Saturday, 23 July 2016

Guest Post: Liz Nugent on Murderous Mothers

TITLE: Lying in Wait
AUTHOR: Liz Nugent
PUBLISHER: Penguin Ireland


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'My husband did not mean to kill Annie Doyle, but the lying tramp deserved it.'

Lydia Fitzsimons lives in the perfect house with her adoring husband and beloved son. There is just one thing Lydia yearns for to make her perfect life complete, though the last thing she expects is that pursuing it will lead to murder. However, needs must - because nothing can stop this mother from getting what she wants ...

Murderous Mothers

There really aren’t that many murderous mothers in fiction, so I wasn’t really following a trope when I wrote Lydia in Lying in Wait.

Originally, it was going to be her husband who committed the murder, but as I began to write it, it became clear that it would be far more interesting if Lydia were the driving force behind everything. As an over-protective mother, how far could I push her to protect her son? And then as her character revealed itself to me, I realized that she was far more interested in protecting herself than anyone else. She is self-obsessed to a deranged degree.

Lydia was a fascinating character to write because she is so disconnected from reality and such a snob. I actually had fun with her because she expressed opinions that I would naturally find abhorrent.

Off the top of my head, I can only find a few examples of these monstrous women. Let’s take a look:

In Shakespeare’s Macbeth, Lady Macbeth is similarly ruthless in her ambition and suggests to her husband that she would murder her own suckling child if that’s what she had committed to do. In the event, she doesn’t kill anyone except herself when the horror of what she has participated in becomes too much for her.

The absolute worst mother in literary history must be in Euripides’ play, Medea. The eponymous character murders her own children to take revenge on her ex husband. I think it strange that Medea was written in 431 BC and yet, since then, there have been so few plays or novels written about mothers sacrificing their own children?

When I was a teenager, I devoured Flowers in the Attic by Virginia Andrews – a huge hit among my classmates about some children who were locked away in an attic by their grandmother and then almost poisoned by their mother. As far as I recall, the mother does not succeed. But as we were children when we read this, it was absolutely shocking to us that a mother might be so negligent. We didn’t realize how privileged we were.

So there we have a few examples from highbrow Greek tragedy to teenage 80s fiction dealing with murderous mothers. I’d love it if Lydia made it into the list in a few decades from now!

Of course in real life, there are women and mothers who murder. If I had time, I would love to make a psychological study of them. What were their motivations and what did they think the consequences would be? It hardly bears thinking about - and yet - I’m fascinated by them.

Lying in Wait is out now.

Thursday, 21 July 2016

Blood Symmetry by Kate Rhodes: Review & Exclusive Story!

TITLE: Blood Symmetry
AUTHOR: Kate Rhodes
PUBLISHER: Mulholland Books


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Clare Riordan and her son Mikey are abducted from Clapham Common early one morning. Hours later, the boy is found wandering disorientated. Soon after, a pack of Clare's blood is left on a doorstep in the heart of the City of London.

Alice Quentin is brought in to help the traumatised child uncover his memories - which might lead them to his mother's captors. But she swiftly realises Clare is not the first victim... nor will she be the last.

The killers are driven by a desire for revenge... and in the end, it will all come down to blood.

I'm excited today to be taking part in the blog tour for Blood Symmetry, the latest book in the brilliant Alice Quentin series! My review comes at the end of this post but first, here's an exclusive story by Kate on one of my favourite characters, DCI Burns.

Blood Symmetry: DCI Burns’s story

I’ll let you into a secret. The sight of blood makes me heave, but that’s something I’d never reveal to a colleague. Luckily I’ve never passed out at a crime scene, which is just as well. My officers would take the piss mercilessly at the first sign weakness. Human frailty isn’t a great selling point in the Met, so I guard my secrets closely. No one knows about my year at Edinburgh Art School, before I got chucked out and headed for London to join the force. That’s when I realised my size could work to my advantage. People sit up and listen if you’re the biggest copper in the room, with a scowl to match, no matter how many doubts you’re concealing.

