All posts by Jo

The Beautiful Bureaucrat by Helen Phillips

the beautiful bureaucrat

I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect from The Beautiful Bureaucrat when I was offered a copy by the publisher, One.  The strangeness of it appealed to me, and it certainly delivered on this promise.

Part modern fairy-tale, part existentialist thriller, this is a breath-taking joyride of a novel for the summer.

If the job market hadn’t been so bleak during that long, humid summer, Josephine might have been discouraged from taking the administrative position in a windowless building in a remote part of town.

As the days inch by and the files stack up, Josephine feels increasingly anxious in her surroundings – the drone of keyboards echoes eerily down the long halls, her boss has terrible breath, and there are cockroaches in the bath of her sub-let.  When one evening her husband, Joseph disappears and then returns, offering no explanation as to his whereabouts, her creeping unease shifts decidedly to dread.

Both chilling and poignant, this novel asks the biggest questions about marriage and fidelity, birth and death.  Helen Phillips twists the world we know and shows it back to us full of meaning and wonder – luminous and new.

Josephine and her husband, Joseph, have recently returned to the city, seeking a better life for themselves.  With few job options available, Josephine reluctantly takes on an administrative position, entering data into a Database from an almost never-ending stack of papers.  Understanding what the Database is for and what the data she is entering actually means she hasn’t been told, and whilst curious, she is grateful to have any job at all, and doesn’t question the details at all.  Until one day she stumbles across the meaning of her role entirely be accident.  I won’t spoil the revelation – it was quite unexpected, and I do think it’s best discovered whilst reading the novel.  From this point on, the novel has a sense of inevitability about it – I fully expected part of what followed, and raced through this short volume to confirm my expectations, and to see if what seemed inevitable could be avoided.

Josephine is the only character that the reader really gets to know throughout the novel, and even then, the details are light.  Both she and Joseph come across as everyday kind of people – a couple who are struggling to pay their rent and to save money to make a better life for themselves, who want a child but have so far been unsuccessful in that.  It’s hard not to feel sympathy for them as they are forced from one decrepit rental to another, and it’s easy to understand their desire to improve their situation.  Josephine’s work is dull, and I loved the light relief offered by the vignettes of her time with Joseph, and enjoyed their wordplay which seems a hallmark of their relationship.

The Beautiful Bureaucrat is a weird and wonderful little novel, which, at some 180 odd pages, can be read in a single sitting.  It reminded me a little of China Mieville in style, with a little Kafka thrown in for good measure.  The novel doesn’t give a huge amount of detail – it feels bleak and dystopian in nature, with its struggling job market, but the details around this aren’t fully revealed.  The city they are in isn’t named, nor is it clear where they came from (“the hinterland”) before arriving there.  Much is implied in Phillips’s writing, however, and if it’s sparsity may not appeal to everyone, I thoroughly enjoyed it.

The Beautiful Bureaucrat was first published in 2015, and has been republished by One, an imprint of Pushkin Press, in 2018.  Many thanks to Mollie Stewart for providing a copy for review.

Rating: ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐

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Blog Tour and Extract: What Falls Between the Cracks by Robert Scragg

I’m delighted to be taking part in the blog tour for Robert Scragg’s What Falls Between the Cracks, which is published in paperback by Allison & Busby on 20 September, and to be able to share an extract with you.

what falls between the cracks

Did she slip through the cracks, or was she pushed?

When a severed hand is found in an abandoned flat, Detective Jake Porter and his partner Nick Styles are able to DNA match the limb to the owner, Natasha Barclay, who has not been seen in decades.  But why has no one been looking for her?  It seems that Natasha’s family are the people who can least be trusted.

Delving into the details behind her disappearance and discovering links to another investigation, a tragic family history begins to take on a darker twist.  Hampered by a widespread fear of a local heavy, as well as internal politics and possible corruption within the force, Porter and Styles are digging for answers, but will what they find ever see the light of day?

You can find the first chapter of What Falls Between the Cracks on the Allison & Busby website, and I’m thrilled to share chapter two with you!


