Snowblind by Ragnar Jonasson – Review

Orenda Books

Publication date – 15 June 2015

Source – Publisher

Translated by Quentin Bates

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Siglufjörður: an idyllically quiet fishing village in Northern Iceland, where no one locks their doors – accessible only via a small mountain tunnel. Ari Thór Arason: a rookie policeman on his first posting, far from his girlfriend in Reykjavik – with a past that he’s unable to leave behind. When a young woman is found lying half-naked in the snow, bleeding and unconscious, and a highly esteemed, elderly writer falls to his death in the local theatre, Ari is dragged straight into the heart of a community where he can trust no one, and secrets and lies are a way of life. An avalanche and unremitting snowstorms close the mountain pass, and the 24-hour darkness threatens to push Ari over the edge, as curtains begin to twitch, and his investigation becomes increasingly complex, chilling and personal. Past plays tag with the present and the claustrophobic tension mounts, while Ari is thrust ever deeper into his own darkness – blinded by snow, and with a killer on the loose. Taut and terrifying, Snowblind is a startling debut from an extraordinary new talent, taking Nordic Noir to soaring new heights.”

4 of 5 stars

I received a copy of this book from the publisher via my blogging friend Liz Barnsley at Lizlovesbooks and this is my honest opinion of the book.

Ari Thor, about to graduate from the police academy, accepts a job from the chief of police in Siglufjörður. Leaving behind his disgruntled girlfriend, he finds himself in a place surrounded by mountains and edged by the sea. The only exit, a narrow mountain tunnel. He finds it hard to settle, being told that nothing ever happens; everyone knows each other and doors are kept unlocked. The only thing to sort out are the occasional speeding tickets or the odd drunk. So when an elderly local celebrity is found dead after a fall in the local theatre Ari Thor is soon told that this is nothing more than accident. Doubt nags at Ari Thor and when a young woman is found bleeding in the snow things it soon becomes clear, things aren’t all as they seem.

I don’t want to go into too much detail as to the mystery side of the story. To do so would spoil the enjoyment of finding out for yourself and runs the risk of me giving too much away.

The chapters alternate between characters which enables the story to be about more than just Ari Thor. The fact that the story is not told solely from his viewpoint works well. The reader is invited into the lives of the residents in a way that Ari Thor, an outsider, is not. This gives even more of a sense of danger and menace to the story but also a different dynamic.

There is something almost hauntingly melancholic about this story. The claustrophobia felt by Ari Thor is palpable. You can almost feel the walls of snow caging you in and the sense of almost perpetual winter darkness makes you reach for the light switch. There is also an air of menace which is juxtaposes the almost ‘cosy’ feel to the mystery. The tale is set in a small town, where doors are kept unlocked and everyone knows everyone else. Yet secrets lurk behind those unlocked doors and outsiders like Ari Thor sense what is almost hidden from view.

The imagery used in the book is immediate. Though I read this in June I found myself shivering and the descriptions of the unremitting darkness of the 24 hour ‘nights’ are superbly effective, making me forget that around me the days were the longest they are all year.

Quentin Bates’ translation is outstanding. Again I forgot I was reading a piece of translated fiction and I’ve said before that I believe the sign of a great translator is that you cannot tell the work you are reading is translated. Nothing felt jarred or out of place. The sense of tension, danger and oppression flowed throughout.

I was easily transported to Iceland and the book left me a longing to return. There is a desolate beauty to the country which is echoed in Snowblind.  I eagerly await Ragnar Jonasson’s next book, Nightblind, out later this year.

 

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Baking my troubles Away by Ann O’Loughlin – Guest Post

Today’s I’m pleased to welcome Ann O’Loughlin, author of The Ballroom Café, to the blog.

Ann has written a wonderful piece on the  soothing properties of baking.

BAKING MY TROUBLES AWAY

Some opt for a spa treatment; others walk the dog. I like to bake a cake.

While most of my friends walk their troubles away; I bake them away.

There is something so calming when you run flour through your fingers, measure out the sugar and whip up a cake.

So it was hardly surprising that some of my favourite cakes made it in to The Ballroom Cafe.

In fact, it was baking I turned to when the plot ground to a halt and the warring sisters Ella and Roberta O’Callaghan refused to do what they were told.  Baking was my salvation when Muriel Hearty decided to have a sea change and forget to gossip and when May started to fret too much over her fruit cakes.

It was to baking I turned after writing the saddest scenes in The Ballroom Café, to clear my head and reassure myself that all was right with the world.

Ella O’Callaghan in The Ballroom Café finds the same solace in a baking session when times are tough.

Times get very tough for Ella and the bank threatens to repossess, so she set up a café in the upstairs ballroom, serving her scrumptious homemade cakes and tea in a china cup.

