Lockdown Reads Round Up- Gabriel Bergmoser- The Hunted/ Craig Robertson- Watch Him Die/Lesley Kelly- The Health Of Strangers/ David Jackson- The Resident @gobergmoser @CraigRobertson_ @lkauthor @Author_Dave

One of the benefits of this weird lockdown world is that, when concentration allows, I have read some excellent thrillers of late. I would absolutely recommend these, not only for the quality of writing, but also for being so compelling that they all provided a very welcome distraction from the strange times we find ourselves in…

GABRIEL BERGMOSER- THE HUNTED: Frank owns a service station on a little-used highway. His granddaughter, Allie, is sent to stay with him for the summer, but they don’t talk a lot. Simon is a dreamer and an idealist, in thrall to the romance of the open road and desperately in search of something. Maggie is the woman who will bring them together, someone whose own personal journey will visit unimaginable terror on them all. . . 

Okay, I’m going to stick my neck out here, and say that is highly unlikely that I will read such an intense, visceral and creepy-as-hell thriller this year as The Hunted.  I absolutely adored this book, which totally justifies it’s Deliverance in the Australia outback tagline. Gabriel Bergmoser injects such a feeling of creeping intensity and fear into this book, that the well worn adage of reading it in one sitting is spot on- this is exactly what I did. I also timed it perfectly so that I was reading the most spine chilling episodes in it in the wee small hours of the morning. Yikes.

I am extremely reticent to reveal much of the plot as I would really love you to experience it untainted by spoilers, but will say that from the outset, the author cunningly lulls us into a tale that subtly examines human relationships, and how ‘ordinary’ people function under extreme pressure, with exemplary characterisation. And then he ramps it up, with some style, introducing a thread to the story that is so, so, sinister that I felt it was channelling the spirit of Stephen King, and the compressed horror of some of the best American backwoods fiction. Raw, violent and like a car wreck that you can’t look away from, I thought The Hunted was absolutely superb, both in terms of the clipped dialogue, sharp pared down descriptions of place and character, and the general shifting and slowly amplifying feeling of unease that he draws out in the story, and the reader. A Top Ten read? It’s a very strong possibility…

Highly recommended…if you dare…

(With thanks to Faber Books for the ARC)

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CRAIG ROBERTSON: WATCH HIM DIE: The LAPD find a man dead at home. Nothing suggests foul-play but elements of the victim’s house show that something is deeply wrong. Meanwhile, in Glasgow, DI Rachel Narey is searching for a missing young woman – and the man she suspects of killing her. When a feed broadcasting the slow and painful death of a final victim is discovered, these two cases become linked. There’s no way to identify him. No way to find him. No way to save him. Not without the cooperation of a killer. And the only way he will cooperate is if he can watch him die… 

I am a confirmed fan of Craig Robertson’s Glasgow based crime series featuring DI Rachel Narey, which unfailingly combine all the elements of a solid police procedural and some truly unsettling investigations. With Watch Him Die, Robertson has totally smashed it out of the park, by introducing a new element into what was an already pretty fine series. The book cleverly combines a joint investigation between Narey’s own team, and that of two detectives from the LAPD. Opening with the discovery of a body in a Los Angeles neighbourhood, which then leads to the pursuit of a killer thousands of miles away, there are so many elements to this book which grabbed my attention.

Starting with the American core of the story, Robertson stealthily immerses us in a world of serial killer obsession, referencing historic cases and how a deep fascination with crimes of others can heighten someone’s natural propensity to kill. Then the LA investigation itself which introduces us to a cop partnership that feels completely authentic, mirrored by the language they use, and how they conduct their investigation. I was strongly reminded of the style of Chris Carter whose Hunter/ Garcia series treads similar ground, and loved the way that Robertson puts his own stamp on this genre of crime writing, with heinous and inventive murders. This is all underscored by a real attention to detail in terms of his depiction of Los Angeles itself, which becomes of itself a third cog in the story. As the investigations diverge and Narey and her Glasgow colleagues become involved, the author flips back to the familiarity of his series, but imbued with some lovely compare and contrasts, as investigative minds become united across the ocean. I thought Watch Him Die was brilliantly plotted, increasing and decreasing the tension superbly as the investigation flips and develops from one location to the other. I liked the relatively cliché free depiction of a serial killer investigation, but also the sly moments of humour in the face of incomparable stress for our intrepid detectives. Another runner in the Top Ten reads sweepstake, and a thoroughly enjoyable change of direction in an already excellent series. Highly recommended.

