Hunt For The Troll by Mark Richardson

Let’s start with getting the soundbite out of the way. Mark Richardson’s Hunt For The Troll is, for me, the most compelling story narrated by a character whose name remains unknown throughout the book since Daphne du Maurier published Rebecca way back in 1938. Most authors wouldn’t get away with such a concept nowadays for fear of being accused of either being weird or offering style over substance. Hunt For The Troll is indeed a very weird book, and stylish as all hell, but there is quite a but of substance here. You could, if you so wish, compare this book to Bret Easton Ellis’ Less Than Zero in that much of what takes place in the book is surreal and yet instantly recognisable. It’s a page-turner, but not as you know it.

A novel that mixes genres as adeptly as one of the characters, Priya, mixes cocktails, Hunt For The Troll is a heady concoction of urban fantasy, cyberpunk, industrial espionage, and a missing person’s case. Our unnamed narrator has lived a charmed and affluent lifestyle since he discovered at a very early age that he had a gift for writing code. Already on his way to become one of the youngest Grandmasters in chess, he dispenses with the board and focuses instead on gaming. A close friend, known only as The Captain, convinces him that two minds are better than one and so they find investors for a start-up of their own. A few years later they sell out and move on with their lives, with our narrator enjoying a life of luxury and solitude in Rome.

The story starts proper when The Captain emails the narrator with a proposition: he wants the two of them to get the band back together as he has a great idea for another start-up. The narrator boards a flight back immediately, but he finds The Captain is nowhere to be found. Seeing that he’s back hone in San Francisco, he’s offered a job for an online gaming company Centre Terrain, where he’s implanted with a neural processor which allows him to enter the game as an avatar, Roma, and fix any code in the game that needs fixing. He also has a little fun while he’s there, breaking one or two company rules along the way. He begins a relationship with one of his colleagues, Nika. At the same time, the narrator’s been having some strange dreams involving binary numbers and a being called the Troll, who tells him they’re about to change the world.

The narrator draws the attention of billionaire Larry Gosling, an investor of Centre Terrain, and he’s very interested in what our young talented hero has to offer. Offering tidbits into the Troll’s history, Gosling suggests that the man is interested in taking humanity to the next level: in others words, transhumanism. It’s an intriguing concept that doesn’t quite bear the fruit that it should by the end, but the journey nevertheless is peppered with offbeat characters like Whitfield, a guy that the narrator is close to (they smoke a lot of weed and play copious amounts of chess), and the two main female leads, Nika and Priya. Even if you haven’t the first clue about quantum computing and binary numbers, you won’t feel lost among these pages. There’s plenty of expositional dialogue to help you along the way.

Mark Richardson’s playful style is addictive and surprising. I whizzed through the chapters and found myself caught up in sheer dreaminess of the story. One thing I will say, though: the book was first published in 2015, and now six years later, I think it’s time Richardson came back and let us know what happened next. Beware: there be cliffhangers.

Author Mark Richardson

Petrichor by Melanie Rees

A friend of mine once told me that the very best stories being told nowadays are from the Young Adult (YA) genre. I remember one such book specifically: Code Name Verity, a young adult historical fiction novel by Elizabeth Wein. It’s an amazing book, one for every adult, no matter their age. Please read it. And while I have you, please read this novella, too. Petrichor is written by Australian author Melanie Rees. At around 160 pages long, you’ll finish it in a coupe of sittings; but it will stay with you much longer. This deceptively simple novella has power, emotion, adventure, and a third-person point of view narrator that could be anyone on this planet.

We’ve all experienced loss, but perhaps not in same way Clayton and his family have. The setting is a rural town of Paddle Creek Station in Australia. It’s almost dystopian in that a drought that has seemingly gone on forever has threatened the livelihood of the families living there. Clayton’s father is a farmer struggling to make ends meet because of the lack of rain. Not only that, but not so long ago, his son and Clayton’s older brother Davo died in tragic but mysterious circumstances. Clayton’s mother and father refuse to talk about Davo, and his father point blank forbids Clayton to go anywhere near the house where Davo lived.

Petrichor, which is a word that means the pleasant smell that frequently accompanies the first rain after a long period of dry, warm weather, is a remarkable novella, in that it very quickly goes from a period of mourning and buried memories to the world of the fantastical. Clayton is visited by Waringa, a spirit that takes the form of a dead fox. Waringa tells Clayton that only he has the power to defeat the Red King and bring the rains back to Paddle Creek. Aided only by his brother’s dog Rusty, Clayton sets off on an adventure that is both excited and deeply profound. He must free the rain spirits while doing battle with the evil that has taken over the countyside. Waringa isn’t always there to help him, so oftentimes Clayton and Rusty are on their own.