CHAPTER TWO

Natasha Barclay was a ghost, figuratively speaking, at least. Between them they couldn’t find a single mention of her dated past 1983. Her flat was one of fifteen in a five-storey late Victorian building near Walthamstow, in North East London, built originally as an orphanage. The airy high ceilings and ornate cornices had reminded Porter a little of his own place, although he guessed his flat could fit inside these twice over.

They left three uniformed officers at the building to go door to door with the remaining eleven residents to see if anyone knew Natasha Barclay. It wasn’t out of the question that she was just a private person, and didn’t make small talk with the neighbours. The interviews with the first three residents, particularly the one who’d lived there for over twenty years, didn’t sit well with him. Sure, people led busy lives, but for those lives to have never intersected with as much as a neighbourly nod while leaving or entering the building in over two decades seemed highly unlikely. Then there was the eerie air of dormancy that hung over the place. The dated decor and coat of dust that cloaked every surface had given him the feeling that the apartment had been slumbering for some time before the leaking freezer had rudely interrupted.

They headed back to the station at Paddington Green, along Edgware Road, lined with a cultural melting pot of takeaways, competing amongst themselves to ruin your waistline. Porter’s window was halfway down, spices and fried chicken wafting in on the breeze, making his stomach growl in protest. Compressed storefronts jostled for space, offering everything from Persian carpets to a bet on the three o’clock at Newmarket. Blocks of flats had been built up behind them over the years, peering over the tops of the two- and three-storey buildings on the main road like nosy neighbours. Typical mid-twentieth-century fare, blocky and functional. The station itself wasn’t any prettier. The jutting window ledges around each floor made Porter think of the Stickle Bricks he had as a child.

As soon as they got inside, Styles disappeared into the small kitchen area, returning armed with two mugs of steaming black coffee. Porter realised he’d been staring at a smudge of dirt on the window and blinked his eyes quickly to snap himself out of it.

‘I’ve told you before, you’re wasting your time batting your eyelashes at me. I’m a happily married man,’ said Styles. After a few years working together it was impossible not to be aware of his partner’s little quirks. He jokingly referred to this one sometimes as Porter’s ‘Spidey sense’ after the Marvel comic-book hero’s preternatural ability to read situations and intuit danger. He’d seen it happen on more than one occasion where Porter had progressed a seemingly dead-end case by zoning out like that and joining dots that no one else had spotted.

‘You can’t blame a guy for trying.’ Porter took a cautious sip of the coffee before putting the cup on the desk.

‘Any flashes of inspiration, then?’ asked Styles as he settled into the seat at his desk that adjoined his partner’s.

Porter shook his head. ‘No, no, ladies first this time. You got a theory?’

‘Kind of, actually,’ said Styles. ‘Well, more of a question really,’ he corrected himself. ‘The food in the freezer – that make sense to you?’

‘I was a little preoccupied with the hand to have much of an appetite.’

‘I wasn’t fixing to make myself a snack,’ said Styles. ‘I’m talking about the packaging. I’m assuming you missed that part?’

‘Afraid so. Go on then, enlighten me.’

‘The whole scene was just odd,’ Styles began. ‘The clothes and decor you could put down to individual taste. The dust and cobwebs might just mean she’s been living somewhere else for a while, maybe with a boyfriend. The boxes in the freezer make no sense, though.’

‘How do you mean?’ asked Porter.

‘The packaging,’ said Styles. ‘It was as dated as the rest of the place. Not that I’m an expert in the field of graphic design by any stretch, but it looked ancient compared to what you see in shops today. None of it had the nutritional info on either, and that’s been stamped all over everything for years now.’

Porter raised his eyebrows as he realised what Styles was getting at. ‘So you’re saying you think no one’s been in for years rather than months?’

Styles shrugged. ‘I know stuff keeps for longer in there, but who keeps food for that long?’

‘So we’re saying nobody’s been in there since she last opened her mail?’

‘Maybe, maybe not,’ said Styles. ‘I’m pretty certain nobody’s lived there for a long time. Whether anyone has had a reason to be there or not is another matter.’ Porter opened his mouth to reply, but was stopped in his tracks when his phone started to ring.

