Since I’ve been reviewing books, which is about three years now, I’ve seen this independent publisher punch well above their weight, developing an impressive range of titles, signing top authors and bringing some great new writers to the British market. Orenda Books, based in Dulwich, publish contemporary and crime fiction; not everything is to my taste, but that’s a matter of preference not quality. The number of prizes, shortlist appearances and critical acclaim they receive is a measure of the respect their authors are garnering. Their literature in translation and from around the world is particularly impressive. Orenda are progressive and energetic, and publisher Karen Sullivan is nothing short of awesome. In this feature I review some of my favourite Orenda novels and give a little advance notice regarding some upcoming/just published titles. I also talk to Karen about Orenda, everything from writers to clever marketing strategies (which include working with bloggers in the knowledge that readers beget readers). There is one thing that really stands out about Orenda, or should I say ‘Team Orenda’: The writers and the staff are all part of something, they support each other and, jealous here, seen to have a lot of fun together! They also produce some of the best new fiction out there.
Interview: Paul Burke meets Karen Sullivan
On: Debuting a new author
KS: I absolutely love debuts and there is nothing more exciting and rewarding than giving a writer their first publication deal. In some ways, publishing international authors in English is much the same thing. Many of them are also ‘debuts’ (i.e., on their first novels), but even those who have had books published around the world have often seen being translated into English as the pinnacle of their success.
Finding a fresh new voice, someone who can take a genre in new directions, highlight issues, blow me away with their beautiful writing, is wonderful, and it’s particularly rewarding to work with an author from the beginning of their career, and to grow them (in this case, with the company). All of us learn from experience, and authors perfect their craft over time. Getting in there at the beginning can help to ensure that no sloppy habits are developed, and that the author understands the demands of the reader and the industry that they get better with every book they write.
The press and booksellers often look favourably upon debuts, and it’s sometimes easier to get attention (and shelf space) for someone new. That’s one reason why it is so important to make that first book as perfect as it can be. You only get one chance at making a debut!
On: A publisher’s instinct
KS: I can only speak for myself, but I would say that a huge percentage of my acquisitions are based on instinct. For one thing, about half of my list is in translation, and apart from a sample translation (which is often awkward and not very representative of the book), I have to make a decision based on what I think the book is … what it can be. A good example is Ragnar Jonasson. I’d met him a number of times and knew that he was committed and very promotable. I saw a sample of the Dark Iceland series, but it was not particularly strong. However … I knew the book was set in Siglufjordur, the northern-most tip of Iceland, bound on one side by the sea, on the other by mountains, with a single tunnel offering access … a tunnel that was closed when it snowed. So the perfect locked-room mystery. Ragnar had translated fourteen Agatha Christie novels into Icelandic, and this added to the package. I loved the idea of ‘rookie cop’ Ari Thor Arasson. It all added up to something worth publishing, along with the ‘feeling’ I had that this had the potential to be something very special. When I read the first chapter of Louise Beech’s debut novel How To Be Brave, I got goosebumps. I knew I would publish it without reading another word. It’s an intangible experience, but something that I rely upon. There are some fabulous books around, gorgeously written, well plotted and structured, but the don’t give me that frisson that drives me to want them on my list. Instinct is, I guess, just that … knowing somehow that there is something special in my hands, and being confident that I can make it work, even if there is work to be done.
Sometimes I know instantly, from a pitch (at a book fair, for example) or by reading a description, that I will publish a book. Something speaks to me, and I don’t really know how that works, but it does!
On: What to look for in a manuscript
KS: Much of what I mention above. It has to make me feel something. I want to be blown away … beautiful writing, intelligent plotting, perhaps unveiling or unpicking an important social issue, pushing the genre in interesting directions (for example, Matt Wesowloski’s Six Stories series, which is based around a series of fictional podcasts, or Antti Tuomainen’s very darkly comedic, poignant take on Nordic Noir) … something fresh, new, exciting, insightful. Something that will speak to the reader.
In terms of presentation, I am aware that books need work. Even the best books can need a lot of work. I am not looking for perfection but potential, and all of the above. No spelling mistakes are important, though. Attention to detail is essential.
