Olivier Barde- Cabucon- Casanova and the Faceless Woman/ Rafael Bernal- The Mongolian Conspiracy

1759: Outside the gates of the magnificent Palace of Versailles, the city of Paris sits mired in squalor and crime. One night a body is found with ghastly mutilations that shock even the hardened city watch. The Inspector for Strange and Unexplained Deaths investigates this macabre outrage, and the clues he finds draw him into a deadly web of intrigue, bringing him face-to-face with the notorious adventurer and seducer, Giacomo Casanova. As a second butchered corpse is discovered, the Inspector finds his revolutionary past exposed and his life in grave danger. Can he pick a path between the factions secretly warring for control of the throne and find a way to the truth?

Take a trip with me, if you will to the excrement filled streets of pre-revolutionary Paris, and the dark and derring-do adventure that is Casanova and the Faceless Woman. I’m not a great reader of historical crime fiction, but with my slight obsession with The Three Musketeers, and the absolutely beautiful production of this paperback, it’s got flaps everyone, flaps, I was more than intrigued, and zut alors, what a brilliant read it was.

From the very first instance, Barde- Cabucon completely immerses his reader in the sights, sounds and teeming atmosphere of a Paris underscored by unrest, seditious movements, and a simmering resentment to Louis XV, the sexually voracious and profligate king. What you completely absorb as a reader is the sense of overcrowding, the imminent eruption of violence from the smallest beginnings, poverty and dirt. This vivid and lively depiction of Paris, set against the sumptuous confines of the royal court is strongly in evidence throughout the book, and this is an author who absolutely excels at scene setting, from the minutiae of a humble library, to a gaudy whorehouse, or to a narrow festering alleyway where danger lurks. I absolutely loved the descriptive nature of this book, and the way it so adroitly captured the lives of its inhabitants through all the senses.

I cannot begin to comprehend the depth of research that had to be undertaken for this, the first, of a now established series. By dint of using Casanova as a central character, there was an automatic need for the author to not only adhere to what we already know about him, but for him to become a fully fleshed out and engaging character who remained truthful to fact. Hence, the book is peppered with references to his own life story, but Barde-Cabucon also has a tremendous amount of fun with him too, as we bear witness to his sexual exploits, swordmanship, manipulation and skulduggery. This works superbly well, as he becomes entangled with the maudlin and intense Volnay, the Inspector for Strange and Unexplained Deaths, quite possibly the best job title in the world. As a larger conspiracy unfolds, we bear witness to an exquisite game of cat and mouse, and intense one-upmanship from two men who are divided on so many levels of life, and their wildly different moral compass. This plays out, not only in consideration of the central crimes and a conspiracy that brings the royal household into the mystery, but also on a baser level as a certain young lady casts a spell on them both too. The joie de vivre of Casanova is endlessly at odds with the despondent pragmatism of Volnay, leading to an entertaining, and at times enlightening insight into the lives of these two very different men. There’s also an incredibly cool monk. What book would be complete without one? Sit down Dan Brown.

The plot itself is quite complex, as Barde- Cabucon brings into play the bigger themes of religion, alchemy secret societies, and presents the reader with a larger puzzle where the questions of morality, loyalty and sedition prove integral to Volnay’s investigation. I did find that closer attention was needed sporadically to really get to grips with who was plotting what, against who and why, but cleverly these more intense periods of the narratives are beautifully interrupted by some great swashbuckling action scenes, or another of Casanova’s  passionate or ill-judged trysts which gives the plot a good fluidity of acceleration and deceleration overall. Yes, it’s quite a dense read, but the strength of the characterisation, the incredibly visual description and scene setting, and the wealth of historical detail just makes this book shine. I am delighted to see that that there a host of further books in this series, as I think that Monsieur Barde-Cabucon has just accrued another devotee. Highly recommended.

 

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Filiberto García is in over his head. An aging ex-hitman with a filthy mouth, he has three days to stop a rumored Mongolian plot to assassinate the President of the United States on his visit to Mexico. Forced to work with agents from the FBI and the KGB, García must cut through international intrigue. But with bodies piling up and the investigation getting murkier, he starts to suspect shady dealings closer to home, and to wonder why the hell he was hired in the first place.

