Search

Reader Dad – Book Reviews

Dark Crime and Speculative Fiction book reviews

Category

Private Investigator

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!

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.

THE SEARCHER by Chris Morgan Jones

The Searcher THE SEARCHER

Chris Morgan Jones (www.chrismorganjones.com)

Mantle (www.panmacmillan.com)

£16.99

Isaac Hammer’s world seems to be falling down around him. The offices of his intelligence agency, Ikertu, have been raided by the police, and Ike himself has been arrested. The charge? Obtaining information by illegal means: hacking and phone tapping. But this isn’t Ike’s style, and until the police stormed his offices, he believed it wasn’t the style of ex-employee Ben Webster, whose case the police are investigating. The problem now is that Webster has disappeared while travelling to Georgia for the funeral of a journalist friend. Ike must find him, not only because he is the only person who can save Ike’s skin, and his business, but because Webster’s wife has asked Ike for help. And so Isaac Hammer, the great detective, finds himself in the middle of a country on the verge of civil war, with no idea who is friend, and who is foe.

In his first two novels, An Agent of Deceit and The Jackal’s Share, Chris Morgan Jones introduced us to Ben Webster, a modern-day spy with a knack for getting himself in trouble. For his latest novel, The Searcher, Jones shifts the focus from Webster – who has disappeared even before the novel has begun – to Webster’s boss, Isaac ‘Ike’ Hammer. The novel opens with a series of alternating chapters which interleave Hammer’s dealings with the British police and his ultimate arrest with his arrival in Georgia a number of days later, intent on finding Ben Webster and dragging him back to London if necessary.

It becomes clear very early on that the relationship between Webster and Hammer, which has always been a friendly one, even if Hammer has never really approved of some of Webster’s activities, has been dissolved. Webster has left Ikertu, leaving Hammer hurt and confused in the process, and has set out on his own. When he drops out of sight in Georgia, the obvious assumption is that he has taken a job that has taken him to one of the country’s less-populous areas. It’s understandable, then, that Hammer should bear some anger towards him for forcing him to come and fetch him back to London. It doesn’t take long once he’s in the country for Hammer to realise that Webster’s disappearance might not have been voluntary and, with his driver Koba for company, he picks up his friend’s trail and follows him into the wilderness that marks the border between Georgia and Russia.

In shifting the focus from Webster to Hammer, Jones has also shifted the narrative tone of his writing. No more are we reading the new Le Carré or Deighton, though elements of this earlier tone do still crop up in the story, but rather the new Chandler or, similarity in the lead characters’ names notwithstanding, Spillane. It’s an interesting trick: while these two characters started life in the same place, they’re both very different, and the approach to writing them as central characters shows this difference to best effect: when Webster is in the forefront, we know we can expect an old-fashioned spy story; when Hammer leads, think of the P.I. novels that were prevalent in the middle of the Twentieth Century, and you’ll have a fair idea of what to expect.

Hammer is an unlikely hero, a small dapper man of fifty, though his mind is like a steel trap. He thinks of himself as “the great detective”, and from what we can see as The Searcher progresses, there’s no hyperbole. While the on-going investigation back in London plays on Hammer’s mind throughout the story, it has little bearing on the central plot: the missing Webster, a dead journalist, a terrorist bombing. Jones takes us from the Georgian capital Tbilisi, where daily protests quickly become riots, and where the American Hammer is made to feel less than welcome, to the mountainous and sparsely populated northern region of the country where he finds that, despite the pressures, life moves at a much slower pace.

Unfortunately for Hammer, Jones borrows another trick from the Marlowe novels, which sees his detective beaten almost to a pulp on several occasions. Like Chandler before him, the author seems to take great delight in inflicting pain on the detective, but it’s a tactic that not only serves to show the man’s strength of character, but also to increase the reader’s empathy with him so that we become fully invested in his adventure, and in the life-threatening danger that awaits him at every turn.

Jones’ characterisations are wonderful, and serve to bring the world around Hammer alive, from the loud and opinionated Koba, to the shady government agent Vekua; from the threatening presence of Otar Iosava, to the inexplicably vindictive Detective Inspector Sander. They give context to Hammer himself, his motives and thought processes and show him to be a man of sound moral judgement: perhaps the only thing that separates him from his literary forebears, for whom the word “shady” is often a gross understatement.

