Blog Tour: Trap by Lilja Sigurdardottir

From the PR: “Happily settled in Florida, Sonja believes she’s finally escaped the trap set by unscrupulous drug lords. But when her son Tomas is taken, she’s back to square one … and Iceland.

Her lover, Agla, is awaiting sentencing for financial misconduct after the banking crash, and Sonja refuses to see her. And that’s not all … Agla owes money to some extremely powerful men, and they’ll stop at nothing to get it back.

With her former nemesis, customs officer Bragi, on her side, Sonja puts her own plan into motion, to bring down the drug barons and her scheming ex-husband, and get Tomas back safely. But things aren’t as straightforward as they seem, and Sonja finds herself caught in the centre of a trap that will put all of their lives at risk…

Set in a Reykjavík still covered in the dust of the Eyjafjallajökull volcanic eruption, and with a dark, fast-paced and chilling plot and intriguing characters, Trap is an outstandingly original and sexy Nordic crime thriller, from one of the most exciting new names in crime fiction.”

OK: once again I’m at the point of wondering how the hell to review a book without giving away any spoilers. I’ll start at the beginning – the beginning of the trilogy of which Trap is the second part, that is. Last year’s Snare was a thoroughly clever thriller that managed to mix a fiendishly complex web of subplots with a real  emotional punch thanks to a cast of characters that made you question the lines between ‘right’ and ‘wrong’. Trap takes everything that was great about Snare – which was plenty – and ratchets it up a level… or five.

While Snare was definitely a compelling read, it was very much a laying of foundations and, as such, reading it is kind of a perquisite for fully understanding Trap as it’s here that everything really kicks off and in the second installment in Lilja Sigurdardottir’s Reykjavik Noir Trilogy it’s on from the word go and doesn’t let up until the last page. Hugely compelling and addictive (I spent many a late night glue to this one), Trap does not pull any punches and blends the tenderness of its characters’ emotional motivations with the brutal reality of the world of drug smuggling to staggering affect. Throw in the white-collar crimes and corruption of the Icelandic financial crash and you’ve got a real page-turner on your hands that delivers on all levels.

Lilja Sigurdardottir has a real talent and manages to weave some fantastically complex plots together without losing any of the momentum and populates them with characters so well written as to generate a genuine emotional investment in them from the reader – especially, of course, when it comes to Sonja and Tomas. Which was an odd one for me as for the vast majority of Snare I found it hard to develop any sympathy for her given her actions. Again I’m really trying not to give anything away but  as the plot of this trilogy deepens and increasing levels of deception and back stabbing are revealed along with the reality of other characters’ actions and just how much of a, pardon the pun, trap Sonja was lead into,  it’s impossible not to get hooked and caught up in the web of lies and emotional manipulation. And as for Bragi and his motivations… well, it’s a need to read.

Trap is a powerful follow-up to Snare and I’m really looking forward to the final chapter of the trilogy.  My thanks as always to Orenda Books for my copy and to Anne Cater for inviting me to take part in this blogtour.

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: 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…

Blog Tour: House of Spines by Michael J Malone

From the PR: “Ran McGhie’s world has been turned upside down. A young, lonely and frustrated writer, and suffering from mental-health problems, he
discovers that his long-dead mother was related to one of Glasgow’s oldest merchant families. Not only that, but Ran has inherited Newton Hall, a vast mansion that belonged to his great-uncle, who it seems has been watching from afar as his estranged great-nephew has grown up.

Entering his new-found home, it seems Great-Uncle Fitzpatrick has turned it into a temple to the written word – the perfect place for poet Ran. But everything is not as it seems. As he explores the Hall’s endless corridors, Ran’s grasp on reality appears to be loosening. And then he comes across an ancient lift; and in that lift a mirror. And in the mirror … the reflection of a woman…

A terrifying psychological thriller with more than a hint of the Gothic, House of Spines is a love letter to the power of books, and an exploration of how lust and betrayal can be deadly…”

So, here we are with the latest novel from Michael J Malone and, I’ll be honest, after getting into House of Spines I did have to double check that this is the same Michael J Malone who wrote last year’s A Suitable Lie for Malone – as one glance at the man’s ‘cv’ will attest – is a very talented chameleonic writer clearly with “over 200 published poems, two poetry collections, six novels, countless articles and one work of non-fiction” to his name.

