Blog Tour: The Creak On The Stairs by Eva Bjorg Aegisdottir; Translated by Victoria Cribb #BookReview

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When the body of a woman is discovered at a lighthouse in the Icelandic town of Akranes, it soon becomes clear that she’s no stranger to the area.

Chief Investigating Officer Elma, who has returned to Akranes following a failed relationship, and her colleagues Sævar and Hörður, commence an uneasy investigation, which uncovers a shocking secret in the dead woman’s past that continues to reverberate in the present day…

But as Elma and her team make a series of discoveries, they bring to light a host of long-hidden crimes that shake the entire community. Sifting through the rubble of the townspeople’s shattered memories, they have to dodge increasingly serious threats, and find justice … before it’s too late.

I am delighted to be taking part today in the blog tour for the paperback release of The Creak on the Stairs by Eva Aegisdottir. My thanks to Anne Cater of Random Things Tours for inviting me to take part and to Orenda Books for my copy of the novel, which I have reviewed honestly and impartially.

This book is just fantastic. Full of tension, mystery and suspense and asking uncomfortable questions about what makes a person the way they are, who is to blame and whether punishment really falls on the shoulders of the correct person, it was a masterclass in intelligent crime-writing from start to finish.

You can’t have failed to notice the rising popularity in Nordic noir over the past few years. Such exciting work is coming out of this genre and if, like me, you have become pretty well addicted to the gritty, bleak worlds that populate these novels and the intriguing protagonists that the authors are creating, you will definitely want to check out The Creak on the Stairs. Elma is a complex character with a shadowy backstory that is slowly revealed over the course of the novel, whilst leaving some level of mystery to what the reader’s appetite for another instalment. At the same time, she is an intelligent, determined and resourceful police officer with a high level of intuition, intent on leaving no stone unturned in her quest to solve the murder of a lonely, young woman.

The author peels back the layers of the story slowly, oh so slowly, allowing the reader just a small peek at a time into the nature of the characters and the events that have led to the death being investigated. Hints, small clues, rumours and innuendo all feed into the narrative to confuse and obscure the truth, so we feel like we are truly experiencing the investigation as the police officer would. At the same time, a small voice from the past gives us additional insight into what is really going on behind the scenes, information that no one else has, which gives a sympathy to one of the characters that others do not possess. We are left in a complicated position of needing justice to be done, at the same time as realising that it truly never can be. When I was searching for a word to express how this story ultimately made me feel, the one I came up with was: sorrowful.

The author cleverly does not resolve every aspect of the dilemma with which she presents us. We are left still with questions that can never be answered and moral quandaries which will never fully be settled. It is a book that will make you think carefully, and tussle with your conscience. Who is at fault? Do two wrongs ever make a right? What steps could have been taken better to avoid the consequences that played out between the pages. This is more than just a shocking thriller, it is perhaps a cautionary tale about jumping to conclusions, turning a blind eye and accepting outward appearances of respectability and immorality at face value. I absolutely adored it, and cannot wait to read more by this talented author.

A book extremely worthy of your time and money.

Just a word about the translation as well, it was absolutely seamless. I would not have been aware that I was reading a piece of translated fiction if it had not said so on the cover. Flawless from a reader’s perspective.

The Creak on the Stairs is out now as a paperback, ebook and audiobook, and you can buy a copy here.

Please do follow the rest of the tours for more reviews and other great content:

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About the Author

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Born in Akranes in 1988, Eva moved to Trondheim, Norway to study her MSc in Globalisation when she was 25. After moving back home having completed her MSc, she knew it was time to start working on her novel. Eva has wanted to write books since she was 15 years old, having won a short story contest in Iceland.

Eva worked as a stewardess to make ends meet while she wrote her first novel. The book went on to win the Blackbird Award and became an Icelandic bestseller. Eva now lives with her husband and three children in Reykjavík, staying at home with her youngest until she begins Kindergarten.

Connect with Eva:

Facebook: Eva Bjorg Aegisdottir

Twitter: @evaaegisdottir

Instagram: @evabjorg88

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Blog Tour: Sister by Kjell Ola Dahl; Translated by Don Bartlett #BookReview

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Oslo detective Frølich searches for the mysterious sister of a young female asylum seeker, but when people start to die, everything points to an old case and a series of events that someone will do anything to hide…

Suspended from duty, Detective Frølich is working as a private investigator, when his girlfriend’s colleague asks for his help with a female asylum seeker, who the authorities are about to deport. She claims to have a sister in Norway, and fears that returning to her home country will mean instant death.

