Dishonoured Review: A Gripping And Unique Psychological Thriller

From the acclaimed author of Proximity and No Signal, Jem Tugwell, comes a new stand-alone novel, Dishonoured.

I was really excited to check it out, and I wasn’t disappointed. Tugwell creates a gripping thriller that has stayed with me even though I finished reading it at the end of last year.

Dishonoured begins by introducing its readers to Dan. Dan’s a happy dude. He’s got a pretty perfect looking life. He has a family, a nice home and a great job.

He’s also a bit of a creature of habit. One day, one random day, he’s taking his usual train, when he recognises the waitress who served him earlier. In one short moment, everything changes in Dan’s life.

No spoilers, but when Dan gets off the train he’s a criminal with his life in tatters. The waitress said ‘sorry’ to him, but what could she mean by that? Dan’s left to pick up the pieces of his shattered life. He’s a determined guy, so he sets out to try and right the wrongs and find the culprit who’s trying to trash his life.

Through this journey, there are so many twists and turns that, in the hands of a lesser writer, this novel would be hard to follow. Thankfully, Tugwell is a superior writer, so Dishonoured is engaging and unforgettable. It’s remarkably easy to keep up with, despite the fact that there is loads of plot twists to keep you guessing.

Tugwell’s real skill is creating relatable characters, so that the reader invests in them emotionally. Every character is intriguing and enhances the story. The dialogue is also snappy and swift, so the story runs smoothly and you’re kept hooked throughout every plot twist and new piece of information.

One of the best things about this novel is that the really scary thing isn’t violence or monsters, but human nature and cruelty itself. Tugwell creates a psychological thriller that shows the darkest depths of human anguish and how far people will go to destroy each other. If you’re looking for a breathtakingly thrilling tale that will take your mind off the current mad situation, then this is the ideal book for you.

At the end of the day, while Dishonoured doesn’t have the same familiar characters as Tugwell’s past novels, it retains the same cutthroat plotting and razor sharp dialogue as his earlier work. It’s a gripping thriller that will have you on the edge of your seat, and with so many twists and you’ll find it almost impossible to put the novel down.

The Minders Review: A Hit TV Series Just Waiting To Happen

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.

The Museum Of Desire Review: An Entertaining Police Procedural To Keep You Entertained

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 Blood miserably 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.

Lewis Hastings Interview: “I believe I have the skill and flair to create a thriller across many sub-genres”

Lewis Hastings, author of the Seventh Wave crime trilogy and Jack Cade novels talks me through his work and how he draws on his career in law enforcement to help him write compelling novels.

Tell me about how you came to define your writing style. What drew you towards crime fiction and thriller writing? 

Good question! I think my style is influenced heavily by my imagination and my life experiences, which provide a continuing stream of stories and certainly kick-started my Jack Cade novels. It’s a long story (I’m a novelist, I know you’ll forgive me!) but the Seventh Wave trilogy actually started as a result of a chance meeting with an Eastern European female – a case of hell hath no fury like a woman scorned. I was the interviewer, she told her story, and what a story. It became so compelling that I knew that once I had starting writing the first book Seventh it needed at least one more book to complete the story. In fact, it took three (Seven Degrees and Seven of Swords) and each book is substantial but readers tell me repeatedly that the stories are big enough to warrant it.

My work drew me towards crime fiction, but I believe I have the skill and flair to create a thriller across many sub-genres, for example, there are elements of psychological thrillers in the trilogy, there are police procedural elements and there is good old-fashioned adventure.

The key difference for me and my readers is that the trilogy is based heavily on a true story. My new novel The Angel of Whitehall is heavily based on the life of a wonderful old naval officer called Tom. If you ever get chance to read the book, you’ll see who he was and why he was dear to me.
 

What is your career background and how did you get into writing professionally?  

I have been very lucky to have an extensive international career in law enforcement and intelligence – I still work in this sector (hence no author photo!) – I have written for many years, but it was a cathartic moment with my dear old dad as he lay in an English hospice in 2014 that drove me to write in a professional capacity. The short story is that as I read a passage of a novel I was writing to him, he said “Son, tell that story to the world, get them to make it into a film too…do it for me…”
 

Please tell me about your books. Why do you believe they have become so popular, and what draws readers to them? 

As I mentioned earlier, I think the reason people enjoy the books is that they are more than just police procedurals. Don’t misunderstand me, they contain very detailed and accurate procedural matters because I have ‘worn the T-shirt’ as far as many of the scenes are concerned.

What readers tell me (and it means so very much to hear this) is that they love the atmospheric scenes, the detail, the dark passages and the unexpected humour, the chase, the occasional love story and good old-fashioned, well-drawn characters. I am humbled by the reviews.
 

What do you enjoy reading and how does this influence your writing? 

I rarely read. I know authors should in order to learn. But my work is so frantically busy at times that my down time tends to be driven by the urge to write. If I do read it tends to be British thrillers, my favourite being Peter James.
 

If you could collaborate with anyone, living or dead, on a writing project, who would it be and why? 

It would have to be Peter James. For two reasons, the first is that I enjoy his style and the obvious research, the second is that Peter was a rare beacon a few years ago when he replied to a letter I sent to him, asking for advice. He did more than that and allowed the real ‘Roy Grace’ to read my first novel. ‘Roy’ was very kind, really enjoyed the book and offered some advice, which I took. As a result, Seventh and its sequels are much sharper.

One thing I learned from this was that there will be a budding author out there now, desperate for recognition. All I can say is don’t give up; you just haven’t found your publisher yet! I also don’t rule out supporting authors in the future and already do that via a UK forum which offers subject matter expert knowledge to help writers.
 

Have you got any exciting new plans or projects coming up that you’d like to share with me?  

Loads! I have just released The Angel of Whitehall with Hobeck and I am currently working on what was a novella and has now become book five in the Jack Cade series. It brings back an old foe and I am loving how it is unfolding…
 

Are there any new books or writers that you are looking forward to in the future?  

At the moment I am enjoying working with the other members of the Hobeck Books team, so I know I need to read their work! I’m also hoping to be able to do more interviews, to help reviewers, bloggers and podcast hosts such as Robert Daws and Adam Croft on the Partners in Crime podcast which is easily the best example out there.

Anything you’d like to add? 

In closing, I would like to thank you for approaching me, it means a lot. Authors are not the solitary souls that people imagine, we are often gregarious and need some compliments from time to time! I only really started writing novels in earnest a few years ago, so to be picked up by the wonderful Hobeck Books team so quickly was humbling and exciting. That my readers enjoy what I write and can ‘see’ the scenes unfolding is reward enough.

I’m repeatedly told that all of the novels should be made into television dramas or films because of their storylines, and depth and colour. I wouldn’t stop anyone doing that…

Good luck with your work which is so important to authors. Stay safe and well in these interesting times. Thank you.

Thank you for answering my questions, it’s great to speak to a fellow Peter James lover. Also, thank you for offering advice to budding authors; they need all the support and guidance they can get in this competitive market.

Netflix’s Rebecca And The Continued Appeal Of The Gothic

When I saw that Netflix was remaking the classic gothic thriller/ romance Rebecca, I wasn’t overly surprised.

I’ve noticed over recent years that the gothic genre has been making a comeback, and it seems to have come to a head with this reimagining of classic Daphne du Maurier novel. The novel, and the subsequent film directed by the great Alfred Hitchcock, are both the epitome of gothic fiction.

They encapsulate every aspect of the genre, including the over-the-top characters, the ominous settings, and the dramatic plot twists. In my mind, they cement the fact that the gothic is an enduring genre that keeps coming back.

It has to be said, that some of the most renowned early examples of the genre, such as The Yellow Wallpaper, The Monk: A Romance and The Castle of Otranto aren’t exceptional popular, but others have enjoyed enduring renown, both in print form and on screen. Dracula, Frankenstein and Jane Eyre all get remade or reimagined every few years, and they’ve never gone out of print.

The gothic has also crept into work that was written at around the same time, but aren’t necessarily what you might call gothic novels. One notable example is the Christmas Agatha Christie adaptation, which, for the past few years, has gotten darker and darker. They’ve also taken on many gothic traits in the way that both the BBC and ITV create their adaptations.

