Red Corona by Tim Glister

From the PR: “British secret agent Richard Knox has been hung out to dry by someone in MI5, and while his former boss lies in a coma, he needs to find the traitor in their midst.

In Russia, top scientist Irina Valera discovers the secret to sending messages through space, a technology that could change the world. But a terrible accident forces her to flee.

Desperate for a way back into MI5, Knox makes an unlikely ally in Abey Bennett, one of the CIA’s only female recruits, realising that Valera’s technology in the hands of the KGB could be catastrophic for the West.

As the age of global surveillance dawns, all three have something to prove.

Set against a backdrop of true events during the Cold War, RED CORONA is a smart, fast-paced spy thriller from a talented new crime writer.”

Sometimes a title is accidentally relevant. In this instance there’s no virus – the corona in question is the satellite reconnaissance programme the US ran from 1959 and into the early 70s – using satellites to produce aerial photographs of the USSR (and China). That’s right; we’re in glorious Cold War spy thriller territory here, a genre I’ve been immersing myself ever deeper in over the last few years so this one is right up my alley.

We’ve got disgraced agents, double agents, explosions – planned and accidental, chases and kidnappings, twists, turns, double crosses, executions and a great reveal. Oh, and the space race. All the elements are brilliantly set in place in amongst an intriguing and well realised plot that’s all the more noteworthy considering this is Tim Glister’s first novel.

Red Corona is a well-researched and vividly described novel with a pretty technical subject matter at its centre but Glister has clearly done his homework on it and possess the skill to convey the complexity and mechanics of it in a manner that’s both thorough and retains the pacing of the novel, vital in this genre and seamless here. Glister paints a detailed and lifelike picture of both 60’s London and the USSR and populates his novel with a great set of characters.

The three main narrative threads – those of Knox, Irina Valera and Abey Bennet – are all compelling and watching as they overlap and come together, revealing different facets of the story makes for a gripping read. Of the bunch I found Irina Valera’s exceptionally captivating, not only because Glister is tapping into an area for which I have a real interest but because it’s also very convincing in its detail and carries a real emotional wallop that you wouldn’t necessarily expect in a spy thriller. Very much well worth a read.

My thanks to Point Blank / One World and  Anne Cater for my copy of Red Corona and asking me to join the Blog Tour.

There’s Only One Danny Garvey – by David F Ross

From the PR: “Danny Garvey was a sixteen-year old footballing prodigy. Professional clubs clamoured to sign him, and a glittering future beckoned.

And yet, his early promise remained unfulfilled, and Danny is back home in the tiny village of Barshaw to manage the struggling junior team he once played for. What’s more, he’s hiding a secret about a tragic night, thirteen years earlier, that changed the course of several lives.

There’s only one Danny Garvey, they once chanted … and that’s the problem. A story of irrational hopes and fevered dreams – of unstoppable passion and unflinching commitment in the face of defeat – There’s Only One Danny Garvey is, above all, an unforgettable tale about finding hope and redemption in the most unexpected of places.”

So, let’s get down to it: There’s Only One Danny Garvey is the fifth novel from David F Ross and if you haven’t read any of his books by now I’ve gotta ask; what’s been keeping you, ya bawbag?! David F Ross is one of the sharpest and funniest writers currently putting ink to page and There’s Only Danny Garvey may just be his best yet.

It’s exceedingly hard to combine an engrossing and well crafted story with genuine laugh-your-arse-off humour and still manage to pack an emotional punch – yet David F Ross seems to have found some secret recipe somewhere and pulls it off superbly in There’s Only One Danny Garvey. That he throws plenty of music and pop culture touch stones in – as per each of his novels to date – only makes it all the more enjoyable for me.

There’s so much to shout about in this one it’s hard to know where to start. This is an unreliable narrator like no other. It’s both razor sharp in its delivery and plot and warm and poignant in the details of the characters and community. It’s at once a poignant and evocative time machine back to a mid-nineties working-class community and a gripping slab of literary fiction. Oh, and it’s really, really fucking good.