Frølich quickly discovers the whereabouts of the young woman’s sister, but things become increasingly complex when she denies having a sibling, and Frølich is threatened off the case by the police. As the body count rises, it becomes clear that the answers lie in an old investigation, and the mysterious sister, who is now on the run…

Today I am posting my review for Sister by Kjell Ola Dahl, the latest in the Oslo Detectives series. My huge apologies to the author, publisher and tour organiser for the lateness of this review. I was unable to post on my scheduled date due to an accident, but I hope you enjoy it now. My thanks to Anne Cater at Random Things Tours for inviting me to review the book and to Karen Sullivan at Orenda Books for my digital copy of the book, which I have reviewed honestly and impartially.

This was my first introduction to the world of Detective Frolich, despite being the the fact that it is book eight in the series. However, it works perfectly as a standalone, although I would like to know more about Frolich’s back story, as he is a fascinating character. In this book, we meet Frolich as he is working as a private detective, having been suspended from the police, and is trying to find his footing in this new world and work out how to make a living. Despite this, he gets involved in a case that is set to be hugely unprofitable for him at the behest of his new girlfriend, and a woman who begs him to help a refugee she is working with. The fact he accepts gives us great insight into Frolich’s character and what drives him. It is a sense of justice and wanting to help people that is his biggest motivator, rather than money.

The book takes Frolich across the Norwegian landscape, from Oslo to more remote places, and I found the descriptions of the locations enticing, if a little bleak. It felt like there was a darkness seeping into every corner of this novel, not just the crime but the setting and the characters too. In fact, the word that really encapsulated the feel of the book for me was melancholy. There was a sadness seeping from the pages; from Frolich and his situation; from the plight of the subjects of the investigation; and from the very landscape itself. The references to unfortunate things that have happened in Norway may have contributed to this throughout, the book felt sad and a little hopeless.

This is largely due to the driving narrative behind the story, which is the problem of refugees in Norway and the desperate situations in which they find themselves. Fleeing from places of war and persecution, they risk a lot to reach countries they believe they may be safe, only to find that they may be in as much danger where they have arrived than the place they are left. Subject to prejudice and at risk of exploitation, they find they have not reached the nirvana they were hoping for. The book is a damning indictment of how Western societies are failing these vulnerable people, as well as an illuminating social commentary on the risks that they face at either end of their journey. A very modern and relevant story, as well as being a gripping thriller.

I was hooked o this book from start to finish, although I did find it a heart-rending and thought-provoking read. I just wanted to mention the skill in the translation of this novel from Norwegian. It was seamless and barely noticeable, which is the great skill in translating fiction, I was not distracted by the translation at all. Another great, new writer to me from the astonishing Orenda stable, I can’t wait to catch up on the instalments I have missed and see what is next. Intelligent writing.

Sister is out now and you can buy a copy here.

Please do make sure you check out the rest of the tour, as detailed below:

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About the Author

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One of the fathers of the Nordic Noir genre, Kjell Ola Dahl was born in 1958 in Gjøvik. He made his debut in 1993, and has since published eleven novels, the most prominent of which is a series of police procedurals cum psychological thrillers featuring investigators Gunnarstranda and Frølich. In 2000 he won the Riverton Prize for The Last Fix and he won both the prestigious Brage and Riverton Prizes for The Courier in 2015. His work has been published in 14 countries, and he lives in Oslo.

Connect with Kjell:

Twitter: @ko_dahl

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Blog Tour: The Message by Mai Jia #Extract

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China, 1941.

It is the height of the Second World War, and Japan rules over China. In the famously beautiful city of Hangzhou, a puppet government propped up by the Japanese is waging an underground war against the Communist resistance.

Late one night, under cover of darkness, three men and two women are escorted to an isolated mansion on the shores of West Lake. All five are intelligence officers, employed as codebreakers by the regime. But the secret police are certain that one of them is a communist spy. None of them are leaving until the traitor is unmasked.

It should be a straightforward case of sifting truth from lies. But as each codebreaker spins a story that proves their innocence, events are framed and re-framed, and what really happened is called into question again and again.

I am delighted to be opening the blog tour today for The Message by Mai Jin, with an exciting extract for you. My thanks to Martina Ticic from Midas PR for inviting me to take part in the tour.

Extract

The following day, just as the sun was rising and before the mists that veiled West Lake had dispersed, Commander Zhang’s black car was already bumping its way along the shoreside road.

