#BlogTour- Jesper Stein- Die For Me

A depraved stalker. An unsolved murder. A cop who will stop at nothing to catch the killer. A brutal stalker is preying on women in Copenhagen. DI Axel Steen begins an obsessive manhunt that sends him spiralling out of control.  The investigation is fraught with heart-stopping near misses, dark mysteries, and a final revelation with devastating consequences. 

I was fortunate enough to take part in the blog tour marking the release of the first Axel Steen thriller Unrest which proved an exhilarating and thought provoking series opener. In common with the first book, Jesper Stein has no reticence into plunging his reader into a nightmarish scenario, with a particularly vicious and sadistic individual stalking the streets of Copenhagen…

On the basis of the first two books, it comes as no surprise that they have been optioned for television by the producers of The Bridge, and if they find the right actor to bring the right level of tortured maverick detective, well, it will be an absolute must see! What Stein achieves so beautifully is manipulating the old cliché of crime fiction, that of the maverick cop with mental and physical weaknesses, estranged from personal relationships, lives for the job and so on, by making his protagonist Axel Steen utterly mesmerising. He’s strong-willed and tenacious, somewhat foolhardy at times with his physical wellbeing, both by his own actions and by putting himself in the path of danger without a moment’s hesitation, but what I really like about his character is the absolute certainty and steadfastness he brings to every action he takes in his professional life.  His doggedness of purpose and the absolute empathy he has with both the murder victim, and the women who have been subjected to the most violent and degrading attacks, sets him apart admirably from his colleagues, and more importantly instils a faith in the women that their attacker will be caught and punished. To balance it out nicely, his personal life is not so clear-cut and leads to times of procrastination, doubt, and complete tactlessness but hey, he’s only human, but there is also an insidious presence in his day job who would probably tick off even the most mild mannered individual, to add to his troubles. Steen carries within him a mercurial mix of hot-headedness, empathy, compulsiveness, and sheer bloody-mindedness that makes him unpredictable, but also fascinating. A complicated man to be sure, but a great character…

Dealing with such an emotive and troubling subject as violence against women and rape, I think there is a danger of readers becoming desensitised slightly to the effect of these crimes, and the fear, shame and anger that women live with afterwards. I found this central theme in the book was handled in a particularly sensitive and balanced way, that whilst not shying away from the more visceral physical details of what these women have been subjected to, there is a real sense of understanding throughout of how this impacts on both their lives, and physical and mental wellbeing post-trauma. It felt to me that Stein had either researched this extremely thoroughly, but more evidently had spoken to women who had experienced this extreme violence, and what it had meant to live with the memory and affect of this crime. I may be wrong, but the book felt that it had a deeper connection to, and empathy with, victims of violence, rather than some of the more lazy depictions I have read. Equally, Stein succeeds admirably in steering clear of the mawkish, having a cool and clearheaded approach to the specifics of the crimes, a sense of sympathy to the victims, but wholly adhering to the natural aspect of the Scandinavian crime fiction tradition, where character and plot are so completely bound up with one another.

As well as focussing on the emotional and physical effects of the crimes perpetrated, there was also a dizzying amount of detail regarding the forensic investigation, written in a very natural and engaging way, and not just clumsily shoehorned into the narrative. Admittedly, those of us who practically inhale crime fiction would be aware of some aspects of forensic detection, but I learnt some really interesting stuff along the way, in terms of forensic investigation, reading a crime scene, and the intrinsic correlation of science with intuitive investigation in approaching cold cases. In conjunction with the extremely unpredictable Axel Steen and  the slow burning tension of a complex and twisting investigation, I thought this was a great follow-up in the series. With the usual precision and sheer readability of a translation by Charlotte Barslund, Die For Me is to be recommended. Excellent.

