Review: Lies You Wanted to Hear


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Author: James Whitfield Thomson

Published by: Sourcebooks Landmark

What would you do if you believed your child was in mortal danger? How far would you go?

Lucy’s two young children have been gone for nine years now, an unbearable burden that haunts her even more because of her role in what happened.

You can hardly glimpse that carefree girl Lucy was before she married Matt. She was a magnet for men who were bad for her—men like Griffin. With shattering, unthinkable turns that will wrench every mother’s heart, this suspenseful story probes the issue of how well you know the person you married. How much can you trust them with your heart—and with your future?

That’s what the publisher’s blurb promises, but does the book deliver?

Without doubt it is a good book and quite an achievement for a 67-year-old debut novelist. The writing is confident and eminently readable, though not extraordinary. But whereas the blurb suggests this is Lucy’s story, it is most definitely equally Matt’s. And why will it wrench every mother’s heart and not every father’s?

Lucy is a bit of a bad girl. She has a penchant for drugs and rough sex, so falling for a cop might not be the best idea in the world—but she does just that while recovering from an emotional break up with Griffin, a nasty piece of work to say the least. Matt offers her steady reliability, and she takes it.

They get married and have two children, but during a bout of postnatal depression things take a turn for the worse. Matt’s perfect parenting skills begin to annoy Lucy, and their marriage comes under intense strain as she grows to resent him.

Feelings of inadequacy overwhelm her, and she starts an affair with old flame Griffin. Matt and Lucy split, and there is a tussle over the kids. Matt reckons— and no doubt readers will agree—that Lucy’s behaviour is endangering the children, so faced with losing custody of them he kidnaps them, changes all their identities, and starts a new life.

Dr. Thomson raises the thorny issues of separation, divorce, and the presumption in favor of granting custody to the mother, and he does it well enough. The story alternates from Lucy’s point of view to Matt’s and back again, giving the reader an insight into both sides, but the case in Lucy’s favour is not convincing—if indeed that was the intention.

So does the book deliver? Well, kind of. The marketing suggests something darker and far more disturbing, but perhaps that wasn’t ever the author’s intention.

This review appears in the New York Journal of Books and is reproduced here with their kind permission.

Book Review: GRIM by Rupert Smith

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Grim by Rupert Smith

Publisher: CB Creative

ISBN: 978-1-78292-469-2 

Publication date: 31 October 2013

Genre: Horror

American archaeologist John Russell and his son arrive in a small British coastal town. Russell plans to investigate the death of the woman who meant most to them – his British wife, Isaac’s mother. At first, the town of Besselham seems eccentric and old-fashioned but, as John and Isaac dig deeper, they discover a gruesome secret. Behind the net curtains of a neat seaside house, behind the chintz-covered sofa, there lies a headless body. Blood covers the ceramic figurines and framed photos, soaks into the doilies and cushion covers. The good people of Besselham, the holidaymakers, shopkeepers and schoolchildren, have no idea that this is the beginning of a wave of unexplained deaths that will strike terror into the heart of their prim, conservative community.

As bodies pile up in the panic-stricken town, Russell makes a strange and sinister discovery on the beach at low tide. Is it just an ancient monument, or evidence of a blood cult rising from the distant past to engulf Besselham?

GRIM is Rupert Smith’s first venture into horror (he has written ten novels in all, plus a number of successful TV tie-ins). Dr Smith says that his inspiration for Grim was low-budget Hammer-style horror, and Stephen King’s big social canvases. Having visited the Norfolk coast over many years he felt he had to write about it, and the only way to evoke its weirdness was through horror.

Grim is not, therefore, a runaway slasher thriller, despite the copious amounts of blood and the sometimes brilliant depictions Dr Smith provides, but instead is a slow, brooding tale of terror that insinuates its cold fingers into the reader’s nerves little by little. One of its endearing qualities is that Dr Smith has populated Besselham with lots of weird characters, each one equal to the infamous Stephen King creation, Annie Wilkes.

“The room was dark and overheated and smelt even worse than the hallway, as if hundreds of thousands of cigarettes had been smoked in here, the ashtrays never emptied, and something had died behind one of the radiators.

A three-piece suite upholstered in faded brown velvet, far too big for the room, defined a small triangular space of dirty green carpet on to which Isaac stepped…Mr Muir lowered himself on to the sofa, taking up most of the space. Isaac tried to avoid looking at his gaping pyjamas…Mrs Muir rattled into the room with a tea tray. The cups were chipped, the teapot, once white, almost uniformly brown. Some biscuits sat on a plate that may once have doubled as an ashtray; they looked elderly.”

