Reader Dad – Book Reviews

Dark Crime and Speculative Fiction book reviews

INFLUENCES: My Influences by NICHOLAS SEARLE

NICHOLAS SEARLE Name: NICHOLAS SEARLE

Author of: THE GOOD LIAR (2016)

On Twitter: @searlegoodliar

It’s difficult to list the influences on my writing. There are too many and several of them are subliminal rather than conscious. Plus, there’s a risk when you cite influences that you’re inviting comparisons. Definitely not, in my case: I’m looking up at people not seeking to emulate them or imagine I’m on the same level.

Let’s start with the obvious: John le Carré. His key espionage books – apart from the wonderful The Spy Who Came In From The Cold – were published in my adult formative years and seemed to sum so much up for me. I loved the serpentine plots but for me it was the characters and the integral cynicism – concealing idealism – and world-weariness that won me over. And, of course, the prose. I do think that spying is a rich vein for writers to mine, so long as they can do so convincingly. It contains a multitude of our most primal concerns in life. Who can I trust? Am I being disloyal myself? How can I make the right choice when faced with what looks like a range of bad ones? How do I balance heart and head? To see them distilled on the page in this setting can be very enriching. In common with several others, I think that when le Carré attempts to write ‘literary’ fiction (whatever that is) the end result can look mushy – The Naïve And Sentimental Lover being a prime example – and that recently he’s become a bit ‘shouty’ at times. But le Carré off form is often better than many others at the peak of their achievement, and it’s hard to beat the trio of Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, The Honourable Schoolboy and Smiley’s People.

Likewise Graham Greene, who like le Carré breaks the rules and straddles the boundary between what he calls ‘entertainments’ and serious fiction. I think he makes a false distinction and admit to being confused about the differentiations between genres: there’s as much truth for me in The Third Man or Our Man In Havana as there is in The Power And The Glory. If there is one book though that distils the darkness it’s Brighton Rock, still as vividly terrifying and cruel, and modern, as it was back in 1938. And you can trace the lineage back to Conrad: not so much the overblown seafaring epics like Lord Jim, but the much tighter stories that plumb our souls such as The Secret Agent and Heart of Darkness.

THE GOOD LIARI studied languages, so was fortunate enough to have been able to read some of the European classics of the mid-20th century in the original; and I loved their despair and desolation. I’ve a special place for Heinrich Böll and particularly Die Verlorene Ehre Der Katharina Blum (The Lost Honour Of Katharina Blum) and Ansichten Eines Clowns (a pretty poor English translation is long out of print). And I love Camus: the opening of L’Étranger (The Stranger) is possibly the best beginning sentence of any novel I’ve read.

I could go on. It seems perhaps scattergun but I admire immensely P.D. James, Richard Ford and Ian McEwan for the cool precision of their language that somehow conveys emotion. Kent Haruf’s brevity seeps feeling in each gap in the dialogue. And Kate Atkinson. Wow. In Life After Life and A God In Ruins she gives a masterclass in subtlety and complexity conveyed in the simplest of terms. She doesn’t treat the reader as a fool who needs to be led by the nose but challenges all the time and in the course of doing that tells fundamental truths, both about the thing that is fiction and about us.

And I haven’t even begun to describe my influences away from books, in film, TV, theatre and music!…

Nicholas Searle’s novel The Good Liar is out now from Penguin.

August 20, 2016 Posted by | Influences, Spy Fiction, Thriller | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

INFLUENCES: The Writer’s Bookshelf by ZYGMUNT MIŁOSZEWSKI

Zygmunt Miloszewski Name: ZYGMUNT MIŁOSZEWSKI

Author of: ENTANGLEMENT (2010)
                 A GRAIN OF TRUTH (2012)
                 RAGE (2016)

There are no schools or universities for writers. Well, there probably are some institutions out there that con people into believing they can be taught how to write, but the only school of writing worth mentioning is every writer’s bookshelf. So if I had to name my best teachers they would be: Astrid Lindgren, Charles Dickens, Kurt Vonnegut, Henning Mankell and Pierre Lemaitre.

Astrid Lindgren taught me that complexity and sophistication aren’t needed to make literature great. That wisdom and depth should be accompanied by light, warm humour and simple language, even when you’re writing about the darkest themes.

Charles Dickens is the only teacher you could possibly need for a Ph.D. in drawing characters.

Kurt Vonnegut makes this list for his constant ”Hey, but seriously?” irony, black humour and – in spite of all – his love of humanity. If you think a novel has to be serious to explain the world and you’re proud of having read Dostoevsky over and over, try Kurt. He explained everything that ever needed to be explained, his books are shorter and they‘re extremely funny.

Without Henning Mankell, I’d never have written a crime novel. I discovered him at the start of my career, and I was amazed to find that the same book can provide an in-depth analysis of a society as well as a gripping and well-plotted crime story. That was when I decided to write a crime novel underlined with a social commentary. Societies, with all their wrongs and lies, have always interested me more than individuals.

Pierre Lemaitre, on the contrary, was the reason why I stopped writing crime stories. I discovered his books and wept. While the rest of us competed within the genre of police procedurals, this French author upped and invented a crime genre of his own. The moment I realized what he had done, I decided to quit the contest. We may only be crime writers, but we’re still artists, whose task is to find our own way, not just to follow trails cut by others.

