“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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“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.
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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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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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England is gripped by its harshest winter ever at the start of The Winter Foundlings. Psychologist Alice Quentin has traded her comfortable hospital consultancy for a placement at Northwood, a high security psychiatric hospital for the criminally insane. When young girls start being abducted from the streets of London, she is forced to form a relationship with Northwood’s most infamous resident, Louis Kinsella. The current crimes echo his murders so closely, there must be a link, which only he can explain.
The Winter Foundlings is the third novel in the Alice Quentin series and I wanted it to be her most terrifying, personally and professionally. Alice is tough and resilient, but dogged by memories of her violent alcoholic father, so I chose to make Louis Kinsella bear an uncanny resemblance to him. Every time Alice interviews the serial killer, she’s forced to revisit the frightening memories of her past. I wanted to make sure that Louis Kinsella spoke, acted and behaved like a convincing psychopath, so I immersed myself in case studies and true crime accounts of psychopathy, as well as interviewing two senior psychiatrists. Writing the book took me into such dark territory that my husband started to insist that I quit writing at 6p.m. to give me time to get Kinsella out of my head before bedtime, in case the character gave me nightmares!
Alice’s home life is as scary as her days at Northwood. The cottage she’s renting is deep in the countryside, almost cut off by snow. As danger mounts, she finds herself on unfamiliar terrain with no one to turn to. It helped hugely that a freezing cold winter arrived with perfect timing just as I began the book. I kept rushing to the window and staring out at Stourbridge Common, behind my house in Cambridge, longing for more snow.
The research for The Winter Foundlings was fascinating. The high security hospital where Alice works is loosely modelled on Broadmoor, with its mix of imposing Victorian wards and ultra-modern blocks, all packed inside a warren of high security walls. I visited several centres for the criminally insane and interviewed staff there, which helped me to understand their regimes. The other location which is central to the story is The Foundling Museum in Bloomsbury, London’s first orphanage. Both Louis Kinsella and his copycat are obsessed by this haunting place. I visited the museum many times while writing my novel, to gain a sense of its physical layout and exhibits. It struck me as tragic that many penniless women hoped that their fortunes would turn and one day they would be able to collect their children and take them home. They left tokens, such as coins or matchboxes, so their infants could be identified if they ever returned.
As The Winter Foundlings progresses, Alice has to grapple with her own past, but more importantly she has to understand why the serial killer terrorising London’s streets is fixated by an orphanage which thrived during Charles Dickens’s lifetime. Only by finding the link between past and present can she hope to locate the city’s most predatory killer.
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The reasons authors write differ from author to author. Some find words fascinating and like the challenge of putting together whole ideas from scratch. Others find writing cathartic and a way to examine the real world from the safety of a temporary shelter.
Through my writing adventures, I’ve found both of these reasons, and many others, to be applicable to me at one point or other. Every story I’ve ever written seems to have had it’s own reasons it needed to be told. The reason I wrote The Seventh Miss Hatfield was the simplest reason of all—I had a story I wanted to tell. That was it. I was excited about my characters and wanted other people to meet them too. I wanted people to be able to experience time travel and immortality, to be able to feel the emotions that result from being forced to grow up too quickly, and to feel the firsts every teenager encounters—first love, first loss, and the first realization that not only life, but memories themselves are evanescent.
I remember I thought of my characters before I thought of the plot, and one of the first characters that came to me was Henley. About two years ago, I was sitting alone in the café section of Blackwell’s in Oxford, after perusing their classic British Literature section. After handing me my cup of Earl Grey, the barista promptly left. It was midafternoon, but all the seats in the café were empty. Though I was the only one in the room, I still took a seat in the corner—habit, I guess.
Twenty minutes into slowly enjoying my cup of tea, I heard someone walk in behind me. I didn’t have to turn my head, as he walked straight to the counter. I examined him, as he examined the menu.
I couldn’t tell you much of what he physically looked like besides what he wore. I remember being surprised that a young man—practically a boy, since he couldn’t have been much older than I was—was wearing such formal attire. He was wearing a dark gray suit, almost black, with a purple button-down shirt.
The young man seemed to be waiting for someone as he smoothed down the front of his shirt. At first glance, he looked confident, taking up space where he walked, but his short, clipped strides gave away his nervous energy.
I watched as the young man managed to track down the barista to get a cup of tea. Then, tea in hand, the young man inspected the entire room for a place to sit. There must have been six empty tables, but he chose the one in front of me.
He flashed a smile and we both raised our cups to drink. In the empty café, it was as if we were drinking tea together. It was a small gesture, but it made us both feel less alone.
Little by little, people trickled in, filling the room. Some were wanderers, while others had distinct motives. He met an older man, and stood to shake his hand. I saw the people I was waiting for, and waved them over to my table. The short moment that we shared was long gone, but while we talked to our respective companions, our eyes would meet above their heads.
