In the Month of the Midnight Sun – Cecilia Ekbäck

Title – In the Month of the Midnight Sun

Author – Cecilia Ekbäck

Published – June 2016

Genre – Historical crime fiction

I was so taken with Wolf Winter that I treated myself to In the Month of the Midnight Sun when it came out in June last year (which shows you how far behind I am!).

Similar to some of the books by Anita Shreve, using the same location for a story in different times, Ekbäck returns to Blackåsen Mountain.  In this case we move from 1717 in Wolf Winter to 1856. On the mountain a Sami woman has left her tribe following the death of her husband, while the local settlers are puzzled by this but they have bigger worries as a Sami man has carried out a fatal attack in their rectory.

In Stockholm The State Minister of Justice instructs geologist Magnus to head to the area to investigate the attack. The Minster’s interest is purely bureaucratic, concerned that the sale of land in the area may be jeopardised. Magnus has some personal issues which he should deal with but perhaps prefers to avoid these by agreeing to the trip. The Minister is also Magnus’s adoptive father, so when at the last minute he is forced to have his sister-in-law, Lovisa, accompany him he is unable to argue against it. The two travellers set out for the long journey to Lulea with Lovisa withdrawn and uncommunicative and unprepared for what lies ahead.

The journey sees the relationship thaw a little and we find out more of the backstory of the two characters, and as the story switches between points of view (in the first person so you need to pay attention) we also learn more about those living in the shadow of the mountain. When eventually they reach Lulea and Magnus meets the man accused of the murders he doesn’t believe  he is the killer and knows that the only answer is to travel onwards to the Blackåsen Mountain.

Despite the broad, sweeping landscapes and the midnight sun this has a very claustrophobic feel and a very varied cast of characters with some unique voices. There is a hint of the supernatural in the lives of the Sami and the same battle with the elements that those in Wolf Winter faced. But essentially the story is about the people.

If you appreciate beautifully written, atmospheric crime fiction with a literary style then you really should try these books.

1star1star1star1star

Advertisements

The Templar’s Last Secret – Martin Walker

Title – The Templar’s Last Secret

Author – Martin Walker

Published – June 2017

Genre – Crime fiction

This is the tenth in the ‘Bruno, Chief of Police’ series of books and although I haven’t read all of the series it certainly seems to be the case that Walker isn’t losing his way as time moves on.

For me these books are a sort of ‘aspirational crime fiction’. Who wouldn’t want to be living in the countryside of the Périgord, riding horses, meeting up and cooking with friends – all accompanied by Balzac the basset hound. Despite the setting the situations do manage to echo the darkness of the ‘outside world’ which keeps the books topical but with the execution still keeping to the cosier side of crime fiction. All done without the getting the feeling that the circumstances are stretching credibility.

This latest title in the series is a great combination of the old and the new. The book opens with the discovery of the body of a woman outside a cave beneath the ruined Templar chateau of Commarque. The woman’s death re-opens debate over a centuries-old mystery concerning hidden treasure. This, as well as the forthcoming marriage of Bruno’s friends, two professional archaeologists, allows Walker to explore the history of the area and the Templars. (I have to confess that some of the background did feel a bit unnecessary.)

During the course of the investigation Bruno has a Ministry of Justice bureaucrat foisted on him who intends to carry out a time and motion study to better understand how he works with the locals and the gendarmes. The situation isn’t as bad as it may seem as Amélie has an exotic background, a dress style not often seen in the area and a singing voice that gains her more than a few admirers. Her character acts as a bit of a sidekick to Bruno and she becomes involved in his investigations, with the important task of demonstrating the power of social media.

Bruno’s investigations do, however, lead to a very modern problem. This involves a more traditional investigation which is eventually headed up by the mysterious Brigadier from Paris as well as a face from Bruno’s past.

Another enjoyable read in the series with the mix of domestic tranquility, police investigations, a race against time situation, historical background and very topical issues. And I can’t be the only person who has gone on to google the region to find out more about it after reading one of Walker’s books!

Many thanks to the publisher for the review copy.

The Black Friar

Title – The Black Friar

Author – S. G. MacLean

Published – October 2016

Genre – Historical fiction

My intention is to crack on today and catch up on my reviews. Although I’ve been too busy to ‘blog’ I’ve been reading as much as ever so I have quite a stack of books to get through.

First up is The Black Friar, which came in the post from the publisher last year. This is the first book I’ve read in the series but the blurb tells me that this is the second in the Damian Seeker series and that the first book in the series (The Seeker) won the CWA Historical Dagger in 2015. In fact The Black Friar made it to this year’s Historical Dagger longest but sadly didn’t go through on the shortlist.

