#BlogTour- Johana Gustawsson- Block 46

Falkenberg, Sweden. The mutilated body of talented young jewellery designer, Linnea Blix, is found in a snow-swept marina. Hampstead Heath, London. The body of a young boy is discovered with similar wounds to Linnea’s. Buchenwald Concentration Camp, 1944. In the midst of the hell of the Holocaust, Erich Hebner will do anything to see himself as a human again. Are the two murders the work of a serial killer, and how are they connected to shocking events at Buchenwald? Emily Roy, a profiler on loan to Scotland Yard from the Canadian Royal Mounted Police, joins up with Linnea’s friend, French true crime writer Alexis Castells, to investigate the puzzling case. They travel between Sweden and London, and then deep into the past, as a startling and terrifying connection comes to light…

Carefully weaving together the feel of Nordic noir, the heightened emotional sensitivity of French fiction, an unflinching reprisal of the darkest days of WW2, and the hunt for a serial killer, Block 46 proves itself an utterly compelling and harrowing read. Already the recipient of two prestigious writing prizes, Johana Gustawsson artfully balances these contrasting strands throughout, taking the reader on a journey to the darkest recesses of the human psyche…

For the purposes of my review, I will not dwell too extensively on the plot, for as readers this will unfold and immerse you with its beautifully connecting strands at a more than satisfying pace. What held me totally in its thrall, and exhibits so perfectly Gustawsson’s craft as a writer is her placing of her characters under extreme pressure, and their will to survive, and their resilience in these conditions. Obviously drawing on her own personal, familial history, the scenes centred on the  Buchenwald camp in the midst of the Holocaust, are perhaps the most conscious example of this with the focus on the story of Erich Ebner. As he navigates the fragile line between life and death in the inhumane and brutal conditions of Buchenwald, we observe a man who seeks to keep his humanity, and survive this torturous daily existence. He becomes inveigled with Doktor Fleischer in Block 46 ‘the antechamber to death’ a place of grim experimentation , where the reader is confronted with the harsh realities of Fleischer’s madness, but allows Ebner some safe passage through the unrelenting cruelty of life in Buchenwald. These sections of the book, and how they resonate in the contemporary timeline,  more than any other cause us to question not only Ebner’s motivations for survival, but to a degree if we could make the same decisions, and denial of our own moral compass to survive. I like the way that Gustawsson keeps this deliberately ambiguous, allowing her readers to step into this space, and to question themselves in the light of Ebner’s actions.  For me this unflinching portrayal of life in Buchenwald, and how it impacts so dramatically on the contemporary plot was exceptional in both its composition and description, testing the reader, and daring us to both look away, but also to question ourselves. The writing is never less than powerfully understated and intuitive, drawing us into a moral maze of psychological darkness.

This theme of survival and resilience is also played out to a lesser extent certainly, but as effectively, in Gustawsson’s contemporary female protagonists, criminal profiler Emily Roy and true crime writer Alexis Castells. Both women have lives touched by events or personal traits that have hampered their connection with others, with both exhibiting coping strategies to navigate the worlds they move in. Castells has been subject to a personal loss, which has sparked her career delving into the lives of people touched by brutal crime themselves, and as much as she inhabits this world so professionally and objectively, has found herself closed down from emotional personal relationships. Emily Roy, on the other hand is as removed from others by her single-mindedness and unique character traits which fit her chosen profession as a criminal profiler perfectly, but again sees her isolation from responding to others on a more emotional level. I liked the way that Gustawsson ascribed these women with this equal feeling of isolation, and how their seeming points of difference, are in fact so strikingly similar, and greatly enjoyed how these were explored in the course of this testing investigation.

There is a real feeling of all things to all people about Block 46, particularly for readers who like to be challenged and confronted with the less than unpalatable truths of human morality. The subtle weaving of powerful emotion, murderous intent and the tracking of a deranged killer, all underscored by Gustawsson’s influence of French and Scandinavian fiction, all co-exists and blends perfectly into a brave and beautifully realised book. Disturbing and compelling, Block 46 is an intensely unique read. Highly recommended.

(With thanks to Orenda for the ARC)

 

Catch up with the blog tour at these excellent sites:

A Deadly Trio- Domenic Stansberry- The White Devil, Carl-Johan Vallgren- The Tunnel, Steinar Bragi-The Ice Lands

The chilling story of a young American woman in Rome, an aspiring actress, who- together with her brother- is implicated in a series of murders dating back to her childhood. She plays a deadly game, alternately intimate and distant, a cipher of unwholesome impulse, and erotic intrigue…

My, my, my, what a dark and sordid tale of jealousy, desire, and cold-blooded murder this proved to be… and I absolutely loved it. With a down-to-the-bone, spare prose style, so resonant of the American hardboiled noir tradition, and scenes that would not be out of place in a Fellini classic, The White Devil is quite simply perfect in its execution. As we become more deeply entwined with this ice-cold female narrator, Victoria, who slowly reveals her tangled and murderous early history, and the strange dynamics at play in her relationship with her brother Johnny, I began to fear more and more for the unsuspecting individuals whom they set in their sights. The book has the pace and sudden shock value of pure classic Hitchcock, and indeed there is a superb visual quality to Stansberry’s writing, as he leads us amongst the upper echelons of Italian society, the starry world of the movies, and the dimly lit and dangerous streets, that lay behind the glamourous façade of Rome.

