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Book review Book reviews Tuesday Book Blog

#TuesdayBookBlog OUTERBOROUGH BLUES. A BROOKLYN MYSTERY by Andrew Cotto (@andrewcotto) Brooklyn, noir, cooking: a winning recipe #noirnovel

Hi all:

I revisit an author whose book intrigued me a great deal, as he manages to combine very different elements and make them function incredibly well somehow.

Outerborough Blues. A Brooklyn Mystery by Andrew Cotto

Outerborough Blues: A Brooklyn Mystery by Andrew Cotto 

A beautiful young French girl walks into a bar, nervously lights a cigarette, and begs the bartender for help in finding her missing artist brother. In a moment of weakness, the bartender—a lone wolf named Caesar Stiles with a chip on his shoulder and a Sicilian family curse hanging over him—agrees. What follows is a stylish literary mystery set in Brooklyn on the dawn of gentrification.

While Caesar is initially trying to earn an honest living at the neighborhood watering hole, his world quickly unravels. In addition to being haunted by his past, including a brother who is intent on settling an old family score, Caesar is being hunted down by a mysterious nemesis known as The Orange Man. Adding to this combustible mix, Caesar is a white man living in a deep-rooted African American community with decidedly mixed feelings about his presence. In the course of his search for the French girl’s missing brother, Caesar tumbles headlong into the shadowy depths of his newly adopted neighborhood, where he ultimately uncovers some of its most sinister secrets.

Taking place over the course of a single week, Outerborough Blues is a tightly paced and gritty urban noir saturated with the rough and tumble atmosphere of early 1990s Brooklyn.

Andrew Cotto has written for numerous publications, including The New York TimesMen’s Journal, Salon.com, Teachers & Writers magazine and The Good Men Project. He has an MFA in creative writing from The New School. He lives in Brooklyn, New York.

https://www.amazon.com/Outerborough-Blues-Brooklyn-Andrew-Cotto-ebook/dp/B00915UQGI/

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Outerborough-Blues-Brooklyn-Andrew-Cotto-ebook/dp/B00915UQGI/

https://www.amazon.es/Outerborough-Blues-Brooklyn-Andrew-Cotto-ebook/dp/B00915UQGI/

Author Andrew Cotto

About the author:

 Andrew Cotto is an award-winning author and a regular contributor to The New York Times. He has written for Parade, Men’s Journal, Rolling Stone, La Cucina Italiana, AARP, Rachael Ray In Season, Maxim, The Huffington Post, the Good Men Project, Salon, Conde Nast Traveler, Italy magazine and more. Andrew has an MFA in Creative Writing from The New School. He lives in Brooklyn, NY.

https://www.amazon.com/Andrew-Cotto/e/B006SHJK4Q/

 My review:

I discovered Andrew Cotto through Rosie’s Book Review Team a few months ago, when I read and reviewed his novel Black Irish Blues. A Caesar Stiles Mystery, which I loved even (or because) I found it difficult to pin down to a specific genre. Although it was stylistically a noir mystery/thriller, I thought it also shared some of the characteristics of the cozy mysteries: pretty special/peculiar/singular characters; a main protagonist that is not your standard cool, slick, and tough guy (Caesar Styles is pretty cool and fairly tough, but he tries to go unnoticed rather than advertise those characteristics); and a sizeable part of the novel being dedicated to a hobby/job/talent… of the protagonist that sometimes might be related to the mystery, although mostly marginally. In this case, the protagonist works as a cook, and he seems to be pretty talented at it as well, and he regales us with mouth-watering descriptions of meals and dishes throughout the novel. I was fascinated by this unusual combination of seemingly diverse parts and how the author managed to bring them together. And I was intrigued as well because although the story could be read independently, I became aware that a previous novel with the same protagonist had been published years back, and there were a few enticing references to what had happened before that left me wanting more. Unfortunately, at that time, the first novel was only available as a paperback, and it was not easy to get hold of.

However, the author informed me that the first novel in the series would be available in e-book format and kindly sent me an ARC copy, which I freely chose to review.

So, this is how I came to read the first novel in this series after the second. This has happened to me more than once, and although I might have got hints of what had happened before, in general, I have enjoyed checking if I was right and filling all the gaps. And yes, this is one of those occasions.

 I went through a detailed summary of my thoughts about Black Irish Blues, not only because being concise is not my forte, but also because much of what I thought and said about that novel applies here as well.

Although the novel is set in the 1990s, there are clear indicators of the social era, and the author manages to convey a very strong sense of the Brooklyn of that period, warts and all, there is also something atemporal about the novel. The descriptions of the traumatic events of Caesar’s childhood are, unfortunately, universal and timeless (bullying and domestic violence, a father who leaves the home and a mother bringing up her sons on her own, a tragedy and a life-changing decision), but there are also details reminiscent of the Depression: runaways (a boy in this case) hopping on trains, living in the streets, a wanderer learning as he goes and living off-the-grid, and others much more modern (drug wars, property speculation, a neighbourhood whose social make-up is changing and where racial tensions reflect a wider state of affairs, changes in the notions of family, loyalty, tradition…).

 And despite the noir vibe and set-up (down to the mystery that gets Caesar into all kinds of troubles: a foreign [French] young girl enters the bar where he works and asks for his help in finding her missing brother. He is an artist who came to New York to study and has now disappeared) reminiscent of classical noir novels and films of the 1940s and 50s, there is also something very modern in the way the story is told. In noir films, flashbacks and a rather dry, witty, and knowing voice-over were typical narrative devices and a sparkling and sharp dialogue was a trademark of the genre in writing as well. Here, Caesar tells his story in the first person, but this is not a straightforward narrative. The story is divided up into seven days and told in real-time, but the protagonist spends much of the novel remembering the past, reflecting upon things that had happened to him before, and we even witness some of his dreams (hopeful ones, but also those that rehearse the past), so anybody expecting a fast-paced, no spare-details-allowed kind of narrative, will be disappointed. For me, the way the story is told is one of its strengths, and there are incredibly beautiful moments in the book (Caesar is a poet at heart), although there are also some pretty violent and ugly things going on, and Caesar is the worse for wear by the end of the story. (And no, that doesn’t mean I didn’t enjoy the ending). There is something pretty intimate and personal about the way the story is told, and we get privileged access to the protagonist’s subjectivity, thoughts, and feelings, that is not typical of the classic noir genre (dark things in the past might be hinted at, but they are hardly ever looked at in detail or studied in depth. The answer to most questions can be found in the barrel of a gun).

I was looking for some information in E. Ann Kaplan’s Women in Film Noir (somewhat old now, but excellent) and a comment she made about Klute and Chinatown (some later films that fit into the noir category) rang true for me. She mentioned that both of these films seemed to show a “European” sensibility and style different to that o many of the other American crime films of the same era, and that got me thinking, as Chinatown kept popping in my head as I read this book (although Chinatown is far more classically noir than this novel), perhaps because of the subject of property speculation, of the amount of violence visited upon and endured by the protagonist, of the intricate maze of clues, illegal acts, false identities, hidden interests and influences, and secrets that fill its pages… And, considering the protagonist’s Italian origin, and the fact that the story of his grandmother opens the novel, it all seemed to fit. Although the sins of the father might be visited upon the son as well, here, the sins are those from previous generations and keep being revisited upon the members of the family left alive.

In some ways, the mystery (or mysteries, as others come to light once Caesar starts investigating and unravelling the story strand) is not the most important part of the book. At first, I thought Jean-Baptist played a part somewhat akin to Hitchcock’s concept of a MacGuffin, an excuse to get the story going, to set our character off on a quest, we learn very little about him throughout the book, and he is never given a voice or an opportunity to explain himself (we only hear other people’s opinions about him), but later I decided he was a kind of doppelgänger, a double or a mirror image of Caesar, somebody also trying to run away to find himself and to find a place where he can fit in, although, of course, this can only be achieved when one is at peace with oneself, and the protagonist reaches the same conclusion. I don’t want to go into a lot of detail about the ending, but let’s say that Caesar manages to put to good use his connections and to trade off good information in exchange for settling some family issues that had been hanging over him for a long time. He is not overly ambitious and although he has a sense of right and wrong and morality, he does not play the superhero and knows that some things will only be sorted out by time, and others perhaps never. But he had to attune and reach his internal peace, and that, he does.

Rather than a review, this seems to be a mash-up of a few somewhat interconnected thoughts, but I hope it gives you an idea of why I enjoyed the novel. There is plenty of wit, great descriptions, a tour-de-force banquet towards the end of the book, fabulous dialogue, and beautifully contemplative moments. I will share a few snippets, but I recommend checking a sample if you want to get a better idea of if you’d like his style or not.

At the entrance stood a large security guard who looked like he had swallowed a smaller security guard.

I was in the Mediterranean, floating in the warm water of my ancestors. I rose and fell in the hard green sea, salt in my nose and sun on my face, my fanned hair like a cape behind me. Fishing boats were moored to a nearby jetty, and brilliant white birds circled in the swimming pool sky.

Oh, and, the beginning of the book has joined my list of the best openings of a novel:

My mother’s mother came to this country in the usual way —she got on a boat with other immigrants and sailed from Sicily. She wasn’t one of them, however: neither tired nor poor or part of any huddled mass. Instead, she traveled alone, with her money in one sock and a knife in the other, coming to the new world with an old world motive— to murder the man that had left her for America.

 Don’t worry. We get to know what happened, but, if you need more of a recommendation, this is it: the rest of the novel lives up to its beginning. So, go on, read it, and I’m sure you’ll read Black Irish Blues next. Enjoy.

Thanks to the author for this book, thanks to all of you for reading, and remember to like, share, comment, click, and especially, keep safe and keep smiling. ♥

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Book review Book reviews Tuesday Book Blog

#TuesdayBookBlog I’LL PRAY WHEN I’M DYING by Stephen J. Golds (@SteveGone58) The best fictional depiction of OCD I’ve ever read. Hard-hitting, tough, and non-PC. Fabulous #OCD #noir

Hi all:

I’ve caught up with an author many of you felt curious about when I first reviewed one of his novels.

I’ll Pray When I’m Dying by Stephen J. Golds

I’ll Pray When I’m Dying by Stephen J. Golds

DO ALL SONS BECOME THEIR FATHERS?

Ben Hughes is a corrupt Boston Vice Detective and bagman for the Southie Mob.
Already desperately struggling with obsessive compulsions and memories of a traumatic childhood, his world begins to fall apart at the seams, triggered by the photograph of a missing child in the newspaper and the anniversary of his father’s death twenty years earlier.

