FAVOURITE NOVELS OF THE YEAR...SO FAR and FREE BOOKS (AGAIN!)

It's middle of summer (at least up here in the northern hemisphere) and I think that 2014 is already a great year for crime fiction. Here are my favourite books so far; please refrain from telling me that I'm an idiot for not including this or that title; I haven't read everything that's been published so of course I've left out many good titles. Which is why I include, at the end, a list of titles that I am looking forward to read (hopefully) before the end of the year.

So, instead of reading comments about which books I forgot to include, I would welcome your own lists of favourites, if you dare to share. To thank you for making the effort of sharing some titles, I will give away a couple of books. I'll announce the names of the winners on Saturday, August 9th when I start my vacation. The books are: The Silkworm by Robert Galbraith/J.K. Rowling and Broken Monsters by Lauren Beukes. I might even throw in another paperback or two. My email address is still housecrimyst@gmail.com (You need to be 18 years or older and live in the US or Canada). UPDATE: winner is Paul Graham, from Minneapolis (MN). Congrats, Paul. Thank you everyone for participating, and stay tuned for more giveaways in the weeks ahead. Again, thanks for visiting The House!

The following titles are in no particular order (you can click on some of the titles for my reviews; other reviews will be added soon):

#- BLACK ROCK by John MCFETRIDGE (ECW Press)

#- THE GUILLOTINE CHOICE by Michael J. MALONE (Saraband)

#- LONG WAY HOME by Eva DOLAN (Harvill Secker, Random House UK)

#- AFTER I'M GONE by Laura LIPPMAN (William Morrow)

#- THOSE WHO WISH ME DEAD by Michael KORYTA (Little, Brown)

#- NATCHEZ BURNING by Greg ILES (William Morrow)

#- I AM PILGRIM by Terry HAYES (Atria/Amy Bestler Books)

#- MR MERCEDES by Stephen KING (Scribner)

#- ALL DAY AND A NIGHT by Alafair BURKE (Harper)

#- THE SQUARE OF REVENGE by Pieter ASPE (Pegasus Books)

#- THE LONG WAY HOME by Louise PENNY (Minotaur Books)

#- AMERICAN WOMAN by Robert POBI (Thomas Mercer)

#- NO SAFE HOUSE by Linwood BARCLAY (Doubleday Canada)

#- LIFE OR DEATH by Michael ROBOTHAM (Sphere)

#- ENTRY ISLAND by Peter MAY (Quercus)

Reading now:

#- ONE KICK by Chelsea CAIN (Simon & Schuster)

And another dozen books I'm looking forward to read:

#- THE SILKWORM by Robert GALBRAITH/J.K. ROWLING (Mulholland Books)

#- THE BURNING ROOM by Michael CONNELLY (Little, Brown)

#- THE BONES BENEATH by Mark BILLINGHAM (Little, Brown)

#- THE WOLF IN WINTER by John CONNOLLY (Atria/Emily Bestler Books)

#- THE DROP by Dennis LEHANE (William Morrow)

#- THE SON by Jo NESBO (Random House Canada)

#- WAYFARING STRANGER by James Lee BURKE (Simon & Schuster)

#- THE GOLEM OF HOLLYWOOD by Jonathan & Jesse KELLERMAN (Putnam)

#- BLIND SPOT by Reed Farrel COLEMAN (Putnam)

#- BROKEN MONSTERS by Lauren BEUKES (Mulholland Books)

#- REVIVAL by Stephen KING (Scribner)

#- BLISS HOUSE by Laura BENEDICT (Pegasus Crime)

#- THE FEVER by Megan ABBOTT (Little, Brown)

and many more whenever possible.

What are yours?

August 3rd, 2014 (updated August 30th)
JF

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DOUBLE GIVEAWAY: Linwood BARCLAY and Michael ROBOTHAM

 TWO FOR THE PRICE OF ONE...WELL, ACTUALLY IT'S TWO FOR THE PRICE OF NONE.
THEY ARE TWO OF THE BEST THRILLER WRITERS YOU CAN FIND; ONE IS CANADIAN (initials LB), THEY OTHER IS AUSTRALIAN (initials MR).

SEND ME YOUR NAME BEFORE TUESDAY, AUGUST 5TH, AT NOON (MONTREAL TIME) FOR A CHANCE TO WIN BOTH OF THESE BOOKS. THERE WILL BE ONLY ONE WINNER.



