Category Archives: Blog Tour

Blog Tour: The Golden Orphans by Gary Raymond

the golden orphans

I’m delighted to be taking part in the blog tour for The Golden Orphans by Gary Raymond today – a novel I was immediately attracted to when I read the blurb.

Within the dark heart of an abandoned city, on an island once torn by betrayal and war, lies a terrible secret…

Francis Benthem is a successful artist; he’s created a new life on an island in the sun. He works all night, painting the dreams of his mysterious Russian benefactor, Illie Prostakov. He writes letters to old friends and students back in cold, far away London. But now Francis Benthem is found dead. The funeral is planned and his old friend from art school arrives to finish what Benthem had started. The painting of dreams on a faraway island. But you can also paint nightmares and Illie has secrets of his own that are not ready for the light. Of promises made and broken, betrayal and murder…

The Golden Orphans offers a new twist on the literary thriller.

The novel opens with our unnamed protagonist attending the funeral of his friend and mentor, Francis Benthem.  He is the only person in attendance, until a small convoy of four strangers (to the narrator, at least) arrive to pay their last respects.  Their identities and their relationship to Francis is unknown, but it’s clear to the reader that there are questions to be answered here.  I think that this opening scene is extremely clever.  It’s deceptively simple, but immediately raises questions as to who the narrator is, what Francis was doing in Cyprus, and, of course, who these attendees at his funeral are.  It sets the tone for the whole novel, which has an almost dreamlike quality – there’s something surreal about it all, and I was immediately captivated by the slightly strange atmosphere.   It’s obvious that things aren’t quite what they seem, and this successfully pulls the reader into the story.

Set on Cyprus, I thought that the location worked brilliantly.  The island’s history is new to me, but Raymond incorporates this into the novel in such a way that I’m interested to learn more whilst knowing enough to ensure that the story makes sense.  I won’t go into the details because this history is central to the plot, but I loved the way that what initially seemed to be a random if striking setting came to be such a key feature, and so unexpectedly.  It takes a little while for the relevance of the island’s past to become apparent, but it’s a real “a ha!” moment, as things start to become clearer to the reader.

I found the pace to be pleasingly slow as the narrator – who goes unnamed throughout the whole novel – begins to understand Francis’s work, and how he might continue with this unusual project.  Whilst unravelling this mystery, he also has his own problems to deal with, and I think that the opportunity to work abroad comes as a welcome relief – the situation with his girlfriend and how to solve that particular problem becoming clearer with distance.  Whilst the reader doesn’t know the narrator, there’s plenty of insight into his character and his relative cluelessness comes across as endearing.

The Golden Orphans is a wonderful literary thriller, and I enjoyed the artistic and historic elements to the story which make this a unique tale.

The Golden Orphans is published by Parthian Books.  Many thanks to the publisher and to Emma of damppebbles blog tours for the review copy and the opportunity to take part in the blog tour.


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

The Golden Orphans banner

Advertisements

Blog Tour: Paris in the Dark by Robert Olen Butler

paris in the dark

It’s my stop on the blog tour for Paris in the Dark­ by Robert Olen Butler – the fourth novel to feature US reporter and undercover agent Kit Cobb.

Autumn 1915. The First World War is raging across Europe. Woodrow Wilson has kept Americans out of the trenches, although that hasn’t stopped young men and women from crossing the Atlantic to volunteer at the front.

Christopher Marlowe ‘Kit’ Cobb, a Chicago reporter and undercover agent for the US government is in Paris when he meets an enigmatic nurse called Louise. Officially in the city for a story about American ambulance drivers, Cobb is grateful for the opportunity to get to know her but soon his intelligence handler, James Polk Trask, extends his mission. Parisians are meeting ‘death by dynamite’ in a new campaign of bombings, and the German-speaking Kit seems just the man to discover who is behind this – possibly a German operative who has infiltrated with the waves of refugees? And so begins a pursuit that will test Kit Cobb, in all his roles, to the very limits of his principles, wits and talents for survival.

Fleetly plotted and engaging with political and cultural issues that resonate deeply today, Paris in the Dark is a page-turning novel of unmistakable literary quality.

