A Raven Round-Up: Steve Cavanagh- Thirteen/ Andrew Shaffer- Hope Never Dies/ Ragnar Jonasson- The Darkness/ Jorge Ibarguengoitia- The Dead Girls/Frederic Dard- The Gravedigger’s Bread

Haven’t done one of these cheeky little round-ups for a while, but think this is a good pick ‘n’ mix of crime summer reads. From the wastes of Iceland to sizzling Mexico, you may discover a little gem here…

They were Hollywood’s hottest power couple. They had the world at their feet. Now one of them is dead and Hollywood star Robert Solomon is charged with the brutal murder of his beautiful wife.This is the celebrity murder trial of the century and the defence want one man on their team: con artist turned lawyer Eddie Flynn. All the evidence points to Robert’s guilt, but as the trial begins a series of sinister incidents in the court room start to raise doubts in Eddie’s mind.

What if there’s more than one actor in the courtroom? What if the killer isn’t on trial? What if the killer is on the jury?

Okay for those of you who have been living in a cave, or in deepest darkest Peru, this has to be the most talked about, and well publicised thriller release of the summer. It is everywhere. And I mean everywhere. So is it any good? Is the hype deserved? Well, quite frankly….IT IS!

Having previously reviewed, and greatly enjoyed The Defence The Plea and The Liar I love the character of  Eddie Flynn, the renegade, ex-grifter, quick-witted lawyer always up to his elbows in trouble, and this is a series of books that has restored my interest in the legal thriller genre. Flynn is a fabulous creation who uses humour as a defence, is a good guy to have on your side when the chips down, does okay in a scrap, yet is woefully inept in his personal relationships, which brings an endearing authenticity to his character too.

Apart from his characterisation, if there is one thing that Cavanagh excels in, it is his control of pace and tension, with the machinations of the courtroom ebbing and flowing punctuated by outbursts (in true comic book style) of POW! and KABOOM! I would defy anyone not to read this in a relatively few number of sittings, and get thoroughly caught up in this exciting mash up of legal and serial killer thriller. Edge of your seat stuff and a cracking twist at the end too. Highly recommended.

( I bought this copy of Thirteen)

He’s an honest man in a city of thieves. He has no patience for guff, foolishness, or malarkey. He is United States Vice President Joe Biden. And when his favorite railroad conductor dies in a suspicious accident leaving behind an ailing wife and a trail of clues Amtrak Joe unwittingly finds himself in the role of a private investigator. To crack the case (and uncover a drug-smuggling ring hiding in plain sight), he’ll team up with the only man he’s ever fully trusted the 44th president of the United States, Barack Obama. Together they’ll plumb the darkest corners of Wilmington, Delaware, where enemies lurk around every corner. And if they’re not careful, the blood on the tracks may be their own…

I mean this in the most positive and affectionate way, but this is book is UTTERLY BIZARRE but an absolute hoot too. Move over Batman and Robin, there’s a new crime fighting duo in town.

Yes, there is a whole whiff of implausibility about the investigation that the whip smart combo of Biden and Obama become wrapped up in, but that’s not really an issue. The absolute joy of the book is the ingenious hooking up of this completely original and left of field crime fighting partnership. The steady, obviously ageing, slightly resentful Biden, is a joy, with his penchant for ice cream, a quiet and sedentary life, his daily mission to not upset his wife, and his desperate need to build his bond/rekindle the bromance again with his former boss. Obama is this wonderfully sneaky, cool as a cucumber, cat burglar type figure, seeming to lead Biden into all sorts of trouble, but how far is Biden actually controlling this investigation, seeking the truth behind a friend’s mysterious death? I found it an utter joy to see Biden  go from mild mannered ex-politician to slightly unsteady avenging angel, and loved the kickabout humour, and at times sheer silliness of the whole affair. I’m sure American readers will pick up on references to the Obama/Biden administration that may have passed me by, but I loved the subtle digs at the unnamed Tweeter-In-Chief, and other satirical sideswipes. Entertaining, laugh out loud funny, and a genuinely enjoyable read with a partnership as great in fiction as they were in the White House. Oh for those days…

( I bought this copy of Hope Never Dies)

 

A young woman is found dead on a remote Icelandic beach. She came looking for safety, but instead she found a watery grave. A hasty police investigation determines her death as suicide . . .
When Detective Inspector Hulda Hermannsdóttir of the Reykjavik police is forced into early retirement, she is told she can investigate one last cold case of her choice – and she knows which one.What she discovers is far darker than suicide . . . And no one is telling Hulda the whole story.When her own colleagues try to put the brakes on her investigation, Hulda has just days to discover the truth. A truth she will risk her own life to find.