UPDATE: the winner is Jeffrey Mackie, from Montréal (Québec), Canada. I think he is my first ever Montréal winner. Congrats to you, Jeffrey and to thank everyone else who entered the giveaway, I've added your names to the other giveaway of the week. BONNE CHANCE!

# Here's the publisher's description about Linwood BARCLAY's NO SAFE HOUSE:

THERE ARE SOME HOUSES YOU SHOULD NEVER GO INTO. EVEN YOUR OWN.

Seven years ago, Terry Archer and his family experienced a horrific ordeal that nearly cost them their lives. Today, the echoes of that night are still haunting them. Terry's wife, Cynthia, is living separate from her husband and daughter after her own personal demons threatened to permanently ruin her Relationship with them. Their daughter, Grace, is rebelling against her parents' needless overprotection. Terry is just trying to keep his family together. And the entire town is reeling from the senseless murder of a local retired couple.

But when Grace follows her delinquent boyfriend into a strange house, the Archers must do more than stay together. They must stay alive...

# Now, here's an excerpt from a letter by Michael ROBOTHAM about LIFE OR DEATH:

"(...) Life or Death, a story that I've nurtured and turned over in my mind for more than twenty years --ever since I read a newspaper account of a man who had served a long prison sentence, but escaped the day before he was due to be released.

Why, I asked myself --what could possibly be the reason?

It took me years to come up with an answer and even longer before I felt I had the skills to tell the story properly. I needed to practice. I needed to learn. I needed to get better.

(...) It's a love story and a prison story and a heart-stopping account of one man's refusal to surrender. More importantly, it's the book that I was meant to write."

NO SAFE HOUSE by Linwood BARCLAY will be officially published this coming Tuesday, and is a softcover copy; LIFE OR DEATH by Michael ROBOTHAM is an advance reader's copy (with a gorgeous cover) and will be published later this week in UK/Australia (but only on October 7th in Canada, and in March 2015 in the US). My email address is housecrimyst@gmail.com
To be eligible to win, you need to be 18 years or older and live in Canada or the US.     

BONNE CHANCE!

Visit the authors's websites here: Michael ROBOTHAM and Linwood BARCLAY.

Sponsors: THANK YOU to Random House of Canada for the copy of NO SAFE HOUSE (published by Doubleday Canada), and to Hachette Canada/Hachette UK for the copy of LIFE OR DEATH (published by Sphere, an imprint of Little, Brown Book Group UK).

-30-

ALL DAY AND A NIGHT by Alafair BURKE (a review)


This is the fourth book in the ‘Ellie Hatcher’ series, and the best one yet. I’m also tempted to say that it is Alafair Burke’s best novel (it’s her tenth) but it is definitely my favourite of hers. In the big picture, it is a story about the choices we make and the impact they can have on our future, sometimes only weeks later but often many years hence when we barely remember those decisions. It is also about perception, of how we see the people close to us, the events that affect all of us, and the details we miss, or think we missed, but that come back clearer in a different light. All Day and a Night is about the fragility of family ties and of friendship bonds, and of how we preserve them as best we can, even through our mistakes.

The Story:

The recent murder of a psychotherapist, in similar fashion as those of five women, twenty years earlier, raises questions about the possibility of having convicted the wrong man. That man, Anthony Amaro, still claims his innocence and says he was forced to sign a confession. He now wants to be exonerated and freed; a big shot television-celebrity lawyer takes his case and hires a young lawyer, Carrie Blank, whose older half-sister, Donna, was one of the previous victims attributed to Amaro.
In come Ellie Hatcher and her partner, JJ Rogan, as the ‘fresh look’ team assigned to examine the old case and to try and find if the murder of the psychotherapist is linked or not to the past victims. It doesn’t take long before Hatcher and Rogan find evidence that was overlooked or even plain ignored in Amaro’s case, but they also come to question the reason behind their assignment.
Lots to digest in two paragraphs? Try 350 pages! But where some writers might have lost me in trying to impress with many plot twists, characters, and too many flashbacks, here Burke keeps a strong hold on the many strings on which she plays her tunes. Some would have ended with a cacophony but Alafair Burke plays a brilliant symphony of suspense and intrigue, even with a few unnecessary flashbacks; except for the last ones involving Carrie Blank which are perfectly introduced into the story, and lead to a crescendo towards an exciting finish.
Musicians know that there are different levels they need to reach while they progress in their learning abilities. Sometimes they can get stuck at a level for many weeks, months, or sometimes years before they break into a higher playing field; it’s even possible to regress once in a while. It is the same for athletes, for chefs, and for writers; in my mind, Alafair Burke has just shattered the door that brought her to a different stage.
Her last Ellie Hatcher story, Never Tell (2012), was already a sharper cut above the previous two in the series, Dead Connection (2010) and Angel’s Tip (2008), which I didn’t think were very strong in intrigue. But her two recent standalones, Long Gone (2011) and If You Were Here (2013), both excellent, might have given Burke a different perspective or the liberty to go where she could not within the boundaries of a series. Whatever the reason(s), Alafair Burke has unleashed her talent in full force –the storytelling, the plotting, the writing, the characterization, the dialogue—and every aspect is cleaner, leaner, and stronger.
Well, read her.
photo credit: Jacques Filippi
 
