A Review of “The Gift Maker” – author Mark Mayes By Deirdre Quiery

“The Gift Maker” is a novel which demonstrates the ancient power of storytelling within a modern psychological and metaphysical framework. In reading it the reader sinks into the wave of the original need for a human being to tell a story of others – to be connected to the movements and urges of being born and our struggles to find profound and meaningful relationship with one another. What could be timelier, in a world which appears on the surface to be disintegrating and torn apart by division, cruelty and self-destruction. “The Gift Maker” shows that hope is possible – a Phoenix can gloriously arise from mythical flames.

Thomas Ruder – a History Undergraduate – is the first person to receive an unusual gift – which takes him on a journey into a world which will allow him to realise his deepest dreams. However, he will painfully learn that every step of his journey on the outside is also a step into the mystery of his own being. Two more gifts are given to others by “The Gift Maker”. The story unfolds with resonances of a “covenant” being made which has to be fulfilled. It pulses with a sense of destiny and a groaning need for each of our characters to be truly born – by facing everything within them which stops them from being whole. Notice that I said “our characters” – Mark is an amazing storyteller who binds the reader emotionally, intellectually and metaphysically to his creation.

I thoroughly enjoyed this novel. It is beautifully written with great lyricism and poetry, amazingly visual and descriptive and fantastically imaginative. All of which meant that I didn’t want to put it down – and yet paradoxically wished to linger and savour the words – the way you would want to carefully watch the sun setting and not wish for it to disappear. Yet in the closing of the novel, as in an amazing sunset – there is a final burst of brilliant mysterious energy which brings everything into a sense of being held within the hands of the author and the covenant is fulfilled.

The author shines insight into the world of theatre and what is real and surreal become blurred images within which the reader is both spectator and drawn on stage.

The reader will marvel at the plot structure – it weaving and tumbling into layers and layers of complexity – which only the finest of writers can weave so well – gossamer being the author’s pen.

This novel absolutely merits a 5 Star rating.

the gift maker

Deirdre Quiery’s latest novel, The Secret Wound, publishes June 9th 2017

The Secret Wound

413qmnmhK9L._SX324_BO1,204,203,200_

 

 

 

Review of “The Lighterman” by Simon Michael (Urbane Publications)

I didn’t think I could wait until June to get my sticky mitts on The Lighterman – the third and latest in the magnificent Charles Holborne series, penned by the inestimably talented Simon Michael.

Mercifully, the wait was abridged, as I received a pre-publication copy of the manuscript from the author himself – an honour indeed.

I absolutely adored The Brief and An Honest Man (see my Amazon and Goodreads reviews of the same), for the pellucid quality of the writing, the apparently effortless realisation of 60s London – such evocation comes only with masses of hard work and research, I am sure; and most of all, I loved the first two novels for their fascinating central character, Charles Holborne.

It is a great sadness that there can be no more Philip Marlowe adventures – but in Charles Holborne we have, to my mind, an equal to that iconic detective, that honourable and enigmatic outsider: in place of 30s and 40s LA we are transported to London in the Swinging Sixties (not swinging for everyone, as becomes apparent in The Lighterman); and rather than a gumshoe, our hero is a barrister.

In The Lighterman we are given a lot more back-story about Holborne’s earlier life, back when he was Charles Horowitz. The most moving prologue takes us back to 1940, where 15-year-old Charles, a headstrong lad, and already a promising young boxer, is caught up with his family in a bombing raid. Later evacuated to Wales, Charles yearns for the streets that formed him and lives a precarious existence in his bombed-out former home, until taken on by a relation as an apprentice lighterman on the River Thames. Charles and his slightly older cousin work hard and play hard in wartime London, their escapades often straying to the wrong side of the law.

The Thames, its islands and bridges, its laws – both natural and man-made – acts as a vital component of, and theme within, The Lighterman, essentially becoming a character in its own right. The research into the work of the lightermen from the 40s onwards, their code and their creed, the pleasures and dangers of their trade, have clearly been researched in minute detail – yet it never feels like research on the page. It is never laborious, nor does it seek to prove knowledge for its own sake. Salient points about this industry, fascinating in themselves, are always at the service of plot and character development, moreover, at the service of drama.

