I hope you will forgive this break from the usual straightforward literary(?) criticism for this personal note to explain the relative quiet at Reader Dad of late, and to apologise to authors, publishers, publicists and potential readers for the lack of reviews written and published on the site since mid-February.
Anyone who follows me on Twitter will already be aware that 2013 thus far has been something of a challenging time for me. This past Saturday, May 4th, saw my family and that of my fiancée gathered in Prague for our wedding, an event that is stressful enough for those involved without one of the parties spending most of the preceding three months either admitted to, or frequently attending, hospital. Thanks, though, to the wonderful staff of Ward 1B at Lagan Valley Hospital (go on, give them a virtual round of applause) we made it, and the day went off without a hitch (well, apart from the obvious one).
A combined total of five weeks as a hospital in-patient, not to mention the fact that I’ve been off work since early February, has given me plenty of reading time (by this time last year, I was working my way through book number 23; I’m currently on 2013’s 30th book). Limited Internet access for the same period meant that reviews were few and far between: at the moment I’m sitting on a backlog of fourteen un-reviewed books.
It is a sad fact that if I don’t review a book almost immediately after reading it, it isn’t worth me reviewing it at all. I read so much that it’s difficult to remember what I felt while reading the book to such a degree that I could produce a solid and reliable review several months later. There will, of course, always be those stand-out books that remain with me for much longer, and I will attempt to review these more completely in the coming days and weeks. In the meantime, there are those “lost” reads, and after much deliberation, I have decided on a bite-sized review of each so that people can see whether I enjoyed them or not, and what the highs and lows of 2013’s first quarter or so have been for me.
For the readers, I apologise that there aren’t more complete reviews of the following books. They have all been uniformly excellent, and I can recommend them unreservedly.
For the publicists, my sincere apologies that these books have not been given the same treatment as others, despite the fact that I have read and enjoyed them all. For September at Transworld, Jon at Gollancz, Angela at Orion, Nicci at MacLehose, Bethan at Chatto & Windus, Becci at Head of Zeus, Sophie at Titan and Alison at Atlantic, my particular apologies for the books listed below.
For everyone, while I have you here, I also wanted to mention an experiment I will be trying at Reader Dad over the next month or two. To celebrate the 50th anniversary of the publication of Richard Stark’s The Hunter, and the introduction of his iconic character, Parker, University of Chicago Press have finally obtained worldwide rights for the publication of the entire Parker series. In honour of this, I will be running a Parker@50 event here at Reader Dad, with in-depth reviews of the entire series appearing over the course of the coming months. I hope you’ll join me for this.
In the meantime, it just remains for me to thank you all for your continued support of Reader Dad, and I look forward to welcoming you back to a more regular schedule in the coming days and weeks. Enjoy the mini-reviews below.
Yours most sincerely,
Roger Hobbs (www.rogerhobbs.com)
£9.99The unnamed narrator of Roger Hobbs’ debut novel is a ghostman, the member of a heist team responsible for disguises and safe dispersal and disappearance of the team after the job. When an Atlantic City casino is robbed, he receives a call from a man he’d much rather forget. The ghostman has just forty-eight hours to retrieve the money, with the FBI and rival gangs on his case.
What’s on the cover, and what’s behind it are two completely different things with this novel. I picked it up expecting a Reacher-style adventure thriller. What I got was much better: an old-fashioned heist novel of the type at which the likes of Richard Stark and Lawrence Sanders excelled in their day. As we follow the narrator through double- and triple-cross, and learn what happened to the money, it quickly becomes clear that as well as being a beautifully-written and perfectly-plotted piece of crime fiction, it’s also a painstakingly-researched and detailed look at an entire class of global criminal enterprise. Cinematic in scope, it’s exactly what fans of the heist caper have been waiting for for years: a worthy successor to those giants of the post-pulp era who made the genre what it is. Not to be missed.
|DREAMS AND SHADOWS
C. Robert Cargill
£14.99As an infant, Ewan Thatcher is stolen from his parents by faeries and replaced with the changeling Nixie Knocks. Several years later, the young boy Colby Stephens meets Yashar, a djinn, who grants him a wish: to be able to see beyond the veil, to the world of faerie, of myths and legends. C. Robert Cargill’s first novel follows the first thirty years or so of the lives of these three boys, and charts their impact on the real world around them, and the magical world that lies just beyond the veil.
There are obvious comparisons to be made with the work of Neil Gaiman, and Cargill has a ready-made fan base in readers of Gaiman’s novels and comics. But this is no poor copy; Cargill’s fresh approach feels vibrant and engaging. It’s well-researched, creatures from a myriad of mythologies living together in uneasy truce, in fear of the Devil. The human characters – Ewan and Colby – take centre stage; this is their story, and Cargill is careful never to lose that fact in the midst of all the detail and the huge cast of characters. By turns dark, funny and touching, Dreams and Shadows is part modern fairy-tale – yes, Princess Bride fans, there is kissing – part horror, and part “urban fantasy”. It’s one of the best fantasy novels to see the light of day in some time, and there is at least one reader – yes, that would be me – already itching for the second part of the story.
|RAGE AGAINST THE DYING
Becky Masterman (beckymasterman.com)
£12.99When we first meet Brigid Quinn, it is as Gerald Peasil is trying to abduct her, thinking her to be much more frail than she turns out to be. And therein lies the heart of this unusual story. Elderly lady detectives traditionally fit into the more “cosy” crime stories – Jessica Fletcher, for example, or the grandmother of them all, Jane Marple – so it comes as something of a surprise to learn that Brigid is a retired FBI agent and that Becky Masterman’s debut, Rage Against the Dying, is anything but cosy.
As a much younger woman, Quinn hunted serial killers with the FBI. Small and blond, she was the perfect bait for a certain type of predator. As she grew older, it became time to pass the baton, and Quinn’s trainee was killed by the very killer they were trying to catch. Now in her retirement, Quinn finds herself pulled back into the case when young Jessica’s body is finally found, and they have a man in custody claiming to have killed her all those years ago.
Quinn is as far from those stereotypical old lady detectives as it is possible to be: a chequered past at the Bureau and an unusual reaction to Peasil’s attempted abduction leave the reader with the distinct impression that this is a dark and deeply flawed character. As the novel takes one dark turn after another, it quickly becomes clear that Quinn is more than capable of looking after herself, while keeping her loved ones as far removed from the trouble as possible. Surprisingly, I loved Rage Against the Dying, and look forward to seeing what’s next for Brigid Quinn. It helps, I think, that Ms Masterman isn’t afraid to make her character suffer for the reader’s enjoyment. And there’s not a knitting needle in sight.
OUTSIDERS: ITALIAN STORIES
Maclehose Press (maclehosepress.com)
Outsiders is a collection of six stories and essays from leading Italian writers examining the concept, as the title might suggest, of not belonging. Uniformly excellent, the collection does have a couple of stand-out moments, which are worth the price of admission alone.
Roberto Saviano’s The Opposite of Death is the story of a young woman in rural Italy widowed before she is even married. Her fiancé has gone to war in Afghanistan, never to return. Written in the same style as Saviano’s reportage – it’s difficult to tell whether The Opposite of Death is fact or fiction, or some combination of the two – it’s a touching account of a young woman’s attempt to carry on with life in a town that she has lived since birth, but where she feels she no longer belongs. As we’ve come to expect from Saviano, it’s a story that brings a tear to the eye, a lump to the throat, without ever resorting to anything other than straight, factual reporting.