(With thanks to Simon & Schuster for the ARC)

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LESLEY KELLY- THE HEALTH OF STRANGERS: The Virus is spreading. Monthly health checks are mandatory. Enter the Health Enforcement Team. Stuck with colleagues they don’t like, politicians they don’t trust and civil servants undermining them, Mona and Bernard are fighting more than one losing battle. 

Written a couple of years ago yet incredibly prescient, and on the recommendation of Grab This Book The Health Of Strangers was every bit as good as anticipated. The country is in the grip of a pandemic- I know right- and the book is based around the Edinburgh based Health Enforcement Team, a group of disparate, and more importantly, immune individuals who track the health of the local inhabitants. Seamlessly blending all the recognisable societal constraints and government advice in the event of a pandemic, and a taut and intriguing thriller, Lesley Kelly has struck crime gold in this first of a four book series. Her depictions of a city in the grip of a viral infection was, in the light of current events, quite chillingly accurate, and the plot focussing on the disappearance of young women was exceptionally rendered, with all the elements of a crime procedural firmly in evidence.

I think what I loved most about it was the Health Enforcement Team themselves, which put me strongly in mind of the Slough House team in Mick Herron’s series- a group of individuals who find it difficult to work with others with their own flaws and eccentricities, but somehow are able to function as a whole. Sure, there are tensions and flashpoints along the way, but as we slowly get to see the characters beneath the surface, they provide an incredibly solid base for this series to run and run. I have already bought the next 3 books in the series, so this is proof of how enjoyable I found this first foray into their world. Highly recommended.

(I bought this copy of The Health Of Strangers via Sandstone Press)

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DAVID JACKSON- THE RESIDENT: Thomas Brogan is a serial killer. Having left a trail of bodies in his wake, and with the police hot on his heels, it seems like Thomas has nowhere left to hide. That is until he breaks into an abandoned house at the end of a terrace on a quiet street. And when he climbs up into the loft, he realises that the can drop down into all the other houses on the street through the shared attic space. That’s when the real fun begins. Because the one thing that Thomas enjoys even more than killing, is playing games with his victims. And his new neighbours have more than enough dark secrets to make this game his best one yet. Do you fear The Resident? Soon you’ll be dying to meet him…

I have been reading and reviewing David Jackson’s books for some years now, and something I have always admired is the versatility he shows as an author. Already the author of two terrific detective crime series, one set in New York and one in Liverpool, which are well worth seeking out, The Resident is a standalone, and a pretty damn chilling one at that…

What particularly struck me about this book is how much it uses the ordinary to heighten the intensity of the extraordinary. The action takes place in an ordinary street, inhabited by ordinary people with ordinary lives and problems, and most importantly, ordinary loft spaces.  And then Jackson totally brings it. I dread to think how this idea came to fruition, of a wanted serial killer skulking amongst the outgrown baby clothes, Christmas trees and sundry knick- knacks above our heads, but by putting such a loathsome individual in this ordinary setting works exceptionally well. As Brogan traverses the loft space looking for the next victims to sate his twisted appetite, Jackson keeps a smart control of the tension and pace of his plot.

What was particularly interesting is the way that the author shows how Brogan insinuates himself into the lives of the inhabitants below, either up close and personal, or at a distance feeding on their sadness or insecurities, but slowly beginning to reveal to us that these are not exceptionally ordinary people at all as some dark secrets come to light. There is also a clever use of Brogan’s own interior monologue too, which also opens up his character and a growing sense of him forming attachments and beginning to self-question his motivations and previous actions. Although, I had a little suspension of disbelief at the ending of The Resident, with hindsight it was a nice reminder of the fact that you should never underestimate the most ordinary of people… Highly recommended.

 (With thanks to Viper Books for the ARC)

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#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.

