Book Review: Overture by Vanessa Couchman

Overture

What if you had a unique talent, but everything conspired against your dreams?

France, 1897. Born to a modest farming family, Marie-Thérèse has a remarkable singing voice and wants to become a professional singer. But too many obstacles, including her parents’ opposition, stand in her way. And, through no fault of her own, she makes a dangerous enemy of the local landlord.

When the family circumstances change suddenly, Marie-Thérèse and her mother must move to Paris to work in her aunt’s restaurant. Her ambitions rekindle, but the road to success is paved with setbacks until a chance meeting gives her a precious opportunity.

She is close to achieving all her dreams, but the ghosts of the past come back to haunt her and threaten Marie-Thérèse’s life as well as her career.

My Review

Overture presents a charming and realistic portrait of early nineteenth century rural France and the struggles that befall a humble farmer’s daughter doomed to labour for her parents and a future husband, a daughter with a natural talent, a gift that sets her apart. From the outset, Marie-Thérèse is forced to face the restrictions of her circumstances, and this she does with resentment but also with loyalty and respect. She is a dutiful daughter, not wilful or rebellious. Opportunity comes her way when her widowed mother moves them to Paris to stay with her sister, Marie-Thérèse’s aunt.

Couchman has penned a slow-paced and charming coming-of-age tale. The author’s knowledge of the setting and period appear sound and she has crafted a convincing and well-rounded protagonist in Marie-Thérèse. The supporting cast are equally well-presented and the pacing and plot twists are executed with aplomb. A light an entertaining read, Overture will appeal to those who enjoy their historical fiction unladen with complex detail and exposition. Recommended.

Purchase Link

http://mybook.to/OvertureBook1

Author Bio – Vanessa Couchman is a novelist, short story author and freelance writer and has lived in an 18th-century farmhouse in southwest France since 1997. French and Corsican history and culture provide great inspiration for her fiction. She has written two novels set on the Mediterranean island of Corsica: The House at Zaronza and The Corsican Widow. Her third novel, Overture, is Book 1 of a trilogy set in France between 1897 and 1945. Vanessa’s short stories have won and been placed in creative writing competitions and published in anthologies.

Social Media Links –

Website: https://vanessacouchmanwriter.com

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/vanessacouchman.author/

Twitter:  https://twitter.com/Vanessainfrance

Amazon Author Page: http://author.to/VanessaCouchman

 

 

A stunning review of Clarissa’s Warning

In this busy world of ours, authors can generally expect reviews of one or two paragraphs. Every now and then one comes along that is much more than that. I am delighted to share extracts from this very long and heartwarming review of Clarissa’s Warning by Kamal of Kiri Books.

“Set in the picturesque setting of an unspoiled island, Fuerteventura – one of Spain’s Canary Islands, off the coast of Africa and Spain, the story weaves all the elements of an archplot in a masterly stroke. The story has a classical design with linear time-flow, causality, single protagonist, consistent reality, active protagonist, external conflict with the exception of the ending, which remains open. Sitting on the top of the story triangle, ‘Clarissa’s Warning’ demonstrates infinitesimal elan over its elements.

Recruiting the latent energies of a scarred soul in defeating the malice play of the supernatural, Isobel Blackthorn has created a protagonist that constantly sheds layers of insecurity and vulnerability, one at a time, to expose the solid-substance she is made of.

Claire is a wilful character with a conscious desire. And she gets a chance to fulfil her desire, courtesy, the lottery-ticket. She has the capacity to fulfil her desire and is appropriately reflected by her independent decisions and strong-willed actions. She holds the cohesive bond with the readers with the glue of empathy. As the story progresses, gaps between expectations and result keep on widening, raising the conflict level and upping the potential of the climax. Placement of the crisis, along with the design, is suitable and controls length of the climax with a palpable fervour. The flashbacks are sporadic, fact-filled and meaningful; especially the flashback of Claire mother’s demise is very graphic and emotive.

