Category Archives: Ray Robinson

Jawbone Lake – Ray Robinson

Finally, time to catch up with writing some reviews of some of the books I have managed to get through while work has been bonkers. I thought I would start with one of the books I read at the beginning of the year and one of the releases in 2014 I was also most looking forward to, Jawbone Lake by Ray Robinson. Having been a huge fan of Forgetting Zoe I was looking forward to entering another possibly rather dark world of Robinson’s creation, even more so as I knew a lot of it was set in the Peak District which is my home turf and where I spent more of last year than I did at my new adoptive home in Liverpool.

William Heinemann, hardback, 2014, fiction, 320 pages, kindly sent by the publishers

Joe Arms receives a call over New Year and learns that his father, CJ, has been in some kind of accident. On leaving London and returning to the Ravenstor in the Peak District he finds that his father somehow lost control driving and veered off a bridge into the frozen lake nicknamed ‘Jawbone Lake’. Unbeknownst to Joe, but not to the reader, local girl Rabbit witnessed the incident on a stroll and saw not only that it wasn’t an accident but indeed that there was a man there who has seen her. Here the strands spilt very cleverly as we follow Joe as he discovers more about his father’s past as things come to light after his death and also follow Rabbit as she copes with and tries to forget everything she has seen.

The term ‘literary thriller’ seems to be a fairly new one and is one which has been used by those who have read Jawbone Lake and I am about to join them. For the first hundred or so pages, clichéd as I know this will sound, I simply could not stop reading the book (I was on a train to London and the two hours flew by) as I was completely hooked by both the prose and the mystery at the books heart. I found the relationship between Joe and CJ, which becomes established by small glimpses into the past really interesting to watch unravel. It was the same with Rabbits situation, which I don’t want to give too much away of, with her aunt and after a dark time in her recent past plus all she has to deal with. They are also interesting lead characters with interesting ticks and quirks, for example Joe with his desertion of the north and Rabbit with her obsession with numbers as a coping mechanism.

He had become The Man Who Stared Out of Windows, a bored, thirty-five-year-old software designer, watching doughy faced office workers making their way between the tall buildings outside, envisaging what their lives were like, wondering if theirs could possibly be as thankless as his.

To make this as fair a review as possible I do have to admit that I did have one issue with the book, not to the point of it being ruined or not liking it, yet it is one that probably wouldn’t bother many of you it’s just something I don’t like as a subject in books. Without giving any spoilers away I will say that I have an issue with any books, thrillers or otherwise, that go into any of these elements (so which this one does you will have to read and find out, clever eh?) gangsters, hit men, drug dealing, money laundering or business fraud. They simply don’t do anything for me and illicit a big groan before I invariably put the book down.

In all fairness when one or two of any of these possible outcomes (see, still not giving anything away) came up I did feel slightly disappointed yet to Ray’s credit I carried on in ground that would normally completely turn me off. This was because of a) his writing and b) the world he had created in the Peak District which for me was where the heart of the story lay, and where my interest as a reader was focused because they were bloody marvellous.

He went over to the window and watched the snow fleck the valley. In the distance, the white peak of High Tor looked vivid in the fading light. Snow lay heavy across the rectangles of higgledy-piggledy rooftops descending into the valley below. Cars progressed beneath the orange stars of street lights, familiar constellations snaking between the mass of hill, tor, fell.

Being from that area I am sure that knowing the area makes me bond with a book all the more yet (as when I read Edward Hogan’s wonderful The Hunger Trace) Robinson really captures the atmosphere of the Peak District which is at once incredibly beautiful and also dangerous and ominous. This ripples through the book and often informs the mood over the characters even if they don’t know it. I loved all this. There is a modern gothic nature to all of this, along with an earthy element that works wonders for me and I think Robinson is brilliant at. I also loved tales of the uninhabited quarries and underwater villages (both real, both part of the landscapes history and folk lore) that he picked up on. More than that I loved the life of the people. I could have read endless pages with Rabbit at work in the ice-cream factory and trips ‘down t’pub’. There was something so real about it all that it chimed with me.

Jawbone Lake nicely picks up on the term ‘it’s grim up north’ (or ‘oop north’ as we Derbyshire folk might say) and delivers a deliciously dark literary thriller overall. Personally I could have done without the trips to Spain and to Hastings as it is in Derbyshire where the magic of the prose, characters and atmosphere really meet. It has reminded me that I really need to get to Robinson’s back list of books while I await whatever he comes up with next.

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The Murder Spots of Matlock with Special Guest Ray Robinson

Now if you are thinking that I have gone completely off my rocker then do bear with me. This isn’t as weird a post as it may sound and if you are after pictures of the gorgeous English countryside then today’s post should be up your street, as should it if you like the slightly spooky/creepy side of it too. You see last weekend I found myself on the Transpeak from Manchester and through the sunny countryside…

Off to my home town of Matlock, unusually not for a weekend with Granny Savidge Reads but to stay with my aunty who lives on the opposite side of the valley. I was also off to meet an author and possibly make a new pal, though I am so not good at first meetings. Anyway I was back in my home town, where by randomness the author Ray Robinson (and International Man of Mystery – he wasn’t even in his own Fiction Uncovered interview video, so I have labelled him so) has been staying. How did I know this? Well after I reviewed his novel ‘Forgetting Zoe’, Ray emailed me to say thanks (lovely when authors do this, yet slightly weird as you forget they might read what you wrote) and to ask me, being from the Peaks, I knew Matlock because he is researching a character and a murder scene setting there. So we agreed that when I was next in town I should say hello and help him hunt possible murder spots. This meant, as it was in my brain, that everywhere became a possible murder spot, like the normally idyllic park we call ‘The Whitworth’…

