Book month: Favourite crime

Over the past couple of years I’ve started reading a lot more crime fiction than I used to, due mainly to this blog. I’d dabbled in the past, but never really got into it.

Early dabblings included Patricia Cornwell’s Scarpetta novels, the early of which are pretty good. John Grisham’s The Firm was (and indeed is) splendid, but perhaps is more of the thriller than straight-out crime. A friend introduced me to Kinky Friedman’s Crime Club, with its eponymous loft-dwelling, cigar-smoking, espresso-guzzling private dick for hire in NYC, with a great line in one-liners.

I think that one of the first crime books I reviewed on espresso coco was Gunnar Staalesen’s We Shall Inherit The Wind, from Orenda Books, kick-starting a love affair with Nordic Noir. I followed it up with Murder in Malmö, by Torquil MacLeod.

I think the book which really kicked off my love of crime fiction again must have to be Snowblind, by Ragnar Jónasson. I loved Snowblind, it was dark and atmospheric and wonderfully vivid in depicting life in a small coastal town in northern Iceland. You got a real sense of the place and the people who inhabited it. Followed up by Nightblind, Ragnar’s Dark Iceland series is fantastic, and I highly recommend it.

 

 

Next up is Black Night Falling, by Rod Reynolds
Black Night Falling is a dark and deeply atmospheric thriller and Rod evokes the time and place (Arkansas in the 1940’s) of the story beautifully and there’s a wonderfully gritty, noir feel. Rod certainly knows how to tangle a plot, expertly draping it with red herrings which leave you guessing. Highly recommended.

 

 

 

The Dry, by Jane Harper
The first book I read in 2017, The Dry is a gritty, superbly atmospheric crime noir where the heat and tension in the small tight-knit community practically ooze off the page and the pages demand to be turned. Jane Harper weaves a net of intrigue packed with twists and turns, secrets and lies more than the odd red herring along the way. There’s a deft sleight of hand going on as the plot unfolds leaving you thinking that you’ve finally figured it out, only for the cards to be turned over one by one and, of course, the lady has vanished.

Six Stories, by Matt Wesolowski
Six Stories is unlike anything I’ve read before. Told in the form of six episodes of a Serial-style podcast, we delve into the mysterious events at Scarclaw Fell twenty years ago when a young boy goes missing and is ultimately found dead.

Each episode is an interview with one of the group of friends who were there that evening, and Matt deftly weaves an intricate, multi-layered plot, letting us in on one secret at a time. And there are so many secrets…

It’s an astonishingly confident and compelling novel, all the more impressive for being a debut. Matt manages to capture the distinct voices of the cast of characters perfectly, with all of their teenage angst and worries, the shifting group dynamics and emotions.

Six Stories is dark and disturbing in places, with an unsettling feeling of dread creeping up as you delve further into the story and the events on Scarclaw Fell.

The Man Who Died, by Antti Tuomainen

Next up is another Orenda author. Antti Tuomainen, King of Finnish Noir and owner of some quite splendid shirts. The Man Who Died is a departure from his usual Helsinki Noir, and is a sheer delight. Perhaps he has created a new genre, Mushroom Noir?

It’s delightfully different – here we have a man who knows that he’s been (or being) poisoned, and sets out to solve his own murder. The cast of suspects is fairly short, and Jaakko does like making lists. Could it be his wife? The strange characters at the shiny new mushroom processing plant in town? Or the Japanese clients?

Jaakko follows the trail around town as he investigates, coming across a whole bunch of fabulous characters who wouldn’t be out of place in an episode of Fargo. The humour in The Man Who Died is layered and oh so very dark and exactly the way I like it. Superb.

2. Tall Oaks, by Chris Whitaker

May 2017 and I find myself with a copy of Tall Oaks on my kindle (blame falling firmly on the shoulders of @lizzy11268) I settled in for a story of a small town and a missing child, thinking that I’d read stories like this before.

How wrong I was. Tall Oaks is a beautifully wrought tale of small town America, shot through with a deft line in wit and with what were to become some of my favourite characters in a book, ever. Manny and Abe, I’m looking at you.

The characters in Tall Oaks all have their story to tell, and what stories they are. There’s a real depth to these people, quirks, secrets and lies playing out over the days and weeks following the disappearance of three year-old Harry.

