Search

Raven Crime Reads

Criminally good reads…

Tag

simon toyne

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

arab1

4. DOUG JOHNSTONE-THE JUMP

The-Jump-Doug-Johnstone

3. MATTHEW FRANK-IF I SHOULD DIE

mf

2. ANTTI TUOMAINEN- DARK AS MY HEART

antti

1. JAX MILLER- FREEDOM’S CHILD

28052350

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.

 

 

Advertisements

A Quick Round-Up- Clare Carson, Hans Olav Lahlum, David Lagercrantz, Bram Dehouck, Simon Toyne

With the end of the year so rapidly approaching, and a pretty full-on work schedule to accompany it, thought that instead of just staring at the pile of the books that still need reviewing, I should really be getting on with it. Short and sweet reviews coming up…

carson Jim is a brilliant raconteur whose stories get taller with each glass of whisky. His daughter Sam thinks it’s time she found out the truth about her dad. On holiday in Orkney, Sam spies on Jim as he travels across the island. What has he hidden in the abandoned watchtower? Who is he meeting in the stone circle at dusk? And why is he suddenly obsessed with Norse myths? As Sam is drawn into Jim’s shadowy world, she begins to realise that pursuing the truth is not as simple as it seems.

I heard Clare Carson speaking at a crime event earlier this year, and at last have read her debut thriller, Orkney Twilight and what a rare treat it was. From the outset I found myself completely involved in the unique father-daughter relationship between the shadowy and almost unknowable Jim and the feisty and sharp witted Sam. I loved the way that Carson explores their relationship throughout the book, as their paths of trust and mutual empathy converge and diverge, as the secrets that Jim carries, in his work as an undercover police officer, begin to impact on Sam, as she seeks to discover more about her father. The interactions and dialogue that Carson conjures around them is made all the more powerful by the invisible gaps that have appeared through long periods of estrangement, and there is a real sense of two people so utterly alike behaving as if the opposite was true. I was utterly entranced from start to finish, not only by the strength of the characterisation, with a relatively small cast of protagonists, and the engaging plot, but by the lyrical quality of the prose, underscored by the allusions to Norse myth and Scottish folklore and the beautiful realisation of location throughout. There is a subtle claustrophobia woven into the book, not only in the realms of human understanding, but played out cleverly at odds under the large skies of the Scottish isles that hold sway over much of the action. Outstanding.

(I bought this copy of Orkney Twilight)

human-flies-978144723276601Oslo, 1968. Ambitious young detective Inspector Kolbjørn Kristiansen is called to an apartment block, where a man has been found murdered. The victim, Harald Olesen, was a legendary hero of the Resistance during the Nazi occupation and at first it is difficult to imagine who could have wanted him dead. But as Detective Inspector Kolbjørn Kristiansen (known as K2) begins to investigate, it seems clear that the murderer could only be one of Olesen’s fellow tenants in the building. Soon, with the help of Patricia – a brilliant young woman confined to a wheelchair following a terrible accident – K2 will begin to untangle the web of lies surrounding Olesen’s neighbours; each of whom, it seems, had their own reasons for wanting Olesen dead. Their interviews, together with new and perplexing clues, will lead K2 and Patricia to dark events that took place during the Second World War.

Again, I’m a little late to the party with this one, but having already purchased the next two in the series, Satellite People and The Catalyst Killing, shortly after finishing this, you can tell I was impressed. With a more than obvious nod to the heyday of the Golden Age, Lahlum has cooked up a wonderful blend of Christie-esque plotting, with a traditional locked room mystery. With the action centred on an Oslo apartment block with its finite number of inhabitants, Lahlum carefully constructs a tale of secrets, lies and totally captures the whole notion of the sins of the past resonating in the present. As each inhabitants true character and devilish motivations for murder come to the fore in the course of the investigation, Lahlum invites us to play detective along with K2 to uncover a murderer. The writing is crisp, playful at times, and exceedingly dark at others. Although I did guess the killer relatively early on in the book, I did enjoy the little twists in the narrative which did make me doubt the cleverness of my own deductions, and with the formidable duo of keen detective, and his wonderfully barbed relationship with the spiky, but keenly intelligent Patricia was a joy to read. Excellent.