‘I’LL PRAY WHEN I’M DYING’ IS THE STORY OF A BAD MAN BECOMING WORSE…

https://www.amazon.com/Ill-Pray-When-Im-Dying-ebook/dp/B096KM1384/

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Ill-Pray-When-Im-Dying-ebook/dp/B096KM1384/

https://www.amazon.es/Ill-Pray-When-Im-Dying-ebook/dp/B096KM1384/

Author Stephen J. Golds

About the author:

Stephen J. Golds was born in London, U.K, but has lived in Japan for most of his adult life. He enjoys spending time with his daughters, reading books, traveling, boxing and listening to old Soul LPs. His novels are Say Goodbye When I’m Gone (Red Dog Press) Always the Dead (Close to the Bone) Poems for Ghosts in Empty Tenement Windows and the forthcoming collection Love Like Bleeding Out With an Empty Gun in Your Hand

https://www.amazon.com/Stephen-J-Golds/e/B08TX1Q8TM/

 My review:

I was offered an ARC copy of this novel, which I freely chose to review.

I read a review Always the Dead by Stephen J. Golds a few months ago (you can check my review here), loved it, and when I shared my review on my blog quite a few people were intrigued and interested. Unfortunately, there were problems with that particular edition of the book, and it was removed from sale, but that didn’t diminish my interest and enthusiasm. Quite the opposite. Evidently, when I was given the opportunity to review a new novel by the same author, I couldn’t resist. And let me tell you, wow!

 Many of my comments about the previous novel apply here as well. This novel is darker than noir, harder than hard-boiled, and the characters are true bad-asses, but they are far deeper and better drawn than most bad characters are in novels. I have said, more than once, that I don’t need the protagonist of the books I read to be good to feel engaged and to be able to root for them, and I have always had a bit of a soft spot for anti-heroes and unusual main characters. We might not like to be reminded that we all have a dark side, and that we can do bad things as well (sometimes with the best of intentions, sometimes not so much), but as long as the characters’ behaviour can be understood at a certain level, and we can follow their journey and understand their motivations, no matter how little I like what they do, I’m happy to read about them. In the author’s note, at the end of the book, he explains that he decided to write this book because bad characters are always the antagonists, and very often we never get to understand why they do what they do; they are simply there as a foil to test the hero, a difficulty to be overcome, and he felt they should be given a chance.

Although the main protagonist of the novel is Ben Hughes, a British man who emigrated to the US (Boston) with his mother when he was quite young, the book also tells the story of his father, William, who was in the Met police, in London, and who, like his son, had survived a war but had been badly affected by it. The action and the setting are split into two timelines, separated by twenty years, as the father’s story takes place in 1926 and the son’s in 1946, in the days coming up to the 20th anniversary of his father’s death. There are many similarities in the behaviour of the two characters (Ben is a detective working for the Boston Police Department, but he has other fairly illegal occupations, and, in fact, he uses his job as a cover for the least pleasant aspects of his personality), and violence, corruption, threats, blackmail… are ways of life for both. But while we get much more of an insight into Ben’s motivations and traumas (growing up with a father like his was incredibly tough, and we get a first-row seat into some of his experiences through his memories and flashbacks of his childhood abuse), we don’t get to know that much about William. We don’t know anything about his life before the war, although we learn about a French woman’s betrayal and about the way the war seems to have dehumanised him, as he perceives violence now as an expedient way to get whatever he wants (because at least he is using it now in his own benefit, rather than for free at the behest of others). His alcohol consumption doesn’t help matters either, and he is unrepentant.

His son, Ben, suffers from Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD), and, as a psychiatrist and a reader, I must say I have never come across such a vivid and accurate depiction of the condition. The author explains that he feels this illness is always trivialized in popular media, and many aspects of it are never mentioned or delved upon, and he is absolutely right. I am sure many of us can bring to mind characters in books and movies who are supposed to suffer from OCD, but in most cases, it is only anecdotal, a minor hindrance, not something central to the character’s life. Although the story is told in the third person, Golds immerses us into the minds of the protagonists (we also get the point of view of some minor characters at times, but these are brief scenes, not quite as powerful or in-depth, although I particularly enjoyed meeting again a character from the other novel), and, in the case of Ben, that makes for a very uncomfortable experience. Beyond his actions (that yes, are extreme and hard, to say the least), we are locked inside a mind that is forever trying to fight repetitive thoughts (of contamination, paranoid thoughts, suspicions, guilt…), compulsions, engaging in routines (counting, repeating a poem) to guard against evil and doom, trapped by magical thinking… It is not surprising that his mind unravels as more and more of the things and people who moored him into his precarious existence fail him, and he cannot retain any sense of balance or equilibrium.

The writing style, the repetitions, the interruptions, the combination of short, sharp, and quick sentences combined with beautifully observed (even when ugly) descriptions of people and places, recreate the workings of the main character’s mind and reminded me somewhat of stream of consciousness, a writing technique often used by modernist writers. Although there is plenty of action, a plot thick with events and characters (from the lowest of the low to the highest echelons of society), this is not an easy linear read. The story follows a chronological order, alternating the chapters set in the 1920s and the 1940s, but there are many intrusions and flashbacks that can be disorienting and make the readers empathise (if not sympathise, as that is more difficult) with Ben. He is not good, as I said, and nobody could easily condone his actions, but he is trying to hold on to his soul and wants to help a child to make amends, as he wishes someone would have helped him all those years back. Even though the psychological insight into the protagonist’s psyche is one of the strongest points of the novel, the author also captures beautifully the atmosphere of both periods, the interactions between the characters, the way the gangs and tribes communicate, and the struggle for power (both inside and outside the law). I recommend people thinking of reading it to check a sample of the book, but I strongly advise giving it a good chance and not reading only a few lines, as it wouldn’t give them a fair idea of what the experience is like.

Despite my recommendation, I had to share a few lines with you:

Here, Ben describes how he feels when he sees a picture of a missing boy:

Something like a bullet in the back. A blade across the throat. A headache like a hammer blow to his skull and the start of a fever boiling underneath his clothes.

Distorted images passing through his head like the headlights of a speeding hearse down a black street.

And here, one of Ben’s routines:

He counted his steps in groups of seven. He reached the bakery in four sets. Four was an unlucky number. He turned around and walked back seven spaces, turned and walked back. Cancelling out the bad. Creating order….. He counted the steps up to her door. Twelve. Went back over two steps to make it fourteen. Two sets of seven. Felt relief.

As I had warned in my previous review, this is a novel that would fit perfectly in the publishing world of the era the main action is set in (the late 1940s), but not so much now. I had warned about possible triggers there, and here we have them all as well: brutal violence, corruption, alcohol abuse, drug abuse, child abuse, domestic violence, sexual assault… and anybody who might feel offended or upset by any of these subjects or preferring to read a book that fits into current political correctness sensibilities should be advised to stay away. This is a hard book, not without its moments of humour (very, very dark), and it deals in serious subjects, which, unfortunately, no matter how much the language we use has changed, are still present and as disturbing and ugly as ever. If you dare dig deep into the mind of a bad man and are not worried about, perhaps, getting to understand him and feel sorry for him, go on and read. Luckily, I have another one of Golds’ books waiting for me.

Thanks to the author for this opportunity, thanks to all of you for reading, and remember to stay safe, keep reading, have as much fun as you can, and keep smiling!

 

 

 

 

 

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Book review Book reviews Tuesday Book Blog

#TuesdayBookBlog APPLES NEVER FALL by Liane Moriarty (@MichaelJBooks) (@PenguinUKBoos) Family relationships, secrets, mysteries, and a lot of tennis #Booklaunch

Hi, all:

I bring you a novel that is officially launched today, 14th of September, by an author who has become even more popular and well-known recently thanks to the adaptations to the TV of her novels. I’ve read a few of her novels, and I can’t say I’m not surprised. And here comes her latest one.

Apples Never Fall by Liane Moriarty

Apples Never Fall by Liane Moriarty 

#1 New York Times bestselling author Liane Moriarty is back with a novel that looks at marriage, sibling rivalry, and the lies we tell others and ourselves. Apples Never Fall is the work of a writer at the top of her game.

The Delaney family love one another dearlyit’s just that sometimes they want to murder each other . . .

If your mother was missing, would you tell the police? Even if the most obvious suspect was your father?

This is the dilemma facing the four grown Delaney siblings.

The Delaney family is a communal foundation. Stan and Joy are the envy of all of their friends. They’re killer on the tennis court, and off it their chemistry is palpable. But after fifty years of marriage, they’ve finally sold their famed tennis academy and are ready to start what should be the golden years of their lives. So why are they so miserable?

The four Delaney children—Amy, Logan, Troy, and Brooke—were tennis stars in their own right, yet as their father will tell you, none of them had what it took to go all the way. But that’s okay, now that they’re all successful grown-ups. Well, that depends on how you define success. No one in the family can really tell you what Troy does, but based on his fancy car and expensive apartment, he seems to do it very well, even if he blew up his perfect marriage. Logan is happy with his routine as a community college professor, but his family finds it easier to communicate with his lovely girlfriend than him. Amy, the eldest, can’t seem to hold down a job or even a lease, but leave it to Brooke, the baby of the family, to be the rock-steady one who is married with a new solo physiotherapy practice . . . which will take off any day now.

One night a stranger named Savannah knocks on Stan and Joy’s door. She says she chose their house because it looked the friendliest. And since Savannah is bleeding after a fight with her boyfriend, the Delaneys are more than happy to give her the small kindness she sorely needs. If only that was all she wanted.

Later, everyone will wonder what exactly went on in that household after Savannah entered their lives that night. Because now Joy is missing, no one knows where Savannah is, and the Delaneys are reexamining their parents’ marriage and their shared family history with fresh, frightened eyes.

https://www.amazon.com/Apples-Never-Fall-Liane-Moriarty-ebook/dp/B08PG6CKZJ/

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Apples-Never-Fall-Liane-Moriarty-ebook/dp/B08PG6CKZJ/

https://www.amazon.es/Apples-Never-Fall-Liane-Moriarty-ebook/dp/B08PG6CKZJ/

Author Liane Moriarty
Author Liane Moriarty

About the author:

Liane Moriarty is the Australian author of eight internationally best-selling novels: Three Wishes, The Last Anniversary, What Alice Forgot, The Hypnotist’s Love Story, Nine Perfect Strangers and the number one New York Times bestsellers: The Husband’s Secret, Big Little Lies and Truly Madly Guilty. Her books have been translated into over forty languages and sold more than 20 million copies.

Big Little Lies and Truly Madly Guilty both debuted at number one on the New York Times bestseller list – the first time this was ever achieved by an Australian author. Big Little Lies was adapted into a multiple award-winning HBO series with a star-studded cast including Nicole Kidman and Reese Witherspoon. Hulu is adapting Nine Perfect Strangers into a limited series starring Nicole Kidman and Melissa McCarthy for release in 2021.

