While I specialise in crime fiction, I love reading a variety of different books from many different genres.
That’s why I was intrigued by Dilemma, a human-interest drama novel set in and around a hospital in Birmingham.
Written by Simon Bramhall, a Consultant Surgeon, and a former patient, Fionn Murphy, the novel centres on a team of doctors and healthcare experts in Birmingham, who are all connected to a liver donation drama.
They include an anaesthetist who was actually at the scene when the donor initially fell ill, the professor who wants to transplant the liver, the donation coordinator who’s doing her best to contain the situation, and more.
As well as the healthcare professionals, Murphy and Bramhall also give the individuals involved time, including the widow of the deceased liver donor, the family of a potential recipient and more. All of these individuals have their lives turned upside down during the course of the novel, and readers get to explore the emotions and challenges that they deal with throughout the book.
The real shining star of this novel is the characterisation. The authors create unique and believable people, who really drive the narrative forward. For example, the Professor character is a brilliant example of a passive-aggressive, self-important individual who thinks a lot of herself and is eager for everyone else to know it. She’s one of my favourite characters, but most of the characters in the novel are interesting and relatable.
The plot unravels slowly, and while it does take a short while to warm up, pretty soon the compelling storyline and the engaging characters will entrance you. The novel isn’t fast-paced, but it is easy to read, so it makes for a great way to spend time over the festive period or in any future lockdowns. As the novel is written by an actual surgeon, it’s also educational. Bramhall makes the complex healthcare passages in the book understandable, meaning that you’ll learn something when you’re reading it.
The issue I have with the novel is the spelling and grammar. It could do with a good proofread; the intriguing plot and unique characters are overshadowed by daft typos, poor sentence structure, missing words and bad grammar. These issues sound small, but they’re an important part of creating a book. While the authors have great narrative skills, and it’s clear that they know their stuff when it comes to healthcare, they’re let down by the poor writing.
With the help of a professional proof reader, Dilemma could be something truly special. The characters are believable and the situations relatable, but the writing lets it all down. It’s the one issue, but it is quite a big one.
Still, Dilemma is a great read that is interesting and compelling. I’d recommend it for anyone who enjoys human-interest dramas. The story is a timely reminder that, in this day and age, having your health is a blessing that none of us should take for granted. If the pair invests in the services of a decent editor and proof reader, then I’d be very excited to read their next novel.
If you’re a fan of gripping dystopian thrillers then The Minders might be the perfect winter read. It’s a mystery for the digital age that comes with many twists and turns throughout its complex plot.
Written by John Marrs, a former journalist and writer whose previous novel The One is being made into a Netflix drama, The Minders has a unique concept. Set in a world not too far removed from our own, information remains king, and security services, governments and companies alike are all trying to find ways to keep their secrets truly hidden.
They come up with an innovative solution; transforming information into lines of genetic code that can be implanted into people. These people then get transformed by a medical procedure and turned into carriers of some of the greatest secrets the government has. As such, the information is taken offline, which eliminates the chances of a cyber attack, but it doesn’t completely ensure the safety of the information.
Five people are chosen for this honour, and in return, they get the chance to start their lives anew. Each individual is a beautifully crafted character with a complicated backstory, so readers immediately feel invested in their fate. However, not all of these ‘Minders’ can be trusted. Four of them are legitimate and willing to risk their lives for their country; one is not.
While putting the secrets of every cover-up, conspiracy and government mistake in the hands of ordinary people might seem like a great way to reduce the chances of a devastating cyber attack, it brings about its own risks. The individuals with the secrets coded into their minds are people, with their own pasts and secrets of their own, which means that they could risk the safety of the government’s secrets to keep theirs hidden.
The innovative concept of the novel reminds me of Jem Tugwell’s amazing books. The pace is just as fast, and the author combines moral lessons with insight into the complex dilemma that digital freedom brings in a similar way. So, if you’re a fan of Jem Tugwell’s Proximity will enjoy this novel.
