November 2015 Round-Up and Raven’s Book(s) of the Month

_DSC0185 (Common Raven)Aside from a nasty viral thingummy afflicting the Raven last month, luckily it did not affect my reading too much, so a not too shoddy 11 reviews posted, and some in reserve for December. I actually really enjoyed my reading this month, as it was a good mix of debut and established writers, and a variety of locations and styles. Also, after my wee moan last month at the crime dramas on British TV, my mood was lifted considerably by the return of Scandinavian treat The Bridge, and the truly excellent London Spy which is both compelling and beautifully acted and filmed. To lift the spirits even further Luther is back on the BBC on the 15th December. Swoon….

Well silly season is now upon us, so after a pretty impressive book tally in November, December may be a bit more sporadic thanks to the demands of working in retail at Christmas. I’m taking part in a blog tour in conjunction with the marvellous The Booktrail  which will feature some cracking crime books across a host of blogs, so keep an eye out for that. Also, 2016 is knocking at the door, with an influx of next year’s releases plopping through the door, so every moment not spent recommending and selling books to harassed Xmas shoppers, will be spent reading as much as physically possible! Oh, and how could I forget? My Top Five Reads of 2015 beckons- best put my thinking cap on…

ravenxmasHave a great month everybody. Ho, ho, ho and all that!

Books Read and Reviewed

 Matthew Frank- If I Should Die

Alice Thompson- The Book Collector

Luca Veste- Bloodstream

Andrew Mayne- Angel Killer

Hugo Wilcken- The Reflection

Jo Nesbo- Midnight Sun

Caroline Mitchell- Don’t Turn Around

Denzil Meyrick- Whisky From Small Glasses

 Barbra Leslie- Cracked

Mari Hannah- The Silent Room

Cilla and Rolf Borjlind- Third Voice

Raven’s Book(s) of the Month

An incredibly tough month to pick from, with many of these appealing to me in different ways. So very honourable mentions to two of my favourite writers Mari Hannah and Luca Veste for keeping the British police procedural and thriller genre so vibrant and engaging with The Silent Room and Bloodstream respectively. Thanks to Hugo Wilcken for stretching my little grey cells with The Reflection, to Barbra Leslie for the kooky high octane Cracked, and loved the Gothic intensity of Alice Thompson’s The Book Collector– great cover too!

So completely level pegging for November’s accolade are these two, actually published further back in 2015 but a joy to finally get to! Intelligent, well crafted, and totally compelling reads that I would urge you to discover for yourselves…

 Matthew Frank- If I Should Die   Cilla and Rolf Borjlind- Third Voice

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Mari Hannah- The Silent Room

hannahA security van sets off for Durham prison, a disgraced Special Branch officer in the back. It never arrives. On route it is hijacked by armed men, the prisoner sprung. Suspended from duty on suspicion of aiding and abetting the audacious escape of his former boss, Detective Sergeant Matthew Ryan is locked out of the investigation. With a manhunt underway, Ryan is warned to stay away. Keen to preserve his career and prove his innocence, he backs off. But when the official investigation falls apart, under surveillance and with his life in danger, he goes dark, enlisting others in his quest to discover the truth. When the trail leads to the suspicious death of a Norwegian national, Ryan uncovers an international conspiracy that has claimed the lives of many…

There can be no greater source of trepidation for both author and reader alike, when they embark on a standalone novel, away from the comfort of an established and much loved series. Having built up a loyal following with her five book series featuring DCI Kate Daniels, Hannah has branched out and brings us The Silent Room, with a change of both cast and tempo. Rest assured, you will not be disappointed…

With its tense and action packed opening detailing the hold up of a prison van, and the liberation of its occupant, disgraced Special Branch officer, Jack Fenwick, Hannah quickly embroils us in a tale of deception and conspiracy that will make your teeth rattle. Eager to prove his erstwhile boss innocent, DS Matthew Ryan is tainted by his association with Fenwick, and sets about to find out the truth about Fenwick’s activities. Inevitably this puts Ryan in the spotlight of Internal Affairs, and the particular attention of Detective Superintendent Eloise O’Neil who is tasked not only to retrieve Fenwick, but to discover how deeply Ryan was involved in his ex-boss’ activities. With the help of retired Special Branch operative Grace Ellis and her shady right hand man Frank Newman, Ryan begins to uncover a far-reaching conspiracy that stretches beyond the UK, putting himself, and those closest to him, in danger.