In addition, Stansberry draws on themes of politics, religion, and money, drawing on the marked differences, and frames of reference, that Victoria and Johnny as Americans abroad harbour, sharply putting into focus their new world gaucheness, and drive to succeed at any cost,  both to themselves or others. I loved the style of Stansberry’s writing, both in its tautness, and, at times, supreme subtlety, and the eminently unlikeable cast of characters with their selfish intentions, or inherent stupidity, exposed as the dastardly Victoria and Johnny inveigle themselves into their world. Woe betide them…

Hardboiled noir to die for. Highly recommended.

(With thanks to Molotov Editions for the ARC)

 

Private investigator Danny Katz is trying to track down his former drug dealer. Ramón and his girlfriend Jenny have both vanished leaving behind a lot of unanswered questions. How come Ramón suddenly found himself in possession of the mother-load of drugs? And is Jenny really who she claims to be?

Katz’s investigation leads him to the darkest corners of Stockholm’s porn industry and once again his old addiction threatens to control him. Ultimately only one thing seems certain – someone is willing to do whatever it takes to keep Katz from discovering the brutal truth…

What begins as a seemingly ordinary crime heist novel, The Tunnel quickly evolves into a multi-layered and very enjoyable Sweden set thriller, driven by the archetypal social analysis, and strong characterisation that defines Scandinavian crime fiction. As the individual stories of its three main protagonists and friends, Jorma, a  career criminal, Katz, a reformed drug addict, and Eva, an emotionally troubled woman who works for the police, play out, Vallgren draws us into a sordid world of sex trafficking and violence.

For me, Vallgren’s portrayal of these three contrary, but nonetheless totally appealing characters, is the lynchpin for the enjoyment of the book, and I found myself utterly engaged with them throughout. There is a nice sense of balance in their characterisation as they are not all paragons of virtues, finding themselves susceptible to their own singular vices and desires, and with Katz in particular Vallgren is given the opportunity to explore Swedish society, and to draw on the Jewish roots of his character to spin the story off in another direction. The central plot is unsettling, bleak and exposes the seedy underbelly of drug addiction and the sex industry, and the manipulation of those who find themselves caught up in, or profiting from this nefarious trades. I also liked the ending that is not neatly tied up with a bow, but instead is quite bleak and uncertain. Vallgren is the closest writer I have found to Cilla and Rolf Bjorland (Spring Tide, Third Voice) who also specialise in social realism, and troubled-but-empathetic characters, and will now be hastily backtracking to read the first book by him, The Boy In The Shadows. A top Scandi-noir recommendation from me.

(With thanks to Quercus for the ARC)

 

Set against Iceland’s volcanic hinterlands, four thirty-somethings from Reykjavik – the reckless hedonist Egill; the recovering alcoholic Hrafin; and their partners Anna and Vigdis – embark on an ambitious camping trip, their jeep packed with supplies.

Victims of the financial crisis, the purpose of the trip is to heal both professional and personal wounds, but the desolate landscape forces the group to reflect on the shattered lives they’ve left behind in the city. As their jeep hurtles through the barren land, an impenetrable fog descends, causing them to suddenly crash into a rural farmhouse.

Seeking refuge from the storm, the group discover that the isolated dwelling is inhabited by a mysterious elderly couple who inexplicably barricade themselves inside every night. As past tensions within the group rise to the surface, the merciless weather blocks every attempt at escape, forcing them to ask difficult questions: who has been butchering animals near the house? What happened to the abandoned village nearby where bones lie strewn across the ground? And most importantly, will they ever return home?

With a nod to Halloween, felt it right to include The Ice Lands in this wee round-up. I would probably describe this as an existential version of The Blair Witch Project, mixed up with Lost with shades of On The Road. I must confess, that for large portions of the book, including the not the most easily comprehensible ending, I was rather confused at quite what the jiggins was going on. Suffused with the dark, bleak and completely terrifying landscape of rural Iceland, and the creepy inhabitants of a house that I’m fairly sure was not constructed of gingerbread, four unwitting, and not entirely likeable egotistic individuals find themselves privy to a nightmare experience. With enough schlock horror moments to keep you on the edge of the seat, and some not always welcome diversions into the world of scientific academia which were initially quite interesting and then waned, Bragi has constructed a unique blend of traditional shocker, and highbrow horror, that chills and perplexes in equal measure. I was dying throughout for these frankly annoying characters to reach grisly ends, but did they? That would be telling. As much as I was confused by some aspects of this tale, I did make it to the end, having had a sense of enjoyment, and frustration, in equal measure. I think overall I liked it, but at times it was just a little…how can I put this… too much up itself for a totally enjoyable reading experience. Sort of recommended.

