October Round-Up and Raven’s Book of the Month

_DSC0185 (Common Raven)

It was wonderful to host an exclusive Q&A with Dwayne Alexander Smith and to take part in the blog tour for the release of Luca Veste’s The Dying Place, but a month of total frustration reading-wise which saw my normal list of 10 or more severely curtailed! Due to the time pressures of reading and reviewing, I now have ‘the 40 page rule’.  So if a book has not piqued my interest, be it with characterisation, location, the writing style or other random points of interest that I look for, it gets consigned to the slush pile. Some people have questioned me on the wisdom of this, but having seen other reviews of books I’ve abandoned, some people have suffered excruciating mental torment in their dogged determination to read to the end. Sadly, the axe fell on six books this month which didn’t make the grade in terms of what hooks me in- a well-crafted writing style, a-smack-between-the-eyes plotline, or an endearing or likeably dislikeable protagonist. It also means that I have more time now to unearth some real gems, and as I am participating in Crime Fiction Lover.com  New Talent November features, (see next post) a chance to discover some cracking new authors. Fear not though, I have already read three incredibly strong books for release in November, and looking at the to-be-read pile they will have good company I’m sure…

Raven reviewed:

Val McDermid- Forensics: The Anatomy Of Crime

Ryan David Jahn- The Gentle Assassin

Steffen Jacobsen- Trophy

Marco Malvaldi- Three Card Monte (www.crimefictionlover.com)

Luca Veste- The Dying Place

 

Book of the Month

jahnRyan David Jahn- The Gentle Assassin:

Seems a tad unfair to only have 5 to choose from this month, but having waited a good while for a new one from the exceptionally talented Mr Jahn, I could not award this to anyone else. Once again, Jahn lifts the ordinary crime thriller to join the ranks of the best contemporary American fiction writers, with this thoughtful, emotional and genuinely engaging novel. With its careful interweaving of two timelines, and two central characters that effortlessly carry the emotional weight of this compelling thriller, this may well feature in my end of year Top 5. Watch this space…

 

Happy reading everyone!

Ryan David Jahn- The Gentle Assassin

jahnAs a confirmed devotee of Ryan David Jahn, was surprised that I did actually miss the release of The Gentle Assassin– slap on the wrists, but delighted to have caught up now! As my previous reviews testify, Jahn unerringly brings a film noirish tinge to his books, with his film-makers eye front and centre, backed up by his powerful and spare prose.

The book focuses on Andrew Combs, whose mother is murdered when he is a child in the early 60‘s, with his father disappearing soon afterwards. Twenty-six years later, Andrew is gunning for revenge, and seeks to track down and murder the man he holds responsible- his father Harry Combs. With Andrew believing his own version of events, his father Harry is a man with far darker secrets accrued from his career with the CIA and his possible involvement in the Kennedy assassination. The net is closing on Harry, not only with his prodigal son, but with those who are trying to extinguish his connection to the tumultuous events of the past. A deadly game of cat and mouse ensues…

I think where Jahn always excels is in his examination of the human condition. In each of his books to date, the plot is always driven by the utterly real examination of the emotions, desires, strengths and failings which fuel our actions and relationships with others. Consequently throughout the book, the narrative pivots between the intense and fluctuating relationship between Andrew and Harry, with a series of imagined asides from both men with what their hearts are telling them to do, being over-ridden by, certainly in Andrew’s case, his moral core. As much as he wants to exact revenge on Harry, their is a still small voice manipulating his bravery and moral integrity, that proves an interesting counterpoint to the very different morality driving his father. These asides also work well for the reader fleshing out the huge amount of anger and resentment that is left partially unsaid, and as a result we are skilfully manipulated into changing our opinions and assumptions of two men as the story gathers pace. Harry in particular, now a mild-mannered bookseller, endlessly attentive to his cherished yet alcoholic wife, Teresa, is an enigma as Jahn takes us back and forth between events in the 60‘s and the present day. Jahn gradually reveals the many layers to Harry’s character, which provide more than one surprise along the way, whilst challenging the reader’s assumptions as to how far Andrew is a man made in his father’s image. It’s clever, unsettling, and Jahn’s manipulation of the usual linear story-arc adds to the reader’s changing viewpoint of these two compelling characters.

Incidentally, The Gentle Assassin opens, and is interspersed with, references to A Study of Assassination, a CIA pamphlet distributed to agents, a useful handbook on the various and most effective ways to dispose of a human being, and the circumstances in which these methods should be deployed. This was more than a bit of an eye-opener on the clinical nature of the professional assassin and gives an additional tension and mirror on Harry’s dark past. Taken in conjunction with the slowly revealed tensions of the unfolding relationship of Harry with his long lost son, Jahn once again neatly constructs a thought provoking and intriguing book, that reaches above and beyond the neat label of thriller, into a fascinating study of the human psyche, and the thorny implications of family loyalty.

