IrelaPrivelged Bk cvrnd has always been seen as an island of saints and scholars and, under the latter you’ll find writers, although not all writers are scholars. Among the many great writers who cut their literary teeth and honed their trade on everything from the Book of Kells to  The Sea, The Sea, were women.  Every year a brace of new female writers  try to emulate the successes of their predecessors like Maeve Binchy, Kate O’Brien and Iris Murdoch. One such hopeful is the author of this months book, its The Priveliged by Emily Hourican published  in April 2016 by Hachette Ireland (www.hachettebooksireland.ie).

My timing was never great and I moved to Dublin just as the boom ended and the recession began. In Hourican’s debut novel , her trio of women are just that, growing up in an affluent Dublin of the early naughties. Amanda, Stella and Laura all attend a private girl’s school but in other respects couldn’t be more different in their upbringing and backgrounds. Amanda is the beautiful, indulged popular girl, her parents riding the crest of the boom. Stella is the hardworking daughter of aspirational middle class parents and Laura has a more bohemian background as an artist’s daughter. Mallory towers this ain’t though. We are plunged into a world with few restrictions,  casual sex and drugs of every type. This is Amanda’s world and Stella and Laura are drawn into it, initially as detached observers eager to enjoy the benefits of her privileged lifestyle and later as friends, seemingly powerless to prevent Amanda’s decline into degradation.

In my opinion, this novel raised some interesting questions on celebrity, friendship and loyalty. As a working class girl, who grew up on a Nottingham council estate and attended a comprehensive, I at first found it difficult to empathise or to be interested in the characters but as they developed I became more invested in them. It was an interesting choice to use three female characters. I felt between the three you almost got one balanced individual; Stella’s drive and sense, Laura’s generosity and Amanda’s kindness would combine nicely!

This is probably the last time period in which the youthful years of the girls could be set. Now nothing would be private and the story could have been told in a series of ill advised snapchats. I did feel the mechanisms of drug addiction were a little simplified in relation to the story. Stella and Laura managed to avoid addiction despite partaking willing and frequently in various substances. Is it only those with underlying issues who become addicted? I doubt it. However, this was a story about a girl who seemed superficially to have it all and who squandered it. Redemption comes in the form of her friends and there’s hope for a happy ending for all.

The characters were well drawn and we saw the good and bad in everyone. I felt like I was suspending belief in some of the scenarios around the D4 upbringing as I have no experience to compare it with it but assumed Emily was writing a little from her own experience. However, I see from the blurb that she grew up in Belgium so perhaps my confidence in her accuracy is misplaced!

Emily Hourcn

Emily Hourican

This is Irish author Emily Hourican’s (www.emilyhourican.com) first work of fiction, her first book a memoir titled How to (Really) Be A Mother was published in 2013. It documented  how she stopped faking it as a mother and learned to become her own version of the real thing. She’s more well known in Ireland as a journalist with the Sunday Independent newspaper as well as the editor of various consumer and trade publications over the years. She recently came to prominence when she wrote a No Holds Barred“column in the Sunday Independent chronicling her battle with an unusual form of viral mouth cancer.

I’d recommend this book for a summer read to my female friends. If you enjoy Heat and Hello magazine and  a bit of voyeurism into the lives of the privileged, this story is right up your street. Mine is probably more Corrie!

Reviewed by Georgina Murphy




In Her Wake CvrAccording to the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children 800,000 children go missing in America every year. Down through history there have been high profile cases, such as the Lindbergh baby – kidnapped in 1932 and most recently Madeline McCann who was abducted in Portugal in 2007. Even with the development of Amber Alert schemes, child abduction is an ever present scourge on society. Thus we come to this months book, its In Her Wake by Amanda Jennings published by Orenda Books ( http://www.orendabooks.co.uk) in April.

“In Her Wake” is promoted as a physchological thriller. But if you’re looking for those sharp-intake-of-breath or ‘oh, no I can’t look’ moments, they’re not here. What is in this book is far more harrowing, far more disturbing than momentary shock-horror thrills.

