|Name: DAVID BALDACCI
Author of: ZERO DAY (2011)
On the web: davidbaldacci.com
On Twitter: @davidbaldacci
To celebrate the launch of David Baldacci’s latest novel, The Escape, as well as the paperback publication of his fourth Will Robie novel, The Target, we’re very pleased to welcome the author to Reader Dad as part of his blog tour.
I’ve been waiting for this moment since I finished the first novel in the John Puller series, Zero Day. Now the third novel in that series – The Escape – is out and we finally learn the answer to a question posed in Zero Day: What is the deal with John’s brother, Robert? When we first meet him he’s a prisoner at the United States Disciplinary Barracks, America’s most secure military prison. He’s serving a life sentence for treason. What exactly did he do? And, more importantly, is he really guilty?
I enjoy foreshadowing questions like this in a series. Readers have to be a bit patient to get the payoff, but hopefully it will be worth it. Writing about the military is a little dicey. First, I have a lot of readers who wear the uniform and so I’m conscious that I have to get all my facts as accurate as possible. I don’t want people who carry guns to be mad at me! Secondly, there is a mass of technical jargon and military acronyms in that world that soldiers use matter-of-factly, but which can be confusing for the layperson. Thus, I’ve tried to be judicious in their use and when I do employ them I try very hard to explain clearly what they mean and why they’re important to the plot. I don’t roll this stuff out willy-nilly; it has to be integral to the plot. And with all my research I always end up leaving most of it on the table. After all, I’m not writing a textbook.
So, in The Escape I tried to do multiple things. I wanted to develop John Puller’s character more, and in doing so flesh out the relationship he has with both his brother and his father. And in the novel I laid out another bit of foreshadowing about another important Puller family member. That will pay off in a future novel! Until then, enjoy The Escape.
All the lights, cameras and consoles instantly went out. And then the quiet was replaced with urgent cries and the sounds of men running. Communication radios crackled and popped. Flashlights were snatched from holders on leather belts and powered up. They provided only meagre illumination.
And then the unthinkable happened: all the automatic cell doors unlocked.
Military CID investigator John Puller has returned from his latest case to learn that his brother, Robert, once a major in the United States Air Force, and an expert in nuclear weaponry and cyber-security, has escaped from the Army’s most secure prison. Preliminary investigations show that Robert – convicted of treason – may have had help in his breakout. Now he’s on the run, and he’s the military’s number one target.
John Puller has a dilemma. Which comes first: loyalty to his country, or to his brother? Blood is thicker than water, but Robert has state secrets that certain people will kill for. John does not know for certain the true nature of Robert’s crimes, nor if he’s even guilty. It quickly becomes clear, however, that his brother’s responsibilities were powerful and far-reaching.
With the help of US intelligence officer Veronica Knox, both brothers move closer to the truth from their opposing directions. As the case begins to force John Puller into a place he thought he’d never be – on the other side of the law. Even his skills as an investigator, and his strength as a warrior, might not be enough to save him. Or his brother.
|Name: ANTHONY QUINN
Author of: DISAPPEARED (2012)
On the web: anthonyquinnwriter.com
On Twitter: @ajpquinn
To celebrate the launch of his most recent novel, The Blood Dimmed Tide, I’m very pleased to welcome Anthony Quinn to Reader Dad to talk about some of the books that have influenced his own writing. My own review of his latest novel will be available later this week.
Like every crime fiction writer I have my personal card catalogue of literary influences that I can rhyme off at the drop of a hat to anyone who is interested – Rankin, Le Carre, Deighton, Rendell, PD James, Ellroy, Leonard – and if you really want to get me droning on for hours just bring up Graham Greene and his subtle shading of good and evil, and the way he charts personal failure in the face of war and death.
To be honest, however, this mental list is an answer to a different, much more superficial question, one that might be phrased: What are your favourite books? Or who do you most try to imitate as an author? Literary influence is about much more than writing within the same genre, or borrowing style and subject matter. Sometimes the biggest influence a book can have on an emerging writer is one that can never be perceived or measured by even the most discerning of readers.
