Elizabeth H. Winthrop- The Mercy Seat/ Michelle Sacks- You Were Made For This/ Elena Varvello- Can You Hear Me?

As the sun begins to set over Louisiana one October day in 1943, a young black man faces the final hours of his life: at midnight, eighteen-year-old Willie Jones will be executed by electric chair for raping a white girl – a crime some believe he did not commit.

In a tale taut with tension, events unfold hour by hour from the perspectives of nine people involved. They include Willie himself, who knows what really happened, and his father, desperately trying to reach the town jail to see his son one last time; the prosecuting lawyer, haunted by being forced to seek the death penalty against his convictions, and his wife, who believes Willie to be innocent; the priest who has become a friend to Willie; and a mother whose only son is fighting in the Pacific, bent on befriending her black neighbours in defiance of her husband…

Billed as having a kaleidoscopic narrative, The Mercy Seat, Winthrop’s tale of racial and social division is a measured and emotive story from beginning to end. As the hours tick by we bear witness to a young man’s progression to the electric chair, after a false accusation of rape, and Winthrop uses a myriad of voices throughout the book, changing the reader’s perception of events along the way. Weighing in with some big, meaty issues revolving around crime and punishment, justice and injustice, and condemnation and mercy, there is no denying the emotional heft of the book, and the raw human emotion that Winthrop pours into the novel. Cleverly, she integrates the shadow of WW2, and the bloodbath events of war in the Pacific, as a juxtaposition to the incredibly moving faltering journey of the condemned man’s father. The exposition of the loss of a mother of her son to war, and the loss of a son to a father through America’s racial war is beautifully rendered, and for me these two narratives were the real emotional lynchpin of the narrative.

With nine characters voices echoing throughout the book, I did feel there was a slight weakness to the clear identification of them, and some blurriness to their own morality or perception of the events unfolding. Interestingly, I came away from the book feeling that I had not read a contiguous tale, but more that these alternating chapters had taken the shape of a short story collection in my mind, as some chapters seemed less related, and a little less relevant to the whole. So I had a slight issue with the structure, preferring to absorb these as connecting stories, moving towards the same end. I was left a little unsettled by the ending too, as the clarion call of mercy was dealt with in a strangely weak denouement, that rather left the reader hanging in the balance at the end. Consequently, although I admired greatly some aspects of the novel in terms of the rendition of time and place, and the strong emotional resonance of some of the characters’ voices, I felt that Winthrop had maybe cast the net a little too wide, and so some sections of the book felt  a little disjointed, and were less satisfactory than others. Would still recommend though despite, in my own opinion, some minor flaws.

(With thanks to Sceptre for the ARC)

Doting wife, devoted husband, cherished child. Merry, Sam and Conor are the perfect family in the perfect place. Merry adores baking, gardening, and caring for her infant son, while Sam pursues a new career in film. In their idyllic house in the Swedish woods, they can hardly believe how lucky they are. What perfect new lives they’ve built for themselves, away from New York and the events that overshadowed their happiness there. Then Merry’s closest friend Frank comes to stay. All their lives, the two women have been more like sisters than best friends. And that’s why Frank sees things that others might miss. Treacherous things that unfold behind closed doors. But soon it’s clear that everyone inside the house has something to hide. And as the truth begins to show through the cracks, Merry, Frank, and Sam grow all the more desperate to keep their picture-perfect lives intact...

With the creeping unease of recent domestic noir thrillers like Gone Girl, but tinged with the emotional darkness of the brilliant Monster Love by Carol Topolski, I rather enjoyed this twisted tale of marital bliss gone sour, and the more than dysfunctional relationship that we suddenly start to observe.

