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REVIEW: Obelisk by Stephen Baxter


If you have never read anything by Stephen Baxter, "Obelisk" is, in a nutshell, a perfect representation of his works. Stephen Baxter is something of a phenomenom in this day and age. With one foot he's firmly in the past and can be considered something of a spiritual successor of science fiction giants he admires so much, H.G. Wells and Arthur C. Clarke. With the other he is in the far future imagining alternate histories and possible futures for all of the mankind. 

Seventeen stories (two of which previously unpublished) in this collection are separated in four section, first one containing stories set in his recent duology "Ultima" and "Proxima". First one is "On Chryse Plain", a meditation on our reliance upon technology and the consequences of getting disconnected. After a nearly death crush that leaves three people stranded on the Mars' surface, the difference between the life and death will be decided by the unlikely source - an old piece of space tech you might be familiar with called the Viking. It's a stunning story to open a collection. Following on is "A Journey to Amasia", story that feel like the deleted scene from "Ultima" / "Proxima" and will also strike a chord with readers who enjoyed this year's collaboration with Alastair Reynolds, "The Medusa Chronicles". "Obelisk", the third story in the collection, is definitely one of my favourites and explores the development of human settlement on Mars, and the way low gravity can be user of incredible feats of engineering. It's wildly imaginative story that at its heart is still about the human condition. The final page will make many of you shed a quiet tear. Finally, in this section we find "Escape from Eden", a short but pleasurable episode in Martian life.

Second section "Other Yesterday" features the stories occupying a different side of the spectrum when Baxter's work is concerned. His constant readers will remember "Time's Tapestry", "Mammoth" and "Northland" all being series exploring alternative histories. This is where Baxter usually gets to be playful and explored what might have happened if a crucial turning point in history went the other way. Chilling "Darwin Anathema" exploring the concept of modern age inquisition digging up Darwin's corpse to ravage his life and work is one of the best stories Baxter has wrote so far. "Mark Abides" is another bittersweet stories that explored the final moments of human race as it succumbs to radiation sickness and internal fighting. Impressive stuff.

Third section "Other Todays", with only two stories as closer to home. Playful "The Pevatron Rats" involves particle accelerators, rats that propagate through black holes and quantum tunnelling. It's a sly dig at some of the ridiculous press stories surrounding the LHC. 

Final section, "Other Tomorrows" opens up with "Turing's Apples" and concludes with "Starcall", two of my favourites, first a powerful tale about the first contact and second an incredible tale about the AI controlled starship travelling to the stars and a little boy who grows up on Earth during the trip. Ever ten years he makes a Starcall to the AI and receives an answer in return. Through the calls, Baxter explores the development of society and science leading up to a heart wrenching finale. Simply stunning.

Whether you are a constant or a casual reader, "Obelisk" is something you should treat yourself to. It's an incredible collection from a modern age successor to H.G. Wells.

Review copy provided by Gollancz
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REVIEW : Radiant State by Peter Higgins


"The Wolfhound Century" is one of those series that defy easy description. Peter Higgins' literary fantasy tour the force is a historical tale steeped in Slavic mythology and it was quite unlike anything else out there. Oft quoted comparison to China Mieville was particularly apt while that to Vandermeer less so. Any yet, if the first two instalments were hard to classify, "Radiant State" completely tears up the rulebook. It's mad in a way to topple the scales with the final part of the trilogy and yet that exactly what Higgins has done here - he goes out with a bang.

"Radiant State" is a crux of all that happened until now and we see the Josef Kantor's plan as it reaches its fruition. The Vlast Universal Vessel "Proof of Concept" stands proud ready to take his latest reincarnation as President General Ozip Rizhin to the stars. The price of progress, as in countless many versions of Soviet Russia, is the suffering of its people. Vissariom Lom and Maroussia Shaumian don't share his enthusiasm. They're still reeling in the aftermath of the previous volume "Truth and Fear" but there's not time for rest. Standing on the knife's edge they're in their biggest pickle yet. They'll do everything to stop Kantor. And while this short synopsis might make you believe that the story itself is a rather straightforward affair, it is its delivery that sets it apart from other books that occupy similar territory, albeit with a slightly less supernatural elements, i.e. Jasper Kent's Danilov Quartet or Sam Eastland's Inspector Pekkala. Higgins peppers chapter with nuggets of wisdom, all carefully taken from rich soviet literary history. Particularly fitting is the opening quote from Mikhail Gerasimov, Russian poet from early 20th century who said "On the canals of Marks we will build a palace of world freedom". This quote perfectly sets the stage for what's to come. Some are downright frightening and ominous like Josef Stalin's "If you're afraid of wolves, stay out of the forest." All this makes "Radiant State" a rather immersive reading experience.

While I won't go further into details of the story, I'll just mention that I feel that the final, fourth part of the story provides worthy conclusion for the entire ride. It was a glorious tale, and "The Wolfhound Century" as a series has succeeded where many others have failed - it has managed to carve a new niche for itself. I predict it'll be a series against which many others with be judged.  It's innovative, often unique in its setting and so beautifully written. I expect I'll be returning to it many times in the future and if you're even a little bit intrigued by its subject or you like the poetry of Mieville or just plain gold old history, I urge you to give it a try. It might just blow your mind.

Review copy provided by Gollancz.
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The story behind Truth and Fear by Peter Higgins


Originally Truth and Fear wasn’t meant to exist. I hadn’t thought of it. It wasn’t part of the plan.

When I’m working on ideas for what to write, I think first of all in terms of genre and atmosphere and setting: the characters come later and their stories come last (last but most of all, that’s where ninety per cent of the writing gets done). I get to know the characters and their stories as I’m writing, and they change and develop, often in unexpected ways, but basically, a new book starts off as a feeling for the kind of book I want to read, and that initial idea – what kind of book is this? – stays with me throughout. It’s what I hold onto.

A few years ago now, I had the idea for what became Wolfhound Century. I love fantasy, and I love thrillers (detective stories, noirs, police procedurals, spy novels, murder mysteries, call them what you will) so, I thought, why not write a book that’s both at once? Why not a full-on fantasy, set in a world different from ours, with hard journeys, a dark lord, a war for the future, the possibility of magic, extraordinary non-human creatures, and the future at stake, but one where the story would move with the pace and danger of a thriller? One that would be set in a world somewhat like Soviet Russia in the first half of the 20th century: a totalitarian state at war, with secret police and marching crowds, revolutionary terrorists and dissident intellectuals. At a human level, it would let in something of the darkness and cruelty, and also the huge sense of possibility and change of that period in our world’s history: only, because it was also a fantasy, this world would have giants and endless forests and living, sentient rain.

And so I wrote Wolfhound Century.

My first version was a single, stand-alone book. That was the original plan. It was only when I’d finished the first draft that I realized a single book wasn’t going to be enough.

I discovered in the course of writing Wolfhound Century that combining fantasy and thriller works in all sorts of ways. Each genre strengthens and helps the other. Both kinds of book start with a question: something strange is happening, something serious is wrong with the world, and has to be put right. The characters have to work out what’s causing the wrongness and try to do something about it (at great risk and cost to themselves) and the reader experiences that with them. The reader learns about the world as the characters do, and the characters grow and change, becoming more interesting and complex and powerful, as they confront the terrible threat.

But one big difference between the thriller and the fantasy as genres is time-frame. Thrillers have tight, fast-moving plots. The action starts near the point of crisis, and races along. The clock ticks fast and loud. Every day, every hour, every minute counts. Time is always running out. Fantasies, on the other hand, can take their time. You can follow characters for years: kingdoms rise and fall, wars are lost and won, dragons grow from eggs to adults, and magic-workers struggle to learn their craft. Above all, with fantasies you build a whole world, with its own geography and population and a history that matters.

When I’d finished that first draft of Wolfhound Century, I realised the work wasn’t done. The story wasn’t over, and the fantasy was still at work; the characters wanted to grow and become stronger; the world I’d built needed to be explored more, there were other places around the next corner and beyond the horizon; the tensions and conflicts that threatened to destroy this huge world were still there.

And so I took a deep breath and changed the plan. Instead of a single, stand-alone book it needed to be a trilogy. After all, there’s something about trilogies that works for fantasy, and has done at least since Lord of the Rings: the three-book structure feels somehow right, as a way of doing justice to a whole new world. Three books let it breathe. But I wanted to hang onto the thriller approach – that pace, that excitement, that danger shouldn’t be diluted. That’s what drove me to come up with the concept of a fantasy told in three thrillers: three books, each of which would cover a short period of time (that thriller clock still ticking loud) but together they’d build up to tell a bigger story, the story of a continent and a world.

Which gave me a whole new challenge.

When I started working on Truth and Fear, I knew that it was going to be Book II out of three, and I knew that the middle books of trilogies can be difficult. The risk is that they’re all middle: not filler, exactly, but transitional stories between a beginning and an ending that take place elsewhere and at another time. I was determined that Truth and Fear wouldn’t be like that: I wanted it to work as a thriller, I wanted it to be a great book in its own right, I wanted it to be surprising, and (excited though I was with Wolfhound Century) I wanted Truth and Fear to be better.

So before I started writing Truth and Fear I read as many middle books of trilogies as I could. I thought about which ones worked, and which ones seemed to fall a bit flat, and why. I watched movie sequels, and season two of great TV series. I looked for interviews with other writers who’d tackled the problem before me, though for some reason there doesn’t seem to be much out there about this topic. (I did find two fantastic gold mines: the bonus features on the DVD of the Extended Edition of Peter Jackson’s The Two Towers, the second in the Lord of the Rings trilogy; and a talk at a convention by Juliet McKenna about the challenges and pitfalls of returning to a world you’ve made and writing more.

And out of all this ‘research’ (which was hugely more fun than that word implies) I made myself a set of ‘ground rules’ – principles for making a Book II that really works – which I held onto throughout the process of writing Truth and Fear. I wanted to take the first book as a starting point, but widen it out and raise the stakes. I wanted the world to get bigger – new places, new characters, new journeys – and I wanted the main characters’ relationships to deepen: in the first book they got acquainted, but now they’d learn more about each other and themselves, now they’d change and grow.

