High suspense meets the legal thriller
Apple Tree Yard is a psychological thriller about one woman's adultery and an insightful examination of the values we live by and the choices we make, from an acclaimed writer at the height of her powers.'
The novel is written in the first person, present tense, which I find always adds a certain punch to the prose. Doughty presents the story through an internal conversation between Yvonne and her unknown lover, who she believes to be a government spook unable to reveal details of his work. Although an intelligent woman, a respected scientist and married, she’s naive around this man, believing herself in love. The thrill of this illicit relationship, combined with risky sex, whisks her away from a life that’s become predictable and dull towards events that almost destroy her.
Excellent courtroom drama
Genetics versus gender issues...
Here comes the science bit! Louise Doughty weaves elements of genetics into the novel, playing on the fact that her protagonist is a geneticist. Yvonne refers to her unnamed lover as X, focusing on how they've reversed roles, he being an X and she a Y. Furthermore, her family have names or nicknames that begin with the letters A T G & C, another nod towards the field of genetics in which she works.
Doughty also examines issues of women's place in society. Yvonne has struggled to balance her career with motherhood, reflecting with some resentment how her husband's role in child-rearing appears to be an opt-in one, whereas hers has defaulted to an opt-out one. Although her marriage is good, the cracks exist, fissures that eventually lead to her susceptibility to a passionate affair with a stranger.
Wrong place, wrong time, wrong man
Louise Doughty also touches on the vulnerability of women. Yvonne is a woman who ends up in the wrong place at the wrong time with the wrong man, and the results are catastrophic for all concerned. Women can have careers, children, successful marriages, and yet they are ultimately vulnerable to overheated testosterone, and it can be the seemingly nice guy next door who poses the danger.
Moving on from this, Doughty looks at how the legal system can be skewed against women, illustrating her point by citing the case of a fifteen-year-old girl, not very bright, who suffers a gang rape by five men. She then has to face not one but five defence lawyers, all insinuating she was a drunken slut who asked for what she got. If a highly intelligent woman like Yvonne Carmichael can be broken in the witness box, what chance do any of us have?
Self-preservation versus a loved one...
Doughty examines the question of how far each of us would go to protect a loved one, or whether self-preservation will always win out in the end. She cites some distinctly unpleasant animal experiments that demonstrate that even maternal love can't compete with the innate urge in all of us to save our own skins if push comes to shove. Altruism will only stretch so far, a principle that will eventually lead to Yvonne's meltdown on the witness stand.
George Orwell examines the same topic in his novel '1984'. The way Yvonne's lover behaves is no different to the way Winston Smith eventually breaks down in front of his tormentor O'Brien. In screaming the words 'Do it to Julia! Do it to her, not me!', he cements his own brainwashing. The ultimate betrayal. So too with Yvonne's mystery lover, as he turns traitor on her in court, leaving her vulnerable to a sharp defence lawyer as the truth about Apple Tree Yard is revealed.
More about Louise Doughty
Louise Doughty is the author of eight novels, including Apple Tree Yard. Her novels have been shortlisted for various awards and she has also won awards for her radio drama and short stories. She is a critic and cultural commentator for UK and international newspapers and broadcasts regularly for the BBC.
In 2007, she published her first work of non-fiction, A Novel in a Year, based on her newspaper column of the same name. She has written major features, columns and cover articles for a wide variety of newspapers and magazines including The Guardian, The Independent, the Daily Telegraph, the Mail on Sunday. Her broadcasting career includes presenting radio series such as BBC R4′s A Good Read and Writers’ Workshop. She is a regular guest on the radio arts programme Saturday Review.
Doughty was born in the East Midlands and grew up in Rutland, in a rural area that later provided the setting for her third novel, 'Honey-Dew'. She now lives in London.
You can find out more about Louise and her books at www.louisedoughty.com. To view Apple Tree Yard on Amazon, click or tap the book cover image at the start of this post (affiliate link).
Have you read Apple Tree Yard?
If so, what did you think? Leave a comment and let me know!
Warning - plot spoilers!
Warning - by its nature, this blog post contains plot spoilers! It's impossible for me to reveal how these five novelists created their fictional murders without giving away essential elements of the plot. If you're OK with that, then read on...
An incredible (and edible!) murder weapon
As part of my 'Five' series, in today's post I'll examine five unusual fictional murder methods. Crime writers often endeavour to come up with ever more creative ways to murder their characters, despite the fact that more orthodox methods such as guns and knives tend to be more convincing. Most people have heard of 'death by icicle' in both books and movies, and I'll share an example later.
One of the most famous murder methods employed by fictional writers is the one used by Roald Dahl in his short story 'Lamb to the Slaughter'. The story tells of a wife who, after learning that her husband plans to leave her, decides to kill him. She bludgeons him with a frozen leg of lamb, then cooks the meat and serves it to the police officers who investigate her husband's death. Ingenious, huh? What a great way to dispose of a murder weapon! And yet another twist on the theme of death by ice.
'Lamb to the Slaughter' is a wonderful short story, but novels are more my thing. So let's examine five examples in which the authors have given their characters ingenious methods for carrying out their murderous intentions. We'll start with P.M. Carlson's 'Murder in the Dog Days'.
1 - 'Murder in the Dog Days' - P.M. Carlson
'Murder in the Dog Days' by P. M. Carlson (1990) is a great example of what's known as 'the locked room mystery'. In a story of this genre, a crime, usually murder, is committed in circumstances that appear inexplicable. As the name suggests, a locked room is involved, one in which the murderer apparently could neither have entered nor left. Here's a brief plot synopsis of Carlson's novel.
On a sweltering summer day, (the temperature is highly significant) reporter Olivia Kerr and her husband Jerry invite Olivia's colleague Dale Colby to the beach. At the last minute, Dale decides to remain behind, and his dead body is discovered later on in his locked office. Already an ill man, Dale dies as a result of heatstroke when the temperature of his study reaches an intolerable level. His killer contrives the murder by manipulating the heat in the office via a thermostat, raising it during the day and then readjusting it before the body is discovered. As the office door is bolted on the inside, the crime scene appears to be a perfect locked room murder.
2 - 'Busman's Honeymoon' - Dorothy Sayers
'Busman's Honeymoon' (1937) is one of Dorothy Sayers's novels involving Lord Peter Wimsey. Wimsey is on honeymoon with his new wife, Harriet, at Talboys, an old farmhouse that Wimsey has bought for her. On the morning after their arrival, they discover the former owner, Noakes, dead in the cellar with head injuries. The house was locked and bolted when the newly-weds arrived, and medical evidence seems to rule out an accident, so it appears he was attacked in the house and died later, having somehow locked up after his attacker. Another locked room - or, for the pedantic, locked house - murder!
By all acounts, Noakes was a thoroughly dislikeable man, and as the police investigation continues, a number of people emerge as suspects. The killer turns out to be Crutchley, a local garage mechanic who also worked as Noakes's gardener. He planned to marry Noakes's niece and get his hands on the money she would inherit in her uncle's will. The ingenious method Crutchley used involved setting a booby trap with a weighted plant pot on a chain, triggered by Noakes opening the radio cabinet after locking up for the night.
3 - 'The Religious Body' - Catherine Aird
An interesting concept - convents aren't normally places one associates with violent murder. In 'The Religious Body', published in 1966, Inspector C.D Sloan has the task of solving the death of Sister Anne, who has been murdered, stashed in a broom closet, and then thrown down a flight of stairs into the cellar. A most unholy happening! But how was Sister Anne killed? There is no apparent murder weapon to explain the blunt force trauma wounds inflicted before her tumble down the cellar steps.
The answer is intriguing and, as the saying goes, hidden in plain sight. Catherine Aird's fictional murderer kills Sister Anne by delivering the fatal blows with one of the newel posts of a staircase. This unusual weapon is rendered more deadly by the heavy wooden ball atop its shaft. After the murder, the post is returned to its original position, to remain right under Inspector Sloan's nose as he investigates the death.
4 - 'A Big Boy Did It and Ran Away' - Christopher Brookmyre
Christopher Brookmyre introduces not one but two ingenious murder methods in his novel 'A Big Boy Did It and Ran Away' (2001). As a student, the novel's character Simon Darcourt swaps dreams with his friend Ray Ash about the two of them becoming future rock stars. Fifteen years later, older and soured by life, they're struggling with the disappointments that have come their way. Whilst Ray seeks refuge from his parental responsibilities in online games, Simon chooses a much darker coping mechanism. For him, relief comes through serial killing, mass slaughter and professional assassination.
Simon's first murder in the novel is with a mercury-laden icicle, which melts away before the body is discovered. This fictional murder device, sometimes transmuted into an ice bullet, has been used many times, starting with Anna Katharine Green's novel 'Initials Only' (1911), in which a young woman is killed by an icicle shot from a pistol.
Simon's second murder is that of a drug dealer. Darcourt mixes a lethal amount of heroin into a takeaway curry and knocks on the man's door, claiming the food is a pre-paid order from that address. Too greedy to resist, the dealer dies, makes it appear as though his death was from the drugs he supplied. A great example of an unhealthy appetite!
5 - 'Matricide at St Martha's' - Ruth Dudley Edwards
Perhaps the most contrived murder we'll examine today occurs in Ruth Dudley Edwards's 1995 novel 'Matricide at St Martha's'. St. Martha’s College, Cambridge, has been operating on a shoestring for decades, before being left a huge sum of money in a former student's will. The result? Large-scale infighting amongst the various college factions. Before long, one of these, the Virgins, led by Dame Maud Theodosia Buckbarrow, is taking the lead, its members believing the money should be spent on scholarships. Then Dame Maud is murdered...
So how is this dastardly deed accomplished? Well, our victim climbs a ladder in the college library, the ladder being one of those that slide across the front of the bookcases via grooves in the wall. Normally, there are brakes at the end to stop the motion; however, in this case, the murderer has removed them. Following Dame Maud's own vigorous push to the ladder, she hurtles to her death as it gathers speed, eventually catapulting its hapless occupant from the library window.
Give me some more examples!
I hope you have enjoyed this blog post! I'd be delighted to hear from you. Can you add any more examples to this catalogue of dastardly deaths? Have you read any novels where the murder method has struck you as unusually clever? Or maybe one that has made you throw the book aside and shout 'No way, Jose! That would never happen!' Leave a comment and let me know!
Keeping the creative juices flowing...
'I'd love to write a novel,' many people have told me. 'How exactly do you go about it, though?' Good question! In this blog post, I'll attempt to provide an answer. I'll be covering in later posts the details of how I plot, write, edit and publish my books, but today I'll concentrate on how a typical day shapes up for me.
Despite the fact I'm a night owl, I write better in the mornings. I don't pretend to understand why, given that I'm far more energetic in the evenings, but hey ho! That's the way it is for me, and I've learned to adapt, forcing myself out of bed at what seems to me an unnaturally early hour. During the summer months, I'm up at six a.m., so I can be at my desk by 8.30 a.m., showered, dressed and ready for work, the same as if I were back in my former employment. The work is a lot more fun, too! Not being a fan of dark mornings, I usually get up later in the winter months, and start work at 9 a.m.
So how do I structure my time? Well, I split my day into two parts. I work until I'm ready for lunch, and then from two until five or six p.m. As I'm more creative in the mornings, that's when I focus on my writing. If I'm crafting a novel, I aim to do at least 2,000 words per session, using Scrivener as my writing software. Plotting stage? Then I'll draft the content for a number of scenes or maybe a whole chapter. If I'm revising, I usually edit a chapter a day (although I managed three this morning - yay!) I set targets and dates for almost all areas of my writing. I find this motivates me as well as keeping me accountable and on track. My targets and deadlines are never too rigid, though - I'd hate to shackle myself to a tightly defined schedule. Staying flexible is good and allows the creative juices to flow!
Tweet and pin, rinse and repeat...