While some Christie fans might lament the fact that the adaptations aren’t always entirely accurate to the source material, I for one think that they’re interesting TV shows that put a new spin on old classics. These adaptations also prove that some aspects of gothic horror and literature, such as the sumptuous period settings, isolated properties and eerie characters, remain a popular troupe on screen and in writing.

Another great example of the gothic and its dark, twisted portrayal of human nature is the Dickens adaptations that the BBC has put out in recent years, also usually around Christmas or in early winter. One notable one was last year’s version of A Christmas Carol.  The dark and sinister version bought out all the worst in the classic characters and showed that gothic elements troupes remain relevant even when they weren’t overtly visible in the original text.

The new Netflix film isn’t the most stunning example of gothic cinema- in fact, I’d go so far as to say it falls flat in a number of places. However, it shows that viewers still crave, and production companies are still willing to create, films that are supposed to embody the gothic tradition, even if, as in this case, they fail miserably.

The remake has nothing on Hitchcock’s original. Despite its sumptuous backdrops and clearly extensive costume budget, it fails to thrill, surprise or shock the viewer, which is the whole bloody point of gothic cinema. The actors constantly look like they’re trying far too much to look scared that they fail to do so.

At the end of the day, in 2020, gothic horror and psychological thrillers are a welcome escape from the terrors of reality. With their beautiful décor and stylish costumes, these films and shows are a beautiful, yet terrifying, and a welcome relief after the trauma and sheer stupidity that is the current global crisis. I’d personally like to see a new film adaptation of Jane Austen’s hilarious gothic satire, Northanger Abbey, in the future. It’s a funny and witty take on the genre, and I think that modern viewers would be thrilled and get a laugh out of it, which, frankly, is what we all need right now.

How Trump’s Dirty Election Tactics Will Inspire Future Political Fiction Writers

donald trump political thrillers

Even devout Trump supporters can’t argue with the fact that the US president is currently trying to sabotage the November election in every way possible.

Whether it’s removing post boxes to inciting riots, he’s desperate to cling to power that he’ll stop at nothing. In that respect, he is comparable to many of the villains in some of the world’s best political crime fiction.

That’s about the only way in which he can be compared; facts really are stranger than fiction, as some of the many books about Trump prove. He isn’t the handsome, charming or charismatic leader that most political thriller writers base their plots around. Instead, he’s an overgrown child who took advantage of America’s racism and unrest to win a prestigious political position that he isn’t remotely fit to hold.

As a result, Trump now offers a myriad of exciting possibilities for the crime fiction market. The president in most political thrillers is much more intelligent and, surprisingly, less corrupt than the actual reality TV star turned president currently ruining one of the world’s biggest superpowers.

Political fiction has always taken fact and real life scenarios as its basis, even if it then turns the facts into incredible fictional tales. Most political thrillers feature highly recognisable characters, which are clearly based on real life politicians and leaders. That’s part of the joy of reading political fiction; sifting through and trying to uncover the influence that real life has had on the book. Sometimes it’s obvious, sometimes it’s not, but it’s always there.

As such, in the near future, I’m expecting a load of thrillers that bring to life a character that’s as large as life as the Donald himself. Political writers are already using presidential corruption as a plot point; for example, James McCrone’s amazing novel Emergency Powers tells the tale of a plot to install a dummy president into the White House to give power to a dangerous secret terrorist syndicate.

However, even McCrone, with his incredible creative writing talents, wasn’t able to envisage behaviour as abhorrent and undemocratic as what Trump is doing right now in America. The man is simultaneously unhinged and deeply devious, in ways that are almost too crazy to be believed. What’s perhaps even more insane is that there are republican politicians out there actually willing to defend and support a president who is only so desperate to cling to office because he knows that, if he is outvoted later in the year, then he could face prison for his crimes during the presidency.

Honestly, I think that, before Trump actually came into power and started behaving like this, if a fiction book was published that depicted what’s going on right now, it would be derided as unrealistic. It seems almost impossible that a sitting president would do things like encourage voters to illegally vote twice while at the same time sabotaging postal votes and making racist, derogatory comments about his own people.

