Friday, 28 September 2018

She is Fierce - Ana Sampson

Well, this is a first for my blog - a poetry anthology! When I was younger I lived and breathed poetry. Read it, wrote it, quoted it. I even did my dissertation on an American poet. I don’t know what went wrong!! It’s not that I ever fell out of love with poetry. i just maybe stopped being obsessed with it! Is it an age thing? ‘I grow old… I grow old…. I shall wear the bottoms of my trousers rolled.’!  Nowadays I just tend to revisit specific, favourite poems from time to time. I have no idea what is happening currently in the world of poetry. Is Carol Ann Duffy still poet laureate? ;-)

So, why now? My curiosity was piqued by learning that the wonderful Quercus Books publicist Ana McLaughlin had published an anthology of poems. Not only an anthology but an anthology of poems by women. Pertinent topically with the #metoo movement and suffrage anniversaries, I’ve read many good things about it on social media. And Ana has passed such exceptional books my way that I felt compelled to -  give something back if you like. So I bought myself a copy and I may just have fallen in love with poetry all over again.

However this is a blog first and I’m pondering how to review an anthology. I don’t think it’s about individual poems. I have my favourites, of course, but it seems unhelpful to extol their virtues further because poetry is such a subjective art form and everyone’s favourites will be different. So I’m just gonna go with my own flow and see what comes out!! 

There’s a diverse range of poets included and the book’s structure gives them voice though all the stages of girlhood, womanhood, personhood, origins and beyond maybe, examining aspects both historic and contemporary. Something I loved was that there were familiar. classic even, poems nestling amongst some new (to me), modern voices. It’s a veritable poetry jewellery box, ‘twinkling with delight’, full of precious gems, some smooth and polished, others rough and uncut. It may seem paradoxical to describe an anthology as a ‘page turner’ but this one really is.

There are moments of pure exuberance which will bring a smile to your face, make you laugh even, some will send you down memory lane and there are moments of purest emotion that will bring tears to your eyes .

It was the final section that really got me, had me weeping. The poems there so eloquently express that imperceptible change from the invincibility of your younger years to the confrontation of your own mortality as you age. I wasn’t going to mention specific poems but the entry from the late, great Helen Dunmore was especially poignant. And whilst we’re mentioning specific poems one of my favourites and one I return to again and again is Stevie Smith’s ‘Not Waving But Drowning’. Gets me every time.

Included too are some thumbnail biographies of the poets at the end of the book. So you can investigate if you wish but it’s not ‘in your face’ if you don’t. Personally I think you will!! It may only be September but I’ve already decided to gift copies of this book to a couple of people on my Christmas present list. 

I’m usually thanking Ana for sending me books, now I’m thanking her for writing this book. It’s made me happy.

Thursday, 27 September 2018

A Ladder to the Sky - John Boyne

Maurice Swift is a little shit. I am not often given to expletives when writing reviews. I may think them or even say them aloud but write them? Rarely. However I’m afraid I just have to here. Rest assured that as expletives go it is tamer than my spoken utterances!! But Maurice Swift is a little shit! Oh, John Boyne, you have created a monster, Sir!!

At the heart of this satirical and disturbing novel is an exploration of writers, their motivation, their ambition, the relationships they may have with other writers - takes peer group pressure to a whole other level! And the idiots we can make of ourselves when love enters our frail and hungry hearts. Not to mention a dig or two at book prizes and awards. 

This book is arranged into three parts with two interludes separating the parts. and all of them examines the relationships that Maurice has with various people who populate his life. However he has but one aim in mind in all of these associations and that is his compulsive, obsessive ambition to be a writer and reach the zenith of his chosen profession. And also to father a child. How he does these things  is potentially immoral and erring towards the side of the psychopath.