(With thanks to Macmillan for the ARC)

 

 

Travels with the TBR #1-Samuel Bjork- I’m Travelling Alone, Helen Cadbury- To Catch A Rabbit, Owen Sheers-I Saw A Man

With the new frustration of a lengthy bus journey now extending my working day, I realised that this actually presents a great opportunity to catch up on some of the 150+ books in my to-be-read pile, alongside new releases. Here are the first three books in a regular series of posts…

bjorkWhen the body of a young girl is found hanging from a tree, the only clue the police have is an airline tag around her neck. It reads ‘I’m travelling alone’. In response, police investigator Holger Munch is immediately charged with assembling a special homicide unit. But to complete the team, he must track down his former partner, Mia Krüger – a brilliant but troubled detective – who has retreated to a solitary island with plans to kill herself. Reviewing the file, Mia finds something new – a thin line carved into the dead girl’s fingernail: the number 1. She knows that this is only the beginning. To save other children from the same fate, she must find a way to cast aside her own demons and stop this murderer from becoming a serial killer…

To be honest, I usually have a slight aversion to thrillers that are constructed so whole-heartedly on the use of coincidence, and moments of sheer implausibility but I’m Travelling Alone managed effectively to keep me in its thrall from start to finish, despite my reservations…

Starting with the characterisation of detective Mia Kruger, the archetypal troubled individual, seemingly intent on ending her life and existing on a toxic cocktail of prescription drugs, that would keep most stout-hearted folks from functioning on any kind of level, she proves herself an empathetic and multi-faceted character. Having so roundly criticised other authors for using this foil before, Kruger’s journey from intense psychological bleakness to her reluctant involvement in a particularly dark murder investigation,  Bjork manages to overcome the reader’s initial scepticism regarding her character, and she was, for me, the reason to keep those pages turning. Likewise, her boss, the shuffling and put-upon Holger Munch, with his nefarious familial problems, conforms to some stereotypical character traits, and the coincidence of him being the father of a six-year old daughter, the age of the murder victims, did toy with the credibility of the reader too. However, for the necessity of the final denouement of the plot, it was understandable that Bjork had to travel this path, and Munch and Kruger, prove themselves an effective team despite their vastly different approaches to their work, and this particular investigation.

I thought the central murder investigation with the trademark Scandinavian darkness was well played out, drawing in themes of religious fanaticism, and I always enjoy a book that points the finger at the supposedly superior state of grace that accompanies those who hold religion dear. In the rural backwoods there are shown to be dark forces at work, leading to a pacey and gripping conclusion to what is a convoluted but nonetheless intriguing investigation for Munch and Kruger, despite a rather clumsy plot twist involving Kruger herself. I’m Travelling Alone is not without fault, but has enough hooks and tricks to hold its appeal throughout, and to entice this reader to read the next in the series. Recommended.

new-rabbitTwo young boys stumble on a dead prostitute. She’s on Sean Denton’s patch. As Doncaster’s youngest community support officer, he’s already way out of his depth, but soon he’s uncovering more than he’s supposed to know. Meanwhile Karen Friedman, professional mother of two, learns her brother has disappeared. She desperately needs to know he’s safe, but once she starts looking, she discovers unexpected things about her own needs and desires. Played out against a gritty landscape on the edge of a Northern town, Karen and Sean risk losing all they hold precious…

First of all, big kudos to Helen Cadbury, for introducing us in to the world of the Police Community Support Officer, a role oft neglected in the consciousness of not only the British public, but also in the world of crime writing. I immediately liked Sean Denton, with his charming mix of at times wide-eyed innocence, underscored by his strong sense of morality and his determination to see justice served for the victim. This combination of traits that Cadbury instils in his character is absolutely central to the manipulation of the reader’s empathies throughout, and also gives Cadbury scope to show how far Denton progresses professionally in the course of this thorny and sensitive investigation. I also liked the comparison we see in Denton’s character between his professionalism and intuitiveness when donning the uniform, and his hesitant and quite frankly clumsy efforts in matters of the heart. By so effectively balancing these two sides of her central protagonist, you feel as a reader a truthfulness and authenticity to the character, which enhances your reading pleasure. Similarly with the character of Karen Friedman, we encounter a woman who is doggedly searching for answers regarding her brother’s disappearance, and Cadbury takes time to push the boundaries of Karen’s character, drawing her into a criminal world, and testing her resolve as a professional, working at a migrant’s advice centre, and as a wife and mother. Cadbury really puts Karen through the wringer, but never to the point of incredulity, and I found her a particularly likeable character. Her husband, though, has less to recommend him…snake in the grass.

Drawing on the sensitive subject of immigration in the UK , Cadbury keeps a balance and fairness in her portrayal of this subject throughout, without the mealy-mouthed hand-wringing liberalism, that tends to afflict modern British fiction. Cadbury presents the desperation and exploitation of the immigrant community with an almost detached air of realism, that makes their plight all the more affecting, and allows her readers to be gently drawn into to the salient plot-lines that focus on this, while keeping solidly within the bounds of objectivity. This thought-provoking, and extremely well delineated plot carries the book along to a gripping conclusion, with many moments of tension along its way.

Hence, To Catch A Rabbit neatly straddles the bounds of crime thriller and police procedural punctuated by the  feel of contemporary social fiction. Am already eyeing up the second instalment, Bones In The Nest, in my to-be-read pile. Highly recommended.

sheersAfter the sudden loss of his wife, Michael Turner moves to London to start again. Living on a quiet street in Hampstead, he develops a close bond with the Nelson family next door: Josh, Samantha and their two young daughters. The friendship at first seems to offer the prospect of healing, but then a devastating event changes all their lives, and Michael finds himself bearing the burden of grief and a terrible secret.

