Rescue – Anita Shreve

51COB0351LLTitle – Rescue

Author – Anita Shreve

Published – 2010

Genre – Fiction

I have to confess to being a huge fan of Anita Shreve. I enjoy her prose and her (usually) female-centric novels which have relationships – often under stress – at their core. In Rescue the main character is a chap – paramedic Peter Webster. Now in his forties bringing up his teenage daughter alone, the story tells how as a rookie he begins an affair with Sheila, a young woman that he treats at the scene of an accident. Webster is a small town guy and Sheila is more worldly-wise – things are never going to run smoothly.

I’ll stop describing the plot there – the blurb on the book gives a lot more away but not having read it (I never read the blurb before the book) I enjoyed the story as it unfolded.

The two characters start a relationship without really knowing each other and they have their own issues and obsessions. In part the story deals with obsession and addiction but it’s also about the importance of family and what sacrifices parents are prepared to make.

I’m impartial enough to say that this probably isn’t Shreve’s best book, the characters aren’t all as fully drawn as those in some of her other novels and I didn’t find the main ones particularly engaging. I just wanted to tell Webster to get a grip! I did enjoy the main themes of the story and I wanted to know what happened, but I did’t quite care enough.

If I haven’t put you off completely I would suggest reading Fortune’s Rocks or The Weight of Water.

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The Unseeing – Anna Mazzola

 

isbn9781472234766Title – The Unseeing

Author – Anna Mazzola

Published – 14 July 2016

Genre – Historical fiction

This is one of those books that just magically popped though my letterbox and the intriguing cover on the proof (plain but for the image of the eye that’s on the hardback cover) attracted my attention while it was sitting at the top of my TBR pile.

This is historical crime fiction and based on a true story. I do find these can be a bit hit and miss for me – it needs a light touch on the facts or my interest wanes (The Devil’s Acre by Matthew Plampin springs to mind) but The Unseeing was a hit for me. The book opens in 1837 as Sarah Gale is taken to Newgate Prison for her role in the murder of Hannah Brown, the woman who was going to marry Sarah’s common-law husband.

The story is told from two points of view – Sarah’s during her incarceration and that of Edmund Fleetwood, who is appointed by the Home Secretary to review the case. As Edmund tries to draw out of Sarah the truth of the events that led to her imprisonment we learn more about the background to both their lives. Edmund undertakes his task diligently with a mix of interview and investigation. Both are intriguing characters although it’s obvious to both the reader and Edmund that Sarah is hiding something which would be pertinent to her defence. And every time I thought I knew what it was I was wrong! The case also has more of an impact on Edmund than he could have anticipated too.

I really enjoyed the atmospheric setting and the historical details – I have no idea how you research the lives of ordinary people to bring the feeling of accuracy that this had, but it brought the period to life for me.

Anna Mazzola is a criminal justice solicitor, based in London. Whilst this is her debut, it has won awards including the Brixton Bookjam Debut Novel competition and she came runner up in the 2014 Grazia First Chapter competition judged by Sarah Waters.

This is an accomplished debut and a compelling story – think a mix of Burial Rights and The Silversmith’s Wife. Many thanks to the publisher for the review copy of the book. You will have an opportunity to meet Anna and hear more about her book at Crimefest in May.

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Tastes Like Fear – Sarah Hilary

Title – Tastes Like Fear91d+hP7-FEL

Author – Sarah Hilary

Published – 7 April 2016

Genre – Crime fiction

This is the third in the ‘Marnie Rome’ series and it really feels like Sarah Hilary has hit her stride. This book opens around six months after the events of No Other Darkness and is set in the shadow of Battersea Power station.

The first hundred or so pages were real page-turners as the different threads of the story were introduced – the mysterious girl who causes a car crash, the beleaguered pensioner on the housing estate, the homeless girl given safe haven, and more. As with the previous books the narrative follows a number of different characters and as each one was introduced I just wanted to know more about each of them.

The investigation to trace the girl who caused the crash and the subsequent discovery of a dead girl lead Rome and her DS, Noah Jake, into a world populated by teenagers struggling to find their identity. Neglected by their parents – whether rich or poor – they are all trying to survive as best they can while they find their place in the world. The south London streets are brought to life with Hilary’s flare for description and this is a London of the homeless, the damaged, the lost.

One thing that Hilary excels at is the characterisation of her lead detective. Like Aector McAvoy in David Marks‘ series, Marnie Rome is one of a newer style of fictional detective – one who is smart, thoughtful and compassionate. These are a welcome relief from the clichéd hard-drinking, tortured loner who acts first and thinks later. This is also crime fiction with a social conscience and Hilary effectively uses the story to highlight issues but without the reader feeling that they are bing lectured at or to.

