A New Review of Then Came Darkness and Interview from Laura’s Books and Blogs

It’s been nearly two years since Then Came Darkness was published, but reviews still come in, and a sometimes they still floor me.

Laura Smith, an author and blogger, said this recently:

Then Came Darkness is a brilliant historical thriller that compares to stories like East of Eden and The Night of the Hunter in its epic journey and menacing villain.

Laura was also kind enough to do an interview. Here’s a sample of some of the fun questions Laura poses:

Question: If you could be in a writer’s group with up to four famous writers, who would they be?

Answer: Ron Rash, Roxane Gay, T. C. Boyle, and Michael Ondaatje. All of these, except Ron Rash, are writers I have met in person at signings and seen give talks (at the Free Library of Philadelphia), and I think each would bring a unique perspective.

You can read the full review and interview over at Laura’s Books and Blogs.

Laura also has vast library of thoughtful, insightful and impeccably well-written reviews at her site. Be sure to check out her other literary recommendations.

Buy the paperback from Amazon.com for $11.99.

Download a copy to your Kindle for $4.99, or with your subscription to Kindle Unlimited.

Ask your local indie bookstore to stock their shelves through Indiebound.

Keep up with all the latests news, read excerpts, and get a behind the scenes glimpse of what inspired me to write it at the official website:

ThenCameDarkness.Com

The Slippery Complexities of Human Behavior on Display in Ivy Ngeow’s Novel Masterpiece Overboard

“A stranger. She is trying to show you a grain of kindness but it turns into a beach of bitterness.”

A stranger…tossed overboard from a burning yacht in a raging storm that claims the lives of all onboard…except him.

He wakes up, battered, burned, unrecognizable…an amnesiac…in a Thai hospital…with amazing food.

From the intoxicating smell of homecooked cuisine in a foreign hospital…to the way non-native speakers of a language have their feelings often misinterpreted…it’s these types of sharp, evocative details that litter and bloom in Ivy Ngeow’s smart, witty, satirical, dark, complex, twisting globe-hopping psychological thriller.

The amnesiac’s point of view is boldly done in second person narration, and it’s one of the few times I’ve found this to work well. But it’s not just his story, there are other POVs (like a philosophical Polish plumber with a pet Burmese python living in London, and a rich widow caught up in legal disputes) done in third person limited, and all circumnavigate each other in startling ways leading to a shocking denoument.

Apart from the perceptive details, there are sardonic notes on materialism and obsessions with brands. Many of the characters walk through their carefully curated lives like amnesiacs who can only remember their identity by the brands they wear or procure.

Like Christian Petzold’s film Phoenix and Michael Ondaatje’s novel The English Patient, identity, amnesia, and transforming oneself hang over the proceedings like a pall. Ngeow’s spin on the themes, however, are decidedly modern and channeled through technology and interior design. Her characters foolishly build protective walls around themselves with their possessions and hobbies, often unaware of their true selves and how others perceive them through the veils of technology and language. Ngeow’s sardonic wit and voice echo back to the best of Graham Greene. And much like Greene’s work, Overboard, finds that delicate balance between thrilling entertainment and keenly observant literature inundated with the slippery complexities of human behavior.

Overboard is a modern, novel masterpiece. An absolute must-read.

Review by D. H. Schleicher

Summer Indie Book Reading

While I’m currently reading Ivy Ngeow’s Overboard, which might turn out to be the best Indie book I’ve read yet and will most certainly warrant its own in-depth post, here’s a rundown of some recent Indie books I finished and the reviews I posted on Goodreads:

 

The Hanging Artist by Jon Steinhagen (novel)

The Hanging Artist is a very specific kind of entertainment. If the premise (Kafka awakes in a sanitarium to meet a giant talking bug and then is sucked into a bizarre murder mystery) sounds too strange, then it probably will be for you. But if it sounds great (like it did to me) then by all means buy, buy, buy.

Kafka makes for a great amateur detective, and apart from the inherent absurdism of the premise, Steinhagen’s greatest treat for this reader was the screwball detective dialogue between Kafka and the giant bug, and Kafka and the Biede character (an investigator from the mysterious society that wants to employ Kafka’s skills). Then there are all the suspects and various theater folk, each uniquely drawn and memorable, and the playful “nocturnes” following a Hanging Artist performance where acquaintances of theater patrons are dropping dead. The mystery actually had me guessing, and the solution to the crime is appropriately bizarre.

Witty, dark, and sometimes silly, The Hanging Artist makes for smart, surreal escapism.

