Blog Tours · Reviews

BLOG TOUR!! Keeper by Johana Gustawsson

KEEPER COVER AW 2.inddWhitechapel, 1888: London is bowed under Jack the Ripper’s reign of terror.

London, 2015: actress Julianne Bell is abducted in a case similar to the terrible Tower Hamlets murders of some ten years earlier, and harking back to the Ripper killings of a century before.

Falkenberg, Sweden, 2015: a woman’s body is found mutilated in a forest, her wounds identical to those of the Tower Hamlets victims. With the man arrested for the Tower Hamlets crimes already locked up, do the new killings mean he has a dangerous accomplice, or is a copy-cat serial killer on the loose? 

Dual timelines are tricky to pull off in any novel but especially in crime fiction. Too much detail and the narrative loses it’s tension, too little and the plot gets lost in the haze. Despite adding an international cast and fair bit of country hopping into the mix however, Johana Gustawsson handles the various strands of Keeper’s complex plot like a pro, ratcheting up the tension with every turn of the page and delivering a multi-layered mystery that combines nordic noir with psychological compulsion.

Keeper is the second in Gustawsson’s Roy and Castells series and sees the return of Canadian profiler Emily Roy, now working for as a Behavioural Investigative Advisor for the Metropolitan Police and French true-crime writer Alexis Castells, whose personal connection to the Tower Hamlets killings could jeopardise their new investigation. The two ladies make engaging leads, with Roy’s icy genius contrasting nicely to Alexis’ more emotional, instinct based approach.

With chapters told from a number of different viewpoints and a large cast, it would be easy for characters to become redundant but Gustawsson manages to make each person feel distinct – from the suave and capable DCS Jack Pearce to the Alexis’ scene-stealing mother Mado. Aliénor Lindbergh, an intern on the Swedish side of the investigation with Asperger Syndrome, was a favourite for me. I have limited knowledge of the disorder but the author credits the president of the Étoile d’Asperger association with assisting in crafting the character and Aliénor certainly comes across as a well-rounded individual, with determined attention to detail and a frank ‘say what you see’ attitude to communication, making a valuable addition to the investigative team. I very much hope she returns in future books.

The mystery itself is also incredibly detailed, with plot strands weaving through from 1888 to 2015 and moving between London and Sweden throughout. There are, admittedly, times when the rip-roaring pace left me losing one of the threads, necessitating a quick flick back a page or two to pick up on the key piece of information I’d sped past  – but these were few and far between which is a real achievement for a book that features a celebrity abduction, two identical murders in two different countries, a series of high profile historic crimes and a killer whose origins may all link back to Jack the Ripper. Make no mistake, there’s a lot going on in this novel but, for the most part, Gustawsson pulls it off.

As you’d probably expect from a novel that mixes Nordic noir with Jack the Ripper, the book isn’t for the faint-hearted. From descriptions of the gory mutilations on a victim’s body to the claustrophobic atmosphere of poverty-stricken Victorian Whitechapel, Gustawsson doesn’t shy away from the gritty detail. So if you like your crime cosy, this one probably isn’t going to be for you. That said, Keeper never feels gratuitous in its violence – if it’s depicted on the page it’s there for a reason.

And the ending? Well, we’re spoiler free here at The Shelf but it doesn’t disappoint providing a number of satisfying twists and turns before revealing the truth behind the whole affair with its plausibility still intact.

And having not read Gustawsson’s first Roy and Castell’s thriller, Block 46 (something I intend to remedy in the very near future), I can also attest that the book loses absolutely nothing when read as a standalone – although you’ll probably want to pick up the first books as soon as you finish this one!

Dark and disturbing but beautifully crafted, with mesmerising twists and turns and astute attention to detail, Keeper is a fast-paced read that will leave crime thriller fans breathless and gives noir fans a fantastic new voice from which to anticipate more.

Keeper by Johana Gustawsson (translated by Maxim Jakubowski) is published by Orenda Books and is available now as a paperback and ebook from all good bookseller and online retailers including Hive, Waterstones and Amazon. My thanks go to the publisher for providing a copy of the book in return for an honest and unbiased review, as well as to Anne Cater from Random Things Tours for organising and inviting me to take part in this tour. 

Keeper Blog Tour

 

 

 

Advertisements
Author Q&A

Q&A with Kendra Olson: Author of ‘The Forest King’s Daughter’

TFKD book cover[426]The year is 1886 and Swedish teenager, Ingrid Andersdotter, is about to face a series of life-changing events.

When Ingrid forgets to close the barn door one freezing cold night, there will be dire consequences for her family. To make matters worse, her attraction to the new school teacher leads to ostracism and shame. Ingrid’s strong opinions and the pressure of the powerful village church to conform to ideas she doesn’t believe in put her at odds with her traditional community.

Her only option is to leave her home and family. But is she brave enough to make an ocean crossing to a strange new land on her own, leaving everything she knows far behind? And will she find the freedom she dreams of if she takes such a risk?

I am delighted to welcome Kendra Olson to The Shelf today to talk historical fiction, folklore and new beginnings and to tell us a little more about her debut novel, The Forest King’s Daughter.

———————————————————–

Kendra Olson, copyright B MossopWelcome to The Shelf of Unread Books Kendra! The Forest King’s Daughter is your first novel. Can you tell readers a little about the book and what happens in the story?

Yes, certainly. The Forest King’s Daughter is a coming of age, historical novel with a hint of folklore in it. The story takes place in 19th century rural Sweden and follows the journey of teenager Ingrid Andersdotter as she faces a series of life-changing events. Ingrid battles against the effects of poverty and injustice in her life only to bring about consequences she can’t ignore. It’s how she deals with these consequences that will make all the difference.

The novel begins in Sweden in 1886 before moving to America. Did you always intend to write a historical novel and what drew you to that particular time and those places?

I’m American but moved to England almost fourteen years ago. My novel was inspired by my interest in my great-great-grandmother who, I discovered, emigrated from rural Sweden to America as a young woman back in the late 1800s. She interested me as she’d left Europe never to return and here I was returning over 100 years later, as a young woman. It was a family connection I had forgotten about.

As travel was so much more expensive and dangerous at the time (for steerage passengers anyway) I wondered what might have gone into such a decision. I became interested in Swedish history and started reading about the social conditions of the period. What I learned was that many single young women emigrated to America and that some people were very dissatisfied with the social climate in Sweden. I then started imagining what it might have been like to be a young woman back then—what might your life look like?

This led me to come up with my protagonist, Ingrid Andersdotter, who lives deep in the forest of Värmland (where my grandmother came from). Ingrid is courageous and wilful. She comes up against both her parents and the local church authorities (who functioned like the law at this time). I wondered where her battles might take her and how this would play out. I decided that she’d need to leave her village, but that her journey wouldn’t automatically take her directly to America (that would be too easy!) so she’s first taken to Stockholm where she works as a maid, before getting into trouble again and taking the final step—emigrating to America.

