January 29

Fever City – Tim Baker

Fever City Nick Alston, a Los Angeles private investigator, is hired to find the kidnapped son of America’s richest and most hated man.

Hastings, a mob hitman in search of redemption, is also on the trail. But both men soon become ensnared by a sinister cabal that spreads from the White House all the way to Dealey Plaza.

Decades later in Dallas, Alston’s son stumbles across evidence from JFK conspiracy buffs that just might link his father to the shot heard round the world.

Violent, vivid, visceral: FEVER CITY is a high–octane, nightmare journey through a Mad Men-era America of dark powers, corruption and conspiracy.

 

My thanks to Faber & Faber for my review copy.

 

My friends will groan when they find I have read a book with a conspiracy theory element to it as I love ‘em. Roswell, the Moon Landings, JFK and Nessie all provide hours of fascination. Obviously from the 4 I listed one is a total fabrication of the truth but I am quite happy to believe that there was a UFO at Roswell, JFK was not killed by Lee Harvey Oswald and I have seen pictures of Nessie so she clearly is a real thing too.

In Fever City Tim Baker has crafted a phenomenal story around the JFK assassination – putting forward new observations and casting more suspicions over the ‘official’ story on the death of a President. Many famous names crop up through the story and relationships, alliances and adversaries are explored.  It is a compelling read and as I reached the end of the book I could not turn the pages fast enough to see how everything would resolve.

The narrative is handled from three viewpoints and events cover three different points in history. 1960 when the child of one of America’s richest (and most loathed) men is kidnapped – Private Investigator Nick Alston is called in to help locate the kidnapped boy.

Jumping forward to 1963 when Alston is reunited with a hitman called Hastings (the two had first met during the kidnap investigation). Obviously 1963 is of huge significance and we follow events which will eventually build up to that fateful day in Dallas.

fever-city-_-blog-tour-graphicThen the narrative jumps forward to 2014 when the son of one of the key players (that of Nick Alston) is looking into all the theories which surround the assassination of JFK. As Fever City progresses Alston (junior) comes to realise that his father may have been very close to some of the key players who are implicated in one of history’s greatest cover-ups.

The switching narrative is brilliantly handled and the way the story flits across the time periods works really well. I initially had fears that this may fragment the story but these fears were short lived as Baker builds so much tension into the story you don’t mind being drawn through the years.

Fever City should come with a ‘dark’ or ‘gritty’ warning. The male characters can come across as hard, uncompromising or aggressive and the females are brilliantly balanced initially appearing to be femme fatales but ultimately showing more depth and inner steel than most of their male counterparts.

A deeply enjoyable story. Compelling, twisty and downright nasty at times. All plus points for me – definitely a bit of a favourite.

 

Fever City is published by Faber & Faber and can be purchased here.

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January 28

Guest Post – David Mark: Villains

Why are we obsessed with murder? What is it that make the act of killing so intriguing? Best-selling novelist DAVID MARK asks why it is that terrible acts are lethally compelling. 

Go on, admit it – when you hear there’s a serial killer on the loose, you’re more excited than scared. It doesn’t make you a bad person. It makes you a human being. We can’t help it. We’re thrilled by that which terrifies us; we’re invigorated by the idea of a little extra peril in our day-to-day. If you discovered there was a dragon on the loose in Chipping Norton you’d be hooked, and a part of you would be hoping that the next bulletin involved a politician or a tabloid executive being roasted alive. Serial killers are our dragons. They add some danger. They add some colour. They brighten up the drive home. Me? I love ‘em.

These aren’t my actual opinions, by the way. They’re what I like to think of as loaded contentions. They might strike a chord with some, but please don’t think any of the above represents my actual view. I don’t really have a view. It comes with voting Lib Dem. It’s fun to wonder, though. I’ve never actually been to university but I’d imagine this is what it feels like at some of the more elite seats of learning. Right now I feel like I should be in my philosophy master’s private rooms, drinking some obscure liqueur and positing obscenely inflammatory hypotheses in the hope of impressing some overseas student who reads Kierkegaard for pleasure.

David MarkWhere was I? Oh yes, death. Murder. Villainy. Hmm. Well, crime fiction is my stock in trade. If it weren’t for people’s continued interest in the act of murder then I would probably be writing romance novels and indulging in self-harm. But do I understand the allure? Do I actually have any real ideas about why pretty much every crime novel has the act of murder at its heart? Do I know why millions of readers around the world expect at least one corpse per novel and hope for plenty more? Why for example, do readers gladly overdose on serial killer novels but turn our noses up at the idea of an investigation into other types of crime? Why doesn’t Jack Reacher go after corrupt hedge fund managers? Why isn’t Rebus bringing down corporate price-fixers? And why isn’t my own Detective Sergeant McAvoy spending 400 pages a year chasing after trawler owners who deliberately break EU quota agreements?

