The Nothing Man, by Catherine Ryan Howard

Trigger warning for rape.

The Gardaí called him the Nothing Man because they had nothing on him. It’s been almost twenty years since the multiple rapist and murderer committed his last crime, but a new book by one of the survivors of the Man’s attacks has just been published. The Nothing Man, by Catherine Ryan Howard, opens with a security guard in a large department/grocery store spotting a woman with a copy of the survivor’s book and suddenly panics. The book comes with a promise that the survivor will finally hunt down the man who killed her family—the very same man who just furtively stole a copy from the store where he works.

It takes a few chapters before the name of the security guard is revealed, but we know that it’s him. We know more about the survivor. Eve Black tells her stories through the book-within-a-book, also called The Nothing Man. Brief sections show the security guard spinning with increasing anxiety that he might finally be caught. Most of the book is comprised of chapters from Eve’s book. Not only does Eve’s book contain terrifying rapes and murders committed by the Nothing Man, it also contains Eve’s life after the mass murder of her family.

Compared to the Nothing Man’s own sections, all of which are heavily flavored with his disdain for everyone he encounters and his desire not to be finally caught, Eve’s chapters are beautifully, honestly written. Eve has thought a lot more about the Nothing Man than he ever thought about her. Because she’s spent the last almost twenty years thinking about what happened and what it means to be the victim of a crime, Eve’s words make us think about crime in a way that traditional procedurals and thrillers do. Eve makes us think about the survivors as individuals, as more than just a hit count. She also makes us think about what it’s like to live as a person who others vaguely recognize as someone they’ve seen on the news.

What I liked most about The Nothing Man (Howard’s, not Eve’s) was that, in addition to its psychological depth, are the final chapters. I won’t say too much because I don’t want to ruin this book for other readers. I’ll just say that those last chapters are a brilliant conclusion to a story about a man who thought he got away with his crimes and a woman who refused to let those crimes remain in the past.

I received a free copy of this book from the publisher via NetGalley, for review consideration.

The Pull of the Stars, by Emma Donoghue

I suspect that many readers and reviewers will focus on the prescience of Emma Donoghue’s deeply affecting novel, The Pull of the Stars. Because this novel recounts a small slice of life during a global pandemic—there are plenty of references to people ignoring public health warnings about spitting in public and encouraging mask wearing—this book is absolutely a book for this year. But I worry that comments like this will overshadow just how good this book is. As always, Donoghue captures the atmosphere and feelings of what it might be like to be a nurse, on a Dublin maternity ward, while influenza scythes its way through rich and poor alike.

Julia Power is one of the few medical professionals still on their feet at a large city hospital. She’s already had what we call the Spanish flu, so she’s also one of the few people who can also work with the sick without falling ill herself. Because she has experience as a midwife, Julia is assigned to the makeshift Maternity/Fever ward. The Pull of the Stars takes place over two days in the fall of 1918, sometime before the Armistice ended World War I. We watch Julia rise, take the trolley to the hospital, work all day trying to keep women and their babies alive before trudging home to rest and do it all over again.

The flu, like all pandemics, is a leveller. When Julia arrives at the hospital at the beginning of The Pull of the Stars, a well-off Protestant woman sharing the ward with two very poor women. The women come from different types of life, but they’re alike in that they’re pregnant and they have the flu. Doctors have learned that the flu is very hard on pregnant women; it tends to cause premature birth or still birth. So, while Julia fights against the flu without knowing what is causing the illness with little more than obsessive santization with dilute carbolic acid and the help of a friendly, bright young woman from a nearby orphanage, we’re also treated to a grim portrait of Irish obstetrics at the time. The recommendations of one of the (male) doctors had me shuddering. I hoped that this doctor would be incapacitated before he could touch the women in Julia’s ward. Thankfully, Julia has Dr. Kathleen Lynn to work with. (Dr. Lynn was a real historical figure and, by all accounts, a goddamned legend.)