So once I've had lunch, what then? Well, in the afternoons, I work on my marketing, as well as any sundry tasks I need to do. I'm active on social media such as Twitter and Facebook, and to a smaller extent Pinterest, LinkedIn and Goodreads. Pinterest is fun, and I intend to make more use of it in the future, maybe to showcase my novels' locations, which so far have all been set in Bristol.
Marketing isn't restricted to using social media, of course. For example, if I'm planning a Kindle promotion for any of my novels, I need to spend time contacting the major free and discounted book websites and newsletters. And there are always things I need to do besides marketing, such as maintaining this blog. I aim to update it regularly, so I use my afternoon time to prepare my posts, as well as ensuring my website content is up to date.
How a glass of Merlot keeps me on track...
I'm very aware that, although writing novels is great fun, I'm also running a business. That's why, in future, I intend to spend almost as much time marketing my books as I do writing them. I keep on track with what needs doing and when by using task management software (yes, I can be geeky, I admit it!). I also have weekly review sessions, in which I check how my writing career is going. I'll look at my sales figures, blog statistics, my to-do list - anything that needs my attention.
Curiously enough, these sessions often take place in local cafes and bars on a Friday afternoon over a glass or two of red wine. Not a bad way to wind down the working week! Unless I have an editing deadline or if I'm participating in NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month - a mad but fun competition in which entrants aim to write 50,000 words of a novel during November), I usually give myself the weekend off. Not at the moment, though - I have a novel to edit!
More to come in future posts about my writing process
Well, that's a typical writing day for me! As I mentioned, I'll post more about the writing process in the future, starting with how I plot a novel. I'm always being asked where I get my inspiration from! Subsequent posts will also examine the writing process itself, and how I go from zero to an eighty-thousand-plus word novel in about two months.
In addition, I'll talk about what follows the first draft - the revision and editing process. I'm atypical amongst writers in enjoying that part! I love polishing my rough first draft, tweaking it until I'm satisfied it's as good as I can get it. I'll blog more in the future about how I do this, along with what's involved in publishing a novel in both Kindle and paperback formats.
There's no right or wrong way of working
Every novelist treats the process differently, of course, and the above is simply what works for me at present. There are many writers who are happy with Microsoft Word or who write their novels longhand, rather than use Scrivener. Furthermore, not everyone likes to organise themselves to the extent I do; many people prefer a more relaxed approach. We novelists call it being a 'pantser' (someone who writes by the seat of their pants!) whereas I'm definitely a planner. Horses for courses, as they say. Either way, we achieve the same result - the delight of writing a novel!
I hope that this blog post has given you an insight into the daily life of a writer. If you're a novelist yourself, leave me a comment about how you do things. I'm always open to learning new tricks! Or if you're a reader curious about a particular aspect of the writing process, post a question in the comments section.
Welcome to an e-publishing sensation!
I'm delighted to welcome novelist Rachel Abbott to my blog today. The Guardian newspaper once called Rachel ‘the epublishing sensation of 2012’ while The Observer stated ‘self-published authors such as Rachel Abbott are the trade’s hottest property’.
Rachel was born near Manchester, England, and spent most of her working life as the managing director of an interactive media company. After her company was sold in 2000, she fulfilled a lifelong ambition of buying and restoring a property in Italy. She now splits her time between homes in Italy and Alderney, where she writes full time .
Rachel launched her first novel 'Only the Innocent' in November 2011. The book was self-published in the UK through the Kindle Direct Publishing programme on Amazon, and reached the number 1 spot in the Kindle store just over three months later. It held its position for four weeks, and was the second highest selling self-published title in 2012. 'Only the Innocent' is now published by Thomas and Mercer in the USA, and achieved number 8 in the US charts one week after launch, before reaching number 1 in August, making Rachel’s debut a number one bestseller on both sides of the Atlantic.
In March 2013, Rachel Abbott released her long awaited second novel 'The Back Road', which entered the UK Kindle chart at number 100 just 48 hours after launch. It went on to reach number 2 and has over 450 five star reviews.
Have you always wanted to write? What was the impetus for 'Only The Innocent'?