Piero Colaprico’s Stairway C introduces carabinieri maresciallo Pietro Binda to the English-speaking world. A man is found murdered outside a social housing complex in Milan. Binda finds himself faced with an endless line-up of possible suspects, from the drug dealers who live on stairway C, to friends and possible lovers of the man. Binda is a breath of fresh air in a genre bursting at the seams with depressed, alcoholic, drug-taking detectives. Stairway C is but a taster of the Italian policeman’s exploits, and we can but hope that the wonderful MacLehose consider translating some of the novels into English in the near future.
|THE TALE OF RAW HEAD AND BLOODY BONES
Chatto & Windus (www.randomhouse.co.uk/…/chatto-windus)
£14.99Tristan Hart is a medical student, madman and deviant. He is obsessed with pain; in his more lucid times it is the nature of pain and how to prevent it. His ultimate desire is to find the perfect scream, and in this guise his obsession is causing maximum pain without inflicting permanent damage.
Despite the odd title, which might suggest a more supernatural, or fantastical storyline, The Tale of Raw Head and Bloody Bones is a straightforward, old-fashioned melodrama. Beautiful writing – Wolf expends a lot of effort in ensuring language is used to its full effect – and stunning book design – including everything down to the font used, and old-fashioned capitalisation of nouns – combine to create a fully immersive experience for the reader. Thankfully, the story is worthy of the attention lavished upon it and the reader will come away unsure of whether to love, hate or feel sorry for Tristan Hart. Whichever, it’s a story that will remain with the reader for some time after the final page, and showcases Jack Wolf as a new author that we’ll be watching out for.
Graham Masterton (www.grahammasterton.co.uk)
Head of Zeus (headofzeus.com)
£16.99One-time horror master Graham Masterton makes the jump to crime fiction with the first in a series of novels featuring Cork’s only female Garda detective, Katie Maguire. When work on a farm outside Cork turns up the bones of eleven women, Katie Maguire is assigned to the case. The bones have been in the ground for a long time, but it’s clear that they were skinned alive, and that there is something ritualistic about the killings. As Katie comes under pressure to consign the case to the history books, an American tourist disappears. Her bones, similarly stripped, are found laid out in an arcane pattern on the same farm.
White Bones is a wonderful introduction to Katie Maguire, a character with more than her fair share of crosses to bear – sexism in the workplace the most obvious, but longstanding tension at home over the death of a child doesn’t help. Despite (or possibly because of) that, she’s the perfect lead, and gives Masterton free rein to examine issues outside of the central plotline. The author lived in Cork for five years, and takes great delight in showing off his knowledge – from local geography and history, to grasp of the local dialect and inter-character banter. Despite the fact that much of the action takes place outside of the city, Masterton still manages to make Cork an important character in itself, and it helps to ground the novel and give the reader a sense of place.
A welcome addition to the genre, Masterton isn’t afraid to stick to his roots, and introduce a hint of the supernatural into the proceedings. Broken Angels, the second Katie Maguire book, is due from Head of Zeus in September this year. It’s on my “must read” list. I guarantee it will be on yours too once you read White Bones.
|WEB OF THE CITY
Harlan Ellison® (harlanellison.com)
Titan Books / Hard Case Crime (titanbooks.com / hardcasecrime.com)
£7.99Harlan Ellison® is best known these days for his science fiction work, and for his penchant for controversy. His first novel, originally published in 1958, was an examination of New York’s street gangs, inspired by Ellison’s experience going undercover in a Brooklyn gang. Rusty Santoro wants out. Given a glimpse of two possible futures by his teacher, he knows which one he wants and school, rather than the gangs, is the way to achieve it. But quitting the gangs is not quite as easy as it seems, and Rusty quickly discovers that his is not the only life in danger from his actions.
Web of the City is a short, violent piece of work that fits perfectly into the Hard Case Crime library. Ellison perfectly evokes New York of the late 1950s, and focuses on the young men who make up the gangs that effectively ran entire neighbourhoods during the period. Most striking for the modern reader, perhaps, is the age of these boys: barely old enough to hold a license to drive a car, they are armed to the teeth and elicit fear wherever they go. The story has aged well, and will appeal to a modern, jaded audience, who don’t mind a bit of blood with their cornflakes. It still has the power to shock – the knife-fight between Rusty and the new president of the Cougars is frightening in its intensity and violence – and it is this power that will set it apart even from much of today’s crime fiction.
The Hard Case Crime/Titan edition of the book includes three related short stories, which are all also worth the read, despite the fact that one of them is a rehash of a large section of the novel with a different ending, which lends a completely different tone to the piece. Grease meets Battle Royale, Web of the City is pure Hard Case, and should be essential reading for anyone interested in the evolution of crime fiction.
Graham Rawle (www.grahamrawle.com)
Atlantic Books (atlantic-books.co.uk)
£14.99Everyone knows a Riley Richardson. He’s the local anorak, carrier bag always in hand, always happy to talk the ear off anyone willing to listen about his chosen specialist subject, be it books (ahem!), or model trains, or whatever. In Riley Richardson’s case, that subject is bubble-gum cards, and Riley is on a life-long mission to find the elusive card 19 from the 1967 Mission: Impossible TV series. When a grey-haired man who looks remarkably like the leader of the Impossible Mission Force drops a playing card in a deserted alley, Riley picks it up, and finds himself on a quest to save the Princess of Wales, and to find that fabled card.
The story itself is wonderful, driven by the quirky character of Riley Richardson, a man with a quite different outlook on life than the rest of us. There’s a definite feel-good quality to the story, and Rawle has an uncanny ability to make the reader laugh out loud at the least appropriate moment. What sets The Card apart from everything else, though, has to be the design and construction quality of the overall package. Printed on a heavier, glossier stock than you tend to find in a paperback book, the author uses different fonts, emphasises different words, and includes little markings in the margins to produce a work of art that is much more than the story held within. The most beautiful part of the book is, without doubt, the fact that it contains full-colour representations of the various cards that Riley finds along the way, all designed and illustrated by the author himself. The Card is, quite simply, an absolute delight.
|SEAL TEAM 666
Weston Ochse (weston-ochse.blogspot.co.uk)
Titan Books (titanbooks.com)
Four weeks from completion, Jack Walker is pulled from his Navy SEAL training on Coronado Island, and assigned to SEAL Team 666. Highly classified and known to only a few key people, the five-man team which specialises in operations against supernatural threats has just lost its sniper; Walker’s background makes him the ideal candidate for replacement. Within hours he finds himself geared up and on his first mission. What they find in San Francisco’s Chinatown – a sweatshop where women whose mouths have been sewn closed are making suits out of tattooed human skin – is the first piece in a puzzle which sets the team on the trail of an army of demons who have the whole world in their sights.
