Author: Matt Wesolowski
Publisher: Orenda Books
“A family massacre
A deluded murderess
Which one is true?
One cold November night in 2014, in a small town in the northwest of England, 21-year-old Arla Macleod bludgeoned her mother, stepfather and younger sister to death with a hammer, in an unprovoked attack known as the Macleod Massacre. Now incarcerated at a medium-security mental-health institution, Arla will speak to no one but Scott King, an investigative journalist, whose Six Stories podcasts have become an internet sensation.
King finds himself immersed in an increasingly complex case, interviewing five key witnesses and Arla herself, as he questions whether Arla’s responsibility for the massacre was as diminished as her legal team made out.
As he unpicks the stories, he finds himself thrust into a world of deadly forbidden ‘games’, online trolls, and the mysterious black-eyed kids, whose presence seems to extend far beyond the delusions of a murderess…
Dark, chilling and gripping, Hydra is both a classic murder mystery and an up-to-the-minute, startling thriller that shines light in places you may never, ever want to see again.”
Hydra is a truly stunning book; from the gorgeous cover that screams “Oy, you there! Yes you, don’t think you can ignore me. Come over here and pick me up! Read my blurb, dammit! Now, take me to the till! Go, on. Put me in your bag, go home, and now read me from cover to cover and don’t stop until you’ve finished me!” to the very last page. This is a book that will linger on in your mind long after you’ve put it down (and then picked it up again to stroke it lovingly and whisper sweet nothings into it’s leaves).
Hydra is a prequel of sorts to Matt’s equally brilliant debut “Six Stories” (don’t take my word for it; read it for yourself and bathe in its magnificence). It isn’t a sequel-prequel, you won’t have needed to read either book for it to make sense, but it is set in that same universe, where Scott King presents another case in his Six Stories podcast series. This is a wonderful format; each case is presented as a series of six episodes, with each episode featuring a witness in some way to the events under discussion linked by Scott’s own thoughts and asides. The beauty of this format is that you are rarely sure of who is telling the truth. Matt excels in this area; he is a brilliantly clever and skilled author who gives each character their own unique voice, giving each one enough to link them together, but also enough to doubt their credibility, motivation or reliability throughout. There were times during this book where I was so angry at some of the character’s actions and their justifications for those actions. You can tell that they, for the most part, harbour deep regrets and guilt about what happened, but they also frustrate about their reluctance to open up, admit their compliance and they often appear more worried about their own reputations. This a true testament to the great writing to make you feel this way (if indeed you will feel the same way of course ;))
This book is also shit your pants scary at times. I would suggest that you read this book on the toilet, or maybe whilst wearing a nappy. Yes you’ll look silly, but better to look silly than to have others looking weirdly at you whilst sat in your own feculence. You’ll thank me later 🙂 One of the reasons for this are the B.E.K.s – Black-Eyed Kids. The less said about them here the better – you’ll become acquainted well enough 😉 This whole story is disturbingly creepy in many ways, but Matt’s descriptions, or should that be Arla’s descriptions?, of the B.E.K.s are truly chilling. As for Arla Macleod herself, she is a truly complicated, and even sympathetic, character indeed. Hydra isn’t a Whodunnit, as Six Stories was, but a Whydunnit – the ridiculously clever podcast narrative giving you the evidence to decide what Arla’s motivations for killing her family were and whether you find, or don’t find, any sympathy with her.
This is a thoroughly modern horror story. Psychological/internet manipulation, mental illness, child mental and physical abuse and internet trolling/cyber abuse; all highly pertinent and current issues. It deals with the devastating effects of covering up or ignoring the past, of being made to feel ashamed, unwanted and worthless, of protecting reputation, of being (perceived as) second best.
Matt Wesolowski is a true talent (and another Orenda Books success story), and one who deserves every success that will undoubtedly be coming his way. Hydra (and Six Stories before it), is a complicated, disturbing, richly detailed and emotional book. The next few months and years are going to be a very exciting time for Mr. Wesolowski, and for us, the reader, too. I can’t wait.
