Turning Pages: 2022 thus far

A strange thing happened at the start of this year – after years of blazing through books at a tremendous lick, I found myself struggling to get into anything. Moving beyond the first few chapters was a challenge, let alone finishing anything.

Given the degree to which I love a good read, this was a concern. Had I burnt out on books? Was this a byproduct of wrestling with the black dog? Either, rather than persevere and force the issue I took a break, did the rare thing (for me) of indulging in episodic television. Then, when the itch to read began to build up to the point of being impossible to ignore again I picked up the first book on my ‘to read’ pile which happed to be Antti Tuomainen’s The Rabbit Factor.

That did the job. Since then I’ve been pretty much back to business as usual so it feels as good a time as any to summarise the highlights of those collections of words I’ve been consuming over the last six months.

One of my growing joys when it comes to reading, and a mainstay even when I couldn’t get into anything for myself, has been the fact that my son is now of the age where we’ll sit and read through fuller stories and novels over bedtimes. This has meant that, alongside those Terry Pratchett collections like The Witches Vacuum Cleaner, I got to enjoy Journey to the Centre of the Earth again and marvel at the ageless wonder of Jules Verne’s writing. It’s one of those classics that’s been sat on my shelf waiting to be re-read since my days at uni and I couldn’t think of a better reason to have done so.

Rather than set an arbitrary number of books as a target for my reading lately I’ve instead made it a point to read one ‘big Russian classic’ a year. This year that happened to be Leo Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina. It’s one of those books that I’d put off reading due to some misconception but am glad to have done so – it’s a joyous read (probably depending on your translation) that’s one to cherish – even if I found the the main plot (and character) of Anna herself bloody irritating. Much more the stories of Prince Stepan and Kostya for me.

Keeping on the classics theme momentarily, the Ernest Hemmingway section on my shelves has seen more than its fair share of action lately as I seek to consume more first-person narrative references. Fiesta: The Sun Also Rises was the first to be torn through and (as it, too had been sitting awaiting re-read since uni) just how bloody strong a first novel it is. While his mother may have been disappointed that he should squander his gifts writing about a social set she considered ghastly and, like To Have and Have Not which I read shortly thereafter, there are a few racist comments that grate a touch in 2022, there’s a lot to enjoy here. To Have and Have Not was one I hadn’t read before and while it felt like a disjointed story of three different and gradually weaker parts the first part alone is worth the price of admission and it would be followed by one of his finest and I’m sure I’ll be going back that end of the ‘H’ section soon.

It’s not often that I tend to read multiple books by the same author in one year and yet, along with Hemmingway, I’ve double up on Amor Towles this year. Much has been said of A Gentleman In Moscow and it remains one of my favourite novels to date so I was happy to get hold of The Lincoln Highway at the end of last year though it remained unread for some time. Before I got around to it I went back, as it were, with Mr Towles’ first – The Rules of Civility. Set in New York during the ‘jazz age’ and telling the story, in retrospect, of an eventful 1938 this was such an absolute belter of a read that it was a) clear that Towles is one of those astoundingly talented writers b) an immediate push to pick up The Lincoln Highway again – which turned out to be pretty good timing as having the former fresh in my mind allowed me to really appreciate the connection between the two, making some elements all the more poignant. While it may not have been the most practical of books to take to the beach (the hardback pulls in just under 600 pages) it, too, is a masterpiece of both storytelling and narrative (of which there are several) and highly recommended.

Gunnar Staalesen, since my introduction via Orenda Books published We Shall Inherit The Wind back in 2015, has become one of my favourite authors and I’ve made a point of working my way through as many of his extensive older novels that have been published in English as possible while eagerly awaiting new instalments in the Varg Veum series. I was delighted, then, to find a couple of his books – one new, complete with my review, and one old, The Writing on the Wall – in a bookshop earlier this year. The Writing on the Wall was originally written in 1994 (the English translation arriving in 2004) and is easily a highlight of this year’s reading. I always liken to reading to Staalesen as enjoying a good mug of coffee – it’s to be savoured as is gently kicks in. Once again dealing with some particularly dark subject matter (teenage prostitution and addiction) with quiet power, this is a bloody strong entry in a series that doesn’t have a weak point.