On: The qualities of a writer that compliment Orenda
KS: We are very much a team here … ‘Team Orenda’, and support one another and spend a lot of time together (on the road, on our Orenda Roadshows, for example, or at multiple festivals). Because we are so small, too, I work closely with authors from the very first edits all the way through to marketing and publicity. We have to get along. That is essential. Everyone has to get along. There can be no big egos here. Equally, I need authors who are as hungry and eager to succeed as I am (for them). It’s a very crowded (even flooded) market, and a lot of publishers and authors make a lot of noise. We have to be sure that our voices are heard. Self-promotion isn’t easy for a lot of authors, but it is an essential part of modern publishing and authors must be prepared to work hard to help make their book a success. That means engaging with readers in person and on social media, being accessible, friendly, and willing. I make lots of demands on my authors, but I also work extremely hard on their behalf … usually 15/20-hour days. It doesn’t work unless we operate as a team. So I am looking for all of these things. Authors with a sense of fun, a dream, passion, a great work ethic.
On: Brand consciousness, the Team Orenda ethos
KS: One of the things I set out to do with Orenda was to create a ‘brand identity’, which sounds more ‘corporate speak’ than I probably intend. In a nutshell, I want people to pick up an Orenda book and know that it is going to be a good read … a special read. I want people to feel confident enough to buy an Orenda book without even reading the blurb. I want the name Orenda to be synonymous with quality! Something special! That’s just the beginning. I also wanted to create a team of like-minded, passionate, talented, accessible, friendly, smart authors who would represent their books and the company ethos … great books, great publishing, great authors. We are inclusive, we never ‘follow’ trends, we do our own thing, and do it well and with good humour and grace. Everyone on the team has to buy into this. We support each other … we celebrate the successes of individual members, and that reflects well on the team, too! This means a great deal to me. Once again, in a crowded marketplace, we have to have a USP, and that is not just about the fantastic books, but about the wonderful, engaged authors, too. Readers love to chat to authors, and forming relationships in person and online can help to build loyalty … something that is harder and harder to achieve these days.
On: Plans for the future and changing markets
KS: One of the good things about being small is that we can be nimble, and decisions can be made instantly, without meetings and other opinions and votes. It is an ever-changing market and we have to be able to respond quickly. We are small. We don’t have a lot of money, so we spend that money in ways that benefit all authors. I explained this once to the authors on one of the roadshows. One of them asked if the Orenda Roadshow was worth the expense. And yes, it is. First of all, it showcases almost the entire list to booksellers and readers across the country, building relationships and highlighting what we offer. Many of the people who come to see us end up reading all of the books, sometimes buying all of the books (15!) at a single event. Secondly, everyone can be involved. Festivals tend to choose who they want to attend, no matter how hard I pitch everyone. This way, everyone gets a shot. Thirdly, it’s a great team-building exercise. It’s fun and we definitely bond, over long train journeys and winding down after events. The most important thing is, however, that no one author gets the marketing spend. Sure, I could put up a billboard in a train station for the cost of the tour, but who would I choose? And what about the others.
It became clear from the roadshows that readers LOVE hearing authors read from their books … particularly international authors, whose accents and emphases are so wonderful! They also love a glimpse of their homes! So I came up with the idea of Orenda Books at Bedtime … every Sunday night a different authors reads from his/her book, from the comfort of their homes, and it is MAGIC! The response has been tremendous and we’ve seen a sales spike for every author!
Similarly, we have HUGE blog tours! Whatever anyone says, social media is DEFINITELY great for selling books. Blog tours not only provides dozens of reviews to kick start the life of a book, but also offer opportunities for bloggers and other readers to engage directly with the authors. A buzz is created, and when people start talking about a book, we’re off to a great start. After all, people can’t buy a book if they don’t know it’s there.
We do some small-scale advertising, but really we just keep an eye on what people seem to want, and try to satisfy the demand … competitions, giveaways, whatever! If something doesn’t work, we try again!