Stirring stuff eh? It makes for a humdinger of a tale I can tell you! Prior to reading this novel I was that cliche who had only read one book by John Boyne, The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas, but this book has speedily elevated my impression of Mr. Boyne. It’s a verbally energetic piece of writing that flows and takes the reader where the reader is required to be. His characters are drawn to elicit just the right amount of emotion from us - we weep for poor, trusting Edith, we sigh and shake our heads at the pointless devotion of Erich and we are gleeful as Gore uses his weapons of words to momentarily disconcert Maurice. But we long for Maurice to get his comeuppance  Or is that just me? I suppose it could be argued that though time immemorial stories have been handed down in one form or another without question of ownership. But it’s a flimsy argument where Maurice is concerned. 

This has made me ponder about authors and their ideas. As readers do we ever question where the writers we love get their ideas from. Is plagiarism endemic in the world of literature? Maurice asserts in the book that the most irritating question a writer can be asked is ‘Where do you get your ideas?’ . Goodness knows I’ve asked many a writer that. I’m feeling bad about it now!! But Maurice’s  answer is a revealing one - ‘…no one knows where they come from and nobody should know.They evolve in thin air, they float down from some mysterious heaven and we reach out to grab one, to grasp it in our imagination and to make it our own.’

And forgive me but I am left with a worrying thought as to how this idea came to John Boyne and I do hope it is not from personal experience!! It’s a fascinating read thought and I thank Nudge Books for the opportunity. 

Sunday, 16 September 2018

Astroturf - Matthew Sperling

At the risk of sounding sexist and non pc I will admit that as I began to read this novella I feared I might lack the correct genitalia to fully appreciate its many nuances. As I read on I felt a little bewildered by the story. I wasn’t naive enough to believe it was a book about fake grass! But I was quite taken aback by the two main thrusts of the book - steroid use and astroturfing.

Without doubt it is well written with a sparkling wit, it’s concise and pithy. The language is economic but nothing is missed. It’s a fine example of salient writing. Characterisations, too, are finely tuned. The main character, Ned, not dysfunctional exactly but more than a little flawed. Not in the first flush of youth, he is in his thirties. he has a steady, if unexciting, job and is clearly dissatisfied with himself. So he begins to address his difficulties by using steroids to improve his physical self. This was a revelation to me and I found the book informative and comprehensive regarding the use of steroids by athletes. Not that I approve!! 

Ned feels improved, physically and mentally, by his steroid use and seeks to improve his life further by developing a business around steroids. I don’t wish to give away anything but this is the astroturfing section of the book which I found to be a little dubious, morally. 

I appreciate the frankness with which the story is told but found myself uneasy about the apparent lack of morality and illegality. I felt sure our lead character would get his come uppance at the end of the book. And I won’t spoil it by saying whether he did or didn’t!! 

What the book did do was to make me consider how male and female perceptions of themselves can be destructive to a greater or lesser degree. We read so much of female difficulties; for example  eating disorders associated with poor self image but I hadn’t fully considered that men can suffer the same crisis of self that can lead them down the path that Ned took. 

The book also confirmed my fear that the internet can be a murky,corrupt and dishonest place and the book shows how easy it is, with a modicum of expertise, to exploit that environment. 

And I am still left a little bewildered. t’s a staggeringly contemporary novel, it’s for Now without a doubt. The cyber world shifts so quickly and insidiously that the astroturf of today will have morphed into something else by tomorrow. But I still have a final sense of ambiguity. Is this book a savage indictment of the times we live in? Or is it a well observed piece about the place of men in our modern world, the compulsive, addictive power of drugs to dominate lives? Or is it ‘just’ a story about one guy with an identity crisis and how he ‘overcomes’ it? And this is probably one of the cleverest aspects of this fiction for the ball is very much in the readers court! Make up your own minds, folks! 

I’m glad I have read it for I feel better informed. I didn’t know what a sock puppet was before I read this! (Other than the obvious of course!! )

My thanks to Bookbridgr and Ana McLaughlin at Quercus and riverrun for the opportunity to read this tale. 

Friday, 14 September 2018

Dark Water - Elizabeth Lowry

When I read an endorsement on the front cover from Hilary Mantel I experienced a little frisson of electric anticipation. Whilst some cover plaudits can almost put me off a book this had the opposite effect. But I needn’t have worried. No number of endorsements could have disturbed my pleasure at this dark, rich, gothic tale.

