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The Zig Zag Girl by Elly Griffiths will be published on November 6, 2014 by Quercus

Synopsis:


Brighton, 1950.

When the body of a girl is found, cut into three, Detective Inspector Edgar Stephens is reminded of a magic trick, the Zig Zag Girl.

The inventor of the trick, Max Mephisto, is an old friend of Edgar's. They served together in the war as part of a shadowy unit called the Magic Men.

Max is still on the circuit, touring seaside towns in the company of ventriloquists, sword-swallowers and dancing girls. Changing times mean that variety is not what it once was, yet Max is reluctant to leave this world to help Edgar investigate. But when the dead girl turns out to be known to him, Max changes his mind.

Another death, another magic trick: Edgar and Max become convinced that the answer to the murders lies in their army days. When Edgar receives a letter warning of another 'trick', the Wolf Trap, he knows that they are all in danger...              


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It would be interesting seeing the expression on John Hornor Jacobs' agent's face when Jacobs described the idea behind The Incorruptibles. The thing is that this book is such a mash up of just about everything that on the surface of it, it can only be one of two things: the work of a genius or a complete madman. But that's why I'm not the agent or an editor. Decent agents and editors know how to spot great piece of work and it is obvious from the opening page that in The Incorruptibles Jacobs managed to pull it off. The whole novel is much more than sum of its parts and somehow it simply works brilliantly.

So how to describe it? In short, The Incorruptibles is made with healthy lashings of western and fantasy with a dose of steampunk and a pinch of Roman history. It is a librarian's nightmare. The story takes place in an Empire, a place not unlike our own world but always being just a little bit of piste. It is a troubled country, forever on the brink of a total war and its unexplored stretches are filled with everything from bandits to aggressive elf-like natives who recall Native Americans. In between all this a boat is travelling upriver. Upon it there are a governor with his sons and daughters and a hefty band of mercenaries who are all thrown together by circumstances. Out of these Fisk and Shoe are definitely an exception to the rule. Keeping each other backs, they worried about what's suddenly occurring in front of their eyes.

Interestingly enough, for such an accomplished setting, The Incorruptibles is a deeply personal book and I suspect this is exactly the reason why it works so well. If Jacobs has decided to go full scale from the word go I think readers would be simply overwhelmed by its vast scope while in this scenario you, as a reader, are slowly eased into the story. It's an act of sheer genius because rather than dwell on the setting I've actually cared about the characters and the events that were happening to them must more than I cared about what's around them.

To conclude, on paper The Incorruptibles shouldn't really work but somehow John Hornor Jacobs has beaten the odds and produced wildly innovative and highly readable story which, I think, should be nominated for quite a few awards next year. It is unlike anything else out there at the moment and I think many will be surprised by its unflinching ambition and often, beautifully poetic language.


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Review copy provided by Gollancz.

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Loteria by Mario Alberto Zambrano is one of the most beautifully produced books I've had the pleasure to set my eyes upon. The paperback release just published by Harper Collins is especially gorgeous. With its heavy paper, round edges and multiple illustrations accompanying the text, it’s simply a stunning piece of work. These choices of book design quickly become self-explanatory as the story opens and it becomes apparent that Zambano's literary debut is loosely based on Latin American card game of chance called Loteria and escapism it provides for its main protagonist, eleven-year-old Luz Castillo. Despite being just a little girl Luz is leading a troubled life. Her older sister Estrella in the ICU, her father is in jail and she's taken into care by child protective services. The only things that gives her any solace is writing into her diary and her deck of cards. As Luz draws each card, she's pulled back deep into her memories but each of her recollections is embellished by childlike imagination so over the course of her travels she encounter the strangest things.

Despite the fairy-like quality of some of these episodes, an adult reader will quickly recognize some truly disturbing events which Luz through her childlike innocence makes feel almost bearable. Slowly, through a series of these anecdotes Zambrano pieces together a string of events leaving to Luz's current situation. We are shown her mother's disappearance and Luz as she's forced to be a responsible adult long before her age.

Before he wrote Loteria, Zambrano toured world as a ballet dancer and it's as if his graceful movements have been transcribed to his written word. Certain passages in Loteria read like a poetry and Luz's push into adolescence and brutal reality of adulthood is a depicted with crystal sharpness. As such you could say that perhaps Loteria is a coming of age story but I would rather describe it as a family saga. One where hardly anything goes right and where all of its protagonists are damaged by the very existence they're leading. In between all this Luz is trying to find her identity and this search for identity is at the heart of Loteria. Even the book itself defines easy classification. On one hand it could be literary fiction steeped in magical realism, on other a cross between poetry and something in young adult genre?

