The Hermit – Thomas Rydahl

51mdiqrtcqlTitle – The Hermit

Author – Thomas Rydahl (translated by K E Semmel)

Published – 2014 (Oct 2016 in translation)

Genre – Crime fiction

This is another book that I’ve found a little puzzling. I think it’s been the mix of Canary Isles setting and Nordic Noir sentiment that made this quite a challenging read.

‘The Hermit’ is Erhard, a sixty-something Danish ex-pat who lives a reclusive life on Fuerteventura, earning a living as a taxi driver and sometime piano tuner. He is asked by a friend in the local police force to look at some pieces of a Danish newspaper that were found with the dead body of a baby boy. Although he can shed no light on the source or relevance of the newspaper he is galvanised into finding out more about the abandoned child. When the police are involved in a cover up Erhard takes drastic action to foil them and ends up in a bizarre situation as a result.

As well as being a story of detection and investigation it’s also Erhard’s story – a sort of reawakening for him. His is the only character that is really fleshed out – all the others seem to be less well defined. As the story unfolds he looks back on his life and some of his regrets and grasps some of the opportunities that are presented to him. This aspect of the book – the introspection and detail of his daily activities slows the pace down but there are some thrilling action pieces to balance this. His amateur investigation leads him down some paths he could never have anticipated and Rydahl delivers a complex and twisting plot. Although I picture the island to be quite a large place it seems to have a village mentality and it seems as if everyone knows everyone else’s business – including what Erhard is up to.

There are a few things hinted at in the book which never seemed to be fully explained and these are typical of Nordic fiction – a mysterious break up with his wife and the suggestion of an uncanny ability to find customers for his taxi. The author doesn’t shy away from more gory and graphic aspects of the story and shows a side of the location that holidaymakers might not be familiar with.

The book has won Rydahl many plaudits in Denmark including:

  • Winner of the Danish literary Debutant Prize 2014
  • Winner of the National Danish Crime and Thriller Prize 2015
  • Winner of the Nordic Crime and Thriller Prize “The Glass key” 2015

It will be interesting to see how the English translation is received.

Thank you to the publisher for the review copy.

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The Ice Lands – Steinar Bragi

Title – The Ice Lands

Author – Steinar Bragi (translated by Lorenza Garcia)

Published – Oct 2016 (in English)

Genre – Crime fiction / Thriller / Horror

This came as an unsolicited review copy but I was intrigued by the cover and with an interest in all things Icelandic it pushed its way to the top of my TBR pile.

The story is about four friends and a dog who are on a camping trip in the volcanic wilds of Iceland. There are tensions between the four and they see the trip as away of mending their relationships but things have already become fraught early on in the journey when they crash in the middle of nowhere. They take refuge in an isolated farmhouse occupied by a mysterious elderly couple.

The efforts to resume their journey are thwarted – they fail to leave in their jeep, or in the car they borrow from the couple and even resorting to leaving on foot they end up returning to the dark and menacing house. At the times where they have put some distance between themselves and the house they make further mysterious discoveries in the wilderness – an abandoned car, an abandoned village on a cut-off ‘island’.

The inside of the house, farm and the couple are no less puzzling. They struggle to figure out the relationship between the uncommunicative man and woman, there are animals’ bodies on the doorstep and a hidden room that just adds to the mysteries.

As the story unfolds the backstory of the characters comes out which casts light on them both as individuals and on the relationships between the four of them. In some ways these feel like caricatures – this isn’t a criticism but it feels as if the author was using the four people to highlight some of the issues around the financial crash (the book was published in Iceland in 2011). Their lives and perspectives are quite exaggerated but their reactions to the events after they become stranded seem surprisingly relaxed.

I still don’t know what to make of this book. It was part crime, part thriller, part horror and part, well, just plain weird. I was really taken in by it. I didn’t particularly like the characters, but I wanted to know what happened to them (or what had happened to them). I didn’t have any issues with the writing or translation. There was probably too much of the characters’ backstory for me but the story was atmospheric, tense, dark – it really gripped me. But I just couldn’t figure out what was going on… Since finishing the book and while writing my review I’ve had a look to see what other people make of the book. There is a full synopsis on Wikipedia which tells me that it ‘enjoyed very positive reviews’ although it seems to be struggling to do so in the English translation. Perhaps it just isn’t reaching the right audience.