With The Searcher Jones shows incredible versatility, looking at his series books through the eyes of a different character, and through the medium of a different, if not entirely unrelated, genre. It will come as no surprise to anyone that has read his earlier books that he succeeds admirably. Well-written, excellent plotting and pace combine to take the unlikeliest of heroes and make him a character that we can believe in and root for. In many ways, Ike Hammer is a more interesting character than Ben Webster, and this reader has high hopes that we’ll see him take the lead again in future. The Searcher should definitely be on your “must read” list, even if you haven’t read Chris Morgan Jones before: it’s an excellent starting place, and opens this talented young author’s work to a whole new world of readers.

A MAN LIES DREAMING by Lavie Tidhar

A MAN LIES DREAMING - Lavie Tidhar A MAN LIES DREAMING

Lavie Tidhar (lavietidhar.wordpress.com)

Hodder & Stoughton (www.hodder.co.uk)

£18.99

In another time and place, a man lies dreaming.

National Socialism is routed at the 1933 elections by Communism, and its leadership exiled from Germany. Sentenced to a concentration camp, Adolf Hitler escapes and makes his way to London where, under his old nickname, Wolf, he sets up as a private detective. When a beautiful Jewish woman steps into his office in early November 1939 to hire him to find her missing sister, Wolf has no idea where the case will take him, except that he should have listened to his first instinct and thrown her out on the street. As his investigation progresses, Wolf finds himself on the wrong side of all the wrong people: the Metropolitan Police; all of the men and women who once formed the upper echelons of the Nazi Party; Oswald Mosley’s British Union of Fascists; and a mysterious man who is killing the prostitutes who congregate outside Wolf’s office, and framing the detective for their murders.

Most importantly, for the reader at least, is the fact that none of this is real; it is all the lucid fabrication of Shomer, a man who once wrote shund – Yiddish pulp fiction – for a living, and who now uses it as a form of escape from his current location: hell on Earth. Auschwitz-Birkenau.

In what is perhaps the most original take on the Holocaust novel to date, Lavie Tidhar presents the events as a hard-boiled detective novel which at first glance appears to be set in an alternate timeline. As the novel progresses we discover that it is actually a fiction, a story within the story, the dreams and daydreams of an Auschwitz inmate named Shomer. The central story follows Wolf as he accepts a job from Isabella Rubinstein, a Jew, who wants him to use his connections to find her sister who went missing while trying to escape from Germany. From the outset, it is clear that the aim of the story is to belittle and humiliate Wolf, the reasons becoming more obvious as we learn of the story’s origins. During his investigation, Wolf encounters old colleagues – Hess, Goebbels, Klaus Barbie – and discovers that they all appear to have adapted to this brave new world better than he has himself. Coupled with the success – and imminent election as Prime Minister – of Oswald Mosley, a wannabe in Wolf’s eyes

To see Mosley, that clown, with such power! Even the man’s words were second-hand.

, it becomes obvious just how far Wolf has fallen since the heights of the Nuremberg rallies.

Interspersed with this central narrative, we catch brief glimpses of Shomer, the eponymous dreamer, as he dreams his way through his time in Auschwitz, talking to the ghost of his dead friend Yenkl when he is not reinventing the man at the root of his suffering as the hero of a pulpy detective story. We get brief flashes of his arrival on the train, the separation from his family, hard labour digging graves and a brief stay in the camp’s infirmary, where he crosses paths with fellow authors Primo Levi and Ka-Tzetnik. It is, as you might expect given the subject matter, a harrowing look at life in Auschwitz made no less powerful by the brevity of our visits. Shomer, like those around him, is little more than the blue-tattooed number on his arm, and the stories he invents are the only relief he finds from the daily horrors. The novel’s final line is heartbreakingly beautiful, an excellent summation of what is an extraordinary novel.

A Man Lies Dreaming is a brave novel for a man whose life has been shaped by the very events he is describing

The majority of my family, on both sides, died in [Auschwitz]

Tidhar explains in his historical note at the end). A far cry from the outright satire of Timur Vermes’ Look Who’s Back, A Man Lies Dreaming examines the dictator in a completely different way. The first-person excerpts from Wolf’s diary give us some insight into the character of the man, while filtering much of the narrative through the Chandler-esque voice. Despite the odd moment where Wolf comes across as a kind of Basil Fawlty impersonator (

He bashed the receiver against the phone box, over and over, splintering the casing, wantonly destroying the property of His Majesty’s General Post Office.

), he elicits a surprising feeling of empathy from the reader, despite what we know. Like Chandler’s well-loved Marlowe, Wolf does not come out of this case well, one beating following quickly on the heels of the one before, ritual humiliation, an impromptu circumcision, so that it’s a wonder that the man makes it to the end of the story in one piece.