Highly recommended. 5/5 (RidicuRating(TM) 50/5)
Hello my wonderful beardy blog readers and welcome to my list of February books. Once again I’m pretty amazed at how many books I have read this month. Clearly I have nothing better to do, but I’m good with that 😉
Let me know what you think if you read any of them, or if you plan to. I’ll link to any review I’ve written in the title.
2. Sweet Pea – CJ Skuse (HQ) 5/5
3. The Seven Deaths Of Evelyn Hardcastle – Stuart Turton (Raven Press) 5/5
4. Cursed – Thomas Enger (Orenda Books) 5/5
5. Killed – Thomas Enger (Orenda Books) 5/5
6. When The Serpent Bites – Nesly Clerge (self published) 5/5
7. Deep Blue Trouble – Steph Broadribb (Orenda Books) 5/5
Author: Johanna Gustawsson
Publisher: Orenda Books
Wow! WowowowowowowowowWOW! Where do I even begin with this stunning book? It’s going to be nigh on impossible to review this beauty without spoiling it all, so you’ll just buy it and discover it for yourselves. But until you do, here’ s the blurb:
“Falkenberg, Sweden. The mutilated body of talented young jewellery designer, Linnea Blix, is found in a snow-swept marina. Hampstead Heath, London. The body of a young boy is discovered with similar wounds to Linnea’s. Buchenwald Concentration Camp, 1944. In the midst of the hell of the Holocaust, Erich Ebner will do anything to see himself as a human again. Are the two murders the work of a serial killer, and how are they connected to shocking events at Buchenwald? Emily Roy, a profiler on loan to Scotland Yard from the Canadian Royal Mounted Police, joins up with Linnea’s friend, French true-crime writer Alexis Castells, to investigate the puzzling case. They travel between Sweden and London, and then deep into the past, as a startling and terrifying connection comes to light. Plumbing the darkness and the horrific evidence of the nature of evil, Block 46 is a multi-layered, sweeping and evocative thriller that heralds a stunning new voice in French Noir.”
Now, if that doesn’t pique your interest then you seriously need to reassess your views on crime fiction.
Block 46 takes place across two timelines: 1945 – present, and the present. I’ve made that sound slightly more confusing than it is, but it really isn’t. As you can see from the blurb above, a young, talented designer Linnea Blix is murdered and her friend Alexis Castells, a true crime writer finds herself in the hunt for her killer. Along the way she reunites with Canadian profiler, Emily Roy, who is called in to investigate the murders of several children in London. The pair had met previously whilst Alexis was researching a book about Fred and Rosemary West, as you do, Together they form a partnership of sorts in the hunt for the murderer that spans both London and Sweden. You can figure out the rest from the blurb.
Both Alexis and Emily are very strong characters. Alexis’s life is turned upside down after the murder of her friend. She is still recovering from the death of her partner some years before, and is a slightly closed book emotionally. Emily Roy is an exceptionally talented and perceptive profiler, on loan to New Scotland Yard in London from the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. What I love about her is that although she is a skilled and remarkable profiler, she is also flawed; she overlooks details in her over-assuredness. Basically, she fucks up. Not in any huge way, but enough. She’s aloof and lacks some basic personal and social skills when in the throes of her profiling, but also displays empathy and kindness with the friends and relatives of the victims when required.
Block 46 is not an easy read at all. Emotionally it packs one hell of a punch. Mike Tyson levels of punch. This is a book that will stay with you long after you have closed the final page, put it on the shelf, sat down, had a drink, hugged a loved one, done the weekly shopping and, yes, even had a little poo (or any other bodily function – I’ll leave that one up to you). Jo (and through her translator Maxim Jakubowski), manages to create whole passages that frankly repelled me to my core. The antagonist/s in this story are thoroughly repellent individuals. There are parallels in this book, both in tone and in the profiler protagonist, with Jacqueline Chadwick’s Ali Dalglish series, particularly In The Still (my review here). Not in terms of story, but most certainly in terms of the revulsion that the perpetrators of the crimes detailed instilled in me. I didn’t think I’d read a book that was so thoroughly disgusting in its acts as In The Still, well, I was wrong there! This isn’t criticism at all; it is a true testimony to the skills of both writers that they can create words and situations that evoke such feelings in a reader.
