Douglas Skelton- The Janus Run

When Coleman Lang finds his girlfriend Gina dead in his New York City apartment, he thinks nothing could be worse… until he becomes the prime suspect.

Desperate to uncover the truth and clear his name, Coleman hits the streets. But there’s a deranged Italian hitman, an intuitive cop, two US Marshals, and his ex-wife all on his tail. And trying to piece together Gina’s murky past without dredging up his own seems impossible. Worse, the closer he gets to Gina’s killer, the harder it is to evade the clutches of the mysterious organisation known only as Janus – from which he’d long since believed himself free…

Egged on by some of his fellow Scottish crime authors, Douglas Skelton has taken a break from crime fiction set in his native Scotland, and taken a wee diversion to the mean streets of New York in The Janus Run, and what an utterly splendid diversion it is…

Like another Raven favourite, David Jackson, I think Skelton has set out on a series that could have a lot of mileage, having introduced a cast of strong, well realised characters, combined with a real fly by the seat of your pants action thriller, with the action coming thick and fast. The central character, Coleman Lang is a man with a mysterious past, by day an advertising executive, and after the murder of his girlfriend Gina, revealed to be another man entirely with former links to a shady organisation with the moniker Janus. Joining forces with Gina’s estranged father Tony Falcone, a former Mafia henchman now in witness protection, the two set out on a troubled and violent vendetta to bring the real killer to justice, and avoid the attention of the NYPD (with Lang as their chief suspect), and the vengeance seeking former acquaintances of Falcone. It’s a dynamite combination from the start, with Lang clearly trying to resist being sucked back into his old ways and his links to Janus, and Falcone as a real act first, think later man with violent impulses, bent on revenge. Add into the mix a couple of credible strident female law enforcers in the shape of no-nonsense, Lieutenant Rosie Santoro, who I adored, and the shadowy US Marshall TP McDonough, along with a host of caricature-ish Mafia types, estranged lovers and family, and a real old school NYPD cop who tries to assist Lang and Falcone, all of whom Skelton brings vividly alive throughout. I thought the characterisation was first class, and supported by whip-smart dialogue which carried all the cadence and rhythm of speech you would expect from a New York/Italian cast, it all worked in harmony beautifully.

The plot itself was well constructed, high octane and full of tension, littered with car chases, shoot outs, and cross and double cross. As Lang and Falcone edge nearer to the truth of Gina’s demise, they begin to attract the attention of some real rum sorts, and no-one is safe, with violence being meted out willy-nilly along the way. It’s real punchy stuff, driven forward with energy and pace, and although I had a brief hiatus in reading this, when I picked it up again, I was slam bam right back in the thick of it. I really enjoyed this first foray by Skelton to stranger shores, and cannot wait for the next! Highly recommended.

(With thanks to Saraband for the ARC)

#FeverCity Blog Tour-Tim Baker- Review

FEVER CITY _ BLOG TOUR GRAPHICIt’s the next stop on the blog tour to mark the release of Fever City from debut crime novelist Tim Baker. I will be brutally honest and say that I did embark on the book with a certain amount of suspicion, as having read widely on everything JFK conspiracy related, I did wonder if anything new could be brought to the wealth of  theories that Kennedy’s assassination spawned, and the bravery of an author who would tread this well-worn path. I am incredibly pleased to report that Baker has achieved something quite special with this one, firmly dispelling any pre-conceptions that I held about the book. You’re intrigued now aren’t you?

Opening in the 1960’s, Nick Alston, a Los Angeles private investigator, is hired to find the kidnapped son of America’s richest and most hated man, Rex Bannister. With allusions to the infamous case of the Lindbergh kidnapping Alston soon finds himself intimately and dangerously entangled in the grasp of Bannister and his nefarious activities in the higher echelons of American society. Hastings, a mob hitman in search of redemption, is also on the trail but finds himself equally ensnared by a sinister cabal that spreads from the White House all the way to Dealey Plaza, and his own personal involvement in Kennedy’s fate. The story then pivots back and forth to 2014 where Alston’s son stumbles across evidence from JFK conspiracy buffs that just might link his father to the shot heard round the world…

