Welcome to my book-blog. I spend as much time as I can within the pages of a book and hope you'll get some reading inspiration from my library. Catch me on Instagram as well as books.tea.and.me – I'm always looking for recommendations!
Two men are found dead in London’s Battersea Park. One of the bodies has been laid out like a crucifix – with his eyes removed and placed on his open palms.
Detective Inspector Grace Archer and her caustic DS, Harry Quinn, lead the investigation. But when more bodies turn up in a similar fashion, they find themselves in a race against time to find the sadistic killer.
The hunt leads them to Ladywell Playtower in Southeast London, the home to a religious commune lead by the enigmatic Aaron Cronin. Archer and Quinn suspect Cronin’s involvement but his alibis are watertight, and the truth seemingly buried. If Archer is to find the killer, she must first battle her way through religious fanatics, London gangsters – and her own demons . . .
‘See No Evil’ is the second book by David Fennell featuring DI Grace Archer and DS Harry Quinn, the first being: ‘The Art of Death’. This can, absolutely, be read as a standalone, however it’s always an idea to start at the beginning of any series for character development plotting. But, it’s really not an issue as Fennell builds important relationship detail into the narrative and as the new plot develops we are drawn into the character portrayal from ‘The Art of Death’ as our principal characters deal with a new threat and perpetrator to hunt down.
I really enjoyed ‘See No Evil’ perhaps more than I did ‘The Art of Death’. In the first book I worked out too early where it was heading, but this time I was hooked into connecting all the pieces together until the end. From the start, Fennell’s character driven narrative hook immersed in fear and creepiness grabs the readers’ attention and introduces a brutal crime that builds as the story progresses. Again, this is not a book for the faint-hearted and there are dark, twisty moments that delve into fanatical mindsets and coercive behaviours.
If you’re a crime and thriller reader, I’d highly recommend both ‘The Art of Death’ and ‘See No Evil’ – a fast-paced, exhilarating crime thriller that explores darker themes and is satisfyingly good.
Please click on the below link to read about the first book in the series ‘The Art of Death’.
Born and raised in Belfast before leaving for London at the age of eighteen with £50 in one pocket and a dog-eared copy of Stephen King’s The Stand in the other. He jobbed as a chef, waiter and bartender for several years before starting a career in writing for the software industry. He has been working in CyberSecurity for fourteen years and is a fierce advocate for information privacy. David has played rugby for Brighton and has studied Creative Writing at the University of Sussex. He is married and he and his partner split their time between Central London and Brighton. To find out more, visit his website: www.davidfennell.co.uk. Follow him on Twitter: @davyfennell
‘See No Evil’ published 28th April 2022, Zaffre, Hardback, eBook and Audio, £14.99
Cornwall, 1972. Three keepers vanish from a remote lighthouse, miles from the shore. The entrance door is locked from the inside. The clocks have stopped. The Principal Keeper’s weather log describes a mighty storm, but the skies have been clear all week.
What happened to those three men, out on the tower? The heavy sea whispers their names. The tide shifts beneath the swell, drowning ghosts. Can their secrets ever be recovered from the waves?
Twenty years later, the women they left behind are still struggling to move on. Helen, Jenny and Michelle should have been united by the tragedy, but instead it drove them apart. And then a writer approaches them. He wants to give them a chance to tell their side of the story. But only in confronting their darkest fears can the truth begin to surface . . .
Inspired by real events
I loved the shifting of the book’s narrative between the men’s perspective in 1972 and the women in 1992; so let me explain… the base of this story comes from the actual disappearance of three men in the 1900s from a lighthouse situated in the Outer Hebrides. Stonex takes this mystery and weaves her own vision of events into ‘The Lamplighters’ and she’s created an excellent read with a driven narrative. We begin to piece together the parts of the whole story via interviews with those left behind and the narrative of the past.
I love books set by the sea; the isolated and tempestuous setting of this story is really atmospheric and bleak, and it also offers the psychological journey of being in such an environment.
Overall, I found this quite a haunting read, and I kept thinking about it after I closed the final page. With themes of love, loss, grief and hidden truths and I would happily recommend this book.
Five hundred Italian prisoners of war arrive to fortify these wild and desolate islands.
