Cop 1: ‘Ello, ‘ello, ‘ello, what ‘ave we ‘ere then?
Cop 2: It appears to be a blurb, sir:
“Two cops, both on different sides of the law – both with the same gangland boss in their sights.
Sam Batford is an undercover officer with the Metropolitan Police who will stop at nothing to get his hands on fearsome crime-lord Vincenzo Guardino’s drug supply.
DCI Klara Winter runs a team on the National Crime Agency, she’s also chasing down Guardino, but unlike Sam Batford she’s determined to bring the gangster to justice and get his drugs off the streets.
Set in a time of austerity and police cuts where opportunities for corruption are rife, Rubicon is a tense, dark thriller that is definitely not for the faint hearted.”
If, like me, you had no idea what a Rubicon is, and thought it might’ve been an ice lolly from the 1970s, or a type of filing system, then here is a wee explanation:
“Julius Caesar’s crossing the Rubicon river was an event in 49 BC that precipitated the Roman Civil War, which ultimately led to Caesar’s becoming dictator for life and the rise of the imperial era of Rome. … Today, the phrase “crossing the Rubicon” is an idiom that means to pass a point of no return.”
There, has that helped? Good. In fact, it is an incredibly pertinent and rather clever title. That Ian, it’s almost like he chose it on purpose. Those authors, clever sods.
Rubicon is a novel that you really need to pay attention to. If, like my good self, when reading you often drift off mid page……………..*random thoughts*…………..then you’re going to be shafted. This is a novel of undercover policing, double crossing and duplicity. It’s a tribute to Ian’s skills that you never really lose track though. For most of the story you’re not too sure who is working for who, who to trust or what the characters true motives are. This is what makes this book such fun to read. I also feel that this is one book that is best read as a physical book; you are able to flip back and recheck shit much easier than on an eReader.
Our main protagonist (or is he the antagonist? It is hard to tell at times), is DS Sam Batford. A UCO (that’s Under Cover Officer to you and me), seconded from a covert unit within the Met to the National Crime Agency under the command of DCI Klara Winter. To say that they don’t really get along is a bit like saying that the Romans didn’t get along with Jesus; they really don’t like, or trust, each other. For the most part the narrative is told in the 1st person from Sam’s POV, but we have log entries from DCI Winter, plus the odd sojourn into 3rd person territory when the need arises. Both parties are on the hunt for a gangland drugs and weapons kingpin known as Big H or Vincenzo Guardino (aside: I kept chuckling to myself throughout this book because “Big H” is a nickname that some members of my family have given to my mum, whose name is Helena. Long story, it’s a family thing…anyhoo…). As to their motives for wanting to bring him in, that’s for you to discover.
Sam, or Sky as he’s known to those outside of the police, has a tough old time playing both sides – or even three sides – of his particular coin. Even he begins to question where his loyalties may lie. He’s a man of dubious morals and motivation, finding himself way too deep, but usually with the nous, and bloody good fortune, to see his way out of trouble. Klara Winters on the other hand, is determined not to be shown up by SCO35, the covert unit, and to be the one who busts Big H (not my mum). She’s a young, determined, law abiding cop, who wants results and isn’t afraid to do what she has to, within the law, to get them. Thus begins a game of cat and mouse up and down the country, one that Ian weaves oh so well. At one point the characters even stop off at St.Albans, my home town, which was nice. If I’d known I would’ve had the kettle on. Maybe even a biscuit ready.
Once again I find myself reluctant to say more about this book for fear of spoiling the enjoyment of reading it for yourselves. It is a short book; just over 200 pages, and I finished it off in just over a day. Ian doesn’t hang around and gets into the meat and veg of the story fast and rarely lets up once he does. I wasn’t aware of his police service history until after I read the book, but it clearly shows throughout. I was wondering as I read it just how well researched it appeared to be. It oozes an authenticity that really comes across to a total police numb-nut like myself.
I’m chuffed to hear that Rubicon has been optioned by the BBC for a potential 6 part TV series. This is fantastic news for Ian and for Fahrenheit Press, his publishers (read the link here). Here in the UK we have a rich history of gritty, realistic, police drama on the TV, and it will be great to see Rubicon added to it.
Rubicon is a punchy, gritty, double crossing, who’s watching who, police procedural thriller, running like a train with oiled wheels on an icy track heading downhill with a tailwind. Highly recommended. 5/5.
“What if the figure that haunted your nightmares as child, the myth of the man in the woods, was real?
He’ll slice your flesh. Your bones he’ll keep.
Twenty years ago, four teenagers went exploring in the local woods, trying to find to the supposed home of The Bone Keeper. Only three returned.
Now, a woman is found wandering the streets of Liverpool, horrifically injured, claiming to have fled the Bone Keeper. Investigating officer DC Louise Henderson must convince sceptical colleagues that this urban myth might be flesh and blood. But when a body is unearthed in the woodland the woman has fled from, the case takes on a much darker tone.
The disappeared have been found. And their killer is watching every move the police make.”
Now, there’s a premise, huh? The Bone Keeper (TBK) is a very, very effective thriller, bordering on outright horror. It is highly unnerving and downright creepy. What if the nightmares of you childhood, the urban myths we have all believed in at some points in our lives, were real? Or perceived to be real? The unspeakable horrors became true?