Ella not only loves baking, but is a natural at it. My mother loved to bake cakes too. She never seemed to have to take out a recipe book; it was all in her head. She always said if you kept key ingredients in the food cupboard, you would never be stuck.

 Flour in those days came in large white cloth sacks and it was my job to scoop it out with a big metal scoop and weigh it.

 I know now she only got me to set it on the scales to humour a young helper. She herself could throw the ingredients together and whip up a cake in no time.

We made lemon cakes, coffee cakes and the rich family chocolate cake for special occasions. The chocolate cake with ground almonds and good quality chocolate is my all time favourite. It features in The Ballroom Café. And no, I am not going to reveal the secret ingredient; you are going to have to read the novel to get to that one.

Back to baking proper, my one piece of advice which comes – you guessed it – courtesy of my mum.

 “Concentrate, block out everything else, enjoy doing it and it will all show in the cake.”

 She is right of course. Ever tried to bake when the world is wrong for you and unhappiness gurgles through you; you end up with a stodgy, flat offering. Be happy and make a nice, light, fluffy cake; it works all the time for me.

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The Reader on the 6.27 by Jean-Paul Didierlaurent – Review

Mantle

Publication date – 4 June 2015

Translated by Ros Shwartz

the-reader-on-the-627-978144727646301

“The irresistible French bestseller about the redemptive power of books – Mr Penumbra’s 24-hour Bookstore meets Amélie

An irresistible French sensation – Mr Penumbra’s 24-hour Bookstore meets Amélie – The Reader on the 6.27 explores the power of books through the lives of the people they save. It is sure to capture the hearts of book lovers everywhere.

Guylain Vignolles lives on the edge of existence. Working at a book pulping factory in a job he hates, he has but one pleasure in life . . .

Sitting on the 6.27 train each day, Guylain recites aloud from pages he has saved from the jaws of his monstrous pulping machine. And it’s this release of words into the world that starts our hero on a journey that will finally bring meaning into his life.

For one morning, Guylain discovers the diary of a lonely young woman: Julie. A woman who feels as lost in the world as he does. As he reads from these pages to a rapt audience, Guylain finds himself falling hopelessly in love with their enchanting author . . .

The Reader on the 6.27 is a tale bursting with larger-than-life characters, each of whom touches Guylain’s life for the better. This captivating novel is a warm, funny fable about literature’s power to uplift even the most downtrodden of lives.”

4 of 5 stars

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

Guylain Vignolles dreads the journey to work every day. Working at a book pulping plant it breaks his heart to destroy the books that arrive by the lorry load. Each day on his way to the plant he reads aloud pages that he has saved from the machine. His fellow passengers have come to eagerly await Guylain’s latest discoveries. One day he finds the diary of Julie. As he reads these he finds himself falling for the mysterious Julie. But can he find the woman behind the words?…

I loved the premise of this book so when I heard about it I was eager to give it a read. I wasn’t disappointed. I was soon drawn into Guylain’s world. The book pulping machine, the bane of Guylain’s life, is aptly described as ‘The Thing’ by Guylain. It takes on a personality of it’s own, becoming a malevolent presence and leading to the reader to easily distain it as much as Guylain.

There is a magical quality to this book, one that I have noticed is present in other French literature I have recently read. It casts a lovely spell over the reader, delighting them as Guylain does with his fellow passengers on the 6.27. That magic is transported to the retirement home where Guylain reads, waking up the residents from their stupor. Similarly the words of Julie open up Guylain’s world, making him realise his lonely existence may not be a permanent one.

Ros Shwartz again does a fantastic translation. My opinion is that if I forget I’m reading a translation then the translator has done their job perfectly. The magic that was behind the author’s words has been retained and it is that which holds the story together.

This book celebrates the magic of words and of story-telling. It’s a beautiful tale about the love of books and how they can open up new avenues and adventures for readers. Perhaps even leading to love.

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Julia Kelly – Q&A

Today I’m pleased to welcome Julia Kelly, author of The Playground, to the blog. Julia kindly agreed to answer a few of my questions.

1. Tell us a little about the Playground

It’s a novel about a single mother trying to protect her child in a world populated by people who are parents when they haven’t quite grown up themselves. 

2. Where did the inspiration come from for the book? 

The idea came to me during a tearful conversation with my agent. I was in my sitting room looking out the window at the playground across the road listening to all the reasons why she felt a draft novel I’d submitted wasn’t working. She asked if I had any other ideas and, needing to say something, I said I could always write about the Playground (God knows I’d spent enough time there since I’d had my little girl). She loved the idea, as did my publisher, and I got down to work straight away. 

3. What is the best and the worst thing about being a writer?

The best and the worst for me are being my own boss. While I love the freedom and independence of working for myself, writing requires discipline, focus and organisation – none of which are innate skills but the pressure of deadlines and financial commitments help to keep me at my desk.  

