Time To Catch-Up- Malcolm Mackay- In The Cage Where Your Saviours Hide, Mari Hannah-The Lost, David Jackson- Don’t Make A Sound, M L Rio- If We Were Villains, Renata Serelyte- The Music Teacher

I’ll keep it simple, and no over-sharing! One of my eyes is knacked,  and proving a wee bit troublesome, but now reading and using the computer pretty much one-eyed, which is frustrating but better than nothing! So at last- and huzzah- the time is ripe for some life changing magic of catching up on some albeit shorter reviews.  

The Raven is back.

 

The independent kingdom of Scotland flourished until the beginning of the last century. Its great trading port of Challaid, in the north west of the country, sent ships around the world and its merchants and bankers grew rich on their empire in Central America.

But Scotland is not what it was, and the docks of Challaid are almost silent. The huge infrastructure projects collapsed, like the dangerous railway tunnels under the city. And above ground the networks of power and corruption are all that survive of Challaid’s glorious past. Darian Ross is a young private investigator whose father, an ex cop, is in prison for murder. He takes on a case brought to him by a charismatic woman, Maeve Campbell. Her partner has been stabbed; the police are not very curious about the death of a man who laundered money for the city’s criminals. Ross is drawn by his innate sense of justice and his fascination with Campbell into a world in which no-one can be trusted.

It’s always interesting to see an established crime author suddenly take a wee flight of fancy. and toy with their reader’s expectations, sometimes successful, and sometimes not. Although an ardent admirer of Mackay’s work to date,  I must admit that this book perplexed and delighted me in equal measure, with its linear Chandler-esque crime mystery, replete with world weary private investigators, bent coppers, devious men of business, and a splendid femme fatale. This arc of the plot worked on every level, littered with Mackay’s trademark dark cynical humour and explosive interludes of down and dirty violence, and was a complete pleasure as always.

However, I did find myself slightly less engaged with the whole parallel history malarkey, and the punctuation throughout the text of assorted newspaper articles, historical referencing and so on illustrating the changing fortunes of Challaid throughout the years. It was disruptive to the flow, thus making the book feel like two distinctly different parts of the whole, whereas if both parts had been fleshed out into two books it would maybe not felt quite as jarring and disconnected. Despite this criticism, I feel that the Challaid story would be worth revisiting by Mackay, but maybe bound up in a more pure fantasy style, if such a thing is possible. Not without its charm, and an interesting experiment, but a little unbalanced overall, but glad to see Mackay still rocking the unfeasibly long book title, and his hardboiled edge. Worth a look though.

(With thanks to Head of Zeus for the ARC)

 

Alex arrives home from holiday to find that her ten-year-old son Daniel has disappeared.

It’s the first case together for Northumbria CID officers David Stone and Frankie Oliver.

Stone has returned to his roots with fifteen years’ experience in the Met, whereas Oliver is local, a third generation copper with a lot to prove, and a secret that’s holding her back.

But as the investigation unfolds, they realise the family’s betrayal goes deeper than anyone suspected. This isn’t just a missing persons case. Stone and Oliver are hunting a killer…

And now to the first instalment of another new series from the wonderfully prolific Mari Hannah, introducing the crime detecting duo of seasoned copper David Stone, and keen as mustard sidekick Frankie Oliver. Hannah’s trademark is the sheer believability of her characters, and how quickly she envelops her reader’s interest in the world they inhabit, and she does this with her usual flair and empathy. I loved both characters, and although there is the necessary concealment of certain darker aspects of their lives that needs to be gradually teased out, unlike other pure police procedurals this never felt hackneyed or trite in its deliverance. They are both genuinely likeable, dedicated, refreshingly human protagonists, and the way they interact with and challenge each other throughout this investigation, leads to some brilliantly realised moments of confrontation, and the growth of a greater understanding of, and empathy with each other. The plot itself is probably the closest I’ve come to reading my bete noir of domestic drama, with a family on the brink of destruction leading to some very uncomfortable revelations for all, not to mention murder. As always Hannah’s timing and pace in The Lost is assured and compelling, and there’s some nice dramatic reveals, and emotive scenes, adding to the overall feel of an authentic, and hugely engaging police procedural. I also appreciated the title of the book itself, and how closely it represents and reflects most of the characters within the story. Once again, highly recommended

(With thanks to Orion for the ARC)

Meet the Bensons. They’re an ordinary couple. They wash their car, mow their lawn and pass the time of day with their neighbours. And they have a beautiful little girl called Daisy.

