Review: Six Stories, by Matt Wesolowski

1997. Scarclaw Fell. The body of teenager Tom Jeffries is found at an outward bound centre. Verdict? Misadventure. But not everyone is convinced.

2017. Enter elusive investigative journalist Scott King, whose podcast examinations of complicated cases have rivalled the success of Serial, with his concealed identity making him a cult internet figure. 

In a series of six interviews, King attempts to work out how the dynamics of a group of idle teenagers conspired with the sinister legends surrounding the fell to result in Jeffries’ mysterious death. 

A chilling, unpredictable and startling thriller, Six Stories is also a classic murder mystery with a modern twist, and a devastating ending. 

Well…. where to start with this one!

A couple of weeks back, I went to the launch event for Six Stories hosted by Forum Books in Corbridge, and came away with a shiny new (signed!) copy of the book ready to add to my TBR pile. Well, that pile is about as tall as I am; but I just had to sneak this book in at the top – not only has there been a helluva lot of hype about it, Matt is a local lad from Newcastle! Say no more. I poured myself a nice glass of red (it felt appropriate for the genre), wrapped up in a blanket, and cracked open the book.

The format of Six Stories is unique, in that it is told in the form of six podcast episodes, in a style inspired by the true crime podcast Serial. Each of the podcasts features a different character who was some link to the night Tom Jeffries disappeared. The podcasts are broken up with monologues by Harry St. Clement Ramsey; son of the owner of Scarclaw Fell and the person who discovered Tom Jeffries’ body.

I was looking forward to finding out how a book that is predominantly active dialogue and conversation would work in terms of setting the scene and creating suspense – the answer is very, very well. If anything, only ever hearing the stories first-hand added even more suspense. The heavy folklore elements running through the book make you feel at times as though you have wandered into a ghost story – it is charged with atmosphere.

The reader benefits from the summaries that Scott King gives at the end of each podcast, piecing together the elements and links of each interview, adding layers to the story as we build up a picture of each character in our minds, until the final podcast knocks everything we thought we knew out of the water.

Wesolowski is a skilled writer, capable of pulling the strings of the atmosphere and orchestrating tension throughout the book. The descriptions of the wild, dangerous (and thankfully fictional) Scarclaw Fell could not do more to portray the sinister landscape in which Tom Jeffries met his end.

“It’s a dark, freezing night on Scarclaw Fell. The wind wails mournfully through the trees of the old forest and little bundles of sheep huddle together like balls of damp cotton wool. Frost freezes on the edges of the leaves, the trees glisten in the moonlight, and their branches caress the frozen earth like the withered fingers of some long-dead corpse.”

The haunting, chilling narrative draws to a clever and shocking conclusion that will leave your mind racing and have you questioning every detail you’ve read.

I am pretty certain that I will not be able to look at a fell in the same way again!

About The Author 

Matt Wesolowski is an author from Newcastle-Upon-Tyne in the UK. He is an English tutor and leads Cuckoo Young Writers creative writing workshops for young people in association with New Writing North. Matt started his writing career in horror and his short horror fiction has been published in Ethereal Tales magazine, Midnight Movie Creature Feature anthology, 22 More Quick Shivers anthology and many more. Matt was a winner of the Pitch Perfect competition at Bloody Scotland Crime Writing Festival in 2015. Six Stories was published by Orenda Books in 2016.

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Review: Slow Boat, by Hideo Furukawa

Boku has an uneasy preoccupation with dreams – and with making and losing lovers. And when he first runs away from Tokyo, his dreams and his reality gradually start to shift and overlap. This is a story of three failed escapes – and the loss of three girlfriends in the process. The first girlfriend is taken away, the second runs away, and the third is sent away by Boku himself.

A startling tale about the anguished battle to escape oneself, this structurally complex and fascinating novella is both a homage to Haruki Murakami and a stunning piece of magical realism.

 

What a lovely, unusual, weird little book this was!

