#BlogTour- Doug Johnstone- The Big Chill “Far from overpowering our perception of these characters with the darker aspects of their experiences, Johnstone cleverly insinuates touches of dark humour, and moments of pure joy into the narrative too.” @doug_johnstone @OrendaBooks

Haunted by their past, the Skelf women are hoping for a quieter life. But running both a funeral directors’ and a private investigation business means trouble is never far away, and when a car crashes into the open grave at a funeral that matriarch Dorothy is conducting, she can’t help looking into the dead driver’s shadowy life. While Dorothy uncovers a dark truth at the heart of Edinburgh society, her daughter Jenny and granddaughter Hannah have their own struggles. Jenny’s ex-husband Craig is making plans that could shatter the Skelf women’s lives, and the increasingly obsessive Hannah has formed a friendship with an elderly professor that is fast turning deadly.  But something even more sinister emerges when a drumming student of Dorothy’s disappears and suspicion falls on her parents. The Skelf women find themselves sucked into an unbearable darkness – but could the real threat be to themselves?

When I reviewed A Dark Matter, the first of this trilogy, I knew from the outset that Doug Johnstone had produced something very special indeed. Focusing the book on this triumvirate of utterly compelling female characters, grandmother, mother and granddaughter, running their dual businesses of funeral home and private investigation, the scene was set for an usual and original series, and the second book, The Big Chill, does not disappoint…

The characterisation of the three generations of the Skelf family, Dorothy, Jenny and Hannah is damn near flawless, with Johnstone capturing perfectly the lives, joys, loves, losses and insecurities of the women with an astute touch. His depiction of each is unfailingly perceptive, bringing their individual character traits to the fore, whilst never losing sight of the disparate differences between them that comes with age and experience. Dorothy teetering on the edge of a new attachment, but still in thrall to the memory of her late husband, Jenny trying to put the duplicitous actions of her ex-husband behind them and embarking on a new relationship, and Hannah who carries all the indignance yet insecurity of youth in her relationship with her mother and partner.

All three are still working through the fallout of the previous book, and as much as you want to see them put this behind them, the past has a nasty way of informing their present, as events play out. As all three seemingly operate in a separate space, due to the differing investigations and trouble they find themselves in, but, there is always an unerring feeling of connection between them. As events threaten to overwhelm them individually, and bring further troubles to their door, this bond which waxes and wanes, but never disappears, is the glue that binds them, and bolsters their personal and emotional strength. Johnstone depicts all this with a sure-footedness and efficacy that imprints these characters fully in our minds, and as such draws them into our consciousness resonating with our empathy, and heightening our connection to them.

As much as I enjoyed the story and plotting, with the individual travails and peril the women experience, I always feel with Johnstone’s writing that something deeper dwells at the heart of his books. Somewhere, from the mists of time, I recall the following quote (reportedly from an Irish headstone) which captures for me the essence of these books to date, “death leaves a heartache no one can heal, love leaves a memory no one can steal” and these themes, intrinsically bound up with the notions of grief and mourning, seems to me at least, the driving force behind this series. Aside from the central setting of the funeral home, which by its very definition is a harbinger of death and loss, every character is experiencing some kind of love, loss or pervading aspect of grief that arrives in the wake of the experiences they have. Grief for loved ones and lost relationships, or personal grief caused by betrayal, deception or the uncovering of unpalatable secrets, and equally how to come to terms with all these different aspects of loss and sadness is handled sensitively throughout. Grief is the surest measure of love there is.

However, far from overpowering our perception of these characters with the darker aspects of their experiences, Johnstone cleverly insinuates touches of dark humour, and moments of pure joy into the narrative too. Again, the author draws on his scientific background too, to introduce some more cosmic ruminations, which are both enlightening and thought-provoking, and seek to highlight our own small space in an ever changing universe. All of these strands in The Big Chill lead to a rounded and ultimately satisfying read, underscored by his affectionate and, at times, raw depiction of the book’s Edinburgh setting. Highly recommended. How could it not be?

