Although I’m always an enthusiastic advocate for their books and authors, it’s actually been a little while since I last read a book from Blackbird Digital Books: but I’m always so impressed by their eye for something exciting and a little different, and their passionate support for their books and authors. Funnily enough, the first book I ever read from Blackbird was another by Tanya Bullock – you’ll find my 2016 review of Homecoming here – and I do distinctly remember saying that I wanted to read more of her writing. So I’m particularly delighted today to be joining the blog tour and sharing my review of her new book, The Lonely Hearts Crime Club, on the day it’s published both as an e-book and in paperback. My thanks to the publishers for my advance reading e-copy, and for inviting me to join the tour. And my goodness, I so enjoyed this one!
An elderly resident of an inner-city tower block is brutally attacked and left for dead.
Her neighbours, a pregnant alcoholic, a vulnerable youth, a failed actress and a cameraman with a dark secret are thrown together in their search for answers.
Misfits and loners, they are forced to confront uncomfortable realities about themselves and each other, as their investigation leads them towards the shocking finale.
I’ll readily admit that inner city tower blocks aren’t my natural milieu – in life or my reading – and had I simply stumbled across this book, with its focus on life’s invisible people, I might not have got past its front cover. But I’m so very glad I did. I thought it was wonderful, its characters so intricately constructed – “pregnant alcoholic”, “failed actress” and “vulnerable youth” are the broad brush, what other people see. The author shows an exceptional ability to build a detailed understanding of the complexity of her characters, and to make them fascinating, sympathetic, tremendously engaging and extremely likeable.
The vicious attack on elderly Aggie brings together the lonely residents of the 19th floor at Shenstone Tower in a way that Ella’s colourful posters never could, and what follows is one of the most exquisitely touching stories of support and friendship that its been my privilege to experience. But it’s even more than that – there’s also an unfolding mystery, overflowing with shocks and surprises as the company of amateur sleuths continue their investigation, with a dramatic conclusion that is both totally unexpected and desperately sad.
The characters are just superb. Ella, heavily pregnant, is trying desperately to restart her life, promising her unborn child that the excesses of her past are now behind her: video-maker Ethan views life through his lens, attempting to escape the ghost of his mother. Birdie clings to the belief that her next big acting break is just around the corner, and that her daughter really does care: William is living alone for the first time, autistic and socially awkward, observing life and putting his own twist on what he sees.
Their lives are perfectly captured – drawn in detail, infused with a sadness that’s immensely moving, their loneliness and isolation something you experience and feel at your core. But the book is never maudlin – there are also the most wonderful moments of joy, and a perfectly judged humour that adds lightness to the story. The relationships that form between the characters and the strength they draw from each other are beautifully done, and immensely uplifting. And although the story is driven by its main characters, the other people they encounter are so well drawn too – Aggie’s sister, social worker Ted, William’s long-suffering mother and the caretaker whose mission in life seems to be to keep his residents in miserable isolation.
The writing is excellent – the author has a wonderful eye for the behaviour of her characters, their exchanges and internal thoughts perfectly captured. And I really liked the way the story moved perspective, with its short chapters, events seen through the eyes of the four main characters, each with their own clearly identifiable “voice”. The book’s pacing is perfect too – while it might sometimes linger on challenges faced by individuals, the twists and turns of the plot keep you turning the pages with an increasing urge to see the over-arching mystery solved, and to find out how life turns out for the very real people at its heart.
I raced through this book, finally putting it down in the early hours, bleary-eyed and a little tearful – I really loved it, and highly recommend it to others.
Praise for the award-winning film-maker Tanya Bullock’s first novel, That Special Someone, a heartwarming, witty story of a mother’s quest to help her learning-disabled daughter find love:
‘Local author’s debut novel manages to combine a sensitive subject with Black Country Humour.’ ‘Waterstones Loves’, Waterstones, Walsall
‘A wonderful, poignant and witty story about the life, loves and struggles of a young woman with learning difficulties.’ Jill Frasier, Founder and Director of healthcare charity, Kissing it Better
FINALIST 2016 PEOPLE’S BOOK PRIZE FOR FICTION/THE BERYL BAINBRIDGE FIRST TIME AUTHOR AWARD
About the author
Tanya Bullock is a college lecturer, writer and award-winning filmmaker. She lives in the UK with her husband and two young children. She has a passion for foreign culture and languages (inherited from her French mother) and, in her youth, travelled extensively throughout Australia, America, Asia and Europe. As a filmmaker, she has gained local recognition, including funding and regional television broadcast, through ITV’s First Cut scheme, two nominations for a Royal Television Society Midlands Award, and, in 2010, a Royal Television Society Award in the category of best promotional film.
On maternity leave in 2011 and in need of a creative outlet, Tanya began to write That Special Someone, the story of a mother’s quest to help her learning-disabled daughter find love. It was a finalist for The People’s Book Prize and The Beryl Bainbridge First Time Author Award 2016. Her second novel, Homecoming, a love story with an unexpected twist, was published in 2016. The Lonely Hearts Crime Club is Tanya’s third novel, a psychological thriller with a shocking finale. All Tanya’s novels are published by Blackbird Digital Books.
Follow Tanya on Twitter.