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)

Getting That Blogging Groove Back (2)…Myers, Hirvonen, Tuomainen, Jonasson, and Sigurdardottir.

Right, eyes down and here we go again with the next instalment of my sorely neglected reviews. These are short, sweet, and to the point, as my propensity for rambling will return in the fullness of time, I’m sure…

 

First up one of my favourite deliciously dark authors, Benjamin Myers with These Darkening Days. Taking as his inspiration a real life crime case from the north of England, Myers once again lures us into the deepest disturbing psychological realms of his characters, delivering more than a few grim sucker punches along the way. A series of women become victims of a vicious assailant, plunging this close knit community into a miasma of suspicion and accusation.

I absolutely loved it. 

From the cynical world weariness of embittered reporter Roddy Mace, fighting off the temptation of the demon drink, to the reappearance of fastidious, OCD suffering detective James Brindle, and a cornucopia of dislikeable victims and suspects along the way, Myers (as in previous books) draws us in, shakes us up, and then spits us out the other end slightly soiled by our reading experience, but guiltily satisfied by it too. As always the book is suffused by Myers strange mix of sometimes lyrical, oftentimes unerringly brutal imagery of the natural environment against which his characters roil, fight, and will to survive.

Perfection. 

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Next we go the quirky, dry-humoured latest offering from Finnish author, Antti Tuomainen in the shape of The Man Who Died, a marked diversion in style from the intensely emotive, and lyrically profound psychological novels that we normally associate him with. Other reviewers have drawn comparison with Fargo, but I was strongly propelled back in time to the devilish Tales of The Unexpected by Roald Dahl, coupled with the brilliantly black humour of one of my favourite books ever, ever, Beyond The Great Indoors by Ingvar Ambjornsen. Tuomainen’s unlikely protagonist, Jaako Kaunismaa takes us on a surreal journey in rural Finland of tracking down his murderer whilst fighting the clutches of death by poisoning, to the sheer cutthroat mentality of competing mushroom harvesting businesses, instances of potential death by samurai sword, and exceptionally scheming women.

It’s all a bit mad, but in a good way, and with Tuomainen’s natural propensity to draw his reader into his exploration of the essence of humanity, just from a slightly different angle, his lightness of touch, and manipulation of absurdity work a treat. Who could possibly know that the world of mushroom growing was such a hotbed of evil intentions? Highly recommended. 

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Staying with Finland, I can confidently say that When Time Runs Out by Elina Hirvonen is champing for a place in my top five of the year. I was absolutely mesmerised by the pure intensity and sensitivity of one family’s turmoil in the wake of a mass shooting. With shades of We Need To Talk About Kevin, Hirvonen meticulously and stealthily portrays the increasing emotional dislocation of a family, over a period of time, to the devastating effects of this inability for them to communicate and connect on an emotional level.

Hirvonen broadens the sweep of the book even further with incisive comment on global human crises, and the ravaging of the environment which really engaged me and enraged me, but was wonderfully unflinching and truthful in its depiction. I am already recommending this left, right and centre, thrilled by its power as both a clear sighted narrative of familial breakdown, but also of the larger issues it encompasses in a comparatively condensed read.

Superb.   

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We’ll go for an Icelandic head-to-head now with Ragnar Jonasson- Whiteout and Lilja Sigurdardottir- Snare, the former being a continuation of the very successful series featuring policeman Ari Thor, and the latter the starting point of the Reykjavik Noir Trilogy.

Ragnar Jonasson’s quality as a crime writer need no further commendation from me, but truthfully, I would say that this has been my favourite of the series to date. I found the writing wonderfully understated, and the whole book exuded an air of English Gothic fiction, with women hurling themselves from cliffs, and the sinister backdrop of the all-seeing lighthouse, compounded by the revelations of very dark pernicious behaviour indeed. I found it tense, involving, and as usual there was a great harmony between the intensity of the criminal investigation itself, and the playing out of Ari’s domestic situation, and his eagerness to progress in his police career.   