I have been writing in one form or another for years. I ran an interactive media company for many years, and we often produced dramas for training and education (and occasionally for entertainment), and I was involved in the scripts. They weren’t sterile training videos – each one was like a TV drama, and working on those gave me a real desire to write.
When it came to 'Only the Innocent', I’d had an idea in my head for years – what set of circumstances could be so bad that a woman had no choice but to murder a man? I spent years thinking about it as I drove to work – because there had to be no other option, and that’s quite hard to imagine. Then when I sold my company and had some spare time, I was delighted to find that I really enjoyed writing the story, and my writing career just went from there.
Describe a typical writing day for you. Are there any props you consider essential to the writing process?
I like silence when I write. Well – that’s not quite true. I live by a beach in the Channel Islands most of the time, and I can hear the sea washing up on the shore, which is a wonderful sound. My props depend on the stage of writing. When I am editing, I usually end up eating a lot of biscuits – usually Jaffa Cakes – which I swear help me to concentrate. As for the day itself, I sit down with a cup of coffee and go through all my emails first, respond to any that are absolutely essential, and flag for follow up any that will wait – principally because I want to get on with writing.
I find I work best in the morning, so I write all morning, and if things are going well, all afternoon as well. If I’m stuck on a plot point and need to give it some thought, I will spend the afternoon taking care of all the other stuff – the outstanding emails, the accounts, some marketing. It all needs to be done, so I tend to go with how I’m feeling at a certain time. But writing takes priority.
Will your future novels explore different genres, or will you stick with psychological thrillers?
For now, I will stick to psychological thrillers. I am fascinated by what makes people tick – and that could have gone towards romance or thrillers. I think I’ve ended up with a thriller style that is about relationships, but usually the sort that have gone catastrophically wrong somewhere. But in all cases, the way in which they have deteriorated leaves my protagonist with a dilemma.
Your books, being psychological thrillers, cover dark themes. Are there any topics you wouldn’t portray in your writing, and if so, why not?
I don’t think in general that I would write about gory acts of physical violence. There may be dead bodies – there may be some elements of violence. But I don’t see myself writing about cutting open people’s stomachs and wrapping intestines around the victim’s neck. That sort of sickening violence should be reserved for those who write it considerably better than me. It’s mainly in the mind in the case of my books. My readers decide what is right and wrong.
To what extent do you believe a crime fiction writer has a duty to end their novels with good triumphing over evil?
I don’t believe that at all. That suggests that everything is either black or white, and although it’s difficult these days to mention ‘shades of grey’ without it being misconstrued, I think that’s the reality. People do bad things. But they are not necessarily bad people. They make mistakes, get themselves deeper and deeper into trouble, and find it hard to extricate themselves. Sometimes people have to do very bad things in order to save others.
One of the shout lines on one of my books is ‘how far would you go to hold on to the people you love?’ and it’s a theme that I have used more than once. In other words, sometimes people need to do some terrible things in order to protect others – and where do you draw the line?
So I like to leave my readers to decide what is right and what is wrong. In both 'Only the Innocent' and 'Sleep Tight' my protagonists do things that are, without a doubt, illegal. But you can practically hear people cheering them on from the sidelines.
Will your future novels involve the same characters, such as DCI Tom Douglas?
I never intended to write a series about one policeman, but my readers fell for him, and so I’ve just carried on – and I love him more all the time. So for the moment, he’s staying with us.
Will any of your future novels feature Italy, where you have a home?
I did feature Italy a little in 'Only the Innocent'. Laura has a summer home there. I don’t spend as much time in Italy now as I do in the Channel Islands – and Alderney, my home, already features in 'Sleep Tight' so it would be difficult to repeat it. I may, however, bring Italy again at some point in the future – but it would have to be relevant to the plot.
Your website features food and recipes from your books. Is food important to you, and if so, what is your favourite type of cuisine?
