Review: Anya Lipska – A Devil Under the Skin

25124652A review of Anya Lipska’s latest book by guest reviewer, Rachel Hall

A Devil Under the Skin reunites the pairing of Janusz Kiszka, unofficial ‘fixer’ to the Polish community in East London and young and headstrong female cop Natalie Kershaw. In the first book Kershaw started out as Kiszka’s nemesis  but, over time, the pair have gradually acquired a begrudging respect and more recently an admiration for each other.

One of the attributes which has made the exploits of Kiszka and Kershaw such a gripping series is Lipska’s focus on character development. Lipska’s characters drive the plot forward and once again A Devil Under the Skin ensures the protagonists are taken outside of their comfort zones. This brings a realism to the series which is so often lacking once a successful formula is chanced upon and Lipska’s willingness to tamper with the status quo and test her characters delivers a dose of fresh energy to each instalment.

In A Devil Under the Skin, Kiszka is on the verge of welcoming his girlfriend of three years, Kasia, to share his home as she finally decides to leave her work-shy husband of twenty years. When Kasia vanishes on the eve of the move, a new side to Kiszka is revealed and his fragility is evident. Despite having worked in tandem with Kershaw before, albeit in an unofficial capacity, Kiszka still retains his reluctance to turn to the police, a lingering legacy of his bitter experiences from his earlier days lived under a communist regime.   Against every instinct he succumbs to contacting ‘the girl detekyw’ and as the bodies pile up he concedes that this is one case he cannot solve alone.

Just about to turn thirty, PC Natalie Kershaw is facing big dilemmas. With the second book concluding with Natalie’s stabbing, this fresh episode rejoins her as she prepares to return to her new role, as a Armed Response Officer. After a lengthy inquiry into the circumstances surrounding the shooting of a suspect, Natalie is awaiting her clearance to return to duty. Drinking too much and spoiling for a fight, Kershaw is loathing her psychology sessions as she finds herself justifying her actions all over again. Kiszka recognises her problems and is reminded of the miseries of his life under a communist regime when he himself sought solace through alcohol.

Kiszka and Kershaw may appear to have little in common but they both like to challenge expectations and in a similar way that Kiskza is always quietly amused to see his fellow mansion blocks residents confused by having a Polish builder as a neighbour,  Kershaw is equally happy conquering the inherent prejudices surrounding female firearms officers. These two love proving people wrong hence why the sparks often fly and a well drawn chemistry between the pair has evolved into a mutual attraction.

The cross-cultural differences are highlighted and subtly placed and it is the smallest details which add so much, one such an example is in seeing Kiszka’s bafflement at the extravagance of the funerals of East End gangsters, an occasion that only bear comparison to those of the leading lights of the communist movement in his equivalent homeland.  One of the pleasures with having read the two earlier books in the series is in witnessing just how brilliantly the characters have developed. Secondary characters most notably DS ‘Streaky’ Bacon and Kiszka’s lifelong pal Oskar make welcome returns. Socially and culturally aware, yet replete with distinctive characters and black humour Lipska brings a fresh take to a changing London.

Whilst each of the three novels in this series can be read as a standalone, an appreciation of the journey Kiszka and Kershaw have made probably serves this to best effect. Vibrant, fresh and the most well constructed of the three novels, Lipska remained one step ahead of me all the way. Whilst some may question the likelihood of such an alliance between private investigator and a relatively junior cop, I simply went with the entertainment value and Lipska left her mark with sharp dialogue and infectious characters. The knowledge of police procedures is second to none and despite its social and cultural emphasis there is no doubting Lipska’s knowledge of forensics. Gritty and gripping, the Kiszka and Kershaw series has gone from strength to strength and comes very highly recommended.