Well, for me personally, it’s because there is something unique about murder. When you take a life, you don’t just take the victim’s life. You take their future. You take all they will ever be. There is no opportunity for revenge, redemption or redress. You stop a heart and you are making a decision from which there is no return. It’s the crime that most fascinates and terrifies us and it sells newspapers at an impressive rate of knots.

It’s the same in the entertainment business. Murder mysteries are the true kingpin of the TV schedules. Whether it be cosy poisonings in St Mary Mead or psychopaths cutting people’s feet off in Whitechapel, any show that promises a body, a culprit, an investigation and a resolution, can expect big ratings.

So am I being mercenary? Am I writing about murder because I know people are attracted to it? Or am I writing about murder because I’m capable of looking out at the world through eyes that sometimes scare me and that I’d rather channel that gift into planning murders than committing them? That’s certainly a theory. People do ask me where I get my ideas from and they don’t always think of it as a compliment when they say that the murderers in my books seem terrifying believable. But I’d like to take this opportunity to let readers know they are safe in my company. I don’t see myself going on the rampage any time soon. I suffer with bronchial problems and the idea of a hammer attack sounds awfully tiring.

David Mark 2What was I talking about? Villains, that’s right. Murderers. Killers. Why do they fascinate? Why do they sell? Could it be that they are simply the most interesting characters? If you can think of anybody in your social circle who is more interesting than Hannibal Lecter, you should probably ask them some searching questions and stop letting them babysit.

I’ve been asked several times whether I believe that everybody is capable of murder. My answer is ‘yes’. Given the right motivation and enough opportunity, I believe that everybody on earth could take a life. That’s not based on innate bleakness. That’s based on many years spent covering murder trials as a journalist. For every hundred murderers who stood in the dock, perhaps only one or two seemed to be cut from a different cloth to those in the public gallery. They were just people: men and women who had lost their temper, or their reason, or whose greed had overcome their sense of right and wrong. Most felt remorse for their crimes and those who didn’t seemed reconciled to the fact that there would be a punishment for their crime. They had killed for what they saw as a good reason and they had been caught accordingly.

Dead PrettyThose handful of ‘different’ killers were the ones that fascinated me. Those men and women who had a little bit missing in their make-up, or perhaps, an extra little bit in their brain. They were the ones who killed because they wanted to know what the inside of somebody’s head looked like. They were the ones who took a life because they enjoyed the sound of screams. They were the ones who gave me the chills. Perhaps I write about such people because it is a way of keeping them contained; I put the monsters on the page so they don’t escape. But then again, I’m not sure I write about monsters. I write about people who could exist. People who kill, for good or for bad. I write about the different notions of justice and how good and evil are just a double yoke in the same cracked egg. I write about a good man chasing bad people and the toll that takes upon his soul.

Was there a point to this? I’m caught up in it now. I’m thinking about killers. I‘m wondering about goodness and badness and what it all says about me and my species. Perhaps that suggests that we haven’t resolved anything. It certainly suggests that murder remains fascinating. Perhaps that’s why I write about it. Hmm.

 

DAVID MARK’S new novel featuring DS Aector McAvoy, DEAD PRETTY, is out now, published by Mulholland Books.

 

 

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January 28

Dead Pretty – David Mark

Dead PrettyHannah Kelly has been missing for nine months. Ava Delaney has been dead for five days.

One girl to find. One girl to avenge. And DS Aector McAvoy won’t let either of them go until justice can be done.

But some people have their own ideas of what justice means…

 

My thanks to Mulholland Books for my review copy which I received through Netgalley

 

DS Aector McAvoy returns for a fifth outing in David Mark’s new novel Dead Pretty. I will ‘fess up from the start, I have not read the first four books so I come to the series with no awareness of what has gone before. In turn this lets me consider Dead Pretty entirely on its own merit (and I like when I can do that).

My initial impression was that Aector McAvoy is nice. Really, really nice – everyone seems to like him, he gets emotionally involved in his cases, blushes easily and wants to do the right thing. An interesting and welcome change from the ‘flawed’ characters I expect to read about in crime stories.

Contrasting McAvoy is his boss Detective Superintendent Trish Pharaoh. She struck me as much more rough and ready, willing to do whatever was required to get the task in hand completed and more…flawed. I don’t know how the dynamic between the two normally plays out but I did feel that for large parts of Dead Pretty Pharaoh was much more in the limelight than McAvoy.