(I bought this copy of The Human Flies)

9780857053503 Lisbeth Salander and Mikael Blomkvist have not been in touch for some time. Then Blomkvist is contacted by renowned Swedish scientist Professor Balder. Warned that his life is in danger, but more concerned for his son’s well-being, Balder wants Millennium to publish his story – and it is a terrifying one. More interesting to Blomkvist than Balder’s world-leading advances in Artificial Intelligence, is his connection with a certain female superhacker. It seems that Salander, like Balder, is a target of ruthless cyber gangsters – and a violent criminal conspiracy that will very soon bring terror to the snowbound streets of Stockholm, to the Millennium team, and to Blomkvist and Salander themselves.

Regular visitors to my blog have probably noticed my reticence to review more of the widely hyped and talked about books of the year, and such was the case with this book on its release. With a torrent of global reviews, and probably the most talked about book of the year, resurrecting the ghost of the marvellous Stieg Larsson, I will just add a little note on my experience of the book. As the start of a proposed trilogy, and the brilliant premise of keeping Lisbeth and Mikael away from each other as long as possible in the course of the book, Lagercrantz truly grabbed the bull by the horns in seeking to emulate Larsson’s writing style. I was very convinced by it, and felt he really captured the flow and narrative style of one of the most compelling and much loved crime thriller trilogies that Europe has produced. I thought the author captured the nuances of character, socio-political concerns and pure narrative tension so resonant of the original books. There were some nice little allusions to previous events, and the quirks in the relationship between Lisbeth and Mikael that we are so familiar with throughout. The plot was well-crafted, intelligent and exposed some hidden aspects of the scientific and social media worlds in a thought provoking and highly interesting way, whilst never losing sight of keeping the continuity and feel of the original books. Highly recommended.

(With thanks to Maclehose Press for the ARC)

ssSeasons come and go in provincial Blaashoek, where the town’s superficial harmony is upended by the arrival of a wind park – a blessing for some, a curse for others. The irritating hum of the turbines keeps butcher Herman Bracke, known far and wide for his delicious ‘summer paté’, awake at night. He falls prey to a deadly fatigue and gradually loses control over his work, setting off a series of blood-curdling events, with fatal consequences for the townspeople. Life in Blaashoek will never be the same again.

Now it’s time for one of my weird and wonderful discoveries in the world of bijou but perfect European crime thrillers. Winner of the Golden Noose and the Knack Hercule Poirot Readers’ Prize, this is a twisted little tale of country folk in the small community of Blaashoek. An early warning should be given that despite its brevity this is not a read for the faint of heart or the weak of stomach! It’s bloody, blunt, scatological in detail, and near the knuckle, but with a charming echo of the style and black humour of my much beloved Pascal Garnier, I couldn’t resist it (albeit with some squirming in my seat whilst reading). The characters are perversely charming, but brutally despatched at regular intervals, and I loved Dehouck’s construction of this small community with its petty jealousies, suspicions and the dark events that ensue as modern technology encroaches on their closed lives. It’s like the blackest version of Midsomer Murders you could possibly imagine, infused with the dark, psychological tinge of the finest Scandinavian crime fiction, and I loved it. Yes I did. Loved it.

(With thanks to World Editions Ltd for the ARC)

And finally…

41OgxOimpgL__SX323_BO1,204,203,200_

A plane crashes in the Arizona desert.

One lone figure emerges alive from the wreckage.

He has no memory of his past, and no idea of his future.

He only knows he must save a man.

But how do you save someone who is already dead?

I am now going to admit to a serious, but entirely flattering from of blog envy. On its release many of us participated in the blog tour for Solomon Creed, with a series of interviews, guest posts by Mr Toyne as well as a plethora of reviews. Having posted a guest article as part of the tour, I was more than ready to commit my own views on the book to screen, but then I read this review by Matt at  Readerdad.co.uk Not only is this one of my favourite reviews by a fellow blogger it’s been my pleasure to read this year, but it also so closely mirrors my own thoughts on the book, that it seems foolish to submit a pretty identical review! Like Matt, I was totally swept up in the location of the book, the unerring mystery surrounding the enigmatic central character of Solomon himself, and held in thrall by Toyne’s interweaving of religious precepts and the feel of the book as a reworking of Solomon as an ‘everyman’  fused with medieval quest, that so powerfully defines the canon of English literature. It is a masterful and intelligent thriller, with slight echoes of Stephen King and Lee Child, but still set apart from these and others that populate the current thriller market that you are in for a treat. Hats off to Mr Toyne once again and take a bow sir….