Orphaned sisters Dorothy and Constance volunteer to nurse the wounded. But while beautiful, damaged Constance remains wary of the men, Dot finds herself increasingly drawn to Cesare, a young man fighting on the wrong side and broken by the horrors of battle. Secretly, passionately, they fall in love.
When a tragic mistake from Con’s past returns to haunt them, Dot must make a choice:
Protect her sister no matter the costs, or save the man who has captured her heart?
An absolutely spell weaving novel by Caroline Lea. I loved her first novel ‘The Glass Woman’ and was delighted to find ‘The Metal Heart’ providing an absolutely absorbing read to.
The island setting of Orkney was a delight and this really enriched the story of love and courage. If you follow the author’s Instagram page there are pictures of the island, these really bring a sense of reality to the story.
Beautiful and satisfying to read; this book comes highly recommended from me.
Since losing her great love to the Queen of the Sainted Isles, Arden must fulfil an impossible promise before she can return home – she must complete the dangerous Rite that will return Jonah’s spirit to the abyssal Court of the Deepwater King.
This sets her off on a journey far out at sea to find believers of the old religion on the oil-slick and mysterious islands beyond the horizon. But such a responsibility will not come without sacrifice, for the Deepwater folk who worship the King require the most desperate payments the soul, and with one man Arden may have to pay the greatest price of all…
Astonishingly original, with world-building to rival the depths of the ocean, McKenna has drawn a rich tale of longing and courage – penning the perfect oceanic steampunk fantasy.
You’ll need to read the first book in the series, ‘Monstrous Heart’ before reading ‘Deepwater King’ as it begins shortly after the first book ends. I enjoyed ‘Monstrous Heart’ and the developing relationship between Arden and Jonah up to the dramatic and disturbing climax of the opening story in this, I believe, trilogy. This was a huge part of the enjoyment of the first book and sadly, for me, it was missing from ‘Deepwater King’, however saying that, there was plenty of dark drama and action to hook you into the narrative.
There’s great worldbuilding, like book one, and the setting is a huge part of the books enjoyment – I really enjoy Steampunk vibes and loved this element. There are some great characters, both principal and minor – I did feel Arden lost the drive in this book at times (middle book syndrome?) – I hope the Arden/Jonah relationship drama will build up again to the level of ‘Monstrous Heart’ in the final book of the series. The story does builds to a dramatic crescendo and well, that ending – I need the next book!
I do enjoy this series and look forward to its conclusion.
DS Benjamin Chambers and DC Adam Winter are hunting a twisted serial killer who recreates famous works of art using the bodies of his victims. But after Chambers almost loses his life, the case goes cold – the killer lying dormant, his collection unfinished.
Jordan Marshall has excelled within the Met Police, driven by a loss that defined her teenage years. She obtains new evidence, convincing both Chambers and Winter to revisit the case. However, this new investigation reawakens their killer, the team in desperate pursuit of a monster hell-bent on finishing what he started at any cost.
I loved the RAGDOLL series, each book was contrasting in style and I really engaged with this variation and creativity. Daniel Coles books are always fun to read, despite taking you into dark places, minds and events. The thrillers are carefully plotted with both dramatic and creative deaths and crimes – so be warned, this isn’t for the faint of heart. There’s a great and slightly unusual character driven team working on the central investigation: DS Ben Chambers, PC Adam Winters and the modern newbie DC Jordan Marshall.
The crime investigation initially begins in 1989 shifting to the reopening in 2006 and I enjoyed the changes of both the investigation, the development and changes of the 1989 investigators. A part of Cole’s books that add to their charm, even though it’s rather macabre at times, is the humour, which I’ve also really enjoyed in previous Cole books – so please expect a chuckle along the way, if dark humour works for you?
With the theme of art, specifically Rodin’s ‘The Thinker’ sculpture opening this crime mystery, Cole has created an intelligent cold case crime at the heart of this thriller. The reader follows the team as they hunt the perpetrator of the sick crimes that haunt them, to find closure on the case and to seek justice. A gruesome crime thriller based on recreating famous works of art in the most macabre way.
The season is about to begin – and there’s not a minute to lose…
Kitty Talbot needs a fortune.
Or rather, she needs a husband who has a fortune. This is 1818 after all, and only men have the privilege of seeking their own riches.
