Brodmaw Bay seems to be the perfect refuge for James Greer and his family. When his young son is the victim of a brutal mugging, Greer wants to leave London – the sooner the better – for the charming old-fashioned fishing port he has just discovered.
But was finding Brodmaw Bay more than a happy accident? What is the connection between the village and his beautiful wife? When his friendly new neighbours say they’d welcome some new blood – in a village where the same families seem to have lived for generations – are they telling the whole truth?
Perhaps the village isn’t so much welcoming them as luring them. To something ancient and evil. As it has lured others before . . .
Brodmaw Bay is another one of those books I’ve picked up this year that had me hooked before I’d read the first page. I’m talking about the covert art design of course. A dark silhouette of a distant village – Brodmaw Bay – and the promise of something sinister lurking beneath the surface of the mirky water, what’s not to love? We all love a little something to heighten our senses and make us a little scared, Brodmaw Bay certainly does that!
Written by F.G. Cottam the book works on many levels, it has subtle humour, a very dark and psychological theme and is fairly insular, especially when it comes to the Bay. The Bay draws James Greer and his family in at just the right, or is that wrong, time. They are sucked in to the traditions they find endearing at first but it soon becomes blatantly obvious things aren’t what they seem, the people and the Bay itself hiding a violent and troublesome pass that mixes death and the destruction of a religion.
Although incredibly drawn in by the covert art, sucked in to the story of the Bay just like Greer, I did find the first thirty pages a little sedentary. It took a while to get into the story but there was a point, which I won’t share here for fear of spoilers that drew me right back in. It was from that particular point that F.G. Cottam had me and I read the rest of the book in two fairly quick settings.
I thoroughly enjoyed how he brought in an underlying tale of history, the First World War and the locals that lost their lives during that time including a famous poet. There are ghosts – what do you expect from a supernatural dark story? – and creepy faceless burlap monsters, the threat of a family torn apart by one event.
Over the years James has come to resent his wife’s career, not for the money it brings in but for the simple fact that he no longer has a say in what happens to his family. They have two wonderful and talented children, live in a leafy area of London, life is incredibly comfortable and rewarding but for James something is missing. When Greer’s son is attacked by mindless thugs on his way home from school James rushes to the hospital bed to be by his son’s bedside. It’s at this point, a defining moment in his life, that James decides enough is enough and he begins to take control of his family.
The family dynamics begin to change, insecurities that once threatened help re shape their lives but as they do the past rears its ugly head and the future is brought into question. Characterisation is impressive but the stars of the book for me are the two kids. They are incredibly moreish, level headed – until the creepiness takes hold – and very mature for their age. Like any brother and sister they have their moments but when Jack’s sister has a bad dream – a dream that they all share in one form or other – she goes to his bed and seeks a protective cuddle. The simple things just work.
It wasn’t his mum. It was his numpty sister, Olivia.
‘Can I come in?’
He sighed. ‘I suppose so.’
The door opened and Olivia came into his room, careful to weave a way through the games and DVDs and consoles and remotes littering his floor without damaging anything; careful not to collide with the model aircraft and spaceships hanging on strings from the ceiling.
‘What do you want?’
‘Can I get into your bed? Can I get in for a cuddle?’
Jack sighed again.
‘I suppose so.’
A gripping story that will, just like Brodmaw Bay, suck you in and certainly leave you wanting more. The strong and powerful ending shocked me, surprised me even, and although I – at one point – wanted to visit the Bay, exploring every nook and cranny, I have decided it could possibly be detrimental to my life as I know it if I did! A wonderful experience, moreishly dark and entertainingly immersive – Brodmaw Bay is one not to miss.
Strictly speaking I shouldn’t be writing this blog post! A couple of months ago a friend of mine – Keith Walters from Books and Writers mentioned that November would be a very busy month. There would be little communication, no chance of drinks and emails were out of the question! The reason? He, like thousands around the world, would be participating in the annual Nanowrimo challenge – National Novel Writing Month – where established and rookie authors attempt to write 50,000 words in one month, beginning on November 1st and ending on the 30th.