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(With thanks to Saraband Books for the ARC)

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Raven’s Top Read 2019 – Nicolas Obregon- Unknown Male

He is a completely unremarkable man. Who wears the same black suit every day. Boards the same train to work each morning. And arrives home to his wife and son each night. But he has a secret.  He likes to kill people. With just weeks to go before the Olympics and the world’s eyes firmly fixed on Tokyo the body of young British student, Skye Mackintosh, is discovered in a love hotel. Tokyo’s Homicide Department are desperate for a lead. As a last resort they enlist the help of a brilliant former detective whose haunted personal life has forced him into exile thousands of miles away. But it isn’t long before Kosuke Iwata discovers the darkness in the neon drenched streets as Skye, like so many others, had her own secrets. Lies and murder haunt a city where old ghosts and new whisper from its darkest of corners and the truth is always just out of sight..

So we come to the last instalment of Nicolas Obregon’s remarkable Tokyo trilogy featuring former detective Kosuke Iwata. Having previously reviewed both Blue Light Yokohama and Sins As Scarlet and quite frankly, raved about both, I approached Unknown Male with more than a sense of delicious anticipation. What I love about Obregon as a writer is the way he so consistently holds his reader in the palm of his hand and the sense of real storytelling that is so absolutely central to the narrative. I must admit that I find it hard to define what it is about his writing that enthrals me, but will try in my own ham-fisted way to do so…

Firstly I think Obregon’s obvious love affair with Tokyo is absolutely central to this book, and his fearlessness in portraying this city with very much a love/hate edge to his depiction of it: “As he walked, he inhaled a cologne of rubbish, exhaust, wet concrete. No city had more nameless streets or alleyways…To walk through her ways was to be inveigled in her web…She murmured from steam vents and snickered from overflowing gutters.” All through the book the intangible hold of the city both on the main characters, and the general populace is front and centre, with Obregon exposing the pulsing beat of a city where there is a real sense of sink or swim, poverty or success and a constant feel of movement in “this shingle beach of crossed purpose“. Obregon also emphasises how easily people become lost, in this teeming morass of people, whether slaves to a wage, slaves to people basest violent desires, and how people seek to navigate a society that slows for no man. Although our detective figure Iwata is a native to the city, Obregon also instils in him a feeling of having to get to grips with this mercurial city after time abroad, and the very particular problems that arise in having to almost start afresh in navigating its unique idiosyncrasies.

Iwata himself is also a complicated soul, imbued with a deep sense of morality pertaining to his professional standards and the way he conducts himself in relation to this particular investigation. However, back amongst his countrymen he does at times seem like a square peg in a round hole, as his methods and thought process put him at odds with his fellow investigators. He is an outsider, but in that mould proves to be extremely effective at approaching the case from a different angle, and intuitive thinking. The issue of morality is explored in many ways throughout the book both through Iwata who is also seeking some personal retribution, but also through the British female detective Anthea Lynch (who finds herself despatched to Tokyo after a serious blip in her own career) and individuals involved with Skye, the murder victim. Throw into the mix one of the most strangely motivated serial killers I have encountered for some time (the thermos flask-eugh) and what Obregon gives us is a real smorgasboard of the good, the bad and ugly where the lines of morality and decent behaviour become fractured, and at times difficult to discern. People acting in surprising and unpredictable ways give a real emotional heft to this book, and also work beautifully in concealing the real villains of the piece, with revenge being another incredibly strong motif resonating through the characters.

I think it goes without saying that Unknown Male has secured a place in my Top 5 of the year with its masterful depth of characterisation, use of location with Tokyo as a living and breathing entity so crucial to the lives and crimes unfolding within it, and the way that the book keeps you in its grasp from beginning to end. It is the close to a trilogy which left me tinged with sadness as I loved these books so much, but also heartens me that hopefully more readers will discover these for themselves. Absolutely outstanding.

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(I bought this copy of Unknown Male published by Michael Joseph)

 

 

 

 

#BlogTour #Extract-Adam Southward- Trance- “A tense, original thriller”

To mark the publication of Trance by Adam Southward, I am delighted to be hosting an exclusive extract of this very book. Billed as an edge-of-your-seat psychological thriller, with a speculative twist, Trance is, according to crime writer John Marrs,  A tense, original thriller that perfectly blends the nail-biting suspense and shocks of Silence of the Lambs and Shutter Island.”

So what’s it about?

