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Book review Book reviews Tuesday Book Blog

#TuesdayBookBlog In This Small Spot by Caren J. Werlinger A beautifully written and inspiring look at convent life and a woman’s spiritual journey #RBRT #lesbianfiction

Hi all:

I bring you a book with a pretty uncommon plot and setting, by an author I’ve grown a fan of, thanks to Rosie’s group.

In This Small Spot by Caren J. Werlinger

In This Small Spot by  Caren J. Werlinger 

WINNER – 2014 Golden Crown Literary Society Best Dramatic Fiction
“Here, the true you is most often magnified, for better or for worse.”
Abbess Theodora
In a world increasingly connected to computers and machines but disconnected to self and others, Dr. Michele Stewart finds herself drowning in a life that no longer holds meaning. Searching for a deeper connection after losing her partner, Alice, she enters a contemplative monastery, living a life dedicated to prayer, to faith in things unseen. Though most of her family and friends are convinced that she has become a nun to run away from her life, she finds herself more attuned to life than she has been in years. Stripped of the things that define most people in the outside world – career, clothing, possessions – she rediscovers a long forgotten part of herself. But sooner than she expects, the outside world intrudes, forcing her to confront doubts and demons she thought she had left behind. The ultimate test of her vocation comes from the unlikeliest source when she finds herself falling in love again. As she struggles to discern where she belongs, she discovers the terrifying truth of Abbess Theodora’s warning. For better or for worse.

https://www.amazon.com/dp/B00CLG16CW/

https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B00CLG16CW/

https://www.amazon.es/dp/B00CLG16CW/

Author Caren J. Werlinger
Author Caren J. Werlinger

 

About the author:

Bestselling author Caren Werlinger published her first award-winning novel, Looking Through Windows, in 2008. Since then, she has published sixteen more novels, winning several more awards, including the 2021 Alice B medal. Influenced by a diverse array of authors, including Rumer Godden, J.R.R. Tolkein, Ursula LeGuin, Marion Zimmer Bradley, Willa Cather and the Brontë sisters, Caren writes literary fiction that features the struggles and joys of characters readers can identify with. Her stories cover a wide range of genres: historical fiction, contemporary drama, and fantasy, including the award-winning Dragonmage Saga, a fantasy trilogy set in ancient Ireland. She has lived in Virginia for thirty years where she practices physical therapy, teaches anatomy, and lives with her wife and their canine fur-children.

https://www.amazon.com/Caren-J.-Werlinger/e/B002BOI2ZI/

Check out her blog: http://cjwerlinger.wordpress.com

My review:

I write this review as a member of Rosie’s Book Review Team (author, check here if you are interested in getting your book reviewed) and thank her and the author for this opportunity.

This is the fourth of Werlinger’s novels I read, and although the setting and the central theme of the story is quite different from that of the others, I also enjoyed it immensely, and I’m sure it won’t be the last (if I can help it).

This is not a new novel, but the author is due to publish a companion novel (I don’t know much about it, so I’m not sure if it’s a sequel, a prequel, or something else) in the next couple of months and wanted to remind her readers of it, and also, hopefully, get new readers to discover it.

The description provides enough information for readers to get a good sense of what is to come, but I’ll add a few of my thoughts. Michelle (Mickey), the main character, is a successful surgeon, who also teaches at an important medical school, and who often worked with cancer sufferers. She had lived for many years with her partner, Alice, who had died from cancer a few years back by the time we meet her in the novel. She doesn’t suddenly decide to leave everything and go to the convent, as some of her friends and people who knew her might think, as we learn that she had thought about it when she was much younger, just out of high school, but decided to go to university, study, and then met her partner. The book is narrated in the third person, mostly from Mickey’s point of view, although there are some chapters where the third person becomes that of an outside observer with some moments of insight into one of the characters’ minds (I’m being a bit cryptic, but I don’t want to reveal any spoilers). The novel initially alternates chapters from the now of the action (from the time when Mickey is setting off to go enter the convent), with others from her life before that, offering us an insight into her relationship with Alice, her interaction with others, and also Alice’s illness and its aftermath. There is no confusion between the different chapters and timelines, and the format works well to offer us a good understanding of what Mickey’s life had been like before and how she got to the convent, while also learning about convent life and about the process of her integration into the religious community.

