Tuesday, May 24, 2016

I Let You Go by Clare Mackintosh, Reading Room Review

 I realized that I haven't posted a review of one of my favorite reads this year, which came out in the U.S. this month.  I Let You Go is such an exceptional book that I want to encourage all within reach of this blog and in my reading community to read it.  It's not often that a debut book is this spectacular.  So, here is my review of a book that gobsmacked me in the most wonderful way.

I Let You GoI Let You Go by Clare Mackintosh

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

When one of my most trusted sources for great reading literally puts a book in my hands, I, of course, read it. When it promises to be a powerful psychological thriller and is compared to Gone Girl and Girl on a Train, I grimace just a bit, because, while I enjoyed those two books, I thought the hype was overplayed. And, then. Then, I started reading I Let You Go and fell into one of the cleverest, well written, thrilling psychological stories I've ever read. It's the real deal. It delivers completely. Every sentence, every page taking the reader on a journey unlike any you've ever experienced, to an ending you never see coming. Clare Mackintosh has achieved in her debut novel what I hope for in every book I open. An unforgettable, gripping tale.

The story begins with tragedy. Five-year-old Jacob lets go of his mother's hand crossing the street to his house on a rainy Bristol afternoon, and in that split second of separation, a car appears and hits Jacob. The car backs off down the street, leaving the scene of the accident and Jacob dying in the street. A mother's unbearable sorrow and a community's horror at the hit-and-run follow.

Jenna Gray's only hope of surviving this tragedy is to move away from the constant barrage of news and talk of it, so she relocates to small village on the coast of Wales, where she sets up a spartan existence in an isolated cottage. Despite her efforts to remain alone and friendless, she discovers a new career of photography, which leads her to interaction with others, albeit limited. Her friendship with a local veterinarian, however is harder to keep impersonal. She struggles with how much of herself to make accessible.

To relay any more of the plot and characters would, I feel, cheat readers just picking up this book of the experience to turn the corners and see who and what is there. There are plenty of suspenseful twists, and each one will cause a gasp of surprise. There is nothing unfair in any revelations, only ingenious storytelling by an author of brilliant skills. Told from the viewpoint of three different characters, I Let You Go is an extraordinary novel that will haunt you long after all is read.

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Interview with Karin Salvalaggio

Today is the publication day for the third Macy Greeley novel, Walleye Junction, by Karin Salvalaggio.  This series is quickly becoming a favorite for mystery/crime readers, and I definitely count myself as one of its biggest fans.  Karin is a talented writer and a lovely person, and I'm happy to be able to present an interview with this exciting new force in the genre.

The Interview:

The Reading Room:  Growing up, Karin, you were a “military brat,” traveling around the country to different places where your father was stationed, and now, you’ve lived in England for 22 years.  How has this peripatetic life influenced your writing?

Karin:  Sometimes I think the characters in my novels are loosely based on childhood friends I’ve lost contact with over the years. These are the people I left behind as I moved from one location to another. I’ve always worried about them. While my brothers and myself were fortunate enough to succeed despite our nomadic upbringing, many of our friends did not. With no way to get in touch with them I’m often left wondering how they’re getting on now that the rules of the game have changed. These were people who would have lacked the financial, intellectual and cultural means to rise above the storm that befell the American economy in 2008. Are they still standing? What did they do with their lives? Happily married? Divorced? Deceased? Imprisoned? Impoverished? It’s all a bit of a mystery.

Another theme, which is prevalent in my books, is homecoming. In Bone Dust White, Leanne Adams comes home after abandoning her daughter 11 years earlier. In Burnt River war veterans John Dalton, Tyler Locke and Dylan Reed make the transition from military life to living in a small ranching community with varying levels of success. And finally in Walleye Junction, you have Emma Long returning to her rural community after a lengthy self-imposed exile. I’ve lived in England for 22 years. Perhaps, I’m trying to come home too.

The Reading Room:  Noticing on your Web site the different editions for different countries, such as Germany and Italian, arouses my curiosity about how important to sales are these foreign translations to you and other authors?

Karin:  Foreign translations are hugely important to authors, which is why we try to avoid selling worldwide rights. Though an individual country may not pay a great deal of money it all adds up so it’s an essential source of income. Plus you never know where you may become a bestselling author. An American writer I know is hugely popular in Italy where they’ve recently made a film adaptation of one of his novels, but back in the states he’s virtually unknown. I find it very exciting when a foreign editor makes a strong connection with my writing. It shows I’m doing something that transcends cultural and international boundaries.

The Reading Room:  Your brilliant series with Macy Greeley is set in Montana, a new setting in my reading and now a favorite.  Why Montana, with the different places you’ve lived in your life?

Karin:  Montana has some of the most breathtaking scenery in the world. Vast tracts of wilderness butt up against sparsely populated communities settled by people who view themselves as strongly self-reliant yet live in a world that necessitates interdependency. This contradiction is constantly played out in my character arcs. These isolated communities also offer the perfect opportunity to create a ‘locked room’ murder mystery. A small town has its charms but it also has its secrets. Uncovering those secrets is where I find my stories.

The Reading Room:  In your third Macy Greeley book, Walleye Junction, which comes out on May 10th, the subject matter deals with prescription pain addiction, and this book seems to be addressing the issue very seriously.  The previous two books contained the issues of exploitation of children and young women in Bone Dust White and PTSD in Burnt River.  And, there is the continuing issue of women in the workforce of predominately male supervised occupations.  How important is it to you to include these issues and why?

Karin:  The thing I deplore most in the world is injustice. Institutionalized forces, predominately driven by greed, often undermine our best efforts as individuals. Whether it is unequal pay, exploitation, corruption or protracted wars in the Middle East that have cost the US economy trillions and scarred the lives of hundreds of thousands of servicemen and women, there always seems to be someone out there who isn’t being given a fair chance.

Inspiration for Walleye Junction came from an article I saw in the The Atlantic about the rise of heroin abuse in my home state, West Virginia. The damage it is doing to the communities there is not only heartbreaking, it’s criminal. I was intrigued so I kept on researching. The more I read the more horrified I became. Up until 1999 opiate-based prescription painkillers were only prescribed to post-operative patients and those suffering from cancer. They are as highly addictive as their street cousin heroin and yet the US government neglected its duty of care and caved in to lobbyists. The pharmaceutical companies flooded the markets with Vicodin, Percocet and Oxycodone to name but a few of the lethal derivatives. Less scrupulous doctors began handing them out like candy for cash. Kickbacks pushed them to take on so-called ‘patients’ who ‘shopped’ multiple doctors for the same drugs to feed their addiction or sell on the streets. Pill mills in Florida sold prescriptions online. The drugs were picked up in vans and distributed throughout the US as ‘hillbilly heroin’. At their peak in 2007, pill mills accounted for 47 million of the ­­­­­53 million Oxycodone doses prescribed. Deaths from overdoses are more common than car crash fatalities; entire families and communities have been wiped out; and now that the source is drying up and drug treatment programs are scarce, people are turning to heroin in droves.

This is a manmade epidemic. Elected officials, pharmaceutical companies and medical institutions have been grossly negligent and yet very few people are going to jail. This makes me incredibly angry. It takes a great deal of willpower to write a full-length novel. It turns out a little anger makes me type faster.

The Reading Room:  Karin, when did you know that you wanted to be a writer?  What circumstances led you to this realization?  And, can you remember your first writing as a child that you thought was a good story?

Karin:  I always wanted to be a writer but felt that it was an enterprise reserved for those lucky enough to attend Ivy League schools. I was also well aware that my college degree stretched my parent’s finances to the breaking point. It’s why I chose a major in the sciences. I knew I’d be employable and that was my first priority. I continued to read everything in sight but gradually pushed the dream of being an author aside.