Three university scientists are found dead in a gruesome murder-suicide, and the only suspect in the case, Victor Lazar, is quickly captured. When the spate of violent suicides follows him to prison he is moved to solitary confinement, reserved for the highest-risk inmates. And then his assigned psychologist inexplicably takes his own life. Alex Madison, a former forensic psychologist turned private therapist, is brought in to interview Victor. He suspects that Victor is controlling his victims, somehow coaxing them into a suggestive trance. It seems like science fiction, but as Alex digs deeper he uncovers a frightening reality of secret research and cruel experimentation—and the perpetrators are closer to home than he could ever have imagined. Too late, Alex learns the true extent of what Victor is capable of—and who he’s after. With everything he holds dear at risk, can Alex take control of a dangerous mind—before it takes control of him?

Intriguing huh?

So here for your enjoyment, is an extract of the book, just to whet your appetites a little more…

Sophie kept glancing at Alex as they descended the stairs to the guard station. He noticed it and wondered what was bothering her.

‘Will you be assessing him?’ she said, after several steps.

‘Him?’

‘Him. Thirteen. Victor Lazar.’

Alex slowed and turned to her. ‘Mr Lazar is why I’m here. Thirteen?’

Sophie’s eyes narrowed. ‘It’s what he called himself when he arrived. Thirteen. So that’s a yes?’

Alex was surprised at her reaction. ‘What do you know about him?’

Sophie bit her lip. ‘Not much,’ she said. ‘His case is sensitive. Robert has access to the full case file. I don’t.’ She shrugged and walked faster.

Alex hadn’t seen the full case file yet either. He’d had a summary history emailed to him by the CPS but was told the full information would be available once he was on site.

As well as the unusual circumstances surrounding Victor Lazar’s arrest, there was the headline mystery, which was that Victor’s previous psychologist had committed suicide while treating him. Dr Henry Farrell, an experienced clinician close to retirement, had interviewed Victor alone in his cell for an hour. He’d left the cell complaining of a headache and driven home to call his wife, who was out of town. He’d made various nonsense statements over the phone, which his wife couldn’t accurately recollect, then jumped out of a third-floor window, landing on the concrete driveway. He was pronounced dead by paramedics at the scene.

Alex could no doubt suggest several theories why a sane and intelligent man would take his own life, but the association with Victor was bizarre and curious. Victor appeared to be special – a potentially untreatable psychopath if the initial report was anything to go by. But that didn’t explain Dr Farrell’s behaviour. Connected or not, Alex intended to find out.

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Trance is published 1st July by Thomas & Mercer (published in paperback and ebook, price £4.99)

Available at Amazon

Twitter: @adamsouthward

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#BlogTour- Chris Carter- Hunting Evil

As roommates, they met for the first time in college. Two of the brightest minds ever to graduate from Stamford Psychology University. As adversaries, they met again in Quantico, Virginia. Robert Hunter had become the head of the LAPD’s Ultra Violent Crimes Unit. Lucien Folter had become the most prolific and dangerous serial killer the FBI had ever encountered.

Now, after spending three and a half years locked in solitary confinement, Lucien has finally managed to break free. And he’s angry. For the past three and a half years, Lucien has thought of nothing else but vengeance. The person responsible for locking him away has to pay, he has to suffer.
That person … is Robert Hunter.
And now it is finally time to execute the plan…

After boom shabang of a cliff hanger at the end of The Gallery of the Dead Chris Carter has reintroduced us to the devil incarnate in the shape of strangely charismatic serial killer, Lucien Folter from An Evil Mind. Having escaped incarceration he is on a revenge mission, and has our erstwhile hero Detective Robert Hunter of the LAPD Ultra Violent Crimes Unit firmly in his sights.

Let the terror begin.

