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: 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.
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.
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.
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: 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…
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.
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).
I bring you a horror novel that made me think of many movies and series I’ve loved over the years.
Highway Twenty by Michael J Moore
An engineer from out of town disappears. Then Conor Mitchell’s girlfriend. Then his parents. The townspeople of Sedrow Woolley, Washington are vanishing at a horrifying rate. But they come back. They all come back days later, and they’re different. Hungry. Insectile. Creatures posing as humans.
Because Conor knows the truth, and because the entire police force has already been changed, and because there’s nowhere to run from an evil that only wants to spread, his sole option is to fight. Butthey have no intention of letting him leave town.
I have worked as a personal trainer for many years. I live in Washington State. My spare time is spent searching the darkest corners of my mind for whatever horrors, oddities, or fascinations may have found their way in, begging expression in my unique literary voice.
Also, I’ve always been passionate about storytelling and impressed by the influence it has on people and the decisions they make in life. I love engaging with the projects I work on, diving headfirst into the research, investigation, and production of stories I feel are worth writing about. I am a curious and proactive Author.
My other published book is the bestselling, young adult novel, After the Change (MKM Bridge Press) which has been adopted as curriculum at the University of Washington. My work has received an Honorable Mention in the L. Ron Hubbard Writers of the Future contest, has appeared in Blood Moon Rising Magazine, The Horrorzine Magazine, Schlock Magazine, Terror House Magazine, Siren’s Call Magazine, Black Petals Horror/Science Fiction Magazine, The Electric Press and this year is set to appear in Terror Tales Magazine, Horror Tree – Trembling with Fear, and various anthologies.
I write this review as a member of Rosie’s Book Review Team (authors, if you are looking for reviews, check here), and I freely chose to review an ARC copy of this novel.
This is the first book by this author I’ve read (no, he is not “the” Michael Moore we have all heard about), and I was attracted by the description and the genre. It reminded me of TV series and movies I’d enjoyed, and it delivered on its promise.
I think the description shares enough information for most readers to get a good sense of what the story is about. I guess readers of horror would classify it as “creature” horror, and as I read it, quite a number of titles, mostly of movies and TV series, came to my mind: The Invasion of the Body Snatchers, V, Slither, Star Trek’s The Borg, The Blob, and a novella I read a while back that I thoroughly enjoyed, Broken Shells. Although I love horror, the more I read in this genre, the more I realise I haven’t read yet, and I must admit not having read many in this subgenre, so I am not sure what its usual fans would think, or how original they would find it. As I said, for me it brought to mind some aspects of many movies and TV series I had watched, and it grabbed my attention and kept me reading. Is it scary? It’s creepy, and rather than making one jump or scream, imagining what it would be like to fall victim to these creatures is the stuff of nightmares and it will keep playing in one’s mind.
This book is pretty action driven, with short scenes that keep the story moving, and although like many stories about alien invasion they can be read in a variety of ways, and they seem to pick up on underlying fears (issues of identity, what is true and what is not, what makes us what we are, illnesses and epidemics, the end of the world…), the book does not delve too deep into any of those and it never makes openly acknowledges such connections, or veers into conspiracy theory terrain. It is just what it is, and that’s pretty refreshing.
Although the book follows a number of characters, the two main characters are Conor Mitchell —a man in his early twenties, who loves his car, enjoys his job as a mechanic, has a sort of girlfriend, some family issues, and does not appear to be hero material—, and Percly, the town’s homeless man, who sleeps in a disused train and does not bother anybody. The figure of the reluctant hero is a common trope in literature, and particularly prominent in American Literature, and these two are prime examples of it. They are thrown into a critical situation, and by a fluke of fate, both of them seem to be in a better position than most to fight the creatures. We learn more about them both as the story progresses, and they are fairly likeable, although, as I said, not standard heroes. We get snippets of other characters during the story, but due to the nature of the story, we don’t get a chance to learn much about them, and other than because many of them end up being victims of the events, we hardly have time to feel attached or even sorry for them.
The story is narrated in the third person, from alternating points of view. In fact, this is what most made me think of movies and TV series in this genre when I was reading this novel, because suddenly there would be a chapter where a new character would be introduced, and we would follow them for a while, learning how they feel about things, and perhaps thinking they would become a major player in the story, only for the rug to be pulled from under our feet. Yes, nobody is safe, and like in movies where a murderer picks at characters and kills them one by one, here although some of the characters keep “returning”, and we even peep into the minds of the creatures, we are not allowed to get comfortable in our seats. Readers need to be attentive, as the changes in point of view, although clearly marked, can be quite sudden. Ah, and I must admit the prologue is fantastic. For all the advice on writing books against including a prologue, Moore here clearly demonstrates that when used well, they can drag readers into the story, kicking and screaming, and keep them firmly hooked.
I’ve mentioned the short scenes and the cinematic style of writing. There are no long descriptions, and although there is plenty of creepy moments, and some explicit content, in my opinion the author plays more with the psychological aspects of fear, the fact that we don’t know who anybody is and what is real and what is not, and he is excellent at making readers share in the confusion of the main characters, and in their uncertainty about what to do next. Run, fight, hide? Although there is the odd moment of reflection, that allows readers to catch their breath a bit and also helps fill in some background details about the characters, mostly the book moves at a fast pace, and it will keep lovers of the genre turning the pages.
The ending is particularly interesting. I enjoyed it, and it ends with a bang, as it should, but there is also an epilogue that puts things into perspective, and it works in two ways: on the one hand, it fills in the gaps for readers who prefer a closed ending with everything settled; on the other, it qualifies the ending of the story, putting an ambiguous twist on it. (And yes, I liked the epilogue as well).
All in all, this is an action book, with fairly solid characters who although are not by-the-book heroes are easy to warm to, with a somewhat disorienting and peculiar style of narration that enhances the effect of the story on the reader. I’d recommend it to those who love creature horror, and to people not too squeamish, who enjoy B-series movies, and who love to be kept on their toes. An author to watch.
Thanks to Rosie and all the members of her group, thanks to the author for this novel full of fun and chills, thanks to all of you for reading, writing, commenting, liking, sharing, and never forget to keep smiling!
I catch up on a series I love today. Perfect for any holidays!
Liars & Lunatics in Goose Pimple Junction: A Goose Pimple Junction Mystery, book 5 by Amy Metz
It’s election season, and there’s a new candidate in town. Virgil Pepper is determined
to take the job from Goose Pimple Junction’s long-time mayor. Virgil is a charming and
charismatic candidate but someone who will say anything (and mean none of it)
to get what he wants. Three things top his list: to become mayor, to acquire Jackson
Wright’s land, and to make Caledonia Culpepper one of his many conquests.
Wynona Baxter is back, and she’s a new woman. Now Daisy has a new identity, new life,
and new business–ironically named Killer Cupcakes. But the town soon finds out that
isn’t the only kind of killer in town. Book five of the Goose Pimple Junction mystery series
combines political hijinks, delicious cupcakes, Goose Juice moonshine, the ups and downs
of finding true love, and, of course, murder.
It is said that “It’s a basic truth of the human condition that everybody lies. The only
variable is about what.” Lying in politics, lying for personal and professional gain,
lying about an identity . . . What are the folks of Goose Pimple Junction willing to
lie for . . . and what are they willing to die for?
Amy Metz is the author of the Goose Pimple Junction mystery series. She is a former first grade teacher and the mother of two grown sons. When not writing, enjoying her family, or surfing Pinterest and Facebook, Amy can usually be found with a mixing spoon, camera, or book in one hand and a glass of sweet tea in the other. Amy loves unique Southern phrases, cupcakes, and a good mystery. She lives in Louisville, Kentucky. Find out more at http://authoramymetz.com
The author provided me with an ARC copy of this book that I freely chose to review. This in no way influenced my opinion.
I have read and enjoyed some of the books in the collection, but I somehow missed number 4, and that, perhaps helps me tailor my comment also towards readers who might be considering reading this book without having checked the rest. Yes, the story is self-contained, although there are references to events that have taken place in previous books, and a lot of the characters will be familiar to those following the series, who will be in a better position to understand the background to some of the interactions and also the web of relationships and the ins and outs of life at Goose Pimple Junction. And yes, in case you’re wondering, I love the name of the place! So, regarding the issue of reading it as a standalone, I’d say one does not need to have read all the books in the series to enjoy it, but because some of the characters have names and nicknames (witty and funny, I admit), and their relationships are not always evident, it might get a bit confusing to follow the story if you are totally new to it. On the other hand, as I said, I had missed one of the books, and I could pick up the narrative without any problem. I am convinced, though, that reading them all in order enhances the experience, and it’s like visiting a familiar place where you always have fun and renew old friendships every time you go.
