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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Blog Tour- G. D. Abson- Motherland

Student Zena Dahl, the daughter of a Swedish millionaire, has gone missing in St Petersburg (or Piter as the city is colloquially known) after a night out with a friend. Captain Natalya Ivanova is assigned the case, making a change for Natalya from her usual fare of domestic violence work, but, because of the family’s wealth, there’s pressure for a quick result. But as she investigates she discovers that the case is not as straightforward as it may seem…

Pining for the heady excitement of Tom Rob Smith’s Child 44 trilogy? Wishing that Martin Cruz Smith would recapture the magic of Gorky Park over and over again? Well fret no more gentle reader, as we may be onto a bit of a winner with Motherland, the first instalment of a new series featuring Captain Natalya Ivanova of the St Petersburg Criminal Investigations Directorate…

From the air of breathless danger that Abson introduces in the prologue, through to an extremely tense conclusion, real heart in the mouth stuff, I found this thriller utterly compelling throughout. I thought that Abson’s control of pace and tension was superb, and the balance between the domestic affairs and professional life of Ivanova, was spot on, with neither overpowering the other. They worked together to give the reader an extremely rounded depiction of all aspects of Ivanova’s life,  be it the professional tension of being married to a fellow crime investigator, the nefarious interference in their investigation by other Russian security services, and the sheer intensity and intrigue of the case itself involving a major figure in Swedish industry, and the suspected kidnap and murder of his adopted daughter. I also enjoyed the intermittent references to Putin, his rise to power, his strengthening grip on all aspects of Russian life, and how his shadow looms over the structures of law enforcement and criminal investigation, which reminded me strongly of David Young’s excellent depiction of Stasi interference in East Germany in his series featuring Major Karin Muller. All of these strands weaved in and out sustaining the reader’s interest and engagement, and I found it very difficult to second guess where the story was going, and who was the most duplicitous of the characters involved. There were some nifty little tricks and turns in the plot, and most satisfyingly I didn’t identify the utter rotter at the close of the book, but thought this revelation was unexpected, but totally believable in the context of the plot itself.

Another aspect of the book that I particularly enjoyed were the little instances of gentle, and not so gentle, joshing that occur between Ivanova  and her colleagues, and the wonderfully eccentric babushka who inhabits the apartment next to that of the murdered girl, who finds herself inextricably linked to the case as the finale approaches. I enjoyed the building of tension and suspicion in Ivanova’s marriage, from her belief that her husband Misha has acquired dirty money, her growing reliance on alcohol and cigarettes, and her wonderfully lax approach to housework and cooking. She has a natural feistiness to her character that is endearing, and by the same token Abson does not make her some kind of indestructible kick-ass heroine, with the violence she experiences producing realistic results. I appreciated the balance that Abson brought to her character, and that her character is nicely defined by not being completely Russian, and that her upbringing in Germany, where her sister resides, could be expanded on in future books.

Overall, I thought Motherland was a strong, positive start to a series, introducing a notable female protagonist, and a nice little cohort of personal and professional relationships, that will give stability, and opportunities for character development in further books. Abson can dip his toes in an oligarch’s fountain, and avoid a trip to the gulag as Motherland was an extremely enjoyable thriller. Highly recommended.

(With thanks to Mirror Books for the ARC)

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Blog Tour- Thomas Mullen- Darktown

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Atlanta, 1948. In this city, all crime is black and white.

On one side of the tracks are the rich, white neighbourhoods; on the other, Darktown, the African-American area guarded by the city’s first black police force of only eight men. These cops are kept near-powerless by the authorities: they can’t arrest white suspects; they can’t drive a squad car; they must operate out of a dingy basement. When a poor black woman is killed in Darktown having been last seen in a car with a rich white man, no one seems to care except for Boggs and Smith, two black cops from vastly different backgrounds. Pressured from all sides, they will risk their jobs, the trust of their community and even their own lives to investigate her death. Their efforts bring them up against a brutal old-school cop, Dunlow, who has long run Darktown as his own turf – but Dunlow’s idealistic young partner, Rakestraw, is a young progressive who may be willing to make allies across colour lines . . .

