I’ve been itching to write a steampunk novel for years. I like the idea, the ethos, behind the sub-genre. I like the idea of writing SF unconstrained by the shackles of science and technology – it can be as way-out and wacky as you can make it – and I like the idea of writing action-adventure.
Last year I pitched a couple of steampunk ideas to my editor Jonathan Oliver at Solaris, which came to nothing. Then Jon asked, “How about something set in India...?” which set me thinking. Over the next couple of weeks, Jani Chatterjee was born. She would be half-Indian, half-English, torn by loyalties to both camps, grieving the loss of her recently deceased father, and pitched into an adventure in which the future of the world is at stake... It would be set in India and Nepal in 1925, when the British Empire rules the world thanks to something they discovered, fifty years earlier, in the foothills of the Himalayas; it would feature evil baddies, aliens from other worlds, strange devices – as well as obligatory airships – much derring-do, seat-of-the-pants adventure, and would be an unashamed romp, while at the same time taking a little time out to address issues like the idea of Empire, racism, and the role of women in society... but above all it would be a thrilling chase through an exotic India. Jani’s assumptions would be challenged along the way: in each book, reality as she assumed it to be would be subverted by things she learns – and the expectations of the reader would, likewise, be subverted by what is revealed.
Jon and the team at Solaris liked the idea, commissioned the novel on the outline, and then I sat down to write it.
First, though, Dominic Harman supplied a fantastic cover – which has struck the aesthetic cords of various reviewers, along the lines of, “Mechanical elephants and steampunk... what’s not to like?” I gave Dominic the brief for the cover before I’d actually written a word. Oddly, the idea that a mechanical elephant might make an arresting image came to me before I realised that an artificial elephant would feature in the story. But, once the idea popped into my head, I had to make room for it.
Then I began Jani, and it whistled out in little over a month. It was one of those happy novels which wrote itself. Jani became a larger than life character, dictated where the novel should go, and I merely followed her. Alfie Littlebody, a secondary character, (A bumbling but well meaning officer in Field Security, opposed to the excesses of the Raj) also took off in ways I’d hardly envisaged when thinking about him before I started the book.
I had more problems with the ‘alien’, and his depiction. In the novel he befriends Jani – or perhaps uses her to his own ends – and persuades her to embark on a death-defying quest across northern India and into Nepal. The alien, Jelch, had to be obviously unhuman, but sufficiently human to pass visually amongst the folk of India. He also had to be of another world, yet understandable to the reader in his motivations and mind-set – always a hard trick to pull off when depicting aliens. Whether he works is down to the reader to decide, but so far the reviews haven’t singled him out as a weak point.
A couple of critics have said that the baddies are too one-dimensional, too evil – and here I hold my hands up. They were meant to be. This is melodrama, where we hiss at the baddies and cheers the goodies. The Russians are irredeemably bad, and Jani good, for the sake of telling a headlong action-adventure-chase tale.
At the end of book one, Jani, Littlebody, and Jani’s Indian friend Anand, are fleeing India bound for London aboard a vast airship – and bound for further adventures that will test their mettle to the limits. They’re being pursued by Russians, Chinese (little do they know it), evil aliens and even the British. The trio hold the future of the world in their hands, and it seems that the whole world is determined to halt their progress.
Their adventures will continue in the second volume of the Multiplicity series, Jani and the Great Pursuit.
All I have to do now is write it.
Order Jani and the Greater Game here:
I often think of the development of my stories as the slow coalescence of an asteroid belt of ideas into a planet of prose. Notion after notion passes through the solar system of my mind and gets caught; eventually, they collide, producing enough mass to draw in other, smaller ideas. Over time, this process leads to something that is worth writing down.
I hope that my future works do not take quite as much time to coalesce as The Chimaera Regiment has. The initial concept for the setting occurred to me in passing: I wondered what would happen to our society if we had our technology forcibly excised, and we were returned to a time of swords and sorcery. This laid the groundwork for my novel, but it was not enough by itself—for one thing, there were no characters and there was no plot! (For another thing, I was shortly thereafter informed that this was also the setting of a science fiction series that had already been published, but whose author I can no longer recall.)
