Noting Ruth’s perfectly made-up face and provocative clothing, the empty liquor bottles and love letters that litter her apartment, the detectives leap to convenient conclusions, fuelled by neighbourhood gossip and speculation. Sent to cover the case on his first major assignment, tabloid reporter Pete Wonicke at first can’t help but do the same. But the longer he spends watching Ruth, the more he learns about the darker workings of the police and the press. Soon, Pete begins to doubt everything he thought he knew.
Ruth Malone is enthralling, challenging and secretive – is she really capable of murder?
This is the kind of book that you know after three paragraphs you’re not going to be able to put down. When I fall for a writer, I fall hard and this was love at first read.
Emma Flint completed the ‘Writing a Novel’ course at Faber Academy in July 2013 and was offered representation by nine UK agents on the strength of the first three chapters of Little Deaths. Once you’ve read it, you’ll see why. Ruth Malone is mesmerising. Luminous, fragile and mysterious, she captivates us as much as she does investigative journalist Pete Wonike as we experience the nightmare she is tangled up in as her life unravels before our eyes.
The fact that Emma Flint has based this novel on a true story is even more tantalising as everyone who knows me is well aware of the lure of a gripping crime story for me as I lose myself in unravelling the layers of ‘truth’ at its heart. Even though this is a very different story, both in terms of its setting and characters, from the tale of Edith Thompson Read more here it enthralled me in the same way as it explored the way that women are judged by society if their sexuality or conduct is viewed as unacceptable in the eyes of the people around them.
Readers seem to have had a mixed response to the character of Ruth and I think this pays testament to how fantastic Flint’s writing is. People react to Ruth’s character as if she is a real person: we are drawn in by her tragic story, refracted through the eyes of the many ‘witnesses’ in the novel who decide on something as vital as her guilt or innocence because of her hemline or the number of layers of mascara she is seen wearing.
Ruth Malone is a woman who defies expectations and pays the price. Her life, in sixties Queens, has been lovingly recreated as stunningly as the MadMen production team brought advertising’s decades to life and we see Ruth move within her setting just as clearly. Ruth has transgressed from the role set out for her by her gender and social class and her treatment by the press, law enforcement and her neighbours reflect their inability to see her beautifully maintained apearance as anything other than a subtle indication of her guilt
Emma Flint draws us into her Ruth’s world whilst holding us at arms length too, which Ruth does to everyone – even her own mother. The mystery at the heart of who Ruth actually is is such a fantastic technique to draw us closer to her whilst never really knowing her too. I found myself watching her every movement to see if I could catch a glimpse of the real Ruth hiding below the perfectly made up face. Her physical beauty is merely a veneer, hiding the emotional damage beneath and Flint skilfully leaves us to respond to Ruth in our own way and speculate about the nature of her involvement in her children’s disappearance without serving us up a neatly boxed ‘answer’– a very clever method of engaging us with Ruth’s story, without treading on the past and ‘solving’ the story which inspired her to write Little Deaths.
The representation of the grubby world of ambitious journalist Wonicke and his obsession with investigating the unfolding story is a perfect counterpoint to Ruth’s own tale. We see his very clear internal dilemma as he is torn between building a career and reputation for himself in the media of New York and reporting the truth about a woman he is clearly mesmerised by. He knows that his editor wants salacious gossip that will shift newspapers but he is drawn like a moth to a flame to gaze at Ruth through her lighted window as he tried to uncover the truth beneath the spin. Flint’s representation of this side of the story does show how the press conducts its own trial regardless of the facts of the story and lets us see the contemporary ‘judgement’ of Ruth at uncomfortably close quarters.
Devlin’s instinctive disapproval of Ruth as the investigative officer allows us even more insight to the way that even the justice system can be influenced by external appearances. Ruth’s refusal to conform to his idea of how an an innocent woman should behave or dress damns her utterly in his eyes. His views are echoed by the neighbours shifting voices as they respond to how she looks first and the truth rather more distantly. I was totally transfixed. It was like the best theatre – you experienced it in so many was all at once that it was only at the end that you were able to reflect on it
Emma Flint is incredibly talented. She draws the reader into Ruth’s world and forces you to experience these events with her. Whether you can retain sympathy for her or not by the end will be a very personal response and this is one of the novel’s key strengths: Little Deaths forces you to respond and once you’re drawn in it won’t let you go easily.
