I don’t know about you, but I enjoy a bit of stargazing. Astronomy, if you will.
Nothing serious, just a casual gaze up to the celestial heavens to wonder at the beauty and vastness of this galaxy we call home.
I’m here now, lying on my back, staring at the night-time sky. My eyes are getting used to it now and the longer I spend looking, the more stars I can see.
Look, there’s Orion the Hunter. You can clearly see the belt of stars across the middle. It also contains a nebula; a star forming region of hot gasses and other matter. And what’s that red star up on the left ‘shoulder’? Why that’s Beetleguese, a star so big that if you put it where our sun is it would reach Jupiter. One day it will supernova and shine as bright as a full moon, even during the day.
Now we see the Plough, or the Big Dipper as it’s also known. If you follow the star on the right side of the ‘pan’ up you will reach Polaris, the North Star.
There are shooting stars galore. Tiny pieces of space debris, dust and occasionally man-made artefacts, falling through our atmosphere, burning up as they do so to create a beautiful spectacle in our skies.
But now something odd is happening. I think I may have been out here too long because the sky appears to be moving. Not the expected movement due to the earth’s rotation, but a more random one.
This is very strange indeed.
The stars are moving! They appear to be rearranging themselves into a….. yes, into a pattern?
I slap myself and rub my eyes because I’m pretty sure I’m imagining this, but no, it’s actually there.
As incredible as it may seem, the stars have rearranged themselves into a…. blurb:
She has your back.
And may stab you in it.
Wealthy, pampered Susan is living the perfect life in leafy Kingston. She’ll never let anyone see the darkness she’s concealing behind the diamonds and rosé.
Grace is new to the group, seemingly the perfect wife and mum. Yet no one knows the truth of what’s happening behind closed doors.
Loner Natalie hides the pain of her childhood behind a carefully ordered life. But how long can the past stay hidden?
Three unlikely friends, brought together for a weekly class run by beautiful, friendly, instructor, Jade.
But when Jade goes missing in mysterious circumstances, the group starts to unravel. And as their darkest secrets come to light, it seems that no one can be trusted. Even their closest friends…
A heart-in-your-mouth thriller that builds twist after twist, culminating in an unforgettable ending. This shocking, tense and gripping read will delight fans of T.M. Logan, B.A. Paris and Big Little Lies.
“OoOooOOoooooh, you’re the best friend that I ever had.
I’ve been with youuUUuu such a long time,
You’re my sunshine and I want you to know
That my feelings are truuuuuuuuue,
I really love youuuuuuuu.
OhHhHhHhHhH, you’re my best FRIEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEENNNNNNND….”
What the heck?!?!?! Woah there, you made me jump out of my beard. Oof, just a minute, let me get my breath back….puff….pant….puff….puff….pant again….puff….
There, that’s better. Wooo, that was quite the start, ha ha.
Um, well, you appear to have caught me in the middle of a beardy rendition of I Am Your Best Friend, by supergroup The Queen. But why, Beardy Blog Fans, why I hear you ask, am I singing that well known tune by the aforementioned band? Well, thank you for asking. What very inquisitive readers I have. The more perceptive amongst you may have noticed the word ‘friend’ in the lyrics there, and this is a very pertinent word because, you see, I have just read the most splendid brand new, never been printed before, but will undoubtedly sell out its print run and be printed again, The Loyal Friend, by A.A. Chaudhuri.
See? See! I tells ya, this blog isn’t just thrown together you know. Scientists, like real life nuclear particle type scientists, people with brains so large they have to share them, and, in one case, an actual rocket surgeon, have analysed this blog in minute detail with microscopes and other make-small-big machines to find out just how it is thrown… put, I mean put together.
True story, and I’ll fight anyone who says otherwise.
Ok, I won’t fight them, but I’ll get Crusher Collins to do it and he owes me a favour after I lent him my champion conker – it was a sixer – back in 1981 and he beat Spotty Simpkins with it. I mean he literally beat him with it. It was a very large and hard conker that he took off me with every intention of beating me with it, until I told him that Spotty Simpkins said his mum smelled (which was only slightly true. I mean she did smell, but she worked on the perfume counter at Woolco, so….), and that earned me BIG brownie points with Crusher. Spotty moved house soon after that.
Where was I?
Oh yes, The Loyal Friend. So, what is this book all about? Well, if I may refer the Right Honourable Reader back up to the start of this review you can read the blurb and discover that for yourself. What? That’s not rude, it’s what blurbs are for. Go on, I’ll wait here whilst you pop back and have a good old goose. Gander, I meant gander…
“It’s so easy now, ’cause you got friends you can trust.
Friends will be friends.
When you’re in need of love they give you care and attention.
Friends will be friends.
When you’re through with life and all hope is lost,
Hold out your hand ’cause friends will be frienNnNnNnNnNnNdsssss…
Right till the ENNNNNNNNNNND!”
Oh, you’re back already? You appear to have caught me again, singing another song by The Queen called “Friends They will Be Friends”. I have to say though, that if I had friends like the ones in The Loyal Friend I most certainly wouldn’t trust them, as Frederick Jupiter says in the first line there. In fact, I don’t think they’d give you any care and attention either, not unless there was something in it for them too. Especially that Susan one. I see you Susan. It’s all about the appearances with that one. I wouldn’t trust her as far as I could throw her. To be honest, I wouldn’t particularly trust any of the main characters in this book; they all have something to hide, and they may all have a part to play in the disappearance of Jade, the popular fitness instructor at The River Club where they all attend her fitness classes.
Don’t they smell funny, fitness centres? Like you’ve wandered into a shop selling pot pourri, only it’s pot pourri made from old socks, sweaty gussets, and jockstraps. And Deep Heat. Mmmmmm, I do love that smell, actually. Deep Heat, that is. You can keep the others, thank you very much.
Now, you may be asking why am I wittering on about the smell of leisure centres, and you would be right to ask. You see, I thought, what with this book taking place, at least in part, within a health and fitness centre, it would be a good wheeze to bring you this review from the inside of a very real and, as it turns out, rather cheap, leisure centre. It’s hardly the River Club, but it is my nearest and I have a rather annoying blister on my big toe so I’m not in the mood to go traipsing across town to the swanky one. But, I think this clearly shows that I am nothing if not dedicated to my art. I’ve got myself a little table in the corner, ordered myself a coffee and a small, rather plain lettuce sandwich to sustain me through this review. I say lettuce sandwich as it was the only vegan offering they had when I asked. The woman had a suspiciously ‘urgh, bloody vegans’ look to her and I suspect it once had ham in it as there’s a distinctly piggy whiff to it. I’ve washed the lettuce in the water fountain over there by the little rotary thing full of leaflets, so now I’ve a rather watery lettuce sandwich, but at least it is now devoid of any piggyness. And rogue slugs.
*Sigh* I’ve been staring at a blank screen now for an hour. The sandwich is gone. That was nothing to celebrate, I’ll tell you. Even a rabbit would’ve sent it back. Let’s see what classes they have on offer that may inspire me. Ooh, look here, it says ‘Body Attack 7.30pm’. In the book, that is the class that Natalie, Grace and Susan all attend, run by the soon to be missing Jade! I don’t know about you, but to me that sounds highly unpleasant. I mean, body attack? How does that keep you fit? Do you have to run away from someone brandishing a weapon? How hard is this supposed attack? In what form will it take? I don’t know, I don’t like this idea at all. It brings back memories of Crusher Collins all over again, and that never made me any healthier. Quite the opposite really. It took ages for that conker to eventually work its way out again after he beat Spotty with it and he caught me laughing at him. I wish he’d left the string attached. Would’ve been much quicker.
Boxercise sounds much calmer and could be fun. I imagine it involves a box of some kind though. I didn’t think to bring one, so I hope they’ll have one I could borrow. Calisthenics? What on earth is calisthenics? “60 second leg flutters”? “30-second sprint, nonstop”? “15 burpees”? What the hell is a burpee? Now, a fartee, I can do. Ahhhh, I do make myself chuckle. Hmmm, I’m not sure any of that is for me really.
I need a wee. That coffee has gone right through me. The watery lettuce sandwich probably hasn’t helped either. Where are the toilets? Ah, I see them. Brb.