On: Crime writing and translation
KS: I didn’t actually set out to have a list that was predominantly crime fiction, but it happened that way and I couldn’t be happier. It’s a wonderful community and I really feel that crime fiction is a perfect way to educate through the medium of entertainment. Crime writer address issues … they look at societal problems, or age-old concepts of evil, morality, people under pressure. They are relevant … eye-opening, thought-provoking; they provide snapshot of a period in time … our concerns, our values, our fears. And all of this through page-turning, often nail-biting entertainment. There is no reason that ‘crime’ can’t be ‘literary’, either. My authors write beautifully … that is their single common denominator. Every book is different, but all are compelling and special. I hate the snobbery towards genre fiction, like only literary authors can be perceptive or intelligent, or write with exquisite grace. That’s not the case. And the truth is we want people to read. If genre fiction is considered accessible, then that’s fantastic. We should publish the highest-quality genre fiction we can.
As for translations, the same thing goes here. I am in the very lucky position of being able to cherry pick from the best international authors … prize winners, exciting voices, books that are capable of transporting readers to other countries and other cultures, and I love that. But translating genre fiction also means that we can demystify the whole ‘translation thing’. Many of our readers are unaware that they are actually reading translations until they see the translator’s name on the press release or the book. And that’s GOOD. We use the very best translators in the business to achieve books that read as perfectly in English as they do in their native language. And readers are loving them! The idea that translated literature is ‘high brow’ or only for certain echelons of readers or society or education is crazy, and getting them in the back door, via genre fiction, is a wonderful way for readers to realise this! And then feel confident enough, perhaps, to go on and read more in translation. A whole new world is opened up.
On: A landmark moment
I think probably starting this company was the biggest landmark of all. I didn’t really have a clear idea of what to do, but had some pretty clear thoughts about what wouldn’t work in the contemporary market. I was just passionate and determined, and it has thankfully worked. Being shortlisted for the IPG Best Newcomer Award (twice) in our first two years was brilliant, as was becoming a Bookseller Rising Star. I suppose every day brings new landmarks … when readers start chatting about, creating a buzz around, the books that I love. When sales start happening, a big order comes in, an author is long or shortlisted for an award, an author I admire commenting on a book we’re publishing, authors and books getting great reviews and praise. A TV deal. ANYTHING that is positive is a welcome and makes this job worthwhile.
Thank you to Karen for introducing the titles that follow in the best way possible.
Paul Burke’s Favourite Orenda Titles:
Simone Buchholz – Blue Night
Sometimes you read a book and you know it’s special, the first title on my list, The Blue Night, blew me away. When it comes to noir I think I’m a connoisseur and this is the real deal.
A delicious thriller that is fast, exciting and stylishly. Buchholz is a strong new voice in Euro-noir fiction and her creation, former detective Chastity Riley, is a great character. This is a nod to classic hard-boiled crime but Blue Night is a very contemporary tale of gangsters and drugs. Blaue Nacht (German) offers real insight into the dilemmas of modern European society. Deadly synthetic drugs are cheaper, easier to produce and more profitable on the streets of Hamburg than heroin or cocaine. Albanian gangster Malaj has a plan to bring in the biggest consignment of synth drugs ever seen in the city. This mirrors the terrifying menace afflicting many urban communities across Europe right now. The scenes near a Leipzig school are desperately sad. However, the thriller never slacks or becomes preachy, and the tension is palpable. The anonymous nature of the victim of a beating in the hospital, who won’t say what happened or who did it, builds anticipation in the story. The inadvertent involvement of one of Chastity’s friends in the massive drugs deal make things very personal and very complicated for her investigation. Personal loyalties come into conflict with the need to tackle the city’s most violent gangster.
