This Little Bag of Dreams

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

Tag: Orenda Books

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.

 

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Blog Tour: The Rise and Fall of the Miraculous Vespas by David F. Ross

  
  

On Christmas Day, 1995, The Miraculous Vespas appeared on the live festive edition of Top of the Pops.  After more than ten years in the musical wilderness, the band’s re-released, remixed debt single ‘It’s a Miracle (Thank You)’, was back in the UK Top Five……

Those of you who have read David Ross’s debut, The Last Days of Disco, will already be familiar with some of the characters in The Rise and Fall of the Miraculous Vespas.  However, Vespas, as it is not a sequel to Disco, but rather a parallel story, can be read independently without prior knowledge of Disco being required.

The novel begins with an interview with the manager of the eponymous band, The Miraculous Vespas, the pretentiously named Max Mojo.  Mojo is certainly the quirkiest character in the novel.  As a result of an attack, he has developed a combination of what appears to be Tourettes and schizo-affective, and is pretty rigid when it comes to control of the band and its image.  In terms of structure, the novel alternates between the band’s infancy in 1982 and the interview, which takes place in 2014.

Those of you who are unfamiliar either with Ross’s earlier work or Trainspotting, for instance, may struggle initially with the Scots dialogue, but do read on: there is both much humour to be found in the rise and fall of the band, and darkness in the shape of Alzheimer’s and gang warfare.

I enjoyed Vespas enormously; Ross expertly details the pitfalls of being in a band, namely playing grotty venues and being the support act to a nobody.  He also doesn’t shy away from depicting the realities of teenage love, as proven in the love scenes between the band’s lovebirds, Maggie and Grant.  Moreover, it was good to see the return of Disco’s lovable rogue, Fat Franny Duncan, battling to find who has stolen his money and unsuccessfully trying to get his girlfriend to move in with him.

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

We Shall Inherit the Wind by Gunnar Staalesen

We Shall Inherit the Wind Blog TourLong time, no blog.  But you have a treat in store with my review of the fantastic We Shall Inherit the Wind.  And what an honour to host the final day of the blog tour!

The novel opens in the late nineties.  Our alliterative hero, Varg Veum, sits by the bedside of his critically ill partner, Karin.  How did she get in this state?  Is it because of Varg’s private investigations?  And does she recover?

Rewind to the week before, when Varg is summoned by Ranveig Maeland to investigate her husband’s disappearance.  They had argued and he had stormed off; so far, just like any other marriage, and just like any other disappearance.  However, when no trace of Mons Maeland’s mobile phone or banking records can be discovered, and when it comes to light that Mons was on the cusp of changing his mind about his company’s planned wind farm, Varg begins to fear the worst.

Soon enough, the plot thickens.  It comes to light that Mons’ two children, Kristoffer and Else, are on opposing sides of the wind farm debate.  Whereas Kristoffer is firmly for the wind farm, Else is, like the zealous preacher Lars Rordal, decidedly against it.  This, of course, suggests either child as an accessory to Mons’ disappearance, depending on his views on the wind farm at the time of his disappearance.  What’s more, when we discover that Ranveig is, in fact, Mons’ second wife, and the children’s mother, Lea, went missing in the eighties, another motive is suggested for Mons’ own disappearance: revenge.  And as with all excellent crime, you will never guess what has really happened.

What I really enjoyed about We Shall Inherit the Wind was Staalesen’s incorporation of religious themes; indeed, these are themes which he has been exploring for more than twenty years, as discussed here.  Unlike other proponents of Scandi crime, such as Stieg Larsson, where misogynistic violence is a recurring theme, Staalesen instead places his novel in a greater context, using his character, Lars Rordal, to implicitly ask the question, ‘Who owns the earth – mankind or God?’

‘This land is the work of Our Lord.  He’s given it to us, but not so that we let it rot as we’re doing at the moment.  It’s an abomination in God’s eyes, and He will strike back with a vengeance.  Pestilence, destruction, storms, flames and other catastrophes will smite us all if we don’t change course and learn to live according to God’s word.’

Also, like Larsson, he shows us all sides of a woman: usurper, whore, angel and victim.  I very much look forward to what he does next.

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

The Last Days of Disco by David F. Ross



‘The room’s too wee! The room’s too dark! The cake’s no big enough! The bar’s got nae Pernod. The disco husnae turned up!’

For fuck’s sake, none of these things were his fault. Frank King was getting increasingly annoyed. He didn’t even want to be here, far less to have to deal with his daughter’s high-pitched carping. Anne had even made him wear a suit and tie. He felt as if he was going to court.

Remember being eighteen and wondering what the hell you were going to do with your life? Like a challenge? Then The Last Days of Disco is for you.

The reason I ask whether you, dear reader, like a challenge, is because initially, I found Ross’s use of Scots dialect, well, challenging (and it’s the reason I abandoned Trainspotting. Sorry, Irvine).  But please don’t be put off by it, because in continuing, you will discover a wonderful debut about adolescence, family, music, emerging sexuality and war. (Sex and death: what else is there?)

It is the morning after the night before. Bobby Cassidy, massively hungover, has received some rather unusual birthday presents. One, a rather unfortunate set of tattoos, will not be spoken of again. The other, a phone number on his leg, will set him off on a DJing adventure around Ayrshire (naturally). Whose number is it? What does the unfortunate tattoo say? Patience, guys! You’ll just have to read it, won’t you?

Of course, being young, Bobby and Joey, his DJing partner in crime, have little business sense.  By the time they’ve hired someone to get them to their gigs, help shift the equipment and ventured to Cold Comfort Farm’s Scottish equivalent to actually get the equipment (which makes for one of the novel’s most entertaining passages), they are left with less money than they started with.  But they have far bigger problems than being broke, and the main one comes in the shape of Fat Franny Duncan and his gang of cronies, who were, until Bobby and Joey turned up, the number one DJs in Ayrshire.  After all, if you can throw your rivals’ mate into the river, then what future awaits your rivals?

Just as you think things can’t get any more disastrous for our DJing couple, a family secret is uncovered which threatens to rock the Cassidy family to its core.  Worse still, Gary, Bobby’s brother, is called to serve in the Falklands, leaving behind not only a new relationship in London, but also a brother who may or may not have turned to crime, and a mother who may or may not be going crazy. 

The Last Days of Disco is a strange mix of drama and farce. From about halfway through the novel, the Eastenders-esque drum bash moments, revelations where your mouth will drop, come thick and fast. That said, Ross is the master of bad taste comedy. Fancy a children’s entertainer who makes phallic balloon animals? Or sex in a shed involving a dry ice machine? Honestly, they say you couldn’t make it up, but Ross really can.

I can’t wait to see the return of Joey in Ross’s next novel, and I’m hoping that some of the other characters join him for a boogie and a Pernod, too.

Thank you to Karen at Orenda Books for the review copy.

And the winners of The Abrupt Physics of Dying Giveaway are…..

Little Bookness Lane and Stacy! Please email your full name and address to Karen Sullivan of Orenda Books at karen@orendabooks.co.uk and your copy of The Abrupt Physics of Dying will be with you soon! Thank you to all who entered the giveaway.

The Abrupt Physics of Dying by Paul E. Hardisty – Review and Giveaway

The Abrupt Physics cover copy 2

Clay looked down at her, this woman he barely knew and yet who seemed to know him so well, and it was like coming out of a morphine sleep of years, feeling again.  And in that moment it was so clear: now is all there is.  The past is gone, locked away.  The future doesn’t exist.  It’s what we do now, the decisions we make right now that create the present, seal the past.

Meet Claymore Straker, a South African ex-soldier who finds himself working as an oil company engineer for Petro-Tex in the heat and dust of Yemen.  That is, he WAS working for them until the beginning of this novel, when he, along with his Yemeni army driver, Abdulkader, are kidnapped and taken to a cave.   There they are left at the mercy of the notorious Al Shams, he of the withered eye fame and supposed Ansar Al-Sharia colluder, an offshoot of Al Quaeda.  Their hijacking is not random, however: Al Shams wants Clay to discover what is killing so many children in the surrounding area.  He is given little over a week to find the truth, and if he does not do so, Abdulkader dies.

The problem, of course, is that not only do Clay’s bosses, the money-hungry Karila, Parnell and Medved, have no interest in what is killing Yemeni children, they also are not paying him for services rendered.  (This does not hinder our protagonist’s ability to keep a steady supply of nerve-calming spirits, however….)  Clearly, like your average oil tycoons, they are interested only in money, and interested only in Clay as long as he can appease the people with promises of new schools for their children.  And as the novel progresses, it becomes more and more obvious that they will do anything to protect this money.  Even if it costs lives.

Enter the stunning Rania La Tour, with a body like Lara Croft and an equally well-sculpted mind.  A French journalist, soon she is not only joining Clay in his quest to reveal what is killing the Yemeni children, but also joining him in his bed (well, we need some sauce to counteract all the violence).  Like the desert roads, their relationship is a bumpy ride, and there are points when, as with many other characters in the novel, you will question where Rania’s loyalty lies.  Is she Al Shams’ enemy or friend?  And is she the journalist she purports to be?

An Abrupt Physics of Dying is not the sort of book I would usually read, but I enjoyed it immensely.  The sex, violence and corruption had shades of Robert Ludlum, and the relationship between Clay and Rania was reminiscent of a Bond romance (of the Daniel Craig, as opposed to Sean Connery, era).  If you fancy a fast-paced thriller to brighten up this winter, then leave a comment below by midnight Sunday 1st March.  Two winners will be chosen at random Monday 2nd March.  The giveaway is international.

The competition deadline has been extended to midnight Wednesday March 4th. All comments must be submitted by then.