October Reading Round-Up

October has been a busy month for me reading wise and there are a couple of reviews coming shortly of books by Cal Moriarty, Rod Reynolds and Bill Rogers. I’ve been travelling which has also given me the opportunity to catch up with some crime novels that I’ve been dying to read for ages all of which I’d recommend to readers of this blog.

Louise Welsh is an excellent writer whom I’ve admired for a long time.  I’ve an enduring5136Rq2kAmL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_ fascination with end-of-the-world scenarios ever since I read Nevil Shute’s On the Beach as a teenager. Death is Welcome Guest is the story of Magnus Fall who flees London trying to reach is family on a remote Scottish island as the plague sickness descends on the country. He reaches a commune governed by a rigid set of rules where the primary aim is to survive. Welsh is excellent at plotting and the novel is a gripping read about desperation and religious doubt.

519Tudi97+L._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_Another author who is a ongoing favourite of mine is Sharon Bolton. Little Black Lies is set in the Falkland Islands and this is the first time I’ve read a murder story set in this part of the world. It’s an agonising tale of lost children – Caitlin’s two son’s were accidentally killed while in the care of her best friend, Rachel. Now children have started to go missing on the island. It’s a page-turning read and brings to life the tensions of a small isolated community.

diamondI met Romanian author and publisher Bogdan Hrib at last year’s Iceland Noir. One of his novels, The Greek Connection, has recently been published by Mosaic Press. It’s a short but dynamic novel full of menace and set in a country I know well, Greece. The plot is dialogue driven and I was impressed how well the writer moves the narrative forward using sharp exchanges between the characters.

25708878Stasi Child by David Young is his debut novel set in 1975 East Berlin featuring the charismatic head of the murder squad. Karin Muller. She’s investigating the killing of a teenage girl but her own personal life comes under scrutiny when her husband is arrested and her enquiries impinge on the machinations of East Berlin’s elite. It’s an excellent read with a strong sense of place and I’m sure the start of an exciting career for the author.

 

 

 

Review: OxCrimes

I like short stories. I remember reading a lot of them when I was a teenager, although those with a crime theme were less popular Oxcrimes-Bookthen. More recently there have been a number of good anthologies containing stories from across the crime fiction genre. In particular, I always enjoy Otto Penzler’s annual anthology of The Best American Mystery Stories. Last week, Oxfam published its own compilation containing 27 stories from an impressive list of crime writers. OxCrimes authors include Ian Rankin, Neil Gaiman, Anne Zouroudi, Ann Cleves and Peter Robinson.

There are a couple of stories in particular I’d like to recommend. I’ve read very little by Christopher Fowler but I loved his story, The Caterpillar Flag. Set in Spain, it has a brooding feel and relates a tragedy seen through innocent eyes. Another story set in Europe is Reflections in Unna by Louise Welsh. It’s an overtly menacing tale with a strong sense of impending doom and written in her trademark compelling style. Finally, OxCrimes features one of my favourite crime writers, Fred Vargas. Her story, Five Francs Each, has Commissaire Adamsberg trying to persuade a down-at-heel street seller to give up the identity of a murderer.

There are many more readable stories and it is a tribute to the excellent work that Oxfam undertakes that it has managed to get so many high quality crime writers to contribute to it.

My anthology was from Oxfam bookshop in Ashbourne, Derbyshire. Run by Lynsey and the team, I can’t recommend it highly enough. If you’re in Derbyshire you should definitely pay it a visit.

With previous books ‘OxTravels’ and ‘OxTales’ having raised over a quarter of a million pounds since their 2009 publication, Oxfam is hoping ‘OxCrimes’ will raise even more, helping to tackle poverty and suffering around the world. Visit Oxfam’s emergency Response pages to find out more about how you can help.

The Best of January’s Reading

January is always a productive time for crime fiction. Along with new publications, we also get advance review copies of Janus-Vaticannovels not hitting the bookshop shelves until spring and sometimes the summer. I reviewed a mixture of these, from Peter May’s recently published Entry Island to Louise Welsh’s A Lovely Way to Burn which is out in March. I also caught up on some of my reading for the The Petrona Award for translated Scandinavian crime fiction. Of everything I read, it was Welsh’s book that made the strongest impression. I’m a fan of apocalyptic fiction anyway but the quality of Welsh’s writing made this a compelling read.

The six books I reviewed for Crimepieces were:

1. The Second Deadly Sin by Asa Larsson

2. A Lovely Way to Burn by Louise Welsh

3. The Disappeared by Kristina Ohlsson

4. Cockroaches by Jo Nesbo

5. Entry Island by Peter May

6. Strange Shores by Arnaldur Indridason

Review: Louise Welsh – A Lovely Way to Burn

A Lovely Way to BurnLouise Welsh, a talented writer of standalone psychological thrillers, has written the first book in the Plague Times trilogy. The series is set in a dystopian near future in the grip of a virus similar to the bubonic plague. The narrative opens with the unexplained death of a dedicated but hedonistic young doctor but soon chronicles the collapse of London society as the epidemic sweeps across the city.

