'The Abattoir of Dreams' is thriller writer Mark Tilbury’s third novel, and as I’m a fan of the first two, reading this one was a must! Unlike Mark’s other books, 'The Revelation Room' and 'The Eyes of the Accused', it's a standalone offering and not part of the Ben Whittle investigation series. Instead, in 'The Abattoir of Dreams' Mark takes his writing down a supernatural route, blending a paranormal theme with thriller material, a dash of time travel and dollops of humour. A unique and intriguing concept! Here’s a taster:
Michael Tate has not had an easy life. With his father in prison, and his mother dead, Michael was sent to Woodside Children’s Home.
Now an adult, Michael wakes up from a coma in hospital suffering from amnesia and paralysis. Confused and terrified, he is charged with the fatal stabbing of his girlfriend, Becky. He also learns he attempted to end his own life.
Detective Inspector John Carver is determined that Michael is sent to prison. With no way of defending himself, Michael is left in his hospital bed awaiting transfer to remand. But then strange things begin to happen and his childhood comes back to haunt him. Can Michael ever escape the past? Will he ever discover the truth about Becky’s murder? And why is DI Carver so eager to make him suffer?
How does Mark Tilbury blend humour and horror so well?
Sounds intriguing, doesn't it? Much of the action takes place in the 1970s, at a government-run children’s home. In recent years we’ve seen the unearthing of many terrible abuse cases that happened at such places, and this theme is examined in depth in 'The Abattoir of Dreams'.
The plot delves into many dark concepts, such as cruelty to children, corruption and murder and yet Mark throws in splashes of humour along the way. This is what has struck me before with his writing, and what makes him stand out – I read his books and think, ‘how the hell does he do that?’ You wouldn’t think horror and humour make good bedfellows, yet they do in Mark’s capable hands. He manages it with a succession of witty asides, sarcastic comments and other gems, often in the head of Michael Tate, the protagonist.
Talking of characters, what a fine cast we have!
There are many dark souls in this book: Michael’s father, Kraft and Malloy at Woodside, and none more dogged in his pursuit of Michael than D I John Carver, the police officer determined to bring Michael to justice. Alongside them are many sympathetic characters, though: Michael’s mother, her friend Rachel and the kindly vicar, Paul Brady. The friendship between the younger Michael and damaged fellow Woodside resident Liam is both tender and touching, and lightens the part of the story that deals with terrible things. And then there’s Michael himself. Paralysed, his memory faulty, he’s vulnerable to the machinations of D I Carver, and the reader feels for his plight, especially once his tragic story begins to be revealed. He needs to confront his past, but how can he when he doesn’t remember it? Michael has friends, however, and not all of them belong to this world. As a ghostly presence transports him back in time, the truth is gradually revealed, and Michael learns what really happened to Becky.
Want to know more? Check out these links:
It's my pleasure this week to review Tony Forder's 'Slow Slicing', the latest novel in his bestselling Bliss and Chandler police procedural series. I interviewed Tony for my blog in April 2019, and you can read that post here: Interview with Tony Forder.
Right, on with my review of 'Slow Slicing'! Here's a taster of the plot:
WHEN DEATH BECOMES THE KINDEST CUT OF ALL
When slices of flesh and body parts are discovered in different areas of the country, DI Bliss and his team are tasked with running the operation. After Bliss realises the victims have been subjected to a specific form of torture, it leads him to a cold case involving the brutal and bloody murder of a woman in London twenty-six years earlier.
As the team discover links between their victims, the murdered woman, and gangland crime, they begin a dangerous investigation into both the past and the present. But Bliss is stumped, unable to decide if the current spate of mutilations are acts of revenge or the result of ageing criminals seeking to hide their despicable actions. Following a leak to the media, Bliss’s reaction may have dire consequences.
With the hunt for the victims at fever point, Bliss uncovers evidence steering him in the direction of one particular individual. The only problem being, his prime suspect is the one person it cannot possibly be. When Bliss orders a sting operation, the astonishing truth is revealed. And that’s when things really start to go wrong…
More twists than a bag of pretzels...