The story has a riveting rendition of the Fuerteventura and its history – the belly juice of a beetle that made it preferred inhabitable area of the wealthy, the captivating array of social and personal lives through the lens of colonialism, and the abundance of beauty of nature and traditions. The dialogues are crisp, colloquial and contextual.

The subtext dominates everywhere. When Claire mentions there are five routes to Tiscamanita and she had taken them all, she establishes herself as an exploratory and inquisitive person. She wants to restore a ruin is, in a subtle and indirect way, symbolic of her fierce desire to mend her broken past….

Her unresolved grief, of her mother’s demise, make her inner substance resonate with the subliminal energies rather too fittingly…Sensing the opportunity, the spirits use her as a conduit to express their anguish, warn her, wreck her, take help from her, or plainly observe her.

The story navigates with the enlivened characters, each with a backstory and a brain of their own…The plot has plenty of twists and turns and the structure of scenes, tightly knitted in neatly separated chapters, is taut and spill-proof…

…The anticipation of the unknown and narrative integrity keeps the conflict cocooned and growing, to burst in the final scenes with brilliantly planted and spaced expositions. In the final acts, the veiled and vilifying esoteric elements snatch away the driving seat, chase Claire to run for her life, a sprint in which she discovers the version of truth that alluded her throughout. She welcomes her own metamorphosis, and comes at terms with becoming fearless after making eye-contacts with the ever-evading reality. The light of Mafasca and the legend of Olivia Stone heightened the curiosity-quotient in this tightly-packed thriller.

Recruiting the latent energies of a scarred soul in defeating the malice play of the supernatural, Isobel Blackthorn has created a protagonist that constantly sheds layers of insecurity and vulnerability, one at a time, to expose the solid-substance she is made of.

A terrific and transforming piece of work by Isobel Blackthorn!

Book Review A Clean Canvas by Elizabeth Mundy #BookTour

A Clean Canvas: A Lena Szarka Mystery by Elizabeth Mundy

Lena Szarka, a Hungarian cleaner, dusts off her detective skills when a masterpiece is stolen from a gallery she cleans with her cousin Sarika. But when Sarika goes missing too, accusations start to fly. Convinced her cousin is innocent, Lena sweeps her way through the secrets of the London art scene. With the evidence mounting against Sarika and the police on her trail, Lena needs to track down the missing painting if she is to clear her cousin. Embroiling herself in the sketchy world of thwarted talents, unpaid debts and elegant fraudsters, Lena finds that there’s more to this gallery than meets the eye.

My Thoughts

The story opens in an art gallery as sleuth Lena Szarka cleans up on the eve of an important exhibition. The owner, Pietro, is keen to offload a painting he acquired and he hopes his exhibition will attract buyers. The artist has flown in and arrives in an inebriated state. Her painting, A Study in Purple, attracts three potential buyers. But before the new owner can take the painting home, it is stolen. What ensues is a thoroughly engaging tale filled with twists and turns as Lena pits her wits against a less than helpful police force and takes it upon herself to solve the crime, not least because her cousin, Sarika, is the prime suspect.

The narrative voice is light and warm, and the story bounces along at a fair clip. The mystery genre contains strict criteria and Mundy adheres to them all. A Clean Canvas ticks all the boxes of a good cosy mystery, not least with her endearing and pleasingly unlikely sleuth. Peppered with wit and ironic observations to make the reader smile, Mundy crafts her characters and scenes with much affection and a healthy dollop of social observation. Satisfying descriptions provide an adequate sense of place and help control the pacing. The ending, naturally, comes as a surprise. In all, this is an entertaining page turner that provides Agatha Raisin with some strong competition.