The novel is in the same style, but it is still a unique and inventive book. Much like the author’s past work, The One, this thriller reads likes a TV show in the making, and I’m sure that it’ll eventually be turned into a show stopping series. Each chapter includes different media such as official minutes, electronic messages and more, so there’s a surprise every time you turn the page.
It would be easy to find this incredible plot far-fetched, but it’s actually surprisingly believable. Marrs crafts incredibly two-dimensional characters and a superb plot that keeps readers guessing throughout the book. It’s a medium sized novel but it takes surprisingly little time to finish, as you’ll be hooked from the first chapter onwards.
So, if you’re looking for a mind-bending, futuristic thriller, then The Minders might just be the perfect book for you. It’d make a great gift to the crime fiction lover in your life, or you could just treat yourself to it.
Over the past few weeks, I’ve been searching for a gripping thriller that’s engaging and fast-paced. I think I’ve found it in Jonathan Kellerman’s The Museum Of Desire.
The novel is the next in the author’s series about psychologist Alex Delaware and LAPD Lieutenant Milo Sturgis. The pair are thrown together again Milo calls Alex to assist with a gruesome discovery outside a hired party house. A garish white limo is filled with the bodies of four individuals, with seemingly no connection to one another. They’re posed in a gruesome fashion, which is why the psychiatrist is bought in to take a closer look.
An initial search into the victims proves challenging, as all of them are from completely different backgrounds and seem to have no connection to one another. They also don’t seem to have any connection the house outside which they’re parked. The detectives have to delve deep into the murky worlds of sex, art and philanthropy in their quest to uncover the truth and find the fiend behind this horrific scene.
When I first started the novel, I was worried that it would be just another boilerplate crime caper, with a crime, then the standard, vaguely witty dialogue before a standoff ensues.
However, Kellerman delivers a coup de grace fairly quickly, with revelations that the initial crime scene was staged. As the two protagonists and the police detective team start their investigations, the body count rises but evidence stalls. Some small nuggets of information follow, leading to suspects, but with a lack of information on motive and no clear view on who the main victim was, it’s clear that the team has lots of leads to explore and clues to uncover.
The dialogue is witty and engaging, bringing to mind a hardboiled crime novel, set in the modern age. The story certainly can get a little gruesome and graphic, so this book isn’t for the fainthearted. However, Kellerman does tow the line between gratuitous, excessive descriptions of gore and an enticing glimpse into murder and mayhem, meaning that fans of fast-paced, action-packed police procedurals will love it.
I have a couple of little niggles with this novel, specifically the plot. The first is that, at the start, when the team arrives on the scene and sees the staged production that is the crime scene, the team misses a crucial trick. Blood is poured over the legs of the victims, but the detectives don’t think that it could be a kneecapping. Instead, they see the blood for the staging that it is, which seems like a missed trick.
Additionally, I’m a little concerned that the case is solved by sheer luck. I won’t spoil the plot, but the protagonists spend a lot of the novel conducting diligent police work, only to solve the crime through a small piece of dumb luck.
However, these are minor issues I had as someone who reads far too many police procedurals and thrillers for her own good. Other than that, I’m impressed by the pace of The Museum Of Desire. It’s both realistic about the tedious nature of a police investigation and selective with the details it selects so that the novel doesn’t bore the pants off readers, achieving a feat that J.K. Rowling’s recent release Troubled Bloodmiserably failed to pull off.
In all, The Museum Of Desire might feel like a quick airport read to start off with, but it soon builds into a gripping thriller that will haunt you for years to come. It’s a memorable crime fiction novel that resonates and keeps you gripped until the very last sentence.
It’s a bit late, but I thought I’d share my take on the latest in the Coromoran Strike series, written by Harry Potter author J.K. Rowling.
I won’t call her by her pseudonym for two reasons. One, it was so obviously a publicity stunt, it was actually cringe worthy when she released the first in the series. Two, it’s also clearly based on Robert Galbraith Heath, a notorious transphobe and conversion therapist who helped usher in an era of pain for the LGBTQ+ community.
