Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Review: The Burning by M R Hall

The Burning by M R Hall, February 2014, 400 pages, Mantle, ISBN: 0230752047

Reviewed by Michelle Peckham.
(Read more of Michelle's reviews for Euro Crime here.)

In THE BURNING, the latest in the series of books featuring the coroner Jenny Cooper, she investigates what really happened when a house was burnt down, with three people inside. Did one of the victims (Ed Morgan) kill his two daughters using a shotgun, before setting light to the house, and then shooting himself? Where is his three-year-old son Robbie, who is missing, and why does he seem to have deliberately hidden him from his 'whore' of a wife Kelly, who was out at work. As usual, Jenny becomes engrossed in the case, and starts to uncover facts and details that others would rather leave uncovered. Her assistant Alison, who had a serious accident in the previous book THE CHOSEN DEAD is keen on returning to work to help, although intriguingly, the damage to part of the frontal lobe in her brain has apparently affected her social behaviour. No longer is she the disapproving assistant of the past, she is now quite gung-ho and eager to help. Jenny's relationship with her pilot boyfriend Michael seems to be going well, but then becomes complicated, as Jenny can't quite bring herself to completely trust him. More unrelated deaths work their way into the mix, which, on further investigation turn out to play a part in the story, and a larger conspiracy begins to unfold.

In the first few books, Jenny was fairly dependent on a range of pills and tablets to help with her various anxieties. Despite finally having weaned herself off these, and her regular therapy sessions, she finds herself having to occasionally resort to the odd pill or two in this story, as she encounters the usual resistance to her dogged determination to leave no stone unturned. A bull-headed character, apparently lacking in confidence to some degree, but yet still determined to go where others are reluctant to go, to discover the truth, she is an interesting woman. I'm not sure how much I actually like her, but one can't help but admire her determination. It all ends in a final climactic scene, and then a final solution to the last remaining mystery, nicely tying everything off. I found the big conspiracy story-line a little bit unconvincing, but otherwise the novel is nicely put together, entertaining and is another enjoyable read from this author.

Michelle Peckham, July 2014

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Sunday, July 13, 2014

New Reviews: Ellis, Fossum, Grieves, Kent, Millar, Norman, Poulson, Simms

Here are nine reviews which have been added to the Euro Crime website today, four have appeared on the blog over the last week and five are completely new.

NB. You can keep up to date with Euro Crime by following the blog and/or liking the Euro Crime Facebook page.

New Reviews

Terry Halligan reviews two books by Mark Ellis, Princes Gate and Stalin's Gold, both set in 1940;

Lynn Harvey is very impressed with I Can See in the Dark by Karin Fossum tr. James Anderson;

Amanda Gillies reviews Tom Grieves' second book, A Cry in the Night, set in the Lake District;
Susan White reviews The Killing Room, the fifth in the Sandro Cellini series by Christobel Kent, set in Italy;

Michelle Peckham reviews Louise Millar's The Hidden Girl, set in Suffolk;

I review Andreas Norman's debut, a spy thriller set in Sweden and Brussels: Into a Raging Blaze tr. Ian Giles;

Geoff Jones reviews, recent competition prize, Invisible by Christine Poulson

and Mark Bailey reviews Chris Simms' A Price to Pay, the second in the DC Iona Khan series set in Manchester.

Previous reviews can be found in the review archive.

Forthcoming titles can be found by author or date or by category, here along with releases by year.

Friday, July 11, 2014

Review: I Can See in the Dark by Karin Fossum tr. James Anderson

I Can See in the Dark by Karin Fossum translated by James Anderson, July 2014, 256 pages, Vintage, ISBN: 0099571838

Reviewed by Lynn Harvey.
(Read more of Lynn's reviews for Euro Crime here.)

My manner is calm and friendly, and I do what I am told. It's easy. I talk like them, laugh like them, tell funny stories. But with all the feeble elderly people under my care, things often slide out of control.

A town in Norway – a park by the lake.
Riktor observes the twitches and unintelligible noises of the child in her wheelchair. She and her chain-smoking mother come to the park every day. And so does Riktor. It is part of his daily routine, although he visits at different times of the day because of his shift work at the local nursing home. Riktor likes the park. Peaceful. Riktor doesn't sleep much, his nights are long and agonised. An articulated lorry parks by his bed every night with its engine churning and filling the room with diesel fumes. But he likes to think that he keeps a good grasp on reality during the day, it is only with the more helpless of his charges that things get out of hand. Riktor loves the peace of the park and in particular he loves the statue, Weeping Woman. The true condition of humanity, thinks Riktor, and when no one is looking he caresses her legs and slim body. In the park he also watches the man with the tremors. Most likely alcoholism, thinks Riktor. A thought which is confirmed by the man's hip flask. One day he leaves his flask behind. Riktor picks it up. It is inscribed to "Arnfinn". Riktor puts it in his pocket, perhaps Arnfinn will come back for it.

Riktor also studies the other staff at the nursing home, in particular the beautiful, good, kind, Sister Anna. He loves Anna. But she is as sharp as she is good, Riktor takes special care not to reveal his ministrations when she is around – injections into the mattresses, food and medication flushed down the pan. And blind Nelly Friis, whose frail skin he pinches until it bleeds and whose thin hair he pulls. She can't call out. She can't see who it is. Although, sometimes, when Riktor accompanies Anna into Nelly's room she flaps her hands and grows agitated.

Riktor's home is a small red house forty minutes walk away, with a veranda and the forest at its back. Riktor likes to walk to work whatever the weather. Walking brings order to his thoughts, those seething creatures that besiege his brain at sunset. He doesn't tell anyone about these thoughts, nor the lorry. Nor the fact that he can see in the dark – see the glowing life force of creatures and buildings. Riktor simply smiles and assumes a friendly expression.

One April day, with the snow still deep on the surrounding fields, Riktor spots a skier making his vigorous way towards the frozen lake, red suit and powerful arm strokes. Riktor is incredulous when the man moves out onto the ice of the lake, and transfixed when he stumbles and sinks, flailing at the ice breaking up around him. The man's cries weaken and he disappears, leaving a black pool surrounded by ice. His hand still clutching his mobile phone, Riktor turns and walks away. He won't report it. He mustn't draw attention to himself...

Karin Fossum is an award-winning Norwegian writer, one of the top names in Scandinavian crime fiction with her internationally published "Inspector Sejer" novels. I CAN SEE IN THE DARK however is a standalone psychological crime novel. It brings us the narrative of Riktor, a nurse at a local nursing home, a tortured man with torturing ways. Nicknamed by a schoolmate "The Pike" (for his protruding jaw and teeth) he not only brings to mind the dictionary definition of a pike as "a predatory freshwater fish with sharply pointed head and teeth" but also its popular image as a cunning, voracious hunter, lurking under the river bank. Riktor befriends the alcoholic Arnfinn and the friendship reaches a terrible conclusion. But when a police inspector visits Riktor and accuses him of a crime, it is one he did not commit.

Translated from the Norwegian by James Anderson (who has translated the novels of Karl Ove Knausgaard amongst others) the book reads beautifully. Fossum has so successfully and sensitively conjured Riktor, that I weirdly feel some sympathy for this sociopathic “villain”. The story manages both balance and suspense, and chillingly reminds us of the vulnerability of us all, including the isolated and disturbed Riktor. In an interview with The Independent a few years years ago, Fossum said: "I'm not a good crime writer. I'm not good with plots... so I have to do something else". I CAN SEE IN THE DARK is a masterful and beautifully written "something else" amidst Nordic Noir and you have to read it.

Read another review of I CAN SEE IN THE DARK.

Lynn Harvey, July 2014.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Event News: Noirwich Crime Writing Festival

Many thanks to Sarah Ward for bringing this to my attention! A crime writing festival in Norwich ie Noirwich. It includes a day on Nordic Noir featuring Petrona Award judge Barry Forshaw.

From the website:
A New Crime Writing Festival in Norwich, UNESCO City of Literature.

10 - 14 September 2014

A deadly new festival of crime writing is coming to No(i)rwich this September in an exciting collaboration between the Crime Writers' Association, the University of East Anglia, Waterstones and Writers' Centre Norwich.

Noirwich Crime Writing Festival celebrates the sharpest noir and crime writing over five days of author events, film screenings and writing workshops in Norwich, UNESCO City of Literature. From big events featuring the likes of Val McDermid and Sophie Hannah, to specially developed crime writing workshops with Simon Brett and Henry Sutton, there's something for every reader and writer of crime.

Take your pick from the schedule below and prepare yourself for a series of sinister events...

A Forgotten Mystery: The Life and Works of S.T. Haymon with Dr. John Curran
Wednesday 10th September, 6pm, Norfolk and Norwich Millennium Library, free event.

New Voices, Old Places with Tom Benn, Eva Dolan and Oliver Harris
Wednesday 10th September, 7.30pm, Waterstones Castle Street, £6 / £4 conc with £3 redeemable against the price of a book at the event and a free glass of wine.

The New Hercule Poirot Mystery with Sophie Hannah and Dr. John Curran
Thursday 11th September, 8pm, Norwich Playhouse, £12/£10 conc

The Skeleton Road: An Evening with Val McDermid
Friday 12th September, 8pm, Norwich Playhouse, £12/£10 conc

Celebrating the CWA Diamond Dagger with Simon Brett and John Harvey
Saturday 13th September, 7.30pm, Waterstones, Norwich, £6/£4 concessions with £3 redeemable from Simon’s latest book at the event and a free glass of wine.

Noirwich Crime Writing Festival Presents Megan Abbott
Sunday 14th September, 2.30pm, Norwich Cathedral Hostry, £6/£4 concessions with £3 redeemable off the price of the book at the event.

A Crime Thriller Workshop with Henry Sutton
Saturday 13th September, 10am-1pm, Writers’ Centre Norwich, £40 or £60 with Simon Brett Masterclass.

A Detective Fiction Masterclass with Simon Brett
Saturday 13th September, 2-5pm, Writers’ Centre Norwich, £40 or £60 with Henry Sutton Workshop

The Golden Age of Nordic Noir
Saturday 13th September,10.30am-4.30pm, Cinema City Education Space, £40/£30 conc.

Enjoy a day dedicated to the art of Nordic Noir. Trish Sheil, film academic, and Barry Forshaw, a leading expert on crime fiction and film, will help you to explore the all-pervading influence of the Scandinavian wave. Using short clips, iconic moments in film history and their personal knowledge, the tutors will guide you through the history of Noir, focussing on the Nordic classics and then exploring French crime film and television, and the blossoming of UK crime drama.

The Killer Inside Me: A Noirwich Frank’s Bar Film Screening
Sunday 14th September 2014, 5pm, Free

Monday, July 07, 2014

Review: Into a Raging Blaze by Andreas Norman tr. Ian Giles

Into a Raging Blaze by Andreas Norman translated by Ian Giles, July 2014, 528 pages, Quercus, ISBN: 1782066039

INTO A RAGING BLAZE is former Swedish Ministry of Foreign Affairs employee Andreas Norman's first novel and it is a detailed and absorbing look at the modern-day world of surveillance and government intelligence gathering.

Carina Dymek is a dedicated worker at the Swedish Ministry of Foreign Affairs. She has worked her way up and is hoping for a promotion shortly. She has a beautiful new boyfriend, Jamal, who works in another government department, and all seems to be going well for her.

At a routine meeting in Brussels, Carina speaks out against what she perceives as racist comments by another country's representatives and when she goes for lunch she is sought out by a man calling himself Jean. He says that Carina has a conscience and hands her a USB stick containing a top secret document about the possible formation of EIS, the European Intelligence Service, which he says needs stopping. Carina reluctantly agrees to take it back and pass the information on, though she is puzzled because she feels that the relevant people must already know about it.

Shortly after Carina disseminates the document, her life changes. Suspended for handling unauthorised documents, she is suspected of being a traitor and her Egyptian-born boyfriend's life is put under the microscope. Carina flees from the security service and knows the only way to clear herself is to find “Jean”. And so a chase begins between the authorities and Carina.

Ironically, Carina's only hope might come from Bente Jensen, the head of the Swedish Security Service (Sapo) unit in Brussels who begins to doubt the terrorist plot that the Swedish and British Secret Services think they have uncovered.

INTO A RAGING BLAZE starts off with a bang with an assassination in Brussels. It then spends some time laying the groundwork of the Ministry, Carina's job and life and her relationship with Jamal. After the USB stick incident the tension slowly builds but the pace is still steady. Carina has help from friends and unwittingly plays into the authorities' hands and it's only when she returns to Brussels later in the book, that the tension really mounts. The espionage plot is quite gripping – the British, especially, don't come out this book too well but nor do the Swedish authorities - but what makes this book fascinating, at least to me, is its apparent authenticity as to how the EU, Security Services and so on works. I particularly enjoyed the sections told from Bente Jenson's point of view – a woman in a top role - and doing it well.

