Jonathan Dark or The Evidence of Ghosts by A.K.Benedict

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Today, I am delighted to welcome to my blog A. K. Benedict author of  Jonathan Dark or The Evidence of Ghosts. It will be published on 25th February by Orion. My review for the novel follows the feature.

1/ One part of this novel involved Jonathan, as a sighted-person, going on a journey blindfolded – I would feel very uncomfortable doing that. I wondered if you tried this yourself, or it was just an author’s feeling for how it may/ must be?
You’re right – I did try this myself! Not quite in the same way as Jonathan, though. I first imagined how that whole experience would be for him, then went mudlarking blindfolded. I went to exactly the same spot and sat on the foreshore and slowly swept my fingers across the stones. I had to be careful as there are many sharp objects hidden in the shingle. It added an extra dimension to my search rather than taking away. I became lost in the act, remembering what London Mudlark, a brilliant mudlark on Facebook, told me: look out for straight edges and true curves as nature does not make things perfect. I touched something round which thinned out into a tube. I’d found my first clay pipe, something I hadn’t managed up till that point. I’ve seen many others since but it took the concentration involved in being blindfolded to start me off.
​I didn’t have the blindfold with me the first time I went round Borough Market so I closed my eyes. Without Maria to guide me, I was a bit clumsy but it helped me to focus on the sounds and smells, the taste of the samples and, of course, to imagine the ghosts. . .

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2/I felt that the Jonathan was more at ease when he was with Maria, but when she left him he felt vulnerable. Can you talk about your feeling for that part of the narrative a little and how you went about getting the sense of it across?
Jonathan feels very much at ease with Maria, more so than with anyone else for a long time. Opening up to her means he is more vulnerable when she leaves. That side of friendship and, after a while, love is both beautiful and unnerving. We relax and unfold when we connect with people, but feel the loss so greatly when they leave, whether it’s for half an hour or permanently. Jonathan is accessing parts of himself that have gone unnourished for some time, and I accessed the part of me that knows that feeling well.

3/ I had never thought of smells compensating for sight. An example in the book was herbs in bouquets of flowers. When Jonathan was blindfolded he seemed more aware of scent and sound, than he was when seeing. Do you feel that a certain smell would signify danger (eg) to a blind person and whether there are ones that can give comfort?
I think smells are an important way that we gather information but that it’s mostly done unconsciously. We smell each other all the time – pheromones are doing their stuff while we pretend to be professional. Smells signalling danger is a fascinating idea. I think there have been studies showing that on some level, we can smell when people are frightened – one indicated that people subconsciously know whether sweat has been brought on by panic or by exercise. I may be remembering that wrongly but I wonder whether fear-based sweat smells like danger on a deep level or to anyone with a developed sense of smell. The semantics of smell are utterly fascinating – do smells have any signification other than association? I think that everyone, blind or otherwise, links emotion and events with smell in an incredibly powerful way. The same aftershave could provoke joy in one person, dread in another, depending on who is wearing it and the memories attached. I can’t wear certain perfumes that I wore at times of grief or trauma, for example. I sometimes burst into tears if I smell lily-of-the-valley.
While I‘ve had some, brief experience of not being able to see – my earliest memories are of becoming blind from meningitis and then, after a while, slowly beginning to see again – I can’t claim any knowledge of what being blind must be like. I read research papers and talked with people who were born blind, became blind after time or regained their sight and there was a very wide range of experiences, as you’d expect. I thought the best way to approach writing from Maria’s point-of-view would be to really get to know her and try to represent her feelings about the world as best I could, given my limitations. She is comforted by the smell of hot towels from Indian restaurants and, after the events in the book, is now repulsed by the smell of roses, lavender and rosemary.

4/ I feel that Maria feels safer blind than seeing. My thoughts regarding this is that she feels like she knows who she can trust while blind and can somehow sense who isn’t being honest but if she is seeing she has to interpret everything else that goes with it. I also thought that she felt that having sight ‘tarnished’ her world and being able to see her London would destroy the way that she can see / smell and sense it. How did you approach this?
Yes, I think that’s exactly it – having sight would mean an entirely new, untested set of data to process, all the time. That is a huge ordeal for her. She has been able to paint a mental picture, a smellscape, a sound skyline of London, one that is beautiful, entirely hers and under threat. I approached this by focusing on my own synaesthetic tendencies. When I hear or play music, I often experience synaesthesia and see colours and/or smell scents. The chord A Minor, for example, is a rich Mahogany brown. This helped me to get into another mode of processing the senses and, hopefully, get somewhere near to describing Maria’s London.

