Out of Europe: Five From Spain

While those duplicitous, intellectually and morally deficient cockweasels that make up the spearhead of the government’s Brexit movement continue to flounder around like a freshly-neutered dog wondering what the hell he can now lick as the reality of both the consequences and legalities thunder down on them, I thought I’d take a look at the music of Spain.

I’ve been fortunate enough to see a fair bit of Spain and – while there are mixed emotions attached to part of it now – I’ve always loved being there. I’ve always found it a beautifully vibrant and colourful country, especially the Catalan areas I’ve spent time in, and from the Galician north-west to the Canary islands off the coast of Africa, I found warmth in both climate and people. And the food…..

As for the music, let’s go:

Héroes del Silencio – Entre dos tierras

NB: I don’t think the video is supposed to be as funny as it is. They may have been this earnest.

Héroes del Silencio – formed in the 80’s in Zaragoza – were BIG in Europe which, as per, means jack shit in England and they never crossed over. My wife, however, being from Europe ‘proper’ did know of them and dug them out of Spotify last year. One of Rock en Español most successful bands, they played big rock with a serious, capital R from the late 80’s up until 1996 when the singer went his own way. Rock en Español is a catch-all grouping for those ‘rock’ bands that sang in Spanish and precious few achieved success outside of Spanish speaking countries due to lack of promotion. Héroes del Silencio were signed to EMI and the album this track is taken from shifted well over 2 million copies alone. Not too shabby.

Spotify Link

Exquirla – Europa Muda

I’ve blasted this album out of my car and home speakers so much since picking it up earlier this year. Exquirla is the a surprise collaboration between Spanish post-rock band Toundra and flamenco singer Niño de Elche. The two acts met when they were both appearing at a festival in Cadiz (a city I love very much). This surprise collaboration yielded an album of intense post-rock with traditional guitar and flamenco vocals that’s hugely addictive, even if I haven’t got a clue what Senor de Elche is emoting about.

Spotify Link

Audiolepsia – Beatrix

One of the joys of the internet is the degree to which the discovery of new music from places so geographically distant and bands not affiliated with major labels is now possible. I also love the ability that it has created for bands who don’t have or don’t want major backing to get product out there in a grass-roots, DIY style and build a genuine fanbase. It’s meant I’ve been able to discover a huge amount and I found a real groundswell of post-rock / ambient flowing out of Barcelona – perhaps it’s the Catalan element. I can really go down the rabbit hole at times and the discovery of Aloud Music (who work with the equally brilliant Dunk!) is a dangerous one for my bank balance. Veering more toward the melodic end of the genre, along with Astralia, Audiolepsia are one of those bands who’s album Muses has been on steady spin since discover.

Spotify link

Triángulo de Amor Bizarro – De la monarquía a la criptocracia

They take their name from the New Order song Bizarre Love Triangle (but I won’t hold that against them) and were formed in the Galician city of A Coruña (again: another city I’ve visited). Highly praised by press and famous musicians from various quarters they’re renowned for powerful live performances and mix indie, post-punk and shoegaze into one heady combo.

Spotify link

Joaquín Rodrigo – Concierto de Aranjuez II: Adagio

Stepping away from the usual fare on this blog but there is zero possibility of talking Spanish music and not mentioning what is one of my favourite pieces of music.

It’s nothing revolutionary and is probably a very well-known piece yet there is something undeniably beautiful about the Concierto de Aranjuez, it’s one of the finest pieces of Spanish classical music and the Adagio moves me every time. I’ve had the joy of seeing this performed live by the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra with Rolando Saad on guitar. There’s no video of that particular combo, that’s Rolando Saad in the video, though but the Spotify link is to just that pairing. The moment at which the orchestra fulls into sweep around the 8 1/2 minute mark always gives me goosebumps.

Spotify link

Blog Tour: Absolution by Paul E. Hardistry

From the PR: “It is 1997, eight months since vigilante justice-seeker Claymore Straker fled South Africa after his explosive testimony to Desmond Tutu’s Truth and
Reconciliation Commission. In Paris, Rania LaTour, journalist, comes home to find that her son and her husband, a celebrated human rights lawyer, have
disappeared. On an isolated island off the coast of East Africa, the family that Clay has befriended is murdered as he watches.

