Today I’m taking part in the blog tour for Jeffery Deaver’s latest, The Goodbye Man. It’s the second book in his Colter Shaw series and has all the usual Deaver hallmarks!
I’ve got a little extract for you to whet your appetite. Enjoy!
June 11, 8 a.m., six hours earlier
Shaw was piloting his thirty-foot Winnebago camper through the winding streets of Gig Harbor, Washington State.
With about seven thousand inhabitants, the place was both charming and scuffed around the edges. It was, to be sure, a harbor, well protected, connected to Puget Sound via a narrow channel through which pleasure and fishing craft now glided. The Winnebago motored past working and long-abandoned factories devoted to manufacturing vessels and the countless parts and accessories with which ships were outfitted. To Colter Shaw, never a sailor, it seemed like you could spend every minute of every day maintaining, repairing, polishing and organizing a boat without ever going out to sea.
A sign announced the Blessing of the Fleet in the middle of the harbor, the dates indicating that it had taken place earlier in the month.
Pleasure craft now welcome!
Perhaps the industry was now less robust than in the past, and the organizers of the event wanted to beef up its image by letting lawyers and doctors and salesmen edge their cabin cruisers up to the circle of the commercial craft—if that geometry was in fact the configuration for fleet blessing.
Shaw, a professional reward seeker, was here on a job—the word he used to describe what he did. Cases were what law enforcement investigated and what prosecutors prosecuted. Although after years of pursuing any number of criminals Shaw might have made a fine detective, he wanted none of the regimen and regulation that went with full- time employment. He was free to take on, or reject, any job he wished to. He could choose to abandon the quest at any time.
Freedom meant a lot to Colter Shaw.
He was presently considering the hate crime that had brought him here. In the first page of the notebook he was devoting to the investigation, he’d written down the details that had been provided by one of his business managers:
Location: Gig Harbor, Pierce County, Washington State.
Reward offered for: Information leading to the arrest and conviction of two individuals:
—Adam Harper, 27, resident of Tacoma.
—Erick Young, 20, resident of Gig Harbor.
Incident: There have been a series of hate crimes in the county, including graffiti of swastikas, the number 88 (Nazi symbol) and the number 666 (sign for the devil) painted on synagogues and a half-dozen churches, primarily those with largely black congregations. On June 7, Brethren Baptist Church of Gig Harbor was defaced and a cross burned in the front yard. Original news story was that the church itself was set on fire but that was found to be inaccurate. A janitor and a lay preacher (William DuBois and Robinson Estes) ran outside to confront the two suspects. Harper opened fire with a handgun, wounding both men. The preacher has been released from the hospital. The janitor remains in the intensive care unit. The perpetrators fled in a red Toyota pickup, registered to Adam Harper.
Law enforcement agencies running case: Pierce County Public Safety Office, liaising with U.S. Justice Department, which will investigate to determine if the incident is a federal hate crime.
Offerors and amount of reward:
—Reward one: $50,000, offered by Pierce County, underwritten by the Western Washington Ecumenical Council (with much of that sum donated by MicroEnterprises NA founder Ed Jasper).
—Reward two: $900 offered by Erick Young’s parents and family.
To be aware of: Dalton Crowe is actively pursuing the reward.
This last bit of intelligence wasn’t good.
The Goodbye Man by Jeffery Deaver is published by Harper Collins on 14 May 2020. Many thanks to Harper Collins and Anne Cater for the advance copy of the book for review.
In pursuit of two young men accused of terrible hate crimes, Colter Shaw stumbles upon a clue to another mystery. In an effort to save the life of a young woman—and possibly others—he travels to the wilderness of Washington State to investigate a mysterious organization. Is it a community that consoles the bereaved? Or a dangerous cult under the sway of a captivating leader? As he peels back the layers of truth, Shaw finds that some people will stop at nothing to keep their secrets hidden. All the while, Shaw must unravel an equally deadly enigma: locating and deciphering a message hidden by his father years ago, just before his death—a message that will have life-and-death consequences.
Delighted to be taking part in the blog tour for Matthew Ward’s Legacy of Ash – it’s a big chonky fantasy book, but more on that later!
First, an extract from the start of the book. Get yourself a brew, settle down and enjoy!
Preparations had taken weeks. Statues had been re-gilded. Familial portraits unveiled from dusty canvas and set in places of honour.
The stained glass of the western window glittered in the afternoon sun-light. Come the hour of Ascension it would blaze like fire and cast an image of divine Lumestra into the hall so that the sun goddess too would stand among the guests.
It would not be so elsewhere. In the houses beneath Branghall’s walls the part of Lumestra would be played by a doll, her limbs carved from firewood and her golden hair woven from last year’s straw. There, her brief reign would not end with the fading of the sun. Instead, hearth-fires would usher her home on tongues of flame.
