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I live in Bristol UK horror dark fiction and crime are my books of choice and when not reading I like to run

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Career of Evil
Jay R. Galbraith
Progress: 75 %
Death Row
Michelle Lyons
Progress: 85 %
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Not his best

Lamb - Bernard MacLaverty

Michael Lamb a priest decides the only way to save Owen Kane, a youth in the care of the catholic church, is to flee with him to mainland England. With a small legacy inherited from a dead relative they travel as far as London. With no plan and diminishing resources he accepts an invitation to share a squat under the direction of Haddock a man of questionable morals and sexuality who he by chance meets in a bar. The police have started a country wide search and with increasing interest of the media Lamb makes a decision which sets him on a course and a meeting with his destiny.

 

Together with John Boyne, and David Park I also enjoy the writing of Bernard MacLaverty  but I found reading Lamb somewhat tedious, there appeared to be no real story and no real direction. Michael Lamb obviously thought that by running away from a desolate home on a wild Atlantic coastline he is saving Owen from the fate and hate of an overzealous regime under the iron rod of the Principal Brother Benedict. He loves Owen, not in a physical or sexual sense but as a protector and friend (although I do question his actions on the occasion he left Owen alone in the squat at the mercy of the morally repulsive Haddock) For all his grandiose ideas Lamb is ultimately portrayed as a weak man who squanders his legacy on an ill thought plan leading to a final journey where hope and redemption fade as the fate of Lamb and Owen is finally revealed.

Slipping into depression

The Bell Jar - Sylvia Plath

The story of Ester Greenwood is the story of a young girl trying to find her place in life. She wins a scholarship to work at a fashion magazine in New York and strives to live the perfect life with perfect friends, perfect career aspirations, perfect looks, and a I want it all now mentality. But running alongside her desires is the slow onslaught of mental illness, and her sinking into hopelessness and despair. The more she descends the more the bell jar encases and surrounds her sapping her strength to break free.

 

This is quite a harrowing story make all the more real by the matter of fact unhurried story telling...."Wrapping my coat around me like my own sweet shadow, I unscrewed the bottle of pills and started taking them swiftly, between gulps of water, one by one. At first nothing happened but as I approached the bottom of the bottle, red and blue lights began to flash before my eyes. The bottle slid from my fingers and I lay down."........"I had locked myself in the bathroom, and run a tub full of warm water and taken out a Gillette blade".....The challenges of life the perception of people the need to be happy and successful all pale into insignificance when the body and mind shuts down as senses are overwhelmed.

 

Plath's writing explores the attitudes of society towards those who suffer from  mental illness and describes in some barbaric detail the use of electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) which is still used today as a means to relieve the symptoms of mental health...."I tried to smile but my skin had gone stiff, like parchment. Doctor Gordon was fitting two metal plates on either side of my head. He buckled them into place with a strap that dented my forehead, and gave me a wire to bite"......The Bell Jar appears semi biographical and to me is an attempt in part by the author to come to terms with her own mental issues. It is sad to note that one month after publication in the UK Sylvia Plath herself committed suicide by sticking her head in an oven in her London flat. It cannot help but make me wonder was the writing of The Glass Jar a cry for help and if so was it too little too late. The general tone and feeling of nihilism that prevails this book is best summed up in the following quote....."why I couldn't sleep and why I couldn't read and why I couldn't eat and why everything people did seemed so silly, because they only died in the end"......The Bell Jar is as powerful today as when it was first published and demands to be read if only to understand the human condition and to realize that mental health and the inevitable fallout is still very present in our everyday lives.

A very enjoyable read

The Silkworm - Robert Galbraith

It was with curiosity, fondness and indeed excitement that I commenced reading The Silkworm by JK Rowling  under the pseudonym Robert Galbraith. Cormoran Strike is not the conventional detective. He is a man not only shaped by his unusual upbringing (son of famous rock star Jonny Rokeby) but deeply affected by his experience in war torn Afghanistan which resulted in him not only saving the life of a close friend but also the loss of his leg. That injury serves as a constant and painful reminder of the futility of war and the source of all his nightmares. Strike is best described as an antihero and with his disability he does not conform to the public's perception of a Private Investigator. His drab office with a central metal staircase pays homage to the fictional Philip Marlowe and certain passages only add to that illusion...."The geometrically perfect steel-grey bob, a black suit of severe cut and a slash of crimson lipstick gave her a certain dash. She emanated that aura of grandeur that replaces sexual allure in the successful older woman"......His young assistant Robin adds perception and glamour under the watchful eye of jealous boyfriend Matthew.

 

The novelist Owen Quine has been missing for 10 days and his wife Leonora has employed the services of Strike to find him. Quine has written a soon to be published bitter and twisted novel that depicts his acquaintances as grotesque caricatures. If such a novel was brought to the attention of an adoring public the lives of many would be sullied and ruined. So when the badly decomposed body of the author, minus his intestines, is discovered the list of potential perpetrators would be the envy of an Agatha Christie novel!

 

Although the story at its best is a good police procedural the attention and sympathy of the reader is directed towards the flawed character of Cormoran Strike. Here is a PI who must hobble around the snowy, wintry streets of London on an ill fitting prosthetic. You can almost feel the pain and frustration of a driven individual (fuelled by copious amounts of his favourite tipple Doom Bar) hampered by his own inadequacies and relying totally on his glamorous, intelligent assistant Robin who will undoubtedly play a more important role as the later stories develop... An accomplished second book in the series with some astute observations...."We are mammals who need sex, need companionship, who seek the protective enclave of the family for reasons of survival and reproduction. We select a so-called loved one for the most primitive of reasons"...I look forward to reading the rest in the series.

Astounding

Love is Blind - William Boyd

Love is Blind by William Boyd is a truly memorable story with wonderful characterization. His colourful writing instantly transports the reader to Scotland at the end of the nineteenth century and continues the journey through mainland Europe at a time of great change and gathering turmoil in the years immediately preceding the 1st World War.

 

Brodie Moncur is a piano tuner in the employ of Channons of Edinburgh and when the opportunity is offered to manage the Paris store he readily agrees. Brodie is an ambitious and proactive manager and believes that the best way to expand and promote the "Channon" brand is to employ the services  of piano virtuoso John Kilbarron thus advancing the Company's pianos throughout Europe. This association leads to a fateful meeting between Brodie and the beautiful alluring Russian singer Lydia Blum, Kilbarrons on off girlfriend. A passionate clandestine  affair develops that results in Brodie and Lydia fleeing from city to city hotly pursued by Malachi Kilbarron seeking revenge for his wronged brother.

 

I often think that the mark of a good story is the author's ability to take me the reader with him on a journey of discovery, to remove from the mundanity  of modern living and surround me with the smells, sounds and excitement of the animated world he is describing. We therefore enter the preserve of piano virtuoso's at a time in history when piano use and production was at its highest and live performances  although the privilege of the wealthy still attracted a mass following. Welcome to a place where the combustion engine has made an entrance, where consumption has destroyed the lives of young and old, and when true gentlemen resolved their differences by resorting to a dueling contest.

 

An exciting story brilliantly executed by one of England's greatest living authors..Many thanks to the good people at netgalley for a gratis copy in exchange for an honest review, and that is what I have written. Highly Recommended

A masterclass in storytelling

The Heart's Invisible Furies - John Boyne

My first and only previous encounter with John Boyne was the excellent young adult story "The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas". So when the opportunity arose and I was gifted early review status on "The Heart's Invisible Furies" I was happy to accept, read and review....and I am so glad I did!. This is a work of great literary intent with bawdy undertones, an easy assimilated tale about the life of Cyril Avery, born out of wedlock and immediately given up for adoption. The story spans a period from the mid 1940's and moves at a ferocious pace up until the present and relayed to the reader in bite size 7 year chunks. Even though the novel stretches to some 600 pages once Boyne grabs your attention from the opening paragraph his colourful and descriptive prose holds you in awe until the final and very fitting conclusion.

 

Adoptive wealthy parents Charles and Maud guide the young Cyril in his early infant years. A childhood friend Julian Woodbead allows Cyril to discover and question his own sexuality. This soon leads to a realization that will form part of his decision making throughout his life. From Dublin to the waterways of Amsterdam, the streets of New York and finally returning to Dublin we travel with Cyril experiencing the good times the bad, the sad, the funny and the indifferent. Boyne explores successfully and with great humour and gusto attitudes of bigotry and tolerance against the background of a god fearing catholic population, an aids frightened society, and a world in panic immediately following the events of 9/11. At times you will want to laugh out loud or perhaps shed a tear. I can honestly say that I have rarely been so moved by a story, the eloquent use of language, and the unveiling and interpretation of the issues raised and debated. Let's enjoy a few moments of the John Boyne magic...... "Cork City itself, a place she had never visited but that her father had always said was filled with gamblers, Protestants and drunkards"........"one man had been accused of exposing himself on the Milltown Road but the charges had been dismissed as the girl had been a Protestant"........"It was 1959, after all. I knew almost nothing of homosexuality, except for the fact that to act on such urges was a criminal act in Ireland that could result in a jail sentence, unless of course you were a priest, in which case it was a perk of the job.".........."Christ alive, said the sergeant, shaking his head in disbelief. I never heard of such a thing. What type of a woman would do something like that?.......The very best type , said Charles."

 

This book to me celebrates the sheer joy of the printed word. Life, love and loss it is all here in a 600 page extraordinary extravaganza! If you love to read and you love books then "The Heart's Invisible Furies" is sheer magic...so buy, cherish and appreciate as you are unlikely to read anything better this year, or possibly any year. A great big thanks to the good people at netgalley for this early opportunity to read and review this masterpiece in return for an honest review and that is what I have written.

The first in the series

The Black Echo - Michael Connelly

There is nowhere better for me to try to understand the mindset of Harry Bosch or indeed his creator Michael Connelly by starting again where it all began book one in the series.

 

Harry is best described as "a detective who would do the right thing no matter what the cost. A man with a sharp worn code of conduct. A classic outsider.".... In The Black Echo we learn about Harry's activities as a tunnel rat during the Vietnam war and how the horrors of this underground hell helped shape him as a detective with the will to survive and a loner's code of justice. When the body of a fellow "rat" Billy Meadows is discovered in a drain outlet, Harry is determined to find the perpetrator responsible and bring justice to his onetime comrade in arms. In this endeavour he is joined by FBI agent Eleanor Wish, a relationship develops that becomes personal and leaves Harry wondering if her intentions are honourable or does she harbor an underlying agenda.

 

The weakness of the story is the plot; dirty money profits from Saigon laundered as diamonds/precious stones and kept secret in a bank vault in downtown LA. The only way to retrieve the hidden stash is to tunnel deep into the innards of the bank. In contrast the strength of the story is the superb charactization of the main players. Bosch, Eleanor Wish and Deputy Chief Irvin Irving who appears to be on a one man crusade against what he views as underhand tactics by a maverick lone detective.

 

As always Michael Connnelly is razor sharp in his acute observations of the human spirit....."Sunsets did that here. Made you forget it was the smog that made their colors so brilliant, and that behind every pretty picture there could be an ugly story."....."He was a worn-out old man whose eyes had quit caring about anything but the odds on three year olds"..."I believe that shit happens. I believe that the best you can do in this job is come out even".......

A story of our times

Home Fire - Kamila Shamsie

A story that explores the controversial subject of the indoctrination of the ISIS philosophy into a sympathetic yet ultimately misguided populace.

 

Isma Pasha followed her dream to America leaving behind her elegant sister Aneeka and her vulnerable yet impressionable brother Parvaiz. Eamonn, the son of outspoken Home Secretary Karamat Lone, becomes captivated by the beauty that is Aneeka. Does Aneeka reciprocate this love or is she merely using Eamonn to help rescue her twin brother Parvaiz who has since travelled to Syria but very quickly lives to regret this decision.

 

There is a nice balance in this novel between the Pasha family whose father Adil, had been a jihadi and had gone to Afghanistan to fight with the Taliban  and died for his beliefs, and Home Secretary Karamat Lone a traditionalist and yet a reformer. He loathed those citizens irrespective of  beliefs or culture..."who treated the privilege of British citizenship as something that could be betrayed without consequences"...and further..."I hate the Muslims who make people hate Muslims"......

 

I can understand why Home Fire was the winner of the Women's Prize for fiction 2018 and whilst the first part of this novel was a little reticent and slow to impress the second half presented neatly formulated ideas and beliefs all leading to a very sudden unexpected conclusion. Home Fire is a story of the modern world and shows what happens when the corrupt and misguided prey on the weak and receptive.

Neatly observed hard boiled noir

A Lesson in Violence - Jordan Harper

Nate McClusky is just out of prison. He knows his life and that of his family is in danger as crazy Craig Hillington president of Aryan Steel,  has put out a death threat on Nate, his ex wife Avis and his daughter Polly. Crazy Craig  has already murdered  Avis..."knifed dead in the dark on the bedroom floor"..... but can Nate save Polly from the threats of the assassins bullet. He collects her from school and there then starts a cat and mouse game with Nate trying to save his daughter from those who might do her harm. He was trained in the art of bank robbery by his dead brother Nick and uses these skills now to wreak revenge on those hell bent on his destruction. He has a need to gain the trust and possibly the love of Polly especially as he has neglected her for so long. Police officer Park assigned the task of looking into the death of Avis soon finds himself embroiled in a much more complicated and dangerous situation when he discovers that she  was murdered some 12 hours after McClusky's prison release....is there a connection here?

 

This is hard boiled noir tale that successfully blends the badness and anger of Nate McClusky with the innocence and youth of Polly whose one real friend "Bear" is nothing more than a child's teddy yet always a confidant and protector. A Lesson in Violence is also a coming of age story showing that the bond existing between a daughter and father is resilient to the harsh realities of life. As the story progresses Nate comes to the realization that he needs the warmth and respect of his daughter more than she needs him.

 

This novel grabbed me from the opening page..."She wore a loser's slumped shoulders and hid her face with her hair, but the girl had gunfighter eyes"......and continued with some beautifully observed prose...."That was the way Polly felt, that outside she was quiet and calm but inside her acid winds roared"......"Rod was the king shit of the Nazi Dope Boys"......"That soon as you found something to live for, you found something to die for too. But he guessed in the end it was a good trade"......

 

A neatly observed crime story that successfully pays homage to the writings of such notorieties as Raymond Chandler, Dashiell Hammett and Jim Thompson and at the centre is one cool hero Polly and her close companion "Bear" Recommended.

The writing of James Lee Burke is delightful to read

Robicheaux - James Lee Burke

The action takes place in the Louisiana delta region of the United States. Dave Robicheaux is still haunted by the death of his wife Molly in an automobile accident and has always suspected that JT Bartez was to blame. One morning he awakens up in a police station to be told that he is the chief suspect in the murder of Bartez and given that Robicheaus has marks and bruises on his hands can only lead to one conclusion....So as our knowledgeable detective sets out to reclaim his good name a serial killer with the gentle name of Smiley is at work in the delta region killing whose who deserve to have their life terminated.

 

James Lee Burke writes lyrically about a time and place he obviously knows very well. It is not so much the story that attracts me to his writing but his wonderful descriptions full of warmth and humour..."Those truths have less to do with the dead than the awareness that we are no different from them, that they are still with us and we are still with them, and there is no afterlife but only one life"......"I admired him and perhaps sometimes even envied his combination of composure and ardor, as well as his ability to float above the pettiness that characterizes the greater part of our lives"....."With each day that passed, I felt as though the world I had known was being airbrushed out of a painting"....."She was one of those women who seemed to choose solitude and plainness over beauty, and anger over happiness"...."people are what they do, not what they think, not what they say"....."He's one step away from the worm food and knows it"...."Louisiana is not a state; it's an outdoor mental asylum in which millions of people stay bombed most of their lives"...."Solitude and peace with oneself are probably the only preparation one has for death"....."If you have attended the dying, you know what their last moments are like. They anticipate the separation of themselves from the world of the living before you do, and they accept it with dignity and without complaint"...

Great expectation but does not deliver!

The Kind Worth Killing - Peter Swanson

A chance meeting at an airport between Ted  and Lily allows Ted's darkest secrets to be revealed and a murder pact is set up the recipient of the violence being Ted's wife Miranda. Sounds good? Well it was for one chapter and naturally many will find similarities between the book Strangers on a train by Patricia Highsmith and the equally brilliant movie noir adoption by Alfred Hitchcock. But be warned this is no classic in the making rather it is a story of nonsense that is best suited as a " trashy" read on a far flung beach where little can be expected and  nothing received in return............zzzzzzzzzz

 

The four main characters; Ted, Miranda, Lily, and Brad spend the entire book trying to outflank and kill each other..and that is the essence and intelligence of this very quick soon to be forgotten piece of fiction. Even the inclusion of an unexpected ending did little to raise The Kind Worth Killing above a one star! So the golden rule is never believe all the hype that accompanies a book before, during and after its release as in this case the result is nothing short of dire......

When truth is stranger than fiction

A Very English Scandal: Sex, Lies and a Murder Plot at the Heart of the Establishment - John M. Preston

The story of a government MP who uses and abuses his position of power to not only funnel funds but also amazingly to arrange the murder of his on/off lover Norman Scott, makes for surreal reading. Jeremy Thorpe was a respected eloquent Liberal MP and under the guise of a suave persona he was frightened to reveal to his friends, and in particular his constituents, that he was homosexual. In the politically correct world we live today such a revelation  would have had little impact in comparison to the frightened and conservative attitude of 60/70's Britain.

 

Norman Scott had received and retained a number of sensitive and very private letters from his lover. Thorpe was terrified that Scott would use this correspondence to blackmail him and reveal to the world at large secrets of his personal life. When all attempts to retrieve the letters failed Jeremy Thorpe unbelievably decided his only real option was to arrange the execution of Scott. What follows is somewhat farcical; when the hired gunman shoots Norman Scott's dog and turns the weapon to his intended target the said gun jams leaving the hired executioner no option but to flee leaving in his wake a frightened and perplexed Scott.

 

The world of politics is often a murky arena where the privileged few appear to operate without any thought for the feelings of others and more importantly refusing to accept any accountability. Yet equally the morals we purport to hold today seem no better than the misguided assumptions of 60/70's London. We need look no further than the recent "Windrush" scandal where the home secretary Amber Rudd clearly lied when questioned by a select committee. The fact that the government then replaced the disgraced MP with an ethnically acceptable minister cannot escape the sour taste of duplicity.

 

"A very English Scandal" was certainly a very informative, witty and entertaining read. The trial that followed the bungled assassination attempt resulted in Jeremy Thorpe being acquitted but it marked the end of his political career. His government seat disappeared under the march of conservatism and the emergence of a new firebrand, the dictatorial  residency of one Margaret Thatcher. The novel also makes mention of Cyril Smith, one time heavyweight Liberal MP for Rochdale, and Jimmy Savile a well known TV personality. It is equally disheartening to realise that these repulsive individuals were able to carry out such vile acts of sexual abuse of the innocent never to be unmasked until after their deaths, even though there was overwhelming evidence. In the case of Cyril Smith the Greater Manchester Police, for their own reasons, choose not to bring Smith to justice in his lifetime and for that they should hang their heads in shame.