I started the story a little disoriented; it took me a couple of chapters to settle into the fluid motion of the storytelling. Essentially an account of his life from childhood to adulthood by way of nine different ‘boats’ or significant events, out narrator Boku tells the story from his present day in 2002, following three failed attempts to leave Tokyo.

“This is my botched Tokyo Exodus, the chronicle of my failures.”

Furukawa plays with language beautifully throughout the book; highlighting the limitations of Japanese and flitting between ideas and scenes with a smoothly sporadic rhythm. The city of Tokyo and its sprawling boundaries is a character in itself, a constant foe that foils Boku’s plans; and he hates the city in return.

Over the course of his three failed escapes, he loses three girlfriends, all of whom have tried and succeeded in escaping something or somewhere. Boku, as well as never making reference to his own name; doesn’t name a one of them either. They are ‘the girl’ or ‘my girlfriend’, each a memory of something else that Tokyo has taken from him.

Boku’s relationship with dreams and the way they define his life are a significant part of his chronicle. A recurring dream sequence, which he visits several times, each from a slightly different angle; reminded me very strongly of a scene from The Angel’s Game by Carlos Ruiz Rafón – fantastical, languid, moving as if through water.

At the end of the book, Furukawa pays homage to Haruki Murakami and his tribute to him through Slow Boat. Fans of Murakami will certainly enjoy this quirky offering!

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An Evening With Forum Books, Orenda Books & Matt Wesolowski

Last Tuesday I drove up to The Dyvels in Corbridge with a friend for a Forum Books event – a book launch for Six Stories by Matt Wesolowski. Published by Orenda Books, Six Stories is written in a podcast format, looking back on the death of teenager Tom Jeffries on the fictional Scarclaw Fell in Northumberland.

Having made a dash back into the village for a cashpoint; the pub was already pretty full by the time we arrived back to pick up our tickets (drinks tokens – perfect!), buy a copy of the book (for the signing) and find a seat.

After a while, Helen introduced Karen Sullivan of Orenda Books, who gave us a quick overview of the story before handing over to Matt for the reading. As the book is written in the style of a podcast, Matt read his extract in tandem with another performer. It was enthralling and lively – I jumped a couple of times – and very captivating.

Once the reading was finished, we hung around for some book chat and signings, before scurrying back home to a sofa, a glass of red wine, and a blanket to hide under when it gets scary 🙂 I’m about a third of the way through so far and loving it – it such a different format. Look out for a review coming soon!

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Book Tour: Wolves in the Dark, by Gunnar Stalesen

Reeling from the death of his great love, Karin, Varg Veum has descended into a self-destructive spiral of alcohol, lust, grief and blackouts.

When traces of child pornography are found on his computer, he’s accused of being part of a paedophile ring and thrown into a prison cell. There, he struggles to sift through his past to work out who is responsible for planting the material… and who is seeking the ultimate revenge.

When a chance presents itself, Varg finds himself on the run in his hometown of Bergen. With the clock ticking and the police on his tail, Varg takes on his hardest – and most personal – case yet.

This book jumps straight into action in the opening paragraphs, and within pages we are pulled into a dark and disturbing tale of allegations against Varg Veum, private investigator and protagonist in our tale.

Wolves in the Dark deals with a dark, gruesome and violent subject matter – child pornography and paedophilia. Veum is accused of being part of a paedophilia ring and taken into custody for questioning. While in custody he begins going through old, unsolved cases from a dark and destructive part of his life. When he takes his chance and goes on the run, he follows all the leads he can think of to find the person responsible for framing him.

The book jumps between real-time events and Veum’s memories; as he works through potential leads – there are several, which results in a dizzying back-and-forth between historic cases and his life on the run. This is a perfect portrayal of the confusion and panic he feels following his arrest and eventual escape.

Because there was so much back and forth; I did find my attention wandering towards the middle of the book – you really do need to pay attention to keep track of everything that’s going on! At the end, there is a frantic finish as the pieces slot into place and we are able to step back to see the full picture.

