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

_DSC0185 (Common Raven)Started off the month at quite a pace, and more than happy that despite some recurrent issues with my technology, managed to post ten reviews. However, thanks to the blip with the I.T. (yes, I did try turning it off- and back on again) there are another couple of reviews in reserve for September posting. With three blog tours on the horizon for September for Simon Toyne- Solomon Creed, Rod Reynolds- The Dark Inside and Kati Hiekkapelto- The Defenceless, and a stack of new releases,  I’m also going to try and get to a lovely little pile of books from authors I discovered in May at CrimeFest. Fingers crossed. It’s going to be a busy month that’s for sure!

Books read and reviewed:

Neely Tucker- Murder D.C. (www.crimefictionlover.com)

Jason Hewitt- The Dynamite Room

Simon Sylvester- The Visitors

 S. Williams- Tuesday Falling

M. O. Walsh- My Sunshine Away

Catherine Hunt- Someone Out There

Jax Miller- Freedom’s Child

Doug Johnstone- The Jump

Olen Steinhauer- All The Old Knives (www.crimefictionlover.com)

Ava Marsh- Untouchable (www.crimefictionlover.com)

RAVEN’S BOOK OF THE MONTH

tuesInterestingly this has been a month of real highs and lows but there are three books worthy of another mention before the grand unveiling. I absolutely loved the fresh, vibrant and unique debut Tuesday Falling by S. Williams, and have already been recommending it to colleagues and customers alike. Mixing the hidden history of life below London, with cutting edge technology, this was a real winner.  Pacey plot, great characters and some real “well, I never knew that” moments.

I was bewitched by Olen Steinhauer’s All The Old Knives with it’s seemingly familiar settingall-the-old-knives-978144729574701 of an intimate dinner for two, but by the clever use of shifting timelines in a fairly compact form, revealed much more beneath it’s surface, in a twisting tale of CIA chicanery and double-dealing. An intelligent and compelling thriller.

The-Jump-Doug-JohnstoneAlso, Doug Johnstone’s The Jump, which could certainly feature in my end of year round-up, due to the emotional intensity and sensitivity with which he draws his main character, and the mesmeric quality of the prose. Powerful writing, which would put many contemporary fiction writers in the shade.

 

CJZBS7gVAAAmIfbHowever, top honour this month goes to Jax Miller- Freedom’s Child– with its edgy subject matter, a brilliant main protagonist in the form of the eponymous Freedom, and for demonstrating all that the Raven likes best about gritty American fiction. Lean and lyrical prose, social comment, a sublime use of location, and a book that resonates long after the reading of it. Loved it. Loved it. Loved it.

 

Raven’s Crime Debut of 2014

_DSC0185 (Common Raven)Well, what an incredibly close-fought competition this was and having read so many debuts this year, a mammoth task to select one clear winner! So, in the spirit of fairness, I will give some very honourable mentions to the following before revealing my winner…

 

neelyNeely Tucker- Ways of The Dead: I had a sneaky eye on this one from the minute it arrived into the bookstore where I work, due to the dual temptations of a cover recommendation from Michael Connelly, and a Washington setting promising echoes of George Pelecanos. To be honest, I could not have been any more delighted with this book, as it not only delivered in spades from this starting point, but also imbued all the social critique and wry humour of The Wire too. I know. You’re intrigued now too aren’t you?

Read my review  here

fewNadia Dalbuono- The Few: A singularly impressive Italian set crime debut that I cannot recommend highly enough. The story focuses on Detective Leone Scamarcio, the son of a once powerful mafia figure. Scamarcio has turned his back on the family business and is on the Rome police force. He is handed a file containing compromising photographs of the Italian foreign secretary with male prostitutes, and soon after that embroiled in the disappearance of a young American girl on holiday with her family. With the possible links between both cases revealing themselves to our suave detective, Dalbuono conjurs up a thriller that is dark, compelling and totally unputdownable.

Read my review here

springCilla & Rolf Bjorlind- Spring Tide: Opening with the unsettling murder of a young pregnant woman at the time of the spring tide, twenty-four years previously and now designated as a cold case: a case which a young police trainee, Olivia Ronning, is designated as a summer project. The plot unfolds in a number of directions, bringing the reader into the world of contemporary Sweden and a series of brutal attacks on the homeless community, cold-bloodedly filmed and uploaded to social media sites, a series of attacks that the police are failing to solve. An assured Scandinavian debut that kept me completely gripped…

Read my review  here

 

And the winner is…

 

the-lying-down-roomThe Lying- Down Room is an astounding, emotive and utterly gripping French debut thriller by Anna Jaquiery that it was my great pleasure to review in June. I didn’t think that there was anyone to challenge Pierre Lemaitre (author of Alex and Irene)  in my affections as a French crime author par excellence but delighted to discover that there is. I implore you to discover this one too!