4. Are you a plan, plan, plan writer or do you sit down and see where the words take you?

I’m a combination of both. I write a first draft without having any formal structure or clear idea of what shape it will take. When this is complete I will then map out a plot and narrative arc using index cards and a cork board. I have tried to begin the other way around but I find it too dull and uninspiring. I like to get all my ideas out unedited first and then put a shape on them.  

5. How long does the process take you from first line to completed novel?

I write very slowly; my first novel took three years, my second, four. But I want to become more prolific and am aiming to have a first draft of my third ready by this Christmas.  

6. What do you do when you aren’t writing? What do you do to relax and get away from it all?

I live in a beautiful coastal village outside Dublin and love walking in the hills and along the beaches with our dog, friends and my daughter. And a deep bubble bath with a great novel and a large glass of wine is bliss for me. I also love Italy, Italians, driving around the Irish countryside, running, reading, going to the movies. 

7. Who would you invite to your fantasy literary dinner party?

Bill Bryson, Alan Hollinghurst, Jonathan Franzen, David Sedaris, Lorrie Moore, Zoe Heller and Dorothy Parker, if she were still alive. 

8. I like to end my Q & A’s with the same question so here we go. What question have you not been asked that you wish had been asked – and what’s the answer?

Can you tell me seven random facts about you: 

1) I once took a large bite out of the passenger seat of my aunt’s car (I had quite a taste for leather and rubber when I was twelve). It went down very well. Though not so much with my aunt. 

2) Bank holidays depress me. I hate being put under pressure to have lots of fun plans.

3) The words ‘moist’ ‘more-ish’ ‘panties’ and ‘awesome’ among others make me squirm. It even hurts to write them down. 

4)  I’ve always wanted to be a farmer’s wife though I am vegetarian, cry if I’m woken earlier than seven and love, but am nervous of, nearly all animals so it may not have been a happy marriage. 

5) I like Dunnes Stores but I hate their vomit-coloured carrier bags. 

6) And I truly hate when people tell me I look tired/shattered/knackered/worn out/f**ked. I know I do. Pointing it out is not sympathetic, empathetic, helpful or kind. It just makes me feel like going back to bed. 

7) I have the world’s scariest knees. But that’s nothing new.   

About the book

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“A funny and moving novel about a single mother finding her independence.

Eve is starting again.

Newly single, unemployed and with a baby daughter, she joins the local mums trying to make their nearby playground the heart of the community. But not all games are innocent – and not all friends are true. When the rules change, Eve must forge her own independence – and realise that the playground is no place to hide from adulthood.”

The Playground by Julia Kelly is out on June 4 (Quercus, £7.99).

 

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What is it about queens? – Guest post by Joanna Courtney

Today I’m pleased to welcome Joanna Courtney to the blog. Joanna’s novel, The Chosen Queen, the first instalment in ‘The Queens of the Conquest’ trilogy was published by Macmillan on 7 May 2015. Today Joanna answers the question – what is it with Queens?

What is it about queens?

What is it about queens that fascinates us so much? What is it about the ‘virgin’ Elizabeth I, or the heartbroken widow, Victoria, or the beautiful Kate Middleton? Is it the money, the pretty dresses, the handsome princes? Or is the power, the status, the wonderful, irresistible desirability of the position? It has to be all of that, but for me as a writer the true fascination is not so much how different queens are from us ordinary folk, as how similar they might be. Beneath the crown is surely, still, a human being and in some ways being set on a throne makes them even more vulnerable than the rest of us.

It was with that in mind that I excitedly uncovered the story of Edyth of Mercia. Born the daughter of the Earl of Mercia in the 1040s, she was catapulted into the wild Welsh court when her irascible father was exiled and at just 14 was married to King Griffin, the only man ever to have been King of all Wales. Griffin’s favourite hobby was attacking England and it was this that, in the end, proved his undoing. The great Earl Harold of Wessex attacked Wales, eventually bringing Griffin’s head to England on a platter, and his widow, Edyth – still just 25 and already mother of three – with it.  Before long, on the cusp of 1066, he asked her to marry him.

Now King Harold, he desperately need help to hold England against the fearsome invaders Harald Hardrada and William of Normandy and Edyth, as sister to the earls of the north and an experienced ruler already, was the perfect choice. She was already pregnant with a son in the fateful year of 1066 and was viciously widowed at the Battle of Hastings before this poor lost Harold was even born.

I began to think about the sort of fiery, curious, bold young woman who could have carved her way through such a political and personal minefield. I wondered how I would have managed it and, as I did so, I made the most of that great privilege of the historical novelist – to imagine a character who

slots into history and makes it her own. As a result my Edyth is in part a product of her time (I did a lot of research, though cannot claim expertise) and, in a perhaps larger part, a product of my imagination.

I am so caught up in her story these days that I have recently named my new car after her! Edyth was a true royal with all the money, pretty dresses, and status that we more usually associate with the Tudor elite, but for all that I hope that for readers she can fascinate as much as a woman, as she can as a queen.

About the Book

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“She holds the fate of England in her heart . . .

He looked like a king that day, Harold. Even in a simple bridegroom’s tunic of darkest green he looked like royalty as he stepped up to take the Lady Svana’s hand. There was no gold in sight, just flowers; no parade of bishops, just a smiling monk in a sack-robe and bare feet. There was no betrothal contract, no formal prayers, no exchange of lands or elaborate gifts, just the linking of hands joining two people for a year and a day.

Edyth had said nothing but it had seemed to her then that Harold glowed when he was with his handfast wife and it was that glow, more than any gold or land or title, that drew people to him. ‘Love prefers to be free,’ Svana had said and Edyth had carried that with her ever since. It had been her ideal, lit up by firelight and scented with meadow grass, and now, on the brink of womanhood, she craved such a passion for herself.

The Queens of the Conquest trilogy

1066. Three Queens. One Crown.

As a young woman in England’s royal court, Edyth, granddaughter of Lady Godiva, dreams of marrying for love. But political matches are rife while King Edward is still without an heir and the future of England is uncertain.

When Edyth’s family are exiled to the wild Welsh court, she falls in love with the charismatic King of Wales – but their romance comes at a price and she is catapulted onto the opposing side of a bitter feud with England. Edyth’s only allies are Earl Harold Godwinson and his handfasted wife, Lady Svana.

As the years pass, Edyth finds herself elevated to a position beyond even her greatest expectations. She enjoys both power and wealth but as her star rises the lines of love and duty become more blurred than she could ever have imagined. As 1066 dawns, Edyth is asked to make an impossible choice.

Her decision is one that has the power to change the future of England forever . . .

The Chosen Queen is the perfect blend of history, fast-paced plot and sweeping romance with a cast of strong female characters – an unforgettable read.”

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Kate Furnivall – Q&A

 

Today I’m pleased to welcome Kate Furnivall, whose books include The Russian Concubine. Kate is here to discuss her latest novel; The Italian Wife, published by Sphere on 7 May 2015.

Hi, it’s great to be here. Thanks for inviting me.

Tell us a little about THE ITALIAN WIFE.

THE ITALIAN WIFE is about creating something new and strong out of something that has been damaged. The book opens with Isabella Berotti being shot by an unknown marksman in a Milan marketplace in 1932, and dying. Her father, a doctor, resuscitates her and she survives, but at a cost. She is damaged. She limps. She is frightened to trust people. She becomes an architect, as if she can build herself a new and better life.

     At the same time Mussolini is constructing five new towns on the drained Pontine Marshes in order to show Italians a better way to live. But he enforces it with a brutal Fascist regime, and when Isabella is swept into caring for an abandoned child, she comes into conflict with the state’s power and corruption.

     She meets and falls in love with photographer Roberto Falco, but can she trust him? Can she trust anyone? Betrayal, courage and hidden secrets make this a complex and passionate tale.

Where did the inspiration come from for the book?

The inspiration came from Italy itself. I was beguiled by the story of the extraordinary undertaking of Mussolini draining the mosquito-infested swamps of the Pontine Marshes. It was a breathtaking feat and it attracted attention from all over the world in the 1930s. But I couldn’t help wondering what it must have

been like for those hundreds of families who were uprooted from the north and transplanted as farmers on to the black barren land of the Pontine Plain.

     It sparked something in me. The enticing concept of starting afresh with a blank page intrigues us all – and that’s what both Isabella and Mussolini were doing. But it was never going to be easy, was it? It turned out to bring a torrent of problems with it and an outcome that no one expected.

What is the best and worst thing about being a writer?

The best thing? There are lots of ‘best things’ about being a writer. Publication day, the champers, the generous comradeship of other writers, the ability to hang out in my PJs all day, finding a good title, writing The End, and the pleasure of knowing when your words have touched someone’s heart. Just last weekend at my book signing someone said to me, “Your book got me through my operation in hospital”. Wonderful to hear. But best of the best is when I look up from my pad or screen and realise that hours have passed without my being aware of it. The joy when the words flow is right up there with man walking on the moon!

     The worst thing? Deadlines. They are my worst nightmare. I am in a race against the ever-ticking clock. Aaargh!

Are you a plan, plan, plan writer or do you sit down and see where the words take you? How long does the process take you from first line to completed novel?

Oh yes, my aim is to be a plan, plan writer. Notice I say “my aim” is to be one. That’s what I’d love – to have everything worked out beforehand and then just canter through the scenes with everything falling into place with ease. I wish!