Behind all this, though, is an exploration of grief and the struggle to understand how and why Davo died. The answer to these questions are both disturbing and understandable, and it may trigger a few readers. But I urge you to read through to the end. Clayton’s father initially appears unfeeling and indifferent toward his surviving son. His mother tries to provide balance between the two men in the house, but she herself harbours deep grief, too. In the meantime, unknown to his parents, Clayton is putting himself in mortal danger.

Petrichor packs an absolute wallop of emotion in its short length. And it’s not short on set-pieces either. It’s an exciting and though-provoking novella that will resonate with anyone who reads it. Like I said at the beginning of this review, the very best stories are told in the YA genre. Petrichor by Melanie Rees is another example of this. It’s gorgeously written, vivid in its imagery, and human at its heart.

Ark Of The Apocalypse by Tobin Marks

I think the best thing about being part of Blackstone Book Tours is the knowledge that among the books I’ve signed up to read and review, there will be among them a book so devilishly clever and unique that all I can do is read on and giggle with amazement at the author’s audacity. Tobin MarksArk of the Apocalypse is one such book.

The first thing I looked at was the book cover. The image portrays a blond haired young woman with a baby dragon on her shoulder. Immediately this brings to mind Daenerys Targaryen from the book and TV series Game of Thrones. Another cash-in, you might think. But Ark of the Apocalypse is its own beast, and it’s story is both contemporary and fantastical. Yes, there is such a woman in the story, as well as a dragon (which comes much later in the narrative), but from the very first chapter, there is a lot of foreshadowing, shocking moments, and so many twists and turns that in my mind, Marks has kind of outdone George RR Martin in high-stakes character-driven storytelling–and this book, the first in a series called The Magellan II Chronicles, will see its conclusion long before Martin gets around to concluding his.

Ark of the Apocalypse is a genre-bending mixture of science fact, science fiction, and a healthy dollop of paranormal fantasy. If that’s your bag, then you’re going to enjoy the hell out of this book. If you like to read books that make you utter “What the flaming hell?” after every chapter, before diving into the next one, then yes, this book is for you.

I’ve avoided so far trying to summarise the plot. The blurb available on all platforms goes some way to explaining what AotA is all about; but it doesn’t do it full justice. But like all good sagas, this book revolves around a family from Russia called Yanbeyev. This dynasty evolves through decades of genetic engineering and psychic manipulation to become the veritable saviours of humanity, while at the same time ensuring that even as the Earth dies, the Yanbeyev lineage with survive to lead humanity on not one but two planets (at least). What the blurb doesn’t tell you is that along the way, there is political assassinations, multiple US presidents, and a Russian premiere that sees them all off via help from the Yanbeyev matriarchs (though he’s completely unaware he’s being manipulated). Climate change has ravaged our planet. Governments ignore the scientists until its too late, and the only way to save humanity is to build a generation ship that will take 10,000 humans to a planet that will be called Aqueous. What the planners don’t know is that there is an indigenous species of reptile-like creatures and an advanced alien race already well settled there. But the Yanbeyevs are aware of these races and have factored them into their millenia-long plan for human domination. They are happy to let the world go to war and burn, if only for their ancestors to survive and grow into an interplanetary power.

Like I said, there’s a lot going on in AofA, but it’s a supremely fun and thought-provoking read. I loved it and I wait in glorious anticipation for what Tobin Marks will conjure up in the next instalment. This is space opera and high fantasy at its very finest. I haven’t enjoyed a book so much this year as this one.

Author Tobin Marks

Five Strangers by E.V. Adamson

E.V Adamson is the pseudonym of British writer Andrew Wilson, the bestseller author of four novels which feature Agatha Christie as a detective early in her career as a writer of popular detective fiction. I read the first two and thoroughly enjoyed them. So when I heard he was writing a psychological thriller under a different name, I was excited to get a hold of a copy from NetGalley. Already published in the UK, Five Strangers comes out in the U.S. on 19 October. It’s a book I highly recommend, coming on the heels of such female-led psychological thrillers like The Girl on the Train and Gone Girl. In fact, Five Strangers relies quite heavily–and effectively, in my opinion–on the kind of POV writing that made Paula Hawkins’ and Gillian Flynn’s novels so successful: the unreliable narrator.