I’m talking about metaphysical or psychological influences. While some of the reasons that prompted me to start writing crime fiction were very personal, the galvanising factor was reading other writers’ works, principally that of the crime fiction vanguard emerging from Northern Ireland at the end of the Troubles, novelists like Brian McGilloway, Stuart Neville, Adrian McKinty and Colin Bateman. All great writers with fascinating and original voices, whose books, most of which are set in Northern Ireland, have helped kick away the inhibitions preventing Irish writers from following that old creative-writing course advice – write about what you know.
Growing up during the Troubles, writing about what you knew was taboo. You had to be careful about what you said. The phrase ‘and whatever you say, say nothing’ was a mantra for survival. Even after the ceasefire, tales about the Troubles were usually ignored. Lurking somewhere at the back of people’s minds was the superstitious fear that talking about those dark days might somehow increase the chances of a return to the past.
Neville et al gave me permission to write about something I had been suppressing for years. They made it acceptable to write about the destructive spirals of violence and revenge that overshadowed my childhood, the malevolent stupidity of paramilitaries and terrorists, the blurred lines between lawmakers and lawbreakers, and the tricks of betrayal and cover-up. Most of all they showed how it was possible to write about the Troubles in a thrilling way. They also convinced me in my contrary way that the landscape of Northern Ireland, its people and their conflicts weren’t being represented fictionally in the way I thought they deserved. For these reasons, they are the most powerful influences on my writing. They gave me the licence to explore, in my opinion, deeper narratives within the Troubles.
These days I don’t so much read their books as eavesdrop on them (a loss to the reader in me). Their fiction has illuminated mine, but I’m wary of their words or ideas ever creeping onto my page.
Stephen King (stephenking.com)
Hodder & Stoughton (www.hodder.co.uk)
That is not dead which can eternal lie,
And with strange aeons, even death may die.
Aficionados of the horror genre will instantly recognise this couplet as the work of H.P. Lovecraft, an excerpt from his fictional Book of the Dead, the Necronomicon. Referenced in Stephen King’s latest work, it forms one of the story’s central themes and provides a clue that Revival, the second King novel to appear in this, his fortieth year as a published author, is a return to the genre in which he made his name during the late seventies and most of the eighties. There is a distinctly Lovecraftian flavour to this story, though with a twist that is very much King’s own.
At the age of six, Jamie Morton, the youngest member of a large family living in small-town Maine, meets Charlie Jacobs, the town’s new minister and a man with a strange obsession with electricity. Following a tragic accident, Jacobs denounces God from the pulpit and disappears from Jamie’s life. But their paths are destined to cross again, and over the course of the next fifty years or so, they meet several times, each time Jacobs running a different scam, more obsessed by what he calls “the secret electricity”, and slightly more unhinged than the time before. Jamie has problems of his own and by the time he is in his early fifties he finds that he is in great debt to his old minister, and agrees to help him in one final experiment, the culmination of almost fifty years of research and experimentation.
For most of this hugely engrossing novel, King concentrates on the human aspect of the story. We watch as Jamie Morton grows from childhood to early adulthood and beyond to late middle age. What we know of Charlie Jacobs we learn through those time periods when the two men’s paths cross. While the scam is always different – Portraits in Lightning; the healing ministry – the subject of electricity remains a constant, and it quickly becomes clear that Jacobs has something planned, something related to the tragic accident that deprived him of his family when Jamie was still counting his age in single figures.
There are themes here that we have come to expect from Stephen King stories over the years: the question of faith plays an important part, here examined with a small twist that plays faith in the unknown (God) against faith in science (electricity) yet never manages to definitively separate the two; there is personal tragedy; examinations of the dynamics of family, and how they change over the years as the glue that holds them together first stretches, then, often, breaks altogether; the battle against addiction. Most importantly, as the Lovecraft quote that forms Revival’s core might suggest, is the question of death and what awaits us on the other side.