With just twelve weeks until Kitty and her sisters are made homeless, launching herself into London society is the only avenue open to her. And Kitty must use every ounce of cunning and ingenuity she possesses to climb the ranks.
The only one to see through her plans is the worldly Lord Radcliffe and he is determined to thwart her at any cost.
Can Kitty secure a fortune and save her sisters from poverty? There is not a day to lose and no one – not even a lord – will stand in her way…
I really enjoyed ‘A Lady’s Guide to Fortune-Hunting’ by Sophie Irwin and, as others have commented, it has a modern day Georgette Heyer vibe to it; it’s also an historical romance without the ‘heat’ that comes with many. What you get is an often charming, enemies to lovers story and great escapism into a fictionalised past, as our central protagonist, Kitty Talbot, finds herself forced to marry for wealth to save her family from potential destitution. There were a few times that this felt mercenary and quite annoying, but on the flip side it was an arrangement most of the wealthy opted into at the time; Kitty was simply taking advantage of these types of transactions on the marriage mart.
It’s a tale of misunderstanding, family, personal desires in the face of social restrictions and, well, love and fun. It wrapped up quite suddenly for me, and I personally would have liked a little more, perhaps an epilogue, but that’s just me.
Recommended to historical romance readers and people looking for some escapism from today’s world.
A Raven and Fisher Mystery: Book 3
Edinburgh, 1850. This city will bleed you dry.
Dr Will Raven is a man seldom shocked by human remains, but even he is disturbed by the contents of a package washed up at the Port of Leith. Stranger still, a man Raven has long detested is pleading for his help to escape the hangman.
Back in the townhouse of Dr James Simpson, Sarah Fisher has set her sights on learning to practise medicine. Almost everyone seems intent on dissuading her from this ambition, but when word reaches her that a woman has recently obtained a medical degree despite her gender, Sarah decides to seek her out.
Raven’s efforts to prove his former adversary’s innocence are failing and he desperately needs Sarah’s help. Putting their feelings for one another aside, their investigations take them to both extremes of Edinburgh’s social divide, where they discover that wealth and status cannot alter a fate written in the blood.
I love this book series and would highly recommend it to people who enjoy historical thrillers that mix real-life characters with the fictional world. Atmospheric, dark, meticulously plotted and executed with panache! I really do enjoy these books and the third in the series is no exception. ‘A Corruption of Blood’ can be read as a standalone I’m sure, but to understand the principal characters and their relationships, I’d highly recommend you start at the beginning.
A brilliant setting is the key to these books, the city of Edinburgh really comes as life: it’s like time-travelling. I love the well researched medical information, it really elevates the book and doesn’t bog it down at all. I also love the relationship between Will and Sarah and it certainly doesn’t conform to the readers’ expectations.
Highly recommended – these are also stunning looking books!
One for sorrow, two for joy Edinburgh is gripped by the greatest terror it has ever known: a lone bomber is targeting victims across the city, and no one is safe.
Three for a girl, four for a boy In their jobs, DCI Ava Turner and DI Luc Callanach deal with death every day. But when it becomes clear that every bomb is a trap designed to kill them too, the possibility of facing it themselves starts to feel all too real.
Five for silver, six for gold With the body count rising daily and the bomber’s methods becoming ever more horrifying, Ava and Luc must race to find out who is behind the attacks – or pay the ultimate price…
Seven for a secret never to be told…
Another excellent addition to the DI Luc Callanach and DCI Ava Turner series by Helen Fields. I’ve enjoyed this series since I read the first book ‘Perfect Remains’ back in 2017 and it was great to be back with the Major Investigation Team; this time the case becomes very personal. As with all series, it’s ideal to start at the beginning to follow the character and relationships progression. Saying that, the case and its escalation work independently and provides a high paced, thrilling read. Turner is the character focus for this book in the series; she’s an intense, committed officer who’s going through grief and crisis during the book whilst tackling a traumatic and violent serial bomber. Interspersed with the main narrative are back story events and we slowly begin to piece together the developments into one plotline. Along the way, Fields pushes red herrings and twists skillfully to keep the intrigue and tension building. There’s also some very emotional moments and those who are following the series will be moved and upset by these… and, wow what a shock ending! Highly recommended.
When bloody civil war breaks out between the King and Parliament, families and communities across England are riven by different allegiances.
A rare few choose neutrality.
