The Ice Swimmer – Kjell Ola Dahl

When a dead man is lifted from the freezing waters of Oslo Harbour just before Christmas, Detective Lena Stigersand’s stressful life suddenly becomes even more complicated. Not only is she dealing with a cancer scare, a stalker and an untrustworthy boyfriend, but it seems both a politician and Norway’s security services might be involved in the murder.

With her trusted colleagues, Gunnarstranda and Frølich, at her side, Lena digs deep into the case and finds that it not only goes to the heart of the Norwegian establishment, but it might be rather to close to her personal life for comfort.

Regular readers of this blog might recall that I reviewed Kjell Ola Dahl’s Faithless around this time last year (almost to the day – I should have gone earlier on the blog tour!).

The Ice Swimmer is the sixth book in his Oslo Detective series, again featuring our old friends Gunnarstranda and Frølich. But the case here really belongs to Lena Stigersand. A body is pulled out of the freezing waters of Oslo Harbour in the run-up to Christmas. But was it an accident, or was there something more sinister afoot?

Kjell Ola Dahl has delivered another classic slice of Nordic Noir with The Ice Swimmer. It’s dark and atmospheric, with a real sense of menace building up as the story unfolds. It was great to see Gunnarstranda and Frølich back in action, though they do take a back seat to Lena this time round. It’s her case and her dogged determination to see it through, often pushing close to, if not over, the limits her bosses set. I’d loved to have seen a little more of Frølich, but we can’t have everything!

Don Bartlett is on translation duties again, and the writing is once more punchy, with a brevity and clarity that’s instantly recongisable. Kjell Ola Dahl has a way with short, snappy sentences which took me a while to get into the style and rhythm of (as it did with Faithless), but as with the previous book, once the story really gets going, you’re hooked.

I loved the character of Lena. She’s complex and human and feels very real. I know that might sound like an odd thing to say – aren’t all characters supposed to be real? But I felt that she had something extra, an added depth to her character that I really enjoyed.

The Ice Swimmer is a great police procedural, with an added dash of political intrigue, shady goings-on at an international level but with a real, personal undercurrent. It’s a later book in the Oslo Detectives series, but could easily be read as a standalone.

If you like your Noir of the Nordic variety (and hey, who doesn’t?), this is an excellent addition to the genre. Highly recommended.

The Ice Swimmer by Kjell Ola Dahl is published by Orenda Books in April 2018.
Many thanks to Karen @OrendaBooks for the review copy and @AnneCater for inviting me onto the blog tour.

Void Black Shadow – Corey J. White

Mars Xi is a living weapon, a genetically-manipulated psychic supersoldier with a body count in the thousands, and all she wanted was to be left alone. People who get involved with her get hurt, whether by MEPHISTO, by her psychic backlash, or by her acid tongue. It’s not smart to get involved with Mars, but that doesn’t stop some people from trying.

The last time MEPHISTO came for Mars they took one of her friends with them. That was a mistake. A force hasn’t been invented that can stop a voidwitch on a rampage, and Mars won’t rest until she’s settled her debts.

This is the second book in Corey J. White’s Voidwitch Saga, the first being the splendid Killing Gravity (a ‘a kick-ass, whip-smart sci-fi short story/novella’). Book 2, Void Black Shadow continues in much the same vein. Mars Xi, genetically engineered psychic voidwitch is on a mission to retrieve one of her friends, and woe betide anyone who gets in her way.

The action is bloody, brutal and relentless. Mars is brilliantly acerbic and pissed off with anyone who gets between her and her target, which turns out to be 90% of the people we meet in this book. So much blood. So much mayhem. So much fun.

