GUSTAWSSON LAYS THE FIRST BLOCK IN NEW CRIME SERIES

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BLOCK 46 COVER AW.inddGreat things come in pairs they say, hands, eyes, ears. More practical things include comfy shoes; or slippers that you yearn to slip into after work and the soft white pillows which take you to the land of nod each evening. Then there are things that you wished didn’t come in pairs, but usually have a habit of doing so, such as buses and taxis.

Great detectives usually come in pairs as well. There have been some great partnerships in crime fiction down through the years, such as The Hardy Boys, Agatha Christies Poirot and Hastings and Tommy and Tuppence as well as more recently Morse and Lewis. These have been male dominated. There have been a few female duo’s: take Rizzoli and Isles for example and  not forgetting eighties TV cop duo Cagney and Lacey. This brings us to this month’s  second book review, which sees the introduction of a brand new all-female crimefighting partnership. It’s Block 46 by Johana Gustawsson, published by Orenda Books (www.orendabooks.com) in May of this year.

 

When the mutilated body of a talented jewelry designer is found in a bleak snow swept marina in Sweden, her friends and family travel from London to recover the body. Among them is her close friend, French true crime writer Alexis Castells. She starts to do some digging of her own into the case. In the local police station she bumps into an old associate, Emily Roy  (a profiler for the RCMP Royal Canadian Mounted Police) who is on loan to Scotland Yard. Her reason for being in the same place at the same time? The body of a boy was found on Hampstead Heath in London with the same wounds. Is this the work of a serial killer or a weird coincidence? The two women team up and work the case hopping back and forth across the North Sea. As they do, they discover a link to a World War Two concentration camp. Can the two women get to the bottom of this mystery before the killer strikes again or before culprit turns from pursued to pursuer?
Of the two world wars, the WW2 and the Holocaust has provided writers with a vast and rich vein of material with which to blame the evil deeds of criminals on. Block 46 is no exception. What Gustawsson does is mix the bloody reality of Schindler’s list with Scandi Noir and in doing so produces a very enjoyable and original novel.

 

Johanna Gustawsson

Johanna Gustawsson

What first excited me about this book when it landed on my hall floor was the dramatic picture on the cover. The silhouette of a lone figure in hat and coat walking between two barbed wire fences, all too familiar as those of a concentration camp. But also, combined with the title, they recall images seen on the numerous grainy news reels of that period.
The two main characters are hardly strangers and have some history which is easily explained, thus allowing the story to flow seamlessly, without having to go through a long-winded and roundabout introduction which in some instances distracts from a story. They are also different in their own way, just like Holmes and Watson, Castells is the grounded one who keeps the Canadian Roy, with her unique investigative techniques and strange habits, grounded. It will be interesting to see how the two characters develop over the coming books.

 
I’m a little bemused as to why the author needed a translator of the book as it seems she has been living and working in the UK for many years. So, if you can walk into Sainsbury’s and buy a pint of milk or order a drink at a bar or even a meal from a menu. Why do you feel you need to have a translator rewrite your book? OK, there are a few easy explanations, she finds it easier to write in her native French or possibly that the book was originally written in French.

 
Another thing that did get me was the sudden wrapping up of things at the end. It seemed unrealistically quick. Suddenly one of our heroine’s is in mortal danger and next the cavalry rides in out of nowhere. It’s as if Johanna got tired near the end of the story and just decided to save them and neatly wrap it up.
This is French born Gustawsson’s second book, her first “On Se Retrouvera” which means We will meet each other again.Was adapted for French television in 2015 and watched by over 7 million viewers. She has worked previously for the French press and television, before moving to her adopted home of England with her Swedish husband. She is currently writing the second book in the Roy & Castells series.
So, if you are looking for a new twist on Scandi Noir and the creation of a new crime fighting double act with a very international flair to it, then this is right up your street. I will with wait with bated breath for the next instalment in this series. Meanwhile you can stop off at your local book shop and get it or download it.

GOING OFF SCRIPT PROVES THE BIGGEST FLAW IN WESOLOWSKI’S STORIES

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Sixstry CvrThe British Isles and Ireland are pockmarked with moorland and bogs, from as far south as Dartmoor to the Yorkshire Dales, Rannoch Moor in Scotland and The Burren in the West of Ireland. All through history, as well as in literature, these vast tracts of desolate land have fascinated us. Whether it’s as the roaming area of the fabled Hound of the Baskervilles in Sherlock Holmes, the setting for a doomed love affair between Cathy and Heathcliff on the Yorkshire moors, the hunting grounds of the reputed beasts of Bodmin Moor or as burial grounds for the Saddleworth Moors victims,the moorlands of Britain and Ireland are notorious for their role in the darker side of life and literature. So they are a great setting for this month’s book. Its “Six Stories” by Matt Wesolowski, published by Orenda Books (www.orendabooks.com) at the end of March.

