Leeds, September 1908. There’s going to be a riot. Detective Superintendent Tom Harper can feel it. Herbert Asquith, the prime minster, is due to speak in the city. The suffragettes and the unemployed men will be out in the streets in protest. It’s Harper’s responsibility to keep order. Can he do it?
Harper has also received an anonymous letter claiming that a young boy called Andrew Sharp was stolen from his family fourteen years before. The file is worryingly thin. It ought to have been bulging. A missing child should have been headline news. Why was Andrew’s disappearance ignored? Determined to uncover the truth about Andrew Sharp and bring the boy some justice, Harper is drawn deep into the dark underworld of child-snatching, corruption and murder as Leeds becomes a molten, rioting city.
A new case for DS Tom Harper (his eighth), following up from last year’s excellentThe Leaden Heart.
We’ve moved on to 1908 – a new century and a set of new challenges for Harper and his team. The prime minister is on his way to Leeds and Harper is tasked with making sure everything runs like clockwork – no small feat when the suffragettes and unemployed both plan on making trouble.
On top of that, Harper has a mystery to solve. He’s received a letter claiming that a young boy was stolen from his family some fourteen years ago. But where was the outcry? Why is the file so empty?
I really enjoyed delving back into the world of DS Tom Harper. I read a lot of modern crime fiction set all around the world, so it’s great to find one set so close to home. I know the streets and alleyways that Harper’s men walk, and get a real feel for how my adopted city has changed. Not that you’d need to be familiar with Leeds to enjoy this, mind!
The story is, as with The Leaden Heart, full of intrigue and good, solid no-nonsense police work. Nickson clearly knows and loves his subject (and city) well, and it really comes across on the page. Leeds is very much a key character in Nickson’s books, and I hope to read many more.
The Molten City is the eighth book in the Tom Harper series, but could easily be read as a standalone. I still need to go back and read some of the earlier books, and am looking forward to doing so.
Huge thanks to Chris Nickson for asking me to review his book, and to Natasha Bell and Severn House for the advance copy via NetGalley.
‘Who am I? Why am I here? Why did my mother give me away?’
On the surface, Luke and his girlfriend Hannah seem to have a perfect life. He’s an A&R man, she’s an arts correspondent and they are devoted to their new-born son Samuel.
But beneath the gloss Luke has always felt like an outsider. So when he finds his birth mother Alice, the instant connection with her is a little like falling in love.
When Hannah goes back to work, Luke asks Alice to look after their son. But Alice – fuelled with grief from when her baby was taken from her 27 years ago – starts to fall in love with Samuel. And Luke won’t settle for his mother pushing him aside once again…
More than your usual psychological thriller, Mine is an exploration of love and loss, of obsession and grief, and will absolutely not let you go until the very end.
Really enjoyed this book. I loved the dual narratives of Luke’s now and Alice’s then, and how their stories unfold and ultimately intertwine. I must confess that about halfway through the book I thought I had it figured out, but Empson had another card (or two) up her sleeve to keep me on my toes!
The writing is compelling, emotional and thought-provoking – Luke’s adoption and feelings towards his newly-found birth mother and adoptive parents are fascinating. Ultimately it’s a story about relationships, and Empson weaves a masterful tale across the two timelines, always leaving you wanting to find out just a little more.
Mine, by Clare Empson is published by Orion. Many thanks to Tracy Fenton and Orion for inviting me to take part in the blog tour, and for the advance copy of the book.
Yesterday I stumbled across this. Reader, I was intrigued.
I trotted off to that big online store and bought a copy of Mercy, by Danie Ware.
Sister Superior Augusta of the Order of the Bloody Rose has been called to a planet in the far reaches of the Imperium, a world where no Imperial foot has stepped in thousands of year, save a missionary sent to bring the Emperor’s light to the natives. On the world is a cathedral, ancient and run down – but with an icon at its heart, a warrior-woman with a bloodied rose on her chest. Is this a symbol that Saint Mina, founder of the Order, once walked on this world? Augusta is determined to find out…
Now, let me start by saying that whilst I’m aware of Warhammer 40K (seen the miniatures, games and books), I have little to no background in what it’s actually about, other than space marines in HUGE armour and even huger weaponry doing what space marines do.
