Posted in Random Things Tours

One Last Time by Helga Flatland.

Translated by Rosie Hedger.

I was utterly bowled over by this beautiful examination of life, death and how ordinary lives can be the most extraordinary of all. Our narrator, Anne, unexpectedly finds herself contemplating the end of her life, and so much sooner than expected, when she faces a diagnosis of colon cancer. Her husband Gustav has been hovering between two states for a number of years after several strokes slowly incapacitated him. His permanent disabilities started with paralysis of one of his arms and ending with all limbs affected and personality changes that are the hardest to cope with. With a heavy heart Anne has allowed their GP and hospital team to make the decision that Gustav should be placed in a nursing home. There’s a sense in which Anne had felt immune from further tragedy, as if Gustav had paid the price for them all. Meanwhile, we also meet Anne’s two grown-up children, Magnus and Sigrid. Sigrid is our second narrator and through her story we can see Anne in a different light, as a mother. However, we also see Sigrid as a mother and it’s on these relationships the book focuses; those complex emotions and connections between mothers and daughters.

Anne’s life has been a difficult and hard-working one. There’s been the farm she kept with Gustav in an isolated region of Norway, her job as teacher, the role of carer for Gustav, and her role as mother. From the outside looking in she’s an amazingly strong woman for whom fate has dealt a very rough hand. From the inside she sees herself as almost subsumed by the needs of other people, particularly Gustav, but has done the best job she could in very difficult circumstances. However, from Sigrid’s perspective, she allowed herself to be subsumed by Gustav’s needs at the expense of her children. Sigrid feels that her father listened to her, they would play records together from his vinyl collection and he took time to understand her. She feels her mother is distant at best and at worst, neglectful and selfish. We also see Sigrid’s own mothering skills, dealing with her teenage daughter Mia and the sudden return of Mia’s biological father Jens. The author takes us back to Sigrid’s rebellious teenage years, her pregnancy at 19 and Jens’s abandonment of her just before the Mia’s birth.

The author cleverly shows us how mother and daughter can see the same incident very differently. In a conversation about teaching in Norwegian in schools, Sigrid suddenly bursts out with:

I was so cold, freezing all through primary school, do you know what it was like, sitting through a whole day in class with wet socks, ice cold, not daring to take them off for fear someone might see?’

Anne is a bit stunned, but relates back to everything that was on her plate at the time. She was looking after Gustav, constantly making sacrifices:

‘You’re hardly the true victim in all this, I told her in as measured a tone as I could muster. She said nothing, waited a few seconds before getting up and leaving. I woke that night and remembered at least one occasion when Sigrid had been at high school and I had urged her to wear her boots, she had flown into a rage with me, stormed out the door and into the icy rain in her trainers and denim jacket’.

This is how mother and daughter speak to each other, in cross words with even more crossed wires, and bogged down with specifics. The overarching truth neither wishes to acknowledge is that Sigrid’s memories of her father are in a nostalgic past before she was seven years old. He will never grow old. He took up so much of her mother’s time that both Magnus and Sigrid fended for themselves on occasion. I felt so sad for Sigrid that her family forgot her birthday once or twice. However I also felt sad for Anne, who was dealt a rough hand in life and now has another in death. The time she’s had for herself is minimal, and the retirement she expected with her loving husband has been stripped away. There’s a deep sense of loss in Anne, from the family life she expected, her marriage, loss of a lover and of a warm, loving relationship with her daughter. She thinks back to those times she had supported Sigrid which don’t get mentioned. After Jens left, Anne collected a 19 year old Sigrid and took her back home for some much needed TLC and to have help after the birth. Sigrid isn’t angry with her Dad, she can’t be because he’s sick, so her anger is saved for Anne who for several years chose Gustav’s needs above those of her children.

Then, in turn, Sigrid is at crossed purposes with her own daughter. Jens has returned after sixteen years and is now the object of Mia’s affections. Sigrid feels for her partner Aslak, who has been there for both of them, since Mia was a small baby. She thinks she’s been a great Mum to Mia, never shirking responsibility or neglecting them. However, there are times Mia has felt stifled and there’s a way in which Sigrid’s need to control everything feels like anxiety to others. The author manages to convey how these parenting choices feel to the daughter. There are times when intention and result just miss each other by a hair’s breadth and I found this incredibly moving. It made me think about how I view my own mother and where I’ve been harsh in my assessment of her, but others might view things with more empathy. I found it interesting in light of her accusations about Anne’s parenting, that Sigrid feels it is Mia at fault in their misunderstandings. Mia’s reply is a real piece of wisdom and could have come from a therapist:

‘Isn’t it interesting how everyone else is always letting you down Mum?’

Helga Flatland writes so beautifully, that I was in the events of the book immediately and then carried into the very heart of this one ordinary family. She is a master at creating tension between people, finding those spaces between a conversation’s intent and how it’s received by the other person. I was desperately hoping for some sort of understanding between mother and daughter, before it was too late. I felt Sigrid needed that reconciliation even more than Anne. I loved the atmospheric feel of the country with its crispness underfoot, constant dusting of snow and all the hearty foods Anne mentions from elk to mutton, slow cooked and filling the house with delicious meaty casserole smells. I also loved the way she conveyed the closeness of a couple who live together, the way you know how their skin smells or what they’re going to say before they say it. I was so moved by Anne’s predicament of a much loved partner leaving you by slow degrees and how she would simply lie on the mattress next to Gustav hoping to regain some of that comfort she would get from his body. Most of all, her depiction of illness and deterioration is the best I’ve ever read and I’ve read a lot. Small losses, like medication changing the way the way someone smells, are actually huge because it takes them from the familiar to a complete stranger. She explores how illness suddenly demotes you from being in control of the smallest things in your life, like what you will eat for dinner or whether people will stay in your house. Who decides whether you need to be looked after and how? The way your body doesn’t belong to you anymore, or even feel and look like yours. People who once saw us as sexual beings, might cease to see us that way. Our bodies become a no-man’s land that people will fight and negotiate over, but rarely ask what we think, feel or need. This made the book incredibly moving, honest and real. This small family story is exquisite and truly special. You simply must read it.

