Oliver Bottini- The Dance of Death

One wet and misty weekend in October, the Niemann family find a stranger in their garden. He is armed and tries to force his way into the house, but disappears as soon as the police are alerted. That night he’s back with an impossible ultimatum . . .

Freiburg detective Louise Boni and her colleagues are put under enormous pressure. Traces of evidence lead her to a no-man’s-land, and to a ruthless criminal who brings with him the trauma of conflict in the Balkans…

And so to the third of Oliver Bottini’s Black Forest Investigation series, The Dance of Death, which sees stalwart investigator Louise Boni, drawn into a case of retribution precipitated by the turbulent history of the Balkan states…

Whilst confessing to the fact that I did find the first of the series, Zen and the Art of Murder a tad ponderous for my tastes, and having read and enjoyed the second A Summer of Murder, I have come to appreciate the more meandering and slow moving pace of Bottini’s writing. Veering very much more towards literary fiction than crime thriller per se, I found myself adjusting to the pace and style of it the further into the book I read. This more measured feel to Bottini’s prose does rather dilute the feeling of this being a crime thriller, but  interestingly does give a platform for the author to really get beneath the skin of his characters, and to thoroughly interrogate the actions of the main antagonist, Antun Loncar, threatening retribution on one man’s family for the perceived sins of the past. We become as intimately involved with the motivations and history of this perpetrator as the police investigation team, and as his turbulent, unsettled and ultimately tragic story is slowly revealed, Bottini poses some interesting questions as to the balance between justice, revenge and compassion. As a reader it is good to feel conflicted about a character, where the boundaries of black and white merge into a mysterious grey, and this was an incredibly interesting facet of the book as a whole.

Talking of conflicted, police investigator Louise Boni, is a mass of contradictions, being a quixotic, emotionally challenged and a sometimes  slightly unfathomable protagonist. I still can’t quite decide if I like her or not, as her compassion and clear-sightedness, is so often blurred by her own self absorption, with a messy and unsettled private life, and her recovery as an alcoholic. At times, more often in her professional life, she shows a huge clarity of thought and sense of action, underscored by compassion and determination, but all too often in her private life be it due to drink or relationships there’s an overarching feeling of indecision and naval gazing  that makes you want to grab her by the shoulders, and give her a good shake. She proves to be a consistently complicated character, sometimes overwhelmed by her own feelings of guilt in relation to events of the past, and I still don’t know quite what to make of her.

The Dance of Death is not an easy read as there is a huge weight of historical factual detail, that although entirely necessary to the plot, does slow the pace of the book considerably, but it is difficult to see how this information could be imparted to the reader in any other way, tracing the history of war and resettlement between the Balkan states and Germany post Second World War. Although at times somewhat dense, and a little overwhelming, I did find the historical aspect fascinating, looking at the history of conflict and resettlement in the Balkans, from a new and interesting angle- special mention to translator Jamie Bulloch for the singular challenge this presented. Overall,  I actually enjoyed the final part of the book more, as Boni physically retraces Loncar’s past, and takes her own journey through the Balkans, and although it did feel rather truncated in comparison to what  had proceeded it, this section of the book had a real vividness and verve as Boni encounters the strange environs of Loncar’s home state. This is also quite possibly a journey for Boni that will take her life in an entirely new direction, so will be interested to see where Bottini takes her, and us, as readers…

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(With thanks to MacLehose Press for the ARC)

Pre-order a copy of The Dance of Death here

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Thoughts and Books- A Weekend Round-Up- Emma Cline, Eric Rickstad, Colin Winnette

thVQ9YP5FDI’ll keep this bit brief, but what a thoroughly demoralising turn of events, with much disillusionment both on a personal level with some huge decisions to be made, and at the completely bizarre decision that somehow Britain will be better off out of the EU. As one of the 48% who voted to Remain, I greeted the announcement very early on Friday morning with a twin feeling of anger and sadness. I was incensed that this result was reached by ignorance, intolerance and misinformation, and that our country seems to be imploding politically with this result. I love the diversity of our country and the security, comradeship and strength provided by our relationship with our fellow Europeans, and the contribution that so many people make to our society. The Raven fears the worst, but remains staunchly European.