If ever the question was put to me of what would be my ‘treacle’ read, I would plump for Mr Carter every time.  I have a real sense of just sitting back and relaxing with these books, allowing them to take me on a flight of fear and excitement, with characters I’m familiar and comfortable with, and the nifty way that Carter has of plumbing the depths of real evil, offering up a host of ghoulish surprises along the way. I see that the jacket for this one is emblazoned with the message, “As addictive as a TV boxset,” and that is in no way wide of the mark for the sheer entertainment value of his books. In the same way as Stephen King, Carter very much plays up to the notion that his readers like to be unnerved, startled and genuinely scared at points, and I always enjoy the way his killers come crashing into the lives of ordinary people like you and I which always adds another level of tension to his books. Ten books in and Carter is showing no let up in the depths of depravity his books deliciously reveal to us. Mwahaha…

As I think I have now read all ten books in the series, I am still delighted by his two central police characters, Detectives Hunter and Garcia, the cerebral Batman and Robin as I refer to them. Throughout the course of the books, Carter uses the character of Garcia to filter information to the reader, as he observes and questions the more intuitive impulses of Hunter, during their investigations. What is noticeable in this book is that as much as Hunter is caught out by the sheer deviousness of Folter, especially when the case takes a more personal turn, there seems to be a slight growing in stature of Garcia. Although he still questions, he is much more forthcoming with his challenges to Hunter’s suppositions, and makes some significant breakthroughs of his own, as Hunter becomes so immersed in his battle of wills with Folter.  As much as Hunter takes centre stage, and rightfully so given his personal history with Folter, I very much enjoyed seeing Garcia blossom, equally so, as he as he had missed out on their previous showdown in An Evil Mind, but perhaps this worked significantly in his favour, giving him an unsullied take on this most pernicious of adversaries. Being reluctant to reveal any of the details on this tussle between Hunter and Folter, suffice to say there are some interesting blurred lines between them, and as clichéd as it may be, Folter possesses all the twisted charm, cerebral flexibility, and extreme wickedness of a certain Mr Lecter, as he embarks on his devilish game of cat and mouse with Hunter, the US Marshall service, and the FBI. I quite like him, although he is one evil dude.

I think Chris Carter should be afforded some major kudos for maintaining such consistency over a relatively long series of books, still unleashing some surprising twists and tricks along the way, and for this reason Hunting Evil is no exception. He seems to have an infinite trove of heinous murderous techniques, and a bottomless pit of nasty, violent killers to scare the bejesus out of us with. This I applaud, and for this reason too, I will be a constant reader of this author. Bring on the nasty…

(With thanks to Simon & Schuster for the ARC)

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#BlogTour- James Delargy- 55

Wilbrook in Western Australia is a sleepy, remote town that sits on the edge of miles and miles of unexplored wilderness. It is home to Police Sergeant Chandler Jenkins, who is proud to run the town’s small police station, a place used to dealing with domestic disputes and noise complaints.

All that changes on a scorching day when an injured man stumbles into Chandler’s station. He’s covered in dried blood. His name is Gabriel. He tells Chandler what he remembers. He was drugged and driven to a cabin in the mountains and tied up in iron chains. The man who took him was called Heath. Heath told Gabriel he was going to be number 55. His 55th victim. 
Heath is a serial killer.

As a manhunt is launched, a man who says he is Heath walks into the same station. He tells Chandler he was taken by a man named Gabriel. Gabriel told Heath he was going to be victim 55.
Gabriel is the serial killer.

Two suspects. Two identical stories. Which one is the truth?

There is a real slew of solid Australian crime writing at the moment from the likes of Jane Harper, Emma Viskic, Chris Hammer et al, and although not of Australian stock himself, James Delargy has produced a clever, disquieting, and altogether compelling thriller set in the remote western Australian outback, that holds more than one or two surprises of its own…

I think I can confidently guarantee that the very premise of this book, and the lengths that Delargy goes to in order to trick and wrong-foot his readers, will catch you out at regular intervals. With two men under suspicion of being a remorseless serial killer, and their individual stories of being captured and tortured by said serial killer, Delargy manages to keep the narrative tension spread over, for what is a crime thriller, a remarkable stretch of time. This is no mean feat as there is a relatively slim cast of characters, with only one real other story arc, the tension between the Police Sergeant Chandler Jenkins, and the team that come in to takeover the investigation, headed up by an unwelcome face from his past, Inspector Mitch Andrews.  I absolutely loved the conundrums that the seeming innocence of Gabriel and Heath, the two accused men brought to bear on the story, leading me to constantly re-evaluate the evidence that Delargy lays before us, perplexing the reader as much as the investigative team. Delargy is a real tease, as he consistently exposes pseudo Jekyl and Hyde aspects to both these men’s characters, and just as you fixedly decide on one’s guilt and the other’s innocence, guess what, you’re wrong. There is a real controlled and supremely well-measured pace to the book, so that the slightly slower passages where the men are interrogated, threatened or cajoled into professing their guilt, is punctuated by not only the backstory of the build up of animosity between Chandler and Mitch, but sporadic moments of nerve shredding tension, as the police mine for some credible evidence to prove the guilt of either Gabriel or Heath. Or neither. Or both. Or somebody else entirely…