‘Hold that thought,’ he said, holding up a finger at Styles as he took the call. ‘This is Porter.’

‘Porter? It’s Will Leonard. You asked me to call as soon as we had something.’

‘Hey, Will. What have you got?’

‘It’s only a preliminary overview, but hopefully it’ll help get you started. The prints from the hand are consistent with the few clear ones we managed to find at the flat. I wasn’t sure what we’d find with it being like a museum in there, but we got lucky. We pulled some fairly clear ones from fatty deposits around the oven, and on and around the make-up products in the bathroom, so it’s reasonable to assume that both they and the hand they come from belong to somebody who lived there. I’m going to run them now and see if we get a match.’

‘OK, thanks, Will. Anything else?’

‘We’ll be doing DNA tests on hair from the hairbrush and a swab of the toothbrush to check against tissue from the hand and the blood from the living room. Results should be back in a day or so. There’s nothing so far to suggest more than one person living there. There were a few smudges that look like they used to be prints in the other rooms, but not as well preserved as the ones in the kitchen.’

‘Good stuff. Let me know when you get the DNA tests back.’ Porter was about to sign off but as an afterthought he mentioned Styles’s theory about the food. Leonard promised to look into it and ended the call. Porter gave Styles the highlights of the conversation.

‘What you said, about the food. I hadn’t twigged to that. You’re right, it does seem weird.’

‘Oh, I’m not just a pretty face,’ said Styles. ‘What’s the plan, then, boss?’

‘First things first, we need to find out what family she has. My gut tells me that it’s most likely her hand we found. I checked with one of the lads working the scene, though, and the amount of blood and distribution on the carpet isn’t consistent with it being removed there, so it begs the questions of where and why.’

‘Speaking of the flat, it would have been a fairly pricey area to live in even back in the eighties. How does a young woman living alone afford somewhere like that?’ asked Styles.

‘Good question,’ said Porter, reaching for his coffee again. ‘You look into the property and check out her finances. See if anything shows up apart from the account with Barclays. I’ll see if I can track down her parents.’

They agreed to meet up again as soon as the officers responsible for interviewing the neighbours returned, and Styles slid his own chair sideways on its casters to park himself at his desk. Porter drained the lukewarm dregs of his coffee and got to work. He hoped tracing the parents wouldn’t prove too tricky, although these conversations were the ones he hated the most. Being the bearer of potentially bad tidings was something he’d had to do more times than he cared to remember, but he’d never get used to it. He remembered it from the other side of the scenario; seeing the blurred shape visible through his front door. Not realising that all that separated him from the blow they were about to deal to his world was an inch-thick rectangle of wood and glass. The struggle to remember what life had been like before he opened the door to see the police officers outside. The bad news they carried carved into every crease on their forehead.

Best case, Natasha Barclay had been the victim of an assault, and worst case her injuries may have been fatal. Without immediate medical attention, she could easily have bled out after her hand was removed. The fact that at least part of the attack looked to have taken place inside her home meant there was a good chance she may have known her assailant. What Porter couldn’t quite reconcile, though, was that if she was alive and well, why nobody, including her parents, had bothered helping to look after her flat. On the flip side, if something more sinister had happened, why had nobody reported her missing? The last thought that struck him as he leant forward to start the task of locating her parents was a little less palatable, but one that would need careful consideration nonetheless. What if those closest to her knew she was missing but had a vested interest in hiding that fact?


Many thanks to Ailsa Floyd at Allison & Busby for the invitation to join the blog tour, and for my copy of What Falls Between the Cracks which I can’t wait to read!

Make sure you check out the other stops on the blog tour!

WFBTC tour poster 2

The Labyrinth of the Spirits by Carlos Ruiz Zafón

the labyrinth of the spirits

To say that The Labyrinth of the Spirits is one of my most highly anticipated novels of the year doesn’t really begin to cover it.  I adored The Shadow of the Wind which to this day remains one of my favourite novels of all time, and couldn’t wait to get my hands on this final instalment in the Cemetery of Forgotten Books series.

