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Keep Her Silent by Theresa Talbot (Oonagh o’Neill #2) @Theresa_Talbot @Aria_Fiction #KeepHerSilent


Source: Review copy

Publication: 21 August 2018 from Aria

Pp: 428

ISBN-13: 978-1788545334

Do that which is good and no evil shall touch you’ That was the note the so-called Raphael killer left on each of his victims. Everyone in Glasgow – investigative journalist Oonagh O’Neil included – remember the murder of three women in Glasgow which sent a wave of terror through the city. They also remember that he is still at large… When the police investigation into the Raphael killings reopens, Oonagh is given a tip off that leads her straight to the heart of a complex and deadly cover-up. When history starts to repeat itself, it seems the killer is closer than she thinks. Could Oonagh be the next target…?


Keep Her Silent is the follow up to The Lost Girls and we find Oonagh in 2002 and not yet wholly recovered from her ordeal as she investigated the brutal abuse in the Magdalen institutions run by the Catholic Church. Oonagh herself was savagely attacked and she has the scar to prove it – and  her good friend Father Tom has now left the church. Physically she is now fine, but her nerves are on edge, her judgement is a wee bit shoogly and she is finding it hard to get by even on a maximum dose of tranquilisers.

None of this, of course, is going to stop her from pursuing her career as a T.V. journalist.  Under pressure from her boss to share her programme development ideas and to give away some of her limelight, Oonagh claims to be quite a way down the road to developing a series on Women Who Kill. Now all she has to do is to make a start….

When she is given a tip off about a cold case and a previously uncovered scandal, she has no idea that it will lead her straight to Dorothy Malloy, a woman who has been in a mental institution for over 20 years for the savage murder of her husband and six year old son.  Dorothy’s mental state is fragile and no-one reading this book could fail to be appalled and horrified at some of the heart-breaking treatment she had to endure at the hands of her jailers.

Neither does Oonagh realise that this cold case will lead her deep into the details of a medical scandal of huge proportions which, to this day, has left relatives grieving and seeking answers.

D.I. Alec Davies has also been told by his boss to investigate a cold case. In 1975 the ‘Raphael‘ killer murdered three young women, leaving biblical messages with their bodies, and then disappeared. Now a woman is insisting her dead father is the killer.

Though they do not know it, Oonagh and Alec are working on parallel lines of enquiry and it soon becomes clear that they are embroiled in a cover up of a scandal of massive proportions. The details of the contaminated blood scandal are factual and Talbot demonstrates just how terrible the impact was on families.

This is a chilling story, made more so for its basis in fact and Theresa Talbot has created a spine tingling story that is full of corruption, malfeasance and murder. This story twists and turns but as a balance to the darkness, there is a frequent spark of humour in some of Oonagh’s banter that helps to leaven the dread.

With a layered and complex plot, Talbot pulls all the strands together for a surprising and horrifying denouement .

Verdict: an utterly fascinating plot line, rooted in fact, that will keep you interested all through the book.



About Theresa Talbot  

theresa talbot

Theresa Talbot is a BBC broadcaster and freelance producer. A former radio news editor, she also hosted The Beechgrove Potting Shed on BBC Radio Scotland, but for many she will be most familiar as the voice of the station’s Traffic & Travel. Late 2014 saw the publication of her first book, This Is What I Look Like, a humorous memoir covering everything from working with Andy Williams to rescuing chickens and discovering nuns hidden in gardens. She’s much in demand at book festivals, both as an author and as a chairperson. Penance, later published as The Lost Children was Theresa’s debut crime novel.

Follow Theresa on Twitter @Theresa_Talbot

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The Gravedigger’s Bread by Frédéric Dard trsl by Melanie Florence @PushkinPress

Source: Netgalley

Publication: 28 June 2018 from Pushkin Vertigo


ISBN-13: 978-1782272014

Blaise should never have hung around in that charmless little provincial town. The job offer that attracted him the first place had failed to materialize. He should have got on the first train back to Paris, but Fate decided otherwise.

A chance encounter with a beautiful blonde in the town post-office and Blaise is hooked – he realizes he’ll do anything to stay by her side, and soon finds himself working for her husband, a funeral director. But the tension in this strange love triangle begins to mount, and eventually results in a highly unorthodox burial…

I love this Pushkin Press venture in which they republish newly translated works of some of the greatest, most iconic crime fiction from around the world together with Pushkin Vertigo Originals which are exciting contemporary crime writing by some of today’s most accomplished authors.

Frédéric Dard is the master of French Noir and a great respecter of Simenon. The Gravedigger’s Bread is not a long novel, but it is beautifully written and wonderfully atmospheric.

Blaise is a bit of a wastrel. He’s been pushed into applying for a salesman’s job in a rubber factory in a small town outside Paris, but it is of no surprise to himself, or we suspect, anyone else that when he turns up to the factory he is too late and the job has been filled.

