Riding the Serpent's Back by Keith Brooke, Deep Future by Eric Brown and The Iron Wire by Garry Kilworth are available now from Infinity Plus.
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It's good that the winter is finally coming around because reading "Waiting For Doggo" during summertime wouldn't be the same. Mark B. Mills' novel is one of those furry creatures that makes you all fuzzy and warm inside so bad weather is essential for complete enjoyment. It simply wants to make you curl up in your bed under a blanket.
Story opens as Dan is left by Clare, his long term girlfriend. They've been together for four years and all he has to show for it is a "Dear John" letter and Doggo, a mutt she rescued from London's Battersea Dog and Cat Home. After a spectacular run of bad luck, Dan is simply not interested in owning a dog. Even his job is in tatters. He's planning to get rid of him as soon as possible because it is the last thing he need right now. It'll just remind him of Clara, and not in a good way. To make things worse, Doggo is not particularly easy to like. He is damn ugly, nearly hairless and, well, strange. But despite the looks and initial impression, he's clever in a way that only dog can be. And he's full of strange kinks which only add to his personality. Take for example his unhealthy obsession with Jennifer Aniston. It quickly turns out that there's something endearing about him and Dan's defenses are slowly broken down. Slowly he changes his tune and this unlikely duo strike a friendship. Eventually he even realises that Clara leaving him was a blessing in disguise.
So what's the thing that makes Doggo so special? Well, I think it's because the whole book is in fact a carefully hidden celebration of our inner ugliness. "Waiting For Doggo" invites readers to scratch under the surface and see what lies behind the facade. It is also a swan song for all your weird habits and those strange ideas that make you who you are. If there's one thing that's bad about "Waiting for Doggo" is that it's simply too short. This slim volume can be read in just a couple of hours of casual reading and then it's over. All in all, this way a lovely read. Grab yourself a cuppa, curl up under a warm blanker and prepare to meet Doggo.
Review copy provided by Headline.
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Georges Perec is probably best known to general public for his "A Void" (La disparition), 300 page-long literary experiment (or lipogrammatic novel if you want to give it its full classification) written entirely without using the letter e. Personally I would have struggled finishing a sentence without using it but Perec somehow even managed to do it over the course of an entire novel and squeeze in a proper plot as well. Admittedly it was a tough reading at times but I've always admired his persistence and sheer ambition. However, apart from from "A Void", Perec was no stranger to other, even more outlandish, experiments. "Life: A User's Manual" is, for example, compromised out of 99 moments, all taking part at the same time in parallel. What we thought was Perec's debut novel, "Things: A Story of the Sixties & A Man Asleep" was originally published in 1965 but in 2012, 30 years after his death, his proper debut novel, "Le Condottière", was suddenly published out of the blue. In November Maclehouse will publish English translation by David Bellos, an award winning translator of his works and all around Perec scholar, under the title "Portrait of a Man".
So what exactly is "Portrait of a Man"? Well, the easiest way is to explain it if you considered it to be his novel zero. The story goes that Perec worked on it from 1957 to 1960 under a tentative title "Gaspard is Not Dead". The plot revolved around an art forger named Gaspard Winckler who is trying to re-create Antonella da Messina's “The Warlord”. It is a painting that can be seen on the cover art and Winckler is not satisfied with a mere forgery. He wants to improve on it. The copy is commissioned by Anatole Madera who is suddenly killed by Winckler. As murders occurs, Perec continues to explore the motivation behind it in relation to art and life in general. He asks what is it that really makes an original and can the original be surpassed? In short all the elements that later made Perec such an accomplished writers are here. Admittedly, this is obviously just a beginning of an illustrious career so his moments of brilliance only come in small glimpses but it's definitely well worth reading it if you've enjoyed his other works.
"Portrait of a Man" became lost after Perec, unable to find a publisher for it, set it aside. He famously proclaimed:
"I’ll go back to it in ten years when it’ll turn into a masterpiece, or else I’ll wait in my grave until one of my faithful exegetes comes across it in an old trunk.".
In this case faithful exegetes turned out to be David Bellos who discovered a manuscript while going through papers of Perec's friend Alain Guérin. And I'm really happy he did. "Portrait of a Man" is not perfect but it is definitely a vital document chronicling early beginnings of one of greatest literary experimenters. As he did during his life, Perec will definitely continue dividing opinions in his death. As such "Portrait of a Man" is a very important for history of literature. Similarly to his other works, it is dense, sometimes frustratingly so, but keeping at it pays back handsomely.
