Thomas Mogford- A Thousand Cuts

When a routine court case takes a sinister turn, defence lawyer Spike Sanguinetti starts asking dangerous questions that nobody seems to want answered. Soon, it’s not just the truth that’s at stake: it is everything and everyone that Spike holds precious. As the Gibraltarian sun beats relentlessly down, crimes of the past and present collide, relationships are tested and long-buried secrets exposed. Who can Spike trust? And where do his own loyalties lie?

There are only a handful of authors that I have followed consistently throughout the course of their writing careers, and particularly following established series. As a reader there is always an equal feeling of excitement and dread when you resume reading a series- excited that there is indeed a new book, but an underlying fear that this one won’t be as good as the ones preceding it. Having reviewed the four previous books featuring charismatic Gibraltar based lawyer, Spike Sanguinetti, it was with an angel and a devil on my shoulder that I started reading A Thousand Cuts…

Opening with a tense incident of military sabotage in 1940’s Gibraltar, I knew instantly that my knowledge of Gibraltar’s chequered history would be pleasantly expanded again. When I originally embarked on this series there were only three things I confidently knew about Gibraltar:

There’s a rock

There are apes.

Spain is a trifle miffed that it’s under British jurisdiction.

What I have consistently loved about this series, is how much Mogford has opened up the turbulent history of this area piece by piece so that every book exposes a different slice of its unique history defined by location and politics. He always accomplishes this in a fluid and non-lecturing style, firmly adhering to the universal truth that past history cannot be denied as absolutely defining and reverberating in our current times. By using an incident set further back in history as the lynch-pin, Mogford is given a great opportunity to people this book with an older array of characters, who find themselves in the cross-hairs of a killer seeking revenge for sins of the past. This he accomplishes with aplomb, weaving together the past and the present, rich with interesting historical detail, and providing an equally fascinating study of the very human instinct of avenging wrongful deeds, however long that takes to achieve. Consequently, one simple act of wartime sabotage leads to murder, false accusations and devastating retribution, and you will find your sympathy for one character in particular toyed with consistently throughout.

As to Spike Sanguinetti himself, the central lead of the series, who is still torn between his two lawyerly hats- corporate and criminal- his story has moved on apace. The normal rescinder applies that joining the series at this later point is not a problem for the reader, as Spike’s former adventures are neatly inserted. This particular story gives Spike the opportunity to don his preferred criminal lawyer guise, and to delve deeper into the circumstances of a perplexing series of murders and to navigate the shadowy world of military intelligence and cover-ups. He is still proving himself a tad ham-fisted in the field of personal relationships, with his partner and police detective, Jessica, on the cusp of maternity leave, and their relationship experiencing a few troubled waters due to this investigation. I liked the way that Mogford homed in on Jessica’s own insecurity at having to give up her career and her determination to keep working until the critical point, and will be interested to see how much motherhood affects her in terms of her staunch loyalty to her career. Also, this book puts Spike sharply at odds with former friends and allies, and with the whiff of illegal practices in his own place of work, Mogford sets these teasers up nicely for the next book. As usual I loved the interactions between Spike and Rufus, his curmudgeonly father, and the way that Rufus is investing emotionally in the care of Spike and Jessica’s adopted son Charlie, which has added another lively dynamic to Spike’s personal life.

So all my initial fears were quickly assuaged, once again fully embracing Mogford’s talent for good storytelling underscored by relevant and interesting historical period detail of this unique location. Thoroughly enjoyed A Thousand Cuts and suitably intrigued as to what the next instalment will reveal in this superlative international crime series. Highly recommended.

