Category Archives: Thriller

Thrill to win

All four books shortlisted for this week’s RED book award were in the ‘really good category.’ I felt the librarians who picked them did a great job; both from a point of view of this being a book award list, but also in order to entice their young charges to read and enjoy. You need something a little bit extra for that.

There was no way I could have said either which book was bound to win, or to have a favourite. I’d have been pleased with any of the shortlisted novels as the winner. And you never know with that age group how they will vote. Sometimes you are truly taken by surprise.

Cathy MacPhail’s Devil You Know is a hard-hitting story set in a hard area of Glasgow, and it is a pretty male set-up. I can see why it was popular with the young offenders, and I’d guess it did well mostly with the boys.

Whereas The Apple Tart of Hope divides its attention equally between the boy and the girl, I suspect that Sarah Moore Fitzgerald’s book might appeal more to girls. It is quite romantic, Oscar is definitely not a macho boy, and there is the apple tart.

Similarly, Clare Furniss’s The Year of the Rat is undisputably about a girl. And there is the possible romance with the boy next door. Again, probably girlier than average, while being neither soft nor pink in any way.

The winner, 13 Hours by Narinder Dhami has a female main character, a carer for her handicapped mum. That too could seem to appeal more to female readers. There are no friends or colleagues or family members to even out the balance of the sexes. There are the intruders, of course. Two of each sex, and they are on the whole neither violent nor unpleasant.

Narinder was saying how she had had the young carer idea for some time, but it took her a while to work out how it could be written as a thriller, which is what she likes. And maybe that’s it; the thriller aspect means readers of both sexes enjoy the story without worrying about any female bias. Especially as Anni is both brave and resourceful.

And thinking back to the last two winners of the RED award, I’d say that Mind Blind by Lari Don was more thrillery than the other shortlisted books last year. Not having read the ones from the year before that, I’m confident that Alan Gibbons didn’t write a romance.

But I’m probably all wrong in thinking this. I was merely exercising my brain a little, trying to work out why a particular book out of four such excellent stories won.

13 Hours

Narinder Dhami’s 13 Hours would make a great film. The way she stuffs all the action of her book into a limited period of time, from one evening until the next morning, had me reading until I got to the end. There wasn’t even a conscious decision to read all of the book right then; I just did.

Narinder Dhami, 13 Hours

Anni has recently started secondary school and she has to run all the way there and back, in order not to be away from her housebound mum for too long. They live alone and Anni does all the housework as well as comforting her – agoraphobic – mum whenever she needs it, which is nearly all the time. The reader comes to vaguely dislike the woman for putting her daughter in this situation.

Until one Friday evening when the mum’s panic actually seems to have some foundation in reality, and there really are intruders in the house. What can the two of them do against these unknowns?

While there is no violence or very much threat, the situation is still extremely tense, and Anni desperately tries to think of ways to escape. So does her mum.

But meanwhile we find out more about the intruders, and…

Really very exciting and it also makes you think, about all kinds of things. So as well as reading a thriller, we learn about agoraphobia and young carers, and there is advice on how to get help (not if you have intruders in your house, however) when you need it.

And sometimes not even the good characters tell the truth or are above reproach. It’s Ace.

Mayday

We debated our new Prime Minister at length a few years ago. That’s us, as in the Bookwitch family. Mrs May was one of the British ‘villains’ in Andreas Norman’s Into a Raging Blaze.

As you may be aware, the translation into English of this Swedish thriller was done in-house, so to speak. Son translated and the Resident IT Consultant proofread and criticised his efforts. All in all, a good team effort.

But the debate about our new PM was surprisingly long, considering Mrs May didn’t feature that much. In general, it was the British who were the bad guys, and the named politician was Mrs May, ultimately in charge of the MI6 agents, and I suppose in some sense responsible for their shenanigans.

Andreas Norman, Into A Raging Blaze

Usually a novelist would only use a real person’s title, or make up a fictional minister in a country’s government, and we were startled and unsure if it was OK to name her. But as far as I recall, we decided that if she was named in the original, she had to be named in the translation, and if the publisher didn’t want that, it was their task to edit out any names.

So, we May have a fictional character at the helm of the country.

And why not?

(In my opinion, a sensible politician embraces being featured in cartoons, etc, realising that being ignored and not used, is the worse slight.)

Broken Sky

This is the kind of novel you simply read and read until you get to the end. L A Weatherly’s Broken Sky (with the subtitle Trust No One, which you should keep in mind at all times) is a futuristic historical sort of WWII story.

It’s 1941 in a new world, one long after our 1941, but with a lot in common with the real WWII period. Our world was destroyed in one too many wars, and now they have Peace. War is not permitted. But to keep some kind of balance, fighter pilots fight one-on-one to determine which country gets what and when.

L A Weatherly, Broken Sky

Amity is such a pilot, 18 years old, and based near what used to be Los Angeles. The country next to her Western Seaboard, is Central States and they have a leader who reminds me very much of a certain presidential hopeful. He is just as scary, too, and there is a female character rather like the two-faced woman in a recent Danish television series.

I like the way we now have girl pilots as main characters in books, and how there can be an alternate WWII, allowing the writer to change reality a little, while still keeping much of what we are used to.

Under the surface things are not as neat and clean as people have been led to believe, however. The reader discovers this from the start, as Lee begins with almost the end, and you know how bad it will be. Just not how it got like that.

It’s exciting, romantic and simply a marvellous read.

‘Trust no one’ is what you need to keep in mind. And you think, ‘yes, but…’ and I suspect we shouldn’t do that. Unless there is lots of double and triple bluffing going on. Which there could be. Perhaps.