I found the first half of this book in particular, a fine example of pot-boiling suspense, as one couple’s new life in rural Sweden begins to show cracks and fissures, that Sacks exposes in a beautifully controlled fashion. The sudden sinister shocks that she surprises the reader with, and which may unsettle those of a more nervous disposition, become darker and darker as the plot progresses. Structured in alternating chapters, both Merry and Sam begin to have aspects of their characters exposed which become just a little more distasteful and disturbing in their words and deeds, but Sacks unashamedly brings the darkest compulsions of Merry front and centre, in her fraught relationship with her child. I think Sacks walks a very thin line here between voyeurism and objectivism with the issue of abuse she raises, and unlike the aforementioned Monster Love , I felt a certain disconnectedness with the intent of choosing this narrative, and the response it seeks to spark in the reader.

I think it appealed to me at first, that these are two of the most dislikeable and smug characters that I have encountered for some time, and although initially finding myself unable to look away from their solipsism, self absorption and fake morality, I did begin to grow weary of their naval gazing self justification for their eminently disturbing behaviour. With the advent of the arrival of Merry’s friend Frank, further scope was given to the author to explore the formative years of this trinity of more than a little screwed up protagonists, and give the reader time to see the strange dynamic between them begin to evolve. However, with this introduction of a new character, I felt the plot begin to crawl to a more sedentary drawn out pace, sparking a feeling of frustrated boredom, and just a muted eyebrow raise at some of the revelations. I felt that the story seemed to start circling itself only inching the narrative forward, after the assured pace and reveals of the first half of the book, and a strange propensity for overwritten truisms began to become increasingly more evident towards the end of the book, as opposed to the clarity of statement and intent from the characters at the beginning. Definitely a book of two halves for this reader.

(With thanks to HQ HarperCollins for the ARC)

1978.
Ponte, a small community in Northern Italy. An unbearably hot summer like many others.
Elia Furenti is sixteen, living an unremarkable life of moderate unhappiness, until the day the beautiful, damaged Anna returns to Ponte and firmly propels Elia to the edge of adulthood.
But then everything starts to unravel.
Elia’s father, Ettore, is let go from his job and loses himself in the darkest corners of his mind.
A young boy is murdered. And a girl climbs into a van and vanishes in the deep, dark woods…

I experienced a mild sense of excitement that I would have to talk about this book for a whole month wearing my bookseller hat, so I started reading with a heightened sense of anticipation. Now I love a translated slow-burner as much as the next person, but for some reason or other this one just didn’t hit the spot. Unlike undoubtedly hundreds of others, I was unerringly frustrated by this obvious hybrid of autobiography and fiction, at odds with my usual enjoyment for the genre- for example Karl Ove Knausgard or Edward St Aubyn. I felt for the most part I was just an incidental passenger to the author’s cathartic writing exercise, which revealed itself quickly to be what I perceived to be an exploration of her own father’s mental disturbance. There’s nothing intrinsically wrong with this, but I felt it was to the detriment of what could have been an infinitely more engaging experience for the reader.

Sometimes as a bookseller, I recommend books to people with the words, “Well, nothing really happens, but things don’t happen in a beautifully written way”, and this is what I was longing for in this book. There was a real feeling of deferred happenings in this book, and at times a notable compulsion by the author to pull back from events that could have given some substance and interest to the whole affair. Yes there’s a tangible thread of violence running through the book, and a not altogether convincing seduction, but the weirdly overemotional tone that reveals itself in the words and deeds of some characters, does begin to feel like some kind of therapy group literature, and a real lost the feel of dramatic tension to what cites itself as a thriller. As I said, I was looking forward to this one immensely, but feel I must go elsewhere for my Italian fiction fix, where nothing can happen, as long as it doesn’t not happen beautifully.

(I bought this copy)

 

 

 

 

Blog Tour- Nuala Ellwood- My Sister’s Bones

 

msbblogtour_nov18Kate Rafter is a successful war reporter. She’s the strong one. The one who escaped Herne Bay and the memories it holds. Her sister Sally didn’t. Instead, she drinks.

But when their mother dies, Kate is forced to return to the old family home. And on her first night she is woken by a terrifying scream.

What secret has Kate stumbled upon?
And is she strong enough to uncover the truth . . . and make it out alive?