     No, I start out with no more than a bare-bones skeleton of a story and a general, though worryingly vague, idea of how it will unfold. I make sure I know the ending before I start, so that at least I know where I’m heading, even if I am flummoxed about how to get there. Characters can become obstinate and back themselves into all sorts of weird situations from which I have to extract them, muttering under my breath. The actual writing of a novel takes me about ten months from start to finish – I begin slowly and only really speed up when I can smell the Deadline flames coming close. That’s when my brain kicks into panic mode and the words start to fly out. Next time, I’ll plan … for sure!

What do you do when you’re not writing? What do you do to relax and get away from it all?

I sleep. When I’m writing, my mind insists on spending much of the night wrestling the next scene to the ground, so by the end of a book I could easily be mistaken for a zombie – and often am!  I like to walk. Lonely empty places. On Dartmoor, on deserted beaches and windblown clifftops. While I’m writing I can hardly bear to watch television, but when a book is finished I can laze for hours in front of old black & white films on a rainy afternoon. Or a quick game of tennis and, oh yes, a night out with mates too, that’s good for numbing the pain!

If you could read only one book for the rest of your life, which book would it be?

I can’t imagine life without LOADS of books. But if you twist my arm really hard, I’ll choose two: Margaret Mitchell’s ‘Gone With The Wind’ for the pure escapist delight of travelling through life with Scarlett O’Hara at my side. And

secondly the wonderful ‘The Poisonwood Bible’ for its exquisite beauty and its complex layers of thought.

I like to end my Q&As with the same question, so here we go. What question have you not been asked that you wish had been asked – and what’s the answer?

That’s interesting. I think the question I would like to consider is this :- Does inspiration run out eventually for an author?

     This is a subject little talked about. Too scary. Something authors don’t like to think about – like alzheimers or a brain-freeze in the middle of a speech. Will there come a day when I have nothing to say? Will I burn out?

If I am being strictly honest – which I try to avoid when it comes to this question – I think the answer is yes. Authors do burn out. We all know novelists who have produced a heap of great books and then have petered out. Lost the plot, so to speak. And this is one of the joys in moving my stories from country to country, because every book brings with it an exciting new place and new moment of history for me to explore. A whole different world comes to inspire me. THE ITALIAN WIFE is my first book set in Italy and I hope my love for that country burns bright in it.

Thanks very much for answering my questions and for appearing on my blog.

It’s been an absolute pleasure. Thank you for inviting me.

About the book

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The breathtaking new historical novel from Kate Furnivall — set in 1930s Italy, before the dawn of the Second World War

Italy, 1932 — Mussolini’s Italy is growing from strength to strength, but at what cost?

One bright autumn morning, architect Isabella Berotti sits at a café in the vibrant centre of Bellina, when a woman she’s never met asks her to watch her ten-year-old daughter, just for a moment. Reluctantly, Isabella agrees — and then watches in horror as the woman climbs to the top of the town’s clock tower and steps over the edge.

This tragic encounter draws vivid memories to the surface, forcing Isabella to probe deeper into the secrets of her own past as she tries to protect the young girl from the authorities. Together with charismatic photographer Roberto Falco, Isabella is about to discover that secrets run deeper, and are more dangerous, than either of them could have possibly imagined . . .

From the glittering marble piazzas to the picturesque hillside villages and winding streets of Rome, Kate Furnivall’s epic new novel will take you on an breathtaking journey of intrigue, romance and betrayal.

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Tammany Hall: the Labor and the Irish in 19th Century America by Lyndsay Faye – Guest Post

Today I’m pleased to welcome Lyndsay Faye to the blog. Lynsey’s latest book featuring detective Timothy Wilde, The Fatal Flame, published by Headline on 12 May 2015.

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Tammany Hall: the Labor and the Irish in 19th Century America

During the 2012 Barack Obama vs. Mitt Romney presidential election, the writers at Saturday Night Live were as usual busily making political candidates look about as sensible as carrying water with a sieve.  Economics play a major part of any campaign in any country, but since the 2008 financial collapse, Americans have been particularly fraught about jobs, whipping up the sort of enthusiasm over employment we once devoted to crispy processed snack products (preferably with something to dip them into, doesn’t matter what) and local baseball teams.  During a sketch I found memorable, actor Jason Sudeikis as Republican candidate Mitt Romney is seen in the shower, soaping up and singing himself a happy morning ditty:

Oh, poor people hate havin’ jobs!

Poor people hate havin’ jobs…

The only thing poor people hate worse than condoms

Is getting up and goin’ to a job!

The reason this made for such scathing satire apart from the obvious is that the rah-rah attitude Americans devote to our country makes it difficult for some to believe you could possibly fail to find a job supposing you want one.  We make cars (used to make cars) and make electronics (used to make electronics) and have the best scientists (used to have great scientists)!  How could you possibly not have a job if you want one, really want one?  (It took my younger brother, who has his master’s degree, years to get a job following grad school that wasn’t personal training in a fluorescent-lit gym).  In reality, jobs and politics have always been closely aligned in American history, and in no case was that truer than for Tammany Hall in the nineteenth century.