“The Bone Keeper’s coming.
The Bone Keeper’s real.
He doesn’t stop.
He doesn’t feel.
He’ll snatch you up.
And make you weep.
He’ll slice your flesh.
Your bones he’ll keep.”
As nursery rhymes go, it’s a doozy, isn’t it? What happened to simpler times? Ring a ring o’ roses? Here we go round the mulberry bush? Sing a song of sixpence? Ok, that last one is about baking blackbirds alive in a pie, so maybe not quite such a good example. But then again, nursery rhymes have always had a slightly dark edge to them. Look at poor old Jack and Jill. They only went up the hill to fetch a pail of water, but poor old Jack ended up with a fractured skull and some quack putting vinegar and brown paper on it. What kind of treatment is that? And we’re supposed to sing this to our children to cheer them up? I suspect that there’s more to this than meets the eye. Maybe Jill was a jealous girl, and shoved poor old Jack down the hill and then tried to cover her tracks? Or maybe Jack tried to push Jill down the well and she defended herself and he got his just desserts? Either way, suspicious shit if you ask me.
Anyway, the point here is that we all have versions of urban myths that we have heard as kids. I grew up next to a large Victorian psychiatric institution (or Asylum, as the hidden plaque next to the door proclaimed). I grew up hearing tales of murderers and “kiddie fiddlers”, as the grown-ups called them, walking the streets around us. Of children going missing and of the ‘patients’ as they were then called, turning up dead in the gravel pits near by (this last one was to keep us from suffering the same fate of course). Eventually I went to work there and of course I discovered that none of this was true, but we created our own monsters from these ill informed and bigoted opinions of the mentally ill. Some of the men that I grew up petrified of turned out to be some of the sweetest people I’ve ever met. Parents, tch.
The Bone Keeper takes the idea of what if these urban myths turned out to be true? Is TBK a supernatural being, haunting and preying upon the people of Liverpool, or is it a copycat, someone taking on the persona, making the myth real? Or is it a combination of the two? Enter our two protagonists: DS Paul Shipley and DC Louise Henderson. They find themselves embroiled (that’s a great word isn’t it? Embroiled. Say it like Kenneth Williams…embrrrrroiled….and it sounds even better, as many words do when said in a Kenneth Williams stylee.), in a series of gruesome discoveries after a woman, beaten up and bloody, turns up in a high street screaming about The Bone Keeper. It would appear on the surface that TBK is indeed a real thing, as the bodies start to pile up and uncomfortable memories and revelations begin to surface for DC Henderson.
Shipley and Henderson themselves were likeable characters. Shipley’s initial scepticism of the Bone Keeper story gradually gives way to a kind of “what if” mentality. He never fully believes it, but the cracks in his resolve begin to appear. Henderson is pretty much the opposite. She wants to believe the stories are true, befriending the only survivor, Caroline, to try to get to the truth, and, as mentioned earlier, uncovering some uncomfortable, personal truths along the way.
The Bone Keeper is set in Veste’s home city of Liverpool. My dad is from Liverpool and although he left as a young boy I still have family there, so I recognised many of the places described here. Melling, where our story starts, was a particular delight as that is where my paternal grandmother was from. I hadn’t been there since I was a teeny, tiny, beardless boy, but I couldn’t help but have a little smile when I read that. But anyway, it was a refreshing change to read a story set away from the usual, familiar London setting.
The Bone Keeper is a great read; best read with the lights down low on a dark and stormy night. Or you could just turn on the garden sprinkler, aim it at your windows, close the curtains and you’ll get pretty much the same effect, I guess. It’s a proper page turner, especially as things start to accelerate towards the conclusion. A conclusion of which, no spoilers, was very satisfying – to me, at least.
In The Bone Keeper, Luca Veste has constructed a tense, chilling and compelling story; utilising childhood fears of abandonment, missing children and dark and scary places, to great effect. A book well worth spending time with.
Over the last week or so there have been several cover reveals for some very exciting forthcoming books. I thought I would share them again here, along with their original sources, just to feel a little bit of the excitement myself. I don’t want to be left out you know 😉 Do check out the links to the original posts.
“You need to know who your husband really was… When Paula Gadd’s husband of almost thirty years dies, just days away from the seventh anniversary of their son, Christopher’s death, her world falls apart. Grieving and bereft, she is stunned when a young woman approaches her at the funeral service, and slips something into her pocket. A note suggesting that Paula’s husband was not all that he seemed… When the two women eventually meet, a series of revelations challenges everything Paula thought they knew, and it becomes immediately clear that both women’s lives are in very real danger. Both a dark, twisty slice of domestic noir and taut, explosive psychological thriller, After He Died is also a chilling reminder that the people we think we know most can harbour the deadliest secrets…”
And here is the gorgeous cover:
Isn’t that a pip? I love the stylistic link to Michael’s other two books – A Suitable Lie and House Of Spines – with the circle of flowers resembling the wedding ring in ASL and the lift floor indicator on HoS. Yet another clever design by Kid-ethic (aka Mark Swan).
This is the sequel to the brilliant Sweet Pea (my review here) and was revealed on CJ’s Twitter:
Blurbage (BE WARNED: spoilers for ‘Sweet Pea’ lie within….)
“Darkly comic crime sequel to Sweetpea, following girl-next-door serial killer Rhiannon as she’s now caught between the urge to kill and her unborn baby stopping her.
If only they knew the real truth. It should be my face on those front pages. My headlines. I did those things, not him. I just want to stand on that doorstep and scream it: IT WAS ME. ME. ME. ME. ME!
Rhiannon Lewis has successfully fooled the world and framed her cheating fiancé Craig for the depraved and bloody killing spree she committed. She should be ecstatic that she’s free.
Except for one small problem. She’s pregnant with her ex lover’s child. The ex-lover she only recently chopped up and buried in her in-laws garden. And as much as Rhiannon wants to continue making her way through her kill lists, a small voice inside is trying to make her stop.
But can a killer’s urges ever really be curbed?”
A stunning cover indeed. I love the colours on this one. I don’t know who the designer is for this, but I’ll be happy to edit if anyone can let me know.
“Long ago Andrew made a childhood wish. One he has always kept in a silver box with a too-big lid that falls off. When it finally comes true, he wishes it hadn’t…
Long ago Ben dreamt of going to Africa to volunteer at a lion reserve. When he finally goes there, it isn’t for the reasons he imagined…
Ben and Andrew keep meeting where they least expect. Some collisions are by design, but are they for a reason? Ben’s father would disown him for his relationship with Andrew, so they must hide it. Andrew is determined to make things work, but secrets from his past threaten to ruin everything…
Ben escapes to Zimbabwe to fulfil his lifelong ambition. But will he ever return to England? To Andrew?
To the truth?
A dark and poignant drama, The Lion Tamer Who Lost is also a mesmerisingly beautiful love story, with a tragic heart…”
And here is the cover:
Another stunner from Kid-Ethic and Orenda. Jesus, these guys know how to do covers. If you know me then you know that I LOVE Louise’s books. I am beyond moist for this one. I need a paper bag to stop my hyperventilation…….
That’s it for now. I couldn’t help but join in and share these beauties. I hope I haven’t trodden on any toes by doing so. If I have then please let me know and I shall edit/remove/credit anything accordingly.
“Our story begins at the end of an investigation, as the members of London’s Peculiar Crimes Unit race to catch a killer near London Bridge Station in the rain, not realising that they’re about to cause a bizarre accident just yards away from the crime scene. And it will have repercussions for them all…
One year later, in an exclusive London crescent, a woman walks her dog – but she’s being watched. When she’s found dead, the Peculiar Crimes Unit is called in to investigate. Why? Because the method of death is odd, the gardens are locked, the killer had no way in – or out – and the dog has disappeared.
So a typical case for Bryant & May. But the hows and whys of the murder are not the only mysteries surrounding the dead woman – there’s a missing husband and a lost nanny to puzzle over too. And it seems very like that the killer is preparing to strike again.
As Arthur Bryant delves in to the history of London’s ‘wild chambers’ – its extraordinary parks and gardens, John May and the rest of the team seem to have caused a national scandal. If no-one is safe then all of London’s open spaces must be closed…
With the PCU placed under house arrest, only Arthur Bryant remains at liberty – but can a hallucinating old codger catch the criminal and save the unit before it’s too late?”
Wild Chamber is the 14th in the Bryant and May series of books. How many?, I hear you cry, or is that the neighbours arguing again? This may be of some surprise to many of you, but Christopher Fowler is one of UK literature’s best kept secrets. I don’t want to harp on about how he is the best selling author you have never heard of, but the fact remains that he is. I first discovered him within the pages of the long defunct and brilliant Fear magazine. They ran an interview with him (which I still have but cannot lay my hands on right now), about his upcoming debut novel Roofworld (pub 1988). The idea of a secret civilisation gadding about upon the rooftops of London was too intriguing to resist, so I bought it, bloody loved it, and a life-long Fan of Fowler was begat. That was 30 years ago: 46 books/short story collections/2 memoirs/1 graphic novel later and people still say “who?” when you mention his name. Fucking atrocity, imo.
Anyway, let’s get to the current book. Bryant And May first appeared waaaaaaaaaaaaaay back in Chris’s 2nd novel, Rune. They continued to pop up in his books when required (Soho Black springs to mind), but it wasn’t until Full Dark House that the two elderly detectives fell into their own series and became the detectives that we now know and, if you’ve any sense at all, love (and if you haven’t any sense, nip out, get some – there’s a sale online – then come back). John May and Arthur Bryant are two elderly detectives (their age is a bit hazy; the books are actually the memoirs of Arthur, and as such, the facts are a slightly moveable feast), who work for London’s Peculiar Crime Unit(PCU) – a specialist unit working within London’s Metropolitan Police Service, but also have some independence from it: “…a division founded during the Second World War to investigate cases that could cause national scandal or public unrest”. The unit is constantly under the threat of being closed down by bureaucrats in the Home Office, but, so far, they always scrape by by the skin of their dentures.
In Wild Chamber, the two detectives and the rest of the PCU, investigate a series of murders that are committed within London’s parks, the acts of which threatens to close them down. The Home Office Liaison Officer and long-time adversary of the PCU, the odious Leslie Faraday, sees this as an opportunity to finally shut down the PCU once and for all; blaming the them for the park’s closures and setting the public against them. Will it work? Will the PCU finally be closed down for good? Pish, you’ll have to read the book to find that out for yourselves.
The Bryant and May books are truly a love letter to London. In all of the books (with the possible exception, off of the top of my head, of White Corridor), the city of London is as much a character as the members of the PCU themselves. Chris always imbibes these books with the rich, millenia old history of London, intricately linking his plots to it. Whether it is the ancient, forgotten rivers, the Thames itself, its pubs, theatres, ancient societies, hidden people, or highwaymen; they are all beautifully woven into the crimes that Arthur and John investigate over the course of the series. In this book, it is London’s parks and green spaces that are brought to the forefront, with Chris weaving social comment and their history throughout the narrative. To aid the PCU in their hunt for the perpetrators of the crimes, Chris has created a rich set of peripheral characters that Arthur in particular often calls upon, much to the chagrin of the rest of the PCU: There’s the wonderful and, um, quirky, white witch Maggie Armitage, and heavy metal loving English Professor Raymond Kirkpatrick to name two, both possessing arcane and highly specialist knowledge that in a very roundabout way often help the PCU to, eventually, solve their crimes. Due to complications with Arthur’s recovery from illness (see the previous two books), we even have guest appearances from Charles Dickens, Samuel Pepys and the Queen herself. Don’t worry, it isn’t quite as weird as it sounds. Ok, it is as weird as it sounds, but once you become familiar with Arthur Bryant, it really isn’t! Arthur himself is a wonderful, wonderful character; erudite, complicated, prone to calamity and destroying anything technological that he comes into contact with (seriously, don’t let him near anyone with a pacemaker). His long term, and long suffering, partner is the sophisticated, handsome, charming and techno-safe, John May. Meeting up way back in the 1940’s, they have been pretty much inseparable ever since, keeping London safe without the public ever really being aware of it.
The rest of the PCU are just as wonderful; these books truly are an ensemble piece. We have series regulars Janice Longbright, Raymond Land, Colin Bimsley, Meera Mangeshkar, Jack Renfield, Dan Banbury and Giles Kershaw, all of whom over the course of the books have their time in the limelight and are invaluable to the Unit’s successes (and rare failures).
I’m finding it hard to keep this review to just this book and to not have it become an appreciation of all things Christopher Fowler. Not that there’s anything wrong with that; he is a truly outstanding author with a rich back catalogue that you really should go back and read (they are all available as eBooks now), but maybe I’ll reserve that for a future blog post.
As for Wild Chamber, I strongly recommend, no, I insist that you read it. If you have never read a B&M book before then this is a most excellent start. Although these books are obviously a series there is no real requirement to read them all in order (with the exception of ‘On The Loose’ and ‘Off The Rails’, which should), but as with all series, in my opinion, you get a better experience from doing so. Some of his characters from his earlier works – DI Ian Hargreaves and DS Gladys Longbright, from Roofworld and other earlier books, for instance – have strong links to the current characters and the unit, but you wouldn’t know that unless you have been with Chris for a while. Being a long term reader of Chris’s works really is quite rewarding as he often chucks in little throwbacks to earlier, unrelated, novels. The Leicester Square Vampire was a longstanding case until the B&M series finally put it to rest.
So what are you waiting for? Get out there and discover the world and works of Christopher Fowler. As for the Bryant and May books, they are dramatic, clever, educational, wonderfully plotted, very funny and exquisite works of fiction. What more could you want?
5/5 (RidicuRating(™) 1000/5 for the series so far)
“A family massacre A deluded murderess Five witnesses Six Stories Which one is true?
One cold November night in 2014, in a small town in the northwest of England, 21-year-old Arla Macleod bludgeoned her mother, stepfather and younger sister to death with a hammer, in an unprovoked attack known as the Macleod Massacre. Now incarcerated at a medium-security mental-health institution, Arla will speak to no one but Scott King, an investigative journalist, whose Six Stories podcasts have become an internet sensation.
King finds himself immersed in an increasingly complex case, interviewing five key witnesses and Arla herself, as he questions whether Arla’s responsibility for the massacre was as diminished as her legal team made out.
As he unpicks the stories, he finds himself thrust into a world of deadly forbidden ‘games’, online trolls, and the mysterious black-eyed kids, whose presence seems to extend far beyond the delusions of a murderess…
Dark, chilling and gripping, Hydra is both a classic murder mystery and an up-to-the-minute, startling thriller that shines light in places you may never, ever want to see again.”
Hydra is a truly stunningbook; from the gorgeous cover that screams “Oy, you there! Yes you, don’t think you can ignore me. Come over here and pick me up! Read my blurb, dammit! Now, take me to the till! Go, on. Put me in your bag, go home, and now read me from cover to cover and don’t stop until you’ve finished me!” to the very last page. This is a book that will linger on in your mind long after you’ve put it down (and then picked it up again to stroke it lovingly and whisper sweet nothings into it’s leaves).
Hydra is a prequel of sorts to Matt’s equally brilliant debut “Six Stories” (don’t take my word for it; read it for yourself and bathe in its magnificence). It isn’t a sequel-prequel, you won’t have needed to read either book for it to make sense, but it is set in that same universe, where Scott King presents another case in his Six Stories podcast series. This is a wonderful format; each case is presented as a series of six episodes, with each episode featuring a witness in some way to the events under discussion linked by Scott’s own thoughts and asides. The beauty of this format is that you are rarely sure of who is telling the truth. Matt excels in this area; he is a brilliantly clever and skilled author who gives each character their own unique voice, giving each one enough to link them together, but also enough to doubt their credibility, motivation or reliability throughout. There were times during this book where I was so angry at some of the character’s actions and their justifications for those actions. You can tell that they, for the most part, harbour deep regrets and guilt about what happened, but they also frustrate about their reluctance to open up, admit their compliance and they often appear more worried about their own reputations. This a true testament to the great writing to make you feel this way (if indeed you will feel the same way of course ;))
This book is also shit your pants scary at times. I would suggest that you read this book on the toilet, or maybe whilst wearing a nappy. Yes you’ll look silly, but better to look silly than to have others looking weirdly at you whilst sat in your own feculence. You’ll thank me later 🙂 One of the reasons for this are the B.E.K.s – Black-Eyed Kids. The less said about them here the better – you’ll become acquainted well enough 😉 This whole story is disturbingly creepy in many ways, but Matt’s descriptions, or should that be Arla’s descriptions?, of the B.E.K.s are truly chilling. As for Arla Macleod herself, she is a truly complicated, and even sympathetic, character indeed. Hydra isn’t a Whodunnit, as Six Stories was, but a Whydunnit – the ridiculously clever podcast narrative giving you the evidence to decide what Arla’s motivations for killing her family were and whether you find, or don’t find, any sympathy with her.
This is a thoroughly modern horror story. Psychological/internet manipulation, mental illness, child mental and physical abuse and internet trolling/cyber abuse; all highly pertinent and current issues. It deals with the devastating effects of covering up or ignoring the past, of being made to feel ashamed, unwanted and worthless, of protecting reputation, of being (perceived as) second best.
Matt Wesolowski is a true talent (and another Orenda Books success story), and one who deserves every success that will undoubtedly be coming his way. Hydra (and Six Stories before it), is a complicated, disturbing, richly detailed and emotional book. The next few months and years are going to be a very exciting time for Mr. Wesolowski, and for us, the reader, too. I can’t wait.
Hello my wonderful beardy blog readers and welcome to my list of February books. Once again I’m pretty amazed at how many books I have read this month. Clearly I have nothing better to do, but I’m good with that 😉
Let me know what you think if you read any of them, or if you plan to. I’ll link to any review I’ve written in the title.
Wow! WowowowowowowowowWOW! Where do I even begin with this stunning book? It’s going to be nigh on impossible to review this beauty without spoiling it all, so you’ll just buy it and discover it for yourselves. But until you do, here’ s the blurb:
“Falkenberg, Sweden. The mutilated body of talented young jewellery designer, Linnea Blix, is found in a snow-swept marina. Hampstead Heath, London. The body of a young boy is discovered with similar wounds to Linnea’s. Buchenwald Concentration Camp, 1944. In the midst of the hell of the Holocaust, Erich Ebner will do anything to see himself as a human again. Are the two murders the work of a serial killer, and how are they connected to shocking events at Buchenwald? Emily Roy, a profiler on loan to Scotland Yard from the Canadian Royal Mounted Police, joins up with Linnea’s friend, French true-crime writer Alexis Castells, to investigate the puzzling case. They travel between Sweden and London, and then deep into the past, as a startling and terrifying connection comes to light. Plumbing the darkness and the horrific evidence of the nature of evil, Block 46 is a multi-layered, sweeping and evocative thriller that heralds a stunning new voice in French Noir.”
Now, if that doesn’t pique your interest then you seriously need to reassess your views on crime fiction.
Block 46 takes place across two timelines: 1945 – present, and the present. I’ve made that sound slightly more confusing than it is, but it really isn’t. As you can see from the blurb above, a young, talented designer Linnea Blix is murdered and her friend Alexis Castells, a true crime writer finds herself in the hunt for her killer. Along the way she reunites with Canadian profiler, Emily Roy, who is called in to investigate the murders of several children in London. The pair had met previously whilst Alexis was researching a book about Fred and Rosemary West, as you do, Together they form a partnership of sorts in the hunt for the murderer that spans both London and Sweden. You can figure out the rest from the blurb.
Both Alexis and Emily are very strong characters. Alexis’s life is turned upside down after the murder of her friend. She is still recovering from the death of her partner some years before, and is a slightly closed book emotionally. Emily Roy is an exceptionally talented and perceptive profiler, on loan to New Scotland Yard in London from the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. What I love about her is that although she is a skilled and remarkable profiler, she is also flawed; she overlooks details in her over-assuredness. Basically, she fucks up. Not in any huge way, but enough. She’s aloof and lacks some basic personal and social skills when in the throes of her profiling, but also displays empathy and kindness with the friends and relatives of the victims when required.
Block 46 is not an easy read at all. Emotionally it packs one hell of a punch. Mike Tyson levels of punch. This is a book that will stay with you long after you have closed the final page, put it on the shelf, sat down, had a drink, hugged a loved one, done the weekly shopping and, yes, even had a little poo (or any other bodily function – I’ll leave that one up to you). Jo (and through her translator Maxim Jakubowski), manages to create whole passages that frankly repelled me to my core. The antagonist/s in this story are thoroughly repellent individuals. There are parallels in this book, both in tone and in the profiler protagonist, with Jacqueline Chadwick’s Ali Dalglish series, particularly In The Still (my review here). Not in terms of story, but most certainly in terms of the revulsion that the perpetrators of the crimes detailed instilled in me. I didn’t think I’d read a book that was so thoroughly disgusting in its acts as In The Still, well, I was wrong there! This isn’t criticism at all; it is a true testimony to the skills of both writers that they can create words and situations that evoke such feelings in a reader.
Some of the most disturbing moments in this book though come from the events detailed during the war years in the the Buchenwald concentration camp. Of course, the characters here, Erich Ebner and his fellow prisoners, are fictitious, but the main staff of the camp and the atrocities that they committed there most certainly were not. Stories like these often resonate more, I feel, with people of my generation, as we quite often have relatives who witnessed the war, and in some cases, the horrors of the concentration camps first hand. My own paternal grandfather Harry, who I never knew – he died at the very young age of 59, several years before I was born – was one of the first troops to enter Belsen at its liberation. From what I understand he never spoke of what he saw there, but this book has sparked my interest to maybe try to find out. Sadly, there are very few relatives of his generation still with us – my grandma died when I was 9 – but I may try to discover what he witnessed there some day. In the book, the horrors, beatings, and downright degradation meted out to Erich, and to his fellow prisoners during their time at Buchenwald, make you wonder how anyone ever survived and went on to live their lives in a relatively normal way in the post-war years.
Once again, this is a book that is best left for the reader to discover for themselves. To say any more about Erich’s story, or of the investigation in to the crimes committed here, is to truly spoil the joy of this utterly remarkable book. Jo has crafted a novel of exceptional depth, character and emotional resonance that should be enjoyed and discovered as spoiler free as possible. Jo doesn’t waste her words; she never lingers more than necessary to describe the scene or to convey the emotions of the characters. In fact so much so that as the end of the book approached I thought that we were going to be left with a cliffhanger into her next book, Keeper! It’s no spoiler to say that this isn’t the case though, and it’s also no spoiler to say that the finale is truly wonderful. The last part of the book thunders along to it’s conclusion, resolving in a highly emotional and most satisfying way, to me at least.
Confession time: I read the last 100 pages or so if this in the pub. As a single chap, and a rather unsocial one at that, I rarely ever go to the pub alone; I feel like a bit of a gooseberry sitting there all alone with a pint and no-one to chat to, but recently I’ve decided that I need to shake off this feeling and get out more. So, short story long, off to my local ‘spoons I went for breakfast and to read. Why, I hear you cry in despair, the bloody hell am I telling you all this for? Good point, well, as I read the last few pages and closed the book, I had tears in my eyes. Yes, not only was I feeling slightly silly for sitting all alone surrounded by families, couples, friends, etc, but I was sitting there all alone blubbing like a fool, ha! But they were tears of immense joy; of huge satisfaction of being part of something so bloody brilliant. I doubt anybody actually noticed of course, but I had to compose myself and have a few larger than anticipated mouthfuls of Doom Bar to stabilise myself 😉 There really aren’t many books that have this effect on me. Yes, there are books that I love unconditionally, but few that move me to tears for whatever the reason (except any book, especially How To Be Brave, by Louise Beech)
It comes as no surprise at all to know that this is yet another Orenda Books success story. Karen Sullivan, Queen Bee of Orenda, is an extraordinarily perceptive publisher. I have no affiliation to Orenda at all, but without their books, my current love of reading outstanding crime fiction, and from there discovering other books/authors from other publishing houses, simply wouldn’t exist. I thank you Karen, sincerely from the very bottom of my beardy book loving heart.
I think I’ve maybe said enough now, don’t you 🙂 All that is left to say is buy this book! Savour every page and then buy her next book, Keeper (this is already out in eBook – buy it here – but I’ve ordered the paperback, out in April, so I can shelve it and look at it lovingly. Maybe I’ll hug it, too.)
I’ve decided to post a monthly update of the books wot I read. This is partly to bore the arse off of you all; partly because that’s what book bloggers do; partly to keep track of the books I’ve read; and partly because see the previous three partlys, in case you have already fallen into a coma and have just come around after reading the first two partlys.
Writing this list I’ve really surprised myself as to how many books I’ve read in January alone. I’m quite astonished, if I’m honest.
So, without further ado, or adon’t, here, in no particular order, is the rundown for January 2018 (links in titles where I’ve written one):
(A version of this post appeared on my Goodreads a while back, but I’ve tweaked it so it’s practically new)
Louise Beech. You may have heard of her and her books, then again you may not have. If you fall into the former camp then I love you *smoochy smoochy kisses*. If you fall into the latter camp then shame on you. Shame. On. you! But seriously, this post is an appreciation of all things Louisey. Well, her books at any rate. If I haven’t lost you already, and you are still reading this, then quickly pop and boil the kettle, maybe open a bottle of whatever tickles your fancy, settle down and read on and take the yellow brick road/glass elevator/stairway to Beechy enlightenment…..
But why I hear you cry? Why should I read this piffle? Well, basically, because I love Louise and her books utterly.
There. That was a short post.
Ha ha fooled you: that should be all I need to write really, but oh no! For I am a waffler. I waffle. Waffling is my wont. I waffle therefore I am. See? Anyhoo, what follows isn’t a comprehensive review of all of Louise’s books, but more of a general appreciation and gushing of love for them. If you have the patience, and are sitting comfortably, we shall begin…..
It all began with Twitter. It is upon this social network that I happened across Orenda Books; the remarkable independent publisher led by the rather magnificent (I’m told as I’ve never met her ;)), Karen “Super” Sullivan (my superlative. I doubt she wears her underwear over her trousers, but maybe she wears a cape?). She, through her Twitter profile @orendabooks, kept harping on about a book called The Mountain In My Shoe by some person called, yes you guessed it, you clever blog reader you, Louise Beech (her blog can be found here and her Twitter here). Now, I used to be a reading creature of habit; if it ain’t horror I ain’t reading it, but I was just starting to branch out into crime/thriller territory and this one sounded intriguing, billed as a kind of psychological thriller, so I thought, pfft, why not?
“A missing boy. A missing book. A missing husband. A woman who must find them all to find herself. On the night Bernadette finally has the courage to tell her domineering husband that she’s leaving, he doesn’t come home. Neither does Conor, the little boy she’s befriended for the past five years. Also missing is his lifebook, the only thing that holds the answers. With the help of Conor’s foster mum, Bernadette must face her own past, her husband’s secrets and a future she never dared imagine in order to find them all. Exquisitely written and deeply touching, The Mountain in My Shoe is both a gripping psychological thriller and a powerful and emotive examination of the meaning of family … and just how far we’re willing to go for the people we love.”
Oh my gibbering goodness, thank Freddie Mercury that I did! I read TMIMS from cover to cover almost in a single sitting (I probably got up to have a wee wee at some point; it’s all so hazy now). I adored Louise’s natural style of writing; something about it spoke to me! Not in that I related to the story in any way, but in that it completely drew me in and transported me to Hull and into the world of Bernadette and Conor. This was my world for the 300 or so pages of the book. I rooted for Bernadette, wanted to punch her overbearing and controlling husband in the face, and almost went out and bought a ticket to Hull to help to search for Conor (Ok, maybe not the last bit, but it was close. – I had got to the ticket hall). Louise uses her own personal childhood experiences of being in foster care to inform her story giving this book an extra grounding in reality; a personal touch that something all three of her books to date employ. So, basically, what I’m saying here is is that I loved this book and thought, what else has this lady written then? Fortunately for me, and everyone else, there was more….
From Mountain I moved on to Maria In The Moon, her latest release to date
“Long ago my beloved Nanny Eve chose my name. Then one day she stopped calling me it. I try now to remember why, but I just can’t.’
Thirty-one-year-old Catherine Hope has a great memory. But she can’t remember everything. She can’t remember her ninth year. She can’t remember when her insomnia started. And she can’t remember why everyone stopped calling her Catherine-Maria. With a promiscuous past, and licking her wounds after a painful breakup, Catherine wonders why she resists anything approaching real love. But when she loses her home to the deluge of 2007 and volunteers at Flood Crisis, a devastating memory emerges … and changes everything. Dark, poignant and deeply moving, Maria in the Moon is an examination of the nature of memory and truth, and the defences we build to protect ourselves, when we can no longer hide…”
MITM tells the story of a young woman named Catherine Maria who has lost the memories from a whole year of her life; she cannot remember her 9th year. Her family refuse to open up about it, and though the reasons for her memory loss are reasonably obvious, the impact of her self discovery is no less dramatic for it. MITM is told upon the backdrop of the Hull floods of 2007, with Catherine volunteering at a flood crisis helpline. This is something that had personally affected Louise and her family; their house was severely flooded during that time. This experience, as well as that of working with the Samaritans, once again helps to ground this story in reality and is another example of how this draws you into her world. To say more about this wonderful book would be to spoil the delight, but safe to say that Catherine rediscovers her memories and discovers more besides along the way – both for good and bad. It isn’t an easy read at times, but there are some laugh out loud moment courtesy of her step mother that helps to ease the tension.
Finally I read How To Be Brave. This was actually her first book to be published, but for some reason I thought it was a kind of autobiography and overlooked it for a while. When I actually took the time to read the blurb properly I discovered that it was a novel, though with a semi-autobiographical inspiration (but then so have all of her others books, but this one is more overtly so, imo).
Da blurb…for the final time:
“All the stories died that morning … until we found the one we’d always known.
When nine-year-old Rose is diagnosed with a life-threatening illness, Natalie must use her imagination to keep her daughter alive. They begin dreaming about and seeing a man in a brown suit who feels hauntingly familiar, a man who has something for them. Through the magic of storytelling, Natalie and Rose are transported to the Atlantic Ocean in 1943, to a lifeboat, where an ancestor survived for fifty days before being rescued. Poignant, beautifully written and tenderly told, How To Be Brave weaves together the contemporary story of a mother battling to save her child’s life with an extraordinary true account of bravery and a fight for survival in the Second World War. A simply unforgettable debut that celebrates the power of words, the redemptive energy of a mother’s love … and what it really means to be brave.”
One day, and without warning, Natalie’s 9 year old daughter Rose collapses. She is diagnosed with type 1 diabetes (as was Louise’s real life daughter), and their lives will never be the same again. With her husband away in Afghanistan, she must face this change alone, or so she thinks. In order to help Rose to take her insulin, a task proving very difficult as Rose struggles to adapt to her illness, she tells her the story of her grandfather Colin, who was adrift at sea for 50 days in a small boat after his ship was torpedoed during WW2. Natalie, Rose and Colin’s stories intertwine throughout the novel as Natalie uses her grandfather’s diary (and, perhaps, Colin himself?), to help tell her story and rebond with her daughter. Remarkably, the story of Colin’s 50 day ordeal is a true one that actually happened to Louise’s real grandfather, also named Colin (this story is wonderfully, honestly and poignantly told by his shipmate Kenneth Cooke in Man On A Raft – read it!). Once again Louise uses her real life experiences to bring her stories to a real and vivid life. This book is one of only a few that has brought a tear to my eye at the end. I actually almost whooped in the cafe I was reading in during one particular event! For reals.
So, there you have it, my journey of discovery to the wonder and joy that is Louise Beech. Unbelievably it took years for Louise to finally become a published author. You can read about her journey here. It beggars belief that no-one would publish these books, and there is hardly a day that goes by that I don’t thank Karen Sullivan for having the vision to take her on (well, there are a few days where I don’t think about it, but then I think extra hard about it to make up for them). I have discovered many authors in the past year to eighteen months that I have begun to read more and have fallen in love with: Yrsa Sigurðardottir; Lilja Sigurðardottir; Will Dean; Ragnar Jónasson; Matt Wesolowski; John Marrs; Thomas Enger; Joe Hill, but few have caught my attention and captured my heart as much as Louise.
Her next book will be The Lion Tamer Who Lost followed by her 5th novel Star Girl. She is currently slaving away on her 6th, currently titled “My Beautiful Boy”.
Deep Blue Trouble (DBT) is the sequel to the rather splendid Deep Down Dead (DDD) (see my review here), and follows on immediately. Now, if you haven’t read DDD I strongly suggest that you do do (hehe, I typed “do do”). Steph gives away the whole kit and the kerboodle of DDD within the first 50 pages or so. So, you have been warned. Don’t say I didn’t warn you otherwise I shall send my mum round and no-one needs my mum round. Not even me.
DBT is another rip roaring, hum-dinger of a book by Steph. As I’ve mentioned above, it follows on immediately from the events of DDD with our protagonist and all round kick-ass heroine, Lori Anderson, presented with yet another dodgy as shit-but-has-to-take-it job, this time bringing in Gibson “The Fish” Fletcher for wobbly FBI guy, Alex Monroe. Now, before we go on, Gibson “The Fish” Fletcher isn’t some Guillermo Del Toro amphibious creature type played by Doug Jones who has escaped from some secret government facility and is on the run stealing bottles of Evian to throw over himself and squatting in people’s hot-tubs and swimming pools, no, as cool as that would be *takes breath*. He is a thief, specialising in robbing from boats moored up around the marinas of Florida, approaching them unseen from the waterside of the boat. Anyhoo, one sunny day his simple, everyday robbing turns to…….moider! I mean……murder, apparently slaughtering a rich couple in their boat, leaving their two young children to witness the extremely bloody aftermath. Now I saw apparently because, this being a Steph Broadribb novel, of course things aren’t as simple as that. PAH, Steph laughs at your idea of simple. She mocks you and your preconceived ideas of what a simple storyline is. She does, I’ve heard her. Well, not heard her, that would be weird as I don’t know her, but I have imagined her laughing at you. Ummm, where was I? Oh yeah, anyway, without giving too much away, Lori is forced into taking the job to find Fletcher, apprehend him and bring him back to Monroe (the aforementioned wobbly FBI dude), in order to save her one-time mentor JT’s arse.
To say any more about the plot would obviously spoil the huge fun to be had inside this book (and to also ruin DDD a bit). Steph knows how to construct a tightly plotted, breathlessly paced, action packed, character driven novel that reads like the best blockbuster action movies you’ll see at the moving picture houses. There’s twists and turns and set pieces aplenty. Lori herself is a great character; rounded, assertive, fallible, likeable and compassionate, and she is ably assisted by a great supporting cast of varied characters; some of them likeable, or grow-to-likeable, and others utterly unlikeable; those whom you can’t wait to see get their just desserts.
While both DDD and DBT are connected, they can be read as standalone books in their own right, as long as you don’t mind spoilers for the previous one, and the way is left wide open at the end of DBT for the inevitable third book – and hopefully 4th, 5th, etc books.
Deep Blue Trouble is an enormously fun read that you’ll finish in no time at all. Roll on the third installment. RidicuRating(TM) 50/5