When I first heard of the challenge I never in my wildest dreams thought I would take part. It just seemed ridiculously hard! I have enough to do with reading and reviewing books let alone attempting to write a novel! However, due to the enthusiasm of friends on twitter – Keith, Julia Crouch, Will Carver, Dave Jackson, Abi Fenton, and Meg Gardiner to name but a few – I decided to think about it and see if I could come up with a basic idea and see where it took me. I have forgotten to list many friends and for that I can only apologise, I’ll make up for it when I publish the book and will name and shame you all then!!!
During a trip to London last month I was sitting in a Covent Garden pub with friend and author Charlie Phillips and I mentioned that I had an idea for a murder – fictional of course – and while we both enjoyed the hospitality of the pub, watching the rain falling outside, I told her my idea. Charlie went to town and gave me a few suggestions which led to the naming of the novel – The Signet – further murders and storyline and I left the pub thinking it had legs. I wasn’t certain how strong those legs were but it had given me an idea and it was at that point – partly due to the alcohol – I decided to attempt to write it!
With just 12 days left to write I have completed 32,000 words and still have the same enthusiasm I had when I began on the first of this month – quite incredible really! I’ve changed, developed, researched but most of all I’ve had fun. No stranger to reviewing books as I am I find the reviewing process fairly structured, you comment on the narrative, characterisation, the plot and what you think of the book. I never expected to revel in the freedom of writing a novel. There are no rules; no one is looking over your shoulder telling you how and what to write but most of all no one is telling you how stupid you are. I love the fact that you can begin writing a paragraph about one character and by the time you are half way through you’ve changed your mind and take the character or indeed location in a totally different direction.
When I began writing a few weeks ago I had an idea my serial killer had been born in Japan but now lived in the UK/America. I had no plan to write a backstory for the killer but during a little downtime a few nights ago I came across a remote island in Japan called Yakushima Island and decided to write the killer’s history, parents, early life and upbringing on the island. It’s fascinating the things you learn by accident. From an acorn a tree grows, or is that a novel?! Although as far as I am aware the island has never been struck by a Typhoon, I’ve re-written her history and she has suffered two!
The most recent – Typhoon Kekoa – has tragic consequences on the killer’s life and we discover how the killer reacts and deals with the extreme weather. That’s what I love! I’ve had so much fun writing about Japan, Hiroshima, the Enola Gay and Japanese monkeys I’m not sure I want to go back to begin writing the third murder!!
If you are participating in Nanowrimo then I hope you are enjoying it as much as I am. If not – there’s always next year!
It is 1939. The world stands on the brink of Armageddon. In the Soviet Union, years of revolution, fear and persecution have left the country unprepared to face the onslaught of Nazi Germany. For the coming battles, Stalin has placed his hopes on a 30-ton steel monster, known to its inventors as the T-34 tank, and, the ‘Red Coffin’ to those men who will soon be using it.
But the design is not yet complete. And when Colonel Nagorski, the weapon’s secretive and eccentric architect, is found murdered, Stalin sends for Pekkala, his most trusted investigator. Stalin is convinced that a sinister group calling itself the White Guild, made up of former soldiers of the Tsar, intend to bring about a German invasion before the Red Coffin is ready. While Soviet engineers struggle to complete the design of the tank, Pekkala must track down the White Guild and expose their plans to propel Germany and Russia into conflict.
The Red Coffin by Sam Eastland – the second in the Inspector Pekkala series – is another title shortlisted for the 2011 CWA Ellis Peters Historical award this month and a book that completely took me by surprise. I have to say when I read the book cover I wasn’t immediately blown away. Russia in 1939, the height of Stalinism, held little interest to me if I’m truthful but after finishing Island of Bones by Imogen Robertson – another title shortlisted for the awards – I wanted to tackle something completely different.
Although the idea of Russia in the late 30’s didn’t exactly excite me, the front cover did. Evoking images in my mind of Steve McQueen and his solitary thrilling ride in The Great Escape I opened the book, settled down and began reading – I didn’t stop. I couldn’t put the book down. Eastland held me captive throughout and with each turn of the page the brutality of Stalin’s rein, when a knock on the door in the early hours of the morning promised a death sentence in Siberia, came to the fore.