Ok, that wasn’t the toilet. There’s a very angry woman, not to mention an equally irate leisure centre employee in there, who were not happy that I walked in whilst she was having her toes shaved. Who gets their toes shaved in a leisure centre anyway? Since when was that a thing? And how is that leisurely? Relaxing, yes. I’ll give you relaxing, but leisurely, I think not. These places have changed since I were lad. There aren’t even any squash courts here. And not a shuttlecock to be seen stuck up in the ceiling joist thingies anywhere. Pffffffft! Sorry, a little bit of spit came out then. I’ll just get a tissue….
There are angry and irate people in The Loyal Friend, too. Everyone seems so have it in for everyone else in some way shape or form. I’m not going to spoil anything here, you’ll have to read this book for yourself, but in The Loyal Friend, A.A Chaudhuri (or Alex to give her her less formal, but equally authoriffic name) has created a truly great cast of women, each of whom have their own unique voice and character. The book deftly (that’s a good word isn’t it, deftly? Say it with me: deftly. Deffffffftly. Nice, isn’t it?) weaves between the three main protagonists (or should that be antagonists? Oooooh, see what I did there?), each of them revealing their own perspectives on the disappearance of Jade, and their part, or lack thereof, in said disappearance. You see, Jade, like Debbie McGee during one of the late, great Paul Daniels’s magic tricks, has vanished without a trace. She has piff-paff-poofed into the great unknown. Hang on, that was The Great Soprendo, not Paul Daniels, but you get the idea.
Paul Daniels and Debbie McGee did not Pif, paff or indeed poof, but they did like it. Not a lot, but they liked it.
Yes, Jade appears to have vanished without a trace without so much as a piff, let alone a paff and a poof, and it seems that Natalie is the only one who seems to care. Natalie, who is the shy, troubled, relative newcomer to the River Club, befriended Jade a year previously after she turned up at the library where she works with a stack of flyers for the club. She was persuaded by Jade to come along and try out her body attack class after Sam, a particularly snobby and irritating colleague of ‘Nats’ as she keeps calling her (“I HATE it when she calls me Nats; only Jack was allowed to call me that”), humiliates her in front of Jade. Jade decides to encourage her to come along and, to Sam’s stunned amazement, she says she will. But now Jade is gone and, increasingly worried, she decides to let herself into Jade’s place – she has a spare key – and what she finds there reinforces her belief that her no-show at the club is more than just an out of character moment. From here on in the story ramps up and, with each character having secrets to hide, paranoia starts to set in and already fragile relationships begin to fracture and break.
*whispering* I’m sorry Beardy Blog Fans, but I’m having to speak very quietly because the lady with the now partly shaved toes saw me, pointed and shouted very robustly, “There he is! There’s the man who interrupted my phalangeal exfoliation!” So I hastily gathered up my things and escaped through the first door I saw. Unfortunately it was a cleaner’s cupboard and I am currently trying to avoid another Crusher Collins moment with a particularly overfamiliar mop handle. Oof, it’s very tight in here. I can still hear her out there, so I’ll have to carry on from here.
As I mentioned earlier, each chapter of The Loyal Friend moves between the different perspectives of our three main characters, letting us see into their lives, slowly revealing their secrets, lies and the part they may, or may not, have played in the disappearance of Jade. A.A. Chaudhuri really nails this narrative and has created some truly compelling characters, none of whom are particularly likeable, but all of whom are multilayered, emotionally complex and compelling all the same. Alex doesn’t shy away from some tough topics in this book either, with domestic abuse, infidelity, sexual and emotional abuse, death and mental illness all having their part to play. It is a hard read in places, but those pages won’t turn themselves, so it’s lucky that Alex is such a skilful author that you are compelled to do so.
Wait, shhhhh! No, it’s ok. I thought I heard something but it was just my stomach rumbling. I think she’s gone. At least I hope she has otherwise myself and this mop handle will be getting married, that’s how closely we’re becoming acquainted. I’ll open this door a crack and have a little peep….
