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

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4. DOUG JOHNSTONE-THE JUMP

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3. MATTHEW FRANK-IF I SHOULD DIE

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2. ANTTI TUOMAINEN- DARK AS MY HEART

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1. JAX MILLER- FREEDOM’S CHILD

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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.

 

 

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.

 

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

Steve Mosby-The Nightmare Place

mosbySometimes, there’s a thin line between love and hate. Or at least that’s one theory for DI Zoe Dolan, tracking the Creeper – a stalker who’s been breaking into women’s homes and attacking them. But the Creeper’s violence is escalating and there’s no pattern, no clue as to how he’s getting in, and no clue as to who’s next.

Until Jane Webster gets a call to the helpline where she volunteers. It’s meant to be a confidential service and Jane is torn – it could be a hoaxer, but the soft voice at the end of the line has the ring of truth about it. He says he loves these women – but it’s a love that ends in blood.

When Jane tells the police, it should be the lead that Zoe needs – but it only pulls her further into a case that is already taking her dangerously close to the past she’s never fully escaped. For Jane, Zoe and all the other young women of the city, suddenly nowhere is safe. Particularly their own bedroom at the dead of night…

With an opening chapter that contains enough of a fright to scare even the most hardened crime reader, The Nightmare Place, is the latest offering from Steve Mosby. A stalker- The Creeper- is breaking into women’s homes and attacking them, with very little for the police to go on, and leaving little clue into how the victims are selected and who will be next…

Although not consistently exhibiting the usual deep-seated and unflinching focus on the human psyche so readily displayed in Mosby’s previous book, The Dark Room (which now ranks among my favourite crime reads of all time) there is still plenty to entertain and perplex the reader. With a feisty and solidly characterised female detective protagonist, DI Zoe Dolan, Mosby has constructed a tense and chilling crime thriller that unfailingly captures the fear and suspicion wrought by a killer at large and the failing of the police to bring him to justice. In a nifty subplot, the killer, exhibiting his twisted mentality, makes contact with a local helpline, and there is an interesting exploration of the bounds of confidentiality in such a scenario. As Mosby ramps up the tension through the escalating behaviour of The Creeper, suspects come and go, and annoyingly I had my eye on one guy as the bad guy and I was right. A total creep in all senses of the word!

The central investigation folds out satisfyingly, but by the same token not really stretching the boundaries of the serial killer thriller genre per se. The real strength of the piece lies in Mosby’s innate handling of characterisation and DI Dolan is a case in point. During her interaction with her now retired boss John Carlton, who has exerted a great influence on both her personal and professional life, the reader gets a real insight into her journey from an unsettled adolescence to her current career. From a fledgling propensity for bad behaviour and her upbringing on the wrong side of the tracks, her relationship with Carlton has proved a hugely significant influence in her life, and I loved the shift in narrative throughout the book that captured the importance of this relationship and the pathos-filled depiction of the potential loss of this friendship. This is where Mosby excels, delving deeper into the finer and more emotional aspects of the human condition, and aside from a very touching interlude focusing on another character’s short-lived harmonic relationship with an aspect of the natural world, Dolan is the main conduit for this authorial skill. As I said, the main plot was intriguing enough, but these little vignettes of human experience really lift the piece from the realms of a bog-standard police procedural.

As a firm fan of Mosby, I did detect a little dip in quality from his usual fare, but not enough to seriously impact on me recommending this as a good read. With little glimpses of the more thoughtful and introspective qualities readily apparent in his previous books, and a plot that creeped me out almost as much as the TV crime drama, The Fall, The Nightmare Place, ticked most of the boxes overall. A crime thriller that will leave you suspicious of your bedroom and who may be lurking uninvited within…

Steve Mosby lives and works in Leeds. He is the author of THE THIRD PERSON, THE CUTTING CREW, THE 50/50 KILLER, CRY FOR HELP, STILL BLEEDING, BLACK FLOWERS and THE DARK ROOM . His novels have been translated widely and longlisted for the Theakstons Crime Novel of the Year Award. Find out more at: www.theleftroom.co.uk. Follow on Twitter @stevemosby

(With thanks to Orion for the ARC)

 

Steve Mosby- Dark Room

DI Andrew Hicks thinks he knows all about murder. For Hicks, however horrific the act, the reasons behind killing are ultimately all too explicable. So when a woman is found bludgeoned to death, he suspects a crime of passion and attention focuses on her possessive ex-husband. But when a second body is found, similarly beaten, Hicks is forced to think again about his suspect: the second victim is a homeless man with no links to the other woman. When more murders take place in quick succession, Hicks realises he is dealing with a type of killer he has never faced before, one who fits nowhere within his logic. Fear spreads, as the police search for patterns and reasons where none appear to exist. Then the letters begin to arrive. As the death toll rises, the threat gets closer to home. To survive, Hicks must face not only a killer obsessed with randomness and chaos, but also the secret in his own past. If he is to stop the killings, he must confront the truth about himself and the fact that some murders begin in much darker places than he ever imagined…

Steve Mosby ranks highly in my list of favourite crime authors having read all of his previous novels and ‘Black Flowers’ is one that I constantly recommend to crime readers. I can assure you that this, his latest, does not disappoint either!

 The key thing that sets Mosby apart, in my view, is his ability to avoid the obvious in his plotting so with each book you are immersed in a multi-stranded narrative which as a reader becomes more of a challenge as you seek to determine how these strands will meet together in the whole structure of the plot. One subject that defines the whole plot of ‘Dark Room’ is the theme of randomness, which is evident within the first few chapters and throughout the book. Instantly you are confronted with three completely unrelated plot lines which as the story develops, effectively have you wondering if there can possibly be any connection between them. The greater theme of randomness is developed within the central murder investigation as Detective Hicks and his colleagues are faced with the terrifying prospect of a completely indiscriminate killer whose choice of victim is so random that it completely disempowers their investigation where no discernable pattern or connection can be made between the killings- the essential key to tracking down a killer. The killer’s victims are different genders, ages, social class and so on, which then leads to an additional quandary on the part of the police as these crimes singularly defy the neat compartmentalising of the killer as a mass murderer or a serial killer. A mass murderer would suggest a completely random series of killings, but equally the team cannot ignore the possibility that these victims have been specifically targeted for reasons unknown and, however shrouded the selection of victim is, conform to some kind of pattern. Needless to say I cannot possibly reveal the outcomes of these plots but the pacing is perfectly controlled by Mosby to reel you in and keep you guessing as long as possible…

 Another aspect of this book I found particularly appealing was the depiction of Detective Hicks himself. I’m not a great fan of well-adjusted plods whose investigations progress smoothly and end up wrapped up in a nice neat parcel. Hicks is undergoing a fair amount of crisis in his personal life as his wife is pregnant, but their relationship has deteriorated to near breaking point as Hicks has his own deep-seated worries about the notion of bringing a child into the world, coloured by his own experiences as a child. He has the shadow of a previous case looming large over him during the course of the book and also finds himself in the uncomfortable position of a killer becoming his pen-pal. Hicks, despite the emotional baggage, proves himself to be a focused and smarter than average detective as he grapples with the notion of a killer who defies all existing patterns of behaviour whilst balancing the demands of being subject to his own personal crises. And further on the strength of characterisation, Hicks’ story is carefully interwoven with that of an elderly candle-maker Levchenko and his wife Jasmina whose personal grief is tangible throughout the plot due to the murder of their daughter and who are two beautifully realised yet understated characters adding much to our perception of Hicks as an individual and his emotional impulses.

 Overall a great read and if this proves to be the first Mosby you read I can guarantee it won’t be your last!

Visit Steve Mosby’s website: http://www.theleftroom.co.uk/