Simone Buchholz has created a truly interesting cast of characters. There are shades of Jakob Arjouni in her writing, but she has a truly original voice. A style that is instantly pleasing to the noir fan. The mix of disparate characters, the blurring of the lines between people on either side of the law and the pent up desire for revenge are all qualities that remind me of the best noir. Hamburg is an amalgam of people, and cultures and lifestyles – Buchholz conveys that cosmopolitan feel beautifully. Blue Night is a fast paced and tackles some serious contemporary issues, while delivering a full on blast of black comedy. Chastity Riley is a strong modern woman, formidable and independently minded. *****
Simone Buchholz – Beton Rouge
Beton Rouge, the second novel in the Chastity Riley series to be translated into English, is, again, essential reading for noir fans. Buchholz is one of the finest exponents of Euro-noir out there. Beton Rouge is a fast-paced German thriller set in Hamburg and featuring Chastity Riley of the public prosecutor’s office. She has her cabal of friends with her but whether that is a good thing or a bad thing is a moot point (adds to the fun though). This is an intriguing revenger’s tale that explores the nature of blame, guilt and mitigation: What drives a person to crime? Borrowing from the American hard-boiled school the writing is taut, the dialogue sassy and there is an edge of toughness and cynicism to the story. However, what Buchholz borrows she makes her own, the result is a distinctive noir and Chastity is a truly original character. As much as this is a crime story, it’s also Chastity Riley’s personal journey through life, she is the principal fascination of the novel. Chastity is a strange but enchanting character, she is one quarter insider and three quarters outsider. Chastity lives in the moment, she has an intriguing world view and spending time with her as a reader is a exhilarating experience. Her observations are sharp and even though she’s quick to judge she often hits the nail on the head. Buchholz also does a nice line in wry, black humour in her novels and there are some very funny moments in Beton Rouge set against a backdrop of greyness and pessimism. The novel opens with a hit and run, Chastity is a witness after the fact, this will have ramifications for the case she is about to handle. The police have been called to the harbour, the offices of Mohr and Wolff, a large publishing concern. Someone is torturing the company’s executives, leaving them naked and beaten in cages outside their offices. These are not popular men but it is hard to believe that the motive could be the redundancies and cost cutting measures they are enforcing at the magazine empire. Something buried deep in the past is finally catching up with these men, who, coincidentally (??), all went to the same public school. Why are the victims being targeted? Chastity and her detective partner Ivo Stepanovic will have to travel to Bavaria to find out. Beton Rouge is a touch of class, a superb noir. *****
Doug Johnstone – Breakers
This novel is a stunner. I was pleased to be part of the blog tour, so rather than give a new take on the book, you can read my original review here. Johnstone ranks up there with Irvine Welsh as a chronicler of modern Edinburgh life. This feels like it really comes from the estates and communities of the city. Breakers opens a window on a side to the city that will surprise you, even if you think you are familiar with its streets and people. Sometimes you just don’t appreciate how lucky you are, that is, until you see how the other half lives. Tyler has had no kind of start in life and yet he’s resourceful and caring, he faces up to the responsibility of looking after his family but he is also a thief, a house breaker and a grifter. *****
Matt Wesolowski – Changeling
The thing that struck me first, on finishing this book, was the subtlety and nuance of the story. The novel is loaded with hints and clues but they are discreetly woven into the story and yet hit you like a lightening bolt when you get to the end of the story, the final jaw dropping revelation. The way the characters are drawn reveals their inner-selves despite their contradictions and limited self knowledge. This is a short novel, it has the punch of a good play, the interview style of the podcasts lends itself to that. Wesolowski has brought this format to life, it’s very exciting, very inventive – a lesser writer might produce something stilted. If these interviews were conducted in a police station, for example, they wouldn’t be half as revealing. It’s the podcast format that gets the witnesses to drop their guard and reveal themselves.
Wesolowski has hit on an original driver with his storytelling style, this is the third Scott King “Six Stories” podcast novel (of course, podcasts have featured in novels before but not like this). That gives The Changeling a modern twist, King presents a true crime show that covers a cold case in six episodes, each featuring a witness to the crime or its background. Each interview is prefaced by King, who also makes incisive observations during the interview, pay attention his opinions and descriptions help to put flesh on the bones of the characters and the story. King’s reactions to the people he interviews are another subtlety of the novel. But, of course, as readers we weigh the evidence and the testimony ourselves – that is very engaging.
So character is at the heart of this beautifully crafted novel but it fizzes with atmosphere; a moody, off kilter feel that maximises the tension of a tragic story – the disappearance of a small child. The sense of foreboding and spookiness is palpable. It’s disquieting but then we are dealing with grief, loss, fear and guilt. The little stories people tell and the asides that come up bolster the sense of ill ease in the general thrust of the narrative. *****
Steff Broadribb – Deep Dirty Truth
I missed the first two novels in this series but I really enjoyed Broadribb’s raucous take on the flipside of Florida’s sunshine smile. Lori Anderson is a star; she’s a powerhouse, she used to get messed about but not anymore – let the FBI and the mob bring it on. Deep Dirty Truth is fun and guaranteed to blow the cobwebs away – a cracking non-stop adventure, action from the moment Lori is kidnapped and threatened with a bullet to the head by Miami mob capo Giovanni Bonchese to the big bang bloody denouement.
