Category Archives: Sophie Hannah

The Visitors Book and Other Ghost Stories – Sophie Hannah

There are three types of stories that I love in the autumn and winter months; gothic tales, Victorian sensations and ghost stories. It is the perfect time for all three in my opinion. I especially love a short sharp ghost story to unsettle me just before bed (I am not a believer that ghost stories are just for Halloween) which is possibly a bit weird. Sophie Hannah’s new collection The Visitors Book and Other Ghost Stories is the perfect fodder as I discovered when I read a story a night a few weeks ago.

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Sort Of Books, 2015, hardback, ghost stories, 96 pages, bought by myself for myself

In her (brilliant) crime novels Sophie Hannah usually sets out to find a seemingly impossible crime and, after covering up her tracks cleverly, making it all too plausible by the end of it. In this collection of four ghostly tales she uses that deft touch to make the everyday and the ordinary unsettling and rather chilling. This might mean that these tales won’t have you jumping out of your seat screaming in fear (but not many ghost stories do it is not their intention) instead each story disturbed me, and stayed with me, because it was in many ways conceivable and because of the atmosphere and twist in each tale. How to explain this without giving each of the endings or twists away is going to be bothersome in a whole different way.

 In the title story, and indeed the opener, The Visitors Book a woman goes to her boyfriends house for the first time where upon he becomes insistent that she sign the visitors book that he has in the hall, the more she refuses the more intense he gets. In The Last Boy To Leave a woman holds a party for her child only to discover that afterwards one of the children, who she hadn’t really noticed, hasn’t been picked up by his parents. All the Dead Mothers of My Daughter’s Friends sees motherly competition at the school gates take on a whole other meaning and in Justified True Belief someone has started seeing ghosts in the street, the question is why?

The second thing I notice about the woman waiting to cross the road is that the roots of her teeth are visible and blackened where they meet the gum. I see them clearly as she talks; dark flashes in her pink mouth. She hasn’t noticed that the green man is illuminated. Her friend has, but doesn’t want to interrupt. Both are smartly dressed, with laminated name badges on strings around their necks. I can’t read their names. The friend, the listener, is considerably more attractive. How could she not be, when the speaking woman is a ghost?
Which was the first thing I noticed about her.

What I loved about this collection, and what I think makes all great ghostly tales a perfect thrill, is that in none of the four did I even guess the way that it was going. Somehow in a condensed space of words Sophie Hannah manages to take you in one direction before pulling you down a dark alley you hadn’t even noticed ahead of you, it was just out the corner of your eye right in your blind spot. This is as deeply satisfying, entertaining and thrilling as it is in her crime fiction.

Last night I dreamed I went to Manderley again…
Manderley, in the novel, is a vast country estate. Would Rebecca have become a classic if Maxim De Winter had lived in a two-bedroomed terrace in in Walthamstow? No, it would not. Mrs Danvers would have had to sleep in the second bedroom. A stone’s throw from the first; she’d have heard her boss and his new wife having sex through the partition wall.

I used the above quote for two reasons, well three as naturally if any book mentions Daphne Du Maurier’s Rebecca it needs to be acknowledged and gives me the chance to remind you that if you haven’t read it then you really should. Anyway, where was I? Yes, the quote… What I thought this highlights is twofold. Firstly, it shows both Hannah’s wonderful sense of humour which I like, sprinkled with a hint of sauce, and Hannah’s nod to the gothic greats. Secondly, I think Du Maurier could make a classic tale set in a two bedroomed semi detached in Walthamstow  if she had been given a chance, and Sophie Hannah certainly could as she makes the domestic and the ‘normal’ somehow very other, it is the strength of the whole collection.

If you are after a thrill and chill or two then I would highly recommend The Visitors Book and Other Stories, it is a slight and solid spooky selection that I think would be a wonderful addition to your autumn or winter reading – or even better as an extra gift in someone’s stocking for a festive fright or two.

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Filed under Ghost Stories, Review, Sophie Hannah, Sort of Books

It’s World Book Day; Celebrate With A Quick Read (Or A Long One…)

It is World Book Day, hooray! A day devoted to celebrating the love of books around the world. It is all too easy to forget though, especially in the bubble of the book blogosphere, that not everyone out in that there big wide world has the ability, time, money or simply the inclination/desire to read books. Some people may even be wary of the world of books or find reading difficult.

As I have mentioned many a time on this blog, I myself was a great reader as a child but my late teens and early twenties were a barren time for books. I had been put off by the endless re-reading and re-reading of school texts which had to be analysed to the umpteenth degree. I felt that books were more for academics than for enjoyment. Oh and I was more interested in getting drunk on alcho-pops and dancing to Britney in my early twenties and so was lost in a bookish wilderness. I had become alienated from the wonderful world that books can provide for us all and in actual fact, hold on to your hats, thought that books were for the pretentious and elite. Now I know different, obviously, all it too was the recommendation of the right book to try (in my case The Body in the Library by Agatha Christie) and I was off…

Sometimes all it takes is that quick recommendation, loaning of a book or pointing in the direction of a library that can create the spark needed to fire a love of reading. Or of course re-reading. Quick Reads is an initiative which aims to do the same and selects several titles by well-known authors that are short, sharp reads aimed to attract those who think books and reading might not be for them and get them hooked. They are designed to encourage those who have been put off reading or are late to reading to ‘give a book a whirl’ and who knows they might become a book addict? Great stuff!

