First Monday Crime Preview @1stMondayCrime @RuthWareWriter @carolinesgreen @K_RhodesWriter @AlexMichaelides @sophieglorita

Welcome to the house of sick! Apologies for not doing my normal interview or review for First Monday but I’ve had so many ill people in my house I’ve not had time to arrange it. But I can tell you who’s coming to the special birthday party on Monday. Yes, First Monday Crime will be three years old next week and you’re all invited! There’ll even be cookies (unless I catch the flu from my husband and then it’s game over).

Providing the entertainment for the evening are four wonderful authors – Ruth Ware, Cass Green, Kate Rhodes and Alex Michaelides. Attempting to juggle our authors will be Sophie Goodfellow. Here’s a bit more about their books.

 

Ruth Ware – The Death of Mrs Westaway

When Harriet Westaway receives an unexpected letter telling her she’s inherited a substantial bequest from her Cornish grandmother, it seems like the answer to her prayers. She owes money to a loan shark and the threats are getting increasingly aggressive: she needs to get her hands on some cash fast.

There’s just one problem – Hal’s real grandparents died more than twenty years ago. The letter has been sent to the wrong person. But Hal knows that the cold-reading techniques she’s honed as a seaside fortune teller could help her con her way to getting the money. If anyone has the skills to turn up at a stranger’s funeral and claim a bequest they’re not entitled to, it’s her.

Hal makes a choice that will change her life for ever. But once she embarks on her deception, there is no going back. She must keep going or risk losing everything, even her life…

 

Cass Green – Don’t You Cry

Don’t You Cry: The gripping new psychological thriller from the bestselling author of In a Cottage in a Wood by [Green, Cass]

One stolen baby. Two desperate strangers. One night of terror.

She saved your life.
When Nina almost dies during a disastrous blind date, her life is saved by a waitress called Angel. But later that evening, Nina is surprised by a knock on the door. It’s Angel – and she’s pointing a gun at her.

Now she’ll make you pay.
Minutes later, Angel’s younger brother Lucas turns up, covered in blood shielding a stolen newborn baby in his arms. Nina is about to endure the longest night of her life – a night that will be filled with terror and lead her to take risks she would never have believed herself capable of…

 

Kate Rhodes – Ruin Beach

Ruin Beach by [Rhodes, Kate]

The island of Tresco holds a dark secret someone will kill to protect.

Ben Kitto has become Deputy Commander in the Isles of Scilly Police. As the islands’ lazy summer takes hold, he finds himself missing the excitement of the murder squad in London. But when the body of professional diver Jude Trellon is discovered, anchored to the rocks of a nearby cave, his investigative skills are once again needed.

At first it appears that the young woman’s death was a tragic accident, but when evidence suggests otherwise, the islanders close ranks. With even those closest to the victim refusing to talk, it seems that plenty of islanders had reason to harm her. As the community remains guarded, Ben Kitto discovers that terrible secrets lie beneath the waters around Tresco, and the killer may soon strike again.

Everyone is a suspect.

Nobody is safe.

 

Alex Michaelides – The Silent Patient

ALICIA
Alicia Berenson writes a diary as a release, an outlet – and to prove to her beloved husband that everything is fine. She can’t bear the thought of worrying Gabriel, or causing him pain.

Until, late one evening, Alicia shoots Gabriel five times and then never speaks another word.

THEO
Forensic psychotherapist Theo Faber is convinced he can successfully treat Alicia, where all others have failed. Obsessed with investigating her crime, his discoveries suggest Alicia’s silence goes far deeper than he first thought.

And if she speaks, would he want to hear the truth?

 

Four amazing books! If you’d love to come along to First Monday Crime at City University on Monday 1st April at 6.30pm, then don’t forget to RSVP by clicking here.

 

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Author Talk at West Barnes Library with Rhidian Brook and Elisabeth Gifford @rhidianbrook @elisabeth04liz @VikingBooksUK @CorvusBooks @ColinHartUK @MertonLibraries #TheAftermath #TheGoodDoctorOfWarsaw

Autho poster March 19

This is the third author talk I’ve organised with the Friends of West Barnes Library and it was particularly special. As I said to the audience of about 50 people (our biggest so far), it’s lovely to introduce them to authors I know but especially so when you’ve known them for more years than you care to admit to. It’s been wonderful to see their careers start and flourish over time. So who were our guests? Rhidian Brook, author of The Aftermath, now a feature film starring Keira Knightley and Alexander Skarsgård. And  Elisabeth Gifford with her book, The Good Doctor of Warsaw, my top read of 2018.

