CRIME/THRILLER/LEGAL REVIEWS 2012 #2

EXPOSED
Author: Liza Marklund
Bantam Press RRP $32.95
Review: Monique Mulligan

Studio sex (Annika Bengtzon, #1)A dynamic and suspensful read, Exposed (also called Studio Sex) is my first Liza Marklund novel. It won’t be my last.

Young, inexperienced Annika Bengtzon has taken on a work placement at Stockholm’s biggest tabloid newspaper in the height of a scorching summer. Manning the tip-off phoneline, notorious for prank calls from time-wasters, Annika isn’t sure this is going to aid her career at all. Until she receives a call informing her that the naked body of a young woman has been found in a cemetery. Determined to be involved in this story, Annika gains access to the crime scene, and begins to contact anyone who knew the victim. Piecing together details of the young woman’s life, Annika is relentless in her pursuit of the truth. And in being exposed to the harsh realities of the world of journalism, she is also forced to discover just how far people will go to protect their secrets…

A former journalist, I could relate to Annika as a trainee journalist, keen to get stuck into real journalism. The paper I worked at had its share of nutters (one wrote Harry Potter, another came up with Who Wants to be a Millionaire and another discovered absolute relativity); I remember all too well how it felt when they phoned up. Annika, however, was far better than I at dealing with them (I tended to get stuck). She’s a talk-first, think-later character; headstrong, feisty and ambitious, but with a vulnerable side that few see. She’s also a bit of a loner. This vulnerable side becomes more obvious through the novel. I liked Annika as a character and felt that she was well developed through the novel.

The plot was fast and dynamic, but at times slowed down by unnecessary details (such as, she ate an ice cream) that really added nothing to the story. There is an interesting month-long gap in the story where the reader is left wondering what is happening because everything – Annika, the case, the news – goes silent; I think it was a good decision, because it kept the pace moving. Annika returns from a holiday stronger, more determined than ever to help solve the case.

There is a menacing sub-plot that threads its way through the story – I thought I had it figured out early on, only to find that I’d eaten the red herring! Marklund writes well – the crime scenes stop short of being too graphic – and has brought themes of political corruption, domestic violence, betrayal and media ethics/responsible journalism into the mix. Her afterword gives good insight into what prompted the novel, which made for interesting reading also.

Available from good bookstores and Random House. This copy was courtesy of Random House Australia.


THE DROWNING

Author: Camilla Lackberg
Harper Collins RRP $24.99
Review: Monique Mulligan

Camilla Lackberg Crime Thrillers 4-6: The Stranger, The Hidden Child, The DrowningI stumbled upon Camilla Lackberg’s crime series featuring Detective Patrik Hedström while in the library – after reading The Ice Princess, I was keen for more. Of course, that meant I could hardly pass up the chance to review her latest novel, The Drowning. Lackberg is a household name in Sweden and my tip is that she is well on her way to becoming that for crime fiction lovers worldwide.

Detective Patrik Hedström has too much on his hands. Work never stops, his daughter Maja has reached a demanding age, and his wife, Erica, is heavily pregnant with twins. When Erica tells him her writer friend Christian Thydell has been receiving anonymous threats, he initially doesn’t think too much about it. He has a missing man to find – who happens to be one of Christian’s closest friends.

As Erica begins to dig deeper into Christian’s mysterious past, Patrik realises that the events are connected. Someone is playing mind games and several lives are at risk. But, with the victims themselves concealing evidence, the investigation is going nowhere. Is their silence driven by fear or guilt? And what is the secret they would rather die to protect than live to see revealed?

Like Lackberg’s earlier novels, The Drowning is a compelling read from start to finish. The psychological tension is as chilling as the plot that drives it; the suspense kept me up long past my bedtime. It was worth it, though. Lackberg is a skilful writer, with a bright future ahead; her ability to mix cringe-worthy scenes with small-town ordinariness and well-rounded characters is admirable.

Scandinavian crime fiction is often described as cold, in the sense of the bleak, icy climate, and the often reserved, self-sufficient characters. I have read (and enjoyed) several that fit that description. What makes Lackberg’s writing different is a sense of warmth that emanates from her main characters – in this case, those of Patrik and Erica. They are likeable, but capable; intelligent, but flawed. That warmth offsets the depressive, gruesome scenarios described, luring the reader in with its deceptive cosiness.

If you like crime fiction, especially Scandinavian crime fiction, and you haven’t read Lackberg’s books, put then on your To Read list.

Available from good bookstores and Harper Collins. This copy was courtesy of Harper Collins Australia.


PRIME CUT 
Author: Alan Carter
Fremantle Press RRP $22.95
Review: Monique Mulligan

Prime CutAlan Carter’s sharp writing style caught the eye of 2010 Debut Dagger Award judges; the early stages of his unpublished manuscript, Prime Cut, was shortlisted that year. The published version went on to win the 2011 Ned Kelly Crimewriting Award for Best First Fiction.

It’s easy to see why. With Prime Cut, Carter has delivered a highly readable crime thriller that wastes no time racking up a body count. My first impression was, ‘Gee, he didn’t waste words, did he?’ While writing Prime Cut, Carter was living as a “kept man” in the isolated mining town of Hopetoun, which served as the setting – the bleak, windswept area lends itself well to the dark, ever-changing, multi-layered storyline.

The story introduces disgraced cop DSC Cato Kwong, a former golden boy ‘doing time’ with the Stock Squad. Investigating roadkill is hardly how he pictured his police service career, so when Cato is sent to investigate the case of a human torso washed up on the shores of Hopetoun, he hopes this will get his career back on track.

The mining town is booming and the population is exploding, but underneath the showy exterior, the town is home to dark secrets – and Cato is far from welcome. Facing off against powerful opposition, Cato’s investigation lifts the lid on the exploitation of Chinese migrant workers, but there is an even darker criminal mind at work in the background. The stakes are higher than Cato and his colleagues realise.

Despite its dark and desolate tone, Prime Cut is an excellent and engrossing read. Carter cleverly weaves a cold case into the story, adding an extra layer to what was already an intriguing plot. Cato is a flawed, but strong character, which adds to his authenticity; likewise, the Yin to Cato’s Yang, Senior Sergeant Tess McGuire is a damaged individual fighting to believe in herself after a traumatic on-the-job experience. As it turns out, Cato and Tess have unfinished business and that itself adds tension to an already edgy read.

The good news is that DSC Kwong will be back in another two novels, at least; the bad news is that we’ll have to wait to 2013. In the meantime, if you haven’t read Prime Cut, put it on your list. It’s worth it.

Available from good bookstores and Fremantle Press. This copy was courtesy of Fremantle Press.


SHADOW OF THE ROCK
Author: Thomas Mogford
Bloomsbury RRP $29.99
Review: Monique Mulligan

The Shadow of the RockShadow of the Rock, the first in a new crime series set in exotic Gibraltar and Morocco, featuring lawyer Spike Sanguinetti, turned out to be a fast-paced, concise read. It’s a refreshing change of scene for a crime novel; the streets are mean and trust is a hard-won commodity.

On a humid summer night in Gibraltar lawyer Spike Sanguinetti arrives home to find an old school friend, Solomon Hassan, waiting on his doorstep. Solomon is on the run, accused of the murder of a Spanish girl in Tangiers. He has managed to skip across the Straits but the Moroccan authorities want him back. Arguing that prison in Tangiers would be the death of him, as a Sephardic Jew, Solomon wants Spike to represent him, starting with fighting his extradition.

Spike reluctantly travels to Tangiers, after delivering Solomon to Gibraltarian authorities, to request (on human rights grounds) that any trial is conducted in Gibraltar. Claiming that “guilty men run”, the police are following no other leads and have no other suspects, so little help is forthcoming from the authorities and Spike sets about making his own inquiries. He comes across Zahra, a beautiful Bedouin girl who is investigating the disappearance of her father. When the trail leads back to the corporation Solomon worked for, Spike begins to question how well he knows his friend. And when he finds out that the company is set to make a fortune harnessing solar power, the questions become even more pointed. Who can Spike trust?