Yet they are also perfect, as I discovered when reading three of them after this year’s titles were announced, for an avid reader who might fancy trying out an author you have meant to read for a while, or just getting time to read something short and sharp whilst on your commute or having a nice cup of tea in your favourite book nook. Here are my thoughts on three of them…

Dead Man Talking – Roddy Doyle

Vintage Books, paperback, 2015, fiction, 98 pages, kindly sent by Quick Reads

Pat had been best friends with Joe Murphy since they were kids. But five years ago they had a fight. A big one, and they haven’t spoken since — till the day before Joe’s funeral.

What? On the day before his funeral Joe would be dead, wouldn’t he?

Yes, he would…

This was my first foray into the work of Roddy Doyle (despite my mothers best efforts, unless you count having watched The Commitments film at a young age and spending hours singing the soundtrack in the car) and I was not sure what to expect but I enjoyed it very much. Regular readers will know that I quite like ghostly tales and stories that are quite quirky and this is both.

There is a wonderful surreal element to this story without it ever veering too far off into magical realism which some new and avid readers might find off putting, it almost has a ‘fairytale for adults’ feel whilst as it goes on and takes stranger and stranger twists reminded me somewhat of a Roald Dahl sinister short story and a Hitchcock movie. What I thought Roddy Doyle did wonderfully was give the book an underlying message of grief, regret and mortality yet never making it overtly melancholy. All in all an interesting and thought provoking twisting tale, I need to read a novel of his now don’t I? Where would you recommend I start?

Out of the Dark – Adele Geras

Quercus Books, paperback, 2015, fiction, 101 pages, kindly sent by Quick Reads

Rob Stone comes back from the horrors of the First World War with a ruined face and a broken heart. Lonely, unable to forget the things he has seen, and haunted by the ghost of his dead captain, all that Rob has left is a picture of the captain’s family. Rob sets out to find them, hoping that by giving them the picture, he can bring peace to the captain’s ghost – and to his own troubled heart.

Another author that I have been meaning to read for ages (another which my mother has also raved about reading her young adult novels with her studenst) and another quick reads with a ghost in it this year.

I am normally not the greatest fan of wartime novels, I think the subject has been overdone, yet I really, really loved this story. In a very short space of time Adele Geras makes you sympathise and empathise with our main character and the affects that war has had on him both physically and mentally. The tale of Rob’s heartbreak after his fiancé backs out of the marriage was one which I found both heart-breaking and also, for me, added a side to the war that I have never seen depicted in another piece of writing about the time. In fact I think that was one of the things that I liked so much about Out of the Dark was that it really put me in the head of a young man who had been to war far more than anything else I have read has done. More food for thought, and another author that I shall return to.

Pictures Or It Didn’t Happen – Sophie Hannah

Hodder & Stoughton, paperback, 2015, fiction, 117 pages, kindly sent by Quick Reads

After Chloe and her daughter Freya are rescued from disaster by a man who seems too good to be true, Chloe decides she must find him again to thank him. But instead of meeting her knight in shining armour, she comes across a woman called Nadine Caspian who warns her to stay well away from him. The man is dangerous, Nadine claims, and a compulsive liar. Alarmed, Chloe asks her what she means, but Nadine will say no more. Chloe knows that the sensible choice would be to walk away – after all, she doesn’t know anything about this man. But she is too curious. What could Nadine have meant? And can Chloe find out the truth without putting herself and her daughter in danger?

Regulars to Savidge Reads will know that I am a big fan of Sophie both as an author or some corking thrillers, and a wonderful collection of short stories (which were recommended to me by a friend and got me into her work – see it’s all about the recommendations) of which you can find out more here. Shockingly though, and despite having them all, I have not read one of her books since 2011!?!? Where has the time gone?

Pictures Or It Didn’t Happen is, as you might expect, like the perfect condensed versions of one of her Simon Waterhouse and Charlie Zailer thrillers, and indeed they turn up in this one. From the off you are constantly question who is telling the truth and who is doing some serious lying and manipulating, the guessing only gets greater as Sophie throws in some twists, turns and potential red herrings. If you love this then go and get your hands on Little Face which is the first in the series, I need to grab Lasting Damage just as soon as I have finished the Fiction Uncovered reading, promise!

This isn’t the whole collection of books either, I still have three more to dip into in due course – which I will be eating with more of the Galaxy chocolates these arrived with – but hopefully gives you some insight into the diversity of the books which Quick Reads produce (and they have a whole backlist you can go through, here are some more I’ve read) and how easy they are to get into and just taking you away. As I said, perfect reads for any reader be you avid or just wanting to give books and reading a try. And all for just £1 or to be found in your local library, what could be better? (Though if you’re reading something longer that’s good too, I will be spending some of the evening with Maya Angelou, you?) Happy World Book Day all!

