matt McGuire- When Sorrows Come

9781780338323Belfast, 2am, Tomb Street. A young man lies dead in an alley. Cracked ribs, broken jaw, fractured skull. With the Celtic Tiger purring and the Troubles in their death throes, Detective Sergeant John O’Neill is called to investigate. Meanwhile O’Neill’s partner, DI Jack Ward, a veteran troubles detective, is receiving death threats from an unknown source…

Having quickly established a well deserved place alongside the likes of Brian McGilloway and Declan Hughes, McGuire returns with the second in his police procedural series featuring DS John O’Neill. In common with his debut, Dark Dawn, McGuire pulls no punches in his depiction of the violence lurking just beneath the surface of Belfast, a city undergoing change and growing prosperity but still grappling with the imprint of its bloody history. To all intents and purposes, When Sorrows Comes does revisit some of the original tenets of the first book in terms of the social and well established facts of Ireland’s political history, as the investigation plays out. However, the further establishment of DS O’Neill’s character lifts the plot from the fairly pedestrian to greater interest, as he grapples with the demands on his personal and professional life. Still attracting the displeasure of his superiors by his more renegade actions and detection techniques and general unwillingness to tow the line, O’Neill combines a good mix of stubborness and empathy, whilst retaining a fixed resolution to follow the course of justice. His personal life is messy- in common with many of the best detectives- and our sympathies with him in this area of his life are pulled this way and that as the softer side of his character comes to the surface in the increasingly hostile interactions with his estranged wife, Catherine and his relationship with his daughter Sarah. An enjoyable follow up to the first in the series, if a little too similar, but well worth a look for police procedural fans.

Matt McGuire was born in Belfast and taught at the University of Glasgow before becoming an English lecturer at the University of Western Sydney, Australia. He has published widely on various aspects of contemporary literature and is currently writing a book on Scottish crime fiction.

Louise Philips- Last Kiss

10406581_676106955792842_8923423451031752354_nIn a quiet suburb, a woman desperately clings to her sanity as a shadowy presence moves objects around her home. In a hotel room across the city, an art dealer with a dubious sexual past is found butchered, his body arranged to mimic the Hangman card from the Tarot deck. But what connects them? When criminal psychologist Dr Kate Pearson is brought in to help investigate the murder, she finds herself plunged into a web of sexual power and evil which spreads from Dublin to Paris, and then to Rome.Will Kate discover the identity of the killer before it’s too late to protect the innocent? But what separates the innocent from the guilty when the sins of the past can never be forgotten?

I must confess with the absolute glut of female psychological thriller writers currently inhabiting the genre, my recent reading in this genre has been an up and down affair. However, building on the success of both Red Ribbons and The Doll’s House, Phillips has earned a steadfast place in my list of favoured writers. Once again placing the likeable and engaging  criminal psychologist Dr Kate Pearson in league with the grizzled and world weary DI O’Connor, there is again time for Phillips to play with the dynamics of their relationship, as they are pitted against a sadistic murderer and a far reaching investigation. What quickly transpires is that the killer they seek has killed before, and has no compunction in killing again…and again. This is a difficult review to write as I am not going to dwell on plot, purely because this is such a chilling and twisting investigation that I am desperate to avoid spoilers. Needless, to say I loved the little false alleys that Phillips leads us up in the course of the book and although I guessed the identity of the killer (more through fluke I believe) , which is beautifully concealed, there was no way I saw that ending coming. It’s dark, devious and totally gripping with interesting and engaging central characters, a good use of the contrasting locations, and more slippery than an eel covered in Vaseline. Thanks to Phillips for restoring my faith in the psychological thriller, and in some style.

Louise Phillips’ debut psychological crime novel, RED RIBBONS, went straight to the BEST SELLERS listing in the first week of its release in Sept 2012, and has received phenomenal reviews. In 2009, Louise won the Jonathan Swift Award, and in April 2011, was the winner of The Irish Writers’ Centre Lonely Voice Platform,as well as being short-listed for Bridport UK, the Molly Keane Memorial Award, and the Penguin/RTÉ Guide Short Story Competition. In 2012, Louise Phillips, was awarded an ART BURSARY for Literature from her home city of Dublin. Her debut novel RED RIBBONS, was shortlisted for Best Irish Crime Novel of the Year (2012). Visit her website – www.louise-phillips.com , www.facebook.co/LouisePhillips Follow on Twitter @LouiseMPhillips

 

