Six Degrees of Separation: from The Lottery to Fallen Angel

It’s time again for 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.

The chain this month begins with  a (frightening) short story, The Lottery by Shirley Jackson.

The Lottery is a short story written by Shirley Jackson, first published in the June 25, 1948, issue of The New Yorker, (the link takes you to the story.) The lottery is an annual rite, in which a member of a small farming village is selected by chance. This is a creepy story of casual cruelty, which I first read several years ago. The shocking consequence of being selected in the lottery is revealed only at the end.

Once again I found it difficult starting my chain, and after several attempts I finally settled on an obvious choice of another one of Shirley Jackson’s stories for the first link.

First link: The Haunting of Hill House. Dr. Montague, a doctor of philosophy with a keen interest in the supernatural and psychic manifestations had been looking for a ‘haunted’ house to investigate all his life. So, when he heard the stories about the strange goings on at Hill House he decided he would spend three months living there and see what happened, and he set about finding other people to stay there with him. The house is connected with a number of tragedies – scandal, madness and a suicide. But nothing is what it first appears to be and I felt as if I was sinking into the story in a most unpleasant way.

The Second link: is to another house, in The House by Simon Lelic. It is set in a creepy house, full of junk, with an overgrown garden and with hints of the supernatural. Jack and Syd move in and then Jack found something nasty in the attic. There’s been a murder and this is a story about despair, domestic violence, dark secrets and the effects of the past on the present.

The third link: Simon Lelic also wrote The Search Party in which 16-year-old Sadie Saunders goes missing and five of her friends set out into the woods to find her. At the same time the police’s investigation, led by Detective Robin Fleet and Detective Sergeant Nicola Collins, is underway. When the friends get lost in the woods they make an incoherent phone call to the emergency services. The caller doesn’t know their location other than it is ‘somewhere in the woods‘ near an abandoned building.

The fourth link: Cal Hooper is also searching for a teenager in The Searcher by Tana French. Cal and thirteen-year old Trey Reddy live in Ardnakelty, a remote Irish village. Cal has recently moved to the village, wanting to build a new life after his divorce. He is a loner and wants a quiet life in which nothing much happens. But he finds himself getting involved in the search for Brendan, Trey’s older brother who had gone missing from home.

The fifth link: The Wych Elm also by Tana French Toby Hennessy, the narrator, is twenty eight. He is brutally attacked by burglars in his flat, leaving him in a terrible state, physically and psychologically damaged. He seeks refuge at the family’s ancestral home, the Ivy House. But not long after his arrival, a skull is discovered, tucked neatly inside the old wych elm in the garden. As detectives begin to close in, Toby is forced to examine everything he thought he knew about his family, his past, and himself. This is a psychological thriller, a standalone book, about a family in crisis, as dark family secrets gradually came to light.

The sixth link: The Temple family in Chris Bookmyre’s Fallen Angel is another family in crisis. The family is spending the summer at its seaside villa in Portugal for a reunion after the death of the head of the family, Max Temple, who was a psychologist. The last time they were all there together was in 2002 when one of the children had disappeared from the villa, and was presumed drowned. None of the family members are very likeable and there’s plenty of tension as they don’t get on well with each other! It’s a novel about a family in crisis, about toxic relationships and about the psychology of conspiracy theories. 

From a short and scary story my chain links two novels about scary houses, or rather the occupants of scary houses, two books about searches, and two about families in crisis.

Next month (November 6, 2021), we’ll start with Sigrid Nunez’s What Are You Going Through.

The Search Party by Simon Lelic

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

Viking| 20 August 2020| 35 pages print length| Hardback| Review Copy

Three years ago I read The House by Simon Lelic and enjoyed it, so I was looking forward to reading The Search Party. I’m delighted to say that I think it is even better.

