How to Kill Your Family by Bella Mackie
There is a select sub-genre of crime novels featuring prison confessions of serial killers. One I read last summer was A Certain Hunger by Chelsea G Summers. In that book, Dorothy Daniels is a food critic and black widow, murdering her lovers – and enjoying eating select parts of them afterwards. Although slightly overdone, it was great fun! This summer I’ve found another one to add to the list.
Mackie’s protagonist is languishing in a women’s prison imprisoned for a murder she didn’t commit. Yet she is a serial killer – of her own ‘family’. When Grace discovers that her father is millionaire businessman Simon Artemis, and that he had disowned her late mother Hélène after the fling that produced Grace, she also realises that she is his oldest child. She and Hélène had lived in a poverty that they didn’t deserve, and as the unacknowledged Artemis heir, his estate should all become hers, not a penny should go to the other family members. The easiest way to achieve this is to murder the rest of her family and the book begins with her travelling to Spain to bump off her father’s parents – she drives them off the road into a ravine having observed their daily routine. Next comes cousin Andrew – who is a problem as he’s a nice guy who has himself disowned his family…
And so it goes on, Grace narrating in full detail all her research and planning, getting a job at Artemis, volunteering at a wetlands centre to get close to Andrew, exploring the East End’s seedy BDSM clubs to snare uncle Lee and so on plus the murders themselves of course. Simon Artemis himself is pictured as a crossover between Philip Green and Robert Maxwell! Grace is harder to fathom. One thing is clear though, confessional serial killers do like the sound of their own voices, and although immensely enjoyable, this novel was again slightly overdone perhaps. However, as a debut, it was witty and engaging with a couple of good twists. Good summer reading fun.
Borough Press hardback, 359 pages. I had the black cover with pink spredges! BUY at Blackwell’s in paperback via my affiliate link.
London Rules by Mick Herron
This is the fifth Jackson Lamb/Slough House novel featuring the disgraced MI5 employees put out to pasture doing donkey work in a seedy building near the Barbican, (my reviews of #1, #3 and #4). Poor Roddy Ho, he may be a tech wizard and hacker supreme, but his interpersonal skills are pants. Come to think of it, I don’t believe we know yet why he was assigned to the ‘Slow Horses’. When he manages to acquire a sort of girlfriend, he becomes obsessed, and doesn’t realise he’s being played for information, which ends up with him in the interrogation suite at the Service HQ, for there has been a terrorist outrage in the UK, gunmen shoot up a small Derbyshire village, murdering nine people. That’s the first of what could be a whole series of tragedies. Meanwhile, new first desk Claude Whelan, is having a hard time with the Prime Minister and, of course, second desk ‘Lady Di’, Diana Taverner.
You can rely on Jackson Lamb to, through his apparent lack of concern over Ho, covertly encourage his team to go rogue and investigate, led by stalwarts River, Louisa and and coke-head Shirley who has anger management issues, together with new colleague JK, who may or may not be a psychopath. It’s a race against time before more atrocities might happen, and when Diana sends in Emma Flyte, head of the ‘Dogs’, to Slough House to lock Lamb’s team down, she is unable to manage it and ends up having to collude with them! There are, as you might expect, some funny moments involving Lamb’s bodily excretions (‘I’m overdue for a Donald.’) and smelly socks, but also funny-tragic ones such as an accidental death with serious repercussions, and River’s visit to his grandfather, the ‘O.B.’ (Old Bastard), himself a former spook, now in a care home, suffering from Alzheimers and telling all his old war stories…
The previous week, River had heard a story the old man had never told before, involving more gunfire than usual, and an elaborate series of codenames in notebooks. Ten minutes on Google later revealed that the O.B. had been relaying the plot of Where Eagles Dare.
I hate to say it, but in a way, Roddy Ho is just about my favourite of the ‘Slow Horses’, he’s so self-absorbed and generally unlikeable, but underneath we realise he just wants to be loved too! It’s a shame he’s out of the action for two-thirds of the book, but fingers crossed that Herron won’t kill him off!
Source: Own copy. John Murray hardback, 2018, 345 pages. BUY at Blackwell’s in paperback via my affiliate link.
Yellowface by Rebecca F Kuang
Perhaps this summer’s most-hyped novel, I decided I had to read it. Many of those who work in publishing have lauded it for its strong critical/satirical take on their world. It’s really all about: the bottom line, acknowledging that there’s no publicity like bad publicity, but we’re in a world of cancel culture now and cultural appropriation is a hot topic, plagiarism, and not forgetting in this case race!
At college, June Hayward was friends with Athena Liu, who went on to become a literary darling. June has struggled to make her own mark in the same world. The two young women have really grown apart, but see each other occasionally – and the last time June sees Athena, she is dying of asphyxiation in her apartment after choking on a pancake. June tried to help unsuccessfully and Athena died while waiting for the emergency services to arrive. Athena had shown June the rough first draft of her next novel, recently completed – Athena tells her she is the first person to see the manuscript. She steals it, and reworks it as her own next novel, publishing it under the name Juniper Song (the forenames her hippy mother had christened her with), giving just enough ambiguity to suggest to the world that this white woman has some Asian heritage, and should be allowed to write about the subject of Chinese labour camps in WWI.
At first everything goes brilliantly, and Juniper is the new literary darling – but you and I know it can’t last. Someone somewhere will have some proof of her plagiarism, surely… Of course, novels about the psychological effects of plagiarism and its potential discovery on the plagiarist of dead authors’ novels aren’t new, Jean Hanff Korelitz’s The Plot from 2021 was superb in that respect.
June/Juniper however fights back! Yes, she was inspired by Athena she says, it’s not plagiarism is her (falacious) argument. Does she get away with it? I couldn’t possibly say. What was different about this novel was the role of social media which is so quick to condemn unequivocally, and the anonymous hurt of the trolls.
For me, this novel didn’t live up to the hype. It was enjoyable and clever enough, and certainly doesn’t paint a rosy picture of the publishing industry. I did like the way that our views of Athena and June change throughout, although ultimately I didn’t care enough for either of them; it was Athena’s mother I felt most for.
Source: Own copy. BUY at Blackwell’s via my affiliate link.