Her new novel, Apples Never Fall, will be released in September 2021.

Liane lives in Sydney, Australia, together with her husband, son and daughter. You can find out more at www.lianemoriarty.com and www.facebook.com/LianeMoriartyAuthor

https://www.amazon.com/Liane-Moriarty/e/B00459IA54/

My review:

I received a NetGalley ARC copy of this novel from Penguin Michael Joseph UK, which I freely chose to review.

This is the fourth of Liane Moriarty’s novels I read, and I’m sure it won’t be the last one. She has become well-known, justifiably so, through her writing, and more recently thanks to the TV adaptations of a couple of her novels (Nine Perfect Strangers is available already, and although I’ve only watched a bit of it so far, it doesn’t look bad at all).

If I had to characterise her writing, based on the books I’ve read so far, I’d say she excels at creating lively and totally credible ensembles of characters (sometimes small communities, sometimes neighbours, sometimes complete strangers thrown into a common setting, or, as is the case here, a family and their close contacts), dropping —bomb-like— a mystery in their midst, and observing what happens. The mystery side of the story has the added benefit of getting readers hooked into the story at the beginning, when we don’t know much about the characters yet, because as things progress, and although the author is good at keeping her hand hidden (red herrings, twists and turns, and deceptive appearances are skilfully employed), we get more and more involved with the characters and learn things that sometimes end up being much more interesting than the original mystery. That, of course, depends on the reader’s taste, and I’m a sucker for psychologically complex characters and for books centred on the connections and relationships between individuals going through difficult circumstances. Those types of books that don’t seem too heavy on plot, but they are like ducks on a pond: there is a lot going on under the surface, invisible to the naked eye. One has to be prepared to get wet and go diving.

The description above is quite comprehensive, and as I want to avoid spoilers, I won’t go into a detailed account of what happens. Joy Delaney, a woman in her sixties, a tennis player and a coach, and mother of four children, disappears on Valentine’s Day, after having an argument with her husband, without telling him anything and only sending an unintelligible text to her sons and daughters, which mentions going off-grid. We soon learn that a few months earlier they had a house guest staying with them, a young woman called Savannah, and the novel alternates the two timelines, both chronological: one following on from Joy’s disappearance, and the other going back in time to show readers what happened to all the members of the Delaney family after Savannah came into their lives. The story is narrated in the third person, but from different characters’ points of view, mostly the members of the family (well, not so much Stan, at least not in the beginning), but also from others who don’t play a major part, like friends of the family, neighbours, and also the two police officers investigating the disappearance. This provides us with a choral view of events, and we get very different pictures and perspectives of the family and their relationships as if we were watching them through a kaleidoscope.

This is a long book (and quite a few reviewers have commented that they felt it could have been edited much more tightly, but I enjoyed the pace and the amount of detail, so I won’t complain), which I would describe as a domestic drama/mystery, and there are lots of issues explored: how our perspectives, goals, and priorities change with time and age; changes in the role of women and their own perceptions of themselves in recent generations; who gets to define success and how much of an impact our upbringing has on our sense of self; domestic violence; anxiety; migraines; sibling-rivalry; the world of professional sports, tennis in particular; long-term relationships and marriages; empty-nest syndrome and the toll of retirement… Even COVID-19 makes an appearance. Personally, I was a bit skeptical of the inclusion of the coronavirus in the novel, but although I don’t think it was necessary, I feel it adds a little something to the story, so it’s fine with me.

The six members of the Delaney family provide readers with plenty of room for thought. I was much more intrigued by the parents than I was by their children (although I developed a bit of a soft spot for Amy and quite liked Logan, oh, and some of their partners as well), especially because of their relationship, which we get to learn plenty about. They had not only been successfully (?) married for over fifty years and had four children, but they still played tennis together (doubles) and won and had run a successful business together too. What a challenge! Unsurprisingly, we discover there are some cracks and secrets between them, lies (some they tell each other and some they tell themselves), some skeletons hiding in cupboards, and quite a few things still left unsaid. Although Joy is the centre of attention, for evident reasons, and she is quite a character, I grew fond of Stan as well, and the author does a great job of making us understand why the characters are who they are and do what they do, even when they do pretty unforgivable and appalling things. Savannah is also fascinating, though extreme, and although I am not sure I’d say I identified with any of the characters, I was hooked from the beginning by their interaction and had to keep reading to find out what glued them together and who they really were and would end up becoming.

I have mentioned that the story is told in two timelines, which eventually converge, and it is narrated in the third person from a variety of points of view. The changes in the timeline are clearly marked. As I have read an ARC copy of the book, I am not sure if the formatting of the final version of the novel will be very different from the version I read, so I can’t say if the different points of view will be evident to the naked eye. In any case, I had no problem working out whose perspective I was reading, so I don’t think readers need to worry unduly about that, although I advise them to keep their eyes open and not get distracted. Everything is there for a good reason, even if it might not appear important at the time.

The author’s writing is deceptively simple: she does not overdo her descriptions or use complex words but knows how to insert small details and motifs that create a vivid and compelling picture of the characters, their environment, and their personalities. Even the dog has her own mind. Moriarty knows how to drop hints and sow doubts in our minds, is an expert in leading us down the wrong path, and she takes her time building up the characters, the background, and maintaining the suspense. The reveals are well-timed, and although this is not a page-turner in the usual sense, dedicating plenty of time to exploring the characters’ motivations and going on detours to learn more about the past, the action flows well, and everything fits in beautifully at the end. Even though it does not lack a sense of humour, I found it, in general, more understated when it came to light content and funny scenes than some of her other novels, with many more quietly amusing moments than those that make one guffaw.

I enjoyed the ending and its several twists, although more than one big ending, this is a book that takes its time to tie all the loose threads, so although there are aspects of the novel (more to do with what will happen next than with the actual mystery) left to the reader’s imagination, I particularly recommend it to those who feel frustrated when any aspects of the story aren’t fully explained.

In sum, this is a good example of what Moriarty’s stories are like, full of psychologically well-drawn characters, an intriguing mystery, and a novel for readers who don’t mind taking time to learn about the relationships and interactions within a family or a community, particularly when there are plenty of secrets and lies to uncover. And those who love tennis will appreciate it even more.

Thanks to Michael Joseph/ Penguin Random House UK and the author, thanks to all of you for reading, and if you’ve enjoyed it or know anybody who might, feel free to like, share, comment, and always keep smiling and stay safe!

Categories
Book review Book reviews Tuesday Book Blog

#TuesdayBookBlog BLACK IRISH BLUES: A Caesar Stiles Mystery by Andrew Cotto @andrewcotto A great combination of good writing, great characters, and a compelling setting #RBRT

Hi all:

I bring you another book from Rosie’s Book Review Team. Short but full to the brim with great characters and stories.

Black Irish Blues by Andrew Cotto

Black Irish Blues: A Caesar Stiles Mystery by Andrew Cotto

“Being a fan of Dennis Lehane, George Pelecanos and Walter Mosley, I would certainly label Andrew Cotto as a comparable read to these luminaries in terms of style, characterization and the depiction of life in a tough neighborhood.” –Raven Crime Reads

“Cotto’s lyrical prose reads like Raymond Chandler taking dictation from Walt Whitman.” –Publishers Weekly

Black Irish Blues is the return-to-origin story of Caesar Stiles, an erstwhile runaway who returns to his hometown with plans to buy the town’s only tavern and end his family’s Sicilian curse.

Caesar’s attempt for redemption is complicated by the spectral presence of his estranged father, reparation seekers related to his corrupt older brother, a charming crime boss and his enigmatic crew, and – most significantly – a stranger named Dinny Tuite whose disappearance under dubious circumstances immerses Caesar in a mystery that leads into the criminal underbelly of industrial New Jersey, the flawed myth of the American Dream, and his hometown’s shameful secrets.

Black Irish Blues is a poetic, gritty noir full of dynamic characters, a page-turning plot, and the further development of a unique American character.

https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B08P26X8ZC/

https://www.amazon.co.uk/gp/product/B08P26X8ZC/

https://www.amazon.es/gp/product/B08P26X8ZC/

Author Andrew Cotto

About the author:

Andrew Cotto is an award-winning author and a regular contributor to The New York Times. He has written for Parade, Men’s Journal, Rolling Stone, La Cucina Italiana, AARP, Rachael Ray In Season, Maxim, The Huffington Post, the Good Men Project, Salon, Conde Nast Traveler, Italy magazine and more. Andrew has an MFA in Creative Writing from The New School. He lives in Brooklyn, NY.

https://www.amazon.com/Andrew-Cotto/e/B006SHJK4Q/

My review:

I write this review as a member of Rosie’s Book Review Team, and I received an ARC copy of the novel, which I freely chose to review.

This is my first experience reading this author’s work, although when I checked his biography I realised that he had not only been writing for quite a while, but this is not the first novel he publishes with Caesar Stiles as the main character, although the first one was published in 2012, and it’s only available in paperback. It makes perfect sense when we read the story, as there are references to what has happened before, but it is not necessary to have read the previous novel to enjoy this one.

The description of the book provides a good overview of the plot, especially as I want to avoid any spoilers. I’ve been thinking long and hard about the genre of this short novel, and although it might sound like an impossible combination (and I suspect the author wouldn’t agree) if there was something like a “noir-cozy” or a “hard-boiled-cozy” this would be it. Let me explain what I mean because I know the two concepts seem impossible to reconcile. What I mean by cozy is that the novel has not only a pretty peculiar protagonist (who left his home in quite traumatic circumstances and has been wandering the roads of America ever-since), but many of the other characters that make an appearance are also unique (a fantastically charming “good” baddie, an intriguing father, a bodyguard with plenty of style, a driver-cum-guide with plenty of hidden talents, a rich businessman with an alternative view of life…); there is also a strong focus on a small town and its inhabitants, peculiarities, and power structures and games; and a lot of attention is paid to Caesar’s cooking, with lengthy descriptions of some of his favourite dishes and how to cook them. Cozy mysteries tend to combine the actual mystery with some sort of side attraction or plot-line (cooking and baking are quite popular, but there might also be magic, paranormal elements, acting, song contests or a multitude of other subjects). The crimes investigated in that genre can be serious (murders are quite common), but the investigation itself is not discussed in too much detail; it is hardly on the level of a police procedural novel, and the level of violence tends to be either very minor, bizarre or cartoonish rather than realistic, or not discussed in detail. This novel, like many American novels, depicts a small-town that is far from the white-picket fence oasis urban dwellers imagine. It has a dark side, and there are plenty of non-cozy subjects that make an appearance (prostitution, corruption, prejudice, hints of racism, organised crime, bullying and child abuse…), but although I can’t go into detail, let’s say that the nature of the mystery/crime and the ending of the novel are a bit surprising considering some of the less-than-savoury themes discussed.

