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3.8 out of 5 stars29
3.8 out of 5 stars
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on 29 July 2013
When the body of a young girl is discovered in local woods, the peculiar way the corpse has been arranged reminds PC Cate Corbin of a fairytale. Quickly being drafted onto the investigation team, she contacts Alice Hyland, a lecturer in folk tales at a nearby university, to see if she can shed any light on her suspicions. Then another body turns up, similarly adhering to the imagery of a fairy tale and it becomes clear that there is a serial killer operating in the small Yorkshire town. I loved Alison's previous novel "A Cold Season", a spooky, ghostly tale set in a snowbound Yorkshire and was keen to read this follow-up, trying to get to it knowing as little as possible beforehand. I'm glad I did. Branching off into a whole new direction - vaguely supernatural in a couple of key elements but mainly a police procedural/crime thriller - but highlighting her innate grasp of suspense and beautiful writing, "Path Of Needles" works very well indeed. The story works because of the unusual concept (with Sarah Pinborough's earlier `Poison', I haven't had as much contact with fairy tales since I was a kid) and Alison's research serves the plot and characters well, keeping the reader guessing and throwing in plenty of red herrings (and some clever uses of nature) before the climax slots into place and we fear for the leads. The pace is brisk (it's a quick read), the writing is fluid and elegant, even in the brutal sequences and she never shys away from the grim reality of this kind of thing, as a result making them all the more powerful. Interestingly, the characterisation is very broadbrush - we know virtually nothing of Cate out of uniform and although you get the sense that Alice is more flightly, the only thing we really know is that she has a dementia-riddled mother, a situation that is perhaps pushing her further into her beloved fairy stories - but it works perfectly in context. A great crime-thriller, "Path Of Needles" shows Alison Littlewood as a first class writer who - if she continues the level of quality and skill she's so far shown - will go a long, long way and I, for one, couldn't be happier to see that. Beautifully written, this is an excellent read and highly recommended.
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on 8 August 2013
Although I know the author, please don't think this has given me a biased opinion, Path of Needles is a fantastic book and exactly the kind of story I love to read. It has been well researched, I had no idea that there were so many variations of the popular stories and fairy tales that we all know and love and it was interesting to discover their roots. This book had me hooked from the start with ever increasing gruesome, cleverly engineered murders with some great, colourful characters, well imagined scenes (half real / half fiction) and a fast paced exciting plot that flows wonderfully from beginning to end. I loved Ali's first book, A Cold Season and Path of Needles is in a league of it's own. I would recommend this book to anyone - please read it!
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on 4 September 2013
I absolutely could not put Path of Needles down. It was a complete joy of a read.

Crime fiction isn't usually my cup of tea, but Littlewood's novel is so original and exciting that it totally won me over. I've ordered A Cold Season now (normally I wouldn't go near anything with any reference to Richard & Judy on the cover!) I want more!

I really liked the idea of a 'bobby on the beat' getting a shot at the big time with such an unusual case, I thought that was a nice touch. And GREAT to see an independent female protagonist too, no "Kick Ass" (*shudder*) crop-topped heroine lusting after a buff, brooding male lead. In fact, there's none of that ridiculously sexist crap that Paranormal is so known for these days. Which made it an absolute pleasure to spend time with. Cate is such an 'everyman' character, struggling with her big break and not wanting to mess things up, common sense fighting with instinct, so aware of the consequences of a mistake. And perfectly capable of fighting her own battles and making her own decisions. Alice is a wonderful character too, so passionate about her subject, so dreamy and yet so focused. I'm going to miss her.

And of course, I've not even touched on the best of it yet. The Fairy Tale angle. I think it's going to be one that you'll either love or hate. I couldn't have loved it more. I was hooked on Fairy Tales growing up, and getting to read about them in an adult novel was wonderful. Terrifyingly wonderful. To see the darkness and the violence behind the well known children's tales was an education for me. It's such a meticulously researched novel, the tale variants are completely compelling, and the darkness and violence of these seemingly innocuous bedtime tales was fantastic material for one of the creepiest killers I've ever encountered in fiction. Truly red in tooth and claw.

Littlewood really got into my head. I walked my son down to the park about an hour after finishing this one, and we passed a house with an aviary in the back garden and a tree filled with bird feeders of every description, I panicked and sped the buggy up double time to get away from it, just in case! (You'll know when you read it).