I liked the character of Chandler Jenkins enormously, with his integrity and seemingly natural fair-mindedness, which plays of beautifully against the power crazed narcissism of Mitch Andrews, former friend, now foe. The differences between the two men, which is brought to light as the sub-narrative of one of their earliest cases together plays out, makes for a rocky, testy and tension filled investigation, outside of their basic remit of bringing a killer to justice, and there’s some nice little twists and turns in their relationship along the way too. To be honest the other members of the investigation team didn’t make a significant impact on me, but with the book focussing so intently on the changing boundaries,  and intensity of the exchanges between Chandler and Mitch, and their interactions Gabriel and Heath. There was more than enough angst, threat of violence and the whiff of testosterone to pretty much drown out the other characters, but not to any real detriment of the book overall.

Thinking about the characters further, I think there is a nice correlation between them, and the environment and location, the book is set in. Set in the bleak expanse of remote western Australia, there is an intense feeling that although the landscape is sprawling and open, the vastness and aridity of it can conceal so much. Two of the characters, seem to reflect the openness and raw beauty of this hostile landscape, whereas two others seem to reflect the opposite, with their characters being altogether more dark and volatile. Despite being set in this endlessly repeating landscape, there is a significant sense of claustrophobia to the book, and the local police station becomes a microcosm of energy and pent up tension, that works exceptionally well to unsettle the reader, and the ending? Well, far be it for me to spoil the ending, but I think the author deserves more than a smattering of applause for not going down a certain well-worn path in thriller finales- so thanks for that- and loved the ending.  I thought that 55 was an extremely cleverly plotted, well-paced, and consistently engaging thriller with some nifty tricks in the narrative, solid characterisation of the main players, and suffused with the claustrophobic heat and isolation of its Australian setting. A compelling debut, and a recommended read.

(With thanks to Simon and Schuster for the ARC)

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Ilaria Tuti- Flowers Over The Inferno

In a quiet village surrounded by the imposing Italian Alps, a series of violent assaults take place. Police inspector and profiler Teresa Battaglia is called in when the first body is found, a naked man whose face has been disfigured and eyes gouged out. Soon more victims are discovered – all horrifically mutilated – and when a new-born baby is kidnapped, Teresa’s investigation becomes a race against the clock.

But Teresa is also fighting a battle against her own body, weighed down by age and diabetes, and her mind, once invincible and now slowly gnawing away at her memory…

Okay, I think I’m going to have rein in my exuberance, passion and generally ‘gee-that-blew-me-away-ness’ that this book aroused in me. Having already staked a claim for a spot in my Top Ten of the year, I will endeavour to do justice to this frankly incredible book. Bear with me…

The first absolute stand out feature of this book is the character of Teresa Battaglia herself, an older woman battling the twin issues of ageing and physical deterioration. Tuti paints a moving and incredibly touching portrait of this indomitable woman who caught up in an exceptionally distressing and seeming unsolvable case, is battling with her increasing concerns over her mental aptitude, recording her thoughts day by day feeling that they could slip away from her at any time, “what am I if not my thoughts, my memories, my dreams, my hopes for the future? What am I without these feelings, without my dignity?” These sections of the book where Battaglia unloads her consciousness into the written word are incredibly moving, brimming with a self-awareness, and a fluttering sense of mental fortitude that enthrals the reader, and says much about every person’s fear of losing their sense of self.

Partly because of this, she over compensates in the tough exterior she is known for, not suffering fools gladly, and proving a hard taskmaster for her investigating team. The scenes that focus on her repartee with one of the newer members of her squad, who experiences no easy ride from his new boss are particularly barbed, but cut through with wit and a slowly developing sense of acceptance in a play on the pupil and mentor roles. She is, however, bestowed with a remarkable empathy for both victims and the killer saying at one point that “before crossing the point of no return, even a serial killer is a human being in pain. Often abused. Always lonely” which is incredibly prescient as the plot plays out. Tuti cleverly manipulates both Battaglia’s and the readers’ perception of the killer throughout, blurring the lines of moral responsibility, and with a real sense of there but for the grace of God.

