Oscar de Muriel- A Fever of the Blood

Fever_of_the_BloodNew Year’s Day, 1889. In Edinburgh’s lunatic asylum, a patient escapes as a nurse lays dying. Leading the manhunt are legendary local Detective ‘Nine-Nails’ McGray and Londoner-in-exile Inspector Ian Frey. Before the murder, the suspect was heard in whispered conversation with a fellow patient – a girl who had been mute for years. What made her suddenly break her silence? And why won’t she talk again? Could the rumours about black magic be more than superstition? McGray and Frey track a devious psychopath far beyond their jurisdiction, through the worst blizzard in living memory, into the shadow of Pendle Hill – home of the Lancashire witches – where unimaginable danger awaits…

Having been singularly impressed by de Muriel’s debut, The Strings of Murder, introducing uncouth Scottish detective ‘Nine-Nails’ McGray, and softy Southern detective Ian Frey, there was more than a hint of excitement when A Fever Of The Blood arrived, replete with a raven’s feather- perfect marketing for this blogger. So how did our tenacious, and wonderfully ill-matched detective duo fare in this new instalment of de Muriel’s Victorian inspired series? There is dark witchcraft afoot, and Frey and McGray find themselves in more than a spot of peril…

One of the joys of a second book in a series is to see how the author further develops their characters, and the shades of dark and light they apply to their central protagonists. This is certainly true of this book, as the asperity and bravery of Frey increases in his tussles with his obnoxiousness and fearless counterpart McGray. However, by the same token there is a slight softening of the edges of McGray himself, as details of his family background come into focus, and a new, dare I say it, more touchy feely side is exposed. Yes. What are the odds of that? Admittedly, some switches in their characters can be explained by the dark forces of witchcraft that are at work upon them throughout this murderous adventure, but I liked this little teasing of our perceptions about the pair, that de Muriel has woven into the book. The book is again infused with the crude wit and ripostes of McGray, when frustrated by the buttoned-up protestations of Frey, and these moments of humour are perfectly placed throughout. Equally, in true pantomime style there is a boo-worthy crew of baddies to thwart and torment our heroes, and the grotesque Lady Ardglass makes a reappearance but with little change in her own character- once an old crone, always an old crone- and whose blighted family history lays at the centre of this latest devilish tale. There are evil witches, good witches, lunatic asylum patients and ineffectual policemen, and a wonderful manipulation of our senses as to who is good, who is bad, and who is actually more than a little bit of both. The characterisation is lively, playful, and at times incredibly dark and chilling, and de Muriel balances all these contrasting aspects of his protagonists and antagonists with an assured air.

There is an unrelenting pace to the book as Frey and McGray embark on a game of cat and mouse as they seek to track down asylum escapee Joel Ardglass, offspring of the hideous Lady Ardglass, but find themselves in the sight of some unholy creatures, and a final denouement in the shadows of Pendle, Lancashire, with all its allusions to the famous witchcraft case. Indeed, the majority of the book sees Frey and McGray in a state of frenetic perambulation, led onward by the mysterious green glow of witches’ beacons, and the will o’ the wisp tendencies of their fugitive from justice. It’s fair to say that more than one mishap befalls them along the way, and there are some real nerve-shredding moments as the plot progresses. So in addition to being a real tale of ominous derring-do, there is, as explained by the author’s notes, the careful inclusion of factual reference to witchcraft and its practices in days of yore. Also, de Muriel has taken a little bit of artistic licence drawing on his Mexican heritage, and integrating some little details of the dark arts that herald from his own homeland, which adds to the overall colour and interest of the witchcraft narrative.

So, it’s all deliciously dark, violent and compelling, with new nuances to the characters of, and the relationship between our earthy Scotsman McGray, and his rather reluctant counterpart Frey. There are dark arts, light humour, and a sense of unrelenting excitement and danger. It’s a romp, and a very enjoyable one at that.

