Book Review: The Black Country


The Black Country, by Kerry Hadley-Pryce, is a deliciously dark tale of a couple whose lives are falling apart. It is narrated by an acquaintance who is recounting what he has been told by each of the pair. From the beginning there is foreboding, a sinister undercurrent that proves well founded as the protagonists’ secrets are revealed.

Harry is a teacher and Maddie an estate agent. They met at university; their relationship is troubled. Harry fears that Maddie will leave him, as she did once before. Both ponder how they now feel about the other. Their relationship is a battle for control.

Driving home after a party the couple are involved in a road accident which they do not report. They blame each other for what happened as they struggle to cope with the guilt they feel. Waiting for the expected repercussions, for the police to come knocking on their door, they argue and fight. Behind closed doors few are what they first seem.

The narrator is party to many of the couple’s deepest thoughts. His voice is assured, intimate, and chilling. Sordid secrets from the past bubble to the surface, the couple’s reactions to the accident and the weight of guilt squeezing out confessions of events each believes the other must now suspect. Little of what is being revealed penetrates preconceptions until all else has been stripped away.

This is a short book in which a great deal is explored. Harry and Maddie claim they are trying to be truthful in their recollections to the narrator but each will only see life as it revolves around them.

And who is the narrator? That revelation made me question everything I had just read.

I raced to the end, desperate to discover where the disturbing build up would lead. On finishing I read the whole tale again, it is that good.

A discomforting, original and haunting work of fiction. This is a fabulous read.

My copy of this book was provided gratis by the publisher, Salt.



Book Review: The Girl on the Train

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The Girl on the Train, by Paula Hawkins, is a thriller about power within relationships, emotional abuse and the unreliability of memory.  It explores an individual’s selective vision, the lies we tell ourselves in order to maintain the fantasies in which we wish to live. It lays bare how memory is a construct as much as a recollection, that interpretation can rely on corroboration. It questions the fanciful, selfish reasons for trust, how we judge and are judged.

Rachel is struggling with her life. She has lost her husband, her job and her self respect. Each day she travels to London by train, passing the house where she once lived. She watches a young couple who now live nearby, imagining the happy lives they lead until she almost believes it is real. She feels that she has got to know them, so much so that when one of them disappears she cannot stop herself from becoming involved.

Rachel wishes to help, to uncover the truth, but what of her story can be believed? She is an alcoholic, dogged by memory blackouts and vivid dreams. She is an unreliable witness who cannot even be sure herself what she remembers.

The plot is compelling, multi layered and tightly written. Each of the characters adds intrigue leaving the reader guessing but never quite sure of where the tale will go next. As each character is forced to shed the blinkers they have chosen to wear and to face what has been happening around them the painful truths cause their lives to implode.

The imagery of the train is a constant throughout the book and works well. A journey, strangers, the unrelenting presence like the elephant in the room. I was impressed by the author’s careful unveiling, the pivotal secret and the chilling denouement.

This is an engrossing tale that will not disappoint. It may just cause a few more commuters to look out of train windows and imagine the lives that are being lived as they pass by.

Book Review: Snowblind


Snowblind, by Christopher Golden, is disturbing in a way that all horror stories must aspire to be. The tension throughout is palpable. Within a few chapters the reader is drawn into a world with an undercurrent of fear. Deaths go unexplained because the given explanation is impossible to accept, a threat that is dismissed as implausible.

The story is set in Coventry, Massachusetts, a place where winters are harsh and snow storms expected. A particularly brutal storm claims the lives of eighteen people overnight, many in unusual circumstances. The brother of one of the young victims witnesses what has caused the deaths but his account is regarded as the nightmare imaginings of a child.

Twelve years later, with another big storm pending, some of the residents of the town are behaving strangely. They seek out those most closely affected by that terrible night long ago, recounting details that they should not have known. The bereaved may have moved on with their lives but they still bear the scars of their loss. Is it memory alone that is now haunting them?

As the plot accelerates towards its climax the reader is pulled into the vortex of the storm, its cold tendrils wrapping themselves around and making every creak in the house a concern. The writing is gripping, the denouement unexpected and chilling.

This is not a book for the faint hearted. Just like the residents of the town, the rational may dismiss it as impossible, but the next time something moves out of the corner of the eye or knocks against a darkened window, some readers may wonder what is out there…

My copy of this book was provided gratis by the publisher, Headline.

Book Review: A Love Like Blood


A Love Like Blood, by Marcus Sedgwick, is about humans who are obsessed in differing ways with blood. I did not find it easy reading. There has been a lot of fiction written about vampires in recent years, but not so much about the desire to drink blood. This book is not about need (to sustain life) but desire. Perhaps to understand it one must be capable of empathising with those who struggle to differentiate between these two states, who feel justified in hurting others that their desires may be satisfied. They conflate desire with need and expect their actions to be understood and considered reasonable.

The book follows the life of Charles Jackson, a doctor who specialises in blood disorders. As a medic during the Second World War he stumbles across an unknown man in an underground bunker committing an act that horrifies and haunts him thereafter. When he unexpectedly encounters the man again a number of years later a series of events are set in motion that will eventually determine the course of his life. Love is mentioned but not acted upon. An apparent desire for justice becomes an obsession.

There are many points in the story when our protagonist could have walked away but chose not to. His career, his family and his friends become victims of his choices. He commits increasingly heinous acts that he justifies to himself as necessary for the greater good. It is only at the end that the reader is allowed to see how damaged this ‘hero’ has allowed himself to become.

The author raises some interesting questions, such as how the drinking of human blood can be regarded as abhorrent by so many yet is accepted as a form of worship in the Christian Church. He observes that the taking of human life, the spilling of blood, is punished as a major crime yet is encouraged in times of war. He ponders the paradox of meat eaters having such antipathy towards the consumption of human blood when they will ingest the blood of other species.

I found the constant references to blood throughout the book both educative and stomach churning. The turning of the artwork in the Sistene Chapel into something monstrous illustrates how even things of apparent beauty can become distorted by perception. Blood flow is necessary for life yet is also a cause of death.

The denouement was chilling but not a surprise. The story raised issues to ponder but also skewed meanings, just as Charles Jackson had skewed his thinking to justify the actions he wished to take. The progression of the tale reminded me of a clever orator who can sway a crowd with apparent logic, but whose consequential actions go against core beliefs. It is not the blood that is bad but what is done with it.

I very much enjoyed the way this book was written, its dark use of time and place, its chilling arguments and justifications. It was not an easy book to read but, having started it, I did not want to put it down. Recommended, but only for those with a strong disposition.

My copy of this book was provided gratis by the publisher, Mulholland Books.