Wow, sounds intriguing, right? And it is. 'Slow Slicing' is yet another superb book in Tony Forder's Bliss and Chandler series. It's a dark and disturbing read that delivers more twists than a bag of pretzels, and never fails to entertain. When I say 'dark and disturbing', I mean it - this is not a novel for the squeamish. At one point I had to take a deep breath before reading on, because what was happening wasn't pretty. I expect that from crime fiction anyway; the book blurb specifically mentions torture, so I can't say I wasn't warned. The violence described is never gratuitous, though; it's relevant to the plot but never dominates it.
Let's start with the story. The pacing is relentless and the narrative fascinating. 'Slow Slicing' is a page turner that poses intriguing questions. Why has the torturer waited so long to exact revenge? Wait - maybe it's not vengeance, but an attempt by gangsters to conceal other crimes. Other weird stuff crops up too. What's the reason for the letters and numbers carved into the victims' body parts? Tony keeps his reader guessing throughout, but all the questions are answered by the time the satisfying conclusion rolls around.
Bliss and Chandler are well-drawn characters, and continue their symbiotic relationship in 'Slow Slicing'. This time Chandler takes a back seat, with Bliss often branching out on his own. At best this causes tension between him and Penny; at worst it entails serious consequences for Bliss's career. Bliss, with his usual 'don't care' attitude, is solely concerned with catching the bad guys, and if his methods are unorthodox, so what? That doesn't go down well with his superior officers, of course!
I've said it before and I'll say it again - this author ranks in terms of talent with the very best of novelists. I wish I could award 'Slow Slicing' more than five stars, but hey ho, life's not perfect! Let's just say the five stars I'm giving this book are all supernovas.
Discover more about Tony Forder and his novels:
Recently I read 'Thinner' (1984) by Richard Bachman. For those who don't know, Richard Bachman is a pseudonym of the great Stephen King. When King was embarking on his writing career, many publishers opted not to release more than one book per year by each author, since they believed more would be unacceptable to the public. (How times have changed!) King therefore chose to write under a pen name to increase his sales without over-saturating the market for his books. There are seven books in the Bachman collection, with Thinner being the fourth; the others include 'The Running Man', later made into a well-known film. King has stated that that writing as Richard Bachman was also his way of discovering whether his success was due to talent or luck. He deliberately released his Bachman novels without much marketing fanfare, but his identity was revealed before he ever got his answer. Here's a taster:
'Thinner' - the old gypsy man barely whispers the word. Billy feels the touch of a withered hand on his cheek. Billy Halleck, prosperous if overweight citizen, happily married, shuddered then turned angrily away. The old woman's death had been none of his fault. The courts had cleared him. She'd just stumbled in front of his car. Now he simply wanted to forget the whole messy business. Later, when the scales told him he was losing weight, it was what the doctor ordered. His wife was pleased - as she should have been. But . . . 'Thinner' - the word, the old man's curse, has lodged in Billy's mind like a fattening worm, eating at his flesh, at his reason. And with his despair, comes violence.
Wow! A gypsy curse - great material for a maestro like King!
'Thinner doesn't disappoint'. It's shorter than his usual trademark novels that weigh in at several hundred pages, but its writing style is pure Stephen King. How did it take four Bachman books before his cover got blown?! Sprinkled throughout the narrative are his trademark motifs, such as splitting a sentence over a few lines, with italicised and bracketed text in between. Also evident is his penchant for all-American brand names, and the fact that much of the action takes place in Maine. What's more, his characters even refer to a situation as 'like something out of a Stephen King novel' at one point. Cheeky, but amusing!
The protagonist, Billy Halleck, is not a likeable character; he's arrogant and lacks self-awareness. Nobody else in the book, with the possible exception of Billy's wife Heidi, comes across any better. The originator of the curse, Taduz Lemke, and his granddaughter Gina are especially vicious, unforgiving individuals. This lack of anyone with whom to empathise might mean some readers could find it hard to connect with the story, but that aspect didn't bother me. To me, Billy is all too human in his failings; had the woman's death been murder rather than an accident, the gypsy's curse may have been more understandable, but the old man acts out of malevolence and spite. What I found fascinating was King's examination of the various emotions Billy experiences throughout the book. From the start we know he killed another human being through a motor accident, and the story is very much about guilt, responsibility and justice. At first, Billy wants to put the incident behind him, and it's not until he understands he's been cursed does he begin to deal with his demons. Having said that, the book contains much injustice; it's hard to say more without giving plot spoilers, but the cruel twist at the end is a good example. That was unkind of you, Mr King, although I guess you intended it as poetic justice! Anyone for strawberry pie?
So would I recommend 'Thinner'?
Yes, I would. The book rambles a little at times and it doesn't rank for me as one of King's best, but it's a lot better than 'From a Buick 8', which lacked structure and rambled a LOT. (Click here to read my review - From A Buick 8). Also, as a diehard Stephen King fan, I'm also happy to sample his lesser-known work. I'll look out for further Richard Bachman books.
What about you? Have you read 'Thinner'?
Did you enjoy it? Leave a comment and let me know! (UK readers, you can check out 'Thinner' by clicking on the main image.
Blood is thicker than water...
This week's post is a review of the Sunday Times bestseller 'Good Me Bad Me' by author Ali Land. Here's a taster:
Annie's mother is a serial killer.
The only way she can make it stop is to hand her in to the police.
But out of sight is not out of mind.
As her mother's trial looms, the secrets of her past won't let Annie sleep, even with a new foster family and name - Milly.
A fresh start. Now, surely, she can be whoever she wants to be.
But Milly's mother is a serial killer. And blood is thicker than water.
She is, after all, her mother's daughter...
The old question of nature versus nurture
'Good Me Bad Me' is told entirely in the narrative voice of Milly, formerly known as Annie, a fifteen-year-old in foster care after turning her serial killer mother in to the police. At first I struggled with this; Milly is a confused and very disturbed girl, and the writing reflects her anguish. Short, clipped phrases show her inner turmoil and the book wasn't easy reading at first. Sentences such as 'Shifted in his chair he did. Sat up straight, him and his gut' jarred on me, but after a while I got used to the author's style. Taken from a terrible situation in which she is horribly abused, you'd think Milly's new foster family would offer her some hope for a brighter future. They are wrestling with their own issues, however, and hide dark dysfunctional secrets. Mike, her foster father, is tasked with preparing her for the trial against her mother, which he does as best he can, but Saska, his wife, is a different matter. Remote, emotionally absent, she barely touches Milly's life and in no way provides an adequate maternal substitute. The daughter, Phoebe, bullies Milly and over time the pressure on the vulnerable fifteen-year-old grows. In her head, Milly talks to her mother a lot, seeking to make sense of her fractured life but unable to break free from the woman's stranglehold over her emotions.
The book throws up uncomfortable questions, such as: should she be pitied or feared? Nature versus nurture? On the one hand, Milly is desperate for reassurance that she's not a psychopath like her mother. On the other, how can she escape her terrible start in life? As the blurb says, blood is thicker than water, and Milly has witnessed things no child should ever see. Her turmoil has to find an outlet somehow...
The plot has some frustrating elements, such as some loose ends. For example, a threat to the safety of Miss Kemp, one of Milly's teachers, is hinted at when Milly finds out where she lives. Milly considers herself slighted by this woman, giving rise to the expectation that she will attempt to exact revenge. However, this tantalising glimpse of what might have been never gets resolved, which makes me wonder why it was ever included. In addition, the ending is somewhat odd; it's hard to say much without giving plot spoilers, but I doubt Mike would have capitulated to Milly's manipulations as quickly as he did.
I also suspect Milly's behaviour would have been very different. Most of the time she is well-behaved, polite and strives to fit in with her foster family and at school. Would a girl who has been physically and sexually abused, who has witnessed murder, act this way? Would she not be self-harming, hurting others, trashing her room, etc? Perhaps the 'good me' part of her character is a little too saccharine and unlikely.
Would I recommend 'Good Me Bad Me'? Yes, despite the minor niggles. The story is engrossing and, as a debut novel, it's impressive. Definitely worth a read, in my opinion.