Described as historical fiction it is so much more. It is a novel of deep perception about what we might casually call the human condition. An insight and acknowledgement of the paradox that is the human spirit. All beautifully explored within the sustained metaphor of the sea that is ‘dark water’. And it is dark and murky water indeed. 

The sea sequences in the book are palpably described and the action aboard the USS Orbis, particularly, is so well written you can almost smell the ship and the ocean, hear the creaking of the masts and the ropes, wince at the odour of unwashed sailors. It’s a marvellously protracted piece of descriptive writing that arouses in the reader a plethora of emotion from almost sea sickness to a kind of claustrophobia leading to horror at some of the events described. 

The land part of the novel is set in that glorious region of the USA, New England, in Charlestown, Boston and the mysterious island of Nantucket. I was on Martha's Vineyard once, South Beach, and my hosts pointed out Nantucket to me in the distance. The ghost of Captain Ahab weaved into my mind and has always left me with a curious sensation that the island was a mystical place. This book has done nothing to dispel that feeling! Beautifully described the place presents as a complete contrast to the descriptions of Boston. 

The novel’s narrator, Hiram Carver, is a mass of contradictions. You want to hug him and slap him, scream at him and shake him, soothe him and berate him. But most of all you want to understand him for if you can do that you might begin to understand yourself maybe.  He is a doctor and it is this profession that sees him aboard the Orbis where he meets William Borden. Borden is another mass of contradictions. Lauded for his apparent bravery abroad his previous ship the Providence he seems to mesmerise Carver. As the synchronicity of life intervenes Carver finds Borden a patient of his in his new found specialisation as psychiatrist in an asylum in Charlestown. Borden is apparently mad. 

This was one of the book’s many strengths for me; the examination of sanity and insanity and the almost invisible line that separates the two. The consideration of how either of those states affects our everyday lives and ultimately our mental and emotional freedom. There is a marvellous passage which I wish to quote in full - 

Ma’am, I sense terror in the everyday. And I don’t believe we’ve solved the problem of how to live.We’ve made that terror safe, merely by going along with the old ways and the old forms. We should be free to question, we should be free to reinvent, we should be free to feel that terror, the terrible freedom of being uncertain - but we aren’t; we cling to our false certainty and call it freedom and we can’t see what we’ve really created out of freedom is a prison.’ 

Such powerful words that could be applied to our contemporary world. And whilst we read that and then we read of the philosophy of care applied at the asylum you end up wondering whether it is those named as ‘insane’ who are the only ones to truly understand life and living. And thus - 

We are all at sea, sailing over dark waters.

Carver seems obsessed by Borden and there is a subtle sub text here that in part explains his desire to understand him. The revelations of Borden are both shocking yet the astute reader may possibly have gleaned the truth in part.  And there is another maxim in the book that I feel worth quoting  -

If we don’t believe in the suffering of others, how can we believe in our own?’

And it seems the more that Hiram sees the suffering of others the more he suffers himself even if it doesn’t prompt him to act any differently.

The book is populated with diverse characters, skilfully drawn to play their part in the overall narrative but also to come alive for the reader. Characters that tug at our compassion, Hiram’s sister. Caro, for example. Characters that repulse us, like Captain Fitzgibbon, or Borden’s description of him!! Richard Mansfield, dependent yet decisive. So many paradoxes, so much duality. 

I could go on! But I won’t. You will have got the general idea that this book is quite something! This isn’t just a book, this is literature. 

My thanks to Bookbridgr and Ana McLaughlin at Quercus and riverrun for the opportunity to read this remarkable story. 

May 2019 sees the publication of the paperback edition with this stunning cover.

