Gabrielle Massat ‘The Taste of My Mother’s Lipstick’

Quai du Polar 2021: Books shortlisted for the readers prize, Number 3

Gabrielle Massat: Le goût du rouge à lèvre de ma mère (Éditions DU MASQUE)


Are you sure you want to come in? I asked as my dog barked a second time.
The two cops hesitated. Then the woman decided, sounding as smooth as chilli on your privates:
Either that or we’re taking you in.
You don’t have the right.
With a suspect in a murder case we have all the rights. Let us come in.
I tied Angus to the cupboard door dodging his efforts to lick me. He wined tragically.
Oh, I said, I didn’t kill anyone.
Jones, he’s blind, she sounded put out when she realised.
It can’t be him, how could he have managed a perfect intravenous injection? Hell we’ve just driven 800 kilometres to arrest a suspect and he’s blind!***


In this third book read for the readers’ Gabrielle Massat takes us to San Francisco and to a world she has created around organised prostitution. Cyrus, who has been living from petty crime in San Diego, has his own routines with a private trainer and friends is unexpectedly visited at home by the police of the SFPD at his home as illustrated in the opening paragraph. Yes they quickly learn that their suspect Cyrus Colfer is blind and he learns that the murdered man, Earl Montgomery had been looking for him.

Thus begins the story as Cyrus moves back to San Francisco to try to learn what Montgomery had wanted to tell him about his mother’s death years earlier as he was still a child, that lead to his leaving San Francisco. Cyrus often unerestimated as a blind man, visits old members of the Clan that had employed his mother to try to solve the mystery of her death all those years before. He walks a thin line between working with the police and gaining the partial trust of the prostitution ring.

This was a long book, and pretty improbable, setting it in San Francisco seems to me to be an over complication, not one of my favourites for the prize.

First Published in French as “Le goût du rouge à lèvre de ma mère” in 2020 by Éditions DU MASQUE.
*** My translation

The quote as read in French before translation

Vous êtes vraiment sûrs de vouloir entrer? tentai-je alors que mon chien se fendait d’un second aboiement.
Les deux flics hésitèrent. Puis la femme trancha, d’un ton à peu près aussi agréable que du piment sur des parties génitales……
C’est ça ou on vous embarque.
Vous n’avez pas le droit.
Face à un suspect dans une affaire de meurtre, on a plein de droits. Laissez-nous entrer.
J’attachai Angus à la porte d’un placard en évitant ses coups de langue. Il lâcha un gémissement tragique.
Oh, fis-je, et je n’ai tué personne.
Jones, il est aveugle. La femme paraissait excédée par le constat.
Ça ne peut pas être lui, comment aurait-il pu réaliser une intraveineuse aussi parfaite? Bon sang, on vient de se taper huit cents kilomètres pour appréhender un suspect et il est aveugle!

Joseph Incardona ‘The Subtraction of What is Possible’

Quai du Polar 2021: Books shortlisted for the readers prize, Number 1

Joseph Incardona: La soustraction des possibles (Éditions Finitude)


There is a:
Fortune.
But it’s not a story about money.
Crime.
But it’s not a story about criminals.
Punishment.
But it’s not a story about execution.
Frienship.
But it’s not a story about mates.
Eroticism.
But it’s not a story about desire.
Cunning.
But it’s not a story about treachery.
Vanity.
But it’s not a story about ambition.
So, what then?
Nothing.
This is a love story.
Mine.***


The opening quote, placed before the first chapter initially didn’t attract my eye but on turning back I find that it describes the book well. The story may not be about these things but they are all present in this tragedy, set in Geneva, with a chain of events being slowly set in motion at the end of the eighties and leading to their almost inevitable conclusion.

This well written book, points out the weaknesses of the different links in this chain of flawed characters, there is Aldo Bianchi, a small time tennis coach making ends meet, but only just, as a gigolo with the middle aged women he coaches, he is unsatisfied and wants more from his life, by more understand more money, but how much is more? Aldo is the piece of the puzzle that is in the love story. But not with Odile, rich around 50 and Aldo’s latest paycheque.