The way the story is told is quite interesting, and it adds to the mystery. We start with a murder (a new character, Virgil, who is in the race to become the mayor of the town, is murdered in mysterious circumstances), a confession, and then we go back to several months before the event, counting back to the time of the crime, and then moving forward with the investigation. It works well, because we keep mulling over in our minds how everything we read might relate to the crime (and there are other suspicious deaths as well), and this results in plenty of red herrings, more and more suspects and plenty of possible motives (Virgil is far from a nice man, as we discover. In fact, he is a narcissist who treats women badly, and his business practices and politics aren’t much better either). Although told in third person, the narration follows the points of views of several of the characters, without ever giving us an advantage when it comes to solving the mystery. We might think we know what has happened, and we are privy to some information the sheriff department don’t have, but things are, of course, not as straightforward as they seem to be.
As the mystery part of the plot advances, we also get to learn more about some new arrivals to the town (not totally new, but I’ll avoid spoilers), and also catch up on what has happened to those inhabitants we have come to know and cherish. There are romances developing, a new cupcake shop (if you’re on a diet, I’d take care with the book, as there are many reference to Killer Cupcakes, both the shop and the actual items), there are shady business deals (moonshine liquor, buying land with coercion and under false pretences), there is Oktoberfest to spice up things and bring in the party atmosphere (the fancy dresses, mostly wordplay related, bring in plenty of chuckles), and the ending is very satisfying, and it hints at even better times to come for Goose Pimple Junction. (Yes, I want to move there, or at least go for a very long holiday).
The story flows well, moves at good pace, and the combination of the mystery aspects with the lives of the characters is seamless. I highlighted so many parts of the dialogue, funny repartees, and quotes, that I was unable to choose just a few to add to this review, so my recommendation is to check a sample of the book if you’re trying to decide if you’ll enjoy it or not. I wonder if a list of characters, with their names, nicknames, and relationships might serve as a memory aid for readers visiting the town again, and might also assist readers totally new to the series.
The Southern-style sayings and the dialect of the region (Tennessee), the peculiar lingo and expressions of some of the townspeople, the new characters (I liked Daisy, but her mother, Kaye, must be my favourite new addition), and the quotes at the beginning of the chapter (all about lying and liars), give this book its unique flavour, and people who’ve read previous books in the series and loved them, will have a blast with this one.
I recommend this book to lovers of cozy mysteries, especially those who enjoy stories set in the Southern part of the USA and prefer their crimes laced with plenty of humour, wit, and local flavour. I think the novel works better as part of the series, and I’d recommend people who like the sound of it to start at the beginning, with Murder and Mayhem in Goose Pimple Junction (you can check my reviews of the first three books in the series, here). I hope to keep on visiting the town in the future, that is, if I don’t manage to move there!
Thanks to the author for the book, thanks to all of you for reading, and remember to share if you enjoy it or know somebody who might, and above all, enjoy the holiday season!
I’ve finally got around to reading this book, and I am pleased I have.
GODDESS OF THE RAINBOW by Patrick Brigham.
Goddess of The Rainbow is a very Greek story involving the rain, and how flooding changes us, moves the finger of fate, and causes us to reflect on our lives. A series of short stories, they all happen in the Greek town of Orestiada. Stories which simultaneously interlink and become a part of the whole, center around Iris – the local DHL courier – who in Greek mythology is not only Goddess of The Rainbow, but also the Messenger of The Gods, thereby connecting the individual tales of this 16 Chapter book. In it there is a murderous estate agent, and his equally murderous wife, an aspiring artist looking for recognition in Athens, an estranged couple separated by time who rekindle their love, a Greek- Australian who is from Melbourne, and a visiting bus load of Russian women from Moscow. They have been invited by the mayor, in order that some of the winging local bachelors might find a suitable wife. There is an illegal Syrian immigrant, a disgruntled typically Greek mother who doesn’t want her son to marry at all, and a Greek Orthodox Priest who has lost his faith. All that and more; stories which come so beautifully together in the last chapter –fascinating and enchanting – which can be read and enjoyed individually, but put together, serve to make the whole novel greater than its component parts.
The author Patrick Brigham writes good mystery books, many of which are set at the very end of the Cold War and Communism. Featuring fictional police detective Chief Inspector Michael Lambert, he is often faced with political intrigue, and in order to solve his cases – which frequently take place in Eastern Europe and the Balkans – he needs to understand how an old Communist thinks, during the course of his investigations.
There are few good books on the subject of international crime, especially mystery stories which delve into the shady side of Balkan politics, neither are there many novelists who are prepared to address Mystery Crime Fiction, like the author.
Patrick Brigham was the Editor in Chief of the first English Language news magazine in Bulgaria between 1995 and 2000. As a journalist, he witnessed the changes in this once hard core Communist Country and personally knew most of the political players. Traditionally a hotbed of intrigue and the natural home of the conspiracy theory, Bulgaria proved to be quite a challenge and for many the transition into democracy was painful.
Despite this, he personally managed to survive these changes and now lives peacefully in Northern Greece. These days Patrick has branched out into contemporary literary fiction, and his newest novel, Goddess of The Rainbow, is about Greece and the Greeks. https://www.amazon.com/Patrick-Brigham/e/B00BGZTKFE/
I received a paperback ARC copy of this review and that has in no way affected the content of my feedback.
This novel (because yes, although it is composed of what appear to be separate vignettes all taking place in the same period of time and in the same location, it does amount to more than its parts, as the description correctly points out) chronicles a Greek town, Orestiada, and its inhabitants’ adventures at a point of crisis. It has been raining for weeks, the river is growing, and things are coming to a head, and I am not only talking about the weather and the flood.
The author cleverly weaves all the seemingly separate strands, first setting up the multiple characters and their circumstances (we do have a varied catalogue of mostly adult and middle-aged characters, many locals, but also a British man who has lived most of his life abroad [as an unofficial spy now turned writer], a Syrian illegal immigrant, a busload of Russian women, another busload of Israeli women, and people from all walks of small-town Greek life, from farmers to mayors, from factory directors to artists), and then wrenching up the tension, as if the weather was having an effect on the whole population, and things that had been bubbling up under the surface were now ready to explode. And although in some cases the actual resolution is not as spectacular as we might have expected (after all, we have attempted murders, personal threats, cars plunging into a river, racial slurs, a group of Russian women coming to meet the single men of the town in a collective dating experiment, old flames meeting again…) there is a silver lining after the storm and readers leave the town with a warm and hopeful feeling.
What did I like? The story made me think of the best soap operas centred in a community, where over a period of time we get to know the characters, and we care for them. It shows the writer’s great skill that despite the episodic nature of the story, we feel quite close to the characters (some more than others, but still, they are all distinctive and feel real in their everyday preoccupations and lives) and care what happens to them. Iris, in some ways the central character, as she is the goddess of the rainbow in Greek mythology, is the messenger of the town, and no matter what her personal circumstances are she keeps delivering parcels, messages, and bringing her upbeat outlook and optimism to all she meet. She is a favourite of mine, and I was happy things worked out so well for her. But I became fond of most of the characters, even the less likeable ones, as we are offered enough information about them to understand them, and the good-will of the town and its people is contagious. The story is narrated in the third person but each chapter is told from the perspective of the main character it talks about, and that means we get to see them not only as others see them but as they truly are.
The novel creates a good sense of what the place and the homes of the characters are like, without going into long descriptions. Those that are included capture more the mood rather than the detail, and are, like the rest of the book, pretty humorous (with a touch of irony but fairly affectionate). Here Maria, the local artist, who has to produce work that she does not like but is to the taste of the local market, is reflecting upon what the houses of the citizens who came to the exhibitions of her work every year would look like:
Afterwards, these stalwarts would return to their homes —inevitably filled with expensive vulgar baubles, nick-nacks, coloured glass from Venice, and a blue-faced woman enigmatically smiling from the sitting room wall like some demented oriental Mona Lisa.
Together with a collection of pissing dog prints, their overcrowded living rooms were neve complete without a large china bust of Socrates. A translated set of the Encyclopaedia Britannica —carefully secreted an unopened on a half-hidden bookshelf— and their illusion of sophistication was complete.
The humour can be dark at times, especially when it comes to a couple who want to get rid of each other and will not stop at anything to make sure they achieve their goal. Here one of their business associates is thinking about one of his men:
The assassin liked Dragomire because he didn’t mind shooting people when he carried out a bank robbery, which in his view was very professional and to be admired.
I guess we all have our standards and rules of conduct. (By the way, I’d advise law-abiding Bulgarians to keep away from this book, as it does not paint a great image of its people, but the overgeneralisations seem in keeping with the view neighbouring countries might have of each other, not always flattering).