Thursday, 13 September 2018

The Stranger - Kate Riordan

Kate Riordan has the auspicious honour of being the author of the first book I ever bought for my kindle. Almost the last too as I’m not a fan of the device. It was Birdcage Walk an historical novel which I enjoyed very much. But it was The Girl in the Photograph that cemented my affinity to Ms. Riordan’s style of writing and I’ve read pretty much all of her work since. She writes ‘big house’ books and she writes them very well. 

The Stranger is an atmospheric novel with the same ‘flavour’ of her previous books. It was a delight to see how a writer develops their style and intent with each book they write. I had previously obliquely referred to Daphne Du Maurier in a review of The Girl in the Photograph I wrote (pre blog days to save you searching ;-))and I note that here the writer unashamedly acknowledges her affinity to that incredible writer (and Agatha Christie). This book, maybe more than any of the others, has a strong Du Maurier flavour. Maybe it’s the location, Du Maurier’s beloved Cornwall but I think it’s more.

The historical research, as ever, is authentic and detailed. You really feel you are in 1940’s Cornwall. Three Land Girls are at Penhallow Hall doing their bit for the wartime effort. Rose, Diana and Jane all dealing with their secrets and their demons. The occupants of the house, Eleanor and her ageing mother, have their secrets too. When all come together and when one damaged yet determined young lady is determined to open as many cans of worms as she can the results are explosive. 

The setting is perfect and so well realised. The names, Breakheart Cove, Blackbottle Creek, so Cornish, so atmospheric and palpable. The war time setting adds an additional threat to the already menacing ambience. The characters solidly drawn. Diana Devlin, a veneer of abject unpleasantness and manipulation dictates her actions and it’s only when we delve below that outer covering we see some of the reasons. Rose, ostensibly a typical and average woman of her era but in possession of a wider intent as she takes her place at Penhallow. And Jane, plain maybe, her story less accessible until the reveals towards the end of the book although it is possible to reach the correct conclusion about her, all the clues are there.

Structurally the book begins with a beguiling prologue that hints, chillingly, of what is to come. Subsequent chapters take the form of Diana’s diary which enables the reader to catch a glimpse of this dysfunctional mind and some straightforward third person story telling narrative. There is a delicious twist towards the end, unexpected to say the least. And somehow the ghost of Daphne Du Maurier, and Rebecca maybe,  pervades it all.

The story flows, pleasingly, competently and was immensely satisfying to read. My thanks to Penguin for rewarding me with a copy of this book. 

Wednesday, 12 September 2018

Missing Christina - Meredith Whitford

This review was originally part of a LoveBooksGroup blog tour for Nudge Books. The full blog tour article can be viewed here which does include the following review.

Meredith Whitford is a new name to me and my cursory impression was that this may be a ‘chic litty’ sort of tale but it wasn’t at all. It was an engrossing read spanning a couple of continents and several decades. Some injections of humour balanced out some of the more serious parts of the story. I thought the grief and bereavement aspects were well done. I think if you’ve lost a parent there’s much here that will resonate with you. There’s no attempt to sugar coat the emotional devastation. 

I enjoyed how this writer struck a delicate balance between a deceptively light read and some pretty serious issues which was not evident at the beginning of the book. The opening pages introduce us to most of the main players which I found an effective device compared to many writers who allow their characters to develop through the progress of the story. Of course that does happen here as well to a degree but there is a sense of having got to know nearly everyone right from the start, especially Jacques the narrator, before the story proper takes off! I think without exception they all have baggage of one kind or another - issues that seem to resolve within the basic framework of Christina’s heart wrenching story. 

It seems to be a book of balances; the contemporary world and a world gone by from the nineteen sixties and the author skilfully highlights the cultural differences of the age with references to things like email in one era and traveller cheques from another. Sensitive issues such as adoption and homosexuality are dealt with appropriately, compassionately and honestly.

There’s an intriguing family mystery which takes Jacques  from the UK to Australia and back again before he can finally unravel the web of secrecy and although some aspects are obvious the ends are conscientiously  tied up . 

For those who argue that it is a tad far fetched it’s a work of fiction, a tale to immerse yourself in with some good writing, some entertainment and a little to make you think a bit. It’s over wordy maybe in places, but overall there’s less to object to and more to delight in. 