Some of the most disturbing moments in this book though come from the events detailed during the war years in the the Buchenwald concentration camp. Of course, the characters here, Erich Ebner and his fellow prisoners, are fictitious, but the main staff of the camp and the atrocities that they committed there most certainly were not. Stories like these often resonate more, I feel, with people of my generation, as we quite often have relatives who witnessed the war, and in some cases, the horrors of the concentration camps first hand. My own paternal grandfather Harry, who I never knew – he died at the very young age of 59, several years before I was born – was one of the first troops to enter Belsen at its liberation. From what I understand he never spoke of what he saw there, but this book has sparked my interest to maybe try to find out. Sadly, there are very few relatives of his generation still with us – my grandma died when I was 9 – but I may try to discover what he witnessed there some day. In the book, the horrors, beatings, and downright degradation meted out to Erich, and to his fellow prisoners during their time at Buchenwald, make you wonder how anyone ever survived and went on to live their lives in a relatively normal way in the post-war years.
Once again, this is a book that is best left for the reader to discover for themselves. To say any more about Erich’s story, or of the investigation in to the crimes committed here, is to truly spoil the joy of this utterly remarkable book. Jo has crafted a novel of exceptional depth, character and emotional resonance that should be enjoyed and discovered as spoiler free as possible. Jo doesn’t waste her words; she never lingers more than necessary to describe the scene or to convey the emotions of the characters. In fact so much so that as the end of the book approached I thought that we were going to be left with a cliffhanger into her next book, Keeper! It’s no spoiler to say that this isn’t the case though, and it’s also no spoiler to say that the finale is truly wonderful. The last part of the book thunders along to it’s conclusion, resolving in a highly emotional and most satisfying way, to me at least.
Confession time: I read the last 100 pages or so if this in the pub. As a single chap, and a rather unsocial one at that, I rarely ever go to the pub alone; I feel like a bit of a gooseberry sitting there all alone with a pint and no-one to chat to, but recently I’ve decided that I need to shake off this feeling and get out more. So, short story long, off to my local ‘spoons I went for breakfast and to read. Why, I hear you cry in despair, the bloody hell am I telling you all this for? Good point, well, as I read the last few pages and closed the book, I had tears in my eyes. Yes, not only was I feeling slightly silly for sitting all alone surrounded by families, couples, friends, etc, but I was sitting there all alone blubbing like a fool, ha! But they were tears of immense joy; of huge satisfaction of being part of something so bloody brilliant. I doubt anybody actually noticed of course, but I had to compose myself and have a few larger than anticipated mouthfuls of Doom Bar to stabilise myself 😉 There really aren’t many books that have this effect on me. Yes, there are books that I love unconditionally, but few that move me to tears for whatever the reason (except any book, especially How To Be Brave, by Louise Beech)
It comes as no surprise at all to know that this is yet another Orenda Books success story. Karen Sullivan, Queen Bee of Orenda, is an extraordinarily perceptive publisher. I have no affiliation to Orenda at all, but without their books, my current love of reading outstanding crime fiction, and from there discovering other books/authors from other publishing houses, simply wouldn’t exist. I thank you Karen, sincerely from the very bottom of my beardy book loving heart.
I think I’ve maybe said enough now, don’t you 🙂 All that is left to say is buy this book! Savour every page and then buy her next book, Keeper (this is already out in eBook – buy it here – but I’ve ordered the paperback, out in April, so I can shelve it and look at it lovingly. Maybe I’ll hug it, too.)
Highly, highly recommeded.
Hi Beardy Book Blog Chums.
I’ve decided to post a monthly update of the books wot I read. This is partly to bore the arse off of you all; partly because that’s what book bloggers do; partly to keep track of the books I’ve read; and partly because see the previous three partlys, in case you have already fallen into a coma and have just come around after reading the first two partlys.
Writing this list I’ve really surprised myself as to how many books I’ve read in January alone. I’m quite astonished, if I’m honest.
