Blackout – Ragnar Jónasson

Blackout | Ragnar Jonasson

On the shores of a tranquil fjord in Northern Iceland, a man is brutally beaten to death on a bright summer’s night. As the 24-hour light of the arctic summer is transformed into darkness by an ash cloud from a recent volcanic eruption, a young reporter leaves Reykjavík to investigate on her own, unaware that an innocent person’s life hangs in the balance. Ari Thór Arason and his colleagues on the tiny police force in Siglufjörður struggle with an increasingly perplexing case, while their own serious personal problems push them to the limit. What secrets does the dead man harbour, and what is the young reporter hiding? As silent, unspoken horrors from the past threaten them all, and the darkness deepens, it’s a race against time to find the killer before someone else dies…

Ari Thór is back in this, the third installment in Ragnar Jónasson’s superb Dark Iceland series. The events of Blackout take place following the volcanic eruptions of 2010 where Eyjafjallajökull managed to close down most of Europe’s airspace, and interestingly, between the events of the first book, Snowblind, and the second, Nightblind.

Ragnar presents us with a number of mysteries here – the dead man being investigated by Ari Thór and his colleagues, the strange emails that are causing Hlynur Ísaksson such distress and the investigation of a young reporter from Reykjavik. Blackout has more depth and complexity than the previous two books, with the myriad of threads and characters weaving together as the book progresses, all told in Ragnar’s wonderfully sparse style. There are a *lot* of threads to keep up with in this one!

Regular readers of this blog (hi!) will know how much I loved Snowblind and Nightblind, and Ragnar has delivered another superbly convoluted mystery.

Nordic Noir, eat your heart out. Icelandic Noir is where it’s at.

Many thanks, as always, to Karen from Orenda Books for the review copy. Opinions are, of course, my own.

The Evolution of Fear : Q&A with Paul E. Hardisty

Today I’m delighted to welcome Paul Hardisty to my blog. Paul is the author of the fantastic thriller The Abrupt Physics of Dying, and has just published a follow-up, The Evolution of Fear.

Evelution of Fear Vis 1

Paul has very kindly answered some questions for me. Over to Paul.
1. Claymore Straker is a wonderfully complex character. How did you come up with the inspiration for him?

Over the past 30 years I have been lucky to work all over the word, and much of that has been in some pretty remote places. Perhaps because of the nature of my work – water and environmental engineering, often associated with severe problems of pollution, over-extraction, and resource exploitation – many of those places have been characterised by corruption and conflict. Sometimes that conflict has been local, and has been played out through peaceful community protest, but all too often that conflict has led to violence, and in some cases (as depicted in The Abrupt Physics of Dying), full blown civil war. Working and living in these places, sometimes completely isolated and often alone, these experiences have shaped me more than I probably realise, and it is only through my writing that I have come to realise just how much. Claymore Straker is, then, a character born of conflict. His life is punctuated by three significant but little know civil wars: in Yemen in 1994 (The Abrupt Physics of Dying), in Cyprus (The Evolution of Fear), and as a young man, on the front lines of the Apartheid-era Border War in Angola (1980’s) – the subject of the upcoming prequel, tentatively entitled Reconciliation for the Dead, out in 2017. These are all places that I know well, and in the case of Yemen and Cyprus, conflicts of which I have had first-hand experience.

2. In The Evolution of Fear I learned a *lot* about boats especially during one particularly tense sequence near the start. Clearly you know your stuff – is this experience or just research?

I have been sailing all my life, starting when I was a boy and my dad got us a little wooden Sabot dinghy. My godfather was ex Royal Navy and a keen ocean sailor, so I learned as a boy and a teenager sailing with him on the West Coast of Canada. When we were first married, my wife and I had a 27 foot Folkboat which we sailed all over the West Coast. I’m not a racer, more a cruiser – I like exploring, getting places. There is something hugely satisfying about getting yourself somewhere using the winds and the tides and currents, about finding that little island and the perfect anchorage. Over the years I’ve also read some great books by ocean voyagers such as Joshua Slocum, and those tales have stuck with me. So no research for this, pretty much just wrote it from what I know.

