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: Six Stories by Matt Wesolowski

From The PR: “1997. Scarclaw Fell. The body of teenager Tom Jeffries is found at an outward bound centre. Verdict? Misadventure. But not everyone is convinced. And the truth of what happened in the beautiful but eerie fell is locked in the memories of the tight-knit group of friends who took that fateful trip, and the flimsy testimony of those living nearby.
2017.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Blog Tour: Cursed by Thomas Enger

img_2005From the PR: “When Hedda Hellberg fails to return from a retreat in Italy, where she has been grieving for her recently dead father, her husband discovers that his wife’s life is tangled in mystery. Hedda never left Oslo, the retreat has no record of her and, what’s more, she appears to be connected to the death of an old man, gunned down on the first day of the hunting season in the depths of the Swedish forests. Henning Juul becomes involved in the case when his ex-­‐wife joins in the search for the missing woman, and the estranged pair find themselves enmeshed both in the murky secrets of one of Sweden’s wealthiest families, and in the painful truths surrounding the death of their own son. With the loss of his son to deal with, as well as threats to his own life and to that of his ex-­‐wife, Juul is prepared to risk everything to uncover a sinister maze of secrets that ultimately leads to the dark heart of European history. ”

“It’s like having a gun to your head”, being a dad, according to Henning Juul: “You go around being frightened the whole time. Frightened that something might happen… And you think that all the awful stuff you read about in the papers – it won’t happen to you and your child; it only happens to other people’s kids.” Juul, you see, is living every parent’s nightmare – his son was killed. As Henning and his son slept the apartment they were in was set alight as a warning – Juul’s investigations having come too close to some presumably powerful and truly nasty people. All of which, I understand (and please correct me if I’m wrong) happened before the events of the first Henning Juul novel, Burned.

So here we are with Cursed, the fourth entry in the Henning Juul series and it’s an absolute belter that cost me a fair bit of sleep in my reluctance to put it down. I’ve not read the previous novels in this series but I never felt that I was lost or missing anything for having not yet done so (only that I now need to go back and start at the beginning as this was such a good read) as Thomas Enger does a great job of bringing you up to speed without being heavy handed.

As Juul continues to search for the man who set alight his apartment and delve deeper into Oslo’s dark underbelly with some memorable scenes and characters, his ex-wife Nora is asked to investigate the disappearance of Hedda Helberg.

Having discovered the motivations and back story behind Juul’s investigations I honesty didn’t expect Nora’s case to be able to compete in terms of either drama or grip, but then I do like to be surprised by a book and the supposed missing-person case of Hedda Helberg soon becomes just as demanding of attention as slowly but surely a web of deceit and lies surrounding one of Norway’s wealthiest families is pulled apart.

Both of these investigations and narratives have the slow-burning, intricate and meticulous plotting that I so enjoy in a good thriller and that the two gradually become linked as they gather both pace and intrigue mean there’s zero chance of putting it down. The switch between narrative focuses proving a great device as it allows for a fuller view of each of the characters.

It’s hard to read Cursed and not be moved by the loss that Nora and Henning have endured while also noticing the difference between the two characters and how the death of their son has affected them both. Nora slowly but surely moving forward in life, back to work and in a new relationship, all the while carrying a ball that their son played with in her bag. Juul – presumably blaming himself in many a way – is  driven by nothing but finding justice for his son, his entire being devoted to the cause. The tragic and heartbreaking (seriously where is the Orenda Gut Check warning on this one?) back story makes this novel all the more compelling.

Cursed just about has the lot; intrigue from the off,  tightly weaved plots that pull you right in, plenty of twists, gritty and scarred lead characters and enough emotional heft and resonance to floor come the final reveal – all underpinned by a back story and over-riding story arc that ensures the Henning Juul series demands attention.

A complex, taught and thoroughly gripping read, Thomas Enger’s Cursed is a first-rate character-driven thriller that doesn’t disappoint.

