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You Beneath Your Skin – Book Review

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DB5Though this is Damyanti Biswas’s debut novel, it would be a mistake to give the impression of her being a new or ‘debut’ writer. In addition to this first book, Damyanti Biswas is a highly successful and respected blogger, and having read many of her posts and short/flash fiction pieces, one I have followed for many years and patiently waited in the hope she would someday write a full-length novel. Further information about the author and social media/contact links follow my review.

I can finally confirm my patience has been well-rewarded: My review of …

(click on Review heading for Goodreads link to review)

You Beneath Your Skin

5starssgs (1)

As rich in characterisation and atmosphere as any book I’ve EVER read …                    Simply Superb!

DB3The story centres around Anjali, an Indian woman with an American born mother and an autistic son, Nikhil, and Jatin, her married Delhi policeman and on/off lover. Nikhil and their personal lives aside, Anjali and Jatin are involved in the investigation of a new spate of serial murders, rapes, and vicious attacks on poor young women in Deli. Parallel to this, Anjali also volunteers in various other roles to help the poor and underprivileged of Delhi, especially the children. Set against the backdrop of their friends, colleagues, and relations, and all the social and cultural problems that beset Delhi, there are innumerable minor storylines, from tentative romance, drug dealing,  to family secrets and eventual revelations as brutal, horrific, and surprising as is possible to imagine

If one were to rely solely on the Amazon book description, a reader might be drawn into thinking the central premise of the book is a series of brutal attacks and murders of vulnerable women, and the subsequent efforts to bring those responsible to justice. Really though, ‘You Beneath Your Skin’ is so much more than a simple detective or police investigation; yes, the brutal attacks/murders, i.e. drugging women before raping/murdering them, and/or throwing acid in their faces form an integral part of the story, but it’s far from being what the book is really about. Whereas in a more, say, ‘traditional’ crime and murder story, such violence would be at its heart, perhaps for its shock value or to emphasise the need for a resolution to the crimes. In truth, the actual violence here is little more than a backdrop to the rich characterisation of everyone involved, and of the lives and society in which the multiple storylines take place; if anything, the real violence here, and indeed tragedy, is the fact that the murders and attacks are downplayed to some extent, a reflection of the equal or even greater horror that such acid attacks and the like are so commonplace they’ve become an accepted part of Indian culture/society in much the same way mass shootings in America or European terrorist attacks no longer shock or surprise us they way they once did. 

The writing is executed to perfection, with every character vividly brought to life through their likes and prejudices, their interactions with each other, their place in Indian society, and in way too many other subtle ways to mention in a single review. I was pleased to see the author in no way tried to pander or adapt her writing to accommodate the expectations of a western or European audience, which in my opinion makes for a better reading experience for anyone who reads this book. Having said that, some of the dialogue does, albeit only occasionally, switch to Hindi, which as a European reader, I obviously skimmed past. Also, it will take some readers a little while to get used to some of the Indian conventions of speech and dialogue, i.e. of people being addressed in different ways, and by different names/titles depending on the relationship between whose speaking (some parallels can be found in German, in the way you might address a child or someone you know personally or only a little).

It’s still difficult for me to appreciate this a debut novel rather than maybe the umpteenth from a well-established and best-selling author. As well as being a well-crafted tale of the most horrific crimes, their investigation, and a somewhat cynical conclusion, it’s also a brutally honest and illuminating look at and commentary on Indian society, both good and bad. Captivating, enthralling, and a real page-turner – a superb work of crime and social literature!

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Editorial & peer reviews:

DB4‘Biswas’s masterful You Beneath Your Skin is an intelligent page-turner that mixes a thrilling murder case with a profound psychological and sociological study of contemporary India.’ – David Corbett, award-winning author of The Art of Character

 ‘You Beneath Your Skin is a gripping tale of murder, corruption and power and their terrifying effects in New Delhi. Highly recommended.’ – Alice Clark-Platts, bestselling author of The Flower Girls

‘Suspenseful and sensitive, with characters negotiating serious issues of society, this crime novel will keep you awake at night!’ – Jo Furniss, bestselling author of All the Little Children and The Trailing Spouse

‘Gripping…crime fiction with a difference. This is a novel full of layers and depth, focusing on class and corruption in India with compassion and complexity.’ – Sanjida Kay, Author of psychological thrillers, Bone by Bone, The Stolen Child, My Mother’s Secret and One Year Later

‘You Beneath Your Skin – beautiful writing, strong characters and a story that will stay with me for a long time. Set in New Delhi, this novel tackles important issues as well as providing a tension-filled read.’- Jacqueline Ward, Bestselling author of Perfect Ten

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More about the author:

DB6Damyanti Biswas lives in Singapore and works with Delhi’s underprivileged children as part of Project Why, a charity that promotes education and social enhancement in underprivileged communities. Her short stories have been published in magazines in the US, UK, and Asia, and she helps edit the Forge Literary Magazine. You can find her on her blog and twitter.

See also: Facebook – Damyanti at Daily Write

All the author proceeds will go to Project WHY and Stop Acid Attacks.

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           Other social media and site links:

  1. Link to Project WHY: https://projectwhy.org/
  2. Link to Chhanv Foundation: https://www.chhanv.org/  (Their social media name is StopAcidAttacks)
  3. Author website: https://www.damyantiwrites.com/
  4. Pls use the hashtag: #YouBeneathYourSkin for all social media shares

Check out #YouBeneathYourSkin by @damyantig @SimonSchusterIN, a #crime novel that raises many social issues.

All author proceeds go to: @stopacidattacks @projectwhydelhi

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Amazon purchase links:

US:  Click HERE

UK: Click HERE

India: HERE

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To get RTs and shares, pls tag:

 @SimonandSchusterIN @projectwhydelhi @stopacidattacks @damyantig on Instagram

  @SimonSchusterIN @projectwhydelhi @stopacidattacks @damyantig on Twitter

 

A double-bill book Review – The Spider’s Web & Carnival of Death, by Tom Johnson

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Tom Johnson spent twenty years in the military, and after retirement, he and his wife, Ginger, went into small press publishing for the next 22 years. Tom continues to write and Ginger edits and proofs his work. They also review books from numerous publishers.

Following the author’s social media links immediately below, it is my great pleasure to provide my reviews of just two of Tom Johnson’s extensive library of books … 

Click on links below for Tom Johnson’s social media:

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Author website:  Tom Johnson: author

Blog:  The Pulp Hermit

Blog/Books:  Fading Shadows Books

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The Spider’s Web

5starssgs (1)

 A fun-filled, action-packed, masked-avenger tale

– A must-read for pulp-fiction fans!!!

TJ1zThis is a super novella-length story from the pulp-fiction author, Tom Johnson. A straightforward ‘good vs bad, hero vs villain,’ type story, one where the reader just sits back, suspends disbelief and enjoys the fun.

For first-time readers of Tom Johnson, this a fine introduction to his stories and style of writing, and indeed to the genre as a whole. What we have in The Spider’s Web is a tale of masked avengers and vigilante-style crime-fighting heroes and villains; yes there’s lots violence, killings etc, but the author doesn’t dwell on explicit descriptive detail in that respect, preferring instead to concentrate on writing more of a gasp out loud roller-coaster of entertainment.

Although of novella length, content-wise there’s as much going on here as in many a longer book; Tom Johnson constructs the background of the ninja-like ‘Spider’ character extremely well and succinctly, wasting no time in incorporating it into the wider story. The other main character here, the mysterious crime-fighting ‘Black Ghost,’ is one that features elsewhere in many of the author’s earlier books so there is less explanation of his origins and character, at least not initially though still enough detail to make for  a satisfying stand-alone story; having said that, if you already enjoy this style of writing/genre it might be worth scrolling back through the author’s previous books for a more chronology-based decision as to which one to read first. Related to what I’ve just said, there is a bonus story/material, The Black Widows, at the end that expands on the Black Ghost’s character and youthful origins and background. I must say too say, the bonus story has a somewhat darker feel and tone to it, but every bit as enjoyable and complementary to the first story.

I’ve not read much in this genre and style of writing before, or rather not since I was a boy, so it’s hard to make comparisons with current authors. If I were to make a film or tv analogy, think along the lines of a modern-day Fu-Manchu or Bruse Lee’s Kato character in the Green Hornet for atmosphere and overall feel, though there are several others I could quote too … older readers will know exactly what I mean.

