Blog Tour-Jesper Stein- Unrest

When the bound, hooded corpse of an unidentified man is found propped up against a gravestone in the central cemetery, Axel Steen is assigned the case. Rogue camera footage soon suggests police involvement and links to the demolition of the nearby Youth House, teeming with militant far-left radicals. But Axel soon discovers that many people, both inside and out of the force, have an unusual interest in the case and in preventing its resolution. With a rapidly worsening heart condition, an estranged ex-wife and beloved five-year-old daughter to contend with, Axel will not stop until the killer is caught, whatever the consequences. But the consequences turn out to be greater than expected – especially for Axel himself…

In the best possible way, Unrest is very much a what you see is what you get type of thriller, as it ticks every single box required of a Scandinavian crime novel, and is extremely reflective of the genre as a whole. Indeed, as I was reading, I felt echoes of Nesbo, Larsson, Staalesen and Nesser throughout the book particularly in terms of plot and characterisation, and the density and slow burning feel of the plot again fulfils perfectly the familiar characteristics of the genre, so plenty to enjoy here for the Nordic noir fan…

The reader is thrust straight into the familiar realm of police conspiracy, so beloved of the Scandinavian set, suffused with the gritty, unflinching gaze on the political and social ills of Danish society. With a riot in full flow, the discovery of a body would seem an ordinary occurrence, but Stein perfectly hinges his whole narrative on why and how this victim is of such significance on a much larger canvas, and the wider ramifications of this killing. Stein presents a broad spectrum of issues including immigration, police corruption, the drug trade, trafficking and so on, and generally  this is one of the more slow burning Scandinavian thrillers I have encountered, as reasons for, and suspects of the killing are slowly addressed, investigated and discounted as the plot develops. It did take me a while to slow down to the pace of the plot, and begin to appreciate the more laborious style of investigation that the main police protagonist, Axel Steen, finds himself embroiled in, in contrast to say the more compact style of other Nordic writers. I think Unrest is extremely reminiscent of some of the fine Nordic TV dramas that we love, with chicanery, social and political division and big meaty issues at its core.    Consequently, the political and social elements of the plot and the tensions between the investigative branches , engaged me more, and I very much enjoyed Stein’s warts-and-all portrayal of Copenhagen. I thought he depicted beautifully the chasm between the areas of the city, both monetarily and structurally, and I loved the way his writing had shades of the old fashioned flaneur, with the very visual and observant tone of his descriptions, as  Steen traverses the different neighbourhoods.

I’m sure regular readers of my reviews know of my general aversion to too much being made of the familial and romantic upsets of the main police protagonists, and to an extent this book did irritate me slightly in terms of this. Personally I grew a little tired of Steen’s domestic woes and his sexual involvement with a key witness, and the less said about his reves humides the better, but on a more positive note I found his professional persona contained some of my favourite characteristics of an officer operating to his own agenda and with his own methods. Stein imbues his detective with the cynical and slightly hangdog air so beloved in the genre, but this pall of negativity usefully detracts other people’s perceptions of Steen, thus revealing a keen mind and nose for a conspiracy. He’s also not afraid to get his hands dirty or to take a knock or two along the way, skating the boundaries of professional behaviour, but delighting us with his aversion to following the rules.

Overall, I enjoyed this new-to-me author, and judging by the praise the author receives across Europe, I think there may be more enjoyment to come in the company of Detective Superintendent Axel Steen. A solid Scandinavian thriller, and recommended for fans of the genre…

(With thanks to Mirror Books for the ARC)

‘Jesper writes about a Copenhagen that’s both full of change yet always the same. Its harsh, dark, yet with a warm, beating heart at its core.’ LARS KEPLER, author of The Hypnotist ‘

‘Jesper Stein’s crime novels cast a strong light on contemporary Denmark in such a way that they deserve readers far beyond Danish borders.’ GUNNAR STAALESEN, winner of the 2017 Petrona Award for Best Scandinavian Crime Novel Of The Year

‘Stein’s first novel establishes a whole new Scandinavian style.’ ROLLING STONE (Germany)

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#BlogTour- Thomas Enger- Cursed

