Monthly Archives: February 2012

Revenge of the Red Square (Featuring Hymie Goldman, the Defective Detective) by The Penny Brothers

Published by Matador

In the world of Hymie Goldman, failed electrician cum defective detective, nothing is ever as it seems. Hired by a man with no face to find a man with no name, he soon becomes embroiled in a bitter feud between two rival organisations intent in destroying each other and the planet. Can he save the world? Will he ever get anywhere with the luscious Ruby? And where did he leave that Quark bomb? These are just some of the questions he will surely never answer….

It’s very rare that a crime fiction book makes me smile along as I’m reading it, and even rarer that I’d find myself reading a crime book with a recommendation on the cover from June Whitfield (I can’t recall her quotes ever appearing on an Ian Rankin or Harlan Coben book).

But this is old school fun, with an inept Detective and sidekick, an equally useless Magician and his assistant and a couple of questionable sinister (dis)organisations thrown into the mix.

The Red Square is out to destroy The Magic Triangle and they have a deadly bomb at their disposal – you don’t really need to know much more than that, as it’s the humorous characters and situtations along the way that carry the book rather than the plot.  With less violence that Eoin Colfer’s recent ‘Plugged’ and aimed higher than the children’s reads by Anthony Horowitz (The Falcon’s Malteser etc), this is just a nice little fun read.

Peppered with jokes on familiar and less familiar names, of which some work and others don’t – I can’t imagine many readers will remember Victor Kiam (I can hear you googling him right now), others are more obvious; Tim Wotherspoon and Tex Avery to name just a couple, and I wondered if these name-checks should have been reined in a bit as there are a lot of them.

I loved one sequence in particular, where a driver is selected to drive the Christmas parade float after discovering that everyone else has had a few too many to drink, and the ensuing race through London. And the description of Fleet services is something that will remain with me and will be recalled whenever I have the (mis)fortune to be there next.

A good light-hearted break from the norm – and, like the best comedies, nobody really gets hurt (too much).

Buy your copy here.

Keith

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Advent by James Treadwell

Published by Hodder & Stoughton.

A clash of young and old, of ancient magic and burgeoning wisdom; a tumultuous struggle fo survival; a search for love, truth and a place in the world; a coming of age; a leave taking, and an arrival.

It has begun . . .

Gavin has given up on the adults in his life, and they’ve given up on him. His father appears to hate him, his mother is scared of him, his teachers think maybe he should be in a different school. What he has is a gift – one he neither wants or understands. At fifteen, his closest friend and confidante is the mysterious Miss Grey, although he has also given up trying to talk to people about her as it only seems to upset them. Turned out of school, and not included in his parents’ holiday plans, he catches a train to what might be his last haven; is aunt Gwen in Cornwall.

However, she is not there to meet him. Instead the weather is turning bad, and unnerving things are stirring.

Cast into a world of strangers, Gavin finds people less unlike him than anyone he’s met before . . . that is until he encounters some who aren’t people at all.

In 1537, Johann Faust, last and greatest of all magicians, lost a priceless ring in a shipwreck. In it was bound up all the world’s magic. For nearly 500 years we’ve lived without it; but now, in 2011, magic is coming back. And so is Faust . . . As the storm worsens, and unimaginable beings gather round the ring’s hiding place, Gavin will find himself caught in the middle of an ancient conflict, soon to learn the truth about himself and his gift: the gift of all the magic in the world

Sounds great doesn’t it?

And, for the most part it is, but for me there was just a little too much of it. Racking up just over 400 pages for this first part of a trilogy just felt overwritten to me at times, it has a great premise and great opening with Gavin heading to Cornwall on the train and the strange encounters he has just on the journey alone, and a great action and horror filled end section which sets the stage for book 2 nicely, it just felt too baggy in the middle to me.

I’m sure that it’s a problem with my tastes rather than the book itself, however, as it’s getting great reviews on the whole and I’m sure that fantasy/magic book fans will lap this up and, in fantasy fiction, you can’t go wrong with a trilogy of huge books which feature wizardry and rings, right?

To order a copy, go here.

Keith

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The Goldsmith’s Secret by Elia Barcelo

Published by MacLehose Press (Quercus).

