Christine Mangan- Tangerine

The last person Alice Shipley expected to see since arriving in Tangier with her new husband was Lucy Mason. After the horrific accident at Bennington, the two friends – once inseparable roommates – haven’t spoken in over a year. But Lucy is standing there, trying to make things right. Perhaps Alice should be happy. She has not adjusted to life in Morocco, too afraid to venture out into the bustling medinas and oppressive heat. Lucy, always fearless and independent, helps Alice emerge from her flat and explore the country. Soon a familiar feeling starts to overtake Alice – she feels controlled and stifled by Lucy at every turn. Then Alice’s husband, John, goes missing, and Alice starts to question everything around her: her relationship with her enigmatic friend, her decision to ever come to Tangier, and her very own state of mind…

Two points to make before I launch into my review for the fragrant Tangerine.

(1) When you read publicity material that says it’s like Girl On A Train meets Patricia Highsmith, ignore TGOTT bit and focus on the Highsmith comparison which is absolutely spot on.

(2) This is currently Waterstones Book of the Month for February, and my venerable employer will appreciate the nod. Actually, on the back of this, I have a feeling that I am going to love recommending this book all month…

So let us begin.

I am an ardent fan of Patricia Highsmith, and I genuinely think that Christine Mangan, albeit with her own particular writing flair and style, has captured something of the atmosphere of the aforementioned doyenne of psychological crime. The book is an amalgamation of suffocating obsessive behaviour suffused with a location that also wields a suffocating atmosphere on the characters contained within. Alice Shipley is the timid little wife, wrestling with the demons of events some years previously during her residence at a college in Vermont, adrift in the stultifying domestic routine of her ill advised relocation to Tangier with her husband, John. Only thinking that she needs to conquer her increasingly isolated existence in this bustling, overwhelming and foreign environment along comes Lucy, a real blast from a not altogether pleasant past, and here is where the fun begins…

Written in alternating character viewpoints we bear witness to first, the hugely differing responses of the women to Tangier itself, with Alice resisting and Lucy embracing the idiosyncrasies of this city in the grip of political and social unrest. This theme expands to their different interactions with those around them, the ex-pats and the natives with both women again separated by their willingness to engage or ignore. At another level, the microscope is put on their relationship, defined by tragic past events, and an examination of the faltering steps to form some kind of relationship in the present, whilst simultaneously assimilating the truth from the fiction of what exactly happened back in Vermont. These are two women, on the surface completely divided by money, class, marital status and more, providing a strange dynamic in their relationship. What unfolds is a breathless, claustrophobic and deeply psychological story that reflects the tensions of all these facets of the narrative, with takes the reader to some dark and dangerous territory of both women’s psyches.

This book got its hooks into me from the very beginning, initially because of Mangan’s manipulation of location. I found it extremely clever how she managed to make both the locations of Vermont and Tangier a mirror of each other despite the obvious differences in climate and landscape. Both are claustrophobic, and both are extremely reflective of the psychological upheaval that Alice in particular experiences, The unrelenting cold of snowy Vermont is as palpable, as the sweltering confusion of Tangiers, and Mangan makes her descriptions of both sing from the pages. I was also fascinated by the shifting parameters of Alice and Lucy’s relationship as the book progresses, and the power that each wields over the other on different emotional levels. The shades of light and dark that colour their every interaction was brilliantly done, holding the reader’s attention, and also in a state of suspense for the eventual reckoning. This was the aspect of the book which was most Highsmithian in its rendition, and all leads to a truly dark denouement, which although a little drawn out towards the end, was incredibly satisfying. A clever, vibrant, suspenseful read.

Highly recommended.

(I received an ARC via Netgalley from Abacus)

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.