The sense of small town America seeps through the pages of this book and I was surprised to find out that Chris Whitaker is, in fact, British – born in London and living in Hertfordshire and yet has captured the feel of the town so brilliantly. What’s even more astonishing is that this is a debut novel – the writing, plotting and characterisation are confident and accomplished.

Utterly brilliant.

I said at the time “if this is just the start of Chris’s writing career, I cannot wait to see what he comes up with next.”

What Chris came up with next turned out to be my favourite crime book of 2017. And that, my friend, was a phenomenally strong field.

All The Wicked Girls, by Chris Whitaker

I thought Tall Oaks was good. Tall Oaks *was* good. Great, in fact. How could Chris top that? The bar had been set pretty high.

All The Wicked Girls is so utterly brilliant, though in a different way to Tall Oaks. I’d struggle to pick one to recommend to you if pressed, and would probably insist that you just buy both and thank me (or rather thank Chris) later.

It’s deep and complex, harrowing and heartbreaking, a story of a young girl’s hunt for her missing sister in a small southern bible belt town. Chris Whitaker does small-town America really really well, and the town and townsfolk are pitch perfect. As with Tall Oaks, All The Wicked Girls is a character piece, and what characters they are – from the distraught parents to the fire & brimstone preachers, the harried cops and Raine’s unlikely partners, Noah and Purv.

Much like Manny and Abe from Tall Oaks, I loved the three kids, each with their own secrets, each trying to make it in their own version of the world.

All The Wicked Girls sits firmly alongside Tall Oaks in my books 2017. As I said earlier, don’t make me choose – buy both and settle down for some of the best storycrafting you’re likely to see for a long time.

One book came along soon after which just blew my socks off. Ladies and gentlemen, may I cordially present one of my favourite books, no matter what the genre.

The 7 Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle – Stuart Turton

The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle is, to put it simply, one of the best books I’ve read in a long, long time. It’s fabulously mind-twistingly clever, with a high-concept plot, a host of splendid, characters and a delightfully Christie-esque setting. It’s a book which demands that you pay attention, and rewards you handsomely for doing so. You know who dies from the title itself, but unlike your common or garden whodunnit, you follow the course of a day many times over, from different viewpoints as our protagonist tries to solve the question of who killed Evelyn Hardcastle, and more importantly, why.

I’m in awe of the plotting at work here – multiple characters interwoven across a day and the rooms and grounds of Blackheath. It’s been compared to Agatha Christie meets Inception, but it’s so much more than that – throw in a dash of Quantum Leap, and a smidgeon of Cluedo, topped off with a light dusting of Groundhog Day. I can picture the author in a room with a large map and a ball of red string, laying out the timelines.

Look. It’s genius. Just go and order yourself a copy. The hardback comes with maps, and who doesn’t love a good map in a book?

And so, here are a few of my favourite crime books of recent years. Have you read any of them? I’d love to know what you think, and am always up for any recommendations!

September is book month

September is Book Month here on espresso coco. I’ve been a bit lax with posting recently, so to give the blog a bit of a kickstart I’ve decided to post every day this month.

Let’s see how long that lasts, eh?

I’ve come up with a bunch of ideas for things we can talk about this month.

  • Favourite crime
  • Favourite sci-fi
  • Favourite fantasy
  • 5 books on the TBR pile I really want to read next
  • Favourite non-fiction
  • Favourite books by women authors
  • Book I’m most likely to recommend on any given day
  • Favourite bookshop
  • Favourite book series
  • Best (and worst) thing about being a book blogger
  • Books I’m glad I read (but wouldn’t re-read)
  • Books I’d like to see made into TV/film
  • Best standalones
  • Books I’m most looking forward to being published
  • Disappointing books
  • Favourite publisher(s)
  • Favourite book covers
  • Favourite books that I own
  • Book from a genre I don’t usually read
  • Top 5 books to re-read
  • Authors I’ve met
  • Authors I’d like to meet
  • Books not to start reading before midnight (as won’t be able to put them down)
  • Favourite books by authors writing under a pseudonym
  • Best YA (that adults might like)
  • Favourite novellas
  • Favourite female characters
  • Favourite translated fiction

And one or two others. That should keep us busy for a momth, surely? Anything else you’d like to see on the list?