The narrative is wonderfully taught and flows unhindered from start to finish allowing you, the reader, to find a rhythm incredibly early on in the tale. I had expected from my earlier reticence to pick up the book, read a few pages, put it down and pick it up further down the line and try again. Nothing could be further from the truth for the combination of Eastland’s writing style and believable characters wouldn’t allow that to happen, for me at least, and the deeper I read the more I wanted to discover about the communist dictator and how his rule affected his subjects.
It was a long walk, almost an hour through the winding streets. He could have made the journey in ten minutes by taking the subway, but Pekkala preferred to remain above ground in spite of the fact that there were no reliable maps of the city. The only charts available for Moscow showed either what the city had looked like before the Revolution or what the city was supposed to look like when all of the new construction projects had been finished. Most of these had not even begun, and there were whole city block which, on these maps, bore no resemblance to what actually stood on the ground. Many streets had been renamed, as had entire cities around the country. Petrograd was Leningrad, Tsaritsin was Stalingrad. As the locals said in Moscow – everything is different but nothing has really changed.
The Red Coffin is so much more than a story about a nation’s desire to build the perfect military weapon – The T-34 tank – it relies heavily on three distinctive relationships. In fact, as far as I’m concerned, the story of murder and the design of the T-34 was secondary to Inspector Pekkala’s relationships with his assistant Commissar Kirov, Josef Stalin and Tsar Nikolay Alexandrovich Romanov. That said and given that the T-34 played a big part in the Second World War I would have liked Eastland to spend a little more time on the tank and its development.
The most enjoyable part of the book for me was Pekkala’s friendship with Kirov. Had it not been for the fact that both men lived in the early part of the 20th century and were the creations of Sam Eastland’s imaginative mind I would have happily spent time drinking Vodka with the pair. I thought their dialogue was incredibly humorous especially when talking about food – Pekkala guilty according to Kirov of not appreciating what he was eating – or Kirov’s constant absentmindedness in forgetting to carry his gun while investigating. It had me in stitches at certain points with both men trying to get the upper hand.
The numerous flashbacks work well, especially those with the Tsar and the Romanovs, and add another level to the book. Again, as with the T-34 history, I wanted Eastland to develop the Romanov arc purely on a selfish level for I found the blend of fiction and history incredibly moreish.
Sam Eastland’s The Red Coffin is unputdownable and proof if ever it was required that one should never judge a book by its cover. Completely engrossing and highly addictive, Inspector Pekkala is a character that oozes longevity and a certain intrigue.
Cumbria, 1783. A broken heritage; a secret history…
The tomb of the first Earl of Greta should have lain undisturbed on its island of bones for three hundred years. When idle curiosity opens the stone lid, however, inside is one body too many. Gabriel Crowther’s family bought the Gretas’ land long ago, and has suffered its own bloody history. His brother was hanged for murdering their father, the Baron of Keswick, and Crowther has chosen comfortable seclusion and anonymity over estate and title for thirty years. But the call of the mystery brings him home at last.
Travelling with forthright Mrs Harriet Westerman, who is escaping her own tragedy, Crowther finds a little town caught between new horrors and old, where ancient ways challenge modern justice. And against the wild and beautiful backdrop of fells and water, Crowther discovers that his past will not stay buried.
Island of Bones by Imogen Robertson marks the third in a series featuring the enigmatic and fastidious Gabriel Crowther and the wonderfully captivating Mrs Harriet Westerman. A finalist in this year’s CWA Ellis Peters Historical Awards – 30th November – Island of Bones, published by Headline, is sure to be a front runner at the awards ceremony for its engaging and free flowing narrative, entertaining storyline and a very well developed investigation. Although – as I have already mentioned – part of a long standing and successful series I had no trouble in picking up the novel and beginning my journey despite having missed the earlier adventures.
I was immediately transported to the 18th century where I experienced a public hanging and the inevitable shame it brought upon a family which in turn prompted Lord Keswick to sell his family’s land, seek privacy and detachment by changing his name following his father’s murder. Determined never to visit his old ancestral home things never quite work out that way and together with Harriet Westerman the pair are drawn back to Silverside Hall to investigate a possible murder. Things move at a pace and additional crimes keep the story ticking along nicely.
