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stranglevine "scafire"

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A Dark Redemption (Carrigan & Miller)
A Dark Redemption (Carrigan & Miller)
by Stav Sherez
Edition: Paperback

59 of 59 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Don't miss your redemption, 26 Feb. 2012
This is a classy, stylish and troubling thriller from a writer who has over the course of his two previous novels proven he knows how to balance page-turning appeal, great writing and thought-provoking ideas. Before it was Amsterdam, then Greece; now Sherez turns his attention to his home town of London and comes up trumps again - for residents there are the familiar little places and moments that don't make it often enough into novels, and our daily paths are recast with those things from the dark end of the street that we might more happily turn away from. It's a tale, amongst other things, about the experience in the capital of African immigrants, refugees of small wars most of us hardly know about, young men trained to kill in places of heat and light and then set adrift, futureless, in an alien culture: "an unseen army living their lives under the radar, a shadow London of hospital cleaners, dishwashers and street sweepers. A city he passed every day yet never noticed. Invisible because they wanted to be, invisible because we preferred them to be so."

Detectives Carrigan and Miller hunt the murderer of a young Ugandan student through this squalid and sodden city (it's mostly raining, the best its inhabitants can hope for a break enough in the downpour to light another cigarette) while coming to terms with the low-key chaos of their own lives. The first in a series, we learn that Geneva Miller is the daughter of an émigré mother and going through a bitter divorce; Jack Carrigan is rather mysteriously widowed and haunted by decisions made on a post-Uni trip to Africa that left one of his best friends dead. Cautious at first, cast against each other by their commanding officer, slowly they begin to understand each other's silences and wounds in a way that bodes well for the novels to follow. Both their careers are heading in the wrong direction, and as much as anything the book is about reaching a certain point in life - a certain fatal distance from the halcyon days as an undergraduate - and realising that finally your options are much fewer, that some choices you've made really do count forever. There's a sadness to the core of the book, a loneliness, that gives this story a real charge: behind the twists and turns and surprising revelations, there is a sense that something really is at stake here, beyond the desire of the detectives just to solve the case.

With just the right balance between the classic and the modern - the currents of London's lost rivers and the data streams of Facebook and Twitter flow together perfectly here - the author has set a high benchmark for the next book in the series. I'm looking forward to it already.


Voodoo Eyes
Voodoo Eyes
by Nick Stone
Edition: Hardcover

1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Viva la Voodoo, 28 May 2011
This review is from: Voodoo Eyes (Hardcover)
"People didn't change; they just got better or worse at being who they were." If this is true of Max Mingus, Nick Stone's weary, likeable PI protagonist, as he makes the long and painful journey towards self awareness through the hot and glittering landscapes of Miami and Cuba, then it could also apply to the author, who at the end of this fantastically engrossing trilogy seems to have found another level himself. As the novel moves from the neon-tinted pornographic hedonism of South Beach to an evocatively painted, multi-dimensional portrait of the last days of Castro's Cuba, a complex web of conflicting loyalties, regrets and betrayals closes in on Mingus: the past isn't what he thought it was, and his future extends no further than the quest for answers about the deaths of those closest to him. Tough, sometimes surreal, often moving: Voodoo Eyes casts a spell that will keep you enthralled until the end.


The Black Monastery
The Black Monastery
by Stav Sherez
Edition: Hardcover

12 of 17 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars dark sharp literary thriller, recommended, 31 Mar. 2009
This review is from: The Black Monastery (Hardcover)
Black Monastery finds Stav Sherez in fine form, returning from the baroque complexities of his debut, Devil's Playground, with this sharp, dark literary thriller.
The plot is pacy, the mood reflective, the characters coming to terms with secrets buried deep in the past - both theirs and those of their country; Greece comes alive under Sherez's pen - the stultifying heat, the threatening and mysterious interior, and particularly an ancient culture coming to terms with the hedonism of its visitors. With a story of ritual murder over thirty years in the ruins of an old monastery, the characters pulled together when the blood begins to flow are beautifully drawn: the Detective, Nikos, in particular, shows once more how well Sherez understands the mind of lonely troubled men with a job to do, the tenderness and grace he achieves in the denouement a thing to behold.

In all, a smoky, noirish thriller, as wise and it is bloody, well deserving of being a summer smash.


The Devil's Playground
The Devil's Playground
by Stav Sherez
Edition: Hardcover

11 of 13 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Compelling, thought-provoking thriller, 21 Jun. 2004
This review is from: The Devil's Playground (Hardcover)
I found Devil's Playground to be an engrossing, compelling read from the first page to the last. It's the story of a city (Amsterdam) under the spell of a sadistic serial killer, of the legacy of the Holocaust, of careless words, of the histories we are born into and the violence that surrounds us every day.
The characters are deeply flawed in the best possible way, brimming with humanity and deflected dreams.
Detective Van Hijn is a man apparently caught in a terminal decline, left licking his wounds after gunning down a suspect in the slayings who turned out to be innocent (at least of being the serial killer, but not of being a particularly vicious rapist - such moral ambiguity litters this book); he struggles not to have the case taken from him and being left behind a desk with an ignominious retirement beckoning.
Londoner Jon Reed has fallen to pieces after a stinging record review he wrote caused the artist to kill himself. After years in freefall, a turning point in his life comes when he decides to take in a homeless man from the street, the mysterious Jake, who appears to be harbouring a few secrets of his own with his strange, grotesquely scarred body and his terse manner.
When Jake disappears only to turn up dead a few weeks later in Amsterdam, apparently the latest victim of the serial killer, a path is set that will lead Jon across the channel, to the seemingly limitless hedonism of Amsterdam's red light district, to snuff movies and footage purportedly of the camp at Auschwitz, and to most of all, the truth - not only of what happened to Jake, but also within the shadows of Jon's own past.
So, yeah, there are some big ideas explored here - Does exposure to atrocity help us 'understand' it, or does it desensitise us? What is the proper reaction to violence, to turn away and survive, or protest and die? - But these are never considered at the expense of the story or the characters that lead us through it. Like a skilled surgeon, Sherez exposes the lingering tumours of the Twentieth Century, drawing us in with a fantastically plotted story, rich in detail and atmosphere and hands-down brilliant writing ("We cannot erase our history, like snails we only manage to smear it behind us").
Yet despite all this, Devil's Playground is touched with an unmistakable optimism; characters come to find a (limited) sense of peace in the stray shafts of light that pierce the gloom of their world. In a lovely exchange towards the end of the book, Van Hijn tells Jon after listing a number of places where some small happiness might be found (discovering a rare book cheaply, the taste of fresh pastry, a great song you hadn't expected to hear), "You have to say to yourself, 'It doesn't get any better than this', because if you don't say it at those moments, when are you going to say it? Those are the things that count." After all we've been through by that point in the book, any kind of redemptive light is most welcome, and perhaps most realistically, all we ourselves can expect.


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