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I read far too much European crime fiction these days at the expense of books coming from other countries. Even American crime Parker Bilalwriters, a staple of my teenage years, are beginning to slip from my reading. However, I’ve been meaning to try Parker Bilal for a while, ever since I met him at a Bloomsbury event last year. I read The Ghost Runner over the Easter weekend and was pleased that I finally broke my Eurocentric reading spree. Because Bilal gives a glimpse of a world removed from the city and plunges us into the Egyptian outback where revenge and violence are treated as a matter of course.

Private Investigator Makana is in exile from his native Sudan and still trying to find out what happened to his missing wife and daughter. He is employed to track down the perpetrator of a horrific act of violence on a young girl, the trail of which leads him to the edge of the Sahara desert. There, a decades old feud is reignited and Makana’s life comes under threat as he edges closer to revealing the secrets of this small community.

I found the book to be a slow, substantial read that gradually draws the reader into the sparseness of the desert community. The initial act of violence takes place in Cairo but the narrative quickly moves to a rural setting which suits Bilal’s style of writing more. Makana feels instinctively at home in the vast landscape which reminds him of his native Sudan. For a while the Cairo crime seems far removed from the action taking place in the desert but everything slowly comes together at the conclusion.

The descriptions of the long held tensions in a remote Egyptian town is this book’s greatest strength and what started as a slow but steady read for me became compelling towards the end. I notice I have Bilal’s two earlier books on my shelves to read and I intend to make these a priority over the next month.

Many thanks to Bloomsbury for my review copy.

Dulldaypic_1383942569This is the second book in a month that I’ve read where the violence has made me wince. But, like in Pierre LeMaitre’s Irene, the level of violence in At the End of a Dull Day seems proportionate to the setting and the oeuvre within which Massimo Carlotto writes.

Georgio Pellogrino, a protagnist in an earlier Carlotto novel, is leading a relatively straight existence running a popular restaurant in the Veneto area of Italy. Frequented by politicians and other members of polite Italian society, the restaurant comes under threat when Pelligrino discovers that a popular politician with Ministerial ambitions has lost two million of Pellegrino’s Euros in a Ponzi style scheme. He swears revenge and discovers a lost appetite for violence and killing.

Although, at 192 pages, this is a relatively short book, the narrative is densely packed in terms of both plot and characterisation. Pelligrino is an anti-hero of the traditional kind. His capacity for violence, especially towards women, is shocking but there’s a world weariness to him too. As readers we’re both shocked by the contempt with which he treats the women in his life and he absurd justifications he makes for doing so.

I found the narrative to be completely compelling and read it in virtually one sitting. In many ways this isn’t the style of book I normally read but I could only sit back and enjoy the stark brutality of Carlotto’s writing.

Thanks to Europa Editions for my review copy.

outcastdead200Elly Griffith’s books, featuring forensic archaeologist Dr Ruth Galloway, remain one of my ‘must read’ series. The books have been of a consistently good quality and, even when Griffiths changes the Norfolk setting, have retained a strong sense of place. There’s also a feeling of movement in the novels and characters lives are constantly changing. After a foray into Lancashire, in The Outcast Dead the characters are back in Norfolk and Ruth Galloway is sucked into a case of a missing child.

During an excavation, a body is found in the grounds of Norwich Castle which may be that of the infamous Victorian child killer Jemima Green, known as Mother Hook. The discovery prompts the arrival of a crew from a salacious TV series. Meanwhile, DCI Harry Nelson is investigating the death of three children whose mother is suspected of having smothered them. When another child goes missing, the sense of urgency increases as the team look for a man or woman whose motives defy even the most experienced profiler.

The emphasis on the death of children in this book is a difficult subject for a crime novel but Griffiths does well to write about the abductions and murders with a light touch. The historical context for one set of murders helps, and the whole book is set in an atmosphere of doubt and suspicion.

The central characters, familiar to Grififths readers, are moving on with their lives: Ruth still fantasises of a future with Harry even though she knows its impossible and Judy, a detective on Harry’s team, is attempting to continue with her family life while knowing that the father of her baby is the druid, Cathbad. There is a sense of overlap with some of the stories. Judy’s concealment of her baby’s paternity has echoes of Ruth’s in earlier books. Similarly, the theft of a baby also references back to an earlier child abduction which ended disastrously. But the series retains a consistency that is remarkable considering we are now on book number six.

In spite of references in the book to earlier novels, I still think a reader new to this series could start with The Outcast Dead. For existing fans, this series will continue to delight.

Thanks to Quercus for my review copy.

I read five books in March, all of which were excellent. This isn’t always the case so I’m pleased to see that quality is winning over quantity. I also have some great books lined up for my April reading, including Anya Lipska’s Death Can’t Take a JokeMy crime IMG_0971fiction highlight of the month was attending Anya’s book launch at Daunt Books in Holland Park. Watch this space for the review.