There are similarities with both novels. The Aftermath is set in Germany at the end of WW2 and, as the title suggests, The Good Doctor of Warsaw is set in Poland during WW2. But the key thing with these stories is the element of truth running through them. I suggested to them that Rhidian’s book is fiction inspired by a true event whereas Elisabeth’s is a fictionalised account of a true story. Both are remarkable.

The true story behind The Aftermath is a very personal one to Rhidian. He knew his grandfather had been out in Germany after the war but it wasn’t until his father sat him down and told him everything, that he sensed the possibility of a story. As in the novel, Rhidian’s grandfather, Walter Brook, was in charge of putting Hamburg back together again. And just like Lewis Morgan, Walter Brook suggested to his family that they share the large requisitioned house with its Germany owners. Apparently Mrs Brook was a bit hostile towards the idea. And that conflict sparked the beginning for this fantastic novel. Rhidian visited the house out in Hamburg as part of his research as well as grilling his aunt and uncle over their experiences too.

Dr Janusz Korczak is a figure that Elisabeth Gifford has long admired and she knew she wanted to write about him. As he died at Treblinka, she searched for others who may have known him. She managed to find one of his helpers, Misha, but he died before she could speak to him. She contacted his son though, Roman, who told her not just about Korczak but also about his parents’ incredible story of how they survived the Warsaw Ghetto. Only 1% actually survived.

I asked Elisabeth how she managed to translate the true story into fiction and the kind of responsibility she felt. Initially the book was quite factual and read more as a biography. So her publishers suggested she rewrote it as fiction. There was a huge responsibility to get it right, particularly with Misha and Sophia’s story. Where there were gaps in the narrative, Elisabeth had to ask Roman if she could make a few things up to ensure the story flowed. Thankfully he agreed!

For Rhidian it was easier as he was making up a story but he was keen to include things his family had told him. For example, the Rubble Kids, who were hung upside down over railway bridges to knock coal off the tops of goods trains down to the women below who would catch them in their skirts.

 

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As their books contain themes such as forgiveness and reconciliation in The Aftermath (or redemption and hope as Keira Knightley put it in a recent TV interview) and dignity and hope in The Good Doctor of Warsaw, I asked how much their Christian faith influences their writing. Elisabeth said she’s managed to put a vicar in most of her books and no one has minded so far. For Rhidian, his earlier books had a more obvious Christian slant in comparison to The Aftermath, which is more thematic. His latest book, The Killing of Butterfly Joe, (which is set in 1980s USA at the height of tele-evangelists) has a character who’d like to be the American equivalent of the Pope and point out hypocrisy in the Church.

Now, as we had a rather large poster from The Aftermath film behind us, (thanks to Premier for providing us with publicity materials), we had to talk about the movie! Rhidian had already told me it was like watching someone else parent his child. The Aftermath was initially commissioned as a film before it was a novel. But it seemed sensible to write the book first. Rhidian did write a screenplay with more characters from the novel but was told it would be too expensive to make. So the storyline was pared down to the three main characters of Colonel Lewis Morgan (Jason Clarke), Rachael Morgan (Keira Knightley) and Stefan Lubert (Alexander Skarsgård). I confessed I enjoyed the film better on second viewing as I was no longer looking to see what had been included from the book and what had been cut. Rhidian felt the same! (For my review of the movie click here )

My final question was about their current works in progress. Elisabeth is writing a novel set on the Scottish island of St Kilda where there has been no permanent population since 1930. Sounds intriguing! Rhidian has written the screenplay for The Killing of Butterfly Joe and he’s now working on something Crime related. Since he has previously written for Silent Witness (and in my opinion wrote excellent police officers) this could be very interesting!

 

 

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A huge thank you to the Friends of West Barnes Library for their help in setting up the evening. And also we were very honoured to have photographer Colin Hart come and take photos for us, along with my daughter. A few weeks ago, Colin took photos at The Aftermath premiere so it was lovely he came to our much smaller event. Thank you Colin! So we have two slideshows – one from Colin (just above) and one from my daughter (further up). But biggest thanks of all to Rhidian Brook and Elisabeth Gifford for thoroughly entertaining us.