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(With thanks to Orenda Books for the ARC)

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Kjell Ola Dahl- Sister #BlogTour

Suspended from duty, Detective Frølich is working as a private investigator, when his girlfriend’s colleague asks for his help with a female asylum seeker, who the authorities are about to deport. She claims to have a sister in Norway, and fears that returning to her home country will mean instant death. Frølich quickly discovers the whereabouts of the young woman’s sister, but things become increasingly complex when she denies having a sibling, and Frølich is threatened off the case by the police. As the body count rises, it becomes clear that the answers lie in an old investigation, and the mysterious sister, who is now on the run…

After a diversion into the historical based thriller The Courier (which I would highly recommend) Kjell Ola Dahl has reverted back to his Oslo Detective series with Sister being the eighth outing. As usual Frank Frølich is in the midst of a couple of tricky cases, and as he discovers connections between the two, his innate powers of detection are put under pressure…

By isolating Frølich from his previous role as police detective, Dahl has opened up a world of possibilities for this character as a private investigator, whilst retaining his connections to his former career. Hence, regular readers of the series will see Frølich retain a relationship with a familiar character from the previous books, yet have the scope to embark on his own probing investigation unfettered by his former restraints as a police officer. As I was reading, I felt that we could be looking at a younger Varg Veum, the central character of Gunnar Staalessen’s excellent series, and a private investigator of some repute. Although Frølich does not have exactly the same characteristics or highly developed cynicism of Veum, the indications are good that this new career will be a good fit for him as the series progresses, and it will be interesting to see into which direction Dahl will lead him. He is a persistent and determined investigator, and as his two initially unconnected investigations begin to meld together, he has numerous red herrings and blind alleys to navigate. One of these cases in particular, highlights Frølich‘s tenacity as an investigator, and also his own personal moral code to challenge authority, and to achieve some kind of justice for the victim, despite, at times, intense personal danger to himself.

As Frølich gradually unpicks the underlying strands of each case, what Dahl constructs is a story that balances equally a cold case of some years previously, a maritime accident and a very pertinent and contemporary case centred on immigration. Dahl is very adroit at taking the reader into the finer detail of a case, in particular the historical case of a devastating fire on board a ship, and he also constructs the narrative so there is a salient repetition of certain information, to keep us in the loop with Frølich‘s discoveries, and to map out the conspiracy theory in a clear and relevant manner. Although I was less engaged with this strand of the story, there were certain elements of it that piqued my interest as the scope of the conspiracy was gradually revealed. I did, however, enjoy the more contemporary element of the book, focussing on the murder of a immigration worker, and how this impacts on her associates, on Frølich and also on a new personal relationship he has embarked on. By its very nature this was going to be a more emotive case for Frølich, and Dahl neatly arouses the readers’ sympathies for both the victim and others, as elements of the past give rise to retribution and revenge.

Once again, translated beautifully by Don Bartlett, Dahl has constructed a multi-layered and thoroughly researched crime thriller where the impact of past and present interweave and impact on each other. The book is peppered with some nice little elements of humour, and I am always impressed by Dahl’s aptitude for constructing such a visual depiction of his characters from relatively few details of their physical features, like mini caricatures. As I said previously, in the long term, it will be interesting how Frølich overcomes the personal disappointments that this case brings to him, and how his career as a private investigator will play out after his ignominious fall from grace as a police officer. It all bodes well for a good solid change of direction in the Oslo Detective series. Recommended.

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(With thanks to Orenda Books for the ARC)

 Catch up with the blog tour at these excellent sites: 

#BlogTour- Gunnar Staalesen- Wolves At The Door

One dark January night a car drives at high speed towards PI Varg Veum, and comes very close to killing him. Veum is certain this is no accident, following so soon after the deaths of two jailed men who were convicted for their participation in a case of child pornography and sexual assault, crimes that Veum himself once stood wrongly accused of committing. While the guilty men were apparently killed accidentally, Varg suspects that there is something more sinister at play, and that he’s on the death list of someone still at large. Fearing for his life, Veum begins to investigate the old case, interviewing the victims of abuse and delving deeper into the brutal crimes, with shocking results. The wolves are no longer in the dark, they are at his door. And they want vengeance…

