Blog Tour: Wolves In The Dark by Gunnar Staalesen

From the PR: “Reeling from the death of his great love, Karin, Varg Veum’s life has descended into a self-destructive spiral of alcohol, lust, grief and blackouts. When traces of child pornography are found on his computer, he’s accused of being part of a paedophile ring and thrown into a prison cell. There, he struggles to sift through his past to work out who is responsible for planting the material … and who is seeking the ultimate revenge.

When a chance to escape presents itself, Varg finds himself on the run in his hometown of Bergen. With the clock ticking and the police on his tail, Varg takes on his hardest – and most personal – case yet. Chilling, shocking and exceptionally gripping, Wolves in the Dark reaffirms Gunnar Staalesen as one of the world’s foremost thriller writers.”

Right now I don’t think there is a writer whose new novels I look forward to as much as Gunnar Staalesen. And I’ll probably say this every year with every new novel; Wolves In The Dark is the best Varg yet! It’s just so fucking good I never wanted it to end.

I cannot recommend the Varg Veum series enough, Staalesen is the sitting King of Nordic Noir and this, the 21st (!) in the series puts Bergen’s finest into his most challenging and dangerous case to date.

Woken up by the police knocking on his door, Veum is shocked to find himself arrested and lead out to a waiting police car for the worst crime imaginable; possessing, sharing and even creating child pornography “of the must repugnant kind.” Having spent a number of the almost-four years previous lost in grief and his alcoholic coping method following the events of We Shall Inherit The Wind, Varg begins slowly pulling together threads of memory and seemingly random cases he’d worked on in the ‘fog’ of those years to try and work out just who might have sufficient a grudge (and ability) to put him in the frame – turns out it’s a pretty long list. When a chance presents itself Veum escapes from the police and sets about investigating for himself.

I read a news story not so long ago about a man whose life was completely ruined after a mistake (an error in one police force’s writing down an IP address) led to him being arrested under child pornography charges and placed on the sex offender’s list. A devastating account of a life turned upside down – his job was lost, he was traumatised, his relationships and family suffered – all because of an error. Turns out there’s a few of these. It seemed stranger than fiction and fascinating – where would you even begin, how could you hope to fight such a case?

I’d like to believe I’d be incensed and able to fight enough to clear my name. But then what about the impact on your life, on your person? To know that so many people – including, in some cases, those near and dear believe you capable of such horrors? Will people ever look at you the same? And these are innocent people. Rendered criminal and untrustworthy, monstrous even, by a mistake.

In Varg’s case it’s not a mistake – the material is on his computer but who put it there? Who has deliberately thrown him to the wolves to be shredded in public? The more he investigates the more he uncovers, the more he shakes the tree the more potential enemies fall out each baring him ill and each with the ability to implicated him via his computer.

The chase, as Varg tears through Bergen as both hunter and prey (to his increasing list of enemies as well as the police) is the most thrilling and gripping in pace as I’ve read from Staalesen; Veum is very much against the clock and working within strict confines of both geography and tool set as he has to evade detection. In previous Staaleson novels I’ve loved the almost leisurely, calm and confident manner in which Veum slowly and methodically pieces together his cases – like a Zen master who knows his craft. Here, though, as much as he knows his craft the shattered state of his memory almost leaves him clutching at straws with thoughts and fragments coming back out of the ether and it’s an absolute joy to read as Veum is forced to work as frantically as possible against the odds.

But what about the human element? The effect of being accused of such horrendous and unspeakable crimes? Well, I’ve said this before and I’ll save it again: Staalesen is the master. He paints an intelligent, detailed and thoroughly convincing portrait of a man on the edge, plagued and sickened (physically) by both the accusation and the crimes themselves (let’s not forget Varg was a Social Services man before a PI) and torn at the prospect people believe him capable of such inhuman crimes.

The underworld of Norway never fails to prove a complex and riveting backdrop in Nordic Noir and Staalesen spins a delightfully well plotted story that delivers a hugely satisfying read as all the strands come together toward a denouement that left this reader gobsmacked.

Again: I cannot recommend Staalesen enough and even though it’s only June, Wolves In The Dark may well be the best book I read this year.

Thanks again to Karen at Orenda for my copy, do check out the other stops on the blogtour and get your hands on a copy of Wolves In The Dark.

 

Page Turning – Quick Reviews

So I set myself the target of reading forty books this year. I’m still on track with seventeen cleared already and another three or four en route for completion by the end of this month.

I’m getting through some great books,  and while the population of my bookshelves has continued to grow as my to-read list builds I haven’t yet dropped full whack on a book -some I’ve been lucky enough to be sent in exchange for a review, others were gifts and many the result of second-hand book shop hauls. I’m very keen to expand my collection of works by several authors like James Ellroy and my Discworld collection is growing but I don’t like, and this is purely an aesthetic comment, so seek out their older versions.

Anywho. A few of those read so far include…

Iron Gustav by Hans Fallada

I, like many others, discovered and fell in love with the writing of Hans Fallada when  Alone In Berlin was published in English, so many decades after his death. Since then I’ve been devouring whatever Fallada book I can get my hands on, if only the publisher – aware of the demand for this particular German writer – wouldn’t price them so highly for a standard paperback.

Reading Iron Gustav is like reading a master-class in fiction. Fallada was not only an astoundingly talented writer – creating hugely intricate and tightly woven portraits of everyday people and their struggles – but also witness to some of history’s most fascinating and shocking events. Written in 1938 Iron Gustav portrays the hardships bought upon a Berlin family – as a microcosm of Germany itself – following World War One. Forced by the Nazi regime to extend its timeline to include that party’s rise and rewrite chapter, Fallada was left with little choice but to acquiesce and also rewrote the ending. This version gets as close as possible – 70 years after the author’s death –  to Fallada’s original story and is an absolute joy to read. A hugely powerful and important novel restored from the dark past. I simply cannot get enough of Fallada’s writing.

 Galapagos by Kurt Vonnegut 

Another writer of whom I simply can’t get enough is Kurt Vonnegut. It was a while before I picked up Slaughterhouse 5 but once I’d had my first sip of this master’s work I wanted the whole bloody goblet. Galapgos, another very apt satirical take on mankind’s failings, is the story of a handful of people who, stranded on the island of Santa Rosalita, become mankind’s last hope after a superbly funny series of events lead to the collapse of the World’s economy, a mass conflict and all of the planet’s women becoming infertile.  

While it’s not my favourite of Vonnegut’s work on my shelves – at this point I’d give that to Mother Night – it’s another fine addition and a real blast to read.

The Spy Who Came in from the Cold by John le Carré

Last year I read and thoroughly enjoyed Joseph Kannon’s Leaving Berlin. The combination of spy thrill and the Cold War fascinated me and I wanted more so I thought – after constantly seeing references to his work – it was time to give John le Carré a go. I read the first few paragraphs of The Spy Who Came in from the Cold a read online, was hooked so ordered the whole thing and… well…. meh.

I really, really wanted to enjoy this book. I did. The opening is a real hook and the plot itself is certainly a classic in terms of its intricacy and espionage but… I don’t know. This took me far too long to get through and at times it felt like a slog. Maybe it’s down to the main character simply not being all that much of a draw, maybe it’s the writing style feeling a little too dated or just the fact that (spoiler alert) I so dislike an ending that renders having spent the previous 300 pages becoming invested in the characters so bloody pointless that it actually made me angry. The same could be said for Dominion and that bastard was 700+ pages of drudgery.

Still, I’m not completely turned off the idea of John le Carré so may try another in time to come. Plus the Cold War still proves a fascinating era and a very potent backdrop for fiction….

Stasi Child by David Young

I was seeing this book all over the place last year – social media, book shops etc and finally got around to picking a copy up this year. And, given the statement above, and the premise how could I not; “East 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.

Stasi Child is a very well plotted and gripping thriller. It bounds along and it’s sense of place and time is very carefully and skilfully woven in without being heavy handed with the contrast between life in the East and West very convincingly portrayed without resorting to tired cliché and tropes. Almost perfect and I’m very much looking to more from David Young – I see Stasi Wolf was published this year – and the series.

Blog Tour: Block 46 by Johana Gustawsson

From the PR: “Evil remembers

Falkenberg, Sweden. The mutilated body of talented young jewellery designer, Linnea Blix, is found in a snow-swept marina. Hampstead Heath, London. The body of a young boy is discovered with similar wounds to Linnea’s. Buchenwald Concentration Camp, 1944. In the midst of the hell of the Holocaust, Erich Hebner will do anything to see himself as a human again. Are the two murders the work of a serial killer, and how are they connected to shocking events at Buchenwald? Emily Roy, a profiler on loan to Scotland Yard from the Canadian Royal Mounted Police, joins up with Linnea’s friend, French truecrime writer Alexis Castells, to investigate the puzzling case. They travel between Sweden and London, and then deep into the past, as a startling and terrifying connection comes to light. Plumbing the darkness and the horrific evidence of the nature of evil, Block 46 is a multi-layered, sweeping and evocative thriller that heralds a stunning new voice in French Noir.”

Writing this review proved to be a real head scratcher as it’s hard to find the words to describe just how bloody good this book is.

Block 46 is a hugely affective and intense novel. A thriller that combines a gripping and chilling series of modern day murders with a backstory that delves, unflinchingly, down some of the darkest avenues mankind has walked down with action set in modern day Sweden and London and 1944 Buchenwald.

The splitting of both narratives and settings help develop  a complex and absorbing plot that slowly builds to a fantastic finale with one hell of a twist – I’m doing my utmost to avoid spoilers.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again; a book or author that is afraid to challenge the reader is one I don’t want to read. Writing about a subject as genuinely dark and terrifying in its actual barbarity as what occurred at Nazi concentration camps is a very bold move – it’s hard to cover such horror in a way that manages to neither shy away and thus diminish the events while at the same time portray them effectively and still deliver something that a reader can still actually bear to read. Gustawsson treads that line deftly, clearly an exceedingly talented writer. Her portrayal of Buchanwald and its prisoners never shys away from their ordeals but, instead, focuses more on the humanity of those treated like animals and is all the more affecting for it.

That sense of humanity in the face of horror shines through – thanks to Roy and Castells – in the modern day part of the story too. There were times (again I’m being careful to avoid spoilers) where I had to put the book down and take a breather. Not because the thriller element was so fast paced – and don’t get me wrong it’s an absolute ripper in that respect too – but because, in the midst of such intensity Gustawsson has placed characters so real with backstories so very moving.

In Roy and Castells Johanna Gustawsson has created two compelling leads I can’t wait to read more of. In Block 46 she has created a fantastic novel. A thoughtful and tightly plotted book that’s both moving and thrilling, an absolute page turner that delivers in spades.
Thanks to Karen at Orenda for my copy and do check out the previous stops on the blogtour.

 

 

Blog Tour: Reconciliation for the Dead by Paul E Hardisty

From the PR: “Fresh from events in Yemen and Cyprus, vigilante justice-seeker Claymore Straker returns to South Africa, seeking absolution for the sins of his past. Over four days, he testifies to Desmond Tutu’s newly established Truth and Reconciliation Commission, recounting the shattering events that led to his dishonourable discharge and exile, fifteen years earlier.

It was 1980. The height of the Cold War. Clay is a young paratrooper in the South African Army, fighting in Angola against the Communist insurgency that threatens to topple the White Apartheid regime. On a patrol deep inside Angola, Clay, and his best friend, Eben Barstow, find themselves enmeshed in a tangled conspiracy that threatens everything they have been taught to believe about war, and the sacrifices that they, and their brothers in arms, are expected to make.

Witness and unwitting accomplice to an act of shocking brutality, Clay changes allegiance and finds himself labelled a deserter and accused of high treason, setting him on a journey into the dark, twisted heart of institutionalised hatred, from which no one will emerge unscathed.”

Here we are with the third volume in Hardisty’s Straker series and let’s get this out of the way now; they just keep getting better – Reconciliation for the Dead is a massive leap forward and the best of the three and I do hope there’s more to come. Don’t misunderstand; I thoroughly enjoyed both The Abrupt Physics of Dying and The Evolution of Fear but Reconciliation for the Dead is something else both as part of the Clay Straker family and as a novel.

At this point in time we’re a little ahead of the book’s publication date so I’ll be wary of giving away too much in terms of plot or spoiler. Instead I’ll say that Reconciliation for the Dead is a real genre-defier; at times action thriller, at times political intrigue, at others social commentary and at times literary fiction but BRILLIANT throughout. Hugely gripping, deeply moving, highly intelligent, and – as is a real hallmark of Hardisty’s work – a story with heart and conscience.

As detailed in the PR, this novel sees Clay return to his native South Africa to testify in front of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission – not so much for personal absolution but to lay out the truth on behalf of those unable to tell their stories. This isn’t one for the faint of heart; there are some intense scenes involved, bold and powerful revelations  from which Hardisty does not flinch. It’s practically impossible to run through just which atrocities we’re talking about here but we’re looking at the real nadir of human behaviour that’s let loose at times of war.  That so much of it is based on real events makes it all the more affecting.

The action scenes – into which you’re thrust pretty much from the get-go – are hugely immediate and crack along at a dizzying pace while retaining an intelligence that’s not all that common in the genre. For those who have read the previous novels Clay and Crowbar are both familiar characters – the events of Reconciliation for the Dead allow a far greater an understanding, filling in the gaps of a troubled and tortured history merely hinted at before.

This is a novel of actions and their consequences, of the past and its long shadow, the importance and cost of conscience and of the weight of regret. It makes for a gripping and compelling read. Hardisty’s writing, already accomplished – in my review of his first book I wondered if he hadn’t secretly been penning thrillers for years under an assumed name – is at it’s finest here; insightful, nuanced and intelligent and courageous; asking us all to examine our humanity and the cost of our actions.

Reconciliation for the Dead is as intense, thought provoking and hugely rewarding a read as it gets. Easily one of the best books of 2017. My thanks, as always, to Karen at Orenda for my copy of this book and do check out the other stops on the blogtour.

 

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.

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.