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The story behind my novel The Milkman simmers down to one word: Externality.  Funny how a single word, tossed out in a lecture, caught in the ear of a half-sleeping undergrad, can bounce and bounce in a head, never losing energy.  Gaining, in fact.  In total defiance of physics.  Not perpetual, but superpetual.  This word fascinated me.  I decided it needed a big, book-long examination.  Not some academic disquisition.  It needed the kind of rolling between the thumb and forefinger that comes from fiction.  

An externality is a cost or benefit you didn’t choose.  Maybe it’s a good thing – your neighbor gets the polio vaccine, thus reducing your chances of getting polio.  Maybe it’s not so good – a chemical company squirts toxic byproduct into the common water supply.  The cost will be paid by hundreds of unborn fetuses.  Externalities are frequently used by business as a way of shedding costs. 

I grew up in the shadow of Love Canal, a toxic waste dump hidden under a park, in the middle of a residential community. Hooker Chemical’s means of reducing costs. I also grew up in the shadow of Ronald Regan, the figurehead of a movement that puts business in the forefront of U.S. culture.  What’s good for GM is good for America.  Too big to fail.  In 1984 Chrysler Chairman Lee Iacocca was asked what he’d do if he was in charge of the federal government.  He said, “Sell.”  Over the last 30 years, the sense that the government should not just serve business, but be run like a business has swelled.

The idea is attractive at first, then crumbles.  In large part, because of externalities.

The U.S. government has no externalities.  It can’t dump waste on anything but itself.  It breathes the air it uses to burn coal.  Everything is inside, nothing is external.  The government can’t dispose of liabilities.  The Coast Guard didn’t make a profit this quarter?  Put it on the block.  That person can’t push a cart anymore?  Get rid of him.

The government can’t run like a business. 

So what if it did?  Or, rather, what if there was no government at all, and businesses ran everything the way they want.  Untethered.  Free.  What would that look like?  What if businesses had to contend with all of the stuff they profit from ditching?

In The Milkman nations are no more.  Companies have foreclosed on debt-ridden nations, taken over and gobbled each other up.  Now every person works for one the three mega-corporations left standing.  Healthcare, pollution, gun violence – it all became their problem.  Taken to its logical extreme, the Free World has no externalities.  To examine the word, I took it away.  I didn’t mean to, but, well, sometimes you appreciate something a bit more when it’s gone.


Michael Martineck
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Stay With Me by Sarah Pinborough will be published on December 26, 2014 by Gollancz

Synopsis:


A heart-breaking, heart-stopping tale of love, life and death which will take your breath away. This is an exceptional, contemporary, heart-breaking novel.

The Death House is a home where, in a world where people are safe against illness, children and teenagers who are susceptible to terminal conditions are sent to die.

Their fates are certain. Their lives are in their hands. The question is: what will they choose to do with them?


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Thanks to a series of recent publications by Faber Books, European readers finally have a chance to check out one of the most exciting American authors of detective thrillers with a legal twist, Alafair Burke. Her much loved Ellie Hatcher series, which is now up to its fifth installment, started in 2007 with “Dead Connection” has been especially great because despite her panache for writing a good, engaging story, Burke also managed to create very humane characters which are extremely easy to get attached to. Her legal background also means that her stories feel believable. It is this latest fifth installment, "All Day and a Night" which marks Faber's first foray into the world of Ellie Hatcher. Most importantly, despite being fifth entry in the series, All Day and a Night can be read as a standalone novel. It is also a particularly strong entry in the series so far and as such serves as a perfect jumping point for new readers.