The man is currently encouraging domestic terrorism and praising white shooters who murder innocent bystanders, while lambasting peaceful protestors. If this were written in a novel, critics would be crying out that no would stand for this behaviour from someone in so high an office. But now, it’s actually happening in real life, which means that authors can use it as the inspiration for their work.

I’m looking forward to books where I can really see that Trump is the inspiration, and that authors are condemning his disgusting behaviour. It’ll be great to see the future of fiction rise up against this dictator and portray a world in which he is more widely condemned and punished for his despicable actions.

Overall, 2020 has been a crazy year for a load of reasons. One of the craziest has been Trump and his handling of every situation that life throws at him and his country. I’m excited to see how future writers will handle his behaviour and what he will inspire in the world of political fiction. I’m also bloody looking forward to the American public seeing sense and voting this mad dictator out in November. Until then, his on going insanity will add fuel to the fire of upcoming novels with insane presidents and corrupt politicians at their centres.

Gathering Dark Review: An Unstoppable Thriller You’ll Devour In One Go

gathering dark

As I promised in my previous post, today I’m reviewing Candice Fox’s gripping new thriller Gathering Dark.

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.

Tiger Wars Review: A Compelling Read For Fans Of Tiger King

tiger king

As long-time readers will be aware, I enjoyed watching Tiger King, the Netflix documentary series about Joe Exotic, the owner of a seedy roadside zoo in Oklahoma.

Joe’s zoo, his feud with animal rights campaigner Carole Baskin and his subsequent imprisonment for trying to hire a hit man to kill her, captured the imagination of the nation at the start of the lockdown.

While the documentary series was a hit, its ten episodes were insufficient to tell the whole sordid tale. I’ve already given you a list of books to read if you want to learn more about the animal trade, but now I’m reviewing a true crime book that delves far deeper than the show ever could.

Tiger Wars: Joe Exotic VS. The Big Cat Queen runs through all of the facets of the tale of roadside zoo owner Joe that the TV show explored, but using more detail and offering additional information.

The book takes you through many of Joe’s insane exploits, including his multiple marriages, his forays into politics, his shady business dealings, his exploitation of his staff, the abuse he doled out to his animals and more. Writer Al Cimino puts together a compelling dossier that shows how manipulative and fiendish Joe is, as well as how stupid and arrogant he was before he was eventually caught trying to hire a hit man to kill his rival.

Cimino is more sympathetic towards Carole Baskin, the animal activist and sanctuary owner that Joe tried to have murdered than the TV series. In the show, she comes across as equally as insane and shady as Joe, but the book gives a more balanced view of her strange life and the fact that much of Joe’s anger and hate wasn’t based in facts.

As Tiger Wars shows, Joe lives in a world of fantasy, with many of his tall tales either unsubstantiated or completely contested by others who were actually there. The author tries to put across an impartial tone, but it is clear that he disbelieves much of what Joe says.

He is also passionate about more than just Joe and the insane world that he lives in; the writer is also concerned about the animals he had in his care. It’s clear that America has a long way to go to change the way that big cats and other wild creatures are treated and cared for, and the book puts the flaws in the system in stark relief.

This true crime book takes a close look at Joe’s trial, which wasn’t covered in the TV show. Readers get a taste of how crazy Joe is, and how disgusting his behaviour really was. It also gives a glimpse into an area that the show didn’t let us see, which is fascinating. The book’s courtroom chapters are deeply engrossing and highlight the seedy side of exotic animal ownership in America.

One criticism I have of the book is that it doesn’t go much beyond the narrative that the show used. Joe’s eccentric life included many chapters, but the book chooses to shed more light on tales that fans of the show already know about. It would have been nice for the author to explore some unchartered territory and bring readers a unique insight into Joe’s madness.

However, the book is incredibly well researched, so the reader is presented with the full picture, as opposed to the edited version that the show gave us. Also, because the author has explored all of the available sources of information, including court documents and newspaper records, the reader can see the full extent of Joe’s illegal and immoral activities. It does have to be said, that the book sometimes doesn’t give the reader the exact source of the quotes it uses, so it can be hard for the reader to understand exactly how the information was obtained.