The book is set in London in 1655 – the time of Cromwell as Lord Protector. This is a time of unrest and there are many trying to challenge Cromwell; Seeker, as Captain of Cromwell’s Guard, has his hands full trying to stem this tide, so it’s surprising when he takes an interest in the body of a friar discovered in the walls of the Black Friar’s monastery. Behind the mystery of the dead friar, however, is a link to the spies in Cromwell’s service and as Seeker tries to find out more about the dead man he becomes involved in trying to find out why children have been disappearing. The story is told against the backdrop of the political machinations that are trying to uphold Cromwell’s authority against the undercurrent of dissent.

I really liked Seeker – he may be feared and have the power to make people cross the street, or even empty a coffee house, but he is still charming and has a sense of decency and justice that gives his character more depth. It was interesting to see the author drawing on real-life characters who walked the corridors of power (Samuel Pepys, Andrew Marvel) which did pique my interest in the period, probably more than just purely fictional characters would have done.

This was a gripping tale of espionage with a more conventional mystery to be solved too. There plotting was complex and pleasantly devious The historical detail felt well-researched and certainly provided an immersive experience of the period. The book definitely worked without having read the previous title but I shall make a point read more in the series.

Many thanks to the publisher for the review copy.

1star1star1star1star

The 2017 CWA Daggers

It’s been a while – let’s hope I can remember how to do this blogging thing…

After what seemed to be a change to the format last year for announcing the CWA Daggers they now seem to have settled on a process. Two Daggers have already been confirmed and the shortlists for the remainder were announced earlier this week. The winners of all the CWA Daggers will be announced at the Dagger Awards Dinner to be held on 26 October, when Ann Cleeves will be awarded the Diamond Dagger and Mari Hannah will be presented with the Dagger in the Library award.

Each year I think ‘this year I’ll read whole longlist shortlist’ but each year I seem to have read fewer and fewer of the books that find their way onto the lists. I am also always surprised about the proportion of books that I have never heard of – great coverage for these authors to get onto the long or short lists. But there are only two shortlisted books that I’ve read thus far and I’ve only reviewed one of these. So wishing William Ryan all the best with The Constant Soldier!

There are currently ten daggers awarded annually by the Crime Writer’s Association.

The Diamond Dagger – selected from nominations provided by CWA members – 2017 winner is Anne Cleeves and the award will be presented at the CWA Dagger Awards Dinner on 26 October.

The longlists for the following daggers (except the Dagger in the Library I believe) were announced during Crimefest and the shortlists (titles in bold) announced on 26 July.

Gold Dagger

The Beautiful Dead by Belinda Bauer
Dead Man’s Blues by Ray Celestin
The Girl Before by J P Delaney
Desperation Road by Michael Farris Smith
Little Deaths by Emma Flint
The Dry by Jane Harper
Spook Street by Mick Herron
Sirens by Joseph Knox
Ashes of Berlin by Luke McCallin
The Girl in Green by Derek B. Miller
A Rising Man by Abir Mukherjee
Darktown by Thomas Mullen

Ian Fleming Steel Dagger

You Will Know Me by Megan Abbott
Kill the Next One by Frederico Axat
The Twenty Three by Linwood Barclay
The Killing Game by J S Carol
The Heat by Garry Disher
A Hero in France by Alan Furst
We Go Around in the Night Consumed By Fire by Jules Grant
Moskva by Jack Grimwood
The One Man by Andrew Gross
Redemption Road by John Hart
Spook Street by Mick Herron
Dark Asset by Adrian Magson
Police at the Station and They Don’t Look Friendly by Adrian McKinty
The Constant Soldier by William Ryan
The Rules of Backyard Cricket by Jock Serong
Jericho’s War by Gerald Seymour
The Kept Woman by Karin Slaughter
Broken Heart by Tim Weaver

 John Creasey (New Blood)

The Watcher by Ross Armstrong
The Pictures by Guy Bolton
What You Don’t Know by JoAnn Chaney
Ragdoll by Daniel Cole
Sunset City by Melissa Ginsburg
Epiphany Jones by Michael Grothaus
Distress Signals by Catherine Ryan Howard
Himself by Jess Kidd
Sirens by Joseph Knox
Good Me, Bad Me by Ali Land
The Possessions by Sara Flannery Murphy
Tall Oaks by Chris Whitaker

