Shalini Boland has a natural gift for story-telling; her voice is vivid, alive and infectious; her narrative has drive and impetus, making it hard toShalini Boland has a natural gift for story-telling; her voice is vivid, alive and infectious; her narrative has drive and impetus, making it hard to put down. WWII evacuation left its mark on a whole generation; some had it good, many did not. The twist in the tale here is how Nathan from the present is drawn into Jimmy’s world from the past – while there is terror, drama and darkness, there is also humour and impishness, reaching a highly satisfying, well-thought out climax without ever cloying it with sentimentality. A Shirtful of Frogs combines fact with fiction in a deeply compelling way, and deserves to join ranks with the likes of the Children of Green Knowe, Tom’s Midnight Garden, The Ogre Downstairs and many other children’s classics, old and new. Having said that, it is a book for all ages and would make an excellent film. ...more
London-based Detective Inspector Chaudhuri is thrown into a whole new world when gruesome murders on his patch are linked with equally gruesome ones oLondon-based Detective Inspector Chaudhuri is thrown into a whole new world when gruesome murders on his patch are linked with equally gruesome ones on the Isle of Wight. His wits, urbanity and charm are put to the test by a case that at times has the feel of a satanic or pagan rite– and what is it he sees in the forest ? There are standing stones, witchcraft and spiritualism, on top of apparently mindless murders – and yet, once Inspector Chaudhuri begins tapping the surface, he discovers how much more lies underneath the respectable facade of a small island community than anyone could have guessed. The pace never lets up from page one, and the reader is kept guessing in true Christiesque tradition right up to the end. The author draws the reader into as wicked a dance as any Devil’s Trill ever played; the turn of phrase, the occasional wantonness and odd twist of plot: all are delivered expertly with the aplomb of a cheeky wink. There is more to this tale however, than the act of the crime: there is a study of the underbelly of society; whether behind closed doors or hanging out on the washing line – Inspector Frost himself would not feel out of place here, although even he might succumb to an attack of the heebie-jeebies, for this is also a very haunting place indeed…. A spooky island, a satisfactory number of corpses, a charming detective and a range of strongly drawn characters, evocative of a Käthe Kollwitz drawing; L.Clayton has wielded a literary stick of charcoal, combining that same unflinching grasp of reality with deftness and lightness of touch – all served up with a dash of humour . This has edginess, raw energy and a chillingly depicted atmosphere, topped off with eery warnings at a séance – indeed, the Phantom of Death is keenly felt throughout. Classic meets Modern in this unsettling, vivid crime thriller, the first of many (one hopes) to come. ...more
The Gothic novel, at once relished and ridiculed, proved immensely popular throughout the late 18th and 19th centuries, and with the occasional declinThe Gothic novel, at once relished and ridiculed, proved immensely popular throughout the late 18th and 19th centuries, and with the occasional decline, remains as much-read as ever if the current rate of vampire novels on the market is anything to go by. Amongst the morass of average tales of horror, however, an occasional gem is struck upon; a tale which combines chilling narrative with convincing period voice, written in fluent Decadent style: such is The Portrait of Alatiel Salazar.
Many cultural threads are drawn together in this recreation of the Decadent and the Aesthetic, from Sheridan Le Fanu’s Camilla, through Bram Stoker’s Vlad-inspired Dracula to Oscar Wilde’s Dorian Gray – all depicting some form of feeding or nourishment, taken from those surrounding the main character, whether physically, emotionally or spiritually. The Decadents embraced the idea of the night people, opiate laden, heavy lidded, often consumptive, their faces preserved on canvas – Rossetti’s women in their trance-like state, Burne Jones with his models gazing into the distance in his dreamlike evocations of an age gone past, the dark-ringed eyes of Klimt’s women, hinting at unhealthy, hidden existences, crawling out after dark in their search for energy and life-force, an escape from ennui; they are to be found also in the more disturbing of Beardsley’s drawings, or the highly dramatic finesse of Harry C. Clarke or John Austen. Outwardly, Alatiel might be one of the Pre-Raphaelite’s models, between Maria Zambaco and Lizzie Siddal – and similarly she is taken up as a model by a group of young artists. Inwardly however, there is a void, a bottomless pit, constantly seeking out fresh sources of life, new psyches to consume.
From subtle to shocking back to subtle, this is the imagery evoked by Portrait of Alatiel Salazar: of brooding menace, of a night-existence, of a being who eats up the energy of others, vampire-like, in order to survive – yet still this is a different creation from the gothic monsters that have gone before. Poe might have created this....more
For those who enjoy tales from the likes of M. R. James, Sheridan le Fanu, this is a novel set to follow in their footsteps as a modern classic. An amFor those who enjoy tales from the likes of M. R. James, Sheridan le Fanu, this is a novel set to follow in their footsteps as a modern classic. An ambitious and wide-spanning plot combined with many good traditional ingredients which are then given a neat twist in the mixture : genus loci, a house filled with memories and under threat from a greedy inheritor, books with characters that decide to act for themselves, a Faustian element and much, much more . . . There is a drawing together of many threads here, of legend, myth and classic ghost tales, all rounded off with a terrifying climax. Strong imagery and character delineation, and a deft weaving of fiction with fact: Rex Beaumont's short stories have a chilling way of acting themselves out in real life. Enough of that, those wishing to know more must read to find out. Some of my favourite scenes include the Whispering Priest, the Recording Angel and Watchful Avenger and the mysterious, elusive Vincent Bonaccord. Just the kind of book to curl up with on a wintry evening; I hope to see it do well. ...more
A nameless city , a vanished travelling circus, elephants and a detective with wet socks; a maverick of a book. Mr Charles Unwin, a clerk working at ThA nameless city , a vanished travelling circus, elephants and a detective with wet socks; a maverick of a book. Mr Charles Unwin, a clerk working at The Agency of Detection, is catapulted one morning to the elevated position of detective – one of the top operatives of the Agency, Sivart, is missing and it is up to Unwin to trace his whereabouts. He has no sooner started when another detective, Lamech is found dead at his own desk; Unwin is quickly framed for his murder, and so under pressure begins his search into very uncertain territory, equipped with his umbrella, bicycle, wet socks and a copy of The Manual of Detection – of which the last chapter is missing.
Things take a twist for the unexpected when he finds himself communicating with Sivart through dreams; indeed there is much dreaming and sleepwalking in this rainy, urbanised landscape where radio and typewriter hold reign (television and cinema are notably absent); it is a sinister, nameless Wonderland, or Looking-Glass world gone noir, a surreal dreamland where people inhabit each other’s sleeping hours. Unwin is led – or detects his way – through this world in a series of mildly mad episodes to re-examine Sivart’s earlier cases. He discovers errors, deception, double identities, he is misled and occasionally tricked into traps, he finds allies and enemies in unexpected quarters; - and therein lies one of the main qualities of this book : the quality of surprise, which trips up the unsuspecting reader all the way to the final pages.
Scattered throughout the dry, unsettling, near mystic narrative are entertaining eccentricities – an able female assistant who falls asleep mid-sentence and snores, a nameless man with a blonde beard who types relentlessly every time he sees Unwin, the stunning and lame Cleo Greenwood with a talent for lulling people to sleep – while the Cases themselves offer delightfully whimsical names :‘The Three Deaths of Colonel Baker’, ‘The Man who Stole November 12th’‘The Oldest Murdered Man’– but nothing is unplanned in this beguiling detective mystery.
It has been compared to Kafka – I would add there is an Orwellian theme of watchers and the watched, only in this case the reader is taken down another path, one that diverts as much as it distracts, with an imagery that recalls Rendez-vous BelleVille and Dr Parnassus. Does the resolution of a bizarre set of puzzles help lift the soggy atmosphere, free Unwin from his predicament and his damp socks, and most importantly, does it stop raining ? No spoilers here – but it is certainly worth reading to find out. All in all an absorbing, intriguing if at times disquieting read, meticulously planned and very entertaining with a colourful flourish at the end. ...more