As if the day wasn’t difficult enough for you – burying a loved one is never easy, but Chirpy Cheep-Cheep was a beloved budgie and the neighbour’s cat will face justice over this feathered crime, as will the person who left the cage open in the first place – there is one face in the crowd of mourners (yourself, your youngest, the nosey, pervy neighbour peeping behind their bedroom curtains, and their murderous cat, looking smug and with a I’m-totally-digging-him-up-later look on his stupid feline face), that you don’t recognise. You’re not even sure how she got into the garden, but you notice that the gate is open when it should be bolted; another mental note to admonish this persistent door-leaver-opener – probably your eldest as they can never seem to keep their mouth closed either. As you make eye contact the stranger walks across the lawn towards you – the lawn that Chirpy Cheep-Cheep will never gaze at through the window ever again – and embraces you. You feel her slip something into your pocket as she whispers her condolences, and, as quickly as she came, she leaves through the still open gate. Befuddled you put your hand into your pocket and pull out a piece of paper. On it, in neat writing, is a……blurb:
“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 she 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 trust the most can harbour the deadliest secrets…”
Death can be a right arse when it wants to be.
Sometimes it can be a blessing; easing pain and giving relief to the suffering.
Othertimes it can be a right royal nuisance; getting in the way of life just when things are going great and you’re in the middle of something interesting or life changing, such as completing a particularly tricky jigsaw, or catching the eye of some hot stuff you think you would never have a chance with and seeing them walk towards you with a “grrrrrrRRRrrrrr” in their eyes.
As the late, magnificent Sir Terry Pratchett says in his Discworld novel, Moving Pictures:
“The moments that change your life are the ones that happen suddenly, like the one where you die.”
Death can also be the great Revealer of Secrets. Anything you thought you had hidden away, be it material or immaterial, can be revealed.
I mean seriously, who does it think it is, going around exposing people’s secrets willy nilly? Reputations can be tarnished; families torn asunder; porn stashes discovered; secret underwear fetishes exposed; secret stashes of meat found after telling everyone you’re vegetarian for years; cheeky pots of money hidden under the squeaky floorboard found; your yellowing Barry Manilow photo collection discovered and passed around to the merriment of others; the collection of pages torn from the underwear section of an old Kays catalogue prised apart, mocked and ewww’d over….the list could be endless (Disclaimer: none of those are my secrets, btw. I don’t look good in ladies underwear anyway, no matter how hard I try).
When Paula Gadd‘s husband Tommy drops down dead suddenly and without warning – not even so much as a note left on the fridge held up by a novelty magnet that they bought together on a day out in Clacton – whilst at a restaurant, she has no idea that her world is about to turn even further upside down.
If it wasn’t bad enough losing her husband of 30 years, some seemingly random stranger approaches her at the funeral and slips a note into her coat pocket. What did that note say? Well I think that it is fair to say that it didn’t say “sorry for your loss” or contain the number of a bereavement helpline, it’s not even a winning scratchcard; nothing so useful. No, this note was far more sinister.
“You need to know who your husband really was”.
That’s not something you want to read at your husband’s, or anyone’s, funeral now is it?
And with those few words Paula’s world is turned the full 180°, the change falls out of her pockets, and all that she knew begins to fall away before her.
“No one is actually dead until the ripples they cause in the world die away…”
The ripples that Thomas’s death, or Tosh as he’s known to his associates, leaves are huge and far reaching. It isn’t just Paula that Thomas leaves behind, there are also his two brothers, Bill and Joe, both of whom feel the repercussions of his death most keenly. They both clearly fear and are hiding something, Joe, a Catholic priest, is especially scared and wary, but of what? What?, I hear you clamour. Well, clamour away suckas, because Michael’s writing is clever enough to keep you guessing as to what it may be and as to the extent of their involvement, if any; drip feeding you details along the way in a way that rarely puts us in the know before Paula. When she finds out, we find out.
There’s also sweaty Kevin – as I like to think of him – Thomas’s business partner, who comes a knocking at Paula’s door at the most unreasonable of times quite clearly scared shitless over something or someone – hence my nickname for him; I’m clever, me – but he is less than forthcoming when challenged. As am I; you’ll have to read the book to find out whether he has any grounds for his fear (and whether he resolves his sweatiness or just gets through a lot of handkerchiefs) 😉
Outside of Thomas’s family and business partners we meet Cara Connolly, the nameless woman who slipped Paula the note (well, she was nameless at the time she gave Paula the note; clearly she has one and that one is Cara. Um…). Where Paula lived a life of moneyed luxury: wearing the best clothes, driving the best cars and wearing the latest fashions, eating ice-cream with actual vanilla in it, Cara lives in almost the exact opposite of circumstances. She works for Independent Advocacy (if, like me, you have never heard of this valuable service before then here’s a helpful link), helping the more disadvantaged people in Glasgow. Her mother is a recovering addict of various substances, and Cara has learnt Taekwondo in order to stay safe on the streets in the areas where she lives. It’s worlds away from Paula’s. But there is something that connects them both: they have both lost someone close to them. You see, Paula and Thomas had a son, Christopher, who was killed seven years before Thomas’s death. Whereas Cara’s brother Sean, was also killed several years before. Is there a connection between the two deaths? and how could Cara, Paula or Thomas be involved, if at all?
Ah, now you see, by now you should know my answer to that one. I’m not even going to insult your collective intelligence by giving you the answer *cough*readthebook*cough*. Sorry, got a mote of dust stuck in my throat there. 😉
After He Died isn’t just a story of secrets being exposed and the threats contained therein, it is also a story about class and the rich/poor divide, in this case in Glasgow. As she investigates her husband’s secret life, Paula is exposed to Cara’s world and her work, and she is shocked by what she sees. But unlike her sister-in-law dodgy Daphne, Bill’s wife, Paula isn’t an insufferable snob and she learns that there is more to life than money and wealth.
As mentioned above this book is set in Glasgow and the city is as much a character as Paula, Cara, Bill or Joe in this story. Michael’s use of the Glaswegian slang and dialect gives it a wonderfully authentic feel that reminds you that this isn’t the usual over-familiar London or New Yoik centric setting found in so many books. It’s always nice to get out of the usual settings and discover new places.
Michael J Malone is a very prolific writer, but I am pretty late to the party having only read two of his books previously: the spookily excellent haunted house thriller House of Spines and the utterly, utterly brilliant A Suitable Lie, which blew me away (here’s my review). With After He Died, Michael continues that winning streak with another brilliantly constructed psychological thriller that keeps you guessing all the way through with believable characters in believable situations, behaving, er, believably. It’s a story of the quest for truth; how well do we really know those closest to us and should some things be better left undiscovered? But it is also one of lies, mistruths, mistrust and that age old motivator for murder: money. After He Died is also a skilfully told when-worlds-collide tale of social and economic divides, and of how friendships can grow from out of the most unlikely situations.
It’s brilliant and will linger in your mind long after you finish the last chapter. But then this is Michael J Malone and Orenda Books – what else would you expect? 😉
Michael Malone is a prize-winning poet and author who was born and brought up in the heart of Burns’ country, just a stone’s throw from the great man’s cottage in Ayr. Well, a stone thrown by a catapult. He has published over 200 poems in literary magazines throughout the UK, including New Writing Scotland, Poetry Scotland and Markings. His career as a poet has also included a (very) brief stint as the Poet-In- Residence for an adult gift shop. Blood Tears, his bestselling debut novel won the Pitlochry Prize (judge: Alex Gray) from the Scottish Association of Writers. Other published work includes: Carnegie’s Call (a non-fiction work about successful modern-day Scots); A Taste for Malice; The Guillotine Choice; Beyond the Rage and The Bad Samaritan. His psychological thriller, A Suitable Lie, was a number one bestseller. Michael is a regular reviewer for the hugely popular crime fiction website http://www.crimesquad.com. A former Regional Sales Manager (Faber & Faber) he has also worked as an IFA and a bookseller.
My thanks to Karen Sullivan, Protector, Gatherer and Queen Bee to all of the amazing Orenda Books talent, and to Anne Cater (Random Things Through My Letter Box), blog tour organiser extraordinaire, for having me on this tour and for my copy of AFD.
Ooh, don’t forget to check out all of the other awesome bloggers on the tour. You’ll learn a lot more than you will from my wafflings and you won’t have to worry about any of it embarrassing you in the event of your untimely departure 🙂