Jen Hunter is on Parliament Hill, Hampstead Heath, waiting for her friend Rebecca (Bex) to arrive for a coffee date. It’s Valentine’s Day and couples are being all smoochy and loved up. Jen is not long out of a five-year relationship with Laurence. To say it ended badly is an understatement. To add to her woes, Jen was once the celebrated author of a popular series of confessional journalistic pieces in a major newspaper, until her boss discovered that she lied about how her parents died in an earlier piece. She was fired on the spot, and now Jen has no job, no Laurence, and nothing to look forward to in life. But at least she has Bex, right?

Things take a horrific and tragic turn on the Hill when Jen and four other people witness a man, Daniel, argue with his girlfriend, Vicky. He breaks a bottle of champagne and shoves it in the poor woman’s face. If that wasn’t violent enough, he then produces a knife and slashes her throat, leaving Vicky to bleed out on the ground. One of the witness, Jamie, attempts to save the girl and is injured in the process. But before the police arrive, Daniel slashes his own throat and dies before another witness, Ayesha, a doctor just out of medical training, can save him. Another witness, Steven, a Black teenager, runs off before he can give a statement to the police. The last witness is Julia Jones, the local Labour MP, is horrified but there’s nothing she can do to save the situation. Bex arrives just in time to help Jen, knowing that her friend is already in a fragile state of mind.

The one other mystery is the jogger who saw what happened but continued their run without lending assistance. The police urge for him or her to come forward. Jen’s journalistic instincts take hold. Urged by Bex and another close friend, her housemate Penelope, Jen wants to find out why Daniel killed Vicky and then himself, and also discover the identity of the unhelpful jogger. She starts getting tweets from a mysterious Twitter account that suggests that all is not what it appears to be. Bex knows that the more Jen delves into the murder suicide, the greater the chance that her friend will spiral into a breakdown she might not come out of.

Five Strangers is told from both Jen and Bex’s point of view, in alternating chapters. In ways similar to Gone Girl, we get both sides of the story–until the midway twist puts a completely different spin on everything we’ve read until then. Even the witnesses have secrets they’d prefer not to see the light of day. Jen interviews each of them in turn, and discovers allies and foes around every corner. But who is telling the truth? And who among them is hiding the deepest secret of all? I read this book at a feverish pace because I was desperate to find out.

Adamson/Wilson has written a compelling tale of murder, deceit, and the ultimate betrayal. It’s not the first book I’ve read this year in which childhood trauma and fears of abandonment have been behind the characters’ heinous actions, but it’s probably the best and hardest-hitting. While at times I struggled to find sympathy with Jen and Bex, I think the author wanted it that way. There is no black and white when it comes to Jen, Bex, Laurence, and the four witnesses, just many shades of grey.

Author Andrew Wilson/E.V. Adamson

Liner by Chris Coppel

Nothing is as it seems in Chris Coppel’s latest horror novel with a twist, Liner. In the prologue, it’s the present day and Morgan McCarthy is working his one Sunday a month at his job at the National Oceanis Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Communications Center. He’s not happy about this, but hey, what’s a guy to do, right? His focus is on the North Atlantic Ocean seabed tectonic sensor arrays: basically looking for anomalies along the seabed like earthquakes and other movement. A previous false alarm that damaged his reputation has him thinking twice when he spots an anomaly in one of the sectors he oversees. But he makes the call and reports it.

Immediately Coppel and Liner bring us back in the past to the early 1960s. David Easton is taking his first and only transatlantic crossing on the luxurious ocean liner, the SS Oceanis. His life has taken a turn for the worst. Recently divorced, David’s ex-wife and her family have left him close to destitute with his reputation as a microbiologist in tatters. His only solution, as he sees it, is to use the last of his money on a first class ticket on board the Oceanis and then at some point in the crossing throw himself overboard, ending his misery. But before all that, he and the rest of the passengers have to deal with some strange events onboard and weird atmospheric conditions on their journey.

David strikes up a friendship and possible romantic interest with Diana Olson, a young debutante whose mother Myra is eager to match up with an appropriate suitor. David is not what she has in mind, so she goes as far as banning her daughter from being near David. Her father Arthur is less pragmatic and indeed takes a liking to David, going so far as to offer help once they’ve reached port. So it looks like David could be on the up-and-up after all. But Liner has other ideas. There is a pandemic on board, one that’s christened “the green plague”. Cruise staff and customers alike are vanishing, and David thinks that the ship’s doctor, Aiken, knows more than he’s letting on.

