What I read this week (10-16 June)

Catch Your Death, by Mark Edwards/Louise Voss

Catch Your Death

I’ve read a few self-published crime novels recently, and been struck by how indistinguishable they are from many which get mainstream-published. It gives me to wonder how much dumb luck plays in who gets in and who’s out on the street with their lonely kebab, like some strange club with a mercurial bouncer. This book was formerly a self-pubbed success, since bought up and (I assume) edited, but I can’t see that it will have changed radically. These two can really write. I’ve also never read anything (knowingly) that was dual-authored, but the joins are entirely seamless. It works.

What’s right with it?

The pace is one of the strongest things about this book –it unspools effortlessly, slotting in backstory with no time for your interest to flag. That’s a hard thing to do, and very impressive. We’re quickly introduced to Kate, on the run with her young son from a loathsome ex-husband, and just as rapidly we’re plunged with her into the past, when she sees what appears to be her dead former boyfriend on the street. It’s (naturally) his identical twin, who turns out to be knee-tremblingly sexy (a side-move into erotica could beckon, as those scenes were very well done). Someone is after Kate, and it’s all linked to what happened years ago when she spent time in a viral research unit, and a devastating fire killed her boyfriend and destroyed her memory. She’s soon in a race against time across England, as the stakes get higher and higher – her son is in danger (he’s also well drawn, and not irritating like so many child characters in novels), and someone has plans to release a terrible threat on the world. As a heroine Kate is believable, likeable, and intelligent, and the novel’s skilled pacing makes it an enjoyable read.

What’s wrong with it?

Some of the supporting characters were perhaps not as believable or fleshed-out as they could have been, but the pace carries us past this.

What did I learn?

The skilled control of pace can really make a novel. And there are some gems to be found via self-publishing.

Do I know the author(s)? I know Mark and Louise online and (to a lesser extent) in real life (whatever that is)

Did I buy the book?  Yes

The Black Monastery, by Stav Sherez

The Black MonasteryTop crime writer Kitty is successful and beautiful (I hate her, and want to be her), but nursing a secret sadness. Wannabe writer Jason harbours an obsession with her, which draws him in her wake to the Greek island where she’s gone to escape. Nikos, the local police inspector, is coping with a string of brutal murders which seem linked to something very nasty that happened in 1974. Meanwhile on the island, the tourists drink and party in the harshly pure sunshine.

What’s right with it?

I also read this in two big enthralled gulps. The atmosphere and mood are so beautifully evoked that you can feel the sunshine and taste the coffee. I liked the sense of a hundred other stories leading off from the main action, every one of which we could have delved into further – we never quite learn why Jason and Kitty are both so damaged, and for me this works very well. The murders are shocking and gory enough to please the most hardened crime reader, and I also enjoyed the elements of cults, priests, ritual murders, and secrets from the past. I’m a sucker for an ambiguous ending, too.

What’s wrong with it?

At the start I was slightly confused by the time periods – two sets of recent murders, and also the events of 1974. I’d have loved to know so much more about the characters, followed them for longer, and even seen bits of Kitty’s (and then Jason’s) books. Every aspect begged to be explored further – cults? Yes please. Centipedes that appear from nowhere? Oh go on then. Evil priests? More please! Perhaps these extra elements were cut to make it more of crime novel, which (maybe) it doesn’t quite want to be.

What did I learn?

There’s no reason you can’t write a gripping crime novel that is also sad, ambiguous, and full of characters you wish you knew more.

Do I know the author? Yes, pretty well.

Did I buy the book? Yes. For £1.71, which is the most insane bargain EVER. Get it now before someone wises up.

The Light Between Oceans
The Light Between Oceans
A non-crime book for me, for a change. Tom, a survivor of WW1, keeps the lighthouse on a remote Australian island along with his wife, Isobel. One day after they have buried their third stillborn child, a boat washes up containing the dead body of a man, and a healthy baby girl. Tom is persuaded by his grieving wife to go against instinct and protocol and bring the child up as theirs. However, their isolated happiness comes at the expense of the baby’s mother, who is not only alive, but, it turns out, someone Tom and Isobel actually know.

What’s right with it?

The elements for a heart-breaking book are set up with the remorseless cut of knives. When the baby’s real mother is introduced to us, we know that, just as in the judgement of Solomon, the child can only go with one, and hearts will be broken either way. We entirely understand why Tom and Isobel kept the child, and feel the pain of Hannah, who gets back a toddler who doesn’t know her at all. This is one of the few books to have made me not only well up but actually sob proper, embarrassing tears at the end. Not so much for the emotional dilemma, but more for the quiet and enduring love of Tom for his wife, and how indestructible is their bond, despite everything. I liked the ending too – there being no way to please both, a truly happy one was always out of the question. And the title is beautiful.

What’s wrong with it?

I found it slightly hard to get into – maybe I read so much crime I’m spoiled for slower-moving books. I didn’t feel the historical setting added much, and the shadow of the war didn’t have as much resonance for me as it could have done. I found myself wondering how this would work as a story set in modern times, the themes being so universal. I also felt the final dilemma could have been given a few extra heart-rending twists. Though given how much I cried, maybe the reader had been put through enough by that point. I think for me it might have worked better to introduce the real mother before we find out she’s still alive, so that we could know her earlier and feel her pain. But that’s debatable.

What did I learn?

That there’s nothing as tear-jerking as a genuinely unsolvable moral dilemma, and an author with the courage to let this play out can wring sobs from the hardest of hearts.

Do I know the author? No, not at all.

Did I pay for the book? No, it was sent to me. It’s a beautifully produced hardback too, by the way.

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