Monday, 28 July 2014

Tea Time by PL McIlroy

two-cups

Jason Quinn had always found his wife's gaze unsettling, especially the speed at which her sapphire eyes could turn to a thunderous navy. Today they were the shade of a calm sea after a storm.

Bracing himself, Jason steps over the threshold into the hall where his wife, Lisa, is waiting for him. The welcoming smile on her lips not quite reaching her eyes. Undoing his tie he removes it in one swift movement before stuffing it into his trouser pocket, then unbuttons his shirt at the neck.

“Sorry I'm late," he said. "Traffic was bad.”

"I know, they said there was an accident on the A46 on the radio... fancy a cuppa?”

Jason nods in agreement, the tight knot of tension in his stomach relaxing at the calm tone in his wife's voice. Following her into the kitchen he flicks the switch on the kettle without checking the water level, knowing Lisa will have filled it in anticipation of his return. The familiar scent of the Shepherd's pie in the oven making his stomach rumble as the moisture in his mouth runs dry. Bruised memories of the previous evening flicker at the edge of his consciousness. Closing his eyes for a moment Jason takes a deep breath and pushes them away, then fetches the milk from the fridge.

“I've made your favourite for tea...” Lisa leans against the counter by the sink, watching her husband make the hot drinks, her eyes never leaving his face, a trait Jason had adored until the day they tied the knot. Lisa was his childhood sweetheart. They'd sat together in the same classroom at secondary school, two souls drawn together by the absence of a parent's love.

When Lisa moved away to another city he'd lost contact for a while. They said it would be better that way, that Lisa needed a fresh start but Jason had felt the loss keenly. Lisa eventually returned to his home town when she was twenty-one: beautiful, poised and a magnet for men, but she hadn't expressed interest in anyone except Jason. They were married on his 24th birthday. Jason had felt proud that day with Lisa on his arm, as she had charmed the guests and joked that he'd never have an excuse to forget their anniversary.

Trying to control the slight tremor in his hands, Jason lifts the kettle and pours the hot water into two mugs. Squeezing each teabag he removes them one by one and turns to dump them in the bin at the side of the worktop, his movements stiff and careful. Adding milk to one of the mugs he hands it to his wife, turning it so she can grasp the handle. Taking it from him, Lisa stirs the milk into her tea slowly, while studying the prune like texture of the skin on her husband's left hand, her expression as clinical as an animal stalking its prey.

Jason had been careless the day he was burned. He'd stopped late at work to help someone in the office. When he'd arrived home he'd made the drinks as usual, choosing to ignore the pent up fury coiled within his wife's slim frame. The events of the day had poured from his lips in a desperate bid to fill the empty spaces as he walked into the kitchen. He hadn't realised how close Lisa was to him when the boiling water from the kettle had shot across his hand. At least that's what he'd told his colleagues at work the next day, the dressing on his hand masking his shame. The pain had been excruciating as Lisa calmly drew him over to the sink, turned on the cold tap and shoved his hand underneath the running water. Jason had been grateful for his wife's quick reaction the first time, had appreciated her administrations despite the pain. Lisa had been considerate afterwards, had even kissed his hand better, her lips cool against his hot skin, before making his favourite for tea.

