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23703050Orenda Books is a brand new publisher launched by Karen Sullivan. It’s great that new presses are emerging in this changing literary climate and Karen has pledged to publish six books this year. She’s going to have an eclectic list and I’m particularly looking forward to reading her Scandinavian crime authors Ragnar Jonasson and Gunnar Staalesen. Paul Hardisty is a new writer who has used his experiences of working in the Middle East to write a thriller about corruption in the oil industry. It’s not a subject matter that would normally appeal but it turned out to be an excellent read.

Claymore Straker is an engineer working in Yemen who is kidnapped at gunpoint along with Abdulkader, the driver who once saved his life. Clay is informed of instances of children near oil wells who are dying of a mysterious illness that appears to affect only the young. He is released but his driver kept as hostage. Straker must investigate the sickness or Abdulkader will be killed. But, as he digs deeper, his life is threatened by those seeking to protect their financial and commercial interests.

The quote on the front cover of The Abrupt Physics of Dying describes the book as ‘gripping’ and I think this sums up the narrative. Right from the beginning there’s a sense of menace and helplessness at the situation that Clay finds himself in. Given the political situation in the Yemen at the moment it could be hard to believe that the kidnappers would trust a western businessman to investigate what is happening to the children in their villages. However, Hardisty does well to convince us of the desperation and pragmatism of the men holding Abdulkader hostage.

I was a big fan, in 2013, of Terry Hayes’s I Am Pilgrim  and I hadn’t up to now read a conspiracy thriller which came close to it in terms of quality. But Hardisty’s book was an excellent read with a similar sweep across the politics of international money-making.

Thanks to Ordenda Books for my review copy.

Arne-DahlArne Dahl has rightly gained a reputation for producing taught thrillers with a strong political slant. We’ve had two of them translated into English, The Blinded Man and Bad Blood and are, therefore, a long way behind the series in its original Swedish language. To the Top of the Mountain picks up the threads of the now disbanded Intercrime team following the tragic end to its last case. The detectives are spread around the city in different departments and the unit’s leader, Jan-Olov Hultin has retired to his country cottage.

An explosion in a high security prison is closely followed by an attack on a well-known drugs baron and a shocking massacre. The events may be connected but it needs the skills of the Intercrime to pull together the strands of what appear to be random attacks. But a complex child pornography case is occupying Gunnar Nyberg and he is given permission to continue with this investigation. A couple on the run with a suitcase containing the keys to a security box may hold the answers to the violence unfolding in the city.

Dahl’s skill as a writer is evident in how the narrative of To The Top of the Mountain is structured. He holds back from reassembling the team too early in the story and instead we get vignettes of how each former member of the elite unit is now functioning. This is as interesting as the main crime story for readers of this series. In fact, it isn’t until the middle of the book that Hultin finally makes his entrance.

Once the investigation is underway, the story cracks along briskly, a style we have come to associate with Dahl’s books. I found this one to be less violent than his previous ones, in particular Bad Blood.  However, more than the crime story, it was the relationships portrayed that I most enjoyed. Chazez, the Swedish-Chilean policeman, finally meets his match in love and Kerstin Holm and Paul Hjelm’s relationship shifts once more. And, on a personal note, I love the fact that two of the central characters are choristers.

This is my favourite book so far from this solid series. It’s always gratifying to read an author who gets better with each book.

Thanks to Harvill Secker for my review copy. The translation was by Alice Menzies.

I’ve been in New York for the last few days. It’s extraordinarily cold here. I know I live in the hills in Derbyshire but I had forgotten how chilly the East coast of the US can get. Today, I’m going on a week long writing retreat where I want to finish the first draft of my second book. So I’m going offline for a week or so. No blogging, no Facebook and definitely no Twitter.

Those of you who have been reading this blog for a while know I used to live in Athens, Greece. I have a friend there who has promised to message me should anything dramatic happen over the next few days but, that apart, I’m also trying to stay away from the news.

In Bitter Chill proofBefore I go I thought I’d first give an update on what’s happening with my debut crime novel In Bitter Chill. The proofs are now arrived at Faber and Faber and will be going out in the spring to reviewers. It’s looking lovely and the team at Faber have done a great job with the cover design. To the left is a picture of me holding the proof after I got my hands on copy.

While I was in the US, I met my editor Anne Brewer who works at Thomas Dunne Books. They’re based in the iconic Flatiron building and it was wonderful to get a glimpse inside their offices and then have lunch with Anne afterwards and chat about the book. Below is a picture of Anne and me.

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While I’ve been in the US, I’ve also taken the opportunity to catch up with some people I only know online. I reviewed Ann Aptaker’s Criminal Gold at the beginning of the year. She kindly took me for coffee and cookies at a lovely deli up by the Guggenheim museum. It’s great to meet an author whose book you’re reviewed in person and catch up on the NY gossip.

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Kathy D (below left) has been commenting on Crimepieces since its early days and I know she’s a regular visit to other crime fiction websites. I finally met her in real life on Wednesday. Another person I know through this blog and from Twitter is Dorothy James. She’s written a mystery set in Vienna called A Place to Die. We met for coffee in the wonderful Viennese Cafe Sabarsky in the Neue Galerie.

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Paul Barnett, who also goes under the name of John Grant, is a writer of fantasy, SF, and non-fiction. He also comments regularly on this blog and we chat on his Twitter account which supports a recent publication The Comprehensive Guide to  Film Noir. He has a seriously impressive output, numbering about seventy books to his name. He and his lovely wife, Pam, took me to lunch at an Indian restaurant.

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Lastly, yesterday evening I met book blogger, Maura Lynch for cocktails at The Campbell Apartment in Grand Central Terminal. Maura was excellent company and what was going to be a cocktail turned into three. Lots of book gossip and it was a great evening.

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I’ve been completely bowled over by the hospitality shown to me by these New Yorkers. Thanks to everyone for taking time out to meet and for words of support and encouragement. Proof again that the crime fiction bunch are the nicest people out there. I hope to return the favour in the UK sometime.

So that’s it for a week or so. When I’m next back online I hope to have a complete draft of book two. Good luck to everyone else out there currently ploughing through their drafts. It’s not easy but, as recently identified in The Bookseller, it really is the best job in the world.

 

91VlRKwTnvL._SL1500_There are a number of crime writers who were once involved in law enforcement and its associated professions. Some of these writers are my particular favourites including Jorn Lier Horst and Mari Hannah. Darryl Donaghue is a former detective who changed career to enable him to write his first crime novel. A Journal of Sin is a solid debut set in the south of England featuring as its protagonist a happily married police detective.

A village Catholic priest is found murdered leaving behind a journal featuring his parishioners’ confessions. The village is cut off following a storm and PC Sarah Gladstone is forced to use her investigative skills with little support or experience to find the killer.

A Journal of Sin‘s greatest strength is the character of inexperienced policewoman, Sarah Galdstone. As well as investigating the case, we also get a fair amount of Sarah’s back story and the calls on her time as a police officer with a family. Donaghue doesn’t let his experience in the police force dominate the narrative. Instead we get an insight into the complexities of an investigation through the eyes of a detective still feeling her way in her profession.

I always enjoy small town settings and Donaghue uses the landscape to his advantage. The elements dominate when you’re out of the city and the use of a flood gives a sense of entrapment that adds drama to the story.

This is clearly the start of a series featuring Sarah Gladstone. Based on this first book, I think Donoghue should go from strength to strength as he draws on his wealth of experience.

Thanks to the author for my review copy.

long-way-home-pbkI’m so far behind on books that I want to read that my TBR pile is actually now a bookcase that’s spilling over to a second. It’s great to have plenty to read but it means that I’m missing out on some great books while I catch up. Eva Dolan’s debut novel Long Way Home appeared on many bloggers’ lists as a highlight of 2014. She has since published her sequel, Tell No Tales, but last month I finally got around to reading her debut. And I can see what all the fuss was about. Long Way Home follows the great tradition of police detective duos but addresses the modern issue of immigrants exploited for cheap labour.

A man is found burnt alive in a shed in Peterborough. Detectives Zigic and Ferreira from the Hate Crimes Unit are tasked with finding the killer of the victim who is identified as being from the immigrant community. But locals close ranks when asked questions about their treatment of migrant workers and gang masters focus on ensuring their interests remain protected.

Long Way Home is an interesting book in that Dolan steer clears of the predictable. Another writer might have had a single ethnic minority detective to contrast their work with the crime they are investigating. But Dolan has her two central characters from Serbian and Portugese backgrounds. Both encounter subtle incidents of racism from the community which ramps up the tension further.

The writing is excellent. I don’t normally quote passages of text in my reviews but there were plenty of examples in this book of sentences that could be lifted out in terms of quality. Particularly good are Dolan’s observations of the local British population who turn a blind eye to what is going on around them.

Long Way Home is that start of a series featuring Zigic and Ferreira. I’ll definitely be reading Tell No Tales to see how the series develops. These detectives could well become favourites of mine.

 

 

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The most attractive aspect of a crime novel can be its setting. I can remember how much I enjoyed see my local cake shop featured in an Athenian crime novel when I was living in Greece. Janet O’Kane’s No Stranger to Death is set in the Scottish borders, an area I can’t recall having encountered in crime fiction before. The setting is intrinsic to the story and the book is spot on when it comes to the depiction of rural life.

Zoe Moreland is a GP whose move to the small community of Westerlea is marked by her discovery of a burning body inside a bonfire built in anticipation of Guy Fawkes night. When another death occurs, Zoe is dragged into the lives of the local residents where unpleasant and long hidden secrets are revealed.

The book’s greatest strength is the depiction of a rural community and the impact that a death has on the people who live in close proximity to each other. I also liked the character of Zoe Moreland although this didn’t extend to her taste in men. However I can also see that this aspect of her personality added depth to the character of a professional woman who values her independence.

The murder plot was well thought out with a decent cast of suspects to choose from. The eventual revelation is a surprise but, once more, perfectly accords with the location.

I believe the author is writing the second book in the series. I think based on setting and characterisation the series should continue to make excellent reading.

Thanks to the author for my review copy.

I’m over at the WH Smith Blog choosing my favourite Scandinavian crime books. It’s an impossible task and, if you asked me next week, it’d be a completely different list. But click on the image below to find out what I chose.

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