Pharaoh’s prominence is very much integral to the investigations underway in Dead Pretty.  To explain why would require plot spoilers (and you do not get those here) but suffice to say I enjoyed Pharaoh’s fights, dilemmas and crisis moments as they sprang up through the book.

Central to the story is the investigation into Ava Delaney’s murder and McAvoy’s ongoing obsession with tracking down missing girl Hannah Kelly. Pharaoh has her own problems, a man that was integral in imprisoning has had his conviction overturned and is back on the streets and their paths are going to cross – Pharaoh will make sure of that!

David Mark sets a scene in magnificent detail, he has a very descriptive style and I did feel myself drawn into the story – easily imagining a cottage in the woods, a horse walking down a county lane, a family home under threat from <Spoilers>.  When the surroundings are jumping off the page so vividly I cannot help but love that reading experience.

What I really liked about Dead Pretty is that is very dark in places and this is slightly disconcerting when the author is so good at describing a scene! I always favour a crime thriller that is not afraid to shirk from the gritty details and Dead Pretty ensured McAvoy and Pharaoh faced down the horrors as I hoped they would.

David Mark

 

Dead Pretty is published by Mulholland Books and is available in Hardback and digital format from 28 January 2016.  You can get a copy here

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January 25

In Conversation: When SJI Holliday met JS Law

bw cover1 copyA few months ago I thought that it would be fun to try bring something different to my blog. I had enjoyed sharing guest posts and author Q&A’s as I felt they offered insights into an author’s creative process but I was looking for something a bit more reactive. The Q&A format I normally adopt did not allow for follow-up questions as all my questions are normally submitted in advance.

To get around this problem I decided to approach two authors and ask if they would be prepared to chat to each other (with me lurking in the background). I turned to Twitter looking with my guest ‘wishlist’ on standby.

I was thrilled, and more than a little humbled, that the first two authors I approached agreed to take part. First up was JS Law (author of the fantastic thriller Tenacity). I had loved Tenacity and at the time I asked James if he would like to be involved in my author chat his book had recently launched – not brilliant timing on my part as James was swamped with demands upon his time.

The other person I had wanted to ask was Black Wood author, SJI Holliday. Susi’s debut novel had really caught my attention in the early part of the year, I loved her characterisation and despite setting the story in a fictional town everything had seemed so very real as I read.

I had purposefully selected my guests from different publishers, I tried to make sure they came from different parts of the country and were unlikely to know each other outwith Twitter and Social Media…as it turns out 2 out of 3 was not bad!

After ‘introducing’ Susi and James I then got caught up in a bit of good natured name calling and cheeky put-downs. Seems my plan to bring together two strangers had not quite worked out that way. But it did make for an easy opening question for me:

Me: Perhaps I should open with bringing me up to speed? When I suggested this chat I had no idea that you two knew each other, I quickly find that I am wrong about this! So how did your paths first cross?

Susi: You can blame Harrogate for all this… I think we first met 3 years ago, and Jaegerbombs aside, we’ve become good mates – we both had lots of angsty chats before finding publishers, so it’s nice to be able to do stuff like this now when we both have books on the shelves. We’re a supportive bunch, us crime writers! You’ll find that a lot of us have got to know each other… helps with the days when we are banging our heads off walls wailing about how we can’t write 😉

James: Before getting my publishing deal, I spent a lot of time attending writing events, networking and trying to better understand the environment. I met Susi at Harrogate a few years ago and you might say we just hit it off. I recall at the time that Susi had an agent and no deal, and I was agentless, so we’ve both come a long way.Tenacity 2

The crime community is quite small, but very supportive, and long before I was published I really loved that I could go to an event and hang out for a beer with writers that I’ve been fans of for years. I think this warmth and new circle of friends also helped me confirm what I think I already knew, and

that was that Crime and Thrillers was where I wanted to be. I look forward every year to the key events of Crime in the Court at Goldboro Books, Crimefest, Theakston’s Old Peculiar at Harrogate and Bloody Scotland, among others as it’s a chance to mix with the other writers and loads of readers, sink a few beers and remind myself that there’s a life beyond my current manuscript.

The publishing journey is different for us all, but at the events I gain so much experience from the more established writers and so much support, such as being friends with Susi, that it’s just part of the job now, and I wouldn’t miss any unless I had to.

So, Susi – drinking stories aside, why do you go to these events? Same reasons as me? If so, what value do you think you get beyond the support and encouragement?