This sort of alternative history is not new ground for Lavie Tidhar, who won the 2012 World Fantasy Award for Best Novel for his alternate take on Osama. Brilliantly capturing the mood of a pre-war (war still looms very much on the horizon, though delayed by Hitler’s Fall) Britain while mixing it with the modern-day xenophobia that seems to be sweeping the country, spurred on by the likes of UKIP (some of whose slogans Tidhar uses to provide voice to Mosley’s supporters). The author’s deft touch sees Wolf, whose anti-semitic views survive his exile, become the object of racial hatred, rather than its purveyor, a state of affairs that is likely to have brought Shomer no small measure of happiness.

Beautifully constructed, this story within a story, mystery within mystery, is a fresh and unique take on Holocaust fiction, which is no less powerful or disturbing for its strange direction. Flawless, engaging and with an eye for detail that is second-to-none, A Man Lies Dreaming is the perfect follow-up to last year’s The Violent Century, even going so far as to examine one of the earlier novel’s key questions, albeit from a different angle: what makes a man? One of the best novels I’ve read in a year of excellent novels, A Man Lies Dreaming stands beside some of the classics of Holocaust literature while providing a more accessible route than some, and is nothing less than a masterpiece.

THE FIRST STONE by Elliott Hall

the-first-stone-elliott-hall THE FIRST STONE

Elliott Hall (elliott-hall.co.uk)

John Murray (www.johnmurray.co.uk)

£7.99

hrpv2Elliott Hall’s 2009 debut novel, and the first in his Felix Strange trilogy, The First Stone, is the subject of the latest Hodderscape Review Project. Don’t forget to check out the thoughts of my fellow reviewers, to which you’ll find links on the Hodderscape website.

Brother Isaiah is America’s best-loved preacher. When his body is found in his hotel room shortly after he arrives in New York at the head of his Crusade of Love, foul play is the most obvious explanation. Felix Strange, veteran of the holy war in Iran, is now a private investigator who specialises in the seedier jobs for which men in his profession are best known. So when he is hired to look into Brother Isaiah’s death – and keep it quiet while he does so – he finds himself wondering what made him the ideal candidate. Something is rotten at the core of America’s religious government and Brother Isaiah’s death is only the tip of the iceberg. Felix Strange would rather not be involved but, for now at least, he has little choice in the matter.

The First Stone, as well as being Elliott Hall’s debut novel, is also the first in a trilogy featuring private eye Felix Strange. In many ways a Philip Marlowe clone, there is little to set Strange apart from others in the same genre until you take a look at the world in which he operates: Hall has created a frightening – but extremely realistic – vision of an all-too-possible future America that elevates Strange above his fictional contemporaries and uses his story to present a stark warning to the book’s readers.

This is America of a very near future: Houston is gone, the only American casualty in a short-lived nuclear war with Iran (whose capital city Tehran was the only other casualty). In the wake of these atrocities, America has turned to God for help, electing a president on a deeply religious mandate. Now run by a group of twelve Elders, the country is slowly slipping back into the dark ages, the gender divide widening instead of shrinking, and even punishment for most venial sins backed up by the force of law. Around this background, Hall has constructed a number of groups which all, on the surface, are working towards the same aim but which each has its own hidden agenda. Groups such as the Crusade of Love, and Ezekiel White’s Committee for Child Protection, a sort of police force tasked with the safety of the nation’s souls.

Throw into this mix Felix Strange, atheist private eye who is considered Jewish by virtue of the fact that his mother was a Jew, and the scene is set for fireworks from the outset. Strange is a veteran of the holy war waged by America on Iran, and was in-country when Tehran turned into "Ghost Town". Like many of his fellow soldiers, he has returned to the United States with an unwanted souvenir, an inexplicable and incurable unnamed disease that leaves him crippled with pain and prone to fits if he doesn’t take his regular medications. And in a right-wing, God-fearing America where socialised healthcare has never existed, affording these medications is often nigh on impossible, which is why he is happy to accept this commission without asking too many questions.

Strange is, as I’ve mentioned, a clone of Chandler’s Marlowe, as many great private detectives created since the 1950s have been before him, down to the very clothes he wears, and the wise-cracking attitude that tends to get him into trouble. Like Chandler, Hall isn’t afraid to put his creation through the mill, and the reader can expect Strange to spend large portions of the novel in severe pain and/or serious trouble. Throw in a beautiful woman, a member of the Crusade of Love whose job is to entrap sinners – adulterers, usurers – and The First Stone is the perfect recipe for a top-rate PI mystery, which will see Felix Strange mixing with government, police, gangsters and even the FBI in the quest not only to find the answers he’s been paid to find, but also to keep his own head on his shoulders and remain one step ahead of the myriad groups out for his blood.