Their arrival in the Lake District – welcomed by some and viewed cautiously by others – shakes things up in an unusual village that has its fair share of colourful and odd characters. The village itself is well presented and I found myself closing my eyes, imagination running riot as I wandered the muddy streets, visiting the local pub and stepping down the steps that led to the small but functional museum, I was transfixed.
There was a peculiar hush around the Tower the night before an execution. The mist from the river shushed the streets and people moved quietly. The guards nodded to each other, stamped their feet and wished for dawn, then thought of the man in the tower; they looked at the light showing faintly from his rooms and shivered again.
The fire could do little against the damp air of a February night, and nor could the wine warm the two men keeping vigil in the white/washed cell. They had been silent a long time. It was clear they were brothers – they had the same hooded eyes, the same slender figure – but they were turned away from each other, thinking their own thoughts.
Characterisation is simply wonderful and although I thoroughly enjoyed Crowther and Westerman as lead protagonists it was the relationship between Caspar Grace and Westerman’s young son Stephen that held me captivated throughout. A young lad’s inquisitive mind – with boundless energy – and his fascination with a talking bird – Joe – helped keep the narrative flowing and had me turning the page to see just what the pair would do next. Although powerful as an unlikely partnership they worked equally well alone, in fact it was rather refreshing – to me at least – to see Imogen Robertson give so much time to the young lad. It worked incredibly well and his youthful exuberance brought a limitless colour to the pages yet at the same time showed a wonderful maturity far above his years. Magnificent.
The narrative is incredibly moreish and I often found myself comparing the prose to Lynn Shepherd’s Murder at Mansfield Park – set a few years down the track in 1811 – which incidentally was one of my top books for 2010. As with Mansfield Park I struggled in the early stages to find a rhythm but once I lost myself in the narrative I was hooked. The final 150 pages were simply irresistible and I couldn’t put the book down. From the golf ball sized hail, murders, fireworks, skulduggery and greed, Island of Bones has it all. It comes highly recommended and with a fitting and exciting climax it will serve as a wonderful companion to those cold winter nights.
What is the secret of the forester living a hermit-like existence in the remotest part of the Wingate Estate? Is he a callous murderer? Is he now taking a terrible revenge on those who wronged him? Or, does the truth lie elsewhere? A ruthless killer is on the rampage, one with a distinctive trademark. With resources decimated by a flu epidemic, Mike Nash is forced to use unorthodox tactics to expose a web of corruption and deceit spanning the years. Evidence all seems to point to an inevitable conclusion, but will Mike be able to uncover the truth, and can he do so before it is too late for all concerned – be they innocent or guilty?
Back Slash took me by complete surprise. I’ve not had the pleasure of reading any of Bill Kitson’s previous work but on the strength of his latest Mike Nash adventure in crime solving I will have to make sure I go back to the very beginning and discover more about this maverick cop and what makes him tick. Back Slash is the fifth in a series that began in 2009 with Depth of Despair. If the others are half as good and entertaining as this novel then I highly recommend you check out the rest of the series, perhaps beginning with the debut title allowing you to enjoy the character development and growth I didn’t and although this novel is part of an established series I found Back Slash stood alone well.
The one thing I hadn’t expected was its fluidity. Back Slash includes an incredibly fast paced narrative and although used far too frequently, this is a book I certainly didn’t want to put down. Kitson somehow manages to cram a lot of evidence, murder and skulduggery – not forgetting a quest for revenge – in a little over 320 pages and at the same time keeps the storyline ticking along nicely.
Having said that I did find the opening passages a little confusing as Kitson threw so many characters and scenarios at me that I found it a little too much to keep control – in my small head – of what was actually happening. However, once I’d settled in to the storyline and worked out who was who the beginning made a lot of sense. One thing I did do, just to satisfy my own curiosity, was to go back and re read the first twenty pages once I’d settled into a rhythm and I found that it certainly helped me make sense of the opening salvos.