King never portrays Jacobs as a villain, yet the reader comes away with the distinct impression that if there is a villain in this piece, Jacobs would be it. There are parallels here with Rupert Angier from Christopher Priest’s excellent The Prestige (the obsession with electricity, and the attempts to turn it to one’s own will), and with King’s own Leland Gaunt; in this instance, rather than providing things, Jacobs provides cures, but the ultimate price that the buyer pays is no less substantial, and no less dangerous. As Mr Gaunt himself might advise: caveat emptor. There are also echoes of Pet Sematary: Jamie receives visits from the dead that feel very similar to the visits Louis Creed receives from Victor Pascow in that earlier novel. Through misdirection and clever plotting, King leads us to believe that we understand what Jacobs is trying to achieve, pulling the rug out from under us at the last minute and presenting us with something even more horrifying than we might have guessed.
There are, as always, links to King’s other works scattered throughout his latest novel. The most obvious is with last year’s Joyland, a place where Charlie Jacobs has set out his stall at some point during his career as a showman and charlatan. Once again, King immerses the reader in the world of “carny”, tying the two novels inextricably together, despite their widely different subject matters.
In the closing act, the tone of the novel changes completely, as King leaves his examination of the human aspect behind and presents us with a brief, but extremely disturbing, glimpse of balls-to-the-wall horror in a perfectly-judged tribute to the greats of the genre, people like Lovecraft and Machen, Ashton Smith and Derleth, the giants upon whose shoulders King has built his own career. You thought Pennywise was frightening? Or Kurt Barlow? Or the concept of Dreamcatcher’s “shit-weasels”? They all pale in comparison to the vision King presents in the closing pages of Revival, a vision that will make us re-examine all of the questions King has asked us to answer during the reading of this novel: that of faith, of family, of death. Abrupt and shocking, it shows that, even after forty years at the coalface, King still has the power to frighten and unnerve the reader, in ways that will stay with us long after we’ve finished the book and moved on to something else. Despite the Lovecraftian connotations, King presents a vision that is entirely of his own devising, and which asks us to reconsider any beliefs that we hold about who we are, where we come from and to where we are ultimately heading.
Revival is the perfect example of the long, slow build to a barely-glimpsed horror that is no less frightening for its brevity. Intensely personal, the book invites the reader to consider their own beliefs in order to understand the beliefs of the novel’s central characters, Jamie and Charlie. One of the finest novels King has produced in his long career, it is a welcome return to the pure horror that made his name, while still retaining the deep insight into the human condition that has defined much of his later work. Stephen King continues at the top of his game, one of our finest living writers. Revival is likely to become a firm favourite for many Constant Readers, an excellent example of the breadth of King’s abilities as a storyteller.
Joe Hill (joehillfiction.com)
Ignatius Martin Perrish spent the night drunk and doing terrible things. He woke the next morning with a headache…when he was swaying above the toilet, he glanced at himself in the mirror over the sink and saw he had grown horns while he slept.
Ig Perrish may not remember what he did the previous night, but he does remember the previous year, the year since the woman he had loved since they were fourteen had been brutally raped and murdered, a hideous crime for which Ig was the prime suspect. But these new additions, these horns growing from his temples, are game changers: when people see them they feel compelled to tell Ig their deepest darkest secrets, and it isn’t long before he discovers the true identity of Merrin’s killer. After that, it’s a matter of letting human nature take its course, unleashing the demon that so desperately wants to get out and sending Merrin’s killer to the hell in which he belongs.
I first read Joe Hill’s sophomore novel when it was published back in 2010; the imminent cinematic release of Alexandre Aja’s film adaptation in British cinemas was good enough reason to revisit Horns, and I’m happy to discover that it holds up well to that second read. At the centre of this dark and often blackly comic novel is Ig Perrish, a young man whose whole life has been pulled out from under him following the murder of his long-term girlfriend, Merrin Williams. Unable to provide a satisfactory alibi, Ig has been the only suspect since the murder took place a year earlier, and the lack of substantial evidence is the only thing keeping him out of prison. His new appendages, and the strange power they have over the people Ig meets, mean that he will quickly get to the bottom of the mystery.
