Block 46- Johana Gustawsson

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Falkenberg, Sweden. The mutilated body of talented young jewellery designer, Linnea Blix, is found in a snow-swept marina.

Hampstead Heath, London. The body of a young boy is discovered with similar wounds to Linnea’s.

Buchenwald Concentration Camp, 1944. In the midst of the hell of the Holocaust, Erich Hebner will do anything to see himself as a human again.

Are the two murders the work of a serial killer, and how are they connected to shocking events at Buchenwald?

Emily Roy, a profiler on loan to Scotland Yard from the Canadian Royal Mounted Police, joins up with Linnea’s friend, French truecrime writer Alexis Castells, to investigate the puzzling case. They travel between Sweden and London, and then deep into the past, as a startling and terrifying connection comes to light.

Sometimes a book comes along that makes you want to read long into the night because you just have to know what happens next,  Block 46 is one such book.

I was lucky enough to meet Johana at Newcastle Noir a few weeks ago and heard her talk at the penultimate panel of the weekend which concentrated on Nordic Noir. Johana is French, married to a Swede and lives in London and her very European roots radiate through Block 46, taking us from the UK, to Flakenberg, Sweden and to the horrors of Buchenwald Concentration Camp. She talked passionately about Block 46, her inspiration for the novel and her very personal motivation behind the scenes set in 1944; so much so that you could have heard a pin drop. She spoke so eloquently and beautifully that as soon as the panel finished I bought a copy of Block 46 (one of only 3 books I bought that weekend as I was under strict instructions from my husband not to bankrupt us) as I just had to own it.

This book has everything I love in a novel; a clever and inventive plot, tension, multi-person narratives, time jumps and more noir than you can shake a stick at. I adore a novel that makes me think, when I know that the clues are in reach and I desperately try to join the dots to stay one step ahead of the killer.

One of the narratives is from the point of view of the killer which took us down some dark and disturbing avenues as we learned about his psyche. I really liked this approach, as a reader I love to know what the antagonist is thinking – I really engage with the character and the book and it makes it a much more personal experience for me. It also meant that I spent most of the novel trying (and failing) to work out I was sure that I had it right at least 7 times before realising I was wrong. Again.

I found Block 46 a very moving novel, which may seem an odd thing to say about a noir book but, I can read about violence and crime and be unaffected as it is quite clearly fiction, however Johanna delves into the atrocities that took place at Buchenweld and I know that these events are real. This book tackles the crimes that took place there head-on and is unapologetic in its approach to shine a spotlight on the horrors of WW2 so that we never forget. These parts are never gawkish or unneccessary, they are horrific in their subtlety and, as is so often the case; it is what is unseen that is terrifying.

Block 46 is released on 15th May and can be bought here. I highly recommend this book, it is beauitful, brutal, tense and compelling and packs a punch.  It also has the most wonderful cover so please make sure you buy it in paperback!

 

 

 

 

 

Tony and Susan/Nocturnal Animals – Austin Wright

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Fifteen years ago, Susan Morrow left her first husband, Edward Sheffield, an unpublished writer. Now, she’s enduring middle class suburbia as a doctor’s wife, when out of the blue she receives a package containing the manuscript of her ex-husband’s first novel. He writes asking her to read the book; she was always his best critic, he says.

As Susan reads, she’s drawn into the fictional life of Tony Hastings, a math professor driving his family to their summer-house in Maine, and as we read with her, we too become lost in Sheffield’s thriller. As the Hastings’ ordinary, civilized lives are disastrously, violently sent off course, Susan is plunged back into the past, forced to confront the darkness that inhabits her and driven to name the fear that gnaws at her future and will change her life.

Nocturnal Animals was a hit movie which was released towards the end of last year starring Jake Gyllenhaal who, lets face it, never does light-hearted rom-coms so I was expecting the novel of the same name to be dark and twisted and boy was I right! The book was originally released in 1993 as Tony and Susan and was a critical success, it was re-released last year as Nocturnal Animals to tie in with the film and was our book club read for April.

Nocturnal Animals is a book within a book. Firstly we have Susan who has been sent a copy of a manuscript by her ex-husband Edward and throughout the course of the novel we learn about her life with Edward, their subsequent divorce and her life now.  Then we have Edward’s manuscript which is the story of Tony and the life changing events that he encounters. I love a book within a book, and loved the frustration and anticipation of wanting to know what happened next in Tony’s story and being unable to do so as we have to read at Susan’s pace.

The opening section of Edward’s book is quite simply, terrifying. It depicts Tony, his wife Helen and daughter Laura travelling to their holiday home in Maine and encountering the evil Ray and his friends. I read this section in bed and ended up texting my fellow book club member and friend to ask if she knew whether my Kindle would break if I put it in the fridge a la Joey from Friends as I was so terrified. The suspense was built so gradually it was almost imperceptible and there was a general feeling of ominous doom which radiated from the pages.

Sadly, once we got beyond this section it went downhill for me. I couldn’t really get on board with Tony’s actions and found Edward and Susan unlikable; it is very difficult (for me) to connect with a book if I dislike the characters. They were thinly drawn and at times I was unable to differentiate between some of the characters and had to keep flicking back to check which person we were reading about. Susan’s family for instance was confusing, I was two-thirds of the way through the book before I realised that one of the characters was her cat and not in fact her daughter.

This book got a wide range of scores at book club, ranging from a 1 all the way up to 9 out of ten but, even though it provoked a massive discussion it was generally disliked – a synopsis of our book club meeting can be found here.

Soon after finishing the book I watched the film (something I generally avoid as in my experience films are rarely as good as books – except for the Harry Potter films and perhaps The Martian and Gone Girl) and, this is something I have never said before, the film is far superior. It fleshes out the characters, cuts out the superfluous drivel and is a tight, dark and enjoyable film which is well worth a watch!

 

 

 

Six Stories – Matt Wesolowski

1997. Scarclaw Fell. The body of teenager Tom Jeffries is found at an outward bound centre. Verdict? Misadventure. But not everyone is convinced. And the truth of what happened in the beautiful but eerie fell is locked in the memories of the tight-knit group of friends who took that fateful trip, and the flimsy testimony of those living nearby.

2017. Enter elusive investigative journalist Scott King, whose podcast examinations of complicated cases have rivalled the success of Serial, with his concealed identity making him a cult internet figure.

In a series of six interviews, King attempts to work out how the dynamics of a group of idle teenagers conspired with the sinister legends surrounding the fell to result in Jeffries’ mysterious death. And who’s to blame… As every interview unveils a new revelation, you’ll be forced to work out for yourself how Tom Jeffries died, and who is telling the truth.

I’ve been seeing this book doing the rounds on Twitter recently and was really intrigued by the premise so promptly downloaded it to my Kindle. I then realised that Matt Wesolowski was not only a fellow Geordie but was going to be on one of the panels at the wonderful Newcastle Noir  which I was attending at the Lit and Phil so I was really excited to hear him talk about his book and the inspiration behind it.

Six Stories is an exceptional book and it is hard to believe that it is a debut novel. Matt said during his panel that he was inspired by the podcast Serial and realised that a book following the same premise would be both different and challenging to write and, having previously written horror novellas he started writing Six Stories, never expecting to be a crime writer.

It is a testament to Matt’s skill as a writer that he has written a book from multiple viewpoints each with distinctive voices and personality traits; other, more experienced novelists really struggle with this. We learn about each of the characters from their individual interviews and the opinions that the others have of them. Just when we feel we know a character a throwaway comment from somebody else pulls the rug out from under our feet and we’re left re-jigging our mental image of them. The book is like a jigsaw puzzle and we are constantly looking for the elusive key pieces which Matt holds back until just the right moment to open up another part of the puzzle.

I really loved the podcast style, the interviews interspersed with the stream of consciousness of Harry who, along with his friends found the body really ramped up the tension and kept me guessing right until the end. I also adored and was really impressed with the skill it took to write a book that was wholly narrative – our entire perception of the ominous and imposing Scarclaw Fell comes from Scott King’s description and the tales that are told by the interviewees.  In lesser hands this may have felt clumsy and shoe-horned in but it was such an easy read and I could really imagine the outward bound centre and the surrounding countryside. There were moments that there were so genuinely terrifying and where the tension was so great that the hairs on the back of my neck stood on end.

I also have to give extra kudos to Matt for his use of Geordie language in Six Stories. So many books which are set in Newcastle or have a character from Newcastle use a lot of ‘Why-ayes’ and ‘Ha-ways’ whereas Six Stores hit the perfect note of mid 90s teen vernacular in the North East. I particularly enjoyed his descriptions of the opposing fashions of the time, it brought a wry smile to face to remember the style and language used.

The wonderful Six Stories is published by Orenda Books and can be bought here – if clever, crime and thriller books are your thing then give Six Stories a go, I highly recommend it.

 

 

 

He Said/She Said – Erin Kelly

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Who do you believe?

In the hushed aftermath of a total eclipse, Laura witnesses a brutal attack.