(With thanks to Mr Toyne waylaid in a hotel foyer for the ARC)

 

 

 

 

 

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

_DSC0185 (Common Raven)Hurrah! September was relatively free of I.T. gremlins so have managed to catch up a bit with myself. An excellent month with three blog tours- including the now-you-see-it-now-you-don’t Simon Toyne article on Solomon Creed, a review of debut author Rod Reynolds’ The Dark Inside, and a review of The Defenceless the second book from the excellent Kati Hiekkapelto. I’ve travelled far and wide in my crime reading this month, and I’ve also managed to squeeze in a couple of fiction titles too. If my trusty Dodo Pad (which organises my life) is correct, there are three more blog tours scheduled for October, including a debut that is quite simply brilliant, and will knock your collective socks off. Intriguing huh? A good month’s reading and some further treats, as always, lie in store…

Books reviewed this month:

Piero Chiara- The Disappearance of Signora Giulia 

 Alberto Barrera Tyszka- Crimes

Rod Reynolds- The Dark Inside

Hester Young- The Gates of Evangeline

Anthony Horowitz- Trigger Mortis

Kati Hiekkapelto- The Defenceless

Fergus McNeill- Eye Contact

RAVEN’S BOOK OF THE MONTH:

25807823In a break from tradition, I’m awarding my book of the month to a book that I haven’t actually posted a full -length review of. Hey, that’s the way I roll sometimes…

Top honours this month go to Steve Mosby’s I Know Who Did It, which brilliantly reprises elements of his earlier thriller The 50/50 Killer which is still for my money one of the best crime books ever written.

With the suspenseful premise of a woman who appears to have returned from the dead, a detective haunted by the murder of his young son, and the nefarious reach of an old crime on a current investigation, Mosby’s control of the structure of contrasting narratives and plot points is faultless throughout.

Once again Mosby circumvents the shallowness of some in the genre, by really digging down into the turmoil of the human psyche, with two of his police protagonists having experienced tremendous loss, and provides a thoughtful and empathetic study of life in the grip of grief, and the healing process that follows. However, despite this deeper theme to the book, he never loses sight of the need to construct a clever and intriguing thriller, that will bewitch the reader, providing more than one surprise, an utterly unexpected denouement in the creepiest of settings, and interweaving some interesting perspectives on life, death, grief, psychological disturbance, religion, and the much debated theory of nature vs nurture. Meaty issues, violence, and a well realised blend of police procedural and psychological thriller. Highly recommended, and quite deservedly my book of the month.

 

Blog Tour- Exclusive Guest Post- Simon Toyne- ‘Solomon Creed Meet Leo’

71griLkJhBL__UX250_

A big Hollywood extravaganza welcome to you all for day two of the Simon Toyne Blog Tour, celebrating the release of his gripping new thriller Solomon Creed. The Raven is particularly delighted to host an exclusive guest post by an author with stars in his eyes. Possibly. As long as Leonardo hasn’t heard about Cleethorpes…

“So this is how it happened.

Agent: ‘Leonardo DiCaprio wants to option Solomon Creed.’

Me: You’re kidding.’

Agent: ‘I am so not kidding.’

Me: ‘Leonardo DiCaprio?’

Agent: ‘Yes.’

Me: (long pause)

Agent: ‘He’s an actor.’

Me: ‘I know who he is.’

This is, more or less, what happened to me a couple of months ago.

41OgxOimpgL__SX323_BO1,204,203,200_I was standing in my living room, staring out of the window at the garden and trying to reconcile the utter domestic ordinariness of my situation with the words I was hearing. I felt sure my agent was about to crack up and say ‘only kidding!’, only my agent doesn’t do stuff like that, she’s very professional and not generally prone to Jackass style japery- so it had to be real. Except it couldn’t be. I was born in Cleethorpes. Leonardo DiCaprio doesn’t option books written by people from Cleethorpes. It just doesn’t happen.

After that initial, surreal phone-call it all went quiet for several loooong months while a contract was drawn up, argued over, re-drawn, argued over again and eventually signed. In all that time I carried the news around like a hot coal, desperate to show it to people, blow on it and say ‘look how it glows’ but instead I had to hold it tight in my hand, feeling the keen burn of it while pretending I wasn’t holding anything at all.

This became particularly frustrating in the run-up to publication, exactly the time you want to shine the brightest light you can at your book and say ‘look at this one, look at mine, someone really famous thinks it’s good, you need to buy this book and read it before Hollywood ruins it,’ but I couldn’t. I tried to tell myself that it wouldn’t happen, that something would go wrong, and that Hollywood does indeed ruin most books anyway so I was better off out of it. I even started working on an anecdote of how Leonardo Di Caprio ‘nearly’ optioned Solomon Creed, wondering if I could actually get a bit of mileage out of that instead, trying to phrase it in such a way that it didn’t end up sounding like my book had been considered and then ultimately rejected. But I never did quite the wording right in my head.