On to happier things, and although a little distracted, so this may read as a weird stream of consciousness, I will keep going in my personal mission to bring you some more great books. Despite my personal resolution to never again read a book with girl or girls in the title I’ve just read two, back-to-back…

methode_times_prod_web_bin_58260864-2e22-11e6-bb4a-bf8353b79a10Evie Boyd is desperate to be noticed. In the summer of 1969, empty days stretch out under the California sun. The smell of honeysuckle thickens the air and the sidewalks radiate heat. Until she sees them. The snatch of cold laughter. Hair, long and uncombed. Dirty dresses skimming the tops of thighs. Cheap rings like a second set of knuckles. The girls. And at the centre, Russell. Russell and the ranch, down a long dirt track and deep in the hills. Incense and clumsily strummed chords. Rumours of sex, frenzied gatherings, teen runaways. Was there a warning, a sign of things to come? Or is Evie already too enthralled by the girls to see that her life is about to be changed forever?

Time to add my still small voice to the overriding praise that this book is currently attracting. I was absolutely blown away by the maturity and emotional pull of Cline’s writing throughout in her reworking of the Manson legend. Her sense of both the period and location is in evidence through every scene and the book sings with authenticity as to the feel of the 60’s era. The writing perfectly captures the cadence and rhythm of language, solidified by its very vital sense of place. We follow the teenage Evie deeper into the clutches of the cult following, and the moral and sexual questioning that arises from her interaction with this band of emotionally damaged and brainwashed women held in the thrall of a frankly despicable and manipulative individual. Cline’s depiction of the women and their very individual traits and back stories that have brought them to this point in their lives is by turns emotive, horrifying and full of pathos, so that your engagement as a reader is held throughout.

I was particularly enamoured with the character of Suzanne, who is instrumental in Evie’s further integration into the cult, and the sense of light and dark that Cline ascribes to her character. There is always a feeling of not quite knowing her true motivations , that Evie is entranced by, and which drives the reader on to try to get a handle on this obviously damaged but distinctly unknowable young woman, right up to the final conclusion. Evie herself is gauche, naïve and acts exactly as a teenager would, but makes the reader constantly root for her salvation, making the conclusion of the book tense and compelling. I read this book in pretty much one sitting, and am fairly sure that it will hold you in its grip in a similar way. You will also be thinking about it days afterwards. Highly recommended.

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51w3cIiHJpL._SX330_BO1,204,203,200_Frank Rath thought he was done with murder when he turned in his detective’s badge to become a private investigator and raise a daughter alone. Then the police in his remote rural community of Canaan find an ’89 Monte Carlo abandoned by the side of the road, and the beautiful teenage girl who owned the car seems to have disappeared without a trace. Soon Rath’s investigation brings him face-to-face with the darkest abominations of the human soul. With the consequences of his violent and painful past plaguing him, and young women with secrets vanishing one by one, he discovers once again that even in the smallest towns on the map, evil lurks everywhere—and no one is safe…

Any book which name checks both Poe and Edward Gorey’s The Gashlycrumb Tinies has to be an instant winner for the Raven, and this Vermont set thriller from Rickstad neatly does both in addition to simply being a great read.  I found this a slick, well- plotted and engrossing thriller from the outset, bolstered by the assured characterisation of the central protagonist, private investigator, Frank Rath, and his police associates, particularly the wonderfully feisty Sonja Test.  Rath was a great character, inevitably haunted by a dark episode in his past, leading to the adoption of his sister’s child to raise as his own, but who enshrines both a moral decency and tenacious doggedness tempered by moments of self-questioning and doubt particularly in the realm of human connection. His reactions and interactions as the case develops is central to the reader’s engagement with the story, and the seriousness of the case as it unfolds is tempered throughout by moments of dry humour and high emotion. Equally, Sonja is a terrific female protagonist, and her natural intelligence and ability to think outside the box, leads to the development of some clever turns in the investigation, providing a contrary stance to her own self-questioning of her personal life and responsibilities.

The plotting is tight throughout, throwing up enough twists and turns so that the resolution is neatly concealed right up to the book’s closing chapters, and, desperately avoiding plot spoilers,  provokes some interesting questions on an always contentious issue. A good read and recommended for that summer getaway.

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I’m going to keep these next two short and sweet, because if you’ve never encountered this unassuming chap…

colin

he’s written both of these …

colin1  coyote

and your lives will be infinitely richer for reading both.

Slim, quirky, description defying, dark, twisted, thought-provoking and pretty much every other complimentary adjective in my personal armour. Haint Stay is a Woodrell-esque Western that will shock, amuse and unsettle you in equal measure, with its violent interludes tempered by moments of extreme sadness and questioning of identity.

Coyote is constructed around the testimony of a mother in the wake of her child’s death. But, this is Winnette, and as he draws us in with an increasingly unreliable narrator you can be damn sure that nothing is as it seems.

And it isn’t.

Utterly chilling.