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David Mitchell – The Bone Clocks

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Sometimes a book can send you off your beaten path and help you to explore authors you might never have come across. I read The Bone Clocks, just after it was released, and it was the start of a new direction, in which genre still plays a key role, which a few years ago I would never have entertained. Have I had the same moment I felt when instead of just knowing the Rolling Stones or Bruce Springsteen I finally listened. Have I Grown up?

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In 1984, teenager Holly Sykes runs away from home, a Gravesend pub after a fight with her mother. Sixty years later, she is to be found in the far west of Ireland, raising a granddaughter as the world’s climate collapses. In between, Holly is encountered as a barmaid in a Swiss resort by a sociopath in 1991; has a child with a foreign correspondent covering the Iraq War in 2003; becomes the confidante of a self-obsessed author of fading powers and reputation during the present decade. Yet these changing personae are only part of the story, as Holly’s life is repeatedly intersected by a slow-motion war between a cult of predatory soul-decanters and a band of vigilantes led by one Doctor Marinus. Holly begins as an unwitting pawn in this war – but may prove to be its decisive weapon

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This book is composed of six parts, dropping in chronologically throughout Holly’s life. Four of part are told through the eyes of characters holly encounters along the way and these provide a great change in pace and style that makes each one brilliantly unique. From Hugo Lamb’s (James Mcavoy in the film surly?) predatory life as a Cambridge undergraduate to an immortal being waging war, each proved a glimpse into holly’s life and emotions and genuinely make you care without eclipsing Holly. My personal favorite is Crispin Hershey, a former “wild child of British literature” whose career is in free-fall. Crispin meets Holly and the literary festival circuit when the queue he thought was for him is really for her.

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The story isn’t the best you will ever read but Mitchell has a great talent for making you care about the people and to read between the lines. I was glued to every page even though there isn’t much story progression until the final few scenes. This book feels like the side notes to the main story but just told incredibly well.

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I was lucky enough to meet David on his tour and take some pictures, which I have shared in this review. I was compelled to attend mainly because Bone Clocks is the only one of his books I’ve read and that is what sent me down the path I’m on now. The books he recommend to me I’ve loved, The WindUp Bird Chronicle by Haruki Murakami to name one.

So my conclusion from this, and something I will take forward into the new year and beyond is to keep more of an open mind about literature, just because something is listed for the Man Booker or is placed in Richard and Judy’s book club, doesn’t mean is shite. 🙂

Maybe i’ve grown up

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No way.

Drop me your thoughts and book recommendations into the comments below or tweet me @europaoutlaw

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In The Miso Soup – Ryu Murakami Review

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Recently I have been reading about the most depraved and detestable human beings I have ever come across in fiction and I am loving every minute of it. Douglas Coupland Chuck Palahniuk and Patrick Hamilton, to name a few, have really engaged me to a slightly worrying degree. The characters are unpredictable and unapologetic which keeps me firmly on the edge of my seat.

Reads like the script notes for American Psycho – The Holiday Abroad”

The Guardian

Even though I think this is an awful quote (Really? American Psycho – The Holiday Abroad? That’s a straight to Netflix sequel if I’ve ever heard one) and on refection doesn’t do give this book enough credit, but It was enough to get the hooks in. That and the stunning cover.

Twenty year-old Kenji is a Japanese “nightlife” guide for foreigners — he navigates “Gaijin” men around the sex clubs and hostess bars of Tokyo. He receives a phone call from an American named Frank, who seeks three nights of his services. While Kenji has promised to spend more time with his girlfriend, sixteen year-old Jun, the money is too good to pass up. Though she does not really figure in the proceedings and Murakami seems more interested in the relationship that develops between Kenji and Frank, a warped form of friendship, fueled by fear but also by fascination. He finds himself closing out the end of the year accompanying Frank around Shinjuku, wondering if his strange, plastic-skinned patron could be responsible for the gruesome events recently reported in the news.

Its a fascinating book. The relationship between the two of them, twists and turns through out but its Frank that really makes this novel stand out. His mental regression from wealthy business man to bumbling child is astonishing and the constant tease of him falling off the cliff, whether its in Kenji’s mind or physically acted, increases the tension between the two.

When this finally happens and Franks identity becomes clear, around the middle of the novel, The tense relationship changes once again in a scene of sickening violence that is both compelling and repulsive. It is relatively short but shocking never the less, and it is impossible to finish the rest without a heightened level of anxiety.