Purchase Link – amzn.to/2VWJ3ZD  

Author Bio –

Elizabeth Mundy’s grandmother was a Hungarian immigrant to America who raised five children on a chicken farm in Indiana. An English Literature graduate from Edinburgh University, Elizabeth is a marketing director for an investment firm and lives in London with her messy husband and two young children. A Clean Canvas is the second book in the Lena Szarka mystery series about a Hungarian cleaner who turns detective.

Social Media Links –

Twitter, Facebook and Instagram @ElizabethEMundy

www.elizabethmundy.com

Book review – Sangre: The Color of Dying by Carlos Colon

About Sángre: The Color of Dying (Volume 1)

Carlos Colón’s first published novel is the story of Nicky Negrón, a Puerto Rican salesman in New York City who is turned into foul-mouthed, urban vampire with a taste for the undesirables of society such as sexual predators, domestic abusers and drug dealers. A tragic anti-hero, Nicky is haunted by profound loss. When his life is cut short due to an unforeseen event at the Ritz-Carlton, it results in a public sex scandal for his surviving family. He then rises from the dead to become a night stalker with a genetic resistance that enables him to retain his humanity, still valuing his family whilst also struggling to somehow maintain a sense of normalcy. Simultaneously described as haunting, hilarious, horrifying and heartbreaking, Sángre: The Color of Dying is a breathtakingly fun read.

My Thoughts

Carlos Colón has penned a gem of a noir thriller in Sángre, the best vampire novel to come my way since Dracula. Meet Nicky Negrón, a thoroughly likeable and very reluctant vampire suffering from the burden of his own genetic resistance, which places him in a curious space in between being a fully fledged vampire and dead. He is a vampire with a conscience. Consequently, Nicky is the most fully rounded-out vampire character there ever was. He has scruples. He agonises over his every action. He is consumed by the intricacies of his moral position and his desire to do no harm, and his blood lust. And he is consumed with guilt and grief over the betrayal that led to his demise.

The story opens in Rahway State Prison, where Nicky is forced to find his next feed and the reader is confronted almost straight away with the raw reality of Nicky’s existence. What unravels is the story of how Nicky became a vampire and how he copes with his undead life. After his own ‘death’, Nicky encounters two other genetically resistant vampires, Travis and Donny, who educate him on the reality of his situation and offer guidance. Nicky discovers he was killed by a complete vampire, Simone, who Travis and Donny are determined to banish forever. Will they succeed? Or will Simone continue to kill and create a whole army of true vampires? And what of the curious Dr Teresa Gunder, bent on proving the existence of vampires with her groundbreaking investigations?

I loved the narrative style and the urban vibe. Told with compassion and insight, the narration in Sángre is upbeat, droll and sharply observant, the setting distinctly noir. Colón exercises superb narrative control, with excellent dialogue and perfect pacing. Exposition is kept to a minimum, carefully placed to keep the reader abreast of the reality of a genetically resistant vampire. The author has structured his novel with finesse, the movement through time, back and forth from past to present seamlessly intertwined, chapter by chapter, and culminating in a breathtaking and satisfying conclusion. Yes, there is horror here, but it is nothing the average dark thriller reader cannot take.

Sángre is laced with social commentary on the Bronx in the 1960s, on life for Puerto Rican New Yorkers, their values, culture and challenges. The author clearly knows and has a deep empathy for his subject.  A rich and immensely satisfying read. Can’t wait for the next instalment!

Check out Sángre: The Color of Dying on Amazon

Book Review: A Greater God by Brian Stoddart

Brian Stoddart

About A Greater God (Superintendent Le Fanu Mysteries Book 4)

Muslims are being murdered and communal tensions escalating
as Superintendent Chris Le Fanu returns, reluctantly, to 1920s
Madras from the Straits Settlements. He comes under fire, literally
and figuratively, as more Muslims and policemen are killed by
revolutionaries in clashes fomented by his boss, Inspector-General
Arthur ‘The Jockey’ Jepson.

