#BlogTour- Eve Smith- The Waiting Rooms “With all these elements of fact and fiction working in harmony, it really lifts and enhances the book above the dystopian darkness that dwells at its heart.”@evecsmith @OrendaBooks

Decades of spiralling drug resistance have unleashed a global antibiotic crisis. Ordinary infections are untreatable, and a scratch from a pet can kill. A sacrifice is required to keep the majority safe: no one over seventy is allowed new antibiotics. The elderly are sent to hospitals nicknamed ‘The Waiting Rooms’ -hospitals where no one ever gets well. Twenty years after the crisis takes hold, Kate begins a search for her birth mother, armed only with her name and her age. As Kate unearths disturbing facts about her mother’s past, she puts her family in danger and risks losing everything. Because Kate is not the only secret that her mother is hiding. Someone else is looking for her, too…

To be honest, I am finding The Waiting Rooms by Eve Smith a little bit daunting to review. Not only is this an incredibly prescient book, addressing a host of important themes and issues, but also manages to balance this with being an incredibly compelling thriller. So I’ll take the bull by the horns and forge on…

The crisis facing us with the decreasing effectiveness and shortages of anti-biotics has been particularly of late, well documented. What Smith achieves here is a sober and timely reminder of how our dependence on and misuse of anti-biotics will eventually lead to a global health crisis, and how common ailments will become increasingly more deadly, without effective treatments available. The book is framed within this actually coming to pass, where the older members of society are prohibited from access to these drugs, and face a heart-breaking outcome because of this. What struck me most when reading this, with the world in the grip of a deadly pandemic, and depressingly more to come, was how believable this scenario actually is.

By punctuating the book with scientific evidence- which in no way detracts from the ebb and flow of the main narrative itself- Smith presents to us a truly chilling picture of the future. I was fascinated by these little vignettes, which added a real frisson to the ostensibly fictional world the author presents, and which added a vital layer of interest to the plot. As one strand of the book deals with a botanist, and the increasing need to harness the power of previously unused plants and flora to address the global anti-biotic crisis, with at times destructive results, the book raises some interesting questions about the advancement in medicine and science to try and counteract the potentially devastating situation we may find ourselves in.

One aspect of the book I particularly enjoyed, was Smith’s examination and presentation of her older characters. In Lily, who is gradually revealed to have had an absolutely fascinating past, Smith draws her character with a real sense of poignancy and sensitivity, with a salient reminder that older people have themselves lived a life of vitality, passion and usefulness, that often reduces some writers to cliche and stereotype. She was undoubtedly my favourite character, with glimmers of rebelliousness and lively intelligence, that added to the roundedness of her character overall. By interposing her back story in South Africa as a botanist , and the very real emotional trauma she experienced, both professionally and personally, as a result of her work there, this previous life remains at the forefront of the reader’s mind, as we see her in her latter years facing the unwelcome ramifications of her life and work there. I found her story incredibly touching and moving throughout, drawing a realistic picture of a woman torn between the heart and the head, and with a tragic back story that wends so powerfully into her existence in the present.

What Smith achieves so effectively is balancing the book, not only with the factual realities of a global health crisis, and the sharp and detailed characterisation of her protagonists, but a real sense of the visual in her story telling. I found the sections of the book set in South Africa particularly realistic, not only in her vivid descriptions of the landscape, atmosphere and flora and fauna, but also the more social detail with the scenes set within the healthcare system being particularly emotive and disturbing. Smith harnesses all of these aspects of this unique setting so vividly, that it adds a real vitality and interest to the bleak events that come to pass there, and that are unfolding across the world, adding another level to the reading experience. As I have said, with all these elements of fact and fiction working in harmony, it really lifts and enhances the book above the dystopian darkness that dwells at its heart. For this reason, I would highly recommend The Waiting Rooms as a powerful and fascinating thriller, albeit with a grim vision of the future which we dare not look away from.

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(With thanks to Orenda Books for the ARC)

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Lockdown Reads Round Up- Gabriel Bergmoser- The Hunted/ Craig Robertson- Watch Him Die/Lesley Kelly- The Health Of Strangers/ David Jackson- The Resident @gobergmoser @CraigRobertson_ @lkauthor @Author_Dave

One of the benefits of this weird lockdown world is that, when concentration allows, I have read some excellent thrillers of late. I would absolutely recommend these, not only for the quality of writing, but also for being so compelling that they all provided a very welcome distraction from the strange times we find ourselves in…

GABRIEL BERGMOSER- THE HUNTED: Frank owns a service station on a little-used highway. His granddaughter, Allie, is sent to stay with him for the summer, but they don’t talk a lot. Simon is a dreamer and an idealist, in thrall to the romance of the open road and desperately in search of something. Maggie is the woman who will bring them together, someone whose own personal journey will visit unimaginable terror on them all. . . 

