The Girls at the Kingfisher Club by Genevieve Valentine

The Girls at the Kingfisher ClubTitle: The Girls at the Kingfisher Club
Author: Genevieve Valentine
Published: 3 June 2014
Publisher: Atria Books
Source: eARC from the publisher via NetGalley
Genre: historical fiction
Rating: 9/10

For years the twelve Hamilton sisters have been prisoners in their own home. They are the shameful evidence of their wealthy father’s inability to have a son, so he keeps them hidden from the world. No one except his staff knows how many daughters he has. He hasn’t even met some of them.

But although they never get to go out in the daylight, the sisters go out dancing in New York’s jazz clubs every night, from the Salon Renaud and the Swan, to the Kingfisher club they eventually call home. Jo, the eldest, the “General”, is the one in charge of every outing. She calls the cabs, watches over her sisters and decides when to leave. She’s the only one who speaks to their father, so she’s the one who has to break the news when he decides to marry them off, basically selling them to men of his choosing.

The girls might not know much about the daylight world, but they know a lot about men, and they know exactly what kind of men would marry a girl who’s been locked up in the house all her life – men like their father. As their leader, Jo needs to figure out a way to save her sisters, and for once it seems she can’t do it all by herself. She’ll have to turn to a bootlegger she met ten years ago for help. She’ll also have be extra careful to keep their dancing a secret, after a newspaper report about dancing girls and gin makes their father suspicious. Not only are their outings a defiance of his will, but their behaviour will spoil his plans “to sell them off one at a time as untouched goods who had never been so wild as to go out dancing”.

In case you haven’t realised it yet, The Girls at the Kingfisher Club is based on the fairytale of the Twelve Dancing Princesses. And was exactly what I wanted it to be – a relatively quick light read but with an in-depth psychological portrait of Jo and her sisters, and a close look at the whole idea of these trapped girls and women who escape into a vibrant world every night. It perfectly balances introspective character studies and the relationships between the sisters with the excitement of the dancing in jazz clubs and the tension of the threats posed by their father. It’s the kind of novel that makes me feel an intense and varied mixture of emotions, and I absolutely loved reading it.

I’m also glad that it eschewed the use of sexual violence. I kind of assumed that it would be an inevitable and discomforting part of the story, given that it’s about twelve beautiful girls and women who go dancing and drinking every night, but Valentine does not victimise them in this way. On the contrary, the Hamilton sisters are pretty street smart. They could drink most men under the table, and you don’t see them flopping around drunk and helpless. They learn how to read people and handle them, so they can spot trouble or soothe a tense situation. We don’t know the full extent of their sexual experiences (there are only references to little flings and heartbreaks) but whatever they do, you never get the sense that they’re not in control.

The girls’ strengths actually go a long way in making this a pleasant read. It could be really depressing, but the way the girls handle themselves, whether they’re having fun, being sold to men like property or alone and terrified, makes it satisfying rather than disturbing. You tense up and worry at the challenges they have to face, but every little triumph makes you smile.

This is particularly true with Jo, whose character we get to know in the greatest detail. Jo is in the incredibly difficult position of being the girls’ guardian. The blurb suggests that she’s the closest thing to a mother that they have, but the novel specifically says otherwise. It’s Ella with her kind, nurturing nature, who is more like the mother figure. Jo on the other hand is strict and commanding. Jo snaps her fingers and her sisters obey. She speaks to their father and enforces his commands. After a failed affair with a young bootlegger, Jo stopped dancing, deciding that it was too dangerous for her, no matter how much she wanted to. The result is that her sisters think she’s heartless. It’s even suggested that she’s just as much their jailer as their father is. Jo finds this deeply hurtful, especially since it’s already occurred to her.

As the reader however, you see how much Jo’s ‘heartlessness’ has done for her sisters. She describes her nickname “General” as ” the mortar that let her stand in both places at once and not fall”. She can only be the amazing sister they need by also being an authoritarian leader. It’s only because she’s so strict and careful that her sisters are able to go out every night and not get caught. She protects from their father, and it’s only when some of the girls actually have to be in Mr Hamilton’s presence as he starts trying to marry them off that they realise what a monster Jo has been fighting with on their behalf. She was the first one to learn to dance and start teaching her sisters. She initiated the first trip to a jazz club (imagine doing this when you almost never go outside), but everyone remembers it being Lou, the second eldest’s idea, because it’s hard to imagine Jo being so spontaneous.