Snare proved a curious mix for me, as my overriding feeling that this was almost two books running parallel to each other, with a gripping story of drug running, running alongside a slower Borgen-esque feeling of financial impropriety, and double dealing. I’ll be honest, and say that I didn’t take to the latter thread as much as the former, finding it a little turgid against the relative excitement of the drug smuggling narrative, and although I was slightly questioning of the veracity of single parent Sonja’s involvement in drug running, this was certainly the more compelling of the two storylines, and led to some real heart in the mouth moments. I also enjoyed playing witness to the touchingly sentimental ‘other’ life of customs officer Bragi, whose game of cat and mouse with Sonja was another enjoyable strand of the book. However, the emotional handwringing of Sonja’s romantic involvement with Agla, the bank executive under investigation, became increasingly tiresome, but cleverly the seemingly anodyne ending of the book must signpost further developments for the second part of the trilogy. A little unsure, but curious, and intrigued to see how the story progresses in the next instalment.  

 

(With thanks to Moth Publishing for These Darkening Days, Bonnier Zaffre for When Time Runs Out, and Orenda Books for The Man Who Died, Whiteout and Snare

 

January 2016 Round Up and Raven’s Book of the Month

_DSC0185 (Common Raven)As we proceed into the new year, January has found the Raven in slightly pensive mood as to the direction of my blog, and what I review.  Having read fellow bloggers’ reading resolutions, I have decided to come up with a couple of my own….

So, first off, I have pretty much dispensed with my e-reader and consigned it to the interstellar realm of oblivion- a bottom drawer. In my work life I spend my whole day recommending books, proper paper books, and the tactile experience of reading,  and that really is where my heart lies.  I find it such a soulless experience reading on an electronic device , and more often than not just scan down the screen of text so I’m not actually taking in everything I read, which isn’t right for me, or fair to the authors whose work I’m trying to engage with. So from now on, it will be a very rare occurrence for me to read on an e-reader. Viva la book!

I also want to concentrate more on debuts, authors I have not reviewed before, and those strange quirky European delights- a shift of focus that began to a certain degree last year. I will probably post less on mainstream authors as I usually have to read the big new releases as part of my remit as a bookseller, and they are invariably very widely reviewed with a higher profile, whereas I do get a vicarious thrill out of discovering new crime authors and hollering about them. Looking at the next couple of months proof pile, there will be a plethora of debuts hitting this blog!  Obviously, I will still enjoy reading and reviewing  time with my old favourites. You know who you are….

And I have to make time to read more fiction. I had a spell last year where I read over 20 crime books back-to-back, neglecting my overflowing pile of fiction, and leading to a little bit of crime burn-out. There’s some brilliant fiction debuts winging their way to us over the next few months,  I’ll give you an early tip for Anatomy of a Soldier  by Harry Parker out in March- the only book that has ever reduced me to tears, and one of the most honest, harrowing and poignant depictions of war I have ever read. Also there’s some great rediscovered classics coming up for air. Currently in the thrall of Thomas Savage- The Power of the Dog from 1967 which is a sublime mash-up of Annie Proulx and Cormac McCarthy.

So, to January which was chockfull of blog tours, giveaways and some great reads:

BOOKS READ AND REVIEWED

Craig Robertson- In Place of Death

Kevin Wignall- A Death In Sweden

 Nadia Dalbuono- The American

 Ragnar Jonasson- Nightblind 

Tim Baker-Fever City  

Coffin Road book jacketI also read and largely enjoyed Peter May- Coffin Road– a return to the wild outposts of Scotland, with an interesting commentary on the environmental havoc we are waging on our bee populations, alongside an intriguing plotline involving murder and memory loss. Although I didn’t think it was quite as strong as some of his previous books, a Peter May on an offish day is still a delight.

aaaDavid Mark’s Dead Pretty saw a series going from strength to strength, and it is always a delight to spend time in the company of freckled faced detective Aector McAvoy in Humberside. Although I was slightly discombobulated by one of his main characters acting so far out of character, as to be almost unrecognisable, Mark has once again produced an emotional and engaging rollercoaster of a police procedural.

51x9Zv9I5-L__SX323_BO1,204,203,200_And of course, Stuart MacBride’s In The Cold Dark Ground the 10th outing for the wonderful Logan ‘Lazarus’  Macrae and his ex-boss the acid-tongued DCI Steel. Pathos, violence and humour all the way, and always a pleasure, never a chore.

