I was bought Blackmoor for my birthday and even though I have a huge pile of books to read this one instantly sang out to me for several reasons; the cover has the feel of a dark brooding more, there is mystery involved and I was born in Derbyshire where it is set so I think though this book would always have been an instant read or a must have for me. Seeing Dovegreyreaders review of it clinched the deal I was actually going to treat myself to it until someone treated me first.
Oh hang on I should mention that I am fifty pages off finishing the novel but believe me I can still rave about it until the cows come home. If the ending is a dud then I will add an additional note, but somehow I don’t think that will be the case. Plus I don’t want to leave blogging any later as I like to try and have one out at the same time everyday. Unfortunately most of the day has been taken with a hospital visit and do you know what, I have discovered that I cannot read in a waiting room which was very annoying with so much time to kill waiting. It is also annoying considering this. Anyway enough about me and onto the book…
Blackmoor is set in a village of the same name in Derbyshire, where I was born, and tells two stories. The first is the story of Beth “an albino, half blind, and given to looking at the world out of the corner of her eye” and her sudden death in the village (that’s not giving anything away it’s in the blurb). Beth is a mystery to the villagers, she doesn’t act like everyone else and doesn’t try to fit in, the people of the village believe something dark emanates from her and naturally they all gossip. When things start to go wrong in the village of Blackmoor people slowly but surely start to blame Beth’s presence.
The second narrative through the book is the tale of Beth’s son Vincent a decade later. His mother died when he was very small and his father George left Blackmoor soon after with him. George doesn’t discuss Vincent’s mother or like to hear her mentioned, and in some ways treats his son like the reason for the past being so shut out. However when Vincent makes a new (and it seems his only) friend they start working on a school project all about Blackmoor and Vincent starts to learn all about his mothers life and her secrets.
What did surprise me was from the cover and the blurb I had imagined that this book was set in the late 1800’s one of my favourite era’s to read. However when I opened it up I found it is set in the 1990’s and 2003. I felt a bit disappointed for a moment until I started reading it and within about ten pages I was hooked. It’s a wonderfully written book and keeps you turning the pages partly from the mystery but also because of the tales of all the villagers in both Blackmoor and also Vincent’s new home town of Church Eaton as you read you know the characters so well, particularly the nosey busybodies. The setting in the 1990’s looks at the mining industry and its closure and how that affected the villages like Blackmoor (which of course is fictional) and its inhabitants. It’s quite a bleak and dark novel, if like me that is the sort of story you enjoy you will absolutely love this.
I think this is one of the most accomplished debut novels I have read in a long time, a dark twisting tale of prejudice, misunderstanding and misfortune. I have thoroughly enjoyed what I have read so far and in fact I found it hard to tear myself away from the climax that appears to be brewing long enough to write this. So really I must get back to it!
I actually finished this last week but it’s a book that you need to take a bit of a step away from to sort out all in your head. Partly because it’s quite complex (I admit I got a little confused once or twice) and also because there’s so much action in it you feel like you have lived it with the characters. Yes I can say that Rob Tom Smith’s The Secret Speech is just as thrilling as its predecessor Child 44, only in a completely different way. Now how do I review this without giving anything away from either of the books?
The Secret Speech is the second in what is now going to be the Leo Demidov Trilogy. The first Child 44 was all about a serial child murdered in the early 1950’s before Stalin’s regime comes to an end (that doesn’t give anything away does it). Now we meet the former MGB Agent Leo Demidov once more now as the head of his own special homicide department, the first that Russia has sanctioned. Oddly this homicide department doesn’t see much action in this book as it’s all about the time after Stalin’s rule and how Russia seems to turn on its head the police are now the criminals and that includes Leo. How will society react to the fact that all they saw Stalin implement is denounced in ‘The Secret Speech’ and will they seek revenge on their former rulers and tormentors?