(With thanks to Transworld Ireland, Constable and Robinson and Hachette Books Ireland respectively for the ARCs)

 

 

 

 

Louise Phillips- The Doll’s House

People say that the truth can set you free. But what if the truth is not something you want to hear?
Thirty-five years ago Adrian Hamilton drowned. At the time his death was reported as a tragic accident but the exact circumstances remained a mystery. Now his daughter Clodagh, trying to come to terms with her past, visits a hypnotherapist who unleashes disturbing childhood memories of her father’s death. And as Clodagh delves deeper into her subconscious, memories of another tragedy come to light – the death of her baby sister. Meanwhile criminal psychologist Dr Kate Pearson is called in to help in the investigation of a murder after a body is found in a Dublin canal. When Kate digs beneath the surface of the killing, she discovers a sinister connection to the Hamilton family. What terrible events took place in the Hamilton house all those years ago? And what connects them to the recent murder? Time is running out for Clodagh and Kate. And the killer has already chosen his next victim . . .

Despite Louise Phillips’ first book Red Ribbons receiving some acclaim and having been shortlisted for the Best Irish Crime Novel of the Year, I must admit that she is a new author to me. Always keen to discover new Irish crime fiction, I have once again joined the party late having read The Doll’s House– the second in her series featuring criminal psychologist Kate Pearson and DI O’Connor, aiming to unravel the implications of a decades old suspicious death in relation to the investigation of a current one…

I would say from the outset that if you enjoy the psychological thrillers of writers in the same vein as Sophie Hannah, Erin Kelly, et al that this novel sits very comfortably within this genre. With an exceptionally strong female protagonist pit against the introspective and grizzled detective, Phillips brings their professional and personal relationship to the fore with both characters being the lynchpin to the central plot. It is so important for a writer to construct credible characters that you genuinely feel engaged with, to counterbalance the demands of the plot, and this balance is difficult to achieve with sometimes one of the two falling into the shadows. However, Phillips achieves this with aplomb, and I felt totally at home with both Pearson and O’Connor from the beginning and enjoyed the interesting dynamics at play in their relationship and the events of Pearson’s personal life that unfold throughout the book as a wife and mother. Likewise, the surrounding cast tainted by the murder investigation proved an engaging study in the exploration of family and the ties of loyalty, with the character of Clodagh- a woman seeking to uncover the truth of her past through regression-being a particularly effective protagonist in the central storyline.

As Phillips skilfully intertwines the timelines of a thirty-odd year suspicious death with the very contemporary murder investigation, the actions moves swiftly and seamlessly between the two, and explores how past events get suppressed in the memory of the characters so enmeshed in the current murder case. This for me was the most satisfying aspect of the book as the exploration of the human psyche and the suppression of memories by the consciousness loom large within the plot. We see how criminal psychologist Kate Pearson delves into the psychological impulses of a killer attempting to unravel the sinister events perpetuating themselves in a tangled web of deceit and murder. Likewise, the notion of the psychological repression of memory being explored through the story of Clodagh, adds another interesting dimension to the whole affair. Apparently an overheard conversation about mental hypnosis, sowed the seed for Phillips’ exploration of the subject initially, and she has even attempted regression herself to see how hypnosis can return you to a state of pure memory, but how the subconscious tries to bar the way to realising this. Hence, the enjoyment of this novel to me was not only in the traditional remit of crime fiction to follow the investigation of a murder, but to bring to my attention a new facet, in this case the world of the subconscious, that enriched the reading experience overall. I will definitely be seeking out Phillips’ first novel Red Ribbons on the strength of this one, and am delighted to have discovered a new and highly readable author.

Louise Phillips’ debut psychological crime novel, RED RIBBONS, went straight to the BEST SELLERS listing in the first week of its release in Sept 2012, and has received phenomenal reviews. In 2009, Louise won the Jonathan Swift Award, and in April 2011, was the winner of The Irish Writers’ Centre Lonely Voice Platform,as well as being short-listed for Bridport UK, the Molly Keane Memorial Award, and the Penguin/RTÉ Guide Short Story Competition. In 2012, Louise Phillips, was awarded an ART BURSARY for Literature from her home city of Dublin. Her debut novel RED RIBBONS, was shortlisted for Best Irish Crime Novel of the Year (2012). Visit her website – www.louise-phillips.com , www.facebook.co/LouisePhillips Follow on Twitter @LouiseMPhillips

(With thanks to Hachette Ireland for the ARC)