The novel starts slowly, giving the reader a neat introduction to the time in which Paris in the Dark is set.  At this point – 1915 – President Wilson has kept America out of the war, and the American volunteers who are taking part are doing so under their own steam.  Kit Cobb is ostensibly there to report upon the efforts of these volunteers, focussing particularly on those who are driving ambulances between the front lines and the hospitals being used to treat those who are injured.  I thought that period in which Paris in the Dark is set was fascinating, and I loved the noir feel to the novel.  The First World War isn’t one that I’ve read a lot about in fiction, but Butler gives the reader an excellent sense of both time and place, and I loved the inclusion of little historical details that bring the story to life.

If the novel starts slowly, the pace soon picks up as Kit is given a new assignment by his intelligence handler.  A number of bombings have taken place in Paris, and it’s believed that a German operative has infiltrated the city under the guise of a refugee in order to sow destruction and to demoralise the Allies.  The German-speaking Kit is the ideal man to investigate, and the novel soon reveals itself as an intense spy thriller as Kit’s investigation proves to be anything other than straightforward.  This isn’t my usual kind of read, but it’s one that I really enjoyed, the setting and the wider context making this a fascinating novel that is rich in historical detail whilst still being, ultimately, an exciting espionage thriller.

Paris in the Dark is excellently plotted, and I loved how the various storylines came together by the end of the novel, building up to a thrilling conclusion.  There is action, a little romance, and the plot twists unexpectedly as Kit’s investigation gets underway.  Paris in the Dark an excellent read, and one that I’d recommend to both those who enjoy a spy thriller or those who might be new to the genre.  Whilst this is the fourth novel in the series, I felt that this worked well as a standalone novel, and the reader doesn’t miss out on anything by having not read the earlier books in this series.

Paris in the Dark is published by No Exit Press.  Many thanks to the publisher and to Anne Cater of Random Things Tours for the review copy and the opportunity to take part in the blog tour.


Make sure you check out the other stops on the tour:

Paris In The Dark Blog Tour Poster

 

Blog Tour: The Reckoning by Clár Ní Chonghaile

the reckoning

It’s my stop on the blog tour for The Reckoning by Clár Ní Chonghaile, and I have an extract to share with you!


CHAPTER 1

It does not feel quite right to be sipping wine as I try to figure out if I killed a man. Or, perhaps more accurately, if I drove two men to their deaths. I fear wine is not up to the task. After a lifetime of loyalty to Sauvignon Blanc, I have opted for a ‘ripe and bold’ South African red. I bought it partly because I liked the description on the label – this wine sounds like me, although I am, now, more ripe than bold – but mostly to annoy the sweaty, limp-haired lady in the wine shop in Caen. Quelle horreur! L’Anglaise is not buying French wine. In France! But however bold, even this wine does not, in my opinion, have the gravitas needed for what I am trying to do. I forgot to buy whiskey from the scowling crone and so wine will have to do.

In any case, at my age, whiskey might finally prove my equal. I’ve always won our battles before, still standing as the bottle spun off the table and onto the floor, empty, exhausted, submissive at last. I was proud of my prowess as a drinker. It was something I worked hard at, a professional badge of honour. But nowadays, I’m not sure I wouldn’t end up on the floor myself, my old carcass rattling noisily onto the flagstones like bones cast down by wrinkle-stitched shamans predicting the future. Of all the indignities of old age, not being able to hold my drink bothers me most. Not least because of the pure maliciousness of it. Old age is precisely when one has the greatest need to be a functioning drunk all the livelong day. The irony distresses and delights me in equal measure.

You know where I am because I wrote to you the day before I left, asking you to join me. But I do not really believe you will come, Diane. To be crude, what’s in it for you? I know why I am here. You might say it’s an odd fancy, the product of an age-addled mind that’s beginning to misfire, but I think I might be able to unearth the beginning, the end and most importantly the middle of my story in this place. Even though this is the first time I have set foot in Lion-sur-Mer.

I could have chosen another town. This coast is pimpled with human acne – bars, restaurants, nondescript apartments with bright towels hanging over the balcony rails like flags of convenience. But Lion-sur-Mer is his beach and I liked the absurdity of the name. Lion on the sea. The king of the savannah, adrift and lost in the waves. An aptly fantastical Narnia name for a place that wears the horror of its past so lightly. The welcome booklet on the hall table of this pastel-primped cottage tells me the name may have come from some lion-shaped rocks or reefs. That is too mundane for my liking. I want to imagine a real lion striding down the beach with that peculiarly slow motion, flip-footed grace that all felines have. Where did he come from, this regal sea lion? Who knows? There are more things in heaven and earth, as my mother used to sigh, when she did not know what else to say. If such a thing is true anywhere, it must be true here, where the unthinkable was thought, the undoable done and where the ground still bears the scars of a war that did not know it was not supposed to be. Pockmarked and gutted, the grass and wildflowers do their best to blur the edges, but like wreaths on a coffin, they only draw the eye to the truth.