A few months later, I started as a student at Baylor University. I was studying Latin and philosophy and religion, and other ideas began to enter my head. What if, I asked, medieval and modern society had formed around Greco-Roman polytheism, rather than Judeo-Christian monotheism? How would those beliefs be preserved over time, as society became more civilized? What if an ancient army, bent on conquering everything it could reach, gained access to modern technology? How would even benign equipment advance their cause? These ideas encouraged me to move beyond the immediate catastrophe of loss to a time when modernity had been forgotten—I decided to cast our society into the dark ages, and then wait a few thousand years.
I had established the setting, but what story was I to tell? I had often heard the maxim repeated in English writing classes: “Write what you know.” As a seventeen-year-old college student who imagined himself perpetually single, I did not seem to know very much—so I wrote about a seventeen-year-old farmer’s son who lacked the courage to express his feelings… but he also happened to be an unknowing heir of an ancient empire that spanned the entire world.
The first draft, which I finished within the year, only eked out 50,000 words. I set it aside, sure that I would return to it soon; it needed to be edited, some areas needed to be fleshed out, and a lot of sections needed to be trimmed down. (I had not yet begun to grasp the importance of brevity.) As time passed, I added notes and ideas to what I had, but I made no concerted effort to improve the manuscript. After a few years, I picked it up again, and I read it. I decided that its quality matched what you might expect from a seventeen-year-old: unpublishable. More importantly, its working title had been used in a film starring Matt Damon, so the title had to change—and with the title, several of my assumptions about the setting.
I had originally planned for the setting to be a deviation of our own future—that the world my book described was our own world, far removed from the present. Needing to change the title opened up the possibility that the two were entirely unrelated. To find a new title—and possibly more—I delved into my newly acquired degree in Latin and Ancient Greek, examining characters and tales from classical mythology. I recognized a similarity between my story and the myth of Bellerophon and the Chimaera—a similarity that could be turned into a high-fantasy retelling of the old legend.
For those who don’t know it, the basic structure of the myth of Bellerophon goes like this: There’s a fellow named Bellerophon who is driven from his home city for some reason (his name suggests he killed someone referred to as “belleros”). He comes to another city, where the king—because he can do this, as king—absolves him of his crime. The king’s wife then tries to seduce him, but he refuses; as revenge, she accuses him of trying to rape her. The king does not want to kill the man himself (it’s bad form to kill a guest, after all), so he sends him to his father-in-law, Iobates, with a letter requesting Bellerophon’s execution. Iobates celebrates the arrival of a guest in the traditional, hospitable manner—before reading the letter. Since Bellerophon was now his guest, he couldn’t kill him, either—so he sends him on a number of quests, expecting him to die along the way. One of these is to kill the Chimaera, a three-headed monster: a lion in the front, a goat in the middle, and a serpent instead of a tail. Bellerophon captures Pegasus (the winged horse), and together they defeat the Chimaera. (Eventually, Iobates stops trying to kill Bellerophon and celebrates him for being a swell guy, but it takes a few tries first.)
I wanted to incorporate these elements into my book more intentionally; that meant a rewrite, and a rewrite meant making sure everything was on the same page, so to speak. One of the problems my first draft faced was that, between writing one chapter and another, I had forgotten some detail about the characters or the plot; to fix that, I needed to keep all my notes and ideas in one central location, to which I could refer during the rewrite process. I spent a year jotting those notes in my notebook, as a companion piece to the original manuscript. Then I spent another year being altogether too busy to work on the rewrite.
At long last, I rewrote the book, implementing my desired changes (which included three new major characters, a few dozen minor ones, two new plotlines, and about 30,000 words). To incorporate the myth, I had Hector (our hero) take the mantle of Bellerophon, while Derek’s army became the monster—hence, The Chimaera Regiment. I also included many subtle vignettes from classical texts, such as the Odyssey, the Iliad, the Aeneid, and the Metamorphoses (along with a few more obscure works). I took a few liberties with the myths I involved, but most of my changes can be reinforced with reference to classical writers (especially Pindar and Ovid).
