#Blog Tour- Eva Björg Ægisdóttir- The Creak On The Stairs @OrendaBooks

When a body of a woman is discovered at a lighthouse in the Icelandic town of Akranes, it soon becomes clear that she’s no stranger to the area. Chief Investigating Officer Elma, who has returned to Akranes following a failed relationship, and her colleagues Sævar and Hörður, commence an uneasy investigation, which uncovers a shocking secret in the dead woman’s past that continues to reverberate in the present day. But as Elma and her team make a series of discoveries, they bring to light a host of long-hidden crimes that shake the entire community. Sifting through the rubble of the townspeople’s shattered memories, they have to dodge increasingly serious threats, and find justice, before it’s too late…

It’s always good to discover another member of the Icelandic crime writing stable, and if you have previously enjoyed Ragnar Jonasson or Yrsa Siggurdottir, there is much to enthral you here. The Creak On The Stairs from Eva Björg Ægisdóttir is the first of a series introducing a new female detective, and displays all of the recognisable hallmarks of Icelandic crime fiction…

Usually when I review I tend to focus on one aspect of the book which totally hooked me, and in this case the overriding impression I was left with was that of location and atmosphere. After a short sojourn in Rekjavik, Elma returns to her hometown of Akranes, and we are instantly immersed in this dark, elemental setting, separated by a stretch of water from the capital city, and Ægisdóttir builds the character of the town and its surrounds with as much care and precision as the plot and characterisation too. The whole book is enveloped by an intense feeling of claustrophobia and foreboding, which is mirrored by the wild and tempestuous weather, and the changing moods of the sea. The descriptive elements of the book are extremely powerful, and really allow the reader to picture each individual setting, and to feel the mercurial changes wrought upon it. From the sinister old lighthouse to the roiling shoreline it rests upon, our feeling of darkness and foreboding is constantly manipulated and shaped by this aspect of the book.

Chief Investigating Officer Elma is at the heart of the book, and the gradual reveal of her reasons for returning to Akranes, reconnecting with her family and her developing relationship with her police colleagues are perhaps the most interesting aspects of her character. As the investigation she is bound up with is fairly linear, Ægisdóttir has more opportunity to establish this character, and her cohorts as a base to build further investigations on. Although I question the speedy intensity of one of her new relationships, which was a little cliched, there was a solid building of camaraderie and cooperation established with the team Elma is now part of. Aside from Elma, I felt that the author used her female characters effectively to address some powerful themes of control, subjugation and abuse, and one older character in particular seemed to embody the meek acceptance that builds into a simmering and then violent resentment was very well realised indeed.

Using a split timeline to recall the experiences of a young abused child Elisabet, with her experiences as an adult is an effective trope of the book. As we see how her character develops, and her increasingly physical outbursts, little wonder that these events as a child so fully shape her as a woman. The passages that recount her childhood are an emotive mix of malevolence and pathos, and in the closing chapters as the murderer is eventually unmasked, it becomes increasingly clear that a whole web of lies and deceit have also blighted her entire life. Although the plot had a sedate pace, Ægisdóttir does strive to hold the reader’s interest, and there were a couple of satisfying plot twists to change our perspective on some of the characters we encounter.

With its claustrophobic intensity and a measured but powerful depiction of female oppression, I think The Creak On The Stairs was a solid start to a series, with plenty of opportunity to grow and develop the central female police character. Another assured translation by Victoria Cribb, and a real sense of affiliation with, and appreciation of the location used, by Eva Björg Ægisdóttir herself, there is much to enjoy here. Recommended.

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(With thanks to Orenda Books for the ARC)

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Vanda Symon- Containment #BlogTour

Chaos reigns in the sleepy village of Aramoana on the New Zealand coast, when a series of shipping containers wash up on the beach and looting begins. Detective Constable Sam Shephard experiences the desperation of the scavengers first-hand, and ends up in an ambulance, nursing her wounds and puzzling over an assault that left her assailant for dead. What appears to be a clear-cut case of a cargo ship running aground soon takes a more sinister turn when a skull is found in the sand, and the body of a diver is pulled from the sea- a diver who didn’t die of drowning. As first officer at the scene, Sam is handed the case, much to the displeasure of her superiors, and she must put together an increasingly confusing series of clues to get to the bottom of a mystery that may still have more victims…