Enough of fantasies. Shall I tell you what I see before me right now? Shall I fool myself into believing you will read this letter, be transported beyond anger by my masterful prose and pack your bags to come and join me? Why not? I have all the time in the world now to indulge the wildest, most unfounded dreams. At least until the wine, bread and cheese run out and the sand stops trickling through the hourglass of my brain. I’ve never set much store by fad diets with their restrictions, deadlines and unreal expectations but I may have finally found the perfect diet for me: eat this food and then be done. I like its simplicity. I will dream my fantasies as long as I can, as long as there is some cerebral activity to spark these visions into life.

I have dragged a chair and table to the hawthorn hedge that marks the boundary between this sun-freckled garden and the bedazzling beach. The chair is upholstered in white with stripes in the same shade of peppermint green as the wooden shutters on the house: more evidence of the primly perfectionist hand that has made this cottage so insufferably flawless. I am sitting behind the low, wooden gate, a wine glass in my hand and sunglasses protecting my watery eyes from the glare of the sun setting to my left. The beach is nearly empty, just a few families packing up buckets, spades, deckchairs, parasols and all the accoutrements that illustrate just why that word has to be French, even in English. Do you really need a wine bucket on a beach? I fancy I am observing without being observed. It is what I do best.

The sand still bears the day’s imprint – a deep hole hacked into being by querulous, bronze-limbed children, a shallow valley where an achingly beautiful boy and a long-limbed girl lay wrapped around each other like amorous snakes for the best part of the afternoon, a moonscape of craters where brash, sure-footed men played bombastic volleyball. But the sea is coming now to make everything smooth and fresh once again, as it did, no doubt, over 50 years ago, after Robert and all the others staggered through the waves and onto the sand. The sea is the ultimate pardoner. Given time, it will remove all traces of our spilt blood, broken limbs, shattered brains and deflated bodies. If only all relics of our lives could be washed away so easily.

The received wisdom is that people like me, writers and artists, all of us dreamers, are on a quest for immortality, desperate to leave an eternal mark on the world so that when we die, our names and ideas will live on. Maybe I did subscribe to that particular vanity once. But now, I can honestly say that I would rather my footprints be kissed into oblivion by the white-flecked lips of the sea. I crave obliteration. There has been too much pain and it delights me to know that when I am gone, at least some of it will stop. There is a selfishness to this too, of course. Me, me, me. What I want. Still, it will amuse you, Diane, to know that I have fallen foul of that age-old axiom: be careful what you wish for. You’d think I’d have learnt that lesson over the years. I didn’t think obliteration could be partial. I, the ultimate creative, lacked imagination.

I know you’ll find it hard to believe but I haven’t always been so self-obsessed. There was a time, when your father was still here in body and mind, that I felt part of something bigger. We three were a story that I believed was everlasting and irrefutable. Our lives mattered because they slotted into all the other lives to form part of the train track of endlessly improving humanity. In essence, I believed that love conferred immortality. Today, I struggle to fathom such naiveté. What was I thinking? I do not believe in time as a healer but it has certainly cured me of that bullshit.

Sorry, I shouldn’t be profane. I shouldn’t be cynical. I shouldn’t be here and I certainly shouldn’t be speaking to you – albeit through a letter – after what I did. I shouldn’t be alive when he isn’t. And the others, all the others, lurking like restless, can-kicking teens on the wasteland between this world and its reflections. Where is the justice, you might wonder? And I would have to agree. Why has the universe kept me around given what I have done and failed to do? But justice is another of the many things I no longer believe in. Justice and time or rather, to be precise, linear time. I don’t believe in redemption and causality either. I am not even sure I believe in myself in any substantial, meaningful way. Do I believe in you? As an existence, certainly. I know you exist. And then what?

After I arrived here today in a steaming, sun-baked coach, I dumped my suitcase and typewriter and took a stroll around town before heading along a lane inland. I might come across as cold-hearted and cynical, and that’s probably the best you could say, but I can still, somewhat to my own surprise, fall prey to a touch of the whimsy. I thought I might feel something if I walked into France from the coast, the way Robert and the other soldiers did more than half a century ago.

The air was alive with the crackling, end-of-day heat that throbs sullenly along silent countryside roads. I moved slowly, as I imagined they did, weighed down by their soaked kit – the water bottles, ammunition pouches, spades and all the other tools needed to sustain life and dole out death. The hedgerows extended haughtily above me, as they must have towered above your father. They loom out of built-up earth banks; dense lattices of hawthorn, bramble, hazel and blackthorn, shading the labyrinthine paths where I imagine soldiers’ souls still roam. Do you believe in parallel universes, Diane? I do. Call it my opium.

What do the men of Britain’s Second Army make of us all now in the final years of a century that at one point seemed intent on imploding well before reaching a gentle old age? Are they still squatting here, smoking cigarettes and discussing how the world has moved on without them? As I walked along the hedgerows, I imagined what they might be saying on the other side of the looking glass, in that place where the only time is the present. Humour me, Diane. You may not believe it but I am at my most truthful when I am making things up.

So here, I present to you, your father, Private Robert Stirling, in conversation.

 

Private D. Myers: It’s like we never existed. Or maybe what I’m trying to say is, what was the point?

Private R. Stirling: Good God, Dan. Are you still going on about a point? How many times do I have to tell you? There was no point. The war started, the war was fought, the war ended. We were unlucky. End of.

Private D. Myers: You weren’t unlucky. You survived. You coulda seen all the rest, all the things that happened so fast and that made what went on here seem so… out of place. Like we was dinosaurs, or something.

Private R. Stirling: I’m dead, aren’t I? Isn’t that enough for you? What does it matter how or where? I didn’t see much more than you, remember? Okay, I saw that life could go back to normal or something like normal. It was all still there: hot dinners, clean sheets, living to be happy instead of just trying not to die, thinking your own thoughts. It was all still there like a giant slap in the face. I didn’t think it could be possible. And perhaps it shouldn’t have been. Perhaps that was my whole problem in the end. So, yes, I stuck around a bit longer. But it’s not like I got to see Elvis, the Beatles, the moon landing, any of that. I’m here with you, dammit. The war killed me, same as the rest of you.

Private D. Myers: Fair enough, keep your knickers on. Still, d’you get what I mean? All those things you just said and all happening just a few years later. It’s like a big two-fingers-up to us.

Private R. Stirling: Have you been hitting the Calva too hard again, Dan? You’re all over the place this afternoon.

Private D. Myers: I’m just saying it’s like we fought on a different planet. Or in the Dark Ages or something. If all those things were around the corner, how’d we get beaten by hedges? Blown up on beaches? What the hell made us think crossing the sea and running up the bloody sand into the arms of the waiting Nazis was a good idea?

Private R. Stirling: To be fair, Dan, we never thought that. We were just doing what we were told. Very little thinking involved at all. But all the same you might have a point, Danny boy. And speaking of planets let me tell you something else that’ll fry that brandy-soaked brain of yours. They’ve discovered these black holes in space now. Albert Einstein imagined them first but they only named them in the 60s. They are literally nothing, a vacuum where all matter has collapsed in on itself, like that bridge we blew up near Caen, right? The pull of gravity inside these black holes is so damn strong even light can’t escape. They’re like huge magnets, sucking everything in. They come in different sizes, see, and are found in loads of galaxies but the biggest ones are called supermassive black holes. It got me thinking. Maybe the war was a kind of supermassive black hole? It destroyed everything and then became invisible because not even light could escape. Sure, we laughed and joked because nothing can ever be totally, utterly awful. Not for six years anyhow. But underneath and at its core, it was all horror, running deep and sticky through all the days. Maybe the war didn’t end. Maybe it collapsed or caved in so that everything was sucked away. From one day to the next, it was gone.

Private D. Myers: Jesus, mate. I was just saying ain’t time strange. What d’you have to go on about outer space for? You know I ain’t got your smarts. Fuck’s sake.

 

There’s a fresh piece of writing, Diane, just for you. Your father was something of a science buff. He was endlessly and sometimes annoyingly curious; he couldn’t see a beautiful night sky for the individual stars and he couldn’t see those without trying to name the constellations. I sometimes think it was that desire to put a name to everything that was his undoing. Some things can’t and shouldn’t be named. Naming confers legitimacy and that’s not always wise. Robert fell apart when he realised there was no name for what he’d seen. No name for what he’d done. Even if there had been, he wouldn’t have been allowed to use it.