I think it’s no exaggeration to say that Gunnar Staalesen is singularly the most difficult author I have to review, as his books are just so consistently superb, and beautifully translated by Don Bartlett. To this end, each new instalment of the Varg Veum series just puts an increasing strain on the scope of my vocabulary and my stash of superlatives, so apologies for any noticeable repetition detected of previous reviews for We Shall Inherit The Wind , Where Roses Never Die, Wolves In The Dark, and Big Sister. So now we come to Wolves At The Door, where the shadow of the misdemeanours of Veum’s past, both real and imagined come back to haunt this most tenacious of private investigators in the streets of his beloved Bergen and beyond…

This book is closely linked to the catastrophic events of Wolves In The Dark, but as ever with Staalesen, each of these books can be read in isolation, with the precise, and concise use of back story always contained within the books. Consequently, the reader can quickly get a handle on why Veum is once again under threat, and  the dangerous lengths he needs to go to in order to discover why. As is usual, the slightly gung-ho actions of Veum, also have ramifications for those he is closest too, and places a maybe unbridgeable strain on his most personal relationships. Staalesen always exhibits a sublime skill in his plotting, with a smooth, assured grip on the tension, pace and use of reveals in particular, so we experience the same level of frustration as Veum as his lines of investigation are consistently blurred by a web of lies, deception and interludes of violence.

I thought this plot was exceptionally well realised, bringing to the fore the age old hypothesis of nature vs nurture, the issues of familial dysfunction and how this manifests itself in the victims and survivors of abuse, and is natural justice more warranted in some cases than the grinding wheels of legal justice. Staalesen explores these themes with an intensity and clear sightedness through his conduit Veum, a former social worker illustrating once again, that alongside his innate ability to draw the reader in to an extremely well-structured and compelling thriller, these additional levels of societal and behavioural exploration serves to raise his books above the depressingly familiar norm of thrillers exploring the world of domestic abuse and family conflict.

Aside from Veum being such a vivid, slightly flawed and genuinely likeable character, with his tenacious attitude, his companionable relationship with aquavit, and his sometimes foolhardy denial of not being the spring chicken he was, these books always appeal to my own love of language and taut dialogue. I have never reached the end of one of Staalesen’s books without noting down several pages containing sharp and snappy exchanges, or just brilliant punchy little observations such as “On the way up to the house I passed a thawing snowman bent at the hip, an arthritic terpsichorean,” Staalesen has an elasticity of phrase, and what I perceive to be a general love of, and skill for, honing his language to compress a visual panorama into a pared down image, or short, taut description which reveals so much to the reader by saying relatively little. I also get a large amount of enjoyment from Veum’s perfectly delivered cynical asides in the face of other people’s stupidity- an admirable quality that dissipates the general irritation that the sometimes crotchety Veum experiences pretty much every day in his interactions with pretty much everybody. There are exceptions to this rule of course revealing an assuring soft-centeredness to him, which then quickly dissipates yet again, bringing a welcome return to cynicism and irritation as the idiots raise their ugly heads again.   

So, once again, Wolves At The Door accrues a five star rating for a five star book from a five star author, and a five star translator Don Bartlett. There is little more to say, apart from a personal note to Gunnar Staalesen in the light of the ending this book, you might want to rethink the beekeeping idea for both Veum’s sanity and ours…

Highly recommended.

(With thanks to Orenda Books for the ARC)

Catch up with the blog tour at these excellent sites:

Emma Viskic- Resurrection Bay

 

*With the joyous news that Resurrection Bay is now available in paperback in the UK, and as one of my Top 10 reads of 2017, thought a timely reminder of this excellent book might be in order. The follow up And Fire Came Down is due for release in late August too, if this one whets your appetite. Happy reading!* 

Caleb Zelic, profoundly deaf since early childhood, has always lived on the outside – watching, picking up tell-tale signs people hide in a smile, a cough, a kiss.

When a childhood friend is murdered, a sense of guilt and a determination to prove his own innocence sends Caleb on a hunt for the killer. But he can’t do it alone. Caleb and his troubled friend Frankie, an ex-cop, start with one clue: Scott, the last word the murder victim texted to Caleb. But Scott is always one step ahead.

