Recent Reads

I always look forward to the latest Ruth Galloway novel from Elly Griffiths and in The Stone Circle, out on the 7th February, it’s great to see Ruth back in Norfolk. There’s an interesting link to Griffiths’s first book in the series,  Crossing Places. DCI  Nelson has been receiving letters similar in tone to those which tried to derail the investigation into missing children. The culprit’s son, Leif, has returned to look at a prehistoric stone circle where a twelve year old girl’s bones are discovered. The vulnerability of children and babies is explored in a sensitive manner. The bones are those of Margaret Lacey who disappeared thirty years earlier in a crime which the community has never forgotten. Griffiths is excellent at keeping up dramatic tension both in terms of the murder investigation and the Nelson/Ruth relationship.

The Boy who Lived with the Dead is the new novel by Kate Ellis featuring Scotland Yard detective, Albert Lincoln. Before the First World War, Lincoln led the investigation into the disappearance of Jimmy Rudyard, a young child in the Cheshire village of Mabley Ridge. Now, a woman has been killed, her small baby is missing and Lincoln is back to investigate the murder.  He discovers a town still reeling from war and families with plenty of secrets to hide. The book is an absorbing read and I loved the period detail.

Cuckoo by Sophie Draper is a psychological thriller set in my home county of Derbyshire. Caro inherits, along with her sister, their childhood home after the death of step-mother, Elizabeth. The villagers are unfriendly and the house brings back long forgotten memories for Caro. Cuckoo is an interesting psychological thriller, very well written, which cleverly exploits the closed confines of the story. Draper is excellent at  keeping the reader guessing until the denouement.

Thomas Mogford’s A Thousand Cuts had been on my shelf  for a while, a shameful admission given how much I love the author’s writing. The fifth book in the Spike Snguinetti series sees Spike’s fiancé about to give birth while he takes on a case that brings him into conflict with childhood friends. Spike is a fascinating character and it looks like he’s about to let his obsession with his case ruin another relationship. Mogford’s descriptions of the Gibraltar setting are wonderful but never allowed to overshadow the plot. It’s one of his best.

My Top Reads of 2015

It’s been quite a year for me as my own debut novel was published in July. Its meant that I’ve had to carve out dedicated time and space for reading books that might otherwise have become lost in my gargantuan TBR pile. Bloggers have been publishing their ‘best of’ lists all December and I’ve enjoyed reading them to see how our thoughts compare. And In Bitter Chill has been lucky enough to feature on some of the choices. However, now is my turn and, although I tried to keep it to five as in previous years, I cheated and made it six top choices for 2015.

233570921. The Kind Worth Killing by Peter Swanson

Here’s a book that’s featured on a number of  highlights of 2015 and rightly so. There’s a Hitchcockian devilry in the plot’s construction and the book’s premise – two people who meet on a plane and hatch a murder plot – has lots of scope for mishap and criminality. A book I read in one sitting it was so good.

2. Satellite People by Han Olav Lahlumsatellite-people-978023076953301

We were treated to two books by Lahlum this year and I slightly preferred the plot of Satellite People. A clear homage to Agatha Christie (he dedicates the book to her), for us fans of the queen of crime it was enjoyable to spot the references to her books. But an enjoyable read in its own right too.

237030503. The Abrupt Physics of Dying by Paul Hardisty

An intriguing title that seemed to unsettle my fellow passenger on the plane to the States. But it is a great book that demonstrates how thrillers can be both well written and engrossing. Hardisty is a writer with a promising future ahead of him.

4. Sleeping Dogs by Thomas Mogford.sleepingdogs

Mogford made it into my top reads of 2014 and he’s done it again this year. His book featuring Gibraltar detective Spike Sanguinetti is written to a consistently high quality and Sleeping Dogs was set in a country I know well, Greece.

51KZmDXMg9L._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_5. The Undesired by Yrsa Sigurdardottir

Yrsa won the Petrona Award for translated Scandinavian crime fiction for her previous book, Silence of the Sea. The Undesired is a standalone thriller that managed to chill me to the denouement. Her endings, without giving any spoilers, can be brutal and she never flinches from exposing the worst of the human psyche.