International Dagger

A Cold Death by Antonio Manzini, Tr Antony Shugaar
A Fine Line by Gianrico Carofiglio, Tr Howard Curtis
A Voice In The Night by Andrea Camilleri, Tr Stephen Sartarelli
Blackout by Marc Elsberg, Tr Marshall Yarbrough
Blood Wedding by Pierre Lemaitre, Tr Frank Wynne
Climate Of Fear by Fred Vargas, Tr Siân Reynolds
Death In The Tuscan Hills by Marco Vichi, Tr Stephen Sartarelli
The Bastards Of Pizzofalcone by Maurizio De Giovanni, Tr Antony Shugaar
The Dying Detective by Leif G W Persson, Tr Neil Smith
The Legacy Of The Bones by Dolores Redondo, Tr Nick Caister & Lorenza Garcia
When It Grows Dark by Jorn Lier Horst Tr Anne Bruce

Non-Fiction Dagger

A Dangerous Place by Simon Farquhar
Close But No Cigar: A True Story of Prison Life in Castro’s Cuba by Stephen Purvis
The Scholl Case: The Deadly End of a Marriage by Anja Reich-Osang
Arthur and Sherlock: Conan Doyle and the Creation of Holmes by Michael Sims
The Wicked Boy: The Mystery of a Victorian Child Murderer by Kate Summerscale
A Passing Fury: Searching for Justice at the End of World War II by A. T. Williams
The Ice Age: A Journey into Crystal-Meth Addiction by Luke Williams
Another Day in the Death of America by Gary Younge

CWA Short Story Dagger

The Assassination by Leye Adenle in Sunshine Noir Edited by AnnaMaria Alfieri & Michael Stanley
Murder and its Motives by Martin Edwards in Motives for Murder Edited by Martin Edwards
Alive or Dead by Michael Jecks in Motives for Murder Edited by Martin Edwards
The Super Recogniser of Vik by Michael Ridpath in Motives for Murder Edited by Martin Edwards
What You Were Fighting For by James Sallis in The Highway Kind Edited by Patrick Millikin
The Trials of Margaret by LC Tyler in Motives for Murder Edited by Martin Edwards
Snakeskin by Ovidia Yu in Sunshine Noir Edited by AnnaMaria Alfieri & Michael Stanley

Debut Dagger (unpublished writers)

Camera Obscura by Richard McDowell
Strange Fire by Sherry Rankin
The Reincarnation of Himmat Gupte by Neeraj Shah
The Swankeeper’s Wife by Augusta Dwyer
Hardways by Catherine Hendricks
Lost Boys by Spike Dawkins
Victorianoir by Kat Clay
Red Haven by Mette McLeod
In the Shadow of the Tower by Clive Edwards
Broken by Victoria Slotover

Endeavour Historical Dagger

The Devil’s Feast by M.J. Carter
The Coroner’s Daughter by Andrew Hughes
The Black Friar by S.G. MacLean
The Ashes of Berlin by Luke McCallin
The Long Drop by Denise Mina
A Rising Man by Abir Mukherjee
Darktown by Thomas Mullen
By Gaslight by Steven Price
The City in Darkness by Michael Russell
Dark Asylum by E.S. Thomson

 

Dagger in the Library longlist

Andrew Taylor
C J Sansom
James Oswald
Kate Ellis
Mari Hannah – Mari was announced as the winner in June 2017
Tana French

So how’s your reading going – will you have read enough to judge a category for yourself?

He Said/She Said

Title – He Said/She Said

Author – Erin Kelly

Published – April 2017

Genre – Psychological thriller

I occasionally start a book with preconceived ideas because I’ve heard other people talking about it or seen it being promoted but in this case I hadn’t come across many references – I requested the Netgalley on the strength of the author without reading the blurb. Which means it’s perhaps a little odd for me to say that the book wasn’t what I expected. Without any idea of what the story would be about, my assumptions kept catching me out; the opening made me think I was going to be reading a legal thriller and then it was more about crime and rape and perceptions and then it was about stalking and then … well it keeps you on your toes!

The opening of the book is sparse on background, leaving the reader to figure things out for themselves. Young couple Laura and Kit are appearing as witnesses at a trial after an incident that took place when they were watching the eclipse in 1999. The story hinges on a momentary outburst from Laura and what may have been an error of judgement haunts her and Kit. His obsession with chasing eclipses provides a framework for the story which spans 15 years to bring events up to date and is told from their two perspectives.  But enough said – it feels important not to give too much away though!

What I will say is that the story is cleverly crafted and there are plenty of moments when you kick yourself for not having spotted the clues, but Kelly’s writing ensures these are subtle and not ‘signposted’, the moments of revelation unexpected but plausible. The characters are realistically drawn, warts and all, most of them aren’t particularly likeable but this wasn’t a book where you felt you were being forced to hate them. In the moments of tension (and there are plenty) you root for them even though you might not always agree with their choices.

An unusual psychological thriller, smartly executed,  that will keep you intrigued as the plot unravels.

1star1star1star1star

The Paris Winter – Imogen Robertson

Title – The Paris Winter

Author – Imogen Robertson

Published – 2013

Genre – Historical fiction

Our move West and a sustained busy period at work means that although I am still reading at the rate of around a book a week (call myself a blogger!!) I’m struggling to find the time to review what I’ve read and that is a real shame. I seem to have, in the process, dropped off the lists for a number of publishers, so while I never received a huge amount of ‘book post’ my average is now just one or two books a month. Which means that I’ve got the opportunity to catch up on some books that I have had waiting on the TBR for some considerable time – and this book at 3 or 4 years is by no means the longest!

Out of necessity I will post some shorter reviews but I hope that I still manage to do justice to some of the really enjoyable books I’ve read so far this year.

I picked up The Paris Winter as an antidote to a run of gripping but gritty contemporary crime fiction. The book was shortlisted for the CWA Ellis Peter Historical Dagger, losing out to The Scent of Death by Andrew Taylor. The setting is Paris, 1909, and Maud Heighton is a young English woman learning to paint at Lafond’s famous Academie. While many in Paris are enjoying the Belle Epoque it can be a difficult time for the women studying away from their families and the death of a fellow student throws Maud’s poverty into sharp relief. Rescue seems to be offered through the intervention of one of the models and a glamorous Russian; with their help Maud is employed by a young man to act as companion to his vulnerable sister.

What appears to be a lifeline for Maud is anything but. It soon becomes clear that not all is as it seems and their world of luxury hides a dark secret. I don’t really want to give anything away because I enjoyed how events played out and how Maud’s future became entangled with theirs. As the story progresses the characters of Yvette, the model and Tanya, the wealthy Russian are fleshed out and between the two we see the polar opposites of those enjoying the delights of Paris.

I loved the setting, both in terms of period and location, and the art school backdrop brought back memories of a number of books I enjoyed which featured The Slade in London. It’s beautifully written and the author made the book really immersive – getting off the train after I’d put it down I would wonder why I was in London, why it wasn’t snowing… I liked the characters, a mix of woman who showed strength but in different ways and without becoming caricatures and a plot that didn’t take the reader into the realms of the implausible.

If you enjoy historical fiction with a criminal leaning then you should add this to your TBR.

1star1star1star1star

The Iron Chariot – Stein Riverton (trans. Lucy Moffatt)

51cw35zyl0lTitle – The Iron Chariot

Author – Stein Riverton (translated by Lucy Moffatt)

Published – 2017 (in English) 1909 (in Norwegian)

Genre – Crime fiction

I was intrigued by the publisher’s description of this book as being one of the greatest Norwegian crime novels of all time. Abandoned Bookshop was publishing, in a modern translation by Lucy Moffatt, what may be the first commercially available English translation of The Iron Chariot. I’m not a fan of everything that’s ‘nordic’ but I thought this should be worth reading.

The quiet idyll of a summer retreat on a Norwegian island is disturbed by the discovery of the dead body of one of the guests. The circumstances make murder seem a possibility and the the local police seem ill-equipped to investigate, so Detective Asbjorn Krag is summoned from the capital of Kristiania to take charge. The story is narrated by one of the guests at the hotel, a young man who is staying there alone. The evening before the discovery of the body he was on a night-time walk and heard a mysterious noise – a rattling and thrumming which a local fisherman told him was the ‘Iron Chariot’, last heard some years previously on the night a local farmer died.

While the opening sees the first oppressive heat of the summer, the author uses the change in weather and landscape and moves a lot of action to the night to create a tense and atmospheric read. The pace is is a little slow but probably what what you would expect from a book of the period.  The investigations of the detective and unusual circumstances give a claustrophobic and disturbing feel as the story reaches its climax. The menace of the ‘Iron Chariot’ adds a potentially supernatural element to the story and the sinister occurrences take their toll on the narrator with an increasing feeling of oppression and sense of dread.

It’s easy to compare Krag with detectives like Sherlock Holmes and Hercule Poirot (or even Columbo!). He’s an odd character who behaves a little strangely and appears to be taking an unconventional approach to solving the mysteries. His success in identifying the ‘Iron Chariot’ however, suggests that in the end he’ll get to the bottom of the murder.

The translation seems to be seamless, there’s never a word or phrase that jars. For a book that’s over a hundred years old it’s surprisingly readable and I’m sure this must owe something to the skills of the translator too! It’s remarkable when you consider the date this was published compared to other more ‘groundbreaking’ crime fiction authors who were writing in English, this really does seem to have been ahead of its time.

Well worth a read. Many thanks to the publisher for the review copy.

1star1star1star1star