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February 11
The Chestnut Man by Søren Sveistrup

The Chestnut Man by Soren Sveistrup.jpg

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

You by Caroline Kepnes.jpg

 


 

 


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

 

Available as an eBook reserve your eBook here​

 

 

 

 

 

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

M Train.jpg
 

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

Available as a book

Reserve a copy here​



December 21
The Fifth to Die by J D Barker

The Fifth to Die by J D Barker.jpg

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

Reserve your copy here​

The Fourth Monkey is available here​​ 

December 20
The Liar's Room by Simon Lelic
The Liar's Room by Simon Lelic.png
 
 

The smaller the eye of the storm, the fiercer and more unpredictable! The storm eye here is a small room containing two people, one a therapist, the other a new client.  Most of the book takes place here, where the air is still and calm, but from the beginning there is a sense of atmospheric pressure changes, a sense of foreboding, a storm wall gathering.

Susanna is the therapist.  She has created a new life for herself and her daughter, her past is far behind her, her secrets buried.

Adam is her new client, but he knows more about her and her daughter than he should. He claims to be seeking help in dealing with violent thoughts, intentions to harm a girl, a girl whose photo he presents to Susanna – a photo of her daughter.

And so begins their conversation, an excavation of secrets and lies, a battle of words, a game of consequence.

This is quite unusual as a psychological thriller. The standard formats of unknown assailant, hidden threats, or cat and mouse chases are replaced with a face-off.  There is no escape hatch, no gallant rescuer or detached unravelling of a mystery.  There is also no need for lengthy character or scene descriptions, so there are no breathers for the reader.  You are in this with them, you won’t want to put down the book, but you will… just for a respite.

Submitted by Lorna

Available as paperback

Reserve your copy here

December 20
The Other Sister by Elle Croft

The Other Sister by Elle Croft.png

Ryan and Gina are siblings.  They had another sister, but she died as a child and their family never truly recovered.  Their parents moved abroad, Ryan sees his dead sister everywhere and Gina as outcast is driven to develop a career, with little success.

When Gina gets a foot in the door of underperforming Channel Eight, she sees an opportunity to propel the company from relative obscurity and satisfy her ambition to become a newsreader, but her boss sees things very differently.

One evening she comes upon a body and ‘takes the initiative’ to live broadcast her find on the company’s site, believing that she has proved her worth and will finally achieve her ambitions.  But that’s not how it goes…  And when she finds a second body, not only is she the subject of internet vitriol but she and her brother come under suspicion.

Each chapter is delivered by a character narrator: Ryan and Gina take centre stage with occasional segues to Detective Adam Adebayo.  Sharon, their mother, provides the backstory from 1996, initially infrequently but as we gallop towards the end of the book, she comes to the fore.

If you like a twisty, twisted psychological thriller with a side order of dysfunction, you’ve come to the right place.

Submitted by Lorna

Available as paperback

Reserve your copy here
 

December 20
And So It Begins by Rachel Abbott
And So It Begins by Rachel Abbott.png

The beginning of ‘And So It Begins’ is an end of a sorts, introducing Sergeant Stephanie King, about to discover the bloodied bodies of Mark and his girlfriend Evie in their bed.  Mark North was a photographer, living a reclusive life after the accidental death of his wife (Mia) almost four years previously. 

But Evie is not dead and she is forthright in her admission that she killed Mark. 

And then there is Cleo.  Cleo is Mark’s sister.  She is fiercely protective of him, distrusting anyone who fails to afford him appropriate respect, or gets in the way of their close relationship.

The story is mainly revealed in two time lines: the first takes us back two years to when Evie met Mark as a prospective client, and follows their relationship which is liberally peppered with Cleo and her suspicions that Evie is not what she pretends to be.  The other main part is courtroom set as Evie stands trial, her defence self-defence.

The main characters are very well drawn, and while not tremendously likeable (as seems to be the general trend) it’s easy to understand their behaviour in the context of their motivation.  There’s no out and out trickery in the plotting either, while the story weaves in many directions, and you will probably change your mind a few times about what’s actually going on, the signposts are all there.

Where does anything begin? Is there a point in time that stands out as the catalyst to what eventually happens, or is it more a series of moments, small, perhaps insignificant moments that lend momentum, that predict an inevitable conclusion? Or is it all in the eye of the beholder?

Submitted by Lorna 

Available as hardback

Reserve your copy here

December 20
The Lie of the Land by Amanda Craig

the lie of the land

The Lie of the Land opens with Lottie Bredin determined to divorce Quentin because of his many infidelities. However, the finances do not work out because both Bredins have lost their jobs and the depressed housing market means selling their family home would not raise enough to clear their mortgage. Consequently, they rent out their expensive London house and this covers their monthly mortgage payments while leaving enough for a lease on a cheaper property in Devon. Although the set up is far from ideal, Lottie and Quentin decide to continue living together for the sake of their two daughters. Also living with them is Xan, Lottie’s mixed-race son from an earlier relationship.

The Bredins effectively have to take a step back in time as they come to terms with sporadic wi-fi connections, less disposable income and fewer outlets for entertainment. Also, Xan faces some low-key racism in this predominantly white part of England but boredom proves a bigger challenge which he alleviates by taking a zero-hours contract in a pie factory where his colleagues are mainly migrants. Amanda Craig then throws into the mix an unsolved murder by decapitation which had taken place the previous year at the property where the Bredins now live. The subsequent whodunnit is resolved satisfactorily but it is interest in what will happen to the Bredins which sustains interest to the end of the book. 

For those unfamiliar with Amanda Craig, The Lie of the Land will spark interest in her earlier novels which feature some of the same characters. 

Submitted by David

Available as a book

Reserve a copy here​


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