515ppmic7ol-_sx324_bo1204203200_What secret would you kill to protect? When Hedda Hellberg fails to return from a retreat in Italy, where she has been grieving for her recently dead father, her husband discovers that his wife’s life is tangled in mystery. Hedda never left Oslo, the retreat has no record of her and, what’s more, she appears to be connected to the death of an old man, gunned down on the first day of the hunting season in the depths of the Swedish forests. Henning Juul becomes involved in the case when his ex-wife joins in the search for the missing woman, and the estranged pair find themselves enmeshed both in the murky secrets of one of Sweden’s wealthiest families, and in the painful truths surrounding the death of their own son. With the loss of his son to deal with, as well as threats to his own life and to that of his ex-wife, Juul is prepared to risk everything to uncover a sinister maze of secrets that ultimately leads to the dark heart of European history…

So we’ve been  Burned, Pierced  and  Scarred  so now prepare to be Cursed by the latest instalment in Thomas Enger’s superlative Henning Juul series. Focussing on our dogged, emotionally and physically damaged reporter, Juul, Enger has carved out an exceptional niche in the current Scandinavian crime fiction market. Juul is still endeavouring to find those responsible for the fire which led to the death of his young son, and the physical injuries to himself. This continues to lead him to some  dark places, and into the crosshairs of some very dangerous people indeed. Coupled with this are the concerns raised by his changing relationship with his ex-wife, and fellow journalist, Nora and her involvement in a missing persons case at great danger to herself, which sees both their investigations become inextricably linked.

Hennning Juul himself, is a compelling character, in whom Enger balances an equal amount of empathy and exasperation on the part of the reader. We can sit back and admire his dogged determination to avenge himself on his son’s killers, and his integrity and professionalism as a reporter. However, I am increasingly struck by the fact that Juul never gives himself an emotional break, and lives his life in a constant state of maudlin despair. He is understandably grieving for the loss of his child and seeking emotional closure for this, but is in a state of denial that Nora will return to his warm embrace, particularly as she is now involved with another man. Indeed, I fear that such is his closed off state that he will fail to feel a warm embrace from any quarter. Like Enger’s assured characterisation of Juul’s estranged sister Trine in previous books, Nora is a well formed and believable character. Torn between two lovers as it were, and not without personal flaws, she possesses  a steely glint in her eye when it comes to uncovering the events surrounding the mysterious disappearance of her former friend. She has an equanimity of character that allows her to drift between different social worlds, nagging away at the truth, although there is one exceptionally foolhardy action she takes that had me sighing in despair, the only kink in an otherwise perfect narrative.

Having favourably reviewed Enger’s previous three books, I am always struck with the control of pace and plot that is a standout feature of his writing. There is a real feel of storytelling in its purest form, and his books are always plainly delineated into a balanced beginning, middle and end, so consequently the reader is quickly drawn into the storyline, and carried along at a smooth and satisfying pace to the final denouement. There is always an element of surprise and wrongfooting in Enger’s plots, and a feeling of darkness as to what leads people to act and think in such malignant ways, played out against Enger’s pitch perfect use of socio-historical detail. I will issue my normal proviso that even if you are joining this series at this later point, Enger roundly and concisely brings the reader up to speed with previous events in Juul’s tortured personal history. Being a bit  fly by night, and sometimes a sporadic follower of series, I have been totally consistent with Enger’s series to date, and by working a little bit of teasing magic at the very close of this one, I’m pretty darn sure that the next one will be a bit of a must read too. All in all another fine example of engaging Scandinavian crime fiction that ticks all the boxes for this reader. Recommended.

