Seven stories, seven whispers into the ears of life: A Yi’s unexpected twists of crime burst from the everyday, with glimpses of romance distorted by the weaknesses of human motive. A Yi employs his forensic skills to offer a series of portraits of modern life, both uniquely Chinese, and universal in their themes. His years as a police officer serve him well as he teases the truth from simple observation, now brought into the English language in a masterful translation by Alex Woodend. The stories include Two Lives, Attic, Spring, Bach, Predator.
I received a copy of this book from Flame Tree Press in return for an honest review.
A collection of literary fiction short stories, set in China and translated from Chinese. The collection focuses on crime and darker aspects of life and love. The unique and well-written stories explore Chinese society and the complexity of its individuals.
Crime features in most of the stories. The author’s knowledge of forensic science colours many of the stories, which are often explicit and graphic. Descriptions of violence and its results make some of the stories closer to horror fiction, but the underlying theme is, what people as individuals and en masse are capable of, given the right provocation.
The stories give the reader a sense of life in China. Like all short stories, some are easier to relate to than others, but if you are looking for something different, and can accept graphic descriptions, this is worth reading.
A Yi (author) is a celebrated Chinese writer living in Beijing. He worked as a police officer before becoming editor-in- chief of Chutzpah, an avant garde literary magazine. He is the author of several collections of short stories and has published fiction in Granta and the Guardian. In 2010 he was shortlisted for the People’s Literature Top 20 Literary Giants of the Future. A Perfect Crime, his first book in English was published by Oneworld in 2015. He is noted for his unsentimental worldview, and challenging literary style.
Alex Woodend (Translator) is a writer/translator whose fascination with Spanish and Chinese began at Franklin & Marshall College. He continued his studies at Columbia University where he wrote his Masters on early post-Mao literature. Translator of The Captain Riley Adventures , Murder in Dragon City, and other works, he currently lives in New York.
Outside the Hope & Glory pub, a man has been left to die. A victim of extraordinary violence, he will never walk or speak again. He remains in hospital for months, until criminal defence lawyer Sarah Kellerman walks onto his ward.
Sarah barely recognises the man she once worked with – he was honourable and kind – what was he involved in? Who wanted him dead? But in her race to uncover the truth, Sarah comes to realise there are two men in her life that she never really knew at all…
From one of crime fiction’s most compelling voices, One Dark, Two Light is where the personal and criminal collide, as Sarah works to bring dark secrets into the light.
I received a copy of this book from Head of Zeus via NetGalley in return for an honest review.
You’re invested in this story from the first page. The relatable characters are easy to empathise. Drama, twists and intensity keep you absorbed and turning the pages, right until the end.Cleverly written the story, unfolds like a Pandora’s box of betrayal and lies. There are three main plot lines, two of which converge as the story progresses. The world-building is authentic, underscored by obvious knowledge, and research of the criminal and legal world and how they interact.
Character-driven, the main protagonist Sarah, a dedicated defence lawyer becomes personally involved in a case, which is prejudiced by a chance encounter. Sarah is easy to like, she’s emotional, impulsive and tenacious, good news for her clients, but she often risks her safety. Her home life is complex when her ex returns and her boyfriend is gravely ill. She is someone you want in your corner if you need help.
Fast-paced the story has disturbing, sinister undertones. The ending brings the plot strands to a believable, if unexpected conclusion, which is perfect for this addictive read.
Author Interview: Ruth Mancini– ‘One Dark, Two Light’ Blog Tour
One Dark, Two Light’, is dark crime fiction, what are the inspirations behind it?
My characters usually just appear in my head. I can’t deny that I draw, to some degree, on people I know or have read about or have seen on TV, even if it’s just a case of borrowing their name or looking at a photo and then mixing them up with someone else and then developing them from there. It’s probably like creating your own recipe when you’re cooking. A little bit of this. Taste it. A bit more of that…and then they start grow as ‘real’ people as the story progresses and as you write.
What comes first in your creative writing process, the characters, plot or setting? Why do you think this is? Is it the same for every story?
All of it comes together simultaneously for me. But I plot it first. I’m not a ‘pantser’, as we know it in the business – that’s the name writers give themselves when they write by the seat of their pants and hope it goes in the right direction! I’m sure many amazing works of fiction have been written that way and I doubt Dostoevsky plotted Crime and Punishment out first, but I find a little cold, calculated premeditation works for me!
What interests you about dark crime fiction? Do you enjoy reading books in this genre?
