July 2015 Round-Up and Raven’s Book of the Month

_DSC0185 (Common Raven)Well, if I do say so myself, July* has been a very productive month for reading and reviewing. I still have a couple of reviews outstanding from the plethora of great releases in the last month, but have managed to make a little dent in the teetering to-be read pile. Aided by a week’s holiday from work, there’s been a good mix of books read this month and a couple of blog tours too- one for fellow blogger Sarah Ward and her debut thriller In Bitter Chill and a blogathon par excellence for  Neil White organised by the brilliant Liz Loves Books whose site is definitely worth a visit. Looks like August will be another busy one, but I will endeavour to get to some of my to-be-read pile too, as there are some as yet undiscovered gems lurking there I’m sure. Have a good month everybody!

Books Read and Reviewed:

Kate Griffin- Kitty Peck and the Child of Ill Fortune (www.crimefictionlover.com)

Alexandra Sokoloff- Huntress Moon (FBI Thrillers Book 1)

Sarah Ward- In Bitter Chill

Michael Robotham- Life Or Death

Mark Edwards- Follow You Home

Ruth Ware- In A Dark Dark Wood

Ed McBain- So Nude, So Dead

Chris Carter- I Am Death (www.crimefictionlover.com)

I also managed to read Sarah Hilary’s Someone Else’s Skin (winner of the Theakston’s Crime Fiction Prize) and Kate London’s debut thriller- Post Mortem. If you like London-based police procedurals with strong female protagonists, both of these will probably hit the spot. Both had very assured plotting, and Hilary has already published a second book featuring her detective Marnie Rome, who has quickly established quite a following in the crime fiction reading community. With Kate London’s background in policing, her book had a brilliant authenticity in terms of procedure, and the psychological impact of the job on her police protagonists, which proved thought-provoking throughout. A highly promising debut. Both are recommended by the Raven…

Raven’s Book of the Month

25484031Despite the utter joy of getting my talons on a re-discovered Ed McBain classic with So Nude, So Dead, there is little hesitation in picking Michael Robotham’s Life Or Death as my favourite read this month. Showing his flexibility as a writer, as this book is so different in tone, character, and setting to his previous books (which I’ve also been rather partial to), this book was really something special. Sharing more in common with some of the best written contemporary American fiction, this book was by turns, emotive and violent, but never losing sight of the writer’s aim in providing a tension-fuelled thriller, that proved exceptionally hard to put down. Excellent.

*I know there was mention of an incredibly special book that I wanted to share with you this month. I will post a review soon, as it’s just been published in the UK, and I need to hit the thesaurus for some more superlatives…

 

Michael Robotham- Life Or Death

25484031Audie Palmer has spent a decade in prison for an armed robbery in which four people died, including two of the gang. Seven million dollars has never been recovered and everybody believes that Audie knows where the money is. For ten years he has been beaten, stabbed, throttled and threatened almost daily by prison guards, inmates and criminal gangs, who all want to answer this same question, but suddenly Audie vanishes, the day before he’s due to be released. Everybody wants to find Audie, but he’s not running. Instead he’s trying to save a life . . . and not just his own.

Billed as a cross between The Shawshank Redemption and No Country For Old Men, Life Or Death has been dubbed by Michael Robotham himself as the book he always meant to write. In all fairness, I would say that this is a book that all crime fiction lovers were meant to read. I have absolutely no qualms in stating that this is one of my absolute stand-out reads of the year so far, and here’s why…

From the very outset, Robotham firmly ensconces us in the world of Audie Palmer, a man on the brink of release from prison who stages an escape the night before his legitimate release. Immediately you are thinking why. Why would you do that? And take it from me, the journey to us discovering the reasons for this is a taut, compelling and dangerous one for us and Audie both. Pursued by both law enforcement, and a fellow prisoner granted an early release to track Audie down, Robotham takes us on nerve shredding yet beautifully paced story, revealing piece by piece the details of the cause of Audie’s incarceration, and his desperate dash for freedom. As he seeks to atone and deliver justice for the violent events of the past, Robotham immerses us in a world of corrupt officialdom who will stop at nothing to silence him…

With some degree of boldness I will say that although this crime novel strays to beyond 500 pages, there is not a single word wasted or scene out of place. I was enraptured from the outset by the vividness of the language, and the natural cadence of the American voice that shone throughout the book. Sometimes, when crime authors are locating their books in a non-native country to themselves, the voices do not so keenly demonstrate the natural rhythms and patterns of dialogue that they are seeking to represent. Robotham has done his homework well, as the natural ebb and flow of the Texan vernacular is keenly resonant throughout the book. Equally, the characterisation of all the main players is beautifully weighted throughout, so that characters that initially appear bad to the bone, are not truly so, as the demands of their public persona are starkly at odds with the depth of emotion, self-preservation and their fundamental human need to protect those closest to them. This is clearly in evidence in both Audie Palmer and law enforcement officer Ryan Valdez, who embark on a violent game of cat and mouse as the book progresses. Both men are imbued with their own sense of honour, sometimes twisted, that drives them to achieve retribution on the other for reasons I will not spoil here. I also loved Special Agent Desiree Furness, a pint-sized powerhouse of feistiness who endlessly strives to overcome both her gender and small stature within the masculine confines of the FBI. She adds not only an interesting counterbalance to the struggle between Audie and Valdez, but also affords Robotham to add some lighter moments to the book.

