Ultra-gritty describes the 1930's Stockholm that Harry Kvist occupies, as well as Kvist himself. To say nothing of the people that he mixes with. It'sUltra-gritty describes the 1930's Stockholm that Harry Kvist occupies, as well as Kvist himself. To say nothing of the people that he mixes with. It's a beautifully evoked world of dark and despair, littered with violent sexual encounters, drinking, and oddly, an unexpected love affair of sorts.
Told from his point of view Kvist is nothing if not brutally honest about himself, his situation, even the way he looks. And as an ex-boxer he's well suited to his now role of debt-collector, and general intimidating presence. It's the role of debt collector that sees him become the prime suspect after a debtor he has just visited, and roughed up just a touch, is discovered murdered in his apartment. Kvist might be the last known person to have seen him alive, but this time he knows he's definitely not guilty. Unfortunately clearing his name isn't going to be straightforward as finding the witness that saw him leaving on the night, when he's just got is a working name and physical description to go on, isn't easy.
The plot itself is not unfamiliar - the lone wolf character, presumed guilty because that's the easiest conclusion to draw, setting out on his own to clear his name. What lifts CLINCH out of the familiar is the strength of the character of Kvist and the world that he occupies. Working the streets, the slums, the brothels and the dives of Stockholm, there's something deeply physical about the way that Kvist undertakes his quest. But then sheer physicality is the thing about Kvist - be it his hetero- and homo-sexual encounters, or the way he inhabits the darker places in which he seeks.
When Scandinavian crime / thriller fiction first elbowed itself into the consciousness of crime fiction fans it frequently bought with it something unusual at the time - introspection and consideration, the examination of why people do what they do, rather than always the crime, an investigation and resolution. CLINCH seems to come from somewhere slightly different again. Kvist feels like he'd be comfortable walking the dark, gritty streets of a dangerous American city, and equally at home on the hard edges of the Scottish and Irish tenements plagued with violence and social problems. That he's from Stockholm, and the world he inhabits is dark, cold, dirty, desperate, and frequently pretty nasty makes more sense than this reader ever imagined would be possible.
If you've read the blurb for CLINCH and formed some conclusions about style, and outcome in your mind, then it's likely you got close in some things and miles away in others. There are shades of noir in this novel so unexpected that even after reading CLINCH, this reader is still mildly stunned and absolutely thankful for the opportunity.
Dom and Donald Tolen are identical twins - in looks but not personality. Whilst Dom craves the quiet life, Donald has pushed the boundaries a lot moreDom and Donald Tolen are identical twins - in looks but not personality. Whilst Dom craves the quiet life, Donald has pushed the boundaries a lot more. But now, separated from his wife and living, as an increasingly unwelcome guest, in his brother's apartment, Donald needs to get himself sorted in a hurry. What ensues is a complicated tale of swapped identities and confusion that is going to need the reader to be paying close attention.
We've all heard tales of identical twins swapping places. Particularly when young, and in this reader's case, in school when one twin was much better at a particular subject than the other. Dom and Donald always did the same thing as kids, and when Donald convinces Dom to try it one more time in adult life, it kind of makes sense that he'd like to do it again as a joke or a bit of fun. But things are never quite that simple when you're an adult, particularly if there are sneaky plans afoot. Hence the need for reader's to be paying attention.
A psychological thriller, THE SWAP is written in a nicely flowing manner, taking the reader straight into the action, and through the stories of Dom and Donald. Structured well with current day and past revelations nicely balanced, the pace doesn't lag at all during this book. The likelihood of something going astray when Donald convinces Dom to switch places for the day is nothing compared to what actually does occur, nor the complications that continue from that event onwards. Although the "Dom" and "Donald" names do sound like the potential for confusion you are given license to get past that with most of the viewpoint remaining with Dom - the more sedate and quieter of the two twins.
There is a supporting cast dotted throughout THE SWAP but the focus is always on the twins, and Dom in particular so most of the extras fade rapidly into the background and remain somewhat one-dimensional. Many readers might find themselves hanging tightly onto the twins identities anyway - things get pretty complicated in that department pretty darn quickly.
It's an interesting idea for a debut novel - the knowing swapping of identities and the consequences from there. Combined with some insights into the differences, as well as similarities between identical twins and THE SWAP was an engaging read - not perfect by any means - but well worth the time and attention.
The Le Fanu series from author Brian Stoddart is one of those extremely elegant combinations of mystery fiction and historical lesson that also providThe Le Fanu series from author Brian Stoddart is one of those extremely elegant combinations of mystery fiction and historical lesson that also provides entertainment for readers. There's even a bit of good old fashioned romance from the male point of view. In short, there's something for all readers within these pages.
The third book, A STRAITS SETTLEMENT sees Le Fanu promoted above his desired wishes to acting Inspector-General, buried in paperwork and oddly behaving subordinate officers, increasingly desperate to resolve his ongoing faltering love affair with a local Anglo-Indian woman. It's not surprising that this reluctant bureaucrat seizes the opportunity to get back into some proper investigating work when a senior Civil Service member goes missing, and a seemingly unrelated murder occurs.
The sense of place and time in this series is absolutely pitch perfect - using as always something from the time as an element of the crime - in this case highly suspect indentured labour recruitment, people smuggling and antiquities theft. Always though, the ongoing question of British rule in India and the bubbling pressure for independence forms the backdrop, with elements of the struggle between colonial thinking and posturing and the reality of day to day life for the people cleverly incorporated. Le Fanu is the point of difference in the Colonial powers, and in the day to day society, with the manner in which he runs his household, his love affairs and his interactions with the locals. Even his food choices are not what the Colonial powers would approve of.
The manner in which Stoddart writes these books is pitch perfect. The historical elements, the factual tidbits, are built into the narrative in a way that lets the reader learn a lot and experience what it must have been like in that part of the world at that time. The mystery elements remain to the forefront and the personal bits and pieces are dotted throughout creating a character with depth. Le Fanu is not just a totally believable character he's nicely vulnerable, complicated and extremely easy to connect with. A series that really hasn't put a foot wrong, A STRAITS SETTLEMENT pushes the story of Le Fanu, his life and his future forward, setting up some major changes for the next book. Really looking forward to that.
What a little gem AMPLIFY turned out to be. A debut novel from journalist Mark Hollands, introducing musical impresario Billy Lime and his world of seWhat a little gem AMPLIFY turned out to be. A debut novel from journalist Mark Hollands, introducing musical impresario Billy Lime and his world of sex, drugs and rock and roll.
So much potential for cliché so very nicely dodged here. The women are not all sex objects or madder than meat-axe fans, the rock and roll is slightly on the older and might not be quite up to it any more side, the muso's an interesting combination of old and wise, and still living the dream types. Then there's the daring deeds of Lime himself liberally laced with martial arts, some aches and pains, and a hefty dose of clever humour.
The plot is cleverly interwoven into the corporate music world and takes advantage of a tax investigation of highly suspect intent, an international rock tour, a well known identity in Lime, and some decidedly Bolshie female managers of his various businesses to pull everybody and everything into the mix nicely. The characters are all strong, with nuance in unexpected places, and no daft lapses into fem-jep, or any other annoyances. There are a few lowlights that you're just going to have to accept as part of the rough and tumble of biker gang / jail / threatening behaviour all of which made sense in the context - if not purely in terms of justice.
There's lots of laugh out loud moments along the way - with plenty of in jokes to be found in Billy Lime's name, his choice of car colour and his business activities. AMPLIFY is tightly paced, with no extraneous information along the way and the character development and background is built elegantly into the overall pace and fun of the thing.
Slightly from the more manic, light-hearted side of crime fiction, despite the seriousness of the scenario's played out, there's an awful lot to like about AMPLIFY. Certainly enough to be on the lookout for a follow-up.