There’s just one problem.

SHE’S NOT THEIRS.

D. S. Nathan Cody is about to face his darkest and most terrifying case yet . . .

Okay, prepare to be utterly creeped out again with another dark and twisted tale from the always entertaining and unsettling David Jackson. This new instalment of the D.S. Nathan Cody series, begins with a typically dark scenario, and to be honest, and thankfully, doesn’t really let up, as Jackson ramps up the weirdness, the violence, and positively torments Cody even more than he has done previously. I like Cody’s character very much, as neurotic and strange as he is, despite wondering intermittently quite how he keeps his job. However, with the back-up of two strong female characters in the shape of his police partner, the long suffering DC Megan Webley, and his boss, the perfectly named DCI Stella Blunt, Cody’s relationships with both provides some interesting juxtapositions in terms of how we perceive his character. There’s also a nice little group of other police personnel, who provide moments of humour, succour and annoyance to Cody and Webley, but with an overarching feeling that there is an underlying bonhomie and cohesion to the team, apart from Cody going a bit lone wolf from time to time. With his trademark gallows humour, a few little pulls on our credulity, and a goodly amount of spine tingling tension, Don’t Make A Sound proves an enjoyable crime caper. Recommended.

(With thanks to Bonnier Zaffre for the ARC)

A small town police investigator broods obsessively on her tragic love affair with her school music teacher in Soviet Lithuania. After the town is shaken by the murder of a teenage girl, the investigation seems to dry up. When her ex-lover, now local politician, tries to close down the case, she begins to suspect that he may have been involved…

My first entanglement with Lithuanian crime, swathed in hugely descriptive imagery, lyrical pontifications, and poetical flights of fancy, that to my mind completely overwhelmed the premise of this book as a crime novel. I like to consider myself a not unintelligent person, but must confess that after being taken off on some roaming poetical tangent for what seemed like an eon, I began to lose sight of what was actually happening. Although I am a regular reader of slightly pretentious literary fiction, and do achieve a perverse sense of enjoyment from it, this just irritated me, and I began to care less and less as we were endlessly enveloped in this loop of a exceedingly tedious love affair. With hindsight, I can’t tell you why the girl was murdered, or who did it, or if they were brought to justice, as all I remember for some reason is that electricians are full of negative energy,  and quite frankly I feel much the same. Disappointing.

(With thanks to Noir for the ARC)

Oliver Marks has just served ten years for the murder of one of his closest friends – a murder he may or may not have committed. On the day he’s released, he’s greeted by the detective who put him in prison. Detective Colborne is retiring, but before he does, he wants to know what really happened ten years ago.As a young actor studying Shakespeare at an elite arts conservatory, Oliver noticed that his talented classmates seem to play the same roles onstage and off – villain, hero, tyrant, temptress – though Oliver felt doomed to always be a secondary character in someone else’s story. But when the teachers change up the casting, a good-natured rivalry turns ugly, and the plays spill dangerously over into life.When tragedy strikes, one of the seven friends is found dead. The rest face their greatest acting challenge yet: convincing the police, and themselves, that they are blameless…

I have only ever submitted three one star reviews, and one of these was for a book called The Rehearsal by Eleanor Catton, which I rather scathingly said would probably only be required reading for first year drama students, if they weren’t out getting drunk on cheap cider. This flashed into my mind quite soon after embarking on this book, despite the promise of it being perfect for fans of Donna Tartt. As we become inveigled more and more in this group of largely egotistical, privileged, and increasingly annoying drama students at a prestigious arts academy, the allure of this being anything like Tartt is quickly dispelled. Despite being vaguely intrigued at the outset as the incarcerated Oliver, on the brink of release, reveals himself to have been refreshingly different to his dramatic cohorts, I quickly ascertained how this story of jealousy, and conflict would pan out. And it did- although I confess to skipping to the end, after trudging through 200 odd pages. There’s also a large amount of lazy writing, with substantial passages of Shakespeare reproduced that began to feel like superfluous filling, as most readers familiar with the plays that the students re-enact would not need what felt like chunks of text. Also the little references to lines from Shakespeare that pepper the students’ speech becomes increasingly wearisome, and pretentious, and merely propels their name into my roll call of writers as up themselves as Martin Amis.

I didn’t like this. I will exit pursued by bear. Now I sound like a knob too. Sorry.

(I foolishly bought this copy)

 

 

July 2016 Round-Up and Raven’s Book of the Month

_DSC0185 (Common Raven)Aside from losing my internet access for 12 long, long days, July has really been quite productive and mostly enjoyable. A week off work, a birthday, and lots of terrific books read too! Had another heart-breaking book cull, which I imagine to be akin to asking a parent which is their favourite child, waving goodbye to 500+ books to my local charity shop, but still have a few hundred in reserve- hurrah!  And still on the positive,  I have at last made a slight in-road into my 20 Books of Summer Challenge- post coming soon. So, onward to the books…

Books read and reviewed:

Clare Carson- The Salt Marsh

Simon Booker- Without Trace

Anna Mazzola- The Unseeing

Frederic Dard- The Wicked Go To Hell

Frederic Dard-Bird In A Cage

Jonathan Ames- You Were Never Really Here

Massimo Carlotto- For All The Gold In The World

Pierre Lemaitre- Blood Wedding

Malcolm Mackay- For Those Who Know The Ending

Elizabeth Haynes- Never Alone

wilberI also dipped my toe back into non-fiction crime and read Del Quentin Wilber- A Good Month For Murder– which I would put very much on a par with David Simon’s Homicide or Mile Corwin’s The Killing Season. Wilber, an award winning reporter at The Washington Post, gives us a truly compelling behind the scenes look at the police officers and investigative cases of  a homicide squad. By following the progress of several cases and the dedicated officers who approach their task with a mixture of dedication, doggedness, and world weary cynicism, Wilber shines a light on the day-to-day frustrations and danger that this noble band of men and women grapple with, to go about their remit to protect and serve. Incredibly readable, well-researched and thought provoking throughout. Recommended.

Raven’s Book of the Month

No. I can’t do it. This has been an absolutely stellar month for reading with some real stand-out reads along the way. They are all so completely different and wonderful in their own way, so this is the fairest decision I can come to…

Extremely honourable mentions to Clare Carson- The Salt Marsh , Massimo Carlotto- For All The Gold In The World and Anna Mazzola- The Unseeing Seek these out immediately.

Carson_02_THE%20SALT%20MARSH            cover_9781609453367_661_600        unseeing

And down to the wire, the twisted genius of Pierre Lemaitre- Blood Wedding and the seedy,  gritty Glasgow gangland world of Malcolm Mackay- For Those Who Know The Ending proved impossible to choose between. Joint winners chaps and thoroughly deserved.

blood                   malcolm

 

Malcolm Mackay- For Those Who Know The Ending

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Usman Kassar is comfortable in his older brother’s shadow, for now. Staying off the radars of the big players lets him plan big scores with little danger of detection. But dangerous jobs will get you noticed, whether you want them to or not.

Martin Sivok is a gunman without a target. An outsider in a new city who doesn’t know how to make a fresh start. But when you desperately need doors to start opening, someone like Usman might just persuade you to pull at the wrong handle – like the one that opens a safe full of dirty money. Dirty money that the Jamieson organization, one of the most dangerous criminal outfits in town, wants back.

Any job can have brutal consequences when it threatens the reputation of Nate Colgan. Nate can’t help being frightening; a man with darkness inside him. As the reluctant ‘security consultant’ for a fracturing criminal organization, he knows that unless he recovers the stolen money quickly, much more than his livelihood will be on the line. But if you’ve been forced into a job that you know could be your ending, how hard will you fight to keep it?

I think it’s fair to say that Malcolm Mackay is rather a favourite of mine, having previously, and favourably, reviewed most of his books to date. For Those Who Know The Ending is the latest in his series of Glasgow based thrillers, and once again we are plunged into the seedy underbelly of gangland life…

There is much to admire with Mackay’s spare and precise prose, so clearly in evidence again here, and the clipped dialogue, which perfectly reflects the feeling of his male protagonists as men of action where violence achieves more than conversational intercourse. Interestingly, it’s only when these tough guys reflect on their home situation and their closest emotional ties, that these characters display anything akin to human compassion, and the importance of the women in their lives comes to the fore. It’s also this aspect of their characters that delves beneath their steely and uncompromising roles in their gangland affiliations, and exposes moments of self-doubt. This works as an effective foil to what could just be a linear and superficial tale of male bravado, and harks back wonderfully to the golden age of American hard-boiled noir, when even the most ‘male’ of male characters are unsettled by female influence. This is reflected by Nate Colgan, nominally keeping up the interests of the imprisoned gangland boss Peter Jamieson’s criminal organisation, his hired heavy Gully Fitzgerald, and by Martin Sivok, a gunman of Czech descent trying to forge his path in the badlands of Glasgow, whose domestic situations are drawn on periodically throughout the book, and revealing different aspects of their character in their interaction with their better halves. This serves to heighten the reader’s sympathy as the themes are love and loss are brought to the fore, bringing a sense of emotional poignancy amidst the uncompromising violence.

For those unfamiliar with the series to date, fret not, as once again there is the useful inclusion of characters that have featured previously, so even a nominal reference to a character now deceased or incarcerated is easy to catch up with. I particularly like this feeling of each book being akin to a single act in a lengthy saga, and how the permutations of shifting alliances, and eager newcomers ready to make their mark, fit into the overall story arc. Mackay controls the narrative beautifully, and there is a real sense of us being fully immersed in the double crossing and chicanery that accompanies the story of Sivok and his wily, young associate Usman Kassar, who dreams up financially lucrative schemes to hit the illegal business of predominant gangland figures. Obviously this brings them very much onto the radar of Nate Colgan, endeavouring to keep house for Jamieson’s empire, and Mackay develops a controlled and compelling story with our young pretender, Kassar, and, at times, unwilling cohort Sivok as Colgan seeks his vengeance. As always each character is perfectly formed, and as mentioned earlier, Mackay injects a multi-layered aspect to his characterisation of these main protagonists to great affect. With the world these men inhabit and operate in, there is always a simmering undercurrent of violence, which when it bursts forth is brutal and unflinching, adding a frisson to the whole affair, and ramping up the tension to the nth degree.

Obviously as a devotee of the American hard-boiled noir genre, I am constantly delighted by Mackay’s accomplishment at transposing this style onto his contemporary Glasgow setting, and his now trademark spare prose, so resolutely in evidence again in For Those Who Know The Ending. Equally, the multi-layered nature of his characterisation opens up the more emotive facets of his characters, serving to unsettle the reader and shift our alliances. Impressed once again, and once more, highly recommended.

(With thanks to Mantle for the ARC)

Raven’s Yearly Round-Up and Top 5 Crime Reads 2015

_DSC0185 (Common Raven)As the end of 2015 approaches, it is time to look back in awe and wonder at some of the books that have thrilled and entertained the Raven over the last twelve months. With approximately 125 crime books read, and not far off 100 reviews posted, this year has heralded a bumper crop of exciting crime reads, A slew of brilliant debuts including Oscar de Muriel- The Strings of Murder, Tom Callaghan’s The Killing Winter, Ragnar Jonasson’s Snowblind and David Young’s Stasi Child, and great new offerings from established names such as Mari Hannah, Steve Mosby, William Shaw, Simon Toyne and Malcolm Mackay have been a joy to read.  So here are the highlights and lowlights of the year… 

THE 40-PAGE RULE

With the constant influx of books I receive as a blogger, full time bookseller, and my day off job as a volunteer in a charity book shop, there is never a shortage of reading material accumulated in the teetering to be read mountain! Hence the need for the 40-page rule. If a book has failed to ignite my interest within this page count, I’m afraid it is discarded, passed on to others, or fulfils it’s charitable duty as a donation to the shop mentioned above. The parameters for a book’s untimely fate vary- clichéd, overwritten, one-dimensional characters, too much similarity to another book, obvious plot turns or killers, and if anyone mentions someone opening a door in their underwear, all hope is lost. I usually manage to read nearer 200 books in a year so a fairly hefty count of 42 non-starters have impeded my reading. Unusually for someone known for their bluntness, in the good spirit of Christmas I’m naming no names, but rest assured your books have found a good home elsewhere…

THE MOST HYPED CRIME GENRE OF THE YEAR

the-girl-on-the-train-uk-e1420761445402It seems that only by dwelling at the outer reaches of the Arctic Circle could you escape the hype surrounding The Girl On The Train by Paula Hawkins. And yet the Raven was unmoved by the sheer intensity of the praise heaped upon this book on its release, and the ensuing avalanche of ‘domestic noir’ thrillers that it helped spawn. There again I didn’t like Gone Girl either. I am the domestic noir Grinch. Enough already.

WORDS FAILED ME (BUT IN A GOOD WAY)

litten2As a non-professional reviewer and a casual blogger, sometimes a book utterly defeats any talent for reviewing that you believe you possess! One such book this year was Russ Litten’s Kingdom. Having waxed lyrical about Litten’s previous book Swear Down which was terrific, I was incredibly excited to receive Kingdom to review. I was totally in its thrall from start to finish, but when it came to the depth of this reading experience, the majesty of the language, the emotional intensity, and sheer cleverness of the whole affair, words defeated me. Completely. Too marvellous for words.

TURNING MY BACK ON CRIME (OCCASIONALLY)

It may be hard to believe, but yes, I do quite often read books that are not crime. Yes really. So three stand-out fiction reads for me this year would be Kevin Barry’s Beatlebone, where the voice of the late lamented John Lennon sang from every page, The Reader On The 6.47 by Jean-Paul Didierlaurent, a beautiful French novel with echoes of Patrick Modiano, and Glenn Taylor’s A Hanging At Cinder Bottom, an American writer who never disappoints in his characterisation and crackling dialogue.

And so to the awards ceremony….cue fanfare….and in a break from tradition not all of these were nominated as books of the month at the time, but have stayed in my head, popping up in unguarded moments…

RAVEN’S TOP 5 BOOKS OF THE YEAR

Click on the book jackets to read the reviews.

5. KARIM MISKE-ARAB JAZZ

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4. DOUG JOHNSTONE-THE JUMP

The-Jump-Doug-Johnstone

3. MATTHEW FRANK-IF I SHOULD DIE

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2. ANTTI TUOMAINEN- DARK AS MY HEART

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1. JAX MILLER- FREEDOM’S CHILD

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In a strange instance of premonition, I ended my review of Freedom’s Child saying that it would possibly be my book of the year. Lean prose, a laconic and rhythmical style and an utterly compelling central character in the shape of the emotionally damaged Freedom. A brilliant and unforgettable debut.

 

 

Raven’s Round Up 2014 and Top 5 Books of the Year

_DSC0185 (Common Raven)Another brilliant year of books and blogging, so thanks to all my visitors, the support of my fellow bloggers and the wonderful publicists who provided me with a veritable smorgasbord of reading delights throughout the year! 2014 proved a bumper year of reading with 152 books read over the last twelve months with 70 reviews posted here, and 24 at CrimeFictionLover.com. I did have 30+ books that failed to overcome the Raven’s harsh 40 page rule (if you haven’t grabbed me by then all hope is lost!), and the year comprised of both crime fiction and fiction in a ratio of 3:1.

2015 promises further great reads, and I can see the focus of my blog shifting more towards debut authors, and more crime in translation. I will also be participating in the TBR Double Dog Dare Challenge  from January to March in a vain attempt to conquer the summit of my mountainous To-Be-Read pile! There are some crackers lurking in there as yet unread…

So here for your delectation and delight are the Raven’s Top 5 reads of the year. A Happy New Year to you and hope 2015 is full of great new reads for you all!

 

spring5. Cilla & Rolf Borjlind- Spring Tide

Opening with the unsettling murder of a young pregnant woman at the time of the spring tide, twenty-four years previously and now designated as a cold case: a case which a young police trainee, Olivia Ronning, is designated as a summer project. The plot unfolds in a number of directions, bringing the reader into the world of contemporary Sweden and a series of brutal attacks on the homeless community, cold-bloodedly filmed and uploaded to social media sites, a series of attacks that the police are failing to solve. Slowly, the two cases become intertwined, as Olivia joins forces with ex-police officer Tom Stilton, who served with Olivia’s late father on the original spring tide murder investigation, but is now a member of the homeless community, with all the dangers this presents… With its wonderfully balanced mix of murder mystery, a host of fascinating and multi-faceted characters, and the essential social comment of Scandinavian crime fiction , this was an altogether satisfying read that genuinely kept me reading to the wee small hours…