Hill tells the story in a very non-linear form, jumping from one time period to the next, giving us brief glimpses of the relationships between the central characters – Ig, Merrin and Lee Tourneau – at various points between their initial meeting in their early teens, through young adulthood, to the present day. The identity of Merrin’s killer is revealed early in the novel, and is as shocking, at that point, for the reader as it is for Ig himself. As we get further glimpses into the lives of these people, the shock begins to wear off and we begin to see that nothing is quite as it seems or, to be more precise, quite as Ig Perrish believes it to be.
As time passes, Ig grows more and more to resemble the archetypal demon: the horns grow larger; the skin turns a deep red following an incident in a burning car; and Ig takes to carrying a pitchfork to protect himself. But there’s an interesting juxtaposition here: the more demonic Ig becomes, the more it becomes clear that he is the least demonic character in the novel. The revelations forced out of the people he meets by the horns on his head show a dark and unlikeable side to many of the people Ig loves:
“I can’t see any of my friends. I can’t go to church. Everyone stares at me. They all know what you did. It makes me want to die. And then you show up here to take me for walks. I hate when you take me for walks and people see us together. You don’t know how hard it is to pretend I don’t hate you. I always thought there was something wrong with you. The screamy way you’d be breathing after you ran anywhere. You were always breathing through your mouth like a dog, especially around pretty girls.”
This from Ig’s grandmother, Vera, who gets her comeuppance shortly afterwards in one of the novel’s many laugh-out-loud moments. The evil here is of a more human nature than the demonic one the reader might expect; there is a mundane explanation for the rape and murder of Merrin, an all-too-familiar, plucked-from-the-headlines quality that is more frightening than the man with horns around whom the story is constructed.
Hill uses the story to examine the question of faith (Ig and Merrin meet in church and for most of his short life, Ig is the very definition of humanitarian), and the difference between “good” and “evil” as concepts. Bad things happen to good people, he tells us, and sometimes good people need a little help to get their own back. Do the horns and the pitchfork make Ig Perrish a demon, or just a man with a demonic outer shell? Hill leaves it to the reader to decide.
Lacking the bone-chilling scares that he gives us in both Heart-Shaped Box and NOS4A2, Joe Hill’s Horns is no less frightening for its close examination of the evil things of which mankind is possible. This is a wonderfully dark tale with a very definite sense of humour that often leads the reader to laugh out loud.
Dale sat breathing strenuously in the muck. He looked up the shaft of the pitchfork and squinted into Ig’s face. He shaded his eyes with one hand. “You got rid of your hair.” Paused, then added, almost as an afterthought, “And grew horns. Jesus. What are you?”
“What’s it look like?” Ig asked. “Devil in a blue dress.”
An instant classic, Horns commands the reader’s attention from the first page to the last and serves as an excellent starting point for Joe Hill virgins. I, for one, can’t wait to see the film adaptation, despite the fact that the Ig in my head bears no resemblance to Daniel Radcliffe. This is a must-read, if you haven’t already, and well worth a revisit if you have.
A brief update on the current state of play with the Big #CarrieAt40 Stephen King Vote.
I have updated the novels section to allow readers to vote for Revival, which is almost upon us and which looks set to become an instant classic. I’m also setting a firm end date of 31 December 2014 for closing the vote. The current top threes in each section are listed below. Don’t agree? Then be sure to VOTE! Make sure your voice is heard.
