Raven’s February Round Up #PetronaAward2020

Hello everyone!

A fellow blogger chum, Dave at Espressococo was bemoaning the fact on Twitter that he couldn’t keep up with the ratio of reading books: reviewing books, and we have decided that we shall hence forth be known as #TheLeagueOfLaggardBloggers. I managed the giddy total of one review this month for the excellent Death Deserved- Thomas Enger & Jorn Lier Horst but I have actually read 15 books. Three more for the Petrona Award for Scandinavian Crime Fiction, (Jussi Adler Olsson- The Washington Decree, Thomas Enger- Inborn and Stefan Ahnhem- Motive X) five for blog tours scheduled for March ( better get my reviewing groove on for those!) and the little smorgasbord of delights below. I’m attributing blame to the stress of flooding which has badly affected where I live, so much so that we are debating to add the monicker On-Sea to our town, and the general hurly burly of stuff going on in my personal and work life at the moment. March will be calmer, and weather permitting, my reading/reviewing equilibrium will be restored…

With my current fetish for Japanese crime I read The Honjin Murders and The Inugami Curse by Seishi Yokomizo back to back, which introduce the shambling, head-scratching private investigator Kosuke Kindaichi. Very much in the tradition of, and relecting the Japanese obsession with, the locked room mystery genre, both books are cleverly plotted, replete with red herrings and mind tickling twists in the narrative. I slightly preferred The Inugami Curse (trans. Yumiko Yamakazi) as the other book seemed a little more slight in its plotting, but would heartily recommend both as a sterling introduction to this author. As an aside, The Honjin Murders (trans. Louise Heal Kwai) also includes in the story a go-to list of other Japanese mystery writers which I have started exploring, and am looking forward immensely to the next Yokomizo to be produced by Pushkin Vertigo.

A world away from Japan I read three thrillers rooted in the UK and more specifically the North of England. I would absolutely recommend a debut thriller by Chris McDonald- A Wash of Black introducing DI Erika Piper. I sometimes find police procedurals a little samey, but McDonald has not only introduced a character to the genre who genuinely endeares herself to the reader, but is also involved in an investigation that keeps your attention, takes some unexpected turns, and some equally unexpected deaths. A nice bit of gore factor, a bit of movie gold dust and pacy plotting added to my satisfaction. Doesn’t hurt that I was also reminded of the Manchester crime novels of the woefully underrated Chris Simms too. Recommended.

Next up was The Alibi Girl by C. J. Skuse who can always be relied upon to produce an enjoyable, cynical and genuinely entertaining crime thriller. To me personally she also has the mantle of being one of the funniest people on Twitter with her acerbic observations and fabulous sarcasm as demonstrated by her brilliant book Sweetpea. I loved the premise of this really quite emotionally fragile woman inventing a host of personas, slewing them on and off like a snake skin, but ultimately of them being a very necessary form of armour for her as her back story unfolds. Sharp, perceptive and despite some of its lighter moments, has some interesting observations on the nature of family loyalty, the persistence of childhood memory and how it shapes us as adults. Recommended.

Last, but not least was Kate Atkinson’s Big Sky. I must admit I did toy with reviewing this, but having talked about this book for a solid month as a promotion for work, I’ve tired of it somewhat, although I did enjoy reading it. Having such a gap in a character series I was gratified by how quickly it was to get back into Jackson Brodie world. He’s back, the excellent/annoying parenthesis are back and drawing on elements of the infamous Yew Tree investigations, Brodie is soon inveigled in a sinister case with what could be sinister repercussions. Atkinson once in demonstrates her flexibility as a writer, bringing her adroit style and fluidity to this genre as she does to her more ‘literary’ fiction.

Also managed to squeeze in a couple of non-fiction titles too with Monisha Rajesh Around The World In 80 Trains, her follow up to the brilliant Around India In 80 Trains,  which sees her tracking a course through Europe, Asia and the Americas. Filled with beautiful observations, some alarming interactions, and her genuine love for life on the tracks, I really lost myself in this one. The irony being that I read a good chunk of this which covered the amazing efficiency of the Japanese rail system, whilst stuck on a replacement bus service for a couple of hours!

Also read An Ode To Darkness by Sigri Sandberg (trans. Sian Mackie) which is a slim but fascinating assessment of how our lives are lived too much in the light, and how we need to embrace darkness on a psychological and emotional level. Referencing figures like Christiane Ritter (A Woman In The Polar Night) as emblematic of how to overcome the fear and isolation of darkness, Sandberg also makes a good fist of addressing her own irrational fear in the isolated reaches of Norway, surrounded by a world of darkness. Contemplative and thought provoking too.

 

With thanks to Orenda Books and Red Dog Press for Death Deserved and A Wash of Black respectively.

I bought The Honjin Murders, The Inugami Curse, The Alibi Girl, Big Sky, Around The World In 80 Trains and An Ode To Darkness

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Travels With The TBR #3- Neil Broadfoot-Falling Fast, Paddy Magrane-Denial, Stefan Ahnhem- Victim Without A Face

In the thick of the Christmas rush, as a retail drone currently battling with the lurgy too, time for reviewing has been a bit limited this month. Here’s the last little flurry of books that have made it to the top of the TBR mountain, before my end of year round-up,  and hopefully this little feature will continue next year *eyeing the Eiger sized pile of books yet to be read*….