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(With thanks to Mirror Books for the ARC)

Catch up with the blog tour at these excellent sites:

 

M. P. Wright- A Sinner’s Prayer

1970, Bristol. What’s buried doesn’t always stay buried. It’s a new decade and JT Ellington has taken himself out of the investigation game. But when an old friend asks him to help a doctor whose son disappeared hours after his wedding, JT’s commitment to a life lived under the radar is tested. His quest hurls him back into the underworld he’s worked so hard to leave behind. Charred remains in a churchyard, and a series of cold-blooded threats are stark warnings to JT, and to everyone he holds dear. Amid his terrorised community, JT locks horns with the vile underbelly of British far-right politics and a notorious gangland king. It’s not until JT uncovers a name from his own tragic past that the pieces of the investigation slot into place. But, with dark forces intent on destroying him, JT is pitted against an extraordinary enemy. He must play as dirty and dangerous as those who want him dead…

This is such a consistently excellent series that I would say from the outset it is an incredibly valuable use of your time to backtrack and begin from the beginning if you get the opportunity : Heartman, All Through The Night and Restless Coffins.  However, if you’re diving in to this one, The Sinner’s Prayer first, have no fear as you will soon become very well acquainted with Mr J. T. Ellington, his turbulent past and the very real dangers that threaten his present. Transporting us to Bristol in the 1970s, with an impeccable realisation of the city and the seamless inclusion of cultural and social references to root us firmly in this period, Wright leads us into a false of security with Ellington ( an ex colonial police officer hailing from Barbados) leading a quiet life as a school caretaker and caring for his adopted daughter, but trouble swiftly arrives on Ellington’s doorstep, and his natural impulse as an ex police officer and a ‘resting’ private investigator takes a hold when his newly acquired peace is threatened.

What defines Ellington as a character is his unerring sense of morality, the sense of atonement he carries from the dark events of his past, and his general compulsion to ‘do the right thing’ and give comfort to those that innocent victims leave in mourning. Sometimes his heightened sense of morality leads to him acting in ways slightly contrary to the law, but throughout the books there is just this resonance of goodness about him, whatever ends may justify the means. Of all the crime series I’ve read this is one of the few where I have a real picture of Ellington in my head, as due to the vividness of Wright’s characterisation I instinctively picture how Ellington dresses, moves and hear the cadence and rhythm of his speech. I hesitate to use the word flawless, but if any budding writer wants to know how to convey a character with absolute clarity to their reader, using relatively slight descriptions and implied characteristics that imprint on the reader’s imagination, this is a good place to start. Just to linger on characterisation for a little longer, this aptitude for an incredibly visual realisation of his central character is also extended to Ellington’s family, friends and criminal acquaintances, and tempted as I am to rattle on about Ellington’s colourful, criminal, unscrupulous and violent gangster cousin Vic, I will contain myself. I adore Vic, despite his borderline psychopathy, and the fact that the minute he enters the fray, you know that the danger and violence will be ramped up to the nth degree…

Once again, the storyline is tightly plotted, weaving in echoes of past events and people previously encountered as Ellington finds himself in the crosshairs of a powerful and influential local figure. Tasked with tracking down those responsible for two particularly insidious murders, Ellington faces a tricky task to discover who is be trusted or not, and how this case could be the dangerous he has faced to date. By engaging us so comprehensively with his characters, the twists, turns and inherent dangers of Ellington’s quest, become totally consuming as you feel very invested in him, and his less than honest associates. There are a more than a few unexpected twists in the narratives, and one demise of a character was followed by an audible gasp from me. On a bus. Full of people. In the course of Ellington’s investigation, outside of keeping up the necessary pace of the story, you are given space as a reader to think about and absorb some of the wider issues that Wright brings to the narrative, so it’s an incredibly satisfying blend of thriller and social and cultural observation.