The style is definitely noir/hard-boiled, with dialogue that is stylised, hard-hitting, witty, and eminently quotable; there is gloomy foreshadowing; there is threatened and actual violence inflicted (although rather than gore and over the top, it felt fairly restrained in its description, perhaps because the story is narrated in the first person by Caesar and, as he reminds us a few times, he’s got used to enduring violence due to his previous experiences and can take a beating), I’ve already mentioned some of the topics typical of the genre, and as the story is set in the early 90s, we have plenty of characters misbehaving (smoking, drinking alcohol, flaunting their money and being conspicuously materialistic) but not much swearing; we have an old Sicilian curse; a character from the wrong side of the tracks with criminal connections who has lost most of his family by the time we meet him. There are plenty of rich descriptions that bring to life the place and the characters, and the book —which is rather short (a bit long for a novella, but pretty short for a novel)— covers a lot of ground in very few pages. There are plenty of secrets to be uncovered, surprises of all kinds that keep popping up, and friends and enemies are not always easy to tell apart.

I liked the central character and plenty of the other characters that make an appearance, although some we don’t get to know very well, and there are a few truly despicable ones. The fact that Caesar tells the story and is quite a contemplative person, who has a lot of stories in his past and plenty of memories to reflect upon helps us connect easily with him and with the characters he likes, even if some of them are ambiguous and not what they seem to be. He is trying his hardest to make things right and to put an end to the family’s curse; he is eager to reconnect with his past, to leave a worthy legacy, and to help others; and although he is not whiter than white (in fact, we learn that he’s done some pretty questionable things), he does have a sense of what is right and wrong and of morality that most readers will probably feel comfortable with.

As mentioned, the writing style is quite descriptive, and the descriptions do not always help directly advance the story. However, they contribute to create a picture of the places and the people we are reading about, and they also fit the narrative style of the protagonist, who is often told he should write his story, and who notes that he used to write lengthy descriptions of the places he visited and of the people he met in his letters to his mother all throughout the many years he was away. There are scenes of action; there are contemplative moments; there are cooking interludes; and there are memories and flashbacks interspersed in the novel, so the pace is not relentless and the storyline does not rush at breakneck speed, but it flows well, and it packs a lot of information and story into very few pages.

Without giving too many clues, I can affirm that I really enjoyed the ending, and it worked well for me. It is evident when we read the novel that the main character has a past, and recent events in his life have had a lot of impact in his current situation, but there is enough information provided for those of us who like to fill in the blanks in order to give us a good sense of the psychology and the complexity of the main character and to make us wonder what will happen next, while at the same time offering us a full and complex story with a satisfying resolution.

In sum, this is a short novel that manages to combine many genres, with a strong and likeable protagonist and some pretty memorable secondary characters, a vividly depicted setting, dark subjects aplenty, a noir writing style without extreme gore or swear words but full of unforgettable quotes, and enough cooking reference to delight gourmets, especially meat-eaters (not my case, unfortunately). A very interesting author with a unique writing style, and one I’ll make sure to keep my eyes on in the future.

Thanks to the author for his novel, thanks to Rosie and all the members of her team for their ongoing support, and thanks to all of you for reading, commenting, liking, and always being there. Remember to keep safe and to keep smiling.

Before you go, I kept thinking that I couldn’t share a post and not say something in Sue Vincent’s memory. Many bloggers have written about her and her passing already, people who knew her better and who’ve expressed what we were all thinking and feeling in a heartfelt and beautiful way, much better than I could. But just say that I won’t forget her smile, her inspiring images and posts, Annie and her stories, her son Nick and his bravery and example, and her courage and sense humour in the face of adversity. Keep smiling, Sue, wherever you are.

Categories
Book review Book reviews Tuesday Book Blog

#TuesdayBookBlog THE SURVIVORS: A Novel by Jane Harper (@LittleBrownUK) (@GraceEVincent) (@janeharperautho) If you haven’t read a Jane Harper novel, now is the time #bookreview

Hi all:

I bring you the review of the newest book by an author I’ve become a big fan of. Just a word of warning: the book isn’t available everywhere and in all the formats yet, but should be coming out in the next week or so everywhere (if there are no delays).

The Survivors by Jane Harper

The Survivors: A Novel by Jane Harper

Coming home dredges up deeply buried secrets in The Survivors, a thrilling mystery by New York Times bestselling author Jane Harper

Kieran Elliott’s life changed forever on the day a reckless mistake led to devastating consequences.

The guilt that still haunts him resurfaces during a visit with his young family to the small coastal community he once called home.

Kieran’s parents are struggling in a town where fortunes are forged by the sea. Between them all is his absent brother, Finn.

When a body is discovered on the beach, long-held secrets threaten to emerge. A sunken wreck, a missing girl, and questions that have never washed away…

https://www.amazon.com/Survivors-Novel-Jane-Harper-ebook/dp/B087ZY8NXX/

https://www.amazon.es/Survivors-Novel-Jane-Harper-ebook/dp/B087ZY8NXX/

https://www.amazon.co.uk/gp/product/1408711982/

Author Jane Harper
Author Jane Harper

About the author:

Jane Harper is the author of the international bestsellers The Dry, Force of Nature and The Lost Man. Her books are published in more than 40 territories worldwide, and The Dry is being made into a major film starring Eric Bana. Jane has won numerous top awards including the CWA Gold Dagger Award for Best Crime Novel, the British Book Awards Crime and Thriller Book of the Year, the Australian Book Industry Awards Book of the Year and the Australian Indie Awards Book of the Year. Jane worked as a print journalist for thirteen years both in Australia and the UK and now lives in Melbourne.

https://www.amazon.com/Jane-Harper/e/B001KI8MCE

My review:

I thank NetGalley and Little, Brown UK for providing me an ARC copy of this book that I freely chose to review.

Although I discovered Jane Harper’s talent in her second novel, Force of Nature, I have been hooked ever since, and I have read all of her books till now (you can check my review of her third novel, The Lost Man, here). I have no hesitation in recommending her books to any readers who appreciate great writing, complex characters, a good plot, and a talent for bringing to life the landscape and the setting of her stories (all located in Australia, so far) and turning them into an integral part of the novel. In The Survivors, Harper takes us to Tasmania, and although the specific location is fictional, I felt as if I was there, looking into the ocean and contemplating the sculpture of the Survivors slowly disappearing under the tide.

The Survivors of the title make reference to a sculpture symbolising, perhaps, the survivors of an ancient wreck off the coast of the little town where the story is set, Evelyn Bay, a place where everybody knows everybody’s name and stories (that is, apart from that of the outsiders who visit during the touristic season), and where a tragedy took place about a decade ago. It seems as if the inhabitants had moved on from it, from the big storm that caused the deaths of two young men and during which a young girl also disappeared, but like the sculpture of the survivors that disappears under the water but always resurfaces again, some things refuse to remain buried (or submerged). When the body of a young woman —an art student who had come to the town looking for inspiration— appears murdered on the beach, memories are stirred and questions are asked anew.

The novel is a mystery, although like all of Harper’s novels, it is not a frantically paced one, and her choice of narrator (the story is told in the third person from the point of view of Kieran, a young man who barely survived the storm, and who’s been trying to deal with his guilt over his older brother’s death ever since) is particularly clever. Kieran is an insider, in so long as he was born in Evelyn Bay and knows (indeed was one of the main participants in the drama) far too well what happened during the big storm. His family was one of the worst affected by it, and they are still trying to get over his brother’s loss, even if his mother insists in putting up a front. (I liked Verity. She is a survivor, and has to be strong for everybody, always coping with everything, and now also having to look after her husband, Brian, who is suffering from dementia, and she never complains). But he has been living in Sidney, has had a child with Mia (another insider/outsider), and has kept away from the place for a long time, so he can also see things from a different perspective, from a certain distance.

Kieran has come back with Mia and their young baby daughter, Audrey (she behaves like a real baby, and I loved the fact that the author thanks her own baby and a niece for providing her ready material for the character) to help her mother pack the house, as she has decided that her husband needs to go into a nursing home, and she will move to an apartment close by. Kieran and Mia take the chance to reconnect with old friends, Ash, Sean, and Olivia, and although the story is told mostly chronologically, Kieran’s mind goes back to the past, to the time when he met Ash, to their youth, to his life as a teenager in Evelyn Bay, and, eventually, to the events of the day that have stayed with him and changed his life and that of many others. I don’t want to go into the plot in too much detail, but as I said before, there is a murder, and when a female detective from the city comes to head the investigation, a lot of unanswered questions resurface again.

I’ve mentioned some of the characters, and they are all interesting, although we only get to see them from Kieran’s point of view (although sometimes we can gather some information from their interaction with the main character, or from the comments made by others, which sometimes make us question his opinion and version of events). Kieran is not an unreliable narrator in the standard sense, although he has somewhat blurry memories of some of the events that happened on the day of the storm and immediately after. He was quite traumatised by the events, and Harper creates a realistic psychological portrayal of the character, somebody trying to cope with his guilty feelings and holding onto the hope provided by his partner and the baby. He struggles to follow the clues and at times he refuses to look into things too deeply, although eventually he comes to a shocking realisation. I felt there could have been more time dedicated to his current life and his relationship with Mia (we get a flashback of their meeting and coming together in Sidney, but I wasn’t sure it created a clear enough picture of his recent life, compared to the power of the depiction of the past), although I think the focus on past events, not only his, but also that of other characters (his mother, who still keeps a shrine for her dead son; Ash, who resents any changes made to his grandmother’s house; Olivia’s mother, who can’t let go of her younger daughter’s death; Sean, who has taken up the role of his brother in the business and with his nephew; even the chief of police, who’ll rather leave the force than move to a new team elsewhere) symbolises the fact that they are all stuck in the past; that they’ve never truly moved on, like the Survivors.

There are twists and turns, and red herrings as well; there is a famous author who has come to live there and who seems to have a lot of questions of his own, and the detective in charge seems to know more than she is letting on, but this is not a mystery for people who merely enjoy the pursuit of the clues and the piecing together of an answer. The book’s rhythm is meandering, and a bit like the tide, it ebbs and flows, and there are too many other threads going on to make this a satisfying novel for people who prefer a more formulaic take on the classic mystery and are after a quick and uncomplicated read. The writing style is precious, as usual, and I loved the sense of place and the ragged beauty of the location, the small town (that feels very real, with its fierce loyalty mixed with pettiness, gossip and resentments), and the cliffs and caves. The thrill of the risk, the cold of the water, the dangers hiding in the darkest corners make it very compelling, but it is not a fast page-turner. On the other hand, those who try to avoid graphic violence and gore can be reassured there isn’t much here. Everything is explained at the end, and although I can’t say I knew who the guilty party was for certain, I was fairly suspicious by then and wasn’t surprised by the revelation. I enjoyed some aspects of the resolution more than others, but overall I think it works, at least in my opinion.