As much as I seek to actively avoid thrillers with the merest whiff of domestic noir about them, I was intrigued to read My Sister’s Bones, a debut psychological thriller by Nuala Ellwood with its blend of emotional domesticity combined with more global concerns. Effectively marrying the usual tropes of domestic noir and familial conflict, with more salient humanitarian issues,  Ellwood has produced a thriller that is a curious blend of the intensely satisfying and the slightly frustrating…

The absolute lynchpin for my enjoyment of this book was Kate’s story, a seasoned war reporter who on her return from war-torn Aleppo in Syria, is battling the twin demons of PTSD and personal emotional stress caused by the death of her mother, and the non-connectedness to her sister Sally who is in the grip of alcoholism, and suffering personal distress at the disappearance of her daughter, Hannah. Reflecting my enjoyment of other thrillers such as Matthew Frank’s If I Should Die, and Kate Medina’s Fire Damage, which also explored the realm of PTSD, I found Ellwood’s portrayal of Kate, so emotionally affected by her horrific experiences in Syria, utterly authentic, bolstered no doubt by the author’s own familial links to the world of war reporting. Her confusion, anger and twisted sense of self worth and guilt was heart-breaking and emotional throughout, really tapping into the reader’s empathy, and depicting perfectly one woman’s personal experience of war. I also admired the clear-headed, objective portrayal of the Syrian conflict exhibited by the author, and its balanced and unflinching tone when describing the danger and human devastation that Kate experiences holed up in this war torn city. I liked the way that we as readers are drawn in and out of states of mistrust towards Kate, due to the symptoms of her stress, constantly questioning her veracity as a reliable narrator, and a credible witness to what she believes is happening in the house next door. Her story and actions totally carries the thrust of the book, and without giving anything away I was a little worried that her story had been too swiftly curtailed to carry my interest to the end.

More frustrating for me, was the close to home aspect of the story, where Kate finds herself immersed in the suspicious goings-on of her next door neighbour, and the grand reveal of how this relates to the travails of her alienated sister, Sally. Again, I think Ellwood, is spot on with the characterisation of Sally, fighting a battle with alcoholism, and the conflicting states of mind and self-awareness that this terrible addiction causes to those in its grip. Her experience was never less than utterly believable and affecting. However, I did find the central plot of the book a little weak, and far-fetched to totally draw me in, and the denouement was just a tad too fanciful to entirely convince this reader. Such is the strength of Ellwood’s writing in terms of human experience, that I wondered with the blips in the central plotting, if crime fiction was the right avenue to go down. With her undeniable knack for portraying the weaknesses and strengths of her female characters, I would happily have read this a contemporary fiction novel examining the condition of war and its impact on human relationships, drawing on the issues of PTSD, familial isolation and alcohol addiction.

So, all in all, a bit of a mixed bag for this reader, who didn’t really appreciate the ‘crime’ aspect of the book so much,  but with exhibiting such strong characterisation in the protagonists of Kate and Sally themselves, had enough to keep me reading on. Recommended.

(With thanks to Penguin for the ARC)

 

Catch up with or continue to follow the blog tour at these excellent sites:

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Teaser No. 3… Nuala Ellwood- My Sister’s Bones + Exclusive Extract

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Exclusive extract from My Sister’s Bones by Nuala Ellwood

“I carefully climb up onto the chair and stand looking into next-door’s garden. The noise has stopped and there is nothing there but an empty washing line and a pair of old wellington boots lying by an overgrown rockery. The shed is in darkness.

‘Hearing things again,’ I tell myself as I climb down from the seat, but just as my feet touch the ground the noise starts again, this time louder and more frantic, and it is coming from beyond the fence.

I scramble back on to the chair and peer over. And then my heart flips inside my chest.

There, in the window of the shed, is a face.”

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1ST NOVEMBER 2016

 PRE-ORDER E-BOOK HERE

Kate Rafter is a high-flying war reporter. She’s the strong one. The one who escaped their father. Her younger sister Sally didn’t. Instead, she drinks.

But when their mother dies, Kate is forced to return home. And on her first night she is woken by a terrifying scream.

