Let’s talk about chapters, baby.

Earlier today I was in my local Waterstone’s perusing the Crime section when I overheard the following exchange (I do not know their names, but if I did I would change them to protect the idiotic):

Teen: I feel like this bookshop wants me to buy Lee Child books. (points to books on the shelf) One. Two. Three. Four. Five. Six. Seven. Eight. Nine. Ten. Ten, Lee Child books.

Dad (I presume. Could’ve been another relative, or, and this is Hatfield, her boyfriend. Or all three): Would you like one of his books?

Teen: But they’re too big. And I think that the chapters will be too long.

 

Now, this isn’t a post about Lee Child books; I have yet to read one and I’m sure that they’re splendid, but it was the comment about chapter length that got me thinking about writing this (after the urge to shake this child by her shoulders and remonstrate her for her method of choosing a book – more on this point later).

When I read a book I always read a chapter at a time. What I mean is that I can’t just put a book down mid-chapter and resume again later. To me, a chapter is a logical stopping point, should one need a wee-wee. Or a poo-poo. Or just to get on with those annoying things that get in the way of reading a book. You know, like, life and shit. Chapter length can quite often dictate how fast I might read a book, even if it’s an absolute doozy. That ‘one more chapter’ thing, depending on time, state of mind, tiredness, etc, can live or die by the length of the following chapter. But, it would never dictate whether I would actually buy a book or not. If that were the case I would never have read a Stephen King novel. Can you actually imagine that? *shudder*

In many of the most recent books I have read the trend has been towards shorter, snappier chapters. A great example of this are the books of the brilliant John Marrs (@johnmarrs1 on Twitter). You may have read The One; The Good SamaritanWelcome To Wherever You Are (which I’ve yet to read), or When You Disappeared yourselves, and if you haven’t I strongly, nay, insist that you do. I’ll wait…………………done? Ok, a few minutes longer then…….done now? Good, we shall continue.

The lovely, lovely books of John Marrs. Most excellent and splendid books indeed.

Ok, where was I? Oh yes, chapters – the point here is that John writes in short, sharp chapters; the longest barely covering 6 pages in some cases, but he still manages to get all the characterisation, plot, tension and suspense in there and as a result of these that ‘One More Chapter’ effect takes hold very easily and I fly through his books. Waaaay back when I were lad, I loved Shaun Hutson. His books were gory as hell, great fun and, you guessed it, had very short chapters (I lost track of him over time, something I need to put right). I breezed through them like a teenager gets through tissues, only without the resulting crustiness. Usually.

The book that started my love affair with Shaun Hutson back in the ’80s. He is also partly responsible for my love of Heavy Metal music. I have a lot to thank him for.

It meant that I could squeeze in a few more chapters whilst I waited for a bus or other form of public transport, such as a tubular train. If I was reading a King at the time then that would’ve been impossible. Perish the very notion.

There are others who are great exponents of the short chapter who I have read recently: Stuart Turton’s The Seven Deaths Of Evelyn Hardcastle; CJ Skuse’s Sweet Pea; Thomas Enger’s Henning Juul series; Ragnar Jonasson’s Ari Thor series; Steph Broadribb(insert swooning sigh here)’s Lori Anderson books, to name just a few.

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A selection of the above mentioned author’s books – lovingly arranged upon my bedroom floor, complete with sock fluff and fallen beard hairs. I think a future as a bookstagrammer is a little ways off yet.
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Totally unnecessary photo of Steph Broadribb, just because. What? It’s my blog, so shush!

But what of the longer chapter, I hear you cry? Or at least I hear something. No idea what that was then, but never mind. Probably tinnitus. Anyhoo, I have nothing whatsoever against the longer chapter. Longer chapters can give the story time to breathe, for the author to delve deeper into the depths of the story/character, but it also means that I can’t just pick up the book for that quick fix for fear of having to stop in the middle. It can also cause me to rush the chapter; to try to finish before I need to go out or whatever, to do whatever, whatever, and in those cases I often end up skimming the words and not really taking them in. I find that I need to plan my reading of those books so I don’t rush anything and as a result I often take a lot longer to read them. It’s a real struggle, innit?

A longer chapter can also make an average, or even mediocre book that much harder to get through. Though it is extremely rare for me to do so, I am more likely to abandon a book of this type than an equivalent one with shorter chapters. Fortunately these books are few and very far between these days. So far….

The late, magnificent, and fellow grey beard, Sir Terry Pratchett had no chapters at all in any of his books that I recall. He broke the story down into a kind of paragraph structure. Some were long, others short. Are there other writers who use this structure? I’m sure that there are, but I can’t think of any off the top of my head.

