#BlogTour- A. L. Gaylin- What Remains of Me

gaylinJune 1980: 17-year-old Kelly Lund is jailed for killing Hollywood film director, John McFadden Thirty years later, Kelly is a free woman. Yet speculation still swirls over what really happened that night. And when her father-in law, and close friend of McFadden is found dead – shot through the head at point-blank range – there can only be one suspect. But this time Kelly has some high-profile friends who believe she’s innocent of both crimes…

Being a fan of contemporary American crime fiction, and particularly those featuring ‘damaged’ female protagonists, such as Jax Miller’s Freedom’s Child and Emma Cline’s The Girls , I’m incredibly pleased to report that the trinity is now complete with this truly compelling novel from A.L. Gaylin, What Remains of Me.

Front and centre of this tale of redemption, revenge and murder, is the figure of Kelly Lund, convicted of murder at a young age, but now having served 25 years for the crime, still battling with her readjustment to life on the outside. Lund is a powerfully constructed and multi-faceted character who gets under your skin, and toys with your empathy as the tale unfolds. Her naivety as a seventeen year old girl, finding herself enveloped in the starry world of Hollywood and its nefarious temptations, is beautifully balanced with our view of her post-incarceration, and the damage this has wreaked on her emotional make-up. The barren emotion and dark shadows of her marriage is set against the frail and tentative emotional connection she makes with her neighbour Rocky, as she struggles with her past actions coming to impact on her new life. I found the lines drawn between the teenage and adult Lund with those connected to her past and present lives, with some particularly nasty skeletons emerging from the closet, were never less than utterly believable, and emotionally engaging throughout. The frailty and imperfections of Lund, as she seeks to make sense of the deeds attributed to her, drive the plot on, and her surrounding cast of characters, and their own failings both in their actions towards her, and their own pernicious acts are constantly surprising, and sometimes deeply disturbing. Gaylin’s fearless and uncompromising eye on the world of celebrity, and those that grow up in its shadow with their attendant emotional problems, is crucial to the playing out of this twisted tale, and grips the reader as our alliances to the main players shifts and changes.

What I liked most about this book is the control of pace and reveal that Gaylin uses, echoing the central theme of the seedy underbelly of the Hollywood crowd, who lie at the centre of the book. There is a real sense of zoom and focal adjustment, as Gaylin seems to anticipate perfectly how closely to bring the reveals into focus, and when to leave the reader hanging slightly by pulling away from certain story strands at exactly the right time. and then bam, another twist socks you right in the kisser.

Equally, Gaylin’s description of location, offsetting the glamourous Hollywood world of Lund’s teenage cohorts, against her new existence in the barren desert flats is beautifully realised, and providing another surreptitious reference to the morally bankrupt excesses of the movie fraternity, against the cleaner moral life of frugality, and engagement with the natural world. There is also a wonderfully dispassionate style to Gaylin’s writing, so it feels that the moments of revelation and emotional intensity are slightly dampened down, to add to the overarching feeling of sadness that permeates the story. In this way, the book exhibits the twin attributes of a nod to the best of hardboiled noir, fused with the emotional sparseness and literary prowess of contemporary American fiction.

So with its blend of strong characterisation, assured plotting, attention to location, and moral ambiguity, What Remains of Me, ticked every single box for this reader. It loitered in my head for some while after finishing it, and that for me is further testament to how good it was. No hesitation in the Raven’s mind that this is one highly recommended read. Excellent.

 

 

gaylin

PRAISE FOR WHAT REMAINS OF ME
‘Completely absorbing with a knock-out twist’ – Harlan Coben
‘You’ll stay up late to read this’ – Laura Lippmann
‘Full of crackling energy and heartache’ – Megan Abbott
‘An exceptional book by an exceptional writer. Gaylin is an expert at acute emotional observation combined with seamless plotting. I adored this book.’  – Alex Marwood
 
 

A. L. Gaylin’s first job was as a reporter for a celebrity tabloid, which sparked a lifelong interest in writing about people committing despicable acts. More than a decade later, she wrote and published her Edgar-nominated first novel, Hide Your Eyes.
 
She’s since published eight more books, including the USA Today and international bestselling Brenna Spector suspense series, which has been nominated for the Edgar, Anthony and Thriller awards and won the Shamus awards. She lives in upstate New York with her husband, daughter, cat and dog

(With thanks to Arrow Books for the ARC)

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

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June 2016 Round Up and Raven’s Book of the Month

_DSC0185 (Common Raven)I’ve already had my say about the farcical EU referendum, and the ensuing anger and unease that accompanied its outcome, so let’s get onto the fun stuff:  the books, the books. This has been a very productive month for the Raven in terms of books read, and if you’re currently considering what to be reading over the summer there are some real crackers here…

SJI Holliday- Willow Walk

Bill Daly- Cutting Edge

Chris Ewan- Long Time Lost

Jack Grimwood- Moskva

A. A. Dhand- Streets Of Darkness

Gunnar Staalesen- Where Roses Never Die

Michael Grothaus- Epiphany Jones

Emma Cline- The Girls

Eric Rickstad- The Silent Girls

Colin Winnette- Haint Stay 

Colin Winnette- Coyote  

John Sweeney- Cold

The additional good news is that I have another four reviews waiting in the wings- Clare Carson- The Salt Marsh, Simon Booker- Without Trace, Anna Mazzola- The Unseeing and Pierre Lemaitre- Blood Wedding. July is an absolute corker for crime publishing and there are further treats in store.

20 booksHowever, my 20 Books of Summer Challenge hosted by Cathy at 746books.com is progressing less well than expected. I have read the giddy total of…2… mmmm… not great. So I will hang fire on posting reviews for these two until I can provide a more fulsome post for you… *slapped wrists* (However, Raven’s mum has read 7 of her 20 picks. That’s just plain showing off…).

 

Raven’s Book of the Month

I can honestly say that June has been a reading pleasure, and pretty much all of the list above entertained, gripped or thrilled me to some degree. I was particularly taken with SJI Holliday’s Willow Walk, Jack Grimwood’s Moskva, and the bearded genius that is Colin Winnette.

92ec49_6e4d53e237f2437cb87cd049f0b4cfaaAnd speaking of bearded genius, the accolade of Book of the Month goes to the hirsute Michael Grothaus for the truly extraordinary, unsettling and singularly strange Epiphany Jones. A book that repulsed, mystified and enchanted me in equal measure, and one that rolled around my subconscious for days after reading. As I said in my review, it’s not for everyone, but this one thought it was just swell.

Thoughts and Books- A Weekend Round-Up- Emma Cline, Eric Rickstad, Colin Winnette

thVQ9YP5FDI’ll keep this bit brief, but what a thoroughly demoralising turn of events, with much disillusionment both on a personal level with some huge decisions to be made, and at the completely bizarre decision that somehow Britain will be better off out of the EU. As one of the 48% who voted to Remain, I greeted the announcement very early on Friday morning with a twin feeling of anger and sadness. I was incensed that this result was reached by ignorance, intolerance and misinformation, and that our country seems to be imploding politically with this result. I love the diversity of our country and the security, comradeship and strength provided by our relationship with our fellow Europeans, and the contribution that so many people make to our society. The Raven fears the worst, but remains staunchly European.

On to happier things, and although a little distracted, so this may read as a weird stream of consciousness, I will keep going in my personal mission to bring you some more great books. Despite my personal resolution to never again read a book with girl or girls in the title I’ve just read two, back-to-back…

methode_times_prod_web_bin_58260864-2e22-11e6-bb4a-bf8353b79a10Evie Boyd is desperate to be noticed. In the summer of 1969, empty days stretch out under the California sun. The smell of honeysuckle thickens the air and the sidewalks radiate heat. Until she sees them. The snatch of cold laughter. Hair, long and uncombed. Dirty dresses skimming the tops of thighs. Cheap rings like a second set of knuckles. The girls. And at the centre, Russell. Russell and the ranch, down a long dirt track and deep in the hills. Incense and clumsily strummed chords. Rumours of sex, frenzied gatherings, teen runaways. Was there a warning, a sign of things to come? Or is Evie already too enthralled by the girls to see that her life is about to be changed forever?

