What I read this week (5-12 August)

Books! Books! Books! I need to get out more….

The Two, by Will Carver

‘I’ve come to know my mother a lot better over the past year, since she’s been dead’.

The TwoWith an opening worthy of Camus, The Two sweeps us back into the world of Detective January David, who is back on the trail of another ritualistic killer – or is it two? This time nothing is what it seems as a series of murders take place round London, each involving Wiccan symbolism and coinciding with major pagan feasts. Can January use his visionary dreams to find the killers, before it’s too late?

What’s right with it?

Fans of Girl 4 will recognise the trademark style that breathes fresh life into the crime novel – shifting viewpoint rapidly between short chapters and sentences, the suggestion of the supernatural combined with familiar London landmarks, and the intensely personal pull that links January to the crimes. If you liked that, you will love The Two, which takes us into even darker territory, unpicking the entire narrative arc of the crime plot and turning it on its head, to devastating effect.

What’s wrong with it?

I’d have liked to find out a bit more about the story from the first book – what happened to January’s wife, and his long-missing sister – but perhaps we’ll learn more in book three. The elliptical curve of the narrative makes it a challenging read at times, but I found this a hugely clever way to imprint the novel’s themes in its actual fabric.

What I learned

You can play with voice, point of view, and structure, to twist the traditional crime narrative into something very dark indeed.

Black Flowers, by Steve Mosby

Black FlowersA young university worker writes a short story in which a pregnant woman is kidnapped – only to find the events coming true in his own life when his girlfriend vanishes. His father, a writer, has also been found dead, and both events seem linked to a crime novel published years before, called The Black Flower. It told the story of a young girl who appeared one day on a street in a seafront town, telling a disturbing tale of her murderous father and the people he’s ‘planted’ in the soil on their farm. As the young man delves into the story, he finds that the line between fiction and fact is very blurred indeed.

What’s right with it

I was so impressed by this book. It wraps a gripping story around difficult questions on the nature of writing and reading about horrors, and it maintains three or four major narrative strands without ever losing track of them. There are some startling twists along the way, and an ingenious intertextuality pervades. The author is also highly skilled at getting us to care about his characters, even after we’ve known them for a very short space of time. I also got a big personal kick out of the fictional crime writers all meeting up at a fictional crime festival – close to the bone, that one.

What’s wrong with it

There’s an incredible amount packed into a relatively short space here, with the book standing at just 324 pages. A trademark of Steve Mosby’s work is the genuine empathy with the characters and the horror they’re experiencing but, I felt he could have gotten away with more details about the disturbing farm at the end, and I did wonder what happened to some of the other characters mentioned. However in a book that asks what we’d do if the horrors we imagine actually happened to us, perhaps it’s part of his skill to make us consider our response to such things.

What I learned

I don’t want to think too closely about why the things I write are so dark.

The End of Everything, by Megan Abbott

The End of EverythingThe teenage narrator and her best friend are inseparable, ‘body close’ – until the friend goes missing. Has she been taken by the older man who watched her in her bedroom window? And what does her glamorous older sister know about it?

What’s right with it

It’s a beautiful and harrowing evocation of teenage summers, so realistic you can smell the suncream and bubble gum. The story is gripping and just when you think you know what’s going on, everything is turned inside out. I raced through it, riveted by the voice and beauty of the prose as much as by the plot. The End of Everything is stunning, knifing you on every page with desire and loss. Read it. It’s still only 99p on Kindle.

What’s wrong with it

Occasionally I felt the voice, so authentically teenage in most places, slipped and jarred with a too-adult vocabulary or perceptiveness. In such a shimmering sliding narrative, I would also on balance have preferred not to find out what had been going on all along – I didn’t expect to, and it would have been audacious, but I think she could have pulled it off.

What I learned

I’m actually considering re-writing an old book of mine having read this and seen what you can do with a teenage narrator.

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