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Karen Perry

BOOKS OF THE YEAR 2017 … Best thriller

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What constitutes a thriller? I suppose that could be one of those ‘how long is a piece of string questions’. I would hope that any crime novel worth its salt would be ‘thrilling’ in some shape or form, but for the sake of clarity, I’m excluding books which rely heavily for their impact on police investigations, or are given added ambience by an historical setting. So, what did I enjoy? Harlan Coben always delivers, and his renegade policeman Napoleon ‘Nap’ Dumas left official procedural behind and certainly did the business in Don’t Let Go. Domestic Noir has become a very fruitful field for many authors and publishers, and I enjoyed having the wool pulled over my eyes by Simon Lelic in The House.

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Another writer who kept one or two brilliant tricks up his sleeve was Tim Weaver when he gave us another mystery for David Raker to solve in I Am Missing. Michael Robotham played the ‘unreliable narrator’ trick when he challenged us to decide just which of the expectant mums was telling the truth in The Secrets She Keeps, while Karen Perry dangled several versions of the truth in front of us in a brilliant tale about memory, old friendships and illusion in Can You Keep A Secret? 

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unleashed1So, who thrilled me the most? First across the line by a nose, in a very competitive field, was Unleashed, by Peter Laws. Laws sends his alter ego, Professor Matt Hunter, to the dull south London suburb of Menham to investigate a Hieronymus Bosch-like scene at a primary school concert, where the highlight of the evening is the music teacher being found dead in a cupboard full of recorders, plastic tambourines and chime bars – with her throat ripped out, apparently by her own pet dog. Hunter’s investigations lead him to to 29 Barley Street, where a young girl was found hanging from a beam in her bedroom. The soul of Holly Watson, however, is not at rest, and her presence still lingers in the claustrophobic gloom of her home. Occasionally – and unashamedly – playing to the gallery, and using every colour on his palette, Laws paints a picture that disquiets us. He makes us think to ourselves, “This is nonsense, but …..” The ‘but’ is his key weapon. He evokes old fears, conjure up ancient and deep-rooted uncertainties – and makes us glad that Unleashed is only a book.

My verdict?

“Laws takes a leaf out of the book of the master of atmospheric and haunted landscapes, M R James. The drab suburban topography of Menham comes alive with all manner of dark interventions; we jump as a wayward tree branch scrapes like a dead hand across a gazebo roof; we recoil in fear as a white muslin curtain forms itself into something unspeakable; dead things scuttle and scrabble about in dark corners while, in our peripheral vision, shapes form themselves into dreadful spectres. When we turn our heads, however, there is nothing there but our own imagination.”

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CAN YOU KEEP A SECRET? … Between the covers

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This is the latest from Karen Gillece and Paul Perry
, the successful Dublin writing partnership. How two people can write one novel remains a mystery to me but, my goodness, Gilece and Perry do the business. Who contributes what may well remain a trade secret, but if you have any misgivings about the effectiveness of collaborations, ditch them now. This narrative is seamless, gripping, intensely creepy, and an object lesson in how to to convince the reader that they know what is going on, while cooking up surprise after surprise and twist on twist. Eventually, a rather sinister rabbit is pulled out of a bloodstained hat.

CYKAS coverLindsey Morgan is our narrator. She is a photographer with the Irish police, the Garda Síochána, and her frequent visits to gory crime scenes mean that she must don a cloak of cold objectivity as she looks through her camera at the damage people do one another. The distance between the person behind the viewfinder and the scene captured by the lens is a key motif in the story, as you will discover when you read the book.

Lindsey finished her education at an independent school, and it was there that she met the players in this drama. There’s Niall, Marcus and Hilary but, most significantly we have Rachel Bagenal and her older brother Patrick. Rachel and Patrick are the children of what used to be called landed gentry. Their home is Thornbury, a substantial mansion in the countryside.

We have two separate timelines here. First, we have the present day, where Patrick Bagenal, living alone in the decaying house, invites his old school friends for a final weekend at Thornbury. The house has deteriorated beyond Patrick’s ability to maintain it, and so he has been forced to sell. His parents, Peter and Heather, are both dead. The second timeline takes us back to the early 1990s. The youngsters are all still at school, but enjoy being invited for weekends at Thornbury. It is one such visit – for Patrick’s lavish eighteenth birthday party – which ends in a tragedy which will resonate down the years.

As with all reunions, the adults appraise each other and remember how they used to be, and how they have changed. Marcus has embraced modern acceptance of homosexuality and is comfortably gay, while Niall has made a success of his business but failed in the marriage game. Hilary has metamorphosed from the archetypal fat girl into a waif-like lifestyle coach. Patrick retains his boyish charm, but has grey hairs because of the demands imposed on him by being the sole tenant of Thornbury. Rachel? Rachel was always the force of nature, the woman among the teenagers, the assured femme fatale among the gauche schoolgirls. Now, she returns from a life in London to preside over a weekend which will self destruct in a clatter of betrayal, guilt, recrimination and violence.

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This is an outrageously brilliant thriller, and we are pretty much hit with every shot in the stylistic locker. We have a classic convergence of past and present, where convergence becomes a collision, and the collision explodes into a catastrophe. We have the timeless element of a crumbling old house, complete with secrets, unexplained noises, and the shades of the dead – some of them malevolent, but some of them wronged. Thornbury is every bit as haunted as Daphne du Maurier’s Manderley. We may not have a Mrs Danvers, but we certainly do have a Rebecca.

Throughout the book, I felt an over-arching sense of regret for lost innocence, but the authors are far too canny to make that straightforward as they shine a torch into all the little guilty corners in the lives of the characters. And, the novel’s tour de force, the narrator herself. Victim? Catalyst for tragedy? Innocent observer? As the saying goes, if I told you, I would have to kill you. You can avoid further bloodshed by buying your own copy of Can You Keep A Secret, which is published by Penguin.

For more top quality Irish crime fiction, check out our reviews of:

So Say The Fallen by Stuart Neville

Beneath The Surface by Jo Spain

THE POSTMAN DELIVERS . . . Coben, Perry and Otis

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September traditionally sees publishing houses very busy with new books, launches and showcases of debut talent – and this activity always is guaranteed to keep my long-suffering postman extremely busy!

Coben005Don’t Let Go by Harlan Coben
Nap Dumas is a cop, but his dedication to the badge only goes skin deep. He tends to play the game his own way, and if this involves delivering rough justice to scumbags on the street, then so be it. Dumas has a history, though. His childhood was scarred by a double death – that of his brother Leo who died with his girlfriend Diana in what the cops dismissed as a teenage suicide pact. Nap thought that was a crock then. Now, fifteen years later, he still thinks it was a crock. As Nap learns to his cost in this latest mesmerising novel from the master of twists and double twists, some past traumas never fully heal, but lie embedded like dormant tumours just waiting to metastasize the  present.
We reviewed an earlier novel by Coben this time last year, and you can check it out by clicking this link. Don’t Let Go is published by Century and will be out in hardback on 26th September.

SEcret004Can You Keep A Secret? by Karen Perry
They often say that two heads are better than one, and this was never more true than in the case of Dubliners Paul Perry and Karen Gillece. They are both widely respected and successful writers in their own right, but their collaboration under the pen name of Karen Perry has been a triumph where the qualities of each have been enhanced rather than diluted. In this, their latest psychological thriller they use the ever-potent theme of the reunion which goes badly wrong. Patrick Bagenall held his eighteenth birthday party in the family home, Thornbury Hall. Now, years later, with the mansion too decayed to be worth restoring, he holds a reunion gathering which should be a tearfully poignant farewell to the past, but a stepping stone to a positive future. Instead, dark secrets slither into the light and buried misdeeds scrabble their way to the surface. Can You Keep A Secret is published by Penguin, and will be available in paperback and Kindle at the end of November.

Book1003Dead Lands by Lloyd Otis
London, 1977.
“He buried his tormentor under the glare of the moon and went to sleep that night, with the dirt from the makeshift grave still caked underneath his fingernails.”
Dead Lands begins with a murder and continues with a violent journey through an urban landscape which wears its hippy-happy-peaceful mantle as a poor disguise, which fools no-one.
Lloyd Otis  was born in London and graduated in Media and Communication. Having written reviews for music sites,  and after gaining several years of valuable experience within the finance and digital sectors, he completed a course in journalism. He now works as an editor. Lloyd  has blogged for The Bookseller, and The Huffington Post and also wrote a regular book review column for WUWO Magazine. Two of his short stories were selected for publication in the Out of My Window anthology. He has also had articles appear on the Crime Readers’ Association website, and in the magazine Writers’ Forum. Dead Lands, his debut full length novel, is published by Urbane Publications, and will be available on 12th October.

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