Weirdo by Cathi Unsworth (House of Anansi (Spiderline))-It’s been twenty years since a terrible, supposedly ritualistic murder was committed in a small town by the sea, and Sean Ward, former detective of the London Metropolitan Police is now working cold cases as a private detective after being badly injured on the job. Corinne Woodrow has been put away for her part in the murder, and as far as the public knows, she was the only one involved, but new DNA evidence suggests there was someone else at the scene, and Sean has been hired to get at the truth. He may not prove Corinne innocent, but if there’s a chance that a killer is still on the loose, it’s his job to find the culprit. When he arrives in Ernemouth, he consults with the local police, hoping to meet some of the detectives that worked the original case and gain some insight into the events of 20 years ago. When he meets the editor of a local paper, she seems eager to help, and they each begin pursuing different aspects of the investigation. It soon becomes clear that more than just murder was going on all those years ago, and the revelations may prove fatal.
Attention crime fans: Have you discovered Cathi Unsworth yet? She’s well known in the UK, and after reading Weirdo, to me she’s right up there with the stellar talent of Megan Abbott and Tana French. The narrative goes back and forth between the events of 1984 and the Sean’s investigation in 2003, and as fascinating as the 2003 investigation is, it’s the 1984 bits that make up the real meat of this chilling novel. This is especially hard to read if you’re the parent of a teen, particularly a teen girl, which I am. Corinne Woodrow is only 15, and her lot in life is a tragic one. Her mother is a particularly cruel woman, dealing in drugs and sex, and the neglect and abuse that Corinne suffers at her hands is astonishing. The depth of depravity that Corinne was born into knows no bounds, and when she meets Debbie , she thinks she might have at last found a friend. But, as it so often happens, Debbie meets a boy, and they begin spending more and more time together, putting a bit of an unintentional rift between the girls. It’s just the gap that’s needed for something more insidious to move in. Giving away too much would spoil the myriad of twists that this book has in store, but Unsworth has her finger on the pulse of 80s small town English teen angst and their struggle to find themselves amidst so much confusion about family, the future, and of course, their place in a social hierarchy that knows no mercy.
Cathi Unsworth has been called the UK’s Queen of Noir for good reason. She goes to some very, very dark places and themes of friendship, mental illness, corruption, and just plain evil are explored with the sure hand of someone who knows her subject inside and out, and knows how to turn it into dark crime gold. This one will break your heart and terrify you in equal measure, and like I said, if you don’t know Unsworth’s work yet, here’s the perfect place to start. The final twist is particularly satisfying. Wonderfully chilling and absolutely riveting.
Rod Duncan’s brand new book, THE BULLET CATCHER’S DAUGHTER, comes out on the 26th, and he was kind enough to stop by and answer a few of my questions about the book, and much more!
Congrats on the new book! Will you tell us a bit about The Bullet Catcher’s Daughter, and what inspired you to write it?
The Bullet Catcher’s Daughter is a crime story set in an alternate history. It follows Elizabeth Barnabus, a private intelligence gatherer, as she attempts to track down a missing aristocrat. Unfortunately for her, the Victorian-esque society in which she lives will not allow a woman to engage in work reserved for men. Much of the detection must be done incognito and some of it in disguise. To aid her she has the skills of a grand illusion, learned during her childhood in a travelling magic show.
The story is told by Elizabeth. She doesn’t bother to comment on things that seem normal to her – even though they will be strange to us. Thus, we learn slowly about the curious qualities of the world in which she lives. Here too is a puzzle. Although her world seems at first to be late Victorian, she is living in the present day. Something has happened to hold back social and technological progress. Exactly what that is will be revealed gradually through the series.
The first inspiration for the story came from Leicester, where the book begins. Much of the city was built during Victorian times. Walking through it, one has the sense of another world just below the surface. Literally sometimes. There are streets where the modern road surface has been damaged and you can glimpse the cobblestones exposed just below.
But once I started writing, it was Elizabeth herself who kept me going. She refused to do what I expected or planned. From experience I’ve learned that it’s worth following characters who have a will of their own.
Brent Hayward’s new book, HEAD FULL OF MOUNTAINS, just came out, and he was kind enough to answer a few of my questions about it, and more. Please give Brent a warm welcome!