In part driven by the characters – Strange himself has a certain charm that makes him the ideal voice for the story, but the other characters such as the enigmatic Iris, the rich Thorpe, the power-hungry White, are equally as engaging – and in part by the strange new world that Hall has created out of the ashes of this world that we know so well, The First Stone is part classic private eye novel, part dystopian noir. Regardless of which part appeals to the individual, it’s a well-rounded novel that not only comes to a satisfying conclusion, but also gets a hook into the reader guaranteeing that we’ll be back for the rest of the trilogy (fortunately for us, since The First Stone was first published in 2009, the complete trilogy is already available and has just recently been released in a lovely omnibus edition by Hodder).

As well as the rollicking mystery tale, The First Stone contains much food for thought. This warped vision of the future is all the more frightening because of how realistic it seems, how close to our own reality this alternate world is. Part parody, part warning, it is a novel that could only have been written from the outsider’s perspective (Hall is a Canadian who lives in England) without devolving into pure satire or political rhetoric.

A darkly comic creation built around a tightly-plotted mystery and set in a New York that is but a single election away from the one we know, Elliott Hall’s The First Stone is the perfect introduction to an excellent reimagining of a comfortable old character trope. Felix Strange is exactly what we want in a fictional private eye and Hall’s debut novel is the perfect introduction to the man’s weird and wonderful world. I’ll definitely be picking up the rest of the trilogy, and will be waiting with bated breath for Hall’s next outing.

THE BLACK-EYED BLONDE by Benjamin Black

THE BLACK-EYED BLONDE - Benjamin Black THE BLACK-EYED BLONDE

Benjamin Black (www.benjaminblackbooks.com)

Mantle (www.panmacmillan.com)

£16.99

It seems like a straightforward case: Nico Peterson, the boyfriend of Philip Marlowe’s married client, has disappeared. It’s a scenario Marlowe has investigated often and it usually means the boyfriend has wanted to end the affair and decided disappearing might be an easier option than going through the process of ending it. So Marlowe takes the case, mainly because he can’t bear the thought of Clare Cavendish walking out of his office and never seeing her again. But as he investigates, things don’t quite add up. For one thing, Nico Peterson is dead and buried. For another, something isn’t quite right about Clare Cavendish’s story. Throw in a pair of Mexican heavies, one of L.A.’s top gangsters and a country club that seems to be a front for something less than legal, and Marlowe is up to his hat-brim in trouble. And he hasn’t even been paid for the job.

Once upon a long time ago, at the tender age of about fifteen, I discovered the novels of Raymond Chandler. Immediately entranced, I immersed myself in the L.A. of the mid-twentieth century in the company of one of the most iconic and entertaining characters in crime fiction. I loved every word, but have never gone back to the books since: Poodle Springs, of which Chandler wrote the first few chapters and which was finished by another crime fiction stalwart, Robert B. Parker, left a bad taste in my mouth. When I heard that Marlowe was once again being resurrected, I was less than thrilled by the idea and will freely admit that I stepped into Benjamin Black’s The Black-Eyed Blonde fully expecting to hate it from page one.

In the time-honoured tradition of Chandler’s novels, and the thousands of copycat private eyes that came after, we find ourselves in the head of the wise-cracking Philip Marlowe as he meets his client. Black – the open pseudonym of Irish Booker winner John Banville – has done his homework, and has obviously spent many hours in the company of Chandler’s prose and his most famous creation. Marlowe’s voice is spot on, the atmosphere perfect, the language almost indistinguishable from that used in the original series of novels. Marlowe has a way with words that, while not always eloquent, gets his point across perfectly to the reader, as when describing his client early in the novel.

That smile: it was like something she had set a match to a long time ago and then left to smolder on by itself. She had a lovely upper lip, prominent, like a baby’s, soft-looking and a little swollen, as if she had done a lot of kissing recently, and not kissing babies, either.

The Black-Eyed Blonde follows on from Chandler’s sixth Marlowe novel, The Long Goodbye and references some of the events and characters from that novel. Cavendish, it turns out, has been recommended to Marlowe by Linda Loring, a woman that Chandler met during the events of The Long Goodbye and who he would later (heaven forfend) marry. That said, it’s not necessary to have read that earlier novel (or, for that matter, any of Chandler’s oeuvre) to enjoy Black’s addition to the series but, as with all these things, prior knowledge brings increased enjoyment.