Review: Anya Lipska – Death Can’t Take a Joke

It’s taken a while for me to get around to this book which is a shame as it turned out to be an excellent read. I very much Death-Cant-Take-A-Jokeenjoyed Lipska’s debut novel, Where the Devil Can’t Go, and read it first as an e-book before it was published in the UK by The Friday Project. Death Can’t Take a Joke is an even better novel that once more gives us a slice of Polish ex-pat life.

Janusz Kiszka, a stalwart of the London Polish ex-pat community, is shocked to hear of the death of his married friend, especially when a beautiful young woman lays flowers in front of his house. He discovers that the young girl, Varenka, is the lover of a wealthy Romanian whose life has been characterised by hardship and brutality. Meanwhile, Detective Natalie Kershaw is investigating the death of a man who appears to have fallen off the top of the Canary Wharf Tower. Her investigation leads to her crossing paths once more with Kiszka and being forced to accept his help as a translator.

The books in this series are dark tales of urban London and detail the squabbles and rivalries that characterise the expat communities from Eastern Europe, even when people have become wealthy. Kiszka is the star of the series, intelligent while capable of violence to protect himself and his friends. More is made in this book of the underlying attraction between Kiszka and Kershaw although both are in relationships, albeit shaky ones. The truth behind the two deaths turns out to be a surprise for readers, for differing reasons, and I’d forgotten how well the author keeps the reader guessing until the conclusion.

This is a series going from strength to strength and the subtleties of interaction between the characters is improving with each book. It would be nice to see the relationship between the two protagonists reach a conclusion, whatever that might be. Perhaps we’ll get this in the next instalment.

Thanks to The Friday Project for my review copy.

 

Harrogate Crime Writing Festival #2

A second post on the crime writing festival that took place in Harrogate last week-end. I had been looking forward to the New Blood AL photopanel and I wasn’t disappointed. Moderated by Val McDermid, it featured the talented Anya Lispka along with other debut writers Derek B Miller, Colette McBeth and Malcolm Mackay. The writers gave a brief overview of their books and what had prompted them to write within the crime fiction genre. What was interesting was not all the writers set out to write a crime novel but were influenced by the conventions of the genre that allowed them to tell the story they wanted to write. The authors also shared with us their journey to publication and the ups and downs of a writer’s life. A fascinating panel and a must-see for me every year. Anya can be seen with her fellow panelists standing on the far left of the photo.

Much of the rest of the festival involved me catching up with friends I’ve met over the years who are too numerous to mention here and I run the risk of missing someone out. All I can say that it was great catching up with you all. Crime writers, readers, bloggers and reviewers are some of the friendliest people I know and I’ve made some great friends.

Saturday evening at Harrogate is marked by the crime fiction quiz. This year I was on the stellar team featuring writers Martin Edwards, Paul Johnston, Margaret Murphy, Linda Stratmann and Martin’s agent James Wills. With a team of such calibre you would expect a decent ranking. Well, we came second. Next year maybe….

Crime Fiction Events – February Round-Up

I don’t often update readers of this blog on what I get up to outside my reading activities. However, I’ve been to a few crime fiction events over the last week or so which has brought up things of interest to readers of the genre. There’s a lot going on in the London crime fiction community at the moment which I think you’ll be interested in. Here’s a round-up of what I’ve been up to, with a couple of questions I’d like you to think about thrown in.

Anya Lipska Book Launch

AL doAnya’ s excellent début novel Where the Devil Can’t Go, available for most of last year as an e-book, was published in print by The Friday Project this month, with a launch at Daunt Books in Marylebone. The book was one of my top 5 crime reads last year and I’m delighted that it will be reaching a wider audience. If you haven’t read it yet, I strongly urge you to give it a go. My review is here.

Murder in the Library Exhibition

The British Library has an exhibition on at the moment which is curated around an eclectic A – Z of crime fiction. I’m sure there were some interesting discussions as the team decided who or what to put under each letter.  There were a few notable omissions (where was Ruth Rendell?) but it made for a thought provoking visit. A highlight for me was the original 1926 manuscript of the Sherlock Holmes short story The Adventure of the Retired Colourman. If you can get along to the exhibition before it finishes in May I’m sure you’ll enjoy it.

