The Top Five Crime Fiction/ Thriller Long Reads To Get You Through The Cold Weather

winter reading

With winter now firmly settled in and the nights much longer, readers are in their element as they snuggle up warm and dig in to a good book. However, constantly changing books can get tiresome, so it’s good to have a few long reads up your sleeve to keep you going.

Thrillers and crime fiction books are also a great shout in the cold weather, when the cold and dark really helps ramp up the tension you already feel reading them. With this in mind, I showcase five of my top long reads from the genres and explain why I think they’re a good choice for your winter reading. I’ve also picked a load of classics mixed in with some new novels so you’ll have plenty to choose from!

5. Lethal White: As you may know if you read my review, I find J.K. Rowling’s crime series a little bland, with a number of characterisation and plotting issues. Despite this, the latest outing for dour private detective Cormoran Strike is the best of the bunch, and, although it’s a little over-long, it’s a good read to devour during a long trip away.

4. Merlin At War: I am a huge fan of Martin Ellis’ cerebral detective, and as such I’d urge readers to check out the third in the series, Merlin At War. It might help if you’ve read the two previous novels but you’ll still enjoy this gripping police procedural even if you haven’t. The story focuses on Merlin’s quest to find his friend’s killer, whilst all the while working on the case of a murdered French abortionist which quickly links to a large financial institution. All three case coincide and Merlin struggles to work out both the connection and the culprits in this extraordinary novel which is guaranteed to keep you hooked.

3. The Little Drummer Girl: My latest spy novel obsession, John Le Carre’s thrilling tale of a young actress recruited by Mossad to infiltrate the inner circle of a terrorist with a long-held vendetta against Jews. As she becomes increasingly involved in the ‘Theatre Of The Real’ she discovers just how conflicting politics and morals can be. Having loved the BBC adaptation of the book I sought it out and devoured it over Christmas, and I would recommend it for long train journeys, as it is both long and intense enough to made the time fly.

2. Dracula: Bram Stoker’s dark and twisted tale of a vampire overlord who rapes, pillages and murders with impunity is a good size for those looking to some to really get their teeth into (excuse the pun). Written from the point of view of a guest at Dracula’s own home, it follows a quest to rid the world of this monster once and for all.

1. The Troubled Man: Henning Mankell’s Swedish Inspector Wallander takes his final outing in this exceptional novel, which is long enough to keep anyone busy. It’s also got an engaging plot centred around the disappearance of Wallander’s daughter’s father-in-law, a former Swedish Navel Officer who suddenly disappears not long after his lavish birthday party. As clues begin to surface which link back to the cold war, Wallander is drawn into a case with vast political ramifications.

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The Man With No Face Review: Getting 2019 Off To A Thrilling Start

the man with no face peter may

Last year Peter May published the intense and gripping I’ll Keep You Safe, so I was incredibly excited to check out his latest novel, The Man With No Face, due to be released on the 10th of January. I was expecting May’s typical strong characterisation, eventful plotlines and a spectacular finale to round it all off. I was not disappointed.

Less of a domestic drama than May’s previous book and far more of an international thriller, this latest novel travels the world, focusing on jaded Edinburgh journalist Neil Bannerman, who travels to Brussels in search of a scoop. During his stay two men are murdered, with a young girl being the only witness.

Desperate for answers and to protect the child, Bannerman begins a potentially fatal race against time to uncover the truth in a very tangled web of lies. Trying to both find out what happened and protect the girl, who is the sole witness to the tragedy that killed her father and changed her life. Autistic and vulnerable, her only method of communication is drawing, but she is unable to finish her portrait of the killers face due to her own fear and the dark, terrifying surroundings in which she saw it.

As Bannerman gets closer to the truth he has to combine protecting the girl with finding the culprits and bringing them to justice, but the work brings him nothing but trouble.

Set in the late 1970s, the novel evokes an era in turmoil, both politically and socially, and shows this through the tense narrative and tightly wound plot. May’s real skill is in characterisation and dialogue, and he shows this in The Man With No Face, with every character expertly crafted.

At the end of the day, May’s books are always dependable for their excellence of characterisation and deft plotting, and The Man With No Face is no exception. Any fans of May, or of gripping international thrillers in general, will enjoy this novel no end, and it makes a great read to get the New Year off to an excellent start.

 

 

Within The Silence Review: A Chilling Tale Of Family Secrets

Within the Silence

After a spate of them I’ve been a little short on blog tour posts for you, so here’s another- this week, it’s a review of Nicola Avery’s new novel Within the Silence.

Focusing on the secrets that creep into families and tear them apart, the novel focuses on the fractured Stone family. Father Jon’s wife, mother of his daughter Maddy, died in an accident late one night, and he remarried, and is now proud stepfather to the newly engaged Zara Hopper. Keen for another baby, Zara’s mother and stepfather adopted a young girl, Pippa, on whom the wealthy family now dotes.

Maddy has always been secretive, but now she has devastating revelations for Zara. As the novel unfolds, we see the disintegration of Zara’s seemingly perfect life as she works to discover the truth and find out more about what really happened all those years ago, and how it affects her family’s life today.

Avery has a deft hand with characterisation, and is able to easily give the reader a tantalising glimpse of her characters’ morals and minds, whilst at the same time always keeping them guessing.

The family’s secrets are carefully unveiled, and every time the reader thinks they’ve got a handle on the mystery another bombshell is dropped that changes everything yet again. As such, it’s easy to become enthralled by this gripping and tantalising novel, and I personally found myself devouring the novel. Intelligent and strikingly well crafted, the novel is nonetheless easy to read, and makes for a great escapist thriller.

There are some real moments of brilliance throughout the novel, and the plot is ingeniously engineered. Everything from the dialogue through to the settings and the bracing plot itself keeps the reader hurtling through to the nail-biting finale.

With so much going for it, there’s no reason not to check out Within The Silence- I guarantee you won’t be disappointed!

Can’t Keep Up With La Carre? That’s Kinda The Point

The-Little-Drummer-Girl

The first few episodes of the BBC’s adaptation of John Le Carre’s The Little Drummer Girl, adapted for TV by the same team who did the astonishing The Night Manager a couple of years ago.

Many watchers who fancied seeing something similar have since switched off, but for those that really enjoy a good spy drama from Director Park Chan-wook. There are some truly awesome performances, particularly from Hollywood favourite Michael Shannon, whose slimy spymaster is equal parts hilarious and intense, with his regular yells of ‘Shimon’ and his disconcertingly fraught and changeable conversations.

Alright, so you do have to suspend disbelief at times, but still The Little Drummer Girl is an exquisite drama. However, many watchers on Twitter have complained about how complicated the show is. To this I say: If you want something easy, go watch Pingu. The Little Drummer Girl is a spy drama; spies, by their very nature, live complicated lives, and portraying these is bound to be a little confusing.

Also, you have the issue of creative licence. I’ve just bought the book of The Little Drummer Girl, as I’ve never read it before and the series has wet my appetite, but having been a fan of Le Carre for years I know that he often uses characters with multiple identities and pseudonyms, as well as narrative devices such as flashbacks and swift transitions between time and place. In televising the novel Chan-wook has utilised a number of filming techniques to keep his viewers entranced. This can confuse some, but it’s designed to keep you watching and make you really pay attention.

That’s the key problem, in my opinion: in a world of easy watching, where shows can be paused and re-joined quickly and easily, viewers are turned-off by the idea of having to really pay attention. You can’t go off and call your sister, make yourself a snack or check Facebook before returning to The Little Drummer Girl. By the time you get back they’ll be using different names, in a different country and they’ll be a completely different threat.

Previously there was also a film version, and I’ve not seen this, but I suspect that the issues remain largely the same; this is a grown up drama that you cannot tune in and out of easily.

Look at the end of the day, I reckon a big part of the problem is that there’s no Tom Hiddleston equivalent in this adaptation. Alexander Skarsgård is no substitute, and as such viewers can’t stare at his arse whilst not following the plot. Let’s face it, both dramas were equally confusing and deceptive, but the introduction of a Hollywood star made many keep watching The Night Manager long after they lost interest in the plot. The Little Drummer Girl does not have this benefit, but as a stylish, beautifully crafted adaptation there’s nothing currently on TV that can hold a candle to it.

 

Hugh Fraser Interview: “I’ve always enjoyed the gritty American crime writers like Elmore Leonard and James Ellroy”

hugh fraser

This week I’ve got an awesome treat for fans of the Rina Walker novels, as I talk to Hugh Fraser, Actor and Writer extraordinaire, who offers me an insight into his books and how his experiences influenced them.  

Tell me about how you came to define your writing style. What drew you towards thrillers?

I’m not aware of having a particular writing style but I’ve always enjoyed the gritty American crime writers like Elmore Leonard and James Ellroy and I imagine I must have been influenced by them in terms of style and also as to my choice of genre.

How do you draw on your time acting and how does it inspire your writing?

When I was a student at drama school in the early 1960s I lived in Notting Hill when it was a much poorer and rougher area than it is today and so I was able to observe the deprived conditions that Rina Walker grew up in and the criminality and racial prejudice that existed then. When I had no acting work in the early days I also worked as a musician in the kind of Soho hostess clubs that Rina frequents with her girlfriend Lizzie.

Tell me all about the Rina Walker series. What was your inspiration?

I have always collected the black and white photographs of Roger Mayne and Bert Hardy who captured so many evocative images of the poverty and dilapidation of the post-war inner cities. Roger Mayne’s series depicting the street life of Notting Hill and North Kensington in the 1950s I found particularly evocative, with Teddy Boys in their drainpipe trousers and drape jackets, and Teddy Girls in pencil skirts and tailored jackets with velvet collars, strutting their stuff, while raggedy little kids in threadbare clothes play football and hopscotch, or gather on the steps of the tenements.

It was in this neighborhood and this kind of poverty that I imagined my heroine Rina Walker growing up, the daughter of a recently murdered gangster and alcoholic mother, forced into a life of crime at an early age in order to care for and support her two younger siblings and all too soon acquiring the skills and expertise of a contract killer.

What books do you like to read yourself and how do they impact on your own writing?

I have just finished the wonderful Love Hurts by William Boyd and I’m about to start Milkman by Anna Burns, which has just won the Booker Prize. I’m afraid these kind of beautifully written novels, which make us consider our lives and how we live them, have little or no impact on my own writing. My books are no more than entertainment of a very basic kind.

If you could collaborate with anyone, living or dead, who would it be and why?

What an interesting question. I think it would have to be Marcel Proust – but only if he’d let me share his Madeleines.

What’s next for the Rina Walker series? Have you got any exciting plans to develop it that you can share with us?

I have no plans to start another outing for Rina at the moment but I won’t be surprised if she gives me a nudge sometime soon.

Is there any other work you’ve got coming up that you would like to tell me about?

I’m going to Iceland in a couple of weeks to appear in the Icelandic Noir Festival, which I’m really excited about.

Are there any new books or writers that you are looking forward to moving forward?

I heard Edith Eger on Woman’s Hour this morning talking about The Choice, her harrowing account of surviving Auschwitz and slave labour in Germany. I was deeply moved by her heroism and optimism after enduring such unbelievable hardship and I can’t wait to read it.

Anything you’d like to add?

Thank you for asking me to join you.

It’s been awesome hearing from you, thanks for taking the time to answer my questions. You can read more about Hugh and his work HERE.

Stealth Review: Rina Walker Is As Deadly and Dastardly as Ever

stealth hugh fraser novel

Hit woman Rina Walker returns in another breath-taking novel from actor turned author Hugh Fraser.

After taking on a job, Rina discovers that there is much more to it than she previously thought. Failing to undertake the contract, she gains the unwanted attention of both Military Intelligence and the Broadmoor inmate who issued the order. While she deals with the difficult task of cleaning up her own mess, Fraser’s protagonist is also perused by a group of mercenary gangland heavies thanks to another kill she carried out from her conscience.

With her naturally dangerous working life in disarray, Rina has to work hard and fast to stop it colliding with her private one and keep those she cares about safe. Fraser has a real skill in creating a multi-dimensional character whose life is both complicated and, at the same time, not too syrupy. His protagonist is always perfectly balanced in every respect, and this is seen again in Stealth, which despite being the fourth book in the Rina Walker series, remains every bit as brilliant as the first three.

One of Fraser’s real triumphs, which I have remarked upon in previous reviews of his work, is his dialogue, and Stealth lives up to its forebear’s names in this regard too. The dialogue is crisp and sharp, and is used as both a characterisation tool and a plot driver, keeping the narrative flowing so that readers gain vital information quickly, without what I call ‘info dumping’, where writers dump huge chunks of information on their readers so they just end up trawling through endless paragraphs of exposition. By integrating this information into his dialogue Fraser keeps his reader hooked throughout, and draws them in as the novel speeds through to its nail-biting conclusion.

In all, Stealth is another great addition to the already spectacular Rina Walker series, and I’m looking forward to the next one even though I’ve only just finished this one!

She Chose Me Review: A Brilliant Psychological Thriller

she chose me

Another exciting blog tour article for you today! This time it is gripping thriller She Chose Me by Tracey Emerson, which was only published a few days ago. Hot off the press, I wasn’t sure what to expect with this thriller, but was pleasantly surprised to find myself hooked only pages in.

Having lived abroad for many years, protagonist Grace comes back to London to deal with her Mum, who is now dying. She then starts receiving disturbing Mother’s Day cards, despite not having any children herself.

She Chose Me Blog Tour Banner

That’s when things start to get really eerie. Emerson paints a chilling portrait of a woman driven to the brink of insanity by someone clearly out to torment her, with silent phone calls causing flashbacks to a past that Grace thought she had managed to outrun.

With the truth closing in on her, Grace becomes a disturbed mess and readers get to see Emerson’s exceptional characterisation in action. The author paints a remarkably astute and accurate picture of a woman on the brink, all the while keeping her readers guessing and giving them teasing clues that lead them piece by piece to the final, nail-biting finale that leaves readers on the edge of their seats.

I’ll be honest here: generally speaking, these psychological thrillers where human nature and personal conflicts are at the centre is not really my bag. Give me a good serial killer any day. But She Chose Me really is in a league of its own. This novel has style and class in abundance, and Emerson drives the narrative forward at a startling pace, giving the reader no time to dwell in what may or may not have happened. There’s no time for boredom in this fast-paced thriller.

Written in the first person, the novel shifts between past and present, giving the reader an intriguing insight into both Grace’s current situation and the events that led to it. This alternating narrative is done well, and is not clumsy as some attempts often are.

Overall I was pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed this tightly wound thriller, and I will be looking out for more of Emerson’s writing in the future- and I would suggest you do the same.