The Irish Potato Famine was a tragedy on a massive and heartbreaking scale.  Countless starved to death in their homeland, and countless more were permanently displaced.  One can picture the fields of moldering potatoes, the terrible plight of the destitute, even the teeming ragged harrowed hopeful thousands who poured into New York City seeking salvation in the form of edible food.

But what did they do once they arrived?  And where were the jobs for so many desperate refugees?  Many, of course, chose to travel to the interior of America if they could afford to—but if they remained behind in New York, odds are almost certain that they in some fashion fell in with Tammany Hall.  

Think of American political parties as businesses (you wouldn’t be far off).  They advertise, they pay close attention to public relations, and they hone their products (in this case, their political messages) to try to attract consumers (voters).  They even conduct polls and study demographics to achieve these goals, and religiously.  In order to run a business, you need investors and capital, yes?  For the Democratic Party in the nineteenth century, that’s where Tammany Hall came in—and they recognized, as their political rivals the Whigs did not, that thousands of Irish refuges meant thousands of Irish voters.

Tammany Hall was not synonymous with the Democratic Party, but it may as well have been, in the same way spending your money at Banana Republic and at The Gap benefits the same group of people no matter the exact fit of the polo shirt.  Tammany Hall’s modus operandi was somewhere between a rough and ready club of drunk scrappers and fundraising committee massive enough to attract money like a particularly eager black hole.  It was not the first organized political engine by far, but it was certainly the most effective of its time, and by the mid-nineteenth century, Tammany was beloved by thousands of Irish who could turn to no one else.  Tammany planned it that way—they knew that gratitude would translate into support at the polls.

Though it would be true to say some of Tammany’s methods of enforcing their opinions were outrageous (read: brickbats, brass knuckles, and Daniel Day Lewis’s truly magnificent moustache in Gangs of New York), they would never have become so entrenched if they were not providing their constituents with exactly what they wanted: jobs.  The streets of 1840s and 1850s Manhattan were choked with immigrants, orphans, widows, the elderly, and other vulnerable populations.  People lived in tenements ten to a cellar with sewage oozing through the walls, caught rats to roast, sewed piecework eighteen and twenty hours a day for pennies.  They lived life on the knife’s point, and any setback we might consider irksome but manageable—an illness, a bout with food poisoning, the necessity of finding new lodgings—could have been fatal.  Finding steady employment was the only slender guarantee of survival.

When their voters were in trouble, Tammany stepped up to assist before anyone had ever heard of social services, and before New England Protestant churches had caught on to the notion that you might not be devil-ridden simply because you were Catholic.  In a virulently anti-Catholic world, the Irish often found themselves shut out of New York culture, both socially and economically.  Unlike their rivals, the Whig Party, the Democrats welcomed the Irish—or more specifically, they welcomed their votes.  Tammany was the driving force behind extending the vote to propertyless white males in the 1820s (previously, land ownership was a requirement), and had already gained a reputation for rowdy egalitarianism.  When the Irish flooded into the city, where the “nativist” Whigs saw a problem, the Democrats saw a solution: only help people who need helping, and they will repay you with their undying loyalty.

Tammany was organized into “wards” or turfs, and the bosses of those wards served many purposes for their communities.  They found jobs for new arrivals, helped them locate housing, delivered heaping baskets of food at Christmas, even spoke words in the ear of Tammany-appointed judges when their voters ran into trouble.  It was about as corrupt as Vladimir Putin at a bunga bunga held by a Mexican drug cartel—but it was all the people had to fall back on, and decade after decade, the system kept successfully electing Democratic candidates.

Tammany was ruthless, unafraid of destroying ballot boxes, renting voters from nearby Philadelphia, or releasing convicts for a single day and buying their votes with free liquor (all historically accurate).  They later grew far too opulent for their own good and became forever associated with government skullduggery when William “Boss” Tweed was found by an aldermen’s committee to have stolen somewhere between 25 and 50 million dollars from New York taxpayers (and this was in 1877).  But before the soaring heights of infamy, before Tammany took New York in a stranglehold, they did understand one thing:

 Poor people don’t hate having jobs.

About the book:

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From the author of the highly acclaimed GODS OF GOTHAM and SEVEN FOR A SECRET comes another vivid historical novel featuring Timothy Wilde.

A scarred barman turned copper star, the birth of the NYPD, gangs, murder, brothels  and bedlam in the dark underworld of nineteenth-century New York.

Timothy Wilde – copper star, tough with a warm heart, learning his craft as a detective.

Valentine Wilde – Timothy’s gregarious, glamorous, depraved rogue of a brother.

Mercy Underhill – The intelligent, creative but unstable love of Timothy’s life.

Silkie Marsh – The beautiful brothel owner whose scheming knows no bounds.