 

Green-Hollywood-Sign-Green-CelebritiesBut now the deal is done, or as done as it ever can be in Hollywood terms, and I can finally show you the red hot thing I’ve been carrying around all this time. The pragmatic side of me still knows that an option is just an option, and that Leonardo DiCaprio may change his mind, and that the option will elapse in a year’s time anyway (and that Hollywood tends to ruin books anyway). But that same voice is also whispering to me another truth now, and that is that books written by people from Cleethorpes don’t get optioned by A-list Hollywood superstars. So who knows. Stranger things have already happened.”

 

11013116_937711022935457_5849587590712951157_n

 

 

Don’t forget to follow the rest of tour and find out more about the mysterious

Solomon Creed…

Solomon-Creed-Tour-Banner

 

August 2015 Round-Up and Raven’s Book of the Month

_DSC0185 (Common Raven)Started off the month at quite a pace, and more than happy that despite some recurrent issues with my technology, managed to post ten reviews. However, thanks to the blip with the I.T. (yes, I did try turning it off- and back on again) there are another couple of reviews in reserve for September posting. With three blog tours on the horizon for September for Simon Toyne- Solomon Creed, Rod Reynolds- The Dark Inside and Kati Hiekkapelto- The Defenceless, and a stack of new releases,  I’m also going to try and get to a lovely little pile of books from authors I discovered in May at CrimeFest. Fingers crossed. It’s going to be a busy month that’s for sure!

Books read and reviewed:

Neely Tucker- Murder D.C. (www.crimefictionlover.com)

Jason Hewitt- The Dynamite Room

Simon Sylvester- The Visitors

 S. Williams- Tuesday Falling

M. O. Walsh- My Sunshine Away

Catherine Hunt- Someone Out There

Jax Miller- Freedom’s Child

Doug Johnstone- The Jump

Olen Steinhauer- All The Old Knives (www.crimefictionlover.com)

Ava Marsh- Untouchable (www.crimefictionlover.com)

RAVEN’S BOOK OF THE MONTH

tuesInterestingly this has been a month of real highs and lows but there are three books worthy of another mention before the grand unveiling. I absolutely loved the fresh, vibrant and unique debut Tuesday Falling by S. Williams, and have already been recommending it to colleagues and customers alike. Mixing the hidden history of life below London, with cutting edge technology, this was a real winner.  Pacey plot, great characters and some real “well, I never knew that” moments.

I was bewitched by Olen Steinhauer’s All The Old Knives with it’s seemingly familiar settingall-the-old-knives-978144729574701 of an intimate dinner for two, but by the clever use of shifting timelines in a fairly compact form, revealed much more beneath it’s surface, in a twisting tale of CIA chicanery and double-dealing. An intelligent and compelling thriller.

The-Jump-Doug-JohnstoneAlso, Doug Johnstone’s The Jump, which could certainly feature in my end of year round-up, due to the emotional intensity and sensitivity with which he draws his main character, and the mesmeric quality of the prose. Powerful writing, which would put many contemporary fiction writers in the shade.

 

CJZBS7gVAAAmIfbHowever, top honour this month goes to Jax Miller- Freedom’s Child– with its edgy subject matter, a brilliant main protagonist in the form of the eponymous Freedom, and for demonstrating all that the Raven likes best about gritty American fiction. Lean and lyrical prose, social comment, a sublime use of location, and a book that resonates long after the reading of it. Loved it. Loved it. Loved it.

 

A Raven’s Eye View of CrimeFest 2015- with added hilarity…

bHaving posted an eminently sensible round-up of some of the highlights of CrimeFest 2015 at Crime Fiction Lover  including the terrific interview by Lee Child of Scandinavian crime legend Maj Sjowall, the announcement of a plethora of awards, and some fascinating debut novelists’ panels, I thought it would be fun to share a few of the more light-hearted moments to entertain you. I endeavoured to attend as many panels as possible to bring you some more highlights. Hope you enjoy…

#1. A large percentage of the Icelandic population believe in elves, and in precise statistical terms there are on average 1.5 murders a year. Yes, 1.5…. The elves are invariably convicted.

ONLINE REVIEWS: One panel was asked to bring along to their event, their favourite 1* review posted online. Inevitably “the book arrived late” or “the courier dumped it in my next door neighbour’s garden” featured, but my personal favourite was “I wouldn’t even give it to the charity shop”….

