Everyone has heard of the Gameshouse. But few know all its secrets…
It is the place where fortunes can be made and lost through chess, backgammon – every game under the sun. But those whom fortune favors may be invited to compete in the higher league… a league where the games played are of politics and empires, of economics and kings. It is a league where Capture the Castle involves real castles, where hide and seek takes place on the scale of a continent.
Among those worthy of competing in the higher league, three unusually talented contestants play for the highest stakes of all…
Regular readers of this blog will know that I’m a huge fan of Claire North’s books, from the mind-bending 84K to the remarkable The Sudden Appearance of Hope. So it was with some excitement that I received a copy of The Gameshouse – originally published as three digital-only novellas The Serpent, The Thief, and The Master, now all three are collected together.
In the world of the Gameshouse, players come to make their fortunes through any and every game. The House itself can be anywhere, a door in London, New York, here today and gone tomorrow, for it exists out of time.
We start the tale with The Serpent, set in 17th century Venice, where a young woman is invited to play beyond the silver door into the higher league, a game of kings and pawns, where Thene the player moves her pieces around the city, real people with real stakes and very real consequences.
In The Thief we move to 1930s Thailand where we’re introduced to Remy Burke, who wakes up with a hangover having been tricked into a game of hide and seek. Except the field of play is Thailand, and the stakes are very high – twenty years of life if he wins, and the loss of his memories if he loses. And Remy is very hungover, very tall and very white. Not the ideal start to a game where you’ve got twenty minutes head start…
We finish up with The Master. Set in the present day, it ties the previous two stories together into a whole. Whereas the first game took place in a city, and the second in a country, the final game is truly global.
Just brilliant. Each game gets bigger in scope, with higher stakes, and each builds on the other, delivering a complex, layered narrative where little inconsequential things become vital pieces in the endgame. North’s writing is, as ever, just glorious to experience. She has a style which at times can take a little getting used to, but like all good things, worth the effort. The worldbuilding is phenomenal, and the world of the Gameshouse is fascinating and thought-provoking.
The Gameshouse by Claire North is published by Orbit Books. Thanks as ever to Nazia Khatun for the review copy.
Waiting On Wednesday was a weekly meme hosted by Breaking the Spine. Each Wednesday you highlight a book that you’re really looking forward to. Unfortunately, the original creator is no longer able to host the meme and it has now linked up with Can’t Wait Wednesday over at Wishful Endings.
I’m going to choose Tom Pollock’s Heartstream. Due out in July from Walker Books.
Cat is in love. Always the sensible one, she can’t believe that she’s actually dating, not to mention dating a star. But the fandom can’t know. They would eat her alive. And first at the buffet would definitely be her best friend, Evie. Amy uses Heartstream, a social media app that allows others to feel your emotions. She broadcasted every moment of her mother’s degenerative illness, and her grief following her death. It’s the realest, rawest reality TV imaginable. But on the day of Amy’s mother’s funeral, Amy finds a strange woman in her kitchen. She’s rigged herself and the house with explosives – and she’s been waiting to talk to Amy for a long time. Who is she? A crazed fan? What does she want? Amy and Cat are about to discover how far true obsession can go.
Huge fan of Tom’s books – his Skyscraper Throne trilogy is just brilliant, and if you’ve not read White Rabbit Red Wolf, then you’re missing out. Go!
Mary Shields is a moody, acerbic probation offer, dealing with some of Glasgow’s worst cases, and her job is on the line. Liam Macdowall was imprisoned for murdering his wife, and he’s published a series of letters to the dead woman, in a book that makes him an unlikely hero – and a poster boy for Men’s Rights activists. Liam is released on licence into Mary’s care, but things are far from simple. Mary develops a poisonous obsession with Liam and his world, and when her son and Liam’s daughter form a relationship, Mary will stop at nothing to impose her own brand of justice … with devastating consequences.
I must confess that after the first dozen or so pages of Worst Case Scenario I wondered if this was really the book for me. I wasn’t sure if I could cope with Mary’s in-your-face approach to life and work. Borderline alcoholic, menopausal, obsessed with her awful clients, she’s quite the character.
I pressed on and was rewarded with a deliciously dark, delightfully un-PC, often downright hilarious tale of a Glaswegian probation officer’s last days in the job. Mary Shields grew on me with every page, and I found myself watching events unravel with a horrified cover-your-eyes what-will-happen-next sense of anticipation.
She’s just brilliant, flawed and fiercely protective of her own. The scenes with John Paul were particularly poignant and touching (and heartbreakingly funny).
It’s Mary’s job to deal with some of the worst in society, and she’s dealt a rogue’s gallery of offenders, be they paedophiles or murderers, to deal with. They’re uniquely horrible people, making the book hard to read at times, but Fitzgerald’s skill is portraying a grim reality to their situations, with only Mary to look out for them.
Interspersed with excerpts from men’s rights activist Liam Macdowall’s awful book of letters to his dead wife, the story spirals towards a thoroughly unforgettable climax.
Short, sharp and not at all sweet, Worst Case Scenario is a book that’ll live with you for quite some time. Recommended.
Worst Case Scenario by Helen Fitzgerald is published by Orenda Books and is out now. Many thanks to Karen for the advance copy of Helen’s book to review.
Ethan Scofield returns to the place of his birth to bury his father. Hidden in one of the upstairs rooms of the old man’s house he finds a strange manuscript, a collection of stories that seems to cover the whole of his father’s turbulent life. As his own life starts to unravel, Ethan works his way through the manuscript, trying to find answers to the mysteries that have plagued him since he was a child. What happened to his little brother? Why was his mother taken from him? And why, in the end, when there was no one else left, did his own father push him away? Swinging from the coral cays of the Caribbean to the dangerous deserts of Yemen and the wild rivers of Africa, Turbulent Wake is a bewitching, powerful and deeply moving story of love and loss … of the indelible damage we do to those closest to us and, ultimately, of the power of redemption in a time of change.
When I was asked if I wanted to take part in the blog tour for Paul E. Hardisty’s latest book, I was told that it was something a little different from his Claymore Straker series. I was intrigued.
Turbulent Wake tells the story of a young man who discovers a manuscript in his recently deceased father’s estate. The manuscript appears to be a collection of short stories which turn out to cover his father’s life, but which turn out to be rather more than they appear.
I was absorbed by the structure of these stories within a larger story – each a facet of his father’s life, each providing a glimpse into the past and uncovering some uncomfortable secrets. Hardisty has shown that he’s a deft hand at the thriller in his Straker books, but the writing on display here is on another level. Fascinating to see how a young man’s life builds from a series of vignettes, played off against his son’s own story in the present day.
Some of the early stories are deeply uncomfortable, revealing a hidden traumatic childhood which is as hard for the reader as they are for the son. I think this is what I found the most interesting thing about the book – we’re reading about a son reading about his father, from his father’s own point of view, and discovering things about his father’s history as the son does. Seeing how our own reactions compare with the son’s as he finds out so much that he didn’t know about his father’s (and indeed his family’s) life is an unusual experience, but one which works well.
Already a fan of Hardisty’s books, Turbulent Wake has put him firmly onto the “can’t wait to see what he comes up with next” list.
Turbulent Wake by Paul E. Hardisty is published by Orenda Books and is out now. Many thanks as ever to Anne Cater and Karen Sullivan from Orenda Books for inviting me to take part in the blog tour.
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”.
Eight self-drive cars set on a collision course. Who lives, who dies? You decide.
When someone hacks into the systems of eight self-drive cars, their passengers are set on a fatal collision course.
The passengers are: a TV star, a pregnant young woman, a disabled war hero, an abused wife fleeing her husband, an illegal immigrant, a husband and wife – and parents of two – who are travelling in separate vehicles and a suicidal man. Now the public have to judge who should survive but are the passengers all that they first seem?
The Passengers is a high-concept, fast-paced thriller that you’ll just race through. Eight characters for the public to judge, who will live, who will die? But are we seeing the full side of each of their stories? And why does the mysterious Hacker want to make the public judge, jury and executioner?
Loved it. Completely hooked from the first page, and one of those books with more twists and turns than that really twisty street in San Francisco which will leave you wanting to read just a *tiny* bit further.
The characters initially feel a little bit cookie-cutter stereotype, but of course as the book progresses you find that there’s more than meets the eye for each of them, and finding out their true stories is fascinating. Similarly with the Hacker – initially a faceless Man In Black, but discovering the why behind his actions as the story progresses gives way to a much deeper character.
Also fascinating to see the role that social media plays in the story – our Hacker plays on the emotions of the public to see how they can make them turn for and against his Passengers.
Who will live? Who will die? There’s one way to find out…
The Passengers by John Marrs is published by Ebury in May 2019 in paperback but is available now as an ebook. Many thanks to Tracy Fenton and the publisher for inviting me to take part in the blog tour.
Delighted to welcome Neil White, author of The Innocent Ones, to the blog today for a guest post. It’s not Neil’s first time here, as he’s already had a chat with us about plotting his novels and setting up a new series. So I was intrigued to see what he’d come up with this time around for his new book. More about that new book later (it sounds fantastic), but this time Neil is here to talk about influences. They’re hard to define…
Without, as they say, further ado, over to Mr White.
Influences are hard to define, because our whole life influences us, those small things along the way, like the people we meet and the places we visit. For a writer, it’s more about looking at what impressed me along the way and made me want to emulate it.
Books are the first thing to consider, because to be a writer, you have to be a reader first.
As a child, I followed the well-worn path of Enid Blyton, and I longed to visit islands where weird uncles forbade me from going in secret tunnels. As a young kid on a Wakefield council estate, this was never going to happen, but perhaps that was why I was a dreamer. In Enid Blyton, I read about lives and places I could only imagine, so my imagination was fed and took me away on different adventures.
The Three Investigator Series from Alfred Hitchcock was another big favourite, and I remember reading it in bed and feeling that delicious thrill of terror, where I was scared to turn the page but knew that I had to. From then, that was what I sought in books, that churn of the stomach, the tightness of the chest, and it took me to horror for a while. Stephen King was in his pomp when I was a young teenager and I lapped those up. And James Herbert. And Peter Straub.
My father was a big science fiction fan but I could never quite get it. I did read all the Doctor Who novels, and in fact loved them more than the television versions. You don’t get wobbly sets and naff costumes in the novels. Instead, you got the vision of the storyteller but unhindered by costume and set budgets. Once I decided I wanted to be a writer though, it was always going to be crime.
I was thirty when I decided, having just qualified as a solicitor (I went to university late – that’s a whole other story) and I needed a new challenge. I’d ditched horror by this stage, after finding myself rarely scared anymore, but crime never failed to intrigue me. I’d even chosen crime as my preferred field in my legal career. Perhaps it was those Petrocelli episodes back when I was a child (if you don’t know it, Google it).
My throwaway line has always been that I became a writer because I never learned to play the guitar. Perhaps there is some truth in that. One big draw for me in my musical preferences was the quality of the lyrics. From the age of around fifteen, books took a backseat to music, but I was always drawn to some well-spun words, particularly when they tell a story.
I grew up surrounded by Johnny Cash, my father’s obsession, and his songs were always small stories set to music, and often about criminal justice, in a loose sense. Prison songs, gunfighter ballads, tales of murder and revenge. When I think back through my favourite artists, lyrics have always been at the forefront.
Paul Weller, back in his Jam days, was my first big love. I was only seventeen when The Jam disbanded, but I managed to see them twice, and in the years that followed I would spend many happy hours talking about his lyrics or reading the album sleeves. Going Underground is just about perfect lyrically, summing up that feeling you get when the world around you seems insane. Town Called Malice is a perfect little tableau of small-town life in Thatcherite Britain.
The Style Council occupied my devotion for the next few years, and I was always straight to the record shop to buy the new single on twelve-inch and pour over the musings of the Cappuccino Kid.
The quality waned though and my next loves were The Smiths and The Pogues, both lyrically-fantastic. Shane McGowan is one of the best lyricists the UK music scene has produced, even through his boozy haze, and Morrissey one of the most unique and poetic.
One of my favourites though is Paul Heaton. I’ve followed him through all his versions, from The Housemartins to the Beautiful South and then into his solo career, and I don’t think anyone can touch him for lyrics. Sharp, often witty, he just nails it for me.
The reason I’m talking about music rather than writers is because I think prose isn’t about words or descriptions, but about rhythm. The words have got to bounce and roll, with no missed beats or bad notes. The reading should be effortless, and it’s the rhythm that drives it.
That isn’t to say that writers haven’t influenced me. I was trying to write when Lee Child’s first book, Killing Floor, came out (and if we’re going back to music, it’s also the title of a Howling Wolf song). When I read it, I realised that I wanted to write like that, where the pages just turn themselves.
In terms of style, however, my main influence was W.P. Kinsella. Many of you might not know of him, but he wrote many whimsical tales set around Iowa and similar areas, often with a baseball background. His most famous book is Shoeless Joe, which was made into the film Field of Dreams, with Kevin Costner and Ray Liotta.
What I loved about his writing style was that it took the reader straight to the porch of an Iowa farm, corn blowing in the breeze, and there was a real poetry to his writing. It was his style that was the first that I tried to mimic, and again it was about the rhythm. To give an example of how I tried to emulate it, here first is a paragraph from Shoeless Joe:
“Two years ago at dusk on a spring evening, when the sky was a robin’s-egg blue and the wind as soft as a day-old chick, as I was sitting on the verandah of my farm home in Eastern Iowa, a voice very clearly said to me, “If you build it, they will come.””
This is a paragraph from my second novel, Lost Souls:
“She was standing by an open-plan lawn in a neat suburban cul-de-sac, with the hills of the West Pennine Moors as a backdrop, painted silver as the rising sun caught the dew-coated grass, just the snap of the crime-scene tape to break her concentration.”
The rhythms are similar.
In terms of influences, there have been many, but the biggest one in terms of finding my style was W.P. Kinsella.
Thanks Neil, fascinating stuff!
The Innocent Ones, by Neil White is published by Hera Books on 24th April 2019. You can find Neil on twitter @NeilWhite1965. The blog tour continues tomorrow!
By day, the park rings with the sound of children’s excited laughter. But in the early hours of the morning, the isolated playground is cloaked in shadows – the perfect hiding place to conceal a brutal murder.
When London journalist, Mark Roberts, is found battered to death, the police quickly arrest petty thief, Nick Connor. Criminal defence lawyer, Dan Grant, along with investigator Jayne Brett, are called to represent him – but with bloody footprints and a stolen wallet linking him to the scene, this is one case they’re unlikely to win.
Until help comes from an unlikely source…when the murder victim’s mother says that Connor is innocent, begging Dan and Jayne to find the real perpetrator.
Unravelling the complex case means finding the connection between Mark’s death and a series of child murders in Yorkshire over twenty years ago. Father of two, Rodney Walker, has spent years in prison after being convicted of killing of 6-year-old William and 7-year-old Ruby back in 1997.