Annabel's House of Books

Noli domo egredi, nisi librum habes – Never leave home without a book.

Tag: Noir (page 1 of 3)

Shiny Linkiness

I reviewed loads of new fiction titles for Issue 7 of Shiny New Books, so I think it’s time to give some of them a plug. Do pop over to read the full reviews – we’d appreciate it, and love it when you leave comments too (same goes for here of course).

Two Years Eight Months & Twenty-Eight Nights by Salman Rushdie

two_years_eight_month_and_twentyeight_nights_0I haven’t read any Rushdie for a while, so had my fingers crossed with this book. No need, I enjoyed it a lot, although it turned to be more a philosophical fantasy than I was expecting.  Entering the world of the jinn was fascinating, and Rushdie’s modern take on the 1001 nights was fun although the little digressions keep you on your toes to re-find the main story sometimes.

Rushdie at his most playful, and restrained in length too. Definitely a thinking person’s fairy tale.

Read the full review here: My Shiny Review

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Not on Fire, but Burning by Greg Hrbek

hrbekHrbek has written one other novel, The Hindenburg Crashes Nightly, which I had to order once I’d read this book.

Set around twenty years into the future, Not on Fire, but Burning starts with a stunning visual prologue in which the Golden Gate Bridge is destroyed, and San Francisco is irradiated – (we’re never sure by whom or what). It then settles into a disturbing story in which the USA is segregating Muslims and one brave old army veteran decides to adopt a Muslim kid from one of the camps – to do his bit for liberalism and making amends. He doesn’t realise that the twelve-year-old boy, Karim, who comes to live with him is already radicalised.  When a fight is engineered between white kid Dorian next door and Karim, it starts off a whole chain reaction of events.

This was a really thought-provoking novel that imagines possible futures that we hope will never happen.

Read the full review here: My Shiny Review

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Kauthar by Meike Ziervogel

kauthar-195x300 (1)Meike’s third novel Kauthar is another tale of radicalisation. It is about a white British girl who converts to Islam, marries and Iraqi doctor, following him out there after 9/11 only to find that life there has a different set of rules and expectations that will try her devoutness. In emotional turmoil, she turns to God, but the distorted answers she finds set her on an extreme path.

Full of strong imagery, we flip between Lydia as a child, who is desperate to be a gymnast and the devout Kauthar she becomes. Told in the present tense, it is very immediate and we are really taken into Kauthar’s mind. As in Meike’s first novel Magda we are helped to understand, without condoning her behaviour.

Read the full review here: My Shiny Review

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The Reflection by Hugo Wilcken

wilckenIt’s the late 1940s, or early 1950s. A psychiatrist takes a phone call to be told his ex-wife has died. A while later, he’s called on as a police surgeon to section a man in custody in a seedy apartment. Not thinking straight he does as asked, but later regrets this and sets out to find out more about the man.

The Reflection has all the hallmarks of a classic noir novel: a narrator in crisis, a psychological drama, a femme fatale (or two), a whole string of coincidences that are anything but and a sense that everything is being stage-managed to turn the protagonist into one of his patients, which he must resist, whatever the cost. The main character was a little boring but, The Reflection is an interesting exercise in which nothing is actually in black and white, less noir, more grey.

Read the full review here: My Shiny Review

Between a rock and a hard place …

The Truth and Other Lies by Sascha Arango

arangoTranslated from the German by Imogen Taylor

At first glance, I thought this author would be female and Spanish/Latin. I hadn’t expected a German and Sascha is, I discovered, the favoured male variant of Sasha there.

This is the first novel by a prizewinning German screenwriter of crime dramas (notably Eva Blond apparently which ran from 2002-6). I wasn’t sure what to expect, but the blurb mentions The Talented Mr Ripley and Herman Koch’s The Dinner and that combo is fairly on the button as it turns out. The hardback cover says ‘Meet Henry Hayden – Famous Author, Loving Husband, Generous Friend, Ruthless Killer.’ It begins thus:


The ARC with black page edges

No getting away from it. A quick glance at the image was enough to give shape to the dim suspicions of the past months. The embryo lay curled up like an amphibian, one eye looking straight at him. Was that a leg or a tentacle above the dragon’s tail? (p1)

Henry Hayden is in a very difficult situation. He’s to be a father, but not with his wife Martha; the mother of the tadpole is Betty, his editor, who is sitting next to him in the car. Why Betty? Why not Martha?  It’s a real shock!