Third: ‘Salem’s Lot
Second: The Stand
Third: The Raft (Skeleton Crew)
Second: Graveyard Shift (Night Shift)
First: Children of the Corn (Night Shift)
Third: The Body (Different Seasons)
Second: The Mist (Skeleton Crew)
First: Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption (Different Seasons)
Third: Secret Windows
Second: Danse Macabre
First: On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft
There are two months left to get your vote in and have your say, so don’t miss out. Ready to go?
|Name: SEBASTIAN GREGORY
Author of: THE GRUESOME ADVENTURES OF ALICE IN UNDEADLAND (2014)
On Twitter: @wordsbyseb
To celebrate the Halloween season, and today’s publication of Sebastian Gregory’s latest book, The Boy in the Cemetery, publishers Carina UK are kicking off a blog tour featuring some of the scary stories from his book, The Asylum for Fairy-Tale Creatures. As big fans of the horror genre, we’re very pleased to host Sebastian and his spooky story.
Once upon a forever more, a long time ago in the dark place where imagination and nightmare met, they built the asylum. Surrounded by a forest of dense thorns and crumbling on a precipice falling to an infested monster sea, the asylum held the most insane in the entire fairy tale kingdom.
To be poor abandon children in the forest, left to the whims of the nearby witch in her gingerbread house – imagine how frail your mind would become. Imagine the trauma of finding a house inhabited by bears who think they are people. How about being a boy made of wood who can think and talk yet is ridiculed and shunned. Or a girl given to a reclusive beast by her own father. It would be enough to drive a person to madness. And so many of the fairy tale creatures went skipping into the comfort of insanity.
Their demented wails carried through barred windows and into a rainstorm to haunt the turbulent air. A raven followed the cries to a break in the highest tower roof. The rain dripped from cracks in the slates. On the rafters the raven shook off the rain and cawed to itself, tipping its head this way and that with dark curiosity, before swooping downwards through the rafters and away amongst stone corridors. Flying between the shadows of the gas lamps, the raven passed the padded cells of the asylum’s inhabitants. All and more locked behind deep oak doors for evermore. The raven explored further, gliding along until it came to a spiral staircase. It landed on the stone steps a moment, hopping and pecking before flying off again, downwards. To another corridor and, if it were not a fool bird, the raven would have noticed something different. There was only one door at the end of a dark hallway of stone, bolts and chains and huge padlocks holding it firmly sealed. The raven did not concern itself with this and settled on the bars of the door; it cawed and pecked at the metal with a rat-tat-tat. For a moment something reflected in its onyx eye; from the gap in the bars a bony finger, unexpected and quick, simply brushed the poor creature with all the force of a breath on a nape. The raven cried its last and disappeared, falling within. There was a momentary sound of bones falling on stone, a kind of rattle before everything was silent again, save for the distant sound of the storm, and the ravings of the insane fairy tale creatures.
Look out for A CHRISTMAS HORROR STORY, coming in December.
|Name: LEIGH RUSSELL
Author of: COLD SACRIFICE (2013)
On the web: www.leighrussell.co.uk
On Twitter: @LeighRussell
Readers in the UK know me as an author of crime fiction, while for readers in the US I write murder mysteries. All the labels, classifications, categories and subcategories, are very confusing. Should I introduce myself as an author of murder mysteries or crime thrillers? detective novels or whodunnits? Do I write police procedurals or psychological thrillers? Like most crime novels, my books are a combination of all the subdivisions of the crime genre, all thrown into the melting pot: take one dark psyche, mix with a generous dollop of suspense, lace with mystery, throw in a detective, season with thrills, add a dash of police procedure, and leave to marinate.
What interests me is the wider question that lies beyond these specific categories. Why are some books classified as crime, when so many others are not identified with the genre. The division between crime writing and literary writing is so arbitrary. This was highlighted for me during the course of this blog tour, when I was asked to describe my ten favourite books.
‘Funny that none of these are crime fiction,’ my publicist responded.
At first I agreed, but looking at my list again, I wasn’t so sure. From Hamlet, with its eight murders including fratricide, and Macbeth with at least ten murders including regicide and infanticide, right up to The Kite Runner with its murder, paedophilia and genocide, almost all of the ten books on my list revolve around, or at least include, one or more serious crimes.
‘Funny that none of these are considered crime fiction,’ I replied.