Time to add my still small voice to the overriding praise that this book is currently attracting. I was absolutely blown away by the maturity and emotional pull of Cline’s writing throughout in her reworking of the Manson legend. Her sense of both the period and location is in evidence through every scene and the book sings with authenticity as to the feel of the 60’s era. The writing perfectly captures the cadence and rhythm of language, solidified by its very vital sense of place. We follow the teenage Evie deeper into the clutches of the cult following, and the moral and sexual questioning that arises from her interaction with this band of emotionally damaged and brainwashed women held in the thrall of a frankly despicable and manipulative individual. Cline’s depiction of the women and their very individual traits and back stories that have brought them to this point in their lives is by turns emotive, horrifying and full of pathos, so that your engagement as a reader is held throughout.

I was particularly enamoured with the character of Suzanne, who is instrumental in Evie’s further integration into the cult, and the sense of light and dark that Cline ascribes to her character. There is always a feeling of not quite knowing her true motivations , that Evie is entranced by, and which drives the reader on to try to get a handle on this obviously damaged but distinctly unknowable young woman, right up to the final conclusion. Evie herself is gauche, naïve and acts exactly as a teenager would, but makes the reader constantly root for her salvation, making the conclusion of the book tense and compelling. I read this book in pretty much one sitting, and am fairly sure that it will hold you in its grip in a similar way. You will also be thinking about it days afterwards. Highly recommended.

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51w3cIiHJpL._SX330_BO1,204,203,200_Frank Rath thought he was done with murder when he turned in his detective’s badge to become a private investigator and raise a daughter alone. Then the police in his remote rural community of Canaan find an ’89 Monte Carlo abandoned by the side of the road, and the beautiful teenage girl who owned the car seems to have disappeared without a trace. Soon Rath’s investigation brings him face-to-face with the darkest abominations of the human soul. With the consequences of his violent and painful past plaguing him, and young women with secrets vanishing one by one, he discovers once again that even in the smallest towns on the map, evil lurks everywhere—and no one is safe…

Any book which name checks both Poe and Edward Gorey’s The Gashlycrumb Tinies has to be an instant winner for the Raven, and this Vermont set thriller from Rickstad neatly does both in addition to simply being a great read.  I found this a slick, well- plotted and engrossing thriller from the outset, bolstered by the assured characterisation of the central protagonist, private investigator, Frank Rath, and his police associates, particularly the wonderfully feisty Sonja Test.  Rath was a great character, inevitably haunted by a dark episode in his past, leading to the adoption of his sister’s child to raise as his own, but who enshrines both a moral decency and tenacious doggedness tempered by moments of self-questioning and doubt particularly in the realm of human connection. His reactions and interactions as the case develops is central to the reader’s engagement with the story, and the seriousness of the case as it unfolds is tempered throughout by moments of dry humour and high emotion. Equally, Sonja is a terrific female protagonist, and her natural intelligence and ability to think outside the box, leads to the development of some clever turns in the investigation, providing a contrary stance to her own self-questioning of her personal life and responsibilities.

The plotting is tight throughout, throwing up enough twists and turns so that the resolution is neatly concealed right up to the book’s closing chapters, and, desperately avoiding plot spoilers,  provokes some interesting questions on an always contentious issue. A good read and recommended for that summer getaway.

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I’m going to keep these next two short and sweet, because if you’ve never encountered this unassuming chap…

colin

he’s written both of these …

colin1  coyote

and your lives will be infinitely richer for reading both.

Slim, quirky, description defying, dark, twisted, thought-provoking and pretty much every other complimentary adjective in my personal armour. Haint Stay is a Woodrell-esque Western that will shock, amuse and unsettle you in equal measure, with its violent interludes tempered by moments of extreme sadness and questioning of identity.

Coyote is constructed around the testimony of a mother in the wake of her child’s death. But, this is Winnette, and as he draws us in with an increasingly unreliable narrator you can be damn sure that nothing is as it seems.

And it isn’t.

Utterly chilling.