The CWA relishes the chance to showcase and promote new talent - and with this award we get to honour our pick of the best crime novel by a first time author. To qualify for the CWA John Creasey (New Blood) Dagger, the book, which can be by an author of any nationality, must have been first published in the UK in English during the judging period.
Created by The Crime Writers’ Association
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Welcome to Dagger Reads: Reading Group Guide
What is Dagger Reads? Every year the judges of the Crime Writers’ Association have the great privilege of reading hundreds of entries for our prestigious Dagger Awards – the Dagger Reads represent the very best of the books we’ve encountered.
Through this exciting literary initiative we’ve giving avid crime readers the chance to take a deeper look into our shortlisted books, and share their opinions and enthusiasm with our lively community. For over 50 years the Crime Writers’ Association Daggers have been synonymous with quality crime writing. Our judges and members are tough people to impress which means this group of authors have really stood out from the crowd.
Winning a Dagger Award is a great honour and in 1955, just over a year after the CWA was founded, Winston Graham was presented with the first accolade when he won the Crossed Red Herring Award for The Little Walls. Since then some of the finest writers the world have taken home Daggers, and we continue to champion and showcase the very best in the crime genre.
The Crime Writers’ Association awards ten Daggers every year and we’ve already handed out seven awards to some incredible authors for breathtakingly great books. So for 2015 the Dagger Reads will focus on our remaining Daggers – the CWA Goldsboro Gold, the Ian Fleming Steel and John Creasey (New Blood) Daggers.
Three panels of judges, all experts in their field, spent over six months reading 300 books before selecting their shortlists. So the 18 Dagger Reads come highly recommended and are guaranteed to spark passionate debate.
Delve deeper into those 18 exceptional books
Join us to celebrate the best of the best through the Dagger Reads initiative – which will run until Tuesday 29th September when the winners are announced.
Every fortnight we’ll focus on a different Dagger and each individual shortlisted author, which will culminate in an online book club that we’d be delighted for you to be a part of. Get involved via our Facebook page which will host the book clubs. They’ll be held over three different dates so if make sure you put us in your diary.
Join the buzz online
We want to know what you think. The Dagger Reads community will be populated by keen readers, authors, journalists and crime fiction lovers so expect some quality debate. Share your takes and find news about us through Twitter and Facebook. Don’t forget to use our hash tag – #daggerreads
Deliver your verdict on the books and we will enter you in our weekly free draw. So whether you love a Fleming Steel finalist or want to wax lyrical about the CWA Goldsboro Gold shortlist, it’ll be your chance to go into the draw to win National Book Tokens.
Name of Book: The Abrupt Physics of Dying
Author: Paul E Hardisty
Publisher: Orenda Books
What our judges said:
Captured by Islamic terrorists in the Yemen, an oil engineer is compelled to investigate why the local water is poisoned. Topical, daring and socially-conscious, an assured debut set in a troubled war-torn region where the truth is always concealed behind the walls of ideology, politics and self-interest, this eco-thriller never sets a foot wrong all the way to its explosive conclusion.
From the book:
Claymore Straker is trying to forget a violent past. Working as an oil company engineer in the wilds of Yemen, he is hijacked at gunpoint by Islamic terrorists. Clay has a choice: help uncover the cause of a mysterious sickness afflicting the village of Al Urush, close to the company’s oil-processing facility, or watch Abdulkader, his driver and close friend, die. As the country descends into civil war and village children start dying, Clay finds himself caught up in a ruthless struggle between opposing armies, controllers of the country’s oil wealth, Yemen’s shadowy secret service, and rival terrorist factions. As Clay scrambles to keep his friend alive, he meets Rania, a troubled journalist. Together, they try to uncover the truth about Al Urush. But nothing in this ancient, unforgiving place is what it seems. Accused of a murder he did not commit, put on the CIA’s most-wanted list, Clay must come to terms with his past and confront the powerful forces that want him dead.
Canadian by birth, Paul Hardisty has spent 25 years working all over the world as an engineer, hydrologist and environmental scientist. He has rough necked on oil rigs in Texas, explored for gold in the Arctic, mapped geology in Eastern Turkey (where he was befriended by PKK rebels), and rehabilitated water wells in the wilds of Africa. He was in Ethiopia in 1991 as the Mengistu regime fell, and was bumped from one of the last flights out of Addis Ababa by bureaucrats and their families fleeing the rebels. In 1993 he survived a bomb blast in a café in Sana’a, and was one of the last Westerners out of Yemen before the outbreak of the 1994 civil war. Paul is a university professor and Director of Australia’s national land, water, ecosystems and climate adaptation research programmes. He is a sailor, a private pilot, keen outdoorsman, conservation volunteer, and lives in Western Australia with his family.