As regular readers of my reviews know, landscape is all important in my assessment and enjoyment of the books I read, and this small village overshadowed by forest and mountains in the Alpine region, works completely in harmony with the story. It’s an enclosed community, rife with secrets, and permeated with suspicion and folklore, producing a creepy and chilling backdrop to this murderous tale, “it was like the village had for many years been infected by a dark, tainted humour which had slipped beneath its surface, and festered there, out of sight.” The darkness, density and danger of the surrounding terrain, provides a place of both safety and threat for a group of children with difficult home lives, lending the story a touch of Stephen King who often employs children as a conduit for evil. It’s very effectively done, and really heightens the creeping sense of unease that permeates the book, and with the portrayal of the St Nicholas’ Day torch-lit procession evoking the evil figure of the Krampus, Tuti builds further on this theme of darkness and threat lurking in the shadows of this claustrophobic community.

I think it’s fair to say that this book left a real impression in its wake on this reader, being not only a perfectly formed murder mystery, but also a book that is layered with a supreme awareness of the frailties and strengths of the human condition, through the investigators, the inhabitants of the village and the killer too. I found this a really intense and emotional reading experience, and felt utterly bound up in the lives of the characters, and the travails they experience. Absolutely highly recommended.

(With thanks to W&N for the ARC)

M. W. Craven- The Puppet Show

A serial killer is burning people alive in the Lake District’s prehistoric stone circles. He leaves no clues and the police are helpless. When his name is found carved into the charred remains of the third victim, disgraced detective Washington Poe is brought back from suspension and into an investigation he wants no part of.  Reluctantly partnered with the brilliant, but socially awkward, civilian analyst, Tilly Bradshaw, the mismatched pair uncover a trail that only he is meant to see. The elusive killer has a plan and for some reason Poe is part of it. As the body count rises, Poe discovers he has far more invested in the case than he could have possibly imagined. And in a shocking finale that will shatter everything he’s ever believed about himself, Poe will learn that there are things far worse than being burned alive …

So here we go springing (or crawling depending on the ratio of fruit:mince pies consumed) into the New Year with a hugely enjoyable serial killer thriller, The Puppet Show from debut author, M. W. Craven. I could easily break this down into a short list of attractive features, as it ticked many boxes for me from the outset. A dryly witty maverick detective with exceptionally cool name, and hints of darkness in his past. Cute doggy called Edgar Poe (great name). Techno nerd providing inadvertent comedic moments. Fire obsessed serial killer. Pagan stone circles with a backdrop of one of my favourite areas of the country, Cumbria. However, as I’m known for my long, yes possibly too long, reviews I’ll tell you why all this worked so effectively throughout the book, so linger a while longer.

This has to be one of the most intensely character driven thrillers I have read of late, and to be honest, Craven has paved the way for a series of books, that will accommodate them in whatever investigation for some time to come. In common with Stuart MacBride’s Logan Mcrae books for example, I have a feeling that these are characters, Poe himself and Tilly Bradshaw (aforementioned techno nerd)  that you will immediately pick up on again even if you have to wait the usual year for a new book, and that is a great thing to nail this quickly. He’s also allowed himself a bit of wiggle room to flesh out another of the main characters, DI Flynn, as well as a tantalising opportunity to dig deeper into the darkness of Poe’s unsettled past, as well as building further on the fresh and entertaining interplay between these three characters generally. I really enjoyed the fluidity of the dialogue between the characters, and how Poe and Bradshaw gradually change and influence each other in differing ways but with a real feeling of yin and yang as his darkness is deflected by her light. Pretty deep huh? No, joking aside there is a lovely innocence and gentle joshing underpinning the more difficult sides of their characters, and it works superbly. 

