Book Review: Fellside, by M R Carey

Available now in bookshops nationwide.

cv_fellsideFellside is a prison, a correctional facility for women to be precise, where three thousand women ‘form a community committed to a practical ideal of rehabilitation’. Sounds idyllic. Not. A women’s prison is not a place that most people get to see the inside of, but we sure get plenty of insight from programmes like Bad Girls, Orange is the New Black, and Wentworth. Really tough women, young and old, fighting to survive. Fellside is no different.

There have been a number of best-selling novels in the last few years which have as their central premise a young woman who has suffered memory loss. Jess Moulson is yet another young woman in the unfortunate position of having her life dramatically affected by amnesia.

The story opens with Jess regaining consciousness in a hospital bed, handcuffed to the bed, being treated for serious burns, smoke inhalation. Gradually, she remembers that she was involved in a fire in her flat that led to the death of a ten-year-old boy who lived in the flat upstairs. Jess is a drug addict and has vague recollection that she set the fire for reasons that she can’t quite recall. By page 25 she has been found guilty of murder, the subject of the most awful press coverage, and sentenced to Fellside. Her court-appointed lawyer is doubtful that the full and factual story has come out but can’t get Jess to see sense, her guilt at the death of young Alex completely overwhelming her.

So life in prison begins, and it’s not a bed of roses. Now, I am not a fan of supernatural or fantasy fiction, I really just do not get it. But very cleverly the author who, under a pen name has written for Marvel comics and writes his own graphic fiction, introduces what can only be called a ghost character – a young boy who comes to Jess in her sleep, in her dreams, taking her with him to his world. She is convinced this is the spirit of Alex, and gradually realises that he is helping her to see what really happened the night of the fire. And so the mystery of Alex’s death begins to be solved.

But it is definitely creepy, weird and unsettling. At the same time as Jess is moving between the real world and the spirit world, she has to adapt to prison life in all its ruthlessness, cruelty, bent prison officers, and survival of the fittest code. It is pretty grim. What was interesting and did help to soften the brutality was the back stories of the prisoners and how they came to be in Fellside, including Jess’s own story. As awful as they all are, terrible things happened to the women that led them to prison, so it is hardly surprising the terror continues.

At nearly 500 pages, already one can see that there is lot going on in this novel. It is tricky to define what sort of novel it is – a psychological thriller? Murder mystery? Supernatural? Fantasy? Horror? At times it does wobble, and for me, I did lose my way with all the wanderings Jess and Alex’s spirit do in the pursuit of justice. But living in such a prison environment, wouldn’t you too want to escape to inside your head?

If you get past all the spooky action, then this is actually quite a riveting story. Life in the prison is graphically depicted, all the characters are very well drawn with great depth, there are lots of twists in the plot and surprises. And in the end, justice is served.

Reviewed by Felicity Murray

Fellside
by M.R. Carey
Published by Orbit
ISBN 9780356503592

Book Review: Thicker than Water, by Brigid Kemmerer

Available in bookshops nationwide.

cv_thicker_than_waterThicker Than Water is a gripping psychological thriller with a supernatural twist. The narrative is shared between the two teenage protagonists: Thomas Bellweather and Charlotte Rooker.

Thomas is bad boy personified; not only is he devilishly good-looking, but he’s also the prime suspect in his mother’s murder. Charlotte finds herself drawn to him, despite the somewhat extreme measures her three brothers (all policemen) will go to keep the two of them apart. Thomas, adamant in his innocence and fighting through his grief, finds himself bullied, taunted and maligned. He has no support from anyone, except for his mother’s new husband, Stan, and Charlotte. And, as events unfold and darker truths begin to surface, it seems that support too will crumble.

It is a powerful and somewhat intense book, with events seeing Thomas spiral further and further from redemption and making the reader strongly question his innocence. Charlotte, in typical teenage-girl protagonist fashion continues to put herself at risk, ignoring the well-meaning (if somewhat overbearing) advice from her brothers, and seeking out this potentially dangerous newcomer. Meanwhile, Thomas battles a maelstrom of emotions ranging from grief to anger and to despair. Then, the two make a discovery and the tale takes a (somewhat, slightly) supernatural twist.

Things, it turns out, are not all they seem, and Charlotte’s instant, and naïve, infatuation may not be entirely natural. I am still not sure I feel entirely comfortable with the romantic overtones and the conclusion but that is, is it not, the mark of a good psychological thriller?

Reviewed by Angela Oliver

Thicker than Water
by Brigid Kemmerer
Published by Allen & Unwin Children’s Books
ISBN 9781743318638

Book Review: The Diviners, by Libba Bray

cv_the_divinersAvailable now in bookstores nationwide. 

Libba Bray weaves a lyrical and magical skill with her words, creating a compelling and evocative landscape. This she populates with memorable characters, wry humour, witty dialogue and a dark and sinister plot.

Evie may not be the nicest of young ladies − she is self-centred, willful and more than a little selfish, but there is something about her that appeals and makes you goad her on. The author’s affection for the time period − the 1920s, the first World War has given way to an era of flappers and prohibition is at its peak. The text is liberally sprinkled with the language, the clothing, the detail so precise that you almost feel whisked away into the world she has woven.

After creating a scandal back in Ohio, 17-year Evie is sent to stay with her uncle in New York. It is an opportunity she embraces with open arms and carefree enthusiasm. So what if he is the curator of the museum of “creepy-crawlies” − the supernatural and the strange − a museum suffering from a distinct lack of clientale. However, when dark and terrible murders start occuring, murders with a definite link to the occult, it is the services of Uncle Will that are called upon, and with them Evie comes along. Evie has a unique talent, the talent behind the scandal “back home”, and a talent that could help lead them to the murderer, and down an even darker and more deadly path than they could possible imagine.

Interwoven with this occult mystery/ghost story is a tale of friendship:  Evie’s best friend, Mabel, is a relatively sensible but unfortunately slightly gullible girl, all too frequently lured in to Evie’s rather daredevil schemes. There is also Sam Lloyd, the charming pick-pocket with a unique talent of his own, stoic and practical Jericho − who may be the object of Mabel’s affections, but holds a candle for another lass. Theta and Henry, the sister and brother that are not, with ties to the theatre and a perchant for the dramatic. Handsome Memphis, a musician, and his brother Isiah, who are also drawn into the mystery.

All of their tales thread into the tapestry, drawing this band of unlikely heroes, all of them linked in some manner, closer together and herald the start of what is sure to be a trilogy, if not a series.

Beautifully written with characters you will not easily forget and a plot that will send shivers down your spine. This is a stunning read for fans (particularly teenage) of paranormal romance, ghost stories and dark mysteries.

Reviewed by Angela Oliver

The Diviners
by Libba Bray
Published by Allen & Unwin
ISBN 9781743319482