Right where are we off to now on another global crime adventure- New Zealand that’s where, and into the world of Detective Constable Sam Shephard, where a seemingly simple case of container looting, leads to a whole heap of trouble for this sassier than your average cop…

Containment marks the third outing for DC Sam Shepard (following Overkill and The Ringmaster) and it’s good to see our female cop has lost none of her gumption and slightly gung-ho attitude in the interim. From getting physically assaulted at the opening of the book, Shepard is once again steaming in to perilous situations, getting right up the nose of her superior officer, and having a fairly intense crisis of confidence in both her love life, and with some unwelcome news about one of her nearest and dearest. I think Shephard’s character is what really engages the reader throughout the series, as she is so utterly believable, whether giving as good as she gets with the ribaldry of her mostly male police colleagues, or just going above and beyond in her investigations. What she so evidently displays is that no investigation is black and white, and that a slightly less dogmatic and more considered approach is the most useful way to unlock people and what they may be concealing. She often sees ‘both sides of the coin’ in terms of those she interacts with, be they colleague, friend, victim or perpetrator and a touching affinity with the underdog. There’s a lovely quote in the book, where Sam says, “If I thought about it, I’d spent my entire life trying to save things…Sam Shepard champion to the underdog…Policing was the perfect profession for someone like me. You got paid to save people, fix problems.” I love the close up of her life that Symon seems to blanket us in, be it as a female detective, a friend, a lover, a concerned daughter, and at times just one of the boys, joshing on, and fearlessly (and sometimes thoughtlessly) putting herself into the same level of physical danger as her male colleagues. She is a wonderfully well-rounded character, with an endearing amount of flaws and Symon really connects her to the reader.

Symon’s writing has a real rhythm and fluidity , and carries the reader along on a sea of humour, action and waves of human emotion from the intensely confrontational to the deeply personal, but never at the expense of the natural unfolding of what is essentially a police procedural. The interludes of humour are perfectly placed to connect the reader more with the police protagonists, and to accentuate the fact that these are just ordinary people doing a relatively thankless job, and having their own worries and pressure points. There at petty rivalries but also some deep seated loyalties, and I do like the way that Symon’s plays with the notion of ‘honour amongst thieves’ in terms of the less law abiding characters. Although, I felt some aspects of the plot were a little weaker than the previous books, Symon’s aptitude for colourful, believable characterisation across the board, and sublime dialogue gives the reader a real momentum as the investigation unfolds. If you haven’t had the pleasure of checking this series out yet, I would definitely give it a whirl, as Symon’s writing and in particular her pithy wit is akin to such stalwarts of the genre as Grafton’s Kinsey Milhone and Janet Evanovich with a beautiful New Zealand twist. Recommended.

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(With thanks to Orenda Books for the ARC)

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Jorn Lier Horst/ Thomas Enger- Death Deserved #BlogTour

Oslo, 2018. Former long-distance runner Sonja Nordstrøm never shows at the launch of her controversial autobiography, Always Number One. When celebrity blogger Emma Ramm visits Nordstrøm’s home later that day, she finds the door unlocked and signs of a struggle inside. A bib with the number ‘one’ has been pinned to the TV. Police officer Alexander Blix is appointed to head up the missing-persons investigation, but he still bears the emotional scars of a hostage situation nineteen years earlier, when he killed the father of a five-year-old girl. Traces of Nordstrøm soon show up at different locations, but the appearance of the clues appear to be carefully calculated evidence of a bigger picture that he’s just not seeing. Blix and Ramm soon join forces, determined to find and stop a merciless killer with a flare for the dramatic, and thirst for attention. Trouble is, he’s just got his first taste of it…

In a stroke of genius, two of the most recognisable and talented Norwegian crime writers, Thomas Enger and Jorn Lier Horst have joined forces to produce Death Deserved, and what a collaboration it is.  Centring on a series of murders targeting well known personalities, the story ( the first of a series) sees a mirroring of the writer’s own specialities in their crime fiction. Jorn Lier Horst is an ex-policeman, author of the hugely successful William Wisting series so naturally the joint main protagonist is a detective, Alexander Blix. Equally, Thomas Enger known for the compelling series featuring a journalist, Henning Juul, brings his knowledge and familiarity with the world of media to Blix’s co-protagonist journalist Emma Ramm. With both writers having such an accomplished pedigree in crime fiction writing, the joining up of their individual talents is exceedingly effective, and consequently what they have produced is an extremely compelling, clever and fascinating thriller. Having recently read both Enger’s Inborn and Horst’s The Cabin, I was interested to see how each writer’s individual style was so evident in this collaboration, being highly reflective of both their talents in creating credible and engaging characters, setting themselves apart from the normally slightly meandering tendency of Scandinavian crime fiction, and injecting a real sense of pace and excitement into the narrative and development of the plot.