Rage Book Blog banner - Final

August 1, 2016 Posted by | Crime Fiction, Influences | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

RAGE by Zygmunt Miłoszewski

RAGE - Zygmunt Miloszewski RAGE

Zygmunt Miłoszewski

Translated by Antonia Lloyd-Jones

AmazonCrossing (www.amazon.com)

£8.99

The discovery of a skeleton in a construction site in the historic Polish city of Olsztyn brings Prosecutor Teodor Szacki into the spotlight when it is discovered that the bones are fresh, the rest of the body chemically dissolved. Identifying the remains proves relatively easy, but that’s only the start of Szacki’s problems. When more victims turn up, it becomes clear that the killer is carrying out their own flavour of vigilante justice on perpetrators of domestic abuse. With the kidnap of Szacki’s teenage daughter, things become personal, and Szacki finds himself closer to an answer to the age-old question: what could be enough to make a man kill?

I’m not a fan of jumping into series that are already several books along, and Zygmunt Miłoszewski’s latest, Rage, is a very good example why: after spending the book discovering a great new voice in crime fiction, and a protagonist who is unlike any other I have encountered, it turns out that this is said protagonist’s final book. While it’s a disappointing end to an excellent book, Rage does work very well as a standalone novel, and Teodor Szacki is a character you are unlikely to forget.

Szacki himself is a prosecutor, the sort of character who turns up all the time in European crime fiction, but who doesn’t have any counterpart in the British or American justice systems. Originally from Warsaw, Szacki is now practicing in the historic city of Olsztyn and he immediately comes across as the big-city character who, despite the pros, can always find something to complain about in his new provincial surroundings. If it isn’t the region’s dreary weather, it’s the traffic planner, and if not him, then Szacki is sure to have something else to complain about.

Despite his gruff ways, he’s an interesting character, a man with a tough exterior coating a softer – and distinctly likeable – centre. There is a black humour that pervades the novel’s every page, a kind of gallows humour that brings levity even at the most unexpected moment, and it often comes from Szacki’s very cynical viewpoint. He finds himself surrounded by one of the oddest casts of characters ever gathered behind the cover of a serious novel, from his boss who refers to him as Misterteo, his by-the-book and thoroughly inflexible subordinate Falk, to the university anatomist with the unlikely name of Doctor Frankenstein.

Despite the humour, and the somewhat off-the-wall characters, Rage brings with it an important message, shining a light on the topic of domestic abuse, and how it is dealt with – or, more often, ignored until it is far too late – by the authorities in many countries: Szacki finds himself in the uncomfortable position of potentially sending one woman home to her death, the result of a very old-fashioned viewpoint combined with the lack of a clear strategy for dealing with the sort of cases that Miłoszewski uses to highlight the problem. And in order to remove any doubt from the mind of the reader, the author places his story in a very specific period in time – late 2013 – by opening each chapter with a brief overview of that day’s news, starting from a global perspective, and working towards news local to the novel’s setting (amusingly, these news reports always end with a distinctly gloomy weather forecast for the region).

The novel takes a dark turn as Szacki makes the final deductive leap and realises who is behind the horrific murders and mutilations. It’s an unexpected turn, a moment of horror that jars the reader out of the complacency so wonderfully evoked by the author’s storytelling style. It forces us to stop and question our loyalties and poses the difficult question: what might I have done in the same position? It’s a master-stroke and ensures that Rage will remain with the reader long after the final page.

This is dark – and darkly humorous – European crime fiction at its best. Anyone who has enjoyed the Verhoeven novels of Pierre Lemaitre will find something to love in Teodor Szacki and the novels of Zygmunt Miłoszewski. If, like me, you’d prefer to meet Szacki at the start of his fictional journey, it’s probably best to start with Entanglement and work forwards, but there may be benefit to starting with Rage and reading out of order – I’ll certainly let you know when I’ve gone back and read the others. Miłoszewski is a writer of unmatched talent, and Rage, ably translated from Polish by Antonia Lloyd-Jones, is one of the finest novels you’ll read this year. Not to be missed.

August 1, 2016 Posted by | Crime Fiction | , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

INFLUENCES: On ‘The Rock’ by GINA WOHLSDORF

Wohlsdorf-Gina-©-Rachel-Sundheim_2MB
Photo © Rachel Sundheim
Name: GINA WOHLSDORF

Author of: SECURITY (2016)

On the web: www.ginawohlsdorf.com

I was wracking my brain about which influence to discuss in this post. The truth is, everything I’ve read, watched and lived has had an influence on my fiction. I think that’s why I started writing to begin with, way back when I was too young to understand the relief I felt when I put my excess fascinations on paper. I retain too much. I need the outlet.

But don’t worry. As I debated how to consolidate my myriad artistic role models for your reading enjoyment, I dished some pot roast, flipped on DirectTV, and found The Rock playing on cable.

I’ve known a great many artists who are selective in the extreme about what they will permit themselves to learn from. Few of them would consider a scenery-chewing action film from 1996 as a proper place to gain storytelling skills. But as I said, I can’t help it. I’m an inveterate lover of a tale well-told. I decided this single film and the reasons I enjoy it could explain a lot about why I wrote a book like Security — a hybrid horror/mystery/romance with a narrator who pontificates on death and a heroine who makes a pretty good Sartre joke — as well as why I intend to write many more novels whose insouciant insistences on character and theme do not negate a concomitant devotion to thrills.

It’s all but impossible to argue that The Rock is in any way subtle. Firstly because Nicolas Cage is in it. His acting is a study in foregoing subtlety, and that’s its charm, its vividness. He’s a great match for Michael Bay, for whom this movie represents a fantastical departure from the digitally enhanced, narratively anorexic filmmaking he would embark upon later.

The plot: a legendary general takes over Alcatraz and threatens a poisoned gas attack on San Franciso. Cage is an FBI chemical weapons specialist tasked with disarming the rockets. He’ll be escorted in by a team of soldiers, and that team of soldiers will be led by the only convict who ever escaped the notorious American prison.

