BLOG TOUR REVIEW: Kilo – by Toby Muse #damppebblesblogtours @tobymuse @EburyPublishing @EmmaFinnigan @damppebbles

Hello and welcome to my stop of the Kilo damppebbles blog tour! A huge thanks to Emma Welton for inviting me to be part of this blog tour. I’ve always had a strange interest in anything related to drugs crime and the war on drugs, so there was just no way I could resist this non fiction account on the drugs world in Colombia. It turned out to be an absolutely fascinating read! Want to know why? Please join me while I share my thoughts.

Title: Kilo
Author: Toby Muse
Genre: Non Fiction, True Crime
First published: March 24th 2020
Publisher: Ebury Publishing
Finished reading: March 27th 2020
Pages: 320

“The drug war doesn’t move backward or forward; it simply turns in circles.”

*** A copy of this book was kindly provided to me by the publisher in exchange for an honest review. Thank you! ***

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Some of you might already know about my strange interest in anything related to the drugs world and the war on drugs. I was actually already about to read a different drugs-related non fiction book when Emma’s email arrived with the question if I could join the blog tour for Kilo on a really short notice… I normally wouldn’t have been able to, but I decided to make an effort for Kilo as the blurb sounded right up my alley. A non fiction account focusing on different areas in the Colombian drugs world? Bring it on! I knew from the start I was going to be in for a treat and put my other reads on hold to be able to dive straight in.

And guess what? I definitely made the right decision! Anyone who is interested in the Colombian drugs world should add this newly published non fiction account to their wishlist, as it turned out to be an absolutely fascinating read. Definitely one of the best drugs-related non fiction reads I’ve had the pleasure to read so far! So, why did this book work so well for me? There are many aspects that contributed, but one of the main reasons is probably the format. Instead of a dry and maybe dull account of only part of the drugs world, Kilo offers you a diverse and complete picture of the different stages as well as areas in play in this world. This might seem a bit chaotic, but the different parts are cleverly combined by following the ‘journey’ of a one kilo brick of cocaine; from the beginning when the coca plants are harvested to its transport to the final destination, Kilo will show you each step along the way and gives abundant information about each ‘sub-world’.

Kilo travels all over Colombia as it shows us both sides of the cocaine business, giving this non fiction account a multidimentional feel. From the coca leave harvesters to the rebels, the combo leaders, sicarios, drugs smugglers and anti-drugs units, Kilo will help giving you insight in every single cog in the big cocaine business wheel… As a result, you will find a colorful and complete picture of how the cocaine production and distribution affects many lives both inside Colombia and in the rest of the world. Toby Muse uses a wide cast of different characters to introduce us to the various stages of the cocaine business, some characters returning later on while others only have a temporary spotlight on them. Each character serves its purpose, and shows us how brutal, dire and sometimes hopeless the whole situation is… There is no escaping the violence associated with cocaine, and the consequences for most are life-threatening to say the least.

The writing style is simply spot on, feels fluid and really made both the characters and different settings come alive for me. There is nothing dull and dry about this non fiction account! Instead, Kilo gives us a colorful and abundant image of the Colombian drugs world as a whole, showing us both sides instead of just focusing on either the cocaine business or the war on drugs. This fact alone already took this book to the next level for me, as it felt like as a reader you were getting two for the price of one! A real bargain for anyone who is interested in or wants to learn more about the Colombian drugs world. Highly recommended!

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Toby Muse is a British-American writer, television reporter, documentary filmmaker and foreign correspondent. He has reported from the front lines of the conflicts in Colombia, Iraq and Syria. He has embedded with soldiers, rebels and drug cartels, producing exclusive reports from cocaine laboratories and guerrilla jungle camps. He lived in Bogota, Colombia for more than fifteen years, reporting across South America and the endless drug war.

SOCIAL MEDIA

Twitter // Facebook // Website

PURCHASE LINKS

Amazon UK // Waterstones // Foyles // Book Depository // Hive.co.uk


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YVO’S SHORTIES #153 – I’ll Be Gone In The Dark & If I Stay

Time for another round of Yvo’s Shorties! This time around two backlist titles with a completely different target group and genre, but both I’ve been meaning to read for a while and both were stories I ended up enjoying. The true crime title I’ll Be Gone In The Dark by Michelle McNamara and If I Stay by Gayle Forman.