Will you tell us a little about your new book, HEAD FULL OF MOUNTAINS, and what inspired you to write it?
Head Full of Mountains is my generation ship novel, though that might be a bit difficult to discern. I had always wanted to write one and had tried a few times before. The idea that people do things because that’s what people did before them, without knowing why- or even if there ever was a reason- interests me. In many ways, everything out there is built on traditions that are not relevant today. The generation ship idea takes this premise to an extreme. Even with a chance at a new beginning, we would likely dredge up our historical baggage and bring it along. That’s what I tried to put in the book.
Why speculative fiction, and dark fantasy? What do you enjoy most about writing, and reading, in these genres?
I’m paraphrasing Gene Wolfe here, but all novels are fantasies; some are just more honest about it. If you’re going to make up a story, why not go all out? Make up the setting, the rules of engagement, the physics, everything. If your characters are defined in a way that the reader can relate to, and follow, then the rest becomes a lot of cool sights and sounds along the way. Having said that, though, I don’t read within the genre as much as I used to, but the books I do read are usually set in another place, or another time.
City of Stairs by Robert Jackson Bennett (Broadway, Sept 9th, 2014)-For many years the city of Bulikov was protected by the very Devine beings that subjugated and enslaved the rest of the world, but eventually, they were killed, and Bulikov is a crumbling shadow of its former self, where the sick and crippled are left to fend for themselves while the rich still enjoy creature comforts. The city that once held the fate of the world in its considerable hands is now at the mercy of other nations, mainly the Saypuri, who now occupy Bulikov. When Dr. Efrem Pangyui is beaten to death, it causes a sensation, even if it’s not a huge surprise. He’s been sent, ostensibly, to research the history of Bulikov, and Bulikov’s native sons resent his ability to delve into a history that they are no longer allowed to know. Shara Thivani, in the guise of a junior diplomat (but who is really much more), is sent to investigate his death, bringing her “secretary” Sigrud, with her. What was he involved in that caused someone to resort to murder? Shara soon finds herself seeking the help of polis governor Turyin Mulaghesh, who will happily help for her own rather surprising reasons. What follows is…well…pretty much pure awesome. Yep, I’ve been trying to not just do a series of fangirl squeees with this review, followed by “just buy the damn book.”
So, let’s break it down. Shara, obviously, is more than just a junior diplomat and she’s very, very well versed in the history of the Divine creatures that once ruled Bulikov. These ladies and gents made it a very powerful place indeed, but a place that tended to wield its power in not so great ways. As Shara digs into Dr. Pangyui’s death, she starts to come across evidence that point to the possibility of a few of the gods being, um…not so dead after all. This doesn’t really surprise Shara, because one of the gods has been MIA for a while and was gone before the Kaj (think larger than life adventurer and godkiller) took the remaining behemoths down nearly 300 years ago. Shara is very, very good at what she does, but she also suspects that her handler is not quite on the up and up, which causes her to reprioritize her investigation a bit. A blast from her past hopes to become her ally, but she’s not all that sure he can be trusted either. One person that she can trust is Sigrud, her, erm “secretary.” Let’s just do away with that secretary title, because Sigrud is no secretary. Sigrud is a Dreyling, a giant among most men, and his ability to go berserker when the occasion calls for it comes quite in handy for Shara. He’s a man of very few words, but is a quiet, very strong presence in Shara’s life, and not only is their friendship one of the best parts of this book, but his past, which the author slowly unfolds throughout the book, is like something out of a hero’s legend. I completely fell for Sigrud, can you tell? Also on my fave list is Governor Mulaghesh, who provided no-nonsense, dependable support for Shara. Mulaghesh’s unabashed sexuality wrapped in an oh-so-tough demeanor was a delight. The book opens with her and you get a lot of her (sometimes sarcastic) internal dialogue about the state of Bulikov and its extremely divided citizens.
The Magician’s Land by Lev Grossman (Viking, August 5th, 2014)-After Quentin Coldwater gets bounced from Fillory (quite rapidly and unceremoniously), he seeks out a teaching position at Brakebills, and finds that he actually rather likes it. Then his father dies, and he takes time out of teaching to help his mother tie up loose ends. Quentin was never close to his father, never close to either parents, really, but it’s his duty, and he’s determined to make things easier for his mother. After he wraps things up there, he returns to Brakebills and immerses himself again in his teaching duty, but almost as suddenly as he’s expelled from Fillory, the same happens at Brakebills, and again he’s adrift, but not without terrible knowledge about someone from his past, and an expelled student, Plum, at his side. They soon take a job that promises a big payday, but the risk is very high. However, it offers a certain amount of freedom for both Quentin and Plum.
