“The Way You Look Tonight” Richard Madeley (Simon and Schuster) – book review

The Way You Look Tonight Richard Madeley Book Cover

Stella Arnold, first class psychology student, is staying with American family friends for the summer before taking up a place at Smith College in 1962. The family friends are academics, one of whom has written speeches for John F Kennedy and has the opportunity to introduce Stella to him. The meeting is serendipitous because the Kennedys have a political headache in the shape of a serial killer operating in the Florida Keys who is targeting young women. Not only does the local governor want to stop the killings but is also concerned about the effect on the tourist trade and local economy because these will affect his ability to be re-elected. Stella is drafted in as an advisory assistant to the FBI to help draw a psychological profile of the killer.

Stella has a strong personal interest in studying psychopaths. Her biological father was one. Just before the Second World War, her parents married hurriedly because her father was in the Royal Air Force. His plane was shot down over France and he was presumed dead. However, Stella’s mother found him years later. He’d carved out a career as an extortionist and murderer. As part of his scheme to buy his way into a French criminal family, he kidnapped Stella, then aged ten, until her maternal grandfather came to the rescue. In self-defence, her grandfather had killed her father. Stella’s interest was partly triggered by wanting to understand what made her father act in this way and partly by concerns that she may have inherited some of her father’s psychopathy.

Interspersed with Stella’s story are chapters from the killer’s viewpoint. Through these readers learn that he’s a taxi driver who drives a nail into one of his victim’s car tyres then follows her so he can offer to help when she stops to deal with a slow puncture. He kills by stabbing and dumps the body near a beach, usually leaving the murder weapon stuck in one of the victim’s eyes. He buys a new knife every time he plans to kill. He developed a taste for killing whilst serving for the army in the Korean war. Typically he enjoys the feeling he’s smarter than the police and follows newspaper reports when a body is discovered.

The FBI agent, Lee Foster, soon discovers that Stella’s no pretty pushover. She may be young but her academic credentials are impeccable and she doesn’t hesitate to stand up for herself. It’s not long before she works out the killer is a taxi driver. She also figures that the killer’s escaped by boat when police roadblocks limit the killer’s options. Discovery of the boat narrows the search to the Keys. Stella returns to start her term at college, still tending the flame of a nascent romance with Lee Foster. An invitation to a White House reception follows because politicians believe the killer has been identified and it’s now a simple case of catching him. The reception is postponed due to the Cuba missile crisis.

However, the press has published a photograph of Stella, the English rose advising the FBI. The killer knows what she looks like and who she is. More chillingly, she fits the profile of his victims. In wanting to celebrate her success and keep their careers on track, the politicians have put Stella’s life in danger. Lee Foster and the police department still think this is a simple case of tracing and finding the killer. Readers know that the killer actually plans to capture and crucify Stella. When she fails to turn up for a press conference, Lee Foster knows she’s been captured. But can he find her before the killer puts his plan into action?

“The Way You Look Tonight” gambles that the reader is prepared to suspend disbelief at the incredible coincidence of Stella’s arrival and connections to the Kennedys but this is merely a device to get the story started and Richard Madeley’s storytelling abilities soon overcome this. The book also gives the impression that the author is a little in love with Stella: occasionally she’s just too perfect. Although “The Way You Look Tonight” follows on from “Someday I’ll Find You”, it also reads as a stand alone novel.

However, Richard Madeley is a natural storyteller with a gift for timing. His killer’s background gives his motives credibility. He targets women because he thinks they’re weaker and more compliant not for sexual reasons. His weakness is his perceived invincibility. Lee Foster is engaging as a young, jaded agent tired from a previous case when he’s pulled in to work on the Keys Killer but finding interest in his job is rekindled as Stella ignites his passionate side. He remains professional though, not allowing love to cloud his judgment. His respect for Stella influences the team he’s working with. A great story to read for distraction from a chilly, damp late summer’s evening.

By

“Savage Magic” Lloyd Shepherd (Simon and Schuster ) – novel review

Savage Magic

The Indefatigable, a ship, docks in London in 1814. One of the passengers is Maggie Broad, moving back to England after managing a successful farm in New South Wales despite her husband being a known alcoholic. Her knowledge of plants earnt her a reputation as a witch. She’s come to seek revenge on behalf of her daughter, Maria.

