FITZMAURICE FINDS HER TRIBE AND A WHOLE SHOAL OF FANS IN THIS EMOTIONAL DEBUT

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I Fnd My Tribe CvrAccording to the lyrics to the 1981 John Denver song “Some Days Are Diamonds”, some days are diamonds, some days are stones, some days the hard times won’t leave me alone. But after reading this month’s book, whenever you think you’re having crap day, you’ll realize that your days are ten times better than those of this month’s author. Also, you’ll learn to find good things in even the darkest situations.

Statistics from the Royal College of Nursing Website (www.rcn.org.uk), claim that Motor Neurone disease(MND) affects any adult at any age, but it is most prevelant between the ages of 50-70. The illness affects 5,000 adults in the UK at any one time. On average six people a day die from MND in the UK. There are around 2200 sufferers in Ireland. According to the Irish MND Association (www.imnda.ie), there are approximately 350 people in Ireland living with it at any one time. In 2008, Irish filmmaker Simon Fitzmaurice, became one of them when he was diagnosed. This month’s second book is “I Found My Tribe by”  by his wife, Ruth Fitzmaurice and was published by Chatto & Windus (www.penguinrandomhouse.co.uk)  in 2017.

The book charts Ruth’s struggles in coming to terms with her film maker husband’s life changing illness. At the time of his diagnosis Simon was given just three years to live, two years later in 2010 he went in respiratory failure and was accidentally put on a respirator during an emergency procedure. Despite vehement medical advice Simon chose to remain on the respirator, thus altering not just his life but  the dynamics of his family’s lives . Through the books one hundred and ninety-seven pages, we follow their various moves around the country and across continents as they try to find any sort of treatment to help Simon regain a normal existence, from homeopathic medicine in the rural English countryside and to Australia, to experience the utter joys of living a care-free existence, if someone with MND can have a one. As well the everyday reality of ongoing hourly invasions of the family’s personal space by the army of ever changing live-in nursing staff who are on call 24-7 to help manage Simon’s needs.

At the centre is Ruth the stoic and embattled wife and mother, who must try to steady the ship and raise her ever growing family amidst this chaos. But even super heroes need a rock or at least a release from the daily struggle of soaking up everyone else’s woes. Finally Ruth finds solace and support in her “Tribe” the “Tragic Wives Swimming Club”, a group of women who have all experienced life changing events or personal tragedy and are drawn together to provide moral support while banishing their troubles by diving into the cold waters of the Irish sea and swimming off the beaches of Greystones in Co. Wicklow, on the East coast of Ireland. Following the advice of one of Simon’s carers, Ruth and the girls plan to re-energise their spirits by swimming naked in the reflection of a full moon. Can they finally bring themselves to do it? Especially when they discover that on the same night not a couple of hundred yards away, there is an open air cinema of on the beach, showing…. Yes, you guessed it, “Jaws”!!!

This book is primarily set three and a half miles from where I currently sit writing this review. So, I know Greystones very well, myself and my wife walk the dog around a large circular loop of the town on average, maybe twice a month. About three to four times a year we walk the 12km there and back along the cliff walk that link the towns of Bray and Greystones. I’ve also played badminton and socialised in there regularly, so I may have met or even seen Ruth and her “Tribe” taking a brave dip in the bracing waters around the beaches and coves in the town. I did find a connection with one of her stories, where she replays an encounter with a lone bagpiper serenading the women’s entry into the water. I had to laugh to myself as I and my wife have seen the same bagpiper practising on a secluded cove just outside the town. This was another part of the book that I loved, the challenge of trying to workout whereabouts exactly in the town the ladies were swimming. When she talked about the bagpiper, her previous descriptions of the cove all fell into place and I knew the location.

Ruth Fitzmaurice

Ruth Fitzmaurice (ThisArdee,ie)

Ruth comes across as a real earth mother, if I did meet her or had we ever passed each other in the street, she’d probably been dressed in tie – dye and natural fibres. Anyone who names their kids Arden, Raife and Hunter, are aiming for the hipster vibe. Let me clarify I have nothing against earth motherly types, my best friend is one. So myself and Ruth would probably hit it off quite well.