(With thanks to Penguin for the ARC)

A Quick Round-Up- Caroline Mitchell- Don’t Turn Around/ Denzil Meyrick- Whisky From Small Glasses/ Barbra Leslie- Cracked

Let’s get the feeble excuse over with first! Currently battling with a very nasty viral illness, which seems to be reluctant to just bugger off. Although amazingly ahead of my reading, am woefully behind on reviews so here’s a quick round-up of books that have emerged from the teetering to-read pile…

9781909490970As D.C. Jennifer Knight investigates a routine stabbing in the quiet town of Haven, she is shocked at what seems like a personal message from beyond the grave.  When more bodies are found, Jennifer is convinced the killings are somehow linked. What she discovers is more chilling than she could possibly imagine. The murders mirror those of the notorious Grim Reaper – from over twenty years ago. A killer her mother helped convict.  Jennifer can no longer ignore the personal connection. Is there a copycat killer at work? Was the wrong man convicted? Or is there something more sinister at play? With her mother’s terrifying legacy spiralling out of control, Jennifer must look into her own dark past in a fight not only to stop a killer – but to save herself and those she loves…

There seems to be a small tide of paranormal tinged crime thrillers appearing at the moment, and having recently read James Nally- Alone With The Dead, I decided to dip my toe into this spooky sub-genre again with Mitchell’s debut thriller, Don’t Turn Around. Drawing on her experiences with the police, and her own encounters with more unexplainable phenomena, Mitchell has produced a perfectly creditable police procedural, underscored by some very dark goings-on indeed. Like Nally’s debut, I was extremely impressed with the book in terms of its characterisation, and DC Jennifer Knight in particular. Not only did she come across as an authentic police officer, but I loved the way that as the timeline gravitated back and forth, we began to see more the her determination to walk in her late mother’s footsteps, and how it influenced her own growth as an accomplished police officer. I enjoyed her interactions with her less dynamic colleague, Will, who lightened the feel of the book overall, and felt their partnership worked well. Unlike many books with the past/present structure, both timelines held my interest equally, and Mitchell carefully dealt with the ramifications of past crimes impacting on the present, and Jennifer’s task of catching a particularly heinous killer. Perhaps due to my natural scepticism of ‘otherworldy’ phenomena I was less enamoured with the supernatural thrust of the story, but to be honest, this didn’t prove a major stumbling block in my enjoyment of the book, as the police investigation was well realised, and overall I felt the book provided a very strong foundation for a potential series.

(I bought this copy of Don’t Turn Around)

51Xpc8S2wRL__SX324_BO1,204,203,200_When the body of a young woman is washed up on an idyllic beach on the west coast of Scotland, D.C.I. Jim Daley is despatched from Glasgow to lead the investigation. Far from home, and his troubled marriage, it seems that Daley’s biggest obstacle will be managing the difficult local police chief, but when the prime suspect is gruesomely murdered, the investigation begins to stall. As the body count rises, Daley uncovers a network of secrets and corruption in the close-knit community of Kinloch, thrusting him and his loved ones into the centre of a case more deadly than he could ever have imagined…

The first of Denzil Meyrick’s series featuring DCI Jim Daley, a Glasgow cop despatched to a small community of the west coast of Scotland to take on a particularly testing murder case in a miasma of secrets and lies. This proved a frustrating read for me, as for at least two thirds of the book I was absolutely hooked. So we’ll start with the good. The characterisation of Daley was brilliant, a bear of a man with a determined and professional stance in relation to the investigation he undertakes, and how he treats his friends and colleagues, but whose weak spot was his feckless and really quite dislikeable wife, Liz who manipulates him at every turn. I particularly loved his right hand man DS Brian Scott, whose gruff Glaswegian persona, worked beautifully in tandem with his boss Daley throughout, and played off (and wound up)  the ‘small town’ cops and residents to great effect. The evocation of location in the fictional community of Kinloch, was equally assured, and there was a vividness and sense of realism throughout in Meyrick’s descriptions of this small coastal community, and the beauty of its surroundings. However, despite the meticulous and engaging plotting of the book up to the last few chapters, I was suddenly struck by those black thoughts of ‘oh no, he’s not going to do that with the plot is he;  that would be really obvious. And annoying’. He did. So I’m afraid that the ending of what had been a really rather impressive tale of murder, drugs, and skulduggery fell a bit flat at the end, and all felt a bit too ITV crime drama for my particular taste. (Which is fine if you want your book to be filmed as an ITV crime drama- ha!)  But nil desperandum and all that, because the combined force of Daley and Scott and their natural bonhomie would definitely entice me to read another in the series. I raise a small glass to this duo…