Constable Charles Horton has been despatched by magistrate Aaron Graham to investigate strange occurrences at Thorpe Lee House, owned by Sir Henry Tempest. Graham knows about these disturbances because his estranged wife is living there as Tempest’s mistress. The house’s occupants are willing to write off the strange occurrences – including broken mirrors and the death of two dogs – as being the results of witchcraft.

Horton’s own wife, Abigail, has sought temporary respite in an asylum, Brooke House. After Horton’s last case where she ingested part of a hallucinogenic plant, she is still suffering strange visions. At Brooke House, she finds a far from therapeutic environment and ends up helping with the patient in the room next to her. Maria has been confined to a straightjacket, suffers terrible visions and is clearly extremely distressed.

Against this strange background, Graham discovers a series of locked-room murders of aristocrats who all belonged to a secret society dedicated to pleasure. At their most recent party, a trio of prostitutes were procured. One of them, for whom it became apparent that the party was her first night as a prostitute, is called Maria. Both procurer and one of the two remaining prostitutes are found dead, apparently by their own hands.

Graham and Horton discover that Tempest is also a member of this secret society/ Horton uncovers evidence that Tempest was at the party. He also discovers that the drinking water had been tampered with. Through a contact at Kew Gardens (used in his previous case), Horton learns the leaves found in the drinking water are from a plant that grows in New South Wales.

Can Horton and Graham uncover the link between this plant and the attendees at the party before any more deaths occur? Having befriended and tried to help Maria, has Abigail put herself in danger?

Lloyd Shepherd weaves history and the elements of a thriller together expertly and deftly. Despite the historical restrictions, the plot is pacey. The magic and witchcraft elements are handled credibly. The underlying logical explanation is not withheld and unwrapped as a final denouement, but revealed clue by clue as Horton investigates. The investigation is interwoven with notes from Dr Bryson, in charge at Brooke House, where Abigail and Maria find themselves. The notes offer insight into treatment methods for those consider to be insane at the time.

“Savage Magic” is a satisfying tale that will appeal to lovers of historical fiction, readers looking for a thriller that isn’t a police procedural or full of forensic jargon, and readers looking for a good story fluently told.

By

Open Mic Poetry Readings

Recently I’ve read at Leicester’s Shindig (organised by Nine Arches and Crystal Clear Creators) and Word! which both support open mic readings as part of their programme. Both these benefit from good organisation and having a core of regular attendees so it’s easy for a newcomer to feel welcomed and included.

Open mic events are good ways of reaching an audience, networking with other poets and can provide opportunities to indirectly promote your work. However, they are multi-reader events and each has their own brand and conventions. Keep in mind your audience will be other poets and/or poetry readers. They know your book won’t be available in the local bookshop and will seek you out if they appreciate your reading. Your poems are your best advertisement so present them to their best advantage.

Successful Open Mic Readers

  • Know how long their time slot is and stick to it
  • Rehearse
  • Check what facilities are available beforehand and turn up early (or at least on time)
  • Wear ‘quiet’ clothes – this isn’t about vibrant colours, strong geometric patterns, clashing tweeds or neon hair dye, but silk can rustle, leather squeak, bangles jangle and chandelier earrings chime, noises that might seem faint but can be picked up and amplified by microphones making it harder for your audience to hear your poem
  • Give some thought to how their poems should be introduced
  • Only read the poems they’ve introduced
  • If reading from a page, ensure they can do so easily and without holding the page directly in front of their face
  • If reading from a mobile phone or tablet, have checked the screen settings have been adjusted for the lighting in venue
  • If reading from memory, do so fluently
  • Acknowledge the audience – stand or sit so they can be seen
  • Take a couple of seconds to adjust the height of the microphone if necessary
  • Read poems appropriate to the time slot they have – in a short time slot it’s better to stick to individual stand-alone poems; if you really want to read from a sequence and isn’t time for the whole sequence, pick the parts that stand-alone and represent the sequence rather than two linking sections that need a long explanation before reading
  • Are aware of potentially distracting habits – no one stands completely still when reading, but if you over-do your arm gestures or try to act out your poem you might find the audience are watching you and not listening to your poem
  • Don’t beg the audience to laugh at jokes or dictate how to react or when to applaud
  • Remember they are not the only poet reading
  • Show the compere respect – checks beforehand about running order and event conventions
  • Check with the compere about acceptable marketing – some events run bookstalls, some events only allow the featured readers to promote their books. It’s fine to mention that the poems you’re reading at the event are available in your publication, but not to remind the audience after every poem and again when you’ve read your last poem
  • Don’t hurry off as soon as they have finished reading (unless they need to and have warned the organiser in advance)
  • Listen to the other poets reading while waiting their turn
  • Help promote the event

