Book Review: Faithless

Faithless, by Kjell Ola Dahl (translated by Don Bartlett), is a tenebrous and intense crime thriller offering classic Nordic Noir. Set in Oslo it features a team of detectives investigating a suspected thief, one of whose contacts leads them to a series of murders. There is a potential conflict of interest when an old friend of one of the detectives becomes a suspect. Alongside is the case of a missing international student who arrived in Norway and almost immediately disappeared.

Detective Frølich and Inspector Gunnarstranda have appeared in four previous English translations of the author’s novels but this was my introduction to his writing. The story worked well standalone.

When the tale opens Frølich is on a stakeout. A woman visits the subject of his surveillance and he is instructed to apprehend her when she leaves. The woman, Veronika Unset, is arrested but subsequently released. This sets in motion a series of incidents which culminate in a death.

Frølich discovers that Unset is engaged to be married to an old schoolfriend he had once been close to but hasn’t seen in many years. He is wary of renewing the acquaintance but decides that enough time has passed and attends a party the man invites him to. Here he meets and is attracted to Janne Smith, who complicates his ability to do his job impartially even further.

Lena, another member of the team, is investigating the missing student. Lena is in a destructive relationship with a colleague which she is struggling to maintain. The recent murder forces Frølich to put this missing persons case on the back burner, until he discovers that there are common elements and is drawn to become involved against orders.

The personal lives of the detectives, victims and suspects are intertwined with these investigations. A potential link to an historic murder in another part of the country provides new leads but also further complications. The detectives suspect they may be dealing with a serial killer, and to secure proof they are willing to put themselves in danger.

The writing throughout is intense and controlled with the many threads providing the reader with a wide range of suspicions before the final reveals. A darkly entertaining thriller that kept me guessing to the end.

My copy of this book was provided gratis by the publisher.

This review is a stop on the Faithless Blog Tour. Do check out the other posts, detailed below.

Faithless is published by Orenda Books.

Book Review: The Butchers of Berlin

The Butchers of Berlin, by Chris Petit, is a crime thriller set in the city in 1943. Germany is no longer in ascendancy. The effects of the Second World War have resulted in a thriving black market and deprivation for all but the wealthy and powerful elite. Fear and betrayal are rife as the authorities work towards their stated aim of creating a Berlin that is ‘Jew free’. The remaining population have set aside many of their peacetime principles in order to survive.

The protagonist is August Schegel, the son of a wealthy English aristocrat now married to a German businessman. Schegel is a junior detective despised by his boss. Working in financial crime he cannot understand when he is called upon to investigate a double homocide. As the victims appear to be Jews, found dead on the morning of a major exercise to round-up and deport all remaining ‘undesirables’, he finds it odd that any effort is being put into an investigation.

There is an atmosphere of distrust amongst Schegel’s colleagues who are eager to provide the results that will please their superiors. When Morgen, an SS officer, is assigned to assist Schegel it is unclear what is now required of the younger man. Schegel is aware that there are irregularities in the investigation and that corruption is rife at all levels. Attempting to uncover the truth would be a dangerous path to take.

Sybil Todermann, a Jewish seamstress, has escaped the mass round-up and is in hiding with her girlfriend. They have friends in common with Schegel but all favours come at a price. The women now require false papers yet this puts them at the mercy of dangerous men. When more bodies start appearing, grotesquely mutilated and some containing forged currency, paths intersect.

In a vast slaughterhouse in the city Schegel finds what he believes is a killing room for people rather than animals. The shortage of manpower, food, and the dehumanisation of the Jews has allowed sadists to get away with barbarism. The Gestapo become interested in Schegel’s findings as do informers originating from several of the occupied territories. Who their taskmasters are remains unclear. Morgen is still not sharing with Schegel what his remit may be.

This is a lengthy story with a convoluted plot and disturbing desriptions of calculated viciousness. That it reads as a true depiction of life at the time makes for discomfiting reading. The writing is assured, the threads well constructed and managed, but still I struggled to engage. The accuracy of the horror and knowledge that so much of what is related happened detracted from my ability to feel entertained.

Reading a war story from the German perspective was interesting, also the views of the English, Irish and Americans who in some way supported the regime. I admire the author’s ability to craft a convincing tale even if I struggled to quell my revulsion and enjoy the unravelling of the mystery. It is a timely reminder of the true horror of war and the depravity such conditions unleash.

My copy of this book was provided gratis by the publisher, Simon & Schuster.

Book Review: The Restless Dead

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The Restless Dead, by Simon Beckett, is the fifth book in the author’s David Hunter series of crime thrillers. Dr Hunter is a forensic anthropologist working as a consultant to police forces throughout England. His is a specialist field and the details of how he studies human remains to ascertain how they lived and how they may have died are fascinating.

Set in the backwaters of Essex this instalment sees Hunter called to a remote and run down coastal town where two people have been reported missing and one body has been discovered floating to the surface in the tidal wetlands. A wealthy businessman and local landowner believes it is the remains of his son and is pressurising the police to confirm his suspicions. He has powerful contacts who make life difficult for those who do not bend to his will.