At first Kate tells herself it’s just a nightmare. But then she hears it again. And this time she knows she’s not imagining it.

What secret is lurking in the old family home?
And is she strong enough to uncover it . . . and make it out alive?

 

Advance reviews for My Sister’s Bones:

‘Compelling and intriguing, right from the very first page’ (Sharon Bolton, Sunday Times bestselling author of Like This, For Ever)

Gripping and beautifully written, My Sister’s Bones is a tense, atmospheric, deliciously dark story (Amanda Jennings)

A stunning book. I was drawn in by Nuala Ellwood’s hypnotic, haunting and elegant prose. Compelling, unsettling and powerful this is a book that will stay with me for a long time’ (C. L. Taylor)

Loved I Let You Go and Behind Closed Doors? My Sister’s Bones is guaranteed to be this year’s most twisty and twisted read – you’ll never see what’s coming! (Ava Marsh, author of UNTOUCHABLE)

‘Ellwood’s protagonist Kate is a female hero in the best sense, flawed but brave. Very quickly you are sucked into her fragile, damaged world, until you no longer know what is real or imaginary’ (Helen Callaghan, author of DEAR AMY)

This book is amazing – harrowing and compelling…a clever plot that twists right to the very end (Luana Lewis)

An accomplished and page-turning thriller…it’s impossible to guess where it’s going next’ (Nicholas Searle)

 

 

July 2016 Round-Up and Raven’s Book of the Month

_DSC0185 (Common Raven)Aside from losing my internet access for 12 long, long days, July has really been quite productive and mostly enjoyable. A week off work, a birthday, and lots of terrific books read too! Had another heart-breaking book cull, which I imagine to be akin to asking a parent which is their favourite child, waving goodbye to 500+ books to my local charity shop, but still have a few hundred in reserve- hurrah!  And still on the positive,  I have at last made a slight in-road into my 20 Books of Summer Challenge- post coming soon. So, onward to the books…

Books read and reviewed:

Clare Carson- The Salt Marsh

Simon Booker- Without Trace

Anna Mazzola- The Unseeing

Frederic Dard- The Wicked Go To Hell

Frederic Dard-Bird In A Cage

Jonathan Ames- You Were Never Really Here

Massimo Carlotto- For All The Gold In The World

Pierre Lemaitre- Blood Wedding

Malcolm Mackay- For Those Who Know The Ending

Elizabeth Haynes- Never Alone

wilberI also dipped my toe back into non-fiction crime and read Del Quentin Wilber- A Good Month For Murder– which I would put very much on a par with David Simon’s Homicide or Mile Corwin’s The Killing Season. Wilber, an award winning reporter at The Washington Post, gives us a truly compelling behind the scenes look at the police officers and investigative cases of  a homicide squad. By following the progress of several cases and the dedicated officers who approach their task with a mixture of dedication, doggedness, and world weary cynicism, Wilber shines a light on the day-to-day frustrations and danger that this noble band of men and women grapple with, to go about their remit to protect and serve. Incredibly readable, well-researched and thought provoking throughout. Recommended.

Raven’s Book of the Month

No. I can’t do it. This has been an absolutely stellar month for reading with some real stand-out reads along the way. They are all so completely different and wonderful in their own way, so this is the fairest decision I can come to…

Extremely honourable mentions to Clare Carson- The Salt Marsh , Massimo Carlotto- For All The Gold In The World and Anna Mazzola- The Unseeing Seek these out immediately.