Weston Ochse will be a name familiar to many frequenters of the horror fiction scene, though SEAL Team 666 sees his first commercial publication on these shores. The book is a straightforward mix of supernatural horror and military action that works surprisingly well, despite a couple of attempts to shoehorn more military jargon than is really necessary into the narrative. The premise is a simple one: military threats are not the only danger that the US faces on a daily basis. Since before the country was formed, a small team – five men and one dog – has protected its citizens from any number of supernatural threats, pitted against demons, homunculi and all things evil. In the modern US military structure, this team is made up of the best of the best, an elite unit within the Navy SEALs.
Ochse throws us into the middle of the action from the first blistering page, as we join the team on a mission in Abbottabad, Pakistan (yes, that mission). From there, we’re barely allowed time to breathe as we follow the team through one mission after the next, as they track down the man behind these suits made of human skin. Amongst all the action, though, the author finds time to flesh out the characters, and we learn something about the background of each so that they are more than just gung-ho paper cut-outs. This is done in such a way that it never impacts on the story, never slows things down or pulls the reader out of the moment, so that it feels natural and we never get the sense that the author is cramming important information in that we might need to remember later. Unfortunately (and this is really my only criticism of the novel), the same can’t be said for the technical information and military jargon that Ochse has picked up along the way and has presumably felt loathe to part with in subsequent drafts:
As he broke the Stoner down, he removed the rotating bolt carrier group. It was virtually the same as the piece-of-shit M16, which fired 5.56mm, but the Stoner was bored for 7.62mm as opposed to the 12.7mm of the Barrett. And also like the M16 and the AR15, the Stoner used a gas-impingement system to automatically move the bolt back and forth, enabling semiautomatic fire down the twenty-inch barrel. Rather than the regular floating barrel, the Stoner was reworked to incorporate the URX II Picatiny-Weaver Rail System, allowing for better application of any mounted hardware such as laser sights, telescopic sights, reflexive sights, tactical lights, and forward grips.
Impressive as this is, it doesn’t really add much to the story and serves only to interrupt the flow of the otherwise fast-paced narrative. Fortunately, instances of this are few and far between and by the second half of the novel, Ochse has mostly ditched them altogether.
That complaint aside, it’s a well-written and attention-grabbing piece of fiction. Ochse’s (it’s pronounced “oaks”, for anyone currently struggling with it) history with the horror genre serves him well, as he creates a world that is at once horrific and terrifyingly believable. The introduction of a military force whose job is to combat supernatural threats is by no means original, but the story and the world combine to set SEAL Team 666 apart from the vast majority of its predecessors. The fact that the supernatural elements only exist on one side of the fence also makes for a pleasant change. With the exception of some holy water, the Americans rely on good old-fashioned force and superior firepower to hold their side of the fight, rather than any magical or supernatural abilities of their own.
A refreshing and original take on the military-horror crossover, SEAL Team 666 should prove to be the breakout novel for one-time Bram Stoker Award winner Weston Ochse. Fast-paced and well-constructed, it’s a thoroughly enjoyable read, despite the sometimes laborious technical detail. A must-read for fans of Myke Cole’s Shadow Ops series or Mike Carey’s Felix Castor novels, SEAL Team 666 is also an essential read for fans of good horror fiction. While this is one reader who is looking forward to the imminent second book in the series, I’m also keen to see how Ochse capitalises on the wider audience this novel is sure to bring and whether we’re likely to see a more commercially-available return to his traditional horror roots. Either way, Ochse is one to watch.
|THE AYLESFORD SKULL
James P. Blaylock (www.jamespblaylock.com)
Titan Books (titanbooks.com)
A girl is murdered in a cemetery in the quiet English town of Aylesford. She is found beside an open grave from which the skull appears to have been taken. The culprit is none other than Dr. Ignacio Narbondo; the Aylesford Skull – and more importantly, the modifications that have been made to it – are central to his latest plan. Kidnapping the four-year-old son of his old nemesis, Professor Langdon St. Ives, he flees to London and finds himself hunted not only by St. Ives, but by the headstrong young Finn Conrad, and old Mother Laswell, who has motives of her own. Narbondo and his associates are planning something big, and it’s up to Langdon St. Ives to stop him, and save his son in the process.
What at first glance may appear to be a clichéd and formulaic Victorian fable – the good guy and his nemesis fight a battle of wits with the world, or the Empire at least, at stake – gains much more depth the further we read. Langdon St. Ives may once have been an adventurer of some note, but he is now happy to have settled in rural England with his family. The upheaval caused by the return of Narbondo is unexpected and unwanted. When he learns the truth behind the missing skull, his scientific brain takes over and refuses to let him believe what he is being told, but he is not so close-minded that he is unable to accept the fact of magic when everything points to a supernatural explanation. Narbondo, the perfect foil for St. Ives’ character, is a larger-than-life, almost comical villain, the Joker to the Professor’s Batman. A man of few scruples, pure profit is his only motivation and there are no limits to what he will do to achieve his goals.
Around these two central characters, Blaylock has constructed a solid supporting cast, seeing the return of many characters from the earlier novels – Tubby Frobisher, Jack Owlesby, Bill Kraken and Hasbro, St. Ives’ factotum – as well as a few new faces – Finn Conrad, Mother Laswell and a certain young Scottish doctor by the name of Arthur Doyle. Blaylock admits to an enthusiasm for 18th and 19th Century literature, and his love of the form shines through here, both in the narrative structure of the novel, and the dialogue itself. This authentic writing style only adds to the experience, and makes the book’s steampunk and supernatural elements more palatable for the reader.
One of the strengths of the novel is the world that Blaylock has created around his characters. The action takes place in the summer of 1883 in a world much like our own, with some technological advances. This is a world of dirigible airships, steam-powered church organs and miniaturised-clockwork gadgets, but for the most part the steampunk is subtle, much less in-your-face than, say, Cherie Priest’s Clockwork Century novels, or Sterling and Gibson’s The Difference Engine (both fine examples of the genre, don’t get me wrong). Blaylock weaves real-world history into the plot, setting the story against the politically charged background of 1880s London: a series of bombings blamed on Fenians and anarchists provide cover for Narbondo’s preparations. The result is a realistic and believable world not too far removed from our own.
James P. Blaylock is one of the fathers of the steampunk movement, and Langdon St. Ives is one of the genre’s most enduring characters, having first appeared in the early eighties. The Aylesford Skull is my first experience with both author and character: I have been lusting after the small press limited editions of the St. Ives novels for years, since they’ve been the easiest copies to find, despite the high price tag. Fortunately for me, and all those like me who have yet to meet the Professor and his companions, Titan Books are using the publication of this latest novel to re-issue at least some of the older novels, and hopefully in time we’ll see the complete collection as affordable paperbacks.
The Aylesford Skull is an old-fashioned adventure story with a sprinkling of technology and a hint of the supernatural. A fast-paced read, its audience is likely to be confined to fans of steampunk, or long-time readers of Blaylock, even though it deserves a much wider audience (it should appeal to fans of Sherlock Holmes, Indiana Jones and all possible stops in between). With a strong cast of characters, an engaging storyline and a writing style that demands the reader’s attention, this novel shows that James P. Blaylock is worthy of the “Steampunk Legend” tag that adorns the book’s front cover. Despite references early in the story to previous adventures, this is an excellent place for the new reader to start. A wonderful addition to the genre, The Aylesford Skull has left this reader looking forward to more tales of Langdon St. Ives, both old and new.