The Party – Lisa Hall

Published by HQ, July 2018
Source: review copy

When Rachel wakes up in a strange room, the morning after a neighbour’s party, she has no memory of what happened the night before. Why did her husband leave her alone at the party? Did they row? Why are Rachel’s arms so bruised? And why are her neighbours and friends so vague about what really happened?

Little by little, Rachel pieces together the devastating events that took place in a friend’s house, at a party where she should have been safe. Everyone remembers what happened that night differently, and everyone has something to hide. But someone knows the truth about what happened to Rachel. And she’s determined to find them.

Lisa was kind enough to send me a copy of her latest book, The Party, to review. I popped it in the bag along with a few others I’d been meaning to read for a recent family holiday and promptly polished it off on a long hot afternoon on the beach.

I can’t remember the last book I read in a single sitting. I’ve read a few over the course of a weekend, or a couple of days, but in one go? Very rare!

The Party starts with the aftermath of a party. Rachel wakes up in a strange room with absolutely no memory of what happened the night before. Over the next few days she starts to piece together what might have happened. Turns out that more than one person has something to hide.

Lisa Hall takes us on a winding road through the events of that fateful evening, and much like a master magician, shows us exactly and only what she wants us to see, giving us glimpses into what happened.  We’re left questioning everything and suspecting everyone.

The subject matter should probably come with a trigger warning – the aftermath of sexual assault and stalking are the key parts of this book, but I thought that Lisa Hall handles these difficult subjects well, and keeps the reader hooked throughout.

The Party, by Lisa Hall is published by HQ. You can find Lisa on twitter @LisaHallAuthor, or at her website lisahallauthor.co.uk.

First Monday Crime – September panel

It’s nearly time for First Monday Crime again. Free on September 3rd, 2018? Get yourself down there to see Clare Mackintosh, Vicky Newham, Beth Lewis and Lucy Atkins. And not forgetting Mr Rod Reynolds on moderator duties!

Get your ticket (or tickets) here

The time: 6:30 pm

The place:
College Building, Room A130
City University
London

The Panelists:
Clare Mackintosh – ‘Let Me Lie’
The police say it was suicide.
Anna says it was murder.
They’re both wrong.

One year ago, Caroline Johnson chose to end her life brutally: a shocking suicide planned to match that of her husband just months before. Their daughter, Anna, has struggled to come to terms with their loss ever since.

Now with a young baby of her own, Anna misses her mother more than ever and starts to question her parents’ deaths. But by digging up their past, she’ll put her future in danger. Sometimes it’s safer to let things lie…

Clare Mackintosh is the author of the debut novel, I Let You Go, which was a Sunday Times bestseller and the fastest-selling title by a new crime writer in 2015, selling over one million copies worldwide. It won the Theakston Old Peculier Crime Novel of the Year in 2016, while Clare’s second novel, I See You, was a Number One Sunday Times bestseller. I Let You Go and I See You were both selected for the Richard & Judy Book club. Let Me Lie is Clare’s third novel, and a Number One Sunday Times bestseller.

Clare is patron of the Silver Star Society, a charity based at the John Radcliffe hospital in Oxford, which supports parents experiencing high-risk or difficult pregnancies. She lives in North Wales with her husband and their three children.

For more information visit Clare’s website or find her at www.facebook.com/ClareMackWrites or on Twitter @ClareMackint0sh #ILetYouGo #ISeeYou #LetMeLie

Beth Lewis – ‘Bitter Sun’
“Stand by Me” meets “True Detective” in this stunningly written tale of the darkness at the heart of a small mid-Western town and the four kids who uncover it. In the heatwave summer of 1971, four kids find a body by a lake and set out to solve a murder, but they dig too deep and ask too many questions. Larson is a town reeling in the wake of the Vietnam draft, where the unrelenting heat ruins the harvest, and the people teeter on the edge of ruin. As tension and paranoia run rife, rumors become fact, violence becomes reflex. The unrest allows the dark elements of the close-knit farming community to rise and take control, and John, Jenny, Gloria, and Rudy are about to discover that sometimes secrets are best left uncovered.

