New Review: One by One by Chris Carter #crime @SimonSchusterUK #review
New Review: Lawless and The Devil of Euston Square #crime #review @ExhibitABooks
New Review: Countdown City by Ben H Winters @QuirkBooks @BenHWinters
New Review The Silent Wife by A.S.A. Harrison #crime #thesilentwife
New Review: Wounded Prey by Sean Lynch #crime @seanlynchbooks @ExhibitABooks
New Review: Penance by Dan O’Shea @exhibitAbooks #review
The world is about to end – would you investigate a murder?
An asteroid is about to collide with the Earth in six months time, and wipe us all out. Would you give up your life and go of to fulfill your ambition, take solace in drunken pleasure, live in fear, or solidly carry on doing what you do? Detective Hank Palace faces this stark question, and as others walk away from their jobs he carries on. A murder has been committed, and it is his job to solve it – problem is, none of his colleges believe it is a murder, and neither does the coroner – just Hank’s instinct, and in a city that has a dozen or more suicides a week even that might be wrong. What’s the point in solving murders if we are all going to die anyway? As Hank investigates further, undercurrents begin to surface –who was the victim obsessed with the asteroid? Did he know something about it that the rest of us don’t? Is there a conspiracy afoot? In a world where politicians have run of to the Bahamas for one last sun-drenched beach holiday, where the US Army runs internment camps for protestors, where churches and synagogues are packed with worshippers, and religious fanatics are on the rise, the reader is confronted with hard questions – What is the basis for civilization? In an imminent apocalypse, would the world we know grind to a halt with a long, slow whimper? What is life worth, and, most importantly, what would any of us do, really do, if we only had six months left to live.
This book may win the prize for the most intriguing premise of the year. If you knew that the world was going to end would you keep on doing the job that you do now?
Detective Henry ‘Hank’ Palace is a man with on a mission. As the world is falling apart round about him, he tries to focus one hundred percent on the job in hand. As time passe, it becomes increasingly difficult for him to do this as more of the local population become apathetic towards anything other than their own wants and needs. This is where I think The Last Policeman really excels. Winters gripping prose drip feeds the reader details of the inevitable collapse of society. Events begin with just a few subtle hints of how bad things have become, but as time creeps ever forward you get a real sense that the situation is only going to get worse. Some give into their own melancholy, while others try to put a brave face on it. Through all this Detective Palace remains resolute.
Where I was surprised is that as the plot continues to unfold, there are some nice unexpected moments that force events off on completely different tangents. Winters plays with the readers expectations and I’ll admit there were a couple of moments that managed to catch me completely off guard. The thing to remember is that normal rules no longer apply, and character motivations are entirely different from what you would expect in a standard murder mystery.
It’ll hardly come as a surprise when I tell you that this sort of story prompts a certain amount of introspection? I think there would have to be something seriously wrong with you if you didn’t start pondering what you would do in this situation. Could you maintain some semblance of normality or would you throw it all in to follow your dreams while there was still some time left? It’s not often that a crime novel leads to that sort of internal debate.
The good news is that there are another two novels set to follow on from The Last Policeman. One set three months before the asteroid is due to hit and one set in Earth’s final month. I have to admit that I am already insanely curious about what is going to happen. There is a sub plot concerning Hank and the relationship he has with his sister, Nico. Both their parents are already dead and Nico is the only family that Hank has left. She is involved with some potentially shady people and there is a suggestion that there is a huge conspiracy going on. I do hope this is something that is explored in the other two novels.
Winters has left just enough loose ends in the plot to keep this reader interested. He has crafted a story that manages to avoid being entirely downbeat or pessimistic and instead offers just the smallest glimmer of hope. I have to admit that I kind of liked that. I’ll be checking these out as soon as I can get my hands on them.
The Last Policeman is published by Quirk Books and is available now. Highly Recommended.
Fifteen years ago a young girl was brutally attacked as she picked flowers in a meadow near her parents’ Swedish country home. The crime went unreported; the victim silenced.
Cut to the present. It is a bleak February morning in Stockholm, when Alex Recht’s federal investigation unit is assigned to two new cases.
A man has been killed in a hit and run. He has no identification on him, he is not reported missing nor wanted by the police. Investigative Analyst Fredrika Bergman has the task of finding out who he is.
At the same time, a priest and his wife are found dead in their apartment. All evidence suggests that the priest shot his wife and the committed suicide. But is that all there is to it?
Two different cases, seemingly unrelated. But it is not long before the investigations begin to converge and the police are following a trail that leads all the way back to the ’90s, to a crime that was hushed-up, but whose consequences will reach further and deeper than anyone ever expected.