While the sport – and the role it plays in the community – is at the heart of the novel, There’s Only One Danny Garvey is about lots more than just ‘the fitba’ and, even then, we’re a long way from the Scottish Premiership here. This is a novel of heart, of troubled pasts and dark secrets. A novel of families strained, tortured souls, loss and attempts at redemption. A novel of broken dreams and broken people, a novel with characters that’ll stay with you long after the final whistle has blown. It’s a touching and engrossing novel with one genuine “holy shit” moment after another when it clicks what’s actually happening and – when it turns that corner – really ups the ante. It’s a novel that’s brilliantly written, paced and bought to life; a game transformed by dazzling footwork, a beautiful pass and a precision shot on target into the back of the net. It’s a novel that really must be read.

My thanks to Karen at Orenda for my copy of There’s Only One Danny Garvey and to Anne Cater for asking me to take part in the blog tour.

Winterkill by Ragnar Jónasson

From the PR:“Easter weekend is approaching, and snow is gently falling in Siglufjörður, the northernmost town in Iceland, as crowds of tourists arrive to visit the majestic ski slopes.

Ari Thór Arason is now a police inspector, but he’s separated from his girlfriend, who lives in Sweden with their three-year-old son. A family reunion is planned for the holiday, but a violent blizzard is threatening and there is an unsettling chill in the air.

Three days before Easter, a nineteen-year-old local girl falls to her death from the balcony of a house on the main street. A perplexing entry in her diary suggests that this may not be an accident, and when an old man in a local nursing home writes ‘She was murdered’ again and again on the wall of his room, there is every suggestion that something more sinister lies at the heart of her death…

As the extreme weather closes in, cutting the power and access to Siglufjörður, Ari Thór must piece together the puzzle to reveal a horrible truth … one that will leave no one unscathed.

Chilling, claustrophobic and disturbing, Winterkill marks the startling conclusion to the million-copy bestselling Dark Iceland series and cements Ragnar Jónasson as one of the most exciting authors in crime fiction.”

I’m not happy to be writing this review, not happy at all. This cannot be the end of the Dark Iceland series, surely. The compelling journey of Ari Thór, steered by the massively talented hand of Ragnar Jónasson, from rookie newcomer to seasoned Siglufjörður resident and police inspector has been an absolute pleasure to read. This can’t be the end. And yet, here we are.

The plot itself… well, the case looks to be a non-starter at first. Yet as keen as Ari Thór is to park it and focus on spending time with his son and work out his relationship with Kristín (oh how I longed for that to end differently), too many little things begin to pop up and Ari Thór knows something isn’t right. There’s something lurking behind the apparent suicide that he needs to know and, in unravelling that thread he begins to reveal a lot more than expected all the while wrestling with his desire to not be so involved with the case and his intrinsic sense of humanity and drive to discover the truth. It makes for a brilliant read.

One of the key elements in making the Dark Iceland series so addictive is Jónasson’s skill as a writer. He’s brilliantly adept at weaving  a deep and intricately plotted  mystery while simultaneously keeping the reader engrossed in Ari Thór’s own personal pressures in a way that makes Winterkill a gripping book.

Siglufjörður makes for a superb setting for a mystery novel: it’s both chilling and remote and even if it’s no longer as cut-off from the rest of Iceland as it once was you get the feeling that despite an additional tunnel and the ease with which, say, Ari’s old boss Tómas can be reached on the phone, there’s still a sense of isolation in the town that really adds to novel’s atmosphere, especially when the snow storms kick in. As with previous novels in the series, Jónasson populates Winterkill with a brilliantly vivid cast of characters that, were I to find myself in Siglufjörður, I would honestly expect to meet in the street. His portrayal of the grief-stricken mother is really powerful and the degree to which I know it will stay with me for a while is a testament to Ragnar Jónasson’s skill. It’s just so very well written.

