Raven’s Really Very Belated November Round Up…

And so November is but a distant memory, and the Yuletide season is upon us, welcome news for just about everybody, unless you work in retail. It strikes fear into many a heart when people who obviously never shop during the course of the year suddenly emerge blinking into the dazzling Christmas streetlights, intent on making life as awkward as possible for the hapless shop assistants in their paths. Now call me a masochist, but I really quite enjoy these strange interactions with these mythical beasts, mainly because it gives me a chance to gush about brilliant books, or conversely steer them on the sometimes safer course of a gift voucher, avoiding the inevitable conversation:

What type of books do they like to read? Don’t know, just thought I’d buy them a book.

What was the last book they read? See above.

Do they have any particular interests?

Actually this last question often proves to be the most interesting, as I have sold copious amounts of books on whittling, trains, animal husbandry or the Kama Sutra on the back of this one, fervently hoping the last two interests were not connected. Ho ho ho…

November has been a glorious mash-up of weirdness as far as my reading has been concerned, so while it has been my normal lacklustre performance in actually writing reviews, I have read oodles of books. So four reviews posted-

Margaret Millar- Vanish In An Instant

Mari Hannah- The Insider (Stone and Oliver 2)

Lou Berney- November Road

Chuck Caruso- The Meaning of Blood and Other Tales of Perversity

 

I’ve also read this little bevy of beauties too, all of which I bought, as book bloggers do buy books too you know!

It goes without saying that I am an ardent fan of all things raven related, and so reading the excellent The Ravenmaster by Christopher Skaife was a tremendous source of pleasure. What I love about this book is that Skaife could just as well be sat next to you in the room, just shooting the breeze about his singularly different and totally fascinating job. Laden with interesting historical detail, accounts of Skaife’s exploits in his previous army career, and if course th ravens themselves, this is a joy!

Stick Together by Sophie Henaff, is the brilliant follow up to The Awkward Squad, which introduced us to the chaff of the French police service, transplanted into one investigation unit full of misfits, overseen by the eminently more sensible, though formerly trigger happy, Commissaire Anne Capestan. I love this collection of disparate souls, from there first outing solving cold cases, and now thrust into the limelight of a particularly baffling murder investigation. Fast, furious and funny.

Keigo Higashino’s The Newcomer, features Detective Kyoichiro Kaga of the Tokyo police department, who is a curious blend of Columbo and the Dali Lama. Formed as a series of vignettes into local residents and tradespeople’s lives, Kaga drifts in and out of each story, uniting families, and spreading benevolence, whilst chipping away at his investigation, with his slightly distracted air. I really enjoyed the interplay between Kaga and the community, and also the sweet moments of extreme poignancy that suddenly drop into the narrative. Strange, beautiful and highly recommended. 

I can’t believe how long Back Up has languished on my TBR pile, as this tale of rock ‘n’ roll and murder by Paul Colize was just brilliant from start to finish. As members of a sixties rock band start to meet their deaths in troubling ways, the story criss-crosses between past and present, weaving their story with a mysterious man hospitalised with locked in syndrome. The evocation of one of the most important periods in the development of popular music was perfectly depicted, with numerous references to the known and lesser known artists of the period, in addition to the cleverly crafted murder mystery that lies at the heart of it. Colize’s characterisation, and expression of the strengths and weaknesses of the human psyche was never less than masterful, and the sinister undertones of the reasons for the self destruction of these young men was truly chilling. Excellent.  

Last, but not least, is Adam Sternbergh’s The Blinds with a double recommendation from a bookselling colleague and a fellow blogger Mrs Peabody . Set in a small Texan community in the middle of nowhere, the inhabitants of which have their own disturbing criminal back stories, a murderer is loose and unlike a traditional murder mystery the suspects seem innumerable. The members of this unique community have opted in to an experimental programme, where memories of their previous crimes have been erased, but all with the knowledge that if they leave The Blinds they will most likely turn up dead. Not only has Sternbergh delivered a singularly different premise for a crime thriller, but the level of tension and shock reveals he injects is absolutely compelling. With a broad spectrum of characters who you will like, despise, pity, or empathise with in equal measure, this has to be one of the most unusual thrillers I have encountered. There’s a slight whiff of Stephen King about the main set-up, but Sternbergh easily proves himself equal to the master, and if you’re looking for crime writing with a difference, this is the book for you. Loved it.  

And so I am almost up to date, as the hurly burly of Christmas in retail descends. Now I just have to make a decision on my Top 10 of the Year- never an easy task- but all will be revealed at the close of December as I may not have even read my favourite book of the year yet….  

Happy book shopping everyone! 

 

A small (and imperfectly formed) October round up!

