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


Massimo Carlotto- For All The Gold In The World

cover_9781609453367_661_600A robbery goes wrong and ends with a brutal murder. The police investigation turns up nothing. Two years later, Marco Buratti, alias ‘the Alligator,’ is asked to look into the crime and find out who was responsible. Buratti’s employer is young, the youngest client he has ever had; he is only 12 years old, the son of one of the victims. The Alligator senses right from the start that the truth is cloaked, twisted and shocking. Together with his trusted associates he will find himself mixed up in a story of contraband gold and blood vendettas between criminal gangs.

Massimo Carlotto is undoubtedly one of the most astute observers of the criminal and social dynamics of his native Italy. For All The Gold In The World featuring series regular Marco Buratti aka The Alligator, Carlotto once again takes the opportunity to fix his unique gaze on the complexity of his homeland.

In another taut investigation, unlicensed private investigator Buratti and his shady cohorts Beniamino Rossini and Max The Memory, are drawn into a tale of greed and murder following a particularly violent home invasion leaving the mother of a now vulnerable twelve year old boy dead. What Carlotto so brilliantly achieves in this book is an interesting exploration of his main characters’ barometer of morality. For three men who have indulged in criminal activity themselves and are no strangers to violence, there is something really quite touching about their willingness to take on this particular case, but balanced with the inherent buzz of danger that begins to embroil them as the investigation progresses. The main plot is underscored by the periodic authorial intervention of Carlotto himself, passing comment on the socio-political make-up of Italy, and providing an insider’s view of the layers of corruption that exist between the higher echelons of Italian power through to the world of law enforcement. This adds a richness of detail to the overall book, and works in perfect symmetry with the utterly compelling thriller that Carlotto has constructed.

I am a confirmed fan of both Marco Buratti and Carlotto’s other regular series character Giorgio Pellegrini, so for reasons unexplained this book gives a delicious pointer to things to come. Buratti is a man of contradictions, with his inherent violent masculinity that we see in his ‘day-job’, working in tandem with a sometimes apparent sensitivity in the personal sphere of his life. He has a huge obsession with the Blues, and Carlotto enlivens the book further with musical references and Buratti’s night visits to a local jazz club, whilst investigating the activities of a possibly philandering wife for an anxious husband. With Buratti being Buratti, this spawns an inevitable love interest for him, but once again affords Carlotto the opportunity to explore a deeper emotional side of Buratti’s character. There is also the wonderful dynamic of Buratti with his criminal cohorts Rossini and Max that not only demonstrates the solidity of their masculine fraternity, but also at perfect intervals allows us to witness their easy humour, and the emotional scars that they all bear. This exploration of ‘maleness’ is a recurrent strength of Italian crime fiction I find, and Carlotto is one of the masters.

Quite simply, this is gritty and edgy Italian noir at its best, with its vibrant and unflinching mix of violence and criminality, underscored by superb exploration of character and a wider focus on society as a whole. Highly recommended.

(With thanks to Europa Editions for the ARC)

Massimo Carlotto- At The End Of A Dull Day

Pellegrini, the unforgettable hero of The Goodbye Kiss, has been living an ‘honest’ life for eleven years. But that’s about to change. His lawyer has been deceiving him and now Giorgio is forced into service as an unwilling errand boy for an organised crime syndicate. At one time, Giorgio wouldn’t have thought twice about robbing, kidnapping and killing in order to get what he wanted, but these days he realises he’s too old in the tooth to face his enemies head-on. To return to his peaceful life as a successful businessman he’s going to have to find another out…

With The Goodbye Kiss being one of my favourite crime thrillers of all time, I relished the opportunity of catching up with its mesmerising protagonist Giorgio Pelligrini in this new tale from Massimo Carlotto. Having been exonerated of a murder charge, and now running a restaurant in the guise of a respectable businessman, what I can promise you is that Pellegrini has lost none of his edge, despite seemingly living a blame free life and going straight. Do not be fooled. There’s about as much chance of him avoiding trouble, as there is of him entering the priesthood, and as his criminal cohorts try to pull the wool over his eyes and play him for a fool, Pellegrini decides the time is right to remind them of what a force he can be, “The time had come to remember who I once was, what I’d done to get ahead. I’d shot my best friend in the head, I’d betrayed, cheated, raped, robbed, and eliminated anyone who got in the way of my reaching my objective.” Pellegrini’s seemingly upstanding circle of business associates, reflect the inherent motif in Italian crime fiction, as being out for what they can get, be it politically or financially, and Pellegrini has been attending to the more carnal needs of his clientele through his involvement in sex trafficking. As he begins to uncover the betrayal and double crossing of his less than honest associates, the hardcore Pellegrini returns and his vengeance is brutal and exact, and Carlotto once again cannot be accused of pulling any punches in his depiction of Pelligrini’s swift and vicious revenge.

This is Italian hardboiled noir at its best, from the punchy dialogue, the great cast of characters and the simpering attentions of the spineless women who hang on Pellegrini’s every word or his rationed bouts of Giorgio-love. As one of his unfortunate women comments, “the only way to love you is to abandon yourself and plunge down into the abyss that you dig for every woman that lets you get near her.” He demeans and controls his wife, and amazingly she lets him, and embarks on an affair with his wife’s best friend, who is even more keen it would appear to be treated like dirt. And as for the only woman brave enough to try and cross him? It doesn’t end well. But this all adds to the gritty masculinity of the book which I think is the key to the success of Carlotto and others in this genre, and what I enjoy about these books. The bad guys are utterly bad, but totally compelling, and as much as you sit in judgement of them as a reader, there is a strangely alluring glamour to characters like Pellegrini that sucks you in, chews you up, and spits you out the other end. A slim but totally satisfying read.

Massimo Carlotto is one of the best -known living crime writers in Europe. In addition to the many titles in his extremely popular Alligator series, and his stand-alone noir novels, he is also the author of The Fugitive, in which he tells the story of his arrest and trial for a crime he didn’t commit, and his subsequent years on the run. Carlotto’s novel The Goodby Kiss was a finalist for the MWA’s Edgar Award for Best Novel.

(With thanks to Europa Editions for the ARC)