Okay, I’m going to stick my neck out here, and say that is highly unlikely that I will read such an intense, visceral and creepy-as-hell thriller this year as The Hunted.  I absolutely adored this book, which totally justifies it’s Deliverance in the Australia outback tagline. Gabriel Bergmoser injects such a feeling of creeping intensity and fear into this book, that the well worn adage of reading it in one sitting is spot on- this is exactly what I did. I also timed it perfectly so that I was reading the most spine chilling episodes in it in the wee small hours of the morning. Yikes.

I am extremely reticent to reveal much of the plot as I would really love you to experience it untainted by spoilers, but will say that from the outset, the author cunningly lulls us into a tale that subtly examines human relationships, and how ‘ordinary’ people function under extreme pressure, with exemplary characterisation. And then he ramps it up, with some style, introducing a thread to the story that is so, so, sinister that I felt it was channelling the spirit of Stephen King, and the compressed horror of some of the best American backwoods fiction. Raw, violent and like a car wreck that you can’t look away from, I thought The Hunted was absolutely superb, both in terms of the clipped dialogue, sharp pared down descriptions of place and character, and the general shifting and slowly amplifying feeling of unease that he draws out in the story, and the reader. A Top Ten read? It’s a very strong possibility…

Highly recommended…if you dare…

(With thanks to Faber Books for the ARC)

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CRAIG ROBERTSON: WATCH HIM DIE: The LAPD find a man dead at home. Nothing suggests foul-play but elements of the victim’s house show that something is deeply wrong. Meanwhile, in Glasgow, DI Rachel Narey is searching for a missing young woman – and the man she suspects of killing her. When a feed broadcasting the slow and painful death of a final victim is discovered, these two cases become linked. There’s no way to identify him. No way to find him. No way to save him. Not without the cooperation of a killer. And the only way he will cooperate is if he can watch him die… 

I am a confirmed fan of Craig Robertson’s Glasgow based crime series featuring DI Rachel Narey, which unfailingly combine all the elements of a solid police procedural and some truly unsettling investigations. With Watch Him Die, Robertson has totally smashed it out of the park, by introducing a new element into what was an already pretty fine series. The book cleverly combines a joint investigation between Narey’s own team, and that of two detectives from the LAPD. Opening with the discovery of a body in a Los Angeles neighbourhood, which then leads to the pursuit of a killer thousands of miles away, there are so many elements to this book which grabbed my attention.

Starting with the American core of the story, Robertson stealthily immerses us in a world of serial killer obsession, referencing historic cases and how a deep fascination with crimes of others can heighten someone’s natural propensity to kill. Then the LA investigation itself which introduces us to a cop partnership that feels completely authentic, mirrored by the language they use, and how they conduct their investigation. I was strongly reminded of the style of Chris Carter whose Hunter/ Garcia series treads similar ground, and loved the way that Robertson puts his own stamp on this genre of crime writing, with heinous and inventive murders. This is all underscored by a real attention to detail in terms of his depiction of Los Angeles itself, which becomes of itself a third cog in the story. As the investigations diverge and Narey and her Glasgow colleagues become involved, the author flips back to the familiarity of his series, but imbued with some lovely compare and contrasts, as investigative minds become united across the ocean. I thought Watch Him Die was brilliantly plotted, increasing and decreasing the tension superbly as the investigation flips and develops from one location to the other. I liked the relatively cliché free depiction of a serial killer investigation, but also the sly moments of humour in the face of incomparable stress for our intrepid detectives. Another runner in the Top Ten reads sweepstake, and a thoroughly enjoyable change of direction in an already excellent series. Highly recommended.

(With thanks to Simon & Schuster for the ARC)

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LESLEY KELLY- THE HEALTH OF STRANGERS: The Virus is spreading. Monthly health checks are mandatory. Enter the Health Enforcement Team. Stuck with colleagues they don’t like, politicians they don’t trust and civil servants undermining them, Mona and Bernard are fighting more than one losing battle. 