This book, was the surprise hit of last year and once you start reading it you will see why. It is emotionally charged and will leave the reader drained as well as elated, with Ruth’s insightful portrayal of her life with Simon and the family as they endure the ups and downs. Rarely does a book lay bare as completely as it this does, the struggles a person goes through to deal with things as fully as “I Found My Tribe”, regular descriptions of Ruth sitting in her car in a lonely car park, balling her eyes out into a box of tissues or sitting in the garden talking to a tree, hit me right at the core, because we’ve all been in that space at one time or another.

On the upside she does have a fantastic support group not just in the shape of her

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Ruth, Simon and the family (Irish Examiner)

“Tribe”, but from Simon’s family. His mother’s attempt to lift her son’s spirits with regular gifts of fancy bright shirts, as well their unwavering search for a cure are a tonic. I was moved at times by its sheer emotionally charged storytelling, although regular readers of mine will know, that’s not very hard.

This is Irish author Ruth Fitzmaurice’s (@ruthoneilfitz) first book, although she has in the past worked as a radio researcher and producer, before meeting filmmaker and writer Simon. The spark that led to “I Found My Tribe” was an article Ruth wrote for the Irish Times in 2016 in which she wrote about her new-found passion for sea swimming. She lives in Greystones with family, as well as her “Tribe”. Tragically Simon lost his struggle against Motor Neurone Disease in October last year, four months after the book was published.

So, if you and your tribe are heading away for the summer holidays, then head down to your local book shop, snag a copy at the airport or download it. Whatever you forget to pack, let it not be this book.

JONASSON’S FIFTH IS CHILLING, BUT COMES ACROSS SLIGHTLY RUSHED

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whiteout_new_coverIf like me you’ve been residing in the northern hemisphere for the past six months, you are probably tiring of the long drawn out winter we are currently experiencing. Even now, as I write this in the latter part of April, I’m still wearing a padded jacket and gloves in the mornings when heading to work or going out in the evenings.  We are, at this stage in the year, sick to the back teeth of the Beast From The East, The Pest From The West and The Son Of The Beast, three storms that have dumped large amounts of snow  and freezing temperatures across the UK and Ireland in the past ten weeks. Here is Ireland at the height of the cold snap in February; the country shut down for nearly a week and there was a run on bread!!!!! Yes, I kid you not.  Unlike our Nordic neighbours and our north American and Canadian cousins, we are not good in snow. While our Icelandic neighbours, to the north, experience snow and sub -zero temperatures on a regular basis. This brings me to this month’s book review, its White Out by Ragnor Jonasson. Published Orenda Books (www.orendabooks.com)  in November 2017.

Two days before Christmas the body of a young girl is found at the base of the cliffs near an all but deserted village in the far north of the island. In fact, the only inhabitants are two middle aged siblings who are housekeepers for a local family whose large house stands atop a remote rocky alongside a large monolith of a lighthouse. They are also keepers for the lighthouse. With Christmas rapidly approaching and the snow relentlessly falling, Ari Thor Arason a young police detective is called by his ex-boss to accompany him to this desolate part of the island to help investigate the case. This throws Ari and his expectant fiancée Kristin’s plans for a family Christmas awry. As Kirstin wants to talk to a local man about her great grandfather, she sees it as a way of killing two birds with one stone.  When he arrives in Kalfshamarvik, Aria soon discovers that the girl’s younger sister and mother, also died at the same spot.  Then one of the witnesses who last saw the girl alive, is found dead. With ghost stories, family intrigue, the snow and early arrival of his first child hampering his investigation Ari has to find the killer before they strike again. Ari has his hands full on this investigation.

Agatha Christie

Agatha Christie (Star Tribune)

This isn’t the first Ragnor Jonasson book we’ve reviewed here at The Library Door. We liked his style of writing then and although I didn’t review the book myself at that time, I thoroughly loved this outing featuring his young detective. Ragnor paints a vivid and dramatic picture of this wild and beautiful land, with its green but also harsh landscapes. Set against this back drop the book moves fluidly and as I was reading in the midst of our bleak winter, I felt immersed in the story. This is not really a beach read as you’d never feel immersed in the fierce, driving wind and blinding snow, which add to the list of things hampering Ari’s investigation.

This is a book to be read, on the west coast of Ireland or up in the Scottish Highlands, when the wind is howling and the rain driving against the window and all you want is to be inside with a roaring fire.

