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Friday, 29 September 2017

‘Behold A Pale Horse’ by Sally Spedding

Published by CreateSpace Independent Publishing,
21 July 2017.
ISBN: 978-1548644833

Sally Speddings novel opens with the birth of Girard Corbichon in thirteenth century Normandy. The First Crusade is drawing to a close, but militant Christians still preach against Jewish and Muslim believers as well as those whose lifestyles are deemed to defile Old Testament laws.  Girard is born with albinism, and this is enough to convince his superstitious father that the boy represents the curse of a vengeful God; wife and son are abandoned and forced to move nearly three hundred kilometres north to seek comfort with relatives in Froissy. 

A few years later, in Pembrokeshire, another boy, Mordiern Guyon, is delivered to parents who delight in their newborn child.  Mordiern’s proud father, a devoted crusader soon to travel to Constantinople, dedicates his son to follow in his footsteps and become a knight when he has reached manhood.  The vow will bring Mordiern and Girard together as brothers of the Order of the Temple, a relationship that will inspire Mordien to compose exquisite songs but that will also have harrowing consequences for the men and their families.

In a parallel narrative set in London just over 700 years later, The Early Music Balladeers are practicing a melancholic song attributed to Mordiern.  The beauty and pathos of the work allows senior chorister, Catherine Ash, some merciful respite from a violent and abusive marriage.  Clement, her narcissistic husband, works as an estate agent in London’s now trendy Docklands.  When Catherine arrives home, he informs her that he is to run the firm’s office in the south of France.  The couple relocate and find themselves living in a ramshackle apartment, rented from the unpleasant Madame Rosa Tavernier.  Clement’s work at his new office, Maisons du Soleil, is all-consuming, and leaves Catherine isolated, disoriented and vulnerable, with only uncanny dream-visions of Mordiern and his wistful ballads for company.  When she meets Madame Tavernier’s elderly brother Leon she is intrigued by the eccentric old gardener.  The mysterious Taverniers, however, are guarding grim secrets from the past, and the dysfunctional English couple find themselves unwittingly drawn into deep and murky waters under the warm French sun.

Sally Spedding’s carefully constructed novel successfully straddles time and space.  The mood becomes increasingly chilling as the two narratives relentlessly swirl together and create a turbulent gothic vortex into which the protagonists are irresistibly pulled.  The book explores the fragility of love and humanity as medieval Europe’s apocalyptic mindset gallops into the twentieth century with brutal and destructive consequences.  Having previously read Spedding’s The Yellowhammer’s Cradle I expected Behold A Pale Horse to be a thought-provoking journey into the macabre.  I was not disappointed and this book will appeal to readers who, like me, enjoy haunting thrillers in dystopian settings.
Reviewer: Dorothy Marshall-Gent

 Sally Spedding was born by the sea near Porthcawl in Wales and trained in sculpture in Manchester and at St Martin's, London. My work was detailed, accurate and in demand, but I began to realise words can deliver so much more than any narrative sculpture or painting. Sally’s first crime mystery, Wringland, has a strong historical thread and is set in the bleak fenland around Sutton Bridge. Cloven also invokes the past while in A Night With No Stars, published in January 2005, it's a fourteen year old murder which destabilises the present. Prey Silence, set in SW France, featuring an animal rights activist, was published in July 2006. Come and be Killed, set in the Malvern Hills, came out in January 2007. Her strong familial connections with the Pyrenees, Germany and Holland have provided her with themes of loss and exclusion. The dark side of people, and landscape. The deceptive exterior, the snake in the grass are all themes which recur in her writing. Sally is married to the painter, Jeffrey Spedding.

Dot Marshall-Gent worked in the emergency services for twenty years first as a police officer, then as a paramedic and finally as a fire control officer before graduating from King’s College, London as a teacher of English in her mid-forties.  She completed a M.A. in Special and Inclusive Education at the Institute of Education, London and now teaches part-time and writes mainly about educational issues.  Dot sings jazz and country music and plays guitar, banjo and piano as well as being addicted to reading mystery and crime fiction.  

‘The One That Got Away’ by Annabel Kantaria

Published by HQ,
21 September 2017.
ISBN: 978-0-84845-6759-512-2(PB)

The school reunion. Nightmare. As if school itself wasn't competitive enough, a decade or so later do we really need all those enquiring eyes wondering if the high-achiever in class made it to the top in the post-education world? Or worse, if that paunchy, almost-bald groper over by the bar was really the class hunk way back then?

On the other hand... what if the big sixth-form romance which resulted in heartbreak could turn out to have a happy ending after all?

Stella and George didn't exactly have the big romance fifteen years ago, but they did have a kind of magnetic pull to each other; so, when the school reunion throws them together after fifteen years it's kind of inevitable that they'll want to see if it's still there. It didn't end well back then, but these things rarely do, and now they are both successful and reasonably well off, you'd think they'd want the past to stay in the past

But... George is now married to Ness, the sixth-form glamour queen and nice girl; all the same, Stella's allure proves too much, and he pursues her relentlessly, with predictable results. But what follows is far from predictable...

I couldn't put this book down. As it see-sawed from one point of view to the other (they take alternate chapters), it exercised the same appalling fascination over me that Stella and George did over each other when they were teenagers. I needed to know what was going on and how it would turn out; from the first night in the bar at the reunion, right through to the chilling final paragraph, it had me gripped.

I didn't like either of them, would move railway carriages to avoid sitting with them, but they intrigued me and held me in thrall. Annabel Kantaria, an unfamiliar name to me until now, painted a vivid picture, both physical and psychological, of both protagonists and the people around them, and also of the places in which the action took place. As the storyline unfolded and lives unravelled, it became horribly clear what was happening, but still I had to see how, or if, it would be resolved.

I can't say more than that; it would be far too easy to drop in a spoiler, and it wouldn't be fair on either a potential reader or a clever and courageous author. She, too, could have made it easy for herself; she chose not to, and she made it work.
Reviewer: Lynne Patrick

Annabel Kantaria is a British journalist who now lives in Dubai with her husband and children. She has edited and contributed to women’s magazines and publications throughout the Middle East and returns regularly to the UK.

Lynne Patrick has been a writer ever since she could pick up a pen, and has enjoyed success with short stories, reviews and feature journalism, but never, alas, with a novel. She crossed to the dark side to become a publisher for a few years, and is proud to have launched several careers which are now burgeoning. She lives on the edge of rural Derbyshire in a house groaning with books, about half of them crime fiction.

‘Hawk’s Cross’ by David Collenette

Published by The Book Guild Publishing,
28 June 2017.
ISBN: 978-1911320-746 (PB)

This, the author’s debut piece of crime fiction, features as the narrator the eponymous hero, Matthew Hawk, who’s a homeless Londoner getting by with guile and a talent for drawing. Little does Matthew suspect that his humdrum existence is about to go horribly wrong in unexpected ways when a complete stranger, wealthy psychopath Ethan Connelly, approaches him. Matthew finds himself mixed up in a brutal murder and other grisly situations, the last straw being the abduction of a woman friend who is held captive in abusive conditions.

Desperate to establish why he has become a pawn in Ethan’s deadly game, Matthew forges a quirky pact with the man whom Ethan has ordered to finish him off.  On a collision course with Ethan, they flee England, trawling through France and Monaco, painfully aware that time is not on their side. Can they eventually bring down thuggish Ethan or will they end up as his next victims?  One finds oneself rooting desperately for payback.

The book cover is slick, the plot original and momentum and tension are built up in an urgent and credible fashion although some readers may find it a struggle to look past the uneven strands of characterisation.  That said, the author’s many strengths shine through and the book is an intriguing door-opener to a sequel.
Reviewer: Serena Fairfax

David Collenette was adopted as a baby and was born and brought up in South Wales. From a child, David Collenette has been an avid writer and received several commendations for his short stories. However, it wasn’t until 2016 that David completed his first full novel, Hawk’s Cross, a culmination of three year’s work, David currently lives in South Wales with his wife, Louellan. When David is not writing, he loves to travel with his wife, his writing often reflects many of the places they’ve experienced. They have four grown children, a crazy dog named Martin and a catnip addicted cat named Chesterfield. 

 Serena Fairfax spent her childhood in India, qualified as a lawyer in England and practised in London for many years. She began writing by contributing feature articles to legal periodicals   then turned her hand to fiction. Having published nine novels all, bar one, hardwired with a romantic theme, she has also written short stories and accounts of her explorations off the beaten track that feature on her blog. A tenth, distinctly unromantic, novel is a work in progress. Thrillers, crime and mystery narratives, collecting old masks and singing are a few of her favourite things.