'Sandrine' by Thomas H Cook is an unusual novel, and might annoy some readers because it falls between two stools genre-wise. On the face of it, it's a legal thriller; much of the action centres around the trial of Samuel Madison for the murder of his wife Sandrine. Here's the Amazon description:
How did Sandrine die? There was no forced entry. She had been gradually stockpiling prescription drugs. A lethal quantity of Demerol was found in her blood. But did the beautiful, luminous Sandrine Madison really take her own life? The District Attorney doesn't think so. Neither does the local newspaper. And so Sandrine's husband must now face a town convinced of his guilt and a daughter whose faith in her father has been shaken to its core. But, as he stands in the dock, Samuel Madison must confront yet more searing questions: Who was Sandrine? Why did she die? And why – how? – is she making him fall in love with her all over again?
The last line gives the clue as to the book's other focus. 'Sandrine' is one of the most moving love stories I've ever read. Not that I read much in the romance genre, as I find a lot of what's on offer is clichéd, full of lantern-jawed heroes and catwalk-beautiful heroines. If all love stories were as good as 'Sandrine', however, I'd read more widely in the genre. No cardboard stereotypes are found among the book's cast of characters. Instead, Samuel Madison is flawed and very believable; he's failed to achieve his ambitions and is disappointed by his marriage. Once madly in love with his wife, over time he becomes indifferent towards her, as well as apathetic about his own life. Sandrine's death forces him to acknowledge, through a tortured examination of his behaviour, how people often don't realise they possess a treasure until they lose it. The book charts Sam's gradual realisation of his faults and asks whether love can be reawakened, even after death. And poses the question: did he murder Sandrine?
This isn’t an 'edge of the seat' type of legal thriller; the pace is slower than anything John Grisham might write. The novel has its issues; some readers report being turned off by its frequent literary references, which are frequent and colourful. Given both Sandrine and Sam work at a liberal arts college, and Sam's ambition is to be a writer, it seems reasonable they'd make such references, so they didn't bother me. The main weakness, for me, was that some aspects of the story stretch belief, but I can't elaborate without giving major plot spoilers! Overall, though, this novel was a joy to read, and the ending moved me to tears. I highly recommend it.
Have you read 'Sandrine' and, if so, what did you think? Leave a comment and let me know!
This week's blog post is a book review of 'The Widow', Fiona Barton's first novel. The book was published in 2016 and has achieved both Sunday Times and New York Times bestseller status. It's billed as 'the ultimate psychological thriller... a terrifically chilling exploration of the darkness at the heart of a seemingly ordinary marriage.'
Wow! When I read that, I decided this novel was right up my street, both as the kind of book I like to read and also to write.. Here's the description from Amazon:
'We've all seen him: the man - the monster - staring from the front page of every newspaper, accused of a terrible crime. But what about her: the woman who grips his arm on the courtroom stairs – the wife who stands by him? Jean Taylor’s life was blissfully ordinary. Nice house, nice husband. Glen was all she’d ever wanted: her Prince Charming. Until he became that man accused, that monster on the front page. Jean was married to a man everyone thought capable of unimaginable evil. But now Glen is dead and she’s alone for the first time, free to tell her story on her own terms. Jean Taylor is going to tell us what she knows.'
Sounds gripping, doesn't it?
'The Widow' doesn't disappoint. I read it in one sitting, forcing my eyes to stay open one night as I devoured the contents into the small hours. I loved Fiona's depiction of the two main characters, Glen and Jeanie Taylor.
Glen is a petty, self-absorbed tyrant. His persona is wonderfully drawn, shown through the myriad ways he controls Jeanie and his failure to accept responsibility for his actions. Everything is someone else's fault, never his. (Don't we all know people like that?!) He attributes his dismissal from his bank job to his boss's jealousy rather than his unsatisfactory performance. When he's put on trial, he bills himself as a victim of police harassment. According to him, his obsession with child pornography is a medical condition for which he needs help. Not, of course, a sign of his warped nature, one that he keeps well-hidden. Here is a man who is outwardly unremarkable, yet, as the book asks, is he also a paedophile and a murderer? And is Jeanie complicit in his misdeeds?