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Filed under Adele Geras, Quick Reads, Roddy Doyle, Sophie Hannah

A Room Swept White – Sophie Hannah

I have to say that I think this year above any other, well that I can think of, is the year where my taste buds for crime novels has been, erm, criminal. I can’t get enough! I have experimented with some new authors, and had some great successes, but the last few months (maybe because I was feeling a bit ropey) have seen me turn to my favourite series of crime novels and devour the next instalment. The first of these was ‘A Room Swept White’ which is the fifth in what, unofficially or officially I am not sure, have become the ‘Simon Waterhouse and Charlie Zailer’ novels.

I did feel a slight trepidation before I started reading ‘A Room Swept White’. I have liked every book in Sophie Hannah’s ‘psychological suspense novels’ though the last one didn’t quite set me alight as I wanted. I had also done that very foolish thing of going and looking up some of the reviews by people, on a certain website, who had already read it which weren’t particularly favourable. I however thought this book, though I will admit not my favourite of the lot, was a really good thriller that had me guessing until the very end. I was left wondering if people had read a different book which had this cover on the front.

Fliss Benson is shocked when she learns that her boss has decided to give her his job when he decides to leave. What shocks her more is the fact that he has left her to carry on making the film he has been passionate for years. It’s the story of Helen Yardley, Sarah Jaggard and Rachel Hines, three women who were wrongly accused of killing their own children all with the same child protection zealot Dr Judith Duffy who was accusing them but is now herself facing an investigation for apparent misconduct. Not only is this a high profile film with a hard subject matter, its one that Fliss has been trying to avoid due to a secret lying in her very own past. This all gets much more complicated when someone kills Helen Yardley leaving a card with sixteen numbers on it, the very same numbers and in the same formation that someone has just sent to Fliss too.

I thought the premise of ‘A Room Swept White’ was incredibly strong, the whole sixteen numbers on a card had me very intrigued as did the idea of this evil Dr Judith Duffy. I was also looking forward to seeing what was doing on with the dynamics of the relationship between Zailer and Waterhouse. Weird then that I would say that these three things were not what kept me reading the book. In fact the sixteen digits only got the occasional mention and, without giving too much away, didn’t have that much relevance (for me at least) when everything was uncovered, nor really did Dr Judith Duffy. Zailer and Waterhouse were also in the book a lot less than they normally are, which I think makes this the most standalone in the series after ‘Little Face’ which is where it all starts. You would think then after all that I would be about to give the book a stinking review, no, not at all. Other things kept me reading instead.

One of the things that kept me reading was the main subject matter of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome. I wasn’t sure how I was going to react to this. I found it, whilst horrifying, quite fascinating to read. Not the deaths themselves, more how people are so quick to point the finger at the mothers, not the fathers so much it seemed, after a baby has died. There is the witch hunt element of it all too. I also liked the way Sophie Hannah weaved in different mediums of writing. There was the first person narrative of Fliss, the third person narrative of the police investigation, newspaper articles, interviews, and even snippets from a biography of one of the mothers (this made me think of the recent McCann book) it was a lot of information to take in but seemed to drive the story forward. Oh and there was the mystery element too which kept you reading on, especially after the very unexpected second murder which I will say no more about.

‘A Room Swept White’ could have been a let down for me if I was only reading the book because I had been hooked in by the blurb. However, as I was reading this as a fan of Sophie Hannah’s previous novels and because I like a good crime – it worked for me overall because even though it didn’t deliver where I was expecting, it delivered in lots of other ways. Oh, apart from the last chapter which left you wondering (which I liked) and then tied up a few (rather saccharine) loose ends that I could have done without, that’s a small quibble though. I would agree with some other reviews that it’s not quite the crime that you’ll be expecting by what you are sold but that’s the marketing departments fault not the authors. What Sophie Hannah again delivers is a smart modern psychological (and the baddie is bonkers in this one) crime that touches on a very current subject, I enjoyed it and its still one of my favourite series going. 7.5/10

This book was kindly sent to me at the request of the author.

Who else has been reading this series? Which has been your favourite so far? Has anyone read the latest one ‘Lasting Damage’ and, without giving anything away, what did you think? It was strange looking back at my previous reviews of some of this series… what happened to ‘Savidge suggests some perfect prose partners’ do you think I should bring that back again?