This all too familiar picture of Britain’s run down seaside towns will bring a smile to many readers’ lips, at the same time as making them shudder:

“He (Isaac) leaned against the sea wall, looking inland. The street was dirty, the surface sticky with whatever was running down from the gutters and into the sea – spilt beer from last night, perhaps, or urine, canine or human. It had not rained for a while, and in places the concrete was shiny with spilt liquid.

There was something between his feet, some piece of litter that seemed to be stuck to the ground. Isaac leaned forward for a closer look. A used condom, like the shed skin of some fat snake, lay where it had fallen. Here, against this very wall, under cover of darkness, or perhaps in the first light of dawn, a couple had been together. He felt a shudder of revulsion, and moved away, certain that the soles of his trainers were sticking to the tacky residue on the pavement. Half way down the stairs that led to the beach – filthy stairs, the edges cracked and broken, metal banisters rusted away by salt air – there lay the torn, discarded remains of a porno mag, tossed over the wall by a guilty reader, the pages now thick with sea water, the ink faded, but the images still clear, huge women pressing their breasts together with their upper arms while their hands foraged around below.”

Grim is a tale of the supernatural and macabre, set amidst the caravan parks and amusement arcades of a typical English coastal resort, in which Russell must risk everything to save his disturbed, lonely son Isaac before insatiable powers of evil claim and consume him. A damned good read it is, though it may not go down well with the Norfolk Tourist Board.

Rupert Smith (Photo: James M Barrett) Click to Visit Dr Smith's Website

Rupert Smith
(Photo: James M Barrett)
Click to Visit Dr Smith’s Website

This review was written for the New York Journal of Books and is reproduced here with their kind permission

Review: Miss Abigail’s Room


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Title: Miss Abigail’s Room

Author: Catherine Cavendish

Published by: Etopia Press



It wasn’t so much the blood on the floor that Becky minded. It was the way it kept coming back…

As the lowest ranking parlor maid at Stonefleet Hall, Becky gets all the dirtiest jobs. But the one she hates the most is cleaning Miss Abigail’s room. There’s a strange, empty smell to the place, and a feeling that nothing right or Christian resides there in the mistress’s absence. And then there’s the blood, the spot that comes back no matter often Becky scrubs it clean. Becky wishes she had somewhere else to go, but without means or a good recommendation from her household, there is nothing for her outside the only home she’s known for eighteen years. So when a sickening doll made of wax and feathers turns up, Becky’s dreams of freedom and green grass become even more distant. Until the staff members start to die.

A darning needle though the heart of the gruesome doll puts everyone at Stonefleet Hall at odds. The head parlor maid seems like someone else, the butler pretends nothing’s amiss, and everyone thinks Becky’s losing her mind. But when the shambling old lord of the manor looks at her, why does he scream as though he’s seen the hounds of hell?



Following that book description, to say any more about the plot would certainly spoil it. This is a perfectly crafted English ghost story in the Gothic tradition. What struck me was the incredibly believable sense of place created by Cavendish. I was there in that old house, could see the servants at their table, the maids scrubbing and polishing. With the recent success of Downton Abbey, I reckon Cavendish is on to something, especially among women readers who want a change from romance. Nice to see the use of a doll to invoke fear, too. Stars out of 5? It has to be worth 4 for the attention to detail and the writing.



Ash – But Not A Phoenix In Sight

Book Review*

The much anticipated new blockbuster from the grand master of chiller fiction…

Title: Ash

Author: James Herbert

Published by: Macmillan

ISBN: 978-0230706958


The World Grand Master of Horror cordially invites you to an idyllic Scottish retreat with beautiful rooms, luscious gardens, a breathtaking view . . . and a basement full of secrets.

Author Bio

James Herbert is not just Britain’s number one bestselling writer of chiller fiction, a position he has held ever since publication of his first novel, but is also one of our greatest popular novelists. Widely imitated and hugely influential, his twenty-three novels have sold more than fifty-four million copies worldwide, and have been translated into over thirty languages including Russian and Chinese. In 2010, he was made the Grand Master of Horror by the World Horror Convention and was also awarded an OBE by the Queen for services to literature. He is married with three daughters and lives in London and Sussex.


I don’t usually start my reviews with the official author biography but in this case there is good reason. First, the publisher’s blurb is so scant it makes me shake my head in disbelief that it’s the best they could do for such a hyped up and long awaited book from the ‘Grand Master’. Second, Herbert’s standing and achievements are so great that they warrant mentioning in view of what I am about to say. And let me be clear on this point: Herbert is one of the greats and I do not wish to imply otherwise. But…

The marketing has been well planned for Ash, Herbert’s first novel for six years, part of which was to reduce the price of his back list. I bought Shrine for my Kindle for £1 and enjoyed it – for a book that was written almost thirty years ago. When one reads books of that era and beyond, certain allowances often have to be made in relation to technique and style. In Shrine, the biggest issue is Herbert’s constant head hopping (what we call point of view shift), closely followed by an annoying habit of using the word ‘for’ (in the sense of because). Both these things could have been dealt with in the editing stage quite easily. Nevertheless, Shrine is a great story, no doubt about it.

So I looked forward to Ash, not just as a reader but as a horror writer. I had little doubt that Herbert would have come up with a brilliant story, but I was eager to see if – given the passage of time – he would have tightened up his technique. I really, really, wanted him to have done so, to rise like a phoenix from the ashes of six years of silence. And you’ve guessed it, haven’t you?

Since I lost my heart to my Kindle, I always download the sample of a book before buying it. I got the sample of Ash and sat down to read immediately. I forgave Herbert for the rather rambling opening couple of paragraphs, but the head hop that occurs within moments of the book’s beginning is so glaring, so shocking, that I almost stopped reading there and then. I forced myself on, believing that the plot would be worth the effort,  but soon I found myself obsessed with the technique – rooted in the fiction of the 1980s – and the plot took second place.

Now, at this point I suggest you go over and read the top notch review on SFX. It’s here:

Done that? When I’d read the sample, I said the same thing – overwritten and bogged down with details of no relevance. And don’t forget the POV shifts. Why do I go on about POV shifts? Because new writers are constantly harangued  by ‘the establishment’ on this very matter; fiction today must be told from one point of view per scene. If a new writer strays from this, they are likely to end up in the litter bin without a second thought for their brilliant story. In today’s world, technique is as important as creativity – and rightly so, in my humble opinion, because if technique and genre are in harmony the reader’s experience is heightened.

So, for all I admire Herbert for his achievements, I have to say (with a heavy heart, I add) that Ash is a disappointment. I am convinced that if it had been submitted by an unknown author it would not have been published. Now, I’ll come clean. You see at the top of this post I put an asterisk after Book Review? That’s because for the first time ever I’m reviewing a book which I have not read in its entirety. As I said, I got the sample. And it was enough – at least at the asking price. I find myself dismayed at the writing, yet wanting to know the story because that sounds interesting. Just not enough to accept the price tag, so maybe this is one to get from the library?

I’m left feeling cheated and also sorry for Herbert. Where was the editor, I wonder? The faults could have been dealt with so easily. Maybe the Grand Master is just untouchable and no editor dare take the top off his/her red pen? Or perhaps, as I wonder in my cheekier moments, the greatest ghost writer of all needs to find a, erm, ghost writer?

Update: Quite astonishing that a new book and a bestseller would be dropped in price to 20p but it means that I now am reading the whole book and will update this review accordingly in due course. But…I am not impressed.

My review of ASH is here at the New York Journal of Books:

James Herbert Dies 21/03/13:

Review: Lionel Asbo by Martin Amis

Title: Lionel Asbo – State of England

Author: Martin Amis

Publisher:Jonathan Cape Ltd

ISBN-13: 978-0224096218


Lionel Asbo – a very violent but not very successful young criminal – is going about his morning duties in a London prison when he learns that he has just won GBP139,999,999.50 on the National Lottery. This is not necessarily good news for his ward and nephew, the orphaned Des Pepperdine, who still has reason to fear his uncle’s implacable vengeance. Savage, funny, and mysteriously poignant, “Lionel Asbo” is a modern fairy tale from one of the world’s great writers.
I ummed and ahhed over buying this book. I caught Amis being interviewed by a rather sycophantic Runcie on TV and decided I liked the author. Make of that what you will. What put me off was the lottery win. It seemed a bit naff, somehow. I finally bit the bullet last weekend and I’m happy to say I loved it. I read it on Saturday and Sunday. It is full of wit and wisdom, made me laugh out loud many times. I know Amis has had mixed reviews. Some are concerned that he cannot possibly know anything of life in council blocks, but the thing that bugged me and made me wonder was the 42 year-old grandmother. Not that she was a gran at 42 – but that she wore pink fluffy slippers. Surely leopard skin nylon, Martin?
Lionel Asbo gets a full 5* from me.