Stevie Flint is a former journalist turned shopping channel TV presenter. When she is stood up by her boyfriend, Simon, she assumes he’s no longer interested in her. However, she later finds his body in his flat, his death apparently the result of natural causes. London is in the grip of an epidemic that is initially assumed to be flu but spreads with a ferocity and virulence that causes widespread panic in the city. When Stevie receives a note from Simon asking her to deliver a briefcase to a colleague, she is plunged into a world of medical secrets that people are prepared to kill in order to protect. Stevie is one of the first to contract the disease and her survival, while others are succumbing to the epidemic, makes her an object of fascination to those looking for a cure.

This is the third apocalyptic crime novel I’ve read in a year. In Ben H Winters’ Countdown City, the US is in the grip of asteroid paranoia as they feverishly await the destruction of the world by an object from space while in Antti Tuomainen’s The Healer extreme climate change has brought about an equally lawless society. What differentiates Louise Welsh’s book is that it opens when everything appears to be normal. Admittedly, people are sneezing on the London underground and sickness absence is rising in the workplace but it takes a while for the epidemic to take hold. This allows the death of Dr Simon Sharkey to take centre place in the narrative and for us to see Stevie’s character develop from a happy-go-lucky TV presenter to a determined avenger of his death.

The scenes involving the reaction to the spread of the virus are horribly realistic. People’s actions range from the altruistic to determinedly self protectionist and as Stevie is seen as the key to surviving the illness she in turn becomes the hunted. As I’d expect with this setting, there are some heart-wrenching moments and one character in particular I was gutted to see die. But given that this book is the first in a trilogy, I’m sure there will be plenty of new characters to take its place.

The book isn’t out until the 20th March but a mixture of Welsh’s writing style and the subject matter made it impossible to resist. Thanks to Hodder for my review copy.

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 November’s Reading

Arvon crime writers groupThis post is a little later than usual which more or less sums up my reading in November. At the beginning of the month I met some lovely fellow writers at a course organised by the Arvon Foundation. There are some interesting crime novels being written at the moment and it was fascinating to hear works in progress being read aloud.

It did mean, however, that I then spent most of the month trying to catch up with both my reading and reviewing. It took me a week to read one of the books on the list and then I read the next two novels in a single day. Does anyone else find that their reading goes in fits and starts? It wasn’t a reflection on the novels in question, just my ability to concentrate on the task in hand.

Six of the books were by new-to-me writers and one in particular, Louise Welsh, I intend to read more of in the near future. My book of the month was by another new-to-me writer: The Last Policeman by Ben H Winters. It had an interesting premise and was well written. I’m already looking forward to the next instalment.

The eight books I read for crimepieces were:

1. Babylon by Camilla Ceder

2. The Last Policeman by Ben H Winters

3. Murder at the Savoy by Maj Sjöwall and Per Wahlöö

4. Heart Shaped Bruise by Tanya Byrne

5. Talking to the Dead by Harry Bingham.

6. The Consorts of Death by Gunnar Staalesen

7. Vanished by Liza Marklund

8. The Girl on the Stairs by Louise Welsh

Kerrie from Mysteries in Paradise is hosting a monthly round-up of all the recommendations by crime fiction bloggers. Do pay the site a visit and see if you agree with the books that have been chosen.

Review: Louise Welsh – The Girl on the Stairs

Louise Welsh is an author who other crime fiction readers have been urging me to try for a while. An excellent post by Margot at Confessions of a Mystery Novelist got me thinking about life as an expat and how the tension that often arises from living in an unfamiliar country can work well in a crime novel. Chris Pavone’s recent book The Expats depicted expat life very well although I wasn’t as convinced by the plot. However, The Girl on the Stairs, the latest book by Louise Welsh combined a tense thriller storyline with realistic depictions of the loneliness and disorientation felt by someone new to a country.

Jane has relocated to Berlin from London to join Petra, her German partner. She misses her former flat but as she is in her last months of pregnancy, she realises her old lifestyle can no longer be sustained. She met her partner at a restaurant where city banker Petra was having a dinner with colleagues and Jane was working as a waitress. You get a sense of the imbalance of their relationship from the early days; Jane who was drifting through life and enjoying her small London flat and ambitious Petra was has taken in Berlin a sleek apartment in an old building. Jane becomes obsessed with Anna, a teenage girl who lives in the same apartment block. She believes that the girl is being abused by her father, Doktor Alban Mann. She also becomes obsessed by a derelict building that can be viewed from the back of the apartment and the strange lights that appear in the tenement at night.

Despite the thriller element, this was a book of surprising depth and subtlety. We come to see Jane as an unreliable narrator and we are never sure if her perceptions have been skewed by her disorientation at her new setting, her advanced stage of pregnancy which heightens her senses and makes her fearful about the people around her, or by a genuine fear of the situation in the building. Welsh is very good at subtlety giving details about the dynamics of a relationship and characters seen even fleetingly are brought to life on the page.

Berlin, seen through the eyes of Jane, comes across as provincial city that could be found anywhere in Europe. The effects of the Second World War are still present though and are woven into the narrative with a light touch to increase the sense of menace. As readers, in a few places we are led to believe that we are one step in front of Jane, although again our perceptions are skewed by the impression of malevolence bubbling under the surface.  The denouement when it comes is slightly over the top and it is only here I think we have to suspend disbelief a little. The book was an excellent read and I’d recommend it to anyone looking for an engrossing thriller with an unusual setting.

I was sent a copy of the book by the publisher. Other reviews can be found at Notes of Life, Eurocrime and The Little Reader Library.