One snowy night in New York City, a successful, solitary goldsmith reflects on his life, and his unreliable memories intertwine and collide. Journeying to the village in Spain where he grew up, he hopes with some trepidation that he will encounter Celia, ‘the Black Widow’, a beautiful and mysterious friend of his mother with whom he had a short and passionate affair when he was a teenager. But instead he meets a young woman who opens doors into an unimagined world, and takes him back in time. The Goldsmith’s Secret is a remarkable story of a love trapped between two parallel times, set in Spain in the 1950s, 1970s and in the last year of the twentieth century. In beautifully economical prose, and with a structure as intricate and refined as a bevelled jewel, The Goldsmith’s Secret is alight with intense nostalgia, memories and desires. Elia Barcelo has come to be recognized across Europe as a truly original voice, and her books as poetic works of great subtlety.

 
Elia Barcelό was born in Alicante in 1957 and teaches Spanish Language and Literature at the University of Innsbruck. She has been awarded many prizes for her works of science fiction, but with Heart of Tango (MacLehose Press, 2010) she is fast gaining the wider readership that her fiction richly deserves. David Frye’s translations include The Mangy Parrot by José Joaquín Fernandez de Lizardi, and Thine Is the Kingdom (1999) and Distant Palaces (2004) by Cuban novelist Abilio Estévez.
 
A lesson in ‘less is more’, The Goldsmith’s Secret is a lovely little volume of reflection on the central character’s life and love, with a narrative to keep the reader on his or her toes as it flits from Spain to New York and back again several times, taking in the man’s life in those places and in the times he was there.  Like reading an intimate diary of a man’s love for a woman and for his own life. This won’t be a read suited to all, but for this reader it made a refreshing change to read something quite so poetic.

You can discover The Goldsnith’s Secret for yourself here.

Keith

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A Good and Useful Hurt by Aric Davies

Published by 47North

Wow! – What a great read this one was…

Mike is a tattoo artist running his own shop, and Deb is the piercing artist he hires to round out the motley crew at his studio of four. The last thing either expects is romance, but that’s exactly what happens when they follow their off-kilter careers and love lives into complete and total disaster.

When Mike follows a growing trend and tattoos the ashes of deceased loved ones into several customers’ tattoos, he has no idea that it will one day provide the solution—and solace—he will sorely need. And when the life of a serial killer tragically collides with the lives of those in the tattoo shop, Mike and Deb will stop at nothing in their quest for revenge, even if it means stepping outside the known boundaries of life and death. Ink that is full of crematory ashes, a sociopathic killer, and pain in its most raw form – this is going to hurt.

It’s great to get to read the latest from the heavy hitters in crime fiction whilst doing this book blog, but sometimes it’s the new names. the fresh talent, that leads to the best surprises and the most exciting discoveries along the way. For me it happened with authors like John Rector and Ryan David Jahn, and it’s happened again here with Aric Davies.

I found the central character of Mike and his motley crew of workers in his tattoo studio a really likeable bunch and connected with them immediately, despite the fact that they inhabit a world of which I know nothing. After a previous tragedy in his life, Deb comes along to give Mike’s life new purpose and then breaks his heart in one of the most traumatic events I have experienced in a book for a long time. I’d fallen in love with Deb along with Mike, which made the sudden darkness all the harder to bear.

The theme of customers wanting something of their loved ones mixed in with their tattoos is at first a sickening thought but soon becomes something that you will accept as a great comfort to those left behind, providing them with ghosts of their beloved and Mike’s use of those ghosts to help trace a vicious serial killer is, as the title states, A good and useful hurt.

For a novel that could easily have gone down the shlock horror route, it’s full of human compassion – I was particularly struck by the regular comment of how wrong it is that serial killer’s names are rarely forgotten and yet their victims pass and their names are rarely remembered, except in extreme cases of celebrity such as Sharon Tate.

Aric Davies, a tattoo artist himself and a man who sat in fear in his own home whilst serial killer Rodrick Dantzler killed victims in his own street, has clearly put his all into this novel and I am very keen to read more of his work soon.

Keith

Order your kindle copy here.