An Honest Man ended on a hook of monumental proportions (not mentioned here for obvious reasons). Suffice it to say that Charles was in a desperate fix, and the threats that loomed over his life and peace of mind at the end of the second novel are now fully realised in The Lighterman. Those threats come in the shape of The Kray Twins, well, Ronnie, to be precise – who, in The Lighterman, is drawn with chilling mutability, absence of affect, and all the hallmarks of a bona fide psychopath, or, if you prefer a more medicalised diagnosis: paranoid schizophrenic. Simon Michael has Ronnie Kray play a pivotal, and very physical, role in the ensuing thrill-drenched narrative.

Again, as with the previous two novels, Charles’ honour is severely tested, and while we can see he is acting from an unstinting sense of justice, family loyalty, and an unshakeable moral code, circumstances conspire to force him into non-adherence to certain legal niceties – in short, he sails close to the wind, and we are with him all the way as he charts deeply perilous waters.

I won’t describe the final scene, so as not to give away any aspect of plot; other than to say we are once more totally blindsided by a turnaround that makes you gasp at the predicament Charles Holborne now finds himself in.

A legal and character-driven thriller of the highest calibre. I didn’t even yet mention the scintillating court room scenes, which are written with a fidelity to procedure and psychological truth that surely only an ex-barrister could muster.

 

Review of ‘The Brief’ by Simon Michael (Urbane)

I read, and hugely admired, ‘An Honest Man’ (the second in the Charles Holborne series), before reading ‘The Brief’. Taking the two books out of order certainly did no harm to my enjoyment of this splendid novel.

I am completely hooked by Charles as a character: his struggles, his background, his continually tested honour and courage. I find him utterly compelling and attractive, as I do the legal milieu in which he operates, and the wider setting of 60s London, reproduced in meticulous detail.

The clarity and economy of Simon Michael’s writing, his way of building a scene, internalising at just the right moments, his descriptive abilities, authentic dialogue, and his masterful plotting, all combine to make ‘The Brief’ a joy to read. On completion, you sit back, and think, “Bloody hell, that was good.”

The choice to render the trial as a transcript, thereby making it read like a play, is a stroke of genius. What was spoken was more than enough to manifest the scene in your mind – you simply fill in the tone of voice, body language, and any other physical details yourself.

Simon Michael places Charles in some terrible fixes, and does it so skilfully, cranking up the tension to an unbearable level, that you are wholly riveted to the plot to see how on earth the hero will come through with his life, let alone his reputation.

Essentially, I see Holborne as a man for whom truth and fairness trump all other concerns. This does not make for an easy life. Under increasing pressure, he acts in the way we all feel we would like to, but suspect our nerve would fail us. Yet he is no plaster saint – he is fully rounded, capable of all shades of feeling, of impetuousness, and burdened with a deep vulnerability.

In this series of books, I believe Simon Michael is really achieving something special, both as a storyteller and as a creator of a character sure to capture both the mind and heart of any discerning reader; a character with longevity, archetypal yet wholly individual. I am more than keen to read the third in the series, ‘The Lighterman’, when it comes out later in 2017.

25404492

Amazon

Review of “The Cruelty of Lambs” by Angelena Boden (Urbane Publications)

Angelena Boden has written one hell of an intense novel. Albeit the settings are principally domestic, and the world of the two central characters, Iain and Una, is comfortably ‘middle class’ and professional, their home, in truth, is a crucible of psychological terror, which too often spills over into violence.

In the earlier stages, the author plays with the reader’s perceptions and expectations, as we are thrown this way then that with regard to who is at fault in this ill-starred marriage. Suffice it to say that in Una (the Irish version of this name being Oonagh, meaning ‘lamb’ – hence the title) the author has created a monster of narcissism and cruelty – seriously damaged goods, who in turn damages all those about her.

I felt at times that Iain was probably suffering some form of Stockholm syndrome, and had been so undermined by the abuse meted out to him by his wife that he began to doubt every aspect of his reality. She frequently “gaslights” him, to the point where he believes her actions to have been his.

Having somewhat looked into the issue of Narcissistic Personality Disorder, the people who may be so diagnosed, and the dreadful effects on those who come into their orbit, Angelena Boden has, to my mind, created the poster child for that particular diagnosis, in Una Carrington. Obsessed with expensive lipstick, domineering and shallow, heartless towards her children, husband, and employees alike, this character is truly terrifying, and makes “Cruelty of the Lambs” compulsive reading on that account.