What’s made the Dark Iceland series, and Ragnar Jónasson’s writing, standout and prove so enjoyable to read is how subtly your attention can be hooked by little details and how many doors these open for further exploration. Winterkill is no exception – in its gentle pacing, the plot touches on so many intrigues and characters as it builds up a real momentum, Jónasson expertly leading us along until a real ‘what the fu..’ shocker comes barrelling in and, in Winterkill, it’s a real shocker that will stay with you.

So, is this the end of the story for Ari Thór? There’s a little note from the author at the start of Winterkill in which Ragnar Jónasson points out that the story is for those fans that kept asking for one more Ari Thór story. I can’t help but think there’s a lot more to be told about Siglufjörður’s police inspector, what was the secret of his parents hinted at in previous books, for example? What will the growing number of people coming into the town mean for crime in a place where seemingly nothing happens but so much is going on? Who knows, maybe if we ask Ragnar enough…..

My thanks, as always, to Karen  at Orenda Books (a continual source of high-quality fiction) for my copy of Winterkill and to Anne Cater for inviting me to take part in this blog tour.

 

 

Fallen Angels by Gunnar Staalesen

From the PR: “When Bergen PI Varg Veum finds himself at the funeral of a former classmate on a sleet-grey December afternoon, he’s unexpectedly reunited with his old friend Jakob – guitarist of the once-famous 1960s rock band The Harpers – and his estranged wife, Rebecca, Veum’s first love.

Their rekindled friendship is thrown into jeopardy by the discovery of a horrific murder, and Veum is forced to dig deep into his own adolescence and his darkest memories, to find a motive … and a killer.

Tense, vivid and deeply unsettling, Fallen Angels is the spellbinding, award-winning thriller that secured Gunnar Staalesen’s reputation as one of the world’s foremost crime writers.”

Okay, no preamble here let’s get straight to to the facts: Gunnar Staalesen is on a different level, an all-time great of of Nordic Noir and Fallen Angels is an astonishingly good novel that’s a shoe-in for the best read of 2020.

This is the seventh Staalesen novel I’ve read though is, in fact, the eighth Varg Veum book, originally published in Norway in 1989. Published now in English for the first time by the powerhouse and champion of great literature, Orenda Books, Fallen Angels won multiple awards upon release and was the novel that gave Staalesen his reputation as the father of the genre. Before there was Harry Hole or Kurt Wallander, before Inspector Van Veeteren or Mikael Blomkvis, Varg Veum was cracking complex and disturbing cases and Gunnar Staalesen was perfecting a style that’s about as good as it gets in literature.

Fallen Angels is a vital component to the Varg Veum series,  both revealing a great deal about the Bergen investigator’s past while unravelling a chain of deception that will leave its mark on him for years to come.  It’s as hard-hitting and powerful as they get when it comes to the key to the killings and there’s nobody who can wind up to a gut-punch that leaves you on your knees like Staalesen. This one hits harder than any I’ve read for some time.

The denouements in Gunnar Staalesen’s novels have never been anything less than knockout , you’re in the hands of a real master of the form here; every strand of the novel tying together and leading you through a beautifully crafted and increasingly intricate plot that doesn’t feel the need to rush or throw in the kitchen sink before delivering that final piece.

Reading a Varg Veum novel is always a real joy that I genuinely look forward to. Staalesen’s writing style and Varg’s methods are worth savouring every word, not a single on of which  ever wasted. There’s a preciseness to his writing that’s deceptive because it takes a real skill to deliver something as rich and involved with an economy of words and Staalesen is just so incredibly talented it makes anyone who wrestles with the written word on the daily envious.

Varg Veum is one of those rare protagonists that I can’t get enough of. He’s an honest, yet flawed character with a moral compass that points true north and is driven by the right motivations, even when he’s not on the clock. There’s a real charm to Veum as a lead in a mystery, his is  technique and style that’s compelling and his propensity for getting into more than his share of scapes in his determination to pick at threads people would rather leave buried makes for great reading. Combine that with a cast of equally compelling characters, a hugely complex plot, a good mix of humour, plenty of music references and plain brilliant prose and you’ve got a great book in your hands.