Not Yet a Commodity
He awoke face down in the sand where they had left him. A river of heat shimmered on an empty vertical horizon, land and sky indistinguishable. It was as if he were looking through one of those thick, almost-liquid Cairo smogs that would descend in the hottest days of summer, locking the city in a coffin of car exhaust and smoke from the burning landfills and airborne lead from the smelters along the Nile. Sand crusted the corners of his mouth, frosted his eyelashes. He spat and turned his head. A dark shape loomed close. He raised his head and propped himself on one elbow. His skull felt as if it were about to implode. He lifted his hand to the back of his head, ran his fingers along the swollen matting of hair and blood. A thick warm liquid trickled over his top lip and into his mouth and out over his chin and neck. The taste was vaguely metallic, aluminium or stainless steel, like licking a knife.
He struggled to his knees, rubbed his eyes, looked around. Abdulkader’s Land Cruiser was there, a few metres away, ticking in the heat. Clay pushed himself to his feet, swayed on unsteady legs, took a few steps, slumped against the car’s side, and looked inside. He knew that it was empty, that his friend was back there, a prisoner, a hostage. He shuffled around to the driver’s side door, opened it, climbed out of the sun. The key was in the ignition, dried blood set into its grooves. The dashboard’s digital thermometer read fifty-one degrees. Clay looked out across the sameness of the plateau, the limitless empty blue of the sky. There were no landmarks, no roads. Overhead, the sun was near its zenith. He had no idea where he was.
Clay took stock. He had plenty of fuel, half a tank and two extra jerry cans in the back. They’d left him half a litre of water, his compass and notebook. They hadn’t touched the whisky. But Abdulkader’s Kalashnikov was gone, as was the handgun he kept in the glove box. It was nearly midday. That put him a maximum of 250 kilometres cross-country from the Kamar-1 well and the pipeline trunk road. By the look of the land, he guessed they’d taken him north, further towards Wadi Hadramawt, probably east, too. There was a second set of tyre tracks nearby that disappeared to the south-east. If he struck south, eventually he’d hit the trunk road that paralleled the escarpment and the coast. There was no question now of trying to go back for Abdulkader. Unarmed, alone, he had little chance of finding him, let alone getting him safely away. Destiny crystallised around him, inescapable, just as Al Shams had said it would.
Clay found the medical kit under the seat, took three painkillers, swilled them down with whisky, and cleaned out the wound on the back of his head as best he could. He pushed a compress bandage down hard onto it to stop the bleeding, secured it with his headcloth, and set out overland.
An hour later he was still heading south, not a road or track in sight. He leaned forward in the seat, let the superheated air whipping through the open window vaporise the sweat from his shirt back, and looked out across the dead-flat loneliness to the shimmering heat of the horizon. This was the hottest place on Earth, and soon it would be summer. Even the Bedouin rued these months. It should have been a good place for forgetting. That’s why he’d come.
Now he knew that for him there would only ever be remembering.
He reached the Kamar-2 pipeline road just over three hours later. It took what remained of the day to reach Wadi Idim and the pass down the escarpment. As if rebelling against the loss of its owner, the old Land Cruiser blew out its right front tyre shortly after. Only one spare remained and the whisky was gone by the time he emerged onto the coastal plain. Al Shams’ men had taken what little food he had stashed in the vehicle, and the last of the water was long since gone.
He stopped by the roadside and unrolled his blanket under shuddering stars, but despite the codeine and the whisky, he could not sleep. The last moments at the canyon played themselves out again in his mind. He’d screwed up. The kid must have survived the fall – it wasn’t far, four metres at most – climbed back up to the ledge, got behind him. He’d been distracted by Al Shams, had allowed himself to be drawn in, to lose focus. Had Abdulkader tried to warn him? He hadn’t heard a thing.
After four restless hours he continued on his way, dread marshaling within. Al Shams had made it clear: go to the villages, deliver the message to Petro-Tex, or Abdulkader would die. Bring the Army, and Abdulkader would die. That Al Shams could track his movements, verify his actions, Clay had no doubt.