This is Icelandic author Jonasson’s fifth book, his others include Snowblind, Blackout,

r-jonasson

Ragnor Jonasson

Rupture and The darkness. He started writing from an earlier age at 17 he translated fourteen Agatha Christie Novels into Icelandic. This novel has a nod to Agatha Christie, with its limited suspect list and remote house location. He currently lives in Reykjavik with his wife and family, where he works and a lawyer.

The book is quite short at almost 210 pages, but the one things I did feel was a slight mark against this read, was that the case seems to get wrapped up pretty quickly once his young son arrives, as if Jonason ran out of steam at that point. But on a whole it’s a good read written by a true master of Icelandic dark noir. So, if you haven’t read an Ari Thor Arason mystery yet, then get down to your local book shop or download a copy and start reading, before his ninth book The Darkness is published later this year.

THERE’S NO PADDY-WHACKERY IN MCGAHERN’S SIXTH BOOK, JUST A HEART WARMING TALE OF IRISH RURAL LIFE

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That They May Face CvrEvery year in March sees one of the biggest events of the global calendar, this is of course St. Patrick’s day, who is the patron saint of Ireland and all things Irish. So, while more and more countries celebrate the 17th of March by turning rivers, large iconic buildings and instantly recognisable monuments green; it also a time to reflect on what Ireland has given the international community. One of its biggest exports apart from Guinness and Arran jumpers is literature and recently the book club had the chance to read another well-known Irish writer. This month’s book is, That They May face The Rising Sun, by John McGahern, published by Faber & Faber in 2002.

The title may make you think, as it did with me, that it is set in some theatre of war, possibly in Asia, but it all takes place in peace time Ireland. The story follows the lives of Joe and Kate Ruttledge, for the first year after they have returned home from London to Kate’s home town in the border region of Ireland. The town is full of charming and quirky characters, each with their own problems and various idiosyncrasies. The Ruttledge’s spend most of their time in the company of their friends and neighbours from across the lake, Mary and Jamesie.

This book may not have much going on in the story-line, it charts the comings and going on in this small rural town-land, like a diary of sorts without chronological references. Just subtle indications to the gradual changing of the  seasons, but McGahern’s charming little tale doesn’t require a big block busting pacey driven plot to keep you engrossed. The characters who are all excellently drawn and diverse, latch on to you and keep the reader turning the pages. There’s the town bachelor, the local business man, who is nicknamed “The Shah”, who helps life move by oiling the cogs of the local economy, but can can’t let go of the reins of the business to his only employee and a local cripple who is left mentally and physically scarred by his tragic upbringing. At the centre of it are the Ruttledge’s, a happy go lucky couple who have no real cares in the world and the only real threat to their new existence is the offer of a job back in London, by Kate’s old boss.

John McGahern

John McGahern

It appears Joe and Kate met while working for the same company in London, but Joe seems to have left their former employer under a cloud which isn’t explained but is hinted at, now he farms and does consultancy work.

There is a lot of humour in the book and drinking too! Every single page seems to have the characters calling into see each other and having large glasses of Irish whiskey.  The characters have little or no malice in them, even where is a malicious intent, it is portrayed in a humorous almost darkly comical light. Take the towns eligible bachelor, who finally takes a woman to the alter but is really only marrying her for her dowry, cooking and cleaning skills. The reception is held in the grounds of a big local house and he, being quite unsure of social niceties literally takes her in the biblical sense on a hill in full view of the guests… This may shock some, but through the way Maghern tells the story, you are left with a shocked smirk on face, as if to say, did he actually do that?

This is not twee Irish, there’s nothing Darby O’Gill about it or any stereotypical

Irish RM Cast

Brian Murray & Peter Bowles

characters in the book, it had for me reminders of the Irish RM, a British TV series that ran on Channel 4 starring British actor Peter Bowles (To the Manor Born) and Irish actor Brian Murray (Brookside) back in the eighties. What you get from this book after reading it is a warm fluffy feeling as if you have just spent a week in the in a stone whitewashed cottage in the west of Ireland.

 

This Irish writer John McGahern’s sixth of seven novels, in all he wrote fifteen books the others were collections of short stories and one play The Power of Darkness. His other novels include The Barracks (1963), The Dark (1965), The Leave Taking (1974), The Pornographer (1979) and Amongst Women (1990). Born in 1934 he trained as a teacher before becoming a full-time writer. He won numerous awards both in Ireland and Internationally for his work and his book, Amongst Women was made into a four-part TV series for BBC. He died in 2006.