Readers get a real sense of the traditions, expectations and constraints of living in a rural community during the 1880s when reading The Forest King’s Daughter. How did you begin to research the novel? And did any of that research change the story in any way?

Thank you, I’m pleased that you think so. I started by exploring my own genealogy, which was fairly easy as one of my uncles had already done a lot of research, tracing our family all the way back to 17th century Norway. He’d also written up short descriptions of the relatives he knew something about, be that from personal experience, anecdote or family letters. Part of my research involved visiting my existing family in Sweden—the descendants of those who stayed and continue to reside in the same community. This was interesting and a lot of fun. They showed me the house my grandmother grew up in and talked me through what life was like back then. It was an amazing experience!

From there I explored the mythology of Swedish emigrants, reading novels that had been written about them, such as Vilhelm Moberg’s Emigrants trilogy and some of Selma Lagerlöf’s stories. This was in addition to reading Swedish history and biographies and visiting museums, such as the Merseyside Maritime Museum in Liverpool where I saw replicas of the ships the emigrants travelled to America on.

While writing I tried to completely immerse myself in the story and time, so besides reading about the history and customs of Sweden and Swedish Americans, I tried to replicate what small experiences I could. For example, I visited the old dock in Liverpool where the emigrant ships departed from, which is no longer in use and difficult to find. It was exciting to sit on that old dock and imagine what it must have been like all those years ago. I rode the ferry to get a feeling for being in those waters—they were very choppy! I also learned how to make some traditional Swedish recipes, such as pepparkakor, which are like gingersnaps and baked every Christmas. I even listened to some old Swedish folk music. These experiences certainly fed my imagination while writing the story!

In terms of the research changing the story, I think it functioned more to direct the writing and to help me develop it. After deciding that I wanted to write about this time period, I began reading about it. It was only after I’d done some initial research that I was able to come up with story events, character details etc.

You incorporate some very interesting – and little known (in the UK at least) – folklore into the story. Was this always your intention or did you weave that in as the story progressed? What drew you to tell Ingrid’s story through the lens of a fairy tale?

When hearing stories and reading about the Swedish-American experience, I was struck by how different life was in Sweden in the 19th century. To an emigrant it must have felt almost like another world. Having loved the idea of fairies as a child, it reminded me that fairies inhabit a world just on the edge of our consciousness, in a place where the normal rules don’t apply. In the legends the fairy world sometimes manifests as a fairy circle whereby the person observing it is, quite literally, on the brink of two worlds. It struck me that this is similar to the experience of emigrants who have one foot in the country and culture they grew up in and another in their new country and culture. I thought this could serve as a useful metaphor in the story for Ingrid’s experience.

Then, when I read The Saga of Gösta Berling by Selma Lagerlöf, a native of Värmland, Sweden, I was struck by her magical depiction of Värmland in winter and the forest people, who were the torpare or crofters—the very same people I’m descended from. As a country’s folklore also reflects something of that culture’s worldview, I thought that incorporating a mythical element might also help me to become better acquainted with my characters and setting.

I should also say that while many of the myths depicted in the story are based on real folklore, the main myth—that of the Forest King’s daughter herself—is actually made up. While the elk are seen as the kings of Sweden’s forest, I have yet to read anything that mythologises them in this way.

The book is very much a coming of age story for young heroine Ingrid. Did you always intend Ingrid to be the focus of the novel? And how did she develop as you were writing her?

I always wanted the story to revolve around a central female protagonist. As I read more about the history of Sweden, particularly women’s history, her character grew from my reading. However, I also wanted her character to be accessible to modern day readers. While there’s a lot of commonality to human experience both past and present, there are elements to her character that I consciously tried to make more modern (her interest in education, for example).

Are there any books that you would recommend to readers who love The Forest King’s Daughter? Any that particularly inspired you or aided in your research?

This is a difficult question to answer as so many different books inspired me and aided me in my research! On the Swedish fiction side, Hanna’s Daughters by Marianne Fredriksson was both inspiring and helpful. Also, Vilhelm Moberg’s Emigrants trilogy and the stories of Selma Lagerlöf, which I’ve already mentioned. On the non-Swedish fiction side, I enjoyed The Tiger’s Wife by Téa Obreht, which is of course very different but incorporates a mythological element about the narrator’s past as well as Balkan folklore. I also love how Amy Tan weaves myth and magic into her family stories and her novels certainly inspired me. On the non-fiction side, I Go to America, Swedish American Women and the Life of Mina Anderson by Joy K. Lintelman helped me a great deal, as did the biographies of immigrant and refugee women more generally.

Do you have any tips for any would be historical novelists out there? The task of writing about a completely different time and place seems very daunting to me – where on earth do you begin?

It’s tricky to give advice as every writer approaches the creative process differently. While I usually start with a vague idea and then do some research to expand upon it, another writer might start writing, and only then begin researching. Also, as historical fiction can contain varying levels of fact, that too will play a part in how a writer approaches their subject. There are as many different ways to write about history as there are to write about contemporary times.

What I would say is that it’s important to do at least some research—the more the better—as readers need to believe in the world you’ve created for your characters. The more known a period/place is, the more likely readers will be to question the story should a detail be incorrect. But don’t go overboard with the detail. Instead, focus on what readers need to know so as not to lose them along the way.

Try to immerse yourself in your chosen setting. This will give you a greater understanding of your characters and help to make them feel credible to readers.  Readers want to be able to empathise with a character. This stands whatever your time period. In fact, the more distant the past the story is set in, the more important this is—it’s the reader’s ability to relate to the characters that will help connect them to that particular period of history.  Historical fiction is about bringing the past to life, so focus on ways to connect modern day readers to their historical counterparts.

Finally, are you working on anything else now that The Forest King’s Daughter is out in the world? Will this be in a similar vein or are you going for something completely different?

Well, after I wrote The Forest King’s Daughter I wrote another novel, also set in the past, albeit the much less distant past. That story takes place on a Navajo reservation in Arizona in the early 1980s. It contains similarities to The Forest King’s Daughter in that there’s an element of myth to it, but otherwise the story is very different. However that novel isn’t yet published. Much of it was written during my Masters in Creative Writing and it needs more attention and research. Since then I’ve focused on writing literary short stories, both contemporary and historical. I’m hoping to release a collection at some point.

———————————————————————–

The Forest Kings Daughter is available now. Fans of historical fiction with an added dash of folklore will find much to enjoy here, as will anyone who enjoys a coming of age story with a strong-willed female protagonist.

A big thank you to Kendra for taking the time to answer my questions so thoroughly – it’s been a pleasure to have you visit The Shelf.

The Forest King’s Daughter is published by Pilrig Press and is available now as an ebook from Amazon UK, Amazon US and the iBook store. 

TFKD 3D[427]

Discussion Time

DISCUSSION TIME! Literary And/Or Commercial Fiction

Hello! It’s been a while so how have you all been? Firstly, apologies for the lack of recent posts – after a busy March on the book/blog front, April has been busy on the real life/adulting front (no prizes for guessing which one was more fun…) so neither much blogging nor, indeed, much reading has been going on in my household for a few weeks.

In lieu therefore of any book reviews, I’ve thought a discussion post might be interesting and, prompted by this excellent video from Simon over at Savidge Reads, wanted to examine the literary vs commercial fiction debate that seems to be have risen it’s little head again in some corners of the book world. So, what defines a literary novel? What makes a book commercial? And, most importantly, does it matter anyway?

The short answer to that question is, of course, no.

But for some reason, every time there’s a book prize shortlist announcement or when a Writer of Great Literature announces that their new novel is set on an alien planet and could therefore be considered as sci-fi (*gasp!*), the literary vs commercial debate starts up again.

Take, for example, Sarah Schmidt’s See What I Have Done, a novel about Lizzie Borden. The Guardian’s favourable review called it ‘an outstanding debut novel about love, death and the lifelong repercussions of unresolved grief’ but, crucially, did not categorise it as a crime novel. And it most definitely IS a crime novel – it’s about a woman who may have stoved her parents’ heads in with an axe after all. Why then is it considered somehow different to Sarah Ward’s most recent novel A Patient Fury, in which a woman may or may not have murdered her entire family? That was also favourably reviewed in The Guardian but, interesting, was described as a ‘classic police procedural’ – clearly labelling it as crime fiction. Now I’m not saying that Schmidt and Ward write in the same way – or that the two books are identical – but, given that they have similar themes and ideas, I do find it interesting that one is considered ‘literary’ whereas the other seems to be treated as more ‘commercial’.

It was the same when Nobel prize-winning author Kazuo Ishiguro wrote The Buried Giant. With elements of myth including dragons and ogres, the book could be – shock horror – considered a fantasy novel. Literary critics at the time of publication took great pleasure in debating whether a ‘literary’ author should be involving himself with the stuff of such a commercial genre and, most literary types agreed, it was a departure from the norm for the writer. Really? Isn’t Never Let Me Go science-fiction? Or dystopian? The Remains of the Day could most definitely be classed as historical fiction couldn’t it? And couldn’t you say that When We Were Orphans is a crime novel? Ishiguro’s been cherry-picking from genre fiction for years – it’s one of the things that, for me anyway, makes him such an interesting writer.

So is it about ‘literary merit’ then? The lasting quality of the works, the allure of the writing, the use of inventive structure and experimental form? For me, this suggests that commercial and genre fiction doesn’t have the same resonance or impact as literary fiction and I just don’t think that’s the case. I recently read and reviewed Joanna Cannon’s Three Things About Elsie, longlisted for The Women’s Prize for Fiction and considered by some to be one of the more ‘commercial’ titles on the list. I found it to be a deeply affecting and highly intelligent novel about friendship, loss, memory and old age and I’m currently forcing copies into the hands of my family and friends at every opportunity.

Plus the ‘literary merit’ argument completely ignores the fact that many of our now beloved classic authors – Jane Austen, Wilkie Collins and Charles Dickens to name but a few – were most definitely writing commercial fiction back in the day. Dickens’ and Collins were both paid per instalment so deliberately wrote as lengthily as possible – and anyone who claims that Austen didn’t have her eyes on the prize has clearly never read any of her letters. And all three were highly successful authors in their day so it’s not about popularity or commercial success either.

Personally I think the terms ‘literary’ and ‘commercial’ aren’t all that helpful for the majority of readers. For publishing types, they’re a useful way of distinguishing an author’s potential market and choosing how to promote that particular book. For academics and reviewers, they’re catch-all terms that can distinguish certain types of writing and style. But for readers? Well, they’re something for us to argue about I suppose!

Going back to the start of this post, I’m with Simon all the way when he says about books being accessible to everyone and that it wouldn’t do for us all to like the same things. So what if the only books you read last year were by E L James? The fact that I think Fifty Shades is suitable only for using as kindling in no way diminishes the enjoyment that many others may have gotten from the trilogy. One of my favourite contemporary novels is Donna Tartt’s The Secret History yet my Mum thought it was pretentious twaddle about a privileged elite. My best friend adores The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry but I found it so saccharine that I swear that I lost three teeth just picking it up. Having a choice in what we read and how we engage with that is one of the primary joys of being a reader. What does it matter what label a book comes with if it brings you joy?

So there you have it – literary, commercial – they’re just labels and, personally, I don’t think they should be used to define, praise or belittle anyone’s reading. Read what you want, share the book love and let me know in the comments what you think about literary and commercial fiction. I’m also thinking of making Discussion Time a more regular feature on the blog so if you enjoyed the post (or didn’t!), or if you have any bookish topics you think would be good to discuss, do let me know. And, as always, until the next time…

Happy Reading!!

Reviews

REVIEW: Dear Mrs Bird by A. J. Pearce

Mrs BirdSometimes a book comes along at just the right moment in life. This was the case with Dear Mrs Bird, a spirited wartime romp that I read back in cold, wet November when my spirits needed A Jolly Good Talking To (as Mrs Bird herself would advise).

Set in 1940s London and with the Luftwaffe making nightly raids overhead, Emmeline (Emmy) Lake dreams of becoming a Lady War Correspondent. So when she seeks a job advertised at an impressive newspaper, she promptly quits her existing job and applies. Only it turns out the job isn’t for the newspaper at all but as secretary to the fearsome Henrietta Bird, acting editoress and redoubtable agony aunt at failing women’s magazine Woman’s Friend.

Mrs Bird’s requirements are very clear: letters containing any form of Unpleasantness must go straight in the bin. And Mrs Bird’s list of Unpleasantness is very long indeed. As Emmy finds herself dismissing letters from love-lorn, grief-stricken and morally confused readers in favour of those asking for a good rationing recipe or help with unsightly ankles, she decides the only thing to do is to write back to the conflicted readers herself.

Make no mistake, this book is a romp through and through. To start with, I even wondered if it was a pastiche because there’s just so much sugar in Emmy – she’s the epitome of the Blitz spirit and, as a result, her narrative voice is very Famous Five jolly hockey sticks and lashings of ginger beer. Stick with it though because, behind all the mustn’t grumble stiff-upper lip is an irresistibly funny and very moving novel about friendship, growing pains and the importance of being kind.