This arbitrary division between the detective novel and literature is by no means peculiar to the crime genre. Other genres, like romance and sci-fi, are similarly regarded as somehow less worthy than literary novels like Wuthering Heights – no, sorry, that’s a romance, or Frankenstein – oh no, that’s sci-fi.
So should I introduce myself as a genre author at all? Perhaps I should just say that I make a living from killing people. I might be mistaken for a hitman, or a modern day James Bond! That could work – if you ignore the fact that I’m well past my prime, have never held a real gun, and would prefer to miss a bus rather have to run for it (I can’t remember the last time I actually ran… ) Admittedly it’s a bit of a stretch of the imagination, but I do write fiction. So there you have it, what I do for a living. I write fiction. Or is it literature? or novels? or books?
Perhaps I should stick with telling people I write crime fiction… or murder mysteries…
|Name: ALIYA WHITELEY
Author of: THE BEAUTY (2014)
On the web: aliyawhiteley.wordpress.com
On Twitter: AliyaWhiteley
If stories are a way of finding a start point and an end point in something that has no framework, then post-apocalyptic fiction promises the big full stop more than any other genre. But I’ve always thought it rarely brings itself to deliver on that promise. There’s always hope, isn’t there? The Road gives us the boy and Blindness eventually lifts the dark. The world as we know it ends, but a new one starts to emerge through the rubble; we see it poking out its shoots in the final pages of most post-apocalyptic novels.
Well, you don’t get that in On The Beach. First published in 1957, it’s about the last people left alive after an exchange of nuclear weapons that irradiates the planet. Winds are carrying radiation to these final survivors, in Melbourne, Australia, and they know it. It creeps a little closer on every page.
US Submarine Captain Dwight Towers meets an Australian Commander, Peter Holmes, and is invited to weekend party. Peter has a wife, Mary, and a baby girl. His wife’s friend, Moira, attends the party too, and the plot follows the four adults living out their last months without much fuss. Quiet conversations take place, and the nature of their group relationship changes.
Why is it considered less truthful to imagine that people would cling to order in such a situation? Shute’s novel, much like the science fiction novels of other writers of the 1950s such as John Wyndham and John Christopher, imagined that in catastrophic situations people organise themselves and attempt to find structure. That doesn’t seem particularly old-fashioned to me. Rules are made and roles assigned – written, spoken, or sometimes never discussed at all – and the drawn-out goodbye at the heart of On The Beach comes with good manners, maybe because that is simply easier when the adrenaline has faded.
I think my favourite moment in the novel happens between the two women, Mary and Moira. Mary is generally sheltered from life by her husband, but he has been sent away on military business. He has tried to explain to her that she might have to accept the responsibility of killing their baby girl to spare her from radiation sickness, and she has refused to listen. But as she sits with Moira, drinking brandy late into the night, she suddenly faces the situation. She asks Moira to help her kill the baby when the time comes. Moira holds her hand, and agrees. The responsibilities shift without great fanfare. Although Shute quotes TS Eliot at the beginning of the novel, it’s Yeats that I remember in their conversation. A terrible beauty is born.
When I came to write my own post-apocalyptic novella, The Beauty, it was that element I wanted to draw on – the group with no hope, but that had not given into hopelessness. The End is a concept that fascinates us all, in stories and in life, but it does not have to come in pain and fear. It can come in quiet words, in a sudden acceptance of what needs to be done and who we need to be. In On The Beach it comes with the acknowledgement that killing the baby might be the most humane thing you ever do, even as it means the end of humanity.
Aliya Whiteley (aliyawhiteley.wordpress.com)
Unsung Stories (www.unsungstories.co.uk)
The Group have made the Valley of the Rocks their home. Each of them has a role to play: William, the leader; Ben, the doctor; Nathan, the storyteller and keeper of the Group’s history. Like every other settlement on the planet, the Group is made up exclusively of men; every single female has been wiped out by a mysterious illness. Mankind is in its final days: with no way to procreate, this is the final generation of humanity. Until one day Nathan discovers a strange fungus growing on the womens’ graves that will change everything.
We meet the members of the Group through the eyes of twenty-three-year-old Nathan, who lives up to his role as keeper of their collective memory, and the storyteller. There are no women left in the world – or at least that small part of it to which the Group are now, voluntarily, confined – and the men have begun to make peace with the fact that they are the end of the human race. There is a sense of hopelessness that pervades everything they do, and yet they continue to gather, to remember, to spend the final days of humanity with some semblance of civility. When Nathan discovers the strange fungus, and later the Beauty that grows from it, things inevitably change. Here is some hope for the continuation of the race, and the Group begins to split into different factions, some with violence on their minds.
In Aliya Whiteley’s short novella, the focus is very much on the relationships and interactions between the men and the Beauty, as well as a close examination of the dynamics within the Group itself. Jealousy and fear are pitted against love and hope, with no definitive answer concerning who is right. Should the Beauty be trusted, or do they have ulterior motives? Whiteley leaves it up to the reader to decide, giving us enough information to come down on one side of the argument or the other. There are no explanations as to what happened to the Earth’s female population, or what the Beauty are or where they came from, primarily because we only get Nathan’s side of the story and, like the other members of the Group, he has no idea of the answers to either question.
The Beauty is a short piece, and all the more powerful for its brevity. Beautifully written, it’s a disturbing and though-provoking vision of one possible future for mankind. While it’s unlikely to give the reader nightmares, there is plenty here to leave us feeling more than a little uncomfortable. With hints of Golding’s Lord of the Flies, Aliya Whiteley presents an old-fashioned science fiction/horror story that could easily have sprung from the imagination of the great John Wyndham, and stands alongside The Day of the Triffids or The Kraken Wakes as a fine example of the genre. This short (not quite 100 pages long) tale is enough to leave the reader wanting more, and hoping for something more substantial in the near future from Ms Whiteley.
A brief digression to talk about the package itself: The Beauty is one of the first two books from new publisher, Unsung Stories. It’s a beautiful package, from the striking front cover to the internal design, the perfect complement to an excellent story. The publisher’s aim is to get "weird stories, beautifully told" out into the world. The Beauty is an excellent start, and I will be waiting with excitement to see how they plan to follow it.
Short but deeply affecting, The Beauty is a wonderfully written piece of post-apocalyptic fiction that you won’t want to put down once you’ve picked it up. If this short sample is anything to go by, Aliya Whiteley is an exciting new talent and it’s a dead cert that we’ll be hearing much more from her in the future. I, for one, can’t wait to see what she has up her sleeve next. For now, though, this is one you won’t want to miss.
James Ellroy (jamesellroy.net)
William Heinemann (www.randomhouse.co.uk/…/william-heinemann)
December 6th, 1941: four members of a Japanese family living in Los Angeles are found dead in their home in what, at first glance, appears to be a ritual Japanese suicide. Hideo Ashida, the only Japanese employee of the Los Angeles Police Department, finds evidence that suggests that all is not as it seems, and affects the direction that Sergeant Dudley Smith’s investigation takes. A day later, the Japanese bomb Pearl Harbor, drawing the United States into the Second World War. As the internment of Los Angeles’ Japanese population begins, pressure mounts to prove that this was an intraracial crime, while all involved are focussed on the best way to turn a profit from the war and the ensuing chaos.
After a brief (fifteen-year) hiatus during which he brought his unique brand of historical storytelling to the wider American canvas (American Tabloid, The Cold Six Thousand, Blood’s A Rover), James Ellroy returns, in Perfidia, to the city that he loves, and which forms the backdrop of the vast majority of his work: Los Angeles. Set in the dying days of 1941, Ellroy returns to locations and characters that we know well, to tell the story of how the bombing of Pearl Harbor, and the subsequent entry of America into the War, affected the people and the country.