My pick of the month, as you can probably guess from the review, is Irene by Pierre Lemaitre. Although breathtaking in its violence, it is also highly original and is shaping up to be my book of the year. I can’t recommend it highly enough.

The five books I read for Crimepieces were:

1. Alex by Pierre Lemaitre

2. Irene by Pierre Lemaitre

3. I Can See in the Dark by Karin Fossum

4. Scarred by Thomas Enger

5. Emperors Once More by Duncan Jepson

emperorsoncemoreI’ve recently read a couple of books set in the near future, all of which were united by the sense of impending catastrophe. Emperors Once More by Duncan Jepson is set in 2017 but the world, at first, doesn’t appear to be vastly different to that of now. However, all of the European Union is in economic crisis and has been bailed out by China. It is about to default on its debts and many Chinese feel it’s now time that old slurs and insults are avenged. Detective Alex Soong from the Hong Kong police is asked to investigate the murder of two Methodist ministers, whose deaths are quickly followed by the discovery of a gruesome massacre. The brutality of the killings has echoes of the atrocities of the Boxer Rebellion, which results in Alex approaching a renowned historian to help identify links to the past.

Despite its 2017 setting, the book has the feel of a present day thriller. Hong Kong hasn’t changed beyond recognition although the ever-watching presence of the media appears to have escalated to the extent that there is a running commentary on everything that Alex does. He is given an interesting back story: his parents were forced to give up their daughters under the one child policy and Alex is determined, one day, to track them down. He is married to the beautiful Jun, who refuses to engage in any discussion about the darker side of his job but is unwittingly dragged into the investigation.

The book is a compelling read both in terms of the pull of the narrative and enticing the reader into empathising with the central characters, which is key given some of the events that occur later in the book. One of the Jepson’s greatest strengths is the way in which he manages to write about the ferocity of the violence with a restraint that can be missing in other crime fiction writers. There is clearly more milage left in Alex Soong; Emperors Once More is the first in a trilogy and it will be interesting to see how the characters develop given  the changes that have taken place in their lives.

Thanks to Quercus for my review copy.

463bb4179660b847de99c85d3d03b6f5We’ve had to wait a while to get the third instalment of Thomas Enger’s series featuring journalist Henning Juul. Pierced ended with Henning almost buried alive and still desperate to uncover the mystery of the fire which killed his young son. Scarred begins with Hanning back at work and given the assignment of reporting on the police investigation into the violent death of an elderly woman in a nursing home. The violence of her murder suggests someone with a personal grudge, which may lie in the woman’s past as an unpopular school teacher. But Henning’s priorities shift when his estranged sister, Secretary of State Trine Juul-Osmundsen, is accused of sexually harassing a young male politician. Although she refuses to accept any help from him, he is drawn into why she is refusing to defend herself with any conviction.

Scarred is a slightly different book to the ones that come before. Henning’s preoccupation with his son’s death isn’t as dominant here, although this does form part of the narrative. Rather, it shows much of Henning’s early life and the complex family relations that haunt him to the present day. The depiction of death, in this case of the elderly nursing home resident is, despite its brutality, more restrained than in earlier books and overall I found the tone more sober. For a while it was difficult to see how the two cases would come together but I thought the book was a well-written and satisfyingly complex read.

Thanks to Faber for my review copy.

Karin Fossum, famous for her novels featuring Detective Inspector Sejer, has written a standalone thriller that defies any ICSitDarkattempts to categorise it. It’s written from the point of view of Riktor, who shows enough self-awareness to pronounce himself a misfit in society both on account of his looks and his solitary nature. But Riktor has a dark secret. In the care home where he works, he secretly inflicts small daily tortures on his elderly patents for his own pleasure. His other recreation is spending time in a local park, watching with a wry eye the comings and goings of its regular visitors.

One day while out in the early morning, we watches a cross country skier accidentally drown in the lake, making no attempt to help the floundering man. He later befriends an alcoholic visitor to the park, enticing him to his house with offers of alcohol. When one of the elderly patients of his care home dies, Riktor is arrested by the police and charged with her murder. But Riktor, innocent of this crime, is now in a dilemma as he is guilty of something  equally terrible.

This a bleak read but written with a deft touch that encourages the reader to stick with an unappealing central character. Riktor is repulsive with no redeeming features but Fossum manages to portray him in a way that we feel his sense of outrage when he is arrested for a crime he didn’t commit. I never totally engaged with him as a character but this is almost certainly deliberate by Fossum. She encourages us to read the book as an outsider looking in which gives the narrative enough pull to make you want to reach the grim conclusion. There’s a bleak humour in the writing that gave I Can See in the Dark a unique feel and, although different from Fossum’s usual fare, I’m sure will still appeal to her fans.

Thanks to Harvill Secker for the review copy.

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