The Story of Crime Fiction BL event

An event at the British Library to complement the above exhibition featured a panel moderated by Mark Lawson with crime writers PD James, Henry Sutton and Jason Webster. The authors discussed who had been an influence on their own works – which brought up an interesting mix of writers including Dorothy L Sayers, Jospehine Tey, Micahel Didbin and and Raymond Chandler. A wide-ranging conversation ensued with one rather contentious point made. The panel agreed that in general women writers find it easier to create male characters, while male crime writers largely are unable to write convincing female protagonists.

Do you agree? I thought about this afterwards and an example I would use to argue against this would be Adrian Hyland’s Emily Tempest. However, the fact that I’m struggling to come up with many more suggests this is the exception that proves the rule. Does anyone have any other examples?

Italian Crime Fiction

Belgravia Books, a great bookshop about five minutes walk from Victoria station, hosted an event to celebrate Italian Crime Fiction last Thursday. Writer and journalist Barry Forshaw was in conversation with Ilaria Meliconi , the founder of Hersilia Press to explore the genre from Visconti to Camilleri. The interesting discussion encompassed both books and films and I especially enjoyed the comparisons of the TV series of Montalbano and the Camilleri novels.Belgravia Books event

Italian (and other Mediterranean) crime fiction doesn’t enjoy the popularity of its Scandinavian counterpart in this country. It was posited that perhaps the British psyche identifies more with Scandinavia than with Mediterranean countries. I think this is almost certainly true – but hasn’t stopped British readers enjoying the books of other hot climes such as Tony Hillerman or Adrian Hyland. Any suggestions as to why that might be the case?

So some interesting events and there are more in the pipeline. It’s always great to meet in person people I only know through their blogs or on twitter. And apologies for the terrible photos to accompany this post. Photographing these events usually involves me waving my iphone in a shamefaced way while the discussion is taking place. The next morning I’m usually dismayed by the quality of the result – for obvious reasons. I do promise to try harder.

My Top Five Crime Reads of 2012

According to Goodreads I read just over 150 books in 2012, about three quarters of which was crime fiction. I reviewed 102 books on crimepieces and discovered some great authors whose books, although not published in 2012, were highlights of my year. These included Deon Meyer’s Trackers, Ashes by Sergio Gakas and Aly Monroe’s Icelight.

However, I’m going to restrict my best reads of 2012 to those published this year. The benchmark as to which books made it onto my list was not whether I had recommended them to other readers but whether I had also actually forced a copy onto someone who I thought would like it. With the exception of Where the Devil Can’t Go which is (for the moment) available only as an e-book I have done this with all of these titles.

So here are my top 5 reads of 2012.

1. Ben H Winters –  The Last Policeman

The Last Policeman

A great concept very well executed. Who would have thought the end of the world could be so interesting?

2. Adrian McKinty – The Cold Cold Ground

The-Cold-Cold-Ground-Adrian-McKinty1

The first in a series featuring Catholic policeman Sean Duffy. Set in 1981 during the Troubles, I wanted to read the sequel immediately.

3. Anya Lipska – Where the Devil Can’t Go

Anya Lipska

A murder set in the heart of the Polish expat community in London. Great depictions of London and Poland and some memorable characters.

4. Elizabeth Hay – Alone in the Classroom

Alone in the Classroom

I’m not sure if this is a crime book at all, but death and retribution feature strongly in the narrative. A beautifully written book.

5. Louise Welsh – The Girl on the Stairs

TGotStairs

Genuinely spooky and with a strong sense of malevolence, it gives an alternative view of Berlin’s bleak suburbs.

So five great books and if I had just to choose one it would be Adrian McKinty’s The Cold Cold Ground. The sequel I Hear the Sirens in the Street is out in January and I’m already looking forward to it.