Susi: I completely agree with James here. The events are invaluable, and I can’t imagine being a crime writer and not taking part in them. I’ve been doing some library events recently, and although they don’t always run exactly to plan (I had one with 3 attendees. One very old, one didn’t really understand English, and the third was aggressive and succeeded in making the whole thing rather uncomfortable) – it’s a great way to find new readers, as well as hone your skills when it comes to talking about yourself for an hour (which is much harder than it sounds). I tend to add anecdotes and mention other writers too, basically doing anything to keep the audience engaged and entertained. I have a great story about a psychopathic orange peeler, but not sure if I should commit it to print… it will be one of those folkloric legends… ‘Have you heard Susi Holliday talking about the weirdo with the orange?’

As James says, when we met, I had an agent but no deal. I actually hadn’t even finished the book at the time. I finished it a week later, but it took a good few months to find a publisher. I remember James being very supportive at that time, and he was also just starting to send out Tenacity to agents, so it was good to be able to give each other a rallying call when required.

I’ve written 50k words since I came back from Harrogate this year. I always come back from an event feeling buoyed and inspired. Hearing other authors speak is always entertaining (and that’s both on the stage and in the bar). It’s always great to chat to your author friends and peers about ideas, research and all that stuff. A lot of us have become good friends from meeting at events, and we keep in touch on social media and email too. It is a lonely thing, sitting down in front of a computer all day, talking to the characters in your head. We’re lucky that crime writers are a great bunch!

Something that I always find interesting is how we all manage to fit it all in. Writing takes time and headspace, and there are pesky things like other halves and kids and jobs too… I’ve recently taken a bit of time off to finish this draft, and I’m lucky that I can usually work part-time. How do you cope with fitting the writing around your day job, James?

James: Time is always an issue – family and a job that can be upwards of 50 hours some weeks – so for me the writing has to be my relaxation, the way I decompress. If it ever became a chore I genuinely don’t know if I could do it (I bet there’s a load of experienced authors out there now laughing at that now – like when a new parent talks about loving getting up at night with their lovely new baby, it soon wears you down). I write mostly in the evenings and on weekends when the kids are off doing other things, but I’m more and more looking to do retreats to give me big blocks of writing so that I can knuckle down. I have my first proper solo retreat coming up soon – 5 days in a remote cottage – so I’ll let you know how that goes – fingers crossed it’ll be very productive.

This always makes me think about wordcounts – I’m an obsessive planner/plotter and so when I start writing I usually like to have a very good idea what it is I’m going to write – with chapter plans and a good story summary. If I have this, I have, in the past, hit as many as 12,000 words in a day, though I can’t sustain that. A good evening for me is 2,500 words and a good day at the weekend would be 5,000 plus. It’s worth noting that my first drafts are very dirty, and I mean awful – filled with lines like ‘This is shit, write something better in here’ and ‘research snipers and write this again so it isn’t crap’ so there is a cost associated with my hight(ish) word count outputs.

How does that compare to you, Susi??

SJI HollidaySusi: I’m not quite as much of a planner, but I did outline my second book and it meant I was able to get the words down a lot quicker. 5,500 is the max I’ve ever done in a day. 2,500 is more usual. I just wrote 50k in a month which was gruelling! I’m having a break now before starting edits – catching up on some reading before my to-be-read pile turns into an avalanche! I recently read The Blissfully Dead by Mark Edwards and Louise Voss, and Steve Mosby’s I Know Who Did It (both were brilliant).

Do you find that reading great books makes you doubt your own ability? Do you suffer from ‘everything I’m writing is shit’ syndrome? And I don’t mean during the first draft.

James: Oh god yes! I no longer read fiction during my first draft and William McIlvanney is to blame. I was reading his first Laidlaw book when I was working on one of my first drafts and his sense of place is so strong, his characterisation just spot on, his descriptive prose……. The list goes on and it just shales my confidence. But it’s more than that too – if I’m reading a really strong novel, I start to take on those traits, like during the Game of Thrones novels (no, I haven’t bothered to watch the tv series) I found I started to err towards longer more descriptive passages, you know, forty-two pages of what Dan was wearing and what she had for breakfast ;-), but seriously, I find that a strong writing style can really impact on me and I start to lose my own voice – so I try to be very careful.

James LawDuring first draft, it’s all non-fic for me.

And, to be honest, I’m very hard on what I write – occasionally I write something that I think might not be shit, but not often – that’s why I don’t work in sales!

Susi: Manic is the only way I can operate. When things slow down, I get lazy. I’m just about to embark on my 3rd book now, and I’m hoping to write it fast and furious…

Meanwhile – yes, Bloody Scotland this weekend! Back full circle on the festival question! I’m looking forward to catching up with friends and doing the fresh blood panel. Plus I have a special event on the Saturday night…

****The Special Event was a star turn at the Curly Coo pub where Susi was joined by Alexandra Sokoloff, Lucy Ribchester, Kati Hiekkapelto, Steph Broadrib (Crime Thriller Girl) for a show-stopping, bar stomping performance of Chicago showtunes. Other performers on during the evening included Val McDermid, Steve Cavanagh and Michael J Malone.****

Prior to starting book 3, I’m trying to write a short story. Not written one for a while and feeling that it’s become difficult all of a sudden… James, do you write short stories, or is it novels all the way?