I’d seen Danny Goldberg‘s Serving the Servant: Remembering Kurt Cobain about for some time but hadn’t felt compelled to get a hold of it before – was there anything more to be said about Kurt Cobain. Well, turns out there is / was, a few insights to be gained. Goldberg become Nirvana’s manager ahead of Smells Like Teen Spirit and here compiles a series of insights from his own memories and unique insider perspective as well as reaching out to others both in the industry and inner circle including Courtney Love and Krist Novoselic for clarification (though Dave Grohl seems notably absent in input) on a few details. Some of these insights are at times painful – particularly on Cobain’s mental health – some refreshingly human given how much Kurt has been turned into a myth, and others fascinating (the examination of the Vanity Fair article that essentially deprived Cobain and Love access to their child is a real eye-opener). All of which mean that this is actually pretty essential reading for a fuller picture into Nirvana’s rise and Kurt Cobain’s tragic end.

As has been the prevailing approach of recent months I’m currently steaming through two books: Love in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel García Márquez – which is proving to be another beautiful novel I wish I’d read sooner – and, as I’ve recently been exploring more of Neil Young‘s music, Waging Heavy Peace is turning out to be a much better read and less about his model trains than I’d been given to believe.

Sergeant Salinger by Jerome Charyn

From the PR: “J.D. Salinger, mysterious author of The Catcher in the Rye, is remembered today as a reclusive misanthrope.

Jerome Charyn’s Salinger is a young American WWII draftee assigned to the Counter Intelligence Corps, a band of secret soldiers who trained with the British. A rifleman and an interrogator, he witnessed all the horrors of the war – from the landing on D-Day to the relentless hand-to-hand combat in the hedgerows of Normandy, to the Battle of the Bulge, and finally to the first Allied entry into a Bavarian death camp, where corpses were piled like cordwood.

After the war, interned in a Nuremberg psychiatric clinic, Salinger became enchanted with a suspected Nazi informant. They married, but not long after he brought her home to New York, the marriage collapsed. Maladjusted to civilian life, he lived like a ‘spook,’ with invisible stripes on his shoulder, the ghosts of the murdered inside his head, and stories to tell.”

There’s a massive difference between the “Sonny” Salinger of this novel’s prologue – an aspiring short story writer chasing his romantic infatuation with Oona O’Neill in the Stork Club and meeting Hemmingway for the first time – and that of the Sergeant Salinger of the coda – drifting through his memories as he tumbles down an escalator at Bloomingdales in 1947 (a point at which part of his famous novel had already appeared in a serialised form) struggling to come to terms with his experiences in the years in between.

Sergeant Salinger by Jerome Charyn explores Salinger’s war years, how the horrors and tumult of emotions witnessed and experienced shifted and formed the young writer’s mind and outlook to the point where the naive romantic of 1942 could, less than a decade later, deliver a defining novel oozing in edginess and scathing critique of modern society.

Salinger’s war years are richly imagined, blurring lines between fiction and reality – there was a lot here that sent me to check ‘did that actually happen’ and with so much of it genuinely having taken place (Exercise Tiger really was the horrific cock up it’s described as here and more).

We view the horrors and brutality through Salinger’s experiences whether it’s coming ashore with the second wave on Utah beech and spending hours wading through water, the green hell of Hürtgen Forest or the liberation of Kaufering IV in a way that’s at times reminiscent of Catch-22 with its mix of the absurdity and tragedy of war and the increasingly detached state “Sonny” begins to inhabit – Salinger was hospitalised for ‘combat stress reaction’ after the defeat of Germany. We see a writer being shaped by both events and a growing disillusionment with those around him – be it the Hemingway he again encounters in Paris or his own superiors.

Taking a known figure and carving a fictional version of them with a bit of artistic licensing can often go awry in the wrong hands. But with more than fifty works of fiction and nonfiction to his name, Jerome Charyn’s hands are safe ones to be in – here Salinger’s biological facts mix with another talented writer’s imagination to bring the young “Sonny” to life in a way that more straight ahead biographies wouldn’t.

Most importantly, though, even if you’re not familiar with or interested in J.D and his “Holden Caulfield novel” and short stories, Sergeant Salinger works bloody well as a novel in its own right and one very much worth reading.