You also see Jo trying too hard, sacrificing too much, wanting her sisters to need her because she’s become so wrapped up in her identity as the General. So part of the story involves her giving in to the things she wants, and being a sister rather than a General. It can be quite sad, but it makes for great reading. I also like the way Valentine wrote Mr Hamilton’s character. Again, she exercises restraint by not making him grossly monstrous. He’s quietly evil, with a very calm, polite manner that makes his cruelty stand out like an unexpected slap.

Overall, the book is also just beautifully written, and I highlighted many quotes on my Kindle. It’s one of the few that leaves me satisfied but also sad to leave behind because I’m not going to find another book like this any time soon. However, that does give me good reason to re-read it a few times 🙂

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Life After Life by Kate Atkinson

Life After LifeTitle: Life After Life
Author: Kate Atkinson
Published: 02 April 2013
Publisher: Reagan Arthur Books
Source: eARC from the publisher via NetGalley
Genre: fantasy, historical fiction
Rating: 8/10

This review contains some spoilers, but I have limited them to a section at the end, and I will warn you when to stop reading.

Ursula Todd lives life after life. The first time she’s born, on 11 February 1910, she dies almost immediately, strangled by the umbilical cord. The second time, the family doctor makes it to the house despite the snowstorm, and cuts the cord, saving her. She drowns at age 5, but in her next life a stranger rescues her. Sometimes she dies from the Spanish flu, while in other lives she tries to avoid catching it.

Ursula’s life continues in this fashion, beginning and ending countless times, giving her the chance to change the past and the future. At first, she only holds sway over the quiet life in Fox Corner, her parents’ estate in the English countryside. Then, in those lives when she grows into adulthood, she is thrust into the midst of World War 2, sometimes in London, sometimes in Germany. The question of Ursula’s many lives hangs over the narrative. What is the point of coming back again and again? Must she change history or is she trapped in it? Is she meant to help the people she cares about, or is her purpose political?

The fantasy aspect of this novel is really the only reason I wanted to read it. I’m not a big fan of historical fiction, WW2 isn’t really my thing, and early 20th century English family sagas definitely aren’t. That said, Life After Life is a lovely book in more ways than I’d expected. Ursula’s rebirths add the interesting dynamic I’d hoped for, but Kate Atkinson seriously impressed me with her ability to make life in the English countryside compelling, even when you’re reading the third, fourth or fifth version of a scene.

The first thing to charm me was the character Sylvie, Ursula’s mother. She leads us into the story when little Ursula is too young for an intriguing POV, and her husband Hugh is too busy working or fighting in the First World War to give us much insight. Sylvie’s one of those wonderfully multifaceted characters who feel real because they’re a thousand different things in one self. Sylvie can be a good mother, sometimes a bad mother, sometimes caring, often indifferent, frequently snarky. She can be deeply conservative, but at the same time she has lots of rather rebellious thoughts about marriage and parenthood. It’s strongly implied that she’s had an affair, if not several, and it’s possible that some of her children are not her husband’s. She can be funny, cruel, secretive, cold, unexpectedly emotional. There’s a constant sense that there’s a lot about Sylvie we don’t know or understand.

She becomes increasingly stern and unlikeable as the novel progresses, but although I ceased to empathise with her, I still admired the skill and depth with which she was written. Equally intriguing is Hugh’s sister Izzie, who is introduced as a reckless sixteen-year-old who throws her life away by running off to meet her married lover in Paris. And although Izzie is quite reckless and flaky, we come to understand her as a woman who is too smart and headstrong to fit easily into conservative English society, and makes a life for herself instead. In one of the lives where Ursula lives in Germany and meets Hitler, she finds him terribly ordinary and says, amusingly, that “Sylvie would have made short work of him” while “Izzie would have eaten him up and spat him out”.

Izzie and Sylvie stand out, but I liked all the characters you’re supposed to like – Ursula’s kind father Hugh, her practical sister Pamela, her loveable younger brothers Teddy and Jimmy, the maid Bridget. I loathed Ursula’s elder brother Maurice, but he’s so vile that no one in his family likes him either and at one point Ursula suggests that his existence is enough of a reason not to get married.