Many thanks to Karen at Orenda for my copy and do check out the other stops on the Cursed Blog Tour.

cursed-blog-tour

Blog Tour: Deep Down Dead by Steph Broadribb

From the PR: “Lori Anderson is as tough as they come, managing to keep her career as a fearless Florida bounty hunter separate from her role as single mother to nine-year-old Dakota, who suffers from leukaemia. But when the hospital bills start to rack up, she has no choice but to take her daughter along on a job that will make her a fast buck. And that’s when things start to go wrong.

The fugitive she’s assigned to haul back to court is none other than JT, Lori’s former mentor – the man who taught her everything she knows … the man who also knows the secrets of her murky past. Not only is JT fighting a child exploitation racket operating out of one of Florida’s biggest theme parks, Winter Wonderland, a place where ‘bad things never happen’, but he’s also mixed up with the powerful Miami Mob. With two fearsome foes on their tails, just three days to get JT back to Florida, and her daughter to protect, Lori has her work cut out for her. When they’re ambushed at a gas station, the stakes go from high to stratospheric, and things become personal.

Breathtakingly fast-paced, both hard-boiled and heart-breaking, Deep Down Dead is a simply stunning debut from one of the most exciting new voices in crime fiction.”

img_1586

This book cost me some sleep; once it gets going Deep Down Dead is an addictive read and one any fan of a good thriller will love. 

Now I look at the book on my shelves I’m surprised that it’s over 330 pages – it rips along with such a pace but then there’s an awful lot of good stuff packed into Deep Down Dead: a gritty female lead with more punch than a Klitschko brother and a back story that ensures you’re hanging to each page rooting for her while the plot has more twists and excitement than a ride at Winter Wonderland. That this is Steph Broadribb’s first novel makes that all the more impressive. 

A thoroughly enjoyable read with enough grip and twists to keep the reader hooked through to the end. A strong debut and I’m looking forward to the next chapter.

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

ddd

Book Review: The Mountain In My Shoe by Louise Beech

“A book is missing.

A black gap parts the row of paperbacks, like a breath between thoughts.”

love that opening.

Last year saw publication of Louise Beech’s How To Be Brave on Orenda Books. A thoroughly moving book that made my reads of the year list. What impressed me most was how its writer was unafraid to tackle emotional areas from which others might blanch while combining such insightful writing with a compelling story. She’s done it again.

I was more than happy and eager to read The Mountain In My Shoe when it was so kindly sent to me by Karen at Orenda. Life and this year being the utter shit that it has been, though, means I couldn’t do so straight away. My stop on the blogtour for this one was kindly populated by the author herself with a piece on adversity that’s well worth a read, here.

Now, though, I’ve not long turned the final page on this one and it’s time to get down my thoughts and I’ll try to do so without giving away too much. If I can…

From The PR: “A missing boy. A missing book. A missing husband. A woman who must find them all to find herself …

the-mountain-in-my-shoe-copy-275x423On the night Bernadette finally has the courage to tell her domineering husband that she’s leaving, he doesn’t come home. Neither does Conor, the little boy she’s befriended for the past five years. Also missing is his lifebook, the only thing that holds the answers. With the help of Conor’s foster mum, Bernadette must face her own past, her husband’s secrets and a future she never dared imagine in order to find them all.

Exquisitely written and deeply touching, The Mountain in My Shoe is both a gripping psychological thriller and a powerful and emotive examination of the meaning of family … and just how far we’re willing to go for the people we love.”

I seem to recall Louise Beech saying that in The Mountain In My Shoe she’d ‘accidentally’ written a thriller. If this is an accident then I’d be first in line to see what happens were she to set out to do so. I was thoroughly gripped and found myself turning through the pages with a speed that ought to have worried the binding. Contained within is a book that encompasses psychological thriller, emotional drama and gripping mystery.

