Book Review: Cursed

CURSED AW.indd

Cursed, by Thomas Enger (translated by Kari Dickson), is the fourth book in the author’s Henning Juul series of crime thrillers. In this instalment the protagonist is still reeling from the death of his six year old son following an arson attack on his flat. Henning is on leave from his job as a journalist and is using the time to do what he can to track down the perpetrators. There is a lot of backstory here which I assume is covered in more detail in the earlier books.

Henning’s ex-partner, Nora Klemetsen, is approached by the husband of an old college friend who has gone missing. Helga Hellberg failed to return from a three week retreat in Italy which her husband subsequently discovered she didn’t attend. Nora, another journalist, agrees to investigate and is drawn into a web of intrigue surrounding the wealthy Hellberg family which goes back decades.

Nora has personal issues to contend with. Her new partner, Iver Gundersen, who is a colleague of Henning’s, has not responded well to recent revelations. Nora and Henning still have feelings for each other, not least an understanding of their shared grief. When Nora approaches Henning and then Iver for support she finds they both remain distant, struggling with what she has shared. As a result she opts to approach the Hellbergs alone.

Henning’s state of mind leads him to take serious risks in his quest for information. He discovers that his life is still threatened although he is unsure why. The widow of Tore Pulli, a supposed criminal who died in prison just as Henning proved he was not guilty of the crimes for which he was incarcerated, may be able to offer some clues. Tore may also have had links to the Hellbergs although the murky details are unlikely to be willingly shared by any of his acquaintances.

The action alternates between the investigations being carried out by Nora and Henning. When they eventually share findings, and potential overlaps are recognised, progress is made. This puts them both in danger leading to a dramatic denouement.

Unusually for such a taut thriller there are many detailed descriptions of people and street scenes which do not always appear relevent to the plot but do help place the reader in the various settings. Typically of Nordic Noir the characters’ personal lives are as changeable and dark as the weather. Partnerships are distant and children, even when loved, grow up feeling resentful.

The writing is engaging and the varied cast of characters well presented although I was somewhat surprised at how willing some were to talk to journalists who are more usually presented in fiction as vultures. There is good in the bad and bad in the good which adds to the intrigue and unprectability. The short chapters encouraged me to keep reading just one more.

A tightly written thriller that had me puzzling the clues throughout as the plot threads were untangled and then woven into place. This is an entertaining and supenseful read.

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

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

cursed-blog-tour

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

image001

Book Review: Sealskin

sealskin-cover-blog-tour

Sealskin, by Su Bristow, is a poignant love story based on the mythical tale of the selkies – seals that can shrug off their skins to become human. I have read stories involving these beings before and remained unimpressed. Not so with this mesmerising interpretation. I was spellbound throughout, even though I guessed how it must end.

Donald is a young fisherman who lives with his widowed mother on a croft set above their village on a remote coast in north-west Scotland. He is a loner who does what he can to avoid going to sea. The camaraderie of his peers is something he observes but struggles to join in with. His memories of growing up in this small community are of being bullied and teased. He has learned to find his peace in solitude, to defer to his mother when decisions must be made.

On a clear autumn night Donald takes his small rowboat out to check the crab pots he maintains, putting to shore in a deserted cove when he spots naked young women emerge from a group of seals. He comes across their abandoned pelts and guesses what they must be. On an impulse he decides to violently intervene.

A distraught selkie is left with no choice but to accompany Donald to his home. There his mother quickly realises what he has done and concocts a plan that they hope will enable the young woman, who they name Mairhi, to stay. The local people are suspicious of any new face, especially one foisted on them without notice. Donald must step up his behaviour if he is to protect his catch and the child she will eventually bear.

He feels guilt for his actions but his mother convinces him that he must live with the choice he made. She sets about teaching the girl how to act amongst people, how to carry out the tasks expected of the women. They discover that Mairhi also has much to offer them. Donald’s life is altered forever.

The close knit community’s reluctance to accept any who appear different seems particularly pertinent given recent world events. They look away when discomfited by how some of their own treat their families but struggle to ignore that which they cannot explain. Mairhi has innate powers that she wishes to use for good; the dark suspicion with which these are treated puts her at constant risk of rejection.