The chasm between rich and poor, ruler and ruled, was never more evident than at Ascension. Josiri strove to be mindful of that. For all that had befallen his family, he retained comfort and privilege denied to many.
But a prison remained a prison, even if the bars were gilded and the guards polite.
Most of the guards.
“That will have to come down.” Arzro Makrov extended a finger to the portrait above High Table. “She has no place here, or anywhere else in the Tressian Republic.”
Josiri exchanged a glance with Anastacia. The seneschal’s black eyes glimmered a warning, reinforced by a slight shake of her head. Josiri ignored both and stepped closer, footsteps hollow on the hall’s flagstones. “No place?”
Makrov flinched but held his ground. “Katya Trelan was a traitor.” Impotent anger kindled. Fifteen years on, and the wound remained
raw as ever.
“This was my mother’s home,” said Josiri carefully. “She would have celebrated her fifty-fifth year this Ascension. Her body is ash, but she will be present in spirit.”
Makrov drew his corpulent body up to its full, unimpressive height. The setting sun lent his robes the rich warmth of fresh blood. Ironic for a man so pallid. The intricate silver ward-brooch was a poor match for his stolid garb. But without it, he could not have crossed the enchanted manor wall.
Josiri’s throat tightened. He locked gazes with Makrov for a long moment, and then let his eyes fall upon the remaining “guests”. Would any offer support?
Shaisan Yanda didn’t meet his gaze, but that was to be expected. As governor of the Southshires, she was only present to ensure Josiri did nothing rash. Nonetheless, the slight curl to her lip suggested she found Makrov’s behaviour tiresome. She’d fought for the Council at Zanya, and on other battlefields besides, earning both her scars and the extra weight that came with advancing years.
As for Valmir Sark, he paid little attention. His interest lay more with ancestral finery . . . and likely in broaching Branghall’s wine cellars come Ascension. Josiri had heard enough of Sark to know he was present only to spare his family another scandal. The high-collared uniform might as well have been for show. Sark was too young to have fought against Katya’s rebellion. And as for him standing a turn on the Hadari border? The thought was laughable.
That left Anastacia, and her opinion carried no sway.
If only Calenne were there. She’d always had more success in dealing with the Council’s emissaries, and more patience. Where in Lumestra’s name was she? She’d promised.
Josiri swallowed his irritation. He’d enough enemies without adding his sister to the roster.
“The portrait remains,” he said. “This is my house. I’ll thank you to remember that.”
Makrov’s wispy grey eyebrows knotted. “Were it up to me, I’d allow it. Truly I would. But the Council insists. Katya Trelan brought nothing but division and strife. Her shadow should not mar Ascension.”
Only the slightest pause between the words imbued challenge. Josiri’s self-control, so painstakingly fortified before the meeting, slipped a notch. He shook off Anastacia’s restraining hand and took another step.
Yanda’s lips tightened to a thin, bloodless streak. Her hand closed meaningfully about the pommel of her sword. Sark gazed on with parted mouth and the first spark of true interest.
“It is my hope,” said Josiri, “that my mother’s presence will serve as a message of unity.”
Makrov stared up at the portrait. “I applaud your intent. But the law-less are not quelled by gestures, but by strong words, and stronger action.”
“I’ve given what leadership I can.”
“I know,” said Makrov. “I’ve read reports of your speeches. I’d like to hear one for myself. Tomorrow at noon?”
It was an artful twist of the knife. “If you wish.”
“Excellent.” He raised his voice. “Governor Yanda. You’ll ensure his grace isn’t speaking to an empty square? I’m sure Captain Sark will be delighted to assist.”
“Of course, my lord,” said Yanda. “And the portrait?”
Makrov locked gazes with Katya Trelan’s dead stare. “I want it taken down and burned. Her body is ash. Let her spirit join it. I can think of no stronger message of unity.”
“I won’t do it,” Josiri said through gritted teeth.
“Yes, you will.” Makrov sighed. “Your grace. Josiri. I entertained hopes that you’d lead your people out of the past. But the Council’s patience is not infinite. They may decide upon another exodus if there’s anything less than full cooperation.”
Exodus. The word sounded harmless. The reality was punishment meted out for a rebellion fifteen years in the past; families divided, stolen children shipped north to toil as little more than slaves. Makrov sought to douse a fire with tinder.
“Your mother’s memory poisons you. As it poisons your people.” Makrov set his hands on Josiri’s shoulders. “Let her go. I have.”
But he hadn’t. That was why Makrov remained the Council’s chief emissary to the Southshires, despite his advancing years and expanding waistline. His broken heart had never healed, but Katya Trelan lay fifteen years beyond his vengeance. And so he set his bitterness against her people, and against a son who he believed should have been his.
Makrov offered an avuncular smile. “You’ll thank me one day.” Josiri held his tongue, not trusting himself to reply. Makrov strode
away, Sark falling into step behind. Yanda hesitated a moment before following.