My thanks to No Exit Press for my copy and to Anne Cater for inviting me to review as part of the blog tour.

No Honour by Awais Khan

From the PR: “In sixteen-year-old Abida’s small Pakistani village, there are age-old rules to live by, and her family’s honour to protect. And, yet, her spirit is defiant and she yearns to make a home with the man she loves.

When the unthinkable happens, Abida faces the same fate as other young girls who have chosen unacceptable alliances – certain, public death. Fired by a fierce determination to resist everything she knows to be wrong about the society into which she was born, and aided by her devoted father, Jamil, who puts his own life on the line to help her, she escapes to Lahore – only to disappear.

Jamil goes to Lahore in search of Abida – a city where the prejudices that dominate their village take on a new and horrifying form – and father and daughter are caught in a world from which they may never escape.”

Let’s get to it: No Honour is an astoundingly good novel. An important and brilliantly written story, Awais Khan’s book is a real stunner that had me riveted from the off.

Commencing with a painfully tragic and moving portrayal of an ‘honour’ killing in a Pakistan village, No Honour tackles a heavy subject matter and Khan, a very talented writer, details a world that is a terrifying reality in parts of Pakistani society and elsewhere in the world. Not for the faint of heart but a powerful, important and compelling read.

The subjects of honour killing, the subjugation of and violence against women and young girls don’t make for an easy read or subject matter for a novel but Awais Khan has an ace up his sleeve in the story of Abida and her father, Jamil. In these wonderful and warm characters and their journey, Khan tells a story that takes the reader through some genuinely shocking scenes that are very real, yet keeps us gripped because we care about them. It also makes it all the harder hitting.

Khan doesn’t flinch in his portrayals of some of the novels darker moments and it’s clear that so much of this is rooted in reality. There’s real skill here – there’s never a suggestion of shock for the sake of it, instead events unfold as though being genuinely observed with Khan’s narrative style deftly guiding us through. It’s a masterfully written story that manages to walk that very fine line in delivering a hard-hitting portrayal of a dark subject matter while still making for compelling fiction.

However, for all the brutality and shock, this is also a story of the power of love and compassion. The love that Jamil has for his daughter and his determination to see her safe, the memory of his mother’s love that guides him, the power of love to win through and show the way beyond the dark and it’s how this compassion shines in contrast to the ways of the jirga that makes the novel so compelling.

Khan has a great style and can paint a brilliant canvas with it – his descriptions of both village and city place you right there and his characters, even the most repugnant, are glorious in their detail.

My thanks as always to Karen at Orenda Books for my copy of No Honour and to Anne Cater for inviting me to review as part of this blog tour.

The Beresford by Will Carver

From the PR: “Just outside the city – any city, every city – is a grand, spacious but affordable apartment building called The Beresford.

There’s a routine at The Beresford.

For Mrs May, every day’s the same: a cup of cold, black coffee in the morning, pruning roses, checking on her tenants, wine, prayer and an afternoon nap. She never leaves the building.

Abe Schwartz also lives at The Beresford. His housemate Smythe no longer does. Because Abe just killed him.

In exactly sixty seconds, Blair Conroy will ring the doorbell to her new home and Abe will answer the door. They will become friends. Perhaps lovers. And, when the time comes for one of them to die, as is always the case at The Beresford, there will be sixty seconds to move the body before the next unknowing soul arrives at the door.

Because nothing changes at The Beresford, until the doorbell rings…”

How to review a novel as devilishly brilliant as The Beresford… that’s the question. I’m still not sure that I have the answer.

Four books in now and I’m never sure what to expect from a new Will Carver novel. Hang on, that’s not entirely true as Carver has well established prior in creating ridiculously well-crafted novels that are wickedly sharp in both style and dark humour, hugely addictive and filled with his own incisive takes on human nature and perceived reality.

What I mean is that I open a new Will Carver novel with anticipation to discover what new twist awaits and it’s always something unexpected and brilliant. The Beresford doesn’t disappoint on that level – or any level in fact.

Will Carver has a very distinctive style and narrative that’s a real joy to read. It’s deceptive; with seemingly little effort he’s able to slip in a huge amount, a wealth of details being slipped in little by little until you’re deep into it and haven’t realised you’ve been holding your breath for the last few chapters.