(With thanks to the author for the ARC)

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

April 2015 Round- Up and Raven’s Book of the Month

_DSC0185 (Common Raven)Need to take a breath after the cut and thrust of a busy month of reading, reviewing, and blog touring! Started the month with Joanna Briscoe talking about her new book Touched, a quick stop on the blog tour for Graeme Cameron’s quirky crime thriller Normal, an extract from Liz Nugent’s Highsmith inspired debut Unravelling Oliver, a cover reveal for Tim J. Lebbon’s The Hunt, a birthday bash for Lisbeth Salander from Stieg Larsson’s Millennium trilogy, and a guest post by M. J. Carter celebrating the release of The Infidel Stain. All accompanied by a great month’s reading, which has given me an incredibly tricky dilemma for nominating my book of the month. May is sure to be an equally busy month as there are four blog tours on the horizon, my annual outing to the brilliant CrimeFest event in Bristol, and a teetering stack of review copies in need of some serious reading. Can’t wait…

Books read and reviewed:

Graeme Cameron- Normal

Helen Giltrow- The Distance

Thomas Mogford- Sleeping Dogs (www.crimefictionlover.com)

Bernard Aichner- Woman of the Dead

Bill Daly- Double Mortice (www.crimefictionlover.com)

Liz Nugent- Unravelling Oliver

Tod Goldberg- Gangsterland

Anna Jaquiery- Death In The Rainy Season

Dolores Redondo-The Invisible Guardian

Mark Henshaw-The Snow Kimono

Raven’s Book(s) of the Month

berEven stevens, level pegging and totally impossible to decide between aredeath Bernhard Aichner’s gritty and spare Woman of the Dead, alongside Anna Jacquiery’s Death In The Rainy Season, an evocative and emotional follow up to her accomplished debut The Lying Down Room. Two very different reading experiences for different reasons, but both completely compelling and thought provoking. European crime fiction at its finest…

Thomas Mogford- Hollow Mountain

Media of Hollow MountainAt the heart of Gibraltar lies the Rock.

At the heart of the Rock lies darkness.

The late-morning sun beats down on the Rock of Gibraltar as bored tourists photograph the Barbary Apes. A child’s scream pierces the silence as she sees a monkey cradling a macabre trophy. A man’s severed arm. In the narrow streets of the Old Town below, lawyer Spike Sanguinetti’s friend and colleague is critically injured in a mysterious hit-and-run. Spike must drop everything and return home to Gibraltar, where he is drawn into a case defending a ruthless salvage company hunting for treasure in the Straits. As Spike battles to save his business, he realises that his investigations have triggered a terrifying sequence of events, and that everything he holds dear is under threat…

 

Having read and reviewed the two previous books, Shadow of the Rock and Sign of the Cross featuring charismatic and slick lawyer Spike Sanguinetti, I could not wait for the third instalment to appear. So here it is, Hollow Mountain, and I think I can confidently say that it does not disappoint…

     The novel opens in Gibraltar with a great scene- you can’t beat an ape appearing with a dismembered human arm and frightening a small child- quickly followed by the introduction of Spike Sanguinetti in Genoa on the trail of his errant former lover, the enigmatic and mysterious Zahra. Theirs has been a tricky relationship played out over the course of the three books, and this wily female continues to elude and frustrate the lovelorn Spike. Throw into the mix an almost fatal accident involving Sanguinetti’s partner in his law firm, and an intriguing tale involving the territorial rights of salvaging sunken ships highlighting also the push-me, pull-you battle over the sovereignty of Gibraltar- the hollow mountain of the title- and what transpires is a multi-faceted tale all played out with Mogford’s superb narrative control. Certainly for me, this tightness of plotting meant that no single strand of the story was more overplayed than the others, which is some feat in a relatively short crime novel.

     Added to the assured control of plot, Mogford once again presents a cast of contrasting and full characters imbued with wit, charm, nastiness or greed in equal measure. Spike Sanguinetti is a charmer, with his air of calm control and suaveness, undone sporadically by not only the pursuit of Zahra, the heartwarming but fraught relationship with his father, but also by his uncanny knack to find himself in the thick of trouble and murder. Mogford’s characters generally have a nifty line in humour in the face of adversity, and there are some lovely laugh out loud moments. I am particularly fond of Spike’s curmudgeonly father Rufus, and the interaction between them, and despite Spike’s protests to the contrary, there are more alike than either would concede. Likewise, Spike’s police associate Jessica Navarro is growing in stature as the series progresses, and will be interested to see how her character is developed further.