Faith, vocation, and spirituality play an important part in the novel, as you can easily imagine, but you don’t need to practise Roman Catholicism or be particularly religious to enjoy the book. Anybody who has wondered about the meaning of life or spiritual matters would find much to identify with in the pages of this book. This novel is about the journey of a particular woman struggling with grief, trying to recover her zest for life, and to discover what is really important for her. Her life outside was full of stress and pressures, but although life in a convent is completely different, it is not without its challenges, and she discovers that you cannot hide from yourself, and you cannot put off dealing with things and people forever, however difficult and painful they might be. And, a convent is not a place where everybody is perfect, tolerant, and patient either, as she soon finds out. There is prejudice, pettiness, likes and dislikes, and the enclosed atmosphere and the fact that you are forced to live together with people you might not have chosen makes it all the harder, amplifying annoyances that you might, otherwise, have easily dismissed. But, there are some wonderful moments, and the novel is also full of joy, beauty, inspiration, and a few laughs.

We get to know Mickey quite well, and although I’ve read that some reviewers disliked her, that was not my case. Having worked as a doctor and left Medicine as well, I felt particularly drawn to her, perhaps because I was aware of some of the challenges of the profession, and although she is far from perfect and can be annoying at times, she does try to do what she thinks is right, even when it is not what might come naturally or make her happy. She is far from humble and doesn’t always ask for help when she should, but she tries her best, and she has a sense of humour, and is always ready to help others, even those she doesn’t particularly like. She discovers that there are plenty of things she has to deal with before she can truly move on, and she struggles with her feelings and emotions. I did find her a believable character, and I got to feel for her, as I did for the rest of the convent. We don’t get to know all the other characters as well, but I grew fond of the convent and its inhabitants, as I did of Mickey’s brother, of Alice’s sister, and of some of the other characters who make brief appearances. I particularly enjoyed the way the author creates a powerful picture of the abbey and its inhabitants, and I loved the sense of community, the different roles and personalities, and the way they all find a place and become a part of something bigger.

The writing is beautiful, as I have come to expect from this writer, and although this is not a page-turner in the traditional sense (much of what happens is every day and not the stuff of adventure books or thrillers), it flows well, and it has a sense of rhythm to go with the seasons and with the character’s experiences. There are melodramatic moments as well, when life puts not only Mickey but others also, to the test. And don’t expect everything to go smoothly and a traditional happy ending. This is not a fairy tale, and I have seen that some readers felt disappointed when they got to the ending. No, this is not the typical lesbian romance novel, H.E.A and all. Tears also make an appearance. To be fair to Werlinger, though, even if we might have missed the clues, what happens is not surprising or totally unexpected. And, personally, I thought the ending was more than appropriate and quite optimistic, in a bitter-sweet way.

I always advise possible readers to check a sample of the book, if they can, to decide if the writing style suits them, and that applies here as well. I highlighted a lot of sentences and paragraphs that seemed particularly beautiful to me and/or gave me pause, and I have chosen a few to give you an idea of what to expect.

But remember that an abbey is not a place where you can run from yourself. Quite the contrary. Having stripped away the disguises and distractions of the outside world: clothes, career, material possessions, the true you is most often magnified, for better or for worse.

Prayer wasn’t dependent upon the skill of the person offering the prayer; it wasn’t limited geographically or physically; it wasn’t even limited by reality or any of the laws of science.

The two people in our lives who could never be married gave us the best example of how to build a life together as completely equal partners.

Sometimes God knocks us off our feet with something dramatic, but, in my experience, more often, he simply whispers and waits for us to be quiet enough to hear.

Any warnings? Well, this is not a “clean” novel, and although there is no violence, there are some hard scenes to do with injuries and sickness and the odd swear word. There are also some mild lesbian sex scenes (nothing full-blown or explicit), and there is much talk about grief, illness, and death of loved ones, so those who could be badly affected by these topics might want to skip it or wait until they feel they are in a better place. As I have said, I found it quite hopeful and inspiring, so I wouldn’t discount it just because of the storyline, either.