This gripping, original and fast-paced crime thriller is set between a big city and a small coastal town, Resurrection Bay, where Caleb is forced to confront painful memories. Caleb is a memorable protagonist who refuses to let his deafness limit his opportunities or his participation in the investigation. But does his persistence border on stubbornness? And at what cost? As he delves deeper into the investigation Caleb uncovers unwelcome truths about his murdered friend – and himself.

As an ardent fan of Pushkin Press‘ publishing output, and their bijou Vertigo collection of European crime in translation, I was more than a little curious to read the latest addition to the series. But what’s this? Not European, but Australian, and the Raven’s curiosity went into overdrive…

Okay, so before I start generally gushing about Resurrection Bay, I will set my stall out early, and say that I would be very surprised if this one doesn’t feature prominently in my year end round-up. I thought it was accomplished, original and utterly riveting, so much so that I read it in pretty much one sitting, and indeed felt slightly bereft when I had finished it. I was totally immersed in the difficult and dangerous world of Caleb Zelic from the very beginning, and with its resonance of the sharp, snappy hard-boiled essence of American crime fiction, and the refreshingly original main protagonist of Zelic himself, there is much to enjoy here.

Having a profoundly deaf central protagonist, I imagine poses its own particular difficulties for an author, whilst keeping us focussed on the difficulties and subtle nuances of this disability, but by the same token not over-egging the narrative to reflect this. I think Viskic achieves this balance beautifully, as we come to appreciate the attendant difficulties of Zelic’s life coping with, and largely overcoming the problems associated with his deafness. This was a subtle and sensitive portrayal of this disability, emphasising his reliance on Auslan (sign language) and lip reading, and I particularly enjoyed the way that his perception of people was formed through their varying degrees of success of communicating with him through these methods. The problems that arise through other’s indistinct speech, or shouting at him like he was an idiot was nicely done, and also the mental stress he encounters through tiredness, or the malfunctioning of his aids. As an extension of this, Viskic focusses a great deal on the barriers of communication that exist, not only through Zelic’s deafness, but between other characters in different situations, and how this can lead to danger or emotional isolation. This adds a whole other level to the narrative, which although perfectly serviceable as a compelling thriller, is enriched further by these observations of human communication. Zelic is obviously at the forefront of the book, but there is equally strong characterisation of those around him, including his work partner, ex-detective Frankie Reynolds, and Zelic’s estranged wife Kat. Both women are strong, resilient and uniquely different, and it’s interesting how our perception of Zelic is affected by his particular relationship with each, and how each adds humour, danger or sheer emotional intensity to the plot. Kat provides another sense of depth to the tale with her Aboriginal roots, and the unquestioning acceptance, or blatant racism that her ancestry provokes is touched upon too, but again with a subtlety that doesn’t bash the reader around the head.

I thought the plot of Resurrection Bay was pacey and gripping, as Zelic sets out to investigate the murder of an old friend, and certain dark secrets come to light. There are sporadic bouts of violence and peril, cross and double-cross that keep the story moving nicely, punctuated by more tender and introspective scenes, with an exploration of addiction, love and loyalty. There’s also a good twist at the end, that this reader most definitely didn’t see coming, which is always satisfying, and to be honest I am on tenterhooks for the next instalment, And Fire Came Down. Highly recommended.

(With thanks to Pushkin Press for the ARC)

Blog Tour- Claire MacLeary- Burnout

My husband is trying to kill me : a new client gets straight to the point. This is a whole new ball game for Maggie Laird, who is trying to rebuild her late husband’s detective agency and clear his name. Her partner, Big Wilma, sees the case as a non-starter, but Maggie is drawn in. With her client’s life on the line, Maggie must get to the ugly truth that lies behind Aberdeen’s closed doors. But who knows what really goes on between husbands and wives? And will the agency’s reputation and Maggie and Wilma’s friendship remain intact?

