blog tour, books, reviews

Blog Tour: To The Lake – Yana Vagner, translated by Maria Wiltshire

A deadly flu epidemic sweeps through Moscow, killing hundreds of thousands. Anya and her husband Sergey decide they have no choice but to flee to a lake in the far north of Russia.

Joining them on their journey are her son and father-in-law; Sergey’s ex-wife and son; and their garish neighbours. But then some friends of Sergey show up to complete Anya’s list of people she’d least like to be left with at the end of the civilised world.

As the wave of infection expands from the capital, their food and fuel start to run low. Menaced both by the harsh Russian winter and by the desperate people they encounter, they must put their hatreds behind them if they’re to have a chance of reaching safety…

Inspired by a real-life flu epidemic in Moscow, To the Lake was a number one bestseller in Russia, and has now appeared in a dozen languages and been adapted into a Netflix TV series.

My thoughts: it took me a while to get into this book, I might be a bit pandemic fiction-ed out, but as I went on reading and Anya’s convoy went on driving across Russia, I got more into the story of these determined survivors crossing the snow in search of refuge.

You forget how vast Russia is, even though I’ve been there, I travelled from Moscow to St Petersburg on the sleeper train, completely unaware in the dark of the distance. There’s also 9 different timezones. The lake in question is not far from the Finnish border, which seems crazy when you look at a map, Russia is absolutely huge. It takes them 12 days, including a few stopped in a small summer cottage, to reach it. You can drive from one end of the UK to the other in less than 2.

Thankfully those 12 long days mean that a lot can happen in a book, interactions with people, friendly and not so, the farmer who rescues them from the snowdrift was kind and they behaved badly, which is a shame as they were “good people” in his eyes. I’m glad Anya made a canine friend, animals are always worth having around and he made he feel better. I felt bad for Mishka, wanting to be an adult and be with the men, but often treated like he’s still a child, like Dasha and Anton.

I’m not sure how well they’re all going to get along on the island, lots of personalities clashing, and Ira stirring up trouble because she’s still angry that Sergey left her. At least he came to get them and took her and Anton with them. Yes, I got very involved with the characters in a book again, it happens! And now I’m going to watch it on Netflix and see if the way the actors play the characters reflects the way I saw them when I was reading.

*I was kindly gifted a copy of this book in exchange for taking part in the blog tour but all opinions remain my own.

blog tour, books, reviews

Blog Tour: The Hideout – Camilla Grebe, translated by Sarah Clyne Sundberg

After eighteen-year-old Samuel finds himself in the middle of a drug deal gone wrong, he is forced to leave home in a hurry. Heading south, he finds refuge in a sleepy coastal town, working as a live-in assistant to the son of a wealthy family.

When the body of a young man washes up in Stockholm’s southern archipelago, investigator Manfred Olsson is called in to work the case. With his two-year-old daughter in a coma, he is reluctant to leave her bedside – but once another body is discovered, his search for the killer intensifies.

As Samuel adjusts to life under the radar, he begins to feel safe, even with a gang out for blood and the police on his trail. But it isn’t long before he realises that his sanctuary may be home to a deadly secret.

My thoughts: first off, Samuel is a bit of an idiot – he gets involved with criminals and he keeps turning the phone they gave him on, clearly he doesn’t watch many crime dramas! But he does find somewhere supposedly safe to hide out from them. Unfortunately it’s the home of a completely disturbing situation. And he’s lined himself up to be the next victim.

The cops are on the case, Manfred might have a lot going on at home, with his young daughter in a coma, but he still manages to commit himself to the case and starts to put together the clues. The bodies and then the information Samuel’s loving if conflicted mother, Pernilla, gives them. She and her friend go off on their own investigation, almost jeopardising Samuel’s life. Not the most helpful thing to do, but a worried parent will do whatever they can.

I liked Pernilla, especially when she grew a backbone, told the creepy pastor off, and set out to save her son. She worried about being a bad parent, but she loves her son and lets nothing stop her in her quest to find him. I also liked Manfred and his team, they were smart and funny, working through the evidence and gathering information as they hunted for the killer leaving bodies wrapped in chains.

This was really clever and compelling, the reveals shocking and horrifying, a real “who would do that?” feel. The role of social media was interesting and smartly done, especially the way it connected Rachel and Afshana, the fact Manfred was so ignorant of it. A very enjoyable, twisted thriller.