The domineering Glen is mostly seen through the recollections of his down-trodden wife, who is a masterpiece of characterisation, expertly portrayed though subtle nuances. Jeanie adores her husband at first but her love fades as she realises the kind of man she has married. It's not long, though, before the reader starts to feel she may be hiding her own dark side. In addition, she might know more about Bella Elliott's disappearance than she's revealing.
The only flaw, for me, was that she comes across as older than her age, which jars at times. This may be deliberate, to emphasise Jean's unworldliness, but if so, I think it's overdone. It's not just that her name would be more appropriate for an older woman. At times Jean behaves like a stereotypical pensioner, so much so that when the narrative refers to her as being thirty-seven, it comes as a shock. Well, to me, anyway.
An impressive debut novel
As a foil to Glen and Jeanie, the other central characters of journalist Kate Waters and DI Bob Sparkes are more crudely drawn. Sparkes is almost like a caricature of a detective inspector, and his scenes didn't come alive for me. Kate is a more convincing character, although hard to like. Ruthless in pursuit of a scoop for her newspaper, she's hard as nails despite the caring persona she projects. The descriptions of unsavoury press behaviour are hard to stomach, as they frequently descend into harassment and trial by media. Fiona Barton used to be a journalist, so the antics she depicts are presumably realistic, yet in my view they're abhorrent.
Those wanting thrills a minute and a high body count may be disappointed by this book. The story focuses more on Jeanie's character development rather than delivering a plot rollercoaster. There are no twists as such - the ending is fairly obvious from early on - and few startling revelations. That's not the strength of this novel. The interest lies more in the reader exploring every nook and cranny of Jeanie's mind, in understanding why she gradually turns against her husband during the course of her marriage. As a first novel, it's impressive, and I look forward to reading more from this author.
Fiona Barton is a former journalist who has worked for the Daily Mail, Daily Telegraph and The Mail on Sunday. In the latter role she won Reporter of the Year at the National Press Awards. She gave up her job to volunteer in Sri Lanka and has worked with exiled journalists all over the globe. The idea for 'The Widow' came from time spent during her journalistic career covering famous trials. Fiona began to wonder what the wives of the accused knew or allowed themselves to know about the crimes in question. Fiona lives with her husband in rural France and has written several other novels. You can find out more at her website: http://fionabartonauthor.com/
As many of you know, I love Stephen King's novels. I think he's a master of the writing craft, and I'm awed by his prolific output. I'm working my way through his books, a task that will keep me occupied for quite a while! On a recent trip to a charity shop, I bagged myself seven titles I'd not yet read. All were ones that aren't so well known, such as 'Desperation' and 'Just After Sunset'. I was curious about my purchases, wondering why they hadn't achieved the success of books such as 'Carrie' or 'The Shining'. The last one I finished was 'From a Buick 8', a novel about a supernatural car. The book gets very varied reviews on Amazon, and I can see why. For me, reading it proved a mixed experience.
First, let's deal with the good stuff. The prose is every bit as enthralling as King's other novels. I love the way he makes magic with words, and 'From a Buick 8' didn't disappoint in that respect. I read the book pretty much in one sitting, and was never bored. After all, diehard fans like me will enjoy whatever the man writes, even if it's his laundry list! So what was the issue? How come I could understand the scathing Amazon reviews, ones such as, 'It should have been titled "nothing happened"'? Or what about: 'A car that isn't really a car pitches up in a Pennsylvania backwater... and that's it. What we don't get is a story.'
Less leaves, more action, please
Whilst the words are wonderful, 'From a Buick 8' lacks a coherent plot or much tension. It's a shame because the potential's there, but King fails to develop it. One problem is that the story is largely revealed in hindsight, with the police officers of Troop D telling the story of the mysterious car they guard to a rookie recruit. Such a plot device lacks the immediacy present-day action offers, at least the way King does it. As those disgruntled reviewers pointed out, the plot is thin. The Buick could have been so much more menacing than it actually is. More victims should have succumbed to its power, thus upping the ante. Instead, Kind spends a lot of the book telling us how the car's trunk spawns all manner of weird things, most of which can't survive in our world. Instead of leaves that disintegrate minutes after they arrive on planet Earth, or dead flowers, how about giving the readers something truly scary? The one thing that does live is more ridiculous than frightening, and is soon killed anyway.
