Category Archives: Thriller

An Austen-free upbringing

After wondering why I didn’t read the books by Jane Austen or the Brontës in my early teens, I suddenly realised why, and who I could blame for this regrettable shortcoming. (Always important, because it certainly wasn’t my fault.)

My Swedish teacher when I was 15, is who. The last year of secondary school we had free reading once a week. I am – with my mature adult hindsight – guessing it was a way to get the non-readers to read. Anything. At. All.

We were allowed to read whatever we wanted, and could bring our own books or use the school library. I generally sat down with an Alistair MacLean, or similar. Generally in English (which is odd for a Swedish lesson, but never mind). Naturally the teacher would have preferred me not to.

So she suggested books I might try. The only one I remember is Pella. I am sure the Pella books were fantastic, and the teacher had most likely loved them when she was young. But I was 15, and I was reading MacLean. Pella would – possibly – have been right for me about three years earlier.

All these years I’ve remembered the teacher’s badly chosen suggested books and I have understood what she was hoping for. I just haven’t thought of what she ought to have pointed me in the direction of instead, because she was quite right in wanting me to better myself with something other than MacLean.

I already loved all manner of romances; the kind where a young governess meets her new employer who is a brooding and somewhat strange man, and where they eventually fall in love and live happily ever after. The Jane Eyre copycats. Reader, I had no idea there existed the real thing and that it would have been much more satisfying. (Not better than MacLean, obviously, but as good…)

We knew of Pride and Prejudice because it had been on television. At that point I was of an age where understanding there’d be a book as well was too much to expect. We knew about Vanity Fair, because that too had been on television. Also, Heathcliff ran around the moors on television, and I knew there was a book, but it didn’t tempt me at all.

I knew about Dickens because we had children’s abridged versions. And yes, he’d been on television.

Mother-of-witch was many things, and for someone of her background she had an astounding number of proper books and books in English. But she had not been brought up on the classic governesses, and so she could not point me in their direction. Which is fine.

But my well educated mother tongue teacher could have. And should have.

16 floors

On arrival in London yesterday, we had to repair to a nearby hotel’s facilities to make an emergency medical dressing repair (plasters and acetone do not make good partners, but at least no one fainted). Once done we made it on time – if only just – to Hodder & Stoughton’s 16th floor offices, with no visible blood whatsoever. The lovely receptionist even made sure I didn’t have to go up in the glass elevator by ordering me a proper old-fashioned lift.

When we got there, I made sure I sat with my newly dressed back to the windows, which according to my Photographer offered great views. (She went in the glass elevator, no doubt to show off.)

The blood aspect was unexpectedly apt, as we were there to interview Marcus Sedgwick about his new ‘bloody’ novel – A Love Like Blood. There was a slight misunderstanding as to his arrival on floor 16, which meant we had a nice long chat in the lobby, with me carefully not asking him about ‘the other stuff’ and instead discussing the high points of Gothenburg and hair raising theme park rides (neither of which I like very much).

Marcus Sedgwick

We got to meet publicist Kerry’s lovely dog, which I’d only seen photos of before. I think we’d get on; plodding walking pace and a fondness for hanging out in kitchens. (Dog, not Kerry.) We diligently interviewed, and then Marcus had to rush off to finalise things to do with his book launch, while we walked to another kitchen (the Scandinavian Kitchen, for a late Lent bun).

After that we whiled away our remaining spare time in Trafalgar Square, looking at tourists, pigeons and an enormous blue rooster, before walking over to Goldsboro Books for the book launch. Thanks to Kerry’s sun dance, it didn’t rain at all. That’s what I call service.

Marcus Sedgwick, A Love Like Blood

I believe there was champagne, or some such drink, judging by popping corks, but we stayed nice and sober (I am obviously not suggesting anyone else was drunk), and chatted to people, including Thomas Taylor, who does not like blood, much. I have to admit to advising him not to read Marcus’s book.