At the end of it all, though, I tried to make one thing hold true in the book: you shouldn’t need to know anything about Bellerophon, the Chimaera, or classical myths to enjoy it. I decided that, if I’m going to reference something outside the educational background of the average reader, I must ensure that the rest of the book is still worth reading. That’s why the story of Hector and the Chimaera Regiment takes precedence over Bellerophon and the Chimaera—and so I have diverged in some places without any mythical justification at all. Those diversions are related, in part, to the original ideas that sparked the story: lost and found technology, pagan religion, and a story in which our hero is coming of age (rather than being the daunting champion we find in Bellerophon from the start).
Those ideas, swirling around in my head, have drawn in several more, such that one book is not sufficient. Fortunately, the Chimaera is a three-headed monster; growing one story into three would be almost poetic. For the sequel (The Aegipan Revolution), I wondered: What if there were a prophecy that could change everything, but no one was prepared for it? For the third book, I decided to write a prequel (The Python Protocol), and I asked myself: What if one man had the power to change history and prevent a catastrophe without ever traveling through time?
The detailed plan for The Aegipan Revolution is complete, and the novel itself is underway. Work on The Python Protocol will follow. With any luck and a little effort, neither of them will take eight years to finish, but what seems like procrastination or sloth has been a blessing in deliberation and dedication to quality. My writing has not been all bursts of creativity and random chance, but putting in hard work over time to reach a definite goal. The Chimaera Regiment is my first novel, but it won’t be my last—and no matter how good it is, I have no intention of letting it be my best.
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It’s all about the voice.
I had just finished writing a book in which the protagonist was a woman with repressed emotions, and the language I used was clipped and structured to match her struggles to find expression. So I was glad to leave her battles behind, and to start again with a cup of coffee, a clean sheet of paper, and a view from the local café’s window. I began writing with no place to go, and Nathan was what emerged.
Nathan is a protagonist who loves language. He thinks it evolves, turns like seasons, and is not under his control so much as a gift of life itself. He’s also a man. And he’s not a man. Whether Nathan has a male voice is the main reason that I kept writing The Beauty.
The Beauty is set in a near future in which all women have died of an unnamed disease, and Nathan lives in the remains of a commune that shunned society years earlier, before this tragedy. The men who are left in this enclave band together under the guidance of a leader called William, and they are trying to be kind to each other and retain their sanity until they all die too. It’s the end of the human race.
Nathan is a young man, trying to remember what made his mother special, and to remember what made all women special. He gathers information about them from the remaining men and then spins them into stories that he tells over the campfire at night. The stories change as he tells them, and this disturbs him. Is the nature of what it was to be a woman changing too?
Then something very terrible and very beautiful happens. Nathan tries to make sense of this strange event in terms of gender and sexual longing, but others see it in terms of power and oppression. The ability of language to contain so many meanings within one story is incredible, and I hope The Beauty shows this, and also that many things that we consider to be opposites are, in fact, interlinked. Why does Nathan have a male voice if there are no women any more? What makes us male, or female? Do our stories reflect our gender?
For the first few thousand words I worried that I couldn’t write persuasively in a male voice, but then the story kicked in and I realised that Nathan isn’t exactly a man. He has no idea of what a woman is, apart from some stylised fragments of their stories that he has recast over and over again. The challenge was not to write a man, but to write someone who doesn’t have the same ideas about what makes a woman, a man, or even an event, beautiful.
The Beauty is a short book. I finished it within a few months, and thought about extending it because I loved Nathan’s voice so much, but I had said everything I wanted to say. This story, much like the ones that Nathan tells around the campfire late at night, is now out of my control.
Order The Beauty by Aliya Whiteley here:
“Perfidia”, opening book of the second L.A. Quartet by James Ellroy, arguably the most important crime writer in the world, is simply massive. But if you thought that spreading the story to over 700 pages means that Ellroy lost his edge, you would be wrong. His voice is as unflinching and sharp as ever, even more so. In fact, I would be so bold as to say that “Perfidia” might be his finest novel yet which is a bold statement considering that this is the man who wrote “L.A. Confidential”, “The Black Dahlia”, or the Underworld USA trilogy. But there’s indescribable something about “Perfidia” that makes it different to his previous output. While Ellroy has once again chosen to explore the seedy criminal underbelly of L.A., Perfidia’s historical scope and ambition are simply unprecedented. Similarly to another great American author, Stephen King, in “Perfidia” Ellroy actually tried to connect his entire body of work while at the same time giving his best efforts to write the next great American novel. And you know what? Against all odds, he succeeded.
“Perfidia” is set over a period of only 24 days and takes place during the tumultuous period between December 6, 1941 and the New Year. The Second World War is in full swing and in Pacific and Asia Japan is making huge strides with its military campaign. As the Pearl Harbour is about to happen, in L.A. the largest Japanese community in the USA is suddenly on the ropes. A series of murder or ritual suicides of a Japanese Watanabe family means that among the racial tensions, blackout and war erupting all around them, two police officers, police chemist Hideo Ashida and Los Angeles Police Department captain William H. Parker, are working day and night to solve the case. A note left on the scene alerts to coming apocalypse suggesting knowledge of what is about to come. Along the way they’ll meet many memorable and familiar characters which constant readers will remember from pages of previous Ellroy’s novel. So for example, Dudley Smith and Kay Lake both make a welcome appearance and help with the case.
Ellroy’s stroke of genius is that he has managed to create an atmosphere that constantly changes and continuously surprises the reader as the story unfolds. In fact, it is even hard to pinpoint what kind of book “Perfidia” really is. At moments it is a historical novel, while at others you’ll feel like you’re reading anything from romance to a full-fledged crime thriller. This means “Perfidia” can be enjoyed by both newcomers and experienced Ellroy aficionados alike but for much more fulfilling reading experience I would suggest reading at least first L.A. Quartet first.
In short, “Perfidia” is vintage Ellroy and more. Its story is full of tectonic movements, fascinating and dangerous characters with ambiguous morality, and events bigger than life itself. It’s brilliant in its complexity and vastness. Now, would you please follow me through this descent into darkness that “Perfidia” is? You certainly won’t regret it.
Review copy provided by William Heinemann.
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Déjà Vu is a boomerang that has returned to give the back of my head a glancing blow three or four times, and shows no sign of landing yet.
The book is an expansion of a story I wrote at secondary school. I was madly in love in science fiction, and had started using questions to help me write. The question behind the original Déjà Vu story was ‘If you were blind but could be granted a few days of sight, in exchange for the rest of your life, would you do it?’ I wrote the story, gave it a pretentious title like ‘We All Breathe the Same Air’, then circulated it to my friends. They pretended to like it.
A few years later, I was trying to write a film screenplay. I had the brilliantly--i.e, not very--original idea to create a murder detective character whose flaw, or perhaps advantage, was that he had killed too. It was the ‘set a thief to catch a thief’ story. That film script went belly up after a few pages.
The male detective became Saskia Brandt. I transported her into the near future so she could plausibly have a neural implant, added in the narrative of a blind man given the gift of sight for a few days, and started writing.
It was hard. I hadn’t written a book before. But I let the characters take we where they wanted. That led to Berlin; to Scotland; and to a secret bunker deep below Lake Mead in Nevada.
Suddenly, the novel had an arc: an eminent professor is on the run in Scotland, suspected of murder; a detective from the continental Federal Bureau of Investigation is despatched to intercept him, but she has problems of her own--her mind is an implant, and all she knows is that she has murdered before.
Where did my ideas come from? The blindness story was straight out of science fiction’s golden age. I always thought of that as a cerebral part of the book. It’s about virtual reality like the first Matrix movie, involves unethical experimentation like Keyes’s Flowers for Algernon, and uses the viewpoint character of a psychology professor, a man who is exceptionally rational in his approach, not unlike those in Hoyle’s The Black Cloud.
