review

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.

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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.

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Deep Down Dead – Steph Broadribb

51dphgk8vslTitle – Deep Down Dead

Author – Steph Broadribb

Published – Jan 2017

Genre – Thriller

Before I start my review it’s only fair to say that I have known Steph (aka ‘Crime Thriller Girl‘) for a  few years and may have had a social drink or two with her at crime fiction events. I hope that readers of my blog can trust, however, that I wouldn’t give a positive review to a book because of this. In fact that does lead to some interesting thoughts about the world of bloggers, authors and crime fiction conventions / events – but for another day!

Florida bounty-hunter and single mother Lori Anderson seizes the opportunity to take on a job to help her make ends meet after her young daughter’s medical treatment. But with a higher than normal bounty comes a higher than normal risk and Lori finds that the job has a personal aspect to it that will bring back memories that she would prefer to stay buried.

The story is fast paced, with lots of action and plenty of emotional twists and turns. Some of the action sequences have a very visual quality to them and it would be easy to see them transferred to (small or large) screen. It touches on some dark themes and has a smattering of sex, violence and secrets. There are aspects that manage to lighten the mood a little and Lori is a feisty leading lady. I don’t want to give too much away but there’s also a ‘will they, won’t they’ aspect to the story.

I have to confess that if there was one aspect I didn’t like it was Lori’s daughter. I can see how important she was to the plot and to Lori’s motivation but there was something about the too good to be true, pigtails and eye-rolling, that made me hope something dreadful would happen early on in the book!

I mentioned when I reviewed The Distance by Helen Giltrow that while there are plenty of women writing crime fiction it feels unusual to read a thriller written by a woman. It’s therefore great to read another credible, pacy thriller from a female author. Another unusual aspect of Dead Down Dead, and one that is shared with the series by Rod Reynolds and Mason Cross, is the use of an American setting by someone who is British.

This is an accomplished debut and in Lori, Steph has created a character with a very clear and convincing voice. It’s obvious that she’s also familiar with the locations she uses and I know that she took research further than most authors by training as a bounty hunter in California.

I was pleased that the ending didn’t pan out as I thought it might and  it didn’t go for an ‘easy’ option. This is the first in a series and I’m curious to know where the next instalment will take Lori.

Many thanks to the author for the review copy.

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Murderabilia – Craig Robertson

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Title – Murderabilia

Author – Craig Robertson

Published – 2016

Genre – Crime

I don’t think it’s any secret that I am a fan of Craig Roberton’s writing – his mix of gritty Glaswegian crime fiction, ability to weave in multiple plotlines and of course his very readable prose. This is the sixth book in the series featuring DI Rachel Narey and her partner, ex-police photographer Tony Winter and I’m pleased to say that it didn’t disappoint.

Set just months after the end of In Place of Death, Winter is now a photo-journalist with the Scottish Standard but that doesn’t stop him getting into the thick of it when it comes to taking crime scene photos. A particularly visual death has Winter taking the pictures of a body suspended from a railway bridge, a death Narey will be investigating but something happens at the beginning of the investigation that sees Narey confined to their home and a colleague she believes to be incompetent taking over her case.

While Narey is trapped Winter does some digging of his own but not one for inaction Narey also begins to investigate one aspect of the crime scene through the only means she can – the internet. What she finds is a world where people will trade anything and everything associated with serial killers and their victims. Unable to leave her bed she becomes more and more obsessed with what she finds and is drawn into the darkest area of the web. Where the first books in this series featured Winter’s obsession with his photography and the visual aspects of the crime scene this is Narey’s turn to be consumed by something horrific.

Normally Robertson’s books offer a view of the dark side of the City of Glasgow but in this book it’s the dark side of the internet that is centre stage and those that collect items most of us would find abhorrent. The book still manages to be atmospheric because it effortlessly captures the claustraphobia of Narey’s confinement and her obsession. She’s firmly at the forefront of this book which makes it a more emotional read than perhaps the earlier titles have been.

It’s refreshing to come across a plot and a take on an investigation which is original and Robertson on certainly achieves that here. I’m always intrigued by his books, there is always some aspect that he brings in that makes me want to go away and find out more about. In this case you might (or might not) want to try Googling ‘murderabilia’ for yourself. Thank you to the publisher for the review copy.

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Here’s to 2017

stockvault-large-colorful-fireworks114130Well whatever your thoughts about 2016 it has, inevitably, passed and here we are looking forward to 2017 and what that might bring.

I thought this might be a good opportunity, even if it’s just for my own benefit, to take stock of what I read / blogged in 2016 so this time next year I have a comparison. According to Goodreads I have read 51 books – which is what I would expect – I know I usually read about one a week and with the house move I’ve had a couple of weeks where I’ve hardly read a page.

As well as completing 51 books I consigned one to the ‘abandoned’ shelf, have carried over 6 that I had already started and still haven’t finished and started a further three – so I’m technically currently reading 9.