Ursula herself is not as distinct a character as her mother or her Aunt Izzie, but its fascinating to see her development across her many lives, how the little changes in each life play out. A minor decision might lead to terrible tragedy in one life, but go completely unnoticed in the next. Over the years and lives, Ursula seems to become a bit more cautious or sensible, changes her ideas of what she wants to do with her life, and her approaches to sex and marriage. There’s one very, very dark narrative in which Ursula is sexually assaulted as a teenager and has a horrible life as a result. I was so relieved when she finally died, and in the next life she’s notably assertive.

By the time the narrative gets to WW2, Ursula tends to face it head-on, in Germany or London, sometimes as part of a civilian rescue-crew, but never hiding out at Fox Corner with her mother (although she might consider staying with her mother worse than getting bombed). This part of the story made me miss the quiet English countryside of Ursula’s childhood, but only because it’s so poignantly graphic that I really felt for the characters. At no point does Ursula get the ideal of a happy life – whenever she makes it to adulthood her life tends to be full of tragedy, and even when it’s relatively nice she dies tragically. It can be quite depressing, but I didn’t find ti so dreary that it spoiled the book. Although the pace sometimes lagged, I always had a strong emotional connection to the story without feeling that the author trying to grind my heart into a pulp.

WW2 brings us back to the question of why Ursula keeps being reborn, and this is where I have some problems with the novel. We never learn how the rebirth happens, but that’s ok. What bothers me is that it’s a bit inconsistent. We know that Ursula retains some memories of the past, but do other people? Most of the time it seems clear that they don’t, but there are suggestions that some people do. Also, it’s unclear if Ursula or fate (or some other force) is controlling the rebirth. Sometimes external events allow Ursula to live, like the doctor making it to Fox Corner in time for her birth. At other times, a mysterious force compels her to act in a way that saves her life or even someone else’s life. Then there are times when it seems like her decisions alone change the future, although she doesn’t necessarily understand the significance of those decisions, which might be minor. At one point her life seems to change because she reads a German book instead of a French one, and ends up spending a longer time in Germany than in other lives. So what exactly is going on here? Does Ursula have some kind of superpower that allows her to keep tweaking things until she’s satisfied? Is fate using her to achieve some unknown outcome? Has the universe gotten stuck in a loop with Ursula at the centre?

This brings me to my next problem, which is that it’s never clear what the point of Ursula’s rebirth is. This is where I need to discuss some spoilers, so if you haven’t read the novel I’ll just leave you with this – whatever its flaws (which might include the ambiguous ending) Life After Life is a lovely read. I’m about to go on a bit about some theoretical issues, but none of that changes how much I enjoyed this book.

*****SPOILERS BELOW*****

Still, I think it’s worth adding this, especially since I would have given the book a higher rating if these issues were sorted out. In the opening chapter, a 20-year-old Ursula assassinates Hitler, suggesting that her purpose is to change history, or at least play a significant role in it. In the childhood of one the later lives, she accepts this purpose; she knows that she and her family will suffer during a coming war, she knows that she’s lived through it countless times already, and with this knowledge she devotes her life to killing Hitler before he can do any damage. But as it turns out, killing Hitler is just one possibility. Ursula’s done it before, leading to her death and yet another reincarnation. In the second-last chapter, Ursula doesn’t stop the war but her brother Teddy somehow survives (with fate altering the circumstances, rather than Ursula), which is at least a happy ending. Nevertheless, we end the story with another passage from 11 February 1910. We don’t see Ursula, although we don’t always see Ursula when we go back to her birth, so it’s fair to assume she’s being born again.

I can accept the idea that all this is a failure and Ursula is simply trapped in history, but that she could at least do something for her family, like save Teddy. Or even that she can’t save Teddy, that she has to accept the tragedy of death, including her own. But it just keeps going. And to my mind, the final chapter’s implication that Ursula will be born again makes this the beginning of a horror story.