Children’s author Linda Chapman was there. And Cliff McNish and I really must stop meeting like this. That’s twice in eight days. He’s got a nice new book out about nice dogs, with no creepyness or blood.

And then my Photographer and I sneaked out before we suffered social overload, and sort of limped home in a tired kind of way.

A Love Like Blood

A book like The Thirty-Nine Steps, but with blood. Lots of it, and not for the faint-hearted. Like Marcus Sedgwick’s mother, who promised not to read her son’s first adult novel. I can see where they both are coming from.

I wanted to read this, because it is a Marcus Sedgwick novel, and I wanted to see what he’d get up to when writing for adults. Considering that his YA books are no picnic (ooh, bad word, under the circumstances), it is not surprising that Mrs Sedgwick abstained. I wish I’d known.

Marcus Sedgwick, A Love Like Blood

This is a thriller set over 24 years, starting in Paris in 1944 and ending in Italy in 1968. I thought I could guess how it would end. I was wrong. And that’s despite the ending coming at the beginning of the book, giving you a flavour of what might be.

Charles Jackson is a young-ish consultant haematologist in Cambridge. He’s rather a failure of a man in most other respects, and not terribly likeable. It is, however, quite easy to identify with him. At least it was for me. (Up to a point!)

The book reads like an old novel, from the period it is set in. It looks so easy, but I’m guessing it’s not. Setting aside one mention of ‘having sex’ which felt too modern and one possible fashion mistake, this is pure old style adventure. It feels really comfortable, even as you wince at the inept Charles. You are lulled into a false sense of knowing where this story is going. Very clever.

It is mostly about blood. Possibly there is a vampire. You can’t be sure. Partway through you get a very Buchan-ish adventure, making my spirits rise, only to be dashed soon again.

Dr Jackson looks like he won’t last long. And in a way you don’t mind, because he’s hard to love. On the other hand you feel that a main character ought to be allowed to have something positive happen to him.

This is a fantastically well written thriller. I just wish there’d been less blood.

Icefall

It’s… it’s… well, I don’t know. Compulsive! That could be it. I raced through Gillian Philip’s Icefall, the last of the Rebel Angels. In fact, remember the rebel angels. They are relevant. But you’ll have forgotten by the time you get there because it’s all too exciting.

It isn’t for the faint-hearted. You need to cope with cut-off bits of bodies. Lots of them; both the bits and the bodies. There is sex. More explicit than your average YA novel, so it is perhaps wise that it now describes itself as Adult/Young Adult & Fantasy. When wondering how Gillian could get away with some of her, erm, descriptions, I came to the conclusion that being a smaller indie publisher, Strident might feel more able to leave in what other publishers would undoubtedly have cleaned up a little.

Gillian Philip, Icefall

So, there I was, racing through. The one thing that slows old witches down is characters and their names. There are lots of them, and each character has a couple of names, at least. There is a very handy list of them, but I have to admit I could have done with the full blown family tree. You know, ‘who were her parents again?’ Each of the four books have centred round a young person. Sort of young, because the Sithe faeries grow very old, unless they die in battle first.

There were more mortals in this one, and it was ‘nice’ that the more ordinary end of humans were given a bit more of the action. Remember Lauren? Can you tell Sheena and Shania apart?

My favourite person this time was someone who has been there from the start, but not always very prominently. I was hoping he’d last until the end, even when things looked dicey.

Divided into two parts, first in our world and then in theirs, the war between Kate NicNiven and Seth MacGregor continues. Kate is evil, so it looks inevitable that she will win, or take everyone with her if she were to fail.

I can’t tell you more. Daren’t. They fight. They cut bits off each other. They love each other. And hate the others. People die. Obviously.

And, happily, it appears that Gillian isn’t totally ruling out more books about this world.

Changing genres

I disappointed a young reader the other week. I wish I hadn’t. Not that I think this reader will give up reading, but still.

