Jared Keaton, chef to the stars, is charming, charismatic and a psychopath. He’s currently serving a life sentence for the brutal murder of his daughter, Elizabeth. Her body was never found but Keaton was convicted largely on the testimony of Detective Sergeant Washington Poe.
So when a young woman staggers into a remote police station with irrefutable evidence that she is Elizabeth Keaton, Poe finds himself on the wrong end of an investigation, one that could cost him much more than his career.
Helped by the only person he trusts, the brilliant but socially awkward Tilly Bradshaw, Poe races to answer the only question that matters: how can someone be both dead and alive at the same time?
And then Elizabeth goes missing again – and all paths of investigation lead back to Poe.
Regular readers of the blog will know that I loved ‘The Puppet Show‘ by M.W. Craven (you can check out my review here) and was dying to read ‘Black Summer‘. Thanks to the generosity of M.W. Craven, who I have been fortunate enough to interview twice this year, I got an advance copy of ‘Black Summer‘.
I loved ‘The Puppet Show‘ so much that I thought Craven had given himself a tough job in trying to top it but I shouldn’t have worried: ‘Black Summer‘ is an absolute triumph. As with the first Washington Poe novel, Craven evokes locations perfectly, using the beauty of the Lake District in contrast to the brutality of the crimes Poe is investigating.
The relationship between Poe and Tilly Bradshaw, his brilliant but socially awkward colleague, has progressed since the first book in the series as the pair continue to be an investigative dream team. Craven’s ability to balance drama with humour is testament to his skill as a writer. Bradshaw and Poe’s friendship often provides some light relief when things get really dark.
One of the most impressive elements of ‘Black Summer‘ is the character of Jared Keaton who is one of the most repugnant villains I think I have ever encountered. The back and forth between Poe and Keaton is well-written with their conflict leading to Poe finding himself in a jam that may prove too difficult even for him to get out of .
M.W. Craven’s Washington Poe series continues to get stronger.
Posted in Books, reviews
Tagged book, character, characters, drama, friendship, humour, locations, novel, relationship, series, villains, writer, written
When a young writer accepts a job at a university in the remote countryside, it’s meant to be a fresh start, away from the big city and the scene of a violent assault she’s desperate to forget. But despite the distractions of a new life and single motherhood, her nerves continue to jangle. To make matters worse, a vicious debate about violence against women inflames the tensions and mounting rivalries in her creative writing class.
When a troubled student starts sending in chapters from his novel that blur the lines between fiction and reality, the lecturer recognises herself as the main character in his book – and he has written her a horrific fate.
Will she be able to stop life imitating art before it’s too late?
Starting with an assault on our unnamed pregnant protagonist, ‘The Body Lies‘ drops the reader straight into a world where this woman is almost constantly at the behest of the men around her – from her husband who won’t look for a new job in order to facilitate a move to a place she feels safer in to the head of department who continuously expects her to take on more and more work despite her inexperience and the difficulties she has managing her work-life balance to the students who snipe at one another in her class, overruling her at every point.
By leaving this character nameless, Jo Baker says a lot about her interpretation of the world – and how the character is unable to make herself heard and understood in her male-dominated life. However, don’t think that ‘The Body Lies‘ is a novel that is constantly screaming about inequality – its power lies in the fact that the author has managed to subtly weave the point in to almost every sentence without the reader even being conscious of it. The way the issues are presented is almost ‘normal’, reflecting how insidious sexism and inequality is in our society today. You may not notice it but it is happening.
Jo Baker’s skill for beautiful prose makes ‘The Body Lies‘ a truly stunning literary thriller. The slow-burn tension allows us to empathise with the main character, understanding the pressure she is under and how burdensome it is to be a woman. The imagery Baker creates heightens the tension at key points as well as showing the reader the beauty of the world despite the horrific events that occur in it.
‘The Body Lies‘ is a compelling study on what it is to be a woman, how women are subjugated and taken advantage of in many areas of their lives and how unsafe many of us feel on a daily basis.
I’m genuinely not sure I’ll find a more engaging read this year.
Posted in Books, reviews
Tagged character, Creative Writing, fiction, imagery, literary, motherhood, novel, prose, protagonist, read, reader, tension, thriller, woman, women, writer
Lauren Pailing is born in the sixties, and a child of the seventies. She is thirteen years old the first time she dies.
Lauren Pailing is a teenager in the eighties, becomes a Londoner in the nineties. And each time she dies, new lives begin for the people who loved her – while Lauren enters a brand new life, too.
But in each of Lauren’s lives, a man called Peter Stanning disappears. And, in each of her lives, Lauren sets out to find him.
And so every ending is also a beginning. And with each new beginning, Peter Stanning inches closer to being found…
The premise of ‘The First Time Lauren Pailing Died‘ is an absolute corker. The idea that Lauren can switch from one life to another and the impact her (multiple) deaths have on those close to her is really interesting – and thankfully easy to follow. You might expect to get tied up in knots trying to follow which timeline Rudd is referring to but I genuinely never got confused once.
I liked the small differences in each world – the lack of cats in one, the fact that Britain has never had a female Prime Minister in another. By including these subtle changes, Rudd gives the reader a sense of the displacement and unease that Lauren feels when deposited into a new world.
However, I felt there were missed opportunities in terms of character exploration and dramatic tension at times. I thought there was more potential with certain strands than were exploited.
Rudd’s strength lies in the nuanced in which way she explores the relationship between Lauren and her ‘final’ husband, Simon – how a half-lived life causes a ripple effect. In addition to this, the way Rudd weaves the mystery of Peter Stanning’s disappearance into each of Lauren’s alternative lives is skilfully done.
‘The First Time Lauren Pailing Died‘ is like ‘Sliding Doors’ meets ‘Interstellar’ with a dollop of mystery thrown in.
It’s out tomorrow, pre-order ‘The First Time Lauren Pailing Died‘ now.
A murderer’s confession reveals a story of class, education and the inescapable workings of destiny.
Ah Hock is an ordinary, uneducated man born in a Malaysian fishing village trying to make his way in a country that promises riches and security to everyone, but delivers them only to a chosen few. With Asian society changing around him, he remains trapped in a world of poorly paid jobs that just about allow him to keep his head above water but ultimately lead him to murder a migrant worker from Bangladesh.
Ah Hock’s description of the years building up to this appalling act of violence – told over several days to a local journalist whose life has taken a different course – is a portrait of an outsider like no other.
‘We, The Survivors‘ reminded me of ‘The Reluctant Fundamentalist‘ by Mohsin Hamid, possibly because it’s the story of a life-changing event, told in second person.
‘We, The Survivors‘ is a story of class, education and what it is to be an outsider. The idea that Ah is a person who’s excluded from the rapid modernisation of Asian society, despite the dominant narrative being that of everyone can succeed marks him as different even though there are many people that have a similar experience. The struggle to survive in a constantly changing world is almost palpable.
The level of detail that Tash Aw goes into when describing locations and scenarios is astounding, building up tremendously evocative imagery.
Tash Aw’s character study of a man who loses control in the most appalling way makes ‘We, The Survivors‘ an insightful, thought-provoking read.
Posted in Books, reviews
Tagged character, describing, descriptions, idea, imagery, jobs, locations, murderer, read, society, story
Look around you. Who holds the most power in the room? Is it the one who speaks loudest, who looks the part, who has the most money, who commands the most respect?
Or is it someone like Christine Butcher: a meek, overlooked figure, who silently bears witness as secrets are shared Someone who quietly, perhaps even unwittingly, gathers together the knowledge of the people she’s there to serve – the ones who don’t notice her, the ones who consider themselves to be important.
There’s a fine line between loyalty and obsession. And when someone like Christine Butcher is pushed to her limit, she might become the most dangerous person in the room . . .
Christine is an average wife and mother, who is the personal assistant to Mina Appleton, the chair of a large supermarket chain. Following accusations of unethical practices within Mina’s business, Christine has to decide how far she wants to go to prove her loyalty to her boss in a surprisingly cutthroat industry.
As ‘The Secretary‘ progresses, told through Christine’s eyes, it was interesting as a reader to work out what had happened to Christine and where she was telling her story from. When this was revealed where she actually was, I was quite surprised. Renee Knight didn’t go for the most obvious explanation and I appreciated that.
I thought Renee Knight’s characterisation in this novel was very strong. I enjoyed the transformation in Christine as her job became all-encompassing. I thought the character of Mina seemed really believable, her manipulative behaviour certainly seemed to represent what we have come to expect from heads of corporations. In many ways, ‘The Secretary‘ reminded me of ‘The Devil Wears Prada‘.
I thought the idea of having the central crime in this novel centre around unethical business practices and perverting the course of justice was really original. Although it may not initially seem as compelling as murder, this story seemed really realistic and the behaviour of the characters made me want to read on. This is a character-driven psychological thriller which keeps the tension tight throughout.
Posted in Books, reviews
Tagged character, characterisation, characters, crime, murder, novel, psychological, reader, story, thriller
Alison has it all. A doting husband, adorable daughter, and a career on the rise – she’s just been given her first murder case to defend. But all is never as it seems…
Alison drinks too much. She’s neglecting her family. And she’s having an affair with a colleague whose taste for pushing boundaries is becoming more than she can handle.
The woman who Alison’s defending doesn’t deny that she stabbed her husband – she wants to plead guilty but something about her story is deeply amiss. Saving this woman may be the first step to Alison saving herself.
Someone knows Alison’s secrets. Someone who wants to make her pay for what she’s done, and who won’t stop until she’s lost everything….
Ever since I first saw people talking about ‘Blood Orange‘ on Twitter last summer, I was desperate to read it. I was lucky enough to get a very early review copy last year – then to host Harriet Tyce’s first public reading of it at Noir at the Bar in October. Harriet had the audience absolutely transfixed with the excerpt she read aloud and I can promise you that the entire novel is as compelling.
‘Blood Orange‘ is a thoroughly intriguing domestic thriller. Tyce’s prose is tight and the plot of the novel is an incredibly twisty rollercoaster. ‘Blood Orange‘ is a riveting read centring around revenge, lust and obsession. It’s bound to draw comparisons with ‘The Girl on the Train‘ but, in my opinion, ‘Blood Orange‘ is far superior.
Harriet Tyce has created a compelling, complex central character perfect for the #MeToo generation. I love how, despite Alison’s flaws, the reader is given an insight into the myriad ways women are subjugated by men. I found myself absolutely livid throughout much of this book because it brought into crystal clear focus how women are abused, dominated or undermined regardless of their personal situation.
A timely, excellently-plotted novel. Harriet Tyce’s debut is sure to be the smash hit of 2019.
Posted in Books, reviews
Tagged book, character, debut, Noir at the Bar, novel, plotted, read, reader, reading, review, thriller, Twitter