I had conflicting feelings towards Varg Veum’s character – while I could understand his frustration, indignation and fear; I did also feel a dislike for him and the way he has lived his life over the last few years (although I don’t have the insight of previous books and what happened to Karin to cause that). I did find it a little unlikely that, at one point, three people were in contact with him while he’s on the run and none of them turn him in.

Wolves in the Dark is a sinister depiction of the criminal underworld and the inherent dangers and risks of internet hacking, but the incredibly heavy subject matter is lightened throughout the book with Veum’s dry sarcasm and witty reflections.

“… a façade of concrete down both sides, built at the end of the 1950s when the council authorities responsible must have been on a study tour of Murmansk to find some architectural inspiration. Here the Russians had definitely won the Cold War.”

Released on 15th June, Wolves in the Dark is an often uncomfortable, gritty read; which will appeal to those who like their crime more complicated than clean-cut.

Granite Noir Fest 2017

 

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Fizz and Fun Times at Foodies Festival Newcastle

Now, I know I said that I was devoting this blog to books and bookishness alone but… after to a good novel, food is my next great love, and so I was happy to snap up the offer of some free tickets to Foodies Festival last weekend.

With the truly miserable weather of the last few days; it’s difficult to believe that it’s been less than a week since myself and Mr Knox took ourselves the mile from our house to sample all the delights on offer at Foodies Festival. Making its first visit to Newcastle-upon-Tyne, the festival had set up shop on a wide expanse of grass in Exhibition Park.

Despite the ominous weatherman warnings, when we arrived at the festival the sunshine was beaming down, and we were regretting not applying sunscreen before leaving the house!

Once through the entrance gates, we had to put our hunger on hold for a little bit while we took in the sheer amount of goodies on offer – from Goan, to Asian, to Caribbean and good old British; there was something for everyone and I wanted it ALL. We opted for a delicious chicken curry from On The Goa to begin with, immediately wishing we had shared one as there was so much more we wanted to eat!

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After our first lunch (ahem) we decided it was high time for a drink and a sit down to prepare ourselves for round two. (This is literally the reason I run). Handily, some clever soul had converted a double decker bus into a bar where we swiftly acquired some fizz for me, while James opted for a beer pulled from the side of a converted military jeep – so cool! Drinks sorted, we took ourselves up to the top deck to assess the festival from above.

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It was lovely to see so many, and such a mix of, people out for the day at this great event. As well as groups of friends and couples, there were also families with children and young babies. There was something for everyone, from kiddies corner to a band, food stalls, cookery and drinks demonstrations, dessert spots, and plenty of places to get your hands on a taster or two – whether your tipple of choice was gin, wine, whisky or all of the above! There was even a yoga tent for those who wanted to offset their indulgence with a spot of stretching… having just ran a marathon the weekend before, I skipped that one in favour of a second glass of prosecco (whoops).

 

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After we’d finished our drinks, we set off in search of our second lunch, and after much deliberation settled on a pork, chorizo and cheese burger (to share) from Hatch76. After that and one final drink, we decided that, sadly, it was time to head home and get ready for our night out (don’t be fooled – we were on the bus home before 11). Not before I got my hands on some macarons from the lovely Mademoiselle Macaron, however!

I first came across these Scottish beauties on Instagram in the midst of a wedding-planning rampage; and have been dying to try them ever since. From your traditional flavours (vanilla) to the more adventurous (Irn Bru – Scots to the core!) their selection has always looked impressive; and I couldn’t pass up on the chance to buy some while they were right on my doorstep! I opted for Rose (so fragrant) Earl Grey (because….couldn’t not, right?!) and Hendricks Gin (obviously). We enjoyed our purchases with a frothy coffee on Sunday afternoon, and they were so worth the wait!

Judging by my Twitter and Instagram feeds over the weekend, we weren’t the only ones having a great time at the festival, and I really hope it will make a return to Newcastle again next year – I have a long list of food to try!