Characterisation was impressive and even though I relished getting to know the protagonist – Mike Nash – it was Alan Marshall who kept me glued from beginning to end! I just found myself warming to him as a character and person and I loved the way he operated, he thought and how he tried work his way out of one precarious predicament after another. The way Kitson developed him as a character was impressive and well put together. All the characters were believable but Marshall was undoubtedly my guilty pleasure.
There were only ten shopping days before Christmas. DI Mike Nash grimaced at the thought; office parties, drunken brawls, domestic violence and opportunist thieves. That’s what Christmas meant to him. When he walked into Helmsdale police station he was surprised to see the reception desk manned by Sergeant Binns, who’d been working at HQ in Netherdale. ‘What are you doing here, Jack?’
‘I’ve been sent back. Flu!’
‘Who’s gone down with it now?’
‘Almost everybody. Apart from you, me and your visitor.’
‘My visitor? Who?’
‘The chief constable, no less. She doesn’t visit many of her officers’– Binns gave a sly glance – ‘but we all know she has a soft spot for you.’
‘You’ve been listening to Clara too much; you’re getting to sound like her.’
Nash hurried upstairs to his office. ‘Morning, ma’am.’
Mike Nash is another intriguing cast member and I enjoyed how he commanded his troops and worked with his superiors. He appears to have the respect from those above him as well as those below him in rank and although a maverick policeman, his unusual tactics are tolerated because he thinks outside the box unlike any other cop, but perhaps more importantly he gets results.
The story itself is well presented, intelligent and complex enough to satisfy the most ardent of whodunit fan. It works well and is, perhaps more importantly, believable. I read the book in two highly enjoyable sittings and was disappointed when I closed the book for the final time, not due to the ending I hasten to add but because the adventure was over.
A wonderful and engaging read Back Slash is guaranteed to entertain and will leave you wanting more. I guess you can’t ask for more than that, this is a veritable winter warmer title that should be read in front of a heart warming fire. Highly recommended.
Published by Robert Hale, Back Slash is available in Hardback Format
It is the time of Arthur, but this is not his storied epic. Arthur is a young and powerful warrior who some would say stands on the brink of legend. Britain’s leaders have come to elect a new supreme king, and Arthur is favored. But when a young woman is brutally murdered and the blame is placed at Merlin’s feet, Arthur’s reputation is at stake and his enemies are poised to strike. Arthur turns to Malgwyn ap Cuneglas, a man whose knowledge of battle and keen insight into how the human mind works have helped Arthur to the brink of kingship. Malgwyn is also the man who hates Arthur most in the world. After the death of Malgwyn’s wife at Saxon hands, he became Mad Malgwyn, killer of Saxons and right-hand lieutenant to the warrior Arthur. Right hand, that is, until a Saxon cut his sword arm off and left him to die on the battlefield. Arthur rescued him. Now a one-armed scribe and a heavy drinker, Malgwyn rejects the half-life that his liege gave him. But loyalty is sometimes stronger than loathing…and Malgwyn is pulled toward a puzzle that he can’t ignore.
Reading as many books as I do each month one of the fundamental requests I have from an author is that the work of fiction is entertaining, flows well and has a story that is strong enough to hold my imagination and concentration until the very end. For the most part The Killing Way by Anthony Hays succeeded in keeping me glued to the book, reading it over two very busy days, and once I’d made my way through the initial pages – struggling to come to terms with numerous characters and language – I settled into a rhythm and found myself warming to the narrator and protagonist Mad Malgwyn.
I know very little about the Arthurian legend, save for what I’ve seen in the films but then they were never made to be anything other than entertaining! One thing I was surprised with was the portrayal of Merlin – a mad old man – and first appearances weren’t positive for me at least. Although a close friend to Lord Arthur he didn’t strike me as the wizard I’ve come to know and love. However, and this is where the author does well with his storytelling, my perceptions of Merlin changed as the story progressed. He wasn’t as central a character as I expected when I began reading the book but this may come in further adventures for I certainly see mileage in Malgwyn’s detection skills.