For more about the talented Alafair Burke, go to her website, her Facebook page or on Twitter.
 
Thanks for reading, and Happy Canada Day to my fellow Canadians!
 
JF
July 1st
-30-


THOSE WHO WISH ME DEAD by Michael KORYTA (review, Q&A, giveaway)


After jumping from a quarry ledge, a young teenage boy of 13, Jace Wilson, finds a dead man in the water. A few moments later, the boy witnesses the killing of another man who is also thrown in the water. The only person who can identify the two killers, Jace needs to be protected during the investigation.

So Jace Wilson becomes Connor Reynolds under a non-traditional witness protection program; he is sent to a summer camp in the mountains of Montana. Run by Ethan and Alison Serbin, the wilderness survival program helps out damaged kids, from difficult backgrounds and troubled homes, build back their self-confidence and prepare them for the rest of their lives against everything the world will throw at them.

Meanwhile, the two killers –known as the Blackwell Brothers—are on the hunt for Jace/Connor. They show great patience and deadpan humour when obtaining information but they show no mercy for anyone who stands in their way; for them, killing is not a game it is a survival skill. They will hit, maim, and burn only if necessary but they’ll never hesitate to act. And then they will kill. Always.

As the brothers get closer to Jace/Connor and his new friends, out in the wilderness, the elements of nature are also crowding the mountain and forest; a fire is burning with increasing intensity, and the sky is thundering with the whole package of special effects it contains. Staying outside under these unpredictable conditions, even without two killers on your trail, would be extremely dangerous and life-threatening for anyone. For Jace/Connor, it might just be the safest place on Earth.

Michael Koryta’s writing blazes on the page and seers through your mind and bloodstream until your heart-rate starts climbing to dangerous levels. You’ll rush through the book as if running from a wildfire. Almost every single character in Those Who Wish Me Dead are directly involved in Jace’s fate: Ethan and Alison Serbin will need to dig far deeper into their knowledge of the wilderness in order to protect Jace, while giving themselves a chance to survive; Hannah Faber, posted in a fire lookout tower in the forest, will have to deal with events that she can affect rather than dwelling on her recent, traumatizing past; others will influence in varying degrees by helping or not, willingly or not; but the Blackwell Brothers –two of the most dangerous and brilliantly insane characters I’ve come across in recent years—will learn to stretch the limits of their destructive ways while realising that their mission in the wilderness is not the walk in the park they thought it would be.

Every character and natural element can influence the unfolding events one way or the other, but whatever their intent, they can also destroy everything at a moment’s notice. That unpredictability throughout the story is one of the main hooks keeping the reader involved; it holds the intensity very high at all times, from the very beginning until the last pages. Even during the quieter moments, it is always felt in the background. Michael Koryta is a specialist of pacing; every scene is at the right place in the build-up of the suspense, like dry wood before the approaching flames. Just don’t expect too many of these quiet moments.

Koryta never overwhelms you with unnecessary details either, preferring sharp descriptions like this one “Up above them, lightning was working on the mountaintops. Below, to their right, the forest fire glowed in the woods just south of Silver Gate. The wind fed it and drove acrid smoke toward them.” From there, in bits and pieces scattered through the pages, Koryta slowly brings the elements of nature into play, closer to the characters; where at first thunder could be heard from a distance and the forest fire could only be detected by the smoke over the trees, now lightning is hitting closer, and fire is seen and felt. Koryta continues until the blaze and the storm rage all around, and nature becomes fully involved.

