The Book of Mirrors by E.O. Chirovici

Century | 2017 (26 January) | 336p | Review copy | Buy the book

The Book of Mirrors by EO ChiroviciWhen literary agent Peter Katz receives a submission from hopeful author Richard Flynn, he is hooked. About thirty years ago, while a student at Princeton, Flynn had worked for Joseph Wieder, a famous and charismatic professor of psychology, whose work centred upon the function and meaning of memory. Wieder was murdered in his home in 1987, bludgeoned to death, his papers found lying around him. Flynn had been one of the original suspects in a case that had never been solved. Now, for some reason, Flynn has written a book about what went on all those years ago. The submitted chapters instantly read bestseller to Katz but, even more than that, he is desperate to read more, to discover the revelations that Katz is certain to be found within. Katz is driven to discover the truth.

But what is the truth? In The Book of Mirrors, three figures pick up the narrative baton – first there is Katz reading the Flynn manuscript, then there is journalist John Keller (hired by Katz to pick up the pieces of the story) and, finally, Roy Freeman, a police officer who took part in the original investigation into the Wieder murder. All three have different perspectives and each is separated from events by a large number of years. So, too, are the people and witnesses that they contact. How reliable are they? Can their memories be trusted?

A major theme throughout is the reliability of memory, the forces that can manipulate it, the difficulty of deciphering it, the inevitability of losing it. The centre of it all is, of course, the memory man himself, Professor Joseph Wieder. Ironically, he has been reduced to little more than a memory himself, but in which memory can be found the truth?

The Book of Mirrors is undoubtedly an intriguing and clever mystery but I found that I wasn’t able to engage with it as much as I hoped. The beginning is especially cold, largely due to the narrative style of Flynn’s manuscript which comprises much of the novel’s first third. I really didn’t care for Flynn. But I’m glad to say that the middle third hooked me and this was sealed by the best of all, the final third which is spent in the company of Roy Freeman, a man I cared for very much. But even more dislikeable than Richard Flynn is Professor Wieder and certain other characters I might mention, but won’t.

Despite my detachment from some of the characters and their troubles, once I became hooked I found A Book of Mirrors extremely difficult to put down. Just like Peter Katz, I really wanted to learn what had happened and it is a very good puzzle. I also enjoyed the structure a great deal and loved the idea of one man passing on the story to another. This worked very well. The highlight for me, though, was Roy Freeman, a man who knows better than anyone, even Professor Wieder, the significance of memory.

The Dry by Jane Harper

Little, Brown | 2016 | 358p | Review copy | Buy the book

The Dry by Jane HarperIt’s been twenty years since teenager Aaron Faulk and his father were driven out of the small rural town of Kiewarra, Australia. Faulk is now a Federal Police Investigator of financial crime based in Melbourne. Now and then he meets up with his old mate Luke whenever Luke is visiting the city from Kiewarra but otherwise Faulk’s ties with his old hometown are cut. Until now. A tragedy calls Faulk back. Luke is dead. He killed himself but not before he shot dead in their home his wife Karen and their small son Billy. A note from Luke’s father insists Faulk must return for the funerals, hinting that he knows something about that other tragedy twenty years before. Luke’s father knows that all those years ago Luke and Faulk lied.

Apprehensive about what he might find, Faulk returns to a community devastated by the three deaths and stricken by a terrible drought. The town’s policeman, a newcomer, is doing his best to find out what drove Luke to do what he did but when Faulk offers his help it is gratefully accepted. But the more Faulk digs, the more the past returns to haunt him. And Faulk’s presence is a reminder to the town of their earlier loss. Tension, grief and anger do their worst, and soon Faulk feels a million miles away from his life in Melbourne and he realises that this town has never left him. It’s time for Kiewarra’s secrets to emerge from the shadows.