I’m actually writing this review with a slight sense of loss hanging over me, as it would appear that this series is being put to bed for a while, with M. P. Wright stating that he wanted to deliver a sense of peace to Ellington and his kinfolk at the close of the series. All well and good, but by heck, does he put some of  them through an emotional and violent wringer first, once again proving the author’s prowess at plot, pace, characterisation, and his absolute ability to capture the zeitgeist of the period that he sets this series within. I can honestly say that I have never experienced a dip in the pure readability of all the previous books, and The Sinner’s Prayer is no exception to the rule, completely mirroring the obviously very high standard of writing that this author consistently produces. Absolutely recommended, and do bear in mind my advice to read all of the series. You won’t regret it…

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Raven reviews: Heartman / All Through The Night / Restless Coffins

An interview with M. P. Wright

(With thanks to Black & White Publishing for the ARC)

Catch up with the blog tour at these excellent sites:

 

 

#BlogTour- Chris Carter- Hunting Evil

As roommates, they met for the first time in college. Two of the brightest minds ever to graduate from Stamford Psychology University. As adversaries, they met again in Quantico, Virginia. Robert Hunter had become the head of the LAPD’s Ultra Violent Crimes Unit. Lucien Folter had become the most prolific and dangerous serial killer the FBI had ever encountered.

Now, after spending three and a half years locked in solitary confinement, Lucien has finally managed to break free. And he’s angry. For the past three and a half years, Lucien has thought of nothing else but vengeance. The person responsible for locking him away has to pay, he has to suffer.
That person … is Robert Hunter.
And now it is finally time to execute the plan…

After boom shabang of a cliff hanger at the end of The Gallery of the Dead Chris Carter has reintroduced us to the devil incarnate in the shape of strangely charismatic serial killer, Lucien Folter from An Evil Mind. Having escaped incarceration he is on a revenge mission, and has our erstwhile hero Detective Robert Hunter of the LAPD Ultra Violent Crimes Unit firmly in his sights.

Let the terror begin.

If ever the question was put to me of what would be my ‘treacle’ read, I would plump for Mr Carter every time.  I have a real sense of just sitting back and relaxing with these books, allowing them to take me on a flight of fear and excitement, with characters I’m familiar and comfortable with, and the nifty way that Carter has of plumbing the depths of real evil, offering up a host of ghoulish surprises along the way. I see that the jacket for this one is emblazoned with the message, “As addictive as a TV boxset,” and that is in no way wide of the mark for the sheer entertainment value of his books. In the same way as Stephen King, Carter very much plays up to the notion that his readers like to be unnerved, startled and genuinely scared at points, and I always enjoy the way his killers come crashing into the lives of ordinary people like you and I which always adds another level of tension to his books. Ten books in and Carter is showing no let up in the depths of depravity his books deliciously reveal to us. Mwahaha…

As I think I have now read all ten books in the series, I am still delighted by his two central police characters, Detectives Hunter and Garcia, the cerebral Batman and Robin as I refer to them. Throughout the course of the books, Carter uses the character of Garcia to filter information to the reader, as he observes and questions the more intuitive impulses of Hunter, during their investigations. What is noticeable in this book is that as much as Hunter is caught out by the sheer deviousness of Folter, especially when the case takes a more personal turn, there seems to be a slight growing in stature of Garcia. Although he still questions, he is much more forthcoming with his challenges to Hunter’s suppositions, and makes some significant breakthroughs of his own, as Hunter becomes so immersed in his battle of wills with Folter.  As much as Hunter takes centre stage, and rightfully so given his personal history with Folter, I very much enjoyed seeing Garcia blossom, equally so, as he as he had missed out on their previous showdown in An Evil Mind, but perhaps this worked significantly in his favour, giving him an unsullied take on this most pernicious of adversaries. Being reluctant to reveal any of the details on this tussle between Hunter and Folter, suffice to say there are some interesting blurred lines between them, and as clichéd as it may be, Folter possesses all the twisted charm, cerebral flexibility, and extreme wickedness of a certain Mr Lecter, as he embarks on his devilish game of cat and mouse with Hunter, the US Marshall service, and the FBI. I quite like him, although he is one evil dude.

I think Chris Carter should be afforded some major kudos for maintaining such consistency over a relatively long series of books, still unleashing some surprising twists and tricks along the way, and for this reason Hunting Evil is no exception. He seems to have an infinite trove of heinous murderous techniques, and a bottomless pit of nasty, violent killers to scare the bejesus out of us with. This I applaud, and for this reason too, I will be a constant reader of this author. Bring on the nasty…

(With thanks to Simon & Schuster for the ARC)

Catch up with the blog tour at these excellent sites:

 

#BlogTour- William Shaw- Deadland

The two boys never fitted in. Seventeen, the worst age, nothing to do but smoke weed; at least they have each other. The day they speed off on a moped with a stolen mobile, they’re ready to celebrate their luck at last. Until their victim comes looking for what’s his – and ready to kill for it.