Meet The Author

Helga Flatland is already one of Norway’s most awarded and widely read authors. Born in Telemark, Norway, in 1984, she made her literary debut in 2010 with the novel Stay If You Can, Leave If You Must, for which she was awarded the Tarjei Vesaas’ First Book Prize. She has written four novels and a children’s book and has won several other literary awards.


Her fifth novel, A Modern Family (her first English translation), was published to wide acclaim in Norway in August 2017, and was a number-one bestseller. The rights have subsequently been sold across Europe and the novel has sold more than 100,000 copies. One Last Time was published in Norway in 2020, where it topped the bestseller lists, and was shortlisted for the Norwegian Booksellers Award.

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The Source by Sarah Sultoon.

This was one of those books. The ones that make me stay up till 3am because I simply have to see the story through. Sarah Sultoon’s novel takes us straight into the action, starting in 2006 with a very tense scene where a group of men are discussing the terms for the exchange of a trafficked girl. Once outside and in their van, there’s a huge sigh of relief from everyone – the man is a journalist and he is deep undercover trying to expose the horrifying trade in young girls for sexual exploitation. In my head as I continued reading, was the author’s harrowing description of the girl in question. She’s shown off as if at a market, stunned by the terrible experiences she’s gone through so far. A young girl called Marie is working with the team and she has found the sight of the girl deeply upsetting, but is committed to bringing these people to justice and sometimes that means confronting awful practices or seeming complicit in acts that make them sick to their stomach. This time though, they’re sure they’ve got them.

We’re then taken back to our second narrator, a 15 year old called Carly living in an Army town called Warchester. The barracks loom large in town, the pubs are full of squaddies and even the roads have lanes specifically for Army vehicles. The Army has loomed large in Carly’s life too. Her dad is dead, killed in action. She and her brother Jason have never met him, but Jason followed his dad into the family business and is now stationed at the barracks. Carly lives in army accommodation with her mum and half-sister Kayleigh, who is still a baby. They live off her Dad’s pension, but it doesn’t always go far when Mum drinks. Carly is used to coming home to a mum who’s insensible, slumped in front of the TV and Kayleigh screaming her lungs out because she hasn’t been changed or fed all day. Carly is just about holding it together so that social services aren’t on their backs, but it isn’t easy. That’s why she needs time to blow off steam and just be a 15 year old, so when her friend Rachel invites her to a party at the barracks she is tempted. Rachel has a contact, and a secret way in where they won’t be seen. However, I could sense something ominous in Rachel’s reassurances to Carly – to just go along with what they want to do. Her instructions could be construed as grooming and I was worried about exactly what type of party this was going to be.

Our narrative flits between the two different women. Marie has clawed her way up into journalism the hard way, but is a diligent junior member of the term. That is until some news comes through that derails their trafficking expose and seems to shock Marie to her core. A press conference is suddenly called about a previous investigation called Operation Andromeda and the commissioner herself will be making the announcement. Every media outlet needs to be down at New Scotland Yard now, and when the announcement comes the room falls silent. The commissioner recaps for the press that Andromeda was an investigation into the sexual exploitation of young girls by those in the Army, followed by prosecutions. What happened to Carly all those years ago, happened to others too. The commissioner talks about failed victims, up to and beyond the dates they originally investigated. Girls who were let down and soldiers left to commit more crimes on further generations of girls. The news team know that there were potentially two girls exploited and abused in Warchester: Girl A who gave evidence in the original court case, but also Baby Girl A, removed from her parent after the abuse and taken into the care system. Both were given new identities.

This is a complex story in terms of who knew what was happening, who is part of the cover up and who is working on the inside to expose what happened. Although it adds to the tension and rapid pace of the novel it isn’t what grabbed hold of me. It was the human stories that really moved me and its easy in a case this big and a conspiracy so complex to forget what has happened to the individuals involved. By including Carly’s narrative we can see how this happened on a human level. In a town where kids are brought up to revere the army and its men, with few other opportunities and insidious grooming technique at play, it was easy. Rachel is the girl on the inside, recruiting her friends just as she was once recruited – this type of abuse is generational. She coaches Carly in what to do, how to please and slowly ratchets up the pressure for her to do more extreme things until it becomes Carly’s normal too. Generations of Warchester men have joined up and done their service. She’s doing what generations of Warchester girls have done, they do their service too. Yet, because Rachel is over 16 when the original investigation happens she could be tried as an adult for grooming the younger girls, despite having also been groomed into this behaviour when she was a child. The author shows us what happens when abuse is institutional, when safeguarding fails and a community is complicit. It’s a very hard read in parts – the neglect as upsetting as the sexual abuse – but it should be hard and people should be shocked by it. I felt the author had done her research and depicted the psychological effects of abuse thoroughly, showing how they persist into adulthood. She showed the effect of being let down, by family, friends, community and the agencies that are meant to help. However, Carly shows us how one person’s persistence and courage can force justice, of a kind. I love that this author was brave enough to write this novel and that she found a publishing house to share her vision.

Meet The Author

Sarah Sultoon is a journalist and writer, whose work as an international news executive at CNN has taken her all over the world, from the seats of power in both Westminster and Washington to the frontlines of Iraq and Afghanistan. She has extensive experience in conflict zones, winning three Peabody awards for her work on the war in Syria, an Emmy for her contribution to the coverage of Europe’s migrant crisis in 2015, and a number of Royal Television Society gongs. As passionate about fiction as nonfiction, she recently completed a Masters of Studies in Creative Writing at the University of Cambridge, adding to an undergraduate language degree in French and Spanish, and Masters of Philosophy in History, Film and Television. When not reading or writing she can usually be found somewhere outside, either running, swimming or throwing a ball for her three children and dog while she imagines what might happen if…..

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Bound by Vanda Symon.

When the official investigation into the murder of a respectable local businessman fails to add up, and personal problems start to play havoc with her state of mind, New Zealand’s favourite young detective Sam Shephard turns vigilante..

The New Zealand city of Dunedin is rocked when a wealthy and apparently respectable businessman is murdered in his luxurious home while his wife is bound and gagged, and forced to watch. But when Detective Sam Shephard and her team start investigating the case, they discover that the victim had links with some dubious characters.

The case seems cut and dried, but Sam has other ideas. Weighed down by her dad’s terminal cancer diagnosis, and by complications in her relationship with Paul, she needs a distraction, and launches her own investigation.

And when another murder throws the official case into chaos, it’s up to Sam to prove that the killer is someone no one could ever suspect.

I really enjoyed this crime novel with an interesting lead character, a case with so many twists and turns, and an array of background issues to get my teeth into. Our detective Sam Shephard is a strong woman, adept at her job and extremely dedicated too. She lives with a friend, but is in a relationship with Paul, another detective in the squad. When they get the job investigating the murder of reputable local businessman John Henderson, they soon find a link to a previous case. Two well-known criminals are implicated in the brutal shooting, both of them suspected in the murder of their fellow officer Reihana, and attempted murder of Smithy, who is still struggling physically despite being back at work. They need to find the link between regular business and the less ethically sound dealings that has brought the business into the criminal underworld. However, they also need to make sure that all of their dealings with the case, including forensics and other evidence collecting, are squeaky clean. Smithy, and to some extent Sam, will have to be seen to take a back seat on this one. Besides, once the link is found, between the gangsters and Henderson, it should be cut and dried, but is it? Why did they leave his wife Jill bound to a chair, alive? It is possible that someone else in Henderson’s life have reason to kill him?

Sam finds herself impressed by their teenage son, who has had the presence of mind to film the crime scene on his phone before freeing his mother. She creates a good rapport with him and manages to get important evidence about their potential suspects and their business dealings with his father. Sam works with a lot of integrity and will not accept the easy answer, until she’s uncovered everything. She would love to find their suspects guilty, but has her own idea about the motive for this crime that goes against what they know so far. This puts her in contention with the DI and he is not happy, they’ve been butting heads a lot and he’s not going to back her theory. Sam may have to go it alone here and do enough to prove her theory, without him.

I really enjoyed Symon’s mix of the professional and personal in Sam’s life, it felt like a good balance between the two. Sam is trying to keep her relationship with Paul on the down low, but circumstances may be taking that decision out of her control. There was also an interesting family dynamic, as Sam’s father is brought to the hospital and will be discharged to a hospice. These are possibly the final weeks of his life, but it’s clear that her unpleasant boss DI Johns will be less than sympathetic. Even sending her out of state on an errand. Her Mum seems less than impressed with her dedication to her job. There’s clearly history between Sam and her Mum, who accuses her of not being there for her Dad. Sam protests that she will, but her Mum rejects her promise. Sam manages not to snap back knowing that her Mum is angry and scared about her husband and the future, it how long will she able to stay silent. The moment when she sits quietly with her father and whispers to him the one secret she hasn’t told anyone, was so moving.

The pace of the novel is great – one of those where the short chapters create that ‘I can fit in one more chapter before bed’ feeling. Developments come at us thick and fast, both in the case and in her personal life. What I loved is Sam’s absolute dedication to her job, and determination to uphold New Zealand’s laws. Often when female characters have struggles in their personal life, things start to fall apart at work. Not so for Sam, she is good at separating her work life from home life, despite her mother’s digs about her loyalties. I felt I was getting a fully rounded character, not the usual stereotype about strong, working, women who have a messy love life, divorces, a drinking habit. Although we get personal with her, I came out of the novel admiring a good detective, with a full professional and personal life. The fact that this stood out to me is worrying and says a lot about how professional women are still portrayed in fiction. The story kept my attention because it was full of small surprises, such as Henderson’s assistant Astrid, whose previous CV was unexpected. This led me to expect bigger twists and I kept on reading. The author left us a few loose ends too, and I’m a sucker for the unresolved bits. Plus now I’m already hooked into the next book!

Meet The Author

Vanda Symon is a crime writer, TV presenter and radio host from Dunedin, New Zealand, and the chair of the Otago Southland branch of the New Zealand Society of Authors. The Sam Shephard series has climbed to number one on the New Zealand bestseller list, and also been shortlisted for the Ngaio Marsh Award for best crime novel. She currently lives in Dunedin, with her husband and two sons. –This text refers to an alternate kindle_edition edition.

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Deity by Matt Wesolowski.

I’m not sure I was fully prepared for the reading experience offered by Matt Wesolowski in his ‘Six Stories’ novel Deity. I was blown away by how creative and unique it is – roving between crime, mystery, the supernatural, and commentary on celebrity culture.

A shamed pop star

A devastating fire

Six witnesses

Six stories

Which one is true?

When pop megastar Zach Crystal dies in a fire at his remote mansion, his mysterious demise rips open the bitter divide between those who adored his music and his endless charity work, and those who viewed him as a despicable predator, who manipulated and abused young and vulnerable girls.

Online journalist, Scott King, whose Six Stories podcasts have become an internet sensation, investigates the accusations of sexual abuse and murder that were levelled at Crystal before he died. But as Scott begins to ask questions and rake over old graves, some startling inconsistencies emerge: Was the fire at Crystal’s remote home really an accident? Are reports of a haunting really true? Why was he never officially charged?

