The best of February’s reading.

February can be summed up as quality not quantity when it came to crime fiction reading. After a glut of Scandinavian crime fiction in December and January it was great to read some excellent books by British writers including Elly Griffiths and R J Ellory.

However, my book of the month is a tie between Stav Sherez’s A Dark Redemption and Peter May’s The Black House. I loved Sherez’s book because it cleverly combined the horror of modern day demonic crime in London with the political violence of East African insurgent groups. I’m already looking forward to the next in the series. Peter May’s book, the first of a trilogy, created some memorable characters to the backdrop of the picturesque Isle of Lewis. Again it should make a great series.

The 8 books I read for crimepieces were:

1. City of the Dead by Sara Gran

2. A Simple Act of Violence by R J Ellory

3. Bereft by Chris Womersley

4. A Dark Redemption by Stav Sherez

5. Skin and Bone by Kathryn Fox

6. The Black House by Peter May

7. The Crossing Places by Elly Griffiths

8. Tom-All-Alone’s by Lynn Shepherd

February was also marked by a cold snap across Eastern Europe including Greece. The picture is the view from my balcony in Athens. Meagre by British standards I appreciate but Greek houses are not insulated….

Kerrie over at Mysteries in Paradise is hosting a meme summarizing the crime fiction recommendations for February 2012.

Review: Stav Sherez – A Dark Redemption

Stav Sherez’s first book, The Devil’s Playground, was a fascinating glimpse of the Amsterdam underworld and a tale of far-right violence spanning from the Jewish holocaust to the modern-day. In his latest book, A Dark Redemption, billed as the ‘first installment’ in a new series he tackles the world of East African partisan violence which spills into London with the murder of a Ugandan student.

The book opens with three male graduates deciding to forsake the delights of a trip to India and to venture to the lesser known Uganda. One evening, travelling in the sparse African countryside they are confronted with a fork in the road and take the turning which leads them into the clutches of a rebel army.

The narrative then shifts to 2011. Grace Okello, a student at the School of African and Oriental Studies is researching revolutionary rebel groups and becomes fascinated by the insurgencies of Uganda. When she is found tortured and killed in her bedsit, DI Jack Carrigan, first on the scene starts to unpick her life in his search for her contacts and explanation for her savage murder.  But Carrigan is considered a maverick by the uniformed police hierarchy and his boss appoints DS Geneva Miller to assist on the investigation, while reporting back to him on Carrigan’s methods. Carrigan is a detective with a number of myths attached to him, his behaviour in the London 7/7 bombings, his reputed early recording contract and, most worryingly for Miller, his apparent link with Uganda.

The book was an excellent read. The flashbacks to Uganda were concentrated into three main sections which I thought worked well and gave the book a strong structure. They were quite difficult passages to read as you could feel the total disorientation of the young men in a strange country and it was clear that once they came into contact with the rebel army, it wouldn’t end well. The descriptions of the modern-day murder were equally chilling but I thought not gratuitously so. The rape and murder of a young black woman is a difficult subject to read about but it was well handled. Another strength of the book was that it didn’t labour too much the links between Corrigan’s past and the present case. It is nice when a reader is treated as intelligent enough to work out any connections for themselves.

The book is full of facts about London, much of which I didn’t know and provided an insight into the lives of African immigrants and their dire living conditions. Both Corrigan and Miller were interesting characters. It is difficult to create a ‘maverick’ detective these days without falling into cliché but I though Sherez managed it with understated ease.

There is a nice twist to the ending, again subtly done and I’m pleased that it is part of a new series as principal characters deserve a second airing.

Stav Sherez is author of the month at crimesquad.com