Whatever it ultimately is, Mario Alberto Zambrano's Loteria is a profoundly poetic book which in a unique way succeeds in exploring the malleability of memory and families.


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Review copy provided by HarperCollins.

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When I’m asked where the idea for The String Diaries came from, I usually talk about a single image that popped into my head: a terrified mother driving her family through the mountains at night, searching for a place to hide. On the passenger seat her husband bleeds from terrible injuries sustained earlier that evening. In the backseat sleeps their nine-year-old daughter. The mother knows that if she doesn’t stop to treat her husband’s wounds, he’ll certainly die. If she does, they all might.

            While that’s the quick answer, the full story of the book’s genesis is a little more complicated. I’m not sure that any fiction I’ve written has evolved from a single point of inspiration. What usually happens is that a fresh new idea collides with a handful of older ones I’ve been hoarding. On rare occasions the result feels symbiotic. And from there, sometimes, a story begins to take shape.

            The key to this, I’ve found, is capturing those ideas when they strike. The challenge is that they arrive at the most inopportune times . . .  in bed, in the car, on a hillside miles from scraps of paper or stubs of pencil.

            Years ago, I might have been lucky to capture one in every ten hits of inspiration before I lost it. I tried all the usual stuff – carrying a notebook in my pocket, keeping a pad and pen by the bed. Yet when a random thought surfaced, I’d invariably be wearing the wrong trousers. Or the wrong jacket. Or I didn’t turn the light on, and woke the next morning to an indecipherable message scribbled in the dark.

            The notes app on my smartphone changed all that. In recent years, I’ve used it to accumulate a huge trove of story ideas. My rate of capture has improved tenfold. When I scroll through those ideas, some seem weaker, some stronger, but I never throw any of them away. What seems weak right now might be a vital catalyst in a year’s time. It’s likely that it won’t, of course, but that’s the value of amassing a large stockpile.

            So, back to the idea for The String Diaries. You see, before that image of a family in peril struck me, I was about to start a different story altogether, one I’d been planning for months.

            The original did share a few elements with the final book: namely, the opening scene began with a couple in a car. In that version, however, the couple were relocating to the wilderness, hoping to rebuild their relationship after the death of a child. We met them as they parked on a sunlit hillside with a view down to the cottage they’d just purchased, asking themselves if they’d find salvation in the simple life it promised.

            While the earlier story’s later scenes would contain plenty of mystery and unease it’s not, you might agree, a particularly gripping opening. Wrestling with it, I started to experiment with a draft and something strange happened. The scene disappeared and a new one muscled in. In this version it wasn’t daytime, but late at night. And this time the couple were watching the house through binoculars, in case whatever was following them had beaten them there.

            Hang on. Something was following them? This wasn’t the story I’d set out to write! Different tone, different characters, entirely different premise! But suddenly it was the story I had to write. My heart began to accelerate. Why was the husband bleeding? What had they just escaped? What was out there in the darkness, hunting them? Could they possibly survive? Already it felt like I was playing catch-up.

            Although I didn’t have many answers, pretty soon a few of those persistent old story ideas came knocking, demanding to be let in. One or two of them kicked the door down. Luckily, they seemed to be the very ones I needed. Together we crowded around the laptop, and two years later The String Diaries was finished.


Stephen Lloyd Jones
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Rebecca Makkai's second novel is bravely ambitious family drama which caught me completely by surprise. I've loved her debut novel "The Borrower" but "The Hundred-Year House" delighted me straight from the start with its innovative structure and unique presentation. Told through a series of vignettes which take place in a single house called Laurelfield over the course of hundred years, we are introduced to Devohrs family, a true Canadian eccentrics.

The story, which is told in reverse, opens in 1999 with the book's lengthiest chapter. Zee, a Marxist literary scholar is living in Laurelfield with her husband Doug and her parents, mother Gracie and step-father Bruce. Zee doesn't particularly like living in the house partly due to her parents living there, partly due to imposing massive portrait of Violet Devohr, Zee’s great-grandmother who apparently committed suicide somewhere in the house. It is Violets portrait which provides the link to the next story, the life of artists who lived in the house from the 1920s to the 1950s. This period is of particular interest to Zee's husband Doug who is doing research into Laurelfield Arts Colony and the life of poet Edwin Parfitt for his PhD. It is Doug's interest into the past which provides a catalyst and turns the plot into a full-fledged mystery. And house doesn't want to let them go easily.