Blaise has, what in Scotland we would term ‘a guid conceit of himself’.  Too worldly to be drawn into provincial living, he has an eye for a striking lady, so much so that when he sees a  beautiful blonde, he will not stop himself from finding out where she lives.

What follows is a beautifully drawn slice of 1950’s French noir. Set in and around a funeral parlour Dard presents us with a ménage a trois in which there can only be one outcome.

Arrogant, cocky and just the tiniest bit insufferable, Blaise uses his masculinity to persuade the blonde that he is the right man for her, despite the fact that he has accepted a job with her husband.  There are interesting facets to all three of the characters and though they are all flawed, it is possible for the reader to find empathy with them all at different times.

.Tightly plotted, well executed and full of darkness in both the setting and the mood The Gravedigger’s Bread is a tense and oppressive domestic noir.

Verdict: A tale of lust, obsession and lies, this is a gem of a book which plays with human psychology and draws us into its claustrophobic heart,

Amazon                                            Waterstones

About Frédéric Dard

frederic dard

Frédéric Dard (1921-2000) was one of the best known and loved French crime writers of the twentieth century. Enormously prolific, he wrote hundreds of thrillers, suspense stories, plays and screenplays throughout his long and illustrious career.

As one of France’s most popular post-war thriller writers, it may come as no surprise that Dard’s own life was itself full of interesting facts and events.

As one of the most prolific French writers of the post-war era, Dard authored 284 thrillers over the course of his career and sold over 200 million copies of his work in France alone. The actual number of titles that can be attributed to him is somewhat under dispute as he adopted at least seventeen noms de plume, including the mysterious l’Ange Noir and the seemingly breakfast cereal inspired Cornel Milk.

One of Dard’s greatest influences was the renowned crime writer Georges Simenon. Over the course of Dard’s career, a mutual respect grew between the two writers and Simenon agreed to let Dard adapt one of his books for the stage.

Dard peppered his work with the numerous words and phrases that he loved to invent. Over the course of his career, he dreamt up so many new words and phrases that a San-Antonio Dictionary – named after his most famous protagonist – was created to catalogue them all.

Dard drew heavily on his own life’s experiences for inspiration to fuel his enormous output of three to five novels a year. In 1983, his daughter was kidnapped and held prisoner for 55 hours before being ransomed back to him for two million francs; he admitted that the experience traumatised him forever, but he used it as material for a later novel nonetheless. Toward the end of his life, he is reported to have remarked that his only regret was that he would not be able to write about his own death.

The Ruin by Dervla McTiernan @DervlaMcTiernan @LittleBrown


Source: Netgalley

Publication: 6 September 2018 from Sphere

Pp: 400

ISBN-13: 978-0751569315


Cormac Reilly is about to re-open the case it took him twenty years to forget

On his first week on the job, Garda Cormac Reilly responds to a call at a decrepit country house to find two silent, neglected children waiting for him – fifteen-year-old Maude and five-year-old Jack. Their mother lies dead upstairs.

Twenty years later, Cormac has left his high-flying career as a detective in Dublin and returned to Galway. As he struggles to navigate the politics of a new police station, Maude and Jack return to haunt him.

What ties a recent suicide to the woman’s death so long ago? And who among his new colleagues can Cormac really trust?

Happy paperback publishing day to Dervla McTiernan.

Rúin is old Irish for secret, and this is a book full of secrets. Our protagonist is Cormac Reilly, a D.I. in the Gardaí.  Cormac has been stationed in Dublin and doing very well but has just moved to Galway in order to be with his partner, Emma, who has just taken on an important new job.

He isn’t settling in too well, though. The rest of the station staff aren’t exactly wowed by the new broom from Dublin and the only person he knows at work is being ignored by everyone. To top it off, all his work so far is on cold cases – hardly the glory bit of the job.

When he was a Dublin rookie, Cormac was sent out to a call at the  Dower House in the small village of Kilmore. What he saw there has haunted him ever since. Scenes of neglect and abuse, drugs and alcohol use and 2 young children; Maude who is 15 and Jack is 5 years old. Their mother, Hilaria Blake lies dead upstairs of a heroin overdose.

Cormac took the children to the hospital but Maude later disappeared, never to be found and Jack went into the foster care system. It’s the case that has stayed with him, never to be forgotten.

Jack grows up to be an engineer and when he is found drowned, the police accept it as suicide but his sister, Maud, recently returned from Australia, thinks differently. Maud talks Jack’s partner Aisling into helping her investigate his death.

Out of the blue, Cormac is asked to look into the death of Hilaria Blake as a cold case and soon finds himself under pressure to look at Maud as a suspect.

Something is clearly rotten, but it’s hard for Cormac to know who he can trust. As the past and present begin to throw up their secrets, Cormac will find he is is the object of gossip and speculation and that this may be the case that will bring his career to a grinding halt.