Having been so heartily impressed by Claire MacLeary’s debut Cross Purpose, which introduced us to the fledgling private detectives, Maggie Laird and ‘Big’ Wilma Harcus, here we go with the second outing for this thoroughly likeable duo…

At a time where the subjugation of women in society be it professionally, emotionally, or sexually has been so in the spotlight through the #MeToo campaign, MacLeary adds a wise and all too pertinent voice to the arena. Along with the sheer affability and humour of her two female protagonists, the book carries with it a larger message on the hostile and demeaning behaviour that all too many women encounter within their domestic lives. I must admit that I did find some of the episodes within the book quite difficult to read at times, having experienced a familiar situation in my own life, which did stir up some uncomfortable memories. Having said that though, I applaud MacLeary for taking these issues, and treating them in such an even handed and sensitive manner, which will not only resonate with women like myself, but also alert others to recognise those gradually increasing indicators in a relationship of an escalating feeling of unnatural control. MacLeary very much focuses the book on a series of relationships, in their myriad forms, between husbands and wives, and Maggie’s self will to emerge from the disgrace of her dead husband and clear his name, and most crucially to the story, a recognition of the power of women to take back control for themselves. We see this in the relationships of Ros, a work colleague of Maggie’s whose marriage is taking a darker turn, the investigation into Sheena Struthers who believes her husband is plotting to kill her, and in the tension that grows in Wilma’s relationship with her partner Ian. I enjoyed the equivalence between these situations, and the way that MacLeary also wove into the plot the professional pressures that Maggie, and Detective Susan Strachan face, infiltrating the masculine bastion of the police force. The plot is incredibly character driven, and I think most female readers will recognise something of themselves in one of this contrasting band of women. As I commented on with Cross Purpose, MacLeary has a knack of balancing the insecurity and self questioning of her characters with moments of real strength or sheer bloody mindedness. Not all of her women are compliant victims, and those that would appear so, are given the space to break free. I admire this aspect of her writing very much.

Before you begin to think that this all sounds a bit serious, MacLeary breaks up the emotional tension at a beautiful pace, largely due to the character of Big Wilma. She’s blousy, brash, fearless and the comic interludes including her night out a strip show, and an unfortunate pratfall in the countryside, have a wonderful comic timing. I genuinely feared for the possible dissolution of her partnership with the ‘stuck up’ Maggie, but as much as they are chalk and cheese, the banter and interplay between them is absolutely integral to the enjoyment of the book. They are a formidable partnership, and there’s plenty of mileage in them yet I warrant, and I, for one, will await the next book with interest. Highly recommended.

Catch up with the blog tour at these excellent sites:

#BlogTour- Kristen Lepionka- The Last Place You Look

Sarah Cook, a beautiful blonde teenager disappeared fifteen years ago, the same night her parents were brutally murdered in their suburban Ohio home. Her boyfriend Brad Stockton – black and from the wrong side of the tracks – was convicted of the murders and sits on death row, though he always maintained his innocence. With his execution only weeks away, his devoted sister, insisting she has spotted Sarah at a local gas station, hires PI Roxane Weary to look again at the case.
Reeling from the recent death of her cop father, Roxane finds herself drawn to the story of Sarah’s vanishing act, especially when she thinks she’s linked Sarah’s disappearance to one of her father’s unsolved murder cases involving another teen girl. Despite her self-destructive tendencies, Roxane starts to hope that maybe she can save Brad’s life and her own…

And so to a debut thriller from Kristen Lepionka, The Last Place You Look, revolving around her troubled female private investigator Roxanne Weary, and a perplexing case in which she seeks to clear the name of an allegedly falsely accused man on Death Row. The plot plays out pleasingly enough, as Weary finds her own family connections inextricable linked with her investigation into this case, and encounters some harsh resistance along the way as she probes deeper into the missing links between these violent events. A few twists and turns along the way keep the action moving along at a pace, and despite a slight hackneyed scenario towards the close of the book, enough is initially kept hidden from Weary, and by extension the reader, to satisfy us with its twists and turns. However, the real strength of Lepionka’s writing lies within her characterisation of  Weary herself…