Dark, chillingly topical and deeply thought-provoking, Deity is both an explosive thriller and a startling look at how heroes can fall from grace and why we turn a blind eye to even the most heinous of crimes…

This is book five in a series started back in 2017, based around the structural idea of six podcasts, presented by character Scott King, that attempt to investigate and solve a cold case. The subject here is Zach Crystal, pop megastar and controversial figure, who died in a fire at his home in the Scottish Highlands. So much of his tale is familiar. A humble background, with music first made at home in the garage with his sister. Followed by paying his dues in the back rooms and clubs of the Midlands until fame came calling. At the height of his career, Zach Crystal disappeared into the wilds of Scotland into a property he crowned ‘Crystal Forest’. Then, just as he reappeared and announced a new album, there was a fire at his home and Zach’s body was found in the ruins. On each podcast, Scott invites a witness to talk about the case, and shares media evidence to shed more light on events. He never leads the witness or voices an opinion; the podcast is given over to to the witness, what they experienced and their theory on what happened to Zach Crystal. King’s a skilled interviewer, asking subtly probing questions that open up the interview, but never summarising or concluding. He merely lets the story tell itself, and it’s up to the listener/ reader to make up their own minds. This leaves us with a dilemma; who or what do we believe?

What grabbed me immediately about the book was how timely it is, especially in the wake of the #MeToo movement. There are many stars who’ve had a downfall in the past twenty years, but this story reminded me most strongly of Michael Jackson, because he was a music superstar who still divides opinion, years after his death. There are all the stories about his upbringing, the plastic surgery, Bubbles the chimp, and the fairground. Then there’s the ‘sleepovers’ with young boys, that he claimed were totally innocent, despite the payments made to their parents. The world seemed to be divided with many reading the rumours, watching the documentaries and concluding something dark and disturbing was happening at Neverland. Is there ever a situation where it’s ok for a grown man to sleep in the same bed as a little boy he barely knows? However, there are just as many people still fiercely defensive of Jackson, supporting him at court, calling him an innocent and labelling his detractors as cynics, then creating shrines when he died. Zach Crystal has a similar cultish following defending him while dark rumours circulated about parties hosted at his Scottish hideaway for possibly exploited, and at worst murdered, girl fans.

Often with thrillers, pace and tension are given priority, but here the story is thought provoking and the reader is given space to make those connections, such as the kind between fiction and our reality. In just the last two weeks we’ve seen women go public to expose their alleged abusers with both Shia LaBeouf and Marilyn Manson at the centre of accusations. It made me think about the difference between image and reality when it comes to celebrities. At what point do we think we know a celebrity? If we have a hero on a pedestal do we become blind to their behaviour? If the celebrity is paying the wages of a whole entourage, who would stand up and tell the truth? It’s only in the last week that I fully took on board the extent to which Justin Timberlake was complicit in the difficulties experienced by his ex-girlfriend Brittany Spears. Sometimes, the fact we enjoy someone’s music or find a celebrity attractive, influences us to overlook their behaviour. If someone is treated as a god, does it always cause them to exploit that, in terrible ways? All of these parallels were going through my mind as I read each witnesses response to Zach’s disappearance. King sits back and allows each account to speak for itself, leaving it up to the reader to accept or dismiss their version of events.

I loved the way the author cleverly combined a contemporary setting and such up to the minute issues, but also wove in elements of myth and folklore. I also loved the way that each episode, and it’s different perspectives, revealed more about the man behind a carefully constructed image. One episode brings in the possibility that a supernatural creature is stalking the Crystal Forest and that it was responsible for the deaths of two young fans. Then another perspective came and seemed plausible, then another, until I found myself immediately doubting the last. Instead of actually writing each twist and turn on the page, the author relies on it happening in the reader’s own mind. Of course, each reader brings their own concerns and biases to the book, so potentially the twists and turns could be different for every single reader. The author has incredible restraint in telling us just enough, never forcing a point of view. This was an incredible reading experience, from an accomplished and intelligent writer keen to explore the more dangerous and dark aspects of human nature. Meanwhile, allowing the reader to take their mind for a walk through these podcasts, sifting through evidence and forming their own conclusion. I noticed Matt Wesolowski named the ‘Dark Lord of Northumbrian Noir’ and that seems a very apt title. His vision in creating these novels is astounding, so much so that I was tempted to go back immediately and read the previous Six Stories novels one after another.

About The Author

Matt Wesolowski is an author from Newcastle-upon-Tyne in the UK. He is an English tutor for young people in care. Matt started his writing career in horror, and his short horror fiction has been published in numerous UK- and US-based anthologies, such as Midnight Movie Creature, Selfies from the End of the World, Cold Iron and many more. His novella, The Black Land, a horror set on the Northumberland coast, was published in 2013. Matt was a winner of the Pitch Perfect competition at the Bloody Scotland Crime Writing Festival in 2015. His debut thriller, Six Stories, was an Amazon bestseller in the USA, Canada, the UK and Australia, and a WHSmith Fresh Talent pick, and film rights were sold to a major Hollywood studio. A prequel, Hydra, was published in 2018 and became an international bestseller. Changeling, the third book in the series, was published in 2019 and was longlisted for the Theakston’s Old Peculier Crime Novel of the Year. His fourth book, Beast, won the Amazon Publishing Readers’ Independent Voice Book of the Year award in 2020.

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Smoke Screen by Jorn Lier Horst and Thomas Enger

It’s Oslo, New Year’s Eve and crowds are gathering for the annual fireworks display in the city square, when a huge explosion rocks the area and Oslo is put on terrorist alert. News and crime blogger, Emma Ramm, was down there hoping for some space from her boyfriend. Unfortunately Casper followed her, and was caught up in the explosion with fatal consequences. Instead of stopping and grieving, Emma becomes intrigued with another of the fatalities. Mrs Semplass is blown into the water off the quay and has suffered dreadful injuries. Police officer Alexander Blixx has rushed to help, and he brings Patricia out of the water but it is too late to save her. Ramm and Blixx have a past that will always connect them. He is something of a father figure to Ramm and his concern for her is touching, especially since she gets in his way so much. He also admires Ramm for what she can uncover and her tenacity when following the evidence, however much she treads on his toes. Yet she’s reckless at times and puts herself in dangerous situations which worries him. They both set out to investigate, not just the explosion but the coincidence.