For many years I’ve been recommending Thomas Mullen’s The Many Deaths of The Firefly Brothers as a great American novel set during the Depression era, with its compelling period detail and a couple of superb protagonists in the guise of notorious bank robbers Jason and Whit Fireson. On the strength of this, I was keen as mustard to read Mullen’s Darktown, set in the racially charged era of 1940’s Atlanta…

I will quite honestly say that I was held in Darktown’s thrall from start to finish, and felt genuinely engaged with the essence of the period, Mullen’s bold and engaging characterisation, and the compelling plotline which gravitated between claustrophobic tension and heartfelt emotion throughout. Being so firmly rooted within the conflict and racial tension of this period, the language and terms used completely reflect the era, and with our modern day sensibilities there is a slight uneasiness at the language used. However, being so much of its time, and as a testament to the weight of dignity he throws behind his maligned black characters, and the white protagonists, some sympathetic, some hostile, the rhythm, vernacular and cadence of the language used plays an essential role in the book. The depth of Mullen’s historical research shines through from the references to the inherently unjust limitations placed upon black citizens not only in their segregation from whites, but also the lack of legal redress available to them. This is mirrored in the very strict restrictions placed upon his black police officers, Boggs and Smith, as to how they conduct their police business, and the added layer of scrutiny and danger that they have to operate within. Likewise, the impunity that white police officers such as Dunlow operate under is sharply at odds with the black officer’s experience, and gives the crooked Dunlow a very long leash from which to pursue his corrupt ways.  Mullen traverses a significant amount of individual black and white experience across different realms of society throughout the book, from a lowly farmer to the higher echelons of political power, and with the distinctive backdrop of the racially and socially divided Atlanta as his backdrop, the depth and realism of his chosen period is perfectly integrated throughout.

The characterisation throughout the book is never less than perfect, with all of the main protagonists, as well as lesser characters having sharply drawn edges, and more importantly, being absolutely believable in their depiction, Consequently, such is the level of emotional engagement with them as a reader, you are completely drawn into their individual stories of bravery, certitude, honour or corruption throughout. Mullen depicts beautifully their moments of doubt, the battle to retain their moral centre when pushed to the limit by injustice and racism, or the depths of depravity that wearing a police badge or holding a position of power can reveal in those that society has deigned to be above all others. The moral integrity of both black officer, Boggs, and white officer Rakestraw, operating from both sides of the racial divide is explored throughout. It was extremely gratifying to see that although this is a book firmly rooted in the differences between black and white experience both figuratively and racially that Mullen avoids plummeting his characters into overly moralistic tropes. Instead he leaves area of grey where we witness as readers bad people doing bad things, and good people being driven to bad actions navigating their way through the tinderbox flashpoints that racial division stirs up, and can then draw our own conclusions on the veracity of their actions.

This is an intelligent, thoughtful and emotionally compelling read, peopled by a sublime cast of characters and a balanced and realistic portrayal of weighty issues, firmly located in the fascinating and tumultuous period of post war America. Cut through with moments of raw emotion, thought-provoking social observation, and never less than totally engrossing, Darktown is something really quite special indeed, and at times with its exploration of racial divide in America, made this reader ponder how far American society has really progressed when looking at these issues with a contemporary eye. Highly recommended.

(With thanks to  Little Brown for the ARC)

 

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Raven Crime Reads Exclusive: An Interview With M. P. Wright – All Through The Night (J T Ellington Trilogy)

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083It’s an absolute pleasure to host an exclusive Q&A with M.P. Wright on the release of All Through The Night- the second book to feature the charismatic J T Ellington, and the atmospheric setting of 1960’s Bristol. With his first book, Heartman, longlisted for a CWA Dagger and having attracted widespread praise from reviewers and readers alike, there’s also the mouthwatering prospect of a forthcoming TV adaptation too. Today, Wright shares with us not only his thoughts on writing, the journey from page to screen and his influences, but also the lowdown on the world of the Mr J T Ellington himself…

heartmanHeartman was your debut novel introducing us to the world of Joseph Tremaine ‘JT’ Ellington. Can you give us a quick synopsis of the plot to introduce readers to the atmosphere and setting of the book?

