BURNING QUESTIONS DEFTLY RESOLVED IN SHINDLER’S DEBUT

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9781529301694 THE BURNING MEN JACKETI’m a great fan of TV detective drama. The longer, two-hour episodic versions please me most. Currently I’m loving ‘Endeavour’, an ITV production, which is a prequel to the much loved ‘Inspector Morse’. I much prefer them to one-hour series, where everything is neatly wrapped up in a short time. You can very rarely guess ‘whodunnit’ in the longer dramas but in the one-hour stories, things sometimes seem a little contrived or you can guess at the start. It’s a pet hate of mine that I don’t like detective stories where we hear the murderer’s thoughts or worse, are introduced to them at the beginning. I love the reveal, the twist and the wow factor of the final denouement, especially where the odd subtle clue has been there all along!

So this month’s first review, The Burning Men, by Will Schindler and published Hodder and Stoughton (www.hodder.co.uk) on the 6th February had me twitching from its cover. As followers of this blog know, this reviewer doesn’t read the back blurb. However, here the front cover is emblazoned with “They left him to die. Now its their turn to burn”. So, I started to read with a sigh. How vexing! If I thought I was going to be disappointed, however, I was wrong.

The story has a great premise. Five years previously to its opening events, there was a fire at a major London development. A team of firefighters enter the building to rescue a trapped man. However, they leave the building without a body and shortly after they all quit the fire service and plan to never meet again. Now one of them has been set alight at his own wedding. Then, a second member of the team is found, as nothing but a smoking corpse. What happened that night in the burning development? Does someone know what choices they made over duty? Who is the killer?

Detective Inspector Alex Finn is assigned to the case. Very recently bereaved, he wants to immerse himself back into work as a way to cope with his grief. He has been assigned a new Detective Constable, Mattie Paulson, a woman with her own problems. Add in a longstanding and stalled related investigation and its problematic team and things get complicated. Will Alex be able to keep it together while he solves the case? Will Mattie overcome her own issues to forge a new working partnership with Alex?

As with life, what we know about someone is probably the tip of the iceberg in relation to their history, feelings and motivations. So, we join Alex and Mattie at a pivotal time in their lives. You might have the sense that you’d missed a couple of previous Alex Finn novels and had joined a little late in the party but all great detective characters in a crowded market need a sad back story, a problem with substance abuse, an attitude or a vulnerability to make you root for them. This is done to great effect here. I felt like this wasn’t the first book in a series, even though it was, and for once that was good. For a lover of detective fiction, this was a comfortable, satisfying read. There was nothing outlandish. It did exactly what you expected from the outset, except that phrase on the cover seemingly giving away the identity of the killer. I smugly read on, enjoying the story and the assured writing, but feeling I wasn’t suitably distracted by the range of suspects, because I thought I had it all worked out from the promotional headline. I spent most of the book, complaining about that headline saying, it shouldn’t be on the cover but at the end I was surprised by whodunnit and the clues were all there all the time, cleverly woven into the fabric of the story. I was suckered… I was delighted!

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Will Shindler

This is English author Will Schindler’s (@willshindler) debut novel and the first of a proposed series introducing the characters of DI Alex Finn and his new partner DC Mattie Paulson. Will Schindler has been a broadcast journalist for over twenty-five years and spent a decade working in TV drama as a scriptwriter for popular series like Born and Bred, The Bill and Doctors. He currently combines reading the news on BBC Radio London, with writing.

So, a very warm welcome to DI Alex Finn and DC Paulson. You are definitely on my ‘must get the next in series’ list. I’m keen to learn more about you. This novel and its characters who could easily become a TV series, owing to the author’s experience as a scriptwriter, which is evident though book and would definitely be of the two-hour episode variety.

Please take note! In the meantime, this is a hot recommendation for detective novel enthusiasts, so jump on your “Fire Engine” red bike and race down to your local book shop to buy  it or download  a copy of ‘The Burning Men’ and to blaze through its pages.