     In Mogford’s usual style, the book weaves in little snippets of pertinent information as regards location and socio-political mores as the action pivots between various locations, with Gibraltar itself standing front and centre, bathed in mystery and rich in history. In a nod to psycho-geography, Gibraltar is imbued with almost human characteristics in Mogford’s depiction, and his gradual unfurling of the colourful history of this contentious piece of land over the course of the three books has been fascinating.

     So another thumbs-up from me, and delighted to discover recently that Mogford is on his research travels once again in Italy and Albania for the next book. What on earth will Spike be up to next? Rest assured I look forward to finding out. A great read.

Another review of Hollow Mountain can be found at Crimepieces

My reviews of  Shadow of the Rock and Sign of the Cross

Thomas Mogford has worked as a journalist for Time Out and as a translator for the European Parliament and the UEFA Champions League. While studying to be a lawyer, he looked into practising abroad. Instead, he decided to write a series of thrillers set in the Mediterranean region. Shadow of the Rock introduces Spike Sanguinetti, a lawyer from Gibraltar who is willing to risk everything to protect his client www.thomasmogford.com follow on Twitter @ThomasMogford

(With thanks to Bloomsbury for the ARC)

Thomas Mogford- Shadow of the Rock/Sign of the Cross (Spike Sanguinetti 1&2)

Product DetailsOne humid summer night in Gibraltar, lawyer Spike Sanguinetti arrives home to find an old friend, Solomon Hassan, waiting on his doorstep. Solomon is on the run, accused of a brutal murder in Tangiers. He has managed to skip across the Straits but the Moroccan authorities want him back. Spike travels to Tangiers to try to delay Solomon’s extradition, and there meets a beautiful Bedouin girl. Zahra is investigating the disappearance of her father, a trail which leads mysteriously back to Solomon. Questioning how well he really knows his friend, Spike finds himself drawn into a dangerous game of secrets, corruption and murderous lies.

I think the first thing that needs to be said is big respect to Mogford to managing to make a tax lawyer slick, sexy and dangerous- no mean feat and one he accomplishes with aplomb! Spike Sanguinetti is a truly compelling character from the outset with a terrier-like determination that leads him into dangerous territory defending his long time friend Solomon Hassan, who is facing a charge of murder. Despite his initial unwillingness to embroil himself in his friend’s trouble, but soon proves himself a stalwart defender as Hassan as a Jew faces trial in the religious cauldron of Tangiers, that would not ensure him a fair trial. As the action moves from Sanguetti’s home of Gibraltar to the sinister and dangerous environs of North Africa, an exploitative corporation, Dunetech, bent on raping the natural resources of a native desert region, proves itself a formidable foe to Sanguinetti’s investigation. As the layers of this corporation’s deceit is revealed, Sanguinetti must draw on his natural wiles and assured sense of morality, that reveals some uncomfortable truths in the faith of his friendship with Hassan. I could not help drawing comparisons with Michael Dibden’s creation Aurelio Zen in terms of Sanguinetti’s inherent charm and moral fibre, but Sanguinetti’s closest personal relationships with his ailing father and the mysterious Bedouin woman, Zahra added different layers to his character, showing his difficulties at the more emotionally complex aspects of the human experience. An interesting and multi-faceted character that carried the central thrust of the book with ease, and more importantly with a sense of believability.

Mogford’s writing is superb and what struck me most was the wonderfully compressed descriptions of people that spoke volumes about the person without overblown description. He describes a taxi driver as a ‘small bug eyed man with pictures of small bug-eyed children gummed to his glove department.’ A projectionist is described as having ears ‘that broke the sheen of his hair like two dolphins breaching’ and my particular favourite, a policeman in Tangier is described as having ‘a face, long and grey, like a lolly sucked dry of flavour’. Perfect little snapshots of a person that fire the reader’s imagination to fill in the rest. The story is also imbued with a natural wit from the quotations of a hotel receptionist who seems to neither eat nor sleep- ‘Life without friends is like couscous without salt’ and the verbal sparring of Sanguinetti and his stubborn father. What Mogford holds back from his description of his protagonists, he then lavishes upon his description of location and history, but controlling this so it does not overpower the reader. Using two locations, that to me certainly were entirely unfamiliar, Mogford paints a picture of Gibraltar and Morocco, that not only brings both locations visually alive, but also gives the reader a sense of the troubled and complex multi-racial histories of both countries, and the issues that loom large in their current state from identity and migration to the exploitation of the indigenous populations. Weighty issues are seamlessly melded in to what is both a compelling thriller, infused with wit, and yet also a controlled depiction of the greed and excesses of mankind. A highly impressive debut.