To be honest, after Rowling’s frankly crackers transphobic rants, I was wondering if I should actually review the latest in the dismal Strike series, Troubled Blood.
After much deliberation, I figured that I’d read this monumental tome so you don’t have to slog your way through it.
That’s the first thing you notice about this book; that it’s bloody massive. It’s nearly 1000 pages in hardback. Once you’ve read it, you’ll realise that a good 40% of these pages are completely pointless. Much like it’s predecessor, Lethal White, this novel is simply far too long.
There are a lot of superfluous storylines and pointless plot points in this novel, which sees Rowling’s grumpy detective and his business partner Robin take on a cold case. A doctor walked out of her practice one night nearly 40 years ago and disappeared, leaving behind a husband and a young daughter. No trace has been found ever since, apart from a couple of superfluous sightings that come to nothing.
Now, the daughter has hired Strike, following a ridiculously coincidental meeting, to find her mother. The police detective in charge of the original police investigation had a mental breakdown, so the intrepid investigators have to wade through a load of confusing notes featuring a lot of references to tarot, astrological symbols and the occult.
He was convinced that the killer was a serial murderer of women, who is now in prison. The supposed killer, Dennis Creed, has been keeping the families of his victims and assumed victims guessing, so it’s unclear whether he actually murdered the doctor. Strike and Robin quickly realise that there are many other suspects and suspicious circumstances to investigate.
One thing you can’t accuse Rowling of when reviewing this book is a lack of realism or fine detail. The novel trawls through the nitty-gritty, everyday life of someone who’s running a business. Good crime fiction is an escape from reality; a glorious combination of gritty realism that’s tempered with the omission of the boring chores that come with running an investigation. Rowling shows all of the small details; we literally see Strike and Robin filling out rotas and hosting stakeouts that lead nowhere.
That’s the main reason why the novel is so infuriatingly long; Rowling refuses to edit it and remove the needless details. The book spans a full year, and is filled with details that the reader simply doesn’t need. Reading this book quickly turns into a chore, because there’s so much to wade through to get to the interesting part of the novel; the investigation itself.
With a little editing, better characterisation and more research, the plot could really be something. In the hands of a better writer, this novel could have been fascinating. Instead, Troubled Blood reads like a soap opera, with loads of interlinking small plot points that you think are going to connect to the main story, but never do.
The characters are, as ever, a massive let down. Rowling has a habit of telling the reader one thing about a character, then showing them another. For example, she’s constantly stating that Strike is a big, friendless sack of existential angst, when she shows us the character with plenty of pals who are there for him. While he does have a lot of issues to worry about, because many of the form the millions of sub-plots in the novel, Rowling doesn’t actually portray her protagonist as fussed by anything much. He doesn’t seem to care about anyone, even when Rowling has him claiming that he does. She seems to think that portraying a character as a selfish wanker makes them deep and emotive; spoiler alert, it really fucking doesn’t.
Among the biggest issues many readers and fans have with this novel is that it features a male serial killer who wears women’s clothes to abduct his victims, who are all women. Given Rowling’s recent comments about trans women, and her issues with them, it’s understandable that many readers would consider this a dig at the trans community.
Personally, I’m inclined to agree, but I also think that there are other issues with the novel that also show Rowling’s prejudice. For example, her secondary protagonist, Robin, lives with a gay man because of her rape ordeal, and it’s implied that he’s the only person she’d feel safe with because of his sexual orientation. Also, the serial killer, Dennis Creed, was effeminate and believed to be gay by those around him, which gave him the cover to be a monster under everyone’s noses. The implication throughout the novel, in various ways, is that women are never truly safe around men, especially not men who dress as women, as they could be dangerous. It also implies that homosexuality is often used as a cover by men to hide their viciousness, which is fucking offensive too.