I loved Emmy as a character – she’s spirited and funny and a little bit daft. There’s also an eclectic supporting cast from Emmy’s sarcastic boss to her sensible best friend Bunty – and not forgetting the formidable Mrs Bird herself of course, who never speaks when she can shout and never shouts when she can bellow.

Underneath all the high-jinks though, there’s a real sense of daily life in wartime London, both from Emmy’s own experiences and the letters of the readers she responds to. As the book progresses, Emmy begins to realise that you can’t always rely on Keeping Your Chin Up and Carrying On Regardless. There’s some particularly evocative descriptions of the blitz that, for me, are only rivaled by those I read in Kate Atkinson’s Life After Life. And there’s definitely sections of the book that made me cry just as much as other parts made me laugh out loud – the deft lightness of touch that allows the story to work on so many levels is a real compliment to the author, especially as this is a debut.

Overall though, this is a heart-warming and spirited read that would be perfect for anyone who enjoyed Eva Rice’s The Lost Art of Keeping Secrets. Yes, at times it’s so quirky that it verges on the twee but some books you read for pure pleasure and this is most definitely one of them. Heart-warming and irresistible, this is a warm hug of a book that’s perfect for cheering dull spirits and brightening a wet, cold afternoon.

Dear Mrs Bird by A. J. Pearce is published by Picador Books on 05 April 2018 in hardback and ebook. My thanks go to the publisher and to Netgalley for providing an advanced eproof in return for an honest and unbiased review. 

 

Book Tags

The 20 Questions Book Tag

March has been a busy old month for reviews and blog tours on The Shelf so I thought a change of pace in the form of a book tag might be nice this weekend. This one was created by buydebook over on Goodreads and seemed like a lot of fun.

1. How many books is too many books in a series?

I prefer standalones to series – asking me to read your unfinished seven book fantasy epic is asking me to enter into a long-term reading relationship (yes, I’m looking at you George R R Martin) and I’m just not sure I’m ready for that kind of commitment in my reading life right now. As a general rule of thumb, if it’s more than three books long, I want to know that it’s REALLY good before I start it. Series with books that can be read as standalones, as with Agatha Christie or Terry Pratchett, are an exception to this rule however, as is Harry Potter.

2. How do you feel about cliffhangers?

Depends on how they’re done. I find a lot of the time they’re included just for the sake of it (and to generate hype for the next book in a series) which I think is…a bit of a cheap shot if I’m being honest. I prefer it when each book wraps up it’s own story but manages to show that there’s more to develop in the next one in the series. Kudos to J K Rowling for getting this absolutely right with HP.

3. Hardback or paperback?

Paperback, always. Just so much easier to read and carry around with you. That said, nothing is as nice as a gorgeous special edition hardback on a bookshelf. And always, always print over ebook. My Kindle is useful when I’m on the go but a physical book will always be my first love.

4. Favourite book?

The Lord of the Rings by J R R Tolkien. The one book I regularly re-read and I never fail to get sucked into the world that Tolkien builds. And yes, I know it has dull bits and there’s far too much singing at times; but I shall love it forever despite its flaws.

5. Least favourite book? 

Can’t say I have one. If I don’t like a book, I generally either don’t finish it or don’t remember much about it!

6. Love triangles, yes or no?

Again, depends on how they’re handled. If we’re going down the Bella/Edward/Jacob route from Twilight, it’s a red flag (in fact, you can include most things about Twilight in my list of red flags – sorry Twilight fans but it wasn’t in my wheelhouse) but if we’re looking at a Willoughby/Brandon/Marianne from Sense & Sensibility sort of situation then the romantic tension can really add to the story.

7. The most recent book you’ve read that you just couldn’t finish?

Prisoner of Tehran  by Marina Nemat. It was my book club’s choice for March but I just didn’t like the writing style at all so I only made it about three chapters in. Everyone else loved it though so who am I to judge?

8. A book you’re currently reading?

Bookworm: A Memoir of Childhood Reading by Lucy Mangan. It’s fantastic.

9. Last book you recommended to someone?

I’ll Be Gone in the Dark by Michelle McNamara. One of my friends is a true crime fan and I think she’ll devour this, despite the dark subject matter. Just so well written, researched and balanced.

10. Oldest book you’ve read (by publication date)?

Probably Geoffrey of Monmouth’s The History of the Kings of Britain. Or Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, although it’s debatable as to when that was ‘written’.

11. Newest book you’ve read (by publication date)?

Dear Mrs Bird by A J Pearce – it’s not published until 05 April 2018! Review coming very soon (heads up, it’s wonderful)

12. Favourite author?

As Loki would say “it varies from moment to moment”!

13. Buying books or borrowing books?

Both! I’m increasingly making use of my local library however, in an effort to save funds – so at the moment, I’m probably more of a borrower.

14. A book you dislike that everyone else seems to love?

The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins. So many people loved this one but found the narrator more unlikeable than unreliable and I guessed the ending about a third of the way in. Plus can we stop calling grown women ‘girls’ in book titles please?

15. Bookmarks or dog-ears?

Dogs-ears? Sacrilege! Bookmarks all the way for me.

16. A book you can always re-read?

Northanger Abbey by Jane Austen. I love all of Jane’s novels but this one merits repeated reading. Each time I read it, I get another layer of her bookish in-jokes. Plus Henry Tilney is just delicious isn’t he? In my dream film cast, he’s played by Tom Hiddleston…

17. Can you read whilst listening to music?

Only classical. I have a playlist of music that doesn’t have any words – it’s a mix of film music, video game scores and classical music, and I listen to it when I’m reading and also when I’m writing.

18. One POV or multiple POV?

I don’t have an especial preference for either, although I do think if you’re going to move between multiple characters’ heads, you need to have a reason why you’re doing that.

19. Do you read a book in one sitting or over multiple days?

Usually over multiple days. With the demands of the day job, the household and the occasional need to have a social life, opportunities to read books in one sitting are few and far between.

20. Who do you tag?

Everyone! I love reading other people’s responses to book tags so if you like the look of this one, please do join in!

I’d also love to have your answers to any of the questions above in the comments down below, or come say hi over on Twitter! I’ll be back next week with another book review but, in the meantime…

Happy Reading! x

Author Q&A · Blog Tours

BLOG TOUR Q&A!! We Were the Salt of the Sea by Roxanne Bouchard

SALT OF THE SEA cover vis_previewI am delighted to welcome Roxanne Bouchard to The Shelf today to discuss her dark, poetic crime thriller We Were the Salt of the Sea, her first novel to be published in English and to feature Detective Joaquin Moralès.