The book follows a collection of interviews between Scott King, a mysterious investigative journalist, who regularly posts examinations of complicated cases online via Podcasts. This series is called “Six Stories” – in it Scott is looking back over the events surrounding the discovery of a body on Scarclaw Fell in 1997. The body is that of Tom Jeffers, who disappeared from an outdoor adventure centre on the Fell while on a weekend away with an inner-city youth group. No one was ever found guilty of his murder in a court of law but the media had a good go at pinning the blame on various people. The interviews are with members of the youth group and locals who he’s managed to track down ten years later and, who are willing to talk. As the tagline on the cover states, one death six stories, which one is true…

From the front cover to the blurb on the back, everything about this book shouts, Read Me!!! Along with promising a great thriller inside but then you open the book and basically you realise you are reading the transcript of a radio documentary / podcast.

Being a confident public speaker and actor who has trodden the boards in amateur drama, I was able to get over this obstacle by reading aloud and putting my own accents and inflections into the characters, although – this limited me to places I could read the book, thus reading while I was commuting was a no-no.

Alistair Cooke speaks at taping of his 2000th program 'Letter From America' at the British Broadcasting Company's Manhattan studio

Alastair Cooke

I love radio documentaries, In Ireland there is the “Doc on One” which is broadcast weekly on RTE radio – Ireland’s national broadcaster – and has won numerous awards, both in Ireland and abroad. The idea for the Six Stories was inspired by the real-life podcast phenomena “Serial”.  But could I see myself reading the transcripts of either of these shows… No, why?!

Now I grew up listening to Alistair Cooke’s “Letter from America” which was broadcast on BBC Radio Four from 1946 up until his death in 2004. Cooke wasn’t just a radio journalist but also a print journalist and author of over twenty books. Eleven were his “Letter from America” ,which were the transcripts of said broadcast. The difference between Six Stories and Alistair Cooke’s The Americans’, was that they weren’t broadcast like a radio show, but like a letter or a newspaper column, hence the ease with which I took to Cooke’s books.

This doesn’t take away from Six Stories, despite the style of writing which may put some people off… The mystery at the heart of the story intrigues the reader and keeps you turning the pages until the very end when the killer punch surrounding the mystery is delivered.

This is Newcastle – Upon – Tyne native Matt Wesolowski’s first novel, but not his first

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Alex Wesolowski

book. His first novella The Black Land, a murder mystery set on the Northumberland coast was published in 2013 and his second novella set in Sweden will be published shortly. He started writing horror stories for various publications and anthologies, then in 2015 he won the Pitch Perfect Bloody Scotland competition. He is currently working on his second novel Ashes.

 

This book has been hailed in some quarters as a new departure in thriller writing, but it didn’t really work for me because it’s biggest flaw, was this new departure, which placed it in the wrong media. It will make a better Audio book than it has a printed one. Even then it may struggle to hold its audience.

If this was made into a radio drama it would be one of the best and darkest programmes out there and ripe for a TV adaptation.

So, if you are looking for a new thriller writer and can overcome the unusual writing style of this book, then download it or hike down to your local bookshop and pick up a copy.

YOU’LL WANT TO BE EXILED FOR A DAY TO ENJOY HIEKKAPELTO’S THIRD BOOK

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TheexiledcbrOne of the main rivers in central Europe is the Tisza at one stage called “The Most Hungarian River“ for despite now also flowing through Hungary,  Ukraine, Romania, Slovakia and Serbia  at one stage it flowed entirely though the kingdom on Hungary. Along it banks you will find numerous forms of wild life among them is the Mayfly. It was the Swedish – Finnish journalist Heidi Avellan who coined the phrase ‘The Mayfly Effect’, to describe a movement or an event which harnesses the right social current at the right time.

Avellan’s comment sprang to mind while I read this month’s book as it is set during the Mayfly Flowering on the Tisza.  The book is The Exiled, the latest offering from Kati Hiekkapelto’s’ and published by Orenda Books (www.orendabooks.co.uk)  in November 2016.

