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The Backstreets of Purgatory by Helen Taylor

I’m delighted to be part of the blog tour for The Backstreets of Purgatory by Helen Taylor.

The Backstreets of Purgatory is a novel that brings together a variety of characters in Partick whose stories, though separate, intertwine throughout. Finn Garvie, the main character, is a spoilt man-child who strives for perfection in his art. He aspires to be the Caravaggio, his inspiration, of his time, but is struggling to assimilate his ideas onto the canvas. His girlfriend, who loves him, doesn’t know what to do with him; his best friend just irritates him and he is beguiled by the beautiful Kassia, convinced that she is his muse. When Caravaggio himself shows up in Finn’s life, stuck in purgatory until he assists Finn in finding his art mojo, Finn’s life takes an unexpected and sinister route.

This is an unusually constructed novel that deals with mental health issues, societal expectations and the individual character’s perceptions of success or failure. Taylor tells each character’s story, their thoughts on how their life has got to where it is and where they think it is going, and mirrors this with the other character’s who are inextricably linked across the board.

Taylor gives us a well-written, highly descriptive novel that is reminiscent of classic novels, with multi-sensual descriptions, and detailed, multi-faceted characters that are fraught with worries and show a distinct lack of confidence in themselves, that encourages them to skew their view of their surroundings and of those people around them.

This book also provides the reader with a lesson in Caravaggio himself. I knew nothing about Caravaggio beforehand, and Taylor gives enough biographical information and that of his paintings to give the reader enough information to follow the story but it also gives the reader an education too.

I found this novel a little unusual in places but it is funny, emotional, violent at times, and often poignant, ticking a lot of boxes in my “good novel” checklist. I look forward to reading Taylor’s next novel.

Paul McGraw:Kid to Killer by Paul Elliott

I must start this review with a big apology. I was invited onto this blog tour, read the book, started the review then life got in the way and I missed my tour date of yesterday. Sincerest apologies for the delay. Hopefully my review will be worth the wait.

Kid to Killer by Paul Elliott starts as a coming of age novel. Paul is fifteen years old and has moved around a lot, but after starting a new school in a rough part of Edinburgh, whilst he makes new friends quite easily, he finds the area is overrun with “zombies”, drug-addled individuals who terrorise the locals and attack them to obtain funds for their drugs or because the drugs have made them out of control. After an encounter with a “zombie”, the course of Paul’s life changes forever.

The novel does what it says on the cover. Paul goes from being a kid to being a killer. Elliott does a good job of showing his progression from one to the other, as circumstances dictate the initial actions in the novel but eventually Paul’s chooses his path.

I found this novel very easy to read and I was hooked all the way through. The premise is good and Elliott handles it well. Paul is a well-constructed character, and the other characters in the novel support the narrative very well. It also makes the reader question their own viewpoint on whether Paul’s actions can ever be justifiable.

I really enjoyed this novel from start to finish and I’d like to read more from Paul Elliott in the future.

Absolution by Paul Hardisty

The Claymore Straker series by Paul Hardisty is without a doubt a very valuable jewel in the Orenda Books crown. Every novel is a journey, figuratively and literally as Straker travels far and wide to fight his cause. I was honoured to be asked back on to the blog tour for this latest instalment.

In Absolution, Straker almost shares the limelight with his old flame, Rania, as she gives an account of her story in journal form alongside the third person narration of Clay’s story. Having kept his head down since giving evidence about his military service in South Africa to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, his cover is blown and those who surround him are put in grave danger as he is hunted down. Parallel to this, Rania’s husband and young son have gone missing, and she is being framed for their murder. As both parties try to solve their problems using their skills honed from previous adventures, Clay and Rania try to help each other whilst fighting their feelings for each other for the greater good.

As with the other books in this series, Hardisty writes with great intelligence and weaves his narrative with scientific, political and religious analysis to educate the reader and provide truthful background to the settings in which he places Clay and Rania. Together with the stunning imagery to describe the most barren of landscapes, and his brilliant character structuring, a Hardisty novel does not disappoint.

The dual narrative with Rania’s diary and Clay’s perspective through a third person works really well. Both characters are flawed and are haunted by their past actions, yet both characters are driven by love to make difficult choices. Sometimes there is no good decision for the character’s to make and Hardisty’s bravery for putting these decisions into their hands is to be admired.

This novel moves fast and it did not take me long to read it, mainly because I could not put it down. Straker is such an intriguing character and no matter what he does, the reader wants him to have a happy ending, ideally with Rania given their attraction to each other. From the title of the book, and the direction the narrative takes, Hardisty could well leave this series as it is and it will be beautifully rounded off. However, there is undoubtedly potential for more and I would be sorry if this would be the last Straker novel.