(With thanks to Orenda Books for the ARC)

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Blog Tour- Gunnar Staalesen- Where Roses Never Die – Review

gunnarGunnar Staalesen is, in my humble opinion, one of the finest Scandinavian crime fiction writers of the modern age, so it’s an absolute pleasure to be involved in this blog tour, marking the release of the latest in his Varg Veum series, Where Roses Never Die

September 1977. Mette Misvaer, a three-year-old girl disappears without trace from the sandpit outside her home. Her tiny, close middle-class community in the tranquil suburb of Nordas is devastated, but their enquiries and the police produce nothing. Curtains twitch, suspicions are raised, but Mette is never found. Almost 25 years later, as the expiry date for the statute of limitations draws near, Mette’s mother approaches PI Varg Veum, in a last, desperate attempt to find out what happened to her daughter. As Veum starts to dig, he uncovers an intricate web of secrets, lies and shocking events that have been methodically concealed. When another brutal incident takes place, a pattern begins to emerge…

Averse as I am to gushing, with some authors it’s difficult to remain completely objective when you have genuinely loved every single book that they have ever produced. Such is my problem- but a nice problem- with the venerable Mr Staalesen, and Where Roses Never Die, which merely compounds my adoration of this series to date.

As there is a deliciously dark twist in this book, I will not tarry long on the plot, but needless to say Staalesen once again employs his tactic of making the reader believe that what they are witnessing is a fairly simple investigation, in this case possible child abduction/murder and a jewellery store robbery. But nothing so straightforward my friends. Staalesen has a wonderful way of calmly exposing a very nasty underbelly to Veum’s investigation that will both unsettle and disturb you, all through a measured unfolding of Veum’s probing discoveries, and the exposure of his protagonist’s true nature and motivations. As you think that the investigation is going steadily in one direction, a follow up interview or a loose casual remark uncovers another dark thread for Veum to follow, and the innocent are not always as innocent as we believe. Staalesen’s plotting is consistently faultless and this book proves no exception. Question everything you think you know, and don’t be fooled, there are some rum characters in this one.

Staalesen is incredibly good at exposing the kinks in the psychological make-up and behaviour throughout his characterisation, from his dogged and haunted PI Veum , through the layers of deceit and misdirection that the surrounding cast of characters exhibit as he searches for truth and resolution. Veum is such a non-linear, unpredictable character and cleverly, the familiarity we think we have with him as readers is effectively warped in each book, as Staalesen seems to re-assess and redraw him slightly in each investigation, exposing different facets of the man both personally and professionally. The natural cynical humour, and determination to unsettle and irritate some of those he encounters remains a constant though, and I love the way that Staalesen extends this feature of Veum’s character to poke affectionate fun at the locale of Bergen and its inhabitants too. On a more serious note though, it is good to see Veum starting to recover from a significant loss in his life, and making a few tentative steps back to the realm of personal relationships, leaving the door open a gap for this emotional recovery to continue in the next book.

Once again, Staalesen has produced another impeccable slice of Nordic noir, that places him at the forefront of the Scandinavian crime writing community. With immaculate and controlled plotting, which throws up a number of dark surprises along the way to nicely unsettle the reader, and the engaging figure of Varg Veum at its centre, Where Roses Never Die is a more than satisfying addition to this excellent series. Highly recommended.

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(With thanks to Orenda Books for the ARC)

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Quentin Bates- Thin Ice #IcelandicNoir #ThinIceBlogTour

28925475Pleased as punch to be hosting the next stop on the rolling blog tour for Quentin Bates, and reviewing his new book, Thin Ice, featuring the wonderfully likeable female detective, Gunna Gunnhildur. Replete with a tagline saying ‘snowed in with two psychopaths for the winter’ this certainly draws one’s attention from the outset. So what’s it all about?

When two small-time crooks, Magni and Ossi,  rob Reykjavik’s premier drugs dealer, hoping for a quick escape to the sun, their plans start to unravel after their getaway driver fails to show. Tensions mount between the pair and the two women, they have grabbed as hostages when they find themselves holed upcountry in an isolated hotel that has been mothballed for the season. Back in the capital, Gunna and her team find themselves at a dead end investigating what appear to be the unrelated disappearance of a mother, her daughter and their car during a day’s shopping, and the death of a thief in a house fire. They are faced with a set of riddles but as more people are quizzed it begins to emerge that all these unrelated incidents are in fact linked. At the same time, two increasingly desperate lowlifes have no choice but to make some big decisions on how to get rid of their accidental hostages…

I have read most of the series to date, and I love the way there is that instant feeling of comfort and familiarity with Bates’ style, and the way he marries the positively soap opera elements of Gunnhildur’s private life, with a solid Scandinavian police procedural. Having come to terms with the peccadillos of her son Gisli in the previous book she now has to grapple with the sudden reappearance of a ex-lover, and his impending demise. But in traditional Gunnhildur fashion she keeps calm, despite her burning animosity to her ex, pulls up her all weather bootstraps, and forges on. She is a great character, tenacious and dogged but clear thinking, and I like the shades of light and dark that Bates reveals within her character throughout the series.