The Dry isn’t just a crime novel, it’s a vividly painted portrait of a community brought to the edge of despair and ruin by the brutality of man and the devastation of nature. Kiewarra is a farming community facing the reality of no rain, dried up rivers and poverty. In a sense, people can understand why their fellow farmer Luke should have been brought so low but then they remember his wife and innocent child. People want answers but not everyone wants them from Aaron Faulk. Jane Harper’s descriptions of Kiewarra are superb and it infuses the whole novel with a mood and atmosphere that makes The Dry stand out as one of the best crime novels we’ll see this winter. There’s something about reading a fine novel set in such a dry and hot location while huddled under blankets during the winter cold.

The story is cleverly told. Most of the narrative follows Faulk during his visit to Kiewarra when he tries to help the police investigation while at the same time having to endure the stares and insults of the townspeople. But interspersed throughout are flashbacks, covering both the recent crime and the events of twenty years before. This works brilliantly and takes us into the past, bringing it into the present, in such an effective fashion.

Almost everyone in The Dry is given a past and a story. They are all so fascinating to learn and it brings this small place to life. But I also really enjoyed the crime aspect of the novel. It is such a good mystery. There is a real sadness and hopelessness to some aspects of the story and to some of the characters, as well as a foreboding and threat, but this is offset by the beauty of the language, the vastness of the sky and the stark and vivid isolation of the parched Kiewarra. This is a novel to become engrossed in. I didn’t want to put it down at all and was sorry when it came to its excellent conclusion and I had to.

Cover reveal (and a review taster) – The End of the Day by Claire North

Claire North is one of the most exciting and original authors writing today – and if you enjoy science fiction thrillers, or thrillers, or just a very good book, then you’ll have no doubt already met The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August, Touch and The Sudden Appearance of Hope. Each time I finish one of these novels, I marvel at Claire North’s imagination, which is vast, and her talent, which is extraordinary, and wonder whatever will come next. This year the answer is The End of the Day, which will be published on 6 April by Orbit. And she’s done it again!

I’m delighted to be involved in the reveal of the cover for The End of the Day. It also gives me an opportunity to tell you something about the book and also do a bit from my review, the rest of which will be posted closer to the publication date. The cover, which is rather fine, as I’m sure you’ll agree, is the excellent work of Duncan Spilling (Little, Brown Book Group).

The End of the Day by Claire North

The blurb
Charlie meets everyone – but only once.
You might meet him in a hospital, in a warzone, or at the scene of traffic accident.
Then again, you might meet him at the North Pole – he gets everywhere, our Charlie.
Would you shake him by the hand, take the gift he offers, or would you pay no attention to the words he says?
Sometimes he is sent as a courtesy, sometimes as a warning. He never knows which.

Review taster
Charlie hasn’t been in the job long but there is much about it that appeals – the frequent travel all around the world, often to the most unexpected places, the chance to meet a wide variety of people, and good prospects. Because surely the one person guaranteed a long and safe future is Charlie, the Harbinger of Death. But for everyone else there comes an end of the day and there they will meet Death. But, before that, they meet Charlie.

Yet again, with The End of the Day, Claire North proves that there is no limit to her extraordinary imagination and her powers to convey ideas and themes that can stop you in your tracks. As always, at the heart of the novel is a figure very difficult to forget (with the exception, of course, of The Sudden Appearance of Hope) and Charlie is a marvellous creation. He takes his job very seriously indeed, he wants to do a good job, and he welcomes the opportunities it gives him, and his heart is open. Strangely, if there’s one character even more humane that Charlie in this novel it’s Death himself, or herself. When he or she isn’t angry, that is.

Despite the darkness, I was left with such a feeling of warmth and wonderful weirdness from this novel. Its approach to death is compassionate while people are shown to be possible of redemption and the end, when it comes, needn’t be feared. Charlie endures for us all – it’s powerful and very well done. Picking one word to describe Claire North’s novels isn’t easy but if I had to pick one, the word would be ingenious.