Mercy is short, sharp and brutal, and I loved it. Featuring the awesome Sister Superior Augusta of the Order of the Bloody Rose, we’re in for a fast-paced adventure to save a missionary on a far-flung world. It’s pretty much action from the first page until the last, and Ware does a grand job of keeping things moving along.
If I had any criticism, it’s that I’d liked to have a bit more character background and development, but as this is a short story in a well-established world, that was always going to play second fiddle to the action.
I’m sure I missed a ton of references, but I really enjoyed my brief travels with the Order of the Bloody Rose.
Every city has a soul. Some are as ancient as myths, and others are as new and destructive as children. New York City? She’s got five.
But every city also has a dark side. A roiling, ancient evil stirs beneath the earth, threatening to destroy the city and her five protectors unless they can come together and stop it once and for all.
What a book this is. It’s glorious in its scope, worldbuilding (albeit atop our own world) which is second to none, and characters? Oh, the characters.
I do love a story with a sense of place, and this book is ALL about place. Some books you feel that the location could almost be a character in itself, but in The City We Became, that is literally true. You see New York City is made up of five boroughs: Manhattan, The Bronx, Queens, Brooklyn and Staten Island. And it’s these five parts which make up the whole, which must come together to fight off the ancient evil which lurks beneath.
Jemisin’s knack for character really shines here. Each of the boroughs, much like in NYC itself (I imagine) has its own distinct personality, its own quirks, its own relationship with the others and the whole. And what I loved about this book is that Jemisin takes the time to let them come to life, to breathe and become real, even as the story whistles along at breakneck pace.
It’s a great story too – New York is in the process of being born, of becoming A City. Its city avatars, in the form of the boroughs, become aware of themselves as part of the larger whole, and the powers that come with it.
And there’s a missing sixth player in the game, the city itself. And the Enemy is cunning and crafty and immense and ancient, and will stop at nothing to destroy New York itself. Can the five come together to find the sixth in time to avert catastrophe?
I just love Jemisin’s writing. Each page oozes atmosphere, the dialogue crackles with life and the picture she paints of NYC is stunning in breadth and scope. This is full on, widescreen four-dimensional New York, sights, sounds and smells and all. I can’t wait to see what happens next.
The City We Became, by N.K. Jemisin is published by Orbit Books and is out now. Huge thanks to Nazia at Orbit for the advance review copy.
It is a morning’s lessons, a dress rehearsal of Macbeth, a snowy trek through the woods.
It is an eternity waiting for news. Or a countdown to something terrible.
It is 180 minutes to discover who you will die for and what men will kill for.
In rural Somerset in the middle of a blizzard, the unthinkable happens: a school is under siege. Told from the point of view of the people at the heart of it, from the wounded headmaster in the library, unable to help his trapped pupils and staff, to teenage Hannah in love for the first time, to the parents gathering desperate for news, to the 16 year old Syrian refugee trying to rescue his little brother, to the police psychologist who must identify the gunmen, to the students taking refuge in the school theatre, all experience the most intense hours of their lives, where evil and terror are met by courage, love and redemption.
Towards last year I found myself with an afternoon to spare and this book on my Kindle. I settled down with a cup of tea to read.
Three hours (or so) later I emerged from the book, my tea as cold as the weather outside, untouched.
Reader, this book is utterly absorbing, utterly terrifying, and one you will be utterly unable to put down.
I’ve been meaning to write a review of this book since December. I keep picking up the draft, then putting it down again, unable to find the right words.
It’s quite an experience. The subject matter was never going to make this an easy read, especially as a parent. We’re sadly all too familiar with the scenario from news stories in the US, but Three Hours‘ setting in a school in Somerset almost makes it more shocking. This isn’t something we’d expect to see here, making it all the more shocking.
Told over the course of the titular three hours, this is a complex, multi-layered narrative told from multiple viewpoints – the head teacher lying gravely wounded, the students trying to save him, the teenage Syrian refugee trying to find his little brother whilst the gunman stalks the halls. Relationships between the young students are brought to the fore, magnified and focussed by the ever-present threat of death, of life being snatched before they’ve had a chance to truly live.
It’s beautifully written, nail-bitingly tense and at times, heartbreaking. It will also be on my books of the year list, I can guarantee it even now.
Put it on your list. Hugely recommended. Solid five stars.
Three Hours by Rosamund Lupton was published by Penguin in January 2020. Many thanks to the publisher for an advance ebook via NetGalley
It’s my turn on the blog tour for Peter Laws’ new book, Possessed.