*I was kindly gifted a copy of this book in exchange for taking part in the blog tour but all opinions remain my own.

blog tour, books, reviews

Blog Tour: The Rabbit Factor – Antti Toumainen, translated by David Hackston

What makes life perfect? Insurance mathematician Henri Koskinen knows the answer because he calculates everything down to the very last decimal. Until he is faced with the incalculable, after a series of unforeseeable events. After suddenly losing his job, Henri inherits an adventure park from his brother – its peculiar employees and troubling financial problems included. The worst of the financial issues appear to originate from big loans taken from some dangerous men who are very keen to get their money back. All improbable and complicated problems. But what Henri really can’t compute is love. In the adventure park, Henri crosses paths with Laura, a happy-go-lucky artist with a chequered past, whose erratic lifestyle bewilders him. As the criminals go to increasingly extreme lengths to collect their debts and as Henri’s relationship with Laura deepens, he finds himself faced with situations and emotions that simply cannot be pinned down on his spreadsheets…

ABOUT ANTTI TUOMAINEN Antti Tuomainen was an award-winning copywriter when he made his literary debut in 2007 as a suspense author in 2013, the Finnish press crowned Tuomainen the ‘King of Helsinki Noir’ when Dark as My Heart was published. With a piercing and evocative style, Tuomainen was one of the first to challenge the Scandinavian crime genre formula, and his poignant, dark and hilarious The Man Who Died became an international bestseller, shortlisting for the Petrona and Last Laugh Awards. A TV adaptation is in the works, and Jussi Vatanen (Man In Room 301) has just been announced as a leading role. Palm Beach Finland was an immense success, with Marcel Berlins (The Times) calling Tuomainen ‘the funniest writer in Europe’. His latest thriller, Little Siberia, was shortlisted for the CWA International Dagger, the Amazon Publishing/Capital Crime Awards and the CrimeFest Last Laugh Award, and won the Petrona Award for Best Scandinavian Crime Novel of the Year. In total, Antti Tuomainen has been short- and longlisted for 12 UK awards.

My thoughts: this is a very funny book, I giggled all the way through. My sense of humour is a bit weird. I think Henri would be confused as to why I found his misadventures so funny.

Henri is part of what makes it so entertaining, he has a very precise way of seeing the world, he is an actuary after all. Everything he does he weighs up and runs the numbers.

Having worked at an indoor soft play centre (known as Hell to staff) I could picture the adventure park Henri inherits from his financially disastrous brother very well. The hordes of screaming children, the deeply obnoxious parents, the dead eyed staff. I doubt our bosses ever had the bright idea of turning it into a bank though. Or getting involved with criminals who like to bake. Mostly because I’m pretty sure they were the criminals.

But Henri decides to save the park, his oddball employees, and the giant rabbit by the entrance with his rather crazy idea, and that means getting involved with loan sharks, avoiding the police inspector who’s showing a keen interest in the park, and generally trying not to panic.

It’s all utterly hilarious and charming, especially as his only ally is Schopenhauer the cat, who can’t exactly help out. And maybe Laura, who he’s rather charmed by. But Henri is determined to prevail and win the day. It’s that or a rather ugly death at the hands of the baking loan shark. I loved this book, it was over far too quickly and I need to know what became of Henri and Laura.

*I was kindly gifted a copy of this book in exchange for taking part in the blog tour but all opinions remain my own.

blog tour, books, reviews

Blog Tour: Cold as Hell – Lilja Sigurđardóttir, translated by Quentin Bates

Estranged sisters Áróra and Ísafold live in different countries, and are not on speaking terms. When their mother loses contact with Ísafold, Áróra reluctantly returns to Iceland to look for her. But she soon realizes that her sister isn’t avoiding her … she has disappeared, without a trace. As she confronts Ísafold’s abusive, drug-dealing boyfriend Björn, and begins to probe her sister’s reclusive neighbours – who have their own reasons for staying out of sight – Áróra is drawn into an ever-darker web of intrigue and manipulation. Baffled by the conflicting details of her sister’s life, and blinded by the shiveringly bright midnight sun of the Icelandic summer, Áróra enlists the help of police officer Daníel, to help her track her sister’s movements, and tail Björn. But she isn’t the only one watching…

Icelandic crime-writer Lilja Sigurðardóttir was born in the town of Akranes in 1972 and raised in Mexico, Sweden, Spain and Iceland. An award-winning playwright, Lilja has written four crime novels, with Snare, her English debut shortlisting for the CWA International Dagger and hitting bestseller lists worldwide. Trap soon followed suit, with the third in the trilogy Cage winning the Best Icelandic Crime Novel of the Year, and was a Guardian Book of the Year. Lilja’s standalone Betrayal, was shortlisted for the Glass Key Award for Best Nordic Crime Novel. The film rights have been bought by Palomar Pictures in California. Lilja is also an award-winning screenwriter in her native Iceland. She lives in Reykjavík with her partner.

