Helen Fitzgerald- Viral

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Okay, so there’s been a wee bit of a furore regarding the opening line of this book, and Fitzgerald’s use of a c-word- no, not that one- but one which seems to have caused a bit of consternation. Personally speaking there are far worse c-words- Cameron, chlamydia, cystitis- which are all singularly unpleasant in their own way, so I was completely undeterred by her shock opener. It’s called freedom of expression.  Also despite my general loathing/apathy to the current trend of domestic noir thrillers, I suppose in a way that this book does draw on certain motifs from this genre, but thanks to the acerbic and beautifully twisted nature of Fitzgerald’s writing Viral felt like a real trip to the dark side of domestic relationships…

The story centres on the implosion of a family due to an event filled trip to Magaluf undertaken by British teenager Leah and her adopted Korean sister Su, who are like chalk and cheese in terms of character and behaviour. Rebellious Leah is wildly impulsive, set against the swottish and demure Su, but one ill-fated night in Magaluf and the pernicious world of social media, sees the corruption of goody two shoes Su, and the far-reaching effect of her actions causing a meltdown in her family. To escape the fallout of that fateful night, Su embarks on a voyage of discovery about herself and her roots in Korea, whilst causing her adoptive mother, high court judge Ruth, to embark on her own journey of retribution against those responsible for Su’s trials and tribulations.

Although, I confess I wasn’t entirely convinced by the arc of the story, and the way the plot played out, what I did enjoy was the way that Fitzgerald really got beneath the skin of her main protagonists, and exposed with such precision their failings. This detached style of holding her characters up to scrutiny and judgement is a recurring theme in her books, and hence why I like reading them so much. When put under the microscope, her characters demonstrate the worst aspects of human nature, despite our initial impressions of them, and are neither all good, or all bad. I also like the way that Fitzgerald dispels our perceptions of her characters as the book progresses, so we are forced to reassess our opinions of them and the way they behave. The dominant character of Ruth in particular takes on the mantle of an avenging angel, and whilst her actions could be applauded as demonstrating a mother’s need to protect her child, they do come at some cost to herself and her daughters, on her one-woman mission for justice. Equally, Leah’s initial selfishness and abhorrent behaviour is roundly turned in on itself, and the somewhat nauseating goodness of Su begins to deteriorate into out of character solipsism as the book progresses, after her awful experience in Spain, and the interesting exploration of her true self. I also enjoyed the way that Fitzgerald used the three main locations- Britain, Spain and Korea- as a springboard for the changes in character her protagonists undergo, and showing how even the relative safety and security of home can be deceptive in the aftermath of a crisis. Of course, reflecting the title the book has much to say on the pervasive nature and reach of social media, and it’s destructive effects after one young girl’s coercion into a moment of madness that cannot be easily escaped. Any salacious or harmful information has the potential to be put up for public consumption, but what if it happened to you? Unsettling indeed.

Spiky, uncompromising and engaging. Domestic noir that packs a proper punch.

(With thanks to Faber for the ARC)

 

A trio of tempting crime treats- Gangsterland/The Invisible Guardian/The Snow Kimono

Realising that the official April monthly round-up is but a few hours away, thought I best get a wiggle on tidying up the read pile for the month. Despite powering through a stack of advance reading copies, all of the books below I very naughtily bought during the course of the month, despite my initially extremely noble intention to walk around my place of work with the blinkers on, and to NOT BUY ANY BOOKS! Well, best laid plans and all that. As it happens May is a congested month for reading and reviewing, so much less time to indulge in book buying, and to concentrate on those review copies. Raven says. Hopefully…

todFirst up was Gangsterland by Tod Goldberg: Sal Cupertine is a legendary hit man for the Chicago Mafia, known for his ability to kill anyone, anywhere, without leaving a trace. Until now, that is. His first-ever mistake forces Sal to botch an assassination, killing three undercover FBI agents in the process. He knows this could be his death sentence, so he agrees to a radical idea to save his own skin. A few surgeries and some intensive training later, and Sal Cupertine is gone, disappeared into the identity of Rabbi David Cohen. Leading his congregation in Las Vegas, Rabbi Cohen feels his wicked past slipping away from him. Yet, as it turns out, the Mafia isn’t quite done with him yet. And that rogue FBI agent on his trail, seeking vengeance, isn’t going to let Sal fade so easily into the desert…

Normally I’m wary of any crime book labelled as funny, and effusive taglines testifying to the scale of hilarity contained within, but this was an absolute hoot from start to finish. Arising from a short story entitled Mitzvah, the book is not only a dark and sinister crime caper, set in Las Vegas, but contains some of the sharpest wiseguy humour so reminiscent of the old master Elmore Leonard. The whole set-up for the plot with a sadistic Chicago hitman having to re-invent himself as a rabbi in Vegas, is wacky enough, but I more than bought into this gun-toting, sharp talking and endlessly entertaining read. The characters are brilliant and earthy  whether bad guy, good guy, or those that gravitate between both camps of legality, and the action is fast-paced and totally engaging. If you love Leonard, Hiaasen or Dorsey this will tick all the boxes.

igNext was The Invisible Guardian by Dolores Redondo: The naked body of a teenage girl is found on the banks of the River Baztán. Less than 24 hours after this discovery, a link is made to the murder of another girl the month before. Is this the work of a ritualistic killer or of the Invisible Guardian, the Basajaun, a creature of Basque mythology? 30-year-old Inspector Amaia Salazar heads an investigation which will take her back to Elizondo, the village in the heart of Basque country where she was born, and to which she had hoped never to return. A place of mists, rain and forests. A place of unresolved conflicts, of a dark secret that scarred her childhood and which will come back to torment her. Torn between the rational, procedural part of her job and local myths and superstitions, Amaia Salazar has to fight off the demons of her past in order to confront the reality of a serial killer at loose in a region steeped in the history of the Spanish Inquisition…