Raven reviews: Ryan David Jahn- Acts of Violence, Low Life, The Dispatcher

(I bought this copy of The Gentle Assassin)

Ryan David Jahn- The Dispatcher/Low Life/Acts of Violence

 

Ian Hunt is the police dispatcher for the small town of Bulls Mouth, East Texas. Just as his shift is ending he gets a call from his fourteen-year-old daughter, Maggie. Maggie, who has just been declared dead, having been snatched from her bedroom seven years ago. Her call ends in a scream. The trail leads to a local couple, but this is just the start of his battle to get his daughter back. What follows is a bullet-strewn cross-country chase along Interstate 10, from Texas to California. The riveting new novel from the acclaimed author of Acts of Violence and Low Life is a brilliantly original, blood drenched thriller, about the lengths a man will go to for his daughter.

 

Well- what can I say? The genius of Jahn is in evidence again in this new thriller which again is distinctly different to his first two books. In a lesser author’s hand this could easily have been boxed in with the Harlan Cobens and Linwood Barclays but thanks to Jahn’s depth of characterisation this is altogether a more meaningful read. I loved some of his little descriptive flourishes e.g ‘He sat there motionless, his mind a room without any furniture in it’ and the sheer wretchedness of emotion that Ian Hunt goes through with his trail of broken relationships, his physical and mental turmoil, the disappearance of his daughter and the breaking of his own personal moral codes in his desperation to get her back. I don’t think I’ve ever disliked anyone as much as Henry Dean, a sadistic man who feeds off the weakness of his wife Beatrice to justify his inborn propensity for violence and his utter disregard for those he perceives as getting in his way.
I liked the little sparks of wit punctuating the novel as in Ian’s interaction with the buxom gun store owner who said that any relationship between them would be ‘like a teddy bear trying to cuddle dynamite’ and how ‘a hatchet isn’t exactly a precision tool’ whilst hacking away at somebody’s toes.
As always with Jahn and his background as a film-maker the setting and episodic nature of the novel would easily lend itself to a movie and it does have a very Coen-esque smalltown feel to it with the extreme evil of Dean pitted against the morally tortured Hunt (great character name as this is his raison de-etre during the course of the book).
A powerful and affecting book that rises above the bog standard thriller and really does investigate the symbiosis of good and evil at the heart of the human condition.

When Simon Johnson is attacked in his crummy LA apartment, he knows he must defend himself or die. Turning on the lights after the scuffle, Simon realises two things: one, he has killed his attacker; two, the resemblance of the man to himself is uncanny. Over the coming days, Simon’s lonely life will spiral out of control. With his pet goldfish Francine in tow, he embarks on a gripping existential investigation, into his own murky past, and that of Jeremy Shackleford, the (apparently) happily married math teacher whose body is now lying in Simon’s bathtub under forty gallons of ice. But Simon has a plan. Gradually, he begins to assume the dead man’s identity, fooling Shackleford’s colleagues, and even his beautiful wife. However, when mysterious messages appear on the walls around Simon’s apartment, he realises that losing his old self will be more difficult than he’d imagined. Everything points to a long forgotten date the previous spring, when his life and Shackleford’s first collided. As the contradictions mount, and the ice begins to melt, the events of the past year will resolve themselves in the most catastrophic way…

Following the success of the mesmerising ‘Acts of Violence’ , Jahn’s attempt at that tricky second novel does not disappoint. In ‘Low Life’ the reader is drawn into a twisting, psychological mystery, as we follow the mental and physical breakdown of an unassuming individual seemingly adrift in society. Simon Johnson believes that he has brutally murdered an intruder who is his physical double, leading him into a chain of events that are perfectly Hitchcockian in their rendition reflecting Jahn’s filmaking roots. A smarter than average crime thriller that seeks to unsettle and challenge the reader at every turn.

Katrina Marino is about to become America’s most infamous murder victim. This is Katrina’s story, and the story of her killer. It is also the story of Katrina’s neighbours, those who witnessed her murder and did nothing: the terrified Vietnam draftee; the woman who thinks she’s killed a child, and her husband who will risk everything for the truth; the former soldier planning suicide and the man who saves him. And others whose lives are touched by the crime: the elderly teacher whose past is catching up with him; the amateur blackmailer who’s about to find out just what sort of people he’s been threatening; the corrupt cop who believes he is God’s ‘red right hand’. Shocking and compassionate, angry and gripping, Acts of Violence is a sprawling, cinematic tour-de-force, a terrifying crime novel unlike any other…

I absolutely loved this fictional interpretation of the circumstances surrounding the real life murder of Kitty Genovese and the whole fleshing out of ‘bystander theory’ that this case sparked in the US. I thought the construction of the lives of the residents of the apartment block was exceptional, providing perfect vignettes of the struggles both moral and physical of these people unknowingly a hairs breadth away from the scene of an horrific crime. Their reticence to intervene in this crime was perfectly pitched because I think all of us have at some time ignored a scream in the night putting it down to tricks of the imagination or someone else’s problem. The unfolding of the murder was strategically placed in the timeline of the book and as a reader I felt increasingly anxious as these events unfolded but equally as curious to get back to the onlookers and the minutiae of their lives. A literary crime thriller that is begging to be made into a film!