The Pull of the Stars is about life and death. We see how fragile life is, as people fall sick all around and as women labor with very little pain relief. This fragility is deepened by Julia’s sudden friendship with her help, Bridie. Like the men around them who have returned from the French trenches, Julia and Bridie’s friendship is the kind that is forged in harrowing circumstances and will last a lifetime. In contrast to the fleeting intensity of life, death on the Maternity/Fever is an implacable foe. Unfortunately, stubbornness and carbolic acid is little match for the H1N1 influenza A virus, lives of hard work and poverty, and a lack of modern obstetric knowledge.

This last paragraph makes The Pull of the Stars seem relentlessly depressing. Sure, there are depressing moments (kind of a lot), but I loved Bridie’s irrepressible personality and admired Julia’s determination to keep moving forward in spite of everything. This is rather a heroic book. While I would recommend this to readers curious about the time and the place, I would also give it out to readers looking for a story of women’s friendships and strength against impossible odds. Even after all the deaths in this book, I wanted to stand up and cheer the survivors after I finished the last page of The Pull of the Stars.

I received a free copy of this book from the publisher via NetGalley, for review consideration.

American nurses during the 1918 Pandemic (Image via CDC Blog – I couldn’t find any public domain images of Irish nurses or flu patients)

Night Boat to Tangier, by Kevin Barry

Every now and then, I’ll pick up a book and it feels like I’ve gone to the movies instead of sinking into a book. Kevin Barry’s Night Boat to Tangier is one of the most cinematic stories I’ve read in a long time. From its opening scene of the two protagonists in a waiting room at a Spanish ferry terminal to their complicated backstory with drugs and get rich quick schemes, this book is an absorbing ride with some of the best dialogue I’ve ever read.

At first, Maurice and Charlie reminded me of a rougher version of Vladimir and Estragon from Waiting for Godot. Their elliptical discussion ranges from their objective (to find Maurice’s daughter Dilly), to their past, to their regrets, and to their thoughts about death. The two men have been partners in crime for years, running hash and heroin from North Africa to Ireland since the early 1990s. They are not men to mess with. So when they decide to track down Dilly, they are very good at leaning on people to get information out of them. (Maurice bites one of their informants at one point.)

At first, we don’t know why Dilly ran away. I got the impression that Dilly was following her bliss to Algiers. But as Maurice begins to reveal his increasingly tragic history, I was less and less surprised that Dilly cut ties and left Ireland. Maurice and his partner, Cynthia, were a mess—a dangerous mess. Dilly was an accident. She was neglected when her parents got lost in drug addiction. When Cynthia died (not a spoiler), there was nothing to keep her in Ireland. Maurice and Charlie, however, want to make amends.

Night Boat to Tangier is an incredible read. The dialogue is brilliant. The characters are beautifully drawn. And the story has so many layers that I kept falling deeper and deeper into it. I can’t recommend this book highly enough.

I received a free copy of this book from the publisher via NetGalley, for review consideration.

The Secret Place, by Tana French

Imagine a thermometer. At the bottom at the people we consider acquaintances. We say hi when we see them, but that’s about all. At the top are the friends we would do absolutely anything for, up to and including committing crimes. Where things go wrong is when the thermometers are not at the same levels between people we consider friends; a person we would bury bodies for might not do the same. The events of The Secret Place, by Tana French, are set at that point of disconnection. And, like all tragedies, the characters who are misaligned friends have no idea that they are misaligned.

The Secret Place is set seven years after the events of Faithful Place and features an important character from that book. Holly Mackey seems cursed to have knowledge that she doesn’t want to have and has to share that knowledge with the police. She very much does not want to be a snitch, but she keeps finding things out that can help solve murders. At the beginning of The Secret Place, Holly finds Detective Stephen Moran, who took her statement when she was nine. She hands over a card from the bulletin board where the students of St. Kilda’s school share their secrets. The card says that whoever posted it knows who killed a teenaged boy from the neighboring boy’s school the previous summer. The card is enough to make the cold case go hot again but, on its own, it’s not enough to pinpoint the murderer without a lot of extra work.