RAVEN’S BOOK OF THE MONTH

theamericanAs I have genuinely enjoyed every book I reviewed this month, this was yet again a tough choice, but Nadia Dalbuono- The American has triumphed. With a  compelling and quixotic central police protagonist, shifting timelines and locations, and interesting commentary on the nefarious and corrupt grip of the Vatican and the CIA,  this intricately researched and gripping tale was an intelligent and hugely satisfying read. Highly recommended and an early contender for the end of the year Top 5.

 

 

#Nightblind Blog Tour- Ragnar Jonasson- Review

img_0483With Ragnar Jonasson’s debut crime thriller Snowblind causing quite a stir on its release this year, we were all delighted to hear that it was merely the start of the Dark Iceland quintet and there were more to come…

So next up we have Nightblind and the action has moved on apace, with the events of this book taking place five years after Snowblind.*  Our previously charmingly naïve police officer Ari Thor Arason is still based in the small coastal community of Siglufjordur , but his boss Tomas has moved to Reykavik. Ari finds himself with a new boss (after a failed attempt to secure Tomas’ post), but his hopes for promotion could not be entirely scuppered as the book opens with the shooting of his superior officer, Herjolfur at an abandoned house. The community is appalled by this attack, and with winter drawing in, Ari and Tomas are reunited in their search for the perpetrator of this heinous deed…

TSQ3DKNAABSTlEm-GfmTIkRUhRMA5gEf5-qZZXGmZYQAs much as I enjoyed Snowblind, I can say confidently that Nightblind is actually even better. I don’t know the time period of Jonasson writing his quintet, but there is a real sense of a growth in maturity in his style and storytelling in this one. With an intuitive and assured translation by fellow crime writer Quentin Bates, this change in Jonasson’s writing is beautifully reflected in his central character, Ari Thor. The feeling of a touching innocence and naivety that defines Ari in the first book, has changed and sharpened into a more clear-eyed, and less trusting streak in his character. However, tinges of his former self surface intermittently, particularly in his almost paternalistic relationship with his old boss Tomas, who seeks to iron out the kinks in Ari’s sometimes naive investigative style, underpinning the solid and reliable nature of their detective partnership. There is a feeling that as much as Ari has grown in stature and his acceptance into the local community, he still has a way to go both in his personal and professional life, despite the steps he has already made. He certainly needs to sort out that girlfriend of his, with her wandering eye, tout de suite, and replicate the strength of his initial umbrage at being passed over for that promotion…

Once again, as the long claw of winter starts to exert its icy grip on Siglufjordur, with the darkening days, and the decreasing temperature, it does at time seem as if Ari and Tomas are experiencing their own battle with the diurnal clock to get this case solved and put to bed before the real onslaught of winter. With the small interludes that bring to the reader’s attention the encroaching darkness of a bitter winter, the tension is raised incrementally, perfectly in tune with the gathering pace of the investigation. As in Snowblind, with his insider’s knowledge and experience of this particular region, Jonasson flawlessly captures the claustrophobic intensity of this small coastal community and its inhabitants, and although there is once again a finite group of characters for the guilty party to conceal themselves amongst, I was hoodwinked a couple of times, with the investigation building to a highly satisfying conclusion. The more brutal nature of the crime that is the lynchpin of the story, and the shadowy dealings that this brings to light, in the course of the investigation reveals another development in Jonasson’s style overall. Consequently, as a reflection of the seasonal change, the shockingly violent opening event and the hardening of Ari’s character, there is a significantly darker feel to the book overall. As a staunch admirer of Arnaldur Indridason, I did feel the resonance of his style to a greater degree, and a more pronounced echo of the psychological, unlike the more locked room/ Christie inspired feel of Snowblind. I embraced the darkness. And I liked it. I’m pretty sure you will too…

*The next book in the series Blackout picks up the story again directly after the events of Snowblind, with the following two books set to complete the series of events linking Snowblind and Nightblind.

