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Lesley Kara

THE APARTMENT UPSTAIRS . . . Between the covers

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Author Lesley Kara returns to the world she excels in describing – the apparently mundane suburban milieu where the streets and houses  serve as a  stage where families and friends act out a drama riddled with lies, secrets and deception.

Scarlett Quilter, a forty-something accountant, lives in the ground floor apartment of a suburban London house. She has a debilitating illness but is able to work from home. The titular ‘apartment upstairs’ was once occupied by her aunt, Rebecca, a former school teacher. Rebecca made a wrong romantic choice late in life by forming a relationship with a man called Clive Hamlin. Hamlin murdered Rebecca, and then committed suicide, so we know from the start that the apartment upstairs has deeply sinister connotations for Scarlett, as well as for her younger brother Ollie (who has inherited the house) and her father, Peter.

The Quilters have entrusted Rebecca’s funeral arrangements with a firm called Fond Farewells, which is run by Dee Boswell and her business partner Lindsay. Dee and Lindsay had a shared friend called Gina Caplin, who mysteriously disappeared ten years earlier, and they have both supported a campaign to find out the truth about what happened to their friend.

All is not sweetness and light between Dee and Lindsay. Lindsay has abused the trust placed in her by the friend of a dead man – think treasured possessions and eBay. She is caught out but manages to placate the grieving customer in a way which leaves Dee fuming. The contrast between the two women is cleverly drawn. Lindsay is more confident, perhaps even reckless and, in contrast to Dee, is knowingly certain of her sexuality.

When Scarlett discovers that her late aunt was connected to the missing girl, Gina, things start to get interesting. Lesley Kara lays a trail of particularly juicy red herrings which include the possibility that the truth about Gina’s disappearance might lie very close to Scarlett’s home, in a ‘Fred West patio’ kind of way.

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Lesley Kara always enjoys directing her readers up the proverbial garden path in terms of plot, and here she serves up a couple of turns which are more like double somersaults than twists. The clues are there for more suspicious readers, but they are far from obvious.

The Apartment Upstairs is a dark journey into a world where a violation of trust is made even worse because it is happening between close friends and family members.  It is published by Bantam Press and is available now. For more on Lesley Kara, click on the image (below)

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THE POSTMAN DELIVERS . . . Kara & Rickman

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Two cracking new hardbacks arrived last week, one written by Lesley Kara, whose previous four domestic psychological thrillers have all been best-sellers and, the other by a writer who has created one of the most original amateur detectives that I have encountered. It has been five years since we had a Merrily Watkins novel from Phil Rickman, but now he brings her back in The Fever of the World.

THE APARTMENT UPSTAIRS by Lesley Kara

Screen Shot 2022-05-24 at 19.03.43Lesley Kara (left) specialises in creating tension between ordinary people in humdrum surroundings – in other words, normal circumstances experienced by the vast majority of us. I reviewed her excellent debut novel The Rumour, and her new book is centred around – as the name suggests – a murder that took place above Scarlett’s flat. The victim was her aunt, and as Scarlett tries to live as normal a life as possible with such a terrible event – almost literally – hanging over her head, it is up to her to make the funeral arrangements for her relative. As she does so, she meets Dee, the funeral director. Dee has problems of her own, but an unexpected link binds the two women together, and both are now in terrible danger. The Apartment Upstairs will be published by Bantam Press on 23rd June.

THE FEVER OF THE WORLD by Phil Rickman

Screen Shot 2022-05-24 at 19.07.31For the uninitiated, Merrily Watkins is a single mum, and vicar of a village in Herefordshire. She also serves as Diocesan Deliverance Consultant – aka an exorcist. The series began in 1998 with The Wine of Angels, and seemed to have terminated rather abruptly with All of a Winter’s Night in 2017. A new book titled For The Hell of It was billed to come out in 2020, but this seems to have been reimagined as The Fever of the World. Here, Merrily becomes involved in a murder investigation led by local copper David Vaynor who, in a previous life, was an expert in the poetry of William Wordsworth. Aficionados of the work of Wordsworth may well recognise the provenance of the book’s title, taken from the poem composed on the banks of the River Wye near Tintern Abbey:

“In darkness and amid the many shapes
Of joyless daylight; when the fretful stir
Unprofitable, and the fever of the world,
Have hung upon the beatings of my heart.”

