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March 11
The wych elm by Tana French

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In the opening scene of Tana French’s superb new novel, a young man called Toby Hennessy is having a drink with two old friends. Toby works for an art gallery, where he recently found himself embroiled in a colleague’s attempt to present his own work as that of a mysterious anonymous working-class Dublin street artist. When their boss found out about the deception, it could have been the end of Toby’s career. But Toby has managed to talk his way into a second chance, because Toby has always been lucky.

But his luck has just run out. Intruders break into Toby’s flat and administer a savage beating that leaves him psychologically and physically traumatised. He goes from being someone who always got what he wanted to someone who struggles to walk upstairs, follow a complicated conversation or finish a coherent sentence

Toby’s beloved Uncle Hugo has inoperable brain cancer and lives alone in the grand old family home The Ivy House where toby and his cousins spent childhood summers. Since Toby is not fit for work, it is decided by his extended family that he should help Hugo by moving in with him.

Toby moves in with Hugo and in to a peaceful and settled routine until a skull is discovered in the old wych elm tree in the garden and a decade old secret is thrust in to the light. Toby through the injury is now an unreliable narrator and French very much uses this in the story line.

While there is a murderer to be uncovered, French’s  main preoccupation is the bigger mystery of the self, and how our fixed sense of who we are can be so easily unmoored by events. French has created a pin-sharp portrait of privilege, recounted by a crime victim who is also a suspect.

There is little action in the novel, except at the beginning and end; most of the plot unfolds through dialogue, which is one of French’s greatest strengths. She has always had a pitch-perfect ear for the shifting power dynamics in conversation, particularly the police interrogation. Here, Toby is both questioner and questioned, and the nuances of that power play are so cleverly captured that the reader’s allegiance shifts constantly in response. 

French’s theme throughout is the bruised relationship between the world and the self: whether our personalities are remade by trauma, or revealed; what is concealed by privilege, and what is exposed. As Hugo says, “one gets into the habit of being oneself. It takes some great upheaval to crack that shell and force us to discover what else might be underneath.”

That “great upheaval” is the modus operandi of the best crime fiction, and this book confirms French as its brightest contemporary star.

 

Submitted by Paula

Available as a book reserve your book here​

 

March 05
The Bone Keeper by Luca Veste

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Louise Henderson, the investigator at the heart of this novel, is a detective with secrets. She keeps some from her partner, DS Shipley. Soon, the detectives take up the case of a woman who escaped a deadly attack in the nearby woods—and who believes it was the work of the title character, a local legend who may be a murderer, a supernatural creature, or just an urban myth.

The woods are searched and it gives up other human remains indicating the Bone Keeper has been at work for a while.  What we get in the backstory too is the bone Keeper has some intrinsic connection with Henderson herself who is difficult to like and is a bit of a loner, married to her job

How these seemingly disparate elements connect—sometimes linearly, sometimes via well-made twists—leads the novel to its conclusion. Veste’s slow-burning approach works well, sustaining the sense of general wrongness that gives the narrative so much atmosphere.

In The Bone Keeper, Veste has taken a step towards horror, staying within thriller territory and generating a fast moving, gripping story which steadily unfolds and keeps you guessing all the way through to the end. It’s also chilling, spooky and engaging. In fact, the background narrative of is so compelling it feels like the urban myth is based on actual events.

The other excellent feature of The Bone Keeper is the underbelly of Liverpool. Luca Veste is well known for his ‘Scouse noir’ and this novel adds to that reputation.

 

Submitted by Paula

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February 27
Bird Box by Josh Malerman

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Like Wyndham's classic Day of the Triffids and several subsequent works, Bird Box is an apocalypse with a theme of sight, but one taken in a slightly unusual direction.

 

Josh Malerman's novel Bird Box sent nearly instant ripples through the literary community upon its publication in 2014, with fans and critics alike touting it as one of the finest horror books of the 21st century. It received nominations for the James Herbert Award and the Bram Stoker Award for best debut novel, while Publisher's Weekly even compared Malerman to Stephen King, with several other reviews echoing the sentiment.