Look out, your summer is about to get insanely hot.

Rating: 4 thumbprints  (see Review Room for rating system)
 

And now, here’s a short Q & A I did with Michael Koryta.

HoCaMThose Who Wish Me Dead is not only about survival but also, I think, about self-discovery, introspection, and the possibility of changes for most of the characters; Jace Wilson learns more about himself than any teenagers ever will about themselves; Ethan and Alison Serbin, each on their own, reassess deep-rooted values and face life-altering choices –for them and for others; Hannah Faber, still carrying the heavy baggage of a painful past, is now forced to relive it; even the Blackwell Brothers, these two dangerous sociopaths, are not entirely prepared for what lurks in the wilderness.

So my question is: when you work on character development, what do you aim for and how much of it reveals itself while writing the story?

M.K.—Wow, that’s a tricky one. Let’s start with the surface layer: I know that I need character development or the story is dead. If the events of the story do not change the characters in some fashion, then what was the point of the journey? Now we get into the second layer, which is how those changes reveal themselves. Sometimes I’ve been fortunate to have a good sense at the start. In The Prophet, I understood where Adam and Kent were going from almost the first page. At times I wanted to stop them. With Those Who Wish Me Dead, I didn’t have as good of a sense of the characters early, which led to many, many drafts of the opening 100 pages. I think I attempted seven different entries, and in each case the character relationships were different. In one, Jace was Ethan’s son. In another, Jace was much older and working as a counselor for the program, playing more of Ethan’s role, and another kid was handling the “Jace” role, but I didn’t give him a point of view. That was an epic failure. For the first five attempts, there was only one Blackwell. (What a loss that would have been for my fun! Ha.) All of this is to say that the process is incredibly varied from book to book, and I’m comfortable with the story only when I understand how the events of the book will shape and change the cast.

HoCaM—The mountain, the fire, and other elements of nature (wind, rain, lightning, etc.) are characters on their own, highly unpredictable, but important parts of the unfolding events. They are completely neutral in regards to the objectives of humans. In fact, it’s how the human characters adapt themselves to the forces of nature and to the mountain itself that could have an impact on the final outcome. Both nature and humans are part of the finely tuned crescendo of the story arc, right up until the climax. How did you envision the balance between all the elements in place, and how difficult was it to keep that balance (while making sure not to overdo it)?

M.K.—Trusting the subconscious. You articulated the role of nature in the story perfectly, and I knew it was going to be, on some level, a story about the timeless power of that mountain landscape and about how even the most competent human can be made laughably small and weak in the face of nature. The balance is just something you have to feel. I’m better when I get out of my own way in overthinking things like that. Over the years I think my internal warning system has improved: I can feel the scales tilt a little easier now than I could before. And, of course, I have great editors!

HoCaM—Do you regularly trek in forests and on mountains? Any special experiences you can share that either inspired you to write this book or happened while researching for it?

M.K.—Absolutely. This book was born on backpacking trips in the Beartooth Mountains of Montana and Wyoming. I’ve hiked the same ground of the story, and I’ve felt the incredible beauty and menace of that landscape, which is quite powerful. I’ve never felt as small as I do in those mountains, which is no doubt why I feel the pull to return to them. Talk about a place that provides you with a sense of perspective. It’s a wilderness in the most real sense of the word. This book is a product of the setting, without question.

HoCaM—Which one of your books is closer to a movie adaptation at the moment or has the best chance of becoming one?

M.K.—I’m told they are all close to development, and yet nothing has been made! Each project has wonderful people attached. I’ve stopped trying to guess, honestly, because it can be enormously frustrating. I’m hopeful for each project, but right now I suppose I feel the best about Those Who Wish Me Dead, because it’s fresh! I’m excited to see that script. Chris Columbus wrote a beautiful script for The Cypress House, so I’d love to see that one move forward, too. There’s a chance of a TV series for The Ridge. I live in hope!