Whether it’s the seemingly innocent visits of a doctor to a vulnerable woman that turn out to be sinister, through to the regular references to male killers dressing as women and that everyone who wears a dress is a predator, there are a lot of ways that this novel shows men creeping into women’s lives to harm them. When taken in the light of Rowling’s recent comments about how supporting the trans community harms women (it really doesn’t), these issues show her prejudice.
Without giving the ending away, the murderer turns out to be someone who weaponizes their femininity and uses it to hide their abominable acts. Again, when taken in context with Rowling’s views on the dangers of trans women and her notions that they’re eroding her personal rights, this looks like another dig at trans women and a, frankly, deeply disturbing agenda.
It’s not just trans women and the LGBTQ+ who get a raw deal in Troubled Blood. In fact, there aren’t many groups of individuals who don’t get lambasted by Rowling. From the very start, mothers get attacked as a group of hysterical morons: from Strike’s sister Lucy, who (horror of horrors) wants her half-brother to treat all three of her sons kindly, which he is loath to do, through to Robin’s sister-in-law, who acts smug while breastfeeding her new-born and takes over the house, in what Rowling implies is a selfish way. There’s even a woman with runaway kids who drives Strike nuts in a café by refusing to discipline her little terrors right at the beginning.
It’s ironic that Rowling portrays so many of her mother characters as smug individuals who can’t seem to see the needs or points of view of anyone who doesn’t love their kids. Given that she seems to think that trans women can’t have experienced a similar level of intolerance and persecution to her, is surely the same thing. She’s just as bigoted and self-centred as the characters that she vilifies in her novel.
Frankly, readers should be offended by this book as well as anyone who supports the LGBTQ+ community (or, to put it another way, anyone with any sense). This book is an affront to the eyes, it’s too bloody big to carry around with you and, honestly, it’s a massive waste of money. The one consolation is that, before it was even published, it was on sale. Most stores had it on for half price before it was even out, so clearly it was never worth the full whack, and if you do read it you’ll regret spending anything on it.
Ultimately, I’d recommend that the only thing you use your copy of Troubled Blood for is to break a window if you see a dog trapped in a car on a hot day. It’s the only thing it’s good for, and at least you’ll be putting your copy to good use.
As any fans of this blog will know, hardboiled detective fiction is my guilty pleasure. While the Golden Age brings the most amazing authors, and I like modern work, I can’t help but enjoy reading the exploits of rugged, hardboiled detectives of the 1920s.
Patterson’s latest book, Harry Kenmare, PI- At Your Service is a short story collection featuring an introduction from the author and a selection of incredible illustrations and stories.
Each story features the titular Kenmare traversing through modern day Sydney in Australia. He works, and very proudly lives in the seedy underbelly of the city, frequenting strip clubs, dodgy bars and biker gang hangouts. Along his travels, he intervenes with corrupt drugs police officers and the ensuing gunfights, searches for missing young women and gets himself into a whole load of mischief and mayhem.
Something I love about this short story collection is Patterson’s liberal use of swear words. There’s even a short story that’s actually called Wankers, which is brilliant. Patterson’s even as liberal with the C word (which I won’t use here in case it offends anyone). He’s almost as liberal with the word as my Scottish housemate, and she uses it more often than any other word.
The swearing, like Patterson’s incredible use of similes, speaks of the literary influences from the hardboiled detective genre. Many of the stories are reminiscent of something that Raymond Chandler wrote when he was creating Philip Marlowe. The similes are particularly inventive and keep the reader engaged. My particular favourite is ‘He looked as ugly as a hatful of arseholes.’ His dialogue is also incredible, and reminiscent of some of the best examples of the hardboiled crime fiction genre.
One thing that I’m uncertain about is the lack of agency in Patterson’s female characters. They all seem to be raging nymphomaniacs who are irresistibly drawn to Kenmare, a man who can’t possibly have that much money left after his boozing to pay for flash clothes. He also doesn’t seem like the type.
