#BlogTour- Agnes Ravatn-The Seven Doors “A taut and precise psychological thriller.” @OrendaBooks

University professor Nina is at a turning point. Her work seems increasingly irrelevant, her doctor husband is never home, relations with her difficult daughter are strained, and their beautiful house is scheduled for demolition. When her daughter decides to move into another house they own, things take a very dark turn. The young woman living there disappears, leaving her son behind, the day after Nina and her daughter pay her a visit. With few clues, the police enquiry soon grinds to a halt, but Nina has an inexplicable sense of guilt. Unable to rest, she begins her own investigation, but as she pulls on the threads of the case, it seems her discoveries may have very grave consequences for her and her family…

Having been completely bowled over by Agnes Ravatn’s previous book The Bird Tribunal I was anticipating another story layered with psychological suspense and dramatic tension. The Seven Doors achieves precisely that and Ravatn does not disappoint.

Although the book involves a seemingly simple premise for a plot,  what Ravatn layers into it, makes this a far from linear tale. Just as The Bird Tribunal encapsulated the psychological suspense of Patricia Highsmith and was powered by a literary allusion throughout, so the author draws on a similar idea here. Consequently, aside from her main character Nina finding herself embroiled and unduly fascinated by the disappearance of her and her husband’s tenant Mari, herself a mysterious and mercurial figure, Ravatn threads into this mystery a number of themes and digressions drawing on psychological schools of thought, folklore, literature and music. I do concede that I was much more drawn to this side of the book, as I unfortunately guessed the perpetrator of Mari’s disappearance from quite early on, but was completely fascinated by the the references to the legend of Bluebeard (which spawns the title of the book) of which I knew nothing, and the other facets of the book mentioned previously with a focus on humanities and the psychological. There is nothing better than finishing a book having discovered something new, particularly when it is so skilfully woven into the plot without feeling forced or contrived.

Another aspect of this book that I enjoyed was Ravatn’s characterisation, particularly of the women, as the male characters, aside from Mari’s estranged husband seemed a little more functional rather than rounded. Nina is a fascinating character, being older, and perhaps with a more heightened awareness of time passing by, with her home on the point of demolition, and the machinations of moving on, and moving out. It seems that in this period of change and uncertainty, her transformation into an aged Nancy Drew could not have come at a better time for her, and perhaps, on a more human level, proves to her that she still has some worth outside of being a lecturer, a wife and a mother. Speaking of which, I loved Ingeborg her daughter whose lack of  tact and diplomacy is an absolute joy to behold. She is resolute, and like a dog with a bone, will pester, cajole and annoy to get what she wants, with little thought for others, leading to some of the lighter moments within the book.

Overall, I enjoyed the linear quality of the main storyline of The Seven Doors, which gave the plot the opportunity to go off on other tangents linked to Nina’s particular field of academic expertise, with music, folklore and literature also being used as tropes within the book. Fluidly translated by Rosie Hedger once again, this is a taut and precise psychological thriller, deceptive in its simplicity but with some interesting diversions, that leads to a satisfying read overall. Recommended.

(With thanks to Orenda Books for the ARC)

Missed a post? Catch up at these excellent sites: 

#BlogTour Parker Bilal- The Heights “Packed with tension, this was an immersive and compelling read.” @Parker_Bilal @blackthornbks

What starts with the gruesome discovery of a severed head on the Tube soon becomes personal for former DI Cal Drake. After one betrayal too many, Drake has abandoned the police force to become a private detective. He’s teamed up with enigmatic forensic pathologist Dr Rayhana Crane and it’s not long before the case leads them to the darkest corners of the nation’s capital and in dangerously close contact with an international crime circuit, a brutal local rivalry and a very personal quest for retribution. With the murder victim tied to Drake’s past, his new future is about to come under threat…

I read the first of this scorching new series, The Divinities, some time ago and at the close of the review said how much I was anticipating the next book in the series. Well, Parker Bilal has come up trumps again, and just as the first book made it in to my Top Ten of the Year, The Heights may achieve a similar status…

With the two main characters, ex-detective Cal Drake and forensic pathologist/psychologist Dr Rayhana Crane, having now embarked on a closer working relationship in private investigation, Bilal takes this series in an interesting new direction. Drake is as screwed up personally and emotionally as before, with the events of the first book gaining even greater prominence here. Rest assured, the author constructs the story so the reader is fully aware of the previous events, if you missed the previous book. Drake is an interesting character, living life to his own slightly skewed moral compass, and haunted by his previous career in both the military and as an undercover police officer. He is brusque and understandably mistrustful of people generally, but this odd pairing works extremely well, and the small chinks of decency and morality that he seeks to veil do appear from time to time, as he works more closely with the vibrant and outgoing Crane. Not that Crane doesn’t have her own demons, emanating from her very unusual family background, which features heavily in this book, and her own single minded determination, that makes her both forthright and brave. The dynamics of their working relationship propel the plot along at a good pace, and with the differing strands of their investigations, and personal tumult, Bilal does an excellent job of juggling the various tensions that these tangential cases places upon them.