The cover of Silenced has a sticker on it that boldly proclaims “For fans of The Killing”. I’ve seen the television series and now that I’ve read the book, and had a good think about it, I’m inclined to agree. Both stories feature strong heroines who are outwardly tough but also exhibit an emotionally fragility. There are other similarities as well - both cover events in real time and focus quite heavily on the procedural components.
Ohlsson spends the time fleshing out the character of the various investigators. I particularly liked Peder Rydh specifically because he almost like a petulant child trapped in a grown-up’s body, good at police work but a spectacular failure at almost everything else. Nice to find a character in a novel that has such obvious failings. He is not prefect by any stretch of the imagination, is jealous of colleagues, throws the occasional strop and his attitude towards female co-workers is terrible. That said, all these faults make him all the more interesting to read. As the plot unfolds you get to learn exactly what makes all the team tick and there is valuable insight into their home lives. These aren’t just police men and women, they are people too. It’s probably fair comment that some may find this depth of detail too much or potentially distracting, but personally I felt it gave the story much needed human element. It helps to better understand various character motivations and makes them all seem that much more real.
Like the other experiences I’ve had with Scandinavian literature, Silenced starts off very small but quickly builds into something that manages to be thoroughly engrossing. I can understand why literature from this part of the world is gaining popularity here in the United Kingdom, I’ve not read a bad example yet. The likes of The Killing and The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo have become a bona fide cultural phenomena and I don’t see why Silenced can’t follow suit. I’d certainly be interested in reading more novels featuring the same characters.
Ohlsson also manages to blend in elements from the political thriller genre into the mix. There are key scenes that take place abroad and some subtle social commentary regarding Swedish immigration policy. There are hints dotted throughout the narrative that there is something much larger going on and that the crimes are the tip of the iceberg but it is only toward the end of the story that all is revealed. These unexpected but welcome inclusions help to strengthen an already intriguing story. The skillful way that the seemingly disparate story threads eventually begin to weave together is very effective, and works well. The final revelations lead to a satisfying twisted conclusion.
If you like the sound of Silenced you may be interested to know that I’ve just had a little rummage around on Amazon and it appears Kristina Olhsson already has another title released, Unwanted. This is a prequel to the events in Silenced and features some of the same characters. I think I may have to add it to my to read list.
Silenced is published by Simon and Schuster and is available from 30th August 2012.
Siri Bergman is terrified of the dark
She lives alone, an hour outside Stockholm where she practices as a psychotherapist, her nearest neighbor far away. Siri tells her friends that she has moved on since her husband died in a diving accident. But when she goes to bed at night, she leaves all the lights on, unable to shake the feeling that someone is watching her.
With the light gone, the darkness creeps inside.
One night she wakes to find the house pitch black, and the torch by her bedside has vanished. Later, the body of one of her young patients is found floating in the water nearby. Thrown headlong into a tense murder investigation, Siri finds herself unable to trust anyone, not even her closest friends. Who can she turn to for answers?
The truth is hidden in the darkness.
Siri is a curious character, it’s almost as though she displays two distinctly different personalities to the outside world. On one hand she is a strong, successful, self-assured doctor, but there is also the other Siri who is beset with doubt, afraid of the dark and still traumatised by the loss of her husband, Stefan. Though these are only two facets of her character there are moments where it seems as though there are two women fighting for control, as they inhabit the same body.
Due to the nature of her work Siri is surrounded by a diverse group of characters, any of whom who could be her mystery stalker. Siri lives in a world where it is the norm for people to lie to themselves and others, or keep many secrets. It is the perfect breeding ground when it comes to obsessive behavior. The identity of the individual who is fixated with her is not revealed until the book’s dying chapters but there are a number of scenes which feature moments directly from their perspective.
The contrasts between the different locations that are used in the story are also extremely effective. They mirror the duality of Siri’s own personality. Stockholm, where she works, is bright and vibrant and full of life while her home in the woods is remote and inaccessible.
I’ve not read a huge amount of Scandinavian fiction, but what I have read always seems to have a raw, stark quality that I really enjoy; this novel is no exception. The sense of isolation that Siri starts to experience as her life begins to spiral out of control is palpable. There is insight into Siri’s mental state is her grasp on her own sanity begins to waver. Imagine being confronted with your worst fear every day and knowing that it was only a matter of time before you would have to experience it again. How could that not have an effect?
I think it’s fair to say that Some Kind of Peace is hardly exploring new ground. A lone character being stalked by a mystery assailant in a remote location is hardly anything new. That said, the quality of the writing does breathe fresh life into proceedings. The growing feeling of discomfort and unease as the slow burning plot unfolds is pervasive. Each chapter ends with the reader getting a tiny glimpse of the entire picture until finally the whole truth is revealed.