So, without further ado, or adon’t, here, in no particular order, is the rundown for January 2018 (links in titles where I’ve written one):
2. Pierced – Thomas Enger (Faber and Faber) 4/5 (RidicuRating(TM) 10/5 (50/5 for the series))
4. Hydra – Matt Wesolowski (Orenda Books) 5/5 (RidicuRating(TM) 60/5)
5. Briefly Maiden – Jacqueline Chadwick (Fahrenheit Press) 5/5 (RidicuRating(TM) 30/5)
8. Deep Down Dead – Steph Broadribb (Orenda Books) 5/5 (RidicuRating(TM) 20/5)
9. A Suitable Lie – Michael J Malone (Orenda Books) 5/5 (RidicuRating(TM) 60/5)
(A version of this post appeared on my Goodreads a while back, but I’ve tweaked it so it’s practically new)
Louise Beech. You may have heard of her and her books, then again you may not have. If you fall into the former camp then I love you *smoochy smoochy kisses*. If you fall into the latter camp then shame on you. Shame. On. you! But seriously, this post is an appreciation of all things Louisey. Well, her books at any rate. If I haven’t lost you already, and you are still reading this, then quickly pop and boil the kettle, maybe open a bottle of whatever tickles your fancy, settle down and read on and take the wormhole/yellow brick road/glass elevator/stairway to Beechy enlightenment…..
Author: Steph Broadribb
Publisher: Orenda Books
Deep Blue Trouble (DBT) is the sequel to the rather splendid Deep Down Dead (DDD) (see my review here), and follows on immediately. Now, if you haven’t read DDD I strongly suggest that you do do (hehe, I typed “do do”). Steph gives away the whole kit and the kerboodle of DDD within the first 50 pages or so. So, you have been warned. Don’t say I didn’t warn you otherwise I shall send my mum round and no-one needs my mum round. Not even me.
DBT is another rip roaring, hum-dinger of a book by Steph. As I’ve mentioned above, it follows on immediately from the events of DDD with our protagonist and all round kick-ass heroine, Lori Anderson, presented with yet another dodgy as shit-but-has-to-take-it job, this time bringing in Gibson “The Fish” Fletcher for wobbly FBI guy, Alex Monroe. Now, before we go on, Gibson “The Fish” Fletcher isn’t some Guillermo Del Toro amphibious creature type played by Doug Jones who has escaped from some secret government facility and is on the run stealing bottles of Evian to throw over himself and squatting in people’s hot-tubs and swimming pools, no, as cool as that would be *takes breath*. He is a thief, specialising in robbing from boats moored up around the marinas of Florida, approaching them unseen from the waterside of the boat. Anyhoo, one sunny day his simple, everyday robbing turns to…….moider! I mean……murder, apparently slaughtering a rich couple in their boat, leaving their two young children to witness the extremely bloody aftermath. Now I saw apparently because, this being a Steph Broadribb novel, of course things aren’t as simple as that. PAH, Steph laughs at your idea of simple. She mocks you and your preconceived ideas of what a simple storyline is. She does, I’ve heard her. Well, not heard her, that would be weird as I don’t know her, but I have imagined her laughing at you. Ummm, where was I? Oh yeah, anyway, without giving too much away, Lori is forced into taking the job to find Fletcher, apprehend him and bring him back to Monroe (the aforementioned wobbly FBI dude), in order to save her one-time mentor JT’s arse.
To say any more about the plot would obviously spoil the huge fun to be had inside this book (and to also ruin DDD a bit). Steph knows how to construct a tightly plotted, breathlessly paced, action packed, character driven novel that reads like the best blockbuster action movies you’ll see at the moving picture houses. There’s twists and turns and set pieces aplenty. Lori herself is a great character; rounded, assertive, fallible, likeable and compassionate, and she is ably assisted by a great supporting cast of varied characters; some of them likeable, or grow-to-likeable, and others utterly unlikeable; those whom you can’t wait to see get their just desserts.
While both DDD and DBT are connected, they can be read as standalone books in their own right, as long as you don’t mind spoilers for the previous one, and the way is left wide open at the end of DBT for the inevitable third book – and hopefully 4th, 5th, etc books.