(I bought this copy of Whisky From Small Glasses)

Cracked_cvrAfter her stormy marriage ends, Danny Cleary jumps down the rabbit hole into a world of crack cocaine delivered to her door by a polite but slightly deranged dealer. But when Danny’s twin sister Ginger is murdered, Danny and her rock musician brother fly to California to find their nephews and the people who killed their sister. Fighting her addiction, nosy cops and crazy drug dealers, she kicks ass and takes names, embracing her inner vigilante in a quest to avenge her sister and save her family…

Right, let’s finish with a bang, and let me introduce you to one of the most mental, high-octane, and fast-paced thrillers I have read for some time. With its mash up of Janet Evanovich and Breaking Bad, Leslie brings us an absolutely brilliant protagonist in the shape of crack addict, Danny Cleary, who doesn’t seek to find trouble, it just naturally gravitates towards her! I loved the emotional opposites that Leslie weaves into her character, with her ballsy, high energy, kick ass attitude so wonderfully melded with a real emotional vulnerability, that she constantly seeks to overcome to avenge her sister’s death. She takes no prisoners, and basically you mess with her at your peril. I fair raced through this book with its punchy, pithy dialogue, and fast moving plot that sees Danny uprooted from the relative safety of Toronto to California, where events escalate at an alarming and dangerous pace. There’s drugs, violence, sadness, more violence, and for much of the book you are blindsided by who’s bad, who’s good with some great reveals at key moments of people’s evil motivations and depravity. I though this was an absolutely cracking read, which left me emotionally spent, but ultimately very fulfilled. A sassy, dark, thoroughly entertaining thriller and highly recommended.

(With thanks to Titan Books for the ARC)

 

 

 

 

 

Oscar de Muriel- The Strings of Murder

 

23257047Edinburgh, 1888. A virtuoso violinist is brutally killed in his home. Black magic symbols cover the walls. The dead man’s maid swears she heard three musicians playing before the murder.But with no way in or out of the locked practice room, the puzzle makes no sense…
Fearing a national panic over a copycat Ripper, Scotland Yard sends Inspector Ian Frey to investigate under the cover of a fake department specializing in the occult. However, Frey’s new boss – Detective ‘Nine-Nails’ McGray – actually believes in such nonsense.
McGray’s tragic past has driven him to superstition, but even Frey must admit that this case seems beyond reason. And once someone loses all reason, who knows what they will lose next…

Regular readers of my reviews should be strongly aware that I very rarely read historical crime fiction despite my love of Poe and Conan Doyle. I rarely stray further back than the 1940’s, so sirens should be sounding that this was something special to tempt me out of my historical boundaries. In the first instance, this was recommended to me by a crime author, and then I had the delight of seeing Oscar de Muriel at the CrimeFest crime writing convention in Bristol recently. Feeding off his enthusiasm and passion for the crime fiction genre, and intrigued by how a young author of Mexican heritage would go about writing a Victorian supernatural thriller set in London and Edinburgh, I couldn’t refuse a read of this one…

The author’s love of, and passion for, Victorian crime fiction comes shining through the book, garnered by his childhood reading, growing up in Mexico, of Sherlock Holmes. He recreates with ease all the sights, smells and atmosphere of London and Edinburgh, as the story pivots between the slums and gentrified locales of both cities during this period. Indeed, sometimes the writing is realistic enough of the lowdown dirty streets, to make your nose wrinkle, as our indomitable detectives, Frey and McGray, navigate their way through the filthy highways and byways, and the equally malodorous residents. Equally, de Muriel perfectly captures the snobbery and superiority of the upper classes, as they become inveigled in this testing investigation, which revolves around ghastly murder, and haunted violins…