This is a really cracking start to a new series. I was immersed in McTiernan’s well developed storytelling. Her plot is complex and multi-layered and her characterisation excellent.

The story takes a while to give up its background, but once it does, the pace and tension really get the heart racing. Cormac is a great character and I can’t wait for more from him.


Verdict: Great characters, a heart–stopping and sometimes heart-breaking read.

Amazon                                                 Waterstones


About Dervla McTiernan


Dervla McTiernan’s debut novel The Rúin sold in a six-way auction in Australia, and has since sold to the United States, the UK and Ireland, and Germany.

Dervla was born in County Cork, Ireland to a family of seven.

She studied corporate law at the National University of Ireland, Galway and the Law Society of Ireland, and practised as a lawyer for twelve years. Following the global financial crisis she moved with her family to Western Australia, where she now lives with her husband and two children.

In 2015 she submitted a story for the Sisters in Crime Scarlet Stiletto competition and was shortlisted. This gave her the confidence to complete the novel that would become The Rúin, which will be published in 2018 in Australia, New Zealand, the United States, Canada, Germany, the United Kingdom and Ireland.

Follow Dervla on Twitter @DervlaMcTiernan

The Night She Died by Jenny Blackhurst @JennyBlackhurst @AnneCater @Jenniferleech1 #NightSheDied

Source: Review copy

Publication: 6th September 2018 in e-book from Headline

Pp: 368

ISBN-13: 978-1472253736

On her own wedding night, beautiful and complicated Evie White leaps off a cliff to her death.

What drove her to commit this terrible act? It’s left to her best friend and her husband to unravel the sinister mystery.

Following a twisted trail of clues leading to Evie’s darkest secrets, they begin to realize they never knew the real Evie at all…

This is the story of Rebecca and Evie and how well you know your best friend. Told in short chapters, the story moves between past and present tense and between Rebecca and Evie. Rebecca’s story is a first person narrative, Evie is 3rd person.

Because the chapters are so short, it is always easy to know where you are in the story line and whose chapter it is.

Rebecca is the plainer one, more homely, and as loyal as any golden retriever. Evie is quixotic, beautiful and a bit wild, but she has chosen Rebecca as her friend and the two are as close as can be.

As the book opens a young woman is standing on a cliff top wearing her wedding dress and then she throws herself off the cliff down to the sea and the rocks below. What has led Evie to this tragic point? Her bridegroom Richard is distraught, as is her best friend Rebecca.

What led Evie to this point is dealt with in a series of flashbacks, showing us Evie’s childhood, her meeting with Rebecca at university and how they became friends. We learn quite a lot about Evie’s home life and why she is quite so insecure.

This helps us to understand who she is and what she has gone through. But just when you think you have a grasp of what is going on, Blackhurst changes things up and leads your mind in a different direction. This is a book that twists and turns until you are no longer sure what the answers are.

The characters are well drawn if not always likeable, and the drama is kept pacy and with loads of tension. This is a devious plot line with a dark edge that will keep you guessing.

I enjoyed this book and read it pretty much in one sitting, though I did eventually work out what was going on.

Verdict: Perfect holiday reading for lovers of psychological thrillers full of secrets.

Amazon                                        Waterstones

About Jenny Blackhurst

Jenny Blackhurst Author Pic

Jenny Blackhurst grew up in Shropshire where she still lives with her husband and children. Growing up she spent hours reading and talking about crime novels – writing her own seemed like natural progression. Inspired by the emotions she felt around her own son’s birth, How I Lost You was Jenny’s thrilling debut crime novel and The Night She Died is her 4th crime thriller.

Follow Jenny on Twitter @JennyBlackhurst

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Books I Wish I had Written by Gary Raymond author of The Golden Orphans #guestpost @GaryRaymond

It is my great pleasure to welcome Gary Raymond on to Live and Deadly today.


Gary Raymond is a novelist, critic, editor and broadcaster. He is one of the founding editors of Wales Arts Review, and has been editor since 2014. He is the author of two novels, The Golden Orphans (Parthian, 2018) and For Those Who Come After (Parthian, 2015). He is a widely published critic and cultural commentator, and is the presenter of BBC Radio Wales’ The Review Show.

His most recent book, The Golden Orphans, has been described as: ‘A sharp, pacy novel that has all the best hallmarks of the literary thriller…’ Patrick McGuiness

Within the dark heart of an abandoned city, on an island once torn by betrayal and war, lies a terrible secret…Francis Benthem is a successful artist; he’s created a new life on an island in the sun. He works all night, painting the dreams of his mysterious Russian benefactor, Illy Prostakov. He writes letters to old friends and students back in cold, far away London. But now Francis Benthem is found dead. The funeral is planned and his old friend from art school arrives to finish what Benthem had started. The painting of dreams on a faraway island. But you can also paint nightmares and Illy has secrets of his own that are not ready for the light. Of promises made and broken, betrayal and murder…

The Golden Orphans offers a new twist on the literary thriller.

