Welcome to Cooper by Tariq Ashkanani #BookReview #FirstMondayCrime

 

In this explosive thriller of bad choices and dark crimes, Detective Levine knew his transfer was a punishment—but he had no idea just how bad it would get.

Cooper, Nebraska, is forgettable and forgotten, a town you’d only stumble into if you’d taken a seriously wrong turn. Like Detective Thomas Levine’s career has. But when a young woman is found lying in the snow, choked to death, her eyes gouged out, the disgraced detective is Cooper’s only hope for restoring peace and justice.

For Levine, still grieving and guilt-ridden over the death of his girlfriend, his so-called “transfer” from the big city to this grubby backwater has always felt like a punishment. And when his irascible new partner shoots their prime suspect using Levine’s gun, all hope of redemption is shattered. With the case in chaos, and both blackmail and a violent drug cartel to contend with, he finds himself in a world of trouble.

It gets worse. The real killer is still out there, and he’s got plans for Detective Levine. And Cooper may just be the perfect place to get away with murder.

STOP PRESS! Due to Facebook going down on Monday, First Monday will now be live on Thursday 7th October instead! 

First Monday Crime is back after the summer break and as today is the first Monday in October, you can watch the live discussion between Inga Vesper (The Long Long Afternoon), Lesley Kara (The Dare), Mara Timon (Resistance) and Tariq Ashkanani (Welcome to Cooper), with Jonathan Whitelaw moderating on their Facebook page at 7:30pm this very evening! Many thanks to Amazon Publishing for sending me an advance reader's copy of Welcome to Cooper and to Joy Kluver for inviting me to review for First Monday.

When I reached the end of Welcome to Cooper and turned to the About the Author page I was thrilled to see that Tariq Ashkanani is working on a follow-up thriller because this bleak, gritty debut marks him as an author to watch. I love authors who take risks, knowing that some readers won't approve and that's exactly what Tariq has done here. This isn't going to be a book for everybody but I'm always drawn to the darkest side of crime fiction, where most of the characters are damaged, unpleasant people and where revenge is sought more than redemption and I loved it!
The first person narrative reads as a story being told to a listening audience but this is no comforting bedtime read. Detective Thomas Levine is new to small town life having recently moved to Cooper from Washington D.C. Some novels might romanticise these remote farming communities in the midwest but the welcome sign on the way into Cooper is probably about as convivial as it ever gets. The American Dream has died here; it's the sort of place people either pass through quickly or end up being trapped there, tainted by the gloomy stagnation which seems to seep through the town. 
We learn that Thomas has a dark past but he quickly realises that Cooper isn't going to give him a fresh, new start and the discovery of a brutally murdered young woman is just the beginning of his nightmare. There are moments where I sympathised with the predicament Thomas finds himself in but it is clear that he's not just an unfortunate victim of circumstances and that his choices in the past and present contribute to his ever-worsening situation. 
The prologue makes it obvious that something terrible will happen and an oppressive sense of foreboding permeates throughout. It seems as if almost everybody in Cooper has something to hide and the book teems with bad decisions and wrong turns. As well as the chapters written from Thomas' perspective which record what happened after the discovery of the dead woman, there's a second storyline which takes readers back to the past. The first-person account of what occurred back then is disturbing and increasingly sinister; it complements the main story perfectly, adding another layer of dangerous malevolence to this intriguingly grim novel.
It's only towards the end that the full horror of what happened is revealed but the compulsive, pacy plot and atmospheric sense of tension ensured I almost inhaled the novel as I raced through it, wanting to find out the truth yet dreading what it would mean. It's not a particularly gory read - most of the violence that occurs happens off the page and is described after the fact - but there's one scene here which actually made me feel a little faint. I'm not usually bothered by blood and gore (I used to be a vet nurse so came across all sorts of bodily fluids) but something happens which is almost too horrific to contemplate. I'm not complaining, I love it when I react to a book and I'll take any nightmares that result from that scene! 
Welcome to Cooper is a whip-smart, cynical thriller with a bleakly evocative sense of place and characters I wanted to know more about despite knowing I'd want to avoid them in real life. It's the sort of story that left me wanting a shower after finishing it but I'm also looking forward to more from this exciting new voice in crime fiction. Very highly recommended! 

Welcome to Cooper is published by Thomas & Mercer and can be purchased here.

About the Author
Tariq Ashkanani is a solicitor based in Edinburgh, where he also helps run Write Gear, a company that sells high-quality notebooks for writers, and co-hosts Write Gear’s podcast Page One. He had no formal writing training or consultation prior to writing Welcome to Cooper. He is currently working on a follow-up thriller.

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