Like many of Marlowe’s cases, this one soon becomes convoluted and our private eye hero finds himself on the end of more than one beating and more often the suspect in police investigations than the criminals with whom he consorts. Black has populated the story with a mix of old friends and enemies, and new characters alike. There’s even an Irish connection, in the guise of Ma Langrishe, Clare Cavendish’s mother, a woman sharp of both wit and tongue. But the star is, as you’d fully expect, Marlowe himself. It’s been a long time since he has had an outing, but Black manages to make him as fresh and interesting as ever, part detective, part philosopher, the fount of wit and wisdom that long-term fans have come to know and love. And for readers like me, who haven’t visited in a while, there are reminders of the little tics and tricks that Marlowe employs when dealing with people.

I nodded – sagely, I hoped – then took up my pipe and did some business with it, tamping the dottle, and so on. A tobacco pipe is a very handy prop, when you want to seem thoughtful and wise.

In all, it’s a satisfying addition to the Marlowe canon and Banville/Black has proved he is a more-than-capable successor to Chandler. There is one unfortunate passage close to the end of the novel in which he all-but-telegraphs the mystery’s outcome, but it’s a forgivable sin given what he has accomplished. I’m a convert; I’ve gone from wanting to hate this novel to wanting everyone to read it, and I would love to see Marlowe return yet again under the control of Mr Black.

With the classic mix of wit and violence that we’ve come to expect from Raymond Chandler’s Philip Marlowe novels, Benjamin Black takes us back to 1950s Los Angeles to catch up with a man being hailed as "the world’s greatest private investigator" and, for many, an old friend. More than just a pastiche, The Black-Eyed Blonde reintroduces Marlowe to a modern audience with a degree of success that I don’t think anyone could have predicted. Where Black succeeds admirably is in making me want to go back and re-read those novels I first discovered almost twenty-five years ago. I suspect people new to Marlowe will feel the same. More importantly, perhaps, is the fact that we now live in a world where Poodle Springs never happened or, at the very least, hasn’t happened yet. That can’t be a bad thing. Whether a long term fan or a relative newcomer, The Black-Eyed Blonde is the perfect place to get (re)acquainted with Philip Marlowe, Private Eye.

EAST OF INNOCENCE by David Thorne

East-of-Innocence - David Thorne EAST OF INNOCENCE

David Thorne

Corvus (atlantic-books.co.uk)

£12.99

It’s an old joke, well-worn. What’s the difference between God and a lawyer? The man sitting across the desk from me, eyes fixed on my face, doesn’t look like he’d appreciate the punch line.

Daniel Connell, son of an Essex hard-man, is a big-time lawyer fallen on hard times. Following a disagreement with one of the partners at the high-powered law firm where he worked, the hulking Connell finds himself back in the town where he grew up, practicing a variety of law that is very different to the cases he was used to in the City. Terry Campion, policeman and client, turns up at Daniel’s office, beaten and bruised, and hands him a collection of discs. Terry has been beaten by a group of fellow policemen, and the discs contain video evidence of the assault. Unknown to Terry, they also contain something a lot more valuable to his attackers, and to the family of young Rosie O’Shaughnessy, missing presumed dead. Daniel’s other case, Billy Morrison’s injury in a hit and run accident, turns out to be less accidental than Billy might like to believe, and brings Connell in contact with local crime boss, Vincent Halliday who, with an offhand remark, begins Connell’s search for his mother, a woman he believes walked out on him and his father when he was only a few days old. Making no friends, and facing violence at every turn, Connell sets out to find his missing mother, and to seek the downfall of Baldwin, the psychotic policeman whose assault on Terry Campion is the least of his crimes, and of Vincent Halliday, whose decision thirty-seven years earlier sealed the course of Daniel’s life of abuse and terror at the hands of his father.

Connell’s career choice is, interestingly, what sets David Thorne’s debut novel aside from many others in a similar genre. He isn’t a policeman, not a private detective. And yet, his role as lawyer, and the community in which he practices, combine to make him a sort of everyman who has the habit of being in the wrong place at the wrong time (for him; for us readers, it’s perfect, a mystery thriller with a hint of a difference). Connell is a big man, and as we learn about his background, it becomes clear that the choice of law probably surprised many of the people who knew him. Even now, at thirty-seven years old, Connell is introduced (and, on more than one occasion, introduces himself) not as "Daniel Connell", but as "Frankie’s boy", which tells both the person to whom he is being introduced, and the reader, all we need to know about Daniel and his father, and the kinds of circles in which they move.