Carson_02_THE%20SALT%20MARSH            cover_9781609453367_661_600        unseeing

And down to the wire, the twisted genius of Pierre Lemaitre- Blood Wedding and the seedy,  gritty Glasgow gangland world of Malcolm Mackay- For Those Who Know The Ending proved impossible to choose between. Joint winners chaps and thoroughly deserved.

blood                   malcolm

 

Blog Tour- Elizabeth Haynes- Never Alone- Review

A few years ago, way ahead of the fashionable, over-hyped, and largely disappointing array of domestic noir thrillers, Elizabeth Haynes wrote Into The Darkest Corner, untouched by girls, trains, nauseating middle class strife, and the like. To my mind, having dabbled in the current crop, Into The Darkest Corner still stands head and shoulders above what I have read to date in the domestic noir genre, in terms of its psychological depth, character development, the sheer visceral chill of a woman under threat, and how the reader can actually relate to and believe in the insidious danger that Haynes presented to us. Having read most of Haynes’ books since, I was more than happy to curl up with her latest book, Never Alone and post a review for this blog tour marking its publication…

haynesSarah Carpenter lives in an isolated farmhouse in North Yorkshire and for the first time, after the death of her husband some years ago and her children, Louis and Kitty, leaving for university, she’s living alone. But she doesn’t consider herself lonely. She has two dogs, a wide network of friends and the support of her best friend, Sophie. When an old acquaintance, Aiden Beck, needs somewhere to stay for a while, Sarah s cottage seems ideal; and renewing her relationship with Aiden gives her a reason to smile again. It s supposed to be temporary, but not everyone is comfortable with the arrangement: her children are wary of his motives, and Will Brewer, an old friend of her son s, seems to have taken it upon himself to check up on Sarah at every opportunity. Even Sophie has grown remote and distant. After Sophie disappears, it’s clear she hasn’t been entirely honest with anyone, including Will, who seems more concerned for Sarah’s safety than anyone else. As the weather closes in, events take a dramatic turn and Kitty too goes missing. Suddenly Sarah finds herself in terrible danger, unsure of who she can still trust. But she isn’t facing this alone; she has Aiden, and Aiden offers the protection that Sarah needs. Doesn’t he?

And so to Never Alone, and Haynes once again with an immediate intensity, draws us into the life of Sarah Carpenter, an emotionally fragile woman three years on from the loss of her husband, and residing in a metaphorically empty nest with her two children having left home for differing reasons. What Haynes disseminates so well in this book is the nature of human relationships, and every character is used to explore the differing connections we make with one another. As the following demonstrates there are numerous different permutations of characters’ connections to one another throughout the book. Sarah finds herself emotionally unsettled by the reappearance of an old flame, Aiden, who takes up residence in a small cottage aligning her property, concealing certain revelations about his past interactions with her late husband, and the shocking reveal of his current career choice. She is also grappling with missing her daughter Kitty who is at university (who is also experiencing her first love affair) and the minimal contact with her son Louis, who has his own reasons for shunning her. Sarah also has only one close friendship in this small community, with glamorous and larger than life politician’s wife, Sophie, which seems an unlikely alliance, and when Sarah is plunged into the company of others seems rather a square peg in a round hole. Then there is Will, a friend of her son’s Louis, who comes to the attention of Aiden and Sophie for differing reasons, and Sophie and Aiden also have a connection. Haynes perfectly controls the gradual reveals about the deeper connections between various characters, and by splitting the narrative in sections between them, gives her a real opportunity to explore their psychology, and allows us to see the same scenarios from different viewpoints.

Sometimes I felt that the characterisation was a little diminished by the need to so completely control all their connections to one another, and how these would bring the action together at the denouement of the book, and felt there was a certain amount of repetition in how Sarah was presented. In particular, her critique of her own life, that did seem to be endlessly re-treading the same analysis of her emotional and financial situation. I hesitate to use the word annoying, but she didn’t engage my empathy as much as she should have. I did, however, like the characters of Louis and Sophie very much, who had interesting textures and quirks to them which I would have like to have seen more fully explored, and Aiden proved a pivotal figure to the book with shades of light and dark to keep the reader on their toes. There is also a sinister stream of consciousness by a certain character, that runs chillingly throughout the book, alerting us to the danger of an individual on the brink of violence, and Haynes largely conceals the identity of this person until a crucial point in the plot.