Donald does his best to provide and make her happy but realises that she remains his captive. Although tolerated by his wider family and becoming a mother to his children, he fears what Mairhi would do if given the choice.

The writing captures the voice of the region to perfection. The harsh and beautiful landscape along with the stoic yet community minded people are expertly evoked.  This is proof that a story need not be original to be worth the telling. Curl up by a fireside and immerse yourself in this exquisite tale.

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

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

sealskin-blog-tour-amended

Sealskin in published by Orenda Books and is available to buy now.

image001

Book Review: Deep Down Dead

DEED DOWN DEAD BF AW.indd

Deep Down Dead, by Steph Broadribb, is the first in a proposed crime thriller series featuring Florida bounty hunter Lori Anderson. In need of a high paying assignment that will enable her to clear the debts incurred gaining cancer treatment for her nine year old daughter, Dakota, Lori agrees to pick up a fugitive who has been found and held by a less than reliable associate. Lori is perturbed to discover that the fugitive is her old mentor, JT. When her usual child minder cannot be called on to help she is forced to take Dakota along for the ride.

From the off it is clear that there is more to this job than a simple pick up. Whatever JT had been trying to achieve had brought him to the attention of some high level and well connected criminal masterminds. They are as determined as Lori to bring him in, but have no qualms about killing any who get in their way. A shoot out at a gas station puts Dakota’s life on the line. Lori needs to use every lesson she has ever learned from JT in order to protect her daughter’s life. This includes delivering him in time to collect her fee.

The story is a road trip from hell. Just as it seems that Lori has overcome one obstacle another, more challenging one, is placed in her way. She is unsure who to trust and JT is unwilling to open up about who exactly is after him or why let alone how they are all connected. Lori is skilled and fearless, but her normally clear judgement is clouded by the knowledge that her daughter is in danger. She struggles to set aside the guilt she feels for allowing such a situation to occur.

This is a fast moving, adrenaline rush of a story with a relatable protagonist who it is hard not to cheer along. Lori is as feisty and independent as they come, refusing to rely on men who all her life have given her nothing but grief. Her past may be catching up with her but she is determined to do whatever it takes to provide for Dakota.

A hugely enjoyable, edge of your seat read. As you turn those pages, remember to breath.

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

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

ddd-blog-tour

Deep Down Dead is published by Orenda Books and is available to buy now.

image001

Book Review: The Mine

The Mine AW.indd

The Mine, by Antti Tuomainen (translated by David Hackston), introduces the reader to journalist Janne Vuori who works for a small newspaper in Helsinki. He receives an anonymous email suggesting he should investigate a nickel mine in Suomalahti, a small town in the weather challenged north of the country. The mine has received funding from the government and provides much needed employment in an area where work is scarce. The cost to the environment is not so well understood.

Janne is a diligent and determined investigative reporter who believes his job is of vital importance. He derides the work his wife does for a consultancy firm with clients in the weapons and tobacco industries. She is equally scathing of his attitude, especially when he chooses to neglect her and their toddler daughter. She accuses him of chasing personal glory.

Despite his boss’s reluctance to pursue the tip-off, Janne travels north. He is denied access to the mine but sees enough to convince him that something untoward is going on. He makes contact with a former board member, and discovers that a predessessor at his newspaper had also started an investigation. This reporter is now dead, his notes mysteriously removed from storage.

Alongside Janne’s investigations the reader is taken inside the mind of a killer, an experienced hitman who is chillingly good at his job. As the body count rises these two men will find their lives colliding.

The writing is utterly compelling – I read this book in a sitting. I shivered at the bleakness and cold of a wintery Finland evoked. The layers of Janne’s character – his need to write, his desire not to let his family down, his demand for validation and support despite offering little in return –  made for thought provoking reading. It was hard not to sympathise with all concerned.

The denouement tied up each plot thread whilst skillfully maintaining the bones of all that had gone before. Questionable decisions were made but they fit perfectly the characters and story. In many ways this is a straightforward crime thriller but the execution achieves so much more. It provides a dark and altogether satisfying read.

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

This post is a stop on The Finnish Invasion Blog Tour. Do check out the other blogs taking part, detailed below.

finnish-blog-tour-1

The Mine is published by Orenda Books and is available to buy now.

image001

Book Review: The Exiled

exiled-front-cover-copy

The Exiled, by Kati Hiekkapelto (translated by David Hackston), is the third book in the Anna Fekete series of crime thrillers (you may read my review of the second, The Defenceless, here). This latest story is set in and around the town of Kanizsa, Serbia, where Anna is taking a much needed holiday with her mother and brother who now live in the area. Anna was born in Kanizsa but finds its customs and expectations invasive having acclimatised herself to life in Finland. She and her family have many friends eager to renew their acquaintance with a young woman they regard as a success. Some grew up with her parents and talk intimately about her late father who she barely remembers. Anna questions where she now considers home.

The story opens with a suicide. It then moves back a couple of weeks to take the reader through events leading up to this death. Anna has only just arrived in town and is attending a local wine festival with her former friends. The convivial atmosphere is shattered when her bag is stolen, the thief using the crowds to assist in his getaway. Anna gives chase but to no avail. Her friends casually blame the gypsies, an assertion that annoys the more broad-minded visitor.

There are tensions in the town due to the growing number of refugees arriving from conflict zones around the world. Along with the Romani they are blamed for rising crime and a faltering economy. When Anna’s bag is recovered, albeit stripped of cash, credit card and passport, a Romani man, found dead, is blamed and the police close the case. Anna is dissatisfied with their investigation and reluctantly decides to check things out herself.

Anna is a brittle yet determined young woman. Her somewhat abrupt manner is mirrored in the prose. It evokes a bleak situation shadowed by corruption and undercurrents of fear. Given the current problems in Europe the agitation felt by many of the characters is prescient.

Anna uncovers a disturbing series of events that suggest respected citizens are routinely breaking the law. There have been miscarriages of justice but, when itinerant people are involved, few seem to care.

The writing remains sharp and focused throughout, flowing deftly as the true darkness of the tale is revealed. Anna is a complex, vulnerable yet strong and admirable protagonist. This was a taut and satisfying read.

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

This post is a stop on The Finnish Invasion Blog Tour. Do check out the other blogs taking part, detailed below.

finnish-blog-tour-1

The Exiled is published by Orenda Books and is available to buy now.

image001

Book Review: The Mountain in my Shoe

The Mountain in my Shoe aw.indd

The Mountain in my Shoe, by Louise Beech, tells the story of Conor Jordan, a ten year old boy from Hull who has been in multiple care homes throughout his short life and who has now gone missing. Also missing is his Life Book, a work in progress containing details of his fragmented childhood, created as a substitute for the memories parents share with their children. The book had been taken home by Bernadette, a young woman who volunteered to be Conor’s friend and who he has grown to trust. She cannot understand where the book has gone as only she and her husband, Richard, have been in their flat where it was hidden. Richard is a man who adheres to a strict routine but this evening he hasn’t come home from work. It seems that he too may be missing.

Bernadette is more concerned about Conor than Richard. She is angry with her controlling husband for choosing this night to disappear. She had finally plucked up the courage to tell him that she was leaving their marriage, had packed her bags and tidied their flat in readiness for her departure. It was only when she went to put the Life Book in her case that she realised it had gone.

Bernadette doesn’t have many friends. Richard discouraged her from going out other than to see to his needs. Her voluntary work has been her carefully guarded secret. She confided in Conor’s foster carer, Anne, that she was unhappy in her marriage. Now, during a fraught evening spent briefing the police and then searching for the missing boy, she opens up about her lonely personal life and plans for change.

Excerpts from the Life Book give details of Conor’s past. It makes for heartbreaking reading. The boy has been shunted from pillar to post through no fault of his own. His few years with Anne have been the most stable he has experienced. He is teased in school for his lack of family, and dreams of spending more time with his troubled birth mother. He wants to know who his father is. The only person he can open up to fully is his best friend, Sophie. Sophie knows how to keep secrets and does not withhold information from him as adults do.

The writing evokes the fear and confusion of a situation all parents dread, that their child should fail to come home from school. As darkness falls all are trying their best to stay positive. Richard’s whereabouts are still unknown but Bernadette cannot bring herself to care.

The writing is gentle yet delves deep into complex family dynamics. In seeing events recounted through the eyes of adults and then a child the reader is reminded that young people see both more and less than they are often credited with. Their priorities differ but they can detect strained atmospheres better than many of their elders. They struggle at times to understand that circumstances do not revolve around them. Many adults live in denial, constructing their own truths based on the life they desire. Each is the centre of their own personal universe.

The plot threads spiral out and are then woven back in to provide a tapestry of hurts never quite healed. In places I could not hold back the tears yet the strength found by the characters to move forward make this an uplifting read.

Conor is a convincing sometimes indecorous but nevertheless likeable creation. He may be troublesome in school, display occasional aggression, but it is hard not to be moved by his predicament. Books such as this can help generate empathy for the many Conors in the real world.

I enjoyed this book for its compassion and perception. It is a beautiful, heartfelt read.

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

This review is a stop on The Mountain in my Shoe Blog Tour. Do check out the other blogs taking part, detailed below.

mims-blog-tour-poster

The Mountain in my Shoe is published by Orenda Books and is available to buy now.

image001

Book Review: A Suitable Lie

A Suitable Lie AW.indd

A Suitable Lie, by Michael J. Malone, is a psychological thriller exploring the complex issue of domestic abuse. In this tale it is the husband who is being abused. His reasons for staying within the marriage are compellingly presented.

The protagonist is Andy Boyd, a widowed father who enjoys a close and friendly relationship with his mother and brother. His father died when he was young. His first wife died giving birth to their son, Pat, who is now four years old. Andy is content with the quiet life the two of them lead. He has just benefited from a promotion at work where he manages a branch of a local bank. His mother considers him too young to settle for nothing more than work and parenting.

Andy’s brother, Jim, insists that they go to their rugby club for a night out. There Andy meets Anna, a beautiful and petite young woman who is new to the area. Andy and Jim are tall and well built rugby players. The contrast in stature is significant in their subsequent behaviour.

A whirlwind romance ensues. Despite his mother’s reservations, Andy and Anna marry. The bride-to-be had not been pleased when her future husband went away on a drunken stag weekend, but her paranoia fully manifests itself on their wedding night. Although shocked at his new young wife’s behaviour, Andy accepts her explanation and they settle into married life.

Anna’s volatile behaviour is described in detail, as is their early sexual activity. She is, at times, demanding, vicious and manipulative, playing to each of Andy’s weaknesses. His pride forbids him from letting anyone know what is going on.

In an attempt to mollify Anna, Andy distances himself from his mother and brother. His work begins to suffer, not helped by a series of irregularities in the bank’s accounts.

The short chapters help to maintain the tension. The reasons Andy puts up with so much are well explained. What was less clear is why he did not confide in his family, to whom he had been close, when the situation became so obviously dire. Perhaps my lack of empathy in this respect is because I am not a macho, Scottish male.

The story builds to a crisis point and the tension is then ratcheted up even more. The denouement is loaded with foreboding.

The author does a fine job of taking the reader inside Andy’s predicament. The twists at the end are skillfully presented.

I do have these few reservations around the plot. I do not enjoy reading details of sex and have little patience with machismo. I did not understand why Andy did not at least visit a doctor to have each set of injuries recorded. I cannot fault the writing style which was taut and potent throughout.

Abuse of either partner in a supposedly loving relationship is unacceptable yet is too often ignored. It can be tricky to prove exactly what goes on in the privacy of a home. Fiction is an effective way to get people empathising with such complexities. This book is also a gripping read.

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

This review is a stop on the Suitable Lie Blog Tour. Do check out the other blogs taking part, detailed below.

suitable-lie-blog-tour-poster

A Suitable Lie is published by Orenda Books and is available to buy now. 

image001