As with How To Be Brave, there’s more than one voice telling a story in The Mountain In My Shoe: Bernadette, an abused housewife on the verge of leaving her controlling husband; Connor, a young boy who’s spent his life in the care system and The Book – Connor’s ‘life book’. The Life Book is Connor’s story updated by those that care for him – foster parents, social workers, teachers. I found this exceptionally moving – having just rediscovered my young son’s ‘My Story’ type book after moving and realising that, for Connor (and so many like him) life can deal some pretty harsh cards. A masterful touch from Mrs Beech.

The changing narratives and perspectives add a great depth to the story and each are handled convincingly and ring true. The Book is especially moving, upping the empathy for Connor and the suspense. It makes for painful reading at times but I’ve said this before and I’ll no doubt say it again; woe betide the author that goes for comfortable.

How To Be Brave and The Mountain In My Shoe are very different books and while there’s a few similarities (a diary and lifebook as narrative devices), there’s one undeniable thing they have in common; Louise Beech writes with an emotional honesty and bravery that elevates her work from the crowd. She writes in a way that just manages to cut to the core – especially as a parent – every single time. Brilliant.

Worth the wait, very highly recommended and thanks again to Karen at Orenda for another great book. Seriously, though, Karen; every time I think I’ve got my ‘Top Reads of the Year’ list sorted I open another book with the Orenda logo on its spine.

 

A Suitable Lie

I saw her curled up in a chair. Fast asleep. Even in the weak light I could make out the silted lines of mascara that ran from her eyes and down the pale expanse of her cheeks, almost past her nose.

She had obviously fallen asleep waiting for me.

And that was the first time I thought about murder.

 

From the PR: “Andy Boyd thinks he is the luckiest man alive. Widowed with a young child, after his wife dies in childbirth, he is certain that he will never again experience true love. Then he meets Anna. Feisty, fun and beautiful, she’s his perfect match … and she loves his son like he is her own.  When Andy ends up in the hospital on his wedding night, he receives his first clue that Anna is not all that she seems. Desperate for that happy-ever-after, he ignores it. A dangerous mistake that could cost him everything.

A brave, deeply moving, page-turning psychological thriller, A Suitable Lie marks a stunning departure for one of Scotland’s finest crime writers, exploring the lengths people will go to hide their deepest secrets, even if it kills them…”

A Suitable Lie AW.inddI’ll put my hands up; after the initial hook, most certainly an attention grabber, I started to wonder where this one was going… the courtship of Andy and Anna makes for a pleasant and often humorous read but not one that I was expecting after the opening quoted above.

But then… well, then I realised just how crafty Michael Malone is. All the gentle domesticity, all the loved-up courtship and redemption for Andy -the average guy trying to raise his son after the devastating loss (and here Mr Malone writes with a convincing and affecting sense of emotion) of his wife…. it’s just the lure to get you on the hook because this book.. this book is a sneaky bugger; lulling you into a false sense of security before delivering a read stuffed with a palpable sense of dread and tension and one which is, more frequently than not, a disconcerting and terrifying read.

Sitting at the core of this novel is the theme of domestic abuse and here Michael Malone takes a familiar trope and flips it on its head in a way that many have tried before but few have done with such startling and genuinely harrowing results. Malone deals with a very difficult topic with both sensitivity and boldness, delivering scenes of raw emotion and – frankly – horror which manage to skilfully tread the line between exploitation and being shocking realistic. There are scenes in this novel that make for an uncomfortable read but a story that doesn’t challenge the reader isn’t worth the paper it’s printed on and A Suitable Lie both challenges and rewards.

I don’t want to give anything resembling a spoiler away here as I’d rather recommend all to go out and read but I will say that there are parts of this story that left my mouth open. The conclusion is both heartbreaking and gripping in its intensity and twist – to use an oft-overused phrase – a real roller-coaster.