James: I love short stories! Love them. I used to write loads and have entered dozens of short story comps. I’ve just never won one 🙁  honestly, I doubt there’s any literate person in the UK that hasn’t beaten me at a short story comp!

Interestingly, Dan Lewis, my lead in Tenacity, started off as a short story. I forget what comp it was, but it was one where they give you a title, or maybe a topic, and you have to write a story. I wrote about a woman in a man’s world and created Dan. It was several years later when I came back to her again and wrote Tenacity, where she really came into her own.

****At this point in the chat the mania went into overdrive and we all got distracted elsewhere. On returning in late in the year we picked up where we left off and I was keen to find out what had been happening during the chaos. I had met Susi at Bloody Scotland where she sneaked a little information about her next book during her panel. James, I believe, was happily distracted by the Rugby World Cup.  Christmas and New Year slipped by so I caught up with Susi to get some more information on her new book****

Me: Susi, in Stirling (Bloody Scotland) you indicated that you had a new book coming in 2016, can you share any more information yet?

Susi: Yes! It’s called Willow Walk. It’s set in Banktoun (same as Black Wood) but features new characters and a completely new story, so it’s a follow-up in some ways, but really it can be read standalone. It’s about a woman who is being stalked by the brother that nobody knew she had… It’s out in spring and I’m quite excited about it!

 

My most sincere thanks to James and Susi for giving so much of their time. I knew from the outset that I was asking for something which would be an ongoing distraction and they were magnificent in keeping this conversation going for a significant number of weeks, despite all their other commitments and constant demands upon their time.

SJI Holliday

SJI Holliday grew up in East Lothian. A life-long fan of crime and horror, her short stories have been published in various places, and she was shortlisted for the inaugural CWA Margery Allingham competition. She is married and lives in London. Her debut novel Black Wood was out in 2015.

Black Wood is published by Black & White Publishing and can be ordered here

 

JS Law

James joined the Royal Navy in 1993 as an apprentice and went on to serve for twenty years, the latter half of this career spent in the Submarine Service. He rose through the ranks, taking a commission as an engineering officer in 2001, and serving as a Senior Engineer and Nuclear Reactor Plant Supervisor, where his responsibilities ranged from the safety and operation of the submarine’s nuclear power plant to hydraulic plants, fridges and toilets; it was the latter of these tasks that brought the majority of any pressure.

His final years in service were spent training submariners in the role of Senior Lecturer in Nuclear Reactor Engineering, where he lectured and mentored future submarine operators of all ranks and rates.

Having written short stories and novels throughout his naval career, James completed an MA in Creative Writing at Portsmouth University shortly before leaving the navy in 2013, completing his debut novel, Tenacity, shortly afterwards.

James lives in Hampshire with his wife, Elaine, and two children. He spends what spare time he has riding his bike around the South Downs and travelling to Edinburgh to watch Scotland play rugby at Murrayfield stadium.

Tenacity is published by Headline and can be ordered here

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January 23

Devoted in Death – J.D. Robb

Devoted in DeathIt’s a new year in New York city, and two star-crossed lovers have just discovered an insatiable appetite…for murder.

Lieutenant Eve Dallas has witnessed some grisly crimes in her career and she knows just how dark things can get on the streets. But when a much-loved musician is found dead, Eve soon realises that his murder is part of a horrifying killing spree, stretching right across the country.

Now the killers have reached New York, and they’ve found themselves another victim. Eve knows she only has a couple of days to save a young girl’s life, and to stop the killers before their sadistic games escalate. Eve’s husband Roarke is ready to put his brains and his considerable resources behind the search. But even as the couple works closely together, time is running out…

 

My review copy came from Little Brown/Piatkus through Netgalley.

The In Death series by J. D. Robb is one of my favourites, I love Eve Dallas (the central character) and over the last 20 years J. D. Robb has built up a world and cast of characters that I cannot wait to return to. Set in a futuristic New York there are fun technological ‘advances’ and inventions which are now so well established in the books that the world seems totally believable to me.  If I am still kicking around in 2061 I will be gutted if J. D. Robb’s portrayal of how life will be turns out to be inaccurate!

Devoted in Death takes the approach of revealing the killers (there are two of them) from the outset of the story. They are the Devoted couple from the title and are on a killing spree from Arkansas to New York City. However, their crimes are spread across a number of states and they have remained undetected. Undetected that is, until they murder a loved and respected musician in NYC  Dallas notices a mark on the corpse which has previously appeared on other bodies.