Beth Lewis was raised in the wilds of Cornwall and split her childhood between books and the beach. She has travelled extensively and has had close encounters with black bears, killer whales, and Great White sharks. She has been, at turns, a bank cashier, fire performer, juggler, and is currently a Commissioning Editor at a leading London publisher. Her debut, The Wolf Road, was shortlisted for the inaugural Glass Bell Award. Bitter Sun is her second novel.

Lucy Atkins – ‘The Night Visitor’
Professor Olivia Sweetman has worked hard to achieve the life she loves, with a high-flying career as a TV presenter and historian, three children and a talented husband. But as she stands before a crowd at the launch of her new bestseller she can barely pretend to smile. Her life has spiralled into deceit and if the truth comes out, she will lose everything.

Only one person knows what Olivia has done. Vivian Tester is the socially awkward sixty-year-old housekeeper of a Sussex manor who found the Victorian diary on which Olivia’s book is based. She has now become Olivia’s unofficial research assistant. And Vivian has secrets of her own.

As events move between London, Sussex and the idyllic South of France, the relationship between these two women grows more entangled and complex. Then a bizarre act of violence changes everything.

Lucy Atkins is an award-winning feature journalist and author, as well as a Sunday Times book critic. She has written for many newspapers, including the Guardian, The Times, The Sunday Times, and the Telegraph, as well as magazines such as Psychologies, Red, Woman and Home and Grazia. She lives in Oxford.

Vicky Newham – ‘Turn a Blind Eye’

A twisted killer has a deadly riddle for DI Maya Rahman to solve in this pulse-racing thriller, the first in an addictive new series set in East London.

A headmistress is found strangled in her East London school, her death the result of a brutal and ritualistic act of violence. Found at the scene is a single piece of card, written upon which is an ancient Buddhist precept:

I shall abstain from taking the ungiven.

At first, DI Maya Rahman can’t help but hope this is a tragic but isolated murder. Then, the second body is found.

Faced with a community steeped in secrets and prejudice, and with a serial killer on her hands, Maya must untangle the cryptic messages left at the crime scenes to solve the deadly riddle behind the murders – before the killer takes another victim.

Psychologist Vicky Newham grew up in West Sussex and taught in East London for many years, before moving to Whitstable in Kent. She studied for an MA in Creative Writing at Kingston University. Turn a Blind Eye is her debut novel. She is currently working on the next book in the series.

And last, but by no means least, our moderator Rod Reynolds, author of Cold Desert Sky, book three in his Charlie Yates series

No one wanted to say it to me, that the girls were dead. But I knew.

Late 1946 and Charlie Yates and his wife Lizzie have returned to Los Angeles, trying to stay anonymous in the city of angels.

But when Yates, back in his old job at the Pacific Journal, becomes obsessed by the disappearance of two aspiring Hollywood starlets, Nancy Hill and Julie Desjardins, he finds it leads him right back to his worst fear: legendary Mob boss Benjamin ‘Bugsy’ Siegel, a man he once crossed, and whose shadow he can’t shake.

As events move from LA to the burgeoning Palace of Sin in the desert, Las Vegas – where Siegel is preparing to open his new Hotel Casino, The Flamingo – Rod Reynolds once again shows his skill at evoking time and place. With Charlie caught between the FBI and the mob, can he possibly see who is playing who, and find out what really happened to the two girls?

Rod Reynolds was born in London and, after a successful career in advertising, working as a media buyer, he decided to get serious about writing. He completed City University’s Crime Writing Masters degree and the rights to his debut novel, THE DARK INSIDE, were acquired by Faber even before he graduated. The sequel, BLACK NIGHT FALLING, was published in 2017 and the third book in the Charlie Yates series, COLD DESERT SKY, is out now. Rod lives in London with his wife and two daughters.

