In Oslo in 1942, Jewish courier Ester is betrayed, narrowly avoiding arrest by the Gestapo. In great haste, she escapes to Sweden whilst the rest of her family is deported to Auschwitz. In Stockholm, Ester meets the resistance hero, Gerhard Falkum, who has left his little daughter and fled both the Germans and allegations that he murdered his wife, Åse, Ester ’s childhood best friend. A relationship develops between them, but ends abruptly when Falkum dies in a fire. And yet, twenty-five years later, Falkum shows up in Oslo. He wants to reconnect with his daughter Turid. But where has he been, and what is the real reason for his return? Ester stumbles across information that forces her to look closely at her past, and to revisit her war-time training to stay alive…
So this marks the third appearance of Kjell Ola Dahl’s books on the blog, and roughly a year apart. First we had Faithless, then The Ice Swimmer, books five and six in his series featuring his detectives Gunnarstranda and Frølich. Classic slices of Nordic Noir, both.
And so now we have The Courier, a standalone historical thriller which delves into the dark history of Norway in WWII. The story is told across three time periods – 1942, 1967 and 2015, though the modern-day element bookends the story.
It’s a fascinating tale, told in Dahl’s signature style of short, punchy sentences, once more ably translated by Don Bartlett. It’s a style that in previous books took me a little while to get into, but here it’s like sinking into a familiar, favourite armchair and you’re soon lost in the story.
As with his earlier books, Dahl shows a deft hand with plot, juggling the two main threads between 1942 and 1967 and revealing his cards only when he’s good and ready. Even though we know how things turn out in the quarter century after the earlier chapters, there’s a real sense of menace and genuine peril in the earlier sections.
It’s not just the plot though, character and especially the relationships between them is where Kjell Ola Dahl excels. Fascinating to see Ester grow from the girl who loses her parents to Auschwitz, a courier who is forced to flee to Sweden to escape the Gestapo herself, to the woman she becomes some 25 years later. The world has changed and so has she, but then everything changes again when an old face makes a startling reappearance.
I don’t usually read a lot of historical fiction, but couldn’t resist seeing what Kjell Ola Dahl, the Godfather of Nordic Noir, would come up with. It’s proper, hard-boiled Noir with a wonderfully gritty, distressingly authentic edge.
It’ll keep you thinking for a long while after you’ve finished. Highly recommended.
The Courier by Kjell Ola Dahl is published by Orenda Books on 21st March 2019. You can find Kjell Ola Dahl on twitter @ko_dahl.
Huge thanks to Anne Cater and Orenda Books for inviting me to take part in the blog tour, and for the review copy.
Adam Brandt is a forensic psychologist, well used to dealing with the most damaged members of society. But he’s never met anyone like Kassie. The teenager claims to have a terrible gift – with one look into your eyes, she can see when and how you will die. Obviously, Adam knows Kassie must be insane. But then a serial killer hits the city. And only Kassie seems to know where he’ll strike next. Against all his intuition, Adam starts to believe her. He just doesn’t realise how deadly his faith might prove…
A Gift for Dying is the first book by M.J. Arlidge that I’ve read, and it definitely won’t be the last. Intriguing premise, great characters and snappy pacing make for a great read.
Teenager Kassandra Wojcek has a gift (if you can call it that) – she can see how and when a person will die, just by looking in their eyes. And some of those people will be meeting a very sticky end. A serial killer is on the loose, and she is the key to stopping him. She’s a wonderful character, troubled and alone, but with a deeper, hidden strength that she eventually comes to realise she has.
Forensic psychologist Adam Brandt is faced with a tricky dilemma – Kassie can’t be telling the truth. Or can she? She knows too much about what’s been going on. Is she somehow involved in the murders? Or can she actually do what she claims to be able to?
Arlidge’s writing style tends towards the short and snappy, with chapters coming thick and fast, giving you the excuse to just read one (or ten) more. A Gift For Dying was very hard to put down, and races towards the ending at breakneck pace.
Thanks to Tracy Fenton at Compulsive Readers for inviting me to take part in the blog tour.
A Gift For Dying by M.J. Arlidge is published by Penguin and is out now. You can find M.J. Arlidge on twitter at @mjarlidge
The hot summer has been fairly quiet for Detective Superintendent Tom Harper and his squad, until a daring burglary occurs at an expensive Leeds address. Then his friend and former colleague, Inspector Billy Reed, asks for his help. Billy’s brother, Charlie, a shopkeeper, has committed suicide. Going through Charlie’s papers, Billy discovers crippling rent rises demanded by his new landlord. Could these have driven him to his death? As Harper investigates, he uncovers a web of intimidation and corruption that leads back to the mysterious North Leeds Company. Who is pulling the strings behind the scenes and bringing a new kind of misery and violence to the people of Leeds? Harper is determined to unmask the culprits, but how much blood will be shed as he tries?