Behind this is also a big family plot for Leo and his wife Raisa as they bring up two young girls they have adopted and who aren’t taking to Leo at all. How will Leo cope when one of his own daughters is used as the perfect weapon for revenge from an enemy of his past changed beyond recognition?
The Secret Speech isn’t quite the crime thriller that Child 44 was its still very good though. Instead this is a thriller of two very different plots, one is the political thriller and one is the personal family thriller and they work very well together and take Leo on quite the adventure through Siberia and Budapest. I did find some parts very confusing though partly because so much is happening very quickly and occasionally action seems to overcome explanation but this is very rare and sometimes I needed to re-read parts of the book. This is probably my own fault because in wanting to know what’s happening and finding it so addictive I was whizzing through the pages. If I had to compare them I would say Child 44 has the edge just because I love crime, however I did really enjoy the mix of personal drama and political thriller and still find the whole era in Russia’s history really interesting and cannot wait for the next one.
Oh and if you thought that the last one was gory and that this one not being about a serial killer it would be any easier you would be mistaken. There isn’t any cat killing in this one though, so cat lovers can sleep tight. My interview with Tom Rob Smith will be up the week after next (nearer the release of the book in just under three weeks) I can tell you he was quite lovely though.
I don’t know why I haven’t read Tom Rob Smith’s debut sooner as it’s a book I have been meaning to read for ages. Maybe I was worried that after all the brilliant reviews, and all the discussion on the Booker Nomination, that I might be left disappointed? It could also be the fact I had the hardback copy and they tend to be slightly put of when I am doing a lot of travelling, though I actually read this partly on a train journey. I think in all honesty I was slightly worried that I wouldn’t be able to grasp or be interested in Stalin’s Russia, boy oh boy was I wrong. I couldn’t stop turning the pages let alone put the book down.
Child 44 is set in the 1950’s Soviet Union. A child is found dead with what appears to be soil in his mouth and his family are sure that this is murder despite the boy’s body being found on the train tracks. Leo Demidov of the MGB is sent to cool things over and persuade the family that this is nothing more than a tragic accident, a job he does begrudgingly as he feels it is taking his time away from his more important work. However when Leo himself goes through some very changing circumstances and another body of a child with soil in its mouth is found he begins to realise that there may be a serial killer out there.
Behind what is a very intriguing, if gruesome and quite dark, storyline is also the tale of Russia in the few years leading up to Stalin’s death. Russia is a place plagued with paranoia where the innocent are guilty and bad can be innocent if they go about things the right (or technically wrong) way. I was shocked reading this novel at just how corrupt people where and just how many people were slaughtered needlessly and made guilty without any way of fighting to prove their innocence. Leo himself is one of the people who imposes the regime and believes in it, until the regime turns against him and those he loves. I know this is fiction but it is clear Tom Rob Smith has done his research meticulously as the setting was so well written I could feel the cold icy snowy air around me as I read the book, and no, I didn’t just have the windows open. It became all became very real to me and when I had finished the book I went off to do much more research on the era.
One thing I have to say is what a wonderful character I thought Leo was. I was determined not to like him in the first few chapters and especially after a torture scene. He is a man hardened to life who though he loves his wife and family is more loyal to his country than anything else or anyone else who gets in his way. You wouldn’t think that a character like that would become enjoyable to read. However soon enough I was on the breathless never ceasing adventurous journey with him. Adventure sums up this book pretty well too, and you can see where Tom Rob Smith’s own love for Arthur Conan Doyle comes in, it’s a page turner but not in an airport lounge shop sort of way if you know what I mean.
There is quite a lot of gore in the novel and a few very uncomfortable scenes but their needs to be for the story to work. I can’t say that a book about a child killer is an easy or enjoyable read as its not, but it’s an incredible read non the less. My only slight dislike was the speech in italics, I have never personally liked that though I found myself forgiving it and will undoubtedly do so in the next novel The Secret Speech which I am looking forward to enormously. I didn’t think that this was written like a film screenplay (though it is being made into a film) though if it had been it wouldn’t shock as that was what Tom Rob Smith did before he turned his hand to novel writing. I thought it was a sparse engrossing book that deserves all the awards its been put up for and more.