 

 

 

Reviewed by : Georgina Murphy

 

This review is part of a Blog Tour, to see what the other reviewers thought visit their blogs listed below. Then if you get a copy of Burning Men, comeback and tell what you thought, we’d really appreciate the feedback.

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ROGER BRINGS IN A NEWMAN TO REVIVE A CLASSIC GENRE

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JRoger_FC(R9iii).inddOver the past few weeks Australians have been praying for rain in their fire ravaged continent, while in the northern hemisphere, we’ve been praying for a white Christmas for the past four weeks or more. Neither party got much of what they wanted.  Although I did find myself wading through snow over Christmas and it was all down to the first book review of the new decade. Its Shamus Dust – Hard Winter, Cold war, Cool Murder by Janet Roger and Published by Matador (https://www.troubador.co.uk/matador/) at the end of October 2019.

On an Early Christmas morning in a snowbound blitz scarred London, insurance fraud investigator Newman is awoken from his slumber by the telephone. The voice on the other end identifies himself as Councillor Drake from the City of London. He needs Newman to go to a church in the city where a body of one of Drake’s tenants has been discovered and from there find the killer. On arrival at the church, along with the body of a young man, he finds the only witness is a nurse on her way to work. Within a matter of hours the suspect list has risen, so to does their occupancy of city morgue over the following couple of days. What initially looks like a vice crime turns into a case of cross and double cross during one of the hardest winters to hit London. Firmly in the midst of it is our American, war veteran hero, who is trying to stay one step ahead of the police and find the killer with help of the curvaceous coroner Dr Elizabeth Swinford. Can they find the killer? Save the Councillors reputation and stop the killing spree in the financial heart of England’s capital?

Another thing we all look forward to around the Christmas period is a large feast and to make it all go smoothly you try to get every ingredient right. Just like writing a book. To produce a well-rounded and satisfying read, one needs all the right ingredients and in Shamus Dust Janet Roger has done that. From the perfect setting, to a memorable and charming central character and the ensemble cast of supporting characters topped off with the right amount of tension and humour, which allow the reader to become thoroughly engrossed in the book.

Janet Roger

Janet Roger

I started reading this book on the Friday before Christmas, it was pre-dawn on a cold crisp morning in a Starbucks near where I work. Yes, the atmosphere was perfect and never before had a book so made me feel more in the moment than this one and its opening pages. The nearest comparison to this is a Christmas Carol by Dickens and Mystery In White by J. Jefferson Farjeon.

What Roger has delivered in Shamus Dust is a truly remarkable seasonal crime thriller, featuring her dry witted detective who is cut from the same cloth as Sam Spade, Philip Marlowe and Mike Hammer. He is a delight to listen to in your head as you read this book and like his contemporaries, is fallible and prone to getting hurt…

The rich and detailed style of Rogers writing gives more life to her main character, the story and its setting, that if I was transported back in time to 1947 now with a copy, I would not feel out of place and could, by the lovingly detailed descriptions of post war London, find my way around the city. The skill in which she has written and described Newman’s surroundings and characters who inhabit it proves, if proof was needed, that this book was written and researched by a storyteller who is one to watch is the future.

This is Janet Roger’s (www.janetroger.com) debut novel and it has already tasted success, having won the 2019Bev hills award Beverly Hills Book Award, as well as Fully Booked’s Book of the Year and made NB magazine’s top ten.  She trained in Archaeology, History and Eng. Lit. and has a special interest in the early Cold War. She currently leads a nomadic existence, admitting to never staying in one place for a minimum of six weeks and at most three months on the rare occasion.

When Raymond Chandler died in 1959 he left an unfinished novel, that book was Poodle Springs. Thirty years later, the well-known crime novelist Robert B. Parker finished the book using Chandlers original notes. In the future we won’t have to wait for more of Chandlers ideas to be discovered, with this original pairing of Roger and Newman.