End Game by Matt Johnson (Orenda Books)

As I’ve mentioned previously on this blog, author Matt Johnson was one of the reasons why I started writing book reviews. Floored by his self published debut novel Wicked Game, where readers were introduced by former SAS soldier turned police officer, Robert Finlay, I found myself enjoying reading a book that was not something I would have chosen to read voluntarily. I realised that I was likely missing out on a variety of books by not stepping out of my comfort zone. So, from then on, I read whatever was suggested to me and I’ve reviewed what I read ever since. Having read the two self published versions of Johnson’s first two books, I’d read the versions published by Orenda Books already knowing most of the story. So, I was very excited to read End Game, with no insight as to what would happen to Finlay.

In End Game, Finlay finds himself in danger again, after his friend Kevin Jones is framed for murder and the police complaints branch are attempting to take them to task for anything that they can make stick. With help from MI5 agent, Toni Fellowes, and Commander Bill Grahamslaw, Finlay tries to uncover the mystery whilst keeping himself and his family out of harms way.

Johnson has written a compelling story that ties up loose ends with Finlay and his associates. The characters that Johnson surrounds Finlay with adds a different perspective to his tale, making him an unreliable narrator at times. His judgement is often flawed due to the effects of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, and given his own experience with PTSD, Johnson portrays this with great authenticity.

Like his first two novels, End Game is full of secrets and lies, and the plot moves quickly from one mystery to another. UK Security Services are a key factor of this novel with a shifting perception of whether or not they are good or bad. Johnson displays a great working knowledge of the police, army and security services that make his novel very believable.

As a trilogy, the expectation is that this novel will round off the series, and it does exactly that. The reader is left with no loose ends by the end of the novel and feels that they have been on a traumatic journey with Finlay as he struggled to cope with the mess he found himself embroiled in, and his progression from suffering, to recognising, to learning to live with the symptoms of PTSD.

I have looked forward to reading this novel for so long and I was not disappointed. It has been an immense pleasure to follow Matt Johnson’s writing journey from self publishing his first two novels, to the Orenda Books versions and End Game. I look forward to reading future novels by Johnson and there is plenty of scope for more Finlay novels, if Johnson chooses to take that direction. Either way, I feel privileged to have been part of the Robert Finlay Series promotion and I look forward to writing my next review for Matt Johnson.

End Game Vis 2

The Meal of Fortune by Philip Brady

I was delighted to be asked to read and review The Meal of Fortune by Philip Brady. From the premise of the novel, it seemed like it would be a funny story.

Here’s the blurb:

THE BLURB:  The world of arms dealing, espionage and TV cookery collide in this fast moving comedy caper.

Failing celebrity agent Dermot Jack thinks his luck might have turned when a mysterious Russian oligarch hires him to represent his pop star daughter.

Disaffected MI5 officer Anna Preston is just as happy to be handed the chance to resurrect her own career. Little do they know that their paths are about to cross again after seventeen years as they’re thrown together in a desperate attempt to lure a notorious arms dealer into a highly unusual trap.

Hard enough without having to deal with the lecherous celebrity chef trying to save his daytime TV career or the diminutive mafia enforcer who definitely has his own agenda. Then there’s the very impatient loan shark who ‘just wants his money back’.

And Anna’s bosses are hardly playing it straight either. But one thing’s for sure. There’ll be winners and losers when the Meal of Fortune finally stops spinning. Oh, and another thing, Anna and Dermot are absolutely not about to fall in love again. That’s never going to happen, OK?

There is a lot going on in this novel but Brady keeps the plot moving with wonderful fluidity. Each character brings its own comedy to the story and all the characters are hilariously flawed in some way.

Alongside the hilariously funny characters, the plot is exciting and keeps the reader gripped throughout. Brady has multiple storylines going on yet manages to seamlessly link them all to a fantastic conclusion.

I really enjoyed reading this novel. Any novel that offers up funny and exciting, like The Meal of Fortune does, is well worth a read and I would recommend it for anyone who likes a book that makes them laugh out loud.

CWA Anthology of Short Stories – Mystery Tour – Edited by Martin Edwards (Orenda Books)

I don’t read a lot of short stories. Not because I don’t like them, more that I enjoy immersing myself in a longer narrative that will give me hours of reading pleasure. However, I have read two lots of short story anthologies recently and I have enjoyed them both immensely. The first was Reader, I Married Him, a collection of short stories with some connection (some barely recognisable) to the Charlotte Bronte classic, Jane Eyre. The most recent anthology was the the CWA Anthology of Short Stories – Mystery Tour. What struck me about both collections is the diversity of stories that have emerged by the various authors when given the same theme. This review is for the latter collection. The authors of the CWA Anthology of Short Stories – Mystery Tour were given the theme of travel to write a short crime/mystery story.