If there’s a downside to That They May See The Rising Sun, it’s a little confused as to what era its set. All the descriptions point to possibly late sixties early seventies. But there are references to one of characters watching the ITV show Blind Date which was hosted by Cilla Black between 1985 and 2003 and in another paragraph, they talk about the moon landings as if only happened the day before, which took place in 1969.

So, if you are looking for a charming, homely Irish book to read by an outstanding contributor to Irish literature, that is full of wit and will leave you feeling happy and contented at the end, while also itching to visit the emerald isle and kiss the Blarney Stone, this is the one for you. So, head in to your local book shop or download a copy. Open your drinks cabinet and find a nice Irish whiskey and settle down for a great read, especially with another cold snap planned for Easter period.

THE GAME ENDS FOR BALDACCI’S LATEST AFTER THE FIRST CHAPTER

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End Game Cvr UKMetro’s , underground tube and train networks are an excellent way of servicing vast cities, such as New York, London ,Paris and Moscow . To the uninitiated they can be complicated and confusing.  Even myself, whilst quite used to the London tube, has to stop every now and then, disrupting the torrent of bodies flowing through this vast underground network, to get my bearings. Then on other occasions, I’ll mutter under my breathe at disorientated tourists as they do likewise. This brings me on to this month’s second book, End Game by David Baldacci, published by MacMillan www.macmillan.com in October 2017.

What’s confusing about  this book is that the blurb on the book and the cover images on the front bear no resemblance to the story inside. Ok, for one chapter they do, the first one. After that it’s a totally different story.

According to the blurb on the back, Will Robie an assassin for US Government has 24 hours to save London from a  threat by terrorists to attack the underground, with the United States their next target. While the front cover image shows male and female silhouettes walking along a London underground platform.

What actually happens, is that Robie kills all the terrorists single-handedly in a house in central London and saves the lives of 17 million Londoners all within the first fifteen pages!!! For the other three hundred and ninety one, he and his fellow agent Jessica Reel (who never goes near London), mooch about the wilds of Colorado looking for their boss “BlueMan”, who has gone missing while on vacation in his home town. Managing to cross swords with a Neo-Nazi group and in Robie’s case get romantically involved with the local sheriff in the process, all while trying to sort out their own complicated romantic history.

This isn’t the first David Baldacci novel I’ve read, the other was Split Second from his King and Maxwell series. Again like this book it was pacey and full of action but at least the blurb on the back and the front cover had some connection with the whole story inside.

David Baldacci

David Baldacci

The story in the remaining three hundred plus pages of End Game is interesting if not slightly weakened by the constant distraction of the front cover, which keeps making the reader wonder where the connection to the threat to London and the sixteen terrorists Robie had dispatched in the first part of the book, is going to emerge. It doesn’t, it’s as if Baldacci had an idea for a book, but realised it was just a short story and decided to weld another half decent story onto the end of it. If that’s the case, his editor should be demoted to editing road signs or billboards.

American Author Baldacci (www.davidbaldacci.com) has written nearly forty books which have sold more 130 million copies worldwide and have been translated into 45 languages. A good few have been adapted for film and television. He started writing from a young age, when his mother gave him a lined copy book to keep him quiet. His first book, “Absolute Power,” was published in 1996.  He lives in Virginia, where he and his wife also run their Wish You Well Foundation,a non-profit organization, which supportsEnd Game Cvr US literacy efforts across the country.

While researching this review, I saw on David’s website that the American version of the book has a different cover, which is common. At least it shows a male and female silhouette running through a Coloarado-esque landscape. With so many dedicated fans, I don’t see why David or the editors and marketing teams at Macmillan deemed it ok to take the UK / Irish readers for fools. So, if you are looking for a half decent read, which can be slightly distracting if you are reading a non-American copy, then go and get a copy. Otherwise, any of Baldacci’s other books are a better bet.

I HAVE MORE THAN A FEW BONES TO PICK WITH GORMAN’S DEBUT

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bone-and-bloodCvrSome books are said to be read like a swimming pool, you leave it there and dip in and out when you feel like it. That’s usually reserved for reference books or coffee table behemoths and other  handy door stops. Most books are treated like a meal owing to the way stories are usually laid out with a starter, mains and dessert. This brings me to the first book review of 2018. It’s Bone and Blood : A Berlin Novel by Margo Gorman, published by Matador www.troubador.co.uk in September 2014.