It would have been good to have a chapter or two in which the state troopers attempt to destroy the car, resulting in casualties as it fights back, but it didn't happen. Instead we're given a flimsy reason as to why they're content to leave it be. Even the Troop D members admit long stretches of time pass during which nothing happens with the Buick. Neither are we given any notion as to why the car ended up in this world, abandoned by its mysterious driver. Again, I feel the author missed a trick here. This is not the stuff great supernatural fiction is made of, in my opinion. King does provide a welcome boost to the tension towards the end, but then the plot goes flat again.
So there you have it. I'm still an avid fan of Stephen King's work, given his talent with words, but 'From a Buick 8' will most likely only appeal to readers who, like me, are already hooked.
Let's hear from you!
Have you read 'From a Buick 8'? What's your opinion of the book? Leave a comment and let me know!
As readers of my blog will have gathered, I'm an avid Stephen King fan; I'm working my way through all his supernatural thrillers. Apart from 'Nightmares and Dreamscapes' and the rather flat 'From a Buick 8', I've not yet read anything from King I haven't liked. So when I spotted the hardcover copy of 'End of Watch' in the supermarket, I bought it straight away. The novel is the final book in the Bill Hodges trilogy, the other two being 'Mr Mercedes' and 'Finders Keepers'. Here's my review of 'Mr Mercedes'; I didn't post a review for 'Finders Keepers', but I loved that one as well.
'End of Watch', eh? An intriguing title
The title, one that fits the story perfectly, comes from an American expression for police officers at the end of their working life. Those who retire permanently, or die. Which one will Bill Hodges do? He's certainly an engaging sleuth, although a somewhat stereotypical one: retired police officer, divorced, battling health problems and with a past drinking problem. He's teamed with Holly Gibney, a woman with multiple issues of her own, along with Jerome Robinson, a student and former lawn boy for Bill. Books one and three of the trilogy concentrate heavily on the evil Brady Hartsfield, a mass murderer who's also obsessed with suicide. The middle novel, 'Finders Keepers', diverts to explore one of King's favourite topics, the writing life, although it involves the Brady Hartsfield character as well. Here's the sales blurb for 'End of Watch':
'Retired Detective Bill Hodges now runs a two-person firm called Finders Keepers with his partner Holly Gibney. They met in the wake of the 'Mercedes Massacre' when a queue of people was run down by the diabolical killer Brady Hartsfield. Brady is now confined to Room 217 of the Lakes Region Traumatic Brain Injury Clinic, in an unresponsive state. But all is not what it seems: the evidence suggests that Brady is somehow awake, and in possession of deadly new powers that allow him to wreak unimaginable havoc without ever leaving his hospital room. When Bill and Holly are called to a suicide scene with ties to the Mercedes Massacre, they find themselves pulled into their most dangerous case yet, one that will put their lives at risk, as well as those of Bill's heroic young friend Jerome Robinson and his teenage sister, Barbara. Brady Hartsfield is back, and planning revenge not just on Hodges and his friends, but on an entire city. The clock is ticking in unexpected ways... Both a stand-alone novel of heart-pounding suspense and a sublimely terrifying final episode in the Hodges trilogy, 'End of Watch' takes the series into a powerful new dimension.'
Absorbing characters, pink fish and a fast pace
Sounds great, doesn't it? And 'End of Watch' delivers the goods. Brady Hartsfield is a wonderfully warped villain, aided by his sidekicks Felix Babineau and Library Al, both of whom end up zombie-fied after Brady invades their minds. Intent on revenge on Bill Hodges, Brady will stop at nothing to achieve his goal, as well as drive thousands of young people to kill themselves.