The story is skilfully written to keep the reader guessing (well, it kept me guessing) and there is more than one moment of revelation that took me by surprise. The threads weave together and characters’ paths cross but not necessarily in the ways you might anticipate.

I’m sure that if you picked the series up here you wouldn’t feel that you were missing out but it really is worth going back and picking up the preceding titles. There is a longer story arc which deals with the murder of Rome’s parents and the killer, Stephen Keele, and the tension always ramps up when he makes an appearance – you need the background to appreciate his significance!

Thank you to the publisher for the review copy. You can see another point of view on Jackie’s blog NeverImitate.

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Two short reviews – Antti Tuomainen & Nadia Dalbuono

A couple of short reviews in an effort to clear the ‘read but not yet reviewed’ stack.

519xkpynnPLTitle – Dark as my Heart

Author – Antti Tuomainen (translated by Lola Rogers)

Published – Oct 2015

Genre – Crime fiction

Finland has perhaps been one of the smaller forces in the wave of Scandi and Nordic noir so it’s difficult to know if this take on crime fiction is typical of the Finnish contribution.

The story is told from an unusual perspective – the premise is that the murderer (responsible for the disappearance of a young woman some twenty years ago) is already known from the beginning  of the book. The guilty party is a reclusive millionaire who the police have been unable to link to the woman’s disappearance. Her son Aleksi, now in his thirties, decides to take matters into his own hands and manages to get a job working on the man’s country estate. The story is told from Aleksi’s point of view (and in first person) both in the present and as flashbacks to the time around his mother’s disappearance. As Aleksi tries to unravel the events of the past and find the evidence he needs he is drawn into a relationship with the millionaire’s reckless daughter Amanda.

There are some recognisable themes from ‘Nordic Noir’ with dark characters, isolation playing a key aspect in the tension and some graphic violence. However, I found the writing slow going, a lot of use was made of coincidences and I didn’t care enough about the characters. I am perhaps  in the minority, though, as Dark as My Heart was optioned for feature film in 2013 and is in development at Making Movies Ltd, the production company behind the Finnish film Black Ice. The novel has also been voted the best crime novel of the past decade by the readers of a Finnish crime fiction magazine.

You can see a more positive review on Raven’s blog.


 

51T1XZu41pLTitle – The American

Author – Nadia Dalbuono

Published – Jan 2016

Genre – Crime fiction

I was keen to read this book as I’m a fan of crime fiction set in Italy – it can offer a more relaxed approach to police procedurals compared to books set in the UK or USA and of course there is the opportunity to be transported to somewhere more exotic.

The book opens with the apparent suicide of a man discovered hanging from a bridge in Rome close to the Vatican City. The detective assigned to the case – Leone Scamarcio – is concerned that the death echoes the notorious murder of Roberto Calvi (‘God’s Banker’) in 1982. The murder a few days later of a cardinal within the Vatican City and a warning by some mysterious heavies from the ‘US Authorities’ guarantee that Scamarcio is more rather than less interested in getting to the bottom of the death.

What follows is a mix of police procedural and thriller made more complex by the introduction of conspiracy theories around 9/11, the Polish Solidarity party, corruption in the Vatican and acts of terror within Italy. The actual effect of this was to slow down the pace of the investigative part of the plot to expand on the theories with background and explanation and I found it all too detailed and complex to hold my interest.

What I found particularly disappointing about this book was that it felt as if it could have been set anywhere – I prefer my crime fiction to give me a better, more immersive, feel for the country it is set in.

You can see another point of view on the Euro Crime website.

Thank you to the publishers for the review copies.

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Crime fiction debuts to look out for in April 2016

This is a look forward to the crime fiction/thriller debuts being published in April 2016.

5 April 2016

A Coin for the Hangman by Ralph Spurrier (from Hookline Books)

Booksellers never know what they might find in an estate sale. When our man finds the tools of England’s last hangman, along with the diary of a condemned man he executed, he knows he has a mystery to solve. Was there a miscarriage of justice? Did the wrong man die at the noose? And just who is telling the truth? A mystery that has readers guessing to the very last page.

7 April 2016

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

Described as ‘A gripping tale of a small town gone wrong’.

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 is published as an ebook on 7 April and will be out in paperback 6 months later.

14 April 2016

51pTf3DO6lLThe Crow Girl by Erik Axl Sund (translated Neil Smith) (from Harvill Secker)

Originally published as a trilogy this is a ‘merged’ version of the trilogy (the Victoria Bergman trilogy) of which the first book was also called The Crow Girl. This does mean that the English language version is a hefty 760+ pages.

It starts with just one body – tortured, mummified and then discarded. Its discovery reveals a nightmare world of hidden lives. Of lost identities, secret rituals and brutal exploitation, where nobody can be trusted. This is the darkest, most complex case the police have ever seen. This is the world of the Crow Girl.