The old Peak Trail, only used for a steam engine for tourists, suddenly started to look like something out of one of those American Southern Gothic novels, especially in the unusual sunshine…

Especially with the spooky old carriages down a rather spooky path…

In fact it became a game of ‘where’s a good murder spot’ with my aunty, two cousins (aged 10 and 7 – what am I doing to their minds) and I all weekend. A walk up the never-ending hill to Riber Castle supplied a great view of the whole area…

And also the old ruins of a castle (which isn’t as old as it looks and is becoming swanky flats no one normal could afford) which could make a perfect setting…

Eventually myself and the international man of mystery and writer Ray Robinson met up and went for a long walk through the dales so we could chat, hunt a few possible murder sites out and pop to a pub or two. I did manage to get a picture of a glimpse of the author and man of mystery at one random old derelict house by the River Derwent, please excuse the graffiti…

We also had a random toilet stop in a place that looked like it could have come straight out of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre…

And then a creepy old Psycho like house where someone was collecting lots of books in the dark recesses of their abode. It was a really creepy old building…

In the end we set down in a pub, well a few pubs actually to chat about books, publishing, our childhoods, inane sillyness and more. The only thing was we both had one too many of these (I’m so not the professional I should be)…

So what did I learn about this author for you, well after hours and hours of nattering away I’m afraid the only things specific to the blog I learned were that Ray’s favourite word is ‘elbow’ (I am not sure if they are his favourite band though) and that his favourite book is ‘Underworld’ by Don Delillo which I have never tried because its huge and looks a bit too, erm, intellectual for me. Maybe I should give it a whirl? I know I should have done better, I didn’t even get my copies of his books signed, I did bring you all some nice photos though and had a lovely lot of hours, which flew by, just nattering away and laughing a lot what more could you ask for of a weekend away back in your hometown?

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Forgetting Zoe – Ray Robinson

Fictional stories of child abductions have become more prevalent in books in the last few years, as has the device of writing from children’s perspectives in these novels (such as in ‘Room’) or in other ‘current topics’ (I am thinking of ‘Pigeon English’ which I have just started) its almost become it’s own genre in a way. Well, I think so. With this in mind I went into reading ‘Forgetting Zoe’ by Ray Robinson with a mixture of ‘oh here we go again’ along with ‘go on, impress me, do something different’.

Cornestone Books, paperback, 2011, fiction, 288 pages, kindly sent by the publisher

On Friday October the 8th 1999 a ten year old girl by the name of Zoe Neilsen suddenly vanishes on the way to school. This shocks the inhabitants of the small island, just off Newfoundland, is immense, it’s a place where people leave their doors unlocked and trust their neighbours. The people it doesn’t come as a shock to are the readers of this book, as for 50 pages leading up to this we have been given an insight into the twisted and disturbing childhood of Thurman Hayes, the man who we soon to discover, with an all too familiar feeling of history repeating itself, has abducted her. Zoe has become one of those children who ‘disappear at a mile a minute’ in fact Zoe is now in a bunker 4000 miles from home.

“Zoe knew that she was below ground and no one would hear her but she still screamed for help, her knuckles a scabby pulp from punching walls. The machine breathed into the room, its constant whine and rattling niggling her. This was the first week in captivity, an animal in a cage waiting to be fed and watered, for the man to reappear. Or were there more than one?”

I found the way Robinson put us first in the mind of Thurman Hayes was a particularly clever move, it throws the reader off as they watch the victim of child abuse become the abuser. (Unless of course you read the blurb, I hadn’t thankfully, which gives away practically the whole storyline. Publishers, why do you do this?) The fact you feel for him when he lives with such a tyrant as one parent, and complete denial ridden doormat of another, makes the sudden change throw you out of step. Robinson has pulled the rug from under your feet.

“Father beating him because he wet the bed into his teens. It made the wetting worse, his lisp worse. Father’s looming presence.”

The other perspective in the novel is that of Ingrid, Zoe’s mother. This is written utterly, and heartbreakingly, beautifully. Ingrid is a single mother who takes her daughter for granted, until that fateful day. From the moment that the loss of her daughter becomes a reality, as first there is denial, we watch a women unravel as her world crumbles. The past comes to haunt her, the press turn against her (as the parents always become suspects) from sympathy to suspicion and we watch from the sidelines. It’s incredibly well done, you will occasionally dislike Ingrid but you will always empathise with her. In fact it’s the flaws in all the characters that make them so real.

One of the most effective things about Ray Robinson’s prose is that he puts you in the mindset of Zoe, her mother and her captor without ever writing them in first person. There’s almost a sense of him wanting you to feel what they are going through, but at the same time making the reader feel safe – yet still shocked and disturbed – without ever making it too real. I am probably not explaining that very well, you read the book experiencing it yet at a level which doesn’t sicken you; you’re concerned, shocked and occasionally horrified by the grimness of the story but also slightly at a distance. There is also the fact that Zoe, as a character, is never patronised which could be so easy in a book like this when you give voice to a ten year old.

‘Forgetting Zoe’ is very different from the stories of its ilk which I have read in the last couple of years. It’s darker and grittier, and yet strangely never gets bogged down in this despite how much awful stuff happens over the pages to both Zoe and those affected by her sudden and random vanishing. What Robinson does, which I think is all the more uncomfortable and poignant, with his third novel is give voice not just to the captured, but also to the captor and the captives relations.

Big thanks to ‘Fiction Uncovered’ for highlighting this book. It’s not an ‘easy-read’ by any stretch of the imagination, but it’s an incredible one, and one I will probably be babbling on about to anyone and everyone who will give a disturbing read a chance. I feel like I have been missing a trick missing Ray Robinson’s writing until now, I may have to read some more of his work.

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Filed under Ray Robinson, Review, William Heinemann Books