On the other side of Kent’s wealth divide, DS Alexandra Cupidi faces the strangest murder investigation of her career. A severed limb, hidden inside a modern sculpture in Margate’s Turner Contemporary. No one takes it seriously – not even the artwork’s owners, celebrity dealers who act like they’re above the law. However,  as Cupidi’s case becomes ever more sinister, as she wrangles with police politics and personal dilemmas, she can’t help worrying about those runaway boys. Seventeen, the same age as her own headstrong daughter. Alone, on the marshes, they’re pawns in someone else’s game. Two worlds are about to collide… 

The latest addition to William Shaw’s superlative DS Alexandra Cupidi series following The Birdwatcher and Salt Lane, Deadland returns us to the haunting coastal area of Dungeness, and two compelling investigations for Cupidi and her colleagues…

It’s no secret that I think William Shaw is one of the most accomplished, and consistently good crime authors at work in Britain today, and I always embark on his new books with a slight nervous tingle, hoping that each will be as satisfying as the previous. Which brings us to Deadland which was everything I hoped it would be (massive sigh of relief). What I love with this series (and his previous trilogy featuring DS Cathal Breen and PC Helen Tozer) is the way that Shaw, in common with his coastal location, ebbs and flows with his characters, moving them around like chess pieces bringing them back and forwards to the centre of the storyline with Capaldi being at the rooted centre. Consequently, this book reintroduces us to disgraced ex-police officer William South from The Birdwatcher, and where Salt Lane was very much involved with the generational differences of Capaldi, her mother and her daughter, this book switches the focus more onto Capaldi’s colleagues, alongside the central investigations.

I think it’s worth drawing attention to this, to emphasize the sheer quality of Shaw’s characterisation, and how roundly and believably drawn his characters are. Capaldi is a professional working mother with a recalcitrant teenage daughter, South is a man obviously tarnished by his prison experience, constable Jill Ferriter experiencing professional and personal difficulties, a diversion into the weird and wonderful inhabitants of the ‘art’ world and, at the heart of the book two wayward teenage boys, Tap and Sloth, with their own trials and tribulations. Without a doubt, each and every one of these characters are brimming with realism, so that you feel totally part of their contrasting experiences and world views. The narrative voice of each is precise, and authentic, and this is particularly true of Tap and Sloth, and the changes we see in their brash teenage bravado as the book progresses. With subtle changes in rhythm and syntax, Shaw brings all these voices to life, and with it an even greater connection to them for the reader.

Another element of this book that I enjoyed was the striking juxtaposition of the two investigations that Capaldi and her colleagues are tasked with. Throughout his books Shaw has always tackled difficult social issues be they of the 1960s or now, and the fact that this book straddled two very economically and materially different worlds was an interesting facet of the book. From the dripping wealth and pretentiousness of the art world, to the very different world inhabited by the teenage protagonists, Shaw retains the tension of both, and how crime bridges all social strata and class. It’s also interesting to observe the changes of attitude in the police characters between both investigations, and where their sympathies lie, and how their own attitudes reveal themselves. Indeed, the fears and frustrations at play in this book, in both their professional and personal lives too, are as finely balanced with the arc of the plot, holding the whole book in balance, as Shaw assuredly takes us between these contrasting worlds and characters. Sometimes with two storylines playing out there is a tension in the reader to return to one more swiftly than the other, but I think this was neatly avoided with both strands of the story having their own particular pace and moments of peril. I must confess that my former blissful ignorance of the art world kept me wholly engaged as the book progressed, and admittedly none of my preconceptions about the inhabitants of this world were largely disproved. Which was nice.