Dallas and her team are now on a race against time as the killers have abducted their latest target.  If Dallas does not track down the killers soon then another body will be found and it too will almost certainly show signs of a prolonged torture prior to death.

Devoted in Death is not ideal as a jumping on point for a series which has now reached into 50 titles (a count which includes short stories and novellas). However, all the books in the In Death series CAN be read as a stand-alone crime thriller – the fun in knowing the back story will always reward returning readers. For a series that has been running for so long I am constantly amazed how J. D. Robb can keep hitting such a high mark.

These are fun reads, great crime thrillers and there are a huge number of books to read.  I have read most of the In Death books more than once and will continue to revisit them.  Dallas is the kick ass hero that you want to read about – long may she continue.

 

Devoted in Death will be released in paperback by Piatkus on 28th January and is also available in digital format: http://www.amazon.co.uk/gp/product/0349403716?keywords=devoted%20in%20death&qid=1453576624&ref_=sr_1_1_twi_pap_1&sr=8-1

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January 20

Stasi Child – David Young

Stasi ChildEast Berlin, 1975 When Oberleutnant Karin Müller is called to investigate a teenage girl’s body at the foot of the Wall, she imagines she’s seen it all before. But when she arrives she realises this is a death like no other. It seems the girl was trying to escape – but from the West.

Müller is a member of the People’s Police, but in East Germany her power only stretches so far. The Stasi want her to discover the identity of the girl, but assure her the case is otherwise closed – and strongly discourage her from asking questions. The evidence doesn’t add up, and it soon becomes clear the crime scene has been staged. But this is not a regime that tolerates a curious mind, and Müller doesn’t realise that the trail she’s following will lead her dangerously close to home . . . Stasi Child is David Young’s brilliant and page-turning debut novel.

 

My thanks to Julia at Midas PR for my review copy

 

I am still catching up on the overdue reviews – books I read during the Christmas holidays but just didn’t get a chance to capture my thoughts at the time.

Tonight I turn my attention to Stasi Child a wonderful and very distinctive thriller from debut author David Young. Stasi Child is set in 1970’s East Berlin, the lead character Karin Müller is an Oberleutnant in the People’s Police.  Müller is called in to investigate the death of a girl who was found at the foot of the Wall – not an uncommon occurrence, however, this girl appears to have been trying to escape from the West back into the East!

From the first page I was drawn into the story. Müller is a great character to drive the story, strong yet vulnerable, powerful through her Oberleutnant rank yet powerless when the Stasi becomes involved in ‘guiding’ her investigations.  Müller clearly has been a rising star within the People’s Police, however, her every step is watched and it is apparent that there are powerful forces keen to ensure her murder investigation is not too successful.  As I read I was reminded of so many Cold War thrillers where spying was rife and everyone had a secret agenda.

Müller’s investigation takes her on an official visit into West Germany and it was fascinating to see how the trip to the other side of the Wall was handled. On returning back to the East there is a shock in store for Müller when attempts to curtail her investigation come too close to home.

As we keep track of the murder investigation there is a side story being developed, young children taken into care of the state and put to work in conditions I found comparable to a Dickensian Workhouse. We follow a teenage girl who is desperate to escape this Hell of a life. She has no-one she can trust but is determined to find a new life for herself.  Is this girl destined to end up dead at the foot of the Wall? I had to know, I had to keep reading and the more I read of her plight the more I feared for her life. Top marks to David Young for this, it is rare I get this concerned about a character – if it DOES happen it is usually after the character has appeared in half a dozen books and they are considered part of the recurring cast!

Stasi Child ticked so many boxes for me. There is a murder story, the prospect of political intervention constantly casts a shadow over the characters, the social dynamics of 70’s East Berlin are explored and there are very real and frightening examples of how the State could intervene should there be suspicion of improper behaviour.  From chapter to chapter there are so many compelling elements brought into play by David Young that you just have to keep those pages turning.  The fact the book is described on Amazon as being part of the Karen Müller Series is such a thrill as it is a pretty clear indication that there will be the chance to return to Berlin and I cannot wait!

 

Stasi Child is published by Twenty7 and is currently available in digital format. It will be available in paperback from 11 February and (at time of writing) can be pre-ordered.

 

 

 

 

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January 17

In Place Of Death – Craig Robertson

In Place of Death

A young man enters the culverted remains of an ancient Glasgow stream, looking for thrills. Deep below the city, it is decaying and claustrophobic and gets more so with every step. As the ceiling lowers to no more than a couple of feet above the ground, the man finds his path blocked by another person. Someone with his throat cut.