Haunted by a shooting incident in the line of duty, and having a somewhat rootless and static career, Blix exhibits traits that we love in our police protagonists. He seems to exist under somewhat of a black cloud, with an estranged wife and a daughter he is currently viewing through the media as she takes part in the popular Worthy Winner show, the Norwegian equivalent of Big Brother. Slightly morose, but intuitive and imbued with a sense of morality and determinedness, Blix is an instantly empathetic and likeable character. As the investigation continues and time becomes of the essence for some kind of breakthrough, his path crosses once again with journalist Emma Ramm with whom, unbeknownst to her, he shares a personal history. As he begins to feed her information pertinent to the investigation, thus begins a flowering of an effective and, at times, perilous professional connection, which becomes absolutely crucial in the pursuit of a seemingly untraceable and ruthless killer.

I particularly like the character of Emma Ramm who possesses a confidence and doggedness as a journalist that puts some of her male peers to shame. Her quick intelligence and intuition are stretched to the max in this troubling case, but is exactly these qualities that Blix comes to rely on strongly as their interactions lead to significant turning points tracking the perpetrator and even more so as certain things develop in their hunt. No spoilers here. What I also like is the way that her natural confidence is underscored by a certain vulnerability below the surface, due to a condition which any young woman would find difficulty in coming to terms with. This adds a real emotional depth to her, and compounded by her growing realisation of the important part that Blix had played in her life, leaves great possibilities in developing her, and by extension his, characters even further.

Having referenced earlier the tendency for rather drawn out plotlines in some Scandinavian crime fiction, I very much felt the pace and energy of this one as being more similar to some of the best of the American crime writers. With a perfectly weighted balance of hide and reveal, I found the plot development and truncated chapters made this a book which was difficult to put aside, as everything tempted you to keep on reading. With the increasing body count, some withering observations on the cult of celebrity, some devilish twists, and a couple of satisfyingly surprising red herrings along the way, I was caught on the back foot more than once. What a great ending too. As a crime reader I could ask for nothing more…

Definitely one to add to your wish-lists and guaranteed to keep you reading long after the big light needs to be turned off! Highly recommended.

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(With thanks to Orenda Books for the ARC)

Catch up with the blog tour at these excellent sites: 

Blog Tour- Mari Hannah- The Scandal

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

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

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

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

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

(With thanks to Orion Books for the ARC)

Check out an extract of The Scandal at Shotsmag

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Blog Tour- Mari Hannah- The Insider (Stone and Oliver 2)

When the body of a young woman is found by a Northumberland railway line, it’s a baptism of fire for the Murder Investigation Team’s newest detective duo: DCI David Stone and DS Frankie Oliver. The case is tough by anyone’s standards, but Stone is convinced that there’s a leak in his team – someone is giving the killer a head start on the investigation. Until he finds out who, Stone can only trust his partner. But Frankie is struggling with her own past. And she isn’t the only one being driven by a personal vendetta. The killer is targeting these women for a reason. And his next target is close to home…

The Insider is the second outing for Northumbria detectives, DCI David Stone and DS Frankie Oliver introduced in the hugely enjoyable first book, The Lost Our intrepid duo are back in search of a pernicious and twisted killer (rubs hands with glee) and once again Mari Hannah has produced a quality page-turner of a thriller for these increasingly dark winter nights…