It’s that time of the year again when the “best of the year” lists start to appear. Not wanting to be left out, and because I had some fun with it last year, I’ve decided to do another round-up, and remind everyone what my top ten (or so) books of 2012 are.
By the end of this reading year (Christmas Eve, for me), I will have read 63 books, one more than last year’s total and a personal best for me. While crime fiction still accounts for a large fraction of what I read this year (26 of the 63 books), my reading focus has shifted slightly over the course of the year. This is mainly due to very kind publicists sending review copies of books that I might not otherwise have picked up. There is still a theme running through much of my reading, but Reader Dad is now much less about “Dark Crime and Speculative Fiction” and more about the darkness that lies deep within the human soul. The list contains its fair share of horror and holocaust fiction and a handful of deeply disturbing character studies that appeal to the noir-lover that hides inside me.
Of the 63 books, a massive 32 are by authors that are new to me, including six debut authors and eight foreign authors whose work was published in English for the first time this year. The rest are a selection favourites both old (Stephen King, Neal Stephenson) and relatively new (Colin Cotterill, Justin Cronin). 2012 also saw some experimentation with the blog, moving away from posting only book reviews, to including author interviews, guest posts and even one book-inspired travelogue. As the year draws to a close and I look back at what I have achieved, I find that I’m happy with the format, and hope to include more interviews and guest posts as we move into 2013 and beyond. I am, of course, always happy to hear from my readers, if you have any suggestions or comments.
Without further ado, then, it’s time to look at my favourite books of the year. As with last year, there is only one criteria: for the book to be on the list, its first official publication date must have been between 1 January and 31 December 2011. As I mentioned, it’s been a bumper year, so whittling the list down to ten was nigh on impossible, so you’ll see an extra couple slipping in. The books are listed in the order they were read, with the exception of my stand-out, which I’ll list at the end. Links take you to the original review, where it exists.
MATT’S TOP 10 OF 2012
THE CHILD WHO by Simon Lelic (Mantle)
I have said it before, but I’ll say it again: Simon Lelic is a man to watch, a must-read author, the real deal. The Child Who is a powerful and heart-wrenching thriller that will keep you on the edge of your seat and drag you, emotionally, into the thick of the plot. This is, without doubt, Lelic’s finest work to date. It is a showcase for a man who is the master of his art, a skilful plotter, and a writer who proves that, when it comes to language, spare can be beautiful. A stunning novel from one of the finest writers working today. Not to be missed.
EASY MONEY by Jens Lapidus [tr: Astri von Arbin Ahlander] (Macmillan)
Easy Money is an assured and brilliant debut – I’ll admit I was surprised that it was, indeed, Lapidus’ first novel, and not just the first to appear in English translation, as sometimes happens. It’s not difficult to see why it’s the fastest-selling Swedish crime novel in a decade, and why it’s already a very successful film (one, it saddens me to say, that has already been lined up for an American remake). It ticks all the boxes I look for in a good crime thriller: action-packed, gritty, dark, violent, funny and, above all, realistic. It introduces three unforgettable characters who you will love and hate in equal measure as the story progresses. The good news is that it’s also the first book in a trilogy (books two and three of which have already been published in Sweden, so with luck we won’t have to wait too long to get our hands on them). It’s worth mentioning again that credit is due to the translator – this is her first novel translation, which is something of a feat – who has taken a very difficult style and made it work beautifully. If you’re a fan of James Ellroy or Don Winslow, you can’t miss this. Jens Lapidus is definitely one to watch.
ANGELMAKER by Nick Harkaway (William Heinemann)
Angelmaker is that rare beast: the sophomore novel that lives up to – if not surpasses – the promise of the author’s first. It’s a wonderfully-written book – Harkaway has a knack with the language that makes this huge novel very easy to read and enjoy. It has more than its fair share of dark and shocking scenes and more than a handful of genuine laugh-out-loud moments, and even one or two places where both things are true at the same time. It’s clear to see the novel’s influences, but this is something new, something different and completely unexpected. It’s goes in a much different direction than The Gone-Away World (although there are connections enough for the sharp-eyed reader), which might disappoint a small contingent looking for more of the same, but it does achieve a similar end: it’s a beautiful showcase for a talented writer, a unique voice and inventive mind who can, it seems, turn his hand to anything.
TRIESTE by Daša Drndić [tr: Ellen Elias-Bursac] (Maclehose Press)
This is a difficult book to read, as horror builds upon horror until the reader feels numb, but it is an important novel, and one that deserves a wide readership. In the end, Trieste is more documentary than fiction. It’s a beautifully-written work (despite the often-horrific subject matter) and appears in a wonderful translation from the ever-reliable Maclehose Press. I certainly won’t claim to have enjoyed the experience, but it’s one I’m glad I had, and one that will stay with me for a long time. I really can’t recommend it highly enough.
THE WIND THROUGH THE KEYHOLE by Stephen King (Hodder)
For the aficionado […] The Wind through the Keyhole has everything that we’ve come to expect from the series. Here are our friends in the middle of their journey and while the starkblast poses no threat (we know they all live through it), King still manages to notch up the suspense in the telling. Here is the broken-down world that these people inhabit, the world that is almost, but not quite, like some future version of our own. And here, most importantly, is our old adversary, the man in black, the Walkin’ Dude, Randall Flagg, doing what he loves and what, if we’re totally honest with ourselves, what we love to see him do. The subhead of this book fills me with a sense of expectant glee: not Dark Tower 4.5, as was originally mooted, but A Dark Tower Novel. This is one Constant Reader that lives in the hope that Roland and his ka-tet still have more to say, especially if what they have to say is as worthwhile as what’s within the covers of The Wind through the Keyhole. There is no better master of his craft than Stephen King, and I’m finding it difficult to believe that I’ll see a better book than this before year’s end.
A COLD SEASON by Alison Littlewood (Jo Fletcher Books)
Littlewood’s first novel is an assured and finely-crafted piece of work, probably the best horror debut since Joe Hill’s 2007 novel,Heart-Shaped Box. It brings the promised scares without resort to nasty tricks or gore, and proves that it is still possible to write engaging, entertaining horror fiction without zombies or vampires. Earlier I wondered how you measure the success of a good horror novel. I’m not ashamed to admit that our house has been lit up like a Christmas tree for most of the past week; it’s a rare novel these days that can bring the creep factor to a hardened horror fan like me, but this succeeds admirably where so many others have failed. If you are in any way a fan of horror fiction, and have not yet done so, you need to read A Cold Season. Just make sure you know where the light switches are.
RAILSEA by China Miéville (Macmillan)
Wildly imaginative and totally unique, Railsea is a beautifully-written vision of a world that could only have sprung from the mind of China Miéville. Peopled by a cast of colourful individuals, it’s a stunning rework of a classic of literature, and a look at what happens when we travel outside the bubble that is the world we know. Railsea is Miéville on top form, and shows a talented artist doing what he does best, and what he evidently loves doing. The invented words and general writing style can sometimes make Miéville a tough author to approach for the first time. The payoff here is more than worth the effort, and Railsea is the perfect introduction to one of the most original writers in any genre.