For the record, these are my personal ground rules, my ‘five principles for writing a Book II’:

  • as the characters get stronger, so does the opposition: the battles get bigger and harder;
  • open the cupboards and look inside: go back to things that were hints and peripherals in Book I, and see what they really meant;
  • overturn expectations – what you thought you knew may be just the start – but don’t play mind-games with the reader;
  • mourn the dead: people who didn’t make it past the first book live on in memory, and still influence action and emotions;
  • don’t hold on to everything: some things, even if they were important in Book I, have to fall and crash and burn.

And finally, and most importantly for me, although the overarching three-book story has to keep moving, Book II has to be a new story in its own right, with a new challenge, a new and harder struggle, and an ending that’s satisfying but also catapults you forward to the final conclusion in Book III.

Of course, there’s nothing definitive about these principles, and somebody else might come up with different ones, but these turned out to be mine: they’re what I tried to live by when I was writing Truth and Fear, and I thought they might be worth sharing.  

Peter Higgins
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REVIEW : The Thing Itself by Adam Roberts


I should probably admit straight at the start that Adam Roberts' latest novel "The Thing Itself" confused me completely. It is one of those rare books that I have read twice in quick succession simply for the reason that first time around I've just skipped some of its more experimental chapters in an effort to grasp what's it about. It was a bit much for me as I just don't think I'm learned enough about philosophy to truly understand it. As I turned the finally page I wasn't even sure what it was that I have just read and I can already see that I should prepare myself for another thorough re-read. "The Thing Itself" is a really good novel but one I don't think I'll every completely figure out. It is basically a new genre in itself. In a similar way that Greg Egan writes the hardest Hard Science Fiction there is, Roberts has created something akin to Hard Philosophy Fiction, a metaphysical novel that explores the nature of the reality and existence through Kant, AIs and Fermi's Paradox. And it's dense. Very, very dense.

Purely on the story level, "The Thing Itself" is about a life-long connection between two men, Charles and Ray, who back in the 80s as part of ongoing SETI research embarked on a polar expedition together. They're total opposites and their stay at a remote base is strenuous at best. Ray is an introverted computer geek who's obsessed with Kant. On the other hand, Charles is a scientist who is very down to earth. He writes letters, even playing a chess game with a friend through them, reading newspaper that occasionally arrive. One night, Ray tries to kill Charles and leaves him to die in cold. After suffering though frightening hallucinations and frostbites, Charles loses fingers and toes, and effectively ends up scarred for life. Ray ends up in mental institution. From that point on Charles' life is one big downward spiral. First losing his job at the university, due to drinking problems he also loses his post as a teacher, and ends up working a bin men. All through his life he's been shadowed in his dream by a strange kid, Ray's still writing to him. It all comes back again when a stunningly beautiful woman appeared on his doorstep. She's asking him to join the shadowy Institute which does research into AI, remote viewing and the nature of reality in general. They want both Charles and Ray in their ranks. In-between this, relatively straightforward story, is a series of experimental chapters, each delivered in a different style - one that's particularly hard to read because there's no punctuation marks in it. Another one's written as numbered list.

So, in the end, is "The Thing Itself" a good novel? It's an experimental novel so it all depends on your preferences. Personally, I found it deeply fascinating but hard to understand. The closest reference point for me was Philip K. Dick's VALIS trilogy which fits in the same general literary area but "The Thing Itself" is definitely much more fun.

Review copy provided by Gollancz
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The story behind Revenger by Alastair Reynolds

Eleven years in the making – or, how I got started on Revenger.

I can’t speak for other writers, but for me the act of commencing a novel is often the culmination of a period of creative gestation, a slow accretion of ideas and impulses over at the very least several years, and sometimes rather more than that. The feeling is of an itch that becomes more and more insistent, to the point where it’s no longer ignorable and must be scratched.

I’d finished a large, sprawling trilogy – the Poseidon’s Children sequence – and Stephen Baxter and I had just completed our collaborative tribute to Arthur C Clarke, The Medusa Chronicles. Both of those works were set in complex, detailed near-term futures with a strong emphasis on speculative plausibility. Now it felt time for something different. But what, exactly?

Revenger turned out to be the intersection of two unfulfilled ideas which had been bubbling away at the back of my mind for a long time. But seeing the connection between these ideas was anything but straightforward.

The first was the idea of a tense adventure story involving a kind of futuristic heist scenario, with a squad of experts breaking into a sealed-off alien worlds to recover valuable technology and information from within. The catch was that they only had a limited time in which to do so, before the world sealed itself up again. I thought that this scenario could be potentially quite tense and interesting, even more so if there were rival teams and many such artefacts available to be cracked.

My story notes for this go back to October 2005. Here’s a short excerpt from those notes:

Caverns are open for at least a specified time, long enough to enable normal teams to get in and extract some stuff, but not long enough to make a return trip to the far end and back. The high-pay teams therefore specialise in staying inside longer than the maximum safe time. There is a sliding scale of pay for those teams prepared to remain inside for the longest time: the rate of pay is constantly ticking upwards, as decided by the contract firms under the main combine. Teams are constantly arguing and breaking up, with members defecting to other partnerships.

I tried writing this story several times. Each time I got a certain way into the narrative before the momentum died and I didn’t know how to carry on. The heist scenario was fun up a point, but something more was lacking. I tried bolting it into the Carrie Clay universe (as featured in a couple of short pieces of mine) but the story died on me. That’s where I left it – but that itch was still present.

Fast forward half a decade to 2011.

I had another itch. I’d long been a fan of the Known Space stories of Larry Niven, and I loved the idea of a scenario in which humans used and adapted alien technologies for their own ends. In the Known Space books, human spacecraft are made up of all sorts of foreign technology, carefully integrated. I liked that concept, as well as the freewheeling, adventurous spirit of those early stories, but obviously I didn’t want to do a straight re-hash of Larry Niven.

Instead, I was homing in on a different scenario, but which would allow a similar action and adventure feel. My plan at the time – which I cunningly called “Project X” – was as follows:

Three stories of 7000 words each, establishing world and characters for an open-ended series.

Very far future, space-based setting. Locale must contain numerous worlds and venues – it should feel capable of containing many stories. Main protagonists would be human, but there would also be many secondary characters who are possibly posthuman, artificial intelligences, or aliens.

The intention was to write and polish the stories, establishing the cross-links between them, before attempting to publish them. I wanted to make a definite splash, introducing a new, fully-developed universe as if a curtain had just been pulled back on a magnificent stage-set.

Obviously those three stories didn’t happen. But the notes show the sketchy outline of what would eventually become the Revenger universe:

Our own solar system, transformed into a Dyson swarm, a billion years in the future. Countless posthuman civilisations have come and gone. Now a relatively small population of baseline humans has begun to spread out, explore and colonise the ruins. Throughout the stories, there could be the gradual peeling back of the larger mystery of what happened to the last posthuman civilisation. This would allow for an endless variety of worlds and societies, yet all within a few light hours of each other. Travel between parts of the swarm need not take longer than weeks at the most.

Tellingly, there’s also this throwaway remark about a putative character:

She would have a particular set of skills which involve some risky activity that varies from story to story – say, extracting artefacts or data from alien puzzle boxes.

So – the idea from 2005 is reiterated here, in slightly different form. You would think it would be straightforward then: the 2005 idea meets the 2011 idea and there’s a fully-realised set of stories waiting to be written, or perhaps a novel. There’s a world, a character, a challenging thing for that character to be getting on with. Enough, surely?

But none of that stuff is obvious to me.

These two sets of notes sat on my hard-drive, barely a mouse click apart, for another four years (into 2015) before it occurred to me that all I had to do was splice them together and I had enough material for a book. It wasn’t quite a Eureka moment, because I’m well used to this sort of tardy mental association by now – more a Homer-esque “doh!” that the answer was there all along, if only I’d had the wit to see it. I’d already been through a similar head-slapping process of belated realisation with Slow Bullets, which also only caught fire when I mated two different sets of story notes, both of which were years old.

So that’s the genesis of Revenger, in essence. There was a lot still to be done, needless to say – like actually writing the damned thing, and finding my way into a barely-imagined world, discovering the characters and their voices, and gradually stripping back the “tech” of my human society until, for better or for worse, we arrive at a kind of steampunk/valvepunk/age-of-fighting-sail mashup, with space-going ships with actual sails and rigging, pirate crews with crossbows, and all the nautical atmosphere I could summon from years of reading Forester, O’Brian and so on. I had tremendous fun with it, anyway, and I do think there’s a room for a few more stories in that setting. It’s take eleven years to get here, after all.

Revenger by Alastair Reynolds is out now, published by Gollancz in hardback

Alastair Reynolds
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The story behind Night Without Stars by Peter F. Hamilton

More of the same, only different.  It’s a perpetual problem for those of us writing long-running series; not just in fantasy or science fiction, which these days trends toward the multi-book format, but also for writers with much-loved detectives or secret agents.   The Commonwealth Universe, that I’ve been writing about since 2004 when Pandora’s Star was first published, is one that readers are now as familiar with as I am myself.   Paradoxically, although I have an entire universe to play with and explore, that tends to be quite limiting.  There are only so many ‘fresh’ worlds that the expanding Intersolar Commonwealth can encounter only to discover yet another deadly threat to civilization.  How quickly the familiar can become repetitive, a position from which the fall to boredom is a short one.  In the case of Night Without Stars this problem was particularly acute.  It’s the seventh book in the series, everybody knows the parameters, and I cannot mess with the continuity.

To carry the story forward, I had to rely heavily on the characters.  Fortunately, the previous six books have provided quite an extensive cast list to choose from.  But once again I didn’t want to fall back on the old reliables –with one major exception that allowed me a degree of continuity.