What struck me most with the first book, and to an even greater extent with this one, is the superb characterisation of London itself and how Bilal depicts the essential energy and feel of this teeming metropolis. Having so perfectly captured the chasm between rich and poor in The Divinities, some of this book sees Drake moving about the homeless community in pursuit of an individual crucial to their enquiries. These scenes are written with a real attention to the plight of this community, highlighting how easy it is to fall between the cracks, and what kind of existence this leads to. Likewise, with the story spiralling back to the nefarious deeds of an international crime network involved in drug and people trafficking, and drawing on the particular backgrounds of Drake and Crane themselves, there is a strong multi-cultural feel to the book too. In the scenes relating to Drake’s previous undercover case with the police, Bilal brings a strong thread of realism to the story of his involvement with a witness, Zelda, and her subsequent death, as she sought a better life in Britain only for it to go so desperately awry. I felt a huge amount of sympathy both for her, and for the complex moral dilemma this put Drake through, torn between his duty as a police officer, but also his indebtedness to and dangerous coercion of her to speak out.

Although The Heights makes for, at times, bleak and uncomfortable reading, I was utterly mesmerised by it throughout. Bilal maintains a real energy and pace to the book, and with the story comprising of a number of different strands, there is certainly no opportunity for the reader’s attention to wander. I liked the way that these strands wove in and out with each other, keeping a real control to the narrative arc, and making some interesting connections along the way, and even more excitingly some unresolved issues that may bode well for a further addition to the series. The characters of Drake and Crane themselves, serve as an effective anchor to the book, and through their differences in personality, but an uncanny knack to actually work rather well together, all in all Bilal has hit on a winning combination I feel. Packed with tension and with an adroit rendition of London itself, highlighting the gap between rich and poor, the exploited and the exploiters, this was an immersive and compelling read. Highly recommended.

(With thanks to Black Thorn Press for the ARC)

Missed a post? Catch up at these excellent sites

Chris Carter- Written In Blood “A highly effective crime fighting duo- like Batman and Robin sans pantyhose.” @simonschusteruk #BlogTour

The Killer
His most valuable possession has been stolen.
Now he must retrieve it, at any cost.

The Girl
Angela Wood wanted to teach the man a lesson. It was a bag, just like all the others.
But when she opens it, the worst nightmare of her life begins.

The Detective
A journal ends up at Robert Hunter’s desk. It soon becomes clear that there is a serial killer on the loose. And if he can’t stop him in time, more people will die.

I have now completely lost track of how many of Chris Carter’s books I have read and reviewed, and always look forward to my new dose of darkness, murder and sheer damned twistedness, that his killers possess in spades. So, bring on Written In Blood and let’s see what depths of depravity we will witness now…

I love the familiarity of this series, and the fact that no matter how long it is between books, I am immediately transported back into the world of the LA Ultra Violent Crimes Unit, (love the insertion of the word ultra here) and the welcoming embrace of detectives Robert Hunter and Carlos Garcia. The absolute lynchpin of the books for me is the strength of the professional relationship between these two very different men, united by a fierce determinedness to track the most heinous of killers, whilst endeavouring to keep a grip on their own moral compass in the face of extreme evil. The differing facets of their characters and aspects of their personal lives are polar opposites in every way, but somehow this just makes them into a highly effective and tight crime fighting duo- like Batman and Robin sans pantyhose.

Carter always succeeds in balancing the natural intuitive intelligence and inner torments of Hunter, with the easy, impulsive charm and slight naivety of his partner Garcia. That’s not to say that Garcia does not have his own moments of lightbulb realisation, but he proves to be an incredibly useful sounding board for Hunter. Garcia is always used effectively as a conduit between the reader and the finer aspects of their cases, asking the questions we would ask, and drawing us further into the mechanics of the investigation. As usual, the dialogue and interactions between the two are fluid, snappy and natural with the measured responses of Hunter balanced with the more fiery and reactionary passion of Garcia, that  always adds a lively dynamic to the books. I also very much enjoyed the introduction of the streetwise pickpocket Angela into the mix, not only for the way she interrupts the more mechanical aspects of the case itself, but her mix of ballsiness and fragility was beautifully balanced.