It’s a perfect holiday/ weekend read. It demands just enough of you without being too draining on the emotions. I doubt I could have enjoyed it any more than I did even I had received it as a proper book rather than an e-book!

Tuesday, 11 September 2018

The Belting Inheritance - Julian Symons

Belting by name and belting by nature! This was a delight from the first word to the last full stop. A wonderful gothic spider web of family secrets and intrigues that have you second guessing all the way through. It’s not a new premise, stranger returns claiming to be long lost relative but this 1964 exposition of the theme is extraordinarily well done.

Our protagonist is Christopher Barrington ‘adopted’ in a manner by the formidable Lady Wainwright mourning her two sons, casualties of WW2, although she has two other sons,Miles and Stephen who do not seem to provoke the same level of maternal solicitation that the lost two do! So when David,  one of the lost sons, appears to return the ailing Lady W. is required to reconsider her inheritance. And then a body is found…………

What follows is Christopher’s attempts to unravel the labyrinth of family secrets and to ascertain whether everyone is who they say they are. A quest which takes him to London, Brighton and Paris. It’s a well written, well plotted story for the most part. There’s a repleteness to the language and the pace which makes for a very satisfying read. 

There are characters of varying intensity, Christopher maintains his dogged, youthful zeal in trying to solve the myriad questions that events throw up. Uncle Miles is a fount of light relief and his spoonerisms quite amusing not to mention his propensity to turn up everywhere! Everybody else fits somewhere inbetween!

Out of the blue I was reminded of Herges Adventures of Tin Tin. I think it was the sequences in Paris where characters kept popping up like the Thompson Twins do in the cartoon!! You could argue that this is a tad contrived but the book is so good that you forgive everything! 

Astute readers will figure out several aspects of the final denouement without all the detail maybe but the writer does an admirable job of tying up all the ends. It’s a belting good read and another feather in the cap of the British Library. 

Monday, 10 September 2018

The Colour of Murder - Julian Symons

A simple enough premise. Unexceptional, unhappily married man crosses paths with a girl he finds irresistibly attractive. Almost obsessed his life spirals off course and he finds himself on trial for murder. First published in 1957 this novel falls into two parts - a monologue for psychiatric assessment, by the protagonists John Wilkins, and an intense trial in the court room. Dare I surmise that if such a tale were to be written today instead of two distinct parts the two would be interwoven with each other and both scenarios would unfold simultaneously? 

However the structure works exceptionally well in this fifties piece of crime writing that had me absorbed from beginning to end. The first part where we hear of events from Wilkins perceptive I found myself reminded of Patricia Highsmith where you will the character not to behave in a certain way or make a certain decision because you know it will end in disaster. The second part is as tight a piece of court room writing as you’ll ever read and as such keeps you on your toes throughout. You don’t want to miss a comma let alone a word!!

It’s a marvellously solid plot, simple in its complexity. It couldn’t work today of course because forensics would ascertain some certainties straight away. In a way that's what makes it so delicious to read!! It also subtly raises questions about the very nature of justice itself.

The characters are almost without exception functional which I feel is a deliberate device because there is no need to engage with any of them sympathetically apart from maybe the murder victim, poor soul! Mr. Wilkins has an almost pathetic unpleasantness but never pathetic enough for us to feel especially sorry for him. The reader is allowed to remain objective; the psychiatric report is as factual as the trial proceedings. It’s a marvellously controlled piece of writing for I imagine it must be hard for a writer not to allow his characters to engage? 

The final denouement is as unexpected as it is obvious, well almost obvious? There was always the possibility but it was so understated the reader can only doubt themselves. 

Once again my thanks to the British Library for allowing me the privilege of reading this compelling tale. I’d like to say you’ve done it again, guys! But I think I’ve already said something along those lines in a previous review!  Oh, check out the cover, another retro travel poster beauty.