By mid-morning he was approaching the village of Um’alat along the broad flat wadi of the same name. Goats scattered as he passed, dust rising in puffs from their hooves. A lone camel, its front legs hobbled, foraged among the stunted acacia that snaked along the grey cobbles of the main channel. Here the wadi narrowed and turned north toward the escarpment. The village, a tight cluster of tall, mud-brick buildings set on the wadi bank, rose through the dust and heat like some pre-Islamic apparition. He rolled Abdulkader’s Land Cruiser to a stop just outside the main gate, turned off the engine and stepped to the ground.
Within seconds he was surrounded by children – miniatures of the men who’d taken his friend, dark-haired, dressed in rags. They laughed and smiled, followed him as he walked toward the main gate, tugged at his sleeves. An older boy approached, dressed like a man in a thaub and a tweed jacket, sandals fashioned from car tyres and goat leather, a Kalashnikov slung over his right shoulder. The boy raised his hand to his forehead and said in English: ‘Follow.’
They were expecting him.
The boy led Clay to a low, whitewashed building on high ground overlooking the village. Inside, the single room was packed with tribesmen, all standing, all talking – the Bani Matar, Sunni Muslims of the Shafa’i sect. This ancient clan had dominated this part of the Masila since the time of Persian rule and the dawn of Islam. They had endured the Caliphate, seen off the Ottoman occupation, fought the British, survived Egyptian chemical weapon attacks in the 1960s, and outlasted the Soviets. Tough didn’t even begin to describe them.
The boy led him through the maze of bodies to a small stool at the far end of the room. Opposite, waiting, sat the mashayikh, the sheikh. The room went quiet. Clay sat, opened his notebook to a blank page, glanced up at the tribesmen packed like judge, jury and mob into every corner of the mud-brick room, and listened.
The mashayikh reached for the Kalashnikov leaning against the wall, swung it level and balanced it across his knees. The trigger pointed out like an accusing finger, the whole of it beautiful, hateful, a work of calculated, merciless perfection. Clay stared at it, entranced, unable to break away.
‘Mister Straker,’ the mashayikh’s voice broke through, heavily accented, frayed.
Clay looked up, breathing hard.
The mashayikh fixed him with a long stare. ‘My people are worried,’ he said after a time. ‘The children are ill.’ Grumbled translations rippled out across the room. ‘It has begun in Al Urush, six months ago. A sickness. The children bring up food, their skin breaks open. Now it is worse.’
Of course it could have been anything, despite Al Shams’ assertions: gastrointestinal infection, an outbreak of measles, flu, who knew. There were always complaints manufactured to claw money from the operators: goats run down by pipe trucks, camels poisoned by fictitious gas clouds, crops ruined by oil-tainted water that sprung mysteriously from the ground. He had heard it all before, in villages and settlements just like this all over the region, with no claim too spurious.
And so, as the Arab spoke of the inadequate compensation, of the lack of jobs for the young men, of the corrupting influence of the oil workers, Clay Straker’s thoughts were elsewhere. He watched the mashayikh’s mouth move behind the short-cropped grey beard, heard the words arch out over the dozens of armed tribesmen, registered the murmurs of translation and the spreading echoes of agreement. He could even pick out the occasional word or phrase: khawga, foreigner; molhed, godless one; even once a hissed shatan – hard to miss, the origin of the English word of the same enunciation. Would this Al Shams, who seemed to believe so fervently in the power of God, actually murder Abdulkader, one of his own, one of the very people he purported to be fighting for? The events of the last day began to dissolve away and lose substance as fatigue and pain and hunger took hold, and he knew that no matter what he said back at the office in Aden, all that would remain would be another paragraph in a report, another message for the bosses to ignore. Naafi, as they used to say in the Battalion. No ambition and fuck-all interest. Enough for Al Shams? He doubted it.
‘Mister Straker?’ The mashayikh was leaning close, looking into his eyes. ‘You bleed.’
Clay ran his hand across the back of his neck, closed his eyes a moment. His hand came away wet with blood. He looked up, wiped his hand on his trouser leg. ‘It’s nothing.’ He took a sip of tea and put the glass on the small wooden table between them. ‘Please continue, Excellency.’
The mashayikh closed his eyes a moment, opened them. ‘We see many trucks, many men coming. What is the plan of your company, Mister Straker?’
‘I am a contractor, Excellency. Petro-Tex is not my company.’
‘But you are here. You speak for them.’ More murmurs from the crowd.
‘I am doing community consultation and environmental impact studies only. I listen and report back.’
The mashayikh motioned with his head towards the notebook spread open on Clay’s knee. ‘Now you can report.’
‘The illness. Yes.’ He started to scribble in his notebook, but the pencil lead gritted over the silt that dusted the empty page, fracturing the words. He wiped the paper with the side of his hand and started again.
‘It is said that Petro-Tex is making the oil factory on the jol bigger. They do this to take more oil from our land. Is this true, Mister Straker?’
The room erupted again, everyone speaking at once. Some were shouting now, spitting out their accusations in the harsh Arabic dialect that he was only just beginning to understand. The mashayikh raised his hand to restore a degree of calm.
Clay wiped the sweat from his eyes. The back of his hand came away streaked with mud. ‘The oil-processing facility on the plateau is being expanded. As part of the expansion programme, the company will build a school for your children, and they will drill a new water well for you.’ The standard line. By now he could recite it without thinking.
The mashayikh wrapped both hands around the barrel of his rifle.
‘We have no need of your well. The ghayls – our springs – have provided for our people for all time, thanks God.’ Another chorus of murmured agreement: Al hamdillulah – thanks be to Allah.
The mashayikh smoothed out the folds of his crisply laundered thaub, pulled a handkerchief from his jacket pocket and wiped the dust from his polished leather brogues. ‘Your company will take no more oil until the sickness is stopped, Mister Straker.’
‘Respectfully, Excellency, it is not possible that our operations could cause the type of illness you have described.’
Again the plaintive murmurs, accompanied by the sounds of feet shuffling on sand and the metallic clink of sling-strap buckles on curved magazines and folding stocks. Above the din, a voice rose from the back of the room. Heads twisted to listen; the men quietened. A young man dressed Saudi-style in a flowing white robe stood against the back wall, one hand resting on a young boy’s shoulder. He was tall, clean-shaven, light-skinned, almost European-looking. He was Clay’s age, maybe younger. He spoke slowly, his voice like wind sculpting rock, deep and resonant.
‘The poison that afflicts our children comes from the facility. It comes in the air, down the wadi, when the cool winds blow from the plateau. We can smell it, foul like the vapours of hell. This is done by the government and the company to push us from our land. It is intentional.’
When the young man had finished speaking, the mashayikh inclined his head and turned towards Clay. ‘This is my son, the chief of Al-Bawazir. Are his words true, Mister Straker?’
Clay shifted his weight on the handmade wood and woven reed stool. The thing was unsteady, too close to the ground, and he had to rest one knee on the packed earth floor just to stay upright. He wanted to stand. He wanted to straighten his aching legs and walk across the room to the door and out to the waiting vehicle. But here, he knew, convention must be honoured. He was expected to answer.
He looked around the room at the tribesmen, their sun-worn faces as open and uncompromising as the rocky ground of their birth. They seemed to be studying him, his curious flaxen hair, his pale eyes. No one spoke. He looked down at the ground, at the clay and silt covering his boots. Something trickled down his back, along the gutter of his spine, sweat or blood or both. Someone coughed. He glanced at his watch. Time had a different meaning here. Not yet a commodity, it was reckoned still by the rhythm of the seasons, the comings of the winds and rains, the movement of planets and stars. In this place there was no fear of silence, no need to fill time and space with meaningless words.
Moments passed. A minute? Maybe more.
Finally Clay said: ‘This is a European company, operating to the best international standards.’ Again, what the script demanded.
The mashayikh narrowed his eyes. ‘You insult us, Mister Straker. We know this is a lie.’ He looked down at the weapon lying across his knee, caressed the smooth walnut handguard with sinewed fingers, and then locked his gaze onto Clay’s eyes. ‘We can make things very difficult, Mister Straker, if we choose.’ Then he leaned close and whispered in Clay’s ear. ‘Also, we can cooperate. It is your choice.’ His breath reeked of qat and alcohol.
Then the mashayikh stood and swung the Kalashnikov over his shoulder. The audience was over. Clay got to his feet and clasped the man’s right hand in his own, making sure to keep his left hand, the unclean one, behind his back. He felt the grit in the mashayikh’s skin, saw the stains of years cracked and stretched over the bones, and looked into the murky tannin eyes. ‘Shukran, Excellency. I will take the message back to my superiors in Aden.’