With surely the best jacket quote of all time, from Francisco Goldman, “The best fucking novel ever written about Mexico City,” I was immediately sold on this one.

For readers of a more sensitive disposition, which I clearly am not, this is a book crammed with profanity, sexism and violence, reflecting its conception in the 60s where society allowed for a little more freedom of expression. Setting myself aside from the political correctness brigade, I’m more than happy to read books within the context of the time they were written, and yes, there is a certain flimsiness to the central female character, and the male characters drip testosterone and pent up rage, but I thought this was a brilliant slice of completely non-PC fun.

Ex-hitman Garcia is an odious character, foul mouthed, begrudging and resentful of pretty much anything and anyone including himself. His moments of self criticism are frequent and harsh, continually questioning his actions, his libido, and his worth, resulting in him being a little ball of anger throughout much of the book, until a rather touching moment of self-realisation towards the close of the book. His general peevishness is increased by having to work with two outside agents, as they collectively attempt to thwart a double presidential assassination, and he finds himself out on a limb as the depth of the conspiracy comes to light.

The violence comes thick and fast, in little explosive pockets in this relatively slim tale, with one instance in particular  being the only one to make any impact on Garcia’s generally steely hard-headedness, and there is a real pace and energy to the book as these cyclical moments of pow and kerpow occur. The prose also reflects this pace coming quick and fast, where no word is wasted, particularly the word ‘pinche’ and its more profane translation. Consequently, I rather enjoyed this one, with it’s snappy pace, staccato dialogue and description, and a rather likeable, although fundamentally dislikeable central character in the shape of the curmudgeonly and ageing Garcia, a man with an equal mix of attitude and angst. Recommended.

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Buy Casanova and the Faceless Woman here

Buy The Mongolian Conspiracy here

 

(With thanks to Pushkin Press for the ARCs)

#BlogTour- James Delargy- 55

Wilbrook in Western Australia is a sleepy, remote town that sits on the edge of miles and miles of unexplored wilderness. It is home to Police Sergeant Chandler Jenkins, who is proud to run the town’s small police station, a place used to dealing with domestic disputes and noise complaints.

All that changes on a scorching day when an injured man stumbles into Chandler’s station. He’s covered in dried blood. His name is Gabriel. He tells Chandler what he remembers. He was drugged and driven to a cabin in the mountains and tied up in iron chains. The man who took him was called Heath. Heath told Gabriel he was going to be number 55. His 55th victim. 
Heath is a serial killer.

As a manhunt is launched, a man who says he is Heath walks into the same station. He tells Chandler he was taken by a man named Gabriel. Gabriel told Heath he was going to be victim 55.
Gabriel is the serial killer.

Two suspects. Two identical stories. Which one is the truth?

There is a real slew of solid Australian crime writing at the moment from the likes of Jane Harper, Emma Viskic, Chris Hammer et al, and although not of Australian stock himself, James Delargy has produced a clever, disquieting, and altogether compelling thriller set in the remote western Australian outback, that holds more than one or two surprises of its own…

I think I can confidently guarantee that the very premise of this book, and the lengths that Delargy goes to in order to trick and wrong-foot his readers, will catch you out at regular intervals. With two men under suspicion of being a remorseless serial killer, and their individual stories of being captured and tortured by said serial killer, Delargy manages to keep the narrative tension spread over, for what is a crime thriller, a remarkable stretch of time. This is no mean feat as there is a relatively slim cast of characters, with only one real other story arc, the tension between the Police Sergeant Chandler Jenkins, and the team that come in to takeover the investigation, headed up by an unwelcome face from his past, Inspector Mitch Andrews.  I absolutely loved the conundrums that the seeming innocence of Gabriel and Heath, the two accused men brought to bear on the story, leading me to constantly re-evaluate the evidence that Delargy lays before us, perplexing the reader as much as the investigative team. Delargy is a real tease, as he consistently exposes pseudo Jekyl and Hyde aspects to both these men’s characters, and just as you fixedly decide on one’s guilt and the other’s innocence, guess what, you’re wrong. There is a real controlled and supremely well-measured pace to the book, so that the slightly slower passages where the men are interrogated, threatened or cajoled into professing their guilt, is punctuated by not only the backstory of the build up of animosity between Chandler and Mitch, but sporadic moments of nerve shredding tension, as the police mine for some credible evidence to prove the guilt of either Gabriel or Heath. Or neither. Or both. Or somebody else entirely…