The Beresford absolutely rocks along at a great pace and every page manages to deliver something fiendishly clever and another hook that propels you on to the next.

Yes, you could say The Beresford is a dark, and at times very dark, thriller / horror and you wouldn’t be entirely wrong but it’s done in way that almost takes delight in the absurdity – Abe searching for ways to dispose of a dead body only to kick himself for forgetting to use private mode – of the situations rather than the gore or shock. It’s a very intelligent dark thriller, then, told with a knowing wink and grin that makes for a wickedly good read that I didn’t want to end.

My thanks as always to Karen at Orenda Books for my copy of The Beresford and to Anne Cater for inviting me to review as part of the blog tour.

Bound by Vanda Symon

From the PR: “The passionate, young police officer Sam Shephard returns in a taut, atmospheric and compelling police procedural, which sees her take matters into her own hands when the official investigation into the murder of a local businessman fails to add up…

The New Zealand city of Dunedin is rocked when a wealthy and apparently respectable businessman is murdered in his luxurious home while his wife is bound and gagged, and forced to watch. But when Detective Sam Shephard and her team start investigating the case, they discover that the victim had links with some dubious characters. The case seems cut and dried, but Sam has other ideas.

Weighed down by her dad’s terminal cancer diagnosis, and by complications in her relationship with Paul, she needs a distraction, and launches her own investigation. And when another murder throws the official case into chaos, it ’s up to Sam to prove that the killer is someone no one could ever suspect.”

It’s hard to start a review of a Vanda Symon book chiefly because her cold openers are so astoundingly good – I can’t think of many authors that have such an ability with those immediate hooks. Not just that but the rest of Bound is also bloody good too, delivering on that opening with an addictive and brilliantly written story.

It’s one of those where ‘just one more chapter’ is impossible. It’s no mean feat – to deliver such a powerful opening scene and keep the reader consistently hooked throughout yet Bound does just that.

This is a wonderfully plotted novel with characters that live, breath and walk off the pages so well portrayed are they. There’s a lot going on within Bound‘s 260 or so pages – a brutal execution, drug trafficking and organised crime, a policeman hell bent on revenge and Sam’s own personal and professional turmoil – yet at no point does it feel like there’s too much; Vanda Symon’s prose style one of calm and gentle build that pulls you in deep.

Bound isn’t a “rip along at 100mph and kick down every door to find the truth, damn it” novel (though there is a cracking car chase scene), it’s a more intelligent and slow burn of a plot with a whopper of a reveal that’ll leave you thinking for some time after finishing. Just what would you do in the name of ‘love’? There seems to be a lot of extreme answers in this one. A compelling and hugely satisfying read.

My thanks to Karen at Orenda for my copy of Bound and to Anne Cater for inviting me take part in the blog tour for this cracking book.

Hotel Cartagena by Simone Bucholz

From the PR: “Twenty floors above the shimmering lights of the Hamburg docks, Public Prosecutor Chastity Riley is celebrating a birthday with friends in a hotel bar when twelve heavily armed men pull out guns, and take everyone hostage.

Among the hostages is Konrad Hoogsmart, the hotel owner, who is being targeted by a young man whose life – and family – have been destroyed by Hoogsmart’s actions.

With the police looking on from outside – their colleagues’ lives at stake – and Chastity on the inside, increasingly ill from an unexpected case of sepsis, the stage is set for a dramatic confrontation … and a devastating outcome for the team … all live streamed in a terrifying bid for revenge.

Crackling with energy and populated by a cast of unforgettable characters, Hotel Cartagena is a searing, stunning thriller that will leave you breathless.”

Here we are with Hotel Cartagena and while I’m only a few novels deep into Simone Buchholz’ Chastity Riley series by now I’m gonna kick this review off by saying this is the best one yet!

There’s nothing on my shelves that really compares – or competes – with Buchholz’ narrative prowess. It at once recalls Ellroy’s telegraph style and grit while bringing it up to date with a proverbial kick up the arse in terms of sentiment and pace. Buchholz has a fantastic ability to convey a massive swathe of emotion and personality with the minimum of keyboard strokes and reading her work is always an absolute blast of joy – it’s one of those novels where you’re marvelling at both technique and plot and relishing every second.