Michael Malone has a clear and unarguable talent when it comes to prose and story and A Suitable Lie is an engaging read  that will remain with you long after the final page has been turned – it went very quickly from being a “where’s this going?” to costing me sleep as I simply had to find out.

Huge thanks once again to Karen at Orenda Books for sending me yet another great read and do check out the other stops on the BlogTour:

suitable-lie-blog-tour-poster

Make Me

..he ducked his own hand under his own coat, grabbing at nothing but air, but the two guys didn’t know that, and like the good range-trained shooters they were they went for their guns and dropped into solid shooting stances all at once, which braced their feet a yard apart for stability, so Reacher stepped in and kicked the lefthand guy full in the groin.

I was late getting to the Jack Reacher party. Perhaps because I took a long break from reading books that could be slotted into the ‘thriller’ genre or perhaps because I’m sometimes wary / sceptical of such one-character driven series. Of course that changed when I did pick up Killing Floor. I also admit I got into it the wrong way round having watched the Jack Reacher film first.

There’s been a lot said about Lee Childs’ character and a pretty good article that also covers why, perhaps, I was hesitant in picking up my first Reacher books (is it ‘low taste’?) but I am now hooked. I’ve since cleared seven and there’s an eighth sat on my bookshelves lined up as my next-but-one read.

I’ve got a couple of weeks holiday rapidly approaching so went on the hunt for some holiday reading and there isn’t really much better for that than Lee Childs’ work. So I grabbed Make Me and Nothing To Lose – I’m not reading them in order, really – but ended up making the mistake of scanning the first page of the latest. It’s a mistake as you really only need to scan the first paragraph and Child will have your attention and interest piqued. I hadn’t picked it up sooner as I’d thought it may be better to read the earlier books first and, honestly, wasn’t hugely taken with the prior effort, Personal.  Either way, a couple of days later and I’d finished Make Me – number 20 in the Jack Reacher series.

Having not read even half of the series I can’t really pull the “best of the lot” or really cite favourites (though Persuader would take some beating) but I will say that Make Me is a bloody decent instalment and really does improve on Personal. It feels like a good solid Reacher novel and adds a lot more to the character than I was expecting and moves the character on in ways that have previously been missing.

Make Me starts off in what is now standard routine – Reacher finding himself, by chance, in the middle of a situation to which his sense of justice and skills and experience lend themselves. In this instance he’s climbed off the train at a town called Mother’s Rest out of idle curiosity over the town’s name. From here he’s pulled into another mystery, aided by another (in a long line) of women that he also takes a romantic interest in.

To be honest, though, that’s where the ‘norm’ finishes. The mystery in Make Me is a genuinely intriguing one and ends up going down some very, very dark roads. The humour is also a lot sharper and it did give me a good chuckle to find the one-man-army that is Reacher trying to get to grips with modern technology.

But, and here’s the thing, the Reacher of Make Me is a lot more human than previous entries have shown. There’s hints of, perhaps, a long-lasting relationship with Chang that perhaps even the author hasn’t decided where to take (given that Child writes without knowing exactly where the story is going and that the next Reacher novel is a step back in time) and we learn that Reacher can be injured in a fight by a single adversary.

Perhaps Child is aware that an audience can only see Reacher deliver the same lines (how often has Reacher had to explain his lack of permanent abode) and moves (there are, realistically, only so many ways to describer a head butt)  so many times before losing interest. Perhaps he too wants to add more to the character and give him something other than an endless road and line of adversaries to smack about. Regardless, I thoroughly enjoyed Make Me and am looking forward to see where Child takes his character next. I’ll have to wait for the follow up to Night School to find out, I guess. Still with a new Reacher-per-year timetable, the wait won’t be too long after all.

 

The Evolution of Fear

Clay arched his back, lined up the man’s head, and with every joule of energy he could summon, whipped his neck forward.

Clay’s forehead made contact with the man’s nose. The cartilage collapsed as if it were raw cauliflower.

