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Stone Bruises, by Simon Beckett

review published on January 13, 2014. Reviewed by Sara Garland

The very talented Mr Beckett has created an intense stand-alone story that oozes intrigue, suspense and tension from the very start to the climatic end.

It starts at a juncture where the main character Sean, abandons his blood stained car and heads off into the woods. You don’t know what has happened before only that he appears to be on the run. You’re left with a sense that he’s probably no angel, but have an inclination that he’s likely to be at his core a good guy.

Set in rural France, Sean heads off with his backpack in tow, looking to catch a ride. It is swelteringly hot and although he doesn’t want to be seen by anybody in the vicinity of where he left the car, he needs water and takes the uncomfortable decision to call into a farm to top up his water bottle.

Already there is a quirky feel at the farm, as the woman who gives him water is guarded and tense. Heading back on his way, upon seeing and trying to evade a police vehicle, he darts out of sight, only to find he has stepped into a bear trap. In seething pain, he just cannot release his foot from the jaws of the trap and eventually passes out from the effort and agony.

Upon awakening he finds himself in a barn with a very nasty foot injury. He is unable to go anywhere. He is actually on the farm where he sought water. Arnaud the farmer seems to take an instant dislike to him and makes no attempt to hide his intense displeasure at having found him on his farm. He arranges for the older of his two daughters to tend to him. Quite incredulously the family refuse to take him to a hospital and consider he should be grateful that they are attending to his needs when trespassing where they consider he should not have. Arnaud senses he is on the run from something and Sean has no idea what he knows. Has somebody come across the car? Perhaps it is better not to attend a hospital and risk exposing himself to capture by the police. Regardless of this, unable to mobilise he realises he is trapped and at their mercy.

From here you learn more about each of the characters, their oddities, flaws and secrets. Sean forced to remain at the farm gets sucked into the subtly unsettling lives of this family. The more you start to learn, the more eerie and unsettling it gets. Indeed there is an undercurrent of dread all the way through. Consequently Beckett drip feeds the reader information, building the tension incrementally, page by page. Interspersed between chapters you begin to find out what happened in London before Sean headed across to France, and steadily you learn Sean’s story and what he is really about.

This is an exceptionally good page turner. It sustains a sense of sinister discomfort and tension throughout. In the latter part of the book the pace picks up further and there are quite a good few unexpected twists, which bring the story to a rather horrifying conclusion. It is entirely believable and has all the ingredients of an acclaimed book, which incidentally would also make for a powerful film. This is one of those books that I would strongly urge you to read, even if this isn’t your usual genre, as it’s too good a book to miss.

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Blue is the Night, by Eoin McNamee

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