Tag Archives: London

Alter Ego by K.A. Masson

Any book that name checks Matt Johnson’s The The, and in particular Uncertain Smile, has got to have a lot of things going for it, right? In fact, this book, Alter Ego, the debut thriller from English writer K.A. Masson, is peppered with plenty of musical references throughout its taut narrative, with two of the story’s main characters at one point going through their Spotify playlists and cranking out some banging tunes, with no decade being left out. But it was the The The reference that sat with me. I haven’t listened to this band for some time, and when I’m done writing this review, I will queue up Soul Mining and get all nostalgic.

(Image: heyitscarlyrae.com)

Alexandra (Alex) Kendrew is a single mother who lives with her young son Ned in suburban London. Estranged from the boy’s father Sean for some time when the novel begins, Alex trawls dating websites looking for love and someone to settle down with. She’s a freelance photographer who juggles her professional and personal life, and during the course of the story, drops balls on a regular basis. Some of her friends question her lifestyle choices and parenting skills, but Alex knows what she’s doing.

Or does she?

When Alter Ego begins, Alex is arrested for the attempted murder of her boyfriend Mal Russell, who was brutally stabbed the night before in the flat he shares with a friend. Alex has been identified by said friend as the woman who she admitted to the flat and subsequently stabbed Mal. Alex doesn’t believe what’s happened to her. There is no way she could’ve done what she’s accused of. She was at home with Ned. The detectives investigating the case don’t believe her, and lock her up in a cell while they collect enough evidence to charge her. Alex’s arrest happens in the first chapter, so there’s an immediacy to the story already. What the author does next is take us back four years and work us through Alex’s life until the time of her arrest.

Alex hooks up with a couple of men she met online, some better than others, but lands on Mal, who appears to be the man of her dreams. Things go pear-shaped quickly when Ned wanders in and catches them in an private but awkward moment. As Mal still holds a candle for a recent ex, he ghosts Alex shortly afterwards. She is distraught, but manages to pick herself up off the floor when Adrian comes into her life. Then things take a really nasty turn, with Adrian turning out to be a wolf in sheep’s clothing. Not for the first time, Alex is left with a mess to sort out, but desperate to not be alone, she jumps at the chance of salvation when Mal comes back into her life.

I’ll leave it at that for the plot, for fear of giving too much away. I would prefer to leave you in the more than capable hands of K.A. Masson to take it from here. I had to remind myself that Alter Ego is a debut novel, because it reads like Ms. Masson has had a number of novels under her belt already. She is masterful at holding the story together despite having to fill in a lot of blanks over a four year period. The tension rises with each chapter, and I confess to reading the last third of the book in one late night sitting. I had to find out what happened, and I wasn’t disappointed.

K.A. Masson

One proviso, though: Alex as a character may not appeal to those who prefer their main characters whiter than white, with nary a blemish to their name. But for me, it was important to relate to Alex as a woman troubled by her past and fearful of her future. At times she is the author of her own misfortune, making the same mistakes in dating time and again, without really learning from past behaviour. This is a completely human characteristic. We want things to go well for ourselves, and when our friends point out our failures, we can sometimes take this criticism as a personal insult rather than a learning moment. Ms Masson does well by giving us a deep insight into Alex’s thought processes with her tight first person point of view. We see what Alex sees; we feel what she does; and we want her to do better. She could — and this is something to keep in mind — be an unreliable narrator. Not everthing that happens is what it seems; the same applies to the people around her.

Alter Ego is an intelligent psychological thriller with moments of violence that will make you uncomfortable. Domestic violence is a blight on modern society, and the author brings a lot of research into her story. I seriously look forward to what she writes next.

I wish to thank NetGalley and the publishers for supplying me with a copy of Alter Ego in return for an honest review.

Martin Edwards’ Rachel Savernake Series

The website CrimeReads has become a veritable cornucopia: a treasure trove of authors, genres, concepts, covering all four corners of the world of detective, mystery, and thriller fiction. Long before this blog came into being, I scoured CrimeReads looking for new books to explore and new authors to follow. It’s how I found out about many of the authors you’ll read about here, including Rachel Howzall Hall and Kellye Garrett.

Martin Edwards (Image: Goodreads)

Martin Edwards has become my newest obsession. I grew up on Agatha Christie and Dorothy L Sayers. Later on, I read Ruth Rendell and PD James, favouring the more erudite detective, looking for perhaps the modern Sherlock Holmes. Now, I know no one can take Holmes’ place in the detective fiction Hall of Fame; so much so that many authors, including Anthony Horowitz, continue his adventures for emerging generations, thanks to the BBC’s Sherlock and CBS’s Elementary. But a lot of authors choose to set their mysteries in a similar era to the aforementioned greats. Mr Edwards is one of them.

Welcome to the strange and unsettling world of Rachel Savernake, a wealthy heiress and amateur sleuth. Set in and around London of the 1930s, Gallows Court harks back to the Golden Age of Detective Fiction, hitting the ground running with an assortment of gothic characters and atmosphere. Indeed, as you work your way through the pages of this book, you can almost smell the gas from the streetlamps and hear the hooves of horses as carriage hurtle through a fog-filled city. So far, so very comfortable for Holmesians alike. I felt at home.

(Image: Goodreads)

Rachel Savernake is the enigmatic daughter of a notorious hanging judge, and the story of her childhood on the island of Gaunt in the Irish Sea, as well as her frosty relationship with a girl named Juliet Bretano, runs concurrently with the main plot of the novel: in which a journalist, Jacob Flint, new to London and intent on making a name for himself as a crime reporter, is both helped and hindered by Rachel when their separate investigations of a series of bizarre and gruesome murders and apparent suicides result in a meeting of minds and resources.

It’s important to note that every character in Gallows Court is vital to the story. From the flashback events on Gaunt to the newsrooms of The Clarion, the paper Jacob writes for; from the backstreet hovels, to the secluded London mansion that Rachel calls home, no detail, no person, is wasted. Nothing is thrown away. I was glued to each page and couldn’t wait to finish, because there was a second book to hit up: Mortmain Hall.

It’s not a spoiler to reveal that both main players, Rachel and Jacob, live to solve another case. And this is yet another violent conundrum that is more cross-country than Gallows Court, with the bulk of the action taking place at the eponymous Mortmain Hall, owned by Leonora Dobell, a criminologist obsessed with murderers who appear to have gotten away with their crimes. She enlists Rachel’s help. The heiress is intrigued because her attempt to prevent the murder of Gilbert Payne, a man presumed dead who returned to England for his mother’s funeral, ended in failure. Leonora’s invitation to Rachel to attend a weekend at the Hall provides her and Jacob with the key to unlock several mysteries.

(Image: Goodreads)

Rachel knows much more than she ever lets on to Jacob. In fact, only her inner circle of attendants know the full script in advance. Every twist in the story, when you think about it after, is cleverly foreshadowed in the pages of both books. Gallows Court sets up Martin Edwards’ universe, and then Mortrain Hall picks up the already frenetic pace and has an absolute ball with political conspiracies, secret societies, identity theft, and a million different gruesome ways to die. Unlike most Golden Age detective fiction, the blood is on the page, but these are not gratuitously violent books. A lot of the dialogue is tongue-in-cheek, and the main characters possess a sense of justice that is both charming and blood-curdling.

Martin Edwards was recently awarded the Crime Writers’ Association Diamond Dagger for sustained excellence in the genre. Up unti a month or so ago, I had never read his work. Now, for sure, I will eat up whatever I can get my hands on. Do yourself a favour, if you love your detective fiction historical and bloody, grab these books with both hands and enjoy the mayhem.

Check out Martin’s website, too. It’s a feast of articles, advice for writers, and you might as well take a look at his new non-fiction book, The Golden Age of Murder, a must-have for detective fiction fans everywhere.