Fallen Angels is a slow-burning delight that packs an almighty punch. Expertly written and massively addictive. I cannot praise it enough. My thanks to Orenda for keeping my Guunar Staalesen addiction fed and to Anne Cater for inviting me to take part in its blog tour.

 

 

 

Blog Tour – The Coral Bride by Roxanne Bouchard

From the PR: “In this beautiful, lyrical sequel to the critically acclaimed We Were the Salt of the Sea, Detective Moralès finds that a seemingly straightforward search for a missing fisherwoman off Quebec’s Gaspé Peninsula is anything but.

When an abandoned lobster trawler is found adrift off the coast of Quebec’s Gaspé Peninsula, DS Joaquin Moralès begins a straightforward search for the boat ’s missing captain, Angel Roberts – a woman in a male-dominated world. But Moralès finds himself blocked at every turn – by his police colleagues, by fisheries bureaucrats, and by his grown-up son, who has turned up at his door with a host of his own personal problems.

When Angel’s body is finally discovered, it ’s clear something very sinister is afoot, and Moralès and son are pulled into murky, dangerous waters, where old resentments run deep…

An exquisitely written, evocative and poetic thriller, The Coral Bride powerfully conjures the might of the sea and the communities who depend on it, the never-ending struggle between the generations, and an extraordinary mystery at the heart of both”

You know, there’s a time and a place for airport thrillers and, sure, I’ve read a fair few. But if we’re talking ‘thrillers’ and ‘mystery’, what I really enjoy is a good slow-burner of a novel, one with a bit weight and heft. Is The Coral Bride just such a good slow-burner? No: it’s a bloody great slow burner of a novel, one that’s rich in detail, great characters, intrigue and top-class writing.

This isn’t an action, bare-knuckle ride of a story. The plot is a deep, complex web that lures you in until you’re hooked on the line and find yourself a couple of hundred pages in and deep into the novel – fully committed to both the story and the world it inhabits.

The storyline… trying to establish who killed Angel Roberts (and why)… is wonderfully told and lifts the lid on so many family secrets and ‘what the hell?’s that there’s more than enough intrigue and side plots for two novels here. Every time I thought I had an idea of what had lead to Angel’s murder I was thrown off by another gentle revelation that not only serves as ‘twist’ but also unveiled another depth to explore. 

Couple that to the drama that Moralès and his son are facing in their personal lives and you’ve got a real belter of a read. Thing is, and this is an important thing, you never feel that there’s so much going on you can’t keep up… Bouchard writes with an almost poetically deft hand that allows the story to flow like a gentle rolling tide rather than a full on assault. Detail building upon detail as a rich and impressively crafted story unfolds. It’s a genuine pleasure to read.

Roxanne Bouchard is a massively talented writer with a real gift for setting a scene and capturing an environment that immerses the reader deep into the heart of The Coral Bride‘s setting. She writes of Gaspé Peninsula, its people and environs with a real warmth and detail that’s evocative and captivating. This is really is a novel to soak in and savour. 

I thoroughly enjoyed and recommend The Coral Bride. My thanks to Karen at Orenda Books for my copy and to Anne Cater for inviting me to take part in this blog tour.

Blog Tour – A Song of Isolation by Michael J Malone

From the PR: “Film star Amelie Hart is the darling of the silver screen, appearing on the front pages of every newspaper. But at the peak of her fame she throws it all away for a regular guy with an ordinary job. The gossip columns are aghast: what happened to the woman who turned heads wherever she went?

Any hope the furore will die down are crushed when Amelie’s boyfriend Dave is arrested on charges of child sexual abuse. Dave strongly asserts his innocence, and when Amelie refuses to denounce him, the press furore quickly turns into physical violence, and she has to flee the country.

While Dave is locked up with the most depraved men in the country and Amelie is hiding on the continent, Damaris, the victim at the centre of the story, is also isolated – a child trying to make sense of an adult world…

Breathtakingly brutal, dark and immensely moving, A Song of Isolation looks beneath the magpie glimmer of celebrity to uncover a sinister world dominated by greed and lies, and the unfathomable destruction of innocent lives… in an instant.”