As Montrealer Catherine Day sets foot in a remote fishing village and starts asking around about her birth mother, the body of a woman dredges up in a fisherman’s nets.  Detective Sergeant Joaquin Moralès, newly drafted to the area from the suburbs of Montreal, barely has time to unpack his suitcase before he’s thrown in the deep end of the investigation. 

On Quebec’s outlying Gaspé Peninsula, the truth can be slippery, especially down on the fisherman’s wharves. Interviews drift into idle chit-chat, evidence floats off with the tide and the truth lingers in murky waters…

—————————————————————

Welcome to The Shelf of Unread Books Roxanne! We Were The Salt of the Sea is your first novel to be translated into English. Could you tell us a little about the book? 

We Were the Salt of the Sea is the story of a village on the Gaspé Peninsula in rural, coastal Quebec, a village haunted by nostalgia for the heyday of fishing that wakes up to tragedy one morning when a local fisherman, Vital Bujold, finds the body of a woman, Marie Garant in his net. Marie Garant lived a nomadic life aboard her sailboat and was on her way back from a trip down south. Her sailboat is then found a few kilometres east of the village near the Banc-des-Fous, a sand bar offshore where she had anchored overnight.

Marie was a woman who once tied many a man’s heart in knots and still manages to embroil Detective Moralès, who’s new to the area from the big city, in a tangle of fishing tales in his search for the truth. I think he earns himself a generous shot of rum!

I’m thrilled that my translator, David Warriner, chose this novel to pitch to Orenda Books, and that Orenda jumped right onboard, because it’s very Québécois. Not just the places, but the description of the characters and the language they use too. I’m over the moon with all this.

The novel is on Quebec’s Gaspé Peninsula. Why did you feel it was important to set the novel in that particular location? And how did the setting inform your writing? 

Gaspésie is a long way away from the urban centres in Quebec, and people tend to forget that a coastal Quebec exists. People see the Gaspé as a place to go on holiday, and not many novels tend to be set there. So a few years ago, I went out there and decided to spend a while in a small village, Caplan, and talk to the people there. I found a calm sense of peace washing over me when I got there, and that’s what led me to want to write about it and start researching a novel.

I love working from a theme. When I was in Caplan, the fishermen really opened up to me and told me all their fishing stories. I don’t know if it’s the same in England, but here, fishermen love to exaggerate, and their fish get longer every time they tell the story! I found it all very endearing. So I started to think about what kind of story I could craft around the central theme of lies. Why not an intrigue around a detective in search of the truth? That’s where the idea came from of slowing down time for Moralès once he leaves the city behind and learns to embrace the people of the sea (fishermen and pleasure-boaters) and slowly uncover the truth in a secretive fishing village.

Your detective, Joaquin Moralès, is newly arrived from Montreal, as is Catherine Day. Did you feel it was important to have an outsider’s perspective into the Peninsula and, if so, why? 

Yes, because I’m not from the Gaspé myself. When Catherine Day arrives in the Gaspé, people tell her what she has to do to fall in love with that part of the world. When we travel somewhere new, we all dream a little, we hope someone will tell us where to go and give us the inside scoop on how the locals live. It struck me how that might be an interesting place to start for readers who knew nothing about the Gaspé.

For Detective Moralès, what fascinated me was how a man who grew up by the sea (he’s from Mexico) but turned his back on it by going to live in a land-locked suburb of Montreal for the better part of thirty years can find remnants of his past surging from deep within. Now he’s back on the coast, maybe he can feel something he’s lost, a desire to feel young again, a yearning for love and reckless abandon…

When we stand and look out to sea, we feel humbled by the power of the big blue and inspired by the infinite possibilities we see on the horizon. I tried to put all that into words by writing about people who are discovering or rediscovering the sea.

You’ve learnt to sail in the waters of the Gaspé Peninsula yourself and the sea is an important image in the novel. In what way was the book influenced by your experiences learning to sail? 

I learned to sail in a harsh environment, for sure! The St. Lawrence River is tricky to navigate, not just because of its cold waters, but also due to the complex currents and tides that lurk beneath the surface. I’ve never had my own sailboat, I’ve always crewed with other skippers on all kinds of waterways. Learning to sail is easy, if you believe all the posters in watersports schools advertising lessons, but I’ve had my fair share of challenges, believe me. Either because of the weather conditions or the people I went aboard with. I’ve experienced distance and solitude, but I’ve loved every experience I’ve had out there. I’ve learned how surprising the power of silence can be, how the sea can resolve many ills, and how honest it can make people be. And I’ve felt the magic of the wind swelling my sails. How could I not want to try and share all of that?

What was it like working with a translator? How much input, as the author, did you get in the translation process? 

For the last year while the novel has been in the works, I’ve been trying my best to learn English, but I’m sure you’re going to laugh at me when I try to string two words together in the UK! David Warriner is extraordinary. He’s intelligent, funny and passionate about what he does. He even went out to the Gaspé to meet the Gaspesians who so inspired me. He’s a man who drinks Champagne and does yoga every day! So while I haven’t properly read his translation yet, there’s no one I’d trust more to do my words justice.

Translator’s note from David: Roxanne was a joy to work with. When we sabred open a bottle of Champagne together she helped with a lot of background and was always happy to shed light on the questions about the local flavour and imagery I’d text her once in a while. There are so many layers of depth and poetry to her words I had to be sure I was rendering them the way she intended.

You are one of the few French-Canadian authors to be translated into English. Do you have any recommendations for readers keen to read more books set in Quebec? 

If you like detective novels, Chrystine Brouillet is renowned as the Queen of Crime Fiction chez nous, and her Maud Graham series shines the spotlight on beautiful Quebec City. And if you’re a fan of road trips, you have to read Jacques Poulin’s Volkswagen Blues. I don’t think Chrystine’s novels have been translated yet, though.

—————————————————

We Were the Salt of the Sea is available now and is the ideal literary crime thriller to curl up with – especially if you happen to have some champagne handy by the sounds of things! Or maybe some whisky if you want to channel your inner Detective Moralès…

Combining lyrical, poetic prose that is evocative of the sights and sounds of the Gaspé Peninsula with a taut and consuming mystery, this is a fantastic addition to any crime thriller fan’s TBR, especially those who like to indulge in a little armchair travelling alongside their reading.

Chrystine Brouillet’s Maud Graham series sadly hasn’t been translated into English as of yet but Volkswagen Blues is more readily available both in print and on Kindle.

A big thank you to Roxanne for answering my questions – and for David for being so kind as to translate the answers for me! Thanks must also go to my lovely friend Lettie for translating my questions – my GCSE French not being quite up the job!

