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Dark Crime and Speculative Fiction book reviews

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GUEST POST: Cosenza by THOMAS H. COOK

Thomas Cook Name: THOMAS H. COOK

Author of: TRAGIC SHORES (2017)

On Twitter: @thomashcook

Thomas H. Cook, an author best known for his crime novels, turns his pen to describing his many travels in his latest book, Tragic Shores, which examines some of the darkest places on the planet. It is available now from Quercus Books priced £20.00 and is, in this reviewer’s humble opinion, well worth the read. I’m very pleased to welcome Thomas to Reader Dad with a brief excerpt from the book.

One day nearly twenty-five years ago, my family and I were travelling through Italy. It had been a very long day, and the weather was very hot. My wife, who was always the driver in our family, was tired. She wanted to take a nap before going on.

She was good at naps. She could take a ten-minute one and wake up fully restored. My daughter Justine and I couldn’t nap at all. So while Susan snoozed happily behind the wheel, Justine and I went for a walk.

We were in the town of Cosenza, on Italy’s western coast. There is not much to recommend Cosenza. It didn’t even have what Justine had come to call “broken pot museums.” The river that runs through the town is equally nondescript. It is the Busento, and it is short and brown, and not at all lovely.

Justine and I ended up strolling along the banks of the Busento. Justine was twelve years old, and although she was a wonderful travelling companion, always curious and adventurous, and never one to complain, on this sweltering afternoon, I could tell that she was both mentally and physically exhausted.

We stopped in a mercifully shaded area along the river and peered down at it.

There wasn’t much to see. The Busento was not the Tiber, the Thames, the Hudson, or the Seine. Predictably, Justine was unimpressed.

I had not expected anything to happen that day. Certainly, I hadn’t expected anything to happen that would so vividly confirm a proposition that had been building in my mind. As we’d travelled about Europe, using Madrid as our base, I’d come to notice how much deeper our experience as a family was when we visited dark places. We’d been to Disneyland as a family, as well as the huge water park outside Madrid, but it was at sights of grim renown that we’d had our best conversations. Could it be that the most valuable family vacations, and the most memorably, were had not in amusement parks, no matter how extravagant, but in sites where tragic events had taken place?

Tragic ShoresAt Cosenza, I tested this theory.

As we stood in the shade, I nodded toward the poor little Busento, then related a tale I’d probably picked up from the travel guide.

“Alaric is buried in that river,” I said. “He was the last pagan emperor of the Roman Empire.”

Justine seemed barely interested. “How do you bury somebody in a river?” she asked.

“Well, in this case, slaves were used to dig a channel,” I answered. “The river was then rerouted to flow into that channel. Then Alaric’s grave was dug in the old riverbed. Once he was buried, the slaves filled in the channel they’d dug and the river resumed its original course.”

I saw that this story had made the Busento a bit more interesting to Justine, but not all that much. So what if some emperor was buried here? It was still hot, and she was still tired.

And so I added, “And after the river was back in its channel, all the slaves were put to death so that none of them could reveal the exact place where Alaric lies.”

It was then I saw the unique light that comes from darkness, that feeling of empathy that is the distinguishing mark of human beings.

It was an empathy for human life we wanted to encourage and broaden and share. And so after Cosenza, my family and I made a point of visiting some of the darkest places on earth. We went to Auschwitz together, to the salt mines outside Krakow, to Elmina, the great holding cell of slavery, in Ghana, to Waterloo, as well as many other dark places around the world, travels that taught us both individually and as a family, that there is much to be gained where much has been lost.

As a father, I encourage other families to do the same.

Extract: THE GIRL BEFORE by J. P. Delaney

9781786480293 THE GIRL BEFORE

J.P. Delaney

Quercus Books (www.quercusbooks.co.uk)

£12.99

To celebrate the release of J.P. Delaney’s The Girl Before, I’m very pleased to host a brief extract from the book. Be sure to follow the full Blog Tour. Yesterday’s post can be found at www.heatherreviews.com and tomorrow’s will be available at off-the-shelfbooks.blogspot.co.uk. You can find full details of the whole tour in the image at the bottom of this post.

Then: Emma

It’s a lovely little flat, the letting agent says with what could almost pass for genuine enthusiasm. Close to the amenities. And you’ve got that private bit of roof. That could become a sun terrace, subject of course to the freeholder’s consent.

Nice, Simon agrees, trying not to catch my eye. I’d known the flat was no good as soon as I saw that six-foot stretch of roof below one of the windows. Si knows it too but he doesn’t want to tell the agent, or at least not so soon it’ll seem rude. He might even hope that if I listen to the man’s stupid patter long enough I’ll waver.

The agent’s Simon’s kind of bloke: sharp, laddish, eager. He probably reads the magazine Simon works for. They were exchanging football chat before we even got up the stairs.

And here you’ve got a decent-size bedroom, the agent’s saying. With ample—

It’s no good, I interrupt, cutting short the charade. It’s not right for us.

The agent raises his eyebrows. You can’t be too choosy in this market, he says. This’ll be gone by tonight. Five viewings today, and it’s not even on our website yet.

It’s not secure enough, I say flatly. Shall we go?

There are locks on all the windows, he points out. Plus a Chubb on the door. You could always install a burglar alarm, if security’s a particular concern. I don’t think the landlord would have any objection.

He’s talking across me now, to Simon. Particular concern. He might as well have said, Oh, is the girlfriend a bit of a drama queen?

I’ll wait outside, I say, turning to leave.

Realising he’s blundered, the agent adds, If it’s the area that’s the problem, perhaps you should have a think further west.

We already have, Simon says. It’s all out of our budget. Apart from the ones the size of a teabag.

He’s trying to keep the frustration out of his voice, but the fact that he needs to riles me even more.

There’s a one-bed in Queen’s Park, the agent says. A bit grotty, but . . .

We looked at it, Simon says. In the end, we felt it was just a bit too close to that estate.

His tone makes it clear that we means she.

Or there’s a third-floor just come on in Kilburn—

That too. There was a drainpipe next to one of the windows.

The agent looks puzzled.

Someone could have climbed it, Simon explains.

Right. Well, the letting season’s only just started. Perhaps if you wait a bit.

The agent has clearly decided we’re time-wasters. He too is sidling towards the door. I go and stand outside, on the landing, so he won’t come near me.

We’ve already given notice on our old place, I hear Simon say. We’re running out of options. He lowers his voice. Look, mate, we were burgled. Five weeks ago. Two men broke in and threatened Emma with a knife. You can see why she’d be a bit jumpy.

Oh, the agent says. Shit. If someone did that to my girlfriend I don’t know what I’d do. Look, this might be a long shot, but . . .

His voice trails off.

Yes? Simon says.

Has anyone at the office mentioned One Folgate Street to you?

I don’t think so. Has it just come on?

Not exactly, no.

The agent seems unsure whether to pursue this or not.

But it’s available? Simon persists.

Technically, yes, the agent says. And it’s a fantastic property. Absolutely fantastic. In a different league to this. But the landlord’s . . . To say he’s particular would be putting it mildly.

What area? Simon asks.

Hampstead, the agent says. Well, more like Hendon. But it’s really quiet.

Em? Simon calls.

I go back inside. We might as well take a look, I say. We’re halfway there now.

The agent nods. I’ll stop by the office, he says. See if I can locate the details. It’s been a while since I took anyone round, actually. It’s not a place that would suit just anyone. But I think it might be right up your street. Sorry, no pun intended.

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