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Filed under Hodder & Stoughton, Review, Sophie Hannah

Savidge Reads Grills… Sophie Hannah

Sometimes you just have to be a little bit cheeky and when I emailed some of my favourite authors about books they would recommend for the summer I then cheekily followed it up with ‘you wouldn’t want to do a Savidge Reads Grills too would you?’ One of the authors who instantly said ‘yes’ was Sophie Hannah who has become a favourite with me ever since Polly of Novel Insights told me I simply had to read the short story collection ‘The Fantastic Book of Everybody’s Secrets’ (when I was a bit vaguer in my reviewing) and then I moved onto her rather addictive crime series, the latest of which ‘A Room Swept White’ comes out in paperback today, what a pleasant coincidence…

For those people who haven’t read any of your series (we can call it a series, can’t we?) of crime novels as yet, can you try and explain them in a single sentence?
They are psychological suspense novels with a police procedural element.  That was the single sentence; now here are some more sentences, because I’m a rebel and hate doing what I’m told: the mysteries in my novels tend to be ‘high-concept’, because I love impossible-seeming scenarios which are then made possible.  I might also describe them as emotional-psychological mysteries.  The mystery element is crucial to me – as a reader of crime fiction, the main thing I want is to be desperate to turn the pages and find out what’s going on, and so that’s the feeling I try to create in my books.  I have heard some crime writers say that their main aim is to make a political point or discuss social issues, or dissect contemporary Britain/America/Belgium (er, actually, no one says it about Belgium) in their crime novels, but I am all about story.  A great novel can manage without a politically relevant theme, but it can’t manage without a fantastic plot and complex, interesting, problematic characters (though it often thinks it can and it sometimes wins the Booker Prize for thinking so!)

They are all very different.  How does each book come about?  Where are the ideas born? 
Firstly, I’m so glad you think my books are all very different!  One of the challenges of writing a series – and, yes, they are a series, even though they are also standalones, because I like to have my cake and eat it! – is to make each book sufficiently different to the others so that readers don’t get bored, at the same time as making them similar enough to reassure readers that they are still in the same imaginative world. 

For example, Ruth Rendell can move from London to Kings Markham and back again in her fiction, and that’s interesting and creates a healthy sense of variety within her oeuvre, but if she suddenly wrote a novel set in Nashville in which all the protagonists were Stetson-wearing country and western singers, I might (as one of her avid readers) feel rather alarmed! 

To answer your question (ahem!), the ideas almost all come from my own life and (extensive) suffering.  So, I once nearly mixed up my baby with another baby (Little Face), once had a very problematic relationship with my mother-in-law (Little Face), many times have fallen in love with poisonous narcissistic tossers (Hurting Distance), have been a stressed and bitter mother of small children, wondering who invented the strange form of torture known as parenthood (The Point of Rescue), have been and still am obsessed with art and doomed love (The Other Half Lives).  In fact, the only one of my books that was not inspired by my own life was the latest one, A Room Swept White – that’s about controversial cot-death murder cases, and was inspired by true stories such as those of Sally Clark, Angela Cannings, Trupti Patel and others.  Though even in that book, there’s an autobiographical element – although, since the book is so new, I’m still at the stage of pretending the autobiographical bits are fiction! 

Do you find it hard thinking of the impossible and then making it possible?
Yes, I find it very hard – but that’s the challenge.  And you’ve neatly summarised my mission statement as a writer – well, almost.  It’s not so much about finding the impossible and making it possible, it’s about demonstrating, via gripping stories, that what most people believe is impossible is actually possible.  In our lives, we often say, ‘But that’s impossible’, or ‘I just can’t believe it’ – but once you know the full story, suddenly it’s a lot more believable.  I have a plausibility test that I use for all my plots, which is, ‘Could this story happen once?’  If the answer is yes, then the story is plausible, in my view.  Whereas I think, for a lot of people, plausible means, ‘Does this happen regularly and have I been told about endless instances of it by Huw Edwards on the BBC news?’

Do you mind your books being labelled crime, as they are more than that really, aren’t they? The fit into the Kate Atkinson and Susan Hill world of literary crime…
I certainly don’t mind my novels being labelled as crime – it’s a label I’m proud to wear.  As a reader, I like being able to head straight for the crime section of a bookshop, knowing I will find books there that contain mysteries.  I know a lot of writers protest about being labelled, but it’s useful for people buying the books if they are divided into categories.  ‘Crime Fiction’ is a category that contains, as you say, writers like Kate Atkinson, Susan Hill, Barbara Vine, Karin Alvtegen, all of whom are great writers.  I’m slightly uncomfortable with the idea of anyone’s crime novels being ‘more than’ crime fiction, because that suggests there’s a limit to what a crime novel can be, and I don’t believe there is.  Look at Iris Murdoch’s ‘The Black Prince’ – undoubtedly a crime novel, and also one of the best novels ever written, full of depth and substance and ideas.  I like to think that my novels are novels as well as crime novels – just as a Calzone is an Italian meal as well as a pizza.

Your novels are becoming a TV series – how much involvement are you having with it? Was it hard to say yes, because it’s something you created? Who would be your dream cast?
I’m hardly involved at all – I’ve had the odd lunch and phone call with the TV people, and they send me updates, but I’m definitely at one remove.  I feel rather like a parent of a child at boarding school, and Hat Trick and ITV1 are the house master and…  Hm, this metaphor’s getting too complicated.  It wasn’t hard to say yes – I love the idea of the books being adapted for telly.  The telly versions will be very different, but that’s fine, because the books will still exist.  My dream cast?  Well, the cast is being assembled at this very moment, so I know almost definitely who is going to play Charlie Zailer for example (can’t say, I’m afraid, in case it falls through!).  My dream cast will be the actual cast, once I know who they are.  I will be so chuffed that they are willing to play my characters – it’d be outrageous of me to prefer anyone else to them.