My beard twin: Cheers to you too, Sir Terry.  Thank you for everything. Your legend will last beyond all our lifetimes. X

But seriously: does chapter length inform your reading habits? Does it make you decide whether to buy a book or not – as in are you more likely to buy a book if it has shorter chapters? Do you feel that shorter chapters are less interesting than longer ones? Would you look down on a book for having shorter chapters? Is there a snobbishness abound in the bookworld about chapter length?

Feel free to discuss this in the comments below or on Twitter (@LaughingGravy71 – not a book reference, but a Laurel and Hardy one, for all you L&H fans out there. And if you are a L&H fan, or a Queen fan, then you win my ‘Extra Special Fucking Awesomerist Follower’ badge (design to follow – possibly)).

Until next time.

Peace and Book Love. TBBB X

Killed – Thomas Enger

 

Author: Thomas Enger

Publisher: Orenda Books

Where to buy: Amazon UK ; Book Depository ; Foyles

 

Wow! I think I need a very stiff drink. I’ll be back in a mo’: *pops to pub, downs aforementioned stiff drink, returns with renewed vim and vigour*. Right! Where to even start? Thomas Enger’s latest work of art, Killed, is a magnificent book in so many ways, also packing a huge emotional punch; the final novel in the sublime Henning Juul series that began four books earlier with Burned (Side note: whilst I have read in a few reviews now that many people have come into the series with this book or its predecessor Cursed, I really believe that this series is best read in order. There are plot points and resolutions that are revealed for previous books that could spoil one’s enjoyment of the journey to Killed. Of course this is just a personal viewpoint, but it is also the correct one so, yeah, do what you want. See if I care. Don’t come running to me when you read them out of order and go all “awwww, but now I know that X dies after Y said that W told Z that…”, well you get the idea. And I will say I told you so! So there’s that, too. Anyway, back to the review….). In Killed we finally get the answers that both Henning, and we, have been looking for. But those answers come at a great cost to so many people, both close to Henning and to those around him, and in this respect Killed is merciless. I mean, seriously! Jeeeeesus, Thomas, my heart! I could barely bring myself to turn the page at times. The prologue alone had me at “NOPE!”

A little background: Henning’s story has been five books in the making. Henning Juul is complex, detailed and a most beautifully written character; developing wonderfully as the books progress. He’s a man deeply scarred, both emotionally and physically, after his flat was destroyed in a fire; a fire that left him with terrible burns, and claimed the life of his young son, Jonas, despite Henning’s attempts to save him and the promise he made to him as the fire raged around them: Don’t be scared, I’ll take care of you! Henning has been carrying the guilt of this with him for two years when we first meet him. Although Henning suffered amnesia after the fire, he’s convinced that the fire was started deliberately; a theory that his ex-wife, and Jonas’ mother, Nora, refuses to believe. But Henning believes that someone was out to silence him because of a story he was working on (he is a journalist for internet news site 123news), and over the course of the books we discover more and more about the events leading up to the fire, the story that Henning was working on, and the motives of the arsonists become clearer. Although Henning is our main protagonist throughout the series, Enger does not neglect the large cast of supporting characters that come and go along the way: Bjarne Brogeland; Torre Pulli; Iver Gundersen; Nora Klemetsen; Charlie Høisæther; Pia Nøkleby; Durim Redzepi – to name just a few; some of whom are regular, some irregular; some of them are even dead for the most part, but they all have a wonderful depth and realism, drawing you deep into the story.

As with every book in the series the titles are very prescient (Burned; Pierced; Scarred; Cursed), and Killed is especially so. The body count in this book is crazy as the net slowly closes in on Henning, and those around him, as he gets nearer to the truth. Finally, Henning reaches the end of his long, emotional, painful and frequently very deadly journey. Enger ties up all the loose ends very well indeed, leaving this reader both satisfied and very sad at the same time. Quite how he kept tabs on all of the events throughout the five books and didn’t forget anything is quite the achievement. If there was an award for “Best At Keeping Up With Their Own Plot And Not Going Crazy (Or Losing Their Own Plot)”, then Thomas Enger will definitely win it. (It would be very polished and twisted in design, I reckon. Just like his books). There are some heartbreaking moments in this book, moments of sheer heart stoppingness (is that a word? Fuck it, it is now), moments of FFS and Bloody Hell Henning, and moments of sheer relief; boy, this book runs the full gamut of emotions.

Mr Thomas Enger himself. (photo credit Sturlason. Originally on http://www.kagge.no)

You can probably tell that I seriously enjoyed this book. The whole series has been a joy to read; a true labour of love for both Thomas Enger and for his readers, and I will truly miss Henning Juul and the world in which he inhabits, and all of the characters who surround him. This is a series that I am very much looking forward to reading all over again. I strongly believe, like a favourite TV series or film that becomes better with familiarity and repeated viewing, these books will, too, mature and get better and better with every read (I feel the same way about Ragnar Jónasson’s Ari Thór series, another superbly compelling series from an exceptional writer).