Commander Zhang Yiting had been born into an ordinary family in Anhui province, but from a very early age it was clear that he was unusually intelligent. At eighteen he took first place in the provincial examinations for the imperial bureaucracy and seemed destined for a prestigious job in the civil service of the Qing dynasty. But, like a bolt from the blue, the Revolution of 1911 destroyed his dreams, and for many years afterwards nothing went right for him. He was ambitious to serve his country but condemned to remain on the sidelines. Too often he was treated with contempt by others; too often he found himself at the mercy of misfortunes he’d done nothing to deserve. This situation lasted until the Japanese installed their treasured collaborator Wang Jingwei in Nanjing. Only then, when Zhang Yiting was in his fifties, the hair at his temples already turning white, did his future began to look bright. He became Qian Huyi’s deputy: Vice-Commander of the ECCC.

But what kind of future lay in store for him? A year earlier, when he’d returned home to attend his mother’s funeral, one of the villagers had poured a bucket of shit over him. He was so furious that he grabbed a gun off a subordinate and fired at the villager. He didn’t kill him – the man just lost a bit of skin off his leg – but for Zhang Yiting this marked the end of an era. He understood that he would never be able to go home again, and he decided to carry on down the path he’d chosen with redoubled determination. So when his boss Qian Huyi was murdered and the rumours flying around were such that none of his colleagues dared step into the role, he accepted the promotion, exhibiting surprising courage and boldness.

That was almost a year ago now, and he’d never regretted his decision, not least because he had no other choice. Now, as he thought about all that had happened the previous night, and all that was about to happen at the Tan Estate, he had exactly the same feeling: he had no other choice.

The black car skirted the lake, followed the road up to the Tan Estate and after a few blasts on the horn came to a halt at a high wall. Sentries shouldering guns stood to attention outside the main gate and the guards ushered the Commander through. It was 7.30 a.m. – he had indeed come at the earliest possible opportunity.

Before him was a T-shaped grey-brick building with a black-tiled roof, very much in the traditional style, and a pretty but not at all practical grille door that was nowhere near high enough to stop a determined person from climbing over. It was here that the Tan family had quite brazenly installed a brothel. The sign that now hung over the door said it was an officers’ club, which was pretty much the same thing.

The car traced a circle round the large open space in front of the officers’ club and then turned right, in the direction of the rear courtyard. It drove through an area densely planted with phoenix-tail bamboo and on down a narrow road between stands of imperial zhennan trees. Commander Zhang caught a glimpse of the two buildings to the east and west, and then, as the car passed an ornate rockery overgrown with weeds and a wisteria-covered pergola, he saw that Secret-Police Chief Wang Tianxiang was waiting respectfully on the terrace of the western building.

Standing to attention behind the Police Chief was a sentry with a Mauser pistol at his hip, and behind the sentry was a wooden signboard, newly erected, which read: ‘Military Area. No Admittance for Unauthorized Personnel.’ There was also a freshly painted white line demarcating the area. This had all been put in place by Police Chief Wang during the night.

Since everyone had gone to bed very late the night before and hadn’t expected Commander Zhang to arrive so early, the five ECCC officers had all got up late. Indeed, Gu Xiaomeng was still in bed when he turned up. To have the Commander arrive at such an early hour was kind of flattering, but it brought home the seriousness of their mission. Even more so when they came out of the house to go to breakfast and saw the sentries standing to attention and the white line encircling the building.

If this has whetted your appetite and you would like to read the rest of the book, it is out now in hardback, ebook and audio formats and you can buy a copy here.

Please do make sure you check out the rest of the tour for reviews and more:

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About the Author

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Mai Jia’s first novel in English, Decoded, was published by Penguin Classics in 2002, and has been translated into over twenty languages. His novels have sold over 10 million copies and Mai Jia has won the Mao Dun Literature Prize, the highest literary honour in China. The Message was first published in 2007 and has sold over a million copies in China. Mai Jia was born in 1964 and spent many years in the Chinese intelligence services.

 

Blog Tour: Second Sister by Chan Ho-Kei; Translated by Jeremy Tiang #BookReview

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I’m delighted to be taking part in the blog tour today for Second Sister by Chan Ho-Kei. My thanks to Bei Guo at Midas PR for inviting me, on behalf of Head of Zeus, to take part and to the publisher for my copy of the book, which I have reviewed honestly and impartially.

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Upon discovering her fifteen-year-old sister’s body sprawled in a pool of blood at the bottom of their apartment block, Nga-Yee vows to serve justice to the internet troll she blames for her sister’s suicide.

Hiring an anti-establishment, maverick tech-savvy detective, Nga-Yee discovers the dark side of social media, the smokescreen of online privacy and the inner workings of the hacker’s mind.

Determined to find out the truth about why her sister Siu-Man killed herself, Nga-Yee cannot rest until she finds out whose inflammatory social media post went viral and pushed her sister to her death. Along the way, Nga-Yee makes unsavoury discoveries about her sister’s life and the dark underbelly of the digital world.