Okay so not strictly speaking a crime book, but is billed to possess ‘a dark psychological edge’ and have heard comments glowingly positive, and exceedingly negative about this one. I will concede that  the first half of this book held me firmly in its tentacles, and flipping the action from the leafy London suburbs to heat scorched America and the military storyline, I Saw A Man was shaping up to be a terrific read. I was genuinely drawn into the grief-filled world of Michael, and the pernicious military action that had caused his wife’s death. I was also enjoying the intriguing build up of tension as Michael made his way through a neighbour’s house one hot summer’s day, and had even mange to overcome my working class aversion to posh people who do fencing, and my dislike of the name Josh.  And then within two pages it lost me. Totally. With one of the weakest plot contrivances I have encountered for many a year, this formerly well-written and engaging book, waved goodbye to the Raven, as the writing became overwhelmingly overwritten, and any previously held empathy disappeared in a flurry of florid prose. I read the last two chapters to confirm my suspicions at how this tortured storyline would play out. And it did. Oh dear…

 

 

 

 

  

 

 

 

 

Kevin Wignall- A Death In Sweden

oRDkfvQySUDan Hendricks is a man in need of a lifeline. A former CIA operative, he is now an agent for hire by foreign powers on the hunt for dangerous fugitives. It’s a lethal world at the best of times, and Dan knows his number is almost up. His next job could be his last—and his next job is his biggest yet.

The target sounds trackable enough: Jacques Fillon, who gave up his life trying to save a fellow passenger following a bus crash in northern Sweden. But the man was something of an enigma in this rural community, and his death exposes his greatest secret: Jacques Fillon never existed at all.

Dan is tasked with uncovering Fillon’s true identity—but can he do so before his own past catches up with him?

I have the ‘dubious’ pleasure of knowing Mr Wignall, so as he thrust a copy of this into my hand with an entirely understated personal dedication…

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how could I refuse to read and review it? And I did indeed ‘quite like it’.

Oh.

That’s not enough really is it?

You want to know more?

Okay.

With its intriguing opening centring on a bus crash in Sweden, Wignall then envelops us in a tale of a deniable CIA operative on the run, with a truly international feel as the story effortlessly pivots across different locations,  and many moments of betrayal and mortal peril. There is a tightness and simplicity to the writing that will utterly suck you in, the evidence of this being that I pretty much read this in one sitting, completely hooked on the pace and plot twists that come at you with an alarming rate. Wignall always demonstrates a heightened sense of the visual in his books, and there is a real screenwriter’s feel to the book throughout, which proves priceless to engaging the reader’s attention. I also liked the host of contradictions that lay within the character of Dan Hendricks himself, a man shaped by the less savoury activities of his professional life as a CIA operative with particularly dark abilities, but who when seeing former associates systematically eliminated to protect some dangerous secrets, exhibits a degree of nobility seemingly at odds with his dispassionate attitude to life and death. This raises some interesting questions on the issue of morality, and thus enables Wignall to raise the book above the normal narrative of a conspiracy thriller. The dialogue is sharp and punchy throughout (again adding to the overall pace of the book) and there’s a more than satisfying quotient of violence as the plot progresses, and the extent of the conspiracy against Hendricks unveils itself.

I quite liked it. Think you will too.

(With thanks to the author for the review copy)

 

 

 

A Quick Round-Up- Clare Carson, Hans Olav Lahlum, David Lagercrantz, Bram Dehouck, Simon Toyne

With the end of the year so rapidly approaching, and a pretty full-on work schedule to accompany it, thought that instead of just staring at the pile of the books that still need reviewing, I should really be getting on with it. Short and sweet reviews coming up…

carson Jim is a brilliant raconteur whose stories get taller with each glass of whisky. His daughter Sam thinks it’s time she found out the truth about her dad. On holiday in Orkney, Sam spies on Jim as he travels across the island. What has he hidden in the abandoned watchtower? Who is he meeting in the stone circle at dusk? And why is he suddenly obsessed with Norse myths? As Sam is drawn into Jim’s shadowy world, she begins to realise that pursuing the truth is not as simple as it seems.

I heard Clare Carson speaking at a crime event earlier this year, and at last have read her debut thriller, Orkney Twilight and what a rare treat it was. From the outset I found myself completely involved in the unique father-daughter relationship between the shadowy and almost unknowable Jim and the feisty and sharp witted Sam. I loved the way that Carson explores their relationship throughout the book, as their paths of trust and mutual empathy converge and diverge, as the secrets that Jim carries, in his work as an undercover police officer, begin to impact on Sam, as she seeks to discover more about her father. The interactions and dialogue that Carson conjures around them is made all the more powerful by the invisible gaps that have appeared through long periods of estrangement, and there is a real sense of two people so utterly alike behaving as if the opposite was true. I was utterly entranced from start to finish, not only by the strength of the characterisation, with a relatively small cast of protagonists, and the engaging plot, but by the lyrical quality of the prose, underscored by the allusions to Norse myth and Scottish folklore and the beautiful realisation of location throughout. There is a subtle claustrophobia woven into the book, not only in the realms of human understanding, but played out cleverly at odds under the large skies of the Scottish isles that hold sway over much of the action. Outstanding.

