“Fear Nothing” by Lisa Gardner (2014)

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“Rockabye, baby, on the treetop…”

The cosy crime novels of the early twentieth century are where I spend a lot of my time. There are some modern crime novels I love, including the easy and engaging works of Peter James and the supernatural-tinted Rivers of London series, but generally I prefer the bloodless criminal activities of the aristocracy in their large country estates. Although crime and thrillers are huge genres today, it’s a bloated arena, and not all are created equal.

In Fear Nothing, Boston homicide detective D.D. Warren has been injured after attending a crime scene alone in the hopes to find out more. The victim was found in bed, the sheets stained with blood and her skin entirely peeled from their body and left in a mound of thin strips on the floor. D.D. hears a noise as she explores and the next thing she knows, she’s at the bottom of the stairs having fired off her gun, with a severely damaged arm and no memory of how she fell or why she fired her gun.

Elsewhere, Dr Adeline Glen – a pain specialist and the daughter of infamous serial killer Harry Day – is having trouble with her sister, Shana Day, who has inherited their father’s bloodlust and fascinating with killing. Adeline has a rare condition that means she cannot feel pain, which leaves her vulnerable to many things, leading to a life of almost entire isolation. She meets D.D. after the detective is told to visit her to learn how to manage her pain. But then another body is found in the same condition, and the police realise that they’ve seen this kind of thing before, from a man who died forty years ago. It seems that Harry Day is back from the dead and killing again … or maybe someone else has decided to follow in his footsteps…

I confess that around 150 pages in I really started skim-reading. Although the book does open dramatically with the discovery of the first body, it then seems to take ages to get going. This is apparently the seventh book in the series featuring Detective D.D. Warren, but I’m not sure that even having started at the beginning would have served me any better. The characters are flat and usually defined by a single trait – D.D. is a cliched, no-nonsense female cop with pain problems; Adeline is a psychologist who can’t feel pain; Shana is a serial killer; Alex is D.D.’s husband – and never really feel like people you would ever genuinely meet.

Also, I’m definitely not someone who has a problem with gore – both of my books feature a fair amount of it – but here is just feels entirely unnecessary. Excessive detail is used which, in fairness, does make the actions leap off the page, but is this quite so welcome? It did lead to me having several horrible dreams last night that were certainly related to content of the book. It wasn’t just the gore that was overly detailed, however. At one point, D.D. takes two paragraphs to get her sweater off over her painful shoulder. Yes, this helps emphasise the agony she’s in, but it doesn’t half slow down the story. That’s really the problem here – it gets too wrapped up in its own detail to let the story emerge from underneath all the padding.

Fear nothing but long-winded modern thrillers.

Looking for something different to read that bursts genre and shakes up the status quo of storytelling? My second novel, The Third Wheel, is available now at Amazon and Waterstones! If you like tongue-in-cheek stories about aliens and the struggles of being single in a world built for couples, it might just be up your alley. I hope you’ll take a look and enjoy it! Thanks!

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“The Radleys” by Matt Haig (2010)

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Every family has secrets.

“It is a quiet place, especially at night.”

Vampires have a long and fascinating history, from the tales of blood-sucking demons of ancient Persia, via Bram Stoker’s famous addition to the canon Dracula, up to sparkly immortal teenagers of Twilight. It’s always fun to see these kinds of monsters turn up where you least expect them too, and so suburban England is perhaps the last place you’d think there might be any vampires. Oh, how wrong you’d be…

Peter and Helen Radley look like pretty normal people. Sure, they may be a little insular, but they seem harmless enough. Their teenage children, Clara and Rowan, though are a bit odd. Often sickly and slathered in sun cream no matter the time of year, both insomniacs with a distaste for garlic and a fondness for the macabre, they’re considered by their peers to just be strange. One night, Clara is attacked by another student on the way home and her reaction would perhaps seem a little over the top. By that time, however, it is too late and Peter and Helen must tell their children what they’ve tried to hide for them for their whole lives – the Radleys are vampires.

Now they know they should be drinking blood, Rowan and Clara begin doing so (although Rowan with some trepidation at first) and start learning about their history. With fresh blood now inside them, they become stronger and undergo changes in personality and appearance. Things may have gone alright, if not for the arrival of Peter’s brother Will, a practicing vampire who has become sloppy of late and killing people in a more obvious manner, and often from the back of his camper van. But once you invite a vampire inside, it’s very hard to get them to leave, and Helen is determined that he should before secrets are revealed and their quiet little suburban life is ripped apart.

Matt Haig is a great writer and I’ve covered both his fiction and non-fiction on here before. The Radleys appeals to me firstly because of the sheer Englishness of the whole thing (a friend of mine this week said that all my writing is deeply English too, which isn’t a bad thing as far as I’m concerned) despite the fantastical elements. I also love the juxtaposition of the mundane with the magical. Haig delves into the lore of vampires in this universe. They aren’t immortal, but can live for a couple of centuries, faking their deaths and continuing on in a new guise later (Lord Byron is stated to have been a vampire who did this and only died in the late twentieth century). There is a difference between vampires who actively suck blood – and often kill – and those who abstain, such as the Radleys. And certain branches of the police are fully aware of the existence of vampires and there is a special branch of the force armed with crossbows to deal with errant members of the community.

The science of vampirism is mostly brushed over, but that’s how it should be. Going too deep into it would, I think, take away some of the much needed mystery, but instead uses the old lore in a modern setting and showing how society has changed. For example, while people aren’t going around swinging cloves of garlic at one another, it makes eating a Thai salad something of a risky endeavour.

But as much as it’s about vampires and fantastic powers, it’s really about being human. The Radleys are all perfectly nice people and just want to be accepted in their community but allowed to have a private life. They feel love and hate and envy and pride like the rest of us, but the primary difference, aside from the blood-sucking, seems to be that they have to deal with a lot more temptation. All the characters are tempted throughout the novel, mostly by the thought of renegading on their promise to live a blood-free life, but for other reasons too. Peter is tempted by a flirtatious neighbour, and Helen is tempted with memories of her past that have recently come back in ways she had never dreamed.

I expected gore, and I expected wonder, and I got both, but I didn’t expect such a charming tale of a family who simply want to be allowed to live. A disarmingly sweet novel for anyone who feels their family is a bit weird.

“Stitches” by Tom Reimann (2012)

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Now, this won't hurt a bit.

Now, this won’t hurt a bit.

“People don’t usually remember their dreams, as is my understanding, but one time when I was about ten or twelve I had a dream about a skeleton bear that I will never forget.”

While I do sometimes enjoy a heavy book that will let me sink my teeth into it and entertain me for a week or so, there’s a lot to be said for a book that can be breezed through in a couple of hours. They’re no less interesting or important, but sometimes they feel like breathers, mere day trips into fictional worlds that require just a light bag, rather than packing a few suitcases.

At just over 120 pages, Stitches is perfect for a quick jaunt. Self-published by Tom Reimann, I can’t for the life of me remember where I found out about it from, but nonetheless I did and have just set about reading it. This is the story of Pete, Auger and Jill. Pete and Auger are roommates, but Pete is continually freaked out by Auger and his way of never quite making eye contact. He’s never seen inside Auger’s bedroom, and prefers to communicate by pushing notes under the door than ever daring to knock. Jill works with Pete at a local sandwich shop, and the two might have feelings for each other, but they try not to talk about them.

Pete hates his job and idly dreams of one day getting stabbed at work, not fatally, but badly enough that he can claim a massive payout and never have to go back. When he happens to share this idea with Auger one day, he does so without really thinking about it. Had he not considered the fact that his roommate has just purchased a huge chest freezer, occasionally comes down to dinner with blood on his clothes, and claims to be a medical student but never seems to attend classes, he might not have been so quick to share up his secrets…

First up, do not read this book while you’re eating. I’m not going to go into details here, but as you may be able to tell from the introduction above, Auger is not exactly normal, and some of the scenes depicted here are quite graphic. The writing is good, though, and very realistic on the issue of what is physically happening, but the psychological implications of what’s going on aren’t explored quite so deeply. The characters are more than two-dimensional, certainly, but there remains a certain something about them that makes them not quite realistic. Perhaps it’s Jill’s quick recovery after she cuts herself too deeply one night, or how everyone reacts to events once Auger’s bedroom has been seen.

The plot also jumps around a little too disjointedly, with sections from the viewpoint of the three main characters, as well as an omniscient third-person narrator. Generally these changes are marked well, but sometimes it catches you off guard. It also leaps here and there in time, too, and you find out things in the wrong order, sometimes leading to some confusion. The characters also seem to have different audiences; Pete is talking as if to a friend, Jill seems to be penning a diary or a letter, and Auger appears to be writing himself notes, or perhaps also a diary.

It’s not a bad book, and I applaud the mind that can create something so dark, though I might also have to worry about it a little bit. But not too much, as I’ve written gore into my own work. Give it a go if you like your stories dark and disturbing, but don’t come here expecting flowers and kittens.