Second part occurs in 1955 and Grace is married to Zee's abusive father George. Similarly to Zee, Grace is fascinated by Laurelfield and soon the chain of events will change her life for good. Third part of the story, goes further in the past to 1929 and takes place in artist colony where we are shown glimpses of Edwin Parfitt's life. Marking a turn in style, this third part is told through short bursts and changes of perspective and successfully manages to put across the chaotic life in artists' colony living permanently under the threat of closure by Devohr.

Similarly to "The Borrower", "The Hundred-Year House" is beautifully written and its characters are glorious in all their strangeness. Makkai certainly has a skill to engage the reader and she does it with frightening ease. I was caught by its bug straight from the opening page and I've stormed through this easily readable tale with gusto. I've especially enjoyed the way Makkai plays with the circular nature of history and its consequences, both in her tale and her approach to storytelling.

All in all, "The Hundred-Year House" is a completely surprising and all around excellent multi-layered read which I wholeheartedly recommend.


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Review copy provided by William Heinemann.

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African Sky is my first encounter with the writings of Australian author Tony Park but his work hasn't escaped my attention. All too often I've heard about his panache for telling a emotionally gripping tale and his third novel African Sky, originally published in 2006 but now being republished by Quercus, fulfilled the expectations. African Sky takes place in Rhodesia in 1943. Bomber pilot Paul Bryant is working at a pilot training school at Kumalo Air Base but he's not flying actively since returning from fatal bombing mission over Germany. However, as one of his trainees ends up missing he must come of retirement as one of his trainees goes missing.

On the other hand, a Volunteer Policewoman Constable Pip Lovejoy (what a great name for a character) is also haunted by her daemons. High profile Aircraftswoman from the air base, Felicity Langhamis found raped and murdered in a nearby town. As she investigates her murder, she meets Paul over the course of an interview. However, a suspect is quickly found in the local black community but Pip rightfully suspects that there's plenty more hidden in plain sight. Soon she discover the relationship between Bryant, heiress Catherine De Beers and Langhamis and the solving case suddenly becomes of paramount importance for the entire war effort. Against the backdrop of the investigation, Bryant has plenty of other problems. He must prepare his airbase for the visit of Prime Ministers Jan Smuts and Sir Godfrey Huggins and unbeknownst to him, agent Hendrick Reitz is planning to sabotage an airbase itself.

Tony Park arranges his set pieces masterfully so the story itself is chock full of twists and turns so if you like these kind of reads, there's plenty to enjoy here. At first glance, African Sky has everything from hair-raising flying action to espionage, backstabbing, sex and love but scratch the surface and you'll discover hidden depth and well developed characters. All in all, I've really enjoyed my first encounter with Tony Park's work and I'll be looking forward to his future releases.


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Review copy provided by Quercus Books.

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When I start writing a book, I usually have the ending in mind. The Unquiet House was different: it eluded me in that way, making writing it more a process of discovery. It was a book that came into focus gradually, like developing a photograph. I think sometimes I work best like that, when I’m just a little uncertain, and the characters are free to surprise me; I think it allows for the subconscious to do its work. It can be especially useful when writing something frightening; if I don’t see it coming, hopefully the reader won’t either.

I can’t remember what came first with the novel, but like a lot of my stories, it was a matter of two elements colliding, snagging, and beginning to form something new. I knew I wanted to write a ghost story, where the reader would journey back through the past, with historical events shedding light on what was happening in the present and vice versa. The other element was something more concrete: seeing an old grey house with a ‘For sale’ board outside, and falling a little bit in love.

I didn’t buy that house – it was never on the cards, so I didn’t even go inside – but the quiet lonely grandeur of it stuck in my mind, and so in my imagination I did go in, wandering its corridors and looking out of those dusty windows. It became Mire House, and its setting, next to a rather pretty old church, found its way into the book too.

I often find places inspiring. Standing somewhere new, breathing in a different atmosphere, seeing what makes it unique, quite often leads to a story. My first novel, A Cold Season, wouldn’t have taken the form it did if I hadn’t been commuting across the Pennines during a particularly harsh winter. Path of Needles was shaped by the magical quality of the local woodland on a Spring day. The Unquiet House, perhaps unsurprisingly, was formed by various properties.