 

And we’re back again in May! This time it’s TUESDAY 14th May at 7.30 pm so a change of day. We’re staying in Europe (for books at least) as we welcome David Young and Daniel Pembrey who will tell us why they’ve set their novels on the Continent.

 

 

Blog Tour – Keep Her Close by @MJFordBooks @AvonBooksUK

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Today I’m on the blog tour for Keep Her Close by MJ Ford. This is the second DS Josie Masters book. Thank you to Sabah Khan at Avon for inviting me to take part. I have an extract for you that follows on from the passage that Jen shared over on jenmedsbookreviews.com on the 9th March. So if you haven’t read it yet, hop over to read her post first and then come back to me! But before all of that, the blurb.

 

The Blurb

When a young woman goes missing from Jesus College, Oxford, DS Josie Masters is plunged into a world of panic as fear grips the city. Along with Thames Valley Police’s newest recruit, the handsome DS Pryce, Josie must act fast – and when two more students disappear from Oriel and Somerville colleges, she realises the killer is sending her a deadly message in a cruel game of cat and mouse. This time, the case is personal – but who is the perpetrator?

In a desperate race against the clock, Josie hunts for the kidnapper, and soon discovers he could be a lot closer to home than she’d ever thought…

keep her close cover

The Extract

And really, she wasn’t. Much. Though the thought of the sun on her face was appealing. It was quite some time since she’d had a proper break. In fact, the last prolonged period of annual leave had been Padua with Ben, about fifteen months ago. A top-floor apartment overlooking some piazza or other, a warm Mediterranean breeze tickling the blinds, the muffled chatter of the restaurant customers below. Afterwards, they’d calculated it was during the holiday that she’d conceived. Ben had even suggested that Padua would be an acceptable name if it turned out to be a girl.

‘Enough, Josephine,’ she muttered to herself.

She drove back out of Oxford towards Horton, the village where she’d grown up and where Paul, until recently, had occupied the family home with his wife and two children. Maybe she needed to talk to Lucas about going away. They’d been together almost six months, so a holiday wasn’t moving too fast. Somewhere hot preferably. Sandy. Cocktails (virgin for teetotal Lucas, obviously). Somewhere free from the bloody footprints of the dead. Lucas preferred winter sports, but surely he could be coaxed onto a windsurfing board. The estate agents selling her brother’s house – The Rookery – were under strict instructions to drive potential viewers in from the other end of the crescent. It seemed a rather pointless subterfuge to Jo – they’d find out soon enough what had happened nearby at Sally Carruthers’ ‘House of Horrors’, as the papers had called it.

Jo pulled up outside to find the estate agent and a couple already waiting. She climbed out of her car and apologised, then scrambled for the key to let them in.

 

I think it’s fair to say that DS Josie Masters has got quite a lot on her plate! And that’s even before her police work. To find out more you can order the book here.

 

The Author

mj ford

M.J. Ford is a writer and an editor at Working Partners, where he works on projects across the age groups. He loves thrillers, historical and fantasy titles. His first novel, Hold My Hand, received rave reviews in 2018 and Keep Her Close is his second thriller.

 

 

 

Blog Tour Review – My Sister is Missing by @Julia_Barrett_ @RedDoorBooks #mysisterismissing

My Sister is Missing Blog banner

I’m delighted to be taking part in the blog tour for My Sister is Missing by Julia Barrett. Julia and I connected on Twitter a while back and it’s been a joy to see her publishing journey come to fruition. Thank you to Anna Burtt at Red Door Publishing for inviting me to take part and sending a copy of the book. Before I tell you my thoughts, here’s the blurb.

 

The Blurb

I’m not the wife you think I am

Jess’s sister Stephanie loves being a new mum, and is besotted with her baby daughter Natalie. She’s tired and a bit anxious, but that’s natural, isn’t it?

However, one night Stephanie disappears, taking Natalie with her. Jess tries to convince herself that there’s a perfectly reasonable explanation but as time goes on and CCTV images appear of a young woman with a baby, jumping in front of a high-speed train, Jess fears the worst. But was it Stephanie? And if not, where has she gone? And what does husband Adam have to hide?

In turmoil Jess goes in search of answers, but she isn’t prepared for what she uncovers… or for what happens next.

My Sister is Missing is an intense, twisted, psychological thriller that will make you question what is real, and whether you really can trust those you love.

My Sister is Missing cover

My Review

When Red Door Publishing sent me My Sister is Missing, a bookmark was included. There was space to write three words to sum up the book. My words were secrets, mystery and chilling. So let’s look at that in a bit more depth.