(I bought this copy of Orkney Twilight)

human-flies-978144723276601Oslo, 1968. Ambitious young detective Inspector Kolbjørn Kristiansen is called to an apartment block, where a man has been found murdered. The victim, Harald Olesen, was a legendary hero of the Resistance during the Nazi occupation and at first it is difficult to imagine who could have wanted him dead. But as Detective Inspector Kolbjørn Kristiansen (known as K2) begins to investigate, it seems clear that the murderer could only be one of Olesen’s fellow tenants in the building. Soon, with the help of Patricia – a brilliant young woman confined to a wheelchair following a terrible accident – K2 will begin to untangle the web of lies surrounding Olesen’s neighbours; each of whom, it seems, had their own reasons for wanting Olesen dead. Their interviews, together with new and perplexing clues, will lead K2 and Patricia to dark events that took place during the Second World War.

Again, I’m a little late to the party with this one, but having already purchased the next two in the series, Satellite People and The Catalyst Killing, shortly after finishing this, you can tell I was impressed. With a more than obvious nod to the heyday of the Golden Age, Lahlum has cooked up a wonderful blend of Christie-esque plotting, with a traditional locked room mystery. With the action centred on an Oslo apartment block with its finite number of inhabitants, Lahlum carefully constructs a tale of secrets, lies and totally captures the whole notion of the sins of the past resonating in the present. As each inhabitants true character and devilish motivations for murder come to the fore in the course of the investigation, Lahlum invites us to play detective along with K2 to uncover a murderer. The writing is crisp, playful at times, and exceedingly dark at others. Although I did guess the killer relatively early on in the book, I did enjoy the little twists in the narrative which did make me doubt the cleverness of my own deductions, and with the formidable duo of keen detective, and his wonderfully barbed relationship with the spiky, but keenly intelligent Patricia was a joy to read. Excellent.

(I bought this copy of The Human Flies)

9780857053503 Lisbeth Salander and Mikael Blomkvist have not been in touch for some time. Then Blomkvist is contacted by renowned Swedish scientist Professor Balder. Warned that his life is in danger, but more concerned for his son’s well-being, Balder wants Millennium to publish his story – and it is a terrifying one. More interesting to Blomkvist than Balder’s world-leading advances in Artificial Intelligence, is his connection with a certain female superhacker. It seems that Salander, like Balder, is a target of ruthless cyber gangsters – and a violent criminal conspiracy that will very soon bring terror to the snowbound streets of Stockholm, to the Millennium team, and to Blomkvist and Salander themselves.

Regular visitors to my blog have probably noticed my reticence to review more of the widely hyped and talked about books of the year, and such was the case with this book on its release. With a torrent of global reviews, and probably the most talked about book of the year, resurrecting the ghost of the marvellous Stieg Larsson, I will just add a little note on my experience of the book. As the start of a proposed trilogy, and the brilliant premise of keeping Lisbeth and Mikael away from each other as long as possible in the course of the book, Lagercrantz truly grabbed the bull by the horns in seeking to emulate Larsson’s writing style. I was very convinced by it, and felt he really captured the flow and narrative style of one of the most compelling and much loved crime thriller trilogies that Europe has produced. I thought the author captured the nuances of character, socio-political concerns and pure narrative tension so resonant of the original books. There were some nice little allusions to previous events, and the quirks in the relationship between Lisbeth and Mikael that we are so familiar with throughout. The plot was well-crafted, intelligent and exposed some hidden aspects of the scientific and social media worlds in a thought provoking and highly interesting way, whilst never losing sight of keeping the continuity and feel of the original books. Highly recommended.

(With thanks to Maclehose Press for the ARC)

ssSeasons come and go in provincial Blaashoek, where the town’s superficial harmony is upended by the arrival of a wind park – a blessing for some, a curse for others. The irritating hum of the turbines keeps butcher Herman Bracke, known far and wide for his delicious ‘summer paté’, awake at night. He falls prey to a deadly fatigue and gradually loses control over his work, setting off a series of blood-curdling events, with fatal consequences for the townspeople. Life in Blaashoek will never be the same again.

Now it’s time for one of my weird and wonderful discoveries in the world of bijou but perfect European crime thrillers. Winner of the Golden Noose and the Knack Hercule Poirot Readers’ Prize, this is a twisted little tale of country folk in the small community of Blaashoek. An early warning should be given that despite its brevity this is not a read for the faint of heart or the weak of stomach! It’s bloody, blunt, scatological in detail, and near the knuckle, but with a charming echo of the style and black humour of my much beloved Pascal Garnier, I couldn’t resist it (albeit with some squirming in my seat whilst reading). The characters are perversely charming, but brutally despatched at regular intervals, and I loved Dehouck’s construction of this small community with its petty jealousies, suspicions and the dark events that ensue as modern technology encroaches on their closed lives. It’s like the blackest version of Midsomer Murders you could possibly imagine, infused with the dark, psychological tinge of the finest Scandinavian crime fiction, and I loved it. Yes I did. Loved it.

(With thanks to World Editions Ltd for the ARC)

And finally…

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A plane crashes in the Arizona desert.

One lone figure emerges alive from the wreckage.

He has no memory of his past, and no idea of his future.

He only knows he must save a man.

But how do you save someone who is already dead?