One such is Jayne Swift, a Dorset physician from a Royalist family, who offers her services to both sides in the conflict. Through her dedication to treating the sick and wounded, regardless of belief, Jayne becomes a witness to the brutality of war and the devastation it wreaks.
Yet her recurring companion at every event is a man she should despise because he embraces civil war as the means to an end. She knows him as William Harrier, but is ignorant about every other aspect of his life. His past is a mystery and his future uncertain.
This is a thoroughly enjoyable read; it’s a journey through a turbulent time in English history and I really enjoyed the well-researched historical backdrop. There are also some great characters to feast upon, specifically Jane Swift, calm, resilient and a woman ahead of her time. There’s also William Harrier, complex and mysterious, whose developing relationship with Swift is a joy to follow – there are many ups and downs along the road. The setting of Civil War is dangerous and consistently challenging for both our leads and many others as deceit and hated spill into communities. I also particularly enjoyed the (well researched) medical side to the story and Swift’s calm and dedicated control of her skills and determination to deliver in extremely trying situations.
Highly recommended historical read with themes of love, loss and sacrifice.
After eleven years in school in England, Charlotte Lawrence returns to Sundar, the tea plantation owned by her family, and finds an empty house. She learns that her beloved father died a couple of days earlier and that he left her his estate. She learns also that it was his wish that she marry Andrew McAllister, the good-looking younger son from a neighbouring plantation.
Unwilling to commit to a wedding for which she doesn’t feel ready, Charlotte pleads with Dan Fitzgerald, the assistant manager of Sundar, to teach her how to run the plantation while she gets to know Andrew. Although reluctant as he knew that a woman would never be accepted as manager by the local merchants and workers, Dan agrees.
Charlotte’s chaperone on the journey from England, Ada Eastman, who during the long voyage, has become a friend, has journeyed to Darjeeling to marry Harry Banning, the owner of a neighbouring tea garden.
When Ada marries Harry, she’s determined to be a loyal and faithful wife. And to be a good friend to Charlotte. And nothing, but nothing, was going to stand in the way of that.
I love the atmosphere and setting of the ‘Darjeeling Inheritance’ – the writer encapsulates the sights and smells of the country brilliantly; I felt a huge sense of transportation and escapism when I settled down to read. I love drinking tea, so this part of the novel also interested me.
There’s a mix of characters, some likeable and others not so! With themes of arrogance, romance, the female, patriarchy and guilt this is a great book for a summer read.
I enjoyed it and would definitely recommend it to others.
FATE PULLED THEM APART BUT NOT BEFORE THEY MADE A PROMISE.
TEN CHRISTMASES LATER, WILL THEIR WISH COME TRUE? . . .
As Norah battles through the bustling December crowds, she hears the notes of a song that transports her back to the most romantic week of her life.
After meeting on a blissful holiday, but knowing they had to part, a boy named Andrew made her a promise:
If they are both single on Christmas Eve in ten years’ time, they will meet under the clock on Grafton Street, Dublin.
Norah has no idea if he will remember, but she has nothing to lose.
So, hoping for a Christmas miracle, she heads to Dublin. To that clock. And, maybe, to Andrew.
But it wouldn’t be Christmas without a few surprises . . .
Ah, what a charming Winter read for all those romantics out there. ‘Baby It’s Cold Outside’ is a heartwarming little book that comforts and entertains delightfully; a perfect light-hearted seasonal read. It’s a story of timings, Fate, friendships, family relationships and music.
The book jumps about from place to place as our characters live and grow, from Italy to Dublin, America and London. I enjoyed following the character of Noah, who stood out for me. I loved how the story was transported to the reader via music and the memories unraveled the past relationship for the reader.
It’s a book that utilises the romance and seasonal pleasures of Christmas time and I really have a yearning to visit Dublin now and experience the hustle, bustle and sounds of the streets, music and communities.
I would recommend this book for readers looking for a romantic, light Christmas read.
When well-to-do Hester learns of her sister Mercy’s death at a Nottinghamshire workhouse, she travels to Southwell to find out how her sister ended up at such a place.
Haunted by her sister’s ghost, Hester sets out to uncover the truth, when the official story reported by the workhouse master proves to be untrue. Mercy was pregnant – both her and the baby are said to be dead of cholera, but the workhouse hasn’t had an outbreak for years.
Hester discovers a strange trend in the workhouse of children going missing. One woman tells her about the Pale Lady, a ghostly figure that steals babies in the night. Is this lady a myth or is something more sinister afoot at the Southwell poorhouse?
As Hester investigates, she uncovers a conspiracy, one that someone is determined to keep a secret, no matter the cost…
I really enjoy books like ‘The Shadowing’, firstly because of the historical setting (we have a sinister workhouse to unpick); secondly, the gothic atmosphere, and thirdly the author is clearly a great storyteller.
Our protagonist is Hester, who is introduced to the reader whilst suffering in the throes of a nightmare wrapped around by mensural pain; we soon learn she is living under the patriarchy of her father. What’s also soon clear, is that Hester has visions of the departed, of shadows and spirits: the dead. Her long-long sister Mercy appears and Hester knows that bad news is approaching. The story develops quickly and the family receive a letter that Mercy has indeed died at a place called the Southwell Union Workhouse, and she has died a pauper.
This book’s central mystery involves what actually happened to Mercy, how she ended up in a workhouse and dying a pauper. Hester becomes obsessed with finding out the truth and this is the hook of the narrative. I really enjoyed the historical setting coming alive, as Hester battles relentlessly to find out the truth and put her sister’s shadow to rest.
There’s a great, creepy atmosphere at Southwell, and I was reminded of Daphine Du Maurier’s world of shady characters, foreboding inns, untrustworthy characters, and ghostly, gothic undertones. It’s a world where, Hester, our strong – albeit a little naïve lead character fights to stand up for her sister and those trying to stop her. I also enjoyed the addition of Matthew, a grouchy, dismissive landlord of a coaching inn, who develops and become a more central part of the narrative; he also provides the dash of romance, and I do mean dash.
I thoroughly enjoyed ‘The Shadowing’ and would highly recommend it.
Thank you to Sandstone Press for the blog tour invite for ‘The Wolf in the Woods’; this is my first read by Dan Brotzel and the superb cover design sealed the deal. For more information about the tour and author, please do keep scrolling.
“Oh God. Here you go again, hanging over me, invading my sleep with your morning breath. As my eyes flicker open, you hang over me for a long moment, nuzzling my neck and furtively assessing my reaction. I feel your arms tremble. When you get no response, you slide off with a disgusted grunt. Even though I’m half asleep, I sense the guilt seeking rays emanating from your half-turned back. I roll over and away.”
The Wolf in the Woods
Colleen and Andrew haven’t had sex in eleven weeks and three days [not that anyone’s counting]. Their marriage is in crisis, they’re drinking too much and both have secrets they’re afraid to share. A teetotal week in a remote cottage could solve all their problems. But with the promised beach nowhere in sight, a broken-down car and a sinister landlord, they may not find it so easy to rekindle their romance. In this dark and funny novel, tensions build and tempers fray.
“But you just can’t let me be, can you? The pointed buzzing of an electric toothbrush, the pedantic click of a wardrobe door, a coat-hanger’s righteous jangle – your busy-busy faffing is just enough to break my spell. I am conscious, and there’s no escaping it. No escaping you.
Today I think. Let it be today that I find a way.
‘Come on!” you say. ‘We should have left by now!’
And I think: Next week.
The Wolf in the Woods
The story opens in the middle of a relationship, the mindset of both husband and wife being pealed back for the reader via their own narratives. The separate bedrooms, the routines, the secrets, desires and the predictabilities. There are several tonal shifts as the reader begins to build a picture of who Colleen and Andrew are, whilst being set off-kilter by the man ‘sat at the window’ reminiscent of ‘Mr Punch’ or ‘those creepy horror-film clowns’. There’s the shop assistant who avoids conversation about ‘Red Barn Cottage’ and the person who’s ‘still at it then’. The reader becomes aware that maybe there’s more to this book than a narrative of a marriage at odds.
What follows is certainly a story of a long term relationship, but Brotzel adds suspense using the fairytale in the woods setting and the irony of the welcome pack from the cottage owners saying ‘we’re watching out for you’ and ‘Just knock on the big red door!’ It’s not long until we meet Wolf, who pops by with advice and seems to know a few details about the couple that he shouldn’t; then we meet Mrs Wolf, or Hildy and it’s even more uncomfortable with her inappropriate references to the young children and the glimpse of her ‘flogging her spouse’ with a ‘leather strap’.
There’s some great hooks throughout, particularly why Andrew failed Colleen ‘when it mattered most’, the backdrop of reading books about serial killers, Nazi references, dangers, alcoholism and desires.
This is an unusual and creative book about problems within a marriage set upon a backdrop of perceived menace; I enjoyed its outlandish style and the dark humour.
THE BLOG TOUR
Dan Brotzel’s short stories have won awards and been published widely, with Hotel Du Jack, his first full-length collection, published in 2019. He is also co-author of a comic novel-in-emails about an eccentric writers’ group, Work in Progress (Unbound). The Wolf in the Woods is his debut novel. Dan lives in London with his partner Eve and their three children.
‘A Master of Djinn‘ is the debut novel from P Djeli Clark and set in an alternative Cairo in the early 20th century combining magic and police procedural. If you’d like to know more about this new fantasy novel then please keep scrolling…
Cairo, 1912: Though Fatma el-Sha’arawi is the youngest woman working for the Ministry of Alchemy, Enchantments and Supernatural Entities, she’s certainly not a rookie, especially after preventing the destruction of the universe last summer.
So when someone murders a secret brotherhood dedicated to one of the most famous men in history, al-Jahiz, Agent Fatma is called onto the case. Al-Jahiz transformed the world 50 years ago when he opened up the veil between the magical and mundane realms, before vanishing into the unknown. This murderer claims to be al-Jahiz, returned to condemn the modern age for its social oppressions. His dangerous magical abilities instigate unrest in the streets of Cairo that threaten to spill over onto the global stage.
Alongside her Ministry colleagues and her clever girlfriend Siti, Agent Fatma must unravel the mystery behind this imposter to restore peace to the city – or face the possibility he could be exactly who he seems….
Firstly, I loved the setting – an alternative Cairo, Steampunk style, with a Ministry of Alchemy, Enchantments and Supernatural Entities investigation driving the plot structure. Clark can certainly world build and this was the shining success of the novel. I wasn’t aware of P. Djeli Clark as an author before reading ‘A Master of Djinn’, however he has a back catalogue of short stories before this debut full-length novel, starting with ‘A Dead Djinn in Cairo’ in his ‘Dead Djinn Universe’ series.
What’s impressive about this novel is the world that Clark creates; it’s created with authorial craft and a huge dash of panache. The Djinn have supported Egypt in the removal of the British and the country is now a magical world of Ministries, underground nightclubs, mythical creatures and a dash of added political strife. It’s a truly fleshed out and ‘alive’ world, and our protagonist at the centre is Fatma. Fatma is generally an interesting construct, despite her inability to control and effectively lead an investigation into the murders of a secret brotherhood. This was a little frustrating, as she missed several leads and misconstrued clear information – although this did give the character more layers, flaws and some complexities. Most characters are not overly three-dimensional, they seem more constructs of the world and the plot. The plot is perhaps, the weakest part of the novel – for me. With a sharper protagonist and an edited, reviewed plot this novel would have shined more brightly. Please don’t take that as a reason not to read this book; there’s so much I loved and the final quarter of the book picked up dramatically and totally hurtled me to the final pages. Clark takes his time to describe and set the scene – this is the brilliance of the author’s creativity and I loved the steampunk throughout.
‘A Master of Djinn’ is a witty, supernatural murder mystery where a mismatched detective duo are pitched against a dastardly villainy; it’s set in a brilliant steampunk world enhanced with Ifrit, Djinns and gods ending with a dash of cinematic styling.
Phenderson Djéli Clark is the award winning and Hugo, Nebula, Sturgeon, and World Fantasy nominated author of the novellas Ring Shout, The Black God’s Drums and The Haunting of Tram Car 015. His stories have appeared in online venues such as Tor.com, Daily Science Fiction, Heroic Fantasy Quarterly, Apex, Lightspeed, Fireside Fiction, Beneath Ceaseless Skies, and in print anthologies including, Griots, Hidden Youth and Clockwork Cairo. He is a founding member of FIYAH Literary Magazine and an infrequent reviewer at Strange Horizons. You can read his ramblings on SFF, history, & diversity at his aptly named blog, The Disgruntled Haradrim. His debut full length novel a Master of Djinn will be published by Tor.com in May 2021.
It’s lovely to be sharing an extract from GOOD NEIGHBOURS by Sarah Langan to celebrate its July publication. Please do scroll down to find out more about this brilliant new release…
Named as Goodreads One of the Most Anticipated Mysteries and Thrillers of 2021 Welcome to Maple Street, a picture-perfect slice of suburban Long Island, its residents bound by their children, their work, and their illusion of safety in a rapidly changing world. But when the Wilde family moves in, they trigger their neighbours’ worst fears. Arlo and Gertie and their weird kids don’t fit with the way Maple Street sees itself. As tensions mount, a sinkhole opens in a nearby park, and neighbourhood Queen Bee Rhea’s daughter Shelly falls inside. The search for Shelly brings a shocking accusation against the Wildes. Suddenly, it is one mother’s word against the other’s in a court of public opinion that can end only in blood.
A RIVERTING AND RUTHLESS PORTRAYAL OF SUBURBIA, GOOD NEIGHBOURS EXCAVATES THE PERILS AND BETRAYALS OF MOTHERHOOD AND FRIENDSHIPS AND THE DANGEROUS CLASH BETWEEN SOCIAL HIERARCHY, CHILDHOOD TRAUMA, AND FEAR.
When her oldest left for Cornell University last year, she’d taken it hard. She’d been happy for Gretchen, but her brilliant future had made Rhea’s seem that much more dim. What was left, once all the kids were gone away, and she was left with a thirty-year-old dissertation and Fritz Sr., Captain Earwax Extraordinaire? She’d wanted to break her life, just to escape it. Drive her car into the Atlantic Ocean. Take a dump on her boss’s desk. Straddle her clueless husband, who’d never once taken her dancing, and shout: Who cleans their ears with a washcloth? It’s disgusting! She’d wanted to fashion a slingshot and make a target range of Maple Street, just to set herself free of these small, stupid people and their small, stupid worlds.
It would have happened. She’d been close to breaking, to losing everything. But just like when Fritz moved into her apartment complex: fate intervened. The Wildes moved next door. Rhea couldn’t explain what happened the day she first saw Gertie, except that it was magic. Another outsider. A beautiful misfit. Gertie’d been so impressed by Rhea. You’re so smart and warm, she’d said the first day they’d met. You’re such a success. Rhea’d known then, that if there was anyone on Maple Street to whom she could reveal her true feelings, it was this na f. One way or another, Gertie Wilde would be her salvation.
Rhea had courted Gertie with dinner invitations, park barbeques, and introductions to neighbors. Made their children play together, so that the Rat Pack accepted the new kids on the block. It wasn’t easy to turn local sentiment in Gertie’s favor. The woman’s house wasn’t ever clean or neat. A pinworm outbreak coincided with their arrival, which couldn’t have been a coincidence. The whole block was itching for weeks.
Worse, her foulmouthed kids ran wild. Larry was a hypersensitive nutbar who carried a doll and walked in circles. Then there was Julia. When they first moved in, she stole a pack of Parliaments from her dad and showed the rest of the kids how to smoke. When her parents caught her, they made her go with them door to door, explaining what had happened to all the Rat Pack parents. Rhea had felt sorry for crying, confused Julia. Why make a kid go through all that? A simple e-mail authored by Gertie stating the facts of the event would have sufficed—if that!
It’s never a good idea to admit guilt in the suburbs. It’s too concrete. You say the words I’m sorry, and people hold on to it and don’t let go. It’s far better to pave over with vagaries. Obfuscate guilt wherever it exists.
The sight of all the Wildes in their doorways had added more melodrama than necessary. The neighbors, feeling the social pressure to react, to prove their fitness as parents, matched that melodrama. Dumb Linda took her twins to the doctor to check for lung damage. The Hestias wondered if they should report the Wildes to Child Protective Services. The Walshes enrolled Charlie in a health course called Our Bodies: Our Responsibility. Cat Hestia had stood in that doorway and cried, explaining that she wasn’t mad at Julia, just disappointed. Because she’d hoped this day would never come. Toxic cigarettes! They have arsenic!
None of them seemed to understand that this had nothing to do with smoking. Julia had stolen those cigarettes to win the Rat Pack over. A bid toward friendship. She’d misjudged her audience. This wasn’t deep Brooklyn. Cool for these kids meant gifted programs and Suzuki lessons. The only people who smoked Parliaments anymore were ex-cons, hookers, and apparently, the new neighbors in 116. What she’d misapprehended, and what the Wilde parents had also missed, was that it wasn’t the health hazards that bothered the people of Maple Street. If that were the case, they wouldn’t be Slip ’N Sliding right now. It was the fact that smoking is so totally low class.
Despite all that, Rhea had stuck by Gertie Wilde until, one by one, the rest of Maple Street capitulated. It was nice, doing something for someone else, especially someone as beautiful as Gertie. There’s a kind of reflective glow, when you have a friend like that. When you stand close, you can see yourself in their perfect eyes.
At least once a month, they’d drunk wine on Rhea’s enclosed porch, cracking jokes about poop, the wacky stuff kids say!, and helpless husbands whose moods turn crabby unless they get their weekly blowies. This latter part, Rhea just pretended. She accepted Fritz’s infrequent appeals for missionary-style sex, but even in their dating days, their mouths had rarely played a part, not even to kiss.
Rhea’s attentions were rewarded. Eventually, Gertie let down her guard. Tears in her eyes, voice low, she’d confessed the thing that haunted her most: The first, I was just thirteen. He ran the pageant and my stepmom said I had to, so I could win rent money. He told me he loved me after, but I knew it wasn’t true. After that, I never said no. I kept thinking every time was a new chance to make the first time right. I’d turn it around and make one of them love me. Be nice to me and take care of me. So I wouldn’t have to live with my stepmom. But that never happened. Not until Arlo. I’m so grateful to him.
When she finished her confession, Gertie’d visibly deflated, her burden lightened. Rhea had understood then why people need friends. They need to be seen and known, and accepted nonetheless. Oh, how she’d craved that unburdening. How she’d feared it, too.
They built so much trust between them that one night, amidst the distant catcalls of children gone savage, Rhea took a sloppy risk, and told her own truth: Fritz boom-booms me. It hurts and I’ve never once liked it … Do you like it? I never expected this to be my life. Did you expect this, Gertie? Do you like it? I can tell that you don’t. I wanted to be your friend from the second I saw you. I’m not beautiful like you, but I’m special on the inside. I know about black holes. I can tell you want to run away. I do, too. We can give each other courage … Shelly can’t keep her hair neat. It goads me. I’d like to talk about it with you, because I know you like Shelly. I know you like me. I know you won’t judge. Sometimes I imagine I’m a giant. I squeeze my whole family into pulp. I wish them dead just so I can be free. I can’t leave them. I’m their mother. I’m not allowed to leave them. So I hate them. Isn’t that awful? God, aren’t I a monster?
She stopped talking once she’d noticed Gertie’s teary-eyed horror. “Don’t talk like that. You’ll break your own house.”
There’d been more words after that. Pleasantries and a changed subject. Rhea didn’t remember. The event compressed into murk and sank down inside her, a smeared oblivion of rage.
Soon after that night, Gertie announced her pregnancy. The doctor told her she had to stop drinking front-porch Malbec, so they hung out a lot less. She got busier with work and the kids and she’d played it off like coincidence, but Rhea had known the truth: she’d shown her true self, and Gertie wanted no part of it.
Retaliation was necessary.
Sarah Langan got her MFA in creative writing from Columbia University, and also received her Master’s in Environmental Health Science/Toxicology from New York University. She lives in Los Angeles with her husband and daughters. She’s received three Bram Stoker awards, and her work has often been included in best-of-the year lists and anthologies. She’s a founding board member of the Shirley Jackson Awards, and works in both film and prose.
PRAISE FOR GOOD NEIGHBOURS:
“One of the creepiest, most unnerving deconstructions of American suburbia I’ve ever read. Langan cuts to the heart of upper middle class lives like a skilled surgeon.” – NPR
“A modern-day Crucible, Good Neighbours brilliantly explores the ease with which a careless word can wreak havoc and the terrifying power of mob mentality. Langan deftly unveils the psychology behind her character’s actions with blistering prose and spot-on descriptions. She is a writer to watch!” – Liv Constantine, bestselling author of ‘The Last Mrs Parrish’