Thomas is a wonderful talent; a writer of great skill and perception, and I cannot wait to see what he has up his post Henning sleeve for us next.

Very highly recommended (for both Killed and the series as a whole). 50/5.

A Suitable Lie – Michael J Malone

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Author: Michael J Malone

Publisher: Orenda Books

Where to buy: AmazonBook DepositoryFoyles

First, da blurb:

“Some secrets should never be kept…

Andy Boyd thinks he is the luckiest man alive. Widowed with a young child, after his wife dies in childbirth, he is certain that he will never again experience true love. Then he meets Anna. Feisty, fun and beautiful, she’s his perfect match … and she loves his son like he is her own.  When Andy ends up in the hospital on his wedding night, he receives his first clue that Anna is not all that she seems. Desperate for that happy-ever-after, he ignores it. A dangerous mistake that could cost him everything.

A brave, deeply moving, page-turning psychological thriller, A Suitable Lie marks a stunning departure for one of Scotland’s finest crime writers, exploring the lengths people will go to hide their deepest secrets, even if it kills them…” (taken from the Orenda Books website)

This review contains mild spoilers so if you want to know my final thoughts, in the immortal words of Simon Pegg in Spaced, skip to the end!

A Suitable Lie is the second book by Michael that I have read, after the fantastic House Of Spines (my review to follow soon), and I am happy to report that it is another cracker. This book frazzled my nerves pretty much from the start; once the ‘action’ starts, it rarely lets up. I guess this book falls under the psychological thriller category, and as such as soon as Andy meets Anna you know that she isn’t going to be all that she seems; and boy is she not all that she seems!! This book deals with male domestic violence/abuse, and it packs one hell of an emotional punch – no pun intended. There were many times when I was genuinely scared for Andy, willing him not to go home; almost screaming at the book for him to tell someone, to leave Anna, to seek help. The quality of the writing throughout is superb: you feel every punch, jab and insult hurled at Andy. Michael creates characters that you really get to know, to love, and to hate and/or pity. When the turning point finally comes you cannot help but let out a huge sigh of relief (I think I held my breath for pretty much the whole damn book), and I almost let out a cheer when Andy finally opens up (ok, I totally let out a little cheer). But just when you think you can breathe again, relax, open a bottle of wine in celebration – maybe not that last bit – Michael throws in a curve ball and jangles your nerves all over again. What a git 😉

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Michael J Malone – don’t be misled by that cheeky smile; this man can write a seriously messed up novel.

Final thoughts: I loved this book so much; from the very first page to the very last. A supremely written story that will have your nerves on edge, at times too afraid to turn the page, but at the same time compelling you to do so. The subject matter makes this a tough read at times; it is, what I can only imagine, a frighteningly realistic portrayal of what is unfortunately still a taboo subject to many people.

Bloody brilliant. HIGHLY recommended. 20/5

Deep Down Dead – Steph Broadribb

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Author: Steph Broadribb

Publisher: Orenda Books

Where to Buy: Amazon ; Foyles

Deep Down Dead is the debut novel from Steph Broadribb (aka super blogger Crime Thriller Girl – check her out!), and it is a corker. In case you haven’t guessed from the end of that last sentence, I thoroughly enjoyed this book. Lori Anderson is a bounty hunter working in Florida. She’s a tough take-no-shit kinda gal, as you’d need to be in her line of work, and she’s also a single mum to Dakota. Dakota suffers from leukaemia, and Lori is forced to take on jobs that she would rather not have to in order to keep up with the mounting medical bills on top of day to day living costs. This motivates her to take a job collecting her former mentor JT; the man who taught her the bounty hunting ropes, and who also knows the secret of her past. The problem with this job is that Lori has to take Dakota along with her. Well, that goes well!!! *face palm*

Deep Down Dead moves along at a cracking pace, keeping the momentum going and rarely letting up. The story of Lori’s early days as a trainee bounty hunter; her fractious and tempestuous relationship with JT; the dark secret in her past that she harbours, all develop beautifully along the way. For the most part DDD is a very strong and very competent road movie/novel: Lori meets the bad guys, pisses off the bad guys, bad guys piss off Lori, Lori chases after them; all great stuff, but then the story takes a truly disturbing turn as the Big Bad Guy’s motives become apparent and it’s proper shudder inducing stuff.