They have come across Semplass before, her daughter Patricia was abducted many years ago, when she was only two years old. The crime remained unsolved and they never found Patricia, something that haunts Blixx to this day. Now that Ruth-Christine is dead, it is the last time Blixx may be able to look at this case again. When another familiar name comes up in the bombing investigation, Blixx suspects this is more than a coincidence and starts to dig. Blixx and Ramm begin parallel investigations in alternate chapters to each other; one hoping to find her boyfriend Casper’s killer, the other hoping to finally break a case that haunted him. They cross paths so many times, reaching the same conclusions, but using different methods. This is a very dark and complex case that will affect all of those concerned.

The characterisation was fantastic, each character was so immediately believable and whole. Emma is a dogged investigator, determined to find the truth whatever the cost to herself and unable to focus on the loss of Casper. She’d had doubts about the relationship before the explosion so she feels awkward. This is confused further when his parents try to look after her and take her back home with them for the funeral. When she finally agrees to stay with them she only manages 24 hours before wanting to be free, chasing her latest clue. It’s as if she’s unable to stand still or accept support from anyone, she prefers to stand alone. I loved how the author made even small characters sympathetic and interesting. A cleaner at the hotel where the bomber stayed really drew me in, first as she kept finding a ‘do not disturb’ sign on his hotel room door, but then in a tense scene as she walks home. She thinks she knows the missing man by his shoe laces, the pace intensifies as she hears someone behind her, the pace quickens and by the time she’s face to face with her pursuer my heart was racing!

The short chapters added to the pace and any switches between writer were seamless, as was the translation. The earlier chapters slowly set the story up and let us try and piece together the clues. The pace picked up considerably towards the end and I ended up reading very late at night to finish it. I’d made some correct guesses about what happened to Patricia Semplass, but I hadn’t fully worked out this complicated plot that neatly ties up all the loose ends. It was the perfect Scandi Noir novel: atmospheric, complex, dark and surprising. I finished the book with an immense sense of satisfaction and another series of novels to collect for my bookshelves.

Meet The Authors

Thomas Enger is a former journalist. He made his debut with the crime novel Burned (Skinndød) in 2010, which became an international sensation before publication. Burned is the first in a series of five books about the journalist Henning Juul, which delves into the depths of Oslo s underbelly, skewering the corridors of dirty politics and nailing the fast-moving world of 24-hour news. Rights to the series have been sold to 28 countries to date. In 2013 Enger published his first book for young adults, a dark fantasy thriller called The Evil Legacy, for which he won the U-prize (best book Young Adult). Killer Instinct, another Young Adult suspense novel, was published in Norway in 2017. Rights have been sold to Germany and Iceland. Enger also composes music, and he lives in Oslo.


Jørn Lier Horst is one of Norway’s most experienced police investigators, but also one of Scandinavia’s most successful crime writers. He writes engaging and intelligent crime novels that offer an uncommonly detailed and realistic insight into the way serious crimes are investigated, as well as how both police and press work. His literary awards include the Norwegian Booksellers’ Prize, the Riverton Prize (Golden Revolver), the Scandinavian Glass Key and the prestigious Martin Beck Award.

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Winterkill by Ragnar Jonasson (Dark Iceland Book 6).

Publisher: Orenda Books (21 Jan. 2021)

ISBN:1913193446

When given the opportunity to read an Orenda book I rarely pass it up. My only misgiving with this one, was that it was the sixth in a series I didn’t know whether I’d ever be able to catch up and fully understand what was going on. Once I’d done my research and read a few reviews of the Dark Iceland series, I was in! Described as ‘creepy, chilling and perceptive’ by Ian Rankin and full of ‘poetic beauty’ by Peter James, this instalment comes highly recommended. The New York Times review blew me away and made this a must read.

Jónasson’s true gift is for describing the daunting beauty of the fierce setting, lashed by blinding snowstorms that smother the village in a thick, white darkness that is strangely comforting’ New York Times

That image of the setting grabbed me because I’ve lived in some isolated locations here in the U.K. and have written myself about that strange sense of safety a huge snow fall brings. All falls quiet and you are safe, sheltered and warm. The world becomes muffled as you are slowly cut off from civilisation, under a think blanket. I knew I would connect with the setting at least. Of course, I shouldn’t have worried, because this was a great read in its own right and I managed perfectly well without the reading the others first – obviously as soon as I finished this one I ordered them all since so I could have an Orenda Christmas!

The hero of the Dark Iceland series is Ari Thor Arason, the police inspector of a small town in Iceland called Siglufjörður. He is recently separated from his girlfriend, who now lives in Sweden with their three year old son. As Easter approaches Ari Thor is looking forward to spending some time with them both when they come to stay for the weekend. However his plans are thrown into disarray when the body of a young girl turns up to claim his attention. A nineteen year old girl appears to have jumped from the balcony of a building, but seems to have no connection to anyone who lives there. Why would she travel to this particular building to commit suicide? Ari can’t help wondering and his wondering leads him to dig a little deeper and find out whether she was pushed. His suspicions are aroused further when an old flame, now working in a local nursing home, gives him a call because she’s concerned about an elderly resident. She shows Ari the old man’s room, and he’s shocked to see the words ‘she was murdered’ written over and over again. As a huge storm heads towards Siglufjörður, Ari is left pondering whether these two events are connected and also whether he can salvage his family or even reconcile any sort of private life with his job.

Ari Thor isn’t an ‘action man’ type hero, he’s thoughtful, perceptive and investigates gently. The awkwardness of his Easter plans are really painful; he books his ex-partner and son in at the hotel, but is excited when they want to stay at the house. Ari misunderstands and thinks they might all stay together, but he ends up in the hotel. He feels excluded, but also awkward as other guests and staff know him well (this is a small remote town after all). He wonders what they will be thinking about their local detective. He knows that the job he loves has to command all his attention, when an important case comes in and so does his estranged partner. However, there is a large gap between knowing this and the reality of living it. Can he ever promise his family what they need? This conflict becomes ever clearer over the weekend when he is pulled from one place to another as new evidence comes to light.