Stephen is a chameleon. He has a knack for knowing what witnesses and suspects want to hear, then shift his words and personality to give it to them. He can charm. He can comfort. He can wheedle. Because he’s officially assigned to cold cases, Stephen can’t work alone. So he ends up partnered with Antoinette Conway, the pariah of the homicide department. She has zero talent (or, to be fair, interest) in being what people want. She’s prickly and blunt where Stephen is smooth. Together, though, they are a good team. They slowly start to build a friendship over the course of the very tense, very twisted, very exhausting day they spend at St. Kilda’s, interviewing Holly and seven other girls who didn’t tell everything they knew last year when Conway was investigating the death of Chris Harper.

The investigation reveals as much or more about friendship as it does about the murder. On top of that, there are also the disturbing politics of rival groups of friends. Holly and her friends, who believe they are as close and devoted as sisters, loathe and are loathed by the popular girls, a gang run by a horribly precocious manipulator. Sadly for Holly’s group, it appears that they were so busy protecting each other that they stopped talking about their secrets. From the space of a year, it’s clear exactly how Holly and her friends went wrong, but I couldn’t stop myself from feeling sorry from them—while also wanting to tell them that it was okay and actually better if they talked to teach other.

The Secret Place is not my favorite book in the Dublin Murder Squad series, but I still enjoyed it quite a lot. It was a treat to see Holly and her irrepressible father, Frank Mackey, again. French truly is a master of creating believable, complete psychological portraits of multiple characters. The mystery has plenty of twists and turns to keep things interesting. I think what put me off a little was one of the narrators of the audiobook I listened to. The chapters narrated by the female characters and set in the months before the murder are read by Lara Hutchinson, who does just fine. Stephen Hogan, the reader of the other chapters (narrated by Stephen Moran) makes the teenaged girls sound grating, whiny, and infuriatingly teenaged. I’m not sure if it’s just that I don’t like listening to teenagers at their worst or the choices made by , but I really didn’t like listening to that dialogue. It’s probably not fair of me to ding this book because of the narration so I would say to readers who are interested in The Secret Place: try it in print.

Himself, by Jess Kidd

The prologue to Jess Kidd’s horribly magical novel, Himself, is brutal. It was almost enough to put me off the book entirely as I read about a woman I later learned was called Orla Sweeney being beaten to death by an unknown man, as her infant son unwittingly watched. At the end of the prologue, the forest itself conceals a boy who grows up to become the protagonist of the rest of the novel from his would-be murderer and I was immediately hooked. Himself ended up being a blend of horror, mystery, supernatural doings, and quirkiness that I found completely fascinating. I’ve never read anything like Himself and, given how much I enjoyed Mr. Flood’s Last Resort (also titled The Hoarder), I am now a committed fan of Jess Kidd.

Mahony turns up in the town of Mulderrig, Count Mayo like a stranger in a western—at least until word gets out who’s son he is. He’s treated well (mostly) by the people of the town. He gets a bit of stick for his hair and trousers because, even though it’s 1976, rural Ireland is still in the 1950s (or earlier). It also doesn’t help him that he draws the eyes of the town’s female half and makes friends with the eccentric Mrs. Cauley. The town’s priest, Father Quinn, and his ally, Annie (who uses religion to disapprove of people) are wary of Mahony. Once he starts his investigation into his mother’s disappearance and probable murder, Quinn, Annie, and the mysterious murderer spring into action to get Mahony to drop it and leave. Flashbacks to Orla’s life before her murder let us know that Mahony is absolutely right to be suspicious of this seemingly-normal town. There are a lot of skeletons (literal and metaphorical) in the closets of Mulderrig.

Nothing in Himself happens as expected. Mrs. Cauley leaps on Mahony’s investigation with a will and comes up with a plan based on Miss Marple mysteries and her own theatrical talents. The plan shouldn’t work, but it does. The supernatural elements—such as Mahony’s ability to see and talk with ghosts—keep everything delightfully off-kilter. While Mahony, Mrs. Cauley, and their allies go to work, Father Quinn is tormented by what seems to be local spirits with a wicked sense of humor. Mrs. Cauley’s antics and whatever is messing with Father Quinn keep this book from being totally grim, giving Himself some much needed levity after the really dark parts.

My only complaint about Himself is that it was over too soon. The end was a bit of a rush, so fast that I didn’t really get a chance to decompress from the tension that Kidd had built up over the course of the book. Also, even though Mulderrig has some terrifying inhabitants, I wanted more of it. I wanted more of the ghosts and the sassy holy spring and the possibly sentient forest. But on the other hand, maybe if I had more answers about what was going on on the supernatural side of things, Himself might have lost some of the weird charm it held for me. I would definitely recommend this novel to readers who like mysteries that have a touch of the uncanny (especially if the uncanny elements do not include vampires and werewolves) and know when to crack a joke when things get too bleak.

I listened to the audio version of Himself, narrated by Aiden Kelly’s gentle Irish voice. I was glad of the narration because I would never have figured out how to pronounce some of the characters’ names correctly.

Faithful Place, by Tana French

Detective Frank Mackey has been happily (more or less) avoiding his past for more than twenty years at the beginning of Tana French’s brilliant novel, Faithful Place. He’s a wizard at his work in the Dublin police’s undercover division. He’s divorced but still gets to have weekends with his daughter, Holly, and to spend the odd moment cheerfully annoying his ex-wife. But his relative calm is shattered when he gets a call from his sister, who tells him that a suitcase belonging to his first love, Rosie Daly, has been found at a derelict house back in his old stomping grounds. Shortly thereafter, Frank finds Rosie’s body in the basement of that house.

Those two discoveries send Frank back to all of the things he’s been hiding from for all those years. Underneath his undercover detective’s smoothness, Frank is deeply insecure about his family and his background. His sister is the only family member he still talks to. When we meet the rest of the Mackeys, after Frank starts to ask questions about the suitcase, it’s not hard to understand why. Frank is the middle child of a loud, violent, lower-class family and he carries what may be in the biggest chip in the world on his shoulder about it. His father is an abusive drunk. His mother is passive aggressive, with an emphasis on the aggressive. His older brother, Seamus, is no slouch in the biting comment department. In addition to all this, there is Rosie’s disappearance. On the night it turns out she was killed, Frank and Rosie had been planning to elope to England to escape their families.

Frank doesn’t stop his questions even after Dublin’s murder squad take over. He doesn’t trust them to find out what really happened in this coldest of cold cases, especially after Frank’s youngest brother, Kevin, takes a header out of the window of the same derelict house where Rosie was found and part of a letter Rosie wrote was found in his pocket. Kevin and the letter make a neat explanation for the murder squad, even though there are things that don’t add up about the case. Not only does he want to know what happened to Rosie and Kevin, Frank also desperately wants to know if Rosie left him waiting on the night they were going to escape because his family was so awful she didn’t want anything to do with Frank after all.

The mystery is expertly plotted, leading in all sorts of astonishing directions. But what I enjoyed most about the story was the way that Frank wrestles with the question of whether or not blood will tell in the end. He keeps his child and ex-wife as far away from the Mackeys as possible. He doesn’t want their taint to spread. He doesn’t want to become like his father or mother, ever, but he worries about his own temper and his knack for finding people’s weak places to exploit. Frank knows he as it in him to become like the worst of the Mackeys if he slips up. And, it seems, like proximity to his family might be working its evil spell: Frank brings all his skills at getting people to talk and do things they might not want to do to keep digging into Rosie and Kevin’s deaths. He is a master at manipulation, to the point where I felt uncomfortable with his Mephistophelian ways. For all that he claims to loathe secrets and lies, Frank appears to have a different set of ethics for himself. There are also scenes where we see Frank walk perilously close to the edge of violence and bad Mackey behavior.

I listened to Faithful Place as an audiobook. The narrator, Tim Gerard Reynolds, uses a gentle Irish accent that I loved. His voice brought an already vibrant book to life. I stayed up far too late on Friday night (Saturday morning) through the explosive ending of the novel because I just had to know what happened next. I also had to know if Frank would ever be able to resolve his issues about his family and his roots in the lower class neighborhood of Faithful Place. I honestly can’t say enough about how truly excellent this book was.

The Taste of Empire, by Lizzie Collingham

It’s not unusual for me to have mixed emotions while reading a book. Some books have made me feel happy and sad, others wary and mirthful. But I can’t recall a book that made me feel outraged and hungry. That is what I felt most of the time as I read Lizzie Collingham’s The Taste of Empire: How Britain’s Quest for Food Shaped the Modern World. Each chapter of this book begins with a meal set in a variety of places in England or their former colonies, each illustrating how exotic ingredients became British staples or how culture was shaped by the trading empire, before zoomed out to the larger economic movements and consequences of those movements. I would have loved to have tea or try curried iguana with the people mentioned in the book, but then I would grow more and more angry as I read about how the rapacious and racist actions of British colonizers wrecked havoc on traditional foodways and culture.

Collingham takes us back to the Tudor era at the beginning of Taste of Empire, when the English began to branch out to find fish to feed their navy. She takes us aboard the Mary Rose, a ship that sunk early in a battle due to a freak of weather. The artifacts found on the wreck have given us an in-depth look at so much about Tudor life, but Collingham obviously focuses on the food. The sailors ate hardtack, salt fish, and peas, mostly. They were probably not happy about it. (Dissatisfaction with military rations is a running theme.) The last meal of the Mary Rose sailors becomes a springboard to a discussion of how early English fishermen stopped sailing to shoals off Iceland and moved to the shoals off of Newfoundland—with plenty of details of how cod were preserved in massive amounts of salt so that they would be edible when they arrived back in England. In subsequent chapters, Collingham teaches us about the origins of the triangle trade and the incredible growth of Caribbean sugar, the British and American slave trade, the theft of land from indigenous people, how the British East India Company traded opium for Chinese tea, the development of a variety of food preservation techniques, the British racist obsession with “civilizing” indigenous people, and much more.

A large part of The Taste of Empire examines how cash crop agriculture repeatedly leads to cultural destruction and malnutrition. In the American colonies, it was tobacco. In the Caribbean, it was sugar. In India, it was opium. These crops were so valuable that farmers around the Empire’s colonies stopped growing food because they could make more money with the cash crops. Because these farmers weren’t growing food, they grew dependent on British food imports from Canada, Australia, and other places. If that trade were ever interrupted or prices inflated, famine could break out–as it did repeatedly in India. Collingham includes a deliberately upsetting image of victims of the 1876-1878 Madras Famine to show us the very real consequences of British trade. During the Great Famine in Ireland and the Bengal Famine of 1943, food was exported to England at the cost of exacerbating local hunger. In addition to deliberately encouraging cash crop agriculture, British colonizers also pushed people in their African and Indian colonies to grow corn (maize) instead of their traditional millet, sorghum, and other grains. While they told local that corn was more useful and civilized, they didn’t know to pass on cooking methods that would actually make corn nutritious. Without extra processing, critical vitamins in corn couldn’t be absorbed by the human body. Consequently, people grew tons of corn and became malnourished as they ate it.

A 106-year old fruitcake made by Huntley & Palmers, found in Antarctic ruins. (Image via NPR)

I have a few problems with The Taste of Empire. Collingham deliberately uses colonial terms for places in India and Africa without parenthetical notes with the modern names. I realize that Collingham is trying to recreate the colonial world, but it bothered me that the indigenous names are erased. Reading about the famines in Bengal might have been a little more bearable if those names had been there to remind me that India would become independent after World War II. The other thing that bothered me is that, because she wanted to cover so much territory (temporal and physical), a lot of things are oversimplified or omitted. In her brief discussion of the Irish Great Famine, Collingham doesn’t mention that English colonizers still exported grain and livestock to England while the Irish were left with their rotting potatoes to eat. She repeats the idea that local Irish “over relied” on potatoes without reminding us that this over reliance came from the fact that there was nothing else for them to eat. Also, in trying to be fair to British colonizers, there are several sections (especially the chapter that discusses the opium-tea trade) in The Taste of Empire where I wish Collingham had been more judgmental of the British. Collingham criticizes but not as much as I would have wished, but I suspect this was because I was furious at what I was reading.

In spite of its problems, I was fascinated throughout The Taste of Empire. About a third of the actual length of the book consists of notes and references and I deeply approve of the amount of research Collingham did for this book. I loved the scenes of meals around the world, event when they were included to show just how stubborn British colonizers were in recreating good English meals wherever they were. She even includes recipes for some of the dishes mentioned. Every chapter was eye opening and, unlike some nonfiction books I could mention with hyperbolic subtitles, Collingham absolutely proves her thesis that the British drive for food (and cash crops) definitely helped create the world we live in now.

The Witch Elm, by Tana French

39720991About a third of the way through The Witch Elm, by Tana French, I started to wonder when the book would get good. I was interested, but not totally hooked. Now that I’ve finished the book, I will never doubt French again. The first third of the novel sets the stage for the beautifully written parallels and ethical dilemmas of the second two-thirds of the book by presenting a thorough psychological portrait of protagonist Toby Hennessy. In the opening chapters of The Witch Elm, Toby receives an awful lesson in how privileged his life as a charming, middle class, white heterosexual man has been. Over and over, privilege and its benefits are thrown into sharp relief as Toby’s life is turned upside down and inside out.

There are two worst nights of Toby’s life. Both of them start out the same way, with Toby having a good time with friends and drinks. Both of them end with a crime that changes his life. The crime that occurs at the beginning of The Witch Elm sees Toby badly beaten in his Dublin apartment by a pair of thieves. He suffers from slurred speech and can’t always find the right words. He can’t multitask any more. He’s got weakness on his left side. Perhaps worst of all, his self-confidence (the epitome of his sense of self) is completely destroyed. When Toby relocates to the suburbs to help care for his terminally ill uncle and to recuperate himself, his nephew finds evidence of the other crime: a human skull in the 200-year-old wych elm in the garden of the Hennessey family’s Ivy House.

The skull turns out to be part of the remains of a teenaged boy who everyone thought had committed suicide ten years ago. The investigation into the boy, Dominic’s, murder, however, kicks up a bunch of sinister gaps in Toby’s memory. Toby remembers Dominic as kind of a mate and basically a “good guy.” Toby can’t remember much about why someone would want to kill Dominic, but his cousins remember Dominic as a sadistic, relentless bully. The more Toby learns, the more he starts to wonder if his habit of forgetting his own bad behavior might be concealing something horrible. His inability to remember what may have happened ten years ago torments him, so much so that he starts to wonder if he is the killer. And yet, things don’t quite add up—at least until the end of the book when everything wraps up in a masterful and deeply satisfying conclusion.

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A wych elm in Austria
(Image via Wikicommons)

The mystery at the heart of The Witch Elms is delightfully plotted out. I loved the way it all played out because of the ethical complications. But the best part of The Witch Elm, I think, is the way that it exposes how we as a society bestow the privilege of being believed on certain people and withhold it from others. For some reason, white, middle class, teenaged boys (especially upper class white boys) who have a decent reputation are believed, while teenaged girls of whatever ethnicity or reputation are not believed. If girls (or women or LGBT+ people or people of color) accuse the privileged, they are told that “boys will be boys” or that they’re making things up. Toby is shown this over and over, slowly realizing how damaging it is to a person’s self-worth to be disbelieved on top of being bullied. There were a few points when I wanted to reach into the book and shake Toby until his teeth rattled because he just does not get it, not until he finally sees the full picture. The passages when he finally does it get it are simultaneously satisfying and disheartening because they contain so much truth.

There is plenty of fodder for discussion for book groups in The Witch Elm. In addition to fueling conversation about privilege and how it protects predators, readers will be left with questions about how malleable our memory is, whether or not its justifiable to take justice into one’s hands when official channels are not available, and how much people will sacrifice for their loved ones. The thematic parallels that repeatedly echo questions about privilege, memory, and the rest never bog down the plot (which gets very tense more than a few times), and give this book a lot of substance in addition to its cracking mystery.

I received a free copy of this book from the publisher via NetGalley, for review consideration. It will be released 9 October 2018.

Me, Myself, and Them, by Dan Mooney

36868738There’s an old joke: How many psychologists does it take to change a lightbulb? One, but only if the light bulb wants to change. Denis Murphy, the protagonist of Dan Mooney’s Me, Myself, and Them, is a light bulb that does not want to change. He’s fine, thank you very much. Seven years after a devastating car crash that killed his sister and best friend, Denis lives an isolated life. He has severe OCD, can’t bear to touch anyone, constantly blames himself for the accident—and cleaning up after his four roommates who may or may not be manifestations of his emotions.

Denis might have continued to live his rigidly confined life if Rebecca hadn’t walked back into his life near the beginning of the novel. There mere sight of her released emotions that he’s been suppressing for all those seven years. In addition, Rebecca is not like his other friends and his mother. She refuses to let him keep his restricted life. Suddenly, he loses track of his routines, can’t concentrate on work, and starts to argue with his destructive “roommates.”

Me, Myself, and Them is a memorable story of a man recovering from a devastating trauma because of those roommates. One is an anthropomorphized hairball named Deano. Another is a cat woman named Penny O’Neill. The third is a zombie named Professor Scorpion. The last is a sinister clown called Plasterer. While the first three roommates might be willing to go, Plasterer is violently stubborn about maintaining the status quo. Somehow, Denis has to find the will and strength to overcome his dysfunctional coping mechanisms. As usual for fiction, this is easier said than done. Denis has been living this life for seven years and the memories he has to face are terrible.

I really enjoyed the way Me, Myself, and Them handles mental illness and recovering from trauma. Nothing is easy; if it was easy, it would have seemed facile and superficial. By making Denis’ emotions actual characters helps us understand what Denis is going through. It’s not just grief that he feels. He feels anger, regret, guilt, sorrow, and more. We see not just the depth of Denis’ feelings, but also the breadth. This is a sad book, but offers a unique perspective for readers who want to read stories of recovery and forgiveness.

I received a free copy of this book from the publisher via NetGalley, for review consideration. It will be released 19 June 2018. 

The Darkling Bride, by Laura Andersen

35822664Carragh Ryan’s job at Deeprath Castle begins with a very odd job interview. She doesn’t learn much about the job  and isn’t very sure about the frosty Lady Gallagher that hires her, but she leaps at the chance to work at the remote castle’s famed library because of its troubled history. Little does she know that Deeprath’s history has continued to be troubled right through to the present day. In The Darkling Bride, by Laura Andersen, we follow (mostly) Carragh as she digs into the family history and winds up at the center of a re-opened murder investigation.

The Darkling Bride jumps back and forth in time and back and forth into the heads of various narrators. In the present, Carragh and Garda Inspector Sibéal McKenna, peel back the layers of the remaining Gallaghers’ secrets at Deeprath Castle, in County Wicklow, Ireland. Carragh works as an inoffensive cataloger in the castle library, but her curiosity (and the promptings of what might be a ghost) send her down the rabbit hole of the what happened to the famous Victorian author who once lived there and his (I think bipolar) Gallagher bride. Meanwhile, Sibéal has been tasked with re-investigating what really happened to the murdered parents of the current Lord Gallagher.

We also get glimpses of the past through the Victorian author, Evan Chase-Gallagher, who was famous for writing Gothic novels based on folklore, and from his wife’s diary. At first, I didn’t know why those chapters were included in the novel. They were interesting, sure, but it isn’t until the end of The Darkling Bride that everything comes together in a thrilling and fitting climax.

The mystery (or mysteries) at the heart of the book are very well plotted, but what made this book for me was the way that it brings the setting and its history to life. Throughout the novel, Lord Gallagher is harassed by his relatives for his decision to give the castle to the Irish National Trust. The Gallagher family has been there for centuries. They belong there. It would be a betrayal of all of that to give the place up. And yet, Carragh’s heritage as an adopted child and later revelations in the book show us just how much blood and family love matter. This affecting theme, plus all of the detail lavished on the castle and its surroundings, made this book much deeper than its mysteries.

I can recommend The Darkling Bride as a literary thriller that works. I’ve been disappointed quite a few times in the past by books that involve chases after lost manuscripts that fizzled. This book doesn’t fizzle. Far from it. It’s a slow burn that got more and more tense as I read. I couldn’t but it down for the last half because I just had to know what happened next.

I received a free copy of this book from the publisher via Edelweiss, for review consideration. It will be released 6 March 2018.