Blog Tours · Reviews

BLOG TOUR! Sleep No More by P D James

P D James has long been acknowledged as a Queen of Crime. In the course of her long career, which only ended with her death in 2014, she successfully blended psychological insight with twisting plots and a literary turn of phrase in her much admired Adam Dalgleigh series (check them out on audio CD if you can – they’re fantastically narrated by Michael Jayston), injected a bit of death and deceit into a a beloved classic in ‘Death Comes to Pemberley‘ and also turned her hand to true crime with ‘The Maul and the Pear Tree‘ about the infamous Ratcliffe Highway Murders.

What many readers (myself included) may not have realised until recently however is that James was also a past master of the short story. ‘The Mistletoe Murder and Other Stories‘, published last year, was a popular stocking filler for crime aficionados so publisher Faber & Faber are following up this year with a companion volume, ‘Sleep No More: Six Murderous Tales‘, that collects a further six stories together for the first time.

Less overtly festive, ‘Sleep No More’ is loosely themed around revenge and, as with much of James’ work, the stories blend the classic tropes and motifs of Golden Age crime-writing with her trademark psychological insight to create six morally complex stories, all with a twist in their tale.

My favourite story in the collection, ‘The Murder of Santa Claus’, is, unsurprisingly, set at Christmas and sees a workmanlike writer of detective fiction recall dark going on during Christmas Eve 1939. Taking place in a Cotswald manor house and replete with a wicked uncle, an ill-matched group of assembled guess and a shifty servant, the Golden Age motifs are all present and correct and it isn’t long before there’s a side of murder to accompany the mince pies. The wartime Christmas setting is wonderfully evoked and James clearly enjoys playing with reader expectations to create a satisfying ending that neatly re-directed my sympathies.

In ‘A Very Desirable Residence’ and ‘The Victim’, James uses her acute insight into the dark hearts of her protagonists to create two twisting tales of unhappy marriages, vengeance and greed. ‘The Girl Who Loved Graveyards’ is a tightly controlled piece with an ending that is at once poignant and deeply disturbing. And no prizes for guessing the key item in ‘The Yo-Yo’, in which a bullying schoolmaster gets his comeuppance on a snowy winter’s night.

James also has a ready wit and the final piece in the collection, ‘Mr Millcroft’s Birthday’, is both playful and sardonic. Featuring an octogenarian exerting the only retribution he can on his greedy children from the safety of his nursing home, it is a very funny story with a pleasing twist and proves yet again that James’ ability to skewer the absurd and ludicrous can be as on point as Austen’s.

35079533Pleasantly produced in a £10.00 hardback, Sleep No More is a fantastic addition to any crime fan’s bookshelf. James’ many fans will, doubtless, be delighted to have more of her short fiction readily available but, for anyone yet to discover her work, this is an accessible showcase of her mastery of the craft. With it’s pretty cover design, it would also make an excellent gift for a crime lover this festive season.

Sleep No More: Six Murderous Tales‘ by P D James is published by Faber & Faber and is available from today in hardback and ebook from all good booksellers. My thanks go to the publisher for providing an advance copy in return for an honest and unbiased review. 

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Reviews

REVIEW: The White Road by Sarah Lotz

The White RoadAh, summertime. The sun is shining, the birds are singing, the grass is blowing gently in the breeze. What better time then, than to read a twisty psychological thriller (complete with a side of creepy supernatural goings on) set on Everest’s dark and snowy peak? Enter ‘The White Road‘ by Sarah Lotz – my choice of reading over one of the hottest weekend’s of the year!

Desperate to get their click-bait website ‘Journey to The Dark Side’ off the ground, wannabe filmmaker Simon Newman is persuaded by his friend Thierry to go caving in the deadly Cwm Pot Rat Run with the aim of filming the bodies of three students who died there years before. When Simon’s own horrific experience in the caves goes viral, the pair seek the next challenge – an ascent of Everest, the ‘Death Mountain’. But, when Simon gets to Everest, he discovers there may be more dangerous things on the mountain than the elements – and this time, his luck may have run out.

For me, one of Sarah’s main achievements in this book is the creation of Simon, our narrator. He is, in all honesty, a bit of a louse. Lazy, dishonest and largely out for himself, Simon is not a likeable narrator. He is however interesting and well formed as a character and we see flashes of the person he could become and the life he could lead if he chose to. Fully aware of his own deceits, he becomes torn between his best and worst selves which really added to the psychological suspense as he battles with his personal demons. The supporting cast are also well realised – Thierry was slightly one dimensional, being the epitome of the self-centred, obsessive ‘internet sensation’ but that’s a minor niggle. In a genre that often relies on tense plotting rather than well constructed characters, it was great to be in the head of someone who felt so real and was surrounded by people you felt you could actually meet.

The opening salvo in Cwm Pot is deliciously dark and full of menace – a great way of setting the tone for what is to follow – but it’s once Simon reaches Everest when, for me, the book really comes to life. The sense of place and of the challenge of the climb really came across and I found the incidental details about climbing and the mental and physical challenges posed by being at altitude absolutely fascinating. It made me want to read some non-fiction about the history of Everest and find out more about mountain climbing in general.

I also felt that the supernatural elements were well handled – I’d never heard of the ‘Third Man’ concept before but it’s a really intriguing one and used to very good effect here. Even at the end of the book, I couldn’t decide whether or not to consider this a ghost story!

Tautly plotted and immensely enjoyable, ‘The White Road’ balances psychological intrigue with dashes of the supernatural to create an intense thrill ride that grabbed hold of me and didn’t let go until I’d turned the final page. Fans of Michelle Paver’s recent ghost stories (especially ‘Thin Air‘, with which this shares a great deal in terms of theme and setting) will find much to enjoy here, as will fans of psychological suspense and anyone who enjoys being gripped by a good book!