I felt a wonderful sense of familiarity stepping back into the world of Stone and Oliver, such was the strong impression that the first book left on me, and was delighted that their working and personal relationship was as emotionally bumpy yet suffused with a genuine feeling of respect as the previous book. Both characters are extremely empathetic, realistic and genuinely likeable- Stone for his calmness and pragmatism, and Oliver for her impetuousness and gumption.  As traumatic experiences from their own lives rise uncomfortably to the surface in the course of this investigation, and as Stone continues to navigate his way as a surrogate father to his teenage nephew Ben, Hannah has a wide scope of emotional upset, and self doubt to convey in her characters. There are some moments of emotional revelation for both, and one storyline in particular will, I’m sure, have further repercussions in the future. What I like about both characters is their unerring ability to handle their own personal upset so incredibly ham-fistedly, but also the rock solid and extremely professional way they go about their search for this killer, overcoming an initially mistrustful and obstinate Murder Investigation Team, and meticulously picking apart the threads of the investigation before their arrival. Once again, the procedural detail is spot on, and the reader experiences all the tension and frustrations that the detectives do themselves in this thorny and distressing case. As the necessity to trap the killer gains in intensity, so too does the pace and vigour of Hannah’s writing, echoing the increasing frustration but slowly appearing chinks of knowledge that Stone and his gradually cooperative team unearth.

What I am consistently impressed with in relation to Hannah’s writing is the extremely well structured and visual quality of her writing. Everything is so clearly described that there is a strange sense that you almost watching the action unfold before you- an experience more akin to watching a thriller on television than reading a book. Even outside of the fact of being incredibly familiar with the various north east locations that Hannah uses, her depiction of landscape, whether town or country, is vibrant and oozes with colourful detail. If ever the Northumbria tourist board is looking for a regional champion, they need look no further than Hannah whose affection and love of her home turf, both its good and bad points, shines throughout the whole book.

Another sterling addition to Hannah’s repertoire, and I am very much looking forward to the next Stone and Oliver investigation, which I think, judging my the unresolved issues in this book, is likely to be another emotional rollercoaster for Hannah’s characters, and us, as readers, too. Highly recommended.

(With thanks to Orion for the Netgalley ARC)

Catch up with the blog tour at these excellent sites: 

Quentin Bates- Cold Breath #BlogTour

Gunnhildur reluctantly allows herself to be taken off police duties to act as bodyguard to a man with a price on his head. Hidden away in a secure house outside Reykjavík, Gunna and the high-profile stranger, a guest of the interiors minister, are thrown together – too close for comfort. They soon find they are neither as safe nor as carefully hidden as Gunna and her boss had thought. Conflicting glimpses of the man’s past start to emerge as the press begin to sniff him out, as does another group with their own reasons for locating him. Gunna struggles to come to terms with protecting the life of a man who may have the lives of many on his conscience – or indeed may be the philanthropist he claims to be.
Isolated together, the friction grows between Gunna and the foreign visitor, and she realises they are out of their depth as the trails lead from the house outside Reykjavík to Brussels, Russia and the Middle East…

As well as being an accomplished translator of Scandinavian crime, Quentin Bates is also more than a bit nifty at this crime writing lark too! I am a staunch admirer of his Gunnhildur series, and, pardon the pun, Cold Breath once again proves to be a (cold) breath of fresh air…

I think where Bates excels is in his central character of Gunna Gunnhildur herself, and the different facets he reveals to her character with each book. Although most of the series to date have dwelt to a larger or lesser extent on her private life, and that of her sometimes wayward offspring, this book puts her firmly centre stage. Bates places her in an isolated position, where her conduits for conversation are either with the man she is tasked with protecting, or her police colleagues, shifting the focus of the book entirely onto how she copes with this new assignment. Suffice to say she proves herself more than up to the task, and with her refresher firearms training, a limited supply of clean underwear, and a steely determination she throws herself into this tricky assignment with a sense of purpose, determination and her customary dry humour.   Fending off those who would seek to harm her slippery protectee, and avoiding the equally slippery advances of said protectee, Gunnhildur finds herself involved in a tangled and disturbing global conspiracy, forcing her into a situation that calls on all her training and level headedness.

I thought this was a sophisticated and perfectly paced conspiracy thriller, touching on some large and controversial themes, with an even handed and focussed approach. Certain aspects of the conspiracy were very concerning, particularly in relation to the European migration issues, and the way that not all those involved in the charitable aspect of rescue and assimilation may be all that they seem. I enjoyed the political hornet’s nest that Osman’s, the erstwhile philanthropist, sojourn to Iceland stirs up, and the controversial fleeting visit of a gauche right wing American, in addition to the central plot itself. There is a real sense of evasion and coercion throughout, and with four murders in close succession, Gunnhildur and her colleagues find themselves in a fraught and frustrating investigation, stretching from the lowlife of Reykjavik to the harbingers of power.

