on 12 March 2010
This is my third venture into the works of RJ Ellory.
I started with one of his most recent - A Simple Act of Violence which was excellent followed by A Quiet Belief in Angels which (IMO) I found very hard going and now this, which was excellent if not flawed in parts.
The central character is Annie O'Neill, a single 30 year old female living on her own in Manhattan, who I did find engaging if not, at times, a little irritating.
She becomes obsesed about wanting to know more about her father when who died in her childhood. Her late mother, for reasons that weren't entirely convincing said little or nothing to her about him.
Stage left enters a man named Forrester who maintains that he was her father's closest friend. Not suprisingly this fires her imagination but a minor flaw here is that it takes for ever for her to ask him directly more about her father.
However Forrester's does engage her with a series of extracts from a manuscript which is a story which starts out in Poland before quickly moving to Auschwitz and tracks through to the 60's.
Annie's closest friend/soulmate is an alcoholic neighbour with a heart of gold called Jack Sullivan. His character blends well with Annie and is a useful counter-balance to some of her more emotional diversions.
The dialogue between them is crisp and witty.
There is a romantic link as well with a guy called David Quinn. You become involved in how this relationship unfolds but you don't quite anticipate at the time how his character might develop.
All things considered I thought that this was superb book. I sussed out how it might end up with 50 pages to go, but it was so well written that this didn't matter.
Next up - Candle Moth!
on 21 January 2011
This is the second R J Ellory book I've read. I just couldn't put it down. In fact I stayed up so late to read it I was nearly falling asleep at my desk the next day. R J Ellory creates such credible and real characters I feel that I know them and they stay with me long after I've finished reading. Whilst this isn't a conventional whodunnit it does bear many elements of a crime/mystery novel. I also love how he creates an impression of America in a certain era. He does this largely by reminding the reader what was going on historically at the time the more personal elements of the story were playing out. There is some quite graphic violence in this book and the subject matter does not always make easy reading. R J Ellory has this knack of making you 'like' the characters he creates even when you don't like how they behave. I thought Annie was a credible, likeable and believable character and Forrester enigmatic with a hint of menace that made me want to find out more about the reason for him leaving parts of a manuscript with Annie. A Manuscript which tells a story spanning the horrors of Auschwitz to America in the 1960's, and forms the backbone of this story.
If you haven't read any R J Ellory, but like the sort of thriller that you are still thinking about weeks after you've read it then I can't recommend this enough.
on 27 June 2013
This is such a tremendous book, where do I start. It's captivating and draws you in from the first few pages. As with all Ellory's books it has you racing through it at break neck speed to get to the last few page where it all unfolds. However you're torn as you really don't want the book ever to end. Ellory writes with eloquence and has strands of humour throughout; one liners that make you wish you had been smart enough to write. I read this when it first came out, borrowed from a library, and I was drawn to reading it again so bought it this time round as I know I'll read it some more over the years. The characters he crafts are made of substance, they aren't shiny and fluffy, they are raw and real and they get under your skin. Annie, the main character is one that you want to nurture and protect but also scream at her to ask more questions. You identify with her humility and understand her complexities. You have empathy for her and are rooting for Annie from the start. Each time I've read an Ellory book I've devoured it in a few sessions so be prepared to lose a few days. And as a final note...everyone needs a Sullivan.
This is the story of Annie, a thirty year old that lives a rather quiet and obviously lonely life in New York. Her sole means of occupying her time is the bookshop she owns and runs which has certainly more books than customers. The rest is spent with her neighbour a fifty plus ex journalist, Jack Sullivan who drinks to forget the horrors he has seen. A rather quirky friendship which is born out of wanting something more out of life and not finding it - in Annie's case her father and who he was. In Jack's case, a family; love.
However, fate has a funny way of working and Annie finds love, deeply, quickly and falling immensely from a great height when David Quinn appears in her book shop, her bed, her life and her conscience. Is David all that he seems? Annie does not want to think of the old adage `too good to be true' or actually is she merely cynical over men and past relationships. Look at her father, he left when she was seven and her and her mother never heard from him again.
In turn Jack becomes the father figure, that he always wanted to be and finds that actually it is a lot tougher than he would ever imagined.