“Tomorrow at noon, your grace. I look forward to it.” Makrov spoke without turning, the words echoing along the rafters. Then he was gone.
Josiri glanced up at his mother’s portrait. Completed a year before her death, it captured to perfection the gleam of her eyes and the inscrutable perhaps-mocking, maybe-sympathetic smile. At least, Josiri thought it did. Fifteen years was a long time. He saw little of himself in his mother’s likeness, but then he’d always been more akin to his father. The same unruly blond hair and lantern jaw. The same lingering resentment at forces beyond his control.
He perched on the edge of High Table and swallowed his irritation. He couldn’t afford anger. Dignity was the cornerstone of leadership, or so his mother had preached.
“When I was a boy,” he said, “my father told me that people are scared and stupid more than they are cruel. I thought he’d handed me the key to some great mystery. Now? The longer I spend in Makrov’s company, the more I suspect my father told me what he wished were true.”
Anastacia drew closer. Her outline blurred like vapour, as it always did when her attention wandered. Like her loose tangle of snow-white curls and impish features, the robes of a Trelan seneschal were for show. A concession. Josiri wasn’t sure what Anastacia’s true form actually was. Only black, glossy eyes – long considered the eyes of a witch, or a demon, bereft of iris and sclera – offered any hint.
The Council’s proctors had captured her a year or so after the Battle of Zanya. Branghall, already a prison in all but name, had become her new home shortly after. Anastacia spoke often of what she’d done to deserve Tressian ire. The problem was, no two tales matched.
In one, she’d seduced and murdered a prominent councillor. In another, she’d instead seduced and murdered that same councillor’s husband. A third story involved ransacking a church. And then there was the tale about a choir of serenes, and indecency that left the holy women’s vows of chastity in tatters. After a dozen such stories, ranging from ribald to horrific, Josiri had stopped asking.
But somewhere along the line, they’d become friends. More than friends. If Makrov ever learned how close they were, it wouldn’t be the gallows that awaited Josiri, but the pyre.
Pallid wisps of light curled from Anastacia’s arched eyebrow. “The archimandrite is foolish in the way only clever men are. As for afraid? If he wasn’t, you’d not be his prisoner.”
Josiri snorted. “My mother casts a long shadow. But I’m not her.” “No. Your mother lost her war. You’ll win yours.” “Flatterer.”
The eyebrow twitched a fraction higher. “Isn’t that a courtier’s function?”
Genuine confusion, or another of Anastacia’s little jokes? It was always hard to be sure. “In the rest of the Republic, perhaps. In the Southshires, truth is all we can afford.”
“If you’re going to start moping, I’d like to be excused.”
A smile tugged at the corner of Josiri’s mouth. “If you don’t show your duke a little more respect, he might have you thrown from the manor.” Anastacia sniffed. “He’s welcome to try. But these stones are old, and the Council’s proctors made a thorough job of binding me to them.
You’ll fail before they do.”
“You forget, I’m a Trelan. I’m stubborn.”
“And where did stubbornness get your mother? Or your uncle, for that matter?”
Josiri’s gaze drifted back to his mother’s portrait. “What would she do?” “I doubt she’d put a mere thing, no matter how beautiful, before the lives of her people.” She shrugged. “But she was a Trelan, and some-one once told me – though I can’t remember who – that Trelans are
“And none more than she,” said Josiri. “I don’t want to give up the last of her.”
Anastacia scratched at the back of her scalp – a mannerism she’d picked up off one of the servants in her frequent forays to the kitchens.
Her appetites were voracious – especially where the manor’s wine cellar was concerned.
“Might I offer some advice, as one prisoner to another?” “Of course.”
“Burn the painting. Your mother’s legacy is not in canvas and oils, but in blood.”
The words provoked a fresh spark of irritation. “Calenne doesn’t seem to think so.”
Anastacia offered no reply. Josiri couldn’t blame her for that. This particular field was well-furrowed. And besides, good advice was good advice. Katya Trelan had died to save her family. That was her true legacy.
“I should tell her how things went,” he said. “Do you know where she is?”
“Where do you think?” Anastacia’s tone grew whimsical to match her expression. “For myself, I might rearrange the window shutters on the upper floor. Just in case some helpful soul’s watching? One who might be agreeable to expressing your annoyance at the archimandrite where you cannot?”
Josiri swallowed a snort of laughter. Regardless of what his mother would have done about the painting, this she would approve of. Humiliation repaid in kind.
“That’s a grand idea.”
Anastacia sniffed again. “Of course it is. Shall we say nightfall?” That ran things close, but the timing should work. Makrov was due
to hold celebration in Eskavord’s tiny church at dusk. Afterwards, he’d make the long ride back to the fortress at Cragwatch. It all depended on whether Crovan’s people were keeping watch on the shutters.
Still, inaction gained nothing.