Perfect for fans of hacker thrillers such as Stieg Larsson’s The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo series, Second Sister is part detective novel, part revenge thriller. It explores timely themes of sexual harassment, online trolling, victim blaming, fake news and data privacy scandals, vividly capturing the zeitgeist of Hong Kong and the world today.

I seem to be reading more translated fiction just recently, and I am really enjoying it, but I think this is my first piece of fiction translated from Chinese. It took me about two chapters to get in to the rhythm of the text but, after that, the book just flew by and flowed very easily. I have to say the translation was excellent and easy to read whilst still maintaining the tone and pace and feel of the original text.

As for the story itself, this book is quite a ride I have to say. It starts very dramatically with the suicide of a young school girl in Hong Kong, and the fallout from this act sets in motion a complex chain reaction of events when her bereft sister hires a secretive hacker to help her find who was responsible for, she believes, goading her sister to kill herself. But is the equation of cause and effect ever that straight forward?

There were lots of things I really enjoyed about this book. Firstly, it was a step into a slightly different genre than my usual tastes. I don’t read a lot of tech crime novels, but I was fascinated by the processes described in the book and the labyrinthine investigations that are needed to uncover the tangled world that lays behind the face of the internet we see day to day. Online trolling and bullying is becoming more prevalent, and the impact it has on the victims’ mental health is something that has sadly been in the news far too much recently. In this sense, the book is relevant and quite terrifyingly eye-opening, especially to the parents of teenagers who are far more tech-savvy than us and with tendencies to be secretive.

I loved the character of N, the enigmatic and shady hacker who is brought in to investigate the ‘crime’. He is quirky and out of step and a lot of what he does is shocking. His view of life gives an interesting twist on morality and the way the way people can delude themselves that they have justice on their side and are doing the ‘right’ thing, when actually they are doing the selfish thing or the cowardly thing. It might make the reader take another, more honest, look about what actually drives our behaviour from time to time. I think current events are showing us what people are really made of when faced with a crisis and this book shines a light on a small aspect of that.

Exploring the world of modern Hong Kong through the eyes of different sectors of its residents was also interesting. Since the UK handed control of Hong Kong back to China in the nineties, we hear less and less about it, unless there is turbulence which hits the news. It is such a different and distant place from what I have experienced, I love being given a little window into another world, even if it is a bit of a dingy corner of it!

The book wasn’t perfect. It’s quite a chunky read, and you do have to concentrate quite hard to follow the twisty plot at times. It moves very quickly so, if you skim, it is easy to miss some of the important clues as to what it coming. There was a chunk at the end which felt a little bit like a spewing of conclusions, rather than a reveal. However, none of that detracted greatly from my pleasure in the book. There was exploration of a lot of important issues currently in the news, sexual exploitation and victim-blaming, along with cyber crime and the social media bullying previously described. There were enough WTF moments to pay off the time invested in reading, and I did feel like it was intelligent and questioning to a degree that really made me engage my brain in following the plot, the reasoning and the moral questions raised. It’s a book that pays off in a myriad of ways.

All in all, a rewarding and complex novel that challenged and entertained me, gave me a glimpse of a different world and took me some steps out of my comfort zone. I highly recommend it.

Second Sight is out now in hardback and ebook and you can buy a copy here.

Please make sure you check out the rest of the blogs on the tour as detailed below:

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About the Author

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Chan was born and raised in Hong Kong. He has worked as a software engineer, game designer, manga editor, and lecturer. Chan wrote made his debut as a writer in 2008 at the age of thirty-three, with the short story The Case of Jack and the Beanstalk which was shortlisted for the Mystery Writers of Taiwan Award. Chan re-entered the following year and won the award for his short story The Locked Room of Bluebeard.

Chan reached the first milestone of his writing career in 2011 with his novel, The Man who Sold the World which won the biggest mystery award in the Chinese speaking world, the Soji Shimada Award. The book has been published in Taiwan, Japan, Italy, Thailand and Korea.

In 2014, Chan’s crime thriller The Borrowed was published in Taiwan. It has sold rights in thirteen countries, and the book will be adapted into a film by acclaimed Chinese art film director Wong Kar-Wai.

Second Sister has acquired a six-figure film deal with Linmon Pictures in China. The book will be published in the US in 2020 and rights have been sold to China, Korea and Japan.

About the Translator

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Jeremy Tiang’s writing has appeared in The Guardian, Esquire and Quarterly Literary Review Singapore. He has written four plays and translated more than ten books from the Chinese. Tiang lives in New York.