Book Review: The Quiet Man

The Quiet Man, by James Carol, is the latest thriller in the author’s Jefferson Winter series and the first of his books that I have read. The protagonist is a former FBI profiler, now travelling the world as a freelance consultant assisting in hunting down serial criminals. Winter’s backstory as the son of a killer and possessing an unusually high IQ makes him an interesting creation. In this story, set in Vancouver, he teams up with Laura Anderton, a former detective turned private investigator.

Anderton headed up the police team tasked with investigating a series of murders in her city, carried out annually on 5th August. Each of the three victims to date was gagged, strapped to a chair, and left alone wearing a bomb which, when triggered, tears them apart. The method of triggering is this killer’s modus operandi yet conflicts with serial killers’ understood ways of working.

With 5th August approaching once again, Anderton has requested Winter’s help in the hope that they can prevent another death. Having been forced out of the police by a negative media campaign she is eager to solve this case for herself.

Anderton and Winter are being payrolled by Nicholas Sobek, a wealthy and controlling businessman whose beautiful young wife was the killer’s first victim. Initially Sobek was a suspect but the subsequent murders made this difficult to prove. He is intense and determined, his aim being to punish the man who took what was his.

The writing is engaging with many twists and turns offering the reader chances to guess at motive and connections. Winter is not afraid to take risks that the police could not countenance for fear of compromising their ability to present evidence necessary to secure a conviction. This is not so much a high action thriller as a deadly game played by cold cunning and methodical intelligence. There is little emotion in the narrative and this strengthens the intrigue.

The varied cast of characters adds interest with interactions affected by attraction and repulsion yet remaining professional. I was impressed that the author felt no need to inject romance, common in crime fiction yet often unnecessary for plot progression.

I enjoyed this book and would now like to read previous instalments in the series. It is a compelling and entertaining read.

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

This post is a stop on the Quiet Man Blog Tour. Do check out the other blogs taking part, detailed below.

Book Review: The Contract

The Contract, by JM Gulvin, is the second book in the author’s John Q series of crime thrillers. You may read my review of the first one here. Set in 1960s America, the protagonist, John Quarrie, is a fearless and determined Texas Ranger. He is a modern day cowboy with a strong sense of justice for all, in a country still divided by race.

The book opens with a robbery at a gunstore in small town Texas. This leads to a shoot out and car chase. To save his own life, Quarrie takes down an assailant. When he investigates the perpetrators he finds another dead body with links to New Orleans. Flying there to follow up on one of his few leads, Quarrie becomes embroiled in a secretive plan that involves many in the state’s law enforcement agencies. He struggles to work out what is going on and why. His presence and the methods he employs while out of his juridiction are resented by many. Quarrie suspects he is being manipulated but does not know by whom. There is nobody he can trust.

Although the reader is offered snapshots of all those involved, the extent and reasons are only slowly revealed. There is a large cast of characters with a variety of links. I struggled at times to follow the numerous threads.

Having said that, this is a compelling read. The action remains tense throughout and is rarely predictable. The story is written in a voice that is original and engaging. There are links to historical events of the time and to a variety of conspiracy theories. Given today’s political situation, the attitudes of many of the characters is chilling.

The reveals at the end provide a good mix of the unexpected, some satisfying if a tad dodgy come-uppances, and a few loose ends in keeping with the story arc created. Quarrie gets things done the old style Texas way, which is not always appreciated. His methods do, however, provide an entertaining read.

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

This post is a stop on The Contract Blog Tour. Do check out the other blogs taking part, detailed below.

Book Review: Say Nothing

Say Nothing, by Brad Parks, is a crime thriller written from the point of view of an unusual protagonist – an American federal judge. These powerful justices are appointed for life, unless deemed unfit for the role due to breaking their oath of impartiality and fairness under the law. They may sentence as they consider appropriate. Rulings may be grumbled about but are rarely questionned.

The Honorable Scott Sampson enjoys the privileges of his elevated position to the full. He can take time out every Wednesday afternoon to go swimming with his children, six year old twins, Sam and Emma. Their home is a secluded farmhouse on the banks of the Chesapeake river with a broad swathe of woodland protecting them from public roads. His beautiful wife, Alison, holds down a challenging and worthy job working with children too intellectually disabled to attend mainstream schools. A foreign student, Justina, provides childcare in exchange for accommodation in a cottage on their land.