Enter Sean Connery. As with any movie he stars in, he is this one’s ace in the hole — a calm, wry presence who anchors the car chases, gun fights and explosions. He is also, undoubtedly, the greatest possible foil for Nicolas Cage, whose zany flights of improvised dialogue ring true and grounded and balanced in The Rock, more so than in any other work he’s done. My favorite line delivery in all of cinema is delivered in this movie, and it is delivered by Nicolas Cage.

“I drive a Volvo. Beige one.”

That line and the way he says it tells Connery’s character — and us — everything we could hope to know about Stanley Goodspeed, an unwilling hero who, of course, winds up going it alone with the grizzled escape artist, saving San Fran one scary bomb at a time.

It’s wonderful to have intriguing heroes. It is imperative to have interesting villains. That’s why Ed Harris is here, eminently buyable as a battalion commander with an axe to grind about soldiers killed in covert ops. He’s not just a maniac after money. The bad guys’ meltdown toward the finale reveals schisms within the ranks that distinguish the banally evil from the morally misguided.

Yet, for all that, what really makes The Rock a home run is The Rock itself. Alcatraz — the impenetrable, inescapable fortress that housed Capone, Doc Barker, and the first Public Enemy #1, Alvin Karpis. Who? Exactly. Alcatraz is where the worst of the worst were sent to disappear, and Bay actually filmed there. His taste for overkill color, off-putting in most of his projects, makes Alcatraz throb with age, reek, decay, danger. It’s like a decrepit playground for the dream cast to play on.

And yes, the slow-mo is overused. And yes, the set-up drags too long. Yes, lines like “You breathe, he breathes with you. You piss, he helps,” suggest the screenwriter took testosterone supplements to sound manlier. The music is overwrought (though the Irish flute is well-placed) and women are non-existent (except a meek daughter and a flighty fiance for the men to fret about). But when I went to this movie at age fifteen, I perfectly recall exiting the theater with my dad. The ground was soaked, the gutters flooded. A tornado had blown through while we were inside. There’s a joke in here about Michael Bay’s well-established love for loud, but had I been aware of the risk, I’d have probably just moved to a lower row. The finished cohesion of the story’s elements is that propulsive, alive, exciting, wild, and fun.

The Rock is not my favorite movie. I don’t think it cracks the top twenty. But it taught me lessons worth learning, and so have romance novels, and so have silly TV series about conflicted superheroes or melodramatic vampires. So has sitting in a coffeehouse on Sunday morning while the church crowd shows up for their after-worship mochas.

Writing is everywhere. Until you learn that, as well as how to swallow your pride and admit that Michael Bay once inspired you, your writing is nowhere.

Ergo . . .

Choose a setting pregnant with possibilities. Grow characters who spark off one another, challenge each other. Inhabit the big moments with shameless abandon. Allow wise voices to speak, but let the wiseasses have their say, too.

And resolve to fight — always, for all you’re worth — to be more compelling than a tornado.

Security is out now in Hardback and Audio CD

July 22, 2016 Posted by | Horror, Influences, Thriller | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

SECURITY by Gina Wohlsdorf

Security low res jacket SECURITY

Gina Wohlsdorf (www.ginawohlsdorf.com)

Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill (algonquin.com)

£17.99

The grand opening of Manderley Resort, an eyesore on the Santa Barbara Beach, is rapidly approaching. Hotel manager Tessa and her team of chefs, cleaners, and restaurant managers are preparing the hotel and the ballroom for the celebratory gala, while locked away on the impenetrable top floor, the security team watches everything through the secret and not-so-secret cameras that cover the vast majority of the hotel, including the guest rooms. But tonight, the staff will have more to deal with than the displeasure of Charles Destin, the hotel’s owner; there’s a killer in the hotel, a man in a mask who has already started killing, and who won’t stop until Manderley Resort contains nothing but corpses.

If you have ever watched and enjoyed a slasher film by the likes of John Carpenter, or Wes Craven, or Dario Argento, or any of the hundreds of other directors who practiced the art during the 70s and 80s, then Gina Wohlsdorf’s debut novel, Security, is the book for you. If you’ve watched one of those films and been turned off by the blood and gore, then it might also be the book for you since, let’s face it, it’s easier to imagine the blood than see it splattered across the screen.

The story starts slowly, introducing us to the main players. It doesn’t take long for us to realise that we’re watching the events unfold through the eyes of the head of security, who sees everything on his myriad monitors, when Tessa breaks the fourth wall and speaks directly to the reader:

She turns around in the reception driveway, looks directly into Camera 3, and says, “You know how Charles is. Don’t take it personally.”

At this point, much about Wohlsdorf’s strange narrative style begins to make sense: we are watching the events unfold through the cameras, and through the eyes of the nameless security chief locked away on the top floor. The flow from one character’s point of view to another’s – in which the author breaks all conventions – is down to his attention shifting from monitor to monitor. Shortly afterwards, the we find the first instance page splitting briefly into two columns, and we watch events fold in parallel through the lenses of two different cameras, before his attention is once again consumed by a single camera. This literary equivalent of the split-screen works very well, and serves to ratchet up the tension, particularly towards the story’s climax.

Why, we are forced to ask ourselves, if the chief of security can see the man he has dubbed “the Killer”, can see his terrible crimes, and the trail of blood he leaves as he moves around the hotel, why doesn’t he do anything about it? Is he complicit? Is his lair so well-protected that it makes more sense to stay put and hope for the Killer to finish his work and disappear into the night? It’s a question that plagues us throughout the book, and Wohlsdorf keeps us guessing, tell-tale signs in the narrator’s language forcing us to reconsider one way or the other as the story progresses.