Sunday, 9 September 2018

The Taken - Alice Clark-Platts

Regular readers of my blog might recall my resolution to use my local public library more frequently this year.If so you will even have noticed have a recent dearth of library book reviews! I have redressed the balance somewhat by selecting this worthy tome. I was lucky enough to receive a review copy of Bitter Fruits, Ms. Clark-Platt’s debut novel some years ago and I waxed quite lyrical about it (pre blog days if you were thinking of looking!). Her second DI Erica Martin book has been on my RWTR list (Really Want To Read) for nearly a couple of years! I was delighted to see this copy nestling on the library shelves just waiting for me to pluck it down.

It’s a credible follow up to the first and I found it to be a real page turner. Very dark and gritty with a twisty plot full of dubious characters who might or might not be on the straight and narrow. I don’t think it matters if you’ve read the first Erica Martin book or not. We get a clear picture of who she is and where she’s at in this book as well as her policing style.

It’s well written. A police procedural investigating a dysfunctional family with a complex plot and a fast paced narrative that barely gives you time to think. Insights into Erica and her personal life are interspersed amidst the meat of the action and there is plenty of action. There was one unexpected twist that quite shocked me, not to mention DI Martin, but I’m not going to tell you, of course! Questions are raised about the sincerity and integrity of religious organisations if you're looking for something more to think than just enjoying a gripping crime story.

I think the book firmly establishes the author as a laudable thriller writer and it has in no way dampened my enthusiasm for her work. Her next book, The Flower Girls, not a DI Martin as far as I can see, is scheduled for publication in January next year. I hope it doesn’t take me as long getting around to reading it!

I also include the link to my thoughts on libraries -

Saturday, 8 September 2018

The Life of Almost - Anna Vaught

This is quite an extraordinary book the like of which I’ve not read in a long time. More a novella than a novel it’s deceptive because quality not quantity demands the reader spend as much time on it as a much longer book. I was drawn to it initially because it was blurbed as a retelling of Dickens’ Great Expectations, a favourite of mine. But it is much more than that.

Homage to both Dickens and Shakespeare and would it be pushing it to cite Dylan Thomas too? Or am I seduced by the very Welshness of the vernacular and imagining an Under Milk Woodish intonation in my head? Welsh legend is present without intruding.

It’s prose but it’s not, it’s poetry but it’s not, it’s magical realism but it’s not and it’s all of those things but it’s not! So what is it? And does it matter? It’s quirky and lyrical but underneath all of those things that it is and those things that it isn’t is an exploration of grief and bereavement told from Almost’s point of view. But even that is not as straightforward as we might expect. It’s the life of Almost told by Almost about Almost. But it’s also an examination of relationships and of the people who matter in our lives whether their input is positive or negative. 

This is a book for lovers of language, poetic in thought and word. This is book for those whose imaginations allow themselves to be taken anywhere without resistance. This is a book for those who delight in mermaids and Dickensian digressions, lovers of language and literary allusions.

This is what I like to call a ‘once on a while’ book. Once in a while a book come along that defies categorisation or summary. Erudite assessments of characterisation, plot, style and technique are redundant here. But sadly, I don’t think this is a mainstream book. It will appeal to a niche audience who will delight in it but I can’t see it hitting the best seller lists though I doubt that was ever the intention. 

My thanks to Nudge books for the opportunity to experience this literary sense fest!

Friday, 7 September 2018

Questioning Cancer - Giuliano D'Alessandro

Non fiction is something of a departure on my blog in these days of fiction zeal. But this is a book everyone should read. For in it the author seeks to challenge our sheep-like acceptance of current practices within the health and food industries, and beyond. 

I read this book in one sitting. Many of the ideas within it in mirror my own thoughts and deductions over the years. If I might quote from the back cover ‘The Earth has always provided for us in nutrition and medicine, it is only recently that we have learnt to ignore the abundance of this truly incredible world we live in.’ Beautifully put. 

This book sets out succinctly, and what a delight it is to have everything under one roof so to speak, the main areas that are negatively impacting on our health and well being and what we might be able to do about it. Seeking out knowledge is key and my impression is that this book is the result of one man’s dedication to educating himself from all the knowledge out there and forming what are, surely, obvious conclusions?  He’s done much of the work for you, people! But let this book be a catalystt for your own discoveries. 

In a way the title is a bit of a misnomer because it is about much more than questioning cancer however that subject forms a, maybe contentious, exploration into whether chemotherapy and radiotherapy are the best treatments for a disease which we are possibly causing by our lifestyles. And how the pharmaceutical companies are profiting and, dare I say, perpetuating ‘dis-ease’. 

It is a challenging book. It pulls no punches. But it is one thing to question passive acceptance of systems in place, many people do that without substantiation, this book looks at alternatives and solutions. There is an emphasis on seeking out information for yourself and taking control of your own health and your own life. 

I was fortunate enough to be given a copy of this book by the writer, who I will say with some pride, was a former pupil of mine. Thank you, Giuliano. I give you ten out of ten and a gold star!!

For those interested I include a YouTube video of the author speaking on the Reclaiming Perception series.

Thursday, 6 September 2018

Gallows Court - Martin Edwards

When I first started reading novels in the British Library Crime Classics series I used to bypass the introductions because I just wanted to get stuck into the stories. But for some reason on one occasion I did read the introduction and I’ve never looked back. Martin Edwards’ expertise and unobtrusive prologues are valuable additions to the reading experience as a whole and I look forward now to reading them as well as the stories. I vaguely knew he wrote crime novels of his own but this is the first I have read. 

And what a treat it is! I read it in a couple of sittings for it really is unputdownable. And if that’s not a word, well, it is now! Gallows Court is a rich, dark, atmospheric tale written in the style of the Golden Age of Crime novels. The plot is complex and labyrinthine and, boy, you need to pay attention!! For nothing is quite as it seems. I am actually quite breathless at the breadth of plotting that Mr. Edwards has produced. It’s quite remarkable. 

The book also has a cast of characters that all play their part and their development is so skilful. I can’t think of a comparable work with so many characters all so well drawn jumping off the page at you. Even the dead characters have an imposing presence!! I am thinking of Judge Savernake! The narrative style is flowing and accessible begging you to read on. It’s so authentic that you believe it’s not just set in the 1930s but written then too. The language, the historical detail, the police procedures - wonderful. There’s a dual narrative with first person diary entries from a character, Juliet Brentano. Of her I’ll say no more! The rest is straightforward third person narrative. 

The two main protagonists Jacob Flint a keen, young journalist and Rachel Savernake, enigmatic, wealthy heiress, daughter of the above mentioned judge, are perfect as opposites. And again I applaud the depth of characterisation. The story is a complex one and I doubt that even if I wanted to offer spoilers that I could such are the intricacies of the writing. But Jacob’s predecessor has been injured after an accident and Jacob finds himself at the scene of a high profile suicide. This is the catalyst for the rest of the story which takes us into some distasteful aspects of gentlemans’ society of the time, corruption, depravity, violence. The titular Gallows Court is a creepy location frequented by lawyers among others. There are sub plots that take us to a remote Irish island. It’s a locked room mystery, a codes and cyphers mystery, an identity mystery. In the hands of some writers this might be get tangled and muddled there is so much going on and so many pertinent characters who demand our attention. It might be easy for the writer to lose their way. But this doesn’t happen under Mr. Edwards' skilful pen. 

Much as I revere the writing I can actually see this story translating well to the screen, large or small. I think it would make an excellent historical crime series and I’m already casting in my head!! That is surely another testament to the quality of the writing? it is so easy to picture it all. 

I commend this book to crime lovers everywhere! I could continue with the superlatives but I’m wasting your time!! Go and read the book!! My thanks to Florence Hare at Head of Zeus for the opportunity  to read this and to Abbie Day at British Library Publishing for pointing me in the right direction! 