So, now to a little deviation from the hugely successful Ari Thor series from Ragnar Jonasson, and The Darkness being the first outing for Detective Inspector Hulda Hermannsdottir. Featuring a slightly longer in the tooth police protagonist was a nice move on the author’s part, and Hulda was a nice combination of dogged and a tad neurotic, railing against the gender bias of her police department, her looming and unexpected departure from the police, and quite obviously a woman still deeply angered by her former marriage, and the emotional insecurity that a prospective new dalliance puts in her path. With all this going on, and the split narrative that Jonasson uses in conjunction with this, I did begin to wonder how much energy she would have left to investigate her cold case- the suspected suicide of a Russian migrant which is not all it appears. As instances from Hulda’s past rise to the surface, there did feel a little unbalance in the book, and I sometimes felt that the deliberately rushed investigation was a little too deliberately rushed to accommodate the deeper concentration on Hulda’s angst. However, when Hulda knuckles down to her work, sometimes in a wonderfully ham-fisted style, proved to be the more satisfying part of the book for me, and I was genuinely engaged with her investigation and the varying obstacles in her path.

In common with the ‘Shadow’ series by Arnaldur Indridason I also wondered about the order of publication as for reasons I cannot reveal here, I would have liked to read this one later on but hey ho. An interesting flawed protagonist, and Jonasson shows his usual knack for a good crime yarn.

(I bought this copy of The Darkness)

Opening with a crime of passion after a years-long love affair has soured, The Dead Girls soon plunges into an investigation of something even darker: Serafina Baladro and her sister run a successful brothel business in a small town, so successful that they begin to expand. But when business starts to falter, life in the brothel turns ugly, and slowly, girls start disappearing . . .

I loved this strange hybrid of fiction and reportage from the 1970s, taking as its inspiration the real life case of Mexican serial killing brothel owners Delfina and Maria de Jesus Gonzalez. Written with a coolly dispassionate tone, the various players in this increasingly bizarre story take their place in the sun, and the twisted activities of fictional brothel owners Serafina and Arcangela Baladro are slowly revealed. It is noted in the introduction that Ibargoengoitia was experimenting with the fictional form to try and represent the increasing rate of violence and crime in Mexico, and how he influenced other writers such as the great Roberto Bolano. I thought the non-judgemental, and emotionally removed tone of the book was incredibly effective, and the story was utterly fascinating too, bringing into play the full scope of human transgressions- corruption, jealousy, greed, obsession and murder. Highly recommended.

(With thanks to Picador for the ARC)

Blaise should never have hung around in that charmless little provincial town. The job offer that attracted him the first place had failed to materialize. He should have got on the first train back to Paris, but Fate decided otherwise.

A chance encounter with a beautiful blonde in the town post-office and Blaise is hooked – he realizes he’ll do anything to stay by her side, and soon finds himself working for her husband, a funeral director. But the tension in this strange love triangle begins to mount, and eventually results in a highly unorthodox burial…

Another slice of bijou noir perfection in the excellent Pushkin Vertigo series. As usual I am curtailed by how much I can reveal due to the compact nature of the book, but rest assured, this wicked little tale of jealousy, lust and obsession is just a further demonstration of the singularly brilliant style of Dard. Reminding me a little of The Postman Always Rings Twice, mixed with the darkly psychological edge of Simenon’s standalones, Dard has constructed a taut and claustrophobic tale, and with the backdrop of being set around a funeral parlour, there is an additional little frisson of weirdness too. As with most of Dard’s books, his characters verge on the strongly dislikeable with the inevitable gullible ‘patsy’, the temptation of Eve, and dark passions at its core, and this is a little belter. Highly recommended.