Bone and blood follows the relationship between Aisling and her great aunt Brigette when they are thrown together in Berlin following the death of Brigette’s daughter Katherina from cancer. Aisling, a university student from Dublin, wrangles a trip to Berlin to represent her family at the funeral, thinking it would be a great chance to see the city. However,  she is forced to share her great aunts house, when in stark opposite to Irish burial times there is a three-week wait on Katherina’s funeral. While sharing the house with someone almost four times her age, she starts to get to know her great aunt and delves into Brigette’s past and how an Irish woman came to spend most of her life in Germany. Through their conversations Aisling discovers Brigette was imprisoned in a concentration camp outside Berlin during the war. But what of Katherina’s father? Where did they meet ? How did Brigette get out of the camp and will Aisling get enough material for a graphic novel telling her great aunts story?

I didn’t like this book, because there was a lot of bones in this story (Think Herring / Mackerel) and gristle too, which made it rather tough to chew and get through. Harking back to my meal reference in the opening lines of the review. If this book was a meal, then the starter should set you up for the main course, but if that  isn’t very good , as in this case, then the rest of the meal turns out to be a let-down and struggles to keep the diner interested.  The first chapter of this book is over complicated and rather hard to decipher and gives no indication as to where the reader or the story is going.

Another point against this debutante Irish writers book, is that there are too many characters to keep track of, especially when you take into account that this was a book group selection and with most book groups you have a certain time scale with which to read a book; in our group its a month. In my case, this period was further reduced to a week, owing to my other reading commitments. This doesn’t allow  one much leeway for over-complicated beginnings. The chapters after that do start to come into focus to an extent but there are still a lot of threads in this story which one must try and keep hold of.  In my own  case I gave up half way through.

The book had a mixed reception at the book group in December at which it was discussed, but myself and a small contingent railed against the general good reports of the other members and were quite scathing. Which sort of came back to bite us, when after an hour’s discussion, the host promptly introduced a surprise guest…. Margo Gorman herself, who was a friend of the host, had been upstairs writing and had heard none of the mixed reviews downstairs.  My wife said she’d never seen me so lost for words, especially when Margo was seated next to me. I did gather my composure along with the others and in a lively and light-hearted discussion afterwards, Margo admitted that she was aware that there was a lot going on in the book and that her editor has asked her to trim the next book down and keep it to one or two main threads.

Margo Gorman

Margo Gorman

This is Irish Author Margo Gorman’s first novel (www.margogorman.com) , although having worked with international bodies for a number of years she has written numerous books and reports for them. She was educated by Seamus Heaney  in Belfast and now divides her time between Donegal and Germany.

The informal questions & answer session over wine, cheese and mince pies with Margo, also covered her inspiration for the book which came about because of a work trip she made to Ravensbruk concentration camp a couple of years ago, where she discovered the stories of Irish women who were imprisoned there and in other camps during the war.

I wouldn’t dissuade you from reading this book, but it can be a bit of a challenge and as I mentioned in our discussion at the book group, there are easier works of fiction inspired by the holocaust to read. Namely Block 46 by Johana Gustawsson which I reviewed last October. But, yes if you want to support a new Irish writer, go down to your local book shop and pick up a copy, but make sure its read in good company, preferably a very nice glass of wine.

YOU’LL BE DYING TO READ TUOMAINEN’S LATEST AND WILL LAY IT TO REST WITH SMILE ON YOUR FACE

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The Man Who Died CvrAccording to the poet James Shirley, “There is no armour against fate….”  It’s only really in science fiction series like Dr. Who, for example, as we witnessed again over the festive period, can the main character regenerate. Certain religions such as Buddhists, Sikh’s and Hindu’s believe in re-incarnation. In reality most of us feel that death is the final act and as I write this piece there are people in hospital wards or at home for whom that final act is quite close, or who have been told that is a lot closer than they might have hoped.  This brings us on to  the second this month, its The Man Who Died by Antti Tuomainen, published by Orenda Books (www.orendabooks.co.uk )  in November 2017.