The story opens on a swimming day. Scott receives a text from his wife to tell him the twins have a doctor’s appointment so she will collect them from school. That evening, when she returns home, she is alone. They get a call informing them that if they ever wish to see their children again they must follow instructions that will be sent regarding a case due before the judge the next day. They are to say nothing to anyone about what is happening. If the kidnappers even suspect that they have sought help they will start chopping off the children’s body parts.

Scott feels that he has no choice but to comply. He also understands that he is only useful to these criminals if he can retain his position. Thus begins an intricate web of deception during which he must convince his colleagues that he is fit for his role whilst obeying the diktats being sent to him. Always he is trying to work out who is behind this nightmare scenario, and how to reach an end game that will see his kids returned to him unscathed.

The pressure Scott is under throughout is well evoked. He scrutinises everyone he knows in a desperate attempt to uncover how the kidnappers acquired access to his family along with a wealth of private information. His marriage is put under strain as he and Alison each suspect the other of indiscretions. At work his unusual behaviour must be convincingly explained.

The reader is offered snippets of what is happening to the twins but the mystery is what final outcome the kidnappers desire and why. Seen through Scott’s eyes, trusting anyone becomes a challenge. The pace of this unusual crime thriller gradually increases towards a shocking denouement.

Although there are cliches within the story – a picture perfect wider family, male ‘banter’, a beautiful wife, a professionally successful man who still finds time for his young children – the strength of the writing took me beyond these and wound me in. This was an engaging and pacy thriller. A fine UK debut for an author I would happily read again.

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

How to be an author – Guest post by Brad Parks

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Today I am delighted to welcome Brad Parks, author of Say Nothing, to my blog. In this guest post Brad shares his thoughts on what it takes to write a book. 

 

Having lurked around this blog, I’m aware that Jackie, my gracious host at Never Imitate, Jackie, is a woman interested in all things writing.

And given that I’m the new guy here – Say Nothing is my first book to release in the UK – I probably ought to just shove my hands deep in my pockets, mumble something nice about how you should write what you know, and call it a guest blog post.

Yeah, to hell with that.

I’m here. I’m going to rant. Because while I may be new around here, I’m not new to the writing community. I’ve hung around the bars, the conferences – and, most importantly, the bars at the conferences – long enough. I hear people talk about “talent” (such a misleading word), or “genius” (oh, please) or, worse, “inspiration” (I’ve got your muse right here in my pocket, pal).

And I feel like there’s one thing writers never talk about enough:

Stubbornness.

By stubbornness, I mean gamely bashing your head against the laptop screen – repeatedly and without letting up – until the words come out right; and then keeping at it, day after tormenting/boring/seemingly pointless day, until the whole manuscript comes out right.

And that has nothing to do with talent; or some kind of God-given genius; or, most of all, some blasted muse that will fly down on gossamer wings and alight on your shoulder.

It has to do with grit. And tenacity. And deciding you are simply going to be tougher than everyone else alive.

And you don’t have to be smart to do that. You just have to be breathing.

A small anecdote to illustrate what I’m talking about:

When my wife was in grad school, she had to learn how to administer intelligence tests and I served as her test dummy. Literally. There was one test – I think it was for seven-year- olds – where you had to rearrange blocks.

The scoring was a sliding scale based on how quickly you could complete the task. You didn’t get any points if it took longer than two minutes, but the catch was the test administrator couldn’t tell you to stop.

I kept fumbling with those stupid blocks for twenty-six minutes before I finally solved a problem that slightly-above- average seven-year- olds could do in a fraction of that time.

But that’s the great thing about writing. There’s no stopwatch on you. And you don’t have to be the brightest seven-year- old – or even a dumb forty-two- year-old. You just have to be willing to do the work.

So, yes, my UK debut, Say Nothing, released last week. And maybe the publisher would like you to believe I am just some supremely talented – God, I hate that word – scribbler who was gifted this amazing story one day. But I know better.

And now so do you.

 

Brad Parks is the only author to have won the Shamus, Nero, and Lefty Awards, three of American crime fiction’s most prestigious prizes. Say Nothing is his UK debut.

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Say Nothing is published by Faber and Faber and is available to buy now.

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This post is a stop on the Say Nothing Blog Tour. Do check out the other posts, detailed above.

Book Review: The Doll Funeral

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The Doll Funeral, by Kate Hamer, is a story of ghosts and the lasting influence of family and upbringing. Its protagonist is Ruby who is informed by her parents on her thirteenth birthday that they adopted her when she was just a few months old. Ruby is ecstatic at this news – suddenly she has hope. If she can find her birth parents she may escape the vicious physical abuse regularly inflicted on her by Mick, the man she believed was her dad.

