The old rogue of Limehouse: New detective and mystery titles

Is it the heart of the empire, or the heart of darkness?

Peter Ackroyd, quote about London.

One of the books that caught our particular eye in this month’s selection of newly acquired detective and mystery titles was The old rogue of Limehouse by Ann Granger, an atmospheric historical crime novel set in Victorian London in the summer of 1871. One of the many great ingredients that make this book such a compelling read is its location, Limehouse.

Limehouse is an ancient district in London. The name is derived from the local lime kilns that used to be there, with the earliest known reference to the area dating back to 1356. However, it is the Limehouse’s connection with British maritime history that the area is perhaps best known for. One of London’s key ports from hundreds of years, sadly the Limehouse Basin docks closed in the late 1960s. Whilst being a vibrant and diverse community, Limehouse was also known historically for its poverty, deprivation and notorious 19th Century era opium dens. This rich, varied and interesting history of the area has proved a big lure to several writers.

Authors and novels that have taken advantage of the Limehouse area of the London, and the districts close by, to set their works in include:Alan Moore with his The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen graphic novel series,  Kate Summerscale with her award winning factual book The Wicked Boy: The Mystery of a Victorian Child Murderer,  Peter Ackroyd and his excellent  Dan Leno and the Limehouse Golem , The Last Sherlock Holmes Story by Michael Dibdin, the now highly problematic Fu Manchu stories by Sax Rohmer and now Ann Granger’s latest book joins this select group of writers.

The old rogue of Limehouse / Granger, Ann
“It is the summer of 1871 when Scotland Yard’s Inspector Ben Ross pays a visit to Jacob Jacobus, the old rogue of Limehouse: infamous antiquarian, friend to villains and informer to the police. Ben hopes to glean information about any burglaries that might take place now that the wealthiest echelons of society are back in London for the Season. Little does he realise that an audacious theft has already occurred – a priceless family heirloom, the Roxby emerald necklace, has been stolen from a dressing table in the Roxby residence, and the widowed Mrs Roxby is demanding its immediate return…” (Adapted from Catalogue)

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Audition: New science fiction and fantasy titles

What I know about structures of fiction comes from hairdressing. 

– Quote from Pip Adam’s The Spinoff interview.  

Our special featured title in this month’s selection of newly acquired science fiction and fantasy titles is Audition by Wellington’s very own Pip Adam. Pip Adam is the author of four novels: Audition, Nothing to See, which was shortlisted for the Acorn Prize for Fiction, The New Animals, which won the Acorn Foundation Prize for Fiction, and I’m Working on a Building. Her short story collection Everything We Hoped For won the NZSA Hubert Church Best First Book Award for Fiction.

Audition is the title of her latest novel, and it is also the name of the spaceship in the book.
Audition is hurtling through space towards the event horizon, and squashed immobile into its rooms are three giants. If they talk, the spaceship keeps moving; if they are silent, they resume growing. As they talk, they might be recovering their shared memory of what has been done to their incarcerated former selves, or are they constructing those selves from memory-scripts that have been implanted in them?

Audition confirms Pip Adam’s position as one of our finest contemporary world class writers. All of Pip’s work is bold, daring, unexpected, exceptional and sometimes challenging. Audition defies categorisation, it is part science fiction and part social realism, but there is a whole lot more going on in it. Continue reading “Audition: New science fiction and fantasy titles”

Novelist Latika Vasil picks her top five dystopian reads

The World I Found is the debut novel by Wellingtonian based Indian New Zealander Latika Vasil.

This emotional and exciting young adult read is an apocalyptical ‘what if’ novel, in which 15-year-old Quinn returns from a visit to the remote Campbell Island only to discover everything has changed, everyone has vanished, phones don’t work and there is no power. How do they go about navigating and surviving in this new world?

