My Book Reviews for September 2021
My Book Reviews for September 2021
My Book Reviews for September 2021 comprise a fast-paced crime caper, a literary gem, a psychological duel, a survival story and a ghostly short.
A fast-paced crime caper featuring a cast of teenage psychopaths. And Then There Were None set in a US college.
Chloe (Not her real name – she’s a psychopath; they lie…) starts at a college in DC on a scholarship. In exchange for full funding, she participates in a programme run by a leading academic from the college’s psychology department. It is a study of seven diagnosed psychopaths. The programme is supposed to be secret – not even the participants know the identities of the others – but someone finds out and starts killing them one by one.
Chloe really doesn’t have time to play cat and mouse with a serial killer as she has a murder of her own she wants to commit. She tracks down two other programme members so they can work together to find the culprit. But it’s hard to be a team player when there are two things you can’t trust about the other students: everything they say and everything they do.
The story is told from the viewpoints of these three psychopaths – snappy, sardonic and unreliable.
With thanks to the author, publisher and Net Galley for the opportunity to read an early copy in exchange for an honest review.
Another literary gem from Clare Chambers, the queen of dry humour, that manages to be both biting and gentle.
Although set more recently, the story evokes 1960s London. Clare Chambers gets as deep into the psyche of her male protagonist as David Lodge or Kingsley Amis do/did theirs. The novel has the quality of a well-crafted, slowly evolving shaggy dog story.
Christopher, a one-time aspiring novelist, is approached by an academic who is researching a late author. She has come across a connection between Christopher and the late author’s editor, Owen. Reluctantly, Christopher hands over correspondence he had with Owen and Owen’s wife, Diana. There then follows a story within a story as Christopher gives the academic the full account of his relationship with the couple, including some parts Christopher would rather forget.
The book has a small cast but each character is beautifully drawn, flaws and all. Christopher’s brother, Gerald, is a lugubrious delight.
This is my second Clare Chambers novel. (See my review of Small Pleasures here.) I have now bought a third.
The next of my book reviews for September 2021 is also partly set in the world of publishing:
This is a psychological duel between two disparate protagonists in a similar vein to Atkins’s later novel, Magpie Lane and Sabine Durrant’s Finders, Keepers. (See my reviews of both here).
Olivia is an elegant, charismatic academic with a burgeoning TV career, a good marriage, lovely family and friends, and two beautiful homes. Vivian is the socially awkward, detail-obsessed caretaker of a country house with only her maladjusted dog for company.
Olivia hears about the diary of the Victorian woman who once lived at the house that Vivian manages. Scenting the perfect topic for her first popular history book, Olivia needs Vivian’s help to access the diary and she ends up making Vivian her unofficial research assistant. Although difficult to control, Vivian becomes key to the success of the project. Vivian relishes the opportunity to feel needed. Thus two women whose paths would never normally cross become embroiled in a working relationship which is both symbiotic and parasitic.
The story opens at the glittering launch of the book after the two women have parted company, much to Olivia’s relief. But as Olivia gazes at her adoring guests, she notices an unwelcome face in the crowd.
The story then moves back a few months to Olivia’s stay at a French villa with her family and the families of her two best friends. Something is unsettled in the hazy heat of the olive groves, and an unexpected encounter causes the holiday to turn sour.
Although it sounds like a contradiction in terms, I’d call this a literary page-turner, exquisitely written with an irresistible sense of suspense.
Why is it called The Night Visitor? Well one of the many reasons why it’s worth reading this book is to find out…
Do you remember when the BBC broadcast the series Castaway 2000? They auditioned and selected members of the public to live for the year on the Scottish island of Taransay. It was billed as a social experiment in self-sufficiency, but it drifted, in parts, into the arguing and backbiting that we’ve come to expect from the reality genre. This book is an extreme version of that scenario.
TV producers select 8 people to live for 11 months on the remote Scottish island of Buidseach. (The name means witch in Scottish Gaelic.) The programme is billed as an end-of-the-world game in which the group must find a way to survive as the last people on earth. They wear chest cameras all the time and are joined on the island by two camera men who live separately and don’t interact with them.
The author gives the reader lots of detail about foraging and survival in the wilderness, but at its heart this is about the creeping, destructive effects of bullying. By the summer the stay on the island has turned into Lord of the Flies with a complete breakdown of society and self-discipline. And that’s before things go really, really wrong…
Told from the viewpoint of Maddy, a young woman who had previously been the target of bullies at school, university and work. We see how the bullying starts again on the island. Slowly and subtly at first, the male leaders take against her. Gradually, her few allies either drift away or fall out with her, and those who are impartial fail to intervene. Maddy tries various tactics to deal with the bullying: ignoring the comments and behaviour; appeasing the bullies; and eventually challenging them. But nothing can stop them from singling her out, isolating her and eventually attacking her.
The treatment she suffers feels completely authentic and had my heart racing with anxiety and fury. I haven’t reacted physically to a piece of fiction since I watched Sticks and Stones, Channel 5’s superb drama, also about bullying. (See my short review here.)
A remote motel. A woman on the run. A friendly landlord. A noise through the wall. A reckoning coming.
A short story that manages to be both warm and creepy.
So there are my Book Reviews for September 2021. I’d like to end the blog with a plug for two titles:
The Roommates – Four Freshers. Four Secrets. One Devastating Lie.
Good luck to everyone starting or returning to university this month. I’m now halfway through my research degree. This week I start a new module: French for Researchers. I hope I can keep up. It’s going to be a challenge.
My return to study at uni inspired my most recent novel, The Roommates, a psychological thriller set in freshers’ week.
Here’s an early call for short story fans. This exciting anthology will be published by top crime writer L.J. Ross’s Dark Skies Publishing imprint in November. Here’s the blurb:
These uplifting tales of hope and of small, everyday kindnesses are intended to be read daily, through the course of a year, to support wider, positive mental health goals and foster wellbeing through the act of reading tales of goodwill inspired by others. Featuring authors across the spectrum of literature, some international bestsellers and award-winning writers amongst them, this is a unique collection of words to inspire hope, in direct response to the Covid-19 crisis.