For as long as she can remember Ruby has seen shadow people, some only once but others come and go. Living in the Forest of Dean she has grown up surrounded by trees and finds comfort in their protection. She decides to try to summon her birth parents by copying mystical techniques she remembers from her late grandmother. What follows weaves a poignant tale of a child desperate for love with elements of the supernatural.

Ruby meets Tom who has been abandoned with his teenage siblings by their hippy parents who have travelled to India to find themselves. They live in a huge, dilapidated house where they are expected to survive on food farmed or hunted. With winter approaching these young people are now struggling. They also harbour a terrible secret.

Both Ruby and Tom have been damaged by their forebears. It is not just the direct actions of parents but the lasting impact of their upbringing and the wider prejudices of those who live in the forest that has shaped how Ruby and Tom have been raised. Each generation inflicts their values, beliefs and aspirations on those who come next. Psychological inheritance can be devastating.

The story is bleak, filled with restless ghosts and crippled potential. The fluid construction of the tale makes it easy to read but the unremitting darkness of the subject matter offered little prospect of cheer for any of the characters.

As a parent it is hard to read a book such as this without considering how one’s own children may have been affected by values passed on to them. Ghosts need not take physical form to exert influence.

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

Book Review: The Girl in the Red Coat

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The Girl in the Red Coat, by Kate Hamer, tells the story of Beth and her daughter Carmel who is abducted when she is eight years old by an elderly man claiming he is her estranged grandfather. Beth is recently divorced from Carmel’s father, Paul, who left them for his girlfriend, Lucy. Where Beth is bohemian in dress and behaviour Lucy is chic and conventional. Sometimes Carmel would prefer if her mother were more ordinary. She resents that she feels constantly watched and constrained. Beth is doing her best but still suffers the aftershocks of the failure of her marriage. She seeks comfort from like-minded friends. She has not spoken to her parents in years.

Beth is naturally devastated when her daughter vanishes whilst on a rare day out together. The subsequent chapters told from Beth’s point of view cover the shock of loss, the need to keep searching, and then the painful coming to terms and finding a way to survive.

The chapters told from Carmel’s point of view are disturbing due to the situation in which she finds herself. Lies have been told to keep her from trying to return home. She is confused and unhappy but children have little control when the adults caring for them make decisions. She longs for love but can see no practical escape from the circumstances imposed.

Carmel has a gift which I felt was a weakness in the plot. Whilst I accept that there are happenings in the world than cannot yet be rationally explained this was a struggle to go along with. The attempts to monetise what she could do were plausible, but by making her abilities apparently real my engagement with the tale was weakened.

The writing is polished and I wanted to know the outcome so read on. I found the denouement something of an anti-climax. It was not that it was difficult to believe events could be concluded in this way but rather that it felt abrupt. I was looking for more nuance and depth.

I know that many other readers have adored this book so perhaps my expectations were too high. It is not one that I can recommend.

Book Review: Multitudes

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Multitudes, by Lucy Caldwell, is a collection of eleven short stories set in Belfast. As a native of the city and a fan of the short story form I approached this book with high expectations. I was not disappointed.

Several of the stories are told from the point of view of a child and the author has captured both the voice and the conflict of feelings at each age perfectly. It is easy to forget how torrid growing up can be: the desperate loneliness, being unable to articulate feelings, the fear of rejection by peers, of disappointing parents. These stories encompass the pain and pleasure of childhood social success and the damage this can cause.

My favourite story in the collection was ‘Through the Wardrobe’, a moving account of a young child uncomfortable in their own skin:

“You are sad. You’re only six years old but you feel sad a lot of the time, a tightness in your chest that you don’t have words for. Your mum says you’re a sensitive child […] she’ll stay till you fall asleep, you’re safe and nothing can hurt you. But it’s not outside you’re scared of. It’s something inside, and you can’t explain it”

Relationships are explored throughout: the pain of parenthood, the pain of being thirteen and friendless is a world that demands all fit in, the conflict when desire clashes with parental expectations.

In ‘Poison’ a pupil is attracted to her teacher with all the intensity that being fifteen entails. In ‘Here We Are’ two pupils find a love that will not be tolerated in a church lead community.

The writing is breathtaking, taut and rich in imagery. Each character demands empathy, even those imprisoned by their upbringing and beliefs.

I urge you to seek out this book. It is a fabulous work, fulfilling and rewarding to read.

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