I recommend this novel to people who enjoy beautiful writing, reading about enclosed communities (particularly of women), those who might feel curious about monastic life (I’ve always been), and anybody interested in characters going through major changes and crises in their lives. The author explains in her acknowledgments that she had thought about becoming a nun when she was younger, had researched the topic at the time, and also had family connections in the church, so this is a book born of her personal search as well as a work of fiction. It works wonderfully on both counts, and I can’t wait for her next book.

Thanks to the author, to Rosie and her whole team for their support, and to all of you for reading, liking, sharing… Stay safe, and keep smiling!

 

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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!

 

 

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Book review Book reviews Tuesday Book Blog

#TuesdayBookBlog SCORN by Paul Hoffman (@PaulGHoff) An extraordinary satire with a narrator for the centuries and quite a twist #RBRT

Hi all:

I bring you a book that took my breath away, and I kid you not.

Scorn by Paul Hoffman
Scorn by Paul Hoffman

Scorn by Paul Hoffman. 

“A thrill-ride from start to finish… and brilliantly funny.” – Big Issue

After an experiment at the Large Hadron Collider goes horribly wrong, depressed scientist Aaron Gall wakes up to discover his mind and body have undergone an astonishing transformation. Now bursting with the joys of life, he is inspired to undertake a radical new therapy: to talk to the priests who brutalised him and his school friends, point out the intellectual dishonesty and inhumanity of their religious beliefs – and then eat them. Aaron enjoys the process so much (as well as taunting the police and MI5) he decides to extend his murderous conversations to include the Archbishop of Westminster, recently converted Catholic Tony Blair, the Queen of England – and, finally, the Pope himself. But a Catholic Church that has given the world the Crusades, the Inquisition, and Papal Infallibility hasn’t survived for two thousand years without a reason. Aaron is in for the greatest shock in the history of mankind.

Paul Hoffman is the son of Irish immigrants and was born in a house lacking running water or electricity. He spent six years detained without trial in a Catholic boarding school. His previous novels include The Wisdom of Crocodiles in which he predicted the collapse of the financial system, The Golden Age of Censorship, a black comedy based on his experience as a film censor about the havoc caused by watching too much sex and violence, and the bestselling The Left Hand of God trilogy which anticipated the rise of ISIS and has been translated into 30 languages.

Links:

https://www.amazon.com/Scorn-Paul-Hoffman-ebook/dp/B0752P8TZM/

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Scorn-Paul-Hoffman-ebook/dp/B0752P8TZM/

Author Paul Hoffman
Author Paul Hoffman

About the author:

Paul Hoffman is a bestselling author whose work has been translated into thirty languages. He spent his early working life as a Boardman in a betting shop, a teacher in a girl’s school, and a film censor with special responsibility for pornography, before becoming a screenwriter and novelist. Paul Hoffman’s first novel, The Wisdom of Crocodiles, predicted the attacks of 9/11 and set out in detail how and why the financial system would crash early in the new millennium. His second novel, The Golden Age of Censorship, is a black comedy satirising both the world of the film censor and the visionary megalomania of New Labour.

He came to international recognition with The Left Hand of God trilogy – a sly attempt to write about war and politics in a way that stole from both contemporary and historical worlds in a way that caused heated debate on the way to becoming a top ten Sunday Times Bestseller.

 

His new novel, Scorn, is his most controversial yet. Drawing from his own experiences in a hideous Catholic boarding school in Oxford, Hoffman has fashioned a contemporary black comedy that truly defies any attempt at classification – comic, tragic, a love story; with songs, illustrations, two highly unusual policemen known as The Butchers of Basra, a central character unlike any other, as well as cameos from Tony Blair, the Queen, and the a final confrontation with  the Holy Father himself resulting in the most astonishing twist in the history of fiction.

