Bijou Crime- Frederic Dard- The Wicked Go To Hell/Bird In A Cage- Jonathan Ames- You Were Never Really Here

I will confess that I am quite the fan of the Pushkin Vertigo series that is bringing to my attention a whole host of European crime authors previously unknown to me. With the titles to date being generally compact and slim novellas, for this post I will give you a brief overview of my best discoveries to date…

dardBeing such a confirmed fan of Georges Simenon, I could not believe my utter ignorance of the work of Frederic Dard, whose output in terms of number and quality is widely lauded as the equal of Simenon himself. I thought The Wicked Go To Hell in particular was absolutely outstanding, opening with an unnamed and deniable police officer being instructed to go undercover into gaol to initiate a prison break with a recently confined criminal to infiltrate the organisation the prisoner is affiliated with. Not until the final bloody denouement is the reader in possession of the knowledge as to which character is which when the undercover operation begins, being named merely as Hal and Frank. From the claustrophobic intensity of their initial confinement until their attempted escape and beyond, Dard inveigles us in a bizarre guessing game as to which morally dubious man is which, as each tries to deceive and expose the true identity of the other. From the inherent violence of the institution at the hands of sadistic guards, to their quest for freedom, Dard keeps up this emotionally bleak, and sinister tone, which serves to unsettle the reader consistently throughout. I was quite frankly mesmerised from start to finish, despite the darkness and sense of base evil that the book consistently exhibits, and I loved the aspect of reader participation that Dard so skilfully wove into the tale as we seek to discover the true identity of each man, and the descent into immorality we are all capable of.

 

dardEqually, Bird In A Cage was imbued with a tantalising mix of Patricia Highsmith and Alfred Hitchcock, as a man returns to Paris at Christmas to mourn, and settle the affairs, of his late mother. He encounters a beguiling woman with her young child, whilst dining out one night who inflames his curiosity, being both attractive and the added mystery of appearing to have bloodstains on her sleeve. When he is enticed to return to her apartment, he becomes embroiled in a sinister and dangerous conspiracy which seeks to unravel his life completely. The emotional intensity of this plot is in evidence from the outset, with the title referring to an innocuous Christmas gift for the child, and the psychological impasse that Albert finds himself in, Dard has constructed a claustrophobic existentialist drama that toys with the reader’s perception, and provides an additional deconstruction of male and female psychological impulses. This is a slim dark tale that is engaging enough, but did slightly lack the psychological edge, and bleak immorality of The Wicked Go To Hell, but is worth seeking out as an initial entry point into Dard’s not inconsiderable back catalogue.

 

img_0707In a change of pace and authorial style, I also read You Were Never Really Here by Jonathan Ames, a novella that runs to 87 pages and soon to be a feature film starring Joaquin Phoenix. Joe, a former FBI agent and U. S. Marine, harbouring the memories of an abusive childhood, and the violent events of his recent careers, now has largely dropped out from society, earning a living tracking down and rescuing young girls from the grip of the sex trade. Now he has been hired to save the daughter of a New York senator, held captive in a Manhattan brothel, but finds himself ensnared in a dangerous web of conspiracy and violence. Described as a toxic shock of a thriller, this bijou slice of American noir, delivers a real punch to the reader, and I was mightily impressed how much well defined characterisation, and breadth of action, Ames crams into such a minimal page count. Quickly your sympathies for Joe is heightened and from the beginning you are rooting for him, your empathy well and truly put into overdrive as the mental and physical damage he has experienced is put sharply into focus, and there is a real strength to Ames’ writing in passages where Joe indulges in some critical self-examination of his own psyche. The degree of manipulation he experiences in the course of this mission is well wrought, and the violence throughout is swift and uncompromising, making this a real read-in- one-sitting thriller. My only slight bugbear is the slight cynicism of the ending which too obviously paves the way for a potential sequel, and left me a little unsatisfied, but with a cover price of less than a vacuous throwaway magazine there’s still plenty here for your fiver. Recommended.

