Tag Archives: tension

Review: ‘The Body Lies’ by Jo Baker

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.

Vic x

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**Come Back for Me Blog Tour**

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Evergreen Island
9 September 1993

We left in a storm. The sea was rising in sharp clumps of angry waves, rain hitting my feet like bullets. Dad must have known we shouldn’t be making the crossing to the mainland, yet he stood on the boat, one hand frantically flapping for one of us to reach out and take it. The hood of  his red mac had whipped off his head, the rain plastering his hair to his scalp. He yelled over the wind for us to get in, but we wouldn’t move froam the end of the jetty. 

The boat rocked violently as it tugged at the rope that kept it tethered to the dock, and I noticed Dad’s other hand gripping tighter to the steel railing of the steps. ‘Get in, Stella,’ he shouted. Thunder cracked overhead and the sky lit up with magnificent streaks of light. Behind me our house flashed bright between the silhouettes of our tall pines, making it look like something from a horror film. I pushed my hands deeper inside my raincoat, clutching Grey Bear harder to my chest. I didn’t want to leave the only home I had ever known, but I had never seen my dad so determined. His jaw was set, his teeth bared. It wasn’t like him to be so persistent, so unrelenting, and I found myself  shrinking further back.

‘I’m not going anywhere,’ Bonnie screamed from beside me. ‘We’ll all die if we do.’ My sister held her hood tightly against her head but I could just make out the paleness of her face in the moonlight. Bonnie had yearned to leave the island for years, but this wasn’t the way she wanted to go. 

‘We will not die and we need to go,’ Dad yelled back. He turned to me and added more softly, ‘I promise you. It’s fine. We’ll be safe.’ Dad owned the small ferry that he was demanding we board, and he’d run the thirty-minute crossing between Evergreen and Poole Harbour every day for the last sixteen years. If anyone could take us to the mainland safely, it was him, but we’d never dared attempted a crossing in weather like this before. Mum wouldn’t usually let us out of the house when it was this bad.

‘Why can’t we wait till morning?’ Bonnie was begging. I stared at the water, its white foam bubbling and spitting in rage. ‘Because—’ Dad shouted. ‘God, will you both just get in?’ He flapped his hand again, his gaze drifting over my shoulder to where Mum was coming down the jetty. Her head was low, arms tucked inside a plastic poncho as she trailed a suitcase behind her.

‘Where’s Danny?’ he yelled as another flash of lightning lit up the sky, making both Bonnie and me jump. I counted, too quickly, only reaching two before thunder roared overhead. The storm was creeping closer. My brother trailed behind Mum, shrouded in a shapeless black coat that hung over his bulky body, reaching the ground.

Bonnie started shouting again, gesturing at the sea as it rose and dipped, higher and lower than I’d ever seen it go. Another loud crack filled the air and I yelped as the branch of one of the pines fell to the ground beside me. I jumped out of its way as the wind carelessly tossed it along the jetty. For a brief moment, Dad stopped yelling and stared at the branch. My tears were already bleeding into the rainwater that soaked my face, but my heart twisted every time I thought of leaving my beloved island. All I wished was for Dad to realise that whatever we were doing, it wasn’t worth it.

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An isolated island community is shocked by the discovery of a long-buried body.

For Stella Harvey the news is doubly shocking. The body has been found in the garden of her childhood home – the home her family fled without explanation twenty-five years ago.

Now, desperate to unearth the truth and questioning her whole life, Stella returns to the tiny island against her sister’s advice. But she quickly finds that the community she left isn’t as welcoming as she remembers – and that the residents will go to any length to protect their secrets.

 

I really enjoyed ‘Come Back for Me‘. It’s a compelling mystery and it kept me guessing until the very end. 

Heidi Perks uses the flashback technique to great effect during this story, slowly unfurling the truth as Stella investigates the reason her family left the island in such a rush. The characters are well-drawn and Perks manages to capture the idea of Stella seeing certain things but perhaps not understanding them or the significance they hold. 

The island setting ramps up the tension perfectly, sometimes leaving Stella with no means of escape while not knowing who to trust. The isolation alongside the small-minded residents who are keen to keep their own counsel leaves the reader in no doubt how Stella must be feeling. 

As with other books I’ve read recently, I really enjoyed the wider social context that drives the narrative. ‘Come Back for Me‘ masterfully explores the ripple effect of long-kept secrets and the lengths people will go to to protect them. 

Vic x

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Getting to Know You: Adam Peacock

Drum roll please! May I introduce you to Adam Peacock, a member of Elementary Writers and author of ‘Open Grave‘.

Because Adam is a debut author, I wanted to introduce him to you as I suspect you will be reading Adam’s novels for many years to come.

My thanks to Adam for taking the time to answer my questions.

Vic x

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Tell us about your book(s).
My novel Open Grave is a crime thriller set in the North East of England. The protagonist, DCI Jack Lambert, is different to most other detectives within the genre in that he is gay. On a personal level, this is something he is struggling with, having only recently made this admission at the beginning of the book.

The main ‘crime’ within the story is that of a serial killer who is murdering people in pairs, burying them and then digging them up so that they can be found. Alongside this, gang warfare is about to break out between rival criminal groups and a well-known local celebrity reports that she is being stalked. I wanted to create a sprawling world within my book with multiple threads, the idea being that nothing ever resolves neatly, with certain storylines and characters crossing over into future novels.

What inspired your novel?
I read a lot of crime and so it felt natural to write something within that genre. The inspiration for Open Grave came about from an image I had in my head of a crime scene in which a member of the public stumbles across two bodies in an open grave (strange, I know). The story unfolded from there.

What do you like most about writing? What do you dislike (if anything)?
I quite enjoy editing, which is a good thing as there’s always plenty to do when you don’t intricately plot your book before beginning! Knowing that I am whipping something up into shape is a great feeling.

The thing I dislike most about writing is just how easy it is to fall out of your routine when it comes to putting words onto the page. Like most things in life, a few days away from the computer can easily stretch into weeks and this can lead to unnecessary procrastination.

Do you find time to read, if so what are you reading at the moment?
I do find the time to read. As I prefer to write in the mornings, I dedicate time to read most evenings. I’m currently reading Martina Cole’s Dangerous Lady.

Which author(s) has/have had the biggest influence on your writing?
As a writer, I would have to say Stephen King and Jo Nesbo. I would also include Lee Child in that list. With regards to Stephen King, I read his book On Writing before I penned so much as a character profile and I use the template he gives in terms of how to go about writing. I also enjoy reading his books!

As for Jo Nesbo, I find the protagonist Harry Hole to be a wonderfully complex character. He has many of the traits that we see in crime fiction from such detectives but I find myself invested in Harry in a way that I rarely find in other books. I also like that Nesbo leaves certain threads open between books, which always leaves me wanting to read more. With Lee Child, it has to be his pacing. I find myself flying through his books and every page carries a tension with it. This is something I am hoping to refine in my own work moving forward.

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Where do you get your ideas from?
Usually they just pop into my head either as an image – like happened with Open Grave –  or as a question. I like the idea of concocting a problem, in the form of a question, which seemingly makes no sense initially. Within my own writing, I basically keep asking a number of questions until an answer presents itself. This helps create misdirection.

Do you have a favourite scene/character/story you’ve written?
I enjoy the opening scene from Open Grave, mainly because it is the opening chapter of my first published novel. In terms of a character, it would have to be gangland boss Dorian McGuinness, my protagonist’s former employer. I feel like his character has a lot of room to grow and that there are all manner of skeletons in his closet which may or may not be revealed in future…

What are you working on at the moment?
I’m currently writing the second novel in the DCI Jack Lambert series and I’m excited to see where it will go. This novel is a little more focused around one event and, with characters having already been established in the first novel, I am keen to see how they react to the hurdles put before them.

What’s the best piece of writing advice you’ve been given (and who was it from)?
In a non-direct sense, Stephen King’s ‘just get an idea and go with it’ has had the biggest impact on me. Whilst this can lead to a lot of editing, it minimises the scope for procrastination and I find myself able to get on with things. I also try to stick to his mantra of completing 1,000 words a day with varying degrees of success.

Are you a plotter or a pantster?
I’m definitely not a plotter! Get the idea and run with it. Of course, as I work through a novel, ideas spring into my head in terms of where I want things to go, but you won’t find any colour-coded charts or timelines pinned to my wall. I should point out, that’s not a judgement on writers that do spend time plotting, I’m merely saying that it doesn’t work for me.

Do you have any advice for aspiring writers?
Yes! Read Stephen King’s On Writing, get yourself along to a writing group and don’t fret about giving it a go. Most writers I meet begin by being somewhat self-conscious about their work, often talking down their ability and/or experience. I’d say just get stuck in and see what happens. If you can get into some kind of writing routine, you’ll soon see huge improvements in your work.

What’s been your proudest writing-related moment?
Until recent times it would have been winning the Writers’ Forum monthly magazine short story competition. However, opening the email from Bloodhound Books to find that they believed in my work and wanted to publish Open Grave has definitely topped all other writing-related moments!

You can order/download Open Grave‘ now. You can also follow Adam on Twitter and on Facebook

Review: ‘Dead Man’s Prayer’ by Jackie Baldwin

Ex-priest DI Frank Farrell has returned to his roots in Dumfries, only to be landed with a disturbing murder case. Even worse, Farrell knows the victim: Father Boyd, the man who forced him out of the priesthood eighteen years earlier.

With no leads, Farrell must delve into the old priest’s past, one that is inexorably linked with his own. But his attention is diverted when a pair of twin boys go missing. The Dumfries police force recover one in an abandoned church, unharmed. But where is his brother?

As Farrell investigates the two cases, he can’t help but feel targeted. Is someone playing a sinister game, or is he seeing patterns that don’t exist? Either way, it’s a game Farrell needs to win before he loses his grip on his sanity, or someone else turns up dead.

Dead Man’s Prayer‘ is the first in the DI Frank Farrell series and it’s a corker. The idea of a man leaving his religion in order to become a detective is a highly original premise. Farrell is complex and layered, with his supporting characters fully-rounded. Farrell’s break with the church leaves him with plenty of  divided loyalties which ramps up the tension.

Baldwin’s characters in this novel have plenty of depth and enough conflicts to drive the story forward. 

The way in which Baldwin uses religious imagery and symbolism ensures that the prose is rich and vivid. Her economy of language ensures that this police procedural is fast-paced in addition to being well-plotted. 

A truly original debut. 

Vic x

Review: ‘Give Me the Child’ by Mel McGrath

The doorbell rings in the middle of the night and when Cat’s husband opens it, the police are there – with his eleven-year-old love child, Ruby: a daughter Cat didn’t know he had. The couple take Ruby into their home and Cat’s life begins to unravel. 

Give Me the Child‘ is a perfect example of domestic noir: terror in your home.

The tension between Cat and her husband – as well as Cat and her new-found step-daughter – spills off every page. The idea of a cuckoo in the nest is a very interesting one, particularly when it complicates the existing familial relationships. 

I found it easy to empathise and identify with Cat. Her situation, although slightly unusual, felt utterly realistic to me.

McGrath handles the subjects of paranoia and psychosis sensitively while allowing them to play into the narrative of the story. McGrath reveals just enough information at pertinent points in the story, to wrong foot the reader and make them question who to believe. The characters are interesting, particularly in relation to Cat’s job in child psychiatry. 

Give Me the Child‘ has everything you could want from a psychological thriller: an intriguing storyline, pace and tension from page one. An absolute tour de force. 

Vic x

Review: ‘The Lingering’ by SJI Holliday

Married couple Jack and Ali Gardiner move to a self-sufficient commune in the English Fens, desperate for fresh start. The village is known for the witches who once resided there and Rosalind House, where the commune is based, is a former psychiatric home, with a disturbing history.

When Jack and Ali arrive, a chain of unexpected and unexplained events is set in motion, and it becomes clear that all is not what it seems. As the residents become nervous, and the villagers suspicious, events from the past come back to haunt them, while someone seeks revenge. 

Susi Holliday has taken the trend for combining crime with gothic horror and has produced a tantalising story that will thrill readers. ‘The Lingering‘ features a cast of compelling characters living within what is potentially a cult. 

Throughout the novel, there is a creeping sense of discomfort that sits with the reader as they delve deeper into this intriguing mystery. The tension created by the creepy setting and unsettling events is insidious and often had me turning around to check what was behind me. 

Holliday has come up with a highly original concept, interesting characters and captures the sense of place perfectly. 

This story will linger with you long after you turn the final page… 

Vic x

Guest Post: Louise Mangos on Writing What You Know

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It is my pleasure today to welcome Louise Mangos to the blog to talk about her intimate knowledge of the setting for her debut psychological thriller ‘Strangers on a Bridge‘.

Louise writes novels, short stories and flash fiction, which have won prizes, been placed on shortlists, and have also been read on BBC radio. Her debut psychological thriller ‘Strangers on a Bridge‘ is published by HQ Digital (Harper Collins) in ebook, paperback and on audio. You can connect with Louise on Facebook and Twitter or visit her website where there are links to more of her stories. Louise lives in Switzerland with her husband and two sons.

Vic x

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The much-travelled author Mark Twain allegedly said “write what you know. Having spent much of my time in central Switzerland for the past twenty years, the one thing I feel confident in portraying in my novels is the setting. Both my first and second novels are set in and around the Swiss Alps. 

Strangers on a Bridge begins with ex-pat Alice Reed out for a jog one morning when she sees a man – Manfred – about to jump from the Lorzentobelbrücke. As this is rather a mouthful for English readers, it is referred to in the novel as the Tobel Bridge. In reality it is a notorious suicide hotspot that has sadly found its way into many local newspaper articles over the years.

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A quick trip on the bike to re-visit the setting for the first scene on the Tobel Bridges.

The area surrounding the village where my protagonist Alice lives is called the Aegerital, or the Aegeri Valley. It is a cleft of land gouged out of alpine granite with rivers running in and out of the jewel at its centre – the Aegeri Lake. Our family moved there twenty years ago when my first son was six months old. Many of the difficulties Alice faces in Strangers on a Bridge were challenges I also faced when we first moved, speaking no German and pre-occupied with a new baby. 

But that’s where the similarities end. I’m happy to report I never witnessed a person wanting to jump from the Tobel Bridge, and I was certainly never stalked by anybody. I should also point out that we worked hard to integrate into the community we now live in. We made an early effort to learn the language, and have experienced friendliness and acceptance from our neighbours ever since.

During the creative and theoretical modules for my Masters in Crime Writing at UEA, two of my professors, Henry Sutton and Tom Benn, talked about the importance of setting in a novel. They encouraged the students to incorporate the setting to such an extent that it effectively becomes one of the characters. 

No matter where a crime novel is set, this atmosphere must be conveyed to the reader to enhance the tension. This might include how a setting behaves through the seasons, for example, the environmental influences in extreme weather conditions.

Strangers on a Bridge begins in spring, the perfect opening for any novel. The season of births and beginnings. Alice is out for a spring jog when she sees Manfred on the bridge and is convinced he is about to jump. Her shock jars alarmingly with the beautiful alpine spring surroundings.

A great deal of research was still undertaken to make the narrative of this psychological thriller believable. Although I am familiar with many of the rules and traditions in Switzerland, police and legal procedures had to be subsequently verified and checked.

But with the setting clearly cemented as one of the characters in the narrative, it was a pleasure to embellish the plot to match the drama of the Alps.

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The view of the Aegerital from Alice’s running trail in spring.