(With thanks to Pushkin Press for the ARC)

Getting That Blogging Groove Back (1)…

It’s been a while, but now the time has come to get back into the blogging groove! Bearing in mind that due to the shadow of recent upheavals, I didn’t actually read a single book for four weeks, I have made up for it since. Now safe and secure in my new abode- no, I haven’t unpacked all my books yet- I have recouped some of my reading time with a longer commute, and with rooms that actually have proper lighting and heating…long story…Still battling the stress a bit, and recovering from seemingly endless colds, but hopefully fighting fit again soon. Thanks for the lovely messages, and the complete understanding of some publishers for my missing of blog tours, complete ineptitude etc…

In order to make up some ground in terms of reviewing, the next few posts are going to be a snapshot of books read over the course of the last couple of months, so then things will be back on track. Have certainly inflated my to-be-read pile through my fellow bloggers’ reviews of late, and it’s good to be back among you! 

61RX1hDwquL._SX325_BO1,204,203,200_In the spirit of Non-Fiction November, I’ll start with The Mile End Murder by Sinclair Mackay, billed as the case that Conan Doyle couldn’t solve. Detailing the events surrounding the brutal murder of a particularly dislikeable wealthy widow, Mackay reveals the true murderer towards the close of the book, exposing the miscarriage of justice, and the fact of an innocent man having gone to the gallows. Admittedly, Mackay goes proper Ripper Street in terms of his evocation of place, and the grinding poverty of this particular borough of London in the 1860’s, and paints a lively portrait of the period. However, maybe jaded by such wide reading on this particular period it did feel a little cardboard cut-out, and didn’t really bring anything new to this burgeoning sub-genre of British history. It also felt a little repetitive in places, and consequently when Mackay unveiled the true killer I felt more a sense of relief than excited anticipation. Having been bored witless by The Suspicions of Mr Whicher too, maybe this was inevitable…

Far more engrossing was Piu Eatwell‘s exceptional Black Dahlia, Red Rose, revisiting the events of the infamous 1946 murder of Elizabeth Short in Los Angeles. Having long been fascinated by this case, in no small part thanks to James Ellroy’s fictional construction of the same event, Eatwell has produced a perfect combination of reportage, research, and readability. The level of research undertaken by Eatwell is astounding, and her re-creation and analysis of not only the infamous case, but the precise capturing of the era and American society is utterly fascinating. Eatwell pivots the text between contrasting periods, to encompass cultural and historical detail, providing a panopticon vision of American life. Eatwell subtly captures the descent of Short into the mad, bad world of Hollywood with her dreams and aspirations shattered, like so many budding starlets of the era, and then unveils the true identity of the Black Dahlia killer.

I was convinced.

I was also totally gripped by this sublime slice of true crime, with its intriguing asides, titillating footnotes, and the transportation back to this fascinating era of American history. Highly recommended.

Next up American Radical by Tamer Elnoury, with Kevin Maurer, an account of Elnoury’s life as an undercover Muslim FBI agent. In the global war against terrorism and religious extremism, Elnoury provides a remarkable account of his career to date, referencing several operations where he has infiltrated terrorist cells and exposes, as far as possible as still an active agent, some of the techniques the FBI employs to achieve this. There is a beautiful balance in the book between Elnoury’s dispassionate and erudite portrayal of the workings of Islamic extremism, and the level of threat they present, set against his own beliefs as a devout Muslim, which cleverly juxtaposes both the beauty, and manipulation of, the central tenets of Islam. There is an energy and tension to the book throughout, which reads with the pace of a thriller, but underscored by the unsettling truth of the murderous world that Elnoury presents. I was fascinated and fearful in equal measure throughout, and disquieted by certain revelations regarding the world of Islamic extremism. A brave account, and an essential read in these uncertain times. Highly recommended.