As a child, Daniel Sempere discovered among the passageways of the Cemetery of Forgotten Books an extraordinary novel that would change the course of his life. Now a young man in the Barcelona of the late 1950s, Daniel runs the Sempere & Sons bookshop and enjoys a seemingly fulfilling life with his loving wife and son. Yet the mystery surrounding the death of his mother continues to plague his soul despite the moving efforts of his wife Bea and his faithful friend Fermín to save him.

Just when Daniel believes he is close to solving this enigma, a conspiracy more sinister than he could have imagined spreads its tentacles from the hellish regime. That is when Alicia Gris appears, a soul born out of the nightmare of the war. She is the one who will lead Daniel to the edge of the abyss and reveal the secret history of his family, although at a terrifying price.

The Labyrinth of the Spirits is an electrifying tale of passion, intrigue and adventure. Within its haunting pages Carlos Ruiz Zafón masterfully weaves together plots and subplots in an intricate and intensely imagined homage to books, the art of storytelling and that magical bridge between literature and our lives.

The Labyrinth of the Spirits reunites the reader with some old friends (and that is how it feels to me) as well as introducing some new characters into the mix.  Daniel now runs Sempere & Sons along with his wife, Bea, now that his father is less active in the management of the business.  Fermin, of course, is still present, and much the same as ever, doling out little seeds of wisdom (irrespective of whether these have been asked for), and generally being as cheeky as he feels as he can get away with.  I’m extremely fond of both Daniel and Fermin, and it was a pleasure to be reunited with them, and to see what they were up to two years on from The Prisoner of Heaven.

Whilst Daniel and Fermin feature in this novel, the main character is Alicia Gris.  Alicia was orphaned during the war, and still suffers from the effects of an injury sustained at that time.  Since then, she has been recruited into a role in a special unit of the police – one that seems to go unnamed throughout the novel.  This latest case sees her return to Barcelona in order to find Mauricio Valls, Minister for Culture and former head of Montjuic Prison.  Alicia’s character is an interesting one.  I didn’t find her as immediately likeable as Daniel and Fermin, but she grew on me as the novel progressed.  Bold and beautiful, she allows no one to get close to her, and hides behind a persona of femme fatale.  I loved her determination to get a job done, no matter how much pain her old injury causes her.  She is intelligent, and I loved her perseverance in getting to the bottom of this mystery even as things don’t go to plan.

The Labyrinth of the Spirits has a dark, gothic atmosphere, and this novel seemed to be more of a thriller than other novels in series, with the investigation into the disappearance of Valls uncovering a much broader and longer running conspiracy.  The storytelling is second to none, and whilst this is a long book, I read it relatively quickly, desperate to uncover the truth behind Valls’s disappearance.

One common theme running through the whole series is that of a love of books, stories and of reading, and The Labyrinth of the Spirits is no exception.  Here, the rare book in question is one by Victor Mataix, and is part of a series he wrote for his daughter, Ariadna, which features her as a heroine, facing up a series of horrors, fictionalised yet inspired by Spanish history.  Whilst this seems like an aside, it becomes clear that this book, and is author, Mataix, have a role to play in the story and in Alicia’s investigation.  It’s a dark and thrilling story, and if this novel perhaps contained more violence than the earlier novels, this is very much in keeping with the story as events come to a head.

The Labyrinth of the Spirits brings to a close an epic narrative, and I wouldn’t recommend reading this as a standalone novel.  I think that the whole series has been pitched as being a set of interconnected stories that can be read either as a series or individually, and in any order.  However, I think that because of the way in which this final instalment brings everything to a close, tying up all the loose ends from the earlier novels, that this should be read after The Shadow of the Wind, The Angel’s Game, and The Prisoner of Heaven.   Additionally, The Shadow of the Wind has long been one of my favourite novels, and is one that I recommend to everyone.

The Labyrinth of the Spirits will be published on 18 September by Weidenfeld & Nicolson.  Many thanks to the publisher for allowing me to read an early copy via Netgalley.