The book (as a trilogy) received a ‘Special Award’ from the Swedish Academy of Crime Writers in 2012.

Erik Axl Sund is the pen name of Swedish author duo Jerker Eriksson and Håkan Axlander Sundqvist. Previously, Håkan has worked as a sound engineer, musician and artist, and Jerker as the producer of Håkan’s electro punk band iloveyoubaby! and a prison librarian. The two are now full-time writers, but also run an art gallery together.

You can read an extract of The Crow Girl on The Dead Good Books website.

20 April 2016

511etd0MZ-LAbigaile Hall by Lauren A Forry (from Black and White)

On a foggy evening in 1947, seventeen-year-old Eliza and her troubled little sister Rebecca are banished by their aunt and sent to work at an isolated Welsh mansion. But there are rumours of missing maidservants and a ghost that stalks the deserted halls… Wandering through the mansion’s dusty rooms, Eliza finds blood-spattered books, crumpled photographs and portraits of a mysterious woman clues to a terrible past that might just become Eliza’s future.

As Eliza unravels a mystery that has endured for decades, Rebecca falls under the spell of cruel housekeeper Mrs Pollard, who will stop at nothing to keep the house’s secrets. But can the sisters uncover the truth and escape back to London before they meet a dreadful fate?

Lauren A. Forry was brought up in the woods of Bucks County, Pennsylvania, USA where her FBI agent father and book-loving mother raised her on a diet of The X-Files and RL Stine. After earning her BA in Cinema Studies from New York University, she moved to London where she earned her MFA in Creative Writing from Kingston University. There she was awarded the Faber and Faber Creative Writing MA Prize for her dissertation, which would become her debut novel, Abigale Hall. Her short stories have since appeared in multiple sci-fi and horror anthologies. She currently resides in the woods.

21 April 2016

5169Y6ORzmL._SX323_BO1,204,203,200_The Body on the Doorstep by A.J. MacKenzie (from Zaffre)

This is the first in the Romney Marsh Mystery series, set in the late 1700s.

Shocked to discover a dying man on his doorstep – and lucky to avoid a bullet himself – Reverend Hardcastle finds himself entrusted with the victim’s cryptic last words. With smuggling rife on England’s south-east coast, the obvious conclusion is that this was a falling out among thieves. But why is the leader of the local Customs service so reluctant to investigate? Ably assisted by the ingenious Mrs Chaytor, Hardcastle sets out to solve the mystery for himself. But smugglers are not the only ones to lurk off the Kent coast, and the more he discovers, the more he realises he might have bitten off more than he can chew.

A.J. MacKenzie is the pseudonym of Marilyn Livingstone and Morgen Witzel, a collaborative Anglo-Canadian husband-and-wife duo. Between them they have written more than twenty non-fiction and academic titles, with specialisms including management, medieval economic history and medieval warfare.

You can follow the duo on Twitter @AJMacKnovels


 

For previous ‘debuts’ posts see JanuaryFebruary and March.

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An Interview with Quentin Bates – author of Thin Ice

One of the co-founders of Iceland Noir, and translator of Ragnar Jónasson’s ‘Dark Iceland‘ series, Quentin Bates is currently celebrating the publication of Thin Ice, the fifth full length novel in his own ‘Gunnhildur’ series. To mark this he is the focus of perhaps one of the longest blog tours ever – which demonstrates his popularity amongst the crime fiction community. 

Here he talks about one critical aspect of any Icelandic novel – the weather.

‘You don’t like the weather? Then just wait a while and it’ll change. It’s almost an Icelandic cliché that you can expect four different kinds of weather in a single day. With weather fronts rolling across the Atlantic all winter long, it’s never going to be anything but changeable.

‘For me Iceland is less about the magnificent landscape, high mountains and lush green valleys, than about the constantly-changing weatherscape. It becomes ingrained after a while, to the point that for every scene I write, every new chapter and situation, the first thing is to establish what kind of a day it might be, even if it doesn’t rate a mention in whatever I’m writing.

‘Thin Ice is set in the beginning of winter, it’s getting dark early. It’s cold and by the coast it’s windy and wet, but upcountry where part of the action takes place, it has already started to snow, to the consternation of the four fugitives the story revolves around. They find themselves snowed in as both the police and the underworld search and hope to find them first.

‘Winter in Iceland can be harsh. It can rain and snow alternately for days and weeks at a time, although those who hail from the north coast or the Westfjords will snort with disdain at the mention of a heavy snowfall in Reykjavík, where, according to the hardy northerners, it just drizzles with rain all winter long and Reykjavík grinds to a halt as soon as there’s an inch of the white stuff on the ground.