 

Susan M. Lane has given us quite an interesting and psychologically rich collection of short stories with Secrets. Admittedly, I was turned off by the opening story about a serial killer that was so well done as to almost give me a panic attack. I wasn’t sure I could handle the collection if all of the stories were that intense. But I persevered, and I’m glad I did.

There are a number of stories about people queued up in lines: at the grocery store, a fast food drive-thru, a bank…and Lane is quite adept at capturing the banal tension of these everyday occurrences, how the act of waiting and observing other people can be stressful, and sometimes the smallest misunderstanding or slight could be triggering. In these stories Lane head-hops from person to person, diving deep into their fears and worries and pasts, revealing the secrets behind the everyday people we encounter…secrets we’ll never know just by observing them.

Misunderstandings (and prejudices) that lead to violence (the closing story is all too relevant today) is another key theme running through many of the stories.

Not all of the stories hit home for me, and some of the more noir ones, though fun, seemed like throwaways. But Lane’s craft is…crafty. And I would highly recommend her collection for those who enjoying reading stories that highlight the darker side of humanity and revel in twists of fate.

 

The Pup and the Pianist by Sara Flower Kjeldsen (novella)

Fascinating, quick-paced adventure novella about a young lad named Max and another unlikely survivor stranded on the Galapagos after a disastrous naval skirmish during the Napoleonic wars.

Vivid descriptions and judicious use of metaphors overcome some odd wording and grammatical puzzlers. The author was clearly trying to capture the spirit of the era both in the writing style and tone.

The character development is excellent and heads in directions I did not anticipate.

Reviews by D. H. Schleicher

Lost Girls on Netflix and The Escape to Candyland

The new Netflix film Lost Girls takes an interesting look at the unsolved Long Island Serial Killer case from the POV of one of the alleged victim’s mother. Directed by Liz Garbus, the film gets off to a choppy start, but once Amy Ryan takes control and begins her mission to find her missing daughter, her impassioned performance raises the film beyond your standard psychological thriller melodrama. The supporting performances are also very strong, with the cast making the most of roles that would’ve benefited from more fleshing out in a longer format.

The material here is probably better suited for a miniseries, but I enjoyed the film’s compactness and some of Garbus’ moody visual choices for lighting, framing, etc… This is one of those sad but true tales about young women being marginalized and victimized, and the “stronger-than-they-thought-they-were” women in their families becoming their voice after they were silenced. Ingrained misogyny and corruption, as well as the mishandling of mental health issues are brought to light as the women champion for the murdered girls…but sadly to no avail as of yet beyond the story being shared.

Many of the stories in Yong Takahashi’s new collection The Escape to Candyland swirl around the marginalization and victimization of women as well. A good portion of the stories deal with women who were brought up in a corrupt and cultish crime ring headed by a pastor and yogi in Atlanta. These characters could’ve easily ended up like the women in Lost Girls.

Combined with other tales of immigrants, the marginalized, and the mentally or emotionally troubled, Takahashi’s stories make for an interesting read.

Both the film the short story collection standout because of their POVs. They both make it clear that these are voices that need to be heard…deserve to be heard. These are stories that are all too commonly swept under the rug.

The haunting line from Takahashi’s story “Sacred Places” rings true for all of these girls and women:

“We’ve lived our lives like compressed balls of yarn, twisted and knotted together, unable to separate ourselves from each other. Once I let my secret go, all the others will unravel.”

Written by D. H. Schleicher

The Timely and Timeless Dramas On Sal Mal Lane

On a relatively quiet street in suburban Sri Lanka children play, parents brood, and old folks reminisce while the storms of an inevitable civil war seem to gather on a different planet. But those dark clouds will eventually cover everything, and the children’s haven will be forever shattered, and soon peace only reachable in their imaginations.

The context of Ru Freeman’s heartbreakingly beautiful, intimate, and real 2013 novel On Sal Mal Lane is the Sri Lankan civil war that exploded in the early 1980’s. The threat was visible and violent, human madness gone viral. The threat we are facing today in 2020 is invisible and viral, but the emotions, the fear, the sense of impending doom, the desire to see a light at the end of the tunnel, a generation of innocence loss…this could speak to our moment now in the midst of global pandemic or to the people who lived through WWII just as much as Freeman’s novel speaks for those in Sri Lanka almost 40 years ago.

I started reading On Sal Mal Lane right before the world went on lockdown. My wife mentioned it to me many times before over the years, stating she thought I would really enjoy it as Sri Lanka always fascinated me. For whatever reason I kept shrugging it off, until just a few months ago. Like many of my favorite novels, this was the right book at the right time. The character arcs mirrored the arcs of our own lives, the civil war in the novel encroaching on the children’s domestic bliss just as the pandemic began invading ours.