16-year-old Sadie Saunders is missing and five of her friends set out into the woods to find her. At the same time the police’s investigation, led by Detective Robin Fleet and Detective Sergeant Nicola Collins, is underway. The narrative alternates between the two groups. Sadie is a clever girl, popular with her school friends and loved by her parents, who favour her over her twin brother Luke and their younger brother, Dylan.

The opening lines propelled me straight into the story as one of Sadie’s friends, lost in the woods her makes an incoherent phone call to the emergency services. The caller doesn’t know their location other than it is ‘somewhere in the woods‘ near an abandoned building. And from that point on I was gripped, compelled to follow this complex novel, full of red herrings and multiple twists and turns. It is tense from start to finish, ending in an exhausting and terrifying chase that had me on the edge of my seat!

I really like Fleet, and the way he stands up to his boss, Superintendent Burton, whose main concern is the cost of the investigation. Burton puts pressure on him to arrest Mason, assuming he has killed Sadie even though her body has not been found. Mason is part of the search party, but Fleet’s instincts tell him Mason is innocent. Fleet is known for his ability to find missing persons and sticks to his gut feelings.

My only criticism is that at times the teenagers’ rambling discussions about what could have happened to Sadie and their disagreements went on too long for my liking. But that is just a minor point. They are all keeping secrets and in their interviews with the police they all lie and withhold vital facts and they are suspicious of each other, not knowing who they can trust. And I couldn’t decide what had happened to Sadie – had she run away, committed suicide or was she murdered and if so who was the murderer. They are all suspects, including Sadie’s parents. It was only just before the end of the book that I realised just what had happened.

My thanks to NetGalley and Viking, the publishers for a review copy.

The House by Simon Lelic

Publication date: 17 August 2017, Penguin

Source: review copy via NetGalley

Blurb:

What if your perfect home turned out to be the scene of the perfect crime?

Londoners Jack and Syd moved into the house a year ago. It seemed like their dream home: tons of space, the perfect location, and a friendly owner who wanted a young couple to have it. So when they made a grisly discovery in the attic, Jack and Syd chose to ignore it. That was a mistake. Because someone has just been murdered. Right outside their back door. And now the police are watching them…

Given the title, The House, I anticipated that the main focus would be a house. And it was, at the beginning, which really raised my expectations that this was going to be a suspense-filled creepy book with hints even of the supernatural. Syd found the house advertised on the internet; the owner had suddenly moved to Australia, leaving the house fully furnished and she was immediately smitten by it. Jack wasn’t so sure – he thought it was creepy, full of junk, with an overgrown garden. But they put in a bid and were amazed when they got it a bargain price.

Jack and Syd share the narrative, explaining how they came to buy the house and their feelings as they move in and experience strange, disgusting smells and scary noises in the night. Then Jack found something nasty in the attic, which I thought must be something so evil, because he didn’t want to tell Syd what it was. He began to worry why the owner had wanted him and Syd to have the house. It’s a nightmare scenario.

But then the focus changed and the mystery of the house was absorbed into a very complex story that is difficult to write about without giving away the plot. As I read on and found out more about Jack and Syd it became clear that this book is not really about the house – it’s about their past lives and in particular about Syd’s. I think that if I had known more about that before, I wouldn’t have chosen to read the book. It’s a story about despair, domestic violence, dark secrets and the effects of the past on the present.

Even thought the main issues are not topics that I want to read about, I did find the book compelling and it drew me along. The characters are believable, so much so that I didn’t like some of them; they are not people I’d want to meet. It was not what I expected from the title or synopsis – and there is nothing supernatural about it. Having said that it is well-written in a conversational style that makes each character easily distinguishable, with a well constructed plot.

My thanks to NetGalley and Penguin, the publishers for a review copy.

  • Format: Kindle Edition
  • File Size: 1289 KB
  • Print Length: 342 pages
  • Page Numbers Source ISBN: 0241983355
  • Publisher: Penguin (17 Aug. 2017)
  • My rating: 3.5*