Preorder The End of the Day

Corpus by Rory Clements

Zaffre | 2017 (26 January) | 384p | Review copy | Buy the book

Corpus by Rory ClementsIt is the end of November in 1936 and the people of Britain are being kept in ignorance about the crisis facing the country’s monarchy. But all is about to be revealed, thanks to the independent America press and King Edward VIII himself who is determined to put life with the woman he loves above duty to his country. The upper reaches of society and government are in turmoil and matters aren’t helped by the conflict between fascist and communist which has spread beyond Germany to Spain and elsewhere, including Britain. It’s the time of rallies and demonstrations, calls to arms, idealism and cynicism, spies and treachery. The time is ripe for murder.

Professor Tom Wilde teaches history at Cambridge University. His specialism is Francis Walsingham, Elizabeth’s spymaster who was responsible for bringing about the fall of Elizabeth’s greatest rival, Mary Queen of Scots. Wilde knows better than most the potential dangers of the time in which he finds himself living. His students are divided between the left and the right. He can only urge them to consider the significance of evidence and prejudice in our understanding of the past and the present.

Wilde himself will need all his skill to help Lydia, the young poet who lives next door to him. Her schoolfriend Nancy has suddenly died, apparently of a heroin overdose, and then the parents of another friend have been found butchered in their home. When other individuals emerge with an interest in the murders, Wilde searches for connections and these take him into the dangerous and dark heart of Europe’s turmoil in these grim cold days of the winter of 1936.

Rory Clements is familiar to many for his wonderful Elizabethan mystery series featuring the spy John Shakespeare, last seen in Holy Spy. In many ways, Corpus would seem to be entirely different but it is a stroke of genius to create a new character, Tom Wilde, who is so fascinated by and knowledgeable in John Shakespeare’s world, who demonstrates the constant timeless themes of history which endlessly recur. The events of 1936 are relevant to the 1580s just as they are also relevant to today. This perspective illuminates Corpus and adds such depth to its events and attitudes. Rory Clements is a fine writer of such clever novels and in Tom Wilde he has created a character to do him proud, every bit as much as John Shakespeare.

You need to have your wits about you when you read Corpus. This is a very clever book, rich in intrigue and deceptions, with an army of characters to keep track of. I had to do a fair amount of looking backwards into the novel to remember who certain people were, particularly during the early part of the book as we move from one location to another – Cambridge University, country homes, London hotels and more. But all becomes much clearer as the novel continues and the rewards for the reader’s attention are high.

The storyline is marvellous! Its complexity is very satisfying to unravel and it captures so much of the sinister world of 1936 Europe. Hitler and Stalin walk in the shadows of this novel. Their reach is almost limitless and for many in this book their appeal is intoxicating and powerful. But the novel never forgets how much is at stake – there are frequent reminders of the bloody war in Spain, the King’s abdication promises chaos in Britain and the violence of the novel increases as several of the characters emerge from their disguises. There is a social divide here, too, with many types of people represented – the upper classes, politicians, immigrants, academics, miners – but some things unite them, including murder.

Rory Clements writes as brilliantly as he plots and this is a novel steeped in atmosphere, menace and history. The fact that we know what happened after 1936 adds a certain tension and also means that we know how believable and plausible the events described here are.

If I had to find fault with Corpus, I’d be out of luck. This is a standout historical novel and a gripping spy thriller. Clearly Rory Clements can turn his attention to any period of history he likes and in it he will find gold.

Other review
Holy Spy

The Fortress at the End of Time by Joe M. McDermott

Tor | Ebook (17 January 2017); Pb (13 February 2017) | 305p | Review copy | Buy the book

The Fortress at the End of Time by Joe M. McDermottFor the newly cloned there is little worse than a posting to the Citadel, a listening outpost located between galaxies, on the very edge of human-inhabited space. So far away is it that time itself has little meaning. There’s no escape. In time, the clone will retire to the desolate desert rock orbited by the Citadel, and there he or she (but mostly he) will farm or contemplate God. If very lucky he will have the comfort of knowing that a piece of his consciousness has transcended, itself cloned to live another, hopefully happier existence far, far away. This seems unlikely for pilot Ensign Ronaldo Aldo II, clone of Aldo I and similarly lacking in empathy and tact. He’s liked by few – his commanding officer hates him – and he is cursed by bad luck. Things always go wrong when Aldo is around and, even though it’s not his fault if his colleagues die, commit suicide or abscond, nobody wants to get too close.