 

The story begins with Malorie, who is leaving the house she and her two children have lived in alone for the past four years to undertake a hazardous twenty mile boat trip up river. The catch however is that Malorie lives in a world populated with creatures the very sight of which send people into insane, suicidal rage. Malorie therefore can only risk the outside world while blindfolded, and so must rely only on her hearing and that of her children to know what dangers lurk around her.

 

The first thing that will quickly become apparent, and a fact I cannot praise enough is that Malerman's ability to uniquely capture the experience of hearing and not seeing, and being surrounded by unidentifiable sounds in a hostile world is simply chilling.

Malerman's claustrophobic world, where all windows must be entirely covered all of the time, and where any forays outside are only possible in total blindness is picked out in sharp and exacting detail, from the sounds of moving leaves and creaking floorboards to the smell of musty air in enclosed houses. The rhythm is tense and hypnotic, and Malerman uses every trick to ramp up the tension from beginning to end.

 

Submitted by Paula


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February 18
Lullaby by Leïla Slimani

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This is a tightly written novel about the nanny from hell; or somewhere worse. Louise is the hired help for the two young children of a well-heeled Parisian couple. She in fact murders her young charges and this is stated on the first page. What follows is why she did it, and Slimani ratchets up the tension by scattering clues, which you will avidly devour with a sense of distress and dread.

But Louise, in her forties though looking much younger, serene and doll-like in appearance, is a much damaged person underneath. The survivor of an abusive marriage, previously hospitalised for psychosis, she has a daughter of her own with whom she has completely lost contact. She is isolated and desperate.

Louise the nanny longs for recognition. We learn that in all her life she’s never had a room of her own, nor once had a meal cooked for her. It makes a terrible kind of sense that this brutalised, displaced person has “only one desire” – a wish to “dig herself a niche, a burrow, a warm hiding place” within a real family. Knowing that Myriam and Paul’s kids will soon cease to need her, Louise becomes dangerously obsessed with the idea of her employer having another baby. When it becomes all too clear that this is not about to happen, she simply becomes dangerous.

I enjoyed this tension within the text as you are transported deep in to the damaged and fragile psyche of Louise. The inevitable climax comes with a series of seeming banalities and mundane pressures.

This is a work that has received the Prix Goncourt award for French literature and was actually inspired by a real-life case of a Dominican nanny who murdered her charges in New York in 2012. It is also a political book about emotional work, about women and children and their costs and losses.

Little wonder it has taken France by storm!


Submitted by Paula

 

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February 11
The Chestnut Man by Søren Sveistrup

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Søren Sveistrup is the internationally acclaimed scriptwriter of the Danish television phenomenon The Killing which won various international awards. Sveistrup, having always wanted to write a novel began writing The Chestnut Man over two years ago. But 170 pages in, he had an acute breakdown and unable to function went in to therapy. Now he returns triumphant with another slice of Nordic noir, only this time in the 500 page form of his debut novel, The Chestnut Man.

The Chestnut Man – neatly translated by Caroline Waight – is a taut, high-octane thriller about two mismatched detectives on the hunt for an ingenious and particularly brutal killer. Sveistrup snares you with his house-of-horrors opening and keeps you gripped until the aftershocks of the denouement.

One October morning in Copenhagen the battered and mutilated body of a single mother is discovered at her home. One of her hands has been cut off, and above her dangles a little doll made of chestnuts. Young, go-getting Naia Thulin of the Major Crimes Division is assigned the case, but to her dismay is partnered with Mark Hess, a washed-up, burned-out Europol liaison officer.

Kristine Hartung, the twelve year old daughter of the Minister for Social Affairs vanished a year ago and a paranoid schizophrenic man is currently locked up for confessing to her murder. The fingerprints of the missing girl are found on the chestnut doll, and after a second woman is killed and both hands severed, the fingerprints indicate that the missing girl is still alive. The two detectives are not able to reopen the Hartung case, and instead are compelled to concentrate all of their energies in to halting this current killing spree. But the so-called Chestnut Man is always one step ahead until Hess unearths a dark past.

The Chestnut Man comprises 500 pages but unfolds at a frenetic pace and Sveistrup makes every page count. His bogeyman demonstrates his expertise with saws, axes, awls and machetes. Hess sifts “A grotesque, sadistic potpourri” of crime-scene images. And as if a visit to one secret, soundproofed basement wasn’t enough, Sveistrup takes us down into two. “At first glance there’s nothing frightening about the room,” we are told, “apart from the sheer fact that it exists.”

Sveistrup’s violence has a two-fold purpose. It allows him to shine a light on the evil that men do; and it enables us to root for his detectives. The novel is at its most compelling when it focuses on them and their sleuth work. Again and again they find themselves spurred on by warped logic, loose links and forensic discrepancies

But when Sveistrup tells it straight, ups the stakes and amplifies the suspense, whether in a desolate farmhouse, an abandoned slaughterhouse, or an eerie wood, it is hard to find fault and a joy to be so immersed on the edge of a seat.

 

Submitted by Paula

Available as a book. Reserve your book here.​

 

February 04
You by Caroline Kepnes

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Originally published in 2014, You  has become very accessible due to Netflix Original series dramatization at the end of 2018. Caroline Kepnes is from Cape Cod, Massachusetts, and this was her debut novel in 2014. You has been translated into nineteen languages, shortlisted for a CWA New Blood Award, and has now become a very much talked about book.

 

The story takes off when aspiring writer Guinevere Beck - just Beck to her friends,-strides in to the bookstore where Joe Goldberg works.  Joe is smitten; Beck is gorgeous, tough and razor-smart. Joe however is more than he appears.  He is a complete stalker and very quickly becomes obsessed with all things Beck.

 

Beck herself is no angel and would rather talk about writing than actually write, and she just loves to stir up a drama.  She is flighty, flaky, needy and self-centred. Joe fits the bill for Beck, as he is charming, erudite and extremely well read.

 

The novel is written in the second person narrative which allows the reader to gain insight into Joe’s mental state and thought processes, which functions as both a thrill and a nightmare. In fact it is so easy to like Joe, and be annoyed by Beck and her ridiculous behaviour. His knowledge of books is impressive, he is sensitive and intelligent. Wrong and wrong again. 

 

I found it an all-consuming read told in a fresh voice. You may not be for everyone, as Kepnes takes her readers by the hand in to a dark, delicious tale full of sharp psychological edges. Reading this novel will give you food for thought in this digital age.

 

 

 

Submitted by Paula

 

Available as a book reserve your book here

 

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January 11
How Do You Like Me Now by Holly Bourne

how do you like me now
 

Tory is 31 years old. All her friends are getting married and/or having kids. Not that her life sucks: she is a very successful writer and a relationship mentor, with a large following on social media, but lately she has been living in the wake of the life she created for herself during her 20s.

Her editor is asking her to write a sequel to her book “Who The F***k Am I?”, but she has no clue where to begin as even her once “dream guy” Tom is revealing himself for the narcissist he is: constantly ignoring Tory (putting himself first both emotionally and sexually) and always blaming Tory for their relationship crisis.

How Do You Like Me Now, Holly Bourne's adult debut novel, is dressed up as a chick lit, but it is more than that: it is the story of a non-so-rare emotional abuse in which women can be easily involved without realizing it (and the author explains us at the end of the book all the research she has done about this kind of behaviours); and how our generation is pressured to have it all by a certain age, even if it only for the sake of faking it all on social media.

Submitted by Federica

Available as a book

Reserve a copy here​


December 28
M Train by Patti Smith

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Those familiar with Patti Smith’s work will not be fooled by the opening line of the autobiographical M Train; ‘it’s not so easy writing about nothing’. In reality, Smith leads a full life, as to be expected of the woman who was known as the “punk poet laureate” in the 1970s and who has also achieved fame through writing, painting and photography.

The book opens in a café where Smith is enjoying what she describes as her drug of choice and it quickly becomes clear just how much coffee she drinks each day. Smith appears equally addicted to train travel and TV detective series but is unapologetic as she paints a picture of ‘how I live’. Following the premature death in 1994 of her husband Fred “Sonic” Smith and her children leaving home, Patti is adapting to living alone as she approaches seventy; increasingly aware she is outliving some of her peers.

M Train is effectively a stream of consciousness as Smith moves seamlessly between events taking place as she writes and her dreams from the previous night, interspersed with memories from the past. For example, ‘I closed my eyes and saw a green train with an M in a circle’ reflects Smith’s continuing desire to travel and learn.  Although Smith at times succumbs to ennui, this allows her to follow her thoughts which ultimately stimulates the energy and enthusiasm she retains for embracing new ideas and cultures.

M Train is a must read for fans of Patti Smith because it provides an intimate insight into her life and thoughts. It will also appeal to those interested in how one person can be successful as a writer, performer and visual artist. 

Submitted by David

Available as a book

Reserve or download it here​


December 28
The Paying Guests by Sarah Waters

the paying guests
 

The Paying Guests is one of Sarah Waters more recent novels, however, for anyone who is a fan of her fiction, I would say that this novel is another classic example of what Waters does brilliantly: historical fiction that does not feel like you are reading about history from a school textbook!

The ways in which Waters crafts her characters does not make you feel like an outsider at all, and The Paying Guests is certainly a novel that makes you feel part of this historical world. The setting is London, 1922, and follows Mrs Wray and Frances, a widow and her daughter, who take in two lodgers, Leonard and Lilian Barber. For me personally, the setting of post-World War One London was a big draw because I thought it would be really interesting to see how the lives of ordinary people were shaped and dramatically-altered by such traumatic events, and this mother and daughter are definitely two people who are forced to adapt. Throughout the novel there is always tensions bubbling just beneath the surface as we witness this family’s attempt to retain a sense of normality amidst their new-found poverty and dependence on ‘paying guests.’ 

Coupled with this frustration and desire for a return to their past lives is also another kind of desire, what Waters always gives us in her novels: a complex love story. Without giving too much away, the reason I really enjoyed this novel was due to its atmosphere-the combination of grief, anger and lust makes this novel a beautiful portrayal of human emotion and all the joy and suffering that comes with it.

Submitted by Michelle

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December 21
The Fifth to Die by J D Barker

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If you’ve read the prequel to this novel, The Fourth Monkey, you’ll know what you’re in for…  That novel introduced Detective Porter and his up-close-and-personal encounter with the serial killer Anson Bishop.  If you haven’t, I highly recommend you read it first.

Fast forward and the FBI have taken over the Bishop case and Detective Porter is on the case of a young girl who was found in a frozen lake. The clothes she was wearing those of another missing girl, Lili.  Bizarrely, it also looks like someone went to extraordinary lengths to place her frozen body where it would be discovered. As the search for Lili continues, Detective Porter becomes increasingly obsessed with the Anson case and against orders he sets about finding Anson’s mother. 

This is a story that starts slow and the build-up is almost imperceptible at first, but soon you will be held in a vice like grip, desperately wanting to carry on reading while simultaneously recoiling from the horrors revealed. 

Barker writes with an intensity befitting his subject. His characters, across the board, are superbly illustrated, and the reader is drawn in to experience the journey along with Porter; which is at times absolutely terrifying.

Stephen King, Dean Koontz and Thomas Harris are cited by the author as personal favourites, you have been warned!

Submitted by Lorna

Available as paperback

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The Fourth Monkey is available here​​ 

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