Now for some very EXCITING NEWS! I am going to be interviewing Tom tomorrow (at his house – what biscuits should I take?) and so I wondered if any of you have any questions for him? This is open to everyone whether you have read the book, heard about the book, or would just like to ask an author anything at all? If so leave your comments and I will see what I can do!
I have always love the Lucifer Box books and read the first two as soon as they came out in paperback. I was lucky enough to get my mitts on the latest Lucifer mystery and devoured it with the same delight as I have all the previous. There is always a worry with a series that the latest wont be as good as the last, however with Mark Gatiss as the series author I didn’t think I should worry and I was right not to. Now if you are new to the Lucifer novels then I should say they are based on a rogue bisexual secret agent. There have been two previous novels The Vesuvius Club and The Devil in Amber which have been set in different periods of British history, the latest set as the new Queen Elizabeth is crowned and Lucifer is getting old.
I have to say I didn’t think that a Lucifer Box novel would work with him as an aged and almost retiring member of M.I.5, I mean how much action and mystery could he get involved in, it would appear a lot. As the novel starts Lucifer is now in fact the head of Her Majesty’s Secret Service under the pseudonym Joshua Reynolds ready to say goodbye to the life of a spy, until he finds out that one of his colleagues has died suddenly, after witnessing another bizarre death Lucifer starts to hunt for the ‘Black Butterfly’ and embarks on a final adventure.
Mark Gatiss is of course famous for being a comic mastermind. He has also written Doctor Who so you know their will be comedy and action in equal measure. The book opens on a fabulous Bond-esque scene in an aquarium involving a damsel in distress and some piranhas which is quite a tense sequence and gives you a hint of the action to come. The comedy however is everywhere Lucifer is sarcastic and witty, you also get the feeling Gatiss is having a ball writing these with names such as Melissa ffawthawte and Kingdom Kum there are double entendres lurking everywhere. These names no matter how funny detract from the book and you getting totally involved they just add to your chuckles.
The only downside (bar the cover which I don’t like very much) is of course that for now at least, there maybe some new ones of the missing years of Lucifer one day, the Box series sadly seems to have come to a halt. I wanted this book to go on and on and so when I came to the final page I felt it had all been over far too quickly, the book is just over 200 pages and you will whiz through it. I seriously recommend this for fans of fun, mystery ad adventure you’ll have a complete hoot.
This is my second review for Simon & Schuster and after the excellent novel by Meg Abbott I was sent I wasn’t sure that a book on World War II would thrill me, in fact in truth part of me thought ‘oh no not another book about the war’ sometimes there just seems to be too many. I should learn though as The Book Their and The Boy in the Stripped Pyjamas are absolutely brilliant examples of great World War II books, but then the war is just another character in those novels.
In Chris Bohjalian’s ‘Skeletons at the Feast’ the war is a huge panoramic backdrop to the novel. This isn’t just a book where the war is going on but we don’t see much of it bar the odd bomb, here we have the full scale of the horrific events that World War II caused and through the characters we also see it from many different sides.
The main plot runs following 18 year old German Anna Emmerich as she, and her Scottish lover and prisoner of war Callum, take her mother and brother across Germany to get behind the American or British lines and to safety. Their tale is a harrowing one being separated from Anna’s elder brother and father as well as their home and belongings from the start. We also follow the story of Uri a Jew who has managed to escape a train to the concentration camps and is stealing the costumes and identity of dead German soldiers as he goes. There is also the tale of Cecile who isn’t as lucky and is stuck inside a concentration camp, from all these characters you get to see all the sides of the war.