In The Miso Soup is short be very sweet and putting the possible political stance to one side, it’s a thoughtful novel about what its like to be lonely or have a lack of identity. Its modern Noir at its best and somehow, through all the darkness and ambiguity you still come away hopeful for all involved

Give it a try and let me know what you think in the comments or on twitter @europaoutlaw

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Galveston – Nic Pizzolatto

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There can’t be many people who keep up to date in genre circles, who haven’t heard of HBO’s hit crime drama True Detective. Episodes averaged 11.2 million viewers, making it the most watched first season of an HBO Original Series since 2001 and its current IMDB rating is 9.4. I loved the series, so when I saw Nic Pizzolatto’s 2010 debut crime novel Galveston on the shelves, I was interested. After reading the opening line of the blurb – “Roy Cady is, by his own admission. A bad man”- I was sold.

Like True Detective, the book is set around New Orleans and follows two narrative tracks making great use of following the same character, antihero Roy Cady, at different times of his life. The first and main track, follows Roy as he flees New Orleans after narrowly escaping an assassination attempt by his former employer. As he escapes he takes Rocky, a young prostitute barely out of her teens, and her younger sister, Tiffany, who is still a toddler. The three of them travel to Galveston, where they stay in an off road motel, where they try and start a new life but it doesn’t take long for Roy and Rocky to be led by old temptations.

The second is set twenty-one years later in 2008. Roy is in his sixties and living alone in Galveston with his dog. He makes his living as a handy man for his landlord and copes with the unspeakable past, thinking it isn’t real. Roy is a more optimistic version of True Detective’s Cohle character and they both share a fondness for cutting up beer cans to make little aluminium men, a nervous tick that I enjoyed in both formats. Roy is constantly looking over his shoulder and when it becomes apparent a suited man is looking for him, Roy thinks the past has finally caught up with him.

I hardly ever read blurbs on books. I got to the ‘Roy is a bad man line’ and that’s all I needed to know. I do feel sometimes a blurb gives the wrong impression of a book and has you thinking in a particular way before you read it. A review is not the same because it’s only an opinion so you can carry on reading this knowing it’s my view of the book. A blurb seems more official to me and the bad man line made think I was in for a Jim Thompson esc thrill ride of violence and debauchery, which I like a lot, but what I got was just as good. This is an emotional novel at its core; with both Rocky and Roy trying to distinguish their feelings for one another as well is Roy becoming a father figure to the younger sister. The pair of them keep pulling him back where the old Roy would have just skipped town and just carried on. He sees them as his chance at a straight life

There are a few twists that will delight a main stay of crime fiction and wonderfully fleshed out characters that would keep anyone involved. Pizzolatto’s style is stamped all over this and to see so many similarities to true detective whilst still being different is refreshing and excites me for Nic’s future work. I’m hoping he can, or has, a few more books in him but with True Detective’s success I might be waiting a long time.

I hope you give this a try and I would love to know what you think.

Galveston is published by Sphere, an imprint of Little Brown, and is available in paperback now.

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Lexicon – Max Barry

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If SFX magazine gives a book 5/5, I tend to take note. SF needs an exciting kick up the backside and, based on hype, I thought this could be it.

Book Description

Words are weapons, and one man is immune in this dazzlingly original thriller from the author of Jennifer Government.

Review

The novel’s other thread follows a young man named Wil, who awakes on the first page with a needle in his eyeball and two men threatening him. One of the men, Eliot (T.S Eliot) tells Wil he was a part of an organization called the Poets who wield words as powerful forms of control. He also tells him a Poet called Virginia Woolf, who unleased something called a bareword, killing thousands in a small town in the Australian outback, wants him dead because the bareword had no effect on Wil. The second follows Emily, a street magician, who is enrolled in a school for promising young students ran by the Poets, where they are trained to control people’s minds and actions with particular combinations of words. Early on this takes a Derren Brown style, with Emily using her words and actions for powers of persuasion and influence, but as her powers grow she learns just how dangerous words can be.

There are a few really good points to this book. I thought at first I had another Harry Potter on my hands, with a fun magical school for Emily to attend, but the book distances itself from any thought of magic and focuses on the persuasion aspects. Also the book is brilliantly structured, with really good tension building jumps back and forth. T S Eliot’s character is a great action thriller loner type, with some depressing skeletons in the closet but unfortunately, for interesting points about this book, I run out here.

I did enjoy it, but for me it’s nothing to get too excited about. I didn’t really relish the company of any of the characters and the plot twisted in predictable ways to form an unfortunately predictable outcome. It’s a shame really, I could have fallen victim to Lexicon’s hype but I think I’ve just read too many books of a similar standard and a great idea doesn’t always translate into a great book.