A divorce is a traumatic process that I wouldn’t wish on my worst enemy. When my ex husband moved out six and a half years ago I was unemployed, having given up my work as a graphic designer several years earlier. I’d have to retrain or find an entirely new career path. It was time to be practical again. I signed up for two courses, one to get a teaching credential and another to brush up my graphic design skills. I ended up doing neither. I went on a creative writing course/vacation in Greece for two weeks and came back with an entirely new plan. I enrolled for an MA in Creative Writing at Birkbeck, University of London in 2010. It was a risky move but I felt I had nothing left to lose. A year and half later I had an agent. In 2014 Minotaur published my first novel. And so it goes…

The Reading Room:  Who was your first love in reading the mystery/crime genre as a youth?  Or did you come to this genre later?

Karin:  I was a bit of a reading whore in my youth. Never genre specific, I was just as likely to read and enjoy the literary classics as cheap paperbacks. There was certainly a long stage when I only read crime novels. I believe it was when Kathy Reichs and Patricia Cromwell were at their peak of popularity. But it came to a point when I couldn’t look at another crime novel. It was like I’d eaten too much candy. I felt a little queasy. There is a great deal of violence in some of these books, much of it graphic and I felt ashamed for finding so much enjoyment in them. I stepped away from the genre for a very long time and only read literary fiction. I’ve since come back to reading much more crime fiction, but I am wary as both a writer and a reader. I have my boundaries and I try not to go beyond them. Yes, there is violence in my books, but I’d like to think it isn’t gratuitous. I don’t linger in the morgue or at murder scenes. It’s not what interests me. I want to write about the affect of crime on close communities and families. In my mind that’s where the story lies.  

The Reading Room:  Your covers are so exceptional, and I've heard that some authors have little input concerning their covers and others have a  definite say.  What is your involvement in these striking covers?

Karin:  I have almost no involvement, which is kind of ironic given I used to be a graphic designer. I imagine the design team at St Martins Press and Minotaur are given guidelines, as I doubt they have time to read every novel that comes across their desks.

The Reading Room:  In the first book of this series, Bone Dust White, Macy Greeley, the state police detective, is eight months pregnant.  I thought that was a daring starting point that worked very well.  Can you tell me what your thinking on presenting Macy at this point in her life was?

Karin:  I suppose the pregnancy was an intriguing way of introducing a character who is going through a difficult transition. Macy is clearly ambivalent about motherhood but it takes a while for the reader to understand source of her indifference and depth of her sadness. Though she ultimately accepts her new role as a mother, I never make it easy for her. It also forced me to write a crime novel where my detective wasn’t ever going to use a firearm or get into a physical altercation. Macy has to rely on her wits.

The Reading Room:  I’m always curious about a writer’s habits and process, and I think others sometimes think you simply wave a magic wand.  I know you work hard.  Can you describe a typical writing day?

Karin:  The writing process actually starts off with a bit of magic. It’s as if I see a scene in my head and the cameras start rolling. I take this as far as I can without thinking about the consequences. Sometimes it works out and sometimes it doesn’t. If I worry about the finished product too much I panic.

So, this is a little insight into my highly glamorous writing life –

I have no set schedule and work when I can, which is pretty much all the time. For instance, it is now 1pm and I’m still in my pajamas, having eaten breakfast and lunch at my desk. This will continue until my schnauzer demands a walk at which point I’ll throw on some clothing and stroll around the local park or along the River Thames. I often use this time to work through ideas in my head. If I’m stuck I’ve usually figured it out by the time I get back to my desk.

The Reading Room:  Having met you at the Bouchercon World Mystery Convention held here in the states, in what ways do you think conventions like this one are beneficial to authors?

Karin:  Bouchercon is uniquely important to me because I’m writer who’s based in London but has books published in the US. It’s the way I connect with writers and readers who share my interests. Yes, the networking aspect is an added benefit but that’s not why I will continue attending such events. Crime writers and fans of crime fiction are without doubt the nicest people in the world. I feel I’ve made some very good friends. It’s really quite special.

The Reading Room:  Since you are such a favorite author of mine already, I do have to ask what book or books you’re reading for pleasure now.  So, what’s on your nightstand these days, Karin?

Karin:  With an upcoming deadline on book four and Walleye Junction’s forthcoming publication I’ve been busy so my reading list has been a bit neglected. I’m looking forward to reading Laura Lippman’s Wilde Lake, The Butcher Bird by S D Sykes, Fates and Furies by Lauren Groff and When She Was Bad by Tammy Cohen. I’ve recently read an anthology of Shirley Jackson’s previously unpublished work – Let Me Tell You, which I highly recommend. I’ve also read James Salter’s Light Years for the first time. Absolutely exquisite. 

The Reading Room:  And now, for one of my favorite questions I ask authors.  What would you like your readers to know about you that isn’t in your bio information?  Besides your obvious writing talent, any special interests or talents, quirky or not, you’d like to share?

Karin:  If I'd gone on a painting course instead of creative writing course for my summer vacation six years ago, I may have gone off in a completely different direction.  There's still time though.  I'd love to go to art school someday.  Meanwhile, I really only have time for the occasional doodle on a cocktail napkin...maybe I should start a series.


My Review:

Walleye Junction is the third book in the Macy Greeley series by Karin Salvalaggio, and it clearly solidifies this series and author as major players in the mystery/crime genre. Karin Salvalaggio is as dedicated to excellence as her character Macy Greeley is to finding justice for victims of violence. These stories set in the vastness of Montana find their relatable rhythm in the small communities populating it. And, each of the three books in this series has a different issue that is brought to the reader’s attention through great storytelling and characters. I’m always left with a new awareness of an issue after reading one of Karin’s books, but it is an awareness born from a story into which I’m deeply drawn showing the effects that issue has on ordinary people, and which in the world of Macy Greeley result in murder. Karin Salvalaggio uses sufficient description, but never overdoes it. She deftly uses revealing dialogue to move the story forward, which keeps the action on point. Walleye Junction is announcing that the Macy Greeley series and its author are in the building.

Macy Greeley’s being a detective with the Montana State Police often sent from her home base of Helena to different parts of the state to investigate crimes. This time the trouble spot is Walleye Junction in the Flathead Valley area, with a kidnapping turning to murder. Philip Long was a local radio personality in the Flathead area who spoke his mind, often in clashing opinions to others in the community. Aware that Long has become a kidnap victim, Macy and her team try frantically to find him, but before they can bring him to safety, he is killed, right in front of Macy. All she knows though is that the killer was riding a motor scooter and wore high-end motorcycle gear, and that her own service gun was used to deliver the fatal shots. The search is on to find who kidnapped and murdered Philip Long and why. When two long-time drug addicts, a husband and wife, are found dead from heroin overdoses and their fingerprints match those from where Long was held in captivity, there is some momentary relief, but evidence soon leads Macy to believe that at least one other person was involved in the crime. One question that must be answered is what Philip Long was working on before his kidnapping and death. What big story was threatening someone to the point of murder. There are many players in this tale of greed, and the author takes the reader through the maze of these characters with great attention to detail, so that important connections can be made and dots connected leading to the murderer hiding among the town’s residents. Wives, ex-wives, husbands, ex-husbands, daughters, sons, cousins, friends. Who had the most to lose with Philip Long’s new story?

Those of us readers who are already ardent fans of the Macy Greeley series will be pleased at the continuing development of Macy’s personal life and struggles, too. Macy’s son is now two years old, and is cared for by Macy’s mother when duty calls Macy away from home. Having been disappointed in love, Macy treads carefully in her relationship with Aiden Marsh, Wilmington Creek Chief of Police. In Walleye Junction, Macy faces decisions that will move her toward taking control of her life from her past mistakes and embarrassments.

Walleye Junction is told from two points of view. The first and most significant is, of course, Macy Greeley, who so ably steers the investigation and storyline from murder to solution. The other POV is that of the character Emma Long, Philip Long’s daughter, who has been gone from Walleye for twelve years, leaving right after high school graduation and her best friend’s death from a drug overdose. Emma, like Macy, is looking for answers to her father’s death, as well as events happening before she left town. Emma’s narration in the book gives us the background the reader needs to better understand the characters and motivations of different suspects in this small Montana community. The two POVs work together beautifully to present a complete picture and a suspenseful tale. So many secrets. Which ones lead to murder?