 

Probably the last English novelist to be born by the light of a paraffin lamp, Paul Hoffman spent much of his childhood on airfields all around the world watching his father – a pioneer of sports parachuting – jumping out of aeroplanes. He witnessed his first death at the age of six when one of his father’s friends was killed in an attempt to discover how near the ground he could open his parachute. After a long and brutal battle with the nuns and priest who were charged with saving his soul and which left him at sixteen without any formal qualifications he was offered a place to read English at New College, Oxford when no other university would interview him. He is probably the only Oxford graduate in history to have failed all his O-Levels. On his first night at New College a fellow undergraduate was heard to comment: ‘My God – the kind of people we’re letting in these days’.

 

The Wisdom of Crocodiles took thirteen years to write and went into its third imprint within six weeks of publication. Jude Law starred in the motion picture of the same name based on one part of the novel.

Scorn is his sixth novel. His next book, The White Devil, will be published by Penguin in 2018.

https://www.paulhoffman.co.uk/

My review:

I am writing this review as a member of Rosie’s Book Review Team (authors, if you’re looking for reviews, I recommend you check her amazing site here) and I thank her and the publisher for providing me an ARC copy of this book that I freely chose to review.

When I was first approached about reviewing this novel I was beyond intrigued. It sounded like something utterly unique and out there. I wasn’t sure it would suit my reading taste, but I knew I had to read it because it sounded like nothing I had read before. And although it took me a while to get to it, I am happy to report my first impression was right. This book is… extraordinary.

Yes, this book is extraordinary because it is out of the ordinary, pretty much so. If we try to define its genre, we’ll have many difficulties. Is it a thriller? There is a pretty special serial killer (those of us who regularly read thrillers know that they are becoming more and more bizarre and extreme, but this one is beyond the usual, even by modern standards) and a series of murders and desecrations connected by a several cryptic clues (yes, crosswords also come into it), but it has too many other elements that do not fit in well with this genre. There are mystery and police-procedural elements to a point, and a couple of interesting and quirky detectives (Scrope and Lister, both from the upper crust with outstanding education, interesting connections, and an armed forces background), and a female PC, Molly Coates (a heroine of the working classes, from the North of England and from as different a background as possible to the dynamic duo but as clever).

There is a paranormal/fantasy element (well, there is a wolf/shifter involved, and there are references to other creatures that might fit into a number of different categories), but the plot takes place in the world we live in (scarily so at times) or a close version of it with ‘interesting touches’ (some fictional, some are a matter of interpretation). There is a scientific explanation for some of the events (involving the Large Hadron Collider) that could put one in mind of science fiction novels, but this is not the main focus of the plot.

There are plenty of references to religion (which is one of the main themes of the book, in particular, the Roman Catholic Religion) but a word of warning, I think truly devoted and orthodox followers of the Catholic faith or even convinced Christians might feel offended by some of the content. There are also plenty of references and a focus on current and recent events (like the sexual abuse of children by members of the RC priesthood, there are also comments about politics, media, and political figures, some international but many centred in the UK, and we have close encounters with preeminent figures like Tony Blair, the Queen of England, the Pope…) but although the references are accurate and there are plenty of quotations from books, newspapers, media, and the internet, these are weaved into the story and it is not non-fiction or a factual account. As I mentioned already, there are plenty of details about everyday British life peppered through the book, and although in my opinion it is not necessary to be British or an expert on the UK to fully understand or enjoy the book, I think people with a good knowledge of UK politics, society, and current affairs will find much to enjoy (and think about) when they read this book. There is also romance, a story of opposites attract that goes beyond the conventional, but it is only a subplot (and not typical of the romantic genre).

Oh, and there are some illustrations (like ink etchings) of characters and events in the book, but I wouldn’t call it a comic, or a picture book (although they add greatly to the overall effect).