As usual, Ellroy is unashamed in his portrayal of the times, and does nothing to soften the blow for his modern audience. It’s a very refreshing approach to storytelling in these days of political correctness gone wild and Ellroy makes no attempt to retrofit history to appease our seemingly delicate sensibilities. This is apparent from the outset: while section headings like The Japs and The Chinks don’t pack the visceral punch of Blood’s A Rover’s opening Clusterfuck, they’re still a very powerful indication of exactly what to expect within the pages of this seven-hundred-and-some-page novel.
Bringing together characters from his earlier L.A. Quartet (here’s Buzz Meeks and Bucky Bleichert, for example; Lee Blanchard and Kay Lake) and the Underworld USA trilogy (meet a much younger Ward J. Littell, J. Edgar Hoover and Ruth Mildred Cressmeyer, to name but a few), Ellroy weaves the individual strands together to tell the story of the murder of the Watanabe family and almost-too-coincidental bombing of Pearl Harbor by the Japanese. It’s a story of corruption and greed, but also of love and patriotism. And it would not be complete without Ellroy’s masterful creation, Sergeant Dudley Liam Smith.
When it comes to truly evil, despicable characters, Smith is hard to beat. His Irish charm coupled with his ever-calculating brain make him one of the most memorable characters of modern crime fiction, all the more frightening by virtue of the fact that he carries a badge and is, ostensibly, one of the good guys. In Perfidia, we meet a much younger Smith, but readers of Ellroy’s earlier L.A. Quartet will be pleased to see that little has changed about the character in the intervening years. Ellroy drops something of a bombshell early in the novel which shines a completely different light on that earlier quartet and, in particular, the account of the Black Dahlia murder. It’s a testament to his power as a writer that this bombshell feels almost throwaway, a brief mention, then moving swiftly along to the business at hand. Long-time fans will most likely end up in a similar state to me, slack-jawed in amazement, stuck on the fact that this single line of text changes everything.
Perfidia marks the start of James Ellroy’s Second L.A. Quartet and bears all the hallmarks that set those books apart from the majority of crime fiction. He seamlessly merges fact and fiction to produce a gripping and often disturbing story: here we find casual racism (often at the expense of poor Hideo Ashida, the only Japanese left on the police force’s payroll), sexism and homophobia on almost every page; there, Ellroy’s fictional creations rubbing shoulders (and, often, more intimate body parts) with the likes of Bette Davis and Joan Crawford. And all told in the staccato, telegrammatic style that Ellroy has made his own, and which seems, after the first few pages, like the only way to tell the story that the author wants to tell.
Never one to shy away from a challenge, Ellroy creates a conspiracy theory that makes his version of the Kennedy assassinations look like child’s play, and does so in such a way that leaves the reader wondering if it has any basis in fact. Around this, he constructs an excellent murder mystery and, at the same time, examines the possibility of Fifth Column activity, and the constant threat of Japanese submarines off the west coast of the US, pulling all the threads together in a neat package that is next to impossible to put down once you’ve made a start. Chronologically, Perfidia is an excellent place to start, but those coming from the seven novels to which it forms a prequel will be coming on board with a greater understanding of the world Ellroy’s characters inhabit, giving a much richer experience all round.
James Ellroy, the Demon Dog of American Crime Fiction, is one of those writers who has long been a must-read for me. With Perfidia, he proves that he still has what it takes to keep his place on that list: dark and sinister, it is a look at the city of Los Angeles from the point of view of the immoral – and often outright evil – men who are supposed to keep it safe and enforce its laws. When he’s on form, very few writers can equal the writing of James Ellroy. With Perfidia, Ellroy is top of his game, and the promise of three more novels in this sequence, with Dudley Smith pulling strings at the centre of an intricate web, is enough to fill this reader’s heart with immense joy. An excellent introduction to anyone who has yet to discover this incredibly talented writer, Perfidia builds on a long-established base to ensure that long-time readers will come away fulfilled and hoping for more. If you only read one crime novel this year, it should definitely be this one.