Bristol, 1965. Joseph Tremaine “JT” Ellington, an ex police colonial police officer with a tragic past and a broken heart, has left his native Barbados in search of a better life in the Mother Country. But Bristol in the Sixties is far from the Promised Land and JT faces hostility from both the weather and the people. Then local mogul Earl Linney approaches him. He needs JT’s help finding Stella Hopkins, a young deaf and mute West Indian woman who has gone missing, and who the police aren’t interested in searching for. With rent due, and no job, JT has little option than to accept.

=_utf-8_B_I0FsbFRocm91Z2hUaGVOaWdodCAg4oCmLmpwZw==_=With the release of the second in the trilogy All Through The Night what is the indefatigable JT Ellington up to now, and which wrongs will he be attempting to right?

It’s the summer of 1966 and Ellington has set himself up in his Cousin Vic’s gymnasium and is eeking out a shabby living as an enquiry agent, debt collecting, divorce partitions and insurance work. He hates the work but does know what he really wants to do or what the future holds for him. Nursing a nasty hang-over he is approached by a shady administrator from a local orphanage to seek out a Jamaican GP and back street abortionist called Fowler who has stolen a number of death certificates of children previously in the care of the Walter Wilkins Children’s Home. JT is asked to find Fowler, retrieve the stolen documents and ask a simple question. “Where can the Truth be found?” It’s this strange question that leads Ellington on a journey across Bristol, the backwaters of Somerset and into the heart of darkness. Its essentially a chase story which expands on both the Heartman story and Joseph Ellington’s character.

Your characterisation is incredibly well-realised and the life you breathe into them- a real mix of the entertaining, the tormented, the bad to the core, or the heroic. Your main character Joseph in particular is a wonderfully multi-faceted character. From which corner of your imagination or life experience did you conjure him from and others within the piece?

Ellington as a character came to me very easily. I’d mapped out a huge back story and had a moleskine notebook containing his family history, much of it created from my own imagination, some of it garnered from research into family histories on the island of Barbados. I’ve had the luck to travel to the Caribbean and many of the Southern states of the USA, especially Louisiana. I wanted to hang around JT’s persona a strong layer of credibility and a sense of the real whilst giving the readers a feel for an ‘Old Age’ detective, that harks back to the times of Raymond Chandler and Ross MacDonald. I say to my daughters that JT is the hero I could never be, but his Cousin Vic, is in some ways (I’m shamefaced to admit) very much me. His humour and no nonsense attitude certainly hark back to my own rather irascible personality.

bristol It’s always a brave authorial decision to set a book outside of the present era. What focused your attention on this era in particular and how did the idea to use Bristol (instead of the much favoured setting of 1960‘s London) present itself?

Of all the questions I’ve been asked about Heartman, ‘Why Bristol?’ is the one that is sprung on me most. Originally I’d tried to set the book here in my home town of Leicester, but logistically and on scale, it simply didn’t work. Bristol is a big and beautiful city. Its also strong connected to the West Indies in a commercial and commerce sense, most certainly historically for all the wrong reasons; slavery being the foremost. Heartman is set in St Pauls which sits just outside of Bristol city centre. It was ghettoised early on by greedy, white landlords who packed in new immigrants from the West Indies who had travelled thousands of miles to the mother country seeking work and the promise of ‘Streets That Were Paved with Gold’. What they got was far from the truth. Cramped tenement homes, badly paid jobs nobody else wanted and not always the warm welcome that the British political state had promised them either. Bristol was the right place for JT to make his new home. I wanted to put him in a world that was both familiar and alien. Ellington understands how British society works to some degree, he’s witnessed firsthand the White ‘Officer Class’ of the Barbadian Police Force in which he used to serve but at the same time is knocked for six by a country that is far removed from the Caribbean life he has led.

Obviously the subject matter and setting of the book required a degree of research on your behalf. How did you go about this and did you have anyone in your immediate circle whose experience of this period you could draw on directly?

