Anna Mazzola

The Story Keeper – Anna Mazzola

Title – The Story Keeper

Author – Anna Mazzola

Published – 26 July 2018

Genre – Historical fiction

It’s been a long wait since Anna’s excellent debut ‘The Unseeing’ was published and I’m sure I’m not the only one who’s been looking forward to reading her second novel. Before I go any further I should say that it doesn’t disappoint!

Set on the Isle of Skye the book opens with the arrival of Audrey, running away from her family and an event which, at least in the early part of the book, is only hinted at, she is set to take up a post collecting folklore. She hopes that a return to Skye, which she remembers vaguely from  some time in her childhood spent in the area, is a way to recapture a connection to her mother, who died when Audrey was ten. Her new employer is the imperious Miss Buchanan, she is to stay with Miss Buchanan and her nephew in their family estate – the neglected and brooding Lanerly Hall.  Audrey isn’t feeling particularly confident about her ability to do the job she’s been employed for but she’s burned her bridges. And then she discovers the body of a young woman on the shore by the Hall.

While making some efforts to collect stories from the crofters Audrey asks tentative questions about the dead girl. The answers are a mix of superstition based around the folktales and more ‘earthly’ explanations. Her discovery of another girl’s disappearance only deepens the mystery. But as events play out Audrey becomes more isolated and weakened by the toll her involvement takes on her.

There is a social history aspect to the book, communities ravaged by the land owners and struggling, protective of their heritage and suspicious of outsiders. The factual background to the events which took place are probably not well known by most people and it’s always a positive to learn something from a work of fiction, especially when it’s done seamlessly, without the reader feeling that they’re being given lots of information. The folklore offers an interesting insight – does it develop as an explanation for the things which have no rational explanation; do the stories represent the truth or a warning?

I’ve read a number of historical fiction books recently which have this type of gothic feel to them but this one hits the mark in creating the dark and claustrophobic atmosphere with a set of compelling characters. There is a real sense of menace pervading this book and despite the July publication date it would be perfect for curling up on a dark night in front of a log fire.

I’ve seen comparisons to the excellent Burial Rites but for me it was similar to Burial Rites crossed with Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell. Like Burial Rites the location is hugely important – rugged coastline, isolated communities, brutal weather. Audrey stands up as the heroine of the piece – conflicted,  isolated, trying not to be defined by her past but at a time when women weren’t expected to act on their own. She has an inbuilt sense of justice but acting on it isn’t always the best course of action.

The story develops into multiple threads and there were some surprises in the way it plays out and the directions it takes. It’s unusual for a debut author not to be embarking on a series but other than the dark subjects and the compelling writing it was quite different to The Unseeing although equally enjoyable (in a dark and moody way). Many thanks to the publisher for the review copy.

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Crime fiction debuts to look out for in July 2016

This is a look forward to the crime fiction/thriller debuts being published in July 2016.

14 July 2016

91QomHzKjQLThe Last One by Alexandra Oliva (from Michael Joseph)

When Zoo agrees to take part in a new reality TV show, In the Dark, she knows that she will be tested to the limits of her endurance. Beating eleven competitors in a series of survival tasks deep in the forest, living on camera at the extremes of her comfort zone, will be the ultimate challenge before she returns home to start a family.

As the contestants are overcome by hunger, injury and psychological breakdown, the mind games, tricks and hazards to which Zoo is subjected grow dark beyond belief. This isn’t what she signed up for: the deserted towns and gruesome props, the empty loneliness. Is this a game with no end? And what is happening away from the cameras’ gaze? Discovering the truth will be just the beginning…

A graduate of Yale University, Alexandra grew up in a small town deep in the Adirondack Mountains of upstate New York. She earned an MFA in Creative Writing from The New School University and undertook intensive wilderness survival training while researching The Last One. She lives in the Pacific Northwest with her husband and their brindled mutt, Codex.  You can find her on Twitter – @ali_oliva

51H4yvOvnALThe Couple Next Door by Shari Lapena (from Bantam Press)

You never know what’s happening on the other side of the wall. Your neighbour told you that she didn’t want your six-month-old daughter at the dinner party. Nothing personal, she just couldn’t stand her crying. Your husband said it would be fine. After all, you only live next door. You’ll have the baby monitor and you’ll take it in turns to go back every half hour. Your daughter was sleeping when you checked on her last. But now, as you race up the stairs in your deathly quiet house, your worst fears are realized. She’s gone. You’ve never had to call the police before. But now they’re in your home, and who knows what they’ll find there. What would you be capable of, when pushed past your limit?

Shari worked as a lawyer and as an English teacher before turning to writing fiction. She has written two critically acclaimed literary novels. The Couple Next Door is her suspense debut. You can find Shari on Twitter – @sharilapena

isbn9781472234766The Unseeing by Anna Mazzola (from Tinder Press)

It is 1837 and the city streets teem with life, atmosphere and the stench of London. Sarah Gale, a seamstress and mother, has been sentenced to hang for her role in the murder of Hannah Brown on the eve of her wedding.

Edmund Fleetwood, an idealistic lawyer, is appointed to investigate Sarah’s petition for mercy and consider whether justice has been done. Struggling with his own demons, he is determined to seek out the truth, yet Sarah refuses to help him. Edmund knows she’s hiding something, but needs to discover just why she’s maintaining her silence. For how can it be that someone with a child would go willingly to their own death? You can see my review here.

Anna lives in Camberwell, London, not far from where the murder at the heart of The Unseeing took place. The Unseeing is Anna’s first novel. She is currently working on her second, which is about a collector of folk tales and fairy lore on the Isle of Skye who realises that girls are going missing.

Anna studied English at Pembroke College, Oxford, before becoming a criminal justice solicitor. She divides her time between writing, reading, lawyering, and child-wrangling. Ann is on Twitter – @AnnaMazz

28 July 2016

91bc2zNbEVLThe Last Thing I Remember by Deborah Bee (from Twenty7)

Released on Kindle in February this is the paperback publication date of this debut.

Sarah is in a coma. Her memory is gone – she doesn’t know how she got there. And she doesn’t know how she might get out. But then she discovers that her injury wasn’t an accident. And that the assailant hasn’t been caught. Unable to speak, see or move, Sarah must use every clue that she overhears to piece together her own past. And work out who it is that keeps coming into her room

Deborah studied fashion journalism at Central St Martins in the ’80s. She has worked at various magazines and newspapers including Vogue, Cosmopolitan, The Times and the Guardian, as a writer, fashion editor and later as an editor. Currently, she is a director of creative marketing.


For previous ‘debuts’ posts see JanuaryFebruaryMarchAprilMay and June.

The Unseeing – Anna Mazzola

 

isbn9781472234766Title – The Unseeing

Author – Anna Mazzola

Published – 14 July 2016

Genre – Historical fiction

This is one of those books that just magically popped though my letterbox and the intriguing cover on the proof (plain but for the image of the eye that’s on the hardback cover) attracted my attention while it was sitting at the top of my TBR pile.

This is historical crime fiction and based on a true story. I do find these can be a bit hit and miss for me – it needs a light touch on the facts or my interest wanes (The Devil’s Acre by Matthew Plampin springs to mind) but The Unseeing was a hit for me. The book opens in 1837 as Sarah Gale is taken to Newgate Prison for her role in the murder of Hannah Brown, the woman who was going to marry Sarah’s common-law husband.

The story is told from two points of view – Sarah’s during her incarceration and that of Edmund Fleetwood, who is appointed by the Home Secretary to review the case. As Edmund tries to draw out of Sarah the truth of the events that led to her imprisonment we learn more about the background to both their lives. Edmund undertakes his task diligently with a mix of interview and investigation. Both are intriguing characters although it’s obvious to both the reader and Edmund that Sarah is hiding something which would be pertinent to her defence. And every time I thought I knew what it was I was wrong! The case also has more of an impact on Edmund than he could have anticipated too.

I really enjoyed the atmospheric setting and the historical details – I have no idea how you research the lives of ordinary people to bring the feeling of accuracy that this had, but it brought the period to life for me.

Anna Mazzola is a criminal justice solicitor, based in London. Whilst this is her debut, it has won awards including the Brixton Bookjam Debut Novel competition and she came runner up in the 2014 Grazia First Chapter competition judged by Sarah Waters.

This is an accomplished debut and a compelling story – think a mix of Burial Rights and The Silversmith’s Wife. Many thanks to the publisher for the review copy of the book. You will have an opportunity to meet Anna and hear more about her book at Crimefest in May.

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