I liked the character of Chandler Jenkins enormously, with his integrity and seemingly natural fair-mindedness, which plays of beautifully against the power crazed narcissism of Mitch Andrews, former friend, now foe. The differences between the two men, which is brought to light as the sub-narrative of one of their earliest cases together plays out, makes for a rocky, testy and tension filled investigation, outside of their basic remit of bringing a killer to justice, and there’s some nice little twists and turns in their relationship along the way too. To be honest the other members of the investigation team didn’t make a significant impact on me, but with the book focussing so intently on the changing boundaries,  and intensity of the exchanges between Chandler and Mitch, and their interactions Gabriel and Heath. There was more than enough angst, threat of violence and the whiff of testosterone to pretty much drown out the other characters, but not to any real detriment of the book overall.

Thinking about the characters further, I think there is a nice correlation between them, and the environment and location, the book is set in. Set in the bleak expanse of remote western Australia, there is an intense feeling that although the landscape is sprawling and open, the vastness and aridity of it can conceal so much. Two of the characters, seem to reflect the openness and raw beauty of this hostile landscape, whereas two others seem to reflect the opposite, with their characters being altogether more dark and volatile. Despite being set in this endlessly repeating landscape, there is a significant sense of claustrophobia to the book, and the local police station becomes a microcosm of energy and pent up tension, that works exceptionally well to unsettle the reader, and the ending? Well, far be it for me to spoil the ending, but I think the author deserves more than a smattering of applause for not going down a certain well-worn path in thriller finales- so thanks for that- and loved the ending.  I thought, bar a small period of the book, where the story slowed down just a wee bit too much, 55 was an extremely cleverly plotted, well-paced, and consistently engaging thriller with some nifty tricks in the narrative, solid characterisation of the main players, and suffused with the claustrophobic heat and isolation of its Australian setting. A compelling debut, and a recommended read.

(With thanks to Simon and Schuster for the ARC)

Catch up with the blog tour at these excellent sites:

 

#BlogTour- David F. Ross- Welcome To The Heady Heights

It’s the year punk rock was born, Concorde entered commercial service and a tiny Romanian gymnast changed the sport forever. Archie Blunt is a man with big ideas. He just needs a break for them to be realised. In a bizarre brush with the light-entertainment business, Archie unwittingly saves the life of the UK’s top showbiz star, Hank ‘Heady’ Hendricks’, and now dreams of hitting the big-time as a Popular Music Impresario. Seizing the initiative, he creates a new singing group with five unruly working-class kids from Glasgow’s East End. Together, they make the finals of a televised Saturday-night talent show, and before they know it, fame and fortune beckon for Archie and The High Five. But there’s a complication; a trail of irate Glaswegian bookies, corrupt politicians and a determined Scottish WPC known as The Tank are all on his tail…

I think it’s fair to say that Welcome To The Heady Heights, got a firm grip on me from the outset, leading to my comment on social media that “It’s all a bit mental. And I like that,” which became a familiar refrain when my curious bookselling colleagues asked me what the hell I was reading, with my poorly suppressed sniggering in the staffroom. What can I say? The book is wickedly funny, earthy, and goes to some very dark places indeed…