 

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The Little One by Lynda La Plante

Published by Simon & Schuster

Out this month as part of the latest batch of Galaxy sponsored ‘Quick Reads’, The Little One is an apt title for such a brief tale. 124 pages would be no where near sufficient for many writers to achieve such a tension filled and outright creepy tale. But in the hands of Lynda La Plante I think her years of working in television have clearly given her such a rich visual shorthand that she pulls it off with huge success here.

Barbara needs a story. A struggling journalist, she tricks her way into the home of former soap star Margaret Reynolds. Desperate for a scoop on the actress and her return to stardom, she finds instead a terrified woman living alone in a creepy manor house. A piano plays in the night, footsteps run overhead, doors slam in dark corners. The nights are full of strange noises. Barbara thinks there may be a child living upstairs, unseen. Who looks after her? And why is she kept out of sight?

Little by little, actress Margaret’s haunting story of broken promises is revealed, and Barbara is left with a chilling discovery.

This book comes along at just the right time – it’s perfect for a chilly winter’s night quick read or a late train journey home from the office, but you will want to keep a light on afterwards, you will question every creak from your house as you lay there trying to sleep.

Clearly Lynda La Plante is known well for her tough female characters in Prime Suspect, Trial & Retribution, Widows and the Anna Travis series of books but, on this evidence, she can wield a pretty damn good supernatural pen too. The sounds from the rooms above in the house sent me back to another great read from last year ‘The Hunting Ground’ by Cliff McNish and, with the eery image of the rocking horse on the cover and the whole haunted home theme it’s a timely read for anyone wanting more of similar ghostly themes after viewing The Woman in Black this week.

Hell ! – It’s Lynda La Plante, it’s damn good scary stuff, and it’s only £1.99 – what are you hanging around here for?

Read and sleep well…

Keith

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Hollow Pike by James Dawson

Published by Indigo / Orion.

A killer is out there, and the birds see everything…

Lis London is hoping for a fresh start when she arrives in the sleepy village of Hollow Pike.

But nothing here is as it seems…and a killer stalks the night.

 

 

 

SOMETHING WICKED THIS WAY COMES…

She thought she’d be safe in the country, but you can’t escape your own nightmares, and Lis London dreams repeatedly that someone is trying to kill her.

Lis thinks she’s being paranoid – after all who would want to murder her?

She doesn’t believe in the local legends of witchcraft. She doesn’t believe that anything bad will really happen to her. You never do, do you?

Not until you’re alone in the woods, after dark – and a twig snaps…

With one of the most striking covers I’ve seen in a long time, Hollow Pike suggested everything from gothic mystery, witchcraft and, with its flocking birds imagery the possibility that this would be akin to Stephen King’s The Dark Half.

Although I will be honest and say it was not quite the book I was expecting, it was a great read and kept me guessing throughout as to where the tale was to turn – and when it did it was an unexpected and smart twist.

Its a tale of Lis London and her initial struggling to fit in when she arrives at Hollow Pike, wanting to be in with the right crowd at a time in her life when she and those around her are seeking to find their way in life, their place in the world, to find their allegiances and to confirm their sexuality. The school setting and the seeking of acceptance made me think of the movies ‘Heathers’ and, on more of a witchcraft theme, ‘The Craft’. The author mentions another movie ‘Mean Girls’ within the book, which I haven’t seen, but I’m guessing that also had an influence.

When Laura Rigg is murdered, following a staged attack by a group of pupils from the school as a prank, the tone shifts from cruel bullying and vying for popularity to what is, in every sense of the word, a witchhunt.

Comment is made at several points to ‘The Crucible’, both Arthur Miller’s novel and the movie adaptation starring Winona Ryder, and there are clear parallels and, after closing Hollow Pike, reading the Crucible would make a great companion read.

Dark and brooding – beware the woods… 

And, you can order Hollow Pike here.

Keith

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Pantheon by Sam Bourne

Published by Harper Collins on 16th February

Britain, 1940.

A son needs his father.

A country needs a hero.

Europe is ablaze. America is undecided about joining the fight against Nazism. And James Zennor, a brilliant, troubled young Oxford Don is horrified. He returns one morning from rowing to discover that his wife has disappeared with their young son, leaving only a note declaring her continuing love.