As DS Rachel Narey leads the official investigation, photographer Tony Winter follows a lead of his own, through the shadowy world of urbexers, people who pursue a dangerous and illegal hobby, a world that Winter knows more about than he lets on. And it soon becomes clear that the murderer has killed before, and has no qualms about doing so again.

 

My thanks to Craig and Simon & Schuster for providing a review copy.

 

I have been having a slow return to updating my blog since the turn of the year.  I HAVE been reading and the reviews of the books I have read will appear in due course. However I wanted to have a wee run of reviews of books that I loved to start the year – step forward In Place of Death: a wonderful crime thriller, based in Glasgow and a book which introduced me to the concept of urbexing.

Urbexing is the name given to the exploration of abandoned urban buildings or places. Places closed off to the public while waiting demolition, potential refurbishment or just falling to ruin. But to some these forgotten buildings represent a challenge – a place to explore while knowing your presence is forbidden. Individuals that enjoy urbexing do not seek to damage or loot the buildings they visit – just enter, have a look around and get back out again. Some take pictures, others share their experiences through specialist chat forums. But in In Place of Death one adventurer found a little more than he expected on his explorations- a very dead body.

Craig Robertson’s brilliant duo, DI Rachel Narey and photographer Tony Winter, are back in In Place of Death and are called in as part of the investigation. They find themselves pitted against a stone cold killer, butting heads with Glasgow’s criminal underworld and questioning the lost souls that have fallen through the cracks in the system and are riding out their days in hovels to keep them from the streets. It frequently made for tense or harrowing reading and Robertson handles these scenes brilliantly. He puts his characters through an emotional wringer and you cannot help but keep reading to see how they cope with the traumas that are being piled upon them.

Through brilliant narrative we are guided on a tour of some of Glasgow’s famous landmarks and the darker corners. If you are in any way familiar with the city there is an extra level of enjoyment to be had when familiar buildings and structures are introduced. It made me look at some parts of the city in a whole new light and now when I travel into work each day I am looking around Glasgow to see other potential sites where the Urbexers may have tried to explore. It should be noted that you do not have to know Glasgow to enjoy this side of In Place of Death, as the locations (and their historical significance) are deftly woven into the narrative.

Narey and Winter will each have to face their personal demons during the course of the story. The scenes set away from the actual investigation further developed the back-story of the characters and this will be a real treat for returning readers. Winter and Narey are characters I want to read about, I love where Craig Robertson is taking this duo and I hope it is not too long before we meet them again.

I read too many books each year which entertain without ever really capturing my imagination.  Not so with In Place of Death which had me hooked from the outset and had just the right blend of intrigue, humour, darkness and sheer nail-biting tension. A 5 star thriller from an author I strongly urge you to read.

 

In Place of Death is published by Simon & Schuster and is available in Paperback and Digital format:  http://www.amazon.co.uk/Place-Death-Craig-Robertson-ebook-x/dp/B00MK376TI/ref=asap_bc?ie=UTF8

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January 10

In The Cold Dark Ground – Stuart MacBride

In The Cold Dark GroundSergeant Logan McRae is in trouble…

His missing-persons investigation has just turned up a body in the woods – naked, hands tied behind its back, and a bin bag duct-taped over its head. The Major Investigation Team charges up from Aberdeen, under the beady eye of Logan’s ex-boss Detective Chief Inspector Steel. And, as usual, she wants him to do her job for her.

But it’s not going to be easy: a new Superintendent is on her way up from the Serious Organised Crime Task Force, hell-bent on making Logan’s life miserable; Professional Standards are gunning for Steel; and Wee Hamish Mowat, head of Aberdeen’s criminal underbelly, is dying – leaving rival gangs from all over the UK eying his territory.

There’s a war brewing and Logan’s trapped right in the middle, whether he likes it or not.

 

My thanks to Jaime at HarperCollins for my review copy.

Logan McRae is back in his 10th outing and although you did not know it – this is the book that you have been waiting for. Everything that Stuart MacBride has been building up in the first 9 McRae novels seems to be coming to a head within In the Cold Dark Ground and it is magnificent. Absolute jaw-dropping, edge of the seat brilliance.

Now comes the tricky part – I want to talk about things that happen in the book and I can’t. I cannot even hint at the stuff I REALLY want to talk about because spoiling the twists, shocks, surprises and the WTF moments would seriously impact on your enjoyment of the book.  Well I say ‘enjoyment’ but aside from the usual dark humour we can expect from MacBride’s books I can let share that Logan is in for a tough time. Again. Poor sod.