… then Henry opened the passenger door and threw up in the grass. He saw the lasagne he’d made Martha for lunch. It looked like an embryo compote of flesh-coloured lumps of dough. At the sight of it, he choked and began to cough uncontrollably. (p3)

He chokes again, Betty does the Heimlich and the lingering pasta comes out. He continues to panic. He tells Betty he’ll tell Martha ‘everything’. Big mistake!

It was Betty who had discovered Henry’s first novel Frank Ellis in the slush pile at Moreany Publishing some years ago, earning herself a promotion for finding it, and making Henry a bestselling thriller author, but …

Apart from Henry, only Martha knew that he hadn’t written a single word of the novels himself. (p10)

To say that Henry and Martha have a conventional relationship would be an untruth. They met when Henry had gone home with Martha after a party and discovered the manuscript under her bed, and more rotting in the cellar.

“I’m not interested in literature,” Martha said on the subject. “I just want to write.” (p17)

But she let Henry submit the ms under his name, and thus he is the one who becomes famous. He is the celebrity author on the festival circuit, wearing designer gear and driving an Italian sports car. Martha stays at home and every night, she writes, and writes, and writes.

So, we have a great set-up – Henry is completely stuffed! If he leaves Martha for Betty his literary career will be over; if he doesn’t leave Martha, Betty will tell her, and his literary career will be over.

I’m not going to tell you what happens next, save to say that it was an audacious move and as a result Henry gets himself into ever greater lies worthy of one of Martha’s thrillers to obfuscate and misdirect everyone.

This twisty thriller was great fun – full of black humour that made it more Koch than Highsmith.  Also, in loving Martha, Henry lacks the total amorality of Tom Ripley – there’s a little bit of Jeff Lindsey’s Dexter in him perhaps? There’s even something a little bit frantic and ‘Reggie Perrinish’ in Henry which, read in the week David Nobbs passed away, made Henry a more likeable sociopath!

There were some super set pieces including a fight with a marten hiding in the roofspace. There’s a shadowy figure from Henry’s past with a score to settle, Henry’s Serbian fishmonger friend is good value and the police are suitably shambolic in their investigations.  The Truth and Other Lies is a real page-turner, and I found myself wanting Henry to get away with it, so he could get himself into more trouble in a sequel?  (8/10)

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Source: Publisher – Thank you. 

The Truth and Other Lies by Sascha Arango, pub June 2015, Simon & Schuster, hardback, 352 pages.

Christmas Shiny Linkiness …

Today, I’d like to direct you over to my reviews in the Shiny New Books Christmas Inbetweeny.  By the way, have you tried our Shiny Advent Quiz yet? Ideal as a post-prandial competition… But back to my reviews as these books are all too good to leave off mentioning here too:

The Islanders by Pascal Garnier

islanders Translated for Gallic Books by Emily Boyce, with whom I’ve been having some lovely email conversations.

I’m a recent convert to Garnier (see here), and if his novel The A26 was ‘the Road to Hell’, the latest to be published – The Islanders is certainly about the Christmas from Hell!

A man returns home to Versailles just before Christmas when his mother dies in the coldest December for years and re-encounters an old flame… cue memories and murderously dark noir events tinged with humour.  Absolutely brilliant!

Read my review here, and Emily wrote a piece about translating it for Shiny here.

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The Head of the Saint by Socorro Acioli

head of the saintYA books in translation are a rarity – so I lapped up the chance to read this one by Brazilian author Acioli, developed at a writers’ workshop hosted by the late Gabriel Garcia Marquez.

It’s a lovely quest story about a young boy who sets out to find his grandmother when his own mother dies and he ends up sleeping inside the giant saint’s head that never got raised onto the statue. A magical and lovely tale.

Read my review here.



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Do No Harm by Henry Marsh

Do No HarmI always find accounts of lives worked in medicine absolutely fascinating, especially those of surgeons, who live on the cutting edge (sorry!) of medical science.

Henry Marsh is one of the UK’s foremost brain surgeons and his account of a life in neurosurgery is candid, honest, reassuring and totally engrossing and fascinating. Successes and failures are all discussed with compassion and wit where required.

Now out in paperback and a must-read for all those fascinated by doctors and medicine.

Read my review here.


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Playing to the Gallery by Grayson Perry

Grayson Perry book cover Perry’s book, which is essentially a transcript of his Reith Lectures for the BBC last year, seeks to demystify the modern art world in his trademark flippant yet serious at the same time style.

It’s fully illustrated with his cartoons too, which accompanied the talk, but which we couldn’t previously see on the radio where the lectures were broadcast.

Full of anecdotes, advice and jokes, it’s great fun.

Read my review here.


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Shiny New Books will be back in late January with a new batch of reviews and features for you, but there is still much to explore in Issue 3 of Shiny, which includes the Christmas update. Also why not explore the archives from Issue 1 and Issue 2 you can explore for inspiration, especially as some of those books are now available in more affordable paperbacks.



It may be arthouse, but violence is violence…

I wanted to write a post about my reactions to a film I saw on TV the other night. It’s not one I would have chosen to see in the cinema, or buy the DVD of – it was just ‘on’…

Drive (2011) starring Ryan Gosling, dir Nicholas Winding Refn

DriveThe other night on BBC3 there was a big ‘for one night only’ showing of the 2011 film Drive with a new soundtrack curated by Radio 1’s Zane Lowe – ‘Drive Rescored’. Somewhere in the back of my mind, I’d heard that it was a good film, although the info on the screen did say it was very violent and with lots of bad language – it didn’t even start until 10pm. I started watching…

A getaway driver outlines his terms – you have five minutes he tells the robbers. He collects his car – a silver Impala – the most common car out there in LA. The heist goes to plan and they get away safely. Cut to the driver being a stunt double on a movie set – he’s something special as a driver …

So at this stage I was hooked. Even the Radio 1 supplied soundtrack was more chilled than I’d expected.

The driver (Ryan Gosling) who is never named, meets his neighbour Irene (Carey Mulligan) and her young son Benicio.  They strike up a friendship, which looks sure to lead to something else, if only her husband wasn’t due out of prison.  When Standard Gabriel (Oscar Isaac) gets out, he is beaten up for money he owes. The driver agrees to be getaway driver for him to rob a pawnshop to get the cash – but it all goes wrong and Gabriel gets shot …

Up until this point, we’d had the initial heist and getaway, the character building scenes and one guy had beaten up and later shot.  It was all done in an arthouse style, moody, noirish – but after this getaway things really took a violent turn for the worse, as the driver and Gabriel’s accomplice Blanche are followed.

It was obvious that Blanche was going to get killed, and I’m never going to be able to watch the last series of Mad Men to come in the same way – Christina Hendricks (Joan in Mad Men, Blanche in Drive) (highlight to see) gets her head pulped with shotgun pellets l‘Oh ****’ I said to myself.  It went on to out-Soprano The Sopranos, being one of the most violent films I’ve ever seen.

Yet I kept on watching it, admittedly gasping and wincing with every shot and blow from then on. If it had been a straight-forward schlock-action thriller I think I’d have been able to switch the telly off – it was now way past my bedtime.  Because I’d been enjoying the arthouse 1980s style of the film, which references Steve McQueen in Bullitt, Quentin Tarantino in Pulp Fiction etc. and the aforementioned Sopranos I kept watching.  In spite of all the violence I enjoyed the intelligent storytelling.

I guess the point of this is, that I’m shocked that I can say that it and others of the same ilk are such good movies or series – and in these darker months, there are lots more to come on the TV too. Those who enjoy crime novels in particular have to put up with some awful violence and depravity too – imaginative deaths and tortures become de rigeur. I can dissociate myself from these awful fictions, but they do make one long for something more gentle and amusing as an antidote – I shall be catching up with The Detectorists tonight.

Have you seen Drive?
How do you react to violence on the screen and/or page?

"This ain't no upwardly mobile freeway … This is the road to hell"

The A26 by Pascal Garnier

the-a26 Quite a few bloggers (notably Stu and recently Guy) have already discovered and loved the novels of Pascal Garnier, the French author of some decidedly bleak, black comedies of the purest noir! Having acquired a couple of them, I picked his short novel The A26 to begin my own exploration.