This is the third novel featuring Hiekkapelto’s Finnish Police detective heroine, Anna Fekete. Here, she travels from Finland to her home village in the Balkans to have a holiday and catch up with family and friends. Her visit is set to coincide with the much anticipated ‘Flowering of the Tizsa’ when the mayflies hatch and take to flight in great clouds over the river. A cause for celebration in the locale each June. Her break gets off to a poor beginning however, when her bag is stolen. Later the thief is found dead by the riverbank.  Anna cannot help but take an interest in the investigation, which she feels is being poorly carried out. The victim is identified as a refugee and local in tolerances and prejudices come to light.  As she delves deeper Anna finds links to her own father’s death. Untangling a web of deception and corruption, her own life and that of a refugee child are put in danger.

Kati Hiekkapelto

Kati Hiekkapelto

This is the first of Finnish author Kati Hiekkapelto’s (www.katihiekkapelto.com)  three books I have read and I will certainly be reading the others. The Hummingbird was published in the UK in 2014 and her second , The Defenceless was published in the UK in 2015.  Hiekkapelto started writing when she was two recording her stories on to a tape cassette, her first job was as a special needs teacher to immigrant children. Nowadays she devotes her time to writing from her base in a 200 year old farm house in northern Finland, while in her spare time she performs with her band, runs, ski’s hunts and tens her garden.

Anna Fekete is a strong female lead. I was particularly impressed by the sensitive portrayal of the strained relationship between herself and her mother and how, as secrets are revealed, Anna and her mother learn to understand each other better.

The movement of populations and the rezoning of country boundaries loomed large in the book and made it very relevant in the current refugee crisis. Whilst we were given descriptions of the refugee camps and the problems they faced we were also aware that Anna’s family were themselves had been refugees. I was also given the impression that the Hungarian inhabitants of the area where being sidelined by the Serbian population. Anna is herself, living as an immigrant in Finland and much was made of the differences in the two cultures. My knowledge of the geography and history of the area are poor and I was prompted to do a small amount of background reading. However, my own lack of ‘sense of place’ did not detract from my enjoyment of the book.

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Mayfly “Flowering” On The Tisza

I found the book to be well written and tightly plotted with a good level of suspense. It had a certain depth and I would not consider it a light read, whether that is due to the setting or the content I’m not sure. Anna is a multidimensional character. Driven and feminist, she can also show a more vulnerable side, which we see in her relationship with Peter. The supporting cast of characters were also well drawn and I was fascinated by  the descriptions of the riverside village, the camps  and the library club.

Whilst the mayfly only lives for the briefest of times , I hope Anna Fekete makes many more appearances. So flit down to your local bookshop for a copy or download it.

Reviewed by Georgina Murphy

BROADRIBB GOES FROM CRITIC TO CRITIQUED TO BURY THE OPPOSITION DEEP DOWN IN A KNOCK EM’ DEAD DEBUT.

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deep-down-dd-cvrI was in the UK’s second city recently at an event in the NEC, when I was informed by a sign on the wall of some of the well known people who have come from Birmingham. The likes of Ozzy Osbourne, Leona Lewis were mentioned, while the literary world wasn’t referenced. The West Midland’s capital has produced such luminaries as J.R. Tolkien, James Barlow, Bill Odie and Barbara Cartland. When it comes to bounty hunters though… They’re a bit thin on the ground, until now. This month’s book is written by a former bounty hunter, who’s a Brummie. The book is Deep Down Dead by Steph Broadribb and was published in January by Orenda books www.orendabooks.com .

Our heroine Lori Anderson is a single mother working as a bounty hunter in Florida. When the medical bills for her nine – year old daughter’s treatment start to stack up, along with the rent, she’s forced to take an out of state skip trace worth enough to cover her mounting bills. But there’s a deadline, she must have him back in court in three days. The ‘him’ turns out to be her mentor, JT, whom she hasn’t seen in ten years. Getting him back from West Virginia in three days should be a cake walk. But then things start to go downhill,  her child minder goes  away early to see relatives out of state, thus forcing her to take Dakota on a “Ride-Along”. JT is being held by another bounty hunter in the hills awaiting Lori’s arrival.  At the hand-over she’s ambushed and just about manages to get away with JT, then Dakota is kidnapped by a theme park owner running a pornography ring from one of his parks ,who wants incriminating evidence JT has on him. Meanwhile the mob also want a piece of JT.  Will she get Dakota back? Will she manage to return JT to Florida without letting her past with him get in the way?