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My ‘to read’ numbers are a little frightening. According to Goodreads, which is how I try to keep track, I have a total of 288:

  • 146 on my bookcase (although this is theoretical as a lot have yet to be unpacked)
  • 41 on my kindle
  • 101 (intentionally) in boxes although I hope to get to them eventually.

This compares with a total of 250 in March when I commented following a post of Cleo’s.

I don’t commit to a reading challenge each year, blogging can feel like enough of a chore sometimes without making the reading feel challenging too!

As far as my blog is concerned I posted reviews of 39 books – confirming my suspicion that I am permanently behind and never manage to write / post the reviews at the same speed at which I read.

As well as the book reviews I tried two new things on the blog this year. The first was a series of features on those people who are behind the scenes but are all involved in getting great crime fiction to our shelves / e-readers. This was a popular feature which I will be pressing on with – I have some more interviewees lined up I just need to write the questions for them to answer.

I also built on my ‘Debuts to look out for in 2015‘ with a monthly post featuring forthcoming crime fiction / thriller debuts. Although this was a great way of focussing attention on these new releases it became far too difficult to maintain in the latter part of the year. Perhaps I’ll just do a single ‘2017’ post.

Overall the traffic to my blog has increased, which is great and thank you to all the people who have read, liked and commented. Here’s to more of the same in 2017!

So do you have plans, challenges or goals for your reading and / or blogging in the next year?

Watch Her Disappear – Eva Dolan

cover-jpg-rendition-460-707Title – Watch Her Disappear

Author – Eva Dolan

Published – 26 Jan 2017

Genre – Crime fiction

I’m trying to catch up with my blog and while a number of boxes of ‘to read’ books remain to be unpacked I do have a stack of ‘read but not yet reviewed’ books that it would be great to clear before the start of the new year. Let’s see how that goes!

First up is Watch Her Disappear which was an unusually early read for me and will be published towards the end of January 2017. This is the first of Eva Dolan’s books I’ve read and is the fourth in her ‘Zigic and Ferreira’ series based on the work of the Peterborough Hate Crimes Unit.

The book opens with a gripping action scene before switching to the two main detectives, DI Zigic and DS Ferreira, who are summoned to the scene of a murder. It’s obvious from the outset that the two detectives and their personal lives are important to the series and I can see that being a huge draw in making you want to read the next in the series, and the next… Fortunately, while they seem to have quite complicated personal lives it’s refreshing to read a police procedural where they aren’t afflicted by any of the more common cliches that appear (too) often in crime fiction.

I assume from the ‘hate crimes’ slant that the books have tackled some difficult subjects and certainly this book doesn’t shy away from one which is both difficult and topical. The victim of the attack was a trans woman and this opens up a whole host of issues, both for the investigation and through the complex personal life of the victim. The investigation uncovers a spate of attacks on trans women but there is also a serial rapist in the area which muddies the waters. The victim’s family had shown different levels of acceptance of her lifestyle and while the divisions felt as if they were portrayed accurately the attitudes of her friends and relations only serve to add another level of complexity to the police investigation.

As someone who hasn’t read the preceding books I didn’t feel that I was at any sort of disadvantage and there weren’t any moments where I thought that readers of the series would have more idea about what was going that I did. The plot featured a difficult subject that’s not often discussed and managed to be thought-provoking without seeming to preach, none of this affected the pace and the plot kept me guessing until the end.  The investigative aspect relied on interviews (rather than forensics) and the personal perspectives of the two lead detectives, who in themselves offered an unusual dynamic to a police procedural. All in all an excellent read.

Thank you to the publisher for the review copy.

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Dead Line – Chris Ewan

716-ctbctqlTitle – Dead Line

Author – Chris Ewan

Published – 2013

Genre – Thriller

I enjoyed Safe House and it’s ridiculous that I let Dead Line languish on my TBR for so long, but I’m glad that I finally got round to reading it.

Dead Line is another gripping thriller with perhaps more of a mysterious feel to it compared to its predecessor. The main character is Daniel Trent, one half of a hostage negotiating duo, who live and works in France. He appears to be planning some sort of heist of his own when circumstances overtake him and his plans change.  The opening of the book is quite cryptic and Ewan drip feeds the reader information to flesh out the background to Trent’s story and the motivation for his attempt to turn from gamekeeper to poacher.

Cleverly written and fast-paced this was just the sort of thriller I enjoy and reminded me of Christmas mornings and not being able to resist racing through a new Dick Francis novel. There were some twists and revelations that I saw coming and others that I didn’t – a balance that means that this made a rewarding thriller that held my interest.

If I have a gripe it was the ending and I understand that I’m not the first person to have a grumble about it. But you’ll have to read the book yourself to see if you think my complaint is justified!

Everything a good thriller should be, I can highly recommend this. Thanks to the publisher for the review copy of this book.

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