Title: I’ll Be Gone In The Dark
Author: Michelle McNamara

Genre: Non Fiction, True Crime
First published: February 27th 2018
Publisher: Harper
Finished reading: February 25th 2020
Pages: 340

“If you commit murder and then vanish, what you leave behind isn’t just pain but absence, a supreme blankness that triumphs over everything else.”


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True crime has always intrigued me, so I’m not sure why I don’t pick it up more often… I’ve been meaning to read I’ll Be Gone In The Dark by Michelle McNamara ever since it was first published two years ago, but somehow I just never got to it. I’m happy I finally did pick it up though. I confess I hadn’t heard of the Golden State Killer before, so this book was a true goldmine filled to the brim with information about his crimes and the investigation as it evolved both back in the 1970s and 1980s when they were first investigated as well as the cold case investigation in the 21st century with the help of DNA tests. True crime journalist Michelle McNamara played a big role in the investigation around the identity behind the Golden State Killer and it is sad that her untimely death ment she wasn’t able to see the guy finally get caught in 2018… Still, I’ll Be Gone In The Dark shows just how talented and determined the author was in her investigation and I can imagine just how big of a help she was in uncovering the truth after all that time. The details of the Golden State Killer crimes, both the rapes, home invasions and the murders, are pretty brutal and it’s hard to believe that with so many victims and attacks he was still able to escape justice for this long… I’ll Be Gone In The Dark doesn’t sugarcoat the graphic and gruesome facts, and definitely makes you glad you weren’t living in the areas mentioned back then… Or at least rethink about how terrifying the knowledge that someone dangerous is prowling close to where you live is, and how difficult it would be to defend yourself if he suddenly shows up in your bedroom that way. Definitely not a read for those with a weak stomach, but more than recommended if you are a true crime fan!


Title: If I Stay
(If I Stay #1)
Author: Gayle Forman

Genre: YA, Contemporary, Romance
First published: April 2nd 2009
Publisher: Speak
Finished reading: March 3rd 2020
Pages: 196

“He got it before I did. If I stay. If I live. It’s up to me.”


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I’m probably the last person on the planet to read this one! I’ve been meaning to try If I Stay for years now, but to be honest I wasn’t so sure if this story would be for me… I was afraid it was going to be too sappy and cliche for me, and that the hype around it simply wasn’t worth it. I confess I kept my expectations low, and the unexpected happened: I ended up being so much more invested in this story about Mia and Adam than I thought I would be! While I do feel part of the plot is a bit cliche, and especially the flashbacks can be a bit slow, there were also other elements I really loved. The most important of them being just how important music is throughout the story. Both the classical cello and the rock guitar come together beautifully and also represent the different characters in play in If I Stay… Somehow I ended up rooting for Mia and Adam despite the cliches, and I loved the fact that we saw the present story progress from the point of view of Mia’s unconscious self. Definitely an unique angle! The story introduces questions about life and death and it was intriguing to see Mia struggle to decide whether to stay or let go after this tragedy… Cliches and sometimes slow pace aside, I had a great time reading If I Stay and I might even have almost shed a tear or two at some point.


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ARC REVIEW: The Sun Does Shine – by Anthony Ray Hinton @StMartinsPress

Title: The Sun Does Shine
Author: Anthony Ray Hinton
Genre: Non Fiction, Memoir, True Crime
First published: March 27th 2018
Publisher: St. Martin’s Press
Finished reading: March 11th 2018
Pages: 272

“And with that laughter, I realized that the State of Alabama could steal my future and my freedom, but they couldn’t steal my soul or my humanity.”

*** A copy of this book was kindly provided to me by Netgalley and St. Martin’s Press in exchange for an honest review. Thank you! ***

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I was intrigued by the premise of The Sun Does Shine as soon as I first read the blurb. I have a weak spot for memoirs, and Anthony Ray Hinton‘s story is without doubt one that will be able to catch your attention straight away. I knew right from the start this wasn’t going to be an easy read, but it is almost impossible to wrap your head around all that the author has had to go through during all that time. Powerful, infuriating, heartbreaking and with a dose of hope and forgiveness… The Sun Does Shine is one of the best true crime memoirs I have read to this date, and his story will stay with me for a long time. Why did this memoir have such an impact on me? Let’s see if I can explain my reasons… In a nutshell, this memoir is about the life of a man who had to spend thirty years on death row despite being innocent and having a solid alibi. His crime? Being born poor and black in the South (Alabama), a place where he ended up being judged by the color of his skin and the money in his pocket instead of the simple fact he was guilty or not. This fact alone will be enough to enrage you, one infuriating detail of his case after the other causing sparks and making you want to scream and pull at your hairs. How is it possible that in 1985 things like this still happened? Incriminating an innocent man with a solid alibi, discriminating him and denying him his rights? It made me want to travel back in time and just tell those persons involved in his case what I really thought of them. The Sun Does Shine talks about the author growing up as well as the difficulties he has had to face during his entire life, even long before he was wrongly convicted of a crime. Racial segregation and discrimination is an important element in this memoir, and even though Anthony Ray Hinton never points a direct finger at the guilty and even stresses he forgives them, it shows us readers just how wrong the system was and still is in Southern Alabama. It’s a topic that has always touched me, and it is very well described in this memoir.

But this memoir isn’t just about injustice and racial discrimination. Like the author stresses, it is also about hope and forgiveness, which shines through in his writing and underlying message. His experience during all those years on death row is fascinating to read, as well as describing his personal relationships with fellow inmates and how the experience truly changes men. While I believe in punishment for those who have committed crimes, I don’t think death row is a solution. Like Anthony Ray Hinton said, who are we to judge who is innocent and who deserves to die? And then I’m not even thinking about possibly innocent men and women killed because of a mistake during their trials. Anthony Ray Hinton‘s case shows us just how wrong things can go, sending an innocent man to spend thirty years of his life on death row. I’m truly impressed and inspired by his view of life and ability for forgiveness. I can recommend this memoir to everyone; it is a true eye-opener.

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In 1985, Anthony Ray Hinton was arrested and charged with robbery and two counts of capital murder in Alabama. Hinton was working the night the last robbery took place and had a solid alibi, so he knew it was a case of mistaken identity and believed the truth would soon set him free. But the fact that he was innocent didn’t mean anything to those in charge of the trial, and with no money and simply being a poor black man in the South, he was sentenced to death soon after. He spent the first three years on Death Row at Holan State Prison without speaking a word to anyone except those who believe in his innocence. His initial anger and despair of being sent to his death as an innocent man changed when he realized he had to accept his fate, and he was determined to not only survive and prove his innocence, but also find a way to live on Death Row.

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Powerful, inspiring, infuriating, heartbreaking, but also full of hope and forgiveness. The Sun Does Shine shows us how racial discrimination and prejudice helped send an innocent man to death row and keep him there for thirty years despite solid proof of his innocence. The pure injustice of it all makes you want to scream, but both his case and experience is very well documented in this memoir and makes for a painful, but inspiring, intriguing and very powerful read. I’m truly impressed by his views on life and his ability to be able to forgive the unforgivable. Highly recommended!


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ARC REVIEW: The Scholl Case – by Anja Reich-Osang

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Title: The Scholl Case
Author: Anja Reich-Osang

Genre: Non Fiction, True Crime
First published: October 3rd 2016
Publisher: Text Publishing Company
Finished reading: October 27th 2016
Pages: 213
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“No one could imagine that he has killed his wife, he was the former mayor of Ludwigsfelde, an honourable man. And yet here in the courtroom you often get to know sides of a person that no one could previously have conceived possible.”

*** A copy of this book was kindly provided to me by Netgalley and Text Publishing Company in exchange for an honest review. Thank you! ***

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I’m normally a bit wary when it comes to true crime stories, but this case sounded quite interesting and I decided to give it a go. Now I’ve finished The Scholl Case, I’m not sure what to think of it. Because rather than being a proper true crime story that sticks to the neutral facts behind the case, this book by the German journalist Anja Reich-Osang reads more like a fictional crime thriller loosely based on the case. It focused more on the history of both the mayor and his wife and the murder case itself was forced into the background. That isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but I’m not sure up to what point the story of their past can be considered neutral. In the chapters, there is a lot of talk about the feelings and thoughts of both Heinrich and Brigitte, and I’m having a hard time to believe they could actually be completely accurate. Sure, the story is without doubt a lot more entertaining and attractive to the public this way and I can understand why the author took this road. But I don’t think this story can actually be called ‘non fiction’ as a whole. The pace was pretty slow as well, and the flashbacks were a bit confusing at times. All in all The Scholl Case wasn’t as good as I hoped it would be, although I can’t deny it’s still a decent read.

