During our twenty-two weekrun at Virtual Noir at the Bar earlier this year, I was lucky to host a number of amazing writers. I was also invited to talk to a number of podcasts, publications, blogs and Facebook groups.
The first Facebook Live event I took part in was with William Shaw, who was hosting daily chats with a number of people from the world of writing. William was a brilliant host and I enjoyed appearing on his show.
A couple of months later, William appeared at VNatB and was so generous that he read an excerpt of someone else’s work instead of his own!
William is joining us today to talk about his next project: Reading Party. I’m confident that you’re going to be interested in what’s coming up!
Guest Post: William Shaw talks about Reading Party
I’ve been trying to come up with a way in which Zoom events can have the same kind of engagement as live events – and also really be about the books.
I came up with the idea of a reading party. The idea is guests get to read from an author’s new work – aloud. Together, twenty guests read a chapter from a writers’s new book, in the presence of the writer themselves.
It kicks off with the writer explaining a little about the extract they’ve chosen, answering guests’ questions about what kind of mood they want etc, and then the reader kicks things off followed by all the guests in turn. Afterwards there’s a discussion.
Admission is by ticket – or by buying a copy of the book. After the reading there’s time for discussion and then the writer signs and dedicates a bookplate for anyone who has bought the book. Books are supplied by the online bookshop Bert’s Books.
It’s my pleasure today to be taking part in the blog tour for PL Kane’s ‘Her Husband’s Grave‘ by P L Kane.
A hint of gold glistened in the sand. It was a watch, no doubt about it. A watch… attached to a body.
Criminal psychologist Robyn Adams is at breaking point after a previous case resulted in an attempt on her own life. But as she sits in the car about to head home, she receives a phone call from her long lost cousin, Vicky.
Vicky’s voice cracks as she explains to Robyn that her husband, Simon, has been found buried on Golden Sands beach. Desperate to help and determined not to let her last case get the better of her, Robyn returns to the coastal village where she spent summers with Vicky as a child.
Robyn knows that she has let Vicky down in the past and is set on making up for lost time. Throwing herself into the case, she combs through evidence, intent on discovering a lead that will help the local police.
But there is clearly someone who wants Robyn gone. She is convinced someone is watching her and when she begins to receive threatening notes, Robyn knows that she could be risking her life…
But Robyn won’t leave again – she owes it to Vicky to stay.
I’ve been treated to the prologue of this exciting new thriller – and here it is for you all to enjoy!
He’d been looking for something else when he made the shocking discovery. The grisly, stomach-churning discovery that would change everything…
He had been walking along, here on the beach, looking for treasure no less – buried or otherwise – if you can believe such a thing. And he did, had done all his life. Believed the tales his father had told him about this place when he was young, about the smugglers and the pirates. Loved it when his old man had read Treasure Island to him at bedtime when he was little.
Jeremy Platt had only recently moved back to the area, partly to keep an eye on his ageing dad now that the man’s wife, Jeremy’s mum, had passed away; partly because his own marriage to Alice – who he’d met at college in the nearby town of Mantlethorpe – had fallen apart. Now, here they both were… alone, together.
They’d joke about it sometimes, over a pint in their local, or a game of dominoes, though their laughter would fade quite quickly. But at least they had each other, the roles reversed from when Jeremy had been little; now he had to read to his father because of his failing eyesight. Something that had put paid to the old bloke’s hobby of amateur writing, and one of the reasons why he liked to stand at the window with those binoculars, looking out over the sea. Or had done, until a couple of days ago.
Until the heart attack.
Jeremy had been the one to make the discovery then too, calling round early because he couldn’t reach him on the phone; all the while telling himself it was just lines down because of the storm. Instead, finding him collapsed on the floor, phone off the hook after clearly trying to reach it and ring for help. Jeremy had rung for an ambulance instead, straight away. They’d whisked him off to hospital, and there had followed an anxious few hours, waiting to hear the worst.
When the doctor came out and told Jeremy his dad had stabilised, he’d almost hugged the fellow. ‘What he needs now, more than anything, is rest,’ the physician had said to Jeremy, ‘time to recover.’ He’d been allowed to sit by the bedside, even though Mr Platt snr was still pretty out of it – wires running in and out of him, like some kind of robot. And Jeremy had cried, watching him, realising just how frail he was for the first time. How he might lose another parent before long.
To be honest, he’d come here today to give himself a break more than anything. The hospital had promised to call if there was any change and he could be back in no time.
So here he was, on said beach, looking for excitement, looking for treasure. Just like his old man had promised. All part of a hobby he’d taken up, something to occupy his time while he looked for – and had failed so far to find – work in the area. So, with what was left over from the redundancy package and the marital savings, he’d treated himself to a metal detector.
Jeremy had often spotted people wandering up and down the sands, sweeping those things from left to right, and thought it looked like fun. Well, you never knew what you might find out there. The guy in the shop, that fellow with the beard and cargo trousers – front pockets bulging, so full Jeremy wondered how he walked without falling over – had done nothing to dissuade him. Had been a self-confessed expert on the subject, happy to give him lots of tips… Not to mention sell him the best detector on the market, or so he claimed: the Equinox 800 with the large coil, perfect for places like beaches.
It had continued to rain off and on since the storm, and that made for perfect conditions as far as detecting was concerned. ‘When everything’s wet,’ the bloke from the shop had told him, ‘it soaks into the ground and helps you spot anything that’s deeper down. Ground’s had a drink, see?’
He’d also advised Jeremy not to be in a rush, to expect lots of trash. ‘95% of what you’ll find,’ cargo guy had said, simultaneously showing him how to swing the machine – not too fast and not in great arcs – ‘it’ll be junk.’
He hadn’t been wrong. In the months he’d been doing this, Jeremy had found enough bottle-tops to pebbledash a house, old-fashioned keys, the backs of watches, tin cans, safety pins, bits of shiny metal that looked like mirrors…
However, he’d also found enough to encourage him to carry on: toy cars (a couple of which had actually ended up being collectors’ items); an old whistle once (which he hadn’t dared blow, recalling an old ghost story he’d read in his teens); a few lighters; a couple of rings; and, though they weren’t doubloons as such, quite a few pound coins that must have fallen out of wallets, purses or pockets. The point was, he had fun while he was doing it – and at the moment he needed that, needed to take his mind off things. Off his dad lying there in bed looking like C3-PO.
He stopped when the beeping in his earphones intensified. Jeremy stared at the screen in front of him: 12… 13… no, 14! A pretty good reading, he thought, pulling the ’phones from his ears to wear them around his neck. Bending and taking out his trowel from his pack, he placed the detector down and began digging in the spot it had indicated. What would it be this time, a gold chain perhaps? Down, down, and further down…
Jeremy stopped when he saw the metal, couldn’t help grinning to himself. The last few bits of sand he dug out with his gloved hands, fingers clawing, eager to see what it was he’d uncovered.
He stopped when he reached it, plucked the item out and held it up in front of him – where it glinted in the early morning sun. His smiled faded. ‘Just an old ring-pull,’ he said to himself, the kind you wouldn’t get these days because they were fixed to the lid. Sighing, he bagged it anyway, to stop another hunter from making the same mistake – and to keep those beaches clean, of course. They were a far cry from what they’d been when he was a kid, or indeed when his father had been a boy, and Jeremy wasn’t even sure they deserved the name that had been given them now, their colour dull even when it hadn’t been raining.
But it was as he’d contemplated this that he spotted it. Something in that dull sand, along the beach. Something not that well buried at all, sticking out in fact – just ripe for the taking. He looked around him, the beach deserted – though to be fair you wouldn’t really get many tourists on this stretch of it anyway. They’d stick to the main beach for swimming and so they were closer to the pier and shops. Grabbing his stuff, he clambered to his feet and started over. He couldn’t be sure what it was really, but it was glinting.
It was metal. It was gold… Golden at any rate.
Didn’t even need his detector this time, which was real irony for you. All that sweeping, all that beeping. The closer he got the more he saw of it, some kind of strap… a watch strap! Looked like it belonged to an expensive one, too. Just a bit of it sticking out, but there it was.
Jeremy got down again, started to uncover the find as he had done with the ring-pull. He hadn’t been digging for long, perhaps only a few seconds, when he pulled back sharply. It was a watch strap all right, with a watch attached. But there was also skin there too.
And a wrist.
Swallowing dryly, he moved forward again. His imagination surely, eyes playing tricks on him. He dug a little more, pulled back again.
There was a hand attached to that wrist. A human hand.
Jeremy hadn’t uncovered much of it, but he could tell now – and though it was at an angle, it looked for all the world like a much dryer version of The Lady in the Lake’s hand reaching up for Excalibur. Except there was no sword to catch. And this was no lady’s hand.
He scrabbled backwards again, felt the bile rising in his mouth. That was a body, no doubt about it – and his mind flashed back to when him and his mum used to bury his dad when they went on the sands (might be burying him for real soon, a little voice whispered and he promptly ignored it). But surely nobody would have done that by accident? Left a relative here, especially in this isolated spot.
Jeremy frowned, then reached into his pocket for his mobile. Began to dial a number.
There you go, that same voice had told him, you wanted excitement. An adventure. He shook his head again, shook those thoughts away too.
‘Yes, hello,’ he said when the ringing at the other end stopped and voice came on the line. Not asking for an ambulance this time, because it was far too late for that. Instead: ‘Yes, could you give me the police please.’
My thanks to Little Brown for including me in the blog tour for this brilliant author. If you missed M.W. Craven at Virtual Noir at the Bar, check out the archives.
‘The player who understands the role of the pawn, who really under- stands it, can master the game of chess,’ the man said. ‘They might be the weakest piece on the board but pawns dictate where and when your opponent can attack. They restrict the mobility of the so-called bigger pieces and they determine where the battle squares will be.’
The woman stared at him in confusion. She’d just woken and was feeling groggy.
She twisted her head and searched for the source of her pain. It didn’t take long.
‘What have you done?’ she mumbled.
‘Beautiful, isn’t it? It’s old-fashioned catgut so the sutures are a bit agricultural, but they’re supposed to be. It’s not used any more but I needed the “wick effect”. That’s when infection enters the wound through the suture. It will ensure the scar stays livid and crude. A permanent reminder of what has happened.’
He picked up a pair of heavy-duty rib shears.
‘Although not for you, of course.’ The woman thrashed and writhed but it was no use. She was boundtight. The man admired the exacting lines of the surgical instrument.
Turned it so the precision steel caught the light. Saw his face reflected in the larger blade. He looked serious. This wasn’t something he particu- larly enjoyed.
‘Please,’ the woman begged, fully awake now, ‘let me go. I promise you, I won’t say anything.’
The man walked round and held her left hand. He stroked it affectionately.
‘I’ve had to wait for the anaesthetic to wear off so this is going to hurt, I’m afraid. Believe me when I say I wish it didn’t have to.’
He placed her ring finger between the blades of the rib shears and squeezed the handles together. There was a crunch as the razor-sharp edges sliced through bone and tendon as if they weren’t there.
The woman screamed then passed out. The man stepped away from the spreading pool of blood.
‘Where was I?’ he said to himself. ‘Ah, yes, we were talking about pawns. Beginners think they’re worthless, there to be sacrificed – but that’s because they don’t know when to use them.’
He removed a coil of wire from his pocket. It had toggles at each end. He placed them between the index and middle finger of each hand. In a practised movement he wrapped the wire around the woman’s neck.
‘Because knowing when to sacrifice your pawns is how the game is won.’
He pulled the garrotte taut, grunting as the cruel wire bit into her skin, severing her trachea, crushing her jugular vein and carotid artery. She was dead in seconds.
He waited an hour then took the other finger he needed.
He carefully arranged it in a small plastic tub, keeping it separate from the others. He looked at his macabre collection with satisfaction.
It could begin now. The other pawns were in position. They just didn’t know it yet . . .
It was the night before Christmas and all wasn’t well. It had started like it always did. Someone asking, ‘Are we doing Secret Santa this year?’ and someone else replying, ‘I hope not,’ both making a pact to avoid mentioning it to the office manager, both secretly planning to mention it as soon as possible. And before anyone could protest, the decision had been made and the office was doing it again. The fifteenth year in a row. Same rules as last year. Five-quid limit. Anonymous gifts. Nothing rude or offensive. Gifts that no one wanted. A total waste of everyone’s time.
At least that’s what Craig Hodgkiss thought. He hated Secret Santa.
He hated Christmas too. The yearly reminder that his life was shit. That, while the colleagues he outwardly sneered at were going home to spend Christmas with their families and loved ones, he’d be spending it on his own.
But he really hated Secret Santa.
Three years ago it had been the source of his greatest humili- ation. Setting himself the not unreasonable Christmas target of shagging Hazel, a fellow logistics specialist at John Bull Haulage, he’d wangled it so he was the one who’d bought her Secret Santa gift. He reckoned buying her a pair of lace panties would be the perfect way to let her know he was up for some extracurricular activities while her husband long-hauled across mainland Europe.
His plan worked. Almost. It had been the perfect way to let her know.
Unfortunately she was happily married, and instead of rushing into his bed she’d rushed to her husband, who was between jobs and was having a brew in the depot. The six-foot-five lorry driver had walked into the admin office and broken Craig’s nose. He’d told him that if he ever so much as looked at his wife again he’d find himself hogtied in the back of a Russia-bound shipping container. Craig had believed him. So much so that, in front of the whole office, he’d lost control of his bladder.
For two years everyone had called him ‘Swampy’. He couldn’t even complain to Human Resources as he was terrified of getting Hazel into trouble.
For two years he hadn’t made a dent in the girls in the office.
But eventually Hazel and her brute of a husband had moved on. He took a job driving for Eddie Stobart and she went with him. Craig told everyone that Hazel’s husband had left the com- pany because he’d caught up with him and given him a hiding, but no one had believed him.
Actually, one person seemed to.
By Craig’s own standards, Barbara Willoughby was a plain girl. Her hair looked like it had been styled in a nursing home, her teeth were blunt and too widely spaced, and she could have done with dropping a couple of pounds. On a scale of one-to-ten Craig reckoned she was a hard six, maybe a seven in the right lighting, and he only ever shagged eights and above.
But there was one thing he did like about her. She hadn’t been there when he’d pissed himself.
So he’d asked her out. And to his surprise he found they got on really well. She was fun to be with and she was popular. He liked how she made him feel and she was adventurous in bed. He also liked how she only wanted to do things at the weekends. During the week she would stay in and study for some stupid exams she was taking.
Which suited Craig just fine.
Because, after a few weeks of dating Barbara, he’d got his swagger back. And with it he began carving notches again.
To his amazement he discovered it was actually easier pulling the type of woman he went for when he told them he was in a long-term relationship. He reckoned it was the combination of his boyish good looks and the thought of doing over someone they didn’t know. Which gave Craig an idea: if those sort of women enjoyed the thrill of being with someone who cheated, they’d go crazy for someone who had affairs . . .
So Craig Hodgkiss, at the age of twenty-nine, decided he would ask Barbara to marry him. She’d jump at the chance. She was in her early thirties, had some biological clock thing going on (but was unaware he’d had a vasectomy two years earlier) and would almost certainly be left on the shelf if she said no. And then he’d reap the rewards. A faithful doormat keeping his bed warm and a succession of women who’d happily shag a man wearing a wedding band.
And because he wanted everyone in the office to know he was about to become illicit fruit, he’d decided to put past experiences behind him and propose during the office Secret Santa.
Arranging it hadn’t been straightforward. He’d got Barbara’s ring size by stealing her dead grandmother’s eternity ring, the one she only wore on special occasions. While Barbara turned her flat upside down looking for it, he’d been asking a jeweller to make the engagement ring the same size and to recycle the diamonds and gold. The whole thing had only cost him two hundred quid.
The next thing was to think of a cool way of proposing.
Something that would get the office girls talking about how romantic Craig was. A rep like that could only help. He decided on a mug. It was the perfect Secret Santa gift as it met the five- quid limit set by the office manager and, although half the gifts under the cheap fibre optic Christmas tree looked like they were mugs, half the gifts under the tree didn’t have ‘Will You Marry Me?’ printed on the side.
When Barbara read the message and then saw what was inside . . . well, he reckoned she’d burst into tears, shout yes and hug him for all she was worth.
The office floor was strewn with cheap wrapping paper. All reindeer and snowmen and brightly wrapped presents tied with ribbons.
Barbara was next. She picked up her parcel and looked at him strangely.
Did she know?
She couldn’t. No one did. Not even the girl he’d persuaded to swap with him so he was the one buying for Barbara.
Tiffany, Barbara’s best friend, began recording it on her mobile phone for some reason. That was OK, though. Better than OK actually. He’d be able to post it on Twitter and Facebook and keep a copy on his phone. Ready to show girls at the drop of a hat. Look at me. Look how nice I am. Look how sensitive I am. You can have some of this . . . but only for one night.
Craig caught Barbara’s eye. He winked. She didn’t return it. Didn’t even smile. Just held his gaze as she lifted the wrapped box from one of his old gift bags.
Something wasn’t right. The wrapping paper was thick and white with black pictures; he thought his had been cheap and brightly coloured.
Barbara ripped it off without looking at it. The mug was in a polystyrene box. He’d taped the two halves together to increase the suspense. Barbara ran a pair of scissors down the join before separating them.
She pulled out the mug and Craig’s confusion intensified. It wasn’t his. He hadn’t seen this one before. Something was printed on the side but it wasn’t proposing marriage. In inch- high black letters it said: #BSC6
Barbara didn’t know she’d opened the wrong parcel, though. Without looking inside the mug, she glared at him and upended the mug’s contents.
‘Cheating fucking bastard,’ she said.
Craig didn’t protest his innocence. He couldn’t. He was unable to tear his eyes away from the things that had fallen on the floor. They were no engagement ring.
He recoiled and gasped in revulsion.
A familiar and unwelcome warmth began spreading from his groin.
Today, I’m delighted to be included on the blog tour for Graham Brack’s ‘Lying and Dying‘, the first book in the Josef Slonský series.
The body of a young woman is found strangled by the side of the road.
There are no obvious clues to what happened, apart from the discovery of a large amount of cash concealed on her person.
The brilliant, but lazy, Lieutenant Josef Slonský is put in charge of the case.With a wry sense of humour, a strong stubborn streak and a penchant for pastries, Slonský is not overly popular with the rest of the police force. But he is paired with the freshly-graduated, overly-eager Navrátil, whom he immediately takes under his wing.
When fingers start to point inwards to someone familiar with police operations, Slonský and Navrátil are put in a difficult position.
If what they suspect is true, how deep does the corruption run? Are they willing to risk their careers in their pursuit of the truth?
Anyone could be lying – and others may be in danger of dying…
I’m sure the extract that I’ve got here will whet your appetite for the book. Get your copy now.
The following morning was bright, warm and sunny. Outside the surviving birdlife of Prague was singing fortissimo, or so it seemed to Navrátil. A prolonged shower did little to help the sensation of devils prodding the backs of his eyeballs with their tridents, and nothing in his pantry did anything to make him believe that there was the remotest chance that it would stay down if he could once swallow it.
He was therefore more than a little surprised to arrive at work to find Slonský with his feet on his desk while he attacked a párek and a takeaway coffee.
‘How can you eat that? Or anything else, for that matter?’
‘I have a constitution moulded by the Communist years. If you’d been picky about your food then you’d have starved.’
‘Don’t you feel even a bit queasy?’
‘Should I?’ Slonský asked innocently, as if the idea that a heavy drinking bout might affect your appetite the next day had never occurred to him.
‘Never mind. I’d better find some water.’
Navrátil was halfway down the corridor when he heard Slonský call after him.
‘If you can’t find water, try some Hungarian beer. It’s the next best thing.’
When Navrátil returned, Slonský was looking thoughtful.
‘It was something you said last night that inspired me,’ he explained.
‘I said? What did I say?’
‘You said it was a shame she didn’t have her name sewn into her knickers.’
‘You said that, sir!’
‘Did I? Then I’m brighter than I thought. Anyway, how did the murderer know that she didn’t have her name sewn into her knickers?’
‘Maybe he didn’t care.’
‘He took the handbag.’
‘Well, since he made love to her, he probably got to see her underwear.’
‘Do you look, Navrátil?’
‘When you’re with a woman, do you check her pants out?’
‘Well, I … I haven’t … but if I did …’
‘Exactly. It’s an unnatural act. But whether he did or didn’t, he might have handled her clothes. That’s what I asked Novák.’
‘Nothing. Now, she may have taken off her own clothes and put them back on herself. And perhaps he wore gloves to dispose of the body. But I can’t picture anyone going to bed with a girl and wearing gloves while he did it.’
‘Which rules out a crime of passion?’
‘Well, he was farsighted enough to have gloves there. It was a cold night so he may have just had them with him, but this begins to look premeditated. Which is good, Navrátil. Where there’s a plan, we can discover it. It’s the sudden, irrational killing that is hardest to detect.’
‘So we have a man who takes a woman out, buys her dinner, takes her back to his flat or hers, makes love to her, kills her then dumps her body where it will be found quickly.’
‘Where did you get the bit about dinner?’
‘The stomach contents. Novák’s report doesn’t sound like the kind of meal someone would cook for themselves. Asparagus, for example.’
‘We could waste a lot of time tracking down shops that have asparagus in February, but let’s run with your idea for a minute. If that’s the case, they must have eaten in a restaurant somewhere that has asparagus on the menu.’
Navrátil’s face sank.
‘I can see you’re one step ahead of me, lad. But it’ll take a lifetime to visit all Prague’s restaurants. We’ll do it if we have to, but for the moment let’s try the wholesale greengrocers. See how easy it is to get asparagus and if anyone can tell us who has been buying it. Might narrow things down a bit.’
When Navrátil returned, Slonský had his feet on his desk, a coffee in his hand, and a broad smile on his face.
‘Almost all the big hotels, sir. Not too many restaurants have bought asparagus lately, but it still gives us a lot to do.’
‘Not necessarily, my boy,’ Slonský replied. ‘The great Czech public has come to our aid.’
He slid a brown paper envelope across the desk. Navrátil opened it cautiously to find a single photograph within.
‘No note. Recognise the girl?’
‘It’s her! It’s the victim.’
‘And who is she having dinner with?’
Navrátil scrutinised the picture closely before his jaw dropped.
Today it’s my turn on the blog tour for ‘What Was Lost‘ by Jean Levy.
Sarah has no memories. She just knows she was found, near death, on a beach miles from her London home. Now she is part of a medical experiment to see whether her past can be retrieved.
But bad things seemed to have happened before she disappeared. The police are interested in her hidden memories too. A nice man she meets in the supermarket appears to have her best interests at heart. He seems to understand her – almost as if he knows her…
As she fights to regain her memories and her sense of self, it becomes clear that people are hiding things from her. Who are they protecting? Does Sarah really want the truth?
We’re lucky to have an extract from this excellent psychological thriller today. Once you’ve read it, I’m sure you’ll be as enthralled as I was. Read on after the extract for my review of this novel.
As far as I can remember, the day began with waiting. Of course, I had by now come to realise that cats care very little about the passage of time. Only people care about that. So I stood patiently and watched the black and white cat sniff the newspaper around the outside of the plate, lick some invisible scrap of tuna from the newsprint, re-sniff the plate and then, without casting even a glance in my direction to offer some gesture of humble gratitude, pad purposefully towards the cat flap and nose its way through. I had no idea who that cat belonged to. If it had a name I was not aware of it. In fact, my association with this animal depended entirely upon the fact that the door that opened from my dank backyard into my kitchen included this special, cat-sized flap. I had considered resealing it. Parcel tape would probably have been enough to stop the ungrateful animal nudging its way through. But there was always the worry that the parcel tape might turn up at its edges and look a mess and then I’d regret my decision. There was also the possibility that I might miss the cat. Sometimes it purred. I might have missed the purring.
I watched the flap for a few moments then hurried over to the window to catch a last flash of black tail as it disappeared over into the yard next door. The cat was gone. So I turned my attention to the list on the work surface, took a pencil and added the word TUNA, folded the slip of paper into my jean’s pocket, replaced the pencil and walked over to the back door to confirm that the two bolts were secure. I checked that my wallet, driving licence, notebook with attached pencil, mobile phone and car keys were in my bag, touched the kettle and washing machine plugs three times each, rechecked the back door then hurried out of the kitchen before any doubts might set in. I knew it would be all right once I was in the car. I was always all right in the car.
The supermarket was anywhere between ten and twenty minutes away depending on traffic, and all the way there I played over the morning so far, from the point when I’d been ready to leave and that black and white cat had popped in through the flap and purred. So now it was after nine and the car park was busy. Too busy. But I knew that driving straight back home would not have been the right thing to do.
Inside, the aisles were still sparsely populated. So it would probably be OK. I grabbed a trolley and navigated it straight through the opposing rows of crisps and biscuits towards the central walkway. A sharp left took me into the tea and coffee aisle, which stretched deep into the rear of the supermarket. Then, avoiding the stack of Easter eggs abutting the central aisle, I pushed on to cereals, halted my trolley and observed the choices before me. So many choices. So many rectangular boxes, diminishing off into the distance. An intimidating range of nuts, dried fruits, seeds, wheat / no wheat, oats to absorb cholesterol, low salt, low fat, high fibre, additives / no additives stretched out before me. I threw myself into reading labels, studying carbohydrate contents, pushing my trolley further in past illustrations of happy, healthy other thirty-five year olds, whose lives were perfect because they consumed the correct breakfast cereal. The happy images began to coagulate into one multi-coloured muddle of good advice, manufacturers’ commitments, occasional warnings. I could feel myself diffusing into the options that surrounded me. The familiar stirrings of panic were rising up from just below my diaphragm. I controlled my breathing, observing the oat-coloured floor tiles, the matt surface of a shoe. Its partner shoe hovering slightly off the ground. My eyes traced up the many-deniered tights to a woolly hemline, thick, wintry cloth, grey hair, an outstretched arm, an aged hand reaching hopelessly for a small packet of cornflakes on the top shelf. My own crisis was suddenly dwarfed by the plight of this diminutive shopper. I watched her sag in frustration and help herself to a family-sized box from the shelf below. I had no choice but to intervene.
‘Shall I try and reach?’ I whispered.
The woman glanced round. ‘Oh, would you, dear?’ She replaced her family-sized box and turned to me, wobbling her head slightly as she watched me ease one of the smaller boxes from the top shelf. I handed it over. She thanked me. I smiled graciously and watched her round the end of the aisle before stretching up, taking an identical box and placing it into my own trolley. I stood for a moment staring back along the aisle of wasted opportunity then, clenching the handle of my trolley so hard that it must have looked as if my knucklebones might burst through my skin, I hurried away from the cereal. Justifying my decision. Cornflakes are good for you.
There was a feeling of openness about the fruit and vegetable terrain. Here the produce was arranged on long, sloping stalls. It was like a huge, sterile homage to those fairy-tale markets, where ragamuffins stole peaches and a boy might trade his cow for a handful of magic beans. I brushed past a tall stands of fresh herbs and the air filled with the lush, calming fragrance of basil. A startling yellow and black promotion demanded: BUY ONE GET ONE FREE. I ignored it, hurried on past strawberries and grapes, grabbed a bunch of green bananas, then wheeled my trolley back and helped myself to a pot of basil, re-read the promotion, selected a second pot, put both pots in my trolley, picked one of the pots up and put it back on the stand. Why would anyone want two pots of basil? One’s enough. Why on earth was I getting myself wound up about a pot of basil?
But it wasn’t really about the basil. Or the cornflakes. I knew that It was about deciding. Not just deciding what to choose. It was all those other decisions about what not to choose. Because every choice involves not merely the possibility of choosing the wrong thing but an endless number of possibilities of not choosing the right thing. Too many decisions about not choosing. Dr Gray always insisted: ‘If there are two many decisions, just take a deep breath and walk away.’ So I had walked away. I’d walked so far away that there were now six mountainous banks of food between me and those unchosen boxes of cereal. I took a deep breath, fumbled in my pocket and pulled out my list:
I read it several times to make sure. Then, just as I was folding it back into my pocket, I glanced up and noticed a perfect read and green apple rolling towards me. Arcing towards my foot. Impact was inevitable. Inevitable. And that’s when it all began. Well, just some of it began. Although, in truth, it really did all begin with an apple.
I whipped through ‘What Was Lost‘, a thrilling story of Sarah and the amnesia she endures. I was hooked from the opening ‘episode’.
I found it easy to empathise with Sarah and the predicament she found herself in. The sense of frustration at her loss of control pervaded every page as did an uneasy sense of something being held back. In an age of the unreliable narrator, I was unsure who could be trusted in this novel, giving this story more depth.
The foreboding felt by Sarah was almost palpable at times and, as the story developed, I enjoyed getting to know certain characters at the same time as Sarah made their acquaintance. Conversely, some of the unlikeable characters proved completely realistic and accurately portrayed.
Levy’s background in psychology shines through in her knowledge of psychological conditions and the impact of trauma on patients.
Jean Levy wilfully misdirects the reader on a number of occasions and, despite some fantastical elements, I found ‘What Was Lost‘ utterly compelling.
Today I’m delighted to be able to share an extract from ‘A Perfect Marriage‘ by Alison Booth. My thanks to Alison and Red Door Books for having me involved in the blog tour for this brilliant book.
The body lay on a gurney in the middle of the room. When the coroner’s assistant uncovered the head, my heart began to knock against my ribcage and I could feel the thump-thump- thump of a migraine starting.
The assistant stood back and I stepped forward.
The body was his all right. They must have cleaned him up. I put out a hand to touch the pale forehead. It was icy cold from the refrigeration. There were ne lines around his eyes and his blond hair was tousled. He was beautiful still, in spite of what had happened to him.
I waited as the minutes passed by, almost expecting to see his chest rise and fall, almost expecting to see the eyelids utter open. I forgot about the coroner’s assistant until she gave a dis- creet cough. Turning away from the body, I nodded to her. As I walked past, she took a step towards me and lightly patted my forearm.
Outside, sadness and relief wavered through my head like paper kites tossed about in a high wind. I bought a copy of the Evening Standard from the newsvendor on the corner. On the front page there was yet another picture of that woman. Behind the piles of newspapers was a wire rack with yesterday’s headlines that I knew I’d never forget.
A blast of diesel fumes from a passing bus precipitated my migraine. I leaned against the mottled trunk of a plane tree. When the nausea came, I stood at the edge of the pavement and threw up in the gutter. No one appeared to notice, certainly no one stopped.
I carried on retching until my stomach hurt. After a while, a smartly dressed woman asked if I needed help. Her kindness made me weep, hot silent tears. ‘Is there someone I can call?’ she said, her arm around my shoulders.
I hiccoughed a couple of times and accepted the tissues she was holding out. ‘I’m ne, thanks,’ I said, after wiping my eyes. And I was. That part of my life was well and truly behind me now. I could do with a drop of water though. My mouth felt parched and I could barely swallow. But before I could get on with my life there was the coroner to deal with. She was waiting for me on the steps to the mortuary building.All I wanted was some peace for Charlie and me. But there was no guarantee that would come easily.
Sally Lachlan has a secret that has haunted her for a decade, although perhaps it is time to let it go. A chance meeting with the charismatic geneticist, Anthony Blake, reawakens her desire for love and at the same time, her daughter, Charlie, shows signs of wishing to know more about her father. Both the past and the future are places Sally prefers not to think about.
But if she wants to move towards a new love, she will first have to come to terms with her previous marriage.
Only then will she be able to be honest with Charlie. And herself.
About the author:
Alison Booth was born in Born in Melbourne and brought up in Sydney, She worked for many years in the UK. Alison is a published novelist with PRH (The Jingera Trilogy). Her debut novel, Stillwater Creek, was Highly Commended in the 2011 ACT Book of the Year Award, and was also published in French and in Reader’s DigestSelect Editions in Asia and in Europe. Her subsequent novels were The Indigo Sky and A Distant Land.