Every woman in the stories is ready and willing to sleep with Kenmare, not just because they want something from him, but in many cases simply because they want to. That’s an unrelenting male fantasy that’s a definite hangover from the pulp fiction novels that Patterson is emulating so successfully in every other particular.
I’d like to see, in the future, Patterson make more of an effort to move away from that out-dated trope and towards a more balanced view of female characters. However, that’s my only gripe, and it’s clear that Patterson does it in order to remain faithful to the works he’s trying to emulate. By bringing his stories into the modern era, he should adjust some of his views, but for the most part the stores are engaging and incredible representations of a modern PI.
It does have to be said, the representation of sex workers is great in terms of volume, but again, they tend to lack agency. There are a lot of them; almost every story contains at least one sex worker, but they’re not a striking example of female empowerment. Patterson’s runaways and missing women are almost entirely sex workers, because apparently women who leave their parents and families can only start stripping, performing in sex shows or sleeping with blokes for money. None of these women seem to be working in the sex industry because they enjoy it, but rather out of desperation, because they can’t find any other work after leaving home.
These aren’t stories for the faint of heart; if you’re not a fan of swearing and debauchery, then you’d be better off sticking to Golden Age crime fiction. Even some of the most renowned hardboiled writers didn’t stoop to the level of debauchery and graphic description that Patterson gives to his readers. I’m pretty sure the Karma Sutra has less graphic sexual description than this collection of short stories. So, if you’re a bit prudish, or you don’t think that swearing belongs in books, then stay away from the Harry Kenmare series. You’ll be missing out on action-packed tales of
Overall, I’m impressed by this series of incredible short stories. Patterson has bought the hardboiled private eye back to live in Harry Kenmare, and created a character that perfectly embodies the genre for the modern age.
Events might be cancelled in 2020, but Tony Medawar has continued to collect unpublished or under appreciated short stories in his latest instalment of his anthology series, Bodies From The Library 3, based on his extensive research for his conference of the same name.
Medawar provides an engaging introduction, as well as a perfectly curated selection of short stories and novellas from some of the Golden Age of crime fiction’s most respected writers. Many of the works in the series are previously unpublished, or have gone out of print or were only published in obscure journals or magazines. As such, readers get a glimpse into the unknown, even if they are voracious readers of Golden Age crime fiction.
While there are some well-known names, such as Agatha Christie and Dorothy L Sayers, there are also lesser-known writers. I’ve found some new favourite writers and series over the years with these anthologies, including J.J. Connington and his amazing detective, Chief Constable Sir Clinton Driffield.
So, I was looking forward to checking out the offering in this year’s anthology, and I was not disappointed. Not only was there a virtually unheard of Poirot story that I’d never read before, but also an entire novella by the atmospheric John Dickson Carr.
There was also a piece by Ngaio Marsh, featuring the taciturn and dogged Inspector Alleyn, as well as work by Golden Age Writers I’d never heard of, including a captivating short story from Joseph Commings. Each story comes with a short biography of the author, so not only do you get to read a new piece of work, but also find out more about the writer and their place in crime fiction history.
Through the anthology, readers are transported around the world, and get to check out everything from play and TV show scripts through to short stories and even radio work. So, there’s something for everyone in this book, and even if you don’t enjoy one piece, you’ll certainly find something else that you love. However, if, like me, you adore Golden Age crime fiction, you’ll probably end up loving everything. The only issue is that now my list of books to buy and read has grown even bigger!
Introduced by Medawar and offering a unique insight into Golden Age crime fiction and the work of the Crime Club, Bodies From The Library 3 is an ingenious crossover between an academic text and a compilation of short stories and scripts. Each volume of the series has been enlightening and engaging, but this one is even more so, for it contains a series of stories created for a short story challenge issued by The Sunday Dispatch.
Described in the anthology as The Orange Plot Mysteries, the six short stories all had to revolve around the hint given by the paper:
“One night a man picked up an orange in the street. This saved his life.”