Firstly, lots of first hand interviews, speaking to the residents of St Pauls today, especially those who lived there in the 1960’s. Their insight was invaluable. I spent time in the pubs that both JT & Vic frequent in Heartman, talking to locals, getting a feel for a specific time and place, the patois, the food and drink. St Pauls is a very special place, I love it. My partner and her family are from Bristol, their lilting Somerset accents helped when I was writing about West Country characters. I’ve been lucky to travel across Somerset which is a beautiful county. There such a lot of scope for the future novels in respect of plot and setting that can be drawn from the region.

With the very visual and textured quality of your writing I was delighted to hear that Heartman has been optioned for TV. What has been your personal experience of the journey from page to screen and your involvement in bringing Ellington to a whole new medium?

Heartman has been option by World Productions, makers of BBC’s Line of Duty & The Great Train Robbery and ITV’s The Bletchley Circle. It’s been adapted by the BAFTA award winning playwright and dramatist, Tony Marchant for the BBC. Everything is looking fantastic. TV takes its time to get things on the money with a production like Heartman, and rightly so. The script, now in its third draft, is spot on and everyone involved has worked so very hard on bringing the book to life. It’s just a matter of time before we hopefully have good news for the TV guys, but it’s a patience game you have to play and you simply have to sit back and put your trust in the professionals. I have every faith that World will bring a fabulous drama. The script is, if I say so myself. Stunning!

It’s great to see the huge influence on and the respect you have of, James Lee Burke, and also your mention of Walter Mosley. What is it about these two writers that really strikes a chord with you, and is it relevant in any way that they are both American?

Both James Lee Burke and Walter Mosley have influenced my own writing immensely. I could waffle on endlessly about the reasons, but to be concise, both writers offer up to the reader an important quality in their main characters of Robicheaux and Rawlins – and that’s integrity. Yes, both men are flawed but they are very real on the page and I wanted to emulate that in my own characters, flaws and all. Burke and Mosley’s characters are not heroic and JT Ellington is far from being a hero, but there is a heroic nature that develops in the man which is unfurled by his strong moral compass. He’s a man who is forced into a job he really doesn’t want. Desperation and necessity are what dictates his decisions as Heartman’s story develops. The relevancy of the American author angle is that I wanted to bring some of the ‘Man Alone’ feel to the current British Crime Fiction arena. Not in the ‘Maverick’ detective sense of the police procedural but as in the Hammett/Chandler/MacDonald world weary and cynical feel. I hope I’ve created that kind of vibe in my books.

 If you can put it into words how would you describe the journey through embarking on the first sentence of the book to the brink of publication?

A long, hard slog… And I’ve been very lucky. Publishing is a glacially slow process at times. Any writer out there expecting to find success overnight is going to be in for a real shock. There are a lot of knockbacks at first and nothing good happens overnight. As a writer you have to believe in your material, hone down the prose and have great characters that readers will want to fall in love with. I was also blessed to meet my literary agent; Philip Patterson of the Marjacq Agency in London. Phil has guided me through the good and bad. I’ve also been aided by some great writers who have been so supportive to my work; Peter James, Emyln Rees, Mari Hannah, Anne Zouroudi, Stav Sherez, Stuart Neville, Ken Bruen and Luca Veste. They all deserve a mention and a big drink!

RestlessCoffins-A-page-001 And so The Restless Coffins– the third of the trilogy beckons. Any teasers for us, and will this really be the final outing for this wonderful character?

I’d created the story arc of the Ellington series as a Trilogy. (As known as the Child Trilogy) The third book is called The Restless Coffins and sees JT return to his Barbados home to settle ‘family affairs’ and face both the organised crime lords and the array of corrupt police colleagues he’d once worked with. Since drafting that original trilogy, I am pleased to say that there will be a fourth book, The Rivers of Blood set in 1971 which I’ll start writing this autumn. I would not have return to JT’s world unless I thought the story was tight and I had something different to say with the characters. That’s certainly the case with The Rivers of Blood. I hope fans of the series will be pleased that my wily Bajan is getting a fourth outing. He’ll be a little older but still walking into the kind of unwelcome trouble he wished would leave him well along.

Life as an author in three words?

Bloody Hard Work!

Big thanks to Mark for taking time out of his busy schedule to answer my questions!