I loved the atmosphere of this small town, where everyone knows each other. Yet there’s also the uneasy thought that many residents could be in this remote place to disappear and keep secrets. There’s so much going on under that polite layer of familiarity, even where Ari thinks he knows someone well. In one sense Siglufjörður has changed enormously, new road links have made it more accessible so even tourists have started to visit for ski-ing and to stay in new luxury holiday chalets. However, once the blizzard descends it becomes bleak, remote and strangely more beautiful. Ari’s investigation takes him into the even more rural area of Siglunes, where two men live in a small wood cabin inaccessible by road. I found Siglunes quite sinister, but Siglufjörður feels remote too and even claustrophobic as the weather pulls in. The author skilfully ratchets the tension up a notch, just at the same time as the community becomes more isolated. Yet we never feel rushed, Ari Thor does not panic or hurry the investigation- every move is well thought out and measured and he shows great compassion to the bereaved and those involved.

I thought it was so clever that, without knowing it at first, Ari is slowly uncovering more than one crime. We are forced to learn the lesson that people are not always what they seem, as the manager of the nursing home is called on for questioning. Ari Thor would say he knows him, likes him even and there has been no indication that he has been doing anything but noble, humanitarian work for the elderly of the town. However, just under the surface are financial worries, difficulties gaining government funding and enough residents to make the venture pay. If you’re looking for high octane action, or the endless twists and turns of a convoluted plot then this is the wrong book for you. The pace is gentle, the motive uncomplicated, and our detective is a contemplative sort rather than an action hero. What compels here (as it should) is the human tragedy – the loss of a girl on the brink of adult life and full of promise, for her family and the whole town. There is even an element of humanity and complex, conflicting, motives within our criminals too, when they are unmasked. This doesn’t take away from the chilling nature of their crimes though – in fact I find the thought that killers walk among us, with the same worries and preoccupations that we have, even more disturbing than some of the more obvious monsters we see in crime fiction. I would recommend this book and the whole series, as a fabulous introduction to Nordic Noir, and I could easily imagine sitting with my feet up, a glass of whiskey in hand, being compelled by these stories on BBC4. This book was beautifully written, has an evocative setting and a detective I truly enjoyed spending my Christmas with.

Meet The Author

Ragnar Jónasson was born in Reykjavík, Iceland, where he works as a writer and a lawyer and teaches copyright law at Reykjavík University. He has previously worked on radio and television, including as a TV news reporter for the Icelandic National Broadcasting Service, and, from the age of seventeen, has translated fourteen of Agatha Christie’s novels. He is an international Number One bestseller

Posted in Random Things Tours

The Coral Bride by Roxanne Bouchard.

Publisher: Orenda

Published:

ISBN:

The Coral Bride is the second novel in Roxanne Bouchard’s D.S Morales series, the first being We Are The Salt Of The Sea. I think this easily read as a stand alone novel, but I enjoyed it so much that I’m going to read the first one. I’m not surprised, because I’ve never met an Orenda book I didn’t like!

The opening to the novel is haunting as a woman lies on the deck of a fishing boat. Somehow she has been rigged up so that she will eventually be dragged from the trawler and under the freezing cold water. She knows these are her final moments. As an opening it is very effective and sets up the main character in the novel: the sea. The sea is the life’s blood of people in this region – a small fishing village in Quebec. Angel Roberts is a very rare thing in this community, a woman with her own trawler who fishes for lobster. She’s named her boat Close Call II showing a good sense of humour too. The sea is her livelihood and there’s definitely an affinity with it. She is treated with suspicion by the rest of the trawlermen, because fishing here has always been a male dominated industry. However, the sea doesn’t just separate, it also brings people together, even Detective Morales and his son Sebastien.

Another recurring character is the moon, depicted as a silvery path reflecting off the water. Angel has always been told the moon is a liar and not to be trusted. However, it seems there may be another character in Angel’s life who isn’t what they seem. Morales finds out that every year Angel and her husband would dress up in their wedding finery and have a celebration on their anniversary. If her husband is to be believed he drove his wife home when she was tired and then returned to the bar. Then after 1am, it seems that Angel drove herself down to the harbour and took the boat out, still in her wedding dress? Detective Morales is a quiet and thoughtful man, who doesn’t jump to conclusions and I loved the way the author let the mystery breathe in the same way. You have chance to really think about peope’s stories alongside Morales, and I liked that the pace seemed to fit with the landscape and community. This is much more than a ‘whodunnit’. It explores the spirit of this community, and I especially enjoyed the loyalty and bravery of the fisherman. They really respect the sea and I respect them because it is such a tough way to earn a living. We get to explore the tribal aspects of this community, how relationships between people develop and change over the years. But as always, where there are old relationships there are old resentments.

Familial relationships are explored too as Morales’ son Sebastien has turned up unexpectedly with his car full of pots and pans. He’s a chef and he’s had a fall out with his girlfriend. I got a sense that Morales doesn’t really know his son, or Sebastien is acting out of character. Sebastien flirts with a female constable on his team; Morales has only seen her buttoned up, but ten minutes in Sebastien’s company and her hair is down and she’s doing salsa. There was sense that Sebastian will bring chaos to his life. Yet they have a shared experience, Morales is currently living alone and away from his wife. Maybe this is where father and son could understand each other better. These relationships gave the book depth and elevated it above the average thriller. I enjoyed the police team, the conflicts and allegiances. I loved the section where Morales was shown to his temporary office and it’s packed to the rafters with files stacked everywhere. It’s like this quiet, thoughtful, man has escaped to an out of the way place and people are challenging him on all sides. The space he has enjoyed is being encroached upon – Sebastien inviting him to salsa and let his hair down, the chaos of police files surrounding him, his son sleeping on his couch. It’s not long before, in his life and the investigation, he feels blocked in on all sides. I found this novel had a great sense of place and a thoughtful, intelligent hero. It was atmospheric, lyrical in parts and emotionally literate. The image of a woman being slowly pulled into the water, with her wedding dress glowing in the moonlight until she is swallowed up by the dark will stay with me for some time.

