boo – neil smith

Boo – Neil Smith

“The sky used to be bluer in my day,” says the old man. “But it is your day,” I reply. “You aren’t dead yet.”

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

Thirteen year old Oliver “Boo” Dalrymple got his nickname at school due to the ghostly colour of his pale skin, and his white-blond sticky-up hair. He is now having an opportunity to live up to his name as he is quite suddenly dead.

“I died in front of my locker at Keller Junior High on September 7, 1979,” he tells us.

Boo wakes up in Town. Town isn’t much of a heaven. Only thirteen year olds that have died in America inhabit his particular Town, but some of the thirteen year old inhabitants have been thirteen for decades – apparently you rebirth after 50 years.

Boo has always been a little ‘different’. He never made friends easily, his social skills were never the greatest, he has a habit of voicing the inappropriate, but his IQ is superior for his age. Town is both a disappointment (it’s much like America but with less stuff) and a wonder (people and buildings can ‘fix’ themselves when they are broken).  So, Boo spends time getting to know his fellow Townies, conducting his own experiments, and trying to work out how he died, which he believes is due to his heart defect.

However, when he discovers a fellow student from his school, Johnny,  who tells him that they were actually both murdered – and that their murderer, the mysterious Gunboy who he only sees in his nightmares, killed himself too, so is probably in Town somewhere.

Boo and Johnny decide to track down Gunboy and demand answers – but are either of them ready for the truth and its own consequences?

I loved the idea behind this book, although some of the details were a bit odd. A Town full of just thirteen year olds? All I kept thinking was that they were actually growing old and well into middle-age and probably falling in love – and then, well, wouldn’t they be wanting to have sex? And that would just be totally weird!

Surprisingly, even though the book starts off with a dead kid, it took me ages to get into it. Boo isn’t exactly the easiest character to like, and Town just seemed so…normal.  There was a lot of description about how things were, but there was so little that was fantastical (and perhaps that was just the point) that I kind of switched off through a lot of the text.

But after a slow start, the middle to end was far more interesting and it became quite a page turner for a while.  I loved the ideas more than the actual book, but it was an easy, unusual story that I’m glad that I read.

the second life of amy archer – r s pateman (audiobook)

The Second Life of Amy Archer

On the eve of the new millennium, ten year old Amy Archer disappeared from her local playground without a trace. Her mother, Beth, has found it hard to get any kind of closure as she doesn’t know for sure whether Amy is dead or alive. Her obsession with finding out what happened was a factor in her marriage ending – her life seemingly becoming more desperate and erratic.

On the tenth anniversary of Amy’s disappearance, Beth has her annual visit to see a psychic – but this year, the outcome isn’t quite the same as previously, leaving Beth wondering if there may have been a breakthrough.

And then Libby arrives at Bath’s door with her ten year old daughter Esme, who is the spitting image of Amy – and seems to know things that only Amy could know and claims that she IS Amy. Although Libby only seems to be there begrudgingly and out of sheer desperation, are her and Esme very cleverly scamming Beth? Feeding off of her grief and need for closure. Esme can’t really be Amy reborn, can she?

At first I thought that this book would be some airy-fairy, spiritual ‘cute little ten year old girl reincarnated’ stuff to give some hope and love back to a grieving mother. And to be fair, that’s kind of how it started out. We see the depth of depression that Beth has sunk into, and we WANT her to be able to pull back out of it, and be given a lifeline to thinking that there can be more to her life – something to fill the Amy-sized whole that has dominated everything for ten years.

And I found myself rooting for Esme to be exactly who she said she was. And then, the mood shifts. Not only are we given cause to doubt Libby and Esme, but the whole thing wanders into really dark territory that I can understand many people (especially parents) wouldn’t feel at all comfortable reading.

If you don’t want to be forced into thinking about child murder or rape, then this definitely isn’t the book for you, but these things do unfortunately exist in the world, and I think the subject matter was handled very well. Yes, I felt uncomfortable in places – but that shows how well the characters had been formed. The twists and turns, trying to put the pieces together, trying to work out which version was actually the truth was well worth the occasionally uncomfortable journey.

And the climax, when it came still couldn’t have surprised me more.

If you can deal with the subject matter, then it is a very well written book. And personally, I could listen to Clare Corbett narrate every single book I ever listen to – she brings all the characters to life so well.

murder on the home front – molly lefebure (audiobook)

Murder On The Home Front

I picked this up on Audible as it sounded rather intriguing.

