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.

 

 

 

 

Special Feature- Irish Crime Fiction Round-Up

In recognition of the saturation coverage of the vote for independence in Scotland, I thought now is the time for a special feature. On Irish crime. I like to be different. I have recently read the latest releases from three authors I have reviewed in the last year. Mark O’Sullivan, whose debut novel Crocodile Tears featured the utterly engaging DI Leo Woods; Matt McGuire with his striking Belfast set police procedural Dark Dawn , and Louise Phillips’ intriguing psychological thriller The Doll’s House So without further ado, feast your criminal eyes on these…

Mark O’Sullivan- Sleeping Dogs

slGangland boss Harry Larkin has taken three bullets and lies dying in a Dublin hospital. Amongst his delusional ravings to Senior Ward Nurse Eveleen Morgan, one name stands out: Detective Inspector Leo Woods. Harry’s message for his old ‘friend’ Leo: find my daughter Whitney. Leo is drawn into the murky world of the Larkin family, a hell he thought he had escaped from thirty years earlier. With the help of Detective Sergeant Helen Troy, his search for Whitney turns up more questions than answers, more darkness than light…

O’ Sullivan’s debut novel Crocodile Tears made a strong impression on me last year and snapped at the heels of my final selection of the Top 5 crime reads of 2013. Introducing the slightly curmudgeonly and many-layered police officer DI Woods, I was struck by how O’Sullivan circumvented the normal bog-standard police procedural with his attention to characterisation and the more literary quality to his prose throughout. Sleeping Dogs has done little to undermine my initial favourable impressions of his writing, once again giving rise to an extremely character-driven story, centred on the investigation of the shooting of local figure Harry Larkin. Ultimately, the whys and wherefores of this shooting is of little importance in the book, as the cast of characters on both sides of the investigation provide the real strength of the book. With the connection between DI Woods and Larkin established by their interactions some 30 years previously at the height of the Troubles, Woods is caught offguard by Larkin’s dying entreaties to find his missing daughter. What transpires is an extremely engaging tale of dark family secrets and lies, where the truth is hard to find, causing Woods and his team to embark on a tricky and at times heart wrenching investigation. Add into the mix an intriguing side plot involving a Libyan intern, and his connection to Larkin’s missing daughter Whitney, a mixed-up kid troubled by the dark goings-on close to home and O’Sullivan neatly enfolds us into a plot full of red herrings and partial truths. Woods is as appealing as in the first, embarking on a touching romantic interlude, but in the footsteps of the lovelorn Inspector Morse, doomed to disappointment. His predominant sidekick DS Helen Troy, provides not only a credible female detective, but is a good sounding board for the more intense Woods, and the interplay between them is also an added point of enjoyment throughout. A great follow up to a strong debut,  and definitely a series to be added to your must read lists.

Mark O’ Sullivan is the recipient of a number of prestigious awards including two Reading Association of Ireland Awards, the Eilís Dillon Award and three Bisto Merit Awards. He has also received the Prix des Loisirs as well as two White Raven Book Awards. In addition he has written radio drama for RTE and contributed to Lyric FM’s Quiet Corner.

Matt McGuire- When Sorrows Come

9781780338323Belfast, 2am, Tomb Street. A young man lies dead in an alley. Cracked ribs, broken jaw, fractured skull. With the Celtic Tiger purring and the Troubles in their death throes, Detective Sergeant John O’Neill is called to investigate. Meanwhile O’Neill’s partner, DI Jack Ward, a veteran troubles detective, is receiving death threats from an unknown source…

Having quickly established a well deserved place alongside the likes of Brian McGilloway and Declan Hughes, McGuire returns with the second in his police procedural series featuring DS John O’Neill. In common with his debut, Dark Dawn, McGuire pulls no punches in his depiction of the violence lurking just beneath the surface of Belfast, a city undergoing change and growing prosperity but still grappling with the imprint of its bloody history. To all intents and purposes, When Sorrows Comes does revisit some of the original tenets of the first book in terms of the social and well established facts of Ireland’s political history, as the investigation plays out. However, the further establishment of DS O’Neill’s character lifts the plot from the fairly pedestrian to greater interest, as he grapples with the demands on his personal and professional life. Still attracting the displeasure of his superiors by his more renegade actions and detection techniques and general unwillingness to tow the line, O’Neill combines a good mix of stubborness and empathy, whilst retaining a fixed resolution to follow the course of justice. His personal life is messy- in common with many of the best detectives- and our sympathies with him in this area of his life are pulled this way and that as the softer side of his character comes to the surface in the increasingly hostile interactions with his estranged wife, Catherine and his relationship with his daughter Sarah. An enjoyable follow up to the first in the series, if a little too similar, but well worth a look for police procedural fans.