Rating: ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐

Guess Who by Chris McGeorge

guess who

I love mysteries where we know that the culprit must be one of a limited number of people, and when I saw Guess Who available for £0.99 on Kindle, I just had to get it.  This is a novel that has garnered a lot of support ahead of and since its publication, and I’ve been wanting to read it since I first heard about it earlier this year.

Morgan Sheppard is the presenter of Resident Detective, and takes on a role very much like that of Jeremy Kyle – answering questions as to whether a person is cheating on their partner, who really is the father of this child etc.  His fame came about at quite a young age when he solved the murder of his maths teacher – something that the police had labelled a suicide, dismissing the case.

Sheppard is thrown out of his comfort zone when he wakes up in a hotel room with five other people, and a dead body in the bathroom.  He is given three hours to solve the mystery, knowing that the murderer is one of those in the room with him.  No one can leave – the only way out is for Sheppard to successfully identify the killer before the deadline.  His task is made harder upon finding that all five people in the room with him have some connection to the victim, as does he himself.  Can he solve it in time?

Whilst there are six people to get to know, I think that Sheppard was the only character that the reader gets to know in any detail, successfully replicating the situation that Sheppard finds himself in – the reader is also thrown into a situation of having to identify a killer with absolutely no information, and allows the reader to take on the role of detective as well.  I love novels where the reader is given the same information as the protagonist(s), and I love the feeling of participation that this setting allowed.

I didn’t actually like Sheppard in the slightest, however.  He comes across as being an extremely shallow individual – someone who has always wanted and pursued fame, and taking full advantage of the money, women, and substances that his fame has given him access to.  At no point did this put me off the story – I wanted to know who had committed the murder, whether he or I could solve it in time, and why Sheppard had been put in this situation.  I just wasn’t too concerned for his own outcome.

The plot moves along quickly, as you’d expect given the time limit on Sheppard’s investigation.  And it’s anything other than straightforward, as things become increasingly tense in the room.  There were elements of the plot that I figured out quite early on, although there was a twist that I did not see coming.  I did find the ending a little anticlimactic, however.  I thought the premise was fantastic, but the finale lacked a little je ne sais quoi for me personally.  I enjoyed Guess Who overall, however, and I’ll definitely be keeping an eye on McGeorge to see what comes next.

Rating: ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐

This Week in Books – 12-09-18

TWIB - logo

This Week in Books is a feature hosted by Lipsy at Lipsyy Lost and Found that allows bloggers to share:

  • What they’ve recently finished reading
  • What they are currently reading
  • What they are planning to read next

The last book I finished reading was Snare by Lilja Sigurdardóttir, which I absolutely loved!  Review to come!

snare

After a messy divorce, attractive young mother Sonia is struggling to provide for herself and keep custody of her son.  With her back to the wall, she resorts to smuggling cocaine into Iceland, and finds herself caught up in a ruthless criminal world.  As she desperately looks for a way out of trouble, she must pit her wits against her nemesis, Bragi, a customs officer, whose years of experience frustrate her new and evermore daring strategies.  Things become even more complicated when Sonia embarks on a relationship with a woman, Agla.  Once a high-level bank executive, Agla is currently being prosecuted in the aftermath of the Icelandic financial crash.

Set in a Reykjavík still covered in the dust of the Eyjafjallajökull volcanic eruption, and with a dark, fast-paced and chilling plot and intriguing characters, Snare is an outstandingly original and sexy Nordic crime thriller, from one of the most exciting new names in crime fiction.


My current read is The Beautiful Bureaucrat by Helen Phillips.

the beautiful bureaucrat

Part modern fairytale, part existentialist thriller, this is a breathtaking joyride of a novel for the summer

If the job market hadn’t been so bleak during that long, humid summer, Josephine might have been discouraged from taking the administrative position in a windowless building in a remote part of town.

As the days inch by and the files stack up, Josephine feels increasingly anxious in her surroundings – the drone of keyboards echoes eerily down the long halls, her boss has terrible breath, and there are cockroaches in the bath of her sub-let. When one evening her husband Joseph disappears and then returns, offering no explanation as to his whereabouts, her creeping unease shifts decidedly to dread.