I suppose I’m picking up where he left off. I want to find the perfect words to describe what happened to him and to us. I’ve come here to find those words and to look for the pieces of your father that were missing when he came back at the end of those six sodden years when time broke its leash and ran wild across the world, while simultaneously standing still like smoke in the air. Time was the bullet speeding towards you as you hid behind a hedge. You didn’t know the end was coming until that infinite moment between your realisation and the bullet’s impact. The infinite and finite twisted around each other like yin and yang. That nanoscopic moment was all and everything, and time was standing very still and very small for you, but also running out very fast.

I imagine you are already rolling your eyes. You know only too well that I am using your father to lure you to this place where, of course, you will not find him, only me. And why should you do that when I gave up my right to see you? It doesn’t matter that I thought I was saving my life and yours. And is that even true? They say hindsight is 20/20 but memory is not. When we look back through time, our mind’s eye is neither clear nor honest. Our gaze is refracted through so many bitter thoughts, so many regrets, both past and present, so many red-faced justifications that it bends and warps until the memory it uncovers bears as much resemblance to what happened as our reflections in crazy mirrors at funfairs. Do they still have those? I used to like them.

All too often, we speak of our powers of recall as if they were independent and neutral. But memory is as much about selection as recollection. We create our perfect selves through the stories we tell every day and we use our memories to embellish this ideal image. The very act of remembrance has motive, as does everything we do. Memories are not static – we recreate them every time we revisit them. We remake them, using fresh information on behalf of the person we have become.

For years, I believed I gave you up to save you and to save my sanity. I am not so brazen that I would entirely deny my own interest. I am self-aware enough to know that I did it partly for myself. Maybe even mostly for myself. But not solely. I have told myself this version of what happened so often, in those measureless hours before dawn, that it feels real. But what if the original memory was false? What if what I told myself on the day I gave you up was false? I am perfectly capable of lying to myself. And I am perfectly capable of believing my own lies, if I want to. I might’ve been a journalist for years but I am also a writer of fiction and if there is one thing I have learned through practicing both disciplines, it is that all facts are subjective. Especially the ones we believe are empirically true.

The woman I am now does not, or cannot, believe she is guilty of callous abandonment. But maybe even in that I am not being honest. If I don’t feel guilty, why am I reaching out to you? There is a thread worth teasing there. Whatever guilt I may or may not feel I am woman enough to recognise that I do want your forgiveness. How crass, you will think. How very common to look for redemption as the door opens to that long night. How very crude to use pity as a lever to pry open your heart. Rest assured, Diane. I am not dying. At least, I am not dying any faster today than I was yesterday. Death is a constant presence at this point. I am 77 after all and just as the century is nearly done, so am I. We have both almost run our course. There will be no place for us in the new millennium and that is as it should be. But I do not have an immediate expiry date. Not yet.

I am not sure how my stay here ends. Part of me wants to slit my wrists and run wild through this tasteful cottage, spurting blood all over the cream sofas, rattan rugs and pale green walls like a balloon pirouetting wildly as the air screams out. I have a visceral, rage-filled desire to obliterate l’ambiance rustique so painstakingly created by the house-proud owner of this cottage. But that seems a bit overblown, even for me.

I’m going to pretend you’re sitting here beside me. It’s a tough assignment even for someone as well versed in the imaginary as me. Ten books under my belt but summoning up your image is almost too much for my powers of imagination. The last picture I saw was from Millie’s wedding two years ago. It was a photograph in your local paper, the Ham and High. I’ll tell you one of my secrets, Diane, but this is just a naughty peccadillo compared to others I will reveal later. Sometimes, I take the train into London and stop in West Hampstead. I wander slowly up to your neck of the woods, puffing my way past the gaudy money transfer outlets and stifling corner shops, up the hill until I get to the rarefied air of Hampstead. I always wonder if I will see you. To be honest, I’m not sure what I would do if I did. Duck into a doorway, probably.

The newspaper photograph was a little blurry but you looked good for almost 50. You wear your years lightly, as I have been told I do though past 70 there is a certain degree of inevitable decay no matter what you do. I’m going to assume nothing much has changed since then. I remember my early 50s, cruising along the flat of life, beyond the peaks and valleys of youth and not yet dodging the precipices of old age. Yours is a tranquil landscape.

