Book Review – March 2019 – He Said/She Said – Erin Kelly

I snapped this book up when the occupational therapy department at the hospital took us on a pre-Christmas trip to Braehead Shopping Centre – I think the intention was for us to buy presents for other people, but I desperately needed some clothes, toiletries, and of course books – I may have hundreds, but as my fellow bookworms can attest, you can always find something new to read…plus I didn’t exactly get a chance to peruse my library before being taken by ambulance to our local hospital then flown down to the QEUH in Glasgow (yep, always the drama queen!)

Erin Kelly is one of my favourite authors – she’s pretty much an autobuy for me. He Said/She Said focuses, as the title suggests, on a rape case, and the differing accounts given by the alleged perpetrator and his (also alleged) victim. That’s not to suggest this is a courtroom drama, although parts of it do take place in one. The novel also features the two main witnesses, who take turns to tell the story, as well as the background to their relationship – a couple who stumble onto the aftermath of the attack, which Laura is convinced was a rape, whereas her boyfriend, the more pragmatic, scientifically-minded Kit, will only say exactly what he saw and is reluctant to pass judgement, much to Laura’s fury. This all takes place at a festival to celebrate an eclipse, the chasing of which is something of an obsession for Kit.

After the case concludes, the alleged victim, Beth, approaches them to thank them for their support on the day of the attack and their willingness to get further involved by giving evidence in court. They become friendly, as Beth has few people she can talk honestly to about what happened, but as they get to know her better the young couple, particularly Laura, are forced to reconsider their presumptions about what happened.

I don’t think I’m taking this review into spoiler territory if I say that Kelly often specialises in portraying obsession, that most fascinating emotion, particularly to crime fiction fans. In her day, the wonderful Patricia Highsmith was the queen of books featuring obsessive characters, Tom Ripley undoubtedly being the best known. Erin Kelly is probably the closest thing we have to a modern day Highsmith, and throughout her uniformly excellent novels, she allows us to see the danger, desperation, and – sometimes – death that can result from such an all-consuming emotion.

Relevant, provocative, and with an absolutely killer twist, which comes before the dramatic denouement (two sucker punches for the price of one!), this is a strikingly original novel from one of our most accomplished and consistent crime novelists. (Although I hate to pigeonhole her as a genre writer, as she truly transcends any attempt to categorise her.) It’s timely, too, in the wake of the #MeToo scandals which have – not before time – brought down many powerful men from all walks of life. But that’s absolutely not what the book is addressing – Kelly sticks solely to her characters and their motivations. However, it does make you consider how easy to make snap judgements that, as in this case, can alter lives.

I’d probably not characterise this as her strongest novel (although I wasn’t in an ideal state, health-wise, when I read it, my concentration not at it’s absolute best due to a head injury.) But it’s still head and shoulders above what most writers are producing these days. Her latest, Stone Mothers, is due next month and it’s (naturally!) on my list. I really cannot wait to read it. And if you haven’t read Erin Kelly yet, I must ask – why the hell not?

Own copy.

BLURB: In the summer of 1999, Kit and Laura travel to a festival in Cornwall to see a total eclipse of the sun. Kit is an eclipse chaser; Laura has never seen one before. Young and in love, they are certain this will be the first of many they’ll share. 

But in the hushed moments after the shadow passes, Laura interrupts a man and a woman. She knows that she saw something terrible. The man denies it. It is her word against his. 

The victim seems grateful. Months later, she turns up on their doorstep like a lonely stray. But as her gratitude takes a twisted turn, Laura begins to wonder—did she trust the wrong person? 

15 years later, Kit and Laura are living under assumed names and completely off the digital grid: no Facebook, only rudimentary cell phones, not in any directories. But as the truth catches up to them, they realize they can no longer keep the past in the past.

Book Review – March 2019 – The Vinyl Detective 1: Written In Dead Wax – Andrew Cartmel

Sometimes, when my concentration isn’t great (right now I blame the sub-tropical temperatures in this hospital!) a change in reading material can help. A fellow patient was generous enough to lend me the first in Andrew Cartmel’s Vinyl Detective series, books I’d never heard of and would probably never have otherwise come across. And I’m smitten.

Our hero – it’s written in the first person; I know how obsessive some people are about this! – generally ekes out a living by looking for rare and collectible vinyl in charity shops, and selling it on online. He seems to know every charity shop in South West London, and the most time-efficient way to get around them by bus, using his travel card. But one day a woman bearing a card introducing her as, “N. Warren” appears at his door. She has one of the cards he’d had printed up years ago, styling himself as The Vinyl Detective, prepared to seek out any record you wanted but couldn’t find, but his business idea had never had any success. However, after a test of his vinyl knowledge, he’s given his mission: to seek out the fourteenth – and final – release on a promising 1950s Los Angeles jazz label called Hathor Records.

The owner of this company, Bobby Schoolcraft, allegedly killed himself, although various rumours flew around regarding bullying by representatives of a much larger rival company which eventually drove him to suicide. It quickly becomes clear that our vinyl detective’s mission may not be as simple as he had first anticipated. Nor is it as safe, as it appears he and his accomplice, the rather attractive N. Warren (okay, I’ll tell you, but this is the only spoiler you’re getting! – the N stands for Nevada, which apparently means “snowfall”), are not the only ones trying to track this rare piece of vinyl down. And their rivals look to have few scruples, prepared to stop at nothing – even, perhaps, murder – to be first to the prize…

Theres a great deal goes on in this book – but to tell you much more of the storyline would take us into spoiler territory. It has some absolutely wonderful supporting characters, notably DJ Stinky Stanmer and accident-prone dopehead – and fellow vinyl obsessive – Tinkler, as well as “Clean Head,” as the Vinyl Detective names their efficient tail-losing Hackney driver. Cartmel displays his ability to construct a plot that really doesn’t flag; indeed, it zips along for its 474 pages, while taking in trips to Japan and California as part of the Vinyl Detective’s mission. In California he finds out more about the demise of Hathor Records when he becomes entangled with the granddaughter of a talented jazz vocalist (Rita Mae Pollini, who featured on some of the label’s releases), much to Nevada’s chagrin. Cartmel is an exceptionally witty, highly observant writer, capturing the obsessional tendencies of record collectors (indeed, any, generally male, “anorak”-type activity.) I was delighted to find out there were another two books in the series available – I’m currently engrossed in number two, The Run Out Groove. If you need a quirky break from the norm, but still want your fare share of murder and mayhem (plus some great cats!), do check out Andrew Cartmel. Plus you’ll never look at a crate of second-hand vinyl again without wondering if a gem which will make your fortune lies within…

Book 3 – Victory Disc – is available now on Titan Books.

Book 4 – Flip Back – is out in May on Titan Books.

Highly recommended!

This review was taken from a copy borrowed from a friend, and is unbiased.

BLURB: He is a record collector -a connoisseur of vinyl, hunting out rare and elusive LPs. His business card describes him as the “Vinyl Detective” and some people take this more literally than others. Like the beautiful, mysterious woman who wants to pay him a large sum of money to find a priceless lost recording on behalf of an extremely wealthy, yet shadowy, client. So begins a painful and dangerous odyssey in search of the rarest jazz record of them all…