The Reykjavik Noir Trilogy by Lilja Sigurðardóttir

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I have been reading Lilja Sigurðardóttir’s Reykjavik Noir trilogy straight through, struck initially by the shelf appeal of the simple but beautiful covers. The series tells the story of Sonja, a mother trapped in a Snare, or at least that is how it starts out. The great strength and originality of the series, however, is that it becomes a stage on which different players step into the foreground. Each of those characters draws you to them and the story they have to tell.

I recommend reading the books straight through as I did, and certainly reading them in order as it would be difficult to relate to the characters if taken out of context. Having done that, however, it does mean I need to be careful in my review not to spoil the read, so I will try not to give too much away whilst encouraging you to read them yourself.

The initial narrative follows Sonja, caught in a custody battle for her son she is doing everything she can to prepare a life for them to share together. In this case, “everything” includes acting as a drugs mule bringing cocaine into Iceland and risking her future in the hope of building a better one for her family.

Around her though, a host of supporting characters crossover into Sonja’s story. Bragi is a customs officer with a sixth sense for trouble, close to retirement but desperate to release a wife he is losing to dementia from a miserable care home. Agla is a key player in the banking crisis and under investigation by the Special Prosecutor’s Office. She is also one of the reasons for Sonja’s bitter custody battle. Maria is one of the prosecutors, driven on by her anger at the way “banksters” are robbing her country.

The stories link together through an intricate mesh of relationships and the pleasure of the books is in the unveiling of new insights as the characters interact across those relationships and surroundings. Colleagues in one setting become adversaries in another. Powerbrokers are turned into victims through the fine movements of association. Throughout the series, it is striking how quickly events get out of hand for all concerned and how the balance of power continually shifts.

The third part of the trilogy is an impressive sleight of hand. The stage fills with an increasing array of actors. All of them have engaging stories, even the “bad guys” who you don’t really want to like capture your interest, as do the ones who only touch on the edges of the broader narrative, but gradually you notice that the followspot has subtly moved its focus.

As the series draws to its explosive ending the threads all come together and entwine in a beautifully constructed web and the final chapter is a perfect conclusion, adding a delightful little twist to the reading experience as you realise the journey you have been on took you somewhere unexpected. The Reykjavik Noir Trilogy is the story of Sonja, battling against the odds, caught in a snare that runs out of control, or is it?

 

#WednesdayWhimsy D H Lawrence

Ethics and equity and the principles of justice do not change with the calendar.

As we sit on the eve of a General Election in the UK this D H Lawrence quote feels like something worth reflecting upon. Heading to the polls tomorrow what do we consider to be ethical, equitable and meeting the principles of justice? 

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#MondayMorningMusic The Undercover Hippy – Truth & Fiction

It’s election week, which is also what it was when this video by The Undercover Hippy was filmed in 2017, on the release of his album Truth & Fiction. I’ve been listening to this record a lot over the last 18 months and here we are again on the cusp of yet another vote.

Kicking off Monday Morning Music is the title track from that album which pretty much sums up the post truth political world that we seem to live in now. Anyway, enjoy the song and remember, whatever your political views, to get out and exercise your democratic rights this Thursday.

250 Days by Daniel Storey

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Daniel Storey’s Portrait of an Icon is a masterclass in the profiling of the greats of our game and in 250 Days he has expanded that form to take in not only perhaps the most inspirational player of the Premier League era, but also one of the most successful dynasties of the English game and a period of enormous change. It makes for a captivating read.

Cantona is a player who transcends tribal rivalries, but it wasn’t always the case. The big personality that makes him so memorable now was of course a red flag to the bull of opposition supporters while he was cutting open defences and inspiring his club to an era of complete domination. On one such occasion, lines were crossed, as a tirade of abuse sparked a flash point that would reverberate through the history of the game.