Despite the tangled affairs of our redoubtable police officer, I actually rather enjoyed the greater emphasis that Bates places within the main narrative to the bumbling duo of Magni and Ossi. I think it’s fair to say that the plot rather resembles an inverted and twisted version of Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men, with skinny ringleader Ossi, being quickly revealed as a real liability to any hopes of escape from their predicament, and rufty tufty big guy Magni stepping up to be the brains rather than just the brawn. However, with the sensual temptation of Magni’s growing relationship with their younger captive Tinna Lind- the comely daughter and Mata Hari-esque femme fatale of the piece- Magni has to keep a balance with Ossi and Tinna which makes for an interesting development of his character. Although, as it transpires his brain does begin to take rather a backseat to other parts of his anatomy. Ahem. As the ineffective robbers lurch from one disaster to another, their story starts to take a whole other turn, and although I did have my suspicions to the denouement, it was an entertaining journey to the conclusion. Along from some nice violent interludes in the story as Magni and Ossi seek to evade both the police and the bad guy they have crossed, who is definitely out for vengeance, there is a great balance of sauciness, humour, darkness and high emotion. A good addition to a highly enjoyable series.

The blog tour continues tomorrow at Eurodrama  and check out the rest of the tour below…

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Blog Tour-Torquil MacLeod- Murder In Malmo- Extract

MinM blog tour picWelcome to day four of the Torquil MacLeod- Murder In Malmo blog tour, where it’s my pleasure to bring you a sneaky peek at the second in this compelling Scandinavian inspired series. I reviewed the first in the series Meet Me In Malmo which introduced us to Swedish detective, Anita Sundström, earlier this year, so pleased to see that she has returned. There are also an additional two books Missing In Malmo and  Midnight In Malmo, so plenty for Scandinavian crime fiction fans to enjoy! So without further ado here is the extract…

PROLOGUE

51KhOVRibVL__SX310_BO1,204,203,200_It was a fine, clear, tranquil evening and there was nothing to hamper his line of fire.  He could see the two women chatting animatedly.  They waved their arms extravagantly as they spoke, to add emphasis to whatever they were discussing.  Their actions were caught in the lights of the entrance to the drab block of apartments.  The whole area was a sea of faceless, formless concrete.  Unimaginative buildings filled with unwanted people. 

Rosengård wasn’t a part of Malmö that he had been to before.  It had taken him time to get his bearings.  To get a feel for the urban terrain; his new war zone.  And he was in enemy territory.   These people weren’t his people.  They were invaders from foreign lands.  Intruders, like these two women in front of the apartment block who were now the centre of his attention.

            He moved further behind the bush.  No one else was around.  He could hear snatches of music and voices coming from televisions because windows were open due to the warmth.  He smelt the faint whiff of cigarette smoke from somewhere nearby; probably someone on a balcony.  But he wasn’t worried about being spotted.  He could deal with any situation.  And he had his favoured large-calibre handgun, which gave him an automatic advantage.

            Now the women seemed to have come to the end of their conversation.  They looked as though they were about to part.  He raised his gun and lined up his targets.  Each of the women was wearing a brightly coloured hijab.  Somehow it made it easier that he couldn’t see their faces clearly.  He would need to shoot quickly as he wanted to hit them both.  His finger hovered gently over the trigger.  He steadied himself. There was now a gap between the women.  He tensed.

            Two shots.  The women silently slumped to the ground.  There was a shout from a nearby window, but he didn’t hear it. He was gone.