Deep Blue Trouble is an enormously fun read that you’ll finish in no time at all. Roll on the third installment. RidicuRating(TM) 50/5
Author: Nesly Clerge
Publisher: IngramSpark (self published?)
My thanks to Shayla Raquel for the opportunity to review this book 🙂
When Shayla contacted me on Goodreads and asked me to review this book I admit I was a little thrown. Firstly, I’d never been asked to review a book before, so I was nervous. Secondly, I thought that Nesly Clerge was a made up name. I’m ashamed to admit that, but it’s true. I thought: this is a spam message if I’ve ever seen one. But a little Googling revealed that I was indeed an idiot and Nesly is a real person *face palm*.
And you know what? I’m very glad that I did because this book is a cracking read.
When The Serpent Bites is quite different to the books I would normally read. It isn’t an out-and-out crime novel. Neither is it a thriller of the kind I’d normally read. I guess that if you had to categorise it, WTSB (for the sake of my poor fingers on this keyboard), is a character driven psychological drama. It follows our protagonist, Frederick Starks (or just Starks, as he prefers to be known), as he royally fucks up his life and goes to prison. Silly, silly man.
I have to say that WTSB starts very abruptly indeed, throwing us straight into the action. So much so that I thought that my Kindle hadn’t downloaded the first few chapters of the book. I do feel that the beginning could have been structured better; maybe starting with Starks already in Jail and flashing back, but it works. Just.
Frederick Starks himself is a very good character indeed: he’s deeply flawed, acting on impulse, quite often letting his emotions very much get the better of him at the wrong times. He’s not a particularly likeable person; he is a very rich man, believing that showering people with money equates to showing love, or buying loyalty; if not trust. He is a stubborn, arrogant bastard, too. He refuses to accept his role in the break-up of his marriage, but there are chinks in his armour – moments throughout the novel where he begins to see and show understanding. But is it too little too late?
Story wise the basics are thus: Frederick Starks is a man who has everything; a successful business, he’s very wealthy, has a beautiful, loving girlfriend. He’s estranged from his wife Kayla, and his three kids. They’ve been separated for a year at the start of this book, but Starks just cannot let go. One fateful night Starks goes around to the house of the guy she’s been sleeping with, Ozy Hessinger; the man Starks believes destroyed his marriage. He wants to confront Ozy and tell his wife, in front of him, what a cheating bastard her husband is. This does not go well. It doesn’t go well at all for Starks. Ozy goads Starks, pulls a knife and it all goes tits up very fast. In a fit of rage he batters Ozy to within an inch of his life, leaving him in a coma. The police arrive just as Starks is battering the living daylights out of Ozy with a glass bowl and thus, from here on in, Starks’ fate is sealed:
“He’d only wanted to humiliate Ozy. No, that wasn’t true. He’d hoped to destroy Ozy’s family, just as the man had destroyed his. Just, God, not in this way. Now the proverbial dominoes were tumbling, each one striking the next as they fell. And, it seemed this would continue, until none were left standing”
This book is not a fast paced action thriller; it’s a book that takes it’s time. It delves deep into Starks’ psyche. It explores what it takes to make a person do something so apparently out of character and the consequences that come with those actions. It’s part courtroom drama, part psychological thriller and, for the most part, a taut and tense prison drama (there’s one scene towards the end of the book that literally had my heart racing as I read it). Starks’ journey from successful rich businessman to the new ‘fish’ in the maximum security Sands correctional facility is very well handled. There are no huge surprises in terms of story beats really; man breaks law, man goes to trial, man is found guilty, man goes to jail, man rises up through the prison hierarchy…you get the idea, but Nesly Clerge writes with such skill and conviction you’d believe he’d actually been through this himself (*quick Google check* No, he hasn’t). This book has clearly been researched very thoroughly. Along the way we get to know who Starks was before the incident, how he met Kayla, how he built up his business. Of course we also meet other characters that have an important part to play in Starks’ story; some friendly, some most definitely not so friendly.
After a admittedly ropey start, for me at least, I grew to love this book. It was tense and gripping, urging me to read on until very late at night. There are two more books in the series (When The Dragon Roars and When The Phoenix Rises), and I cannot wait to see how it all plays out. 5/5