Another aspect of this series that I am always impressed by is that at times Carter plays a game of smoke and mirrors with his readers, in the way he manipulates our responses to not only the victims, but oftentimes the killer themselves. This is particularly redolent in this book, and I found myself forming an uneasy empathy with the killer, with certain aspects of their motivation and drive bringing a sympathetic edge to my reading of this character. As much as Hunter and Garcia are honour bound to do the very best for their victims, and the author keeps the victims at the forefront, I do enjoy the way Carter messes slightly with our perceptions along the way. Carter has carved a real niche in the serial killer thriller genre, not just relying on overt shocks and violence to hook the reader, but also providing a fascinating insight into the compulsions and motivations of the perpetrators. He also perfectly measures the shocks and reveals, particularly in the closing lines of a chapter, driving the reader on to one more chapter, one more chapter, champing at the bit to know what happens next, until you find yourselves swiftly nearing the end of the book. Written In Blood is no exception, and definitely a recommended read.

(With thanks to Simon & Schuster for the ARC)

Catch up with the blog tour at these excellent sites:

 

 

#BlogTour- Iain Maitland- The Scribbler “A compelling and incredibly satisfying crime read.” @IainMaitland @SarabandBooks @RKbookpublicist

DI Gayther and his rookie colleague DC Carrie have been assigned a new caseload. Or rather, an old one: cold cases of LGBTQ+ murders dating back to the 1980s and beyond. Georgia Carrie wasn’t even born when the notorious serial killer began his reign of terror across the East of England. Roger Gayther was on the force that failed to catch him and remembers every chilling detail. Now, after all these years, there’s a sudden death featuring The Scribbler’s tell-tale modus operandi. Can Gayther and Carrie track the murderer down and bring him to justice before the slaughter starts again?

I’ve had the pleasure of reviewing two of Iain Maitland’s previous books, Sweet William and Mr Todd’s Reckoning, both of which impressed me greatly with Maitland’s ability to draw the reader into seemingly ordinary lives with a real darkness lurking beneath. Consequently, being offered the chance to review The Scribbler, the first of a projected series was hard to resist…

Aside from the darker content of the book, which I will come to later, the real hook with this one is how character driven it is. Maitland establishes the relationships between his main police protagonists incredibly quickly, instantly drawing the reader into the working relationship of the older and greyer DI Roger Gayther and his younger colleague DC Georgia Carrie. It was hugely satisfying to feel an instant camararderie between them, and the teasing nature of their interactions, denoted by the tendency of both to slightly mock the other afforded by their relevant age and experience. Hence, Gayther at times seems somewhat of a dinosaur when it comes to technology and youth culture, but with a wealth of knowledge, and Carrie is humorously immune to his outdated showbiz references, a little naïve with her keenness and her slightly gung-ho attitude, but also incisive. It was incredibly refreshing to encounter a detective duo not driven solely by emotional trauma, and there was a lightness of touch about Maitland’s depiction of them, that leads to a real sense of reader empathy with them as the plot progresses. Hold that thought, as there is real trouble ahead. Bolstered by a couple of wet-behind-the-ears trainee detectives, who Maitland hints will have a greater role as the series progresses, Gayther and Carrie were absolutely central to my enjoyment of the book.

Just dwelling on character a little bit longer, I was also impressed by the roundness and depth that Maitland affords to his bad guy of the piece, the serial killer himself. Whilst trying desperately to avoid any spoilers, what I will say is that the author avoids those terribly cliched black and white depictions of a monster in human form, and instead builds up a picture of a damaged soul with deep psychological disturbance, that makes his actions as clear to us, as plainly as his own damaging motivation. There is a core of morality at his centre, and as we gain insight into his familial connections and his upbringing, we find our perception of him changing and, dare I say, softened. In common with Maitland’s previous books, his characters are exceptionally well-defined with surprising undercurrents and reveals that cause us to assess and reassess them as the story unfolds.

With the book centring on cold cases, and more specifically murder cases and disappearances involving LGBTQ+ victims, Maitland has successfully ploughed a new furrow. I have certainly read crime novels involving LGBTQ+ victims and detectives, but none that combine these additional elements. As we bear witness to a catalogue of failings and oversights on the original cases, where crimes of this sort were invariably not afforded the same time and resources as others, we begin to appreciate the small steps that the police have made since then to rectify these prejudices. Gayther and Carrie hold no such prejudice, and despite some internal pressure begin to unravel the complexities of these cases, the poignant secrecy and shame of the victims, and the detectives’ progress towards the apprehension of the perpetrator himself. The Scribbler is well-paced, engaging and punctuated by both episodes of extreme pathos, and by turns, unexpected humour, leading to a compelling and incredibly satisfying crime read. Watch out for that ending which will bite you on the nether regions… Highly recommended.

 _____________________________________________________________________

(With thanks to Saraband Books for the ARC)

Missed a post? Catch up with the blog tour at these excellent sites: