Posted in Damp Pebbles Tour

Your Friend Forever by Zena Barrie.

I was thrown back into a time warp with this book from Zena Barrie, because I was almost the same age as Maud at the same time. In the early eighties I was given my first cassette player and I loved Adam and the Ants – it think it was the same year I was given a stage make up kit so I could paint the white stripe across my face, although it didn’t have the same effect on an adolescent girl. I understood completely the place that Maud found herself in, a turbulent time at home and no one to talk to, plus being fascinated by a musician for the first time. I used to get Smash Hits and cut out lyrics and photos to collage on my note books. Maud picks up a pen and paper and writes to the lead singer of her favourite band Horsefly. While the family carries on with their own drama, Maud is asking Tom what to make of it, but also some of the bigger questions in life. Will her Mum and Dad get back together? Are teachers naturally clever people? Is her teacher Mr Hanson really having a wank in the stationery cupboard?

The author has that brilliant skill of making us laugh on one hand, while also being incredibly poignant at the same time. It reminded me of Sue Townsend and her wonderful teenage diarist Adrian Mole who manages to be hilariously funny while also worrying about life’s dramas that keep going on all around him. It’s not all fun for Maud as her Dad leaves, they can’t afford much so she’s often hungry, and the house is damp. Her clothes aren’t always washed and sometimes they don’t fit. Her mum is really struggling with depression, which comes across from her appearance and lack of care. The school don’t notice, which is so upsetting, although safeguarding in 1980 was different to the stringent regulations schools abide by now. Neglect is a very hard thing to call or prove, but terrible for the child involved. Yet through it all Maud is her charming, funny and endlessly questioning self. Not that she wants to make these enquiries of her friend Sarah, because she’s bound to get an answer that revolves around sex. In between there are snippets of interviews and exchanges of Tom’s that show us Maud really has very little idea about how a young music star would behave or spend his time.

We then jump to 2011 where Maud is 43 and married with two children. Tom meanwhile, is still trying to revive his career. Is Maud his only fan though? She begins corresponding with him again and I loved the brilliant way the author has written the narrative of a middle- aged woman, but with the same character that we’ve got to know from her teens. She’s still so open and confessional, but with some wisdom and experience. Tom is her sounding board, her journal, the person who has been there all the time. He hasn’t ‘known’ her, but she feels that connection, because he’s heard all her teenage secrets she’s held nothing back. In the same way she did as a girl, Maud uses her letters to Tom to understand herself and to stay sane in difficult times. The most poignant thing about her letters are that she hasn’t yet lost hope that things will get better. I think people will enjoy this, especially those who remember their teenage years with fondness.

Meet The Author.

Zena Barrie lives in Manchester and runs the Greater Manchester Fringe and the Camden Fringe. She ran the Kings Arms pub and Theatre in Salford for a while and also the Etcetera Theatre in Camden, as well as working in a wide variety of roles at the Edinburgh Fringe (from street performer to venue manager). In the 90s she did a degree in Drama and Theatre Arts specialising in playwriting. Up until recently she has been co-hosting the award winning spoken word night Verbose. She is also one half of performance art duo The Sweet Clowns. Your Friend Forever is her first novel. @ZenaBarrie

Posted in Damp Pebbles Tour

Charity by Madeline Dewhurst.

I’m aware that blog tours have been a subject for discussion this month: giving them up; wondering whether they are a true reflection of a book; or might they be disappearing altogether? I enjoy them because I get to read outside my comfort zone, and then bring a great book like this, that might not have been noticed otherwise, to my follower’s attention. This was definitely the case with Charity, because I might not have encountered it in my normal reading life, but now I can tell you just how good it is and hope that some of you love it as much as I did.

Our narrator is Lauren, a teenage girl who is being interviewed as a potential lodger and carer for an elderly lady named Edith. The two get along, bonding over their experiences of Kenya where Lauren’s grandmother was born and where Edith’s husband Forbes was stationed in the 1950s, during what became known as the Mau Mau uprising. This was a war between the colonisers and the Kenya Land and Freedom Army (the KLFA also known as the Mau Mau). This was a bitter fight for independence from the British by the KLFA, made up of Kikuyu, Meru and Embu people, as well as a small proportion of Masai and Kamba tribesmen. There were war crimes on both sides, but at the end of the war there were over 11,000 dead on the Mau Mau side, including over 1000 executions – the largest use of wartime capital punishment in the British Empire’s history. That’s not to mention the atrocities carried out on women, in a conflict where rape was deliberately used as a means to diminish tribal bloodlines with British blood.

Lauren works on a high street make-up counter and had been running out of places to live, since her Mum is getting remarried to someone she doesn’t get on with. She and Edith seems to rub along together nicely. So, Lauren moves into the spare room and starts caring for her. I love how the relationship between these two women works, as they have such diverse views. Edith is a staunch right winger whose views would really raise eyebrows these days. So, in the present day passages, there are a few clashes. There are statements from Edith that many would find offensive.

‘I’m sure I’m the last of their priorities. If you want to get to the top of the queue you have to be a Muslim who doesn’t speak any English, or a gay lesbian woman, then you’ll get seen straightaway.’

‘Oh, Edith, you crack me up, the things you come out with.’ Lauren shook her head and laughed. ‘I don’t think people’s religion or sexuality show up in X-rays.’

When they do talk about Kenya, and eventually Forbes, Lauren listens intently. At turns interested and horrified by the perspective he clearly brought home with him. Edith’s perspective affects Lauren so personally because of her grandmother. When Lauren suggests that Edith’s family were economic migrants, only in Kenya to make a better life for themselves, Edith strongly dismisses it, declaring Kenya had ‘nothing’ before white farmers arrived. Lauren is incensed.

‘There wasn’t ‘nothing’ there. There was people, living differently to how English people lived, but it was still their land – land the English colonists stole off them. I mean, imagine if I suddenly told you this was my house now, that you’re just a squatter and if you want to stay you’ve got to work for me, obey my orders.’ I thought I’d gone too far, but instead of making her angry, what I’d said seemed to excite Edith. She was looking at me weirdly, kind of like she was in awe of me. ‘Have you been talking to Mary?’

It seems that both women have secrets. Mary was Edith’s friend, but she now visits her at night, creeping into the bedroom and up the bed. Edith is sometimes so scared of her she can’t sleep. What could have happened between them? We do travel back in time to find out, following Edith’s childhood in Kenya as well as Forbes’s service in the army, and a young Kenyan woman named Charity. Charity is just a young girl, caught, accidentally out after curfew, and put into a prison camp where she meets a brutal British officer. There is bloodshed and sexual violence in these flashbacks. It’s harrowing at times, but necessary for us to see why this period of Kenyan history and the brutality of the colonisers, still resonates so strongly generations later.

Two other characters are brought into the present day section of the novel: Paul, who is Edith’s lodger in the basement flat and Jo her daughter. Jo is back from running a new age retreat in Europe and is probably the best example of white privilege I’ve seen in a long time. She has no concept of how her life is easier, because she is from financially stable parents, but also because she is white. She assumes that her mother will have her living there, that the house will be hers as soon as Edith has gone, and that she’s automatically prised by her mother above Lauren and Paul, even though she’s never been there for her mother. However, when Edith’s lawyer visits she’s soon disabused, of her assumptions. Paul seems to have watched over Edith for some time, supporting her with financial decisions and stepping in when she needs help. Once all the characters are in play, some very big secrets start to emerge and we begin to see how all of them are linked by one incident sixty years ago.

It’s very hard to believe that this is Madeline Dewhurst’s first novel. It’s a brilliant read and once you’re hooked, it will be so hard to put it down. I couldn’t wait and finished it in the wee small hours of the morning, following every twist and turn. The author has a great understanding of post-colonial cultures and how the atrocities inflicted by the British empire still resonate in those countries we colonised, but also here at home. I studied post-colonial literature over twenty years ago at university. It is stories like these that remind me why I feel sick when crowds at the Albert Hall sing Land of Hope and Glory at the Last Night of the Proms. This isn’t just a harmless song – it extols the virtues of empire, invokes God as being on the coloniser’s side and suggests that the boundaries of empire should spread further still. It calls Great Britain ‘the mother of the free’ but that freedom is only open to the coloniser not the colonised. This novel shows the impact of the British Empire on one family, with it’s malign influence still felt three generations later. I truly enjoyed this as a thriller, where you’re never quite sure who is the spider and who is the fly. I also loved the honest and brutal way the British Army’s rule in Kenya is depicted, tainting the lives of everyone involved across time. Finally, there is a glimmer of hope as to how this trauma can be addressed and resolved for the future.

Meet The Author.

Madeline Dewhurst is an academic in English and Creative Writing at the Open University. Her previous writing includes fiction, journalism and drama. Charity, which was longlisted for the Bath Novel Award, is her first novel.

Posted in Damp Pebbles Tour

A Mirror Murder by Helen Hollick.

Today, as part of the Damp Pebbles blog tour, I’m sharing an extract from A Mirror Murder by Helen Hollick.


Life After School

Murder, when I was a naïve sixteen-year-old, was very firmly in my uncle and guardian, DCI Toby Christopher’s domain, not mine. But two years after leaving school, in the summer of 1971, a brutal murder was to change my life. For a second time.

    It is not the amount of blood pooling over the black and white linoleum, nor its copper-tang smell that clings, these many years later, to my mind or occasionally haunts a restless dream. The other smells are also there – but I’ll not dwell on those for the sake of the victim’s dignity. It is the hollow emptiness of the house that I remember. That stilled quietness, as if the place was suspended on pause, holding its breath – waiting. Waiting for the lonely coldness of death to be discovered, for the stunned silence to be disturbed by those who, by necessity, must intrude…

* * *

As a shy schoolgirl, I knew little of the world, my priority being to not make a fool of myself. Insecurities matter when you are an awkward teenager about to be let loose from the sanctimonious boredom of a girls’ school into the unknown of the grown-up world. My careers talk, in that final term of 1969, did little to boost my fragile confidence:

“What do you want to do when you leave school, January?” 

I had sat, staring blankly at the two prim schoolmistresses. No one except those in ‘authority’, or girls who didn’t like me (the feeling was mutual), called me ‘January’. To my family and friends I was Jan. Jan Christopher. I frequently cursed the day I was born because that was why I had been lumbered with such a stupid Christian name. My identical twin and I came several weeks too early, on the last day of January 1953, so we were named for the months we were conceived and born. I got January because I arrived first, my twin got June. I guess it could have been worse: hard to shorten February into a respectable-sounding nickname. 

June had died when we were three years old. I can only remember hearing incessant crying in a darkened room. She – we – had been ill. I don’t know what with, we never talked about it. I survived. She didn’t.

So, there I was, a gawky lass who hid behind her curtain of long, non-descript brown hair, trying my best not to be noticed by the girls who had confidence (the bullies), being asked by two teachers what I wanted to do with my life after I finally escaped the long, tortuous, horrid, lonely, hell years at school. (I’m paraphrasing.) I had no idea. My only ambition was to write. I was always writing, but real authors, I thought, were clever, intellectual people who went to university and got degrees and things. I had three minor exam credits: even obtaining those had been a miracle.

Reading was my other passion. Characters in books were more reliable than so-called friends who sashayed arm-in-arm with you around the playground one day, then stabbed you in the back the next. I preferred to retreat into fictional worlds. Even the ‘baddies’ of fiction were better friends than the spiteful two-faced trash of the ‘frilly-knicker brigade’.

As for that unhelpful careers talk: “I want to write,” I had mumbled to the two teachers.

“But you like reading, don’t you, January? I think a library is the best place for you.”

Which is why I found myself shelving books at the Branch Library in South Chingford, a north London suburb on the edge of Essex, where I was born and raised. And two years after leaving school I was still there, shelving books at the same library. (Although I had soon discovered not to be quite so quick about it.)

“Old Mrs Norris is in again, I see.” I said as I gave the empty book trolley a shove with my hip to roll it into its parking bay behind the counter. “I wonder what coupons she’ll cut from the paper today?”

Mrs Norris was a regular. She tottered in on the dot of a quarter past six every evening that we were open, a faded pink beret perched atop her grey hair, a red, string shopping bag always containing a small packet of McVitie’s digestive biscuits in her left hand, and an old black, plastic handbag, that was meant to look like leather, dangling from the crook of her right elbow. She looked about ninety, but from her library registration card, was only in her early seventies. She would heave her way through the wood and glass entrance door – a wretched thing on the inside of a small, square, lobby. Even us younger ones had a job to push that monster open and get through without it snapping at our heels as it swung back.

The old dear would smile at us, wave hello, and shuffle off to the carpeted reading area over in the upper left-hand corner of the single storey library. There, she would settle herself on one of the comfortable armchairs, nibble at her biscuits, (Caretaker Bert always moaned, because they left crumbs everywhere), and peruse the newspapers. She always left again at five minutes to eight, just before closing. The only thing different to when she had arrived, the packet of biscuits would be empty and all the supermarket discount food coupons would be neatly cut from the tabloid papers.

We knew that Mrs Norris was pilfering the coupons, but did it matter? She was obviously poor, and came into the library each evening to eat her biscuits in the warm, using our lighting and heating rather than her own. 

Approaching closing time was often a strain, depending on how busy we were. Inevitably, someone rushed in during the last ten minutes, determined to choose the right book to read, and taking ages about it. 

I glanced again at the clock. Was it moving? It didn’t look like it! 

Seven-forty. I heaved a few more returned books on to the trolley and looked up to see Mrs Norris leaving in a flustered hurry. How odd. She never left early. 

“Are you all right?” I called, but I don’t think she heard, because she merely muttered, “Oh dear, oh dear,” as she hauled her way through the equally as obnoxious ‘Out’ door. I noticed that she still had the packet of biscuits in her bag, along with the entire Daily Mirror newspaper, which annoyed me a little as it had an article about one of the ex-Beatles, which I’d wanted to read all day, but hadn’t found the chance.

It was Friday evening, looked like it was about to pour with rain, and I had a twenty-five-minute walk home, or a wait, equally as long, for the bus. But tomorrow was Saturday, my one-in-three weekends off. A whole two days to myself. 

Or so I thought.

A Mirror Murder © Helen Hollick

Helen Hollick.
Posted in Damp Pebbles Tour

Captain Clive’s Dreamworld by John Bassoff.

After becoming the suspect in the death of a young woman, Deputy Sam Hardy is reassigned to the town of Angels and Hope, which, within its borders, holds the once magnificent amusement park, Captain Clive’s Dreamworld. When he arrives, however, Hardy notices some strange happenings. The park is essentially empty of customers. None of the townsfolk ever seem to sleep. And girls seem to be going missing with no plausible explanation. As Hardy begins investigating, his own past is drawn into question by the town, and he finds himself becoming more and more isolated. The truth—about the town and himself—will lead him to understand that there’s no such thing as a clean escape.

This is such an incredible mix of genres and influences! I’ve seen so many suggestions but for me at different times I felt: The Truman Show, Hot Fuzz, Black Mirror and 1984. Every so often a little lightning strike of recognition would occur – such as everyone denying someone’s presence or dropping strange sayings like ‘the greater good’ – and my brain would fire off into a film or TV series. I also think it’s no coincidence that a lot of these references are visual. This book grabbed hold of my visual memory and didn’t let go. It also felt like a cautionary tale, bringing up some of the same points as Russell T. Davies’s Years and Years. It read as a warning against rampant consumerism and the sort of faux nostalgia people cling to that made Brexit happen in the U.K. I find it strange that a book with so many points of recognition still managed to feel entirely unique.

At first, Sam thinks Angels and Hope seems like a lovely place to live. Almost idyllic. At the centre of this community is the amusement park Captain Clive’s Dreamworld; the town was built to house staff of the park. It’s motto is ‘Where dreams really do come true’ and you could be forgiven for thinking they have. Sam isn’t the average man though, and he starts to notice anomalies. No one ever seems to visit the amusement park for a start, so why are the staff necessary? There’s also the problem of Bridget Bishop, a girl that no one else in the town seems to remember now she’s gone missing. Or maybe they can remember her but are denying her existence? This is the last straw for Sam and he starts to investigate what’s really going on in the village. This is where the book becomes very disturbing, in a couple of scenes that are unexpected and disturbing. However they do seem to fit what I know about Bassoff’s writing, he likes to mash-up genres and expectations. The scenes are also in-keeping with the idea that seems to be the undercurrent of this novel; life is unexpected, our place in it is total chance.

