Vicky Newham


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My standout novels of 2015

This is a lovely way to reflect on what I’ve enjoyed reading this year, and why. I am hopeless at ranking things, and I’ve liked books for different reasons, so they are in no order.

 

A Devil Under the Skin by Anya Lipska

This is the third in Anya’s brilliant East London based series, featuring PI Janusz Kiszka and DC Natalie Kershaw. No sign of staleness here, these books just get better and better. I adore two things about Anya’s writing. Her style is unique. It is both clever and funny and this makes it a pleasure to read. For me, though, what marks out her style is that many of her phrases draw on multiple reference sources, and word choices are evocative and ‘on trend’. I loved the plot in this book. Janusz, Natalie and Oskar are caught up in, and have to respond to, events which show the many facets of their characters. The Polish context is handled with affection and honesty and humour. Some of the exchanges between Janusz and Oskar are comedy genius.

 

Huntress Moon by Alexandra Sokoloff

I often find that screenwriters write evocative prose, and dramatise events in their novels in ways which make you feel as though you are on a film set, not sitting on the couch with a paperback and box of Jaffa cakes. This is definitely the case with Alexandra Sokoloff’s writing. I found Huntress Moon gripping from the first sentence and deeply unsettling. Sokoloff’s language and writing are gorgeous. Descriptions of San Francisco and the other US locations are vivid and rich, and, in places, very unusual. Huntress Moon is the first in what is going to be a quintet of novels, with three already published.

For me, the ‘Huntress’ is the stand-out of the two main characters, but perhaps this is because female characters can be so hard to get right – in terms of gender stereotypes and clichés – and make ‘fresh’. This is a serial killer crime novel with several important differences. I adored the mythology and the way that the moon cycles influence behaviour. There was plenty of Psychology to get my teeth into, drawing on key aspects of Developmental and Forensic Psychology. Wonderful.

 

I Know Who Did It by Steve Mosby

Steve Mosby has become one of my favourite writers. His creative writing is different from his blog writing (as you would expect) but shimmers with the same intelligence. He explores unusual psychological terrain, and burrows into the rabbit holes of the human condition with empathy and nuance, including how morality adds additional considerations to the complexities of psychological processes. In this book, notions of heaven and hell, God and the Devil, right and wrong, good and bad, and what constitutes sin, are stirred in and create a heady mix. The book starts with a man named David Groves being driven into the woods. The atmosphere shudders with menace and intrigue. I had no idea what to expect. In a few brief chapters you have a woman who has come back from the dead and a man who’s receiving cards for his dead son. What I adored about this book was that I was continually having to check what I thought I knew. Mosby’s writing is a masterclass in the creation of suspense and atmosphere, and in manipulating reader assumptions in devilishly clever ways. In I Know Who Did It there are a number of game-changing plot twists which spin the reader three sixty degrees. Strap yourself in and enjoy the ride.

 

Hausfrau by Jill Alexander Essbaum

Hausfrau kept me spellbound for several days. It left me motionless on my bed when I finished it, thoughts swirling as I lay there, all sorts of emotions competing. In the book, Anna’s life is hurtling out of control. She is taking risks and not attending fully to areas of her life. It made me think about how much control we have over our lives, how easy it is for a person to change learned behaviours and responses, where responsibility and accountability lie, what unhappiness is … and a whole lot more. There are phrases, images and metaphors in Hausfrau which made me hold my breath. Having studied German at university, and long been interested in language and linguistics, I purred at the way Essbaum played with and explored language, and the relationship between language and thought.

 

The Abrupt Physics of Dying by Paul Hardisty

The Abrupt Physics of Dying is absolutely not my usual kind of novel but reading it felt like savouring a long cocktail with bite while necking the occasional shot of tequila. It’s a tense, gritty eco-thriller set in Yemen in 1994. It has a gripping plot based on fictionalised versions of real events which the author experienced over many years. It opens with Claymore Straker (Clay), an oil company engineer, looking down the barrel of a Kalashnikov into the eyes of a ‘kid’ terrorist who has hijacked him. By the end of the first page the reader knows some key information about Clay: something BIG happened thirteen years ago, and he has killed. So many questions arise from this first page. Clever hooks and wonderful writing.