Sounds absolutely fascinating and is already on my must read list.

I asked Gary to talk about the 10 books he wishes he had written and why.

The Talented Mr Ripley by Patricia Highsmith


I think most writers dream of creating a character that endures in the public consciousness, and if you can create a recurring character, one who you can watch grow and develop over time, that is even more rewarding for both writer and reader. With Tom Ripley, though, what endures is his darkness, his evil, as well as his charm. Highsmith was perhaps the greatest psychological thriller writer of the twentieth century, and Ripley was her greatest and most terrible gift to the world.

“Don’t Look Now” by Daphne Du Maurier


I think all good writers should deviate from the rules, and so I immediately go to a short story next instead of a novel. I love Daphne Du Maurier, and I think the short story on which the classic Nicholas Roeg horror movie is based is a superb little curio. But why do I wish I’d written it? That last line. My favourite last line in all of literature. And I won’t spoil it, if you haven’t read it, by telling you what it is.

Berg by Ann Quin


There are so many gripping twentieth century novels about disturbed young men doing terrible things that it takes some doing to rise above the crop. There was no writer around like Quin in the sixties and early seventies, certainly not in the English language anyway, and she seems to be coming from a different place. And of course in Berg she has one of the great opening lines in all literature. Again I won’t spoil it if you don’t know it, but if you ever sit in a class where the tutor discusses great opening lines, and s/he doesn’t mention this one, just get your things and walk out.

The Power and the Glory by Graham Greene


A novel about faith, and betrayal, and doubt, and human frailty, all wrapped up in the dirt and dust of a Mexican chase narrative. To a certain extent, my goal in life from now on is to capture something of what Greene did with this book. A page-turner that simultaneously manages to discuss in precise terms what is means to have a relationship with god and your fellow human.

On the Black Hill by Bruce Chatwin


I’m Welsh, and this is my favourite novel about Wales (thousands of my countryfolk spit in horror). Chatwin was a mercurial character, but I do think this is his most complete work, and I think in many ways it’s a perfect novel, part realist, part parable.

Humboldt’s Gift by Saul Bellow


I think Bellow was the greatest novelist of the twentieth century, and I would like to have written any of his books, to be honest. But Humboldt’s Gift is the book that has got me through a great many difficulties as a writer, and I still go to it regularly, open it to a random page, like charging a battery. As a stylist he has that perfect swagger between big idea intellectual and street hustler. As a structuralist he can take a light dinner date and make it stretch from the Big Bang to the distant mists of the future.

Rougon-Macquart Sequence by Emile Zola


Again, not a novel, but a sequence of twenty novels, from France’s great chronicler of the working class experience. I haven’t read them all, but it’s an on-going project to read them in order, after having read Germinal (the ninth, I think) in university. I admire ambition in a novelist as much as anything else, and I love that Zola had the vision to do this, to dedicate his own life to a sequence. Incredible.

Three Men in a Boat by Jerome K Jerome


The funniest book I’ve ever read – laugh out loud, embarrass yourself on public transport funny. I have an idea in my notebooks for a comic novel, taking inspiration from my travels in India over the last couple of years, and I would never get far away from this book were I ever to sit down and write it.

Some Do Not… by Ford Maddox Ford


The first instalment of Ford’s tetralogy Parade’s End, perhaps the greatest prose work about the Great War. But it’s also a great modernist work, and the way Ford moves through time is something that fascinated me for years from a craft point of view. The amount he manages to do in the opening sequence on the train, when Macmaster and Tietjens head for Rye, is astounding, almost like a magic trick.

2666 by Roberto Bolaño


Again, as I said, I get a bit swoony when I encounter a work of unfettered literary ambition, and one day I’d like to have the gumption to do something like 2666, with its swirling narrative, its jumps between mystery to philosophical novel, it’s sheer exuberant joy in the way it seems to have no reader in mind, just an idea. Bolaño was a genius, and for all of the things I just said about 2666, it is still “unputdownable”. And it has that 10 page sentence (or however long it is). I have deconstructed that so many times. How, and why does that work so well? What a writer!

My thanks to Gary for some fascinating literary choices and a couple of books there that I need to put on my TBR list.

If you are interested in The Golden Orphans,  published by Parthian Books  you can purchase it here: Amazon    Waterstones


Bloody Scotland, Scotland’s International Crime Writing Festival has today announced the finalists for the McIlvanney Prize for the Scottish Crime Book of the Year.

The winner will be presented at the opening reception of Bloody Scotland International Crime Writing Festival at The Church of the Holy Rude, Stirling on Friday 21 September at an already sold out event.