In summary, this is another great Jane Harper novel. It is not my favourite (although I’m not sure that I have “one” favourite), but I am sure the setting and many of the characters and events will stay with me for a long time. There are sad moments, tragic events, realistic depictions of guilt, bereavement, grief, anger, life with a dementia sufferer, and reflections on the nature of memory, friendship, and small-town living. I recommend it to anybody who likes mysteries that go beyond the formula, to Harper’s fans, and also to anybody who hasn’t read her yet, because you are missing a treat.

Thanks to NetGalley, the publisher, and the author for her novel, thanks to all of you for reading, and remember to share with anybody who might be interested, keep safe, and keep smiling (from behind the mask). 

 

Categories
Book review Book reviews Non-fiction

#Bookreview THE 19TH CENTURY UNDERWORLD: CRIME, CONTROVERSY & CORRUPTION by Stephen Carver (@penswordbooks). A must read for anybody interested in London crime history

Hi all:

Today I bring you a review of a book that I think many of you will find interesting. And what a cover!

The 19th Century Underworld: Crime, Controversy & Corruption by Stephen Carver
The 19th Century Underworld: Crime, Controversy & Corruption by Stephen Carver

The 19th Century Underworld: Crime, Controversy & Corruption by Stephen Carver

Underworld n. 1. the part of society comprising those who live by organized crime and immorality. 2. the mythical abode of the dead under the earth.

Take a walk on the dark side of the street in this unique exploration of the fears and desires at the heart of the British Empire, from the Regency dandy’s playground to the grim and gothic labyrinths of the Victorian city. Enter a world of gin spinners, sneaksmen and Covent Garden nuns, where bare-knuckled boxers slog it out for dozens of rounds, children are worth more dead than alive, and the Thames holds more bodies than the Ganges. This is the Modern Babylon, a place of brutal poverty, violent crime, strong drink, pornography and prostitution; of low neighbourhoods and crooked houses with windows out like broken teeth, wraithlike urchins with haunted eyes, desperate, ruthless and vicious men, and the broken remnants of once fine girls: a grey, bleak, infernal place, where gaslights fail to pierce the pestilential fog, and coppers travel in pairs, if they venture there at all.

Combining the accessibility of a popular history with original research, this book brings the denizens of this vanished world once more to life, along with the voices of those who sought to exploit, imprison or save them, or to simply report back from this alien landscape that both fascinated and appalled: the politicians, the reformers, the journalists and, above all, the storytellers, from literary novelists to purveyors of penny dreadfuls. Welcome to the 19th century underworld…

https://www.amazon.com/19th-Century-Underworld-Controversy-Corruption/dp/1526707543/

https://www.amazon.com/19th-Century-Underworld-Controversy-Corruption-ebook/dp/B07NHTTSG8/

https://www.amazon.co.uk/19th-Century-Underworld-Controversy-Corruption-ebook/dp/B07NHTTSG8/

https://www.pen-and-sword.co.uk/The-19th-Century-Underworld-Paperback/p/16220

Dr Stephen Carver
Dr Stephen Carver

About the author:

Stephen Carver is a literary historian, editor and occasional novelist. For sixteen years he taught literature and creative writing at the University of East Anglia, spending three years in Japan as a professor of English at the University of Fukui. He left UEA in 2012 to become Head of Online Courses at the Unthank School of Writing, and to work with The Literary Consultancy in London. He retired from teaching in 2018 to write full-time, although he continues to be affiliated with TLC as a reader and a mentor. He is the biographer of the Victorian novelist W.H. Ainsworth, and his short stories have appeared in Not-Not, Cascando, Birdsuit, and Veto. His first novel, Shark Alley, was published in 2016. The 19th Century Underworld  was published by Pen & Sword last year and Steve has just finished a follow-up on Ainsworth and Dickens.

http://stephenjcarver.com/

My review:

Thanks to Rosie Croft, from Pen & Sword, for providing me a hardback copy of this book, which I freely chose to review.

I am not a scholar in the topic of XIX century Britain, London in particular, although I have read a number of fictional books set on that period and place (it has always proved popular, especially with crime writers, for evident reasons) both recent and from the era, and also some historical books (some of the best coming from Pen & Sword as well) on specific aspects of the era, like children’s deaths. I was therefore not sure about what I would find here but hoped that it would enhance my understanding and give me a better sense of what life might have been like, away from the sometimes romanticised version we have of the Victorian era. This volume did that and more.

The book, which contains illustrations of the period as well (some black and white photographs, but mostly sketches and ink drawings that appeared in publications of that era, with a separate table of illustrations), contains facts and descriptions of the less savoury aspects of the XIX century life in London, but the emphasis is not on a XXI century perspective, but on written (and illustrated) sources of the period, and how the different topics were approached by the press, literature, and theatre of the time (movies are also mentioned, although those are references to later versions of the stories and characters discussed). Although most of us will be familiar with the penny dreadfuls, the author shares his expertise and offers us a catalogue of publications, authors (quite a few anonymous), publishers, guides and popular venues that reflect the fact that the hunger for certain types of subjects and the morbid interest in crime and vice are nothing new.

The book combines scholarship (there are detailed footnotes including information and sometimes explanations about the quotes and sources used in the text, at the end of the book, and also a lengthy bibliography and an index) with an engaging writing style, and manages to include plenty of information in each chapter, without cramming too much detail or leaving us with the impression that we are missing the most important part of the story. Although I’m sure most readers will be intrigued by some of the events and characters mentioned in the book and will want to learn more about them, Carver facilitates that task with his sources, and this book is a goldmine for researchers, writers, and anybody interested in the era in general. I usually mark passages I find interesting, to research later or to mention in my review, and in this case I can honestly say I broke the record for number of notes.

To give you an idea of the topics, I’ll briefly (-ish) go through the chapters. Chapter 1: Various Crimes and Misdemeanours, where the author explains that our view of the XIX century underworld is a product of popular culture, and he explains the efforts the society of the time made to try to categorise and control the crime in the capital. Patrick Colquhoun, a Scottish businessman and magistrate who liaised with Jeremy Bentham (a philosopher and social reformer we studied in Criminology for his ideas about prisons and reforms) wrote a book called A Treatise of the Police of the Metropolis in 1796, where he classified the criminals in London into 24 separate categories and estimated that there were around 115000 of them. The Radcliffe Highway murders and how these influenced some of the legal reforms are also discussed in detail.

Chapter 2: A Corinthian’s Guide to the Metropolis, talks about bare-knuckle boxing, betting, and also about a number of articles, guides, and books, purporting to inform discerning gentlemen of the entertainments and lifestyle that could be found in this part of town. We learn where Tom and Jerry came from (Pierce Egan’s writings and his characters seem to have inspired Hanna and Barbera), and the author notes that at this point (early in XIX century), the underworld was not represented as the gothic nightmare it would become later.

In Chapter 3: Bad Books for Bad People, we hear about authors that are more familiar to us, like Dickens and Thackeray, although also some others who’ve faded into oblivion mostly because their take on the topic lost the favour of the Victorians. They chose to write about criminals and outlaws (like Dick Turpin), but not in an overly moralistic or condemnatory manner, and although that was popular at first, later reformists condemned that stance, and it resulted in their loss of popularity and later ruin. There are wonderful examples of the use of jargon and vernacular, very popular at the beginning of the period but that would later fall out of fashion.  (This chapter reminded me of the gangster movies of the 1930s, which could depict violent and immoral characters as long as they ended up getting their just deserts).

Chapter 4: Invasion of the Body Snatchers, looks at the Resurrectionists, those who stole bodies from graves and sold them to medical schools. Although I’ve read some fiction about the subject and knew about Hare and Burke, I didn’t quite realise it was such an organised trade and the huge amounts of money involved. The inquiries and the law changes these incidents caused are discussed, and it is difficult to imagine how such events could have been ignored for so long, but there were powerful interests at play.

Chapter 5: The Real Oliver Twist, focuses on how life was like for children living in poverty, and it reminds us that studies of the 1840s showed that half the children born in the UK at that time died before age five. Children living of picking up dog’s dung, or being trained to become pickpockets or worse were not only the protagonists of fictional stories. They were all too real.

Chapter 6: Fallen Women, talks about prostitution, and I was fascinated by the author’s account of the biography and writings of French writer and activist Flora Tristan, a woman who was a feminist, a social commentator and reformer, who rather than blame prostitution on women’s lack of morals, blamed society and the lack of opportunities for women to get an education and make an honest living. She talked to prostitutes and wrote about what she found in 1840 and she anticipated some of Marx and Engels ideas. A woman I definitely want to learn more about.

Chapter 7: The Greeks Had a Word for It, talks about pornography, the ups and downs its publishers went through (as the period grew less and less tolerant), and it starts by reminding readers of the fact that pornography as a subject is very ancient, as people digging in Pompeii and Herculaneum found out. Many ancient objects of this nature that were recovered made it into private collections, mostly those of discerning gentlemen, and many museums had (and still have) hidden stashes of them. I was surprised by how much I enjoyed this chapter, not because of the topic, or the content of the books mentioned (although some of the samples are hilarious) but because of the cat-and-mouse games writers and publishers played with the authorities and also of the evident hypocrisy of the whole endeavour.

Chapter 8: The Death Hunters, treats about what the author describes as “another type of pornography”, the interest in crimes and murders. True murder is not a new genre and although there were not many murders in London (or even the whole of Britain) at the time, the public appetite for it was huge, and sometimes writers would make them up. I had a chuckle at some of Illustrated Police News headlines (‘A Burglar Bitten by a Skeleton’ and ‘A Wife Driven Insane by a Husband Tickling her Feet’ are my favourites). The chapter ends up with Jack the Ripper’s murders, which the author elaborates further on Chapter 9: A Highly Popular Murder, where he notes that much of the speculation about the murders was created by media, and Jack the Ripper has become a phenomenon that combines reality with fiction. He does note that while the Ripper has grown in attention and popularity over the years, little time is dedicated to the victims. I am pleased to say that there is a new book due to be published by Pen & Sword about the victims of Jack the Ripper, and I hope to comment on it in the future.