If you're a fan of Fairy Tales, and you appreciate the darkness of their roots, you're going to love this book. I can't recommend it highly enough. Five stars no question.
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on 5 June 2013
It is, I think, good to expand your horizons on a regular basis. That applies in all aspects of life, but especially (in my opinion at least) with reading and writing. It's all too easy to box ourselves in to what is comfortable, what we know we like, and before we know it we end up stagnated in -- to use a rather clichéd example -- Tolkeinesque high fantasy.

Path of Needles then, being a crime novel, is a bit of a departure from previous form and favour for both myself, as the reader, and Alison Littlewood.

I read, and rather enjoyed, her debut novel A Cold Season over a year ago. It was a horror novel both easily accessible and eschewing the easier monster-based paths of horror for a creeping and lingering chill. But Path of Needles is cut from a different mould, so even as I opened the cover I knew that I would have to put my preconceptions aside to see what waited within

Path of Needles utilises that classic cornerstone of mystery crime fiction, the themed serial killer. To the best of my knowledge, this doesn't tend to happen in the real world, but since "random homicidal nutter kills for no obvious reason" doesn't lend itself naturally to exciting fiction. Here the theme is fairytales.

There seems to be something of a trend towards fairy tales lately. It was clear with the spate of Snow White films last year, but now it seems to be getting a major hat tip from the fiction world -- Sarah Pinborough's Poison comes to mind. I'm not completely sold, but even I have to admit that it makes a welcome change from brooding teenaged vampires.

Anyway, the novel centres around a series of murders in West Yorkshire, where the bodies have been staged to resemble fairy tale dioramas. Fresh-faced policewoman Cate Corbin and folklore teacher Alice Hyland are brought together in the effort to decipher the killer's messages and motives and bring the murder spree to an end.

The power of Littlewood's writing in this novel clearly stems from her horror background. She weaves the fairy tales right into the fabric of the story. There's no tipping of hands, no showing of cards, and it remains a possibility that the plot could take a sharp turn off the path, and the supernatural explanations hinted at -- and scorned by the characters -- could turn out to be the reality. That blurring of this line between natural and supernatural is what gives Path of Needles its edge, and takes it beyond the usual crime fare.

And a lot of work has gone into it. No Disney princesses grace these pages, Littlewood has done her research into the histories of fairytales. The variations she brings out -- older and necessarily more brutal than modern interpretations -- are different, interesting and in a number of places surprised me with content and ideas which I hadn't encountered elsewhere. Throughout, there is a pervading sense that a lot of work has gone into this novel.

However -- and there always, it seems, has to be a however -- it is still crime fiction, and I still had some of the issues with it that I tend to with that genre. It's all so...by the numbers. A whistle-stop reveal of evidence, clue by clue in exacting order, which though undoubtedly superior to your average Midsommer Murders episode still has the dread touch of formula on it. The backstory of the killer, for example, felt like a time-worn simplification lifted from the pages of too many other novels within the genre. It was tailored to fit this story, granted, but I was left wanting something more.

Littlewood is a very competent writer. Her prose rolls of the page with a light and easy-to-read touch -- I read most of it in the sun on holiday -- and she has a gift for creative story-telling. By the final act, I was hoping for a sea-change in the story's direction comparable to A Cold Season to really knock my socks off. So whilst the novel was a perfectly good crime novel -- better than average, I would even chance -- I was ultimately left feeling a little unfulfilled.
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Alison Littlewood is clearly very versatile. Her last book, A Cold Season, was out-and-out supernatural horror. "Path of Needles" is more ambiguous.

The book centres on two women, Cate, an ambituous police constable and Alice, a university lecturer specialising in fairy tales. When a serial killer begins to leave victims posed like fairy tale characters, Cate, temporarily attached to the enquiry and desperate for a chance to move on, goes out on a limb to involve Alice in the investigation. Soon, though, she begins to have doubts. Alice, meanwhile, is conscious of danger as the stories she loves, but which have always been safely trapped in books, become real. And what does the mysterious blue bird signify? All Alice's stories exist in multiple, variant texts, and once you start to interpret them - or to interpret real events in light of them - it seems as though there are no rules, as though anything goes.

I enjoyed the way that Littlewood captures both main characters, including the rivalries and undercurrents among the police, Cate's desire to get on in her career and her relationship with her old mentor. There's a strong thread in the book, playing, of course, into the overt fairytale them, of parent-child relationships (good and bad) especially mothers and daughters. The book walks a narrow line between becoming merely a police procedural and tipping over into the outright weird. We always suspect there may be more here than a serial killer, yet at the same time the crimes are explored as crimes and aren't inexplicable.