The Leaden Heart is the seventh of Chris Nickson’s Tom Harper Mysteries, but the first I’ve read. Set in Leeds in 1899, we find Detective Superintendent Tom Harper sweltering in the long, hot summer. Harper’s old friend and colleague, Billy Reed, comes back to Leeds from Whitby for the funeral of his brother, only to discover that it was suicide. The two friends dig into the mysterious circumstances of his death to discover there’s a lot more to it than meets the eye, and some powerful men do not want him uncovering the truth.
I really enjoyed The Leaden Heart. I read a lot of contemporary crime fiction so it was a breath of fresh air to delve back into my adopted city’s past and see it through a different lens. Familiar streets and places brought to life through Nickson’s evident extensive research and love of the city gave the story an extra edge for me. It may be the seventh book in the series, but could easily be read as a standalone as I did. That said, I’d be interested to go back and find out more about Harper and his investigations.
It’s a great story too, full of political intrigue and corruption. Harper is a fascinating character, a solid, no-nonsense old school copper with a determination to get to the bottom of what’s going on, no matter the consequences to his reputation. There’s an interesting subplot too featuring Harper’s wife Annabelle, a Poor Law Guardian investigating the deaths of two young girls and trying to change the minds of the men who make the rules but have no time or desire to listen to her.
I’ve not read much historical fiction, but on the strength of The Leaden Heart, perhaps I ought to add a few more to my reading list!
The Leaden Heart by Chris Nickson is published by Severn House at the end of March 2019. Many thanks to the publisher and author for the advance copy for review. You can find Chris Nickson on twitter @ChrisNickson2 or at his website www.chrisnickson.co.uk
For centuries, the kingdom of Iraden has been protected by the god known as the Raven. He watches over his territory from atop a tower in the powerful port of Vastai. His will is enacted through the Raven’s Lease, a human ruler chosen by the god himself. His magic is sustained via the blood sacrifice that every Lease must offer. And under the Raven’s watch, the city flourishes.
But the power of the Raven is weakening. A usurper has claimed the throne. The kingdom borders are tested by invaders who long for the prosperity that Vastai boasts. And they have made their own alliances with other gods.
It is into this unrest that the warrior Eolo–aide to Mawat, the true Lease–arrives. And in seeking to help Mawat reclaim his city, Eolo discovers that the Raven’s Tower holds a secret. Its foundations conceal a dark history that has been waiting to reveal itself…and to set in motion a chain of events that could destroy Iraden forever.
Well now. At face value The Raven Tower checks all the regular classic fantasy boxes. A son returns home from afar to take up his father’s post as ruler, only to find that his position has already been filled by his scheming uncle. A kingdom under threat. Mysterious machinations at court. Gods making alliances with mortals.
You know, standard fantasy stuff.
But Ann Leckie takes those standards and twists and pulls them into something new, something different, something quite unique.
It took me a little while to settle into the style of The Raven Tower, as large parts of it are told by a mysterious other, who appears to be talking to Eolo, warrior aide to the true heir to the Raven’s Lease, Mawat. You are doing this, it says. You are thinking that. You go here and see things.
It takes a little getting used to. For this mysterious narrator (don’t worry, all does become clear but you know, spoilers) knows an awful lot about a lot of things, and appears to be almost relating the tale to Eolo from after the fact, pausing only to drift off into stories of what once was, setting the scene for present day tensions against the tapestry of long ago.
And there is a lot of this tapestry of history to read, making the scope of The Raven Tower utterly vast, from the dawn of this land up to present, all told through the eyes of this almost omniscient narrator. The characters are fascinating and well written – I was particularly interested in the power structures in play here, from the enigmatic Raven god, to its Lease and the assembled that made up the court.
So yes, it’s a story of gods and power and what people will do to gain the latter and the price they’re willing to pay to do so. But Ann Leckie does this with such a deft hand that you’re left marvelling at how it’s all constructed. The way she plays with character and language and structure reminded me not a little of the skillful hand of Claire North, and whilst they tell very different stories, they both show a similar joy at playing with expectations.
It’s really hard to say more without spoiling the experience, and I can only urge you to discover the secrets of The Raven Tower for yourself.
The Raven Tower by Ann Leckie is published by Orbit Books and is out now in hardback and ebook.