Just shy of three months after the events The Abrupt Physics of Dying and Paul E Hardisty’s Claymore Straker is again fighting for his life within paragraphs of the start of The Evolution of Fear.

IMG_8434Since The Abrupt Physics… Clay has been in hiding – there’s a price on his head and he’s wanted by the CIA for acts of terrorism. However, his hiding in Cornwall is short-lived following the discovery that Rania, the woman he loves, has disappeared, his friend has been brutally murdered and the arrival of mercenaries out to claim the reward on his head means there’s nowhere to hide.

Betrayed, hunted and desperate to find Rania before those hunting him get to her, Clay makes his way to Istanbul (via an expertly detailed sea crossing) and then on to Cyrpus. This isn’t a pleasure cruise, though. Far from it; soon Clay is entangled in a complex and increasingly dangerous web of power-play, political subterfuge and land-grabbing involving some genuinely corrupt and abhorrent figures, the Russian mafia, an old enemy out to settle scores and some sea turtles. Yes, sea turtles; just as the heart that beat at the centre of The Abrupt Physics.. was about the impact of such corporate greed on the local environs and innocents, here too we’re shown to just how extreme and bloodthirsty a length power can corrupt.

The plot is incredibly well thought-out and complex – given that it’s set in 1994 I often found myself wondering if I wasn’t reading fact over fiction. There is everything in here from the aforementioned political corruption and land-grabbing to flashbacks to past war crimes and emotional drama all with twists and counter twists, yet at no point does it feel over-stuffed; Hardisty does a wonderful job of giving you just enough information at the right time to keep it detailed without bogging down in redundant trivia, thus maintaining a pace that rips along like a great thriller should.

Action sequences abound, yet here they’re great, dirty and gritty scenes – think Bourne over Ethan Hunt – compelling and convincing. The locations are described vividly enough to immerse you in them, characters are strong and well fleshed-out and Hardisty writes with an expertise when it comes to the settings and the facts around which the events are choreographed.

The thriller genre is a crowded one and stuffed to its bindings with action set-pieces and broody sods as lead characters. What elevates Haridsty above the pack is the sheer quality of his writing, the intelligence and complexity of the plot and the strong, brilliantly crafted character of Claymore Straker.

Straker is a man beset with demons and riddled with guilt over his past. Not many lead characters are as affectingly human as Clay. Yes, he’s a tough bloke and one you’d want on your side in a scrap. Yes he has a violent and morally questionable past, but – and here’s why you care about the character – Clay is trying, really trying, to do the right thing and become the honourable guy he wants to be, even at risk to his own life. Haunted by his actions in South Africa, Clay is terrified that he’s driven by the same motives of his compatriot – the brilliantly drawn Crowbar – who simply loves to kill. It’s that struggle to do the right thing, against increasingly stacked odds, that makes Clay Straker a memorable character to root for.

There’s a quote on the cover of The Evolution of Fear from Lee Child: “A solid, meaty thriller – Hardisty is a fine writer and Straker is a great lead character”.

Nobody would want to argue with the man behind Jack Reacher and on the strength of both The Abrupt Physics of Dying and The Evolution of Fear it’s impossible to do so – in fact I’m going to state outright that Mr Child has some serious competition here; Straker well and truly holds his ground against that one-man army. It beggars belief that this is only Paul E. Hardisty’s second book – this is as tough, taut, high-octane and powerful as the best and with a level of intelligence that pulls it heads and shoulders above the pack.

Once again, if stars were to be sat at the bottom of my reviews there’d be five of them right here. Sequels / second instalments are a tough act to get right, The Evolution of Fear picks up where the first book left off and turns everything up louder.

The blog tour for The Evolution of Fear is reaching its end and I’m very grateful to Karen at Orenda for asking me to take part and recommend checking out those entries that have preceded my stop as well as tomorrow’s with CrimeBookJunkie – and getting hold of this fantastic book.

Evolution of Fear Blog tour 2

Wicked Game

unspecifiedIt may be strange – especially as I’ve often bemoaned those that don’t read outside of or exclude genres from their reading – but the home-grown, UK-based thrillers have never been something that have appealed to me. Perhaps it’s my own mundane interaction with the local constabulary or TV shows likes The Bill or Motorway Traffic Cops (or whatever it’s called) but I’d not really seen the potential for a gripping read there in comparison to – say – an alcoholic Norwegian detective hunting murderers in the snow or – say (again) – one-man armies called Jack chasing justice in other far-flung places….

But…. then there’s Wicked Game by Matt Johnson. And it changes that preconception I’d held and it’s a wonderful thing when a book can do that.

Wicked Game finds Robert Finlay as he leaves the Royal Protection team and heads back to uniformed Police work in his search for a quiet, normal, life with his wife and their young daughter.

Let’s be honest; no character in a book or film that’s looking for such a thing gets it – we all know how many detectives get pulled into stopping Armageddon just days before retirement and are all too well aware that Sergeant Murtaugh is “too old for this shit”. We know from the off, then, that trouble is coming down the track for Robert, especially after the explosive start to the novel, and Wicked Game doesn’t disappoint when it comes to the drama. Finlay is far from the standard ex-army turned police officer he’s lead others to believe – he’s an ex-SAS officer with a troubled past that’s now kicking down the door to his longed-for quiet life and demanding his attention. Police officers are being killed. Police officers from his own SAS regiment. Secretive meetings with MI5 follow, luring him in – then there’s an attempt on his own life and it quickly becomes clear that these murders won’t stop until either Finlay or the killer are stopped…. but what’s the motive behind the murders? Why is Finlay a target and who can be trusted?

Far from a standard game of cat and mouse, Wicked Game is a surprisingly complex mystery and one that reaches back in time to bring the old enemies of the past into the terrifying now with an array of action sequences, cliff-hangers and surprises that make for a great read.

The narrative split between first and third person works well (Finlay’s voice is a convincing narration and lends plenty of emotional ballast to the story too) as well as very effective in keeping the reader gripped – especially as the tension grows and those third-person characters such as Grahamslaw are in possession of information Finlay isn’t at crucial, life-threatening points.

They say write what you know and it’s clear that Matt Johnson is writing from experience (having served as a soldier and with the Met for 25 years). When it comes to detailing the action and police-side sequences, as it were, Johnson’s knowledge and insight give the novel a real sense of authenticity. He does a great job of delivering some very real and genuine sequences populated by characters underscored by a convincing authority and precision that can only come from actually knowing those people such characters are likely composites of.

But there’s more than just that insider knowledge and attention to details at play here and it’s that which makes Wicked Game well worth a read – Matt Johnson has a very real talent and gift for thriller writing. Wicked Game cracks along at a great pace with plenty of gripping and original plot twists and turns with a finale that wouldn’t be out of place in a book with a protagonist called Reacher.

With Wicked Game Matt Johnson skilfully weaves together these two facets to create a compellingly gritty and convincingly real thriller.

Thanks to Karen at Orenda Books for my copy and do check out the other stops on the Wicked Game blog tour:

Wicked Games Blog tour

We Shall Inherit The Wind

Having gotten a taste for Nordic Noir I’ve now been given the opportunity to read the man hailed as one of the fathers of the genre – Gunnar Staalesen.

First published in 2010 in Norway, We Shall Inherit The Wind is the 18th novel in the Varg Veum series and now published in English by Orenda Books (if ever there’s a publisher to follow devotedly it’s Orenda Books) with translation by Don Bartlett.

We Shall Inherit the Wind BF AW.inddSet in 1998, Staalesen’s private investigator Varg Veum sits at the hospital bedside of his long-term girlfriend Karin as she battles life-threatening injuries bought about by the events surrounding Varg’s latest investigation.

From here Staalesen takes us back – by “barely a week” – to re-trace those events (when I re-read that line for this review I had to read it twice as so much is packed into just a few days). Given how we know where they lead, the edge of the seat is pretty much all you’ll occupy from here on in.

This ominous start leads us into a missing-persons case, with Veum pretty certain that the missing man – Mons Mæland – is already dead. Veum’s initial digging into Mæland’s affairs opens up a Pandora’s Box of questions with no clear answers. Every clue seems to point toward a more complex mystery which becomes all the more thrilling when Mæland is found dead – in a most dramatic fashion – and the plot thickens.

Location is key. While Veum operates out of Staalesen’s own Bergen, most of the action takes place on the fictitious Brennøy and nearby islands. We’re a little outside of the comfort-zone here, you got the sense that you’re out in the wilds on each occasion that Veum leaves Bergen behind, with civilisation just a little too far over the horizon – indeed, law and order needs to arrive via helicopter.

From experience I know how stunning Norway can be but this isn’t a summer holiday; this is autumn and Staalesen uses the isolation afforded by the setting to up the chill-factor. From the off, almost, the remote locations hang heavy with foreboding:

…the trees stood like dark monuments to a time when not only the mountains had to be clad but every tiny scrap of island skirted by the fjord. Accordingly spruces lined long stretches of the Vestland cost. No one had thinned the striplings, and no one had cut down the trees except the cabin owners who had desperately tried to clear themselves a place in the sun. It looked as if they had given up here ages ago.

So much to love in that paragraph alone… “dark monuments”…. “desperately tried”…  “given up here ages ago”… you almost have the “abandon all hope” sign nailed to the start of the chapter.

Far from being a run-of-the-mill who-dunnit, We Shall Inherit The Wind is an intense read, pulling in eco-terrorism, religious fanaticism, corruption both at corporate and local-government level, plot twist after plot twist and a cast of characters with plenty of secrets and hidden connections. Two, three, four times I thought I’d sussed out who was behind Mæland’s murder only to be left utterly open-mouthed by the final reveal with Veum keeping his cards close to his chest right until the bitter end. I’ll admit I also felt like I’d been emotionally sucker-punched come the end, having been so caught up in the mystery as to be left open for the impact of the human consequences.

Varg means “wolf” in Norwegian and the novel approaches the plot just as a wolf its prey; elements come together piece-by-piece, as the wolf slowly and assuredly stalks it prey Varg is a wise hunter, patiently letting events unfold with delicate pacing. Rather than rushing in and barrelling along at a frantic pace there’s long drives and ferry rides (the novel is set in the fjords of Norway, not down-town LA afterall), a stealthy gathering of every shred of evidence (and a lot of people’s cages rattled) before going in for the violent and bloody climax.

Gunnar Staalesen is clearly a master-at-work by now, having first introduced the world to Varg Veum back in 1977. The prose is richly detailed, the plot enthused with social and environmental commentary while while never diminishing in interest or pace, the dialogue natural and convincing and the supporting characters all bristle with life.

A multi-layered, engrossing and skilfully written novel, there’s not an excess word in We Shall Inherit The Wind. It’s a slow-building exercise in suspense that’s 100% addictive, one that gets you in the wolf’s jaws with the first few lines, sinks its teeth in and won’t let go until long after the finale.

After my first dip into the world of Varg Veum I’m left wanting more. With We Shall Inherit The Wind I’ve been afforded a snap-shot into the life of a very complex but nonetheless endearing and relatable character and anxiously await the next two instalments from my favourite publisher. Though I may search out the earlier two novels to have made it into English.

I’m one of the last stops on the blog tour for this novel so do check out those that have come before me including yesterday’s great interview with Staalesn at Nordic Noir and get your hands / kindle / e-reader / whatever on a copy of this hugely rewarding read via Orenda.

We Shall Inherit the Wind Blog Tour