From this short, succinct plot direction, six renowned writers of the Golden Age set out to create a baffling and enjoyable story. The outpourings range from hard-hitting mob stories to tales of mistaken identity and private detection. Including this series of stories was a stroke of genius, for by giving the context and grouping them together Medawar piques the readers curiosity. The only thing I find strange is that this selection of stories is placed at the end of the anthology; in my opinion, it should have been included at the very beginning.
Despite this, readers will still be engaged by the third in this incredible short story anthology series. There are amazing pieces of undiscovered work from some of the Golden Age’s masters of suspense and the Queens Of Crime fiction. Each piece complements the others in the series well, and will engage and engross readers.
At the end of the day, if you’re a crime fiction reader who’s looking for inspiration for new authors, or just enjoy short stories, then you can’t go wrong. You don’t even need to read the first two books in the Bodies From The Library Series to enjoy the third, but once you’ve finished it you’ll definitely want to go back and get the first two if you haven’t devoured them already.
When I heard that acclaimed thriller writer Sophie Hannah was releasing another novel brining Agatha Christie’s legendary detective Hercule Poirot back to life, I was extremely excited. I’d enjoyed her previous forays into Golden Age crime fiction and brining back Christie’s iconic Belgium sleuth, so I was eager to see what she had in store for us this time around.
Poirot is an incredible character, and Hannah does him justice in her series of novels. She brings back the flair and ingenuity, while also showcasing the humility. Her books don’t just turn him into a caricature, like some film and TV portrayals. Instead, they showcase all of his talents in a way that the Queen Of Crime herself would be proud of.
This latest outing of Hannah’s reimagined Poirot, has him travelling on a Kingfisher Company coach to a private estate outside of London. He travels with the sidekick of Hannah’s creation, Inspector Catchpool, who’s a bit like a policeman version of Christie’s own character Captain Hastings. They’re going to visit Kingfisher Hill, a prestigious estate that houses deadly secrets.
Richard Devenport, whose family owns Little Key, a majestic house in the heart of the estate, has asked Poirot to visit his home to covertly survey his family and find out who killed his brother Frank. Richard’s fiancé, Helen Acton, has confessed to the crime, but Richard is convinced of her innocence. In his letter to Poirot he stipulates that he and Catchpool must pretend that they know nothing of the killing; instead, they are to imply that they want to learn more about a board game that Richard’s father and his business partner have created, called Peepers.
From the moment that the coach sets off, things get morbid, as they’re wont to do in a Golden Age style crime novel. A hysterical woman boards the coach, and almost automatically kicks up a fuss saying that if she doesn’t switch seats, then she’ll be murdered. Poirot changes seats with her, and is promptly faced with a confession of murder.
All of this occurs before the pair of protagonists even arrives at their destination. Once they get there, things quickly take a turn for the even stranger, with their deception becoming discovered. They are quickly called out and their identities are revealed. The woman who made her bizarre murder confession reveals them to be detectives, rather than the board game loving businessmen that they were pretending to be. She then offers up another confession, which throws the entire case into jeopardy.
Later, as the pair starts their work on this extraordinary case, a body is discovered at Little Key, raising even more questions for them to find the answers to. While investigating, they’re faced with strange confessions, unusual coincidences and much more. With no idea who to trust and where to turn, the detective and his policeman sidekick set out to uncover the truth about this utterly absurd series of events, and the equally unusual ones that follow later in the novel.
Hannah’s previous Poirot novels show her penchant for perplexing plots, and The Killings At Kingfisher Hill carries on her legacy of taking Christie’s original flair for the extravagant and taking it one step further. The novel is a perfect combination of outlandish and believable.
Every chapter leads to more questions, but Hannah is skilled at keeping the reader interested and providing them with information in a way that doesn’t feel stilted. As a result, readers are kept intrigued throughout the novel despite the various plot twists and strange occurrences. There’s something new to learn about in each chapter and with every encounter that Poirot and Catchpool have, so that the reader is kept constantly guessing and unsure of what’s coming next.