HoCaM—TWWMD is your 10th book. I have a vivid memory of reading your first one Tonight I Said Goodbye, back in late September 2004: I had it with me at the very last game the Expos played in Montréal (against the Florida Marlins) and I even caught a foul ball without dropping the book. (Still have both the book and the ball). When you look back at those ten years, how do you assess what you’ve accomplished, how you’ve grown as a writer, and where do you want to go from here?

M.K.—Love that story! Ha. Nice catch, too! I honestly haven’t done too much backward-looking assessment. I don’t see the gain in it. Onward and upward, right? My only real look back has been to flip through some of the early books and realize that I couldn’t tell you all the character names if you had a gun to my head. I’ve published about a million words now, which means I’ve surely written about five million in the last decade, because about 20% makes the final draft, and I’ve also started four books that I never finished. That is sort of staggering for me to consider, just the sheer volume. It’s been fun, though. It has been a constant joy. I believe that I’m a better writer now, and I believe that I need to improve enormously going forward. So you take it one day at a time and remind yourself how fortunate you are to have the chance. My only clear goal for I want to do from here is to continue to let the story pick me, and not the other way around. Challenging as it might be for the marketing folks and even some readers, I firmly believe that the only way to go about this craft is to write the book that you feel passionate about, and not to worry about finding the book that the mass audience desires. You hope that cream rises, and that if you write well and try to get better every day, the audience will be there. I’ve been very fortunate so far.

HoCaM—Can you share a little about the next book?

M.K.—It’s all of the stops I’ve made on the page in the past 10 years showing their impact, I think. A detective novel à la Lincoln books, an eerie, atmospheric vibe à la the supernatural stories, and it continues to show my fascination with the natural world. We’re dealing with caves instead of mountains in this one, and snow, and a 10-year-old cold case of a murdered girl whose body was discovered in a little tourist trap cave in the rural Midwest. My detective in this one will probably rear his head in books to come, which was a surprise to realize, as I thought I was done with a series approach. But I feel as if he’ll have work to do by the time I put THE END on this one, so I suspect you will see him again. It has been great fun and I’m hoping to have a draft done in early summer, so it should be a 2015 release. The tentative title is LAST WORDS.

HoCaM—Thank you again!

M.K.—Thank you. Truly my pleasure, and I appreciate the great questions and the support.

GIVEAWAY: for a chance to win a copy of the book, send me an email to housecrimyst@gmail.com along with your name and address. You need to be 18 years or older, and a resident of the US or Canada. You have until Wednesday, June 11th, at noon, Montréal Time. Bonne chance!
UPDATE: I've just realised that I have an extra copy of Michael's THE PROPHET. I'm including it as a bonus prize; winner will get, not one, but two books!

To read a longer interview with Michael Koryta, from March 2011, and a review of The Cypress House just go to my Interrogation Room page.

To know more about Michael Koryta and his books, visit his website and blog, his Facebook page, and Twitter account. If you’ve never read his books and still need convincing, read these amazing comments by some of the more successful writers out there:

“Oustanding in every way, and a guaranteed thriller-of-the-year…Stephen King would be proud of the set up, Cormac McCarthy would be proud of the writing, and I would proud of the action. Don’t you dare miss it.” –Lee Child about Those Who Wish Me Dead

“…a relentless, heart-in-your-throat thriller about ordinary people caught in the middle of an extraordinary nightmare.” –Dennis Lehane about The Prophet

“A man in love with the woman who shot him. Who could possibly resist that story? Not me. Read on, and discover one of the scariest and most touching horror tales in years.” –James Patterson about The Ridge

“He uses the psychology of place to penetrate the human heart and delivers his tale of hurricanes and love and hauntings with great narrative force. Koryta’s becoming a wonder we’ll appreciate for a long time.” –Daniel Woodrell about The Cypress House

Thanks for visiting and for reading,

JF
June 8th, 2014
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THE GUILLOTINE CHOICE by Michael J. MALONE & Bashir SAOUDI (a review)

 
Maybe you’ve seen the movie Papillon (1973), starring Steve McQueen and Dustin Hoffman, or maybe you’ve read the 1968 book by Henri Charrière. You did both? Great, stay around.
 
For the others, maybe you have no clue what I’m talking about. Maybe you’re on the wrong blog. That’s ok, you can stay too. Everyone is very nice around here. Unless you’re in one of the books I’m reviewing. Especially in this one, The Guillotine Choice by Michael J. Malone & Bashir Saoudi, a better written, more enthralling book than Papillon.
 