From the opening section, we know someone has a major secret. A secret that has the power to destroy relationships and life as that person knows it. We soon find out that the person is Stephanie, new mum to Natalie. After years of trying for a baby, this should be the happiest time in Stephanie’s life. But the secret is eating her up inside. And leads to disastrous consequences.

When Stephanie disappears with her baby, it’s a complete mystery to her sister, Jess. Stephanie has always been the strong older sister, the one that kept Jess going after their parents’ break-up. She appeared to be relishing her now role as a mum. Aware that the police can only do so much, Jess starts to investigate. And that includes looking at her brother-in-law, Adam, whose behaviour is somewhat disturbing.

But there’s someone else hovering on the fringes, just slightly out of sight – Stephanie and Jess’ mother. This is the chilling part. Her influence over her daughters pervades their thoughts and deeds. Can the sisters break free of their mother to live their own lives?

Told through the viewpoints of Stephanie, Jess and Adam, we begin to piece together the narrative. There are various themes that come up which are handled very sensitively by Julia Barrett. Reading about Stephanie’s experience as a new mum reminded me of how tricky that time can be. I don’t want to tell you too much of the plot as I’d rather you experienced it yourself. Suffice to say though, the secrets are exposed, the mystery is finally solved and the chilling atmosphere is there until the very end. A very accomplished debut novel. I look forward to reading more from Julia Barrett.

 

To pre-order My Sister is Missing click here.

 

The Author

Julia Barrett

Julia Barrett began her working life as a primary school teacher. She has worked in Public Relations for the NHS and as an in-house journalist for Queen Mary, University of London. She has a BA in English Literature from the University of Hull. She is a Faber Academy alumna and is currently working towards the completion of an MA in Creative Writing at Royal Holloway, University of London. She grew up in Yorkshire and now lives in Essex with her husband and two children.

 

 

Book Review #TheNeighbour by @FionaAnnCummins @PanMacmillan @rosiewilsreads

Four weeks today, The Neighbour, the new novel from Fiona Cummins will be published by Pan Macmillan. If you’ve been reading my blog for a while then you’ll know that I absolutely love Fiona’s writing. So much so, that she’s been runner-up in my top reads for both 2017 and 2018 with Rattle and The Collector. I’d like to thank Fiona for sending me a copy of The Neighbour to read. But before my review, here’s the blurb.

 

The Blurb

FOR SALE: A lovely family home with good-sized garden and treehouse occupying a plot close to woodland. Perfect for kids, fitness enthusiasts, dog walkers . . .

And, it seems, the perfect hunting ground for a serial killer.

On a hot July day, Garrick and Olivia Lockwood and their two children move into 25 The Avenue looking for a fresh start. They arrive in the midst of a media frenzy: they’d heard about the local murders in the press, but Garrick was certain the killer would be caught and it would all be over in no time. Besides, they’d got the house at a steal and he was convinced he could flip it for a fortune.

The neighbours seemed to be the very picture of community spirit. But everyone has secrets, and the residents in The Avenue are no exception.

After six months on the case with no real leads, the most recent murder has turned DC Wildeve Stanton’s life upside down, and now she has her own motive for hunting down the killer – quickly.

The Neighbour final cover

My Review

They say the three most stressful events in life are dealing with a death, divorce and moving house. Well, spare a thought for Garrick and Olivia Lockwood. They’ve just moved house, their marriage is on the rocks and a corpse has been found only metres from their new property. Oh, and it’s the fifth body to be found in such circumstances. Personally, I’d have done a bunk at this point but Garrick and Olivia have to stay.

I’ve read Fiona’s previous books – Rattle and The Collector – so I know what to expect with her style. It’s almost like a list of essential ingredients – quirky names, atmospheric settings and various viewpoints and timelines. All there. But this time we have far more characters who want to tell us their stories. Initially, it was slightly confusing but Fiona Cummins has made them all so distinctive you soon pick up on everyone. Just as you would when you first move to a new neighbourhood – it takes time to get to know your neighbours. But one of them is a killer. The question is who?

I was hoping that ‘Wow, just wow’ would be good enough for a review but clearly it isn’t. Fiona Cummins gets better with each book and the result with The Neighbour is quite astonishing. I keep coming back to it in my head, trying to work out how Fiona wrote this. The last book that made me think this much over story structure was I Let You Go by Clare Mackintosh with that epic twist. This is a novel that’s crying out to be made into a TV series with its creepy and complex plot and impressive cast list. But before that happens, read the book. And maybe think twice about moving.

And finally. Sometimes it’s hard to express just how good a book is. I could use lots of superlatives but I’m not sure they would do The Neighbour justice. Except for one. It might be a little early in the year but I’m going to say it. The Neighbour is… extraordinary.

 

To pre-order The Neighbour click here.

 

The Author

fionacummins_378

Fiona Cummins is an award-winning former Daily Mirror showbusiness journalist and a graduate of the Faber Academy Writing A Novel course. Rattle, her debut novel, has been translated into several languages and received widespread critical acclaim from authors including Val McDermid, Lee Child and Martina Cole. Marcel Berlins wrote in The Times: ‘Amid the outpouring of crime novels, Rattle is up there with the best of them.’

Fiona was selected for McDermid’s prestigious New Blood panel at the 2017 Theakston Old Peculier Crime Writing Festival, where her novel was nominated for a Dead Good Reader Award for Most Exceptional Debut. Rattle is now being adapted into a six-part TV series by the producers of Golden Globe-nominated Miss Sloane.

A sequel, The Collector, was published in February 2018 and David Baldacci described it as ‘A crime novel of the very first order’. Her third novel – standalone thriller The Neighbour – will be published in April 2019.

When Fiona is not writing, she can be found on Twitter, eating biscuits or walking her dog. She lives in Essex with her family.

 

 

 

First Monday Crime – March 19 @1stMondayCrime @cjtudor @mjarlidge @LauraSRobinson @figbarton @JakeKerridge

Well, after what seemed the longest January on record, February has flown past and we were suddenly back at First Monday Crime last night. Jake Kerridge was in charge for the evening and likened the guests to the recent mini heatwave – a lovely surprise but also made us fear for the future of our planet. The authors bringing us dark and devious tales were C.J. Tudor, Fiona Barton, M.J. Arlidge and Laura Shepherd-Robinson.

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C.J. Tudor has been described as a ‘British female Stephen King’ due to the supernatural elements of her books. For her though, The Chalk Man was a mystery resolved in reality. However, her new book – The Taking of Annie Thorne – is more supernatural and ambiguous in nature. Joe Thorne (not the world’s best teacher) has gone back to the isolated village he grew up. His sister went missing for 48 hours when she was a child but wasn’t the same when she came back. C.J. Tudor explained that it’s often easier for readers to accept supernatural elements if the story is rooted in reality – weird things happening to ordinary people. Another similarity to Stephen King is writing characters as both a child and an adult. C.J. Tudor has done this in both her books, showing how the child is still there even though the character is now an adult.

Fiona Barton’s protagonist is journalist, Kate Waters. Her new book is The Suspect and is set in Thailand. Two eighteen-year-old girls have gone missing on their gap year. As her son is out there, Kate takes to opportunity to visit him as well as investigate the disappearance of the girls. Fiona drew on her own experience of when her son went travelling several years ago in the time before social media. It was hard to keep in touch and he rarely sent any postcards. Fiona had no idea if he was ok or dying in a ditch. She channelled that fear into the book. She also tapped into her teenage years and thought about the things she had done she wouldn’t want her mother to know. So the guilt and worry that Mum would find out was another driving force for the story. Although Fiona is a former journalist, Kate Waters is not based on her but more an amalgamation of all the journalists she’s met over the years. The advantage of having a journalist as the investigator is that Kate doesn’t get caught up in police red tape.

M.J. Arlidge is the author of the DI Helen Grace series but his new book, A Gift For Dying, is a standalone set in the US written in American English. The premise is – if someone could tell you when you’re going to die, would you want to know? Set in Chicago, a beautiful but extremely violent setting, a serial killer is on the loose. Cassie, an American girl with a Polish background, is a survivor who can see death and tries to forewarn people. To prove this to the police detective, she crosses an eight lane highway, blindfolded. In the past it’s been difficult to include the supernatural in stories (as C.J. Tudor has found) so it’s supernatural with a small ‘s’ or as M.J. Arlidge put it – a serial killer thriller with a twist.

Laura Shepherd-Robinson’s debut novel is Blood & Sugar. It’s set in Deptford in the 1780s at the height of the slave trade. Laura had to do a lot of research for this book. She’s always been interested in the 18th century as the flowering of the Enlightenment but it was also a brutal time with capital punishment, blood sports and slavery. As Jake pointed out, abolishment of slavery seemed impossible in 1780 but there was a huge shift over the next thirty years. And Laura wanted to capture how difficult it was to change people’s minds, especially as there was a powerful lobby in favour of slavery. Her protagonist is Captain Harry Corsham, a war hero with a good society marriage and political ambitions. But all this changes when an old but estranged friend goes missing and Harry’s asked to investigate.

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Jake wondered if the authors’ previous jobs had helped at all with their writing careers.

M.J.Arlidge was a storyline editor on EastEnders for two years. It was hard work creating thirty minutes of drama three or four times a week, ensuring you ended with a cliff-hanger. This has helped with writing his books – keeping up the relentless pace and having an ending for each chapter that fits the EastEnders drumbeat!

Laura Shepherd-Robinson used to work in politics where she saw how power was exercised. For her, in crime books the main protagonist is often struggling with ambition and principles. She pointed out that those who clung to principles didn’t always achieve much. Compromise is needed.

As a journalist, Fiona Barton used to attend court cases and this inspired her first novel, The Widow, as she observed the families caught up in the proceedings. Nothing is held back in court and for some, it might be the first time they’ve heard the evidence against a loved one. Although she’s used to writing to deadlines, she hadn’t written anything longer that 2.5k words before writing a novel.

C.J. Tudor has had lots of different jobs! Writing adverts for radio helped her to focus on dialogue. She’s also had a dog walking business that allowed her to do a lot of thinking and plotting, especially if she’d taken the dogs to the woods, looking for a good place to hide or find a body!

 

Jake asked the authors about the setting for their novels.

In the 1780s, Deptford wasn’t really part of London and was most definitely on the outskirts. It was a pretty seedy area with brothels and drug dens but there was also an affluent side, creating a contrast that Laura could use.

M.J. Arlidge visited Chicago to get a really good feel for it. As well as seeing the city, he also met with a forensic psychologist who took him to the prison. It’s the second biggest in the country and is underground. Gang culture is evident in Chicago and even children in kindergarten colour Mickey Mouse in gang colours. There’s no safety net for the mentally ill who can’t afford health insurance. It’s an incredibly violent city. When Matt was there, a man had been shot dead. So his son went out and killed four people in revenge. It was item six on the news.

Fiona Barton lived in Sri Lanka for two years so had some idea of life in South East Asia but she had never visited Bangkok before. She went for three days and made sure she visited the areas that the missing girls went to, including a very dodgy hotel. She decided not to spend the night there.

No exotic locations for C.J. Tudor! She was born in Salisbury and that was the influence for Anderbury in The Chalk Man. Her family moved to Nottinghamshire and she went to secondary school in a pit village at the time of the Miners’ strike so she was very aware of how the communities coped, or didn’t cope, at that time. Some recovered but others became very deprived. This was the inspiration for Arnhill in The Taking of Annie Thorne.

 

There were some great questions from the audience but my hand had given up by then (scrawling quickly is tiring!) so I sat back and listened instead. Jake also mentioned the line-up for next month. I’m sure First Monday Crime will be confirming that on Twitter very soon but it’s good, very good! Plus, April is birthday month for First Monday Crime so you know what that means, don’t you? Cookies for everyone! So make sure you reserve your seat for April by clicking here.

 

To find out more about the authors and buy their books, click on their names:

M.J. Arlidge

Fiona Barton

C.J. Tudor

Laura Shepherd-Robinson

 

 

 

The Aftermath – Film and Book Review @RhidianBrook @AftermathMovie @SearchlightUK @VikingBooksUK #TheAftermath #KeiraKnightley #AlexanderSkarsgård

The Aftermath new book cover

The film The Aftermath is on general release from today. It stars Keira Knightley, Alexander Skarsgård and Jason Clarke. I read the novel when it was first published in 2013. It had already been commissioned as a screenplay. It’s a truly wonderful book. Does the film match up? I was fortunate to be invited to an advance screening.

The Plot

The Aftermath is set in post war Germany in the autumn and winter of 1945/6. Rachael Morgan (Keira Knightley) arrives in the ruins of Hamburg in the bitter winter, to be reunited with her husband Lewis (Jason Clarke), a colonel of the British Forces charged with rebuilding the shattered city. But as they set off for their new home, Rachael is stunned to discover that Lewis has made an unexpected decision: they will be sharing the grand house with its previous owners, a German widower (Alexander Skarsgård) and his troubled daughter. In this charged atmosphere, enmity and grief give way to passion and betrayal.

 

My Review

‘You are about to meet a strange people in a strange enemy country.

Reconciliation appears impossible, let alone forgiveness, in war-torn Hamburg. The Aftermath is inspired by the true life account of Rhidian Brook’s grandparents. His grandfather was sent to Hamburg after the war to take control of it. A large house was requisitioned for him and his family. Instead of kicking the German owners out, Brook’s grandfather asked them to stay and the two families lived happily alongside each other for five years. Their story is a happier one. But it was this noble gesture that inspired Rhidian Brook to write this story and ask the question – what if?  The book has been pared back to reveal the emotional heart of the story – devastating loss and forgiveness. How can citizens from two warring nations live alongside each other?

Keira Knightley excels as Rachael Morgan, as she does in all period pieces. Her fragility as Rachael is subtlety revealed through flashback images, music (Knightley playing Clair de Lune is a very emotionally charged scene) and significant objects such as the cigarette case she gave to Lewis, her husband. In it are photos of their son, Michael, who was killed during a bombing raid.

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Keira Knightley as Rachael Morgan in ‘The Aftermath’.

Jason Clarke, as Colonel Lewis Morgan, is a different kind of British soldier. Ashamed of what he has done during the war, he’s intent on rescuing Hamburg. Near the beginning of the film he tells Rachael, ‘More bombs were dropped on Hamburg in one weekend than London during the entire war.’ It’s a fact that is often forgotten.

The bombing created a firestorm that killed thousands and thousands of people. In the story, Lubert’s wife was killed. Like Rachael, he too is mourning and is struggling to be a father to his daughter, Freda. In The Little Drummer Girl, Alexander Skarsgård played the very aloof and brooding Gadi. As Stefan Lubert, he initially appears that way but there is considerably more warmth in this performance as Stefan dares to believe in a life beyond the war.

The beautiful house is in stark contrast to the ruined city of Hamburg. Set five months after the end of the war, bodies are still being found. Twenty-five thousand people are missing. Renegade Nazis are attacking British soldiers whenever they can. Add to that a freezing cold and snowy winter, it’s a pretty dreadful place to be.

So, if like me you’ve read the book, should you see the film? Absolutely. Paring back to the three main characters makes for great intensity and emotional connection.

If you see the film, should you then read the book? Absolutely. Minor characters in the story add depth and colour. In fact, my favourite character, Ozi, doesn’t make it into the film and his story, for me, is the most devastating of them all. Plus, Brook is a wondrous wordsmith. This is one of my favourite sections from the novel.

‘Outside, there was balm in the scene: the skies had cleared of yesterday’s slate-grey snowclouds and were as blue and clean as a senior ward sister’s tunic. The low-angled sun made everything sparkle, while the thickness of the snow was felty and reassuring and as white and bobbly as hospital linen. It was beautiful and frustrating. It would gave the minister a false impression. On such a day as this, a visitor who had just arrived might be forgiven for thinking that Hamburg was making a startling recovery. The snow disguised the trauma by throwing an equalizing blanket over everything, giving jagged metal and broken brick a new hopeful covering. It was a bad day to conduct a tour that was meant to show how ugly and grey life was amidst the German ruins.’

 

Overall, Keira Knightley and Alexander Skarsgård are stunning as Rachael and Stefan as their grief draws them together but it’s Jason Clarke’s performance towards the end of the film that had me in tears. A stylish but heart-breaking movie. Five stars.

 

If you want to know more about the film, the book and the incredible true story that inspired it, then come along to West Barnes Library on Monday 18th March at 7.30pm. Rhidian Brook will be joined by Elisabeth Gifford whose novel, The Good Doctor of Warsaw, is also based on true events in Poland during WW2.

Autho poster March 19 To find out more about Rhidian Brook and buy The Aftermath, click here.

 

The Author

Rhidian Brook

Rhidian Brook is an award-winning writer of fiction. His first novel, The Testimony of Taliesin Jones, won several prizes including the Somerset Maugham Award. His third, The Aftermath, was an international bestseller and has been translated into twenty-five languages. It is now a major motion picture. His latest novel is The Killing of Butterfly Joe. He has written for television and the screen and is a regular contributor to BBC Radio 4’s ‘Thought for the Day’.