Being a little world weary (excuse the pun)  of crime thrillers featuring private investigators, I did approach this one a little tentatively at first, but my fears were assuaged somewhat by some nifty characterisation on the part of Lepionka. Although other reviewers have drawn comparison with the hardboiled tradition of Raymond Chandler, I felt that Weary was definitely more closely aligned with the forthright private investigator characters redolent of Sara Paretsky, Sue Grafton and a smattering of a more worldly wise Nancy Drew. I think these influences shine through in her portrayal of Weary, reeling from her father’s death, combating her personal demons with alcohol and sex, and being very much of the mould of act now and think later. I did find the dynamics of her  personal relationships with her father’s police partner Tom and the frosty artistic Catherine interesting, and how her behaviour morphed and changed when in their company, or fretting about the emotional depth of her involvement with them.  This added a nice tangential aspect to the storyline, and gave us a greater insight into Weary’s character and her emotional complexity. I had a growing admiration for her as her travails increased, and rather liked her gung-ho attitude in the face of this complex and dangerous case, so much so that the strength of her character rather over-shadowed other characters in the book, who are a trifle hazy in my recollection a few weeks after reading the book.

Overall with The Last Place You Look,  my attention was held mostly by Weary, and the ups and downs of her emotional state, along with the clear-sightedness with which she approaches this troubling case. Although a little less convinced by the final denouement, this was an engaging enough read, and think that Lepionka has a few more roads to travel yet with this character. Recommended.

(With thanks to Faber for the ARC)

#BlogTour- Gunnar Staalesen-Wolves In The Dark

Reeling from the death of his great love, Karin, Varg Veum’s life has descended into a self-destructive spiral of alcohol, lust, grief and blackouts. When traces of child pornography are found on his computer, he’s accused of being part of a paedophile ring and thrown into a prison cell. There, he struggles to sift through his past to work out who is responsible for planting the material,  and who is seeking the ultimate revenge. When a chance to escape presents itself, Varg finds himself on the run in his hometown of Bergen. With the clock ticking and the police on his tail, Varg takes on his hardest – and most personal – case yet…

And so, it is time once again for Gunnar Staalesen to put his redoubtable private detective, Varg Veum,  through an emotional wringer, and visit all kinds of hell upon him in his most personally harrowing investigation yet. Merely further confirming his pedigree as one of the finest Scandinavian crime fiction writers of the modern age, Wolves In The Dark, is among Staalesen’s darkest, and most finely crafted, novels to date…

What is to be most admired about this latest addition to the series, is the complexity of the plotting, which absolutely captures and illustrates the maelstrom of confusion and grief that has defined Veum’s life over a significant period of time. The narrative continually reaches back into Veum’s descent into alcoholism and blackouts following the death of his beloved Karin, and as Veum seeks to piece together events and actions from this dark time in his personal life, Staalesen  plays with the themes of memory, and morality in equal measure. Attention must be paid as the storyline ebbs and flows between the past and present, and small moments of clarity begin to punctuate Veum’s memory of recent events. I would certainly recommended reading in larger sections, as the previous investigations that may go some way to explain Veum’s current dilemma are so important in the overall story arc, and it’s easy to lose track of the pertinent details in shorter sittings.

I thought the depiction of this swirling miasma of confusion and truth seeking that Veum has to endure was superbly done, and cleverly invites the reader in as a second pair of eyes, as Veum seeks to reconcile his memory of events with the very dark accusations against him. I also appreciated the way that Staalesen treats the subject of grief, harnessing and examining Veum’s despair through his actions,  and by extension drawing on the reader’s empathy throughout. The astute combination of plotting and characterisation is exceptionally well-crafted, and as Veum is pushed to the limits of his self-awareness and morality, Staalesen weaves a tale that is by turn disturbing, and emotive. Not only is Veum accused of such a distasteful crime, but Staalesen artfully balances Veum’s own moral self examination, with those of his investigators, and those that seek to help, and defend him. In the face of adversity Veum takes extreme action to defend his reputation, but the immoral taint of accusation is a difficult one to be cleansed of. By using the theme of cybercrime, and particularly Veum’s general naivety of the pernicious reach of this offence, Staalesen exposes a dangerous world lacking human morality, and decency, and Veum is continually portrayed as a man adrift, thwarting his quest for truth further…

Wolves In The Dark has to rank as one of my favourite books in the series to date, immersing Varg Veum in a real personal trauma , which dents his natural humour and bonhomie, and causes him to question and reassess an incredibly dark period of his history, barely functioning under the weight of grief. The book is infinitely more downbeat than Staalesen’s usual fare, but interestingly plays with the themes of grief, recollection, guilt and morality through Veum himself, and those central to the previous cases that become integral in the search to clear his name. Thoughtful, introspective, and, as usual, completely absorbing. Highly recommended.

