March 2015 Round Up and Raven’s Book of The Month

_DSC0185 (Common Raven)As usual, a busy month of new releases- I love this time of year! In fact, so many new releases to read, that I have not kept up the pace with the reviews. However, this round-up gives me an opportunity to include a quick round-up on a theme. Inspired by the brilliant reports at Crime Fiction Lover from Marina Sofia at the Quais du Polar French crime fiction festival, I have also been reading a few French crime fiction novels this past month.

camilleHaving already waxed lyrical about Pierre Lemaitre in reviews for Alex and Irene, I can safely report that the third in the series, Camille, featuring diminutive detective Camille Verhoeven is a more than satisfying addition to the series. After the violent events of the previous two books, Camille is on more of an even keel with a new love interest, Anne, but following a brutal heist in which Anne is seriously injured, Camille’s world is rocked to its core. Is Anne all that she appears to be, and will Camille attain the happiness and satisfaction in his life and career he is seriously overdue? I found this a much more meditative read than the previous two books, and with the extreme focus on the emotional struggle Camille experiences, the book was packed with poignancy and uncertainty as to how his relationship with Anne and the implications for his long term career would play out. I felt this book did slightly lack the wow factor of the previous two, due to the change of tone, but even so Lemaitre still provides an emotionally rich and engaging crime thriller. Highly recommended.

bussiI suspect that I may be a lone voice in the wilderness but the hugely hyped After The Crash by Michel Bussi, left me distinctly non-plussed. I don’t know if this was due to my lack of emotional engagement with what I perceived as a cast of distinctly disagreeable characters, or my innate irritation at the composition of the book, using the trope of a diary as the central narrative strand. I felt unfulfilled by the plot generally, and to be honest it was a real struggle to finish this one.

I also re-read The Prone Gunman by Jean- Patrick Manchette, and discovered the delights of a previously unknown to me novella by him, Fatale. Outside of my crime reading, I am a huge fan of foreign fiction in translation, particularly  those little jewels of novellas running at less than 200 pages, so Manchette is a delight. Taut, concise, and bluntly observed, his writing is so precise and powerful that it never fails to amaze me how he so easily runs through a gamut of emotions in such a condensed form. Both books are violent, and tinged with a bleakness that is sometimes hard to stomach, but I think his writing provides a hell of a punch. Buy these and read them. You won’t regret it.

And so forwards to April, where there are a couple of blog tours coming up, and a whole host of great new releases. It’s going to be a good month! And I will be posting a review for a possible contender for my book of the year…you’re intrigued now…

Books read in March:

Mari Jungstedt- A Dangerous Game

Steve Cavanagh- The Defence

Glen Erik Hamilton- Past Crimes

SJI Holliday- Black Wood

Ben McPherson- A Line of Blood (www.crimefictionlover.com)

Luke Delaney- The Jackdaw (www.crimefictionlover.com)

Raven’s Book of the Month:

glenIt’s got to be Glen Erik Hamilton’s debut Past Crimes. As I said in my review, the split timeline, the pared down style, and the assured plot structure, was an absolute delight throughout. It’s also great to encounter a debut author, that so compliments your existing favourite authors. With shades of Lehane and Pelecanos, I think there will be more to come from Hamilton… and I can’t wait. Excellent.

Mari Jungstedt- The Dangerous Game

aaaFor one reason or another Mari Jungstedt had slipped off my reading list, so after a slight hiatus for me in the series it was good to embark on her writing again. This is the eighth of the series to feature detectives Anders Knutas and Karin Jacobsson, and is set against the backdrop of the Swedish fashion world, and all the petty rivalries and skulduggery within it.

The book opens with a vicious attack on fashion photographer, Markus Sanberg, a dislikeable lothario who seems to spend most of his time seducing the young models he photographs. His latest conquest is Jenny Levin, a fresh-faced and naïve girl from the rural backwoods, and the greatest focus throughout the book is her connection to Markus, and the murders that follow this initial attack. We also meet Agnes, a former model, now incarcerated in a clinic, suffering from acute anorexia, and for me, her narrative was probably the most engaging part of the book. We see through her eyes the inordinate amount of pressure put on young girls in the fashion business, and the traumatic aftermath she has experienced in not only her damaging relationship with food, but how her life has been ruined. Slowly, Jungstedt interlinks the experiences of both Jenny and Agnes as the murderer has connections to both, and how Knutas and Jacobsson enter a world largely unknown to them in pursuit of a murderer…

To be honest, I wasn’t completely enamoured with this book, and was thrown initially by the relating of two events that even at the close of reading, I could find no connection to what had happened in the main body of the story. Indeed, I was a little underwhelmed with the plot generally, so other aspects of the book became more important. The story largely consisted of a group of fairly dislikeable characters, arrogant Markus, limpid Jenny and so on, that I found increasingly difficult to care about. As I said previously, Agnes was the shining light amongst a fairly mediocre cast of characters, but probably more so in the fact that she revealed to us the dark side of the fashion world, and the daily difficulties she experiences in trying to overcome her eating disorder. I think most readers could not fail to be moved by her travails, and there is a huge amount of poignancy in Jungstedt’s portrayal of her, particularly in relation to the events near the close of the book. Detectives Knutas and Jacobsson do not seem to have moved on an incredible amount from the last time I read this series. There is still the air of unrequited love bubbling below the surface, but I did enjoy the sharper focus placed on Jacobsson’s reunion with the now adult daughter she gave up for adoption. Their handling of the investigation was fairly straightforward, unveiling few surprises along the way, and the murderer was not exceptionally well-disguised.

In fairness to Jungstedt, whose previous books I have largely enjoyed, I will file this one away as a ‘bridging’ book in the series, with the hope that the next outing for the likeable Knutas and Jacobsson is a good deal more fulfilling. A normally pleasing detective duo, but not given room to shine in this one.

(With thanks to Doubleday for the ARC)