Written a couple of years ago yet incredibly prescient, and on the recommendation of Grab This Book The Health Of Strangers was every bit as good as anticipated. The country is in the grip of a pandemic- I know right- and the book is based around the Edinburgh based Health Enforcement Team, a group of disparate, and more importantly, immune individuals who track the health of the local inhabitants. Seamlessly blending all the recognisable societal constraints and government advice in the event of a pandemic, and a taut and intriguing thriller, Lesley Kelly has struck crime gold in this first of a four book series. Her depictions of a city in the grip of a viral infection was, in the light of current events, quite chillingly accurate, and the plot focussing on the disappearance of young women was exceptionally rendered, with all the elements of a crime procedural firmly in evidence.

I think what I loved most about it was the Health Enforcement Team themselves, which put me strongly in mind of the Slough House team in Mick Herron’s series- a group of individuals who find it difficult to work with others with their own flaws and eccentricities, but somehow are able to function as a whole. Sure, there are tensions and flashpoints along the way, but as we slowly get to see the characters beneath the surface, they provide an incredibly solid base for this series to run and run. I have already bought the next 3 books in the series, so this is proof of how enjoyable I found this first foray into their world. Highly recommended.

(I bought this copy of The Health Of Strangers via Sandstone Press)

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DAVID JACKSON- THE RESIDENT: Thomas Brogan is a serial killer. Having left a trail of bodies in his wake, and with the police hot on his heels, it seems like Thomas has nowhere left to hide. That is until he breaks into an abandoned house at the end of a terrace on a quiet street. And when he climbs up into the loft, he realises that the can drop down into all the other houses on the street through the shared attic space. That’s when the real fun begins. Because the one thing that Thomas enjoys even more than killing, is playing games with his victims. And his new neighbours have more than enough dark secrets to make this game his best one yet. Do you fear The Resident? Soon you’ll be dying to meet him…

I have been reading and reviewing David Jackson’s books for some years now, and something I have always admired is the versatility he shows as an author. Already the author of two terrific detective crime series, one set in New York and one in Liverpool, which are well worth seeking out, The Resident is a standalone, and a pretty damn chilling one at that…

What particularly struck me about this book is how much it uses the ordinary to heighten the intensity of the extraordinary. The action takes place in an ordinary street, inhabited by ordinary people with ordinary lives and problems, and most importantly, ordinary loft spaces.  And then Jackson totally brings it. I dread to think how this idea came to fruition, of a wanted serial killer skulking amongst the outgrown baby clothes, Christmas trees and sundry knick- knacks above our heads, but by putting such a loathsome individual in this ordinary setting works exceptionally well. As Brogan traverses the loft space looking for the next victims to sate his twisted appetite, Jackson keeps a smart control of the tension and pace of his plot.

What was particularly interesting is the way that the author shows how Brogan insinuates himself into the lives of the inhabitants below, either up close and personal, or at a distance feeding on their sadness or insecurities, but slowly beginning to reveal to us that these are not exceptionally ordinary people at all as some dark secrets come to light. There is also a clever use of Brogan’s own interior monologue too, which also opens up his character and a growing sense of him forming attachments and beginning to self-question his motivations and previous actions. Although, I had a little suspension of disbelief at the ending of The Resident, with hindsight it was a nice reminder of the fact that you should never underestimate the most ordinary of people… Highly recommended.

 (With thanks to Viper Books for the ARC)

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Russell Day- King Of The Crows @FahrenheitPress

Oceans Eleven Meets 28 Days Later- 2028, eight years after a pandemic swept across Europe, the virus has been defeated and normal life has resumed. Memories of The Lockdown have already become clouded by myths, rumour and conspiracy. Books have been written, movies have been released and the names Robertson, Miller & Maccallan have slipped into legend. Together they hauled The Crows, a ragged group of virus survivors, across the ruins of London. Kept them alive, kept them safe, kept them moving. But not all myths are true and not all heroes are heroes. Questions are starting to be asked about what really happened during those days when society crumbled and the capital city became a killing ground. Finally the truth will be revealed…

WHERE DO I BEGIN?