9781908643537Story-hungry journalist Doug McGregor is out to track down a convicted rapist, on the run after being hounded out of his home by a lynch mob. But a grisly suicide in the heart of tourist Edinburgh piques Doug’s curiosity and diverts his attention – especially once his police contact and occasional drinking partner, DS Susie Drummond, reveals that the victim is connected to a high-profile and controversial politician. Together, they find themselves unravelling a story of secrets, drug abuse, violence, murder…and the ultimate taboo.

Having been meaning to catch up with this author, having seen him at CrimeFest this year and instantly purchasing the first two of this series. It was a wise decision, as I have now discovered a great author to add to my Scottish favourites! I was instantly drawn to the two main protagonists, Doug McGregor- dogged reporter, and his police contact DS Susie Drummond, and the relationship that exists between them. I loved the underlying feeling of them both being slightly square pegs in round holes, with McGregor’s incredible self reliance which tends to alienate others, and Drummond’s former misguided fling with a senior officer which has marked her out as an outsider to her police colleagues. However, although their professional relationship alternates beautifully between frustration and spikiness, there is a mutual respect underpinning everything, leading to some intense scenes that alternate between danger, humour and high emotion, thanks to their razor sharp characterisation.

I thought the plot was superb, and am always gratified by the exposure of political corruption, and this book takes some incredibly dark turns as the truth behind a young woman’s death at the outset of the book comes to light. Broadfoot captures perfectly the nature of family bonds with their sometimes misguided loyalty, and explores the issue of parental responsibility in both its good and worst forms. Equally, the author uses both the location of Edinburgh, and his own background as a journalist, to add further layers of realism to what is altogether a completely absorbing thriller. Highly recommended.


A riot breaks out at Creech Hill Immigration Detention Centre. Zahra Idris, a terrified Eritrean detainee suffering with amnesia, escapes. That evening, Zahra’s psychotherapist, Sam Keddie, finds his girlfriend lying unconscious in their home – the victim of a brutal attack. When Zahra’s solicitor is found dead, drowned in the waters of the Regent’s Canal, Sam becomes convinced that his connection with Zahra is significant – and that someone wants them both dead. He tracks down a frightened, confused Zahra in Amsterdam. But their pursuers are close behind, and Sam and Zahra are soon on the run. As they’re hunted through Europe, Sam races against time to piece together Zahra’s fragile memories and discover why she and those close to her are being picked off – one by one.

Having really enjoyed Disorder , the first of Paddy Magrane’s series featuring psychotherapist Sam Keddie, I’m glad the hiatus has ended and another has appeared! This is real breakneck, edge of your seat thrilling stuff, chockfull of danger, excitement and some very bad men indeed, but tempered by an innate sensitivity to the very contemporary issue of immigration. The character of Zahra, in particular, who has experienced the very worst of human behaviour during her passage to supposed safety in Europe, is mesmeric from the very start, and she holds the reader in the palm of her hand with her mix of,  at times, extreme vulnerability underscored by a steely resolve and bravery to overcome the evil that pursues her. I adored her character, and the way that Magrane uses her so effectively to explore important issues, and bring to the fore elements of corruption, greed and expose those that trade in human exploitation. I also liked the little areas of grey that Magrane employs in relation to one of the men pursuing Zahra, which leads us to reassess our feeling towards him as the tale unfolds.

Despite the more serious issues that the book encompasses, Magrane balances this perfectly with the ‘thriller’ aspect, as Keddie and Zahra are caught up in a  desperate game of cat and mouse across a series of European locations, with all the pace and energy one would expect of the genre. There are some real heart in the mouth moments along the way, and Magrane moves us effortlessly from one impending moment of peril to the next, with a flowing and unbroken narrative. Yes, there are a couple of plot turns which may raise a mildly quizzical eyebrow, but fear not, you are so quickly moved on to more dangerous ground, that these will not deter you. Thrilling, thought-provoking and highly entertaining. What more could you possibly want? Highly recommended.

 

9781784975500Two men are dead. Both had been bullies at school. A single clue has been found at the scene: a class photo from 1982, with two faces neatly crossed out.

Fabian Risk is the lead detective on the case. He’s also one of the children in the photograph. He thought he’d left his schooldays behind. Now his classmates are dying for the sins of their childhood…

You and I both know that you can’t whack a good old slice of Scandinavian noir, so here’s another author to add to your Scandi wish list. Ahnhem has produced a meaty, compelling and impeccably plotted thriller, with a sizeable body count, and increasingly imaginative ways of having despatching the victims, straying into Chris Carter territory with the sheer ghoulishness of some of their deaths. Which was nice.

Fabian Risk proves himself a feisty, and lone wolfish investigator, having recently relocated to his childhood town, after an ‘incident’, putting him perfectly in place to try and outwit a demented killer targeting his school chums. With numerous twists and turns along the way, too convoluted to try and explore here, inevitably Risk finds himself at well, risk, and experiencing an isolation from his police cohorts as the plot thickens.The plot culminates in a slightly clunky and predictable endgame involving a kidnap, but can be slightly forgiven as the story up until that point, and other reveals at the tail end of the book, did diffuse my sense of annoyance somewhat. Certainly enough here to make me seek out the next in the series, and a good recommendation for you Scandi fans out there…