She and her boyfriend Kit call the police, and in that moment, it is not only the victim’s life that is changed forever.

Fifteen years on, Laura and Kit live in fear.

And while Laura knows she was right to speak out, the events that follow have taught her that you can never see the whole picture: something – and someone – is always in the dark…

First of all apologies for the lack of book posts, I have been a little poorly and as such had lost my reading mojo, but fear not, thanks to He Said/She Said it is back with a vengeance!

What. A. Book. Written by Erin Kelly, author of, amongst others, The Ties that Bind, The Poison Tree (which was also a TV series I believe) and co-writer of Broadchurch, He Said/She Said is a deftly written psychological thriller full of twists and turns. Set in both the present day and during the August solar eclipse of 1999 it tells the story of Laura and Kit who in the aftermath of the eclipse witness an attack which has repercussions for the next 16 years.

Laura and Kit live in London and are expecting twins; Kit has been chasing solar eclipses since he was young and Laura has caught the bug. Being pregnant with twins Laura decides to stay at home whilst Kit travels to the Faroe Isles to see the March 2015 eclipse. Laura is anxious and nervous about his trip, for reasons that aren’t immediately clear, whilst Kit reassures her that everything will be fine. Interspersed with his trip are flashbacks to the first solar eclipse they saw together in Cornwall in 1999, the attack they witnessed and the subsequent court case and their resultant friendship with Beth, the victim.

I do love a book which is dual narrative (the story is told from both Laura’s and Kit’s point of view) and multiple time frames and, in less capable hands this may have felt clunky and choppy but the pages whizzed by. This isn’t really a whodunnit, it is more an explanation of what happened and whether everything is as it seems. The multiple view points mean that the story is built gradually with different perspectives of the same event. The tension is really ramped up and just when you think you are on solid ground Kelly pulls the rug out from under you.

I loved the way the book was separated into sections represented by the five stages of a total eclipse of the sun; first contact, second contact, totality, third contact and fourth contact representing the different pieces of the puzzle coming together. There are also some absolutely beautiful passages describing eclipses, which were spine tingling and really made me want to go eclipse chasing!

I also admire how Erin Kelly didn’t shy away from the difficult subject matter of rape and a rape trial. The courtroom scenes are particularly well written and are tense, horrifying and upsetting. This is a book which is centred on a heinous act and tackles head on the criminal justice system and the treatment of rape victims both in court and in the media.

This is an exceptionally clever psychological thriller which kept me guessing and hasn’t been far from my thoughts since I finished it and i’m sure that this is going to be the book of 2017. Thanks to Hodder & Stoughton and NetGalley for the advanced copy in return for a fair and honest review; it was my pleasure.  He Said/She Said is out today and can be bought here 

Rating: 5 Stars

Read: April 12th – April 15th

 

 

 

Book Review: Sometimes I Lie – Alice Feeney

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My name is Amber Reynolds. There are three things you should know about me:

  1. I’m in a coma.
  2. My husband doesn’t love me anymore.
  3. Sometimes I lie.

 

A few months ago I read Rubbernecker by Belinda Bauer where one of the supporting characters was in coma and the implication was that she had been put there by her husband. I wanted to know about this woman and her back story and thought at the time that a book set around this concept would make a good thriller so when Sometimes I Lie came along I snapped it up immediately.

Amber Reynolds is in a coma unable to remember what put her there, she can hear what is being said around her but can’t communicate at all. Through a series of flashbacks and diary entries we discover Amber’s history and the events that led up to her ending up in a coma. The information is drip fed to us and as we only really see events from Amber’s point of view we don’t ever really know whether what she is telling us is true, after all, she  does tell us within the first paragraph that she lies. The book is full of deception and misdirection with thoroughly unlikable characters which disorientates the reader.

Unfortunately this book didn’t really do it for me, it isn’t badly written, or poorly plotted, in fact it moves along at a brisk pace and there are a few twists and turns, it’s just, I’ve read this sort of book before. There is a real glut at the moment of books which are billed as ‘The psychological thriller with a twist you will never see coming” or “For fans of Gone Girl/The Girl on the Train/ ad infinitum” and I’m bored of them. I think the market is so saturated that whilst I was reading this I guessed a number of the twists as it was so ‘thriller by numbers’. I have no doubt that this book will be a roaring success, it has all the components; well written, well plotted, well-developed characters but for me, it fell flat.

I’ve given Sometimes I Lie 3 Stars as my issues have little to do with the book itself, as I say it was well written and has enough mystery to keep a reader’s interest but, I have read better in this genre.