At 7.15pm the winner will lead a torchlight procession – open to the public – with Val McDermid and Denise Mina, on their way down to their event. The award recognises excellence in Scottish crime writing, includes a prize of £1000 and nationwide promotion in Waterstones.
A panel of judges including comedian and crime fan Susan Calman, writer Craig Sisterson and Guardian books writer, Alison Flood, today reveal the finalists for The McIlvanney Prize from a twelve strong longlist.


The finalists include New Zealand based author, Liam McIlvanney, the son of the man after whom the prize is named; Lin Anderson, a founder of Bloody Scotland and two former winners of the McIlvanney Prize – Chris Brookmyre and Charles Cumming.

The judges explained why each book made the final four:

Lin Anderson, Follow the Dead (Macmillan)  




One of Scotland’s long running series raises the bar even higher, a series which is constantly re-inventing itself without being formulaic. The judges praised the novel’s evocative atmospheric setting.

Chris Brookmyre, Places in the Darkness (Little, Brown)




Chris Brookmyre is creating his own genre of cosmic noir in a fully realised world.  A superlative off world thriller about real world issues

Charles Cumming, The Man Between (Harper Collins)




A fresh twist on the spy novel, taking the genre to a different dimension, deftly weaving political events into the story. A superb page turner in the best possible way.

Liam McIlvanney, The Quaker (Harper Collins)




In a crowded market, McIlvanney has created a protagonist who is fresh and distinctive.  He takes the familiar tropes and makes them extraordinary.   
Previous winners are Denise Mina with The Long Drop 2017, Chris Brookmyre with Black Widow 2016, Craig Russell with The Ghosts of Altona in 2015, Peter May with Entry Island in 2014, Malcolm Mackay with How A Gunman Says Goodbye in 2013 and Charles Cumming with A Foreign Country in 2012. The 2018 winner will be kept under wraps until the ceremony itself.

Tickets for all not sold out Bloody Scotland panels and events are available from

Distortion by Gautam Malkani @GautamMalkani @Anne Cater @Unbounders #Distortion

Source: Review Copy

Publication: 6 September 2018 from Unbound

Pp: 400

ISBN-13: 978-1783525270


Meet Dillon, a high-functioning fuck-up who has been keeping some very big secrets from his girlfriend Ramona.

Also, meet Dhilan, a young carer caught in an endless loop of pre-bereavement bereavement for his dying mother.

And then there’s Dylan. The less said about him the better…

These three identities of the same young man have been growing dangerously more hardcore and hardwired, both online and off, thanks to the self-reinforcing effects of social media and search engines, and the uncanny predictive capabilities of his smartphones.

When two creepy old dudes threaten to expose Dillon/Dhilan/Dylan, he is forced to unravel a gut-wrenching mystery that he would rather leave well alone.

Set in a strange greyscape between the digital world and the messy realm of the body, Distortion asks timely questions about what happens when our online data and search histories are crunched up and fed back to us – when they don’t just filter our view of the world, but also our view of ourselves. How can we navigate the tension between emotional truth and factual accuracy? What can we do to neutralise our own toxicity? And what happens in the world of flesh and blood when the roles of parent and child become tragically reversed?

It is a real pleasure to host an extract from Gautam Malkani’s latest book, Distortion, on my blog today.Following on from his critically acclaimed debut novel, Londonstani, Gautam’s second book, Distortion, has been described as“ a brilliant exploration of social media, code-switching and toxic masculinity.” – Nikesh Shukla, editor of The Good Immigrant

So, without further ado, here’s the opening chapter to whet your appetite:


MAMA’S DYING AGAIN. We’re talking actual end-of-story dying. When she texts to tell me, she sounds like as if I owe her a fiver to settle a bet. Always texts when I silence her calls. Thinks I’m geeking it up in the library. Hiding in some late-night lecture. If I answered then for dead cert she’d start crying. In the taxi, I delete Mum’s texts, stash my fone in the backseat. Ramona next to me, not noticing – ain’t even looking. Her streetlit silhouette. Strobe effect. Pulsing with the passing lamp posts. Each red traffic light a chance for me to stop all the shit that’ll happen later. Turn around. Turn around. Don’t wait for some next signal, just ask the driver to turn the fuck around. Go geek in some library for real. Go read textbooks by her latest deathbed. If you know you gonna regret something in the future, does that mean you already regret it? She’s on her blue velvet shoes tonight – four-inch heels, plunging top-lines, straps like padlocks across her insteps and ankles. Curls her toes before opening her mouth: “Okay, look Dillon, I don’t know what’s worse – completely ignoring me to check your fones or just fading me out while you check out my feet.” Coulda called off this evening – even though fuck knows what “rain check” actually means. Coulda just told her about Mum, I guess. That she got rushed into A&E earlier. That her cocktail of chemo’s too strong for her. After collapsing again on the crapper. And the shit ain’t even working.

