Friday, October 09, 2015

Review: I Am Death by Chris Carter

I Am Death by Chris Carter, July 2015, 400 pages, Simon & Schuster, ISBN: 1471132234

Reviewed by Amanda Gillies.
(Read more of Amanda's reviews for Euro Crime here.)

This book is a complete heart-stopper. It’s starts off brilliantly and just gets better and better. The story catches your interest right away and continues to throw grenades at you. Right until the end. When you read the credentials of the author, Chris Carter, it is not surprising that this novel has the effect on the reader that it does. Carter originally studied psychology and criminal behaviour at the University of Michigan, then had a career in this field before moving to London and turning his hand to writing. His understanding of the criminal mind, as well as his skill at putting pen to paper, combine to make this book a truly delicious nightmare.

The story is the seventh in Carter’s series featuring LAPD detective Robert Hunter; a man with a skill for catching really nasty killers. When the body of a young woman is found, laid out in a star shape, on grass near LA airport, Hunter and his team are put on the case. A gruesome note, written in the victim’s blood, is found lodged in her throat and at this point Hunter knows there will be more bodies. His suspicions are proved correct when another body is found – tied to a chair in her own living room and horribly tortured – with the same message written in blood. All of Hunter’s skills are put to the test as he races against time to find the killer before the bodies start to mount up.

The chapters in I AM DEATH alternate between Hunter’s race to find the killer and the story of a young boy, Squirm, who is kidnapped by the killer and forced into slavery by him. Squirm’s story is shocking and you wonder when he will be added to the pile of bodies too, especially when he is forced to watch videos of his captor’s killing sprees.

Don’t be fooled by this book. You won’t be able to guess the end; it has a fabulous twist in its tail and will leave you reeling. Carter does not hold back on his descriptions of torture of murder scenes, so if you are a bit on the squeamish then maybe this isn’t the best book for you to read. However, if you like books by Jeffrey Deaver, Peter James or Thomas Harris then this book is most definitely going to be right up your street. Although this is the seventh in a series it works very well as a stand-alone novel. It is the first of Carter’s books that I have read and I am now extremely tempted to go and find the earlier six.

Highly recommended.

Amanda Gillies, October 2015.

Thursday, October 08, 2015

Review: Without a Trace by Liza Marklund tr. Neil Smith

Without a Trace by Liza Marklund translated by Neil Smith, June 2015, 352 pages, Corgi, ISBN: 0552170968

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

This tenth book in the series that features the journalist Annika Bengtzon, focuses around the mystery behind the disappearances of two women. One is Nora, the wife of the ex-politician Ingemar Lerberg, who has just gone missing. The other is Viola Söderland, who went missing twenty years ago.

At the start of the book, Nora’s husband Ingemar, is being tortured rather horrifically and the perpetrators clearly want to know where Nora is. His almost lifeless body is found and reported anonymously, and Annika is sent to cover the story. Viola’s disappearance was covered by Annika’s boss: Anders Schyman, in a TV documentary for which he was given an award for Excellence in Journalism. Although the consensus was that Viola had been murdered, Anders found evidence that the billionairess, faced with some kind of financial crisis, had planned her disappearance very carefully. But on searching the web for information about Ingemar, a man whom Schyman knew and sometimes socialized with, he comes across a website calling itself the ‘Light of Truth’ where the author has started to call into question Schyman’s story about Viola, and appears to have started a personal attack on Schyman himself. These two threads form the main part of the story.

Meanwhile, there is the usual family background as part of the story. Annika is now living on Södermalm, a very cool and trendy part of Stockholm, with Jimmy Halenius (with whom she got together in the last book, while her ex-husband Thomas was kept hostage in Africa), her two kids, and his two. Thomas, also appears from time to time, and true to form, is feeling very sorry for himself after their break up, as well as very self conscious about the hand he lost while captive, which is now simply replaced with a hook. And there is the re-appearance of Nina, assigned to National Crime, and working with Annika’s long term inside contact ‘Q’. Nina and Annika also know each other from the past (as detailed in an earlier book). Nina is in charge of finding out who tortured Ingemar, and what has happened to Nora, and it’s she who starts to uncover Nora’s secret life, as we start to find out something about Viola’s through Annika.

There are also the interesting reflections on how journalism has changed, with there no longer being the print deadline, but with Annika videoing herself in front of the crime scene, editing some footage, and uploading the video as well as text on line, as soon as she is ready. But is Annika a little battle-weary? At one point she comments on how she could write several of the articles on line, without even leaving the office and going to see anyone, as the same types of stories resurface again and again. Annika also has an intern to look after, Valter Wennegren, son of the man who owns the paper, who turns out to be very useful. The ‘Light of Truth’ also highlights the ability of anyone to write anything they like online, and how destructive this can be especially when what appears to be a hot story, is taken up by other online media and goes into the mainstream. It’s interesting to see how Schyman, himself a veteran journalist, deals with the character assassination and how doubts raised about him and his integrity raised by an anonymous blogger start to take on a life of their own, as myths are circulated as truths.

WITHOUT A TRACE is a book with lots of bits and pieces, that just about hangs together as a whole. There is much musing on journalism, Annika’s role in it, her slightly jaded approach to it all, and yet still her engagement with it, and love of her job. The pressures of her new family and various uncertainties there also play an important part in the book, while the stories of Nora and Viola are almost plot devices to compare journalism then, and now. That is, one is rather less concerned as to what has happened to these two women, than how the stories are (or were) presented. I always enjoy Marklund’s books, and this is no exception, and while it didn’t have the taut drama of some of the previous books, it was a thought-provoking read.

Michelle Peckham, October 2015

Wednesday, October 07, 2015

Review: An Event in Autumn by Henning Mankell tr. Laurie Thompson

An Event in Autumn by Henning Mankell, tr Laurie Thompson (September 2015, Vintage, ISBN: 1784700843)

There was no sign of other bones. Just that hand sticking up out of the ground. He bent down again and poked cautiously into the earth. Was there a whole skeleton under there, or was it just the hand? He was unable to decide for sure.

I was writing this piece about the “Wallander” novella AN EVENT IN AUTUMN when the news broke that it's author, Swedish writer and playwright Henning Mankell, had died. Mankell was my first introduction to Scandinavian crime fiction and for me he was its yardstick. As such, the quote that starts this review is not just an example of good writing but could well stand for the essence of good crime fiction. The irony is that Mankell never set out to be a crime writer. He had returned to Sweden from a long stay in Africa in the early 1990s and was struck by the increase in racism in Swedish society. He decided he wanted to write about it and he also decided that a crime story was the perfect vehicle for writing about the subject and that he would need “a policeman” to carry out the investigation. Thus Kurt Wallander, a character intrinsic to Scandinavian crime fiction, was born.

AN EVENT IN AUTUMN started as a novella for the Dutch market. Some of its plot points were later taken as foundation for an episode in the third season of Kenneth Branagh's BBC television's Wallander series. The novella itself was translated into English by veteran Mankell translator Laurie Thompson (who, sadly, also died earlier this year) and published in the UK for the first time in 2014. It is beautifully written and equally beautifully translated.

Ystad, Sweden. October, 2002.
Wallander has worked until the early hours. He is tired. He reviews his feelings about being a policeman, now, at this time, then leaves the office for his flat which he currently shares with his daughter Linda. It's Linda who wakes him next morning with news of a phone call, much to Wallander's annoyance. It is his day off, he shouts. But Martinson isn't calling about a case, he is calling about a house. It belongs to a relative of Martinson's wife. The relative has had to go into a home and now they want to sell the house. Is Wallander interested in looking at it? That dream of a house in the country and the companionship of a dog? Wallander walks to the police station where Martinson gives him a bunch of keys and tells him that the house is not far from where Wallander's father used to live. Wallander isn't too sure about that but takes the keys, collects his car and drives out into the countryside – to what turns out to be an old farmhouse standing in a neglected garden of fruit trees and currant bushes. He enters the house and walks around the rooms. It would need work. It's been neglected. Then he rings Martinson and after some cautious, reluctant haggling he says that he will take it but that he wants to discuss it first with his daughter. He walks around the house again, taking note of things to be done, trying to imagine living there. Once more he goes out into the garden, tasting the water from the pump, imagining a bowl of water set out for a dog. Back in his car he hesitates. He had seen something when he had tripped in the garden. A small rake? A root?….

What Wallander has found is a hand – the bones of a hand which lead to a search for the rest of the skeleton and an investigation into the past of the house and of its successive owners, their putative crimes and real crimes. This short novella, a crime story about a buried victim and a buried crime, successfully carries us from beginning to end in contemplative, smooth-flowing and psychologically observant narrative. For many reasons this is a book you cannot miss. Ending with an essay by Henning Mankell on the genesis of the Wallander novels and the relationship between the writer and his character “Kurt Wallander” (as seminal a character in crime fiction as Maigret, Marlow or Poirot) it also gives those who found THE TROUBLED MAN to be a difficult farewell to the character and series – a gentler, more autumnal remembrance of Wallander and his creator.

Lynn Harvey, England
October 2015

(Read an earlier Euro Crime review of AN EVENT IN AUTUMN.)

Tuesday, October 06, 2015

Review: We Shall Inherit the Wind by Gunnar Staalesen tr. Don Bartlett

We Shall Inherit the Wind by Gunnar Staalesen translated by Don Bartlett, June 2015, 300 pages, Orenda Books, ISBN: 1910633070

Reviewed by Ewa Sherman.

I’ve been a fan of a private investigator Varg Veum (meaning ‘wolf in a sanctuary’ in old Norwegian) for ages. I’ve read WRITING ON THE WALL and watched nine movies based on Gunnar Staalesen’s books. I was also incredibly lucky to visit Varg Veum’s Corner in a hotel bar in Bergen. Outside the guests are greeted by a life-sized statue of Bergen’s most famous literary creation. And so I could not wait to read WE SHALL INHERIT THE WIND by the Norwegian Raymond Chandler, superbly translated by Don Bartlett.

1998. Veum is sitting by the hospital bed of his fiancée Karin who is seriously injured, fighting for her life. Blaming himself for what happened to her, he reflects on the events that led to this tragic outcome. As the story unfolds we learn of his latest assignment, starting with Karin’s request to investigate the disappearance of a successful businessman Mons Maeland, reported missing by his wife Ranveig, Karin’s friend. When Veum and Karin visit distressed Ranveig in her lovely summer cottage by the sea, they also meet a family friend, Brekkhus, a retired policeman, friendly yet hardly volunteering any information. Brekkhus was involved in a search for Mons’ first wife Lea who had also vanished in suspicious circumstances without trace seventeen years earlier. Ex-child welfare worker and idealist at heart, Veum reluctantly agrees to find Mons and is slowly pulled into a complicated family drama where there is no love lost between Ranveig and Mons’ two grown-up children Kristoffer and Else. Also, Mons’ disappearance happens at the time when he had apparently scrapped his highly controversial plans to develop a wind farm on his own plot of a beautiful untouched island. The speculations are wild, Kristoffer and Else find themselves in opposite camps, and long buried personal secrets surface.

A deceptively straightforward investigation turns into a life-changing experience for Veum, propelling him into a world of religious fanaticism, big money and bold environmental activism, all coming to an explosive confrontation on Bergen's islands. Lives of all characters are affected.

Tenacious and persistent Varg is a complex character, existing on the outside of the prosperous society, crossing paths both with the police and the criminal ‘underworld’. He stubbornly searches for justice and truth for those most vulnerable. A classic lone PI Veum is flawed yet so human and passionate, and truly unforgettable.

Grippingly, WE SHALL INHERIT THE WIND brings together great characterisation, fast paced plot and social conscience. The writing style is superb. You can smell the wet wind and taste the coffee. You feel so strongly for the sad situation of Veum and Karin, and understand people’s motives.

The beauty of Staalesen’s writing and thinking is in the richness of interpretations on offer: poignant love story, murder investigation, essay on human nature and conscience, or tale of passion and revenge. I choose all options.

Two further titles in Varg Veum series will be published by Orenda Books, in 2016 - WHERE ROSES NEVER DIE, and in 2017 - NO ONE IS SAFE IN DANGER.

Ewa Sherman, October 2015

Monday, October 05, 2015

Review: The Last Confession of Thomas Hawkins by Antonia Hodgson

The Last Confession of Thomas Hawkins by Antonia Hodgson, June 2015, 400 pages, Hodder & Stoughton, ISBN: 1444775456

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

Antonia Hodgson's first novel, THE DEVIL IN THE MARSHALSEA, which I reviewed last year, won the CWA Historical Dagger Award 2014 and was shortlisted for the John Creasey Dagger for Best First Novel. It was also chosen as a Richard and Judy and Waterstones book club selection. In the author's second novel, she continues the adventures of Tom Hawkins and I thought this book was even better than the previous one, which won so much praise.

It is 1727 and Tom Hawkins, the protagonist who survived a full three months of incarceration, now lives in Covent Garden with his companion Kitty Sparks. Three months after his release he has been found guilty of a brutal murder and he is currently being dragged on a cart to Tyburn to hang, while the crowds jeer his name. What on earth has gone wrong and why does he expect none other than the Queen of England to save him with a last minute pardon? This is the beginning of the reader's increasing tension during the latest instalment of the adventures of Tom Hawkins, the Norfolk vicar's son who decided not to enter the church after university but is now a bit of a rake and lives in a house producing pornography in Covent Garden, spending his free time in bars engaged in drinking and gambling.

In the next house there is a man, Joseph Burden, a huge giant of a man, who is always protesting that Tom and Kitty are leading lives of the utmost depravity and they should repent and become decent human beings. He is a member of an organisation called The Society For The Reformation of Manners (morals), which was formed many years ago to rid the city of whores, thieves and sodomites and he has great influence with John Gonson, a city magistrate and a leading member of The Society and over the years they had investigated and closed a number of brothels etc and Tom is always arguing with him, sometimes quite violently.

On the journey to Tyburn, which can take apparently over over two hours, Tom is hauled in a cart behind his presently empty coffin and we recap over the circumstances that led to the present terrible predicament. We hear of his decision to agree to help, at the request of the Queen, to get rid of the husband of the King's lover who is causing a lot of problems at court. I should mention that this book is not for those who are easily shocked, as in order to portray an accurate account of life in London in 1727, the author describes some of the coarseness of human behaviour at that time but sometimes exhibiting a rather naughty wry humour in so doing.

The body of Joseph Burden is discovered, stabbed multiple times, the day after half of the street heard Tom shout at Burden that he would kill him during a rowdy confrontation and Tom is quickly arrested.

I thought that the first book, THE DEVIL IN THE MARSHALSEA, was one of the best historical thrillers that I have ever read. The breadth of the author's research and scholarship to give an accurate portrayal of life at that time is is truly remarkable. I was gripped completely with the fantastic and enthralling storyline in this continuation of the story in THE LAST CONFESSION OF THOMAS HAWKINS. I look forward to reading many more books from this very promising and talented new author. Extremely well recommended.

Terry Halligan, October 2015.

Saturday, October 03, 2015

Some 1969 Titles (for Past Offences)

The latest monthly challenge over at Past Offences is to read a book in October, published in 1969. Here are 34 British/European crime titles to choose from, first published in English in 1969, pulled from my database:
Catherine Aird - The Complete Steel
Rennie Airth - Snatch!
Peter Alding - Murder Among Thieves
James Anderson - Assassin
Anders Bodelsen - Think of a Number (apa The Silent Partner)
W J Burley - Death in Willow Pattern
Gwendoline Butler - Coffin's Dark Number
Philip Youngman Carter - Mr Campion's Farthing
Agatha Christie - Hallowe'en Party
David Craig - Message Ends
Dick Francis - Enquiry
James Fraser - Cockpit of Roses
Nicolas Freeling - Tsing Boum
Romain Gary - The Dance of Genghis Cohn
Alan Hunter - Gently Coloured
Stanley Hyland - Top Bloody Secret
Sebastien Japrisot - One Deadly Summer
H R F Keating - Inspector Ghote Plays a Joker
Bill Knox - The Tallyman
Osmington Mills - Many a Slip
Peter O'Donnell - A Taste for Death
Ellis Peters - The House of Green Turf
Ellis Peters - Mourning Raga
Stella Phillips - Death in Arcady
Ruth Rendell - A New Lease of Death (apa Sins of the Fathers)
Ruth Rendell - The Best Man to Die
Leonardo Sciascia - Man's Blessing
Leonardo Sciascia - Salt in the Wound (apa Death of an Inquisitor)
Georges Simenon - Maigret and the Killer
Georges Simenon - November
Sjöwall & Wahlöö - The Fire Engine That Disappeared
Frank Smith - Corpse in Handcuffs
Malcolm Torrie - Churchyard Salad
Margaret Yorke - The Limbo Ladies

Friday, October 02, 2015

Review: Prey by James Carol

Prey by James Carol, February 2015, 384 pages, Faber & Faber, ISBN: 057132231X

Reviewed by Susan White.
(Read more of Susan's reviews for Euro Crime here.)

Jefferson Winter is an ex FBI-profiler who now works as an independent consultant helping police forces across the world. One evening he is approached in a diner when having his evening meal. The young woman gets his attention by suddenly and brutally killing the diner's cook. Reluctantly, Jefferson is drawn into the search for the woman. He knows he needs the help of the police to gain access to their records so he enlists the help of Carla Mendoza, the policewoman whose case of a psychopathic killer, Ryan McCarthy, he helped to solve.

The meagre clues that they have regarding the identity of the mysterious woman lead Jefferson and Carla to the murders of a husband and wife and the subsequent suicide of the killer. As they look into these deaths, they find a trail leading to more murders and Jefferson realises that he has been stalked by the woman - who is convinced that she and Jefferson have a lot in common - not least, she feels, their desire to kill people.

PREY is an interesting book but I felt little connection with the main characters of Jefferson or Carla and this did impact on my enjoyment. If you like the books of James Patterson, you might like this, the third in the series of books featuring Jefferson Winter.

Susan White, October 2015