Oh yeah, plot: this one’s an absolute belter. I won’t give too many details here so as not to spoil but as both the blurb and cover point out – the bar takeover and hostage situation is driven by a bid for revenge and the story leading up to it.. holy shit what a story! ‘Riveted’ isn’t the word, doesn’t do it justice – once that story line hooked me I couldn’t put it down.

There’s the joyously addictive, slow burning Henning story, the drama as the hostage situation and Chastity’s unravelling as her sepsis sneaks in, and then Ivo stuck outside the hotel and unravelling almost as fast… there’s a lot of great stuff to get your teeth into in this sharp and powerful thriller. Oh, and a climax that’ll leave your gob open.

Hotel Cartagena is another brilliantly written and plotted slab of the great stuff by Simone Buchholz and I heartily recommend getting stuck in at your soonest opportunity.

My thanks as always to Karen at Orenda Books for my copy (and consistently publishing such cracking work) and to Anne Cater for asking me to take part in this blog tour.

A Long Way from Douala by Max Lobe

From the PR: “On the trail of Roger, a brother who has gone north in search of football fame in Europe, Choupi, the narrator, takes with him the older Simon, a neighbourhood friend. The bus trip north nearly ends in disaster when, at a pit stop, Simon goes wandering in search of grilled caterpillars. At the police station in Yaoundé, the local cop tells them that a feckless ‘boza’ – a loser who wants to go to Europe is not worth police effort and their mother should go and pleasure the police chief if she wants help!

Through a series of joyful sparky vignettes, Cameroon life is revealed in all its ups and downs. Issues of life and death are raised but the tone remains light and edgy. Important issues of violence, terrorism, homosexuality and migration feature in A Long Way from Douala.”

I’m delighted to not only be taking part in the blog tour for A Long Way From Douala but to also be the first port of call. So let’s start off with a quick statement: this is a hell of a good book. In fact it’s bloody brilliant.

I went into A Long Way From Douala with no expectations and a whole lot of curiosity, never having read a novel by an author from or set in Cameroon. I was blown away by this deceptively slim book and loved every second of it.

Through a series of vignettes and flashbacks that are at times both brilliantly funny and immensely touching and evocative, A Long Way From Douala is a richly detailed story that delivers a real insight into life in Cameroon.

There are so many little details and moments in Choupi and Simon’s journey that left me agog that I know I’ll be going back to this one for another read. Whether it’s the dealings with local police, unexplained train stops punctuated by the sound of gunshots in the dark of night, or even the local ‘red light district’ there’s so many of these nuggets of Cameroonian life that it really immerses the reader in its world.

Max Lobe describes both the boys’ journey, his characters and their environs with a genuine warmth and lightness of tone that makes sure the narrative moves along at a brilliant pace that manages to bound along while never feeling rushed – even if the boys are trying to catch Roger.

Beyond the humour and warmth in the narrative though, A Long Way From Douala touches on many serious and issues that face Cameroonians on a daily basis from corruption and violence to the threat of increasing Boko Harum raids from across the border and, of course, the danger so many face in their pursuit of a better life by leaving Cameroon as they – like Roger – seek ‘Boza’; an expression used by central and West African migrants attempting to reach Europe when the cross the border. A genuinely eye-opening read.

This is a brilliant little novel full of life, humour and heart and, like all great small novels, I really wish there was more of it.

My thanks to Hope Road Publishing for my copy of A Long Way From Douala and to Anne Cater for inviting me to take part in this blog tour.

Red Corona by Tim Glister

From the PR: “British secret agent Richard Knox has been hung out to dry by someone in MI5, and while his former boss lies in a coma, he needs to find the traitor in their midst.

In Russia, top scientist Irina Valera discovers the secret to sending messages through space, a technology that could change the world. But a terrible accident forces her to flee.

Desperate for a way back into MI5, Knox makes an unlikely ally in Abey Bennett, one of the CIA’s only female recruits, realising that Valera’s technology in the hands of the KGB could be catastrophic for the West.

As the age of global surveillance dawns, all three have something to prove.

