TOUMAINEN’S LACK LUSTRE PALM BEACH FORCES ME TO CURTAIL MY VISIT

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PALM BEACH PROOF COVER AWEvery decade has its memorable TV crime shows, the seventies had Starsky & Hutch, The Sweeney and Hawaii 5-0 to name a few. The eighties had more than its fair share, such as Cagney & Lacey, Magnum and Knight Rider. Some left us with a catch phrase, like “Book Em Dano” or Regan shouting in a thick London accent, “You’re nicked !!!”, while others left us with a new sense of style. Magnum for example, made bushy mustaches and Hawaiian shirts all the rage, while one other programme of the eighties left us with white linen jackets , matched with crew necked t-shirts and a strange hankering for wearing no socks. Yes, it was of course, Miami Vice. Florida and it’s TV series play a part in this months second review,  Palm Beach Finland by Antti Toumainen, which is published by Orenda Books (www.orendabooks.co.uk) on October 18th.

When a mysterious death occurs in a small sleepy Finnish seaside resort, Jan Nyman a leading light in the Helsinki Covert Police unit is sent to investigate. The town is attempting to go through a rebirth, with a large holiday resort in the middle of it branding itself Palm Beach and aiming to be the new mecca for the rich and famous to challenge Monte Carlo and Monaco. Picture any ageing British seaside resort, such as Blackpool or Skegness and you can get a feel for the what type of place this is.

But when Nyman arrives, he discovers behind the garish neon signage and faux Miami-esque frontage  a wealth of seedy characters with various reasons for committing the murder, along with a series of further strange events that occur after his arrival. Nyman must get to the bottom of this mystery by any means possible. Assuming the role of a Helsinki mathematics teacher, who is on his holidays, he throws himself literally into the job.

I was expecting a lot from this book, having read and thoroughly enjoyed Toumainen’s last offering, The Man Who Died. But this book let me down and I was left disinterested in a story which moped along  and the host of characters who came across as one dimensional  and unoriginal. Where The Man Who Died was a real page turner with well rounded characters and  a plot that held you vice like until the very end, I must admit I didn’t get to the end of this book by the time of writing review.

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Antti Toumainen

The press release claims similarities between it and Fargo. Everyone has tried to emulate Fargo since it appeared and now a days it’s becoming a bit dated. In my opinion the film was great, but the TV series was a step too far and more proof if ever it was needed of Hollywood’s fear of trying new material and sticking to old over-worked formula. The nearest thing to come close to Fargo in recent times was this year’s smash hit “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing Missouri”, which funnily enough shared the same leading lady – Francis McDormand.

This is Finnish author and script writer, Antii Toumainen’s (www.anttitoumainen.com) seventh novel. The others include The Healer (2013), The Mine (2016) and The Man Who Died (2016). He has won numerous awards for his writing, including The Clue Award for “Best Finnish Crime Novel” in 2011 for The Healer. He was crowned “The King Of Helsinki Noir” by the Finnish press in 2013 on the publication of Dark As My Heart.

Having read his previous work and seeing what this man can do with a fresh perspective on a simple story, don’t let me deter you from picking up a copy of this or his previous books. I look forward to his next offering. To see what the other reviewers thought of the book, see the list of their websites below and go visit them.

First Palm Beach BT Poster

BEECH PROVES THERE’S NO TAMING THIS LITERARY LIONESS

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thumbnail_Lion Tamer front cover finalWishes are an amazing facet of life. They help us get through tough times, allowing is to believe in and live for something in the future that will make us happier. There are different ways of wishing, some people wish upon a star, others make one on blowing out a candle or pulling apart the  wishbone of a chicken.

It is often said; be careful what you wish for. As we found out last week. For a couple of months now myself and my wife have played with an idea about adding to our furry four-legged brood, by getting another cat. Well a month ago, we found one and it arrived last week. Now we have a fur ball  lightning bolt who seems to have been crossed with a free runner and a football hooligan. This month’s book also features cats, big ones and a story about  long held wishes and what can happen when they eventually come true. The book is “The Lion Tamer Who Lost” by Louise Beech, published by Orenda Books (www.orendabooks.co.uk), on the 30th September.