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Steph Broadribb – I can’t think of a suitably publishable caption for Steph….*gibber* *swoon* 🙂

Deep Down Dead is a great debut novel and I shall definitely be picking up its sequel Deep Blue Trouble and anything else Steph writes in the future (FYI she also writes as Stephanie Marland and her ‘debut’, My Little Eye out now on ebook via Trapeze Books) 😊👌🏼

Dark Pines – Will Dean

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Author: Will Dean

Publisher: Point Blank

Where to buy: Amazon ; Book Depository ; Foyles

 

Dark Pines is the first Tuva Moodyson book and I’m very happy to know that it won’t be the last. In Dark Pines, Will Dean has crafted an excellent dark and compelling thriller. The books oozes with atmosphere; I swear that at times I could actually smell the woods and feel those pesky mosquito bites *scratches*. Tuva herself is an extremely likeable character; a big city journalist who is forced from her dream job to return to the small town of Gavrik in the arse-end of Sweden to be nearer to her sick mother. There is something that marks Tuva out from your average, run-of-the-mill journalistic characters though; she’s deaf. Tuva can read lips extremely well, but for her day-to-day living she wears hearing aids. This is a great vehicle for some pretty suspenseful moments as her batteries run out or she has to remove them due to interference from something or other. This isn’t just some gimmick though; Tuva’s hearing loss is an integral and important part of her overall character; the book sensitively highlighting the difficulties that such a condition can incur and how capably she can overcome them.

The town of Gavrik, where Tuva lives, is situated within some very dense and expansive forest. Within this live an assortment of people (some of which we get to know over the course of the novel and I’m sure we’ll meet again in future books); some strange, some not so strange, and some downright odd (the two sisters and their trolls spring to mind). Of course living in such close proximity to the forest means one also gets to meet the accompanying wildlife, often up close and pretty personal (see my above comment about the mosquitos!). Tuva is not only struggling to re-adapt to life in a small town, but she also hates pretty much all forms of wildlife; something that’s bloody hard to avoid in and around Gavrik. Tuva unfortunately lost her father to a collision with an elk/moose when she young and the trauma of this has left its mark on her feelings towards the forest wildlife.

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Not only is Will an annoyingly talented writer, he’s also an annoyingly handsome bugger. Look at him, sitting there, all manly and annoying 😉

I’m really looking forward to reading more of Tuva’s adventures, and to revisit the other residents of Gavrik, in the future. Will is currently slaving away on the next in the series, Red Snow (working title?), due in 2019 (sodding ages away ;D)

Highly recommended. 5/5

Sweetpea

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Author: C J Skuse

Publisher: HQ Stories (Harper Collins UK imprint)

Where to buy: Amazon ; Book Depository

This book is bloody superb. I loved every single page and word within. It is dark book, very dark, but oh so funny too. Rhiannon, our young protagonist, makes for a highly likeable serial killer; a psychologically damaged woman who suffered a terrible and life changing trauma at a very early age, who hates the world and nearly everyone in it. But the world and nearly everyone in it are blissfully unaware of her murderous intentions because of The Act; a facade she presents in order to appear ‘normal’. To everyone else she appears to be a regular gal: she has a steady boyfriend; stable job; small group of friends; and there’s Tink, her beloved Chihuahua. What could be wrong with any of that? What they don’t know is that Rhiannon is also a killer (and occasional torturer/kidnapper). Someone who lives to kill and gets quite a kick out of it. She’s not an indiscriminate killer; she chooses her prey. To start with at least…

To say more will spoil the delights within. This book is vulgar, coarse, hilarious and shocking in equal measure. It is not for the faint of heart, or the prudish! A sheer delight from start to finish. There is a sequel on the way (In Bloom – out in August according to Amazon), and I cannot wait.

Highly recommended. 5/5

In The Still – An Ali Dalglish Novel (book 1)

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Author: Jacqueline Chadwick

Publisher: Fahrenheit Press

Where to buy: AmazonFahrenheit Press

After a slow start this book grabbed me and refused to let me go. I struggled at first with Jacqueline’s style of writing; she uses a lot of big and long words, sometimes unnecessarily, coming across as a new author trying too hard to impress, but after a while you become used to it. This style becomes the thing that makes her writing stand out from the norm; maybe just have a thesaurus and/or dictionary to hand. Ali Dalglish, our heroine and main protagonist, is a coarse, likeable, and extremely interesting character who grows on you as the story progresses. She’s a flawed, highly intelligent woman struggling with mental health issues that I’ve no doubt will feature more as this series progresses.

Story wise, this is a very, very messed up book indeed. There whole passages that made me feel physically sick and disgusted with some of the characters involved. Jacqueline’s descriptions of the heinous acts of Patterson and the main villain (name witheld because, spoilers!), are utterly disturbing and are a credit to her skills as an author that she is able to instil such feelings in her me. Rarely has an author repulsed me in such ways; only Stephen King usually manages that. There were times where I had to put the book down and take several deep breaths. If this is what she is capable of in her debut novel I can’t wait to see what she has in store for us in the follow up “Briefly Maiden” (which I have now read and is indeed another triumph), and into the future.

In brief: a highly recommended debut from an author to watch out for. Clever, disturbing, pitch black and, once you get past the big words, compulsive reading. Just don’t eat anything before reading. 5/5

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