I love food and I love cooking. I keep telling myself that I should go on a diet (true) but food is one of life’s greatest pleasures. The very next thing that I am going to do after answering these questions is go and make a curry. Indian food is my favourite, but anything spicy – Thai, Malaysian, even North African. Our local Indian restaurant here in Alderney (it’s really good) have a special curry that they make for me from Bangladesh, using a certain kind of lemon that you can’t get in the UK. It’s wonderful.
Is music important to you, and if so, what sort do you most enjoy?
I love to sing. I am a member of a small singing group that meets once a week for an hour or so, and we occasionally perform in public. We sing all kinds of things – but mainly well known popular music that people will recognise from the charts at some time or other (probably not recently, though). My taste is very varied. I particularly love 'Elbow' at the moment, but then when I wrote 'Sleep Tight' I mentioned Judie Tzuke’s music, which is haunting. Music, to me, is like writing. It has to evoke emotion. If it doesn’t, I’m not interested.
To what extent do you reveal yourself in a novel – your opinions, your values?
That’s a really good question. I think the main characters in my books share my values. The protagonist in each story (excluding Tom, of course) is usually a woman, and I think that although their personalities have been very different, they each have had a moral code that I approve of. However, I try very hard NOT to use writing to express my opinions. I used to be really, really guilty of that, and would find a way to introduce little things that bugged me into the story. My editor and/or agent would – without fail – cross them out. And quite right too. My books are not a platform for me to spout about bad manners, or irritating habits, and I would never make any political statements in my books, unless they were the opinions of the characters – but never mine.
Thank you, Rachel!
Thanks to Rachel Abbott for granting me this interview! I hope my readers have enjoyed it. You can find out more about Rachel and her books via her website, https://www.rachel-abbott.com/
Check out Rachel's latest novel, And So It Begins, on Amazon! Click or tap the image below (affiliate link):
For some, there's nothing like a real book
Ah, the pleasures of reading...
'I get how convenient e-books are,' a friend told me recently. 'But there's nothing quite like snuggling up with a real book, is there?' She's not alone. Since I started publishing novels, I've lost count of the number of people who have told me they prefer to hold an actual book in their hands as opposed to a tablet or e-reader.
Personally, I'm happy to use both. I have a Kindle as my chosen e-reader device. I love it, but I also read hardbacks and paperbacks borrowed from my local library. I believe our free book borrowing system is amazing, so I'm keen to support it, and there's also an ever-growing range of e-books available from them as well.
Ebooks, defend your corner!
So why are e-books so popular? Let's look at the advantages.
1. Immediate gratification. In a world where change is occurring at an increasingly fast pace, e-books provide near-instant enjoyment. With Amazon's 'one click' facility, it's a matter of seconds to get the latest blockbuster on your Kindle.
2. Portability. E-readers and tablets can hold thousands of books, great for travelling. It takes seconds to add or delete books, and it's a doddle to move them between devices.
3. E-readers are customisable. Need to read in a larger font? Simple. Like to make notes you can erase later? Easy-peasy. Want to read in bed at night but your partner is asleep beside you? No problem - simply activate the built-in light on your Kindle or Nook.
4. Price. The price of most full-length novels on Amazon UK is around the £3 mark. Paperback novels tend to retail at £8 or £9. E-books have made reading far cheaper and often free. The advent of Amazon's Kindle Unlimited programme has helped boost ebook reading.
Let's hear it for physical books!
It's reassuring to note there's still a gratifying rise in the sales of actual books as well. So what makes so many people love snuggling up with a physical version of their chosen read?
1. Ah, the pleasure of a brand-new book! Many people give this as a reason for preferring paperbacks and hardbacks to e-books. There's something incredibly sensual about holding a new book purchase, smelling its pages and feeling the smoothness of the cover beneath one's fingers. How can an electronic version compete? Straight answer - it can't. Set beside their physical counterparts, e-books appear somewhat homely at best. And doesn't a well-stocked bookcase add something wonderful to a room?
2. Whilst textbooks are becoming increasingly digital, there are some books that undoubtedly do better in physical format. Cookery books, for one, with their glossy pages full of photos of wonderful culinary delights, look much better in a physical format. So do the types of books destined for life on the coffee table - exotic travel tomes, photographic books and the like - against which digital versions can't as yet compare.