"All Day and a Night" finds NYPD Detective Ellie Hatcher on a investigation into Anthony Amaro, a convicted serial killer serving live sentence for murder of five women. When DA’s office is notified that the publicity hungry trial lawyer is looking into Amaro's trial, together with her partner her partner, JJ Rogan, she's brought to a case late into proceedings by Assistant District Attorney Max Donovan with a purpose to provide a fresh look into the investigation that led to Amaro's conviction. On the other hand, young defense lawyer Carrie Blank has a separate interest into Amaro's case. Carrie's sister Donna was murdered (allegedly by Amaro) and as the evidence comes to light suggesting Amaro has been wrongfully accused, Carrie decides to prove his innocence. She wants to force the government to catch her sister's real killer. It's a long-winded complicated case going back years and the amount of contradicting evidence is staggering but but as the trail of evidence leads the investigation to Carrie's hometown thing suddenly become more complicated. Carrie is brutally attacked. It is obvious that somehow she came too close to the truth and now it's up to Ellie to pick up the pieces.

If you've never read any of Alafair Burke's exciting thrillers, you notice straight away the cinematic quality of her work. It is all too easy to imagine any of her novels unfolding on the big screen and "All Day and a Night" is no different. The story moves with gut-wrenching precision and its many twists and turns have a tendency to leave breathless. As always, her characters are well developed well and I've particularly enjoyed the interplay between Ellie and Rogan. Another riveting read by Burke.


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Review copy provided by Faber Books.

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Day of Vengeance is without question the hardest book I’ve ever written. There were times when only the contractual obligation kept me from giving up on it.

I’d thought I had a great idea for a mystery novel, my twenty-second or –third. It was to be set in my fictitious English cathedral town of Sherebury, where the bishop of the diocese was retiring and a new one had to be chosen. I’m an Episcopalian myself, so I thought I knew a little about the process, and more than a little about church politics and how vicious they can be.

I discovered that, first, I knew almost nothing at all about the selection of an Anglican bishop. I was surprised, as an American accustomed to the separation of church and state, that in England the Prime Minister and even the Queen get involved. I knew, of course, that the Church of England is the established church, but I hadn’t realized the implications.

So I had to do a lot of research, with the help of many clergy both English and American, and many, many websites. Painfully, I learned the intricacies of the selection process. Meanwhile I had begun writing the book. I had to scrap almost everything I’d written and start over. The deadline loomed ever nearer.

I also did a lot of research into the hot-button issues in the Church of England today, and discovered to my relief (and sorrow) that they are much the same as the ones we debate endlessly here: the role of women in the church, the role of homosexuals, the never-ending bickering over finances, the controversies between religious conservatives and liberals, the importance—or not—of the social Gospel.

As I finally began to feel comfortable with my characters and the plot, I began to enjoy writing the several sermons that form an important part of the story. I had to let the reader hear some of my episcopal candidates preach, both the nice ones and the not-so-nice ones. As a lay preacher in my own church, I found it both fun and in some cases inspirational to air views from several points on the religious spectrum.

I wasn’t quite prepared for the tragedy at the end of the book. Sometimes my characters take over and do things I never saw coming. I realized when I’d written it, though, that the whole book led inevitably to this, that given the nature of several of the characters, no Pollyanna ending was possible.

I had no title for the book for the whole time I was writing it. In talking about it to my friends, I called it “the damn book,” because it was causing me such grief. Two days before deadline, I went in despair to various versions of the English Book of Common Prayer, to the services of ordination and consecration for a bishop. In one of the older versions, I found a passage from Isaiah referring to “the day of vengeance of our God” and I knew I had my title.

I hope I have, in the book, exposed some of the shocking lack of charity that can sometimes be exhibited by Christians and indeed by the Church itself. but also shown some of the embracing love that can be found in a faithful church and with faithful people.


Jeanne M Dams
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The Peripheral by William Gibson will be published on October 28, 2014 by Putnam Adult

Synopsis:


Where Flynne and her brother, Burton, live, jobs outside the drug business are rare. Fortunately, Burton has his veteran’s benefits, for neural damage he suffered from implants during his time in the USMC’s elite Haptic Recon force. Then one night Burton has to go out, but there’s a job he’s supposed to do—a job Flynne didn’t know he had. Beta-testing part of a new game, he tells her. The job seems to be simple: work a perimeter around the image of a tower building. Little buglike things turn up. He’s supposed to get in their way, edge them back. That’s all there is to it. He’s offering Flynne a good price to take over for him. What she sees, though, isn’t what Burton told her to expect. It might be a game, but it might also be murder.