Are you working on any poetry at the moment? Have you always wanted to write both fiction and poetry or does one have a particular place in your heart over the other?
I am writing the occasional poem at the moment, but mainly I’m concentrating my energies on my crime fiction.  This isn’t as unfair as it sounds – I have written hundreds of poems, if not thousands, and only six crime novels so far, so I think a little bit of positive discrimination is in order!

Do you think that having two rather literary parents has anything to do with you becoming a writer either by genetics or the environment you grew up in?
Genetics – I doubt it.  Environment?  Yes, definitely.  Everyone in my family was and is obsessed with books.  I was a writer waiting to happen.

When did you first know that you wanted to be a writer? Was it an easy thing for you to do?
I was never aware of wanting to be a professional writer – writing was simply my hobby, what I did when I was supposed to be doing school work, college work, university work and then, later, secretarial work.  I never had the chance to want to write, because I was always writing.  Then, at a certain point, people started to suggest to me that I should send stuff off to publishers, and I did – and it was great when my work started to reach an audience, but I don’t remember ever thinking, ‘I’d like to be a writer.’  It sort of happened organically.  I always assumed I would never make any money from writing, and that was fine – and then, when I started to earn my living as a writer, that was even better.  But I will always write, whether people pay me to do so or not – I’m obsessed with writing.

How long have you been writing for? Which books and authors inspired you to write?       
I think I wrote my first poem when I was six.  It began, ‘However young, however old/a bear will never catch a cold’.  My free-verse-loving detractors might argue that my style hasn’t evolved much since then!  Many, many authors have inspired and continue to inspire me: Enid Blyton, Agatha Christie, Daphne DuMaurier, Iris Murdoch, Ruth Rendell/Barbara Vine, Karin Alvtegen, Jill McGown, Wendy Cope, Edna St Vincent Millay, George Herbert, Robert Frost, E.E Cummings, CH Sisson, Douglas Kennedy, Diane Setterfield, Robert Goddard, Jesse Kellerman, Nicci French…  Oh, and my favourite newish writer: Tana French, who is absolutely brilliant.  I would advise anyone who cares about fiction and crime fiction to read her latest, ‘Faithful Place’.

Are there any books you wish you had written yourself?
No – because I’d rather read my favourite books, in awe of the writers, than have written them myself and be unable to see them clearly and appreciate them.  One’s own books are always viewed through a veil of neurosis!

Which contemporary authors do you rate who are writing right now?
Everyone on the above list who isn’t dead, plus: Jane Hill, Sophie Kinsella, Tim Parks, Geoff Dyer, M R Hall – there are so many!

Describe your typical writing routine, do you have any writers quirks or any writing rituals?
I write between 11 am and 7 pm, with an hour’s break for lunch – weekdays only, unless there’s a deadline emergency!  Since giving up smoking, I have taken to chewing a needle while I write.  It’s a mental thing to do, but it’s non-carcinogenic.

How relevant do you think book blogging is to the publishing industry? Do you ever pop and see what people have thought of your books or is it something you avoid at all costs?
You’re asking the wrong person!  I regularly complain that I can’t put a video tape into a machine any more and record TV programmes, and when people start talking to me about SkyPlus I nod and smile, but have no clue what they’re talking about.  I’m not against new digital thingies, but I’m too busy to find out what they are or take part in them – so I’m stuck with the technology that existed before I became too busy.  But I do sometimes read blogs, especially yours, because you say nice things about my books.  I also find time to surf property websites, I’m a Phil and Kirstie addict…

What is next for Sophie Hannah?
Funnily enough, my next thriller (out next Feb) has a property website theme.  It’s called ‘Lasting Damage’.  Here’s the blurb: It’s 1.15 a.m. Connie Bowskill should be asleep. Instead, she’s logging on to a property website in search of a particular house: 11 Bentley Grove, Cambridge. She knows it’s for sale; she saw the estate agent’s board in the front garden less than six hours ago.

Soon Connie is clicking on the ‘Virtual Tour’ button, keen to see the inside of 11 Bentley Grove and put her mind at rest once and for all. She finds herself looking at a scene from a nightmare: in the living room there’s a woman lying face down in a huge pool of blood. In shock, Connie wakes her husband Kit. But when Kit sits down at the computer to take a look, he sees no dead body, only a pristine beige carpet in a perfectly ordinary room…

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Filed under Savidge Reads Grills..., Sophie Hannah

The Other Half Lives – Sophie Hannah

I have been in a real mood for crime fiction in the last few weeks, be it cosy or thrilling it seems to be the only thing (apart from submissions for a certain award) that is appealing to my reading tastes. Normally I tend to want this sort of fiction in the autumn and winter, I wonder why it’s changed this summer?  One of my favourite crime authors is Sophie Hannah and her fourth novel ‘The Other Half Lives’ is her longest, so what could be better to get lost in for several hours when I needed another crime fix?