#2. One author revealed he has a ‘f**k radar’, to judge the potential response of the assembled throng to potential profanity….

GETTING PUBLISHED: There was a terrific selection of Fresh Blood panels, featuring debut authors, with an incredibly interesting collection of tales about the road to publication. Blood, sweat and tears (and more) featured heavily, but the general consensus was DON’T GIVE UP, the road may be difficult but the end result cannot be beaten, and you will not regret it. The fact that I’ve come back with a list of debut authors to read now is testament to this.

#3 It was possible during WW2 to steer a certain make of Russian tank with your feet resting them on another person’s shoulders. Bet not many of you knew that….but why would you?

THE MOST HILARIOUS PANEL: CFIwGa_WYAAjsMG Moderated by bon vivant crime and YA author Kevin Wignall, I had a feeling that this one would be full of laughs. Stepping bravely into the breach were A. K. Benedict, J. F. Penn, Oscar de Muriel Mark Roberts to talk about Things That Go Bump In The Night– the blending of crime with the supernatural. Peppered with probing questions such as ‘Do you have pets and what are their names?’ accrued from Wignall’s children’s events, and the left field responses particularly from the quirky Roberts, this panel quickly descended into comic chaos. Rest assured though, we did find out enough about the panellists’ passion for the supernatural to seek out their books, and a round of applause to them all for the entertainment!

#4. It is recommended to do one hour of yoga before your first CrimeFest appearance to calm your thoughts…(or even before attending one of Kevin Wignall’s panels- see above)

THE MOST CONTENTIOUS PANEL: There was an extremely feisty discussion at the Playing God With Your Characters panel comprising of Stav Sherez, Amanda Jennings, David Mark and Linda Regan, moderated by Christine Poulson. When discussing how your characters’ voices and actions dictate how they appear in the plot, we were taken on a strange flight of fancy about how the characters appeared to be real in one case with no control over them whatsoever, pitted against the more down to earth opinion that you control your characters, and use their characteristics to drive and inhabit the central plot. It got a little heated, until tactfully diffused by another member of the panel.  But we loved it. As did, I suspect, others on the panel too.

#4. You could be routinely called upon to hold the reins of a police horse while the officers nip into the venue to use the facilities…

FANGIRL MOMENTS: I’m sure that most attendees had a list of authors that they were bursting to meet, but equally to retain a certain decorum in the face of those that you particularly admire. No squealing. So, in this spirit, can I say a personal thank you to Anthony Quinn, Tom Callaghan, Grant Nicol, Thomas Mogford, Steve Cavanagh and William Shaw, amongst others, for their good-natured and friendly response at being cornered by me trying not to gush about how brilliant they all are. Thank you chaps! (Be sure to check out my reviews in the Reviews 2014/15 tabs).

#5. Crime authors drink..a lot…

HEARTWARMING MOMENTS: CFIdK0GWYAAG0jmIn the interview with Lee Child there wasn’t a dry eye in the house when Maj Sjowall spoke so movingly about the loss of Per Wahloo, and how her writing could not continue without his presence in her life. Also the refreshing wide-eyed and humble response of Ragnar Jonasson at gaining the No. 1 spot in the Amazon book chart, during the festival, for his exceptional debut Snow Blind. It was a delight to witness, and congratulations. On a personal note, I would like to thank William Ryan (I tip my hat to you sir!) , David Mark, Quentin Bates (great curry!), Stav Sherez (have I met you?!), Simon Toyne, Steve Mosby and others for remembering me, and greeting me like an old friend, despite not having seen them all for a while. Likewise, the warm glow of meeting up with fellow bloggers old and new, made for an entertaining and thoroughly enjoyable time. We rock! And finally, the hardiness of the Icelandic contingent in the face of a 4am flight from Bristol on Sunday morning, and lasting so long in the bar on Saturday night.

Lastly, a big thanks to the organizers, authors, publishers, bloggers and readers for one of the best CrimeFests to date. It was a blast, and if you’re a crime fiction fan and you’ve not been, you should. You’ll love it. Piqued your interest? Visit the CrimeFest website here

Simon Toyne-The Tower (Sancti Trilogy 3)

Product DetailsThe forbidden Citadel at the heart of the ancient Turkish city of Ruin opens its gates for the first time in history. Why now, after centuries of secrecy? A deadly disease has erupted within, and threatens to spread beyond its walls. Infected charity worker Gabriel Mann may hold the cure – but can one dying man stop an epidemic? Without him, former journalist Liv Adamsen is vulnerable, surrounded by strangers in the desert oasis that is her new home. Liv, however, has far bigger concerns than just her own life. In the USA, newly qualified FBI Agent Joe Shepherd investigates the disappearance of NASA’s most senior professor. Is it a vanishing act, an abduction, or something darker? Shepherd’s investigation approaches a powerful conspiracy with global reach, and profound consequences. For them all, this much is clear: something big is coming. Something that will change everything. But will it be a new beginning or the End of Days?