(With thanks to Karen at Orenda Books for the ARC)

 

Raven’s Yearly Round-Up and Top 5 Crime Reads 2015

_DSC0185 (Common Raven)As the end of 2015 approaches, it is time to look back in awe and wonder at some of the books that have thrilled and entertained the Raven over the last twelve months. With approximately 125 crime books read, and not far off 100 reviews posted, this year has heralded a bumper crop of exciting crime reads, A slew of brilliant debuts including Oscar de Muriel- The Strings of Murder, Tom Callaghan’s The Killing Winter, Ragnar Jonasson’s Snowblind and David Young’s Stasi Child, and great new offerings from established names such as Mari Hannah, Steve Mosby, William Shaw, Simon Toyne and Malcolm Mackay have been a joy to read.  So here are the highlights and lowlights of the year… 

THE 40-PAGE RULE

With the constant influx of books I receive as a blogger, full time bookseller, and my day off job as a volunteer in a charity book shop, there is never a shortage of reading material accumulated in the teetering to be read mountain! Hence the need for the 40-page rule. If a book has failed to ignite my interest within this page count, I’m afraid it is discarded, passed on to others, or fulfils it’s charitable duty as a donation to the shop mentioned above. The parameters for a book’s untimely fate vary- clichéd, overwritten, one-dimensional characters, too much similarity to another book, obvious plot turns or killers, and if anyone mentions someone opening a door in their underwear, all hope is lost. I usually manage to read nearer 200 books in a year so a fairly hefty count of 42 non-starters have impeded my reading. Unusually for someone known for their bluntness, in the good spirit of Christmas I’m naming no names, but rest assured your books have found a good home elsewhere…

THE MOST HYPED CRIME GENRE OF THE YEAR

the-girl-on-the-train-uk-e1420761445402It seems that only by dwelling at the outer reaches of the Arctic Circle could you escape the hype surrounding The Girl On The Train by Paula Hawkins. And yet the Raven was unmoved by the sheer intensity of the praise heaped upon this book on its release, and the ensuing avalanche of ‘domestic noir’ thrillers that it helped spawn. There again I didn’t like Gone Girl either. I am the domestic noir Grinch. Enough already.

WORDS FAILED ME (BUT IN A GOOD WAY)

litten2As a non-professional reviewer and a casual blogger, sometimes a book utterly defeats any talent for reviewing that you believe you possess! One such book this year was Russ Litten’s Kingdom. Having waxed lyrical about Litten’s previous book Swear Down which was terrific, I was incredibly excited to receive Kingdom to review. I was totally in its thrall from start to finish, but when it came to the depth of this reading experience, the majesty of the language, the emotional intensity, and sheer cleverness of the whole affair, words defeated me. Completely. Too marvellous for words.

TURNING MY BACK ON CRIME (OCCASIONALLY)

It may be hard to believe, but yes, I do quite often read books that are not crime. Yes really. So three stand-out fiction reads for me this year would be Kevin Barry’s Beatlebone, where the voice of the late lamented John Lennon sang from every page, The Reader On The 6.47 by Jean-Paul Didierlaurent, a beautiful French novel with echoes of Patrick Modiano, and Glenn Taylor’s A Hanging At Cinder Bottom, an American writer who never disappoints in his characterisation and crackling dialogue.

And so to the awards ceremony….cue fanfare….and in a break from tradition not all of these were nominated as books of the month at the time, but have stayed in my head, popping up in unguarded moments…

RAVEN’S TOP 5 BOOKS OF THE YEAR

Click on the book jackets to read the reviews.

5. KARIM MISKE-ARAB JAZZ

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4. DOUG JOHNSTONE-THE JUMP

The-Jump-Doug-Johnstone

3. MATTHEW FRANK-IF I SHOULD DIE

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2. ANTTI TUOMAINEN- DARK AS MY HEART

antti

1. JAX MILLER- FREEDOM’S CHILD

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In a strange instance of premonition, I ended my review of Freedom’s Child saying that it would possibly be my book of the year. Lean prose, a laconic and rhythmical style and an utterly compelling central character in the shape of the emotionally damaged Freedom. A brilliant and unforgettable debut.

 

 

May 2015 Round Up and Raven’s Book of the Month

 

_DSC0185 (Common Raven)May has been a good month all round, with an extremely entertaining and informative trip to the CrimeFest international crime writing convention in Bristol, and a plethora of good reading. Read my tongue in cheek review of CrimeFest  here, with the added bonus that I have now discovered a clutch of new authors, that I will be catching up with over the next few months (no, my to be read pile has not diminished that much). At a cursory look, there appear to be over 20 books requesting my attention in June, so I will endeavour to get through as many as possible, and will obviously be focussing on the debut, and less familiar authors amongst them for you. Also hosted four blog tours this month:

 Guest Post- M. J. Carter on Edgar Allan Poe

 Ragnar Jonasson- Snowblind (Dark Iceland 1)- Review and Extract

 Cal Moriarty- The Killing of Bobbi Lomax- Review

Christoffer Carlsson- The Invisible Man From Salem- Extract and Giveaway

and there are another batch of blog tours scheduled for June including William Shaw and Gunnar Staalesen so watch this space. Have a good June everyone, and hope you’re all reading some great crime fiction!

