Wednesday, 26 June 2019

A Grave for Two - Anne Holt

I have a couple of Anne Holt books on my TBR shelves but because I prioritise review and advance copies first,  there they sit patiently waiting.  Thus I was absolutely delighted to get my greedy little hands on this latest offering from the doyenne of Nordic crime. Thank you so much, Readers First. 

You'll need every ounce of your critical, rational abilities to keep up with this labyrinthine plot. It weaves and wavers its way though the impossible, the implausible but the absolutely readable as the strands and layers are unravelled and revealed bit by glorious bit. 

A good crime plot renders itself difficult to summarise for two main reasons, firstly to do so risks way too many spoilers, secondly the complexities make for an unbalanced prĂ©cis. So let me just throw a few key words at you ? Skiing, gambling, doping, murder, sabotage, revenge, grief, homeless......... For starters! 

The reader becomes a ping pong ball almost initially as you're batted from character to character, location to location and you need to pay attention for Holt doesn't waste time or words. And you won't want to back track to check on something you think you might have missed earlier so eager will you be to read on and on. There's lots of relevant characterisations, don't be fooled by a seeming lesser character, they all have a role to fulfil. 

Selma Falck our key player has lead a less than exemplary life but second chances should always be offered and they are here by a less than exemplary character, Jan Morell whose daughter finds herself in hot water. More than that I'll not say. Selma's investigation and thought processes include the reader to the extent that you almost believe they are your own thoughts and deductions. But they're not. I doubt you could second guess this. 

As always Holt tells a story with some subtle, implicit almost, social commentary alongside a smattering of legalese and police procedural. But the emphasis is the story and  the plot, a multi narrative all consummately translated by Anne Bruce so the prose flows easily and convincingly. 

If you're a fan of Anne Holt you've probably already pre ordered this, if you're not but you enjoy crime, Scandi crime this is as good a place as any to start. 

Sunday, 23 June 2019

Surfeit of Suspects - George Bellairs

My thanks to British Library Publishing for this latest little gem from the Crime Classics Collection. George Bellairs published prolifically from the 1940’s through to the 1980’s, many of his stories featuring Thomas Littlejohn. This novel first published in 1964 examines crime in a small community investigated by Littlejohn and his colleagues. 

An explosion and three deaths, possibly accidental until dynamite enters the equation, throws up our titular ‘surfeit of suspects’ ( isn’t that a deliciously alliterative title?) as the politics and economics of the small town of Evingden weave their tentacles in and out of each other leaving Littlejohn to summon the full extent of his policing and sleuthing expertise. 

As the story progresses and the insidious motivations start to be exposed it all becomes a tad shady and uneasy. To balance that out there is a subtle wit that Bellairs employs as he develops his characters. It’s a story that demands the reader stay alert!! There’s a lot going on and with the clue in the title the reader cannot admit to being surprised by the abundance of red herrings trying to lead us all, including the police, down the wrong paths. So many people with so much to hide seems to be one of the features of the ‘small town community’ novel. It’s so intriguing. 

The lack of modern policing methods is often a feature that strikes me when I read these Crime Classics. If someone were ever to undertake the task of rewriting Golden Age of Crime Classics where the investigators employed modern policing methods, well, there would be a surfeit of short stories!! But it always makes for a for more cerebral read and an admiration for the plotting undertaken by the writer. 

To try and summarise the plot would be a disservice for potential readers I feel plus it is complex with its numerous strands. Not many of the characters are especially likeable and it becomes clear that many have things to hide. Some are downright objectionable like Vintner, others smarmy like the lawyer Hartley Ash, some inadequate like poor Fred Hoop. With a concluding denouement reveal in the lawyers office our emotions are altered little even as we discover the perpetrator of the crime. But there’s always a satisfaction when the ends are tied up and the villain are brought to justice. 

As always there’s a tidy and informative introduction from Martin Edwards which sets the reader up nicely for the Littlejohn of the Yard and his surfeit of suspects. 

Friday, 21 June 2019

Melmoth - Sarah Perry

Thought association, word association - I see Melmoth and I think 'behemoth' . And I fear all manner of monsters.  Late to the party with this book, I know, but I will plunder my cliche closet and assert that some things are worth waiting for and better late than never.