3. There’s a lot of globe-trotting in the book. How do you choose where your characters end up?

I basically use places I know well, places I’ve worked in or lived in, or spent enough time in to know really well. In The Evolution of Fear, the action starts in Cornwall – a place I love. We lived in the West Country for three years, and did a lot of walking in the countryside. The north coast is so wild, it was the perfect place for the safehouse Clay is hiding in at the start of the book. When I was working in Eastern Turkey in the 1980’s I used to spend all my spare time in Istanbul. I always stayed at the Pera Palas hotel, and loved everything about that amazing city. Given the storyline in the book, it was a perfect place to set some of the key events. And finally, Cyprus, a place I lived for almost a decade, a most beguiling island. I love bringing a place alive on the page, allowing the reader to feel as if he or she is right there, seeing it, hearing its sounds, smelling its aromas, feeling its winds and changes.

4. What is your writing process like?

I can only write in the morning. By mid-day it’s gone – I have no idea where to. So starting early and working through till lunch is good. The things is, I still work full time, so finding those mornings and blocking them out is tough. Those mornings are gold and I have to use them as efficiently as I can. To do that I use whatever other time I have when I am not working or training (triathlon and martial arts) or spending time with my family, doing the plot and narrative engineering. I start a novel with a core theme I want to explore. Then I build an entire basic plot structure, the full arc. First I write that. Then I come back and start adding in the details, the impressions, the twists and turns, and the
exploration of theme, hanging all of that onto the structure, like muscle on the bones. I need to find more time to write, so I’m in the midst of changing my life a bit, trying to move away from the science and engineering a little, to free up more time. Problem is, when you work in the environmental area, there is so much work to do that it could take up your whole lifetime and more.

5. How was your book launch?

It was fantastic. Goldsboro Books in London hosted and did a great job. My fabulous publisher Karen Sullivan of Orenda Books made amazing cupcakes with edible book cover toppings, and old friends I hadn’t seen in years made the journey into London to attend. Just wished Heidi, my wife of 28 years, could’ve been there too.

I wish I could have made it too! Thanks Paul. The Evolution of Fear is published by Orenda Books and is available in paperback and ebook now. Don’t forget to read The Abrupt Physics of Dying first!

The blog tour continues tomorrow at livemanylives.wordpress.com

Evolution of Fear Blog tour

 

In Her Wake, by Amanda Jennings

In Her Wake HBcover copy 4

A perfect life … until she discovered it wasn’t her own
A tragic family event reveals devastating news that rips apart Bella’s comfortable existence. Embarking on a personal journey to uncover the truth, she faces a series of traumatic discoveries that take her to the ruggedly beautiful Cornish coast, where hidden truths, past betrayals and a 25-year-old mystery threaten not just her identity, but also her life. Chilling, complex and profoundly moving, In Her Wake is a gripping psychological thriller that questions the nature of family –and reminds us that sometimes the most shocking crimes are committed closest to home

What if someone told you that you’re not who you think you are? Who you’ve been brought up and lived your whole life as?

That’s the central premise behind Amanda Jennings’ In Her Wake.

The story starts, in a way, with a ending. Bella Campbell is an only child, brought up by her doting mother Elaine and her father Henry in an old vicarage in Oxfordshire, barely seeing the outside world except for their annual holiday to the Cotswolds.

Bella’s mother has passed away, and Bella returns home for the funeral. Her father has a secret, but can’t seem to find the words to admit to it. Then, tragedy follows tragedy and soon Bella is left questioning her entire life…

So. At the most basic level, this is a story of family dynamics, secrets and relationships. The fears that face parents when something endangers the safely and wellbeing of their children. The catastrophic sense of loss and sadness when someone is taken from us.

But it’s so much more than that. In Her Wake is a complex, layered tale of identity and control – husbands controlling wives, wives controlling husbands, and how it feels to break those shackles, to become your own person and not who everyone else is insisting that you are.