Books read in May:

Andy Boot- No Doves (www.crimefictionlover.com)

Ragnar Jonasson- Snowblind

Cal Moriarty- The Killing of Bobbi Lomax

Christoffer Carlsson- The Invisible Man From Salem (www.crimefictionlover.com)

Liad Shoham- Asylum City

Oscar de Muriel- The Strings of Murder

I also went on a little detour to the mean streets of Los Angeles with the gritty debut All Involved by Ryan Gattis and Ghettoside (Invesigating A Homicide Epidemic) by Jill Leovy. With both books attracting a huge amount of critical praise from writers and reviewers far more eloquent than myself, I can only say that both present a sharp focus on the societal ills and problems of this multi-cultured and troubled city, from the LA riots of the 90’s so vividly recreated by Gattis, and the more contemporary picture of street violence, and gangs depicted by Leovy, both focussing with an unblinking and critical eye on the LAPD along the way. All sides of the human experience are captured with them, balancing their books with hope and desperation, but all the more potent for being so firmly grounded in truth.

Raven’s Book of the Month:

shohamWithout a doubt the most mesmerising and heartfelt read of the month for me, despite some stiff competition. As I read more and more crime fiction, it is wonderful to tread new paths with an unfamiliar author, whilst also gaining a window into a world that I am completely unaware of. This book not only encapsulates the elements of a suspenseful thriller, but addresses much larger issues, through its superb research and vibrant characterisation. Pretty perfect all round.

Blog Tour- Ragnar Jonasson- Snowblind (Dark Iceland 1)- Review and Extract

CEzOtOfXIAAi4RvExtremely keen to add my voice to the exceptionally positive response to this Scandinavian crime debut from Ragnar Jonasson. Snowblind is the first of his Dark Iceland quintet, with a pitch perfect translation by Jonasson’s fellow Scandibrit crime author, Quentin Bates, for the UK market. Snowblind has given rise to one of the biggest buzzes in the crime fiction world, and refreshingly usurps the cast iron grip of the present obsession with domestic noir. Introducing Ari Thor, a young police officer from Reykjavik, who takes up a posting in the small northern community of Siglufjordur, leaving behind not only the city, but his girlfriend too, and immersing him in a complex and perplexing case, in a claustrophobic and chilling setting…

9781910633038-275x423Having recently had the delight of seeing Jonasson at CrimeFest, an international crime convention in Bristol UK, it was very interesting to hear that outside of his career as a lawyer, he has previously translated a clutch of Agatha Christie novels into Icelandic. The shadow of Christie looms large, and it’s no exaggeration to say that her reputation for sublime plotting is flawlessly mirrored by Jonasson in his exceptionally well-executed novel. By using the claustrophobic confines of this small community in Siglufjordur, and its relative inaccessibility due to location and inclement weather, Jonasson cleverly manipulates the compressed cast of characters. The book takes on the real feel of a locked room mystery, with a finite group of possible perpetrators of the violent crimes, in this case a severe physical assault and a suspicious death, and giving the reader a puzzling conundrum as we attempt to identify the guilty party or parties ourselves. Speaking as a crime reader, this is always one of the essential thrills of this nature of crime book, playing detective and navigating the red herrings along the way. Jonasson provides this in spades, and due to a series of tricks in the narrative, all is not as it appears, confusing not only Ari Thor, but also the humble reader along the way. A whodunnit that really hits the spot, whilst also cleverly concealing the how and the why…

With the author being so familiar with the isolated setting of this book (Jonasson’s relatives hailed from the town) the overarching cold and sinister darkened atmosphere in the grip of a harsh winter is powerfully wrought throughout. Indeed, I felt that I should have been reading this neatly tucked up in a blanket in front of a roaring fire, such is the pervading nature of cold and bleakness within its pages. Equally, the situation and closed feel to the community seen through Thor’s eyes is tangible throughout, as he encounters for the first time some of the more eccentric inhabitants, the trust of being able to leave your door unlocked, and the more laidback style of policing by his fellow officers. I particularly enjoyed the way they were propelled into a situation they had rarely encountered as if they were saying- “A murder in Siglufjordur? Impossible!” and being reluctantly spurred on by our rookie police officer’s enthusiastic theories, that did at times fall on fallow ground.

