When I got up at the Lefty Banquet last weekend and said we were living in a golden age of crime fiction, that wasn’t just smoke I was blowing up the audience’s ass to get applause (I literally have no idea how to get an audience to applaud, or laugh, or cheer, or do anything other than point and laugh at me and the blather coming from my lips and directed out by a panicked, terrified mind); it is something I truly believe. Every time I pick up a book by someone who is currently flourishing and publishing, I am rarely, if ever, disappointed; every year brings a fresh new crop of great books by current authors as well as a plethora of amazing new and diverse voices. The sheer creativity in plots and stories and characters; the language usage; the seamless construction of story that flows and keeps the reader turning the page is truly remarkable.
And Catriona McPherson is a force of nature.
There was no mistaking the smell. Except, come to think of it, that’s not true. It was all too easy to mistake the smell, to miss that one crucial note in the putrid bouquet. For a start, it was damp, and there was a years-deep rind of mould coating the bricks, eating into the mortar, softening the cheap cement that, once upon a time, had been used to pour the floor.
In the damp, rot had come along and worked away at the joists and beams, at the stacks of softening cardboard boxes and yellowing newspaper. The drains were bad too, always had been; a faint drift in the air like a sigh of sour breath. Cats, of course. Or maybe foxes. Something had got in and stayed a while. And why wouldn’t a cat or a fox stay, out of the rain, with a buffet of little scurrying things laid on? Little scurrying things that must have thought they were safe in here. They added their bit to the chord, too, but in such tiny dabs it would take a bloodhound to find them.
No bloodhound needed for the bottom layer. Under the damp and rot, under the drains and vermin, there was something else, sweet and soft as a whisper. And what is whispered was a tale of death. Unmistakable, inescapable death. Not the snuffing out of a mouse either, not some grasping stray, not a proud wild fox brought to broken, whimpering nothing. This was something much bigger.
Catriona McPherson is one of the more prolific writers in our genre; producing a minimum of two books per year (if not three); the flyleaf of A Gingerbread House lists twenty-six titles to her credit thus far in a career with scores of award nominations and wins. I’ve yet to read either of her two series, the enormously popular Dandy Gilver series set between the wars in the UK, or her “scot in America” series, but I hope to spend some time with both at some point in the future…it’s been hard enough keeping up with her stand-alones–which I’ve enjoyed tremendously each time I’ve plucked it from the TBR mountain and settled in for a wild and fun ride in my easy chair.
The problem with writing about one of McPherson’s stand-alone novels is you don’t want to spoil any surprises for those who’ve not had the pleasure to sit down with it as of yet; no easy task for either a professional reviewer or yours truly; a humble blogger who simply likes to share the good news about another terrific read for those who are always on the lookout for another terrific writer whose career they should be following. The main character in this story is Tash Dodd, daughter of a family who’ve built up a shipping business into a major firm over the course of her childhood and adult life; a bright, intelligent and hard-working young woman with big plans for the future of the company and her role in it. She loves her parents and disdains her brother, whom she thinks is a bit of a dullard. But one day looking around in her father’s office, she hears a phone ringing and finds a burner, hidden beneath piles of paper, and against her better judgment, her natural curiosity–thinking her father is having an affair, why else would he have a burner phone–she answers.
And finds out that there are things far worse to learn about her father than an affair.
The chapters about Tash are entwined with other chapters about other single women; lonely women with different stories and backgrounds, who are looking for something more from their lives, only to find out there is danger in looking for something more. These women are beautifully drawn characters, flawed and three-dimensional and relatable despite being completely different from each other–a masterstroke of characterization, I might add–as well as different from Tash, distinct in their needs and wants and desires and lives. What do all four women have in common? How does what Tash is experiencing and going through–having gone into hiding while trying to figure out how to extricate her family business from the horror they’ve gotten enmeshed with–relate and entwine with these women?
Brilliant written and structured, McPherson draws her reader in with her gorgeous prose and once the reader is in the palm of her hand, she slowly draws her fingers in to squeeze every last bit of suspense and tension her reader can handle out of her story and characters, far exceeding reader expectations.
Well done, Catriona. Highly recommended.