CHAPTER 1

The mirror caught Tommy Ekman’s self-satisfied smile.  The brilliant white teeth between open lips were the most obvious sign, but it was the sparkle in the cool blue eyes that really reflected the inner delight.  Despite it being seven in the morning, his eyes weren’t fogged up with sleep.  He had been lying awake for the last half hour.  He had been thinking about her.  Not his wife Kristina, who was staying over at her father’s country place near Illstorp, but Elin.

He took out his toothbrush and squeezed on some toothpaste.  Must keep those teeth looking dazzling.  The smile again.  Yes, he had made love to Elin at last.  Over his office desk.  He had been trying to engineer the opportunity ever since he had employed her as an account executive six months before.  She had rebuffed his advances for a while.  ‘We’re both married,’ had been her defence strategy.  He started to brush his teeth vigorously without ever losing sight of himself in the mirror.  But last night he had breached her fortifications.  His advertising agency had won that important pitch.  Elin had led the successful team.  They had broken out the champagne in his office.  Others had slipped away over the next hour or so until they were the only ones left.  Elin was a little high on her first big success with the agency.  From then on, it hadn’t been that difficult to get into her knickers.  Even he had been surprised at how easily she had succumbed.  He would give her the rise he had pantingly promised her shortly before he had manoeuvred her onto his desk – but only as long as she was happy to provide “extracurricular” services to the boss.

Tommy rinsed out his mouth.  He would still have to be careful with Kristina.  He wouldn’t want her to find out.  Her money was still useful – and her father’s business contacts.  He didn’t want to rock the domestic boat, though he found it harder to make love to Kristina these days, despite the fact she was still an attractive woman.  Maybe it was familiarity that had led to boredom on his part, or perhaps because she hadn’t been as interested in the physical side of their relationship since the kids arrived.  But the business was doing well, despite all the economic doom-mongers.  Still, he didn’t want her to take him to the cleaners.

Kristina’s father had been useful with the “group”, too.  Given him a foot up.  Now he had cemented his place with his strategy ideas.  They had gone down very well.  One of the suggestions had been acted upon within a week.  And the film had been a real success.  He was confident that he would be running the show very soon.  Then the “group” would make people sit up. On this beautiful, sunny May morning, life couldn’t get any better.

He slipped off his pyjama bottoms and admired his naked figure in the mirror.  He was still finely toned, despite all the client business lunches.  And he still had stamina.  Just ask Elin.  Once aroused, she had been very accommodating.  He was still laughing to himself when he stepped into the spacious wet room cubicle, closed the door and flipped on the shower.  It sprang into life, and he tilted his head upward and enjoyed the hard spray of hot, refreshing water hitting his face.  It was invigorating.  As he soaped his body, his mind began to wander again.  Back to Elin.  It had been so exciting.  That triumphant moment of conquest.  He could feel the first stiffening in his groin.  It was only as he put the soap back in its cradle that he became aware of a strange tingling in his throat.  He looked down at the silver circular outflow cover on the floor beneath his feet.  The water was running out as usual, but something didn’t seem quite right.  His head began to swim and he started to feel giddy.  His eyes were misting over.

Tommy flapped at the shower tap and the water stopped flowing almost immediately, except for a few final drops.  He swayed in the cubicle, not sure whether he would be able to keep on his feet.  What the hell was happening to him?  With great difficulty, he managed to slide the cubicle doors apart.  In front of him the bathroom was a blurred vision of dancing pale green and blue tiles.  He stumbled out of the cubicle, still dripping wet.  He tried to steady himself against the wash-hand basin, but his grasping fingers missed the edge and he sank to his knees as he retched up some dribbled green saliva and the remnants of last night’s champagne.  Why was his skin so itchy?  Frantically, he ripped at his arms and chest with his nails.  With a huge effort, he half-staggered to his feet and fell forward towards the door of the bedroom.  He didn’t make it and he sprawled on the bathroom floor. He tried to call out for help; not that there was anybody in the apartment to hear him at that time in the morning. But all that came out of his mouth was a fresh burst of vomit.  The dizziness was sickening.  He couldn’t fight it any longer.  Why was this happening?  His throat, his skin, his eyes, his head were all on fire.  He lay in a heap on the floor.  He could feel himself slipping into a void of unconsciousness.  His limbs, totally independent of his fast-evaporating will, gave a last defiant jerk.