At the centre of the story is Tessa herself, and her foster brother Brian, a man she has loved since childhood and who has visited Manderley Resort on this auspicious night to clear the air between them. It is, at heart, a love story, and the narrator’s obvious jealousy of the developing relationship does little to allay our fears that he is somehow involved in the blood spilled by the Killer. The characters all have their own secrets, they’re all damaged in some way, from the restaurant managers whose marriage is on the rocks, to the cleaner with an unhealthy (though well-deserved) dislike for men, from the ice queen Tessa to the high-strung chef whose reputation rests on the strength of his cherry coulis.

Security is like nothing you’ve ever read before, despite the similarities to everything you’ve ever seen in the slasher subgenre. Wohlsdorf’s writing style is unique, straight and to the point, wonderfully engaging and, while not quite as telegraphic as the likes of Ellroy, its short, sharp sentences pull the reader in and take us gleefully through this macabre evening of love and violence. The homages to the horror genre come thick and fast, from Carpenter’s Halloween (“It’s the same mask from the Halloween movies, the ones with Jamie Lee Curtis.”), to Daphne du Maurier, Stephen King (some of the action takes place in Room 1408, which is actually on the thirteenth floor, since no numbered thirteenth floor exists) and Ira Levin (Sliver, anyone?). The story, very cinematic in style due, in part, to the nature of how we view it, contains all the suspense and violence we expect from a slasher, all the stupid things the characters in such films inevitably do (“don’t go in there,” you’ll find yourself yelling at one character or another, or “why are you splitting up?”) and serves it up with a healthy dose of black humour that infuses every word.

One of this year’s gems, Security is one of the finest horror novels to be produced in quite a while. Slick, clever and with a clear, engaging voice it should put author Gina Wohlsdorf firmly on the map, alongside some of finest young writers working in the genre today: Lebbon, Keene, Littlewood, Langan. It’s a book that cries out for a second read, if only to plug the inevitable gap until the author’s second novel, and is a must-read for anyone who enjoys intelligently-written horror fiction. I really can’t recommend this highly enough.

July 22, 2016 Posted by | Horror, Thriller | , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

An Interview with ANGELA SLATTER

angela slatter Name: ANGELA SLATTER

Author of: VIGIL (2016)

On the web: www.angelaslatter.com

On Twitter: @AngelaSlatter

Angela Slatter is an award-winning short story writer with the World Fantasy Award, the British Fantasy Award and five Aurealis Awards to her name. Vigil is her first novel, introducing the world to Verity Fassbinder and the weird (and, indeed, Weyrd) happenings in Brisbane.

Thank you, Angela, for taking the time to chat with us.

Thanks for having me on the blog!🙂

When Vigil opens, we find ourselves introduced to the central character, Verity Fassbinder, as if in passing. There is a sense of a huge and storied history here, only some of which is revealed as the plot proceeds. She is an intriguing character and the reader comes away with the impression that this is not the first of her adventures that she has recounted. Has Verity appeared in your fiction before, or will you be revisiting earlier adventures as the series progresses?

Verity started out in a short story called “Brisneyland by Night”. There’s also a story called “Here Today” that I wrote for a project called The 24-Hour Book for if:book Australia. When I wrote Vigil I incorporated a lot of that first short story into the plot. I feel like there’s still a lot of iceberg underneath as far as her back story is concerned and I hope to get the opportunity to plumb it at some stage! Some more of her family history will come out in Corpselight and Restoration.

With the exception of a kind of super-strength inherited from her Weyrd father, Verity seems relatively normal (or Normal). At heart, the book feels like a hard-boiled detective novel, with Verity playing the role of Sam Spade or Phillip Marlowe. How easy was it to find her voice, and did you set out to write urban fantasy with a hint of crime, or crime with a hint of urban fantasy?

I set out to write a short story that was inflected by that hard-boiled/noirish tone … I was at Clarion South and wrote “Brisneyland by Night”, which eventually became the novel Vigil. But I was aware that hard-boiled is done a lot. I mean, a lot. And I wanted to add differences to the story, so what makes the crime different? Add the urban fantasy element, make your antagonists mythical/biblical/fairy-tale, etc. And make your protagonist not someone with nothing in her life, no bitter divorce, hard-drinking, hard-smoking PI, but a fairly practical woman just trying to get on with life and her job. Just trying to balance a normal life with a Weyrd job.

One of the central characters in the novel is the city of Brisbane itself. To most of the Northern Hemisphere, it’s little more than a dot on a map. How did you go about bringing the city to life, and infusing it with the sense of strange that seems to define it within Vigil?

I suppose it’s about thinking on all of the stuff that’s struck me a wonderful or strange or annoying about the city over the years and framing that for someone who doesn’t know the place. Rolling it into a joke (like the stuff about the restaurants closing early − alas, not actually a joke) and presenting it so someone understands what you’re saying, making it relatable. Also, lying! Making things up − like the tunnels under the city. There are some old sewer tunnels around, one of them is in fact preserved in the King George Square Bus Station (the Wheat Creek Culvert), but it’s about imagining more and making your lies convincing and interesting. About presenting the city as a slightly different thing to what it is, showing it the way it might be if all the “what if?” questions were answered!

Blog tour posterThe Weyrd is a mish-mash of different mythologies and legends, but you’ve eschewed the more obvious faeries and goblins for more obscure creatures: sirens with feathers rather than scales, angels and various other creatures of a hundred different underworlds. How much research was involved in the creation of the world and its inhabitants and how did you make sure you kept everything grounded in something resembling reality?

I have always been a huge reader and researcher of mythology and fables, legends, fairy and folk tales, and general weird stuff and I wanted the Weyrd to be a catch-all for that. There’s a lot of information floating around in my head that’s been stashed there for years, and it’s just waiting to be used. I want the Verity stories to have that sense of there is no reigning or privileged mythology, that we are all in this world and we’ve all got our beliefs, but no one path is right or exclusive, that there are all of these mythical creatures pushing up against each other, that the worlds bleed into each other; that we’re all in a crowded elevator together, hoping the cables don’t break.

But I really do need to start my own Weyrd Bestiary to keep things straight in my head. Kathleen Jennings should illustrate it!

You’re currently working on the second book in the series, Corpselight. Can you tell us anything about it, and what we should expect, given the game-changer that closes Vigil?

Hmmmm, difficult to avoid spoilers. Let’s just say that Verity’s got a couple more challenges on the way and a lot of dark secrets from her family’s past − mostly her father’s side − coming back to haunt her. I sort of like having her trying to manage an ordinary life alongside all of these things she just can’t control … a metaphor for existence, I guess.

And do you have a longer-term view of where the story is going, with a definite end-point, or is the plan to take it one book at a time?

I know where the first trilogy arc is going, so yes, that’s all planned. I have a second trilogy very vaguely plotted, but whether that sees the light of day will depend on the success of Vigil, Corpselight and Restoration.

What authors or works have influenced you as a writer?

Tanith Lee, Angela Carter, Mary Shelley, Margaret Atwood, Kelly Link, John Connolly, M.R. James, Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu, Nancy Kress, J.R.R. Tolkien, Barbara Hambly … I should stop now.

And as a follow-on, is there one book (or more than one) that you wish you had written?

Not really. That’s kind of a non-question for me − I love those books because they’re uniquely someone else’s voice, so if I’d written them they wouldn’t be someone else’s … that’s the appeal of another writer’s fiction, that it is so different from your own.

What does a typical (writing) day in the life of Angela Slatter look like?

I work from home, so it’s easy to get to the office, and because I work from home I need to be very aware of behaving as if I’m in an office. So I start at 8.30am have lunch between 1-2pm, finish work at 5.30pm. Anything after that is a bonus − as my main publishers are in either the US or the UK I tend to deal with their email correspondence late at night.

I check my emails first, prioritise them, then I check over my to-do list and make sure there are no deadlines hurtling towards me … or rather, I check which deadlines are hurtling towards me, and then I prioritise tasks for the day. At the moment, I’m doing the edits on the sequel to Vigil, Corpselight, and finishing up the plotting framework for the third book in the series, Restoration; I’ve got two short stories due by the end of July; the Vigil launch is happening on 19 July so preparing for that; waiting on proofs of a new UK collection; editing the third and final Sourdough book; plotting a series of three novellas to pitch somewhere … those are the top priorities. I’m heading to the UK in August for Nine Worlds, a gig in Newcastle at Novocastria Macabre with Robert Shearman, and the inaugural Dublin Ghost Story Festival, so I need to get a lot of things out of the way before travelling.

And what advice would you have for people hoping to pursue fiction-writing as a career?

My standard reply to that is:

· Keep writing.

· Learn your craft and never, ever think you know it all.

· Develop a thick skin, but realise that story criticism is aimed at making the story better, not at making you feel bad about yourself. Find people whose opinions you respect and trust.

· Remember: it’s always better to have someone find problems with a story before you send it out into the world.

· Networking is about building mutually beneficial relationships with other writers and publishers, not just about you getting what you can.

· Don’t send Facebook friend requests to other writers and then ask them to like your page and buy your book: (a) it’s just rude, and (b) other writers are not generally your audience. That’s my personal bugbear!

What are you reading now, and is it for business or pleasure?

I am reading Stephen Gallagher’s Kingdom of Bones, Barbara Hambly’s Those Who Hunt The Night (again, it’s a frequent comfort re-read), Kameron Hurley’s The Geek Feminist Revolution, and in the queue I’ve got China Miéville’s The Census Taker, Zen Cho’s Sorcerer to the Crown, Rjurick Davidson’s The Stars Askew, and Jeffrey Ford’s A Natural History of Hell.

If Vigil, or indeed, the Verity Fassbinder series as a whole, should ever make the jump from page to screen, do you have any dream casts/directors/whatever?

There are a lot of these questions about, and I suppose in today’s world it’s a natural kind of correlation − once it was just a dream you kept to yourself, nowadays it’s an actual slim possibility. I still don’t know about Verity and have been wracking my brain on that one. You need a mostly Australian cast to make it work properly. For my sirens, I’d love Elizabeth Debicki as Serena, Cate Blanchett as Eurycleia, Robyn Nevin as Ligeia. Chris Hemsworth might well work for Tobit (must have hair dyed), Stellan Skarsgård as Ziggi, and I’m still tossing up between Michael Fassbender or Eric Bana for Bela. Oh, and the Norns … must think about that …

Actually, wait, wait. The hivemind has suggested Sarah Snook as Verity. She’s a very good candidate!

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)?

Haha! Angela Carter. I think she would probably drink tea. I would go for coffee. We might look at each other with vague disapproval until we realised we should probably just have a whiskey and all would be well.

Thank you once again, Angela, for taking time out to share your thoughts.

You’re more than welcome!

July 15, 2016 Posted by | Crime Fiction, Fantasy, Interview, Magic, Private Investigator | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

VIGIL by Angela Slatter

9781784294021 VIGIL

Angela Slatter (www.angelaslatter.com)

Jo Fletcher Books (www.jofletcherbooks.com)

£14.99

Verity Fassbinder’s background makes her the perfect peacekeeper in the Australian city of Brisbane. The product of a Normal mother and Weyrd father, Verity has access to both worlds despite her lack of Weyrd attributes. When a siren is murdered on the heels of Verity’s discovery that someone is selling wine made from the tears of children to a select group of the city’s Weyrd inhabitants, Verity’s employers demand answers before the tentative peace between Normal and Weyrd is irrevocably damaged. Throw in a foul-smelling dervish that does not distinguish between Normal and Weyrd when looking for a meal, and an angelic host who are not as cuddly as religion might lead us to believe, and Verity will be very lucky if she – and everyone she loves – makes it out of this case in one piece.