The plotting is superb throughout, suffused with all the familiar tropes of a traditional locked room mystery, with a good smattering of red herrings and false alleys along the way. I remained in blissful ignorance of how the crimes were committed until close before the end of the book, and enjoyed the air of ghostly goings-on, and twisting plot reveals that drove the action on throughout. My enjoyment of the book was further compounded by the brilliant characterisation of de Muriel’s ill-matched detective duo. He played them off against each other beautifully, pitting the uptight namby-pamby London detective, Frey against the rough, plain-speaking Scottish detective ‘Nine-Nails’ McGray. The ill tempered banter, and rivalry between the two was beautifully played throughout, even extending the north-south divide to their quibbling servants, and the way that they were perceived by the more well-to-do members of the cast in the course of their investigation. With de Muriel’s liberal use of the Scottish vernacular in the case of McGray, compared with the southern nicety of Frey, their voices rang loud in my head as I was reading, and I learnt some wonderfully earthy Scottish insults along the way! By depicting these two so colourfully throughout the book, there can be little doubt that this partnership will run and run, underscored by the resentment but grudging respect that defines their personal and professional relationship.

Being a musician himself, has also added a terrific sense of realism to the plot in the way that the world of music, and more specifically violins, feature in the story. Drawing on real life virtuosos, esteemed makers of musical instruments, and the fantastical stories that have accompanied some of these instruments along the way, there is an added depth and interest to the central plot, at their role within it. Indeed, a friend of mine, an adept violinist himself, was thoroughly intrigued when I mentioned this book, and was quick to verify the veracity of the facts that de Muriel interweaves into the story. So more brownie points for de Muriel…

So all in all a bit of a find this one, threaded with humour, intrigue, colourful characters, and a real sense of time and place. A very impressive debut, and I cannot await the further adventures of Frey and McGray. A cracking good read, and a case that Holmes himself would love to have flexed his detective skills with.

(I bought this copy of The Strings of Murder and it is published in the UK by PenguinRandomHouse)

 

Just for fun I thought I’d post de Muriel’s biography from his website Oscar de Muriel.com here too. One of the most amusing I have read…

“I was born in Mexico City in 1983, in the building that now houses Ripley’s Believe it or Not museum (some people claim to see a connection there…). I had a very happy childhood even though I did not try refried beans until I was six (I refused to eat anything brown and gooey).

My first attempt at writing stories, aged seven, was a tale about a triceratops and a stegosaurus battling a very hungry T-Rex. Their three-page, ten-line long adventure was profusely illustrated by the author. Stegosaurus was extinct millions of years before the first T-Rex hatched, but I still consider it a milestone.

When I was ten, Jurassic Park (the novel) scared the Jesus out of me – reminiscent of that Friends’ episode where Joey Tribiani hides his books in the fridge (I blogged about that here). I’d never thought that written stories could have such a thrilling effect, and as soon as I got JP out of the freezer I decided I wanted to become a writer.

After a few fiascos and blatant steals, I managed to produce a few decent novels in various genres. However, I found myself particularly comfortable writing historical fiction.

I came to the United Kingdom to complete a PhD in Chemistry, working as a free-lance translator to complement my earnings (I was responsible for some cool Johnnie Walker’s ads for Colombia). During this time I produced a handful of academic papers, and the idea of a spooky whodunit started to take roots in my head.

After several visits to Edinburgh, the city struck me as the perfect setting for a crime mystery. The entire concept of Nine-Nails McGray came to my head while eating pizza with a couple of friends [guys, do you remember Cantina Los Perros and the sea monster?]. For years I’d been meaning to write a story about the Devil’s sonata (I am a violin player myself, which I should have probably mentioned earlier…) and it fit perfectly as McGray’s first case – hopefully the first of many.