Jaako Kaunisma is a successful businessman who along with his wife Tainia runs a leading Finnish Mushroom export company. That is, until one day, his doctor tells the 37-year-old he is dying. He is being poisoned to be exact, by a naturally occurring substance. What would most people, me included do in situation like this? Probably become inconsolable and a blubbering mess. Not our Jaako. He immediately sets out to find the perpetrator and soon the list starts to grow, beginning with his wife who he discovers is having an affair with one of the company’s young pickers. Then a second mushroom export company sets up shop just down the street, run by three nefarious brothers, with strangely brand-new top of the range equipment and connections with Jaako’s Japanese customers. When the brothers catch Jaako on CCTV wandering around their factory and subsequently a prized samurai sword goes missing, the police get involved. Jaako suddenly finds himself trying to stay one step ahead the police along with the three heavy handed brothers, while all the while attempting to track down his killer and deal with the side effects of the poison in his system. Will he save his marriage and or find the killer before the grim reaper comes calling?

When the main character of the book is told in the first chapter that he is terminally ill, you don’t really expect much from them. Utter shock maybe followed by a melancholy review of his life. What you get from Antti Tuomainen’s book is curve ball straight out of left field, that smacks you right between the eyes and takes you on one of the better reads of the year. As well as a lead character in Jaako who is atypical to the normal reaction to this type of event.

Tuomainen walks a fine line in this book, showing respect in trying to deal with the very difficult subject of death and blowing the normal out of the water with a humorous feel good read. It is packed with dark and irreverent humour that laughs in the face of death. At times it did feel slightly farcical, but Antti keeps it on the right side of believable humour, as well as maintaining a deeply engrossing thriller.

I loved the skilled way in which he places hero Jaako in tricky if not sometimes deadly situations while on his one man quest to discover the identity of his poisoner and has him get out of the various scrapes by some weird twist of fate, which usually leaves someone else far worse off. No more so, than when coming up against the three brothers who mysteriously set up in competition to him a couple of doors away on the same road in the same small town. Also the dinner scene near the end when his wife and her lover get their comeuppance is hilarious for its descriptive style alone.

As well as that considering some of Jaako’s eating habits, in an attempt to keep his failing

Jason statham -Crank

Jason Statham – Crank

body stocked full of energy and the things he did to stay alive, brought back memories of Jason Statham’s ‘Crank’ series of films. Statham’s character has an hour to  get his heart back from drug lords, while it has been replaced by a commercial battery,  he must keep it charged up to give  him energy as he fights his way across LA. This involves  connecting himself to a car battery and getting amorous with total strangers.

This is Finnish Author Antti Tuomainen’s (www.anttituomainen.com) fourth book and in doing so is a departure from his previous three deeply dark thrillers which include. The Healer (2013), Dark As My Heart (2013) and The Mine (2016). He was a successful copywriter when he started writing in 2007 and has won numerous awards both in his homeland and Internationally for his writing.

The only real down side, is the ending and the discovery of the killer, the reason for the poisoning is a rather damp squib, considering what Jaako has been through to find out their identity.

Antti Toumainen

Antti Toumainen

So if you are looking for a an engaging and light-hearted thriller to brighten up the dark winter evenings over the Christmas period or into the early days of 2018, get on your bike to the local book shop or download it.

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This is our last post of 2017, I’d like to take this opportunity from everyone at The Library Door to wish all our followers a Happy and Prosperous New Year and hope you have enjoyed our reviews this year. Thanks again to the Authors and Publishers (especially Karen O’Sullivan at Orenda) who supplied us with books and we look forward to more in the new year.

If you are an author or publisher and would like to send us an Advance Review Copy, please don’t hesitate to contact us through the site or on twitter at @apaulmurphy .

Adrian Murphy – Bray, Ireland, December  2017

MALONE’S SIXTH BOOK IS LESS SPINE-TINGLE AND MORE FAIRY TALE

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House-of-Spines CvrDo you know what links Carrie Fisher, Vincent Van Gogh and Ranald McGhie? No idea?You’re probably asking yourself who Ranald McGhie is? Never mind what links them all. Well they all suffer from Bipolar Disorder, a mental affliction, which according to the Health Service Executive in Ireland affects 1 in 100 people. Researching a list of people with bipolar disorder for this article, draws up at least 59 other well-known faces, currently and historically, who may have been affected, including Abraham Lincoln and Charles Dickens.