We Were the Salt of the Sea by Roxanne Bouchard (translated by David Warriner) is published by Orenda Books and is available now as a paperback and ebook from all good booksellers including Hive, Amazon and Waterstones. My thanks go to the publisher for providing a copy of the book in return for an honest and unbiased feature, and to Anne Cater for organising the blog tour. The tour continues until 02 April so please check out the other stops on the way!

We Were The Salt of the Sea BT Banner

 

Author Q&A · Blog Tours

BLOG TOUR Q&A!! The Dark Lake by Sarah Bailey

thumbnail_The Dark LakeI am delighted to welcome Australian author Sarah Bailey to The Shelf today to talk about her page-turning debut thriller The Dark Lake.

A beautiful young teacher has been murdered, her body found in the lake, strewn with red roses. Local policewoman Detective Sergeant Gemma Woodstock pushes to be assigned to the case, concealing the fact that she knew the murdered woman in high school years before.

But that’s not all Gemma’s trying to hide. As the investigation digs deeper into the victim’s past, other secrets threaten to come to light, secrets that were supposed to remain buried. The lake holds the key to solving the murder, but it also has the power to drag Gemma down into its dark depths…

———————————————————-

thumbnail_Sarah Bailey Author PictureWelcome to The Shelf of Unread Books Sarah! The Dark Lake is your debut. Can you tell us a little about the book and how you came to write it? 

Thank you for having me! 

The Dark Lake is a police procedural with a heavy dose of character study. There is a murder to solve and that propels the narrative but along the way we learn a lot about the detective assigned to the case – Gemma Woodstock. Gemma knew the victim, high school teacher Rosalind Ryan. Both grew up in the regional Australian town of Smithson where the book is set and both are keeping secrets. As Gemma works with her colleagues to identify Rosalind’s murderer, these secrets are revealed. 

From memory, it was the character of Gemma that came to me first and then I built the story around her. She is a complex, layered person and I enjoyed teasing out the various elements of her past that have contributed to her manner and approach to life. 

I get most of my ideas when I am doing things like driving or watching TV and the basic plot for this story came to me on a long drive one evening after my kids fell asleep in the backseat. I wrote the first chapter that evening and definitely had a good feeling about the story even though I wasn’t clear how it would all come together. 

The novel focuses on two women, Detective Sergeant Gemma Woodstock and her former classmate Rosalind Ryan and covers both their time together at high school and Gemma’s later investigation into Rosalind’s death. Did you deliberately set out to make the links between the two women underpin the novel? Did both women arrive in your head together or did one character develop first?

Gemma definitely arrived in my head first. I fairly quickly sketched out her physicality and her character and could see what motivated her and what made her feel insecure.  

This is where Rosalind came in. In many ways she is the opposite to Gemma, or at least she is in Gemma’s mind.  As the story runs in two timelines, a lot of the book explores how the past impacts the present and the butterfly effect that certain actions can have, even years later. I tried to manage the complex links between Gemma and Rosalind carefully as this really was the key to the narrative arc – hopefully I succeeded. 

The novel is filled with secrets, both in the past and the present timelines and there are a number of interweaving elements. How on earth did you keep everything together in your head? I’m envisaging some sort of enormous wall chart with connecting lines and arrows all over it..!

It did get a bit tricky at certain points. I found the first draft relatively straight forward, I didn’t plot much, I had the premise and a few key points to hit and then I just wrote.  

The editing however almost did me in! That’s when I almost had to pull apart my own story and wrangle it into shape. I had timelines, Post-It notes – all that stuff.  

I used to joke that while Gemma was staring at case boards and trying to solve Rosalind’s murder, I was in the same boat rearranging my Post-It notes and trying to make the book work!  

It’s often thought that crime fiction is a reflection of the culture and society that it’s written in and about. Was the small town setting a deliberate choice on your part? And in what ways did the setting impact on your writing of The Dark Lake?

I think small towns are increasingly interesting. As we all become more connected I feel like there will be a growing fascination with places that remain small and isolated.  

In The Dark Lake, the town of Smithson is as much a character as the people. I wanted readers to be able to feel the heat and experience the oppressiveness felt by Gemma as she railed against the small-town scrutiny and small mindedness. I enjoyed showcasing the irony of her feeling like she was trapped in such a wide, open place. 

From a writing perspective I really tried to make the environment as clear as possible so that people could picture the place that had shaped Gemma. 

The Dark Lake has been really well received in your native Australia, as well as in the US and Canada, and has been in the Barnes & Noble Best Books of 2017 list and a Book of the Month club pick. What’s it been like to as a debut author to see your novel out in the world and being taken up by readers? Was it a smooth process from writing the book to publication? 

It is a very strange feeling! Seeing the book online or in bookstores was surreal, especially at the start. A few weeks after the book came out in Australia a friend texted me a photo of someone reading the book on the bus and for some reason that really hit home. I think it just felt so genuine and real.  

I was fortunate to have quite a smooth publication journey for The Dark Lake. I queried an agent online (Lyn Tranter) and she was interested in the manuscript from the beginning. She provided me with a lot of useful feedback and suggestions which I took on board. Once she felt it was in a good place, she pitched it to publishers and it got picked up by Allen & Unwin which was incredible. 

So it was actually quite a quick process and I really enjoyed working with people on the book after plugging away on my own for so long. 

There is however a graveyard of old manuscripts on my laptop and I hate to think how many hours I spent working on ideas that have gone nowhere so it has taken quite a long time to get to this point and there has been a lot of false starts 

I feel very lucky and very glad that I persevered and finished the book – there were quite a few points I the process where it definitely could have gone the other way. 

Following the success of The Dry, Australian fiction seems to finally be getting some recognition here in the UK. Do you feel that Australian crime fiction differs in any way from its UK and US counterparts? Or is the love of a good mystery universal?

I think it is universal. I believe that all good stories draw on big human themes and challenge us in some way to confront our own emotions and study our own relationships. 

In saying that, I feel like there are different storytelling styles and certainly different settings and perhaps people are becoming more interested to see how the dry Aussie landscape enhances a murder mystery. Snow was all the rage a few years back so who knows what will be next – maybe the seaside?! 

It’s frustratingly difficult to get hold of antipodean books over here. For anyone keen to discover more, do you have any recommendations of antipodean authors in need of wider recognition? And do you have any favourite crime thriller authors who inspire your own work? 

There are so many Australian authors that I love! Kylie Ladd is very good as is Sally Hepworth. Mark Brandi and Ben Hobson both published amazing Australian stories last year as did Claire G Coleman. 

The Stella Prize is always worth checking out, they create a list of ‘must read’ titles by female Aussie authors every year. UK residents should be able to search for this online and then access the books fairly easily. 

Another favourite of mine is Michael Robotham who is the master of nailing a character led crime thriller. And Liane Morriaty can weave a story like no one else.  

