Book Review: Black Eyed Susans

A small while ago, I was meant to attend a Waterstones event, where Julia Heaberlin would be speaking about her new book, Paper Ghosts, but it was unfortunately cancelled. However, I was given a free copy of one of her other books, Black Eyed Susans.

Black Eyed Susans is a harrowing story.

Aged 16, Tessie Cartwright was found buried in a grave, marked by a patch of black-eyed susans. She was surrounded by bones – the bodies of previous victims. A man was captured and convicted, and sits awaiting his punishment on Death Row. She remembers nothing about what happened to her. 18 years later, Tessa suspects the real killer is still out there, and wonders if the right man was caught.

Firstly, I know they say don’t judge a book by its cover, but I really like these covers; a beautiful floral pattern is a nice change from more conventional thriller and crime cover designs.

My Photo [Black Eyed Susans 1]My Photo [Black Eyed Susans 2]Black Eyed Susans switches frequently between two main perspectives: the teenage Tessie, in therapy recovering from her ordeal, and the adult Tessa, haunted by her past.

I thought Tessie’s childhood perspective was the most fascinating. She discusses with her doctor what she actually remembers and what she thinks she remembers. The narration clearly conveyed Tessie’s inner-thoughts and attitudes; I felt I really understood her character. Because of this, the therapy scenes were my favourite sections of the book.

I also liked the interview segments which were taken from the trial, as Tessie is asked by lawyers to recount what happened. These sections were deviations from the traditional form of prose, but I enjoyed them as they were only small scenes and helped progress the narrative.

However, whilst I mostly enjoyed Heaberlin’s writing, she also uses lot of short sentences.

This creates a blunt tone. Initially I liked this style. It conveyed Tessa’s adult cynicism and sarcasm. Effectively. It could also create tension. Yet it felt overused. By the end of the novel.

Black Eyed Susans is incredibly sinister and dark. I liked all the twists; I tried to guess throughout what had happened, who was responsible, and why it happened. Unsurprisingly, I guessed incorrectly each time.

I strongly recommend this book, and I’d love to read more from Julia Heaberlin.

– Judith

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Book Review: Tubing by K.A. McKeagney

This is part of a blog tour with Red Door Publishing.

Tubing is a mystery and thriller novel by K.A. McKeagney.

After a chance encounter with a mysterious man on a tube train, Polly’s mundane London life is turned upside down. The man leaves before she finds out his name, and so Polly becomes desperate to see him again. As she does so, she discovers the underground phenomenon ‘Tubing’, where complete strangers organise illicit sexual encounters on commuter tube trains, but doesn’t realise she’s placing herself in danger.

My Photo [Tubing]

Tubing is marketed as a thriller. I thought it was a thriller.

There’s also a lot of sex. A lot.

I’d never heard of ‘tubing’ before this book – it’s a rather weird phenomenon (sorry) and I sincerely hope it isn’t real – so for me, the sex scenes didn’t add anything.

Excluding the gratuitous sex scenes, Tubing was easy to read, and I thought the pacing was well-balanced.

Polly’s characterisation was also well-layered; we learn different things about her background such as her struggles with an eating disorder and the way her cruel, hypochondriac mother treats her – I loved this, it reminded me of Camille’s mother from Sharp Objects by Gillian Flynn.

I really liked how Polly became more paranoid and suspicious of those around her as the novel progressed. It makes you wonder how much is happening in real life, and how much is simply happening inside her head.

However, I didn’t like Charlotte’s character. She was meant to be a bit snobbish and a bit devious, but I wasn’t convinced by her motivations – she felt like a weaker or unclear character.

Suddenly, Tubing moves from sex to thriller; there is an increasing number of mysterious deaths and possible suicides along the tube lines Polly normally travels. The theme of suicide here was eye-opening and shocking. Suicide on the tubes is a traumatic – and very real – issue and some of McKeagney’s descriptions were more graphic than I anticipated.

When the connections between the events on the London Underground and Polly’s own life were finally revealed, they were a good shock.

The ending was also justified, enjoyable, and satisfying.

I did enjoy the thriller moments of Tubing but I didn’t like that the premise was built around sex with strangers. I probably should have researched the book better beforehand!

Star Rating: 4/5 Stars

Tubing is available to buy as a paperback on Amazon UK from May 2018.

– Judith

Themes in: The Sign of Four

The Sign of Four is a novel by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, and is part of his famous Sherlock Holmes series, published in 1890. The Sign of Four has a plot which involves stolen treasure, a secret pact and the Indian Mutiny of 1857.

I remember reading The Sign of Four while I was trying to read the entire Sherlock Holmes series. I still haven’t managed it, and I didn’t particularly enjoy this one.

Masculinity

Sherlock Holmes is not a stereotypical Victorian gentleman man. He doesn’t work as a detective to support a family, or maintain social standing. He solves mysteries because they’re fun. He also frequently uses cocaine and opium during a time in which, although not illegal, recreational drug use was frowned upon by higher society. It’s clear Holmes does not mesh well with the stereotypical lifestyle expected of a stereotypical Victorian gentleman.

‘”Which is it to-day?” I asked, – “morphine, or cocaine?”‘

On the other hand, there’s Watson. He has good social standing as a doctor, disapproves of Holmes’ lifestyle somewhat, and even meets and courts Mary Morstan. In other words, Watson is more similar to the Victorian gentleman than Holmes. However, Watson is not entirely squeaky clean. He too is fascinated by mystery and disorder – joining Holmes on adventures together, so he can’t be overly aloof.

‘”It is cocaine,” he said, – “a seven-per-cent. solution. Would you care to try it?”‘

Otherness

This is probably my favourite theme to discuss from The Sign of Four. The novel was written during an era where the British Empire was still incredibly powerful; India did not achieve independence from the United Kingdom until 1947. With this in mind, both Watson and Holmes express problematic views regarding India, Indian characters, and convey the notion that white Europeans are ultimately superior.

Firstly, as the narrative is about the discovery of hidden treasure in India, this underlines ideas that India exists solely to be an exotic, unknown place for white colonisers to take from. Secondly, Indian characters such as Tonga are made “other”. To be made “other” in Victorian England means they are represented in a way which deliberately makes them different from, and therefore inferior to, white British characters.

For example, Holmes describes inhabitants from the Andaman Islands – which is located in the Bay of Bengal – and is Tonga’s home, as ‘fierce’, ‘morose’, ‘naturally hideous’, and associated with cannibalism, massacres, and violence. Watson also describes Tonga with abhuman language such as ‘it straightened itself into a little black man’. The use of the pronoun ‘it’ emphasises how Watson refused to acknowledge Tonga as a person or identity, simply because of their ethnicity. This language is indicative of the time in which Conan Doyle was writing, but creates the horrid stereotype that anyone “other” to the “norm” of white British men are violent, cruel, abhuman and animalistic.

Perhaps that’s why I didn’t like the book.

– Judith