Was there anything I didn’t like? As I said, I enjoyed the atmosphere, the character’s and their stories. I received a copy of the book, in paperback, a long while ago but hadn’t had a chance to read it. Therefore, it might be that the book has undergone revisions and transformations since, so my objections might well be unjustified now. The paperback had some formatting issues (no page numbers, some empty pages and strange distribution of text), there was the odd typo here and there (nothing too jarring even for an early copy), and then there were some peculiarities in the way the story was told. As a non-native English speaker, I am always wary of commenting on style. In this case, I wondered if some of the grammatical structures that sounded slightly odd to me might be an attempt at adopting the rhythm of conversations and speech in Greece, and I soon became accustomed to it and got to like it, but I’d advise readers to read a sample of the book first, to check for themselves.
A feel-good book about a rather wonderful place, one of these towns that, although far from ideal, end up earning a place in our hearts.
Thanks to the author for the opportunity, thanks to all of you for reading, and remember to like, share, comment, click, review and always keep reading and smiling!
Today I bring you a book by an author that you might know through her blog.
Death in a Mudflat: A Rhe Brewster Mystery (The Rhe Brewster Mysteries) by N.A. Granger A cozy mystery with a harder edge and very engaging characters and location.
Fearless detective, ER nurse, devoted mother, and Pequod, Maine’s, answer to Kinsey Milhone, Rhe Brewster is back on the case. When an idyllic seaside wedding is suddenly interrupted by the grotesque sight of a decaying human arm poking out of the tidal mud, Rhe is thrown head first into a treacherous world of duplicity, drugs, and murder.
With her best friend Paulette and her main man Sam, the Chief of Police, Rhe seeks to solve the puzzle of the body found in the muck while also working with the FBI to identify the source of shipments of tainted heroin flooding the local campus and community. Maine’s opioid crisis has hit the town hard, with an escalating number of overdoses. More murders are uncovered, testing Rhe’s detective skills and steely resolve. While she follows the clues, Rhe encounters some sinister inhabitants of Pequod’s underbelly, including a practitioner of the Dark Arts, a hydra-headed crime gang, and an embittered, unhinged lobsterman with an axe to grind and nothing to lose. In her relentless drive to solve the crimes, Rhe narrowly escapes a watery grave, trades blows with Russian goons and unknowingly prompts Paulette to put her life on the line in an attempt to catch a murderer in the act.
Noelle A. Granger grew up in Plymouth, Massachusetts, in a rambling, 125-year-old house with a view of the sea. Summers were spent sailing and swimming. She was also one of the first tour guides at Plimoth Plantation. Granger graduated from Mount Holyoke College with a bachelor’s degree in Zoology and from Case Western Reserve University with a Ph.D. in anatomy. Following a career of research in developmental biology and teaching human anatomy to medical students and residents, the last 28 years of which were spent at the University of North Carolina School of Medicine, she decided to try her hand at writing fiction. The Rhe Brewster Mystery Series was born.
The series features Rhe Brewster, an emergency room nurse, as the protagonist. Rhe lives in the fictional coastal town of Pequod, Maine, (similar to Plymouth) and Granger uses her knowledge of such a small town, her experiences sailing along the Maine coast, and her medical background to enrich each book in the series. In the first book, Death in a Red Canvas Chair, the discovery of a wet, decaying body of a young woman, sitting in a red canvas chair at the far end of a soccer field, leads Rhe on a trail that heads to a high-end brothel and a dodgy mortuary operation.
The second novel in the Rhe Brewster Mystery Series, Death in a Dacron Sail, was released in 2015, and finds Rhe responding to a discovery by one of the local lobstermen: a finger caught in one of his traps. The third book, Death By Pumpkin, begins with the sighting of the remains of a man’s body in a car smashed by a giant pumpkin at the Pequod Pumpkin Festival. Up next? Death in a Mud Flat.
In addition to the Rhe Brewster Mystery Series, Granger has had short stories, both fiction and non-fiction, published in Deep South Magazine, Sea Level Magazine, the Bella Online Literary Review, and Coastal Style Magazine, and has been featured in Chapel Hill Magazine, The News & Observer, The Boothbay Register, and other local press. Granger lives with her husband, a cat who blogs, and a hyperactive dog in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. She spends a portion of every summer in Maine.
I received a free ARC copy of this novel that I freely chose to review.
I enjoy reading mysteries, thrillers, crime novels, police procedurals… and I love watching crime movies and TV series, but my experience of cozy mysteries is a bit mixed. As a horror lover, I am not too squeamish and the fact that there is little violence (or at least not very graphically depicted) in the genre is not a big appeal for me. On the other hand, I don’t like erotica, so the lack of graphic sex is a plus. Above all, I love a good and solid story, and although I enjoy quirky and weird characters, I like the mystery to be well-plotted and detailed enough not to feel annoyed at major gaps or inconsistencies. (Yes, I know we’re talking about fiction, reading it requires a degree of suspension of disbelief and if a novel was truly factual, it would probably be terribly boring, but I can’t abide glaringly obvious mistakes or sleight of hand as a plot device to sort a complex storyline gone awry). I have read some cozy mysteries that I’ve enjoyed, but others place so much emphasis on other elements of the story and try so hard to be light and amusing, to the point where the mystery becomes an afterthought, that almost managed to convince me that the genre is not for me.
Having read N. A. Granger’s blog, knowing that she used to teach biology and anatomy and that her main character is an ER nurse, I was intrigued by her series and had put her books on my list. Her blog post about the creation of the cover for this book piqued my curiosity, and I was happy to try the book when I got the ARC copy.
This is the fourth book in the series, but the author has included a list of characters at the beginning and summarised the relationships between them, offering also a brief indication of the story so far, and that suffices to help new readers get their bearing and follow the story without difficulty, although at some points there were nuances that I was convinced would have delighted readers of the previous volumes that were lost on me. Rhe Brewster, the protagonist, is still an ER nurse, but only part-time now, and she has become an official investigator with the sheriff department (no more amateur sleuth now, although her friend Paulette takes up the role). Her brother-in-law, Sam, is the sheriff and also her beau (yes, there is a story there, for sure); she has a boy with ADHD, Jack, and she is that mix of the intuitive and clever investigator (still fresh from the amateur ranks, but getting increasingly professional, it seems) with the impulsive and rushed person who can get herself into trouble by following her intuition, always with the best intentions at heart.
We also have a wonderful setting, the imaginary small coastal-town of Pequod, in Maine, (and being a fan of Moby Dick, I love the name) where everybody knows everybody else (or almost), but large enough to have a college, a fairly big hospital, and plenty of restaurants and takeaways (if we are to judge by the number of meals and eateries mentioned in the book). Sailing, one of Rhe’s passions, is also featured, and it plays a fairly important part in this story.
The book manages to maintain the balance between the quirky atmosphere and characters, and the police-procedural-type of investigation and mystery. There are two cases, one involving three women who have been killed years apart, and a second one to do with drug overdoses at the college campus, which may, or may not, be connected. The story is narrated in the first-person from Rhe’s point of view (if you don’t always appreciate first-person narratives, I’d recommend that you check a sample of the writing first) and her personality shines through in the way the story is told. Some aspects of the story are described in plenty of detail —those that she knows well and is more interested in— like the post-mortem examinations, the steps necessary to maintain the chain of evidence, and the sailing scenes (I have read reviews praising their accuracy, but as I have no knowledge of sailing and little of its terminology, I cannot comment, and I must admit some of the finer details went over my head) and would seemingly push it towards a more straight-type of mystery. But, Rhe is not all procedure and protocol, and there are also plenty of details that emphasize the domestic and amateurish side of the plot (Rhe has two jobs and has to juggle those with her personal life as well, resulting in information not being relayed straight away, details and facts about the cases being confirmed only when there is a gap in her schedule and many discussions with her superior taking place in the comfort of their own home). There is a mix of very high-tech procedures (courtesy of the FBI intervention) with a somewhat old-fashioned feel to the book (people carry mobile phones but don’t often use them, and Rhe and Sam seem to prefer good old-style policing, knocking on doors and talking to people, and even confess to lack of technical proficiency), that is also in evidence when it comes to the personal relationships and lifestyle of the characters. Although Rhe is a woman of action and proves, more than once, that she can look after herself, Sam questions her decisions often and pulls rank on more than one occasion, and Paulette and Rhe are also concerned about the reaction of her friend’s husband to her adventures, although this seems to be played mostly for laughs.
The mix of high and low intensity also carries through when it comes to action. I have already talked about the importance of food, and how often it is the subject of conversations, but there is also plenty of action, involving Rhe getting herself into trouble and, either managing to rescue others at the last minute (with some assistance), or having to get rescued. I don’t want to reveal any spoilers, but let’s say that at some points the pace quickens, the stakes are high, and there is plenty more action than I have come to expect from cozies.