Ramona now fixing her eyeliner without no need of make-up mirror or front-lens smartfone. Cab driver flipping on a light for her. Not to leer at her in the rear-view. Tonight our driver is a woman. Happened in our downstairs, disabled-access toilet. Various assorted bodily fluids. Broken hand-towel holder. Tonight, I remembered to hold open the door for Ramona. Held a brolly over her head, made sure her backless dress only flashed her back. Some slit in her dress that giggled as she stepped outta student halls. My fingers on her pencil heels as she climbed inside the cab, just trying to hold shit steady. First time I ever took Ramona out, was on budget so tight I pretended like I was fasting. They keeping Mum in a separate room cos her white blood count is in the red. Charing Cross Hospital this time, not Ealing, West Middlesex or Hammersmith – i.e. visiting hours end at eight. Shoulda told Ramona I could meet her after, just couldn’t join her for this gig or whatever. Single-lane standstill means our driver breaks left, sharp left. Kerb-crawling the homeless hanging round Holborn. One of the homeless makes eye contact with me and starts shouting. Ramona opens handbag then window then gives him cigarettes and multivitamins. Be good to go hold Mama’s hand. One last grasp before the final croak. Ain’t necessary to describe a dying woman’s hand. Ramona’s feet now crossed just above her ankle straps, sinews stretched, heels puncturing the carpet. I mean a dying woman’s hand trying its hand at tapping or swiping or just feeble-style fingering a touchscreen. Her heels the reason for this dipshit taxi; me the dipshit reason for her heels. Gig we headed to is some secret album launch in some poncey West End theatre. Sit-down only, no latecomers, strictly limited capacity to enhance the experience of the live webstream. Can’t just tell her I gotta go see my mum – ain’t even told her Mum’s got the C-bomb. I tell other people, though – other girls, other women. Do women hold it against you if you don’t make them come when they fucking you outta sympathy? Asking for a friend.

Got all dressed up for the gig and that. Her special trainers – the left sole elevated. Wouldn’t ever actually do that to Ramona, though. Wish I could say I wouldn’t even know how to. Just thinking random rebound options for when she wises up and dumps me. Ear plugs and Kleenex. Check. Live music as opposed to what? Digital content ain’t dead. Don’t never dies. Ain’t dying or dead or dying. Only other time I been to a gig, I went with Mummy. Her long-lost denim jacket. Her secret Google mission to school up on John Legend. Stage-side, Row A – for people with special access requirements. Told Ramona I was on some Economics homework that evening. Even texted her questions. A short first gear, a long second. Tarmac and puddles become a mashup of brake lights, rear lights, red traffic lights. Glow from some blood-red backlit billboard. Slashing through wetness – tyres making toilet sounds. Pull out my fone, my other fone – my other fones plural. Different login and password combos permanently stored in my fingers.

@Dillon: Heading to John Legend’s new album launch tonight – gig being streamed live if you wanna join

@Dhilan: Mum sick again. Gonna spend evening and night by her hospital bedside

@Dylan: Tuesday nite is student start-up nite. And we got a private-equity guest speaker
Ramona being too busy to eavesread my touchscreens. Or she just wants to trust me. When the fuck was it? That time it first hit me how trustworthy and truthful ain’t always the same? Allow that bullshit – can’t just tell her I gotta go see Mama. Can’t tell her about the cancer and the caregiving and the mornings. That I ain’t really got conjunctivitis. To begin with, I didn’t tell no one. We’re talking just the first five or so years.

Classified. Need-to-know only. Access-restricted content. Not cos Mum was shamed or nothing – weren’t like she’d got crabs or herpes. And not cos she knew how much other kids’d rinse you if your parent was even vaguely disabled. Most probly it was cos of them three bearded aunties – the ones who’d said her sickness was her karma for being so cleverclogs and carefree and divorced. When she’s done with her eyeliner, Ramona straightens then outstretches her toes. Ankles undulating like my mother’s Adam’s apple – like an ankle got lodged like a tumour in her throat. And what the fuck am I meant to tell her anycase? By the way, Ramona, you know how we always given each other the full friggin download since way back in Year Eight? Well, I totally forgot to mention that for the past ten years my mum’s been battle-axing breast cancer. That for the past six of them years, she’s been dying from it. Guess it just slipped my mind. Didn’t really go to some family wedding in the middle of school term that time. Didn’t really lose that T-shirt. Roadworks, so our cabbie floors it in reverse, spins the steering wheel left, then forward in first. One of the roadworkers makes eye contact with me and starts shouting. Told Ramona about Mum’s divorce, though. All the violin shit about how she worked three different jobs just to make sure I didn’t get no scurvy. That her loneliness was why I spent Fresher’s year still living at home in Acton. If I’d known she’d get readmitted to hospital today, I’d have ducked back to Acton to borrow her car for tonight. Her disabled person’s parking permit. The cold window massaging my head as we pass by Covent Garden. Was a time I couldn’t even go chip shop without worrying so much I’d peg it back home. Allow this fuckness – I don’t even like John Legend. Don’t like R&B, don’t like grime, don’t like hip-hop, don’t like rock, don’t like rhymes, don’t like songs. Taxi pulls up beside a bunch of drunk-and-derogatory posh boys. Doing their whole beige trousers and self-belief thing. One of the posh boys makes eye contact with me and starts shouting. Consider telling our cabbie to keep the change, but cos she’s a woman it feels cheesy. Still, I don’t think twice about umbrellawalking Ramona five feet from taxi to foyer. My dry hand taking her raincoat as we queue at some ticket collection counter. My student discount card, my booking reference. And they say chivalry is just for sex. At counter, check pockets to make sure “Dhilan” handset was left dead and buried in the back of the taxi. Check. But despite remembering to forget it, I can still hear its dumbfuck ringtone. Even though it’s wedged deep in the backseat. Even though I switched it to silent. Even though I powered off. Even though I told Mum to not even think about foning me this evening. Shoulda just buried the thing in some desert someplace. Let future archaeologists get hard-ons over how humans evolved a wireless umbilical cord.