(With thanks to Orenda Books for the ARC)

   Catch up with the blog tour at these excellent sites:

Emma Viskic- Resurrection Bay

Caleb Zelic, profoundly deaf since early childhood, has always lived on the outside – watching, picking up tell-tale signs people hide in a smile, a cough, a kiss.

When a childhood friend is murdered, a sense of guilt and a determination to prove his own innocence sends Caleb on a hunt for the killer. But he can’t do it alone. Caleb and his troubled friend Frankie, an ex-cop, start with one clue: Scott, the last word the murder victim texted to Caleb. But Scott is always one step ahead.

This gripping, original and fast-paced crime thriller is set between a big city and a small coastal town, Resurrection Bay, where Caleb is forced to confront painful memories. Caleb is a memorable protagonist who refuses to let his deafness limit his opportunities or his participation in the investigation. But does his persistence border on stubbornness? And at what cost? As he delves deeper into the investigation Caleb uncovers unwelcome truths about his murdered friend – and himself.

As an ardent fan of Pushkin Press‘ publishing output, and their bijou Vertigo collection of European crime in translation, I was more than a little curious to read the latest addition to the series. But what’s this? Not European, but Australian, and the Raven’s curiosity went into overdrive…Okay, so before I start generally gushing about Resurrection Bay, I will set my stall out early, and say that I would be very surprised if this one doesn’t feature prominently in my year end round-up. I thought it was accomplished, original and utterly riveting, so much so that I read it in pretty much one sitting, and indeed felt slightly bereft when I had finished it. I was totally immersed in the difficult and dangerous world of Caleb Zelic from the very beginning, and with its resonance of the sharp, snappy hard-boiled essence of American crime fiction, and the refreshingly original main protagonist of Zelic himself, there is much to enjoy here.

Having a profoundly deaf central protagonist, I imagine poses its own particular difficulties for an author, whilst keeping us focussed on the difficulties and subtle nuances of this disability, but by the same token not over-egging the narrative to reflect this. I think Viskic achieves this balance beautifully, as we come to appreciate the attendant difficulties of Zelic’s life coping with, and largely overcoming the problems associated with his deafness. This was a subtle and sensitive portrayal of this disability, emphasising his reliance on Auslan (sign language) and lip reading, and I particularly enjoyed the way that his perception of people was formed through their varying degrees of success of communicating with him through these methods. The problems that arise through other’s indistinct speech, or shouting at him like he was an idiot was nicely done, and also the mental stress he encounters through tiredness, or the malfunctioning of his aids. As an extension of this, Viskic focusses a great deal on the barriers of communication that exist, not only through Zelic’s deafness, but between other characters in different situations, and how this can lead to danger or emotional isolation. This adds a whole other level to the narrative, which although perfectly serviceable as a compelling thriller, is enriched further by these observations of human communication. Zelic is obviously at the forefront of the book, but there is equally strong characterisation of those around him, including his work partner, ex-detective Frankie Reynolds, and Zelic’s estranged wife Kat. Both women are strong, resilient and uniquely different, and it’s interesting how our perception of Zelic is affected by his particular relationship with each, and how each adds humour, danger or sheer emotional intensity to the plot. Kat provides another sense of depth to the tale with her Aboriginal roots, and the unquestioning acceptance, or blatant racism that her ancestry provokes is touched upon too, but again with a subtlety that doesn’t bash the reader around the head.

I thought the plot of Resurrection Bay was pacey and gripping, as Zelic sets out to investigate the murder of an old friend, and certain dark secrets come to light. There are sporadic bouts of violence and peril, cross and double-cross that keep the story moving nicely, punctuated by more tender and introspective scenes, with an exploration of addiction, love and loyalty. There’s also a good twist at the end, that this reader most definitely didn’t see coming, which is always satisfying, and to be honest I am on tenterhooks for the next instalment of what I hope will be a continuing series. Highly recommended.