The characterisation is well-realised, with an intriguing blend of the eccentric, the straight-laced and the emotionally damaged, working beautifully in tandem as the plot progresses. With the wide-eyed, and sometimes baffled incomer, Ari Thor, steadily encountering and interacting with them, again the Christie connection comes into play, as their dark secrets and murderous intentions come to light. This is truly a community where not everyone is as they at first appear, including Thor himself, heightening the sense of intrigue, and in some ways displaying all the well loved familiarity of a good old murder mystery, underscored with all the dark psychology of contemporary crime fiction.

So, all in all, as you will probably gather, I rather enjoyed this debut with its intriguing cast, terrific use of location, confident plotting and lively translation, but don’t just take my word for it. A certain Mr Child was equally keen to get his hands on this one…

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EXTRACT:

I know, it’s unbelievable. I hadn’t expected anything so soon.

Loads of us are graduating in December and there aren’t many jobs

to be had.’

So where is this job? Here in town? A relief post?’

No, it’s a two-year contract … at least.’

In town?’ Kristín repeated, and he could see for her expression

that she suspected it might not be.

Well, actually, no.’ He hesitated before continuing. ‘It’s up north.

In Siglufjördur.’

She was silent and each passing second felt like an hour.

Siglufjördur?’ Her voice had lifted and the tone gave a clear

message.

Yes, it’s a great opportunity,’ he said mildly, almost pleadingly,

hoping that she would see his side, that it was important to him.

And you said yes? Without even thinking to ask me?’ Her eyes

narrowed. Her voice was bitter, verging on anger.

Well …’ He hesitated. ‘Sometimes you just have to grab an

opportunity. If I hadn’t made a decision on the spot, then they

would have taken someone else.’ He was silent for a moment. ‘They

picked me,’ he added, almost apologetically.

Ari Thór had given up on philosophy and then he had given up

on theology. He had lost his parents far too young and had been

alone in a hard world since childhood. Then Kristín had picked him.

That had given him just the same feeling he was experiencing now.

They picked me.

This would be his first real job, and one that would carry responsibility.

He had made an effort to do well at the police college. So

why couldn’t Kristín just be happy for him?

You don’t decide to move to Siglufjördur just like that, without

talking it over with me, dammit. Tell them you need to think it over,’

she said, her voice cold.

Please, I don’t want to risk this. They want me there in the middle

of November, I’ll take the last couple of exams there, and be back for

a break at Christmas. Why don’t you see if you can come as well?’

I have to work here as well as studying; you know that perfectly

well, Ari Thór. Sometimes I just don’t understand you.’ She stood

up. ‘This is bloody ridiculous. I thought we were partners, doing

all this together.’ She turned aside to hide her tears. ‘I’m going for

a walk.’

She left with rapid steps, out of the bedroom and into the passage.

Ari Thór remained rooted to the spot, dumbstruck that he had

completely lost control of the situation.

He was about to call out to her when he heard the front door

slam shut…

Author of the bestselling Dark Iceland crime series, Ragnar Jonasson was born in Reykjavik, Iceland, in 1976 and works as a lawyer. He also teaches copyright law at Reykjavik University and has previously worked on radio and television, including as a TV news reporter for the Icelandic National Broadcasting Service. Before becoming a writer, Ragnar translated 14 Agatha Christie novels into Icelandic, and has had short stories published in international literary magazines. Ragnar is a member of the UK Crime Writers’ Association (CWA) and recently set up the first overseas chapter of the CWA, in Reykjavik. He is also the co-founder of the Reykjavik international crime writing festival Iceland Noir (www.icelandnoir.com), which was selected by the Guardian as one of the ‘best crime-writing festivals around the world’. Ragnar has appeared on panels at festivals worldwide, and he lives in Reykjavik with his wife and daughter. Visit his website here and follow on Twitter @ragnarjo

 (With thanks to Karen at Orenda Books for the ARC and Liz Loves Books)