Month: December 2021

The Clockwork Girl – Anna Mazzola

71WhGz2TODLTitle – The Clockwork Girl

Author – Anna Mazzola

Published – 3 March 2022

Genre – Historical fiction

I throughly enjoyed Anna’s two previous novels and couldn’t resist requesting the NetGalley of her next title, due out in 2022.

Set in Paris 1750, the opening sees Madeleine, the daughter of a brothel owner, sent under duress to work as a chambermaid as cover for her real task – to spy on Dr Reinhart, an eccentric clockmaker. Madeleine’s task is to befriend his daughter, Veronique, and determine if there’s any truth to rumours of shady goings on.

I found it such an intriguing read because I really had no idea where the story was going. It’s an odd household and the hints of something untoward happening behind closed doors set up the tension from early on. While the house is a showcase for Dr Reinhart’s clocks that’s not his only skill and Madeleine is unnerved by his experiments in automata, although it’s for this skill that those in power seek him out. Veronique is an unusual girl for the period, she has ambitions to follow the same career as her father at a time when such things seem impossible and having been sequestered away in a convent she has a certain nativity about her. In the dark and ominous house the two young women strike up a tentative friendship but they are both guarded, both hiding dark secrets.

There is a small aside to the main plot after some young children disappear but this becomes more and more intrinsic to the story as children continue to disappear and the people become whipped up into a frenzy, convinced that this is all part of a plot by the police or a prince stealing them for nefarious purposes.

Against this backdrop Madeleine is forced to pursue her undercover investigations against her will and the clockmaker is pressured to deliver something astounding to Versailles.

I can’t recall that I’ve read a book set in this location and period before and the writing is very evocative. It’s obviously a time and place of huge contrasts (despite the fact that apparently opulent Versailles doesn’t smell as good as it looks!) with hunger and death on the streets of Paris for the less fortunate against the glittering decadence of Versailles. I thought that the opening was reminiscent of The Miniaturist, in the same way that Nella arrives at her new home and Madeleine has to step into the unknown in her new role.

This was a gripping and atmospheric read full of tension, mystery and secrets. The main characters are two strong-willed and likeable young women, prepared to make the most of what fate has dealt them. The climax had some disconcerting moments and I really was completely baffled right up to the end.

The cover looks gorgeous, I can’t wait to see it in my local bookshop and treat myself to a physical copy!

Many thanks to the publisher for the Netgalley.

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The Commandments – Óskar Gudmundsson

Screenshot 2021-11-30 at 21.22.23Title – The Commandments

Author – Óskar Gudmundsson (translated by Quentin Bates)

Published – October 2021 (in English translation)

Genre – Crime fiction

The Commandments is Guðmundsson’s third book, published in his native Icelandic in 2019, and the English translation is brought to us by the partnership of new publisher Corylus Books and author/translator Quentin Bates. Guðmundsson is also part of the current team organising the Iceland Noir crime fiction festival.

The opening of the book felt quite disjointed with some scene-setting from 1995, tense and graphic scenes that will make much more sense when the rest of the story has unfolded. Persevere!

Then we meet Salka Steinsdótti, standing in the middle of a stream in northern Iceland. Fishing aside, she has returned to Iceland from London and is in the midst of a divorce from her husband. After a murder which is connected to a case she investigated before she left Iceland she is co-opted by the local police to lead the investigation. This is where the story really takes off as it becomes a police procedural – albeit a dark and gruesome one.

The murder victim is a former priest who was investigated by Salka in 2010 following allegations of sexual abuse. Although he walked free at the time it appears that someone has waited to take their revenge. In order to succeed in leading the investigation Salka must deal with the resentment of the local police at her appointment, the inexperience of the young officer who is helping her and her own emotional baggage. In the course of the investigation – and a race to save other potential victims – she comes across the case of a missing teenager who was last seen with the dead priest in 1995; adding another layer of complexity as she tries to unpick the original, half-hearted, investigation into the boy’s disappearance. This is a small place and everyone seems to be connected – what a tangled web!

The theme – the sexual abuse of young boys by members of the Church – is obviously a disturbing one but despite the graphic scenes at the beginning of the book there is more left to the imagination of the reader than is described, however this isn’t at the expense of tension in the plot.

What the author doesn’t give us, though, is a feeling for the location. The book is a character study with Salka as the contemporary heroine but what you won’t get is a picture of the Icelandic setting.

I knew that the translation would be in safe hands – Quentin Bates is, first and foremost, a an author in his own right – which means that the English version the book is seamlessly translated.

Many thanks to the publisher for the review copy.

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