Blog Tour: Faithless by Kjell Ola Dahl

From the PR: “Oslo detectives Gunnarstranda and Frølich are back … and this time, it’s personal…

When the body of a woman turns up in a dumpster, scalded and wrapped in plastic, Inspector Frank Frølich is shocked to discover that he knows her … and their recent meetings may hold the clue to her murder. As he begins to look deeper into the tragic events surrounding her death, Frølich’s colleague Gunnarstranda finds another body, and things take a more sinister turn. With a cold case involving the murder of a young girl in northern Norway casting a shadow, and an unsettling number of coincidences clouding the plot, Frølich is forced to look into his own past to find the answers – and the killer – before he strikes again.”

Caution- a whiff of slight spoiler may be ahead…

So… today is my stop on the BlogTour for Kjell Ola Dahl’s Faithless and I’m not really sure where or how to start with a review for this one because it is so fucking good.

I suppose I could start by pointing out that I have zero prior familiarity with Kjell Ola Dahl’s work or the Oslo Detectives series into which this novel slots but it’s safe to say it’s not required. At no point while reading did I feel as though I was missing out on something vital in terms of plot or character arcs as Faithless has been so ridiculously well crafted as to work not only, I assume, as a fantastic continuation of a series but as a bloody strong stand alone novel too.

As for the plot… gripping and so brilliantly pieced together as to leave no question that this book would be put down until finish. Frølich, tired after an all-night surveillance pulls over a person of interest and discovers she’s carrying cocaine. She’s booked, reveals nothing, pays a fine and is set free. Frølich then meets her again when it turns out she’s engaged to an estranged friend with whom he’s recently reconnected. When she’s murdered just days later it’s all a little to close to home. The disarmingly calm and methodical investigations reveal a complex web that may or may not connect it to a decades-old murder and comes with plenty of surprises and twists.

The stately prose and style is that of a master (expertly translated by Don Bartlett); precise and clinical without a spare word and packing plenty of punch.

When it comes to the characters… as I said – I have no prior knowledge of this series (something I desperately need to fix) but in no way felt I was missing anything; Frølich, Gunnarstranda and all are perfectly rendered and genuine characters for whom any reader will root and find common ground.

To say Karen at Orenda has impeccable taste would be an understatement right now. A couple of years ago she introduced me to the work of Gunnar Staalesen, “one of the fathers of Nordic Noir” , and now here we are with yet another master of the genre on her list. Unbelievable amount of talent and beautiful prose. A real must read that I cannot enthuse enough about. Many thanks, again, to Karen for my copy and do check out the other blogs on the tour:

Blog Tour: The Man Who Loved Islands by David F Ross

From the PR:The Disco Boys and THE Band are BACK …In the early ’80s, Bobby Cassidy and Joey Miller were inseparable; childhood friends and fledgling business associates. Now, both are depressed and lonely, and they haven’t spoken to each other in more than ten years. A bizarre opportunity to honour the memory of someone close to both of them presents itself, if only they can forgive … and forget.

Absurdly funny, deeply moving and utterly human, The Man Who Loved Islands is an unforgettable finale to the Disco Days trilogy – a modern classic pumped full of music and middle-aged madness, written from the heart and pen of one of Scotland’s finest new voices.”

Last year I made the mistake of taking David F Ross’ The Rise of the Miraculous Vespas (review here) to read on a train. I say ‘mistake’ because it was so uproariously funny that I barely managed the self-control needed not to be that bloke in the Mr Bean sketch.

The Rise of the Miraculous Vespas was the story of  Max Mojo and his attempts to manage the titular band all the way to the top, Malcolm McLaren style and was, itself, a sort-of-but-not-quite sequel / parallel story to David F Ross’ The Last Days of Disco with which it also shared many a familiar character.

Here we are, now, with The Man Who Loved Islands; the final entry of the ‘Disco Days’ trilogy which manages that rare thing for a third installment* and proves to be the best of the bunch.

It seems strange to say this given that only a year seperates each of the books but David F Ross’ writing style has gotten better with every one and this is the finest to date. There is plenty of hilarty within these 302 pages, some of which will most likely make you guffaw out loud (if it doesn’t there is something wrong with you), whether it be the so very welcome return of Max Mojo or whether it’s Hamish May’s vocal track and experiences with Ibiza’s hidden societies. Though, true to his character, Max Mojo steals those scenes and the idea of him – unable to fully control the malign voice in his head – swearing it up on BBC Breakfast caused me plenty of amusement, though “get fuckin’ practisin’ … ye’se sound like fuckin’ Coldplay!” takes the biscuit for best putdown.