I would have given a lot to know what he was thinking in that moment. I imagined his life and the complicated relationship he had with his older companion. Maybe it was an uncle, or a father, with whom he had a formal, distant relationship.
In my imagination, I began to flesh out his life story. If I could not ask him about his world, I would create one for him. He seemed kindly, but lonely. Maybe, though young, he had fallen into an impossible love, from which he had never recovered. And thus began my story. I created a whole full life for him, and he doesn’t even know it.
The story is not only about Henley. In fact, he is not even the main character. But he is the one that inspired me, and shapes the character and evolution of the protagonist. I wanted to explore falling in love, especially when we don’t expect or even welcome it, and the inevitability, though unromantic, that love will ultimately lead to heart wrenching separation.
The concept of the story was further inspired by my curiosity with why we as humans are always so equally fascinated and frightened by death. One interesting way to examine mortality is to write a story about immortality, and explore how the characters deal with such issues as identity, love, and loss. These are among the central issues of all stories, but by introducing immortality into the mix, I was able to have fun seeing what changed, and conversely, what is unchanging in all of us.
To the reader, the reasons why I wrote the story and the origins of my characters may be irrelevant. Every reader will build their own backstory of the characters—the events never explicitly outlined in the book that further defined the characters and the motivation for their actions. In the end, I hope that I created an enjoyable story, but left the reader something to think about when it is all over.
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One of the finest moments in my career as a reviewer for Upcoming4.me was when I saw that a statement from my review of "War Master's Gate" ended up as a blurb on "The Seal of the Worm". Now, I've been blurbed plenty of times before but the simple thing is that the whole "Shadows of the Apt" is a very special fantasy series for me. As far as I'm concerned, it is an extraordinary phenomena in modern fantasy and I can't recommend it strongly enough. Straight for the opening page of "Empire in Black and Gold" Adrian has provided an innovative setting and engaging storytelling which captivated me from the word go and our intense relationship continued over the course of the next eight books. The most remarkable thing about it is how consistent the series as a whole is. Written over a relatively short span of time, later installments don't stray too far away from tried and tested formula of the opening novel and the bloating of the pages is strangely absent. It feels like Adrian suddenly spawned into existence as a fully formed writer, with already developed skills and confident in his craft.
So, the final and tenth installment is finally here and as you can imagine I approached reading "The Seal of the Worm" with a bittersweet taste in my mouth. I definitely wanted to find out the ending but then again I didn't really want to reach it too fast. Better person than me would probably read it slowly but as lacking in character as I am, I've just stormed through it and, to tell you the truth, I've had a blast of a time.
"The Seal of the Worm" is a conclusion of a story spanning ten books so, understandably, you shouldn't read it before you've read the rest of the series first. The story pretty much continues the plot from the previous two book book and the circumstances surrounding the Worm take the center-stage. The seal has been broken by Empress Seda and now Che, Thalric and their ragtag band of companions who are trapped in the realm of the worm after the event depicted in "War Master's Gate" have some stark choices ahead of them. Stenwold Maker and some other known characters also makes a welcome return, instantly kicking off one of the largest battles of the series. The pace that "The Seal of the Worm" moves on is suitably frenetic and as all the plotlines ultimately converge to a single point they build up a massive, epic ending.
Not to spoil too much, "The Seal of the Worm" is a conclusion I could've only hoped for and in the end it felt more like a precursor to short separation than a full stop. All of the most important questions have been answered but Adrian cunningly left open just enough threads to whet up appetite for more stories which will inevitably come in the future. As things stand now "Shadows of the Apt" as a series has been finished in the best possible way - with a fast-paced, no hold barred rush to the finish line. An excellent and fitting ending.
Review copy provided by Tor / Macmillan.
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In an innovative competition, Quercus Books are recruiting 100 Peter May superfans to pass on Peter’s books and extend your enthusiasm.
Every superfan will receive an exclusive Peter May pack.
WHAT’S IN A SUPERFAN PACK?
- An early copy of Peter’s new book, Runaway, out January 2015
- A copy of Peter May’s Hebrides
- 5 copies of their favourite Peter May title to share with others
- Regular and exclusive updates and excerpts
YOU CAN ALSO WIN A HOLIDAY TO THE OUTER HEBRIDES
Plus our panel of judges will pick one superfan who will win a holiday to the Outer Hebrides, the place that inspires Peter’s books. This decision will be based on the level of enthusiasm shown by the superfan and how they shared the books.
Quercus Books has teamed up with the Outer Hebrides Tourism Industry Association to offer a 3 day break for two including flights from the UK to Stornoway with Flybe/Loganair, 3 nights dinner, bed and breakfast plus car hire (excluding petrol) with Hebridean Hopscotch.
HOW TO ENTER
Just visit http://www.quercusbooks.co.uk/peter-may-superfans/ and fill out a form.
The closing date is 14.09.2014.