Vicky Newham


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THE INTRUSIONS by Stav Sherez – a review

When you pick up a Stav Sherez novel, you know you’re in for something different. He weaves intricate layers into his stories, and cleverly transports the reader into mental landscapes beyond their imagining and into their worst nightmares. I tried to read The Intrusions slowly. It was my afternoon treat, and I wanted to savour the prose and mull the ideas over. I managed that for a third of the book, and then bolted through the rest, so desperate was I to find out what was going on at the (brilliantly named) Milgram hostel. I mean, with a name like that, you know something dodgy’s bound to happen, right?

The story begins with a girl in a dark alley, stumbling, and under the influence of a psycho-active substance or several. Then another girl arrives at Carrigan and Miller’s police station, saying her friend’s been abducted by a man who’s threatened to come back for her. From there, the reader is very quickly in the Hades-like world of the internet, faced with the stark reality of how much technology has changed all our lives – and continues to every minute of the day.

‘… what technology gives with one hand it takes away with the other,’ observes one character.

It’s fair to say that neither Carrigan nor Miller are on good emotional form in this book. Carrigan, in particular, I felt sorry for. He’s been through the wringer on the personal front and in this book we see his mother in hospital. His team are undergoing an audit which is allegedly about investigation expenditure but is really about rapping Carrigan’s knuckles over misdemeanours on a previous case. Life and time are slipping through Carrigan’s hands, and I was rooting for some reprieve to come his way, for a few feathers of hope for him to latch onto. Various aspects of Carrigan’s journey in this book had me stabbing at my kindle to gobble up the pages. I found the whole plot utterly addictive and completely terrifying. Sherez deftly uses technology to bring themes alive, and as part of the plot itself. The police, too, have had to change the way they investigate to keep up with developments. We experience events through Carrigan and Miller’s eyes, and as they reel through shock and horror, so does the reader.

CCTV prowled public spaces, Carrigan reflects, but the job pulled you into darker provinces where neither God nor cameras could penetrate.

In my opinion, it’s not possible to pigeon hole a Sherez book into a particular sub-genre. The Intrusions has identifiable elements of West London urban noir, serial killer thriller, techno-thriller, social realism and more. And then there’s Bali. Which I’ve now scrubbed off my bucket list!

‘You’ll never be alone again,’ one of the perpetrators tells the police. ‘If you use a phone or a computer or a TV, I’ll be there watching you.

As dénouements go, I found this one both electrifying and poignant.

‘Even if you catch me,’ says one of the suspects, ‘there’s hundreds of thousands just like me all over the word, looking for prey, and it’s only going to get a whole lot worse.’

Highly recommended and definitely one of my books of the year so far.

 

Vicky Newham ©2017

 


3 Comments

Stav at CrimeFest 2103 in Bristol

Stav at CrimeFest 2013 in Bristol

 

My introduction to Stav Sherez was through his tweets, many of which are about writing, music, coffee and the weather. These prompted me to look up his website. When I read the beautifully crafted and intriguing piece called ‘Why I write crime fiction’ (http://stavsherez.com/why-i-write-crime-fiction/), I headed straight for Amazon and bought The Black Monastery and The Devil’s Playground. Since then he has been one of my favourite crime fiction authors.

Recently, I asked Stav about his writing and how his background influences his novels. I also caught up with him at CrimeFest, in between his panel appearances, book signings and trademark espresso-slamming sessions, to take some photographs.

 

1. Religious settings occur in several of your books, and you are Literary Editor for the Catholic Herald. Is there a reason for your interest in religion and theology? What aspects interest you most? You are very well informed on the subjects. Did you study them at university?

It’s funny because this is one of those things that I’ve only noticed in retrospect. When I was writing the books, I went with whatever felt right for the story but looking back, you’re absolutely right. Religious settings and themes seem to thread through each book, not least of all in the titles. I did Art History and Theology as my degree and despite (or perhaps because of) being agnostic I’m intrigued by what causes people to believe and how it fundamentally changes the world they experience and live through. Theology intrigues me as it posits some of the same questions as philosophy. In a sense, God, and existence are the biggest mysteries of all. On another level, I think monasteries and convents are very creepy, strange and interesting settings for crime novels.

 

2. How did the journey from rock journalist to novelist come about? Are you ever tempted to return to music journalism? After a great gig or new album, for example?

Ever since I can remember I wanted to be a novelist but music has always been a huge part of my life too. When I was writing my first novel, I was doing a lot of music journalism, but it was always a side project to the novels. As for the second part of your question – no. I’m quite happy now to just enjoy a record or gig without having to think what to say about it.

The Death Overseas panel at CrimeFest 2013 with Stav as moderator

The Death Overseas panel at CrimeFest 2013, with Stav as moderator

3. From when I read the ‘Why I write crime fiction’ piece on your website it was obvious that you love language and have a gift for using it. Your expressions are utterly unique and your imagery deliciously fresh. Why is language so important to you, in general, and in your writing?

Well, without language there wouldn’t be any writing! I, like most writers, tend to write what I would like to read and the books I love most do new and strange things with language yet never at the expense of story – I’m talking about people like Thomas Pynchon, James Ellroy, Don DeLillo. It’s through language, and the unit of the sentence, that we tell stories, and I do believe that using language in unusual ways can immerse you deeper into the sensual atmosphere of a novel.

 

4. You are now a mainstream, well-respected crime novelist. Why do you think that your novels are popular? Can you say what you think your USP is as a writer?

Ha – I’m not so sure about that! I have no idea why people like my novels, I’m just very happy that they do. I think any writer’s USP is his or her language, the way they see the world, and the particular stories they choose to tell about it.

 

5. Are you enjoying writing a series? What are its challenges and benefits?

It’s much harder than I anticipated. After two standalones, I thought writing a series would be somewhat easier but, as with everything else, I was wrong. The major difficulty I’ve found in writing a series is not repeating yourself. By the very nature of a series you are going to be writing similar scenes from book to book (discovery of body; autopsy; briefing etc) and it’s very hard to make them different but it’s also a challenge that forces you to write outside of your comfort zone and try new things. One of the major benefits of writing a series is not having to tie up every loose end by the final page. Stories and sub-plots can play out across several books. A series will also trace your life into the narrative as you change over the years you are writing it.

 

6. You are writing the third Carrigan and Miller novel now. Can you tell us what challenges face your detectives in the next novel?

I have no idea! I don’t plan at all and so at the moment I’m still working on what to keep in the second draft. Everything’s up for grabs!

Moral hypocrisy in crime fiction panel at CrimeFest 2013

The Moral Hypocrisy in Crime Fiction panel at CrimeFest 2013, with Sophie Hannah as moderator

7. With each of your novels you’ve chosen distinctive places as part of the setting for the plot, if not all of it. What do you think ‘place’ adds to a novel? Can there be a ‘good novel’ without this?

For me place is crucial. Every book I’ve written has begun with landscape. Once I know where it’s set, I know what can or cannot happen there, the histories that have come together to make the place what it is. I think setting is very important to the crime novel. It’s a large part of what makes one different from another. It adds context and history and atmosphere. That said, however, there are no rules in fiction and you can certainly write a good novel without it.

 

8. Which part of the novel-writing process do you find most rewarding, and which the most challenging?

I find pretty much all of it challenging! First drafts are probably the easiest as I write without editing or looking back. Hence, the second draft is often the most soul-crushing one, when you realise nothing works, the story doesn’t make sense, the prose is terrible and you’d rather write any other book, even a fourteenth century costume comedy, than this one. I tend to do about ten drafts of each book and it’s the last four or five that I ‘enjoy’ most – when bit by bit you can feel it starting to click together like pieces of a puzzle. That’s a lovely feeling.

 

9. Your editing job, blog pieces and article-writing, are all non-fiction writing. Do you find that doing non-fiction work helps or hinders your fiction-writing?

I don’t like writing non-fiction and I find it much harder than fiction. I like to make things up and to use language to create mood and suspense and non-fiction requires a very different discipline, one I’m not very good at.

 

10. Do you write anything other than prose? Or have any plans to branch into a different medium?

Does Twitter count as prose? (joke). I’m actually writing a screenplay with a friend at the moment – my first attempt at a script since I was at University! It’s an adaptation of the Why I Write Crime Fiction piece that you mentioned. It’s such a wildly different way of working and I’m just trying to get my head around it.

 

eleven days from faber

 

Thanks so much to Stav for providing such thoughtful answers. Of course, I now have lots of supplementary questions but I shall keep those for another time! But, a couple of other things I’m curious about are: is the ‘Amy’ in the why-I-write-crime-fiction piece a real person? And, how does he get his hair to stand up like that? Stav. Stav? Oh, he’s gone…

Stav’s fourth book, Eleven Days, is out in hardback and on Kindle. It’s the second in the ‘Carrigan and Miller’ series. If you fancy checking out Stav’s tweets, you can find him here: @stavsherez

 

 

Vicky Newham © 2013


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Review of ELEVEN DAYS by Stav Sherez

ELEVEN DAYS is the fourth novel by Stav Sherez and continues the Carrigan and Miller detective partnership which the author set up so effectively in A DARK REDEMPTION. The prologue, written in the distinctive voice of a female character, is particularly enjoyable to read (and partly because of the deliberately long sentences). Then we move to a poignant scene with Carrigan and his sick mother, and are reminded that he is still grieving for his dead wife, Louise. For me, these two personal situations, whilst not related to the crime, provide context and depth to the detective’s behaviour: the personal and professional interlink in us all. The mystery at the start of the novel involves a suspicious fire at a West London convent and the death of eleven nuns. The beginning chapters involve DI Jack Carrigan going off in one direction and DS Geneva Miller in another. Sections are devoted to their thoughts and investigative activities, and these result in them having different theories about who might have caused the fire and why. The developing professional relationship, trust and friendship between the two main characters are all conveyed with restraint and sensitivity, which I liked. Having read previous novels by this author, I have noticed that he has an innate gift for language and is able to express the subtleties of mood, feeling, atmosphere, thought and behaviour in remarkable ways and with imagery which is fresh and unique. I find that this slows down my brain and makes me savour and ponder what I am reading, which I appreciate. In terms of the crime itself, financial, religious, and personal explanations are investigated by Carrigan and Miller. When you read this novel you realise that you are in the hands of an author who is widely read, and very well informed on religion and theology. In addition, descriptions of ‘place’ are stunningly expressed … but I expected no less from a man whose tweets about the weather, music and coffee are often pure poetry. I am fascinated to know what challenges face Carrigan and Miller in subsequent Stav Sherez novels. If you want a thought provoking read, which is beautifully written, I highly recommend ELEVEN DAYS.

Vicky Newham © 2013