The narrative always stops and starts with Ursula’s deaths and births, which implies that the world ends and begins with her, as if on a loop. Alternatively, there are many worlds, with a single Ursula hopping constantly across them. If she can control her rebirth, then she’s a megalomaniac who is just going to keep fiddling with the past and the future. If fate controls it, then presumably there’s a purpose, but it’s kept hidden from us. Or the universe could just be broken, somehow. Whatever the case, Ursula will eventually go mad. As her memories pile up, she’ll eventually be unable to distinguish memory from reality. She might end up with a string of lives lived out in mental institutions. She’ll be harassed by constant urges to do what she must to avoid disaster. She’ll be born with memories of being caught up in the bombing of London or Berlin (she already mentions this in one childhood), and of finding dead babies and broken bodies in the rubble. Eventually, she might just be born with full-blown PTSD, and if she can’t control the reincarnation but dies or kills herself in despair, she’ll be born again.

I know that I could just be overthinking this. It might just be an oversight by an author who doesn’t normally write fantasy. It’s certainly more of a historical novel than a fantasy novel, so the focus is not of the mechanisms of the fantasy. Maybe the author meant to imply that the next life will be Ursula’s last because she’s had enough. Or maybe she actually intended the horror story, which I have to admit would also be interesting. Still, I find the ambiguity here too problematic to give the author credit for it. The story seemed to be building up to a brilliant ending, but ended up being baffling instead.

Bellman & Black by Diane Setterfield

Bellman & BlackTitle: Bellman & Black
Author: 
Diane Setterfield
Published: 5 November 2013
Publisher: 
Atria/Emily Bestler Books (Simon & Schuster)
Genre: 
historical, literary, fantasy
Source:
 eARC from the publisher via NetGalley
Rating: 
5/10

When William Bellman is ten years old, he kills a rook with a seemingly impossible shot from his catapult. His friends are impressed, but something about it unnerves William. Later, he sees a boy dressed in black standing under the tree where the rook died. The next day he wakes with a terrible fever and applies his mind to an extraordinary mental feat: forgetting.

William grows up into a smart, handsome, hardworking man. His mother has had a tough time raising him alone, after being abandoned by her husband and shunned by his wealthy parents, but she and William have a strong relationship and he manages to find his way. His uncle hires him to work in the Bellman family wool mill, and William quickly learns how every aspect of the business works, finds the flaws, and suggests improvements. Thanks to him, the mill prospers. When he eventually takes over, he makes innovations and expansions that lead to unprecedented productivity and profits. He marries a beautiful woman and has four children.

But William’s otherwise perfect life is marred by escalating tragedy. The people related to him begin to die and every time William attends a funeral, he sees a mysterious man in black who doesn’t appear to be in mourning. When William is at his lowest after losing his family, the man in black finally approaches an opportunity. This encounter is the birth of Bellman and Black, a macabre business whose amazing success is matched only by William Bellman’s misery.

William is a haunted man, and it’s only in that sense that you could possibly call this a ghost story, which is what the novel is being marketed as. I think it’s extremely misguided. I wouldn’t even say that the book has a ghost in any traditional understanding of the word. Genre fans and ghost story fans will be drawn in, only to frustrated and disappointed. It’s like asking for bad ratings.

Bellman & Black is more like literary historical fiction with just the tiniest sliver of fantasy. It’s a psychological study of William and focuses heavily on the businesses he runs. First the mill, and then Bellman & Black. At the end of some of the chapters there are a few paragraphs about rooks – factual trivia, rooks in myth, fictional musing about what rooks do in their leisure time, a bit of rook philosophy, and collective nouns for rooks.

At first I enjoyed William’s story. It wasn’t exactly thrilling, but it gave me a great understanding of his industrious character, and it was nice to see this good, hard-working person get the success he deserved. Sometimes it’s comforting to read about good people living happy lives, and the only bad thing you could say about the young William Bellman is that he’s not a self-reflective man. I also had to admire Setterfield for the research she put into this. We get a detailed description of work at the mill, the process that turns raw wool into dyed cloth.

But what seemed like a slow start turned out to be a slow book. The pace never really changes; the story just become very tragic at times. Nothing about it is particularly creepy. After learning about the mill in the first part, you learn about how William sets up and runs Bellman & Black in the second part. He works constantly, sourcing the very best cloth, leather, paper. etc. and hiring the best people for his business. He pays attention to the tiniest of details, personally checks on almost everything, and works longer hours than anyone.