Josiri nodded. “Nightfall it is.”
Each creak of the stairs elicited a fearful wince, and a palm pressed harder against rough stone. Josiri told himself that the tower hadn’t endured generations of enthusiastic winds just to crumble beneath his own meagre weight. He might even have believed it, if not for that almost imperceptible rocking motion. In his great-grandfather’s time, the tower had been an observatory. Now the roof was a nest of fallen beams, and the walls stone teeth in a shattered jaw.
At least the skies were clear. The vistas almost held the terror at bay, fear paling before beauty. The town of Eskavord sprawled across the east-ern valley, smoke dancing as the Ash Wind – so named for the cinders it gusted from the distant Thrakkian border to the south – brushed the slopes of Drannan Tor. Beyond the outermost farms sprawled the eaves of Davenwood. Beyond that, further east, the high town walls of Kreska nestled in the foothills of the Greyridge Mountains. All of it within a day’s idle ride. Close at hand, and yet out of reach.
But it paid not to look too close. You might see the tabarded soldiers patrolling Eskavord’s streets, or the boarded-up houses. The foreboding gibbets on Gallows Hill. Where Josiri’s Uncle Taymor had danced a final jig – where his mother had burned, her ashes scattered so Lumestra could not easily resurrect her come the light of Third Dawn. It was worse in the month of Reaptithe. Endless supply wagons crept along the sunken roadways like columns of ants, bearing the Southshires’ bounty north.
Duke Kevor Trelan had never been more popular with his people than when he called for secession. The Council had been quick to respond. Josiri still recalled the bleak Tzadas-morning the summons had arrived at Branghall, backed by swords enough to make refusal impossible. It was the last memory he had of his father. But the Council had erred. Duke Kevor’s execution made rebellion inevitable.
Another gust assailed the tower. His panicked step clipped a fragment of stone. It ricocheted off the sun-bleached remnant of a wooden beam and clattered out over the edge.
“I suppose your demon told you where I was?”
Calenne, as usual, perched on the remnants of the old balcony – little more than a spur of timber jutting at right angles to a battered wall. Her back to a pile of rubble, she had one foot hooked across her knee. The other dangled out over the courtyard, three storeys and forty feet below. A leather-bound book lay open across her lap, pages fluttering.
“Her name is Anastacia.”
“That’s not her name.” The wind plucked a spill of black hair from behind Calenne’s ear. She tucked it back into place. “That’s what you call her.”
Calenne had disliked Anastacia from the first, though Josiri had never been clear why, and the passage of time had done little to heal the one-sided divide. Anastacia seldom reciprocated the antipathy, though whether that was because she considered herself above such things, or did so simply to irritate Calenne, Josiri wasn’t sure.
“Because that’s her wish. I don’t call you Enna any longer, do I?” Blue eyes met his then returned to the book. “What do you want?” Josiri shook his head. So very much like their mother. No admission
of wrong, just a new topic.
“I thought you’d be with me to greet Makrov.”
She licked a fingertip and turned the page. “I changed my mind.” “We were discussing the arrangements for your wedding. Or do you
no longer intend to marry at Ascension?”
“That’s why I changed my mind.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?”
A rare moment of hesitation. “It doesn’t matter.”
“I see.” Steeling himself, Josiri edged closer. “What are you reading?” “This?” Calenne stared down at the book. “A gift from Kasamor. The Turn of Winter, by Iugo Maliev. I’m told it’s all the rage in Tressia.” “Any good?”
“If you admire a heroine who lets herself be blown from place to place like a leaf on the wind. It’s horrendously fascinating. Or fascinatingly horrendous. I haven’t decided yet.” She closed the book and set it on her knee. “How did the meeting go?”
“I’m to make a speech tomorrow, on the topic of unity.” She scowled. “It went that badly?”
“I didn’t have my sister there to charm him,” Josiri replied. “And . . . he reacted poorly to mother’s portrait.” No sense saying the rest. Calenne wouldn’t understand.
She sighed. “And now you know why I stayed away. If Makrov reacts like that to Katya’s image . . . I didn’t want complications. I can’t afford them. And I do want this marriage.”
Josiri didn’t have to ask what she meant. Katya in oils was bad enough. Her likeness in flesh and blood? Even with Calenne at her most demure and charming – a rarity – there was risk. With every passing year, his sister more resembled the mother she refused to acknowledge. Perhaps she’d been right to stay away.
“You think Makrov has the power to have it annulled?”
She shrugged. “Not alone. But Kasamor’s mother isn’t at all pleased at the match. I’m sure she’s allies enough to make trouble.”
“Kasamor would truly let her interfere?”
On his brief visits to Branghall, Kasamor had seemed smitten. As indeed had Calenne herself. On the other hand, Josiri had heard enough of Ebigail Kiradin, Kasamor’s mother, to suspect she possessed both the reach and influence to thwart even the course of true love, if she so chose.
“On his last visit, he told me that I was the other half of his soul. So no, I don’t believe he would. He’d sooner die, I think. And I . . . ” Calenne shook her head and stared down at the book. “It doesn’t matter.”
Josiri frowned. “What? What doesn’t matter?”
Calenne offered a small, resigned smile. “I’ve had bad dreams of late. The Black Knight. Waking up screaming doesn’t do wonders for my mood.”
The Black Knight. Viktor Akadra. The Phoenix-Slayer. The man who’d murdered their mother. He’d taken root in the dreams of a terri-fied six-year-old girl, and never let go. Josiri had lost track of how often in that first year he’d cradled Calenne as she’d slipped off to broken sleep.
“Is that why you’re back to hiding up here? He’ll not harm you, I promise.”
“I know he won’t.” Her shoulders drooped, and her tone softened. “But thanks, all the same.”
She set the book aside and joined him inside the tower proper. Josiri drew her into an embrace, reflecting, as he so often did, what a curious mix of close and distant they were. The decade between them drove them apart. He doubted he’d ever understand her. Fierce in aspect, but brittle beneath.
“The world’s against us, little sister. We Trelans have to stick together.”
Legacy of Ash by Matthew Ward is published by Orbit Books and is out in paperback now.
A shadow has fallen over the Tressian Republic.
Ruling families — once protectors of justice and democracy — now plot against one another with sharp words and sharper knives. Blinded by ambition, they remain heedless of the threat posed by the invading armies of the Hadari Empire.
Yet as Tressia falls, heroes rise.
Viktor Akadra is the Republic’s champion. A warrior without equal, he hides a secret that would see him burned as a heretic.
Josiri Trelanis Viktor’s sworn enemy. A political prisoner, he dreams of reigniting his mother’s failed rebellion.
And yet Calenne Trelan, Josiri’s sister, seeks only to break free of their tarnished legacy; to escape the expectation and prejudice that haunts the family name.
As war spreads across the Republic, these three must set aside their differences in order to save their home. Yet decades of bad blood are not easily set aside. And victory — if it comes at all — will demand a darker price than any of them could have imagined.
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.
Today I’m joining the blog tour for Benjamin Myers’ Under the Rock: Stories Carved From The Land, which is published by Elliott & Thompson in paperback now.
I’ve got an extract from part one for you today, and more about the book later.
An Extract from Part 1 – Wood
Already Mytholmroyd, only a half-mile away, feels long behind me as I walk deeper into the woods and The Rock towers like something that has been forced from the earth by its fiery inner workings.
The outside world is entirely obscured from view as I mount a wooded hillock, pulling myself up in places by using the smooth girth of silver birches. Altitude comes quickly when you are young and fearless and don’t look back, and The Rock rises taller still.
A squirrel sniffs the air. Twitching, it shakes the leanest boughs, makes a break from a branch and then, with limbs splayed, takes a bold leap onto the limitless ladders of the sky.
Above, crows circle, calling a warning to all the creatures of The Rock: the first human presence in a long time. These creatures have policed this place throughout the ages. The descendants of the same crows that chuntered through Ted Hughes’s childhood sleep patterns continue to rule The Rock today. They always commanded top billing in Hughes’s ‘Crow’ cycle of poems: ‘There is a doorway in the wall – / A black doorway: The eye’s pupil / Through that doorway came Crow.’ As intrinsic and immovable as the ravens of the Tower of London, they preside from their vertical-dropped outcrop before fulminating like black confetti flung at a doomed marriage or a funeral for a forest.
The bluebells of April and May are still in evidence, but are flattened down now, wilted and spent, their thin stalks forming a crunchy carpet and their brilliant violet tepals faded in colour, curled into decay. Bracken fronds that smell of childhood have unfolded everywhere. With stealth their branches reach for the sun just as their roots bury quickly into the soil. Fossilised evidence of this pernicious fern, held fast in compacted sediment, has been dated back 55 million years, making it one of the species most adaptable to climate change. I push my way through them and the resistance they offer is like wading through water.
There is an overpowering sense of stillness.
With the throb of blood in my ears I reach the top of the knoll. Here I catch my breath and discover a small circle of stones, perhaps eight or nine feet across, arranged as if to form a fireplace or perhaps the base of a chimney used for some other industrial purpose. Looking down behind me through columns of trees and the tide of bracken to the wooded plateau below, I sit and eat an apple.
The stone wall of crows above watches on, hard at my back.
And so an obsession begins.
Under The Rock by Benjamin Myers is published by Elliott & Thompson and is out now in paperback. Many thanks to Alison Menzies and @eandtbooks for a copy of the book to review. The blog tour continues tomorrow.
In Under the Rock, Benjamin Myers, the novelist perhaps best known for The Gallows Pole, winner of the Walter Scott Prize for Historical Fiction 2018, returns to the rugged landscape of the Calder Valley in a bold and original exploration of nature and literature. The focus of his attention is Scout Rock, a steep crag overlooking Mytholmroyd, where the poet Ted Hughes grew up. In solitude, Ben Myers has been exploring this wooded ten acre site for over a decade and his Field Notes, scribbled in situ are threaded between sections entitled Wood, Earth, Water and Rock. Taking the form of poetry, these Field Notes are “lines and lists lifted from the landscape, narrative screen-grabs of a microcosmic world that are correspondent to places or themes explored elsewhere, or fleeting flash-thoughts divined through the process of movement”.
Delighted to be kicking off the blog tour for Drew Williams’ The Stars Now Unclaimed, from Simon & Schuster. More about the book later – today I’ve got an extract for you.
I had Scheherazade drop me on top of an old refinery, rusted out and half collapsing. Around me the stretch of this new world’s sky seemed endless, a bright sienna-colored cloth drawn over the stars above. I watched Schaz jet back off to orbit—well, “watched” is probably a strong word, since she had all her stealth systems cranked to high heaven, but I could at least find the telltale glint of her engines— then settled my rifle on my back and started working my way down, finding handholds and grips among the badly rusted metal.
It’s surprising how used to this sort of thing you get; the climbing and jumping and shimmying, I mean. On a world free of the effects of the pulse, none of that would have been necessary— I would have had antigravity boots, or a jetpack, or just been able to disembark in the fields below: scaling a three-hundred-foot-tall structure would have been as easy as pressing a button and dropping until I was comfortably on the ground.
Now, without all those useful cheats, it was much more physically demanding—the climbing and jumping and shimmying bits— but I didn’t mind. It was like a workout, a reminder that none of that nonsense mattered on the world I was descending toward, and that if I wanted to stay alive, reflexes and physical capability would be just as important as the few pieces of tech I carried that were resistant to post-pulse radiation.
By the time I made it down the tower I’d worked up a decent sweat, and I’d also undergone a crash course in the physical realities of this particular planet: the vagaries of its gravity, of its atmosphere, that sort of thing.
Most terraformed worlds were within a certain range in those kinds of measurements—on some, even orbital rotations had been shifted to roughly conform to the standard galactic day/night cycle— but it’s surprising how much small differences can add up when you’re engaged in strenuous physical activity. A touch less oxygen in the air than you’re used to, a single percentage point of gravity higher or lower, and suddenly everything’s thrown off, just a bit. You have to readjust.
I checked my equipment over as I sat in the shadow of the refinery tower, getting my breath back. Nothing was damaged or showing signs of the radiation advancing faster than I would have expected. I had a mission to complete here, yes, but I had no desire to have some important piece of tech shut down on me at an inopportune time and get me killed. Then I wouldn’t be able to do anyone any good.
As the big metal tower creaked above me in the wind, I kept telling myself that—that I was still doing good. Some days I believed it more than others.
After I’d recovered from my little jaunt, I settled my rifle onto my back again—a solid gunpowder cartridge design common across all levels of postpulse tech, powerful enough that it could compete with higher-end weapons on worlds that still had a great deal of technology intact, low-key enough that on worlds farther down that scale like this one, it wouldn’t draw undue attention—and set off across rolling plains of variegated grass.
This world was very pretty; I’d give whoever had designed it that. The sky was a lovely shade of pinkish orange that would likely shift into indigo as night approached. It perfectly complemented the flora strains that had been introduced, mostly long grasses of purple or green or pink, with a few patches of larger trees, mostly Tyll-homeworld species, thick trunks of brown or gray topped by swaying azure fronds. Vast fields of wheat— again, of Tyll extraction—made up most of the landscape that wasn’t grassland; that made sense with the research I’d done before having Scheherazade drop me off.
The research told me that this world had been terraformed for agricultural use a few hundred years ago or so; it had seen only mild scarring during the sect wars, which meant it was a little bit perplexing that the pulse had knocked it almost as far down the technology scale as a planet could go—all the way to before the invention of electric light.
Still, trying to understand why the pulse had done what it had done was a fool’s errand: I’d seen systems where one planet had been left untouched, another had been driven back to pre-spaceflight, and the moon of that same world had lost everything post–internal combustion. There was never any rhyme or reason to it, not even within a single system—the pulse did what it did at random, and looking for a will behind its workings was like trying to find the face of god in weather patterns.
I knew that much because I was one of the fools who had let it off the chain in the first place. That’s why I was here: trying to right my own wrongs.
In a very small way, of course. I was only one woman, and it was a big, big universe. Also, I had a great many wrongs.
I can’t wait to read more. Huge thanks to Harriet Collins from Simon & Schuster UK for inviting me to take part in the tour, and for the review copy of Drew’s book.
The Stars Now Unclaimed by Drew Williams is published by Simon & Schuster and is out now. You can find Drew on twitter @DrewWilliamsIRL
AN IMPOSSIBLE MISSION A century ago, a mysterious pulse of energy spread across the universe. Meant to usher in a new era of peace and prosperity, it instead destroyed technology indiscriminately, leaving some worlds untouched and throwing others into total chaos. AN UNSTOPPABLE ENEMY The Justified, a mysterious group of super-soldiers, have spent a hundred years trying to find a way to restore order to the universe. Their greatest asset is the feared mercenary Kamali, who travels from planet to planet searching for gifted young people and bringing them to the secret world she calls home. Kamali hopes that those she rescues will be able to find a way to reverse the damage the pulse wreaked, and ensure that it never returns. THE END OF THE UNIVERSE But Kamali isn’t the only person looking for answers to unimaginable questions. And when her mission to rescue a grumpy teenaged girl named Esa goes off the rails, Kamali suddenly finds herself smack in the centre of an intergalactic war… that she started.
Today I’m delighted to take part in the blog tour for Mike Hodges’ Bait, Grist and Security, three darkly comic noir novellas from the cult director of Get Carter.
More on the book later, but first I’ve got an extract from chapter one of BAIT.
Summer is hell here.
Winter is the only time to be in this place. On a wet night preferably.
The dark sea, flattened by rain, laps against the long curving beach. White-painted iron railings and ill-lit weather shelters recede into the mist. An amusement arcade, boarded up, sits like a blind man watching nothing.
The Grand Atlantic Hotel, a vast, corroding edifice, looms over the deserted esplanade. A torn canvas banner flaps over its darkened entrance, announcing the presence of the Brotherhood of Magicians Conference. Bedroom windows stacked up to the murky sky are black patches. The magicians are long in bed.
They’ll need steady hands in the morning. The clock tower strikes on the hour.
An approaching motorbike cuts through the sound of rainwater smacking the tarmac. The red Yamaha rounds a corner slowly, ominously, powerful as a shark. A metallic titanium flip-front helmet glints under the street lamps. Moulded gloves with visor wipes, grinder boots, cowhide jeans and a leather jacket embossed with a bloody knife embedded in the rider’s back. The rider steers his machine along the esplanade before circling a traffic island housing the public urinals, all the while scanning the empty street.
A municipal shelter with a noticeboard advertising local events for wet winter nights stands beside the amusement arcade. It’s here the bike comes to rest. The rider leaves the engine running as he nervously pulls posters from a saddlebag.
He works fast, skilfully.
Soon the forthcoming amateur operatic production of Annie Get Your Gun is no longer forthcoming. But ‘The Personal Improvement Institute: A Course in Leadership Dynamics’ is. The etched face of a wild-eyed mountaineer intending to give a slide lecture the very next evening is replaced by the well-fed features of Dr Hermann P. Temple, who will show you the QUICK way to the TOP! during his impending weekend course on SUCCESS-POWER GETTING!
A similar fate is accorded ‘Pinkie and Barrie, the Comedy Duo’; ‘Diana Barnham playing Bach on the Clavichord’; and the providers of ‘Merrie England Banquets. Book now to avoid disappointment.’ All disappear within seconds to be replaced by five identical images of Dr Temple. A quintet of pointing forefingers, quiffs and eyes that would make a cobra back off.
A solitary light snaps on.
It’s on the third floor of an office block five minutes from the esplanade. The bare bulb backlights the gold lettering on the window: ‘Mark Miles Intercontinental’. Below that: ‘Creative Publicity and Personal Management’. On the bottom line: ‘MAKE your MARK with MILES. He’s WAY ahead.’
The block housing Mark Miles’ office is just that: a block. It has all the charm of a coal bunker. Built in the sixties, it’s an early example of how easily even smart people can be conned. Concrete is beautiful. Or so the architects decreed at the time.
Providence House, for that’s the block’s portentous name, takes on a gloomy appearance in the torrential rain. Mark Miles appears at the window, taking off his helmet, while simultaneously dropping the slatted blind. One side falls faster than the other, which doesn’t happen in movies, but almost always does in real life. Cursing, he tries to level it off, one-handed. Instead it becomes uncoupled and collapses on top of him. Mark Miles and his blind have one quality in common. Both spend their lives dangling.
Mark is sick of being a small fish in a small pond. His only remaining heroes are the sharks in the local aquarium. These massive glistening predators eye the awed visitors on the other side of the glass with contempt as they sweep majestically past in their eternal search for a way out. Like them, Mark wants to command respect. To this end, his pinball mind has been hyperactive since being approached by Dr Temple’s people to promote his weekend course. Leadership dynamics might just be the metamorphosis needed to take him to the top.
He switches on a battered desk lamp, puts it on the floor and kills the overhead. Mark has to be careful. The landlord suspects that, contrary to the terms of his lease, the office also doubles as his living quarters.
The landlord is right.
That’s why the chipped commode with ‘Hospital Property’ boldly stencilled on its lid, and smuggled in under cover of darkness from his late grandma’s council flat, is disguised with a potted palm. He lifts the palm and urinates into the china basin.
Slopping out has always been a complicated ritual. When he first moved into the building, the landlord – Fred Snipe, thin as a drainpipe
– was wont to ambush him on his early-morning run along the corridor to the communal lavatory. After several narrow escapes, Mark devised a strategy whereby he transferred the contents of the commode into a plastic first-aid box before embarking upon this essential mission.
Now, on their occasional encounters, Snipe’s nose twitches like a gerbil’s at the odour. His mouth opens but words refuse to emerge. He just can’t bring himself to ask what the container contains. Mark relishes these precious moments, smiling and patting the Red Cross on the box. ‘Preparation H, Fred. Works wonders.’ He sometimes varies the exchange: ‘Glycerine suppositories, Fred. Never fails to get you moving.’ Or, if he wants to make the landlord really blush, he adds, ‘Clinically proven to be effective against irritation and itching piles.’
These words always play on Snipe’s retreating figure.
Mark now eases out a crumpled futon and sleeping bag from under the defeated sofa, carefully avoiding any tangling with its bare springs. Rolling back and forth on the floor, he sheds his clothes and slips into the kapok envelope.
In the street below Mark’s office, a black umbrella is opened from the shelter of a shop door. A man, short and paunchy, steps out, his suet- pudding face glistening in the rain. His name is William Snazell and he’s a private detective, a gumshoe. Dressed in a faded raincoat and shapeless trilby, he takes a final look at the darkened window before crossing the road. His shiny rubber galoshes shuffle through the sheet of rainwater.
Bait, Grist & Security by Mike Hodges is published by Unbound on 29th November 2018. Many thanks to Anne Cater and Unbound for the review copy.
In ‘Bait’, a slippery PR man, Mark Miles, is unaware he’s being manipulated and dangled as bait by an investigative reporter until he’s swallowed by a sadistic mind-expanding cult from
In ‘Grist’, the bestselling writer, Maxwell Grist, ruthlessly uses real people as fodder for his crime novels before finding himself living up to his name and becoming grist for his own
In ‘Security’, an American movie star, unhappy with the film he’s working on, refuses to leave his hotel for the studios, while in the corridor outside his luxury suite mayhem and murder take over.
Got a great book for you today – The Real McCoy and 149 other Eponyms, by Claire Cock-Starkey, author of The Book Lovers’ Miscellany and A Library Miscellany. It’s a fascinating little book, and I’ve got an extract to share with you today.
Did you know where ‘cereal’ orginally came from? Let’s find out!
CEREAL – food grains such as oat, corn, wheat and rye
This word came into use in the nineteenth century to describe grains which are used for food, but it originates from the Latin word cerealis, which is derived from associations with Ceres, the Roman goddess of agriculture. Ceres was a benevolent goddess, the daughter of Saturn and Ops; she was believed to have given humans the gift to cultivate corn and brought fertility to the land. She is often pictured with a farm tool in one hand and a basket of fruit, grains or flowers in the other. The Romans explained the ebb and flow of the seasons through a myth related to Ceres. Ceres’ daughter Proserpina was taken into the underworld after lonely Pluto, god of the underworld, fell in love with her having been hit with one of Cupid’s arrows. Ceres was devastated to lose her daughter and plunged the world into famine, so Jupiter sent Mercury into the underworld to ask Pluto to return Proserpina to earth. Unfortunately while in the underworld Proserpina had eaten six pomegranate seeds – the fruit of the dead – and as a consequence she could not remain in the world of the living. Proserpina was allowed out of the underworld each spring and Ceres would celebrate by making the plants burst into life. Proserpina and Ceres would spend the summer happily together and plants would flourish, before Ceres would begin to grow unhappy at her daughter’s imminent return to the underworld, heralding the arrival of autumn. Proserpina was forced to spend the winter months back in the underworld with Pluto, and so in the world of the living nothing would grow while Ceres sadly waited for her return.
The English language is rich with eponyms – words that are named after an individual – some better known than others. This book features 150 of the most interesting and enlightening specimens, delving into the origins of the words and describing the fascinating people after whom they were named.
Eponyms are derived from numerous sources. Some are named in honour of a style icon, inventor or explorer, such as pompadour, Kalashnikov and Cadillac. Others have their roots in Greek or Roman mythology, such as panic and tantalise. A number of eponyms, however, are far from celebratory and were created to indicate a rather less positive association – into this category can be filed boycott, Molotov cocktail and sadist.
Encompassing eponyms from medicine, botany, invention, science, fashion, food and literature, this book uncovers the intriguing tales of discovery, mythology, innovation and infamy behind the eponyms we use every day. The perfect addition to any wordsmith’s bookshelf.