A Devil Under the Skin by Anya Lipska
The third Kiszka and Kershaw crime thriller: Things are looking up for Janusz Kiszka, big-hearted ‘fixer’ to London’s Poles. His girlfriend/the love of his life, Kasia, is finally leaving her no-good husband to make a new life with him. Then Kasia vanishes. Convinced she’s been abducted, Kiszka must swallow his pride and seek the help of an old contact – maverick cop Natalie Kershaw. But the search swiftly takes an even darker turn…What connects Kasia’s disappearance and a string of brutal East End murders?
First Impressions: As with the previous two books in the series I was draw in right from the start… Compelling reading!
Highlights: I don’t want this review to sound like a re-hash of previous reviews but I really like the way that Kiszka and Kershaw are brought together to solve the crime. It’s not a sigh of ‘here we go again for the double act…’. Time has passed and it is all believable, not in any way forced.
This novel is another page turner from Lipska with perhaps less of an Eastern Euro geographical focus but this East End focus didn’t make it less interesting. Maybe I need to spend a day travelling the Central Line! I liked Kiszka’s insurance fraud investigation too, by the way, and I wasn’t too upset that Kershaw’s personal life took a back seat in this novel either. She is more interesting when at work! As well as absolutely loving the cover art on these novels I also enjoyed the extra material at the end of this novel. I now know how to pronounce ‘Kasia’!
If I was an editor: C’mon Kiszka, come investigating South of the River sometime… I hear SW has a large Polish population :-)
Overall: And when is the next one being published?
A Devil Under the Skin: 5 stars
Dark as My Heart by Antti Tuomainen
Aleksi lost his mother on a rainy October day when he was thirteen years old. Twenty years later, he is certain that he knows who’s responsible. Everything points to millionaire Henrik Saarinen. The police don’t agree. He has only one option: to get close to Saarinen and find out the truth about his mother’s fate on his own. But as Aleksi soon discovers, delving into Saarinen and his alluring daughter’s family secrets is a confusing and dangerous enterprise.
First Impressions: I liked Alexi’s measured narrative tone in this novel. The references to his mother definitely made me want to keep reading. It all felt a little…creepy.
Highlights: This is a well paced crime novel and I did not guess the outcome. I liked Scandi crime fiction and this novel really stood out as crime fiction set in Finland is hard to come by. I almost wish I was reading it in paperback rather than on my kindle so I could easily flick back to look up all the location references. Being part Finnish I have visited to Helsinki a few times and couldn’t help but get a thrill when I saw mentions of, for instance, Suomenlinna Fort. I wish I was more familiar with some of the locations! The Helsinki setting is rather poetic and invigorating. I also liked the wizened detective Ketomaa and wish he appeared more.
If I was an editor: Yes, as the reviews state it is part Greek tragedy for Alexsi and part Gothic horror in the Saarinen mansion. It was magnificent as a whole but fell ever so slightly short of making me desperate to keep reading while looking after my toddler.
Overall: Highly recommended. Will be reading Tuomainen’s previous novel The Healer.
Dark as My Heart: 4 Stars
After Darkness by Christine Piper
It is early 1942 and Australia is in the midst of war.While working at a Japanese hospital in the pearling port of Broome, Dr Ibaraki is arrested as an enemy alien and sent to Loveday internment camp in a remote corner of South Australia. There, he learns to live among a group of men who are divided by culture and allegiance. As tensions at the isolated camp escalate, the doctor is forced to confront his dark past: the promise he made in Japan and its devastating consequences.
First Impressions: The writing style was lovely and I was immediately drawn into Ibaraki’s story.
Highlights: I liked the way the story moved back and forth in time. The author plants a lot of hints about different events that make you want to keep reading. 1940s Broome was brought to life, as was Tokyo; I didn’t feel let down by one setting over another. If anything, I would have liked more detail about everyday life in Broome’s Jap Town! The internment camp was interesting to read about but for me it was overshadowed by silences in the other settings. I also wanted to learn more about the lives led by the Japanese internees from other areas of the Pacific – how intriguing must their stories be! Ibaraki’s reasons for leaving Japan are heartbreaking. I found this novel hard to put down.
If I was an editor: I did worry at one point that this novel came a bit too close to becoming a melodramatic romance but it scaled right back again. I don’t know if I like Ibaraki’s final decision but I can’t think of another way for the novel to end.
Overall: Tender historical fiction.
After Darkenss: 5 Stars
Tell No Tales by Eva Dolan
The car that ploughs into the bus stop early one morning leaves a trail of death and destruction behind it. DS Ferreira and DI Zigic are called in from the Peterborough Hate Crimes Unit to handle the hit-and-run, but with another major case on their hands, one with disturbing Neo-Nazi overtones, they are relieved when there seems to be an obvious suspect but the case isn’t that simple. Ferreira believes that local politician Richard Shotton, head of a recently established right-wing party, must be involved somehow.
First Impressions: This novel launched straight into the action and intense subsequent police investigation. Love it!
Highlights: I really enjoyed the first book in the series but Tell No Tales is just brilliant in the plotting. There are no loose ends or unnecessary plot strands and it just keeps getting better each chapter! In this second novel the author is right on the money with characterisation. As much as I liked the first book in the series, for some reason I didn’t see too much distinction between Zigic (sensible and genuine family man) and Ferreira (young, loyal and brash) but in this book the characterisation was fantastic and I loved both of them (maybe Zigic a little bit more!). In the first book Hate Crime employee Wahlia just seemed a bit out of focus but this time around I got his character straight away. The plot was full of mystery and really got under the skin of immigrant Peterborough. I love Peterborough as a setting!
If I was an editor: Don’t worry editors, I have already pre-ordered book three. You mean I need to wait until January??!!