Foundryside – Robert Jackson Bennett

Published by Jo Fletcher Books, August 2018
Source: review copy
Sancia Grado is a thief, and a damn good one. And her latest target, a heavily guarded warehouse on Tevanne’s docks, is nothing her unique abilities can’t handle.
But unbeknownst to her, Sancia’s been sent to steal an artifact of unimaginable power, an object that could revolutionize the magical technology known as scriving. The Merchant Houses who control this magic–the art of using coded commands to imbue everyday objects with sentience–have already used it to transform Tevanne into a vast, remorseless capitalist machine. But if they can unlock the artifact’s secrets, they will rewrite the world itself to suit their aims.
Now someone in those Houses wants Sancia dead, and the artifact for themselves. And in the city of Tevanne, there’s nobody with the power to stop them.
To have a chance at surviving—and at stopping the deadly transformation that’s under way—Sancia will have to marshal unlikely allies, learn to harness the artifact’s power for herself, and undergo her own transformation, one that will turn her into something she could never have imagined.

I absolutely loved this book. Right from the off we’re thrown into the world of Sancia Grado, a thief on a job to recover something apparently innocuous from a heavily guarded warehouse. Things naturally go somewhat… awry and the adventure really kicks off. I do love a good heist story and Foundryside is packed with them, each more dangerous and daring than the last.

So far so good.

Then there’s the worldbuilding, which is incredibly imaginative and beautifully done. Foundryside exists in a kind of alternative medieval-ish Italy, with a delightfully clever magic system where rival Merchant Houses vie for power. Ancient magical artefacts, dead gods, it’s got the lot.

Is this just another ‘oh look some magic goings-on happen against a sort-of-fantasy backdrop’ kind of book?

No, it is not. It is so much more.

Because then there are the characters. Sancia Grado is a wonderful kick-ass, take no prisoners heroine who naturally harbours a dark and mysterious past. But once she’s retrieved the apparently-innocuous something from the warehouse in the opening scenes, we meet one of the novels truly brilliant characters, and the interplay between the two gives this novel something unique and is just so much fun.

The story rattles along at a grand old pace, the plot is clever and bright and will leave you eager for book 2.

Often when talking about books I get asked ‘so, what else is it like?’ If I had to compare this to any other books, I’d say take a health slug of Scott Lynch’s The Lies of Locke Lamora, add in the whip-smart dialogue of Jay Kristoff’s Nevernight and sprinkle it with just a dash of China Mieville.

And these are some of my favourite things. But Foundryside is very much its own thing, and Robert Jackson Bennett has given us a cracking adventure.

This was the 35th book I’ve read this year, and it’s easily one of my favourites. I’ve not read any of RJB’s other books, but if they’re even half as good as Foundryside, I shall be a very happy reader indeed.

Very highly recommended. Add it to your lists now.

Foundryside by Robert Jackson Bennett is published by Jo Fletcher Books on 23rd August 2018. Huge thanks to Milly Reid and Jo Fletcher Books for the review copy.

King of Assassins – RJ Barker

Published by Orbit Books, August 2018
Source: review copy

THE KING IS DEAD, LONG LIVE THE KING . . .
Many years of peace have passed in Maniyadoc, years of relative calm for the assassin Girton Club-Foot. Even the Forgetting Plague, which ravaged the rest of the kingdoms, seemed to pass them by. But now Rufra ap Vthyr eyes the vacant High-King’s throne and will take his court to the capital, a rat’s nest of intrigue and murder, where every enemy he has ever made will gather and the endgame of twenty years of politics and murder will be played out in his bid to become the King of all Kings.
Friends become enemies, enemies become friends and the god of death, Xus the Unseen, stands closer than ever – casting his shadow over everything most dear to Girton.

Oh, Girton.

You glorious, magnificent assassin. We’ve followed you on your journey from Age of Assassins through to Blood of Assassins and now we’ve reached the final part of your tale. Age was good, so very very good. Blood was, if anything, better.

Could King of Assassins pull off the hat-trick?

Short answer, the easy answer is yes. By the gods living and dead, yes.

The long answer is somewhat more complex, and goes like this.

Regular readers will know how much I love these books. Heck, people who don’t read this blog but foolishly ask ‘read anything good recently?’ will know how much I love these books. (Top tip: never ask a bookblogger if they can recommend you ‘something good’, unless you have a good fifteen minutes to spare and a notepad to write down all the suggestions).