Henri Charrière (portrayed by McQueen in the film) is condemned to hard labour for life, and is sent to the infamous penitentiary (le bagne de Cayenne) on Devil’s Island, off the coast of French Guiana, from which he claimed to have escaped before being caught again and sent to another bagne, in El Dorado.
 
Although his story was later dismissed as being mostly fiction (official records show he escaped from a smaller, inland prison and was never imprisoned on Devil’s Island) he nonetheless shed light on the atrocious brutality and inhumane conditions under which prisoners were kept in the penal colony. They were barely fed, regularly beaten, and housed in unhealthy quarters. Many inmates were broken as much mentally as physically by the guards, and they surely would have preferred a death sentence to life imprisonment. On Devil’s Island, it is said that the death-rate was very high –over 80% of prisoners died during their first year there; in part due to the extreme conditions, and also due to suicides (although no statistics are available for the latter, one can easily imagine how it would have been a better solution than torture and hunger and all sorts of diseases like yellow fever, leprosy, etc.)
 
It can be worse
I don’t know if Bashir Saoudi has ever read or watched Papillon but if he did, it probably hit a little too close to home, knowing that his father, Kaci, had gone through an experience even worse. Bashir had often tried to get his father to tell him about that period of his life. All he knew was that Kaci had spent time on Devil’s Island. But Kaci didn’t want to talk about it. Bashir persisted, maybe because he yearned to know his father better, and one day Kaci changed his mind and let the story out.
Bashir asked questions and listened for a few hours. He kept it all on tape. Then, after his father’s death, Bashir decided that he needed to tell the story to the world. After many years of research, trying to fill in the gaps where his father didn’t remember, Bashir asked novelist and poet, Michael J. Malone, to write the book. They spent a good 10 years working on Kaci’s story. In a recent interview, Bashir mentioned that about 90% of it is true facts, and the rest is fiction.
Kaci’s story (or part of it)

In the early 1920s, when Algeria was still a French colony (and would be for another 30 years or so), Kaci was 17 years old and working for a French company. A born and raised Berber, he had become, against all odds, good friends with his French employer who had even welcomed him into his family. But one morning, while Kaci and his boss were walking to work with the company’s weekly payroll, in gold coins, they were robbed and the employer, his good friend, was killed. Two of Kaci’s cousins, who knew the day and time when Kaci and his boss paid the employees, had waited on the road and attacked them. One of the cousins had then decided on the spot to kill the Frenchman.
Because Kaci was with his employer when it happened, he was arrested along with his cousins; the employer’s last words before dying were to the police. He said that Kaci was innocent but that he knew the killer. Kaci was then given a choice: reveal which one of your cousins is the killer and you’ll go free, or spend the rest of your life in prison with both of them. Kaci knew that a death sentence meant that his guilty cousin would die under the guillotine, in a public execution. Kaci refused to let that happen.
All three were sentenced to 25 years on Devil’s Island, plus ‘doublage’, which meant that they’d be prisoners for 50 years (if they survived). It was similar as being condemned to a life sentence. They’d never see their loved ones again, nor would they ever come back to Algeria.
At this point in the book, you already feel as if you’ve read an entire novel; you’ve been through so many emotions that you wonder if you have what it takes to go through what surely awaits Kaci and his cousins (remember that one of them is also innocent of murder, even though he played his part in the robbery). And you remember that they went through hell for real and they deserve to have their stories read, even if it is 90 years later.
While a prisoner, Kaci discovered the real meaning of pain, of hunger, of fear, of fighting for your life and facing death. But he also learned about true friendship, about compassion and redemption. He met love and jealousy, both never too far from the other. Through all of that, so far away from his native land, among thousands of others but a stranger in a very strange land, Kaci discovered everything about himself.
The intensity of the story will pull you into it as gradually as clouds announcing a storm over the sea, and it will hold you tighter before suddenly taking you away from your safe world as fast as raging waves. Michael J. Malone (Blood Tears and A Taste for Malice) wrote this novel with just the right balance of détails and restraint, perfectly pacing the narration with descriptions and dialogues, never going over the top when describing scenes of violence while neither shying away from necessary details about the horrors of living, of suffering and dying, sometimes quietly, but at times painfully.
Bashir Saoudi did a remarkable job of research and his choice of Michael J. Malone to write the book couldn’t have been better. This is a story that is often difficult to read because you keep thinking that it happened for real, not only for Kaci but for many other prisoners on Devil’s Island and elsewhere (still does today, in fact). On the other hand, The Guillotine Choice is also a beautiful homage to courage, resilience, and compassion; it is a vibrant proof that human nature can remain good, even in the heart of the darkest, most evil of places. Kaci Saoudi has had plenty of time to gaze long into the abyss, but he has never let the abyss gaze back into himself.
Rating: 4 thumbprints (see here for rating system)
Visit Michael J. Malone’s blog, say hello on Facebook or tweet on Twitter. And don’t miss his other books Blood Tears and A Taste for Malice, two excellent crime novels that I highly recommend.
JF
May 26th    
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A REVIEW PER DAY KEEPS THE DOCTOR AWAY