Littlewood is also good at evoking landscape - a particular patch of Yorkshire - using real places yet managing to give them an unearthly aspect (this reminded me of Graham Joyce's Some Kind of Fairy Tale).

Overall, a gripping read, something a little different, definitely a writer to watch.
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on 3 June 2013
The new year begins for literature teacher Alice Hyland in April, as the blossom begins to bloom and she sees a fairy tale Blue Bird in her garden, which leaves her a feather on her windowsill. Alice is an expert in fairy tales and seems to live her life ensconced in one, which is why young PC Cate Corbin calls on her expertise when she sees something unusual in a crime scene.
Young Chrissie Farrell is young and beautiful, and on the evening of her being crowned Queen of the Dance, she is abducted and brutally murdered, her body left posed in such a way as to suggest to Cate, that the victim is Snow White. But this is only the first death in what will become a series of murders where expert Alice becomes both consultant and suspect.
Like the original fairy tales themselves, this novel is grim, dark and disturbing. And also rather gruesome!
Littlewood's knowledge of the origins of fairy tales is well researched and incredibly accurate, adding to the plausibility of the plot. The imagery throughout the novel is striking and vivid, evocative and brutal. Alice and Cate's relationship is complex and believable as is the police procedural stuff.
With Littlewood's first novel A Cold Season, she scared and astounded her reader. Many may have asked, can she do it again? Have no doubt, Littlewood's literary vision is stunning and she has only just started. I can't wait to see what she does next.
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on 9 September 2013
There is a bit of a 'thing' about the re-telling of fairy tales at the moment, and this book sits nicely in that realm - but with a twist... The story starts with a desperate mother and a murdered girl, then leads into the life of a dreamy college lecturer who specialises in fairy tales, and a rookie policewoman who becomes involved in a murder investigation. The main characters, Alice (the lecturer) and Cate (the policewoman) are built up nicely - both women are very different from one another, but ultimately they both want to catch the killer who is leaving girls posed like characters from fairy tales. Some of the elements are quite 'horror' but also clever - I learnt a lot about the way that fairy tales have been told over the years, and how they started off as quite awful tales for adults, over the years becoming 'softer' for the younger audience that we associate them with now. I really enjoyed the way the story unfolded. The dreaminess of Alice, versus the tenacity of Cate. The murderer was quite unique in his methods; and the overall motif of the bright blue bird throughout tied it all together brilliantly. This was a really refreshing change from the usual procedurals out there, and one I highly recommend.
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on 1 July 2015
Where do I begin. This is the first book from Alison Littlewood I've read since the fairytale element grabbed me immediately. I love the dark area of fairytales, but this didn't really do it justice. I think Alison went on her own Path of Needles with this one. Alice as a character is a bit naiive and Cate is a tricky one. Is she just as dreamy as Alice or a serious policewoman? Hmmmmm...And I don't get the whole bird thing, it overcomplicated the story and wasn't needed. The ending was extremely disappointing, a burning house and that's it. The writing is very dull and repetitive, one page itself had 'she' at the beginning of every sentence and even following sentences, so a bit sloppy. I don't think she stayed on the path of what the book was supposed to be, the whole poisoned birds thing and magic and...just wasn't very well put together in my honest opinion. Started off well, but got too messy. Sorry!
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I love a book that not only gives me something special but also takes me on an unexpected journey in so many ways. This title by Alison not only gives the reader a crime story but also gives the reader that wonderful Urban Fantasy twist so that you're never sure what you're going to get.

The book is well written, has some great prose and when added to the stunning lead character that readers will just love to spend time with and all round you're in for a treat. Back this up with an author who clearly loves giving the reader something magical to devour between the sheets and all round that Jo Fletcher magic is clearly still working. Great stuff.
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on 23 September 2015
Easy read with an interesting concept and the variants on well know fairy stories were fascinating. But I just didn't get along with this at all.

It is difficult to mix the supernatural with crime/police procedural and this just didn't work for me. I found it hard to believe that two unconnected people living within the same area would have academic knowledge of the same subject.

Also the ending was silly and perplexing, are we meant to believe that the murderer was rewarded with exactly what they wanted...?
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