Straightaway, I was sucked into this book, in common with Alan Parks brilliant Bloody January which also plunges us into the moral and social cesspool of 1970s Glasgow. As an era defined by its suppression and mistreatment of the working class and the down at heel, whilst trying to gentrify and exploit society in equal measure. Although there is an unrelenting and brutal truthfulness to the city that Ross’ characters traverse, there is also an underlying feel of extreme pride and sympathy gravitating from Ross through his depiction of the city, the era, and his cast of misfortunates. In common with the great Irvine Welsh, life is grim, but there are moments of humour, epiphany and success that underscore the general downtrodden existence of Ross’ characters, and Archie Blunt in particular, most certainly getting closer to the gutter, being on the brink of losing his job, but coerced into the fakery of the world of light entertainment. The book is a real love letter to the 70s, peppered with cultural references, yes, I’m not a fan of Bohemian Rhapsody either, scaramouche my arse, and similarly to Benjamin Myers Turning Blue, homing in the world that came to light with the recent Yew Tree investigations. Equally, Ross shines an unflattering light on the rise of the corrupt businessman in the political world, and how dodgy contracts and oiled palms led to a generation of high rise building, heralded to those misfortunate to live in them as the best thing since sliced bread. This whole dirty whiff of corruption, be it police, financial, sexual,  or otherwise permeates the story, and the threat of violence and retribution is never far from the surface.

Ross has a real talent for characterisation, and I particularly enjoyed the stress and strain that he puts Archie through as the book progresses, revealing a tenacity and strength behind his somewhat timid exterior. As we see Archie getting sucked deeper and deeper into the murky waters of the Glasgow underworld, we are also become privy to a wide and interesting array of characters from both sides of the law. A tenacious female journalist on the trail of a corrupt businessman, Archie’s less than snowy white criminal associates, a group of dodgy lads aiming for the stars, and a resolute, although belittled female police officer palmed off with missing persons cases begins to see a cabal of depravity at work. As I said, the book takes us to some very dark places, but within his cast of characters, Ross balances humour, pathos and retribution beautifully, with the Glasgow vernacular front and centre, and a resigned balance of optimism and pessimism amongst his protagonists, which adds to their realism and our reactions to them as readers. I loved the mordant wit, and the very defined sense of the goodies, the baddies, and the generally confused. Will definitely be tracking back to read Ross’ Disco Days Trilogy, as this book proved to be a wee twisted gem, giving this reader a very warm welcome to the Heady Heights. A thoroughly gritty, uncompromising and entertaining throwback to the 70s and totally recommended.

(With thanks to Orenda Books for the ARC)

Revisit the blog tour at these excellent sites:

 

 

Blog Tour- Mari Hannah- The Scandal

When an young man is found stabbed to death in a side street in Newcastle city centre in the run up to Christmas, it looks like a botched robbery to DCI David Stone. But when DS Frankie Oliver arrives at the crime scene, she gets more than she bargained for. She IDs the victim as Herald court reporter, thirty-two-year old Chris Adams she’s known since they were kids. With no eyewitnesses, the MIT are stumped. They discover that when Adams went out, never to return, he was working on a scoop that would make his name. But what was the story he was investigating? And who was trying to cover it up? As detectives battle to solve the case, they uncover a link to a missing woman that turns the investigation on its head. The exposé has put more than Adams’ life in danger. And it’s not over yet…

Following The Lost and The Insider , both of which are really high-calibre police procedurals, we have now arrived at The Scandal, the third book featuring DCI David Stone and DS Frankie Oliver. I’m probably drawing on the biggest review cliché in the world, but this really is a series that goes from strength to strength…

Apart from the superlative structure of Mari Hannah’s books, and her remarkably fluid storytelling, that seems to just hold the reader in her palm of her hand, there are always additional layers of interest in every book. Too often police procedurals are a very linear affair, which probably is my main reason for avoiding most of them, but I am always singularly impressed how Hannah, in a similar way to the Scandinavian tradition of crime writing, throws a penetrating light on social issues, and spotlights those who suffer most in our unequal and unfair society. She achieves this not through soapbox posturing, but by carefully constructing her characters to reflect the effects of these problems in society, and the status quo, so we can make our own judgement call on them. In this book there are some big issues at the forefront of our duo’s investigation, bound up with homelessness, press corruption, and the abuse and exploitation of the elderly- weighty issues that are handled clear-sightedly and sensitively throughout. As a reader that enjoys the ability of crime fiction to more truthfully reflect and explore societal issues, Hannah’s books always hit the spot for this very reason.

