Book Review 17 – The Burgas Affair by Ellis Shuman

Merry Christmas my web hopping, crimble celebrating readers! I hope you and yours are having a wonderful day and that Santa left you something super special under the christmas tree. Thank you for stopping by in-between the Queens speech and EastEnders, it is most appreciated. If you are joining me later in the week, I hope you had a good one and have been sleeping off the egg-nog!

This week’s post is a super special one. Firstly because it is published on Christmas Day and secondly because I was approached directly by Ellis Shuman to write it. He is the first author to provide me a free copy of his book in return for an honest and unbiased review (this is what all the other book bloggers write so I thought I had better put this important bit of information in also!) So thanks to Ellis Shuman for an important Christmassy first! 😊

So to the book then. The Burgas Affair is a fictional account of the police investigation that took place after the real life bombing of an Israeli tourist bus in the Belgian city of Burgas. The story centres around two police officers. Boyko is a prickly officer who has been brought in from another unit to work with old colleagues and finds himself partnered with the Israeli Ayala. For her part, Ayala is aloof and mistrustful of Boyko and the other Bulgarians.

The Burgas Affair houses a well structured story. The dialogue was at times a little stilted. I also felt that a lot was spelled out for the reader and the narrator’s voice comes through a lot to describe the backstory, it would have been nice to come to some of this information in a more natural way such as through naturally flowing dialogue. However the stars of the show were  undoubtedly Boyko and Alaya themselves. Shuman had clearly given a lot of thought  to both these characters histories and the baggage that they would bring to this particular case. Boyko and Alaya effected and in turn were affected by the case and were both intriguing characters from the start. Shuman also possesses a talent for description. One of the nice things about this novel was that you saw Bulgaria through his eyes. Kind of like a city break, but much cheaper!

Towards the end of the book I was turning pages at a feverish page to see how our guy was going to get out of his predicament. Whether he does or doesn’t escape I’ll leave for you to discover yourself, but the story races on to the finale without a conclusive ending, which either paves the way for a sequel or is intended to portray the real-life outcomes of many crimes. I think I have mentioned before, I do actually like endings that don’t sew everything up into neat little pockets. Life isn’t like that and I like the books I read to reflect that too.

Having not read much crime before and whilst I thought the narrative could have been improved, the plot and central characters of The Burgas Affair kept me reading. I’m very glad to have had Shuman introduce me to crime fiction and I’ll definitely be returning to the genre to see what else is out there.

Which brings me nicely onto next week’s book. I’ll be reading something old that has had something of a new lease of life recently. Come and take a look at my review of ‘Murder on the Orient Express’ by the legendary Agatha Christie next Monday. What better way to start the year than with a murder mystery?!

 

Book Review 16 – The Boy Made of Snow by Chloe Mayer

nce upon a time there was a book mired in fairy tales. Each chapter started with a quote, many of them from ‘The Snow Queen’ by Hans Christen-Anderson. 

Chloe Mayer has tuned into a winning formula with her debut novel ‘The Boy Made of Snow’. There is something about fairy tales that touches our hearts. These stories have been passed from generation to generation for centuries and their inclusion here lent this book a magical quality.

The story is set in 1940’s wartime Britain and alternates between chapters told from Anabel’s point of view and those from the point of view of her nine year old son Daniel. Annabel ostensibly started out motherhood with post natal depression and as she never appeared to get any help with it uses the crutch of alcohol to get her through the day. With her husband away at war she is in sole charge of ‘the boy’ as she calls him. Initially I thought this reference was indicative of the time period,  but as time went on I began to suspect  that it was further evidence  of her lack of a bond with her son. Daniel, for his part, has an extremely active imagination. He views the world around him through the lens of the fairy tales his mother tells him each night before bed. These stories seem to be the only authentic point of confluence the two of them have and Daniel clings onto them with everything he has. His reliance on fairy tales threatens his grip on reality. As he is allowed to continue unchecked his imagination spirals out of control with disastrous consequences.

The Boy Made of Snow reminded me of ‘The Go-between’ by L.P. Hartley. Like Leo in The Go-between, Daniel is involved in adult matters that he doesn’t understand. His innocent meddling is at times endearing and at times infuriating. But either way you know from the beginning that he is in over his head and there will be consequences.

I found it particularly effective that Mayer chose to tell Annabel’s story in the third person and Daniel’s in the first person. Being allowed into Daniel’s head was like being let into a secret. It also helped to make the point about Anabel’s depression. It distances her further from the reader and those around her whilst at the same time bringing us closer to Daniel.

The issues this book deals with (depression, war, neglect, alcoholism) are serious, but Mayer’s clever writing tinges this bleak outlook with fairy tales and lets us look through a child’s eyes. It reminds us that the world isn’t black and white. The Boy Made of Snow pulls out every shade of grey you can think of and it is this that keeps you coming back for more. I sped through the entire story in three days. Unfortunately life gets in the way of reading, but I was picking this book up every spare minute I had. Putting something in the microwave for two minutes? Get your book out. Waiting in the queue at Starbucks? Get your book out. Brushing your teeth…? You get the idea. But whether you have several queues to stand in or hours at your disposal, The Boy Made of Snow is a magical way to fill those moments. Think of it as a Christmas present from Mayer to us all!

Next Monday, perhaps between opening your Christmas stocking and waiting for the turkey to cook, come and have a little Christmas Day peek at my blog (I’ll think of it as your Christmas present to me!) I’ll be reviewing ‘The Burgas Affair’ by Ellis Shuman. See you all on the big day!