Connell is instantly likeable (quite a feat for a lawyer, if you follow the joke that opens the novel to its logical conclusion), a decent, honest and surprisingly gentle man in the body of a giant thug.  His search for his mother, at times irritating, as it takes away from the action/thriller-based subplots, becomes key to the novel as we realise just how well this man has turned out under the circumstances, and how much better things might have been for him under the care of a much more caring parent. Connell’s father is a nasty and abusive alcoholic, a man who revels in handing out punishment, even to the giant that his son has become.

The people who surround Connell are as well-drawn as the central character, and Thorne spends considerable time evoking the small Essex town where these people live and do business. Connell’s best friend is a veteran of Iraq and Afghanistan, a man considerably changed since his return from war less one leg; Vincent Halliday comes across as the typical East End gangster, an unpleasant man – getting on in years – who relies on hired muscle to do his dirty work; and Baldwin, a police officer who has taken the power and authority of the office to the extreme, a man who sees himself as above the law, and who will stop at nothing when he feels that his position is in danger.

Baldwin smiled reasonably. ‘If you don’t tell me,’ he said, ‘I’m going to cut your finger off.’  He raised his eyebrows, as if a thought had just struck him. ‘On that bandsaw.’

In Baldwin, Thorne has created one of the most morally reprehensible figures in British crime fiction, a man the reader loves to hate, but one so charismatic, so utterly evil, that he still manages to steal every single scene of which he is a part.

Connell tells the story in a well-developed voice, in a present tense which lends some immediacy to the proceedings. There are moments of sheer horror with darkly humorous interludes, and even some genuinely touching moments as we follow Daniel on his quest to locate his lost childhood. He’s a quick-witted and sharp-tongued protagonist who makes an instant impression on anyone he meets, including the reader.

‘Look,’ I say. ‘This is my office. I have client confidentialities to respect, other cases to take care of. No offence, but it’s going to be hard to do that with some hired goon standing in the corner.’ Eddie frowns. ‘By hired good, Eddie, I mean you.’

East of Innocence is the first novel from a talented writer who cut his teeth on TV and radio comedy. His origins definitely shine through in the novel, despite its dark tone and subject matter – Daniel Connell is a witty and intelligent man, and we like him almost instantly upon meeting him. By turns gruesome, touching, violent, funny, East of Innocence is never less than engaging and always unpredictable. It’s a wonderfully written example of gritty British crime drama that we’re as likely as not to see on our TV screens in the near future, peopled with strong and engaging characters, most notably the story’s central character who is more than capable of carrying a series of books, if Thorne can find a way to keep each entry fresh and interesting. His debut is definitely a winner.

A TAP ON THE WINDOW by Linwood Barclay

A TAP ON THE WINDOW - Linwood Barclay A TAP ON THE WINDOW

Linwood Barclay (linwoodbarclay.com)

Orion (www.orionbooks.co.uk)

£16.99

Heading home from an out-of-town job on a wet and miserable night, Cal Weaver stops at a red light close to Griffon, New York’s local hangout spot. When a teenage girl taps on his window and asks for a lift, Cal knows it’s the height of stupidity, but the fact that the girl recognises him as "Scott’s father" causes him to renege. In the darkness, he can’t see much, but he does notice the scratch on the back of her left hand. Claiming to feel ill, the girl asks Cal to pull into the nearby fast food restaurant. When she gets back into the car, the scratch is gone, the original girl replaced by someone new. When one of the girls turns up dead, and the other is reported missing, Cal finds himself dead centre of the police investigation. But there is more going on here than the disappearance of a teenage girl, secrets and political enmities that define the small town of Griffon and which, if he follows the trail, may lead Cal to some understanding of how his own son died eight months earlier.

Linwood Barclay recently described the first chapter of his novels as a hook designed to draw the reader into the story. In the case of A Tap on the Window, this is certainly very true: we’re as intrigued by this switch as Cal Weaver is, and the book quickly becomes that old cliché of reviews of thriller novels: unputdownable. Far from a cliché itself, though, the story is original and engaging, drawing the reader ever onwards, increasing the sense of mystery and tension in tandem, notch by notch, as we progress through the chapters.