Once again, Bates has produced a really enjoyable, and compelling read packed to the brim with energy, suspense, violence and humour, powered by his own knowledge of and perspective on Iceland. This really is a superb series, and if you haven’t dipped your toe as yet, I would highly recommend them. Gunnhildur is great!

(With thanks to Constable for the ARC)

Catch up with the blog tour at these excellent sites:

A Raven Round-Up: Steve Cavanagh- Thirteen/ Andrew Shaffer- Hope Never Dies/ Ragnar Jonasson- The Darkness/ Jorge Ibarguengoitia- The Dead Girls/Frederic Dard- The Gravedigger’s Bread

Haven’t done one of these cheeky little round-ups for a while, but think this is a good pick ‘n’ mix of crime summer reads. From the wastes of Iceland to sizzling Mexico, you may discover a little gem here…

They were Hollywood’s hottest power couple. They had the world at their feet. Now one of them is dead and Hollywood star Robert Solomon is charged with the brutal murder of his beautiful wife.This is the celebrity murder trial of the century and the defence want one man on their team: con artist turned lawyer Eddie Flynn. All the evidence points to Robert’s guilt, but as the trial begins a series of sinister incidents in the court room start to raise doubts in Eddie’s mind.

What if there’s more than one actor in the courtroom? What if the killer isn’t on trial? What if the killer is on the jury?

Okay for those of you who have been living in a cave, or in deepest darkest Peru, this has to be the most talked about, and well publicised thriller release of the summer. It is everywhere. And I mean everywhere. So is it any good? Is the hype deserved? Well, quite frankly….IT IS!

Having previously reviewed, and greatly enjoyed The Defence The Plea and The Liar I love the character of  Eddie Flynn, the renegade, ex-grifter, quick-witted lawyer always up to his elbows in trouble, and this is a series of books that has restored my interest in the legal thriller genre. Flynn is a fabulous creation who uses humour as a defence, is a good guy to have on your side when the chips down, does okay in a scrap, yet is woefully inept in his personal relationships, which brings an endearing authenticity to his character too.

Apart from his characterisation, if there is one thing that Cavanagh excels in, it is his control of pace and tension, with the machinations of the courtroom ebbing and flowing punctuated by outbursts (in true comic book style) of POW! and KABOOM! I would defy anyone not to read this in a relatively few number of sittings, and get thoroughly caught up in this exciting mash up of legal and serial killer thriller. Edge of your seat stuff and a cracking twist at the end too. Highly recommended.

( I bought this copy of Thirteen)

He’s an honest man in a city of thieves. He has no patience for guff, foolishness, or malarkey. He is United States Vice President Joe Biden. And when his favorite railroad conductor dies in a suspicious accident leaving behind an ailing wife and a trail of clues Amtrak Joe unwittingly finds himself in the role of a private investigator. To crack the case (and uncover a drug-smuggling ring hiding in plain sight), he’ll team up with the only man he’s ever fully trusted the 44th president of the United States, Barack Obama. Together they’ll plumb the darkest corners of Wilmington, Delaware, where enemies lurk around every corner. And if they’re not careful, the blood on the tracks may be their own…

I mean this in the most positive and affectionate way, but this is book is UTTERLY BIZARRE but an absolute hoot too. Move over Batman and Robin, there’s a new crime fighting duo in town.

Yes, there is a whole whiff of implausibility about the investigation that the whip smart combo of Biden and Obama become wrapped up in, but that’s not really an issue. The absolute joy of the book is the ingenious hooking up of this completely original and left of field crime fighting partnership. The steady, obviously ageing, slightly resentful Biden, is a joy, with his penchant for ice cream, a quiet and sedentary life, his daily mission to not upset his wife, and his desperate need to build his bond/rekindle the bromance again with his former boss. Obama is this wonderfully sneaky, cool as a cucumber, cat burglar type figure, seeming to lead Biden into all sorts of trouble, but how far is Biden actually controlling this investigation, seeking the truth behind a friend’s mysterious death? I found it an utter joy to see Biden  go from mild mannered ex-politician to slightly unsteady avenging angel, and loved the kickabout humour, and at times sheer silliness of the whole affair. I’m sure American readers will pick up on references to the Obama/Biden administration that may have passed me by, but I loved the subtle digs at the unnamed Tweeter-In-Chief, and other satirical sideswipes. Entertaining, laugh out loud funny, and a genuinely enjoyable read with a partnership as great in fiction as they were in the White House. Oh for those days…

( I bought this copy of Hope Never Dies)

 

A young woman is found dead on a remote Icelandic beach. She came looking for safety, but instead she found a watery grave. A hasty police investigation determines her death as suicide . . .
When Detective Inspector Hulda Hermannsdóttir of the Reykjavik police is forced into early retirement, she is told she can investigate one last cold case of her choice – and she knows which one.What she discovers is far darker than suicide . . . And no one is telling Hulda the whole story.When her own colleagues try to put the brakes on her investigation, Hulda has just days to discover the truth. A truth she will risk her own life to find.