Overall: This is the sort of novel that makes me want to read more crime but Ferreira, you need to become a bit more independent of your family :-)
Tell No Tales: 5 Stars
Revenge by Yoko Ogawa
A woman goes into a bakery to buy a strawberry cream tart for her son’s birthday. Every year she buys him his favourite cake even though he died in an accident when he was six years old. From this beginning Yoko Ogawa weaves a dark and beautiful narrative. Each story follows on from the one before while simultaneously introducing new characters and themes. Ogawa provides us with a slice of life that is resplendent in its chaos and chilling in its cruelty.
First Impressions: I liked the writing style. The first story was good and I guessed the stories would get even better… I was right!
Highlights: I was amazed at how subtly all the stories carried on from each other and were linked. This did not feel forced or contrived as I had originally feared it would. A lot of the characters and plots appear over a few stories so it is hard to say which stories or characters I liked best but the narratives around Old Mrs J, Lab Coats and Tomatoes and the Full Moon were most memorable. Ogawa has the power to shock in these stories when you least suspect it and I did gasp out loud a few times when reading.
If I was an editor: Oh, some of the characters definitely deserve their own novel!
Overall: I think I picked up all the links to different characters and stories… At least I hope I did!
Revenge: 5 Stars
Black Rock White City by A. S. Patric
I had this novel earmarked to begin November’s Aus Reading Month but started it early after hearing that the author is going to be interviewed on 774 ABC Melbourne next Thursday (29 October). Hope I can catch the interview online!
During a hot Melbourne summer Jovan’s cleaning work at a bayside hospital is disrupted by acts of graffiti and violence becoming increasingly malevolent. For Jovan the mysterious words that must be cleaned away dislodge the poetry of the past. He and his wife Suzana were forced to flee Sarajevo and the death of their children. Black Rock White City is an essential story of Australia’s suburbs now, of displacement and immediate threat, and the unexpected responses of two refugees as they try to reclaim their dreams.
First Impressions: The story leaped straight into the graffiti and Jovan’s job at the hospital. It jumped around a little but was definitely worth sticking with.
Highlights: There were a lot of discussions about psychology and human motivations in the first half of the novel and it made me wonder if the author was borrowing from the tradition of Yugoslav literature. For some reason I just assume that traditional Yugoslav literature contains much more profound thought than Australian/English novels! If he did borrow, then Patric has created a perfect balance between the two literatures which I think is the point of the novel. The graffiti at the hospital is also rather surreal and feels like an existential borrowing from European literature. I have since learnt Patric is influenced by Kafka, so there you go.
I felt a little embarrassed when reading this novel as I had to check I knew which country both Sarajevo and Belgrade belong to (luckily I was correct!). This made me realise that perhaps the Bosnian/Serbian conflict has become a forgotten war – surely this doesn’t happen in Europe any more? People in Europe no longer suffer like this? I really liked the way Patric didn’t sensationalise the characters’ suffering to the point of turning it into a misery memoir. If anything, the horrors experienced by Jovan and Suzana were understated at best. I found the cause of both Jorvan’s torture and the death of the two children both surprising – not the usual war horrors you would imagine.
Overall I found a lot of similarities with the refugee experience in Joan London’s The Golden Age which was about a WW2 Hungarian migrant family. The interpretation of the new language. How Australia and Australians could ever stand up to and appreciated the established culture in Europe. Forging weak bonds with other migrants just because they hold something in common. When does this foreign landscape ever start to feel like home? I guess some things will never change.
If I was an editor: David Dickens. A writer who befriends Jovan. Sure, he has lots of long rants about human psychology I often lost track of but he is an entertaining character with his Indian inspired clothes bought from incense shops that even Gipsies wouldn’t wear. More David Dickens please!
Overall: How can people who have suffered so much still see hope in their (distant) futures? I guess that is the human spirit prevailing but I found the whole story devastating. How could you go on?
Black Rock White City: 5 Stars
Last Winter We Parted by Fuminori Nakamura
A young writer arrives at a prison to interview a convict. The suspect, a world-renowned photographer named Kiharazaka, has a deeply unsettling portfolio–lurking beneath the surface of each photograph is an acutely obsessive fascination with his subject. He stands accused of murdering two women–both burned alive–and will likely face the death penalty. But something isn’t quite right. As the young writer probes further, his doubts about this man as a killer intensify, and he struggles to maintain his sense of reason and justice. Is Kiharazaka truly guilty, or will he die to protect someone else?
First Impressions: I liked the depressive tone of the narrator. It was clear early on that the gruesome crimes were to take a back seat to an individual’s personal struggle.
Highlights: How unusual to have a crime novel where the crime itself is secondary to the plot. Instead, it details an artist’s futile quest to capture the full essence of a person in a photograph and then in memento dolls. The story is based on Akutagawa’s short story Hell Screen and it doesn’t shy away from references to the original tale. I would have liked an edition that also includes the original story or an abridged version of it but that is just me. I have since sought out a copy of Hell Screen to satisfy my interest. I also liked the narrator’s dissatisfaction and intolerance of his own life; it borders on self-destruction. Finally, although the crime is secondary to the story, it is described in detail near the end. In true Japanese fashion, not an easy one to guess at all!
If I was an editor: I found some of the contributions to conversations a bit inane and unnecessary, such as ‘…Hmmm,’ and ‘…Well, now’. These comments had no effect at advancing the plot. Furthermore, sometimes I found the conversations difficult to follow after a while and became confused with who was talking. The different archival material also became confusing towards the end as it took a little bit to work out who belonged to the story. I don’t think this is a problem with the translation but it all may have been easier to follow in the original Japanese.
Overall: A pastiche of character introspections.
Last Winter We Parted: 4 Stars