Matt McGuire was born in Belfast and taught at the University of Glasgow before becoming an English lecturer at the University of Western Sydney, Australia. He has published widely on various aspects of contemporary literature and is currently writing a book on Scottish crime fiction.

Louise Philips- Last Kiss

10406581_676106955792842_8923423451031752354_nIn a quiet suburb, a woman desperately clings to her sanity as a shadowy presence moves objects around her home. In a hotel room across the city, an art dealer with a dubious sexual past is found butchered, his body arranged to mimic the Hangman card from the Tarot deck. But what connects them? When criminal psychologist Dr Kate Pearson is brought in to help investigate the murder, she finds herself plunged into a web of sexual power and evil which spreads from Dublin to Paris, and then to Rome.Will Kate discover the identity of the killer before it’s too late to protect the innocent? But what separates the innocent from the guilty when the sins of the past can never be forgotten?

I must confess with the absolute glut of female psychological thriller writers currently inhabiting the genre, my recent reading in this genre has been an up and down affair. However, building on the success of both Red Ribbons and The Doll’s House, Phillips has earned a steadfast place in my list of favoured writers. Once again placing the likeable and engaging  criminal psychologist Dr Kate Pearson in league with the grizzled and world weary DI O’Connor, there is again time for Phillips to play with the dynamics of their relationship, as they are pitted against a sadistic murderer and a far reaching investigation. What quickly transpires is that the killer they seek has killed before, and has no compunction in killing again…and again. This is a difficult review to write as I am not going to dwell on plot, purely because this is such a chilling and twisting investigation that I am desperate to avoid spoilers. Needless, to say I loved the little false alleys that Phillips leads us up in the course of the book and although I guessed the identity of the killer (more through fluke I believe) , which is beautifully concealed, there was no way I saw that ending coming. It’s dark, devious and totally gripping with interesting and engaging central characters, a good use of the contrasting locations, and more slippery than an eel covered in Vaseline. Thanks to Phillips for restoring my faith in the psychological thriller, and in some style.

Louise Phillips’ debut psychological crime novel, RED RIBBONS, went straight to the BEST SELLERS listing in the first week of its release in Sept 2012, and has received phenomenal reviews. In 2009, Louise won the Jonathan Swift Award, and in April 2011, was the winner of The Irish Writers’ Centre Lonely Voice Platform,as well as being short-listed for Bridport UK, the Molly Keane Memorial Award, and the Penguin/RTÉ Guide Short Story Competition. In 2012, Louise Phillips, was awarded an ART BURSARY for Literature from her home city of Dublin. Her debut novel RED RIBBONS, was shortlisted for Best Irish Crime Novel of the Year (2012). Visit her website – www.louise-phillips.com , www.facebook.co/LouisePhillips Follow on Twitter @LouiseMPhillips

 

(With thanks to Transworld Ireland, Constable and Robinson and Hachette Books Ireland respectively for the ARCs)

 

 

 

 

New Irish Crime Fiction- Mark O’Sullivan/Crocodile Tears & Matt McGuire/Dark Dawn

I’m always delighted on discovering some cracking new Irish crime fiction and neither of these disappointed. Covering both Northern Ireland and Eire between them, I’m sure any fan of this genre will enjoy either or both. So read on…

 MARK O’SULLIVAN- CROCODILE TEARS

Product DetailsIn the freezing winter of 2010, with the Irish recession in full flow, property tycoon Dermot Brennan is found dead at his Dublin home. Leading the murder investigation is fifty-six-year-old Detective Inspector Leo Woods, an embittered former UN peacekeeper with a drug habit, a penchant for collecting masks and a face disfigured by Bell’s Palsy. DI Woods meets his match in Detective Sergeant Helen Troy, a bright and ambitious but impetuous young policewoman with a troubled family. A host of suspects quickly emerge – Brennan’s estranged son; two of the dead man’s former business associates with grudges against him; a young man whose life was ruined after his house, built by Brennan, was flooded; an arrogant sculptor who may or may not have been having an affair with Anna Brennan (and with their neighbour); and an ex-pat American gardener. Together, Woods and Troy weave their way through this tangled web to get to the shocking truth.

