Category Archives: Mystery/Thriller

Review: Clinch by Martin Holmén

I received an advanced review copy of this title from Pushkin Press.  This was published in 2015 in the original Swedish and this English version has been translated by Henning Koch.

My Review:
ClinchHarry Kvist is an former boxer who lives in the decrepit, dirty and seedy city of Stockholm in the 1930’s.  The city is full of tramps, prostitutes, and bootleggers as well as poor and destitute citizens who have been affected by the economic collapse of this decade.  Kvist himself leads a hard life by serving as a collector of debts to those who have defaulted on payments.  His specialty is repossessing bicycles which is easy money for him.  When the novel begins Kvist is collecting on a debt from a man named Zetterberg who owes a few thousand kronor.  Kvist scares Zetterberg by giving him a good beating that is not enough to kill him, but enough to leave him with a few scars as a “reminder” to pay the money he owes.  When Zetterberg is found dead the next day, Kvist is the prime suspect and he is immediately picked up by the police.

Kvist spends a few rough nights in a disgusting jail cell covered in urine and lice.  He is given a working over by the detectives and after they don’t get any information out of him he is released.  He spends the next few days hunting downs leads about Zetterberg’s murder and trying to find a prostitute named Sonja who is the only person who can provide him with an alibi for the time of the murder.  Kvist’s detective work takes him to bars, gangster hideouts, slums and brothels.  The best part of the book is the author’s ability to fully capture the squalid, dingy and oftentimes dangerous city.  The streets are an interesting mix of pre-industrial Europe and the slow progress towards modernization.  Horse carts still plow the streets and deliver coal, but cars are also driven through the crowded and dirty city.

The plot about the murder is slow to advance throughout the course of the book.  However, Kvist’s contact with the seedy underbelly of the city make for some thrilling scenes.  His always has a desire to use his boxing skills and he gets into several fist fights with other gritty characters.  He is also shot at and chased after and there is rarely a dull moment in Kvist’s life.  But even though there is an undercurrent of violence throughout the book, Kvist is not a murderer or a psychopath.  He can be sensitive to the needs of others, especially women who are in a tough spot or emotionally distraught.  He is even nice to animals and feeds the starving strays on the streets of Stockholm.  All of these details give us a multi-dimensional character with whom, even when he is violent, we can sympathize.

Kvist’s sexuality and his experimentation with both males and females gives the book an added layer of interest and sophistication.  Kvist has several encounters with different men at the beginning of the book which is very dangerous for him since any type of homosexual act is illegal at the time.  But Kvist’s sexual preferences are not an “either, or” choice.  He also hints at the fact that he has a daughter and makes comments about the type of woman that attracts him.  He spends quite a bit of time in the second part of the book sleeping with an actress who was trying to contract him for his collection serves.  The exploration of his sexuality, which is not usually done in Noir fiction,  adds another brilliant dimension to his character.

I am excited that this is supposed to be the first book in a trilogy about Harry Kvist and I am eager to read the next two installments which are coming out in the next year.  This is noir writing as its best and you won’t want to give this book a miss if you are a fan of this genre.

About the Author:
M HolmenMartin Holmén is a Swedish writer based in Stockholm. He was orn in 1974. He teaches History, Swedish and History of Culture and Ideas at an upper secondary school in Stockholm two days a week. He is the author of the Harry Kvist trilogy.

 

 

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Filed under Historical Fiction, Literature in Translation, Mystery/Thriller, Scandanavian Literature, Summer Reading

Review: Brat Farrar by Josephine Tey

My Review:
B FarrarThe Ashby family has maintained their estate in the south of England for many generations.  The current family members who inhabit the estate are best known for their stables of beautiful horses.  Aunt Bee, the matriarch of the family, oversees the care of her ten-year-old nieces Jane and Ruth.  Bee supervises and runs the horse estate with the help of her niece Elenor and nephew Simon who are young adults.  Although to visit them for afternoon tea, one would believe that this is a happy and well-adjusted family, the Ashby’s have suffered some terrible tragedies.

The reason Aunt Bee has had to take over as parent for her three nieces and her nephew is that their parents died in a tragic airplane crash when Jane and Ruth were only a few months old.  Soon after the parents’ death, Simon’s twin brother committed suicide by throwing himself off of a cliff.  This second tragedy particularly surprised the family because Patrick was such a sweet and well-adjusted boy whom no one suspected was on the brink of taking his own life.

