Thursday, July 14, 2011

Round up July 2011

We're still here, you know. Still reading the best crime books. We've made a decision recently that in order to keep the reviews going we need to do more round up reviews than one offs. This means shorter takes but hopefully more reviews. And while they may be briefer, rest assured they're still going to be well-thought out and solidly opinionated, just the way you've come to expect from Crime Scene Scotland.

Anyway here's what we've been reading lately:

BLACK FLOWERS By Steve Mosby Orion Books, 978-1409101116

Mosby’s complex thriller is as much about how storys and narratives run through our lives as it is about the mysterious connection a young writer’s father may have to a long cold case. Mosby uses fairy tale motifs ("This is not the story of a little girl who dissapears. This is the story of a little girl who comes back") to great effect in this unique and unsettling thriller, cementing his reputation as one of the most original high concept thriller writers working in the UK today.

It all threatens to get a little silly as the conspiracy becomes insanely personal, but Mosby pulls it back from the brink by presenting the reader with emotionally honest characters and a genuine intrigue that builds as the narrative progresses. And while the thriller aspects – and in particular those that verge close to a kind of horror motif – are very well done, its Mosby’s investment in character that really pulls us in. Very few writers can create such real characters as Mosby does in the thriller genre, and its this deftness of touch that places him leaps and bounds ahead of the rest of the pack. It helps that he somehow makes even the most high of high concepts appear plausible.

If you haven’t read Mosby before, we advise you start now.

KILLER MOVE Michael Marshall Orion Books, 978-1409133247

As ever with Marshall, the book starts intriguingly with a man who starts to realise that the life he’s living is being manipulated by forces beyond his control. Bill Moore is an ordinary guy, a Florida Realtor, who has started to notice odd things happening in his life. Little business cards with the word MODIFIED start appearing in his workspace. Books he never order come by post. Emails he never sent are recieved by friends. And then the changes start getting bigger and more disturbing. And the worst part is, no one else seems to notice.

Marshall's prose is solid and engaging, and the intrigue and level of tension is slowly ratcheted with a kind of expert control. Its the kind of thing Marshall does with ease; taking the everyday and then twisting into something else. The trouble is that often Marshall's ideas are too big to appear plausible, and as KILLER MOVE races to its conclusion, its only in the last few chapters that the reader may feel the narrative beginning to implode.

As with THE INTRUDERS, there’s that twist of the knife that goes just a little too far. Unlike one of his closest counterparts in modern thriller writing, Steve Mosby, Marshall doesn’t present us with characters complex enought to pull us through the insanity of their situation. They seem more at the mercy of the plot than the plot is at the mercy of them. Ultimately this means that the motivation of the bad guys appears paper thin. Although perhaps that’s because one might need to have read Marshall’s famous Straw Men series first, as another reader has pointed out to us.

Of course, much of this can be down to personal taste, and if you can buy the increasingly insane twists and turns of the plot, this is a well written thriller with one hell of a great opening. How much you can take though depends entirely on your suspension of disbelief and whether you were a fan of the old Michael Douglas movie, THE GAME, which seems to have had more than a passing influence on Marshall’s narrative here (but its an influence and – thankfully – not a direct knock-off) or at least that's how I felt when I realised where events were heading to.

I feel much the same about KILLER MOVE as I did about THE INTRUDERS, which was a solid and intriguing premise rather blunted by an ending that felt rushed and out of left field. But Marshall is clearly a writer of talent and his attempts to inject something a little different into the crowded thriller field should be applauded, even if they tend to self destruct towards the end.

FUN AND GAMES Duane Swierczynski Mulholland Books, 978-1444707564

The first of a trilogy featuring Charlie Harper – ex Philly cop turned “house sitter” – finds our hero getting involved with a mysterious group of directors who arranged accidental deaths for a price. Madden Lane is a starlet with a past whose indiscretions have become inconvenient to the wrong people who now want her dead. But no one reckoned on Harper getting involved.

As always with Swierczynski (THE BLONDE), the action is ludicrous and yet rendered believable by the tight, uncompromising prose and the sheer, relentless pace. Where most thriller writers believe detailing guns for pages on end is a way to get the adrenaline pumping, Swierczynski jumps straight to the chase giving you only what you need to understand the action. And it works, it really does. The author isn’t apologising or explaining his story. He’s letting it stand on its own two feet, and this results in the kind of narrative that just sweeps you up and has you hanging on for dear life. Swierczynski is one of the few writers who can recreate the adrenaline rush of the best action thrillers on the page, and the only thing you can do as a reader is just surrender and go along for the ride. To keep you in the mood, each chapter is headed with quotes from action movies and film stars, which becomes a fun little game to see how the intent of these quotes is twisted to fit Swierczynski’s narrative.

Yes, it’s melodramatic, ludicrous and patently insane. But its sense of self belief is palpable that even a half-naked, one-eyed woman who arranges killings with cold efficiency seems absolutely plausible within Swierczynski’s world. Not to say that the novel isn’t smart. It is. FUN AND GAMES is sly, and fun and just one hell of a good time.

This is the first book of Swierczynski’s to be published in the UK. So if you haven’t read him yet, you no longer have an excuse. Go buy FUN AND GAMES. Right now. Or I’m giving the Accident People your name…

FIFTH VICTIM By Zoe Sharp Allison and Busby, 978-0749009328

For a long time I've been singing the praises of Zoe Sharp's Charlie Fox novels, citing not only her uniqueness in the male-dominated action thriller genre, but also the fact that her books feel absolutely real; there is no questioning the authenticity here.

As the Fox series has developed, another interesting wrinkle has been added - - Sharp gives a distinctly human quality to her protagonist. Charlie is not just another arse-kicking automaton, but a fully rounded human being who occasionally makes bad judgement calls. The last one, of course, wound up with her lover and fellow bodyguard Sean Meyer in a coma.

In FIFTH VICTIM, Charlie finds taking on an apparently simple gig to try and distract her from the reality of Sean's condition. But nothing is ever as simple as it seems and soon enough both Charlie's life and that of her principle are in danger. The plot twists and turns with a surprising ease, but its the final twists that provide a real kick to the heart and the head.

The perfect blend of thrills and emotional investment mean that Sharp's latest novel is her best yet. If you're not reading her, you really should start now.

Russel D Mclean for, 14/07/11