I encourage you to go out and try this one for yourself though and I’d love to hear what you think.

Lexicon is published by Mulholland and is available now.

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The Son – Jo Nesbo

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Jo is the creator of hard-drinking, hard-working Oslo cop, Harry Hole, and has been as at the forefront of the Scandinavian crime boom ever since. Selling over 24 million copies of his book worldwide (only beaten by Stieg Larsson), he’s been translated into more than 40 languages. When Jo’s last book ‘Police’ came out I was lucky enough to attend a talk of his and there was one statement he made that completely endeared him to me and placed him above the writer norm. It was during the Q&A segment where a lady stood up and said:

“A traditional Scandinavian crime series lasts ten books, but with ‘Police’ being the tenth in this series, have you got any plans to write more as Harry? I can’t be the only person in this crowd hoping for more.”

Jo could have easily been forgiven for replying with the stock answer, “maybe if the voice comes to me” or something along those lines, but quick as a flash his response was:

“Listen, I just want everyone to know that I feel no obligation to any of you.”

There was a ripple of awkward laughter and the woman sat down looking a bit put out. I, on the other hand, was now hanging on his every word. He went on to say he writes only for himself and its luck that anyone has liked his books. As a man who has tried his hand at many a different career, from professional footballer to musician, if he isn’t enjoying himself he will move on. A statement I have infinite respect for.

The product of that ‘moving on’ is Jo’s latest book The Son and it was a book I struggled to put down.

Book Description

SONNY’S ON THE RUN

Sonny is a model prisoner. He listens to the confessions of other inmates, and absolves them of their sins.

HE’S BEEN LIED TO HIS WHOLE LIFE

But then one prisoner’s confession changes everything. He knows something about Sonny’s disgraced father.

SONNY WANTS REVENGE

He needs to break out of prison and make those responsible pay for their crimes.

Review

The Son opens in an Oslo prison with the son in question, Sonny. This prisoner is the son of an Oslo policeman who committed suicide after allegations of corruption when Sonny was a child. Many years later, he’s a heroin addict who keeps a steady stream of drugs flowing by confessing to crimes he didn’t commit to stay hooked up to the drug. Whilst taking confessions from his fellow inmates to absorb their sins, Sonny hears his dad’s case might not be as cut and dry as he thinks and sets out on a mission for revenge.

Inspector Simon Kefas is an aging but brilliant policeman and also the best friend of Sonny’s father. He was also devastated at the loss of his friend but as the bodies start to pile up he has to make a harrowing choice.

Just how far would someone go for the ones they loved? This book goes above and beyond a normal crime thriller. The lines between good and bad start burred and in time fade completely until all that’s left is a tense, gut reaction to the unfolding plot. There are similarities between Kefas and Hole, as there are for all good crime detectives. Their brilliant but flawed and loved but lonely, but what makes this book stand out is Sonny. He is a wonderfully fleshed out character with loving, warm traits at times and disturbingly brutal at others. Do you root for the police or The Son? It’s not as easy as you think.

Fans of Jo’s could be worried about the ‘Hole’ left by not including their favourite detective. But The Son doesn’t just fill it; it builds a deftly plotted novel full of love and redemption, on its foundations. If this is the standard that Jo will be reaching for with future projects then I guarantee that ten years from now at signings, audiences won’t be asking if Jo will ever produce a Harry Hole book again. They probably won’t remember who that is.

 

The Son is published by Harvill Secker (10 April 2014)

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The Axeman’s Jazz – Ray Celestin

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First and foremost, a big thanks to Sophie Orme @Sophiemorme  Senior editor at Mantle, Pan Macmillan for sending me a copy of this book. It was through a tweet of hers that I had first heard of this.

Book Description

New Orleans, 1919. As a dark serial killer – The Axeman – stalks the city, three individuals set out to unmask him . . .

Though every citizen of the ‘Big Easy’ thinks they know who could be behind the terrifying murders, Detective Lieutenant Michael Talbot, heading up the official investigation, is struggling to find leads. But Michael has a grave secret, and if he doesn’t get himself on the right track fast, it could be exposed . . .

Former detective Luca d’Andrea has spent the last six years in Angola state penitentiary, after Michael, his protégée, blew the whistle on his corrupt behaviour. Now a newly freed man, Luca is back working with the mafia, whose need to solve the mystery of the Axeman is every bit as urgent as that of the authorities.