 

After the Fire by Jane Casey

I knew I was going to love Jane’s writing and I had a feeling it was going to be funny. Getting humour ‘right’ in crime novels isn’t always easy. There are a number of mysteries within After the Fire – and a couple of sub-plots – and each one adds a layer of intrigue to the investigation, and ramps up the tension. The reader is quickly drawn into the murky lives of the residents and visitors at the tower block where the fire occurs, some of whom are more sympathetic than others. What makes this novel is the two main characters, Kerrigan and Derwent, and the various facets of their relationship. Their sparring is very funny and clever, and they clearly care about each other and watch each other’s backs. While Derwent is the senior officer, he and Kerrigan pass the power baton back and forth. I love the way they complement each other’s strengths and weaknesses – and need each other. We see Derwent through Kerrigan’s eyes, and Kerrigan (mainly) through her own. In addition, Jane Casey’s writing is a treat. Her dialogue is sharp, and the character observations are astute and funny.

 

No Other Darkness by Sarah Hilary

When the bodies of two boys are found curled together in a bunker in the garden of a house, twelve feet underground, DI Marnie Rome is determined to bring to justice whoever is responsible for their suffering. As she and DS Noah Jake tease out the strands of the mystery, they realise they are dealing with a crime which is as disturbing as it is morally complex. Sinister discoveries, involving foster children and ruthless property developers, pull Rome further into the maze-like investigation, and yet again she is forced to reflect on the reasons why people commit awful acts and whether it is possible to forgive them when they do. From the reactions and comments of Rome, Jake and another key character we gradually learn what occurred. It is more devastating than you could ever imagine.

Sarah Hilary is extremely good at showing the reader how characters are reacting and feeling. Sometimes she maintains the emotional intensity; others she makes tiny adjustments to the emotional barometer within each scene but without descriptions becoming melodramatic. For me, it is partly the emotional intelligence which threads through Hilary’s writing which marks her out. The other thing is the writing itself. When a writer describe things in ways which make me see the world differently, I’m in awe.

 

Untouchable by Ava Marsh

Amongst crowded book shelves, a novel with an unusual setting or protagonist stands out. The story at the heart of Untouchable is a universal one: someone makes a terrible mistake which has awful consequences, and finds it hard to come to terms with it all. It takes courage to write a book set in the sex industry as you run the risk of having your book labelled erotica. However, to dismiss this extremely well written Vice Noir novel as that is to miss something fresh. There are a number of types of crime in the book, raising the question of whether crime novels have to include murders. These add to the story layers and epitomise how complex life often is. I really liked Ava’s main character, Grace, and felt hugely sympathetic towards her. The guilt she was experiencing as a result of the mistake she made had pushed her into self-destructive and self-punishing behaviour. Gutsy, principled, flawed and vulnerable, she’s a brilliant female character.

 

The Hummingbird by Kati Hiekkapelto

The Hummingbird is a fascinating and honest examination of what it can be like to be an immigrant in Finland. It delves into the thorny issues of prejudice and stereotypes, and belonging and identity. The protagonist detective, Anna Fekete, is a Hungarian from former Yugoslavia. On the first day of her new job, a female jogger is found dead and a Kurdish girl reported to be in danger.

The author has lived in the Hungarian region of Serbia and has taught immigrants in her role as a special needs teacher, so clearly knows her subject. Chapters are written from Anna’s point of view and that of one of the victims (the Kurdish girl), the combination of which provides useful insight to the forced marriage situation. I loved the way that Kati integrates landscape, weather and nature into the story of this novel, as it contributes to the tone and mood in a way which feels relevant rather than indulgent, and in a way which doesn’t pull the reader out of the story. For me, this is Finnish social realism at its bravest and best.

