The three main characters in CL Taylor’s Strangers have led entirely separate lives up to the moment when fate brings them together at a death scene in a Bristol shopping centre.
Ursula, a courier and occasional shoplifter, is a lonely, but sympathetic character, who has lost the lover of her life Nathan. Despite her light-fingered ways, which see her evicted by her flatmates, there is a kindness in Ursula which comes out strongly at certain points in Strangers and makes her more likeable than she perhaps appears at first sight. She’s impulsive, with a tendency to land herself in sticky situations that sometimes force her to make bad decisions. One such situation is, involves her decision to move in with a creepy landlord who actually gave me nightmares at one point when reading this novel
Gareth, a security guard in the shopping centre and a carer for his elderly mother also plays a key role Strangers, part of the significance of which only emerges towards the end of the novel.
Meanwhile the third character, Alice, recently back on the dating scene, is being stalked in a threatening way that seems to have something to do with her new boyfriend. But who is the stalker and why are they targeting Alice?
What I liked about Strangers is that the characters are individually strong and interesting. I also liked the short chapters, which make Strangers easy to pick up and put down again without losing the thread of the story.
Previously on this blog, I reviewed another CL Taylor novel, The Accident – a psychological thriller about an emotionally unstable mother determined to find out why her daughter deliberately stepped in front of a bus. You can find that review here.
Strangers by CL Taylor is published by Avon, a division of Harper Collins.
[Disclosure: I received an advance proof copy].
Helen Fields has recently added two new titles to her Scotland-based police procedural series that began with Perfect Remains and continued with Perfect Prey and Perfect Death.
Perfect Silence gets off to a gruesome start. When the body of a young girl is found, pathologists are called in and discover that a doll has been carved from the victim’s skin. Soon, another victim is found and it looks like there will be more unless DCI Ava Turner and DI Luc Callanach can get to the bottom of what is going on.
Perfect Silence is the fourth title in the Helen Fields Scotland-based police procedural series. Hot on its heels comes the fifth, Perfect Crime which opens with a 30-something year-old man about to jump off a bridge. Stephen Berry is talked down by suicide prevention counsellor Rune McClure but within days Stephen is found dead, having apparently fallen from a castle at the top of a cliff. Before long, DI Luc Callanach and DCI Ava Turner are on the case, trying to discover whether the death was suicide or something more sinister. When further apparent suicides follow, things begin to look very murky.
What I liked most about Perfect Crime is how Helen Fields is developing the characters of some of the police officers that Callanach and Turner work — Lively, Overbeck and Tripp in particular. The relationship between Callanach and Turner also moves forward in Perfect Crime although perhaps not in an entirely believable way. I thought there was perhaps too much crammed into the ending of Perfect Crime and that it took away from what was otherwise a good read. Nevertheless, I’m looking forward to the next instalment in this series.
[Disclosure: I read an advance copy of Perfect Crime via Netgalley]
The blurb: Emilie Pine speaks to the business of living as a woman in the 21st century – its extraordinary pain and its extraordinary joy. Courageous, humane and uncompromising, she writes with radical honesty on birth and death, on the grief of infertility, on caring for her alcoholic father, on taboos around female bodies and female pain, on sexual violence and violence against the self. Devastatingly poignant and profoundly wise – and joyful against the odds – Notes to Self offers a portrait not just of its author but of a whole generation.
These vividly told and highly readable personal essay touched a chord with me for the raw, honest way they deal with everyday experiences — particularly female experiences from menarche through peri-menopause to middle-age.
The collection opens with a powerful account of Pine’s experience of the Greek healthcare system. She tells of the difficulties she encountered finding care for her father during his hospitalisation in Corfu for a serious alcohol-related condition. She reflects on the challenges families face when their loved one is an addict — of picking up after them when they are not able to look after themselves and of how it is not just practically taxing but metaphysically difficult. It hardens the heart.
The second essay — “From the Baby Years” — recounts Pine’s experience of miscarriage and infertility. She describes the emotional and physical pain she went through while trying to conceive and the added heartache that came with the unexpected loss of her baby niece.
Then comes a piece reflecting on Pine’s parents’ separation and her experience of being a go-between when communication broke down.
“Notes on Bleeding & Other Crimes” is a strong essay on menstruation that captures intensely personal, unspoken experiences many women will relate to.
For me, these four essays outshine the final two pieces — “Something about Me” which reflects on Pine’s troubled adolescence and “This is not on the Exam” which covers her experiences as an academic, teaching, researching, chasing funding and on the conference circuit.
All in all, though, a highly-readable collection. I enjoyed it.
[Disclosure: I read an advance copy via Netgalley.]