Flint also acknowledges her inspiration for Ruth’s tale – for others like me who were engrossed in reading about the events which inspired Little Deaths. This added another dimension to my enjoyment of the book as I wasn’t forced out of the book’s ‘world’ once I finished reading it which can be so hard to do if you’ve enjoyed a book. My post-reading hours were spent researching articles about the original story and thinking about the way that Flint has brought the events to life and imagining who I’d cast if I was putting it on stage or film too…
I can see this being a book that I come back to as well as one that I’ll be begging other people to read.
Thank you to the lovely people at @Netgalley and @PanMacmillan for providing me with a digital copy in return for a fair review. It’s such a gorgeous looking book that I’ll be wasting no time in buying a real copy as soon as it’s published in January.
I loved discovering that Emma Flint and I studied at the same university and are drawn to the same crime stories. Emma has also been very lovely on Twitter and it’s been so exciting to have her engage with my reading responses in real time and reply too. If you’re not already following her, you definitely should be…
Author On The Shelf:
Emma was born and grew up in Newcastle upon Tyne. After graduating from the University of St. Andrews with an MA in English Language and Literature, she embarked on a career as a Technical Author: firstly in Edinburgh and now in London.
Away from her day job, she’s developed an encyclopaedic knowledge of real-life murder cases and of notorious historical figures, as well as a fascination with unorthodox women – past, present and fictional. In her writing, she likes to poke around the darker reaches of the human mind, and to explore what people are capable of under extreme circumstances.
Little Deaths is her first novel.
Purchase Link : Little Deaths
Website : Emma Flint
Twitter : @flint_writes
After reading history at Bristol University, Cesca Major went on to work in television before becoming a history teacher. She is now lucky enough to be a ‘writer in residence’ at a boarding school in Berkshire after working there as housemistress.
I was so excited to receive a copy of The Last Night by Cesca Major after adoring The Silent Hours that I literally read it in a single sitting…
Ever since finding out that Cesca had been a housemistress in a boarding school – which I’ve done for the last 19 years – I felt a connection with her and as soon as I knew The Last Night was going to be available, I begged Corvus to let me read and review it
The fact that The Last Night takes real events and weaves a narrative around them is something which I especially loved about this book. I read it straight after Emma Flint’s Little Deaths and I really enjoyed the post-reading research that I did to find out the ‘story behind the story’ in both cases.
All of you who’ve had Poldark fever for the last year or so have been #TeamCornwall – Cesca’s book transports us to the small village of Lynmouth, in coastal Devon on a fateful night in 1952. Let me tell you, readers – #TeamDevon was just as gripping, dramatic and unputdownable as anything you’ve seen in Poldark. And then some.
In a quiet coastal village, Irina spends her days restoring furniture, passing the time in peace and hiding away from the world. A family secret, long held and never discussed, casts a dark shadow and Irina chooses to withdraw into her work.
When an antique bureau is sent to her workshop, the owner anonymous, Irina senses a history to the object that makes her uneasy. As Irina begins to investigate the origins of the piece, she unearths the secrets it holds within…
Decades earlier in the 1950s, another young woman kept secrets. Her name was Abigail. Over the course of one summer, she fell in love, and dreamed of the future.
But Abigail could not know that a catastrophe loomed, and this event would change the course of many lives for ever…
The Last Night is the kind of novel that I absolutely love. Two women connected across time with lives and experiences that you are equally drawn to and whose stories you can move between effortlessly. Cesca writes Irina and Abigail so convincingly that you really feel that you’ve spent time in their worlds, making it very hard to pull yourself away. It’s a novel made for long autumn afternoons and I got lost in it in my half-term break in gorgeous Perthshire this year.
Irina – our ‘modern-day’ character – is a woman with lots going on beneath the surface. Her life, in a small shop as an antique furniture restorer, has been created as a hiding place for her to keep her secrets close and escape any unwanted attention that her disfigurement may cause. She has deliberately cut herself off from personal relationships and her isolation draws us into her world whilst holding us at arms length too, which Irina does to everyone – even her own mother. The secrecy is such a fantastic technique to draw us closer to Irina; I found myself watching her every movement to see if I could catch a glimpse of whatever she was hiding. Her physical scars hint at the emotional damage that metaphorically scars her and Cesca skilfully leaves us to guess about the accident and speculate about the roots of her emotional withdrawal without alienating us from Irina herself – a very clever method of keeping us connected to her.