If there is anything against the book, its that the detailed descriptions that the author has woven into the story, force the reader to almost stop and visually look around, thus taking slightly from the pace its self. It took me well over a week to read this 300 page book, although I’m inclined to put that down to the added distractions of Christmas.

This week my book group chose the rota for the next 12 months and I got November, as a result Shamus Dust is already vying for my pick along with Mystery In White. But to be fair its only January, there’s a lot of reading to be done between now and then.

So dust off your trilby and raincoat and head down to your local book shop and purchase a copy or download it, before the rest of the world latches onto this rising literary star and Mr. Newman.

 

Reviewed by:  Adrian Murphy

RUBIN’S DEBUT IS A LIBERATION FROM OTHER FAR FETCHED ALT. HISTORY BOOKS

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Liberation SquareThis week, the Crystal Palace and Welsh International goalkeeper Wayne Hennessy was accused by a Football Association hearing of “lamentable” ignorance towards Fascism and Adolf Hitler. This came after he used the excuse that he didn’t know what a Nazi salute was. This thirty-year-old highly paid premier league footballer’s appearance before the tribunal came after images of him emerged last year, at a Crystal Palace team dinner, making what was construed as a Nazi salute.

There have been enough movies and video games made, as well as books published in the past three decades,(Schindler’s List, The Boy in The Stripped Pyjamas, Inglorious Bastards and Call Of Duty) to leave only someone living in a cultural vacum or a hermitage, in this position. Following the decision of the Football association conduct hearing which cleared the player, he was sent informative material by The Auschwitz Memorial about Fascism.

Mr Hennessy, like quite a large number of people in the UK and across Europe, lives a good life owing to the sacrifices made by their grandparents and hopefully will never experience the constraints of Fascism or even Socialism, except in the realms of video games or as alternative history story lines in TV programmes and books. One of those books is this month’s second review, its Liberation Square by Gareth Rubin, published by Michael Joseph (www.penguin.co.uk/company/publishers/michael-joseph.html) on the 18th April .

Its 1952, in a divided European country following the end of the second world war. But instead of hearing German accents as you travel around this place they are English … Yes, the D-Day landings failed and England is divided following a German invasion. The Democratic United Kingdom controlled by the Allies lies beyond a border stretching from Bristol to the Norfolk coast. Beneath that line, is the Soviet controlled Republic of Great Britain and inside it is London a city divided in two by a large wall.

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The Berlin Wall (StMU History Media)

In the Soviet controlled sector of the city Jane Cawson, a school teacher, suspects her doctor husband Nick is having an affair with his first wife, Lorelei an actress and star of numerous propaganda films. Jane goes to Lorelei’s house in the hope of confronting the two of them, but finds the former Mrs Cawson murdered in her bath. Nick is arrested on suspicion of murder and held by the brutal Secret Police.

Jane then starts trying to prove her husband’s innocence to get him released, she starts probing Nicks relationship with his former wife, why are there coded messages hidden in a book in Lorelei’s house. All the while trying to protect her step-daughter, as well as not arousing suspicion from the authorities and nosy neighbours  who are all too eager to tow the party line and curry favours. With the help of Tibbot, a middle-aged East End bobby, Jane starts to piece together the identity of Lorelei’s murderer and hopefully prove Nick’s innocence. But is he innocent? Was Lorelei consorting with the Allies and what does it have to do with her recent miscarriage…?

As alternative history driven plot lines go, this in the current climate is not too far from the truth. With Brexit looming over the United Kingdom, the country is divided and becoming even more fractured by the day.

Rubin’s book is superbly crafted and drives the imagination from the first page to its conclusion, with its Sliding Doors – “What If” scenario. Along the way it asks the reader to imagine what might have happened if the course of history had changed.

The description of the remnants of war-torn London and the citizens trying get by under a brutal socialist regime are thought provoking and envelopes the reader into the story with every turn of the page. The historical nuances are superb, especially when you have Jane coming up against the likes of Burgess and Blunt and other members of the Cambridge five spy ring, who in this story have been exalted into running the country for their soviet bosses, as a reward for their cowardice and betrayal.