aaApart from inserting a breath of fresh air into the whole mythology surrounding not only JFK’s demise and the agencies behind it, Baker brings into sharp focus a fine array of cultural references from the 60’s period, and the personalities that shone so bright in this golden age of American popular history. I liked the way that Baker explored the power hungry Joe Kennedy, the fragility of Monroe, the poignancy of Sal Mineo’s secret life, and the clear sighted and cold hearted scheming of Mafia figure Sam Giancana with his connections to the Rat Pack and JFK. I particularly enjoyed the way that Baker perfectly controlled the inclusion of these figures in the plot too, heightening the realism and feel of the plot, with some interesting revelations along the way that did not feel contrived nor far fetched. With three narratives, four time-lines, and a mixture of first and third person narration to juggle, it’s hard to believe that this is a debut, such was the control of all these elements within the book. As a book of significant length (in relation to most crime novels) I was also delighted by how long Baker managed to hold off the unfurling of revelations between the 60’s, and the contemporary storyline, in terms of the implications of Alston’s and Hastings’ personal involvement in the investigation of the kidnapping and the JFK assassination and its ramifications. I found my reading sped up considerably as I devoured the last few chapters at a pace, with a nice sense of ‘well, I wasn’t expecting that’ included.

I thought this was a genuinely terrific thriller; clever, well-researched and beautifully executed, as the action ebbed and flowed, keeping me on tenterhooks throught. There’s scheming, corruption, violence, and a strong sense of the personal cost that power, political envy and money can bring in its wake. The writing is sharp, dispassionate but endlessly engaging, and equally unsettling. In fact, the greatest compliment I can pay to this book is that I did feel an echo of James Ellroy along the way, not only with the assured inclusion of instantly recognisable figures, but also in some passages a slight mirroring of Ellroy’s punctilious and spare style, when the main protagonists slipped into stream of consciousness, or when a relevant social/cultural observation was needed to be made. A kind of revisiting of LA Confidential with a Texan twist…. Highly recommended.

(With thanks to Faber for the ARC)

Nadia Dalbuono- The Few

few

I have recently posted this review at  Crimefictionlover.com  as part of the New Talent November month of features. As this is a very strong contender for my book of the month I feel that the repetition is justified!  

This is the intriguing debut from an author who is originally from the UK but now lives in Italy, where The Few is set. The story focuses on Detective Leone Scamarcio, the son of a once powerful mafia figure. Scamarcio has turned his back on the family business and is on the Rome police force. He is handed a file containing compromising photographs of the Italian foreign secretary Giorgio Ganza with male prostitutes.

Scamarcio’s boss Garramone is a confidante of the country’s prime minister, and sends him to deal with the possible fallout, including the suspicious deaths of Ganza’s companions. As his investigation begins, a young American girl is spirited away from her parents on the beach in Elba, and Scamarcio finds himself drawn into her disappearance and possible links to his primary case. It turns out he has to call on his family’s mafia connections to navigate his way into the darkest currents of Italian society to uncover corruption and conspiracy.

Nicely sitting alongside the ranks of Donna Leon, Michael Dibdin and Tobias Jones, Nadia Dalbuono has crafted an engaging thriller with a fascinating and likeable police protagonist. Scamarcio is a multi-layered man, who on more than one occasion fulfils others’ perception of him as a brilliant maverick. He is a composite of dedicated detective counterbalanced with the strong roots of his family in the ‘Ndrangheta mafia, and is not shy of using his former connections to get to the bottom of this sordid case. He is persistent, clear-thinking (despite his occasional use of marijuana), and perhaps, echoing my favourite line in the book, unafraid to engage in more physical methods of extracting information. “I’m a busy man- places to go, people to mutilate,” he says.