The Lying Down Room introduces us to the charismatic and dedicated Chief Inspector Serge Morel. The story opens in Paris in the stifling August heat, and Morel is called to examine a disturbing crime scene. An elderly woman has been brutally murdered to the soundtrack of Faure’s Requiem, and her body grotesquely displayed. The reasons for this murder and the choice of victim baffle Morel and his team.

But our detective has problems of his own. His father, such an influence in his life, is descending into the grip of senility. If that weren’t enough for him, Morel is having an affair with a friend’s wife, but has become unsettled by the reappearance of his lost love, Mathilde. Like so many other fictional detectives, Morel has a quirky interest to relieve his angst and focus his mind. In his case it’s origami.

As the investigation continues, and further murders happen, his fingers fold faster and faster. He makes a connection between the victims and two individuals – a middle aged man and a young boy – who distribute religious pamphlets in the suburbs. Soon his inquiries take him back into the past, away from Paris into the French countryside, and eventually to the heart of Soviet Russia. A tragic story begins to unfold.

In terms of characterisation, The Lying Down Room contains all the key ingredients needed to herald the arrival of a new detective in the crime fiction genre. Morel is a very carefully constructed and wonderfully realised character. He combines natural charm and humour that immediately resonate. His interactions in both his professional and personal lives allow the many different facets of his character to shine – like the focused and dedicated police officer, and the man thwarted in love. There are some intensely moving scenes between him and his father. This relationship is filled with pathos, adding poignancy to Morel’s situation. Morel is a man of contradictions with his character being all the more emotionally interesting for it, and consequently the scene is set for further exploration of this detective.

The narrative is particularly impressive, with nice, clean delineation between the various strands that come into play within the plot. Not only is the central murder storyline well paced and realistic, but as Jaquiery expands the story to encompass the personal narratives of the perpetrators themselves, she weaves together various locations and timelines. What emerges is an incredibly human tale of lost opportunities and wicked twists of fate that can put an individual on the path towards murder. Cleverly, this aspect of the novel invokes natural sympathy in the reader as we bear witness to the incredibly sad events in our antagonists’ pasts, evinced in the stark portrayal of life in Soviet Russia, and the mental and physical wounds this produces. At times, Jaquiery handles the sheer emotional heartache of some of these scenes more in the vein of literary fiction rather than a genre crime novel.

There is little to fault in this debut, combining as it does a superbly plotted and emotive criminal investigation with the introduction of a police protagonist more than imbued with enough charm and interest to carry the weight of a series. Anna Jaquiery demonstrates all the natural flair and quirks of French crime fiction that fans of Vargas, Lemaitre, et al, will relish reading. More than proud to proclaim this as my debut of the year.

 

July 2014 Round Up and Raven’s Book of the Month

_DSC0185 (Common Raven)Another busy month on the blog with no less than three blog tours for Dan Smith, John Burley and Tim Adler, and although not as many reviews posted as normal, a lot of reading has been going on to get ahead for the jam packed August release schedule (see below).  July also heralded the start of International Crime Month in the UK and there was the traditional Theakston’s Harrogate Crime Festival. Belinda Bauer’s Rubbernecker claimed the prize of Crime Book of the Year, and the other books on the shortlist included:

Elly Griffiths- Dying Fall

Malcolm Mackay- The Necessary Death of Lewis Winter

Peter May- The Chess Men

Denise Mina- The Red Road

Stav Sherez- Eleven Days

 

 And so to the books:Reviewed this month:Dan Smith- Red Winter

M. J. Arlidge- Eeny Meeny

Tim Adler- Surrogate

A. D. Garrett- Believe No One

Chris Carter- An Evil Mind

Neely Tucker- The Ways of the Dead

Georges Simenon- A Man’s Head (www.crimefictionlover.com)

Raven’s Book of the Month

neely Neely Tucker: The Ways of the Dead

To be honest, this was one of the easier months to decide on a best read, despite the visceral charm of Chris Carter’s An Evil Mind, and the previously reviewed Red Winter from Dan Smith, as this book just sang to me from the first few pages. This Washington DC based thriller illustrates perfectly all that is good and true about contemporary American crime fiction, and taking as its starting point a real life crime case from the 1990’s, just had me completely hooked throughout. The plot and characterisation were compelling and emotive, as well as the realistic detail afforded to the racial and economic tensions, behind the glamour and wealth of the seat of America’s political power. A superb read, and I would be very surprised if this one doesn’t feature strongly in my traditional best five reads of the year.