And here endeth the lesson in how to write a really good religious conspiracy thriller, as The Tower brings to a close this excellent trilogy. Beginning with Sanctus and The Key, this final instalment instantly propels you back into the world so succinctly and powerfully portrayed in the first two books. I  instantly took to these books, despite my original and somewhat cynical poo-pooing of this genre, thanks to the scars left by reading other less effective authors of this kind of fare. I can safely say that I had no such qualms as having read Sanctus in pretty much one sitting, and then champing at the bit for The Key, I awaited this closing book with a sense of anticipation and it did not disappoint…

Trying to avoid spoilers for those who have not yet had the pleasure of reading the full trilogy, The Tower draws on the perilous and unresolved events at the end of the previous books, with the present time juxtaposed with a catch-up on events eight months previously until the two timelines converge. As our erstwhile hero Gabriel grapples with a torturous journey back to the sinister auspices of The Citadel at Ruin (the predominant setting of the first two books), our heroine Liv is left to deal with the increasingly bizarre events in a desert wilderness as an ancient prophecy begins to gather muster, heralding the possible End of Days. In the present timeline there are some devilish deeds going on within the confines of NASA with the sabotage of two major space exploration programmes at the hands of what appears to be religious fantics, but is there more to it than meets the eye and are there greater powers at work? It falls to a rookie FBI agent and his surly superior to unravel the mystery leading to a denoeument linking all the characters and interlocking plot threads together.

Other reviewers have commented on the slower build-up of this book and I can see their point, but I actually enjoyed this sense of the plot gathering a momentum, and felt my own tension for the characters ratcheting up at the same speed, also noticing my reading speed increased substantially as the book reached its conclusion, so found this all rather clever.  I must confess that I found the NASA plot utterly fascinating and enjoyed the fruits of Toyne’s research into this particular field of science and technology, enjoying the exploration of the age old argument of science vs religion as the plot unfolded. With this new plotline set predominantly in America, and the skilful interweaving of the pre-existing locations and story from the first two books, fear not if you have come to this series anew with this book, as the back story is coherently referred to throughout so you won’t miss anything. On the strength of this one alone the impetus will be there to seek out the other two books post haste!

I think one of the major strengths of this series has been the excellent standard of characterisation, and although The Tower gives Toyne the chance to further flesh out some familiar figures, the introduction of some new faces further illustrates his adept hand at this. I particularly took to newly qualified FBI Agent Joe Shepherd and his boss Special Agent Benjamin Franklin and the nature of their professional relationship with the seeds of distrust between them sown by some unspoken secrets of Shepherd’s past. There was a real depth and believability to their working and personal interactions and bolstered by the existing strength of the recurring characters, I was completely drawn into these people’s lives and tribulations as the plot played out. There is usually an inherent failing within this genre of matching the strength of characterisation to the needs of the conspiracy thriller pace and plotting, but Toyne experiences no such problems in balancing the needs of both with an assured grip throughout.

In conclusion then, I would highly recommend The Tower, be it as a conclusion to you having read Sanctus and The Key or equally if this is your first foray into Toyne’s writing. An exceptional thriller that left me with a slight wistful air that the series was now finished. Can’t wait to see what’s next!

Simon ToyneVisit the author’s website here: www.simontoyne.net

Connect with Simon Toyne via:

www.facebook.com/simon.toyne.writer

https://twitter.com/sjtoyne

Interview With Simon Toyne and Raven’s reviews of  Sanctus/The Key.

Two excellent reviews of The Tower can be found by Miles at: http://www.milorambles.com/

and by Kate at:  http://forwinternights.wordpress.com/ (see her cameo on page 205!)

Product DetailsProduct DetailsProduct Details

(With thanks to HarperCollins for the ARC)

An Interview With Simon Toyne

Simon ToyneSimon Toyne was born in the North East of England in 1968. After nearly twenty years working in commercial television he quit his job and took seven months off to write a novel. It took two and a half years to finish it. Fortunately SANCTUS got picked up by an agent and then by lots of publishers all over the world. He has no idea what would have happened if it hadn’t. He is now regularly compared, both favourably and unfavourably, to Dan Brown, even though he does not possess a tweed jacket.