(With thanks to Pushkin Press for the ARC)

Craig Russell- The Quiet Death of Thomas Quaid

9781780874883Lennox liked Quiet Tommy Quaid. Perhaps it’s odd for a private detective to like – even admire – a career thief, but Quiet Tommy Quaid was the sort of man everyone liked. Amiable, easy-going, well-dressed, with no vices to speak of – well, aside from his excessive drinking and womanising, but then in 1950s Glasgow those are practically virtues. And besides, throughout his many exploits outside the law, Quiet Tommy never once used violence. It was rumoured to be the police who gave him his nickname – because whenever they caught him, which was not often, he always came quietly. So probably even the police liked him, deep down. Above all, the reason people liked Tommy was that you knew exactly what you were dealing with. Here, everybody realized, was someone who was simply and totally who and what he seemed to be. But when Tommy turns up dead, Lennox and the rest of Glasgow will find out just how wrong they were…

Hallelujah! After a too-long intermission, The Quiet Death of Thomas Quaid, the fifth in Craig Russell’s unmissable Lennox series has arrived. Having reviewed the previous four books, Lennox, The Long Glasgow Kiss, The Deep Dark Sleep and Dead Men and Broken Hearts, the Raven is cock-a-hoop that the inimitable Lennox has returned and in some style…

So let’s get a grip on that excitement and try to bring you a measured, thoughtful and calm review of The Quiet Death of Thomas Quaid, as this could all too easily just slip into a chain of superlatives as a testament to the sheer brilliance of Mr Russell. Taking us back again to the post war years of 1950’s Glasgow, Lennox is still plying his trade as a private detective after the emotional crisis in his personal life he is still subconsciously at least, trying to come to terms with. Fret not, if this is your first foray into the series, as Russell makes it easy to catch up with the salient events of the previous books, and provides ample background to the mercurial and charming Lennox. When Lennox is retained by a shifty stranger to acquire, not entirely legally, some important documents he calls on the help of career thief, the eponymous Thomas Quaid, to assist him. The dire results for the wee, quiet man Quaid, sets Lennox on a dangerous path to avenge his friend’s death, and uncover a conspiracy with far reaching results.

Writing this review from the perspective of a dedicated reader of the series, I was instantly immersed back into this world despite the lengthy hiatus between books. Russell once again places Lennox front and centre of all the action, with his inherent easy charm underscored by the dangerous, bubbling tension that exudes from him. Lennox’s natural humour and cynicism permeates the book once again, in the good old style of the hard-boiled private investigator tradition, but he is as always a man of determination, deep-seated morality, and not averse to getting his hands dirty. Or his knuckles bruised. He has some shady gangster connections, with Russell once again referencing The Three Kings; a disparate trinity of gangland bosses who control and manipulate the criminal world of Glasgow, and Handsome Johnny Cohen, one of the three bosses, has a significant part to play in this book. Lennox is also assisted in his mission by the brilliant ‘Twinkletoes’ McBride, (think bolt-cutters and This Little Piggy), a haystack of an enforcer whose woeful attempts to improve his word-power by regular reading of the Reader’s Digest leads to some excruciating mispronunciations and, by turn, moments of biting wit. Throughout the characterisation of his main protagonists, and the assorted miscreants, schemers, and ne’er- do-wells, that thwart their path, Russell has again drawn a colourful and engaging world, which you cannot help but be drawn into completely. The lightness of touch applied to some of the characterisation is balanced beautifully by some moments of raw emotion and introspection that give an added weight and differing perception to the reader of the tough guy characters, once again spotlighting Russell’s intuitive and accomplished stature as a writer.

Russell perfectly evokes the feel of the period, with the shabby, downtrodden air of a city recovering in the aftermath of war, and the incessant need for the criminal underclass to keep a foothold in the economic recovery of the city with the opportunity to make an illegal buck or two. Cut through with the dry wit of the laconic Canadian Lennox, the nod to the hard-boiled genre in terms of dialogue and pace, superb plotting and peopled with a colourful cast of supporting characters, Russell has done it again. I love this series. More please…and soon… Highly recommended.

(With thanks to Quercus for the ARC)

 

 

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.