There’s a writer whom we shall call Edward Litteless. He is very popular with his fans, and I’m not surprised. I’ve read the first books in a couple of his thriller style series, and while I personally have no need to read more, I can fully see why young people – and especially boys – love these books.

So when Wirral Boy’s mother made expectant noises online regarding Edward’s new series, I had a great idea. I would ask Wirral Boy to read and review it for me, as he’d be able to give it full justice.

Except, WB hated it so much he didn’t even finish the book. WB’s mother soldiered on, because she’s an adult and she felt I deserved the review I’d asked for. But she hated it too.

The thing is, I don’t like posting bad reviews, so she might as well not have persevered to the bitter end. What I don’t know, is if the book is not as well written as the others, or if it is merely this complete change of genre that went wrong for our fervent fan. It can’t have been only genre, though, or he would have expected to have no interest in the new series. I sometimes feel like that, and while it’s a valid opinion to have, giving something new a chance seems fair.

There’s another thing here I feel uncomfortable about. The review copies of Edward’s last two books have arrived with ‘contracts’ that I have no wish to have anything to do with. By default it is assumed I will adhere to the rules, which seems to be not only not to share with anyone, but to make no mention at all before publication date.

If you’re not writing Harry Potter, I think this is OTT. If people don’t trust me to handle advance copies; then don’t send them to me. In this case I broke the contract I’d not agreed to, by letting WB read the book. I saw it as me sub-contracting the work, in order to get a lovely review. That backfired.

My other problem is I chucked the press release and the contract and I have only my own memory of the date the book is published. Being vaguely fearful of getting it wrong, I double checked online. I found two dates in February. I found no date at all. There was a date back in 2013, and one for autumn 2014. Edward’s own website seemed not to mention it at all.

Apologies for any breach of contract. I meant well. And that’s why I have used a pseudonym for Edward. The date I’ve chosen came from throwing a dart at February and picking a day at random.

The talk

‘Are you going to the event next week?’ Helen Grant asked. Since I wasn’t going to anything at all, I knew my answer would have to be ‘no.’ But I still pressed for more information on the what, where and when. (A witch likes to keep track of that which goes on without her. Actually, no, not really. But still I asked.)

It was a shared presentation evening for four of Random’s authors, and once the event was over I even found out who they were. Not a random bunch at all. They are all at the crime-y thrillery end of YA. Good stuff, in other words.

So, Helen was on her own. Apart from the other three and those who had actually been invited. (If anyone is reading this; don’t take it as a heavy hint. I’ll be distancing myself much further from London soon, so will not be able to say yes to very many Southern events.)

Anyway, as you will have worked out from my post about the cover of The Demons of Ghent a couple of weeks ago, Helen has a new book coming ‘soon.’ She talked about that, as well as her first Belgian book, Silent Saturday. And because she’s a well organised kind of woman she recorded her talk and put it on YouTube for the rest of us.

Forbidden Spaces 1  Forbidden Spaces 2

Please enjoy.

The other three were Simon Mason who wrote that very good crime novel that I loved so much, as well as Jane Casey and Niall Leonard, who I am sure are responsible for equally excellent books. I just haven’t read them…

Jane Casey, Simon Mason, Helen Grant and Niall Leonard

And here they all are! I wouldn’t trust a single one of them. Would you? But I shouldn’t speak, seeing as I have ‘borrowed’ this photo without asking. Possibly the handcuffs are for me.

The Demons of Ghent – the cover

You saw it here first! ‘It’ being the cover of Helen Grant’s next book, the second instalment in her Forbidden Spaces trilogy. Helen is very happy with it. The cover, I mean. But presumably also with her book, which we will have to wait another 129 days for. Personally, I think I might find it a bit hard.