My thoughts: this was very good, which isn’t a surprise when you consider the author. A clever, twisting narrative, where all the characters have secrets and you can’t quite work out who the killer is, there’s something very odd about Ísafold’s neighbour and he certainly knows more than he’s saying. Àroŕa might be an excellent financial investigator but she’s stumped by her sister’s disappearance and distracted by hotelier Hakon and his dubious financial dealings.

Flicking between different perspectives, slowly the events surrounding Ísafold’s disappearance start to coalesce. Then there’s Olga and Omar downstairs, with their own reasons for not wanting to speak to the police, trying to keep out of the way. But also not attract suspicion, unlike Ìsafold’s ex-partner, Bjorn, a thoroughly unlikeable man who thinks he’s above it all, despite being the main suspect.

It’s all very cleverly done, with the overlapping narratives weaving together as Daniel, the sisters’ sort of uncle, using his detective skills first unofficially, then very much opening a case, to try to find Ìsafold in the long sunny Icelandic summer. The writing is crisp and precise, keeping the reader hooked. A pleasure to read.

*I was kindly gifted a copy of this book in exchange for taking part in the blog tour but all opinions remain my own.

blog tour, books, reviews

Blog Tour: The Secret Life of Writers – Guillaume Musso*

In 1999, after publishing three cult novels, celebrated author Nathan Fawles announces the end of his writing career and withdraws to Beaumont, a wild and beautiful island off the Mediterranean coast.

Autumn 2018. As Fawles’ novels continue to captivate readers, Mathilde Monney, a young Swiss journalist, arrives on the island, determined to unlock the writer’s secrets and secure his first interview in twenty years.

That same day, a woman’s body is discovered on the beach and the island is cordoned off by the authorities.

And so, begins a dangerous face off between Mathilde and Nathan, in which the line between truth and fiction becomes increasingly blurred…

My thoughts: this was a very clever and engaging thriller set on a small French island in the Mediterranean. Reclusive writer Nathan Fawles has retreated there, out of the spotlight but journalist on a quest – Mathilde Monney is determined to get some answers. But she isn’t who she claims to be and the crimes she’s investigating are long forgotten by many. Alongside this aspiring writer Raphael becomes Nathan’s ally, with deadly consequences.

I thought this was incredibly well written and really drew me in, I would have liked more about the island and its inhabitants, they felt very lightly sketched, but since most of them aren’t involved with the goings on that Mathilde and Nathan discuss, I suppose it wasn’t necessary to delve deep into them.

The shocking twists and turns that Nathan, Mathilde and Raphael dig up as they carry out their investigations and reveal their roles in the past are both outrageous and surprisingly realistic. We know terrible things happened in the Balkans during the Serbian war and are still being revealed and declassified. The characters might think the world has moved on but some evils linger.

There’s a lot of metatextuality to the book, references to other authors and novels, the inclusion of a fictitious version of the book’s author, wrapped as a metafictive device. Even the use of newspaper articles and web pages add to the differing levels of text used. It’s all very cleverly done and for a literature nerd like me, adds extra enjoyment to a solid thriller.

*I was kindly gifted a copy of this book in exchange for taking part in the blog tour but all opinions remain my own.

blog tour, books, reviews

Blog Tour: Sleepless – Romy Hausmann*

It’s been years since Nadja Kulka was convicted of a cruel crime. After being released from prison, she’s wanted nothing more than to live a normal life: nice flat, steady job, even a few friends. But when one of those friends, Laura von Hoven – free-spirited beauty and wife of Nadja’s boss – kills her lover and begs Nadja for her help, Nadja can’t seem to refuse.

The two women make for a remote house in the woods, the perfect place to bury a body. But their plan quickly falls apart and Nadja finds herself outplayed, a pawn in a bizarre game in which she is both the perfect victim and the perfect murderer…

My thoughts: this was very twisted and I felt for Nadja as she found herself at the mercy of her boss and his wife – part of a strange power play that really she doesn’t need to be part of, except they need a scapegoat and she’s the perfect patsy.

The whole time I was reading it, I wanted to yell at Nadja “get out of there”, something was so clearly not right. I understood that she wanted to be friends with Laura again but not like this! Really gripping, and sinister stuff.