Unsuccessful Open Mic Readers

  • Turn up unprepared – the hurried shifting through a file full of poems, telling the audience “I’ll read this one, oh I’ve not got it with me, I’ll read this one instead”, the running out of breath because the caesura in line five was ignored, over-running because of the assumption that the time slot refers to reading time and doesn’t include time wasted searching for poems or introducing them.
  • Forget or ignore their time slot so either overrun or have to be told to stop reading
  • Lack of rehearsal – it is glaringly obvious to the audience if you haven’t read your poem aloud a few times before your open mic slot. Reading aloud should be part of your drafting and writing poems. Showcasing that poem you scribbled on the back of an envelope on the bus on the way to the venue is not going to give a good impression of your poetry. Most of your audience will be writers and/or readers of poetry so will know the difference between a good yet-to-be-published poem and a rough draft
  • Fail to check what facilities are available and complain about the lack of a lectern or other equipment during their time slot
  • Wear noisy clothes – jewellery that clashes, squeaky leather or textiles that rustle, especially when the reader tends to sway or shuffle about when reading
  • Introductions are hasty, ill-thought out or too long. A gabbled introduction is worse than no introduction, an introduction that focuses on the layout of the poem or the formal structure used in the poem isn’t much use to an audience who don’t have a copy of the text in front of them. If your introduction’s longer than your poem, it’s too long.
  • Talk about poems they’re not reading – the audience doesn’t care if you decided not to read your poem scribbled that afternoon or that poem you wrote for an anniversary if they can’t hear these poems and you’re wasting valuable reading time
  • Insert their poems in glossy folder inserts so the text is obscured by reflections from overhead lighting
  • Produce scrappy bits of paper where some of the ink/handwriting has rubbed off and the reader has to pause to work out what word was supposed to be there
  • Read from a mobile phone or tablet without practicing how to scroll through a document and keep reading at the same time, thus leaving the audience trying to figure out which pauses are intentional and which are unintentional and forgetting entirely about the actual poem
  • Squint at their poems because they haven’t thought about the font size in relation to their eyesight or have forgotten their glasses or are wearing the wrong glasses
  • Hold their page/device in front of their face so it’s impossible to lip read and creates a barrier between audience and reader as well as making it more difficult for the reader to project their voice
  • Begin to read from memory but lack of rehearsal or nerves mean there are frequent pauses while the reader tries to remember the next line or the poem is abandoned part-way through because the reader didn’t bring a printed copy to refer to
  • Don’t acknowledge the audience – if you fail to look at the audience, mumble, stand or sit so you can’t be seen easily you’ve lost the audience
  • Fail to adjust the height of the microphone – you can’t read properly if you’re cramped over a microphone that’s too low or balancing on tiptoes because the microphone’s too high and if you don’t use the provided microphone, your audience might not be able to hear you (even if you shout; one academic was finally persuaded to use a microphone when an audience member who was hard of hearing complained she couldn’t lip read the academic’s accent and couldn’t use the hearing loop because it depended on the microphone being used)
  • Don’t read poems appropriate to the time slot – either by trying to cram in a long poem to a short slot or not selecting stand-alone poems when there’s no time for a whole sequence. Don’t think you can cram more poems in by reading them faster: your audience won’t have the text in front of them and, especially if it’s a poem they’re not familiar with, will struggle to keep up
  • Beg the audience to laugh at jokes or tell them not to clap or when to clap – it’s not the audience’s fault if they don’t get your jokes and it’s not up to you if the audience want to clap or not
  • Behave as if they are the only poet reading – if you want to do a solo performance, arrange your own
  • Fail to respect the compere – start their slot by criticising what the compere’s said or complains their name has been mispronounced (because they didn’t check with the compere first), doesn’t leave the stage if asked to or complains about the venue or the running order
  • Fail to check what marketing is acceptable and wastes most of their time slot trying to sell their books rather than reading.
  • Hurry off as soon as they’ve finished reading. If you do have to leave, e.g. to catch public transport or because of a family emergency, try to tell or warn the compere or tell someone in the audience or make explain afterwards
  • Fail to listen to other poets but shuffles through their poems, reads through the poems they intend to read, fidgets distractedly, heckles or otherwise deters others from listening. If you can’t be bothered to listen to others, why should others listen to you?
  • Fail to help promote the event. Most open mic events have a regular audience but also need your support in keeping and expanding that audience. You may not be able to drag friends and family to every event, but you can tweet, post links and tell people about the event

Can you think of anything I’ve missed are there any good or bad points you’d like to add?

By Emma Lee

Selling Poetry

Accept you’re in for the long haul

Poetry rarely sells quickly. There may be a peak of sales as news of a new book or pamphlet gets out, spikes of sales as a review appears, but most poetry sales happen at readings or when a potential reader starts noticing your poems in magazines and sticks your name in a search engine. Waiting for reviews can be frustrating but yours isn’t the only book the editor or blogger had been sent that week and you have to wait your turn.

Publicity

Tried and tested methods:

  • Press releases – remember ‘writer writes book’ is not news, find an angle and make it newsworthy
  • Book launch
  • Readings
  • Mailing lists
  • Blogs – announce on your own blog if you have one and consider writing guest posts for other relevant blogs that feature guest posts
  • Social Media – inform, don’t broadcast; update your profile(s) to include your new publication; add your publication and a link to where it can be purchased in your email signature.
  • Reviews
  • Advertising – if budget permits
  • Special offers and discounts – if your book is linked to a season or anniversary offering a limited discount tied to that season or date of the anniversary may generate interest but be wary of long term discounts
  • Competitions – check any legal requirements and ensure the prize is proportionate to the effort required to enter. A free copy of your book is fine if entrants simply have to answer one question or retweet a message but looks mean if you’re asking entrants to do something more complex or that will incur costs
  • Promotional items – bookmarks and leaflets can be done at little expense. Factor in the return on investment: low quality items can suggest a low quality book, expensive items might not provide a reasonable return. If you use a QR code on publicity items, make sure it links to useful content that can be read on a mobile device.

Coordinate with your publisher

Check what publicity your publisher can do before you launch your own campaign. Duplicating press releases or sending multiple review copies to the same publication is wasted effort. Before you organise a launch or promotional readings, check your publisher can get copies of the book to you in time.

Most book prizes will only accept submissions from publishers, not authors. But don’t insist your book is entered. Some publishers’ budgets won’t extend to the entrance fees and publicity premiums charged by prize administrators. For instance, The Poetry Book Society’s New Generation promotion charged an entry fee of £20 plus 7 copies of the entered book and a publicity premium of £300 per successful title. So if a successful poet had two qualifying books, the publicity premium would be £600 for the publisher, who may decide they would get a better return on investment though other publicity.

Don’t use the guilt or fear factor

Your publisher will not disappear overnight if people don’t buy your book. Yes, getting poetry readers to buy books and support poetry presses and magazines is a good thing, but using guilt as a sales tactic will fail. Readers like to feel good, not feel pressurised into buying a book to save a press or because your journey from writing poems to publication was a difficult one.

Similarly the fear factor – fear of missing out (not ordering before the special offer runs out, not getting at the discounted price), fear of being left behind (everyone’s talking about this book) – might encourage a handful of early sales but isn’t a viable long term strategy.

Reputation

  • Poetry readers associate your name with quality poems they’ve seen in poetry magazines
  • Your publisher has a good reputation
  • You’re known for giving good poetry readings and being approachable
  • You don’t solely broadcast on social media but take care to share useful links, retweet and engage with followers
  • You don’t continually beg followers and connections to post reviews on booksellers’ sites, review sites or tell their friends your book is available
  • You don’t use your mailing list to bombard people with news about you, but use it sparingly to notify people of relevant news about new releases and readings
  • You’re seen to be supportive of poetry in general because you review, you blog, you support readings and events in your local area, you buy poetry books and pamphlets, you subscribe to magazines, you are a member of a scheme such as HappenStance subscribers or Friends of Cinnamon Press and/or you help promote poetry through social media.

Recommendation

Good reviews and recommendations from trusted, established sources do help sales. But constantly urging people who’ve bought your book to recommend it will backfire. Pestering book bloggers who write reviews for a review is not recommended either.