There wasn’t a single story I didn’t enjoy in this anthology, which is testament to whoever selected the stories to put in it. All the stories are very different but each is intriguing and engaging, with different angles on the theme of the collection. Of course, the authors are all members of the Crime Writers Association, so there is an expectation that the writing will be quality crime fiction, but there are no disappointments at all in this collection, each story individual but with a shared sense of trepidation for the reader as each story commences and surprise at the conclusion  (or lack thereof).

Although I enjoyed all of the stories, I had a few favourites in the collection. The Queen of Mystery by Ann Cleeves gets the anthology off to a brilliant start with an unusual turn of events. Her first person narrative gives off no clues as to how the story will pan out. Return to the Lake by Anna Mazzola is heart-rending, as is You’ll Be Dead By Dawn by C.L.Taylor, a wonderful achievement for such short narratives.

The Last Supper by Carol Ann Davis made me smile, a gem of a crime story with the ability to amuse. Similarly, Ed James’s contribution Travel Is Dangerous with his wonderful DS Scott Cullen character, a character I have come to know and love from James’s series, also provides some comedy in the dynamic between Cullen and his nemesis and former boss DS Brian Bain, alongside a great mystery story.

I liked the sense of vindication in High Flyer by Chris Simms, Wife on Tour by Julia Crouch and The Repentance Wood by Martin Edwards, highlighting the lengths people might go to when they have felt diminished by those around them.

Three On A Trail by Michael Stanley adds a little extra to the standard mystery (though I’m not going to say what that is). Having loved the recent Dectective Kubu novels released by Orenda Books, I’m already a fan of the writing duo that it was no surprise to enjoy this gripping short story. I also enjoyed the short, but sweet contribution by another Orenda stalwart, Ragnar Jonasson, whose letter from a traveller to his mother combines intrigue and the beautiful Icelandic landscape to  provide a chilling mystery.

If I had to pick one favourite, however, it would have to be No Way Back from J.M.Hewitt. This story was particularly memorable and hard-hitting, shocking and beautifully written, to fully encompass the theme of travel with a frighteningly murderous plot. There’s not a lot I can say about it without giving too much away, other than to say it is a fantastic short story. I have J.M. Hewitt’s novel, Exclusion Zone, on my kindle and will definitely be boosting it up my extensive TBR list, having enjoyed this story so much.

Overall, I have thoroughly enjoyed reading this collection of stories which provides the reader with myriad stories that gives short, sharp bursts of mystery-filled tales. Whilst I enjoy a more lengthy, character-building, plot-twisting narrative, what these authors have managed to achieve in such a short amount of words is nothing short of genius. What I have also found is that it will give you a taster by authors who you may not have previously read to entice you into reading their longer works. The compilation of the stories is perfectly balanced between totally shocking stories, amusing mysteries, and good old-fashioned detective tales. I look forward to reading more short story anthologies in the future.

 

Dying To Live by Michael Stanley (Orenda Books)

A few months ago, I read Deadly Harvest, the first Detective Kubu novel published by Orenda Books, and I loved it, a great crime novel set in Botswana. I was really excited to read another Detective ‘Kubu’ Bengu crime story. 

In Dying To Live, Kubu is battling demons on a personal, as well as professional, level. Whilst a bushman, Heiseb, who appears older than you would assume is physically possible, is found murdered in the desert, Kubu’s adopted HIV positive daughter is fighting for her life, as her retrovirals start to fail. As in Deadly Harvest, muti, witch doctor potions, are heavily featured throughout the narrative. As Kubu and his colleague, Samantha Khama, try to find out who killed Heiseb, the disappearance of a prolific witch doctor seems too much of a coincidence.

As with Deadly Harvest, Dying to Live is a gripping crime novel, and while it is quite slow paced (mirroring the Botswanaian lifestyle), the plot is fascinating as it offers clues and red herrings throughout. The modern versus traditional lifestyle is juxtaposed beautifully and as even Kubu begins to wonder if muti could help his sick daughter. The writing duo, Michael Sears and Stanley Trollope, writing under the pseudonym Michael Stanley, have created a wonderful main protagonist in Kubu and a formidable sidekick in Khama, that the reader cannot help but want them to succeed. Restricted as they are by their location and the mindset of the traditionalist inhabitants, they always seem to get their answers one way or another.

A number of characters are introduced, both to inform and to confuse the reader into what these crimes are all about. The various characters are from a variety of backgrounds, traditional and modern, and the reader is left wondering just who the criminals are. 

Dying To Live is a fantastic novel, which is, of course, what we have come to expect from a book published by Orenda Books. Kubu is a really endearing character and there are times in this novel where I wanted to give him a big hug. These novels entice the reader with a beautifully written narrative and an engaging plot. I look forward to reading the next Michael Stanley collaboration.