6. Untouchable by Ava MarshUntouchable

A great debut by another writer who shows plenty of promise. Untouchable is the story of a London call girl who takes on the investigation of one of her fellow workers. A tightly written story that I’ve been telling all my friends to read.

So those are my highlights of 2015. I’ve got plenty to read over Christmas and New Year and I’m looking forward to bringing you more reviews in 2016. And if you want to find out which of these books was my outright favourite, sign up for my newsletter with the button on the right. All will be revealed next week.

Review: Thomas Mogford – Sleeping Dogs

sleepingdogsThomas Mogford is another of my favourite crime writers. Hollow Mountain was in my top five reads last year and he continues to write high quality crime fiction. For his latest book, Sleeping Dogs, he takes his Gibraltarian lawyer/detective to Corfu. It’s a nice change of scenery for the series and, given that I read it in Greece, a perfect holiday read.

Spike Sanguinetti is advised by a therapist to go on holiday to help eradicate some of the demons that have been tormenting him. He chooses to visit the house of his business partner on the wealthy north coast of Corfu. But his holiday is overshadowed by the death of the handsome Greek/Albanian Arben on the neighbouring estate owned by the wealthy Hoffman family. When the son of his hosts’s housekeeper is arrested for Arben’s murder, Spike reluctantly agrees to investigate the case. However lives are put at risk as domestic secrets and dynastic feuds ignite.

I’ve always been impressed by the evocation of the Gibraltar setting in Mogford’s books. It feels genuine even though I’ve never been to that part of the world. So it was interesting to read one of his narratives set somewhere I am familiar with: a Greek island. Mogford puts enough language and local flavour into descriptions of the place to bring alive the setting without it dominating the plot.

In Sleeping Dogs, as well as investigating the killing of Arben, there’s a focus on Spike’s domestic arrangements. This is first seen through his relationship with Charlie, the child he rescued in the previous book, Hollow Mountain, and then in Corfu as he attempts to resurrect his relationship with his childhood girlfriend Jessica.

The quality of Mogford’s writing once more shines through and he makes storytelling look effortless. Which I’m pretty sure isn’t the case. Once more Bloomsbury have produced a writer of quality crime fiction.

Thanks to Bloomsbury for my review copy.

My Top Five Reads of 2014

It’s been a strange reading year for me. I read less than I have done in a long while, mainly as I was concentrating on my own writing. It’s actually very hard to do both. I use Goodreads to log my reads and I know I finished 56 books this year which is around one a week.

There were, however, some gems amongst the books. What has surprised me is how much I’ve enjoyed novels written in the English language. You’ll see translated fiction in my list, of course, but I’ve discovered some amazing home-grown writers too.

It was hard to whittle the list down to my traditional five. I apologise for the male bias but that’s the way my reading went this year. I did think about having a top 10 instead. It would have been around a fifty-fifty male-female split. But it has been a ‘top five’ since Crimepieces started. And what’s Christmas without tradition?

1. Thomas Mogford – Hollow Mountain

TM

I’ve come to this series in the third book and I’d love to go back and read the earlier ones. Mogford is an excellent writer. The books are thrillers set in Gibraltar with a hard edge and excellent characterisation. The place comes alive in Mogford’s hands and I wish I’d discovered this author sooner.

 

2. Parker Bilal – The Ghost Runner

Parker Bilal

Another writer that I wish I’d read earlier. The Ghost Runner is set in the Egyptian desert and has the feel of a place existing on the margins of society. The protagonist is a stranger in a foreign country and there’s a feeling of isolation and otherness that make this book a special read.

 

3. K T Medina – White Crocodile

White-Crocodile-cover1

A debut novel set partly in Cambodia. The writing is excellent and a sense of menace dominates the narrative set amongst landmine clearance. I can’t wait to see what comes next from this talented writer.

 

4. Hans Olav Lahlum – The Human Flies

20140619-065221-24741563.jpg

Delightfully retro and with a tightly contained plot, Lahlum’s book was the star translation for me this year. Another writer that I can’t wait to read again.

 

5. Barry Forshaw – Euro Noir 

Euro noir

 

Not a crime novel but an essential guide to what’s available in translation from Europe. There are some excellent recommendations, particularly from countries largely undiscovered such as Greece and Romania. And I love the retro cover.