It all starts with Lori getting bundled her into a van, hog tied and gagged by two hoods. They dump her in a barn, there are hungry snorting pigs in the background (dinner Hannibal Lector style?). Lori and her family, Dakota and JT, have been through the wringer before, ten years ago when Lori’s husband Tommy was killed, the mob assumed bounty hunter JT did it. They put a price on his head, somehow he survived a brutal attack but he’s still recovering and little Dakota has been kidnapped and seen more than one man killed. As Deep Dirty Truth opens the family have settled into a new home. That is, until one apparently ordinary morning when the van turns up and the ordure hits the fan again.
Deep Dirty Truth is a classic slice of Americana from a Brit with an ear for the sassy, clipped dialogue and breakneck pace of the noir genre. Stylish with an original take on the lone wolf/bounty hunter theme. This is a novel alive with tension and intriguing twists. An old-fashioned tale with modern sensibilities and a great female protagonist. What starts as the kind of story you’ve seen often in the movies soon acquires it’s own momentum and trajectory. There is a real sense of danger as Lori’s family has to go on the run.
Lori Anderson is full on hellfire but she has enough smarts to know when to act and when to stay tight lipped. Especially around the condescending violent assholes that keep pointing a gun at her. Resourceful and stoic if anyone has the strength of character and physical resilience to survive long enough to save her family it’s Lori. She’s a tonic in a macho misogynistic world. There’s a good deal of wit at the expense of the complacent, anachronistic, loud mouthed quick fisted mobsters. ****
Ragnar Jonasson – Black Out
Jonasson creates a fantastic sense of claustrophobia in his novels. The way Karen put it explains why she found his work so compelling. My personal favourite by this innovative and original Icelandic writer is Black Out.
The blurb: The shores of a tranquil fjord in Northern Iceland, a man is brutally beaten to death on a bright summer’s night. As the 24-hour light of the arctic summer is transformed into darkness by an ash cloud from a recent volcanic eruption, a young reporter leaves Reykajvik to investigate on her own, unaware that an innocent person’s life hangs in the balance.
Ari Thór Arason and his colleagues on the tiny police force in Siglufjörður struggle with an increasingly perplexing case, while their own serious personal problems push them to the limit. As silent, unspoken horrors from the past threaten them all, and the darkness deepens, it’s a race against time to find the killer before someone else dies…
Dark, terrifying and complex, Black Out is an exceptional, atmospheric thriller from one of Iceland’s finest crime writers. ****
Will Carver – Good Samaritans
Look out for a new dictionary definition in the near future – Dysfunctional: Characters in Will Carver’s Good Samaritans. This down and dirty tale of twisted sex and perverted murder will bring out your naughty side. You’ll be laughing at things you know you shouldn’t, but this is such deliciously dark fun you won’t be able to help yourself.
A perfect storm is a particularly violent storm arising from an infrequent but deadly mix of seriously nasty weather conditions – destruction and utter devastation follow. Good Samaritans is another kind of perfect storm; an explosion of misfortune and violence arising from the confluence of a few very unlucky, extremely vulnerable individuals with a couple of depraved and damaged psychopaths. Alone any one of these characters is a danger to themselves or to society in general, together they represent a perfect storm.