You can find out more at: http://www.simontoyne.net/ and read my reviews of  Simon’s books here:  Sanctus/The Key.

A big thanks to Simon taking time out from finishing the third book in the Sancti trilogy to answer my questions…

Sanctus

Simon Toyne The Key

What do you think it is about religious conspiracies and evil, scheming monks that grips our imagination so, particularly in terms of the success of this fiction genre?

 Religion is endlessly fascinating, it deals with all the big questions of who we are, where we’re from, where we’re going to. It’s also very mysterious and mystical. And monks are just weird and scary on some primordial, instinctive level. They’re unnatural somehow, like clowns.

 I keep picturing Gabriel as a Sir Lancelot type figure in true Arthurian tradition. I think there is very much a feel of the traditional ‘quest’ form about the books and the struggle between good vs evil. Was this an influence at all?

 Not a direct influence but I was definitely going for an old-fashioned, mythical feel to these books – even though the setting is modern. And good vs evil is the foundation stone of all thrillers.

One very positive of the book was your success at writing strong, credible female characters particularly Liv Adamsen, without resorting to cliche. Her characterisation seemed effortless but how easy was it?

 Thank you. It certainly wasn’t effortless but I’m very glad it ended up seeming that way. I wanted Liv to be a hero in the Clarice Starling/Jodie Foster way, in that she’s strong but vulnerable and succeeds by using her qualities as a woman and a person, not by turning into some sort of proto-male who kicks ass and asks questions later. It was her vulnerability and bravery that made her the best person to tell the story and for me everything grows out of the needs of the story.

 How far into the writing process did the idea of a possible trilogy take root or did you know from the outset?

 It started suggesting itself about three quarters of the way through writing ‘Sanctus’ when I was nearing the end and thinking ‘how the hell am I going to wrap all this up?’. I knew what the ending was in terms of the identity of the Sacrament, but by then I had set up all these characters and situations that I knew wouldn’t just shut up and go away when the secret was revealed. The first draft had a very unsatisfactory ‘one year later’ style whistle stop tour of all the main characters and a kind of reader’s digest summary of what happened after the Sacrament was revealed. I never really liked it and when I sold the book about the first thing my publisher asked was ‘what are you going to write next?’ and ‘I’m not so keen on the ending’. So we talked about it and that hurried ending has now turned into two other books.

 As I said in my review your attention to historical, textual and geographical detail is superb throughout both books and your research must be incredibly thorough. I recently read a prizewinning thriller where the writer’s level of research had a real sense of ‘look how clever I am’ to the detriment of the plot- a flaw that you skilfully avoided. How do you approach the research process and how hard is it to balance the fiction with the fact without one obscuring the other?

 I don’t actually do that much research at the outset. I’ll do some that I know I’ll need to know, like how monasteries work, but the rest I make up as I go along and anything I need to check I WRITE IN CAPITALS so as not to interrupt the flow of the story then look it up later. It’s amazing how many times my guess is pretty close to the truth anyway. Other times the truth is too dull so I go with my version. I also have a Tom Stoppard quote taped to the side of my screen which says “Just because it’s true, doesn’t mean it’s interesting.”

Apologies for this old chestnut of a question but have you any writing influences or simply writers that you gain the most pleasure from reading or re-reading?

 I think if you’re a writer you are influenced by everything you read, good and bad, and it’s one of the great requirements of the job that you should read widely and often.

 And just for fun….

 What is your worst habit? I have a tendency to not finish senten…

 If you could do any other job in the world…Daniel Craig

 Favourite fictional villain? Dr Chilton in…

 Any book you wish you had written?  ‘The Silence of the Lambs’

 Glass half full or half empty? I have a glass?

 Dad dancing or Strictly Come Dancing? I manage to pull off both at the same time (it’s a skill)

 Catch up with Simon at:

www.simontoyne.net

www.facebook.com/simon.toyne.writer

https://twitter.com/sjtoyne

 

Simon Toyne- Sanctus/The Key

The certainties of the modern world are about to be blown apart by a three thousand year-old conspiracy nurtured by blood and lies. A man throws himself to his death from the oldest inhabited place on the face of the earth, a mountainous citadel in the historic Turkish city of Ruin. This is no ordinary suicide but a symbolic act. And thanks to the media, it is witnessed by the entire world. But few understand it. For charity worker Kathryn Mann and a handful of others in the know, it is what they have been waiting for. The cowled and secretive fanatics that live in the Citadel suspect it could mean the end of everything they have built – and they will kill, torture and break every law to stop that. For Liv Adamsen, New York crime reporter, it begins the next stage of a journey into the heart of her own identity. And at that journey’s end lies a discovery that will change everything…

