Review: Tim Baker – Fever City

FEVER CITY _ BLOG TOUR GRAPHICIt’s my turn today on the blog tour for Tim Baker’s excellent debut novel, Fever City. Conspiracy theories surrounding the shooting of JFK is an area that continues to fascinate and it has been mined with considerable skill by this author.  Fever City, opens with the kidnapping of the son of one of America’s richest men. Nick Alston, an LA private detective is hired to find the boy but finds competition in Hastings, a mob hitman who is also hunting the child. Decades later, a journalist is looking at the conspiracy theories of the fifties and sixties in relation to JFK’s shooting. He soon discovers that there are links with his own family and that secrets still extend into the highest echelons of US society.

Split timelines can sometimes be problematic for a reader but not when they’re as skilfully handled as in Fever City. All three narratives are clearly defined, partly due to the different writing styles changing from first to third person and past to present tense. It works very well. The writing is excellent which, along with the pull of the plot, meant that I read the book very quickly.

Although in part a political thriller, there is also a song focus on family ties and the legacy they leave behind. Fever City is a strong debut by a writer with a confident voice.  I’m sure we’ll be hearing plenty more from Tim Baker.

** Giveaway** To win a hardback copy of Fever City along with a signed copy of my own novel, In Bitter Chill, also published by Faber and Faber, please fill in your name and details in the contact form below. The draw will take place at midday on Friday 29th January. Your e-mail address will only be used for this competition and to receive my monthly newsletter.

This competition is now closed. Congratulations to the winner whose books are on the way to them.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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US Noir – Cal Moriarty and Rod Reynolds

cI wanted to read some novels set in the US while I was attending the Bouchercon crime51DcLzjlqEL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_ convention in North Carolina. The Killing of Bobbi Lomax by Cal Moriarty and Rod Reynolds’ The Dark Inside had both been sitting on my shelf for a while and were both excellent choices to take away with me. There are themes common to both books but each writer has a very distinctive voice. Reading a novel set in country that you’re visiting can add depth to your travelling experience and I was amazed at the extent to which the writers had captured the flavour of the country.

In The Killing of Bobbi Lomax a series of bombs have exploded in Abraham City. It’s a clever ploy on Moriarty’s part to look at the investigation following these explosions rather than detail the actual violence. Bobbi Lomax is a prom queen who married a man much older than her. The connection between her and the other victims is initially unclear and forms the basis of the investigation. It’s a very well written book and the 1980s setting and ambiguity over location (Abraham City is within America’s bible belt and represents a kind of US every-town) give the book an other-worldy theme that reflects the eventual revelation regarding the motives behind the killings.

51zZxD6mTsL._SX324_BO1,204,203,200_In Rod Reynolds book, The Dark Inside, Texerkana’s location on the border between Texas and Arkansas plays an important role in the narrative. New York reporter Charlie Yates is sent down to investigate a series of murders of courting couples. The killings are based on a real life murder spree and the horror experienced by the victims and their families is highlighted. There’s a corrupt heart to the town but Yates is unable to locate its source which adds to the narrative tension. Reynolds is excellent at characterisation and we’ll hopefully get to see more of Charlie Yates is future books.

It was fascinating to see British authors bring to life these US locations and I sent both authors some questions as I was interested to how these books came into being.

You’re both UK based authors who bring alive a small town US setting in your books.  What made you choose your setting and how much research did you do before you wrote your novels?

CM: I love the desert, I lived in L.A. for a few years and have driven across the desert many times. I also spent a month there researching my novel. I love the fact that the desert isolates and amplifies characters and events and I really wanted to include that in the novel.

RR: The Dark Inside is based on a real life serial killer case, so in some ways I had to set the book in Texarkana, where the murders took place. I decided early on in the writing that my story would be fictional, and not adhere too closely to the facts of the case, so as a balance to that, I was determined to keep Texarkana as the setting, and bring it to life as vividly as possible. I thought that was the best way to ground the novel in reality, and maintain a link to the real life events.

I did a lot of research before I started writing, firstly into the case, and then into Texarkana itself; Google Maps was a godsend early on! The more I learnt about the town, the more certain I was in my decision to set the book there. Texarkana is, in actuality, two towns, one in Texas, one in Arkansas, split down the middle by the state line. It was a major railroad hub for troops returning from WWII, so the town was overrun with GIs in 1946. It’s not quite a typical southern town, and still had something of a western character in the 1940s – bar fights were as common as picket fences. All these elements made for an atmospheric backdrop to the novel.

The final piece of the research puzzle was to visit the town, which I did as I approached the end of writing the first draft. It was a strange feeling to see Texarkana first-hand, after spending so long studying the town and its history. Much of the town as it was in the 1940s is still standing, many of the buildings now abandoned, so it was fascinating to see – almost like a living snapshot of that time and place.

You write about familiar themes in a distinctive way – Cal, in relation to religious faith and Rod, on serial killings. How conscious were you that you needed to bring something fresh to these subjects?

CM: I really wanted to create something quirky, but also intelligent and as multi-layered as possible. So that at no time were people being told what to think, they were being given enough to draw their own conclusions.

RR: I was very conscious of the fact, as serial killers have, of course, been done many times before. However, I had an idea for a twist on the standard serial killer ending before I started writing, so I was always working towards that plot point as the book developed. I was partly inspired by David Peace’s Red Riding books, as I loved the way he put a fresh and intriguing spin on serial murders, so I was always keen to try to do the same in my novel.

