The Lying Down Room – Anna Jaquiery – review

Mantle

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“The first instalment in a stunning debut crime series, set in Paris and featuring Chief Inspector Serge Morel

At night Armand lay in bed with a sadness in his heart that ballooned until there was room for nothing else.

He thought with horror of the lying-down room . . .

Paris; in the stifling August heat, Commandant Serge Morel is called to a disturbing crime scene. An elderly woman has been murdered to the soundtrack of Faure’s Requiem, her body then grotesquely displayed.

At first this strange case seems to offer few clues; and Morel has problems of his own. His father – always a great force in his life – is beginning to succumb to senility; and he is unsettled by the reappearance of the beautiful Mathilde, the woman he once loved. Only origami can help calm the detective and focus his thoughts on this troubling crime.

As the investigation progresses, the key suspects to emerge are a middle-aged man and a mute teenage boy who have been delivering religious pamphlets in the city’s suburbs. But as more elderly ladies are targeted, Morel will find his enquiries leading him back into the past, from the French countryside to Soviet Russia – and to two young boys with the most terrible of stories to tell . . .

An evocative, gripping crime novel with an aching heart: The Lying-Down Room is the stunning first novel in Anna Jaquiery’s Commandant Morel series; perfect for fans of Michael Dibdin and Donna Leon.”

4 of 5 stars

I received a copy of this book from the publisher and this is my honest opinion of the book.

Paris in August. The locals have left for the summer, leaving the sweltering heat to the tourists and those unlucky enough to not get away. Commandant Serge Morel is one of them, called to a macabre crime scene. An old woman is dead, tucked up tightly in her bed but she looks anything but serene. Soon Morel and his colleagues are on the hunt for a killer who appears to be targeting old women and they must uncover the truth before the killer strikes again.

This is the debut novel by Anna Jaquiery and the first in the Morel series. It will certainly not be last book of Anna’s I read.

There is a darkness that runs throughout the novel, juxtaposing the sweltering heat and sun of August and the romantic setting of Paris. This storyline definitely plays on the emotions. It is difficult to go into details without giving too much away, but the history of the Russian orphanages is part of the story and it this which made this a heart breaking and often enraging read. The mystery itself was engaging. I more often than not gauge ‘who dunnit’ before the reveal but that doesn’t stop me enjoying the protagonists journey on discovering the killer. This can be said for this novel.

I like the host of characters that we meet in this novel. Morel’s boss is narcissistic and could well be on his way to be as annoying as Donna Leon’s Patta from her Guido Brunetti series (of which I am a huge fan). The supporting characters of fellow police officers help round out the story and I look forward to seeing how they develop in future novels. As for Morel I found him to be a flawed and yet somewhat selfless man, who has issues with his past and a strange relationship with his father and his married girlfriend.

I always love discovering new crime series and this is one can’t wait to continue.

 

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John Harding – Q&A

Today I’m pleased to welcome to the blog John Harding, author of What We Did On Our Holiday, While the Sun Shines, One Big Damn Puzzler, Florence and Giles and The Girl Who Couldn’t Read. John kindly answered some of my questions

1. Tell us a little about The Girl Who Couldn’t read.

It’s set in an asylum, a mental hospital, on an island in New England, in the 1890s and is narrated by a man calling himself Dr John Shepherd, newly arrived as assistant to Dr Morgan who runs the establishment. Shepherd is appalled and shocked by the harsh treatment meted out to the unfortunate patients by Morgan and his head nurse,  Mrs O’Reilly. He suggests an experiment to show that a kinder regime might achieve better results and chooses as his guinea pig a mysterious young amnesiac girl who has been given the name of Jane Dove and who has a habit of using her own invented words.. .

2. The Girl Who Couldn’t Read has been described as both a sequel to Florence and Giles but also a standalone novel. Did you know that there would be a sequel to Florence and Giles when you wrote it or did it appear organically as Florence and Giles developed?

Neither. Florence and Giles was written as a single novel and when it was done I felt it was about as good a book as I could write, and that appeared to be that. But, as you probably know, it became something of a cult read over Twitter and other social media. It didn’t get much of a publishing push here, although it garnered really good reviews, but in other countries, especially Brazil and Italy, where the publishers were keen to promote it, it did phenomenally well and I think, all told, sales are well over 250,000 worldwide.

