Collection: A Rocket Malone Mystery

kobbDisgraced ex-cop Steven ‘Rocket ‘Malone makes a living collecting the memories of the rich at the employ of the sinister Infinity Corp. How does he do it? Simple. He cracks open their skulls and yanks out the implanted hardware. It pays the bills. At least, it would if he wasn’t swimming in gambling debts. Called to the scene of a grisly murder, Rocket runs into a small problem. His client’s head is missing, along with the memories it contains. A beautiful woman, a mysterious foreigner, and an eccentric billionaire all believe Rocket can find the missing memories, and each is willing to pay dearly for the information. Finding this dead man’s memories just might be the solution to Rocket’s problems. And if Rocket can’t find the missing head in time? The people who’ve hired him aren’t the sort who take “no” for an answer…

I’d be the first to admit that I do not have the best track record with books that merge sub-genres, but hallelujah, saints be praised, I have been converted. Oh Yes. With the serendipity that arises from random contacts made through social media, Shawn Kobb appeared on my radar, and jolly glad I am too…

Herein lies a seamless blending of hard-boiled crime, absolutely channelling the spirit of Raymond Carver, playing perfectly alongside a distinctly futuristic and disturbing vision of the sinister world of memory mining from implanted chips. As you can see from the synopsis, our erstwhile hero Steven ‘Rocket’ Malone has his work cut out, reuniting an errant head with a body, evading gambling-debt collectors, trying to resist the charms of a femme fatale and -oh- trying not to get killed or swindled by the nefarious individuals also seeking the contents of said missing head, in downtown Washington DC. Yes, as a plot its a little outlandish, a little quirky, and at times very strange indeed, but do you know what? It works. I thought the storyline was great- tightly written, well-structured and totally entertaining, with its pastiche of the gumshoe era, the hardboiled, spare dialogue, and the little clever nuances of the plot which made this a real read in one night book. Also there was a wonderful feeling that perhaps in part to its overall strangeness you really had not a clue how, and if,  it would resolve itself at the end. It was twisty and surprising, with a great sense of the author genuinely enjoying the whole creative process of the book, and taking his readers on a bit of a day trip to Oddityville. Great.

It’s funny and violent in equal measure with a colourful cast of characters, all pulling at, and trying to manipulate Malone this way and that, as he tries to feather his own nest, and keep his own head intact. He’s a really well-formed character, exuding a mix of roguish charm and street smarts, with a nifty line in caustic humour. I loved the interplay between him and Tony Lee, the resident nerd at Infinity Corp, the malevolent Attila The Hun and his henchman Ladykiller Lou, and his seemingly utter powerlessness in the rarefied air of Selene Belle- the resident femme fatale. Not to mention the unerring antagonism between Malone and the local law enforcement, due to his previously chequered career in the police force. Malone is not a popular chap, but makes for a brilliant protagonist, by turns bruised, abused, but never broken, and  bolstered by an entertaining and amusing cast of ne-er-do-wells all the way.

Having recently had a gruelling repetition of grief and angst in my last few reads, this was an absolute tonic. Smart, sassy and entertaining, Shawn Kobb is one to watch. An excellent book, that I very much hope will develop into a series. A return for Rocket please.

Find out more about Mr Kobb here

(With thanks to the author for the ARC)

Blog Tour- Gunnar Staalesen- We Shall Inherit The Wind #VargVeum

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Attention all Scandinavian crime fiction fans, I bring glad tidings of great joy! With a writing career spanning forty years, and hailed as the Norwegian Raymond Chandler, Gunnar Staalesen strangely remains largely undiscovered by many crime readers, due partly to the very sporadic publication of his books for the UK market. So it is with a glad heart that I see that he has secured a new publisher in the UK, with We Shall Inherit The Wind the first to appear, and hopefully with it, a chance for more of you to either revisit or to discover anew this formidable writer…

The story opens in 1998, with Varg Veum, a private investigator from Bergen, sitting by the bedside of his long-term girlfriend Karin, whose life hangs in the balance due to the mistakes Veum has made in a recent investigation. The novel then backtracks through this investigation, where Veum has been called upon to investigate the disappearance of Mons Maeland, a wind-farm inspector, and whose wife, Raenvig is a friend of Karin’s. Maeland’s involvement in the contentious issue of wind-power would seem to be the primary reason for his disappearance, and later murder, but with the suspicious circumstances of his previous wife’s alleged suicide, and his complicated familial relationships, Veum has his work cut out to uncover a killer, and at huge personal cost.

51ePFKhhZXL_SX316Although, I have not read widely in this series, I have read enough to appreciate the strength of Staalesen’s characterisation in relation to Veum, and how he is unerringly the lynchpin to the strength of this series. With his cynical and witty asides, an unflinching attitude to those who would thwart his investigations, and his dogged moral determination, Veum is a hugely likeable and vivid character. The comparisons to Chandler’s Marlowe are not amiss, as Veum navigates his way through different classes of people, and stratas of society with consumate ease, with his easy charm and utter professionalism, but, most importantly, with the all too natural human failings when his investigations strike too close to home. We Shall Inherit The Wind demonstrates this admirably, with the fall-out from this case impacting so seriously on his personal life, and the consequences to Karin. I love the characterisation of their less than conventional relationship and the inherent warmth and respect that exists between them, so much so that the incredibly understated but powerfully emotive conclusion to this case was hugely moving, due to Karin’s fight between life and death.

As Veum is tasked with investigating the less familiar world of natural energy, in the form of wind power, it gives Staalesen ample opportunity to take his readers into somewhat unfamiliar terrain, both with the contentious issues arising from this supposedly harmless energy source, and into the community that would be so deeply affected by its implementation. Consequently, Veum finds himself uprooted from Bergen to the small island community of Brennoy, where environmental campaigners are going head to head with the orchestrators of the wind farms. Through the conduit of fiction, Staalesen provides a balanced view of the pros and cons of man’s continual seeking of control of the natural world to provide fuel for our existence, and it was interesting to see the contrasting viewpoints. Likewise, I thought that Staalesen captured perfectly the petty jealousies and chequered histories of the island’s inhabitants, as their links with the murdered man gradually came to light, against the beautifully realised backdrop of this wild and largely unspoilt island terrain.

If you like Scandinavian fiction, and have not encountered Staalesen before, I cannot recommend him highly enough. All the familiar tropes of the genre are in evidence here, with the close attention to characterisation, location, and the way that Nordic writers put current social issues at the front and centre of their crime narratives. Held strongly together by the character of the marvellous Varg Veum himself, I am delighted to see the return of Staalesen. Satisfaction guaranteed.

One of the fathers of Nordic Noir, Gunnar Staalesen was born in Bergen, Norway in 1947.  He made his debut at the age of 22 with Seasons of Innocence and in 1977 he published the first book in the Varg Veum series.  He is the author of over 20 titles, which have been published in 24 countries and sold over four million copies. Twelve film adaptations of his Varg Veum crime novels have appeared since 2007, starring the popular Norwegian actor Trond Espen Seim. Staalesen, who has won three Golden Pistols (including the Prize of Honour), lives in Bergen with his wife. The next instalments in the Varg Veum series – Where Roses Never Die and No One Is So Safe in Danger – will be published by Orenda Books in 2016 and 2017.

Don’t forget to visit Live Many Lives tomorrow on the next stop of the blog tour…

(With thanks to Orenda Books for the ARC)