I recommend this book to anybody interested in London history, history about crime in the XIX century, researchers and writers keen on exploring and writing on any of the topics covered in the book, and to anybody who wants to gain a different perspective on the London of the Victorian era. Highly recommended.

Thanks to Rosie Croft, to the author, and especially to all of you for reading, liking, sharing, commenting, clicking, and for reviewing. Remember to keep on smiling!

Categories
Book review Book reviews Tuesday Book Blog

#TuesdayBookBlog The Doom Murders (The Inspector Sheehan Mysteries Book 1) by Brian O’Hare(@brianohare26). A great police procedural novel set in Northern Ireland, to keep the grey cells ticking.

Hi all:

Today I bring you the first book in a series I really enjoy, but for some reason I’d missed this one:

The Doom Murders (The Inspector Sheehan Mysteries Book 1) by Brian O'Hare
The Doom Murders (The Inspector Sheehan Mysteries Book 1) by Brian O’Hare

The Doom Murders (The Inspector Sheehan Mysteries Book 1) by Brian O’Hare

Prominent figures in Belfast are being murdered. The bodies are left naked and posed in grotesquely distorted shapes. No clues are left at the forensically immaculate crime scenes except odd theatrical props and some random numbers and letters concealed at each scene by the killer. How are the victims linked? What is the connection between these killings, the bible, and a famous mediaeval painting of The Last Judgement?

The Doom Murders has been the recipient of three literary awards – The IDB Award in 2014; The New Apple Award, 2014, for Excellence in Independent Publishing; and the 2015 Readers’ Favourite International Book Awards (Bronze Medal Winner).

“The Chief Inspector, Jim Sheehan, is drawn so deftly and with such genuineness, you can feel him breathing.” (Eugene Fournier, novelist and screenwriter, film and TV)

“The most subtle of clues are intricately interwoven into the storyline, and even the most astute mystery buff is apt to miss them.” (Donna Cummins, Author of the Blacklick Valley Mystery Series)

“Incredibly addictive page turner.” (Meghan, Amazon Top 1000 Reviewer)

“O’Hare leans toward the human side of his characters, imbuing them with a real world presence that is in turn witty and passionate.” (Roy.T James, for Readers’ Favourite)

https://www.amazon.com/Doom-Murders-Inspector-Sheehan-Mysteries-ebook/dp/B0176IW9B6/

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Doom-Murders-Inspector-Sheehan-Mysteries-ebook/dp/B0176IW9B6/

https://www.amazon.es/Doom-Murders-Inspector-Sheehan-Mysteries-ebook/dp/B0176IW9B6/

Author Brian O'Hare
Author Brian O’Hare

About the author:

Brian O’Hare, MA, Ph.D., is a retired assistant director of a large regional college of further and higher education. Married, three children, ten grandchildren, one great grandchild. He plays golf three times a week off a ten handicap and does a lot of voluntary work. Any writing he has previously done was academic…very much restricted to a very specific readership. Several articles in educational journals were followed by a number of book-length reports for the Dept. of Education and the University of Ulster.

He has also written an interesting biography of a man who daily performs amazing miracles of healing…The Miracle Ship. That is currently available in Amazon’s Kindle bookstore. Hopefully those who read it will spread the word and write reviews to help John’s message to reach the hearts of many, many people.

Brian had a liver disease since childhood which resulted in him taking early retirement a number of years ago. In 2002 he had a liver transplant but is strong and healthy now. He continued to do academic writing well into his retirement and followed that with a memoir about his liver transplant, dealing with the physical, emotional and spiritual experiences that came from that period in his life (A Spiritual Odyssey, published by Columba Press, Dublin).
Recently he experienced a desire to write fiction. Hence Fallen Men. It is a story about three priests…but it is religious in much the same way Thornbirds was religious. He has also finished a second book. It’s quite different from Fallen Men… a detective mystery inspired by an old 14th century painting of the Last Judgement. It’s called “The Doom Murders”, and it is available on Kindle and in print. Brian’s publisher’s liked The Doom Murders so much that they commissioned a series. The second book in the series, “The 11.05 Killings”, has now been written. Obviously it features the same detectives as in The Doom Murders. The book is now going through the editing and formatting process by Crimson Cloak Publishing, a cover is being designed, and the book will be ready for publication early in 2016. The third book in the series, The Coven Murders, is currently being written.

To launch the print version of The Doom Murders, CCP asked Brian to write a couple of short stories, featuring Inspector Sheehan. These were originally intended to be Facebook games (i.e. a kind of ‘see the clues, guess the killer’ thing) but the publisher liked them so much that she has started a new line called Crimson Shorts. Brian’s two shorts ( a third will shortly have to be written to launch The 11.05 Killings) Murder at Loftus House and Murder at the Roadside Cafe are now available on Amazon in Kindle and print versions.

Also now available on Kindle (as well as print) is the story of Brian’s liver transplant and the growth in spirit he experienced as he waited for almost a year, not knowing if he was going to live or die. See: “A Spiritual Odyssey [Diary of an Ordinary Catholic]”

https://www.amazon.com/Brian-OHare/e/B001K89IWM

My review:

I discovered Brian O’Hare and his Inspector Sheehan series thanks to the second book, 11:05 Murders, and I have been a fan ever since, reviewing the next two books in the series as well, but had not managed to catch up with the first one. As I mentioned in my last review (you can read my review of The Dark Web Murders here), the author is happy to send a copy of the first book in the series to any readers interested, and he was kind enough to send me one as well. And I am very pleased about it.

I’m not surprised by the accolades and the praise bestowed on this novel. Although I’ve come to it after reading the rest of the series, and therefore I was already familiar with the characters and the setting, it has all the elements that will endear it to fans of police procedural novels and thrillers, and a few extra ones for good measure.

The story is narrated in the third person, like the rest of the series, mostly from Inspector Sheehan’s point of view, although there are parts of the novel where we share in the point of view of other characters, including members of the team and others who seem, at first, not to play a direct part in the plot, although we soon learn this is not the case. As I have mentioned when reviewing other novels in the series, the changes in point of view are not confusing or sudden, and the narration style works well because it offers readers plenty of clues, hints, and also a few red herrings that contribute to keeping the brain engaged and readers on their toes.

One of the aspects of the series I’ve always particularly enjoyed is the interaction between the members of the team, and also the teamwork involved in the investigation. Sheehan is, without a doubt, the star of the team, and his intuition/flashes of inspiration always help solve the mystery, although they are, at times, a source of frustration and puzzlement, as is the case here. Apart from a great detective, Sheehan is an inspiring leader of his men, a caring human being with his weaknesses and foibles; he is far from the ladies’ man so favoured by the detective genre, and although he does not shy away from action, he is a thinking man and spends a fair amount of time reflecting, not only upon the cases, but also about social, political, and religious matters. (He is a lapsed Roman Catholic, and the nature of the killings makes him question his own beliefs). The rest of the members of the team are also individuals in their own right, and we get to learn about their likes and dislikes, their strengths and weaknesses, and some details about their personal lives which are relevant to the story, because, in this case, everybody is a suspect. There are also other characters we meet, some who are regular collaborators of the team, like the medical examiner (one of my favourite characters, who always help bring a touch of lightness and fun to the proceedings), but also some introduced due to their relationship to the case, and all of them add interest to the story and play important roles later on.

The story is set in Northern Ireland, in Belfast, and the book’s setting is very important, not only because of the real locations and because how it affects the functioning of the team (Northern Ireland is part is the UK, and therefore their police force is organised in the same way as that in England), but also because the political and the religious background and tensions play a fundamental part in the plot and in the series as a whole. There are beautiful descriptions of neighbourhoods, buildings, and places, and I felt that the novel manages to give readers a good insight into the nature of both, the place and the people of Northern Ireland. At a historical moment such as this, with the Brexit discussions as one of the main items in the news, and the issue of the Irish Border as one of the stumbling stones, the novel’s background makes it even more compelling.

I’ve mentioned religion, and despite some twists and turns that point towards other possible motives, the murderer seems to be preoccupied with religion and with making a statement about the current state of affairs in the Roman Catholic Church. As I have said, thanks to the omniscient point of view, we are offered information the investigating team does not have, and readers will probably feel they are ahead and have a pretty good idea of what is going on, but the balance between what is revealed and what is not is finely tuned, and it is easy to miss clues or get stuck on one of the many possible suspects and trapped by the red herrings. I cannot discuss the ins and outs of the case or of the ending (yes, I had my suspicions, but mostly because I was at an advantage having read other books in the series, and even with that I was not all that confident and missed a few of the clues), but it fully engaged me and I thoroughly enjoyed it. I’d recommend anybody reading it to pay close attention to it and not to dismiss any information provided. Everything has a reason. I’d also warn readers that although the descriptions of the crimes are not graphic in the extreme, the deaths are violent and there are a number of upsetting elements in the plot, and these are realistically depicted. Readers who prefer their crime novels light should stay away from this book.

The novel flows well and the language is easy to follow, without over-the-top reliance on jargon, and terminology that might not be familiar to the reader is explained within the context of the novel. The novel moves at a good pace, but it does include moments of reflection and commentaries about the case, its ramifications, and also about the general state of affairs that allow readers to think about the events and to catch a breath. Despite the serious subject, there are also moments of fun and banter, and even what seems to be a budding romance. There are some action scenes, but there is also plenty of work following clues and examining the evidence, and that helps readers feel like true investigators and ersatz members of the team, as they eavesdrop in the discussions and come up with their own theories.

This is an excellent police procedural novel, the first in a great series, with engaging characters, in a setting that is as important as the plot, and one that shows a team of investigators readers can root for (rather than corrupt individuals or egotistical detectives only interested in their own glory). There is a lot of talk about religion, partly due to the plot, and partly to the main character’s own spiritual crisis, and this might put off some readers, although, personally, I enjoyed that aspect of the story, a likely reflection of the author’s personal journey.

Thanks to the author for this great novel, thanks to all of you for reading, and remember to like, share, comment, click, review, and always keep smiling!

 

 

Categories
Book review Book reviews

#Bookreview 2,000 YEARS OF MANCHESTER by Kathryn Coase (@penswordbooks). Packed with facts and curio, a fun read and an excellent reference book

Hi all:

A book I thoroughly enjoyed for this Monday.

Cover of 2000 Years of Manchester
2,000 Years of Manchester by Kathryn Coase

2,000 Years of Manchester by Kathryn Coase.