The writing is easy to follow and flows well, and the characters’ speech is distinctive, their quirks and personalities making the dialogue compelling. I particularly enjoyed the local words and occasional expressions that peppered the novel without overwhelming it or making it difficult to understand.
What about the mystery? Is it easy to crack? Because the story is told from Rhe’s point of view, it is difficult to get ahead of her, although the author is skilled at giving us some clues that Rhe seems not to fully register or process at the time, and those clues might help readers solve the case somewhat before the protagonist. There are red herrings and we are often lead down the wrong path, but as Rhe is now firmly on the side of the law (well, almost all of the time), the emphasis is on getting the required evidence and not only on coming up with a theory or a hunch. I felt that both cases were intriguing enough to keep readers turning the pages at a fast pace, and the place and the characters added atmosphere to the novel.
I am sure that readers who have followed the series will enjoy this novel more fully, as it is clear that the characters, and Rhe in particular, have developed and grown through the books, but I must confess that this first incursion into Rhe Brewster’s world got me attached to the characters to the point where I felt quite emotional and sorry to see them go. Ah, and the prologue of the next book promises a gripping read as well.
I recommend this story to readers of cozy novels who prefer their mysteries with a more realistic and harder edge, crossing into police-procedural terrain, and to all those who love series like Midsummer Murders and want to immerse themselves in a charming small town with a dark (or darkish) underside. (Beware if you’re on a diet, though. There’s plenty of food!)
Thank to the author for the book, to all of you for reading, and remember to like, share, comment, click, review and always keep smiling!
Another mystery with a likeable main character and a small-town far from idyllic.
The Mountain Man’s Badge (The Mountain Man Mysteries Book 3) by Gary Corbin
Lehigh Carter never wanted to be sheriff. And he sure never wanted to arrest his new father-in-law for murder.
Mountain Man Lehigh Carter got talked into serving the unexpired term of disgraced long-time Mt. Hood County sheriff Buck Winters, hoping for a quiet nine months in office before the voters selected a new, permanent office-holder. But a few months into the job, poachers discover the body of Everett Downey, a sleazy local businessman.
Unfortunately, the evidence points to Lehigh’s brand-new father-in-law, the once-powerful senator George McBride. To his chagrin and his new bride’s fury, Lehigh is forced to arrest George for the murder, and suddenly his happy marriage is on the rocks. Soon he’s living in a tent with only his two dogs for companionship.
While most people in Mt. Hood County appreciate Lehigh’s honesty and his willingness to fight the cronyism and corruption that have plagued Mt. Hood County law enforcement for decades, his desire for reform ruffles some important feathers.
Lehigh finds himself fighting unseen enemies, determined to portray him as inept and even more corrupt than his predecessor–even at the cost of protecting the integrity of the murder investigation. Even his own deputies seem intent on bringing back the old guard, and a series of evidence leaks put Lehigh’s reputation and ability to serve as sheriff in jeopardy.
Lehigh’s not a quitter, though, and with dogged persistence, begins to chip away at the investigation, discovering facts that don’t add up…and leads him to suspect why some of those most intent on removing him from office have reasons far more sinister than Lehigh’s rustic demeanor.
Gary Corbin is a writer, editor, and playwright in Camas, WA, a suburb of Portland, OR. Lying in Judgment, his Amazon.com best-selling legal thriller was selected as Bookworks.com “Book of the Week” for July 11-18, 2016, and was the featured novel on Literary Lightbox’s “Indie Spotlight” in February 2017. The long-awaited sequel to Lying in Judgment, Lying in Vengeance, was released in September 2017.
Gary’s second novel, The Mountain Man’s Dog, came out in June 2016, kicking off the Mountain Man Mysteries series. The sequel, The Mountain Man’s Bride, was released Feb. 8, 2017. The third book in the series, The Mountain Man’s Badge, was just released in June 2018.
All of these mysteries are available in hardcover, paperback, and ebook forms.
Join Gary’s mailing list (http://garycorbinwriting.com/about-gary-corbin/contact/) and be the first to be notified of free preview editions, 99 cent specials, free book promotions, and exclusive content such as deleted chapters and early-draft excerpts of upcoming novels.
Gary’s plays have enjoyed critical acclaim and have enjoyed several productions in regional and community theaters. His writer’s reference, Write Better Right Now: A Dozen Mistakes Good Writers Make-And How to Fix Them, is available exclusively on Kindle.
Gary is a member of the Willamette Writers Group, Northwest Editors Guild, 9 Bridges Writers Group, PDX Playwrights, the Portland Area Theater Alliance, and the Bar Noir Writers Workshop, and participates in workshops and conferences in the Portland, Oregon area.
A homebrewer and coffee roaster, Gary loves to ski, cook, and watch his beloved Red Sox and Patriots. He hopes to someday train his dogs to obey. And when that doesn’t work, he escapes to the Oregon coast with his sweetheart.
I was provided an ARC copy of this book by the publisher and I freely chose to review it.
I am always in two minds about reading books in a series, especially when I do not catch it right at the beginning, but when I was offered the opportunity of reading and reviewing this book, I was intrigued and could not let it pass. It was, I guess, a combination of the unusual protagonist (a mountain man, as the series title proclaims), the details of the case (who can resist a good dose of local politics and corruption these days?), and the details about the author, who is an experienced and well-respected writer who has written for a variety of media, including the stage. This is the third book in the series, though, but I was reassured that it could be read independently from the other books. So, what did I think?
Gary Corbin is a skilled writer, with a talent for creating unforgettable characters and settings and convoluted plots. Clarkesville, Oregon, is not one of those enchanted little towns we find in some heart-warming books, but quite the opposite. The descriptions of the mountains and the surrounding area are compelling and appealing, but this is a town with a terrible coffee house, sleazy strip clubs, ignorant and prejudiced inhabitants, and rampant corruption (from low-level civil servants all the way to the top). The novel follows on from the adventures described in the two previous novels (from what I gathered while I read the book), and the main protagonist, Lehigh Carter, is one of those mythical American literary (and film) figures, the reluctant hero. In the two previous books he became involved in several mysteries that ended up in the removal of the long-term sheriff and, after things don’t work well for the replacement (I’m trying to avoid spoilers, in case people want to read the three novels in order), he is asked to step in. But he is a lumberjack (with his own business) and not a professional sheriff —as he keeps being reminded by the elected assistant DA, the media, and plenty of others. And he has not been elected either. His job is further complicated when there is a new murder (in a town where such crimes are almost unknown), and the evidence accumulates against his fairly recent father-in-law (and their relationship was anything but friendly even before that). His relationship with his wife suffers, he is kicked out of the marital home, and he is pushed and pulled in all directions, pestered by those who should be working with him, and enmeshed in a spider web of lies and deception. There are enemies and betrayers all around him and he has his own doubts and insecurities to fight against as well. He has no qualifications to show for the job, makes beginner mistakes at times, lacks modern equipment and technical skills, and is being taunted by the commissioners for not having been voted into the job and being an amateur, even when they were the ones signing his appointment.
Although I lacked the background into the protagonist and other important characters in the novel (that I guess would give a more rounded pictures of the relationships between them and the motivations for their actions), I still liked his honesty, his humility, his self-doubt, and his willingness to put everything on the line to do the right thing and to protect his constituency, no matter how much it might cost him. This is not one of those action heroes who never miss a shot or put a foot wrong. He feels real and by the end of the novel, I thought I would happily have voted for him as the new sheriff. I also liked his collaborators, Wadsworth, in his mentor-like role, and especially Ruby Mac (she is fabulous!). His wife is caught up in a difficult situation but eventually, I got to understand and empathise with her and her predicament (and I think she is one of the characters that have grown over the series, so I missed much of that). The politicians, the rest of the sheriff department, other inhabitants of the town, and Bailey —the TV news anchor— are all well-drawn and distinct, and they run the whole gamut of human emotions, qualities, and vices. Some have bigger roles than others, but they give a bit of variety to a place that is portrayed as mostly stuck in its traditions and not very tolerant or diverse.
The plot reminded me of the old-fashioned mystery books and series we all know and love, and, in my opinion, it works better as such than as a detailed police-procedural investigation. As mentioned, Lehigh is an amateur and does not always follow due procedure. He has a good nose and intuition but sometimes misses things and is let down at times by his insecurity and his lack of knowledge. Although the book is set in the present, the sheriff department seems to be stuck in the past, and other than using his mobile for taking pictures, very little technology is in evidence or regularly used; even the computers are ancient and keep malfunctioning, so this is not a story for those fascinated by the latest techniques and the most accurate point-by-point investigations. Much of the police work consists of walking around, interrogating people, and setting up traps to catch suspects and double-crossing staff. There is also an overreliance on evidence that has been overheard and later reported by witnesses. This requires regular readers of detective novels and thrillers to suspend their disbelief to a certain extent, as baddies are overconfident and reckless, and the witnesses never seem to think about taking pictures or recording anybody’s conversations, which is unusual in this day and age, when everything anybody does is recorded and shared, but it gives the mystery a timeless feel, and there are plenty of plot twists and red herrings to keep readers turning the pages at good speed.