So a slightly different list than I expected at the start of the year. But that’s the joy of reading. The discovery of new books and writers. Do you agree with my choices? I’d love to hear.

 

CrimeFest: Friday’s Panels

It’s May and the sun is shining in Bristol so it must be time for CrimeFest. Traffic conspired against me on Thursday which meant I wasn’t able to attend any the panels that day. However, they have been ably written up by Ayo from Shots blog here.

IMG_0125Friday, however, was more successful and I attended the first panel of the day: Debut Authors – An Infusion of Fresh Blood featuring MJ Arlidge, Jake Woodhouse, Colette McBeth, Kate Griffin and Mason Cross. The panel introduced their protagonists and spoke about writers who had influenced their work. What was interesting was the extent to which their disparate backgrounds and influences are producing books which bring something new to the genre. I’m particularly looking forward to reading Kate Griffin’s Kitty Peck and the Music Hall Murders which features a seventeen year old trapeze artist as its heroine.

The second panel of the day was Murder Know No Boundaries which focused on both domestic and international crime fiction. Moderated by Anne Zouroudi, the international element was represented by Jeffrey Siger whose books are set on the Greek Island of Mykonos and Thomas Mogford whose Gibraltar based book, Hollow Mountain, I recently reviewed on this blog. On the home front, Mari Hannah and Steven Dunne write novels set in the North East of England and the East Midlands. Panellists brought in artefacts that had influenced their writing and discussed the implications of both writing as an outsider looking in at a different culture and of the tensions about writing about your own community.

crimefest_logo1The Modern Thriller panel featured Belinda Bauer, Chris Ewan, Helen Fitzgerald and Simon Kernick and was moderated by Doug Johnstone. I’m a huge fan of these writers and was fascinated by the debate on what differentiates a thriller from a crime novel. Immediacy and pace in the genre were discussed and it became clear that there is a lot of flexibility as to what constitutes a modern day thriller beyond the traditional whodunit.

My final panel of the day was an ‘In the Spotlight’ session featuring French crime writer Dominique Manotti and her translator, Ros Schwartz. They talked about the translation process and in particular the impact of film on readers’ expectations. Manotti writes in the present tense and she made a convincing case for why this tense works so well in French literature. Manotti is a wonderful example of how the personality of a writer can make you want to read their books. I’m catching with Manotti as soon as possible.

Tonight we’re announcing the winner of the 2014 Petrona Award. More about this on the blog tomorrow.

Review: Thomas Mogford – Hollow Mountain

TMThomas Mogford is an author that I’ve been meaning to try for a while but other priorities have got in the way. However, carrying out my resolve to move my reading to other parts of Europe, I picked up Hollow Mountain as I was attracted to its Gibraltar location. I’m glad I did because Mogford is a seriously good writer. He manages to combine tense plotting with excellent prose and has produced a book a cut above the ordinary crime thriller. I wish I’d tried his books earlier.

Lawyer Spike Sanguinetti is in Genoa looking for his missing ex-girlfriend who telephones him to say she doesn’t want to be found and that the lives of his family are at risk. Spike is called back to Gibraltar when his partner becomes the victim of a hit and run accident which may have been a result of him being deliberately targeted. Spike picks up his partner’s outstanding cases which include a missing husband and a salvage company looking for silver bullion in a wreck in the Straits. Both cases lead him into violent confrontation with those looking to protect their financial interests.

Gibraltar is a place that I know little about so it was fascinating to read the descriptions of the baking hot landscape with its lacklustre buildings and slightly bored tourists. The perennial conflict with the Spanish border is constantly referred to and adds to both the tension in the book and the sense of a place brought to life. The landscape plays an important role in the narrative and we get glimpses not only of the tourist Gibraltar populated with its Barbary apes but also of the local community struggling to make a decent life in sub-standard housing.

Hollow Mountain is fairly shocking in terms of its depictions of violence but the author has done well to strike a balance between making the brutality graphic without seeming gratuitous. Although I’ve started reading the series with book three, I’ll definitely look out for the earlier novels, given the quality of the prose. Mogford really is an excellent writer and reminds me a little of another talented author, Adrian McKinty.

Thanks to Bloomsbury for my review copy.