So begins the fourth installment in the Claymore Straker series, a breakneck journey through the darkest reaches of the human soul, as Clay and Rania fight to uncover the mystery behind the disappearances and murders, and find
those responsible. Events lead them both inexorably to Egypt, where an act of
the most shocking terrorist brutality will reveal not only why those they loved
were sacrificed, but how they were both, indirectly, responsible.

Relentlessly pursued by those who want them dead, they must work together
to uncover the truth, and to find a way to survive in a world gone crazy. At
times brutal, often lyrical, but always gripping, Absolution is a thriller that will
leave you breathless and questioning the very basis of how we live and why
we love.”

It’s a very strange thing to be sitting here trying to put together a review for the fourth Clay Straker novel from Paul E Hardistry. It seems like only yesterday that I tore through The Abrupt Physics of Dying – not three and a half years ago. Yet, here I am having just torn through Absolution in record time and wanting more.

It’s exceedingly hard to review any book without giving away too much and I’d hate to do so here especially if this is the last installment in the series. I will say that Absolution is a fantastic read – Hardistry has, over the course of the series, created characters that live and breath and continues to place them in the most gripping and compelling of dramas – in this instance travelling from Zanzibar to Egypt via Sudan, throwing historical events into the mix to add a real sense of gravity and (at times) horror to proceedings.

Clearly a writer of talent, Paul E. Hardistry manages to combine historical fact and technical details with action and plot in a manner that adds weight and validity to events without ever slowing the pace or risking attention drifting during ‘the science bit’. It’s a rare skill and one that Hardistry flexes with the same ease as Clay does a weapon.

While we’re on the subject of Clay – Hardistry’s hero is a refreshingly real and vulnerable lead for such a punchy thriller; while very capable in a ruck, Straker is vulnerable physically (there’s very few thrillers who’s lead doles out such punishment with a stump) and psychologically.  Watching him overcome significant odds is always a pleasure.

I’ve been peppering my reading with a lot of thrillers over the last few years, from the hard-boiled and vast-in-scope Ellroys to the hard-nosed airport thrillers of Jo Nesbø and Lee Child, and Hardistry’s Clay Straker series sits up there with them in quality. The series manages to combine the quite-loud-LOUDER punch of a Reacher scale-up with the depth and complexity of plot normally reserved for literary fiction.

Absolution (which I genuinely hope is not the last in the series) is a real heavy-hitter. A taut, explosive thriller with intelligence that tears along at whip-crack pace and delivers in spades.

Thanks to Karen at Orenda, once again, for my copy of Absolution and to Anne Cater for inviting me to take part in the blogtour.

 

Currently Spinning

Uh oh: it’s been a while since I mumbled about music… on here at least.

So I thought it was time to take a goosey at what’s been pinging around the old noggin of late.

Led Zeppelin – Ramble On

For some reason I’ve been on a real Zep kick of late. Not that you need an excuse to listen to what may be one of the greatest bands of all time but… if you can’t find something to like in Led Zeppelin’s immense back catalog there’s something wrong with you, go see a doctor.

Stevie Ray Vaughan – Texas Flood

Much in the same vein as the above… you never need a reason to listen to SRV, more like a reason not to. And there isn’t one.

The Black Crowes – If It Ever Stops Raining

How I’ve gone six years and not posted anything by this band is beyond me. So I recently found myself catching up with the Crowes’ work that I’d missed, including Lost Crowes – a collection of essentially two albums that were canned and stripped for parts on later discs. This one went on to find new legs in By Your Side‘s title track but the great bones of it are here and it seems right now that will never fucking stop raining on this sodding island.

Manic Street Preachers – International Blue

Been a while since I enjoyed a new Manics song… easily a decade. Still, I’ve been really enjoying hearing this one on the radio lately and it certainly stands up well to repeated listens.

Buffalo Tom – Freckles

Quite and Peace has had a lot of spins since arriving on my shelves last month and ‘Freckles’ is a real stand out.

Blog Tour: Keeper by Johana Gustawsson

From the PR: Whitechapel, 1888: London is bowed under Jack the Ripper’s reign of terror.

London 2015: actress Julianne Bell is abducted in a case similar to the terrible Tower Hamlets murders of some ten years earlier, and harking back to the Ripper killings of a century before.

Falkenberg, Sweden, 2015: a woman’s body is found mutilated in a forest, her wounds identical to those of the Tower Hamlets victims. With the man arrested for the Tower Hamlets crimes already locked up, do the new killings mean he has a dangerous accomplice, or is a copy-cat serial killer on the loose?