In The Cold Dark Ground opens with Logan and his team investigating a missing-persons case, However, a body soon turns up and the Major Investigations Team (and Roberta Steel) are not far behind. Before long Steel is stomping all-over Logan’s life again.  But Logan has more pressing issues to contend with, his girlfriend remains in her coma, the gangsters of Aberdeen (and beyond) are restless as an ailing Wee Hamish Mowat struggles to retain control of his territory. Logan is still Wee Hamish’s preferred successor to his criminal empire, however, Logan has other ideas…as does Hamish’s second in command – the psychotic Reuben who intends to step up to the top spot himself and needs to ensure he has Logan’s loyalty.

This is Stuart MacBride at his finest. He has written some harrowing storylines in the past but In The Cold Dark Ground blew me away. The tension I felt while reading some scenes was unlike anything I have experienced from a book for a long, long time. There are moments that could have you in tears…laughter or sorrow. We see some characters in a new light and there are welcome returns for old friends and some new faces we MAY see in future.

I could write a few more paragraphs telling you how much I enjoyed In The Cold Dark Ground but I will spare you that.  I loved it. A 5/5 review score was guaranteed before I was even half-way through the book – it could even be a 6/5 I enjoyed it so much.  My only concern is that I read it too soon, now I have a very long wait to find out what happens next!

 

In The Cold Dark Ground is published on 14th January in Hardcover and Digital format.   You can (pre)order your copy here: http://www.amazon.co.uk/Cold-Dark-Ground-Logan-McRae/dp/0007494645/ref=tmm_hrd_swatch_0?_encoding=UTF8&qid=1452463726&sr=1-1

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January 8

Nightblind – Ragnar Jonasson

NightBlind BF AW 2Siglufjörður: an idyllically quiet fishing village on the northernmost tip of Iceland, accessible only via a small mountain tunnel. Ari Thór Arason: a local policeman, whose tumultuous past and uneasy relationships with the villagers continue to haunt him. The peace of this close-knit community is shattered by the murder of a policeman – shot at point-blank range in the dead of night in a deserted house.

With a killer on the loose and the dark arctic winter closing in, it falls to Ari Thór to piece together a puzzle that involves tangled local politics, a compromised new mayor, and a psychiatric ward in Reykjavik, where someone is being held against their will.

Then a mysterious young woman moves to the area, on the run from something she dare not reveal, and it becomes all too clear that tragic events from the past are weaving a sinister spell that may threaten them all.

 

Thanks to Karen at Orenda for my review copy and also the opportunity to join the blog tour.

Last year we met Ari Thór Arason in Snowblind and followed his move to Siglufjörður. He struggled to adapt to being the new cop (and a stranger) in a small town while also dealing with the added distraction of conducting a murder investigation. Snowblind was one of the reading highlights of 2015 and you can read my review here: http://grabthisbook.net/?p=854

Nightblind picks up with Ari Thór some five years after the events of Snowblind. The book opens with an explanatory note for the reader outlining the significant events in Ari Thór’s life and explains that his colleague Tomás has moved to Reykjavík. Ari Thór now has a new boss, Herjólfur, but the two do not appear to have bonded – perhaps as Ari Thór applied for promotion but was unsuccessful.

Trouble is not far away for Ari Thór: the murder of his colleague brings tragedy too close to home. He knows not why his colleague visited a deserted house in the middle of the night, why he may have been targeted or even if the killer has remained in town. Ari Thór’s investigations will become political as the local mayor joins the suspect pool and small town grapevine speculation threatens to spill into scandal. A local drug dealer may hold some vital information but their co-operation may come at too high a price for Ari Thór.

Jonasson builds a brilliant narrative as Ari Thór’s investigation progresses. We have a small circle of characters who will play an important part in the story, red herrings, side plots and subtle clues – all the hallmarks we have already come to expect from Ragnar Jonasson. The frequent comparisons of a writing style that is similar to Dame Agatha’s are well merited.

Nightblind is a murder story so to reveal too much about the actual story would require massive spoilers – nothing should be allowed to spoil your enjoyment of Nightblind, it’s magnificent. I felt it pitched slightly darker than Snowblind with one plot thread (not to the detriment of the story) but it was a book I didn’t want to end. I could read about life in Siglufjörður for days, Jonasson makes the town come to life around me as I curl up with his books.

Ragnar Jonasson (courtesy of the beautiful translation by Quentin Bates) has delivered another literary delight – I cannot heap enough praise upon Nightblind.

 

Nightblind is published by Orenda Books and is available now in digital format and in paperback from 15th January 2016.

The blog tour continues and I urge you to check out as many of the hosts as you can – the full schedule is included below.

Nightblind Blog tour

 

 

 

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