Product DetailsA domestic dispute has escalated into a bloodbath. When his uncle and aunt are found dead, Spike Sanguinetti must cross the Mediterranean to Malta for their funerals, leaving the courtroom behind. But the more he learns about their violent deaths, the more he is troubled by one thing: what could have prompted a mild-mannered art historian to stab his wife before turning the knife upon himself? Reunited with his ex-girlfriend, Zahra, Spike embarks on a trail that leads from the island’s squalid immigrant camps to the ornate palazzos of the legendary Knights of St John. In Malta, it seems, brutality, greed and danger lie nearer to the surface than might first appear.

In the second outing for the debonair but troubled lawyer, Spike Sanguinetti, I picked up on a palpable change of tone and feel to this book.  From the brutal opening of the murder of Sanguinetti’s aunt and uncle in Malta, necessitating Sanguinetti and his ailing father to travel and deal with the deceased’s personal affairs, this novel was altogether darker and more circumspect in terms of  the investigation, the character of Sanguinetti himself and the overall feel of the book. The more light-hearted aspects of its predecessor  Shadow of the Rock were largely absent and there was a significantly less incorporation of wit and humerous interplay between the characters, perhaps reflecting that the events were much more close to Sanguinetti personally than those of the previous book. Having had his relatives murdered by person or persons unknown, the intensity of his father’s illness becoming more evident (and maybe the chance of Sanguinetti falling prey to this hereditary disease himself) and the reappearance of Zahra, forging a new life for herself away from Sanguinetti, the emotional toll on our erstwhile hero is much more in evidence. This perhaps suppresses the more jocular aspects of Mogford’s writing, but in truth, I rather enjoyed the apparent difference in style between the books, and thought this darker tone heightened the sinister and quite brutal path that the story took. As the story plays out, and the facts behind his relatives’ murders come to light, there is also an insidious additional storyline on the exploitation of female migrants that puts Zahra into huge danger, following her work at an immigrant’s camp. A bold but necessary depiction of the plight of women seeking a better life for themselves, but so at risk by those who seem to be aiding their escape. I thought this was both a powerful and well-realised strand of the story, that made for uncomfortable reading, but was good to expose in this context.

As with Shadow of the Rock, Mogford’s sense of location and atmosphere is without doubt another compelling facet to the cut and thrust of the central narrative.  By shifting the action to Malta, as he had done using Gibraltar and Morocco in the first, Mogford has centred on a country with a multi-layered history both in terms of religion and demography, fuelling the book with additional points of interest for the reading, but not resorting to a travel guide commentary of the locations and historical anomalies of this fascinating location. Malta has a rich and varied history that Mogford unveils piece by piece as Sanguinetti traverses this island nation in pursuit of the guilty and each location is vividly brought to life from the comfortable neighbourhood of his family dwelling, to the claustrophobic migrant camp and to the less than salubrious Marsa where the seamier side of Maltese life resides.

Building on the strength of his excellent debut  Shadow of the Rock, Mogford has produced a subtly different but equally enthralling follow-up, with an intriguing ending- one that I guarantee like me, will have you eagerly awaiting the next instalment…

Thomas Mogford has worked as a journalist for Time Out and as a translator for the European Parliament and the UEFA Champions League. While studying to be a lawyer, he looked into practising abroad. Instead, he decided to write a series of thrillers set in the Mediterranean region. Shadow of the Rock introduces Spike Sanguinetti, a lawyer from Gibraltar who is willing to risk everything to protect his client. The sequel, Sign of the Cross, came out in April 2013, and the third book in the series will be published in April 2014 : www.thomasmogford.com follow on Twitter @ThomasMogford

Thomas Mogford Talks To Crime Time: http://www.crimetime.co.uk

(I bought my copy of Shadow of the Rock and received an ARC of  Sign of the Cross from Bloomsbury)