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Maria King knows a secret London. Born blind, she knows the city by sound and touch and smell. But surgery has restored her sight – only for her to find she doesn’t want it. Jonathan Dark sees the shadowy side of the city. A DI with the Metropolitan Police, he is haunted by his failure to save a woman from the hands of a stalker. Now it seems the killer has set his sights on Maria, and is leaving her messages in the most gruesome of ways.

My review:

There are a few different storylines running throughout this unusual novel. There is Maria, she was born blind and had recently had an operation to enable her to see. However she was much happier blind and wears a blindfold. Her life is at risk from a stalker. Then there is a case that appears to be connected to the Underworld, individuals have to be prepared to do their worst to be successful in business. And then there is the ghostly element, that for me was the most fascinating part. It took me a while to work out everything that was happening but there was a big surprise ( shock) that connected all three storylines.
Jonathan Dark, the lead detective is similar to other detectives that feature in other novels where their personal life is a bit of a mess. However, there is one thing about him though that makes him different to the rest.
Part of me understood the frustration that the police felt towards Maria for insisting on staying blindfolded but I also understood that she felt safer with what she knew. I never correctly solved any of the cases, there were some very clever twists. The most intriguing character for me was the cabbie, I could read a novel just about her and her passengers. I hope that if there are future Jonathan Dark novels she features in them.
Highly recommended if you fancy a crime novel that is a little different.

Viral by Helen Fitzgerald

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So far, twenty-three thousand and ninety six people have seen me online. They include my mother, my father, my little sister, my grandmother, my other grandmother, my grandfather, my boss, my sixth year Biology teacher and my boyfriend James.
When Leah and her adopted sister Su go on holiday together to Magaluf to celebrate their A-levels, only Leah returns home. Her successful, swotty sister remains abroad, humiliated and afraid: there is an online video of her, drunkenly performing a sex act in a nightclub. And everyone has seen it.

Ruth Oliphant Brotheridge,mother of the girls, successful court judge, is furious. How could this have happened? How can she bring justice to these men who took advantage of her dutiful, virginal daughter? What role has Leah played in all this? And can Ruth find Su and bring her back home when Su doesn’t want to be found?

My thoughts:
I first became aware of Viral when the opening line went ‘viral’ on social media. Reminiscent of headlines in the UK press a few years ago it tells a tale of how an all girls holiday to Magaluf was ruined by alcohol and drugs. And other people.
Su had never wanted to go on the holiday but was forced into it. She was the sensible one who would be able to make Leah behave. She gave in hoping that that the holiday would help repair the relationship, they had been very close when they were younger but now she felt that Leah resented her. At first she quite enjoyed it, amazed by the length of time it took to get ready for the pool and getting to know Leah’s friends.
Su’s life changed completely after the video was released on the Internet. She went into hiding and tried to accept what has happened and the consequences on her life. She decided to try and make contact with her birth mother, something she had thought about doing before. Meanwhile Leah was trying to repair the damage and find her, along with their monster of a mother Ruth.
Whilst I liked and a had a lot of sympathy for Su, I found Leah easier to like. I loved her humour and the way that she handled Ruth, a woman it is impossible to say anything nice about.
I found it to be quite a refreshing read. It was sad at times but there was also humour. It’s a horrifying storyline, but it felt very real. It’s one that seems to rear its ugly head every summer, watching how a handful of teenagers behave on holiday and it ends up being headline news.

The Blood Strand by Chris Ould

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Having left the Faroes as a child, Jan Reyna is now a British police detective, and the Islands are foreign to him. But he is drawn back when his estranged father is found unconscious, a shotgun by his side and someone else’s blood in his car. Then a man’s body is found, a shotgun wound in his side, but signs that he was suffocated. Is his father responsible for the man’s death? Jan must decide whether to stay or forsake the Faroe Islands for good.

My thoughts:
The Blood Strand is the first book in a new detective series that is set in the Faroe Islands. At the start of the novel there is a map showing the location of the Faroes and a guide on pronunciation. I was grateful for both, not knowing where they were and I am one of those readers that prefer to pronounce characters names correctly.
Jan had left the Faroes with his mother when he was very young and apart from a disastrous visit in his teens had no contact with his father. Neither had he met any of the other members of his family.
He had recently been suspended from his job with the British police but details are only hinted at, and his family in the UK encouraged him to make the trip to see his father.
He develops a good relationship with Hjalti Hentz, the investigating officer who is frustrated by the lack of interest shown by a senior officer. Jan offers advice and tells him how he would look at the case if it had occurred in the UK. The investigation into his father is only part of the story. Jan also wanted to understand why his mother left the islands but was struggling to get answers from either the family or people who knew her when she left. I have a feeling that more will be revealed in future novels. I thought I had solved the case but I was mistaken. There were quite a few twists that I hadn’t seen.
Jan’s account is told in the first person and the rest of the novel is told in the third person and it worked quite well, even when it switched frequently. I found the novel to be much lighter than Nordic Noir novels that I have read in the past. Maybe because much of it is told by an outsider’s point of view.

I would like to thank Titan Books for the copy received for review. The Blood Strand will be published on 16th February 2016.

 

The Life and Loves of Lena Gaunt by Tracy Farr

imageThis is the story of Dame Lena Gaunt: musician, octogenarian, junkie.

Lena is Music’s Most Modern Musician; the first theremin player of the twentieth century.

From the obscurity of a Perth boarding school to a glittering career on the world stage, Lena Gaunt’s life will be made and torn apart by those she gives her heart to.

Through it all her relationship with music

My Thoughts:

The Life and Loves of Lena Gaunt is a novel that is completely different to my usual crime fiction. And I loved every bit of it. Even having the press release stating that it was a fictional biography I was still convinced that Lena existed. I was googling both her and the instrument that she played, the theremin. Think of the music that featured in Midsomer Murders.
Covering a period of eighty years, most of it set in Australia and New Zealand but also in Europe where Lena experienced her first really cold winter and America. She lived through both World Wars but was untouched by both. She lost both her parents when she was still young but was close to neither. But she suffered unmentionable loss later in life.
Her relationship with Uncle Valentine was lovely. Her closest family member who asked no questions and never passed judgement. She had a similar friendship with Cath during the 1940s and Mo, the filmmaker who she let into her past.
Every now and then I read a book that turns into something special. One that stays with you long after finishing it. I would like to thank Aardvark Bureau for sending me this novel.

The Secret of the Cathars by Michael Hillier

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Philips Sinclair’s grandmother has recently died. She leaves him the unusual legacy of the translated journal of his ancient ancestor, who was one of the four Cathar perfecti who escaped from the castle of Montségur with the ‘treasure of the Cathars’ strapped to his back – a treasure which has never been found. She also leaves him a sum of money with the request that he travels to the Pyrenean fastness of le Bézu where she believes the treasure still lies.

Meanwhile the famous young French archaeologist Jaqueline Blontard has arrived at le Bézu to start excavations as part of her new television series about the Albigensian Crusade. She believes her team will have the summer to uncover the secrets of the place before they are disturbed by the press and the authorities.

However the Roman Catholic Church already knows about their plans and has arranged for their agent to join the archaeologists. Also a secret but very influential body in Paris is sending their man to watch the excavations. Furthermore a criminal gang in Marseilles has become involved in the search for the treasure.

The archaeologists are suspicious of Philip but allow him to join them. As they start to uncover the secrets of le Bézu they find themselves in a race to make the information public before they are overwhelmed in a maelstrom of violence caused by the forces trying to stop them so that they can claim the treasures for their own illegal ends. (less)

My thoughts:
I’m interested in the history of the Cathars so was looking forward to reading this novel. It took a while for it to get going, there were a lot of characters that all appeared over a few chapters. I had to keep reading back to get an understanding of who each one was and what they wanted. I persevered though and quite enjoyed it. The actual story isn’t that strong but it was engaging.The part of the novel that featured Philip and his inheritance was the best and most interesting.It’s one that I would probably enjoy more on a second read.

With thanks to Authoright for the copy received.