The Winker by Andrew Martin

The Winker

Corsair| 6 June 2019| 272 pages| e-book| review copy via NetGalley|4 stars

I haven’t read anything by Andrew Martin before and as I began reading The Winker I found it decidedly odd and a bit creepy. I don’t like the cover at all and the title didn’t appeal to me either. But the description interested me:

London, 1976.

In Belgravia in the heat of summer, Lee Jones, a faded and embittered rock star, is checking out a group of women through the heavy cigarette smoke in a crowded pub. He makes eye contact with one, and winks. After allowing glances to linger for a while longer, he finally moves towards her.

In that moment, his programme of terror – years in the making – has begun.

Months later, the first of the many chilling headlines to come appears: ‘Police hunting winking killer.’

Meanwhile in France.

Charles Underhill, a wealthy Englishman living in Paris, has good reason to be interested in the activities of the so-called Winking Killer. With a past to hide and his future precarious, Charles is determined to discover the Winker’s identity.

In the overheating cities of London, Oxford, Paris and Nice, a game of cat and mouse develops, and catching someone’s eye becomes increasingly perilous. But if no one dares look, a killer can hide in plain sight . . .

From ‘a master of historical crime fiction’ (The Guardian), The Winker is a gripping thriller that won’t let you look away.

My thoughts:

I like the structure of this book. It is set in 1976 with flashbacks to 1951, in several locations, mainly London and Nice and sometimes in Paris and Oxford. Each time and place is clearly highlighted. The book is largely character-led. Lee Jones, a failed pop singer and psychopath is working on a ‘project’, nothing to do with music, aiming to achieve world-wide fame. He calls it a ‘programme’ and involves something he calls a ‘folder’ and his ‘trademark’. He is living in a fantasy world, accompanied by Abigail a journalist who intermittently interviews Lee. It was all a bit ambiguous at first and it took me a few pages to decide what I thought about Abigail and her role in the book. 

Then there is Charles Underhill, a man of about fifty,  living a self-imposed exile in France, because of an event in Oxford whilst he was a student there. He lives a very routine life in Paris with his mother Syl, except for his annual holiday in Nice. His routine is upset when he receives a postcard with a picture of the river at Oxford showing a boat full of university rowers, but no message on the back. When more unsigned postcards arrive he is worried that they are from Pat Price who was at the university with him in 1951.

In Nice Charles meets Howard Miller, a crime fiction writer. His first novel wasn’t a great success and he is looking for inspiration for his next novel, to prove to his father he wasn’t wasting his time. These three men are now set on a collision course as Charles offers to pay Howard for a couple of days work in Oxford to find out who had sent him the anonymous postcards. From that point onwards everything fell into place for me and I was hooked.

This is psychological crime fiction, you know right from the beginning who the ‘Winker’ is, but the precise method of the murders is not clear (at least not to me) until later in the book. And Charles’ secret is revealed quite early in the book. Neither Lee nor Charles are pleasant characters and this is decidedly a creepy tale, but it’s also a compelling one. Howard, on the other hand, is rather a naive character, who nevertheless gets to the bottom of the mystery. I loved the settings – they are so vivid and evocative of the 1970s; the places, the intense heat of the summer  of 1976, the people, their clothes, the hairstyles, sunglasses, cars, exotic cigarettes, and especially the music of the 70s, bring it all to life in technicolour. I think this is ripe for being made into a film.

Andrew Martin, a former Spectator Young Writer of the Year, grew up in Yorkshire. He has written for the Evening Standard, the Sunday Times, the Independent on Sunday and the Daily Telegraph, among others. His weekly column appears in the New Statesman and he is the author of numerous articles and books – of both fiction and non-fiction. For more information see his website.

I received a copy of this book from the publisher, via NetGalley, for review.

My Friday Post: Women of the Dunes by Sarah Maine

Book Beginnings Button

Every Friday Book Beginnings on Friday is hosted by Gillion at Rose City Reader where you can share the first sentence (or so) of the book you are reading, along with your initial thoughts about the sentence, impressions of the book, or anything else the opener inspires.

Women of the Dunes by Sarah Maine is one of the books I’m thinking I’ll read next. It’s described as: Atmospheric, intoxicating and filled with intrigue, this sweeping novel is an epic story spanning the centuries, that links three women together across history.

Women of the Dunes (1)

 

Prologue

West coast of Scotland, c.800 A.D., Odrhan

As the sun rose over a pale sea, Odrhan emerged from his dwelling at the end of the headland. Eyes closed, he stretched, reaching his fingertips to the sky, and felt the chill of dawn on his cheek. He offered up a prayer, and a gull’s cry was blown back on the north wind as the sun set the water asparkle.