Ben and Andrew meet by chance in the local library. Ben is there to write an essay for university and Andrew is doing research for his book. What follows is an intense relationship which takes over both their lives, but no sooner has it begun then Andrew is struck down by Leukemia and a simple blood test reveals more than just love and lust between the two men. Because of this they part company and Ben, driven by the bigoted views and the wandering crotch of his old man, follows a promise he made to his dying mum to go to Africa to help at a lion reserve. Andrew also made a wish when his was a young boy and keeps it in a silver box. Despite the miles between them and Ben’s relationships with a lioness called Lucy and Esther a fellow volunteer, he can’t forget his feelings for Andrew. Six months on Ben and Esther’s relationship forces them home to where they must make some life choices together. But what of Andrew? has he moved on? Will he be happy to see Ben and can Ben also be upfront with Esther  and his family about his sexuality?

This is the second of Louise’s books that I’ve read, the other being her debut novel, How To Be Brave. What I realised having read both, is that she has this amazing power to take simple stories and make them into heart-warming, emotionally driven tales that stay with the reader well after you’ve put down the book.

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Louise Beech

Whether she’s describing the view of witnessing an African sunrise or the disparity between different generations of working-class English families, every character and scene is so vivid and believable you can’t but feel you are there or say to yourself, “yes, I’ve been in a situation like that.”

A prime example can be found in her first book, which had an annoying little child as the main character in it. You do eventually warm to her character and to the difficulties she was facing, as she comes to terms with a diabetes diagnosis. This is thanks to Louise’s talent which proves she is a writer with immense skill far beyond the four books she has produced.

Diabetes is also a theme running through this book, with Andrew being the one dealing with his body’s wayward sugar levels. This comes down to the fact that Louise’s own daughter is a diabetic and her experiences come through n both books, having not read the others I can’t say if its a theme in all her books. In the Lion Tamer Who Lost, she gives you two strong males who are very much in love and weaves an emotional story of the bond between two gay men and shows no matter how hard you try, once you’ve met your destined mate, nothing is going to come between you. Well almost nothing…

Yes, like her debut novel, this book, really tugged at my heart strings and I dare any male out there, not to feel some twinges while reading it.

As for its length, at a tad over three hundred pages, it’s light and easy to read, although some of the chapters could be a bit confusing as they jump back and forth between the main characters and various times. There is a lot going on in the book: gay love, heterosexual relations and inter family relationships. At times, it does come across like a bit of a kitchen sink drama, with shades of an episode of Channel Fours “Queer As Folk”, but Beech never lets it get too in your face.

This is English Author Louise Beech’s (www.louisebeech.co.uk) fourth book, her othersLioness being How To Be Brave (2015), The Mountain In My Shoe (2016) and Maria In The Moon (2017). She lives In Hull with her family and when she’s not writing, she can be found working front of house at The Hull Truck Theatre, where her first play “Afloat” was performed in 2012.

So, if you are looking for loving crafted,  heart-warming and page turning read to welcome in the darkening evenings of the approaching winter, go pick up a copy  at your local book shop or download a copy. Then afterwards read Louise’s other books and prepare to be taken on a magical tour through the wonderful imagination and writings of one the North of England’s rising literary stars.

 

This book was reviewed as part of a Random Things blog tour, see the poster below for the other reviewers and visit their blogs to see what they thought.

The Lion Tamer Blog Tour Poster Final

SYMON AND SHEPHARD SET TO GATHER A NEW FLOCK IN THE NORTHERN HEMISPHERE

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Overkill CoverWhile preparing to write this month’s third book review, I discovered that the New Zealand National Badminton team were once called “The Black Cock’s” but had to change the name after a year due to complaints. It also reminded me that I start my new badminton season this week, after the summer break.

But it’s the fine women of New Zealand that we look to in this review. They were the first females in the world to get the vote in 1893, while it is still the only country in the world where all the highest positions in government have been held by women simultaneously, in 2006. This month’s book features another determined and resilient antipodean woman, her name is Sam Shephard and she’s the protagonist in a new series of books (to be published outside New Zealand) by Vanda Symon. The first one is Overkill published by Orenda books (www.orendabooks.co.uk )  on the 30th August.