Thanks so much to Foodies Festival for the tickets!

Review: Unaccustomed Earth, by Jhumpa Lahiri

Beginning in America, and spilling back over memories and generations to India, Unaccustomed Earth explores the heart of family life and the immigrant experience. Eight luminous stories – longer and richer than any Jhumpa Lahiri has yet written – take us from America to Europe, India and Thailand as they follow new lives forged in the wake of loss.

For quite a while now, Lahiri has been loitering on my list of authors TBR, fuelled by various recommendations on Instagram by people like Mindy Kaling. (On a separate note, and before we get straight into talking Unaccustomed Earth, this article which pulls together a list of the books which Kaling has recommended on Instagram is worth a glance over).

So, on to Lahiri and Unaccustomed Earth. For those of you who are as unaware of Lahiri as I was, she is an American writer, born in London to Bengali immigrants. Her first collection of short stories, The Interpreter of Maladies, won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 2000. Unaccustomed Earth, her second book of short stories, shot straight to the number 1 spot on the New York Times bestseller list.

The short stories in Unaccustomed Earth are split into 2 parts. Part 1 is comprised of 5 individual and unrelated tales, while part 2 offers three linked stories dealing with the relationship between Hema and Kaushik, two first-generation Americans born of Indian parents, over the course of decades between America and India.

Throughout the eight stories; Lahiri interweaves the immigrant experience with universally identifiable issues with poignancy and precision. Her protagonists are the children of immigrants to America; finding themselves caught between the culture of their parents and that of their homeland. Themes of fractious relationships between parents and children run throughout; uniquely immigrant experiences intermingled with universal issues – the death of a parent, alcoholism, broken hearts, unrequited love. Characters caught in that period of time after having a child, still adjusting to their new role in life. Our protagonists are trapped between their two cultures, tradition and respect for elders pitted against the American dream and desire for freedom.

The stories of Hema and Kaushik are narrated to each other; opening with Hema’s account of Kaushik’s arrival, departure and return to her life as a teenager, 8 years later. Annoyed at having to give up her room for someone she doesn’t even know when her parents open their home to thir friends; Hema is embarrassed to find herself attracted to Kaushik when they meet again, especially given his apparent disdain at being back in the United States.

“Do you hate it here?” I asked.

“I liked living in India,” you said.

When reluctant to invite him out with her friends; her mother highlights Kaushik’s predicament and the challenges he is going through, pointing out as someone who has gone through it themselves that that Hema cannot really identify with what he is feeling:

“But he doesn’t even like me.” I complained.

“Of course he likes you” my mother said, blind to the full implication of what I’d said. “He’s adjusting, Hema. It’s something you’ve never had to go through.”

Kaushik’s narrative picks up a few years later, during which time his mother has died; and his father has remarried to a widow with two young girls. It illustrates Kaushik’s difficulty in accepting the marriage, arranged by relatives between two people who had only known each other a few weeks. His father’s new wife, Chitra, and her daughters Rupa and Piu relocate to Massachusetts and find themselves going through the same harsh adjustment adjustment as Kaushik once did. He struggles with seeing them in the space that he associates so strongly with his mother – only with the passing of time can he learn to come to terms with this change.

In the final short story of the collection, Hema and Kaushik are united, completely by chance, in Rome. The storytelling reverts to third person this time; bringing in both Hema and Kaushik together and allowing a little distance between the reader and the narrator to observe the culmination of these 3 linked stories.

At once simple and complex, this is a short story collection that will stay with you long after you’ve finished it.

 

Review: These Dividing Walls, by Fran Cooper

One Parisian summer
A building of separate lives
All that divides them will soon collapse… 

In a forgotten corner of Paris stands a building.

Within its walls, people talk and kiss, laugh and cry; some are glad to sit alone, while others wish they did not. A woman with silver-blonde hair opens her bookshop downstairs, an old man feeds the sparrows on his windowsill, and a young mother wills the morning to hold itself at bay. Though each of their walls touches someone else’s, the neighbours they pass in the courtyard remain strangers.