So, now to a little deviation from the hugely successful Ari Thor series from Ragnar Jonasson, and The Darkness being the first outing for Detective Inspector Hulda Hermannsdottir. Featuring a slightly longer in the tooth police protagonist was a nice move on the author’s part, and Hulda was a nice combination of dogged and a tad neurotic, railing against the gender bias of her police department, her looming and unexpected departure from the police, and quite obviously a woman still deeply angered by her former marriage, and the emotional insecurity that a prospective new dalliance puts in her path. With all this going on, and the split narrative that Jonasson uses in conjunction with this, I did begin to wonder how much energy she would have left to investigate her cold case- the suspected suicide of a Russian migrant which is not all it appears. As instances from Hulda’s past rise to the surface, there did feel a little unbalance in the book, and I sometimes felt that the deliberately rushed investigation was a little too deliberately rushed to accommodate the deeper concentration on Hulda’s angst. However, when Hulda knuckles down to her work, sometimes in a wonderfully ham-fisted style, proved to be the more satisfying part of the book for me, and I was genuinely engaged with her investigation and the varying obstacles in her path.

In common with the ‘Shadow’ series by Arnaldur Indridason I also wondered about the order of publication as for reasons I cannot reveal here, I would have liked to read this one later on but hey ho. An interesting flawed protagonist, and Jonasson shows his usual knack for a good crime yarn.

(I bought this copy of The Darkness)

Opening with a crime of passion after a years-long love affair has soured, The Dead Girls soon plunges into an investigation of something even darker: Serafina Baladro and her sister run a successful brothel business in a small town, so successful that they begin to expand. But when business starts to falter, life in the brothel turns ugly, and slowly, girls start disappearing . . .

I loved this strange hybrid of fiction and reportage from the 1970s, taking as its inspiration the real life case of Mexican serial killing brothel owners Delfina and Maria de Jesus Gonzalez. Written with a coolly dispassionate tone, the various players in this increasingly bizarre story take their place in the sun, and the twisted activities of fictional brothel owners Serafina and Arcangela Baladro are slowly revealed. It is noted in the introduction that Ibargoengoitia was experimenting with the fictional form to try and represent the increasing rate of violence and crime in Mexico, and how he influenced other writers such as the great Roberto Bolano. I thought the non-judgemental, and emotionally removed tone of the book was incredibly effective, and the story was utterly fascinating too, bringing into play the full scope of human transgressions- corruption, jealousy, greed, obsession and murder. Highly recommended.

(With thanks to Picador for the ARC)

Blaise should never have hung around in that charmless little provincial town. The job offer that attracted him the first place had failed to materialize. He should have got on the first train back to Paris, but Fate decided otherwise.

A chance encounter with a beautiful blonde in the town post-office and Blaise is hooked – he realizes he’ll do anything to stay by her side, and soon finds himself working for her husband, a funeral director. But the tension in this strange love triangle begins to mount, and eventually results in a highly unorthodox burial…

Another slice of bijou noir perfection in the excellent Pushkin Vertigo series. As usual I am curtailed by how much I can reveal due to the compact nature of the book, but rest assured, this wicked little tale of jealousy, lust and obsession is just a further demonstration of the singularly brilliant style of Dard. Reminding me a little of The Postman Always Rings Twice, mixed with the darkly psychological edge of Simenon’s standalones, Dard has constructed a taut and claustrophobic tale, and with the backdrop of being set around a funeral parlour, there is an additional little frisson of weirdness too. As with most of Dard’s books, his characters verge on the strongly dislikeable with the inevitable gullible ‘patsy’, the temptation of Eve, and dark passions at its core, and this is a little belter. Highly recommended.

(With thanks to Pushkin Press for the ARC)