This is the only case that’s made me question my professional judgement. The killer has abducted a hospital consultant; test tubes full of her blood are being left at locations in London, in neatly wrapped packages. So far those tidy brown parcels are our only form of communication. Clare Riordan was out running on Clapham Common with her ten year old son, Mikey, when she was taken. We found the kid wandering through the suburbs later that afternoon. He’s in a safe house now, in case the bastard who took his mum is after him too. I’ve never seen a more terrified kid. His eyes are like saucers; the tiniest sound makes him jump out of his skin. Only he can tell us what happened to his mum, but he’s too terrified to speak. Mikey’s exactly the same age as my youngest boy. I’d rather not imagine how my sons would react if someone took their mum, right in front of their eyes.

Believe it or not, I still love my job, despite the crap it throws at me. The satisfaction of getting justice for each victim has kept me focused for twenty years, but this time it won’t be easy. Whoever abducted Clare Riordan is desperate not to be found. That’s why I’ve brought in Alice Quentin from the Forensic Psychology Unit. I’d rather not work on such a tough case with the woman who happens to be my girlfriend, but she’s the best in her field, so it can’t be avoided. To say that Alice is a closed book is an understatement. Sometimes the she refuses to open up pisses me off more than I can say. We’ve been together six months but I still know little about her, apart from hints that her childhood was the kind that often gets reported to Social Services, unless the parents slug it out behind closed doors. Most people look at Alice and see a doll-sized blonde with a gentle smile, but I see a survivor. The steel core running through her makes her ridiculously sexy. In an ideal world we could take a long break, laze on a beach somewhere, trading secrets. That won’t happen until I find out who’s killing doctors in the most brutal way imaginable. But a holiday is the next thing on my agenda, believe me.

Five books in and I still can’t get enough of the Alice Quentin series! Each book is brilliantly crafted and all-consuming, and Kate Rhodes never lets the reader down, always delivering a layered, fascinating and chilling story. Blood Symmetry is no exception.

I’ve mentioned before how much I like Alice, and that still remains. She’s definitely a woman you’d want on your side. In this book, I grew to like her even more and though she doesn’t overshadow the case, her character shines through. Clare Riordan and her son Mikey are out for a jog on Clapham Common when Clare is abducted. Mikey escapes, but he is traumatised. Mute and barely readable, Alice is there to try and uncover his memories, but it isn’t an easy task.

Mikey’s character appeared to me as very realistic and I found it really interesting seeing the stages of his trauma, and was eager for him to develop and recover a bit as when we meet him, he is hardly uttering a word, or at least not any that make sense. I cared for Mikey’s character early on even when I couldn’t understand him, and found getting to know his character through his actions, Alice’s perceptions and the little things he shared utterly engaging, and other than my fictional love for Alice Quentin, Mikey had me emotionally attached to this novel, something which I rarely feel in this genre.

One of the reasons why I love Kate’s books is because she makes them wholly human and accessible – exploring family, relationships and historical connections whilst still providing a tense and gripping crime to sink your teeth into. Blood Symmetry had all that, with pace and atmosphere delivered boundlessly, and I spent one very late night/early morning devouring her words whole. Because that’s another thing I love about Kate’s books – they are impossible to put down.

As Alice and her boyfriend DCI Burns (love him) attempt to uncover the truth, the appearance of blood packs all around London lead them to realise that Clare isn’t the only victim of the crime. And that is some understatement. Though there aren’t too many twists and turns in Blood Symmetry, it still had a huge mystery at its heart and I was kept guessing throughout. With every few Alice chapters divided by quick, pacy chapters from the perspective of the killer, I loved how unnerved and unsettled reading their thought process made me feel, as this engrossed me even more.

There is also a very honest and factual theme to this book – based on the real-life tainted blood scandal. This is not something I’d heard much of before reading Blood Symmetry but learning the author’s personal connection to the scandal at the end of the book made me feel the story even more. Kate’s writing made me feel the need to research the tainted blood scandal and I did, and this made Blood Symmetry shock and emotionally affect me even more.

The worst part about this book was that it came to an end. I feel the same way after every Alice book. Blood Symmetry was a startling read, incredibly intense and captivating, topped off by its very satisfying end. Kate manages to move me, destroy my emotions and just about fix me back up, ready for the next one through the course of her books and it never gets old. I cannot wait to see where she takes things next.

Tuesday, 19 July 2016

Reviewed: The Name I Call Myself by Beth Moran

TITLE: The Name I Call Myself
AUTHOR: Beth Moran
PUBLISHER: Lion Fiction


Amazon - Goodreads

All Faith Harp wants is a quiet life - to take care of her troubled brother, Sam, earn enough money to stop the wolves snapping at her heels, and to keep her past buried as deep as possible. And after years of upheaval, she might have just about managed it: she's engaged to the gorgeous and successful Perry, is holding down a job, and Sam's latest treatment seems to actually be working this time. But, for Faith, things never seem to stay simple for long. Her domineering mother-in-law-to-be is planning a nightmare wedding, including the wedding dress from hell. And the man who killed her mother is released from prison, sending her brother tumbling back into mental illness.

When secretly planning the wedding she really wants, Faith stumbles across a church choir that challenges far more than her ability to hold a tune. She ends up joining the choir, led by the fierce choir-mistress, Hester, who is determined to do whatever it takes to turn the motley crew of women into something spectacular. She also meets Dylan, the church's vicar, who is different to any man she has ever met before.

What I love about Beth Moran’s writing the most is that she always manages to surprise me – including elements in her books that I’m not expecting, that are grittier and have a more emotional edge and I’m half convinced they’re simply there to break my heart except for the fact they fit into her stories quite perfectly. Beth always faultlessly manages to weave sad, scary and brutally honest themes into a story that at its heart is warm and funny and uplifting, in its own way. She crafts books that will leave you feeling good at the end but also aware that you’ve had to work for it a bit by seeing your emotions all over the place – which is a purely satisfying experience!

The Name I Call Myself surprised me all over again. Three books in, having read Making Marion and I Hope You Dance previously, I still never expect the stories to go the way they do, but I love reading them. I found this book to be quite character driven, and Faith, the main character, is completely fascinating. At the beginning, I was struggling to work her out but that was part of the charm of the story. Faith is different – there’s a lot more than meets the eye and she has secrets, and a family and past that was both shocking and sad. The way Faith is telling the story to the readers was full of character and made me feel like I knew her like I would a close friend. But there was always more to know about Faith and that’s part of the reason I just had to keep on reading.

Faith is engaged to Perry, which sadly means she is also marrying into to his rich, overbearing family, who would honestly drive any woman insane. Perry’s mum in particular, Larissa, has taken control over the wedding planning and she is in absolute nightmare. Faith’s own plans for the wedding include her mother’s church, but this sees her having to confront her own life in more ways than one. Especially when she meets Dylan…

Then there is Sam, Faith’s brother, and his story revolves a lot around his mental health. Seeing the past dragged back up for Sam had be completely shattered and his story really moved me.

I don’t want to take anything away from this book so I won’t. But do read it! My favourite aspect of this book (I think, it was hard choosing) is the theme of friendship. During the lead-up to her wedding, Faith finds herself joining the choir and that opens her up to a world where friends are made – time spent with women learning to be strong, kind to themselves as well as to others, and the power of friendship shines through the pages. There’s a lot to love about the theme of friendship in this book, as well as the individual and memorable characters that make up the choir. A lot of characters to keep up with, but that’s never really a problem. The author’s insight into friendship and the way she portrays this is warm and inspiring.

The Name I Call Myself is a book I was really sad to see come to an end. Beth puts her characters, and with that her readers, through so much over the course of a few hundred pages that in truth the book doesn’t really leave you once you’ve turned the final page. I’m still thinking about it now. The darker tones to this book especially are still on my mind, mostly Sam’s story, and I really think The Name I Call Myself had it all, a wonderfully engaging, honest and surprising story of family, friendship and the strength we all have within ourselves.

Monday, 18 July 2016

Guest Post: Anna Mazzola on researching place for historical fiction - The Unseeing and London

TITLE: The Unseeing
AUTHOR: Anna Mazzola
PUBLISHER: Tinder Press


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Set in London in 1837, Anna Mazzola's THE UNSEEING is the story of Sarah Gale, a seamstress and mother, sentenced to hang for her role in the murder of Hannah Brown on the eve of her wedding. Perfect for any reader of Sarah Waters or Antonia Hodgson.

After Sarah petitions for mercy, Edmund Fleetwood is appointed to investigate and consider whether justice has been done. Idealistic, but struggling with his own demons, Edmund is determined to seek out the truth. Yet Sarah refuses to help him, neither lying nor adding anything to the evidence gathered in court. Edmund knows she's hiding something, but needs to discover just why she's maintaining her silence. For how can it be that someone would willingly go to their own death?

Researching place for historical fiction – The Unseeing and London
by Anna Mazzola

In February 1837, a labourer working on the Coldharbour Lane made a gruesome discovery: in a ditch he found a sack, and in that sack were two human legs.

This was the final clue in a grisly treasure hunt that had begun in December 1836 when a bricklayer found a woman’s torso under a paving slab on the Edgware Road. The head had been retrieved from a canal at Stepney, pronounced a match with the torso, and placed in spirits to preserve it. In March, the head was at long last identified as belonging to Hannah Brown, a washerwoman.

Camberwell Green

The ‘Edgeware Road Murder’, as it became known, took place at the dawn of detective policing, but officers of the Metropolitan Police followed several pieces of evidence that led a clear path to James Greenacre, a cabinet-maker from Camberwell. Hannah Brown had been due to marry Greenacre on Christmas Day, but had disappeared on Christmas Eve. When officers arrived to arrest Greenacre, they found a woman sitting up in his bed: his lover, Sarah Gale. They noticed that she was trying to hide some jewelry. Jewelry that was later said to belong to Hannah Brown.


Several years after I first read about it, Sarah Gale’s story has become a novel – The Unseeing. The book begins with Sarah’s conviction for aiding and abetting the murder and with the appointment of the lawyer who will investigate her petition for mercy. Much of the novel is set in Newgate in central London, where Sarah Gale was imprisoned, and I read prison diaries, parliamentary commissions and studied plans of Newgate to get a sense of what that prison might have been like. The short answer is: horrific. An 1835 Committee referred to Newgate as a ‘stain’ on the character of the City of London; an institution ‘which outrages the rights and feelings of humanity.’ By 1837, thanks largely to the work of social reformer Elizabeth Fry, conditions on the women’s side of the prison were less squalid than they had been earlier in the century. However, prisoners were still cold, ill, and underfed, and many female prisoners had children with them, from babies to girls of 11 and 12.

Newgate Cell

Although much of the action takes place in Newgate and the surrounding area (Old Bailey, Fleet Street, Inner Temple) key scenes take place in Camberwell, South London. Indeed, it was because the crime took place in Camberwell that I first started reading about it: the murder took place not far from where I live. The research is the most fun part of historical fiction and I had a wonderful time looking at old maps, reports, newspapers and books to try and glean a sense of what Camberwell might have been like in the early 19th century. It was at that time a small village surrounded by fields, populated mainly by upper middle class families who considered the area healthier and more pleasant than the City, and who commuted to London by horse and carriage. However, there were also poorer areas, notably the slums off Bowyer Lane in Walworth. James Greenacre lived nearby with Sarah Gale, on Windmill Street (now Wyndham Road). It was here that Hannah Brown was killed. After the murder, the landlord gave guided tours of the house, which proved so popular that the police had to be brought in to stop visitors removing relics of the crime – tables, chairs, even the door.

Map of Camberwell

Even more popular was the hanging of James Greenacre. His execution attracted an enormous crowd, over a thousand of whom waited overnight outside Newgate to secure a place in the morning. Pie-men made their way through the throng selling Greenacre tarts while ballad-singers hawked the ‘confessions’ of Greencare and Gale. The confessions, however, were pure fiction. Neither Gale nor Greenacre ever revealed what really happened on Christmas Eve in Camberwell, 1836.

The Unseeing is out now.

You can connect with Anna on her website, on Facebook or over on Twitter.

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