Characterisation is interesting, Hays rightly concentrating on his protagonist Malgwyn who in turn introduces the reader to a variety of characters including Lord’s, servants, slaves, bandits and of course a King. Everything is presented through the eyes of Malgwyn, an ageing drunk and alcoholic, who has certainly seen better days. A rotund and out of shape individual who is still recovering from the loss of his wife. However, Lord Arthur has remained a loyal friend and advocate of his abilities to see things in a way no other man or woman can and pulls him in to investigate the murder of a young girl.
The metallic smell of blood hung in the air, like that of a freshly dressed kill in the field. I pushed past the young toughs and through the circle of guards. Eleanor’s face was turned away from me, and I was glad for that. Her tender neck looked like Gwyneth’s, though, and the sight stole my breath from me. From behind I heard a sudden silence and the rustling of bodies as the crowd parted for Arthur.
One thing I would have liked to have seen, if I’m being hyper critical, is a little more depth to his or Arthur’s enemies. I never felt – apart from one or two – I discovered much about them and because of it I never felt any emotive reactions to their part in the storyline. There were a couple of endearing scenes, both involving children, that gave the book depth and an insight in to future development especially between Malgwyn and his daughter Mariam who appeared incredibly astute for someone of her age!
I also enjoyed the investigation side of the tale. Malgwyn has trouble getting away from his reputation as a drunk and chaser of wenches but through quick-witted dialogue and a confident manner he attempts to turn his life around for he quickly discovers his past habits catching up with him. With two murders to solve and a deathly time limit imposed by the King, Malgwyn walks the muddy streets searching for clues without the aid of modern technology. It’s quite a simplistic form of investigation but it does work well.
A very enjoyable and fluid read with an atmospheric prose I was thoroughly entertained and look forward to the next adventure.
Published by Corvus The Killing Way is available in Hardback.
WHAT IF you could go back in time and change the course of history? WHAT IF the watershed moment you could change was the JFK assassination? 11/22/63, the date that Kennedy was shot – unless . . .
Jake Epping is a thirty-five-year-old high school English teacher in Lisbon Falls, Maine, who makes extra money teaching adults in the GED program. He receives an essay from one of the students—a gruesome, harrowing first person story about the night 50 years ago when Harry Dunning’s father came home and killed his mother, his sister, and his brother with a hammer. Harry escaped with a smashed leg, as evidenced by his crooked walk.
Not much later, Jake’s friend Al, who runs the local diner, divulges a secret: his storeroom is a portal to 1958. He enlists Jake on an insane—and insanely possible—mission to try to prevent the Kennedy assassination. So begins Jake’s new life as George Amberson and his new world of Elvis and JFK, of big American cars and sock hops, of a troubled loner named Lee Harvey Oswald and a beautiful high school librarian named Sadie Dunhill, who becomes the love of Jake’s life—a life that transgresses all the normal rules of time.
It’s very rare – in fact I don’t think it has happened – for me to finish a book and immediately begin writing a review. Over the past 14 months I’ve read some amazing books, some have moved me to tears, some have made me laugh endlessly and some amazed me in their energetic narrative that will remain with me for years to come, as long as my memory holds! I finished Stephen King’s 11.22.63 approximately five minutes ago and so moved was I with his storytelling and the enforced spellbinding relationship between Jake Epping – otherwise known as George Amberson – and myself, I just had to put pen to paper and begin writing. To be honest I wanted to maintain the tentative connection I had with the past for as long as possible.
I wasn’t born when Kennedy was shot in Dallas on the 22nd November 1963 and it wasn’t until the early eighties that I was aware of the significance of his assassination but ever since my father told me where he was “the day Kennedy was shot” I have always been fascinated with the conspiracy theories surrounding his death and the role that Lee Harvey Oswald played – or not – in the assassination.
So what would you do if you had the opportunity to change the course of history and would it be the Kennedy assassination you’d change? For me – and possibly a high percentage of my generation – it would have been the death of Princess Diana in Paris in 1997 and just like my dear old father I could tell you where I was when I found out that she’d been killed. It’s one memory – just like 9/11 – that will be with me until the day I die but would I go back in time and save The People’s Princess or the thousands of innocent people who died in New York on that fateful September morning? Before reading Stephen King’s book I would have probably said yes, but now, I’m not so certain! One of Newton’s laws of motion springs to mind “To every action there is always an equal and opposite reaction” and serves as a warning that when events change – sometimes for the better, sometimes not – there are always consequences as is the case with 11.22.63.