Hounded. Haunted. Hunted. She is the most important person in the world. She is The Key. In the ancient Turkish city of Ruin, American journalist Liv Adamsen lies in an isolation ward staring at walls as blank as her memory. She knows she entered the monumental Citadel at the heart of Ruin but can remember only darkness. Something strange is stirring within her, whispering that she is ‘the key’. But the key to what? For the Ghost, a mercenary operating in the Syrian Desert, Liv could unlock one of mankind’s most potent secrets. For the brotherhood in the Citadel – now cursed by a terrible plague – her return is the only way to ensure their survival. And for a powerful faction in Rome, she threatens the very future of the Catholic Church. Hunted across continents and caught up in events that defy explanation, Liv turns to the only person she trusts – a charity worker named Gabriel Mann. Together their paths lead to a shocking discovery – one that will tear them apart and change the world forever…

 The first two books in Toyne’s apocalyptic conspiracy thriller trilogy, and I have to admit that despite not being a fan of the religious conspiracy genre in general, I thoroughly enjoyed both of these. I think my problem with this genre comes from early exposure to ‘The Da Vinci Code’ in proof form, which resulted in me ripping it up whilst declaring that it wouldn’t amount to anything…hmmm…shows what I know. I dabbled with a couple of other writers in the wake of DB but they really didn’t hit the spot so thanks to Toyne for shedding the scales from my eyes and here’s why…

 I am reluctant to go into too much detail regarding the plots of these as the events of the first book ‘Sanctus’ reverberate through and impact strongly on the second ‘The Key’ so I’ll avoid spoilers. In a nutshell, the central plots revolve around an ancient religious sacrament protected by the inhabitants of a religious order housed within the Citadel, an architecturally breathtaking fortress that holds many secrets in the historic Turkish town of Ruin . Liv Adamson, a young American journalist finds herself drawn to this sacred site following the suspicious death of her brother, a former member of this cloistered community, and she begins to unveil the beginnings of a conspiracy which could lead to the fall of mankind. Joining her are mother and son, Kathryn and Gabriel Mann, who have their own intensely personal reasons for thwarting this dangerous conspiracy from those who seek to conceal it and channel its power for their own devious ends. The characterisation is strong throughout and the plot is infused with a real sense of good vs evil in the central protagonists, even more so in ‘The Key’ as more figures enter the fray with the action moving between America, Ruin , the Vatican City and Iraq, and those who should be held as beyond reproof are actually the most scheming and duplicitous.

 I think what really struck me about both books is Toyne’s exceptional descriptive powers throughout, so every scene and location is utterly visual and assaults the senses. This is a skill that few writers in any genre acquire and Toyne’s seamless descriptions of something as innocuous as a half burnt candle in a labyrinthine tunnel to the sheer grandiose architectural detail of the Citadel and from the bustling back streets of Ruin to the unrelenting surrounds of the Iraqi desert are a joy to read. This visual quality coupled with the fast moving plot, aided by the clever use of short snappy chapters that have the reader thinking just one more and then just one more again, leads to both books holding the reader’s attention throughout. There are also more than a few genuinely surprising twists and turns along the way and I would certainly recommend those, like me, who are a more than a little suspicious of this genre to seek them out- you won’t be disappointed.

 Visit the author’s website here: http:http://www.simontoyne.net/

Product DetailsComing 11:4: 2013: THE TOWER- Sancti 3 (Harpercollins)

A cyber-attack on NASA’s deep space search for the origins of the universe destroys the program and delivers a grave warning: mankind must look no further. Rookie FBI Agent Joseph Shepherd has the unique skills needed to investigate the breach. But he’s also hiding a secret of his own. Former New York crime reporter Liv Adamsen’s life has led her from the Turkish city of Ruin to an abandoned oil field in the Syrian Desert. An oasis grows around her new home but the desert is a hostile place, and danger draws ever closer. Charity worker Gabriel Mann abandoned Liv to protect her from the disease that is killing him. But this terrible plague, born in Ruin’s ancient Citadel, has already started to spread. Across the globe, strange weather phenomena and mass migrations are a sign that some great event is upon us. Revelation is coming: but will it be a new beginning or the End of Days?

(I bought a copy of ‘Sanctus’ and thanks to Harpercollins for the ARC of ‘The Key’)

Up ↑