#BookReview #Q&A House of Tigers by William Burton McCormick

Today’s guest on What Cathy Read Next is author William Burton McCormick. You can read my review of his latest book, House of Tigers, below. But first let’s see what questions William drew at random when he took part in my “Lucky Dip Q&A” by picking five numbers between 1 and 30.

Q. If you could write a sequel or prequel to any book (excluding your own) what would you choose?
I’d like to write a prequel to Moby Dick and see how Captain Ahab lost that leg to the White Whale.  And how it drove him mad.

Q. How would you summarise your book in the form of a haiku?
A. Dreadful summertime
Siberia, mosquito swarms
Finding the killer

Q. Do you always know how your book will end when you start writing?
I changed the ending of my debut novel, Lenin’s Harem, but in the last three I’ve known from the start.  I try to adhere to the advice R.L. Stine gave at a thriller writers’ conference: “Get a good title and a good ending and fill in from there.”

Q. What is your favourite opening line from one of your books?
I’d say it was from the current book, House of Tigers. “The mosquito swarms, black, undulating, and infinite, stretched horizon to horizon over the Siberian wilderness.”

Q. What is the longest time you’ve spent writing a book – and the shortest?
My debut novel, Lenin’s Harem, took two and a half years from all the research required, plus a good eight months to re-draft before submitting to publishers. The shortest was House of Tigers which took about two months (written during the tail end of the pandemic when there was nowhere to go).

Q. How did you choose your numbers?
They represent digits used in certain passwords.  Hackers, get to work!

I love the answer to that last question and well done, William, for tackling the second one!

House of TigersAbout the Book

Ilya Dudnyk, a corrupt but romantic Russian police inspector, is trapped inside his oligarch employer’s Siberian mansion with an unknown killer, a duplicitous Latvian journalist chained to his arm, and an apocalyptic insect plague raging for hundreds of kilometres beyond the smoke barriers and barricaded windows.

Can Ilya track down the killer before he is the next victim? Or will the endless swarms find a way inside and all are consumed by a hundred trillion ravenous, blood-sucking mosquitoes?

Format: ebook                                  Publisher: Wildside Press
Publication date: 26th August 2022 Genre: Mystery

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My Review

As I discovered when I read his previous book, A Stranger from the Storm, you can rely on the author to come up with something just a little bit different. I think we can safely say a story involving a group of people confined in a Siberian mansion with a swarm of deadly blood-sucking insects outside satisfies  that description.

The members of the Aristov family are gathered to hear about the will of their father, the wealthy but ailing Konstantin who has made part of his fortune from the animals who give the book its title. Much in the manner of Shakespeare’s King Lear, Konstantin is unwilling to divide his empire and has devised a test of loyalty with the winner taking all. ‘Konstantin, the king, was mad. Narcissistic, monomaniacal, paranoid. But still the king.’ 

What follows is like some macabre game of Cluedo in which the library, billiard room and ballroom of the board game are replaced by monk’s cell, bathhouse and tiger pit. The task of working out what’s going on falls to Ilya Dudnyk, a Russian police inspector who also moonlights as Konstantin’s ‘fixer’.

The shady goings-on are enlivened with moments of humour, such as the teasing banter between Ilya and Latvian journalist, Santa Ezerina (who featured in the author’s story, ‘Demon in the Depths). The latter will go to any lengths to get a story.

House of Tigers is a locked room mystery with nods to everything from Daphne du Maurier’s story The Birds to the film Night of the Living Dead, but still has classic elements such as a denoument which sees all the suspects gathered together in the library for the final reveal. An epilogue provides a ‘what happened next’ with the surviving characters; it’s a mixture of just desserts and lucky breaks.

House of Tigers is a quirky and highly entertaining mystery.

In three words: Intriguing, imaginative, witty

Try something similar: The Masque of the Red Death by Edgar Allen Poe

William Burton McCormickAbout the Author

William Burton McCormick is a Shamus, Thriller, Derringer, and Claymore awards finalist.  His Santa Ezerina novella ‘Demon in the Depths’ was voted second place in Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine’s 2021 Readers Poll. He is the author of the thrillers A Stranger from the Storm and KGB Banker, and the historical novel of the Baltic Republics, Lenin’s Harim. William has lived in seven countries including the Russian Federation, the setting of House of Tigers.

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#BlogTour #BookReview The Companion by Lesley Thomson @AriesFiction

The Companion blog tour FINALWelcome to the final day of the blog tour for The Companion by Lesley Thomson. My thanks to Sophie at Ransom PR for inviting me to take part in the tour and to Head of Zeus for my review copy.

The CompanionAbout the Book

James Ritchie was looking forward to a boys’ day out with his son, Wilbur – even if he was a little late picking him up from the home of his ex-wife, Anna. Annoyed by his late arrival, and competing for their son’s attention, Anna leaves the two of them to their day with the promise of a roast dinner when Wilbur returns.

But Anna will never see her family again. That afternoon, James and Wilbur are found dead, the victims of a double stabbing on the beach.

DI Toni Kemp, of Sussex police, must unravel a case which has shocked the county to its core..What she discovers will lead her to Blacklock House, a grand country mansion, long ago converted into flats..Here in the middle of nowhere, where a peacock struts the lawn, and a fountain plays intermittently, seven long-term residents have seen more than they should.

But this is a community who are good at keeping secrets…

Format: Hardback (400 pages)    Publisher: Aries
Publication date: 9th June 2022 Genre: Crime

Find The Companion on Goodreads

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Hive | Amazon UK
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My Review

In the Acknowledgments, Lesley Thomson writes that she loves to curl up with a country-house murder mystery and so, following her own advice to her creative writing students that they write the book they’d like to read themselves, she decided to write her own version of a country-house murder mystery.

The book features a diverse cast of characters to whom the reader is introduced in short order, much in the manner of the beginning of an Agatha Christie novel such as Death on the Nile or Murder on the Orient Express. Christie fans will take pleasure in spotting a few subtle references to her novels, such as the choice of Blacklock as the name of the mansion around which much of the action centres. There are also the tried and tested elements of a classic crime novel such as a gathering of all the suspects towards the end of the book (in the library, no less). Given Elly Griffiths’ cover quote describing the book as ‘like the best of Barbara Vine and Agatha Christie’, I also loved that one of the characters (whose first name is Barbara) has a cat named Rendell.

The police procedural elements of the book are very much of the here and now, as are some of the social issues explored in the book: the proliferation of social media, loneliness, drug dependency and the targeting of the elderly and vulnerable.  You didn’t get characters in an Agatha Christie novel posting selfies on Facebook or possessing a burner phone!

When it comes to crafting the plot of a murder mystery the author knows her stuff, laying false trails, slipping in red herrings and generally leading readers up the garden path so that, like me, you’ll probably have suspected just about everyone of being the culprit by the end of the book – even Molly the owl.  I wasn’t completely sure a killer who includes children amongst their victims quite fitted with the kind of crime you associate with an Agatha Christie novel, but then of course we’re in the present day, not the 1920s and 1930s.

The Companion is a neat homage to the classic country-house murder mystery but brought bang up to date.

In three words: Intriguing, clever, absorbing

Try something similar: Snow by John Banville

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Lesley_ThomsonAbout the Author

Lesley Thomson grew up in West London. Her first novel, A Kind of Vanishing, won The People’s Book Prize in 2010. Her second novel, The Detective’s Daughter, was a #1 bestseller and the resulting series has sold over 850,000 copies. Lesley divides her time between Sussex and Gloucestershire. She lives with her partner and her dog.

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