So a glowing review for Deadland and another heartfelt plea to discover this author for yourselves. With pitch perfect characterisation, immersive storylines, a striking use of location, and accomplished writing and plotting, there is so much to enjoy in this series. Highly recommended.

(With thanks to Riverrun for the ARC)

#BlogTour- Iain Maitland- Mr Todd’s Reckoning

Behind the normal door of a normal house, in a normal street, two men are slowly driving each other insane. One of them is a psychopath.

The father- Mr Todd is at his wits’ end. He’s been robbed of his job as a tax inspector and is now stuck at home… with him. Frustrated. Lonely. Angry. Really angry.

The son- Adrian has no job, no friends. He is at home all day, obsessively chopping vegetables and tap-tap-tapping on his computer. And he’s getting worse, disappearing for hours at a time, sneaking off to who-knows-where?

The unholy spirit in the safety of suburbia, one man has developed a taste for killing. And he’ll kill again…

Last year I had the pleasure of reviewing Iain Maitland’s previous book Sweet William which I thoroughly enjoyed, so jumped at the chance to read Mr Todd’s Reckoning and participate in this blog tour, for what looked to be a deliciously dark and disturbing read. I was not disappointed…

When I was a child, I had the very good fortune of an open-minded mum who allowed me to watch programmes not entirely suited to my young age, Tales of the Unexpected being a good example of this. Perhaps because of this my taste in crime fiction has always swayed to the darker content, and from the outset this book provoked in me a strong remembrance of the brilliant and unsettling twisted tales of Mr Dahl, where a situation that appears to be fairly normal and ordinary is slowly revealed to be something much more disturbing indeed. As I entered the world of disgraced ex-tax inspector Malcolm Todd and that of his troubled son Adrian, my antennae were twitching and for good reason, as Maitland constructs a particularly chilling tale of murder and sexual obsession from the most commonplace beginning…

Once again, this review presents its own serious dilemmas in what to reveal and withhold, but suffice to say as the character of Malcolm Todd is stripped down and exposed to the world, what comes to light is not only the chagrin of a middle aged man consigned to the employment scrapheap, but a man who harbours some incredibly dark secrets indeed, and an incredible aptitude for dealing with life’s awkward or inconvenient episodes in his own inimitable style. He is possessed of a wonderful narcissism that disabuses him of any perception of how his words or actions may be received, and I found the incredibly dry wit with which Maitland recounts these episodes through his character was uncomfortably hilarious. Which is a good thing.

Throughout the book there is an incredibly matter of fact tone to Todd, who confronts any inconvenience head-on, quick to justify his actions, as he little or no self-awareness of how this affects others, and with an incredibly measured acceptance that it’s all for the good. Despite what is slowly revealed throughout the book, I experienced a considerable amount of reading pleasure from this character, as his solipsistic behaviour becomes more and more extreme as the book progresses, and the narrative builds up the claustrophobic relationship between us and him, as we bear witness to his increasingly erratic and dangerous behaviour. I think it’s fair to say that he is dislikeable in the extreme, and as the general air of threat and violence unfolds, our antagonism towards him increases steadily, until the wholly satisfying conclusion.

This book is dark to the nth degree, dealing with a broad compass of human frailties, from jealousy to obsession to perversion to revenge, and there is a good deal of fairly graphic violence too, and speaking from experience, perhaps best avoided on your lunch break. However, I think that this level of uncompromising violence worked extremely effectively, as the day to day humdrum of Todd’s suburban life is increasingly interrupted, by situations and people that need to be dealt with, for real or imagined transgressions. Maitland is so adept at portraying the finer details of this dull and down-at-heel household, with it’s shabby furnishings and peeling wallpaper, that by stressing the ordinariness of the Todds’ existence, the reader is so adroitly unsettled when particular incidents occur.  I admit that the darker aspects of this book were wonderfully surprising, and with a couple of real gasp-out-loud incidents, I loved being drawn into a seemingly normal life that was anything but, and the sheer depth of evil that was lurking behind the grubby net curtains.

Recommended…if you’re brave enough…

(With thanks to Saraband for the ARC)

Catch up with blog tour at these excellent sites:

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 that 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)

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