From its opening pages, Angela Slatter’s debut novel – and the central character that narrates it – has the cynical voice of an old-fashioned hard-boiled detective novel. Verity Fassbinder is an enforcer and private eye rolled into one, her main source of employment ex-boyfriend Zvezdomir ‘Bela’ Tepes and the Council of Five who rule Brisbane’s Weyrd population. Initially hired to find why Normal children have been disappearing, Verity’s case soon widens to include a dead siren and an unknown entity that seems to be eating Normal and Weyrd alike, leaving a trail of rubbish in its wake. Along the way, she attempts to navigate something resembling a normal life, with a boyfriend and a next-door neighbour with a child who treats her like a beloved aunt keeping her grounded in reality.

The mixture of these two very different worlds feels very natural, despite the fact that we’re given little time to adjust and acclimatise to this strange new world. Unlike the usual series opener, Slatter takes little time to examine backstory or introduce us to the characters, instead throwing us into the deep end, quite literally into the middle of the action, and feeding us what information we need to allow us to keep up. As a result, Vigil feels less like the first book in a series, and more like a later volume, populated with characters with whom we have spent a lot of time and shared a lot of adventures (I’ll admit I had to consult with Google to ensure I wasn’t missing an earlier volume or three). Like much of what Slatter does with Vigil, it’s a ballsy move, but one that works surprisingly well. Verity as a character is difficult to dislike, and her voice is more than engaging enough to carry the reader through a story that rarely rests, moving from one awesome set-piece to another.

In creating the Weyrd, Slatter has plumbed the depths of a myriad mythologies, and created a world where sirens live side-by-side with vampires, Norns and angels, amongst others. There are parallels here to Gaiman’s American Gods, both in terms of the variety of backgrounds, and also in the concepts of longevity of some of the species and the requirements for their continued existence. Verity has inherited little of her father’s magical abilities, though a kind of super-strength ensures she can take care of herself, regardless of her opponent. Her ever-present chauffeur, Ziggi Hausmann, himself a member of the Weyrd, helps her deal with those situations where strength is of little benefit.

In tone and content, Vigil feels almost Chandleresque: Verity finds herself following a number of leads that all quickly turn out to be interconnected, annoying many of the wrong people in the process, and facing her own share of pain as she goes along. She is the very definition of cynicism, and it keeps her fresh and interesting. Surprisingly (to me, anyway), Verity is more mature that one might expect from the book’s brief synopsis, and the maturity sits well on her, elevating Vigil to something other than sparkly, teen-focused urban fantasy. While not quite as violent as Daniel Polansky’s Low Town trilogy, there is a lot here that will appeal to its readers.

Brisbane itself – Brisneyland – plays an important role in the story, and Slatter introduces the reader to her home town by showing us its unflattering underbelly and pointing out its problems and foibles. The location serves to keep the story fresh and interesting – for many readers it’s a place we have never visited, and it makes a refreshing change from London or New York.

Vigil is a brilliant debut novel from an exciting writer who cut her teeth on short stories. Pacy and engaging, it’s a book that demands to be finished once it has been started. Verity Fassbinder is a name, and a character, not quickly forgotten by the reader, sure to become a staple of the genre as the series progresses, as instantly recognisable as, say, Sookie Stackhouse or Katniss Everdeen. Angela Slatter is a confident and talented writer whose ability to build worlds is surpassed only by her skill in populating them. A complete story in its own right, Vigil is, nevertheless, the first book in a series, and it leaves the reader gasping for more as it draws to a close. Already one of my favourite books of the year, I can’t help but recommend this to everyone.

Verity Fassbinder’s background makes her the perfect peacekeeper in the Australian city of Brisbane. The product of a Normal mother and Weyrd father, Verity has access to both worlds despite her lack of Weyrd attributes. When a siren is murdered on the heels of Verity’s discovery that someone is selling wine made from the tears of children to a select group of the city’s Weyrd inhabitants, Verity’s employers demand answers before the tentative peace between Normal and Weyrd is irrevocably damaged. Throw in a foul-smelling dervish that does not distinguish between Normal and Weyrd when looking for a meal, and an angelic host who are not as cuddly as religion might lead us to believe, and Verity will be very lucky if she – and everyone she loves – makes it out of this case in one piece.

From its opening pages, Angela Slatter’s debut novel – and the central character that narrates it – has the cynical voice of an old-fashioned hard-boiled detective novel. Verity Fassbinder is an enforcer and private eye rolled into one, her main source of employment ex-boyfriend Zvezdomir ‘Bela’ Tepes and the Council of Five who rule Brisbane’s Weyrd population. Initially hired to find why Normal children have been disappearing, Verity’s case soon widens to include a dead siren and an unknown entity that seems to be eating Normal and Weyrd alike, leaving a trail of rubbish in its wake. Along the way, she attempts to navigate something resembling a normal life, with a boyfriend and a next-door neighbour with a child who treats her like a beloved aunt keeping her grounded in reality.

The mixture of these two very different worlds feels very natural, despite the fact that we’re given little time to adjust and acclimatise to this strange new world. Unlike the usual series opener, Slatter takes little time to examine backstory or introduce us to the characters, instead throwing us into the deep end, quite literally into the middle of the action, and feeding us what information we need to allow us to keep up. As a result, Vigil feels less like the first book in a series, and more like a later volume, populated with characters with whom we have spent a lot of time and shared a lot of adventures (I’ll admit I had to consult with Google to ensure I wasn’t missing an earlier volume or three). Like much of what Slatter does with Vigil, it’s a ballsy move, but one that works surprisingly well. Verity as a character is difficult to dislike, and her voice is more than engaging enough to carry the reader through a story that rarely rests, moving from one awesome set-piece to another.