Stepping back in time – September 1958 – as Jake Epping does I was immediately struck with the inevitable comparison to Nicholas Lyndhurst’s Gary Sparrow character in Goodnight Sweetheart who travelled back in time to a war torn London. Fortunately for Sparrow events were held in real time and the ability to flit between the two times fairly easy, despite the complexity of juggling two very real relationships! The intriguing thing about Epping’s visits to the past were that if he returned to 2011 and then went back to 1958 things ….well that would be telling now wouldn’t it!
I’ve only had the pleasure of reading a couple of Stephen King’s novels – namely The Stand and Pet Cemetery – but I can unequivocally say that this is not only my favourite book by King but one of the best books I have ever had the honour of reading. From the very first page it holds your attention creating an air of magical mystery and until its fitting climax never lets go. I remember reading The Stand when I was a kid and wondered what it would be like travelling around American towns and cities – where few survivors remained – and although we do not encounter the superflu in 11.22.63 I had similar feelings of déjà vu and my imagination running riot.
Travelling the lengths and breadth of 50’s and 60’s America it surprised me at how in tune I became with that way of life and many a time I wondered what – given the opportunity – it would have been like living in that era. Wonder no more for King does his very best to firmly place you in a period where innocence is lost, paranoia between two countries is rife, trust is earned the hard way and a root beer costs just ten cents. In 11.22.63 you are immediately drawn in to 1950’s America, the sights, the sounds and the politics coming alive at the turn of every page. Sometimes subtly, sometimes full on but with a protagonist in Epping, King lends him an enviable voice in narration that is undeniably brilliant and breathtakingly imaginative.
Characterisation is amazing – period! Epping will introduce you to an eclectic bunch of characters on his ever changing journey. Some you’ll love, others you’ll love to hate but one thing they all have in common is their ability to hold your attention for as long as they appear on the page. I loved a number of the characters – including the baddies – and not once did I feel any were superfluous to the story but there was one woman who stole the show for me and ironically she didn’t appear until the final part of the book and not only that, she only appeared for two pages – that’s just 0.27% of the novel – but such was her colourful and mesmerising presence she affected me in a way that took me by complete surprise. Who’d have thought that a woman waiting to get on a bus would have such a profound effect on me!
The narrative is sumptuous and flows unhindered from start to finish and even in a book as big as this – 740 pages – I never once felt King was filling for the sake of bumping up the page count. Before you know it the book will have ended and although I did my very best to hang on to the final 100 pages – I really didn’t want it to end – the ending is imaginative and a fitting end to this epic tale.
If the simple appearance of the woman on the bus afforded me my favourite character of the book then Amberson’s time at school in 1950’s Jodie was without doubt the most rewarding and moving period of the entire book for me. I went through a range of emotions as Amberson recalls his experiences – the highs and lows – and although I didn’t shed a tear (it was a close run thing!), I felt the exhilaration he felt and suffered the same pain he endured. Magical.
As with any books of this magnitude, writing a review without giving any spoilers is incredibly difficult but I have tried to give you a flavour of the emotions I felt while reading this book without necessarily giving away any of the plot. This is a work of fiction – and fact based events – you should attack with limited upfront knowledge. The book jacket itself is fairly clear and references to Kennedy’s assassination will be impossible to avoid but I can certainly avoid telling you what happens in-between!
A truly wonderful book, 11.22.63 is without doubt a masterpiece and a story that will remain with me for years to come – unless I travel back in time – and should I begin to forget I will simply pick up the book and start from the very beginning. Highly recommended.
THE GAME’S AFOOT… It is November 1890 and London is gripped by a merciless winter. Sherlock Holmes and Dr Watson are enjoying tea by the fire when an agitated gentleman arrives unannounced at 221b Baker Street. He begs Holmes for help, telling the unnerving story of a scar-faced man with piercing eyes who has stalked him in recent weeks. Intrigued by the man’s tale, Holmes and Watson find themselves swiftly drawn into a series of puzzling and sinister events, stretching from the gas-lit streets of London to the teeming criminal underworld of Boston.