Mark Wright was born in Leicestershire in 1965. He was employed in various roles within the music industry before working as a private investigator. He retrained in 1989 and spent the next twenty years in the mental health and probation services in the UK, specialising in risk assessment. A self-confessed aficionado of film, music and real ale, and father of two beautiful daughters, Mark lives with his partner and their two Rottweiler dogs, Tiff and Dylan. Follow the author on Twitter @EllingtonWright

 

 

 

M. P. Wright- All Through The Night- Review

=_utf-8_B_I0FsbFRocm91Z2hUaGVOaWdodCAg4oCmLmpwZw==_=“It’s quite simple Mr Ellington. When you find Fowler, just ask where we can find the truth.”
With these words, private detective JT Ellington embarks on a seemingly simple case of tracking down a local GP with a dubious reputation and retrieving a set of stolen documents from him. For Ellington, however, things are rarely straightforward. Dr Fowler is hiding a terrible secret and when he is gunned down outside a Bristol pub, his dying words send JT in pursuit of a truth more disturbing and deadly than he could possibly have imagined…

Having been so singularly impressed with Wright’s debut outing Heartman there was a certain frisson of excitement in the Raven’s nest with the appearance of the second instalment All Through The Night, and the return of our harried private investigator J T Ellington. It’s 1966 and World Cup fever is spreading throughout the land, but Ellington once again has weightier troubles on his mind, not least the less than honourable goings on at a local childrens’ home, and the dark deeds of those connected with it. Consequently, Ellington finds himself on the run, protecting the life of a young child, and drawing on a network of acquaintances to ensure their safety, endeavouring to bring to justice the perpetrators of some very nasty crimes indeed…

Again, Wright is faultless in not only the characterisation of his central character, former Barbadian police officer, and now Bristol based private investigator, J T Ellington, and the feel of the 1960’s period in which the books are set. Ellington is a man defined by his integrity and stout heart, and his involvement in this particularly pernicious case does nothing to dispel these two essential parts of his character. Our empathy for him and his young charge is central to the enjoyment of this book, and Ellington unfailingly, despite his own personal demons, acts in a way that tugs at our heartstrings, and fosters our respect for him. Despite the best intentions of the bad guys, corrupt police officers and others who would thwart his investigation, Ellington proves himself to be not only a man encompassing a kind of everyman morality, but proves himself a brave knight in an investigation that begins to appear very similar to a ‘quest’ tale from days of yore. He is not infallible of course, and the rare moments of emotional or physical weakness that Wright so sensitively adds provide some real heart-in -the- mouth moments for the reader.

Another strength of the book is the surrounding cast, including the reappearance of Ellington’s profligate and ducking and diving cousin Vic, and  the outwardly tough as nails Loretta, along with a band of others on Ellington’s ‘underground railroad’ journey throughout England. Each character is rounded, vibrant and utterly believable, and boosted by Wright’s innate skill at reproducing the West Indian cadence and rhythm of speech ring with authenticity throughout. The book resonates with sharp dialogue and taut writing, which is underscored by an easy humour and counterbalanced with emotional depth as we look in on the world of Ellington- his personal relationships and professional difficulties. Hence, the characterisation proves itself lively and colourful throughout, and swimming against the tide of much mainstream crime fiction, each character works perfectly within the general narrative, without resorting to stereotypes.

For a contemporary audience, the crux of the plot is still reverberating in the present day with the recent exposures of decades of historic cases of abuse coming to light. In common with Heartman and its tough subject matter, I was impressed by Wright’s unflinching gaze on the criminal deeds of those supposedly in positions of trust or power within the Bristol community, and the depiction of the very non-PC and at times downright racist actions of the local constabulary, which inspires a certain degree of wrath in the reader, and a whole heap of trouble for our hero Ellington. The end result of this is a realistic, at times brutal, and utterly compelling plot throughout.

Obviously, I was very taken with this one, but in the interests of fair reviewing, and avoiding plot spoilers, I did have a little doubt at one aspect of the final denouement in terms of what happens to one of the main characters. It was a tad unconvincing, but in terms of the continuation of the trilogy, I can see why Wright choose this particular path to ensure the continuity of the series. In the grand scheme of things it was of little consequence, and my enthusiasm for this series to date cannot be dinted so easily. Highly recommended. With an extra ‘highly’. Roll on book three!