The first thing that strikes me about this book is that it’s full of the usual bog standard storyline building blocks of your average half decent American tv drama. A kid, a bounty hunter playing fast and loose with the law, the mob and the two main characters bumping off each other or having done so in the past with the usual results…. But add to that Broadribb’s tense and moving writing style we are presented with a steadfast page turner of a first novel and if she can keep this up for the next couple of books she’ll set herself up as a force to be reckoned with in this genre.

The child pornography ring being run out of a Winter Wonderland theme park was original, but in parts reminded me of the plot of Beverly Hills Cop 3, when Axel investigates a money laundering racket in a theme park. Also, the link between the three main characters is a bit predictable but again it doesn’t take away from the self-assured, fresh – in your face writing style of this new kid on the block.

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Steph Broadribb

Broadribb’s life reads almost like my own, I was born in London grew up in Chesham in Buckinghamshire and then moved to Dublin where I write this blog. Ok, so I haven’t trained as a Bounty hunter but I often thought about it while growing up watching “The Fall Guy”.

This is the first foray into becoming a crime fiction writer for the Birmingham born debutant, but not her first time writing about crime fiction, as she’s been writing the book blog www.crimethrillergirl.com for several years now. She trained as bounty Hunter in California, studied creative writing at the City University London and now lives and writes surrounded by horses and cows in the English home county of Buckinghamshire.

Steph is planning to make this into a series set around the exploits of her heroine Lori Anderson,

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Duane “Dog” Chapman

who comes across as very likeable and far more interesting character than the real-life Duane “Dog” Chapman and his cohort of hanger-on’s in the reality TV series “Dog”.  The methodical way Lori goes about things and the style of writing shows experience and sufficient knowledge of Broadribb’s field of expertise, means she is to this sub-genre what Kathy Reich’s is to the Medical Examiner sub-genre.

So without further ado download this book or hot foot it to your local book store and snap up a copy and get in at the start of what looks set to be an enthralling series.

GROTHAUS’S DISSATISFACTION WITH SOCIETY LEADS TO AN EPIPHANY OF A DEBUT.

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epiphny-jns-cvrModern day human trafficking has its origins in the African slave trade, the first law against slavery didn’t come into effect until the British parliament passed an anti-slavery bill in 1807.  After the African save trade was stopped there was the white slavery, which concentrated on the exploitation and international movement of  women and girls for use in the sex trade. Now a days it accounts for an estimated 75-80% of all human trafficking and of that 50% of victims procured for the sex trade are children, which brings on to this months book. Its Epiphany Jones by Michael Grothaus (www.michaelgrothaus.com) published by Orenda books (www.orendabooks.co.uk ) in March 2016.

Boy can Michael Grothaus write! In this, his debut novel, he shows that he can do it all. Explicit sex, nauseating violence, page-turning thriller, tender romance, heart-breaking loss, pitch perfect characterisation – it’s all here. But the ‘piece de resistance’, the outstanding gem, of this novel is Grothaus’s empathetic and insightful portrayal of Jerry, it’s narrator and main character.

When we first meet Jerry he’s working as a Colour Imaging Specialist for the Art Institute of Chicago. Translation – he spends his day in a dingy basement digitally adjusting colours on reproductions of the Institute’s paintings.  The job is “one step above a peon and a thousand levels below anyone who matters”. He got the job because Roland, a co-worker, is a friend of his mother.

Jerry’s personal life is also pretty typical of the average twenty-something first-world male. He lives alone amid the debris of his unwashed clothes, is sex-obsessed, lies about having a girlfriend and suffers from bouts of depression. But life has thrown Jerry an extra curve-ball: psychotic hallucinations. At times Jerry – and the reader – doesn’t know if what he’s seeing is real or imaginary.

When Roland is murdered and a Van Gough painting loaned to the Art Institute turns up in Jerry’s apartment, his mundane life takes a turbo-charged swerve into the unknown. Enter Epiphany Jones.  A darkly ominous outsider who lives by her wits and has a direct line of communication to God. Jerry first assumes she’s an hallucination – he’s seen her before in a recurring dream. She turns out to be all too real and is convinced that Jerry, and only Jerry, can help her to find and rescue her daughter from sex slavery. Bizarre – but Epiphany can prove Jerry’s innocence so he has little choice but to play along with her.

What follows is a fast-paced thriller that brings us on a tail-spinning journey through the very dark world of child sex trafficking. Grothaus does not spare us. Graphic violence; nauseating exploitative sex; victims murdered, broken and depersonalized by vicious cruelty.  Stuff that I would usually run a mile from. But Grothaus’s narrative style is compelling. A truly talented scene-setter (he has a degree in filmmaking), he hooks you in by expertly sketching a sympathetic character and then, wham! Hits you in the solar plexus. But, unlike the vast majority of sex-and-violence writing that comes across as warped fantasy, when Grothaus causes your gut to wrench and the bile to rise, he also has brought your brain to the very clear understanding that this awfulness does happen. IS happening – in your city, likely only a few kilometers away.