Now before you start thinking that this all sounds a bit serious, I’ll throw into the mix the strength of Hannah’s characterisation too, particularly in relation to Stone and Oliver themselves. Their working and personal relationship is a wondrous thing, punctuated by humour, professional respect and periods of complete harmony in how they approach an investigation. However, there is always a slight chaos about their relationship that bursts forth every now and then, as Oliver is no doubt a very savvy detective but likes to go off-road every now and then, and Stone has to balance reining in her more impetuous behaviour, yet seeing where her more intuitive, sometimes secretive, detection takes them. Consequently, there are some wonderful moments of disagreement, class A sulking, and reluctant peace-making that is all rather enjoyable. Like all the best detecting duos, these moments of conflict and parity really make for genuinely engaging and likeable characters, surrounded by an equally strong supporting cast in their professional and private lives, which gives a real added layer of warmth and vibrancy to offset the darkness of  what proves to be a difficult and emotional investigation.

Obviously the portrayal of the North East is top drawer as usual (an area of the country I know well) and completely balanced in drawing attention to the best as well as the dodgy aspects of the area. I always feel a huge tug of emotion as Hannah traverses the region, and love the familiarity I have with the murder sites- if that doesn’t make me sound too much like a twisted weirdo. Joking aside, I will repeat what I have said before that Hannah obviously has a huge pride in, and affection for the region, and this is so tangible throughout her writing, and always a pleasure to read. It goes without saying that I always look forward to the next book Hannah produces, across any of her series, and once again, this is a highly engaging, intelligent, entertaining and well written police procedural. Highly recommended.

(With thanks to Orion Books for the ARC)

Check out an extract of The Scandal at Shotsmag

Catch up with the blog tour at these excellent sites:

 

Craig Russell- The Devil Aspect

1935. As Europe prepares itself for a calamitous war, six homicidal lunatics – the so-called ‘Devil’s Six’ – are confined in a remote castle asylum in rural Czechoslovakia. Each patient has their own dark story to tell and Dr Viktor Kosárek, a young psychiatrist using revolutionary techniques, is tasked with unlocking their murderous secrets.
At the same time, a terrifying killer known as ‘Leather Apron’ is butchering victims across Prague. Successfully eluding capture, it would seem his depraved crimes are committed by the Devil himself.
Maybe they are… and what links him with the insane inmates of the Castle of the Eagles?

At the close of the book, Craig Russell has included a small piece on why and how he chose to write this, and the depth of research he undertook in its creation. With its sublime mix of history, both societal and psychoanalytic, folklore, murder and mental disturbance, this is a real edge of your seat read, so settle back and find out why…

The book follows the progress of a grisly murder case, where a woman is eviscerated in the same style as Jack The Ripper’s victims some decades earlier. As the murderer stalks the street of Prague, a connection is made between the perpetrator the dark stories concerning the inhabitants of a mental asylum, and the apocryphal history of the haunted Hrad Orlu castle itself. Russell sucks us in completely to this ever more sinister tale, where we bear witness to the escalating violence of the killer in Prague, and the gradual unveiling of the Devil’s Six incarcerated in the asylum, and their uniquely horrific stories. However, what sets this apart from a slightly creepy horror story, are the fascinating strands of narrative that Russell fleshes the story out with, so we also get an insight into the heightening political tensions in both Czechoslavakia and Europe, the differing schools of thought regarding the treatment of mental disturbance, some truly creepy stories arising from Czech folklore, and a stark reminder of the tissue thin boundaries between sanity and insanity. Not only is this a skilfully rendered and haunting story of madness and murder, but the incorporation of these other facets make for an admittedly eerie but utterly fascinating read as we are so immersed in this period, and bear witness to the slowly evolving revolution in the treatment of the insane, continuing with, or challenging the work of Freud and Jung.