Bassoff seems to be posing the idea that we like to create myths and religions in order to give life pattern and purpose, but they are an illusion. Real life doesn’t seem to have any sense to it and we’re so scared by that, we have to create philosophies that make sense of it. When something terrible happens there is an emotional seismic shock in society, in my lifetime that’s probably 9/11 or the death of Princess Diana. Then, conspiracy theories spring up around the event. People would rather believe a shadowy conspiracy of men in grey, headed up by the Duke of Edinburgh arranged Diana’s death. This is more palatable then a Princess was driven at high speed, by a man who’d been drinking, only to die in a tragic car accident while being pursued by paparazzi. Having watched a bit of David Lynch over the years I was reminded of some of his work. In Twin Peaks we had the beautiful Laura Palmer who is found dead in the river wrapped in plastic and a beautiful town goes into mourning for its Homecoming Queen. However, as people slowly begin to tell their stories it’s clear that this town didn’t know the reality of being Laura Palmer. She was addicted to cocaine, suffering from sexual abuse and sleeping with most of men or women she came into contact with. I remember being quite disturbed by the scenes from the night Laura is killed and her cousin Maddie. This book does the same as Lynch’s work on Twin Peaks and in films like Blue Velvet. Places have a surface, but underneath there’s a dark underbelly that most people never see. So, the revealing scenes are disturbing, but they are also needed for the story being told. The surface story of this book is disgraced cop is moved to a small town with an amusement park promising dreams that come true. Dig a little deeper and we find something terrible.This is far from a world where dreams come true, unless your dreams are nightmares.

Posted in Damp Pebbles Tour

Twenty Years A Stranger by Deborah Twelves

Lies do not erase the truth, they simply delay it’s discovery.

This turned out to be quite a difficult read for me, because I spent some time in a relationship with someone who had narcissistic personality disorder. By the end of our relationship I was thousand of pounds in debt and had found out he had been trying to bully a vulnerable member of my family into an affair. It was like we’d been living totally separate lives, with his only intent to further his own interests and leave my confidence in tatters. I felt like I’d had a relationship with someone who didn’t exist. Years of gaslighting had left me doubting my own experience, my version of events and even my ability to make decisions. I thought this novel explained the concepts of narcissism and gaslighting very well and I think the accuracy is down to this being a true story at heart. The author wanted get this right for other survivors. I think she did a great job.

The style took me a while to settle into, but once I did I found it hard to put down – mainly because I was furious with this man. I needed him to be found out and get his come- uppance. The story is told through the narratives of several different women, each of them having an intense relationship with a man. What soon becomes clear is that all of these women are talking about the same man and the breath-taking audacity of his schemes start to become clear. This is not just an emotional catastrophe waiting to happen, it’s a financial disaster too.

Deborah Twelves

This man uses each women’s personality and vulnerabilities to his advantage. His wife of twenty years, Grace, wants to have a child but he is not at all keen, so their relationship follows a pattern of arguments followed by him buying something to keep her quiet. These gifts range from a puppy to a an incredibly expensive Portuguese horse for dressage and holidays in St Barths. All I kept thinking was ‘how on earth is he paying for these things?’ They are already over-leveraged thanks to a house purchase that his wife has sunk all her cash into – he had promised to pay her back as soon as a big deal came through at work. They’ve also bought a barge, which was meant to be somewhere quirky and fun to live temporarily while the house was renovated. Now he doesn’t want to let go of it. There is barely any cash left, and at least one family member has voiced their doubt that he will ever pay her back.

With Jane, who he finds via an online dating app, he presents himself as the busy businessman, travelling all over the country. They have sex on the first date and he seems to sense in this woman, someone who will be manipulated or even exploited. From a light smack during sex, he is soon initiating her into bondage, role play, and creating videos. She seems willing to do anything to keep him, even going one further than Grace and getting passed his ‘no children’ rule by throwing her contraceptive pills away. She figures that if she’s the mother of his child, she will have more of a hold on him and his many assets. In fact, she’s clever enough to start working on getting some of those assets into her name – so he can hide them from Grace should he ever leave. What Jane and Grace don’t know is that there’s also a Lorraine, and a woman in America who already has a daughter with a man she knows as Matthew. His cheating is international. It only takes one woman to find out about the others. To take action and expose everything. Then Daniel/Matthew’s house of cards really will collapse. This reckoning comes in an email, informing the others of his deceitful ways. From here, each woman behaves very differently and I found myself desperate, particularly for Grace, that Daniel would pay.

I really did recognise some of the tactics used by Daniel in his fight to keep his assets. My ex also sought to represent himself in court and when it wasn’t going his way claimed to have been too mentally ill to represent himself and wanted to overturn the proceedings. He withheld his agreement on certain things to try and get me to pay off his debts. When he was diagnosed with a narcissistic personality disorder, it was not a surprise. One thing I learned in therapy after this relationship was that the only way to deal with a narcissist is to ignore them, keep any direct contact minimal and assert a right to privacy in all legal matters. As a result he never found out where I moved to, I had to cut off mutual friends and avoid social media. I soon realised any contact lead to attempts to manipulate, gaslight and cause harm. It took a long time to de-program myself and start to trust other people and even my own judgement. This man had come along when I was a widow, I was vulnerable and I had money. It turns out this was a pattern, and the women before me and after me were also widows. Therapy really helped me understand how to deal with him during the divorce and why he had been able to manipulate me the way he did. I had to realise my role in the relationship, why I’d accepted his behaviour and why I’d stayed.

Grace needed to have the same advice and support. Any attention from her, even negative attention, would feed his ego. I really wanted one of the women to realised just how dangerous he really was. The money would be nothing next to the sense of freedom gained from simply walking away and starting afresh. I felt that the writer really captured Grace’s pain and bewilderment at what was happening, whereas the other women felt less fleshed out. They mainly existed as a counterpoint to Grace – the main woman in his life. One of the creepiest things for me was when she visited one of Daniel’s other women and found the house an exact replica of her own, they even had the same type of dog. I found the response of Grace’s friends very true to life – it’s amazing, once the deception comes to light, how many people admit they never liked your partner or suspected he wasn’t all he seemed. In this case friends had noticed his bragging and arrogance, the dodgy business practices and the fact that they never really seemed to know what he did for a living. Grace is shocked to find out that most of their social circle only tolerated Daniel for her sake. Would she have listened if they’d said something sooner?

I won’t reveal the ending, but will admit to a bit of a surprise when the truth of Daniel’s business came to light. Whereas a lot of the book felt more like a memoir – someone conversationally recounting their experience – the ending felt more like fiction, perhaps a case of wish fulfilment in some way? I think there were areas where characterisation could have been better and where I wanted to be shown a place or experience rather than being told about it. I think in this case the most successful parts were the ending, the experience of sailing and Grace’s time spent with her animals in the country. In these parts I felt really immersed in Grace’s experience and they felt the most real. I hope that the author gained some closure in writing the book, because as a writing therapist I can really understand the healing that comes from putting your experience on paper and even from imagining different endings to the story. It’s a fascinating study in coercive control and psychological abuse in general. I kept hearing Grace wondering why there was no legal punishment for Daniel’s treatment of her and I remember feeling the same rage. There is also the concern that this person will move on and do it all over again. The Government published guidance on coercive control and emotional abuse in 2012, but it took till 2015 to bring this guidance into law. I have no doubt that had this law been available, Grace could have easily provided enough evidence of emotional abuse to take the case to court. Whether this would have made her feel better, I’m not sure. However, books like these, relating the experience, can raise awareness of just how damaging it can be.

Meet The Author

Follow this link to an interview with Deborah Twelves.

Deborah Twelves was born in Sheffield, but raised in Ponteland, Northumberland. She studied French and Spanish at Edinburgh University and taught languages for some years while living in France, Spain and Northern Quebec. She now divides her time between her  home in Pwllheli, on the Llyn Peninsula of North Wales and her family home in Northumberland but often travels abroad. She has a black Labrador called Nala and a black Lusitano horse called Recurso (Ric), who take up a lot of her spare time, although yacht racing, which she began at an early age with her father, remains her great passion.

Deborah has written many articles for the sailing press over the years and Twenty Years a Stranger is her debut novel, based on true events in her life.

It is the first book in the Stranger Trilogy. The other two books, Ghost of a Stranger and The Boy Stranger will follow soon.

