A Can’t Put It Down, Classic Mystery

When Diane asks her friend, Jean Applequist, to help investigate the murder of her spouse, Jean does so with gusto, consulting with friends and stopping to savor food, wine, and sex up and down California’s coast, in and out of San Francisco’s restaurants.

The pace of DEATH IN A WINE DARK SEA by Lisa King is fast; the plot, pleasingly intricate, the storyline surprising from the start, the suspects numerous and humorous. Reading the book, I could feel, see, and smell the damp San Francisco fog rolling in over the hills. Read the rest of the review.

CRACK by Chris Barraclough

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Through a Glass Darkly

I was immediately sucked into CRACK, a novella by Chris Barraclough. Not just a thriller, this story, but one that I could not put down and that, I’m sure, will haunt me for some time. Yes, the plot is action packed, but at its heart, the book is about the pain of being misunderstood, about ignorance, abuse, regret, cruelty. It is about what it feels like to be down and out in a society seemingly without soul.

Its setting—two towers of the Hightide council estates “in the heart of Broken Britain”—is dystopian. It has no charm or hope. The author’s prose is unique, remarkable, as is his ability to create rich, contradictory characters in a few words without leaving the story.

The main character, Nathan Pang, is a guilt-ridden policeman, a man with a past who loves his son and yearns for a better world. At one point he’s asked if he has children. “‘Yes. I’ve got a boy. A son.’ Pang’s nails dug into the curtain.” They say that one test of character richness is his ability to surprise and in many scenes, Pang really floored me; at times he angered me. Nonetheless, whether or not he survives in the book—and you’ll have to read it to find out—the essence of Pang sticks to me like glue and as I write this, I’m wondering how he is today, what tune hums in his head, what breakfast cereal does his son choose.

Pang the policeman is an outcast come to the towers to investigate a brawl that disturbed local residents. By his actions, he escalates the tension. Hated by and hiding from the inhabitants, Pang is himself broken, imperfect, riddled with guilt and pain, his thoughts, “scattered, dark and restless.” His story is punctuated by editorial remarks, obtuse and fractured, made by a press purporting to summarize the rioting in Hightide.

I found the book gripping, the prose, spare and magnificent. The characters linger in my mind. Here is one of many memorable passages, an image central to the book’s meaning, occurring shortly after the accident that is the story’s catalyst.

“A perfect white trainer sat discarded on its side just a few feet beyond. Laces undone, the front of the sole hung open like a wide, gaping maw, frozen in a silent scream.”

I recommend the book to all readers who want arresting characters as much as they crave exciting plot, who want something more than resolution after reading a tense thriller.

My Rating: 5 Stars

Copyright © 2010 Chris Barraclough

About the author: Chris is a decent enough guy. He likes animals and sunshine and crap like that. His hobbies include helping old people across roads and nursing injured kittens back to health.

CRACK is his first novella and ebook. It was shortlisted in the Contact Publishing Page Turner prize, just missing out on the top spot. Chris’ debut novel BAT BOY won the UK Authors Award 2010 and was published to critical acclaim by UKA Press in Summer 2011 (available in paperback on Amazon). He followed it up with DEAD DOGS, a darkly comic Albanian tale, which was long listed for the Dylan Thomas Reader Award 2010.