Good Samaritans is a beautifully crafted tale of sex, obsession, desire, sexual obsession and obsession. Did I mention obsession? The novel is made up of short sharp chapters and a tight time frame that keep the tale flowing at a breakneck pace. Each little bite of the plot is to be savoured, Carver is a stylish and original writer. The individual stories come together in an outrageous and hilarious fashion in this subversive tale of misfits and outsiders. It’s very funny, you’ll laugh while reading through your fingers in anticipation of just how bad things are going to get for the protagonists. Just who is depraved or deranged and how far they will go will surprise you. I admire the way Carver brings these character together, the way people make connections with each other in the novel, it’s the source of much of the fun but also a creeping sense of fear. The way characters reveal their darker sides is gripping, they’re all jaundiced, all off kilter but totally credible and strangely attractive. The number of perspectives is fascinating and the way characters come to life when their obsessions take over is brilliantly written and genuinely scary. Some of the best comic moments come from farcical misunderstandings. Good Samaritans are in short supply here. It’s a joy to witness the perfect storm and to derive a perverse pleasure at the chaos it creates. You will not have read anything quite like this – wicked. *****
Kjell Ola Dahl – The Courier
The Courier is one of the best historical thrillers you will read this year, it’s both intelligent and heartfelt. This is not just the kind of first-rate murder mystery that you would expect from Dahl, it’s also a far-reaching and immensely powerful story of war, occupation and the rebuilding of a country when democracy is restored. You can read my full review here. *****
Lilja Sigardardottir – Trap
Sigurdardottir distils 180 proof noir, infused with traditional Scandinavian spices, a gritty texture and a bitter sweet finish. Of course, this novel is neither a finish nor a beginning, it’s the middle volume of a trilogy that will turn out to be a must read for lovers of Nordic noir. There are two major factors that make Trap stand out in a crowded field. First, its moody realism; you can believe this story comes from the streets of Reykjavik and is about real people. Real people, very well defined and rounded, with problems in their lives not all related to being caught up in crime – there is an emotional depth to their stories that make this a superior read. Secondly, universality. Sorry, horrible word, but Trap is an unusual Icelandic novel in that this story could be set anywhere. It has a very distinct setting but it doesn’t rely on that for its truth, although of course, one of the major themes here is the role of Icelandic banks in the financial collapse of 2008. Many Icelandic novels play on the landscape and weather, creating a sense of a vast wilderness (despite the fact that this is a small island). Sigurdardottir draws more on a world view, and has an international flavour. Trap is a pacy thriller that will have you taking sides early on, so you will be invested in the story. It may keep you up at night, it will get the heart racing.
As this is part of a trilogy, the first novel Snare is excellent by the way, I would steer you towards reading that first. Ultimately, the triptych will be a richer reading experience than any single novel. However, you will be able to follow the story perfectly well if you don’t read Snare.
There is also a pronunciation guide at the front of the novel should you feel brave enough to give it a go. Superbly translated by Quentin Bates, who knows the language, people and crime writing intimately. *****
Kati Hiekkapelto – The Defenceless
Hiekkapelto helped to kick it all off for Orenda. I read Defenceless, the second in this series, before I began reviewing books. It’s a dark, noirish read that encapsulates the best of Scandi-noir for me. ****
The blurb: When an old man is found dead on the road seemingly run over by a Hungarian au pair police investigator Anna Fekete is certain that there is more to the incident than meets the eye. As she begins to unravel an increasingly complex case, she’s led on a deadly trail where illegal immigration, drugs and, ultimately, murder threaten not only her beliefs, but her life. Anna’s partner Esko is entrenched in a separate but equally dangerous investigation into the activities of an immigrant gang, where deportation orders and raids cause increasing tension and result in desperate measures by gang members and the police themselves. Chilling, disturbing and terrifyingly believable, The Defenceless is an extraordinary, vivid and gripping thriller by one of the most exciting new voices in crime fiction.
What the critics said: ‘Tough and powerful crime fiction’ – Publishers Weekly. ‘The Finnish Kati Hiekkapelto deserves her growing reputation as her individual writing identity is subtly unlike that of her colleagues’ – Barry Forshaw, Crime Time. ‘There is something fresh and slightly subversive about Hiekkapelto’s writing in The Defenceless. There is something of that restless energy here, a nod to anti-authoritarian and countercultural ideas that makes the novel stand out from the pack’ – Doug Johnstone, The Big Issue. ‘An edgy and insightful chiller with a raw and brooding narrative. Skilfully plotted and beautifully written, Hiekkapelto has given us an excellent and suspenseful crime novel’ – Craig Robertson. WINNER: Best Finnish Crime Novel of 2014.
Johanna Gustawsson – Keeper
This is my first crack at Anglo/Franco/Nordic-Noir. OK, I just made that up, but Johana Gustawsson is French, she has a Swedish husband, and lives in London. So, no surprises Keeper is set in England and Sweden, but also a little bit in France, oh, and Canada. Add in multiple murders and you have to admit it’s all beginning to sound like an intriguing mix. Gustawsson has written a serial killer thriller that is layered, nuanced and very exciting. An entertaining and chilling peak into the darkness of the human soul.
Keeper is beautifully unsettling from the very first page. The man in the dock isn’t really taking in the proceedings of the court, he’s not listening to what the judge has to say. He is imagining what her ear lobe might taste like fried and served with mashed potatoes. You’re thinking Hannibal Lector? Not a bit of it, there is nothing comic book about this novel, it’s chilling not creepily funny. The man in the dock finally mumbles that it’s not his fault; “Hilda was the one who started it….” You can already feel a sense of dread because you know that whatever it is that he is blaming Hilda for is going to be the stuff of nightmares.
Serial killer stories are not usually among my favourite because they often stretch credibility too far, at which point it becomes a joke. Keeper doesn’t do that, as the strands of this story began to intersect I found myself more and more intrigued by the logic of the connections. Particularly the clever way Gustawsson draws on the Ripper story without subverting or usurping the history. She doesn’t try to over-reach with the connections, but bringing in the Ripper makes a statement about our enduring fascination with serial killers and their influence on the public consciousness. Keeper is spot on with the nineteenth century London setting, from the poverty stricken streets of Whitechapel to the affluent lounges of Mayfair.
This is a story that illustrates how adults screw up children and as the cycle perpetuates terrible events follow. Keeper is well plotted and the tension builds as the pace gathers. It’s a chilling, nightmarish tale. It’s the grounded nature of the terror that will get you! ****
Titles coming soon in paperback:
Antti Tuomainen – Little Siberia
Blurb: The arrival of a meteorite in a small Finnish town causes chaos and crime in this poignant, chilling and hilarious new thriller from the King of Helsinki Noir. A man with dark thoughts on his mind is racing along the remote snowy roads of Hurmevaara in Finland, when there is flash in the sky and something crashes into the car. That something turns about to be a highly valuable meteorite. With euro signs lighting up the eyes of the locals, the unexpected treasure is temporarily placed in a neighbourhood museum, under the watchful eye of a priest named Joel.
But Joel has a lot more on his mind than simply protecting the riches that have apparently rained down from heaven. His wife has just revealed that she is pregnant. Unfortunately Joel has strong reason to think the baby isn’t his. As Joel tries to fend off repeated and bungled attempts to steal the meteorite, he must also come to terms with his own situation, and discover who the father of the baby really is.
Transporting the reader to the culture, landscape and mores of northern Finland Little Siberia is both a crime novel and a hilarious, blacker-than-black comedy about faith and disbelief, love and death, and what to do when bolts from the blue – both literal and figurative – turn your life upside down.
Michael J Malone – In the Absence of Miracles
Blurb: A young man discovers a family secret that turns his world upside down in this dark, emotive, shocking psychological thriller by number-one bestselling author Michael J. Malone. John Docherty’s mother has just been taken into a nursing home following a massive stroke and she’s unlikely to be able to live independently again. With no other option than to sell the family home, John sets about packing up everything in the house. In sifting through the detritus of his family’s past he’s forced to revisit, and revise his childhood.
For in a box, in the attic, he finds undeniable truth that he had a brother who disappeared when he himself was only a toddler. A brother no one ever mentioned. A brother he knew absolutely nothing about. A discovery that sets John on a journey from which he may never recover.
For sometimes in that space where memory should reside there is nothing but silence, smoke and ash. And in the absence of truth, in the absence of a miracle, we turn to prayer. And to violence.
Shocking, chilling and heartbreakingly emotive, In the Absence of Miracles is domestic noir at its most powerful, and a sensitively wrought portrait of a family whose shameful lies hide the very darkest of secrets.
Lilia Sigurdardottir – Cage
Blurb: Drugs, smuggling, big money and political intrigue in Iceland rally with love, passion, murder and betrayal until the winner takes all … in the masterful, explosive conclusion to the award-winning Reykjavík Noir trilogy…
The prison doors slam shut behind Agla, when her sentence ends, but her lover Sonja is not there to meet her. As a group of foreign businessmen tries to draw Agla into an ingenious fraud that stretches from Iceland around the world, Agla and her former nemesis María find the stakes being raised at a terrifying speed.
Ruthless drug baron Ingimar will stop at nothing to protect his empire, but he has no idea about the powder keg he is sitting on in his own home. At the same time, a deadly threat to Sonya and her family brings her from London back to Iceland, where she needs to settle scores with longstanding adversaries if she wants to stay alive.
With a shocking crescendo, the lives of these characters collide, as drugs, smuggling, big money and political intrigue rally with love, passion, murder and betrayal until the winner takes all … in the masterful, explosive conclusion to the award-winning Reykjavík Noir trilogy.
Johanna Gustawsson – Blood Song
Blurb: The action swings from London to Sweden, and then back into the past, to Franco’s Spain, as Roy & Castells hunt a monstrous killer … in the lastest instalment of Johana Gustawsson’s award-winning series
Spain, 1938: The country is wracked by civil war, and as Valencia falls to Franco’s brutal dictatorship, Republican Therese witnesses the murders of her family. Captured and sent to the notorious Las Ventas women’s prison, Therese gives birth to a daughter who is forcibly taken from her.
Falkenberg, Sweden, 2016: A wealthy family is found savagely murdered in their luxurious home. Discovering that her parents have been slaughtered, Aliénor Lindbergh, a new recruit to the UK’s Scotland Yard, rushes back to Sweden and finds her hometown rocked by the massacre.
Profiler Emily Roy joins forces with Aliénor and soon finds herself on the trail of a monstrous and prolific killer. Little does she realise that this killer is about to change the life of her colleague, true-crime writer Alexis Castells. Joining forces once again, Roy and Castells’ investigation takes them from the Swedish fertility clinics of the present day back to the terror of Franco’s rule, and the horrifying events that took place in Spanish orphanages under its rule.
Terrifying, vivid and recounted at breakneck speed, Blood Song is not only a riveting thriller and an examination of corruption in the fertility industry, but a shocking reminder of the atrocities of Spain’s dictatorship, in the latest, stunning installment in the award-winning Roy & Castells series.
Will Carver – Nothing Important Happened Today.
Blurb: When strangers take part in a series of group suicides, everything suggests that a cult is to blame. But how do you stop a cult when no one knows they are members? A shocking, mesmerisingly original and pitch-black thriller from the critically acclaimed Will Carver.
Nine people arrive one night on Chelsea Bridge. They’ve never met. But at the same time, they run, and leap to their deaths. Each of them received a letter in the post that morning, a pre-written suicide note, and a page containing only four words: Nothing important happened today.
That is how they knew they had been chosen to become a part of The People Of Choice: A mysterious suicide cult whose members have no knowledge of one another.
Thirty-two people on that train witness the event. Two of them will be next. By the morning, People Of Choice are appearing around the globe: a decapitation in Germany, a public shooting at a university in Bordeaux; in Illinois, a sports team stands around the centre circle of the football pitch and pulls the trigger of the gun pressed to the temple of the person on their right. It becomes a movement.
SJI Holliday – Violet.
The Blurb: When two strangers end up sharing a cabin on the Trans-Siberian Express, an intense friendship develops, one that can only have one ending … a nerve-shattering psychological thriller from bestselling author SJI Holliday
Carrie’s best friend has an accident and can no longer make the round-the-world trip they’d planned together, so Carrie decides to go it alone. Violet is also travelling alone, after splitting up with her boyfriend in Thailand. She is also desperate for a ticket on the Trans-Siberian Express, but there is nothing available. When the two women meet in a Beijing Hotel, Carrie makes the impulsive decision to invite Violet to take her best friend’s place.
Thrown together in a strange country, and the cramped cabin of the train, the women soon form a bond. But as the journey continues, through Mongolia and into Russia, things start to unravel – because one of these women is not who she claims to be…
A tense and twisted psychological thriller about obsession, manipulation and toxic friendships, Violet also reminds us that there’s a reason why mother told us not to talk to strangers…
Note: if you’re an eBook reader, check out these titles online as they are available now. They will be released in paperback over the next couple of months.
As Orenda keep publishing, you will see my reviews of many of their titles here on nbmagazine.co.uk.