I went through the literary agent hunt (I will definitely blog about that some day!) until Maggie Hanbury rescued me from the slush pile and lent me her very professional hand. I currently live in Lancashire in a lovely house that overlooks Pendle Hill, a field of limping sheep, and a very creepy-looking manor I aspire to own one day.”

 

 

The Touched Blog Tour- Guest Post- Joanna Briscoe

 

Joanna BriscoeRaven Crime Reads is pleased to welcome Joanna Briscoe , whose latest novella Touched is out now.  Joanna is the author of Mothers and Other Lovers, Skin and the highly acclaimed Sleep with Me which was published in ten countries and adapted for television.

With her new book,  Touched, Joanna has produced an unsettling and gripping tale set in a small rural community in the 1960’s. Rowena Crale and her family have recently moved into an old house in a small English village. But the house appears to be resisting all attempts at renovation. Walls ooze damp. Stains come through layers of wallpaper. Ceilings sag. And strange noises – voices – emanate from empty rooms. As Rowena struggles with the upheaval of builders while trying to be a dutiful wife to her husband and a good mother to her five small children, her life starts to disintegrate. And then her eldest and prettiest daughter goes missing. Out in the village, a frantic search is mounted – while inside the house reveals its darkest secret: a hidden room with no windows and no obvious entrance. Boarded up, it smells of old food, disinfectant – and death…

Here’s Joanna to tell us more…

JoannaBriscoe_jalden“While I was writing my fifth novel, Touched – a story with a paranormal aspect commissioned by Hammer Books – one of the elements that most fascinated me was that the humans became nastier and the unexplained presences more benign as the novel progressed.

I hadn’t planned for it to work out that way, but though the reader’s tense focus remains on unexplained smells, stains, faces half seen at windows, and an ‘imaginary friend’, what’s really going on beneath that surreal, supernatural surface is that the living, breathing humans are wreaking havoc. The criminals of the piece are the Pollards, a benign seeming couple who undoubtedly do a lot of good and are much loved, but who think they can behave outside the law.

I also set the novel in 1963, when Britain was in time warp of 1950s culture, and when children were still allowed to roam the countryside. My younger characters are allowed a freedom and independence that only a ‘neglected’ child would be granted today, and so there is space and opportunity for dark acts.

The supposedly perfect Hertfordshire village of Crowsley Beck, with its bright grass green, its pretty children and lovely cottages is the setting, and again, I wanted to explore what happens beneath the surface of such an ideal place. The novel deals with physical beauty in terms of both place and person. One of the children, Jennifer, is spectacularly beautiful, but it is that very beauty that provides her downfall.

The crossover of crime and the supernatural was an interesting one for me as a writer. While the spectral suggestions play on minds – or are created by those minds themselves – the real criminals play with actual human lives, with disastrous consequences. Beauty is power, but it can also mean that people lace their frustrated fascination with punishment, with possession, and warp its innocence. Writing Touched made me plunge into some of the darker recesses of my mind and come up with events that surprised me….”

Touched by Joanna Briscoe, published by Hammer, is now out in paperback. To find out more visit Joanna Briscoe’s website at www.joannabriscoe.com . Follow her on Twitter @JoannaBriscoe

 

 

 

 

 

Fancy Some Heebie-Jeebies…

 

_DSC0185 (Common Raven)Having had a temporary break from the world of crime fiction, I’ve recently read three supernatural thrillers. Although peppered with recognisable elements of the crime genre, if, like me, the new year has whetted your desire to read something a little different, these may just hit the spot. Perfect reads to while away the long, winter nights, with a nice smattering of scary bejesus moments…

 

bees R. S. PATEMAN- THE PROPHECY OF BEES Moving to Stagcote Manor was meant to be a fresh start for Lindy and her teenage daughter Izzy. A chance at a new life in the country after things went so wrong in London. But for Izzy it is a prison sentence. There’s something about the house that she can’t quite put her finger on. Something strange and unnerving. As Izzy begins to explore the manor and the village beyond its walls, she discovers the locals have a lot of bizarre superstitions and beliefs. Many of them related to the manor . . . and those who live there. When Izzy begins to investigate the history of the estate, her unease deepens to fear as the house’s chilling past finally comes to light…