I very much liked the setting of the book, using the North Yorkshire Moors, as an immovable and threatening backdrop in the grip of winter, reflecting the psychological bleakness and threat of the main plot. The perfectly placed reveals of one character’s connection to another drove the plot consistently at a measured and controlled pace, and although the unveiling of the bad egg in the whole affair did not come as a real surprise, there was a good amount of tension and suspicion built up along the way to keep reading on. Although not entirely convinced why the bad person did what they did for the reasons they did and how this was played out, I feel that the consistency of the writing up until that point more than justifies giving this one a look. Perhaps, this is a testament to the writing of Haynes herself that even, in my humble opinion, a slightly below par book from her is still immeasurably more enjoyable than others in her chosen genre. Recommended.

(With thanks to Myriad Editions for the ARC)

Catch up with the #NeverAlone Blog Tour at these excellent sites:

Never Alone blog tour

Amanda Jennings- In Her Wake- Review #BlogTour

in her wakeWelcome to the latest stop on the blog tour marking the paperback release of Amanda Jennings’ psychological thriller In Her Wake, an emotionally intense exploration of familial relationships, attracting widespread acclaim from readers and reviewers alike…

A tragic family event reveals devastating news that rips apart Bella’s comfortable existence. Embarking on a personal journey to uncover the truth, she faces a series of traumatic discoveries that take her to the ruggedly beautiful Cornish coast, where hidden truths, past betrayals and a 25-year-old mystery threaten not just her identity, but her life, reminding us that sometimes the most shocking crimes are committed closest to home.

This is an incredibly female-centric novel, with the author quite evidently showing the amount of time and intensity she has invested into her two central protagonists, Bella and Dawn. Trying hard to avoid any major plot spoilers, the difficult emotional issues that lie between the two women as they seek to build a relationship after many years of estrangement is powerfully drawn, and Jennings spends a considerable amount of the book exploring Bella’s emotional journey in particular, which counterbalances to a degree the slight suspension of disbelief that the reader needs as the story unfolds. Bella is an entirely credible and empathetic character whose growth in stature and confidence drives the book onwards, and refreshingly, she is imbued with a host of insecurities that will be instantly recognisable to the female readership. As she seeks to overcome the trauma of her uncertain background, there is much soul searching and naval gazing on Bella’s part which worked to a certain degree, but at times, through no fault of the author, slowed the narrative down too much- this could have been addressed in the editing stage. Equally, Dawn’s story is crucial to the success of the book, and was for me far more engaging with her difficult emotional background, and her life curtailed by her fierce loyalty to her mother. The sacrifices she has had to make which have thwarted her potential for a far more satisfying life, have set her on a very different course to which she imagined. However, with the strength of the female characters so clearly in evidence throughout, an inevitable consequence of this was the more two-dimensional drawing of the male characters in the book, which did tend to descend into a rather clichéd compartmentalising of the worst male character traits, physical abuser, lothario, controller, doormat, and so on. Consequently, I found my reading experience was frustrated by this underlying feeling of implausibility and frustration as to the male characterisation, but the portrayal of the female characters was more successful and carried the book.

Back on a positive note though, I loved Jennings’ portrayal of Cornwall itself and its unique landscape and weather patterns which so cleverly seemed to echo and reflect the surge of emotions that arise in Bella. The changeable nature of the natural environment of Cornwall is consistently drawn on throughout, so like Bella you can almost feel the sand between your toes, coupled with the mercurial mixture of rain, sun and breeze, and the stomach dropping wonder of a stroll along rugged cliff-tops, with the waves crashing below. I thought this added an overall additional intensity to the emotional turbulence of the plot itself, and very much enjoyed Bella’s perambulating exploration of unfamiliar terrain. In common with Simon Sylvester’s The Visitors which draws on the Scottish folkloric traditions of the Selkie, Jennings uses the Cornish equivalent with her inclusion of mermaid myths, which provided another point of local interest in the book.

Hence, In Her Wake proves itself to be a largely satisfying example of more literary domestic noir, in the currently overcrowded market for this particular genre. The more obvious flaws in the plot, and the weaknesses evident in the male characterisation are roundly dispelled by the strength of Jennings’ female characterisation which is compelling throughout, and the unfailingly pictorial part that her chosen location of Cornwall plays within the book.

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Catch up with, or keep following the In Her Wake Blog Tour at these excellent sites!

 

In Her Wake Blog tour

Kate McQuaile- What She Never Told Me- Reading Ireland Month 2016 #begorrathon16 #readIreland16

readingMarch always heralds the arrival of the brilliant Reading Ireland Month- celebrating all that is good about Irish books and culture- hosted by Cathy at   746books  and Niall at The Fluff Is Raging  Eager to join in the fun, here is my small contribution to the #begorrathon16, reviewing debut author Kate McQuaile.

41UrW7G50YL__SX324_BO1,204,203,200_Louise Redmond left Ireland for London before she was twenty. Now, more than two decades later, her heart already breaking from a failing marriage, she is summoned home. Her mother is on her deathbed, and it is Louise’s last chance to learn the whereabouts of a father she never knew. Stubborn to the end, Marjorie refuses to fill in the pieces of her daughter’s fragmented past. Then Louise unexpectedly finds a lead. A man called David Prescott, but is he really the father she’s been trying to find? And who is the mysterious little girl who appears so often in her dreams? As each new piece of the puzzle leads to another question, Louise begins to suspect that the memories she most treasures could be a delicate web of lies…

Despite my steadfast resolution to avoid crime fiction of the more domestic variety, I was hearing good things about this one, and so am happy to break my self-imposed resolution. In the spirit of honesty, which I appear to be known for, I did have some issues with this one, but here are my thoughts…

What I really liked about this book was the central premise of the story itself revolving around familial bonds and how memory can be such a deceptive but powerful driving force in how our sense of self is formed. I thought McQuaile captured perfectly the mother/daughter bond between Louise and Marjorie, and the inherent differences in their character which are slowly revealed as the book progresses. As Louise seeks to fill in the gaps in her family background, with her unknown father, and a mother singularly reticent to answer her questions, even as her own mortality catches up with her, I found their relationship totally believable, and striking a few emotional chords with my own background. I thought the gradual unfurling of the truth behind Louise’s identity was perfectly weighted throughout, with a denouement that was both plausible and clever, forcing Louise to completely reassess who she was. Another interesting conundrum McQuaile examines is how easy it is to do the wrong thing, but with the overriding sense that it is for the right reasons, however twisted the logic is behind these actions, and this was painfully brought to the fore when the truth about Marjorie is exposed. Also McQuaile manipulates the truthfulness of memory, and how half-remembered incidents, sensual indicators, and locations impact so strongly on our perception of past events, and the emotions these produce in us.

Less successful for my enjoyment of the book was the personal life of Louise, the relationship with her husband Sandy, an ill thought out dalliance, and a verging on Fatal Attraction storyline that to me seemed slightly unnecessary in the wake of such a strong central storyline. Obviously, to avoid spoilers I can’t go into too much detail, but I felt that aside from Louise’s regret and reasons for not having her own family, the marital woes she experiences would have been easily remedied without the amount of naval gazing, and emotional to and fro that afflict her as the book progresses. As I was enjoying the spirit of detection she exhibits in tracking down her father, I found myself side-tracked by the marital shenanigans, and was champing at the bit to see where her next line of enquiry would take her. Although I did like Louise as a character, her sometimes swift descent into extreme wooliness was slightly frustrating.

To bring this back to the initially positive vibe, there was a strong location of place throughout the book, and I enjoyed the way that McQuaile gave us snapshots of the way that the locations of Ireland and London seemed to surreptitiously shape the behaviour of Louise herself. There was a good contrast between both the city and rural locations as the book progressed, and an intervention of the authorial voice to bring a real sense of colour and life to each location. We clearly see how Louise perceives her former life in Ireland, set against her current residence in London, the sharp differences between the two, and how they subtly impact on her emotions and actions.

All in all I’m rather glad to have put my head above the parapet and broken my domestic noir resolution, as I found this debut by and large both intriguing and enjoyable. Recommended.

(With thanks to Quercus for the ARC)