Sophie Hannah has become known for writing crime fillers that make the impossible become possible, ‘The Other Half Lives’ is yet another novel that instantly you think ‘how can that be?’ and are slowly and grippingly explained ‘just like this’. Ruth Bassey’s boyfriend has confessed to her that he has killed a woman. Ruth is naturally shocked and devastated until Aidan tells her the woman’s name, Mary Trelease, hearing the name Ruth feels instant relief because she has met Marty Trelease, be it under rather fraught circumstances, recently and knows that she is alive and well. Yet Aidan is adamant that he killed a Mary Trelease living at the same address and with the same name, and will not hear otherwise. So Ruth visits the police, and one police member in particular, Charlie Zailer who with her fiancé Simon (who have been the police in the previous books) start to try and work out just what is going on. They are as puzzled as the person reading the book at this point.

As the book continues Ruth, Mary and Aidan’s pasts all begin to look more and more shaky and the more we read in the more they intertwine due to their involvement in the art industry. They even start to involve the very police who are investigating the whole ‘non crime’. This small point was a slight issue for me as I thought ‘why after checking that a crime hadn’t happened would you carry on investigating’ but Charlie and Simon both clearly have gut feelings about this all and as the book goes on you can see they were right.

I do read reviews once I have finished a book and I was surprised how this has been received. I have seen comments of ‘overly long’, ‘dislikeable/one dimensional characters’ and ‘too complex’. Yes, the book is long but because its as complex as it is you can see why. You can’t interweave a plot like this in a short space of time (I bet someone will give me an example of a 100 page book that does now – ha) and one thing that Sophie Hannah does in making this book long is to drawn you in deeper and deeper so the pay off at the end is greater. I will admit the fact we kept seeing it from so many people’s viewpoints could be a little confusing and occasionally repetitive but I am not sure it would work so well without them.

As for the characters, yes they are one dimensional initially and remain so for a while in the book, but they need to be. We only get to learn additional snippets of their lives before we are introduced to them now and again throughout the first half of the book because we aren’t supposed to trust any of them, making the book more compelling (or irritating if you like your crime novels spelt out and predictable, in which case I wouldn’t recommend reading Hannah). Also as you realise there maybe more than one psycho in this tale, if we knew them inside out from the first two chapters of the book there would really be no story to tell, we would know it all from the off set, and where’s the fun in that?

A book that will: be ideal for people who like their crime novels unpredictable  and complex from the start which have you working really hard and even getting a little frustrated as you try and work it out, or who have already read the rest of the Sophie Hannah books leading up to this one. 7/10

Savidge suggests some perfect prose partners:

Little Face by Sophie Hannah – the first and possibly the most chilling of Sophie Hannah’s series so far, can you imagine looking into your child’s cot after your first morning away from it and seeing the child there is not your child, yet everyone else says it is?
The Vows of Silence by Susan Hill – Susan Hill brings not only the victims and people involved vividly to life, she also pulls in the life of her detective in each case Simon Serrailler, which Hannah does with Charlie and Simon in this series.
When Will There Be Good News by Kate Atkinson – If you like complex plots and coincidences then you HAVE to read the Kate Atkinson books featuring Jackson Brodie, this one for me is the best so far (I haven’t quite finished the new one though) but if you haven’t read them do start with ‘Case Histories’.

I am definitely looking forward to the fifth in Sophie Hannah’s series ‘A Room Swept White’ which I am yet to get my mitts on, and the sixth is out next year.  They are becoming firm favourites. You can find out more about her and the series tomorrow when she pops by for a coffee and a natter. Who out there has tried the Sophie Hannah series? Who has been meaning to? Which is your favourite crime series be it current or old?

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Filed under Hodder & Stoughton, Review, Sophie Hannah

Summer Read Suggestions… From Authors

Earlier in my ‘Summer Reads Week’ I asked for suggestions of favourite summer reads from publishers pasts and the ones they were looking forward to having a read of over the coming months. So I then thought what about authors? I have noticed in the past some papers and the like get some authors to tell us just what they will be reading over the summer, so I thought why not do the same with authors? Asking simply what makes the perfect summer read for you and which book is your favourite summery read? Which book are you most eager to read over the summer months and why?

Rather than go off and just get any author I could to answer these questions I decided to go for some authors who have produced some of my favourite reads over the last few years of me writing Savidge Reads. I was most chuffed that they all said yes…

Maria Barbal

It depends quite on the time to spend. If I have a complete month it’s a good moment to read a long novel but also for a second rereading or for reading the whole work of an author.

I have read one book by Herta Müller and I would like to read some more.  Specially Tot el Que Tinc ho duc al damunt  (Atemschaukel, English: Everything I Possess I Carry With Me), because she has a poetic and piercing style, and reaches the reader with her writing.

Neil Bartlett

A perfect summer read for me is one which is utterly engrossing, but which I can safely fall asleep while reading on the flagstones of my garden, and then pick up the thread of at once, once I awake. Two contrasting examples currently in my pile; The Leopard (Lampedusa- perfect, as it makes the Visconti movie replay in my head) and My Memories of Six Reigns by Her Highness Princess Marie Louise – a junkshop find, full of great pictures and bizarre bejewelled stories.