Profiler Emily Roy and true-crime writer Alexis Castells again find themselves drawn into an intriguing case, with personal links that turn their world upside down. Following the highly acclaimed Block 46 and guaranteed to disturb and enthral, Keeper is a breathless thriller from the new queen of French Noir.”

Blimey: I don’t think I’ve read a book as quickly as I read Keeper. This review is probably as fresh as it gets from turning the final page to hitting ‘new post’. So let’s see if I can stop saying “holy shit” to myself over an ending I did not see coming enough to start this review properly. Where to start….

Let’s start with last year. More specifically, Keeper‘s predecessor Block 46. It’s one of those books that stays with you long after turning the final page – it really left me contemplating the nature of evil and just how dark humanity can get. It was also bloody good. Otherwise it wouldn’t have a) stayed in my mind of so long and b) made me so keen to read Keeper when the opportunity arose.

Keeper find us back with the Roy and Castells and many of the ‘supporting’ cast of Block 46 but turns everything up a notch or twenty as Johana Gustawsson has clearly hit her stride with the characters and can really let things loose. Rather than just a follow-up Keeper feels like a real evolution for both characters and writer and I get the distinctly satisfying feeling that I’m in on the ground floor at the beginning of what will hopefully be a very long and fulfilling series.

As with Block 46Keeper combines past and present – in this instance the Jack The Ripper murders form the grisly historical pull – and it’s this blurring of known fact with fictional which makes Keeper so thoroughly gripping and raises it above the standard thriller fare. The odd thing is that this is an area of crime / history which – thanks to a random song – I’ve recently been fascinated by and exploring (timing, eh?)… the crimes themselves, the myriad of suspects and possibilities and the ‘letters’ from the Ripper that did the rounds. Keeper details the Whitechapel murders and the period in a way that’s both accurate enough to be convincing yet fresh and vital enough to keep the reader hooked.

Keeper is also not for the faint of heart. Johana Gustawsson writes with an absorbing prose and her pacing is so perfectly poised that there’s no chance of not being lured in  – and credit goes to translator Maxim Jakubowski as this book flows so perfectly you’d never know it was translated – so that when those revelations and shockers come they really hit hard.

Gustawsson has a really great knack for setting out her pieces early in the game, setting different, seemingly unrelated, narratives in motion across disparate locations and time and slowly, methodically, expertly weaving them together in a compellingly complex and taught plot that’s massively addictive and, once again, thought provoking. Keeper is a superbly written novel with great characters, a brilliantly conceived and delivered plot and more than enough to keep you thinking and hooked.

I thoroughly enjoyed and recommend Keeper – published by Orenda Books – and my thanks again to Karen and Anne for my copy and inviting me to take part on this blogtour, do check out the other stops.

Blog Tour: The Ice Swimmer by Kjell Ola Dahl – Guest Post

Like any avid reader and devourer of the written word I carry a continually evolving ‘wish list’ with me (it’s on my phone) to refer to whenever I find myself in a bookshop. At the top of that list are a couple of authors represented by name only. These are authors where it’s a case of wanting to get hold of anything they’ve written.

Kjell Ola Dahl is amongst those authors. He’s one of the godfathers of the Nordic Noir genre and since I was introduced to his Oslo Detectives series with last year’s Faithless I’ve been anxious to read my way though his back catalogue. This year’s The Ice Swimmer (review to follow) is another ridiculously good installment in the series – absorbing and masterfully written.

As such I’m delighted, as part of the blogtour for The Ice Swimmer (out on ebook now and paperback April 30th via the wonderful Orenda Books) to host a guest post from the author himself. So I’ll shut up and get out of the way…


My first novel was a police procedural, and I didn’t reflect much on the implications of this choice at that time. I was inspired by writers like Ed McBain, who wrote about Steve Carella and a collective of police officers solving crimes in the 87th precinct in a fictive city called Isola. One thing I liked about those books was that McBain wrote about the full collective. The readers got to know many of the police officers. And when McBain changed the main protagonist in some books, Steve Carella was always there, although not always at the front of the action. McBain even chose criminals for protagonists in some of his books.