Against the gritty backdrop of the notorious Five Points in 1848, Timothy Wilde is drawn yet again into a disturbing mystery, leading him to the heart of the Bowery girls, the original ‘factory girls’ in downtown Manhattan.

Someone is starting fires on the streets of New York and Timothy has to unravel a knot of revenge, murder and blackmail if he’s to find out who is behind it all and stop them before the whole city goes up in flames…

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Disclaimer by Renee Knight – Review

Published by Doubleday

Publication date: 9 April 2015

Source – Net Galley copy

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“What if you realized the book you were reading was all about you?

‘DISCLAIMER stealthily steals your attention and by the end holds you prisoner – a searing story that resonates long after the final page. The best thriller I’ve read this year’
Rosamund Lupton, bestselling author of Sister

When an intriguing novel appears on Catherine’s bedside table, she curls up in bed and begins to read.

But as she turns the pages she is sickened to realize the story will reveal her darkest secret.

A secret she thought no one else knew…”

3 of 5 stars

Everyone has read the disclaimer, the bit at the front of the book that states the book is a work of fiction and resemblances to people is coincidental. But what happens if a book turns up in your house and this disclaimer is crossed out? What happens if you read it and begin to realise it is about you? This is what happens to Catherine who is horrified to realise someone has written about a secret from her past, one which she has kept for 20 years and one which could ruin her life.

I loved the premise of this story. The idea that a book, something many turn to for entertainment, relief, escapism or guidance is used to the opposite effect, as a malicious tool to ruin someone. The story alternates between Catherine and Stephen. Stephen is a former teacher, still mourning the death of his wife. As the book develops we learn more of the history of Catherine and how she and Stephen are linked.

It is however a story that can easily be given away in a review, as everything is so tightly woven together giving the merest hint of what happens after Catherine begins to read the book could spoil the story. With that said therefore my review will be one of brevity.

As the characters developed I found myself disliking each one more and more, though by the conclusion my thoughts on Catherine had changed somewhat. Some are malevolent, others allow anger to cloud their judgement. I did find it difficult to care about any of them and this at times led me to find my interest wane. In other parts however I found myself eager to read more to find out what had happened.

This is a highly original concept for a psychological thriller and Renee Knight has managed to create a likely best seller with her first published novel. She has created characters you will have strong feelings for and a story that will keep you wanting to read until the end, even me, despite the issues I had with it.

If the premise intrigues you give it a go. And remember to read the disclaimer on the books you read from now on. Just in case.

 

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Death in the Rainy Season by Anna Jaquiery – Review

Published by Mantle

Publication date: 9 April 2015

Source: review copy

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“Phnom Penh, Cambodia; the rainy season. When a French man, Hugo Quercy, is found brutally murdered, Commandant Serge Morel finds his holiday drawn to an abrupt halt. Quercy – dynamic, well-connected – was the magnetic head of a humanitarian organisation which looked after the area’s neglected youth.

Opening his investigation, the Parisian detective soon finds himself buried in one of his most challenging cases yet. Morel must navigate this complex and politically sensitive crime in a country with few forensic resources, and armed with little more than a series of perplexing questions: what was Quercy doing in a hotel room under a false name? What is the significance of his recent investigations into land grabs in the area? And who could have broken into his home the night of the murder?

Becoming increasingly drawn into Quercy’s circle of family and friends – his adoring widow, his devoted friends and bereft colleagues – Commandant Morel will soon discover that in this lush land of great beauty and immense darkness, nothing is quite as it seems . . .

A deeply atmospheric crime novel that bristles with truth and deception, secrets and lies: Death in the Rainy Season is a compelling mystery that unravels an exquisitely wrought human tragedy.”

4 of 5 stars

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

Commandant Serge Morel, usually entrenched in Paris, finds himself torn away from his holiday in Cambodia. Travelling to Phnom Penh on the orders of his boss, Morel finds himself investigating the murder of a French citizen. With pressure from on high and little assistance from the local police, Morel soon finds himself caught up in a mystery he may not be able to solve.

This is the second novel to feature Serge Morel, following on from Anna Jaquiery’s debut The Lying Down Room. This time we see Morel away from his team in Paris, the team who rounded out the story and made it a great ensemble piece. However, don’t think that I enjoyed this book any less because Morel was flying solo on this investigation. In fact there are enough appearances of colleagues to keep them fresh in the reader’s memory I loved this book as much as the first.

I soon found myself transported to Cambodia. I could easily imagine Morel walking round the streets, sweltering in the humidity and hiding away from the monsoon rains.

Anna Jaquiery’s writing draws you in. It has the ability to wrap you up in the story, drowning out the real world. This isn’t an easy task but is carried out with aplomb.

Death in the Rainy Season provides the reader with the opportunity to get to know Morel even more, rounding out his character to a greater degree. We find out more about his family, this time focussing more on his deceased mother, who was from Cambodia. It was good to see more of Morel on his own, developing his character away from home but also somewhere he is linked.