Then the beginning of Chapter 1 :

Ullaness, 2012, Libby

When Libby Snow finally arrived, darkness was already falling. She decided to park the car anyway and walk out onto the narrow spit of land.

Also every Friday there is The Friday 56, hosted by Freda at Freda’s Voice.

30879-friday2b56These are the rules:

  1. Grab a book, any book.
  2. Turn to page 56, or 56% on your eReader. If you have to improvise, that is okay.
  3. Find any sentence (or a few, just don’t spoil it) that grabs you.
  4. Post it.
  5. Add the URL to your post in the link on Freda’s most recent Friday 56 post.

Page 56:

He stopped again, then asked: ‘How long does it take flesh to disappear in sand?’

From bizarre to macabre. ‘I’ve no idea!’

Blurb:

On the rugged, sea-lashed coast of west Scotland lies Ullaness: home to the Scottish legend of Ulla, a Viking woman who washed up on Scottish shores centuries ago. The legend will bring the stories of three different women together…

In AD 800 there is Ulla, lost in a foreign country after her lover is brutally killed. Ellen, a servant-girl in the 1800s, catches the unwanted attentions of the master of the house’s lascivious son. And, in the present day, there is Libby – an archaeologist who is determined to uncover an age-old mystery.

When a body is excavated from Ullaness – the body of someone who was murdered long ago – the mystery deepens, and the fates of the three women become ever more tightly bound.

~~~

Have you read this book? What did you think?

The Last Day by Andrew Hunter Murray

A thriller set in a world which has spun to a halt, bringing civilisation to the brink of collapse

The last day

Cornerstone| 6 February 2020| 432 pages| e-book| review copy via NetGalley| 5 stars

It’s not often I read dystopian fiction, a bit wary that I won’t like it, but I’m glad to say that I was fascinated by The Last Day by Andrew Hunter Murray. I’m not sure about the plausibility of the concept but I was gripped by the story of a world coming to an end and the effects that had on the planet and the population.

A white dwarf star, the size of earth but two hundred thousand times as dense had barrelled through space, and travelling at two thousand kilometres a second its trajectory and gravity had dragged the earth backwards. The earth’s rotation had gradually slowed and eventually came to a full stop. Chaos followed, earthquakes, volcanic eruptions and gales swept the earth’s surface, but gravity still functioned as the planet was still the same mass and exerted gravitational force. As the planet stopped on the dawning of the last day in 2029 the boundaries of day and night were locked in place, with a slender ring of borderlands that varied between total darkness and a fractional glimpse of light. Europe was in the constant light of the sun with an isolationist Britain on the warm side far enough in to raise crops but far enough out to still be habitable.

Set in 2059, thirty years after the earth had finally stopped spinning The Last Day presents a totalitarian world, and gives such a vivid picture of what life has become for the people who live on the burning sun side of the planet. There is, of course, no night, but there is a curfew during the ‘night’ hours.  I warmed to Ellen Hopper, a scientist working on a rig two hundred miles off the south-west coast of England in the North Atlantic, where it is always dawn, as she studies the ocean’s currents. She receives a letter from Dr Edward Thorne her old college tutor at Oxford who is dying. He has something important to tell her, information that would ruin the British government and that they would do anything to keep hidden. Prior to his appointment at Oxford he had  been a scientist and an adviser to the British Prime Minister, Richard Davenport, until he had been ignominiously sacked. 

What follows is Hopper’s search to discover the details of this secret, interspersed with flashbacks to her past and her family history, in particular about what happened to her parents, her relationship with her brother, who works in security, her fears that she shouldn’t trust him, and her ex-husband David. It is full of political intrigue and danger with a high body count and builds to a dramatic conclusion. I thoroughly enjoyed it, was glued to the pages and by the end of the book I was convinced of the reality of this implausible world (at least I hope it is). 

Andrew Hunter Murray, is a writer and journalist from London. The Last Day is his first novel. when he’s not writing fiction he works for the TV show QI, as one of the ‘Elves’ finding out Quite Interesting facts about everything under the sun. He also co-hosts the podcast No Such Thing As A Fish, and write jokes and journalism for Private Eye, the UK’s leading satirical magazine. No Such Thing As A Fish has also led to a spin-off TV series, No Such Thing As The News, and three books co-written with his colleagues on the show – the Book Of The Year, The Book Of The Year 2018, and the Book Of The Year 2019.

He is already working on his next novel idea. I definitely want to read it when he’s finished it!

Many thanks to Cornerstone for a review copy via NetGalley.

Six Degrees of Separation: from Fleishman is in Trouble to …

