Blog Tour – The Mine – Antti Tuomainen

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The Finnish Invasion part two.

BLURB: A hitman. A journalist. A family torn apart. Can he uncover the truth before it’s too late?
In the dead of winter, investigative reporter Janne Vuori sets out to uncover the truth about a mining company, whose illegal activities have created an environmental disaster in a small town in Northern Finland. When the company’s executives begin to die in a string of mysterious accidents, and Janne’s personal life starts to unravel, past meets present in a catastrophic series of events that could cost him his life.
A traumatic story of family, a study in corruption, and a shocking reminder that secrets from the past can return to haunt us, with deadly results … The Mine is a gripping, beautifully written, terrifying and explosive thriller by the King of Helsinki Noir.

The Mine, the second book in the Finnish Invasion, following Kati Hiekkapelto’s The Exiled, is the story of a dedicated reporter, Janne Vuori, and his investigation into a mine owned by Finn Mining Ltd. in the depths of Northern Finland, hundreds of miles from anywhere. He’s received a tip off via an anonymous e-mail that the mine is creating what will be an environmental catastrophe, and the senders want to know if he’s “the journalist they’ve been looking for.” He probably is – he’s an obsessive investigator, always got his eye out for the next scoop. However, at this moment in time, things are bad at home – he and his partner Pauliine are barely communicating, except regarding their two-year-old daughter, Ella (to be fair, Pauliine is pretty driven career-wise, too, although she doesn’t, like Vanne, get caught up in it to the extent that nothing else ceases to exist.)

What’s more, after 30 years not knowing if he’s dead or alive, Janne’s father Emil is back in Helsinki. He tells Janne that he works in human relations, but us readers learn early on that he’s a hitman. But he’s tentatively reaching out to Janne, to see if there’s any possibility of a rapprochement. But is Emil back for good? And could he possibly have anything to do with the assassination of various board members of Finn Mining Ltd., which is obviously putting him right in the middle of Janne’s story?

I found this a really fascinating read – as well as being a fast one, with plenty of action. It’s very much a story for our times, and had me thinking there are probably parts of the globe where literally anything could be going on, and no-one would get close enough to learn the full story. As soon as Janne takes the story on, after his first trip to the mine, he’s convinced he’s being followed. Antti’s writing combines the family-at-a-crucial-point story with that of the dedicated reporter, desperate to get to the truth – and all of it is beautifully written, guaranteed to keep you reading – and keep you guessing – long into the night! Emil, the hitman father, is a particularly fascinating character. And what of those pushing Janne to investigate the story – given that they’re anonymous, how much can he trust them? Are they revealing their full agenda?

Topical. Frightening. Beautifully written, with a fast-moving story, which makes it almost impossible to put down. Plus it’s a standalone, so you haven’t missed anything up until now. This is another absolute belter from Orenda, but, really, you wouldn’t expect anything less by now, would you?!

Highly recommended.

With many thanks to Karen Sullivan at Orenda Books who supplied me with a copy of this book in exchange for my honest opinion.

Bitter Moon – Alexandra Sokoloff

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BLURB: FBI agent Matthew Roarke has been on leave, and in seclusion, since the capture of mass killer Cara Lindstrom—the victim turned avenger who preys on predators. Torn between devotion to the law and a powerful attraction to Cara and her lethal brand of justice, Roarke has retreated from both to search his soul. But Cara’s escape from custody and a police detective’s cryptic challenge soon draw him out of exile—into the California desert and deep into Cara’s past—to probe an unsolved murder that could be the key to her long and deadly career.

Following young Cara’s trail, Roarke uncovers a horrifying attack on a schoolgirl, the shocking suicide of another, and a human monster stalking Cara’s old high school. Separated by sixteen years, crossing paths in the present and past, Roarke and fourteen-year-old Cara must race to find and stop the sadistic sexual predator before more young women are brutalized.

Bitter Moon is the first of the Huntress novels I’ve read, shamefully – but I can assure you it won’t be the last. In fact, I’m lucky enough to have the previous three novels to read.

This book has two main characters, and two timelines. The first is Cara, a 14-year-old girl who, 16 years previously, has just been released from youth detention – which consisted of being locked up 23 hours a day – to a group home (basically a small children’s home.) Then there’s Roarke, in the present day, who’s taken a leave of absence from his job as an FBI profiler and agent to look into Cara’s past – she’s the one case he can’t let go off. We’re given the impression that she may now be something of a notorious figure – a vigilante, who kills sexual predators who prey on girls, and possibly all women. Other times and incidents in Cara’s life are doubtless dealt with in the first three books, but in this book we’re learning about the 14-year-old Cara, and incidents that may have set her on the path to becoming the woman she is now.

The reason Cara’s in a group home, as opposed to being released to her family, is because they were all murdered when she was only five by a serial killer called the Reaper, who also left her for dead. She survived, but always wears turtlenecks to hide her scars. Cara has a special power – she can see predatory men. Basically, the evil is like an aura to her, and she labels such evil simply, “It.”

This book only really deals with the two weeks immediately after Cara’s release from incarceration, and Roarke’s investigation of what happened during it, 16 years on. During the two weeks Cara was in Los Alamos several things happened – a girl called Laura Huell committed suicide by slashing her wrists. Cara was sure she was a victim of sexual abuse, as whenever she saw her in school, she was surrounded by blood. Also, another girl, Ivy, who’d been abducted by a man in a van, raped and set on fire, but had miraculously survived her injuries at the time, finally died. And 45 miles away, on a dangerous desert road, Pierson, a group home counsellor, had his throat slashed. However, Cara’s involvement in this is dismissed, as she didn’t have access to a car, had been locked up since she was 12, so presumably couldn’t drive, and was alibied by her 9-year-old cousin – she’d been spending a couple of nights at her aunt’s, and her cousin had slept beside her.

Roarke’s desperate to know what caused so many calamitous events to happen in the small space of time Cara was in town – it’s not just coincidence that whenever Cara is around there’s a whirlwind of violence. Visiting some of the places and people that are still around from that time, he falls in with a doctor who’s also a nun, and who was caring for Ivy before she died. Her sharp mind gives him someone to bounce ideas off – something he usually gets with his FBI team. She tells him about meeting Cara when she visited Ivy. He also meets some men who’d known Cara, and a couple of them give him a bad feeling. Did Cara see “It” in them? Who attacked Ivy? And what was troubling Laura so much she felt compelled to commit suicide?

The book uses the trick of short chapters, often ending on a cliffhanger, to keep you turning the pages, and moves between the two characters, who I found equally compelling. Alexandra Sokoloff clearly has strong feelings – about the treatment of young offenders in custody, the danger of predatory males working in group homes, and violence – particularly sexual violence – against women in general, young women in particular. She’s also an incredibly talented author. Cara gives us someone to cheer for, as she annihilates predators who would continue to seek out vulnerable young women. In fact, it would make a great action film, although I can imagine a lot of men wouldn’t really go for it – but, hey, it would make a change from watching violence against women. Me? I say, “Go Cara!”

Blog Tour – The Exiled – Kati Hiekkapelto

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The Finnish Invasion Part One

BLURB: Murder. Corruption. Dark secrets. A titanic wave of refugees. Can Anna solve a terrifying case that’s become personal?

Anna Fekete returns to the Balkan village of her birth for a relaxing summer holiday. But when her purse is stolen and the thief is found dead on the banks of the river, Anna is pulled into a murder case. Her investigation leads straight to her own family, to closely guarded secrets concealing a horrendous travesty of justice that threatens them all. As layer after layer of corruption, deceit and guilt are revealed, Anna is caught up in the refugee crisis spreading like wildfire across Europe. How long will it take before everything explodes?

Chilling, taut and relevant, The Exiled is an electrifying, unputdownable thriller from one of Finland s most celebrated crime writers.

The Exiled is the third in the Anna Fekete series and, due to family illness when the second came out, is the first I’ve got round to reading. However, I intend to rectify that and read The Hummingbird and The Defenceless as soon as I can find space in my reading schedule. Unlike the first two books, which were set in Finland, where Anna Fekete, our main character, works as a Detective Inspector, this one is set in Serbia, to where her mother has returned after bringing Anna and her brother up in Finland. For me, Anna’s the main attraction for reading the books – she could almost be seen as one of The Exiled of the title, in that she’s torn between the country in which she was born, with it’s more traditional ways, and Finland, which is more affluent and forward-thinking. Serbia to me, however, seemed charming, still relying on an a mainly agricultural economy, although, to our eyes, the people would be regarded as poor – in cash terms, which is how the West thinks. However, you can see the old-fashioned thinking, especially when you hear Anna’s mother and friends nagging her about finding a partner and settling down, even though she’s only in her early 30s. Anna enjoys the freedom her career gives her, and she’s a natural law enforcer – for her it’s not about ticking boxes and making quotas; it’s about justice truly being done.

Of course, despite being on holiday, Anna gets involved in solving a crime – and it’s one which has far-reaching consequences both timewise, and for her family. It kicks off almost as soon as she arrives, at an evening of gathering and drinking in the village park (really just a square.) Anna’s handbag is stolen, and is found almost immediately – the next day – with her being told the thief, a man, was dead, from drowning in the river. Anna wonders where a girl with a red skirt, who she’d seen with the thief, has gone. She also insists on seeing the post mortem results, which the Chief of Police agrees to show her (Anna’s father had been a policeman in the town.) Obviously Anna continues with her own enquiries, with the help of her colleagues in Finland, who help as much as they can remotely.

Most people in the town assume it must be the Romani who’d be responsible for such a theft, but there’s another type of exiled people gathering in the area – refugees, attempting to enter the EU. They too could be who the title is referring to.

Anna’s character reminded me a little of M.R. Hall’s Jenny Cooper in his series where she’s a coroner – a woman entirely confident in her career, and relentless in fulfilling the requirements of it, but less sure of herself in her private life and the expectations that are still put on women on that side of her life. (In Jenny Cooper’s case, she feels a failure as her 17-year-old son – understandably! – prefers to live in Bristol with his father, rather than in the countryside with her.) It’s probably worse for Anna as, particularly in this book, she’s being torn between two cultures, and, to boot, is unsure to which she really belongs!

Anna Fekete is another new-to-me female detective I will definitely enjoy following – once I’ve read the books I already have, of course! Those who enjoy their dose of Scandinavian chills will have to wait until the next book, but I found the Balkan setting as intriguing and different as any Scandinavian one. And Kati Hiekkapelto is certainly a talented writer, who can spin a tale with an unexpected ending!


Blog Tour – Crash Land – Doug Johnstone

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CRASH:  An adrenaline-charged thriller from the Kindle-bestselling author of Gone Again and Hit and Run.

Sitting in the departure lounge of Kirkwall Airport, Finn Sullivan just wants to get off Orkney. But then he meets the mysterious and dangerous Maddie Pierce, stepping in to save her from some unwanted attention, and his life is changed forever.

Set against the brutal, unforgiving landscape of Orkney, CRASH LAND is a psychological thriller steeped in guilt, shame, lust, deception and murder.

So many books nowadays can’t tell a good crime fiction story – never mind one packed with action – without hitting the 400-page mark. So Crash Land was an enjoyably racy thriller, with a morally torn hero – definitely a case of “all killer, no filler”! After losing out to Chris Brookmyre in a very strong field for the McIlvanney Prize at Bloody Scotland, with his excellent The Jump, Doug Johnstone is straight back out there with this tale of a crash at Kirkwall airport.

It opens with a discussion between staff at the airport over whether the plane to Edinburgh should fly at all, due to high winds. Then, at the last minute, a beautiful, charismatic and mysterious woman rushes in, getting checked in in full view of Finn – heading home from visiting his gran – and a group of oil workers, who have all taken advantage of the delay by hitting the bar. Seeing one of the beered-up, gym-pumped oil workers is heading over to chat her up, the b, c & m woman – Maddie – heads to Finn and asks him to drink with her, to avert the oil worker’s advances, as he looks more harmless. Of course, as they sit drinking, Finn is magnetized by Maddie, completely forgetting the fact he has a perfectly nice girlfriend, Amy, at home in Dundee. As rumours that they might be grounded are heard around the terminal, Maddie gets increasingly agitated, saying she can’t go back, she has to get off the island, ad infinitum.

Luckily – or, in retrospect, perhaps not – they decide to fly, but soon after take-off Finn heads for the bathroom. On his return, oil worker has his hands on Maddie. Finn asks him to leave her alone, and a fight ensues. On the small plane, with the winds, we have a really dramatic and well-described scene. The combination of the fight, and the winds, causes the small plane to split in two, crashing to the ground. Finn, at the back, is okay, as is Maddie, who, continuing her mantra of “not going back”, runs from the plane wreckage. Charlotte, the stewardess, is okay, oil worker is badly injured but alive, but his friends are dead, as are an elderly holidaying couple at the front, and the pilots. It’s a major accident – and Finn was, albeit inadvertently, part of the cause of it. 

I’ve got to say – I can’t stand women like Maddie. There’s a line where she describes the sort of guys she dislikes: “Players…Guys who think they’re it. Pulling techniques and strategies, targeting women with low self-esteem, conquering the opposite sex.” Alter the sex and you have a perfect description of Maddie, who sees Finn as pliable for anything she needs, even if it’s as small a thing as buying a drink or carrying a bag – although it turns out to be a great deal more than that! Unfortunately for Finn, they’d swapped phone numbers at the airport, and soon she rings him, asking for help, laying it on thick, “If you don’t help me, I’ll die.” Of course, Finn’s being led by his trousers, the idiot, and helps her out – which she takes full advantage of. Meanwhile, the more he learns that getting involved with Maddie was a Very Bad Idea. She certainly had his number up at the airport – daftie who can be manipulated. And that manipulation could lead him straight to jail…

Meanwhile, Amy, the nice girlfriend, has rushed up as fast as possible, as has the media, and Finn is the man they all want the story from, with oil worker in an induced coma, and Maddie missing, Finn’s the man most likely to know her whereabouts – or at least have the best story for the vulture-like tabloids.

Orkney made a superb setting – I’ve no idea how much time Doug Johnstone has spent there over the years, but he made me want to head up for a break asap. Although perhaps not by plane… And we get even more action at the end of the book, making this a real roller coaster of a read. Doug Johnstone is turning out to be one of Scotland’s most reliable, talented and versatile writers, and this one’s definitely worth a few hours of your time. I just wouldn’t read it on a flight…!

Highly recommended.

With thanks to Faber&Faber for my copy of this book.

Blog Tour – My Sister’s Bones – Nuala Ellwood

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BLURB: Kate Rafter is a high-flying war reporter. She’s the strong one. The one who escaped their father. Her younger sister Sally didn’t. Instead, she drinks.

But when their mother dies, Kate is forced to return home. And on her first night she is woken by a terrifying scream.

At first Kate tells herself it’s just a nightmare. But then she hears it again. And this time she knows she’s not imagining it.

What secret is lurking in the old family home?
And is she strong enough to uncover it…and make it out alive?

I’ve had one of these flu-type things all week that make you just ache and want to sleep all the time, hence the few days behind this review is. I really did think I’d be awake and compos mentis more than enough hours to read and review My Sister’s Bones by Nuala Ellwood, which on paper looked like a straight domestic noir/psychological thriller job, the kind that takes a few hours – 2-3 if you’re a fast reader, which I’m not. But NO! this book proved to be so much more…

It’s about a disfunctional family, although it didn’t become one until the baby of the family, Timmy, drowned on a day at the beach. The father of the family blamed the mother (who was further up the beach with Sally, the middle child) and took to getting drunk, and beating her and the mouthy Kate, the older sister who was paddling with the boy that day, and he found solace in a bottle until it killed him. While their mother, Gill, and Kate were blaming themselves for Timmy’s early demise – which was really just a tragic accident – younger sister Sally was out running a bit wild, and fell pregnant at 14, just as Kate was leaving for university. At that point, a schism opened up between the sisters which never really mended.

Sally took after her father to a certain extent, and enjoyed a glass of wine, but despite that, she found a good, supportive partner in the boy-next-door, Paul, who married Sally and took on Hannah as his daughter. They seemed a happy family when Kate saw them on her occasional trips back, although Kate was aware of Sally’s growing drinking problem. But when Hannah became a teenager, she rebelled. Sally saw it as nothing to worry about, through the bottom of her (increasingly large) wine glass – after all, hadn’t she done the same? Then Hannah ran away. But she dropped in on her Aunt Kate in London, then sent a postcard to her mother and Paul, saying she was going to work abroad. So what could Sally do? On her own all day, sacked from her job in a bank, she could drink, just like her Dad. But she wouldn’t hurt anyone, like him; she was just filling up the loneliness with wine.

Meanwhile, Kate worked as a war reporter, most recently in Aleppo, Syria. It’s as though, unable to save her brother, she did her best to tell the world about others in need. However, she got too close to a family they were staying with in Aleppo, and when the young boy died, Kate couldn’t cope. Around this time she was called back to the UK to deal with her mother Gill’s affairs after she’d died, and Kate had to see her solicitor and sign papers. It was Paul who helped her out throughout her time in Herne Bay – Kate had no illusions about the state of her sister, who by now spent all her time in the conservatory, not washing or dressing much – just drinking. Kate barely saw her.

That’s part 1 of the book, which I actually found quite slow and long-winded. Later in the book is when it gets more dramatic. While she’s home she keeps seeing a young boy of 3 or 4 in her garden, and accuses her Iranian neighbour Fida – Paul’s tenant (when his parents died he’d kept the house while him and Sally moved to a nicer part of town) – of mistreating her son, and keeping him locked in the shed. After several such altercations and disturbances of the peace, the police are called, and a psychiatrist, Dr. Shaw, to ascertain whether Kate is a danger to herself or anyone else. These conversations with the psychiatrist are peppered throughout the book from the very start, revealing a lot about Kate and her past, both recent and distant. Dr. Shaw assumes these physical and vocal delusions are symptoms of Kate having PTSD, and the visions are of Nidal, the young Syrian boy who was killed.

I really can’t add any more regarding the storyline as there be spoilers ahead! But here are when things start to speed up considerably. There’s a death, which is the catalyst for lots of secrets unwinding. It’s definitely one of the best-plotted and substantial psychological thrillers I’ve read – in fact, I think lumping this book in with much of the genre would be doing it a grave disservice. If, like me, you find it a tad slow-going at the beginning, I urge you to stick with it, as there are plenty of shocks, surprises and scares in store – Ellwood’s simply setting the scene for the real action to begin…!

So if you consider psychological thrillers/domestic noir one of your favourite genres, then this is definitely one of such books not to be missed. That would be a crime in itself!