Whereas A Suitable Lie was something of a domestic-noir thriller with a twist on spousal abuse, House of Spines is very much a psychological thriller with heavy horror overtones and mystery that brings to mind the likes of Rebecca. Its setting in an old, practically empty and isolated manor really upping the opportunity to give Ran and the reader a real sense of the willies with the jarring jolts between Ran’s seclusion in the house and visits back to the modern world in the local village lending a further sense of disconnect between the ‘real world’ and the events back at Newtown Hall.

It’s a brilliantly conceived and well played mystery by Malone too, so thoroughly absorbing that’s impossible not to get caught up in and it’s impossible to express how so without given away a tiny bit of the plot so I’m gonna have to say that the next paragraph contains a SPOILER ALERT.

They say that if you’re only exposed to one narrative for so long you’ll eventually try and find ways to identify with it and find a sort of kinship (a sort of literary Stockholm perhaps) and this is true of House of Spines and Ranald. You get completely caught up in his viewpoint (even though it’s not told first-person) and, thus, in his struggles between distinguishing reality from fantasy and feeling completely in the dark on so many key points. For in the same way that his cousin has lead him a merry dance and played on Ran’s mental state so, too, is the reader left uncertain as to what is reality and what is the effect of Ran’s own mental state with so many puzzle pieces kept from view or merely hinted at with other characters holding on to key facts or leaving me exasperatingly frustrated at their seeming vow of silence on them. I can’t tell you the number of times I wanted to take a character and shake em by the lapels and scream “just sodding well tell him what the hell you know!”

I didn’t seen the final reveal coming, any of them for this is a mystery of many facets, and that’s always a good thing and the final sentence – in true horror style, managed to give me a chill. But then there’s so much going on for such a relatively novel it’s a wonder that it does all get resolved. From Ran’s own parental background, Newtown Hall and his Great-Uncle Fitzpatrick’s history to the current cousin-related concerns and it’s to Malone’s credit that the novel never feels over-stretched and these story lines are not only given all the space and to breath and come to fruition but are so ably wrapped up within the novel’s pages without feeling in the least bit rushed.

House of Spines is a cracking read that combines a real mystery with a genuinely touching and emotionally affecting story that, at times, makes you really feel for Ranald (and others without wanting to give anything else away) and one that I thoroughly recommend.

My thanks again to Orenda Books for my copy and inviting me to take part in this blogtour.

 

 

 

Blog Tour; The Other Twin by L V Hay

From the PR: “When India falls to her death from a bridge over a railway, her sister Poppy returns home to Brighton for the first time in years. Unconvinced by official explanations, Poppy begins her own investigation into India’s death. But the deeper she digs, the closer she comes to uncovering deeply buried secrets. Could Matthew Temple, the boyfriend she abandoned, be involved? And what of his powerful and wealthy parents, and his twin sister, Ana?

Enter the mysterious and ethereal Jenny: the girl Poppy discovers after hacking into India’s laptop. What exactly is she hiding, and what did India find out about her?

Taking the reader on a breathless ride through the winding lanes of Brighton, into its vibrant party scene and inside the homes of its well-heeled families, The Other Twin is a startling and up-to-the-minute thriller about the social-media world, where resentments and accusations are played out online, where identities
are made and remade, and where there is no such thing as the truth…”

Returning to a hometown after years away is always a strange thing – sights are familiar but somehow the subtle differences can make the entire place feel different and you a stranger in the environs you grew up in.  If you add the further sense of detachment and changed reality that comes with the death of a loved one and grief it’s not likely to make for a pleasant homecoming. A very real sense of disorientation, an unease with the familiar. Here we are, then, with The Other Twin by L V Hay and published by Orenda Books in which Poppy finds herself called back to Brighton after nearly five years of living in London after her sister is found dead from an apparent suicide and where the sense of unease with the familiar drips from each page.

Unable to believe her sister committed suicide, Poppy digs into the life of the sister that she hadn’t spoken to for over four years and uncovers a lot more besides when she begins trying to discover the meaning behind India’s blog posts. I think it’s fair to say that – as would likely be true of most of us – Poppy isn’t a great detective. Both she and the reader alike are in the dark and scrabbling for pieces and clues and looking for a foothold in the increasingly disturbing world of secrets she inadvertently seems to have stumbled into. It’s an interesting and effective technique and makes a welcome change from those too-slick-to-be-real detectives and further adds to the sense of reality. The reader is very much along for the ride.