The book is written in the third person by a limited omniscient narrator, a technique that works well to allow readers to learn more about the characters, their feelings, and motivations (and some are not nice at all), while at the same time keeping the information necessary to solve the case under wraps, and helping to maintain the suspense and keep us guessing. There is an effective use of description and credible and lively dialogue that add to the characterisation. The book flows well, and there is sufficient information about the previous events to fill in the gaps and allow a reader starting here to follow the plot, although I have the feeling that those who have read the previous books will enjoy it more fully. (I am never sure how much information about previous books might be enough for new readers but not too much for those already familiar with the books. My experience reading series is that, unless you read all the books in quick succession, you need reminders of the previous plot, no matter how well you think you remember it, but different readers will be different on that respect). Although there is some violence, it is not extreme or shown in detail, and there is a good mix of intriguing, creepy, and light-hearted and humorous moments to suit most readers.
I enjoyed the book and feel curious, both about what had happened before and about what the future will bring Lehigh and his team. I was also intrigued by the samples of some of the author’s other books included at the end. I recommend this book (perhaps the whole series, but I cannot comment on the previous books) to readers who like mysteries in non-standard settings, with a good mix of characters and plots, and with a background into small-town politics and corruption that feels eerily relevant.
Thanks to the publisher and the author, thanks to all of you for reading, and please, if you have found it interesting, I’d be grateful if you could like, share, comment, click, review, and of course, keep reading and smiling.
I’m repeating author today and I bring you a book that’s definitely not of this time although the book was just published. I became aware of this book thanks to Rosie Amber and her fantastic Book Team Review (you must check her out if you haven’t yet, here). Karen M. Cox has kindly offered readers the opportunity to enter a giveaway (and note, this is an international giveaway, readers, so not excuse not to have a go) and after reading her book I was pretty intrigued by how she felt about writing from a male perspective, and she has sent me a guest post that will be of interest to readers and writers alike. But first, let me tell you about the book:
Son Of A Preacher Man by Karen M Cox
“I forget that you’re a fella sometimes.”
I never forgot that she was a girl. Not for one second…
The long, hot Southern summer gently bakes the small town of Orchard Hill. Billy Ray Davenport, aspiring physician and only son of an indomitable traveling minister, is a young man with a plan. Handsome, principled, and keenly observant, he arrives in town to lodge with a local family. He never bargained for Lizzie Quinlan—a complex, kindred spirit who is beautiful, compassionate, and scorned by the townsfolk. Could a girl with a reputation be different than she seems? With her quirky wisdom and a spine of steel hidden beneath an effortless sensuality, Lizzie is about to change Billy Ray’s life—and his heart—forever.
A realistic look at first love, told by an idealist, Son of a Preacher Man isa heartwarming coming of age tale set in a simpler time.
Son of a Preacher Man is available in Kindle, Apple, Barnes&Noble, Kobo versions, and from other ebook distributors. Print version will be out soon.
Enter for a chance to win an ebook copy of one of my backlist titles (1932, Find Wonder in All Things, Undeceived, I Could Write a Book, or The Journey Home(novella) AND a $10 Amazon Gift Card. Three winners will be randomly selected on 7/25/18. This giveaway is international.
Karen M Cox is an award-winning author of four full-length novels accented with romance and history: “1932”, “Find Wonder in All Things”, “Undeceived”, and “I Could Write a Book”, and an e-book companion novella to “1932” called “The Journey Home”. She has also contributed stories to three anthologies: “Northanger Revisited 2015”, in “Sun-Kissed: Effusions of Summer”; “I, Darcy”, in “The Darcy Monologues”, and “An Honest Man” in “Dangerous to Know: Jane Austen’s Rakes and Gentlemen Rogues”. She has two upcoming releases: “Son of a Preacher Man” in July, 2018, and a contribution to the anthology “Rational Creatures” (Fall, 2018).
Karen was born in Everett WA, which was the result of coming into the world as the daughter of a United States Air Force Officer. She had a nomadic childhood, with stints in North Dakota, Tennessee and New York State before finally settling in her family’s home state of Kentucky at the age of eleven. She lives in a quiet little town with her husband, where she works as a pediatric speech pathologist, encourages her children, and spoils her granddaughter.
Channeling Jane Austen’s Emma, Karen has let a plethora of interests lead her to begin many hobbies and projects she doesn’t quite finish, but she aspires to be a great reader and an excellent walker – like Elizabeth Bennet. Connect with Karen:
I write this review as a member of Rosie’s Book Review Team (authors, check here if you are looking for reviews) and thank her and the author for the ARC copy of the book, which I freely chose to review.
Recently, I read and reviewed one of Karen M. Cox’s novels I Could Write a Book (you can read the review here) and as she was one of the authors who’d also taken part in one of my favourite recent anthologies (Dangerous to Know: Jane Austen’s Rakes & Gentlemen Rogues, check that review here), when I heard she was going to publish a new book and read the description, I had to check it out.
In contrast with the other two books, this book is not a Regency novel (it takes place in the South of the USA in the late 1950s –early 1960s), and it is not related to Jane Austen (although, like her novels, is excellent at reflecting the social mores of the place and the era). It is the story, narrated in the first person, of Billy Ray Davenport, a young man with a tragedy in his past (he lost his mother to a terrible accident), whose father is a travelling preacher. He used to spend his summers travelling with him (he went to school and stayed at his aunt’s the rest of the year), but when we meet him, just before he goes to medical school, he is due to spend a few weeks with a doctor, friend of the family. He hopes to gain medical knowledge and get a taste of what his future will be like. This summer will prove momentous for Billy Ray, who will learn much more about the world, small-town society, girls, and himself than he had known until then. What he experiences there will make him question some of his strong-held beliefs and what he is truly made of.
This novel captures beautifully the everyday life in a small-town, where rumours and whispers can destroy somebody’s reputation (especially a young girl’s), where everybody knows everybody else and there is nothing private and nowhere to hide. Marlene, the daughter of the doctor Billy Ray is working with, takes a shine to him and proves to be very spiteful, badmouthing and spreading rumours about another girl, Lizzie. Lizzie is like a modern scarlet woman, and her behaviour repels and attracts Billy Ray in equal measure, putting his beliefs about proper behaviour and relationships between men and women to the test.
Lizzie is a great character. Although she does not always behave consistently, and at times she manages to make things more difficult for herself, we get to understand her and root for her. She has had to make herself strong and mistrusts everybody for very good reasons. She is different to the rest of the characters in the novel and in Orchard Hill, and it is not surprising that Billy Ray sets his eyes on her. She is a modern woman who knows her own mind and is prepared to do whatever it takes to make her dreams come true.
Billy Ray feels very old-fashioned, perhaps even more because he falls for Lizzie, and the contrast between the opinions and behaviours of the two could not be more extreme, at least at first sight. Billy Ray is the preacher’s son of the title, and although we might be familiar with stories about the children of preachers rebelling against their strict religious upbringing (Footloose, for instance), he is a chip off the old block. I wondered if Billy Ray is not, in fact, even more morally upright and a stricter follower of the spirit of the Bible than his father is. He is a thoroughly good man (he struggles at times and is not perfect, but he is one of the genuinely good guys), and although he is young and naïve at the beginning of the story, he has the heart in the right place and tries very hard to live up to Christian moral standards. He is a thinking man and the roller-coaster of his emotions and his doubts and hesitations reflect well his age. The roles between the two main characters challenge the standard stereotypes, and we have the good and innocent young man and the experienced woman who tempts him trying to send him down the wrong path, rather than the rogue going trying to steal the virtue of an innocent young woman. Of course, things are not that simple, and the relationship between the two main characters has many nuances, ups and downs, and despite what they might think, they need each other to become better versions of themselves.
The rest of the characters are given less space (this is a coming of age story, after all, and adults are not the centre of the book, although the relationship between Billy Ray and his father is beautifully rendered) but even the characters we don’t get to know that well (the rest of Lizzie’s family, the doctor, the midwife) are convincing and engaging. There are parallels between Billy Ray and Lizzie and some of the older characters as if they embodied what would have happened to them if they hadn’t found each other. It is evident that Billy Ray is focused on telling the story of his relationship with Lizzie and the book reflects the single-mindedness of his protagonist, as the affairs of society and the world at large only rarely get mentioned.