Ha! This will probably be the worst round up I have ever posted as life has seen me flying by the seat of my pants this month. I have been juggling some home stuff with exciting new responsibilities at work, and grappling once again with the peculiarities of my misbehaving laptop (adds to Christmas wishlist), so although I have been reading steadily, the reviewing aspect has rather gone out of the window. I did have a series of disappointing reads so, in a rather ham-fisted attempt to catch up with myself and let the world know that I haven’t disappeared entirely, here is a quick round up of some of the books I’ve been reading- the good, and the meh…

Officially on the blog this month, I managed the grand total of two reviews…hangs head in shame…

John Le Carre- The Little Drummer Girl

Quentin Bates- Cold Breath

So moving swiftly on I also read the four below, plus the start of a few others that fell quickly by the wayside…

  

Although widely reviewed and praised already, C. J. Tudor- The Chalk Man, was as brilliant as everyone has proclaimed so far. With its split timeline, shades of Stephen King, and one of the best endings I have read for some time, this was a real almost in one sitting job. I loved the authenticity of the character’s voices as youngsters, and Tudor’s building of suspense and tension was just nerve shredding. An absolute dream for booksellers across the land to recommend, and I thoroughly enjoyed it!

Soon, it will be announced why I’m reading so much Scandinavian crime in a compressed time, but until that point, here is a trinity of Nordic thrillers. I thought Ane Riel- Resin was superb, again with an authentic child’s voice, in a claustrophobic tale of the lengths one man will go to in order to protect his family. With its fairytale quality, this was creepy and macabre in equal measure, and with its encroaching forest setting, the landscape used seemed to perfectly mirror the dark tale that unfolds. Unfortunately, Karin Fossum- The Whisperer, proved a little disappointing, although the build up in the beginning recounting the lonely life, and subsequent arrest of the whispering woman of the title for a slowly revealed crime, promised much. I did enjoy the head-to-head interrogation by Fossum regular, Inspector Konrad Sejer of the seemingly mouse-like suspect, Ragna Riegel, but it was all a little too ponderous and drawn out- about 100 pages too drawn out. Shame. Susanne Jansson- The Forbidden Place was not without its charms, particularly in the very atmospheric use of the remote Swedish wetlands, and the rather likeable main character of the young female biologist returning to her childhood community and caught up in a crime mystery with supernatural overtones. Again though, I found myself drifting off as those little annoying clichés rose to the surface, but luckily the setting, and back story of bodies discovered in peat bogs through the ages appealed to my more ghoulish fascination…

But fear not, Raven followers, I have just read three brilliant, once of which I posted a review for today Margaret Millar- Vanish In An Instant and two more that I will hopefully get my bottom into gear and post soon- one of which has catapulted straight into my top three of the year. Yes indeed.

Have a lovely month of reading everyone, and if you are starting your Christmas shopping, just remember that books (bought from proper bookshops) make the best gift.

Yes they do.

 

 

 

 

Margaret Millar- Vanish In An Instant

On a snowbound night near a small Michigan town, Virginia Barkeley is discovered staggering around, covered in blood and blind drunk. Nearby, wealthy lothario Claude Margolis is found dead, stabbed several times in the neck. The case seems open and shut. Even Virginia thinks she probably committed the crime, although she cannot for the life of her think why. In this classic noir tale of blurred guilt and flawed innocence, a cynical lawyer, Meecham, uncovers the desperate lives of a group connected only by a gruesome murder…

Despite being a huge fan of classic American crime, it is with some shame that I admit to never having read Margaret Millar before. Perhaps slightly overshadowed by her husband, fellow author, Ken Millar aka Ross MacDonald (of whom I’ve read many), on the strength of this one, I think I have a whole new cache of her work to discover…

This is classic American hardboiled crime fiction with a steely feminine edge, that absorbs the reader instantly, and sucks you in to a superbly plotted tale of murder and deception. Millar captures the claustrophobic and suspicious atmosphere of this small town with finesse, where rumour and petty jealousies fuel every interaction. Everyone seems to have an ulterior motive for their actions, and like Meecham you find yourself picking through the evidence, trying to uncover who is the most duplicitous individual in a cast of possibly guilty characters. The plotting is absolutely flawless, and Millar keeps Meecham, and us, in a state of mistrust until the final, and unexpected unmasking of the killer.

The characterisation, particularly in relation to the female characters is just peerless, and I loved the way that each woman Millar introduces are so defined by their difference to the others. We have a femme fatale, a controlling mother, another alcoholic mother, a young doe eyed companion, a strident, though adoring, wife, and so on, each one precisely drawn jumping from the page to our imagination due to the strength of Millar’s characterisation of them. It’s also interesting how she uses her male character, the smart talking and cynical lawyer Meecham, to colour our perception of them further by observing his differing interactions with them, sometimes testy, sometimes flirtatious, or others that reveal a deeper compassionate edge to his character too. All through the book, he is the perfect foil for their particular episodes of scheming, dishonesty or weaknesses of character.  In true hardboiled fashion, both his, and their, cadence of speech and dialogue reflects the razor sharp and clipped style of the genre, conjuring up images of the classic old black and white crime movies with the ‘I speak, now you speak’, style of conversation.

I think we can safely say that Vanish In An Instant was a little gem of a discovery for me, and my hunt for further Margaret Millar books starts here. Her writing is just wonderful, with a tightness yet rhythmic fluidity to her prose that is enviable. A superb plot of red herrings and unexpected twists, populated by a vibrant and perfectly realised group of characters, further adds to the overall distinction of her writing. Cannot recommend highly enough.

(With thanks to Pushkin Press for the ARC)