Into this courtyard arrives Edward. Still bearing the sweat of a channel crossing, he takes his place in an attic room to wait out his grief.

But in distant corners of the city, as Paris is pulled taut with summer heat, there are those who meet with a darker purpose. As the feverish metropolis is brought to boiling point, secrets will rise and walls will crumble both within and without Number 37…

 

These Dividing Walls is the debut novel from Fran Cooper. The story follows the inter-woven stories of the residents of Number 37, on a street in the suburbs of Paris.

What’s The Story?

Edward arrives at number 37 a grieving, lost Englishman. In an attempt to get past the sudden death of his sister, a friend has loaned him use of her apartment in Paris. As he settles into life in the apartment block, he comes to meet many other residents, each dealing with their own personal issues and hiding their own secrets.

The Review

I found this book very refreshing in that it portrays the good, the bad, and the ugly of Parisian society (and indeed society the world over). When you pick up a book set in Paris; you instinctively expect shiny arrondissements, la rive gauche, sophisticated and put-together protagonists and a rosy sheen on the French capital. What the reader actually gets in These Dividing Walls is a presentation of the normal, everyday Parisians on the outskirts of the city; away from the dazzling lights of the Eiffel Tower and the Champs Elysées.

Between them, the residents of Number 37 represent a cross-section of the sentiments, struggles and everyday trials of husbands and wives, parents and children. There are some very likeable characters, like Frédérique, the aunt of Edward’s apartment-owning friend who lives in a stunning and spacious ground floor home in the same building; working every so often in her art book shop. She brings Edward out of his solitude, recognising in him the same loss she feels in her own soul; and together they help each other to heal. In young mum Anaïs, Cooper sensitively but accurately depicts the overwhelming sea of emotions that accompanies postnatal depression; as she struggles through a life with three small children, a shell of her former self.

The underlying theme which runs throughout the book, affecting all of the characters; is that of xenophobia in an age of increased immigration, and the way this affects lives. An air of fear and anger sits over the Paris of These Dividing Walls, fuelled and exploited by far-right dissidents; denied and ignored by the richer arrondissements; and we see the characters deal with this situation in different ways. Some of the residents, who have arrived bitter and twisted into their older age; ooze spite and venom in the face of that which is different to them, others beat them down with open-minded acceptance that yes; bad things happen, but no; the actions of the few do not represent the beliefs of the many.

The rumbling undercurrent of rebellion comes to a head at the end of the book, when all the residents find themselves drawn in some way into the events taking over the city.

There is no neat wrap-up at the end of These Dividing Walls, which is another point I very much liked about this book. The final message is that, through grief, betrayal, terror; life continues forward – for the residents, as well as for us.

 

These Dividing Walls is a fantastic and contemporary debut from Fran Cooper, due for publication on 4th May.

With thanks to NetGalley and Hodder & Stoughton for the ARC.

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Review: The President’s Gardens, by Muhsin Al-Ramli

Today, I am reviewing The President’s Gardens, by Muhsin Al-Ramli (translated by Luke Leafgren). It’s a stunning and moving portrait of 3 friends and their lives through the Iraqi conflicts of the 1980s to early 2000s.

What’s it about?

Here is the publisher’s blurb for the book:

On the third day of Ramadan, the village wakes to find the severed heads of nine of its sons stacked in banana crates by the bus stop. One of them belonged to one of the most wanted men in Iraq, known to his friends as Ibrahim the Fated. How did this good and humble man earn the enmity of so many? What did he do to deserve such a death? 

The answer lies in his lifelong friendship with Abdullah Kafka and Tariq the Befuddled, who each have their own remarkable stories to tell.

It lies on the scarred, irradiated battlefields of the Gulf War and in the ashes of a revolution strangled in its cradle. 