Some time around the year 2020,in a trailer park in the Deep South, a young woman witnesses a murder. She is in a video game, and watches with horror as a drone strike kills a child.

At precisely the same moment, one hundred years in the future, a boy is remotely killed on the streets of London's great skyscrapers. The perpetrator remains anonymous.

Interweaving two strange futures, from a ramshackle community of US army veterans, to the teeming masses of a mega city, The Peripheral tells the story of a brave new world of drones, outsourcing and kleptocracy, and of a crime that can only be solved across time.


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Following "The Death of Bees" was never going to be easy but by page 13 of her second novel "Closed Doors", Lisa O'Donnell effectively stunned all her doubters to silence. This particular scene, both sad and shocking, stirs up emotions in a way that only a master storyteller could achieve. It's a bold opening and a huge gamble, especially when you remember the kind of opening her debut had, but in this case paid off handsomely. I've felt shivers going down my spine. I was frozen with terror and, in turn, was completely gripped.

Our narrator is 11 year-old Michael Murrey who upon hearing commotion downstairs goes to find out what happened. Once there he find his mother covered in blood, screaming at the top of her voice. Father explains to Michael that his mother was jumped at by a flasher in the park and that while running away fell and hurt herself. However, we, as adult readers, know straight away what really happened. She was raped. Telling such shocking tale through Michael's innocence while at the same time managing to gett the point across to her adult readers is done stunningly and the only other book that comes close in creating such oppressive atmosphere is Emma Donoghue’s Room.

Following on from this horrific event, story unfolds further in sequences. In equal measures we continue to learn about Michal's life. He's preoccupied with everything a boy his age would be. There's suddenly girls in his life and being better than his mates at the talent show held the neighborhood still weighs heavily on his mind. For most of the time he's completely unaware of the the drama that's unfolding in front of his eyes in his household but he has his suspicions that something is terribly wrong. His parents are doing their best to keep him shielded and they're doing relatively fine job but then again, they've went one step further and also decided to keep the whole thing secret from everyone else. Michael's mother Rosemary even refuses to go to the police and instead chooses to reinvent herself, pushing herself into work, redefining her looks, the whole lot. But it was not set to last. Michael soon discovers the truth and is having really hard time handling the situation. This is an already tender age for him and his emotions are suddenly all over the place. In the meantime, another woman is raped and left to death and now Rosemary must finally decide whether she'll break her silence and speak.

"Closed doors" is a just about perfect title for Lisa O'Donnell's second novel because ultimately it is a tale about the power of secrets and the way they can hurt or even kill. Beautifully plotted and realised, it is also a devastatingly humane read about adult world as seen through the eyes of a child and the loss of innocence that inevitably soon follows.


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Review copy provided by Harper Collins.

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I have always been interested in Old Time Radio. As a writer I learned more about short stories from listening to these than anything else.

One day I finally got around to listening to the old Gunsmoke radio episodes created and written by John Meston. He wanted to bring adult sensibilities to the western and move away from Hollywood cliches and cartoonish mythology. I was hooked and it wasn’t long before I started to think I might want to try my hand at writing a western with some dark fantasy leavened throughout.

One thing I didn’t want to do, however, was just have the Old West as a backdrop. I wanted my stories to be about the West, rather than have it as removable background furniture. This is actually a big problem I have with a lot of what’s called “Weird West” fiction. The West itself really isn’t that important in many of these stories. It’s just a setting for your typical vampires, or generic werewolves, or Cthulhu-type monster.

I absolutely did not want to do that. Besides, all you have to do is open a history book to see that the most memorable monsters have always been human. There might be an occasional ghost or supernatural event in Haxan, but that’s not what these stories, or the novel is about. They are, first and foremost, about the west and the people of all races who lived and struggled everyday for survival.

I did a lot of research for this novel. I went to New Mexico and fell in love with the country. I camped out a lot to get a feel for the environment, visited Mesilla, Albuquerque, and Santa Fe. I read a lot of history about the west as well. But I had to be careful because just like Hollywood a lot of the history itself is built upon myth.