I am now going to admit to a serious, but entirely flattering from of blog envy. On its release many of us participated in the blog tour for Solomon Creed, with a series of interviews, guest posts by Mr Toyne as well as a plethora of reviews. Having posted a guest article as part of the tour, I was more than ready to commit my own views on the book to screen, but then I read this review by Matt at  Readerdad.co.uk Not only is this one of my favourite reviews by a fellow blogger it’s been my pleasure to read this year, but it also so closely mirrors my own thoughts on the book, that it seems foolish to submit a pretty identical review! Like Matt, I was totally swept up in the location of the book, the unerring mystery surrounding the enigmatic central character of Solomon himself, and held in thrall by Toyne’s interweaving of religious precepts and the feel of the book as a reworking of Solomon as an ‘everyman’  fused with medieval quest, that so powerfully defines the canon of English literature. It is a masterful and intelligent thriller, with slight echoes of Stephen King and Lee Child, but still set apart from these and others that populate the current thriller market that you are in for a treat. Hats off to Mr Toyne once again and take a bow sir….

(With thanks to Mr Toyne waylaid in a hotel foyer for the ARC)

 

 

 

 

 

Cilla and Rolf Borjlind- Third Voice

516Hfm+VA8L__SX324_BO1,204,203,200_Samira is dead. She died last night. But now she is looking down over the roofs of Marseille. She remembers how he strangled her, how he bashed in her skull with an ashtray. How he cut off her head and buried her body in six different places. She hopes someone will find her…some day.Olivia Ronning is still struggling to come to terms with her brutal entry into the world. Cut from the womb of her murdered mother, with only seconds to spare, she is left with haunting dreams, brutal feelings and guilt. When Olivia’s friend Sandra Sahlmann discovers her father’s body hanging in the hall of their house, the police initially assume suicide. But something doesn’t sit right. Having veered away from her budding career as a police office, Olivia knows she should leave this alone – but she is just too close to this case, it’s personal now. Bengt Sahlmann’s suicide/murder lands on Mette Olsater’s desk. Tom Stilton is dragged into Samira’s murder, following a personal request from Abbas. And Olivia for her part can’t let Sandra’s questions go unanswered. The three investigations seem bound to cross paths. Will they all be able to put their former disagreements and personal demons aside and work together to solve their cases – and prevent further people from dying?

Counting myself very lucky that as a bookseller and reviewer I have a never-ending source of books, sometimes the teetering to-be-read pile works against me. Consequently, this is a book that got lost in the mix, but saints be praised that I prised it out after a lengthy hiatus in the books to-be-read mountain! With their previous book Spring Tide having made such an impression on me, and being one of my Top 5 books of last year, Third Voice is the second in the series to feature the terrier-like Olivia Ronning, ex-detective and former street dweller, Tom Stilton and police detective Mette Olsater, With the events of the previous book having caused such rifts in their relationships, Third Voice rejoins them with their lives having taken different turns…

After the thrilling perfection of Spring Tide, the Borjlinds once again draw on their screenwriting credentials (Arne Dahl’s Intercrime, Beck, Wallender) to produce a flawless addition in the shape of Third Voice. Exhibiting their writing versatility with the dual locations of Stockholm and Marseilles, they weave a tale of murder, uprooted loyalties, and sadness that kept me in its thrall from the prologue onwards.

Drawing on pretty much every single one of the seven deadly sins, evinced through the actions of our heroic protagonists and those that would harm them, this book is redolent with the themes and emotions of human experience. Friendship and loyalties torn apart make for a difficult journey for our young protagonist, Olivia, who once again finds herself embroiled in murder, as an alleged suicide case proves to be anything but, putting her in considerable danger. Ex-detective Tom Stilton, a man whose still waters run very deep indeed, proves his constancy when called upon by his friend Abbas to investigate the brutal murder of his one true love. Feisty and experienced detective Mette Olaster, struggling with her health proves a pivotal force in linking the investigations, and mending some broken bridges. Every single one of these characters are mesmerising, being so fully-formed and displaying such different and mercurial aspects of their characters. They are all imbued with a strong sense of morality, and the initial rifts between them are a source of great emotional soul searching. In fact, I would go far as to say that the construction of their individual identities are more akin to the style of characterisation you see more in literary fiction, as the highs and lows of their unique emotional make up contains pathos, tragedy, resilience and where appropriate moments of dark humour. I love these characters, and more importantly as a reader, I care about them.

With reference again to the Borjlinds screenwriting career, their control of narrative pace and plot reveals is absolutely superb. This is a dark and twisted tale with some very unsavoury aspects indeed, but utterly compelling. Their balance between shining a spotlight on one character’s stream of consciousness (for example the stunning revelations of Abbas’ formative years) is balanced perfectly with sequences of jaw dropping tension, suffused with danger and urgency. The little vignettes of character interactions, are offset by not only the perilous investigations, but by the authors’ finely attuned commentary on the societies these individual function in, with the seedy underbelly of the sex industry suddenly counterbalanced with corruption in the business world. Naturally, with the previous lives of both Stilton and Abbas, and Olivia’s involvement in the shady goings-on in the care industry, another tableau of incisive social comment arises on homelessness, drugs and substandard care of the elderly. When the story moves from Stockholm to Marseilles, the continuity and pinpoint descriptions of the locations concerned never wavers, and both appear totally authentic, containing their own air of menace and deprivation.

Quite simply, this will be one of the most perfect Scandinavian thrillers you could wish to pick up this year. All the elements of the genre we admire, combined with the unique visual quality, seamless dialogue, and narrative edge that the Borjlinds can provide with their television scripting. The characters are believable, fallible, and multi-faceted, and will draw you in from the outset. If you’ve not read Spring Tide, don’t worry as you will learn everything you need to know quickly and simply with some flawless back story. However, I would urge you to seek both of them out. Brilliant.