This is not a chronological history of Manchester with lists of facts and figures. Rather, it is an eclectic mix of fact, fiction, legend and myth which presents the history of Manchester from its beginnings as a Roman settlement, then as an insignificant market town, to its place as a city at the heart of the Industrial Revolution and beyond. The author has attempted to capture not only the often tragic lives, times, struggles and beliefs of the city’s ever-expanding population, but also its resilience and humour. Including photographs, illustrations, poems and quotes, the book ranges from the humorous, including the stories of “Spanking Roger” and the “Manchester Mummy” to the tragic stories of “Cholera” and “Mary Bradley”, together with the bizarre “Pig Tales” and the criminal “Scuttlers” and “Purrers”.This is a well-researched, well-written and, most importantly, entertaining and informative read, presented in an unusual yet accessible and easy-to-read format, intended to appeal to the widest audience.

https://www.amazon.com/000-Years-Manchester-Kathryn-Coase/dp/1526715090/

https://www.amazon.co.uk/000-Years-Manchester-Kathryn-Coase/dp/1526715090/

https://www.amazon.es/000-Years-Manchester-Kathryn-Coase/dp/1526715090/

https://www.pen-and-sword.co.uk/2000-Years-of-Manchester-Paperback/p/15099

About the author:

As a Mancunian, Kathryn Coase has been interested in the history of Manchester for many years and has possessed a longstanding ambition to research and write a book on the subject. After 30 years of teaching, she has finally decided to take some time out in order to fulfil this dream.

My review:

Thanks to Rosie Croft of Pen & Sword for providing me a paperback copy of this book that I freely chose to review.

I lived and worked in the outskirts of Manchester (in Worsley, Salford) for a couple of years and liked Manchester from my first visit, quite a few years earlier (before the 1996 IRA bombing) although I don’t remember a lot about the first occasion I visited. It is partly because it reminds me, somehow, of my hometown, Barcelona. Not architecturally, or even for its location, but because of its history, its industrial past, and the way it has always been a driving and innovative place, despite not being the capital of the country (and yes, being in the North, I guess). It’s also a city that has reinvented itself many times, and like most big cities has undergone transformations and changes (some more successful than others). Oh, and of course, both have a Roman origin. (And the football. Let’s not forget football). So, when I saw this book and the description, I was convinced I’d enjoy it. And I did.

This book, as the description explains, is not a chronological account of the history of Manchester, although most chapters (but not all) do tend to deal with the topic at hand in a chronological fashion, when relevant. There are tonnes of images, mostly archival, and the author thanks the Chetham Library, the Greater Manchester Police Museum, and the Manchester Local Images Collection for their help and resources. They make the book a joy to leaf through and stop at whatever attracts one’s fancy, be it a drawing of some odd contraption (the chapter on Crime and Punishment is particularly fascinating on that account), or a picture of a building that might still be recognisable today. There are also highlighted boxes of text containing titbits of curious or remarkable information —from ghost legends to who Tom and Jerry where— and there is the rest of the text, that is packed with information: historical, sociological, artistic… written in an engaging and entertaining manner. At no point did I find myself wondering what happened next (when talking about buildings or historical figures), and many of the topics and the stories opened my eyes to places and people I’d like to know more about.

Manchester is a place of many firsts (some disputed, of course): like the oldest surviving public library in the English-speaking word, the first department store, the first telephone line in Britain, the first passenger railway line (a rather sad story behind it), the first Marks & Spencer shop (Marks started trading in Leeds but opened the first store with his partner in Manchester), the Manchester Exhibition that helped open art to the general public, the first lonely hearts ad (the poor woman was committed to the lunatic asylum for four weeks by the mayor, in 1727)… It also has seen quite a few  historical figures come and go, both international and local: Marx and Engels, Oswald Mosley, John Dalton (now I understand why the Eye Hospital is so important there), Harold Brighouse (I love Hobson’s Choice), Dodie Smith (101 Dalmatians), Anthony Burgess, Elizabeth Raffald (an amazing entrepreneur who invented the ready meal, wrote a cookery book, created the first trade directory, run an employment agency…), Peter Mark Roget (the creator of the first thesaurus that’s become one of most writers’ best friend), Old Billy (the oldest horse who survived to be 62), Mark Addy (who rescued more than 50 people from the river), Alfred Pierrepoint (who held the record for the world’s fastest hanging, at only 8 seconds, at Strangeways Prison), Ernest Rutherford, Marie Stopes, Alan Turing…

The book is divided into 21 chapters, which can be read individually, and works perfectly well as a reference book for anybody looking for information about Manchester, its people and influences. It is fairly comprehensive as it includes: early history, from town to city, conditions of the working class, politics, to battle!, religion, crime & punishment, health, education, science & technology, transport, the press, entertainment, creative Manchester, ‘incomers’ (the great explosion in population following the industrial revolution makes one think about current international concerns and the sheer difference in scale), disaster!, Manchester characters,  what’s in a name, shopping, iconic buildings (past and present), and sports. There is a certain overlap of content in the chapters: what’s in a name, shopping, and iconic buildings, because some of the relevant information is shared in other chapters as well depending on the subject, although that is an advantage for those thinking of the book as a reference or for research, rather than reading it from beginning to end. And I thought that “what’s in a name”, which looks at where the names of many streets come from and how they have changed, could be followed as a guide to explore the city for anybody interested in a historical tour.

The book also includes a bibliography and an index that should further aid those keen on locating specific information or looking for precise research topics.

In sum, this is a highly entertaining and informative book that I recommend to anybody who’s ever wondered about Manchester’s history (or the history of the UK). It can be read whole or by topics and it also makes for a great reference book. It is full of inspiration for writers and historians trying to get a sense of how things have changed over time and to get a perspective on the evolution of a city and its people. Fabulous.

Thanks to Rosie and the author, thanks to all of you for reading, and remember to like, share, comment, click, review, and always keep smiling!

Categories
Book review Book reviews Non-fiction

#Bookreview #Non-fiction Investigating Organised Crime and War Crimes: A Personal Account of a Senior Detective in Kosovo, Iraq and Beyond by Anthony Nott. (@penswordbooks) A true-life hero investigates.

Hi all:

Today I bring you a non-fiction book that proves that reality can, and often is, weirder and more fascinating than fiction. Thanks one more to Pen & Sword, one of my favourite non-fiction publishers.

Investigating Organised Crime and War Crimes: A Personal Account of a Senior Detective in Kosovo, Iraq and Beyond by Anthony Nott
Investigating Organised Crime and War Crimes: A Personal Account of a Senior Detective in Kosovo, Iraq and Beyond
by Anthony Nott, MBE.

Investigating Organised Crime and War Crimes: A Personal Account of a Senior Detective in Kosovo, Iraq and Beyond by Anthony Nott. A great insight into international policing in conflictive zones provided by a true-life hero.

Tony Nott retired from the Dorset Police in 2002 at the rank of superintendent. He had spent most of his service as a detective, and had been involved in the investigation of a number of murder cases and other serious crimes. In 2000 he led the British forensic team on exhumations in Kosovo and describes the horror and brutality carried out by Serb paramilitaries. He then worked in Bosnia for the UN, where he was the commander of the eighty-strong UK police contingent. He describes in detail the investigation of human trafficking for the sex trade and illustrates some conflicting rivalries between the UN and the European Union police mission. He served a year in Iraq between 2004 and 2005 and gives insights into the Shia takeover of the police and other institutions; plus, some unsettling accounts of human rights abuses. He was involved in the investigation into the murder of British aid worker, Margaret Hassan, and is deeply critical about the role played by the UK government. He describes the difficulties he had in dealing with some senior members of the Iraqi Police; in particular, the refusal of a Deputy Minister of Interior, who declined to reopen an investigation into the murder of a British security contractor and four Iraqi citizens. The killers were suspected to be the local police. He then went onto serve two years in Israel and Palestine, where he worked with a US-led team to reform the Palestinian security services in cooperation with a European effort. Whilst this book covers the worst of human behavior, it also highlights the bravery and triumph of the human spirit, by those ordinary people who were caught up in these events.

https://www.amazon.com/Investigating-Organised-Crime-War-Crimes-dp-1473898919/dp/1473898919/

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Investigating-Organised-Crime-War-Crimes-dp-1473898919/dp/1473898919/

https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B06XJ9819J/

https://www.pen-and-sword.co.uk/Investigating-Organised-Crime-and-War-Crimes-Hardback/p/13480

Author Anthony Nott, MBE
Author Anthony Nott, MBE

About the Author

Tony Nott MBE joined the Metropolitan Police in 1971 before transferring to the Dorset Police in 1976. He has been involved in the investigation of numerous homicides and was the senior investigating officer in the case of Russell Causley in 1996. This case was the subject of a four-part documentary series called The Investigator: A British Crime Story, to which he contributed and was screened on ITV in July 2016. He has written about his experiences in police reform, in the Balkans and the Middle East, when working on contracts with the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. He retired at the rank of detective superintendent.

My review:

Thanks to Alex, Rosie and the whole team at Pen & Sword for providing me a Hardback copy of this book that I freely chose to review.

I might as well confess I am not a big reader of action thrillers or fiction about special operation units or single-handed special operatives that can sort any kind of dangerous situations anywhere in the world  by virtue of what seems to be an incredible array of all kinds of skills, from talking no-end of languages, fighting hand-to-hand, hacking into computers, or using the most sophisticated equipment, while, of course, never getting caught and keeping everybody safe (except for the bad guys, evidently). But I have read some of these stories, and watched films about similar characters. And, entertaining as they are, I always felt they stretched my suspension of disbelief a bit too far.

When I started reading this book, I realised what a distance there is between those fictional accounts and what really goes on in some of the places most of us only hear about in the news. The author, Anthony Nott, MBE (he talks about attending the ceremony where he was awarded the honour in 2010 at the end of the book) is a real-life hero, one of these people who feel a sense of duty, are professional and dedicated to the task at hand, have high moral and ethical standards, and despite their personal sympathies and alliances, are happy to give everybody the benefit of the doubt if they are willing to work to make things better.

After working for years for the Metropolitan police and then the Dorset Police (in the UK), including reviewing some high profile cases, he retired at the rank of detective superintendent. But a couple of years before he retired, he was asked to lead the British forensic team in Kosovo and that proved to be only the beginning of a new phase in his professional life, that took him, once he was retired, to Bosnia, Iraq and also Israel and Palestine. As I have said, this is not one of those stories we are used to in fiction, where no matter how many challenges our hero faces, things always go his way. The author was involved in some pretty well-known investigations, and despite his eagerness in trying to use his expertise and that of his collaborators to reach a solution, that was not always possible. I won’t go into many details, but the mixture of corruption at local level (the international teams were supposed to support the local police and help set their own teams, and not take over the task, and that often meant the old-ways of doing things prevailed, and sometimes the criminals and those supposed to catch them were far too close for comfort), lack of resources, complex political situations and alliances, and the threat of violence and revenge, meant that not all the cases were solved.

