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 : 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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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 : Underground by S. L. Grey

 

S.L. Grey is an ongoing collaborative effort between two well established authors Sarah Lotz and Louis Greenberg and even though I haven't read any of their standalone novels, I have quite enjoyed their output so far. "Underground" is a claustrophobic standalone novel that follows on from their Downside horror trilogy, and is a perfect starting point if you want to find out what S.L. Grey is all about.

"Underground" starts off with a really interesting question? How will world's richest people deal with post-apocalypse? The answer seems to be just act as usual and flaunt their money to gain upper hand over less privileged. In this case that means buying a stake in The Sanctum, a self-sustaining underground complex situated in rural Maine that promises safety and security even at a time when all the world outside is falling apart. As it is usually the case, before the apocalypse struck, The Sanctum was seen more as a refuge for the paranoid or a pointless exercise for those who have more money than sense. This all changes when the super-flu pandemonium hits and mad rush towards The Sanctum begins. This brings together an interesting cast of characters including survivalists such as Cam Guthrie, religious nuts, and white supremacists as well as some pretty decent folks, obviously in minority such a nerd who just wants to play World of Warcraft. With a melting pot such as this, trouble is never far ahead and why I did feel like some of the character traits have been chosen by the author for no reason but to fit the purpose, this was a volatile mix that for most of its parts succeeds in creating a palpable tension, especially after a person is found dead and everyone seems to be a suspect.

S.L. Grey's "Underground" is a fast paced and very enjoyable way to spend a few afternoons. It just flies. Once again after finishing a book from this unlikely duo I was tempted to check out something they have written on their own but I know I probably won't do it because deep down I think it is the two of the working together that make this whole thing tick. So back to waiting for the next one then!


Review copy provided by Pan Macmillan
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REVIEW : The Human Division by John Scalzi

 

John Scalzi's The Human Division has been out for quite a while now in the US but those of us living in the UK are only now getting the pleasure of reading probably the most interesting novel in his landmark Old Man's War series. It seems like it was only yesterday but the great Human Division experiment actually happened way back in the 2013. If you don't know, Scalzi originally published novel in digital form as a monthly series - if we want to stretch a point, not unlike the stuff Dickens would do – and for most of its parts, it was a success. I was reading it as it originally came out and I still remember feeling excitement whenever a new instalment appeared. This was mostly thanks to Scalzi's skill as a writer and his uncanny ability to drop a cliff-hanger whenever you need it. Now, thanks to Tor I finally got the chance to re-experience it as a whole and it's just as good as I remembered it to be.

The Human Division follows on from the events that unfolded in the previous Old Man's War novel, The Last Colony and as such stands as the fifth novel in the series but can be read as a standalone book even though you'll miss some of the nuances if you do so. The general story revolves around the people of Earth who after realising that Colonial Union has purposely kept them from the very worst things that the hostile universe can offer, feel at odds with this new reality. It's an interesting political situation because with the new players on the scene, people of Earth are having a knee-jerk reaction ot CU and are almost in the situation where they rather enter an alliance with aliens than with them. Enter Lieutenant Harry Wilson and his B Team who will try to get everything back in order and, if at all possible, defuse the situation.

Early readers of The Human Division had often critised the way the story is told. Due to its episodic content the story itself has a completely different pacing. This is obviously due to the nature of monthly instalments where each episode is effectively a self-contained short story but if you accept it for what it is, The Human Division is probably the best Old Man's War novel so far. Over the years Scalzi has developed as an author and the banter between the characters is just fantastic. His vision of the complex and hostile universe is fine-tuned by this point and this brings the fragile balance into focus. However, there's some shortcomings. The story is partly not and lot of the threads are left open. This is one of the obvious dangers of reading an unfinished series but unwary readers beware. Personally I would suggest that you definitely pick up The Human Division if you like science fiction that's both intelligent and fun. For year's now Scalzi's Old Man's War series has been one of the finest reads that contemporary science fiction has to offer and this latest Tor edition has made it look nicer than ever before so there's no time to wait!