Emotive and soul-searching

Ordinary Grace: A Novel (Paperback) - Common - by William Kent Krueger

What a truly wonderful story, a novel which I started yesterday and finished today, unable to put down so engrossed was I with not only the lyrical story telling but the happy, sad and often painful content.

 

Frank Drum is a 13 year old boy growing up in the small town of New Bremen in the mid western US state of Minnesota. He lives with his mum Ruth an accomplished artist and pianist, his dad Nathan a Methodist minister, his brother Jake and his oh so talented sister Ariel who will surely set the world on fire with her virtuoso piano playing. But in this carefree summer of 1961 Frank will begin his transformation into adulthood and his future will be shaped by soon to be acquired knowledge that death can come in many forms and this visitation will shape and mould the basis of his adult life. At the centre of the story a tragic event occurs, an event that will have lasting repercussions not only on the Drum family but many of the residents of this tight knit community, where so many lives are entwined and affected by the decisions of others.

 

The author expertly captures life in a small rural enclave and is told through the voice of Frank Drum as he looks back some 40 years with sadness and warmth. The writing is sublime combining the magical elements of a "Walton's" story with reality, harshness and struggle of everyday living. Yet it is the elegance of the prose that draws the reader in, making a lasting impression and asking us to question our moral values in an attempt to understand what is really important in this life we live...."I set on the steps of my father's church thinking how much I loved the dark. The taste of what if offered sweet on the tongue of my imagination. The delicious burn of trespass on my conscience. I was a sinner. I knew that without a doubt. But I was not alone"......."And what is happiness, Nathan? In my experience, it's only a moment's pause here and there on what is otherwise a long and difficult road".........."Whatever cracks were there the war forced apart, and what we might otherwise have kept inside came spilling out"......."because I was little more than a child wrapped in a soothing blanket of illusion"......"We entered a period in which every moment was weighted with both the absolute necessity of hope and a terrible and almost unbearable anticipation of the worst"......

 

I found out about the writing skills of William Kent Krueger through my active involvement with the book social forum "Goodreads" and what a delight and pleasure this has been. I look forward to reading so much more by this great author and will close this review with yet another astute observation of the human condition...."Being dead was a thing and not a horrible thing because it was finished and if you believed in God, and I did, then you were probably in a better place. But dying was a terribly human process and could, I knew, be full of pain and suffering and great fear"......Highly, highly recommended.

 

Depressingly implausible

The Wolf - Alex Grecian

Travis Roan is a Nazi hunter and his travels have led him to Kansas in the American Midwest and in particular to the community know as Purity First, a religious order. The founder of this sect is an elderly gentleman called Rudy Goodman a notorious Nazi better known as Rudolf Bormann, who is still adhering to evil practices on mainland USA.

 

It is now over 70 years since the conclusion of wartime hostilities in Europe. It therefore follows that any supporters of that regime would in all probability be very elderly and most likely infirm. This does not detract or excuse their past misdemeanours but it makes it highly unlikely that a 90 year old man would actively pursue evil practices by carrying out depraved deeds and murder. Over many years a number of children have gone missing, and it would appear that the good population of Kansas never once suspected or indeed questioned a motley group of individuals who wore "Brownshirts" acting in the manner of Adolf Hitler's SA..."all of them wearing identical brown shirts. There were perhaps twenty of them, their pink skin scrubbed clean, their fair hair neatly parted"..... In additions Rudolf Bormann owns a ranch know as the Third R which unbelievably never attracted attention from anyone in the rural community.

 

The hero of the moment is Trooper Skottie who certainly adds a little charm and colour to a sorry tale. Travis Roan's faithful dog Bear is at the centre of all the action, he is both deadly and loveable in equal measures and only responds to commands made in a language known as "Esperanto" (which has an estimated 2 million speakers worldwide, I am led to believe). Skottie struggles in her role as a single parent to her daughter and is drawn to the quiet reserved manner that is Roan. I quite liked the first third of this story and was prepared to overlook the fact that a very old man could be at the centre of a community funnelling drugs and people and guns and equally be the main suspect in the disappearance of young children. It was laughable to even consider that no one noticed these rather odd Brownshirts or even questioned a homestead called the third R....I suspect that if a  man in brown  shorts, neatly parted hair,  short stubby moustache and a swastika on his arm jack booted his way down main street he would probably just been seen as an oddity and ignored! If an author chooses to use Nazi ideology as the main theme in his book the story should at least have some plausibility and not be portrayed in this nonsensical way culminating in a shootout when the main culprits were finally uncovered. As a reader and reviewer on netgalley it has to be right that I view and voice my opinions whether they be good or bad. Unfortunately in "The Wolf" I cannot find anything of merit, it was a story that had a ridiculous unfolding plot and it seems to me that the only reason for using Nazism as its central plot was a cheap ploy to draw in unsuspecting readers. Best avoided and certainly not recommended...however as always thanks to the good people at netgalley and the publisher Penguin for a gratis copy in exchange for an honest review and that is what I have written.

Colourful bawdy and bold!

Tomorrow - Damian Dibben

The word "Tomorrow" actually refers to the name of the dog in this story, who throughout the book is searching for his master "Vallentyne" a physician by occupation. As the story covers  many many years and many great events it must be accepted that the dog lives a very long time. The purpose of this novel and where it really succeeds is to describe events in Europe over a span of approx 150 years. It's a bold and bawdy journey and gives full reign for the author to explore the great happenings in a continent under constant change with many battles being fought.  From the Freezing of the river Thames in the 19th century to famous battles at that time (Waterloo) being present at the dramatic execution of Charles 2nd, and finishing at the dawn of the Industrial age with the first sighting of steam trains. And as we absorb the colourful and constant change of time and location we meet the players who will forever be associated with certain events namely; Napoleon, Franz Schubert, Duke of Wellington, James 1st and his successor Charles 2nd.

 

What drew me to the story was reliving events through a dog's point of view. As we move backwards and forwards in time from the palace of James 1st to the artful ambience of Vienna and Venice and the blood soaked plains of Waterloo the story telling is furious and very enjoyable with a constantly flowing descriptive prose...."The king lay down, positioned his neck on the block, trying to get comfortable. The executioner apologized as he tucked a few more stray hairs into the cap, then raised the axe and struck. Blood pumped from the boned neck and a groan went up"....."the trickery of it, the pointlessness, humans and animals born simply to suffer, for the pain to invariably worsen with age, for anguish to thicken and veins clog, until they were skidding down to death"......."Perhaps because decay is the most virulent form of life, or perhaps because nothing speaks more of the phenomenon of being, than the absence of it".........

 

The only downside of the back and forth time capture narrative is the confusion that can sometimes arise when trying to pinpoint a particular city and time. The is a very slight criticism in a story that I enjoyed told in a very colourful and bold manner. Many thanks to the good people of netgalley and publisher Penguin UK-Michael Joseph for a gratis copy in exchange for an honest review and that is what I have written.

An important book of its time

The Seventh Cross - Anna Seghers, James A. Galston, Kurt Vonnegut

Without doubt one of the main issues that often causes concerns when talking about the 2WW is just how much information the everyday German populace received or knew about what the Nazi party were involved in on a day to day basis. Here of course we are referring to genocide and the manipulation and control of not only the German people but those in neighbouring countries which soon fell under the control of jack booted terrorists and in particular the annihilation of groups who did not conform to the Nazi Aryan ideology. So digging deep within the storyline of The Seventh Cross we are almost exclusively given a glimpse into the thinking of the everyday German at that time and in particular their knowledge or lack of just what was happening on a daily basis. Did they know of the existence of concentration camps in the years immediately before war broke out? And if they did know were they supportive? Did they condone what was going on? Were they prepared to help individuals who were incarcerated and brutally beaten for merely condoning a particular belief?

 

Anna Seghers book is of particular significance as it a product of its time. It paints a picture of a country in change/turmoil but most importantly it is written from someone who actually lived through the rise of Nazism, the emergence of an elitist SS, the indoctrination of the very young into the Hitler Youth, the brown uniforms and fascist beliefs held by the SA whose official role was to protect party meetings, march in Nazi rallies and physically assault and intimidate political opponents. 7 men imprisoned in the fictitious Westhofen camp have escaped. George Heisler, a communist, is the main character and the story follows him negotiating the outlying countryside and taking shelter with those who were prepared to risk the wrath and torture of the Gestapo. As the story unfolds six of the escapees are gradually captured. The title of The Seventh Cross refers to the work of the camp commandant "Fahrenberg" where he has ordered the creation of seven crosses from nearby trees to be used when prisoners are returned not as a means of crucifixion but a subtler torture: the escapees are made to stand all day in front of their crosses, and will be punished if they falter. As in historical document this is an important work primarily because it portrays the mindset of the German people; would they adhere to the barbarous actions of a ruthless government in waiting or were they prepared to stretch out the hand of friendship and help the escapees.

 

I must confess that as a story I did not find the book as well written as I had hoped (that honour must certainly go to the wonderful Alone in Berlin by Hans Fallada. and the dangerous actions that Otto Quangel takes when he discovers that his son has been killed on the Russian front) yet it is still an excellent account of its time, written by a lady who herself was a committed communist. Many thanks to the good people at netgalley and the publisher Little Brown Book Group UK, Virago for a gratis copy in exchange for an honest review and that is what I have written.

A solid offering from Mr Weaver

You Were Gone - Tim Weaver

Tim Weaver is an author whose work I really enjoy. His writing is precise reminiscent of storytelling from a bygone era, at times displaying shades of Agatha Christie but with a modern feel. The central character in his novels is David Raker, an investigator who markets himself as a locator of lost persons, those individuals who for their own personal reasons wish to disappear....or do they? Weaver uses real and imagined locations throughout London often creating a haunted or sinister backdrop adding to the mystical quality of his prose. Think of old wooden piers and the thrills and sounds of Victorian amusement arcades (What Remains, David Raker book 6)  and underground abandoned tube/rail stations (Vanished, David Raker book 3)

 

Nine years ago Raker sadly lost his wife Derryn  to cancer. He is naturally astounded when he receives a call from a local police station informing him that a woman purporting to be his wife has just presented herself at reception. Who is this woman? Is Raker's mind unravelling? Did the last 9 years never happen? What appears to be a simple case of I.D becomes something altogether more disturbing when the lady in question mysteriously disappears after visiting a flat in Chalks Farm. From this point in the novel the events that unravel become increasingly dark and threatening. As our investigator himself is drugged a race against time follows to locate the whereabouts of the missing woman. Raker is horrified to learn that both himself and his wife have been the subject of "stalking" for many years and unfortunately it appears the perpetrator is still active posing a very real and present threat. When the identity of the stalker is revealed the resulting shock and fallout will amaze not only those involved in the hunt but an unsuspecting reader!

 

I must admit that "You were gone" is not my favourite novel in the David Raker series. The plot is overly complex and at a page count of just under 500 it might have benefited from some close editing as I found myself really struggling to complete the last 20%. Having said that I am a great admirer of the writing of Tim Weaver and this is still a solid contender in the series. Many thanks to the good people at netgalley and the publisher Penguin UK - Michael Joseph for a gratis copy in exchange for an honest review and that is what I have written.