Twenty-four missed fone calls.

Twenty-fucking-four. Probly now nearer thirty.

Forty and still counting.

Tell Ramona I’m sorry but I gotta go. I tell her I’m feeling sick. Sinuses, stomach, eye ducts, brain – various assorted bodily fluids. “But you should watch the gig without me, Ramona – ain’t no sense both of us missing it.” Hand her the tickets, raincoat, umbrella. Tenner for a taxi home. “What the actual fuck?” Ramona calls out behind me. “Dillon, you can’t keep treating me like this.” Tell her again that I’m sorry. Tell her again that I’m sick.
Outside the theatre, you push past the queues of tourists and ponces-who-probly-had-tennis-lessons. Piano tutors, even. Textured toilet roll and cricket practice. Pardon yourself politely for swearing in their faces, but no apologising for your pro-style push and shove. Cos like a child in some school play, your mum’s just dying for you to watch her dying. One of the ponces makes eye contact with you and starts shouting. Doorman telling them to dash inside and take their seats.

Try hailing another taxi but ain’t easy when acting  like some police-chased crack addict. Telling tourists and posh boys to get outta your way, hair dripping through all your tears and your snot like you been fucking about with some facial warping app. Yelling, “Stop,” at any taxi that passes, then screaming, “Take me to the fucking hospital.” Shouldn’t be rolling in no taxi anyway – not when not with Ramona. Tube cheaper, better, faster, stronger. Posh boys and tourists still walking too slowly; you quit the pavement to run on the road. Ain’t sprinting, though. Ain’t even running, really. But walking too quick to just call it just walking. Breathing in car exhaust fumes to try and warm your chest and your heart. At 7.30pm, all the West End theatres start sounding their buzzers and beeps and bells in sync, i.e. half an hour to get there – before the nurses become bouncers who won’t let you in. Half an hour would probly be excess if Charing Cross Hospital was actually in Charing Cross, but it’s actually five miles away in Hammersmith. Meanwhile, Hammersmith Hospital’s in Acton. Slam-dunk excuse for turning up too late, but you already used it last year. Man walks outta some restaurant with a foto of his meal stuck to his forehead. Woman walks outta some cinema and starts telling random people what she thought of the film. Hammersmith Station’s on the Piccadilly Line; can pick it up from Leicester Square or Covent Garden. Journey Planner app says Covent Garden.

Sorry it took me so long. My fone got lost.

I got here quicker than I could.

Before you went uni, you thought all West End theatres were strictly for tourists or ponces brought up in private schools. Musicals and operas, grown-ups dropping nursery rhymes; making a song and a dance. Your mum wanted to celebrate being back in remission and was like, “Fuck the Phantom of the Poncey Opera.” Pulled out her fone and started scrolling through random R&B concerts. Said that night was the only night she could get tickets and time off work at the same time. While booking the special Valentine’s-rate intimate-dinner-and-concert deal, she asked you to pick which restaurant. “Be my big man, Dhilan, and make decisions. Whisk me off my feet.”