The Fortress at the End of Time follows Aldo through ten years of misery. First Ensign and then Captain, Ronaldo Aldo has much to endure as he learns more and more about the way that the Citadel works. Corruption seeps through the shoddy walls of this stinking rathole. The fact that there are so few women doesn’t help tempers. People remember what life was like before they were cloned and sent out to the Citadel as if they were no more significant than an email attachment. Aldo made mistakes before and it looks like he’s well on the way to repeating them.

The novel moves between the Citadel and the planet below, which is undergoing the slow process of being terraformed. While people on the Citadel live in squalour, the settlers on the planet are barely surviving at all, watched over constantly by a monastery of untrustworthy brothers. Almost everyone fears the return of an alien force that attacked the station lifetimes ago and is for a return of this enemy that the Citadel listens. This gives Aldo purpose but it could also send him mad.

The premise of The Fortress at the End of Time is extremely appealing, as is the title, and parts of the novel deliver on its promise. It is a very compelling read and once you’re immersed it can be hard to extract yourself. The descriptions of the Citadel and the rock below are very well done, contributing to the mood of remoteness, alienation, abandonment and isolation. One way or another not everyone lasts long out here and this adds to the sense of despair that Aldo must endure every day. There is only a small number of characters and they are deployed very well, forming a tight if disjointed circle and intensifying the claustrophobic atmosphere and feel of a small lifeboat hopelessly adrift. Each of the characters stands out well and plays their part in the story, with the possible exception of the monks – they felt comparatively undeveloped and purposeless, even though there was an important place in the novel for them to fill.

There are some interesting issues considered here, mostly to do with sexuality and gender. It is this human element of the story that is developed at the cost of some of the science fiction. I didn’t think that the science and process of cloning were explained clearly enough and almost no time at all was spent on the past war. It’s all left very vague, although it’s quite possible that this was intentional – memory is another theme of the book. How can clones remember the past and what does the past matter when time is meaningless?

My main issue with The Fortress at the End of Time is with its relentless doom and gloom. Aldo is not a cheery character, which is hardly surprising, but he’s also not very likeable (or even likeable at all) and this adds to the general despair of the novel. There is some lightness – love and families – but conditions are so hard that love doesn’t often fare well. Aldo certainly does his best to do it harm. There is a religious element which isn’t fully explored in the novel and so, when it rears its head later in the book very unexpectedly, it rather felt like I’d been bludgeoned with it. If there are answers here, I can’t agree with them.

This is a short (about 300 pages) and fast read and, as I mentioned, it is an immersive one. The Fortress at the End of Time is full of premise and promise but not all of it delivers, creating issues that are exacerbated by the unremitting gloom and negativity. There were lots of elements that I enjoyed and it is most certainly an intriguing novel but my mood was dark when I put it down for the final time.

Blog Tour: Lying in Wait by Liz Nugent – the opening chapter

lying-in-wait-pbLying in Wait by Liz Nugent was one of the best psychological thrillers I read last year, perhaps no surprise considering how superb its predecessor, Unravelling Oliver, was. One of the attractions of Lying in Wait that was most commented upon at the time of its first release in the summer was the hook of its opening lines. This is a book that grabs you by the neck and insists you read it. Penguin is celebrating the paperback’s publication at the end of 2016 with a Blog Tour throughout January. I am so pleased to be a part of it and I have the perfect post for it – that wonderful, attention-grabbing opening chapter. Put your feet up, pour a glass or cup of something lovely and journey into the lives of Lydia, Andrew and their son Laurence – if you dare.

My review of Lying in Wait
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Part 1

1. Lydia

My husband did not mean to kill Annie Doyle, but the lying tramp deserved it. After we had overcome the initial shock, I tried to stop him speaking of her. I did not allow it unless to confirm alibis or to discuss covering up any possible evidence. It upset him too much and I thought it best to move on as if nothing had happened. Even though we did not talk about it, I couldn’t help going over the events of the night in my mind, each time wishing that some aspect, some detail, could be different, but facts are facts and we must get used to them.