One day, a man walks into their life claiming that he is Patrick, the long-lost Ashby; he says that he didn’t commit suicide but instead ran away, assumed the name of Brat Farrar and spent the last eight years in America where he worked on horse ranches.  Aunt Bee is especially eager to believe Brat’s story and the fact that he looks like an Ashby helps to convince everyone in their immediate circle that Patrick is the long-lost heir.  The only one who seems skeptical about Brat’s identity is Simon.  It is Simon who has the most to lose from Patrick’s reappearance since Simon will no longer be the Ashby heir; the family fortune will revert back to Patrick who is the eldest son.

What I found most unique about this story is that Brat is supposed to be the bad buy in this story, the imposter, the crook.  But Brat’s story is very compelling and he is really not after the Ashby fortune.  Brat grew up in an orphanage and he has never had a family of his own.  When the opportunity to become part of an middle class English family presents itself, Brat’s desire for a sense of belonging and a place to call home prove to be a stronger temptation then the lure of money.

Brat is welcomed into the Ashby home and becomes a part of their everyday lives.  He is an expert horse trainer and he gets along especially well with Elenor for whom he develops more than sisterly feelings..  As he spends quality time with the family, he discovers through various clues that Simon has a sinister and mean side to him.  Simon’s reasons for being angry go much deeper than his disinheritance from the Ashby fortune.  I don’t want to give away too much, but the mystery surrounding Patrick’s disappearance and Simon’s involvement in it were very compelling plot lines and I finished the book very quickly.  I guess this would quality Tey’s book as a page turner.

Tey’s books are written in a classics and charming British style one would expect from a 20th century author.  Her characters are interesting in the sense that they are likeable but can be morally flexible.  Finally, the plot alone is reason enough to pick up this book.

I’ve also read Tey’s The Franchise Affair and enjoyed that book as well.  Has anyone else read any of Tey’s books?  I would love to hear about them.

About the Author:

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Josephine Tey was a pseudonym of Elizabeth Mackintosh. Josephine was her mother’s first name and Tey the surname of an English Grandmother. As Josephine Tey, she wrote six mystery novels including Scotland Yard’s Inspector Alan Grant.

The first of these, ‘The Man in the Queue’ (1929) was published under the pseudonym of Gordon Daviot , whose name also appears on the title page of another of her 1929 novels, ‘Kit An Unvarnished History’. She also used the Daviot by-line for a biography of the 17th century cavalry leader John Graham, which was entitled ‘Claverhouse’ (1937).

Mackintosh also wrote plays (both one act and full length), some of which were produced during her lifetime, under the pseudonym Gordon Daviot. The district of Daviot, nea Josephine Tey was a pseudonym of Elizabeth Mackintosh. Josephine was her mother’s first name and Tey the surname of an English Grandmother. As Josephine Tey, she wrote six mystery novels including Scotland Yard’s Inspector Alan Grant.

The first of these, ‘The Man in the Queue’ (1929) was published under the pseudonym of Gordon Daviot , whose name also appears on the title page of another of her 1929 novels, ‘Kit An Unvarnished History’. She also used the Daviot by-line for a biography of the 17th century cavalry leader John Graham, which was entitled ‘Claverhouse’ (1937).

Mackintosh also wrote plays (both one act and full length), some of which were produced during her lifetime, under the pseudonym Gordon Daviot. The district of Daviot, near her home of Inverness in Scotland, was a location her family had vacationed. The name Gordon does not appear in either her family or her history.

Elizabeth Mackintosh came of age during World War I, attending Anstey Physical Training College in Birmingham, England during the years 1915-1918. Upon graduation, she became a physical training instructor for eight years. In 1926, her mother died and she returned home to Inverness to care for her invalid father. Busy with household duties, she turned to writing as a diversion, and was successful in creating a second career.

Alfred Hitchcock filmed one of her novels, ‘A Shilling for Candles’ (1936) as ‘Young and Innocent’ in 1937 and two other of her novels have been made into films, ‘The Franchise Affair’ (1948), filmed in 1950, and ‘Brat Farrar’ (1949), filmed as ‘Paranoiac’ in 1963. In addition a number of her works have been dramatised for radio.

Her novel ‘The Daughter of Time’ (1951) was voted the greatest mystery novel of all time by the Crime Writers’ Association in 1990.

Miss Mackintosh never married, and died at the age of 55, in London. A shy woman, she is reported to have been somewhat of a mystery even to her intimate friends. While her death seems to have been a surprise, there is some indication she may have known she was fatally ill for some time prior to her passing.

 

 

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Filed under British Literature, Classics, Mystery/Thriller

Review: Snowblind by Ragnar Jónasson

I received a review copy of this title from the publisher, Orenda Books.  This book was first published in Iceland in 2010 and this English translation has been done by Quentin Bates.

My Review:
SnowblindI don’t usually read many mystery or crime novels, but when Orenda Books asked me to review some of the books in their catalog the descriptions of them convinced me to give them a try.  This book is much more than a typical crime novel; it delves into the lives of several characters in a small isolated town in northern Iceland.  The atmosophere of the book is also a surprise as the scenes are set in a small, isolated,  cold, and snow-covered town.

Ari Thor lives in Reykjavik with his girlfriend Kristin and is studying to become a police officer.  For the first time in his life he is very much in love and feels that he and Kristin will make a life and a future together.  When he gets his first job in Siglufjörður, a small village in northern Iceland, he is torn about whether or not to take it.  Kristin is finishing her medical degree in Reykjavik so there is no way that she can go with him.  Taking this new job will mean a separation, for as long as a year or two, from Kristin.  But Ari Thor believes that this job is a great opportunity and accepts the position anyway; he leaves Kristin behind and is heartbroken that their future together is uncertain.

Siglufjörður is supposed to be a town where no one locks their doors, where everyone knows each other, and where nothing exciting ever happens.  So it is either bad luck or bad timing that, when Ari Thor becomes the town’s newest police officer, two murders happen within days of each other.

The first murder, which many think at first is just an accident, happens at the local dramatic society.  The director of the society, a very old man in his nineties who is prone to drinking too much, takes a nasty fall down the stairs during a rehearsal break. At first the incident is thought to be an accident, but as the story develops it appears that several people in the dramatic society are capable of pushing the old man down the stairs.  One of the greatest strengths of the book is the development of several characters who belong to the society and work in the theater.  My experience with crime novels has been that characters are not deeply developed as the focus is on the plot.  But Jonasson gives us an interesting set of characters with well-developed descriptions of their history in the town and their relationships with one another.

A second murder also takes places in this small town.  A woman is found stabbed to death outside her home and her abusive husband is the primary suspect.  But the husband has an alibi for the time during which the murder took place.  So it is up to Ari Thor to untangle this mystery.  Another strength of the book is that the author is able to weave two different mysteries into the plot without the story being too cumbersome or confusing.

The final aspect of the book that I have to mention is Ari Thor’s descriptions of Siglufjörður which, even to Icelanders, is on the edge of nowhere.  It snows so much that Ari Thor begins to feel trapped and claustrophobic in this place.  The snow and the cold never stop and when the only road in or out of the town is completely blocked by an avalanche his panic attacks and nightmares get worse.  The vivid descriptions of the cold and snow and darkness were a perfect setting for this story.  As it snowed here in New England last weekend when I was reading the book the setting felt especially apt.

Whether you are a fan of crime fiction, or like me, just enjoy dabbling in the genre here and there, Snowblind is an entertaining read.  This book actually ends on a bit of a cliffhanger and I am eager to read the next book in this series and see what happens with Ari Thor.

About the Author:
R JonassonRagnar Jonasson is author of the international bestselling Dark Iceland series.

His debut Snowblind, first in the Dark Iceland series, went to number one in the Amazon Kindle charts shortly after publication. The book was also a no. 1 Amazon Kindle bestseller in Australia.

Snowblind was selected by The Independent as one of the best crime novels of 2015 in the UK.

Books in the Dark Iceland series have been published in the UK, Germany, Poland and Iceland, and rights have also been sold to the USA, France and Italy.

Ragnar was born in Reykjavik, Iceland, where he works as a writer and a lawyer. He also teaches copyright law at Reykjavik University and has previously worked on radio and television, including as a TV-news reporter for the Icelandic National Broadcasting Service.

Ragnar is a member of the UK Crime Writers’ Association (CWA) and recently set up the first overseas chapter of the CWA, in Reykjavik.

He is also the co-founder of the Reykjavik international crime writing festival Iceland Noir.

From the age of 17, Ragnar translated 14 Agatha Christie novels into Icelandic.

Ragnar has also had short stories published internationally, including in the distinguished Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine in the US, the first stories by an Icelandic author in that magazine.

He has appeared on festival panels worldwide, and lives in Reykjavik with his wife and young daughters.

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Filed under Literature in Translation, Mystery/Thriller

Review: World Gone By by Dennis Lehane

Today I welcome TLC Book Tours back to the blog with a fast-paced mystery set during World War II in Florida.  I welcome you to read my review and visit the other stops on the blog tour.

My Review:
World Gone ByJoe Coughlin has been a retired mob boss for years now, but he still works on the fringes of the business by making money for the Bartolo crime family in Tampa, Florida.  Despite the fact that World War II is raging in Europe, Joe makes a lot of money for very important people, so he has no enemies, or so he thought.

When Joe hears a rumor that someone wants him dead, he has to find out who wants to kill him and why.  I would classify this book not only as historical fiction, but also as a mystery since most of the book is taken up with Joe trying to figure out who has ordered a hit on him.

Joe is the kind of character in a book that is morally ambiguous but whom you want to root for.  Even though he is involved in a dangerous, illegal business, he still thinks about what is right and wrong and goes to church on Sunday.  His relationship with his nine year old son is very touching.  Tomas is growing up without a mother and it is important to Joe that his son always feel loved, supported and never alone.

The plot of the book, which is filled with gangsters, shootouts, and witty dialogue, is fast paced and will be one that you read in a few days.  What struck me most about the characters in this book is that, although they want nothing more in life than money and power, it certainly doesn’t bring any of them happiness.  Every character in WORLD GONE BY has a sad story and a wretched life.

About The Author:
Dennis LehaneDennis Lehane is the author of ten previous novels—including the New York Times bestsellers Live by Night; Moonlight Mile; Gone, Baby, Gone; Mystic River; Shutter Island; and The Given Day—as well as Coronado, a collection of short stories and a play. He and his wife, Angie, currently live in California with their children.
Click on the TLC Tour banner below to see the full list of blogs participating in the tour.

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Filed under Historical Fiction, Mystery/Thriller

Review and Giveaway: Cauchemar by Alexandra Grigorescu

I received an advanced review copy of this book from ECW Press.

My Review:
CauchemarHannah lives in a house at the edge of a Louisiana swamp with her adopted mother Mae.  When Mae suddenly dies, Hannah is left completely alone at the age of 20, never having experienced very much of the world outside of their house on the swamp.

When Hannah has a funeral service for Mae, she meets a kind musician named Callum.  They become romantically involved and Callum seems to take the place of Mae as Hannah’s protector.  But what does Hannah need protecting from?

Throughout the course of the story we learn that Hannah’s biological mother, Christobelle, is a witch who is rumored to be able to communicate with the dead.  The townspeople shun Hannah because of her mother’s reputation, even though Hannah has never had anything to do with her biological mother and was raised by Mae.

The contrast between Christobelle and Mae are developed by the author throughout the book.  Whereas Mae is a care-giver and healer, Christobelle is selfish and drains the energy out of people she encounters, especially men.  Mae likes to heal and nourish people through food and Hannah also learns cooking skills from Mae.  The culinary aspects of the book are given a great amount of detail and the recipes are explained well enough for readers to try them in their own kitchens.

Hannah and Callum move into the house on the swamp together and strange things start happening.  Plagues of cicadas, snakes and frogs begin popping up, the house makes strange noises and Hannah and Callum have bizarre dreams.  The book is part romance, as Hannah and Callum become closer and are trying to decide how serious their relationship is, and part mystery as they are trying to figure out the strange phenomena they are encountering on the swamp.

I do not read many books in the mystery/fantasy genre, but I really enjoyed CAUCHEMAR.  It is well-written with just the right amount of suspense to keep the reader guessing what will happen to the characters until the very last page.

Giveaway:

I have one paperback copy of the book to give away to anyone in the U.S. or Canada.  To enter please leave a comment below letting me know that you want to win!  It’s that simple!  Giveaway ends on March 18th.  The winner will receive an e-mail and have 48 hours to respond with a valid mailing address.

 

About The Author:
A. GregoriescuAlexandra Grigorescu is the author of Cauchemar (ECW Press, 2015). She has an MA in Creative Writing from the University of Toronto.

She’s worked as a freelance writer/editor for various Toronto magazines and websites.

Her writing has previously been published in Echolocation, Acta Victoriana, and the Hart House Review.

She lives in Toronto, Ontario with her husband and a little black cat.

Blog Tour:
This is the complete list of stops on the blog tour:

March 1: The Book Binder’s Daughter, Review + Giveaway

March 2: Bibliotica, Review + Guest Post (the use of food to enhance the story)

March 3: Bella’s Bookshelves, Review + Excerpt (Ch. 1)

March 4: Write All The Words!, Guest post for International Women’s Week feature

March 5: Editorial Eyes, Interview + Excerpt (Ch. 2)

March 7: Lavendar Lines, Review

March 9: Svetlana’s Reads, Review

March 10: The Book Stylist, Review + Interview

March 11: Booking It With Hayley G., Review + Guest Post + Giveaway

March 12: Dear Teen Me, Guest post (letter to teen self)

March 13: The Book Bratz, Review + Giveaway

March 14: Feisty Little Woman, Interview + Excerpt (Ch. 3)

 

 

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Filed under Mystery/Thriller