In fact, we see the work ethic William displayed in his youth turn into insanity. Initially, he uses work to escape from grief. Later, it becomes his entire life. His mind is always working, always going through the numbers and looking for solutions. He works nineteen hours a day, stopping only to sleep. He never takes the opportunity to enjoy his immense wealth, never eats a decadent meal or indulges in personal comforts. He just works and works and works, desperately trying to avoid even a moment of self-reflection, afraid of letting his mind wander. Because there are times when he has horrific dreams, terrifying visions of black wings, and is tormented by the spectre of the man he calls Black. William would prefer not to have to think about any of it, but at the same time he’s drawn bizarre conclusions that drive his behaviour.

It’s because of this that Bellman & Black is supposedly a ghost story, and why I said William Bellman is a haunted man. If that sounds good to you, then go for it. It’s a well-written book that I think was badly marketed.

But even though I tried to read it for what it is rather than what I was led to expect, I found it boring. Learning about the mill was fine; being immersed in the functioning of Bellman & Black was horribly tedious. William too becomes a very dreary character, and there are few others to give us a break from him. In fact, all the other characters are pretty flat and some exist only so that William can be affected by their deaths. Many aspects of his character are fascinating, but ultimately he’s a drag.

The rook trivia was the only aspect of the book that I found rewarding. I told two friends about it and they were so intrigued by the rooks that that was enough to make them want to read the book. The downside, I think, is that rooks aren’t very well integrated into the story. They appear often, but their links to the story are tenuous – William is scared of them, his daughter likes to draw them, they’re seen watching the characters, they have stunning black feathers and William becomes an expert in the colour black for business reasons, etc.

The ending, where we sort of learn what the point of all this was, is deeply disappointing. Honestly, if the blurb had been a better reflection of the book, if I’d known what this was really about, I would not have read it.

The Gardener from Ochakov by Andrey Kurkov

The Gardener from Ochakov by Andrey KurkovTitle: The Gardener from Ochakov
Author: Andrey Kurkov
Translation: from Russian by Amanda Love Darragh
Published:  First published 2011, this edition published 1 August 2013
Publisher: Harvill Secker
Genre: fantasy, historical
Rating: 5/10

Igor is a bit of a loser, a 31-year old man who doesn’t have a job or any plans to get one, and survives on the interest from a small investment. He lives with his mother in Irpen, Ukraine, about an hour away from the capital Kiev. One day his mother hires a mysterious old man named Stepan to work as their gardener and handyman. Stepan has a strange, indecipherable tattoo on his arm but he has no idea what it is. Bored, Igor photographs the tattoo and takes the picture to his friend Kolyan, a computer expert. Kolyan cleans up the image to reveal an address in Ochakov, a seaside town.

Stepan travels to Ochakov to learn more about his past, and because Igor has nothing better to do, he tags along, looking for adventure and treasure. The possibility of treasure sounds absurd, but this is exactly what they find – the address on Stepan’s arm leads them to what was once the home of Fima Chagin, a infamous criminal who lived in Ochakov in the 50s. Stepan’s father too, was a criminal, who left a stash of loot at the house.

As a reward for his help, Stepan gives Igor a few of the items – a gold pocket watch (broken), rolls of hundred-rouble notes (worthless), a gun (that doesn’t fire) and a Soviet policeman’s uniform. Igor feels short-changed, but one night he wears the uniform to a costume party and finds himself in 1957 Ochakov, where the pocket watch starts ticking again, the roubles amount to a very large sum of money, and the uniform gives him an authority that strikes fear in the hearts of citizens.

Stepping awkwardly into the role of a Soviet policeman, Igor ropes a young wine smuggler into helping him spy on the criminal Fima Chagin, who is living in Ochakov at this time. This quickly leads Igor to Red Valya – a stunningly beautiful fish seller who may have had an affair with Fima and who immediately captures Igor’s attention and admiration. He begins to flit between present-day Ukraine and 1957 Ochakov, entwining his life with his dabblings in the past.