The writing style is punchy and taut, with no time wasted. This book is short and to the point (often brutally so – did I mention all the blood?), and unlike some of its contemporaries, doesn’t wallow around waiting for stuff to happen. It’s a gloriously refreshing thing. Devoured in a couple of sittings. Loved it. Bring on book 3

Void Black Shadow by Corey J. White was published in March 2018 by You can find Corey over at his website, or on twitter @cjwhite

I picked up Corey’s first book from a recommendation in Warren Ellis’ excellent email newsletter, Orbital Operations. He mentioned book 2 recently so I dashed off to order it, only to find out that previous me had already done so. I are so smart. 🙂

The Collector – Fiona Cummins

Published by Macmillan, January 2018
Source: provided by the author (thanks Fiona!)
Jakey escaped with his life and moved to a new town. His rescue was a miracle but his parents know that the Collector is still out there, watching, waiting…
Clara, the girl he left behind, is clinging to the hope that someone will come and save her.
Life has fallen apart for Clara’s mother as she starts to lose hope.
The Bone Collector has a new apprentice to take over his family’s legacy. But he can’t forget the boy who got away and the detective who had destroyed his dreams.
Detective Etta Fitzroy’s life collapsed when the Collector escaped. With Clara still missing, and a new wave of uncannily similar murders beginning, will she be able to find him again?
The Collector is back and this time he has nothing to lose …

I loved Fiona Cummins’ first book, Rattle. It was splendidly creepy with a fantastic serial killer, full of twists and turns. Great stuff! The Collector sees a return of the Bone Collector, thwarted by Detective Etta Fitzroy, and now looking for revenge. Except this time he’s got help…

The story picks up not long after the events of Rattle. Jakey has moved to a new town with his family, but is convinced that he sees a familiar shadow. Detective Fitzroy is convinced that Clara is still alive, and there are a number of creepily similar murders happening.

Great characters, gripping plot and just a fantastic story. I rattled through (sorry) The Collector in the course of a day. Definitely a page-turner, one more chapter sort of a book, Fiona Cummins has a knack for ratcheting up the tension a notch further than you think possible, until the breathtaking final third, where she just turns the dial all the way up to eleven.

The Collector is one of the more memorable serial killers I’ve read for quite some time, and it’s fascinating to see part of the story from his point of view – it’s disturbing and twisted, but well thought out – he’s not just killing for the sake of it, he has his own, albeit warped, reasoning for doing what he does.

The other characters are all equally well drawn too, there’s no dead weight here. Everyone is in play for a reason, and they certainly take you on a rollercoaster ride through the book.

Highly recommended, though you definitely need to read Rattle first! You won’t regret it though.

The Collector by Fiona Cummins is published by Macmillan, and is out now. You can find Fiona on twitter @FionaAnnCummins.

Killed – Thomas Enger

Published by Orenda Books, February 2018
Source: review copy
Crime reporter Henning Juul thought his life was over when his young son was murdered. But that wasonly the beginning…

Determined to find his son’s killer, Henning doggedly follows an increasingly dangerous trail, where dark hands from the past emerge to threaten everything. His ex-wife Nora is pregnant with another man’s child, his sister Trine is implicated in the fire that killed his son and, with everyone he thought he could trust seemingly hiding something, Henning has nothing to lose … except his own life.
Packed with tension and unexpected twists, Killed is the long-awaited finale of one of the darkest, most chilling and emotive series you may ever read. Someone will be killed. But who?

Last year I reviewed Thomas Enger’s Cursed. I said at the time that Cursed was

… dark and riveting, with a plot which zigs and zags through a twisting landscape of suspense, truth and lies. Brutal in places, but beautifully layered and plotted.

I also met Mr Enger at the Orenda Roadshow back in February last year, amused to see that we’d both gone for a blue shirt/jumper ensenble. 🙂

Killed, the fifth and final book in the Henning Juul series, follows on directly from Cursed. Henning is still on the hunt for his son’s killers and the investigation weaves its way along a path once again strewn with half-truths, red herrings and dead ends. Henning is not a man to be deterred in his quest, uncovering clues as we go on this one last journey with him. And what a journey it is.

Thomas Enger has given us a veritable smörgåsbord of memorable characters, not least of which is Henning Juul himself. He does rather seem to enjoy putting them through the wringer though! I was very grateful for the list of characters which Thomas presented at the start of the book! I found myself flicking back to remind myself who was who at the start of the book. Very useful!

Killed is quite a journey, and the title does give away that not everyone makes it to the end. It’s often brutal, but never gratuitously so, and we are rewarded handsomely with some answers to the questions which have been dogging us for so long.