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How does Jerry fare in all of this? Well, Jerry remains very much Jerry. Grothaus deftly avoids Jerry morphing into a competent, capable, adult. And this is the clue to Grothaus’s ability to get the reader to keep reading through some pretty harrowing material.  We’re already emotionally invested in the ‘hanging-onto-sanity-by-his-fingertips’ Jerry, so we have to see how he actually does hang on to his sanity in this grim world.  He grows up a little, but he largely remains the same confused, bewildered anti-hero that we first meet. His stratagems and schemes to get out of the mess he’s in invariably fail. He constantly digs more holes for himself. Only to be dragged, usually unwillingly, out of danger by street-wise Epiphany.

Interestingly, Epiphany’s character doesn’t change much either. But as we learn her back-story and see her navigate the tides of the sex-trade underworld our perspective changes. This is not the world for a trusting, approachable character who plays by the rules. Believing that you have an all-powerful God on your side is a very valuable mind-set in this nasty territory.

I do have a few quibbles, however. Grothaus packs too much into this one book. He could have brought everything to a conclusion much earlier. One half of the book is set in the US and Mexico, the other half in Portugal & Cannes. I got the distinct impression that Jerry was brought to Portugal largely because Grothaus wanted to use location material he had from visiting there. The thriller plot also stalls for several chapters while Jerry falls in love with a local girl. The writing is still very good and the characterizations were more than enough to hold my interest. But I thought I was reading a different book.

And the Cannes section? Here Grothaus’s characterisation skill falters and the plot-line frays more than a little. He doesn’t quite ‘nail’ the narcissistic, self-aggrandising scumbags of the movie business who assume an entitlement to destroy the lives of others to fill the gaping hole that once held a soul. And the working out of the plot dénouement becomes far, far to complicated. I’d need a 3-D model of the mansion it takes place in to follow it! It might work on film, but not on paper.

But none of this takes away from the absolutely wonderful portrayal of Jerry – the inadequate mess who tries so hard to get things right and, despite (often self generated) knockbacks and pretty tough odds, keeps trying. I still get teary-eyed about how he blamed himself for his sister’s death. I want to shout out “It wasn’t your fault, Jerry – you were only a kid”. That’s how much Michael Grothaus reeled me in.

michael-grothaus

Michael Grothaus

Grothaus’s writing ability really shouldn’t come as any surprise. He’s an established journalist known for his writing about internet subcultures in the digital age  and with roots in the film industry. He also knows his topic, having spent years researching sex trafficking. True to the mantra ‘write what you know’, he even worked in The Art Institute of Chicago.

In an Irish Times article he wrote earlier this year, he described his motivation for the book “…you write a first-person debut novel about a guy who has a porn addiction and some readers are just going to think it’s autobiographical. I get that. I do. But what those same readers are right about is the anger. That dissatisfaction Jerry feels? That comes from me – at least part of it. And it’s that dissatisfaction, I believe, that is essential to being a good writer…. Dissatisfaction, used wisely, fuels action. It’s what gets you in front of your keyboard to write that story that holds a mirror up to society so it can see itself as it truly is..” .

His first book is a really good read – I’m recommending it to every teenage boy I know (Jerry as a role-model – Yes!). Let’s hope there’s lots more to come.

Reviewed by Clare O’Connor

IN HER WAKE, JENNINGS LEAVES THE READER DISTURBED BUT EAGERLY SEARCHING FOR HER OTHER BOOKS.

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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

Madeleine-McCann

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.

BEECH BRAVELY SETS SAIL IN THIS DEBUT LOADED WITH FACT, FICTION AND TEMPER TRANTRUMS

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You’re pHow to b brve cvrrobably aware that Diabetes has been in the news recently owing to the announcement that researchers have successfully implanted insulin producing cells into mice. Thus taking large steps toward curing this debilitating disease which affects 6% of the worlds adult population. According to the website www.diabetes.org.uk figures released in November 2015 showed that there are currently 3.5 million people in the UK with diabetes. Unlike the UK, there isn’t a national register of diabetes sufferers in Ireland. In 2013 the international Diabetes federation estimated the figure at 207,490. I know at least two people with it, one being my brother-in-law. I don’t know any children with it, although according to Diabetes Ireland www.diabetes.ie there were 2.750 people under the age of 20 with type 1 diabetes according to a paediatric audit in 2012. Type 1 diabetes is 50 times more common in those aged under 18 and the peak age for diagnosis is 10-14yrs. Thus we come to this month’s book – it’s How To Be Brave  by Louise Beech.