Review copy provided by MacLehose Press.
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The Kind Worth Killing by Peter Swanson will be published on February 19, 2015 by Faber Books and February 3, 2015 by HarperCollins.
I looked at the pale, freckled hand on the back of the empty bar seat next to me in the business class lounge of Heathrow airport, then up into the stranger's face.
'Do I know you?'
Delayed in London, Ted Severson meets a woman at the airport bar. Over cocktails they tell each other rather more than they should, and a dark plan is hatched - but are either of them being serious, could they actually go through with it and, if they did, what would be their chances of getting away with it?
Back in Boston, Ted's wife Miranda is busy site managing the construction of their dream home, a beautiful house out on the Maine coastline. But what secrets is she carrying and to what lengths might she go to protect the vision she has of her deserved future?
A sublimely plotted novel of trust and betrayal, The Kind Worth Killing will keep you gripped and guessing late into the night.
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I’m not always conscious when I’m writing a book that I’m bringing to it parts of me that have lain buried for years, but this was certainly the case with Monument to Murder. There’s a lot of me in this one.
Even though the same characters appear throughout the Kate Daniels series, I don’t write to a particular formula, so the structure of each book is different. Monument to Murder has two definite storylines, both rooted in fact, one in the past, one much more recent.
In the planning stages, I required a crime scene location. The other story location was already fixed. At the end of the previous book, Deadly Deceit, Kate Daniels’ colleague and former lover, Jo Soulsby, had left her job as a criminal profiler and gone to work on a project at HMP Northumberland to look into the treatment of dangerous prisoners. In Monument to Murder she meets up with recently widowed Emily McCann – the main character in the second storyline – psychologist and former friend from university. Jo was my link between the two storylines, a friend to both Emily and Kate. However, it was then that I encountered my first problem . . .
Having pitched the idea for this book to my agent, I’d received a word of caution. Not one to pull his punches, he was concerned that the secondary storyline might overshadow the first. A situation would never do as Kate’s investigation had to be paramount. After all, she was my protagonist. It’s her that fans of the series find fascinating. A tricky balancing act, but could I pull it off?
In the main storyline, I wanted to bury some bones. That was to be the inciting incident, the starting point for Kate and the Murder Investigation Team. While considering locations for the burial, I remembered having read a newspaper article about an archaeological dig at Bamburgh Castle, a project that had been televised by Channel 4’s Time Team. Geographically, Bamburgh is around than thirty miles from HMP Northumberland. It was incredibly serendipitous, the first instance where fact met fiction, and something I firmly believed would add weight to my story.
So, the police investigation begins when Kate is called to a crime scene on Bamburgh beach. A child playing ‘hunt the dinosaur’ with his father has stumbled upon skeletal remains where a section of dunes has shifted, falling onto the beach below. For those who know that stretch of shoreline, Bamburgh Castle overlooks Lindisfarne – also called Holy Island – which posed a question right at the very beginning, for Kate and the reader: did the burial of these bones have any religious significance? This is where the title came from too, Bamburgh Castle and Holy Island both being ancient monuments.
The novel actually opens at HMP Northumberland in the head of a dangerous prisoner, Walter Fearon, just as Emily McCann returns to work after a long spell of compassionate leave. With evil on his mind, the inmate begins a campaign of terror, messing with Emily’s head at every opportunity. His unhealthy attachment to her is a minor irritation at first. But anxiety soon escalates when he turns his attention to her daughter and Emily sees what he is capable of, even within the confines of the institution holding him. In one scene, Fearon turns up at her office when he had no business being there, and this is where real events again became fictionalised . . .
When I was a student probation officer, I was sent to work in a prison on placement. This (and three years working in a prison later on in my career) gave me insight into the pressure cooker environment that exists inside. I’m not saying that bad behaviour, violence, drug taking are rife, but anyone working in a jail will tell you that it does go on. The best that can be hoped for is containment. It’s an impossible task watching every single prisoner twenty-four hours a day. Each shift is unpredictable, for everyone, staff and inmates alike.
During this placement, something very unusual happened which stuck with me long after I’d gone back to my course to complete my studies. On this particular day, my supervising probation officer rang in sick which meant that I was limited to seeing low risk prisoners. At noon, however, when all inmates were supposed to be at lunch and all staff engaged in their supervision, a prisoner arrived at my door demanding to be seen. His presence and the lack of security personnel nearby really shook me up. The prisoner didn't harm me but I found out later that he was serving life for bludgeoning to death a woman he’d never met before or even spoken to.