At over 500 pages, INTO A RAGING BLAZE is a tad too long but I found it to be a quick read. If you've enjoyed Stella Rimington's books then do give INTO A RAGING BLAZE a try.

Sunday, July 06, 2014

Double Review: Princes Gate and Stalin's Gold by Mark Ellis

Princes Gate by Mark Ellis, June 2011, 288 pages, Matador, ISBN: 1848766572

This very absorbing, top quality police procedural has a unique feature that lifts it above all others, in that it is set in a London of January 1940, with the backdrop of World War 2. The restrictions of the War, both in terms of rationing of food and other necessities of life and the limits on freedom of personal movement give an edge to this historical thriller that is difficult to quantify. DCI Frank Merlin and his team is called in from Scotland Yard to investigate the death of a woman employee of the USA Embassy, whose body is discovered floating in the River Thames. Also there is the suspicious death of a brilliant scientist who is killed by a hit and run driver.

The American Ambassador, is a certain gentleman named Joseph Kennedy, the true life father to the future President and is well known for his views of supporting conciliation with Hitler and in common with many influential Britons of negotiating a peace settlement to the European mainland war. Merlin is obliged to make enquiries with the staff of the Embassy in order to trace the background of the murdered girl and locate her killer. However, such investigations cause alarm with the Foreign Office who are very worried about any possible upset of Anglo/US relationships, as the US is likely to be a major source of armaments and other goods necessary for the future war effort.

Another death of an embassy employee causes further uproar and difficulties for Merlin from his superiors anxious not to upset American sensitivity in this very delicate area. But what can Frank Merlin do? He has an investigation to carry out and regrettably he may upset a few people as he needs to identify the killer before more deaths occur.

This exciting , very well plotted and historically evocative story drives forward to it's gripping conclusion. Frank Merlin is a lovely creation and totally convincing even down to the hole in his shoe. He is the English-born son of a Spanish migrant who decided to change his surname from 'Merino' to that of one of his favourite Arthurian legends. I lost myself in this thriller; this was a superb entertainment and I look forward to reading STALIN'S GOLD.

Stalin's Gold by Mark Ellis, February 2014, 320 pages, Matador, ISBN: 1783062460

In December of 1938, we read in the prologue of this very exciting new book, Josef Stalin is very upset that the Spanish paid the Russians for a lot of arms that were needed in their Civil War with gold but that there was an shortfall of some five or ten million dollars worth and he charges Lavrently Beria his head of the NKVD, the state security service, with the task of getting it back.

We then go forward in time to September 1940 and the Battle of Britain is still going strong and the skies above London are nightly filled with the noise of German bombers attacking the capital and British Spitfires and Hurricanes trying to repel them. Scotland Yard DCI Frank Merlin is very affected by it all, he has a heavy case-load of many crimes to solve and also is tasked with supervising the work of other officers. He has a serious shortage of manpower to help him, as most of the younger and fitter men have already been conscripted into the forces. Frank, who is in his early forties has a Polish girlfriend, Sonia, who works as a nurse. Sonia has a brother Jan, who is serving as a pilot in the Free Polish Air Force and they are involved in helping the British fight the Battle of Britain.

The author has done a lot of detailed research and really brings this historic thriller to life with his finely described cast of characters as they fight the Nazi threat to freedom and also try to solve the case of a missing Polish pilot and in the midst of all the bombing and collapsing houses and buildings stop the looting by nefarious criminals of lots of expensive art and antiques.

The characters are all very richly drawn and I was reminded of the Inspector Troy books by John Lawton The details of the story are fascinating and give an insight into life at this time with all the difficulties over the rationing of food and time in bomb shelters. The plot with many dramatic twists and turns is very vivid and knowledgeable and the widely diverse scenes kept me transfixed until the last page.

I found it very difficult to put this very gripping story down until the extraordinary end. This is the second book written with the character 'Frank Merlin'. The first was PRINCES GATE, which was set during the "phoney war" of early 1940 and I look forward hopefully to reading many more books by this very gifted author. Strongly recommended.

Reviewed by Terry Halligan. (Read more of Terry's reviews for Euro Crime here.)

Terry Halligan, July 2014.