The slow reveal of Audie’s grand passion with the haunted and beautiful Belita is so poignantly and delicately portrayed, when taken in tandem with the more violent and disturbing aspects of the book, giving wonderful shades of light and dark throughout. Robotham plays with our empathy, and skilfully manipulates our perception of the characters, in a way that I have only rarely witnessed in crime fiction outside of those American crime writers that walk the line between crime writing and contemporary fiction. This along with the beautifully weighted and shifting timeline of the central plot, cannot help but hold you enthralled as the reveal of what has happened in the past gathers momentum to manipulate and taint the events in the present as Audie and Valdez hurtle towards a final showdown.

Although I have been a fan of Robotham’s for many years, as he is a consistently enjoyable crime writer, I was more than taken aback at this change of style, and if I had read this blind, would never have picked him as the author. Consequently, this has increased his stature even more, as this book demonstrates his true flexibility and skill as a writer, and has impressed me greatly, no mean feat in itself! A terrific book and executed quite beautifully. I am now emotionally spent…

Visit Michael Robotham’s website here Follow him on Twitter @michaelrobotham

(With thanks to Little Brown UK for the ARC)

Michael Robotham- Say You’re Sorry

My name is Piper Hadley and I went missing on the last Saturday of the summer holidays three years ago…When Piper and her friend Tash disappeared, there was a huge police search, but they were never found. Now Tash, reaching breaking point at the abuse their captor has inflicted on them, has escaped, promising to come back for Piper. Clinical psychologist Joe O’Loughlin and his stalwart companion, ex-cop Vincent Ruiz, force the police to re-open the case after Joe is called in to assess the possible killer of a couple in their own home and finds a connection to the missing girls. But they are racing against time to save Piper from someone with an evil, calculating and twisted mind…

 After the disappointment of my last crime read it was heartening to seek sanctuary in the criminal bosom of Michael Robotham. Robotham is a firm favourite of mine and once again provides a fine lesson in the craft of crime fiction with an utterly absorbing read. Drawing closely on real-life incidences of child abduction Robotham weaves a compelling tale focusing on the case of two missing teenage girls and the changing public perceptions of the both the case and the two as individuals under the glare of media scrutiny and the heightened sense of purpose the police investigation gains when one of the girls turns up dead. Once again clinical psychologist Joe O’Loughlin is called to assist in this troubling case and with the help of retired policeman Vincent Ruiz, seeks to determine the whereabouts of the remaining missing girl. The plot is taut and throws up many a quandary for our loveable duo as the investigation unfolds in different directions but what this book highlights more than most is Robotham’s consistently great characterisation.

This was particularly noticeable in Robotham’s portrayal of Piper Hadley a sporty and slightly ungainly teenager but who during her enforced incarceration is revealed as a very perceptive and thoughtful girl grappling mentally and physically with the challenges of the danger she finds herself in. The sections of the book where she narrates her day-to-day suffering at the hands of her abductor are truly moving and incredibly well-realised. I liked the way that her experiences are offset by the traumas caused by Joe’s own teenage daughter Charlie as she navigates her way through these difficult years, at times to the chagrin of her father, as she herself has been held captive in a previous criminal investigation involving Joe. Hence Joe draws on the feelings he had when his own daughter was abducted to aid his own mission to try and ensure the safe return of Piper to her family. On the theme of characterisation we are once again witness to the good-natured ribbing and heartfelt friendship and respect between Joe and Vincent. I adore Vincent despite his propensity for being an eminently unsuitable husband but totally counterbalanced by his mix of intuitive and ballsy approach to police work retired or not. Joe also finds himself involved in a little extra-curricular romantic action which added another facet to plot as well highlighting his slightly rusty skills with the fairer sex!

All in all this is a great read with a perfectly balanced plot, skilled characterisation and dialogue and just a twist or two along the way to add to the tense and thrilling denouement.

Visit Michael Robotham’s website at: http://www.michaelrobotham.com/ and love this quote on his author biog  “Michael can most often be found working in his ‘pit of despair’ (basement office) on Sydney’s northern beaches where he funds the extravagant lifestyles of a wife and three daughters.”
Downloaded digital galley from NetGalley http://www.netgalley.com/