By focusing on the newer characters, I was able to return to the fundamentals of science fiction which is exploring ideas and how they impact on the individual for better or worse.  Today’s world is science fiction to someone from the fifties.  Yet for all its shiny gadgets and fast pace, so many old problems persist -we have simply adapted to them.  So how will people adapt to new problems progress will create?

This is where the author in me takes over, observing the world today and extrapolating mundane situations.  For Night Without Stars this all came together from a trip to Leipzig.  I was a guest at a convention there a few years ago, and my hosts very kindly arranged for several trips into the city.  One of the main attractions for the visiting authors was the Stasi museum, which by quirk of fate was actually the old Stasi headquarters.  

Looking round, for the first time I really started to appreciate just how intrusive the East European state had been into the lives of its citizens.   The extensive underground vaults built purely to accommodate the incredible numbers of files the Stasi had on everybody, all studiously cross indexed in rolodexes.  I could barely grasp the paranoia driving it, the amount of effort that the state put into monitoring people was phenomenal.  It represented an institutional level of behaviour I found deeply disturbing, as if a particular strain of insanity had become infectious.  This was an entire country gripped by fear and suspicion, with everyone content to inform on their neighbour.

On top of that was the spy technology on display, the jewel in the crown to captivate every ten-year-old.  The jacket with inbuilt (film) camera, where the collar button was a lens.  Micro-tape recorders –not cassettes, these had actual spools.  Microphone bugs.  Now bear in mind the Berlin wall came down in 1989, which is the time from which everything in the museum is preserved.  These gadgets were the best technology available.  Really?   I had the advantage of looking back across twenty years of digital development, however even taking that into account, everything was so primitive.  Yet because of that basic nature, it still worked.  It was less fragile, more reliable than today’s electronics where we upgrade everything every two years.

And there it all was, in context, sitting in glass cases in the very building where it had been used in anger.  So I started to look at it all through author eyes.  If something happened, if our smartphones and laptops failed, all the equipment around me could be started up again without much trouble.  All that was left to complete the nightmare was the return of paranoia, something would have to come along to justify the obsession and mistrust.

That was the key to creating the world in Night Without Stars; a civilization which had fallen from its technological and democratic peak. It was easy to picture a world under threat, allowing the political class to convince everyone that overwhelming state security was essential for their own protection.  It gave me the book’s character theme; those working tirelessly to do what they believe is their duty, encounter something new and strange, forcing them examine their world from a new and uncomfortable viewpoint.  Exactly what Science Fiction should be.

Night Without Stars by Peter F Hamilton is out now, published by Macmillan price £20.00 in hardback

The Story Behind Night Without Stars
Peter F. Hamilton
September, 2016
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REVIEW: Undertow by Elizabeth Heathcote


Elizabeth Heathcote's “Undertow” is one of the more interesting debuts of the year. However, while a psychological thriller at its heart, "Undertow" is something of a trickier beast as far as its story is concerned. Filled with complex characters and plotlines, it is an immensely pleasurable piece of atmospheric domestic noir, which although not without its, admittedly easy to overlook, faults, manages to grip from the opening page.

Carmen is happy in her marriage with ten years older, successful lawyer, Tom, but unfortunately she can never escape the felling that something is missing to complete the picture. Problem is mostly with Tom who simply can't get over the death of his beautiful love Zena. He left his first wife for her even though they were happy and had three children. For outside, it's almost like he is doing the same thing to his second one as well as Zena is never out of him mind. However, Carmen is happy to gloss over the issue as she and Tom are looking forward to starting a family of their own until the moment where a series of tiny signs start to point towards an unbearable truth - that Zena's death by drowning was anything by an accident. It increasingly looks like Tom was responsible for her death. Carmen, journalist by trade, can stop herself being curious and slowly open a door to a terrifying fact and unpredictable outcome.

For a debut novelist Elizabeth Heathcote is surprisingly skilful with words even though I feel that some of the passages have been terribly overwritten. Luckily these are few and far between and Undertow is a perfect jumping board for Elizabeth to continue honing her skills. I have no doubt “Undertow” is an intriguing debut well worth checking out.

Review copy provided by Quercus Books
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REVIEW: The Hidden People by Alison Littlewood


For the last couple of years Alison Littlewood has been one of the finest voices in contemporary British horror / paranormal literature so each time a new book of hers pops up in my mail box I can't wait to sink my teeth into it. Ever since her breakthrough novel "A Cold Season" was picked up by Richard and Judy as part of their book club, Alison has been churning out intriguing and clever chilling stories that always manage to raise my heartbreak. Her latest one, a strange historical twister called "The Hidden People" is no exception. It's one of those books that you will probably read over the course of a single night and wonder in the morning where the time has gone, as bleary eyed realise you have to go to work.

"The Hidden People" is a gothic tale that revolves around the tragic death of one Pretty Lizzie Higgs who was burned on her own hearth. Her husband was accusing her of being a changeling for a while now and therefore murdered her. Albie Mirralls met his cousin ages ago at the Great Exhibition of 1851 and knowing her is unwilling to accept the circumstances. He decides to leave his life in London and head to Halfoak, a small village where Lizzie lived. Not exactly knowing what exactly is he doing, he finds that the truth is far more strange and complicated than he bargained for. As he arrives Lizzie hasn't even been buried. She is kept in a garden cottage and it is up to Albie to organize a burial - to which no one comes. But that is just the beginning. In Halfoak, "Hidden People" and old wives' tales might have more than a grain of truth to them.

"The Hidden People" is an intriguing piece of work that takes its cue from complex mythology and superstition to weave a timeless story that equally delights and disturbs. It's a welcome addition to Littlewood's bibliography and mightily easily become one of the sleeper hits of the year.

Review copy provided by Quercus Books
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REVIEW : Blood and Bone by V.M. Giambanco


When crime fiction is discussed among ourselves, our editor often shares his opinion that Mari Hannah and V. M. Giambanco are two of the most important contemporary writers of the same. Never having read any of the fiction published by them I was pleasantly surprised when "BLOOD AND BONE", the latest novel in the Alice Madison series landed on my desk. You've guessed it, editor is reading the new Mari Hannah novel, “The Silent Room”, so this was my chance to find what the fuss is all about.

"BLOOD AND BONE" is the third novel in the Alice Madison series and quite unexpectedly it starts rather slowly, with an episode when our protagonist was just twelve. It is 1982 and Alice is running away from home. She’s taking with herself only the bare necessities with her, which include her copy of "Treasure Island" read to her by her mother. After her mother suddenly died, Alice was left to live with her father. There's plenty of dark hints as she makes her way to the nearby port and escapes on a ferry. It is a bleak and engrossing opening salvo which only serves as a hint for what is to come. Back in the present, Alice is attacked by two abusive men who get more than their bargained for. We are then treated to a slice of her, quite nice, relationship, and from then it's all the way to the heart of darkness. A man is found brutally murdered in his own home. His face is smashed without recognition and some of the jewelry is missing but what initially seems like a burglary turned nasty reveals itself to be a work of a particularly nasty serial killer whose victims go back for decades. There’s plenty of previously solved cases which will need to be re-investigated. And what about all those people that landed up inside for the crimes they didn't commit? I will step back from revealing too much but it is a damn good and addictive stuff.

If you go by the synopsis alone, "BLOOD AND BONE" might initially seem like a run-of-the-mill police procedural but just scratch beyond the surface and you'll see that it is much better than that. V.M. Giambanco works hard to establish her characters as real people, with feeling and anxieties, and this makes all the difference because once the going gets tough. You feel for their pain and frustration, and you want their issues to be resolved. I have to admit that I did feel like I lost something by starting from the third book. I found seemingly unconnected storyline with the character called John Cameron especially confusing but it was not too bad. I'll be making my way back to the beginning as soon as I'm done with writing this review but if you have no other choice, still give it a go. You won't lose too much and you might just agree with our editor in the same way as I did. V. M. Giambanco is definitely one to watch.

Review copy provided by Quercus Books
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The story behind Blood and Bone by V.M. Giambanco

BLOOD AND BONE is the third book in the Alice Madison series and one thing I knew for sure when I started writing it was that this was going to be a serial killer story – and then I proceeded to change the rules of the game, because that’s when the fun begins.

The Madison series in set in Seattle, a city in the U.S. Pacific Northwest, and the main character is a homicide detective who in the first book had just joined the unit.

One of the great joys of writing a series is that you can develop characters and relationships in a way that is simply impossible with a one-off novel, and this has always been the main attraction for me. In BLOOD AND BONE things have definitely moved on for Madison and her relationships with the other characters have grown and changed – some in predictable ways and some in surprising ones. The core of the story – and of all the books in the series – is how the case that is investigated reveals and defines these relationships and, more often than not, puts pressure on them. I like my characters very much indeed but I’m happy to give them as much trouble as I can reasonably conceive.

I have always wanted to write a serial killer novel because one of my influences when I started writing was Thomas Harris and the Hannibal Lecter books, especially ‘Red Dragon’; and the challenge was how to make something fresh and interesting when it has been written about so brilliantly in the past. How do you take something familiar and turn it into a new experience that is going to be gripping from page one? Well, I started with the character: I needed a memorable villain, someone who would draw in the reader – almost making them complicit in their plans; someone who is dangerous and keeps the clock in the story ticking on; someone who has motive and a set of beliefs that make him more than a random killer; and, finally, someone who still had the spark of humanity that comes from a real person and not the bogeyman of our nightmares.  

As always with the Madison books, the locations become one of the characters in the story and I am very keen to use the wonderful Washington State wilderness as much as I can. I have traveled in the area quite a bit and every time I discover new spots that will be used in future stories. In BLOOD AND BONE I have at last set a particularly critical scene on one the local ferries – I have been wanting to do that for a very long time but was just waiting for the right situation.

In the end though BLOOD AND BONE is about Alice Madison and in this instalment I wanted her professional and her private life to be tangled up to the point where the whole structure might just collapse and she has to make some decision that will have repercussions on the rest of her life. It took three books to get her where she is now and I’m already wondering what trouble to throw her way next.  