(With thanks to Hesperus for the ARC)

Blog Tour-Torquil MacLeod- Murder In Malmo- Extract

MinM blog tour picWelcome to day four of the Torquil MacLeod- Murder In Malmo blog tour, where it’s my pleasure to bring you a sneaky peek at the second in this compelling Scandinavian inspired series. I reviewed the first in the series Meet Me In Malmo which introduced us to Swedish detective, Anita Sundström, earlier this year, so pleased to see that she has returned. There are also an additional two books Missing In Malmo and  Midnight In Malmo, so plenty for Scandinavian crime fiction fans to enjoy! So without further ado here is the extract…

PROLOGUE

51KhOVRibVL__SX310_BO1,204,203,200_It was a fine, clear, tranquil evening and there was nothing to hamper his line of fire.  He could see the two women chatting animatedly.  They waved their arms extravagantly as they spoke, to add emphasis to whatever they were discussing.  Their actions were caught in the lights of the entrance to the drab block of apartments.  The whole area was a sea of faceless, formless concrete.  Unimaginative buildings filled with unwanted people. 

Rosengård wasn’t a part of Malmö that he had been to before.  It had taken him time to get his bearings.  To get a feel for the urban terrain; his new war zone.  And he was in enemy territory.   These people weren’t his people.  They were invaders from foreign lands.  Intruders, like these two women in front of the apartment block who were now the centre of his attention.

            He moved further behind the bush.  No one else was around.  He could hear snatches of music and voices coming from televisions because windows were open due to the warmth.  He smelt the faint whiff of cigarette smoke from somewhere nearby; probably someone on a balcony.  But he wasn’t worried about being spotted.  He could deal with any situation.  And he had his favoured large-calibre handgun, which gave him an automatic advantage.

            Now the women seemed to have come to the end of their conversation.  They looked as though they were about to part.  He raised his gun and lined up his targets.  Each of the women was wearing a brightly coloured hijab.  Somehow it made it easier that he couldn’t see their faces clearly.  He would need to shoot quickly as he wanted to hit them both.  His finger hovered gently over the trigger.  He steadied himself. There was now a gap between the women.  He tensed.

            Two shots.  The women silently slumped to the ground.  There was a shout from a nearby window, but he didn’t hear it. He was gone.

CHAPTER 1

The mirror caught Tommy Ekman’s self-satisfied smile.  The brilliant white teeth between open lips were the most obvious sign, but it was the sparkle in the cool blue eyes that really reflected the inner delight.  Despite it being seven in the morning, his eyes weren’t fogged up with sleep.  He had been lying awake for the last half hour.  He had been thinking about her.  Not his wife Kristina, who was staying over at her father’s country place near Illstorp, but Elin.

He took out his toothbrush and squeezed on some toothpaste.  Must keep those teeth looking dazzling.  The smile again.  Yes, he had made love to Elin at last.  Over his office desk.  He had been trying to engineer the opportunity ever since he had employed her as an account executive six months before.  She had rebuffed his advances for a while.  ‘We’re both married,’ had been her defence strategy.  He started to brush his teeth vigorously without ever losing sight of himself in the mirror.  But last night he had breached her fortifications.  His advertising agency had won that important pitch.  Elin had led the successful team.  They had broken out the champagne in his office.  Others had slipped away over the next hour or so until they were the only ones left.  Elin was a little high on her first big success with the agency.  From then on, it hadn’t been that difficult to get into her knickers.  Even he had been surprised at how easily she had succumbed.  He would give her the rise he had pantingly promised her shortly before he had manoeuvred her onto his desk – but only as long as she was happy to provide “extracurricular” services to the boss.

Tommy rinsed out his mouth.  He would still have to be careful with Kristina.  He wouldn’t want her to find out.  Her money was still useful – and her father’s business contacts.  He didn’t want to rock the domestic boat, though he found it harder to make love to Kristina these days, despite the fact she was still an attractive woman.  Maybe it was familiarity that had led to boredom on his part, or perhaps because she hadn’t been as interested in the physical side of their relationship since the kids arrived.  But the business was doing well, despite all the economic doom-mongers.  Still, he didn’t want her to take him to the cleaners.

Kristina’s father had been useful with the “group”, too.  Given him a foot up.  Now he had cemented his place with his strategy ideas.  They had gone down very well.  One of the suggestions had been acted upon within a week.  And the film had been a real success.  He was confident that he would be running the show very soon.  Then the “group” would make people sit up. On this beautiful, sunny May morning, life couldn’t get any better.

He slipped off his pyjama bottoms and admired his naked figure in the mirror.  He was still finely toned, despite all the client business lunches.  And he still had stamina.  Just ask Elin.  Once aroused, she had been very accommodating.  He was still laughing to himself when he stepped into the spacious wet room cubicle, closed the door and flipped on the shower.  It sprang into life, and he tilted his head upward and enjoyed the hard spray of hot, refreshing water hitting his face.  It was invigorating.  As he soaped his body, his mind began to wander again.  Back to Elin.  It had been so exciting.  That triumphant moment of conquest.  He could feel the first stiffening in his groin.  It was only as he put the soap back in its cradle that he became aware of a strange tingling in his throat.  He looked down at the silver circular outflow cover on the floor beneath his feet.  The water was running out as usual, but something didn’t seem quite right.  His head began to swim and he started to feel giddy.  His eyes were misting over.