Set in the 1990s, this is the story of an ageing pair – brother and sister – Bernard and Yolande. Bernard works for SNCF, the French railways, and has terminal cancer. He has now finished work:

As for his boss and his colleagues, he knew he wouldn’t be seeing them again. It was no sadder than casting off an old pair of slippers. In taking leave, he had married death – that was why life had so often made him suffer. Now he would say ‘yes’ to everything, good and bad, sunshine and grey skies alike; this November afternoon it was the latter.

It’s that decision to say ‘yes’ to everything that is driving Bernard now – and for his remaining days, in doing that he will get his own back on the cards that life had dealt him. Bernard never married, he lost his love to another long ago when he had to look after Yolande.

Yolande never leaves the house. They live in gloom, for in the entire house there is only one opening on the outside world – ‘a hole made specially’ in the shutter. Yolande has never been the same since she was dragged from the house in 1945 to have her head shaved, accused of a liaison with a German. She’s a hoarder, never throwing anything away, obsessively cooking or watching the world through her pinhole…

Yolande could have been anywhere from twenty to seventy. She had the blurry texture and outlines of an old photograph. As if she were covered in a fine dust. Inside this wreck of an old woman there was a young girl.

The whole area has been blighted by the building of a new motorway, the A26, driving a swathe of mud and concrete through the land; life isn’t the same and when Bernard’s thoughts turn murderous, it provides the ideal place to dispose of things… (one is reminded of the Vogon Constructor Fleet’s mission to drive an intergalactic highway through Earth in the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy).

What Bernard does may be very nasty, but Garnier elicits some pathos in us for him, in the same way that John Wayne as the terminally ill gunslinger in the film The Shootist seeks to regain his dignity in death.

The A26 is just 100 pages long and we learn all we need to from Bernard and Yolande, of their lives and loves all lost. There’s no wastage in this slim volume. It’s a very black story indeed but with touches of comedy that always surprise you and a plot that keeps you guessing until the end. Translator Melanie Florence has done a splendid job to maintain the French feel.

The A26 connects Calais and Troyes to the southwest of Paris.  It is known as L’Autoroute des Anglais and I’m glad Garnier’s books have made it over the channel to us thanks to Gallic Books –  I’ve yet to read a volume from them that hasn’t delivered.  Deliciously dark, funny and complex, I’m going to have to read a lot more by Pascal Garnier. (9/10)

P.S. Title quote from ‘The Road to Hell’ by Chris Rea.

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The A26by Pascal Garnier, trans Melanie Florence. Gallic Books 2013. Paperback, 100 pages.

Lighten up Anita

Guilty Pleasures by Laurell K Hamilton

I am profoundly aware that I often read books in the wrong order. I’m not referring to books in a series here though – I always prefer to start from the beginning with them; instead I’m talking about influence.

This means for instance that it was forty years before I came to We by Yevgeny Zamyatkin (my review)- the 1924 Russian dystopia that so profoundly influenced Orwell’s 1984. I was really glad to have read both, and actually would probably have found 1984 derivative if read in the publication order. In this case, reading the influenced before the influencer allowed me to revel in both future visions.

Then for my first Season of the Living Dead on this blog back in 2009, I managed to read Twilight before LK Smith’s The Vampire Diaries (my review). The Vampire Diaries arguably paved the way for subsequent teen high-school paranormal romances, but didn’t grab my imagination the way Twilight did.


Which brings me to Guilty Pleasures by Laurell K Hamilton. I was prompted to read this book when a copy of Affliction was sent by the publisher to me.  Affliction turns out to be the 22nd (!) in a series of vampire novels featuring Anita Blake, Vampire Hunter.  Good for me then, that I just happened to have the first, the aforesaid Guilty Pleasures in my bookcase, as I couldn’t possibly dive in at volume 22.

But first, a caveat: I have read and loved some of Charlaine Harris’s Sookie Stackhouse vampire novels set in the deep south (my review of the first here). Apart from all the vampire blood and gore, there is a rich vein of humour in these books, and Sookie is a kooky and lovable heroine. It didn’t take much research to find that the first Sookie book didn’t appear until eight years after Guilty Pleasures, which also predates Buffy. With Anita being a sort of paranormal Private Investigator, I thought there may be similarities too with Jim Butcher’s Dresden Files (my review of the first two here), but again The Dresden Files didn’t start until 2000.

Obviously I’ve read these books in the wrong order again, as Hamilton can probably claim to be the first in this particular sub-genre of paranormal urban fantasy writers. So how does Anita Blake hold up to those that follow …

guilty pleasures

I don’t date Vampires. I kill them.
My name is Anita Blake. Vampires call me the Executioner. What I call them isn’t repeatable.
Every since the Supreme Court granted the undead equal rights, most people think vampires are just ordinary folks with fangs. I know better. I’ve seen their victims. I carry the scars.
But now a serial killer is murdering vampires – and the most powerful bloodsucker in town wants me to find the killer.

Anita Blake lives and works in St Louis, Missouri.  Her primary job at the agency run by Bert is as an Animator – she can raise zombies, or put them to rest again. She’s also an expert in vampires. We don’t know the detail, but we know she bears a grudge against the bloodsuckers.  Her expertise in these areas though is very useful to the police; she’s on retainer and is often called in to murders where undead have been involved.

When vampires start being murdered, against her better judgement, she reluctantly agrees to investigate for the vampire grandmaster.  She’s better placed than most investigators to to this, for she is partially immune to the effects of a vampire’s gaze. She still knows better than to look them directly in the eyes.

It’s not clear whether it’s a vampire killing vampires, or one of the human anti-vampire activist groups.  Anita’s first port of call is to the club, Guilty Pleasures, run by vampire Jean-Claude – who has a definite attraction to her.  I suspect that Jean-Claude, who does remain alive at the end of the book, will play a big role in subsequent novels.

Jean-Claude, although masterful, is not the grandmaster of the vampires. That is Nikolaos – a thousand year old child vampire, whose powers are strong indeed. This evil girl is determined to let Anita know that the only reason she is alive is to solve the crimes.

Anita’s investigations also take her to a ‘freak’ party, where she masquerades as a new human vampire junkie – addicted to having some blood sucked from her.  Her escort for the night is Philip, a junkie trying to kick the habit.  He is strong and noble in protecting her, but things go wrong, the party is attacked and they escape. From there, it all gets terribly complicated between all the factions involved, the vampires, the hate-groups, the human servants, and the internal rivalries between the vamps.  Anyone who associates with Anita is at risk too.

We know that Anita will survive to tell at least another 21 tales, but how many others are going to die along with the way with her?  Frankly, it was all a bit grim, and there’s no let-up, no pause for breath. All the action takes place over just a few days and you wonder how Anita has the stamina for it.

Anita is a typical heroine. Super-tough and feisty, also petite – she has to punch above her weight being small. We get few details about what she does off-duty – this is a gal that lives for her job.  She narrates the story in a noir-ish style which, it feels, allows every noir cliché ever coined to be adapted to the world of vampires.

What Anita lacks though, and hence the book, is a sense of humour.  That’s what the other books I mentioned above have, and it allows us to take a breather from the action, and absorb all the complexities of the plot.  With Anita, it’s all bam, bam, bam – no pauses for a cup of joe with a friend, no chance to let off steam and allow another side of her personality to come through. Actually, she’s a bit whiny (mostly at herself, it must be admitted), but I didn’t warm to her the way I did Sookie.  It’s just non-stop action, with a few hours sleep to recover from the mounting number of injuries Anita accrues along the way.  The amount of pain this gal can sustain is superhuman – oh – maybe she is one?

Also, I without the device of Harris’s Tru-blood – the synthetic blood that allows vampires to live alongside humans without the risk of bloodlust killing them all, even if vampires were real, they couldn’t be given equal rights to live alongside humans safely.  Given all their superhuman powers, unless the blood thing could be resolved, Anita’s world can’t exist – they have to remain underground.  That’s what makes the later series work.

While this first novel in the series did keep me reading until the end, I didn’t bond enough with Anita to want to read more of this series.  She does have legions of fans though. Do let me know if you think I should give her another chance. (6.5/10)

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Source: Own copy. To explore further on Amazon UK, please click below:
Guilty Pleasures by Laurell K Hamilton, Headline paperback, 327 pages.
Affliction (Anita Blake Vampire Hunter 22), pub July 2nd, 2013, Headline hardback.

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