TURBULENCE by Samit Basu (Titan Books)
Credited as the creator of Indian English fantasy, Samit Basu arrives in the UK as an accomplished, some might say veteran, writer –Turbulence is his fifth novel, making him the best fantasy writer you’ve never heard of. That’s a state of affairs that you should rectify with all possible haste. Turbulence is a superhero novel like none you’ve seen before. A polished storyline, engaging characters and razor sharp wit combine to make this a must-read for everyone that has ever enjoyed a comic. It’s funny and action-packed, yes, but it’s also extremely intelligent and thought-provoking. It’s a perfect introduction to an excellent writer, and we can only hope that his back catalogue is made available in the UK in short order. It’s also an excellent start to a series that looks set to redefine the superhero genre for the twenty-first century. Kudos to Titan Books to bringing this excellent author, and this exciting series, to a much wider audience.
ALIF THE UNSEEN by G. Willow Wilson (Corvus Books)
G. Willow Wilson has produced an exceptional debut novel that seamlessly melds technology and mythology to astounding effect. A must read for fans of Neal Stephenson and Neil Gaiman, Alif the Unseen introduces us to a brilliant new author with talent to burn. With elements as diverse as computing, djinn, love, adventure and an examination of what makes us who we are, there is something here for everyone. The Diamond Age for the twenty-first century, Alif the Unseen establishes Wilson as one of the finest new writers to emerge this year. I, for one, can’t wait to see where she goes next.
LET THE OLD DREAMS DIE AND OTHER STORIES by John Ajvide Lindqvist [tr: Marlaine Delargy] (Quercus)
Let The Old Dreams Die proves that John Ajvide Lindqvist is as comfortable and as adept in the short form as the long. A showcase of a writer at the top of his game, it stands alongside Skeleton Crew, 20th Century Ghosts and The Panic Hand as an example of some of the finest short horror fiction you’ll find today. The two afterwords are also worth reading; self-deprecating and very funny, they show a writer who loves what he does and give some insight into his work. With six years since the original publication in Sweden of Paper Walls, we can but hope that it won’t be long before Lindqvist has enough stories to fill a second volume.
THE TWELVE by Justin Cronin (Orion Books)
Cronin slips easily back into the world he created two years ago in The Passage. The Twelve is a much different beast, as the central parts of epic trilogies tend to be. Starting slow, picking up the threads left loose at the end of the first book, Cronin builds slowly towards a false climax, tying up enough loose ends to leave the reader satisfied, while leaving enough to make us want to come back for more. The Twelve is a worthy successor to The Passage, and is well worth the two-year wait we have had to endure to have it in our hands. Cronin’s plotting is as tight as ever, his writing beautiful, flowing – this seven-hundred page novel is gone in the blink of an eye, a testament to how well written it is. Abrupt ending aside, there is much to love about The Twelve, not least the fact that we get to visit once more with old friends. Perfect autumn reading for fans of The Passage, it should also give new readers an excuse to dip their toes in the water. With luck, we won’t have to wait much longer than another two years to find out how this wonderful story plays out.
AND THE STAND-OUT
One book stood head-and-shoulders above the rest for me this year, so I felt it deserved its own section:
HHHH by Laurent Binet [tr: Sam Taylor] (Harvill Secker)
HHhH is an extraordinary piece of work, a book that sets out to be a historical document and ends up as something completelyother. At times tense and thrilling, at others touching and intimate, the author manages to endow this story and these characters with a three-dimensionality that would otherwise be lacking in a straightforward reportage of the events. We are also offered a unique insight into the mind-set of the author, whose sole task should be to relate the events as they happened, but who is so invested in the story that impartiality is impossible. At once accessible history and fast-paced thriller, HHhH is, to overuse a cliché, like no book you’ve read before. Three short weeks after calling Stephen King’s The Wind through the Keyhole the best book you’re likely to see this year, I am forced to eat my words, and make the same ostentatious claim about Laurent Binet’s HHhH. It’s an awe-inspiring debut, from a writer of enormous talent and immense potential. We can only hope that the story of Heydrich, Gabčík and Kubiš is not his only obsession, and that we will hear from him again soon.
AND 2012’S MOST DISAPPOINTING
2012 brought with it the realisation that I’m not getting any younger. With a full-time job and a three-year-old child, my reading time is limited. I don’t have to finish every book that I start, wasting countless hours or days trudging through a book I’m not enjoying because I feel I need to finish it. As a result I have abandoned more books in the past twelve months than in the previous twelve years combined. My most notable disappointment for the year, of all the books I finished, is listed below. Despite my less-than-glowing review, I’m excited by the prospect of James’ second novel, The Explorer, which is due to hit shelves in January.
THE TESTIMONY by James Smythe (Blue Door Books)
The Testimony has, at its core, a wonderful idea, but the execution leaves a lot to be desired. James Smythe’s vision of a world on the brink is all the more frightening because of its plausibility and we get all-too-brief glimpses of what he is capable of as a writer throughout, particularly in the middle section of the novel. There are too many problems, and the book never quite achieves the level it should. A disappointment, but not a complete write-off: The Testimony fails to live up to this reader’s expectations, but it has served to put a potentially wonderful writer on my radar.
Expect more reviews and interviews in the coming months. I have already started into the pile of 2013 books that I’ve been collecting for the past few months, and there are some really exciting titles there. 2013 brings with it the prospect of new novels by Warren Ellis and Joe Hill, and two new works from Stephen King, including a sequel to one of his most enduring novels. It’s going to be a busy year, and I expect to have even more trouble selecting a Top Ten than I did this year.
All that remains is for me to thank the publishers and publicists who continue to send me books in return for an honest review and who, in doing so, ensure that I’m continually reading outside my comfort zone. I’d like to thank the authors who have taken the time to answer questions or provide guest posts. And, most importantly, thanks to my readers and visitors, without whom I would just be talking to myself. I hope you all have a very Merry Christmas and a safe and prosperous 2013.
|Name: JOANNE REAY
Author of: LO’LIFE: ROMEO SPIKES (2012)
Joanne Reay is a British scriptwriter and producer. Her debut novel, Romeo Spikes, is the first part of the Lo’Life series, and is available now from Titan Books.
Thanks for taking the time to speak to us, Joanne.
I’d like to start by looking at the origins of Lo’World in general and, in particular, the story that plays out in Romeo Spikes. What was your starting point, and how close to your original vision did the story end up staying?
Lo’Life began as a screenplay, telling the story of Lola. Then, by chance, the script was passed to a publisher who asked if I’d adapt it as a novel. I jumped at the chance because it gave me the opportunity to build the entire world around Lola and explore not only her origins, but also the entire shadow community that lives amongst us.
The world in which the novel is set seems to be a slightly skewed version of our own reality. Beneath all this, you have Lo’World itself. Did you make a conscious decision to create your own world as part of the writing, or are the changes merely born of necessity?
The thrill of writing a supernatural story is to be unbound by the flimsy four dimensions of our reality. Hell, who wouldn’t love world-building? I can see why God gets a kick from it.
The novel comes with a lot of backstory. You have managed to seamlessly weave ancient mythologies and legends, religious and philosophical histories with your own fictional origin stories. The amount of research required to even skim the surface of many of these areas seems, to me, phenomenal. How much research did you do to get the story right, and how did you go about it?