The characterisation in The Devil Aspect is top notch, and I really enjoyed the way that Russell toys with our perceptions of who is good or evil. Everyone is to some degree or another touched by madness, be it in their professional capacity, their interactions with the patients themselves, in the darkest corners of their own psyches sparked by events in their formative years, or the burgeoning of the present itself and the increasing hostility and restlessness sweeping across Europe. I am reluctant to dwell too much on individual characters themselves, as I really want you to be as surprised and shocked as I was as Russell slowly shines a spotlight on each, incorporating more than a few ‘bloody-hell-I-didn’t-see-that-coming-moments’ as he delves into their psyches. Suffice to say your sympathies and belief in some of the characters may be sharply turned on its head as you get more and more involved in this one.

Mwahaha…

So gird your loins everyone, as this book is guaranteed to haunt your dreams and undoubtedly some of your waking hours too. It’s clever, skilfully blending the worlds of science, detection and superstition, populated with an intriguing set of characters, and Russell uses the twin locations of Prague, and the remote forest setting of the Hrad Orlu asylum to the creepiest nth degree. Thoroughly enjoyed this one, so can not be anything less than highly recommended.

(With thanks to Constable for the ARC)

Ilaria Tuti- Flowers Over The Inferno

In a quiet village surrounded by the imposing Italian Alps, a series of violent assaults take place. Police inspector and profiler Teresa Battaglia is called in when the first body is found, a naked man whose face has been disfigured and eyes gouged out. Soon more victims are discovered – all horrifically mutilated – and when a new-born baby is kidnapped, Teresa’s investigation becomes a race against the clock.

But Teresa is also fighting a battle against her own body, weighed down by age and diabetes, and her mind, once invincible and now slowly gnawing away at her memory…

Okay, I think I’m going to have rein in my exuberance, passion and generally ‘gee-that-blew-me-away-ness’ that this book aroused in me. Having already staked a claim for a spot in my Top Ten of the year, I will endeavour to do justice to this frankly incredible book. Bear with me…

The first absolute stand out feature of this book is the character of Teresa Battaglia herself, an older woman battling the twin issues of ageing and physical deterioration. Tuti paints a moving and incredibly touching portrait of this indomitable woman who caught up in an exceptionally distressing and seeming unsolvable case, is battling with her increasing concerns over her mental aptitude, recording her thoughts day by day feeling that they could slip away from her at any time, “what am I if not my thoughts, my memories, my dreams, my hopes for the future? What am I without these feelings, without my dignity?” These sections of the book where Battaglia unloads her consciousness into the written word are incredibly moving, brimming with a self-awareness, and a fluttering sense of mental fortitude that enthrals the reader, and says much about every person’s fear of losing their sense of self.

Partly because of this, she over compensates in the tough exterior she is known for, not suffering fools gladly, and proving a hard taskmaster for her investigating team. The scenes that focus on her repartee with one of the newer members of her squad, who experiences no easy ride from his new boss are particularly barbed, but cut through with wit and a slowly developing sense of acceptance in a play on the pupil and mentor roles. She is, however, bestowed with a remarkable empathy for both victims and the killer saying at one point that “before crossing the point of no return, even a serial killer is a human being in pain. Often abused. Always lonely” which is incredibly prescient as the plot plays out. Tuti cleverly manipulates both Battaglia’s and the readers’ perception of the killer throughout, blurring the lines of moral responsibility, and with a real sense of there but for the grace of God.

As regular readers of my reviews know, landscape is all important in my assessment and enjoyment of the books I read, and this small village overshadowed by forest and mountains in the Alpine region, works completely in harmony with the story. It’s an enclosed community, rife with secrets, and permeated with suspicion and folklore, producing a creepy and chilling backdrop to this murderous tale, “it was like the village had for many years been infected by a dark, tainted humour which had slipped beneath its surface, and festered there, out of sight.” The darkness, density and danger of the surrounding terrain, provides a place of both safety and threat for a group of children with difficult home lives, lending the story a touch of Stephen King who often employs children as a conduit for evil. It’s very effectively done, and really heightens the creeping sense of unease that permeates the book, and with the portrayal of the St Nicholas’ Day torch-lit procession evoking the evil figure of the Krampus, Tuti builds further on this theme of darkness and threat lurking in the shadows of this claustrophobic community.