Well, after what seemed like an eternity I am free of the cleaner’s cupboard and am released back into the free world. Ahhhh, the smell of a leisure centre has never smelled so good. Well, good-ish, anyway. So, where was I? Ah yes, I was about to say what a brilliant book TLF really is. Now, despite my little aside above where I waited for you all to go back and read the blurb, I have to confess that I hadn’t read it before I started this book. I had no idea what it was actually about, other than it involved a friend, or friends, who might, or might not, be loyal. But, honestly, I think I enjoyed it so much more because of it. There’s nothing wrong with the blurb, it is a fine blurb indeed; when the Annual Best Blurb Awards are open for nominations, I shall be casting my vote for it, make no mistake. But discovering the story for myself as I read just enhanced my overall enjoyment of this book.
Oh blimey, she’s spotted me again. Now she’s staring at me. Like, really staring at me; it’s the kind of stare that Paddington would be proud of. Oh, now she seems to be walking towards me. Hold on, why has she just grabbed that tennis racquet off that surprised woman walking past? Now why is she grinning like that and slapping the racquet into her hand like that? Now she’s walking faster, and getting redder. Oh, um, I think I’d better…..ruuuuuuuuuunnnnn!!!!
*puff* so, Beardy *puff* Blog *puff* Fans, it seems that I need to conclude this review whilst *pant* I run away *puff* from *puff..puff* a, oh blimey, I’m getting a stitch *puff* a tennis racquet wielding, partly toe shaven luna…. *puff…puff* ….tic. So, ooof, I found The Loyal Friend to be a superbly crafted… ufff…. excellently written tale of fractured friendships brought on by *puff* by *pant* deceit, lies, devastating secrets *puff…puff…puff* and tragedy. A lot of tragedy. Seriously, who’d be a character in these books, eh? Oooooohweeeeee, will this woman never give up? And the language! The language is just, well, there are children around *puff…pant…pant…puff* A.A. Chaudhuri’s language on the other hand is far from vulgar. Well *puff* it’s pretty vulgar where it needs to be, but only because some of her characters *puff…puff…* are pretty vulgar themselves. The *puff* Loyal *puff* Friend is a tough read at times, and as unlikeable as the three ‘friends’ may be *huff*, they all have reasons for why they are that way, or *pant…gasp* at least helps to explain their actions. It’s a testament to Alex’s skilful writing that you find some sympathy with them as their backgrounds are revealed. I thoroughly *huff…huff* recommend The Loyal Friend for anyone who loves a tightly plotted, skilfully written story with plenty of twists, turns and dark edges.
Man, I *puff* think *puffpuffpuffpuffpuff* that she’s finally given… Owwwwww!!
Well, Beardy Blog Fans, I apologise for how this review ended. It appears that throwing a tennis racquet to the back of my bonce, knocking me over, and then shaking me most vigorously by the neck was enough to placate the irate woman with partially shaven toes. If I had known that at the start it would’ve saved me a lot of running. And my blister is even worse now. I think, on reflection, that leisure centres are not the place for me. I need a long hot bath with lots of suddy suds, and my squeaky duck, Pontins. Farewell, and until next time.
A. A. Chaudhuri is a former City lawyer. After gaining a degree in History at University College London, she later trained as a solicitor and worked for several major London law firms before leaving law to pursue her passion for writing.
She is the author of The Scribe and The Abduction, books 1 and 2 of her Kramer & Carver legal thriller series featuring the feisty Maddy Kramer, also published in audio.
Her first highly acclaimed psychological thriller with Hera Books, She’s Mine, was published on kindle, paperback and audio in August 2021 and in April 2022 was named the LJ Ross Book Club pick of the month. The Loyal Friend will be published on 23rd June 2022 and has already received widespread praise.
Represented by Annette Crossland of A for Authors Literary Agency, she lives in Surrey with her family, and loves films, all things Italian and a good margarita!
My hugerist thanks to Danielle Price at The Reading Closet Book Tours for coercing me out of retirement and inviting me on to this Blog Tour. And to Alex and Hera Books for my review copy of The Loyal Friend and for having me here.
You can purchase you own copy of The Loyal Friend at your favourite physical bookstore or from one the links below: