Published by Legend Press
On a gloriously sunny weekday afternoon, I should have been: working on my own novel; reading a book on poetry; completing my lesson prep for teaching the following day. Instead, I was snuffling back tears, hurtling towards the end of this addictive debut.
‘At twenty-one, Tallulah Park lives alone in a grimy bedsit. There's a sink in her bedroom and a strange damp smell that means she wakes up wheezing. Then she gets the call that her father has had a heart attack. Years before, she was being tossed around her difficult family; a world of sniping aunts, precocious cousins, emigrant pianists and lots of gin, all presided over by an unconventional grandmother. But no one was answering Tallie's questions: why did Aunt Vivienne loathe Tallie's mother? Why is everyone making excuses for her absent father? Who was Uncle Jack and why would no one talk about him?
As Tallie grows up, she learns the hard way about damage and betrayal, that in the end, the worst betrayals are those we inflict on ourselves.’
Kat Gordon narrates relationships beautifully, telling: the gulf between child and adult understanding; friendships and first crushes; teacher-pupil relationships. She captures the myriad ways in which people struggle to be supportive or to gain power - a dichotomy at the heart of this novel. Her child and teenage characters are particularly good - she heartbreakingly draws the way emotions overwhelm and paralyse the body. Gordon captures the embarrassment of recall so well it makes for uncomfortable reading, and the development in character of Tallulah’s family members - reflecting her increasing understanding of them - is a wonderful feat.
The heart as metaphor; the body as metaphor. There’s nothing new in these ideas, but Gordon’s story-telling keeps the notion that ‘each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way’ beating healthily, while forging such strong links to the world as we know it (certainly as Gordon’s and my generation grew up with it) that this particular, fascinatingly unhappy family is recognisably the reader’s, or their best friend’s, or their neighbour’s. They are other; they are us. The narrative reflects the plot’s increasing suspense as memories once related distinctly, with poise, and time for reflection, begin to tread on each other’s heels, interrupting the present with ever-greater frequency, battling for space in Tallulah’s mind, willing a conclusive answer to the swirling of her questions. To write with such plausibility that the reader doesn’t know yet has - with hindsight - always known what will happen, is a serious talent. The character of Mr Hicks is particularly fine, Gordon balancing her portrayal of the charismatic teacher with the precision of treading a deadly live wire.
She writes with compassion and acuity about inexperience and the wilful denial of gut feelings leading to terrible choices made. This is a compelling, moving family drama about the danger of silence and secrets, the dreadful failure of best intentions, and the fondness so often to be found at the centre - yes, the heart - of even the messiest of families.
Published by Niaux Noir Books
Chicago homicide detectives Mark Bergman and John Dunegan return to investigate the murder of a renowned painter, only to uncover seven years worth of mysteriously deceased artist’s corpses. There are cops, a psychotically brilliant business plan, dead artists, living artists, mobsters, an upstart FBI agent, corrupt officials walking City Hall, and an art dealer with skin a curiously Dorian shade of Gray.
Set in modern-day Chicago, Kleinfeld’s tone is knowingly hardboiled. His style is slick and playful. Punchy sentences catapult you forward, or jerk you around gum-chewing style, always echoing the internal voice of each character’s point of view, including a couple of Serbian heavies with their own phonetic narrative. With plot twist upon hiccup, Kleinfeld ratchets up the time imperative like a bomb’s countdown gathering no moss. He slings a gun as easily as he swings by the bar. And as every character seeks to protect their own interests, it becomes a matter of life and death for all.
Twenty-eight years into a business trip to LA, the screenwriter in Kleinfeld is clearly visible in this vivid, whirlwind of a tale. His writing is cinematically visual, precise as a DOP. As the narrative POV shifts, time backtracks and overlaps, each character getting their close-up, each angle its camera. He captures in print what the Coen brothers do so brilliantly with their heightened realities on screen, hosting a cast of characters fit to enter an HBO series. Think plot-driven Tarantino; or, THE GODFATHER with wit. None of this is to imply that Kleinfeld’s world is a stage of unbelievable grotesquery. The comic-strip colour of pulp is here; but so is the crafted writing of a well-read man. His characters live on the edge but within the boundaries of believability. Narrative lines are numerous but convincingly intertwined, propelling tension, interest, and relief. The comedy is black and funny, the pace fast.
Apparently ‘this is a story about how Chicago works, and the marketing of fine art’. Well, what was it Lester Freamon said? Oh, yeah: follow the money. I’m betting all the way on Kleinfeld.
This is no ordinary thriller; this, is a Kleinfeld special.
Published by Quercus books
It’s Christmas Day and the only thing disgraced hedge fund manager Graham Poynter can celebrate is that he and his family are beyond reach of the baying media, safely barricaded into their Belgravia home.