It was a turning point for English football, triggering a genuine move away from the old First Division towards the global super-brand of the Premier League and a new relationship between fans and their heroes. It is interesting to reflect for a moment now how the open abuse of players is once again becoming commonplace with racism in particular prevalent, perhaps fuelled by a populist political environment that relies on division. It is hard to imagine Raheem Sterling diving into a crowd as Cantona did, but will his intelligent, articulate response to abuse be enough to cut through and transform a poisonous national rhetoric?

That Cantona was the trailblazer for the transformation of English football into the global spectacle that it is now only adds to his legend, as does the lasting impact that he had on Manchester United. His belief seems to have soaked through into the whole club, giving it the confidence, swagger and sense of entitlement to conquer the Premier League and ultimately, albeit after Cantona’s retirement, Europe. There is a sense in the book that without Cantona there would be no modern Colossus of Manchester.

Perhaps supporting that sentiment, one of the most striking elements of the book is just how many times Alex Ferguson’s leadership of the club was called into question. Despite everything that he achieved at Manchester United, questions were raised throughout his time including here when the first flavours of success were being savoured, but appeared to be fading.

We see Ferguson gamble everything on his instincts, despite the grumbles of common opinion, in a way that defined his leadership of the club, but we also get a glimpse of vulnerability as he wrestles with his conflicting beliefs of a moral imperative verses protecting and nurturing a special and pivotal talent. Whilst this is a book ostensibly about one footballing icon, it gives us a fascinating insight into another.

Especially for those who are football fans rather than dyed in the wool Manchester United supporters, Storey has done the legwork for you with his research and presented an entertaining and engaging read about a crucial moment in the development of the English game. Cantona is a complex character who courted controversy throughout his career, but he was also a genius with a football who played a key role in shaping both the modern Manchester United and the wider English game, and Storey captures that conundrum and legacy superbly.

Deep Dirty Truth by Steph Broadribb

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I have arrived late to the Lori Anderson party, Deep Dirty Truth being the third novel in this series, but it only took a few pages for me to be caught up in this pulsating thriller. Steph Broadribb unleashes her story at a ferocious pace as each chapter ticks off a few more minutes in this real time tale.

Lori is a bounty hunter and the former wife of a mobster. Her ex-husband beat her into a new life and she in turn shot him into an afterlife. Years later, the family boss wants to even up the score but, rather than just take an eye for an eye, he has an offer to make. A son saved to replace a son lost, or maybe not, the race is on to save her family but it quickly becomes clear not everything is as straightforward as it might first have seemed.

This is a blockbuster novel; the combined resources of the Miami mob and the FBI turned on a fierce mother determined to protect her family, in a race against time that has your heart rate soaring. The action is relentless, but an enjoyable depth of characterisation rounds the edges of this story and builds an attachment to the key players on all sides.

Lori is a likeable and believable central character who sits engagingly between hardened bounty hunter and loving mother. Her relationship with JT is complex and vulnerable as they both try to come to terms with fragile trust building in the midst of their chaotic lifestyles. Dakota adds an extra layer to their decision making, whilst friends and foes alike are three-dimensional and (barring one gruesome exception) satisfying shades of grey, rather than simplistic black and white.

It didn’t matter at all that I hadn’t read the previous instalments, this is a standalone story that a newcomer can quickly find their way into. It matters to me now though, Lori Anderson has me in her clutches and I’ve no intention of wrestling free.

Synopsis

A price on her head. A secret worth dying for. Just 48 hours to expose the truth…

Single-mother bounty hunter Lori Anderson has finally got her family back together, but her new-found happiness is shattered when she’s snatched by the Miami Mob – and they want her dead. Rather than a bullet, they offer her a job: find the Mob’s ‘numbers man’ – Carlton North – who’s in protective custody after being forced to turn federal witness against them. If Lori succeeds, they’ll wipe the slate clean and the price on her head – and those of her family – will be removed. If she fails, they die.