Review copy provided by Pan Macmillan
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REVIEW : The Tiger and the Wolf by Adrian Tchaikovsky

 

My collection of Adrian Tchaikovsky's books fills a significant portion of my bookshelf and is slowly threatening to bring down the floor of my flat. As I have often mentioned, he's one of the authors that continuously surprises me with his output and while all of his books so far have been of similar (without fail outstanding) quality. they have all been such doorstoppers. When does this man eat or sleep? And his latest book, "The Tiger and the Wolf", first book in the "Echoes of the fall" series is no exception. It's gargantuan. And yet somehow I always manage to finish each new one within a week as I just can't let them go once I start. They're that good.

"The Tiger and the Wolf" is a slightly different proposition than his output so far but stems from the familiar themes - turning points in history and a life or death wide scale conflict. And yet, this latest one is a bold experiment that takes a little while to get used to. "The Tiger and the Wolf" takes place in a pseudo Iron Age where people have magical powers within their grasp. At the heart of the story is Maniye whose father is The Winter Runners or Wolf clan’s chieftain. However, her mother was a queen of the Tiger, their worst enemies. As such, she doesn't belong to either and is disliked by just about everyone. And yet, Maniye is incredibly unique and special person. She can shapeshift into both the tiger and the wolf as opposed to the others who can only take on their clan's form. And as the Maniye's father prepares for the fight of his life, he needs to bring Maniye under control so she is forced to escape to save her own skin. A notorious killer Broken Axe is sent by her father and is close on her tail. The story that follows is full of brutal battles, folklore and magical history set against rich and diverse landscape that is both dangerous and beautiful.

"The Tiger and the Wolf" will surprise even some of the most faithful Tchaikovsky’s readers as is it unlike anything he has written so far. Even after his previous two books, Guns of the Dawn, a historical fantasy and Children of Time, a proper hard SF, this is quite a departure. It is definitely a brave move from someone who could probably just keep on churning new insect book year after year and keep making healthy profit - if he was interested in doing so and was a different kind of person. "The Tiger and the Wolf" for most of its parts is absolutely fantastic. The characters are well fleshed out, the setting is as imaginative as they come and by now you probably know Tchaikovsky’s credentials in depicting a conflict. The only times when the story occasionally falters under its own weight is because of the sheer scale of eworld building. There is simply too much to explain, even for such a long book. It is definitely still too early to make a final decision whether the experiment paid off but for what is worth, I had a blast reading "The Tiger and the Wolf". At the end of it, I was really happy that this is supposed to be a series and that is always a good sign. Tchaikovsky still has it and at the moment he is definitely of the finest fantasy authors of his generation.


Review copy provided by Pan Macmillan
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REVIEW : Sweetgirl by Travis Mulhauser

 

As the snow engulfed the place where I live I turned to Sweetgirl, Travis Mulhause's ferociously engulfing debut novel that mostly plays out across the frozen landscape. Percy James, a sixteen year-old protagonist is anything but sweet. She's as determined as they come when the circumstances request her to be and as the story opens with her braving the weather to look for her mother, Carletta, she fierce and unflinching in the face of danger.

The first thing that is strikes you straight from the start is their difficult relationship between Carletta and Percy. Percy definitely didn't have it easy. At the time when she was supposed to have the time of her life, get her heart broken by a cute boys and girls, she had to grow up to fast as Carletta is a meth addict who most of the time can't take care of herself. As the storm engulfs the area in all its savage glory Percy is worried that her mother is somewhere outside and won't survive the night.

She makes her way to Shelton Potter’s cabin, a place where she believes she'll find her but as she arrives her life is irrevocably changed. In the house she finds a baby freezing to death and, without hesitating, decides to take her away from the den full of addicts. What follows is a struggle for bare survival. Chased by Shelton and his crew, and surrounded by freezing storm, Percy must be stronger than ever before. She must look in to the eye of the storm and somehow get through, both for herself and the baby.

"Sweetgirl" is often a difficult read and despite taking place in a imaginary county it feels all too real. The media is full of real life stories where young girls had to go through similar ordeals because of their parent's addiction and this is why Travis Mulhause's debut feels refreshingly honest. Despite having some dark humour moments in it, I had to admit I had trouble laughing with it as none of this is was really laughing matter. However, that's not something that goes against "Sweetgirl". If anything, it makes it more powerful. Mulhause knows how to strike a chord with his readers and to convey even the hardest emotions. "Sweetgirl" is a gritty debut by an author who is showing promise for more great things in the future.