I love doing Six Degrees of Separation, a monthly link-up hosted by Kate at Books Are My Favourite and Best. Each month a book is chosen as a starting point and linked to six other books to form a chain. A book doesn’t need to be connected to all the other books on the list, only to the one next to it in the chain.

Fleishman

This month the chain begins with Fleishman is in Trouble by Taffy Brodesser-Akner,  a novel described as ‘a blistering satirical novel about Marriage, Divorce and Modern relationships‘. It’s a book that so many people declare is incredibly wise, a powerful feminist book, with depth, wit, nuance and life, shrewdly observed and and utterly of this moment. It is a book I have not read and also one that I doubt I will read.

Where to go from there? I had trouble deciding!

In the end I decided to go with the word ‘trouble‘ and that made me think of Bill Bryson’s book Troublesome Words, a book about the use of words, which is probably as far removed from Fleishman is in Trouble that you could get. It’s arranged like a dictionary, so a book to dip into rather than one to read straight through. For example if you want to know the difference between ‘that’ and ‘which’ this is the book to go to. And how about starting a sentence with the word ‘and’?  I was taught at school that you should never do that, not so says Bryson.

From Troublesome Words my mind jumped to The Sentence is Death by Anthony Horowitz, as a sentence is made up of words. Rosemary, the wife of wealthy George Barton dies suddenly at her birthday party at a West End Restaurant, the Luxembourg, after drinking a glass of champagne laced with cyanide.

And so onto Sparkling Cyanide by Agatha Christie. Rosemary, the wife of wealthy George Barton dies suddenly at her birthday party at a West End Restaurant, the Luxembourg, after drinking a glass of champagne laced with cyanide.

A birthday party features in Nicola Upson’s Fear in the Sunlight, the fourth novel featuring Josephine Tey. Summer, 1936. The writer, Josephine Tey, joins her friends in the holiday village of Portmeirion in Wales to celebrate her fortieth birthday. Alfred Hitchcock and his wife, Alma Reville, are there to sign a deal to film Josephine Tey’s novel, A Shilling for Candles.

So, my next link is to another book set in Wales, but in the Brecon Beacons not the coast. It’s Do Not Disturb by Claire Douglas. It also links back to Fleishman is in Trouble in that it’s about the trouble caused when Selena, Kirsty’s cousin, arrives at their new guesthouse and murder follows.

Finally, another troublesome character called Selena appears in Sweet Tooth by Ian McEwan. She was a spy whose mission failed – a story of deception, about writers and writing and readers and reading, with multiple stories within stories.

My chain begins and ends with a book about trouble, linked by a book about troublesome words, and murder mysteries involving the use of cyanide, birthday parties, books set in Wales and books with even more troublesome characters – a real mixed bag of connections.

Next month (7 March 2020), we’ll begin with Lucy Treloar’s Wolfe Island, a book that I know nothing about. (Bryson says it’s OK to end  sentence with a preposition).

Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens

Charles Dickens oliver twist etc

5*

Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens was my latest Classics Club Spin book. I finished reading it on 16th January well before the finish date for the Spin, 31st January. It’s a well known story, although I realised that I only knew the beginning – Oliver’s birth in the workhouse and his early years, that famous scene where he has the audacity to ask for more, and then his escape from the workhouse only to end up in Fagin’s clutches – a den of thieves and pickpockets.

Oliver Twist
‘Please, sir, I want some more.’

I don’t intended to go into any more detail about the story, other than to say that whilst out with the Artful Dodger, attempting to steal handkerchiefs Oliver is caught by the police and rescued by Mr Brownlow. After that the story was new to me, although I knew the names of the other main characters, Nancy and the villain Bill Sykes, with his vicious dog, Bull’s Eye. But other characters in the later parts of the book, such as the Maylie family, Rose, adopted by Mrs Maylie, and her son, Harry and the mysterious man, Monks were new to me. 

Oliver Twist was first published as a serial from 1837-1839, under Charles Dickens’ pseudonym, ‘Boz’. It was his second novel, published in three volumes in November 1839. It’s full of terrific descriptions of the state of society at the time – the grim conditions that the poor suffered, the shocking revelations of what went on in the workhouse, and the depiction of the criminal underworld – the contrast of good and evil. Despite everything that happens to Oliver he remains a good boy, pure and innocent, whereas the villains are evil personified; whilst living with Fagin and his gang he existed in a state of both fascination and terror. Dickens was merciless in the satire he used in this book.

And yet in the middle of the book there is a romantic interlude full of sentimentality and melodrama. Rose Maylie is really a very pale character, being both virtuous and self-sacrificing but she contrasts well with the prostitute Nancy, who pities Oliver and tries to protect him from Fagin and Sykes. As the mystery surrounding Monks’ identity is revealed, Oliver is in more danger than anything he has faced before in his life.

My copy also contains Great Expectations and A Tale of Two Cities (both of which I read as a teenager) and was a birthday present as long ago as 1981, so this is one of my TBRs as well as a Classics Club Spin book. In the introduction to this volume Oliver Twist is described as follows:

The story of Oliver … has become an immortal one. Hitherto Dickens had been content to entertain … with Oliver he tried to reach the deeper passions of his audience, rouse their indignation at the harsh injustice of the Poor Law and open their eyes to the horror of the London slums, while at the same time show that there is  a certain innocence in humanity (personified by Oliver) that can never be sullied. There have been some critics who have found that the two themes make uneasy bedfellows and certain contemporaries of Dickens complained that he was being purely sensational in his horrific descriptions of life in the criminal underworld. Most of his readership, however, have been both fascinated and moved.

And I can say that I too found it shocking, fascinating and moving.

Latest Additions at BooksPlease

Yesterday I brought this little pile of books home from Barter Books in Alnwick, my favourite bookshop. (This is where you can ‘swap’ books for credit that you can then use to get more books from the Barter Books shelves.)

BB bks Jan 2020

From top to bottom they are:

Rupture by Ragnar Jónasson, the fourth book in the Dark Iceland series. Two young couples move to the uninhabited, isolated fjord of Hedinsfjordur. Their stay ends abruptly when one of the women meets her death in mysterious circumstances. I’ve read one of his Hidden Iceland series, The Island which I thoroughly enjoyed.

Sleeping Beauties by Jo Spain, who is one of my favourite authors. It’s the third book in the Inspector Tom Reynolds Mystery series. A young woman, Fiona Holland, has gone missing from a small Irish village. A search is mounted, but there are whispers. Fiona had a wild reputation. Was she abducted, or has she run away?

The Silence Between Breaths by Cath Staincliffe. I’ve seen some of her books reviewed on other book blogs and thought I’d look for one of hers. It’s set on a train travelling from Manchester to London, where one of the passengers is carrying a deadly rucksack. Cath Staincliffe is a Manchester based crime writer, the creator and scriptwriter of ITV’s police series, Blue Murder and writes the Scott & Bailey books, based on the ITV1 police series.

Death in Berlin by M M Kaye. Years ago I read The Far Pavilions and it is only in recent years that I discovered she wrote the Death in … series. This is the 2nd book in the series first published in 1955. A murder mystery set in post-war Berlin.

The last two books are hardbacks that look brand new – Normal People by Sally Rooney. This is a not the usual type of book that I read, and a bit out of my comfort zone. It’s described on the dust jacket as a story of mutual fascination, friendship and love in which a couple try to stay apart but find they can’t.

And finally  – Blue Moon by Lee Child, a Jack Reacher thriller. I’m not sure this one is my cup of tea either, as two rival gangs are competing for control in the city – maybe too violent for me.

Have you read any of these books?  Do any of them tempt you? 

WWW Wednesday: 29 January 2020

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WWW Wednesday is run by Taking on a World of Words.

The Three Ws are:

What are you currently reading?
What did you recently finish reading?
What do you think you’ll read next?

Currently reading: I’m still reading, very slowly, The John Lennon Letters edited by Hunter Davies and The Windsor Story by J Bryan III and Charles V Murphy.

 And I’m also enjoying Hunter Davies’ memoir Happy Old Me: How to Live a Long Life and Really Enjoy It. This is an account of one year in his life after his wife, Margaret Forster died – poignant, moving and very interesting.

Recently Finished: Death Has Deep Roots: a Second World War Mystery by Michael Gilbert. Set in 1950 it’s a mix of courtroom drama, spy novel and an adventure thriller. Victoria Lamartine, a hotel worker, and an ex-French Resistance fighter is on trial for the murder of Major Eric Thoseby, her supposed lover, and alleged father of her dead child. My full review is in this post.

Silence between breathsReading Next: This is a movable feast, as I rarely decide until the time comes.

Yesterday I picked up several books in Barter Books, and am itching to read The Silence Between Breaths by Cath Staincliffe – Passengers boarding the 10.35 train from Manchester Piccadilly to London Euston are bound for work, assignations, reunions, holidays or new starts, with no idea that their journey is about to be brutally curtailed.

I did begin reading it whilst having a cup of coffee in Barter Books and the opening chapters make me want to read more.

Or it could be one of my TBRs – I simply don’t know yet.

Have you read any of these books?  Do any of them tempt you?