I’d been meaning to read Chris Simms for a while. His books are set in my 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.
Johan Theorin is one of my favourite Swedish writers and I’ve been eagerly awaiting the fourth instalment of his quartet set on 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.
Quentin Bates is one of the organisers of Iceland Noir, an excellent event that I’ve attended since it first started. He translates 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.
As I’ve mentioned on this blog before, Håkan Nesser is one of my favourite authors from Scandinavia. He’s an interesting writer because, although he hails from Sweden, his Van Veeteren books are set in the fictional city of Maardam which I’ve always felt has a Dutch feel to the place. The actual country where the city is located is never revealed to the reader. With his last book to be translated into English, The G File, the series came to an end. This year, however, fans of Nesser have two standalone books of his to enjoy: The Summer of Kim Novak which I’ll be reviewing next week and The Living and Dead in Winsford. They are very different but excellent reads.
In the village of Winsford on Exmoor, a woman arrives to take up residency of an isolated cottage. She tells locals that she is a Swedish author who is writing her next book. However, Maria’s intention is simply to outlive her dog. Maria is escaping the recent traumas where we know that she and her husband, Martin, had to flee Stockholm because of a scandal. Martin is portrayed as a blustery liar who may have raped a maid at a hotel. Her children are keeping their distance and Maria has long since stopped loving her husband. However, why Maria is now on her own in a foreign country is only gradually revealed.
Håkan Nesser generality writes substantial books and The Living and Dead in Winsford is no exception. The atmosphere of Exmoor, its isolated location and bleak weather is well portrayed and Maria appears to revel in the landscape, taking long walks in an attempt to exorcise the past. What her personal history is, however, is only gradually revealed to the reader. When it becomes clear what Maria is escaping from, the reader becomes engrossed in how Maria’s story will be concluded. This is partly due to the fact that she clearly settles into the community, forming a relationship with a local man. It’s hard to say any more without giving too much of the plot away.
The book is part thriller but also reads like literary fiction. This is no surprise as Nesser is an excellent writer. The tone is less humorous than his Van Veetern series but was perfectly suited to the narrative. A great read.
Thanks to Pan Macmillan for my review copy. The translation was by Laurie Thompson.
Occasionally you read a book that takes you completely out of your comfort zone. Untouchable was one such read. It tells the story of Stella, an escort, who operates at the high end of London’s sex trade industry. She’s matter of fact about her job. She does it for the money although, from the very beginning, hints are given about a trauma in her past. When, Elisa, a fellow call girl is murdered, Stella’s initial response is simply to meet with the girl’s partner, give her condolences and not get involved any further. But there are a number of strange factors leading up to Elisa’s death that suggests her murder wasn’t by one of her clients. Stella gradually becomes drawn into the Elisa’s dark secrets and puts her own life in danger.
Untouchable is a fascinating read. The first third of the book which introduces Stella, the world within which she operates and the men who use the services of prostitutes is absolutely fascinating. Stella’s clinical approach to what she does allows the read to step outside the narrative and take an overview of the build up of tension. There are fascinate vignettes. The girls use false names and when their private and professional lives occasionally interact there’s confusion over which identity to use. Marsh could have gone down the road of using Stella’s past trauma as an excuse/easy explanation as to why she enters prostitution. It’s to the writer’s credit that it feels far more subtle than that.
Untouchable is an engrossing read and a bit different from the usual crime fiction on offer. I highly recommend it.
Yesterday, my debut novel In Bitter Chill was published in the UK. It’s been a special time and I’ve only just drawn breath to write this post.
On Wednesday I was in London signing copies of my novel for the excellent Goldsboro Books. In the evening we celebrated publication at a launch party at the Faber and Faber offices in Bloomsbury. People from across the crime fiction community came to celebrate the book’s launch. I had guests from Switzerland and Greece as well as across the UK. A regular haunt for us crime fiction aficionados is Maison Bertaux in Soho. The day kicked off there with cakes and tea before moving on to the launch. There, we had more cake made by Karen Sullivan, publisher at Orenda Books. For those of us who wanted something to eat on the hottest night of the year we then moved on for a curry. Many thanks to everyone who attended: bloggers, readers, writers, translators, journalists and all crime fiction lovers. Special thanks to Katherine Armstrong, my editor at Faber and Kirsty Mclachlan, my agent, at DGA for helping bring In Bitter Chill into being.
I started Crimepieces before I became an author and I intend to keep posting my reviews here. There’s some great crime fiction out there to discuss. For those interested in the progress of my book, I have an events page and am posting quotes from reviews. All are accessible from the tabs at the top of the website. I also have a Facebook page and Twitter account that can be accessed from the links on the right.
At Maison Bertaux with friends
In the meantime, I want to thank all the regular readers of Crimepieces for their support.
I’m a big Lee Child fan. His books might be similar in style but I like the fact you know what to expect when you open a Jack Reacher novel. That said, some of the books are better than others which is hardly surprising in a long running series that totals nineteen novels. I picked up his latest paperback, Personal, one afternoon and read it in a day. It’s the mixture of accessible storytelling and fast pacing that makes his books so unputdownable. And I think, with this latest book, he’s back on top form.
Someone takes a long-range shot of the French president. International security services identify only four hit men in the world with the necessary skills to have carried out the attempted assassination. The US suspect is an old enemy of Jack Reacher’s and he is given the assignment of tracking the man down who is believed to have made his way to London. But protected by an Essex gang, the hit man creates a web of violent protection to prevent his whereabouts being discovered.
This isn’t the first Reacher to have been set in the UK. The Hard Way ended in the Norfolk countryside but the best Reacher books have been the ones set resolutely within the US heartlands. However, in this instance, I thought Personal’s London and Essex setting perfect for the plot. Connecting the narrative to the US is done through Reacher’s assistant, Casey, who unlike other CIA operatives has a raft of private neuroses that she keeps at bay through medication.
The plot is classic Lee Child and the execution is as professional as we have come to expect from him. All his existing fans will, I’m sure, love it.
Thanks to Transworld for my review copy.