As mentioned, Craven has picked a wonderful part of our green and pleasant land as his location, and uses it at every opportunity and extremely effectively to add an air of menace and drama to his dark and twisted tale. Highlighting the desolate and remote nature of the Cumbrian landscape, I felt it both mirrored and heightened the general sense of darkness at play in the killer’s psyche, the unfolding trauma of Poe’s own life, and the fact that Poe lives a solitary life in such a place is wholly in keeping with his own psyche. Using the stone circles that occur in multitudes throughout the region as the perpetrator’s killing sites is a neat touch linking the theme of sacrifice from the past to the present. Too often writers do not manipulate the landscape enough to add depth and colour to their central story, making their stories have the feel that they could just be plonked into any setting, but Craven (alongside authors like Mari Hannah and William Shaw) has definitely mastered the art of landscape in this one. 

And so to the plot itself, and with my familiar refrain of no spoilers here, there are no spoilers here! What plays out is a perfectly paced, twisty murder investigation with some surprising reveals, a really quite empathetic killer and (cue host of angels) a killer whose identity remained remarkably well hidden. So another box firmly ticked, and giving an overall feeling of tremendous satisfaction to this reader. I shall be recommending this at work and beyond on its publication later this month, and a cracking good read to start the year. Highly recommended. 

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(I downloaded this ARC from Netgalley UK via Little Brown Books)

Pre-order your copy of The Puppet Show here

Blog Tour- Mari Hannah- The Insider (Stone and Oliver 2)

When the body of a young woman is found by a Northumberland railway line, it’s a baptism of fire for the Murder Investigation Team’s newest detective duo: DCI David Stone and DS Frankie Oliver. The case is tough by anyone’s standards, but Stone is convinced that there’s a leak in his team – someone is giving the killer a head start on the investigation. Until he finds out who, Stone can only trust his partner. But Frankie is struggling with her own past. And she isn’t the only one being driven by a personal vendetta. The killer is targeting these women for a reason. And his next target is close to home…

The Insider is the second outing for Northumbria detectives, DCI David Stone and DS Frankie Oliver introduced in the hugely enjoyable first book, The Lost Our intrepid duo are back in search of a pernicious and twisted killer (rubs hands with glee) and once again Mari Hannah has produced a quality page-turner of a thriller for these increasingly dark winter nights…

I felt a wonderful sense of familiarity stepping back into the world of Stone and Oliver, such was the strong impression that the first book left on me, and was delighted that their working and personal relationship was as emotionally bumpy yet suffused with a genuine feeling of respect as the previous book. Both characters are extremely empathetic, realistic and genuinely likeable- Stone for his calmness and pragmatism, and Oliver for her impetuousness and gumption.  As traumatic experiences from their own lives rise uncomfortably to the surface in the course of this investigation, and as Stone continues to navigate his way as a surrogate father to his teenage nephew Ben, Hannah has a wide scope of emotional upset, and self doubt to convey in her characters. There are some moments of emotional revelation for both, and one storyline in particular will, I’m sure, have further repercussions in the future. What I like about both characters is their unerring ability to handle their own personal upset so incredibly ham-fistedly, but also the rock solid and extremely professional way they go about their search for this killer, overcoming an initially mistrustful and obstinate Murder Investigation Team, and meticulously picking apart the threads of the investigation before their arrival. Once again, the procedural detail is spot on, and the reader experiences all the tension and frustrations that the detectives do themselves in this thorny and distressing case. As the necessity to trap the killer gains in intensity, so too does the pace and vigour of Hannah’s writing, echoing the increasing frustration but slowly appearing chinks of knowledge that Stone and his gradually cooperative team unearth.

What I am consistently impressed with in relation to Hannah’s writing is the extremely well structured and visual quality of her writing. Everything is so clearly described that there is a strange sense that you almost watching the action unfold before you- an experience more akin to watching a thriller on television than reading a book. Even outside of the fact of being incredibly familiar with the various north east locations that Hannah uses, her depiction of landscape, whether town or country, is vibrant and oozes with colourful detail. If ever the Northumbria tourist board is looking for a regional champion, they need look no further than Hannah whose affection and love of her home turf, both its good and bad points, shines throughout the whole book.

Another sterling addition to Hannah’s repertoire, and I am very much looking forward to the next Stone and Oliver investigation, which I think, judging my the unresolved issues in this book, is likely to be another emotional rollercoaster for Hannah’s characters, and us, as readers, too. Highly recommended.

(With thanks to Orion for the Netgalley ARC)

Catch up with the blog tour at these excellent sites: 

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)