Set against a backdrop of true events during the Cold War, RED CORONA is a smart, fast-paced spy thriller from a talented new crime writer.”

Sometimes a title is accidentally relevant. In this instance there’s no virus – the corona in question is the satellite reconnaissance programme the US ran from 1959 and into the early 70s – using satellites to produce aerial photographs of the USSR (and China). That’s right; we’re in glorious Cold War spy thriller territory here, a genre I’ve been immersing myself ever deeper in over the last few years so this one is right up my alley.

We’ve got disgraced agents, double agents, explosions – planned and accidental, chases and kidnappings, twists, turns, double crosses, executions and a great reveal. Oh, and the space race. All the elements are brilliantly set in place in amongst an intriguing and well realised plot that’s all the more noteworthy considering this is Tim Glister’s first novel.

Red Corona is a well-researched and vividly described novel with a pretty technical subject matter at its centre but Glister has clearly done his homework on it and possess the skill to convey the complexity and mechanics of it in a manner that’s both thorough and retains the pacing of the novel, vital in this genre and seamless here. Glister paints a detailed and lifelike picture of both 60’s London and the USSR and populates his novel with a great set of characters.

The three main narrative threads – those of Knox, Irina Valera and Abey Bennet – are all compelling and watching as they overlap and come together, revealing different facets of the story makes for a gripping read. Of the bunch I found Irina Valera’s exceptionally captivating, not only because Glister is tapping into an area for which I have a real interest but because it’s also very convincing in its detail and carries a real emotional wallop that you wouldn’t necessarily expect in a spy thriller. Very much well worth a read.

My thanks to Point Blank / One World and  Anne Cater for my copy of Red Corona and asking me to join the Blog Tour.

There’s Only One Danny Garvey – by David F Ross

From the PR: “Danny Garvey was a sixteen-year old footballing prodigy. Professional clubs clamoured to sign him, and a glittering future beckoned.

And yet, his early promise remained unfulfilled, and Danny is back home in the tiny village of Barshaw to manage the struggling junior team he once played for. What’s more, he’s hiding a secret about a tragic night, thirteen years earlier, that changed the course of several lives.

There’s only one Danny Garvey, they once chanted … and that’s the problem. A story of irrational hopes and fevered dreams – of unstoppable passion and unflinching commitment in the face of defeat – There’s Only One Danny Garvey is, above all, an unforgettable tale about finding hope and redemption in the most unexpected of places.”

So, let’s get down to it: There’s Only One Danny Garvey is the fifth novel from David F Ross and if you haven’t read any of his books by now I’ve gotta ask; what’s been keeping you, ya bawbag?! David F Ross is one of the sharpest and funniest writers currently putting ink to page and There’s Only Danny Garvey may just be his best yet.

It’s exceedingly hard to combine an engrossing and well crafted story with genuine laugh-your-arse-off humour and still manage to pack an emotional punch – yet David F Ross seems to have found some secret recipe somewhere and pulls it off superbly in There’s Only One Danny Garvey. That he throws plenty of music and pop culture touch stones in – as per each of his novels to date – only makes it all the more enjoyable for me.

There’s so much to shout about in this one it’s hard to know where to start. This is an unreliable narrator like no other. It’s both razor sharp in its delivery and plot and warm and poignant in the details of the characters and community. It’s at once a poignant and evocative time machine back to a mid-nineties working-class community and a gripping slab of literary fiction. Oh, and it’s really, really fucking good.

While the sport – and the role it plays in the community – is at the heart of the novel, There’s Only One Danny Garvey is about lots more than just ‘the fitba’ and, even then, we’re a long way from the Scottish Premiership here. This is a novel of heart, of troubled pasts and dark secrets. A novel of families strained, tortured souls, loss and attempts at redemption. A novel of broken dreams and broken people, a novel with characters that’ll stay with you long after the final whistle has blown. It’s a touching and engrossing novel with one genuine “holy shit” moment after another when it clicks what’s actually happening and – when it turns that corner – really ups the ante. It’s a novel that’s brilliantly written, paced and bought to life; a game transformed by dazzling footwork, a beautiful pass and a precision shot on target into the back of the net. It’s a novel that really must be read.