You’ve not given in to grey hair and I am glad about that. When we met that one time, back in the 60s, I felt an irrational delight to see you had my fine, blonde hair. You wear glasses – you must’ve inherited your weak eyes from your father’s side. Robert’s parents both needed glasses though he said his mother was too vain to wear them. I’m sure he needed them too in his last year but by then, I don’t think he wanted to see the world too clearly any more. I have my own pair now but I don’t always wear them either. One doesn’t always need to see everything.

I was delighted to see that photo – payback for years of anonymous snooping – but the image was disappointingly static and formal. A wedding pose. Your eyes are squinting, your smile is tight and fake as though you are fed up now with this mother-of-the-bride stuff. Even as a baby, you had a no-bullshit glare. It used to frighten me a little – I was thinner-skinned then – but the woman I am now rejoices in its memory. The photo, however, gives me no sense of fluidity. I cannot imagine your face in motion. What would you look like if you were here, staring at me through the shadow-shimmering rays of the dying sun? Would you have hate in your eyes and what would that even look like on you now? Do you hate me, Diane? I am genuinely curious. I have always been so quick to hate, so quick to condemn, so quick to deny love, at least since that awful September day 50 years ago. Are you like me? Or did you manage to preserve the optimism I felt back when I still believed that life could be perfect, that all things being equal life would, in fact, be perfect? Did the scales fall off your eyes too? Or is the final, fabulous irony the fact that I, Lina Rose, the acclaimed writer who ‘wields her pen like a scalpel as she probes false prophets of naïve idealism and unfounded optimism’, have a daughter who still believes in a benign universe despite everything?

When I said earlier that I was wondering if I had killed a man, or men, you probably thought I was being facetious. I was not. How can we possibly estimate our individual responsibility for any event that involves us? We would need the omniscience of a deity to know how our actions are seen by those they affect. Then we would need the calculus skills of a Leibniz to make sense of the infinite sequences and series that bring us to our defined limits. And then, on top of all that, we would need a Caroll-ian imagination. It’s a tall order for any human, even the most rational and clear-sighted. I am neither of those things.

I was, of course, referring to your father. Primarily. I will tell you of the other man too but later. For now, the question is did I kill your father? Having dodged the bullets bending around these hedges, having survived the road to Paris and the push into Belgium and all the rest, did my big-eyed incompetence as a wife and my inexcusable inability to hear him bring about his end? Or was it ‘just’ the war? But that seems too pat. The war killed millions in its time and afterwards when overloaded brains exploded behind drawn curtains in poky bedrooms or on lonely moors where curlews carved the skies with their spiralling cries. Your father was among these casualties of war but that is not the whole story. And what a daft concept the whole story is anyway. As if our messy lives could be stitched together with a single thread.

The sun has gone now and it is getting chilly. Northern Europe will disappoint like that. This continent has no consistency. I am going inside to sit on one of those pristine cream sofas, under the faintly sinister eyes of the fake Degas ballerinas, bowing and arabesque-ing across the walls. I know that’s not a word but I am a writer and a rebel and I will make up my own words if I damn well please. I might very well have to soon.

I have a story to tell you, Diane. It is my story and your story and the story of a century that remade the world like a supermassive black hole. When we reach the end, you will be the ultimate arbiter of whether it was worth your time. You will also sit in judgment on me and on the memories I reveal. I do not expect absolution but I must conclude that I yearn for forgiveness.

I will walk up to the main street to post this tomorrow morning. Finding your address was too easy for an ex-journalist like me. It begs the question: did you always want to be found? The next chapter will follow in a few days. I shall imagine myself as Dickens and you as my reader, agog for the next instalment of this fascinating serial. Modesty has never been my strongest quality and besides, I need to feel the heavy hand of time on my shoulder because it is there and it is not moving.


The Reckoning was published on 15 October by Legend Press.  Many thanks to Lucy Chamberlain for the proof copy and the opportunity to take part in the blog tour.

The Reckoning Blog Tour Banner

Blog Tour and Giveaway: The Black Prince by Adam Roberts

It’s my stop on the blog tour for The Black Prince by Adam Roberts – a novel adapted from an original script by Anthony Burgess, and I have one copy to giveaway.  Details on how to enter the giveaway can be found towards the end of this post, but first, a little about the book.