There was quite a clamour for a sequel, and I couldn’t decide whether to write one or not. That fact that there were readers who really loved the book cut both ways. I didn’t want to ruin the perfection of the book (I don’t mean that boastfully, but simply that the book was whole and complete in itself and that adding to the story might actually take something away) and there were readers who begged me not to do a sequel. At the same time there were good commercial reasons to follow-up a bestseller. I’ve never written a book for commercial reasons and I’ve always avoided repeating myself, writing the same book again. I think when readers really love a book and want a sequel what they really want is to experience again the joy of discovering that book for the first time, which of course, is impossible. So the whole thing was a problem that I ummed and aahed about for ages. In the end I realised I should stop seeing it that way and regard it as a challenge that would hopefully stretch me and hey, if it didn’t work, I could just add it to the pile of  unpublished manuscripts on my computer. After several false starts I saw a way I thought might work which was to change the location and introduce a different narrator. The other difficulty of course was to make it work as a standalone book which was a big worry for me and my publishers. Because we all knew Florence and Giles there was no way for us to know if The Girl Who Couldn’t Read would work on its own. What’s been really gratifying is that the reaction from readers has been that it does. Although I guess this doesn’t mean much to readers, I’ve drawn huge satisfaction from this, as a technical achievement. I’m a very severe self-critic, always full of self-doubt about my writing (hence that pile of discarded attempts) and always looking for ways to improve, to succeed at something different.

3. It has been said that Florence and Giles was inspired by James’ The Turn of the Screw. What were your inspirations and influences when writing The Girl Who Couldn’t Read?

Well anyone who reads it will notice the influence of Jane Eyre but best not to go into too much detail about that as it could be a bit of a plot spoiler. Edgar Allan Poe, again, mainly for atmosphere, and The Secret Garden for that things-that-make-noises-in-the-middle-of-the-night shiver. But the other influence was from reading books about the treatment of mental illness, especially  ‘Mad In America: Bad Science, Bad Medicine, and the Enduring Mistreatment of the Mentally Ill’ by Robert Whitaker, which catalogues how mental health patients have been mistreated over the last few centuries from sheer physical abuse of the kind Dr Morgan employs in The Girl Who Couldn’t Read, to practices like lobotomy one form of which involved sticking an icepick in the corner of someone’s eye and fishing out a bit of their brain. If it didn’t kill them it made them more docile and easier to manage, what you might call a zombie solution. And there is a whole way of thinking that now more and more forms of mental illness are being diagnosed so that huge numbers of people are given mind or personality altering drugs, including vast numbers of children prescribed for ADHD and both children and adults with bipolar disorder which seems to have reached epidemic proportions. I’m not a medic, but after all my reading it strikes me that people who suffer from mental illness – which is a hell of a lot of us over our lifetimes and is in the majority of cases temporary – still get a very bad deal.

The other major source was a little book called ‘Ten Days in the Madhouse’ by Nellie Bly the pseudonym of an investigative reporter named Elizabeth Jane Cochcrane who went undercover, feigned madness so that she was sectioned and put into an asylum on Blackwell’s Island, off New York and reported upon the terrible conditions and treatment she found there. This happened at precisely the same time as my book is set.

4. As well as an author you also review books for the national press. Have you found that reviewing influenced how you write and conversely has writing influenced how you review?

It certainly influences the way I read. When I’m reading something simply for pleasure I often catch myself thinking, ‘What am I going to say about this? What’s the thing this book is about?’ I have to switch that off as it can take away some of the pleasure of reading.

Writing has definitely influenced how I review. Unless a novelist who reviews is bitter and twisted or very competitive, being a writer oneself makes one a much more generous reviewer. You always have in your mind that the writer you’re reading has spent probably years on this, that it really matters to her or him, and that while it is always much easier for a reviewer to make himself look good by writing a smart put down it’s never the right thing to do. There are people who differ, I know, but my view had been that the reviewer should keep himself out of the review. It shouldn’t be about me it should be about the book and its author. A bad review can be devastating to an author, it can destroy someone’s psyche, so I hope I’m always careful to be fair and honest and to mention the good I managed to find in a book I don’t like. And I always read every page of every book I review (believe me plenty of reviewers don’t). It’s taken the author a lot longer to write them and it’s the least I can do to respect that.

I guess reviewing has influenced my writing. There’s a back-and-forth thing going on. As a writer you can see the nuts-and-bolts of how someone else has constructed a book and you can learn from that. You can always learn something from other people – even if it’s how not to do something or how clunky something that you do too is when you read it cold. I think much of the influence is subliminal. I read at least 120 books every year and I truly believe that to write well you have to read. Not that I’m claiming quantity is a guarantee of quality! I’m not claiming to be a great writer, or that reading a lot has made me one, but I am sure that I’m a less bad writer than I would have been without devouring all those books.

5. What can we expect from you next?

That’s the one question I don’t like to answer. I’m not being coy it’s just that verbalising an idea always sounds so mundane, and makes me go off it. It reduces my confidence in the project. And it’s impossible anyway, for me, at least, to give me a meaningful answer. I never know what a book’s going to turn into until I’ve finished it. For example, with Florence and Giles, I was toying with the Turn of the Screw idea, so I started writing it with Florence telling the story with no idea where it was going and then she started on page one using this strange made-up language and that would obviously have to be a secret language and there had to be a reason for that which was that she was forbidden to read and so on and all of this was flowing out of my unconscious so that when I’d finished my first writing session I had Florence’s voice and her character (and the library!) and that more or less dictated the rest of the book.

I suppose what I really mean is that for me the very great pleasure in writing (the thing that makes up for all the torture of it) is the way stuff just comes out of your unconscious, how your brain makes all these little connections without you knowing it. It’s like magic (and it’s the same for anyone who creates anything) and I find myself in awe of it, not my brain in particular, but the human brain, how it can do that and having some kind of plan would just stop that working.

Having rambled on about all that I’m currently working on two books that are very different from one another and neither of which is another Florence book, although that’s still a possibility.

6. You must have answered a few of these Q&As. What question have you not been asked that you wish had been asked – and what’s the answer?

That’s a very clever question! Surprisingly the one thing nobody has ever asked me is ‘Do you like writing?’ I think I’ve answered a bit of that above, but in case not the answer is yes and no and mainly no. I dread sitting down and starting and have all kinds of things I do to avoid it. I will even do the washing up! And dry it too! So mostly I find it torture. When I’m in a book I’m preoccupied, distant to my loved ones, often short tempered. But then there are moments when you’re really humming when it’s going well and the ideas seem to be jumping one after another into your brain, or not even that, just appearing on screen like Victorian automatic writing and especially when you just know that what you’re writing is good (by your own standards I mean this is not a boast) and it’s the best thing. There’s nothing that comes near it, and at the end of the day when you look at what you’ve done and you like it and it gives you a real buzz then there’s simply nothing that compares to the feeling. I should say that most days that doesn’t happen, so you really appreciate it when it does.

All of John’s books are available to buy now.

 The Girl Who Couldn’t Read
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New England, the 1890s. A man calling himself Doctor John Shepherd arrives at an isolated women’s mental hospital to begin work as assistant to the owner Dr Morgan. As Shepherd struggles to conceal his own dark secrets, he finds the asylum has plenty of its own. Who is the woman who wanders the corridors by night with murderous intent? Why does the chief nurse hate him? And why is he not allowed to visit the hospital’s top floor? Shocked by Morgan’s harsh treatment of the patients, and intrigued by one of them, Jane Dove, a strange amnesiac girl who is fascinated by books but cannot read, Shepherd embarks upon an experiment to help her. As he attempts to solve the mystery of Jane’s past his own troubled history begins to catch up with him and she becomes his only hope of escape, as he is hers. In this chilling literary thriller everyone has something to hide and no one is what he or she seems. The Girl Who Couldn’t Read is the long-awaited sequel to the critically acclaimed international bestseller Florence and Giles but can also be read as a gripping standalone novel.

 

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Ros Schwartz/Arcadia – translation special

Today I am pleased to share a fantastic interview with translator Ros Schwartz and Karen Sullivan from the publishers Arcadia who discuss the fabulous and often unsung work done by translators who help introduce us all to the wonderful world of foreign language fiction.

 

Ros – What process do you go through when you first receive a manuscript for translation?

I read it and decide whether it’s right for me. You have to feel empathy with a book to translate it well. Once I decide to accept the job, I start thinking about the specific challenges, which are different for each book. These questions are constantly in the back of my mind and I ponder them while swimming lengths, standing in the queue at the Post Office or sitting on a bus.

Ros – How much direct input do you have with the author? Is it a constant flow of communication or a series of submissions?

I generally contact the author at the beginning of the process to introduce myself and let them know how delighted I am to be working on their book. I inform them of the deadline and ask if it will  be OK for me to email them any queries towards the end. I try not to pester authors with unnecessary questions. Often, problems early on resolve themselves once I’m immersed in the book. If there is something that doesn’t seem clear, I check it with two or three native French speakers first, and if they’re stumped, I ask the author. When a book is at the translation stage, it can be more than a year since the author wrote it, and when asked what they mean, it’s not uncommon for them to reply, “I really have no idea.”

Ros – Is it difficult to keep to the intention of the author? I would imagine that sometimes there can be a danger of missing a point the author intends to make given possible social or linguistic differences.

It’s my job to know about those social and linguistic differences! Translators don’t just transpose words, they act as cultural bridges. Take a word like ‘suburbs’ for example. The connotations are completely different in French and in English. When an English person says ‘I grew up in the suburbs’, we picture a pleasant, leafy, middle-class environment. When a French person says ‘I’m from the banlieue’, it means the equivalent of our inner cities. So my job is to get across the implicit social/class connotation. 

As a translator, you are primarily a reader and then a writer. No reader can ever be 100% certain that they have received the text as the author intended. A translator is a very close reader, but can only convey his or her reading of the book – which you hope is as close to the author’s intention as possible. That’s why empathy is so important.

Ros – How does the author approve a translation, if, for example, they don’t speak English, how will they be able to ensure that the integrity of the story is maintained?

The author rarely has the power to ‘approve’ the translation, unless they have superstar status like Claude Lanzmann or Yasmina Reza. There has to be trust. The author needs to trust the publisher to find the best translator for their book. One problem with translating into English is that a lot of foreign authors (or their friends) think their English is better than it is, and they can start querying the translator’s choices. Of course if an author’s English is excellent and they ask to see the translation, then it is a courtesy to let them see it. 

As a translator you take responsibility for your translation, and work in a holistic way to find an appropriate ‘voice’. It is important to be true to the spirit and intention of the book, and not work at the word-by-word, line-by-line level. Once the translation has been accepted by the publisher and copy-edited, I wouldn’t expect an author to start nitpicking.

Ros – What do you love about translating?

Every book’s a challenge, a new adventure. I learn something new every single day. It’s a privilege to spend months with a book and really be inhabited by it. You appreciate it on so many more levels than as a casual reader. I love words, I love language, I love the process, I love the sense of satisfaction when the book is printed and my name’s on it. I love the freedom of working for myself, I love the exchanges with authors and editors, the rich relationships, and I love being part of the translation community. 

Ros – How did you come to be a translator?

Ah, well, like most translators, in a rather unorthodox way. I dropped out of university (it was the early 70s!) and ran away to Paris. I came back in the early 80s, having spent a year in India, and thought I’d get ‘a proper job’ but times had changed, and I discovered that I was totally unemployable. No one was interested in a dropout who could speak several languages but didn’t know how to do anything else, not even type, and had never had a job in the UK other than as a student. So I launched myself as a translator and literally learned on the job. I had fallen in love with a book and translated it while still in Paris but hadn’t found a publisher for it yet (I did eventually, after five years). There were not translation courses then, no peer training. I was fortunate enough to receive a commission – from Pete Ayrton at Serpent’s Tail – and after that I took myself to the Frankfurt Book Fair and picked up a couple of titles which I then found publishers for. I haven’t looked back since. 

Karen – How do you know that a foreign language manuscript is one that you’ll want to publish? Do you receive them with a translated version when they are submitted?

It’s always difficult to choose, partly because there are so many wonderful books on there, from many, many different countries, but also because we have to make a decision based on a sample translation, a pitch by a publisher or agent and usually a reader’s report of the whole book. We have a stable of excellent readers who will take a look at anything we think looks great, and not only give us a full synopsis of the book and an opinion of its merits, but also provide a little background to the book and the author, which we may not have. Our readers are invaluable. Then, it’s a question of waiting until we get the translation. There’s a bit of a fingers-crossed moment, but we’ve never been let down yet.

Karen – How much input do you have in the translation process?

A fair bit, really. We choose the translator and often have the text delivered in chunks so that we can be involved, pick up any problems that may emerge at the outset, and also understand what it is we are publishing! In the case of something like Zenith Hotel, by Oscar Coop-Phane, I sat down with Ros Schwartz for several hours going through the text almost line by line. I point out bits that I think may not work for an English market (very few of those) or may need qualification, or didn’t make sense to me. Good translators (and Ros is one of the very best) are always happy to explain, to rethink, to talk through potential solutions. Translations are, like all manuscripts, edited, and in this case the ‘author’ is really the translator. We are very respectful of that, and trust their judgement completely. It’s lovely to work together on the polishing, though. Translators are the life blood of a lot of what we do, and the interaction is integral to a successful book.

Karen – I would guess that you must have a lot of trust in your translator. How important is the relationship between translator, author and publisher?

I think I may have just answered that. We choose translators who have an excellent cv and produce high-quality, very readable, very beautiful translations. As I mentioned above, the translator is, in fact, very much the ‘author’ for the duration of the translation process, and we put our faith in their ability to write this book – capture the nuances of the language, the subtleties … Dialogue is particularly hard to translate successfully in my view, and we’ve been very luck to have some brilliant translators. Sean Kinsella managed to turn ‘600 pages of pure energy’ in Norwegian into 600 pages of pure energy in English, in a completely dialogue-driven book (See You Tomorrow by Tore Renberg) and that is a feat I can only stand back and admire. We trust the translator. The author trusts the translator and us. The translator trusts us to give support and input, and to promote their work, too. So many people forget about the translators when they review books, which is a travesty! Their work is exceptionally difficult and completely crucial to the success of the book!

Karen – How do you know that the translated version is the version that the author intended to write and isn’t the translators version?

You don’t! If something comes in that seems wildly different from the book we thought we had commissioned and, indeed, the sample translation provided by the agent or publisher, we might get the original reader to take a look and give his/her thoughts. In reality, however, this is very, very rare. We have wonderful translators who are very happy to explain their choice of words, their approach, everything else. They agonise over single sentences (Sean Kinsella, Ros Schwartz and Kaija Straumanis, who translated Flesh-Coloured Dominoes from the Latvian are great examples of this), they worry about such minute detail, we simply know we are in good hands. Most if not all of our translators work closely with the author, too, to query intention, literary devices, plot mechanisms, etc., to ensure that the final product is exactly what the author wrote in another language, with tiny tweaks to make it accessible to an English-speaking audience. We’ve never yet had an unhappy author, and we are, most certainly, delighted publishers! It’s an honour to be able to publish some of the best of world literature and it is certainly a huge responsibility to be sure we do it properly. Without a team of experienced, very talented translators, it would simply never be possible.

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The Bone Seeker – M.J. McGrath – Review

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“The stunning new Arctic-set Edie Kiglatuk mystery from the author of White Heat

Summer in the High Arctic. When young Inuit Martha Salliaq goes missing from her settlement, her teacher, ex Polar Bear Hunter Edie Kiglatuk enlists her police friend Derek Palliser to help search for the girl. But once a body is discovered floating in a polluted lake on the site of a decommissioned Radar Station, Edie’s worst fears are realised.

As the investigation into Martha’s murder begins, the Inuit community – and Martha’s devastated family – are convinced the culprits lie within the encampment of soldiers stationed nearby. Before long Sergeant Palliser finds evidence linking two of the men with the dead girl. But Edie and local lawyer Sonia Gutierrez remain unconvinced. Why are the military quite so willing to cooperate with the investigation? What has Edie’s boyfriend Chip Muloon, a simple academic researcher, got to hide? And why has the lake where Martha’s body was found been suddenly cordoned off?

A gripping, atmospheric thriller set in the Arctic’s long white nights, in The Bone Seeker the very personal murder of a young girl will explode a decades-long tale of the very darkest betrayal.”

3.5 of 5 stars

I received a copy of this book from the publishers and this is my honest opinion of the book.

Edie Kiglatuk is spending the Summer teaching on Ellesmere Island and recovering from events that occurred last year. Hoping for a quieter pace it soon becomes apparent that this isn’t to be the case when one of her pupils goes missing. Persuading her friend, police chief Derek Palliser to search for the missing girl, they soon come across her body. With it they stumble into a murder investigation and a conspiracy, not helped by the presence of the military and the beliefs of the family of the murdered girl.

This is the third Edie Kiglatuk mystery but the first one I have read. There is a brief mention of a previous case but this did not spoil my enjoyment of the story.

The setting of this novel is fascinating, it’s not often I get to read novels set in the Arctic and I loved the descriptions of the landscape and the midnight sun. Another highlight of this novel was its characters. I found the Inuit people to be interesting and intriguing, and really enjoyed reading about their customs, beliefs, clothing and diet, even if I wouldn’t necessarily relish trying such delights as Walrus head or fresh blood soup myself! Edie is a character I think you grow to like, she certainly has her flaws but her actions are driven by the desire to do the right thing.

The mystery itself was two fold and the two strands joined together well to create an engaging story. For fear of giving spoilers away I won’t go into too much detail but they both pull the story along at just the right pace. Also there is a political point to be made, in particular about how the Inuit and other indigenous people have been and to an extent still are treated by governments and one which it is important to make.

I will look out for more from M.J McGrath and Edie Kiglatuk in the future.

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A Dark and Twisted Tide – Sharon Bolton – Review

Bantam Press

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“Former DC Lacey Flint has quit the force for a safer, quieter life.

Living alone on her houseboat, she is trying to get over the man she loves, undercover detective Mark Joesbury.

But Mark is missing in action and impossible to forget.

And danger won’t leave Lacey alone….

Because someone is watching her closely.

Someone who knows exactly what makes her tick.”

4 of 5 stars

I received a copy of this book from the publishers and this is my honest opinion of the book.

Having still to come to terms with what happened to her in the last year or so Lacey Flint has said goodbye to her beloved CID and taken a job back in uniform with the Marine Unit. Having moved out of her flat and into a houseboat she has bought from her next door neighbour, she has taken to life on and in the water. She regularly goes swimming in the Thames with her neighbour, Ray. But even this simpler life cannot hide Lacey from murder. On one morning, whilst swimming alone she comes across a body and is soon drawn into another dark murder hunt.

Having read the first three books in the Lacey Flint series back to back I had no choice but to dive right into this one, the latest instalment from Sharon Bolton. And dive straight in I did. Having picked up the book it seemed like no time had passed but I soon found myself half way through this gripping read.

Again this has all I have come to expect from a Sharon Bolton book. It is dark, with an underlying sense of foreboding that one wants with a gritty murder mystery. The characters I have come to love are all present and correct, with the story focussing more on Dana Tulloch in this novel, showing more of her personal side and developing her as a character. This is something I personally enjoy as a lead character can only be enhanced by a great surrounding cast.

Lacey has changed in some respects. She is not as gung-ho as she may have perhaps been before, but this would be an accurate representation of how she deals with the horrors of her past. She still goes off on her own investigations but also shows more reliance on others, her friend Ray for example. In fact she seems to be allowing some of the wall she has built around herself to crumble, making friends being one aspect of this. She has also come to accept her feelings for Mark Joesbury and be willing to give into to those feelings. Which would be wonderful except he has gone missing, and with a cloud over his head. Whilst dealing with this she also has to accept that someone is stalking her, wanting her find the bodies that are appearing from the river, and has to deal again with the fact that she is being drawn into danger.

In my opinion this is the best Lacey Flint book to date. It has it all, a great host of characters, a fascinating and enthralling storyline and enough red herrings and twists that are necessary to make a good thriller. I’m left feeling a little bereft that I now have to wait for the next in the series and can only hope that wait is short.

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Tom Fletcher – Q&A

Today I’m pleased to welcome author Tom Fletcher to the blog. Tom kindly agreed to answer a few of my questions so here we go..

1. Tell us a little about Gleam.

Gleam the place: it looks like a broken skull, and nobody knows what it’s for. A hexagonal black pyramid rises from its centre, and Gleam gets its name from the shining apparatus that crowns the pyramid. The pyramid is inhabited, as is the surrounding area, but much of the rest of Gleam is empty of human life. It is slowly sinking into the swamp. Some of its people worship Old Green (a six-legged crocodile), some worship hallucinogenic toads, some a gigantic terrarium. Others are sworn, at birth, into the transgenerational and never-ending work of mapping Gleam. And those in the Pyramid live their lives under the stringent rule of astronomer priests, blood alchemists, and administrators. 

Gleam the book: a strange adventure. A personal quest into the heart of a mysterious world. Wild Alan, the protagonist, almost living up to his nickname. Love, lust, old grievances, blackmail, magic mushrooms, and hatred. And giant snails.

2. Gleam is different to your other novels. What inspired you to break out and try something new?

I’d wanted to write it for a while. I’ve always read fantasy and sci-fi, and I’ve always intended to write SFF; it just felt like the time was right to have a go. Probably because my previous novels were all quite bleak and I felt like I needed a break from that kind of book, that kind of protagonist. I needed a change, and this strange world that had been coalescing in the back-brain stepped forward, and became Gleam.

3. Did you find you had more freedom to write outside the horror genre or did the fact that you are already established add a different kind of pressure to this new trilogy?

There’s a cartoonish aspect to Gleam that was quite liberating. Creating characters who can bounce back from some of the strange, horrible stuff that happens was fun. In my horror novels, people don’t generally bounce back with what happens – they fail to deal, fail to cope. 

The limitations that I wrote my first few books under were not to do with the genre, but to do with the tone and the world that I had decided to operate in – likewise, the freedoms that came with Gleam do not come from the genre, but from the relaxation of those self-imposed limitations. 

4. Are you a plan it all first or a sit down and write as it comes kind of writer?

I try to plan, but all the plans I make end up being thrown out of the window in a fit of petulance. I try to be the former – I’d like to be the former – but I’m just about resigned to the fact that I’m the latter, and always will be.

5. What can we expect from you next?

I’m currently working on Idle Hands, the sequel to Gleam and second book of The Factory Trilogy. In Idle Hands we’ll see a lot more of the workings of the Black Pyramid. Then there’ll be the third book, too, of course. I’ve got a horror novel called The Dead Fool to edit, which is set in the same world as my first three books, and that will be published at some point over the next couple of years. And some friends and I are working on a couple of independent projects – a book of Christmas ghost stories, and an interactive online fiction, details of which will be announced at http://www.curious-tales.com in due time.

6. You must have answered a few of these Q&As. What question have you not been asked that you wish had been asked – and what’s the answer?

That’s difficult. I don’t really go into these things with a list of things I want to talk about – that would be a bit presumptuous, I think. It’s presumptuous enough writing a novel and hoping people will read it! And although there is a lot of overlap between different Q&As, there are always a few unique questions, so across the full range of Q&As most topics get covered.

There are things I’d like to write about or discuss, and that I sometimes consider blogging about, but I am not sure the internet needs any more unsolicited author opinions. I’ll write a blog post if somebody asks me to, and I’ll answer questions that I’m asked, but these days I try to leave it at that.

Gleam is available now in hardback and is published by Jo Fletcher Books.

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About Tom Fletcher:

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Tom Fletcher has published a number of his short stories as well as three novels with Jo Fletcher Books, The Leaping, The Thing on the Shore and The Ravenglass Eye. He lives in Cumbria with his wife and son.

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Like This, Forever – Sharon Bolton – Review

Corgi

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“Twelve-year-old Barney Roberts is obsessed with a series of murders.
He knows the victims are all boys, just like him.
He knows the bodies were found on river banks.
And he’s sure the killer will strike again soon.

But there’s something else, a secret he’d rather not know, a secret he is too scared to share . . .
And who would believe a twelve-year-old boy anyway?”

(LIKE THIS, FOR EVER is published as LOST in the US)

3.5 of 5 stars

I received a copy of this book from the publishers and this is my honest opinion of the book.

Young boys are going missing around London, their bodies being found days later, the latest, twins, found on a beach laid peacefully next to each other. The police have little to go on, and what they do know is being hampered by interfering TV experts and a crazed contributor to Facebook. Twelve year old Barney thinks that he knows what is happening, and who the killer is. The thought is almost to painful to bear, hiding it from everyone, including next door neighbour Lacey Flint.

This is the third outing for Lacey Flint and we find her still on sick leave following the events in Dead Scared. She is adamant that she will stay out of this investigation but soon finds herself drawn into what is happening. All the while she is fighting her own demons, struggling with what had happened to her previously and her with her feelings for DI Mark Joesbury.

This is more of an ensemble novel, all the main side characters from the first two books in the series are there, getting equal footing with Lacey, and indeed we see more of the development of these characters. The character who gets the most page time seems to be Barney, a boy with special gifts, brought up by his father and searching for the mother he can barely remember.

It took me longer to get into this book than it did Now You See Me and Dead Scared. This may have been because I had read the first two back to back but I don’t think I was getting Lacey Flint jaded. I did however find myself flying through the last two hundred pages to the gripping conclusion, the fact that I’d guessed the outcome making it no less gripping.

This has all the things I’ve come to expect from a Sharon Bolton novel, a darkness to the story, a great cast of characters both old and new, good and bad and once I had got into it, a gripping read. On finishing the last page I went and dug out my copy A Dark and Twisted Tide, the latest in the Lacey Flint series.

 

 

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Dead Scared – Sharon Bolton – Review

Bantam Press/Corgi

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“A series of suicides. Each one a female university student. Each one more horrifying than the last.

The police know it cannot be coincidence. But they can’t prove it.

They need someone to go undercover. A young policewoman, as vulnerable as the others. As unprepared for the nightmare that will greet her.

Watch your back, Lacey Flint . . .”

3.5 of 5 stars

There have been a high number of suicides at Cambridge University. The numbers don’t stack up and Dr Evi Oliver has called in a favour with DI Joesbury’s boss, a former University Pal. DI Joesbury, though used to undercover work, isn’t exactly suitable for the roll of undercover cop on this occasion, so he calls on Lacey Flint. Under no circumstances is she to investigate and he assures her there is probably nothing untoward happening. But Lacey can’t help but investigate once she arrives at the historic University, and in doing so uncovers more than she bargained for.

Having just finished the first in the Lacey Flint series, Now You See Me, I was keen to start the next. So keen in fact that the next book I picked up was Dead Scared, book two in the series, after tracking down a copy at my local library.

Again this is another engaging read from Sharon Bolton. She has the ability to draw you in from almost the first page and I soon found myself rapidly reading to the conclusion of the story. The characters as before are well written and engaging. DI Mark Joesbury is back and he is as entertaining, and maddening as ever. Lacey addresses her feelings towards him more in this novel and we see more from Joesbury’s point of view and his thoughts on Flint are revealed.

There is a dark sense of malevolence written throughout this book, with it playing on the psychology of the characters. Some of the deaths were disturbing for their violence, made even more disturbing that those described were self inflicted deaths. It is gritty, dark and deals with a difficult subject in a new and unusual way. The psychological torment of characters was not my favourite of story lines, I was always wondering if it would go a little too far, though thankfully it didn’t. However this is just personal preference. It didn’t stop me racing through the book to its breathless ending and it certainly didn’t put me off the series. In fact the next book I pick up will be the third outing for Lacey Flint, Like This, Forever.

 

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Death of An Avid Reader – Frances Brody – Review

Piatkus

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“The sixth fantastically quirky crime novel featuring amateur sleuth extraordinaire Kate Shackleton!

A lady with a secret

Kate Shackleton’s sterling reputation for courageous sleuthing attracts the attention of the venerable Lady Coulton. Hidden in her past is a daughter, born out of wedlock and given up to a different family. Now, Lady Coulton is determined to find her and puts Kate on the case.

A mysterious killing in the library’s basement

But as Kate delves deeper into Lady Coulton’s past, she soon finds herself thrust into a scandal much closer to home. When the body of the respected Horatio Potter is found in the Leeds Library basement, the quiet literary community is suddenly turned upside down with suspicions, accusations and – much to Kate’s surprise – the appearance of a particularly intelligent Capuchin monkey!

The most puzzling case in Kate’s sleuthing history yet

Convinced an innocent man has been blamed, Kate sets out to discover the truth. Who would want Dr Potter dead? Does Lady Coulton’s missing daughter hold a vital clue? As the stories start to emerge in the seemingly quiet Leeds Library, Kate is learning fast that in this case, she can’t judge a book by its cover . . .”

4 of 5 stars

I was sent a copy of this book by the publisher and this is my honest opinion of the book.

Kate Shackleton is engaged by Lady Coulton to find her long lost daughter, given up for adoption over 20 years ago. Kate soon finds her investigation hitting dead ends but has her attention distracted by another case closer to home. A body is found in Leeds Library and Kate finds herself investigating the death, soon wondering if the too cases are linked.

This is the 6th Kate Shackleton novel and the first one I have read. The Kate Shackleton novels are marketed as ‘cosy’ mysteries and given that I am a lover of such books I was eager to read this one. ‘Cosy’ mysteries are as the name implies, murder mysteries that are books you can curl up with and tend to be less gritty and dark than usual crime dramas, often with splashes of humour thrown in.

This book was set in Leeds, and being familiar with the city this added a layer of enjoyment to the story, recognising places discussed and described.

I found it to be a well written, engaging story, very easy to read, and perfect to curl up with. I liked the main characters, especially Kate and found them all well rounded and entertaining. In fact I was left hoping that the relationship between Kate and Inspector Wallis will develop further in future novels.

I loved the 1920s setting and could easily imagine the scenes in my mind as I read, the fog laden streets, open top cars and even the matrons patrolling the halls at the local hospital.

Although this is the sixth book in the series I didn’t feel that I was at a disadvantage by not having read the others. In fact, I’m going to go back and read the rest whilst I wait for book seven.

About the Author:

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Frances Brody is the author of five other mysteries featuring Kate Shackleton as well as many stories and plays for BBC Radio, scripts for television and four sagas, one of which won the HarperCollins Elizabeth Elgin Award. Her stage plays have been toured by several theatre companies and produced at Manchester Library Theatre, the Gate and Nottingham Playhouse, and Jehad was nominated for a Time Out Award.

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Now You See Me – Sharon Bolton – Review

Corgi

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“She can’t stop shivering. But this isn’t cold. This is terror.

A savage murder on London’s streets, 120 years to the day since Jack the Ripper claimed his first victim. A crime with all the hallmarks of a copycat killer.

Detective Constable Lacey Flint has never worked a murder case, until now. When another mutilated victim is found she agrees to be the bait to lure out the monster.

But this killer is one step ahead, and already fixated on Lacey . . .”

4 of 5 stars

DC Lacey Flint finds more than she bargains for one night as she walks back to her car. There waiting for her is a woman, dying from injuries too gruesome to contemplate. Lacey soon finds herself drawn into her first murder investigation, as a witness, expert and to some suspect. Soon a second body is found and Lacey finds herself caught up in something that could ruin her forever.

This is the first in the Lacey Flint series and the first book I have read by Sharon Bolton, who previously wrote under the name SJ Bolton. I found this to be an engaging murder novel. It’s no plot spoiler to say that the murderer is inspired by Jack the Ripper. There have been many Ripper spin offs but this deals with the tale of Jack and his victims in an original manner.

There are a good host of supporting characters, each one different enough to add their own weight to the story. The character of Lacey is a complicated one and one I am not sure I completely took to. She has her own demons and secrets to keep but these are what drive her as an officer and make her the person she is. It seemed to me that this first novel in the series is a vehicle to introduce us to Lacey and I have a feeling that this back story will be integral to the rest of the series, though I may be wrong. This is why I wanted to read the series in order, despite having books three and four in the series which I am impatient to read. I’m looking forward to seeing how Lacey develops as an officer and to see how the relationship between her and her fellow officers develops, in particular if romance is to rear its head with her and DI Joesbury.

Yes I did guess the murderer before the denouement but this didn’t spoil the story. In fact I found myself flying through it, eager to see what would happen next. The pace was just right and kept me engaged throughout.

I’m looking forward to reading the next in the series Dead Scared soon.

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