Review copy provided by HarperCollins
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REVIEW : The Man Without a Shadow by Joyce Carol Oates

 

Grand dame of American literature, Joyce Carol Oates, doesn't seems to slow down. If anything, I am under the impression that she has sped up her output in recent years, publishing a diverse selection of works that are both thought provoking and challenging, as well as immensely readable. Her latest book, The Man without a Shadow, which has just been published by Harper Collins / Ecco is no exception. It is an intriguing tale which explores the boundaries of relationship and what it means to be human.

"The Man without a Shadow" is Elihu Hooper, a medical phenomenon and something of a star within the scientics exploring the mysteries of the mind. Elihu owes this dubious privilege to the fact that due to an infection he can only retain the last seventy seconds of his memory. As you can imagine, for Elihu this is an absolute nightmare. With memory as locked as his is, every new day is a challenge and voyage of discovery. Neuroscientist Margot Sharpe meets Elihu in 1965 and since then their lives are intertwined. For Margot, Elihu is more than a patient and a scientific interest. She is charmed by this withdrawn and gentle man up to a point where she puts her own life behind just to try to find another idea, another new approach to cure Elihu's condition. It's a very interesting premise because, think, Elihu never remembers meeting Margot and yet, for Margot, Elihu is a person she knows and loves deeply. It's incredibly difficult situation which occasionally turned disturbing. Margot can take liberties which she usually wouldn't because she knows Elihu will forget them mere seventy seconds later. It's riveting stuff.

"The Man without a Shadow" is wonderful new addition to ever-growing Joyce Carol Oates' bibliography and this complex emotional rollercoaster is without a doubt one of my favourite works of her. The relationship between the doctor and the patient in these circumstances opens up many difficult questions about the nature of love and ethics but I can't help but thinking that Oates was the perfect person to explore them. At the heart of it "The Man without a Shadow" is a love story, one that's heart-breaking to read but, in a strange way, still life-affirming because love somehow always finds a way - even if it's just for seventy seconds.


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REVIEW : The Travelers by Chris Pavone

 

"The Travelers" is Chris Pavone's most straightforward thriller and, if I am being honest, the book of his that I have enjoyed the most. Both “Expats” and “The Accident” have been fantastic reads but there is something about “The Travelers” that simply caught my eye. It might be due to the fact that lately I have developed an unhealthy obsession with spy thrillers as kickstarted by another recent Faber Books publication - Lionel Davidson's reissue of “The Rose of Tibet” which I wholeheartedly recommend if you haven’t read so far – but the fact is I had a whale of a time following Will Rhodes on his globetrotting adventure. In fact, Pavone shares a lot with Davidson. “The Travelers”’ cast is full of characters playing part you would not actually expect them to play. At its heart, it is mostly about ordinary people stuck in impossible situations and getting away with it.

"The Travelers" start as Will Rhodes, travel writer writing for a magazine called The Travelers makes a very bad decision and decides to accept an offer from a beautiful woman while on an assignment in Argentina. After waking up in the morning next to her, he suddenly realises what he has done, and fearing for his marriage he becomes a spy. He is suffering from a bad case of a mid-life crisis and is vaguely aware that he is going to regret this in the morning. He's an ordinary man with a wife Chloe and money issues but he still can't help himself but to give it a go. It might seem like a slightly silly setup but trust me, Pavone knows how to make it work. Will's assignment takes him all across the globe, from London to New York, even to the Mediterranean Sea and is literary filled with dozen of twist and turns that made my brain whirl.

"The Travelers" is a very definition of what a page turner should be like. Just when you feel like going to sleep and stopping reading, Pavone drops another bombshell and gets you start making excuses for yourself. I've really enjoyed the way Will Rhodes developed from a completely clueless character to someone who can hold his own in the world of business conspiracies. And that's all that you can expect from a book really. In its essence, it is indeed a pot boiler and it certainly won't win any awards but it will thrill you to the core.


Review copy provided by Faber Books
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