Eighteen months have passed since BAPTISM’s murder on the underground, and Ed Mallory has left the force to earn a living as a freelance negotiator but finds himself more frequently called to the business lecture circuit than a hostage situation. With a recently failed negotiation behind him and feeling marginalized by ‘his new role as a consultant’, Ed’s paranoia and confidence are at an almost lifetime low when he is faced with a hostage-taker without apparent motive, with whom it’s ‘like talking to a colleague’.
In a short and deadly opening chapter, Kinnings shunts the reader immediately into the action, before teasing out the suspense, turning back the ticking clock of the narrative by four meticulously illustrated hours from this first death. Exploring the nature of privilege and greed, Kinnings does a convincing job of creating swift but rounded psychological profiles, in particular of the family taken hostage and their captor, who is the most appealing and likeable of them all. Kinnings continues to make beautiful use of Mallory’s four remaining senses to describe and interpret his surroundings. He manoeuvres the reader into and outside his characters’ heads, constantly playing with the perspective and making reading joyfully compulsive. Hence, as Graham Poynter stands at the edge of his roof feeling like a rock star ‘holding the attention of the crowd’ with ‘a new sense of freedom’, the police observe with simple horror that Poynter ‘nearly fell again’.
Though it lacks the gloriously personal connection of BAPTISM (where the use of public transport and random victims gave the narrative an Everyman possibility) this is another deftly crafted, page-turning thriller. The novel won’t make your heart palpitate with the fearful prospect that this could happen to you, which was part of the brilliance of Kinnings’ first novel. However, for all that the characters are vivid and varied, by riffing on their human greed for excitement, for risk and power, Kinnings explores how closely they resemble one another better to divine the difference between victim and criminal.
Published by HarperCollins
Imagine someone could travel through time to kill you. Imagine they got bored with the simplicity of that and decided to travel to a time before they killed you, to tell you they’d come back to get you – when you’re all grown up. Imagine being the victim who survives, wondering whether that was the or an attempt-on-your-life, and spending your days fearing your killer’s return.
Harper Curtis is Beukes’ time-traveling serial-killer. A Depression-era ruffian he flees from his own attackers into the protective power of the House (a hungry, supernatural entity, and shrine – or map – to the women Harper will murder). Each victim is a woman living (consciously or not) to illuminate the neuroses and politics of her given era. The reader travels across the ages with Harper, criss-crossing through nigh on seven decades of Chicago city life: visiting a child with wild, curly hair in 1974; college-graduates, artists, a transvestite; a black-female-welder in 1943. We ride the rollercoaster of time, looping backwards, lurching forwards in a cycle of infinity, of violence in perpetuity, which finally undoes even the man who can create murderous confusion across the years.
Kirby Mazrachi is the one that gets away. A heroine replete with chutzpah and youthful intolerance, she survives her brutal attempted-disemboweling and, determined to bring her attacker to justice, joins forces with jaded homicide-turned-sports-reporter Dan Velasquez (a likable foil written with heart). But when the killer can vanish into the ether, how will Kirby find him before he returns for her?
It is in solving the crime that Beukes loses the plot – suddenly Kirby is able to exist in the same time-plane as Harper, although others who visit the House are not, and it grows frustrating that so much must be left unexplained. Given that the House seems really to be in control, it’s odd that it remains in a supporting role. Beukes doesn’t quite have (here) H.P. Lovecraft’s gift for making invisible the impossibility of the impossible – I never quite lost my awareness of or desire to discover the backstage mechanics. But the narrative crackles along so vitally, adroitly switching between time and place, shifting among and between the detailed drawings of each victim, each nugget of history, that there is no heartfelt desire for this to have been another book. It's an ingenious, deftly researched, heart-pounding thriller.
Published by HarperCollins
A slew of inventively brutal killings of unconnected victims at crime scenes cleaned of all forensic evidence; an unknown serial-killer whose only motive is to return to the “mercilessness” and “violence” of Nature: “Because I have to”; and, a detective whose powerfully morbid imagination is a product of his abusive past.
These murders seem truly to be in cold blood, while being described by the (almost) chillingly dispassionate killer with all the pleasurable sensuality of a love affair. There’s a deft dance between DI Corrigan’s instincts and the killer’s confidence as police try to ascertain what is “progression” and what’s “camouflage” in the murderer’s changing tactics. Sean Corrigan’s reimagining of the murders – uncannily close to each original – are enthralling and disturbing. His family life is real, impossibly rocked by his job and opposing responsibilities. He is neither a loner nor a bachelor at heart, but driven by fear of and a need to avoid his own potential for abuse. His colleagues have their own agendas, their own concerns, and their own negotiations with the moral complexities of their lives. There are no minor characters, only people the reader gets to know more intimately than others – and Delaney uses each introduction (whether a shopkeeper, bouncer, or antiques-seller) to deepen his portrayals of the people he follows throughout the novel. There are no cursory exchanges.