Freeman’s “first-hand” but omniscient narrative insights into the worlds of children, as well as intimate knowledge of social mores and religious, racial, and political differences, make the reader feel as if they are a resident of Sal Mal Lane. Ceremonies, cricket matches, local fauna, the touch of certain fabrics, the taste of certain sweets, the smell of burning things…the details of the children’s lives are wholly immersive. As equally vivid as the details of the outside world are the details of the inner thoughts and emotions of the children. How she depicts certain arcs such as an evolving love and talent for music, or a brief affair with wanting to be a cricket start give shades and color to the children in ways rarely captured in art.

Regardless of the personal context I brought to my reading, it’s fair to say On Sal Mal Lane would’ve moved me to tears on any given day in any given year of my adult life. But the feelings felt now in the moment for the characters Freeman created couldn’t have been deeper. I will never forget the scene when the children’s schools were suddenly closed as riots began in the streets of Colombo and everyone was left to wander home through the chaos, or the excruciating choice one troubled teenage boy makes while caught up in the melee of the marauding mob that seals the fates of all down the lane.

On Sal Mal Lane is a timely and timeless masterpiece. It’s the type of art that provides solace and reminds us that we were, we are, never alone. We can connect with other people and characters from different times and in different places, in good times and bad, and in all the shades and colors of life. I’m so glad I met the residents of Sal Mal Lane when I did.

Written by D. H. Schleicher

For another view into the beauty of Sri Lanka through the horrors of its civil war, I highly recommend another masterpiece, Michael Ondaatje’s Anil’s Ghost.

For an equally immersive and poignant look at ordinary people caught up in the storms of war and trying to survive, I highly recommend another masterpiece, Irene Nemirovsky’s Suite Francaise, famously written “in the moment” of the German invasion of France during WWII.

What I’m Reading: #Covid-19 #StayAtHome Edition

On Sal Mal Lane: A Novel by [Freeman, Ru]

Don’t expect anything escapist and fun here (well, maybe something slipped in). But do expect to find common themes of tragedy, human fraility, resiliency, and survival.

Current Reads:

  • On Sal Mal Lane by Ru Freeman – I’m about half-way through this wonderful, Dickensian look at normal people trying to navigate social mores, keep up appearances, and lead their day-to-day lives on the cusp of the Sri Lankan civil war. Told mostly from the point of view of the neighborhood children, this is shaping up like an all-time classic.
  • The End of Echoes by Dawn Hosmer – I’m oh-so-close to finishing this emotionally exhausting read (and I mean that in a mostly good way) about emotionally exhausted families going through extreme trauma and change. Some of the tribulations are repetative, but they speak keenly to cycles of abuse and behavior. Not surprisingly, the author is a former social worker.

In My Queue:

Past Reads that Seem Fitting For Our Time:

  • When It’s Over by Barbara Ridley – I read this just last year, and it’s a powerful and engrossing look at refugees living through the blitzkriegs over England during WWII.
  • Suite Francaise by Irene Nemirovsky – It’s been many years since I read this, but the author’s “in the moment” depiction of Nazi-occupied France is still one of my all-time favorite novels.
  • Anil’s Ghost by Michael Ondaatje – Want to know more about the Sri Lankan civil war? Ondaatje’s devastating and haunting masterpiece will fuel your dreams.
  • The Last Town on Earth by Thomas Mullen – a timely read about a small town under quarantine during the Spanish Flu pandemic.

I would be remiss not to plug my own works:

  • Then Came Darkness – a novel about a family struggling through the Great Depression while trying to keep a murderous man hellbent on revenge at bay.
  • And Then We Vanish – my new collection of short stories (lit fiction with a twist) due to be released April 7th, 2020.

What’s in your reading pile this spring of extreme social distancing?

There is Weird Wild Heartbreaking Beautiful Stuff to be Found in The Deep

The Deep is a wildly imaginative bit of fiction anchored in universal truths and spun creatively from real trauma. It is simultaneously a collaborative work based on the mythology created in experimental rap songs, and a uniquely singular novella. Like its main character, the mysterious Yetu, it is both plural and one. It’s quite unlike anything I have ever read. If I tried to ensnare and then relay its essence, imagine if Toni Morrison wrote a piece of science-fiction. It’s that soulful, and that weird. But to reduce it to that type of blurb would do it a disservice.