You decided to pack her painkillers and tranquilators in her pill pouch. You cross a street dodging more taxis, more minicabs. More women on foot, more waiters putting out rubbish. Cobbled Covent Garden roads strictly for pedestrians, but still you get honked at twice. One of the drivers makes eye contact with you and starts shouting. One of the waiters makes eye contact with you and starts shouting. One of the women makes eye contact with you and starts shouting. Gap in the crowd opens, Tube station ticket barriers open, doors to the lift open. Somewhere between all the openings, you fixed up your hair and dried your eyes. And bought her a bunch of flowers. The fuck did you just buy flowers from? Some woman in backbone-friendly flat-heeled shoes smiles at them as if you bought the bunch for her. Then she makes eye contact with you and starts shouting. Day before the John Legend gig, your mum made you fone to confirm the table reservation, her appointment at the hairdresser’s and her special elevated trainers. Soon as you replaced the receiver, phone started ringing again – like there was one more thing you forgot to confirm. Ramona smiling down the landline, telling you she was throwing a last-minute blowout for her birthday tomorrow – her fourteenth on the fourteenth. At first, you was relieved to tell her your butt was busy – that you were sorry, but you really needed to be on your Economics homework tomorrow night. Next morning, you weren’t no longer feeling relieved. Some follow-up Facebook invite from Ramona, a bump on your forehead, a dent in your laptop. And so you told your mum you were feeling sick, real sick – so sick that she should do her Valentine’s thing with someone else tonight. After all, ain’t no sense both of you missing out. So sick and feverish and sick that, look, you even bumped your head. Your mum felt your bump, rubbed it, kissed it. Mixed up some honey and turmeric in boiling-hot milk. “Down it, Dhilan. Turmeric always does the trick.” Made you neck the exact same stuff whenever you coughed, sneezed or sniffled. Even when you got asthma. Even when some fucktard from Year Eleven tore your shirt collar. Tube station platform already a playground. Grown men waving scarves, chanting football-team nursery rhymes. One of the chanters makes eye contact with you, stops chanting and starts shouting. When a train pulls in, you head to the carriage furthest away from them. Later that morning, your mum started with the whole icewater-forehead routine. Sudden role-reversal making your brain hurt. Counterfeit fever and fake face flannels made from her nolonger-needed sanitary towels – the same ones you’d repurposed for her just three months earlier. Cold water dripping down your scalp; you remembered her hair appointment – first since her hair had started growing again. “Don’t sweat it,” she told you. “I already cancelled everything while I was boiling the milk.” Way too wet about the prospect of nursing you – like she couldn’t wait to even shit out, settle some kinda caregiving scorecard. Next thing you knew, you were telling her not to cry – that she hadn’t failed as a single mother just cos you’d caught a fever. That she didn’t need to score evenings out that bust her federal budget, she didn’t need to buy you a Nintendo DS, she didn’t need hair and she definitely didn’t need no left breast. Told her she just needed to smile. (Fuck it – it sounded good at the time.) Tube driver says we gotta “wait here a few minutes” – you clock her exact words cos she’s a she. You check the time on your Dillon handset: eighteen minutes. Double-check it on your Dylan handset: eighteen minutes. Should probly check yourself even. Use your fone as a mirror even though none of your handsets frown or smile or smell like your mum’s face. You sit your butt down and switch off. Shield your flowers from the droplets of coughs, colds and flu. After lowering your phoney fever, your mum combed your wet fringe. Kisses rubbed in like hair wax. “I know what, Dhilan, let’s watch a DVD tonight instead. Just like we did when I was sick. It’ll be fun, darling – we’ll take your duvet down to the sofa. We’ll snuggle up tight and warm together.” You told her that, boom, you were cured. That your warpspeed full recovery must’ve been down to the miracle of milk and turmeric. During something called the “support act”, she took you to this place called the Upper Circle Bar, clutching a dealer’s ounce of turmeric powder in a plastic Ziploc bag. She’d even scored a single-serve sachet of formula milk.

As I leg it through the ticket barriers and outta the Tube station, I for serious still reckon I might actually make it. Dillon handset says 19:55. No point hailing no taxi or hopping a bus – ain’t even one stop. But as soon as straight away, I can tell from the sound of the place that most probly I’m too late. My flowers like they been in some nuclear hurricane. Still, I run up the stairs – to go through the motions at least; at least just to say I came. And, sure as shedding eyebrows, when I knock at the door, they won’t even think about letting me in. When I wave the flowers through small square window, they still won’t.

Finally, I convince them to give her a note from me, but the only lame crap I can come up with is: “I’m here. I’m right outside.” They read the note, change their minds, let my ass in. Hand her what’s left of the flowers then sit down beside her. The seat comfortably uncomfortable – like as if even the furniture’s been waiting for me. “I knew you’d come,” she whispers as she leans in close. “I knew you’d be back.” As she looks back towards the stage, Ramona slips me a copy of some booklet/programme thing and slowly uncurls her toes. Cos fuck what the doctors say, there’s always tomorrow. I’ll go say bye to Mummy tomorrow.



About Gautam Malkani

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A former journalist with the The Financial Times, Gautam Malkani is the author of the highly-anticipated Londonstani (2006). Born to a Ugandan mother of Indian descent in Hounslow, London in 1976, Malkani read Social and Political Science at Christ Church, Cambridge while working as a student journalist. The linguistically textured and introspective Londonstani generated huge amounts of interest from publishers and the reading public.

Follow Gautam Malkani on Twitter @GautamMalkani

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