The story of Saskia was a more traditional piece of fiction. Besson’s Nikita was a big influence, as was Babylon 5’s ‘Passing Through Gethsemane’. When I wrote about her, I wanted the murder investigation to parallel an investigation of her own past--not metaphorically, as seems to happen all the time in detective fiction, but literally. Her past has been surgically removed and it’s up to her to find it. In contrast to the cerebral thread, Saskia’s journey is an emotional one. For this reason, perhaps, she took over the book; my original plan was to use the professor as the main character. Saskia turned out to be much more interesting.
If you look closely, you’ll see there are overtly cinematic influences to the novel. The language is visual, it has three acts, and uses the Hollywood ‘main plot’ and ‘sub plot’ structure. There are also traces of storytelling tropes. Robert McKee’s ‘Story’ mentioned that in the film ‘The Empire Strikes Back’, the characters of Han Solo/Leia and Luke Skywalker go through ‘failing’ experiences in a tunnel (for Luke, it’s a tunnel on Dagobah; for Han and Leia, it’s a tunnel in an asteroid). The metaphor of the tunnel crops up in other stories going all the way back to myth, so I dropped it into mine: it’s where Saskia abseils into the smoking ruin of the West Lothian Centre.
Having written the book, the road to publication was long. Remember the glancing blows of the boomerang? The first smack was finding out that my publisher (Ed: not Unsung Stories!) had released an uncorrected proof as the final version, so I had the mortifying experience of reviewers tutting at my typographical errors and other blunders, long-since corrected. The mortification continued. My publisher was so small that there was no hope of the book appearing in the high street. I trudged from bookshop to bookshop getting either pity or irritation from managers, few of whom had much say in their stock. One of my more industrious friends bullied a local bookseller into ordering a copy; that same bookseller phoned me a week later, such was their anxiety that the customer hadn’t picked up their copy yet.
Despite all this, Déjà Vu was reviewed positively in publications like SFX and The Guardian, so I continued with the second and third books in the series. Eventually, when the rights had reverted to me, I put out Déjà Vu as a Kindle ebook, and all hell broke loose. I was helped a lot by established writers. Ken MacLeod, for instance, wrote some very kind words on his blog. The book sold thousands of copies and for a few months I was earning more from my writing than my day job. I was picked up by an agent in the US and she began to field the enquiries from movie producers and send out proposals to the main science fiction imprints, one of whom was sure to pick up this online word-of-mouth success.
That didn’t work out, but it didn’t bother me overmuch. Déjà Vu, I thought, had had a good run. It had been read widely, I had a stream of correspondence from readers, and with the earnings I could afford freelance editors and cover designers for the subsequent books in the series. All was good. But there was still something niggling; I’d never held a paperback of the quintessential Déjà Vu, a paperback without the typos, and with some tweaks to magnify the good bits and correct the bad bits. Having written the sequels, I really wanted to return to Déjà Vu and raise its game.
So...just as I thought the boomerang was about to eat dirt, it smacked me around the back of the head again, but in a good way. The quintessential edition is the one being published by up-and-coming publisher George Sandison at Unsung Stories. Today’s Déjà Vu is the work of a writer in his early twenties reworked by a writer in his late thirties; the cool stuff remains, but, hopefully, in even cooler form, and laying the proper groundwork for the next books in the series.
Order Deja Vu by Ian Hocking here:
My introduction to the triune came early. Each morning as my classmates and I made the sign of the cross, my first-grade nun stressed that the Trinity--one God in three separate and distinct persons, Father, Son and Holy Ghost--was essential to our faith and, ergo, to our salvation. Since my six-year-old brain couldn’t make much sense of it, I was happy to be told the three-person God was a mystery beyond human understanding and had almost driven mad the theologians who’d tried to solve it.
Still, it stuck. Three in one, one in three. The holy trifecta. In the large stained glass window on the south wall of our Bronx parish church, St. Patrick held up a shamrock. One stem, three petals: They glowed a single emerald green as the sun lofted behind them. For that moment at least, the riddle of the Trinity ceased to bewilder.
Over the years, as I wandered amid the thickets of secularity, I learned that, as well as a marker of religious dogma, three brought to whatever it was associated with a special aura, whether exciting (Triple Crown), silly (Three Stooges), erotic (ménage à trois), scary (Third Reich), exceptional (triple play), or sad (strike three). Just by being three, ordinary things gained a special cachet.
When I set out to become a writer of books, I imagined one would suffice. A historian manqué, just shy of a Ph.D., I first stumbled into speech writing. I decided to try it for a year, save enough to go back to school, finish the dissertation, and turn it into a book. “The best-laid schemes o' mice an' men,” as Scottish poet Robert Burns put it, “gang aft agley.” I ended up scribbling for two New York governors and five chairmen of Time Inc./Time Warner across a span of three decades.
On the plus side, my job involved indoor work and required no manual labor. It paid the mortgage and tuitions, and included a defined benefit plan; on the minus, it was frequently stressful, sometimes grinding and always anonymous. Occasionally a speechwriter or two has slipped from behind the curtain and gained fame crafting words for mouths other than his/her own. But as I saw it, once you take the king’s shilling, you do the king’s bidding, and whatever praise or blame ensues is the sovereign’s alone.
As time went on, I felt a growing need to put my name on words I could publicly claim as mine. I got to my office two hours early in order to attempt a novel. Having grown used to churning out large chunks of copy in short amounts of time, I calculated I’d have a finished manuscript in a year or two. Robert Burns proved right again. Ten years later, I left the delivery room cradling my long-gestating mind child, Banished Children of Eve, a six-hundred-page saga of Civil War New York.
The first agent I submitted it to was dismissive. I hadn’t written one novel, she wrote, but “sausaged three in one.” I was stung. Yet the more I thought about it, the more I realized its truth. My novel was the story of Irish famine immigrants, the frightening, fecund mongrel world of mid-19th-century New York, and the impact of the Civil War. These were the three petals. Minstrel-songster Stephen Foster was stem and sausage skin. His music is the book’s leitmotiv. There are worse things to be accused of, I decided, than being a Trinitarian. I stuck with three in one, and that’s how it was published.
I drew a great deal of satisfaction from at last having my name on writing all my own, so much so that I decided one wasn’t enough. I had other stories I wanted to write. Faced by commercial constraints as well as those of my own mortality, I knew the next had to be shorter. Unfortunately, hard as I tried, I couldn’t get the hang of the short form, which required the precision of the pointillist. I preferred the Jackson Pollack school, buckets of paint splashed across expansive canvases.
With the second novel, I decided to reverse the first: In place of three packed in one, one would be divided in three. The stem I started with was Fintan Dunne, Irish-American ex-cop and private eye, a veteran of World Wars I and II, whose formal education ended in the Catholic Protectory, an orphanage cum reformatory in the Bronx. In hardboiled style, Fin is a man who, if he ever had any illusions about human nature, had them kicked out of him so long ago he can’t remember what they were.
Fin is what the writer William Kennedy calls a “cynical humanist.” Distrustful of all authority, skeptical of most causes, uninterested in heroics, he is reluctant to get involved. Whatever the case, he knows from the outset that there are no perfect endings, no spotless souls, and that some mysteries are better left unsolved. Still, despite his understanding of the futility of good intentions and the hopeless fallibility of everyone--including himself--Fin can’t help but try to see that some modicum of justice is done.
I followed Fin as he fought with eugenicists and fifth columnists (Hour of the Cat), wrestled with the still-unsolved case of New York’s most-famous missing jurist (The Man Who Never Returned), and burrowed into the Cold War’s intricate machinations and betrayals (Dry Bones). I’ve seen the city and the world through his eyes as he experienced two world wars, the Great Depression and the gloom-and-boom of the Eisenhower era, the rollercoaster years W.H. Auden accurately labeled “The Age of Anxiety.”I’m grateful for our three-legged journey. Fintan has been great company every step of the way. Now that we finished our last caper and said our goodbyes, I’m hopeful that I’ve told his story the way he wanted it told, and that the three tales together--separate and distinct yet parts of the same whole--capture him in a jaded emerald glow.