Tommy flapped at the shower tap and the water stopped flowing almost immediately, except for a few final drops.  He swayed in the cubicle, not sure whether he would be able to keep on his feet.  What the hell was happening to him?  With great difficulty, he managed to slide the cubicle doors apart.  In front of him the bathroom was a blurred vision of dancing pale green and blue tiles.  He stumbled out of the cubicle, still dripping wet.  He tried to steady himself against the wash-hand basin, but his grasping fingers missed the edge and he sank to his knees as he retched up some dribbled green saliva and the remnants of last night’s champagne.  Why was his skin so itchy?  Frantically, he ripped at his arms and chest with his nails.  With a huge effort, he half-staggered to his feet and fell forward towards the door of the bedroom.  He didn’t make it and he sprawled on the bathroom floor. He tried to call out for help; not that there was anybody in the apartment to hear him at that time in the morning. But all that came out of his mouth was a fresh burst of vomit.  The dizziness was sickening.  He couldn’t fight it any longer.  Why was this happening?  His throat, his skin, his eyes, his head were all on fire.  He lay in a heap on the floor.  He could feel himself slipping into a void of unconsciousness.  His limbs, totally independent of his fast-evaporating will, gave a last defiant jerk.

Rays of early morning sunshine speared through the frosted glass of the bathroom window like a prism and bathed the dead body of Tommy Ekman in a brilliant light show.  Below the bulging eyes, his mouth was wide open; frozen in the moment in the cry for help that never came out.  The sunlight made his teeth sparkle.

 

CHAPTER 2

Michaela Lindegren yawned.  She didn’t know why, because she had slept soundly all night.  Normally, when Jörgen was away on business she would fret the night away, even though she knew he would be fine.  Maybe it was insecurity.  Now that the children had flown the nest, she had the house to herself, and that never felt quite right.  During the day, she enjoyed the freedom.  At night it was different.  Jörgen was always considerate and phoned from wherever he was to make sure that she was all right.  She always locked up carefully, but perhaps it was the size of the house that made her nervous.  Lots of empty rooms.  That’s why when Jörgen wasn’t there,  she would have the radio on when she went to bed.  Noise was reassuring.  Often she went to sleep with it still playing and would wake up in a fright because she could hear voices. Come daylight, and all the fears would disappear, like the early-morning mist outside their seaside home.  It was going to be another lovely day.  And Jörgen would be back tonight.  His flight into Kastrup Airport was due in the late afternoon.

Michaela wandered into the kitchen and fixed herself a coffee.  Nice and strong.  The perfect lift for the day.  She missed having to make breakfast for the children.  She had enjoyed the routine of fussing over them and making sure they had everything they needed for school that day.  It gave her a role within the family.  She was the organizer.  Now there was very little to organize.  Meals for Jörgen.  Accompanying him to the theatre or one of his business functions.  She had become a trophy wife without the requisite glamour.  Home was her province.  The other wives in their circle were far more sophisticated.  They were up with the latest fashions, knew the names of the trendiest interior designers and chefs, and could drop into any conversation the expensively exotic locations where they had been on holiday, without the slightest hint of humility.  Jörgen could afford to take her to anywhere she wanted, but she was a home bird and he travelled so widely in his work that she was content to stay in Sweden.  So they usually went to the island of Öland, or even closer to home in Österlen, which wasn’t much more than an hour’s drive from Limhamn.

After another coffee and a light breakfast – she wanted to save herself for the special meal she was cooking to welcome Jörgen back – Michaela wandered down the corridor to the front door where she picked up the morning newspaper.  She would have a quick read of it before heading off to the shops.  She walked into the living room.  The curtains were drawn.  As she opened them, a weak sun was trying to penetrate the sea mist.  Soon it would burn it off and it would be a lovely day.  Then the wonderful, sleek lines of the Öresund Bridge, the link between Sweden and Denmark, would emerge.

It was as she turned from the window that she instantly knew something was wrong.  For a moment she couldn’t put her finger on it as she stared at the opposite wall.  She suddenly found herself gasping for air.  It couldn’t be.  She steadied herself against the table.  She looked again.  There was no denying it.  What was Jörgen going to say?  She was now feeling faint.  However hard she stared, it wasn’t going to bring it back.  It had definitely been there when she went to bed last night.

This morning it was gone.

 

71rTjnsEMGL__UX250_Torquil MacLeod was an advertising copywriter for 36 years. Born in Edinburgh, he now lives in Cumbria, with his wife, Susan. He came up with the idea for his Malmö detective, Inspector Anita Sundström, after the elder of his two sons moved to southern Sweden in 2000. MEET ME IN MALMÖ (originally planned as a film script) was published in hardback in 2010. All four Malmö Mysteries are now available as ebooks – the latest being MIDNIGHT IN MALMÖ. The first three (‘Meet me in Malmö’, ‘Murder in Malmö’ and ‘Missing in Malmö’) are being published as paperbacks this year through McNidder & Grace Crime. He has also brought out an historical crime ebook called SWEET SMELL OF MURDER, which is set in the Georgian England of the 1750s. Torquil still makes regular trips to Malmö and Skåne to visit his Swedish family and friends. And he is working on further Anita Sundström stories. Find out more  here

 Visit Torquil MacLeod’s Amazon author page here

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