TO TELL THE STORY OF HOW GREAT ZOMBIES CAN BE…

Ha! Enough of the dodgy 70s music reference and strap yourselves in folks for one helluva read. When Fahrenheit Press started giving loaded signals about them having got their mitts on a zombie heist thriller, my interest was piqued. Reading this book in the grip of a global pandemic ourselves, is an individual decision for the reader, but I guarantee that if you do take the plunge you will be blown away by the prescience, cleverness and kaleidoscopic reach of this novel, conceived and written a long while before these dark and mystifying days…

In a good way, King Of The Crows is a nightmare to review, simply because it is one of the most multi-faceted, meaty books I have read. Kind of with the ergodic pull of Mark Danielewski’s House of Leaves with less footnotes, but with the scope and energy of a rip roaring thriller like Terry Hayes I Am Pilgrim and the visual impact on the reader of the best of the zombie cinema. Charting the course of a devastating HV-Tg pandemic that renders a majority of the infected into a zombie-like state dubbed as Gonzos, through shifting timelines and alternative forms of narrative, this is both a highly original and beautifully textured read.

The narrative and remembrance of events past and present is not only structured as a traditional thriller, but also cleverly injects different mediums: film script, dictionary, street art, memoir, chat room conversations, media reports and so on. Not only does Russell Day keep a conscious awareness that we know exactly where we are in terms of past and present, but also uses these forms to root us in the period and elucidate us further to events within these particular timelines. Being a bit of an arty farty bookworm myself, I was particularly fascinated by the changes and development in language that occur during, and in the wake of the pandemic as new signifiers come into being to deal with the strangeness of events. I also appreciated the cheeky nods and winks that Day inserts about the political state of America, a little homage to Kurtz of Joseph Conrad’s Heart Of Darkness, and other potential spoilers I could mention, that will make you raise a knowing eyebrow. It’s very clever but not in that look at me and how clever I am kind of way. It’s most definitely that hot damn this is clever and a feast for my brain kind of way…

I think the wee synopsis gives you an overview of what this book is about, and I am really really reluctant to go into much further detail on that score as I was entrusted to read this book literally knowing just what the blurb said. I would love you to experience this book with the same wide-eyed enchantment. All I will say is that the book pivots between the events of the pandemic of 2020, and people traversing dangerous and threatening situations both in London and France. This is interspersed with the present day, in this case 2028, with the myths and the contrasting accounts that have grown up around the Crows- a band of raggle-taggle survivors and the dominant figures within this group. One of these, Colin Robertson, finds him at the centre of a police investigation involving murder and robbery, conducted by a mentally scarred male officer, Winslow, and Cross, a female American detective allayed to the Washington Police Department, who underwent her own baptism of fire during the pandemic. As their questioning of Robertson unfolds, we begin to have a kaleidoscopic view of past events through Robertson’s not always truthful testimony, other’s perceptions of him and the hero status ascribed to him though cultural forms, the linear narrative of the characters and life within the Crows, and what Winslow and Cross discover in the course of their investigation. Day pits unreliable narration against investigative truth, against media double speak extremely effectively, leaving the reader to unpick and re-stitch what we think we know, until we are cajoled into thinking that we have worked it all out. Rest assured you won’t, as the insanely clever yet wholly believable ending of the book more than demonstrates.

Additionally, the characterisation is superb and within the construct of each individual, Day is given a tremendous amount of scope to meld a psychological commentary within the book too. As we observe the activities of individuals in the Lockdown of the pandemic and how they adjust, survive or fall victim to the new dangerous climate and some of its attendant mumbo-jumbo too, each character brings something vivid and important to the book. It’s clever how Day uses most of his characters to represent the differing reactions and instincts that people would experience in this situation- the survivor, the schemer, the weak, the strong- and so on, and how we then perceive some of them on the other side of the pandemic too. No spoilers!

Throughout the book the reader is kept well and truly on their toes, being assailed by shifting timelines, shifting narrative forms and shifting zombies too. I can truly say that King Of The Crows is like nothing I have read before, and I was blown away by the scope and visuality that Day has achieved with this book. I loved the story, the characters, the crows both feathered and otherwise, the structure, the science and you can’t go wrong with a good old zombie heist combo, in my humble opinion. Mind officially blown. Make sure yours is too.

Highly hot-damningly recommended.

Buy your copy of King Of The Crows (digital format, paperback or incredibly cool limited edition hardback) direct from Fahrenheit Press HERE When buying a physical format of any of Fahrenheit’s books you also get the digital copy free. 

 

Read an interview with Russell Day about the conception of King Of The Crows at Writers Online here

Check out King Of The Crows HQ  here

If you’re still not sure how great this book is check out these reviews too…

Barking Mad Blog Spot

And this one from Grab This Book

King of the Crows – Russell Day

With much thanks to Fahrenheit Press for the ARC

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