What made you decide on your points of view? – Cal you have multiple narrators and timescales, whereas Rod you use the voice of your protagonist Charlie Yates. 

CM: Because Clark Houseman is such an engaging, alluring character it was important so that the reader could see the other half of the story, the investigation, and see more of this strange unusual town, that the cops were also outsiders, the readers eyes into the story, but not particularly welcome eyes as we learn in the novel. Marty also has his own ghosts which are revealed in this book, and form the focus of this next novel I’m working on. I had to use different timescales, so I could build up the character of Clark Houseman — it’s his story that starts earlier than the novel’s inciting incident.

RR: My favourite books tend to have very tight POV control, limiting it to one or maybe a couple of characters, and restricting information so that the reader only knows as much as the protagonists. I find that a very effective way to build tension, and to make the twists and reveals more explosive; hence I decided to write Charlie as the only character with a POV.

In addition, I thought that approach would work particularly well with this story as it has elements of the classic ‘a stranger arrives in a strange town’ plot, so I wanted the reader to discover Texarakna and the story of the murders as Charlie does. Moreover, I wanted the reader to understand Charlie’s perspective, the way he gets drawn into the murders against his better judgement, his path to redemption, and, finally his intense obsession with getting to the truth – so it was important to me that the reader stick with him throughout.

What’s next? I’d happily revisit both locations/characters but have their stories been told?

CM: The next novel in the Wonderland series, of which Bobbi Lomax is book 1. There’s a lifetime of stories to be told from Abraham City’s townsfolk. Next up is Marty’s daughter, Liss, and a man who may or may not be a serial killer. The novel’s told from both their point of view. It’s called Death in Wonderland. It’s a prequel to Bobbi Lomax.

RR: Book 2 has just gone to Faber, so I’m anxiously awaiting the first edits on that. It’s a sequel to The Dark Inside, set six months after. Charlie Yates is back, but it’s set in a little town in Arkansas called Hot Springs, which has an incredible history of its own, involving famous mobsters, illegal gambling and dirty politics. It’s a fascinating place in real life, and quite quaint and picturesque now, but it’s not hard to imagine it as it was in the 1940s, and the nightmarish scenario of murders and corruption that Charlie finds himself in the middle of – a scene that only becomes more sinister when he realises that the past he’s trying to forget, isn’t done with him yet…

Review: K T Medina – White Crocodile

White-Crocodile-cover1For a debut novel to stand out, it has to offer something special to the reader. I’ve read few crime books set in Cambodia and it’s not a country that has ever tempted me to visit. However, in the tradition of the best reading, I was completely pulled into the world created by K T Medina. White Crocodile is a story of violence and revenge against the backdrop of mine clearance in a country still recovering from conflict.

The white crocodile of the title refers to the symbol of fear and death according to a Cambodian myth. Its legend is evoked by locals in response to a series of fatalities in an area which is being cleared of mines by a humanitarian charity. Tess Hardy has taken a job with the organisation in order to investigate the death of her ex-husband, Luke. Although her marriage was characterised by violence, in her last conversation with her ex she could hear fear in his voice. When she arrives in Cambodia, she discovers that teenage mothers are disappearing from local villages and are later found mutilated and killed.

White Crocodile has a compelling narrative that grabs you right from the start of the book. At the outset there is a suspicious explosion that maims one of the other mine clearers and it’s not clear if Johnny is a victim or implicated in the conspiracy that surrounds all the killings. As the plot develops, Tess’s personal history, the killing of the outcast women and a murder investigation in Manchester are interweaved into a compelling narrative.

Medina cleverly makes sure that Tess Hardy is on equal footing with the other protagonists. She is a mine clearer in her own right and saves the life of Johnny using a mix of bravery and knowledge of  land mines. This means that in a setting of vulnerable women, despite Tess’s abusive past, she seems an intrepid and determined seeker of truth.

White Crocodile is one of the best books I’ve read this year and I can’t recommend it highly enough.

Thanks to Faber for my review copy.

James Carol – Broken Dolls

Broken-DollsJames Carol’s Broken Dolls was a departure for me as it’s been a while since a read a book featuring a criminal profiler. However, I was intrigued by the idea of a British author writing about an American profiler but setting the book in the heart of London. It turned out to be a gripping, and wincing, read.

Jefferson Winter is a former CIA investigator and also the son of one the US’s most famous serial killers. Winter’s compulsion to distance himself from his parent’s actions is fuelled by his father’s final words before his execution: ‘We’re the same’. In his latest investigation, Winter sets out to find who is abducting women, torturing them and then releasing them once they have been lobotomised. He quickly discovers the modus operandi of the kidnapper but struggles to identify the true culprit behind the crimes.

It’s good once in a while to read a book outside your comfort zone. I don’t usually read this style of book and I’d forgotten how much I enjoy a tense thriller. There are passages written from the point of view of the kidnapper’s latest victim. Because of the case’s high media profile, she is aware what might befall her which adds poignancy to the writing. There are some passages that make you wince. This is as much to do with the threat of violence rather than what is actually depicted. But it does make for an uncomfortable read which adds to the tension.

Carol has created, in Jefferson Winter, a compelling character who will work well in a series. I’ve already got the second book to read, Watch Me, which I’m looking forward to already.

Thanks to Faber for my review copy.