Without giving too much away, this frightening experience is mirrored in Monument to Murder. Perhaps in handing it to Emily I was, in some small way, exorcizing my demons. Below is a short extract from the book . . .
Emily glanced at the clock on the wall above his head: 12:35. Lockdown was still fifteen minutes away. He wouldn’t be missed until the head count.
‘You’re supposed to be at lunch.’ Emily was trying to mask the anxiety in her voice. She could see from his smug expression that her efforts had failed.
‘I gave them the slip,’ was all he said in return.
Fearing for her safety, Emily couldn’t afford to show fear. But years of training hadn’t equipped her for this. Everything she knew about working with dangerous prisoners deserted her then.
As the novel progresses, Emily’s fear for her own safety and that of her daughter grows exponentially as Fearon nears the end of his sentence and is eventually released. Emily’s story and Kate’s hunt for a killer alternate throughout Monument to Murder, Jo very much involved as the go-between, the two stories merging around three-quarters of the way through, before a race to a thrilling finale. So, did I manage to pull off the tricky balancing act? You’ll have to read the book to find out.
US readers should know that Monument to Murder is due to be published in April 2015 by Harper Collins/Witness Impulse under the new title of Fatal Games.
Monument to Murder is currently on offer on Amazon as part of an Autumn Deal at 99p! See links below to order your copy.
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If you're of sceptical persuasion you'll know Tim Minchin's beat poem "Storm". In just a few words it manage to summarise all the frustration of speaking to a person who believes in sorts of quackery and can't accept the sheer ludicrousness of it all. Personally, I'm usually too polite to enter into confrontation even when faced with most ridiculous ideas such as my recent favourite when a person described wrapping yourself into foil to stop bronchitis but occasionally I can't stop yourself from getting into right rant. That's why “Storm” is always close to my heart. I've quoted “Do you know what they call alternative medicine that's been proved to work? Medicine.” many times. I'm not alone. Tim Minchin's Storm quickly became something of a rationalist anthem and a regular highlight of his epic shows.
If you haven't listened to "Storm" it is a tale of dinner party going horribly wrong. Together with another couple, Tim and his wife are invited to an apartment of Kate, their Australian actor friend and at one point Jane, lady half of the couple as Tim calls her, despite her good looks seems to be full of prejudices towards science in general, medicine and reason while on the other hand she passionately believes in elixirs, homeopathy and spirits. While on the actual party Tim avoided confrontation, it was the paper that suffered his irritation and frustration and so the "Storm" was born.
However, while undoubtedly successful on its own, "Storm" mostly went viral due to its immensely brilliant animated adaptation made by Tracy King and DC Turner. So far it has been seen by over three million people and has been widely accepted as a darling of all humanists, sceptics, secularists, scientists and atheists. "Storm: The Illustrated Book" is made by the same team and its style is instantly recognizable by everyone who saw the video. However, graphic novel is not just couple of frames collected together in book form but a whole new approach to a recognizable tale. The beat of the original poem is transcribed perfectly and I suspect "Storm: The Illustrated Book" will bring this cry for reason and understanding of science to a completely new audience which is exactly as it should be.
Review copy provided by Orion Books.
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Originally from Belfast, I write a series of books based upon my private investigator, Karl Kane, a rough-and-ready sort of protagonist who manages to create more trouble than he solves. Forever out of money, and up to his neck in bills, I would be lying if I said there wasn’t at least some parts of me reflected in him! Karl was based on my late father, a man with a big heart who always sided with the underdog. Throw in Jim Rockford from the Rockford Files, and you get the idea.
Although most of my crime books are based in Belfast—with the exception of my memoir, On The Brinks—my latest novel (Black’s Creek) is based in America, and had been floating about in my head for almost ten years.
I lived in America for over a decade, residing in upstate New York’s where the story of Black’s Creek takes place (name of town and characters changed for legal reasons). The idea for the story first germinated in my mind when watching the seminal movie, Stand By Me, based on a story by Stephen King, and finally came to fruition after reading Robert R. McCammon’s classic, Boy’s Life. Finally with ‘some time’ on my hands, the project finally got the spark it needed while I was spending a few years in a not-so-friendly American penitentiary. But that, as they say, is another story for another time...
Conceived loosely from true events, Black’s Creek tells the harrowing story of Joey Maxwell’s suicide, a young lad barely out of his teens, who handcuffs himself to a submerged car-wreck in Jackson’s Lake, on the outskirts of town. The lake has other dark secrets, but they have yet to be uncovered.
Like any small town, rumours start circulating at incredible speed about what terrible events could have pushed Joey to such a tragic act. Everyone has an opinion, but his three pals, Brent, Charley and narrator of the story, Tommy, believe they know the true reason: the sexual attack on Joey the previous summer in the local forest. They also believe they know the person behind the attack: local loner and creepy movie-projectionist, Norman Armstrong; or as the kids in town refer to him, Not Normal.
When Tommy’s father, Sheriff Henderson, fails to win a conviction against Armstrong in court, the three pals decide to take the law into their own hands, with devastating consequences, not only for themselves, but the entire town.
In Black’s Creek, not everything is as it seems, especially the people living there. A moral question-mark looms saliently over the townsfolk: when the law fails, is it ever okay to do sometimes evil to defeat a bigger evil? And are you complicit in that evil if you turn a blind eye to it?
Most of the story is gleaned from a friend of mine, who just happened to be a local sheriff in upstate New York. Of course, I used quite a bit of my writer’s imagination to keep the story as edgy and lawful as possible, shifting names and characters’ traits, when and where needed.
Unusual suspects ink the pages, with a cast of, hopefully, memorable characters. From the friends seeking justice as the Three Musketeers, to the haggard and decent sheriff; to the mysterious girl, Devlin, the hallucinogenic and troubled artist who alone holds the murky key to recent and past murders in the town. And her mother, the lady who likes to cut throats for a living to save herself from dying.
Black’s Creek, was not an easy journey, despite being a labour of love. Numerous excuses along the way of completion halted production, many times. Sometimes other projects got threw at me. A couple of stage plays, anthologies, screen writing, and of course the ‘bread and butter’ of my writing, Karl Kane. I think I sent my publisher’s heart rate up a good couple of notches in the process, but like to think he is now pleasantly pleased by the outcome. There is talk of a rise in my royalties, but mostly that is noted in my head, and not in his check book.
The story eventually became cathartic for me, as perhaps knowingly or unknowingly, I was trying to banish some sort of demon or other from my own past. Not so much an entire skeleton in the closet, but more a bone in the drawer.
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The story behind The Girl with a Clock for a Heart is also the story of how I became a published author.
The book began its life as a short story. The spark of the story was, and this is the usual case with me, one of those "What if" questions. In this case, the "What if" question was: What if you were a high school student who had gotten into college, and didn't want to go? What if someone else went in your place? First of all, I thought that it could never happen nowadays. Too many Facebook pages, and cellphones, and digital histories. But when I went to college—back in the 1980s—kids just showed up and matriculated, and no one knew anything about anyone. It was a completely fresh start. And I thought that it could be done, that two seniors in high school could switch identities so that one could go to college, and one wouldn't have to.
If I were a different type of writer, this might have turned into a love story (well, it kind of is), or a comedy, or a piece of literary fiction about the temporal nature of identity, but I turned it into a thriller. I was partly inspired by the movie Brick, written and directed by Rian Johnson, in which a noir sensibility is fused with a story of high school students. I wanted my novella to feel like pulp fiction, but with college freshman in 1986. I wrote it relatively fast and it turned out to be about fifteen thousand words, which not long enough to even consider padding into a book, and too long for most short story markets. I knew, however, that the ezine Mysterical-E accepted novella-length stories, so I sent it there. To my eternal gratitude, and surprise, Joe DeMarco published it.
About a year after it was published, I received an email from Nat Sobel, an agent at Sobel Weber Associates. He had read "The Girl" because it had been nominated for a Spinetingler Award. Nat told me how much he liked it and asked me if I had an agent. After googling Nat and discovering that he was an actual, successful New York agent, I told him that I'd love to work with him. He was really excited about the possibility of turning "The Girl" into a novel. I told him that I'd thought about it, but I didn't think there was enough "story" there. Nat agreed, but wondered what would happen if my two characters, George and Liana, met again twenty years later. I gave it some thought, and came up with an idea, and that was how the novel version was born.
It took me about a year and a half to write the book, bouncing ideas back and forth with Nat, and it was hard-going. But by late summer of 2012, there was a manuscript in place that Nat was considering bringing with him to The Frankfurt Book Fair. I was thrilled, but I was also cautious. I had been trying to get published for over ten years and had gotten very used to disappointment.