As for the characters, Jane is an excellent heroine, whose simplicity allows her to be believable and sets her apart from the all too often, highly skilled, super spy protagonist you expect to find in these types of books. She’s a school teacher, in well over her head, but allowed to follow the course of her investigations by the assistance of some other remarkably drawn characters, such as Tibbot the police officer working up to his retirement and the cagey and mysterious Charles, Nicks practice manager. Not forgetting the other host of run of the mill cockney characters and party hangers on and apparatchiks who help drive the story forward, as well as making it as wholly believable as it.

This is English Author Gareth Rubin’s (http://gr8502.wixsite.com) first

Gareth Rubin

Gareth Rubin

novel, he’s written one previous book, an anthology of mistakes which have changed the course of British history, called The Great Cat Massacre A History of Britain in One Hundred Mistakes (2014). He’s journalist also a covering social affair, travel and the arts for various newspapers. In 2013 he directed a documentary about therapeutic art at The Royal Bethlehem Hospital in London, otherwise known as ‘Bedlam’.

Liberation Square asks the unthinkable; what if for example Alan Turing and his secret team at Bletchley hadn’t broken the Enigma machine or Churchill’s government hadn’t found enough little boats to Sail twelve miles across the channel to rescue the Allies from Dunkirk? It makes the reader realize how much of what happened during that time in history is down to coincidences and a stroke of luck, as well as how easily things could have gone awry. If things had happened as in this book, where would the likes of Wayne Hennessy be now? Would they have been even born?

So if you are looking for deeply engrossing debut thriller, to read over the Easter break, which will make you think twice about how good your life is now, then get down to your local book shop or download a copy.

Reviewed by Adrian Murphy

 

This book part of a Penguin Books blog tour, to see what the other reviewers thought. Visit their blogs listed below and if you pick up a copy, comeback and tell us what you thought. We’d love the feedback.

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WINSPEAR AND DOBBS CONTINUE TO BLITZ THE HISTORICAL THRILLER GENRE

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american agent proof coverIt is often said “That fools rush in where angels fear to tread..”(Alexander Pope) and considering the day that’s in it, it seems quite apt. But in the thriller  or crime genres, the hero or heroine needs to be a little fool hardy and to take risks, in order to solve the mystery or save the day. Foolhardiness also played a big part in real life times of crisis, such as during the two world wars with numerous accounts of heroic acts which in normal day to day life any self respecting angel would have balked at the notion.

The era of World War Two has spawned many novels, films and artistic works. Some are true stories, some are ‘faction’ and some are romanticized versions of events. The War provides a colourful backdrop to any story or romance or intrigue. It is still within living memory but our ‘memories’ are coloured by the righteousness of victory and a belief that those of us on the winning side all pulled together in a noble way. However, wartime is also a period when crime rates soar. No more so than in Jacqueline Winspear numerous novels. This months first book review is her latest novel,  The American Agent published by Allison & Busby (www.allisonandbusby.com) on the 26th March

When a young american woman is found dead in her London flat. The brutal murder of the journalist is concealed by the British Authorities, initially keen to avoid a problem with the US but also because the victim Catherine Saxon has political connections. She has been working towards becoming a member of Murrow’s boys, a group of American reporters who are based in London and writing human interest stories with the aim of encouraging US sympathies towards supporting the Allies. Maisie Dobbs is asked to work in conjunction with an American Agent, Mark Scott to solve the crime. Dobbs and Scott have met before, he helped her escape the clutches of the third Reich in  Munich a couple of years previously. Can Maisie and her American friend get to the bottom of this murder while the Luftwaffe rain ordinance down on top of the British capital, threatening not just their investigation but the lives of those they love?