Price

Your book isn’t priced too cheaply (suggesting low quality or desperation to sell) or too highly in comparison with books of a similar quality and length. If you offer a discount, do it for a limited period, offer a discount for buying directly from you or at a specific event. Offering a long term or permanent discount makes it look as if you got your price wrong or it’s not selling.

Reviews

  • No one owes you a review. If you send a copy of your book and ask for a review, the answer may be no, especially if you demand the review appears in the next issue or within a week or before the publication date or put other restrictions on who can review, when they can review or how you want the review to appear.
  • Don’t panic over a bad review. If the reviewer is not your target audience, they probably won’t like your book; that’s not a problem. If your intended audience don’t like your book, that’s a problem, but it’s your problem: you didn’t target the right audience.
  • If you like a review of your book, publicise it: link to it or quote from it.

A good review from an established, respected reviewer can help sales. But firing off group emails to every blogger reviewer you can find or sending out unsolicited review copies can lead to no reviews. Target magazines and reviewers carefully: do they give positive reviews of books like yours? Approach with a query first and tailor your query to the publication – see my reviews policy and how not to approach book bloggers.

If you don’t like a review, take care about what you say, particularly on social media which may not be as private as you like to think. By all means ask a reviewer to correct a factual inaccuracy such as a publication date or their statement that your book is contemporary when it’s set in the past or future, but don’t complain. A reviewer is entitled to their opinion. Focus on publicising the good reviews instead.

Don’t obsess over sales figures

Instead of focusing on the numbers, look at what those numbers are telling you. They might act as a guide to whether your current publicity campaign is working or not.

Mostly poetry book sales happen at readings and those sales aren’t captured in the sales figures.

What’s in it for your readers?

The ‘What’s In It For Me’ factor: what will make people buy your book? Most poetry readers want a book of quality poems that speaks to them in some way, it may surprise or challenge them, it may be that you’ve touched on their favoured subjects or you speak to their world view. Why should a reader buy your book instead of a book by another poet?

Focus on your next book

Publishers don’t like writers who only write one book, no matter how well that one book sells. They prefer writers with the potential to deliver another book in due course. Give your current book chance to sell before launching another.

Your second book will help sales of your first as new readers become interested in your backlist so it’s a good idea to have your book available as an ebook even if it’s no longer available in print.

In the meantime, you still need to read, research and write.

By

“Brotherhood” David Breckler (GWL Publishing) – novel review

Brotherhood David Breckler book cover

Set in Manchester, “Brotherhood” looks at intergenerational and gang loyalty without drawing judgment. Although the gangs here don’t have female members, females are not immune from the fallout of gang rivalries and problems. It starts with Philip taking his friend Liam to a basement of a disused mill. Both are teenaged friends still at college. There they meet college friends Mugisa, Asif, Anthony and Ryan.

Liam is charged with betraying the Jeshi (the gang’s name). He expects a beating. The kangaroo court, led by Mugisa, sentences him to death. Adrenalin, triggered by fear at the sight of Mugisa’s machete, spurs Liam into escaping, but not fast enough to avoid a cut to his ear. Mugisa tells the gang to follow before Liam can tell his uncle (a local gangster) and blames Philip for letting go of Liam’s arm. Mugisa’s intention was to threaten not inflict injury. Anthony, Asif and Mugisa snatch up their bikes and set off after Liam. Philip runs. Unfortunately for Liam and Philip, Mugisa catches up with Liam first, stabs Liam in one of his thighs to disable him and then slices his throat. Philip panics and flees but is pursued by the others. He makes a narrow escape. Mugisa instructs the others to return to the site of Liam’s body. They bundle it into a wheelie bin and abandon it in a derelict house that already stinks of urine and decomposing rubbish. Later one of the gang returns to set the wheelie bin alight.

Detective Chief Inspector Siobhan Fahey of Greater Manchester Police gets the call to the house after two firemen find the wheelie bin and the remains of Liam, plus two bodies upstairs. These two bodies are later identified as drug addicts who’d died from smoke inhalation. The police soon find Liam’s ear and pool of blood in the alley where he was killed but no identification.