Once again the strength and consistency of Hannah’s characterisation is clearly in evidence here, away from the security of her existing series. Each character is so perfectly defined and delineated that quite soon into the book you have the feeling that you have been familiar with them for some time, and each has an integral importance to the plot. Although the book contains at least two incredibly strong female characters, it was gratifying to see Hannah’s slight shift of focus onto having a more predominant male protagonist in the shape of Ryan, and the authenticity of his characterisation. Not only does his character consolidate the events that happen around him, but I particularly enjoyed the way that Hannah uses his interaction with other characters to reveal other aspects of his personality, for example the tenderness of his relationship with his sister, his sparring with O’Neil, and the distinctly maternal nature of his relationship with the formidable Grace Ellis. Likewise, we get the other side of the coin, with his fierce male loyalty to Fenwick, and his initial distrust of, and then grudging respect for, the mysterious Newman. Each character works exceptionally well in tandem with each other, and Hannah has also cleverly sowed the seeds for a potential reprisal of them in any future additions to this first outing.

Another stand out feature of the book is pace and control of the plotting, which quickly ensures that the reader is completely sucked in to the action, and the ramifications of the initial scene. The narrative is tight and the story segues between the North Est of England and further afield to Scandinavia there is no contrivance in evidence, and the arc of the plot feels entirely natural. There are some real moments of heart in mouth tension, and along with Hannah’s masking of some characters’ true intentions, the book throws up elements of surprise to unsettle the reader, that keep those pages a-turning. Her attention to location (so evident in the Kate Daniels series) is once again spot on, and as an ex-resident of the North East, it was particularly enjoyable to take a virtual tour back to some of my old haunts, with a real clarity of recognition, and the re-location of the action to Norway was equally enjoyable.

It’s more than gratifying to see another female author so assuredly stamp their mark on this particular area of the conspiracy thriller, so often the preserve of male writers, and The Silent Room will appeal to both genders equally. The control of characterisation and plotting ensures a more than satisfying read, and I for one, would be more than happy to meet these protagonists again. As much as I hate the liberal use of the word ‘unputdownable’, that is exactly what this is. Unputdownable.

(With thanks to Macmillan for the ARC)

Mari Hannah- Killing For Keeps

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Killing For Keeps is the fifth instalment of the excellent DCI Kate Daniels series, and once again consolidates Hannah’s growing reputation at the core of the British crime genre, alongside the names of Denise Mina, Ann Cleeves and Sharon Bolton.

Two brothers from the same criminal family die within hours of each other, five miles apart: one on the edge of a Newcastle industrial estate, the other in a busy A & E department, unseen by the triage team. Both victims have suffered horrific, brutal and bloody injuries (rubs hands with ghoulish glee). As the investigation in the toerags’ deaths gathers pace, our estwhile heroine Daniels, gets drawn into some moral conundrums, which inevitably lead to her breaking of the rules. As the body count rises, Hannah transports us from Newcastle, to Scotland and then to the warmer climes of Europe, as Daniels and her intrepid sidekick DS Hank Gormley navigate the dangerous waters of this particularly testing investigation to its bloody conclusion.

Being a little disillusioned with some of the British crime thrillers over the past year, Hannah has delivered a breath of fresh air once again. Although I would hesitate to say that Killing For Keeps was as good personally as the previous book, Monument To Murder  with its near perfect rendition of police procedural and location, even a slightly less good book from Hannah still steals the competition amongst her peers. As usual Hannah is spot on in terms of her forensic detail, the inner workings of a murder investigation, and the professional demands this places on Daniels and her team. Although I felt myself less engaged with the tit-for-tat killing of the brothers grim, and its consequences among the criminal fraternity, it is the allure of Hannah’s characterisation of Daniels and her cohorts that really carries the book.

Up to now most of the books have been driven by the knotty emotional entanglement of Daniels and her very off/on lover psychologist Jo Soulsby. Although this story goes some way to resolving the ups and downs of this personal relationship, what I found most engaging were the slight chinks that appeared in Daniels’ professional armour. With the distressing death of one of her unofficial informers hitting her hard, this investigation causes Daniels’ to fly beneath the radar of professional standards. We bear witness to a previously unseen side of her that makes the morality of her actions come under scrutiny, and Daniels goes a bit maverick. And I liked it. With the unfolding of the investigation, Daniels forms an unlikely respect for a member of the criminal fraternity, particularly when he saves Gormley’s skin, and it was good to see her loosen her fixed ideals as the book progressed. As usual I enjoyed the repartee between Daniels with not only her partner, Gormley, and the rest of her team but also the spiky but respectful relationship with her superior officer Superintendent Bright. And it was nice to see a little touch of Cupid’s arrow, with everyone’s love lives being placed on a more even keel…until something or someone upsets the apple-carts I suspect!

