#BlogTour #BookReview Sometimes People Die by Simon Stephenson

Sometimes People Die Blog Tour Banner Week 2-2Welcome to today’s stop on the blog tour for Sometimes People Die by Simon Stephenson. My thanks to Sofia at Midas PR for inviting me to take part in the tour and for my digital review copy. Do check out the posts by my tour buddies for today, Joanna at Over The Rainbow Book Blog and Amanda at Ginger Book Geek.

Sometimes People DieAbout the Book

The year is 1999. Returning to practice after a suspension for stealing opioids, a young Scottish doctor takes the only job he can find: a post as a senior house officer in the struggling east London hospital of St Luke’s.

Amid the maelstrom of sick patients, over-worked staff and underfunded wards a darker secret soon declares itself: too many patients are dying.

Which of the medical professionals our protagonist has encountered is behind the murders? And can our unnamed narrator’s version of the events be trusted?

Format: Hardback (368 pages)             Publisher: The Borough Press
Publication date: 1st September 2022 Genre: Crime, Thriller

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My Review

I really enjoyed this fascinating mix of medical memoir, with its realistic insight into the challenges of being a junior doctor in a busy hospital, and intriguing murder mystery. I suspect anyone who has ever worked in a hospital setting will recognise the long hours, the exhausting night shifts, the challenge of scarce resources, the neverending paperwork and the snatched meal breaks depicted by the author.  And, of course, the life and death decisions junior doctors are required to make, often in a state of near exhaustion. Those in the medical profession will no doubt also be impressed by the level of detail of diagnostic techniques, medical interventions and drug regimes, something that could surely only come from someone with the author’s background.

The voice of the unnamed narrator is sardonic, cynical and displays the black humour that is often a prequisite for getting through the day, for processing the traumatic things witnessed day in and day out, and coming to terms with the fact that despite best efforts ‘sometimes people die’. Having said that there’s also lot of gentle humour. For example, the ‘granny-dumping’ that occurs on Fridays preceding a summer bank holiday weekend, our narrator’s sessions with his narcoleptic CBT therapist or the medical examination case study that turns out to be a little difficult.

Our narrator is unsparing when it comes to admitting his own weaknesses, meaning the reader never loses sympathy with him even during his most serious lapses and expecially when he finds himself under suspicion of involvement in what turns out to be a case of murder. His compassion and dedication to his patients is never in doubt, unless of course you agree with the detectives assigned to the case that’s he’s the obvious culprit. I particularly loved his friendship with the affable George whose offer of a room allows him to escape from his previous accommodation, aka Stalag Motorsport.

For those beginning to think this sounds too much like a medical memoir, I can reassure you that at the heart of the book is an intriguing, cleverly constructed murder mystery with plenty of red herrings and false trails… or should that be debatable diagnoses and misleading symptoms. There are unexpected revelations akin to suddenly drawing back the cubicle curtains around a hospital bed and at one point a rather different form of intensive care. And I don’t think there are many books where a cactus and an articulated skeleton called Patrick play a significant role in the story, although I’m happy to be corrected on that.

Another thing I enjoyed about the book are the occasional sections that describe real life murderers who practiced medicine, from famous cases such as Dr. Crippen and Harold Shipman to less well-known ones. What’s surprising – or perhaps depressing is a better word – is how long in some cases it took for their crimes to be discovered, either through negligence or a kind of medical omerta.

I thoroughly enjoyed Sometimes People Die‘s blend of dark humour, skilfully constructed plot and convincing detail.

In three words: Clever, witty, intriguing

Simon StephensonAbout the Author

Simon Stephenson originally trained as a doctor and worked in Scotland and London. He previously wrote Let Not the Waves of the Sea, a memoir about the loss of his brother in the Indian ocean tsunami. It won Best First Book at the Scottish Book Awards, was a Book of the Week on BBC Radio 4, and a Daily Telegraph Book of the Year.

His first novel, Set My Heart to Five was a Bookseller Book of the Month and was described by the Daily Mail as ‘Funny, original and thought-provoking.’ It has been optioned by Working Title Films to be directed by Edgar Wright from Stephenson’s screenplay.

He currently lives in Los Angeles, in a house where a famous murder took place. As a screenwriter, he originated and wrote the Benedict Cumberbatch starrer The Electrical Life of Louis Wain and wrote the story for Pixar’s Luca. He also contributed to everybody’s favourite film, Paddington 2.

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#BookReview If We Were Villains by M. L. Rio

IfWeWereVillainsAbout the Book

Oliver Marks has just served ten years for a murder he may or may not have committed. On the day of his release, he is greeted by the detective who put him in prison. Detective Colborne is retiring, and he wants to know what really happened a decade before.

As a young actor at an elite conservatory, Oliver noticed that his talented classmates seem to play the same characters onstage and off – villain, hero, temptress – though he was always a supporting role. But when the teachers change the casting, a good-natured rivalry turns ugly, and the plays spill dangerously over into real life.

When tragedy strikes, one of the seven friends is found dead. The rest face their greatest acting challenge yet: convincing the police, and themselves, that they are blameless…

Format: Paperback (432 pages)    Publisher: Titan Books
Publication date: 13th June 2017 Genre: Crime

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My Review

The author is a devotee of Shakespeare and this certainly comes across in the book. For instance its title is a quote from King Lear. Not only do the fourth year drama students at Dellecher Classical Conservatory study and perform only the works of Shakespeare but the book is peppered with references to and quotations from the Bard’s plays. Indeed the students frequently converse in Shakespeare-like quotations. The book’s structure also mimics a theatrical format being divided into acts and scenes, each act starting with a prologue.

All the characters have flaws although Richard – ‘pure power, six foot three and carved from concrete’ – seems set up from the beginning as the villain of the piece.  There’s an interesting scene in which the students are forced by one of the course tutors to declare their strengths and weaknesses with unflinching honesty.

As the book progresses, the bonds of friendship become increasingly tested and are eventually broken altogether on one momentous night that is no A Midsummer Night’s Dream. The storyline incorporates all the elements of a Shakespearean tragedy: passion, ambition, duplicity, betrayal, revenge, even madness. ‘Actors are by nature volatile – alchemic creatures composed of incendiary elements, emotion and ego and envy. Heat them up, stir them together, and sometimes you get gold. Sometimes disaster.’ The modern world intrudes occasionally in the form of drink and drug fuelled parties that last well into the early hours.

Although I enjoyed If We Were Villains, by Act V I was beginning to experience a bit of Shakespeare overload which may have contributed to the sense that the book lacked pace. The obvious comparison is with Donna Tartt’s The Secret History but the enclosed and rather claustrophobic nature of Dellecher Classical Conservatory – described at one point as ‘less academic institution than cult’ – also reminded me a little of Caldonbrae Hall, the boarding school in Madam by Phoebe Wynne.

In three words: Atmospheric, intricate, dramatic

Try something similar: New Boy by Tracy Chevalier

M L RioAbout the Author

M. L. Rio was born in Miami and has just competed her MA in Shakespeare Studies at King’s College London. In 2016 she won a contest to stay in Hamlet’s Castle at Elsinore for the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death, where she was the first person to sleep in the castle in over 100 years. If We Were Villains is her debut novel.

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