 Sarah Perry has put the 'Go' back into 'Gothic' with the mighty Melmoth. Our conscience and guilt personified in the shadowy 'lonesome traveller' Melmoth, Melmat, Melmotte,or Melmotka, a rose by any other name would smell as sinister. I could almost guarantee after reading, this book will have you nervously glancing over your shoulder more frequently than you could possibly imagine. The dark antithesis to the more optimistic Guardian angel of our 'spiritually enlightened times', Melmoth doesn't just sit upon our shoulder, Melmoth pervades our entire being punctuating our every decision with considerations of conscience. 

It might be deemed folly to ignore Charles Maturin. But I will! This is a female Melmoth and there is no selling of souls for longer lives. This modern day take is more subtle with a wider reach. The novel's structure perhaps owes more to Maturin than the theme, after all, souls have been sold to the devil before, but a Matroyshka of tales nestling together inhabit both books.

'Twenty years ago Helen Franklin did something she cannot forgive herself for, and she has spent every day since barricading herself against its memory. But her sheltered life is about to change. 
A strange manuscript has come into her possession. It is filled with testimonies from the darkest chapters of human history, which all record sightings of a tall, silent woman in black, with unblinking eyes and bleeding feet: Melmoth, the loneliest being in the world. Condemned to walk the Earth forever, she tries to beguile the guilty and lure them away for a lifetime wandering alongside her. 
Everyone that Melmoth seeks out must make a choice: to live with what they've done, or be led into the darkness. Helen can't stop reading, or shake the feeling that someone is watching her. As her past finally catches up with her, she too must choose which path to take.

Exquisitely written, and gripping until the very last page, this is a masterpiece of moral complexity, asking us profound questions about mercy, redemption, and how to make the best of our conflicted world.'

The images support and confound the reader. Set in Prague where jackdaws seem to roam as pigeons do in London, (Isn't the Czech for 'jackdaw' 'Kafka'? And Kafka was a native of Prague. (Why do I feel such potent significance in this?  ) The distinction between the modern day city and the past times described are blurred, indefinable almost. Reading the restaurant section for Albina's birthday celebrations where the four women are divulging their guilty secrets I had to keep reminding myself that this was contemporary Prague instead of a timeless gothic Prague with its stepped gables and minarets.

The characters, flawed and deceptive, posing on some levels as Everyman, Helen, so disturbingly ordinary, 'What danger can come to a woman in such very sensible shoes?' and others as hyperkinetic, Albina so distressingly in your face, or Helen's mostly. They all are guilty of some act of immorality, selfishness, cruelty, violence even, and all are painfully aware of their transgressions without necessarily, initially, to be accountable for them. No gender barriers, here the men are as guilty as the women. From Everyman to Nameless, the moniker for the last character in the concluding guilty story in the book, none shall escape. Apart from Adaya? Is she to be the bastion of goodness held up to emphasise the immorality of rest of the cast? Or is that too convenient, too comfortable for a book that cross shreds comfort?

All these separate stories woven into this consummate piece of storytelling explores the darker side of us all. Is this Original Sin laid bare? Is Judgement Day here on earth, with us now? The strength in part is how Perry urges us to examine, not just outright perpetrations of the wrong and the immoral, but the part played the ‘innocent bystander’ and their responsibility. So, is this ultimately a moral tale? Cause and effect? A conscience for a conscience. Is it obliquely karmic? Karel ultimately, for all his initial cowardice, redeems himself by fighting for what is right, and alone among his Melmothian mates seems to emerge unscathed. 

If the novel loses its gothic way part way through, it never loses sight of the tale it divulges and its gothic promise returns and redeems itself as the cyclical conclusion of the story returns the innocent reader back where they started from. But not quite, for Melmoth emerges from the shadows to address us personally. 

'Oh my friend, my darling - won't you take my hand? I've been so lonely!'

