February 2017 Round-Up + more… and Raven’s Book of the Month

_DSC0185 (Common Raven)After a little hiatus in January, my reading rate has improved significantly, but alas, I am still a little off the pace in terms of reviewing. So, I’m going to cheat a wee bit, and incorporate a few additional reviews into this round-up, before I storm into March where five reviews await already, as there are some cracking releases coming up.

Happy reading!

BOOKS READ AND REVIEWED:

Jonelle Patrick- Painted Doll   Claire Macleary- Cross Purpose  Andrew Taylor- The Ashes of London  Kate Rhodes- Crossbones Yard  J.P. Delaney- The Girl Before  Rory Clements- Corpus   Su Bristow- Sealskin  SJI Holliday- The Damselfly  Orlando Ortega-Medina- Jerusalem Ablaze

I was mightily impressed by Paradise City by Joe Thomas, which takes us deep into the throbbing heart of Sao Paulo, Brazil, and the violent favela known as Paraisopolis. Low ranking detective Mario Leme drives through this favela everyday, as this is where his wife, Renata, a lawyer, was gunned down a year previously, the victim of a bala perdida– a stray bullet. One morning at the same spot, Leme witnesses a car careering out of control, but sees that the driver has several bullet wounds, although the incident is written off as a traffic accident. Leme finds himself embroiled in a tale of murder and corruption at the highest level, which puts him at odds with his superiors, and onto a dangerous path. What I liked most about this book was the colour and exuberance that Thomas injects into his vivid realisation of the pulsating favela, albeit suffused by violence. There is a wealth of local vernacular sprinkled throughout the book, and for those, like myself, who know little of Brazil, Thomas paints a broad and wide reaching picture of the social and financial chasm that exists between the different stratum of San Paulo society. Also, Leme, is an incredibly empathetic character, regularly overcome and clouded by grief by the loss of his wife, but also portrayed throughout as a decent man, a fair detective, and more importantly feeling his way back to normality, and the recovery of a life torn apart. Highly recommended.

(With thanks to Arcadia Books for the ARC)

Having made a new year’s resolution to myself that I would endeavour to read more historical crime fiction, I was made aware of E. S. Thomson and Beloved Poison by one of my bookselling colleagues, who couldn’t recommend it highly enough. Set in the crumbling St Saviour’s Infirmary in the 1850’s the story centres on Jem Flockhart, an apothecary’s daughter who disguises herself as a man to practice her medicinal craft. It is a world of stinking wards, visceral medical procedures, and professional rivalries. As the demolition of the hospital looms, six tiny coffins are discovered, which provide a strong link to Jem’s past, and as a series of murders ensue, she finds herself in terrible danger. I thought this was a terrifically bawdy romp, with a host of beautifully named characters that Dickens would be proud of. Thomson’s precise and graphic description of the disinterment of bodies from the graveyard attached to the hospital,  the medical practices of this time, and the detail of the more natural cures available to apothecaries of the era, were rich and lively in a darkly delicious way, bringing a colour and vivacity to the whole affair. This worked perfectly in tandem with a well plotted and sporadically shocking plot, as Thomson so adroitly immerses us in a tale of murder, sex and jealousy peopled by blundering doctors, whores, sharp tongued servants, and the wonderfully empathetic Jem herself, disguised as a man with the necessary toughness of demeanour, but at the mercy of her finer feelings as a woman. I fair scuttled through this one, with its colourful characters, menacing atmosphere and brilliant period detail. Sordid, rumbustious and totally enjoyable. Highly recommended.

(I bought this copy of Beloved Poison)

I cannot resist the allure of a new title from Chris Carter (One By One,   An Evil Mind ) and his dynamite pairing of detectives Robert Hunter and Carlos Garcia of the LAPD. Once again in The Caller our intrepid duo are drawn into the nasty world of another completely loco serial killer, who operates via the world of social media, exacting some wonderfully visceral, and cruel and unusual punishments on his victims and those closest to them. Throw in a hitman looking for revenge on the killer too, whilst hoping to dodge the radar of Hunter and Garcia, and what Carter dishes up is a spine chilling, violent, read in one sitting (in subdued lighting if you dare) serial killer thriller with some very nasty surprises indeed. Typical Carter fare, but highly enjoyable nonetheless.