Description

the black prince

‘I’m working on a novel intended to express the feel of England in Edward III’s time … The fourteenth century of my novel will be mainly evoked in terms of smell and visceral feelings, and it will carry an undertone of general disgust rather than hey-nonny nostalgia’

Anthony Burgess, Paris Review, 1973

The Black Prince is a brutal historical tale of chivalry, religious belief, obsession, siege and bloody warfare. From disorientating depictions of medieval battles to court intrigues and betrayals, the campaigns of Edward II, the Black Prince, are brought to vivid life by an author in complete control of the novel as a way of making us look at history with fresh eyes, all while staying true to the linguistic pyrotechnics and narrative verve of Burgess’s best work.

Brings to light unpublished material from one of the twentieth century’s literary titans, author of A Clockwork Orange, Inside Mr Enderby and Earthly Powers.

Adam Roberts has worked with the full cooperation of the Burgess Foundation.

Roberts is a celebrated novelist in his own right: Jack Glass (2012) won the British Science Fiction Award for Best Novel and 2015’s The Thing Itself was described by the Guardian as ‘a dazzling philosophical adventure’. Widespread review coverage is expected and the author will be available for events.

For fans of Paul Kingsnorth’s The Wake, Patrick DeWitt’s The Sisters Brothers, and His Bloody Project by Graeme Macrae Burnet.

About the Author

Adam Roberts

Adam Roberts is a writer, critic and academic. He is the author of sixteen novels and many shorter works, including the prize-winning Jack Glass (2012). His most recent novel is The Real-Town Murders (2017). He is Professor of Nineteenth-Century Literature at Royal Holloway, University of London, and has published critically on a wide range of topics, including nineteenth- and twentieth-century fiction and science fiction. He lives in the south-east of England.

 

Giveaway

To enter the giveaway, simply leave a comment on this blog post, or retweet my pinned tweet – you can find me on Twitter @tiny_ickle_jo 🙂

This giveaway is open to UK residents only (sorry!) and you have until midnight (UK time) on 11 October to enter.  A winner will be chosen at random from the entries.

⭐ Good Luck! ⭐


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

FINAL The Black Prince Blog Tour Poster

Blog Tour: Trap by Lilja Sigurdardóttir

trap

I’m delighted to be sharing my review of Trap by Lilja Sigurdardóttir as part of the blog tour today.  I absolutely loved its predecessor, Snare (you can see my review here), and Trap definitely lived up to my expectations.

Happily settled in Florida, Sonja believes she’s finally escaped the trap set by unscrupulous drug lords.  But when her son Tomas is taken, she’s back to square one… and Iceland.

Her lover, Agla, is awaiting sentencing for financial misconduct after the banking crash, and Sonja refuses to see her.  And that’s not all… Agla owes money to some extremely powerful men, and they’ll stop at nothing to get it back.

With her former nemesis, customs officer Bragi, on her side, Sonja puts her own plan into motion, to bring down the drug barons and her scheming ex-husband, and get Tomas back safely.  But things aren’t as straightforward as they seem, and Sonja finds herself caught in the centre of a trap that will put all of their lives at risk…

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, Trap is an outstandingly original and sexy Nordic crime thriller, from one of the most exciting new names in crime fiction.

Trap opens in Florida with Sonja and her son, Tomas ,enjoying a different kind of lifestyle (and climate!) to what they’re used to.  It’s clear that their peace won’t last, however, and it’s not long before Sonja and Tomas are forced back to Iceland, with Sonja losing even the brief contact she had with Tomas, given his father has legal custody over him.  I really felt for Sonja – having taken the brave step to leave the country, her happiness is so brief as her ex-husband, Adam, manages to track her down, using their son as leverage to get her to do what he wants.  Forced back into her life as a drug mule, she must now come up with yet another plan to escape the trap she’s in – one that is bigger and bolder than her previous plan.

The reader also catches up with Agla, Sonja’s on / off lover.  Agla is still having difficulty accepting her sexuality, and this has driven a wedge between the two women, with Sonja understandably fed up of the cycle of drunken affection followed by the morning after shame that Agla seems to be stuck in.  It’s a case of you don’t know what you’ve got ‘til it’s gone for Agla as Sonja calls things off, and I thought that her inner turmoil and indecision played out brilliantly, finally allowing her to realise what it is that she wants.  Agla is still under investigation for her actions in the lead up to the financial crash, but this doesn’t stop her putting another plan into action in order to clear herself and her former colleagues of a debt.  I really like this story line, and it portrays Agla in a very different light, as in financial dealings she is a strong and decisive woman, providing a neat contrast to her love life.