Rays of early morning sunshine speared through the frosted glass of the bathroom window like a prism and bathed the dead body of Tommy Ekman in a brilliant light show.  Below the bulging eyes, his mouth was wide open; frozen in the moment in the cry for help that never came out.  The sunlight made his teeth sparkle.

 

CHAPTER 2

Michaela Lindegren yawned.  She didn’t know why, because she had slept soundly all night.  Normally, when Jörgen was away on business she would fret the night away, even though she knew he would be fine.  Maybe it was insecurity.  Now that the children had flown the nest, she had the house to herself, and that never felt quite right.  During the day, she enjoyed the freedom.  At night it was different.  Jörgen was always considerate and phoned from wherever he was to make sure that she was all right.  She always locked up carefully, but perhaps it was the size of the house that made her nervous.  Lots of empty rooms.  That’s why when Jörgen wasn’t there,  she would have the radio on when she went to bed.  Noise was reassuring.  Often she went to sleep with it still playing and would wake up in a fright because she could hear voices. Come daylight, and all the fears would disappear, like the early-morning mist outside their seaside home.  It was going to be another lovely day.  And Jörgen would be back tonight.  His flight into Kastrup Airport was due in the late afternoon.

Michaela wandered into the kitchen and fixed herself a coffee.  Nice and strong.  The perfect lift for the day.  She missed having to make breakfast for the children.  She had enjoyed the routine of fussing over them and making sure they had everything they needed for school that day.  It gave her a role within the family.  She was the organizer.  Now there was very little to organize.  Meals for Jörgen.  Accompanying him to the theatre or one of his business functions.  She had become a trophy wife without the requisite glamour.  Home was her province.  The other wives in their circle were far more sophisticated.  They were up with the latest fashions, knew the names of the trendiest interior designers and chefs, and could drop into any conversation the expensively exotic locations where they had been on holiday, without the slightest hint of humility.  Jörgen could afford to take her to anywhere she wanted, but she was a home bird and he travelled so widely in his work that she was content to stay in Sweden.  So they usually went to the island of Öland, or even closer to home in Österlen, which wasn’t much more than an hour’s drive from Limhamn.

After another coffee and a light breakfast – she wanted to save herself for the special meal she was cooking to welcome Jörgen back – Michaela wandered down the corridor to the front door where she picked up the morning newspaper.  She would have a quick read of it before heading off to the shops.  She walked into the living room.  The curtains were drawn.  As she opened them, a weak sun was trying to penetrate the sea mist.  Soon it would burn it off and it would be a lovely day.  Then the wonderful, sleek lines of the Öresund Bridge, the link between Sweden and Denmark, would emerge.

It was as she turned from the window that she instantly knew something was wrong.  For a moment she couldn’t put her finger on it as she stared at the opposite wall.  She suddenly found herself gasping for air.  It couldn’t be.  She steadied herself against the table.  She looked again.  There was no denying it.  What was Jörgen going to say?  She was now feeling faint.  However hard she stared, it wasn’t going to bring it back.  It had definitely been there when she went to bed last night.

This morning it was gone.

 

71rTjnsEMGL__UX250_Torquil MacLeod was an advertising copywriter for 36 years. Born in Edinburgh, he now lives in Cumbria, with his wife, Susan. He came up with the idea for his Malmö detective, Inspector Anita Sundström, after the elder of his two sons moved to southern Sweden in 2000. MEET ME IN MALMÖ (originally planned as a film script) was published in hardback in 2010. All four Malmö Mysteries are now available as ebooks – the latest being MIDNIGHT IN MALMÖ. The first three (‘Meet me in Malmö’, ‘Murder in Malmö’ and ‘Missing in Malmö’) are being published as paperbacks this year through McNidder & Grace Crime. He has also brought out an historical crime ebook called SWEET SMELL OF MURDER, which is set in the Georgian England of the 1750s. Torquil still makes regular trips to Malmö and Skåne to visit his Swedish family and friends. And he is working on further Anita Sundström stories. Find out more  here

 Visit Torquil MacLeod’s Amazon author page here

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