It doesn’t take long for the malaise to inflict more people on the Oceanis, and soon the ship’s captain, Havelin, enlists David and Diana’s help. From here on, the story gets more weird and paranormal. What struck me at the beginning was how stoic most of the victims of the plague were. They accepted their impending demise with dignity and little fear. The necrosis eats their entire body until nothing but their clothes are left. And the fog that surrounds them has blocked all communication with the outside world. The SS Oceanis is lost and alone, with no help in sight.

Throughout this fast-moving and involving narrative, author Chris Coppel compels us to read on because he has given us an ideal couple to follow around. David and Diana are delightful, but you get the feeling from the start that their relationship is doomed. You want them to survive and flourish once the voyage is over, but Coppel foreshadows his twists and eventual climax with enough expertise that even though the passengers may get a happy ending, it’s not the one we may have hoped for when we began reading.

Who or what is behind these incredible and unbelievable events surrounding the Oceanis? Well, I’m not going to tell you. You will have to read Liner to find out. For a novel with some pretty decent horror overtones, you will also find a sincere amount of pathos, hope, and longing. I loved how it ended, and my heart went out to David and Diana. Their mutual love stayed with me long after the book ended.

Author Chris Coppel

Asylum by Tamera Lawrence

Tamera Lawrence is an author I’m going to look out for in the future. Let’s just get that out of the way. She has a way with creating deep, dark, pervading atmospheres; and her sense of place and character is quite simply breathtaking and intense.

The subject matter of Asylum is an uncomfortable one. Many countries have their own mostly hidden histories when it comes to mental institutions, orphanages, and how they treat the less entitled and vulnerable among us. I think I hit it on the head when I typed “hidden”, because that’s what happens to people who end up in these places: they’re lost to the rest of us. Just Google ‘Magdalene Laundries’ and ‘Mother and Baby Homes’ in Ireland and you’ll get the full picture.

Kyle Hampton was born and grew up in one of these places, Rose Hill Asylum, in Pennsylvania. His mother had a learning disability and was subject to a lot of abuse in her time there. When she died at a young age, Kyle was lucky enough to be adopted by Scott Hampton and his wife Florence. He left behind his brother Roy, who he hasn’t seen or heard from in decades. Married to Beth, with a young baby named Samantha, Kyle has kept many secrets and struggles in his adult life, as you would perhaps understand. His best friend is Randy, another former Rose Hill inmate, and together they explore the underground tunnels of the soon to be redeveloped former aylum. A chance encounter with a pair of boots set the novel on its path, leaving Kyle and his family heading into danger with someone by the name of Stitches.

Stitches, who’s eventual identity is both surprising and foreshadowed, is an intriguing character. You could write him off as being pure evil, but even evil has to come from somewhere. His appearance and actions brought to mind Joaquin Phoenix’s Oscar-winning role in the movie Joker. Stitches loves to dress up as a clown and act out his dark fantasies. If you’re looking for another reason to be fearful of jesters, then Asylum is definitely for you.

Kyle has to face up to his past and reconcile with his wife if he’s to live further than the end of the book. How Tamera Lawrence kept my attention was by allowing her characters to dictate the story. Yes, you will probably end up questioning why they do what they do, but we humans are invariable driven by the ghosts of our past and don’t always make the kind of decions that are in our best interests. Kyle, Randy, Stitches, and even Beth, are held captive by childhood memories, and as Asylum draws to its intense and perilous climax, the past and present collide violently.

Asylum rattles along at a furous pace, but Lawrence allows us important insights into each of her characters. You will be glad to have read this book, but horrified that events that occured in Rose Hill Asylum are not as fictional as you would hope. In fact, the truth behind many of these kind of institutions is worse than any writer can think of.

Author Tamera Lawrence

Death Perception by Lee Allen Howard

If someone left the last letter of my name off of my birth certificate, and no one bothered to notice, I would be called Jame. Not bad, I suppose, but I would be living a somewhat unfulfilled life. Our name is part of who we are, and how we are referred to is equally as important. It’s our identity and is unique to us. Kennet Singleton found himself in that situation from the moment he came into this world. His life from then on was anything but normal. His father was a man filled with anger and constantly lashed out at Kennet and his mother. His tragic end took so much out of the family that at the end of his mother’s life, he lived with her in a care home run Ms. (never Mrs) Flavia Costa. He struggles to make ends meet by working part-time at the local crematorium. His boss, Cecil Grinold, is an unsavoury type, cutting corners as he sees fit and has eyes on opening up more crematoriums in the future. He treats Kennet how most other adults treat him: with barely disguised contempt.