With North due in court in forty-eight hours, Lori sets off across Florida, racing against the clock to find him and save her family. Only in this race the prize is more deadly – and the secret she shares with JT more dangerous – than she ever could have imagined. In this race only the winner gets out alive…

In the Absence of Miracles by Michael J Malone

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As soon as I opened up this book and saw the words of Richard Rohr peering out at me I knew this was a novel I wanted to read. “Pain that is not transformed is transmitted”. I have read much of Richard Rohr’s work and found it helpful, I had only previously read one of Michael J Malone’s books but from A Suitable Lie alone I knew that he was an author who could express pain and the healing of wounds beautifully.

When you are dealing with a novel about child sexual abuse you feel obliged to choose your words carefully. Sometimes you read a book to be entertained, sometimes to simply help you drift off into sleep barely even processing the words on the page. Other times you read to experience someone else’s truth, to develop empathy. You can only do that in the hands of a skilled writer and in Michael J Malone we have a very fine one, a guide we can trust.

In the Absence of Miracles is the story of three brothers all dealing with deep wounds from their childhood. Three different paths that have led them in very different directions until a chance discovery pulls them all back together. We follow John’s story directly because his has only just begun. He has managed to block out the past completely, to shut it in a box deep in his consciousness, but the search for a missing brother means that the box cannot stay closed any longer.

John is driven to find the brother he lost without ever knowing he was there, but it is not just a quest to be reunited. All of John’s childhood is blocked out by a dark cloud that he has never understood but has impacted every aspect of his adult life. Only by facing up to his past pain can he be freed into full relationship now and live his life.

It can be tempting to seek a life of distraction. Leave out the difficult bits and just focus on the superficial, that way you can’t be hurt, but there is a deep spiritual truth to this world that we “must be ground like wheat, and once you have recovered, then you can turn and help the brothers”. If we carry our pain around with us that pain is transmitted to those we interact with, but if we deal with our pain – not fix it, or even understand it, but transform the energy flowing through it – we too become transformed, into what Henri Nouwen called the wounded healer.

Richard Rohr is a healer and I like to think that Michael J Malone in writing his deeply painful and beautiful novels is also helping to heal a world that so acutely needs it.

Little Siberia by Antti Tuomainen

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My only previous experience of Antti Toumainen’s work was his 2016 crime thriller The Mine. It was classic Scandinavian Noir, a tense thriller about corruption and environmental destruction. As a result, I was slightly surprised that in the intervening years he has been credited as “the funniest writer in Europe”, but the description intrigued me and looking for some humour to lighten the mood of some darker reading I started on his latest novel Little Siberia.

There is an intimacy to this story that I wasn’t expecting. The combination of a first person telling through the voice of a local pastor and the setting of a small village in northern Finland provided a small stage with a limited number of actors. It felt like I was taking up residence, not just in the mind of Joel Huhta, but also in Hurmevaara.

A meteorite hits town and it could be worth a lot of money, so as it sits in the local museum, awaiting transportation to London for further analysis, the locals start dreaming and secrets bubble to the surface. It is part thriller and part classic farce, landing somewhere in between with its combination of genuine tension and delicious moments of humour.

Joel isn’t just a village pastor, he’s toured Afghanistan and been decorated for bravery whilst picking up serious injuries with important consequences that he hasn’t been totally honest about. His appointment as guardian of the village’s new precious treasure is not as strange as it might first seem and he definitely has the capabilities to step up to the role as a string of would be thieves plan their strategies.

Sandwiched between some ruthless criminality are other lovely moments of comedy and insight. All the villagers are struggling with some secret yoke and the pastor’s questionable faith gives a gentle, inclusive space for revelation. There is a wonderful exchange in which his unenthusiastic and confused spiritual guidance has a transforming effect on a local prepper.

As the clock counts down to the meteorite’s departure the tension builds and the criminals become more desperate and cruel. All the time, Joel digs deeper into his mental and physical resources and by this time, he is so embedded in your affections that you are willing him on to save not only the meteorite but also his faith, marriage and future.

Blue Night by Simone Buchholz

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I have a lot of time for Chastity Riley. She’s a hard hitting crime fighting hero who drinks and smokes and has impromptu sex at least as much as her male counterparts in other novels, but having a female voice lead the narrative gives a whole different perspective to every interaction. Through a woman’s eyes, you see nuance. She notices the little details and residing in her mind, as we do through the first person narrative, we get to share in those insights.

