Tag Archives: crime fiction

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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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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James Crumley – The Last Good Kiss

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James Crumley – The Last Good Kiss (1978)

For the past year, about 80% of my reading time has been dedicated to crime fiction. SF and horror have taken the back seat to the likes of Jim Thompson, Ross Macdonald, Jo Nesbo, Izzo, Ian Rankin and more, but after reading this, I feel I can finally step away for a while and explore something else. I have just finished James Crumley’s The Last Good Kiss, the best crime book I’ve read so far.

Blurb:

Tough, hard-boiled, and brilliantly suspenseful, The Last Good Kiss is an unforgettable detective story starring C. W. Sughrue, a Montana investigator who kills time by working at a topless bar. Hired to track down a derelict author, he ends up on the trail of a girl missing in Haight-Ashbury for a decade. The tense hunt becomes obsessive as Sughrue takes a haunting journey through the underbelly of America’s sleaziest nightmares.

As soon as I opened the first page, I was met with this line

“When I finally caught up with Abraham Trahearne, he was drinking beer with an alcoholic bulldog named Fireball Roberts in a ramshackle joint just outside Sonoma California, drinking the heart out of a fine spring afternoon.”

I was hooked and determined to write down every passage that made me groan with jealousy and awe but I had to give up on that idea quite early on. It’s just too quotable.

The book opens with C.W. Sughrue, A private investigator hired to find an eccentric writer called Abraham Trahearne by his ex-wife. After weeks of searching, Sughrue finally catches up with the writer after learning about his strange affinity for bar dogs, which leads him to Fireball and of course Trahearne.

“Whenever I found anybody, I always suspected that I deserved more than money in payment. This was the saddest moment of the chase, the silent wait for the apologetic parents or the angry spouse or the law. The process was fine, but the finished product was always ugly. In my business, you need a moral certitude that I no longer even claimed to possess and, every time, when I came to the end of the chase I wanted to walk away.”

After a misunderstanding, which leads to Trahearne taking a slug in the arse, the owner of the bar asks C.W to look for her daughter, who has been missing in San Francisco for ten years. She stepped out of her boyfriend’s car and was never seen again. Sughrue eventually accepts the case even though he feels it’s pointless and not worth the measly $85 he’s paid but it’s all the mother has and Trahearne is willing to fund the search for a few more days away from his mother and ex-wife. What follows is full of twists and turns, pint bottles of vodka and Femme Fatales that will hold you to the very last word.

Crumley nails every character to the point of tears. As Sughrue and Trahearne look for the runaway Betty-Sue Flowers, it becomes clear that they’re all running from something. Sughrue tries to outweigh his own feelings of inferiority by telling himself he’s happy with the mundane life of a PI, who has to support himself by working in bars when work is slow. Trahearne tries to run from his infidelities, alcoholism and his thought that the last line he wrote could be his last.

In a strange way, I came out of this book with optimism. It revels in celebration at the obstacles Sughrue must face. The complexity of the story, the flawed and damaged characters makes this seem timeless. I’ve only just finished the book so it will be interesting to see how I feel about it in the upcoming weeks and months but for now, this is the most absorbing and on-point piece of pulp crime fiction I have read. You owe it to yourself to try it.

“Stories are like snapshots, pictures snatched out of time, with clean hard edges. But life always begins and ends in a bloody muddle, womb to tomb, just one big mess, a can of worms left to rot in the sun.”

As this is unavailable as an ebook, you will have to go to a bookshop. You never know, you might like it.

James Arthur Crumley was the author of violent hardboiled crime novels and several volumes of short stories and essays, as well as published and unpublished screenplays.

The edition I read was part of the Vintage Crime series from Black Lizard.

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Total Chaos – Jean-Claude Izzo review

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“None of us have known what to do with our lives. Cop or robber, it makes no difference”

A former colleague of mine and someone I have a lot of respect for as a real bookseller’s bookseller, is known for his healthy obsession with indie publishers and publisher themed tables. Not everyone within our ranks likes these displays but I find myself unable to keep my eyes of them and neither can customers. One of my favourites is the Europa Edition table because it instantly draws your eye with interesting covers that capture your imagination. I don’t do enough digging, when it comes to picking a book, and tend to go for the more mainstream option so it’s good to be shown something outside the top 100 every now and then. It was on this table, while I was browsing, that an elderly gentlemen tapped me on the shoulder and pointed to Total Chaos.

“That’s the one you want” He said and began to tell me that it was a book he keeps with him while traveling. I’m glad for your recommendation, sir…extremely glad

Total chaos follows Fabio Montale, a suburban-Marseille detective, who sees his two closest childhood friends die one-by-one in violent circumstances. One was killed without anyone knowing why; the other was killed immediately after assassinating one of the leaders of the local underworld. Montale tries to understand what happened and gradually discovers a tangle of interests and power struggles within the Marseilles underworld and police. Fabio is drawn by a promise the three friends made to watch out for one another no matter what feet he treads on or what rules they may break, this draws him into the dark heart of the city he lives in as he finds who wanted his friends dead.

I hope a mainstay of crime fiction will find a lot to enjoy here. Classic Noir themes and beautiful description and dialogue makes each page savoured, not just turned. The city itself comes to life as the dark corners and seedy bars invite you to know more. Luckily for me, and you if you decide to try this, there are two more books in the Marseilles trilogy and I can only hope they’re anywhere near as good as this one. I’m relatively new to the crime genre but in the past year of nearly solidly reading the likes of Rankin, MacDonald, Thompson and Nesbo, Izzo easily measures up. However I would describe him, compared to most crime I’ve read, as a glass of red wine in amongst tumbler’s of whiskey. He’s dark as the best of them, but the way in which he wrote gives you a much smoother experience.  Izzo’s writing to some can be style over substance but Fabio’s thoughts at times are just as interesting as the case itself.

The Marseilles Trilogy is published by Europa Editions as part of their World Noir series

JEAN-CLAUDE IZZO was born in Marseilles, France, in 1945. He achieved immediate success with his Marseilles Trilogy. His two other novels (The Lost Mariners and The Sun of the Dying) and one collection of short stories (Living Tires) also continue to enjoy popularity with both critics and the public. Izzo died in 2000 at the age of fifty-five.

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Competition – Signed Police by Jo Nesbo

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On Friday the 13th September, I had the privilege to attend both Jo Nesbo signings in Manchester. One at Waterstones Manchester Deansgate, as part of there Dead On Deansgate Crime festival and the other at Manchester Town Hall for the Manchester Literature Festival.

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The nice people at Harvill Secker and Random House, gave me a copy a signed copy of Police, just to give to you. Good luck and I hope it goes to a good home.

Just click on the link below

a Rafflecopter giveaway

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