 

few4. Nadia Dalbuono- The Few

A singularly impressive Italian set crime debut. 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 with male prostitutes, and soon after that is embroiled in the disappearance of a young American girl on holiday with her family. As the possible links between the cases are revealed, Dalbuono conjurs up a thriller that is dark, compelling and totally unputdownable, that will appeal to all fans of the more hardboiled Italian crime fiction. Impressive indeed, and with such a mesmeric central character, I see more great things to come from this author…

 

 

 mm3. Malcolm Mackay- The Night The Rich Men Burned

With my ardent admiration of Mackay’s previous Glasgow Trilogy, (The Necessary Death of Lewis Winter; How A Gunman Says Goodbye and The Sudden Arrival of Violence)  this standalone proved the equal of its predecessors in every way.  This crime novel put me in mind of a kind of twisted Bildungsroman, as it is heavily centred on the adverse fortunes of two young men, Oliver Peterkinney and Alex Glass. Both are paving their way in the seedy and violent world of Glasgow’s criminal community- a hotbed of violence and criminal rivalries. Completely unflinching in its depiction of violence the book never shies away from the stark realities of life within the criminal fraternity. Oddly dispassionate, with a spare and staccato prose style, Mackay once again illustrates his original and refreshingly different take on the crime genre. Not a comfortable read, and one that will cleverly play with your perceptions of, and attitudes to, the characters within its pages which, I for one, find a much more rewarding reading experience. An excellent read…

 

the-lying-down-room2. Anna Jaquiery- The Lying Down Room

Having talked interminably about how truly brilliant this book is since June, its inclusion in my Top 5 was never in doubt. This is a thought provoking and atmospheric debut, set in France, which opens with the brutal murder of an elderly woman to the soundtrack of Faure’s Requiem. The reasons for this murder, and the choice of victim, baffle Chief Inspector Serge Morel and his team. As more killings occur, Morel makes a connection between the victims and two individuals who distribute religious pamphlets in the suburbs. His enquiries are taken into the past, away from Paris into the French countryside, and eventually to the heart of Soviet Russia. It’s a superbly multi-faceted thriller that plays with your emotions, and preys on the mind long after reading…

 

getImage21. Pierre Lemaitre- Irene

After the pure pleasure derived from Lemaitre’s UK debut Alex (the second in the Verhoeven series) , I was relishing the release of this, the first book. Quite simply this book is terrific, in the first instance with the superb characterisation of the central detective protagonist, Commandant Camille Verhoeven, the diminutive but dogged police officer on the trail of an insidious serial killer, dubbed The Novelist.  I loved the balance that Lemaitre achieves between the stalwart doggedness of this character, the natural sarcasm and humour that arises from his character, and the utter fear that overtakes him as all that he holds most dear is threatened by this barbaric killer. Likewise, I was overawed by Lemaitre’s humility and reverential treatment towards other seminal works of fiction within the crime genre. It is quickly revealed that the killer- The Novelist- is recreating scenes from cult crime novels (be warned- some are exceptionally violent), and throughout the course of the book, Lemaitre also pays homage to some of the finest crime novels produced, with a reverential tone and an altruistic attitude to writers that is rarely encountered. And there’s a twist- brilliant in its execution- that knocked me sideways. Lemaitre’s  control of the narrative, plotting and characterisation is beautiful throughout , and with his more literary writing style, produces a reading experience that truly engages the reader and immerses you fully in the trials and tribulations of his protagonists. Quite simply- perfect…

 

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.

 

 

 

 

Malcolm Mackay- The Night The Rich Men Burned

mmTwo friends, Alex Glass and Oliver Peterkinney, look for work and for escape from their lives spent growing up on Glasgow’s most desperate fringes. Soon they will become involved in one of the city’s darkest and most dangerous trades. But while one rises quickly up the ranks, the other will fall prey to the industry’s addictive lifestyle and ever-spiralling debts. Meanwhile, the three most powerful rivals in the business – Marty Jones, ruthless pimp; Potty Cruickshank, member of the old guard; and Billy Patterson, brutal newcomer – vie for prominence. And now Peterkinney, young and darkly ambitious, is beginning to make himself known. Before long, violence will spill out onto the streets, as those at the top make deadly attempts to out-manoeuvre one another for a bigger share of the spoils. Peterkinney and Glass will find themselves at the very centre of this war; and as the pressure builds, each will find their actions – and inactions – coming back to haunt them. But it is those they love who will suffer most . . .