Both chilling and poignant, this novel asks the biggest questions about marriage and fidelity, birth and death. Helen Phillips twists the world we know and shows it back to us full of meaning and wonder – luminous and new.


I’m not sure what my next read will be at the moment.  It might be The Shoemaker and His Daughter by Conor O’Clery.  It might be something else entirely!  We’ll see!

the shoemaker and his daughter

The Soviet Union, 1962.  Shoemaker Stanislav Suvorov is imprisoned for five years.  His crime?  Selling his car for a profit, contravening the Kremlin’s strict laws of speculation.  Laws which, thirty years later, his daughter Zhanna helps to unravel.  In the new Russia, yesterday’s crime is today’s opportunity.

On his release from prison, social shame drives Stanislav to voluntary exile in Siberia, moving his family from a relatively comfortable, continental life in Grozny, the capital of Chechnya, to frigid, farthest-flung Krasnoyarsk.  For some, it is the capital of the gulag.  For others, it is the chance to start over again.

These are the last days of a Soviet Union in which the Communist Party and KGB desperately cling to power, in which foreigners are unwelcome and travel abroad is restricted, where the queues for bread are daily and debilitating and where expressing views in favour of democracy and human rights can get you imprisoned or sent into exile.

The Shoemaker and His Daughter takes in more than eighty years of Soviet and Russian history through the prism of one family – a family author Conor O’Clery knows well: he is married to Zhanna.  It paints a vivid picture of a complex part of the world at a seismic moment in its history: of erratic war and uneasy peace; of blind power and its frequent abuse; of misguided ideologies and stifling bureaucracy; of the slow demise of Communism and the chaotic embrace of capitalism.  The Suvorovs witness it all.  Both intimate and sweeping in scale, this is a story of ordinary lives battered and shaped by extraordinary times.


And that’s my week in books! What are you reading this week?  Let me know in the comments! 😎

Mini Reviews of Recent Reads – Sep 2018

Would you believe it, I’m behind on my reviews again?! 😮

Here are two mini reviews of books I’ve read recently.


Artemis by Andy Weir

artemis

Like many other people, I adored Andy Weir’s debut novel, The Martian, and I couldn’t wait to get my hands on this second novel, despite then leaving it languishing unread for almost a year!

WELCOME TO ARTEMIS. The first city on the moon.

Population 2,000. Mostly tourists.

Some criminals.

Jazz Bashara is one of the criminals. She lives in a poor area of Artemis and subsidises her work as a porter with smuggling contraband onto the moon. But it’s not enough.

So when she’s offered the chance to make a lot of money she jumps at it. But though planning a crime in 1/6th gravity may be more fun, it’s a lot more dangerous…

Overall, I enjoyed Artemis.  I thought that the story was interesting, and I loved the complexity of it as what begins as a reasonably straightforward job for our protagonist, Jazz, escalates out of her control.  Whilst the initial set up takes a little time, I thought that once the action really got underway that the story was great, and it allowed Weir to incorporate the little snippets of science that was partly what made The Martian so brilliant (in my opinion).

I did struggle with Jazz’s character, however.  A woman in her mid-twenties, some of her speech (and definitely her humour) brings to mind a teenage boy more than a young woman.  I liked her determination and drive to achieve her goal, but I was confused as to why someone who is clearly very intelligent refuses to utilise all of the skills at her disposal.  I can understand that she has been told of her “potential” all of her life and that she may have found this irritating to the point where it pushed her the other way, but I couldn’t quite reconcile these two facets of her character.  I also wasn’t sure why she felt the need to promote herself as promiscuous, when her actions don’t actually seem to match this behaviour.

As with The Martian, Artemis is both brilliantly written and funny, and there were some pithy one-liners that made me chuckle.  A great story, but one that was a little let down by Jazz’s character for me personally.


Cross Her Heart by Sarah Pinborough

cross her heart

I loved Behind Her Eyes with its WTF ending – it was a brilliantly original novel, and I’ve been really looking forward to reading Cross Her Heart since its release in earlier this year.