Whenever I set about to find a specific fact, I always allowed myself the time to click on odd links that caught my eye, or follow a foot-note that would seem unrelated but somehow intriguing. I’m a great believer in floating on the thermals of random data. The most fascinating plot points I found came from rudderless mental drifting.
And following on from that, did you find any nuggets during your research that you loved, but that you just couldn’t fit into the story?
I have barely scratched the surface of Tristmegistmus, so his secrets will be further disgorged in the coming books.
How far into Lo’Life’s future have you planned? Is there a definite endpoint to what you have started, or can you only see so far into the characters’ futures?
There are two further stories planned and the narrative could easily stretch far beyond that. In the next book, Black Antlers, Detective Bianco is taken deep into the supernatural world of Lola. In the next book, the roles are reversed and Lola becomes locked into the search for a bizarre and brutal serial killer. As the two worlds of humans and Tormenta once again collide, the investigation takes an unexpected twist into the realm of quantum theory.
What authors or works have influenced you as a writer?
Lewis Carroll was a revelation and as a child, he taught me a new freedom with words and meaning.
The Information by Martin Amis.
What does a typical (writing) day in the life of Joanne Reay look like?
It begins with a walk to my local coffee-shop and on the way, I plan the next chapter and wrangle with dialogue ideas. Then I write for three hours, sometimes more, before heading home. Switch on the TV (as I work better with background noise) and read through what I wrote that morning and make amendments. At 6pm (latest) it is time for Gin&Tonic. Then after dinner I’ll probably drift back to my laptop, having had some great inspiration in the bath.
And what advice would you have for people hoping to pursue fiction-writing as a career?
I believe that everyone should find some creative expression, but if you want to make writing a paying career, then you have to be ruthless in terms of getting objective feed-back on your work. Friends and family might tell you it’s great, but you need to hear the truth from those who are able to speak freely. And when you get comments, don’t just hear what you want to hear. Embrace the negatives and work at improving.
What are you reading now, and is it for business or pleasure?
I’m reading “Free Radicals” by Michael Brooks. It’s giving me some invaluable insight into the scientific community that surrounds quantum theory.
Would you like to see the Lo’Life novels make the jump from page to screen? If so, do you have any dream casts/directors/whatever?
I’m already working on the screenplay, which has moved on since the original. My ideal actor for Dali is Tom Waits and for Bianco, Zoe Saldana.
And finally, on a lighter note…
If you could meet any writer (dead or alive) over the beverage of your choice for a chat, who would it be, and what would you talk about (and which beverage might be best suited)?
I’m related to John Bunyan and he was a radical dude. Pilgrim’s Progress was the most published book of its time, second only to the Bible and it delivered a world-shaking message. Bunyan was so popular that the King (who had him imprisoned for his dangerous views) was forced to release him. He told Bunyan that he was free to go, as long as he ceased to preach. Bunyan walked out of Bedford jail, took eleven paces began preaching at the top of his voice. He was promptly thrown back inside. I ‘d love to talk to him and find out what gives someone the courage to stand up for their beliefs. Not sure what the beverage would be – kinda limited in those days, so maybe some manner of undrinkable beer.
Thank you once again, Joanne, for taking time out to share your thoughts.
”The tragedy of suicide is not death. It is what dies within us whilst we live.”
Working the Homicide squad, Alexis Bianco believes she’s seen every way a life can be taken. Then she meets the mysterious Lola and finds out she’s wrong. More weapon than woman, Lola pursues a predator with a method of murder like no other.
If you think you’ve never encountered Tormenta, think again. You’re friends with one. Have worked for one. Maybe even fallen in love with one.
They walk amongst us—looking like us, talking like us. Coercing our subconscious with their actions.
Like the long-legged beauty that seduces the goofy geek only to break his heart, causing him to break his own neck in a noose. Or the rockstar, whose every song celebrates self-harm, inspiring his devoted fans to press knives to their own throats. The pusher who urges the addict toward one more hit, bringing him a high from which he’ll never come down. The tyrannical boss, crushing an assistant’s spirit until a bridge jump brings her low.
We call it a suicide. Tormenta call it a score, their demonic powers allowing them to siphon off the unspent lifespan of those who harm themselves.
To Bianco, being a cop is about right and wrong. Working with Lola is about this world and the next…and maybe the one after that. Because everything is about to change. The coming of a mighty Tormenta is prophesied, a dark messiah known as the Mosca.
To stop him, Bianco and Lola must fight their way through a cryptic web of secret societies and powerful legends to crack an ancient code that holds the only answer to the Mosca’s defeat. If this miscreant rises before they can unmask him, darkness will reign, and mankind will fall in a storm of suicides.
Nobody’s safe. Everyone’s a threat.
|THE COCKTAIL WAITRESS
James M. Cain
Hard Case Crime (hardcasecrime.com)
Back in September 2004, Hard Case Crime – then an imprint of American publisher Dorchester – launched with Lawrence Block’s Grifter’s Game. The idea behind the line, as evidenced by the lurid, pulpy (yet beautiful) covers, was to reproduce the feel of those early hard-boiled novels of the ‘40s and ‘50s, by publishing works both newly-written and long out of print. The imprint moved from Dorchester to the UK-based Titan Books, re-launching on the line’s seventh anniversary, ethos intact despite the change of format, and loss of uniformity. Their latest book, number HCC-109 in the series, is the lost final novel of James M. Cain, a man credited as one of the founders of the hard-boiled genre.
Joan Medford is twenty-one years old and recently-widowed. So recently, in fact, that when we first meet her, she is standing at her husband’s graveside attending his funeral. Drunk and abusive, he ploughed his car into a culvert at seventy miles per hour when Joan kicked him out of the house. Now Joan is penniless – her utilities have been cut off, and it is only a matter of time before she loses her house – and under suspicion of murdering her husband. To top it all off, the woman who suspects her most – her husband’s sister – is caring for Joan’s three-year-old son, and has designs to make the arrangement more permanent. When a policeman suggests she speak to the owner of a local restaurant, Joan finds herself working as a scantily-clad cocktail waitress, and it is in this role that she meets the wealthy Earl K. White III. In an attempt to ensure her own security, and the future of her child, Joan ingratiates herself with the older man, but soon finds matters complicated by the arrival on the scene of a much younger man with designs of his own.
At first glance, it’s a classic noirish setup, a love triangle with wealth at one corner, jealousy at another and that staple of hard-boiled fiction – the femme fatale – at the third. But here Cain introduces a clever twist that casts a new light on an old trope: the story is told in the form of a recording made by Joan Medford designed to prove her innocence in the death of her husband, and in the events that unfold during the course of the novel. With this untrustworthy narrator as our guide, it is left to the reader to decide for themselves what to believe, and how innocent Mrs Medford actually is.
In The Cocktail Waitress, Cain has produced a finely-crafted story where everything is important, and not a single word is wasted. Obviously a disciple of Chekhov’s gun, Cain plays the long game, introducing important facts early in the story that will be of consequence later: the medical condition, the drug and the bail-skipper subplot that, while seemingly unrelated to the main story, ultimately leads to life-threatening complications for Joan Medford.
