Book Review: Gone


Gone, by Rebecca Muddiman, is a crime thriller that does not attempt to portray the forces of law and order in a particularly positive light. Even the more dedicated police officers appear distracted and inept at times. Resources are limited and witnesses uncooperative. It was frustrating to read but perhaps accurately portrays the challenges of the job.

Sixteen year old Emma Thorley went missing eleven years ago. It was her third disappearance in less than a year so few took this event seriously. As a known drug user she elicited little sympathy. The officers tasked with investigating her case expected that she would turn up eventually, as she had done before.

Now a body has been discovered buried in woodland. Items recovered suggest that it could be Emma but there is no DNA evidence, no dental record, nothing concrete to confirm identification. DS Nicola Freeman is assigned the case and soon has a suspect on her radar, Lucas Yates. As she sets out to track down other persons of interest in an attempt to gather evidence she becomes aware that Lucas is on the same trail.

The character of Lucas Yates is brilliantly developed by the author. An arrogant, vicious, misogynist he could be charming when he chose but was truly unlikeable. He made my skin crawl, not least because his attitude was an exaggeration of laddish behaviour that is still all too commonly accepted. He considered women to be his property, existing to please him. The strong writing evoked angry emotions as I longed to see him taken down.

Many of the male characters showed his attitude towards women in a minor way. The married man whose wife left him for a colleague felt bereft at his loss but also resentful that she should have made him appear lessened in front of others. The loving boyfriend was determined to rescue his girl, partly due to a feeling of embarrassment following his discovery that she had been protecting him when his ego required that he should be seen to be protecting her.

There was little empathy between the characters. Each were existing within their own ideas of what they wanted their lives to be, railing against the actuality. In this it seemed a believable if bleak depiction.

Although I had guessed many of the answers to the various mysteries early on I was not disappointed by the tying up of threads. The short chapters, recaps and time jumps took some getting used to but by the second half I was eager to turn each page.

This is crime fiction for readers who appreciate realism over heroes and happy ever after. There is tension and drama aplenty with DS Freeman and DI Gardner making an interesting team. I wonder if the author plans to develop their relationship in a sequel.

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


Book Review: Brood


Brood, by Chase Novak, is a powerful, chilling horror story which explores the emotive subject of fertility and what could go wrong if desperate, would be parents used wealth to buy experimental treatments abroad. If all that were wanted was a baby then these treatments would be considered a success. However, the side effects prove terrifying as the new parents discover the cost of their induced parenthood, and it is not just they who are affected. As the children grow and the condition of their parents deteriorates it becomes clear that what they have become is deadly and cannot be controlled.

As well as the questions this book raises about how far infertile couples will go in order to conceive, there is a sub plot that explores man’s desire to copulate when natural libido fails. There is a lucrative market in drugs that claim to improve sex life with little regard for the side effects these can have. The mutant children play a crucial role in this trade which puts them in danger as pharmaceutical companies seek them out, eager to discover their secrets in order to replicate it in a lab.

The story explores society’s need for outward conformity. Children are routinely drugged if their behaviour is deemed unacceptable. The pharmaceutical companies push drugs that offer a normality dictated by a culture that demands ideals. Children should do as they are told and outperform their peers. Adults view a sex life as a right.

These story-lines ebb and flow around the individual tales of the brood, a group of feral children who have escaped the horrors of their parents but now find themselves developing similar appetites. These children recognise that they will never find a place within approved society and seek to create a place for themselves.

Alongside there is one woman, Cynthia, who is trying to cure two of the children with love. She watched as her sister took the fertility treatments which ultimately drove her to suicide, saw first hand the effects the drugs had on behaviour. Now Cynthia is determined to become a mother to the resulting children, a task that she longed for yet which tests her to her limits and endangers her life.