Meet the Author

Ten years or so ago, Roxanne Bouchard decided it was time she found her sea legs. So she learned to sail, first on the St Lawrence River, before taking to the open waters off the Gaspé Peninsula. The local fishermen soon invited her aboard to reel in their lobster nets, and Roxanne saw for herself that the sunrise over Bonaventure never lies. We Were the Salt of the Sea is her fifth novel, and her first to be translated into English. She lives in Quebec.
Follow Roxanne on Twitter @RBouchard72 and on her website: roxannebouchard.com

Posted in Random Things Tours

Seven Doors by Agnes Ravatn.

#OrendaBooks. #RandomThingsTours #blogtour #SevenDoors

While reading this book I had one of those odd reading experiences that only happens on Kindle or other e-reader. When I’m reading a proper physical copy of a book, I’m constantly aware of how much book is left. I’m literally holding it in my hand. I read this in one sitting, only realising how quickly time had passed when I stopped to mark a page and saw 93% in the bottom corner! Time really flew because I was so absorbed into Ravatn’s world.

Set in Bergen, Oslo, this is a thriller with so many possible outcomes. Our main character Nina follows a labyrinthine trail to find the killer of a musical prodigy. Nina is a professor of literature and gives a speech at a symposium about the futility of studying literature. Lit students are following their own, selfish lines of academic enquiry she argues, but their study doesn’t help anyone or bring anything important to the world. It doesn’t make a difference, except to the student. She proposes that in order to be useful, literature students make them self available as investigators to the police force. They are trained to analyse documents, to read between the lines, to apply psychoanalytic theory to texts and understand character’s motivations. All skills that might be useful when investigating a crime. Little does she know, she will soon be using those very skills in the real world.

Nina and her husband Mads have an absolutely insufferable daughter Ingeborg. When she announces that her home has silverfish, and she is three months pregnant, she asks Nina to intercede with Mads for an advance on her inheritance. Nina idly observes they have a house in town that belonged to an aunt, but she needs to talk to Mads. They are in their own difficult living situation, as their home is being compulsory purchased to make room for a railway. This is affecting Nina much more than Mads because of the emotional attachment; it was her family home, she grew up there. They are negotiating a settlement with the council, but Nina can’t see any property she would want to purchase. She needs to live in something with soul, not a slick waterfront retirement pad. Ingeborg convinces her mum that they should go and look at the house, but Nina warns that there is a tenant that they shouldn’t disturb. Despite the tenant telling her it’s a bad time, Ingeborg goes bustling in, badgering the tenant about the end of her lease and offering her money to leave as quickly as possible. The tenant, a single mother with a little boy, is blindsided by this forceful woman. Nina feels terrible and makes her apologies, sure that the tenant looks familiar to her.

Later, she realises where she has seen the woman. Their tenant is concert violinist Mari Bull, world renowned and now dropped out of sight. Strangely, she then does the same thing again, exiting the property within a couple of days and leaving no forwarding address. Surely this can’t be solely to do with their visit? Not long after, her disappearance is reported by local then national newspapers. She went to her parents place out on one of the islands, where Nina has a holiday cabin, but left her son and went for a walk, never to return. Nina finds herself intrigued by the case and follows clues, from the opera her ex-husband plays as her requiem to a small notebook with musical terms she finds in a box at the house. Fairytales also play a role in the book and like most literature students I am familiar with the work of Bettelheim quoted by Nina. Using this and Freud’s work on transference Nina starts to construct a theory and follows each clue like the breadcrumb trail of Hansel and Gretel. I liked the play on our usual ideas about fairy tales, which tend to be very Disney-fied, and everything comes to a completed happy ending. The original tales Nina starts to tell her granddaughter Milja are far more dark and bloodthirsty. In fact, the darker they are the sooner Milja will quiet down and go to sleep. They include anxious, suicidal hares and a murderous husband who gaslights his wives then kills them when they find out the truth.

From a psychological perspective there are interesting theories around transference and counter-transference, not just in the therapeutic relationship but in any relationship with a power balance that’s heavily in one person’s favour. I was also interested in the theorising around the Oedipus and Electra complexes. Nina is discussing the theory with her students and they don’t see the point of learning about a concept that started in Ancient Greek theatre and seems to bear no relevance to the present day. Yet, there’s a definite unease in Nina’s own relationship with her daughter – Ingeborg has been more likely to confide in or ask favours from her father. For Mari too there is a complicated mother – daughter relationship in that her parents sacrificed their own relationship to make sure their daughter had opportunities with the best teachers and orchestras. Mari and her father were often away together, touring Europe, leaving her mother at home. There is resentment over this and a definite coolness between mother and daughter.

Ravatn’s writing is spare, it gets to the point quickly and without poetry. She can establish a feeling or setting in just a few words, such as how the light changes when it snows or how it must feel to give ourselves up to the water, like Virginia Woolf with the stones in her pockets. Her characters are well defined and psychologically complex, such as Ingeborg’s narcissism and inability to gauge other’s feelings. I have real worries for her daughter Milja, a future psychopath if ever I met one. As I felt the book build in pace and tension towards the end, I knew Nina was getting close to the answers, but is the answer getting closer to her? The end, when it comes, is satisfyingly unexpected and shocking. I love Nordic Noir and this was a great addition to my collection. This was a clever and psychologically literate thriller. I would love to read more of Nina in the future.

Posted in Random Things Tours

A Song of Isolation by Michael Malone.