That September, my wife Charlene and I went to Bermuda for a week. Just before leaving, Nat told me to check my email while I was there because he might have some news for me. We had rented an apartment in St. Georges, and internet was spotty, but one afternoon I got an email asking me to call Nat right away. When I called him, he told me that I had a two-book deal with William Morrow. It took me a while but finally I believed him. That night we celebrated (Dark 'n Stormy's were involved), and Charlene and I felt like we had suddenly entered an alternate reality. We hadn't taken a trip in two years for financial reasons, and suddenly we were on this beautiful island, and celebrating a book deal. It didn't feel like our real lives.
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After years of placing her tales in France and exploring its rich medieval history, in her new novel Mosse decided to do things differently and to return to her home village in the UK. “The Taxidermist's Daughter” takes places in small village of Fishbourne in Surrey in 1912 and follows the story of Constantia Gifford as she accidentally becomes involved in a frightening murder mystery. Connie is twenty-two and is living alone with her father in a house filled with remnants of what was once a world-famous museum of taxidermy "Gifford’s World Famous House of Avian Curiosities". After the museum's closure, Connie's father became a very uncomfortable man to live with. He's bitter and disappointed in life. The events surrounding the closure are still a mystery to Connie as she lost her memory after a particularly nasty fall years ago. The subject matter is a taboo which can't even be mentioned, let alone discussed so she spends her days with stuffed birds as her company, slowly learning her father's trade.
It all changes one night during which it is believed that ghosts of those about to die in the coming year are walking the earth. A woman is found drowned outside Blackthorn House (Gifford's house). Death certificate proclaims the cause of death as suicide but Connie's having her doubt. Soon she becomes embroiled in a search spanning years which will bring back to light some long forgotten memories as well as the mystery at the heart of her father's life.
With her Languedoc trilogy su ccessfully out of the way, Mosse's writing in “The Taxidermist's Daughter” feels completely reinvigorated. She feels fiercely confident in her story and I, as a reader, found this sort of enthusiasm absolutely infecting. “The Taxidermist's Daughter” is simply Mosse's best work yet which will appear more to readers who enjoyed her gothic tale "The Winter Ghosts" (or “The Cave” if you've only read the original, shorter story”) or her recent short story collection “The Mitletoe Brde and other stories” than to those who only read her Languedoc trilogy. “The Taxidermist's Daughter” is a thrilling lyrical tale with a touch of macabre which I can only wholeheartedly recommend.
Review copy provided by Orion Books.
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“City of Stairs” doesn't really feel like a Robert Jackson Bennett's book. I'm so used to his particular way of writing atmospheric Gothic novels that I was initially completely disoriented by this amalgam of fantasy and science fiction. I've even double checked the info on the press release just to make sure that this is the same Robert Jackson Bennett. Luckily, this is not meant to be a complaint. “City of Stairs” is brilliant but just very different to what you would expert from author of “Mr. Shivers” or “American Elsewhere”.
Bennett's story takes place in city of Bulikov, once proud city now conquered by Saypur and largely reduced to just another colonial backwater. Once Bulikov was protected by Gods but they haven't been seen for a long time. Shara Divani arrives to city as just another Ministry of Foreign Affairs diplomat sent to over-complicate things for locals. However, secretly she's on a mission. Accompanied by her secretary Sigrud (the best character in a book by a mile), Shara is tasked with discovering truth behind the murder of a seemingly irrelevant historian Efrem Pangyui who dabbled into Bulikov's hidden and forgotten stories. Soon she discovers that nothing in Bulikov is as it seems and perhaps even Gods are not as gone as everyone thought they are. Her quest will lead her deep into Bulikov's past to a time when it was still a force to be reckoned with.
Jo Fletcher Books have been publishing some truly imaginative stuff this year and similarly to excellent “Gleam” by Tom Fletcher, Bennett's “City of Stairs” occupies a place in that wonderful niche of literature where the setting itself has a life of its own and carries the book seeming without any need for a story. Bulikov is a wondrous creation, innovative malleable place that evolves together with its residents. I hope this was not an one off and that Bennett will soon return to it.
So is new Bennett better than the old? As you can guess the question is pointless and it's down to a preference of a reader. Personally, I've really enjoyed this reinvention of Robert Jackson Bennett but deep down I still hope his previous reincarnation is not gone for good. I can imagine sidelines continuing successfully together. Until it happens, “City of Stairs” is a completely new chapter in his writing and showcases a new side to his talent. Bulikov is a place you should definitely visit. You'll have one hell of a ride.
Review copy provided by Jo Fletcher Books.
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