Honestly though, I could go on for ever, there are a lot of talented Aussie writers! 

Outside of Australia I love Ruth Ware, Sarah Pinborough, Gillian Flynn – and one of my favourite books in recent memory is Noah Hawley’s Before The Fall. 

So what’s next for you? Is there more in store for Detective Sergeant Woodstock? 

 Yes, Gemma will definitely be back. I’ve just finished the final edits on the sequel which is called Into The Night. It follows on from The Dark Lake but is set almost three years later and quite a lot has happened in Gemma’s personal life since. She has moved to Melbourne and is navigating lots of new relationships – along with solving new murders of course!

It will be published in Australia this May and in the UK early in 2019. 

—————————————————————

The Dark Lake is available now and is perfect for fans of Jane Harper, with that page-turning, suspenseful quality that will grip you from the off and promises plenty of clever twists and turns along the way. With its brooding atmosphere and a female lead who has more than a few personal problems to deal with, it’s also reminiscent of the work of Claire Mackintosh and Gillian Flynn.

For anyone eager to follow up on Sarah’s recommendation and check out the current Stella Prize longlist, the list of titles can be found on their website here. Personally I’ve found Book Depository to be one of the better sites for getting hold of Australian fiction. An increasing number of antipodean books also seem to be being published on Kindle or in other ebook formats. If anyone has any other recommended sites for getting hold of books by Antipodean authors, please do drop a link in the comments below.

A big thank you again to Sarah for being kind enough to answer my questions! The blog tour for The Dark Lake has been running since 01 March so do go and take a look at some of the other posts for reviews, features and more!

The Dark Lake by Sarah Bailey is published by Corvus and is available now as a trade paperback and ebook from all good booksellers and online retailers including Hive, Waterstones and Amazon. My thanks go to the publisher for providing a copy of the book in return for an honest and unbiased feature, and to Anne Cater for organising the blog tour. 

The Dark Lake Blog Tour Poster

Blog Tours · Reviews

BLOG TOUR REVIEW!! Sunburn by Laura Lippman

35288850Creating unlikeable but sympathetic characters is a skill that I hugely appreciate as a reader because I find it genuinely difficult to finish a book populated by them. So many novels fall flat on their faces for me because they don’t quite walk that fine line between relatable yet difficult, and downright irritating. Not so Laura Lippman’s Sunburn which creates a compelling cast and narrative in spite of the essential selfishness of its protagonists.

Sunburn asks one important question: what kind of woman walks out on her family? One with nothing to lose and everything to hide as it turns out. One like Polly Costello. Or Pauline Hansen. Or whoever she decides to be when she next needs to move on with her life. Gregg picked up ‘Pauline’ in a bar three years ago because she had a restless, wildcat energy. But now she’s vanished – at least from the life that he and their daughter Jani will live. But he can follow her. To a new town, a new job and to a new ‘friend’, Adam Bosk, who thinks he has her figured out. But who is ‘Polly’ really and how many times has she disappeared before? And who are all the shadowy figures so interested in her whereabouts?

As you can probably tell, this is a novel that plays with ideas with identity, examining the pasts we create for ourselves, the futures we envisage and the baggage that gets thrown out the window on our way through life. Everyone in this book is hiding their real selves, creating new lives and obscuring unpleasant truths in an effort to create more promising futures for themselves.  It should make them all hideously unpleasant so it’s a testament to Laura Lippman’s writing that they’re so compelling and relatable instead.

Polly herself is the mainstay of the novel. Complex and difficult, she’s an unforgettable heroine who really drives the book forwards. Friendly one minute, cool the next; soft and open but with sharp edges that will cut anyone who gets too close, Polly feels like a living, breathing human being. She’s difficult, selfish and shallow in many ways but also loyal, intelligent and caring in others. And, as you uncover more about her troubled past, she becomes a character made by her experiences. She’s definitely the centre of the book, the sun around which all the other characters revolve and the human mystery that kept me turning the pages.

And everyone, I mean everyone, has their own agenda in this novel. From the private detective who definitely shouldn’t be getting involved with his mark; to the insurance broker trying to cover up his partnership with a corrupt cop, everyone is out for themselves and what they can get. Even the waitress at the dead-end diner that Polly rolls into is playing the hand she’s been dealt as best she can – even if that means resorting to blackmail. Selfish, shallow, self-absorbed – Lippman’s characters are all of these things but they’re also deeply, fatally human. Whether it’s loneliness, poverty, desperation or love, everyone in Sunburn has a driving force and a motivation that feels real. It’s a real accomplishment and it really sets the novel apart from many of the other noirish thrillers that I’ve read.

The plot itself is a meander more than a race. At just under 300 pages long, Sunburn isn’t a substantial read in terms of length but it feels weighty and there’s a deliberate steadiness in the pacing, a slow burn of tension that into a wildfire of actions and consequences towards the end. It’s not quite as page-turnery as other thrillers I’ve read but the pace suits the novel – this is a thriller that’s in tune with the steady, compelling narratives of classic noir and, as such, it rewards patient reading.

Filled with psychological complexity and narrative tension, Sunburn is an homage to the classic psychological noir of James M Cain but with dashes of Gillian Flynn and S J Watson, and is a worthy edition to any suspense thriller fans TBR pile.

Sunburn by Laura Lippman is published by Faber & Faber and is available now from all good booksellers and online retailers including Hive, Waterstones and Amazon. My thanks go to the publisher for providing an advance copy in return for an honest and unbiased review.

Blog Tours · Reviews

BLOG TOUR REVIEW! Conviction by Julia Dahl

ConvictionAs a village girl born and raised in leafy rural England, I’ve been to New York only once – for three sleep-deprived days at the end of a long summer camp season back in 2007. As a lone female traveller on a flying visit, I stuck pretty firmly to the tourist trail in Manhattan and got only the briefest of glimpses at the beat of the city’s heart beneath the tourist glitter.

Thanks to Julia Dahl’s latest novel Conviction however, I now feel as if I’ve had a peek beneath that surface and into the heart of a neighbourhood few tourists are likely to have explored.

Conviction, Julia’s third novel but her first to be published here in the UK, finds journalist Rebekah Roberts working of at New York’s sleaziest tabloid but dreaming of bigger things. When she receives a letter from a convicted murdered claiming his innocence, she sees a chance and, with a little investigation, uncovers a story she can’t ignore.

Twenty-two years earlier, in the wake of the notorious Crown Heights riots, when tensions ran high between the black and Jewish communities in Brooklyn, teenager DeShawn Perkins was convicted of the brutal murder of his adoptive family. No one wants to talk about that grim, violent time in New York City – not even Saul Katz, a former NYPD copy and Rebekah’s inside source. But are old wounds the only reason for the silence? As Rebekah investigates, she uncovers a tangled web of corruption, power and denial that may have dangerous implications for more people than just DeShawn.