In creating the Weyrd, Slatter has plumbed the depths of a myriad mythologies, and created a world where sirens live side-by-side with vampires, Norns and angels, amongst others. There are parallels here to Gaiman’s American Gods, both in terms of the variety of backgrounds, and also in the concepts of longevity of some of the species and the requirements for their continued existence. Verity has inherited little of her father’s magical abilities, though a kind of super-strength ensures she can take care of herself, regardless of her opponent. Her ever-present chauffeur, Ziggi Hausmann, himself a member of the Weyrd, helps her deal with those situations where strength is of little benefit.

In tone and content, Vigil feels almost Chandleresque: Verity finds herself following a number of leads that all quickly turn out to be interconnected, annoying many of the wrong people in the process, and facing her own share of pain as she goes along. She is the very definition of cynicism, and it keeps her fresh and interesting. Surprisingly (to me, anyway), Verity is more mature that one might expect from the book’s brief synopsis, and the maturity sits well on her, elevating Vigil to something other than sparkly, teen-focused urban fantasy. While not quite as violent as Daniel Polansky’s Low Town trilogy, there is a lot here that will appeal to its readers.

Brisbane itself – Brisneyland – plays an important role in the story, and Slatter introduces the reader to her home town by showing us its unflattering underbelly and pointing out its problems and foibles. The location serves to keep the story fresh and interesting – for many readers it’s a place we have never visited, and it makes a refreshing change from London or New York.

Vigil is a brilliant debut novel from an exciting writer who cut her teeth on short stories. Pacy and engaging, it’s a book that demands to be finished once it has been started. Verity Fassbinder is a name, and a character, not quickly forgotten by the reader, sure to become a staple of the genre as the series progresses, as instantly recognisable as, say, Sookie Stackhouse or Katniss Everdeen. Angela Slatter is a confident and talented writer whose ability to build worlds is surpassed only by her skill in populating them. A complete story in its own right, Vigil is, nevertheless, the first book in a series, and it leaves the reader gasping for more as it draws to a close. Already one of my favourite books of the year, I can’t help but recommend this to everyone.

July 15, 2016 Posted by | Crime Fiction, Fantasy, Magic, Private Investigator | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

UNDYING: A LOVE STORY by Michel Faber

undying UNDYING: A LOVE STORY

Michel Faber (www.michelfaber.com)

Canongate (canongate.tv)

£12.99

Something of a mini-review today, in order to share a surprise book that I inhaled in a single sitting and feel the strong urge to share it with the world.

On 7th July 2014 Michel Faber’s wife, Eva, died of multiple myelomas – cancer of the bone marrow. In his first poetry collection, Undying: A Love Story, Faber documents his wife’s final months, and his own first steps as a widower through a series of poems that run the gamut from laugh-out-loud funny to heart-wrenching misery.

I have mentioned before on this blog my aversion to poetry, so I was apprehensive going in. It’s a slim volume – barely 120 pages – but within a handful of pages the reader becomes so engrossed in this intimate account of suffering and death that the medium barely matters. It is beautifully written, and the poetry allows Faber to tell his story using a spare language that still manages to evoke a deep empathy in the reader: we feel what the poet feels, and we will never be quite the same again.

The poems are arranged, as described by Faber in his touching Foreword, “in their appropriate place in the narrative of losing and grieving for Eva.” As a result, this collection represents a journey, from diagnosis, through horrific treatment and all that it involves, through death, funeral, and the coping mechanisms employed by a man in his fifties who has just lost his world. Some of the poems are designed to strike fear in the heart of the reader (the list of side effects for example, that make up “Contraindications”), some a sense of hope, however fleeting (“Remission”) and at least one will make even the hardest heart melt, and the most stoic reader cry

For twenty minutes, thirty maybe,

my eyes were closed.

That was the time you chose.

What comes after is succinctly recorded in poems like “Risotto” (the last mouthfuls of his dead wife’s cooking) and “Your Plants” (“I never asked for them./I never promised anything.”). The standout for me is the wonderful “Don’t Hesitate To Ask”, where Faber answers those well-meaning folk who offer help, “anything at all”.

Wait for me while I break

down the boardroom door

and drag the high and mighty fucker

out of his conference with Eternity

Undying: A Love Story is less love story and more love letter, the poems all addressed to Eva herself. It’s an intimate and devastating insight into what can only be described as a very personal experience of two people who are obviously very much in love. It is essential reading, but should only be started when you’re sure you have time to read it cover to cover. Keep a box of tissues handy, but be prepared for moments of pure beauty amidst the darkness. Beautiful, life-changing, unmissable.

July 7, 2016 Posted by | Non-fiction, poetry | , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

LYING IN WAIT by Liz Nugent

Lying%20in%20Wait LYING IN WAIT

Liz Nugent (liznugent.ie)

Penguin Random House (www.penguinrandomhouse.com)

£12.99

Andrew Fitzsimons is a respected judge in the Dublin Criminal Courts system. He and his reclusive wife have been forced to kill a young woman and her body is now buried in their back garden. While Lydia seems to be in control of the situation, Andrew’s life begins to fall apart, especially when he suspects that their seventeen-year-old son, Laurence, knows what they have done. As the families of both the murderers and their victim fall apart, Laurence becomes obsessed with the identity of the dead girl. When a chance meeting brings the two families into contact with each other, it can’t be long until disaster strikes, especially not if Lydia has her way.