Meanwhile, in Fillory, the Lorians are invading, and Eliot takes it upon himself to push back the hoard, but that’s not the end of it, and Eliot and Janet are told that some pretty bad badness is on the way, and to prepare for the worst. Fillory is no longer the stable place it once was, and Eliot and Janet will soon have to go on their most important quest yet.
Courtesy of the lovely folks at Tor, I’ve got a copy of ECHOPRAXIA (out /26) by Peter Watts to give away to one lucky US or Canadian winner! I’ll pick a winner on 8/20, and good luck!
Prepare for a different kind of singularity in Peter Watts’ Echopraxia, the follow-up to the Hugo-nominated novel Blindsight
It’s the eve of the twenty-second century: a world where the dearly departed send postcards back from Heaven and evangelicals make scientific breakthroughs by speaking in tongues; where genetically engineered vampires solve problems intractable to baseline humans and soldiers come with zombie switches that shut off self-awareness during combat. And it’s all under surveillance by an alien presence that refuses to show itself.
Daniel Bruks is a living fossil: a field biologist in a world where biology has turned computational, a cat’s-paw used by terrorists to kill thousands. Taking refuge in the Oregon desert, he’s turned his back on a humanity that shatters into strange new subspecies with every heartbeat. But he awakens one night to find himself at the center of a storm that will turn all of history inside-out.
Now he’s trapped on a ship bound for the center of the solar system. To his left is a grief-stricken soldier, obsessed by whispered messages from a dead son. To his right is a pilot who hasn’t yet found the man she’s sworn to kill on sight. A vampire and its entourage of zombie bodyguards lurk in the shadows behind. And dead ahead, a handful of rapture-stricken monks takes them all to a meeting with something they will only call “The Angels of the Asteroids.”
Their pilgrimage brings Dan Bruks, the fossil man, face-to-face with the biggest evolutionary breakpoint since the origin of thought itself.
David Shafer’s debut novel, WHISKEY TANGO FOXTROT, just came out this week to rave reviews, and he was kind enough to answer a few of my questions. Please welcome him to the blog!
Congrats on the release of Whiskey Tango Foxtrot! Will you tell us a bit about it and what inspired you to write it?
I began the novel back in 2006, 2007. As a nation, we were already deep into the ‘Global War on Terror.’ Unrelated to that, my mood was rising. I was falling in love and feeling more capable than I usually do. A friend took me traveling in Myanmar. Another friend began sending me strange, fraught, fantastic (but cogent) emails outlining some of the ominous and eerie connections that he saw at work in the world. I thought: What if you becoming manic and paranoid and an online underground needed you in order to stop a nefarious cabal of baddies. Wouldn’t that be confusing? It sounds nervy to say now, after the years of work that it turns out I would need to put into the novel, but my three main characters pretty much knocked on my front door. And they brought with them the themes and ideas that they said I needed to write about: Does the line between real and imagined ever get a blurry? If it does, should you seek help or should you go down that path a little ways? How is a person supposed to help the wider world when we’re all caught up in our own little dramas and tragedies?
You have a journalism background, but have you always wanted to write a novel? Will you tell us a little more about yourself and that progression?
I imagine this is not a rare occurrence, but when I went to graduate school I discovered that I was not exceptionally suited to the field in which I was training. But while I was trying to write news I met some very good, very dogged reporters, people who hunt down stories and sources. This impresses me no end and I try to develop those traits in myself. It’s just that I turn out to be someone who writes very slowly and who finds it hard to talk to strangers. Those are not traits prized in journalism. Maybe I was thinking of journalism as some sort of fallback thing, which of course is a stupid position to take towards pretty much anything. And ‘fallback’ would be the wrong word because I’d never really tried the other thing, which was writing a book like one of those books that changed my life. At a certain point, the pain of not trying to do it – of giving myself cause for such self-grievance – was worse than the pain of trying to do it.