Although his brain was seriously damaged by Holly Gibney, Brady avails himself of new powers, possibly resulting from Felix Babineau using him in unauthorised drug trials. King also hints that the savage head blow dealt by Holly may also have contributed, allowing Brady to access the 90% of his brain that lies dormant in all of us. As his extraordinary powers grow, the deaths begin…
Stephen King is a master at creating memorable characters (think Jack Torrance, Annie Wilkes, Jake Epping). 'End of Watch' also has an interesting cast list, one that develops both Bill Hodges and Holly Gibney, more so the latter. Whilst it's not specifically mentioned, Holly is either autistic or has Asperger's syndrome, and the book shows her shedding her coping mechanisms as the story progresses. It's Brady Hartsfield, though, who receives the full Stephen King treatment, morphing from a catatonic invalid to a mind in motion, capable of transferring into other bodies at will. His evil mission poses a huge problem for Bill and Holly in their race to stop him. They can hardly tell the police what they suspect Brady is up to, after all!
I found some aspects of the plot a little far-fetched - the use of obsolete games consoles to facilitate mind control, for example, and the numerical pink fish. Perhaps that's a little unfair, as Brady's opportunities for evil are limited initially, and the use of technology, albeit outdated, fits what we already know of him as a computer expert. Besides, this is Stephen King, creator of Pennywise the Dancing Clown, supernatural cars and telekinetic teenagers. Beside them, digital pink fish seem small fry!
King can be verbose at times, but his mastery of words transcends what might grate if coming from a lesser writer. 'End of Watch' rollicks along at a fast pace towards the satisfying, if sad, conclusion. It can be read either as the third book in the 'Mr Mercedes' trilogy, or would work equally well as a standalone novel. If you're a fan of his novels, I suspect you'll love this book.
What about you?
Have you read 'End of Watch', or any of the other books in the trilogy? What did you think? Leave a comment and let me know!
A novel told backwards!
A while back, I wrote a post about novels with unusual structures (you can read it here), examining books such as B S Johnson's 'The Unfortunates', which consists of twenty-seven chapters that can be read in any order. As a novelist, I'm fascinated by examples of authors stretching the boundaries of what's possible with fiction. Last week, I picked up from the library another novel with an intriguing premise: Jeffery Deaver's 'The October List'.
What's unusual about it? Well, the story is told in reverse - sounds weird, I know! The index begins with chapter thirty-six, the story working back through time over the last two days to the first chapter. In his foreword, Deaver explains that he became captivated with the idea of reverse chronology after listening to a radio discussion about Stephen Sondheim's musical 'Merrily We Roll Along', which uses the same idea. Deaver says: 'I began to wonder if it was possible for a thriller writer to pull off a backward-told story that was filled with the cliff-hangers, surprises and twists and turns that are, to me, the epitome of good crime fiction. The task of course, is to present the twist before giving the facts that lead up to it and still make the surprise thrilling. It's like telling a joke's punch line first, yet still making the audience laugh as hard as if they'd heard the gag in its proper order.'
Part brilliance, part ho-hum
So does Deaver succeed? Yes and no, and that reflects the range of reviews I've read about the book on Amazon. For the majority of the novel I wasn't that impressed. The characters lacked depth, Deaver giving only the barest details about them, and the writing failed to grab me. Along the way, there are surprises, but no major thrills or twists. In addition, the ending of the opening chapter (number thirty-six, which appears first in the book as this is a story told in reverse) would have been weak had the plot been conventionally ordered, not delivering the final punch thriller readers expect. Whoever reviewed the book for The Sunday Times appears to have the same reaction, saying: 'Even halfway through, it seems possible that Deaver has been defeated by the mind-boggling technical challenge of delivering surprises in back-to-front time.'
Towards the end, however, everything changes, and I found myself gripped by the twists that Deaver throws into the mix. So does our friend from The Sunday Times: 'After the reverse journey reaches the couple's first meeting, his (Deaver's) gamble is thoroughly vindicated by a series of twists in which he resembles a conjuror who each time seems to have performed his final trick, but then tops it.'