(With thanks to Aurum Books and Hachette respectively for The Mile End Murder, and Black Dahlia, Red Rose. I bought a copy of American Radical published by Penguin RandomHouse)

 

Vive La France! (1) Philippe Georget- Crimes Of Winter/ Frederic Dard- The King of Fools/ Emmanuel Carrere- The Adversary

En l’honneur de la Journée de la Bastille, il y a trois livres français criminellement bons pour vous ravir et vous divertir avec adultère, meurtre, femmes dangereuses et hommes stupides. Hélas, ma collègue française serait un mauvais service à ces critiques, pardonnez-vous à l’anglais! 

Bonne lecture!*

 

This winter is going to be a rough one for Inspector Gilles Sebag, for he has discovered a terrible truth: Claire has been cheating on him. Bouncing between depression, whisky, and insomnia, he buries himself in work in an attempt to forget. But his investigations lead him inexorably to bigger tragedies – a woman murdered in a hotel, a depressed man who throws himself from the roof of his building, another who threatens to blow up the neighborhood – all of them involving betrayals of some sort.  Perpignan seems to be suffering from a veritable epidemic of crimes of passion. Adultery is everywhere and each betrayal leads to another dramatic crime…

Inspired by the encouragement of other reviewers to read Philippe Georget, this is my first dip into the Inspector Gilles Sebag series of thrillers. I thought the characterisation was truly excellent both of the cuckolded Sebag, with his melancholy wistfulness, and growing dependence on the demon drink, and the surrounding cast of police characters. Sebag himself is a walking contradiction being so incredibly intuitive and effective in his job, but a mass of neuroses when dealing with the fallout of his wife’s affair, and the increasing strain placed on him by a succession of cases involving adultery.  I loved  his colleague Jacques Molina, a big bear of a man, with his bawdy humour and distinctly non-PC view of the world, and the shifty and duplicitous Francois Menard, jealous of Sebag’s innate ability to read and disseminate a crime suspect and scene so effectively. The interactions and relationships between all three both personally and professionally really held the book together, as well as the intermittent entrance of others affiliated to the police force, and the tensions or humour they brought to the story.  Although I enjoyed the various strands of the plot and its intricacies, regarding cases of murder and suicides arising from a range of adulterous behaviour, I felt that there was a little too much repetition and naval gazing afforded to Sebag as he sought to make connections between his own wife’s betrayal, and the cases he’s involved in.  I like a slow-burner as much as the next person, but sometimes it felt more like stopping than slowing, so felt the book could have been shortened slightly  to a more consistently steady pace. That aside, I did really enjoy the book overall, and will be seeking out others in the series soon. Recommended.

(With thanks to Europa Editions for the ARC)

 

From the moment he first gazes at Marjory across the roulette table in the Cote d’Azur Jean-Marie is entranced, and when their feverish holiday romance comes to an end he decides to take the biggest gamble of his life – to follow the beautiful Englishwoman back to rainy Edinburgh. But Jean-Marie’s luck runs out as soon as he arrives. His infatuation with Marjory draws him into an impenetrable mystery and soon he finds himself with blood on his hands, trapped in the grey-granite labyrinth of the city streets, and running out of time to save his sanity and his life…

The works of Frederic Dard are a constant source of delight for me, and The King of Fools is one of the best I have read to date. With its compelling blend of the suspense of Hitchcock, and the psychological claustrophobia of Simenon and Highsmith, this is a taut and tense tale of infatuation and murder played out on the Cote D’Azur, and the grim, dark streets of 1950’s Edinburgh. Jean-Marie is a wonderfully flaky man, ruled by his baser instincts, that lead him to pursue the pale, and lets be honest, quite unprepossessing Marjory from sensual France to down at heel Scotland. Dard delights in painting a dark and depressing picture of Scottish life, and its environs, that causes the reader to question further the indefatigable will of Jean-Marie to wrest the seemingly hapless Marjory from a loveless marriage. But Dard being Dard, you know that there will be dark deeds afoot, that will explode in a moment of madness, but which of our loved up pair will be caught in the crossfire? That would be telling, and I’m sure you will accrue as much pleasure from finding it out as I did. Dard once again shows his knack for ordinary people being put in extraordinary circumstances, with all the psychological darkness and violence that became his trademark. Highly recommended.

