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.

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.

tisza-blooming

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.

steph-broadribb

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,

duane-dog-chapman

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