Hunter is asked to assist with the recovery of the bloated body. The cold and wet procedure takes its toll on his compromised health. When Hunter’s car is damaged he ends up requiring temporary accommodation and becomes caught up in a local feud. There are unforeseen links to missing persons.

This is a small community and grudges have festered. Hunter is aware that he must not compromise the police investigation, especially as his reputation is already fragile following a previous case. He cannot, however, resist the charms of Rachel, a beautiful young woman whose family owns the holiday let in which he stays.

The plot has many twists and turns as families are introduced and old hurts revealed. The writing is assured and competent although in places I would have preferred it to be a little less clichéd. A love interest seems such a predictable device to enable the protagonist to gain access to family history. I pondered why all key women must be regarded as conventionally attractive; a little diversity would be so refreshing.

Having said that I couldn’t stop turning the pages. Many chapters ended with a little teaser that demanded one more be read. I had not guessed the key elements of the denouement and they were neatly presented. Here I had the thought provoking issues I relish.

An entertaining and engaging read that will undoubtedly appeal to fans of the genre. The action would transfer well to a screen.

My copy of this book was provided gratis by the publisher, Bantam Press.

This post is a stop on The Restless Dead Blog Tour. Do check out the other posts, detailed below.

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Book Review: Deadly Game

Deadly Game, by Matt Johnson, is the second book in the author’s Robert Finlay series of crime thrillers. I review its predecessor, Wicked Game, here. This latest instalment contains all the intrigue and adrenaline inducing action that made the first book so compelling. It is another ‘just one more chapter’ type of read.

There are a large cast of characters to get to know from the army, police, and intelligence services as well as the victims and bad guys central to the action that unfolds. The theme is one of international sex trafficking but includes an investigation into historical middle eastern terrorist activity, with a potential link to Finlay’s past.

The story opens in Romania where a cold and hungry young village woman is putting herself forward for a lucrative job in the city. This offers an explanation as to how traffickers obtain their human cargo. The action then jumps forward a couple of years to the aftermath of 9/11 and the final report into events recounted in Wicked Game. A job must be found for Finlay who is suffering PTSD. He has crossed the radar of both MI5 and MI6. The police consider him a liability.

To get him back to work Finlay is assigned to a new unit being set up by The Met to investigate European sex trafficking. With no experience in the CID he is not a popular recruit. When one of his first assignments results in the discovery of a murder victim he is able to demonstrate his particular talents. He is also recognised by a suspect which puts him in danger.

The early background and scene setting chapters felt bitty in places but this was soon overcome as the ongoing action and pace of progression ensured reader engagement was grasped and maintained. The twists and turns were masterfully presented engineering doubts over who could be trusted and what their end game might be.

Unlike many in this genre I warmed to the protagonist. There are also a slew of strong female characters, there for their skills rather than for the men to win or save.

A full-flavoured addition to a series that I look forward to following further. This was an immersive and entertaining read.

My copy of this book was provided gratis by the publisher.

This review is a stop on the Deadly Game Blog Tour. Do check out the other posts, detailed below.

Deadly Game is published by Orenda Books.

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3 Days. 40 Victims. #RagdollBook

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Tomorrow sees the long awaited publication of Ragdoll by Daniel Cole. To celebrate, its publisher, Trapeze, has rounded up 40 bloggers to share their thoughts on the book. My review was posted just after Christmas and is reposted below. Do check out the other participants on the 3 day tour.

My Review

Ragdoll, by Daniel Cole, is a fast paced, tightly written crime thriller set in London. It introduces the reader to DS William Oliver Layton-Fawkes, nicknamed Wolf, whose temperament and determination to achieve justice has landed him in serious trouble in the past. Four years ago he was commited to a psychiatric institution following his attack on a man he had been pursuing for the so called Cremation Killings. Recently permitted to return to duty, he has now been assigned to a case that looks to be just as challenging.

A body has been found in an otherwise empty apartment. It has been strung up from hooks, carefully posed and illuminated. This grotesque installation would be shocking enough on its own, but the body has been created from the dismembered parts of multiple victims. Wolf recognises the crudely attached head. It has been taken from a man who should be safely locked up in prison.

The team assembled to identify the remaining body parts includes Wolf’s former partner at the Met, Detective Emily Baxter. She is mentoring Edmunds, a recent transfer to the Serious Crimes Unit from Fraud. Edmunds is determined to leave no stone unturned in his thorough investigations. With the body count rising and manpower fully stretched his dogged persistence, against orders, is not appreciated.

Wolf’s ex-wife, Andrea, is a reporter working for a sensationalist TV station. When the murderer sends her photographs of what is soon being referred to as the Ragdoll she approaches her ex-husband. Included in the package is a list. On it are names and beside each is a date. It would appear that the murderer intends to strike again.

The team divide their resources between protecting those threatened and trying to find links between all involved. Meanwhile Andrea broadcasts what she knows to the nation, much to the delight of her boss. Whatever happens next it will happen within the glare of maximum publicity, and he understands that the more horrific the footage the higher his ratings.

Six people were killed to create the Ragdoll, six more are threatened. The murderer has the ability to strike in protected locations. To find him the team need to understand why he is targeting this apparently disparate set of people. And the clock is ticking.

I was hooked from the beginning (no pun intended). The tightly written narrative is brutal and shocking, populated with characters willing to break the rules. The collatoral damage is high, the body count grows. Working out how the murderer strikes is as darkly enjoyable a puzzle as why he has selected his targets.

Although running with familiar tropes – the damaged cop, the alcoholic, the family man, the close to retiree – this somehow transcends the formulaic. Alongside the brutality there is wit and gently mocking humour. The author has pitched the pace perfectly, added twists but retained the plot’s integrity. An intriguing and entertaining read.

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Ragdoll is published by Trapeze who provided me with an early copy for review.

Book Review: A Thousand Cuts

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A Thousand Cuts, by Thomas Mogford, is the fifth book in the author’s Spike Sanguinetti Mystery series. Set in Gibraltar it focuses on the eponymous defense lawyer who in this instalment agrees to take on a tricky client – a volatile alcoholic named Massetti – at a colleague’s request. The case takes an unexpected turn and Sanguinetti is drawn into a tragedy that unfolded during the Second World War and led to his client’s father being sentenced by the courts to death by hanging.

Sanguinetti has plenty on his mind. He is making a home for his newly adopted toddler son, Charlie, and his fiancée, Jenny who is pregnant with their child. They are living with his father in the house he grew up in, an arrangement that seems to suit all given the amount of childcare the old man is expected to provide. Jenny wishes to find somewhere more appealing to live but with tax exiles requiring residency little decent housing is available within their price range.

The tax status of Gibraltar affects much that goes on including the pressure Sanguinetti finds himself under to service lucrative clients from around the world. His family have lived locally for generations so have many contacts, including the wealthy Stanfords who he has been close to since childhood. Drew Stanford is also a lawyer and Sanguinetti’s opponent on the Massetti case. When Drew announces that he intends to run for political office Sanguinetti is expected to offer his unquestionning support. His personal moral compass puts a strain on loyalties from all sides.

As with any good mystery there is a varied cast of characters whose history draws them together in unexpected ways. The plot is deftly presented in short chapters that keep the reader engaged.

I enjoyed the descriptions of the people, for example in a restaurant where Sanguinetti glances at the clientele:

“tax lawyers, liquoring up non-doms, their raucous laughter failing to conceal that telltale sharpness behind the eye. The insurance brokers – yesterday’s boom industry – in their sensible suits with a touch of the idiosyncratic thrown in: the spotted bow-tie, the statement jewellery. There was even the odd bored-looking Russian or Italian, ignoring his surgically enhanced wife, here under suffereance to see out his required period of tax residency.”

The reader quickly gets a feel for the challenges of living in such a place, the resentments that can fester and the history some would take risks to keep buried. When the death toll starts to rise Sanguinetti finds himself questionning how much he truly knows about long term acquaintances.

This is an engaging and entertaining read that deals well with the very human sides of the cast. As I knew nothing of Gibraltar, the evocation of the setting also added interest.

My copy of this book was provided gratis by the publisher, Bloomsbury. 

Book Review: Rupture

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Rupture, by Ragnar Jónasson (translated by Quentin Bates), is the fourth book in the author’s Dark Iceland series to be published in English. Chronologically it sits between Blackout and Nightblind.

In this instalment Siglufjörður, the small fishing town on the northern coast of Iceland where much of the series is set, has been quarantined due to a deadly virus. Policeman Ari Thór Arason uses the opportunity this creates to look into an old case from the 1950s. Two couples had moved to nearby Héðinsfjörður, an uninhabited and isolated fjord. Whilst there a child was born, Hédinn, and one of the woman apparently committed suicide. A photograph has recently come to light depicting an unknown young man alongside the two couples. Hédinn, who now lives in Siglufjörður, asks Ari Thór to investigate as some believed the death may have been murder.

Further south an aspiring musician is involved in a hit and run. He was estranged from his parents, high ranking politicians forced to step aside from public life due to their son’s drink and drug fuelled behaviour. Ísrún, a young journalist, is tasked with investigating the incident alongside her work reporting on the virus in Siglufjörður. With little new to report on either story she is amenable to assisting Ari Thór in seeking more information on his 1950s case.

Meanwhile another young man is disturbed when he discovers that his home is being targeted by an intruder. A series of events unfolds threatening all he holds dear.

Each thread of the story is enticingly presented offering the reader potential clues that are then woven together. Ari Thór has matured but remains vulnerable to the claustrophobia of his adopted home. The atmospheric darkness of Iceland alongside the isolation and introspection of its people are beautifully evoked.

A crime thriller that uses setting to full effect whilst presenting each character as fully rounded individuals. The writing effortlessly winds the reader in before revealing a satisfying denouement. This whole series is a chilling delight to read. To my mind Rupture is the most skilfully constructed yet.

My copy of this book was provided gratis by the publisher.

This review is a stop on the Rupture Blog Tour. Do check out the other posts detailed below.

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Rupture is published by Orenda Books and is available to buy now.

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