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Hester Young

Hester Young- The Shimmering Road

A woman is driving through the desert wasteland. Ahead of her, the road shimmers in the heat. She is running from a dream that is so terrifyingly real that it haunts her waking hours. The pop of a bullet, the rush of blood through water … Is her vision a premonition, a message that she and her daughter are in danger? Then Charlie learns that the mother she never knew has been murdered in Arizona. Soon she must confront her past, and untangle a web of secrets that will reveal the truths of her own nightmare…

Having enjoyed The Gates of Evangeline the debut novel by Hester Young, I was very keen to see what this author would produce next. The Shimmering Road takes us on a journey through the border states of America, exposing the grim realities of those whose lives are defined by their proximity to one of the richest nations on earth, whilst weaving a compelling tale of family, poverty, retribution and the search for emotional closure.

The character of Charlotte is the real epicentre of the book, and she confidently holds the reader’s interest throughout. As a woman from a broken background who has strived and achieved success as a journalist, Young now places her in an entirely different geographical and emotional situation on the cusp of motherhood, yet drawn back into the dark history of her family with the murders of her estranged mother and sister. Charlotte is haunted by violent visions of death, and with the news of these murders is drawn into the desperate lives of her former family, uncovering a dark and sordid tale of sex, drugs and violence. Charlotte possesses all the wisecracking toughness and doggedness of her former career, but by the same token displays credible moments of self doubt and emotional uncertainty, which draws us as readers to her. As she delves deeper into her late mother’s work in the Mexican border towns, we see her assumptions challenged, and her willingness to stop at nothing to expose the mistreatment and exploitation of the members of these communities. I loved her caustic wit, her undulating relationship with her partner Noah and the underlying emotional baggage of his previous marriage, and the very real uncertainty she displays with impending motherhood and the tentative adoption of her late sister’s child. Young cleverly uses her character as not only a conduit for the anger and emotional responses for the other characters, but also uses her as a prism for us to be exposed to the social deprivation she observes as she embarks on the mission to uncover the facts behind the murder of her family. In common with The Gates of Evangeline, as a plot device, I wasn’t entirely convinced by Charlotte’s borderline supernatural visions that draw her in deeper to the demise of her family, but appreciate that this becomes invaluable to her investigations in Mexico later in the book.

Having had a long-held interest in the socio-political aspects of Mexico, I was completely hooked by the clear and precise, though not necessarily comfortable, portrayal of life amongst the destitute inhabitants of Nogales. Here, Young draws us into a gruelling world of extreme poverty and sexual exploitation, that is uncompromising, and sadly, all too accurate. What proves interesting is how Young so clearly shows the difference in morality that enables people to survive in dire circumstances, and how some toil in the most indescribably harsh and dangerous conditions to ensure the survival of their families. Others however, through greed and lack of compassion, are more than happy to make a buck by exploiting young girls either for men’s sexual gratification, or to take part in ‘baby farming’ for rich and childless American couples. As Charlotte begins to explore this world, through the charitable work of her reformed late mother, she tends to reflect the sheer horror at these people’s lives that we experience as readers, and to mirror our emotional reactions to these desperate circumstances. This aspect of the book was intense, incredibly well-written and utterly compelling.

I thought this for the most part an extremely accomplished book, with its vivid characterisation, intense emotion, and a wonderful expose of those whose lives are in such stark contrast to our own. Undercut by moments of humour and extreme pathos, Young has produced not only an effective thriller, but a book that is packed with issues of family, poverty and revenge. Recommended.

(With thanks to Penguin Random House for the ARC)

September 2015 Round Up and Raven’s Book of the Month

_DSC0185 (Common Raven)Hurrah! September was relatively free of I.T. gremlins so have managed to catch up a bit with myself. An excellent month with three blog tours- including the now-you-see-it-now-you-don’t Simon Toyne article on Solomon Creed, a review of debut author Rod Reynolds’ The Dark Inside, and a review of The Defenceless the second book from the excellent Kati Hiekkapelto. I’ve travelled far and wide in my crime reading this month, and I’ve also managed to squeeze in a couple of fiction titles too. If my trusty Dodo Pad (which organises my life) is correct, there are three more blog tours scheduled for October, including a debut that is quite simply brilliant, and will knock your collective socks off. Intriguing huh? A good month’s reading and some further treats, as always, lie in store…

Books reviewed this month:

Piero Chiara- The Disappearance of Signora Giulia 

 Alberto Barrera Tyszka- Crimes

Rod Reynolds- The Dark Inside

Hester Young- The Gates of Evangeline

Anthony Horowitz- Trigger Mortis

Kati Hiekkapelto- The Defenceless

Fergus McNeill- Eye Contact

RAVEN’S BOOK OF THE MONTH:

25807823In a break from tradition, I’m awarding my book of the month to a book that I haven’t actually posted a full -length review of. Hey, that’s the way I roll sometimes…

Top honours this month go to Steve Mosby’s I Know Who Did It, which brilliantly reprises elements of his earlier thriller The 50/50 Killer which is still for my money one of the best crime books ever written.

With the suspenseful premise of a woman who appears to have returned from the dead, a detective haunted by the murder of his young son, and the nefarious reach of an old crime on a current investigation, Mosby’s control of the structure of contrasting narratives and plot points is faultless throughout.

Once again Mosby circumvents the shallowness of some in the genre, by really digging down into the turmoil of the human psyche, with two of his police protagonists having experienced tremendous loss, and provides a thoughtful and empathetic study of life in the grip of grief, and the healing process that follows. However, despite this deeper theme to the book, he never loses sight of the need to construct a clever and intriguing thriller, that will bewitch the reader, providing more than one surprise, an utterly unexpected denouement in the creepiest of settings, and interweaving some interesting perspectives on life, death, grief, psychological disturbance, religion, and the much debated theory of nature vs nurture. Meaty issues, violence, and a well realised blend of police procedural and psychological thriller. Highly recommended, and quite deservedly my book of the month.

 

Hester Young- The Gates of Evangeline

9781473517974-largeWhen grieving mother and New York journalist Charlie Cates begins to experience vivid dreams about children after her only son passes away, she’s sure that she’s lost her mind. Yet she soon realizes these are not the hallucinations of a bereaved mother. They are messages and warnings that will help Charlie and the children she sees―if she can make sense of them.
The disturbing images lead her from her home in suburban New York City to small-town Louisiana, where she takes a commission to write a true-crime book based on the case of Gabriel Deveau, the young heir to a wealthy and infamous Southern family, whose kidnapping thirty years ago has never been solved. There she meets the Deveau family, none of whom are telling the full truth about the night Gabriel disappeared. And as she uncovers long-buried secrets of love, money, betrayal, and murder, the facts begin to implicate those she most wants to trust―and her visions reveal an evil closer than she could have imagined…

Suffused with the hot, steamy atmosphere of Louisiana The Gates of Evangeline immediately immerses the reader into the leisurely pace of life in the deep South, and the chasm between the have and have-nots. Inveigling her protagonist, Charlie Cates in the lives of the singularly dislikeable Deveau family, with all their deep and dirty secrets, Young spins a tale flavoured with a good dose of Southern Gothic, and a family saga tinged by an otherworldly supernatural twist. Young also captures perfectly the feel of this atmosphere of privilege and superiority that oozes through every pore of this family, and their innate sense of entitlement. With her vivid use of the Louisiana setting, and the depiction of the Deveau mansion and grounds, this aspect of the book is particularly potent. Equally, I loved the use of the steamy, festering, alligator-infested swamps, backing onto the Deveau property which added a real air of threat and menace to the whole affair. The description of these was absolutely enthralling, and sent a proper chill down this reader’s spine.

Labouring intermittently under the grief of having lost her own child, and some strange deviations into mystical dreams and visions, on the whole, Charlie Cates embodies a good mix of dogged journalist and vulnerable woman. She is an engaging protagonist, if a little too ruled by other parts of her anatomy rather than her head, as she embarks on a rather dodgy romantic liaison in the course of her investigation into this really rather unpleasant family. I did find the whole ‘vision’ thing a little wearing as the book progressed, as I was much more impressed with her when she was in journalistic mode, trying to tease out confessions and soliciting information from each family member as to the events thirty years previously. With her natural amiability and persistence, she does indeed uncover some grim truths, some obvious, some not, and these more than anything give a credibility and solidity to her character, outside of her more mystic Meg moments, and the slightly cheesy romance with the admittedly buff landscape gardener, Noah, who has more than one secret of his own.

What I particularly enjoyed about this book was the way that Young had obviously strived so hard to make this a comfortable, fairly linear and entertaining read for the reader. There were no real surprises, and a few hackneyed plot devices, but it was really refreshing to read a book that just smoothly carried me along, without making any real demands along the way. It was almost as if Young had sat down and thought what sort of book would entertain her as a reader, and then endeavoured to write that book, and so the book carries a certain kind of charm to it, that lifts it above the slight clunkiness of some of the narrative. I also liked the knowing reference that Young incorporates into her story where one character remarks that, “Not a lot of writers can pull off the whole Midnight In The Garden of Good and Evil thing” as The Gates of Evangeline does navigate similar waters, if less successfully. Yes, the denouement and reveals were not particularly well -disguised, and some of the character’s actions did feel a little out of step at times, but I quickly started ignoring the more obvious missteps, and instead found myself avidly reading to the end, thoroughly enjoying Young’s uncomplicated and engaging style.

(With thanks to Random House for the ARC)

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