Wednesday, 5 September 2018

The Rival - Charlotte Duckworth BLOG TOUR

Greetings Fellow Book Lovers! Today it is my very great pleasure to host today's spot on the blog tour for Charlotte Duckworth's debut novel The Rival. And my thanks to Ella Patel at Quercus Books for the opportunity to read this book and participate in the tour.

The Blurb -


Living in her home in the remote countryside - the perfect place to get away from it all - Helena is a career woman with no job and a mother without a baby. She blames Ashley for destroying her life. But is what happened really Ashley's fault?    


When Helena hires Ashley to work for her, she's startled but impressed by her fierce ambition. They form a dream team and Helena is proud -  maybe this is the protege she's always  wanted to have? But soon Helena realises that nothing will stand in the way of Ashley's drive to get to the top. And when Helena becomes pregnant, everything she has worked so hard for is suddenly threatened, with devastating consequences...

The Author -

Charlotte Duckworth is a graduate of the Faber Academy's acclaimed six-month 'Writing a Novel course. She studied Classics at Leeds University and then completed a postgraduate diploma in magazine journalism. For the past 15 years she has worked was an interiors and lifestyle journalist, writing for a wide range of consumer magazined and websites. In 2011, she completed a postgraduate diploma in Screenwriting from London College of Communication. she lives in Surrey with her partner and two-year-old daughter.

The Review -

Of all the genres of books I review I find psychological thrillers the hardest to do purely in terms of restraining myself from inadvertently throwing out spoilers. I want to point out some of the delicious twisty bits and say hey, how about this then!! But of course I can’t ! All I can do is suggest you read the book!

As I started to become immersed in this taut psychological thriller I could see similarities between a fairly recent TV drama series The Replacement which followed a similar theme. Two women, maternity leave, ambition. But what a TV show cannot do with its visual medium is allow you into the minds of the protagonists which is what Charlotte Duckworth does very ably here and with keen perception. 

We have a 'dual' dual narrative, (or could it be a 'duel' narrative?!) with the Now and the Then of both Helena and Ash the two women who are the titular rivals. Ash, with the tactless zeal of young ambition, reveals her story layer by layer by layer. She doesn’t impress as an especially nice person but things are never as they seem are they? Not in a psychological thriller they aren’t anyway. Thank goodness! By the end of the book compassion endures. Helena, older, more experienced with that tacit paradoxical insecurity of having risen the ladder and needing to stay there. Then pregnancy strikes…………… And I’m on the brink of spoiler alert here so I’ll tread cautiously here. Suffice to say Helena’s Now and Then reveal is of a different nature to Ash’s. She presents as a slightly more sympathetic character and those sympathies continue to be engaged as we progress through her story.

There is no shortage of psychological thrillers. And there is no shortage of good psychological thrillers. One could argue they can be formulaic. But isn’t that what we enjoy about them? For as much as the protagonists within the narrative reveal to us their many flaws and hang ups isn’t the writer playing a delectable psychological game with the minds of their readers? We invariably fall for it. How many times have we gleefully patted ourselves on the back because we ’saw that coming’ ? And how many times have we sat up in shock because we ‘didn’t see that coming’?! There are those who feel that if they have second guessed something it is a flaw on the part of the writer. I disagree. I think it is the writer crediting their reader with some intelligence!! But you need to have the unexpected, you need to have a twist, if that’s what you want to call it. And to me it is achieving this balance that makes for a good psychological thriller.  Does the reader get that balance in The Rivals? I believe so. 

But you can have all the characterisations you like, all manner of unexpected twists and turns but if it isn’t written well you won’t impress your reader. I found this to be a well written book. And if you want a more than a straightforward thriller there are issues to ponder here regarding the situation of women in the workplace, career versus motherhood, employment issues regarding pregnancy. Any desire for these issues to overshadow the story as a whole were avoided. A good balance is struck. 

It’s a debut novel from a writer with a journalistic background. It’s a competent piece of work. It's a well balanced novel. I wouldn’t be surprised to see it, nibbling at the very least , on some of the top seller lists.

But hey, that's just my thoughts.

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