Cain’s foundation here is the characters that inhabit his story; a bunch of misfits and rogues, dirty old men and beautiful young women willing to take advantage. What makes them realistic, keeps the reader engaged, is Cain’s ear for language. Sharp and full of wit, the dialogue drives the story as much as, if not more than, the narrative. The relationship between these characters is the crux of the story, and detailing their verbal interactions – how they speak to each other, what they say – is the most effective way of showing how these relationships evolve over the course of the novel.
As you might expect from the title, and the glorious Michael Koelsch cover painting, The Cocktail Waitress can be somewhat risqué. Fairly tame by modern standards, Cain’s contemporary audience would likely have viewed it in a much different light. Sex plays a pivotal role in the plot, but Cain never dwells, never offers more detail than the brief sketch that is required to drive the story forward, and ensure the reader is in no doubt when they reach the book’s conclusion. And what a conclusion! The untrustworthy narrator leaves a lot to the reader’s imagination: how much involvement did she have in the death of her husband? How much involvement did she have in the events that followed? Is she as innocent as she claims, or is there some medium ground between the angel she portrays and the devil we might imagine? One thing is never in doubt though: that final paragraph is a gut-wrenching, shocking twist of the knife that leaves its victim – the narrator herself – completely in the dark.
I’m relatively new to Cain’s work, having previously only read The Postman Always Rings Twice, so I’ll leave comparisons between this novel and his previous novels to people more qualified than I. With that in mind, I can’t recommend The Cocktail Waitress highly enough. It’s an old-fashioned noir tale told from a fresh perspective that challenges both the author and the long-time reader of the genre. Cain’s final novel deserves an audience, and all credit to series editor Charles Ardai who worked so hard to ensure that it saw the light of day in its current coherent incarnation (the book contains an excellent essay by Ardai on the process that brought the novel from discovery to publication). It’s a novel worthy of the Hard Case Crime yellow ribbon, and a beautiful example of a wonderful, though oft-maligned, genre.
|Name: SAMIT BASU
Author of: THE GAMEWORLD TRILOGY (2004 – 2007)
On the web: samitbasu.com
On Twitter: @samitbasu
Samit Basu is the author of five novels, all of which have been published in his native India. The publication of his first novel, The Simoqin Prophecies – the first book in the GameWorld Trilogy – marked the beginning of Indian English fantasy writing. His superhero novel, Turbulence, is released by Titan Books in the UK in July, and in the US a year later. It was first published in India in 2010, and is the first of his books to be released in the UK.
Thanks for taking the time to speak to us, Samit.
Pleasure to be here. Good of you to let me into your online home.
Can you tell us something of the origins of Turbulence? Did it spring from a long-standing desire to write a superhero novel?
I’d wanted to tell a superhero story for a while, ever since I first read Watchmen about a decade ago. It was always going to be a book… I know the superhero genre is one that lends itself to visual media, but the idea of the superhero – the essential excitement of one extraordinary person with the capacity to make things better – often gets overlooked in the process. And while that can be done very effectively in other media, comics,TV, the Internet and films – look at Joss Whedon’s work in all these fields – I still believe a book is the best place to explore an idea.
That said, I didn’t know Turbulence was going to be a superhero novel when I started plotting it in the summer of 2009, which is when the story is set. The whole idea behind it was to write a novel of here and now, to say as much about the world right then as it could. Hence the focus on present day desires and anxieties, present day obsessions and aspirations, as seen in both the world and the powers the heroes acquired. I wanted to write a fantasy story set in places I’d actually been to after years of making up worlds. And since I was looking at events on a global scale, and writing about people who could actually change the world, it made sense to make them superheroes. Especially because nothing embodies the zeitgeist these days better than the evolved superhero. They’re everywhere, in one form or another.
It’s obvious from reading the book that you’re a huge fan of the genre, and have taken inspiration from many of the classics. At the same time, you’ve relocated the action to India and in many ways broken the mould of traditional superhero tales – I’d put Turbulence alongside the likes of Watchmen and Powers, rather than Superman or Spider-man. What challenges, if any, did you face creating something that at once pays homage to and satirises 80-odd years of comic-book history?
I didn’t grow up on superheroes, those comics weren’t really available in India. I really started reading superhero comics when I came to London to do an MA, as an adult, at a time when superhero comics had evolved greatly. So the writers I read – Moore, Gaiman, Ellis, Ennis, Morrison, Carey, Vaughan, Miller, Bendis, JMS – had already reworked, revised, updated and deepened the classic stories into a genre that was not only complex and sophisticated, but also constantly self-referential and self-mocking. To be mentioned in the same breath as Watchmen and Powers is so lovely that I’m going to pretend you meant it in terms of quality, not just intention.
I think any revisionist aspect of Turbulence falls under homage to works that have already pointed out the innate ridiculousness of older superhero tropes, rather than any really original attempt at revising the genre, because others have done that very effectively before me. If there’s any aspect of superhero culture that I really felt needed changing, it was a certain inward-looking tendency; that people with extraordinary powers should be content to operate on a really local scale, fighting their own villain sets to maintain the status quo, instead of really changing the world just because they could. But then several other comics, from The Authority to Morrison’s JLA have already gone there.
The essential attitude to comics and superheroes in Turbulence is this: it’s 2009, superhero culture exists and is everywhere, and a few of the characters, recognizing the similarity of their newly acquired powers to those of superheroes they’ve seen/read about, refer to them from time to time. Much like Iron Man calling Hawkeye Legolas in the recent Avengers film.
The Indian setting creates something of a cultural shift for a lot of the traditional fans of superhero comics, and it brings with it huge political and social implications, which you have examined in the novel. You have also spent some time considering the consequences of the good deeds that we see superheroes perform on a regular basis. Both subjects that tend to get ignored, or glossed over, in a lot of the genre’s output. How important were these issues to the development of your characters and your storyline, and do you think they should be examined in more detail within the wider genre?
I wanted this story to be set on a huge scale, where the arrival of superpowers had real consequences not just for the characters but for the world at large. And I wanted this world to be as close to our world as possible. The Indian setting is because I’ve actually been to most of the places in the book and wanted to try superimposing a fantastic layer on real-world spaces, and there are many real, chaos-driven real worlds here that only need a little push to turn post-human. I suppose it could have been set anywhere, but I just knew India better than other places.
If the setting, the implications of the story being set where it is, and an overall sense of consequences being considered have worked for you, that’s a huge relief, because these were among the advantages that I thought telling this story in prose/novel form instead of comic form would bring. While visual storytelling media have many advantages over the novel form for the superhero story as a rule, these are things that it’s just so much easier to do without having to worry about accompanying visuals. So credit goes mostly to the medium, not me. But yes, these were all extremely important to me while world-building, and I always like superhero stories to have as much real-world detail as possible, and to have a broad worldview, not just be about power vs power fights in New York, fun though those are.
I must admit that I’m somewhat clueless when it comes to the Indian literary scene. You have been credited as the creator of Indian English fantasy. Did you feel that this was a gap that needed to be filled, and how do things currently stand?
I don’t really know if the creator of Indian English fantasy tag is real, or if it means anything to be the first. I was certainly the first Indian to write books in English that were called fantasy novels, were published by a major publisher and did well.
I wasn’t aware that genre existed, growing up, because our bookstores weren’t that structured. So I thought all stories were just stories, and while of course there were different kinds of stories, I didn’t know they lived in separate houses. So I wasn’t aware of a gap to fill when I started writing in my early 20s, or even that my first novel was fantasy. My publisher told me.
