Review: David Lagercrantz – The Girl in the Spider’s Web

imageHere’s a book that I viewed with mixed feelings. I’m not greatly enamoured of writers taking on the characters of other authors and I tend to give the books a miss. I made an exception for The Girl in the Spider’s Web for a number of reasons. Firstly I enjoyed Lagercrantz’s Fall of Man in Wilmslow that was published earlier this year and think he certainly knows hows to tell a good story. I also wanted to give the book a fair assessment for the 2016 Petrona Award for which, as a Scandinavian translated crime novel, it’s eligible. And I wasn’t disappointed. I thought the book to be a decent crime novel that, in my opinion, is better than the last of Larsson’s trilogy, The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest.

A famous Swedish scientist, Professor Balder, contacts investigative journalist Mikhael Blomkvist, to say his life is in danger from a group who call themselves the Spiders and he want’s Millenium, Blomkvist’s newspaper, to publish the story. The professor reveals he has been working with Lisbeth Salander to discover what computer files are available to back up his story. But Salander has her own mission, to hack into the US National Security Agency to discover the whereabouts of her sister who is still trying to kill her.

The characters of Blomkvist and Salander are immediately recognisable as Larsson’s creations. Once more, it’s Salander who dominates the narrative although Lagercrantz does try to give the character extra depth by showing the pain and conflict having a murderous sibling can bring. The other compelling character is Balder’s autistic son who is witness to a horrific act. The story of professionals attempting to tease out details of the criminals from his mind is never trite and detailed with subtlety.

It’s clear that this is a book written after the success of the trilogy. Salander has been described by commentators as a modern day super-hero and Lagercrantz picks up on this and develops the motif. But, apart from a dip in the middle of an admittedly long book, the action goes at a fair pace. It’s a worthy successor to Larsson’s work and a very enjoyable read.

Thanks to Quercus for my review copy.

Review: Mark Roberts – Blood Mist

25715275It’s always fascinating to read a crime story set in a city you know well. I lived in Liverpool in the 1990s and, although I’m sure the city has changed considerably, many of the places mentioned in Blood Mist were instantly recognisable. Mark Roberts is a writer I haven’t come across before but I was sent his book to review by publisher Head of Zeus. It’s a high quality crime novel, well written with some very good twists in the plot.

A family is massacred in a Liverpool suburb and DCI Eve Clay leads the investigation into the killings. There is a ritualistic feel to the slaughter and, when another family is killed, police hunt for a link between the victims. In a nearby high security mental facility, a patient demands to see Eve and claims that what he has previously prophesied is now occurring.

Blood Mist takes the relatively well worn theme of religious mania and gives a realistic context. A suburban setting with its quotidian normality is contrasted with the extreme nature of first the killings and then the dogma behind them. Children are presented as possibly complicit in the crimes which adds an air of unreality but also of primeval fear. How bad can children possibly be?

Eve Clay is given an interesting back story which I’m sure will be explored in future books. I’m looking forward to reading more from this author and to further installments in what promises to be an excellent series.

Review: Liza Marklund – Without a Trace

512YKfQrIgL._SX317_BO1,204,203,200_Swedish journalist Annika Bengtzon is one of my favourite investigators in modern crime fiction. She’s the principal reason that I read Liza Marklund’s books because, as a character, Annika is so believable. As readers we’ve been taken through a series of failed romances, childbirth, house disasters and work traumas. Annika has remained the same person throughout: tenacious and brave. It’s always a pleasure to revisit her and I’m sorry that we’re nearing the end of the series.

In Without a Trace, Annika is assigned to the story of former politician Ingemar Lerberg who has been found tortured and half-alive in his home. His wife, Nora, is missing and is being hunted by a team led by Nina Hoffman from the National Police Force. But at Kvällspressen, Annika’s paper, her editor-in-chief is being hounded over a documentary he made years earlier about a missing billionaire’s wife, Viola Söderland.

Marklund’s plots often mix politics, work troubles and family life and Without a Trace follows in this vein. She cleverly links the disorder of the victim’s family with that of Annika’s as the journalist attempts to create a home with her new boyfriend, Jimmy, and his children. Her estranged husband, Thomas, is festering after the trauma of captivity in Somalia and his bitterness toward Annika seems extreme but in keeping with his character.

There’s a fair amount of violence at the beginning of the book. The opening chapter isn’t for the faint hearted (like me) but it was great to revisit Marklund’s world. It’s a series that always manages to combine good writing with interesting plots.

Thanks to Transworld for my review copy. The translation was by Neil Smith.

Review: Alison Baillie – Sewing the Shadows Together

11960282_889857477759894_5008831289727561431_nI was looking forward to reading Alison Baillie’s debut novel Sewing the Shadows Together. She and I attended an Arvon course together at the end of 2012. She was working on an early draft of this book and I was finishing In Bitter Chill. We were early readers of each others novels and I was delighted to read the published version. I always felt the book was an excellent mystery with a strong sense of place and it’s great that other readers now have the chance to enjoy the story.

Thirty years earlier 13-year-old Shona McIver was raped and murdered. A man went to prison for her killing but recent DNA evidence has now shown he was innocent. Sarah was a childhood friend of Shona and becomes convinced that the killer comes from a close circle of family and friends. As she battles demons within her own family the secrets of the past begin to unravel.

The mark of a good book for me is a writer’s ability to draw you completely into their world. Sewing the Shadows Together so successfully does this that I didn’t want to put the book down. There’s a strong family element to the narrative and relationships are satisfyingly dysfunctional. Baillie is excellent at showing how old hurts and unspoken suspicions can devastate a family.

I hope readers of Crimepieces enjoy the novel as much as  did. I don’t normally interview authors on my blog but wanted to dig deeper into the book so I got Alison to answer some questions for me.

This is your debut novel. What were your motivations for writing crime fiction and how long did the book take to write?

I’ve always enjoyed reading crime fiction and I’ve always dreamt of writing a novel – I wasn’t sure if I could, but there was never any doubt that, if I did, it would be a crime novel! I’ve had the plot of Sewing the Shadows Together fermenting in the back of my mind for many years, but it was only when I stopped teaching full-time that I was able to actually write it down. When I began writing the plot felt quite well-developed, after all these years lingering in my subconscious, so the book took me about eighteen months to write, which was less than I had anticipate. I was very much helped by two Arvon courses and the people I met there!

Your book has a strong sense of place. How much of the book uses real life locations and how much is fictional?

The main locations, Portobello and Edinburgh, the Outer Hebrides and Plettenberg Bay in South Africa are all places I know well. I tried to capture the atmosphere of the places, but not every detail is completely accurate. This is deliberate – I didn’t want people to make assumptions that some incidents and characters are based on real ones and I also made some changes to fit in with elements of the plot.

‘Sewing the Shadows Together’ is an unusual title. How did it come into being?

It’s a quotation from DH Lawrence’s poem ‘Bat’. I remember reading this poem with an inspirational English teacher when I was about thirteen – an incident I have used in the book (but my wonderful teacher is very different from HJ Kidd, my fictional teacher). I chose the title for several reasons: firstly, the poem is about discovering the difference between appearance and reality, an important theme in the book; secondly, the phrase could apply to making sense of the traumas of the past and, finally, I just love the sound of the words.

The book’s focus is very much the past. Why do you think we’re fascinated by unsolved cases?

We all want to solve a puzzle and the longer it has remained unsolved, the more interesting it becomes – it has a greater effect on people’s lives and the ripples extend further. Readers are also fascinated because uncovering secrets in the past is always intriguing and you can scratch the surface of any seemingly perfect life or relationship and discover the cracks beneath.

There’s also a strong emphasis in the book on marriage and the constraints of family. How conscious were you of trying to balance a crime story with focusing on human relationships?

The crime stories I enjoy usually have a strong emphasis on character, motivation and relationships. In this novel I wanted to focus on ordinary people caught up in an extraordinary situation, and how a tragedy in the past affects every aspect of their life, their relationships, their confidence and their self-esteem.

What’s next? What are you planning to write and will it be set in the same location?

I have an idea gestating at the moment and I think it’s just on the point of birth. It is set in Scotland, Yorkshire and Switzerland and involves completely different characters, but once again features ordinary people caught up in a tragic situation and focuses on hidden secrets and relationships.

Thanks to Alison for taking time to answer my questions.



Review: Chris Simms – Savage Moon

I’d been meaning to read Chris Simms for a while. His books are set in my 41Nymp-howL._SX325_BO1,204,203,200_hometown of Manchester and have a reputation of being well-researched gripping police procedurals. It was the author’s appearance at a local festival which finally spurred me into action. Savage Moon is a crime novel with a strong sense of place with an excellent balance between police work and family drama.

A farmer’s wife is savaged on the north Manchester moors and her assailant is believed by locals to be a panther roaming the countryside. DI Jon Spicer is sceptical until another victim appears with his throat ripped out in the city centre. The murdered man, Derek Peterson, had previously been subjected to an assault because of his homosexuality. As the locals begin to panic about a wild predator, Spicer finds Peterson’s murky past complicates his investigation.

A moorland setting is an evocative place for crime fiction fans but, although there’s a nod to The Hound of the Baskervilles, the book also feels resolutely northern. Of course, for Mancunians, Saddleworth Moor has a real life resonance due to the atrocities of Ian Brady and Myra Hindley. But Simms cleverly ensures his plot is devious enough to draw the reader completely into his world. As it’s the first book I’ve read featuring Jon Spicer, I can’t comment on how he was as a single man. But the portrayal of him a new parent I thought was exceptional. The tensions between Spicer and his wife were believable and complemented the murder story very well. There’s a colonial element to the plot which stops the book feeling too insular and gave the reader plenty of food for thought.

Savage Moon is a great example of how you can pick up a book mid-series and be drawn into the world that the author has created. A book with a local feel but addressing universal issues.

Review: Johan Theorin – The Voices Beyond

Johan Theorin is one of my favourite Swedish writers and I’ve been eagerly awaiting the fourth instalment of his quartet set on51tSovCdE-L._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_ the island of Öland. The first in the series, Echoes from the Dead, was outstanding and all his writing has been of a consistently high quality. The Voices Beyond concludes the series that has as its common thread the picturesque setting of Öland and the sense of a community where secrets run deep, often for generations.

It’s summer on Öland and visitors are flocking to a resort owned by the influential Kloss family. Jonas Kloss is looking forward to spending time with his cousins but one evening he stumbles aboard a ship and finds dying passengers. He tells his strange tale to Gerlof Davidsson, an elderly resident who has seen plenty of strange events on the island. One man, The Homecomer, has decided to return to the place of his birth and exact revenge for a crime decades earlier.

There are a number of narrative strands in The Voices Beyond. The book works best in when chronicling the story of Gerlof and his memories of past feuds on the island. The modern criminal element is also well described with, perhaps, the best character that of Lisa who DJs at the resort as ‘Lady Summertime’. Stealing from the guests to fund her addict brother’s drug habit, she’s a natural magnet for other criminal elements operating out of the resort.

It’s a substantial book, at 462 pages, and the narrative tension occasionally drops. But overall the reader is drawn into the world that Theorin creates which involves, as usual, a touch of the supernatural. There’s a resolution to the murder narrative and a sense of the quartet coming to an end. The translation, by Marlaine Delargy, is very good with clear and restrained prose.

Thanks to Transworld for my review copy.

Review: Quentin Bates – Summerchill

Quentin Bates is one of the organisers of Iceland Noir, an excellent event that I’ve attended since it first started. He translates51hN2ErUx7L._SX331_BO1,204,203,200_ Ragnar Jonasson’s books from Icelandic into English but is also a very good writer himself. He recently published a novella, Summerchill, featuring his protagonist Gunnhildur (Gunna) Gisladottir which was a lovely read for the July sunshine we had here.

At the end of a warm summer, a man goes missing from his home in the Reykjavik suburbs. Gunna and her partner Helgi investigate his disappearance but discover that he has been keeping some unsavoury company. The challenge is to follow both the missing man and his nemesis before murder is committed.

Novellas are a great way to try new writers and Summerchill certainly gives readers a flavour of Bates’s style of writing. Its title is a clue to the atmosphere of the book. You get an insight into Iceland in the summer with its long hours of daylight and an empty-ish Reykjavik. The pace of the narrative is perfectly suited to a novella form. The action is fast with a regular influx of new characters. Unlike many crime stories, you don’t necessarily sympathise with the alleged victim but become engrossed in the chase for a resolution to the mystery.

A great, short read to take away on your kindle this summer.