Perry's prose flows smoothly and expansively. The various narrative devices, add variety and textures to novel as a whole. The characters are quirky, faulty with an implicit frailty in many cases. The descriptions are rich and atmospheric. The metaphysics  offer the reader much to ponder. As with many substantial works there is much in the book that touches upon aspects of the human condition and I found many quote worthy maxims. 

'The battle of the mind is the war which can never be won.'

I am the one survivor of a wrecked ship, adrift on a tideless sea!'

My sons, beware the pride of nations. There were those whose land this was before your ancestors were born, and there will be those who claim it when your name has passed from memory. A bird may as well make its nest in the tree and say: no other bird shall nest here for these branches of mine alone.

' I sometimes think that one great emotion is never very far from all the other ones. Best to avoid them entirely, if possible.'

'But now I wonder if there is what is right, and there is what is good, and these are not the same.' 

'The ant does not complain when it's next is destroyed, and we were no more than that.'

What I enjoyed, too, was witnessing how a writer develops and progresses. Sarah Perry has gone from strength to strength. When you get shivers in anticipation of a writer's next book you know you've found a good 'un.


Thursday, 20 June 2019

Vintage 1954 - Antoine Laurain

This was an hour or two of sheer delight. A novella that tells us a story with charm and imagination populated with thoroughly endearing and diverse people, with flaws and stories to tell, who instinctively seem to care about each other. It’s pure fiction yet told so realistically you do not have to suspend belief for a second.

I was reminded briefly of the Woody Allen film ‘Midnight in Paris’ especially where our characters meet the likes of Edith Piaf and Jean Gabin! It’s an homage to an age gone by in the city of cities!! Paris! La Giacondo and Tour Eiffel! Les Halles and Pigalle! If you’ve been there you’ll be reminded of its quirky, hypnotic, romantic ambience and if you haven’t, well, you’ll be wanting to book your trip once you’ve put this book down.

If you’ve a fascination with time travel this is the book for you! The science is probably there for the die hard realists but I found myself not caring because the story was so enchanting. 

When Hubert Larnaudie invites some fellow residents of his Parisian apartment building to drink an exceptional bottle of 1954 Beaujolais, he has no idea of its special properties.

The following morning, Hubert finds himself waking up in 1950s Paris, as do antique restorer Magalie, mixologist Julien, and Airbnb tenant Bob from Milwaukee, who's on his first trip to Europe. After their initial shock, the city of Edith Piaf and An American in Paris begins to work its charm on them. The four delight in getting to know the French capital during this iconic period, whilst also playing with the possibilities that time travel allows.

But, ultimately, they need to work out how to get back to 2017, and time is of the essence…’

For all that much of the action takes place in 1954 the story stays in touch with our contemporary world and if there is a point to be made it is to highlight the paradox of the digital age we live in. The pros and the cons. In spite of the fact that I was not born into the digital age and I can well remember life pre social media etc I found it entertaining to be reminded of the alternate charm that life had when we actually spoke to one another and interacted in real time instead of digital time. But the book is not a moral tale. It’s optimistic and uplifting. I won't give away the details and nuances of the time travel part of the story, it's a joy to discover and there's nothing better than demanding a reader rummage around their imagination for a while. It's clever though and the final denouement becomes almost comedic. 

The characters are all decent people so you warm to them and you care about them. Despite the fact that their paths have crossed only recently they seem to care about each other. I kept wondering what it was about this group of people that saw them meshing so well together and I think it was their lack of arrogance, no one person had a desire to control, there was no clash of egos, there was a mutual respect and harmony that gives the book such an upbeat feel.

The language is accessible and flowing, beautifully translated by Jane Aitken and Emily Boyce but we never lose sight of the fact that it is French and we are in Paris. The author's dry wit is not lost in translation either -  this quotation - 'A bar is an aquarium with its own ecosystem and particular species. Each fish is in its own same place and nothing ever changes!' And this observation regarding the nature of those  whose pleasure lay in the demon drink - 'They listed those who had fallen on Bacchus's battlefield like the soldiers named on the village war memorial, noting that the grape had claimed almost as many lives as enemy fire had done.'

Many thanks to Gallic Books for this little gem. My life is the richer for having read it. 