For anyone looking for gritty realism, lashings of sex and/or gratuitous violence, or the sort of plot complexity to rival the De Vinci Code, this certainly won’t fit the bill. For those readers though looking for a romping good read, good fun-filled and escapist storytelling, and where you don’t have to scratch your head every five minutes wondering what’s going on, The Spider’s Web provides exactly that.

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Carnival of Death

5starssgs (1)

A worthy tribute to the pulp-fiction and comic book style genre – absolutley loved it!

TJ2zWhat a cracker of a wee tale this is – a body count not seen the time of the Black Death, masked crime fighters, ninja assassins, British secret agents, rogue ex-military, and an equally dynamic supporting cast to complete the package. It’s a novella length story, but one that packs in way more content than its 82 pages would suggest. This could easily have filled the pages of a full novel, but Tom Johnson has stripped away every superfluous word or bit of character background building. There is a prequel to Carnival of Death, The Spider’s Web, featuring the same characters and set-up, which is probably why the author allows the story to hit the ground running so to speak; having said that, although this is a sequel to a previous story, it reads surprisingly well as a stand-alone story too, though it will inevitably leave the reader curious to know more about the characters. The ending does leave open the likelihood of further stories in the series I’m pleased to say.

Without spoiling or giving too much away, it’s basically a story of vigilante crime-fighting justice, but more in the style of The Shadow, Doc Savage, and Zorro rather than Michael Winner’s ‘Deathwish’ character. As the author himself says, the main character here, The Black Ghost, is his homage to such characters and the pulp fiction magazines of the 30s and 40s. Another comparison I would add to the author’s own references is to Warren Murphy’s Remo series in which the main crime-fighting character, though not super-human, seemingly borders on it. Unlike those of his literary heroes though, Tom Johnson has set his story in a modern-day setting, combining that pulp-fiction feel with just the right blend of high-tech and reference to the present.

Whilst I would say one has to suspend disbelief to some degree, it’s a fast-paced and action-packed story, one that takes me back to the sort of comic book style stories I enjoyed reading as a boy, but which I once again find myself enjoying as an adult. Overall, a fun, entertaining, and escapist tale of good guys versus bad. Will I be reading more from this author? Absolutely yes!

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See HERE for Tom Johnson’s Amazon author page and his fascinating and extensive back-catalogue of books.

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More about the author …

TJ5Born July 26, 1940, in Seymour, Texas, located in West Texas, US veteran Tom Johnson has been a voracious reader since childhood, beginning with the Golden Age comic books to classic literature. Exciting adventure stories entertained him until he discovered science fiction and hardboiled detective mysteries. By his early twenties, he discovered The Shadow and Doc Savage pulp reprints in paperbacks and was hooked on the fast-paced action novel. This led to collecting and research, which eventually interested him in writing. Today, he still loves an exciting action novel over movies and television. Tom and his wife, Ginger, have received numerous awards in the field for their work in keeping the old stories in the spotlight for new readers seeking escape in a thrilling adventure novel.

Please click HERE for the author’s full biography and writing history/links …

TJ6

Look out too for Tom’s latest workNEW PULP HEROES 

Click  HERE  for Amazon US purchase link 

TJ8

(Pre-release) Book Review – Spectral State

Senan1Senan Gil Senan is an author who I’ve reviewed several times before, namely IASDpichis two-part (to date) highly acclaimed Outlander Sci-Fi series, and his equally well-received short story collection, A Stitch in Time

In addition to his regular writing, Senan Gil Senan is a regular reviewer and valued contributor to the IASD FB writing group and its sister site at:

  www.indieauthorsupportanddiscussion.com

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Spectral8

Spectral4

Available for pre-order now prior to the 9th February launch date …

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stars5How ‘The Matrix’ might have turned out had it been written by Michael Crichton … Senan’s best yet!