Sunday, 27 July 2014

Interview with Tom Vowler, author of That Dark Remembered Day

Tom Vowler has an extraordinary ability to express subtle meaning Tom Vowler 2014through the actions of his characters. His second novel - That Dark Remembered Day – swept me up and held me in its wings as I was given an overview of the fragile landscape of the family within, where battle lines had been drawn and crossed, the remnants fatigued by a war they couldn’t understand. I’d only intended to read for a little while. Four hours later I turned the last page, my emotional landscape shredded by a deft hand, yet ready to turn back to the beginning and read it again. This is such powerful novel of psychological suspense, so finely balanced and well executed that I couldn’t resist taking Tom up on his offer of an interview to find out more about how he wrote it. I hope you find his answers below as fascinating as I did.
The novel centres on a family of four: a mother, father, son and daughter. Each member of the family feels as isolated as the house in which you place them. They are inextricably entwined. What motivated you to make the house a significant character in the plot?
Place is often a character in my fiction, landscape used for atmosphere and texture, but also to ground the narrative, to connect the reader more closely to events. But to give the house such prominence was something that evolved during writing. I think I passed an old boarded-up property out walking one day, miles from nowhere, graffiti-strewn, remnants of the previous family life evident if you looked closely enough. What had happened here? Why had it been abandoned? When did the rooms last hear laughter?
You write realistically from female perspective, what challenges did you encounter when writing as the opposite sex?
Only the usual ones. It’s something I’m discussing at a forthcoming event, so I’ve perhaps given it more thought than usual. I’m always tempted to say too much is made of this, that such a viewpoint differs no more than other characters the writer has to draw convincingly. But it seems, unconsciously, something I’m drawn to, having just written a short story with a female narrator, and the next novel is making a strong case for this point-of-view also. The challenge, as ever, is to convince the reader, to have them believe utterly in the voice they are hearing. I have many wonderful female friends who often get early drafts to look at.
Why did you decide to focus on the impact of post traumatic stress disorder(PTSD) in your novel?  
I think I first heard the term in relation to soldiers who’d returned from Vietnam, though of course little acknowledgement was made of it then – this condition that could emerge months or even years after a disturbing experience, where the sufferer would be overwhelmed by flashbacks and nightmares, all of it indistinguishable from the actual event. So much is still unknown about how the mind processes and copes with extraordinary, disturbing experiences, how they linger, how they manifest. Few of us can ever really know what it’s like to witness truly terrible happenings, to carry those images in life, to go to sleep with them.
What was it about the Falklands War that made you select this period in history as a key event?
I became fascinated in a war that was the last untelevised one. Certainly there was coverage, but it was drip-fed and highly censored. The imbedding of journalists on the frontline didn’t really happen until the first Gulf War. So I had this vague recollection of a conflict, almost over before it began, and I wondered if there wasn’t some untold aspect of it. I think it’s still regarded as an unqualified success, yet Britain came very close to defeat and casualties on both sides were relatively high, the fighting at times brutal and close-quarter. For me, though, the startling fact was how more British veterans of the conflict have committed suicide since their return than died on the battlefield. I was also keen to explore Argentine experiences or the war.
I recently went to see The Two Worlds of Charlie F which centres round the real life experiences of British Servicemen and women who served in Afghanistan. I have to say that real life impact of war that I witnessed on stage is equally well reflected in your novel. How did you approach your research?
It felt important to keep my own views on the futility of war away from the research, my antipathy of politicians who send young men and women to kill and die for egregious reasons. Talking to those who’d served was crucial, but reading about the loss on both sides formed a greater understanding of the conflict. Many of the Argentine troops were teenage conscripts, hopelessly ill-trained, fathomless as to why there were there.
The evocative prose as you describe the events in the Falklands resonated deeply with me on an emotional level. How difficult were these scenes to write?
In some ways they form the heart of the book, yet we don’t hear about them until late in the day, once their impact is known. This was a calculated move – the non-linear narrative – aimed at mimicking certain symptoms of post-traumatic stress in the reader: namely, the disruption of temporal flow, which occurs due to flashbacks, hallucinations and nightmares. The scenes themselves weren’t particularly difficult to write, being so well documented, but drawing emotion from the reader is, so I’m pleased to hear your response.
As events unfold you depict a balanced overview of the options each person has, as the impact of PTSD on a main character follows a destructive path. What were you hoping to achieve by describing it in this way?
As a friend always tells me, there are no absolute truths beyond pure mathematics. Everything else is a version, an account, moulded and influenced by whoever experiences it. Richard’s psychological unhinging impacts everyone he encounters, but their understanding of it will differ each time. And of course his own regard for his mental breakdown is unique, both insightful and distorted as he confuses the past and present.
The village where the family lives becomes the target of voyeurs who come to stare at the scene of the crime. This reminded me of the sense of distance that soldiers are sometimes subjected to, where they are treated as objects of curiosity as people who have had to kill in the name of war. How hard was it to get the balance right in these scenes to increase the emotional impact?
Probably the hardest aspect of writing the book, for how far can one’s imagination take us to understanding such matters? With all research, you read a lot, you interview people with a closer knowledge of the subject, you observe if possible. But ultimately you have to fall back on your own emotional interpretation to give resonance. It’s not for me to say if I’ve got this aspect of the book right.
Man Booker Prize shortlisted author Alison Moore said: “As an admirer of Tom Vowler’s short stories, I came to his novels with relish. That Dark Remembered Day is a compelling story about damage done, a touching exploration of the possibility of forgiveness and recovery.” How did that make you feel?
Writers are often the harshest critics, so such appraisal is always hard-won and therefore greatly satisfying. Alison’s work is wonderful; she’s someone who takes risks, departs from all the formulaic noise that’s out there. So, yes, I was very flattered.
What do you gain from attending events like Crimefest?
CF14highreslogo
Crimefest is one of those rare festivals where authors and audience connect on the same level. There’s no pomp, no ego. Just passionate readers and writers thrilled to talk about books.
What is your top tip for anyone who would like to write?
Stop ‘liking’ and start ‘doing’. The apprenticeship is often long but essential.
A huge thank you to Tom for the interview. If the above has piqued your interest, please read on to find out a little more about Tom and That Dark Remembered Day.
Tom Vowler is a novelist and short story writer living in south west England. His debut collection, The Method, won the Scott Prize in 2010 and his novel What Lies Withinreceived critical acclaim. He is co-editor of the literary journal Short Fiction and an associate lecturer in creative writing at Plymouth University, where he’s completing a PhD looking at the role of the editor in fiction. That Dark Remembered Day is his second novel.
Publisher synopsis: 
Can you ever know what those closest to you are really capable of? 
When Stephen gets a phone call to say his mother isn’t well, he knows he must go to her straight away. But he dreads going back there. He has never been able to understand why his mother chose to stay in the town he grew up in, after everything that happened. One day’s tragic events years before had left no one living there untouched.
 Stephen’s own dark memories are still poisoning his life, as well as his marriage. Perhaps now is the time to go back and confront the place and the people of his shattered childhood. But will he ever be able to understand the crime that punctured their lives so brutally? How can a community move on from such a terrible legacy?
Published by Headline and currently an e-book bargain on kindle at £5.99 (price correct at time of going to print)
Chat to Tom on twitter @tom_vowler