Sam Shephard is the solitary local constable in the small town of Matuara on the South Island. It’s a peaceful one-horse town, where the biggest problem crime wise is speeding. That is, until local woman Gaby Knowes goes missing leaving her young daughter home alone. When her husband Lockie discovers her missing and then finds a suicide note and pills in the kitchen sink, he calls the police.  From the outset Sam knows there’s a possible conflict of interest involving her and Gaby’s husband, she was his last serious relationship before he married Gaby and their split wasn’t exactly harmonious.

Whilst the missing woman’s family vehemently insist that she had no reason to take her own life, Sam must follow the clues and treat it as a suicide.  A search of the area surrounding the rural property provides no sign of Gaby, until late into the night when a team of local volunteers searching the nearby Mataura river find a body. By the time Sam realizes that it isn’t a suicide as the family have claimed but something more sinister, most of the crime scene evidence in the house has been compromised by Gaby’s well-meaning mother and her over-zealous use of a hoover and duster. As Sam calls in the reinforcements from the nearby town of Gore, her previous history with Lockie gets her suspended and marked up as a suspect. Of course, as with any good heroine, this doesn’t deter her from seeking the truth behind the overzealous act of violence and this puts her on a direct collision course with her superiors as well as the locals and jeopardises her career. Can she find the killer, before he strikes again, and get to the bottom of the murder in this quiet little back water of New Zealand?

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Vanda Symon

From the outset, this book had me intrigued, the title itself is a fine marketing ploy that will allow this new female crime stopper to stand cover to cover with her fellow counterparts and fight equally for shelf space with the seasoned pro’s from around the world.

Overkill!!! The word itself fires the imagination, making any casual peruser wonder as to what the story could be about and the mysteries lying within the darkly obscure covers and spine. What we get is a down to earth plain Jane copper whose hasn’t got all the answers but is believable and is no Lara Croft. No, she’s a real girl next door, who sounds like any half decent female police officer you might find on a dark windy rain swept night in any part of the world, just doing her job. Whose night, at any moment, could go from the mundane to the adrenaline pumping.

The story its self is excellently written and superbly plotted with enough misdirects and twists, to keep new fans happy. Especially rewarding is the reason for the murder, which comes out of left field and almost had me applauding its simplicity along with its potentially far reaching consequences.

 

The descriptive writing of Symon is fantastic too and having only ever been as far as MatauraMelbourne myself, New Zealand is somewhere I want to visit, and this book paints a picture far more beautiful and tranquil than the west of Ireland and Yorkshire moors at times. In Overkill, Symon has proved she can create more terror in this little piece of heaven, then the all to often relied upon back drops of bustling American or international cities.

This is New Zealand Author and radio host Vanda Symons (www.vandasymon.com) fifth book. Four of which feature her heroine Sam Shephard, which have all reached number one in the New Zealand bestseller lists. Overkill was first published in New Zealand in 2007, The others which hopefully Orenda won’t be too long in publishing are, Ringmaster (2008), Containment (2009) and Bound (2011) and her fifth book (not featuring Shephard) is the stand-alone psychological thriller The Faceless (2012). When not writing, Symon can be found gardening in her home in Dunedin or talking part locally and nationally in her lifelong hobby of fencing.

Overkill is what Symon has managed to avoid by delivering a concise and well-paced crime novel in no more than two hundred and seventy pages. For less than the standard over hyped big-name bestsellers, which seem to play more on substance than style. So, if you want a bright, funny and down to earth fresh faced detective to get behind as the nights start drawing in, then get down to your local book shop or download a copy.

 

To see what the rest of the bloggers thought of this book, check the poster below and over the next four weeks visit their sites to find out.

Overkill Blog Tour Poster

BOUCHARD’S SALT OF THE SEA FLOWS SMOOTHLY WITH A CREW OF MEMORABLE CHARACTERS.

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We Are Salt Of Sea CvrAccording to the Canadian author John Ralston Saul, “In European tradition, rivers are seen as divisions between peoples. But in Aboriginal tradition, rivers are seen as the glue, the highway, the linkeage between people, not the separation. And that’s the history of Canada: our rivers and lakes were our highways…”.  Without Rivers and lakes, Canadians would never have found the sea and what lies beyond the horizons, or for that matter, the beautiful Gaspe Penisula on the southern shores of the St. Laurence river.