However, what struck me most about The Man Who Loved Islands was the poingnancy of Joseph and Bobby coming to terms with where life has lead them, that bittersweet coming to terms with the passing of time and its inevitibality – Bobby swearing bitterly about Calvin Harris or Joey loading himself up with medication and setting himself adrift in China – and it’s in this capturing of a gentle defeat and surrender that David F Ross is at his most compelling.

The Man Who Loved Islands is the best kind of reunion. Finding out where all those characters had gotten to and finding out that the chemisty and you loved about them in the first place is still there… brilliant. There are some deeply moving and genuinely heartbreaking moments but the power of friendship and a love for music runs strong throughout and for all of life’s sucker punches and poingnancy, I’d say The Man Who Loves Islands is ultimlately an uplifting story of hope. And a bloody funny one at that, too.

While it’s the end of the Disco Days trilogy I sincerely hope there’s more to come from David F Ross – if only for another chance for a virtual rummage through his music collection.

My sincerest thanks again to Karen at Orenda Books for my copy and do check out those over stops on the The Man Who Loved Islands blogtour.

*Of course the Godfather Part 3 Rule whereby the third of the trilogy is the weakest of the bunch doesn’t just apply to film. Take the three ‘proper’ Bourne novels – the third of those is best kept on a shelf for the rare occasion you find yourself without toilet roll.

Colin Hay…

“All around is anger, automatic guns
Death in large numbers, no respect for woman, or our little ones
I tried talking to Jesus, but he just put me on hold
Said he’d been swamped by calls this week
And He could not shake his cold…”

This was going to be another instalment in the “Tracks” series I started sometime ago -and have added to sporadically since -about Colin Hay’s ‘Beautiful World’. Except that every time I listen to ‘Beautiful World’ I end up cueing up another Colin Hay song and another… so I thought I’d have a bit of a ramble about and around the fella and his music. Or the bits of it that I know / like at least.

You see and there’s something so mellow and addictively charming about Colin Hay’s work that it’s something of a go-to when I feel the need to chill a bit and feel the air going in… and out… It’s also something of an uncomplicated palate cleanser as I wind down after the Springsteen marathon. He’s a bloody fine acoustic player and has a way with a song that’s both simple and affecting as well as a fair bit of humour. Perhaps it’s also the Australia connection to it that I enjoy like so many other things from Down Under.

Born in Scotland before moving to Australia with his family when he was in his teens, Colin Hay is perhaps best known to many for the pop-rock / new wave band he formed with his new mates; Men At Work. Aside from their ubiquitous hit ‘Down Under’, Men At Work rode the wave of interest in all things antipodean in the 80’s and scored international hits with songs like ‘Who Can It Be Now?‘ and ‘Overkill’ – of which Colin Hay would make a cracking acoustic version during his solo career:

Which is probably how Colin Hay solo found a larger audience courtesy of his playing it throughout an episode of ‘Scrubs’.  Hay went solo after Men At Work called it quits in 1985, his first album on his own following a couple of years later. Like all band leaders who go solo, it took him a while to find his own way, as Wikipedia has him saying: “After Men at Work, for the better part of a decade, I was stumbling around being unfocused. It was pre-internet, I really had to try to find my audiences by going out on tour. Men at Work really didn’t build a foundational audience. We came in as a pop band with enormous radio success; once that goes away and the band breaks up the audience tends to go away with it. You’re left with what you want to make of it. ”

Another Zach Braff vehicle – the 2004 film ‘Garden State’ – is where I, and I’m sure countless others, first became aware of Colin Hay, though. The film and its high selling (1.3 million copies) soundtack features Hay’s haunting ‘I Just Don’t Think I’ll Ever Get Over You’:

The song itself is from Hay’s 1998 album and my favourite of his, Transcendental Highway. It’s on this album – and it’s predecessor Topanga – that Hay really finds his voice as a solo artist. He even manages – with ‘My Brilliant Feat‘ – to muse on his former success and current situation; “A jack to a king and back, then you have to pay to play”. There’s not a bad tune on it and every album since has been what I’d call ‘solid’ to ‘pretty bloody good actually’, each delivering a few nuggets to add to the iPod at least. Occasionally bordering on ‘adult contemporary’, more often acoustic with wry lyrics and always offering proof that Mr Hay has a way of creating a catchy tune.

So, along with those included above I think I’d also give a shout out to those tunes gathered below.

Least to Most: Bruce – Darkness on the Edge of Town

“For the ones who had a notion, a notion deep inside,
That it ain’t no sin to be glad you’re alive
I wanna find one face that ain’t looking through me
I wanna find one place,
I wanna spit in the face of these… BADLANDS!”

Here we go then; my favourite and most-played Bruce Springsteen album and likely up there as a favourite album full stop, Darkness on the Edge of Town.