The name ‘Mire House’ was borrowed from a tumble-down place I saw in a rather bleak valley. Other places began to form the plot in unforeseen ways. A visit to an ancient graveyard in a little village named Tong revealed a bench carved with the words, ‘My God, My God, why hast thou forsaken me?’, and it seemed so odd, it stuck in my mind. Who might have chosen a verse like that to carve into a bench? What would other people think of it? Who might I find sitting there, and what thoughts would be running through their mind? It was too rich a vein not to use.

Then, while on a house-hunt proper, I looked around an otherwise empty building to find a narrow cupboard with an old black suit hanging inside it. So the questions began again: Who might have owned such a suit? When would they have worn it, and why was it kept when everything else had been thrown away?

It’s an odd thing when elements you think of as background start to shape a story, but it’s one of the most satisfying when it starts to come together and you think ‘Ah, so that’s why it’s there.’ It’s a difficult thing sometimes, to let go a little; it can be more comfortable to write when the plot is all worked out in advance, and I can stick to the map, knowing exactly where I’m going. Leaving the path is scarier, but it’s good to let the imagination wander a little. The things you find along the way can be all the more rewarding.


Alison Littlewood
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Lady Gaga, meet Bill Gates.

When readers ask where I get the ideas for my books, they’re sometimes surprised by the answers. Sure, I’m inspired by true crimes or by dramatic set-pieces — like Jonathan Stride coming home to find a frightened teenage girl hiding in his bedroom closet in THE COLD NOWHERE.

But inspiration comes in odd places, too. When I was developing the plot for SPILLED BLOOD — which won the award for Best Hardcover Novel in the 2013 Thriller Awards — I knew that I wanted the book to start with three girls coming together at midnight in a remote ghost town for an emotional, volatile confrontation. However, I didn’t know exactly what would be happening in that town until I heard a song by Lady Gaga on the radio. She sings about Russian roulette in the song “Poker Face” — and when I heard that line, I immediately knew that SPILLED BLOOD would start with a twisted game of Russian roulette.

In SEASON OF FEAR, the first kernel of inspiration for the plot actually started with Microsoft founder Bill Gates.

Everyone knows Mr. Gates is one of the richest men on the planet.He’s also intent on putting his financial resources to good use.Together with his wife, he created the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to work on charitable initiatives around the world. The Gates fortune is sizable enough on its own to create a huge nonprofit organization, but several years ago, another wealthy billionaire, Warren Buffett, announced plans to donate much of his estate to the Gates Foundation.


The result so far: a charitable organization with an endowment exceeding 40 billion dollars, more than the assets of some countries.

That’s all good. Isn’t it?!

Well, you have to think like a thriller writer. I have nothing but respect for the work of the Gates Foundation, but when I hear stories like this, my mind tends to dwell on unhealthy possibilities. Imagine an organization with almost limitless resources and essentially no accountability to the public — an organization capable of wielding huge amounts of money for its own ends.

Yes, those ends may be good — but at what point is there a temptation to believe that the ends justify the means? How far would such an organization be willing to go to get what it wants? And who could really stop it from crossing the line?

That’s the theme that led to SEASON OF FEAR.

In the new book, Florida detective Cab Bolton (who first appeared in THE BONE HOUSE) is hired by a wealthy political organization called the Common Way Foundation to investigate a brutal assassination that killed its third-party political candidate ten years earlier. The foundation is afraid that the same extremists who killed their leader in that assault are back — and that they are plotting a new wave of violence.

Cab knows the head of the foundation. Years earlier, they had a secret affair. That’s why he agrees to dig into the old murder to see if she’s in jeopardy. But he’s also dogged by the feeling that he is being manipulated at every step of the investigation. The Common Way Foundation says it wants to bring common-sense solutions to a broken political system, but its opponents see ruthless opportunists who will do anything to get power.

In that shadowy world, Cab doesn’t have anyone he can trust. The more he uncovers secrets about the assassination ten years earlier, the more he realizes that the motive was very different from what the police originally believed — which makes the present even more dangerous.

So SEASON OF FEAR started with the idea that power can be a scary thing, even in the hands of people with the best of intentions. 

After all, you may trust Bill Gates...but years from now, he’ll be gone, and the foundation will be richer than ever. Who will be running it then?

Sounds like a thriller.


Brian Freeman
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