Told from the point of view of Cal, a private detective and ex-policeman, we see the town of Griffon as he does: as an outsider who, despite having lived here for six years, still doesn’t have the full measure of the town. There is a Stepford or Midwich feel to the town, a certain quality that sets it apart from the rest of small-town America: the police force seem to be a law unto themselves, beating out-of-towners or young troublemakers rather than going to the trouble of processing them through official channels, sexually assaulting young women in the guise of searching them for illegal substances. The town’s mayor is a lone voice in condemning this approach, the vast majority of the townspeople happy to have a peaceful town, unaffected by the sort of trouble that plagues the city of Buffalo, a mere twenty miles distant. It’s this setup, a large group of otherwise seemingly normal people who live in fear of the big bad world bursting their tiny little bubble of peace and harmony, that makes the setting feel slightly odd and gives the reader the uncomfortable sense that what’s going on may not conform to our usual expectations.

Cal is an unwilling participant in the events of the novel, drawn into the mystery through sheer bad luck, and a nagging need to see the mystery through to the end. He’s a man with baggage: his teenage son threw himself from the top of a four storey building while high on Ecstasy eight months prior to the story’s opening, and it’s a burden that still weighs heavily on Cal’s mind, affecting his relationship with his wife, and also with the people in town who knew his son prior to his death. Cal has a short temper, which frequently leads him to trouble, and while the reader never suspects for a minute that Cal could have been involved in the death of the second young girl, it’s obvious to see why the police might view him as a suspect, under the circumstances. In some ways, this defect makes Cal more real for the reader, and certainly more human than his fellow Griffoners.

Barclay carefully has carefully constructed his plot, and his characters, to keep the reader in the dark as much as possible. It is impossible to know who to trust, and who to suspect, all helped by the first person point of view that removes any outside influence for the reader. When the revelations come, and they come thick and fast as the book approaches its climax, they are surprising and, best of all, satisfying. Barclay doesn’t make life easy for his central character, though, so expect to be shocked. It’s a wonderfully-written novel, a very literate thriller that manages to move at a cracking pace without resorting to the usual tricks of the trade: short chapters filled with short sentences, or screenplays barely re-written in prose form. Barclay has an ear for the language used in northern New York state and, as a result, the dialogue flows with ease, worthy, perhaps, of comparison to the dialogue of the late, great Elmore Leonard.

The perfect hook to get the reader interested in the first place, and enough substance to keep them turning pages once the scene has been set, Linwood Barclay’s latest novel, A Tap on the Window, is a masterclass in thriller writing. Intelligent, witty, exciting and with a touch of oddity that serves to set it apart from others in the genre, this is crime-fiction escapism at its finest. It’s my first experience with Mr Barclay; it certainly won’t be my last.

THE HOUSE OF SILK by Anthony Horowitz

HOUSE OF SILK by Anthony Horowitz THE HOUSE OF SILK

Anthony Horowitz (anthonyhorowitz.com)

Orion (www.orionbooks.co.uk)

£18.99

Released: 1st November

Anthony Horowitz is, perhaps, best known by a certain generation of young boys as the man behind the popular Alex Rider series of books. It is, I think, less well-known that he is also the man behind some of the most popular mystery dramas currently on British television: Midsomer Murders, Poirot and Foyle’s War are amongst his creations. Young boys of a different generation (namely my own, and it is here that I start to show my age) know him better for an altogether different series of books: those featuring the Diamond Brothers, beginning with his 1986 novel, The Falcon’s Malteser. With The House of Silk, Horowitz makes his first (and hopefully not his last) foray into the world of probably the most iconic detective of them all: Sherlock Holmes.

When Dr John Watson’s wife takes a break to spend some time with a previous employer – and now good friend – outside London, he decides to move in with his old friend Sherlock Holmes for the duration. Whilst there, the men receive a visit from Edmund Carstairs, an art dealer from Wimbledon who spins a tale of train robberies, destroyed artworks, and a gang of flat-cap-wearing Irishmen operating out of Boston. He is afraid for his life, he tells Holmes, because a man wearing a flat cap has started standing outside his home, following him on evenings out; this man is, he believes, the sole surviving member of the Boston gang who has come to London to exact revenge on Carstairs for his involvement in the demise of his gang.

Holmes, intrigued, takes on the case, and visits Carstairs’ home. Within hours the man in the flat cap has burgled the house and fled to a small hotel in Bermondsey, where Holmes’ Baker Street Irregulars track him down. When Holmes and Watson arrive on the scene, they find one of the Irregulars – a young boy called Ross – acting somewhat erratically. Inside the hotel, they find the man in the flat cap stabbed to death, and Holmes explains away Ross’s behaviour as being related. When the boy’s badly-beaten body turns up days later, Holmes and Watson find that things have taken a much more sinister turn, and that the mysterious House of Silk lies behind everything.