Corruption, secrets, lies and danger abound in Shadow of the Rock, a tight and gritty read that introduces an intriguing character in Spike Sanguinetti. He’s a man with a few secrets – it’s clear there’s a history with police officer Jessica Navarro; he’s also a son who cares deeply for his ageing father. Solomon says it well: “You intrigue me” – readers are bound to, like me, want to get to know more about Spike.

There’s plenty of action, an atmosphere loaded with prickling unease and, of course, a love interest to add romantic heat. Mogford’s journalistic background is evident in the tight wording and plotting, yet a strong sense of place is created. There’s a well thought out twist that I didn’t quite see coming; overall, a satisfying read and a character I want to read more about.

Available from good bookstores and Bloomsbury . This copy was courtesy of Bloomsbury.


SOME KIND OF PEACE

Authors: Camilla Grebe & Asa Traff
Simon & Schuster RRP $29.99
Review: Monique Mulligan

Fast-paced and full of suspense, Some Kind of Peace is the kind of book I really enjoy getting my hooks into. Over the past year I’ve discovered Scandinavian crime fiction and this one is a worthy addition to my small but growing collection.
The suspense starts immediately, with a descriptive, almost poetic, narrative revealing that a young woman’s body is lying underneath a tree. Will her death bring clarity of sorts and even…some kind of peace? From here on the story is told in first-person narrative, mostly from the viewpoint of 34-year-old psychotherapist Siri Bergman, and occasionally, from the perspective of the murderer.Siri is an interesting character; a mix of vulnerability and strength. She is terrified of the dark, but lives alone in a picturesque, but isolated area east of Stockholm. She wants to believe that she has moved on since her husband, Stefan, died in a diving accident several years ago, but each night leaves all the lights on, unable to shake the feeling that someone is watching her at night. When she wakes one night to find the house pitch black and her torch missing, it’s just the beginning of a series of events that show she is in danger. When one of her patients is found dead and she is suddenly in the centre of a murder investigation, she is forced to relive her past and put everyone she knows – friends, colleagues and patients – under the spotlight.

I found myself hooked from the first and beautifully described chapter. The idyllic setting provided the perfect contrast to the crime and investigation that followed. Siri, as the fearful, guarded narrator, adds to the tension; as the target of someone’s anger and intimidation (why she cannot understand), she is wracked with self-doubt at times. This doubt (is she imagining things?) casts a shadow on her narrative, blurring the lines a little so it’s hard for the reader to predict the perpetrator until the end. It’s an effective and clever device.

I majored in psychology at university, so I enjoyed the insights into criminal psychology. The cases Siri works on as the narrative progresses are fascinating in themselves – sometimes chilling. They also added to the tension – inadvertently I found myself “analysing” each case, looking for clues in case they were the killer. The psychiatrist as protagonist is not new in itself – think James Patterson and Jonathon Kellerman – but what made this refreshing was that Siri was more a victim than a crime solver.

It’ll be a while before the next offering from this duo – translating from the orginal Swedish takes time – but I’m waiting with bated breath.

Available from good bookstores. This copy was courtesy of Simon & Schuster.


TROUBLED MAN, THE
Author: Henning Mankell
Harvill Secker $19,95
Review: Monique Mulligan

The Troubled Man (Wallander, #10)HAKAN von Enke is a man with a secret that dates back to Cold War. When the troubled man goes missing just after his 75th birthday, Detective Kurt Wallander is drawn to the case for reasons of his own. His daughter, Linda, is living with von Enke’s son, Hans, and the couple has just had a baby.

Weeks later von Enke’s wife, Louise, also disappears and Wallander is determined to find out the truth. But, while the case troubles him and reveals that friends can be strangers, Wallander has even deeper troubles of his own to deal with.

Brimming with politics, intrigue, conspiracy and spy theories, and tempered with the reality of ageing and relationships,The Troubled Man is a terrific contemporary crime novel that strengthens Mankell’s place at the top of the genre.

Just as Wallander is sure he’s missing something important at a number of points in the novel, the masterful plot keeps readers guessing until near the end.

Available from good bookstores or Random House. This copy was courtesy of Random House Australia.