The vivid and detailed descriptions of Brighton make for an equally disorientating sensation as picturesque, seaside tourist postcards rub shoulders with some very murky and disturbing actions as the differences between perception and reality blur. Whether it’s the relatonship with her mother, that of her mother and Tim, Poppy’s relationship with Matthew and even India’s own life vs her online life… the sense of something unpleasant lurking behind the familiar, that feeling that all is ‘not quite right’, is omnipresent making for a very gripping read.

L V Hay writes with a confidence atypical of many a debut novel and for all the twists and turns that Poppy’s determined digging throws out, the final reveal is very much a real surprise that had me going back through the book and wondering how I’d missed it.

A very strong debut and I look forward to more from L V Hay. Thanks to Karen at Orenda for my copy and the invitation to take part in The Other Twin’s blog tour.

Blog Tour; Dying To Live by Michael Stanley

From the PR: “The body of a Bushman is discovered near the Central Kalahari Game Reserve, and the death is written off as an accident. But all is not as it seems. An autopsy reveals that although he’s clearly very old, his internal organs are puzzlingly young. What’s more, an old bullet is lodged in one of his muscles … but where is the entry wound?
When the body is stolen from the morgue and a local witch doctor is reported missing, Detective ‘Kubu’ Bengu gets involved. As Kubu and his brilliant young colleague, Detective Samantha Khama, follow the twisting trail through a confusion of rhino-horn smugglers, foreign gangsters and drugs manufacturers, the wider and more dangerous the case becomes… A fresh, new slice of ‘Sunshine Noir’, Dying to Live is a classic tale of greed, corruption and ruthless thuggery, set in one of the world’s most beautiful landscapes, and featuring one of crime fiction’s most endearing and humane detectives.”

When a new Detective Kubu book arrives on my shelves I know for a fact that I’m going to love every second of it. Reading the work of Michael Sears and Stanley Trollip (writing as Michael Stanley) is never anything short of a delight. Detective Kubu is, three books in, one of my favourite characters and there’s always a grin on my face when he’s on the page. In Assistant Superintendent David ‘Kubu’ Bengu, Sears and Trollip have created a character I could read all day every day and never get bored. I’ve said it before but it’s impossible not to say it again but in a genre stuffed to the bindings with great characters he’s a real stand out, even if I’ve now abandoned the snacks and keeping cookies in my own desk draw, it’s a delight to read a character so wonderfully human and warm who’s only ‘flaws’ are his dietary indulgences. It makes the subplot concerning his family worries all the more affecting too.

But, of course, a good character does not make a good book alone. Dying To Live is a great read for so many other reasons as well. The portrayal of Botswana and it’s clashing of cultures both in terms of those embracing the new vs traditional ways (the ongoing import placed on witch doctors and traditional healing that played such a key role in Deadly Harvest) and place of the Bushmen in that society along with the inclusion of those colloquial words from South African languages amongst the English add, as intended by the authors, a real sense of authenticity and make for an immersive experience.

Nor is Kubu the only character in the novel, obviously. The supporting cast are made up of faces familiar and new and Messrs Sears and Trollip possess a real knack of creating a compelling ensemble each of whom could carry a story on their own, I’m sure. It’s great to see Samantha Khama developing as a strong female member of Botswana’s CID and it’s clear that Constable Ixau is a character that’s got legs and I look forward to more of his involvement in the series. At least I hope there’s more to come.

So… what of the plot? Well; it’s a real gripper. What seems like a routine call out for an unimpressed detective soon escalates into a story that reaches across continents. A fantastically written slow burner of a plot that builds into a complex mix of corruption and greed with plenty of red herrings and sucker punches to keep you hooked to the very end  with a mystery that throws smuggling, organ theft, murder and political turpitude into one ridiculously rewarding brew. Dying To Live firmly marks the writing team of Michael Sears and Stanley Trollip as one to very quickly get addicted to and demonstrates that the northern climes have got nothing on ‘Sunshine Noir’ when it comes to compelling, blockbuster intrigue and action.

If you’ve not been lured into exploring the Detective Bengu series then Dying To Live is a great place to start and, if you have, you’ll love every page.

Thanks again to Karen at Orenda for my copy and do check out the other stops on the blogtour.