SG9bA first-rate thriller that effortlessly blends elements of different genres. The central premise of the story definitely excels in the traditional thriller style, bringing into it rival intelligence agencies, international and domestic espionage, enemies both home and abroad, and a host of enigmatic characters, particularly several ex-military. Amid all the high-powered spying and covert warfare, there’s also a horrifically unpleasant brutal assault and murder that provides the catalyst for further events. Added to this more familiar framework, the author soon incorporates a variety of high-tech and speculative parapsychology/esp themes, adding a distinct ‘sci-fi’ feel to the story. Some of these ideas and technology, and indeed several of the characters, bear an obvious resemblance to elements of the Matrix, though minus all the ‘human battery’ nonsense I’m glad to say – I couldn’t help thinking at one point this might well have been how ‘The Matrix’ ended up had it originally been a Michael Crichton book. Indeed, early in the story the author deliberately plants those similarities in the reader’s mind with a few throwaway references, and yet, they are quickly expanded upon and treated in an entirely different and original way while drawing in other topical areas of research ie, quantum physics and nanotechnology, to enhance the story. There are lots of twists and turns along the way, with many of the original similarities with The Matrix re-emerging again in the latter part of the story, but again, retaining their own originality. 

The central character, Hano, at first seems like a most unlikely hero or main protagonist, and certainly no ‘Neo,’ at least not initially. Superficially, Hano couldn’t be more different to his potential colleagues – young, no military background, lacking ambition, and socially awkward/shy on account of some unspecified level of autism, possibly linked to the unique talents that lead to his recruitment as a ‘remote viewer’ with a secret government agency. 

For such a clever and ambitious storyline, the author avoided over-complicating things, and I found it surprisingly easy to follow. I was particularly impressed too by the way in which the author handled Hano’s autism, treating it as just another descriptive aspect of his character/persona, alluding to it only where necessary in the same way being young or old, male or female, or even tall or short might be relevant in a story. The science/tech aspects were subtly explained/shown without too much ‘info dumping,’ and again, pretty much at a level that might be expected for the sort of reader with at least a modicum of interest in science and technology, but not obviously beyond the average layman in such areas. Likewise, the military action/characters were not over-emphasised to the point of turning the book into a semi-military story, though having said that, the one tiny reservation I had here was that there were times when some of the military characterisations, fight scenes, and confrontations felt a little ‘skimmed over’ (though better that than over-elaborating and getting stuff wrong), and where, if I’m honest, I felt the author was slightly ‘winging’ it in that respect. Thankfully it didn’t spoil the writing or story in any way, just one tiny area where there might be a little room for improvement in any future/similar books of what has the potential for a cracking good series.

Though I’ve enjoyed the author’s previous books, this latest ranks as his best to date in my opinion. An easy and well-deserved 5 stars!

sg9a   Spectral3  Spectral1

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To follow Senan Gil Senan  elsewhere on social media, please see below: 

Blog: www.senagilsenan.wordpress.com

Twitter: @AngusCactus

Amazon: Sean Gil Senan author page

 

More about the author …

Senan Gil Senan believes that it is the job of a writer to visually transport a reader to a place he or she is unlikely to venture. Then without alienating them, it is to introduce them to a pattern of thought that may differ from their own.

SGSamazonHis writing is not typical of the science fiction and dystopian genres. It is more visionary, in that it examines the effect of technology and bio-engineering on future society. He is an adamant believer that humans will integrate more and more with technology in order to keep up with the deluge of technological advances created by the advent of artificial intelligence. He believes that this emergent sentience will be shaped by human interaction, much the same as a child.

His own interests include psychology, noetic science, physics, theology & philosophy and ancient history. He agrees with RR Martin who said that any writer who is looking for an intriguing character, a gripping scenario or plot twist, needs to look no further than the pages of a history book.

He was named Senan, by his father Patrick Gilsenan who thought that the name would look good on the cover of a book. He was an Irish printer who yearned to see his own prose and poetry appear in print. Sadly he died before achieving either ambition. Senan left behind the beauty of Sligo in Ireland to set off for London and oblique strategy of career choices. These included working fourteen years as a computer systems engineer. He has also worked as a self-employed financial trader, a writer, an employment adviser, and as a bar manager. He still lives in South London with his wife and family.

A good man…

A good man…

 Scully was an eighteen carrot prize bastard, no other way to describe him, least-ways not in polite company; a miserable little weasel with a fondness for preying on the teenage waifs and strays coming to London for whatever reasons – escaping abusive homes, lure of the bright lights, promises of fame and fortune – the reasons as innumerable as those arriving. Pimp, drug dealer, predator, Scully had been all of these and more…

 The man’s neck snapped like a twig underfoot. His body fell limp into the waiting arms of Hatchet Ron, ready for disposal. It was all in a night’s work for Old Hatchet, real name Ronald Hatch, not that it was wise for anyone to call him ‘Old’.

 This had been a rush job. Normally he would have charged a hefty bonus for the added urgency, but after a little digging into the weasel’s life, he’d willingly foregone the extra.

 Hatchet Ron thought back to the previous week when he first met the old man. A ‘friend of a friend’ as it were had sorted the details. The old man’s grand-daughter had died six months earlier…

 “It’s just not right, out-living your own kids, and then ya grandkids too…” He remembered the old man saying between the coughs and splutters. He’d be dead soon, was his first thought. He knew death well – the look, its smell. The old man should have been dead already but there remained one last thing that needed doing, one more person he needed to out-live.

 Two years earlier, Maria, the old man’s grand-daughter, had fell in with a “thoroughly bad lot,” as he had put it, “run off with some conman who had promised her the world…the things he’d made her do…you wouldn’t believe…” But he did believe; it was a tale Hatchet Ron had heard all too often to be shocked or moved to sentimentality by. Despite the horrific details, Hatchet Ron’s face had betrayed no emotion or reaction to the old man’s account of his grand-daughter’s suffering. He’d wanted to console the old man, place a hand on his shoulder or something, reassure him that her suffering wouldn’t go unpunished. He didn’t though; there was another witness to the tale, the ‘friend of a friend’ who had made the introductions – Hatchet Ron was a paid cold-blooded killer, he had a reputation to maintain, and sentimentality wasn’t a part of it. Not even the old man’s parting words that he only had a few weeks to live, hence the urgency of the job, had visibly stirred him.

 “I understand. It’ll be done by the end of the week,” he’d told the old man.

 “Thank you; you’re a good man.. I wish I could pay you more…”

 “No. It’s a simple enough job, this is more than enough to cover it.”

 The old man had tears in his eyes as the ‘friend of a friend’ discreetly passed Hatchet Ron the thick brown envelope, not just of sadness of the circumstances, but gratitude too for the knowledge that his grand-daughter’s tormentor would soon be dead. He had no way of course of enforcing the contract but something about the manner and voice of this, to him, nameless man told him that this was a man of his word…

 *******************

The old man’s face lit up at the arrival of the following week’s edition of the Dalston Chronicle. The headline read…

 Brutal death of local drug dealer

 It went on to catalogue a list of horrific injuries that local drug dealer ‘Sculley’ Mitchell had suffered prior to the final one, a broken neck that had ended his life. He knew of course that the newspaper account was a heavily abridged version; the photographs Hatchet Ron had provided him with had shocked him, but he had no regrets, it was nothing more than the scum had deserved, it had been worth his twenty thousand pounds life savings… Harry Simpkins died the following day clutching the photos with a smile on his face…

 ********************

 Hatchet Ron had so wanted to tell the old man that his grand-daughter Maria had had a son a few months before her death. Hatchet Ron had known this before accepting the job. The boy had been placed into foster care and then adopted by a very nice couple in the country. But that would have created a dilemma for the old man – to pay for the vengeance and justice Maria deserved and die knowing that Scully would go on living, or provide an inheritance for the boy? The old man was a decent sort, he would rather have lived his final weeks with the misery of injustice just so long as he could do something for the boy. And Hatchet Ron would not have got his fee. He couldn’t let-on, he had his reputation to maintain. Even the hardest and most vicious of his peers were a little taken aback at the coldness of his decision not to give the old man the choice, and to think the old man had called him a good man

 ********************

 A little over twenty years later, little Todd Simpkins came of age. He’d grown into a fine young man, having inherited all the kindness and generosity of the great grand-father he never knew, so who could begrudge him the previously unknown trust that had been set up for him twenty years earlier, twenty thousand pounds that had since grown to nearly a hundred thousand pounds….

 ********************

 Hatchet Ron sat listening to the frail old woman as she recounted the story of the thugs who had stolen and brutally tortured and killed her only companions, her beloved two cats. She wasn’t the least bit upset at parting with Hatchet Ron’s sizeable fee, knowing that the thugs would be brought to justice.

 Hatchet Ron had been moved by the plight of the local animal shelter that desperately needed funds to remain open and had been wondering how he might find the cash to make a donation…

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