My reaction as well! The final two chapters are particularly gripping, delivering surprises that perhaps I should have seen coming but didn't. By the end, the last part of the book left me thinking, 'Wow!', as well as unsure how to sum it up as a whole. 'The October List' is, by its very nature, plot-driven yet that's no excuse for poorly drawn characters or pedestrian writing. Yet I'm filled with admiration for any novelist who attempts such an ambitious task. Could you conceive of writing a novel backwards?! Deaver says in his foreword that 'The October List' was more challenging than anything he'd previously written - hardly surprising!
Have you read 'The October List'?
I'd be interested to hear what other people think. What's your opinion of 'The October List'? Do you, like one five-star Amazon reviewer, consider it 'brilliantly executed' with 'more surprises than you can shake a stick at'? Or do you side with the one-star reviewer who says, cuttingly, 'An intriguing idea wasted'? Leave a comment and let me know!
This time around my weekly post will be another book review - 'The Silent Twin', Caroline Mitchell's third release in the Jennifer Knight series. Caroline blends crime fiction with a dash of the supernatural, as the protagonist Jennifer Knight has a dual role in the police force. Besides her more orthodox work, part of her job is to investigate crimes with, as Mitchell puts it, 'an unearthly edge'. Sounds intriguing, and not a plot premise I've encountered before! Here's the description from the back cover:
Nine-year-old twins Abigail and Olivia vow never to be parted. But when Abigail goes missing from Blackwater Farm, DC Jennifer Knight must find her before it’s too late. Twin sister Olivia has been mute since Abigail’s disappearance. But when she whispers in Jennifer’s ear, Jennifer realises it is Abigail’s voice pleading to be found. A damp and decaying house set in acres of desolate scrubland, the farm is a place of secrets, old and new – and Jennifer must unravel them all in order to find the lost girl. But could Olivia’s bond with her twin hold the key to finding Abigail? And can Jennifer break through her silence in time to save her sister’s life?
A detective thriller with a spooky twist
I wasn't sure how well blending a supernatural angle with a detective thriller would work. Also, as 'The Silent Twin' is the third in its series, whether it would also read well as a standalone. (I won my copy in a competition, which is why I've not yet read the first two Jennifer Knight books). My fears were unfounded. The supernatural element adds interest to the plot without becoming obtrusive or forcing the book to sit between two genres. If I'm reading crime fiction, I don't expect overtones of a Stephen King horror story, for example, but that doesn't happen in 'The Silent Twin'. First and foremost, it's a detective thriller, with the supernatural element acting to complement, not hinder, that. The reader is never allowed to forget that a child is missing, with all the horror that entails for her family.
Also, I was relieved to find 'The Silent Twin' works well on its own merits and prior knowledge of the first two books in the series wasn't necessary. Caroline Mitchell does a fantastic job of setting the scene when it comes to creepiness The parents of the missing child live at Blackwater Farm, a dilapidated dwelling set in a remote area and complete with a strong negative energy within its walls. As the wind howls outside, Jennifer Knight hears Abigail whispering in her ear, begging to be found. What exactly is she hearing, though? Is the child still alive and her pleas the product of Jennifer's imagination, or is there a more sinister explanation? Could Abigail be dead and is it her spirit that is desperate for resolution?
Her twin, Olivia, is every bit as enigmatic, refusing to speak immediately after her sister's disappearance but when she does begin to talk again, she drops hints that she knows a lot more than she's willing to tell. For example, what is the awful thing she saw, but promises her father, Nick, not to reveal? What demons is Nick wrestling with? The other characters are equally engrossing. What past traumas have scarred Joanna, the twins' mother? Why has her marriage to Nick turned sour? What part does the mysterious Radcliffe play? And who is the writer of the mysterious diary? As the action progresses, the spotlight turns on each one, revealing dark secrets, past abuses and terrible tragedy.
I read 'The Silent Twin' in one sitting, delighted to have discovered a new author whose books I can enjoy. If the idea of a detective thriller with a spooky twist appeals to you, I heartily recommend this novel.
Want to find out more about Caroline and her books?
You can discover more, including details of Don't Turn Around (Book 1) and Time to Die (Book 2) via Caroline's author page on Amazon: Caroline Mitchell.
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