 

The Death House by Sarah Pinborough

If there is a book which demonstrates how redundant genre classifications can be, it is The Death House. It has elements of several genres and is set in the future. However, at its most essential it is a story about how a group of children of various ages respond to being taken away from their homes in a van to an institution. This happens because they have something in their blood tests which makes them ‘defective’, and which means that sooner or later they will get sick and die. And this is what makes the book delightful: it shows, via beautifully written prose, how differently each of them responds to the same situation. Toby is an emotional and sensitive boy, also proud and scared and angry. When Clara arrives, the bond they develop, and her response to her prognosis, have a profound effect on him.

I enjoyed the scenes in the dorms with the boys bantering and jockeying for position. Toby’s fellow ‘inmates’ are characterised well, distinct and real. I loved how Clara arrives on the scene and shakes everything up, apparently confident but with her own vulnerabilities.  While they all wait for their symptoms to develop, and for the lift to come in the middle of the night to take them to the sanatorium, the emotions of the children are continually changing, and so are their friendships and the group dynamics. If any one of the children exemplifies the words of the strapline, ‘Everyone dies. It’s how you choose to live that counts’, it is Clara. But it could equally well apply to any of the inmates, as this is the dilemma they are faced with having received their prognoses. Perhaps it applies to the reader as well. If life is so impermanent, how are we to live our lives?

 

Normal by Graeme Cameron

In a busy sub-genre, this serial killer novel stands out from the crowd for me in a number of ways. Firstly, the concept and writing are extremely clever. The protagonist, the serial killer, is interesting, scarily likeable (if you didn’t know about some of his predilections and cooking habits), smart and funny. Forensic Psychology tells us that many serial killers and psychopaths can be charming, and Cameron’s protagonist both conforms with and departs from the stereotype in different ways. Told from the viewpoint of the killer, some of his observations made me scream with laughter, sometimes because of how funny they are but also out of shock at what I was reading. Some of the throwaway comments are so simultaneously clever and funny, I did a double take along the lines of ‘What the actual flip?’ Normal has some brilliant characters. Erica is a superb match for her captor and I really enjoyed their exchanges. It’s gory in places and requires the reader to suspend their sense of morality, and I absolutely loved it.

 

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Vicky Newham © 2016


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The Trap – flash fiction

I’m turning into my mother.

It hits me as I lean over the bath and sprinkle talc between damp toes. A shiver of dread accompanies the realisation.

‘I’m going upstairs to wash my feet,’ she’d say, and then would return ten minutes later, lipstick refreshed, hair smoothed into place, and a dab of Penhaligon’s Bluebell behind the ears.

I know each step of the routine. Lolled on the rug in her dressing room dozens of times, pretending not to watch while all the time taking in each intricate gesture and the order in which they’re performed. The side to side lip movement to distribute colour. Not too vigorous, just enough. Then blot.

And here I am, carrying out the same rituals, in the same order, to collect my thoughts and recalibrate before day slides into evening.

You’ll be home soon, crackling with excitement about your trip, people met, sights seen. And you’ll inquire kindly, ‘How was your week?’

And I’ll wither inside and squeeze out, ‘Fine, thanks,’ when what I really want to say is, ‘I’ve turned into my bloody mother.’

As she looks back at me from the oval mirror, the one that always sat on her dressing table, heaviness pulls like emotional gravity.

And I scruff up my hair and wipe my mouth clean. Pull on jeans and flip-flops.

I am not my mother. I am me.

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Vicky Newham © 2015


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The Island Escape by Kerry Fisher – a review

I really enjoyed Kerry’s first novel, The School Gate Survival Guide. I bought and read this when it was called The Class Ceiling, after Kerry came along to talk to my writing group. It was clear from that book that Kerry’s writing is clever: she puts things across humorously but underneath the funny scenarios and quick exchanges lurk important life issues and questions, and tricky relationship dynamics.