At the beginning you wonder what Bella sees in her controlling, older husband David. He’s genuinely awful to her (I got very cross with him from very early on in the book), but it seems that she just can’t see it. He clearly feels he’s doing the Right Thing, and has an absolute, unshakeable conviction that he knows best. Similarly with Elaine and Henry, Bella’s parents. Each feels they do what they have to do, with us the audience on the outside wondering why they can’t see what we can. It can be all too easy to write people off as bad, but things are never black or white.

Amanda Jennings has a phenomenal gift for story, layering real depth onto each and every character in the book. She also has a wonderful ability to bring you into a place – I’ve been to Cornwall many times over the years and could almost feel myself back there with Bella, with the sand between my toes on the beach and the waves crashing nearby.

It’s hard not to say too much and spoil the story. You really need to go on the journey with Bella to find out who she is, who she was, and who she ultimately wants to be.

It’s quite a trip. I promise you won’t be disappointed.

In Her Wake is published by Orenda Books and is available now in paperback.

GIVEAWAY!

And what’s more, I have a copy to give away! Tell me about your favourite beach, either in the comments below or on twitter. Use the hashtag #InHerWake and don’t forget to tag me (@dakegra). I’ll pick a winner this Friday (8th April 2016). Good luck!

Many thanks to Karen (@OrendaBooks) for the review copy, and to Amanda Jennings (@MandaJJennings) for writing it! As ever, the opinions are entirely my own. The blog tour continues tomorrow with Wendy at Little Bookness Lane with @BooknessLane.

In Her Wake Blog tour

Wicked Game, by Matt Johnson

Wicked Game | Matt Johnson

2001. Age is catching up with Robert Finlay, a police officer on the Royalty Protection team based in London. He s looking forward to returning to uniform policing and a less stressful life with his new family. But fate has other plans. Finlay’s deeply traumatic, carefully concealed past is about to return to haunt him. A policeman is killed by a bomb blast, and a second is gunned down in his own driveway. Both of the murdered men were former Army colleagues from Finlay’s own SAS regiment, and in a series of explosive events, it becomes clear that he is not the ordinary man that his colleagues, friends and new family think he is. And so begins a game of cat and mouse a wicked game in which Finlay is the target, forced to test his long-buried skills in a fight against a determined and unidentified enemy.

Wicked Game is a taut, action packed, emotive thriller about a man who might be your neighbour, a man who is forced to confront his past in order to face a threat that may wipe out his future, a man who is willing to do anything to protect the people he loves. But is it too late?

Despite my recent flurry of reviews of more traditional crime books, I must confess that I have a bit of a soft spot for a good, fast-paced action thriller. Matt Johnson’s Wicked Game delivers on all counts.

Former SAS officer Robert Finlay has moved back into the Met after a stint in the Royalty Protection service. But people he knows are being killed, and he might very well be next on the list…
Some background might be useful here (cribbed from the press release).

Matt Johnson served as a soldier and Metropolitan Police officer for 25 years. He was at the London Baltic Exchange bombing in 1992, and one of the first police officers on the scene of the 1982 Regent’s Park bombing. Matt was also at the Libyan People’s Bureau shooting in 1984 where he escorted his mortally wounded friend and colleague, Yvonne Fletcher, to hospital. While undergoing treatment for PTSD, he was encouraged by his counsellor to write about his career and his experience of murders, shootings and terrorism.

It’s this first-hand experience of these terrible events (more of which you can read about in Matt’s guest post on crime thriller girl’s blog) which really gives Wicked Game an unshakeable feeling of authenticity which is woven deep into the fabric of the story. The prose is taut and to the point, especially when we’re dealing with Finlay and his investigation into the killings and entirely in fitting with the character. The dealings that Finlay has with the various departments looking into the killings feels authentic, and there’s a race against time to see who will get to the bad guys first.

What I particularly liked, and what puts the story into a different class for me is that Finlay is no longer the youthful SAS officer he once was and his expertise in planning, which in another thriller would have him disposing of his opponent easily, here is more believably slightly rusty. Things go wrong, and he’s forced to adapt on the hoof, quite literally in some cases!