Latika Vasil lives in Te Whanganui-a-Tara Wellington. She has worked as a university lecturer, a researcher, a creative writing tutor and currently as a freelance writer. Her fiction has been broadcast on Radio New Zealand, and published in many anthologies and magazines. The World I Found is her first novel.

Dystopian novels have a long and noble history and the opportunity to ask someone who is adding to this illustrious canon was just too good to miss. So, to celebrate the release of The World I Found we asked Latika to select her top five dystopian novels.

We wish to extend our heartfelt thanks to Latika Vasil for taking the time to write this list!

Station eleven / Mandel, Emily St. John
Station Eleven – Emily St. John Mandel
Despite the bleakness of a world destroyed by a deadly virus, Station Eleven offers the reader moments of incredible beauty amongst the gloom. I loved the writing and the meticulous worldbuilding. The book follows the stories of various characters across different timelines, but the storyline that stuck with me the most was the one that followed The Traveling Symphony, a rag-tag group of musicians and actors, as they roamed through a post-apocalyptic world performing for survivor communities. In the face of an almost total collapse and the loss of technology, Station Eleven shows that art will endure.

The road / McCarthy, Cormac
The Road – Cormac McCarthy
The Road follows the journey of a father and his young son as they walk across America after an unspecified apocalyptic event. McCarthy’s writing style is spare which perfectly mirrors the unrelentingly bleak landscape through which the pair are travelling. Some readers may find the book too dark and pessimistic but I loved its intensity. It will break your heart many times over but it is a masterpiece of dystopian fiction and the deep love between father and son is truly beautiful to read. We never find out what caused the devastation but it is timely to consider climate change as a contender for leading to this type of future.

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The Friday Night Club: a new novel about Hilma af Klint

‘Every time I succeed in finishing one of my sketches, my understanding of humanity, animals, plants, minerals, or the entire creation, becomes clearer. I feel freed and raised up above my limited consciousness.’ Hilma af Klint

The newly-acquired general fiction title we would like to focus on this month is The Friday Night Club by Sofia Lundberg, a fictionalised account of the real-life group of women artists formed by Hilma af Klint at the start of the twentieth century .

If you were lucky enough to see the recent exhibition of her work at City Gallery Wellington Te Whare Toi, you will be familiar with her extraordinary work. And her real life was as revolutionary as her art.

The  art world has long been male-dominated and controlled the narrative for the story of art, claiming that the first modern abstract paintings were created by male artists such as Malevich or  Mondrian. However, the mystic visionary Swedish artist Hilma af Klint should actually receive the credit. Inspired by mystic visions, she created her own abstract visual language years before these artists.

Hilma worked at a time when creative freedoms for women were rare and limited. Yet from this reality she created a huge body of abstract work that predated Kandinsky, Malevich, and Mondrian or, indeed, any of the other male artists credited as inventing modern abstract art.

Hilma af Klint’s  body of work has only relatively recently been given the praise it so richly deserved, and it is clear that her work at that time rewrites the history of modern art. Hilma knew her abstract work was way ahead of its time and at her death she left instructions that her work be kept secret until at least twenty years after her death, when she hoped that society would have changed enough to accept her work.

You can access our non-fiction collection of works about Hilma af Klint here.

The Friday Night Club / Lundberg, Sofia
” Early 1900s: The world belongs to men, and the art world in Stockholm, Sweden, is no different, until Hilma af Klint brings together a mysterious group of female painters and writers-Anna, Cornelia, Sigrid, and Mathilda-to form their own emotional and artistic support system. … Over a century later, an associate curator at the Guggenheim Museum, Eben Elliot, brings the Hilma af Klint show to New York where he uncovers questions about the Five and how the modern day art world is funded, which puts him in a precarious position both emotionally and professionally, as he witnesses how history can be manipulated. ” (Adapted from Catalogue)

Chain-gang all-stars / Adjei-Brenyah, Nana Kwame
” Loretta Thurwar and Hamara “Hurricane Staxxx” Stacker are the stars of Chain-Gang All-Stars, the cornerstone of CAPE, or Criminal Action Penal Entertainment, a highly-popular, highly-controversial, profit-raising program in America’s increasingly dominant private prison industry. It’s the return of the gladiators and prisoners are competing for the ultimate prize: their freedom. In CAPE, prisoners travel as Links in Chain-Gangs, competing in death-matches for packed arenas with righteous protestors at the gates…” (Adapted from Catalogue) Also available as an eBook.