I knew absolutely nothing about the history of Brooklyn and it’s complex cultural makeup before reading Conviction but Julia Dahl evokes it so well. Writing deftly about race, religion and local politics, she revealed a world that is as gritty and culturally complex as you would expect a melting pot like New York to be, and sheds light on some of New York’s closed communities.

Rebekah Roberts is a heroine made for just such a setting. Complex and nuanced but without falling into the trap of being a ‘strong female lead with issues’, you can’t help but root for her as she digs deeper into DeShawn’s case. By turns funny, sarcastic, morally righteous and world weary, I really felt for Rebekah when, towards the end of the book, she’s caught in a moral quandary between what is right and what is easy, torn between her loyalty to her family and the truth. Backed up by a supporting cast of equally nuanced characters and set amidst a realistic, living version of New York, Conviction is a novel that feels alive from the first page to the last and is highly recommended for anyone seeking a murder mystery for our turbulent times.

I mentioned at the start of this piece that this is Julia Dahl’s third novel but her first to be published in the UK. Although not obviously a sequel when reading, Conviction is the third outing for Rebekah Roberts and the events of Invisible City and Run You Down are alluded to briefly in Conviction.

On the strength of Conviction, I very much hope that Faber & Faber will publish Dahl’s first two books here in the UK also as I want to know more about Rebekah, her tense relationship with her mother Aviva and the community of Hasidic Jews that they come from. If they have the same compulsive page-turning quality, intelligent social commentary and sharp eye for detail as this book, I’ll probably devour those in two days as well!

Conviction by Julia Dahl is published by Faber & Faber and is available now as a paperback and ebook from all good bookseller and online retailers including Hive, Waterstones & Amazon. My thanks go to the publisher for providing an advance copy in return for an honest and unbiased review. 

 

 

 

 

Reviews

REVIEW: The Woman in the Window by A. J. Finn

32312859It must be exceptionally hard to be a debut thriller author at the moment. The current glut of psychological thrillers filling bookstore tables and supermarket shelves makes it a crowded marketplace and readers would be forgiven for getting a bit of fatigue when it comes to yet another ‘Girl’ or ‘Woman’ title in bold type against a moody backdrop. So it’s definitely worth noting when something genuinely gripping comes along and, for me anyway, A. J. Finn’s debut The Woman in the Window, certainly offered that.

Set almost entirely within one New York house, the novel’s protagonist is child psychologist Dr Anna Fox. Suffering from acute agoraphobia, Anna hasn’t set foot outside her house for the last ten months and she lives her life through a combination of the internet and her study window, self-medicating through her days on a dangerous combination of prescription drugs and alcohol. When new neighbours Alistair, Jane and Ethan Russell move in across the square, Anna is instantly drawn to them. Their picture-perfect family of three is an echo of the life that was once hers. But one evening a frenzied scream rips across the street and Anna witnesses something that no one was supposed to see. Now she must uncover the truth about what really happened. But even if she does, will anyone believe her? And can she even trust herself?

So far, so psychological thriller right? And indeed, the tropes are all present and correct in The Woman in the Window. There’s an unreliable female narrator with a hidden past, a sinister and controlling husband, an upper middle class domestic setting – heck there’s even a sexy handyman with a dark secret for that added frisson of romantic tension! So why have I chosen to review this specific thriller as opposed to any of the others currently gracing the shelves?

Mostly because I actually finished this one – and in 24 hours no less! I do really enjoy a good psychological thriller but some of the tropes of the genre have unfortunately started to become cliche.  As a result, a lot of the thrillers I’ve read recently have been perfectly serviceable but just not doing anything that hasn’t been done before. Nothing wrong with that – if it isn’t broken, why fix it after all – but for a genre that relies on keeping the reader guessing, I have found myself a few chapters ahead of the characters on more than one occasion and there’s nothing quite as frustrating as mentally screaming “It’s him, he CLEARLY did it!” at your protagonist as she falls into bed with the serial killer.

And I’m not saying that doesn’t occasionally happen in The Woman in the Window – I don’t do spoilers in reviews but I’d figured out the root of Anna’s past trauma before it was revealed on the page (which doesn’t make it any less tragic by the way, she’s got justifiable baggage and the reveal is heart-breaking) and the subplot involving the sexy handyman doesn’t take much guessing either. But, for the most part, the main plot of this novel is deeply satisfying and with all the twists, turns and sinister goings on that you need to keep you turning the pages and guessing right up until the end.

Anna herself is also more than just your standard messed up psychological thriller heroine – yes, she has the traumatic past and the now fairly par-for-the-course alcohol issues (seriously, what is it with women in this genre and wine?) – but her former job as a psychologist is really important to the plot and adds more than just gloss to her character. Plus it’s really nice to see a woman in this genre who has (or at least had) a successful professional life that is an important part of her character development and psychological makeup. And Anna knows that she’s messed up – her inner monologue is definitely one of the best things about the book because, in her head at least, she’s sharp and funny and deeply intelligent and that really comes across on the page – if you met her in real life, you’d definitely want to sit down and chat to her over a coffee. It’s just that to the rest of the world, she’s become a crazy recluse who drinks wine like a fish and mixes her meds. And that comes across on the page too – when Anna doubts herself, we as readers doubt her and we understand why other characters doubt her too. Her voice is very well done and serious credit to the author for writing such a great female lead.

The supporting cast are also really well done. Yes there’s a few stereotypes in there (we’re back to to that sexy handyman again!) but the author is aware of and plays with these in interesting ways to really turn the plot on its head at the end of the book. Put it this way – that controlling husband? Bit of a surprise character in the end is all that I’m saying.

The book is also a fantastic homage to film noir – most people will probably have got the connection between the plot and the famous 1954 Alfred Hitchcock film Rear Window (if you haven’t seen it, do – it’s brilliant) – and Anna herself if a big fan of black and white movies so there’s more than a few nods to the genre in the novel itself. But the Hitchcockian tone of isolation and intrigue created by Anna’s unique situation combined with a twenty-first century spin really does work and, just like Hitchcock’s famous film, it grips from the off and doesn’t let up until the finale.

Overall then this was definitely a riveting read that combines a taut and compelling narrative with a fantastic lead character. It’s not reinventing the wheel but The Woman in the Window is a polished and elegant example of the thriller genre that you can gulp down in one sitting and will keep you guessing right up until the end.

The Woman in the Window by A J Finn is published by HarperCollins and is available now in hardback, audio and ebook from all good booksellers including Hive, Waterstones and Amazon