As the pair delve deeper into the case, they stumble across a whispered phrase ‘the House of Silk’: a mysterious entity and foe more deadly than any Holmes has encountered, and a conspiracy that threatens to tear apart the very fabric of society itself… Sherlock Holmes is back with all the nuance, pace and powers of deduction that make him the world’s greatest and most celebrated detective.
Many years ago, my father introduced me to Sir Arthur Conan Doyle – not in the flesh mind, I’m not quite that old – and his famous detective, Sherlock Holmes. As an impressionable teenager I lapped up the adventures of the pipe smoking, slipper wearing, Stradivarius playing detective and his loyal companion and biographer Dr John Watson. I couldn’t get enough. Who could ever forget The Sign of Four, The Hound of the Baskervilles and my favourite A Study in Scarlet.
A few years down the track my father – yes, he introduced me to a lot of things as a kid! – sat me down one winter’s day and we watched a double bill of Sherlock Holmes (Basil Rathbone and Nigel Bruce) and the comedic genius of Will Hay, it was a real father/son moment. I have never forgotten that day, the rain was lashing against the window, mum had prepared a lovely array of snacks and we sat there, together, watching Rathbone solve the unsolvable and Will Hay play the role of a cheerful police officer. From that moment on I wanted to be either a detective or a comedian – alas I’ve failed at both!!
The House of Silk arrived on my desk a few weeks ago and I can’t tell you how excited I was – I was like a kid waiting to get up on Christmas morning – and I struggled to contain my delight that The Conan Doyle estate had given their blessing to a new Sherlock Holmes novel. Anthony Horowitz, perhaps better known for Foyle’s War and his numerous kids books had put quill to paper and written in the style of the master.
By the time I’d finished the very first chapter I was hooked, immersed in an era where, opium was the drug of choice – for those who could afford it – skulduggery, murder rife and a detective seemingly up against the impossible and dare I say it insolvable. Staying true to Conan Doyle’s inimitable style, Horowitz has done a magnificent job with the narrative, especially bringing to life Watson’s role as the affable sidekick who suddenly finds himself the centre of attention. It’s incredibly moreish and a prime example of a book – and story – you do not wish to end but when I did, I reached the dénouement with a sense of fulfilment and satisfaction.
In fact although I briefly touched on it earlier – watching films in winter – this is an ideal winter novel. Sitting by a log fire, logs cracking and breaking the silence as you gorge on the wonderful and enveloping prose, you simply can’t beat a veritable winter warmer like this. Throughout the novel I couldn’t help but imagine Rathbone and Bruce talking to me, Bruce the bumbling sidekick and Rathbone the confident and mysterious detective who always appears to have a trick up his sleeve. But that’s the great thing about books; they allow us all to imagine our favourite stars in the leading roles. Some may prefer Jeremy Brett to Basil Rathbone, it’s all subjective.
The story development is genius and flows unhindered, often surprising the reader with a plot twist here and there, no more so than the final pages where the twists and turns come thick and fast, especially when we discover the true identity of The House of Silk. To be frank it astonished me and I was completely taken aback with its thrilling revelation. I really hadn’t thought the book would go down that particular route and the reveal a complete surprise.
For me the highlight of any Sherlock Holmes novel is the way Conan Doyle – and now Horrowitz – gave voice to Sherlock’s deductive powers. I sat, in awe, as the detective gave his reasoning and calculations as he figured out the impossible. The House of Silk will not disappoint on any level.
Characterisation is faultless and Horowitz teases us with an appearance from Sherlock’s brother Mycroft, Lestrade comes across positively and not portrayed as the bumbling fool I expected him to be and of course there’s Mrs Hudson. Although she doesn’t play a big role in the book she’s there or thereabouts, ensuring that 221b Baker Street runs like clockwork, what more could you ask from the long serving housekeeper?
The House of Silk is a brilliant and engaging read with a sumptuous prose that gives and gives. It will tease and delight and is without doubt a fitting nod to arguably one of the great British writers of our time who gave us the most prolific of all detectives. Wonderful – 5 out of 5.