3. For me, it's easier to flip backwards and forwards in a physical book. I can skim through the pages of one really quickly with my fingers. Not so with an e-book using the content/search facilities on my Kindle - sure, I can do it, but it takes longer.
4. Finally, plenty of people are technophobes. I'm not, but I do know a few! They're simply not comfortable with using electronic devices for reading.
What's your preference? Ebook or actual?
So what's your stance on the e-book versus actual book debate? Are you one of the many people who savour the feel and smell of a real book in their hands, something which will grace their bookshelves and hallmark them as a bookworm? Or do you love the convenience and cheapness of e-books, loading your e-reader or tablet up with the latest bargains as they hit the digital shelves? Maybe you're like me, mixing the tangible with the digital as it suits. Leave a comment and let me know!
A rollercoaster ride of a thriller...
‘Witness The Dead’ is the first novel by Craig Robertson I've tried; based on my enjoyment of what I’ve read, it won't be the last. The novel delivers a rollercoaster ride of a thriller, dealing with the exploits of a serial killer in modern-day Glasgow. Here's an extract from the back cover blurb:
‘Scotland 1972. Glasgow is haunted by a murderer nicknamed Red Silk - a feared serial killer who selects his victims in the city's nightclubs. The case remains unsolved but Archibald Atto, later imprisoned for other murders, is thought to be Red Silk. In modern-day Glasgow, D.S. Rachel Narey is called to a gruesome crime scene at the city's Necropolis. The body of a young woman lies stretched out over a tomb, bearing a three-letter message from her killer - the word SIN scrawled in lipstick upon her body.
Now retired, former detective Danny Nielsen spots a link between the new murder and those investigated in 1972 - details that no copycat killer could have known about. But Archibald Atto is still behind bars…’
A novel laced with tension and intriguing sub-plots
The tension in the novel ratchets skyward as more dead women are discovered, each one posed on a tomb in a different Necropolis. A race against time to prevent further deaths ensues, with the murders mirroring the 1972 Red Silk killings. The plot weaves through sharp twists and turns, as Archibald Atto dispenses information that may be accurate, or simply the warped machinations of a crazed mind.
‘Witness The Dead’ is an unusual novel in that it doesn’t have a protagonist as such. Danny Neilsen, his nephew Tony Winter and Detective Inspector Derek Addison are given equal prominence as the team intent on unearthing the link between Archibald Atto, the murders and the significance of the dumpsites at the city’s Necropoleis. Detective Sergeant Rachel Narey plays second fiddle to this trio in a side role as Tony Winter’s former love interest.
Overarching the main players is the chilling character of Archibald Atto, a psychopath who revels in baiting Winter when he detects the guilty thrill the man gets from photographing dead bodies. Robertson doesn’t flinch in portraying his characters with all their flaws. Danny Neilsen is haunted by a terrible mistake he made in 1972, one that has estranged him from his only daughter. Tony Winter struggles to accept his failed relationship with Narey, as well as his self-disgust at his enjoyment of what he sees as the beauty of death. In an amusing subplot, Addison is both taunted and attracted by a member of the forensic team on the case, whilst battling his hatred of his superior officer and struggling to hold the investigation together.
Hotpants, kipper ties and Glaswegian slang
The backdrop to the narrative is the vibrant city of Glasgow, both in its modern-day incarnation and in 1972. The latter is played out in a nightclub called Klass, with its patrons sporting platform shoes, kipper ties and hotpants. They dance to music from The Sweet and Johnny Nash, richly evoking the zeitgeist of 1970s Glasgow, whilst defying the murderous danger posed by Red Silk. Robertson peppers his narrative with Scottish slang such as 'gallus', 'hen' and 'blootered', thus further immersing the reader in the spirit of the novel.
‘Witness The Dead’ is not without its flaws – some of the plot elements didn’t stack up for me, but that’s a minor criticism, given the overall thrill supplied by the narrative. Having started with 'Witness The Dead', I’ll be looking for more Craig Robertson novels to add to my reading list. And thanks to Craig, I now know that the plural of necropolis is necropoleis!