Thanks to the publishers Harlequin (UK) and NetGalley for an advanced copy of this book in return for an honest review. Sometimes I Lie is published today and can be bought here.

Read: 6th – 11th March 2016

Rating: 3 Stars

 

Book Review: Snowblind – Ragnar Jónasson

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I love a scandi-noir book, some of my favourite books are the Jo Nesbo Harry Hole series (and there’s a new one coming out in a few months, squeal!) so I had high-hopes for Snow Blind as it is set in Iceland (OK, not strictly Scandinavia) and features a rookie policeman solving a murder in Siglufjörður a fishing village in northern Iceland. This is book 2 of the series (but the first one to be translated into English so we’ll have to wait for book 1) and I had my fingers crossed that I’d find a new book series to lose myself in.

I have to admit I was slightly disappointed. I found the beginning very slow,  Ari Thór Arason moves from Reykjavik to Siglufjörður to begin work in the local police station leaving behind his girlfriend Kristin who is training to become a Doctor.  Siglufjörður is remote, accessed via a tunnel through the mountains which surround the town on one side, whilst a fjord surrounds the other side. Arriving at the beginning of winter where the town regularly gets cut off from the outside world by avalanches blocking the tunnel he finds life there claustrophobic and is treated as an outsider by the close-knit community heightening his disorientation and increasing his unsettled feeling. Ari Thór’s story is interspersed with that of a woman who is being attacked in her home which builds the tension as we don’t know who this woman is or how she relates to the main plot.

The first half of the book sets the scene, we are introduced to many characters and it is some time before a local man dies and a woman is found bleeding to death in the snow. Once the story got going it moved at a brisk pace, long buried secrets revealed and dark lies unravelled. I really enjoyed this part, it was action packed, tightly written and the missing puzzle pieces started to move into place. Ari Thór’s battle against the locals and their reticence to talk to him was well written;  we can really feel his frustration. Although this is a whodunnit I didnt feel particularly satisfied by the ending as it did feel a little rushed.

Even though I didn’t love this book as much as I thought I would, I don’t think it will put me off reading the next book, Nightblind as I think that there is definitely potential and I’d quite like to see how Ari Thór’s story pans out.

Read:23rd February – 27th February

Rating: 3 stars

Book Review: All Our Wrong Todays – Elan Mastai

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This is a really different book; Tom lives in Toronto in 2016, except it isn’t this 2016, it’s the one that everybody thought we’d have back in the 1950s,  flying cars, space travel as regular an occurrence as hen weekends in Benidorm and weirdly, no books. That is until Tom travels back in time to 1965, does something he shouldn’t and when he returns to 2016, he is here (well, last year), where we don’t have flying cars but we do have books, so that’s one positive anyway.

Tom, at the beginning is an unlikable character, a bit hopeless, a bit wet, utterly hapless and with no real purpose in life having lived in the shadow of his super-intelligent dad. He arrives in this 2016 and despite us living a pre-historic life (we have to put our own clothes on in the morning; the horror), he finds he is far happier here. Confusingly Tom in our 2016 is named John and he’s a celebrated architect, creating beautiful buildings that Tom quickly realises are from his 2016.  John (Tom), is also a narcissistic, cruel man who has no interest in his family and is disdainful of most things. Tom meets and falls in love with warm, kind, beautiful Penny who is a version of the cold, dismissive, beautiful Penelope he was in love with in his 2016 and suddenly this 2016 isn’t too bad after all. Until John makes an appearance, does something unforgivable and Tom realises he has to find a solution to the predicament he has put himself in.

All Our Wrong Todays explores some really interesting themes; what makes us happy, what do we need to be happy, the effect of technology and how our decisions influence our lives. Tom’s life in futuristic 2016 is all smoke and mirrors – technological advancement which on the surface looks wonderful masks loneliness and despair. Compare this to our 2016 where we seem to live a happier life but lack technology and Tom has a difficult decision to make.

I’m not sure if I enjoyed this book, there were some sections I thought were brilliantly written and thought-provoking, some twists that really made me sit up and take notice but then there were some really confusing bits that went right over my head. The last section was utterly bemusing and I hand on heart, have no idea what happened whatsoever. I know how it ends but the bit preceding it is just a blur.

Overall though, I would say it is definitely worth a read; it is very thought-provoking and quite action packed and would make a wonderful film (and Elan Mastai writes movies for a living) as I’d love to see what future 2016 looks like!

Thanks to NetGalley and the publishers Dutton for an advanced copy of this book which is published today in the UK and can be purchased here

Read: 16th February – 20th February 2017

Rating: 3 1/2 stars