Without further ado, over to Peter to talk about movies!
In Possessed, Professor Matt Hunter is sceptical of exorcism. That’s no surprise. He’s an ex-church minister turned atheist academic after all. This means that any talk of Satanic influence tends to prompt his patented eyeroll. Yet when, in the book, he starts meeting people who claim to be controlled by demons, he’s immediately concerned. Not only is he worried these vulnerable people might be misdiagnosing mental health issues. He also suspects they’re unwittingly taking their cues from pop culture…and in particular, the cinema.
That’s right, movies have been the prime method by which our culture has learned ‘what possession looks like’. They tell us it must involve a sweary, wild-eyed, tongue-lolling victim (usually a woman), who gets strapped to a bed and strains away from the cross. All while spouting the type of sexually explicit one-liners that would make even the most laid back vicar blush.
So in a nod to the influence of these movies, let me offer five picks from what seems to be an ever-growing bank of possession movies. Note: these aren’t all chosen for quality reasons. In fact, some of them are decidedly ropey. Yet they’re all, in their own way, remarkable.
THE EXORCIST (1973)
No other movie has impacted our view of possession than this one – the story of a 12 year old girl in the grip of Satan. I read the novel as a young teenager and it gave me bad dreams. Then I tracked down the film, and that scared me too. It wasn’t just the idea of a rampant devil that creeped me out. The rational explanation was just as frightening. Could an otherwise normal everyday kid suffer a complete mental breakdown? Could they become, in a sense, a monster?
The Exorcist changed me. I was deeply antagonistic about church and Christianity at the time. Yet this story of a vomiting girl made me consider an insane question: what if the devil exists…might God exist too? It even showed the clergy not as useless weirdos, corrupt evangelists or paedophile priests…but as normal, flawed, human heroes filled with faith and doubt.
Course, not everyone was impressed with the film. An insightful Satanist called Nikolas Shrek said the films presentation of the devil was laughable. He may have a point. Satan does seem surprisingly juvenile in this. Contrast it with the brilliant Omen films (the Exorcist for protestants). In those films the devil is a master strategist, planning to dominate the world. In The Exorcist, he just likes swearing a lot and puking in faces. Who knows? Maybe possessing kids is just Satan’s idea of a fun night out. A way of letting off steam between world domination plans. Or maybe, the devil is so desirous of torment, that he’ll do anything to cause pain on both a large scale and a small scale. Whatever the case, The Exorcist is an amazing film, and it’s the key cultural signifier when it comes to possession, not least because it was so blatantly copied in other movies…as we’ll see.
Make no mistake. Seytan isn’t a homage to The Exorcist. It isn’t inspired by it. It’s a full on photocopy that replicates both plot and specific scenes with zero restraint. We even hear the unauthorised use of Tubular Bells in the opening credits! There are, to be fair, slight variations. For example, in The Exorcist, the little girl is first possessed by the spirit of Captain Howdy, speaking through the Ouija board. In Seytan, the Ouija voice is called Captain Larson.
Another new angle comes from the fact that Islam is the major religion of Turkey. Catholicism is, therefore, largely removed from the film. That’s not to say it’s replaced by clearly Islamic equivalents, though I did notice the exorcist turns up with some Zamzam water. That’s Muslim holy water, taken from a scared well in Mecca. It’d be easy to dismiss Seytan as a shameless rip-off as that’s precisely what it is. It also looks like it was made by sixth formers for a drama project, so it cant compare to the original. Yet for me, it ends up as an endearing, low-fi spin that fuses the Christian nightmares of the West with the 70s sensibilities of the middle east.
Note: Seytan was just part of a popular trend in Turkish cinema from the 60s to 80s known as Yseilcam (meaning Green Pine). Here, Turkey would simply remake Hollywood hits, because it was way cheaper than licensing the original. Fun fact: others copies include The Man Who Saved the World (Turkish ‘Star Wars’) Rampage (Turkish ‘Rambo’) Buddy (‘Turkish’ E.T.) and my favourite re-title Omer The Tourist on Star Trek (Turkish ‘Star Trek’).
Just look at the release dates of the last three films to see how there was an explosion of Exorcist imitators in the wake of the originals release. Abby was commonly known as the ‘black Exorcist’, where a young woman is possessed by an African sex spirit. I’ve got a soft spot for Abby, not least because it’s more of it’s own thing than Seytan is. For a start, in The Exorcist, the girl is trapped in her bed for almost the entire movie. In Abby, she’s out and about, sometimes in nice mode, sometimes in potty-mouthed demon mode, dropping into 70s discos and causing mayhem. It’s fun. Plus, the theology’s unique. The spirit that possesses Abby is Eshu, a God from the Yoruba religion (found in Nigeria, Benin, and Togo).
One of Abby’s masterstrokes is having the brilliant William H Marshall play the exorcist, who manages to fuse both Christianity and Yoruba by wearing both a vicars collar and a traditional African ceremonial garb. Lovely. Marshall is best known for playing the dignified and powerful Blacula, from 1972 (yes, there’s a black version of Dracula…and it’s awesome). In Abby, Marshall’s bass filled voice is the perfect sound to cast out the mischevious spirit of Eshu…but is it really Eshu, calling the demonic shots here?
THE EXORCISM OF EMILY ROSE (2005)
The Exorcism of Emily Rose strikes a Matt Hunter style chord, in that it keen to grapple with issues of faith. It’s unique too, being both exorcism movie and courtroom drama. Laura Linney plays a sceptical lawyer trying to defend a priest. He’s accused of killing a young girl through exorcism. Derrickson based the film on the horrifying 1975 case of Anneliese Michel – a young German woman who died during a series of catholic exorcism rites.
Linney starts experiencing strange phenomena as the case progresses, which she mostly dismisses it, absorbing it into her rational world views. Yet the audience is left wondering…what if there are such things? My Matt Hunter books live in that same netherworld too, so perhaps it’s no shock to learn that the film’s writer-director is Scott Derrickson, is a Christian too. He went on to direct hits like Sinister and Dr. Strange, and, like me, seems interested in exploring issues of belief through the horror and thriller genre.
DELIVER US (2016)
Finaly, we have Deliver Us (aka Liberami), a documentary that follows Father Cataldo Migliazzo. He’s an 80-year-old Italian veteran exorcist who finds himself in high demand these days due to the rising demand for exorcism (this genuine real-world boom is a key theme in my book). He has so many ‘clients’ that he carries out mass exorcisms every Tuesday with a three hour service. The film shows Migliazzo calling out the devil from the altar while people in the crowd start groaning and twitching. Some jerk in spasms on the floor, other wail and shake, speaking in chilling voices and animal sounds. A woman calls out, “I’ll never give her up! I’m taking her to hell!” In other words, we see the same behaviour form the movies above, in a real life documentary.
There’s no narrator explaining it all. No interviewer asking questions off screen. Just the priests and the possessed, and a camera you forget is there. It’s poignant too, like the haunting shot of a woman listening to hymns at church. We see a tear roll down her cheek – she’s desperate for God. Then a priest passes and she painfully flinches like she’s been slapped. This idea of the possessed flitting between shocking and ‘normal’ fascinates me. Which is why I made it a feature of my novel, Possessed.
Three Honourable Mentions:
Sam Neil worries his marriage to Isabelle Adjani might be collapsing. Is she having an outside affair…or an inside one? I doubt you’ll see another film like Possession. It’s a stunning, distressing and delirious blend of arthouse and horror. I loved it, and Adjani’s subway scene is simultaneously an acting masterclass, and a pure shot of nightmare fuel.
Toni Collette and her family face a sinister presence after the death of her strange and secretive grandmother. It’s not a possession movie in the ‘classic’ sense, but gosh it’s a good and horrible ride. Your heart-rate might suffer, so be warned.
As a teenager, I was deeply offended that Hollywood were decided to trash one of my favourite horror movies. ‘You’re turning The Exorcist into a goofy comedy?’ Said I. ‘How could you?’ Now I’m more mature, I can see the brilliance in having the great Leslie Neilsen limber up for his exorcism with a Rocky style training scene. He knocks back raw eggs, does some shadow punching, then he whacks his crucifix and holy water into a Rambo lunch box, ready to fight. Genius.
So there you have it, a bunch of possession movies who’s screams and wails rise just that little higher, than the others. Keep them in mind when you’re reading Possessed, and ask yourself: do you think that movies have taught people ‘how to feel and act demonic?’ Just like Matt Hunter claims? Or do these films simply reflect a chilling reality? After all, William Peter Blatty claimed that his novel, The Exorcist, was based on a true case.
I’ll leave it to you to decide. Assuming, that is, you can be yourself long enough to decide it. And if I left out your favourite possession movie from the list, let’s just say the devil made me do it.
When an unidentified and blood-soaked man is discovered with the name Baal-Berith scored into his flesh, Professor Matt Hunter is called in by the bewildered local police. As an atheist ex-minister and expert on religion, Matt can shed light on the ancient Canaanite demon known as the spirit of blasphemy and murder, but as he’s drawn into a frenzied murder investigation, a fury of media interest and a TV show documenting a mass exorcism, the situation follows a much murkier path. Striving to provide balance to the show’s increasingly sensational tone and rational support for the vulnerable ‘clients’, Matt cannot leave, even as events get seriously out of hand…
Today I’m delighted to take part in the blog tour for Gothic mystery The Golden Key set in the wilds of the Norfolk Fens from the BSFA-shortlisted author Marian Womack. More about the book later, first I’ve got an extract for you.
That afternoon Sam went to visit John Woodbury, paying a long-overdue visit to the old man’s newly refurbished establishment in Cecil Court. The Little Haunted Bookshop specialised in books on Spiritualism, psychic research and its related sciences, as well as bewildering phenomena in all their possible manifestations. It also boasted a little printing press in the back, from which some small pamphlets condemning Spiritualist fraud had been published.
Sam found Mr Woodbury writing notes in a thick dusty ledger.
‘My friend! What a welcome sight!’
Woodbury insisted in giving him a tour of the cramped premises. Once Theosophy, Magnetism, Clairvoyance, Psychology, Mesmerism, Phrenology, Psychical Research, Astrology, Spiritism, Spirit Communication, Phonography, Agnosticism and the inevitable Vegetarianism had been dealt with, Woodbury insisted on showing him the latest book arrivals, among them Towards a Science of Immortality: Heat- Death of the Sun, and a New Dawn for Mankind, the lengthily titled monograph by none other than Count Maximilian Justus von Daniken Bévcar. Sam found himself compelled to buy a copy.
Mr Woodbury intrigued him. He was a genuinely zealous prosecutor of tricksters and fakes, who seemed to have many other interests outside of his work for the SPR. Once the business was done of admiring and interesting himself—as much as he was capable—in everything he was shown, Sam asked Woodbury if he knew the mysterious Miss Walton. Woodbury smiled oddly, a gesture Sam refused to read much into as he drank the cup of tea that the older man had prepared for him. Nonetheless, he seemed happy to respond:
‘She has gained the reputation of being a “respectable vessel” for communicating with the shadows. She is a serious young woman, the granddaughter of Ovid Walton.’
‘The classical scholar?’
‘Exactly. Miss Walton is educated—the last thing one would expect in a medium, if you ask me.’ Or in a woman, Sam thought he meant.
‘She studied at Girton, by all accounts with the full support of her grandfather. Afterwards she trained briefly in one of the London hospitals, I think.’
‘She trained as a nurse? Nothing odd in that!’
Woodbury smiled his crooked smile again, full of square teeth.
‘Oh no, my friend. The woman trained to be a doctor, of all things!’
‘Is she a doctor, then?’ Sam refused to be scandalised by the notion; this was the twentieth century.
‘She was expelled from her studies. A little bit of a scandal, if you ask me, although I can’t remember the particulars right now…’
That was all the old man was prepared to share, it seemed.
Well, doesn’t that sound splendid? Can’t wait to read it myself. Huge thanks to Polly Grice and Titan Books for the copy for review – look out for that later!
London, 1901. After the death of Queen Victoria the city heaves with the uncanny and the eerie. Séances are held and the dead are called upon from darker realms.
Samuel Moncrieff, recovering from a recent tragedy of his own, meets Helena Walton-Cisneros, one of London’s most reputed mediums. But Helena is not what she seems and she’s enlisted by the elusive Lady Matthews to solve a twenty-year-old mystery: the disappearance of her three stepdaughters who vanished without a trace on the Norfolk Fens.
But the Fens are a liminal land, where folk tales and dark magic still linger. With locals that speak of devilmen and catatonic children found on the Broads, Helena finds the answer to the mystery leads back to where it started: Samuel Moncrieff.