Monday, 17 June 2019

Circe - Madeline Miller

There seems to be an abundance of Greek themed fiction around currently. I’m thinking of Pat Barker with The Silence of the Girls and Natalie Haynes with A Thousand Ships, both on my TBR list. But no one could accuse Madeleine Miller of jumping on the bandwagon since her first book was The Song of Achilles!

I remember learning about Greek Myths and Legends when I was still at Junior School. I found them fascinating and quite addictive. As a child I believed in them completely. As an adult I marvel at a culture that produced such tales - magical realism or allegorical morality? Today they offer an imaginative opportunity for the modern novelist to explore contemporary themes within the framework of an ancient tale.

In Circe Ms Miller has used the basic Circe legend, the witch goddess who turned Odysseus's’ men into swine, to explore themes of feminist independence and solitude. Ofttimes I wondered if Circe was simply a victim of bad  PR and familial misunderstanding. Miller’s Circe is a strong, resourceful and compassionate woman, conditional compassion, for beware if you cross her! The famed porcine transformations arose out of Circe’s need to protect herself from the exploitations of her hospitality by nautical nomads! Of course familiarity with the Greek Legends are inbuilt spoilers to a degree!! I did wonder what readers who have not explored the stories of the Gods and the Heroes make of this tale! 
I loved, maybe that is not quite the word, the retelling of the Minotaur tale.

Now having read the book it is no surprise that it has been shortlisted for the Womens’ Fiction Prize 2019. The femininity and humanity of Circe is what drives the novel along for me. Her early compassion for the plight of Prometheus gives us a clue. And what follows does little to dispel that. The dignity with which Circe embraces her isolation and her wisdom in understanding that state  is uplifting .

But in a solitary life, there are rare moments when one another soul dips near yours, as stars once a year brush the earth.’ - on her relationship with Daedalus.

The prose is expansive and flowing, creating a palpable atmosphere of Circe’s life on her island. There’s something alluring about it and I found myself wishing I could live there ! Swapping herbs and potions for books and writings of course, no sorceress  am I !! Some memorable images - 

  ‘….an ocean’s worth of grief…..

The relationship between Circe and Odysseus is fascinating and sustained. One of the advantages of using ancient stories and characters to propel your fictional ideas forward is that the characters are already in our consciousness but the writer can do with them what they will. Our preconceptions of Odysseus as something of a thinking man are not unfounded. And famed, patient wife Penelope is another feminist force within the book. Penelope is almost a mortal doppleganger of Circe! Odysseus confides to Circe his awe for Penenlope's sagacity.

I asked her how she did it once, how she understood the world so clearly. She told me that it was a matter of keeping very still and showing no emotions, leaving room for others to reveal themselves.

The book explores Circe’s relationships with men for the most part but the passages that look at her interaction with Penelope hints of sisterhood and female understanding. 

The conclusion of the book offers some lyrical musings that are satisfying for the reader. You feel that throughout her long and eventful life Circe has found peace with herself. 

The frogs had gone to the wallows, the salamanders slept in brown holes. The pool showed the moon’s half face, the pinpoints of stars, and all around, bending near, the wavering trees.’

A deeply satisfying book that can be enjoyed on several levels. Just enjoy it as a story if you want. Delve a little deeper into ideas of #metoo and what it is to be a woman. Immerse yourself in the writing. 

This book was a birthday gift. I believe the Greek Gods and Goddesses celebrated their birthday monthly rather than annually! That would suit me for bookish gifts like this one!

Thursday, 13 June 2019

Call Me A Liar - Colette McBeth

This is a dark psychological thriller that builds up into a crescendo of twists and turns that I doubt the majority of readers will second guess. It’s a multi narrative structure which is an interesting device as it also serves as a tool for character development. There were plot elements in it that reminded me briefly of both Donna Tartt’s Secret History with the concept of a group of friends or associates bonding with less than desirable results and Agatha Christie’s And Then There were None with a group of people seemingly marooned in one place. 

It’s contemporary thematically and throws open very real considerations as to whether practices described in the book are possibly happening as we speak. It wouldn’t surprise me! I’m unwilling to give anything away so I’ll expand no further. 

I found it to be a compelling read and I was keen to find out exactly what was going on and I imagine I was as surprised as the author intended me to be at some of the plot twists. Very clever. The opening is suitably ambiguous departing from the much used ‘Prologue” device, instead there’s a word definition, or definitions and the final summing up from a judge. And none of it means much to the innocent reader starting on this story! Oh, but just you wait!  All will be revealed. Eventually.

With a complex plot the reader needs to remain on their toes to absorb all the detail and information that is being given. And there is a lot of it. If I had to offer anything negative I’d say the book is perhaps a little overlong but then my zeal to uncover the truth may have made it seem that way? Reader, I was impatient! At times I found what I thought were potential plot holes, they were not in fact, they were my 'reader pot holes'! 

Many of the characters are hard to warm to and some you simply dislike. That’s not a fault it’s a necessity! I always find that enables the reader to be more objective about the relationships and events. Where you have multi narratives you have multi flawed narrators!! I think one of the hallmarks of a good psychological thriller is the flawed narrator and where you have several be prepared for some cerebral gymnastics. 

There are elements here that many will relate to. Again I don’t wish to give away too much but suffice to say that what appears to be too good to be true probably is!! And if I can be bold enough to throw the corporate jargon of team building and bonding exercises into the mix that may give you a flavour of what’s contained within these covers. And if I also include a cryptic quote from the blurb, hopefully your appetites will be whetted! 

‘One of them is lying.
One of them is guilty.
No one is safe.’

The novel is true to its genre and won’t disappoint fans of the psychological thriller. Regrettably I’ve not read any of Colette McBeth’s previous work so I’m not sure how it compares with her previous novels. Guess there's only one way to find out. ;-)

Thank you so much to Headline Publishing for an advance copy of this book. 

Thursday, 6 June 2019

Proximity - Jem Tugwell

I found this to be an extraordinary book considering it is a debut novel. It functions on a couple of levels; as a crime thriller with a deeply delicious twist and as a chilling indictment of how far our dependence on technology can intrude in an all encompassing manner upon our lives. But what is so clever is how the book offers the pros and the cons making it hard in some respects to come down firmly on one side or the other. How could you object to the eradication of crime? 

In many dystopian/futuristic novels the landscape is stylised and, in a sense, one step removed from our immediate realities. Not so with Proximity, it’s all completely relatable and all the more chilling for it. It pays homage to the ever changing nature of technology and reminded me of a line from Ian McEwan’s recent ‘Machines Like Me’ - ‘Our bright new toys began to rust before we could get them home, and life went on much as before.’ Only life doesn’t quite go on as before in this book. It possibly belongs more to the speculative fiction genre and may even become as prophetic as Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaids Tale albeit with a different dynamic.

The real problem I have in reviewing it is NOT to give anything away. One of the hilights for me was that I came to the book cold, knowing nothing of the author. The prologue gave little away, a subtle clue maybe to the flavour of the story but then Chapter One hits you with it full on and I think my eyes and my mouth were open wide. But you’re probably thinking that it’s no good me enthusing over something without qualifying that enthusiasm to some degree. 

Okay. It’s a crime thriller and it is very thrilling. What renders it original and ingenious is the background of embedded technology called ‘iMe’ (how perfect is that?!) which hitherto has led to an eradication of crime. Of course no technology can be completely infallible and an aspect is compromised making it possible for a crime to be committed. The two police personnel have to return to old methods of policing and detection to solve this crime. That’s it in a nutshell and it is so frustrating because there’s so much I’d love to share. 

It’s a multi narrative between Detective inspector Clive Lussac, Detective Constable Zoe Jordan and the perpetrator. The dynamic of the relationship between the two police personnel is well done looking at age and experience and their personal interactions with technology. You like both of them and want them desperately to solve the case. The other characters? I suspected every single one of them at one point or another! I chased up and down many garden paths. Most are without redemption until we reach the latter stages of the book when things become clearer and we can start to forgive our nasty, suspicious minds!

The writing hurtles along like a runaway train and you can barely pause for breath. It’s economic writing; there’s no waffle or padding, it’s all direct and relevant. Even the full stops have meaning! (Nah, that’s just me kidding!) Because I suspected everyone including the person who really ‘dunnit’ , it wasn’t such a surprise. Sometime I think because I’ve read a lot of thrillers I’m kinda wise to the possibilities if that makes sense? For someone who may be new the genre, oh my! It’s explosive. But what really struck me was how clever and tight the writing and the plotting are. 

Right, I’ve said enough here. Why read this when you could be reading the book? It’s a no brainer. But be quick because the book might just end up reading you.

Thanks to Erin Britton and Nudge Books for the opportunity to experience this dynamic new novel.

Interview with Jem Tugwell - Author of Proximity

Q&A for Jem Tugwell

This interview was conducted for
My thanks to Jem Tugwell for taking the time to answer my questions. 

Firstly, let me get my fangirling out of the way and say how I thought Proximity was wonderful and how I struggled to believe it’s a debut novel and how compelling I found your writing! I did research a little into your background; moving from investment management to novel writing is quite a leap. Can you tell us a little about that journey?

 Thanks so much. Such positive feedback really means a lot to me. I’ve had the writing itch for years, but there was always something else to do. It may not seem it from the outside, but designing software for investment management firms is creative. When I stopped working, I struggled without a creative outlet for my mind. Now writing gives me that, and I can do it anywhere. I can even think though ideas while mowing the lawn. I did a creative crime writing MA to give me the framework and help to write a complete book. Proximity is the result.

 One of the many things I loved about Proximity was that unlike many dystopian, speculative fictions there was no attempt to create some stylised, futuristic landscape, so events took place in the readers’ frames of reference. Was this always your intention or was there ever a desire to go for a more science fiction flavour?

I wanted to make readers feel ‘that could be me’, so it was important to describe a world that was an alternate ‘now’. In the 1990s, the jobs, cars, commuting, clothes, etc. were all broadly the same as today, but the technology is fundamentally different. The world of Proximity is a similar transition. Making the landscape more science fiction would have made it feel more abstract and lost a lot of the sense of threat. 

I found Proximity chillingly prophetic, with SMART technology, our reliance on devices and social media, the levels of current surveillance, it all seems just one step away from reality. What kind of research did you do to render the technology so utterly believable? 

The research was easy as so much of it already exists. We already have company employees with embedded chips, fitbits, devices that stream blood sugar levels via Bluetooth, phone tracking, ‘smart’ motorways, sugar tax, signs that flash warnings at you, and a health and safety directives that treats us as if we are stupid - like the announcements on the Tube to hold the handrail. Our searches, purchases and preferences are already ‘data’ to be used and sold. Would you really want a separate embedded chip for home, work, your car, bank, credit cards, and each shop? One centralised chip makes most logical sense. Then who runs it? The government would seem more secure than a company, but what else might they use it for? 

I think another important point that the book makes is the fallibility of any technology and the potential chaos that can ensue when that technology is compromised. Do you think that, as a society, we place too much faith in technology? 

I think we believe in it too much, and I’m fascinated by unexpected consequences, especially in technology. For example, Social Media is meant to connect people and enable communication, but people sit in restaurants staring at their phones and ignoring the people next to them. So often the technology’s designers will have an idea on its use, but other people see different uses for the idea. Social Media wasn’t designed for trolling or catfishing. 
Technology isn’t infallible. Upgrades are always seen as improvements, and we somehow ignore the glitches, crashed systems, reboots, and cost. We buy a promise of convenience and ease, but don’t read the Terms and Conditions.

Proximity deals with an embedded technology that controls all aspects of life it seems, but it also produces a paradox. Life with no crime, no obesity, a healthy population, all this sounds very desirable. But at what cost to human rights and freedom of choice? Were you intentionally offering a kind of moral dilemma for the reader?

Yes. Like now, I think our future world will be imperfect, not dystopian. I wanted to show the benefits of the technology and also show a potential downside. I wanted readers to think about their stance on personal loss versus the wider gain. It’s interesting how everyone seems to have a different opinion about which parts of the world are good or bad.

 The crime story is engrossing, thorough and very original. I was wondering what came first? The desire to write a crime story? Or a desire to write a technology story? And how did you plot such a tight story? 

 I always wanted to write crime and the technology is the ‘setting’ for the story. Maybe it’s the years in IT, but I have a very logical mind and before I wrote the book, I agonised over the plot, characters and the story’s internal consistency. I spent a lot of time on world building, and have pages and pages of notes, very little of which comes out directly in the book. In the world described by Proximity, only a few types of crime are possible, so the crime story itself was a function of its environment. 

 I enjoyed the dynamic between Clive and Zoe. It was just right and developed so believably throughout the novel. How did you arrive at these two characterisations? And, dare I ask or even suggest, that there might be future (no pun intended) stories featuring them again? 

 I liked the idea that Clive should have created his own problems and lived without all the technology for a lot of his life. That meant he had to be older. Zoe being younger and having grown up with the technology, gave a way of exploring the world from different perspectives, and added natural conflict between the two main characters. They will be back - see below.

 How do you approach your writing? By that I am wondering if you have a special place to write, a special time, or any special writing routines and rituals? 

I start by plotting and character design. Once that is done, I have a sentence or two on each chapter, and an outline on how the characters think and behave. When I move to the writing phase, the outline acts as a prompt for each chapter. 
I prefer to write each morning as the flow is better day to day, but that is hard to achieve. Taking breaks gives time for ideas to come and think them through. At the beginning, I did try reading each chapter as I wrote it, but I ended up in an endless loop of changing the first three chapters. Now, when I write the first draft, I don’t read it at all. The editing should find the issues, and just writing means that the word count grows. This is a very positive motivator, especially in the early stages when I still have most of the book left to write.

I know that being an avid reader is almost compulsory for a writer, so a question I like to ask authors is whether you can remember the first book you read that moved you in any profound way? And which writers do you admire or are influenced by?

The first book that moved me was Silas Marner by George Eliot. It was set as a school book, and I couldn’t get into it but when my mum read the whole book to me, and I was hooked. I really admire Lee Child’s Reacher series for the clarity of the stories, and the way the action scenes are written. I also loved all the Dick Francis books for the great stories, fast pace and the sense of threat and menace without gratuitous violence. 

And finally, I’m wondering what you’re working on at the moment and if you can tell us a little about it?

My current work in progress is the sequel to Proximity. It will be a crime story again, but  I also want to look more on the impact on visitors to the UK and the health service. I also have a plot for a standalone book sketched out.

Tuesday, 4 June 2019

The Body in the Castle Well - Martin Walker

You spend a larger than average percentage of your life reading, you believe yourself to be fairly well clued up on books and writers and then you come across someone who’ve you’ve never read and somehow never heard of who has written numerous books and - you feel pretty stupid!

Martin Walker - I am so sorry! The old adage better late than never twinkles its way into my vernacular but really there’s no excuse. I will do better I promise and seek out your previous works.

But, dear reader, I can hear you asking, why would you do that? I would do that because I am completely bewitched by Inspector Benoit ‘Bruno’ Courreges! A delightful paradox of pragmatism and altruism who detects his way around the Dordogne with unobtrusive, unconventional policing.

The Body in the Castle Well sees an educated and possibly privileged young American girl arrive at an untimely end at the bottom of a well. As her story unfolds the presence of the FBI and the US Embassy suggests there is maybe more to her death than an unfortunate accident. And that’s as much as I’ll say as you have entered a spoiler free zone.

So? Sounds like a good old gallic crime yarn then, eh? Yes it is but it’s also a hell of a lot more. The investigation of the student’s death does dominate the narrative, as it indeed it should, but it is aided and abetted by an homage to Josephine Baker, some history, WW2 and the resistance, some falconry, something for the wine connoisseur, some art , ( I loved this line, ‘The art world can make the Wild West look like Sunday School.’!), a little genealogy and some gastronomy! If you want to prepare navarin of lamb there’s practically a full recipe contained within these pages. In fact I would advise not reading when you’re hungry because there’s passages here that will have you salivating. However if that sounds like there’s not enough pages left to investigate a crime rest assured that the author never lets Bruno lose hold of his aim and his maxim ’motive, means and opportunity’  stands him in good stead as he sleuths his way around the village of Limeuil.

The book triggered a multitude of thoughts; I thought of Julien Baptiste from the TV show, I thought of the village in Chocolat and I thought of Maigret. And I thought of rural France and that particular ambience it creates that Mr. Walker has so lovingly described in this book. 

There’s an ease within the writing style that, at times, belies the complexity of the plot for it is a multi stranded plot involving several potentially dubious characters. They’re convincing and believable as is the wonderful and talented Bruno! How come this series hasn’t hit the TV screens? I’ve already admitted that this is my first Bruno book but I can see the potential for an innovative crime/cookery series? The crime is the main thrust of the show but in the middle Bruno demonstrates how to cook a classic French dish? Genre fusion gone mad? But it might just work.

But was there a crime, was it solved and does everyone live happily ever after? Well, I could tell you but then I’d have to shoot you and the only advantage to that is that Bruno right come and investigate me?!  So best you read the book. ;-)

My thanks to Milly Reid at Quercus Books for a copy of this story and opportunity to participate in the Blog Blast. Please read all that my blogging colleagues have to say too!

Monday, 3 June 2019

Franz Kafka Died OTD June 3rd 1924

I was late teens when I first read Kafka. It was Metamorphosis. I was so stunned I just sat on my bed unable to do anything but marvel at what I'd just read. I believe it was the first time I felt SO connected to a writer. And I still wonder at that indefinable 'thing' that grabs when you read the words of a writer. What is it?  Is it 'just' the writing? Or is it a right time, right place kind of thing? It's something many decades later that I still ponder!!

For a while I lived and breathed Kafka. Everything he wrote I inhaled it all. Maybe I was obsessed, maybe I was possessed!! For a while I thought I WAS Kafka reincarnate and everything  I wrote was pastiche, parody even. I cringe to read it now, not even thinly disguised!!

Metamorphosis was the first but there has been no end. Even if I don't read him often as I'd like to Kafka's there with me. He has the dubious honour of being the only writer whose picture adorns my study wall! (Kerouac should be there too but I've never got around to it!!) I bought all of his work in hardback. I had to wait until I was earning before I indulged! I even bought a volume of his letters in the original German because there was no English translation. (knew that German 'A' level would come in handy!).

I was lucky too because my English tutor was a Kafka nut as well! I didn't know it to begin with because there was no Kafka on our syllabus. I was reading America, sitting in the lobby waiting for someone or other and he walked by. Acknowledging me he asked, 'Good book?'. Since Kafka often rendered me speechless I just held up the book for him to see. I won't forget the look on his face and it was as if he regarded me in a whole other light. 'Very good book!" We became friends because of Kafka, a friendship that somehow managed to stay within the confines of respectability! Because he was a lecturer and I was an impoverished student he had all the latest lit crit and works on Kafka. I remember him lending me  Gustav Janouch's Conversations With Kafka, only available in hardback and way beyond my budget and I thought I'd died and gone to heaven!! 

I used to promise myself that when I retired and supposedly had more time on my hands I would reread everything Kafka had written. I haven't managed that, yet. But time is running out. It's anniversaries like these that make me reflect and think, I'm quite keen to see how I feel rereading Metamorphosis now. 

Sometimes I wonder what else Kafka would have produced if he'd lived. He was only a month shy of his 42nd birthday when he died. I also think it likely that had he lived he would have perished in the Holocaust along with his family. 

Finally this poem by Edwin Muir sums it up.

To Franz Kafka

If we, the proximate damned, presumptive blest,
Were called one day to some high consultation
With the authentic ones, the worst and best
Picked from all time, how mean would be our station.
 Oh we could never bear the standing shame, 
Equivocal ignominy of non-election; 
We who will hardly answer to our name,
And on the road directed ignore direction.

 But you, dear Franz, sad champion of the drab
And half, would watch the tell-tale shames drift in, 
(As if they were trove of treasure) not aloof,
But with a famishing passion quick to grab
Meaning, and read on all the leaves of sin
Eternity's secret script, the saving proof.

RIP dear Franz. And thank you.