After publishing Lethal Investments I did not stay with my police officers, and I went on to write other things. The second book in the Oslo Detectives series was published years after the first one. But then I said to myself, you cannot stop at two: A trilogy is the thing. So I was quick this time and published the third book in the series a year later. But after that novel – The Man in the Window – I returned to my old sins, writing other things.

This year in Norway, I will publish the ninth book in the Oslo detectives series. I still write other things in between – fiction, non-fiction, short stories, crime fiction – and I always write under my own name. Ed McBain used a lot of pseudonyms: Richard Marsten, Hunt Collins, Curt Cannon, Ezra Hannon and more, and not one of these names was his own! Privately he called himself Evan Hunter. And even the name Evan Hunter was a pseudonym: his Christian name was Salvatore Albert Lombino. It is like one of those Russian dolls. Inside every name, new ones would pop up. I guess Mr Hunter/Lombino himself had some sort of system for the use of names. His production was huge.

The use of pseudonyms is a widespread habit among writers – especially writers of crime fiction. Even Georges Simenon used a lot of them. And the truth is, I don’t really understand why.

Many of my fellow writers use their series to explore their one and only protagonist. I stick to the method of Ed McBain. I explore my collective. The protagonist in the Ice Swimmer is Lena Stigersand, a female police officer in her mid-thirties. She was not present in the first book in the series, and first appeared with minor roles in the two novels previous to the Ice Swimmer. Even if she is the protagonist in The Ice Swimmer, there is one super protagonist in the series – Mr Gunnarstranda. In fact, everything in the series rotates around him, and he has developed over the years. He is no longer as grumpy as he was in the first book. And these days he is more into jazz music than he was to begin with. I think it is because I know him better now. But he is still a widower. And he still doesn’t have a first name. That is a fact. I have never dared to suggest a first name for him. I fear he won’t like my suggestions very much. Personally, I think that shows how strong he is as a character. He is still mysterious to me, which means that he will still be able to surprise me. It also tells me that I will write more about him. I am still curious about his whereabouts and especially curious about his first name. But I doubt I will ever find out what it is.

 

Blog Tour: We Were the Salt of the Sea by Roxanne Bouchard

From the PR: “As Montrealer Catherine Day sets foot in a remote fishing village and starts asking around about her birth mother, the body of a woman dredges up in a fisherman’s nets. Not just any woman, though: Marie Garant, an elusive, nomadic sailor and unbridled beauty who once tied many a man’s heart in knots. Detective Sergeant Joaquin Morales, newly drafted to the area from the suburbs of Montreal, barely has time to unpack his suitcase before he’s thrown into the deep end of the investigation.

On Quebec’s outlying Gaspé Peninsula, the truth can be slippery, especially down on the fishermen’s wharves. Interviews drift into idle chit-chat, evidence floats off with the tide and the truth lingers in murky waters. It’s enough to make DS Morales reach straight for a large whisky… ”

When I was sent the above description for We Were the Salt of the Sea (big thanks to Anne Cater) and asked if I’d like to take part in the blog tour, I leapt at the chance. There was something about it – aside from it having the unimpeachable Orenda logo on its spine – that suggested I’d love it.

So, let’s cut to the chase: did I love it? Oh hell yes! We Were the Salt of the Sea is an absolute, slow-burning masterpiece. A thoroughly absorbing and mesmerising read that draws you into both its story and setting and leaves you wanting to linger long after the last page.

It could be because I’ve always had a fondness for the sea and for harbours but it’s also a case that Roxanne Bouchard writes so compellingly of the Gaspé Peninsula, its people and environs that I found myself wondering about heading out to that remote spot. Though, as Bouchard conveys with almost poetic grace, the sea is far from calm and what it gives it takes. There were times when reading We Were the Salt of the Sea that I was left stunned by the tragedies and hardships many of this novel’s characters have borne with such stoic acceptance. It’s in the detailing of these lives and the slow unfolding of these stories and it’s characters’ lives that We Were the Salt of the Sea stands out – this is more exceedingly well crafted literary fiction than fast paced thriller.

But there is very much a mystery at the heart of We Were the Salt of the Sea,  and with a narrative that – as the blurb says – sees interviews and leads into Marie Garant’s death fade “into idle chit-chat” and events and eccentricities overtake avenues of investigation, the reader is in a unique position: on the one hand you’re after more of the insights into the lives of, say, Vital Bujold (who’s back story damn near broke my heart) but then, on the other, you also share the frustrations of DS Joaquin Morales as an outsider trying to break through just those distractions and find the truth.