The author of this months book discovered the peninsula  ten years ago when she took up sailing. It’s where  this month’s book is set and all but one of the characters come and go by water to it. The book is “We Were The Salt Of The  Sea” by Roxanne Bouchard, published by Orenda Books (www.Orendabooks.co.uk) Last April.

Montreal woman Catherine Day is advised by her doctor to take some much needed time out, so she packs her bags, boards her beloved boat and sets sail up the coast to Caplan on the Gaspe Peninsula. There, according a letter posted in  Key West, she’ll find her lost mother, the woman who gave her up for adoption thirty years ago.  Shortly after she arrives in the remote fishing village, a body of is found tangled in fishing nets off the coast. It’s Marie Garant, her birth mother. The local police launch an investigation headed by newly arrived former Quebec detective Joaquim Morales, who’s moved to the area at the behest of his artist wife, believing their struggling marriage needs nurturing in the quiet and relaxed tempo of life on the peninsula. But poor Joaquim has literally no time to enjoy the surroundings or sedate pace of life, let alone unpack. As, he is thrust headlong into the investigation to find the cause of Marie Garant’s death, a woman who was even more mysterious in life than in death. As the search for answers by both parties moves forward, helped and hindered by the local characters, Catherine tries to find out more about her mother and where she went on her regular voyages from the safe-haven of Caplan’s harbour and about the identity of her father. Morales like Catherine, is also on a journey of personal discovery . Can they find the answers to their own personal quests and will new love and new starts be the answers?

Numerous other readers have praised Bouchard’s poetic style of writing, and this style is very much apparent from the opening page. I felt it wasn’t so much poetic, but smooth flowing prose like the current of a river, that gradually takes the reader on a journey from start to finish.

On top of that, credit must surely go to David Warriner’s translation, without whose excellent skill, the afore mention flowing prose would have been lost in translation and left the book high and dry on this side of the Atlantic.  I did wonder after finishing it – if the characters were actually speaking French or English but written by a francaphone author, as it never says in the book, but assumes the reader automatically knows. According to Wikipedia, French is the primary language of the region, so that answers that.

Roxanne Bouchard

Roxanne Bouchard (Le Devoir)

One of the best things about this book is its characters. If the prose is the current moving the story forward, then the characters are the boats on which the reader is transported. I’ve read numerous books where the story is told by stereotypical cardboard cutout characters, that any writer can half-heartedly fit into the story like a jigsaw piece. But a true storyteller uses unique standout characters who embrace you from your first meeting till your last and this is what you get with the plethora of individual characters in We We The Salt Of The Sea.

As for the two lead characters there are some stereo typical sides to them, Morales, theGaspe Peninsula middle aged detective attempting to deal with  his mid-life crisis , marital problems and the investigation. He’s unique in that one really wonders how many Mexican cops there are in Montreal? I did feel for him and the way he was treated by the locals. He also, it appears, will be a recurring character. Maybe he’s supposed to be the main one in this book, although this isn’t really clear. But I understand Bouchard is working on her next book which will also be set is the Gaspie Region and will also feature Morales.

As for Catherine, we see characters like hers popping up regularly in literature. A mid thirties woman ,discovering their wanderlust and the truth behind her estranged mother – is a theme in  many books these days. But the real characters are the local fishermen and townsfolk, each one is unique in their own way.

This is Canadian Author Roxanne Bouchard’s (www.roxannebouchard.com) fifth book and the first to be translated into English – her others include Whiskey And Parables, The Slap and Crematorium Circus. She’s also written two essays on Canadian Military and a love monologue for the theatre. She’s a graduate of the University of Montreal and has been teaching literature at Cegep De Jliette a college in the Lanaudiere region of Canada since 1994. Inspiration for the book came ten years ago when Bouchard decided to find her sea legs and learned to sail on the St. Laurence and then the open waters off the Gaspe Peninsula.

So if you are looking for a heart warming book, full of well rounded and loveable characters, then this is the book to upload on your kindle or stow in your carry-on luggage for a great summer read.

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Sorry if we’ve been a bit quite at the Library Door for the past month, but we suffered a technical issue behind the door (The Laptop Died). We’re back now and normal service has resumed, with book reviews and blog tours winging their way to you over next couple of months.

Adrian

 

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,

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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.

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.