If all this weren’t bad enough, Iain, a onetime music teacher, has been falsely and maliciously accused of sexual harrassment by a gang of schoolgirls. This has destroyed his career, and threatened the balance of his mind. In this weakened state he is easy prey for his borderline psychopathic wife. Iain’s faithful friend, Fergus, and his calm and wise first wife, Morag (why Iain ever left Morag for Una is really beyond me!) can see all too clearly how Iain is being destroyed, and do all they can to save him. At times, it seems as though it may be too late. When Iain’s beloved (and very expensive) cello is stolen in an apparent burglary, his life truly spirals out of control.

“The Cruelty of Lambs” is exceedingly well written, the prose being both stylish and witty. It also offers a deep understanding of human psychology, and exemplifies starkly how one person may be utterly ground down by another. The reader is tantalised and thrown into confusion at times as to who the ‘bad’ person is in the marriage – this is very artfully done. It is almost as if on reading this novel we, too, have to fight against Una’s uncanny ability to coerce, control, and destabilise; we also become her victim for a time. In short, this story gets under your skin; it disturbs and alarms; it is repellent in places, as depiction of such abuse, both mental and physical, really ought to be.

Una’s background is sketched in, including some possible notions of this being partly inherited behaviour from her own mother, as indeed Una’s and Iain’s daughter, Johanna, is beginning to demonstrate similar traits – and one must hope it is not too late for her to outgrow these.

The theme of music, the healing power thereof, is an important strand in this novel, and is both believable in this context, and adds necessary texture, and necessary beauty amid the emotional carnage.

Angelena Boden has created a cast of characters that are memorable and intricate. The author is also very good at description – cityscapes, domestic interiors, bars, Spanish hotels, you name it – all is achieved with economy and specificity.

I found this a very impressive first novel, both from a writing point of view, and as an interrogation into the psychology of both abuser and abused.

lambs

Amazon

A pre-publication review of “The Gift Maker” – by bestselling crime author, Simon Michael.

the-gift-maker-cover

This is a magical, daring book, set in a world reminiscent of Mervyn Peake’s Gormenghast or the Wes Anderson film Grand Budapest Hotel.  Using language of marvellous distinctiveness and beauty which reveal his poetic background, Mark Mayes creates a sometimes beautiful and frequently nightmarish world where reality and folk tale morph into surrealism to disturbing effect.  By turns hilarious and terrifying, wise and thought-provoking, The Gift Maker stands head and shoulders above anything I have read this year.  I devoured it in two sittings, and will now start again so as to savour less breathlessly its sublime language and ideas.  This sustained feat of imagination is a best-seller and likely award winner if ever I read one.  Not for the faint-hearted, but brilliant.

Bestselling crime author Simon Michael

Link to Urbane (publisher)

Amazon

Simon Michael

(note: “The Gift Maker” publishes 23rd February 2017, with Urbane Publications)

Review of “Dancers in the Wind” by Anne Coates (Urbane Publications)

Dancers in the Wind is a page-turner if ever there was one. Written in an effortlessly readable style, combining great clarity and economy of language with a pitch-perfect ear for dialogue and feel for characterisation; as well as an utterly convincing depiction of 1990s London; in particular the area around Kings Cross, before it was ‘regenerated’.

Hannah Weybridge is a journalist and single mum, with a career somewhat in the doldrums, trying to do her best by her infant daughter. As the result of a feature article she is assigned, she finds herself unwittingly pulled into a dark and dangerous world of prostitution, pimps, potentially bent policemen, and something far worse – a shadowy and murderous elite group of sexual deviants, who believe they can kill prostitutes with impunity.

But exactly how far up the pyramid of power does this nefarious group extend, and is Inspector Tom Jordan, investigating a growing tally of murdered women, really on the side of justice and truth? Should Hannah trust him, or is her growing attraction to him clouding her judgement?

Into Hannah’s largely regulated life lands Princess (a.k.a. Caroline), a young prostitute who has been badly beaten, and is in search of sanctuary. But exactly who is she running from? Hannah reluctantly takes her in, thereby putting both her own safety, and that of her daughter, at risk.