The rhythm of the novel is paused and contemplative and it feels like the summer months felt when we were young: eternal and full of possibilities. The turn of phrase and the voices of the different characters are distinct and help recreate the Southern atmosphere, adding a vivid local feel, and some humorous touches. After the summer we follow the character’s first few years at university and we see him become a man. I don’t want to go into detail, but I can tell you I really enjoyed the ending of the book, which is in keeping with the rest of the novel.
Although religion and the character’s beliefs are very important to the story’s plot (I am not an expert, so I cannot comment if this novel would fit into the category of Christian books, or if it would be considered too daring, although there is no explicit sex and I cannot recall any serious swearing), and the main character might appear old-fashioned and not a typical young man, for me, that is one of its assets. It does not feel like a modernised recreation of the past, but as if it truly had been written by somebody who was recording the important aspects of his long-gone youth. I recommend it to readers keen on books full of atmosphere and centred on characters and relationships that differ from the norm. It is also a great book for people looking to recreate the feeling of the late 1950s and early 60s in a Southern small town.
And now, a few words from the author herself, about her experience writing from a male character’s point of view:
Thanks so much for the invitation to guest blog with you and your readers! When you contacted me after reading Son of a Preacher Man, you mentioned being curious about the challenges of a woman author writing from a man’s point of view (Son of a Preacher Man is written in the first-person point of view of the hero, Billy Ray Davenport.)
It was a struggle at times. The first two-thirds of the story were a breeze; I was typing along, not worried about too much, and then as I was trying to resolve the conflict in the story, just tell the entire world what Lizzie was REALLY thinking, I realized. I can’t DO that! I know her whole story, but Billy Ray doesn’t, and I’m inside his head. I can only write what he knows, even though I know what she knows.
I worked through that conundrum, and in some ways, I think that made the story stronger, because readers are left to extrapolate some pieces of Lizzie’s story for themselves, and that helps them maps themselves onto her experiences and perhaps identify and empathize more with her.
A second challenge came up during the editing process. I became concerned that some of Billy Ray’s thoughts and words, well—sometimes Billy Ray didn’t really sound too much like a guy. For example, he probably wouldn’t label the color of a woman’s dress with something like “azure blue” or “mauve” (although he might notice how the dress fit her.) Or he wouldn’t say things in quite those words—girly words—’cause I’m a girl, and I often write like a girl (which I mean in the very best of ways.)
Some of this issue I solved by making Billy Ray an unusual young man: unusually empathetic, unusually observant, unusually sheltered. By making more stereotypical feminine traits part of his personality and giving him a profession focused on nurturing others’ well-being (he’s an aspiring physician), I created a character who could tread that line a little more credibly. At least, I hoped so. I also self-edited his lines with a more and more critical eye as I went through the manuscript.
In general, here are 5 tips that helped me get through writing in male POV:
Be an observer of men. I think I do this a lot already. I mean, I like men J and the “otherness” of them interests me. There are wonderful men in my life too: my husband, my son, my dad, my male friends. And I’ve met men that weren’t quite so wonderful over the years as well. They all helped me write Billy Ray.
Don’t be concerned about writing something you don’t understand or agree with. Men don’t see things like I do all the time. Sometimes they say things I think are insensitive, or rude, or misogynistic, or just plain wrong. And sometimes words and actions like that are part of the story, and if I’m in that man’s head, speaking for him, I have to accept I’m not going to personally cheer for everything he says and does.
Remember the humanity in mankind. In the end, men and women are human beings, and there are a lot of experiences we share, even if we don’t always share them with each other.
Let a man read it. My male beta reader told me a few times, “Yeah, a man wouldn’t say that.” Point taken.
Make something about your male character like yourself – so you can empathize with him. Billy Ray wants to help people. I do too. He wants to be a doctor; I’m a speech therapist. He’s easily embarrassed by discussing personal matters; I am too. Because we share those traits, I can better interpret situations from his point of view.
So, while writing from a male point of view is a challenge, I don’t think it’s an impossible task. I considered writing Son of a Preacher Man from dual points of view—the story is definitely as much about Lizzie as it is Billy Ray. But after all was said and done, I decided he was really the troubadour. He had to be the one to tell the tale.
Thanks to Rosie and her team, thanks to the author, thanks to you for reading and remember to like, share, comment, click, REVIEW and keep smiling!
This is the second part (although it should be the first) of the post I published last week. Oh well, this is me we’re talking about, after all.
The Dry: The Sunday Times Crime Book of the Year 2017 by Jane Harper
‘One of the most stunning debuts I’ve ever read…Read it!’ David Baldacci
WINNER OF THE CWA GOLD DAGGER AWARD 2017 AMAZON.COM’S #1 PICK FOR BEST MYSTERY & THRILLER OF THE YEAR 2017 The Gold Australian Book Industry Award for Book of the Year Australian Book Industry Award for Fiction Book of the Year
WATERSTONES THRILLER OF THE MONTH
THE SIMON MAYO RADIO 2 BOOK CLUB CHOICE
SUNDAY TIMES CRIME THRILLER OF THE MONTH
‘Packed with sneaky moves and teasing possibilities that keep the reader guessing…The Dry is a breathless page-turner’ Janet Maslin, New York Times
WHO REALLY KILLED THE HADLER FAMILY?
I just can’t understand how someone like him could do something like that.
Amid the worst drought to ravage Australia in a century, it hasn’t rained in small country town Kiewarra for two years. Tensions in the community become unbearable when three members of the Hadler family are brutally murdered. Everyone thinks Luke Hadler, who committed suicide after slaughtering his wife and six-year-old son, is guilty.
Policeman Aaron Falk returns to the town of his youth for the funeral of his childhood best friend, and is unwillingly drawn into the investigation. As questions mount and suspicion spreads through the town, Falk is forced to confront the community that rejected him twenty years earlier. Because Falk and Luke Hadler shared a secret, one which Luke’s death threatens to unearth. And as Falk probes deeper into the killings, secrets from his past and why he left home bubble to the surface as he questions the truth of his friend’s crime.
And if you loved The Dry, don’t miss Jane Harper’s second novel Force of Nature, now available
It is hard to believe that this accomplished piece of writing, which returns again and again to the savage beauty of the landscape, is Harper’s first novel – Sunday Times, Crime Book of the Month January 2017
Wonderfully atmospheric, The Dry is both a riveting murder mystery and a beautifully wrought picture of a rural community under extreme pressure – Mail on Sunday Thriller of the Week, January 2017
The writing is fantastic, and the plot – where many mystery/thrillers fall short these days – was completely unpredictable in the best ways possible… Aaron Falk, returns to his hometown in Australia to mourn, and inevitably investigate, his best friend’s apparent suicide. What comes next is a series of twists and turns that will keep you guessing all the way until the end. I repeatedly found myself shocked and pulled in by Harper’s fast paced and engrossing writing. Truly a fantastic read and hopefully the first of many to come from Ms. Harper – An Amazon Best Book of January 2017, Amazon.com
One of the most assured crime debuts I’ve encountered in many years . . . It grips like a vice from first paragraph to last, atmospherically evoking the small town of Kiewarra . . . Told with heart-breaking precision and emotional power . . . If you read only one crime novel this year make it this one – Daily Mail
Solid storytelling that, despite a plethora of flashbacks, never loses momentum, strong characterization and a sense of place so vivid that you can almost feel the blistering heat add up to a remarkably assured debut – Laura Wilson, Guardian
A sad, beautifully told tale of lives regretted – The Times
‘Jane Harper’s fleet novel about a triple killing is packed with sneaky moves and teasing possibilities that keep the reader guessing…hard to believe this is her first novel… The Dry is a breathless page-turner…The dryness that gives the book its eerie title looms large in the novel’s finale, when certain kinds of weapons become even more terrible than those used to butcher the Hadlers. And a book with a secret on every page now has threats blooming everywhere, too. The Dry has caught the attention of Reese Witherspoon, who has a solid track record for spotting novels with strong movie potential. (Want some evidence? Gone Girl.) But Ms Hadler has made her own major mark long before any film version comes along – Janet Maslin, New York Times
Like True Detective set in the Australian outback…Amid the worst drought in a century, the tension and stifling heat running through the small town of Kiewarra crackle off the pages – Stylist magazine, this month’s most exciting new novels
Set in a small Australian town during a blistering drought, this creepy and tightly woven tale about a detective investigating a brutal triple-murder is getting huge global attention for all the right reasons – it’s brilliant! – Heat magazine
Pulse-thumping suspense… Building from the first page, rammed with atmosphere, suspicions, lies and tension, this is a first-class crime debut’ – Fanny Blake’s Great Reads, Woman & Home
Settle in a comfy chair and read . . . The Dry by Jane Harper. This gripping novel charts a policeman’s unwilling participation in the investigation of a terrible murder in the town of his youth, and is set to be the biggest crime release of 2017 – GQ magazine
Tipped to be one of the biggest novels of the year . . . a gripping read – Hello magazine
Jane Harper creates an atmosphere of simmering tension right from the off. Her version of High Noon in the Outback flickers between past and present to slowly reveal what actually happened between characters who are far more engaging than the cogs usually found in clockwork thrillers . . . A more than promising debut – Evening Standard