I enjoy reading books that have psychological depth. I don’t mind whether they’re dark, light, crime or something else, so long as I enjoy the characters and want to spend time in their world with them.
How do you research your novels?
On the internet and by approaching professionals who can talk to me about their day job. I do a lot of research. I’ve been known to spend a day or longer researching one sentence! I probably need to cut that down a little …
Ruth Mancini is a criminal defence lawyer, author and freelance writer. She lives in Oxfordshire with her husband and two children.
When Camille O’Brien was a girl her mother liked to tell her that her father if he had lived, could have been the king of New York City. Camille never knew her father. Colin O’Brien had been murdered when she was just a baby, in the early 1960s. It was the 80s now and Camille was in her twenties. Her mother Sheila had raised her alone after Colin’s death until she remarried when Camille was in high school. Camille’s stepfather was a high up Italian mob guy named Vito Russo, and she hadn’t liked him ever since he made a pass at her when she was a teenager, something she never told her mother.
Still, her mother talked about Camille’s father all the time and Camille knew that he had been a gangster, but he was still her father, and every day she had a desire to avenge him, because she was, after all, her father’s daughter. Her father’s absence in her life had affected her profusely and she’d started taking an antidepressant medication a few years ago to help her cope.
Camille and her mother had coffee in the diner around the corner from the church, as they did every Sunday after attending morning mass together. Camille had always known her mother to be a devoted churchgoer, but her mother had told her that Colin’s death had brought her closer to the church.
Best-selling crime author E.R. Fallon knows well the gritty city streets of which she writes. She studied criminology and was mentored by a leading advocate for the family members of homicide victims. E.R. is currently writing a book about living with autism and also working on her next gangland book, The Trouble Legacy, with her writing partner, KJ.KJ Fallon is a former reporter with Time magazine who currently works as a freelance writer for numerous media outlets.
When Edie’s mother-in-law, Anna DeLuca, dies, she is relieved. Edie blames Anna for the accident that destroyed her family. So, when her will lures Edie to Sicily and the long-abandoned Villa Della Madonna del Mare, she sees through Anna’s games.
Suspecting Anna is meddling from beyond the grave to try to reunite her and her ex-husband, Joe, Edie is determined to leave Italy as soon as possible. But before she can, the villa starts to shed its mysterious secrets.
Who are the girls beside Anna in her childhood photos, and why has one of them been scratched out? Why does someone, or something, want them to leave the past untouched? The villa is a place where old ghosts feel at home, but does their legacy need to be laid to rest before Edie and Joe can move on…
Bestselling author Louise Douglas returns with a captivating, chilling and unforgettable tale of betrayal, jealousy and the mysteries hidden in every family history.
I received a copy of this book from Boldwood Books via NetGalley in return for an honest review.
‘The House by the Sea’, is an atmospheric, emotional family drama, with ghostly and menacing elements. On one level, it is a poignant family story, of loss, and the emotional damage losing a child wreaks to the parents left behind. Another level brings a story of forgiveness, new beginnings and learning to live again. Within this, there are dangerous secrets and strange supernatural influences entangled in the old villa and its gardens.
Set in Sicily, Edie and Joe are forced together, to claim and decide what to do with their inheritance from Joe’s, recently deceased mother, Anna. Edie blamed Anna for the death of her son Daniel, and Joe and Edie’s marriage disintegrated with his death. The villa is a character in its own right, in this story. Rundown, it still has a powerful appeal and draws Edie and Joe gradually together. There are many hidden secrets, some supernatural elements and mysteries to solve before Edie and Joe can begin their healing together.
The plot has many levels which are cleverly intertwined to reveal past secrets. Edie and Joe, are understandably complex damaged people, still grieving their lost son. This story has many poignant moments, but ultimately it is heartwarming and uplifting. The suspense builds as the story progresses, leading to an adrenaline-fueled climax, tinged with a tender, supernatural moment, which is both believable and necessary for the story to reach its positive conclusion.
The cast of supporting characters are authentic and although the story is gently paced, it is absorbing and you keep turning the pages wanting to know what next.
A lovely, poignant tale of love and loss and forgiveness.
Louise Douglas is the bestselling and brilliantly reviewed author of 6 novels including The Love of my Life and Missing You – an RNA award winner. The Secrets Between Us was a Richard and Judy Book Club pick. She lives in the West Country.
Her husband says it’s suicide. The police say it’s murder.
Liam Buckley was a married man with two teenage children when he moved out of the family home to start a new life with his lover. His wife Jennifer never forgave him, but now she needs him to come back: she’s been diagnosed with a terminal illness, and the kids can’t cope alone.
One day after Liam moves home, Jennifer is found dead. Liam thinks it’s suicide. But the police, led by DS Louise Kennedy, are convinced it’s murder.
Liam hires a retired detective to help prove his innocence, but it’s no easy task. The children are distraught, and Jennifer’s best friend, Sarah, is waging a campaign against Liam, determined to expose him for a liar and a cheat.
As secrets surface from the complex web of Buckley family life, DS Kennedy must decide. Did Jennifer Buckley end her own life, or did Liam take it from her? The answer, when it comes, will shock them all…
I received a copy of this book from Aria via NetGalley in return for an honest review.
Emotive, intense, thought-provoking family drama, draws Detective Kennedy and Private Investigator Kelly into another dark investigation. Jenny, a terminally ill patient dies suddenly. Was it assisted suicide? Murder? Or suicide? How far is her estranged husband Liam, just returned to the family home, implicated?
Told from multi-points of view, in the past and present, the story unfolds, revealing clues and unexpected events. Sharing the emotional journey of the children, ex-husband, and others connected to Jenny. The emotional damage terminal illness causes to the family, friends and wider network is explored.
The sense of confusion is reiterated by the differing viewpoints and the dual time perspectives. The investigation is not the main focus of the story, but Kennedy and Kelly are intrinsic to the mystery’s resolution.
The ending is realistic, and the epilogue demonstrates human resilience and optimism.
Guest Post – Adele o’Neill -Bringing Emotion to the Page
For me, the measure of a good story is how much it makes me feel and as most writers will agree, a character that evokes an empathetic response is a character that a reader will invest in. As a writer of issue-based fiction, it’s heart-warming to hear that a reader was crying at a scene that made you cry when you wrote it and while scene-setting and plot progression are important it’s in finding the correct balance of emotion in a sub-text that can make all the difference in an authentic character and how they carry the story to a satisfying conclusion.
How do you do that, you say when you couldn’t possibly have experienced everything that your characters have experienced, or have you?
The short answer is no… but like any short answer, it doesn’t really reflect the reality. I have and I haven’t. Let me explain…
The first idea for a novel or the story concept begins very simply for me. Its usually with an issue that piques my curiosity, either professionally or personally, and has potential for layers and layers of complexity to be added in at a later date. In ‘When the Time Comes’, it was the issue of assisted suicide that pulled me into exploring the impossible choices that someone with a terminal illness is faced with. It is another character-driven story of survival, dark secrets and love, just like life and the consequences of that complexity posed many more questions than I could answer and presented an inherent sense of conflict that I wanted to explore and that’s where the concept for the story came from.
Having written three novels, I’d come to understand that simple plot mechanics are important but not nearly enough to truly engage readers and I’m a firm believer that the best stories, the stories that stay with you long after the last page is turned, are not just about the issue that they say they’re about. They are about so much more; the character’s inner conflict, the human experience, the inherent dilemma, the psychological and emotional fallout of choices and the way in which the characters’ circumstances resonate with the reader. So the question still stands, can I, if I haven’t experienced the situation in real life, write my character’s emotions authentically?
The short answer is, yes, because I do know what it feels like. We all do. Let me explain…
I know what pain feels like, what it looks like, what it smells like. I can tell you how emotion overwhelms you when you stand in triumph, conversely too when you cower in fear. I can describe the temperature of tears on my face or the blush of my cheeks and I can tell you the depth of lines around my eyes. Some of them carved from happiness some etched from worry, the deep ones excavated through a deep sorrow that will never leave me. I know what it feels like to laugh contentedly but equally, I know what it feels like to cry in desperation. I can recall all my moments of grace and wisdom and likewise, I can remember what it feels like to be ridiculous (these occasions are more frequent than I would like).
This is what life is for all of us, a series of emotional responses to human experiences that are riddled with happiness, joy, grief, sorrow and fear. And while everyone experiences emotions in their own inimitable way, this collection of personal life experiences and human stories allow me as a writer, to inform the emotional reaction of a character in an authentic way to the set of circumstances that has been written into the scene. Without this realness, the reader wouldn’t engage emotionally so, the next time you come across that common assumption that writers write from personal experience, it’s not the circumstances of the scene or the event that has a biographical element but the emotions and empathy that are represented in our characters. (Otherwise I think a few writers in the crime writing ranks have a few questions to answer!)
Adele is a writer from Co. Wicklow who lives with her husband Alan and her two teenage daughters. Influenced by writers across all genres she has a particular fondness for fiction that is relatable and realistic. Her debut novel was awarded The Annie McHale Debut Novel Award for 2017 and is a character driven story of survival, dark family secrets and sibling loyalty, just like life. Her second novel Behind A Closed Door is another emotionally harrowing tale of impossible choices, loyalty and friendship. Adele writes overlooking the Irish Sea, which she credits for the tumultuous dynamics in the relationships and lives of her unsuspecting characters in her third novel, When The Time Comes, another dark tale that tests the lengths we go to protect the ones we love.
Ten years ago, Jess’s mother was murdered by the Magpie Man. She was the first of his victims but not the last. Now Jess is the star of a YouTube reality series and she’s using it to catch the killer once and for all. The whole world is watching her every move. And so is the Magpie Man.
I received a copy of this book from Penguin UK Books in return for an honest review.
‘Are You Watching?’ has universal appeal for those drawn to page-turning reads. The social media and YouTube concept is aimed at young adults.
Jess hopes her story will attract a viral audience and draw out her mother’s killer. Told from her point of view, the reader has immediate and uncensored responses from the main protagonist. It also maintains the mystery, as we only know what she does. Relatable and realistic, Jess is a likeable character, with authentic teenage emotions and motivations.
This is an emotional story. Jess feels her mother’s loss but also griefs her family’s demise. Her father is an understandable emotional wreck and she is doing this for him as much as for herself. Parents may question, whether they would have allowed their teenager to do this. Jess’s father feels guilty about his daughter’s damaged life, and will make amends anyway he can.
The book’s structure of short chapters aids the pacing and suspense, which builds as the story progresses. The plot has twists and an unexpected ending.
This story has dark themes, but it is written to engage its target audience. Contemporary fiction focused on crime, relationships, suspense and technology, which will appeal to an older adult audience too.
Vincent Ralph has been writing in one form or another since his teens and always dreamed of being a novelist. He owes his love of books to his mother, who encouraged his imagination from an early age and made sure there were new stories to read. Vincent has lived in London, Cornwall and Chester but he now lives in his home county of Kent with his wife, son and two cats.
When Rosemary Sherwood overhears a disturbing conversation between her husband, Harry Sherwood and an unknown caller, she has no idea that her life’s about to change forever. Fleeing to France for fear of her own safety, Harry threatens to kill their son if she ever dares to breathe a word of anything she overheard.
Torn between hiding out in France and re-connecting with her estranged son, Rosemary returns to England twelve years later believing that she and her son are now out of danger…
A web of deceit and lies has been woven over the years to cover up the antics of Harry and his friends, who are no strangers to violence and murder and who will stop at nothing to ensure they aren’t exposed.
Private Detective Daniel Appleman takes on the case, but can he track down these men before they wreak havoc on the Sherwood family?
I received a copy of this book from the author in return for an honest review.
This is a story for those who like noir crime. The ethos of the story is dark, fueled with tales of abuse, depravity and disregard for life.
Told from multi-points of view, the plot is complex, it requires concentration, especially in the early chapters, as you get to know the cast of characters and their motivations. There is an element of family drama in this story, Rosemary overhears her husband’s telephone conversation, what she hears is life-changing, and puts her and her son in imminent danger.
Told in different time scales, you begin to get the complete picture of what Harry and his consorts do, and it’s not good.
The investigation part of the story, brings Daniel Appleman into the plot, as he embarks on, at times, a desperate journey to uncover the web of dark secrets and lies and keep Rosemary and her son safe. The investigation is intense and interesting, as different lines of enquiry and various leads and suspects are pursued.
There are lighter scenes to counter the darkness, and the comparison of the detective’s family life and Rosemary’s is marked.
The suspense building and underlying menace increases as the story progresses, and leads to a realistic and satisfying conclusion.
Overall this a good crime story. It will appeal, to those that like their thrillers full of dark deeds and depraved antagonists.
Michael Pakenham is part of a well-known Irish literary family. Generations of his family lived at Langford Lodge on Loch Neagh outside Belfast. His father was killed in the Second World War and the estate was sold. His mother then took Michael and his sister to Tucson Arizona until the end of the war. On returning to England, his mother bought a farm in Hampshire and Michael has lived in the county ever since. Having served in the Grenadier Guards – the fourth generation to do so – Michael returned to take over his mother’s farming enterprises until he sold his farming interests in 1990 and started his writing career. This will be his eighth book and the second in the Daniel Appleman series. He lives outside Winchester with his wife. He has three children and a string of grandchildren.
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