Philip fakes illness to get a day off college. His mother, Rebecca, a nurse, says she’ll check on him later. After seeing her husband, a doctor, off to work and Philip’s sisters off to school she goes to work and comes home at lunch time. She finds Ritchie, Liam’s gangster uncle, standing in the driveway and tells him to leave. Ritchie, used to leaving heavy work to others, leaves. Philip knows Ritchie will be back and after his mother’s returned to work, he phones his uncle Byron. Byron, who was in the army and now runs a private security firm, knows Ritchie from schooldays and thinks helping Philip might help heal the rift between him and his brother, Philip’s father.

Meanwhile, Mugisa is mulling over the previous night’s events. His adoptive parents call him Matthew and have given him their surname. However, Mugisa’s friends call him by his African name. Mugisa thinks he can forgive Philip and goes to call on him but Philip shuts the door in his face.

Maria, Liam’s mother, who’d told Ritchie to visit Philip, reports Liam missing. She provides confirmation that the body in the wheelie bin is Liam’s. Now they have an identity, the police start interviewing college students. When they interview Philip, he gives them the gang members’ names. His mother refuses to let the police have the clothes Philip was wearing that night without a warrant. She later washes them, convinced Philip had nothing to do with Liam’s murder. Philip’s girlfriend, Jenna, provides him with an alibi. At this point Philip’s the only member of the gang the police have managed to speak to. After the police leave, Ritchie turns up with two thugs. With realistic timing, Byron turns up just afterwards and despatches the thugs. However, in the melee, Philip escapes. Byron tells Philip’s parents what he knows, i.e. Philip knows who the murderer is and had no direct involvement, but his life is in danger.

Byron is staying with a friend, Adam, who is a firefighter. By posing as a welfare officer from the college, Adam discovers Mugisa is adopted and was a former child soldier. Byron gives Adam a description of the disused mill Philip mentioned and, by process of elimination, they find the building.

Philip’s mother reports him missing and tells the police about Ritchie’s visit. DCI Fahey decides to warn Ritchie against being a vigilante after Ritchie inadvertently reveals his injured ear happened at Philip’s parents’ house, DCI Fahey suspects, correctly, there’s a leak in her force, but doesn’t have time to follow it up. She suspects that Mugisa has coached the gang members because all of them gave the same story about what happened the night of Liam’s murder. However, the police are still compiling evidence and checking for CCTV film and witnesses. She does decide to re-interview Jenna and the other gang members.

Meanwhile, Philip has been tied to a chair in a disused commercial building. Knowing how dangerous Mugisa is, Philip tries to work his bonds loose. Fortunately, Adam and Byron find him. They decide Philip is safer at Adam’s house. Byron hatches a plan to get Ritchie off their backs to free them up to deal with the danger from Mugisa. Mugisa also hatches plan: to visit Philip’s grandmother. Unknown to him, Philip’s grandmother is babysitting Philip’s sisters and Mugisa’s visit is disturbed by Rebecca’s return. In the melee, Mugisa drops his machete but escapes.

Mugisa buys a gun, which he knows how to use, and plans to find Philip and then leave to start a new life somewhere else. Philip sneaks out from Adam’s house to meet Jenna, but Ritchie’s men capture him. Mugisa, who was tailing them, follows. As soon as they discover Philip’s missing, Adam and Byron start searching. Can Byron and Adam get Ritchie to give Philip up before Mugisa gets to him? The chase ends with a shootout at block of flats which are about to be demolished for development.

Interwoven with the fallout from Liam’s murder, is Mugisa’s back story. He was living in an African village and returning home from a post-school game of football when intruders invade his village. He witnesses the rape and murder of his sister and his mother. The intruders round up surviving children, including Mugisa, and take them to a training camp. Mugisa learns to become a soldier and becomes involved in raids on other villages. He tries to escape, but is recaptured. On another raid, he becomes caught in a camp run by Europeans who try to counsel the child soldiers. Mugisa tries to return home but finds his father weakened and his brothers regard him as a nuisance. Realising he can never reintegrate with his family, Mugisa returns to the European camp. He’s brought to England and, after a year’s counselling, is adopted.

By making it clear from the beginning that Philip is a witness and pushing Mugisa’s back story to the fore, readers’ sympathies stay with the main characters. Philip, a boy who’s been dragged into something that’s beyond his experience, and Mugisa, brutalised by his former existence and the effects of that underestimated by his adoptive parents, who foist an English name on him and deny him his African heritage. Before his murder, Liam used to boast about his uncle’s gangster connections and made his uncle sound tougher than he was. In contrast, Philip knows his uncle, Byron, was in the army but doesn’t boast about Byron’s past.