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Published in paperback and digital formats by Fortis Publishing on 27th July 2020

Posted in Damp Pebbles Tour

Not The Deaths Imagined by Anne Pettigrew.

#DampPebblesTours #NTDI #NotTheDeathsImagined #BlogTour

What I love most about book blogging is that I often come across books that I wouldn’t have found any other way. This novel is one of these. I’ve never read Anne Pettigrew before, but when the synopsis found its way to me for this tour I thought I would enjoy it. This is her second novel, categorised as ‘medical noir’ and although I haven’t read the previous one, it didn’t stop me enjoying this. Dr Beth Semple is a GP in a small practice in Edinburgh, as well as a wife and mother to two teenage girls. Her husband Ralph is a Professor of General Practice and they have one of the busiest households I have ever encountered in a novel! One afternoon Beth is telephoned by an associated practice and asked to visit the surgery to carry out the second section of a cremation form. Unusually, there has been a sudden death in the surgery that morning, recorded as an MI (myocardial infarction or heart attack). However, when she arrives at the other practice, she is uneasy about signing the form. She notices that the secretary and Dr Goodman’s accounts differ slightly, but also it doesn’t sound like a heart attack. On visiting the funeral director’s to view the body Beth notices what looks like injection sites and when Monty the funeral director tells her it isn’t Dr Goodman’s first sudden death during a routine appointment her mind is made up. She won’t sign the form and sets in motion the process for a post-mortem. The repercussions at work are huge because Dr Goodman pulls out of their pooled weekend rota and Beth’s senior partner is furious. Even more disturbing, over the coming weeks, are the series of dropped phone calls, poison pen letters and an attempt to poison their dog. Soon, Beth and her family, are caught up in a possible case of medical malpractice and even murder, and the consequences could be deadly.

The author created a great sense of place and time with her backdrop of 1990s Edinburgh. The little snippets of Scottish dialect brought a sense of warmth and grounded these characters within their world. Thanks to her 31 years of experience as a doctor, the author has first hand knowledge of the type of medical jargon used in Beth’s workplace, at home with husband Ralph, and with their large group of friends. There’s a great sense of camaraderie between this group and this comes from being at university together – covered in the first book. They’re likeable people, intelligent, friendly and all struggling to juggle their lives which was very relatable. Although, I would be exhausted if I adopted their work and social calendars. I kept wondering why the characters were so full of energy – every weekend was a weekend away, or with friends and family staying. They even take in a dog and cat! Their daughters are also busy, with exams, music practice and Katy’s boyfriend Neil. The surgery felt familiar with its regular patients, from the worried well, to those acutely ill. Although, Beth does observe that they’ve never had a death in the surgery so Dr Goodman’s record does seem strange. When two elderly ladies are found dead, one a friend of Beth’s, she begins her book of unusual events detailing the evidence she has so far. When her car tyres are slashed she does report her concerns to the police, only to find her own professional standards being brought into question.

Interspersed with Beth’s chapters are those written by the killer. It soon becomes clear he is a very disturbed man. In his younger years this man finds that the colour of his skin is a barrier. His father is mixed race and it’s evident that for the doctor this makes him feel impure in some way. He has read up on the latest theories in eugenics and has some abhorrent views on mixed race relationships, as well as an odd relationship with religion. He’s determined to ‘pass’ as white to the extent of bleaching his skin and straightening his hair. Slowly seeing this man’s mind deteriorate is quite chilling, more so as time goes on and we start to see him in his day job, full of charm and old-fashioned bedside manner. The contrast is startling, but there are times when I also found him comical. His crimes become more open and risky. The tension the author creates grows as Beth gets closer to his identity and the reader wonders what lengths he will go to in order to silence her. Where will he go once he has committed his final crimes? Even more concerning to me was how he was going to extricate himself from his family and if they’d ever recover from his psychological abuse and murderous intentions. The help Beth receives in the shape of a warning comes from the last place she expects.