Irina’s obsessive self-control over her world is up-ended by the arrival of an antique bureau which spells the beginning of some very mysterious goings-on. This part too, is convincingly conveyed – without being over the top or stretching our belief in Irina’s story. Irina’s journey to unravel the secret that’s been locked away for 60 years is a fascinating and unputdownable one which really brings the setting to life and allowed me to lose myself in its twists and turns whilst remaining wholly connected to Irina and her secrets.
Abigail’s story – set in 1952 – is a successful counterpoint that didn’t jar with or distract from Irina’s tale. I often find that dual narratives can result in you flicking forward to the one that you found more engaging. Not so here. There was a pleasing balance of the past and present and both characters were so well-drawn that I felt like I knew them both and wanted to dedicate my attention to the way their stories interconnected, rather than feeling that one overwhelmed the other. The post-war setting is an interesting juxtaposition to Irina’s world, and I soon lost myself reading about Abigail’s life with her sister Connie after her mother’s death.
Abigail is at first seduced by the glamorous life that Connie seems to lead with her husband – the wonderfully vile Larry:
‘The four-poster bed with a canopy stood imposingly in the centre of the room…it took Abigail’s breath from her.’
Although this is a total contrast with the penury that Abigail is used to, she soon senses that all that glisters is not gold and her sister’s marriage is not as enviable as it first appeared. When things begin to unravel, Abigail’s own pursuit of happiness could be the one thing to destroy everything that she’s dreamt of: tragedy looms after she falls in love with a handsome local fisherman and I was swept up in the shocking and evocative consequences
The atmosphere of secrecy and drama is perfectly maintained throughout this wonderful novel; the setting of Lynmouth and its real-life flood in 1952 was something that I wanted to read more about as soon as I’d finished reading The Last Night. Cesca manages, just as she did in The Silent Hours, to make the setting as compelling and ‘present’ as her two main characters. Even though I was reading it in Scotland in November, I felt Devon come to life as I walked in the footsteps of these characters and experienced their poignant stories
Cesca Major is such a talented voice. She draws the reader into her characters’ worlds and makes them live for us as we read. Irina and Abigail’s tales are all the more powerful due to their connections with real-life events. I was happily engrossed in my Devon research – and looking through North Devon Air BandB rentals in a post-reading haze – for a whole afternoon after reading it.
This gorgeous book took pride of place in my very own ‘TBR Bookshelf’ and looked so tempting in my #OnTheShelfie that I devoured it in a single day.
Now I’m just waiting on her next one…
Author On The Shelf:
Cesca’s first real writing success came when she was Runner Up in the 2005 annual Daily Mail Writing Competition. She has won, or been placed, in some prestigious short story competitions since then including the annual competitions for: Women and Home, Wells Festival of Literature, Grace Dieu and has also had short stories published in the Sentinel Champion and Sunday People Magazine.
She has written two novels based on real events.
Her debut THE SILENT HOURS was published by Atlantic Books in 2015 and THE LAST NIGHT is out this month.
Thank you to the lovely people at Corvus for allowing me to read and review this book.
It’s definitely going in a few stockings this year; I couldn’t recommend it highly enough.
Purchase Link : The Last Night
Website : Cesca Major
Twitter : @CescaWrites
BookBlogger always sounded so ‘official’…
I’ve always loved books. I’ve followed lots of Bookbloggers for a long time – enjoying their recommendations and insights into the latest must-reads and hidden treasures that they’ve shared. But I never considered myself as an actual Bookblogger. Until now…
I’ve been blogging on @Netgalley for a while now as an Educator. I enjoyed keeping up with what my pupils might be reading and reviewing on there was a lot of fun. But those of you who use Netgalley know, it’s like crack cocaine for a bibliophile and I was constantly tempted by the latest releases and their beautiful jackets calling my name. So I’ve done it. I’ve watched a few @Wordpress tutorials and I’m diving in.
Thanks to the lovely Bookblogging and publishing community on Twitter this hasn’t been too daunting. It’s honestly been so welcoming and exciting to be included in such a diverse, interesting and eclectic gang. It’s fantastic to be able to communicate directly with the writers you’re reading and share your thoughts and ideas in such a dynamic space.
@OnTheShelfBooks takes its name from the way that I always display my latest book purchases on the ‘Bookshelf’ or ‘Shrine’ as Mr OnTheShelf – my husband – has nicknamed it. It takes pride of place in my living room and is a daily visual reminder of the next treat in store. Less a TBR pile, more a Virtual Bookshop Window in my own front room.
It’s been very exciting to put my two #Bookmail deliveries up as I’ve received two review copies from lovely publishing people this week during half-term. I’m an English teacher by day (but don’t let that put you off…)
Yesterday’s post was from @Canongate. I was beyond excited that such an amazing publisher that I’ve been such a huge fan of for years was sending me a book to review. It was also very exciting to have a conversation via Twitter with the lovely @JessKiddHerself about my reading nook blending in with her beautiful book jacket. I am so engrossed in #HIMSELF that I could barely tear myself away to type up these few words…
Today, I was just as excited to receive a package from the lovely people at @CorvusBooks containing The Last Night by @CescaWrites. I loved ‘The Silent Hours’ and I’m so excited to indulge myself during the rest of half term reading these fabulous books
The books I love most take situations and make them real. I have a real predilection for historical, dramatic novels and I’m a sucker for anything inspired by real events or characters. I almost always go off, after finishing a novel, to do a sort of ‘backwards research’ into the time period, background, characters and newspapers of the time. I can get lost for days down virtual rabbit warrens and it does lead to many unforgettable ‘non sequiteurs’ at the dining table as the family are enjoying their tea.
I live in Scotland and am passionate about Scottish writing and try and champion it as much as possible. I also feel that we Scots are ‘Citizens of the World’ in our outlook and that makes me want to read about as many different places and periods as possible too.
I hope that I haven’t gone on for far too long in my first post. I’ll sign off by giving a #Shoutout to all of the people who have been so welcoming to me in my baby steps as a ‘Rookie Bookblogger’
@GMacraeBurnet and @SarabandBooks for replying to my tweets about #HisBloodyProject and making me think I could do it!
@francescamain and @flintwrites for being so lovely about my #LittleDeaths obsession
@portybelle for welcoming me so kindly to join her at the Edinburgh Authors & Bloggers. I hope I can make it along in November and get some tips from some ‘real’ Bloggers…
@Beckyh1712 from @TransworldBooks for being so kind to such a novice and promising to send me a #BloggerEdition of ‘What Alice Knew’ by T.A. Cottrell
@VictoriaGoldma2 and @EmilyKitchin for taking time out of their very busy days to reply to me and making me feel included and welcome in the Bookblogging community
@Emily_BookPR for all her great tweets and promising me a copy of ‘What We Didn’t Say’. I really appreciate it as a Rookie…
@Anna_Mazz for making me smile so much at ‘Miss Vagia’ – and also see a nastier side to Twitter when she was forced to take it down – boo! I absolutely love her writing and have given ‘The Unseeing’ as a prezzie to at least five people. Her Mr Men tweet made my day 🙂
@Blackbird_Bks for sorting out my online copy of “Valentina”– which I’m really looking forward to reading; it looks right up my street.
@fluerr @Hodderbooks who is going to let me see if #TheRoanokeGirls is as tactile in real life as it is on my ipad screen
@damppebbles and @Thelastword1962 for being proper inspirational ‘actual bloggers’ and making me feel part of the community even after I got my tweet wrong the first time 😦
Sam @Bookgig for liking my use of ‘Clamjamfrae’ and appreciating my links about Scottish bookish events
The real ‘Jill’ @JillsBookCafe for our Mariella & Graham Norton chat
And last but not least, the lovely Karen Sullivan from @OrendaBooks for chatting with us on Twitter about her publications and promising to send me some very exciting #Bookmail,it looks like she’s had an amazing time in Frankfurt.
Lots of reviews percolating. Can’t wait to properly begin my Blogging journey as a real reviewer. Thanks so much to everyone who has made my first week as a blogger so welcoming, fun and exciting.
Reviews Coming Soon: