BookNoir: January Crime Round-Up

Article published on January 24, 2018.

At the end of each month we will be bringing you a crime round-up featuring some of the new and recent releases that have caught our eye. There’s something for everyone in the January selection!

The Ghosts of Galway by Ken Bruen

A classy Irish black comedy. Anarchic as ever, Jack Taylor stumbles his way through another case in an alcoholic haze. The search is on for the Red Book, a lost Catholic manuscript, purportedly containing dangerous secrets the Church does not want exposed. Taylor is now a security guard, seduced by the large wedge of money on offer from his Ukrainian boss into tracking down the ex-priest, Frank Miller (like the author of Sin City). Miller is the man who stole the Red Book from the Vatican. All Taylor has to make him an offer for the manuscript. Ever belligerent he gets into a fight with Miller so when the latter winds up dead shortly afterwards it doesn’t look good for Taylor. That’s just for starters; Emily, a very dangerous young woman, is badly beaten while tracking down the mysterious ‘Ghosts of Galway’ gang. A nefarious outfit, wreaking havoc in the city, who are also of interest to Garda Sgt. Ridge and she is desperate enough to ask for Jack’s help (after past troubles an uneasy truce exists between the two). Murder and mayhem ensue.

Blessed with the usual sassy dialogue and razor sharp wit we are once again immersed in the black heart of Galway with Jack Taylor. Nobody stretches the edges of a story like Bruen, the plot bubbles away underneath the roller-coaster ride that is Jack Taylor’s life – entertaining and shocking at the same time. Bruen uses humour to lull the reader before delivering a smack in the face with an uncomfortable realism. There are the usual film, TV and literary references (part of the fun). On New Year’s Day I sat myself down, devoured this novel and laughed and thrilled in pure pleasure. Ken Bruen is wisely described by the Irish Times as the godfather of the modern Irish crime novel. There are many laughs but overall this is not a joke. It’s the farce that illuminates the truth. Bruen is having a gentle dig at the religious conspiracy style thriller, the kind of novel that gives import to nonsense, here nonsense gives import to truth. Fans will love it, newcomers may find it a bit Marmite. Still, I don’t think anyone does irony and dialogue better and there is one nasty shock for fans, so watch out!

Head of Zeus 9781786697004 hbk *****

The Mountain by Luca D’Andrea

Exciting Euro-thriller that ramps up the chill factor. I must admit I took a while to warm to The Mountain. The narrator is an American in Italy and the wise-cracking seemed a little forced/over worked. I’m glad I persevered because this is an intriguing and enjoyable read. Three young people are hiking in the Dolomites when a storm hits, by the time a rescue party finds them they have been brutally butchered. Twenty-five years later, Jeremiah Salinger accompanies his wife back to the village of her birth. He and his film partner are making a documentary about the Dolomites Mountain Rescue called ‘Mountain Angels’. Tragedy strikes and Salinger is the only survivor of a helicopter crash that the locals blame on him (maybe he blames himself). His wife Annelise insists he take time to recover and think about the family future. When Salinger hears about the triple murder from his father-in-law, a man who took part of the original search party, he can’t help getting sucked into investigating. A vortex that has dragged many down. Disturbing details of alcoholism, local resentments and divisions come to light. What no one wants to face is that the village and the Siebenhoch (seven caves) Pass were cut off for a week around the murders. The crazed madman was never found but the locals don’t seem to think it could be one of them. Once Werner tells Salinger about the gruesome events all those years ago he is hooked and I have to say so was I. The character of Salinger becomes less clichéd and more interesting. The story is an adventure thriller; part spooky, part crime novel, all action. The weather plays it’s part, ‘the beast’ that cannot be tamed. D’Andrea brilliantly handles the paranoia and mistrust of the locals when Salinger starts snooping. There is a lot of clever misdirection that leads the reader to think the mystery is solved when there are still 70 pages to go. One final chilly twist makes for a satisfying ending. There are some really interesting scientific details; ancient bodies emerging from the frost and the weather cutting off the villages from the wider world. A really Entertaining mainstream thriller.

MacLehose 9780857056900 pbk ****

Pale Horse Riding by Chris Petit

Pale Horse Riding is a dark and brooding WWII thriller. Petit has a running theme to expose the innate corruption of Nazism throughout the investigations of his characters, Schlegel and Morgen. The Nazis prided themselves on the efficiency and purity of purpose but nothing could be further from the truth. The clever angle that Petit has chosen for his novels is to have two investigators looking beyond the veneer – the corruption. Schlegel is recovering from the last investigation into Buchenwald and embezzlement and he is reluctant to take on a new investigation until he discovers that the Jewish woman he is secretly in love with has been transferred to Auschwitz, and that is where they are being sent. Morgen, his partner, is more keen, he is stubborn and once he gets the bit between his teeth he won’t let go. The mysterious Dr. Kammler is in charge of SS construction, neither man knows what that means, but he has the power to send the two men to look into the death camp. They have no idea what Auschwitz is but it is a high security site with total secrecy. Schlegel and Morgen know that if the boss of the camps, Pohl, catches them investigating they will be killed. The discoveries at Buchenwald already caused Pohl great embarrassment. So Kammler suggests they go in as two anonymous post office investigators looking into the theft of gold by a dentist shipped back to Germany as food parcels. You can guess where the gold is coming from!

This is a brilliant study of the Nazi mentality, the frailty of the ideology and the reality of living under the regime. When Morgen and Schlegel arrive in Auschwitz, even before seeing a prisoner the corruption, alcoholism and mental decline of the German staff becomes obvious. Hoess, camp commandant, and his staff are chillingly brutal but also small minded, weak, perverted, diminished. There are some very memorable characters for all the wrong reasons. As an example of how corrupt, rather than ordered, the Nazi system is this is eye opening. In one incident a play on the origins of European races that Hoess’ wife stages reveals the grotesque nature of the ideology and says a lot about the German staff that even some of them can hardly stomach it. The atmosphere of Pale Horse Riding is chilling.

A clever mix of real people and invented characters throws light on the Nazi lie. Petit creates a sense of the danger the men are in investigating the corruption at Auschwitz. He is aware of the irony of searching out corruption in such a perverse and evil regime. As Schlegel and Morgen search for the truth the race to stop them creates a really fast moving thriller. These are important themes of man’s inhumanity to man so it comes across as earnest at times, maybe a bit long. Pale Horse Riding does not pack as much of a punch as the first novel in this series, The Butchers of Berlin, but it is still an intelligent exciting thriller – don’t let that put you off.

Simon & Schuster 9781471143441 hbk ****

Origin by Dan Brown

Super conspiracy heaven for the fans. I was a bit late catching up with this one, the book was published in October last year but Dan Brown is not really my thing. This kind of conspiracy thriller is not grounded enough for me. That said, I didn’t set out to write this review to have a go at one of the most popular writers on the planet. Brown seems to be a very nice man, who, I suspect, could not care less about his critics as his millions of fans love him. So if you are a fan of Dan Brown’s roller-coaster thrillers you will not be disappointed by the fifth outing in the Robert Langdon series. Once again world renowned professor of symbology and religious iconology, Dr Robert Langdon, is caught up in a maelstrom with nothing less than the future of humanity on the line. All the ingredients are here for a cracking read; breakneck pace, non stop action, exotic locations, mysterious dark forces at work and a conspiracy of epic proportions – Including one original little twist. The basic premise of the novel poses questions about the origins of our species and what the future holds for the human race. Brown pits theories of creationism and science against each other. We hop around exotic locations, beautiful cathedrals and museums and dangerous unlit areas. All described with Brown’s usual vigour and imagination. The theories he purports are rarely original but this is a good stab at something important, fundamental ideas about humanity are explained very well.

Langdon is attending a talk at the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao given by his former student, Edmond Kirsch. Kirsch is a tech magnate, investor and innovator, a global hero, a man seen as a visionary and futurist. He is an atheist who wants to reveal to the world a secret about human kind that will radically change the way we think about our species, our place in the world and how we will survive. Before he gets to deliver his message Kirsch is shot dead by a religious fanatic. Langdon wants to know what Kirsch had to tell the world and why he died? After fleeing the museum with its director, Ambra Vidal, he seeks the help of Winston, Kirsch’s super computer, to unlock the secret and reveal the killer. A race against evil ensues and thrills and spills abound.

Origin stumbles a bit at the end and the denouement is a bit under whelming but the race to discover the truth as the plot unfolds is as dramatic as Brown’s best, 450+ pages of fun and enjoyable hokum.

Bantam Press 9780593078754 hbk **** (for the fans)

Killed by Thomas Enger

Killed is a Nordic Noir treat. This is the fifth outing for Henning Juul and the final book in the series about the journalist investigator. I’m not sure how I feel about that; it’s nice to get closure and all good things must come to an end, but I will miss one of the most distinctive characters in Scandi-noir. Each of the novels in the series have had very good individual stories in their own right but the real power of these tales is in the haunted driven hunt of Juul for an explanation of the fire that killed his son, Jonas. Enger has not only created some great characters but he has been able to reveal layers to them that were not apparent when they first appeared in the earlier novels (criminals like Tore Pulli and even members of his own family). If you haven’t read Enger before there is a recap of the story at the start that will bring you up to speed. Juul has mixed with gangs and corrupt businessmen and exposed a dark underbelly to Norway’s normally placid and ordered society. The emotional force and tension is just as fierce in killed as the rest of the series. From the opening scene of Juul in a boat with a body wrapped in plastic and the man he thinks killed his son, Durim Redzapi, rowing out to dump the body.

In Killed Henning Juul is barely functioning as a 123 News journalist any more. He is caught up in a relentless hunt for the killer of his son. He finds out he has been betrayed by his own sister who was outside his house just before the fatal fire. Trine was being blackmailed after covering up the murder of an old woman, Mrs. Svenkerud, years before. There are connections to Natal in Brazil and land deals, drugs and gangs. Juul is brilliant at connecting the dots and moving towards the goal of unmasking the murderer but as he get closer it gets more dangerous, it’s a race to see who can get to the other first. As Juul links the various conspirators, friends and enemies die. The guilty are determined to keep the truth hidden. Someone will die but who? Could this be not just the end of the story but the end of Henning Juul? Redzepi forces Juul into the water, a weight tied to his ankle, he fights to stay afloat but eventually accepts his fate and sinks.

Killed is the ambitious denouement to a fantastic series, excellently translated for Orenda by Kari Dickson. I hope we hear more from Enger in the future and a TV appearance by his character Henning Juul wouldn’t go amiss.

Orenda Books 9781910633991 pbk *****

Paul Burke
January 2018

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Did You See Melody? by Sophie Hannah

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Bats in the Belfry by E.C.R. Lorac

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