*I was kindly gifted a copy of this book in exchange for taking part in the blog tour but all opinions remain my own.

blog tour, books, reviews

Blog Tour: Geiger – Gustaf Skordeman*

The incredible story of a codeword, an extraordinary murder, and the woman who must solve both to stop a deadly plot fifty years in the making. Perfect for fans of I Am Pilgrim by Terry Hayes and The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson.

The landline rings as Agneta is waving off her grandchildren. Just one word comes out of the receiver: ‘Geiger’.

For decades, Agneta has always known that this moment would come, but she is shaken. She knows what it means.

Retrieving her weapon from its hiding place, she attaches the silencer and creeps up behind her husband before pressing the barrel to his temple.

Then she squeezes the trigger and disappears – leaving behind her wallet and keys.

The extraordinary murder is not Sara Nowak’s case. But she was once close to those affected and, defying regulations, she joins the investigation. What Sara doesn’t know is that the mysterious codeword is just the first piece in the puzzle of an intricate and devastating plot fifty years in the making . . .

My thoughts:

This started really well, but then I felt it slowed down a bit, much like Sara’s investigation, before speeding up again as the past and its dark secrets started to come to light.

Stasi agents from East Germany, spies from Russia, Sweden’s own past politicians and important figures, all combine in a heady mix of Cold War secrets, conspiracies and contingencies. There’s some very clever and shocking twists in the tale as Sara digs deeper into the past and gets herself further into trouble with her bosses.

She’s an interesting character, at odds with herself in many ways, not entirely enamoured with her job, reacting with violence and anger to things, struggling in her home life – her children are growing up and she doesn’t feel close to them or her husband.

She uses this case as a distraction but also to answer some questions about her own past, her parentage and her mother’s silence.

An interesting thriller, exploring some of Europe’s darker parts and hidden history.

*I was kindly gifted a copy of this book in exchange for taking part in the blog tour but all opinions remain my own.

blog tour, books, reviews

Blog Tour: Hotel Cartagena – Simone Buchholz*

Read my review of Mexico Street

Twenty floors above the shimmering lights of the Hamburg docks, Public Prosecutor Chastity Riley is celebrating a birthday with friends in a hotel bar when twelve heavily armed men pull out guns, and take everyone hostage. Among the hostages is Konrad Hoogsmart, the hotel owner, who is being targeted by a young man whose life – and family – have been destroyed by Hoogsmart’s actions.

With the police looking on from outside – their colleagues’ lives at stake – and Chastity on the inside, increasingly ill from an unexpected case of sepsis, the stage is set for a dramatic confrontation … and a devastating outcome for the team … all live streamed in a terrifying bid for revenge.

Crackling with energy and populated by a cast of unforgettable characters, Hotel Cartagena is a searing, stunning thriller that will leave you breathless.

Simone Buchholz was born in Hanau in 1972. At university, she studied Philosophy and Literature, worked as a waitress and a columnist, and trained to be a journalist at the prestigious Henri-Nannen-School in Hamburg.

In 2016, Simone Buchholz was awarded the Crime Cologne Award as well as runner-up in the German Crime Fiction Prize for Blue Night, which was number one on the KrimiZEIT Best of Crime List for months.

She lives in Sankt Pauli, in the heart of Hamburg, with her husband and son.

My thoughts:

This was a trippy book, with strange moments where the text changes form as the narrator lapses in and out of consciousness and struggles with sepsis. Moving from Germany to Colombia and back, it traces a reckoning years in the making as well as one eventful and strange night in a bar.

The shocking twists and turns of the night, as the story moves back in time and then returns to the present is gripping and utterly compelling. Who are the gunmen and why is the bartender so relaxed? What is happening to Chastity’s mind as her friends’ faces swim in and out of focus?

*I was kindly gifted a copy of this book in exchange for taking part in the blog tour but all opinions remain my own.

blog tour, books, reviews

Blog Tour: The Measure of Time – Gianrico Carofiglio*

The latest in the highly successful Guido Guerrieri series, shortlisted for the 2020 STREGA prize, Italy’s most prestigious literary award. It is a tense courtroom drama set in Southern Italy, but also a tale about passion and the passage of time.

Guerrieri had fallen in love decades earlier with Lorenza, a beautiful older woman who was in his eyes sophisticated and intellectual. She made wonderful love and opened his mind to high literature, but ultimately treated him as a plaything and discarded him.

One spring afternoon Lorenza shows up in Guerrieri’s office. Her son Jacopo, a small-time delinquent, stands convicted of the first-degree murder of a local drug dealer. Her trial lawyer has died, so for the appeal, she turns to Guerrieri. He is not convinced of the innocence of Lorenza’s son, nor does he have fond memories of how their relationship ended two decades earlier.