More about Craig Robertson
Craig Robertson is a Sunday Times bestselling author, and his debut novel, Random, was shortlisted for the CWA New Blood Dagger. His novel Murderabilia was longlisted for Theakston’s Old Peculier Crime Novel of the Year 2017 and the McIlvanney Prize 2017.
You can find out more about Craig and his novels from his website, www.craigrobertsonbooks.co.uk, and I'll be interviewing him in a future blog post.
Have you read 'Witness The Dead'?
If so, what did you think of it? Or do you have any recommendations for other Craig Robertson novels? Leave a comment for me!
'I don't waste time with novels...'
'I don't read novels,' someone once told me, his tone dismissive. 'I don't waste time with bullshit. Know what I mean?' My response? I chose not to reply, but to deflect the conversation. Had I answered his question, I'd have done so with an emphatic negative. Apart from the comment being provocative, making it to a lifelong bookworm like me was pointless. No, I don't know what he meant about novels being bullshit. Never have, never will. I suspect anyone reading this blog is likely to side with Team Maggie on this one!
It's not that I don't understand why people don't read fiction. I do, despite my lifelong love of books. You see, I'm someone who doesn't care much for music. This often attracts gasps of horror from music aficionados, who refuse to believe me. 'You must enjoy music!' they tell me. 'Music is life!' For them, perhaps, but not for me. Each to their own, as the saying goes. Music doesn't feature in my existence and that's my choice. The difference between my fiction-loathing friend and me is that I'm not dismissive about what I don't enjoy. To dub all music bullshit would be ridiculous; it's a huge source of pleasure for many.
I suspect that's what grated about my friend's comment. Fair enough if he doesn't enjoy fiction. But to brand all novels as bullshit strikes me as plain daft. Of course, some people pride themselves on a philistinic approach towards cultural matters, and that's their right. For me, however, fiction, especially in the form of novels, has enriched my life beyond measure. Let's examine five ways in which great novels enhance our lives.
1. They're a great means of entertainment and relaxation
2. Reading keeps our brains sharp, increases our cognitive skills and boost our vocabulary
A study published in 2013 showed that fiction enhances connectivity within the brain, especially in the area of language. Makes sense, doesn't it? As we read, we're studying sentence construction and spelling without being conscious we're doing so.
3. Books can educate us
An example is 'Sophie's World' by Jostein Gaarder. Clothed in the story of fourteen-year-old Sophie Amundsen lies a wonderful history of philosophical thinking, which teaches as it entertains. As mentioned above, I've also read Gaardner's novel 'The Castle in the Pyrenees', another educational read. This book focuses on a debate between a Christian and an atheist, examining issues such as the origin of the universe and life after death. All wrapped up in an intriguing story about the consequences of a hit-and-run accident in Norway. Education without the classroom!
4. Novels provide both social and political commentary
5. Novels, especially the classics, add beauty to life
Lovers of Thomas Hardy's books thrill to his lyrical descriptions of the Dorset countryside. Fans of Charles Dickens marvel at his skill in creating characters, such as Wackford Squeers and the Artful Dodger. In adding beauty to our lives, books also contribute to our cultural heritage. Imagine a world without literature. For me, if not my fiction-hating friend, Earth would be a planet lacking the wonder that novels provide. Events such as the destruction of books under China's Qin Dynasty or the Nazi book burnings are akin to sacrilege for me. Works of cultural significance trampled under the boots of repressive regimes - it's no coincidence that the need to control and a hatred of the arts often walk hand in hand. Literature, when allowed to flourish, makes an invaluable contribution to our lives. As does music, for those who love it!
Let's hear from you!
What novels have you found educational? Do you agree that books enrich our lives and add beauty to them? Are there any roles books fulfil that I've not covered? Leave a comment and let me know!
Welcome to my blog! I'll be writing about all things book-related, including author interviews, book reviews and progress on my forthcoming novels. The blog will commence during December 2018, and the initial posts will include an interview with best-selling novelist Rachel Abbott. Watch this space!