Her friendship group provides an intimate context in which to get to know her, a small band of individually dysfunctional characters that somehow come together to form a cohesive community. Of course, it doesn’t work “somehow” really, it works because they genuinely care about each other, they actually depend on each other and they prop each other up. For all of their failures at respectability, they are the sort of friends you want to have alongside you.

Chas herself has a swagger about her that is immediately attractive, but her outward strutting disguises what appears to be a deep-rooted inability to value herself. “Everything’s rusty from the start with me” sums up her expectation that she can’t have, maybe doesn’t deserve, the good things. It is a complexity that makes her even more beguiling, a vulnerability that real people generally try to hide.

Finally, the district of St Pauli, Hamburg provides the setting. From the Reeperbahn to the Millerntor-Stadion, it is the perfect location. A captivating mix of brash assurance, cool indifference and dark edginess, but with the looming threat of hipster gentrification and encroaching normalcy. I conceal myself within Chas Riley to assuage the nagging fear that my very presence here somehow contributes to it’s demise.

Running through all of this is a crime investigation. Organised crime on a massive scale, built over a generation, but over the course of that time alongside power and influence for the man at the top have grown festering grudges. The investigation moves quickly as threads pull together towards a surprising finale, occasional reflections from all of the leading players revealing how they came to be in this place, at this time, to this end.

I have long been a fan of Agatha Christie’s Poirot, her stories are big on puzzles, but low on character development to make them quickly read entertainments. With Chas Riley, Simone Buchholz provides the opposite route to an addictive read; the fast paced crime investigation is a vehicle for the characters to explore their own journey. With Poirot, I look forward to seeing the next problem solved, but with Riley I come back to find out what is happening in her life, who she has become. It is just as compulsive but far more satisfying as a result.

Blue Night and Beton Rouge are available now with a third novel Mexico Street due out in early 2020.

Nothing Important Happened Today by Will Carver

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How can we help anyone when so many people are lying? To themselves. About themselves.

Well, it’s definitely different. The reviews that led me to Will Carver’s latest novel said that it was and they were right. A novel that takes us to some very dark places, the story of a serial killer whose weapon of choice is suicide. I’m not sure how I feel that nine people jumping off a bridge with ropes tied round their necks wasn’t the thing that made an impact on me. It should be, it’s horrific, but it’s also just the surface level, underneath are harder questions.

I don’t want to be flippant about it and I’m honestly not, even when I say that the narration of Nothing Important Happened Today is charismatic, that I read it in a 48 hour period and at times I even laughed, not a belly laugh but a sharp reaction that was out before I could stop it. There probably should be a health warning though, whether it’s to alert some people that the surface level is more than enough or others that what lies beneath is simply too much.

Seeing the worst can mean seeing the truth, seeing the beauty. It’s the only way this is getting cleared up.

It’s the stories that did it for me, the individual people who found themselves on the bridge and made their choice. The People of Choice, the people who didn’t want to die and so had to. All the metaphorical deaths, the lies, the false smiles, the disconnects, that meant when the letter dropped through their door there was only one outcome.

Then there are the other people. The projection of all too perfect lives, all too perfect lies, hiding the reality, the messy common ground of real life. The overblown emotions that seek to transform everyday normality into heights of ecstasy or depths of despair. The judgement. The condemnation. The likes, the hearts, the smiley faces and the dropping tears. The distraction of 24/7 reaction, an opinion on absolutely everything, that means you miss the very moment that needs you to be present.

Here’s something to believe in: shut up. You have nothing important to say. If you are quiet, if you can shut your own mouth for just five goddamned minutes, you will attract people who have something they need to talk about.

There is more though. This isn’t some sanctimonious lecture, it’s a brilliantly constructed novel that entertains as much as it challenges. The author wants you to react, wants to jolt you out of any soporific fog that might be disconnecting you from real life, but he also wants it to be fun. You could get to the end and simply think it was a great story; well written and with a nice little twist to its tail. It would be a shame, a missed opportunity, but you could.