Farewell, Henning Juul. I’ve enjoyed our time together. Now I just need a little lie-down to recover.

Killed, by Thomas Enger is published by Orenda Books on 28th February 2018. You can find Thomas on twitter @EngerThomas
Many thanks to Karen @OrendaBooks for the review copy and @AnneCater for inviting me onto the blog tour.

Granite Noir fest 2017. Thomas Enger.

Thomas Enger is a former journalist. He made his debut with the
crime novel Burned (Skinndød) in 2010, which became an international
sensation before publication. Burned is the first in a series of 5 books about the journalist Henning Juul, which delves into the depths of Oslo’s underbelly, skewering the corridors of dirty politics and nailing the fast-moving world of 24-hour news. Rights to the series have been sold to 26 countries to date. In 2013 Enger published his first book for young adults, a dark fantasy thriller called The Evil Legacy, for which he won the U-prize (best book Young Adult). Enger also composes music, and he lives in Oslo.

Senlin Ascends – Josiah Bancroft

Published by Orbit Books, January 2018
Source: review copy
The Tower of Babel is the greatest marvel in the world. Immense as a mountain, the ancient Tower holds unnumbered ringdoms, warring and peaceful, stacked one on the other like the layers of a cake. It is a world of geniuses and tyrants, of airships and steam engines, of unusual animals and mysterious machines.

Soon after arriving for his honeymoon at the Tower, the mild-mannered headmaster of a small village school, Thomas Senlin, gets separated from his wife, Marya, in the overwhelming swarm of tourists, residents, and miscreants.

Senlin is determined to find Marya, but to do so he’ll have to navigate madhouses, ballrooms, and burlesque theaters. He must survive betrayal, assassination, and the long guns of a flying fortress. But if he hopes to find his wife, he will have to do more than just endure.

This quiet man of letters must become a man of action.

Senlin Ascends is an astonishing book, but not an easy one. The worldbuilding is incredible, and Bancroft’s Tower of Babel must rank up there with the best of literary wonderlands. It’s an intriguing concept, a tower which scrapes the sky, built of many ‘ringdoms’. Each level of the tower is its own little microcosm of life, each one startlingly different from the last, yet linked together by the tale of the titular Thomas Senlin on the hunt for his missing wife.

Thomas and Marya are honeymooning at the Tower when they are separated in the throng of tourists in the market which skirts the tower’s base. Thomas hopes that she will make her way to their hotel on the third floor, so sets off in pursuit. What follows is one of the… odder stories I’ve read for a very long time.

I must confess that I struggled a little with the beginning of Senlin Ascends. The style takes a little getting used to, and it wasn’t quite what I was expecting (though I’d hesitate to say exactly what that might be). A case of the wrong book at the wrong time, perhaps, as I picked it back up again recently and ploughed through Senlin’s ascent at quite a rate. It’s easy to empathise with Senlin’s quest, though I found myself wanting to tell him to stop faffing about quite so much and get on with tracking down his beloved Marya rather than having quite so many interesting (though time-consuming) adventures!

Senlin is a fascinating character, though initially one which it’s rather hard to actually like. He does grow on you over the course of his ascent, and by the end of this, the first book, you find yourself rather rooting for him in his quest. Handily book 2 arrived just this morning, so I don’t have *too* long to wait.

The Arm of the Sphinx is out in mid-March, so you’ve just got time to rattle through Senlin Ascends before that arrives. I’d get going though, it’s a long climb…

Huge thanks to Nazia Khatum (@gambit589) and Orbit Books for the review copy of Senlin Ascends and The Arm of the Sphinx. Keep your eyes peeled for a review of that soon!

Force of Nature – Jane Harper

Published by Little, Brown, February 2018
Source: review copy
When five colleagues are forced to go on a corporate retreat in the wilderness, they reluctantly pick up their backpacks and start walking down the muddy path.

But one of the women doesn’t come out of the woods. And each of her companions tells a slightly different story about what happened.