It lies in the steadfast love of his wife and the festering scorn of his daughter. 

And, above all, it lies behind the locked gates of The President’s Gardens, buried alongside the countless victims of a pitiless reign of terror.

The Story                                                                                               

The President’s Gardens follows the lives of three friends from childhood, through conflict and war, up to the Iraq War from 2003. Ibrahim ‘The Fated’, Abdullah ‘Kafka’ and Tariq ‘The Befuddled’ meet as toddlers and become the best of friends, always together; until they are separated by the Iraq-Iran war of 1980. When they are finally all brought together once again, the impact of the years of conflict have changed them forever.

The book opens with an early morning scene in which a shepherd, Isma’il, discovers the heads of 9 of the village men in banana crates in the main street; one of these men being Ibrahim. From that point, the book returns back to the three friends’ childhood, and tracks the story back to that day.

The Review

There is a LOT to love about The President’s Gardens. It is a powerful, powerful book.

Lots of details, characters and events are thrown at the reader over the first few chapters, which are then re-visited and explained over the course of the book. I did find it difficult to keep track for a while – to the point that I wished I had written myself notes on who was who – but after a while the story settles down into an easier to follow narrative.

Al-Ramli’s descriptions and portrayals of Iraqi life are detailed and intricate. The closeness and havoc of village life and relationships are presented in sharp contrast to the opulent, indulgent grandeur of Baghdad and the Presidential palaces of the second half of the book. There is an obvious scorning of the excessive wealth of the President and those in power around him; with a whole pages dedicated to a monologue describing the vast palaces with golden taps and door handles, cars, gardens, swimming pools and portraits.

The overwhelming and all-destroying spectre of war is a constant in this book, and shapes the characters of the 3 protagonists in different ways. Al-Ramli does not shy away from graphic depictions of the treatment of enemy soldiers and prisoners of war, and there were several points where I had to look away from the page for a moment before I could continue reading. However, there are also some truly beautiful moments in the book – Ibrahim’s final day with his wife, for example; is incredibly emotive and reminiscent of a couple in the first throes of love, as opposed to a long-married husband and wife.

The characters of the three protagonists are all very different. The backbone of the story; Ibrahim accepts everything that happens around him – the war, his losses, the turn of events that brings him to his death – as fate, and the way things must be. This is how he gets through his life, and the cruel twists of his fate that it continually throws at him.

Abdullah is given to seeing the worst in every situation, and after his time in the war loses all interest in everyday life, longing only for peace.

Tariq, spared the horrors of battle as a religious leader and teacher, becomes adept at working situations to his own advantage. Although of the three he has the least presence in the book, he is the catalyst for more than one significant event or turning point, which has major implications for his friends.

The book brings itself back to the events of the opening chapter to finish, picking up with Tariq, Abdullah, and Ibrahim’s daughter Quisma; and their actions following Ibrahim’s death. The story ends with a ‘to be continued’ which I was not expecting and not at all ready for – the reader’s investment in the characters becomes absolute, and I was really hoping to know how things ended up for the 2 remaining friends. Here’s hoping that the sequel can follow very very soon.

The President’s Gardens is published on April 20th by Quercus Books, and is available to order on Amazon now.

Many thanks to Quercus Books / MacLehose Press and Net Galley for the ARC.

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About the Author

Muhsin Al-Ramli is an Iraqi writer, poet, academic and translator, born in the village of Sudara in northern Iraq in 1967. He has lived in Madrid since 1995. The President’s Gardens was longlisted for the I.P.A.F. (known as the ‘Arabic Booker’) in 2010. Al-Ramli was a tank commander in the Iraqi army during the Gulf War, a period of life which has greatly informed his writing. His brother, the writer Hassan Mutlak, was hanged in 1990 for an attempted coup d’état.

Blog Tour: Faithless by Kjell Ola Dahl

Hello and welcome to day 4 of the #Faithless blog tour! Today, it’s my turn 🙂

The latest book in the Oslo Detective Series by Kjell Ola Dahl, Faithless is published by Orenda Books, and translated by Don Bartlett.

I’ve never read anything of Dahl’s before, but as a father of Nordic Noir I thought perhaps I had better acquaint myself before I wrote this review! First published in 1993, Dahl has written 11 novels, the most successful being the books of the Oslo Detective Series, of which Faithless is the fifth instalment.

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The Blurb

Here’s the publisher’s blurb on the book:

Oslo Detectives Gunnarstranda and Frølich are back… and this time, it’s personal…

When the body of a woman turns up in a dumpster, scalded and wrapped in plastic, Inspector Frank Frølich is shocked to discover that he knows her… and their recent meetings may hold the clue to her murder. As he begins to look deeper into the tragic events surrounding her death, Frølich’s colleague Gunnarstranda finds another body, and things take a more sinister turn. With a cold case involving the murder of a young girl in northern Norway casting a shadow, and an unsettling number of coincidences clouding the plot, Frølich is forced to look into his own past to find the answers – and the killer – before he strikes again.

Dark, brooding and utterly chilling, Faithless is a breath-taking and atmospheric page-turner that marks the return of an internationally renowned and award-winning series, from one of the fathers of Nordic Noir.

The Story

With this being the fifth book in the series, I was wondering if I would be at a bit of a disadvantage having not read the first four, but I wasn’t at all. Faithless opens with a stake-out that introduces two of the main characters: Frank Frølich, our detective; and Veronika Undset, whose murdered body is shortly to be found wrapped in plastic in a skip. The investigation into Veronika’s murder is just one part of a spider’s web of stories which run alongside each other towards the grand finale.

I did feel that the story was a little slow in parts, but there are tense sections scattered throughout that more than make up for this. In the second half of the book events start to speed up, and all of the loose ends which you’ve been wondering about come together in some truly gripping narrative.

I found the translation for the most part very good; although there were a couple of phrases in there that you don’t often find in written English – the one which stuck out most for me was ‘to the nth degree/for the nth time’.

The Characters

I wasn’t sure what to make of the characters to begin with – they are a bit of an eclectic bunch! Frølich is an individual who is personally involved with the investigation, and often seems morally challenged through the course of the book. His approach to his work is passionate but impatient, often bordering on reckless. A past which he tries so hard to avoid comes out of the shadows to haunt him, brought to life by the reappearance of an old friend.

Gunnarstranda seems to have more of a regard for the rules, but we see even him bend them from time to time. Lena, a younger police officer with a questionable choice of romantic relationships, is full of confidence and belief in her own opinions and abilities – a sound outlook to have, but not if it gets you in above your head and into a tricky situation, like the one Lena finds herself in towards the end of the book. I get the feeling she will come into her own in the next book.

There is a sense of rapport between the characters that you would expect to find in a group of people who’ve worked together for a while; and the book is peppered with humorous moments alongside the drama. Gunnarstranda wondering why on earth people insisted on changing into gym gear in the office was one of my favourite points, as I am guilty of this all the time!

The story is told through the eyes of all three of these characters, which means we get to see lots of different events and viewpoints, but it does mean that you sometimes have to remind yourself where one character’s story ended up last time you saw them…. That’s a standard issue for me though, to be fair 🙂

So what did I think?

Overall, I found this an enjoyable read – there are some serious twists in here, and though it took me a little while to get into it I was gripped by the end (what an end!). The only thing I felt this book lacked was more of a sense of place. Perhaps it’s because I have come to associate Scandi Noir with rolling, detailed descriptions of forest, lake and sea; or perhaps it’s because the last book of this kind I read was very heavy on setting-the-scene descriptions; but Faithless just didn’t have enough of it for my liking. I want more of beautiful Norway! Really though, that’s my only gripe.

Big thanks must go to Karen Sullivan at Orenda Books and blog tour maestro Anne Cater for providing me with this review copy and inviting me to my very first blog tour! Faithless is published on 15th April. Keep your eyes peeled for more blog tour reviews coming up:

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About the Author 

One of the fathers of the Nordic Noir genre, Kjell Ola Dahl was born in 1958 in Gjøvik. He made his debut in 1993, and has since published eleven novels, the most prominent of which is a series of police procedurals cum psychological thrillers featuring investigators Gunnarstranda and Frølich. In 2000 he won the Riverton Prize for The Last Fix and he won both the prestigious Brage and Riverton Prizes for The Courier in 2015. His work has been published in 14 countries. He lives near Oslo.

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Planning a Literary-Themed Wedding

This Saturday (yes, April Fools Day – yes, it was deliberate!), myself and Mr Knox celebrated our 1st wedding anniversary – madness! One year on from the most amazing, fun day. With that in mind, I thought I would put together a short post on integrating a love of books into your big day.

We are both huge bookworms (although I will confess that my shopping habits are making the bookshelves creak a lot more than his!) and so we decided very early on that we wanted this to be one of the ‘themes’ for the wedding. As we are also very into our running, this was the other theme for the day. I was a little bit worried that they might not run very well together (no pun intended) but it actually worked out really well – the invites and table numbers were in the style of running bibs, and the decor and favours were all bookish goodies 🙂

Here are a few tips for bringing the written word to the wedding table.

The Ceremony Reading 

There are so many beautiful passages from all kinds of books which would make perfect readings for during the wedding ceremony. We got married at our venue, and the ceremony itself was pretty short, but this was a lovely interlude. A quick search on Pinterest or Google should yield lots of results; wedding blogs like Love My Dress also offers some good ideas. We went for the below extract from Captain Corelli’s Mandolin, one of the most beautiful pieces in the book; in my opinion… I’d say it made me cry, but I’d already cried so much during the ceremony that I’m not sure it would be 100% accurate 🙂

“Love is a temporary madness, it erupts like volcanoes and then subsides.  And when it subsides you have to make a decision.  You have to work out whether your roots have so entwined together that it is inconceivable that you should ever part.  Because this is what love is.

Love is not breathlessness, it is not excitement, it is not the promulgation of promises of eternal passion.That is just being in love, which any fool can do.  Love itself is what is left over when being in love has burned away, and this is both an art and a fortunate accident.

Those that truly love have roots that grow towards each other underground, and, when all the pretty blossoms have fallen from their branches, they find that they are one tree and not two.”

Decorations 

If you grew up in a house that was anything like my childhood home; there are piles of hardback Reader’s Digest books scattered everywhere, with a few other classics for good measure. This was great when it came to planning the table decor, as it meant I could just borrow all of these to make some central table displays, and had minimal need to buy any. Thanks Mam and Dad!

We also had some book bunting left over which the girls had made for my hen do (must have taken forever – there was so much of it!) so we used this to decorate the edges of the room/mantlepieces etc.

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Second Hand Book Favours 

On one of my Pinterest binges looking for wedding inspiration, I came across lots of photos of second-hand books being given as favours for wedding guests. We loved this idea and decided to go for it – for all 120 guests! Thankfully we were very lucky in that the best man’s mam donated lots of books from the library she worked at. For the rest, I scoured the charity bookshop on Gosforth High Street, where I was able to pick up a lot of books in near-perfect condition for £2-£3 each. Result.

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Book Confetti 

Perhaps not suitable for all venues – a lot have rules about the kind of confetti that can be thrown on their grounds – but if you can bring yourself to sit with a heart punch and deface a paperback then this looks lovely scattered on tables, or on display in jars around the hall and corridors.

I hope that gives a few ideas 🙂 There’s so much that could be done to create a ‘bookish’ wedding – I saw one couple who had made a ceremony arch entirely out of books! Now that’s dedication! If you’re planning a wedding currently, good luck and ENJOY! 🙂

P.S. The images in this post are by our lovely wedding photographer Katie Byram.