‘I will expect you soon, then,’ said the mashayikh with a flourish of his hand as he turned towards the door, the room emptying around him.
Soon Clay was alone. He slumped onto the stool and drained the last of the sweet dark tea. Was that what this was all about? Money? Al Urush was less than an hour away. He would see for himself.
1. How pivotal are the evocative descriptions of Yemen – its people, culture and geography – to the plot?
2. As the book progresses, Claymore Straker’s character and motivation become clearer. What do you think drives him to take the risks and make the decisions that he does?
3. The author, Paul E. Hardisty, calls Yemen ‘the most beautiful, cursed place on earth’. Discuss.
4. The events that take place in the novel are based on the author’s own experiences in Yemen. Did the ‘rape’ of the land by big international corporations come as a surprise to you? How realistic do you think they are?
5. Nothing and no-one are what they seem in the book. Which plot developments or characters’ actions came as a shock to you?
6. Greed, fear and faith/trust are juxtaposed throughout the novel. How important are these themes?
7. Claymore Straker has been compared to Jack Reacher and Jason Bourne. Do you agree, and what similarities and/or differences are there?
Name of Book: Everything I Never Told You
Author: Celeste Ng
Publisher: Little, Brown Book Group
What our judges said:
Set in 1970s small-town Ohio, the tender examination of the life of a Chinese-American family following the discovery of their favourite daughter's body in a nearby lake. A tale of secrets, family and longing in an environment of culture clash and psychological devastation with the talent to bring tears to your eyes.
From the book: Lydia is the favourite child of Marilyn and James Lee; a girl who inherited her mother's bright blue eyes and her father's jet-black hair. Her parents are determined that Lydia will fulfill the dreams they were unable to pursue - in Marilyn's case that her daughter become a doctor rather than a homemaker, in James's case that Lydia be popular at school, a girl with a busy social life and the centre of every party. But Lydia is under pressures that have nothing to do with growing up in 1970s small town Ohio. Her father is an American born of first-generation Chinese immigrants, and his ethnicity, and hers, make them conspicuous in any setting. When Lydia's body is found in the local lake, James is consumed by guilt and sets out on a reckless path that may destroy his marriage. Marilyn, devastated and vengeful, is determined to make someone accountable, no matter what the cost. Lydia's older brother, Nathan, is convinced that local bad boy Jack is somehow involved. But it's the young
Celeste Ng grew up in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and Shaker Heights, Ohio, in a family of scientists. Her fiction and essays have appeared in One Story, TriQuarterly, Bellevue Literary Review, and elsewhere, and she is a recipient of the Pushcart Prize. Currently, she lives in Cambridge, Massachusetts, with her husband and son
Lydia is dead. But they don’t know this yet. 1977, May 3, six thirty in the morning, no one knows anything but this innocuous fact: Lydia is late for breakfast. As always, next to her cereal bowl, her mother has placed a sharpened pencil and Lydia’s physics homework, six problems flagged with small ticks. Driving to work, Lydia’s father nudges the dial toward WXKP, Northwest Ohio’s Best News Source, vexed by the crackles of static. On the stairs, Lydia’s brother yawns, still twined in the tail end of his dream. And in her chair in the corner of the kitchen, Lydia’s sister hunches moon-eyed over her cornflakes, sucking them to pieces one by one, waiting for Lydia to appear. It’s she who says, at last, “Lydia’s taking a long time today.” Upstairs, Marilyn opens her daughter’s door and sees the bed unslept in: neat hospital corners still pleated beneath the comforter, pillow still fluffed and convex. Nothing seems out of place. Mustard-colored corduroys tangled on the floor, a single rainbow-striped sock. A row of science fair ribbons on the wall, a postcard of Einstein. Lydia’s duffel bag crumpled on the floor of the closet. Lydia’s green bookbag slouched against her desk. Lydia’s bottle of Baby Soft atop the dresser, a sweet, powdery, loved-baby scent still in the air. But no Lydia. Marilyn closes her eyes. Maybe, when she opens them, Lydia will be there, covers pulled over her head as usual, wisps of hair trailing from beneath. A grumpy lump bundled under the bedspread that she’d somehow missed before. I was in the
bathroom, Mom. I went downstairs for some water. I was lying right here all the time. Of course, when she looks, nothing has changed.The closed curtains glow like a blank television screen. Downstairs, she stops in the doorway of the kitchen, a hand on each side of the frame. Her silence says everything. “I’ll check outside,” she says at last. “Maybe for some reason -” She keeps her gaze trained on the floor as she heads for the
front door, as if Lydia’s footprints might be crushed into the hall runner. Nath says to Hannah, “She was in her room last night. I heard her radio playing. At eleven thirty.” He stops, remembering that he had not said goodnight. “Can you be kidnapped if you’re sixteen?” Hannah asks. Nath prods at his bowl with a spoon. Cornflakes wilt and sink into clouded milk. Their mother steps back into the kitchen, and for one glorious fraction of a second Nath sighs with relief: there she is, Lydia, safe and sound. It happens sometimes -their faces are so alike you’d see one in the corner of your eye and mistake her for the other: the same elfish chin and high cheekbones and left-cheek dimple, the same thin-shouldered build. Only the hair color is different, Lydia’s ink-black instead of their mother’s honey-blond. He and Hannah take after their father - once a woman stopped the two of them in the grocery store and asked, “Chinese?” and when they said yes, not wanting to get into halves and wholes, she’d nodded sagely. “I knew it,” she said. “By the eyes.” She’d tugged the corner of each eye outward with a fingertip. But Lydia, defying genetics, somehow has her mother’s blue eyes, and they know this is one more reason she is their mother’s favorite. And their father’s,
too. Then Lydia raises one hand to her brow and becomes his mother again. “The car’s still here,” she says, but Nath had known it would be. Lydia can’t drive; she doesn’t even have a learner’s permit yet. Last week she’d surprised them all by failing the exam, and their father wouldn’t even let her sit in the driver’s seat without it. Nath stirs his cereal, which has turned to sludge at the bottom of his bowl. The clock in the front hall ticks, then strikes seven thirty. No one moves. “Are we still going to school today?” Hannah asks. Marilyn hesitates. Then she goes to her purse and takes out her keychain with a show of efficiency. “You’ve both missed the bus. Nath, take my car and drop Hannah off on your way.” Then: “Don’t worry. We’ll find out what’s going on.” She doesn’t look at either of them. Neither looks at her. More resources:
Name of Book: Fourth of July Creek
Publisher: Random House/William Heinemann
What our judges said:
A powerful evocation of the rural America time has forgotten and the casualties it trails in its wake. Set in Western Montana, it follows the travails of a social worker called in when a young boy is found wandering and he has to confront his disenfranchised parents. Both harrowing and life enhancing, a towering achievement and insight into a world many of us would rather ignore.
From the book:
After trying to help Benjamin Pearl, an undernourished, nearly feral eleven-year-old boy living in the Montana wilderness, social worker Pete Snow comes face-to-face with the boy’s profoundly disturbed father, Jeremiah. With courage and caution, Pete slowly earns a measure of trust from this paranoid survivalist itching for a final conflict that will signal the coming End Times. But as Pete’s own family spins out of control, Jeremiah’s activities spark the full-blown interest of the FBI, putting Pete at the centre of a massive manhunt from which no one will emerge unscathed. In this shattering and iconic novel, Smith Henderson explores the complexities of freedom, community, grace, suspicion and anarchy, brilliantly depicting America’s disquieting and violent contradictions. FOURTH OF JULY CREEK is an unforgettable, unflinching debut that marks the arrival of a major literary talent.
Smith Henderson is the recipient of the 2011 PEN Emerging Writer Winner (in fiction). He was a 2011 Philip Roth Resident in Creative Writing at Bucknell University, a 2011 Pushcart Prize winner and a Michener Center for Writers Fellow. Henderson’s short story manuscript was a finalist for the Flannery O’Connor Award and he was a two-time finalist for the University of Texas Keene Prize, the world’s largest student literary prize. His fiction has appeared in American Short Fiction, One Story, New Orleans Review, Makeout Creek, and Witness. He has worked as a prison guard and social worker, experiences which informed his first novel Fourth of July Creek, set in his native Montana.
The kid walked bowlegged and with his chest forward like he was breasting his way across a river, observing with badly concealed interest the panoply of animals and plants cut from construction paper and taped to the walls. He looked through an ajar door at a classroom taking a quiz and at the lockers and up into the staircase with the mute fascination of an ambassador. In the bathroom, the boy entered the doorless stall and regarded the sculpted porcelain a moment before locating the upright seat and pulling it down. He shat with Pete watching, shameless as a dog. When he washed his hands, he lathered promptly, and then rinsed with wary pleasure, turning his hands in the hot water and looking at Pete in the mirror as if he had to keep an eye on him, and not the other way around.
The child didn’t have hot running water. And he’d never set foot in a public school.
The boy wouldn’t let the doctor examine him, but the doctor said scurvy was certainly possible. Said to check his belly and legs for liver spots, if the boy’d ever let him. He told Pete to get him some vitamin C, asked after the boy’s stool, and when Pete described the quality of it, wrote a prescription for the giardia he’d probably gotten from drinking the mountain water.
There was no trace of the boy’s earlier violence against the principal. If anything, the child radiated studied calm. He spoke in the clipped cadence of a POW, announcing at one point that he’d renounced his citizenship. He stated plainly that he’d kill anyone who stuck him with a needle.
Interview with the Author
Reading Group Questions:
Who is the narrator of the book? Who would you sympathise with?
Name of Book: The Girl in the Red Coat
Author: Kate Hamer
Publisher: Faber and Faber
What our judges said:
An extraordinary and moving tale of child abduction which goes in totally unpredictable directions and remains a page turner all the way through. A fairy-tale atmosphere never obscures the human tragedy and complex web of relationships at the centre of the plot and delivers a disturbing insight into mother/daughter interface and chills the soul way down to the bone.
From the book:
A stand-out debut, THE GIRL IN THE RED COAT is the page-turning and hugely moving story of an abduction that will appeal to fans of THE LIGHT BETWEEN OCEANS, ROOM and THE SNOW CHILD. Eight-year-old Carmel has always been different - sensitive, distracted, with an heart stopping tendency to go missing. Her mother Beth, newly single, worries about her daughter's strangeness, especially as she is trying to rebuild a life for the two of them on her own. When she takes Carmel for an outing to a local festival, her worst fear is realised: Carmel disappears into the crowd. Unable to accept the possibility that her daughter might be gone for good, Beth embarks on a mission to find her. Meanwhile, Carmel begins an extraordinary and terrifying journey of her own. But do the real clues to Carmel's disappearance lie in the otherworldly qualities her mother had only begun to guess at?
Kate Hamer grew up in Pembrokeshire. She did a Creative Writing MA at Aberystwyth University and the Curtis Brown Creative novel-writing course. She won the Rhys Davies short story award in 2011 and her winning story was read out on Radio 4. She has recently been awarded a Literature Wales bursary. She lives in Cardiff with her husband and two children.
Interview with the Author [video]
Interview with the Author
Reading Group Questions:
This books has obvious parallels with Little Red Riding Hood and has been described as a twenty first century fairy tale. Do you agree?
The story is told in two very distinct voices. Does this work?
Name of Book: You
Author: Caroline Kepnes
Publisher: Simon and Schuster
What our judges said:
A powerful tale of suspense for the internet age, in which an aspiring writer is stalked through her digital footprints on Twitter, Facebook and elsewhere and manipulated by an unhealthy admirer into even becoming his girlfriend. A story of obsessive love with a chilling edge and a perfectly-crafted thriller that always stays one step ahead of the reader.
From the book:
Gone Girl meets Fatal Attraction in Caroline Kepnes' You, a chilling account of the twisted psychology behind unrelenting passion. When aspiring writer Guinevere Beck strides into the bookstore where Joe works he is instantly smitten. Beck is everything Joe has ever wanted: tough, razor-smart and sexier than his wildest dreams. He'd kill to have her. Soon Beck can't resist her feelings for a guy who seems custom made for her. When a string of macabre incidents tears her world apart there is only one person she can turn to. But there's more to Joe than Beck realises and much more to Beck than her perfect facade. The obsessive relationship quickly spirals into a whirlwind of deadly consequences... A chilling account of unrelenting, terrifying deceit, Caroline Kepnes' You is a thriller more perversely clever and dangerously twisted than any YOU have ever read.
Caroline Kepnes works as a journalist, having covered pop culture for Entertainment Weekly, Tiger Beat, Teen Machine, E! Online, and Yahoo! TV. She has also written for the television shows 7th Heaven and The Secret Life of the American Teenager. She lives in Los Angeles.