It’s taken me a while to get round to reading Will Carver, he got lost in a little hiatus where I was doing more driving and less reading, no reviewing, but now I have I’m hungry for more. Fortunately, another title, Good Samaritans, came before this one. The reviews I’ve seen all agree, whether they liked the book or not, it was dark, disturbing, a bit messed up… Are they talking about Will as well as his books? Are they talking about being alive?

Wisdom is the reward you get for a lifetime of listening when you would have preferred to talk.

 

Nothing Important Happened Today is published by Orenda Books and available now as an ebook from the website store, with the paperback due for release in November.

 

An Interview with Paul E Hardisty, author of Turbulent Wake

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What I love about Paul Hardisty’s writing is that I know I am not only guaranteed entertainment, I will also learn something new about the world. His Claymore Straker series were high octane thrillers that also gave deep, authentic insights into global struggles drawn from the author’s own experience. Indeed Hardisty’s biography notes read like a character from the pages of a thriller. With Turbulent Wake he has changed the pace of his writing to something slower and more reflective but has lost none of that sense of authenticity and discernment.

The main theme of the novel is drawn from the relationship between a father and son and the ways that even well intended actions can create wounds. For me it also took on a wider perspective in terms of the father’s journal of stories being a final reckoning and reflection upon a life. To what extent can we seek to live a good life as opposed to just facing the events that life throws at us as best we can in the circumstances? Perhaps the best that we can do is to live an examined life and in doing so be honest with ourselves and those around us. Ultimately, we all make mistakes and cause pain, but as Turbulent Wake demonstrates healing can come through understanding.

I read a lot. Sometimes it is purely for entertainment, but for the most part I want to read books – even fiction – that make me think beyond closing the final cover, educating me or revealing a different perspective that I haven’t seen from my own experience. This is why I am such a fan of Paul’s writing and want it to reach as wide an audience as possible. It is also why I asked him to answer a few questions, to add further insight to his writing, and I am very grateful for his considered responses.

As a writer who also has a very active professional life outside being an author, how do you go about the writing process and balancing its demands with the other responsibilities that have to be maintained?

I work full time, and have my whole life. But the work I do has also been the biggest inspiration and source of ideas for my writing, and still is. As CEO of the Australian Institute of Marine Science, I am leading a group of amazing people who are right on the front line of efforts to save coral reefs worldwide. It’s scary, inspirational stuff. One day, maybe, when I have a chance to put some distance to it, there might be a novel to come from it. But right now, it’s a struggle to write. The work is so all consuming, time is more precious than ever. Turbulent Wake was written during a six month break I took between finishing my previous job and starting this one. It was great, being able to get up each morning and just write. One day, when this job is finished, I am going to just hang it up and write full time.

I called my blog Live Many Lives because of the way books allow us to experience events and perspectives that we otherwise would not understand. Your author’s bio illustrates exactly how that can be the case with your rich variety of experience and I am always conscious when I read your novels that, although it’s fiction, I can learn from your knowledge and expertise of events I have played no part in. Is that an important part of writing for you?

For me, character and setting are intimately entwined. I believe we are viscerally shaped by the places we live in and travel through, particularly the landscapes. We were shaped that way, of course, through millions of years of evolution. We are made of these places, quite literally. Equally, for me, fiction is about truth, about realism and immediacy. I want my readers to see the country, smell the woodsmoke and cordite in the air, feel the desert sun and the grit on the back of their necks, the sting of sweat in that fresh cut. Sure it’s fiction, but it’s set in real places, based around real events. For me, fiction needs to educate, inform and challenge. It’s got to push you. I guess I am a demanding writer. I ask a lot of my readers. I want you to finish one of my books and feel like you’ve just gone three rounds with a UFC fighter and survived.