The Island Escape is another cracking read and showcases similar witty writing and well observed characterisation. It revolves around the friendship between long term friends Octavia (who is married to Jonathon) and Roberta (who is married to Scott). The two women are very different characters but both have been married for a long time. Chapters alternate between the two friends and the story is told from both points of view. Roberta’s marriage is on its last legs and, as so often happens, this results in Octavia wondering about her own marriage and reminiscing about the time she spent in Corsica. It was there that she met and fell in love with Xavi.

I adore books which have female friendship as a context, as this can be an intense relationship with many potential ‘rabbit holes’. It is fascinating to consider – through story – how changes in the life of one person so often affect others around them, and the range of feelings that can be prompted when someone close is either struggling or experiences success. The actions of those around us can be contagious, but they can also arouse fear, jealousy and conflict. The tensions and jealousies between Roberta and Octavia are very believable, all the more so as they genuinely care about each other. I also enjoy books which address questions which we all have about our lives, jobs and relationships: is it better to stay put with ‘the devil you know’ or get out and take a risk in the hope of something better? This aspect of the Island Escape is affirming and optimistic. There are never any guarantees but it’s always worth having dreams.

The story gallops along, taking the reader with it. Many sections are funny, with real laugh out loud lines, and other moments are poignant. Highly recommended.

My copy was obtained from NetGalley. Thank you.

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Vicky Newham © 2015


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Reflections on Crimefest 2015

New and old author crushes and a welcome shift in attitude.

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In the small hours of Thursday morning I wondered if I would get to Crimefest. With a poorly dog and neighbour noise, I had got half an hour of sleep just before the alarm went off at 6 a.m. But I grabbed another two hours’ kip, and then zipped down the M4 in the rain, spray and mist in four hours. And ta da! I was beamed up into a glorious bubble of crime fiction for three days.

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As I approached the Bristol Marriott Royal on Thursday afternoon, I had that lovely feeling you get when you return to a place where you’ve had wonderful experiences in the past. Crimefest 2013 was my first crime fiction event. I went straight into the Nordic Noir panel this year. This was the first time I had seen Craig Robertson (who is hilarious). The banter between Craig and Quentin Bates, the moderator, was delightful. My first author crush was Kati Hiekkapelto, whose book, The Hummingbird, sounds A-M-AAA-ZING, and I dashed off to buy her book as soon as the panel finished.

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The panel on Sub-genres was fascinating, with each author explaining why they chose their specific sub-genre. Simon Toyne, who has to be one of the best dressed men in crime fiction, was on this one. I have seen him before and he is always extremely funny. The panelists all mentioned that they had set themselves deadlines when they started writing, to get a book finished or published. Emma Kavanagh’s background as a psychologist interests me and I love the way she describes her route to publication.

On Friday I nipped along to the Debut Author panel at 9 a.m. These are my favourite slots at writing events as I find it so interesting to hear about the authors’ backgrounds, book plots and writing journeys. Nursing my Kati crush, I acquired another one on Ragnar Jonassen, and immediately bought Snowblind – but was too embarrassed to get it signed so I got Kati to sign hers instead, while I burbled away like an idiot about how I was also a teacher and was interested in …. (cringe, shuddup Vicky).

The rest of Friday involved the Crime Writing Day as part of the Flashbang competition shortlist. The first session was with the hugely inspiring Joanna Penn. I’ve met Jo before and her energy and enthusiasm are infectious. She honestly makes you feel that you can achieve whatever you want.

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What I took from this session more than anything was that your definition of success should determine the choices you make regarding the books you write and how you publish them. I agree with this 100%. After this we had a lively session with two agents and two editors. Something I noticed over the three day event is that what I want for my writing hasn’t changed since 2011, which is when I decided to write crime novels ‘seriously’. There are various options which I am considering but my goal is still to write books which interest me and which others will enjoy. And I still would like agent representation and a traditional publishing deal.

I was sad to miss both of Stav Sherez’s panels on Friday, and the one on Private Investigators. And the one on Writing the Other. But the Crime Writing Day was brilliant and at the end of it Zoe Sharp and Sarah Hilary announced the winners of the Flashbang competition. I’d had two pieces longlisted and one shortlisted, and so I was simply thrilled to have been included. ‘Mercy’ won third prize which made me very happy as the piece was inspired by memories of my lovely father, who, sadly, suffered a great deal before he died. Unfortunately everyone probably now thinks that I murdered him. I didn’t, Officer, honestly.

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During the weekend I realised how many people I’ve got to know in the crime fiction world. Some I’d met before, and some I hadn’t but know from social media. It wasn’t a surprise for me to know that what I want for my own writing hasn’t changed but it was reassuring to have it confirmed. I did, however, realise how much more confident I feel in what I want to do and how I am trying to do it. 2014 was a weird year for me. It was challenging on a personal and financial level, and completing my MA was wonderful but learning to write poetry, drama and short stories meant that I had to set aside my novel in order to concentrate. Starting a new novel for my dissertation was the icing on the cake for me, as this was – and is – the novel I’ve wanted to write since I started teaching in East London. And this is the novel I want to complete and get out to agents and editors. I mention this because I am aware of vague feelings on occasions that I got left behind in 2014. But I didn’t. I was just doing Other Stuff. I still can’t write a sestina for toffee, though!

I was aware of another shift at Crimefest this year. I took a quarter of the notes I did in 2013 and 2014. This does mean that I will forget a lot of what was said but it made things more enjoyable and relaxing. It is easy to think that authors on the panels have the key to successful publishing, that they know something I don’t, and that I have to go to every single panel and learn as much as I can. And part of me does want to do that. But, as mentioned above, I am also aware of feeling much more confident now. I have completed a novel. I can do it again with this current one … and I will. But I have to take it a scene at a time, a day at a time, rein in my impatience and excitement, and get to the end. I’ve learnt a load of stuff over the last few years, from books and from my course. Now I just want to get my bum on the seat and apply it. I know that I draft fast but it’s the rewriting which is essential for me, and this takes me aaaaaages. But I have my ruthless editor and writing companion, and she does the necessary when something is rubbish.

Saturday’s panels included the Debut Authors, then Entertainment or Message, then Brains or Brawn with Zoe Sharp and some chap called Lee Child. Clutching my LC author crush, I secured a front row seat – result! – and this was a terrific panel. I’ve seen Lee at events before and he is always generous, interesting and good value. Tom Harper is new to me, and Yrsa and Chris Ewan are writers I admire.

Sadly, there were a few people I wanted to say ‘hello’ to over the weekend but either didn’t see or it wasn’t the right time. I still find going up to people excruciatingly embarrassing and no-one ever believes me when I say that I am a) extremely shy and b) a classic introvert. To make matters worse, given that my contact lenses gave me a headache, I took them out and then couldn’t see more than fuzzy outlines and had to ‘peer’ at people, aware that I resembled my mother when she was choosing cheese in Waitrose. Attractive! Note to self: get bloody glasses sorted, woman.

Highlights of Crimefest 2015 for me were: people’s lovely comments about my flash fiction pieces; having a chat with Stav about writing; meeting Charlotte and Debs and rummaging through their book purchases; feeling much more confident about my own writing; catching up with Janet O’Kane, Dave Sivers and Alison Gray; and discovering new authors and books. Oh and the sofa outside the ladies loo at the Marriott which I intend to steal next year.

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Thank you to everyone involved. See you next year. And don’t forget: your definition of success should determine the choices you make – JFP.

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Vicky Newham © 2015


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My Flashbang 2015 entries: ‘Sinker’ and ‘Mercy’

A few people have asked if they could read my two Flashbang entries, so here they are. Both were longlisted. ‘Mercy’ was then shortlisted and won 3rd prize. This is such a fabulous competition, with very generous prizes, and anything that encourages a bit of flashing gets my vote!

SINKER

I’d planned it meticulously. The virus would spread on your laptop and you’d need the technicians. I would allocate myself the job and plant the images, each one selected to make the judge’s pupils dilate.

You, the most un-computer savvy person in the company, the one who just happened to have nabbed the guy I’d been warming up for the last two years. Oh, I’d seen you, swishing that blonde hair of yours with its split ends, throwing out that hyena laugh.

And I’d watched him fall hook, line and bloody sinker.

But he wouldn’t want you for long. I knew him. Unlike you.

I’d emailed my concerns to the CEO. He’d be onto the police in a flash.

Ah. Here they are now.

‘Ms Harris? I’m arresting you for installing indecent …’ The words were a blur. What …?

You’d only gone and installed tracking software, hadn’t you?


MERCY

He’d asked for freesias. ‘They were Jean’s favourite,’ he said.

In the vase by the bed, the buds loosen and release their delicate aroma.

He’s already half asleep. His body, barely a bump under the covers. Eye sockets hollowed out and cheek bones protruding.

‘No-one important,’ was how he described himself. ‘Not famous or special.’ A simple life, of love and loss: fish paste sandwiches eaten on the beach in the wind; an afternoon movie and night-time drive; the death of his wife.

Except – he was no ordinary man. He’d survived the war but was no match for this disease.

Six o’clock he’d requested, the same time he was born.

I glance at my watch and check everything’s in place. Increase the dose into the cannula. And clutching his frail hand, with skin gathered round joints, I sit with him and wait.

And say farewell to my beloved dad.

‘Mercy’ is dedicated to my lovely father, who, sadly, suffered – but I didn’t murder him. Honest.

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Vicky Newham © 2015


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UNTOUCHABLE by Ava Marsh – a review

“If you start feeling anything for a client – and it does happen – count the money.”

Amongst crowded book shelves, a novel with an unusual setting or protagonist stands out. Untouchable appealed to me as it has both. It is the story of Stella who works as a popular and successful escort. She isn’t a stereotypical junkie hooker with a pimp. She is educated, well read and intelligent, has chosen this profession for her own reasons and clearly enjoys many aspects of it. She contemplates the ethics of her tax return, charges mega-bucks an hour, and when she needs a reality check she counts the cash. The reader quickly learns that Stella’s real name is Grace, and that something happened to Grace a few years earlier from which she hasn’t recovered. She exists. From one day to the next. Then, when one of her escort friends, Elisa, is found dead, and the death gets hushed up, Grace decides that she has to find out what happened. The book switches between the two mysteries: what has happened to Grace and how did Elisa die?

I love the title of this book with its multiple interpretations and conflicting connotations of power and shame. Is one to be sought, worshipped, and the other recoiled at? I thought that Grace was a brilliant protagonist: empathic and human, determined and caring, but also damaged and self-destructive. I really wanted to know what had happened to her and to understand how it might have resulted in her becoming an escort. The whole way through I was asking myself what I wanted for her, and what I thought she wanted and needed. I could see how her psychological state made her prepared to take huge risks and I feared for her. It was as if she felt that she had nothing left to lose and, at times, nothing to live for. I enjoy plots in which a character’s ‘situation’ compromises them when they discover dubious goings on, as this sort of set-up enables an exploration of the murky waters of agency, choice, responsibility and morality. No-one’s going to believe a hooker, right? The intrigue surrounding Elisa’s death is altogether credible and interesting. This, and the window-on-the-escort-world, provide an element of social realism to Untouchable. In general, the characterisation in the novel is superb. Marsh cleverly shows all her characters as multi-dimensional and no-one is monolithically ‘good’ or ‘bad’. I didn’t once get confused between the girls or their customers and with quite a big ‘cast’, this is a risk. Each person has a private and a professional persona. It made me think about Winnicott’s work in psychoanalysis on multiple ‘selves’. Which is, who is, our ‘real self’ and who is the ‘false self’? Is one necessarily ‘nicer’ than the other? Or are we all a mixture of good and bad, of our real and false selves?

In the first half of the book there is a lot of sex. Given Stella’s job I expected this. I felt that Marsh handled these sections extremely skilfully (and I’m not a fan of sex in books): sometimes she glossed over the sex and when it was an important part of the plot or character development, she showed us what was going on. I really hope that readers aren’t put off by the sex because the story strikes me as a universal one: someone makes a terrible mistake which has awful consequences, and finds it hard to come to terms with it all.

While I was reading the book, I found myself wondering if it bothered me that I didn’t know who the author was, that I couldn’t see what she (or he) looks like. Do I need to like an author to like their work? Do I need to know whether I think they are like me? Realistically, even if we see a photograph of an author on a book jacket, or we see them at a festival on a panel, we rarely ‘know’ much about that person. It’s all a mixture of what they want us to see and our own projections and fantasies. I think it takes courage to write a book set in the sex industry as you run the risk of having your book labelled erotica. And people are bound to be curious. To take all these risks? To me, that suggests that this story is one which is extremely important to Ava Marsh. And surely that’s one of the best reasons to write a novel? (I have christened her sub-genre #ViceNoir)

The storytelling is well paced throughout the novel, and the two plot strands complement each other. I raced through the book to find out how it ended. And then read it again for review. There are a number of types of crime in the book. I won’t spoil the plot by naming them, but these add to the story layers and epitomise how complex life often is. If we forget legal definitions, what is a crime? And do crime novels need to include death? If so, does it have to be murder?

In sum, if you’re looking for something a bit ‘different’, I highly recommend Untouchable.

My copy was purchased through Amazon and read on kindle.

My blog tour Q & A with Ava’s main character, Grace is here: https://vickynewhamwriter.com/2015/08/12/conversation-with-grace-from-ava-marshs-untouchable-blog-tour/

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Vicky Newham © 2015


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NORMAL by Graeme Cameron – a review

I hadn’t read any reviews when I started this novel, nor did I have much of an idea of the plot but I will say straight off that I absolutely adored it. In a busy sub-genre, this serial killer novel stands out from the crowd for me in a number of ways. Firstly, the concept and writing are extremely clever. The protagonist, the serial killer, is interesting, scarily likeable (if you didn’t know about some of his predilections and cooking habits), smart and funny. We know that many serial killers and psychopaths can be charming, and Cameron’s protagonist both conforms with and departs from the stereotype in different ways. There are hints at a childhood gone wrong and at difficulties experiencing emotion, for example.

What I enjoyed most about Normal was the narrative voice. Told from the PoV of the killer, some of his observations made me scream with laughter, sometimes because of how funny they are but also out of shock at what I was reading. Some of the throwaway comments are so simultaneously clever and funny, I did a double take along the lines of, what the actual flip was that? There is quite a bit that we don’t find out about the killer but that didn’t bother me excessively. In addition to the protagonist, Normal has some brilliant characters. Erica is a superb match for her captor and I really enjoyed their exchanges. In fact, in general, I thought the dialogue was very sharp.

Parts of the book are gory. Reference is made to which body part is chopped up with what instrument and what the blood flow and residue are like. I have either become desensitised after reading so much crime fiction or the humour made me feel detached from the graphic detail. My hunch is the latter: I don’t generally like books which are too violent, nor ones where the violence seems gratuitous. Cameron’s protagonist is performing butchery for his own pleasure, and describing it both with relish and dismissively, so I should perhaps have been wincing … but I wasn’t. The humorous way – and it is black humour – in which the killings, di-sections and disposals are described simply had me laughing too much to go, eeeew. And there was no way I was putting the book down. Perhaps this requires the ability to suspend morality, as with, say, Dexter, but if you can do this the book is great fun. I wasn’t, however, rooting for the killer to get away with his crimes, as some people have mentioned. I wanted him to get his come-uppance but I was sucked into colluding with his deeds for the duration of the book for sheer entertainment value. My only criticism is that the ending didn’t really work for me, but, hey, you can’t have everything and these things are often personal.

If you want to read something a bit different, pick up Normal. It is definitely one of my favourite crime fiction books of 2015.