Regular readers of my blog cannot have failed to notice my huge admiration of Malcolm Mackay’s Glasgow Trilogy, comprising of  The Necessary Death of Lewis Winter How A Gunman Says Goodbye, and The Sudden Arrival of Violence . All three books centred on the travails of a young hit-man in the employ of the most powerful figures in gangland Glasgow, but experiencing a modicum of moral uncertainty at his chosen career path, and his plans to turn his back on this life. Defined by their spare, gritty and uncompromising style, all three books garnered critical acclaim or awards, and brought us a truly fresh, new voice in Scottish crime fiction. The Night The Rich Men Burned is Mackay’s first standalone project, although marked by the familiar character list, there are sporadic mentions/re-introductions of familiar figures the former trilogy. This novel put me in mind of a kind of twisted Bildungsroman, as it is heavily centred on the adverse fortunes of two young men, Oliver Peterkinney and Alex Glass. Both are paving their way in the seedy and violent world of Glasgow’s criminal fraternity- a hotbed of violence, criminal rivalries, and a bunch of inherently dislikeable men jostling for dominance in the lucrative world of debt-collection, drugs and strip clubs. Written in Mackay’s now trademark style, in clipped, pared down prose, all underscored with a compelling emotional distance to the characters and events he presents, The Night The Rich Men Burned will astound and delight you in equal measure…

In common with his previous books this is an incredibly character driven book, as all the inhabitants , and participants in the warring criminal factions, are separated by codes of allegiance to the nefarious crime lords within each faction. As they plot and scheme to assert their power in the lucrative world of criminal activities, there is a sense of a constantly changing power game. The main players in this, Marty Jones, an exceptionally nasty piece of work; established loan shark, Potty Cruikshank and scheming newcomer Billy Patterson, are all men with a casual attitude to violence and keen to exploit those they consider weak and needy. It is into this world, that Glass and Peterkinney take their first tentative steps, and which provides the thrust of the plot overall.What I find particularly interesting about the novel is how both Peterkinney and Glass, starting from the same point, find their lives take such different directions, from ostensibly having little, or no, difference between them in terms of their socio-economic beginnings. Glass senses an opportunity for them to gain financially in the employ of a local debt-collector, bedazzled by the prospect of a life of glamour, girls, drugs and violence, and drags Peterkinney into his seemingly foolproof plan. Initially Peterkinney seems less sure of the long term benefits of this course of action, but as the book progresses there is a marked change of fortune for them both. Despite his initial reluctance to Glass’ pipe-dreams, Peterkinney uses his smarts and grows in stature, moving further away from the narrow existence he formerly inhabits, (unemployed and sharing a small flat with his Grandad), whilst Glass spirals downwards into an abyss of debt and despair. With the subtle shifts in the timeline that Mackay employs, we as readers see this deviation of their respective fortunes and, subsequently, as the inherent weaknesses or underlying coldness of their individual characters are brought to bear on the ways their lives evolve, our sympathies are roundly manipulated with each new episode.

This is the real strength of Mackay’s writing, that he presents all his protagonists with such a studied and dispassionate air, that he requires of us to form our own allegiances to, and sympathies with the characters he presents. No one is particularly likeable, indeed with most of the characters exhibiting a strong prevalence to violence and financial gain at the expense of others, you would little expect to experience any real empathy with any of them. Cleverly, however, you do find your perception of certain characters shifting and changing, and that is a real and unexpected pleasure of this book, over and above the fairly linear style of plotting that the story reveals. With little or no focus on location per se, aside from the general feeling of a gritty inner city setting, with the inherent dangers and social decay that lies beneath, it is all the more admirable that such extreme focus on characterisation carries the weight of the book throughout with little distraction.

Completely unflinching in its depiction of violence and the immoral exploitation of the lower classes by these grasping loan sharks, The Night The Rich Men Burned, never shies away from the stark realities of life within the criminal fraternity. Oddly dispassionate, with a spare and staccato prose style, Mackay once again illustrates his original and refreshingly different take on the crime genre. Not a comfortable read, and one that will cleverly play with your perceptions of, and attitudes to, the characters within its pages which, I for one, find a much more rewarding reading experience. An excellent read.

Read more reviews of The Night The Rich Men Burned here:

Crime Fiction Lover

Shotsmag

 

(With thanks to Macmillan for the ARC)