This novel was well written and an interesting read, combining the interesting medical world with malpractice, negligence, and even murder. It’s possibly one of people’s worst fears, that the people who are meant to help and care for us are actually trying to harm instead. I liked that it didn’t talk down to the reader, but expected us to understand complex psychology and subjects like the history of eugenics. It made for an interesting mix when set alongside Beth’s family and busy social life. In fact the light relief of Beth’s normal family routine and their time with friends makes the killer’s narrative even more stark and abnormal. I felt so bad for his family, who are not allowed the freedoms enjoyed by other characters; his teenage son particularly had my sympathy. This is an intelligent thriller, full of interesting characters and with a truly unsettling villain. I enjoyed it immensely and I will be going back to read the first novel in the series.

Posted in Damp Pebbles Tour

The Memories We Bury by H.A. Leuschel

#TheMemoriesWeBury #DampPebblesBlogTours

I wasn’t sure about this book at first, mainly because of the unusual cover. I’m not sure it sells the novel to potential readers, because inside is an engaging and psychologically complex story. Lizzie, a music teacher and pianist, meets the charming and gregarious businessman Markus when he’s in the hotel bar where she plays piano in the evenings. Lizzie is not a natural performer and enjoys being tucked away in the background in this way, as opposed to being a concert pianist. Yet, Markus notices her and soon sweeps her off her feet. She is attracted to him for all those qualities she doesn’t have. However, soon after their whirlwind wedding, Lizzie is pregnant. They move out to a new home in the suburbs and the life they expected to have is gone. Lizzie feels isolated, Markus has changed towards her and her friends are far away. So, when older neighbour Morag attempts to make friends with her, Lizzie reciprocates and soon they are becoming close friends.

I loved the way the author leaves the story open for a little while; as things begin to change between the couple I thought Markus might become psychologically abusive. He seems to want the life of a single man, still visiting bars and restaurants, schmoozing clients. I found myself furious when he missed the birth of his son, then was so nonchalant about it. Luckily, Morag was available, driving to the hospital then holding Lizzie’s hand through the birth. This is the culmination of weeks of planning on Morag’s part. She has wanted to be there for Lizzie and the new baby, laying the groundwork by suggesting shopping trips for baby clothes and checking in on her while Markus is working away. She seems like the ideal surrogate grandparent and that’s definitely what she wants. But why does she want it so bad? We get small hints from Morag’s friend who brings us little warnings about Morag getting too close and hints of trouble within her family.

The author is very adept at creating tension and from this point on I couldn’t put the book down. I started to really dislike Morag. When she goes to Dobbie’s Garden Centre for a meal with her friend, it is after Jamie’s birth and Morag is relating the role she has played. She plays the martyr, claiming that she had to help Lizzie and making out that Markus is totally useless. She represents the situation as if Lizzie has asked for help, rather than the truth which is that Morag has been manipulative and overbearing. She seems to think she can simply decide she will be mother and grandmother to Lizzie and Jamie, and the people concerned will just fall into place. She achieves this through clever manipulation and deception.

The only real thing we can be sure of when it comes to Morag’s previous home life is that it’s shrouded in mystery. We know that she lost Peter, her husband, but their children seem to be spread far and wide. Their son is in Australia, and her daughter Aileen seems to be close by, but estranged from Morag. All of these things arouse suspicion in the reader. However, the skill of the author means the reader has several possibilities to explore. Markus has changed so completely its hard to believe he pursued Lizzie and wanted a married life with her. It’s almost as if he was in pursuit of a prize, and once it’s been attained he becomes bored and moves on to the next challenge. Lizzie begins to wonder what she saw in this man and whether his absences really are due to work. I started to build up a picture of a conman for whom appearances are everything. At the very least he is immature and not ready to be a husband and father.

Morag seems likeable, but when that mask slips there is someone with a serious psychological problem; she is unable to relate to others normally, has no boundaries and seems to be paranoid about someone being in her house. Then there is Lizzie. It is hard to get a real sense of Lizzie because she is constantly silenced. Markus talks over her and makes choices for her. Morag does the same and plants worries and anxieties onto her when she’s at her most vulnerable. There are times when I wonder if she is suffering post-natal depression because she seems to be in a daze, paralysed and unable to take any action for herself. Is there a villain here or is it just an unfortunate set of circumstances? The tension is kept right up to the end and I did find it hard to put the book down at times. This was a pleasant surprise, because the author is totally new to me and I didn’t expect to be so gripped by it. If you enjoy twisty thrillers that really delve into the psychology of relationships then this is the book for you.