This Little Bag of Dreams

O body swayed to music, O brightening glance,/How can we know the dancer from the dance?

Category: Thriller

The People at Number Nine by Felicity Everett

Meet the new neighbours. Whose side are you on?

I have to confess: on first receiving The People at Number Nine, I was worried that I was about to read The Girl on the Train (TGOTT) No. 2.  Not that this is necessarily a bad thing, as I enjoyed TGOTT very much, but it’s hard to miss the number of thrillers which have been released in its wake, as publishers hope to capitalise on the success of its literary forebear.  Thanks are due to Everett, however, who not only has chosen to branch out and use the term ‘The People’, as opposed to ‘The Girl’, in her title, but who has also written an unmistakably great thriller.

What I love about this book is the buzz it has already generated on Twitter (think what will happen come publication day: there will be a whole swarm of booky bees gunning for Gav and Lou, or slagging off Neil and Sara!).  Just last night, I was debating with several people about which side I was on, and it was so interesting to see who supported whom, and the topics which came up: parenting, home education, pretentiousness.

So we have two couples: firstly, Sara and Neil, a copywriter and a housing association CEO respectively.  Secondly, we have Gav and Lou, and their lovable children, Dash, Arlo and Zuleika. (Yes, Zuleika, last seen in the title of a Max Beerbohm novel circa 1910.) Gav and Lou are artists, darling: Gav’s medium is plaster, and possibly paperclips, and Lou’s is short film.  In their favour, they bring joy and vitality to Sara’s and Neil’s lives; previously, the only friends they had were dull Carol and duller Simon.  But that, to me, is their only plus point.  Reader, they are UNBEARABLY pretentious.  Their kids’ names, their jobs, their deliberately shabby house all suggest  that they think they are better than everyone else.  What’s more, they see nothing wrong with using Sara and Neil for free childcare and a loan for Lou’s film, and as a substitute school.  Their behaviour, quite frankly, borders on child abuse at times.  And it gets worse……

Many people have come out and said on Twitter (listen to me, talking about these characters as though they were real!) that they think Sara and Neil are worse people than Gav and Lou.  They feel that the former couple are, in fact, the pretentious ones, whereas at least the latter do not lie about just how crap they are.  But reader, it doesn’t really matter whose side you’re on…..as long as you pick one, and get talking about this book!

My only criticism about The People at Number Nine is that, at times, the writing felt a bit self-conscious.  But otherwise, this is a very fine thriller.

Many thanks to Kate Mills at Story HQ for the review copy.

 

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Blog Tour: Wicked Game by Matt Johnson

  

As Costello watched the scene, he smiled.  It was a twisted, sadistic expression.  The smile of a killer experiencing a cruel sense of satisfaction at a job well done.

I’ve got to be honest: Wicked Game is not a novel I would normally pick up. I think we all have ideas of ourselves when we walk into a bookshop; I tend to head for anything looking quirky and a bit obscure, a bit Iris Murdoch. So I’m really glad that I was asked to read Matt Johnson’s debut novel. Not only did it totally destroy my pretentious, narrow-minded idea of what I ‘should’ be reading, it also allowed me to become more familiar with PTSD, which interests me as I work in and am passionate about mental health.

Wicked Game begins in India, and the setting as well as the style reminded me of an earlier Orenda Books novel I reviewed, The Abrupt Physics of Dying.  Johnson artfully and yet sparsely sets the scene, masters the foul-mouthed conversation of two middle-aged men and, setting the tone for the rest of the novel, throws in a surprise just when you think you know what is about to happen.  Just as you get acquainted with one set of characters at a particular time, the scene switches to another decade and another country.  

I developed quite a fondness for the novel’s protagonist, Bob Findlay. Ex-SAS, he attempts to shed his past and find a role which fits in better with family life, and so he becomes an Inspector in the Met Police. But of course, there is a catch: Findlay’s past is about to come after him.   As not one, but two colleagues from his SAS regiment are murdered, he realises that he is likely to be next. Yet who exactly wants him dead? Is it a forgotten enemy from the Iranian Embassy siege? Is it an MI5 acquaintance? Or is the truth, in fact, much more complicated?

I devoured Wicked Game on a gloriously silent April afternoon.  I hope you too will devour it (even if, like me, you’re a sucker for Iris Murdoch).

Many thanks to Karen Sullivan at Orenda Books for the review copy.