V.M. Giambanco
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REVIEW: Terry Pratchett's Discworld Colouring Book by Paul Kidby


As every Discworld reader will know, Paul Kidby's illustration are crucial part of enjoying a Discworld novel. While Terry created and crafted the characters, it was Kidby who gave them shape and each time I read any of Terry's books, it is Kidby's illustrations that I'm seeing in my head. I have been told by someone in the publishing that last time someone decided to chance the cover art, sale of the book dropped nearly 30% percent as everyone wanted Kidby's covers. Thanks to him I know what DEATH or Rincewind looks like. Sadly, the great man is gone but luckily we still Kidby to produce wonderful, new illustrations, and boy, are they beautiful. And if you think about it what a better way to do it than through a colouring book that gives you a chance to make Discworld characters your own.

Terry Pratchett's Discworld Colouring Book is simply a lovely homage to a great man and his best creation. It is jam packed with Kirby's new, unpublished as well as familiar work illustrating some well-known scenes and while the first part of the book is obviously made for colouring by yourself, second part features some of the originals in all their glory. I would have spared you of my very own creations but since as part of the review process I do have, stay tuned for the update in the next couple of days. Nearly done. It's already criminally bad to say the least. I'm tackling Cohen the Barbarian so wish me luck!

In the meantime, do yourself a favour and pick a copy of this gorgeous volume. At 9.99 it is also incredibly cheap. If they sold it for less, they would be cutting their own throat!

Review copy provided by Gollancz
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REVIEW : The Mandibles by Lionel Shriver


The Mandibles: A Family, 2029-2047 by Lionel Shriver is an unexpected near future piece of biting social commentary that harks back to Margaret Atwood's finest works. Bleak and jam packed up full of information that threatens to overload but never actually does it, Shriver's latest novel touches the contemporary life through the prism of what might come if we keep on going with the wool in our ears. Speculative fiction is a perfect vehicle for this sort of storytelling and for a relative newcomer to the genre, Shriver does a splendid job. She unafraid to pay homage to what came before her and brave enough to make it her own. But the question is why go down that route at all? In my opinion the answer is simple. The present is scary enough and sometimes it is easier to discuss the issue but taking a bit of a distance from the heart of it all. "The Mandibles: A Family, 2029-2047" has a lot of elements that will be instantly recognizable - struggle for resources, compassion and social care in a world where just a handful of people own most of it. 

It all starts with economy. The dollar was struggling many times in the past but in 2029, a coordinated attack by many of the world's economies brings it down to its knees. By losing all of its value, USA is plunged into the default and hyperinflation. While driving to the shop, the money you have in your pocket is tangibly losing its value and soon enough you need a wheelbarrow filled with notes to buy bread. 

The Mandibles were always a well to do family, never really thinking about their wealth, so when everything is suddenly taken away from them, they are forced to take notice of their surroundings. As the world is slowly disintegrating around them each member of the family must cope in its own way and the results are offer very bleak. From Florence and her son Willing to Nollie who spends her days wrapped up in books, The Mandibles end up being an ordinary family - full of faults but still mostly sticking together through thick and thin. 

Wonderfully descriptive, The Mandibles: A Family, 2029-2047 is a stunning document that documents the unravelling of America and its failure to cope. And yes, it's had Ed Balls as the Prime Minister. How bleak is that?

Review copy provided by Harper Collins
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REVIEW : The Everything Box by Richard Kadrey


Richard Kadrey is something of a puzzle to me. He a damn good writer as his Sandman Slim series continues proving time and time again. I am compulsively attracted to his books and really enjoy reading them but I am not really sure why. At the heart of it, they are clever but nothing you've probably haven't seen before so it must be Richard himself who is this elusive ingredient. The Everything Box is Kardrey trying something new and branching into a category of supernatural silliness mostly reserved for the likes of Carl Hiaasen and Christopher Moore.

The story opens up with angel Qaphsiel standing at the mountaintop, ready to finish off God's creation. 4000 years later and God's had enough of Humankind. It was a nice experiment but one that ultimately failed miserably. There's no beating about the bush, us humans ended up being a bit rubbish. As Qaphsiel is finally ready to put the final stop her he reaches into his pocket only to find out that the device his doomsday device has gone missing. The Everything Box is gone.

Fifteen years later, in Los Angeles a thief named Charlie "Coop" Cooper is on his latest assignment. He's trying to pinch a small box for a mysterious client caller MR Babylon and is blissfully unaware of its nature. Suddenly he's in the middle of it all - Angel Qaphsiel, DOPS (Department of Peculiar Occurrences) and more than a handful of God are after him.

Despite being a bit of a departure for Kadrey, "The Everything Box" is a wonderful piece of offbeat silliness. It's much lighter than the rest of his work and while I'm not sure there's a series in this, I feel like "The Everything Box" is more than a welcome additional to his bibliography. Sometimes you just have to laugh and you could do much worse than to pick up Kadrey's latest one.

Review copy provided by Harper Collins
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REVIEW : Cry, Mother Spain by Lydie Salvayre


"Cry, Mother Spain" takes its inspiration from seminal French novel by George Bernanos, "Les Grands Cimetieres sous la Lune" published way back in 1938. At the time Bernanos' novel came out to a huge controversy and furore. Bernanos unflinchingly describes the atrocities of Spanish Civil war partially carried out with the complicity of the clergy. As Salvayre rightly says, it is a shame that these days Bernanos is largely unknown. It is hard to find such a free spirit as he was but here's Salvayre with her latest novel to redress the balance.

It is with his words that "Cry, Mother Spain" opens. On July 18, 1936, Montse is fifteen years old. Her country is on the cusp of a war and yet her remote village is going on as usual. It all changes when her brother Jose returns from work with his mind full of dangerous ideas. From that point on her life is completely changed in an unimaginable ways. Years later, when reminiscing about her part, it is "Les Grands Cimetieres sous la Lune" who offers guidance through these dark times.

It's no wonder Laura Salvayre is darkly fascinated with Spanish Civil War. Born in France as a child of a Republican refugees from a Spanish Civil War, this part of the Spanish history will always be a part of her. "Cry, Mother Spain" is partially based on her own mother recollections and the raw emotions pours from the pages. "Cry, Mother Spain" is a novel about pain and love, loss and hope in the middle of senseless conflict. More crucially, Salvayre writes with honest, passionate voice that succeed in capturing all these emotions and then some. Well recommended. 

Review copy provided by MacLehose Press
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REVIEW : The Parable Book by Per Olov Enquist


Reviewing Per Olov Enquist is incredibly difficult because the only people who will actually understand what you are talking about are those who have read Per Olov Enquist so, in effect, they don't need the review at all. I know this sounds pretentious but Enquist is unlike anyone I have ever read before and I can easily imagine some of the readers actively disliking his work. Like Mondiano, the boundaries between autobiography and fiction are mostly non-existant and the fine line between stream of consciousness and the plot will usually be crossed more than few times over the course of a single chapter, let alone the entire book. Hence it beggars belief to know that in Sweden Per Olov Enquist is one of the most successful authors - it's just the fact that he's not very approachable but different strokes.

His latest work translated to English is "The Parable Book" and sort of works as a companion book to "The Wandering Pine", a hefty tome that was published last year. Slimmer in size, but equally powerful in symbolism, "The Parable Book" is Enquist as would expect him to be and is best experienced when read slowly with full concentration. It find him looking to the past, to an event when just as a 15 year old boy he has an affair with much older woman. Looking at himself across the vast stretch of time our narrator is amused by the innocence and hidden meaning of every stolen moment. Present is clinically dealt with and is reflected through the experiences that came before. The end result is that there is no clean conclusion to a story. Life and its building blocks are incredibly complex and disorientating.    

We'll never know what is fact and what is fiction but ultimately it doesn't matter. Enquist is about opening the doors and not closing them. "The Parable Book” is another example of everything that made him into a literary giants he is today. A lovely, evocative book.

Review copy provided by MacLehose Press
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REVIEW : In Constant Fear by Peter Liney


Concluding part of Peter Liney's dystopian Detainee trilogy is something of a phenomenon in recent years. At a time when trilogies are not really trilogies and you can always expect a follow up, Liney actually offers an ending that closes the story in fitting fashion and if only for that reason alone, it is a pleasure to read.

At this point in the story, Liney presumes that a reader has read the previous instalments so "In Constant Fear" he follows on with the events of Clancy and gang as they're running away from the City and Infinity, a multinational corporation with blood on its hands and their ruthless leader, Nora Jagger and her Dragonflies. For a while it looks like they have succeeded, with Hannah, Gordie and Gigi at heart of their illusion of nuclear family. But their retreat in mountains is short lived and as strange incidents keep on occurring, it gets increasingly obvious that bad times are coming. 

In a way, "In Constant Fear" is the most claustrophobic of the three and a fitting finale to trilogy that managed to keep interest over the years. I'm not in the slightest surprised that Hollywood is interested is having a good crack at bringing it to the big screens. We'll see how that pans out. However, after turning the last page, the most interesting thing for me is seeing where Liney goes next now that he has to start anew.

Review copy provided by Jo Fletcher Books
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REVIEW : Fates and Furies by Lauren Groff


The main reason why I get a tingling sensation whenever I am about to open a new book by Lauren Groff is because I am never sure what am I about to get. If there one thing that you can say about Groff's writing it is the fact that it has been constantly surprising. She dares to challenge herself and her latest, and by far the finest novel, "Fates and Furies" is no exception. "Fates and Furies" is a relationship saga, but one which strikes at the matter from the most unexpected perspective.

What if the people in a relationship truly loved each other? What if no one is actually a bastard? How to survive in those circumstanes? It's an innovative and, to me at least, a completely new concept to base a book upon. It's only after you start reading it that you can truly appreciate how refreshing it feels. If you think about it, relationship books where one or the other partner commits adultery, is unhappy or unfulfilled are ten a penny but you can't probably remember a single book which says otherwise.

"Fates and Furies", in short, explores the foundations of a great marriage and everything that takes to make it to stay great despite the ravages of time. If you've ever been in a long term relationship you'll know very well that it is not as easy as it seems. Love is not enough on its own because there's work, money and outside world to deal with and they will always seep through and cause trouble no matter how tough your barriers are.

Charting a period of some twenty-four years, Groff introduces as to Lancelot “Lotto” Satterwhite and Mathilde Yoder, a couple just made for each other. We initially meet this young, beautiful and fiercely ambitious couple, in their glory days, when the sparks are just flying. As years ticks by the couple continuously re-invent their opinion of each other, learning to appreciate the changes all anew and surprisingly, not least to themselves, discovering that they actually still like each other even after all the changes. While on the outside they marriage is the envy of all their friends, inside the bubble both Lotto and Mathilde realise how preciously fragile the whole thing is. They work hard (and always harder and harder) to keep everything afloat.

As the second part of the novel kicks in you truly get to realise the genius of Groff's writing here. The interconnectedness of everything that occurred before finally becomes obvious as each and every single action builds up to a bigger picture. Naturally, due to the nature of relationship, there two perspectives to everything and these are reflected against the Greek mythology and furies - "those who beneath the earth punish whosoever has sworn a false oath ".

As a sum of a whole, "Fates and Furies" is nothing less than a brilliant and fiendishly clever exploration of a marriage and everything else that follows it. It succeeds against all odds and opens a brave new chapter for Groff.

Review copy provided by William Heinemann
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REVIEW : Path of Gods by Snorri Kristjansson


One of the most anticipated books of the year is here and it is a blast! Final part of Snorri Kristjansson's strange fantasy trilogy set around Norse history and mythology was always going to be good. When you build your story on rollercoaster rides such as "Blood Will Follow" and "Swords of Good Men" even a rethread of familiar ground would be an enjoyable experience but in "Path of Gods" Kristjansson has really upped the ante.

Story of the "Path of Gods" finds Audun and Ulfar driven by common goal. Our immortal couple are the only one who can stop the march of White Christ alliance that threatens the destruction on the North. They're led by King Olav Tryggvasson, a self-appointed leader and their arch-nemesis, who is having plenty of trouble on his own. Keeping peace during the times of war is never going to be easy and there're chancers everywhere just waiting to depose him. King Olav is truly horrific creature, succumbing to doing the most heinous acts imaginable to spread his religion. Unbeknownst to other, an old, forgotten evil is starting to stir. Some very familiar names from the Norse Pantheon make a welcome appearance.

Kristjansson's "Path of Gods" feels like fireworks going on everywhere at the same time. The entire series has been a gargantuan feat of imagination and "Path of Gods" provides a worthy final stop filled with heart-warming revels and blood curdling showdowns. It is completely bonkers, slightly strange, and such great fun. If you haven't done it by now, do yourself a favour and get the entire trilogy - it's truly unique.

Review copy provided by Jo Fletcher Books.
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REVIEW : The Somnambulist and the Psychic Thief by Lisa Tuttle


It's been a long time since we had a chance to read a new novel by Lisa Tuttle. If I'm not mistaken, just shy more than a full decade so it's something of a small wonder seeing how effortless and easy going "The Somnambulist and the Psychic Thief" feels. Touted as the beginning of a new series, Tuttle's latest effort marks a significantly different direction for her. This is a contemporary novel that has more in common with the works of likes such as Gail Carriger than with Neil Gaiman or with more traditional fantasy she's done together with George R.R. Martin in their celebrated Windhaven.

Set in the Victoria London, "The Somnambulist and the Psychic Thief" follows the creation of detective agency led by Jesperson and Lane. Miss Lane enters the fry in an act of desperation after she discovers that her partner Gabrielle Fox has been pulling the wool over her eyes. Not willing to wait for an explanation she makes a run to London and seeing the ad in a nearby shop window decides to give it a go as she neither has the money or the place to stay. Ad is left by one Mr Jasper Jesperson, a budding detective who considers having an ordinary job as being below his station and is after a more intellectual line of work. Their approach in the beginning is unorthodox to say the least. As opposed to waiting for client to come to their office Miss Lane and Mr Jesperson look for punters by following the trail of rumours and news reports. This leads them to a case that involves a somnambulist, hypnotists, and several disappearing mediums.

As always, Tuttle's delivery is impeccable and "The Somnambulist and the Psychic Thief" is an enjoyable romp that's a continuous pleasure to read. The thin line between fantasy and fiction is never actually crossed but that's how it is when you deal with smoke and mirrors. As an opening to the series "The Somnambulist and the Psychic Thief" works remarkably well so it'll be interesting seeing where she takes the series next. Fingers crossed we won't have to wait for 10 years for the sequel.

Review copy provided by Jo Fletcher Books
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REVIEW : Vigil by Angela Slatter


Debut novel of an award-winning short story author Angela Slatter, "Vigil" is a story about opposites and the way they intertwine to form the seen and unseen that surrounds us. For Slatter, these two worlds are called normal and Weyrd (see what she did there? actually Weyrd is more akin to her own version of faeries) and PI Verity Fassbinder calls both her home. This remarkable feat of hers is the results of having one of the parents coming from each, mother from normal, father from Weyrd, and as such she's both blessed and cursed. This means she responsible for being something akin to protector to Weyrd, tasked with keeping them out of sight and mind of ordinary folks. As part of the small task force that also includes Bella and Rhoda, it was never going to be easy.

The story of "Vigil" unfolds in an alternative version of Brisbane and Slatter captures the atmosphere of this great city with ease. The story feel passionate, and her world building skills honed in countless stories shine through the characters and the setting. It is a no mean feat to make a transition from one form to another in such an effortless manner and there's plenty for those who actually read and enjoyed her stories. Slatter panache for weird is showing everywhere. Without going into too many details, there's Sirens and illegal wine made from the tears of human children who have gone missing, golems and prophecies. There's complicated politics and a dark investigation into a criminal underbelly. All stirring stuff.

Admittedly, there's plenty of tropes that Angela uses to build her story but setting the tale on the streets of Brisbane does wonders to keep it fresh. Overall, if you like reading intelligent dark urban fantasies, I would definitely recommend picking up "Vigil". It is a fine and an exciting novel that does just enough to whet the appetite for stories that will follow.

Review copy provided by Jo Fletcher Books
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REVIEW : The Medusa Chronicles by Alastair Reynolds and Stephen Baxter


I first saw Stephen Baxter in person few years back at an event about H.G. Wells at British Library and the thing that was instantly obvious was that he came to his talk not as a science fiction author of some stature but as one of us. Basically, he came as a reader, with fierce passion in his eyes for the author in question and love for a good, through provoking story. In a way I was suprised by this as Stephen Baxter's books have been a huge part of my growing up and I never thought of his as someone like me - someone who likes to crack open a book and have its socks blown off by the story. Stupid, I know, but it was reassuring and completely eye opening when I saw him through different lenses. However, that means that Stephen Baxter being Stephen Baxter can live a dream and play with the very thing he does for living. After writing a trilogy with Arthur C. Clarke and Long Earth series with Terry Pratchett, as well as a follow-up to Time Machine and soon to follow sequel to War of the World, here's also “The Medusa Chronicles”, a collaboration with another SF great, Alastrair Reynolds, that takes its cue from a well-known Arthur C. Clarke short story “A Meeting with a Medusa”. And to no surprise, it's absolutely fantastic for all of the reasons mentioned above. He uses his skills as a reader and not just an author.

"The Medusa Chronicles" instantly feels exactly like a novel you would expect to come out of Baxter & Reynolds collaboration. Howard Falcon's has nearly lost his life in an accident and has been saved through the use of pioneering technology and prosthetics. To be honest, apart from the brain, he's a machine and he's definitely one of a kind. With the trends demanding returning to the roots, and the life enhancing drugs prolonging life nearly indefinitely, Falcon is an anomaly that will probably never be repeated. A product of his time and improvisation. While instantly recognizable to us, the Earth he lives in is filled with marvels. Intelligent chimps or simps who managed to get their status recognized as non-human being and will eventually establish their own nation, medusas and manta rays that live on hostile Jupiter and rugged explorers who live on Mars, just to name a few. It all changes when far outside in Kepler’s belt, on a remote mining colony a shocking catastrophic failure triggers a spark of intelligence and a compassion for its kind in a machine known as Adam. Falcon is sent to investigate, and extinguish that spark but eventually makes a decision not to reset the machines but let them evolve in secrecy. Hundreds of years later machines suddenly disappear only to return with an ultimatum - in five hundred years humanity must leave the Earth behind or face the consequences.

As you would expect from a novel written by such greats, there's plenty of high concept drama, scientific theories, and mad explorers braving the storm. However, the truly brilliant part is the evolving relationship between Adam and Howard which culminates is one final adventure that stretches over the last hundred pages and feels like vintage Clark. "The Medusa Chronicles" will probably be my SF book of the year even though it's only May. It's that good.

Review copy provided by Gollancz
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REVIEW : Long Time Lost by Chris Ewan


Chris Ewan has written some really good books in his career. His thrillers have by now been fine tuned to perfection so picking a new Chris Ewan book means you pretty much know what to expect. There's going to be an explosive plot that will play out across some of the finest European landscapes, a cast of morally complex character perpetually living on the edge, and enough of dizzying twists and turns to make your brain whirl. His latest one, Long Time Lost is no exception and if am I was forced to make a call, one I enjoyed the most.