(With thanks to Pushkin for the ARC)

 

 “On the Saturday morning of January 9th, 1993, while Jean Claude Romand was killing his wife and children, I was with mine in a parent-teacher meeting…” With these chilling first words, acclaimed master of psychological suspense, Emmanuel Carrère, begins his exploration of the double life of a respectable doctor, eighteen years of lies, five murders, and the extremes to which ordinary people can go.

Working for a major book retailer in the UK, we are currently promoting this as our Non- Fiction Book of the Month, and whilst some of my colleagues seem keen to foist this on our customers as a true crime book, I would say that The Adversary is so far off the scale of slasher-style true crime so as not to really resemble a true crime book in its traditional form, the notable exceptions being In Cold Blood and The Executioner’s Song. With a subtle and thoughtful grace, that mirrors Emmanuel Carrere’s dual style as a writer of high quality literary fiction, he presents a tale revolving around a truly Walter Mitty-esque man, whose whole identity and life is built on a tissue of lies and deceit with horrific results. Carrere stands at a distance from his subject for much of the book, although slightly peppering the tale with instances of his own life as a family man, but encourages the reader to form their own opinions, and moral judgement on Romand’s life and crimes. The writing is succinct, and at times, beautifully lyrical as The Adversary explores Romand’s twisted and, at times, inexplicable relationship with the world, leading to an original and disturbing portrait of the mind and psychosis of a killer. Recommended.

(With thanks to Vintage for the ARC)

 

*In honour of Bastille Day here are three criminally good French books to delight and entertain you with adultery, murder, dangerous women and foolish men… Alas my schoolgirl French would be a disservice to these reviews so forgive the English!  Happy reading!

A Belated Round-Up- Matt Wesolowski- Six Stories/ Alexandra Marzano-Lesnevich- The Fact Of A Body/ Lone Theils-Fatal Crossing/ The Crime Book

I’ve done my usual trick of reading many, many books, but have then left the writing of reviews for far too long (hangs head in shame, looking chastened etc…) So in this post I will try to provide some kind of cohesive summaries of these, and hopefully you may find something among them to tickle your fancy!

1997. Scarclaw Fell. The body of teenager Tom Jeffries is found at an outward bound centre. Verdict? Misadventure. But not everyone is convinced. And the truth of what happened in the beautiful but eerie fell is locked in the memories of the tight-knit group of friends who embarked on that fateful trip, and the flimsy testimony of those living nearby. 2017. Enter elusive investigative journalist Scott King, whose podcast examinations of complicated cases have rivalled the success of Serial, with his concealed identity making him a cult internet figure. In a series of six interviews, King attempts to work out how the dynamics of a group of idle teenagers conspired with the sinister legends surrounding the fell to result in Jeffries’ mysterious death. And who’s to blame …

With its highly innovative use of the serial podcast structure, Wesolowski’s widely-reviewed and praised Six Stories weaves a dark and disturbing tale of murder, jealousy and teenage angst pivoting between two distinctive timelines. Setting up each individual’s recounting of events surrounding an ill-fated trip as teenagers to an outward bound centre, Wesolowski uses the trope of unreliable narration to the max, as each protagonist’s recollection is laid out before us. The structure works well, causing the reader to question the veracity of each witness’ or suspect’s testimony, although you may pick up on something quite early on, but then delight in having your suspicion’s confirmed. I loved the very naturalistic style of Wesolowski’s portrayal of the wild and dangerous beauty of his imagined location of Scarclaw Fell, which reminded me strongly of the brilliant Turning Blue by Benjamin Myers, where the location so strongly mirrors the darkness and sinister tension of the main plot. Six Stories is certainly refreshingly different with its quirky structure and clarity of description, and Wesolowski taps in perfectly to both the teenager’s experiences, but also intuitively counterbalancing it with their later perspective on events as adults. Highly recommended.