A fantastic underwater utopia inhabited by strange sentient creatures (the Wajinru) who are descended from pregnant women tossed overboard during the transatlantic slave trade, communal memories, climate change, the end of the world…it’s all woven into the rich tapestry of Rivers Solomon’s tome which reads like an epic poem. Rich in metaphors and bold imagination, it channels both the grief and the triumph of the marginalized.

Love who you love. Own your past. Create your future.

For all the heartache, the novella builds to an amazing closing line that left this reader reeling.

There is hope in the chaos.

Written by D. H. Schleicher

#HistoricalFiction from Page to Screen

I’ve been on a big historical fiction kick lately. All three of the novels I’ve read recently in this genre jumped off the page and played like movie reels in my mind. There’s something about the genre (when done well) that naturally lends itself to adaptation for both big and small screens. In this golden era of “limited series” on TV and in streaming services, I couldn’t help but imagine how these novels would play.

Darktown by Thomas Mullen – This crime drama about the first African-American cops in Atlanta in the 1940s and the corruption and racism they had to battle would seem a perfect fit for TNT or FX. I could see it playing out similarly to the recent limited series from Patty Jenkins, I Am the Night. Heck, that series’ own Carl Franklin would be a fantastic choice to direct.

When It’s Over by Barbara Ridley – This tale of refugees from the Czech Republic and Germany fleeing to England during WWII would make a splendid PBS Masterpiece Theater series.

The War in Our Hearts by Eva Seyler – When I first read started reading this melodrama about Scots on the Western Front of France during WWI, it initially made me think about those searingly romantic mini-series of classic 1980’s TV (think The Thornbirds or North and South). But the novel ended on such an achingly poetic note that I couldn’t help but picture it as a cinematic moodpiece by Terence Davies.

What have you read lately that begs for a big or small screen adaptation?

Written by D. H. Schleicher

The Future of the Science Fiction Genre and First of Their Kind

Science fiction is a genre I have a love-hate relationship with. It so often has been co-opted by fantasy and rarely focuses on the science half anymore. Even my once beloved Star Trek, which used to explore alien lands and space exploration through the veil of politics and philosophy, has devolved into action-based space opera nonsense. Sometimes when co-opted by horror (see Alien) it can be fun as hell, but more often than not schlock. And when it’s just one of the flavors of something more satirical and speculative, ala the works of Kurt Vonnegut or Margaret Atwood in novel-form and Black Mirror in streaming serialized form, it reaches my preferred heights. Then, of course, there’s the guilty pleasure of something like Verhoeven’s film adaptation of Starship Troopers (action! satire! fascism! horror! gore!)

But it’s been a long, long time since we had something like 2001: A Space Odyssey – Kubrick’s seminal film which turned science-fiction into a religious experience. Let’s not forget though, it was based on a dry, very serious-minded short story by legendary science-fiction writer Arthur C. Clarke. Which brings us to First of Their Kind…a novel I discovered while promoting my own during #IndieApril. I was nervous to approach it, as it was science fiction, and the last science fiction novel I read (Artemis by Andy Weir) was a huge disappointment. Thankfully, I took the gamble…

C. D. Tavenor’s debut novel, First of Their Kind, harkens back to the best work of Arthur C. Clarke. This is serious science fiction that focuses on well thought-out and researched science and its potential future applications. Continue reading

Coming Through Slaughter and the Evolution of Michael Ondaatje

Buddy Bolden

Above: the only picture of Buddy Bolden (top, second from the left)

Coming Through Slaughter, a piece of poetic historical fiction that attempts to channel the mysterious genius and insanity of jazz trumpeter Buddy Bolden, was Michael Ondaatje’s first novel (published in 1976) though one must use the term novel loosely. I had the pleasure of seeing Michael Ondaatje speak at the Free Library of Philadelphia this month, and he touched briefly on Coming Through Slaughter, and how it was a bridge between his earlier poetry and his later more refined (though still free flowing and organic) novels.

Along with Toni Morrison, Michael Ondaatje is probably my favorite living novelist. Coming Through Slaughter shares some stylistic and thematic traits with Morrison’s 1992 masterpiece Jazz (one of my favorite novels of all time). Both attempt to lyrically copy the cadence and spirit of the music in written form, but while Morrison’s work features many voices riffing on each other, Ondaatje’s is a singular voice that goes on a solo performance into madness. Morrison’s novel is slinkier, like forgotten notes from a dozen songs cat-pawing through a moonlit room whispering their spooky secrets. Ondaatje’s type of jazz is more gritty, virulent, like an unending trumpet blast ear-worming into the sweatiest, dirtiest, darkest spaces. Continue reading