The book tells the story of Natalie Armitage an army wife and her nine-year-old daughter Rose.  The two of them lead a sheltered existence in their home in the suburbs of Hull. It’s Halloween and they are dressed up ready to go trick or treating, when Rose suddenly collapses, along with Natalie’s world and their lives as they know them. Later in the A&E, while waiting to hear what’s wrong with her a daughter, a familiar old man appears beside Natalie and comforts her but when the nurse comes to break the life changing news that Rose has Type 1 diabetes, the old man is nowhere to be seen, just the scent of Sea and Salt. Over the next couple of days their lives are turned upside down with the rather sharp learning curve that comes with  getting used to the strict regime of insulin injections and the rapid deterioration of Rose’s personality. One day she is a sweet slightly annoying nine-year-old, then behold an out of control brat. Poor Natalie has to try to get to grips with the diabetes routine, her husband Jake’s absence serving in Afghanistan and the monster possessing her daughter. But the mysterious old man troubles her and unbeknownst to Natalie is visiting Rose in her dreams, until she goes missing. When she is finally found after a frantic search, she tells her mum the old man led her there to find the book. The book in question is a diary belong to Natalie’s Grandad Colin Armitage a merchant seaman whose ship the SS Lulworth Hill was torpedoed off the African Coast in 1943. The diary records his life in the life raft following the sinking. The mother and daughter reach an agreement that Natalie will read the diary to Rose in return for letting her mum administer the injections, which up until then has been the major source of hostilities between the two. Will Colin’s ghost and the story of his sacrifice and bravery while adrift at sea be the tentative bond to aid mother and daughter through the initial trying stages of their new life. Also what of Colin’s story? Do he and the other fourteen occupants in the life raft survive…?

I have to get this off my chest first and foremost, never have I felt such an over-riding urge to slap a character in a book as I have with Rose. Even before she collapsed she was starting to get on my nerves. But afterwards there were times when I just wanted to scream, even throw the book down out of utter frustration.Natalie like most parents these days is up against kids who know the law better than the generations before them and thus play up to their parents and authority figures at every turn.

Louise Beech

Louise Beech

According to the author H.P. Lovecroft “ The oldest and strongest emotion of mankind is fear, and the oldest and strongest kind of fear is fear of the unknown“. Yes, this maybe the main driver of Rose’s rebellious streak –  but the utter contempt with which she treats her mum is scandalous.

As for Natalie, I have nothing but sympathy for her and predicament she finds herself in although despite numerous offers of help from family, friends and Social Workers, she shuns the advice to seek counselling, when you can clearly she is out of her depth and just treading water. Deep down she’s a mother first and foremost thus she knows that her daughter’s change in character is down to the chemical imbalance and her body’s desperate attempts to recover.

 

The main thing that kept me reading and the two main characters going forward was Colin’s story. It is a truly dramatic and harrowing read but strangely enough a true story. Colin Armitage is actually Author Louise Beech’s grandfather and was aboard the Lulworth Hill when it was sunk by an Italian Submarine in the South Atlantic on the 19th March 1943.  It’s a real eye opener to life adrift at the mercy of the currents and surviving on milk tablets, Bovril tablets, biscuits and a couple of ounces of water a day, having just read We Die Alone by David Howarth, Colin’s experience comes a very close second to it in the endurance stakes.

This is English author Louise Beech’s first book, published in 2015 by Orenda books www.orendabooks.co.uk she’s no stranger to the sea and travelling having been a travel writer for a local Hull newspaper for years, while having her first play performed on stage at the Hull Truck Theatre in 2012, where she also works as a front of house usher.

SS Lulworth Hill

SS Lulworth Hill

 

The whole book is a marrying of two very large chunks of truth and a dollop of imagination to stitch together Colin’s story and Louise’s experiences of coming to terms with a child diagnosed with Diabetes. It makes the book a very good read and one that should get onto the Book Club circuit quite quickly if it hasn’t already.

I was sent my copy by the good people at Orenda Books. I can definitely recommend you get this debut novel, I’ll be keeping a sharp eye out for future books by an author who definitely knows how to press one’s buttons and keep you engrossed.