Lisa lives for her daughter Ava, her job, and her best friend Marilyn, but when a handsome client shows an interest in her, Lisa starts daydreaming about sharing her life with him too. Maybe she’s ready now. Maybe she can trust again. Maybe it’s time to let her terrifying secret past go. Then her daughter rescues a boy from drowning and their pictures are all over the news for everyone to see. Lisa’s world explodes, and she finds everything she has built threatened. Not knowing whom she can trust, it’s up to her to face her past to save what she holds dear.

Pinborough writes excellent (if not always likeable) characters, and the three ladies – Lisa, Ava, and Marilyn – at the heart of this story are no exception.  I particularly liked Ava, and I thought that she epitomised what it is to be 16 years old, with all of the angst and secrecy that implies.  Lisa, on the other hand, I didn’t care for, even though it was clear that there was some traumatic experience in her past, and it took me until later in the novel to start to sympathise with her.  Until then she just came across as a tiresome worrier.

Cross Her Heart is told in three parts, with the first part setting the scene and introducing the characters.  Whilst the pace picks up in parts two and three, I did find the first part to be a little slow as it takes a long time for the first big revelation.  It’s hinted at repeatedly, but the reader doesn’t find out what happened until much later in the book, and I did find that this made the pace a little slow initially.

Whilst Cross Her Heart didn’t quite blow me away in the same way as Pinborough’s previous novel, I still enjoyed this, and I’ll be looking out for her next offering.

The Blinds by Adam Sternbergh

the blinds

I really liked the sound of The Blinds when I first heard about it, and now that I’ve (finally!) read it, I wish that I’d done so earlier!

Imagine a place populated by criminals – people plucked from their lives, with their memories altered, who’ve been granted new identities and a second chance.  Welcome to The Blinds, a dusty town in rural Texas populated by misfits who don’t know if they’ve perpetrated a crime or just witnessed one.  All they do know is that they opted into the programme and that if they try to leave, they will end up dead.

For eight years, Sheriff Calvin Cooper has kept an uneasy peace – but after a suicide and a murder in quick succession, the town’s residents revolt.  Cooper has his own secrets to protect, so when his new deputy starts digging, he needs to keep one step ahead of her – and the mysterious outsiders who threaten to tear the whole place down.  The more he learns, the more the hard truth is revealed: The Blinds is no sleepy hideaway, it’s simmering with violence and deception, heartbreak and betrayal, and it’s fit to burst.

I thought that the concept behind The Blinds was absolutely fascinating, and if it’s a little difficult to grasp the full extent of what is going on in Caesura (commonly referred to as The Blinds) at first then it’s worth persevering with as it all becomes clear before long.  Caesura – population (approximately) 48 – is a small town in rural Texas that is largely unknown to the outside world.  Here, people who have committed a crime, or who have been witness to a crime, can come to live under a new identity with no memory of why they are there.  They don’t even know which of these categories they fall into.  Whilst it’s not marketed as such, I thought that The Blinds had a distinctly dystopian air about it, and I thought that the underlying premise was brilliant.

The Blinds opens with a murder of one of the residents of Caesura.  Given its isolation and the fact that very few people know if its existence, it seems fairly certain that the murderer must be one of the residents.  And there are plenty of suspects, given the nature of the population.  Whilst this is an interesting part of the story, I don’t think that the whodunnit was the sole focus of the novel, and those approaching it purely as a mystery may be a little disappointed, although we do find out the who / what / when / where / why of the murder, and it wasn’t who I expected it to be.  Set over the course of a single week, the pace moves along quickly, and the plot took a few unexpected turns throughout, keeping me on my toes.

I think that the idea of removing specific memories from people is an interesting one, and one that has huge potential should we develop the science to do this.  The Blinds poses some interesting ethical questions, although it doesn’t really seek to answer them, and I’m left considering whether the perpetrators of violent crime deserve a completely fresh start under a new identity where no one knows of their past (mis)deeds.  I love books that make me think like this, and I think that this would be a great novel for a book club discussion.

Combining mystery, a touch of sci fi, and some great storytelling, I thoroughly enjoyed The Blinds.  Highly recommended.

Rating: ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