As the riots spread, Le Fanu’s trusted assistants – Mohammad
Habibullah and Jackson Caldicott – disagree on both the origins
and the handling of this new crisis. Le Fanu becomes further
isolated as his only government allies, the Governor and the Chief
Secretary, are being transferred away from Madras.

Even more pressure bears in on him when former housekeeper
and lover, Ro McPhedren, falls critically ill in Hyderabad, and
Jenlin Koh, his new love, is listed among those aboard a ship
missing en route to India.

Le Fanu’s entire professional and personal future is at risk as
he confronts these challenges while Britain’s grip on India wavers.

My Thoughts

I am new to this series; entering Book 4 might have left me floundering but I was pleasantly surprised to find myself immersed in the world of Le Fanu and India of the early 20th century and brought deftly up to speed. Catch ups are kept brief and to a minimum, just enough to make the reader want to read Books 1-3.

 A Greater God is set primarily in Madras, a colourful, heaving, vibrant and exotic city –  in many ways another character in the book. The story focussed on a time of considerable political unrest in India with racial tensions mounting between Hindus and Muslims alongside a pervasive resentment towards the British Raj. Stoddart clearly knows his subjectthe historical detail peppered throughout the novel demonstrating considerable insight.

The author weaves vivid descriptions of setting and  the complexities of the historical backdrop into the narrative, binding a sense of place and the theme of cultural unrest cleverly with the plot. The result makes for a gripping read. Stoddart’s pacing is excellent and there are some satisfying twists along the way. The narrative moves along at quite a clip and never labours despite the historical content. This is quite an achievement and is a credit to the author. The dialogue flows well, too, and I especially enjoyed the witty banter.

Stoddart’s characters are well-crafted and he has a sharp eye for cultural sensitivity. The protagonist, Le Fanu, is well-rounded, likeable and suitably conflicted. He has some major decisions to make while he fends off antagonisms from various quarters. Prejudice is portrayed through the despicable inspector, Jensen, and the Muslim perspective is provided in a personal way through Le Fanu’s colleague, Habi, and his growing concern for his community.

A Greater God will appeal to those who enjoy great historical crime mysteries that are both well-written and intelligent.

 

 

Book review: Esme’s Wish by Elizabeth Foster

Esme's Wish review

About Esme’s Wish

When fifteen-year-old Esme Silver objects at her father’s wedding, her protest is dismissed as the action of a stubborn, selfish teenager. Everyone else has accepted the loss of Esme’s mother, Ariane – so why can’t she?

But Esme is suspicious. She is sure that others are covering up the real reason for her mother’s disappearance – that ‘lost at sea’ is code for something more terrible, something she has a right to know.

After Esme is accidentally swept into the enchanted world of Aeolia, the truth begins to unfold. With her newfound friends, Daniel and Lillian, Esme retraces her mother’s steps in the glittering canal city of Esperance, untangling the threads of Ariane’s double life. But the more Esme discovers about Ariane, the more she questions whether she really knew her at all.

My Thoughts   

Before starting this book, the reader is shown a charming map of a mysterious place named Esperance, capital of Aeolia, a map that hints at what’s to come. The story opens in our world, on the wedding of Esme’s father and her new stepmother, Penelope. Esme isn’t happy and she is unable to disguise it. She’s missing her mother, Ariane, who was lost at sea presumed dead. Esme is a lonely child, little liked by the villagers of Picton Island where her father is lighthouse keeper. An outsider, she wants nothing more than to find out what happened to her mum.

When Penelope’s sister, the despicable Mavis, moves in to mind Esme while her father has his honeymoon, Esme experiences strange headaches and dizzy spells. She has a vision of her mum and dad and is puzzled by it. Her anguish over her mother intensifies and she decides to take off to Spindrift Island where Ariane disappeared many years before. As her quest unfolds, Esme is swept unexpectedly into another world, the world of Esperance, where she makes new friends and continues her search.

What unfolds is a series of adventures large and small, of dragons and other mythical creatures, and of special magical gifts. To say more would spoil the enchantment.

Foster has a fluid, engaging narrative style. The writing is simply exquisite. The pacing, plot twists and characterisation are just perfect. Depictions of the city of Esperance are conveyed in vivid and captivating detail. The various threads and elements of the story are woven together beautifully, culminating in an ending filled with wonder and surprises.

This is a story of loss and searching, of ancient Greek myths, of the artistic temperament and supposed insanity, of minds capable of accessing the inner realms the rational mind cannot reach. Absorbing, enchanting, whimsical, Esme’s Wish is a story to lose yourself in. I would recommend this book to readers one and all. Thoroughly enjoyable.

 

Book review – The Blood Red Experiment: A Neo-Giallo Anthology

Giallo fiction

About The Blood Red Experiment

Inspired by the genius of Hitchcock and his films, latin luminaries such as Argento and Bava directed macabre murder-mystery thrillers, that combined the suspense with scenes of outrageous violence, stylish cinematography, and groovy soundtracks. This genre became known in their native Italy as giallo.

Giallo is Italian for yellow, inspired by the lurid covers of thrillers, in the way that pulp fiction was derived from the cheap wood pulp paper of the crime stories, or Film Noir came from the chiaroscuro of the German Expressionistic lighting.

Craig Douglas and Jason Michel bring gialli-inspired stories together from some of the best crime writers on the scene today to a wider audience, giving birth to a new literary movement in crime writing, NeoGiallo, and drag this much maligned genre screaming and slashing its way into the 21st Century.

My thoughts on The Blood Red Experiment

The six stories contained in this anthology are exemplars of the sub-genre of giallo. The pages ooze sensuality, the writing is slick and the horror stylised and graphic. After a useful introduction to the terrain by Richard Godwin, the anthology opens with K. A. Laity’s ‘Madonna of the Wasps’, a gruesome tale of ritual killings in a Bohemian Parisian world, enacted to sate the hunger of a bloodthirsty dominatrix. Like all the authors in this anthology, Laity’s writing is poised and masterful. The author provides an interesting and diverse cast of characters and the protagonist, Mira, an artist with a fantastical imagination, is especially well-rounded. ‘Madonna of the Wasps’ is a fast-paced tale with some unexpected and shocking twists. Ultimately satisfying and provocative, this story is a terrific opening not just to the anthology, but to the sub-genre of neo-giallo.

For the uninitiated, Mark Cooper’s ‘Quaenum In Illis’ is the most accessible read in the anthology. Here, a former scholar of linguistics is invited by a mysterious woman to translate the pages of an ancient text. Cooper draws the reader straight into the intrigue in true thriller style, saving the blood for later. Moody, dark and fascinating, the mystery and tension unfold from shifting perspectives.

‘Canvas of Flesh’ by Jack Bates will bring out the voyeur in the best of us as artist Preston completes his art exhibition using a particular portion of the body of Jessica. Sensuality and horror blend beautifully in this tale, the reader enchanted and disturbed all at once, compelled to turn the pages. As the story unfolds the initial wonder soon shades into revulsion, as Bates confronts the reader with a portrait of obsession.

Urban, noir and mysterious, Jim Shaffer’s ‘Blood of the Lamb’ is a superb example of where giallo takes a crime-thriller. The story opens in a church then follows the observer to a shabby hotel, then back out on the streets, for the kill. The story switches to Frank, a feature writer quick with his camera. What unfolds will be read in one sitting, the eyes never leaving the page.

‘The Impermanence of Art’ by Kevin Berg is probably best not read while eating. Graphic horror is rendered sensual, the storytelling intense and unrelenting until the final twist as an art student is seduced by some illicit videos streamed on her phone by a maverick art instructor. Berg’s offering is at the extreme end of the sub-genre and not for the faint of heart, yet it is a gripping tale told with imagination and wit.

Bookending the anthology is Richard Godwin’s ‘Machine Factory’, an exposé of a deranged psychiatrist. In taut, rhythmic and urgent prose, Godwin thrusts his readers inside the mind of a serial killer. The extent of the protagonist’s insanity is boundless, his fanciful and quasi-intellectual rants alarming and all too real. The story is brutal, confronting and disturbing. There is no redemption here.

Find The Blood Red Experiment on Amazon

Book review: A Very Mersey Murder by Brian L. Porter

I am delighted to share my review of A Very Mersey Murder (Mersey Murder Mysteries Book 5) by Brian L. Porter

Brian L. Porter

About A Very Mersey Murder

1966. England wins the soccer World Cup. Same night, the body of a barmaid is discovered close to an abandoned lighthouse. Two more murders follow; all remain unsolved.

2005. D.I. Andy Ross is called in when a disturbingly similar series of murders begins in the same location.

If their estimates are correct, Ross and his team have one week to solve the case before the next Lighthouse Murder takes place.

In A Very Mersey Murder, D.I. Ross and Sergeant Izzie Drake return in a race against time, as they seek to identify and apprehend the vicious killer who seems to leave no clues, and no evidence.

The price of failure is death.

This is a standalone novel, and can be enjoyed even if you haven’t read other books in the series.

My thoughts

It can be a tricky task reviewing Book Five in a series, but I am new to Brian L. Porter’s writing and dived straight into his latest release. A Very Mersey Murder really is a stand alone, the author providing a useful catch up which is brief enough not to drag on the present story, while giving plenty of context. A tricky task for any author and Porter does it well, although I now feel compelled to start back at Book One!

The novel opens with a chilling scene of a murder that took place back in 1966. What unfolds is a gripping murder mystery set in the present as D.I. Andy Ross and his team try to prevent the murder of one of their own, which, if their predictions are correct, will take place in just one week. It is a set up that cannot fail to hit the mark for crime fiction fans!

Porter’s plotting and pacing are excellent. There are plenty of twists and turns. Just when you think you have it all figured out, you are thrown back into doubt. The author knows when to hold back and when to dish it when it comes to the gory details and he evokes a strong setting that puts the reader in amongst the action.

All of Porter’s characters are well-rounded and believable. A Very Mersey Murder has plenty of texture, too, as the various relationships between the police team play out, as well as the stories of the lives of those affected by the murders. I especially enjoyed the inclusion of excerpts from the killer’s own journal.

All good crime tackles pithy social issues, and Porter is no exception. In A Very Mersey Murder, the reader will confront themes of illegitimate children and adoption, and gender identity, alongside tensions in friendships and a dash of romantic love.

Porter keeps his readers guessing right to the very end, in what amounts to a complex, intense and highly intriguing whodunnit. I suspect this whole series would make for good television, something to rival Vera!

 

Book review: Graveyard Girls edited by Gerri R Gray

Graveyard Girls is a gripping anthology of short stories edited by Gerry R Gray

Graveyard Girls

About Graveyard Girls

A delicious collection of horrific tales and darkest poetry in one big, fat horror anthology from the cream of the crop; all lovingly compiled by the incomparable Gerri R. Gray! Nestling between the covers of this formidable tome are twenty-five of the very best lady authors writing on the horror scene today!

These tales of terror are guaranteed to chill your very soul and awaken you in the dead of the night with fear-sweat clinging to your every pore and your heart pounding hard and heavy in your labored breast…

Featuring stories from: Xtina Marie, MW Brown, Rebecca Kolodziej, Anya Lee, Barbara Jacobson, Gerri R. Gray, Christina Bergling, Julia Benally, Olga Werby, Kelly Glover, Lee Franklin, Linda M. Crate, Vanessa Hawkins, P. Alanna Roethle, J. Snow, Evelyn Eve, Serena Daniels, S.E. Davis, Sam Hill, J.C. Raye, Donna J.W. Munro, R.J. Murray, C. Bailey-Bacchus, Varonica Chaney and Marian Finch.

 

My thoughts:

Graveyard Girls opens with lusciously dark poetry from Xtina Marie, which serves as an apt point of entry into this collection of diverse and horrifying reads. The anthology then kicks off with ‘Deadlines’ by M.W. Brown, and I couldn’t help sympathising with the tough yet lovable Esther “Polar Bear” Jones who has a intruder and finds herself negotiating with this assassin. Brown has penned a thriller of a tale that never misses a beat, with satisfying and unexpected twists. ‘Demons Opus’ by Rebecca Kolodziej is well-crafted and original with good characterisation and a haunting musical theme. Then there’s the gritty ‘Hong’ by Anya Lee, featuring  fourteen-year-old Victoria, a girl with quite an attitude, vulnerable, rebellious, troubled; and the horror she is forced to endure all too real. But she is no victim…

Later there’s Gerri R Gray’s ‘Of Black Butterflies she Dreamt’ which opens with exquisite prose and does not disappoint. Breathtaking!

The arresting Christina Bergling’s ‘After the Screaming’ is also worth a mention, not only for the masterful writing. The story is an intense, in-depth study of the mental torture of early motherhood. Bergling puts the reader right inside the main character. Only a woman could have written this story!

There are so many excellent stories here, too many to mention. The anthology ends on the blood curdling selection of poems by Marian Finch, the perfect way to round off the horror.

Graveyard Girls is a chilling and vivid read, and the writing is top notch. Suspenseful, confronting, imaginative and at times innovative, Graveyard Girls is a terrific example of the talent and vision of women writers of horror, writers who explore taboos and experiment with tropes.

You can find Graveyard Girls on Amazon 

Book review: The Hangman’s Hitch by Donna Maria McCarthy

I am delighted to share my review of The Hangman’s Hitch by Donna Maria McCarthy, a dark and brooding gothic novel from the mistress of 18th century horror. 

The Hangman's Hitch

About The Hangman’s Hitch

If on some cold dark despairing eve, you found yourself far from hope and far from salvation – would you take the hand of the Devil if he offered it?
Would you know it was his?
Frederick Abbotsby Feltsham has just this quandary, yet the path he chooses is one of depravity, devilment and debauchery
Will he survive the immutable Joseph Black?
Or will he find himself despairing, like so many of his past conquests did ?
One heaven, one Hell – each as judgemental as the other
You must choose…

My thoughts

After reading Biddy Trott I have come to anticipate a certain style and wit from Donna Maria McCarthy and I was not disappointed. The Hangman’s Hitch is as dark and ribald and gruesome a novel there ever was.

Meet Freddy, or Frederick Abbotsby Feltsham, a fool, an ignoramus and a coward through and through, whose verbosity and quite ridiculous idiocy is a source of much of the humour in this novel. The antagonist, Joseph, is as despicable as they come, and enjoys nothing more than to apportion scorn and derision upon the sycophantic Freddy, luring him, tricking him, grooming him. Feeling he has no choice but to side with Joseph after being banished from the word of normalcy for his impropriety and cowardice, Freddy condones Joseph’s incessant jibes.

There is no morality at The Hangman’s Hitch. Patrons of this obscure hostelry hang their scruples on a hook outside. Inside, it is no holds barred as Joseph and his cronies enact one brutal scam after another. Just when you think the depravity cannot get any worse, it does.

I thoroughly enjoyed the author’s cutting wit, her characters exuding sarcasm in every utterance. The Hangman’s Hitch is written in old-school prose in keeping with the era, prose that is dense and heavy in dialogue, but don’t be put off! A dialogue-driven composition is not easy to pull off, but McCarthy has, and she has done so with aplomb. I thoroughly recommend this read to those after something different, a story that delves into the darkest corners of the human psyche, one that tests the sympathies of even the most hardened reader.