(With thanks to BW publishing for the ARC)

Cilla and Rolf Borjlind- Third Voice

516Hfm+VA8L__SX324_BO1,204,203,200_Samira is dead. She died last night. But now she is looking down over the roofs of Marseille. She remembers how he strangled her, how he bashed in her skull with an ashtray. How he cut off her head and buried her body in six different places. She hopes someone will find her…some day.Olivia Ronning is still struggling to come to terms with her brutal entry into the world. Cut from the womb of her murdered mother, with only seconds to spare, she is left with haunting dreams, brutal feelings and guilt. When Olivia’s friend Sandra Sahlmann discovers her father’s body hanging in the hall of their house, the police initially assume suicide. But something doesn’t sit right. Having veered away from her budding career as a police office, Olivia knows she should leave this alone – but she is just too close to this case, it’s personal now. Bengt Sahlmann’s suicide/murder lands on Mette Olsater’s desk. Tom Stilton is dragged into Samira’s murder, following a personal request from Abbas. And Olivia for her part can’t let Sandra’s questions go unanswered. The three investigations seem bound to cross paths. Will they all be able to put their former disagreements and personal demons aside and work together to solve their cases – and prevent further people from dying?

Counting myself very lucky that as a bookseller and reviewer I have a never-ending source of books, sometimes the teetering to-be-read pile works against me. Consequently, this is a book that got lost in the mix, but saints be praised that I prised it out after a lengthy hiatus in the books to-be-read mountain! With their previous book Spring Tide having made such an impression on me, and being one of my Top 5 books of last year, Third Voice is the second in the series to feature the terrier-like Olivia Ronning, ex-detective and former street dweller, Tom Stilton and police detective Mette Olsater, With the events of the previous book having caused such rifts in their relationships, Third Voice rejoins them with their lives having taken different turns…

After the thrilling perfection of Spring Tide, the Borjlinds once again draw on their screenwriting credentials (Arne Dahl’s Intercrime, Beck, Wallender) to produce a flawless addition in the shape of Third Voice. Exhibiting their writing versatility with the dual locations of Stockholm and Marseilles, they weave a tale of murder, uprooted loyalties, and sadness that kept me in its thrall from the prologue onwards.

Drawing on pretty much every single one of the seven deadly sins, evinced through the actions of our heroic protagonists and those that would harm them, this book is redolent with the themes and emotions of human experience. Friendship and loyalties torn apart make for a difficult journey for our young protagonist, Olivia, who once again finds herself embroiled in murder, as an alleged suicide case proves to be anything but, putting her in considerable danger. Ex-detective Tom Stilton, a man whose still waters run very deep indeed, proves his constancy when called upon by his friend Abbas to investigate the brutal murder of his one true love. Feisty and experienced detective Mette Olaster, struggling with her health proves a pivotal force in linking the investigations, and mending some broken bridges. Every single one of these characters are mesmerising, being so fully-formed and displaying such different and mercurial aspects of their characters. They are all imbued with a strong sense of morality, and the initial rifts between them are a source of great emotional soul searching. In fact, I would go far as to say that the construction of their individual identities are more akin to the style of characterisation you see more in literary fiction, as the highs and lows of their unique emotional make up contains pathos, tragedy, resilience and where appropriate moments of dark humour. I love these characters, and more importantly as a reader, I care about them.

With reference again to the Borjlinds screenwriting career, their control of narrative pace and plot reveals is absolutely superb. This is a dark and twisted tale with some very unsavoury aspects indeed, but utterly compelling. Their balance between shining a spotlight on one character’s stream of consciousness (for example the stunning revelations of Abbas’ formative years) is balanced perfectly with sequences of jaw dropping tension, suffused with danger and urgency. The little vignettes of character interactions, are offset by not only the perilous investigations, but by the authors’ finely attuned commentary on the societies these individual function in, with the seedy underbelly of the sex industry suddenly counterbalanced with corruption in the business world. Naturally, with the previous lives of both Stilton and Abbas, and Olivia’s involvement in the shady goings-on in the care industry, another tableau of incisive social comment arises on homelessness, drugs and substandard care of the elderly. When the story moves from Stockholm to Marseilles, the continuity and pinpoint descriptions of the locations concerned never wavers, and both appear totally authentic, containing their own air of menace and deprivation.