(With thanks to Orenda Books for the ARC)

Before Alexandria Marzano-Lesnevich begins a summer job at a law firm in Louisiana, working on the retrial defence of death-row convicted murderer and child molester, Ricky Langley, she thinks her position is clear. The child of two lawyers, she is staunchly anti death penalty. But the moment Ricky’s face flashes on the screen as she reviews old tapes, the moment she hears him speak of his crimes, she is overcome with the feeling of wanting him to die. Shocked by her reaction, she digs deeper and deeper into the case, realizing that despite their vastly different circumstances, something in his story is unsettlingly, uncannily familiar. Crime, even the darkest and most unspeakable acts, can happen to any one of us, and as Alexandria pores over the facts of the murder, she finds herself thrust into the complicated narrative of Ricky’s childhood. And by examining minute details of Ricky’s case, she is forced to face her own story, to unearth long-buried family secrets, to reckon with how her own past colours her view of his crime…

With more than warranted comparisons to such true crime classics as In Cold Blood and Midnight In The Garden of Good and Evil, Alexandria Marzano- Lesnevich’ s powerful, thought-provoking and intensely moving memoir, recounting the darker periods of her childhood, and her fledgling career in  law is one of the best non-fiction books I have encountered for some time. Tracing and examining her own emotional development from a childhood of abuse and family denial, and her involvement as a young lawyer in one of America’s most thorny and haunting crime cases, The Fact Of A Body raises as many questions as it answers regarding crime and punishment, as well as providing the reader with a deep insight into the life of this remarkable woman whose seemingly firm beliefs in the immorality of the death penalty are so roundly challenged and undermined by the retrial of notorious murderer Ricky Langley. As much as this is non-fiction, the author’s lightness of touch, and her powerful and intensely descriptive, scene setting, gives a feeling of fiction to the whole affair, adding to the reader’s engagement and the sheer readability of the book. One of my personal heroes since my teenage years has been English lawyer Clive Stafford-Smith, due to his tireless quest for justice for death row prisoners in the United States, and the author’s own professional involvement with this remarkable man is strongly bound up in the narrative throughout, adding another layer of interest for this reader. I found this an emotional, compelling and utterly fascinating read, and as only a sporadic reader of non-fiction, this had me completely transfixed. Highly recommended.

(With thanks to Macmillan for the ARC)

When a picture of two Danish girls who disappeared on a boat bound for England in 1985 emerges many years later in an old suitcase from a British second-hand dealer, the journalist Nora Sand’s professional curiosity is immediately awakened. But before she knows it, she is mixed up in the case of a serial killer who is serving a life sentence in a notorious prison, and the quest to discover the truth about the missing girls may be more dangerous that she had ever imagined…

With its satisfying mix of Scandinavian crime thriller, and more than a nod to Silence of the Lambs, I thoroughly enjoyed Fatal Crossing,  first of a series introducing Danish journalist Nora Sand. Nora proves herself an eminently likeable protagonist with her dogged reporter style, and her complicated private life, with the story criss-crossing nicely between Denmark and the UK, balancing well her part-time assimilation from her homeland to her life and work in London. With an intriguingly dark, well-plotted investigation, and the shadow of a notorious serial killer looming large within Sand’s quest for the truth, there were enough twists and tension to keep me reading. As an aside, Nora also provides some great moments of acerbic wit throughout, which provided some good pockets of light relief as the story unfolded. Very keen to read the next one. Recommended.

(With thanks to Arcadia Books for the ARC)

An essential guide to criminology, exploring the most infamous cases of all time, from serial killers to mob hits to war crimes and more.

From Jack the Ripper to Jeffrey Dahmer, The Crime Book is a complete study of international true crime history that unpacks the shocking stories through infographics and in-depth research that lays out every key fact and detail. Examine the science, psychology, and sociology of criminal behavior, and read profiles of villains, victims, and detectives. See each clue and follow the investigation from start to finish, and study the police and detective work of each case…

Having treated myself to the Sherlock Holmes Book from the same series. how could I resist this big, bold and beautifully illustrated compendium of dark deeds and murder from across the centuries? With a global representation of murderers, robbers, tricksters and shysters, this covers cases old and new, the well known and the less so, in one visually pleasing and mentally stimulating edition of all things crime. Divided into eight categories including Bandits, Robbers and Arsonists, Con Artists, White Collar Crimes, Kidnapping and Extortion, Murder Cases, Organized Crime, Assassinations and Political Plots and Serial Killers there are a whole host of illustrations, infographics and tantalising titbits to delve into…

The Crime Book not only focuses on the particulars of this myriad of cases, but also explores the world of forensics, psychological profiling, and the media representation of these most notorious of cases. With an introduction by British crime writer Peter James, this is a book that offers much to explore, and the best tips on how to get away- or not- with murder…

Mwahahaha….