However there is some liberal use of (what I call Philippa Gregory Complex) hindsight in this novel with parts of the story, such as Anna’s mother Mutti who starts the book as a complete Hitler lover becoming worried her country ‘will be forever remembered for all it did wrong in history’. Though I can understand why an author would want to use the power of hindsight in this case it felt a little forced. Having gotten that small little issue out of the way I have to say I really enjoyed the book, I wouldn’t have picked it up in the book shop but I certainly don’t regret reading it. Might be a good one for book groups?
Have you ever heard someone say “they don’t make noir crime novels like they used to anymore”? No I dont often either, but actually they do and I have to say the first Megan Abbott to get released in the UK is some of the best ‘noir’ I have read. I was sent this by the lovely people at Simon & Schuster to review as its not out right now but it will be soon and I think that everyone should pop this on their to read pile. Can I also at this point add… how fabulous is the cover, very glam.
In case you are wondering what noir crime fiction is here’s a lovely definition from Wikipedia “In this sub-genre, the protagonist is usually not a detective, but instead a victim, a suspect, or a perpetrator. He is someone tied directly to the crime, not an outsider called to solve or fix the situation.” Noir was also big from the 1930’s until the 1960’s and this book is set in the fantastic era of the 1950’s Hollywood glamour era, with some scenes featuring Doris Day in the background.
In this story the protagonist is Lora King, a school teacher who is quietly happily sailing through life with her brother until he meets and marries Alice Steele. Alice is a beautiful Hollywood wardrobe assistant, but for some reason Lora doesn’t trust her and even thought her brother (a junior investigator for the District Attorney) trusts her and misses Alice’s inconsistent tales of her past, Lora believes there is more to meet the eye. Lora decides to investigate her sister-in-law herself taking her into Hollywood’s underbelly a world of sex, murder, drugs and prostitution.
I absolutely loved this book and happily devoured it in two small sittings. I like a good crime and this had lashings of murder, mayhem and mystery. The other major thing, bar the era in which it’s set, that I loved was the characters. Lora starts of as a sweet teacher who is drifting merrily like a Doris Day character through life but as she uncovers more and more of Alice’s past an inner femme fetale is released inside herself which is an interesting tale along side the mystery. Alice is amazing, I loved the fact that she had this dark past that you felt she was still visiting every now and then but the rest of the time she was getting involved in charity gala’s and cake baking alluding to the perfect wife. A character that I particularly loved was Lois, a friend from Alice’s past, who is hapless and always almost lets something slip, and I loved her story. The men in the book take a slight back seat Bill is a besotted man who cannot see anything wrong with his wife, however Lora’s lover becomes quite a rogue love interest that you don’t quite trust with his hidden depths.
I would recommend this to anyone who loves great writing, noir fiction, crime or just a really good story. Yes this ticks all the boxes and hopefully Simon & Schuster will bring the rest of Megan Abbott’s novels over to the UK as soon as possible.
I am worried that I am having a serious problem choosing a good book so far this month. Mind you I am only seven days into March and actually this wasnt a bad book it just wasnt a very ‘me’ book. I need to work out what one of those is. I had decided to go for something different and maybe a ‘cult’ classic and Midnight Cowboy because it sounded quite different from what I would normally read, I have never seen the film, and I thought it might be a challenge. It was a challenge but one that I am glad I have undertaken. Why has no one on Amazon or Waterstones reviewed this book, a lot of people haven’t even heard of the book. I think it caused quite a lot of controversy and I could see why as some of the language and scenes are quite full on.
Joe Buck has an unhappy childhood and decides he wants to escape, so knowing he has quite a talent with the ladies decides to become a hustler. He moves from the countryside to the city where he feels that rich women will be more than happy to spend their endless cash for time with him. Its not the case and he quite often gets hustled. He falls in the with dodgy Ratso Rizzo who is a double dealing shady scoundrel, and things go from bad to worse.
It’s moving in parts and I think James Leo Herlihy is a great writer, it just wasn’t for me, I am glad I have given it a go though. It has made me want to read more of the modern American classics.