Huge thanks to Nazia Khatun and Orbit Books for the review copy.
Tonight is the night for secrets… Pregnant Victoria Valbon was brutally murdered in an alley three weeks ago – and her killer hasn’t been caught. Tonight is Stella McKeever’s final radio show. The theme is secrets. You tell her yours, and she’ll share some of hers. Stella might tell you about Tom, a boyfriend who likes to play games, about the mother who abandoned her, now back after twelve years. She might tell you about the perfume bottle with the star-shaped stopper, or about her father … What Stella really wants to know is more about the mysterious man calling the station … who says he knows who killed Victoria, and has proof. Tonight is the night for secrets, and Stella wants to know everything…
Welcome, dear listener. It’s five after midnight and have I got a tale for you to take us through the small hours. Are you sitting comfortably? Got your hot chocolate? You might want something a little stronger this time.
You see this is a story of love and loss, of secrets and lies, of families that once were and might have been. Of obsession. And murder.
Are you still with me, out there in the dark? It feels strange, sat here with just the glow of the mixing desk, talking into the ether. There’s no-one here but you and me. It’s almost like a confessional. A final show, our last chance to share.
So this is a story about a girl and her mother. And what happened when her mother disappeared. As all such stories go, the girl grew up and met a boy and fell in love. Stella and Tom forever and ever.
And then, twelve years later, Stella’s mother came back. And long-held secrets started coming to light. And the world changed. For everyone.
There’s another girl in this story, Victoria Valbon. Poor Victoria is brutally murdered not far from the station where Stella works. And one of Stella’s callers says that he knows who did it…
Secrets and lies. Twists and turns. Where will it all lead, dear listener? Dare you find out?
I read a lot of crime books. Some are good, some are great. This one falls firmly into the latter category. Call Me Star Girl is tautly written, cunningly plotted and twistier than a curly wurly.
Louise Beech has crafted a beautifully dark little tale in Call Me Star Girl, with a creeping sense of menace that leaves you wondering if you locked the doors. You might want to go and check. You never know who might be lurking outside.
A price on her head, and just 48 hours to expose the truth, and save her family…
Single-mother bounty hunter Lori Anderson has finally got her family back together, but her new-found happiness is shattered when she’s snatched by the Miami Mob, who they want her dead. But rather than a bullet, they offer her a job: find the Mob’s ‘numbers man’ – Carlton North – who’s in protective custody after being forced to turn federal witness against them. If Lori succeeds, they’ll wipe the slate clean and the price on her head – and those of her family – will be removed. If she fails, they die.
With only 48 hours before North is due to appear in court, Lori sets across Florida, racing against the clock to find him, and save her family…
Deep Dirty Truth is the third book in Steph Broadribb’s Lori Anderson series. Now, I loved the first two books, Deep Down Dead and Deep Blue Trouble, so it was with some sense of anticipation that I started book 3.
Never really in any doubt. Steph has delivered yet another fantastic instalment in the ongoing adventures of Lori Anderson, bounty hunter. This time the stakes are higher, with Lori sent off on an almost impossible mission – recover mob “numbers man” Carlton North from the FBI. In 48 hours, before he testifies against his former employer. Oh, and his location is secret. And if she fails, JT and her daughter Dakota will be killed.
Nothing like a bit of motivation, eh?
The action comes thick and fast, on a rattly rollercoaster of an adventure, throwing us hither and yon and back again, hanging on by our fingernails. JT and Dakota get their own adventure on the sidelines, though the focus is firmly on Lori, kicking ass and taking names (then kicking ass again to make sure it’s well and truly kicked). She’s a brilliant character though I think Steph Broadribb rather enjoys putting her through the wringer. Just when you think there’s a moment to draw breath, we’re off again.
Steph proved in the first two books that she can do Americana so very well, and the same deft skill with place is on show here. Hugely entertaining, fast-paced adventure that will leave you wanting just one more chapter until you look up and it’s 1.30am and it’s finished and how on earth are you supposed to get to sleep now?
Highly recommended, though you need to read Deep Down Dead and Deep Blue Trouble first!
Deep Dirty Truth by Step Broadribb is published by Orenda Books and is out now.
2018 is drawing to a close, and a bookblogger’s thoughts inevitably turn to the books that have made the biggest impact of the year.
I therefore give you my favourite ten science fiction books of 2018
In no particular order (don’t make me choose…), I give you:
84k, by Claire North (Orbit Books, May 2018)
Claire North’s books are always startlingly original, and 84K is no exception to that rule. She takes language and format and plays with them, twisting and shaping the very forms of lines and sentences, leaving you with such imagery that the words in and of themselves couldn’t provide, leaving you with the sense of a sculptor playing with marble, or plasticine, or both. It’s astonishing to see it happen in front of you on the page and wonder how on earth she made it work.