#RandomThingsTours #OrendaBooks #ASongOfIsolation #blogtour

I’m now at a point with Orenda books where I feel I could pick up any of their titles and be assured of a complex and intelligent read. Michael Malone is a completely new author to me, and this was controversial subject matter, but from the first few pages I felt assured that I was in excellent hands. This latest novel concerns a man called Dave, who seems to have it all. He has a job within his father’s business, a beautiful home and a long-term relationship with the well-known actress Amelie Hart. His whole world falls apart when out of the blue he is arrested, accused of molesting the little girl who lives next door. Damaris lives with both parents and seems like a lonely little girl, often desperate for someone to play with when Dave is working in the garden. They’ve played football and frisbee together several times, but on this occasion, the police allege that Damaris has gone home on her bike claiming Dave has touched her inappropriately. A medical examination reveals bruising consistent with sexual assault. From this point on Dave is living in a nightmare, continually asserting his innocence while every sign seems to point to his guilt. Within days he is charged and remanded into a sexual offender’s unit, because being in the general prison population would be unsafe. Amelie is devastated, although she was having doubts about their relationship she believes Dave is incapable of such a crime and now has to run the press gauntlet. Dave’s parents also believe he’s innocent, but as his mother points out ‘people will say there’s no smoke without fire’. This brings them unwanted press intrusion and has the potential to ruin his fathers business. They all wait on tenterhooks for the trial, needing to hear Damaris’s account and praying that it will clear Dave’s name.

There was such an easy flow to the writing I became drawn into these people’s lives very quickly. I believed in them. It is gritty in parts, but it needs to be. I think the author was very aware of treating the subject matter with patience, care and dignity. Whether Dave is found guilty or not, abuse of some sort has happened to Damaris. If it’s not sexual assault, and if they’ve planted this story knowing it’s a lie, her parents. have psychologically abused their daughter. It’s a violation, not of her body, but of her mind. I read the first few chapters keeping an open mind on the question of whether the events of that day happened according to Dave’s account or the account Damaris gives via video link to the court. The author manages to tread a fine line here, allowing the reader to make up their own mind and conveying both narratives with empathy. He never lets us forget that if even if Damaris gives a false account, it’s an account she believes and both of them are victims here.

I appreciated how the author shows us that in these cases the damage spreads far and wide like circles on a pond. For Amelie, the fame she had already turned her back on after a traumatic experience of her own, comes back to haunt her. She had shunned Hollywood for a quieter life, but now she has paparazzi at the door, speculation on her role in the abuse, and well known panel shows discussing her relationship. People who have known the couple give their accounts of how they could see ‘something off’ about David. I found myself moved by the accounts of verbal abuse from the general public and Amelie coming home with hair covered in spit. David’s parents receive similar treatment and find the trial a huge strain on their health with terrible consequences. Not that everything is well in Damaris’s home. Her parents are arguing and she is bombarded with professionals wanting to hear her account over and over. It’s worth pointing out for readers that we don’t hear a graphic account, but I think it is a more powerful a book because the author uses suggestion. The scenes where her parents are going over (or planting) her testimony are disturbing. Her Uncle Cammy comes round a lot more to see his niece, but finds his sister is often at the bottom of a bottle. He brings gifts, even when it’s not her birthday, setting off arguments about Damaris feeling different to the others at school and becoming spoilt. Damaris already knows she is different. My heart went out to this lonely, manipulated, little girl whose innocence has gone, if not on that day, then in the process required by court and her parents. Her confusion at her mum and dad using grown-up words and talking about body parts with her really stayed with me.

There is a sense of powerlessness running through this novel that is almost claustrophobic. Dave is swept up by a tsunami and dumped into a totally different world. It’s shattering to his sense of self – inside he is still the Dave he knows, but now everyone he meets views him differently, creating a chasm between his inner and outer selves. Even worse, as his time on remand continues, he finds himself acting very differently. Despised in the prison population and treated with suspicion by the prison officers, he feels constantly on his guard. He is forced into threatening behaviour and even acts of violence to keep others at bay. Paranoia sets in as he starts to realise that even inside and supposedly watched at all times, people from the outside could be influencing events. A begrudging friendship is forged with one cell mate, but even he can be turned into an assailant when his loved ones are threatened. Dave has always thought that Damaris’s family were simply broke and making false accusations for money. Now he starts to suspect that justice isn’t enough and someone very sinister wants him dead.

However, there are chinks of light in this nightmare that signal a sense of hope. I loved how Amelie and Dave’s parents form such a strong bond. For someone unsure about their relationship, Amelie is steadfast in her support. There is a lovely moment where Dave’s mum and Amelie hold hands in the courtroom. His mum has always wondered whether Amelie was truly serious about their relationship, but as they connect she can feel that this woman loves her son. Dave’s dad, Peter, treats her like family. He makes sure she is ok emotionally and promises to support her whatever she needs. With Dave refusing to see her, and outright hostility from the press and the public she will need to disappear into hiding again. Luckily, she has a French passport and can disappear into another country. The loneliness these characters feel forges a bond that wasn’t there before. They are being punished and serving time for something they haven’t done, found guilty in the court of the media and public opinion. I think their mutual support is a sign that healing can be found eventually. I found myself longing for the truth and a process of healing for Dave and Damaris equally.

Michael Malone is a very gifted writer. He has taken a difficult subject and created a compelling and powerful novel. For me, it was the profound sense of loss that hangs over this story that was most heartbreaking, emphasising the book’s title. Damaris loses the one person who has noticed her loneliness and vulnerability. When cross examining Damaris’s mum, the defence barrister asks when she last played football or frisbee with her daughter and she can’t remember. Even when talking to the police Damaris calls Dave her friend and this could be the confusion of a groomed child, but it feels genuine. On one hand I was desperate to believe Dave’s innocence. Yet, if they are found to be making false allegations, Damaris’s parents would be charged and she could possibly end up in care. Even if Dave is eventually found to be innocent he has lost so much: his job, his reputation, his relationship with Amelie and even his mother. Whatever the outcome, nobody wins here. Despite that, there is a sense that this is a phase of life that will pass, that maybe there will be healing and the chance to connect again. To take that song of isolation and turn it to one of hope for the future.