My #TOPCRIME2014 top 10


As 2014 is the year of the selfie, and the Theakston Old Peculier Crime Writing Festival is the crime writer's equivalent of the Oscars, I collared my exceptionally willing volunteers - Mel Sherratt, Mari Hannah and Rebecca Bradley - for a mugshot the minute we arrived on Thursday 17 July. Then we headed off to the famous Betty's Tea Shop for a round of tea and scandalously good scones, before returning to The Swan for the announcement of the Crime Novel of the Year and opening night party.
   
I'd predicted earlier that Belinda Bauer would win Crime Novel of the Year with Rubbernecker and she did, if you haven't read it yet you're missing out on a cracking thriller. I was also delighted to witness one of the most inspiring writers of my generation - Lynda La Plante - receive a well deserved Outstanding Contribution to Crime Writing Award. 

My top ten highlights


1) Seeing my friend Mel Sherratt's dream come true when she took part in her first ever panel at Harrogate. Mel was on The Good Old Days panel discussing the changing landscape of publishing with James OswaldMark Edwards and Mari HannahMartyn Waites is without fail brilliant every time he chairs a panel. It was an interesting discussion which centred around the differences and benefits of self-publishing and traditional publishing. 



2) Meeting best selling author JK Rowling and watching her face light up when I thanked her for the many hours of reading pleasure she has given me. From the first moment I picked up a Harry Potter book I knew Rowling had a lot to say, and this was made even clearer during her warm and engaging interview as her pseudonym Robert Galbraith with the legendary crime writer Val McDermid

Anyone who dismisses the Harry Potter series as merely a fantasy series for kids is missing a trick. Rowling is piercing, perceptive and clever as she weaves contemporary issues throughout every single one of those seven novels. 

I'm really pleased that Rowling has found a niche in the crime writing world with the creation of private detective Cormoran Strike. During the interview Rowling revealed that she has always been a huge fan of crime writing and has plans to write many more Galbraith novels, saying that the Harry Potter novels could be interpreted as six whodunits and one whydunnit. Rowling added that The Tiger In The Smoke by Margery Allingham was her favourite crime novel, and described how the novel had such a good story that it compelled her to read one page a night before she fell into an exhausted sleep during a fraught Christmas with a newborn. What Rowling intends to do is bring the classic detective novel up to date with authentic characters and contemporary themes.

I personally think that the Harry Potter series and The Casual Vacancy were just the warm up for what Rowling really wants to do, and I've been saying as much for years. I'm genuinely looking forward to spending many more hours curled up with Rowling's Galbraith novels in the future.

3) Lynda La Plante's uproariously funny yet thought-provoking interview on Saturday morning. The first La Plante novel I ever bought was a signed copy of Bella Mafia and I've followed her writing career with interest ever since. La Plante has the same ability as Billy Connolly for going off on a tangent, as she called on all her acting skills to recount events from her past while bringing the people she had known vividly and hilariously to life. Everyone was roaring with laughter at 9a.m. in the morning as they listened to La Plante, which was no mean feat considering some festival goers had been up until 4a.m. that same morning. The news is that La Plante is currently writing a prequel to the DCI Jane Tennison series soon perked everyone up.




La Plante also revealed her serious side when a member of the audience asked why she hadn't chosen to write comedy when she clearly had a talent for it. La Plante explained that she had chosen the crime genre because she felt there wasn't enough help for the victims of crime. The whole audience was still and quiet as she described all the help that the Moors Murderers had received while a bereaved mother haunted the moors in search of the body of her missing child. Never has a hard hitting message been more effectively delivered.

4) Steve Mosby's happy face during the entire weekend. He had that slightly dazed look of a little boy who couldn't quite believe that he'd got exactly what he wanted for Christmas, who desperately wanted someone to pinch him to check that it was real. Steve was the Chair of the Festival this year and he was incredibly modest whenever anyone congratulated him, making sure he included the entire team behind the event as he graciously accepted the hordes of well deserved compliments. 



If you haven't read a novel by Steve Mosby yet, I strongly suggest that you do because he is an emotionally intelligent and thoughtful crime writer, with a gift for descriptive prose that has a distinctly literary quality. 

6) All the games in the tent on the lawn devised by Dead Good Books. This was the fourth time that I've been to Harrogate but the first time I've ever had time to play the games. I discovered that I should be kept well away from paint guns after almost taking the eye out of one of the staff members during the shoot a character game. I won a drinks voucher and a bag of sweets in the grab a bone comp and dressed up in a long blue wig, sunglasses and a feather boa to have my mugshot taken. The team were handing out goody bags of proof copies on the hour and I bagged loads of great books, some of which I shared out because I knew I wouldn't be able to carry them all on the train home. 



   
7) Getting my hands on a proof copy of The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins. When I caught a tweet on the way to Harrogate re this title, all my spidey senses (as @EMAldred on twitter likes to call them) kicked off and my heart started drumming. When my sixth sense goes off like a rocket it usually indicates a potentially great read. The most recent sixth sense alert was for Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel which has more than lived up to my expectations (review to follow). So when I found a sample of The Girl on the Train in a goody bag during the Lynda La Plante event, I read it. My instincts were confirmed and I never shut up about it from then on, saying this was 'The One' I really wanted. Thank you to the Dead Good Books team who ensured I got a copy. 




8) All the wonderful people I met during the festival. There were lots of hugs, laughter, interesting chats and more selfies. Thanks everyone for making this year's festival an extra special experience. There was an incredibly happy vibe throughout the weekend, not least when Rebbeca J Bradley screamed out loud with joy when she pulled a bone out of the Dead Good Books suitcase to find a tag for free weekend rover for next year attached.



9) Finding a mystery book wrapped in brown paper wrapping that said 'do not open until Christmas' in a goody bag. 



Author Tammy Cohen was delighted when she saw I had one of the mystery parcels, saying that it was a copy of her latest novel and told me I couldn't open it until Christmas Day. I decided then to post a pic of the unwrapped parcel on twitter every Thursday up until the big day. You have no idea how hard it is not to rip the wrapping off and start reading because I really loved The Mistress's Revenge.

10) The panels I went to were fantastic. It's impossible to go to a panel at Harrogate and not learn something useful, generally while being thoroughly entertained by the quick witted banter between panellists. 



Obviously one of this year's highlights was the thrilling Broadchurch panel. If you would like to find out more Steve Mosby has collated all the Harrogate #TOPCRIME2014 reviews here. Better yet, why not find out how great the panels are for yourself and book for next year.



I hope you enjoyed my top 10 memories from this year's festival. I managed to lug home 13 new books on the train, hopefully they'll help me to generate a few arresting blog posts for you in the months to come. 

Saturday, 26 July 2014

Review of The All Souls Trilogy by Deborah Harkness

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When bloggers started posting their invites to the launch party for the third book in the All Souls Trilogy - The Book of Life - on twitter, I remember thinking how amazing the invites were but never expected to receive one, as I'd never read any of the books. Then in mid-May a delivery card was dropped through my letterbox to say a parcel was waiting for me at the post office. I still hadn't had time to go and pick it up when I received an email on 22 May asking for confirmation that I had received the invite to the Harkness event.

Shortly after reading the email I went on Facebook, and found that a friend had posted a video of Deborah Harkness's acceptance speech after she was presented with an honorary Doctorate of Humane Letters earlier that month from her former College - Mount Holyoke.

When life lines up a series of coincidences, I have learned to pay attention. After listening to Deborah's speech I said yes to the invite, collected the parcel from the post office, downloaded the first two books and started reading the trilogy.

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Harkness has a gift for storytelling and what you take away from the All Souls Trilogy will depend on how open you are to to alternative ways of thinking. The trilogy can be enjoyed simply as a fantasy that features romantic, historical and thriller themes, which moves back and forth through history and scientific research through the ages to the present day, or it can open up new ways of thinking or being, just as the discovery of a magical manuscript does for Diana Bishop, the main character.

Book 1: A Discovery of Witches

The story revolves around the search for an alchemical manuscript known as Ashmole 782 which was collected by Elias Ashmole (1617-1692). It was rumoured to have been lost during the transfer of Ashmole's collection of precious manuscripts to the Bodleian Library in Oxford. Obviously a missing manuscript offers many options for the imaginative writer, especially one such as Harkness who has a professional background in researching the history of science and magic in Europe, specialising in the periods between 1500 - 1700.

The first book - The Discovery of Witches - focuses on the slow, evolving romance between the historian and witch Diana Bishop, a professor at Yale who is the last descendant of the first Salem witch to be executed - Bridgit Bishop, and the vampire and geneticist Matthew Clairmont who has a passion for Darwin. Up until this period in time, Diana has suppressed her true nature in a bid to live an ordinary life, but when she effortlessly draws the Ashmole 782 out of hiding she comes to the attention of the other witches, daemons and vampires who work around her in the Bodleian. As I was interested in the origins of most beliefs as a child, I knew at this point where the trilogy was likely to be headed and settled in to enjoy the rest of the journey.

Due to rejecting the gifts she was born with, Diana is vulnerable to those with ulterior motives who seek to understand what this unexpected and unusual occurrence means for the wider population. Unfortunately, Diana is no wiser than they are as to what the manuscript contains because it is incomplete. Matthew witnesses the moment Diana succumbs to using magic and when he realises how clueless she is about the sudden interest in her unusual ability, he insists on becoming Diana's protector and they fall in love.

Matthew is drawn as a secretive, possessive vampire who looks around 35 years of age but has walked the earth for 1,500 years, while Diana is initially drawn as and independent, intelligent yet somewhat naive and stubborn woman in her late thirties. According to their cultural backgrounds, neither of them is allowed to form an intimate relationship for reasons that are unclear at first. Matthew refuses to consummate the relationship, even after he 'marries' Diana without her formal permission in order to keep her safe under the protection of his name, which is highly regarded and feared in the vampire, deamon and witch communities.

On the surface, the romance between Diana and Matthew in the first novel follows the classic passive female, dominant male characteristics that you'll find in other novels in the fantasy genre. While the writing does periodically slide into into swoony descriptions of the new lovers, it doesn't detract from the compulsion to keep reading to find out what happens next. All is not as it seems as Diana and Matthew set the boundaries of their new relationship. Vampires are inclined to be possessive and Matthew has the added complication of a medical condition known as blood rage, which inclines him towards a brutal level of action rather than considered thought, especially when a family member or mate is under threat. Over the years Matthew has learned to control his condition while he searches for a cure. 

As the story progresses, both characters gradually come to realise that in order to be with each other, they first need to understand what has made them different in relation to other vampires and witches within their respective cultures, to enable them to come to terms with their fears, and those of others, real or imagined. This dual search for the self is continued in the second novel - Shadow of Night.

Book 2: Shadow of Night

The second novel is stronger than the first in terms of characterisation, as the reader is drawn into the past to experience life in Elizabethan England, a period of history that Harkness has considerable knowledge of. I enjoyed working out which characters from history were real and which weren't as Diana and Matthew went in search of the missing pages from Ashmole 782. The liberties Harkness takes here with Christopher Marlowe and William Shakespeare are particularly entertaining, but the character that stood out for me was Matthew's intriguing father, Philippe.

As Diana learns more about herself and the history of witches she develops a strong core of empathy for the difficulties vampires, daemons, witches and humans have faced throughout history. This sense of empathy gradually begins to erode some of Diana's fears, enabling her to learn how to expand and trust her gifts as a witch, and the possibilities of life begin to bloom both within and outside her.

All the strands of ideas from the first two books are entwined in the third book - The Book of Life, when Diana and Matthew return to the present. 

Book 3: The Book of Life

I read The Book of Life in one sitting. I've always found genetics to be a interesting area of science and the research is manipulated here with great sensitivity and forethought. The writing throughout the trilogy conjures incredibly vivid imagery, especially in the third book. Harkness's attention to detail created a fully realised, three dimensional world I was able to observe as each scene unfolded before me.

Humans have always feared what they don't know, just as the witches, daemons and vampires do within these pages. Harkness explores cultural diversity throughout history via the stories the creatures and humans share. The common thread throughout the trilogy revolves around learning to accept differences and embrace change from a place of understanding and empathy, rather than rejecting them outright through ignorance and a fear of the unknown.

After you've finished The Book of Life, I recommend that you watch the video clip of Harkness's acceptance speech, in order to better appreciate the journey she as taken you on through the gift of this fascinating, enlightening and thought-provoking trilogy.

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I bought the first two books in the trilogy and received a signed first-edition of The Book of Life during the launch event in London on 4 July. I had a wonderful time and it was lovely to meet Deborah Harkness in person. Thank you to Headline for the invitation, not only to the event but also to experience the world that Deborah Harkness has created.

Book review: Living With It by Lizzie Enfield

Living With It by Lizzie Enfield amply demonstrates the difficult choices parents have to make day in, day out. This cleverly constructed novel examines cause and effect with thoughtful sensitivity. 

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Ben and Maggie are devastated when they discover that their one-year-old daughter, Iris,  is deaf. So are their close friends Isobel and Eric. Years earlier Isobel decided not to have her children vaccinated with the MMR jab due to the controversy surrounding the measles vaccine. The devastating repercussions of that decision are felt when Isobel's daughter, Gabriella, falls ill with measles while both families are on holiday together in France.

The story is further complicated by unresolved issues within both relationships. Ben fell in love with Isobel while they were at university together but she married his best friend Eric. Isobel's life hasn't turned out as predicted and she resents Maggie. Meanwhile, Eric feels increasingly ignored by his wife when it comes to making decisions that affect the family.

When Ben decides to take legal proceedings out against Isobel and Eric everything comes to a head. This bitter game of 'look what you made me do' is told from the point of view of Ben and Isobel in alternate chapters. As these two become locked in a battle of wills the fallout is horrendous, as they become blind to the increasing damage their actions are having on their respective families and friendships. 

The strength of the writing lies in the secondary characters whose perceptions and experiences are deftly used to demonstrate opposing points of view. These perceptive passages explain how there are no right or wrong answers, there is only the choice you make at the time. The denouement of this perfectly pitched novel features a breathtaking twist that reinforces everything that has gone before. Highly recommended.

Published by Myriad Editions (Thanks for the review copy.)
Find out more about the author: Lizzie Enfield

Book review: The Reckoning by Rennie Airth

The Reckoning begins in 1947, shortly after the end of the Second World War. The fragile sense of peace is broken by a shocking murder in the Sussex countryside.  As the investigation gets underway the police soon start to find similarities between this murder and another hundreds of miles away. 

The Reckoning by Rennie Airth
Scotland Yard detective Billy Styles is struggling to find the link between the crimes when a twist of fate brings former Detective Inspector John Madden into the investigation. Madden's name is found in a letter the second victim was writing before he was murdered. As the deaths mount up, Madden has to revisit his past and that of the victims in a desperate search for the killer.

The Reckoning has been carefully constructed to lull the reader into thinking they're in familiar territory. The well written, short sentences move the story along at a great pace, along with engaging characters, cracking dialogue and vivid descriptions that capture the feel of the time. Real life events from both World Wars are seamlessly woven into the narrative to powerful effect, inviting empathy for characters caught in the crossfire of war. As the thick fog of misdirection lifts the reader is left in no doubt of the real life crime that lies at the heart of this devastating novel. 

The desire for revenge can blind those who seek it, changing their behaviour until they unwittingly become their own worst nightmare. There are many reckonings within the pages of this novel, but there is one that is yet to come and it is long overdue. Some 'crimes' should be fully forgiven and the slate wiped clean in the light of new understanding.

With thanks to Philippa McEwan who recommended this novel to me at Bristol Crime Writing Festival, you were right, I loved it. The ending is incredibly powerful and sad. It really makes you feel for the families left in limbo, scarred by the misunderstandings and misjudgements of war.  Thanks also to Sam Eades for the speedy delivery of a review copy.

Published by Pan Macmillan

Book review: The Judas Scar by Amanda Jennings

Some people are defined by their scars, while others work on healing their scars until they fade. Both aspects are explored in this compelling and Judas-scarthought-provoking novel.

Will appears happily married to Harmony but peel away the layers and you’ll find two frightened people. They love each other but they cannot talk to each other, due to past events that have profoundly affected them as individuals and as a couple. The situation comes to ahead when Luke, Will's best friend from school, unexpectedly turns up in their lives and dramatically changes the dynamics of their relationship.  

The Judas Scar is a powerful novel about the shades of grey that lie beneath the surface of dark secrets and self-deception, as each character feels like they have been betrayed and scarred by their experience at the hands of the other.  The story is well crafted, gritty and disturbing, as the nightmares of the past are drawn into the present with heartbreaking consequences.

Thank you to Amanda Jennings for sending me a review copy. I’m still going to be buying copies, Amanda, this time as gifts.

Published by Cutting Edge Press
Find out more about the author www.amandajennings.co.uk
Follow Amanda on twitter: @mandajjennings

Book review: The Book of You by Claire Kendall

The Book of You by Claire Kendall is a nail-biting, heart-stopping psychological thriller that features a fictionalised account of extremeImage stalking.

The 'You' of the novel is Clarissa's stalker, Rafe, a man who has no concept of the word 'no'. When Clarissa is called up for jury service she is relieved as this is the only time she is free of his menacing presence. The court case revolves around the kidnap and abuse of another young woman. The only difference between Clarissa and this young woman is their choice of career, as the brutalised witness is a prostitute. 

The absolute brilliance of this novel is how it demonstrates that while these two women may have followed different career paths, what happens to them both is unjustifiable, cruel and terrifying. In no uncertain terms this novel states that both women are victims of a crime regardless of who they are or what they do for a living.

The novel switches from the first person to the third to explore Clarissa's inner thoughts and how the outside world perceives her situation, a clever technique that is used effectively throughout. Clarissa constantly contrasts her own situation with that of the witness in the case, wondering what will be enough evidence of Rafe's behaviour to convince the police and a jury. The skin crawling level of tension escalates as Clarissa is exposed to increasing levels of abuse, gas lighting and manipulation from Rafe as she gathers the evidence she thinks needs in order to be believed. 

Anyone who has been stalked, or read about real life stalking cases will see parallels within these pages. The subject matter has been well researched and written about in a thoughtful manner, including how decisions by those whom the victim believes they can trust can put them in danger. The novel also contains a useful guide to gathering evidence of stalking should you ever find yourself in that unfortunate position, just don't wait like Clarrisa, go to the police.

I bought my copy of The Book of You by Claire Kendal from Foyles at Bristol Crime Festival after Elizabeth Haynes personally recommended it to me as her 'book of the year'. I was also pleased to see today that my local Waterstones in Nottingham are highlighting this novel with a comment card saying that fans of Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn will appreciate it.

Published by Harper Collins.
Useful information: www.stalkinghelpline.org and www.womensaid.org

Book Review: Dark Aemilia by Sally O'Reilly

Dark Aemilia by Sally O'Reilly re-imagines the life of the poet Ameilia Lanyer (1569-1645) who was rumoured to be the Dark Lady of Shakepeare's sonnets, she was also the first Englishwoman to
be published and recognised as a professional poet.

O'Reilly vividly brings Elizabethan England to life within these pages. The writing ignites every scene, you may find yourself reaching for a tissue to block the smell of the plague or to wipe your tears away as Aemilia is let down repeatedly. O'Reilly has drawn a vulnerable yet quick witted and courageous character in Aemilia, a woman who was the mistress of Henry Carey (first cousin of Elizabeth I of England). When Aemilia falls pregnant Henry arranges the marriage between Aemilia and her first cousin, court musician Alfonso Lanie, which was rumoured to be miserable. O'Reilly has imagined what lay behind that miserable marriage and what life may have been like for Aemilia as she fought to survive with her young son in a world that was consumed by disappointment, death, disease, fear and loss. There's a telling moment between Aemillia and Queen Elizabeth I that encapsulates what this era may have been like for the women who lived then.

I absolutely adored Dark Aemilia. I loved it so much that I kept thinking about reviewing it in verse, which is something I've never attempted before, see below for my first review of this novel, which I originally published on Wordpress.

Dearest reader,

Such a world O'Reilly has created in the Elizabethan age:
the sounds, sights and scents are writ large by this wise sage.

Here resides a woman of ill fortune, 
who must learn to negotiate the world of men with caution.

'Tis a place where plague haunts each street: 
where even the wealthy can be made obsolete.

Master Shakespeare is consumed by passion,
as dark Aemilia becomes his current fashion.

Such a tempest arose in my heart, 
as Aemilia's was slain by a green-eyed dart.

A high price this lady has to pay, 
just to survive another day.

Thou wilt bear witness to the torment of a broken heart,                                               which dares to practise the darkest art.

If only Shakespeare hath the wisdom to listen and eyes to see, 
what a couple they could be.                     

Alas, his disillusioned soul 
writes him into a bleak black hole.

Fear not dear reader, for the lady Aemilia hath a sharp tongue when her temper is pricked; such witty, pithy phrases she wields at those who believe they have her tricked.

But beware the revenge of the ravaged mind, 
as 'tis prone to make this one blind.

As is the tradition of Shakespeare's language, 
new words spill forth from this original package.

Alas, my poor words cannot do justice to the fine prose; 
thou should invest in this tale of star-crossed lover's woes.

Verily, I did buy my copy from the bookseller Waterstones
'twas money well spent on such a wondrous tome.

Thanks for reading,

Pam

Published By Myriad Editions
Twitter: @sallyoreilly

Update: Receiving this tweet from Sally O'Reilly also made trying to write in verse for the first time worthwhile: @sallyoreilliy @Pamreader Thanks for the wonderful review, Pam! And in verse too - Aemilia would be delighted.