(With thanks to Simon and Schuster for the ARC)

Raven’s Book of the Month

Without a single moment of doubt, hesitation or procrastination, it can only be…

sealskin

Mesmeric and lyrical writing, weaving a folkloric tale

that will enchant you from beginning to end. 

 

 

 

#BlogTour- Su Bristow- Sealskin

sealskinWhat happens when magic collides with reality? Donald is a young fisherman, eking out a lonely living on the west coast of Scotland. One night he witnesses something miraculous and makes a terrible mistake. His action changes lives – not only his own, but those of his family and the entire tightly knit community in which they live. Can he ever atone for the wrong he has done, and can love grow when its foundation is violence?

Prepare to be completely entranced by Sealskin, a mystical and emotive novel by debut author, Su Bristow. Set in a small fishing community on the west coast of Scotland, Bristow weaves a magical tale tinged with sadness, regret and violence drawing on the traditional folkloric stories of shape-changing Selkies, and their mesmeric effect on the hapless men that encounter them. One such man is Donald Macfarlane, a formerly quiet and naïve individual, who experiences a phenomenal change of character to forcibly abduct a young Selkie woman, and integrate her into his family and community. What transpires is a story, that in its seeming simplicity, explores many threads of human nature, and the real meaning of community, family and love…

I was instantly held in the swirling, mystical air of this story, and quickly developed an instant feeling of empathy or strong dislike for the characters contained within it. The way that Bristow explores the changes that Mairhi’s arrival in this close knit community, and on those who dwell within it, is a constant source of enjoyment throughout the book. Mairhi’s influence on a whole array of individuals, for better or worse, exposes some real schisms in the community, and behaviour that was previously overlooked or accepted comes to be exposed as truly the opposite. There is a real growing in strength in some of the female characters in particular, and by the same token, a noticeable reigning in of the arrogant and violent behaviour of some of the male residents. The way Bristow leaves her without verbal communication allows us to view her as a human prism through which other’s behaviour is seen and judged, and although not wholly childlike she does have this aura about her. The changes she brings to Donald’s character in particular is striking, exposing a man formerly crippled by insecurity in a community where masculinity is prized, who grows in stature and confidence as he builds a life with her.  In the day to day lives of the village’s inhabitants, Bristow carefully navigates the realm of the real and the spiritual, drawing in the themes of the tough existence of the fishermen, the influence of religion in the community, and the adherence to the old ways of natural cures and respect for the traditional. This is very strong in Donald’s mother, Bridie, who practices, and is regularly called on for, her craft in traditional cures,  and the community as a whole exposes division and suspicion roughly drawn along the lines of those who subscribe to the retaining of tradition and those that embrace the folkloric. Hence, the arrival of Mairhi, is cause for further suspicion, moments of violence, and an eventful and emotional journey to some degree of acceptance for more than one character along the way.

Bristow’s portrayal of the bleak and wild coastal landscape is never less than perfect, reflecting the extremes of weather and seasonal changes that impact on this small community and shape their lives. The changeable spirit of the ocean that punishes or provides in equal measure is at the heart of this story, and the author’s descriptions of this windswept terrain, flora and fauna is vivid and tangible to the reader. Whether it is the cries of the seals, the raging of the sea, the hostility of winter, or the blooming promise of spring, the descriptions consistently arouse our senses and form bright, vivid pictures in the mind.

It’s been a while since I have been utterly lost in a book, but Sealskin produced this very effect. Set apart by its difference in subject to much of modern fiction, it held me totally in its grip, and the ending was something special and unexpected too. A book that is tinged with sadness, but utterly magical too. Highly recommended.

(With thanks to Orenda Books for the ARC)

Catch up with, or continue to follow the blog tour at these excellent sites:

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