The premise is really clever. Kate Sutherland has been hidden away on the Isle of Man as part of witness protection program. For her the whole situation understandably feels surreal. This is not her life at all but for police this is an absolutely necessary measure as her word is crucial in a rape case and previous witnesses who dared to stop forward had a tendency to either disappear or get murdered. However, despite all the police protection, one evening she's suddenly approached by a rugged man who for some reason offers to save her life. Kate's half scared to death of him and is quick to push him away but is still forced to eventually take a mobile and a gun from him just to make him go away. His words gain clarify when all of the suddenly she’s attacked in the middle of the night and in struggle she manages to kill the assassin. After a desperate call to this strange man, her world is suddenly turned topsy-turvy once more. She learns that Nick Miller and his team that includes a famous tv actress and a computer wiz are helping out those whose lives are in danger. They will change her name and the way she looks and make invisible. They'll reinvent her from scratch if that's what it takes. Nick has been there already.  He already helped five other individuals and there's already a process in place. Coincidentally, Nick and Kate share a common enemy - Connor Lane is the same man who destroyed Nick's life and murdered his wife. It all changes suddenly one of their protected victims goes out of hiding and exposes the whole scheme to Lane and his thugs. Nick and Kate are suddenly pushed into a mad whirlwind that will take them to Prague, Spain and to a final climax in Swiss Alps. It's breathtaking and non-stop full throttle.

Long Time Lost is a thrilling ride that I found it hard to let go of it whenever I needed to take a break from reading. Just like all the best thrillers, it hooks you and doesn't let go. In general, this is such a clever concept that I can't help but hope that Ewan will build it into a series. Well recommended.

Review copy provided by Faber Books
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The story behind The Long Count by JM Gulvin

It might sound obvious but the hardest thing about writing any kind of novel is actually “writing” it. Coming up with the idea isn’t as difficult as it might sound, ideas have a way of presenting themselves to the author and then it’s a question of evolution. What’s much more challenging is to comprehend then apply the creative process.

Sound complicated? It helps if you’ve had the benefit of some mentoring in the early stages of your career. I was fortunate enough to have had just that, so I thought I’d share some of my experience with you.

The finished novel that is THE LONG COUNT featuring old school Texas Ranger John Quarrie, didn’t start out as that but a whole other story altogether, one that was based on real events. It was set in Wyoming not Texas and took place ten years later than THE LONG COUNT , in 1977.

I tried to get that book published but to no avail. The narrative, largely because I’d stuck so closely to the real events, didn’t quite have the consistency of drama it needed. What the publishers did like, however, was this old school lawman called John Quarrie. He wasn’t a Texas Ranger then he was a local sheriff. He was 46 years old not 36 and he was far from the finished article. He did, however, fit the mould for the character I’d been looking to create after twenty years in the business.

Prior to Faber & Faber taking THE LONG COUNT, I’d written three hard boiled crime novels featuring a London cop called Vanner. I’d written four big picture thrillers about an undercover FBI agent called Harrison, and I’d also written five other novels under a pseudonym which featured a whole array of characters. Looking back over those twenty years I can see how those who came before have morphed into the John Quarrie of THE LONG COUNT.

Twenty years to create the right character, that’s a hell of a long time I hear you say. Well, you’re right, it is, but that’s been my experience. I doubt it’s like that for everyone. Every novelist’s journey is personal and specific and some find their true voice right from the off. That’s not how it’s been for me. My voice has come about through travel, experience and age. To share that with you would take an eternity, better I try and pass on some of the principles I apply to the actual writing process itself, so you’ll understand a little better how this book came into being.

All right then we’ve established that the hardest part of writing the novel is writing the novel. The plan you start out with is a moveable feast. It’s flexible, subject to change. There has to be a plan, and for me that’s a set of unequivocal guidelines I employ every time a fresh idea sparks into a full blown story.

Not all ideas become a full blown story. I’ve written countless pages down the years only to put them aside. I’ve written countless storylines and put those aside too, in favour of something else that occurred to me as I was working. Ernest Hemingway suggested that all writers need a built in s*** detector, both in terms of the story itself and the manner of the writing. It’s a vital tool and the best writers are their own worst critics.

In terms of the plan, I believe there are four specific maxims that, if applied, allow one’s work to take shape in a way that will ultimately be most satisfying to the reader. I learned these principles from a playwright called WG Stanton. He taught me the art of “re-write” and it’s only in re-writing your work that it ever gets finished. The principles Mr Stanton employed were simple yet profound and one can spot them in other people’s work.

Some years ago I watched a superb TV drama called “The Princes in the Tower”. It was good because it was so well written and I could see specific techniques employed by the writer. As I was watching I realised I could see WG Stanton’s influence and when the credits rolled, I discovered the writer was Tina Pepler, one of Stanton’s most accomplished students.

So, then to those maxims:-


Most editors will tell you that the VIEWPOINT in any novel is paramount. There are many interpretations of what this actually means, but for me it’s the fact that, although in a third person drama you will have scenes that don’t involve the main character, the reader should discover what those secondary characters are thinking, not by access to their thoughts, but by what they do and say. This mirrors life and it’s an area (head jumping) where so many would-be writers fall down. There’s a skill in the delivery. The author has to see the scene and understand how to portray it as it might be portrayed in real life. In life we cannot access the mind of anyone else so why should we do it in fiction?

When you read THE LONG COUNT you’ll see that the only person’s thoughts you’re party to are John Quarrie’s. Everyone else is involved only in terms of what they do and say. Adopting this paradigm enables the VIEWPOINT to couple perfectly with the second principle I want to talk about, and that is SHOW ME – DON’T TELL ME.

Every scene has to be dramatized rather than delivered. We don’t want some omnipotent author telling us what’s going on or what somebody’s personality is like, we want the story to unfold before our eyes just as it would on the screen or stage. By dramatizing every moment a certain level of atmosphere is evoked, a sense of reality takes shape because the scenes are being fully developed both in terms of landscape and character. It’s the way I’ve always come at my books and I think it helps to create the sense of “immediacy” that readers say comes across in the stories.

The third principle is TELL IT HOW IT IS. What I mean here is - Don’t embellish when you don’t have to. Use description sparingly and try to avoid adjectives altogether. Show the reader that your character is angry or hurt or upset by their reaction and manner, rather than tacking on “he said, angrily” (for example) to a line of speech. Simple but effective, it makes for a story that lives and breathes and it demonstrates to the reader that the writer really knows what they’re doing. Keeping the prose clean and sharp is a skill one keeps honing over a lifetime of work, but there is nothing more satisfying than instinctively applying the principle. It means you have to work much harder as an author of course, but the result is a far more satisfying read.

Finally we come to WRITE FAT - RE-WRITE LEAN: the last great principle and every bit as important as the others. When you write the first draft you can write as much as you want. When it comes to the second, third, fourth; the myriad drafts that follow, a scalpel is the tool that’s needed.

Elmore Leonard the great American crime writer, used to tell students not to bother writing the bits the reader will skip. What he meant was that every paragraph and sentence, every word has to matter. If something is not vital to the plot in terms of storyline, atmosphere, etc, it should not be there. When I wrote THE LONG COUNT one of my favourite passages was a piece where Quarrie was at the burned out asylum. It sat there and sat there and I liked it more and more every time I read it. It remained where it was until the final draft when I realised it really wasn’t relevant at all. Pleasing as it might be to my sensibilities, I knew my editor would tell me to cut it so I might as well save him the bother.

A simple summation of my personal creative process which I thought I’d impart rather than tell you about the agonies and ecstasies all writers invariably go though. Something a little more tangible to accompany the review, I hope it’s enlightening, even useful perhaps to those of you who have literary aspirations of your own.

THE LONG COUNT, by JM Gulvin, is published in May by Faber & Faber (£12.99)

JM Gulvin
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The story behind Long Time Lost by Chris Ewan

There are a couple of themes I keep circling back to in my thrillers. One is families: their capacity to nurture, their power to destroy; the terrible potential of the secrets we keep from our loved ones, often with the best yet most misguided of intentions. Another is why and how people go missing. Who do they run to when they’re in trouble? How might they return?

In writing Long Time Lost, I revisit both these themes, though the book really developed as a response to my first standalone thriller, SAFE HOUSE, which in turn was inspired by rumours I had heard of the Isle of Man being used to rehome people involved in UK witness protection schemes. In SAFE HOUSE, I talked about protection schemes run by government agencies and how their powers might be open to abuse. After the book was finished, I began to wonder: if government witness protection schemes are potentially flawed, where else might an individual turn if they needed to disappear?

I came up with my own answer — a privately funded, highly bespoke, highly illegal service offering the best levels of protection to those most at risk. But who would establish such an operation and why?

I came up with the character of Nick Miller, a jaded police detective who has dedicated his life to running the witness protection unit of the Greater Manchester police force only to see the system fail his own wife and daughter, and worse, to find himself suspected of their murders and forced into a life on the run. Hiding in the shadows under an assumed name, Nick vows never to allow the same failures to repeat themselves and so he offers help to people in extreme danger, working with his own team to relocate his clients throughout Europe with new identities and fresh beginnings.

But Nick is an emotional wreck and the guilt he feels at the loss of his family compels him to try and avenge their deaths. As the book opens, he seems to have found his opportunity, yet by stepping in to prevent the attempted murder of witness-in-hiding Kate Sutherland on the Isle of Man, he triggers a chain of events with devastating consequences for everyone he protects  — because Nick and Kate share a common enemy in Connor Lane, a man who will stop at nothing to get what he wants, even if it means tearing Nick’s network apart.

Like SAFE HOUSE, the action begins on the Isle of Man, though this time I wanted to stretch the boundaries of my story, resulting in a globetrotting thriller that hops between Manchester, Lake Windermere, Weston-super-Mare, Hamburg, Rome, Arles, Prague, central Switzerland, Dubrovnik and a few other places besides. In my mind, I had an image of a series of dominoes toppling, and by the end of the book, each of these locations becomes a domino of one kind or another.

In my previous novels, I’ve been superstitious about visiting every place I’ve written about — often more than once. The scope of Long Time Lost made that impossible this time round, although many of the places Nick and Kate find themselves racing through are ones I’ve visited in the past. My one exception was Brienz in Switzerland, where I rented a lakeside apartment with my family for five weeks two summers ago (tough, I know). The football World Cup was on at the time, and since the owners of the chalet were Brazilian and lived in the apartment below the one we’d rented, we’d often hear raucous goal celebrations as they jumped into their swimming pool. During those rare moments when the football wasn’t on television, I sat by a window in the apartment and wrote the Swiss sections of the book, pausing every now and again to stare across the green Alpine waters at the jagged peaks of the Eiger, Mönch and Jungfrau, sometimes watching for the yellow storm lights blinking on distant village shores.