The American Agent is set during the time we now know as the Blitz, a period of intense bombing of British cities, which occurred during months from the autumn of 1940 to the beginning of summer in 1941. This was a truly evocative time in British people’s psyche. Those of us who were brought up in Britain, would have an ingrained understanding of what London during the Blitz was like, even though we have never personally experienced it. This was also a period when the British were working hard diplomatically to induce America to join the War. This propaganda offensive is also a feature of Winspear’s story, providing a side story to the murder mystery at its centre.

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Jacqueline Winspear

This isn’t Winspear’s first novel featuring Maisie Dobbs, a psychologist and investigator but it is the first I have had the pleasure to read. A situation soon to be corrected! Maisie has had an interesting life to date. She was a maid in an Aristocratic house at thirteen, where she received the patronage and support of both her suffragette employer and of Maurice Blanche an investigator. Inspired, she gains entry to Girton College, only to have her studies cut short by the start of the Great War, during which she works as a nurse on the Front. She subsequently becomes an investigator in her own right and as we join her here, has experienced love and loss and is currently in the process of trying to adopt a refugee child. A widow to a titled gentleman, she doesn’t routinely use her title but one can imagine it makes some things possible for a woman in 1940 that wouldn’t be otherwise.

English born American author Jaqueline Winspear has to date written 15 books, fourteen have featured her heroine Maisie Dobbs. The others include Maisie Dobbs (2003), Birds Of A Feather (2004), An Incomplete Revenge (2008), The Mapping Of Love And Death (2010), A Dangerous Place (2015) and In This Grave Hour (2017). The only book not featuring the enigmatic Ms Dobbs is The Care And Management Of Lies (2014). Born in Kent, Winspear emigrated to the United States in 1990 . It is her grandfather’s experiences and injuries at the battle of the Somme which inspired her to write historical fiction based in war time.

In The American Agent, Maisie has a pool of suspects, a wealth of motives and a victim

with a mysterious past. She also has her doubts about Mark Scott’s involvement. Is the investigation a blind for something else? Is he involved? She is drawn to him romantically, but does he feel the same way? Maisie is trying to juggle her work as an investigator with working as ambulance crew during the blitzes and maintaining a relationship with her refugee child, who is in the countryside under the care of her parents.

This was very much Sunday night TV in terms of style. And I say that with utmost respect. It reminded me of  Foyle’s War, Call the Midwife or Heartbeat . One of those well-made, characterful dramas, that when you see it in the listings, you know you are in for an enjoyable time. A lover of Agatha Christie since my childhood, this was very much up my street.  The characters are well drawn, the setting is absolutely spot on and the denouement satisfying in its intricacy.  There was none of the gore and shock factors of modern crime thrillers. This read was very authentic. If someone told me it was written in the immediate post war period, I wouldn’t be surprised as it had a similar style to some vintage crime stories I’ve enjoyed. However Maisie is an inspiring very modern heroine. This should be an extra bonus in advertising this new novel and the other Maisie Dobbs novels on both sides of the Atlantic, in the current pro women in lead roles climate.

I for one, can’t wait to join the Maisie Dobbs revolution and catch up with the rest of the series! Neither should you, so hop on your bike to your local bookshop or download a copy and get behind a worthy new heroine.

Reviewed by Georgina Murphy

This book is part of a Random Things Blog tour, to see what the other reviewers think go visit their blogs listed below. Then if you pick up a copy of The American Agent, comeback to this or the other blogs and tell us whether you agree or disagree.

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GUSTAWSSON LAYS THE FIRST BLOCK IN NEW CRIME SERIES

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BLOCK 46 COVER AW.inddGreat things come in pairs they say, hands, eyes, ears. More practical things include comfy shoes; or slippers that you yearn to slip into after work and the soft white pillows which take you to the land of nod each evening. Then there are things that you wished didn’t come in pairs, but usually have a habit of doing so, such as buses and taxis.

Great detectives usually come in pairs as well. There have been some great partnerships in crime fiction down through the years, such as The Hardy Boys, Agatha Christies Poirot and Hastings and Tommy and Tuppence as well as more recently Morse and Lewis. These have been male dominated. There have been a few female duo’s: take Rizzoli and Isles for example and  not forgetting eighties TV cop duo Cagney and Lacey. This brings us to this month’s  second book review, which sees the introduction of a brand new all-female crimefighting partnership. It’s Block 46 by Johana Gustawsson, published by Orenda Books (www.orendabooks.com) in May of this year.

 

When the mutilated body of a talented jewelry designer is found in a bleak snow swept marina in Sweden, her friends and family travel from London to recover the body. Among them is her close friend, French true crime writer Alexis Castells. She starts to do some digging of her own into the case. In the local police station she bumps into an old associate, Emily Roy  (a profiler for the RCMP Royal Canadian Mounted Police) who is on loan to Scotland Yard. Her reason for being in the same place at the same time? The body of a boy was found on Hampstead Heath in London with the same wounds. Is this the work of a serial killer or a weird coincidence? The two women team up and work the case hopping back and forth across the North Sea. As they do, they discover a link to a World War Two concentration camp. Can the two women get to the bottom of this mystery before the killer strikes again or before culprit turns from pursued to pursuer?
Of the two world wars, the WW2 and the Holocaust has provided writers with a vast and rich vein of material with which to blame the evil deeds of criminals on. Block 46 is no exception. What Gustawsson does is mix the bloody reality of Schindler’s list with Scandi Noir and in doing so produces a very enjoyable and original novel.

 

Johanna Gustawsson

Johanna Gustawsson

What first excited me about this book when it landed on my hall floor was the dramatic picture on the cover. The silhouette of a lone figure in hat and coat walking between two barbed wire fences, all too familiar as those of a concentration camp. But also, combined with the title, they recall images seen on the numerous grainy news reels of that period.
The two main characters are hardly strangers and have some history which is easily explained, thus allowing the story to flow seamlessly, without having to go through a long-winded and roundabout introduction which in some instances distracts from a story. They are also different in their own way, just like Holmes and Watson, Castells is the grounded one who keeps the Canadian Roy, with her unique investigative techniques and strange habits, grounded. It will be interesting to see how the two characters develop over the coming books.

 
I’m a little bemused as to why the author needed a translator of the book as it seems she has been living and working in the UK for many years. So, if you can walk into Sainsbury’s and buy a pint of milk or order a drink at a bar or even a meal from a menu. Why do you feel you need to have a translator rewrite your book? OK, there are a few easy explanations, she finds it easier to write in her native French or possibly that the book was originally written in French.

 
Another thing that did get me was the sudden wrapping up of things at the end. It seemed unrealistically quick. Suddenly one of our heroine’s is in mortal danger and next the cavalry rides in out of nowhere. It’s as if Johanna got tired near the end of the story and just decided to save them and neatly wrap it up.
This is French born Gustawsson’s second book, her first “On Se Retrouvera” which means We will meet each other again.Was adapted for French television in 2015 and watched by over 7 million viewers. She has worked previously for the French press and television, before moving to her adopted home of England with her Swedish husband. She is currently writing the second book in the Roy & Castells series.
So, if you are looking for a new twist on Scandi Noir and the creation of a new crime fighting double act with a very international flair to it, then this is right up your street. I will with wait with bated breath for the next instalment in this series. Meanwhile you can stop off at your local book shop and get it or download it.

ANWAR’S PUNCHY DEBUT STEPS OUT OF THE FRINGES TO DELIVER A KNOCKOUT BLOW

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Western Fringes CvrIf Jimmy Van Heusen’s 1953 song lyrics are to be believed, supposedly love and marriage go together like a horse and carriage. But that rule doesn’t apply the world over. There are certain religions and societies where you don’t need love to have a marriage, just the decision of a group of third parties that a man and woman should marry, more for money and social standing than any other reason.