Despite that, the book is superb at giving us a first-hand understanding of the complex social and political situation in these places, and also at highlighting the difficulties of trying to work in such circumstances. It does take pretty special people to make it work, and Nott is one of them. Apart from his sense of duty, a very sharp and dry sense of humour, and a knack for understanding and evaluating the rules of the game wherever he lands, he is skilled at spotting people’s strengths and weaknesses and a great judge of character. He also excels at communicating with each individual at his/her level and at bringing diverse people together to collaborate in a variety of projects, spotting their chief abilities and making the best use of them. Despite reluctance all around, he manages to adopt some of the tried and trusted methods of policing he had used back home and sets up procedures that help the local forces deal with the crime in their mist.

The author gets involved in many investigations for some horrific crimes, from crimes of war, to human trafficking for the sex trade, terrorism, gang-related crime, murders, kidnapping, and everything in between. Although he comes across pretty nasty people, he always emphasises the many good professionals he meets along the way, from all nationalities, and also the kindness and the courage of most of the locals, who try to get on with their lives in very traumatic circumstances.

As I have mentioned before, the author’s style is straightforward and conversational, and one gets the sense that if we met Mr Nott, he would sound pretty much as he does in the book, and he does not create a fancy persona for his readers. It is clear that there are things he cannot reveal and he keeps them under wraps, and although we might or might not agree with his political stance (that he only mentions in passing), it is impossible not to appreciate his candour and his dedication. He is not one for complaining, even when circumstances can be frustrating, and he gets on with the task at hand without making excuses or blaming the difficulties on others. He never fails to give credit where credit is due and he makes clear that policing is a team effort. The book is mostly about his missions, although he offers glimpses of his personal life at home and the price he and his family had to pay for his dedication and involvement.

The book is not evenly divided, and the chapters dedicated to Kosovo, Bosnia and Iraq are much longer than the rest, probably because they are further away in time, he can discuss them in more detail, and the cases feel more familiar and easier to understand from a general readership perspective. The hardback (and I understand the same applies to the e-book copy) has a number of great colour pictures, and maps that illustrate locations, settings, and protagonists of some of the episodes he describes in the book.

I could not resist and had to share a few samples so you can get a sense of what the writing is like.

Some examples of his dry humour:

“Now, the Bosnian Serbs in Banja Luka were not generally too fond of the British, somewhat on account of the RAF bombing them in 1995” (Nott, 2017, p. 56).

Here, talking about one of the men he was working with:

“Amazing to think that if the cold war had turned hot he could have been one half of a two-man team to release his missile and fry millions of British and American citizens” (Nott, 2017, p. 103).

Here, a homage to one of the Americans he worked with, Robert Swann, that I find particularly touching in its understatement:

“He was one of those people who never seemed to be got down by the mayhem all around him and had a wonderful sense of humour; his men adored him. He was killed two years later in northern Iraq when he took a bullet in the neck above the line of his body armour” (Nott, 2017, p. 111).

Writing about the Iraqi Police, he acknowledges the incredibly tough circumstances they work under:

“The Iraqi Police Service (IPS) were claimed by one police general I worked closely with, to be losing 250 men and women killed in action each month, with 400 wounded. The police and country was struggling to survive and the whole operation was frequently likened to building a motorway with the traffic still running on it” (Nott, 2017, p. 117).

Most readers will find parallels with current political situations, will share the author’s outrage at some of the things that happen and at how the different criminal justice systems work (or don’t) and will likely gain insights into the complex situation and the recent history of those areas. Such details, that would be difficult to obtain from any other sources, are invaluable to anybody interested in the topic, and also to researchers or writers thinking about setting up their books or studies in the period and locations.

Although anybody reading the book will understand the author’s decision to retire from such activities, it is clear the international policing forces have lost a great man. I recommend this book to anybody keen on the recent history of the areas in question, also to those interested in international policing and cooperation at such level and to writers who want to research this period and are considering setting their books in that era. A great insight into international policing in zones of conflict provided by a true-life hero.

Thanks to Pen & Sword and to the author, thanks to all of you for reading, and remember to like, share, comment, click, review and always keep smiling! 

Categories
Book review Book reviews

#Bookreview THE VIOLIN’S MAN LEGACY by Seumas Gallacher (@seumasgallacher) If you enjoy well-researched international thrillers and love team-spirit, don’t miss this one #thriller #Iamreading

Hi all:

Today I bring you a book (an audiobook!) by an author I have known for a while and I follow on social media, but somehow I hadn’t read any of his fiction yet. Well, it was worth the wait.

The Violin Man's Legacy by Seumas Gallacher, narrated by C.C. Hogan
The Violin Man’s Legacy by Seumas Gallacher, narrated by C.C. Hogan

THE VIOLIN MAN’S LEGACY (Jack Calder Crime Series #1) by seumas gallacher

Thriller with bloody twists and turns as ruthless killers meet their match in a former SAS hit squad.

Jack Calder is an ex-SAS soldier working with former colleagues at ISP, a specialist security firm. He is sent to investigate a murderous diamond heist in Holland, but swiftly learns that there is a very strong Far East connection. He then travels to Hong Kong where he meets the glamorous chief of ISP’s local bureau, May-Ling.

Together they begin to unravel a complex web of corruption. The twin spiders at the centre of this web are the Chan brothers, leaders of one of Hong Kong’s most ruthless and powerful triad gangs.

The trail of death and mayhem coils across Europe, Hong Kong and South America until all the scores are settled.

A Jack Calder Novel

https://www.amazon.com/VIOLIN-MANS-LEGACY-Calder-Crime-ebook/dp/B005D7JNCQ/

https://www.amazon.co.uk/VIOLIN-MANS-LEGACY-Calder-Crime-ebook/dp/B005D7JNCQ/

Audio:

https://www.amazon.com/Violin-Mans-Legacy-Calder-Crime/dp/B077YN892M/

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Violin-Mans-Legacy-Calder-Crime/dp/B077YMHNF7/

Author Seumas Gallacher
Author Seumas Gallacher

About the author:

SEUMAS GALLACHER escaped from the world of finance eight years ago, after a career spanning three continents and five decades.

As the self-professed ‘oldest computer Jurassic on the planet’ his headlong immersion into the dizzy world of eBook publishing opened his eyes, mind, and pleasure to the joys of self-publishing. As a former businessman, he rapidly understood the concept of a writer’s need to ‘build the platform’, and from a standing start began to develop a social networking outreach, which now tops 30,000 direct contacts.

His first four crime-thrillers, in what has become the ‘Jack Calder’ series, THE VIOLIN MAN’S LEGACY, VENGEANCE WEARS BLACK, SAVAGE PAYBACK and KILLER CITY have blown his mind with more than 90,000 e-link downloads to date. The fifth in the series, DEADLY IMPASSE, is due for launch in the third quarter 2016. When he reaches the 100,000 sales/downloads mark he may indulge an extra Fried Mars Bar to celebrate.

He started a humorous, informative, self-publishers blog, never having heard of a ‘blog’ prior to that, was voted ‘Blogger of the Year 2013’ and now has a loyal blog following on his networks. He says the novels contain his ‘Author’s Voice’, while the blog carries his ‘Author’s Brand’. And he’s still LUVVIN IT!

Here is the blog, which I recommend:

https://seumasgallacher.com/

My review:

I had read Gallacher’s Self-Publishing Steps to Successful Sales (you can check my review here) a while back and had several of his books waiting to be read but had not managed yet. But when his first novel, The Violin Man’s Legacy became available in audiobook format, I knew I had no excuse.

Although I tend to use the text-to-speech facility on my e-reader, I haven’t listened to many audiobooks (mostly my own) so I was intrigued by the experience. I found the narrator, C.C. Hogan, engaging, able to hold my attention, and very good at keeping the characters separate (and there are quite a few!) and individual. He is also very good at accents and managed the international locations and names without faltering. Unfortunately, my Kindle is quite old by now and could not accommodate the Whispersync option, that would have made it easier to check some things (like names and details), as I also had a copy of the Kindle version of the book.

I’m not a huge reader of spy novels, and although this book is classified within the crime and suspense thriller category, this international action-thriller reminded me in style of many spy/international conspiracy novel, although with a more European feel, and less frantic in pace than many American spy thrillers. There is plenty of action, and even some sex (and yes, the main character is incredibly skilled, can fight like the best of them, and outwit his opponents, although the brains behind the operation is his boss), but there are also slower moments when we learn the back story, not only of the main characters, like Jack and his teammates, but also of some of the people they collaborate with, and even some of their enemies. This allows us to get to know more about the players and to understand how they got to where they are. (The story behind the title and the way it relates to Jack’s past is particularly touching).

The book is narrated in the third person, from a variety of points of view. We mostly follow Jack Calder (as it should be, as this is his series), but we also are party to the thoughts of many other characters, although there is no confusing head-hopping, and even in the narrated version, it is clear which point of view we are being privy to at any given moment. This helps create a more complex story, with layers of information and to get a better grasp of what the different players have at stake. There are those who are only interested in money, others involved in power games and politics, and others for whom reputation and loyalty are the main objects.

The story takes us from London to Amsterdam, Hong-Kong, and South America, and the author is meticulous and well-informed, providing credible settings and a detailed exposition of the procedures and operations that brings to mind the best police procedural novels. But although we follow each detail of the investigations and the operations, there are always surprises to keep us on our toes.

Jack Calder, the central character, is a breath of fresh air in a genre where heroes are almost superhuman and can fight entire wars single-handedly. Although Jack, an ex-SAS captain, is indeed great at his job, he is traumatised by a family tragedy; he is self-deprecating and knows when to give credit where credit is due. He can follow orders and acknowledges his bosses’ superior planning skills. He is also a friend of his friends, and a loyal team-player and the novel highlights how important good relationships and contacts are in the world of international security firms and businesses.

I loved the fact that the characters talk like real people talk (yes, they use clichés sometimes, make bad jokes, and sometimes are lost for words), and, although there is violence and terrible things happen (justice and law are not always on the same side of the divide), there are also very funny moments.

The writing style is fluid and the pace ebbs and flows, with moments that are fast-paced and others that allow us to catch a breath and learn more about the ins and outs of the businesses and the characters involved. Readers need to remain alert, as there are many characters, locations, and plot threads, and, it is important to pay attention to the details.

I recommend this book to those who love spy and international intrigue thrillers, especially to readers who like complex situations and stories with plenty of twists and turns, but who don’t mind stopping to take a breath every so often. A great first book in the series and many great characters I hope to meet again.

Thanks to the author for his book (and to the narrator for his interpretation), thanks to all of you for reading and remember to like, share, comment, click and REVIEW!

 

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