Liz Nugent’s second novel, Lying in Wait, opens with the murder of young Annie Doyle and spends the next three hundred pages slowly reeling the reader into a twisted and cleverly-structured thriller that has surprises at every turn. Alternating between the first-person views of Lydia (the wife of the murderer), Laurence (their son) and Karen (the sister of Annie), it first of all describes the havoc wreaked on the two families involved, before morphing into something very different, a dark and disturbing examination of obsession and madness and an answer, once and for all, to the question of whether blood is thicker than water.

We witness the crime through the eyes of Lydia, and it is here in this early moment of unguardedness that we see the truth of the matter: how Annie Doyle died, and how her body was disposed. It doesn’t take us long to realise that Lydia is a dangerous woman: manipulative and more than a little unhinged, it is clear that she has engineered the circumstances that led to Annie Doyle’s death. Her husband starts to fall apart almost immediately, not helped by Lydia’s demands that, should they be caught, he takes the full blame, for the best interests of their teenage son. Lydia has a dark past, one that might explain her disconnection from reality, and one that is slowly revealed, along with the reasons for Annie Doyle’s demise as the story progresses.

Laurence catches on quick that something is wrong, and immediately jumps to the obvious conclusion. His hatred of his father is fuelled by his father’s insensitivity about Laurence’s weight, and by his mother’s seeming innocence in the whole affair. This is the first real glimpse we catch of Lydia’s ability to manipulate and control the situation, but it still cannot prepare us for what is yet to come. Karen, meanwhile, a similar age to Laurence, gives us some insight into the family of the victim. With no body, there is no evidence that her sister is dead, though her disappearance has a profound effect on her family, tearing her parents apart and leaving Karen herself with an undeserved reputation when it is revealed that Annie was a heroin addict and prostitute. The lead detective on the case, O’Toole, is more interested in getting into Karen’s knickers than in finding what happened to her sister, and it is only five years later that she learns that the police did have a suspect but didn’t pursue the matter because he was a person of some power, and O’Toole was unwilling to rattle any cages.

The three threads of the story interweave and ultimately meet as the years pass, and no further word of Annie is heard. Laurence, twenty-three and still under the full control of his mother, becomes a hero with whom we can identify. Despite the terrible things he agrees to do in order to protect his family, we still feel that he deserves a good life, something that he is unlikely to achieve living in the shadow of Lydia. A chance encounter and a big heart find Laurence attempting to make amends for the actions of his father, little more than a token gesture, but as much as he can do until his friendship with Annie’s father leads to an introduction to his surviving daughter.

Lying in Wait is so well constructed that we never question the often outlandish turns of events, instead revelling in the twists and turns and ever-darkening tone of the story. This is, more than anything, Lydia’s story, and we watch, often in horror, as she manipulates her husband, her son and anyone else who comes into close proximity to protect herself, her home, and her family name. A masterful creation, her complex history has produced a woman who is quite clearly insane and who, once she sets her sights on something, will stop at nothing to get what she wants.

Liz Nugent’s writing is beautiful, the voices of the three narrators perfectly pitched, the quirks and tics we might expect in their speech beautifully translated to the written form. From the opening page, Nugent holds the reader in the palm of her hands, so the gut-punch she delivers as the novel draws to a close feels like a physical thing, leaving the reader stunned and disbelieving, emotionally drained yet already hoping for more more MORE! I missed Nugent’s debut, Unravelling Oliver, when it came out in 2014, but it’s definitely on my must-read list even as I try to recover from the effects of this one. An incredible novel, Lying in Wait is a lightning-fast read that should be an essential item for anyone packing for holiday. It cements Liz Nugent’s place as one of Ireland’s finest living novelists, and places her, at the very least, on this reader’s “must-read” list.

Lying-in-Wait-Blog-Tour

July 4, 2016 Posted by | Crime Fiction, Irish, Thriller | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

INFLUENCES: Five Books that Influenced Me by LIZ NUGENT

Liz Nugent Name: LIZ NUGENT

Author of: UNRAVELLING OLIVER (2014)
                 LYING IN WAIT (2016)

On the web: liznugent.ie

On Twitter: @lizzienugent

lying%20in%20wait%20blog%20tour1. The Book of Evidence by John Banville

I first read this when it was published in 1991 and thought it excellent. I wasn’t surprised when it won the Booker prize. In 2002, I was working as a stage manager on a stage adaptation of the book and with very close repeated reading, the story became more and more real to me. A middle-class sociopath is an intriguing central character. I determined then, that if I was ever going to write a book, it would be about someone as flawed as Freddie Montgomery.

2. Dreams of Leaving by Rupert Thomson

I read this while recuperating from an accident in 1988. I have never read anything like it in my life before or since. Highly original and beautifully written, the story of Moses who was born into a police state and smuggled out by his parents has stayed with me ever since. I’m a sucker for stories about orphans.

3. I Know This Much is True by Wally Lamb

I came across this when touring as a stage manager across America with Riverdance. The opening chapter grabbed me and as the story unfolded, it never let go. This was a book stuffed full of incident on every page and multi-layered characters so damaged by life that it was impossible not to become emotionally involved with them.

4. Rachel’s Holiday by Marian Keyes

Marian Keyes can find hilarity in the darkest of situations without ever losing the humanity of characters at their most vulnerable. This story of a young woman entering rehab for drug and alcohol addiction is funny, touching and uniquely courageous. I read it at a time in my life when I was quite lonely and it meant a lot.

5. A Fine Balance by Rohinton Mistry

This book is a masterpiece in its epic understanding and exploration of human nature and the depths of suffering (you’d need to read a Marian Keyes book straight afterwards). I’m almost scared to re-read it because I was so devastated by it. I think everyone should read it, but just once.

Lying-in-Wait-Blog-Tour

July 4, 2016 Posted by | Crime Fiction, Influences, Irish, Thriller | , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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