Delaney takes apparently well-trodden ground, and confounds the reader’s expectations. The plotting is excellent, the narrative swift and sparky. He weaves his cast with the dexterity of an artisan and has created a string of convincing, potential protagonists, giving himself the real opportunity to spin-off multiple series. There’s a rich density to the layering of points-of-view, and the creepy recurrence of first-person-narration – almost journal-like, even epistolary at times – in amongst various third-persons’ (victims, police, suspects) is effectively unsettling. It’s rare to finish reading a book, feeling satisfied whilst still looking over your shoulder on the way to the bathroom at night; but Delaney’s cleverly leading and consciously anonymous “I” haunted me for several days. The final chapter left me vulnerably alert, wondering, do we really know who that voice belongs to?
This is tight, imaginative plotting a authentic, intelligent characterisation from a debut writer, who happens to be an ex-Met murder squad detective.
Published by HarperCollins
New York. 1778. The American War of Independence is at full-throttle. Into this teaming, stinking cauldron of fear and vitality is thrown homesick gentleman Edward Savill – a British clerk sent by the American Department to resolve the property issues of dispossessed loyalists. Lodging with the well-to-do Wintour family, Savill finds himself embroiled, unwittingly, with double-agents and murderers, all seeking to unlock a secret that could bring power to whoever holds its key.
Taylor captures the assault on the senses of this era. His writing is excellent, the pace is meticulous, frustrating and repellent attitudes towards race and femininity are irritatingly well-drawn – yet he doesn’t, quite, submerge the reader in his world. The particular, pedantic, and naïve voice of Taylor’s narrator is a boon to the novel’s historicity, but delays the reader’s relationship with Savill. Although Savill’s loneliness is beautifully captured, and the tenderness he feels for his five-year-old daughter (growing up so distant from the father who loves her) is heartbreaking, it takes an unnatural will to engage with the protagonist. The presence of the red-blooded Jack Wintour is invigorating, and a venture into the Debatable Land eerily atmospheric, driven, and compelling, but the narrative tone is peculiarly disconnecting in its effect and tough to embrace.
Published by Blue Door
There is safety as well as excitement in the thumping of a voyeur’s heart, adrenaline-charged from the comfort of an armchair. ‘You’re all about the experience. Until experience comes knocking,’ Sutton tells his handcuffed-by-request, now panicking Photographer. Boy, did experience come knocking for Willie Sutton.
The most famous bank robber of his day, Willie Sutton meticulously crafted his bank robberies, deliberately never killing anyone, elaborately disguising himself to evade capture in his decades-long war against noxious banks. Upon his final release from prison on Christmas Eve 1969, Sutton granted an exclusive interview to a New York newspaper and spent an entire day with a reporter and a photographer visiting the scenes of his crimes and vibrant life. The article, Moehringer tells us, was disappointingly brief and inaccurate. So Moehringer details his guess as to what happened on that day, and during those of the preceding 68 years.
What emerges is a man fantasising to believe himself more sinned against than sinning. A thief uncomfortable with his nickname, Willie the Actor is adept at earning it, romanticising his guilt even as all closest to him are destroyed, ‘I didn’t think it was wrong. I knew it was wrong.’ Reporter and Photographer want to endgame Willie’s history and uncover who murdered Arnie Schuster, the Boy Scout rat who put an end to Willie’s plastic surgery-assisted life-in-hiding and became the Judas of Brooklyn. But Willie wants to start his retrospective at the beginning, where ‘the air tastes familiar. Like a dishrag soaked in river water’ and ‘Life was one long argument. Which nobody ever won.’ So commences a day-long road trip along the streets of New York, and across seven decades of memories.
The dialogue is sharp and witty, the language muscular in this vivid, beautifully researched, and convincing narrative. Here’s a ‘Hatchet face, smile like a wince’ and there’s ‘a man whose face looks like an ass. Fat, pale, globular, the only thing missing is a line down the center.’ It’s rooted in its decades: Barnum leads elephants across the Brooklyn Bridge, Brecht’s new play is linguistic currency, Hooverlands spring up, Roosevelt springs in. The hunger and violence of a childhood in early twentieth-century Brooklyn are stark. Beatings by cops are sickeningly brutal. The terror of incarceration, of months in isolation is upsetting and disturbing. Willie’s powers of observation, creativity and patience are such that, if he’d been sent there, Sutton may have proved the only man able to escape from Alcatraz.