Another slice of literary European crime, set in the Basque region of Spain. Although I did find a certain familiarity with the style of the writing, the historical and social detail of an area largely unknown to me, more than compensated for the more linear aspect of the plotting. I found the exploration of local superstitions woven into the plot incredibly interesting, and likewise the references to the Spanish Inquisition added another layer to the sometimes pedestrian characterisation of the police protagonists. Salazar was a strong enough lead for the investigative strand of the plot, and I enjoyed the trials and tribulations of her fiery family that punctuated the book, and the visitation of the past that occurs for her, but overall she was too similar to many female detectives that have proceeded her in the genre to really make much of an impact. Well written and engaging enough overall and would still recommend for the insight into the Basque history and region.

 

snowAnd finally The Snow Kimono by Mark Henshaw: On the same day that retired police inspector Auguste Jovert receives a letter from a woman claiming to be his daughter, he returns to his Paris apartment to find a stranger waiting for him. That stranger is a Japanese professor called Tadashi Omura. What’s brought him to Jovert’s doorstep is not clear, but then he begins to tell his story – a story of a fractured friendship, lost lovers, orphaned children, and a body left bleeding in the snow. As Jovert pieces together the puzzle of Omura’s life, he can’t help but draw parallels with his own; for he too has lead a life that’s been extraordinary and dangerous – and based upon a lie…

To be honest, this is one of those books that I could simply list appropriate adjectives for. This book is poignant, evocative, moving, heartfelt, shocking and, unerringly beautiful in equal measure. Such is the complexity of the writing and plotting, that it almost defies its own inclusion into the crime genre, as its literary credentials are plain to see, and the pace and lyrical intensity of the slowly unfurling plot, take the reader on a wholly mesmeric journey. With each strand of the narrative pivoting between separate characters telling their story, and the shifting location from France to Japan, and the unique characteristics of these two societies, rural and city, weaving in and out of the plot, the reader is constantly kept on the back-foot, and deliciously toyed with as to how the plot will develop. Henshaw cleverly harnesses the haunting simplicity of Japanese fiction, with all the style and impetus redolent of European crime fiction, in this utterly enthralling and highly original novel. Wonderful writing, and a book that I cannot urge you strongly enough to discover for yourselves.

 

Mari Hannah- Killing For Keeps

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Killing For Keeps is the fifth instalment of the excellent DCI Kate Daniels series, and once again consolidates Hannah’s growing reputation at the core of the British crime genre, alongside the names of Denise Mina, Ann Cleeves and Sharon Bolton.

Two brothers from the same criminal family die within hours of each other, five miles apart: one on the edge of a Newcastle industrial estate, the other in a busy A & E department, unseen by the triage team. Both victims have suffered horrific, brutal and bloody injuries (rubs hands with ghoulish glee). As the investigation in the toerags’ deaths gathers pace, our estwhile heroine Daniels, gets drawn into some moral conundrums, which inevitably lead to her breaking of the rules. As the body count rises, Hannah transports us from Newcastle, to Scotland and then to the warmer climes of Europe, as Daniels and her intrepid sidekick DS Hank Gormley navigate the dangerous waters of this particularly testing investigation to its bloody conclusion.

Being a little disillusioned with some of the British crime thrillers over the past year, Hannah has delivered a breath of fresh air once again. Although I would hesitate to say that Killing For Keeps was as good personally as the previous book, Monument To Murder  with its near perfect rendition of police procedural and location, even a slightly less good book from Hannah still steals the competition amongst her peers. As usual Hannah is spot on in terms of her forensic detail, the inner workings of a murder investigation, and the professional demands this places on Daniels and her team. Although I felt myself less engaged with the tit-for-tat killing of the brothers grim, and its consequences among the criminal fraternity, it is the allure of Hannah’s characterisation of Daniels and her cohorts that really carries the book.

Up to now most of the books have been driven by the knotty emotional entanglement of Daniels and her very off/on lover psychologist Jo Soulsby. Although this story goes some way to resolving the ups and downs of this personal relationship, what I found most engaging were the slight chinks that appeared in Daniels’ professional armour. With the distressing death of one of her unofficial informers hitting her hard, this investigation causes Daniels’ to fly beneath the radar of professional standards. We bear witness to a previously unseen side of her that makes the morality of her actions come under scrutiny, and Daniels goes a bit maverick. And I liked it. With the unfolding of the investigation, Daniels forms an unlikely respect for a member of the criminal fraternity, particularly when he saves Gormley’s skin, and it was good to see her loosen her fixed ideals as the book progressed. As usual I enjoyed the repartee between Daniels with not only her partner, Gormley, and the rest of her team but also the spiky but respectful relationship with her superior officer Superintendent Bright. And it was nice to see a little touch of Cupid’s arrow, with everyone’s love lives being placed on a more even keel…until something or someone upsets the apple-carts I suspect!

Another good addition to the series, and thanks to Hannah’s assured control of back story, this is a series you can dip into at any point. But why would you dip? Start at the beginning with The Murder Wall and give yourselves a treat. Happy reading.

See more reviews of Killing For Keeps at Crimepieces   Crime Fiction Lover.com  and from Pamreader

(With thanks to Macmillan for the ARC)