My thanks to Karen at Orenda for my copy of There’s Only One Danny Garvey and to Anne Cater for asking me to take part in the blog tour.

Winterkill by Ragnar Jónasson

From the PR:“Easter weekend is approaching, and snow is gently falling in Siglufjörður, the northernmost town in Iceland, as crowds of tourists arrive to visit the majestic ski slopes.

Ari Thór Arason is now a police inspector, but he’s separated from his girlfriend, who lives in Sweden with their three-year-old son. A family reunion is planned for the holiday, but a violent blizzard is threatening and there is an unsettling chill in the air.

Three days before Easter, a nineteen-year-old local girl falls to her death from the balcony of a house on the main street. A perplexing entry in her diary suggests that this may not be an accident, and when an old man in a local nursing home writes ‘She was murdered’ again and again on the wall of his room, there is every suggestion that something more sinister lies at the heart of her death…

As the extreme weather closes in, cutting the power and access to Siglufjörður, Ari Thór must piece together the puzzle to reveal a horrible truth … one that will leave no one unscathed.

Chilling, claustrophobic and disturbing, Winterkill marks the startling conclusion to the million-copy bestselling Dark Iceland series and cements Ragnar Jónasson as one of the most exciting authors in crime fiction.”

I’m not happy to be writing this review, not happy at all. This cannot be the end of the Dark Iceland series, surely. The compelling journey of Ari Thór, steered by the massively talented hand of Ragnar Jónasson, from rookie newcomer to seasoned Siglufjörður resident and police inspector has been an absolute pleasure to read. This can’t be the end. And yet, here we are.

The plot itself… well, the case looks to be a non-starter at first. Yet as keen as Ari Thór is to park it and focus on spending time with his son and work out his relationship with Kristín (oh how I longed for that to end differently), too many little things begin to pop up and Ari Thór knows something isn’t right. There’s something lurking behind the apparent suicide that he needs to know and, in unravelling that thread he begins to reveal a lot more than expected all the while wrestling with his desire to not be so involved with the case and his intrinsic sense of humanity and drive to discover the truth. It makes for a brilliant read.

One of the key elements in making the Dark Iceland series so addictive is Jónasson’s skill as a writer. He’s brilliantly adept at weaving  a deep and intricately plotted  mystery while simultaneously keeping the reader engrossed in Ari Thór’s own personal pressures in a way that makes Winterkill a gripping book.

Siglufjörður makes for a superb setting for a mystery novel: it’s both chilling and remote and even if it’s no longer as cut-off from the rest of Iceland as it once was you get the feeling that despite an additional tunnel and the ease with which, say, Ari’s old boss Tómas can be reached on the phone, there’s still a sense of isolation in the town that really adds to novel’s atmosphere, especially when the snow storms kick in. As with previous novels in the series, Jónasson populates Winterkill with a brilliantly vivid cast of characters that, were I to find myself in Siglufjörður, I would honestly expect to meet in the street. His portrayal of the grief-stricken mother is really powerful and the degree to which I know it will stay with me for a while is a testament to Ragnar Jónasson’s skill. It’s just so very well written.

What’s made the Dark Iceland series, and Ragnar Jónasson’s writing, standout and prove so enjoyable to read is how subtly your attention can be hooked by little details and how many doors these open for further exploration. Winterkill is no exception – in its gentle pacing, the plot touches on so many intrigues and characters as it builds up a real momentum, Jónasson expertly leading us along until a real ‘what the fu..’ shocker comes barrelling in and, in Winterkill, it’s a real shocker that will stay with you.

So, is this the end of the story for Ari Thór? There’s a little note from the author at the start of Winterkill in which Ragnar Jónasson points out that the story is for those fans that kept asking for one more Ari Thór story. I can’t help but think there’s a lot more to be told about Siglufjörður’s police inspector, what was the secret of his parents hinted at in previous books, for example? What will the growing number of people coming into the town mean for crime in a place where seemingly nothing happens but so much is going on? Who knows, maybe if we ask Ragnar enough…..

My thanks, as always, to Karen  at Orenda Books (a continual source of high-quality fiction) for my copy of Winterkill and to Anne Cater for inviting me to take part in this blog tour.