Yes, this was an all too familiar storyline- family decamp to spooky old country residence, bumps in the night, nightmare visions, creepy yokels who delight in dropping teasers to the bloody history of new residence etc etc -but for all that, I rather enjoyed this ‘Secret of Crickley Hall-esque’ thriller. To be honest, the familiarity made this an easy, although discomforting read, and although Izzy and her mother were intensely annoying in parts, there was much pleasure to be gained from the local rumour-mongers, who were totally spot on with their characterisation, and added a nice chilling frisson to the whole affair. I also loved the bees. The bees are integral to the plot (and to the future of the human race- take note everyone) and I loved the role of these magical flying soothsayers, within the mystery. Read for the bees if nothing else, and Pateman’s assured building of atmosphere and tension throughout.  The ending’s rather good too…

 

evilPHILIP TAFFS- THE EVIL INSIDE:  On 31 December 1999, Australian advertising creative Guy Russell arrives in New York along with his fragile wife and their young son. A painful tragedy has led them to swap Melbourne for Manhattan, and seek a fresh start. With a new job secured at a thriving midtown agency, and temporary residence obtained in the Upper West Side’s Olcott Hotel – a building with a morbid history of its own – Guy feels that now is the time to lay his troubles to rest. Yet something won’t let him. And as a sinister force from Guy’s past begins to scratch its way back into his present, the behaviour of his son, Callum, also starts to become increasingly disturbing and chilling. As Guy begins to believe that Callum is being possessed by this dark force, others fear he is gradually dispossessing himself of his own sanity. And as Guy grapples with whether the evil tormenting him is in his surroundings, his son, or his own mind, he pushes himself ever closer to the edge…

Again, a fairly familiar premise with a family seemingly haunted by the spirit of a dead child, through the vivid imaginings of the remaining child and so on. However, I rather enjoyed this simplistic tale with Taff’s nice depiction of New York life, a husband in crisis, and a sinister building as a backdrop to the whole affair (The Shining anyone?) As Guy’s mental and physical state deteriorates, to the chagrin of his nearest and dearest, Taffs provides a wholly believable portrait of Guy’s distress, leading us along inch by inch to the causes of his unravelling. The story trotted along at a good pace, and this was a relatively quick and fairly satisfying read.

 

marcusMARCUS SEDGWICK- A LOVE LIKE BLOOD: Paris: August 1944- Charles Jackson, a Captain in the Royal Army Medical Corps is on leave with his commanding officer. A visit to the treasures stored at the Chateau de Saint-Germain-en-Laye, and a horrifying encounter in the dark of the underground bunker, and his life and future are set on a strange and desperate course. Forging his post-war career as a consultant haematologist at Addenbrooks in Cambridge, Jackson returns to Paris as a guest lecturer. A chance sighting of the man he saw in the bunker  awakens his nightmare experience and a twenty year search for justice begins…

I’m quite the fan of the more subtle and intelligent ‘vampire’ fiction that sometimes infiltrates this overburdened genre, much of which is utter tripe. Looking for something on a par with Jasper Kent’s brilliant series, this was a real treat, and I thoroughly enjoyed the historical touches that underscore a completely absorbing thriller. I loved the slightly tongue in cheek humour of Jackson’s later employment as a haematologist, and Sedgwick’s overall razor sharp observations of his protagonist’s individual obsessions with blood. However, what really carried the book for me was Sedgwick’s precise and empathetic portrayal of Jackson’s descent into obsession, capturing perfectly what lengths he will go to in search of justice, with more than a nod to some of the great tropes of Gothic literature that enthral and intrigue us still.

(With thanks to Orion, Quercus and Mulholland Books respectively for the reading copies)