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“The Art of Killing Well” is a perfect example of a recent trend in Italian giallo literature - the tendency do combine all of the things that Italians love the most in one handy package: tasty food, fiery relationships and, above all, a good scandal. You might think that this sub-genre owes it's success to the ascent of Andrea Camilleri's Inspector Montalbano series but you would be mistaken. The Mediterranean literature always had a panache for combining the two and even the great Camilleri is indebted to Manuel Vázquez Montalbán's Pepe Carvahlo who ate his way through most of his cases.
However, the main protagonist of Malvaldi's “The Art of Killing Well” is not an inspector. In fact, he's not even a member of the police force but just a lowly culinary writer in search of the finest delicacies that Tuscan hills can offer. Pellegrino Artusi is based on the actual historical figure. Artusi is an author of the legendary cookbook “The Science of Cooking and The Art of Eating Well” which for decades formed the centerpiece of every respectable kitchen in Italy. Malvaldi's Artusi is quite a spirited character. Despite experiencing some truly horrific events during his life, he still holds a firm belief that life is as good as it gets as long as you're guaranteed three hot meals a day. Even a possibility of skipping a meal fills him with dread and that is exactly what happens when a body is found in a castle cellar. Cellar is found locked from the inside but still it is obvious that the man inside was murdered. Local inspector is stumped by the circumstances and it is up to Artusi's finely tuned nose and his love of Sherlock Holmes to provide an insight. Slowly he ingeniously leads the inspector in the right direction while at the same time finally gaining a chance to explore the delicacies of Baron's castle kitchen at peace.
In the after-word Malveldi mentions that he planned to place “The Art of Killing Well” in English countryside and you can clearly see why. Him closed-room murder feels like it fell out of an Agatha Christie novel. Still, when you combine Christie's finely tuned touch for mystery with Italian humour and culture, the results are very very delicious. “The Art of Killing Well” is as close as you can get to a perfect summer read. Its mystery will excite you, its fine food will make you salivate but fear not – the last 20 pages are filled with recipes for some of tastiest Tuscan delicacies which you can try at home. I especially recommend Tuna pie – it's out of this world.
Review copy provided by MacLehose Press.
Order The Art of Killing Well by Marco Malvaldi here:
I wasn't really prepared for "The Last Tiger" because my only experiences of reading Tony Black's work so far were his excellent crime novels. I was expecting something on par even though judging by the synopsis and the absence of dark tones on the cover art I should've known better. Apparently somewhere along the way, Tony Black has discovered a literary streak in him and what a change it has been! Having since read "His Father's Son", I can only express delight at this new found nuance in his talent because the depth of his writing these days is simply staggering while the pacing of the story, brought straight from his crime novels, is still here.
"The Last Tiger" is the sad tale of the untimely demise of the Tasmanian tiger. It is 1910 and twelve year-only Myko and his family are in Tasmania. Having fled from their native Lithuania threatened by Czarist occupation when the Russians took his father's farm, they were bound for America but having found themselves in this beautiful but rough land filled with wild animals and unkind people, they're once again filled with trepidation. As Myko's father finds work as a tiger trapper (unbelievably, the Tasmanian government paid £1 per head for dead adult thylacines and ten shillings for pups), Myko finds himself in the situation where the fate of last few tigers rests upon his shoulders. The society is dead set against the tigers and considers them pests while Myko on the other hand, sees something different in them. Everything is carefully placed for the conflict between the father and son.
Poetically written, "The Last Tiger" is likely to make you very sad and melancholic but sometimes those books are the best kind there is. Black speaks about important things and through the tale of the final throes of this wild but wonderful species, he actually talks about the humanity itself and the need to accept the very things we don't really understand. Similarly to Myko's family, the last tigers are slowly losing their ground and are only trying to survive in only way they can.
"The Last Tiger" is an vivid emotional journey which will, in the best possible way, provoke you with its exploration of loss, family, life and death.
Review copy provided by Cargo.
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