My appreciation of the Merrily Watkins novels is here, and I am anxious to see what has become of the  repertory company of characters Rickman (above right) used in the earlier novels. The book is published by Atlantic Books, and will be out on 16th June.

ON MY SHELF . . . December 2019

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NINE ELMS by Robert Bryndza

BryndzaBryndza already has an established audience for his Detective Erika Foster series, and he now introduces another female copper to the crime scene. Fifteen years earlier, Kate Marshall was an emerging talent with London’s Met Police – until a near fatal encounter with a serial killer ended her career. When a copycat killer starts to mimic the work of the man who nearly killed her, she is inexorably drawn back into the investigative front line. Nine Elms is published by Sphere, is out now as a Kindle and in hardback on 9th January.

 

STOP AT NOTHING by Tammy Cohen

CohenThis came out in Kindle back in the summer of this year, but now readers who like the feel of a printed book in their hands get to join the party. They say there is nothing as ferocious, either in the animal world or the human sphere, as a mother protecting her young. A woman has to look on helplessly as the man accused of attacking her daughter is set free. Tess’s quest for justice, however, plunges those she loves most into a cauldron bubbling with hatred and danger. Out on 26th December, Stop At Nothing is published by Bantam.

 

BLOOD WILL BE BORN by Gary Donnelly

DonnellyIt may well be that someone, somewhere, has written a cosy ‘feet up in front of the fire’ crime novel set in Belfast. If they have, it has passed me by, as the streets of that city, their very stones stained to the core with the ancient bitterness of sectarian violence, always seem to provide a natural backdrop for gritty thrillers. When London Detective Inspector Owen Sheen returns to his home turf to set up a special crime unit, he is sucked into an investigation which, in double quick time, becomes political – and personal. This, Gary Donnelly’s debut thriller will be out on 20th February and is published by Allison & Busby

 

 

FREE FROM THE WORLD by John Johnson

FFTWSet in a 1960s mental hospital with the ominous name of Black Roding, this is the story of an idealistic and progressive young psychiatrist, Ruth, whose ideas for a more enlightened regime find no favour with the suspicious staff. Becoming rather too close to a complex and troubled inmate of Black Rodings, Ruth’s determination to find new ways of doing things draws her into a horrifying vortex of hidden crimes and shocking revelations. Published by Matador, Free From The World is out now.

 

WHO DID YOU TELL? by Lesley Kara

Lesley-Kara-author-photo-cropped-300x450Lesley Kara captured the potentially poisonous dynamic of small town gossip in her 2018 thriller The Rumour (click to read the review) Her follow up novel mines the same rich seam, and lovers of Domestic Noir are in for a treat. Astrid, a recovering alcoholic, moves in with her mother in an attempt to rebuild her life and make amends to the people she has hurt. Someone out there, however, has been following Astrid’s fragile progess towards redemption, and is determined to ruin things. Who Did You Tell? is published by Bantam, is out as a Kindle on 5th December, and in hardback on 9th January.

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THE RUMOUR . . . Between the covers

Where would crime fiction readers and writers be without murder? It is the human act which lies at the heart of countless thrillers, police procedurals, serial killer investigations and tales of revenge. Someone more erudite than I will know when the first murder mystery was published, but I suspect it was Poe’s 1841 The Murders In The Rue Morgue. There are not as many actual murders in the Sherlock Holmes stories as one might imagine, and it wasn’t until the twentieth century that corpses became de rigeur in crime novels. Since then,murder has taken may forms in crime novels, from subtle poisoning to vivid and visceral butchery, but I can’t recall a novel which has dealt with the subject of children who kill. In real life that is an infrequently seen phenomenon, so much so that when it does happen the names of the killers tend to live long int he public memory.

Even in harsh socio-political regimes,no-one executes children. So what happens when they have served their time?Here in Britain, we know that they are eventually released, given new identities and plausible fictitious back-stories, and closely monitored in the hope that they can rebuild their lives. This balancing act by the judicial system is the central feature in Lesley Kara’s excellent debut novel The Rumour. A lifetime ago, Sally McGowan stabbed little Robbie Harris to death. She was found guilty, detained,but then released into the community and given a new life. A life, Robbie Harris’s distraught family insist, that was denied their little boy.