There is one thing wrong with Broken Sky, and it’s that there are two sequels still to come. I want all of it now!

Stirling goings-on

The Bookbug Week‘s flagship event will this year take place only a mile or so away from Bookwitch Towers. Scottish Book Trust’s annual book week for young readers runs from May 16th for a week, kicking off at Bannockburn with a day of, I think, poetry and stuff.

Bookbug

The rest of the programme happens all over Scotland, and the theme this year is international. Songs and rhymes from around the world.

This tallies with what you find in the programme for Stirling’s own Off the Page where, surprisingly, they offer both a German Bookbug session, as well as a bilingual event or two.

You can also do colouring in and design your own coat of arms, along with attending a teddy bear’s picnic. At the other end of the age scale (or so I imagine) is a vintage reminiscence tea party, which sounds really very nice. Except I hope I am not old enough for that sort of thing yet.

Somewhere there are dragons.

In schools (they have all the luck!) you might find Chae Strathie, Janis Mackay, Kirkland Ciccone, Alex Nye, Ross MacKenzie and Mairi Hedderwick.

But despair not, Mairi Hedderwick is also doing a public event. Maybe even two. This ten-day long festival starts on May 6th, and other public children’s events offer Lari Don and Nick Sharratt.

Helen MacKinven, whom I met at Yay!YA+ last week is also doing an event. As are several of the big names in Scottish crime, such as Lin Anderson, Helen Fitzgerald, Denise Mina and Caro Ramsay.

There are many more events and many more authors. And much upset on my part because I will not be going to any of these… The more attractive the event, the less convenient the date (for me).

W.A.R.P. – The Forever Man

That FBI. It gets everywhere, including the 17th century. But that explains a lot, actually. And it’s lucky they wear those fetching overalls, with the letters on the back, so you will know it’s them. And there is always one more wormhole through which any combination of characters can fall, to some time other than their own. Quantum foam. Hah.

Yes. So Eoin Colfer thought it’d be more normal to write about time travelling FBI agents than leprechauns. It’s easy peasy getting your head round tunnelling dwarves and foil-clad centaurs, but my head always gets confused when it tries to think about time travel. Like, if so-and-so did this then something would/would not happen. And you mustn’t meet yourself.

Eoin Colfer, The Forever Man

I enjoyed The Forever Man, which is the last instalment of Eoin’s W.A.R.P., the time travel-based witness protection scheme which put people safely in Victorian London. I wasn’t sure I would, as the time travel slipped back to Cromwell’s days – which I’m not keen on – and Riley’s old boss was going to reappear. I’d really hoped to have seen the last of him. But that strange thing happened; where you find yourself almost fond of the baddie, because you go a long way back and familiarity doesn’t always breed contempt.

So – the now unkillable – Garrick is back, and his latest hobby is to burn witches at the stake. And he decides Agent Chevie is a witch. Riley needs to free her, but the trouble is that he and Garrick know each other so well, that it’s almost impossible for one to trick the other. Luckily the FBI has one or two tricks up its sleeves, and not everyone in this witch-hunting village believes that burning witches is a marvellous idea.

This is exciting, and romantic – yes – and funny. It even restored my faith in the FBI.

Eoin; please consult me if you need more timetravelling Swedish bores. Sorry, boars. Or similar. Especially if they are to be called Olaf.

Liquidator

Liquidator is a rather unpleasant drink. Or rather, it is a drink that makes you want more and more, and that’s what’s unpleasant. In the first place it’s not good for you, and in the second place, forced dependency is bad. But we know about products like these, or at least we suspect they exist. But the nice, [extra]ordinary children in Andy Mulligan’s novel Liquidator want to believe the drink tastes so good because it is good. Or not bad. Not that they are being tricked into drinking bottle after bottle of something harmful.

Andy Mulligan, Liquidator

Liquidator is the kind of book that makes you happy to be alive. Not because of the crooks who make and sell the drink, but because Andy has – yet again – written a story about children who are so resourceful, so brave and determined, that you sort of glow quietly as you read. He has a knack of shaping characters who are kind, and who aren’t always sniping at each other, or any of the other traits so commonly used to carry a plot forward.

I didn’t read Liquidator in one sitting. It deserved it, but things got in the way, and I minded dreadfully because I needed to read this book.

The teenagers in Liquidator are about to go off and do their work experience; some of them doing precisely the kind of job they wanted to, others doing the exact opposite. Vicky ends up making sandwiches for the company responsible for Liquidator, and that’s where she accidentally discovers that not everything is all right.

Andy Mulligan, Liquidator

Her friends are all over the place, doing work experience as a dog walker, cleaning sewers, doing surgery (yes, really), singing with a famous pop star, flower arranging, manning the phones at a 999 call centre, journalism and so on. Varied stuff, but as you read on, you realise these children will all be needed, and so will their respective ‘skills’ or workplaces. What always gets me with Andy’s children is their resourcefulness and the fact that they simply tackle what’s coming and get on with it, all the time being friendly to classmates they might not ordinarily choose to be friends with. War time spirit, perhaps.

The people who made Liquidator are not nice. Not nice at all. They will stop at nothing. Luckily the teenagers won’t stop either. And equally luckily, they are assisted by a small number of unusual adults, who also won’t stop for anything. Sometimes literally. You know that helpless feeling you get when stuck in a motorway jam, not moving an inch? Well here’s inspiration for you!

This is a true feelgood thriller, made possible by real teenagers (I believe Andy borrows characters from life), a serious crime, and solidarity. There’s not enough of that out there. The solidarity, I mean.