Adrift, by Rob Boffard (Orbit Books, June 2018)
Enormous fun. I’ve been a huge fan of Rob Boffard’s books since Tracer first landed on my doorstep, and Adrift does not disappoint. It’s a standalone adventure following the (mis)fortunes of a group of tourists aboard a tour ship out by the Horsehead Nebula. Things go awry, and no-one does awry better than Mr Boffard. Cracking read.
All Systems Red (The Murderbot Diaries) by Martha Wells (TOR, May 2017)
All Systems Red won a *lot* of stuff (Hugo Award for Best Novella, Nebula Award for Best Novella, Alex Award, Locus Award, one of the Verge’s Best Books of 2017, as well as being a New York Times and USA Today Bestseller).
And it’s just utterly splendid. A somewhat depressed Company supplied SecUnit hacks its own governor unit so can pretty much do what it likes, calls itself Murderbot (long story) and has a soft spot for soap operas. Then some creatures start attacking Murderbot’s clients and it, somewhat reluctantly, is forced to do something about it.
I love Murderbot. The story might be short (well, it *is* a novella), but it’s fast and funny, and the plot fairly whistles along. It’s also a lovely character study, delving into the mind of a machine hybrid that’s not entirely sure who it is, or wants to be.
Everything About You, by Heather Child (Orbit Books, April 2018)
Everything About You is an unsettling, creepy techno-thriller which feels all too plausible. Echoes of Black Mirror abound as we follow the story of Freya and her new ‘Smartface’ virtual assistant. Technology has advanced to the point where you can have any personality installed you like, built up from the thousands of interactions that person had with others – emails, texts, voice. Except Freya has a new, bleeding-edge prototype and the voice of her missing sister, who vanished when they were teenagers.
I loved this book and rattled through it in a couple of sittings. It’s clever, it’s creepy and it’s just so damn smart. The mystery is neatly plotted and beautifully written, with plenty of twists and turns thrown in.
I also had the pleasure of attending a writing workshop with Heather at the Edge-Lit book festival in Derby over the summer.
Rosewater, by Tade Thompson (Orbit Books, SEptember 2018)
Stunningly good sci-fi. Rosewater is a community which grew up around an alien biodome, where people gather in the hope of its healing powers. But the healing doesn’t always take the form they might wish…
Deliciously weird biopunk with an avalanche of clever ideas and brilliant characters. Just read it.
Void Black Shadow/Static Ruin, by Corey J. White (TOR, March/November 2018)
Books 2 and 3 of Corey J. White’s superb Voidwitch Saga. I adored Killing Gravity and was excited to see book 2, Void Black Shadow, turn up in March. Even more excited to discover that book 3, Static Ruin was out in November.
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. These books are short and to the point (often brutally so – did I mention all the blood?), and unlike some of their contemporaries, don’t wallow around waiting for stuff to happen. Gloriously refreshing
The Consuming Fire, by John Scalzi (Tor, October 2018)
Another sequel, following Scalzi’s glorious The Collapsing Empire, again this one snuck up on me and I had to zip down to the bookshop to get a copy immediately. I bloody loved book 1, and book 2 continues in the same vein – glorious worldbuilding, snarky characters, feuding Houses, the works. The Consuming Fire is clever, funny, and it’s like taking the essence of an Iain M. Banks book and boiling it down until you’ve stripped it down to the pure essence of an idea, making it 100% more witty, with a ton more diverse characters and 100% more sex.
Last, but by no means least, these two books by V.E. Schwab consumed a couple of very late-into-the-night reading sessions. I realised that I’d had book 1, Vicious, on my kindle since FOREVER and finally found a spare evening to read it. A couple of days later I got an email asking if I wanted to read book 2, Vengeful, and I nearly bit the publicists hand off.
The format was challenging at first, with timeline jumps between ‘last night’, ‘ten years ago’, ‘ a week ago’ and so on, but once you settle into the style you start to appreciate the craft on display. The characters are great but awful, but also sympathetic (ish) and you can’t help rooting for them.
Vengeful continues the story, but introduces us to the utterly brilliant and merciless Marcella. It’s a hefty book at 600ish pages, but the chapters are short and punchy and I flew through it.
So, those are my sci-fi books of the year. Have you read any of them? Agree/disagree? I’d love to hear what you think!, Oc