I’m way behind in my list of scheduled reviews, so I’m writing six shorter ones this week, one per day --what about a week having seven days, you ask? I’ll tell you in the next paragraph. (At least I'll aim for one per day, if I skip one day I'll make it up with two on another day). Don’t go thinking these books are not worth longer reviews though; they are definitely worth it and the money you’ll spend buying them will be an investment towards many great hours of reading.
 
On Sunday, I have rookie Eva Dolan’s Long Way Home (Harvill Secker/Random House UK), on Monday, Michael J. Malone’s The Guillotine Choice (Contraband), on Tuesday, Eliot Pattison’s Original Death (Counterpoint Press), on Wednesday, John McFetridge’s Black Rock (ECW Press), and on the following days, it will be reviews of recently published French translations: on Thursday, Michael Robotham’s Déroute (JC Lattès) and finally, on Friday, Michael Connelly’s Le cinquième témoin (Calmann-Lévy). These two were originally published as The Wreckage (Mulholland) and The Fifth Witness (Little, Brown). 
 
In total, we have one Brit, one Scot, two Yanks, an Aussie, and a Canuck. Sounds like the beginning of a joke, right? Well, if you don’t read them, the joke’s on you.
 
As for day seven of the week, next Saturday, I’ll be posting my review of Michael Koryta’s Those Who Wish Me Dead (Little, Brown), along with a short Q&A. I wanted to post it last week but decided to wait until May 31st, which is closer to the book’s publication date of June 3rd. Also, at some point during the week, I’ll review I Am Pilgrim by Terry Hayes (Atria), a book that is getting a lot of buzz. I’m only at page 100 at the moment, but so far it is holding up to its high expectations.
********************************
 
 
OK, ladies first. Eva Dolan’s Long Way Home reads like a story written by a seasoned author. It is everything that many debut novels are not: the writing is tight, well-paced, and intelligent; the plot is original and the characters behave like real human beings. The duo of investigators, DI Zigic and DI Ferreira, work for the Hate Crimes Unit, something we haven’t seen much in crime fiction.
The first victim is a migrant worker who seems to have been beaten unconscious before being burned alive in a small shed. For Zigic, Ferreira and their entire team, gaining the trust of the community is the first obstacle to overcome if they want to obtain information and thus work the case effectively. We’ll follow them through every step of the investigation, their tasks at work, and also into their personal lives.
Dolan’s narration expertly tracks the characters’s perspectives to help us understand them, their frustrations and motivations, their fears and dilemmas; she also gives them distinct voices and great dialogue while creating interactions that move the plot forward. Their inner-thoughts are also often rendered with a great visual touch, as in this excerpt: There were many boxes in her head, all tightly locked and shoved away in the dark. Over time some of them fused and she was spared the memories she didn’t want to face, but others corroded and leaked, snatches of conversations and strange faces swimming up unexpectedly, provoked by the smell of a certain tobacco or a snatch of music on the radio. Others snapped open without warning and slapped her between the eyes.
The plot, which can at first seem a little light, becomes gradually more complex as other events complicate the investigation. The reader quickly finds himself hooked into it all until the very end. Great for fans of Mark Billingham. I want more stories with Zigic and Ferreira. But more specifically, I want more books by Eva Dolan.

Rating: 3 1/2 thumbprints
Eva Dolan has a blog here, and you can find her sometimes on Facebook or Twitter at @eva_dolan. 
JF
May 25th
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