Blog Tour – Torn – Anne Randall

Product Details

BLURB: 2004: The court case had been harrowing. The fifteen jurors sat in silence while the prosecution produced evidence of how a man with obsessive sado-masochistic fantasies had turned into a killer. Fourteen of the jurors were repulsed. One man was secretly enthralled. A new world of possibility had opened up for him.

2014: When an actress is found dead, the ligature marks suggest that she had been involved in extreme sex games. When DIs Wheeler and Ross begin to investigate her death, they uncover not only an industry with varying degrees of regulation but also a sinister private club where some of Glasgow’s elite pay handsomely to indulge their darkest fantasies. Club security is run by Paul Furlan, ex-army veteran and a former adversary of Wheeler. As Wheeler and Ross uncover the secrets and lies surrounding the club, they realise that their investigation is being blocked not just by Furlan but by some of Glasgow’s most influential citizens.

Meanwhile Skye Cooper, Scotland’s latest indie-rock sensation is playing the final gig of his sell-out tour but his dreams of stardom are on a collision course with the obsession threatening to consume him . . .

This may sound odd, but something I struggle to do is review really good books. Somehow it’s easier to say what you thought of an average novel.

This is most definitely not an average novel. I picked it up last Sunday around 7, 7.30 am, with the intention of reading a few pages before I felt tired enough to go back to sleep. Roughly 5 hours and 385 pages later, I put it down. It utterly blew me away.

It’s only the third book in the series featuring DIs Wheeler and Ross and, like the other two, it has a deliciously complex plot. It’s not a novel I’d enjoy picking up and putting down; there’s a lot going on, and a fair few characters to keep tabs on – which means more suspects and possibilities; nothing I like better! But, as I found, it’s nigh on impossible to put down anyway…

DI Kat Wheeler is a great creation: ex-army, she’s feisty, pushy, and once she gets an idea in her head it’s hard to rein her in. As she’s a woman, of course this makes her a bitch and a ballbreaker. Ross is also hugely likeable (partly because he’s 6 foot 3 of solid muscle! And he seems totally unaware of how attractive he is, which is an attractive trait in itself.) Thankfully, there’s no romance between the two, just a good working relationship based on mutual respect and complimentary skills. Whereas Wheeler can be inclined to go in a bit all guns blazing, Ross holds her back – or does his best – at times it isn’t easy.

As well as this case having echoes of one in 2004, it turns out that Karlie Merrick the actress’s father was also a murder victim, which sets warning lights flashing – it’s such an unusual scenario, outside of a gangland family, that Wheeler and Ross believe there must be some kind of a connection. Her father had been a hypnotherapist. Recently she’d been talking about getting a reconstruction of her father’s murder made, both to reawaken interest in the murder, and to kickstart her lacklustre acting career. The SIO on that case is still around, and he happens to be Eddie Furlan – Wheeler’s adversary from her army days, Paul’s, father. Eddie Furlan’s one of these hypocritical parents, constantly telling Paul, “Mind your bloody language.” He also delights in comparing him unfavorably with his brother, and generally undermining him, despite his lucrative job as a security consultant for an ultra exclusive all-male club (you can imagine Wheeler’s reaction to that place!) Her body was also dumped close to a notorious biker’s bar, with connections to organised crime, providing another line of enquiry. Also of interest is Karlie’s acting career – she works at the cheap-and-nasty end of the porn industry, which is also peopled with unsavoury characters. And Karlie was a real headturner.

Also, one of Skye Cooper’s bandmates in the Kill Kestrels is back in Glasgow, and this time he has the money and the connections to investigate the fire which killed his young sister when they were in foster care. He’s convinced he heard an argument in the house that night, but the foster carer, who he tracks down, claims he’s mistaken: she was home alone. But he’s not finished with his investigations yet…

All the band politics worked really well and sounded so authentic, with the exhausted manager desperately trying to stop his cash cow from imploding, as the four young men, who have little in common bar the stage they share nightly, bicker and moan.

There’s also a side story about two deaths as a result of a gang fight in a Glasgow park. Plus there’s a life coach who was working with the actress who comes forward to try and help the police – but Wheeler’s got his number from the off, i.e. he’s a heavy bullshit merchant. And it seems he isn’t just using his life coaching skills to help women to realise their full professional potential (for £150 an hour!)

Everything knits together amazingly, and I defy anyone to figure out the conclusion, which sees the whole thing sewn up neatly, without a single loose end. It’s one of those books you feel like applauding when you’ve finished. (It’s also the sort of book that puts me off writing, as I think to myself, how can you possibly compete with reads like that?!)

Anne Randall has definitely got what it takes to be the next massive name in Tartan Noir – well-drawn characters, a plot that will blow you away, superb dialogue (plenty of great Glaswegian banter), and realistic crimes. If you enjoy Robert Galbraith, Caro Ramsay, Denise Mina, or Ian Rankin (or, like me, all of them!) this will fit the bill. It’s a hugely satisfying, very classy book, and I’d urge all crime fiction fans – particularly those who enjoy their dose of Tartan Noir – to seek out Anne Randall pronto. At the time of writing, Riven, the first in the Wheeler & Ross series, is £1.99 on Kindle – that’d be an ideal, and very reasonably priced, place to start (the second in the series is Silenced.) Fantastic stuff – the sort of book that reminds me why I love crime fiction so much!

My copy of this novel came courtesy of Constable Books in exchange for an honest review.

Blog Tour – The Contract – JM Gulvin

Product Details

BLURB: In New Orleans, Texas Ranger John Q is out of his jurisdiction, and possibly out of his depth. It seems everyone in Louisiana wants to send him home, and every time he asks questions there’s trouble: from the pharmacist to the detective running scared to the pimp who turned to him as a last resort. Before John Q knows it, he looks the only link between a series of murders.

So who could be trying to set him up, and why, and who can he turn to in a city where Southern tradition and family ties rule?

Infused with the rhythms of its iconic setting, The Contract is a thriller to keep even the most seasoned crime readers gripped and guessing all the way to its endgame.

This is another of the books that was caught up in the missing handbag and Kindle debacle of last week. I hadn’t started this book last week, but I’m so glad I got it back, so I could devour it on Friday night and Saturday morning.

There’s something refreshing and undemanding about picking up a book with no expectations; no silly comparisons. It looks damn cool, too. And this is quite honestly one of the books with the strongest voices and moods I’ve ever read – you can hear John Quarries’s calm, measured way of talking, as well as the other characters. Another star of the book, as well as John Q, and his best friend and right hand man, Pious, is New Orleans itself. This is probably my favourite US city for books – and films – to be set in. Hell, scratch that, my favourite city, period (apologies to Glasgow!) It’s got such a fascinating history and mix of races and languages, as well as the best music you’ll find anywhere in the US. As soon as I know a book’s set there, I’m interested – although, to be fair to JM Gulvin, he could set a John Q book anywhere now and I’d read it!

It’s a conspiracy thriller, set in 1967, with John Q, who’s a Korean veteran (there’s several such men in this book), inadvertently becoming caught in the crosshairs of a highly powerful and ruthless organisation, who already have a very big contract planned. With the man who was going to be the “patsy” for this one taken out by John Q when he blunders badly robbing a gun store in Texas – the opening scene of the book, and what brings John Q into this case and across state lines – they need to find someone else to take the fall, and quickly. With John Q in town, but out of his jurisdiction, and asking awkward questions, it’s clear they hadn’t banked on a smart, out-of-town cop who can’t be bought or threatened asking questions, and already knowing more than they want anyone to know. As a result, people are soon being “disappeared” & murdered when John Q was the last to talk to them. However, they haven’t banked on his tenacious, never-give-up attitude, or his failure to kowtow to New Orleans old money and power. In his eyes, if you do something wrong, you pay – he doesn’t give a damn about your lineage or who you’re friends with. He’s an old fashioned law enforcement officer, the type of character you’d always want on your side – and most definitely not on the other side!

This novel has such a fine sense of time and place it’s hard to believe JM Gulvin didn’t grow up in this day and age, in this area – but actually, he’s one of an increasing number of British and Irish writers writing absolutely fantastic American-set fiction (like John Connolly and Rod Reynolds, to name but two.)

I mentioned New Orleans, and if you enjoy this setting, some of my favourite films are set there, among them JFK – a few of the (real) people who are characterised in that film also make cameos or are mentioned here, like DA Jim Garrison – and the wonderful film, The Big Easy. Book-wise, I love the true crime classic Midnight In The Garden Of Good And Evil and the post-Hurricane Katrina-set The Tin Roof Blowdown by James Lee Burke. I actually suspect this is a series that would very much appeal to fans of James Lee Burke’s Dave Robicheaux books, for the similar Louisiana setting, and the same basic idea of a highly moral law enforcer who refuses to be cowed by money and power.

Absolutely everything about this book impresses – everything. It’s hard to add more than that. This is the second in what I hope will be a very long and successful series, as it certainly deserves to be. Now I’m absolutely dying to rewind and read book 1, The Long Count – I can’t believe I missed it!

Don’t miss it!

My thanks to Faber & Faber for my review copy of this book, in exchange for an honest review.

Blog Tour – The Cutaway – Christina Kovac

Product Details

BLURB: It begins with someone else’s story. The story of a woman who leaves a busy restaurant and disappears completely into the chilly spring night. Evelyn Carney is missing – but where did she go? Who was she meeting? And why did she take a weapon with her when she went?

When brilliant TV producer Virginia Knightley finds Evelyn’s missing person report on her desk, she becomes obsessed with finding out what happened that night. But her pursuit of the truth draws her deep into the power struggles and lies of Washington DC’s elite – to face old demons and new enemies.

A slick, gripping thriller that moves at the pace of breaking news, The Cutaway will keep your heart hammering until the final page.

Well I was Kindle-less and without the books I was blog touring this week. I’ve now got my bag back (the bag’s loss itself causing me severe stress, as I bought it from Net-A-Porter, so you know what that means…) Here’s one of the books that was in it…

There’s lots to like in Christina Kovac‘s debut novel, The Cutaway. To start with, it looks great – a really eye-catching, glossy, fabulously original cover which will grab plenty of attention. Our heroine is Virginia Knightly, who becomes obsessed with the disappearance of a stunningly attractive woman, lawyer Evelyn Carney, in the Capitol, Washington DC (that’s the political bit in the centre, where the rich, powerful and beautiful reside.) Evelyn Carney went to a restaurant to meet her husband, Peter, a veteran of a number of deployments to Afghanistan, who suffers from PTSD. She told him their marriage was over, left on foot, and was last seen a block from the restaurant, before she seemingly vanished into thin air. Her husband remained in the restaurant for half an hour and wasn’t a suspect.

Virginia has worked her way up to the position of news producer. There’s a great team of people around her, all wonderfully described: Ben, a long time friend, the evening show anchor, and love interest (very hot sounding!); Isiah, Virginia’s mentor and another very good friend; and young cameraman, Nelson. I particularly liked him, with his habit of bumping into people and spilling drinks when he’s had a few (we all know someone like that…!) Also in the picture is Virginia’s ex, Commander Michael Ledger, who messed her about, dating her, then six months later marrying another woman. He’s put in charge of the case. Early in the investigation he says of Evelyn, “What we don’t know, are there are other men? You know, there’s a reason sometimes these women go missing.” So of course we are now aware he is (ahem) A Sexist Prick. Unsurprisingly, he and Ben don’t like each other, as Ben doesn’t like the way Michael treated Virginia. The characters are described superbly – I could totally picture Michael rocking back on his heels (for some reason I cast Dexter’s C. Michael Hall in his role, I often have imaginary casts – does anyone else? A guy from Without A Trace who I learned is called Eric Close got Ben’s role. He’s appropriately hot.)

We get very much behind Virginia: the mention of foster homes after her mother died tells us she’s had a tough life, and has got where she is all by herself. There’s a chapter, near the start, where she visits her dying estranged father. Some of the imagery in this chapter was quite beautiful, and often in the book her sentence construction reminded me of James Lee Burke’s writing – that’s the highest praise I could give any writer; I think he is probably the best writer working today. This girl is capable of writing up an absolute storm.

Virginia herself alternated between being totally lovable and infuriatingly silly: she sometimes spoke without thinking, and her actions were often similarly spontaneous, which could get her into bad situations. More than once I ended up nearly shouting at the book, the way you shout at the girl in a horror film, “Don’t go into the basement!”  The result was I wanted to give her a good shake! The softness which made her so likeable as a character made her vulnerable as a news reporter, but she had been out of the field and working as a producer for some time. As it’s Washington, politics came into play, with people using their contacts to manipulate the investigation. The storyline initially appears fairly simple – too simple – but naturally there’s a lot more it all than initially meets the eye, and it all plays out very satisfactorily…

The only bit, for me, that stuck out as not reading well was a part about dirty money being funneled into campaign funds – that’s not a spoiler. It felt slightly tacked on, although the whole “justice for sale” issue in America never ceases to shock and appall.

It’s a very American book; very glossy, and a wee bit soapy. But it will appeal to a colossal audience. The men sounded incredibly attractive – small point, but so often in books I find men don’t! The writer she’s most comparable to, in terms of the overall end product, is, I think, early Linda Fairstein (her later books, for me, aren’t quite as good – although I’d definitely recommend the first half dozen.) It’s the same brilliant idea of a woman mining her career to give us a completely original view into an investigation (for those not familiar with Fairstein’s books, her heroine, ADA Alex Cooper, heads up New York’s specialised sex crimes unit – which inspired the TV show Law And Order: Special Victims Unit.)

This similarly has potential to be a really fantastic series, with some original supporting characters, and of course Virginia. I look forward to seeing what she gets up to next…

Very highly recommended.

I received a copy of this book from Serpent’s Tail in exchange for this honest review.