Wanna win a copy of THE ULTRA THIN MAN by Patrick Swenson? Of course you do, and luckily, the lovely folks at Tor have provided me with one to give to YOU (as long as you have a US or Canadian mailling address)! All you have to do is fill out the widget below, and I’ll pick a winner on August 16th. Good luck!
About THE ULTRA THIN MAN:
In the twenty-second century, a future in which mortaline wire controls the weather on the settled planets and entire refugee camps drowse in drug-induced slumber, no one—alive or dead, human or alien—is quite what they seem. When terrorists manage to crash Coral, the moon, into its home planet of Ribon, forcing evacuation, it’s up to Dave Crowell and Alan Brindos, contract detectives for the Network Intelligence Organization, to solve a case of interplanetary consequences. Crowell’ and Brindos’s investigation plunges them neck-deep into a conspiracy much more dangerous than anything they could have imagined.
The two detectives soon find themselves separated, chasing opposite leads: Brindos has to hunt down the massive Helkunn alien Terl Plenko, shadow leader of the terrorist Movement of Worlds. Crowell, meanwhile, runs into something far more sinister—an elaborate frame job that puts our heroes on the hook for treason.
In this novel from Patrick Swenson, Crowell and Brindos are forced to fight through the intrigue to discover the depths of an interstellar conspiracy. And to answer the all-important question: Who, and what, is the Ultra Thin Man?
It’s been a while since I had a chance to catch up with one of my favorite authors, Stephen Blackmoore, and am so happy to have him back to talk about his brand new book, BROKEN SOULS. Please welcome him back to the blog!
Can you believe that the last time we chatted was 2012? We’ve got some catching up to do, especially now that BROKEN SOULS, the sequel to DEAD THINGS, just came out. What can we expect from Eric Carter this time around? He went through so much in DEAD THINGS…
When BROKEN SOULS opens Carter is a mess. Well, he’s always been a mess, but he’s even more so now.
On getting back to Los Angeles in DEAD THINGS he’s managed to screw things up worse than how he found them, getting his best friend murdered, alienating his ex-girlfriend, who already wasn’t crazy about him popping up again, and getting entangled with the Aztec death goddess Mictecacihuatl in her modern guise as the Mexican folk saint, Santa Muerte. He’s pissed away whatever minor goodwill he’s built up with pretty much everyone.
In BROKEN SOULS he’s trying to get out from under Santa Muerte’s thumb, fix some of the mess he’s created. But life isn’t exactly making that easy.
How do you think Eric has grown since DEAD THINGS?
I don’t know that he’s grown so much, but he’s definitely changed.
His certainty about how things worked has been shaken by what happened to him in DEAD THINGS, not to mention the physical marks his connection to Santa Muerte has left him. He thought he understood necromancy. After all that’s kind of his bag. But then he ran into things he didn’t understand and everything got tossed on its head.
He’s more desperate now, more paranoid. There are plans that have been set in motion that affect him and he doesn’t know what they are. Makes a guy a little touchy.
But he’s still the same acerbic, angry, jackass he was before.
Please welcome Tessa Gratton to the blog as part of her tour for THE STRANGE MAID, the 2nd book in her United States of Asgard series. Also, be sure to enter to win a copy of the book (details at the bottom of the post-US only!)
Will you tell us a bit about your new book, THE STRANGE MAID, and the United States of Asgard? What inspired you to write the series?
The US of Asgard is a USA like our own, but founded by Vikings and their very real gods. There are gods interfering in Congress and walking the Hollywood red carpets, Valkyrie taking over the media, trolls rampaging in the Rocky Mountains and a part of the military dedicated to eradicating them. THE STRANGE MAID is about a girl named Signy who wants more than anything to be a wild, dark, passionate Valkyrie like the warrior women in the oldest stories.
I chose to write this series because I wanted to write some books about American warrior culture, and religion and politics and how it affects the choices we make as teens.
Why do you think readers will root for Signy Valborn, and what did you enjoy most about writing her character?
Signy is passionate about everything she does, and while sometimes that can be off-putting, in the end, she is heroic and changing because of it. I loved writing her passion – she’s wild and deliberate about everything she does, whether arguing or fighting trolls or kissing or just getting dressed in the morning.