Claymore Straker is an all action lead character and that series of novels has a very fast paced, thriller sense of jeopardy to it. With Turbulent Wake though the pace is different, slower and more reflective, with the key elements being less political (although there is still an element of political values in there) and more personal, around what makes a good life. How did writing this novel differ for you as an author as it moved in to a different space to your previous work?

Turbulent Wake is very different from the Clay Straker novels, as you say. I really enjoyed writing Turbulent Wake. I love thrillers but my first love has always been literature. That being said, I have tried to make the thrillers quite literary also. So it was great to be able to ask those same questions about what makes a good life, about the choices we have to make and the consequences of those choices, but explore them in a different way, more paced, more accessible even, perhaps, because it’s more about normal people – families and fathers and sons – things we can all relate to.

It’s clear in your writing that you feel a tension between the developed world’s potential to help solve problems around the earth and its seemingly inherent exploitation of everyone and everything it comes into contact with. In light of the major global challenges that we face through climate change, is there a “big” global solution or is “big” simply incapable of selflessness and rather small, localised actions the answer?

Thanks for asking the question about the big ecological and environmental challenges we are facing on the planet right now – pollution, loss of wild places, climate change. Actually, they are human problems. We caused them. And we can solve them. To me, it’s that simple. We are causing them on all scales – in the decisions we make every day as individuals, as communities, in our companies and our governments. And we can solve them the same way – at every scale, every day. Small actions, big ones. We need it all. We just have to decide to fix it. And we can. We will. But we absolutely have to start now – I mean really commit to it. It’s going to be hard, its going to take sacrifice. Nothing worthwhile ever comes without sacrifice. That means we have to find courage. All of us. Face up to it. And start.

In Turbulent Wake there is an honesty of self-reflection in looking back at a life and trying to understand, or accept, why it played out how it did. Is there any such thing as a good or a bad life, or should we simply aim for an honestly examined one?

I absolutely believe that one can, and must strive to live a good life. I think there are a few key things to living a good life: 1. That you have tried your best to contribute to something that matters. There are lots of things that matter. You know what they are. 2. That you love something, someone. Truly. Without reservation, without hedging. All in, no matter what. 3. That you stand up for what is right, even when it’s hard. Especially when it’s hard. You know what is right. Have courage.

Thank you Paul for taking time out of your schedule to answer my questions and Orenda Books for providing me with a copy of Turbulent Wake. I’m delighted to be part of the blog tour, please do check out the other dates on the tour and most importantly of all read Paul’s books,

Paul E Hardisty

Synopsis

Ethan Schofield returns to the place of his birth to bury his father. Hidden in one of the upstairs rooms of the old man’s house he finds a strange manuscript, a collection of stories that seems to cover the whole of his father’s turbulent life.

As his own life starts to unravel, Ethan works his way through the manuscript, trying to find answers to the mysteries that have plagued him since he was a child. What happened to his little brother? Why was his mother taken from him? And why, in the end, when there was no one else left, did his own father push him away?

​Swinging from the coral cays of the Caribbean to the dangerous deserts of Yemen and the wild rivers of Africa, Turbulent Wake is a bewitching, powerful and deeply moving story of love and loss … of the indelible damage we do to those closest to us and, ultimately, of the power of redemption in a time of change.

The Author

Canadian by birth, Paul has spent 25 years working all over the world as an engineer, hydrologist and environmental scientist. He has rough-necked on oil rigs in Texas, explored for gold in the Arctic, and rehabilitated village water wells in the wilds of Africa. He survived a bomb blast in a café in Sana’a in 1993 and was one of the last westerners out of Yemen before the outbreak of the 1994 civil war.

The Abrupt Physics of Dying, his first novel, received great critical acclaim, and was short-listed for the CWA Creasy New Blood Dagger award. The Evolution of Fear, his second novel, was released in March 2016. The third in the Claymore Striker series, Reconciliation for the Dead was published in ebook in March 2017 and in paperback in May 2017.

​Paul is a University Professor and Director of Australia’s national water, land and ecosystems research program. He is a pilot, sailor, keen outdoorsman, and conservation volunteer. Paul lives in Western Australia.