Another good addition to the series, and thanks to Hannah’s assured control of back story, this is a series you can dip into at any point. But why would you dip? Start at the beginning with The Murder Wall and give yourselves a treat. Happy reading.

See more reviews of Killing For Keeps at Crimepieces   Crime Fiction Lover.com  and from Pamreader

(With thanks to Macmillan for the ARC)

Mari Hannah- Monument To Murder

When skeletal remains are found beneath the fortified walls of an ancient castle on Northumberland’s rugged coastline, DCI Kate Daniels calls on a forensic anthropologist to help identify the corpse. Meanwhile, newly widowed prison psychologist Emily McCann finds herself drawn into the fantasy of convicted sex offender, Walter Fearon. As his mind games become more and more intense, is it possible that Daniels’ case has something to do with his murderous past? With his release imminent, what exactly does he have in mind for Emily? As Daniels encounters dead end after dead end and the body count rises, it soon becomes apparent that someone is hiding more than one deadly secret…

A series that is going from strength to strength continues apace with Monument To Murder, the fourth book of Mari Hannah’s police procedurals featuring DCI Kate Daniels and for my money this is the best of the four so far…

Opening with the discovery of two bodies in a cave on a windswept beach on the Northumberland coast, Daniels and her team find themselves isolated geographically and meteorologically  from the comfortable confines of their Newcastle base. As the weather closes in and the initially baffling investigation causes personal and professional issues for Kate and her team, Hannah keeps the reader in suspense consistently throughout. Add into the mix a connecting story of a female psychologist, Emily McCann, recently widowed, and finding herself receiving the unwelcome attentions of a twisted sex offender at the prison where she works, the two plotlines connect and flow in perfect synergy, which again adds to the overall enjoyment of the book.

Hannah’s writing exhibits its strength in predominantly two areas for me as a reader. First and foremost her characterisation of her main protagonist Daniels strikes a chord with the reader as she balances the demands of her job, the leadership of the team of police officers she oversees, and her unerring professionalism and empathy to those who find themselves the victims of crime. Admittedly, her personal life is still a little complicated in the wake of the break-up of her relationship, and the vestiges of attraction that ensure that sparks that still fly between herself and Jo, which adds to the emotional and almost personal feel of the book. Likewise, I liked the characterisation of Emily McCann, and thought that Hannah captured perfectly the feelings of despair after a personal bereavement and her journey back to life. McCann’s sadness is further compounded due to her fractured relationship with her daughter, and the very real demands of her employment in an overly masculine workplace- oh- and the positively weird attentions of the brilliantly creepy Walter Fearon.

The second stand out aspect for me personally of Hannah’s work, is the pitch perfect depiction of location, whether it be Newcastle- where Daniels’ team is normally based- or in this book, the wild and desolate beauty of the Northumberland coast, where the bodies are discovered. This is a part of the UK I am very familiar with, and as Daniels and her team attend the crime scene I could remember the feel of the biting wind, and hear and smell the pounding sea along this barren shore, through Hannah’s painstakingly accurate description of one of the most beautiful coastlines in Britain. The discovery of the bodies on this barren stretch of beach in the shadow of Bamburgh Castle and in sight of Holy Island, is a gem of a location for a crime scene, fuelling the very sinister feel of the whole investigation, and adding to the overall enjoyment of this thoroughly enthralling book. A book not to be missed.

Mari Hannah was born in London and moved north as a child. Sponsored by the Home Office, she graduated from Teesside University before becoming a Probation Officer, a career cut short when she was injured while on duty. Thereafter, she spent several years working as a film/television scriptwriter. During that time she created and developed a number of projects, most notably a feature length film and the pilot episode of a crime series for television based on the characters in her book, the latter as part of a BBC drama development scheme. She lives in Northumberland with her partner, an ex-murder detective. In 2010, she won the Northern Writers’ Award. Monument to Murder is her fourth novel: www.marihannah.com/

(With thanks to Macmillan for the ARC)