It’s a very cleverly and beautifully written book and one with a reveal which, I don’t mind admitting, I did not see coming. Without dropping any spoilers I can honestly say that I did not for one moment suspect either the correct person or scenario, and it’s not all that often that that occurs. I was just too bloody happily caught up and entranced by everything We Were the Salt of the Sea has to offer – fantastic, deeply compelling characters, a great story and brilliant prose. Very highly recommended.

My utmost thanks, again, to Anne Cater and Orenda Books for my copy of We Were the Salt of the Sea and do check out the other stops on this blogtour.

Page turning, 2018 Part 1

I read a lot last year. I cleared 41 books in total, surpassing my target by 1. So, did I extend my target for this year? No, I’m going for 40 again – it seems like a good target and I don’t think I’d necessarily find more reading time in my days to get another 10 in.

That being said, I’m already off to a strong start to the year with 7 down and 2 on the go at the moment.

Oddly enough, there’s a bit of a theme that ties three of these four – and at least another four on the TBR for the next couple of months – together that wasn’t necessarily intended but Martin Cruz Smith’s Gorky Park was the first of the year and probably set the ball rolling.

Gorky Park was one of those books I’d often see in bookshops and ponder its contents before moving on but, this time, I read the back and took it home. An absolute 5 Star book – well deserving of the attention and praised it received. A crime thriller set in Soviet Union during the Cold War, Gorky Park reads more like literary fiction than your standard thriller and is so thoroughly engrossing and, in Arkady, powered by a great character – I’m genuinely glad that this one evolved into a series of novels and will  be adding the following instalments (along with everything Ellroy’s) to my longer term reading list.

Trying to vary my reading I thought I’d take a stab at a ‘classic’ early on this year and ended up continuing a theme. One Day In The Life of Ivan Denisovich by Alexander Solzhenitsyn is set in a Soviet labour camp in the early 1950s and follows the single day of one of the prisoners – Ivan Denisovich. Ivan’s deep into a 10 year sentence for ‘spying’ – he’d escaped his German captors during the war, made it back to his lines and was arrested as a spy. Solzhenitsyn had first-hand experience of the Gulag system and it adds a sense of weight and truth to this novel (if you’re up for a heavier read his Gulag Archipelago is a game-changer). It’s a short but intense read and noteable as it was one of the first accounts of Stalinist repression to have been published (less than 10 years after Old Whiskers’ death).

Of course, there’s always a need for something lighter and, as my Discworld collection slowly grows toward completion, I’ve usually got a Terry Pratchett novel ready to reread for the first time in at least a decade. I had – again – forgotten just how painfully funny The Last Continent is. First published in 1998, that means it had been two decades since I’d last read it and, as I had the briefest of memories of it and remembered nothing of its plot it was akin to reading it for the first time. Pratchett’s parody of Australian culture and media touch-points – Priscilla, Queen of the Desert, Mad Max, Crocodile Dundee all get a warm roasting – easily sits as one of his funniest and most accessible reads. The invention of Vegemite and Australian slang, in particular, had me chuckling into the night.

Back in 2016 I read Joseph Kanon’s Leaving Berlin. It’s a great novel, a cold-war thriller set in Berlin as the divide was going up. Another book-shop spotting, this year’s Defectors again finds Mr Kanon setting his work in the cold war, this time – spotting that them yet? – in Moscow. As the title suggests, Defectors tackles the theme of the defections in the 1950s / 60s and, specifically, what came next. A former CIA agent, Frank Weeks slipped the net and escaped to Moscow and, over a decade later, sends word to his brother, Simon, that he – and the Soviet State – wish to publish his memoirs and wants to use Simon’s publishing house to do so.

Leaving aside the twists of the plot for fear of giving anything away, where Defectors excels is in the depiction of life for those former ‘field agents without a field’ – living in a strange suspended state, a  sort of prison within the larger prison of the Soviet Empire. Technically ‘free’ to be yet only allowed to travel to enclosed dacha complexes, use certain stores and continually monitored. Kanon manages to fill his story with sufficiently realistic and historically accurate details to make it ring true without overdoing it and slowing down the momentum – this is a thriller after all. Kanon clearly an author whose back catalogue now warrants investigation.

Up next: more Russian classics, some World War Two diaries and some new novels from Nordic Noir’s godfathers…