Where to start with A Song of Isolation? Well, let’s start by saying ‘holy shit, this is a good book’. This Michael J Malone is a sneaky one… each of his previous four novels published by Orenda have managed to deliver a massively rewarding read that takes a detour from the expected and with A Song of Isolation Michael J Malone has  once again managed to deliver a thriller that subverts the genre’s tropes – there’s no body in sight for one thing – with a plot and narrative that packs real power and surprise.

Forget mysterious bodies and murders, broody cops with an alcoholic tendency or ex-military bruisers: A Song of Isolation is a much more taught and intellectual thriller that gets its tensions from the pain of injustice and the constant shadow of threat and panic that hangs over its principal characters.

What’s really compelling is Malone’s portrayal of characters in crisis and under pressure in situations nobody would expect or ever want to encounter. How would any reader respond if they or their loved one were falsely accused and charged of this most heinous of crimes and nobody believed the truth? Remember that phrase about how a lie can travel around the world before truth is still getting its pants on? Here that lie relates to a crime that is an instant – and understandably – gut-reaction button for everyone. I think we’ve probably all read a story in the press where someone is accused of it and instantly wished them hell before any evidence is heard. But this time the lie is told so convincingly that telling the truth is like screaming in the wind and innocent lives are cracked, ruined and thrown upside down – it’s real page-turning stuff.

Malone tackles some massively difficult subjects in A Song of Isolation – there’s the fact that we have a young girl being coached in giving evidence in a sexual assault trial, the perversion of justice, the treatment of the wrongly accused (David’s journey through the system and how he is handled specifically), self-harm and some unpleasant stalker stuff too – and he does so with a style that’s at times intense and unflinching but without resorting to shock value for the sake of it. Meanwhile his handling of some of the more sensitive elements – such as Damaris’ internal dialogue – is deft and insightful.

I really dig Michale J Malone’s style; it’s concise yet powerful and he’s got a really crafty way of hooking you in deep so before you realise it you’ve burnt up half the night reading and you still don’t want to put the book down. It’s really bloody good stuff.

My thanks to Karen at Orenda Books for my copy and to Anne Cater for inviting me to take part in this blog tour.

Blog Tour – The Seven Rooms by Agnes Ravatn

From the PR: “University professor Nina is at a turning point. Her work seems increasingly irrelevant, her doctor husband is never home, relations with her adult daughter Ingeborg are strained, and their beautiful house is scheduled for demolition.

When Ingeborg decides to move into another house they own, things take a very dark turn. The young woman who rents it disappears, leaving behind her son, the day after Nina and Ingeborg pay her a visit.

With few clues, the police enquiry soon grinds to a halt, but Nina has an inexplicable sense of guilt. Unable to rest, she begins her own investigation, but as she pulls on the threads of the case, it seems her discoveries may have very grave consequences for her and her family.”

Agnes Ravatn’s The Bird Tribunal was one of my favourite reads of 2016 so I’ve been very much looking forward to more from the author and The Seven Doors does not disappoint. No: what it does is captivate from the word go and hold you in its grip well after finishing.

First off this is not your standard mystery – it’s a real slow burning joy of a novel that rewards on many levels.

The plot is a quiet, tightly orchestrated masterpiece and when it all comes together so many little details that had been sewn into the narrative earlier are all bathed in a new light and there’s a real “ohhhh” moment. Not to mention the fact that when it does all click it’s a real ‘holy crap’ moment – I mean, I’ve read more thrillers and mysteries now than I can count but I don’t think I’ve read anything as intense and bitingly real as the final confrontation between Nina and the guilty party (I really really don’t want to give anything away).

Plus Nina makes for a really captivating protagonist, slowly unravelling a mystery while at the same time dealing with a major upheaval in her own life.

But, just like The Bird Tribunal, what makes The Seven Doors such a welcome addition to any bookshelf is Agnes Ravatn’s writing and style. Her style is deceptively unassuming yet completely mesmerising. There’s a real beauty in her prose and a wonderful ability to immerse the reader in the novel’s world. It’s there in both the setting of location and in the portrayal of her characters; a magical thread that seems to effortlessly (and making it seem easy is never easy) breathe a warmth and life into the pages.

Atmospheric, intricately plotted and brilliantly written, The Seven Doors is an easy entry onto the Best Books of 2020 list for me.

My thanks to Orenda Books for my copy of The Seven Doors and to Anne Cater for inviting me to take part in this blog tour.

Blog Tour – Long Hand by Andy Hamilton

From the PR: “Malcolm George Galbraith is a large, somewhat clumsy, Scotsman. He’s being forced to leave the woman he loves behind and needs to explain why.

So he leaves her a handwritten note on the kitchen table (well, more a 300-page letter than a note). In it, Malcolm decides to start from the beginning and tell the whole story of his long life, something he’s never dared do before.

Because Malcolm isn’t what he seems: he’s had other names and lived in other places. A lot of other places. As it gathers pace, Malcolm’s story combines tragedy, comedy, mystery, a touch of leprosy, several murders, a massacre, a ritual sacrifice, an insane tyrant, two great romances, a landslide, a fire, and a talking fish.”

Sometimes I’ll get an email about a book and I know straight off the bat I’m gonna enjoy it. This one was an immediate ‘yes’ for me just on the back of the author: Andy Hamilton has made me laugh on so many occasions over the years across TV and radio I knew this wouldn’t be an exception. A comedy writer, performer and director you may know him from his regular appearances on  the BBC TV panel shows Have I Got News for You and on Radio 4’s News Quiz and I’m Sorry I Haven’t A Clue. His television writing credits include Outnumbered, Drop the Dead Donkey, Not the Nine O’Clock News, Trevor’s World of Sport, Ballot Monkeys, Power Monkeys and many others. He also co-created the movie What We Did On Our Holiday. For twenty years he has played Satan in the Radio 4 comedy Old Harry’s Game, which he also writes.

So; who is Malcom? Well, as he puts it: “my name is Heracles and I think I may be immortal”. Yup, the Heracles – or Hercules as you may know him – sired by an hilariously bastard-like version of Zeus who discussed himself as Antiphon in order to have his way with Alcmene, Antiphon’s wife. The demi-god offspring manages to piss his ‘real Dad’ off no end by refusing to show Him the respect He feels is due . As a result, Heracles must spend his life – several hundred years and counting – never laying down roots because Zeus is bent on ensuring he’s never happy.

Having been settled for some twenty years with Bess in Scotland – though never ageing – Zeus has rocked up and, through a serious of stunning events laced in black humour, that it’s time to move on again, or else. Long Hand is written as Heracles’ explanation, confession and, at times, lament as he prepares once again to make a hasty exit.

I can’t remember the last time I laughed so much while reading, Long Hand is just deliciously and uproariously funny. An hilarious novel written by a genuine great of comedy writing – that he’s written this novel as a 300 page letter which never once loses momentum or interest and wrap it around a plot that combines classical mythology with modern life and style is testament to just how great a comedic writer Andy Hamilton is.

But Long Hand is also balanced with a real heart and poignancy (after all, those Greek myths are steeped in tragedy). This is a letter from a man on the run seemingly all his life and written against the clock.

I wouldn’t say I tore through this book, more that I devoured it hungrily, savouring every page of it. An absolute giddy joy of a read that I only wish had gone on for longer. Though given that Andy Hamilton wrote the novel by hand – over two years and 43 italic pens – I’m not sure whether it could be longer.

I can’t recommend this one enough. My thanks to Unbound for my copy and to Anne Cater for inviting me to read and take part in this blog tour.

Blog Tour – The Bitch by Pilar Quintana

From the PR: “Colombia’s Pacific coast, where everyday life entails warding off the brutal forces of nature. In this constant struggle, nothing is taken for granted. Damaris lives with her fisherman husband in a shack on a bluff overlooking the sea. Childless and at that age “when women dry up,” as her uncle puts it, she is eager to adopt an orphaned puppy. But this act may bring more than just affection into her home.

The Bitch is written in a prose as terse as the villagers, with storms―both meteorological and emotional―lurking around each corner. Beauty and dread live side by side in this poignant exploration of the many meanings of motherhood and love.”

Sometimes you’ll pick up a book that’s so intensely written and moving that you’ll wonder how the author has managed to pack so much power into so little space. The Bitch by Pilar Quintana is just such a book. I have a few of these ‘bantamweight belters’ on my bookshelves: Pereira Maintains by Antonio Tabucchi, Hemmingway’s The Old Man and the Sea and, more recent works such as Andrey Kurkov’s The Case of the General’s Thumb and Quintana’s novel sits right amongst those favourite titles which manage to deliver in just 150 pages a wealth of delight and literary brilliance.

In case it wasn’t clear – I bloody loved reading this book. The Bitch is an absolutely gripping and magnificent read that gets you right from the word go and takes you in deep. Its prose is simple and concise yet powerful and moving and conveys a world so vivid and detailed, in terms of characters and setting, with such precision and skill with the greatest economy of words it’s a genuine thrill and joy to read.

The bitch in question is the dog that Damaris takes in, it’s a blunt harsh title that’s in keeping with the prose and the life that the novel’s characters lead. The story goes beyond that of Damaris’ adoption of a dog – this is about Damaris’ life in a world where, as the PR suggests, life is a constant struggle. Having lost her mother at a young age to a stray bullet and forever haunted by the drowning of a childhood friend, not to mention the punishment received, The Bitch offers the story of Damaris’ life and her desperation for love in a hard world without lavish prose and manages to deliver all the more emotional impact as a result.

I’ve got no doubt that I’ll be reading The Bitch again, there’s simply so much to enjoy and admire in it that it I’ve already read it twice and discovered more upon the second reading that I hadn’t picked up first time around. It’s not a gentle read, it’s an on-the-nose book about a hard life in a tough environment but it is such a thoroughly well-written, powerful and rewarding read that I can’t recommend it enough. It more than deserves the accolades and prizes its already received (including the Colombian Biblioteca de Narrativa Prize and being chosen as one of the most valuable objects to preserve for future generations in a marble time capsule in Bogotá) and whileThe Bitch is the first of Pilar Quintana’s novels to be translated into English, I really hope that it’s not the last.

My thanks to World Editions for my copy of The Bitch and to Anne Cater for asking me to take part in this blogtour.

 

 

Blog Tour: The Twins of Auschwitz by Eva Mozes Kor

From the PR: “In the summer of 1944, Eva Mozes Kor and her family arrived at Auschwitz.

Within thirty minutes, they were separated. Her parents and two older sisters were taken to the gas chambers, while Eva and her twin, Miriam, were herded into the care of the man who became known as the Angel of Death: Dr. Josef Mengele. They were 10 years old.

THE NAZIS SPARED THEIR LIVES BECAUSE THEY WERE TWINS.

While twins at Auschwitz were granted the ‘privileges’ of keeping their own clothes and hair, they were also subjected to Mengele’s sadistic medical experiments. They were forced to fight daily for their own survival, and many died as a result of the experiments, or from the disease and hunger rife in the concentration camp.

Publishing for the first time in the UK in the year that marks the 75th anniversary of Auschwitz liberation, The Twins of Auschwitz shares the inspirational story of a child’s endurance and survival in the face of truly extraordinary evil.”

I’ve touched at various times on this blog on my interest in certain passages of history, specifically the Second World War. As part of this reading I’ve covered some pretty harrowing accounts of what those of Jewish faith endured both in the build up to and during the war – the increase in persecution, the stirring of hatred, the betrayal from friends and their treatment in concentration camps. Eva Mozes Kor’s account of this time is a vital read.

Mihail Sebastian’s Journal 1934-1945 gave a revealing insight into the persecution of Romanian Jews at home but Sebastian was an adult, an educated man and writer. What makes The Twins of Auschwitz so startling and vital is that Eva, as a child, was not aware of what was happening as the war and persecution of the Jews progressed and Transylvania was given back to Hungary and she found herself in a classroom presented with maths problems such as “if you have five Jews and you kill three of them how many do you have left?” The Twins of Auschwitz is written in a simple and direct narrative that’s perhaps as much due to Eva’s interrupted education and the fact that she details events as she experienced them at the time – as a child. It’s hugely affecting.

The increasing and constant terrors Eva and her family endured at home are one thing and certainly make for disturbing reading – it’s always shocked me just how easily people turned against their friends and neighbours with a little encouragement – however, the other element of this book is that their torture didn’t end their: like so many millions of over Jewish people in Europe, they were forced out of their homes, into cattle trucks and sent to a concentration camp. For the Mozes family that meant Auschwitz.

Saved by the fact that they were twins, at just ten years old (though Eva later references two year old twins also being in their barracks) Eva and her sister Miriam were taken from their family upon arrival. Their parents and two older sisters were sent to the gas chambers.

Again; I’m sure we’re all pretty familiar with what awaited those that were imprisoned at a concentration camp. I’ve read some pretty horrific accounts and I know that given that reading about it can barely tap the surface. Eva and her sister had to endure this as ten year olds. As Eva states: “Being in Auschwitz was like being in a car accident every single day. Every song day something terrifying happened.”

The reason that Eva and Miriam were kept aside is simple: Dr Josef Mengele was a sick bastard. Mengele – or ‘the angel of death’ as he was later known – used prisoners for experimentation. With twins he carried out some truly shocking experiments including unnecessary amputation of limbs, intentionally infecting one twin with typhus or some other disease, and transfusing the blood of one twin into the other, attempting to change twins genders by blood transfusion or genital removal…. he was a sick bastard let loose. At one point he personally killed 14 twins in one night with chloroform. If one twin died as a result of a disease he’d infected them with he’d immediately have the healthy twin killed to allow for post mortem comparison of the organs.

It was into this hell that Eva and Miriam were plunged as ten year olds. While Eva wasn’t aware of the full depth of Mengele’s experiments she was injected with a disease meant to kill her. It was only her determination not to give in and her efforts to reach water that kept her alive. In cheating her own death though, Mengele went to town on her sister, giving her a multitude of injection, one of which would stunt the growth of her kidneys, never letting them develop further.

The Twins of Auschwitz documents the twins’ time at Auschwitz and beyond – the realisation that their family was gone and their desperation to find home and simply be children with a simplicity and directness that is both profound and heartbreaking. Though I think it’s also a case that it’s written in such a manner so that we don’t simply get lost in emotion but that we learn, we remember and we ensure that it never happens again.

What makes this book all the more vital is the additional epilogue on Eva’s recovery and how she came to a point where she publicly forgave the Nazis. Not, as Eva and this book are keen to point out, on behalf of all who suffered, but for herself. Mengele was an unrepentant Nazi. When his son found him in later life in South America (that the bastard died of natural causes is confounding), Mengele refused to acknowledge any wrong-doing and sure as hell would never ask for forgiveness. But what Eva Mozes Kor teaches is that in her forgiving him and the Nazis, she is both taking the power from them and that her letting go isn’t reliant on them: “it made me feel good to have any power over my life as a survivor”. By all accounts it changed her as a person, removed a weight and she became a happier and healthier person free from the bitterness she’d carried since the Red Army liberated Auschwitz.

The Twins of Aushwitz is an important and revelatory read. I ran the gamut of emotions across its two hundred or so pages, it’s one I know will stay with me for some time and one I won’t hesitate in recommending to anyone.

My thanks to Monoray / Octopus for my copy and to Anne Cater for asking me to take part on this Blog Tour.