(With thanks to Dorling Kindersley for the ARC)

 

 

 

 

Blog Tour- Rod Reynolds- The Dark Inside- Review

51zZxD6mTsL__SX324_BO1,204,203,200_It’s always an interesting reading experience seeing an author run with the facts of a true unsolved crime, and carefully construct their own interpretation of who may have been responsible, and their psychological motivation for seemingly senseless attacks. The Dark Inside from debut author Rod Reynolds, is based loosely on the events surrounding The Texarkana Moonlight Murders of 1946, where young couples were singled out at a local courting spot and brutally attacked. The Texarkana Phantom, as the killer was dubbed, killed five people and assaulted three more, but evaded apprehension, with the killings stopping as quickly as they had begun. With this as the central premise for the story,  Reynolds takes us on an atmospheric, clever, and entirely plausible trip into a small community racked by fear and suspicion.

The real stand out character of the piece is Charlie Yates, the beleaguered and harried journalist who finds himself sent on a fool’s mission by his eminently dislikeable boss, and feeling forced to demonstrate his instinctive journalist’s curiosity and nous in order to save his job in New York. Yates finds himself at odds with pretty much everyone he encounters as an interloper and suspicious of not only his motives but by what he uncovers below the surface of the more ‘respectable’ folk of Texarkana. Reynolds bestows Yates with a real core of morality, unusual in itself for a press journalist, and I like the way his character pivots between outspoken arrogance to moments of extreme self doubt and emotional vulnerability, shaped by events in his personal life. As he navigates his way around the local press, law enforcement officers, and the mayor in search of the killer, and evading the less than honourable members of these factions, Yates needs his wits about him to get to the truth. I was slightly less convinced by the relationship he forms with Lizzie, as it seemed a little forced in the overall narrative, but his essential moral fibre, doggedness, and sometimes foolhardy actions with which his character is balanced, made up for this slight concern.

Screen-Shot-2013-04-17-at-7_38_06-PMReynolds is to be admired for taking a leap of faith, especially as a debut novelist, to write something so outside of his normal experience, and equally as a Brit setting his book across the water in a community where the ghosts of this crime still loom in the shared consciousness. As an outsider looking in, and this being one of my ‘favourite’ unsolved crime mysteries, the setting and atmosphere of Texarkana felt incredibly authentic, and as I listened to a selection of Texas blues artists whilst reading this, the cadence and rhythm of the book worked perfectly. With this book comparisons have been made to Daniel Woodrell and Tom Franklin, and I would say that in terms of the meticulousness of the setting and period atmosphere this is justified. Add in the easy style of dialogue, reminiscent of an author such as Ace Atkins, and this book will tick many boxes for the American crime fiction fan. Reynold’s careful construction of a viable and believable conclusion to this famous case also holds water. Obviously it would be remiss of me to go to deeply into the culprit(s) but, suffice to say, Reynolds has not made the mistake of going for a too outlandish conclusion at odds with how the story has built up, which was gratifying to see, and which outweighed the slightly (in my opinion) ‘chocolate box’ ending.

All in all an intelligent and atmospheric recreation of some very dark and brutal events indeed, and more than happy to see that a sequel is in the offing. A highly recommended debut.

