Posted in Blog Tour, Book Review, Crime, Extract, Guest post, Historical Crime Fiction, Mystery, Suspense

The Playground Murders – Lesley Thomson -5* #Review @HoZ_Books @LesleyjmThomson #CrimeFiction #ThePlayGroundMurders #TheDetectivesDaughter #BlogTour

Forty years ago, in the dark of the playground, two children’s lives were changed forever.

Stella Darnell is a cleaner. But when she isn’t tackling dust and dirt and restoring order to chaos, Stella solves murders. Her latest case concerns a man convicted of killing his mistress. His daughter thinks he’s innocent and needs Stella to prove it.

As Stella sifts through piles of evidence and interview suspects, she discovers a link between the recent murder and a famous case from forty years ago: the shocking death of six-year-old Sarah Ferris, killed in the shadows of an empty playground.

Stella knows that dredging up the past can be dangerous. But as she pieces together the tragedy of what happened to Sarah, she is drawn into a story of jealousy, betrayal and the end of innocence. A story that has not yet reached its end…

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I received a copy of this book from Head of Zeus in return for an honest review.

My Thoughts…

I didn’t discover,’The Detective’s Daughter Series, until Book 6 The Death Chamber. That story, and this one, ‘The Playground Murders’, reads well as a standalone. There is sufficient background, especially about Stella’s enigmatic father to let you understand what motivates the main protagonists. However, for the full experience read the older books too.

Original characters and complex cold cases to solve are the hallmarks of this detective series. The characters are quirky and realistic, they all have believable flaws, neuroses and aspiration.

Stella, the detective’s daughter, has two main focuses, cleaning and solving previously unsolved crimes. She runs a cleaning company and a detective agency, with her partner Jack and a cast of unique individuals. They are a family, look out for each other, criticise each other, and share a bond that resists any outside interference.

This story connects a recent murder, with a past child killing, investigated by Terry, Stella’s father. Present day action is complemented by flashback chapters in 1980 when Terry was involved in the child-killing case. The ethos of the historical part of the story is chilling, the contrast of innocence and evil disturbing.

Aside from the detective case, there are snapshots of Stella and Jack’s lives outside work. Stella and her mother Suzie, have the usual mother-daughter issues and Jack a father of twins, has to come to terms with only seeing them periodically, and the spectre of a new father figure in their lives.

This story has a clever, twisty plot, and a menacing undertone. Slow-paced it lets you absorb the action, and atmosphere, as you try to solve the crime. Another exciting chapter in ‘The Detective’s Daughter’, series.

Guest Post – Lesley Thomson – The Playground Murders

With the exception of The Death Chamber (#6), there are children in my stories. As victims of crime or adults who go on to commit a crime. I hope that meeting them as a child gives readers insight into their later actions. Until The Playground Murders, I’d never created a child killer who is a child. No surprise, it’s a disturbing subject. Traditionally childhood is a time of happy innocence. If, for whatever reason, it’s not this is usually down to the transgressions of adults. That a child might deliberately end the life of another child is terrible to contemplate. That photo of James Bulger being led away from his mother by two ten-year-old boys shattered our life-view.

Can a child be evil? Can we forgive the adult a child becomes for a crime they committed long ago? As children did we do bad stuff? Do we write off those misdemeanours because, hey, we were kids? What if punching a kid in the dinner queue caused their death? Do children even understand what death is? The Playground Murders explores these questions.

The playground setting was a no-brainer. Archetypal, it’s in the bones of many of us as kids and as parents. Typically a locus of excitement and fun, joyful shouts, urgent cries and the gales of laughter of children deep in their game carries over municipal lawns, rotundas where Sunday brass bands are long gone. Playgrounds were developed from observing children playing on bombsites after the war. Bounded by railings within a landscaped park or in a school, they offer the change for kids’ imaginations to be free. Girls and boys are heroes of their make-believe. Or villains.  

These days playgrounds are populated with jolly coloured climbing walls, slides, swings and roped walkways but when I was young, and until the nineteen-eighties, the playground was a relatively dangerous place. Heavy iron equipment, the witch’s hat and juggernaut roundabout trapped limbs and crushed fingers and feet. Swings without restraining bars could fly high until chains twisted or snapped propelling occupants onto unforgiving concrete.

There were fatalities. It’s not plot spoiling to tell you that in The Playground Murders one child falls from a tower slide (equivalent to plummeting from a first-floor window), the death ruled an accident because it wasn’t unusual. I feel lucky to have got away with only breaking my arm by crashing pell-mell into my friend Tina when we were eight. Actually, I recently read that kids colliding with each other is a thing. Not just us then.

The Playground Murders, a tale of mired ambitions, of deceit and betrayal and ruined childhoods is also about hope and regeneration. Here’s hoping you enjoy it.

Lesley Thomson grew up in west London. Her first novel, A Kind of Vanishing, won the People’s Book Prize in 2010. Her second novel, The Detective’s Daughter, was a number 1 bestseller and sold over 500,000 copies.