In the unassuming Essex seaside town of Flinstead (think, maybe, real-life Frinton or Walton-on-the-Naze) Jo Critchley, single mum to Alfie and estate agent’s gofer,lives in her modest two-up, two-down terraced house. She has moved up from London taking a break from Alfie’s dad Michael, and to be – a couple of streets away –  near her mum. Jo is not ‘born and bred’ Flinstead, and it is taking her a while to become part of the school gate sorority. Still, she has joined a local book group, and added her name to the baby-sitting circle. One afternoon as she waits among the throng of chattering mums outside Alfie’s school, she overhears someone sharing the startling gossip that child-killer Sally McGowan is hiding in plain sight amid the modest bungalows and shabby boarding houses of Flinstead. In her anxiety to be accepted and to be someone who should be listened to, she shares this rumour with the women at her book club. And thus her nightmare begins.

As the Sally McGowan story grows legs, wings, and then takes flight, Jo is caught up in a febrile swirl of false accusations and journalistic opportunism. Who is Sally McGowan? Is it the woman who owns the hippie artifact shop? Is it the artist who has made a collage portrait of strips of newsprint reporting on the McGowan affair?

 Lesley Kara tells most of the story through the eyes of Jo Critchley. The style is direct,conversational and without literary pretension. Kara cleverly misdirects us for two hundred pages or so until she produces a plot twist which turns the narrative on its head. This is a breathtakingly original thriller, set in a humdrum location, but written with style and verve powerful enough to suck in readers, especially those who love Domestic Noir. The Rumour will be on the shelves from 27th December in hardback, but is available now in a digital edition.

ONCE UPON A TIME IN SOHO . . . Transworld crime fiction showcase 2018

The Great and The Good (plus yours truly) gathered at the decidedly swish Soho Hotel in Richmond Mews on the evening of 29th November for what has become an annual – and eagerly anticipated – event, the Transworld crime fiction showcase. Transworld have an enviable record of not only snaring established writers, but spotting talented authors and giving them a stage on which to make their debut.

 After a few glassesof the cup that cheers and inebriates we went down to one of the hotel’s film screening rooms to meet the three writers who were to be centre stage. In the chair was none other than Patricia Nicol – Sunday Times journalist, editor and author. The literary debutante was Lesley Kara, and she talked about how her novel The Rumour had been influenced by real life cases of children murdering other children.The spectres of Mary Bell, Jon Venables and Robert Thompson obviously cast a long shadow over her book, and she spoke with great conviction about the moral dilemma faced by society when these killers reach adulthood and strive for rehabilitation, with or without the anonymity provided by the state. The Rumour will be published on 27thDecember 2018.

 Fiona Barton already has two highly regarded novels – The Widow (2016) and The Child (2017) – to her name and The Suspect will be on the shelves from 24th January 2019. It has become something of a rite of passage for aspirational youngsters to heave their back-packs onto their shoulders and head off to the Far East or Australasia in search of who-knows-what, leaving their parents anxiously waiting for a text, a Skype message or – heaven forfend – a postcard saying that all is well and they are having a great time. Fiona takes us into the nightmare world of parents when two girls go missing on a trip to Thailand, and the fate of the eighteen year-olds becomes a lurid and speculative media story, She also explained that her narrative style, where the story is told from several contrasting viewpoints, stems from her work as a journalist where interviewing a range of people can reveal differing versions of reality.

 The graphics for The Secretary highlight the first six letters of the second word, and Renée Knight has based her second novel on the uniquely ambiguous position of the women –and it is usually women – who are personal secretaries to powerful corporate individuals. They are the silent shadows in the rooms where decisions are made that will influence the lives of thousands, and they witness the rage and the frustrations of the powerful. What, Renée Knight asks, happens when one such person, silent and discreet for years, is pushed to the point where what she knows and what she has seen hands her a potentially deadly weapon? The Secretary will be available from 21st February 2019.

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