The mystery is engaging. Morel is baffled as to why the dead man was murdered in a hotel room under a different name and has to deal with both suspects and the police holding back information. There were enough red herrings to keep me guessing until very near the dénouement and I enjoyed piecing together the mystery.

Anna Jaquiery has joined the ranks of the authors whose books I eagerly await. Morel is well on his way of becoming a favourite detective and I am impatiently waiting for his next investigation.

 

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Deborah Install – Q&A

Today I’m pleased to welcome Deborah Install, who’s debut novel, The Robot in the Garden is out now.

Deborah kindly answered a few of my questions.

1. Tell us a little about The Robot in the Garden.

Stagnant Ben and high-flying Amy are a couple whose relationship is on a downward spiral. When they find a battered and broken robot in their back garden, Ben’s interest in it is the last straw for Amy and she leaves. With no ties to home, Ben decides to find out where the Tang the robot came from and attempt to get him fixed. Through his friendship with Tang, Ben begins to rebuild his life, and Tang begins to find his place in the world.

2. What inspired the idea of Tang and his story?

Hehe, I don’t think I’ll ever tire of answering this question – it always raises eyebrows! Shortly after our son was born (he’s now 2 and a half), my husband was talking one night about the ‘acrid tang’ of newborn nappies. I said that sounded like a robot from East Asia. I have no idea why! Overnight I kept waking up thinking about the robot, and in the morning I knew he’d travelled across the world and ended up in the garden of a chap called Ben, who had a wife called Amy, and whose arch enemy would be a sort of mad scientist character. I started writing. Tang moved from East Asia to the South Pacific, but the premise remained the same.

3. What has surprised you most about the publishing process?

That’s a great question. I think it’s probably my own feelings throughout that have been a surprise. It’s so much more of a rollercoaster than I imagined it would be – I have been lucky and had an awful lot of highs, but the lows that there have been were really horrible. Reading the first bad review, for example. You know it’s coming, but you can never really prepare yourself for it. I guess it’s because it’s been my ambition since I could hold a pen, almost literally, so it couldn’t mean more to me. Fortunately I’ve had incredible support, not least from bloggers like yourself. If you ever wonder whether you’re important to authors then be assured: you are.

4. Do you think your background in copywriting helped in developing your writing style? For example, I used to work as a writer and I learned to edit as I wrote. Did you pick up any tips or systems that helped in writing fiction?

It has helped, yes. Possibly not in style but in terms of practical things like deadlines. I’m used to having to knuckle down and produce something even if I’m not feeling especially creative, because as a copywriter you have no choice. So I’m better with a deadline than without, definitely! It taught me about writing as a business. Another way it’s helped is in understanding the audience, which is absolutely the golden rule of copywriting. Being able to understand the market helps enormously with both the writing process and in marketing a book, I think. And after all, if we’re not doing this to please, challenge and/or entertain readers, why are we doing it?

5. What is your writing process? Do you plan it all before you start or just sit and write? How long does the process take you from first line to completed novel?

I like to plan. I have to know the story arc and roughly speaking the character journeys otherwise I just don’t know where I’m going or why. It’s important to be able to be flexible when it comes to editing though – for example the ending of the book changed about five times from the one I’d planned out. I also like to write the section I feel like writing at the time – I don’t write a book from beginning to end, it just doesn’t work for me. So I end up with a collection of sections from throughout the novel, then I string them together.

6. What sort of books do you like to read? Who are the authors you turn to for when you are stuck in a book slump for example?

Ugh I hate a book slump, don’t you? I feel so guilty when I’m not enjoying a book, especially when there’re a few in a row like that. In answer to your question, though, I can always pick up an Alexander McCall Smith and a Nick Hornby and enjoy them, so they are a sort of a slump refuge. Can never go wrong with Jane Austen either – her writing always feels like a safe haven.

7. I like to end my Q&A’s with the same question so here we go. What question have you not been asked that you wish had been asked – and what’s the answer?

One question I’ve not been asked is why, as a woman, do I choose to write with a male protagonist and from a male point of view. I’m told this is pretty unusual, so I’m just surprised no one’s asked it yet. That said, I’ll probably get it asked all the time now I’ve said that! The woolly answer is that it just feels right to me. I have a lot of male friends and some of my hobbies both past and present are perceived as traditionally male (watching rugby, RPG and video gaming, martial arts eg) so I think that’s why – I’m just around men a lot. The technical answer is that I think it helps me detached myself from the character – I worry that if I wrote as a woman then she would just be a version of me. Perhaps I am being too harsh on myself, but that’s the fear. Writing as a man helps me make sure that doesn’t happen.

Thanks very much for taking the time to answer my questions and for appearing on the blog.

You’re welcome, thanks for having me! Dx

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