Thank you to the publisher for the review copy.

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Crime fiction debuts to look out for in September 2016

A little late – this is a look forward to the crime fiction/thriller debuts being published in September 2016.

8 September 2016

51O7kpP4GYL._SX324_BO1,204,203,200_Tall Oaks by Chris Whitaker (from Twenty7 Books)

When three-year-old Harry goes missing, the whole of America turns its attention to one small town. Everyone is eager to help. Everyone is a suspect. Desperate mother Jess, whose grief is driving her to extreme measures. Newcomer Jared, with an easy charm and a string of broken hearts in his wake. Photographer Jerry, who’s determined to break away from his controlling mother once and for all.

And, investigating them all, a police chief with a hidden obsession of his own . . .

Chris Whitaker was born in London and spent ten years working as a financial trader in the city. When not writing he enjoys football, boxing, and anything else that distracts him from his wife and two young sons.

Follow Chris on Twitter @WhittyAuthor. The book was published as an ebook in April and is out now in paperback. You can see a review of this debut on Liz Loves Books.

Breaking Dead by Corrie Jackson (from Twenty7 Books)

71zh3wipx6lThis is the first book in a compelling crime series starring investigative journalist, Sophie Kent. Sophie’s tenacity and talent have seen her rise through the ranks of a tough newspaper industry, but her brother’s suicide has thrown her career and personal life into chaos. Whilst interviewing witnesses of a brutal child murder, Sophie befriends a traumatised Russian model. When the girl’s mutilated body turns up in an upmarket hotel on the eve of London Fashion Week, Sophie knows she could have saved her. Eaten away by guilt, she throws herself headfirst into the edgy, fast-paced world of fashion with one goal in mind: to catch the killer. Only then can she piece her grief-stricken self back together.

As Sophie chips away at the industry’s glittery surface, she uncovers a toxic underworld rife with drugs, secrets, prostitution and blackmail. The investigation propels Sophie from the glamour of the catwalk to London’s darkest corners, towards a sinister past and a twenty-year-old murder case that could hold the key. Battling her demons and her wealthy, dysfunctional family along the way, Sophie pushes her personal problems to one side as she goes head to head with a crazed killer. A killer who is only just getting started.

Corrie Jackson has been a journalist for fourteen years and has worked at Harpers Bazaar, The Daily Mail, Grazia and Glamour. After a sunny two-year stint freelancing in Los Angeles, she is now coming to terms with the weather in Surrey, England where she lives with her husband and two children.

22 September 2016

The Two O’Clock Boy by Mark Hill (from Sphere)

51jxlnsreqlThirty years ago, the Longacre Children’s Home stood on a London street where once-grand Victorian homes lay derelict. There its children lived in terror of Gordon Tallis, the home’s manager. Then Connor Laird arrived: a frighteningly intense boy who quickly became Tallis’ favourite criminal helper. Soon after, destruction befell the Longacre, and the facts of that night have lain buried . . . until today.

Now, a mysterious figure, the Two O’Clock Boy, is killing all who grew up there, one by one. DI Ray Drake will do whatever it take to stop the murders – but he will go even further to cover up the truth.

This debut is out as an ebook in September followed by paperback version in November.

Mark Hill is a London-based full-time writer of novels and scripts. Formerly he was a journalist and a producer at BBC Radio 2 across a range of major daytime shows and projects. He has won two Sony Gold Awards. And by night he blogs as Crime Thriller Fella.


For previous ‘debuts’ posts see JanuaryFebruaryMarchAprilMayJune, July and August.

The Hangman’s Song – James Oswald

Title – The Hangman’s Song

Author – James Oswald

Published – 2014

Genre – Crime fiction

It is purely by accident that I followed one book set in Glasgow with one set in Edinburgh, but other than the Scottish setting these two books are quite different approaches to crime fiction. The Hangman’s Song is the third in the ‘Inspector McLean’ series by James Oswald and the first of his books that I have read.

A young colleague attends a suicide and asks for McLean’s help when he suspects that all may not be as it seems. Initially this is just based on a hunch but as the evidence is collected it does point to something other than a simple suicide. A second, very similar suicide suggests that the police have every reason to pursue the investigation however things aren’t that straight-forward. Detective Inspector Tony McLean seems to be quite a sober man (not literally although neither is he an alcoholic) who takes his job and his quest for justice very seriously. He also seems to be a pretty unpopular one with his colleagues but particularly with his current boss. And his boss wants things wrapped up quickly and preferably without any input from McLean.

The book certainly packs a lot in. As well as trying to, virtually singled-handedly, investigate the suspicious suicides McLean is also working on an investigation within the Sexual Crime Unit (Vice) after a group of young women are discovered being trafficked from Leith. His involvement in this investigation leads him into even more conflict with his colleagues.

McLean also has a complicated personal life, supporting  Emma, a young woman who has been in a coma. This part of the story harks back to the previous book in the series and here I felt I was missing out – there is a lot of backstory and in avoiding repeating the details for readers familiar with the series I felt I didn’t really know enough about what had happened. This part of the story – exploring his relationship and helping Emma recover her memory also hints at some supernatural events.

McLean is a likeable, if rather dour, main protagonist. The disadvantage of his fragmented working relationships, however, is that I didn’t feel that I got to know any of his colleagues and I suspect that they may have played more substantial roles in earlier books. Although Oswald doesn’t shy away from violence and gore most of this is meted out out of ‘sight’ of the reader. I enjoyed the Edinburgh / Leith setting and although showing a darker side than tourists may see this wasn’t so gritty that it would put anyone off visiting! A shame that I’ve left it so long to read a book by James Oswald but I will be sure to read more in the series.

Thanks to the publisher for the review copy of this book.

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The Quiet Death of Thomas Quaid – Craig Russell

51OeFxi-oWLTitle – The Quiet Death of Thomas Quaid

Author – Craig Russell

Published – 4 August 2016

Genre – Crime fiction

I’ve heard a lot about Craig Russell’s books – largely through his connection with Bloody Scotland and The Ghosts of Altona which won the Bloody Scotland Crime Book of the Year in 2015. He has two crime fiction series – one set in Hamburg (The Ghosts of Altona is from this series) and the other set in Glasgow of the 1950s. The Quiet Death of Thomas Quaid is from the latter – his ‘Lennox’ series.

Lennox is a private detective who operates on the fringes of what is legal – although employing an ex-policeman to help in his business he’s not above getting involved in something lucrative that isn’t strictly above board. In this case he has been approached to get access to something which is a little out of the ordinary and to complete the job he needs the skills of Quiet Tommy Quaid. Quaid is Lennox’s friend and a thief, a man everyone liked but, as it turned out, a man with a secret. When Quaid dies unexpectedly (I think as it’s in the title I don’t need to worry about that being too much of a spoiler) Lennox has some reservations about the official explanation so is more than willing to investigate in a more official capacity for Quaid’s (attractive) sister.

With a light touch on the historical detail and a snappy dressing, womanising PI this is was a very enjoyable read. Lennox makes an interesting protagonist and he has a dry sense of humour that helps to lighten the mood on what could be a very dark story. The post-war setting provides some interesting situations and it makes a pleasant change to leave behind modern technology without having to provide some sort of artifice for its absence.  The first person narration serves the plot well keeping the reader and Lennox in the dark.

I enjoyed this story which was a dark, violent and twisty story of a seedy conspiracy. There were some themes about justice, the abuse of power and what men will do when they believe one of the direst crimes has been committed. There were some thrilling scenes as well as some puzzles which added a mystery element. Although this is the fifth in the series it really did seem to me to be a book that could be read on its own – I don’t feel that I missed out by not knowing any of Lennox’s backstory.

Thanks to the publisher for the review copy of this book.

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The Constant Soldier – William Ryan

416hB6-rgfLTitle – The Constant Soldier

Author – William Ryan

Published – 25 August 2016

Genre – Historical

This a departure from William Ryan’s Stalinist Russia set police procedural series but it shares Ryan’s polished prose and evocative depiction of historical fiction.

The story is set in the last months of the Second World War and German soldier Paul Brandt has been sent back home from the Eastern Front after being seriously injured in a Soviet attack. On returning to his village he finds that the SS have built a rest hut on the outskirts of his village, a luxurious a retreat for those who manage the nearby concentration camp or need to convalesce before returning to the front.