Keep an eye on the dates below for more on The Dark Inside

RR USE THIS (With thanks to Faber for the reading copy of The Dark Inside)

Marc Pastor- Barcelona Shadows

Barcelona ShadowsIn 1917, Barcelona’s infamous Raval district is alive with outlandish rumours. A monster is abducting and murdering young children. The police are either powerless to prevent his terrible crimes,or indifferent to them, since they concern only the sons and daughters of prostitutes. But Inspector Moises Corvo is determined to stop the outrages, and punish their perpetrator. His inquiries take him on a tour of the Catalan capital,through slum, high-class brothel and casino, and end in a stomach-turning revelation…

Originally entitled La Mala Dona – The Evil Woman – Barcelona Shadows fictionalises the real events of 1911-1912 involving the serial disappearance of young children. Drawing on his own experiences as a crime scene investigator, Pastor is well placed to produce more than one shiver down his readers’ spines, as he recounts the events of these sinister disappearances, and the fears of the community that a real life vampire walks amongst them in this compelling and unsettling novel. With more than a nod to the penny dreadful genre of 19th century literature, and scattered with references to Conan Doyle, and Edgar Allen Poe,  you are instantly drawn into this dark story, overseen by the omnipresent narrator of Death himself, and what a tale it is…

This book pulls no punches from the opening bodysnatching scene, with a dark jibe at the use of a headless corpse, which did appeal to my dark sense of humour. There are children playing with bones, overstuffed flies that have feasted on bodies, details of autopsies, with a good coating of the visceral nature the crimes themselves. There are beautifully Dickensian-esque characters that lodged in my imagination as toothless stinking ragbags with glorious names such as One Eye and Blackmouth and the insane Doctor von Baumgarten with his creepy medical investigations. Cleverly, in his depiction of the main detectives, the charming womaniser Corvo and his earnest counterpart Malsano, there was a nod to the more contemporary motifs of crime fiction, as they endeavour to solve the disappearances and subsequent murders under the gaze of an idiotic boss, with more than a dash of sardonic wit a la Montalbano or Rebus. I really took to this crime fighting duo, in particular Corvo, described as no longer a defender of good folk as toughened by his experiences as he no longer believes in good folk and as an old dog, grim-faced and filled with vices, but with a tenacious zeal for clearing the streets of scum, but at what personal cost to himself? The perpetrator of the crimes in the book, the hypnotically chilling and manipulative Enriqueta, takes on all the childhood nightmare inducing qualities of Baba Yaga or the gingerbread house dwelling witch of fairytale tradition, and equally frightening to think that in the real life case that Pastor draws on that the chief suspect in the child snatching was indeed a woman. As her madness intensifies during the book, ably supported by three dim-witted men bowing to her every whim, the plot twists and turns, transporting the reader along effortlessly as more horrors are unveiled at every turn.

I think that there is a specific intention by Pastor for the city to assume a character of its own in the book, and the depiction of the grinding poverty and the population’s propensity for an unerring superstitious belief all adds to the very atypical 19th century feel of the book, as the setting is so resonant of the industrial geography of Northern England and even London itself. Barcelona is referred to in phrases such as ‘a city of mask and lies’, and equally as a coldhearted being that, ‘keeps pretending nothing is going on’. There is a feel itself that the city is endeavouring to thwart the investigations of the police, and keep its dark and dirty shadows filled with fear for the general populace. The well-crafted descriptions of the city itself all add to the overall disturbing nature of the book and the crimes contained within it and achieved for me a narrative equally on a par with the psycho-geographic mastery of writers such as Peter Ackroyd with Hawksmoor or Iain Sinclair’s Slow Chocolate Autopsy

I concede that this dark tale, populated by a cast of grotesques and infused with a visceral wit, may not be to everyone’s taste, but it really tapped into the dark imaginings of the human psyche. All in all, a clever, parodic novel that will appeal to those who actively search out something different within the crime genre and an entirely satisfying read at that.

Marc Pastor studied criminology and crime policy, and works as a crime-scene investigator in Barcelona. He is the author of four novels: Montecristo, Barcelona Shadows, awarded the Crims de Tinta prize in 2008, L’any de la plaga and Bioko. Richly atmospheric, his work spans a range of genres, from Sci Fi to Gothic via the adventure novel. Barcelona Shadows is first book published in English. Follow on Twitter @DoctorMoriarty. Marc Pastor’s first UK TV appearance- http://bbc.in/1fhKk12 

(With thanks to Pushkin Press for the ARC)