Friday, 8 July 2016

Guest Post: Her Turn to Cry - Chris Curran

To celebrate the publication day of Her Turn to Cry I have a guest post from the author, Chris Curran.  I had hoped to have my review ready for today, but unfortunately I've had some homework to do this week (Boo! Hiss!) so do pop back soon to read my review. 

Her Turn to Cry is a gripping psychological thriller set in the 1950's and 60's.  It is published by Killer Reads and you can buy your copy from Amazon by clicking here.

As if we needed any further temptation to buy books, Chris has very kindly shared with us her six best psychological suspense reads. I've certainly spotted one or two there that I want to read, so clicking the book covers at the bottom of the piece will take you straight over to Amazon.

My six of the best in recent psychological suspense - Chris Curran

Like all novelists I’m often asked about the kind of fiction I read myself and I’m sometimes stuck for an answer because I’m a voracious reader and there’s very little I won’t try. As a kid I loved fantasy. As a teenager I turned to sci-fi, historical fiction and romance. What led me to read, and then write, crime was discovering Daphne Du Maurier’s two mesmerising tales of secrets, lies and twisted relationships: Rebecca and My Cousin Rachel. If Du Maurier is the grandmother of this kind of book then Ruth Rendell (or her alter ego, Barbara Vine) is the mother and after reading A Dark Adapted Eye and the rest I was hooked.

Although I now enjoy police procedurals, Chandleresque private eyes, historical crime, Nordic noir etc. the sub-genre that still speaks to me most intensely is this kind of psychological suspense. And I’m not the only one. In the last five to ten years such novels have been riding high in the bestseller charts.

Often called domestic noir or grip-lit, the genre is dominated by women writers, whilst strong female characters are the engine that moves the story along. No longer just the pretty victim, the loyal secretary or the femme fatale, these women and girls may be damaged and conflicted, but are always compelling. The author takes us up close and personal and the female protagonist is more likely to be intimately involved with the crime and the suspects than to be an outside investigator.

Unlike more traditional crime novels there are no heroes seeking to clean up the mean streets here. Indeed unreliable narrators are so common that it’s not unknown for the protagonist to also be the perpetrator. Trust no one is a good mantra when reading one of these books because the most sympathetic and apparently trustworthy character may be suffering memory loss or hiding terrible secrets even from themselves. These novels tend to be whydunits rather than whodunits and we can come away from them with the uneasy feeling: this could happen to me; this could be me.

So here are my own six of the best from the contemporary crop.

Weirdo – Cathi Unsworth

I’ve loved all of Cathi Unsworth’s books, but this remains my favourite and is the one that most fits my personal definition of grip-lit. In 1984 a brutal murder took place in the down-at-heel East Anglian seaside resort of Ernemouth. The killer was apparently apprehended and convicted, but in 2003 there are moves to instigate an appeal and the story switches back and forth between the events of 1983/4 and the 2003 investigation.

Fifteen-year-old Corinne Woodrow is the weirdo of the title: a wild haired goth with a terrible background and a worse attitude. Enter Samantha Lamb, newly returned to live with her wealthy grandparents. Samantha’s grandad is a big noise in the town and blonde and pretty Sam appears at first to be Corinne’s antithesis. But it turns out that she’s even more damaged than Corinne and when she infiltrates Corinne’s friendship group the outcome is disastrous.

Everyone knows everyone else in Ernemouth and in this stifling atmosphere dark secrets fester beneath the surface and the teenagers caught up in the storm of their own adolescent passions are unaware, until it's too late, that they are trapped by the corruption that runs through generations of tangled relationships.

The Secret Place – Tana French

Tana French’s Dublin Murder Squad novels could be classified as police procedurals, but her approach, which is to focus on different detectives each time, means they fit very well into the psychological suspense/grip-lit genre. And never more so than here.

Teenage passions and tortured relationships dominate this novel too, but in the apparently refined atmosphere of an Irish girls’ boarding school. Banned from social media, the privileged teenagers use the secret place of the title to post anonymous messages. When one of the girls, Holly McKay, alerts detectives to a note from someone claiming to know who murdered a boy from the neighbouring school, her story is not taken seriously. But detectives, Stephen Moran and Antoinette Conway, are given 24 hours to look into the mystery.

As the girls share their recollections of the previous year, in the hothouse atmosphere of the enclosed school community, we witness the friendships and rivalries that slowly but surely develop into something deadly. The contrast between the steady build of menace during the sections set in the past and the urgency of the single day, when the detectives begin to realise that something is very wrong, stretches the tension so tight you can almost hear it twanging.

The Wrong Girl – Laura Wilson

No teenagers here, but three generations of females. 60s wild child, Janice, gave up her daughter, Suzie, for adoption and is stunned when Suzie contacts her for the first time and she discovers that Suzie also has a daughter, ten year-old Molly. Another surprise is that the Norfolk village where Suzie is holed up is home to reclusive former rock star, Joe Vincent. Once Janice’s lover, Joe is a shambling wreck of the rock god she remembers. And it seems that Joe harbours a terrible secret.

Janice’s granddaughter has her own secrets. She resembles the age enhanced picture of abducted child, Phoebe, and is convinced that she is Phoebe. Phoebe’s mother is everything Molly desires in a parent and the life Molly expects to return to when they are finally reunited is very different from the ramshackle existence she shares with unreliable Suzie. As well as being a powerful suspense story, The Wrong Girl asks questions about celebrity and obsession, about what makes a good mother and whether we can ever escape the burdens we carry from the past.

Burnt Paper Sky – Gilly Macmillan

The novel begins a year after the kidnap of Rachel Jenner’s son, Ben. He disappeared when Rachel allowed him to run ahead of her during a woodland walk. But did she believe that at the age of eight he needed to experience a little freedom, or was her behaviour that of woman too obsessed with her ex-husband and his new wife to be properly protective of her son? Even Rachel isn’t sure of the answer.

A burst of hysterical anger during a disastrous televised appeal leads the media to become suspicious of Rachel herself. She doesn’t fit the expected image of the bereft and grieving mother. Did she kill her son accidentally and dispose of the body, or murder him in a fit of the kind of rage she demonstrated at the press conference?

As the tense and absorbing search goes on it’s clear that the abduction of a child arouses primal emotions in everyone.

Sharp Objects – Gillian Flynn

There’s a nightmare mother in Gillian Flynn’s first novel, which is still my favourite. Journalist Camille Parker is the (literally) wounded journalist forced to return to her small home town to cover the abduction and murder of two young girls.

In the claustrophobic atmosphere of her family home she is once more at the mercy of her controlling mother and forced to confront the tragedy that drove her away and led to a cycle of self-harm. She carves guilty words into her own flesh and, although aware that she needs to escape again, she cannot walk away when her precocious younger sister may be in mortal danger.

Windgap Missouri is a sick town and Camille’s own family could be the sickest of all. And as she tries to make sense of what happened in the past, as well as the more recent deaths, Camille makes some disastrous mistakes. At least one of which turns out to be fatal.

Dare Me – Megan Abbott

Dare Me features another group of intense adolescent girls – an American college cheerleading squad. They perform not frilly pom pom routines, but dangerous acrobatics. These teenagers are strong and hungry for triumph, but also for food because they must keep themselves light and lean. Their ultimate desire is to become the girl who tops the squad’s glittering pyramid and somersaults to glory.

The story is narrated by Addy, second in command to squad captain, Beth. They live and breathe cheerleading and share an intense friendship, until their positions are reversed by new coach, Colette French, who favours Addy over Beth. Although a married woman, Colette seems almost like one of the girls. She pushes them to tackle yet more dangerous moves, but also welcomes them into her home for giggly drunken evenings. Addy is captivated, but Beth remains hostile and suspicious.

We know right from the start that a bad thing will happen, but the story is so skilfully told that it’s still a shock when Addy finally blunders into the nightmare.  

About Chris Curran:

I was born in London but now live in St Leonards-on-Sea near Hastings, on the south coast of England, in a house groaning with books. I left school at sixteen to work in the local library – my dream job then and now – and spent an idyllic few months reading my way around the shelves. Reluctantly returning to full-time education I gained my degree from Sussex University. Since then I have worked as an actress, script writer, copy editor and teacher, all the time looking forward to the day when I would see my own books gracing those library shelves.

Follow Chris on Facebook and Twitter @Christi_Curran

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