Which book for this summer ? Andrew Graham Dixon’s new Caravaggio biog, which I think will piss me off, as he’s very determined to de-queer the paintings, but he’s a serious historian, and Caravaggio is an artist whose works I hope to spend the rest of my life looking at.

Stella Duffy

I read really widely anyway, and have never really bought into the ‘some books are for the beach’ idea, BUT I do like the books I’m hungry to get through in one or two sittings when I happen to have an afternoon free (we don’t have much skill at actually going away on holiday in our house!). I’ve had splendid summers in my garden where, after working all morning, I’ve spent the afternoon speeding through a friend’s very fast-paced dark crime novel or another mate’s bonkbuster.

I remember a great summer week of working every morning and reading Val McDermid’s Mermaid’s Singing in the garden in the afternoons. It hardly sounds summery, but there was something about the contrast between the warmth and sunshine and the darkness of the book that I really enjoyed.

I have Anna Quindlen’s ‘Every Last One’ on my TBR pile and I’m definitely looking forward to that. Unusually I HAVE been swayed by the quotes on the cover – Anne Tyler, Elizabeth Jane Howard, and Alice Hoffman in praise? It has to be good! I also have some newly released Janet Frame short stories ‘The Daylight and The Dust’ which I’m definitely looking forward to, and I do think they will need a long, slow, quiet afternoon or two to really do them justice.

Tess Gerritsen

The perfect summer read… A book that takes me completely out of my own surroundings and transports me to a different one.  I especially love being plunged into a different time period, or even a different world.  An historical mystery by Arianna Franklin, for instance, would be an example of a perfect summer read.  Or a fantasy novel along the lines of Tolkien.

I have a copy of Justin Cronin’s The Passage.  I can’t wait to dive in. And I also have a copy of Manda Scott’s mammoth work Boudica, which I’ve been putting off until I have the time to do it justice.  I’m looking forward to them both so much!

Sophie Hannah

The perfect summer read, for me, is anything that pins me to my sun-lounger long after I would ordinarily have leaped into the swimming pool – a book worth getting sunstroke for. I have lots of favourite holiday reads dating back several years – the one that springs to mind is ‘The Memory Game’ by Nicci French, which I read on holiday in Florida in 1999. It remains one of the most sophisticated, intelligent, sensitive and gripping thrillers I’ve ever read.

On my holiday this year, I plan to read the new Scott Turow, ‘Innocent’, the sequel to ‘Presumed Innocent’, which I have no doubt will be as stylish and compelling as Turow always is, and ‘The Disappeared’ by MR Hall, a brilliant new crime writer whose series protagonist is a coroner.

Hillary Jordan

My perfect summer read is a beautifully written novel that grabs hold of me on page one, pulls me into another world and doesn’t let go till The End. I think my best ever summer read was Lord of the Rings.

This summer I was hoping to read The Lacuna but am racing to finish my own second novel, Red…so I suspect that’s the only book my nose will be buried in over the next few months!

Paul Magrs

There are several novels I associate with summer – and I’d be keen to reread them at some point during the holiday… R C Sherrif – The Fortnight in September, a suburban family between the wars goes to the seaside. Nothing happens – from everyone’s POV. A perfect novel! Haruki Murakami – The Wind Up Bird Chronicle, it’s long, episodic and puzzling. I read it in Paris last summer and loved it. Scarlett Thomas – The End of Mr Y. This is another holiday read that’s all mind-bendy and completely absorbing and perfect for sitting at cafe tables with strong coffee and fancy ice cream. Jacqueline Susann – The Love Machine. Perfect sleazy soap opera set in the world of 60s television. Jonathan Caroll – The Land of Laughs, a wonderful supernatural thriller about a writer of children’s books.

And, of course, as many unread or favourite Puffins, gobbled up alongside all of these. The papery fragrance of Puffins *is* what summer smells of, to me. Too many, no..?

Dan Rhodes

My reading habits aren’t particularly affected by the seasons, although I did once give up on Kafka’s The Castle while lying on the beach in Majorca. I just couldn’t feel the cold. At the moment I’m going through a cop novel phase. Two in particular I’ve found supremely original and well worth a look: Bad Traffic by Simon Lewis takes a Chinese detective and drops him in the English countryside, and Pocket Notebook by Mike Thomas follows a ‘roided-up firearms officer as his life and career unravel quite spectacularly. Most cop novels are by whey-faced writer types who would run a mile from a genuine crime scene, but Mike Thomas happens to be a serving police officer, which adds a frisson of authenticity to proceedings. Should that matter in fiction? Possibly not, but either way it’s a cracking read. I’m impatient for more from those two.

I’m going to plough through my short story shelf. There’s still plenty of stuff I haven’t read by William Trevor, VS Pritchett, Katherine Mansfield, Paul Bowles, etc, etc. And just when I think I must be nearing the end of Chekhov’s fiction I always seem to find a bunch of stories I’d never heard of. And while I’m on the subject of short stories, may I recommend Rhapsody by Dorothy Edwards? I’m always on about this book, but it’s criminally overlooked. It’s one of the best things ever to have happened on Earth.