Nevertheless, he accepts the case; perhaps to pay a melancholy homage to the ghosts of his youth.

Gianrico Carofiglio, now a full time novelist, was a member of the Senate in Italy and an anti-Mafia prosecutor in Bari, a port on the coast of Puglia.

He is a best-selling author of crime novels and literary fiction, translated in 27 languages. This is the sixth Guerrieri novel is in this best-selling series.

Howard Curtis is a well-known translator from the Italian and has translated other titles in this series

My thoughts:

This was a really interesting read, showing the legal profession of Bari, Italy. It was fascinating to see how they conduct trials and I liked the way Guerrieri and his team build up their case.

I also liked the way the plot was interspersed with Guerrieri’s memories of his brief relationship with Lorenza all those years ago. They gave a lot of insight into his character and how his experiences shaped him.

The trial chapters were insightful and the case was laid out for the reader, as though we’re the jury too – it’s not entirely clear whether he’s innocent or not so you can make up your own mind too. The ending then provides the answers, wrapping the case up if not neatly, then enough to release Guerrieri from the feeling of obligation and nostalgia he holds.

*I was kindly gifted a copy of this book in exchange for taking part in the blog tour but all opinions remain my own.

blog tour, books, reviews

Blog Tour: Winterkill – Ragnar Jónasson*

Easter weekend is approaching, and snow is gently falling in Siglufjörður, the northernmost town in Iceland, as crowds of tourists arrive to visit the majestic ski slopes.

Ari Thór Arason is now a police inspector, but he’s separated from his girlfriend, who lives in Sweden with their three-year-old son.

A family reunion is planned for the holiday, but a violent blizzard is threatening and there is an unsettling chill in the air. Three days before Easter, a nineteen-year-old local girl falls to her death from the balcony of a house on the main street.

A perplexing entry in her diary suggests that this may not be an accident, and when an old man in a local nursing home writes ‘She was murdered’ again and again on the wall of his room, there is every suggestion that something more sinister lies at the heart of her death…

As the extreme weather closes in, cutting the power and access to Siglufjörður, Ari Thór must piece together the puzzle to reveal a horrible truth … one that will leave no one unscathed.

Chilling, claustrophobic and disturbing, Winterkill marks the startling conclusion to the million-copy bestselling Dark Iceland series and cements Ragnar Jónasson as one of the most exciting authors in crime fiction.

Icelandic crime writer Ragnar Jónasson was born in Reykjavík, and currently works as a lawyer, while teacher copyright law at the Reykjavík University Law School.

In the past, he’s worked in TV and radio, including as a news reporter for the Icelandic National Broadcasting Service. Before embarking on a writing career, Ragnar translated fourteen Agatha Christie novels into Icelandic, and has had several short stories published in German, English and Icelandic literary magazines.

Ragnar set up the first overseas chapter of the CWA (Crime Writers’ Association) in Reykjavík, and is co-founder of the International crime-writing festival Iceland Noir.

Ragnar’s debut thriller, Snowblind became an almost instant bestseller when it was published in June 2015n with Nightblind (winner of the Dead Good Reads Most Captivating Crime in Translation Award) and then Blackout, Rupture and Whiteout following soon after.

To date, Ragnar Jónasson has written five novels in the Dark Iceland series, which has been optioned for TV by On the Corner.

He lives in Reykjavík with his wife and two daughters.

My thoughts:

This was really good, the snow closing in on a small town, an unexplained death, a teenage girl with secrets and a detective who just wants to spend time with his son.

Ari Thór is called out late at night to an apparent suicide of a young woman, it doesn’t appear suspicious, although the building she jumped from wasn’t her home. But he starts to investigate, while there might not be a crime, something caused her to leap to her death, and he wants to get an answer for her devastated mother.

His ex-partner and young son have just arrived to spend the Easter weekend with him, but he needs to solve the case. This struggle is what caused their break-up and he doesn’t want to risk alienating them further.

A blizzard sets in, trapping the locals in their small town and causing Ari Thór to struggle to get to the truth, when the power goes out. But he pieces the clues together to unravel a tragedy and find someone who is guilty, even if they didn’t kill anyone.

Gripping, claustrophobic, creepy (some of the characters were a bit sinister, like the father and son hiding out on an island), and clever.

*I was kindly gifted a copy of this book in exchange for taking part in the blog tour but all opinions remain my own.