Federal Police Agent Aaron Falk has a keen interest in the whereabouts of the missing hiker. In an investigation that takes him deep into isolated forest, Falk discovers secrets lurking in the mountains, and a tangled web of personal and professional friendship, suspicion, and betrayal among the hikers. But did that lead to murder?

Jane Harper’s first book, The Dry, was one of my favourite books of 2017, and featured highly in my criminally good books list of the year. I’ve pestered an awful lot of people to read it over the course of the year, and have been delighted to see friends reading it, and even moreso to find out that they too loved it.

I’m pleased to say that with Force of Nature, Jane Harper has delivered another cracking read. It’s a different beast, moving from the arid, drought-ravaged tight-knit farming community of Kiewarra to an outward bounds retreat in the rain-drenched forests of the Giralang Range. The setting couldn’t be more different, but the sense of place is still vividly drawn.

It’s the second outing for Harper’s policeman, Aaron Falk, and this time he’s helping look for a missing hiker who’s playing a key role in an ongoing investigation into underhand goings-on at the firm she works for. Five women set out for a weekend of corporate-sponsored teambuilding, but only four return. What exactly happened out there, and where is Alice? Only four women return, and each of them has a slightly different story.

I really liked the way that Harper layers the story in Force of Nature, starting with a mysterious middle-of-the-night phone call from Alice to Falk which drags him and his partner Carmen up to the retreat at the head of the trail where the women set off. We then jump back a couple of days to the start of the weekend, where the five women from very different backgrounds set off, some more reluctantly than others, on their adventure. The story plays out like this – Falk and Carmen investigating in the present, and the women’s story in flashbacks, each time uncovering a little more of what happened.

Force of Nature kept me guessing right up to the last – a couple of times I thought I’d called it, only for another sliver of information to upset my theory. It didn’t quite hit the lofty heights of The Dry for me, but Force of Nature is a splendid read, and I highly recommend it. It goes without saying (but I’m going to anyway) that if you’ve not read The Dry, you should get that too!

Force of Nature is published by Little, Brown and is out now.
Many thanks to @LittleBrownUK and @kimberleynyam for having me on the blog tour.

You can find Jane Harper on Twitter @janeharperautho

Slow Horses – Mick Herron

Published by John Murray
Source: own copy
Slough House is a dumping ground for British intelligence agents who’ve screwed up a case in any number of ways—by leaving a secret file on a train or blowing a surveillance. River Cartwright, one such “slow horse,” is bitter about his failure and about his tedious assignment transcribing cell phone conversations.

When a young man is abducted and his kidnappers threaten to broadcast his beheading live on the Internet, River sees an opportunity to redeem himself.

Is the victim who he first appears to be? And what’s the kidnappers’ connection with a disgraced journalist? As the clock ticks on the execution, River finds that everyone has his own agenda.

I’d heard a lot of good things about Mick Herron’s Slow Horses, so when I saw him on one of the panels at Hull Noir last year, I took the opportunity to pick up a copy and get him to sign it for me.

Slow Horses opens with a scene at King’s Cross station, where we follow River Cartwright in pursuit of a suspect. It’s an incredible opening, with a deft hand for detail and tension. What follows is the story of the ‘slow horses’, sidelined to the nondescript Slough House, each a failure of sorts, put out to pasture where they can cause the least harm.

Slough House is filled with some brilliant characters, not least their leader and chief misfit, the unforgettable Jackson Lamb. I’ve read a fair few thrillers and have never come across his like. Grumpy, sarcastic and almost entirely unpleasant, Lamb is a fabulous character who’ll grow on you over the course of the book, whilst still maintaining his gruff, unkempt and almost entirely unpleasant exterior. But there’s more going on beneath – Lamb is a smart, savvy character who will quite happily eat you for breakfast before breaking wind and sloping off for an actual breakfast.

The story is also first-rate – a young man is kidnapped and his captors are threatening to broadcast his beheading live on the internet. ‘Five’ at Regents Park are on the case, but will Lamb and his slow horses pip them at the post?

Gritty, dark and shot through with a beautifully dark wit, Slow Horses is one not to be missed. Utterly brilliant, and I’ll be racing through the rest of Mick Herron’s back catalogue to get ready for book five, London Rules which is out now.