March 2015 Round Up and Raven’s Book of The Month

_DSC0185 (Common Raven)As usual, a busy month of new releases- I love this time of year! In fact, so many new releases to read, that I have not kept up the pace with the reviews. However, this round-up gives me an opportunity to include a quick round-up on a theme. Inspired by the brilliant reports at Crime Fiction Lover from Marina Sofia at the Quais du Polar French crime fiction festival, I have also been reading a few French crime fiction novels this past month.

camilleHaving already waxed lyrical about Pierre Lemaitre in reviews for Alex and Irene, I can safely report that the third in the series, Camille, featuring diminutive detective Camille Verhoeven is a more than satisfying addition to the series. After the violent events of the previous two books, Camille is on more of an even keel with a new love interest, Anne, but following a brutal heist in which Anne is seriously injured, Camille’s world is rocked to its core. Is Anne all that she appears to be, and will Camille attain the happiness and satisfaction in his life and career he is seriously overdue? I found this a much more meditative read than the previous two books, and with the extreme focus on the emotional struggle Camille experiences, the book was packed with poignancy and uncertainty as to how his relationship with Anne and the implications for his long term career would play out. I felt this book did slightly lack the wow factor of the previous two, due to the change of tone, but even so Lemaitre still provides an emotionally rich and engaging crime thriller. Highly recommended.

bussiI suspect that I may be a lone voice in the wilderness but the hugely hyped After The Crash by Michel Bussi, left me distinctly non-plussed. I don’t know if this was due to my lack of emotional engagement with what I perceived as a cast of distinctly disagreeable characters, or my innate irritation at the composition of the book, using the trope of a diary as the central narrative strand. I felt unfulfilled by the plot generally, and to be honest it was a real struggle to finish this one.

I also re-read The Prone Gunman by Jean- Patrick Manchette, and discovered the delights of a previously unknown to me novella by him, Fatale. Outside of my crime reading, I am a huge fan of foreign fiction in translation, particularly  those little jewels of novellas running at less than 200 pages, so Manchette is a delight. Taut, concise, and bluntly observed, his writing is so precise and powerful that it never fails to amaze me how he so easily runs through a gamut of emotions in such a condensed form. Both books are violent, and tinged with a bleakness that is sometimes hard to stomach, but I think his writing provides a hell of a punch. Buy these and read them. You won’t regret it.

And so forwards to April, where there are a couple of blog tours coming up, and a whole host of great new releases. It’s going to be a good month! And I will be posting a review for a possible contender for my book of the year…you’re intrigued now…

Books read in March:

Mari Jungstedt- A Dangerous Game

Steve Cavanagh- The Defence

Glen Erik Hamilton- Past Crimes

SJI Holliday- Black Wood

Ben McPherson- A Line of Blood (www.crimefictionlover.com)

Luke Delaney- The Jackdaw (www.crimefictionlover.com)

Raven’s Book of the Month:

glenIt’s got to be Glen Erik Hamilton’s debut Past Crimes. As I said in my review, the split timeline, the pared down style, and the assured plot structure, was an absolute delight throughout. It’s also great to encounter a debut author, that so compliments your existing favourite authors. With shades of Lehane and Pelecanos, I think there will be more to come from Hamilton… and I can’t wait. Excellent.

Steve Cavanagh- The Defence

defence

Eddie Flynn used to be a con artist. Then he became a lawyer. Turned out the two weren’t that different.It’s been over a year since Eddie vowed never to set foot in a courtroom again. But now he doesn’t have a choice. Olek Volchek, the infamous head of the Russian mafia in New York, has strapped a bomb to Eddie’s back and kidnapped his ten-year-old daughter, Amy. Eddie only has forty-eight hours to defend Volchek in an impossible murder trial – and win – if he wants to save his daughter. Under the scrutiny of the media and the FBI, Eddie must use his razor-sharp wit and every con-artist trick in the book to defend his ‘client’ and ensure Amy’s safety. With the timer on his back ticking away, can Eddie convince the jury of the impossible? Lose this case and he loses everything.

Okay, as they say over the water, here’s the thing. I don’t do legal thrillers. As a rule they bore me intensely, and I’ve dabbled in the genre with little success. I’m the type of gal who only watches half of Law and Order. The first half, thus for me, the interesting half, where crimes are perpetrated and people get attacked or murdered. I have little patience for posturing people in judicial wigs or designer suits, impressing no-one but themselves within the confines of the courtroom. BUT a strange thing has happened, nay a miracle, and Mr Cavanagh must be fully congratulated for this. He has written a legal thriller- yes, the alarm bells were ringing- but what’s more, a legal thriller that I read in practically one sitting. And loved. Yes, loved. Here’s why..

The absolute stand-out feature of this book is Cavanagh’s characterisation of sharp-talking but reluctant lawyer Eddie Flynn. Flynn is a wonderfully flawed man with a chequered past, Mafia connections and fundamental human weaknesses, but equally a man of great integrity who has a strong moral core, anxious to avenge the sins of his own former professional career as a lawyer, and to fairly extricate himself and others from the predicament he finds himself in. I thoroughly enjoyed how Cavanagh interweaved the less than honourable aspects of Flynn’s past life as a grifter, albeit to seek revenge on those that had wronged himself and his family, with the great personal cost to himself when he also manages to get a clearly guilty man exonerated from a heinous attack on a young woman (the upshot of this case being his withdrawal from his legal career). Finding himself in the clutches of a dangerous conspiracy to dispose of a witness, we are held on the edge of our seats as to how Flynn will thwart the baddies, and ensure the release of his daughter, whilst manipulating the due process of law, and calling in some favours from some less than savoury cohorts. Flynn completely carries the weight of the plot, with the reader believing in him consistently throughout, and with his humour, integrity and quick thinking, there was little to disabuse me of my feeling towards him as a thoroughly believable and likeable character. Equally, Cavanagh’s characterisation of the Russian crew was spot-on, presenting us with a host of great baddies for us to despise, but also within the Italian Mafia offshoot, giving us another set of notably bad but affectionately flawed men who Flynn calls upon to help in his hour of need.

The plot moved at breakneck speed with a breathless quality to the whole affair. As Flynn gets even further mired in the Russian conspiracy, there are real hold-your-breath moments, as the clock ticks down to exonerating Volchek without the potentially explosive events that Flynn’s failure could cause in the courtroom, and which could compromise the safety of his daughter. The book is well balanced between the unfurling court case, and the cat and mouse defence and prosecution of Volchek, and the events outside as we begin to see the depth of the plot against Flynn, and even Volchek himself, in a series of well-timed reveals that consistently wrong-foot the reader. It’s sharp, clever and a brilliantly executed thriller. And it’s not often I write those words. The Defence is a great debut, and here’s hoping there’s more of Eddie Flynn to come.

(With thanks to Orion for the ARC)