As is traditional, the story is narrated by the ever-faithful Dr Watson, now an old and infirm man who has outlived his best friend by several years. Bookended by brief notes from this elderly Watson, we are given explanation for why this story has never been told before. As is also traditional, the story opens with a lesson, by Holmes, in ratiocination and deductive reasoning, as he divines the reason for Watson’s visit based on a handful of seemingly innocuous clues.

I should mention at this point that I’ve been a fan of Sherlock Holmes for many years. Like, I suspect, many people of my generation, the abiding image I have of the man – and therefore the benchmark against which I compare all other Holmeses – is Jeremy Brett’s portrayal in the long-running ITV series. From the moment Horowitz’s Holmes opens his mouth, I heard Brett’s distinctive voice in my head and knew I was on to a winner, at least in terms of characterisation. The relationship between the two men is as fans have come to expect, with the mens’ mutual respect sometimes tempered by a certain amount of acerbic ribbing, usually by Holmes, of Watson:

“I take it you will join me?”

“Of course, Holmes. I would like nothing better.”

“Excellent. I sometimes wonder how I will be able to find the energy or the will to undertake another investigation if I am not assured that the general public will be able to read every detail of it in due course.”

Horowitz has an encyclopaedic knowledge of the Holmes canon, and sets his story in a definite time period, both in the very real sense – the story takes place in November 1890 – but also by placing it in relation to the rest of Conan Doyle’s stories – we are some seven weeks after “The Adventure of the Red-Headed League”, and Holmes has just completed “The Adventure of the Dying Detective”. There is no doubt, both in terms of the references both overt and implicit, and the general tone Horowitz strikes, that the author has immersed himself in the stories of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle whilst writing this latest adventure. It should be noted that this is the first Sherlock Holmes story that has ever been endorsed by the Conan Doyle estate, which should go some way to indicating how close Horowitz has come to depicting Holmes and the sometimes-hapless Watson.

Horowitz pulls out all the stops, reintroducing us to a whole cast of characters that have become, over the years, part of the national – if not global – consciousness: apart from Holmes and Watson, there is the ever-present and often-ignored Mrs Hudson; Detective Inspector Lestrade; Holmes’ unofficial police force in the shape of the Baker Street Irregulars; the more-intelligent older brother Mycroft; and, of course, Holmes’ nemesis, Professor James Moriarty. With one exception, these characters are introduced naturally, and play roles that are as familiar to any Holmes fan as the Persian slipper where he keeps his tobacco, or the infamous address at which he lives. Unfortunately, Moriarty’s introduction seemed slightly shoe-horned, as he appears as a kind of deus ex machina whose intervention, in the end, goes nowhere. But this is a minor quibble, and in no way detracts from the story, or interferes with canon.

The House of Silk consists of two mysteries which seem, at first, to be separate, one nested neatly inside the other and the two related, seemingly, by the flimsiest of links. “The Man in the Flat Cap” proceeds to a seemingly neat conclusion, and then Holmes hurries off in pursuit of the “The House of Silk”. But as the novel progresses it becomes clear that the two cases are more closely related than it seems at first and as the detective wraps up the mystery of the House of Silk, he returns his attention to the original mystery. In some ways, as with many Holmes stories, this is not a mystery for the reader to solve: it is a showcase for the singular talents of Sherlock Holmes. Like the stories of Conan Doyle, there are plenty of clues scattered around, and the eagle-eyed reader may be able to piece together some of the solution. Horowitz does a fantastic job of keeping all the proverbial balls in the air, creating a perfectly-plotted set of mysteries, and a more-than-satisfactory set of solutions, while all the time maintaining the spirit of the original stories.

The House of Silk is a must for all fans of Sherlock Holmes. Pitch-perfect characterisation combined with a complex and involving plot leave the reader in no doubt that Holmes – and the spirit of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle – are alive and well in the form of Anthony Horowitz. As I mentioned at the start of this review, I have high hopes that this will not be Mr Horowitz’s last foray into the world of Holmes. For anyone who has never read Holmes, this not a bad place to start; there is nothing here that requires previous knowledge of the characters, although those who have read the Holmes stories will surely come away with a much richer experience. To quote Watson himself:

[I]t has been good to find myself back at Holmes’s side, […], always one step behind him (in every sense) and yet enjoying the rare privilege of observing, at close quarters, that unique mind.

I doubt I could have said it better myself.

Powered by WordPress.com.

Up ↑