The book is stylishly written. Although gruesome in places the detail is needed to fully appreciate both the pathos of the mutant offspring and the world where the wealthy can buy drugs which override nature in a way that has nothing to do with curing illness. The undercurrents are about, money, power, control and self entitlement.

The author has created a compelling tale that asks deep questions yet is written with the lightest of touches. It may be read more simply as a story of self engrossed adults and wild children, or it may be taken as a parable for a world we are not so far away from.

These are emotive subjects presented in a macabre light. This is one of the best horror stories I have read.

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





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.


Book Review: Remember Me This Way


Remember Me This Way, by Sabine Durrant, is a tense and compelling thriller that keeps the reader guessing right to the end. Although its central theme explores the psychological manipulations of an abusive marriage, it is not a straightforward tale of good versus evil. The main characters are each seeking attention and appreciation in different guises, and are willing to put up with a great deal in order to satisfy their individual desires.

Lizzie’s husband died in a car crash a year ago and she is still struggling to come to terms with her loss. When she visits the scene of the accident, the holiday home that he owned before he met her, his artist’s studios, she realises that all is not as she had expected. She starts to question how well she knew this man and to explore the secrets that she now suspects he harboured. The chain of events that this unleashes causes her to doubt everything that she had based her marriage on as well as the reality of his death.

Many of the supporting characters in this book come across as unlikeable: the selfish sister; the mother who so obviously favoured one daughter over the other; the best friend who judged rather than listened and supported. Even so, I found myself struggling not to become impatient with Lizzie at times. When a crisis occurred she would lose her ability to use her eyes and stay upright. Perhaps I simply do not understand how panic affects a person, but she reminded me of the screaming women in movies who require rescuing when they had previously been portrayed as capable.

That criticism aside, Lizzie was generally a strong and complex character, albeit one with an underlying urge to please everyone around, sometimes against her better judgement. As the truth unfolded she could see that she had been duped, and recognised how her private desires had allowed this to happen. Feelings are rarely black and white and attraction is complex. The exploration of this made for interesting and thought provoking reading.

The book is dark and tense, probably best not read when home alone. It questions how much some are willing to pay for sexual gratification and to feel loved. It lays bare how little we can ever understand how those around us truly think and feel.

The opposite of a feel good book, this tale puts a negative slant on many different types of relationships. It is tightly crafted, with twists, turns and a satisfying denouement. It presents a challenge to see and accept people for what they are, rather than as we wish them to be.

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

Book Review: Confessions


Confessions, by Kanae Minato, is a disturbing tale of blame and revenge.  Set in contemporary Japan, it introduces the reader to a group of young teenagers, their teachers and families, who are each struggling to deal with the impact on their lives of the death of a four year old girl.

On the last day of the school term the dead child’s mother, a teacher, accuses two of her pupils of murdering her daughter. She then reveals her revenge for this act, from which events spiral to their chilling conclusion.

The story is told from the perspective of a number of key characters, enabling the reader to better understand why each acted as they did. None come out well in the unfolding drama. The same weaknesses and blind spots are apparent in different guises, each participant justifying their actions with reasoning that blames others, only rarely accepting any fault for themselves.

The author presents the mind of a killer in a disturbingly believable way. The desire for attention and praise are explored alongside a lack of empathy. The effect that other’s actions may inadvertently have on critical decisions is presented alongside how acts of vengeance can cause ripples in the lives of those close by.

The style of the writing is sparse but engaging. Sympathies are won and then lost as the tale is developed, the shocking denouement denying the reader any relief from the relentless unravelling of lives that had previously been considered so ordinary.

The book leaves much to mull over, not least how blind families can be to fault amongst their own. No answers are offered, except perhaps a warning against seeking revenge. There are no winners in this tale.

I liked the exploration of prejudices, how society judges those who do not conform to an ideal. I recognised and was discomforted by many of the observations. The actions of these protagonists may be extreme, but the catalysts which drove them to act as they did are all too obvious in a society that may not be as civilised as some would like to believe.

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