Moehringer’s Sutton is a myth mythologising his life and times. This psychotic philosopher woos and wins us before we can resist him. We see him grow up, watch as his efforts are trampled on, feel his heart break. Here is a self-educated, extremely well-read gentleman who ‘when weary of his studies…simply rereads Wuthering Heights.’ With subtle but biting commentary on the media and banks, our obsession with love, money and thrills, Moehringer exposes what a tangled web we weave. I had to remind myself that this is invention because, like the author, it became my wish. ‘Ah New York. You stink. Please let me stay.’
Published by Garvey Publishing
Liverpool is the City of Culture, and nothing is going to tarnish its sheen – certainly not the murder of a prostitute on prime development land.
The text resonates with the misogyny of daily language, daily lives. From the off, it’s nasty and visceral, dripping with unfortunate accuracy. Men, money, and power operate the controls in a violent world of intimidation, where truth is anathema to ambition. But Kearney is able to write of considerate tenderness, too. Scenes in which the Vice Squad communicates with the prostitutes they aim to protect are delicate, with heart and wit at the forefront of the interaction. The thriller is surprisingly domestic, home lives impacting unreservedly on the plot: two female journalists are at its heart, combining raw vulnerability with toughened determination as they learn to cope with being their own greatest disappointment.
Occasionally repetitive, this is a convincing portrayal of friendship in the workplace, of how courage comes in stages and cannot always run deep. However, the novel is also a love-note, and perhaps a battle-cry, to Liverpool. Kearney treasures the detail with which he lays bare his city’s streets, neatly traversing between the wealthy and the deprived, conjuring the fierce collective pride and desperation of a city in transition.
Published by Simon & Schuster
Two people are dead and a third lies injured. To the sound of approaching sirens, those remaining bicker, vying to lay claim to blame and guilt, while a broken organ, blown by the wind, wheezes into life ‘like a machine that had found a way to breathe’.
Benjamin Wood’s prologue is a meticulously written tease identifying only two characters in the final scene – who appear to reverse roles as soon as the narrative proper begins. Blessed with Cambridge scholarships and financial privilege, Eden Bellwether is a brilliantly gifted musician, convinced that he has the power to heal through music. When Oscar Lowe, a labourer’s son and care assistant, falls in love with Eden’s student sister, Iris, the alchemy is set for a devastating series of experiments. As Eden’s charisma and philosophy insinuate his presence into all conversation and thought, it proves more and more difficult for Oscar to extract himself from this strangely blinkered and magnetic world.
Melding fiction with faux-journalism and academia (all beautifully researched) Wood plays upon the psychological drama inherent in all relationships. The insecurity of being is so acutely observed that the reader is prey to Wood’s writing, questioning his or her own reason as much as Eden’s. He traverses the line between madness and genius with such assurance that cynics must pause for proof. Wood handles human illness with delicacy and he writes music well, conveying sound as well as atmosphere, which is no mean feat. With precision he captures an aspect of Cambridge University life, of privileged lives, keenly investigating the desire and confusion of those outside-looking-in. There are late narrative discoveries that seem to touch on a greater depth to Eden’s plot than is fully explored, but this is a great debut with full-blooded characters that will drive you to read Descartes and Johann Mattheson, as well as Wood’s next adventure.
Published by Blasted Heath
Two dead cops. Two Somali boys on the run. A grieving father searching for his son. A grieving lover seeking revenge.
From Fargoesque, wintry beginnings in Minnesota this becomes a tale of heated ideologies in war-torn Somalia, where there’s not much humour, dark or otherwise. Anthony Neil Smith treads a fine line as he weaves tales from two continents, but, with the few inevitable wobbles while walking a high-wire, tread it he does. Ray Bleecker isn’t a ‘good cop’ or a ‘bad cop’ but a washed out has-been of a man failing at life and seemingly only energised into existence by the death of his pregnant girlfriend. Adem and Jabril are two young men hunting meaning and purpose: Jabril is sucked into the heady, deliciousness of his authority while Adem struggles to align his ideals with his survival. The novel is laced with truly horrifying scenes: a stoning, beheadings, shootings, drawing and quartering, acid attacks... Here are men seeking power via threatening and violent control, and a woman chillingly enthralled to educated reasoning of her beliefs. The complexities of faith and fear and ignorance are stitched into the narrative. It excels in submerging the reader completely in the world of the terrorists where business transactions and bloodshed are one and the same, and apathy towards rigorous thought is a skill. There are difficult questions here about loyalty, heritage, faith, and morality, but, in what could have become an epic sprawl of a book, Anthony Neil Smith zones in on different men searching for significance and honour in leadership, whether achieved through fatherhood, gun-toting, or life-and-death negotiation.
Repulsively compelling. Try to ignore the (many) typos.