Something that makes me laugh about the book is that it is unevenly censored. In some parts, the author refuses to quote Joe because he uses expletives, or he simply uses the word expletive to cover a rude word. Then the next chapter, the book uses the words ‘fuck’ or ‘shit’ without a care in the world. Alongside some typos and minor grammatical errors, this issue makes Tiger Wars feel rushed, like the author hurried to get it out in time to capitalise on the Tiger King fad before it passed.

When all is said and done, I enjoyed reading Tiger Wars and delving deeper into the murky world of Joe Exotic. The book also gave me more insight into the serious lack of legislation in America around the ownership of exotic animals, and how this issue can cause major problems for the animals themselves. In that respect, despite its flaws, the book outperforms the TV show, which focused exclusively on Joe and turned him and his questionable zoo into a freak show. The book is informative, as well as entertaining, making it the perfect read for fans of the show and animal lovers alike.

Transference Review: A Gory Mystery Not To Be Missed

transference

In the sequel to Untethered, John Bowie, who I had a great interview with previously, transforms the city of Manchester into a brutal extra character to add the list of strange, perverted and generally intriguing individuals.

The second novel to feature John Black, Transference [Love + Hate In Rain City], and picks up with the character living in witness protection in Bristol. After having offended gangland bosses in his hometown and helped to send many, including some big names, to prison, he’s now hiding out and keeping his head down.

He’s not long for the southern city or the quiet life, however, as Black is desperate to leave and return to his old stomping ground, Manchester. He had been driven out by Mr Big following an incident his club, where Black worked as a bouncer, and which led to arrests and unrest.

Following the news that the notorious gangster is soon to be released from jail, Black, a PI and writer, contrives a fairly implausible way to get himself a new case. He rings a bingo hall, and then asks for all of the people who’ve just ticked off the number 27 to be bought to the phone.

Then, he asks about a vague case, until he finds a suitable mark whose son, a student living away from home, recently died in mysterious circumstances. Black takes on the case, and then leaves Bristol on a trip back to his past, where he works on the death of the boy, as well as the perilous task of confronting his own demons.

The police set Black up with a job as a security guard turned admin guy at the block of flats from which the boy fell. The case has barely started, but quickly Black realises that the boy’s death was no accident or suicide, as the police are trying to claim to his distraught mother. He also started to notice connections between the case and his past, leading him on a self-destructive journey back into the heart of the murkiest parts of the city.

The writing is impressive, and at points it is incredibly poetic. Some paragraphs read like angst ridden punk rock lyrics, whilst others are beautifully atmospheric. The story turns incredibly dark and gory at times, and violence is peppered throughout, but somehow the author manages to make the gore interesting, not off-putting as it can be in the hands of lesser writers.

Characterisation is Bowie’s strong suit- the author creates a unique and intriguing cast of characters that keep you guessing. Some feel realistic, others like ethereal beings whose movements and thoughts can’t be predicted. All of them are intriguing and unique- from the former stripper turned literary agent to the gang lord ruling over Manchester and desperately trying to torment Black.

The book is mostly written in the first person, from protagonist Black’s perspective, and the character is what could be described as an unreliable narrator at times, particularly when he’s drunk. I’ve seen plenty of men give ‘the death stare’ before, and trust me, they’re not nearly as hard as they think they are. Most of the time, people get out of the way because they think you’re nuts, not tough.

Black’s narration pushes the novel forward, and it reads like a taught thriller full of twists, turns and the absurdity of real life. At times, Bowie takes things too far, and becomes too poetic; an early example is a list of barred patrons of a grimy pub, which Black reads off the wall as he searches for his own name. The list is far too detailed and lyrical to be realistic- most barred lists just have a photo, name and occasional notes telling bar staff to steer clear or call the management.

Aside from this, the novel is an engaging one. It’s the second in the Black Viking series, named after Black, the protagonist, and the Viking being that appears to him as a vision when his physical strength is waning and the going gets really tough. The Viking image is a bold and striking one, and the author uses it well to show Black’s mental instability and dogged determination.

All in all, I enjoyed Transference, and I’d be interested to read the next novel in the series. It’s not perfect, but there’s a lot to like about this gritty and grim thriller, and it keeps you enthralled until its bone-chilling ending. There’s clearly more to come, and I’d be interested to see what’s next for Black.