Some really masterful plotting in this novel keeps you on tenterhooks pretty much all the way through, and in the last third of the book the tension is mercilessly ratcheted up for both Hannah and the reader. I did not want to read this book as quickly as I did, as generally, the more I enjoy a book the more I eke it out – but you are simply compelled to find out what will happen next, and holding off is not an option. There is a scene, near the very end, that will have you silently (or not) screaming: “No – this can’t be happening!”

Anne Coates clearly knows what she is doing as a thriller writer. She is very skillful indeed at drawing the reader in and not letting them go. Hannah, Princess, and Tom, are all vividly drawn characters: nuanced, often wrestling with internal contradictions, as most of us humans tend to. The minor characters of the novel are deftly conveyed, as individuals, yet are also recognisable as types – certainly, none are ciphers.

Seeing that Anne Coates is also a journalist, everything about Hannah’s day-to-day life as a freelance has the ring of truth. The world of prostitution is explored in depth, and from many angles. The exploration is neither condemnatory nor facile, rather it allows the reader to consider the moral complexity, and appreciate the inherent dangers, of such an occupation.

We accompany Hannah on her journey into a demi-monde few of us know much about first-hand, and as more and more pressure is placed on Hannah, to do the right thing (if that may even be discerned), to be braver than she thought she could ever be, her essential character is revealed under that very pressure. This makes for an exhilarating and emotionally-involving reading experience. The same may also be said of Princess’s journey within the novel, although we see less of this from her direct perspective.

Perfectly paced, instantly engaging, and with central characters that you truly care about, and relate to, Dancers in the Wind is surely the ideal read for lovers of thrillers and crime fiction, who also happen to be fans of high-quality writing.

51spunndbkl

Amazon

A review of “The Life Assistance Agency” by Thomas Hocknell (published by Urbane publications)

Fools and Angels

What a wonderful journey The Life Assistance Agency takes you on. Ben, a writer, is down on his luck, sales are virtually non-existent for his latest book, and his agent is just about to kick him to the kerb. He and his friend find a business card for something called The Life Assistance Agency, an obscure outfit who seemingly offer an improbable range of life improving/rescuing services. The Agency ends up being Ben’s new employer.

I must try not to give anything away, plot-wise, in this review – but suffice it to say that Ben’s new job is way more than he bargained for. He and the Agency’s boss set out on the trail of a missing person. This takes them all across Europe, Krakow and Prague being significant destinations en-route. And the person missing, an appropriately named Mr Foxe, leads them a merry dance indeed. On Ben’s and his colleague’s trail are the rather brutal emissaries of a Psychic Society.

In short, the story concerns itself with scrying for angels, for the gifts they might bestow (or indeed, the curses), and a certain John Dee (a real historical personage) comes into the narrative via the diary of his wife, Jane. The diary, Jane’s recording of events concerning the Dee family, and others, late in the sixteenth century, struck me as very convincing as a representation of how people may have spoken and acted in those times; and the wider world was presented with such telling detail (a good deal of research must have gone into this aspect of the novel) that it brought that distant past to life most vividly. Mr Foxe is fascinated by John Dee and his work, and in turn, Ben and his colleague/friend, Scott, are fascinated by their frustratingly evanescent quarry, Mr Foxe.

Thomas Hocknell is a highly accomplished, űber-talented and incredibly witty writer, both in creating the world of Elizabethan London (principally Mortlake) and various settings abroad of that period; and of present-day London and Europe, replete with terrible hotels, dodgy tea, worse cars, and a growing sense of mystery as our intrepid duo are pulled deeper into the esoteric shenanigans of Foxe and others.

In the contemporary setting, there are oodles of cracking one-liners, which give the novel a charm and lightness to complement the darker passages. Here is just a tiny selection that I particularly enjoyed:

“People who’d baulk at chasing fairies, happily claim to see angels, as though larger wingspan makes them more credible.”

“He pulled a face like Morrisssey playing downwind from burgers.”

“However, despite Dutch quiz shows as subtle as having lit petrol thrown in your face, we dozed off.”

“He had the face of a man struggling to read a newspaper in the wind.”

As the dénouement approaches, the pace picks up perfectly, and we are treated to reveal after reveal, none of which I saw coming. There is a particularly finely-written scene concerning Dr Dee and his wife, Jane, on her death bed – which I found most impressive.

A superb début novel, original, erudite and entertaining, from Thomas Hocknell, and one can only eagerly await his next offering!

41dboskmoal-_sy346_

Amazon

Urbane