What was your favourite crime book of 2012? I’d love to hear what was your best read.

The Best of May’s Reading

May was the month of CrimeFest and thanks again to the organisers who worked so hard to provide such an interesting and informative event. It was great to see old faces, meet some of the people I only know through twitter and make new friends in the crime fiction community.

May was a mixed month for reading and my standout read was Anya Lipska’s Where the Devil Can’t Go. Set in London’s Polish migrant community it was a refreshing read from a debut author. Available, for now, only on kindle let’s hope that Anya gets published in print soon as I can think of at least two people I’d like to give a copy of this to.

The eight books I read in May for crimepieces were:

1. The Istanbul Puzzle by Laurence O’Bryan

2.  Track of the Cat by Nevada Barr

3. Do No Harm by Carol Topolski

4. The Murder Wall by Mari Hannah

5. Track of the Cat by Mary Stewart

6. Wildfire at Midnight by Mary Stewart

7. Where the Devil Can’t Go by Anya Lipska

8. Burned by Thomas Enger

As usual, Kerrie over at Mysteries in Paradise is compiling a list of Book of the Month selections.

Review: Anya Lipska – Where the Devil Can’t Go

Following Poland’s entry into the EU in 2004 there was a rapid influx of Polish migrants into the UK. Although London had long been a centre for the Polish diaspora, most notably following regime changes after the Second World War and during the early 1980s, the influx in the last decade created a new set of tensions within the community. Where the Devil Can’t Go is a crime novel that embraces these various periods of the Polish diaspora and provides an excellent thriller set in the hear of the migrant community.

Janusz Kiszka has lived in London since the 1980s and after a series of construction jobs now works as a general fixer, sorting out matters on behalf of his Polish friends.  He has been successful enough to buy a flat in the once down-at-heel Highbury Fields, in a building now shared with young professionals. He is asked by a priest, Father Piotr Pietruzki, to find Weronika, a respectable young Polish girl who may have disappeared with her boyfriend Pawel Adamski.

Meanwhile, DC Natalie Kershaw investigates the death of a woman pulled out of the Thames, possibly from a drugs overdose. When a second body appears and both girls are linked to the Polish community, Janusz is investigated as a possible suspect. Janusz’s mistrust of the police means he refuses to hand over vital information and he continues on his hunt for the missing girl. This quest takes him to the seedier parts of London and on to Poland where he is followed and attacked. It is only by joining forces and pooling their collective information do Janusz and Natalie finally put together the pieces of a complex case.

The main strength of this book was the depiction of the Polish community in London. In the course of the narrative, Lipska takes you from the East End Olympic construction site, with its steamy cafes doling out familiar dishes to homesick Poles, to Embassy receptions where former communists and exiled aristocrats rub shoulders. Janusz’s journey back to Poland is fascinating, seen through the eyes of someone who has been living outside the country for over twenty years. His feelings of homesickness and dislocation are very powerful. There is also a strong sense of Polish history interwoven into the book. Janusz was originally involved in the Solidarity movement but is bitter about its legacy and the motives of the people involved.

The investigation involving DC Natalie Kershaw was nicely done, particularly the relationship with her unreconstructed male superior, DS Bacon. Lipska portrays well the calls on police time and resources which means that even murder cases have to be prioritised. My only complaint is that the switch between Janusz and Kershaw narratives didn’t always take place between chapters or even scenes but this may have been a fault of the way my kindle copy was formatted.

I thought this was an excellent début novel and well deserves to be read in print as well as an e-book. There was a freshness to the writing and the depiction of the community was fascinating, including some interesting insights into the workings of Polish Catholicism. Hopefully we will be seeing more of Jasnusz and Kershaw in future books.

Where the Devil Can’t Go has also been reviewed by Petrona, It’s a Crime!, A View from the Blue House and The Game’s Afoot.

The author’s website is here.