The book has also an extraordinary narrator that from very early on challenges the readers, promising some things (a great twist at the end, that, let me tell you now, he delivers), coaxing them, warning them, and never letting them become too complacent or ‘safe’. The narrator, whose identity readers will wonder about for much of the book, is opinionated, has strong points of view and is not, and never pretends to be, a neutral observer. He is witty, well-informed, dismissive at times, rude and pushy, but never ever boring. Scorn, the title of the book, is the mode of much of his narration, and I loved his voice from the beginning, but if you don’t, you will have difficulties with the book. I always recommend readers to check a sample of the book before buying, and this is one of those cases when I feel that is a must. Although some of the narration, mostly to do with the investigation and the main characters (I am trying not to reveal too many details of the plot, but let’s say, things are not what they seem, as most readers will suspect from the beginning) is written in the third person, much of what makes the book special and gives it its structure and its distinctiveness is the narrator.

Do not get me wrong, though, there are plenty of other characters, like the investigators I have mentioned, whom we get to know quite well and whose personalities and adventures would provide sufficient material for gripping, if more conventional, novels in their own right. There is also Aaron Gall, the character at the centre of the plot, who is both the anti-hero and victim, and also acts as a catalyst for the action in the book. We get to know him, and the rest of the characters, quite well, and he is also a stand-in for the many people who have survived abuse (more or less extreme) at the hands of those who were supposed to be looking after their education and spiritual well-being. If I had to choose, my favourite would be Molly, perhaps because I have more in common with her than with the rest of the characters, and Lou, the therapist, but they are all interesting and likeable. Here I am referring to the main characters. Some of the other characters, many of whom we only get temporary glimpses of (including the victims) are not necessarily likeable, but they are far from caricatures or cut-out types, and we do get insights into their thoughts and motivations that make them, if not sympathetic, at least real and human. And, that includes the guest appearances by true historical figures.

I have tried very hard not to give away much of the plot, although I hope my mention of some of the themes would suffice to get prospective readers interested. I found it a compelling read, both due to the main storyline, and also to the detours, the narrator comments, and the fanciful asides. But this is not a book that zeroes on the action and dismisses anything that is not relevant to the plot (in that way it is perhaps more of a literary fiction novel, but not quite either). This is a long book that meanders on and off through tangents, which eventually we realise are relevant to the overall book but not always to the thriller part of it, so if you’re an impatient reader looking for a light and thrilling read or a who-done-it, this might not be for you. The style of writing is breath-taking, a tour-de-force, with detailed but clear explanations of scientific points, collections of facts and events that make for gripping reading, psychologically astute descriptions of characters and their motivations, philosophical and moral commentaries that will make readers think, and I highlighted so much of the book that I found it almost impossible to choose some fragments to share, but I will try (avoiding major plot points as well):

But that’s the thing about human beings. It’s not laughter or the ability to stand upright that distinguishes man from the animals, it’s the capacity for incompetence. When any other creature makes a mistake, it gets eaten.

It was a truth universally acknowledged in the police force that the middle classes were generally terrified of the police and would shop their grannies without a moment’s hesitation once a cop asked them a question.

Ever had a sudden moment of realisation, an epiphany of the truth that marked out a momentous line in the sands of self-knowledge between everything you thought was the case about the kind of creature you were and everything that was really true? Neither have I.

I have already warned readers about the religious aspects of the book that might not sit well with many readers (no, this is not a Christian book in the usual sense, probably a book that in certain circles and in eras past would have been called a ‘wicked’ book), and there is also violence and some sex scenes (the violence is far more graphic than the sex, in fact it is so extreme that the effect is somewhat cartoonish, but I am not squeamish, so don’t take my word for it). It also deals on a serious and difficult subject, and although it does so in a peculiar way, it does not shy away from the most horrific aspects of it. Having said all that, this is a book I thoroughly recommend. It is not a book for everybody, as you’ll have surmised if you’ve read the rest of the lengthy review (sorry. I got more carried away than usual), but if you like to challenge yourself, you love outlandish thrillers, cryptic crossword clues, unique scornful narrators, satire, and are looking for a new author to follow, do yourself a favour and check it out. It’s a ride on the wild side.

Thanks to Rosie (don’t forget to check her blog if you’re an author and/or a fan of books) to the author and to all of you for reading. And if you have a minute, please like, share, comment, click, and always keep smiling, reading and reviewing!

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