Aldo has learnt what he needs to give in bed. From a certain point of view it’s not so very different from sport: technique, endurance, creativity.
Developing his own style.
But most especially: cash in on his youth and vigour. Let his older partner think that this youth finds its prolongement in her, that it continues even after the love making. It is the opposite of the fear of physical decline: the promise of eternal youth transmitted by fluids.***


Odile’s husband, René, an investor needs money to multiply the effect of his latest investment. This is Geneva, no one is too interested in where money comes from and René’s friend Max, a business lawyer can supply the funds.


This requires him to carry out certain manoeuvres so that his french clients can continue to escape from the tax man with Mitterand in power.***


But there are many grades of tax evasion, from the simple greed to laundering of criminal income, and you may well guess that this story concerns the latter. The machinery is put in motion when Odile recommends Aldo for the job of money smuggler to Max, carrying suitcases stuffed full of money over the Swiss border and leaving them in a locker at the tennis club.

There are so many other characters, each with their own part of the story, investment bankers ready to risk anything for a quick gain, petty criminals, organised crime and the new boy on the block, eastern european criminals. This complex story, its construction, and the slightly sarcastic style combine to make this a most enjoyable book.

First Published in French as “La soustraction des possibles” in 2020 by Éditions Finitude.
*** My translation

The quotes as read in French before translation

Il y a:
La fortune.
Mais ce n’est pas une histoire d’argent
Le crime.
Mais ce n’est pas une histoire de truands.
Le châtiment.
Mais ce n’est pas une histoire de bourreau.
L’amitié.
Mais ce n’est pas une histoire de copains.
L’érotisme.
Mais ce n’est pas une histoire de désir.
La ruse.
Mais ce n’est pas une histoire de trahison.
La vanité.
Mais ce n’est pas une histoire d’ambition.
Alors, quoi?
Rien.
Ceci est une histoire d’amour.
La mienne.

Aldo a appris ce qu’il faut donner dans un lit. D’un certain point de vue, ce n’est pas très éloigné du sport: technique, endurance, créativité
Forger son propre style.
Mais surtout: monnayer la vigueur et la jeunesse comme un don de soi. Laisser croire à sa partenaire plus âgée que cette jeunesse prolonge en elle, qu’elle dure même après l’amour. C’est l’inverse de la crainte du déclin: l’espoir de l’éternelle jouvence transmise par les fluides.

Ce qui l’oblige à certaines manœuvres pour que ses clients de l’hexagone puissent continuer à échapper au fisc depuis que Mitterand est au pouvoir.

Liz Moore ‘Long Bright River’

The first time I found my sister dead, she was sixteen. It was the summer of 2002. Forty-eight hours earlier, on a Friday afternoon, she’d left school with her friends, telling me she’d be back by evening.
She wasn’t.


In the Long Bright River Liz Moore gives us a woman’s take on policing in a run down area of Phiadelphia.
Michaela, known as Mickey has patrolled Kensington, near the river Delaware, a area she was brought up in, over the last thirteen years and watched it slide through the devastation of drugs to a point where the main transactions are either narcotic or drug related, life expectency is short:


Thirteen years ago, when I first started, it happened a few times a year: we’d get a report that someone had fatally overdosed, had been deceased so long that medical intervention was unnecessary. More common were calls about overdoses in progress, and typically those individuals could be revived.


Mickey’s last partner is on sick leave due to an incident that leaves her feeling guilty and she is paired with Lafferty and tries to get him interested, to no avail, in the lives of the people in the area she patrols, her ex-schoolfriend Paula Mulroney who works a corner with Kacey, Mickey’s sister. Kacey hasn’t been seen for a while as a serial killer begins operating on their patch. Mickey is more of a doer then a talker and is comfortable with silence, not to be with Lafferty:

Facts I have learned about Eddie Lafferty in the first hour of our acquaintance: He is forty-three, which makes him eleven years my senior. A late entrant into the PPD. He worked construction until last year, when he took the test. (My back, says Eddie Lafferty. It still bothers me sometimes. Don’t tell anyone.) He’s just rolled off his field training. He has three ex-wives and three almost-grown children. He has a home in the Poconos. He lifts. (I’m a gym rat, says Eddie Lafferty.) He has GERD. Occasionally, he suffers from constipation. He grew up in South Philadelphia and now lives in Mayfair. He splits Eagles season tickets with six friends. His most recent ex-wife was in her twenties. (Maybe that was the problem, says Lafferty, her being immature.) He golfs. He has two rescued pit mixes named Jimbo and Jennie. He played baseball in high school. One of his teammates then was, in fact, our platoon’s sergeant, Kevin Ahearn, and it was Sergeant Ahearn who suggested he consider police work. (Something about this makes sense to me.) Facts Eddie Lafferty has learned about me in the first hour of our acquaintance: I like pistachio ice cream.

The book, veering between then and now, brings us up to date on Mickey and her life, she is saved from her sister’s fate when in her early teens, by a local police after-school initiative, the Police Athletic League. Already back then her younger sister Kacey, more street wise, sees through the officer who takes her under his wing, officer Cleare, a married man, with whom she ends up pregnant.

Liz Moore keeps us following this story through the earnest character of Michaela, juggling between her job and her child, as the deaths pile up, as danger comes close to home and as suspicion points to an unidentified police officer.

This story pulled me in through the refreshing writing of Liz Moore.

First Published in English as “Long Bright River” by Hutchinson in 2020

Michèle Pedienelli ‘After the Dogs’

Quai des Polars 2020: Books shortlisted for the readers prize, Number 3

Sites to visit linked to this proud event unfortunately now cancelled.
Emma, Marina-Sofia and the official event site Quai des Polars In order to support this event, hopefully I’ll manage to write articles on all six of the short listed thrillers and propose my winner before the official announce on the 4th of April.

In order to reach the largest readership possible for this attempt, I have created a website to publish my six articles and to propose my winner ****in French*** please go to my French website and don’t hesitate to make it viral


I seem to remember having seen her through her shop window. Blond, a little overweight, immaculate, I can see her in a vintage poster – rose coloured cheeks, smiling with a cup of steaming tea in her hand. When she opens the door after I’ve knocked, I recognise her, but you can forget the vintage poster. The woman sat opposite me in her forties may have her hair pulled back in a bun and the respectable image of a tea sales woman, she has a pale gray complexion and the bags under her eyes are approaching suitcases.***


A change of scenery for this the third book on the shortlist, we find ourselves in Nice just before the start of the long tourist season. Michèle Pediellini’s writting is crisp with a thrillers rhythme and in a few lines draws a picture “blond, a little overweight, immaculate, I can see her in a vintage poster – rose couloured cheeks”, you can get an idea of this from the opening paragraph.

The story is of tolerance, or of a lack of it. The private detective, Diou, in the first strand of the story, is contacted by the woman in the opening paragraph to try to locate her teenaged daughter who has gone missing. A second strand of the story concerns Dio’s friend Dag, a Scandinavian vet. Finally a third strand centres on an immigrant from Eritrea, Yonas, who is found beaten to death in a Nice that seems divided over the influx of immigrants, Nice where a large part of the town can trace their ancestry back to Italy, Nice close to Ventimille on the Italian side of the border which some would like to see turned into another Calais. This strand is traced back to Breil sur Roya, a village on the immigrants path from Italy to France, the historical significance of Breil as a village on the refugee route is put into context by a parallel narrative concerning the second world war.

Diou struggles through intimidations and follows a number of leads, meeting some right wing splinter groups on the way:


The same conspiracy theory except that you’ve officially replaced the Jews by the Muslims……— We’re patriots! Just like Orban and Salvini. They’re the only ones really looking out for their people. We’re letting ourselves get overrun, because that’s what’s happening. They come here like parasites to colonise us, they drain our spirit, our identity…..***


The story reminds me of another border thriller “Grenzfall” by Merle Kröger, set in the east of Germany. A well written book with a story that engaged the reader. In the running I’d say.

First Published in French as “Après les chiens” in 2019 by Editions de l’Aube.
*** My translation

The quotes as read in French before translation

Je pense l’avoir déjà aperçue derrière la vitrine de son salon. Blonde, un peu ronde, impeccable, je l’imagine parfaite pour une réclame ancienne – joues roses, sourire aux lèvres et théière fumante à la main. Quand elle ouvre la porte après avoir toqué, je la reconnais. Mais on oublie la publicité vintage. Si la quadragénaire qui s’assoit en face de moi a le cheveu bien retenu dans un chignon et la mise d’une respectable vendeuse de feuilles séchées légales, son teint est gris et, niveau cernes, on a dépassé le stade des valises pour atteindre celui des malles cabines du Queen Mary.

Même théorie du complot sauf que vous avez remplacé officiellement les juifs par les musulmans… — On est des patriotes ! Comme Orban et Salvini. Il n’y a qu’eux pour se bouger et protéger leur peuple. Nous, on se laisse bouffer, parce que c’est ça qui se passe. Ils arrivent comme des parasites et nous colonisent, ils bouffent notre essence, notre identité…

Pascale Dietrich ‘Mafia Women’

Quai des Polars 2020: Books shortlisted for the readers prize, Number 2

Sites to visit linked to this proud event unfortunately now cancelled.
Emma, Marina-Sofia and the official event site Quai des Polars In order to support this event, hopefully I’ll manage to write articles on all six of the short listed thrillers and propose my winner before the official announce on the 4th of April.

In order to reach the largest readership possible for this attempt, I have created a website to publish my six articles and to propose my winner ****in French*** please go to my French website and don’t hesitate to make it viral


Before the NGO, she had managed a subsidiary of a company manufacturing garden tools, then an ex-student from her old business school offered to inject her hard earned experience in corporate management into an international organisation fighting against poverty. There was no reason that the poor shouldn’t be profitable too. She seamlessly swapped lawn mowers and garden hoses for starving children and war refugees, managing “Urgences majeures” the same way.***


Pascale Dietrich’s thriller follows in the footsteps of Hannelore Cayre’s ‘The Daronne’, putting women at the centre of a criminal organisation, here the local mafia, still heavily linked to their Italian roots, in Grenoble. I should add that the writing is not as crisp as in ‘La Daronne’. The book begins as Leone Acampora, the head of a local Mafia family does something unusual and dies of natural causes, but he then sends a sealed letter to his wife, Michèle via his friend and her “secret” lover, Bernard, to tell her that he is so impatient to be with her again in the after life that he has put a contract out on her to hasten the moment when they can be together again. This sends his wife and his two daughters into a spin. Alessia, who intends to continue the family business, putting drugs through her pharmacy and Dina the younger daughter who has swapped organised crime for an NGO making money out of the “poor” business as illustrated in the opening quote.

The women set out to find out the name of the assassin, Michèle visits the Remo Lanfredi, the ageing head of the local mafia in the retirement home he has built for himself and other ageing mafia characters, but he can’t help, later causing the otherwise calm Dina’s imagination to go into overdrive:


She imagined a deadly attack on Remo’s retirement home, the pensioners trying to run away with their walking frames or desperately reving up the electric motors of their wheel chairs.***


Alessia chooses to visit Madeleine, one of her mother’s friends and the widow of an ex-Mafia leader, bitter at Remo Lanfredi and who sends her on the trail of Remo’s son Cosimo, rumoured to be coming backto Grenoble to take over from his father. Madeleine then tells Alessia of the power of the Mafia women:


I’m going to tell you something. The only ones that could one day bring down the Mafia are us, the women. If we decided to speak, all of the men would instantly wind up in prison.***


We get an image of Alessia’s character, and of Pascale Dietrich’s style later in the story as she tries to keep her rage under control:


Once behind the wheel of the car she turned on her meditation CD which urged her to imagine a place where she would feel at peace. She hit the accelerator and imagined herself on a beach in Brittany. When she reached the motorway she was dreaming of opening fire on the seagulls with a machine gun.***


A pleasant read, based on a well constructed story based around the husband reaching back from the death and the women’s response. Not the winner for me.

First Published in French as “Les Mafieuses” in 2019 by Liana Levi.
*** My translation

The quotes as read in French before translation

Avant l’ONG, elle avait dirigé une filiale d’outils de jardinage, puis un ancien élève de son école de commerce lui avait proposé d’insuffler son précieux savoir-faire en gestion d’entreprise dans une organisation internationale qui visait à lutter contre la pauvreté. Il n’y avait aucune raison pour que les pauvres ne soient pas rentables, eux aussi. Elle était donc passée sans transition des tondeuses à gazon et des tuyaux d’arrosage aux enfants faméliques et aux réfugiés de guerre, et elle dirigeait Urgences majeures de la même façon.

Elle imagina un raid meurtrier dans la maison de retraite de Remo, les vieux tentant de prendre la fuite en poussant leurs déambulateurs ou en faisant vrombir désespérément les moteurs de leurs fauteuils roulants électriques.

Je vais te dire une chose. Les seules qui pourront un jour faire tomber la mafia, c’est nous, les femmes. Si on se décidait à parler, tous les hommes seraient en prison en moins de deux.

Une fois au volant de sa voiture, elle alluma le lecteur CD et le disque de méditation l’exhorta à visualiser un endroit où elle se sentirait en paix. Elle mit la gomme en s’imaginant sur une plage bretonne. Quand elle atteignit l’autoroute, elle rêvait qu’elle tirait sur les mouettes à la mitraillette.

Luc Chomarat ‘The Latest Norwegian Thriller’

Quai des Polars: short list book 1.

Sites to visit linked to this proud event unfortunately now cancelled.
Emma, Marina-Sofia and the official event site Quai des Polars In order to support this event, hopefully I’ll manage to write articles on all six of the short listed thrillers and propose my winner before the official announce on the 4th of April.

In order to reach the largest readership possible for this attempt, I have created a website to publish my six articles and to propose my winner ****in French*** please go to my French website and don’t hesitate to make it viral



You can bet on the next work of Grundozwkzson being a hybrid product, available only in digital form, with links that will steer the reader towards video extracts and creating crowdfunding for anything based on the text. You could even imagine a sufficiently controlled filing hierarchy allowing each reader to create his own ideal thriller, deleting such and such a person, raping and torturing such and such a girl, the book, the film, the game merging together into a single interactive product with maximum and immediate profitability.***


Dr Flknberg the profiler, Olaf Grundozwkzson the Nordic crime sensation, writer of The Eskimo and inspector Bjornborg and his detective Willander of the police force who are too short staffed to do anything except follow the procedure, well with these characters you know you’re in Scandinavia. In this, Luc Chomarat’s latest book, read for the Roman De Rochefort, the French editor Delafeuille, with his industry is disarray due to the impact of digital publishing, has been sent to Danemark by his traditional company to sign up Olaf Grundozwkzson, the biggest thing in Scandinavian thrillers, for all translation rights in the French speaking world, where he is in competition with Gorki who has a very “modern” vision of the “product” as illustrated in the opening quote.

In this satire on nordic thrillers, Delafeuille soon realises that he himself is in just such an interactive product as he discovers that both the story and exerpts from the book have the same sentences. He finds himself meeting Inspector Bjornborg who represents the boring Scandinavian police:


Bjornborg went back to his Volvo fleet car. As he slid behind the wheel, he felt an overwhelming weariness come upon him. The enquiry was going nowhere, and even that didn’t help him to see clearly. In reality, enquiries didn’t actually advance, but neither did they in Nordic thrillers. They are often rather large laboriously written books. As for the cop’s wives waiting for them when they get home, and the relationship between them, well that too was like real life. In short there was no way out.***


And he soon finds himself working to solve the cases of the beautiful blondhaired girls being violently murdered in Copenhagen along with Sherlock Holmes. When they realise that they are protagonists of the story they decide to try to get an interview with Grundozwkzson with Holmes writing to him:


I’m writing to our friend. I’m proposing to interview him at his home on a certain number of subjects, the Nordic thriller, his personal works, the Change to digital form, etc. I’m flattering him a little That should interest him.
I don’t really understand. Why should he see us?
I’m using the old procedure of the Trojan horse. You see: I’m signing with a fantasy name, Ulla Ogsen, which sounds both Scandinavian and erotic, I’m quickly creating a pretty realistic false profile of a journalist, to which I’m attaching the photo of a silicon enhanced Ukrainian porn star.
It’s a crude trap.
He’ll fall for it old boy because his fantasies are as simplistic as my methods.***


Chomarat takes us through all of the clichés of the Nordic thriller, the violent deaths of beautiful young women this in countries famous for fighting for feminine equality, the pointless deadends to the story, the profiler obsessed by sex, the police force with no budget, the extreme climate eventually causing the main protagonists to be isolated from the world. Even the name of the book, “The Eskimo”. I liked the moment of realisation that something was wrong, if they were in Scandinavia trying to sign the rights for the French translation, as Holmes points out why was the story they were discovering already in French?

An amusing satire read in one day.

First Published in French as “Le Dernier Thriller Norvégien” in 2019 by La Manufacture de Livres
*** my translation

The quotes as read in French before translation

Il y a gros à parier que le prochain opus de Grundozwkzson sera un produit hybride, lisible exclusivement sous forme numérique, avec des liens qui permettront de diriger le lecteur vers des extraits vidéo, et de générer automatiquement du crowdfunding pour toute forme dérivée du texte. On peut même imaginer une arborescence suffisamment maîtrisée pour permettre à chaque lecteur de créer son thriller idéal, supprimer tel ou tel personnage, violer et torturer telle ou telle fille. Le livre, le film, le jeu se fondront en un produit unique, interactif, à rentabilité maximum et immédiate.

Bjornborg rejoignit sa Volvo de service. En se glissant derrière le volant il sentit une lassitude sans nom lui tomber sur les épaules. L’enquête n’avançait pas, et même cela ne l’aidait pas à y voir plus clair. Dans la réalité, les enquêtes n’avançaient pas effectivement. Mais dans les polars Nordiques non plus. C’étaient souvent des assez gros bouquins, à l’écriture laborieuses. Quant aux épouses de flics retrouvaient à la maison et aux rapports qu’ils entretenaient avec elles, cela aussi ressemblait fort à la vraie vie. Bref, il n’y avait pas d’issue.

J’écris à notre ami. Je lui propose de l’interviewer chez lui, sur un certain nombre de sujets, le thriller nordique, son œuvre personnelle, le passage au numérique, etc. Je le flatte un peu. Cela devrait l’intéresser.
Je ne comprends pas très bien. Pourquoi nous recevrait-Il?
J’utilise le vieux procédé du cheval de Troie. Voyez: je signe d’un nom fantaisiste, Ulla Ogsen, qui sonne à la fois scandinave et érotique. Je crée très rapidement un faux profil de journaliste assez vraisemblable, auquel je rajoute une photo de pornstar Ukrainienne siliconée.
C’est un piège grossier.
Il va tomber dedans, vielle branche, parce que ses fantasmes sont aussi rudimentaires que mon procédé.

Quai du Polar

As we all know, or imagine, the book fair, the ‘Quai des Polars’ programmed for the beginning of April in Lyons, France has been cancelled this year. This fair concentrates on thrillers and for more background try Emma or the official website.

In order to do my bit for this situation I’ve decided to read and to blog on the six books preselected for the readers’ prize due to be announced on the fourth of April and to announce my favorite. Only 15 days left, can I do it?
I managed to find the pre-selected books on the official website, see below. If anyone is interested in joining in, please go ahead, I may even blog in French as well!

Malamorte Antoine Albertini (JC Lattès) 358 pages.
Ah, les braves gens ! de Franz Bartelt (Le Seuil) 263 pages.
Requiem pour une république de Thomas Cantaloube (Gallimard) 544 pages.
Le Dernier thriller norvégien de Luc Chomarat (La Manufacture de Livre) 206 pages.
Les Mafieuses de Pascale Dietrich (Liana Levi) 152 pages.
Après les chiens de Michèle Pedinielli (L’Aube) 224 pages.

Juli Zeh ‘Empty Hearts’


“Let me talk to Babak for a minute,” says Britta. “It’s about business.” “No talking, not now. I’m calling to tell you to stay calm. This probably has nothing at all to do with us.” “Didn’t you see that—” “Of course, it’s possible I saw a suicide belt, but I’m not certain. The news reports aren’t clear. Stay calm, spend your evening with your family, don’t log on to the Internet. Everything the same as usual. Okay? We’ll talk tomorrow.” “Okay.” “Until morning, then.”


Juli Zeh enjoys taking quirks or faults in our society, in the relationships between people and pushing them that little bit further such as in my recently reviewed Unterleuten where she takes the suppressed feelings in a village and pushes the people over the edge. Here in Empty Hearts, set in the near future her main idea is at once simple and twisted, as the book begins, Britta is at home with her family and some friends when a foiled terrorist attack takes place at the airport cargo terminal live on TV and Britta has an emotional response that her husband tries to reduce by explanation:


Is it one of your patients?” Richard and the others know that occasionally one of The Bridge’s clients “does something stupid,” as Britta puts it. When that happens, she acts devastated for a couple of days, while the other three strive to console her, assuring her that she bears no guilt, reminding her that her therapeutic success rate is higher than ninety percent. “They’re just people,” Richard usually says in such cases. “You can try to help them, but there’s only so much you can do.”


This is where we understand that Britta has some sort of involvement with people at risk. Her immediate reaction when she then telephones her work partner Babak lets us understand that her involvement in what has happened is far from straightforward as illustrated in the opening quote. We soon understand the basic premise of the book, which is then developed into the story. The Bridge, Britta’s company, has developed software to trace people who are suicide risks and then puts them through a twelve point psychological program to help them back into society, these people are often thankful and make the donations they live from. The Bridge has a near 90% success rate, but what happens to the 10%? These are the Bridges real business as we learn that they are in fact a service company supplying these people to terrorist organisations from which they make considerably more money, the immerged part of the iceberg.

From the initial terrorist action at the start of the book, whose perpetrators were not from the Bridge, Britta’s life begins to spin out of control in this fascinating thriller.

First Published in German as “Leere Herzen” in 2017 by Luchterhand Literaturverlag.
Translated into English by John Cullen and published as “Empty Hearts” in 2017 by Nan A. Talese

Blake Crouch ‘Recursion’


“One morning, about a month ago, instead of my home in Middlebury, Vermont, I was suddenly in an apartment here in the city, with a stabbing pain in my head and a terrible nosebleed. At first, I had no idea where I was. Then I remembered . . . this life too. Here and now, I’m single, an investment banker, I live under my maiden name. But I have . . .”—she visibly braces herself against the emotion—“ memories of my other life in Vermont. I was a mother to a nine-year-old boy named Sam. I ran a landscaping business with my husband, Joe Behrman. I was Ann Behrman. We were as happy as anyone has a right to be.”


Blake Crouch’s near future fiction is a study of human reactions to the question; if I could go back in time and take different options that would change my life by my actions, but also the lives of others in uncontrolled ways, would I? This is no digital experience with a fast forward, if you go back then you have to actually live all of that time again. And finally what happens when you reach the present day and the two time lines coincide? And of course who would want to obtain the method of time travel and to what ends would they be prepared to go to, to obtain it?

As the story begins, Barry, a cop in homicide is first on the scene at a potential suicide and tries, unsuccessfully, to talk a jumper down from the Manhattan rooftop, a woman as illustrated in the opening quote, amongst a growing number that seem to be suffering from a new condition, False Memory Syndrome, where people suddenly seem to awake with particularly clear and emotionally deep memories of lives they have never lived. Détective Barry Sutton’s life, a wreck, has been going downhill since the death of his daughter, hit by a car, years earlier.:

The second thread of the story concerns a neuroscientist, Helena Smith, who has been working on an underfunded project to work on memory to specifically help dementia sufferers and who is contacted by a mysterious extremely rich benefactor that seems to know a great deal about her work:


Day 79 Living on Slade’s decommissioned oil rig is like getting paid to stay at a five-star resort that also happens to be your office. She wakes each morning on the superstructure’s top level, where all the crew quarters are located. Hers is a spacious corner apartment with floor-to-ceiling windows made of rain-repellant glass. They atomize water droplets so that even in the worst weather, her view of the endless sea remains unobstructed. Once a week, housekeepers clean her apartment and take out her laundry. A Michelin-starred chef prepares most meals, often using fresh-caught fish, and fruit and vegetables harvested from the greenhouse. Marcus insists that she exercise five days a week to keep her spirits up and her mind sharp. There’s a gym on the first level, which she uses when the weather is bad, and on the rare calm days of winter, she goes running on the track that circumnavigates the platform. She loves those runs the most, because it feels like she’s doing laps at the top of the world. Her research lab is 10,000 square feet—the entire third floor of the Fawkes Station superstructure—and she has made more progress in the last ten weeks than during her entire five-year stint at Stanford. Anything she needs, she gets. There are no bills to pay, no relationships to maintain. Nothing to do but single-mindedly pursue her research.


As the two threads come together and Helena and Barry meet, so begins a sort of “Groundhog day” as Helena with Barry’s help try to regain control of her work which, unbeknown to her, she had lost before the story began.

A “pleasant” story.

First Published in English as “Recursion” in 2019 by Macmillan.

S. J. Watson ‘Before I Go To Sleep’


THE BEDROOM IS strange. Unfamiliar. I don’t know where I am, how I came to be here. I don’t know how I’m going to get home….It is then that I hear a juddering intake of breath behind me and realize I am not alone. I turn around. I see an expanse of skin and dark hair, flecked with white. A man. He has his left arm outside the covers and there is a gold band on the third finger of the hand. I suppress a groan. So this one is not only old and gray, I think, but also married. Not only have I screwed a married man, but I have done so in what I am guessing is his home, in the bed he must usually share with his wife. I lie back to gather myself. I ought to be ashamed.


In this, Watson’s first published book, ‘Before I go to sleep’ a thriller, the story begins as Christine wakes, reasonably supposing she has partied too hard and discovers the man she is in bed with, seethe opening quote. But then as she sneaks into the bathroom the shock is total when she looks into the mirror and sees a lady in her fifties looking back at her and the begins to scream. Christine is suffering from a rare form of memory loss where whenever she sleeps her memory of the day she has lived is wiped clean and this has been going on for twenty years!

So much for the base on which the story is then built, this idea was already investigated by Jonathan Nolan’s Memento Mori, where Earl uses notes and tattoos to keep track on ideas. Here Christine is broken out of her Groundhog Day, waking each day with no memory of events and discovering the same things each day with her husband calming her and explaining the situation to her before leaving for work, when she is contacted by a doctor who persuades her to keep a private diary and who phones her every day to tell her where to look as she the discovers from her accumulated writing the inconsistencies in the information she is given by her husband.

Can a person with no memory exist, have an identity, a question Watson puts forward through Christine’s questions to herself:


There, in the bathroom, I thought of my old age. I tried to imagine what it will be like. Will I still wake up, in my seventies or eighties, thinking myself to be at the beginning of my life? Will I wake with no idea that my bones are old, my joints stiff and heavy? I cannot imagine how I will cope when I discover that my life is behind me, has already happened, and I have nothing to show for it. No treasure house of recollection, no wealth of experience, no accumulated wisdom to pass on. What are we, if not an accumulation of our memories? How will I feel when I look in a mirror and see the reflection of my grandmother? I do not know, but I cannot allow myself to think of that now.


As for the thriller, well it can only work if things are not what they seem, and of course they are not, what more unreliable narrator than one with no memory. As the story progresses though, as Christine strings together day after day in her diary, is her memory beginning to come back or is she embroidering adding layer after layer of almost truths? Is there hope? What do you imagine?

First Published in English as “Before I Go To Sleep” in 2011 by Harper