I was incredibly impressed with this inaugural crime offering from Mark O’ Sullivan (perhaps better known as a children’s fiction writer and author of Enright– a fiction novel) and aside from a couple of breaks for coffee, this was pretty much one of those read in one sitting books. Veering more towards literary crime fiction, O’Sullivan’s creation , DI Leo Woods is an absolute gem of a character. Afflicted by a condition known as Bell’s Palsy, Woods is both self-deprecating and a shrewd judge of human nature, accrued through his study of people’s reactions to this perplexing condition. I know crime authors always strive to imbue their detectives with an original quirk to their character, and yes, I did raise an eyebrow at this one, but it works magnificently well in the make-up of Woods’ moral and physical character. Woods is also imbued with a positively Ken Bruen-esque wit, that had me chortling out loud throughout the book, helping to relieve the perfectly wrought tension of the central murder investigation- a murder investigation that is well played out and convincing within the narrative. Woods is a truly multi-layered character, not only shaped by his physical condition but also by previous events from his service in the Balkans and what he witnessed there and a real strength of the book is watching the interplay with him and his colleagues, along with those he investigates. An exceptionally good crime novel all round and I am very much looking forward to encountering DI Woods again.

Mark O’ Sullivan is the recipient of a number of prestigious awards including two Reading Association of Ireland Awards, the Eilís Dillon Award and three Bisto Merit Awards. He has also received the Prix des Loisirs as well as two White Raven Book Awards. In addition he has written radio drama for RTE and contributed to Lyric FM’s Quiet Corner.

MATT MCGUIRE- DARK DAWN (DS O’NEILL 1)

Product DetailsBelfast. January 2005. Acting Detective Sergeant John O’Neill stands over the body of a dead teenager. The corpse was discovered on the building site of a luxury development overlooking the River Lagan. Kneecapped then killed, the body bears the hallmarks of a punishment beating. But this is the new Northern Ireland – the Celtic Tiger purrs, the Troubles are over, the paramilitaries are gone. So who is the boy? Why was he killed?  O’Neill quickly realises that no one cares who the kid is – his colleagues, the politicians, the press – making this case one of the toughest yet. And he needs to crack this one, his first job as Principle Investigator, or he risks ending up back in uniform. Disliked by the Chief Inspector and with his current rank yet to be ratified, O’Neill is in a precarious position.

Matt McGuire’s debut crime thriller is definitely worth seeking out, particularly if you like authors such as Stuart Neville or the style of Brian McGilloway. The focus of this tale is Belfast, as McGuire skilfully depicts a city playing catch-up in its regeneration (in comparison to say Liverpool or Newcastle), but just below the surface there lurks the shadow of the Troubles and the less salubrious world of drug dealers, financial corruption and vigilantism. From the opening image of a young man’s body lying on a desolate piece of wasteland, you know from the outset that this will be a grim tale of the sordid underbelly of a city dying to reinvent itself and McGuire captures this perfectly throughout. His central detective Acting DS John O’Neill is both credible and intriguing, as he is in the unenviable position of being saddled with a difficult murder investigation in order to prove his worth to his superiors, who have a derogatory view of him personally. As the investigation branches out, O’Neill finds himself in deeper trouble, threatening both him and the possibility of progressing in his career. I found little to fault in terms of location, characterisation and, most importantly, plotting and Dark Dawn held my attention throughout revealing itself as a solid police procedural that truly reflected the problems of Belfast society and the danger of disaffected youths looking to make a less than honest living, whilst always retaining a look backwards as to how these problems have developed. A great debut and an author to watch…

Matt McGuire was born in Belfast and taught at the University of Glasgow before becoming an English lecturer at the University of Western Sydney, Australia. He has published widely on various aspects of contemporary literature and is currently writing a book on Scottish crime fiction.

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(With thanks to Transworld Ireland and Constable Robinson for the ARCs)