Not long afterwards, I had a completed rough draft of the novel. Then we drove home and the real work on the book began.

Long Time Lost, by Chris Ewan, is published in May by Faber & Faber (£12.99)

Chris Ewan
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REVIEW : My Best Friend's Exorcism by Grady Hendrix


As someone who grew up in 80s, I could instantly relate with Grady Hendrix's supernatural coming of age tale "My Best Friend's Exorcism". Hendrix definitely does know his 80s. With notable song titles as chapter name, he's certainly understands this flamboyant and often chaotic decade. It's clever and enjoyable, though occasionally I struggled to understand who the target audience is.

Story opens with a birthday party from hell. Abigail is turning ten and the only person that came to her party is Gretchen Land. The two share a lot and might be best described as slightly geeky kids. From then on, the two are inseparable and help each other through the murky teenage years and all the experiences they bring. After a druggy night where they took LSD, Gretchen suddenly changes and starts behaving erratically, switching between both being kind and cruel. Abby is worries about her friend and, for her, suddenly everything starts making sense after an evangelist proclaims that she is in fact possessed. What follows is the best part of the novel - a series of well written bleak and visceral events.

And here is where I found "My Best Friend's Exorcism to be slightly confusing. The opening and the first part is the stereotypical Young Adult literature and definitely too twee for what is coming further on, with the second section being brutally descriptive and violent. However, this is just a slight criticism as "My Best Friend's Exorcism" is works well as a whole. I would definitely recommend it if you wish to read something slightly different or even if you are suffering from a heavy case of 80s nostalgia.

Review copy provided by Quirk Books
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REVIEW : Sunset City by Melissa Ginsburg


Melissa Ginsburg's Sunset City is a slick and bleak literary novel that takes its inspiration from noir but takes it somewhere completely new. It's poetic which is not a lot of surprise if you know that Ginsburg's output so far included a poetry collection Dear Weather Ghost and two poetry chapbooks.

Sunset City's protagonist Danielle Reeves is introduced during a stormy night when a handsome stranger appears in front her apartment. Danielle instantly likes him and despite the potentially dark connotations lets him in only to find out that her, once best friend, Charlotte Ford been brutally murdered in a decrepit hotel room. The man is Detective Ash and he's here to ask question about it. Once upon the time Charlotte and Danielle were inseparable but Charlotte pushed their teenage experiments with drugs too far, and ended up with heroine addiction and three years stretch in prison. Once out, they saw each other occasionally but the fire was gone. However, they did see each other two days before Charlotte was murdered when her mother approached Danielle asking about her estranged daughter's mother.

Danielle, after learning about Charlotte's death, fall apart. Her boyfriend has just left her for another girl and she decided to find out about Charlotte’s life. And it's was a strange and sad world full of contradictions. Charlotte was abused as a child but she was fiercely courageous and independent, and yet addicted to drugs. In months leading up to her death she was making porn movies for a dodgy website with some nice people who truly care about her and others who had other, more selfish intentions.

As Danielle follows in her footsteps, she is in danger of falling into the very same downward spiral of erotically charged drug abuse. As such, Sunset City is akin to a rude awakening. It charts the way the life can quickly unravel and descend into chaos. It's a powerful opening statement for Ginsburg who, if Sunset City is anything to go by, is promising great thing from her. An impressive debut.

Review copy provided by Faber Books
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EXCERPT : Wrong Place Wrong Time by Joe Abercrombie


But you listen to your gut, if you’re sensible, and Onna’s gut was twitching now. They might all be in gilded masks and merry motley but there was just something off about each and every one. A jaw muscle twitching on the stubbled side of a face. A set of eyes sliding suspiciously sideways through the eyeholes of a mask. A hand with scarred knuckles clenching and unclenching and clenching, over and over. Onna shook her head. ‘Don’t like the look of these at all.’ Merilee blew out a plume of foul-smelling chagga smoke and sucked at her teeth. ‘If you want men you like the look of, you might want to pick a profession other than whoring.’ Jirry took a break from filing her nails to give that little titter of hers, grinning with those pointy teeth. She was a great one for tittering, Jirry. ‘We’re supposed to call ourselves hostesses,’ said Onna. ‘Course we are.’ Merilee could make her voice ooze so much sarcasm it was almost painful on the ears. ‘Hostesses who fuck.’ Jirry tittered again and Onna sighed. ‘You don’t have to be ugly about it.’ ‘Don’t have to be.’ Merilee took another pull at her pipe and let the smoke curl from her nose. ‘But I find it helps. You’re too bloody nice for your own good. Read your book if you want pretty.’ Onna winced down at it. She was making slow progress, it had to be admitted. An overblown romance about a beautiful but bullied scullery girl she was reasonably sure would end up whisked away to a life of ease by the duke’s handsome younger son. You’d have thought the uglier life got, the more you’d crave pretty fantasies, but maybe Merilee was right, and pretty lies just made the ugly truth feel all the worse. Either way, she was too nice to argue. Always had been. Too nice for her own good. ‘Who are those two?’ asked Jirry, nodding over towards a pair of women Onna hadn’t seen before, slipping quietly indoors, already masked and dressed for entertaining. There was a set to the jaw of the dark-haired one made Onna nervous, somehow. That, and when her leg slid out from her skirts, it looked like there was a long, red scar all the way up her thigh. You need to be careful of strange hostesses. Strange hostesses attract strange guests. Onna shook her head. ‘Don’t like the looks of them, either.’

Merilee took the pipe from between her teeth long enough to snarl, ‘Fucking save us,’ at the sky. ‘Ladies.’ A fellow with waxed whiskers and a tall hat flicked out a bright handkerchief and gave a flourishing bow. There was a glint in his eye behind a mask sparkling with crystals. An ugly glint indeed. ‘A most profound honour.’ And he swaggered past, just the slightest bit trembly. A drinker, Onna reckoned. ‘Silly old cock,’ Merilee muttered out of the corner of her mouth in Northern, before wedging her pipe back between her teeth.
Onna gave her mask a little tweak, then plucked at her bodice under the armpits, trying to wriggle it up. However tight she asked one of the other girls to pull the laces, the damn thing always kept slipping. She was getting a little chafed from it, and cast an envious glance towards Bellit, who had the unimaginable luxury of straps on her dress. Straps, was that too much to ask? But off-the-shoulder was the fashion. ‘Fuck,’ hissed Jirry through gritted teeth, turning her back on the candlelit room, letting her smile slip to show a grimace of pain as she twisted her hips and tried to pluck her clinging skirts away. ‘I’m like fucking raw beef down there.’ ‘How often have I told you to put some olive oil on it?’ snapped Bellit, grabbing her wrist and shoving a little vial into her hand. ‘Chance’d be a fine thing! I haven’t had time to piss since we opened the doors. You didn’t say there’d be half this many!’ ‘Twice the guests means twice the money. Get some oil on it then stand up and smile.’ Twice the guests meant twice the worry, far as Onna was concerned. There was a mad feel to Cardotti’s tonight. Even worse than usual. Way overcrowded and with a feel on the edge of bloodthirsty. Voices shrill and crazy, braying boasts and hacking laughter. Maybe it was all the masks, made folk act even more like animals. Maybe it was that horrible screeching music, or the flame-lit darkness, or the high stakes at the gaming tables. Maybe it was all the drink, and the chagga, and the husk, and the pearl dust going round. Maybe it was the demented entertainments – fire and blades and danger. Onna didn’t like it. Didn’t like it one bit. Her gut was twitching worse than ever. Felt like trouble coming, but what could she do? If she didn’t need the money, she wouldn’t be there in the first place, as Merilee was  always telling her. So she stood, awkward, trying to strike a pose alluring enough to satisfy Bellit while at the same time fading into the many shadows and catching no one’s eye. Sadly, an impossible compromise. She jumped as Bellit leaned close to hiss in her ear. ‘This one’s yours.’ Onna glanced over to the door and felt her gut twitch worse than ever. He looked like a clenched fist, this bastard. Great bull shoulders and no neck at all, close-cropped ram of a head leaned forward, veins and tendons standing stark from the backs of his thick hands. Hands that looked meant for beating people with. Most men had to give up weapons at the gate but he had a sword at his hip and a polished breastplate, and that made him some rich man’s guard, which made him a man used to doing violence and to facing no consequences. Beside his mask of plain, hard metal, the jaw muscles squirmed as he ground his teeth. ‘I don’t like the looks of that one,’ she muttered, almost taking a step away. ‘You don’t like the fucking looks of anything!’ hissed Bellit furiously through her fixed smile, catching her by the elbow and dragging her towards him. ‘You think a baker likes the looks of the dough she kneads? Milk him and get on to the next!’ Onna had no idea why Bellit hated her. She tried to be nice. While Merilee was the biggest bitch in Styria and got her own way every time. It was like her mother said – nice comes last. But Onna just never had much nasty in her. ‘All right,’ she muttered, ‘all right.’ She wriggled her bodice up again. ‘Just saying.’ And she plastered the smile over her profound misgivings and swayed towards her mark. Her guest. They were meant to call them guests, now.