A lot of fantasy has been published in the eight years since my first novel. Samhita Arni is a name to watch out for. I haven’t read much of the new Indian fantasy, because I read across genres and countries, and try to keep up with films and comics and games as well, and there’s just too much to follow. But I’m sure if something good had come up I would have known. Most of the good fantasy work in India has been for children and young adults. There’s also been a rise in Hindu fiction, retellings of Indian myths, for which there’s always a huge religious market, but I don’t know if that counts as fantasy.
The obvious question, given the subject matter of Turbulence, I suppose, would have to be: what super power do you think you would have come away with had you been a passenger on that plane? And what would you do with it – hero or villain?
Tia’s power. The ability to split into multiple bodies and live multiple lives and never really have to make a choice again. Never miss out on any experience, wander all over the world, do everything. I’d use it as both hero and villain, of course, just because I could.
What authors or works have influenced you as a writer?
Too many to list, so I always put on a football coach cap for this question and list the 11 authors who’ve influenced the book in question most. In this case, Alan Moore, Neil Gaiman, Grant Morrison, Warren Ellis, Garth Ennis, Mike Carey, Hari Kunzru, Haruki Murakami, David Mitchell, China Mieville and Terry Pratchett.
And as a follow-on, is there one book (or more than one) that you wish you had written?
Again, too many to list. But I’m also very happy that the authors who wrote them did. I also wish I had invented the light bulb, especially with some kind of royalty-based contract, but I’m perfectly happy to use it.
What does a typical (writing) day in the life of Samit Basu look like?
A large desert of procrastination and Internet browsing punctuated by bursts of guilt-driven typing. I actually tend to write quite fast when I get around to it, and am usually working on at least three things, so when I’m doing the actual writing I tend to disappear into it for a few months and emerge at the end with crazed eyes, ready for more enthusiastic time-wasting. I wish I could write every day, have a routine. But I’ve been writing for a living for almost a decade now and that doesn’t seem likely.
And what advice would you have for people hoping to pursue fiction-writing as a career?
All of the following.
Don’t. I hear investment banking pays well, especially if you ruin the economy while at it.
Go for it. It’s such fun. But do it only if you really love writing, not to be rich or famous or important because that is really not likely to happen.
Don’t. Read my books instead, and then other people’s.
You must! It’s such an interesting time to be a writer, what with ebooks and all that. The next shiny vampire or horny businessman could be YOURS!
What are you reading now, and is it for business or pleasure?
Railsea. For pleasure, and potential theft, which I suppose is business.
Would you like to see any of your novels make the jump from page to screen? If so, do you have any dream casts/directors/whatever?
All of them, but I don’t have a dream cast or director. If it happens, whoever does it will turn out to be the person I wanted all along. Unless the adaptation doesn’t do well, in which case an alternative list will emerge.
And finally, on a lighter note…
If you could meet any writer (dead or alive) over the beverage of your choice for a chat, who would it be, and what would you talk about (and which beverage might be best suited)?
PG Wodehouse. We’d talk about whatever he wanted to, I think I’d just listen. With some beverage from one of his Mulliner books, possibly a Gin and Angostura, or a whiskey and hot water with lemon.
Thank you once again, Samit, for taking time out to share your thoughts.
It was an absolute pleasure.
Kim Newman (www.johnnyalucard.com)
Titan Books (titanbooks.com)
Is there a more interesting and populated place and time in recent history than London in the twilight years of the nineteenth century? Peopled by a huge cast of people real and fictional, it is a location and period ripe with opportunity and ideas for any artist willing to do a little research. Anno Dracula, Kim Newman’s cult 1992 horror/romance/alternate history novel takes advantage of this and gives us a view on what London might have been like in 1888 had Dracula not only survived the events of Bram Stoker’s seminal novel, but married Queen Victoria and taken the title of Prince Consort. Published by Titan Books, this cult classic has once again been made available to a wide audience.
The book diverges from Stoker’s novel at the point where Dracula is interrupted in his attempt to “turn” Mina Harker; instead of fleeing, he kills Jonathan Harker and Quincey Morris, scattering the rest of the group and finishing his business with Mina. From there, his rise to power is unstoppable, culminating in his marriage to the queen, and England’s move towards being the foremost vampire nation. As the novel opens, it is 1888, and Jack the Ripper has claimed his third victim. In this alternate universe, the Ripper is exclusively a killer of vampire prostitutes, which has the effect of forcing ever deeper the wedge between vampire and warm (humans). This is a very different London to the one we know: vampires occupy almost every position of power and a full-blown dictatorship is in effect. Dissenters and threats to the crown have been shipped off to concentration camps in the middle of the English countryside, where they will ultimately serve as cattle for the ever-growing vampire population.
Newman’s encyclopaedic knowledge of cinema and horror shines throughout. Only a handful of the characters we meet are original to the author. As well as the remnants of Dracula’s enemies – Dr John Seward and Arthur Holmwood, now Lord Godalming – we encounter, amongst others, the creations of Arthur Conan Doyle (Mycroft Holmes (his brother Sherlock ensconced in one of the aforementioned concentration camps), Moriarty), Sax Rohmer, H.G. Wells, Charles Dickens alongside the likes of Florence Stoker (her husband, Bram, sharing a compound with Sherlock Holmes), Oscar Wilde and Fred Abberline. Into this mix, Newman introduces Charles Beauregard, agent for the shady Diogenes Club, and Genevieve Dieudonne, a four-and-a-half century old vampire who is older even than Dracula.
Beauregard is a sort of nineteenth century John Steed, sword-cane and all: a man about town with a sinister and dangerous background and the skills to ensure his own survival at the expense of an enemy’s. Instructed by the cabal that runs the Diogenes Club (an institution that originates in the work of Conan Doyle) to investigate the Ripper murders, he meets the young-looking Genevieve and together they comb Whitechapel for clues to the identity of the murderer. All around them, the country is falling apart as growing dissent greets the ever tightening grip of the Impaler.
To use Newman’s own phrase, Anno Dracula is an ‘overpopulated period-set “romp”’, and a great deal of time can be spent – and fun had – trying to identify the origins of characters. Despite that, it’s a tightly-plotted and brilliantly-conceived novel that pays homage not only to Stoker’s Dracula, but to the vampire genre in general. Perhaps the most surprising thing about this novel is the fact that Dracula himself is absent for the vast majority of it, putting in a short appearance at the very end in a wonderful and wholly unexpected climax. Despite the subject matter, Newman presents us with a conceivable alternate London: the tensions between vampire and warm, between rich and poor; a city where the rule of law exists hand in hand with the ways of Vlad the Impaler and his kind; a city terrorised by an infamous murderer (the identity of whom is revealed to the reader in the first chapter) whose motives have been shaped to fit this new world order.
If, like me, you missed Anno Dracula the first time around, then this is the perfect opportunity to read one of the finest modern vampire novels ever written, up there with what I consider to the be the “big three”: Stephen King’s ‘Salem’s Lot, Robert McCammon’s They Thirst and George R. R. Martin’s Fevre Dream. Once done, you can take comfort in the fact that Titan will be publishing several other books in the series, so you won’t have to wait too long for your next fix.