But Kennet has a gift, bestowed upon him my God and a now-deceased prophetess Sister Etta. In a tradition that can hardly be described as quirky, Kennet toasts marshmallows over the ashes and this action allows him to ascertain by some spiritual connection with the dead how his charges died. Author Lee Allen Howard has given his character a pretty unique power. It’s what Kennet does with this ability that powers this fast-moving and engaging novel, Death Perception.

When the novel begins, Kennet is informed by Ms. Costa that his mother has died. This hits the young man hard and while you would expect the adults in his life to support him in his grief, the opposite happens. Costa moves him from his room to a dank basment and basically tells him to look for somewhere else to live. His boss is unfeeling and instead adds to Kennet’s workload. When Grinhold catches his employee offguard toasting marshmallows, he fires him. However, Grinhold is living a double life and finds his reputation on the line when the woman he’s having an affair with, Delores, threatens to make their liaison public unless he pays her off. Meanwhile, residents in Ms. Costa’s care home are dying at an alarming rate. Kennet, by way of his power, and with the help of his friend Nate and romantic interest Christy, attempt to get to the bottom of both Grinhold’s and Ms. Costa’s subterfuge.

Author Lee Allan Howard

Lee Allan Howard mixes genres here quite well. It’s got all the prequisites of your typical coming-of-age story, with Kennet coming to terms with who he is and what he can do, using whatever resources at hand to do better for himself and his mother’s memory. His burgeoning romance with Christy is sweet without being sickly so. The mysteries Kennet investigates are two-fold: his power tells him that how some of the people he cremated died doesn’t match up with their death certificates. He is told by the spirits of these people to avenge them. Kennet needs to do what he’s being asked. Then there are the separate plots by Grinhold and Ms. Costa. What, if anythung, do they have to do with the dead people that ‘talk’ to Kennet? Then there is the horror behind everything that’s going on. The adults, the so-called responsible people, are committing heinous acts out of greed and and an overblown sense of self-importance. None of them come out well. The spirits will have their vengeance.

Death Perception rattles along at a decent pace and Lee Allen Howard peppers his narrative with engaging character work. I liked Kennet and wanted to see him survive and expose the fraudsters in his midst. I feel there could be more to come from this young man in future books. I would love to see him delve deeper into the origin of his gift and how he could use it for further good. What I would have enjoyed is more horror, though. For me, there wasn’t quite enough of it. I wanted the evildoers to suffer more, instead in one case taking the easy way out. Still, this is a small thing because the book is enjoyable and perfect for readers unsure of whether or not they would enjoy a book with horror elements. I will look out for more of this author’s work.

The Vivaldi Cipher by Gary McAvoy

Disclosure: I’m writing this review while listening to a recording of Vivaldi’s Four Seasons. It’s a classical piece of music I’m sure most of us are familiar with, with all four violin concertos taking up less than 45 minutes (by which time I should be editing this review). Another disclosure: Gary McAvoy sent me an ARC of his latest book, for which I’m truly grateful; so not only am I listening to some Vivaldi, I’m writing about him, too, in a weird sort of way. Cheers, Gary.

Earlier this year I had the pleasure of reading Mr McAvoy’s fascinating and supremely entertaining Magdalene Trilogy. I reviewed each one of this very blog. I wondered if we the readers would hear from Fr Michael Dominic and his intrepid crew of fellow adventurers and relic-hunters again. I am happy to say that we are mere weeks away from the publication of a new book. The Vivaldi Cipher is being published on August 18, 2021. And if you’re a fan of the previous three books, then I’m happy to say that you’re in for a bigger treat.

Whereas Magdalene focused on the search for the truth behind the mystery of Mary Magdalene and her relationship with Jesus, as well as a cover-up within the Vatican City regarding her gospel and the eventual discovery of her final resting place, Gary McAvoy takes us in another direction. This time he uses his extensive knowledge and research to uncover some unpleasant truths behind the massive art collection that’s housed within the walls of the papal city. And the mystery is no less intriguing, particularly when our heroes are faced with life or death scenarios in nearly every chapter, thanks to the Camorra, one of the oldest and largest criminal organisations in Italy.

The prologue sets the scene. It’s the mid-18th century and a new pope is about to be elected. However, one of the favourites for the highest position in Christendom is poisoned, and just before his death he passes on a secret to Vivaldi who, and not many people know this, was training to become a priest. Horrified by what he hears, he knows he must share it with the world. But how can he do so without putting himself in peril? The answer is simple: he hides it in a piece of music. Nearly three hundred years later, the leader of the Camorra has a crisis of conscience, and on his death bed confesses a similar secret to Fr Rinaldo, a local priest. Lucky for him, his friend Fr Dominic is in town, Venice to be precise, and Fr Rinaldo confides in Dominic as much as he can without breaking the all important seal of confession. Dominic and his journalist friend, Hana Sinclair, enlist the help of cryptologist Dr Livia Galla, and together they play detective. Finding themselves involved in a centuries-old plot to defraud the Vatican, they chase leads up and down dark alley ways and canals. Aided by Karl and Lukas, from the elite Swiss Guard, and Marco Picard, a Green Beret and Hana’s bodyguard and now lover, the closer they get to the truth, the closer they are to certain death.

Gary McAvoy

This book is a blast. It is so entertaining and fast moving, that I could barely draw breath at times. And yet, like Mr McAvoy’s previous books, I got myself an education. I was taken on a tour of Venice that not only included an art and music history lesson, but by God, some of the food these characters eat had my mouth watering, too. I felt I was in Venice a lot of the time. And now I need to go for real, though not via cruise ships. I must also beware of pigeons. Everything that made the Magdalene Trilogy one of my favourite reads of the year is here in spades. The Vivaldi Cipher is also markedly more violent than its predecessors, which is the right way to go because of the active presence of organised crime. People die and die quickly. Parts of the book might not be for the faint-hearted, but let this not be a distracted from a welcome change of pace and location. Yes, there is still skullduggery to be found within the Vatican, but the good guys will always win out. This time, however, there will be a cost.

Next book, please, Gary. Your readers and I are waiting.

The Devil’s Advocate by Steve Cavanagh

I wonder if readers of this blog will remember a show which premiered in the US in 1974. It was called Petrocelli, and it was about a defence lawyer who lived in a house trailer in San Remo, Arizona. All through the two seasons the show was on, Tony Petrocelli and his wife Maggie toiled away with building a house for themselves near their trailer home. Viewers never got to see the finished product because the show finished airing after these two seasons. When I read an Eddie Flynn novel from Northern Ireland author Steve Cavanagh, I always think of Petrocelli. He took the cases in which his client appeared guilty as sin, looking for holes in the prosecution’s evidence, and upon finding them, exonerate his clients in the eyes of the law. What happened after that was of no concern to Petrocelli. His job was done once his client got released.

I loved Petrocelli and I recently rewatched the pilot episode. It still stands up. Barry Newman is a good actor and the stories were always compelling. I happened upon Steve Cavanagh‘s creation a couple of years ago and found myself reading the first four books in the Eddie Flynn series one after the other. They are tightly plotted novels, with enough twists and turns to make your hair stand on end. Forever getting into scrapes that threaten his life and the lives of those he cares about, Eddie uses his ingenuity and skills as a one-time con-artist to help his clients who would otherwise be incarcerated for life or worse.

The Devil’s Advocate is the sixth book in the series and for my money it’s the best yet. The stakes for Eddie, his team, and his client are high: literally life and death. But Eddie is well out of his comfort zone. Used to the hustle and bustle of New York streets, police stations, and courtrooms, Eddie is in a backwater town of Buckstown, Alabama, a relic of the Confederacy era, where the local District Attorney Randall Korn has sent more convicted murderers to the electric chair than any other DA in US history. Eddie is approached by a ‘frenemy’ from a previous case and asked to take on the defence of Andy Dubois, a young Black man whose been accused of the murder of his colleague and friend, a popular girl called Skylar Edwards. Andy’s previous lawyer, who’s already had dealings with Korn, is missing under suspicious circumstances, and the young man seems destined to be found guilty and sentenced to death. Eddie has never taken on a capital murder case before, but it’s not long before he and his team, Kate, Harry, and Bloch find that all is not what it seems with the prosecution’s case. Plus, if Andy didn’t brutally murder Skylar, the question is: who did?

Steve Cavanagh (photo c/o: Belfast Live)

For fans of Steve Cavanagh and Eddie Flynn, there’s no need for me to tell you to get on out there and buy this book. Chances are you already have it preordered. But for the unconverted, let me tell you that this book, and the others in the series, are a delight to read. What sets The Devil’s Advocate apart from previous novels is not just the change of scenery, but Cavanagh allows the supporting characters to share the spotlight in many sections of the story. I particularly enjoyed learning more about Bloch, Eddie’s investigator: you do not want to mess with this woman. The Rogue Gallery is especially strong, too. Not only does Eddie and his team have to contend with Randall Korn, but the sheriff of Buckstown is a force to be reckoned with, too, despite and because of his own tragic backstory. And then there’s the mysterious Pastor. We don’t find out his identity until the climax of the novel, and what a surprise that turns out to be. So, not only do the good guys have to deal with an insidious district attorney, they also find themselves up against the worst of the worst: domestic terrorists and white supremacists. The Devil’s Advocate will rock your boat. I defy you to finish it in fewer than three or four sittings.

Thanks go to NetGalley and the publishers for providing me with an ARC of The Devil’s Advocate in exchange for an honest review.

The Past Is Red by Catherynne M. Valente

The world is both on fire and drowning. We are all living on borrowed time on this planet of ours, and if we’re not careful–and we’re not, not right now anyway, despite government promises–we will, if we’re lucky, have to live in a place like Garbagetown.

“My name is Tetley Abednego, and I am the most hated girl in Garbagetown.” And so author Catherynne M. Valente begins her bleak but hopeful novella The Past Is Red. It began life as a short story called The Future Is Blue, which Valente wrote early in 2016. In her afterword, which is definitely worth reading, Valente explained that Tetley’s voice stayed with her for a long time and she wanted to see how she grew from being a hated girl to a hated adult, but still keeping her compassion, composure, and willingness to explain the truth to her fellow town people no matter the cost to herself. So she wrote The Past Is Red. This edition contains both stories and is a compelling, uncomfortable, but necessary work of post-apocalyptic fiction that hits home hard and fast.

Garbagetown is exactly how it sounds. It’s a “landmass” made up of garbage that came into being when the climate change and the carelessness of Fuckwits (i.e. us humans) destroyed what was left of habitable Earth. Apparently there is a Garbagetown the size of Texas in the Pacific Ocean, but it hasn’t risen above water yet. That time may soon come in the next one hundred or so years. On Tetley’s Earth, our future Earth, dry land is but a memory. In fact, for Tetley, Garbagetown is all she and the others have ever known. When a cruise ship calling itself Brighton Pier docks at Garbagetown, offering its citizens the promise of dry land if their willing to share electric power with them, Tetley sabotages the plan to expose the truth: there is no dry land out there. Her punishment is regular beatings and name-calling, for which she thanks her assailants for their instruction.

Catherynne M. Valente

During the course of her journey in this strange and dangerous world, Tetley has a couple of travelling companions. As a child she had a close relationship with her twin brother Maruchan, until the time comes when she doesn’t. “What do you want to be when you grow up?” she asks him nightly. One day he replies, “An only child,” and that’s that for them. She falls in love with Goodnight Moon, a boy from Electric City, but even that relationship turns sour after the events of Brighton Pier. Later, as an adult, she talks to someone she calls Big Red, but we don’t find out who or what this person is until the end, and it’s a surprising revelation. Once again, Tetley finds herself with a choice to reveal the truth, and cause more trouble for herself and the people around her, or to continue living her life in the only world she has ever known. The answers lie with Mister, a crystalline artificial intelligence that is reminds the reader of Alexa.

Humanity’s future is bleak, and Catherynne M. Valente doesn’t pull any punches about how things will work out for us in the not too distant future. But behind this bleakness is a strange kind of hope. Tetley, through some amazing prose and imagery, is a truth-bearer. She knows we’re all we have left and we have to accept responsibility of where we go next. Valente, in this novella, has created a world that is heart-breaking but inevitable–if we’re not careful. Tetley’s voice shines in these pages, and although her follow Garbagetown citizens may hate her and wish her harm, we most certainly don’t. She may be the only hope humanity has left.

My thanks go to NetGalley and Tordotcom for providing me with an ARC of The Past Is Red. Catherynne M. Valente’s novella is on sale now.