One of the most stunning debuts I’ve ever read. I could feel the searing heat of the Australia setting. Every word is near perfect. The story builds like a wave seeking the purchase of earth before it crashes down and wipes out everything you might have thought about this enthralling tale. Read it! – David Baldacci
One of the best crime debuts of 2017 – literary Broadchurch meets Top of the Lake – Joseph Knox, author of Sirens
There is something about isolated communities and secrets and lies that just really intrigues me and this is one heck of a thriller with all of those things and more . . . [this thriller] slowly bubbles like a pan on a stove and you think you can guess the moment when the pan lid is just going to explode. But it’s only been a little while since the water started to bubble, it’ll be ages yet…..then BOOM. I had my eye on that pan lid from the start and I didn’t guess what would happen. My heart is still beating like mad days after finishing the book – The Book Trail (via NetGalley)
You can almost feel the searing heat of the Australian drought in this intense, gripping, atmospheric tale. A compulsive read. – Kate Hamer, bestselling author of The Girl in the Red Coat
Put up your tray table, buckle your seatbelt, and sit back: you’ve found the right book for this flight. Set in the flash-ready tinder of a town going under, The Dry is a cracking good read that will have you hoping the pilot decides to circle the airport before landing. A hit by land or air. – Laura McBride, author of We Are Called to Rise
You will feel the heat, taste the dust and blink into the glare. The Dry is a wonderful crime novel that shines a light into the darkest corner of a sunburnt country – Michael Robotham, CWA Gold Dagger Winner, bestselling author of Life or Death
Every so often a debut novel arrives that is so tightly woven and compelling it seems the work of a novelist in her prime. That’s what Jane Harper has given us with The Dry, a story so true to setting and tone it seemed I fell asleep in Virginia only to wake in Australian heat. It’s rare, that sense of transportation, and I loved every minute of it – John Hart, New York Times bestselling author of Redemption Road
Terrific characters, unique and evocative setting, knockout plot construction. This book has it all – John Lescroart, New York Times bestselling author of The Fall
Every now and then an Australian crime novel comes along to stop your breath and haunt your dreams…There is about The Dry something mythic and valiant. This a story about heroism, the sins of the past, and the struggle to atone – Sydney Morning Herald
[A] devastating debut…From the ominous opening paragraphs, all the more chilling for their matter-of-factness, Harper …spins a suspenseful tale of sound and fury as riveting as it is horrific – Publishers Weekly, starred review
A mystery that starts with a sad homecoming quickly turns into a nail-biting thriller about family, friends, and forensic accounting. Debut author Harper plots this novel with laser precision, keeping suspects in play while dropping in flashbacks that offer readers a full understanding of what really happened. The setting adds layers of meaning. Kiewarra is suffering an epic drought, and Luke’s suicide could easily be explained by the failure of his farm. The risk of wildfire, especially in a broken community rife with poverty and alcoholism, keeps nerves strung taut… A chilling story set under a blistering sun, this fine debut will keep readers on edge and awake long past bedtime – Kirkus, starred review
A stunner…It’s a small-town, big-secrets page-turner with a shocker of an ending. .. – Booklist, starred review
The Dry is one of the most talked-about debuts of the new year….Harper’s story is tightly plotted and moves briskly, the tension as brittle and incendiary as the dried-out crops on the Kiewarra farms. But it is the beautifully evoked landscape and the portrayal of a gloomy outpost on the edge of a desert that are the stars of the show – BookPage
A firecracker debut . . . Journalist Jane Harper proves literary is often mysterious, with her thriller The Dry capturing readers’ attention both for its final twist and its depiction of a hostile small Australian town beset by drought – West Australian
It’s extremely rare and exciting to read a debut that enthralls from the very first page and then absolutely sticks the landing. Told with heart and guts and an authentic sense of place that simply cannot be faked, The Dry is the debut of the year – C.J. Box, #1 New York Times bestselling author of Off The Grid
A razor-sharp crime yarn dripping in the sights, sounds and smells of the Australian bush…The storytelling is accomplished, with a bald sparseness to the writing that draws you in and characterization that rings resoundingly true…as the action twists and turns, the pace build[s] to a fantastic finale that will leave you breathless – Australian Women’s Weekly
A tightly plotted page-turner that kept me reading well into the night…Harper shines a light on the highs and lows of rural life – the loyalty born of collective endurance in adversity, as well as the loneliness and isolation, and the havoc wrought by small-town gossip. She also explores the nature of guilt and regret, and the impact of the past on the present. In this cracker of a book Harper maintains the suspense, with the momentum picking up as it draws to its nerve-wracking conclusion – Australian Financial Review
In this exhilarating debut (which won the Victorian Premier’s Literary Award for an unpublished manuscript), Falk goes back to a town ravaged by feelings of resentment and distrust that are exacerbated by drought . . . A community psychologically and socially damaged, Kiewarra resembles Henry Lawson’s bush. Australian novelists such as Harper, in a small and select company, are exploring disquieting, imaginative territories, far from the littoral or metropolis – Weekend Australian
In Jane Harper’s debut The Dry, long-held grudges are thrown in the mix to make for an absolute tinderbox – and a cracking read. Harper has delivered a tense, evocative thriller that paints a stark picture of what desperate times can do to a community. She slowly reveals the deep-worn tensions between characters in the small town, and it’s this that makes The Dry such a good read . . . tension crackles . . . It’s not surprising that Reese Witherspoon’s production company, Pacific Standard, has already snapped up film rights for The Dry. It has some decidedly Australian aspects but Harper’s basic point – about the desperate things people will do in desperate times – is universal – Adeleide Advertiser
Atmospheric and riveting, this remarkable debut announces a significant new talent – Morning Star
Jane Harper is the author of The Dry, winner of various awards including the 2015 Victorian Premier’s Literary Award for an Unpublished Manuscript, the 2017 Indie Award Book of the Year, the 2017 Australian Book Industry Awards Book of the Year Award and the CWA Gold Dagger Award for the best crime novel of 2017. Rights have been sold in 27 territories worldwide, and film rights optioned to Reese Witherspoon and Bruna Papandrea. Jane worked as a print journalist for thirteen years both in Australia and the UK and lives in Melbourne.
This is a bit of a peculiar situation. After reading great things about this novel and requesting the author’s second novel Force of Nature (you can check my review here) from NetGalley, I had to read it quickly to take part on a blog tour. When I looked at other reviews, there were so many comparisons to the first novel (although it can be read as a standalone) that I felt I should read the first novel to make my own mind up. That means I will be comparing the first novel to the second, rather than the other way around. Sorry. Why do things the easy way when one can complicate matters?
There is no doubt that Harper knows how to set a story and how to take full advantage of the landscape, atmosphere, and characteristics of the place and the people. She sets the story during a terrible drought in Australia, specifically in Kiewarra, and has the main protagonist (who is also the main character in Force, Aaron Falk, a police detective specializing on fraud and financial crimes) return to his place of birth, twenty years after having left in unfortunate circumstances. The story is also told in the third person, mostly from Falk’s point of view, although we also have fragments, that are differentiated from the rest of the story by being written in italics, that go back to the events that happened many years back (the events that made Falk and his father leave town when he was an adolescent), and also to the more recent deaths. These fragments, also written in the third person, are told from a variety of points of views, although it is not difficult to know which character’s point of view we are sharing. (Some readers enjoy the style and others don’t, so I’d recommend checking a sample of the book before making a decision).
In this story, Falk is called to attend the funeral of his childhood friend, Luke, who has seemingly killed his wife and young son, and then committed suicide, only leaving his baby daughter (13 months old) alive. Luke’s parents are convinced that their son has not killed his family and himself, and ask for Falk’s help. The current killings bring back memories of the death of a young girl who was Falk and Luke’s friend and with it the suspicions of his possible involvement.
The mystery has some elements of the police procedural (as Falk joins forces with the new police Sergeant, Raco), also of the domestic noir (there are many secrets, mostly family secrets buried deep, and relationships that are not what they seem to be at first sight), and there are plenty of suspects, clues, red herrings, to keep us guessing. But the book does not follow a straight linear narrative, as I mentioned; it does go into plenty of detail about things that do not seem to be always relevant to the murders, and its pace is not what we are used to in more formulaic thrillers. It is slow and contemplative at times, and the past weighs heavily on the investigation (especially on those who have matters pending). Although most of the violence takes place outside the page, and this is by no means the most explicitly violent novel I’ve read (I’m difficult to shock, though), there is violence and it deals in pretty dark subjects, so be warned. Whilst in some crime novels, even very dark ones, there are light and humorous moments that help release tension; there is hardly any of that here. What we have are insightful and contemplative moments, which go beyond the usual snarky comments by the cynical detective.