“Brotherhood” is pacey, credible and it’s strength lies in its characters. Philip is engaging: out of his depth but trying to put things right. He’s shocked by Mugisa’s murder of Liam, but also has an understanding of Mugisa’s past, where loyalty was the difference between survival and death. The values behind gang warfare in Manchester aren’t so different.

Byron appears to be the only adult who knows where the limits are: he knows Philip’s out of his depth and he grasps the danger before Philip’s own parents do. Liam’s mother is shocked and grieves but doesn’t seem hugely surprised by Liam’s death. She implicates Phillip to get back at his family, not on grounds of race, but class. Ritchie’s a working class thug and, for all his expensive suits, will never move up to Philip’s parents middle class. Philip’s father is a rare thing: a wheelchair user who’s allowed to simply be. His disability is not part of the plot nor does it provide a ‘triumph over adversity’ story. His wife, Rebecca, is strong and practical as you’d expect from a nurse, and strongly protective of her family. She initially searches for Philip until it becomes clear that’s not practical. In contrast, Mugisa’s adoptive parents, Miriam and Joseph, don’t seek him out when he goes missing and choose to believe him rather than challenge him when they know he’s lying. They passively answer questions from the police without thinking through the implications and never follow up to keep themselves informed about what’s going on. As easily as he entered their lives, their adopted son seems to exit it, long before the final shootout.

By

“An Evil Mind” Chris Carter (Simon and Schuster) – novel review

An Evil Mind Chris Carter book cover

A freak accident leads to the discovery of a serial killer. A couple of Wyoming police officers decide to breakfast at a diner off a freeway. Whilst they are placing their order, a car, clearly out of control, runs off the freeway and hits one of the diner’s outbuildings. No one in the diner is injured but the car driver is dead; later it’s discovered he had a heart attack and was probably dead before the crash. However, the out of control car hit a Ford Taurus left in the diner car park, popping open the trunk. The police officers discover two human heads, just about recognisable as female but carrying sufficient injuries to make facial recognition impossible. The Ford Taurus driver is arrested and the FBI called in. The driver, first identified as Liam Shaw and then as Lucien Folter when it’s discovered the first identity was fake, refuses to talk unless he can talk to Robert Hunter.

Robert Hunter is with the Violent Crimes Unit in LAPD and is a brilliant criminal psychologist; known to the FBI for the textbook they use. Actually about to go on a rare holiday, Hunter reluctantly agrees to be involved in the investigation. He recognises Lucien Folter. They used to be roommates at college but lost touch after graduation. Lucien mentions the twin theory: the exploration of why one twin is happy to theoretically explore criminal psychology and why another isn’t satisfied with theory but tips into exploring what it’s like to actually kill someone. It doesn’t take Hunter or the FBI Agent Courtney Taylor who’s been assigned to work with him, long to figure that Lucien is the worst type of psychopath: completely incapable of feeling anything for his victims. Initial evidence suggests his victims were mainly, but not exclusively women, of differing ages and body types so trawling through unsolved murders and/or missing persons for a certain type of victim isn’t an option.

They quickly work out there could have been around thirty-three victims. Their job now is to identify who they were and where their remains are so that their relatives at least have a chance of closure. In order to do that, they need Lucien to cooperate. But Lucien likes playing games and his background means he can tell when Taylor or Hunter are lying. Unable to inflict physical pain on Taylor and Hunter, Lucien goes for mental and emotional pain. The death of Hunter’s mother when he was only eight years old is a good starting point and Hunter knows he’s got to play along if they’re going to get answers. Can Hunter stomach Lucien’s terrorising games long enough to get him to reveal the names and locations of his victims?

For all that Lucien tries to persuade Hunter that their places could be swapped, Hunter doesn’t lose sight of the fact that Lucien can only see others as tools, a means to use as he sees fit. Lucien’s complete lack of compassion, combined with practiced mental discipline make him utterly dangerous. Lucien wants notoriety. He wants his journals to become criminal psychology text books: his immortality. Hunter knows the value of those journals, but needs to deny Lucien.

Just when the tension couldn’t be tighter, Lucien discloses that one victim is still alive: imprisoned and beginning to suffer dehydration but still alive. Lucien demands he accompany Hunter and Taylor to retrieve the victim. At the same time, Lucien pushes Hunter for details about his late fiancée, particularly how she died. Hunter knows Lucien is planning to use this retrieval to escape, but can Hunter thwart his escape and save the victim?

“An Evil Mind” is a taut as a tuned guitar string played by an accomplished guitarist, who doesn’t just play the tune but owns it. Chris Carter, a former criminal psychologist, doesn’t just dump his background knowledge on the page, but crafts an engaging story with compelling characters.

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“You” Caroline Kepnes (Simon and Schuster) – novel review

You by Caroline Kepnes book cover

Joe works in a bookshop in New York and takes it as a sign when a young woman, his type, stands in the “F – K” section, clearly braless under her sweater and asks if a book by his favourite author is in stock. He notes her name on her credit card, Guinevere, although she prefers Beck, her surname. He stalks her, discovers she has a ground floor apartment where she never closes the curtains, is a student, writes short stories, has three best friends and is sort of dating Benji. After a girls’ night out with Joe stalking at a distance, Beck drunkenly tumbles onto subway tracks and Joe rescues her. They arrange a date, but, more importantly to him, Joe has her phone.

After guessing passwords, Joe now has access to Beck’s email and text messages. From this he learns her movements, what she thinks of fellow students from her classes and even topics she discusses with her therapist. Beck’s parents divorced and she’s told her friends that her father’s dead, but he’s remarried and she can’t stand her stepmother or her much younger half-siblings. Despite this, she leans on her father for money because it’s easier than taking a part-time job. Joe learns that all of her friends are trying to talk her into dumping Benji. Joe hatches a plan: get rid of Benji so Beck will date him instead. The removal of Benji from Beck’s social circle proves easy. The dating starts well: he holds back on sleeping with her, uses her emails, texts and social media updates to learn more about her likes and dislikes.

The only downside is Peach, a wealthy lesbian who also has designs on Beck. Peach is going to be trickier to remove. She tolerated Benji because she knew Beck wasn’t really serious about him, however, Beck has feelings for Joe. Peach claims to have a digestive problem and a stalker so calls on Beck when she’s feeling ill or when she claims her stalker’s broken into her house, playing the scared victim so Beck will stay. Joe pretends to tolerate this. When he looks up Peach’s digestive problem on the internet, he discovers she has the right symptoms but seems to have no problems eating foods that should cause a problem. Peach manages to interrupt several dates and pull Beck away from Joe, persuading her to take a break from him. This break involves a weekend away at Peach’s family’s holiday home. Joe pretends he’s OK with Beck going, but drives out and holes up in a neighbour’s boathouse so he can spy on them.

So far, Joe is a confused mix of hopeless romantic and creepy stalker. He wants to make Beck happy and be her perfect boyfriend, not coerce her into being with him. He casts himself into a guardian angel role, looking out for and over her. Despite his obvious shortcomings, Joe is a compelling character and carries the novel.

However, when he sees the unsent letters she writes following an exercise her therapist has given her, the power balance changes and readers start to wonder who is playing whom. Beck had confessed to Joe about telling her friends her father is dead when he’s actually still alive. She confesses to exhibitionism – leaving her curtains open when boyfriends stay over, that she had Joe make out in a changing room and the bookstore Joe works in while the shop is still open – and talks about having “daddy issues” and struggles with intimacy. Joe discovers she’s acquired a new computer so he’s not seeing her emails anymore and has bought some curtains for her apartment so watching her is harder. Joe decides to create an excuse to see her therapist to try and find out if Beck’s current behaviour can be explained there. What Joe discovers forces him to re-assess his relationship with Beck. Will Joe’s romantic side win over his creepy stalker side?

Beck too has two sides: the ditsy student who doesn’t do housekeeping or cooking, and the self-centred manipulator who gets daddy to fund her lifestyle and tries to wreak a marriage. She’s not a straightforward victim of Joe’s stalking. She encourages him but pushes him away when it’s more advantageous to her to spend time with Peaches. Her vacillations justify Joe’s behaviour: he doesn’t know where he stands so it’s OK for him to use her phone to find out. Up to the point of the final showdown, they seem to deserve each other.
“You” is the story of an obsession. Through Joe, Caroline Kepnes explores the logic behind stalking and, by making Joe’s target the manipulative Beck, she can present issues without reducing it to a simple equation of stalker = bad, victim = good.

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