Helen Grant, Demons of Ghent

The cover is beautifully sinister, which reminds me that her books are actually quite scary. In The Demons of Ghent, I will expect our heroine Veerle getting up to more inadvisable things, only this time in the lovely old city of Ghent. I love it when creepy stuff happens in ‘beautiful old churches, castles and guildhouses.’

From behind the sofa, obviously. But still.

Bring on June 5th! (At least it’s the day before a certain person’s birthday, which shows some consideration for what’s right and proper.)

Iceland, here they come

We’ll be up early to send the Resident IT Consultant and Daughter out to look for the Northern Lights. I’ve worried for months about whether or not there will be any. Is it the wrong time of the month? (Yes, I understand it is.) Will the weather co-operate? Who knows?

But it seems this is the last good winter for years, and lots of people have had successful trips. And Iceland appears to be ‘in.’ (So it’s not as if they are being terribly original.)

It’s a supposedly educational trip, as well as fun, organised by the University of St Andrews Astronomical Society.

Just in case Daughter needs something to read, I had to find a successor to The Hobbit. It’s actually quite hard to pick a book that will suit. Not too long, but not too short, either. Not too heavy or large. It has to be good; exciting, but not – too – scary, with engaging characters. In other words, it has to be just right. Sort of in the Goldilocks zone of YA fiction. In the end I chose Siege by Sarah Mussi.

And for the group as a whole, you can’t beat a good quiz, so the Christmas quiz book has found itself sharing rather close quarters with a pair of heavy boots.

Should they need more entertainment, they also have Jar City on DVD. Nordic crime is in, and Arnaldur Indridason will hopefully be less well known than some other writers, and I hope no one has seen the film already. I was awfully tempted to send Virus au paradis, but that might have been taking things Icelandic too far. Besides, not everyone will be fluent in French/Swedish subtitles.

I will sign off with Eyjafjallajökull, which is even harder to say than it looks.

In the Morning I’ll Be Gone

From St Kilda (again) to Northern Ireland and straight into my own past. Adrian McKinty’s third – and hopefully not last – Sean Duffy novel changes so much of real history as to make me wonder whether things actually happened as he says. It’s plausible enough.

The first two Duffy books brought back modern Irish history and reminded me of what it was like back in the early 1980s. This one, set in 1984, takes several steps further, involving the IRA and the British Government in the most satisfying of ways.

Duffy is no fool. He was unlucky at the end of the second book, but he soon bounces back in his own inimitable way. He gets faced with a locked room mystery which is very interesting on its own. But it’s the ramifications it might have on the IRA terrorist at large after a jailbreak which make it better still.

Adrian McKinty, In the Morning I'll Be Gone

I’ve said it before and I have to say it again; Adrian just doesn’t get any better than when he writes about his home town of Carrickfergus. Admittedly, he wasn’t an adult in the early 1980s, but he makes things up very well indeed.

You could read this book first, but you’d be a fool not to start with the right Duffy novel and read them in order. You’ll thank me for it. Seeing as In the Morning I’ll Be Gone isn’t published for another few weeks, you will have just enough time to read the first two.

(If I hadn’t already interviewed Adrian, I’d be off to do so now. And they say the UK television rights have been sold. Northern Ireland is bound to be the new Scandinavia…)

Bond matures

That’s not terribly likely, is it? Will James Bond ever mature?

My diary for today has the entry ‘Bond matures’ written in it, and every time I come across my little note I visualise the 007 Bond. Just goes to show how words and names become brands and images in your mind. (Shockingly, to me that is Daniel Craig…)

What it is – obviously – is a little reminder to me to do something about a bond that matures. That’s not going well. Both in that if I can’t read the reminder properly, it will do no good. But also, how on earth can you do anything with even small sums of money that will be better than stuffing the mattress with bank notes?

Next time I need to write a reminder to me I will try to phrase it in a more unambigous way.

And anyone who can tell me how to invest my paltry sum is welcome to offer advice. If you’re some African widowed queen I might not pay attention, though.