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Extract From The Playground Murders – Lesley Thomson

The group considered the furry mass. The cat was large with a collapsed tummy.

‘I think it’s old,’ Sarah decided. ‘Is it dead like Robbie’s dead?’

‘Yes,’ Nicola snapped at her.

‘Robbie didn’t get runned down,’ Sarah said.

‘No one said he did, darlin’.’ Danielle imitated her older sister Maxine being nice to Jason. ‘Best you go to bed. No nightmares.’ She yanked Sarah to her.

‘You can’t chop it up,’ Jason said. ‘It’s not yours.’

‘I’m a detective,’ Danielle repeated.

‘Can we play Doctors and Nurses with it?’ Sarah enquired.

‘It’s dead so it doesn’t need nursing or… doctoring.’ Danielle forgot to be nice.

‘Let’s pretend it’s alive. Like you did with Robbie,’ Sarah said.

‘Sarah!’ Lee snatched her hand. ‘We’re going. And don’t tell your Dad about this, OK?’

‘Ouch.’ Sarah squirmed crossly. ‘I want to stay for the chopping.’

‘We should tell the owner. They’ll be waiting to give it its tea,’ Nicola said. ‘When Spiderman didn’t come back, Robbie cried. I did too. He’d got stuck in next door’s shed. He was starving. Robbie was allowed to give him Whiskas with a fork.’

‘Robbie’s dead,’ Danielle said.

‘He wasn’t then. Spiderman is alive,’ Nicola mumbled.

‘Has this cat got a collar?’ Danielle wished Nicky would shove off. She folded her arms.

Kevin felt under the cat’s chin. Revolted, Jason sniggered. In his doctor’s voice, Kevin reported, ‘She doesn’t have no collar.’

‘A collar. Not no collar,’ Danielle barked. ‘You don’t know it’s a lady.’

‘It’s had babies, that’s why it’s all flabby like that.’ Kevin did sound like a doctor.

‘I know.’ Danielle tapped her front tooth. Her notion of a detective was derived mainly from Scooby-Doo. ‘We’ll call on everyone in the street and detect the owner. Kevin, you’re my sergeant.’

Kevin scrambled to his feet and stood next to Danielle, hands behind his back like a policeman.

‘There’s hundreds of houses in this street,’ Sarah said.

Everyone went quiet as they digested this.

‘Spiderman crosses the road as soon as he comes out,’ Nicola said at last. ‘He goes in a straight line. If this cat does that, it lives there.’ She waved a hand at the house behind them. A decorated Christmas tree sparkled in the window.

‘No. It’s down there,’ Danielle stated firmly.

‘How can you be sure?’ Nicola asked.

‘I keep saying because I’m a detective. I’ll sling it behind there and people can work it out for themselves.’ Tiring of the operation, Danielle pointed at the memorial for the three dead policemen. She hauled up the cat in both hands. More blood spewed from its mouth. The children scattered like birds.

‘Dead! Dead! Dead!’ Jason did a war dance.

‘We should tell the owner since you know it’s them in that house,’ Lee stepped in.

‘I’ll do it.’ Nicola went along the pavement to the house where Danielle had said that the cat had lived.

Sarah dragged on her brother’s Harrington jacket. ‘Lee, I got to tell you a secret.’

‘Not now,’ Lee hissed.

‘There’s no one in,’ Nicola said.

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Posted in Blog Tour, Book Review, Extract, Literary Fiction

10 Minutes 38 Seconds In This Strange World – Elif Shafak #BlogTour @PenguinUKBooks @VikingBooksUK @Elif_Shafak #Turkey #LiteraryFiction #PoliticalFiction #Extract 5* #Review

‘In the first minute following her death, Tequila Leila’s consciousness began to ebb, slowly and steadily, like a tide receding from the shore. Her brain cells, having run out of blood, were now completely deprived of oxygen. But they did not shut down. Not right away…’

For Leila, each minute after her death brings a sensuous memory: the taste of spiced goat stew, sacrificed by her father to celebrate the long-awaited birth of a son; the sight of bubbling vats of lemon and sugar which the women use to wax their legs while the men attend mosque; the scent of cardamom coffee that Leila shares with a handsome student in the brothel where she works. Each memory, too, recalls the friends she made at each key moment in her life – friends who are now desperately trying to find her. . .

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I received a copy of this book from Penguin UK in return for an honest review.

My Thoughts…

There are so many facets and layers to this absorbing and inspiring story, it’s breathtaking. Family, friendship, abuse, religion, politics, corruption, culture, custom, mysticism, prejudice, history and equality are the ones that resonate. The idea that even when the body dies, the mind lives on, recalling memories, sensory experiences and emotions, is lovely. It forms the basis for a literary and political adventure, instilled with humanity, faith, poignancy and humour.

Leila is dead, but her mind refuses to die and in the 10 minutes and 38 seconds it has it recalls her early life, her friendships, choices, tragedies and eventual demise. Even though her life was hard, it was vital and enriched by friendships. Her five true friends have all faced their own battles, but together they survive and it is this connectivity that allows Leila, freedom in death that was never hers in life.

The fluidity of Istanbul is at the heart of this story, its gateway to both the east and west and its vibrant and violent historic past, makes it unique and this storyteller knows it in intimate details, which is fascinating.

The pacing is perfect, the characters engaging and believable, you hate the injustice they encounter, and cheer on their seemingly insignificant victories because they matter to you. The writing is full of vivid imagery, sometimes uncomfortably so, but this story holds your interest and is an addictive read.

An emotional, vibrant story that makes you think.

Extract from 10 Minutes 38 Seconds This Strange World – Elif Shafak

Her name was Leila.

Tequila Leila, as she was known to her friends and her clients. Tequila Leila as she was called at home and at work, in that rosewood-coloured house on a cobblestoned cul-de-sac down by the wharf, nestled between a church and a synagogue, among lamp shops and kebab shops – the street that harboured the oldest licensed brothels in Istanbul.

Still, if she were to hear you put it like that, she might take offence and playfully hurl a shoe – one of her high-heeled stilettos.

Is, darling not was . . . My name is Tequila Leila.

Never in a thousand years would she agree to be spoken of in the past tense. The very thought of it would make her feel small and defeated, and the last thing she wanted in this world was to feel that way. No, she would insist on the present tense – even though she now realized with a sinking feeling that her heart had just stopped beating, and her breathing had abruptly ceased, and whichever way she looked at her situation there was no denying that she was dead.

None of her friends knew it yet. This early in the morning they would be fast asleep, each trying to find the way out of their own labyrinth of dreams. Leila wished she were at home too, enveloped in the warmth of bed covers with her cat curled at her feet, purring in drowsy contentment. Her cat was stone deaf and black – except for a patch of snow on one paw. She had named him Mr Chaplin, after Charlie Chaplin, for, just like the heroes of early cinema, he lived in a silent world of his own.

Tequila Leila would have given anything to be in her apartment now. Instead, she was here, somewhere on the outskirts of Istanbul, across from a dark, damp football field, inside a metal rubbish bin with rusty handles and flaking paint. It was a wheelie bin; at least four feet high and half as wide. Leila herself was five foot seven – plus the eight inches of her purple slingback stilettos, still on her feet.

There was so much she wanted to know. In her mind she kept replaying the last moments of her life, asking herself where things had gone wrong – a futile exercise since time could not be unravelled as though it were a ball of yarn. Her skin was already turning greyish-white, even though her cells were still abuzz with activity.

She could not help but notice that there was a great deal happening inside her organs and limbs. People always assumed that a corpse was no more alive than a fallen tree or a hollow stump, devoid of consciousness. But given half a chance, Leila would have testified that, on the contrary, a corpse was brimming with life.

She could not believe that her mortal existence was over and done with. Only the day before she had crossed the neighbourhood of Pera, her shadow gliding along streets named after military leaders and national heroes, streets named after men. Just that week her laughter had echoed in the low-ceilinged taverns of Galata and Kurtulush, and the small, stuffy dens of Tophane, none of which ever appeared in travel guides or on tourist maps. The Istanbul that Leila had known was not the Istanbul that the Ministry of Tourism would have wanted foreigners to see.

Last night she had left her fingerprints on a whisky glass, and a trace of her perfume – Paloma Picasso, a birthday present from her friends – on the silk scarf she had tossed aside on the bed of a stranger, in the top-floor suite of a luxury hotel. In the sky high above, a sliver of yesterday’s moon was visible, bright and unreachable, like the vestige of a happy memory. She was still part of this world, and there was still life inside her, so how could she be gone? How could she be no more, as though she were a dream that fades at the first hint of daylight? Only a few hours ago she was singing, smoking, swearing, thinking . . . well, even now she was thinking.

It was remarkable that her mind was working at full tilt – though who knew for how long. She wished she could go back and tell everyone that the dead did not die instantly, that they could, in fact, continue to reflect on things, including their own demise. People would be scared if they learned this, she reckoned. She certainly would have been when she was alive. But she felt it was important that they knew.

Elif Shafak is an award-winning British-Turkish novelist and the most widely read female author in Turkey. She writes in both Turkish and English, and has published seventeen books, eleven of which are novels. Her work has been translated into fifty languages. Shafak holds a PhD in political science and she has taught at various universities in Turkey, the US and the UK, including St Anne’s College, Oxford University, where she is an honorary fellow. She is a member of Weforum Global Agenda Council on Creative Economy and a founding member of ECFR (European Council on Foreign Relations). An advocate for women’s rights, LGBT rights and freedom of speech, Shafak is an inspiring public speaker and twice a TED Global speaker, each time receiving a standing ovation. Shafak contributes to major publications around the world and she has been awarded the title of Chevalier des Arts et des Lettres. In 2017 she was chosen by Politico as one of the twelve people who would make the world better. She has judged numerous literary prizes and is chairing the Wellcome Prize 2019.