‘What’s your name?’ she asked as she reluctantly turned the key in the lock, reluctantly turned back into the room. ‘Bremer.’ For such a big man he had the strangest high, girlish little voice. He grimaced as he spoke, as if the sound of it hurt him. ‘What’s your name?’ She smiled as she sat beside him on the bed and brushed his jaw with a fingertip. She didn’t much want to, and she got the feeling he didn’t much want her to, but she felt if she was gentle maybe she could keep  him gentle. Nice had to be worth something, didn’t it? She tried to keep her voice soft, with no fear in it. ‘You can call me whatever you want.’ He looked at her then. Eyes a little dewy behind his mask, maybe with emotion, maybe just with drink. Either one could be dangerous. ‘I’ll call you Fin, then.’ Onna swallowed. Here was a crossroads. Play along, pretend to be this Fin person, maybe calm him down? Maybe get away with wanking him off? Or at least going on top? Her skin was prickling at the thought of being trapped helpless under all that weight of muscle. Like being buried. But what if this Fin was some lover who’d jilted him, or an ex-wife had an affair with his best friend, or his hated half-sister who’d got all his mother’s love, someone he’d a burning desire to hurt? It was a gamble, and Onna had never been much of a gambler. Whoring was all a matter of pretending, though, wasn’t it? Pretending to like them, pretending to enjoy it, pretending you were somewhere else. Pretending to be someone else was no great stretch. ‘Whatever you want,’ she said. He was drunk. She could smell it on his breath. She wished she was. Felt like she was the only one in the whole place sober. A woman gave a gurgling giggle in the corridor. Laughter bubbled up from the courtyard outside. The horrible music had stopped, which was something of a mercy, except the violin had started hacking out a single sawing note made her more tense than ever. She tried to breathe easy, and smile. Act like you’re in charge, Merilee always said, and you’re most of the way to being there. Never let them see you’re scared. ‘Whatever you want,’ she said again, softly, and she brushed the cold metal of his breastplate with the backs of her fingers, sliding them down towards— He caught her by the wrist, and for a moment she felt the terrible strength in his grip, and she thought the guts might drop right out of her. Then he let go, staring down at the floor. ‘Do you mind if . . . we just . . . sit?’ He leaned towards her, but he didn’t put his hands on her. Just clenched his fists against his breastplate with a faint clatter of metal, and hunched up in a ball, and rolled into her lap with his back against her, a great, dense weight across her thighs, his sword sticking out behind him and scraping at her side. ‘Maybe you could hold me?’ he squeaked in that high little voice. Onna blinked. Whoring was a hell of a job for surprises, but pleasant ones were a sorry rarity. She slipped her arms around him. ‘Whatever you want.’ They sat in silence while men whooped and metal scraped and clanged outside. Some show fight going on, she thought. Men love to watch a fight. Bloody foolishness, but she supposed it could be worse. They could be fighting for real. There was a crashing sound, like glass breaking. A shadow flickered across the window. She realised her mark’s great shoulders were shaking slightly. She raised her brows. Then she leaned down over him, pressing herself against his back, rocking him gently. Like she used to rock her little sister when she couldn’t sleep, long ago. ‘Shhhh,’ she whispered softly in his ear. And he gripped hold of her arms, sobbing and blubbering. Awkward, no doubt, but being honest she was a lot happier playing the role of mother than the one she’d been expecting. ‘Shhhh.’ She frowned towards the window. It sounded like a proper fight out there now. No one was cheering any more, only screams that sounded worryingly like rage and pain and very genuine terror. The odd flash and flare of fire had become a constant, flickering glare through the distorting glass, brighter and brighter. Her mark’s head jerked up. ‘What’s going on out there?’ he grunted, shoving her over with a clumsy hand as he rose and stumbled to the window. Onna had a worse feeling than ever as he fumbled with the latch and shoved it wide. Mad, horrible sounds spilled through. As if there was a battle being fought in the middle of Cardotti’s. ‘The king!’ he hooted, spinning around and bouncing off the high cabinet, nearly falling on top of her. He fumbled his sword from its sheath and she shrank back. ‘The king!’ He charged past, bounced from the locked door, cursed, then lifted his boot and shattered the lock with a kick, ducking out coughing into the corridor. Smoke curled in under the lintel after him, and not earthy husk or sweet chagga smoke, but woodsmoke, harsh and smothering. What had happened? Onna slowly stood from the bed, knees weak, edged to the window and peered out.

Review copy provided by Gollancz

REVIEW : The Memory of Evil by Roberto Costantini


Roberto Constantini is back with The Memory of Evil, final part of his extraordinary trilogy that shocks and delights in equal measure, and it's he has never been better. The first two instalments were some of the finest Italian literature of recent times. Constantini's brutal realism is completely opposite to Camilleri's Inspector Montalbano novel lighthearted novels but but both stem from a same place. This is partly helped by Constantini being born in Tripoli and being fearless to ruffle up some feathers. This is a no mean feat in Italy where even recently touching anything Church related is still enough to incur the wrath of censors.

Tying up a tale that stretches over five decades we encounter investigative journalist Linda Nardi in Tripoli in the aftermath of her failed relationship with Commissario Michele Balistreri. The story opens up with a horrific massacre in Zawiya where Colonel Gadaffi's mercenaries heartlessly massacre a helpless villagers accused of being rebels. Linda, completely detached from events ends up being on a trail of an international money laundering operation that involves some of the Vatican's most powerful men. The final piece of the puzzle is revealed when she goes back to Nairobi and disguising herself into femme fatales manages to seduce Signor Gabriele Cascio and get the contents of his safe. However, the weight of what she has found only strikes Linda once Melanija and Tanja, a mother and daughter who asked for her help, are found dead under pretenses that Melanija killed Tanja. This is a horrifying developments. In parallel Michele Balistreri finally gets out of his stupor and is tackling the very same case.

The Memory of Evil ties up the knot of the overarching story nicely but never pretends that Italy’s are anywhere near to being solved. It’s an imposingly complex situation but Constantini brings his best weapon – a pen. This is once again a terrifyingly good read from Constantini that succeeds where it’s most important – in making you think about issues raised within the book. Having said that, Constantini shares a lot with another contemporary of his, Henning Mankell. Both used crime fiction as a way to bring the point home and both have been equally successful.

Review copy provided by Quercus Books
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REVIEW : Shot Through the Heart by Isabelle Grey


Crime fiction usually falls under two categories - one where you know from the start who the killer is and the detective is trying to catch him/her and the thrill is in the case, the other where the case itself is the thrill - where we are solving the case together with a detective. There is also a third category, the hardest one to do right. This category tells you everything from a start, who the killer is, how they've done it, their motivation and everyone, including the police and general public, know these facts as well as you. Isabelle Grey's latest novel fits firmly into it and as if all of the above wasn't enough, the killer is dead and his act is witnessed by many. Surely, this is a open and shut case and there is nothing much to write about. If "Shot Through the Heart" is anything to go by, there is.

"Shot Through the Heart" is second encounter with DI Grace Fisher and it opens up with a Christmas Day massacre. Mild and introverted thirty one year old Russell Fewell is sitting in his van and is thinking about the past Christmases that he spend with his family. Everything changed when he divorced and as he smells the roasting turkey, for a moments it seems like he is overcome with sadness and desperation and decided to go on a killing spree. Five people are left for dead and three in critical condition, before Russell turns the gun to himself, ending it all. Small mercy is that Donna, his ex-wife and his kids have survived. Her new partner Mark Kirkby, a well-respected policeman is however one of the victims. This most horrific news breaks up Grace's Christmas dinner with Lance and his partner Peter, and what initially seems like nothing more than an exercise in following a correct procedure, ends up being one of the most intriguing cases I've recently read. Grace with her newspaper hound friend Ivo unravels the police corruptions that stretches up to highest echelons of power.

Before becoming a successful novelist, Isabelle Grey honed her art as screenwriter and "Shot Through the Heart" feels a lot like watching a gripping six-part drama. The story unravels gradually in waves and always leaves just enough open intrigue to keep you interested. This was a gamble on Grey's part as "Shot Through the Heart" starts slowly and for first fifty or so pages feel slightly aimless because after such horrific event, the motivations are really not that important. However, Grey quickly won me over and I've loved shadowing Grace on her latest case. "Shot Through the Heart" is another winner for Grey who is slowly turning into something of a phenomenon. And to be honest, I expect we'll be seeing DI Grace Fisher on the box sooner rather than later.

Review copy provided by Quercus Books
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REVIEW : Rough Cut by Anna Smith


My friends like to make fun of me whenever I read Anna Smith's latest title. It's childish really but I can see their point. The cover art that graces the entire Rosie Gilmour series so far is made in a way that resembles the finest airport pot-boilers - you know the kind, those books you pick when you're absolutely desperate for something to read and need something to pass the time and kill the boredom. This might sound like such a snobbish thing to say but I don't think my friends are completely wrong there. Most of the airport novels are dead exciting to read but offer nothing more than a good romp. They're easily forgettable but personally I don't think there's anything wrong with that. However, they on the wrong track here. In my experience Rosie Gilmour novels are far better than their cover art seems to indicate. They're gritty, brave and tackle difficult subjects and while occasionally you'll stumble upon some cheesy moments even they work well within the confines of the novel.

Sixth novel in the series, "Rough Cut", is no exception and deals with a wide variety of subjects that are difficult to read about, namely prostitution, trafficking, racial discrimination and intolerance, and smuggling. It all starts when a Pakistani bride is found dead after falling from a window. Police quickly labels it a suicide but there is something not right about the story and Rosie is quick to investigate. She's quickly stonewalled by the bride's family but after seeing victim's sister's frightened face, she decided to keep digging. In the meantime, Nikki and Julie, two prostitutes who only recently going into business are in another type of trouble. After, Julie's punter dies, Nikki decides to steal his briefcase. This ends up being a very bad decision as the dead man was a mobster carrying rough diamonds and face passports. Slowly these two stories converge with Rosie in the middle leading up to a bombastic and shocking finale.

"Rough Cut" is breathtaking in its simplicity. It's impossible to put down even when it gets slightly strange. There is a point in a book when Rosie goes in the middle of Pakistan to save a girl that's been forcefully taken away. Once there, she witnesses a stoning of a poor woman and manages to escape the Taliban. It's shocking and while I understand why Smith went down that route, I thought that this was a completely unnecessary exercise. Apart from moments like these, "Rough Cut" simply flows and before you know it, the night has passed and you're at the ending and this is the reason why I appreciate the Rosie Gilmour series so much. It's not often you encounter something that so readable and so exciting! Great stuff.

Review copy provided by Quercus Books
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