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HAPPY EVER AFTER

HAPPY EVER AFTER . . . Between the covers

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C.C. MacDonald’s debut novel is a psycho-thriller which mines the rich seam of middle-class anxiety and social neuroses which has become a staple of recent English crime fiction. Naomi and Charlie, along with toddler Prue, have relocated from the hipster London district they can no longer afford, kissing goodbye to the artisan bakeries, faux village ambience and the coffee shops where the wi-fi signal is as vital as the alchemy of the barrista. They now live in a rambling Victorian house in Margate, on the Kent coast, a town which MacDonald himself refers to as Shoreditch-on-Sea.

Naomi is a feature writer of some sort, while Charlie is an entrepreneur designer in the tech industry. While a succession of sharp-intake-of-breath builders and carpenters transform the neglected house into a Sunday supplement paradise, Naomi is desperate to conceive a second child. Naturally, both she and Charlie have smartphone apps which track her fertility cycle and give the couple vital windows when hurried coupling should produce little Prue’s sibling. Sadly, none of the digital wizardry seems to work. Charlie is all-too-often not up-to-snuff, and Naomi’s obsessive quest is becoming counter productive.

HEA coverWhile on her daily run there and back to Prue’s nursery school, Naomi meets a stunningly attractive alpha male called Sean, and his bluff insouciance is such a contrast with Charlie’s needy self-absorption that she is smitten. One thing leads to another – the ‘another’ being hurried stand-up sex in the shower cubicle at a local leisure centre – and guess what? Sean’s urgent thirty seconds has done the job, and Naomi is, at last, pregnant, but possibly by the wrong man.

Cue much heart-searching by Naomi as she tries to get to grips with the moral dilemma of her situation. Sean, however, is not around, however, either to help or to hinder. When Naomi discovers that Sean was only at the nursery on a baby-sitting job, she tries to find him. His apparent disappearance is resolved when Naomi discovers that he has not only been hiding in plain sight, but actually conspiring to stalk her and threaten the already fragile happy family she has tried to create.

MacDonald doesn’t set out to make us laugh with obvious satire, but he has fun casting a jaundiced eye on Naomi’s preoccupations. She is at a rather pretentious playgroup called ‘Sing, Sign and Movement.’

“She looks around the huge room at bored dads looking at football news on their phones, harassed mums in sportswear attempting to marshall small-scale civil wars between siblings and sugar-amped children rocketing around like derailed dodgems. She never feels further from her life in London than when she’s somewhere like this.”

Later, she is living the life at a popular café:

“Kids run riot between the replica Eames chairs as Charlie bustles between them carrying a tray. Some people talk a good game when it comes to doing everything for their children but the parents here have come for the artisan coffee and to talk to people like them in a décor that resembles something they’ve seen on Instagram and sod it if their child has to fight with ten others to play with the lone Ikea kitchen.”

CCMAny sense of lifestyle mockery, gentle or otherwise, dissipates once we reach the final quarter of the book. Naomi discovers that whoever Sean really is, his plans for her and her family involve much than a few moments of lust. I certainly didn’t see the plot twist coming, and MacDonald (right) springs one surprise after another, right up to the final paragraphs. If you can’t make sense of the brief chapter interludes which consist of MSN messages (remember them?) between some bitchy schoolgirls, don’t fret – you will.

While Happy Ever After won’t leave you with a warm and life affirming glow about people’s basic decency, it is a rattling good read, full of acerbic observation and dark character insights. It is published by Harvill Secker and is out on 23rd January.

I have a mint unopened hardback copy of Happy Ever After, and it needs a good home. To be in the draw to win it, just ‘like’ this post here or on the Fully Booked Facebook page. You can also check my twitter feed, and RT or like any of the links to this review. Competition closes 10.00pm Tuesday 28th January. UK addresses only, please.

ON MY SHELF . . . September Harvest 2019

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What is it about September and songs? Billie Joe Armstrong wanted to sleep until it was over, Rod Stewart realised he should leave his lady friend and go back to school, while Bing, Frank, Peggy, Dinah and dozens of others remembered it in the rain. It is certainly an evocative time of year and, judging by my bookshelf, it’s also a time for publishers and publicists to get their books out there in the public eye after the languors of the summer. So, here’s an eclectic septet of criminal activity and one book, while not a crime novel, earns its place due to my enduring fascination with The Great War.

GONE by Leona Deakin

Leona_DeakinThere is a definite autobiographical seam in the character of Dr Augusta Bloom, who combines the careers of PI and psychologist. The author worked as a psychologist for West Yorkshire Police before writing this, her debut novel. She turns the serial abductor/victim trope on its head as Dr Bloom tries to convince a complacent constabulary that the alleged victims may be more to be feared that the perpetrator. This will be published by Black Swan on 12th December. A follow up novel, Lost is scheduled for release in April 2020.

CHOCOLATE HOUSE TREASON by David Fairer

David FairerAs the enthusiasm for the recent film The Favourite shows, the life of Queen Anne, thought by history to be hitherto unremarkable, has become something of ‘a thing’. Professor David Fairer of Leeds University is an acknowledged expert on the 18th century and, in, particular, its poetry. How fitting then, that his novel is set in the London of 1708 where The Queen herself is subject to scathing sexual innuendo in the gutter press, and the capital seethes with political and criminal unrest. There are, inevitably, casualties and an unlikely trio of investigators seek to solve two murders and prevent a third. This enthralling historical mystery is available now, and is published by Matador.

DARKNESS by David Fletcher

David FletcherWe could, once upon a time, refer to Africa as The Dark Continent without invoking the fury of The Woke. Working on the assumption that Africa was ‘darker’ the further you went into it, then the Congo was blacker than black. Conrad’s Heart of Darkness and Greene’s A Burnt-Out Case feasted royally on the remoteness of the Congo, and the consequent imaginings of a land where the moral code was either abandoned or perverted.  David Fletcher’s Dan Worthington has suffered loss, heartbreak, and  the almost surgical removal of his life spirit. A chance encounter offers him a renaissance and a reawakening, but there is a price to be paid. A flight to Brazzaville takes him to the divided modern Congo, and a sequence of events which will test his resolve to its core. Darkness is also a Matador title and came out in August this year.

GOOD QUESTION by VR Lyons

Back cover010Sue and Jeff work in a grocery store that is something of a throwback. Old fashioned service, the personal touch, quality products – what could possibly go wrong? The pair are amiable, kind-hearted and loved by customers. This apparent Garden of Eden turns inexorably into a wasteland when the pair become involved in a grim criminal conspiracy which is none of their own making. Published by Matador, Good Question is available now.

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HAPPY EVER AFTER by CC MacDonald

CCM009Fans of comforting and anguish-free crime novels should probably look away now. This debut psychological thriller gnaws away at our anxieties and its mission statement seems to be that no fingernail should remain unbitten. Ostensibly privileged and happily married, Naomi falls both victim of – and pregnant by – an elusive and unscrupulous charmer. His disappearance is one thing, but the threat and menace hanging over her domesticity is something else altogether. Harvill Secker are the publishers here, but you will have to wait until 23rd January next year to grab a copy.

HOLD YOUR TONGUE by Deborah Masson

DEborahEve Hunter elbows her way into the crowded room containing fictional British Detective Inspectors, but she has a reputation to save, and a serial killer to catch. Deborah Masson (left) comes from The Granite City of Aberdeen, which is totally fitting as this, her debut novel, is as dark, flint-hard and gritty as her home town. Hold Your Tongue is due on the shelves on 9th January 2020, and is published by Corgi

POETIC JUSTICE: OXFORD by Fran Raya

Fran RayaRandall Forbes has a powerful gift – or is it a curse? He is endowed with telepathy, which gives him formidable abilities as well as huge responsibilities. Set against the warm limestone and dreaming spires of Oxford, Jan Raya’s novel is a breathtaking account of how Randall Forbes challenges and frustrates the police, while sticking to his own code of conduct – slightly warpd though it may be. Musician and writer? Jan Raya is not alone, as fans of the band Fun Loving Crime Writers will testify! Fran Raya’s novel is out on 28th September and is published by Book Guild.

THE PHOTOGRAPHER OF THE LOST by Caroline Scott

CarolineThe only obvious crime here is the  disastrous waste of a generation of young lives on the killing fields of France and Flanders, but Caroline Scott’s novel explores the emotional wasteland of England in the 1920s, where countless women sought some kind of solace after the death of their fathers, husbands and brothers. The photographing of grave-sites and cemeteries was something of a huge commercial opportunity, as so many relatives were ill-equipped to make the journey across the channel to be reunited with their lost loved ones. Widowed Edie has resigned herself to mourning for husband Francis, but a random photograph sparks a search which may end in joyful reunion or shattered hopes. This book is an elegy to loss, heartbreak and the death of a generation. Out on 31st October, The Photographer Of The Lost is published by Simon & Schuster.

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