Drawn by a glimpse of someone he thinks is familiar, Brandt takes on the role of Steward at the hut, offering him a brief insight into the lives of the men who make use of the hut or are stationed there. This is a great opportunity to see a whole range of perspectives – from the Commandant who is haunted by the past, the vindictive Scharführer guarding the women prisoners, to the visitors from the camp and of course, the women prisoners themselves.

The main plot is driven by Brandt’s efforts to make amends for a wrong he believes he did and all that he does is to that end. Brandt is wary of sharing his own trepidation and doubts but occasionally he is drawn out to say more than he should, adding an extra layer of tension to the plot. The story has quite a slow pace but this is balanced with action scenes which come from a young Russian woman who is driving a tank which is heading towards Germany. Brandt’s return home also shows the impact that the war has had on his village and the family he left behind, and how his father and sister have fared while has been away. Divisions have opened up and whilst some people have had to go into hiding others are still pursuing victory and are keen to uphold the defence of the Reich to the last.

Ryan effortlessly creates the mood and atmosphere of the last days of the war and makes the book completely absorbing. I’m not sure that I’ve read a book that’s taken this perspective on the war, disillusioned characters who have an inkling of what their future may hold.  It made me pause to consider the people in this situation, forced along with the atrocities they knew were taking place with little chance of making any difference. How did people react when the conclusion of the war (not just this war but any war) became inevitable and they were going to be on the losing side, complicit in what had taken place? It speaks volumes for a novel when it makes you consider the reality of the situation it depicts.

As a departure from the Korolev series this may find Ryan a whole new swathe of fans – if you enjoy books like Atonement and Birdsong this will be right up your street. Beautifully written, thought-provoking and emotionally compelling, I can’t recommend this highly enough.

Many  thanks to the publisher for the review copy.

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Never Alone – Elizabeth Haynes

515wJ5JzzzL._SX322_BO1,204,203,200_Title – Never Alone

Author – Elizabeth Haynes

Published – 28 July 2016

Genre – Psychological thriller

Elizabeth Haynes’ debut, Into The Darkest Corner, remains the book by which I judge all other psychological thrillers – the tension she creates in that book is what most other authors who choose that genre can only aspire to. Since her debut there have been two further thrillers and she has started a police procedural series, all of which I have enjoyed, so I was thrilled to be offered the chance to review her newest title.

Sarah is a widow living with her two dogs in a farmhouse on the Yorkshire Moors. With some financial difficulties and suffering a little from ’empty nest’ syndrome she offers to let an old friend, Aiden, stay in the cottage across from her house. It’s a spur of the moment offer as she hasn’t seen Aiden in a long time.

The story moves slowly with the rekindling of the friendship between Aiden and Sarah against the backdrop of her domestic life. Told from three slightly different perspectives – Sarah’s, Aiden’s (which is in the second person), and interspersed with fragments that are unattributed – adding another layer of mystery. It becomes clear that everyone has secrets but the masterly way the story develops means that you’re kept guessing.

Part of the fascination with the story is the relationship between Sarah and Aiden. Although they were close when at University they haven’t seen each other in more recent years and there was some sort of falling out that involved Sarah’s husband who was a mutual friend. This all means that the two characters are trying to feel their way through the new situation and understand how things stand between them. They both appear to have regrets about the past but it’s not clear how they want things to develop.

Something I should also mention is that there’s a decent amount of sex involved – the relationships are central to the story so this isn’t gratuitous but there is possibly more than readers of the genre might expect.

I thought Sarah was a fabulous leading character and a very credible one which seems to be particularly unusual in a psychological thriller. So often the leading lady can be a caricature rather than realistic, and frequently they’re unsympathetic. I really liked Sarah, though, and when things got tough there was no doubt who I was rooting for. I think developing the characters in this way is one of Haynes’ strengths – the more you care about them the more the you’re drawn in and the more effective the tension. The final denouement didn’t disappoint either – remaining all too believable.

I thoroughly enjoyed this and it was one of those books that may sound cliched to describe as ‘unputdownable’ but once I had started I read it at every opportunity. Coincidentally I see that, like Into The Darkest Corner, this also started during NaNoWriMo – something that seems to be a winning formula. With a small cast of characters, a remote location and a severe snowstorm the gripping story ramps up to a thrilling climax. Scandi noir eat your heart out!

Many thanks to the publisher for the review copy.

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