In the west arranged marriages are frowned upon and go against all the social norms, this is why it is usually leads to fatalities in the form of “Honour Killings” committed by family members against other family members. In most cases the victim is the girl when she follows her heart and falls for a man naturally and often outside her social and religious circle.  According to www.HBV-awareness.com there are 5,000 of these murders perpetrated around the world each year, 1000 in Pakistan and 1000 in India annually while in the UK there are 12 reported annually. That’s the basis and setting this month’s second book, its Western Fringes by Amer Anwar, published by Edurus Books (www.edurusbooks.com) in June of this year.

In Southall, West London, Rita Brar the daughter of a Hindu builder’s yard owner has gone missing, so her father summons Zak Khan, a lowly but tough looking, delivery driver to his office. There he blackmails Zak, who’s just out of prison for killing a man in self-defence.  He asks Zak to find his daughter or he’ll go back to prison on trumped up robbery charges. With no experience and a few leads, in the form of a list of phone numbers, Zak ,with the help of his best mate Jagdev (Jags), a savvy and successful salesperson, set out to track down Rita. Thinking this could be a walk in the park, Zak soon finds himself, slightly out of his depth and the target for everyone with a right hook including those from his past, with a taste for revenge. However, Zak has spent his time wisely inside and can look out for himself. What was supposed to be a simple missing person location turns out to be a girl escaping an arranged marriage and the prospect of an honour killing. Before long the body count is starting to add up, along with discovery of more sinister and high stakes reasons for the family fallout. Can Zak stay out of trouble long enough to find Rita? If he does find her can he convince her to trust someone who works for her dad?

To say this book comes out of its corner fighting is an understatement, it arrived in the post with a tea bag and a plaster in the envelope with it. From the first page, Anwar sets a staggering pace and within the first thirty pages, I thought I was going to need to have a first aid kit next to me.

Then there’s the taut drama and rapier wit which is mixed skilfully into this punchy debut, to help drive the story forward. The descriptions of Southall are expertly described and immediately you are immersed into the close-knit community so much so you can smell the spices and easily get a hankering for the food.

This is a very gritty and full on novel that always makes you feel as if you are actively involved in the hunt.  One example is a very graphic torture and subsequent murder witnessed by Zaq, that will leave even the most stoic readers uncomfortable.  Although, this is all par for the course in one of the most engrossing books I’ve read in a while.

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Arthur Daley and Terry McCann in Minder

Zak is a very believable character – expertly crafted with just enough flaws to bring him to life on the page. He comes across as a regular Terry McCann, the whole story has the feel of “Minder” with an Asian twist. It’s a pity it’ll probably a once off, although who knows if Anwar has plans for another adventure featuring Zaq and Jags.

If there is anything that takes marginally away from the book, it’s the Punjabi language which is used very liberally (on almost every page) throughout the story when the characters are talking to each other. Whilst this may add authenticity and really does bring the story to life, without any sort of hint as to what they are saying  (maybe the addition of a one or two-page list of popular phrases translated at the front or back of the book) it detracts from the experience and at times I felt as if I was being deliberately left out of the conversation.

Amer Anwar

Amer Anwar

This is London born Anwar’s (www.ameranwar.com) first book and it has already won the CWA Debut dagger award for its first chapter. His own back story is almost as colourful as his lead character, he’s been a driver for emergency doctors, a chalet rep in the Alps and graphic designer.

So, if you’re looking for a hard hitting and edgy book, with refreshingly original characters. Download a copy or pop into a local bookshop and on your way home pick up a curry, a naan and some poppadum’s, then settle in for a great British-Asian thriller.

O’BRIEN’S FIRST NOVEL IN A DECADE SLUMPS DOWN IN ITS LITTLE RED CHAIR AFTER ATTEMPTING SHOCK AND AWE

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Little red Chrs cvrDuring my wedding weekend in Lincoln in June, Lincoln castle had some very important guests. they were a segment of the 888,246 ceramic red poppies that were installed in the Tower of London in 2014. The poppies represented the British men and women who were killed fighting in both world wars. This isn’t the first time inanimate objects have been used to represent those slain in battle, on the 6th April 2012 an art installation was unveiled on Sarajevo’s main street, it consisted of 11,541 red chairs which represented the victims of the siege of Sarajevo which lasted from the 1992-1995. In the midst of this audience of empty red chairs were 643 little red chairs representing the children killed during the siege, and that is the inspiration for the title of this month’s book, it’s The Little Red Chairs by Edna O’Brien.