The history surrounding Born To Run‘s follow up is well covered: following internal conflicts and examining of contracts, Springsteen and his former manager Mike Appel entered a legal battle that would prevent Bruce from recording any new material until its resolution in May 1977. It’s a strange one to consider given how successful Born To Run had become but, after the protracted break from recording, Springsteen found himself in a make-or-break situation for the second time in a row. He now needed to prove that a) he still had it and b) Born To Run wasn’t a fluke and, for the record company too, that he was a viable artist.

When he did hit the studio, Springsteen was overflowing with ideas and songs and the sessions for Darkness on the Edge of Town marked the first of many protracted recording periods where more songs would be recorded than released – as proven by the wealth of strong material left off the album and included on Tracks and The Promise. I could just as easily play ‘best non-album Darkness track’ to ‘best Darkness track’ such is the quality of the cut songs.

Acknowledging that the “music that got left behind was substantial”, Springsteen has said that ““Darkness was my ‘samurai’ record, stripped to the frame and ready to rumble.” In order to filter through the thirty plus songs – in a recorded and ready state, not to mention those in other stages – numerous ‘track listings’ and sequences were plotted* before the final selection and sequence was made ready for release in June 1978**.

As the now-released tracks show, the recording sessions found Bruce running through almost every conceivable structure – from gorgeous pop songs to old school R&B. When it came time to the crunch, though, the excess was cut, the songs were honed down to their essentials and the arrangements tight*** – a vast contrast to the Wall of Sound employed for Born To Run – with the songs recorded by the full E Street Band, tight and honed after touring since 1975, at once. Steve Van Zandt would earn a co-producer credit for helping Bruce tighten the arrangements.

Darkness on the Edge of Town is Springsteen’s best guitar album. Whereas Born To Run was written mostly at the piano, Darkness is clearly a six-string job and sees a return for those chops that had started to get space on The Wild, The Innocent… before being lost in the mix. Check out every live version of ‘Prove It All Night’ or the angst-driven ‘Adam Raised a Cain‘ or ‘Candy’s Room’:

Yes, the songs on Darkness are more serious – Springsteen, flush from Born To Run‘s success having returned home to find those he grew up with struggling with the blue-collar life he’d escaped had also weathered a lengthy and unpleasant lawsuit having realised that the wool had been pulled over his eyes- but they’re very well written and is perhaps the best example of his marrying the rousing (‘Badlands’) with the minimal (‘Factory’). Oh, and it also contains what I consider his finest lyrics on his finest song: “Some guys they just give up living, and start dying little by little, piece by piece”:

There’s a lot of fun on the album, too. I reckon if you get to a Springsteen show and they pull out a  rave-up on ‘Prove It All Night’ then nobody will be heading to grab a beer, they’ll be there singing along:

Darkness on the Edge of Town is Springsteen’s first album of maturity. It takes in and refines  everywhere he’d been and serves as a signpost for everything he’d go on to record later.

An album of defiance in the face of struggle that cracks along with an urgency and taut electricity. It’s my favourite Springsteen album and brings this Least to Most exploration of Bruce to an end.

*A look through the (very much worth investment) box set The Promise: The Darkness on the Edge of Town Story will show just how many.

**Recording sessions were finished early January ’78 with mixing dragging on until late March with a number of mixes being toyed with and one (‘The Promised Land’) being changed as late as April.

***For evidence see the difference between Darkness‘ ‘Racing in the Street’ and ‘Candy’s Room’ vs ‘Racing in the Street (’78)’ and ‘Candy’s Boy’ from The Promise.

Blog Tour: Deadly Game By Matt Johnson

From the PR: “Reeling from the attempts on his life and that of his family, Police Inspector Robert Finlay returns to work to discover that any hope of a peaceful existence has been dashed. Assigned to investigate the Eastern European sex-slave industry just as a key witness is murdered. Finlay, along with his new partner Nina Brasov, finds himself facing a ruthless criminal gang, determined to keep control of the traffic of people into the UK.

On the home front, Finlay’s efforts to protect his wife and child may have been in vain, as an MI5 protection officer uncovers a covert secret service operation that threatens them all… Picking up where the bestselling Wicked Game left off, Deadly Game sees Matt Johnson’s damaged hero fighting on two fronts. Aided by new allies, he must not only protect his family but save a colleague from an unseen enemy … and a shocking fate.”

Crikey; it seems like only yesterday that I was reviewing Matt Johnson’s debut Wicked Game and stating that its author “has a very real talent and gift for thriller writing”. It was actually a year (and a day) ago whereas yesterday I turned the final page on the follow up; Deadly Game. And it’s a bloody good ‘un.

One thing that’s sure is that Matt Johnson knows what he’s talking about and writes with demonstrable knowledge when it comes to the details of both procedure and action, clearly writing from experience – lending a real sense of weight and reality to proceedings that’s all too often missing in the rush for action and flash.