As for Ranald Mcghie, he’s the central character in this month’s book. Its “The House of Spines” by Michael J. Malone. Published by Orenda Books (www.orendabooks.co.uk)  at the end of October- Halloween to be exact.

Ranald is a jobbing text book writer in his home town of Glasgow, who has never really come to terms with deaths of his parents and as result of his condition has been in and out of psychiatric hospitals.  One day he is summoned to the offices of a large law firm in the city. There he discovers that he’s been left something in the will of his great grandfather on his mother’s side, someone he knows very little about, due his mother being mysteriously disowned by the family.  His inheritance is Newton Hall, an expansive old pile in a salubrious suburb of the city. It appears that Ranald’s great grandfather had him watched from birth, with every intention of making him the sole beneficiary and guardian of this property and its contents. The said contents are books, hundreds of them, filling every nook and cranny.  From the moment Ranald arrives in the house, he is in awe of what greets him, whole wardrobes of fine clothes in his exact size, a middle aged married couple who act as house keeper and gardener, a pool and a garage housing a couple of expensive cars – which would be fine if he’d ever learned to drive.

Ranald decides to use the house as a fresh start, maybe even a way to rehabilitate his mental instability, so he goes off his meds, starts swimming and using the gym in the house. Then strange things start happening. He is seduced by a number of local women within hours of arriving at the house. He also starts having vivid dreams involving a mysterious woman and repeatedly sleep walking to a lift in the house along with a strange unnerving feeling about the place.  If this wasn’t enough, he is then visited by two estranged cousins who seem to have ulterior motives for visiting him that may involve selling the property to a developer. Can Ranald discover the identity of the woman in the dreams, discover the mystery behind his mother’s falling out with her family and keep the property from the clutches of his relations? Or is it all in his mind…

One Bi-polar sufferer says of their condition ”.. this mind of mine is deeper than most people care to swim…”. If you throw in the addition of a vast lonely house and you get to the setting and ambience this story is trying to achieve.

When you start reading the book, the house comes across in Malone’s descriptions as a

Downton Abbey

Highclere Castle

cross between Downton Abbey’s Highclere Castle and the Walt Disney castle, with a bit of Hogwarts merged in for good measure. It’s a vast palace with many wings and floors, as well as towers, pools and large imposing book lined studies. Something a lotto millionaire would build on a whim as a result losing the run of himself. It basically comes across as a folly, especially when you consider the only occupant is a troubled divorcee.

I initially loved the feel-good factor from the book as we followed Ranald on his voyage of discovery around the house and the amazing things he finds at every turn in the house. The numerous bedrooms with fine linen and furnishings. The pool, well placed easy reading chairs and couches placed liberally about the house so that the occupant could read where or wherever they felt inclined. It has a real fairy-tale feel to it.

But then when the spirit or the assumption that there is something paranormal attached to the house, starts to get involved and this shortly followed by the arrival of the two cousins, a well-heeled scotch loving criminal lawyer and a his strangely quiet and reserved sister. Along with the straight laced smarmy lawyer who acts as executor, things start to follow a very formulaic Disney-esque route. We were only short of an evil stepmother and a poisoned apple, although later events involving Ranald being blackmailed into being prescribed an increased dosage of his meds are a modern version.

The Bipolar aspect of Ranald’s character, lends itself to the story and helps us to see him for the damaged person he is and how vulnerable someone is his condition can be, when they come into contact with strong minded and devious characters. Overall there is no real sense that Newton hall is haunted, just the creepy feeling left by the fact that Ranald’s grandfather was stalking him and that most of the things that our hero, experiences are probably down to his stopping medication.

Michael J Malone

Michael J. Malone

This is Scottish author and poet Michael Malone’s (@michaeljmalone1) sixth novel, his others include: Carnegie’s Call, The Guillotine’s Choice, The Taste of Malice, Beyond Rage, The Bad Samaritan, Dog Fight and A Suitable Lie.   Malone is a regular reviewer for the crime fiction website www.crimesquad.com and in a previous life was a regional sales manager for Faber & Faber.

The book is not as scary as it is portrayed and if you think Ranald is up against the house, his mental frailties and the conniving manipulative machinations of his relatives on his own, you are wrong. He has in his corner his ex-wife and a former neighbour.

So, if you are looking for a spine tingling, nerve jangling, bump in the night book. This isn’t it.