In her characterisation, Hannah is spot-on, creating believable yet fascinating characters. Both her suspects and her secondary characters are two-dimensional, believable individuals who interest the reader and keep the suspense ramped up throughout the novel. The author demonstrates a profound understanding of human nature that Christie herself would have been proud of.
After all, the Queen of Crime was renowned for her sharp dialogue and incredible characterisation. In Sophie Hannah, she has an ideal modern-day counterpart to continue her legacy and bring Hercule Poirot, Christie’s most famous detective character, to a new generation of readers.
At the end of the day, that’s what reimagining a beloved character is all about; making them accessible to new readers. Hannah has achieved this goal and much more with her amazing Poirot novels, and The Killings At Kingfisher Hill is another spectacular example that is worth reading, whether you’re already a fan of Christie’s pernickety detective or he’s a completely new revelation to you.
Hannah’s novels are standalone pieces, but you’ll want to read more after you’ve finished your first, whether it’s this one or you start at the beginning with The Monogram Murders. Whatever your preference, you’ll be hooked once you sink your teeth in Hannah’s novels, and will soon find yourself desperate to check out Christie’s original stories.
The opening sentence of The Interpreter From Java is a little over a page long, and outlines a list of horrific crimes committed by the narrator’s father, the titular interpreter, decades before.
Punctuated by commas, the sentence runs on and on, giving the reader overwhelming feelings of claustrophobia and revulsion, which quickly become a theme throughout the novel.
Written by Alfred Birney and translated into English from the original Dutch by David Doherty, The Interpreter From Java is an intriguing novel told in two halves. The first half is in-depth review of the Indonesian war for independence from Allied rule in the 1940s. Told from the perspective of an interpreter who worked with the marines, this half of the novel is intriguing and enlightening.
The other half of the novel is told from the perspective of the interpreter’s son, Alan, who writes his own story as well as interjecting into his father’s memoirs to remind him of his cruelty and mistreatment. Alan spent half his life scared witless of his father, and the other half in a children’s home facing institutional racism, sexual exploitation and more. The novel dips into each narrative, sometimes tracing large chunks of the memoirs and Alan’s life, other times flitting between the two, so the reader is captivated by the two stories at once, and the lines between the past and the present blur together.
Through this tale of family betrayal and abandonment, Birney highlights the merciless battles that plagued colonial Indonesia and its inhabitants. It also emphasises the identity issues that the children of colonial imperialists and local individuals face. Arto Nolan (he adds the d himself later), Alan’s father, is the illegitimate son of a European colonial businessman and his Chinese concubine living in Indonesia. He isn’t acknowledged by his father, yet he remains a fanatical supporter of the Dutch occupation, and eventually becomes an ‘interpreter’ for the Allied forces, acting as a cross between a local guide and a cold-blooded solider.
The section of the novel that Birney devotes Arto’s memoirs highlights the stark irony of a man who lambasts native soldiers for killing innocent people in the name of liberty, while at the same time committing equally heinous crimes in the pursuit of imperialist greed.
The author emphasises the complicated nature of the relationship that some of the region’s inhabitants had with their identities and how this impacted on colonial rule. He explains how Arto began his crusade against the Japanese invaders, then became a solider for the Allies out of his misguided belief that the Westerns were somehow more civilised, and that their violence served a higher purpose. In this regard, the author showcases the complicated politics of colonialism, and how it was branded to make those who were being invaded believe that they were actually being saved.
In the half of the novel dedicated to Alan’s depiction of life after the war, in which Arto has swapped guns and war for domestic abuse and spending his evenings typing away on an old Remington typewriter, Birney proves that these identity politics extend beyond colonialism. Alan and his brothers and sister are a partially Dutch, partially Chinese but many with darker skin and all with an incomplete understanding of their heritage. Alan describes them as ‘Indos’ at times, and at others as Dutch. He doesn’t understand his heritage, despite trips to meet his extended family on the other side of the world and his raking through his father’s memoirs in search of answers.