The story centres around the arrival of a mysterious foreigner to a west of Ireland village, he claims to be a faith healer and soon sets up a practice, where he uses his charismatic personality to bring the villagers under his spell. One woman in particular, Fidelma Mccarthy, falls heavily for his charm. When the strangers past – he’s responsible for war crimes in the Balkans – catches up with him, the untimely ending of the relationship in the glare of the media and the close-knit community has long and harrowing repercussions for her. So to try and distance herself from the fallout she goes away to what she thinks is a new life in the UK.

When I said harrowing , I really mean down right in your face gratuitously violent, one scene especially. If O’Brien is going for ‘Shock and Awe’, she hits you straight between the eyes. After that, the rest of the book is rather tame and very weakly stitched together.

At the recent book group meeting at which this book was being discussed, this was the main topics of discussion. There was divided views whether it was really necessary. Some of the members found it quite difficult to carry on reading after that scene , taken along with the inept actions of the main character leading up to this event, they found it a poor piece of writing by one of Ireland’s leading literary figures .

The book is basically two stories, the first part which is the story of the stranger from the Balkans arriving in the village, the relationship and its climax.Then the part of the story set in England reads more like a series of short stories about the lives of refugees in the so called land of the “Bright Lights” and “Streets Made of Gold”.  It was generally agreed that O’Brien had seemed to run out of steam after the ending of the relationship and instead of just writing some sort of short story or Novella, she either decided or was advised by her editors to hang a couple of short stories off the end to give it some sort of substance, which I feel it doesn’t.

Born in Co. Clare Ireland in 1930, Edna’s mother was a strict Irish mammy and O’Brien has often described her Irish upbringing as “fervid” and “enclosed”. She trained as a pharmacist and after marrying the Irish writer Ernest Gebler, against her parents’ wishes,they emigrated to London, where she still lives. There, she started writing full time. Her first book of 17 novels, The Country Girls was published in 1960, others included August is a Wicked Month (1965), Zee & Co (1971) and finally The Little Red Chairs in (2015) published by Faber & Faber. She’s also written nine collections of short stories as well as Plays, TV scripts and works of non-fiction.

Edna O'Brien

Edna O’Brien

O’Brien is among a select and elite group Irish literary luminaries who have had their books previously banned in Ireland, but as history has often shown, banning something doesn’t make it less popular but on the contrary more desirable. The majority of her books  express her despair over the condition of women in contemporary society in particular, they criticize women’s repressive rural upbringing. Her heroines search unsuccessfully for fulfillment in relationships with men, often engaging in doomed love trysts as a escape from their loneliness and emotional isolation, something which is seen clearly in The Little Red Chairs.

Near the end of the book Fidelma visits her ex-lover, now a convicted war criminal – whose inspiration is clearly Radovan Karadzic . The scene is so out of place and really does nothing for the story that again begs the question as to why it’s there? If its to take the rough edge off the story and conclude it somehow, it doesn’t reach any real conclusion just adding  a few extra pages to justify the print costs maybe?

Sarajevo Chairs

The Red Chairs of Sarajevo

The characters in the village are stage Irish and are in keeping with a style of character that often populates O’Brien’s books. They are always 20 years out of date, if it was an attempt to see how the remnants of modern warfare might fit it modern Ireland, firstly you have to write about modern Ireland and stop harking back to “The Quiet man”. As for the London stories, they are not really believable and have been written better by other Irish writers.

My advice is, read it if you are a fan of dark tales about repressed Irish women stuck in another era, otherwise a more enjoyable book set in the aftermath of the Balkan war is People of The Book by Geraldine Brooks, previously reviewed on this site.