In terms of plot, it’s hard to believe this is a debut novel, so cleverly does Dalbuono weave the various strands of the story together, unveiling a few surprises along the way. Running parallel to the main investigations are a series of cutaways to another stream of consciousness where it’s not initially clear who’s speaking. As the book progresses these come into focus for an unsettling denouement, reinforcing how far the sexual deviance and violence of those in power has spread in Italy. I enjoyed the way that Dalbuono provided an insight into the Roma immigrant community as the story played out. The rum doings of various branches of the branches of organised crime are described with relish.

As the action pivots between Rome, Elba and Naples, the rendition of location and local knowledge shines through every scene. The sights, sounds and atmosphere of each setting will invade your senses. Particularly sentient were the scenes where Scarmacio, in the course of his investigation, is dispatched to a coastal fortress prison housing a sex offender dubbed The Priest. Only accessible by boat, Dalbuono totally captures the forbidding atmosphere of this sinister location, and the inherent sense of fear that each visit produces. Likewise, Rome and its inhabitants are ripe in detail, bringing to the fore the vibrant and well known sights of the city, and the scenes in the seeming idyll of Elba’s tourist community take on a whole character of their own.

It is a delight to encounter a protagonist who I would be keen to meet again, and given such a promising beginning to a potential series, I very much hope this will be the case in subsequent books. The Few is a thoroughly enjoyable and thought-provoking debut.

This is the intriguing debut from an author who is originally from the UK but now lives in Italy, where The Few is set. The story focuses on Detective Leone Scamarcio, the son of a once powerful mafia figure. Scamarcio has turned his back on the family business and is on the Rome police force. He is handed a file containing compromising photographs of the Italian foreign secretary Giorgio Ganza with male prostitutes.

Scamarcio’s boss Garramone is a confidante of the country’s prime minister, and sends him to deal with the possible fallout, including the suspicious deaths of Ganza’s companions. As his investigation begins, a young American girl is spirited away from her parents on the beach in Elba, and Scamarcio finds himself drawn into her disappearance and possible links to his primary case. It turns out he has to call on his family’s mafia connections to navigate his way into the darkest currents of Italian society to uncover corruption and conspiracy.

Nicely sitting alongside the ranks of Donna Leon, Michael Dibdin and Tobias Jones, Nadia Dalbuono has crafted an engaging thriller with a fascinating and likeable police protagonist. Scamarcio is a multi-layered man, who on more than one occasion fulfils others’ perception of him as a brilliant maverick. He is a composite of dedicated detective counterbalanced with the strong roots of his family in the ‘Ndrangheta mafia, and is not shy of using his former connections to get to the bottom of this sordid case. He is persistent, clear-thinking (despite his occasional use of marijuana), and perhaps, echoing my favourite line in the book, unafraid to engage in more physical methods of extracting information. “I’m a busy man- places to go, people to mutilate,” he says.

In terms of plot, it’s hard to believe this is a debut novel, so cleverly does Dalbuono weave the various strands of the story together, unveiling a few surprises along the way. Running parallel to the main investigations are a series of cutaways to another stream of consciousness where it’s not initially clear who’s speaking. As the book progresses these come into focus for an unsettling denouement, reinforcing how far the sexual deviance and violence of those in power has spread in Italy. I enjoyed the way that Dalbuono provided an insight into the Roma immigrant community as the story played out. The rum doings of various branches of the branches of organised crime are described with relish.

As the action pivots between Rome, Elba and Naples, the rendition of location and local knowledge shines through every scene. The sights, sounds and atmosphere of each setting will invade your senses. Particularly sentient were the scenes where Scarmacio, in the course of his investigation, is dispatched to a coastal fortress prison housing a sex offender dubbed The Priest. Only accessible by boat, Dalbuono totally captures the forbidding atmosphere of this sinister location, and the inherent sense of fear that each visit produces. Likewise, Rome and its inhabitants are ripe in detail, bringing to the fore the vibrant and well known sights of the city, and the scenes in the seeming idyll of Elba’s tourist community take on a whole character of their own.

It is a delight to encounter a protagonist who I would be keen to meet again, and given such a promising beginning to a potential series, I very much hope this will be the case in subsequent books. The Few is a thoroughly enjoyable and thought-provoking debut.

(With thanks to Scribe for the ARC)