I think it’s fair to say that this book left a real impression in its wake on this reader, being not only a perfectly formed murder mystery, but also a book that is layered with a supreme awareness of the frailties and strengths of the human condition, through the investigators, the inhabitants of the village and the killer too. I found this a really intense and emotional reading experience, and felt utterly bound up in the lives of the characters, and the travails they experience. Absolutely highly recommended.

(With thanks to W&N for the ARC)

Fergus McNeill- Ashes of America

It’s 1953, and an optimistic America is shaking off the hurt of World War II. Russia is defeated and Germany is now an ally. Former soldier Frank Rye is a small-town cop in rural Missouri, but the war has left him cynical and selfish. When his actions lead to the murder of a fellow officer, guilt drives him into a vengeful hunt for justice. His search for the killer will drag him deep into his own past, to the wartime summer of 1944, when he was stationed in neutral Switzerland, to a clandestine world of love and lies. To unmask the killer, he must uncover the truth about the war and about himself…

It’s been a long wait for a new book from Fergus McNeill, but all good things come to those who wait, some of us less patiently than others, and Ashes of America is a more than welcome return from this always excellent author…

From the outset this book ticked a huge amount of boxes for me, with a split narrative set in post war 1950s Missouri, and also 1940s war-time Switzerland. McNeill captures effortlessly, the zeitgeist of the post war era in America, and immerses us in a period where everyone was touched in such measure by the seismic events of this conflict. None more so than his main character Frank Rye, a cop in Missouri, whose back story surrounding his wartime service brings a real vigour and excitement to what could easily just be a linear tale of betrayal and murder. With the brutal killing of a fellow cop in a real wrong time, wrong place scenario, Rye quickly realises that someone is baying for his blood, and finding himself suspended, he sets out on a maverick mission to catch the killer. All well and good, but here’s the thing that McNeill does so well. By pivoting us back to Rye’s clandestine activities in Switzerland during his army service, McNeill has achieved the not so achievable feat of presenting us with two seemingly unrelated narratives that mirror the energy and suspense of each other.

As a fan of spy thrillers, and crime fiction, this provided a hugely enjoyable reading experience. The 1940s Switzerland based story is a perfect example of a well executed spy story, which thanks to McNeill’s excellent rendition of atmosphere and location, sees us following Rye through the twisted streets and dark corners of this beautiful Swiss setting, chasing shadowy figures, relying on his smarts, and trying to avoid physical harm. When I was reading this, I was instantly reminded of the black and white hues of Carol Reed’s The Third Man as Rye seeks to make sense of the strange situation he finds himself in, and the array of secretive characters he becomes inextricably entangled with in this wartime subterfuge. McNeill employs a real smoke and mirrors feel to this storyline, keeping us and Rye himself in a shroud of uncertainty as to why he is there, and who exactly can be trusted as everyone seems duplicitous to one degree or another. It is a beautifully crafted espionage tale, punctuated by newspaper excerpts, keeping us firmly rooted in this idyllic setting with its own claustrophobic intensity whilst reminding us of the war raging on elsewhere.

In 1950s Missouri, as Rye pursues a murderer and his female accomplice from his backwoods station to Kansas City, there is all the tension and suspense of a crime thriller, where in all the best tales, Rye turns maverick cop, but in true Jack Reacher fashion, reveals a few more sensitive facets to his character, that the opening of the book has firmly disabused us of. With a steely determination and a ready fist, Rye succeeds in antagonising most of those he encounters in his path, which leads to an exciting and tense counter-narrative, which then whips you back to the alpine subterfuge, and the slightly different pace, intensity but no less exciting storyline. When encountering a character like Rye, tough, dogged and cynical in outlook, I almost always take to them, and I quickly thought that there would be a real mileage to this character in further books, dependent on whether he reached the end of the book in one piece. Well, you’ll have to find that out for yourselves, and I would urge you to find this out for yourselves. Really enjoyed this one, and good to see the return of Fergus McNeill.

Highly recommended.

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With thanks to the author for the ARC

Buy Ashes of America:  Amazon UK & Amazon.com