As an example, a particularly touching comment by Barb, Luke’s mother, talking about the aftermath of her son’s death:
‘No-one tells you this is how it’s going to be, do they? Oh yes, they’re all so sorry for your loss, all so keen to pop round and get the gossip when it happens, but no-one mentions having to go through your dead son’s drawers and return their library books, do they? No one tells you how to cope with that.’
I thought the small town was realistically portrayed. The envies, the resentment, the discomfort of knowing that everybody is aware of everybody else’s business, and the prejudices and the tensions in a place where nobody can hide, and where you are never given the benefit of the doubt, felt true to life. Although I’ve never visited Australia, the dynamics of the place and its inhabitants, subject to major tensions due to the uncertainty the drought had brought to the local economy, create an atmosphere that is tense and oppressive, even if the story is not fast-paced.
The characters, in my opinion, are somewhat more clearly divided down morality lines in this novel than in the second, although it is not so evident in the beginning. Whilst in Force none of the characters come out of the book unscathed, and most of them are morally suspect, here there are good characters (although they might not appear to be) and some truly bad ones. Most of the characters (at least the good ones) carry a burden of guilt (in most cases for things they are not truly responsible for), whilst the bad characters seem unable/unwilling to take responsibility for their actions, no matter how cruel. As is the case for many investigators, Falk is also investigating his own past, and that is why he finds it so difficult to resolve the case. This process of rediscovery and personal digging will continue in the next novel. I would not say Falk is an immediately likeable character. I found him more consistent and easy to understand in the second book (of course, by then he had survived to the events of this novel, which would have had an impact on him), although he seems to come alive in some of his interactions with others (particularly Luke’s mother, a great character).
Overall, I felt the mystery part of the story is more intriguing and well-resolved here (even though the past case keeps interfering with the present; there are not as many loose ends and red-herrings here), although I did not mind that aspect of the second novel (that I found more morally complex). For me, this one is more of a novel for mystery lovers, especially for those who prefer to take their time and enjoy a different setting to the usual urban thriller. The second novel in the series pays more attention to how the story is told and to the characters themselves. But there is no doubt that Harper is a great writer and I’m sure we’ll keep reading her and about her in the future.
Ah, don’t miss this post with a recommendation of a book that people who have enjoyed The Dry might like (and I could not agree more. I love The Silent Kookaburra by Liza Perrat. You can read my own review, here).
Thanks to the author, to Cathy for her recommendation, to all of you for reading, and remember to like, share, comment, click and REVIEW!
It’s funny and wonderfully perceptive’ Wendy Holden
‘Poised and perceptive’ the Sunday Times
‘It is beautiful and yet devastatingly sad’ Daily Express
‘A considerable achievement … one of the more authentic debuts I’ve read in recent years … in such an understated manner, eschewing linguistic eccentricity … in favour of genuine characters and tender feeling…this is a fine novel.’ John Boyne, Irish Times
‘Deeply accomplished…brilliantly observed’ Good Housekeeping
‘An undercurrent of black comedy accompanies the ripples that ensue – but with a pathos that makes this deftly plotted story as moving as it is compelling.’ Sunday Mirror
‘Strenuously charming…surprisingly tender’ Metro
‘Heartwarming and observant’ Stylist
Graham Norton’s masterful debut is an intelligently crafted story of love, secrets and loss.
The remote Irish village of Duneen has known little drama; and yet its inhabitants are troubled. Sergeant PJ Collins hasn’t always been this overweight; mother of two Brid Riordan hasn’t always been an alcoholic; and elegant Evelyn Ross hasn’t always felt that her life was a total waste.
So when human remains are discovered on an old farm, suspected to be that of Tommy Burke – a former love of both Brid and Evelyn – the village’s dark past begins to unravel. As the frustrated PJ struggles to solve a genuine case for the first time in his life, he unearths a community’s worth of anger and resentments, secrets and regret.
Darkly comic, touching and at times profoundly sad. Graham Norton employs his acerbic wit to breathe life into a host of loveable characters and explore – with searing honesty – the complexities and contradictions that make us human.
A Note From the Publisher
HOLDING is not the novel I planned to write, at least, not at first. But following the old adage to write about what you know, Ireland seemed a good place to start, especially rural Ireland. I did have in mind a cast of characters living in and around a small village where their lives would reflect the priorities and concerns – land, marriage, religion – that are so present in that area still.
I found as I wrote more about the characters of Duneen that each of them had in some way become suspended in time – due to grief, due to unhappiness, due to fear of failure – and that they were all holding on to their own secrets.
I am hugely excited that HOLDING is now heading out into the world, and would love to hear what you think. Please do let me know on Twitter@Grahnort using the hashtag #readholding. I will be watching!
Thanks to Net Galley and to Hodder & Stoughton for offering me a free copy of this novel.
I have several confessions to make. Yes, I know who Graham Norton is, although I don’t watch his television programme often, and I don’t follow Eurovision (even when Sir Terry Wogan hosted the UK version of Eurovision, and I was a big fan of his, I didn’t watch it), although I sometimes catch bits of his radio programme on Radio 2. So, although I suppose I had expectations, they can’t compare to other people’s.
I haven’t read any of his autobiographical books, so I didn’t have anything to compare this novel to, other than the many books I read by other authors.
I must also confess that I had a look at other reviews before writing mine and I will mention them, although not in detail.
This novel is in many ways the Irish equivalent (if there is such a thing) of the small town thrillers that are very common in the US. We have mysteries, we have a dark underbelly (well, not quite so dark), we have secrets, and we have many people whose lives are not as they appear to be. The book is listed under General Fiction and Mystery (Crime, Thriller) but I’m not sure how well it fits in the second one, at least stylistically, not so much from the story point of view.
The story is told in the third person but from the point of view of quite a few of the characters in the novel. If one had to choose a protagonist, perhaps it would be P.J. Collins the large Sergeant who lives alone and always expects people to laugh at him because of his weight. When bones are unearthed at a local building site, suddenly some excitement comes into his life. Because the owner of the farm where the bones are found left to never return many years back, the suspicion is he might be the one buried there, and suddenly two women who had fought over him start thinking about him again. Of course, due to the nature of the crime, police officers from Cork come to take charge and there is general disruption. And of course, things get complicated.
I didn’t find it difficult to follow the different points of view as they tend to be clearly demarcated and the characters are very different, although I thought that in the last chapter before the epilogue the switches were a bit fast and not so well demarcated, and some people might not enjoy the head-hopping.
I’ve noticed that several of the reviews commented that the portrayal of small town Ireland seemed timeless, and it is true that other than mentions of DNA tests, mobile phones and i-Pads, there isn’t much that could not have fitted in any other era (although we assume it’s contemporary). Memories of the past by several of the characters appear more vivid at times than the present era and ring truer.
Although the characters do not appear to be very sophisticated or complex, there is enough background history to create a picture in the minds of the reader, although some might result very familiar to habitual readers (adulterous husband, unhappy married woman who drinks too much, three unmarried sisters still living together, the town’s busybody…). My main problem with the characters was that I never felt I truly connected with any of them and I’m not sure if that is perhaps because all of them seem to be observing themselves rather than living or feeling. They are all lonely, even the ones who are in relationships, and seem frozen (as the writer notes in his comments), unable to move on because of some loss long ago (be it real or imagined). It brought to my mind Carson McCullers’s The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter, not because of the style or setting, but because of the feeling of the characters (although far less dark).
I read in some of the comments that there was humour. Perhaps it was my frame of mind when I read it (although I don’t think it was particularly dark) and some of the characterizations and the events could be funny in their own right, but combined with the characters and their circumstances I would not recommend it as a funny story.
There writing is fairly descriptive and the pace leisurely rather than the frantic pace of thrillers, and for me, there was more showing than telling at some points of the story that also gave it a more contemplative style than is usual in modern mysteries.
The plot was well built and the story and the details are interesting (with some minor surprises although the general gist is not that difficult to guess). It also ends on a more positive note than the rest of the novel anticipates but I won’t comment on it not to spoil the story.
Overall it is an interesting novel, easy to read although it perhaps doesn’t sit easy either as a thriller or a cozy mystery (none of the characters is weird or peculiar enough and the mystery itself is more realistic than in these kinds of stories) and that makes it a bit more challenging to recommend to genre readers.
Thanks to the publishers, the writer and to NetGalley for the novel, thanks to all of you for reading, and please, like, share, comment and CLICK!
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