Regular readers may also be aware that since Age of Assassins, I’ve met RJ Barker (and the lovely Mrs RJ) on several occasions, the last of which was at the utterly fantastic Edge-Lit in Derby (also highly recommended). So some of you (yes, you at the back) may be sceptical as to whether I’d just churn out a ‘cor that was good’ review on account of how lovely RJ is.

I would not do that.

What I *will* do is to hold King of Assassins up to deeper scrutiny. Having loved books 1 and 2, I expect RJ to deliver more. I expect him not to screw it up, to drop the ball at the final hurdle, if you’ll excuse the somewhat strained metaphor.

If King of Assassins was any less than bloody awesome, I would sigh and slide the book back onto the shelf, tutting quietly to myself.

King of Assassins, dear reader, is bloody awesome. And oh, so very very bloody.

In Age, we saw Girton growing up an already accomplished assassin, aiding his Master, Merela Karn in a relatively small, compact adventure. A murder-mystery revolving around a plot to kill the heir to the throne.

Blood took that world and expanded on it. We found an older, wiser(?) Girton returning after five years, but the story then ventured forth beyond the castle of Maniyadoc into the world beyond, where three kings vied for power. Girton had grown up (a bit), turned into a bit of a dick (at times), and was left trying to solve yet another murder/mystery with a dash of spying thrown in for good measure.

King of Assassins sees the canvas stretched wider again – King Rufra and his court are journeying to Ceadoc, to put forward his claim to become High King. But in his way lie many obstacles, for the High King’s castle holds many secrets…

The scope is epic, the characters brilliant, the plot devious. The Castle almost takes on a life of its own, riddled with secret passageways, home to many factions all vying for the ultimate power in the land.

RJ can write a fight scene like few others – as I said elsewhere the action is almost balletic, bullet-time fluidity as Girton moves, followed only by blood and death and Xus The Unseen in his wake.

This, my friends, is a fitting end to Girton’s tale. Apprentice assassin turned master.

When I turned the final page I sat for a moment, then slid the book onto the shelf with the others, with nary a tut in sight.

Highly, hugely recommended.

RJ, I cannot wait to see what you come up with next.

King of Assassins by RJ Barker is published by Orbit Books and is out now. Many thanks to Nazia at Orbit for the review copy.

One of Us – Craig DiLouie

They call him Dog.
Enoch is a teenage boy growing up in a rundown orphanage in Georgia during the 1980s. Abandoned from the moment they were born, Enoch and his friends are different. People in the nearby town whisper that the children from the orphanage are monsters.
The orphanage is not a happy home. Brutal teachers, farm labor, and communal living in a crumbling plantation house are Enoch’s standard day to day. But he dreams of growing up to live among the normals as a respected man. He believes in a world less cruel, one where he can be loved.
One night, Enoch and his friends share a campfire with a group of normal kids. As mutual fears subside, friendships form, and living together doesn’t seem so out of reach.
But then a body is found, and it may be the spark that ignites revolution.

What to say about this book? It’s inventive, for sure. The world-building is top-notch.

Did I like it? I’ve spent the last couple of days thinking about it, and I’m still not sure. Parts of it were brilliant. Other parts staggeringly brutal. And some distinctly unpleasant. And I’m not sure I can entirely get past those. And I’m sure it’s a book that I’ll not forget for quite some time.

One of Us is a very character-driven piece, and the characters that Craig DiLouie assembles here are strikingly drawn and unique. Set in an alternate 80s small-town America, filled with good ol’ boys with their trucks and guns, cotton farmers, evil orphanage masters and a sheriff who struggles between what’s right and what will keep the town happy. It’s Southern Gothic, soaked in heat and oppression.

It’s a book about prejudice, and taking sides. It’s a book about what happens when monsters walk amongst us. But the monsters aren’t always who they seem to be on the surface, and sometimes the scariest are those who look just like one of us. It’s a book about hatred and fear, though ultimately hope. It’s entirely relevant given the current situation in the modern US. It shows the world through the eyes of the plague children and the ‘normals’, and what happens when an oppressed minority decides that enough is enough.

It’s hard to say more without giving too much away. If you do decide to give it a go, approach with caution – it’s not an easy read and doesn’t pull any punches. I’d love to hear what you think.

One of Us by Craig DiLouie is published by Orbit Books and is out now. Many thanks to Nazia at Orbit for the review copy.