I wanted to get away from that in Haxan. Two cases in point. The iconic gunfight is what most people think of when they think of a western. Except, it never happened. You have to realize no one in their right mind is going to stand 15-feet away from another man with a gun. That’s suicide. They weren’t Knights of Old. That’s Hollywood. That’s garbage. They fought gang warfare. They shot each other in the back and through windows.  Even the lawmen.

I visited Fort Griffin once and came across a personal account of a town marshal or sheriff who jailed a man and then shot him through the bars because “he was too mean.” That’s who many of these people were, and how they lived. Not everyone was like this, of course, and it would be ridiculous to pretend they were.

There are three gunfights in my novel Haxan and none go according to Hoyle. They simply didn’t fight that way at all.

Second, guns themselves. The fact is, most people in the Old West never used or carried guns at all. This is another Hollywood and hackneyed fiction trope that won’t die. Historically, most people never carried them because they didn’t have any use for them. You couldn’t hit anything unless you were lucky or had a lot of practice, and gunpowder and lead balls and other manufactured ammunition was expensive.
These are only a couple of examples, but they give insight into the difference between historical fact and the myths we have grown up to believe. This, more than anything else, has been my motivation concerning my writing about the Old West.

I think more than anything the preconceived notion this was a romantic time turns me off. You are talking about men and women from all different races and cultural backgrounds struggling everyday to survive. There’s nothing romantic about that at all. And that’s what I write about.

So far, I’ve thoroughly enjoyed writing about that world of blood and dust and wind. I hope to keep doing it for some time to come.


Kenneth Mark Hoover
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The best thing about working in the book business are advance copies. Not because they're anything special as such (they sometimes are) but because they give you a chance to read a book by your favourite authors well in advance of all the reviews and media coverage. It is like you're in your own bubble, experiencing the book with an unspoiled pleasure. The feeling never gets old and it is simply unbeatable. So imagine my delight when I had the chance to read Lauren Beukes' new one. As I've often mentioned on these pages, I've been lucky enough to stumble upon her Moxyland by accident and have never looked back. Since Moxyland days, Lauren's career has reached new heights with each subsequent book culminating with her tour-de-force The Shining Girls which made her a veritable intentional literary sensation. So will Broken Monsters continue the trend?

Well, if my memory serves me right, Broken Monsters was mentioned in interviews even before The Shining Girls was announced so it was probably a long time in the making. While some ideas take time to mature some can get overcooked. Luckily, Broken Monsters is a case of former. It offers a immaculately planed, razor sharp experience which reads like a sister book to The Shining Girls. Similarly genre-bending, Broken Monsters is set in Detroit and follows Detective Gabriella Versado as she encounters the strangest case of her career. In a city that's breathing violence on daily basis, nothing much shocks but the series of part-human, part-animal corpses are pushing the envelope. On the other hand, Gabriella daughters has ideas on her own. She's on a crime-fighting project that goes horrible wrong. The cast ensemble is completed by freelance journalist Jonno who's permanently on a lookout for his big break and TK who is slowly learning to accept being homeless.

Brilliantly setting the story in Detroit, decaying behemoth of American industry, Broken Monsters doesn't stray too far away from the actual truth. The streets of Detroit, if many documentaries and blogs are anything to go by, are unimaginably like a dystopian idea of post-apocalyptic city and despite everything people still continue living. Everyone is barely scraping just enough to live by but there's still vibrancy and incredible art all around. And then there's plenty of violence and psychopaths, but there's also acts of immense kindness. Beukes captures this atmosphere perfectly and through the voices of its many residents, the city and the story itself slowly unravel in way that simply shocked me.

By the time you reach a completely unexpected ending, Lauren Beukes' "Broken Monsters" will frighten you. It will push you over the edge, chew you up and spit you out with unflinching brutality but you won't regret reading it for a single second. It is a superb thriller which breaks completely new ground for Beukes whose imagination seems to have no bounds.   


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Review copy provided by Harper Collins.

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