Natasha Solomons

I remember my summers by the books I was reading. The summer of 2000 wasn’t island hopping through Greece with a slightly dodgy boyfriend and his dodgier moped, it was ‘A Thousand Years of Solitude’. The August I left school was ‘Moontiger’ and ‘A Town Like Alice’  — (which did cause me to develop a slight obsession with the sarong). During summer I want a book that transports me — I want the story to be more real than the British drizzle and to be so compelling that I’m flipping the bbq burgers in one hand and clutching my book in the other.

The books I love this year are Irene Sabatini’s ‘The Boy Next Door’, which has already won the Orange New Writer’s Prize — it’s the love story of a mixed race couple struggling amidst the growing chaos in Zimbabwe. I love these kinds of books: the small and personal set against the vast and cataclysmic. The other is Emma Henderson’s ‘Grace Williams Says it Loud’, which made me cry. The book is inspired by Emma’s own sister who lived for many years in a unit for disabled people. Yet, this is a sweeping love story narrated with such verve by Grace that you forget she is unable to speak. You’ll also fall in love with Daniel — he’s so dapper and debonair. I’ll also be re-reading Jane Austen’s ‘Emma’ for the seventieth time. No summer is complete without a little strawberry picking at Donwell Abbey.

Evie Wyld

I love a really massive book for a summer read, and preferably something a bit spooky or scary, like Murakami’s Wind up Bird Chronicles. That was perfect. But this summer I’m looking forward to The Slap by Christos Tsiolkas. I’ve heard amazing things about this book.

Other things I’m taking on holiday are Larry’s Party by Carol Shields and The Trout Opera by Matthew Condon. I love Carol Shields and I’ve been meaning to read this for ages, and I’ve just been given a copy of the Trout Opera by my partner. He says I’ll love it, and he should know. All Australians I’m afraid!

So there you have it, on Friday and Saturday it’s a two parter of books that some other bloggers (some still haven’t responded tut tut, ha) have suggested for your summer reading TBR’s. Back to today though, anything taken your fancy from the selection of titles above? I am most intrigued by some of them I have to say. Did any authors surprise you with what they could be reading over the summer?

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Filed under Dan Rhodes, Evie Wyld, Hillary Jordan, Maria Barbal, Natasha Solomons, Neil Bartlett, Paul Magrs, Sophie Hannah, Stella Duffy, Tess Gerritsen

The Point of Rescue – Sophie Hannah

I have been meaning to read the next in the Sophie Hannah for ages. ‘So why haven’t you?’ I hear you cry. Well when there is a series that I really love, or indeed an author, I find that though I want to race through the entire series/works I am aware that there are only a limited number of books left and I don’t want to run out.  Well I was out shopping a few weeks ago and saw that the latest Sophie Hannah was in the windows and so I knew I had more in store and so could get on with reading the third of her crime series ‘The Point of Rescue’.

Imagine you had a week’s escape from your life, a week where you escaped the world. You weren’t married with children but free with the world at your feet. Imagine you met someone who was in pretty much the same position and you had an affair that you both agreed no one else would ever know about. Now imagine you’re watching the news and that name from the past appears on the screen as their partner and child are dead under shocking circumstances, only the person you had met name appears on the screen but they aren’t the person you had the affair with.

That is the situation that Sophie Hannah puts us in through the eyes of Sally, a happily married woman who had a week of escaping her life and a short affair with Mark Bretherick only it isn’t the Mark Bretherick that she met despite the names of his wife and daughter being exactly the same. What’s even more ominous is how alike Sally is to the recently deceased Geraldine Bretherick. What ensues is a chilling, puzzling, gripping and as ever brilliant thriller that follows on from ‘Little Face’ and ‘Hurting Distance’ that looks at how parents cope with having children, or not in some cases.

I will say no more on the plot because I wouldn’t want to give away the smallest hint of what goes on as working it all out, or furiously trying to is all part of the fun of reading a book like this. I will say it leaves you once again in wonder at how an author can make the impossible both possible and plausible and once again with this Sophie Hannah is flawless.

I am sure any of you who have read the first two will be wondering what is going on with the two protagonist cops that have been part and parcel of these books, and really make it a series even though these books do stand alone quite happily. Well Charlie is still unsure how Simon feels about her and the two skirt around each other just as much as in previous books but there is a surprising twist in this book with their relationship even though the book is less about them and much more about Sally and the Brethericks and rightly so because it makes for utterly compelling reading. 7/10

I do love how Sophie Hannah creates an impossible situation and then breaks it down leaving enough titbits to make you think you are really clever and have the cause and culprit nailed down before then pulling the rug from under your feet completely. I only wonder where she can go next with these? I am looking forward to finding out, though with only two more ahead of me I shall have to continue pacing myself. If you haven’t read Sophie Hannah I find giving her a try most advisable.

Savidge suggests some perfect prose partners:
Little Face – Sophie Hannah (because its the beginning)
When Will There Be Good News? – Kate Atkinson

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Filed under Hodder & Stoughton, Review, Sophie Hannah