In 1941, Molly Lefebure was a newspaper reporter. While following a case at Walthamstow Coroner’s Court, she was offered a secretarial job by renowned pathologist Dr (Cedric) Keith Simpson (who she then refers to affectionately as CKS throughout the rest of the book).  As she wanted to be a writer, Molly eventually decided to accept the offer as she felt it would provide good experience and knowledge.

So, while World War 2 raged on and London was living through the Blitz, Molly was travelling across London and much of the south east visiting murder scenes, helping Simpson examine bodies and going to trials.

Molly walked an average 12 miles a day, worked from 8.30am to 10.30pm, seven days a week and was paid a starting salary of £1 a week.  She also had to deal with people’s perceptions of her new role. There is a fabulous passage about the difference between the reactions between male and female friends, when they are alone, or in mixed company.

Peppered amongst the quite vivd descriptions of murders and trials, there is a lot of talk of lunch, tea and sardine sandwiches.  The first night after she’d started the role, her landlady served her up a pork chop, and Molly reflected that if she didn’t eat it then, she would be likely to have turned vegetarian.  So she made sure she ate it!

There was so much to love about this book – not just the interesting (sometimes high profile) cases, but insight into the judicial system (murderers were still hung at this time) and a matter-of-fact account of every day life living during the war (on 23rd August 1944, Molly would have loved to have been celebrating the liberation of Paris, but found herself eating sardine sandwiches and catching a train to Ashford together with armies of families of hop-pickers – including all their belongings, screaming children and cats & dogs!).

Molly gave up the job when she became engaged and originally this book was published in 1955 entitled “Evidence for the Crown: Experiences of a Pathologist’s Secretary“.  It has been reprinted this year and I seem to have recalled reading somewhere that it is planned to be turned into a dramatisation (I am thinking much like Call The Midwife).

Soon after finishing the book, I happened to watch Pierrepoint with the fantastic Timothy Spall playing the eponymous, most prolific and last hangman in Britain, and couldn’t help thinking that they would have dealt with some of the same cases.

I have no idea at all what Molly Lefebure’s voice might sound like, but I like to think that narrator Lucy Scott sounds just like her!  That cut-glass ‘proper’ English accent regaling the tales of war and murder and cadavers and post mortems and courtrooms and hangings and the ever-present sardine sandwiches felt just perfect!

they don’t dance much – james ross

They Don’t Dance Much

I received this as an Advance Review Copy, which was a little misleading.  I read the blurb about it and remember thinking “This sounds like an old-fashioned Southern crime thriller”.

The truth is that the book (due for publication on 16th April) is actually just a reprint.  The book was originally released in 1940, and was (I believe) Ross’s only published book – a bit of a one-book wonder.

The story is set in a small North Carolina town during the Depression – the kind of town where everyone knows everyone and where there are complex shifts of power due to gossip, money and friendship.

The narrator of the story is Jack and starts when his land is repossessed for unpaid taxes, and then he drifts into working for his friend Smut Milligan as he embarks on a new venture to build a roadhouse.

Smut has a propensity for illicit dealings – moonshine, gambling and an eye for the girl married to one of the richest men in town.

The majority of the book is a kind of gentle narrative of life in that kind of town in the 1930’s, and I have to say that I enjoyed it immensely.  There was then the turning point of the story, where Smut’s greed for money and power overtakes his common sense and morals, and Jack becomes embroiled in an event that he would much rather not have.

How the two of them deal with the fallout from this, Jack’s inner turmoil and his need for redemption carry the story through to its inevitable conclusion.

The book is a curious mixture of gentle innocence and harrowing violence that works extremely well, BUT you have to be prepared for the fact that it was published in 1940!

The use of the n-word throughout can only be expected given the time and location, and the derogatory picture of the black population and the somewhat ‘backward’ hicks is obviously not unusual when you consider it was written.

Reading it in 2013 however, some of the terminology jarred somewhat, and I found it quite difficult to ignore.  I know that this is a slightly unfair criticism, and that if you knew when the book was originally written before reading it, you would expect this kind of language, and adjust your mindset for it.  However, I kind of went into a little blind – which I realise is my own fault.

The story is excellent though, and I can imagine it making a great character-led film, as the characters are fantastic and really come to life.

If you can handle the ‘of-the-time’ language, and enjoy character stroies with not a lot of action, you’ll probably love this slice of American history!

They Don’t Dance Much will be (re)published on 16th April 2013.

if snow hadn’t fallen – s j bolton

If Snow Hadn’t Fallen

I have read two of S J Bolton’s Lacey Flint books, and unfortunately the next isn’t due for release til April.  They have been the best detective thrillers I have read in a long time, so when I saw that there was a short story available starring Lacey, I was more than happy to pay out my £1.64 to buy it (it has since gone up 25p!)

This starts with the rather grim murder of a young Muslim man and shadows Lacey as she follows each lead where (as ever) she becomes more involved than she probably should.

The snow in the title serves to cover the grisly scene in a blanket of purity and to almost illuminate the burkha-clad woman who mourns there.

There’s not much I can say about the story as it IS only short and I don’t want to give away too much – except it’s wonderfully written with Lacey’s unmistakeable voice and that it gave me a much-needed dose of her to tide me over to April (argh…April…now, where can I get an ARC of Like This, For Ever?)

If you like detective thrillers and you haven’t read Now You See Me and Dead Scared, what are you waiting for?!!?

no murders in murder alley!

It has amused me that the past couple of days, people have apparently landed on this blog after Googling  ‘”murder alley walthamstow’.

I have no idea how they ended up here, but it is fact the right place to be as the name was coined by me and my mate.

Many years ago, we gave this affectionate name to the little alley between Aubrey Road and Howard Road – purely because after drunken revelry, my mate used to have to walk through this to get home.  she used to say that she’d get raped or murdered or both stumbling home one night, and so I used to tell her to text/call me to let me know she had been OK going through murder alley.

I am assuming that people searching why it was called that have seen it since I added it on Foursquare one day – although I am not sure who has classified it as a hot spring 😀

As far as I know, noone has ever been murdered there – it’s not even dark – it is very well-lit.  However, I can imagine it becoming a bit of a zombie bottleneck during the eventual zombie apocolypse, purely down to them not being able to work out the railings.

Just wanted to make sure people weren’t getting the wrong idea 😉  You can see Murder Alley for yourself here.

Murder Alley is surprisingly non-murdery

UPDATE!!!: Apparently, the reason that so many people have been searching it today is because it wasmentioned on BBC Radio London.  i have no idea why, or how it came to their attention, but I love the fact that a joke between my and @goodwin71 has now become a radio topic 😀

girlie games

My baby over the park today 🙂

So, The Girl had a sleepover round her friend’s house last night, and then we picked her up today to go and spend a few hours over the park.

On the way over, we were talking about what she’d got up to the night before.  Her friend is a very very loud, confident girlie girl.  Even more girlie than The Girl is.

Me:  So did you have fun then?

TG:  yeah, not bad.  We were making our own games up

Me:  so, what games did you make up then?

TG:  well, first of all, we were crawling around as we were playing puppies.  And then we played mermaids.  And then we played ‘Man with a shotgun who is going to murder us’

the body farm – patricia cornwell

The Body Farm - Patricia Cornwell

I finished reading this last week, but haven’t written anything about it yet.  And there’s probably a reason for that.

I finished my last book on my way to work, so popped out at lunchtime to the charity shops to buy myself a ‘filler’ book as I hate not reading on the Tube.

There actually wasn’t much calling out to me, but this one was in good nick, and I hadn’t read it (even though it’s very old).

It’s a Kay Scarpetta book (no surprises there) and I think that might actually be what the problem was – there were no surprises.  The whole story was really…’Blah’. It was odd going back in time, but various things being written about as if they were cutting edge (eg ‘Electronic Mail’) and there are so many instances when you just want to shout “Use your mobile!!!” but of course they didn’t have them.

But that aside, the whole thing just lacked depth, which considering it deals with the murder of a young schoolgirl, you’d think that it would want to draw you in more emotionally. (Especially with me being the mother of a young schoolgirl).

Blah.  Very blah.

the murder desk

You don't want to sit at the murder desk!

When we first got our office in Jan 2008, me and my boss bagsied our desks first.  This was the point that  I dubbed one of the desks ‘The Murder Desk’.  My boss loves it, and mentions it every time someone sits in it 🙂

In every office I have ever worked in, I have always known which desk is the murder desk.

As far as I am concerned, it is the desk closest to the main door, preferably facing away from  it.  That way, if an axe-wielding maniac comes into the office in a mad killing spree and charges through the front door, anyone sitting at that desk is about 80% likely to be the first to die – sacrificing themselves so that the rest of us may be able to make a dash for it!

I would like to point out that the desk I chose is the one farthest from the main entrance, nearest the door to the kitchen, where there are large windows to climb out of, with a stairway to get down to ground level quickly.  I’m sorted!

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