Every sentence of this remarkable novel is designed to grab the reader by the throat, shake them awake and keep them that way. The opening line is a continuous list, and the entire novel is an exploration of colonial crimes and the lasting harm that the various European empires caused to multiple generations. It’s not just Arto and those who lived through the occupations that were scarred; his children, and his grandchildren also suffer endure fractured identities and the mental weight that serious abuse has on children.
Overall, The Interpreter From Java is a long and arduous read, but it’s also informative, insightful and enlightening. If you’re looking to broaden your mind and learn more about the affects of Colonialism on the generations that came long after the world’s empires were demolished, then this is the book for you. It’s well worth reading for curious readers
Jumping straight into the action, the novel begins with the robbery of a cartel owned gas station by a frightened young woman with a gun. The woman working the night shift is Blair Harbour, known as ‘The Neighbor Killer’ after she shot her next-door neighbour more than 10 years ago.
She claimed he was hurting his girlfriend, but the girlfriend herself denied it and claimed the attack was unprovoked. After spending 10 years in prison, Blair is now out and determined to make a fresh start for herself and the young son she gave birth to as she began her sentence.
Her hopes of a normal life vanish when her former cellmate, a drug-taking thief, shows up unannounced and proclaims that the woman who held Blair up at knifepoint was her daughter, with whom she has a tempestuous relationship.
The girl is missing, and Blair is quickly drawn into the messy world of this young woman. Teaming up with another former jailbird, this one now a powerful gangster, and the policewoman who put her away, Blair tries to navigate LA’s sleazy underbelly to find the missing girl and bring her home.
This central plot links nicely with Fox’s myriad of sub-plots, including police corruption, a huge inheritance given to a police officer for a job well done, millions of dollars worth of missing money from a bank job gone wrong, and Blair’s fight for the truth about what happened to get sent to prison.
While most of the sub-plots are intriguing and help to drive the narrative forward, this last one is full of plot holes. The police case rested on flimsy evidence, which would suggest a serious lack of care from the officers involved, yet Fox still tries to push the idea that the cop now helping Blair, Jessica Sanchez, is some sort of epitome of professionalism and diligence.
That’s despite the fact that she led the case, yet didn’t even complete the bare minimum of checks before sending an innocent woman to prison for a decade. The case rested on an uneaten sandwich and a lack of a motive for the victim to attack his girlfriend, but the sandwich wasn’t DNA tested and the motive could’ve been found with even a routine background check on the victim and his girlfriend- as it eventually is when Sanchez starts applying herself.
Aside from this glaring plot hole, the novel is incredibly well written and intriguing. Once you get over the slight issue of this poor plotting, you can see that Fox has crafted an incredible cast of characters. Her dialogue is flawless and there’s a surprise around every corner, so the reader is constantly kept guessing.
All of the chapters are written in a series of different styles, including the form of letters between the missing girl and an incarcerated felon, as well as the from the viewpoint of Blair, written in the first person, and from the viewpoint of Jessica, written in the third. As such, there’s a clear distinction between each chapter and the reader is constantly on the edge of their seat.
The city of Los Angeles comes alive and becomes another character to add to the list of those who are working to achieve their own agenda. All of Fox’s characters are working towards their own ends, with Blair and the story of the missing girl caught up in the middle. Through the tangled web of stories the reader wades, getting more invested in the story by the chapter. By the end, you’re so immersed in the story that you might fail to realise, as I did, that you’ve been reading several hours past your bedtime.
From the ending, it’s clear that Fox is setting up for a sequel, or possibly even a series, based on the characters in Gathering Dark, and I for one am excited to see what’s in store for Blair, Jessica and the rest. It might not be perfect, but this is a contender for one of the best thrillers of 2020, so any follow up is bound to be good. If it’s even half as engaging and intriguing as this novel, then it’ll be a gripping read that I definitely don’t want to miss out on.