I also liked the way Matt Johnson manages to get you into the mindset of the terrorists. No cardboard cut-out baddies here – these are fully realised and well thought-out with solid, clear, if disturbing, rationales for what they’re doing.

I really enjoyed Wicked Game. It’s a fresh, fast-paced and authentic thriller and I’m delighted to hear that Matt is working on a second book.

You can read an extract from Wicked Game over at Raven Crime Reads.

Wicked Game is published by Orenda Books and is available now.

Many thanks to Karen (@OrendaBooks) for the review copy, and to Matt Johnson (@Matt_Johnson_UK) for writing it! As ever, the opinions are entirely my own. The blog tour continues tomorrow at Northern Crime Reviews with @northernlass73.

Wicked Games Blog tour

We Shall Inherit The Wind – Gunnar Staalesen

“He that troubleth his own house shall inherit the wind: and the fool shall be servant to the wise of heart.”
~ Proverbs

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1998. Varg Veum sits by the hospital bedside of his long-term girlfriend Karin, whose life-threatening injuries provide a deeply painful reminder of the mistakes he’s made. Investigating the seemingly innocent disappearance of a wind-farm inspector, Varg Veum is thrust into one of the most challenging cases of his career, riddled with conflicts, environmental terrorism, religious fanaticism, unsolved mysteries and dubious business ethics. Then, in one of the most heart-stopping scenes in crime fiction, the first body appears…
A chilling, timeless story of love, revenge and desire, We Shall Inherit the Wind deftly weaves contemporary issues with a stunning plot that will leave you gripped to the final page. This is Staalesen at his most thrilling, thoughtprovoking best.

I’ve been on a bit of a Nordic Noir kick recently thanks to Karen at Orenda Books, and when I was asked if I’d like to take part in the blog tour for Gunnar Staalesen’s We Shall Inherit the Wind, I jumped at the chance.

This is the first of Staalesen’s books that I’ve read, though it appears he’s somewhat better known in Norway – he’s written over 20 titles which have been published in 24 countries, and he’s sold over four million copies. There have been twelve film adaptations of his Varg Veum crime novels. I’ll have to track them down!

The story starts, as it were, at the end. Varg Veum is at his girlfriend’s bedside. Something terrible has happened and we’re about to find out what. We jump back into a missing person case where Varg has been called in to investigate the whereabouts of Mons Maeland. by his wife. The story unfolds like an origami rose, slowly unveiling more and more layers as we’re drawn deeper into the mystery. Where is Maeland? What’s the link between his disappearance and the proposed wind farm over on the small island of Brennøy?

The mystery is gradually revealed and, as with all great crime stories, each fresh revelation fills in another facet of the picture. Rumours are confirmed, secrets uncovered and a *lot* of coffee is consumed. I thought that *I* drank a lot of coffee, but one thing I’ve noticed about the nordic crime scene is how much coffee they drink!

At heart it’s a story of relationships, and how far people are willing to go to preserve the natural habitat and the consequences of their actions. Families and community are neatly portrayed and dissected by the lone wolf, Varg. Tidbits of information are teased out of people, revealing an unsettling dark side to a lot of the characters.

Staalesen has been called the Norwegian Chandler and Veum is your quintessential private investigator. There’s even a life-sized statue of Varg Veum in the centre of Bergen.

Gunnar with Varg Veum statue

I loved how his character developed through the course of the story. There have been other Varg Veum books but the character is so strong and the story so well crafted that you don’t feel you’re missing out by starting with this book. I’d love to read more and luckily the next instalments in the Varg Veum series – Where Roses Never Die and No One Is So Safe in Danger – will be published by Orenda Books in 2016 and 2017.  Sign me up!

Many thanks must go to Karen at Orenda Books for my review copy.

The blog tour continues tomorrow with Tracy Shephard over at Postcard reviews.

We Shall Inherit the Wind Blog Tour