A frantic search through wartime England leads James across the Atlantic and to one of America’s greatest universities, its elite clubs and secret societies – right to the heart of the American establishment. And in his hunt for his family, James unearths one of the darkest and deadliest secrets of a world at war …

Pantheon had me gripped for its 400 pages in just two sittings over two nights. From the opening scenes I became lost in the vivid description as James Zennor is rowing, dealing with his shoulder injury from the Spanish conflict and reflecting on the loss of his best friend Harry in the same battle. But he continues to row, knowing that he must push himself, knowing that other men are fighting for their lives against Nazi forces to keep England safe for families like his.

When he returns home to find his family have gone, leaving a simple ‘I Love You’ note the reasons for their disappearance begin to reveal themselves in the ugliest of possible scenarios as he is told by a family friend that his wartime nightmares have probably caused his wife Florence to flee and take their son Harry (named after his old friend) away from him. Although James knows that in a moment of madness he placed his two year old son at risk near a boiling kettle, the fact that he has woken screaming in the night and was found standing and holding a knife in the darkness is all terrifying news to him.

Seeking the truth as to why they have gone and investigating where they may have fled to launches James on an adventure that takes him to underground passageways under libraries, to Liverpool, further afield on a ship bound for Canada and then on to Yale University to seek the truth. Along the way he is helped by some, delayed on purpose by others and realises that he is very much alone in his quest for reasons to be found. The wartime details in the novel all add to the experience and I was right alongside James throughout the book. Towns removing street and station name signs so as to totally confuse invading Nazis should they arrive was one such note, meaning that station staff then had to shout the name of the station to passengers on arriving trains.

The nagging worry about just what is behind the transferring of a group of mothers and their children from Oxford to Yale is a dark and sinister premise and, though I had a reasonable idea fairly on as to what was likely to be going on, there were still more than sufficient fictional bombshells along the route to keep me entertained and, at times, open-mouthed in shock.

Pantheon is a book with a horrible premise, events that ultimately affect whether or not America was to step in and help England in the war and provides the central character with a very tough judgement call to make as he gets closest to finding his family.

The author’s notes at the end of the book make for additional fascinating reading and I was amazed at just how many of the events in the novel are so strongly based on fact – a close to the book that just added to how disturbing the central idea was.

If you love a wartime based thriller, then Pantheon will certainly not disappoint. And if, like me, you are guilty of rarely picking one up, then you really should, as this is such a pacey, exciting and thrilling read.

Keith

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The Glass Room by Ann Cleeves

Published by Macmillan – Out now !

Vera Stanhope’s back and now, thanks to the hit television show VERA, it’s nigh on impossible to read The Glass Room without seeing Brenda Blethyn as the pie and cake-scoffing Detective Inspector.

With this fifth book in the series, Vera and her author are clearly taking things very much in their stride and sit together well to provide a well-crafted and thoroughly enjoyable crime tale. The second series of the ITV show is due to hit screens and, coupled with this latest book installment, is sure to lead to an even bigger fanbase than Ann Cleeves already deservedly enjoys.

It’s written in blood . . .

DI Vera Stanhope is not one to make friends easily, but her hippy neighbours keep her well-supplied in homebrew and conversation so she has more tolerance for them than most. When one of them goes missing she feels duty bound to find out what happened.

It’s an easy job to track the young woman down to the Writer’s House, a country retreat where aspiring authors gather to work through their novels. It gets complicated when a body is discovered and Vera’s neighbour is found with a knife in her hand.

There seems to be no motive. No meaning to the crime. Then another body is found, and Vera suspects that someone is playing games with her. Somewhere there is a killer who has taken murder off the page and is making it real . . .

Writers writing about writers or writing is nothing new and it’s a path well trodden by some of the biggest hitters in fiction. Stephen King is no stranger to this area, often having troubled novelists as his central characters, Val McDermid gave us a great crime writers in peril novel with ‘Killing the Shadows’ and recently Andrew Pyper gave us the excellent ‘The Killing Circle’ about a small writing group. And now, Ann Cleeves steps up and stands proudly alongside all of those with a case of clearly writing what she knows – and knows very well indeed. With an almost Agatha Christie-like scenario of having regular gatherings amongst the writers assembled in the house to discuss who may have been responsible for the killings and with Vera, along with her trusty sidekick, Joe Ashworth, playing the extra resident in the room to ask the questions and carry out her investigations.