Now, genre fans, a warning. This is not the kind of book with any interest in the time travel itself, the thrills and perils it offers, or complications like time paradoxes and anachronisms. I wouldn’t say that this is the kind of book where literary fiction and sff intersect because the sff aspect is almost negligible. Time travel is just a plot device. We have no idea why or how it happens. Igor doesn’t think about it much, and isn’t worried about getting stuck in 1957. All we know is that he has a few stiff drinks, puts on the uniform, walks down a certain road, and ends up running into Vanya, the wine smuggler, at the wine factory in Ochakov in 1957. To return home he takes the uniform off and goes to sleep on the couch in Vanya’s house. He wakes up in his own bed in Irpen. He believes that taking the uniform off will send him back home, but he never tests this theory. Nor does he check to see if he needs to drink copiously to time-travel, or if he could walk a different route to end up somewhere else. The time-travel phenomena really only serves to take him to 1957 Ochakov and back, juxtaposing the places and periods, and allowing Igor to carry out his little adventure.

His very random little adventure. It’s unclear if Igor is driven by anything other than idle curiosity, and he doesn’t seem to have any goals. He wants to spy on Fima Chagin partly because he’s pretending to be a policeman, and partly because he learned about this legendary criminal when he travelled to Ochakov with Stepan. What he’d actually do with info on Fima’s whereabouts is anyone’s guess. It’s no wonder that Igor is quickly and easily distracted by Valya; he’s just hanging around looking for something to do. There’s a semblance of a plot here, but it meanders aimlessly, much like Igor himself.

Normally in books like this, something else will drive the narrative, such as the character or setting. But in this case nothing did, at least not for me. The characters are all pretty boring. Igor, who has no ambitions other than to buy a motorbike one day, is totally colourless. Vanya is little more than a plot device deployed to guide Igor in 1957, except for a vague suspicion that he might be up to something sinister. The women in the story particularly dull. Valya is there to be a beautiful but reluctant love interest. Igor’s mother Elena Adreevna does little more than cook, clean and scold her son. We meet Stepan’s daughter, who is often just a silent presence.

There are a few potentially interesting characters who seem to have better stories – Stepan; Igor’s best friend Nikolai Kolyon; and the criminal Fima Chagin. Stepan is full of secrets, almost none of which are revealed. Kolyon is vivacious and enterprising – the opposite of Igor – and as a hacker he starts selling information illegally. However, his story is mostly sidelined. Fima Chagin, a famously handsome, charismatic and successful criminal also gets sidelined when Igor loses interest in him in favour of trying to get Valya to spend time with him.

Mostly, the novel seems to be about creating snapshots of day-to-day life in modern Ukraine (Irpen and Kiev) and 1957 Ochakov, which aren’t really that different. This involves stuff like public transport (Igor taking a minibus from Irpen to Kiev, buying instant coffee at the train station), a bit of crime here and there (Vanya’s wine smuggling, Kolyan’s hacking), food (buckwheat with a knob of butter, fresh flounder and gobi from Valya’s stall, salami and salted cucumbers), and A LOT of hard liquor (vodka obviously, but also vodka shots in beer, homemade vodka, brandy, and homemade wormwood liqueur, which I just found out is absinthe).

Then, towards the end, there are a few serious developments as , and Igor starts to have some insights about life – the aimless way he’s living, human nature in general, etc. None of it was exactly profound. Or memorable. Or book-redeeming.

Reading The Gardener from Ochakov is like moving languidly from point A to point B. If books were journeys then this would be a trip to the supermarket. A Ukranian supermarket, maybe. It’s not unpleasant, you pick up a few new and unusual things, but it’s mostly mundane. I didn’t hate it, I didn’t love it – I’m totally indifferent.

I’d say it’s more for fans of literary historical fiction than sff readers or any reader who enjoys plot. Kurkov uses an extraordinary and unexplained phenomena to portray ordinary lives rather than tell a gripping tale. And because there’s not much of a story driving the narrative, your potential enjoyment depends on whether you find the everyday details of Ukrainian life interesting, or if you’d like to follow the wanderings of a benign drifter like Igor. Its not necessarily a bad thing, and I can see how some would find a quiet, quirky appeal in The Gardener from Ochakov, but it’s not for me.

Up for Review: Murder as a Fine Art

David Morrell, the creator of Rambo, has published 29 novels, 6 works of non-fiction, and numerous short-stories and essays. His latest novel is a historical murder mystery featuring  real-life author Thomas de Quincey. I’ve never paid any attention to Rambo, but this sounds quite good.

Murder as a Fine Art by David MorrellMurder as a Fine Art by David Morrell (Mulholland Books)

NetGalley blurb:

GASLIT LONDON IS BROUGHT TO ITS KNEES IN DAVID MORRELL’S BRILLIANT HISTORICAL THRILLER.

Thomas De Quincey, infamous for his memoir Confessions of an English Opium-Eater, is the major suspect in a series of ferocious mass murders identical to ones that terrorized London forty-three years earlier.

The blueprint for the killings seems to be De Quincey’s essay “On Murder Considered as One of the Fine Arts.” Desperate to clear his name but crippled by opium addiction, De Quincey is aided by his devoted daughter Emily and a pair of determined Scotland Yard detectives.

In Murder as a Fine Art, David Morrell plucks De Quincey, Victorian London, and the Ratcliffe Highway murders from history. Fogbound streets become a battleground between a literary star and a brilliant murderer, whose lives are linked by secrets long buried but never forgotten.

 

Murder as a Fine Art was published on 7 May 2013 by Mulholland Books.

Links
Goodreads
Mulholland Books
Conversation with Morrell and De Quincey scholar Robert Morrisson
Pretty much everything else is covered by the novel’s page on Morrell’s website. Click through for links to the book trailer, interviews with Morrell about the novel, and buying options.

About the Author
David Morrell is the critically acclaimed author of First Blood, the novel in which Rambo was created. He holds a Ph. D. in American literature from Penn State and was a professor in the English department at the University of Iowa. His numerous New York Times bestsellers include the classic spy trilogy The Brotherhood of the Rose (the basis for the only television mini-series to premier after a Super Bowl), The Fraternity of the Stone, and The League of Night and Fog. An Edgar, Anthony, and Macavity nominee, Morrell is the recipient of three Bram Stoker awards from the Horror Writers Association as well as the prestigious lifetime Thriller Master Award from the International Thriller Writers’ organization. His writing book, The Successful Novelist, discusses what he has learned in his four decades as an author. He lives in Santa Fe, New Mexico.
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Up for Review: The Accursed

Joyce Carol Oates is one of those highly acclaimed literary authors whose books I’ve been meaning to read for a long time. However, since I tend to favour speculative fiction over literary fiction, it was only when I saw The Accursed, an “eerie tale of psychological horror” that combines both types of fiction, that I jumped at the chance to start reading Oates’s work. This novel marks a departure from her usual style, so it might not be the best place to start, but I’m looking forward to it nevertheless.

The Accursed by Joyce Carol Oates2The Accursed by Joyce Carol Oates (Fourth Estate)

NetGalley Blurb:

This eerie tale of psychological horror sees the real inhabitants of turn-of-the-century Princeton fall under the influence of a supernatural power.

New Jersey, 1905: soon-to-be commander-in-chief Woodrow Wilson is president of Princeton University. On a neighbouring farm, muck-raking novelist Upton Sinclair, enjoying the success of The Jungle, has taken up residence with his family. Grover Cleveland, fresh out of his second term in the White House has retired to town for a quieter life. Meanwhile, the elite families of Princeton have been beset by a powerful curse—their daughters are disappearing. A young bride on the verge of the altar is seduced and abducted by a dangerously compelling man—a shape-shifting, vaguely European prince who might just be the devil. In the Pine Barrens on the edge of town, a mysterious and persuasive evil takes shape.

When the bride’s brother sets out against all odds to find her, his path will cross those of Princeton’s most formidable people, from presidents past to its brightest literary luminaries, from Mark Twain to Jack London, as he navigates both the idyllic town and the Dante-esque landscape of the Barrens.

An utterly fresh work from Oates, THE ACCURSED marks new territory for the masterful writer–narrated with her unmistakable psychological insight, it combines beautifully transporting historical detail with chilling fantastical elements to stunning effect.

The Accursed will be published on 5 March 2013 by Fourth Estate, an imprint of HarperCollins UK.

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Joyce Carol Oates speaks about the novel on YouTube
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November Round-Up

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November was a great reading month, although a little slack in terms of reviews.

My first three review books for the month took me beyond mainstream cultural settings. Infidel by Kameron Hurley is the second book in her Bel Dame Apocrypha series, set on the planet Umayma, where two vastly different Islamic nations have been fighting a religious war for two centuries. Continue reading

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