If I had any concerns that the plot of Trap would too closely resemble that of Snare, these were quickly dismissed.  Where Snare sees Sonja finding ever more inventive ways of carrying cocaine into the country, Trap goes beyond this and looks more at the people she is forced to work for.  I don’t want to go into the details, but Sonja’s position is now much worse than before as she finds herself at the mercy of a new individual – one who is possibly even more ruthless than any we’ve met previously.  I love a good villain, and this new character ticked a lot of boxes.  Whilst following similar themes, the plot and situation are different, and I loved how the situation had escalated between the two.

Like Snare, Trap is a fast-paced novel that I read in no time at all.  The short chapters practically beg you to read just one more, and I love the two women at the heart of these stories.  I think it’s a real testament to Lilja’s writing that I really want them to get out of their respective predicaments and find a more peaceful, happy life.  It’s almost as though they’re real.  I really can’t recommend these novels enough.

Trap is published by Orenda Books, and will be available in paperback on 18 October – it’s available now as an eBook (and at the time of writing, it was available on Kindle for the bargain price of £0.99!)  Many thanks to Anne Cater of Random Things Blog Tours and Orenda Books for the review copy and the opportunity to take part in the blog tour.

Rating: ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐


Make sure you check out the other stops on the tour:

Trap First BT Poster

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

Blog Tour: Overkill by Vanda Symon

overkill

I absolutely loved the sound of Overkill when I first read the synopsis, and I was delighted to be given the opportunity to read a copy ahead of publication and to take part in the blog tour organised by Anne Cater of Random Things Tours.

When the body of a young mother is found washed up on the banks of the Mataura River, a small rural community is rocked by her tragic suicide.  But all is not what it seems.

Sam Shephard, sole-charge police constable in Mataura, soon discovers the death was no suicide and has to face the realisation that there is a killer in town.  To complicate the situation, the murdered woman was the wife of her former lover.  When Sam finds herself on the list of suspects and suspended from duty, she must cast aside her personal feelings and take matters into her own hands.

To find the murderer… and clear her name.

Overkill opens with the murder, and throws the reader straight into the story with this brilliant opening paragraph:

The day it was ordained that Gabriella Knowes would die there were no harbingers, omens or owls’ calls.  No tolling of bells.  With the unquestioning courtesy of the well brought up, she invited Death in.

I thought that the prologue was fantastic, and loved that Symon managed to make the opening scene so shocking and yet entirely non-graphic.  It lets the reader know exactly what they are in for, in that the novel will claim its victims without mercy, but also that it won’t be unnecessarily brutal in its approach.  Whilst so many novels rely on shock factor, it was refreshing to read a novel that does this without having to resort to gory scenes.

I loved the setting of Mataura, New Zealand.  It’s a small town, but one that has plenty of secrets hidden away, despite its outwardly peaceful appearance, and Symon evokes a sense of place brilliantly.  As always, the small-town setting makes Sam’s job incredibly difficult, as everyone knows her, just as she knows everyone else, and everyone knows that newly widowed Lockie was her lover in the not too distant past, and that only one half of that couple managed to move on.  She’s a girl who wears her heart on her sleeve, and it doesn’t really come as a surprise that she becomes a suspect.  Not that she’s about to let that get in her way.

The very best thing about Overkill was undoubtedly Sam Shepherd, our main protagonist.  What an absolute star!  I loved her determination to keep looking into the murder despite her feelings on Gaby, the victim.  Suspended from duty, and quite likely to lose her job if she doesn’t step away from the investigation, she just can’t help herself, and I loved this perseverance despite the potential consequences.  She is a character who is most definitely flawed but very much aware of her own shortcomings, and this acceptance of who she is and her “what you see is what you get” attitude make her very easy to like.  She puts herself through some trials in order to gather information, including a rather uncomfortable visit to the nurse!  I won’t spoil it for you… 😉

I thought that the plot moved at a fair pace, and was both interesting and original.  There are red herrings thrown in to keep you on your toes, and whilst this isn’t a novel carrying a big OMG twist, it’s one that keeps you guessing right until the end.  I’m really hoping for more from Symon, hopefully featuring more Sam!

Overkill is published by Orenda Books, and the eBook is available now, with the paperback being published on 6 September.  Thanks to Anne Cater for the review copy and the opportunity to join the blog tour.

Rating: ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐


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

Overkill Blog Tour Poster