‘Fair enough, in the south it rains more than it snows. Sometimes there can be a whole winter without a significant fall of snow. In the north, where the north-easterly storms regularly batter the coast, a winter without serious snow is a rarity. But it’s not all about snow. Summers can be chilly, damp affairs during which the sun hardly breaks through the cloud cover. Other summers can be brilliantly bright as a clear blue sky, not a breath of wind and scorching sunshine can turn the north into an absolute paradise.

‘Autumn can be a matter of a couple of days between the sunshine and the first howling gale of winter as the anti-cyclones start to queue up out over the deep Atlantic. The same goes for spring. It can be snowing one day, followed by blazing sunshine the next that sets the streets awash with meltwater.

‘Weather is crucial to Icelanders. It’s something people are far more conscious of than we are further south. It’s understandable. Until a generation ago, Iceland was a community of predominantly farmers and fishermen. That’s changed, but that’s another story… For those people, being able to predict the weather in an age before even rudimentary forecasting could be the difference between life an death, the difference between survival and starvation.

‘Letting the livestock out too early in the spring could meaning losing your flock to a sudden snowstorm, while failing to take advantage of a few dry days at the height of summer could mean your sheep starving long before the next spring and your family going the same way. The dangers to fishermen working open boats from a shingle beach are glaringly clear. Will the wind still be in the right quarter to bring you home before nightfall, and will the surge of the swell be enough to help bring the boat clear of the water, or could it have worsened enough to smash it to pieces against the rocks?

‘There’s no doubt it makes a great backdrop to a crime story, or any drama. Maybe that’s the appeal of Nordic crime fiction, the merciless background of rocks and snow contrasted against comfortable, safe societies.

‘Sunny? Windy? A cold wind from the north that brings snow with it, or a warmer wind from the south that ushers in a thaw? Snow is dramatic for a story set in Reykjavík, but rain is more likely to be realistic. But if you don’t like it, just wait an hour or two and it’ll change.’

So if you plan to attend Iceland Noir later this year – you’ve been warned!

 

 

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Jonathan Dark or the Evidence of Ghosts – A K Benedict

Jonathan-Dark-or-The-Evidence-Of-GhostsTitle – Jonathan Dark or the Evidence of Ghosts

Author – A K Benedict

Published – Feb 2016 (ebook)

Genre – Fantasy crime fiction

It’s difficult to write a review of this book without comparing it to AK Benedict’s debut The Beauty of Murder because, with the exception of adding a touch of the supernatural to crime fiction, the two books are quite different.

Set in present day London ‘Jonathan Dark or the Evidence of Ghosts’ is a more conventional crime fiction novel than her debut and features the eponymous Dark as a Detective Inspector with the Metropolitan Police. Dark is an unhappy chap – he can’t forgive himself for letting a young woman die at the hands of a stalker and he’s homeless because he and his wife have split up. He has, perhaps not surprisingly, quite a melancholic view of the world.

The book opens when another young woman finds herself at the centre of the mysterious stalker’s attention. In this case, however, she is unable to provide any information to the police as she can’t see. (In fact she was born blind and although she has recently had her sight surgically restored she wears a blindfold as she’s not yet comfortable with sight.) Maria is a fascinating character and her lack of vision provides lots of opportunity for Benedict to draw the world for the reader in terms of scent, sounds and touch.

Dark is also involved in the investigation of a murder in which a body is discovered weeks after the cremation of the victim’s remains has taken place. Finding the key to this mystery uncovers references to a sinister organisation called ‘The Ring’ and this leads him to encounter the supernatural aspect of the story – ghosts.

The presence of ghosts and the London setting brings this more firmly into Ben Aaronovitch / Rivers of London territory but Benedict has her own take on how the ghosts manifest themselves, what the rules are for their presence and introduces a rather malevolent variation.

There’s a lot packed into the book and it felt as if it had more pace than its predecessor. Although you still get a feel for Benedict’s sense of humour (do try to see her talk about her book at an event) there is less of the wry humour that lifted her debut, perhaps Dark’s personality made this less appropriate. There’s still plenty that demonstrates her skill with prose and a trip to Borough Market will never be the same again. The plot twists and turns and there are a number of red herrings thrown in that misdirect the reader (or not, if you’re really smart…).

Dark and Maria are both great characters. He has thrown himself into his work both because of and at the expense of his personal life and through Maria the two worlds collide. Maria seems to be independent and wilful but she has a touching naivety and vulnerability about her. Both are a little lost and even out of place in modern London but they form a bond during the course of the book that adds another dimension.

The plot is a little on the fantastic side of credible (it has ghosts – what am I saying?) but for me the boundary was really pushed when Dark and Maria managed to get drinks at Monmouth Coffee in Borough Market – something I’ve never managed to do!

This book offered quite a different premise to her debut but was an enjoyable and compelling read. Thanks to the publisher for the review copy.

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