With a well drawn cast of wannabe writers, an ex-copper, published writers and those within the publishing world, she provides a great range of possible suspects and I was very impressed at how the plot remained so taut and unbreakable until literally the closing pages. I found the book to be incredibly natural in its storytelling and the actions and dialogues of the characters – even at the moments when Vera is struggling to speak around a mouthful of pie.

Thoroughly enjoyable crime fiction.

Buy it here.

Keith

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I Will Have Vengeance by Maurizio De Giovanni

Published by Hersilia Press – out on 16th February

Naples, March 1931: A bitter wind stalks the city’s streets, and murder lies at its chilled heart.

As one of the world’s greatest tenors, Maestro Vezzi, is found brutally murdered in his dressing room at Naples’ famous San Carlo Theatre, the enigmatic and aloof Commissario Ricciardi is called in to investigate. Arrogant and bad-tempered, Vezzi was hated by many, but with the livelihoods of the opera at stake, who would have committed this callous act? Ricciardi, along with his loyal colleague, Maione, is determined to discover the truth. But Ricciardi carries his own secret: will it help him solve this murder?

My first read from Hersilia Press and this title (originally published in Italy in 2007) is a great discovery of theirs and with a central character who won the author a writing competition which set him on the path to publication with this series. It matters not one iota if you know anything about opera to appreciate the book and its cast of characters, many of whom are at risk of losing their jobs and livelihoods dependent on the outcome of the investigation. Rattling along and clocking in at a little over 200 pages this is a great read. I loved the character of Commissario Ricciardi – a man who carries all of the ghosts of past crimes along with him, haunted by them often as he goes about his investigation in much the same way as they appeared to Bruce Willis in the Sixth Sense movie and with such detailed images in the novel that will haunt me for a long time to come.

So, go seek out the tale that has haunted me this week.

Order your copy here , or go here to download the first chapter.

Keith

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The Other Life by Susanne Winnacker

Published by Usborne

From its butterfly cover to the blurb ‘Danger isn’t the only thing that makes your heart beat faster…’ I must confess I was a little concerned I was stepping into teen romantic fiction once again with this new YA debut from Susanne Winnacker. But, despite being concerned most of the way through the book that suddenly things would take a sudden diversion into full-on youthful passion, I’m pleased to report that the elements of first love within the dystopian world of LA in no way get in the way of a damn good story full of action, horror and a significant amount of gore along the way.

The central character of Sherry has been entrapped within a bunker with her family for 3 years, 1 month, 1 week and 6 days before she has to venture outside with her father in search of food. The eerie wasteland of what remains of LA awaits them, along with a distinct lack of people. But there are nests – nests full of vicious Weepers – a fantastic creation, as varied in type and appearance as dogs, many very close still to the human form which they once took and all with blazing yellow eyes leaking milky tears at all times. Her father is snatched away by the creatures, leaving Sherry to fend for herself a while until she finds Joshua and his family, who have set up their base in Safe Haven with other survivors of the viral outbreak. They are then faced with challenges – to find Sherry’s father, and to get back to the shelter to move the remaining members of Sherry’s family – one of whom, her grandfather, is unable to give anything but a chilly reception to any that meet him.

The element of creatures formed from what were once humans is a key element to the book, providing the horrific and painful combination of kill or be killed that has for many years been a staple of the best in horror fiction and films (Richard Matheson’s ‘I Am Legend’ and the recent tv show ‘The Walking Dead’ immediately sprung to mind). The other adult title it bears great comparison to in recent years would be Justin Cronin’s ‘The Passage’ but ‘The Other Life’ manages to capture the same themes, horror and the want to read more after closing the covers within far fewer pages than that doorstopper.

Ending perfectly, but in a way that can easily lead to a second book (which I hope isn’t long in coming), ‘The Other Life’ is just like real life in that it leaves us with nagging questions and wanting to know more and yet, upon finishing the book and settling to sleep, it will stay with you as your mind races to provide a closure for the characters and their story.

Open your shelter door, check carefully around you, and then run – run to the bookshops and buy – after all, this is a guide to survival.

Keith

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