Meanwhile, Ida is a secretary at the Pinkerton Detective Agency. Obsessed with Sherlock Holmes and dreaming of a better life, Ida stumbles across a clue which lures her and her musician friend, Louis Armstrong, to the case – and into terrible danger . . .

As Michael, Luca and Ida each draw closer to discovering the killer’s identity; the Axeman himself will issue a challenge to the people of New Orleans: play jazz or risk becoming the next victim. And as the case builds to its crescendo, the sky will darken and a great storm will loom over the city . . .

Inspired by a true story, THE AXEMAN’S JAZZ, set against the heady backdrop of jazz-filled, mob-ruled New Orleans, is an ambitious, gripping thriller announcing a major new talent in historical crime fiction.

Review

During my crime reading phase this past 12 months, nothing has appealed to me more than the idea of 1919 New Orleans and a jazz loving, axe wielding, serial killer.

The novel follows its three main characters, Michael, Luca and Ida, on the hunt for the mysterious axe man and takes the reader down three different lines of enquiry. Michael is by the book, Luca is rough around the edges but smart, and Sherlock Holmes Obsessive Ida tries out her own powers of deduction. Each of these paths are, at times, a tense and exciting ride, with you slipping into a rat race mentality to find out who, If any, will catch their man first. Ray could have been forgiven if he had decided to only lead with two out of the three and it would still have been an engrossing tale, but to have three different perspectives on one case will place this well ahead of any other debut to be released this year.

This book ticks a lot of boxes. The characters are personally flawed, like all good crime novels, because of their experiences, or in Ida’s case, a lack of. The only sore point for me of this entire novel was the inclusion of Ida’s young sidekick, Louis Armstrong. I didn’t really feel like Louis Armstrong would have investigated crime in his younger days. The character was written very well and his experiences as a musician gave the story more depth but I felt as though he could have been a nameless musician and making him the Ambassador Satch himself, took away from the character rather that added to it.

This is a fantastic debut full of educated twists and turns in a well-structured 1919’s New Orleans setting and hopefully the inclusion of the Axeman in the hit TV series American Horror Story, will fuel interest in this book. I’m looking forward to Ray’s future work and hope he can build on the success of this brilliant opener.

The Axeman’s Jazz will be published on by Mantle, Pan Macmillian 8th May 2014

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First and Only – Dan Abnett *Black Library Classics*

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It took me a while to give The Black Library a try. I’ve never been a fan of Warhammer, the table top miniature war-game produced by Games Workshop, and also of Military Science Fiction, so for the first few years of reading SF it was pretty much out of sight out of mind. I also lumbered these novels as “Tie-ins” which sometimes can be rushed to make a quick buck. After dispelling some missed placed prejudices about Black Library after being recommended “The Horus Heresy” by anyone into military SF I was so surprised by the level of quality not only in the brilliantly described war zones but in character and story development too. I admit I was wrong and in a time where new and exciting Science Fiction comes few and far between for me, it’s good to have in the back of my mind that Black Library produces high quality SF/F without becoming completely obsessed with it.

One of the most popular authors is Dan Abnett. I’ve read Hours Rising and a stand-alone novel called Embedded and was impressed with each, so when I saw Black Library were producing three stunning Classics which include Dan’s first published novel “First and Only” I had to give it a try.

The ‘First and Only’ of the title is the Tanith First and Only division of the Imperial Guard. They are led by Ibrahim Gaunt and are involved in the Sabbat Worlds Crusade, an ambitious mission by the Empire of Man to bring peace and defeat the forces of Chaos in the Sabbat Worlds of the 41st millennium. The First and Only got their unique moniker because the world of Tanith was destroyed by the forces of Chaos shortly after the Imperium called for a regiment to be created. Under Gaunt’s command, the First and Only has earned the nickname the Ghosts and has become a respected force in the Imperial Guard.

For the first ever black Library novel I think it is certainly the best I’ve read so far. Gaunt is a fantastic character and I became so caught up with the cast; it placed me further on to the edge of my seat. The first 100 pages is pretty much warfare and even though the battle is beautifully and violently described I didn’t connect with anyone apart from Gaunt until much later. I think that was purposefully done. I thought it showed Gaunt as a lone, near perfect, fighter capable of liberating worlds with a command. It’s not until he is challenged did I see how much the “Ghosts” around him come to life.

Dan Abnett’s novels for the Black Library have sold more than a million copies and this book takes us back to where it all began. This is a great introductory novel for fans of military science fiction that may not yet be familiar with the Warhammer 40,000 setting.

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