It was the 14th of November 1980. It had all been arranged. Not her death, just the meeting to see if she was genuine, and if not, to get our money back. I walked the strand for twenty minutes to ensure that there was nobody around, but I needn’t have worried. The beach was deserted on that particularly bitter night. When I was satisfied that I was alone, I went to the bench and waited. A cruel wind rushed in with the waves and I pulled my cashmere coat around me and turned up the collar. Andrew arrived promptly and parked not far from where I was seated, as instructed. I watched from thirty yards away. I had told him to confront her. And I wanted to see her for myself, to assess her suitability. They were supposed to get out of the car and walk past me. But they didn’t. After waiting ten minutes, I got up and walked towards the car, wondering what was taking so long. As I got closer, I could hear raised voices. And then I saw them fighting. The passenger door swung open and she tried to get out. But he pulled her back towards him. I could see his hands around her throat. I watched her struggle, mesmerized momentarily, wondering if I could be imagining things, and then I came back to myself, snapped out of my confusion and ran to the car.

‘Stop! Andrew! What are you doing?’ My voice was shrill to my own ears, and her eyes swivelled towards me in shock and terror before they rolled back upwards into her head.

He released her immediately and she fell backwards, gurgling. She was almost but not quite dead, so I grabbed the crook lock from the footwell at her feet and smashed it down on to her skull, just once. There was blood and a little twitching and then absolute stillness.

I’m not sure why I did that. Instinct?

She looked younger than her twenty-two years. I could see past the lurid make‑up, the dyed black hair, almost navy. There was a jagged white scar running from a deformed top lip to the septum of her nose. I wondered that Andrew had never thought to mention that. Her jacket had been pulled off one arm during the struggle and I saw bloodied scabs in the crook of her elbow. There was a sarcastic expression on her face, a smirk that death could not erase. I like to think I did the girl a kindness, like putting an injured bird out of its misery. She did not deserve such consideration.

Andrew has always had a short fuse, blowing up at small, insignificant things and then, almost immediately, remorseful and calm. This time, however, he was hysterical, crying and screaming fit to wake the dead.

‘Oh Christ! Oh Jesus!’ he kept saying, as if the Son of God could fix anything. ‘What have we done?’

‘We?’ I was aghast. ‘You killed her!’

‘She laughed at me! You were right about her. She said I was an easy touch. That she’d go to the press. She was going to blackmail me. I lost my temper. But you . . . you finished it, she might have been all right . . .’

‘Don’t even . . . don’t say that, you fool, you idiot!’

His face was wretched, tormented. I felt sympathy for him. I told him to pull himself together. We needed to get home before Laurence. I ordered him to help me get the body into the boot. Through his tears, he carried out my instructions. Infuriatingly, his golf clubs were in there, unused for the last year, taking up most of the space, but luckily the corpse was as slight and slim as I had suspected, and still flexible, so we managed to stuff her in.

‘What are we going to do with her?’

‘I don’t know. We have to calm down. We’ll figure it out tomorrow. We need to go home now. What do you know about her? Does she have family? Who will be looking for her?’

‘I don’t know . . . she . . . I think she might have mentioned a sister?’

‘Right now, nobody knows she is dead. Nobody knows she is missing. We need to keep it like that.’

When we got home to Avalon at quarter past midnight, I could see by the shadow from his window that the bedside light was on in Laurence’s bedroom. I had really wanted to be there when he got home, to hear how his evening had been. I told Andrew to pour us a brandy while I went to check on our son. He was sprawled across the bed and didn’t stir when I ruffled his hair and kissed his forehead. ‘Goodnight, Laurence,’ I whispered, but he was fast asleep. I turned out his lamp, closed his bedroom door and went to the bathroom cabinet for a Valium before I went downstairs. I needed to be calm.

Andrew was trembling all over. ‘Jesus, Lydia, we’re in serious trouble. Maybe we should call the guards.’

I topped up his glass and drained the bottle into my own. He was in shock.

‘And ruin Laurence’s life for ever? Tomorrow is a new day. We’ll deal with it then, but we must remember Laurence, whatever happens. He mustn’t know anything.’

‘Laurence? What has it to do with him? What about Annie? Oh God, we killed her, we murdered her. We’re going to prison.’

I was not going to prison. Who would look after Laurence? I stroked Andrew’s arm in an effort to comfort him. ‘We will figure it out tomorrow. Nobody saw us. Nobody can connect us with the girl. She would have been too ashamed to tell anyone what she was up to. We just have to figure out where to put her body.’

‘You’re sure nobody saw us?’

‘There wasn’t a soul on the strand. I walked the length of it to make sure. Go to bed, love. Things will be better tomorrow.’

He looked at me as if I were insane.

I stared him down. ‘I’m not the one who strangled her.’

Tears poured from his cheeks. ‘But maybe if you hadn’t hit her . . .’

‘What? She would have died more slowly? Or been permanently brain-damaged?’

‘We could have said that we’d found her like that!’

‘Do you want to drive back there now and dump her, ring an ambulance from the phone box and explain what you are doing there on the strand at one o’clock in the morning?’

He looked into the bottom of his glass.

‘But what are we going to do?’

‘Go to bed.’

As we ascended the stairs, I heard the whirr of the washing machine. I wondered why Laurence had decided to do laundry on a Friday night. It was most unlike him. But it reminded me that my clothes and Andrew’s really needed to be washed too. We both stripped and I set aside the pile of laundry for the morning. I washed the sand off our shoes and swept the floors we had passed over. I deposited the sand from the dustpan in the back garden, on the raised patch of lawn beyond the kitchen window. I studied the ground for a moment. I had always thought of having a flower bed planted there.

When I slipped into bed later, I put my arms around Andrew’s trembling form, and he turned to me and we made love, clawing at and clinging to each other like survivors of a terrible calamity.

Andrew had been a very good husband until just a year previously. For twenty-one years, our marriage had been solid. Daddy had been very impressed with him. On his deathbed, Daddy had said he was relieved to be leaving me in good hands. Andrew had been Daddy’s apprentice in Hyland & Goldblatt. He had taken Andrew under his wing and made him his protégé. One day, when I was about twenty-six, Daddy had telephoned me at home and told me that we were having a special guest for dinner and that I should cook something nice and get my hair done. ‘No lipstick,’ he said. Daddy had a thing about make‑up. ‘I can’t stand those painted trollops!’ he would say about American film stars. Daddy’s views could be extreme. ‘You are my beautiful daughter. No point in gilding a lily.’

I was curious about this visitor and why I should dress up for him. I should have guessed, of course, that Daddy was intent on matchmaking. He needn’t have worried. Andrew adored me right away. He went to enormous lengths to charm me. He said that he would do anything for me. ‘I can’t stop looking at you,’ he said. And indeed, his eyes followed me everywhere. He always called me his prize, his precious jewel. I loved him too. My father always knew what was best for me.

Our courtship was short and very sweet. Andrew came from a good family. His late father had been a consultant paediatrician, and though I found his mother a little contrary, she raised no objections to our relationship. After all, when Andrew married me, he would get Avalon too – a six-bedroom detached Georgian house on an acre of land in Cabinteely, south County Dublin. Andrew wanted us to get a house of our own when we got married, but Daddy put his foot down. ‘You’ll move in here. This is Lydia’s home. Don’t look a gift horse in the mouth.’

So Andrew moved in with us, and Daddy gave up the master bedroom and moved to the large bedroom on the other side of the corridor. Andrew grumbled a little to me. ‘But, darling, don’t you see how awkward it is? I’m living with my boss!’ And I admit that Daddy did order Andrew around quite a lot, but Andrew got used to it quickly. I think he knew how lucky he was.

Andrew did not mind that I did not want to host parties or socialize with other couples. He said he was quite happy to keep me to himself. He was kind and generous and considerate. He usually backed away from confrontation, so we did not have many arguments. In a heated moment, he might kick or throw inanimate objects, but I think everyone does that from time to time. And he was always terribly contrite afterwards.

Andrew worked his way up through the ranks until finally all his time on the golf course paid off and three years ago he was appointed as a judge in the Criminal Courts. He was a respected member of society. People listened to him when he spoke, and quoted him in the newspapers. He was widely regarded as having the voice of reason on matters legal and judicial.

But last year, Paddy Carey, his old pal, accountant and golfing partner, had left the country with our money. I thought that, at the very least, Andrew would be careful with our finances. That was the husband’s job, to be a provider and to look after the economic well-being of the household. But he had trusted Paddy Carey with everything and Paddy had fooled us all. We were left with nothing but debts and liabilities, and Andrew’s generous salary barely covered our expenditure.

Had I married badly after all? My role was to be presentable, beautiful, charming – a homemaker, a companion, a good cook, lover and a mother. A mother.

Andrew suggested selling some land to developers to raise capital. I was horrified at the suggestion. Nobody of our status would do such a thing. I had spent my whole life in Avalon. My father had inherited it from his father, and it was the house in which I was born. And the house in which my sister died. I was not going to compromise on selling any part of Avalon. Nor was I going to compromise on the money we needed to pay the girl.

But we had to take Laurence out of the hideously expensive Carmichael Abbey and send him to St Martin’s instead. It broke my heart. I knew he was unhappy there. I knew he was victimized because of his class and accent, but the money simply wasn’t there. Andrew quietly sold some of the family silver to pay our debts, and we kept the wolf at bay. He could not risk being declared bankrupt, as he would have been forced to resign from the bench. We had never lived extravagantly, but the few luxuries that were normal to us began to disappear. He gave up his golf club membership but insisted that he could still pay my store account at Switzers and Brown Thomas. He always hated to disappoint me.

But now, this? A dead girl in the boot of the car in the garage. I was sorry she was dead, but I can’t honestly say I wouldn’t or couldn’t have strangled her myself under the circumstances. We just wanted our money back. I couldn’t stop thinking about the scars on the girl’s inner arm. I had seen a documentary about heroin addicts on the BBC, and reports of a heroin epidemic were in our newspapers. It seemed obvious that she had injected our money into her bloodstream, as if our needs and wants hadn’t mattered.

As Andrew slept fitfully, whimpering and crying out occasionally, I made plans.

The next morning, a Saturday, Laurence slept late. I warned Andrew to say as little as possible. He readily agreed. He was hollow-eyed, and there was a tremor in his voice that never quite went away after that night. He and Laurence had always had a fraught relationship, so they were not inclined to be conversational. I planned to get Laurence out of the house for the day, send him into town on some errand or other while Andrew buried the girl in our garden. Andrew was shocked that we would bury her here, but I made him see that, this way, she could not be discovered. We were in control of our own property. Nobody had access without our permission. Our large rear garden was not overlooked. I knew exactly the spot where she could be buried. In my childhood there had been an ornamental pond under the plane tree beyond the kitchen window, but Daddy had filled it in after my sister’s death. Its stone borders, which had lain under the soil for almost forty years, were conveniently grave-like.

After Andrew had buried the body, he could clean out and hoover the car until there would be no trace of fibres or fingerprints. I was determined to take all precautions. Andrew knew from his job the kind of thing that could incriminate a person. Nobody had seen us on the strand, but one can never be too sure of anything.


When Laurence arrived at the breakfast table, he had a noticeable limp. I tried to be cheerful. ‘So how are you today, sweetie?’ Andrew stayed behind his Irish Times, but I could see his knuckles gripped it tightly to stop it from shaking.

‘My ankle hurts. I tripped going upstairs last night.’

I examined his ankle quickly. It was very swollen and probably sprained. This scuppered my plans to send him into town. But I could still contain my boy, confine him to quarters so to speak. I strapped his ankle and instructed him to stay on the sofa all day. That way, I could keep an eye on him, keep him away from the rear of the house where the burial was to take place. Laurence was not an active boy, so lying on the sofa watching television all day and having food delivered to him on a tray was no hardship to him at all.

As dusk fell, when everything had been done, Andrew lit a bonfire. I don’t know what he was burning, but I had impressed upon him the need to get rid of all evidence. ‘Think of it as one of your court cases – what kind of things betray the lie? Be thorough!’ To give him his due, he was thorough.

However, Laurence is a smart boy. He is intuitive, like me, and he noted his father’s dark mood. Andrew was snappy about wanting to see the television news, terrified, I suppose, that the girl would feature. She did not. He claimed he had the flu and went to bed early. When I went upstairs later, he was throwing things into a suitcase.

‘What are you doing?’

‘I can’t bear it. I have to get away.’

‘Where? Where are you going to go? We can’t change anything now. It’s too late.’

He turned on me then for the first time, spitting with anger.

‘It’s all your fault! I’d never have met her if it wasn’t for you. I should never have started this. It was a crazy idea to begin with, but you wouldn’t stop, you were obsessed! You put too much pressure on me. I’m not the type of man to . . .’ He trailed off because he was exactly the type of man to strangle a girl, as it happens. He just didn’t know it until now. Also, my plan had been perfect. He was the one who ruined it.

‘I told you to pick a healthy girl. Didn’t you see the marks on her arms? She was a heroin addict. Don’t you remember that documentary? You must have noticed her arms.’

He broke down into sobs and collapsed on the bed, and I cradled his head to muffle the sound. Laurence mustn’t hear. When the heaving of his shoulders had subsided, I upended the contents of the suitcase and put it back on top of the wardrobe.

‘Put your things away. We are not going anywhere. We will carry on as normal. This is our home and we are a family. Laurence, you and I.’

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Sirens by Joseph Knox

Doubleday | 2017 (12 January) | 384p | Review copy | Buy the book

Sirens by Joseph KnoxThe streets of Manchester have their dark secrets and nobody is better placed to hunt them out than disgraced detective Aidan Waits. Waits hovers between the police world and the city’s shadows of crime, ironically finding himself useful to both. He can go where others can’t. He wears his desperation and addictions like a coat. Never trusting or trustworthy himself, Aidan Waits looks like he can be bought.

David Rossiter MP has a problem. His teenage daughter Isabelle has disappeared into the underworld and he wants Aidan Waits to find her and bring her back, keeping the scandal at bay. Superintendent Parrs has an ulterior motive for sending Waits undercover. It is ten years since a young mother went missing and Parrs is sure that both cases have an awful lot to do with local crime lord Zain Carver. Waits is perfectly placed to enter Carver’s world. And it is there that he will find both sweetness and pain in the company of Carver’s sirens.

And what a dangerous world it is. Joseph Knox takes us deep into the depths of Manchester’s crime scene and it is a place where night rules over day, where hours lose their meaning, where drugs are power and Carver is king. We see it all through the eyes of Aidan Waits as he takes us into the Carver lair of bars, nightclubs and parties. It is a frightening place, inhabited by damaged people, some ritually scarred, others hiding under names that aren’t theirs, and this isn’t helped by the filter of haze over Waits’ eyes. But there is also something gentler and kinder for Waits to discover – the sirens who do Carver’s bidding yet still retain the light. They are all the more dangerous for it.

Sirens is such a powerful read. It is undoubtedly very dark but it is darkly beautiful. The writing is stunning and there is real feeling in Aidan’s struggles to dig deep into himself, to find an ability to care. The sirens themselves are tragically alluring, surrounded by monsters, giants and demons, many of which are at war. This is a book very well named indeed. The setting of the Manchester underworld is brilliantly drawn and it is evocative throughout.

Our relationship to Aidan Waits is complicated. This is hardly surprising as Aidan struggles with himself. And he is, without doubt, a fallen man and a corrupt policeman. But in this world so few are without blame. This does mean that our sympathies are torn in all sorts of directions.

Sirens is a very clever novel, all the more remarkable for being a debut. You’d never guess. At times I found it relentlessly bleak but the story is never less than compelling and emotionally involving. An extraordinary debut from such a talented writer.