Quite simply, this will be one of the most perfect Scandinavian thrillers you could wish to pick up this year. All the elements of the genre we admire, combined with the unique visual quality, seamless dialogue, and narrative edge that the Borjlinds can provide with their television scripting. The characters are believable, fallible, and multi-faceted, and will draw you in from the outset. If you’ve not read Spring Tide, don’t worry as you will learn everything you need to know quickly and simply with some flawless back story. However, I would urge you to seek both of them out. Brilliant.

(With thanks to Hesperus for the ARC)

Blog Tour- James Nally- Alone With The Dead- Review

 

Alone-With-The-Dead-e1443376638467Once again the Raven’s black heart is gladdened slightly by the arrival of a distinctive new voice in the realm of crime fiction. Alone With The Dead is the intriguing and unsettling debut that introduces us to rookie copper PC Donal Lynch, finding his way in his tough, new, chosen profession, but not without a few stumbling blocks in his path. Donal has turned his back on his native home of Ireland, after his ex-girlfriend is convicted of murder. Finding himself employed in a seedy Irish pub frequented by equally seedy and slightly dubious coppers, Donal makes a massive career change, and joins the boys in blue. But Lynch is not all he seems, and thanks to his propensity for seeing dead people, akin to the creepy kid in The Sixth Sense, his involvement in a brutal murder investigation, brings something a little different to your normal cut-out copper. Finding himself manipulated by his brother Fintan, an ambitious news reporter, his mercurial superior officer, ‘Shep’, and susceptible to the comely charms of a certain damsel in distress, Lynch more than has his work cut out…

As a police procedural and the depiction of a keen young officer’s need to climb the career ladder, it worked superbly well. The central murder investigation was brilliantly structured, with a few nifty red herrings, and a surprising denouement, and the attention to forensic detail and the natural progression of a police investigation felt very authentic throughout. Likewise, Nally’s characterisation of Donal, Shep and Fintan, and the alternate loyalty and aggravation that colours their relationship was well played out. This was bolstered further by the real stand-out aspect of Nally’s writing- his use of humour. Few books make the Raven guffaw out loud, but this one did. There are some truly wicked, killer one-liners in this book, that brought a real splash of lightness, to what in other hands could have been a laboured and quite dark police procedural. The depiction of wet-behind-the-ears Donal, his weird pyschiatric nurse housemate Aidan (more of him in the next one please), Donal’s brother Fintan, and the Dick Dastardly figure of Donal’s boss Shep, were all underscored by a series of cutting asides and witticisms that consistently worked, adding a nice line in graveyard humour to the whole affair.

CALLHowever, in the spirit of honesty, and appreciating the author’s need to bring something different to a well-trod sub genre, I did find this a little bit a game of two halves. I just didn’t quite buy the whole ‘I see dead people’ thing in relation to Donal’s character. I thought it was an unnecessary distraction at points from what was a perfectly well-crafted, intriguing, and well-characterised crime thriller. The central murder storyline, the echo of past events, his navigation of the office politics in his chosen career, and a side plot showing his involvement with a woman in an abusive relationship, weighted the plot perfectly. As interesting as the details were about the clinical possibilities of Donal’s ‘special gift’ to commune with the dead, I found it frustrating that such a well-constructed story, with all the necessary features to ensure a successful series, had to bring this trope into play. I did feel that that the need to return to the more ‘spooky’ element of the story was to the detriment and balance of the sub plots involving Eve, Donal’s ex-girlfriend and the abused Gabby, and felt it left them a little rushed or partially unresolved. It really didn’t need it, as the strength of Nally’s writing outside of this strange diversion was more than satisfying, and all of his characters resonated brilliantly within the main plot. Overall though, I would be more than happy to read the next in the series, so even allowing for my grumbles, Nally has come up trumps in my book. Recommended.

You can catch up with the rest of the blog tour at these excellent sites:

AWTD Blog tour