(With thanks to Pushkin Press for the ARCs)

Blog Tour-Guest Post- David Baldacci + Giveaway- The Escape

daveTo celebrate the launch of David Baldacci’s latest novel, The Escape, as well as the paperback publication of his fourth Will Robie novel, The Target,  I am  pleased to welcome the author to Raven Crime Reads as part of his blog tour. In this special blog post David discusses the roles of heroes and villains in his writing…

“For a writer who didn’t start out crafting thrillers, I have certainly written a lot of them. And they’re fun and fast and people seem to really love them. But along the way I’ve tried my hand at other genres and enjoyed them all. Whether it be a family drama, a light-hearted mystery on a train over Christmas or a YA fantasy title, for me the story is the thing. If you keep doing the same thing over and over, you’ll get the same result. That’s why I strive mightily to get out of my comfort zone and challenge myself to do things differently. I like to create different series with very diverse characters inhabiting each, to throw off complacency by tackling subject matters that force me to go out and learn, and then write, about a totally new world. Fear is a great antidote to complacency and fear is a great thing for a writer. Otherwise, you become formulaic.

I think readers enjoy crime fiction for a variety of reasons, aside from the obvious fact that it tends to be exciting and fast-paced. As children we loved (and hated) to be scared by the boogeyman. We wanted to look under the bed or in the dark closet, but at the same time we were terrified to do so. Adults retain this childlike wonder about being scared. We like to be scared from a safe distance, and that’s what crime fiction provides. It also allows readers to root for heroes, which we always need, both in real life and between the pages. And it allows us to root against, even if we find them curiously fascinating, the villains. After this battle is concluded and one side (usually good) wins out, we have closure, which people also like, but sometimes, maybe oftentimes, do not find in real life.

In that way, a good crime story can be perfect for what ails us!

Among my favorite villains in my own books is Jackson from The Winner. That book is fifteen years old and I still get fan letters asking if Jackson is going to come back. Chung-Cha from The Target was probably the most sympathetic villain I ever created. Sam Quarry from First Family is a close second on that score. I tend to favor villains who live in the gray area, doing the wrong thing for what they believe are the right reasons. Knights in shining armor are scarce if even nonexistent. Good people do bad things for what they believe are the right reasons. Robie and Reel are prime examples of that. Conversely, villains who are simply purely evil are boring. The gray in life is what fascinates me.”

David Baldacci is a worldwide bestselling novelist. With his books published in over 45 different languages and in more than 80 countries, and with over 110 million copies in print, he is one of the world’s favourite storytellers. David is also the co-founder, along with his wife, of the Wish You Well Foundation, a non-profit organization, dedicated to eliminating illiteracy across America. Visit his website here .

GIVEAWAY

Military CID investigator John Puller has returned from his latest case to learn that his brother, Robert, once a major in the United States Air Force and an expert in nuclear weaponry and cyber-security, has escaped from the Army’s most secure prison. Preliminary investigations show that Robert – convicted of treason – may have had help in his breakout. Now he’s on the run, and he’s the military’s number one target.John Puller has a dilemma. Which comes first: loyalty to his country, or to his brother? Blood is thicker than water, but Robert has state secrets which certain people will kill for. John does not know for sure the true nature of Robert’s crimes, nor if he’s even guilty. It quickly becomes clear, however, that his brother’s responsibilities were powerful and far-reaching.With the help of US intelligence officer Veronica Knox, both brothers move closer to the truth from their opposing directions. As the case begins to force John Puller into a place he thought he’d never be – on the other side of the law – even his skills as an investigator, and his strength as a warrior, might not be enough to save him. Or his brother…

I have a copy of The Escape  up for grabs as an early Christmas gift! For a chance to win just head over to Twitter and tweet me @ravencrime with the message ‘Escape with Baldacci’ and I will randomly select one lucky winner. The closing date is 3rd December and giveaway open to UK entrants only. Good luck!