Also read with reviews coming in August:

Erin Kelly- Broadchurch (at Crime Fiction Lover)

Malcolm Mackay- The Night The Rich Men Burned

Marco Malvaldi- The Art of Killing Well (at Crime Fiction Lover)

K. T. Medina- White Crocodile (including a feature about the inspiration for the book)

Kanao Minato- Confessions

Kevin Sampson- The House On The Hill (including a feature on the writing of the book)

Andrea Maria Schenkel- The Dark Meadow

Kevin Stevens- Reach The Shining River

 

 

 

Neely Tucker- The Ways of the Dead

neelyWhen Sarah Reese, the teenage daughter of a powerful Federal judge, is discovered in a dumpster in a bad neighbourhood of Washington DC with her throat cut, the local police immediately arrest the three nearest black kids, bad boys who are members of a gang. Sully Carter, a veteran war correspondent, newly returned from the war in Bosnia with emotional scars far worse than the ones on his body, suspects there’s more to the case than the police would have the public know. With the nation clamouring for a conviction, and the bereaved judge soon due for a Supreme Court nomination, Sully pursues his own line of enquiry in spite of the obstacles thrown at him by government officials, the police and even his own bosses.

I had a sneaky eye on this one from the minute it arrived into the bookstore where I work, due to the temptation of a cover recommendation from Michael Connelly, and a Washington setting promising echoes of George Pelecanos. To be honest, I could not have been any more delighted with this book, as it not only delivered in spades from this starting point, but also imbued all the social critique and wry humour of The Wire too. I know. You’re intrigued now too aren’t you?

I will immediately put my hands up and confess that I do usually do a slight bodyswerve when reporters carry the weight of a crime book. With a few exceptions, I sometimes find that the plot overshadows the characterisation of such protagonists, and they merely become a conduit for whatever browbeating issue/murder investigation ensues. Not this one. Oh no. What Tucker delivers is not only an enthralling murder investigation (based on the real life case of the 1990’s Princeton Place murders), but a plot that is strengthened and illuminated by two of the best characters I have read for some time- reporter Sully Carter and his cohort, the streetwise gangster Sly Hastings, whose intimate knowledge and personal involvement with the seedy underbelly of Washington provides a regular source of information for Sully. Sully is a weary, cynical, PTSD suffering, former war reporter, physically and mentally scarred by his experiences. A little too keen on the drink, but a harbinger of not only a strong moral core, but a tenacity for justice and truth that shines through in his mercurial personality. I loved his character, whether dealing sensitively with bereaved families, facing up to the arrogant David Reese (father of the initial murder victim) who has tried to sink Sully’s career before, and his pure obstinancy when berated and sidelined by those intent on scuppering his investigation. Equally, Sly is a gem of a character, sassy, bursting with street smarts and possessed of an almost charming disposition that belies the violence he is so capable of meting out, and the fear he instils in others. Together, their exchanges are pure gold with Sully attempting to squeeze information out of Sly, and Sly pretty much only volunteering what suits him, but equally, very capable of a few surprises…

Despite the very character driven nature of the book, not only with Sully and Sly, but with the police officers, Sully’s work colleagues, local residents and the associates and families of the victims, the plot stands solidly throughout. Not only does it bring into focus the political power and wrangling inherent in Washington, but perhaps more ardently, puts into the spotlight the undercurrents of racial tension, urban crime and poverty that underscore the nation’s capital. In his writing, Neely Tucker gives a voice to the dispossessed and the ignored, especially in relation to his character’s linking of a series of murders where the victims cannot hope for the same pursuance of justice afforded to the likes of Sarah Reese, as the daughter of an influential figure. Through Sully Carter these voices resonate loudly in the book and it is gratifying to see that one man embodies the dogged determination to bring their killer to justice.

So with such a glowing review, there is little for me to add, except, you should buy this book. Free up some quality reading time, get yourself comfortable and prepare to be gripped and enthralled in equal measure. A great debut and I think Michael Connelly succinctly sums it up: “If this is Tucker’s first novel, I can’t wait for what’s coming next.”

Neely Tucker was born in Lexington, Mississippi and is a former war correspondent, who worked in many places where people would shoot you for free. He is the author of Love In The Driest Season, a memoir about war reportage. He is now a staff writer for The Washington Post. For more see www.neelytucker.com

(I bought this copy of The Ways of the Dead)