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Review: ‘Rattle’ by Fiona Cummins

Rattle by Fiona CumminsRattle won’t deliver anything new or provide any unexpected twists and turns, but what it does provide is a pretty gripping read that I devoured in only a few sittings.  Fiona Cummins gives us a strong, albeit formulaic, addition to the crime thriller genre that seethes with menace and tension.

I don’t want to give a plot outline because I honestly think that it will detract from the reading experience.  But what this book does have is a pretty unique psychopath and a bevvy of damaged characters who are just trying to get through life the best they can.  We see the abduction of their children affect two families in very different ways, and best of all, Fiona Cummins has included some interesting details about dealing with Natural History collections and biological specimens.  As a former museum curator, I loved reading about that part of her story.

Rattle is full of rich descriptions.  There is one passage that I thought was so beautiful I just have to share it:

Ribbons and sheets of ossified matter.  Stalagmites and bridges.  Twisted plates and bony nubs… He stands alone in the hallway, and drinks in the glory of the skeleton in its glass case, mesmerised by its distortions, the incursion of bone into thoracic cavity, the calcified trimmings decorating his spine.  A young boy trapped in a prison of stone.

It makes the human body sound like a work of art.  I’d heard of Fibrodysplasia ossificans progressive before under its more commonly used name, ‘Stone Man Syndrome’ but I didn’t know a lot about it.  Rattle managed to give it a human face as I realised how difficult it must be not just for the sufferer, but for the families who have to see their children become trapped in their own bodies.  The Frith family were strong, but damaged, and had very real reactions to the reality of living with a sick child.  The Frith’s grew as characters as the novel progressed, and I was impressed with the reality of their emotions and the way Fiona Cummins wrote them in a way that ensures empathy rather than pity.

DS Etta Fitzroy was an interesting character herself, although not entirely original.  Every crime novel these days needs a disgraced detective with a tragic backstory, so she seemed more like an archetype than a real, fleshed out character.  She also made stupid mistakes unbecoming of a detective that felt contrived to bring a bit more tension to the narrative rather than for any reason that made sense to the story.  It was moments like these that brought the quality of Rattle down for me.

For me, my biggest disappointment with Rattle was its lack of any real resolution.  I’m not sure if Fiona Cummins was setting it up for a sequel or to become a series, but because of this, the whole novel felt somehow, unfinished.  Instead of making me want to desperately pick up the next book when it’s written, it made the preceding parts of the story feel somewhat lacking.  I just needed more from it.  I needed more explanation, more detail, more motivation and more resolution.  The ending betrayed what had, up to that point, been a stellar novel.

All in all, Rattle was a gripping, enjoyable read.  But if you’re looking for something groundbreaking that will reinvent the genre, then you’ll have to keep looking.  While the villain was interesting and unique, the plot, in general, was on crime thriller rails.  If you’re a fan of the genre, you’ll know where it’s going.  But at least you’ll enjoy the journey.

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Review: ‘The Doll Funeral’ by Kate Hamer

Kate Hamer - The Doll FuneralThe Doll Funeral was a novel that attempted to be a great many things, and proceeded to be none of them with great aplomb.  It had the potential to be a touchingly deep story about domestic abuse and the difficulties of coping with adoption, both as the adopters and the adoptees, but instead it got bogged down in a swamp of mystical weirdness that did nothing to help the story along.

Kate Hamer’s The Doll Funeral tells the story from the point of view of a teenage girl who lives with her adopted parents in the Forest of Dean.  Her adopted father Mick is abusive but she finds solace among the trees and with a shadowy friend who has always been in her life.  The narrative follows her search for her real parents, while simultaneously weaving the story of her parents and how she came to live with Mick and Barbara.

The way Kate Hamer writes is beautiful.  She weaves her words with talent and imagination.  She paints a great picture and really brings the Forest of Dean to life as a character in its own right.  The forest plays such an important part in the lives of all its characters that her characterisation of it really made the narrative.  The plot is bleak, dark and otherworldly with a cast of quirky characters who were interesting enough to keep me reading.  The Doll Funeral wasn’t fast paced, or action packed.  It plodded along slowly and steadily and had a decent pace for a relatively serious novel that dealt with some pretty deep issues.

The big problem with The Doll Funeral is the way it chooses to deal with those issues.  The paranormal elements of the narrative fell flat and didn’t serve to heighten Ruby’s story in any way.  The weird Sixth Sense-esque skills that Ruby possesses simply made so much of the plot feel convenient and off kilter all at the same time.  The novel deals with abuse, poverty and mental illness.  By adding the supernatural in to the mix it somehow detracted from the gravity of what I feel the novel was trying to achieve.

Ruby herself wasn’t even particularly believable as a character.  She is 13 years old at the beginning of The Doll Funeral but her voice doesn’t match her age.  Her characterisation is much younger, as are the other ‘child’ characters in the novel.  The adults of the novel are largely absent during the narrative which ultimately felt a little too convenient in places, and her supernatural abilities are never really explained in any way.  This is a criticism I often level at works of supernatural fiction; your paranormal elements need to have their own internal logic to them.  I need to be able to believe that these things exist and the way that they manifest themselves as a reader.  In The Doll Funeral they simply felt like convenient ways to move the plot along rather than as essential elements in the characterisation of Ruby.

That Kate Hamer can write with talent is not in any doubt.  There was a lot to commend The Doll Funeral for, but ultimately I just felt like it was lacking in some sense.  I needed it to be more or less of everything that it was.  I either needed no paranormal elements or they needed to be rendered with more depth, or I needed more focus on the very serious subject matter of the novel with characters that were interesting for who they were, and not for some weird powers they either did or didn’t possess.  It was a novel with great promise that simply didn’t deliver.

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