Amanda Jennings takes a topic that we all recoil from – child abduction – and presents  it in a way that forces us to look beyond the stereotyped portrayals of the tabloid press. This is not abduction by a sexual predator.  This is opportunistic abduction – the ‘spur-of-the-moment’ action of a distraught woman desperate to have a child.  A single, momentary decision that sends shock waves through the lives of the child, the abductor, her husband and all members of the child’s family.  The moment that forever after divides their lives into the normal ‘before’ and the abnormal ‘after’.

How do a childless couple explain to their families and friends that they have just acquired a three-year-old daughter? Or do they? How do they ensure that nobody – ever – puts two and two together and links them to the abduction everyone has heard about on the news?

How does a mother cope with having a child stolen from her? Not struck down by illness or fatal accident; not taken by a partner or the social services – stolen. Plucked out of the centre of her life. Disappeared without trace. To where? To what?   What’s everyday life like with those questions perpetually ricocheting through your mind?

And the abducted child’s father? Her sister?  If only they had done / not done … If only they had……..What happens when your life is continually corroded by the dripping acid of guilt?

And the child – what of her?  We meet her as a grown woman in her late twenties on her way to her mother’s funeral.  Married to a fussy, controlling older man she has an emotionally strained, distant relationship with her father.  The loss of her mother has hit her hard, she is reeling with grief. But it is the events that unfold over the coming days that splinter her life apart.  She isn’t who she thought she was. The woman just buried was not her mother.  This is for Bella what the moment of abduction was for the others – the moment that forever more divides her life into ‘before’ and ‘after’.  Would she be better off not knowing? Not finding out? Continuing to live the life she had grown into? But once Pandora’s box is opened, there is no going back.  If she’s not Bella, who is she?

So begins Bella’s quest to find out who she really is.  A quest in which Jenning’s expertly – and unobtrusively – poses all of the above questions and, through some truly wonderful characterizations, explores potential answers.

Amanda Jennings

Amanda Jennings

This the third book of British author Amanda Jennings (www.amandajennings.co.uk), her previous two books are  Sworn Secret (2012) and The Judas Scar (2014). She previously worked for the BBC and and sitcom script that was shortlisted by them was was made up her mind to write full time after the birth of her second child. She’s also a regular guest presenter on the BBC  Radio Berkshire’s weekly book club.

I mentioned above that the plot-line of this book is not that of the standard physchological thriller. Nor are the character portrayals. Except for one carbord-cut-out (Greg)  all the other main characters are beautifully drawn – real-life people that the reader can empathise with, even when their actions are driven by cowardice (Bella’s ‘first’ father), despair (Bella’s birth father) and self-centered pomposity (Bella’s husband).  And the description of the unfolding of the relationship between Bella and her sister is truly heartwarming.

Set against the backdrop of the Cornish coast, the plot unfolds with some very unexpected


Madeline McCann

twists and turns – all but the last ‘near-death’ scene reflecting Jennings talent at presenting a ‘curve-ball’ that is both surprising and, once described, totally obvious.  More than once did I find myself exclaiming – “Oh Yes, I can see that happening , but I’d never have thought of it!”

This is the first Amanda Jenning’s book I have read but, given the complexity of both her character portrayals and her plot-lines it won’t be the last.  A thoroughly good – and absorbing – read.




Where Roses Never Die cover Vis copy 2It  was only last year, when I read my first Gunnar Staalesen’s crime fiction novel, We Shall Inherit The Wind that I realized that Nordic Noir hadn’t been created in the ‘90s by Jo Nesbo, Henning Mankel and Steig Larsson. With 20 novels in his Varg Veum crime-detective series published since 1977, Gunnar Staalesen’s reputation as one of the pioneers of this gritty, socially-conscious, self-aware style of crime thriller is truly deserved.  In this months book Where Roses Never Die  – the latest of Veum series to be translated into English and published in June  by Orenda Books http://www.orendabooks.co.uk  –Staalesen does not disappoint. His time-honed mastery of plot, characterization, story-telling and atmospheric scene-setting is evident throughout.

At the outset of the story, Veum is in a sorry state. Still mourning the three-year-old death of his girlfriend, Karin, his days revolve around the next glass of aquavit. Socially isolated and with little work, he’s hanging on to a semblance of normality by his fingernails. His lifeline appears in the form of Maja Misvaer, the mother of a 3-year old girl, Mette, who had disappeared without trace almost 25-years earlier. The case had never been solved and within 6 months will be time-barred. So a desperate Maja, who, understandably, has never come to terms with the unexplained disappearance of little Mette, comes to an equally desperate Veum in a last-ditch attempt to find something – anything – that could prompt a reinvestigation of the case.

And she has, of course, come to the right place. In classic fictional gumshoe mode, Veum is that dogged workaholic who leaves no stone unturned, no nuance unprodded and no secret unearthed in his terrier-like approach to solving the case. Inevitably he unearths more secrets than those involved are comfortable with – Maja herself included.

With Staalensen’s consummate mastery of storytelling, a multi-faceted plot unfolds, drawing together a series of seemingly unrelated elements: Mette’s disappearance, a recent jewelry heist, the relationships between neighbours in the tightly-knit community where Maja lives – and from where Mette had disappeared. For my liking, some of the links between elements were a bit thin and tenuous and the eventual denouement stretched my credibility to straining point (to my mind there were too many people involved for the final secret to be maintained for 25 years).

But even with these reservations, the book was compelling reading. And this, of course, is where Scandinavian crime writing trumps over it’s standard UK and US counterparts. Because it isn’t just (or even primarily) a case of finding out ‘whodunit’. It’s not simply a ‘Where’s Wally’ exercise in recognising the clues and putting them together with a ‘Hey, presto – he’s the murderer’ outcome. The Scandinavian approach also focuses on the aftershocks. The sundering judders, shudders, waves and even ripples that spread out into the lives of people affected by the trauma of the central event.

It’s at this that Staalesen really excels. With exquisite subtlety, via descriptions of a character’s appearance, clothes, facial expressions, involuntary responses – even the pictures on the walls and arrangement of furniture in their homes – he paints a detailed picture of their “back story”. A story that the reader cannot fail to be moved by. I defy anyone to read Staalesen’s description of Maja on that first visit to Veum without feeling empathy for a woman struggling to keep going – even before we hear her story. Or not to be moved to sadness at the corrosive effect the keeping of a shameful secret has on the young Joachim Bridgeland.

The story ends on a hopeful note – for Maja, Joachim and for Veum. He’s solved the crime and has a new romantic interest in his life. But aquavit beckons … will he succumb? We have to wait for the translation of the next in the series, No One Is As Safe In Danger, already published in Norwegian.

Gunnar Staalensen 16

Gunnar Staalensen

The story was inspired by the actual disappearance of two young girls in Norway in the ‘70s. Unfortunately these real-life events have not ended on a hopeful note. What happened to the young girls is still unknown. Staalesen choose the title of the book from the gospel-style hymn “Where Roses Never Fade”, the Norwegian version of which is called “Where Roses Never Die”. Commenting on the title in a recent interview he said “for the people left behind there is comfort to be found in the belief that close relatives who are dead have simply traveled to another and much happier world: a place where the roses neither fade or die.” We can only hope that the families of these two girls – and the families of all children who have disappeared – can find some solace, somewhere, to help deal with such a catastrophic tragedy.

If you’ve thought ‘The Door’ has seemed shut for the past month, it has and there’s a good IMG_2659excuse, I got married. It’s been hard to find time to write and upload reviews for the latter
part of May and most of June, what with assisting my fiancee – now wife to juggle numerous details of the nuptials, while enjoying the ceremony and various events and parties in both Lincoln and Dublin. Now that it’s done and dusted normal service will resume.