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In December 2011, the body of a woman was found in a forest in Ludwigsfelde, a small town south of Berlin. The body was hidden between pine trees and covered with leaves along with her dog. And the community was shocked when they find out the victim was the sixty-seven year old Brigitte Scholl, cosmetician and wife of Ludwigsfelde’s former mayor Heinrich Scholl. There are a lot of rumors around her death, which escalate as the police decided to arrest the victim’s husband three weeks later. The residents were shocked, as Heinrich Scholl was a well respected man and regarded as the most successful mayor of East Germany after the fall of the Berlin Wall. He seemed to be having it all: a successful career, influential friends and a longlasting marriage… But behind closed doors, both the mayor and his wife had been hiding a lot of secrets.

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I’m not saying The Scholl Case is such a terrible read, but I’m not sure to what level this story can actually be called ‘non fiction’. It’s more of a mix between historical fiction and a crime thriller, and the main focus is on the history of both the mayor and his wife rather than the murder case. This way it is without doubt a lot more entertaining to read, but it wasn’t the true crime story I was looking forward to. Combined with the slow pace I can’t say it was one of the best true crime stories I’ve read.

BOOK REVIEW: Don’t Tell Mummy – by Toni Maguire

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Title: Don’t Tell Mummy
Author: Toni Maguire
Genre: Memoir, True Crime
First published: 2006
Finished reading: May 13th 2015
Pages: 352
Rating 4

“The smile on his lips was always the smile of the nice father, but in his eyes I could see the nasty one, the one invisible to everyone else, the one that lived inside his head.”

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This memoir is not for the weak-hearted and will probably leave you with tears in your eyes. Toni Maguire didn’t have an easy childhood. Or more precisely said: a childhood from hell. Growing up with an abusive father, a mother who prefers to look the other way and family and friends who don’t see what’s happening behind closed doors… A recipe for every young child’s worst nightmare. The author was very brave to let her skeletons out of the closet and admit all those horrible facts actually happened to her all those years ago. Don’t Tell Mummy is a truly heartbreaking story that will definitely move you… It’s not a happy story, but one that has to be told as there are so many cases of child abuse still out there. Without doubt a memoir I would recommend; it’s very well written and not only tells us the facts of the abuse, but also the way people judge her when the truth comes out.

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The first few years of Toni Maguire’s life were almost perfect, but things change when they decide to move back to Ireland where her father is born. Their new idyllic life is marked by a terrible secret… When Toni is six years old, her father made his first improper move on his daughter and he doesn’t stop there. He warns her not to tell anyone, because they would end up blaming her for allowing him to do those things… And in the end even her mother prefers to look away. When Toni finally gathers the courage to tell her father’s little ‘secret’,  her mother simply says to never talk about it again. Soon Toni is alone and isolated from friends and family, with nobody to turn to. The abuse goes on for years, and even ends up in a pregnancy; the abortion almost killing Toni. And when people find out, they end up doing what her father warned her they would do: the end up judging and rejecting her for what he has done…

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This memoir tells a truly shocking story that will leave you without words and reaching for a box of tissues. Toni Maguire has had a horrible childhood and she is very brave to write down her story. The acts of her father nearly destroyed both her and her childhood, and it’s shocking that nobody noticed something in all those years before her pregnancy. Don’t Tell Mummy is a true eye opener and a very well written story that I would definitely recommend to those who enjoy reading memoirs and true crime stories. Beware: this is not a happy story and it won’t be for everyone…

BOOK REVIEW: Reel To Real: The Video Store Murders – by Joyce Nance

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Title: Reel To Real: The Video Store Murders
Author: Joyce Nance
Genre: Non Fiction, True Crime
First published: July 29th 2014
Finished reading: May 5th 2015
Pages: 283
Rating 4

“It is always the best policy to speak the truth — unless, of course, you are an exceptionally good liar.”

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When I saw this non fiction story as a free Amazon kindle deal last month, I was immediately intrigued by it and had to order it straight away. Reel Or Real: The Video Store Murders is based on a true story and tells us what happened before, during and after the brutal Hollywood Video store murders in Albuquerque back in 1996. Joyce Nance does a great job of getting inside the head of the killer and his accomplice. There is quite a lot of swearing involved, but I wasn’t bothered by it because it was used properly to give an impression of the character. The author decided to write this book based on the trial and interviews with Esther (the accomplice) and therefore it represents her side of the story, but it feels like it’s the truth. It’s an interesting read and definitely recommended for those who enjoy reading non fiction and (true) crime novels.

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Based on the true story of the Hollywood Video store murders, we read about three ex-cons who got released early from prison and meet each other through an early release program. Esther falls hopelessly in love with John, who in turn similates affection so she pays everything for him. He hangs out with another ex-con Shane, a man that smells like trouble and is obsessed with movies, violence and guns. John tries to stay away from trouble and warns Esther to do the same and stay away from Shane as well. But when John is forced to run after a misunderstanding, Esther sees no other way…

Shane asks her to help him with a robbery of a restaurant. Esther isn’t sure about it, but she would do anything to help John. The robbery was a success and John gets his share of money, but Shane doesn’t want to stop here… He has bigger plans that involve real guns and a video store. Esther doesn’t want to help him, but Shane is able to convince her in the end by abusing her love for John. They decide the time and place: a Hollywood Video store on a Saturday night. Unfortunately, on that terrible night in March 1996, the robbery went horribly wrong and turned into a bloodbath and the worst mass murder in the history of Albuquerque…

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The way Joyce Nance is able to portray the three ex-cons and main characters of the story is impressive. All three were looking for a better life, but trouble got into their path and the consequences left an entire city behind to mourn the victims. In my own eyes all three of them are guilty in a different way, and if you decide to read Reel Or Real: The Video Store Murders for yourself, you will probably understand why. This is not a pleasant read, mostly because the many swear words and graphic images, but it makes for a very good true crime novel.

BOOK REVIEW: Portrait Of A Killer – by Patricia Cornwell

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Title: Portrait Of A Killer: Jack The Ripper – Case Closed
Author: Patricia Cornwell
Genre: History, Non Fiction, True Crime
First published: 2002
Finished Reading: June 12th 2014
Pages: 383
Rating 2,5

“And suddenly the world was filled with wooden faces and flat voices – and, you were alone.”

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I have to admit that before I started reading Portrait Of A KillerI didn’t know much more about the Jack The Ripper case other than that he was quite a violent serial killer and mostly attacked prostitutes. It is also the first time I’ve read something by Patricia Cornwell, and I have the feeling this nonfiction investigation of the 19th century killer didn’t show me a complete image of Cornwell as a writer. Although the story started interesting, I soon started wondering whether the subtitle Jack The Ripper – Case Closed would have been a bit of an exaggeration. I couldn’t help but feel the evidence she presented was mostly circumstantial and the explanations sometimes quite shaky while she was trying to convince the reader the true identity of Jack The Ripper: a famous painter called Walter Sickert. Cornwell used modern technology when trying to find more physical evidence to build her case, but most results came back inconclusive. And after finishing Portrait Of A Killer, I don’t think Walter Sickert would have ever been convicted of the murders if she presented the case as described in her book to court. Yet another big Ha Ha from our fiend Jack The Ripper…

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The story about the life in Victorian England and France itself was quite interesting. Cornwell was able to give us an insight into the life as it would have been like during the 19th century. In describing the lives of Sickert, the various victims and the cops trying to find the killer, we were able to see how different social classes lived before, during and after the killings taking place in 1888-1889. The killings are brutal and close to butchery, and it is scary to even think that a human being would be able to afflict that kind of damage without feeling remorse. But then again, Jack The Ripper was nothing less than a monster, although a brilliant one.

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I just wished Cornwell would have kept her opinion slightly to herself instead of trying to force the identity of Jack The Ripper on us. Sure, after all she told about Walter Sickert he definitely looks suspicious. But without accompanying evidence, her claim of whodunnit for me wasn’t rightfully made. Or at least not when selling the book as a nonfiction investigation. Sickert might have done it, but the facts are more than a hunderd years old, and for now there is no way to be certain. I would go for reasonable doubt, not case closed.

If you want to learn a bit more of the lives of the victims and Walter Sickert, this still might be an interesting read. Just beware of the circumstancial evidence and be sure to regularly take a step back and look critically at the conclusions Cornwell draws. I don’t think this was the best example of her work though. I will be reading one of the Kay Scarpetta novels by the same author lined up in my TBR list in the near future so I can see what her fiction writing is like. As for Portrait Of A Killer, for me it’s book closed and locked away…