Retrospective / Vásquez, Juan Gabriel
“The Colombian film director, Sergio Cabrera, is in Barcelona for a retrospective of his work. It’s a hard time for him: his father, famous actor Fausto Cabrera, has just died; his marriage is in crisis; and his home country has rejected peace agreements that might have ended more than fifty years of war. In the course of a few intense days, as his films are on exhibit, Sergio recalls the events that marked his family’s unusual and dramatic lives: especially his father’s, his sister Marianella’s and his own. ” (Adapted from Catalogue)

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Crook Manifesto: Our latest selection of crime & mystery titles

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“Crooked world, straight world, same rules – everybody had a hand out for the envelope.”
― Colson Whitehead, Harlem Shuffle

The recently acquired crime and mystery title that caught our eye this month was the much-anticipated Crook Manifesto by Pulitzer Prize winner Colson Whitehead. A dazzling and much-anticipated return to the world of Harlem Shuffle. Like its predecessor the book is clearly a crime novel and a fabulous one at that, but it is also a literary lens that focusses on a particular place and its culture at a particular point in time.

The place is the New York neighbourhood of Harlem, the time is the early seventies. A place and time known historically for its social difficulties.  Harlem in the early 70’s was a troubled neighbourhood; poverty-stricken with low employment and many other major social issues.  The situation was so bad that many former Harlem residents who could afford to leave did so . This exodus largely left behind only the poorest, most deprived segments of the community. However, as Colson vividly illustrates, Harlem at this time also had a thriving musical scene and was continuing to create its own unique  culture and, in many ways, was a place of vibrant energy. Colson Whitehead’s period detail and atmosphere building is meticulous and immersive.

Other titles that caught our eye were Christina Koning’s Murder in Regent’s Park, and Scottish crime writer Alex Gray’s Questions For a Dead Man .

There is also a bit of a Japanese flavour to this month’s selections with The Mill House Murders by Yukito  Ayatsuji, the pitch dark The Rope Artist by Fuminori Nakamura and the classic Tokyo Express  by Seichō  Matsumoto.

Crook manifesto : a novel / Whitehead, Colson
“It s 1971. Trash piles up on the streets, crime is at an all-time high, the city is careening towards bankruptcy, and a shooting war has broken out between the NYPD and the Black Liberation Army. Amidst this collective nervous breakdown furniture store owner and ex-fence Ray Carney tries to keep his head down and his business thriving. His days moving stolen goods around the city are over. It s strictly the straight-and-narrow for him until he needs Jackson 5 tickets for his daughter May and he decides to hit up his old police contact Munson, fixer extraordinaire. But Munson has his own favors to ask of Carney and staying out of the game gets a lot more complicated and deadly.” (Adapted from Catalogue) Also available as an eBook

The Mill House murders / Ayatsuji, Yukito
“As they do every year, a small group of acquaintances pay a visit to the remote, castle-like Water Mill House, home to the reclusive Fujinuma Kiichi, son of a famous artist, who has lived his life behind a rubber mask ever since a disfiguring car accident. This year, however, the visit is disrupted by an impossible disappearance, the theft of a painting, and a series of baffling murders. The brilliant Kiyoshi Shimada arrives to investigate. But will he get to the truth, and will you too be able to solve the mystery of the Mill House Murders?” (Adapted from Catalogue)


My murder / Williams, Katie
” What if the murder you had to solve was your own? Lou is a happily married mother of an adorable toddler. She’s also the clone of the original Louise who, along with four other victims of a local serial killer, has been brought back to life by a government project to return the women to their grieving families. But as the new Lou re-adapts to her old life, questions remain about what exactly preceded her death, and how much to trust those around her. Understanding the truth may determine what comes next for Lou.” (Adapted from Catalogue)

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The Scarlet Pimpernel and the birth of the superhero?

3 new scif-fi and fantasy book covers, against a fantasy world landscape of blue mountains

They seek him here. They seek him there. Those Frenchies seek him everywhere. Is he in Heaven? Or is he in Hell? That damned, illusive pimpernel.

Sir Peter Blackney in The Scarlet Pimpernel (by Baroness Orczy)

One of the books that caught our eye in this month’s recently acquired fantasy titles was Scarlet by Genevieve Cogman, a novel in which the character of the Scarlet Pimpernel is reimagined as a hero who rescues vampire aristocrats from the guillotine. This newest incarnation aside, The Scarlet Pimpernel has had a long and varied history.

The first time The Scarlet Pimpernel saw print was in 1908 in the novel of that name by Baroness Orczy. The novel was based on a highly successful play (also by Baroness Orczy) that took London by storm a few years earlier. The book would go on to spawn a host of sequels to wide acclaim, as well as numerous films including The Elusive Pimpernel (1950), starring David Niven and Margaret Leighton.

However, we think the major cultural impact this historical novel has had on our modern times, is its role in the birth of the superhero genre. The scarlet Pimpernel is a rich, camp aristocrat with a double life; a man with a secret identity, a master of disguise and weaponry, who has an alter ego that only a few of his closest friends know. This master fighter also wears a cape and a mask and is constantly outwitting villains and engaged in heroic deeds of daring-do. As his author described him, he is a “reckless daredevil”.

So far, so Superman, but the clincher we think is that Marvel co-creator Stan Lee was obsessed by the book as a boy and went on in this adult life to acknowledge the influence of the books and the Scarlet Pimpernel character in his work. He is even on record as saying that the the Scarlet Pimpernel was “the first character who could be called a superhero”. We rest our case!

Have a browse of this and other new science fiction and fantasy below:

Scarlet / Cogman, Genevieve
“It is 1793 and the French Revolution is in full swing. Vampires are a normal part of society across Europe — usually rich and aristocratic, they have slaked the guillotine’s thirst in large numbers. The mysterious Scarlet Pimpernel, a disguised British noble, and his League are heroically rescuing dozens of aristocrats and helpless victims from France, both human and vampire. Eleanor Dalton is an English housemaid working for the vampiric Baroness of Basing. Eleanor’s highest aspiration is to one day become a modiste. But when the Scarlet Pimpernel and his wife come to visit, Eleanor discovers she resembles someone important. She is asked to impersonate a French aristocrat. Soon, she finds herself swept up in magic and intrigue beyond her wildest dreams.” (Adapted from Catalogue)

Shanghai immortal / Chao, A. Y.
“Pawned by her mother to the King of Hell as a child, Lady Jing is half-vampire, half-hulijing fox-spirit, and all sasshole. As the King’s ward, she has spent the past ninety years running errands, dodging the taunts of the spiteful hulijing courtiers, and trying to control her explosive temper – with varying levels of success. So when Jing overhears the courtiers plotting to steal a priceless dragon pearl from the King, she seizes her chance to expose them, once and for all. With the help of a gentle mortal tasked with setting up the Central Bank of Hell, Jing embarks on a wild chase for intel, first through Hell and then mortal Shanghai.” (Adapted from Catalogue)

House of gold / Rwizi, C. T.
“A corporate aristocracy descended from Africa rules a colony on a distant planet. Life here is easy — for the rarified and privileged few. The aristocrats enjoy a powerful cybernetic technology that extends their life spans and ensures their prosperity. Those who serve them suffer under a heavy hand. But within this ruthless society are agents of hope and change. In a secret underwater laboratory, a separatist cult has created a threat to the aristocracy. The Primes are highly intelligent, manipulative products of genetic engineering, designed to lead a rebellion. Enabling their mission are the Proxies, the Primes’ bodyguards and lifelong companions bound to their service. When the cult’s hideout is attacked, Proxies Nandipa and Hondo rush to the rescue…” (Adapted from Catalogue)

Winter’s gifts / Aaronovitch, Ben
“When retired FBI Agent Patrick Henderson calls in an ‘X-Ray Sierra India’ incident, the operator doesn’t understand. He tells them to pass it up the chain till someone does. That person is FBI Special Agent Kimberley Reynolds. Leaving Quantico for snowbound Northern Wisconsin, she finds that a tornado has flattened half the town – and there’s no sign of Henderson. Things soon go from weird to worse, as neighbours report unsettling sightings, key evidence goes missing, and the snow keeps rising – cutting off the town, with no way in or out… Something terrible is awakening. As the clues lead to the coldest of cold cases – a cursed expedition into the frozen wilderness – Reynolds follows a trail from the start of the American nightmare, to the horror that still lives on today…” (Adapted from Catalogue)

Veniss underground / VanderMeer, Jeff
“In his debut novel, literary alchemist Jeff VanderMeer takes us on an unforgettable journey. First, Nicholas, a would-be Living Artist, seeks to escape his demons in the shadowy underground — but in doing so makes a deal with the devil himself. In her fevered search for him, his twin sister, Nicola, spins her own unusual and hypnotic tale as she discovers the hidden secrets of the city. And finally, haunted by Nicola’s sudden, mysterious disappearance and gripped by despair, Shadrach, Nicola’s lover, embarks on a mythic journey to the nightmarish levels deep beneath the surface of the city to bring his love back to light…” (Adapted from Catalogue)

The battle drum : a novel / El-Arifi, Saara
“Anoor is the first blue-blooded ruler of the Wardens’ Empire. But when she is accused of a murder she didn’t commit, her reign is thrown into turmoil. She must solve the mystery and clear her name without the support of her beloved, Sylah. Sylah braves new lands to find a solution for the hurricane that threatens to destroy her home. But in finding answers, she must make a decision: should she sacrifice her old life in order to raise up her sword once more? Hassa’s web of secrets grows ever thicker as she finds herself on the trail of crimes in the city. Her search uncovers the extent of the atrocities of the empire’s past and present. Now she must guard both her heart and her land. The three women find their answers, but not the answers they wanted. The drumbeat of change thrums throughout the world. And it sings a song of war…” (Adapted from Catalogue)

The Cognomina codex / Maikranz, D. Eric
“Evan Michaels is back in a new life as a Syrian refugee. When strange memories of his former lives lead him back to Zurich, headquarters of his old family of fellow reincarnationists, the Cognomina, he must reacquire their trust to rejoin their ranks. On the last leg of this journey, he is intercepted by an excommunicated member of the Cognomina who holds some serious grudges. She’s on a mission to wipe out large portions of the world’s population to save the planet from destruction. She proposes a union of the Cognomina and her own group of reincarnationists, but her true goals are dark indeed, and her resources are vast. Evan finds himself at the start of a war between two factions of immortal beings, each with a radically different vision for life on earth.” (Adapted from Catalogue)

The Carnivale of Curiosities / Gibbs, Amiee
“In Victorian London, where traveling sideshows are the very pinnacle of entertainment, there is no more coveted ticket than Ashe and Pretorius’ Carnivale of Curiosities. Each performance is a limited engagement, and London’s elite boldly dare the dangerous streets of Southwark to witness the Carnivale’s astounding assemblage of marvels. For a select few, however, the real show begins behind the curtain. Rumors abound that the show’s proprietor, Aurelius Ashe, is more than an average magician. It’s said that for the right price, he can make any wish come true…” (Adapted from Catalogue)