Which segues nicely into another element of Deadly Game I enjoyed; the aftermath of events of the previous novel. It’s fairly common practice for lead characters to brush off explosive and violent occurrences like they were getting over an allergy. Not so here. Anyone who’s got any experience with trauma will tell you just what a fucker PTSD is and how you don’t just ‘get over it.’ Again writing from experience, Matt Johnson does a brilliant job of detailing Finlay’s struggles  – giving a thoughtful and insightful portrayal without turning it into a Psych 101 lesson like someone who looked it up on Wikipedia.

As skilled as he is when it comes to the procedurals and details, Matt Johnson is very much a talented thriller writer – and it’s when the gears shift and the pace quickens that he and Deadly Game really come into their own and the action scenes rip along with a real confidence and skill. The MI5/MI6 story line is especially well written and plotted too, the interweaving, long-game of that particular plot and the manner in which Johnson ties it into events of the previous novel proved a real highlight for me. It also suggests there’s more to come as, though perhaps it’s just me, I couldn’t help thinking that there a couple of loose ends with potential to grow further in another installment.

Upping the ante from Wicked Game and delivering a serious slab of a thriller, Matt Johnson’s Deadly Game is a blistering read well worth picking up.

Another great book from Orenda and a big thanks, again to Karen for my copy and do check out the other stops. 

Blog Tour: Six Stories by Matt Wesolowski

From The PR: “1997. Scarclaw Fell. The body of teenager Tom Jeffries is found at an outward bound centre. Verdict? Misadventure. But not everyone is convinced. And the truth of what happened in the beautiful but eerie fell is locked in the memories of the tight-knit group of friends who took that fateful trip, and the flimsy testimony of those living nearby.

Enter elusive investigative journalist Scott King, whose podcast examinations of complicated cases have rivalled the success of Serial, with his concealed identity making him a cult internet figure. In a series of six interviews, King attempts to work out how the dynamics of a group of idle teenagers conspired with the sinister legends surrounding the fell to result in Jeffries’ mysterious death. And who’s to blame…

As every interview unveils a new revelation, you’ll be forced to work out for yourself how Tom Jeffries died, and who is telling the truth.”

Right then, here we are with Six Stories, one of the most interesting books I’ve read in a while with something of a unique narrative approach – like a contemporary take on The Moonstone‘s multi-character narrative. One unsolved crime, six key stories as told, judgement free, to Scott King on his podcast  with listeners being left to form their own views on what happened – that’s the premise of ‘Six Stories’.  Six Stories, told as though an episode of said podcast, unravels the mystery of what happened to 15 year old Tom Jeffries who went missing one night on Scarclaw Fell before his body was discovered a year later.

Twenty years ago the death Jeffries had been ruled as ‘misadventure’ – his body having been eventually discovered in the mud of the Fell one night by Harry Saint Clemeny- Ramsay (who also adds a narrative thread in between the Six Stories) and his friends’ dogs  – but then what were Harry and his friends really doing out in the wild with their dogs, lamps and guns? Hunting? For what? Why had the body been missing for so long despite thorough searches at the time?

As each of the six stories unfolds we’re treated to more questions and intrigue, more revelations and head scratchers – thankfully ‘Scott King’ provides plenty of recaps and additional voices, corroborations from those outside the ‘six’ – for Six Stories is most definitely a very meticulously plotted and tightly wrapped story. Deeply engrossing and one that cost plenty of sleep – there’s so much here that made me flip back in the book to re-read earlier threads and some genuinely chilling moments that are capable of raising the odd goosebump or three and once you’ve gotten into the swing of the style it’s impossible to finish reading one ‘story’ and not want to plough straight into the next one to see what that character brings to the mix.

Those characters are all brilliantly written and their stories all so comprehensively well delivered – the multi-angle and narrator approach really keeps things rocking and gives adage to the notion that not every story is one-sided and events become increasingly detailed and multi-faceted with every witness’ version of events, though I will say these were either a pretty precocious bunch of 15-year-olds or I lived a sheltered existence. It’s strange but after you get into it – the first two ‘stories’ are not from any of the then-teenagers –  you really want to see how the Rangers have aged, what they’re like now after reading so much of what they were like then.

It’s hard to talk too much about Six Stories and its narrative style and how it goes on to deliver in spades without dropping an almighty spoiler but I will say that the final story and its revelation is an absolute belter and written / handled in such an accomplished manner as to leave the reader in no doubt that Matt Wesolowski is a  very much a  talent to keep an eye on.

Six Stories is a compelling and rewarding read with enough intrigue and mystery to keep you glued to the end. Thanks again to Karen at Orenda for my copy and do check out the other stops on the Blog Tour: