Published by Corvus
Available in ebook (7 March 2019)
My thanks to Anne Cater of Random Things Tours for the invitation to take part in the tour. I really wanted to read this but just couldn’t fit in a review in time so for my turn, I have a guest post from the author.
About the Book
Sometimes friendship can be murder…
It’s the weekend of Clarisse’s bridal party, a trip the girls have all been looking forward to. Then, on the day of their flight, Tamsyn, the maid of honour, suddenly backs out. Upset and confused, they try to make the most of the stunning, isolated seaside house they find themselves in.
But, there is a surprise in store – Tamsyn has organised a murder mystery, a sinister game in which they must discover a killer in their midst. As tensions quickly boil over, it becomes clear to them all that there are some secrets that won’t stay buried…
WINNER OF THE DEVIANT MINDS CRIME THRILLER PRIZE 2018
Blood and Thunder Tales: The Power of Psychological Thrillers
I have a confession: I don’t like Little Women.
I realise how sacrilegious this is. I also realise that so little classic literature explores the experience of girlhood, while there are many coming-of-age tales for boys. I am also aware that some chapters carry an emotional power that few books that can match.
But the fact of the matter is that I prefer Alcott when she’s not trying so hard.
For the past year, I’ve become more and more fascinated with what Alcott dismissively called her ‘blood and thunder tales’. For those of you who aren’t in the know, Louisa May Alcott spent a long time publishing horror stories and psychological thrillers under the pseudonym of A.M Bernard. Just like Jo publishing ‘sensation’ stories in Little Women, Alcott went to genre to compliment her literary output. She wrote tales of murder, deception…even mummies. And I’m slightly embarrassed to say that I would take many of them over Little Women.
My favourite is called Under the Mask: A Woman’s Power, and it explores some of the themes of Little Women without any of the didactic moralism or bizarre about-turns in tone and message. It explores the place of women in family units and class structures, but does so in a deliciously perverse narrative where a governess seduces and manipulates all the members of a family in order to climb the social ladder.
When I read this novella, I realised that I was not only enjoying the narrative more than Little Women— after all, it has the kind of propulsive, mysterious plot which is to my taste. I was also engaging with the themes in a more meaningful way. I found myself thinking about the main character weeks after I’d finished the book: I wondered long and hard about how gender affects social mobility, and how that served as her motivation in the novel. What was on the surface a pretty ludicrous story had succeeded in doing what the ‘literary’ genre was supposed to do— making me contemplate certain realities about the world we live in.
Some see this as just a sweetening-of-the-deal kind of scenario: that you’re more receptive to explore subtext when you’ve opened itself up to the delights of an engaging plots and characters. This is akin to what the film industry does with message-smuggling, whereby a blockbuster like Avatar is supposedly a vehicle to put forward a pro-eco message.
But while I feel that this idea holds true for many pieces, it can also be a misleading way to think about genre. Behind a Mask isn’t a thriller which disguises its thematic content about femininity. It is a thriller about femininity. It’s not subtext; it’s text. And Alcott writes powerfully about the subject because of the genre underpinnings rather than in spite of it.
What I love about psychological thrillers is that, at the core, they simple exaggerate hidden truths. They look at our world, our relationships, our emotions, and examine what’s broken. Books like Gone Girl and Rebecca start with the anxieties we have about our relationships and push them to the point where bodies start to hit the floor. In this way, these genre tales are not merely smuggling truths into genre thrills: the thrills are entirely reliant on the truths to actually function. It is their starting point, rather than an added extra.
When writing my own thriller, I started with a premise, a hook. But I also knew that I had to take something familiar to give the premise some meat, and decided to focus at friendships, and how toxic they can become. I didn’t regard it as a theme or subtext; very few writers are that pretentious, in my experience! I just saw it as a crucial part of the genre in which I was writing.
It’s what I love about the psychological thriller: that no matter how overblown or bloody it becomes…it’s still close to home. Alcott may have called them ‘blood and thunder tales’, but they can be as intimate as anything on the ‘Literary Fiction’ shelf.
About the Author
J G Murray is the winner of the 2018 Deviant Minds Prize and the author of the upcoming psychological thriller The Bridal Party.
He studied Creative Writing at Warwick University and has lived in Brussels, Bangkok and London. He has won numerous prizes for his short fiction and published stories in a number of publications. Most recently, Julian contributed to the 24 Stories Anthology, a book raising money for the victims of Grenfell featuring authors such as Irvine Welsh, Chris Brookmyre and AL Kennedy.