It’s difficult to categorize this novel as it feel like it spans multiple genres. Part crime thriller, part psychological horror, and part character study. There are numerous strands woven together to form a compelling whole. If you enjoy fiction that takes time to eek out the tension until it’s almost unbearable, then this is the novel for you, creepy and compelling.
Some Kind of Peace is published by Simon & Schuster and is available now.
The Empire State is the other New York
It’s a parallel-universe, Prohibition-era world of mooks and shamuses that is a twisted magic mirror to our own bustling Big Apple. It’s a city where sinister characters lurk around every corner, while the great superheroes who once kept the streets safe have fallen into deadly rivalries and feuds. Not that its colorful residents know anything about real New York…until detective Rad Bradley makes a discovery that will change the lives of all its inhabitants.
There is a pretty good chance that if you are a fan of genre fiction you are already well aware of Empire State. You may even be wondering why I didn’t review it way back in January when it was first released. There were a couple of reasons if I’m honest. Firstly, there were so many reviews floating about, I was concerned that rather than form my own opinion I’d just end up regurgitating someone else’s. Secondly, the fact is that I’m a one-man outfit and I can’t fit in every single book I’d like to read, never mind review. (If I had the time I would pretty much try and read everything). Over the following months, I kept spotting the paperback on my ever-growing ‘to read’ pile and I realised that I was still extremely keen to try out this debut. At the beginning of this week, in a fit of pique, I decided that six months was more than enough of a wait. So without further ado and dispensing with anymore of this apologetic waffle, on with the show…
In a story of sprinkled with doppelgangers, parallel realities and pocket universes it’s the characters that really capture the readers imagination. Rad Bradley, a slightly down-at-heel detective, is tasked with what initially appears as a straightforward case, finding a missing woman. It quickly becomes evident that nothing in the Empire State is ever that simple and Rad gets a whole lot more than he bargained for. Rad’s air of world-weariness makes him a great protagonist. He has worked the city streets for as long as he can remember and has a dogged tenacity and determination that are infectious. Rad’s has a somewhat cynical point of view and this makes for a great counterpoint to all the wonders that are on display.
During the course of his investigation Rad meets a host of colourful characters, each one fitting perfectly into the unfolding plot. The enigmatic Captain Carson and his New York equivalent, who I’ll leave un-named to avoid unnecessary spoileriness, are two of my favourites. They both tread the fine line between hero and villain. The ever-sneaky Mr. Christopher invokes the rules of film-noir and keeps the reader guessing about their true intentions right up to the wire. I guess it wouldn’t be a mystery without some proper intrigue now would it?
Another couple of characters that feature highly are two superheroes (or possibly villains?), called the Skyguard, and the Science Pirate. Their epic rivalry and constant dueling have a direct link to the very heart of Empire State. After finishing the novel I have to admit that I’d love to learn more about them both, there is a back story that the author only briefly alludes to. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t want to know more.
What I wasn’t prepared for was a host of truly memorable moments that ended up totally catching me off guard.
In one moment, Adam Christopher knows how to amuse with the slightly surreal.
Hell, one time everyone with the surname ‘Johnson’ disappeared, then came back the next day. They say it was the Science Pirate and the Skyguard fighting.
And then tug at the old heartstrings the next.
The Empire State was cold, grey, fogbound and as quiet as the grave. Rad realized now that his city, his home, was merely a shadow of New York, a bad knock off, a worn-out second-hand copy. Rad felt odd. His chest was tight, not just from the breathing. His mask goggles steamed more, and he recognized the feeling. Sadness.
If I asked you to name the most famous city in the world there is a pretty good chance that New York would be at the top the list. It strikes me that there aren’t many other places that are quite as iconic. Taking such a well-known location and then creating an ever so slightly skewed version of it is great deal of fun. Everything is familiar and unrecognizable all at once.
Empire State is the rarest of things - a great genre novel that weaves together a multitude of different ideas and incorporates them into a seamless narrative. The story elements that the author plays with all riff off one another like a free form jazz tune, and create a wonderfully eclectic adventure. I found myself comparing elements of the novel to many other existing genre comics, books and films - The Wizard of Oz, Dark City, Watchmen, The Philadelphia Experiment and the rather splendid short story from George R R Martin’s first Wildcard anthology Thirty Minutes Over Broadway by Howard Waldrop. All these pop culture references sprung to mind at various points in the plot. That’s not to say that Empire State is derivative, quite the reverse in fact. Christopher’s debut expertly blends together the old school detective conventions with some classic golden age science fiction to create something new and utterly readable.
Empire State is published by Angry Robot and is available now. I’m willing to concede that I’m a bit late to this to this particular party but I urge you, if you haven’t already, to check it out. Highly recommended.