When a stranger appears at the book shop with a tale to tell having known her father, Annie feels that she now has a link and can find some peace within herself.
This book is also the story of Harry Rose, a survivor of Dachau who is brought to America by the same officer who liberated him. Harry has seen the worst of people and the best. The way to survive is to obliterate those who cause harm and hurt.
We watch as Harry moves amongst the gangsters of fifties into the sixties, protection rackets, illegal betting, prostitution, no stone is left unturned by Harry's life as he knows there is no God and that the world is bad. Harry learns trust from all those he keeps company with, he pays his dues and collects accordingly, always polite and on time. A man with a reputation not to be questioned. But with trust there is still no faith and when the worst of people is shown, Harry can commit the worst himself.
Friendships come and go but one man Johnnie Redbird is in it with Harry for the long haul; they have witnessed much and know that either of them could bring the other one down. The sign of a friendship which can be picked up immediately even if years have passed but the years have passed and the America they live in has changed and so have Harry and Johnnie. Will the trust in their friendship last to the end?
When a stranger appears at a bookshop, he has a story to impart and Harry and Johnnie will live on.
I admit to struggling with the first twenty or so pages and was at the point of giving up, but as soon as I started to learn about Harry and his life I was hooked. Suddenly I was captured by the whole plot and how could two seemingly different people, in different eras have possible any ties whatsoever. As the pieces slowly started to slot into place, I guessed, I was wrong, I guessed again what the denouement would be but was only half wrong and I cared about all the characters whether they were flawed or not, I wanted the end but I did not want it to. This is a crime book, but it is also so much more. A worthy read.
Here is another gem from R.J. Ellory. I have read all his books but one, and each book deserves 5 stars. He is an incredible author. Ghost Heart is a story within a story, like a little Russian Doll. Annie runs a book shop and is quite lonely really. Her mother is dead and she never knew anything about her father who seemed to have disappeared from her life when she was about 7. An elderly man enters the shop one day telling her he was a friend of her father's and also that they were members of an exclusive bookclub - just the two of them. He comes bearing a manuscript which he urges her to read in instalments and which they can discuss each week when he will bring the next section. He also promises to tell her something of her father and show her some letters written from her father to her mother. The manuscript is about the life of two gangsters, how they met and became a team. In the midst of all this, a man enters Annie's life and turns it upside down. She falls deeply in love with him. To say too much more would ruin the book, but it is well worth a read. I have to say if I could give 6 stars to any of his other books it would be 'A Quiet Belief in Angels', and 'Candlemoth'. I am looking forward greatly to reading his latest book 'Anniversary Man', because one thing you can always be sure of with this author is that he always delivers. He is very good at examining the human psyche and what makes people tick. His books are thoughtful and in the case of 'Candlemoth' extremely moving. Highly recommended author.
Along with many others I have been investing in R J Ellory's back-catalogue in response to his hugely successful fifth novel A Quiet Belief in Angels. Ghostheart is his second novel, and again it is clear that he has a broad and diverse talent, because he has the unusual ability to tell a tale in a different style to all of his others whilst retaining his own indelible signature and personal identity. And this is such an intelligently written story that I felt tempted to read it all over again as soon as I had finished.
Essentially there are three men in the life of central character Annie O'Neill: her friend and neighbour Jack, her new lover David, and her late father Frank O'Neill. And although a huge amount of time is allocated to the two living characters, it gradually emerges that it is her father who is the most influential and who, indirectly, this book is all about despite his having died more than twenty years earlier, when Annie was about seven years old. It's a book about writing; Annie runs a small bookshop in a little lane off West 107th Street, Manhattan, and part of the inventory includes antique and classical publications that are dear to her heart. Despite this being the early part of the 21st century, Annie feels - as one suspects the author does, too - that she doesn't belong in the modern era in a literary sense, feeling a closer connection to the likes of Fitzgerald, Steinbeck and Hemingway than writers of the current time. An elderly man visits her shop with a tale of his own to tell, one which involves gangsters of a bygone generation and a tale that is narrated in occasional pieces within the main body of the story. Soon after Annie starts reading the letters given to her each week by the elderly man, she meets David and is quickly swept off her feet by him and enters into a passionate and blissful love affair. Meanwhile, she shares her rapidly changing life with her trusted friend and neighbour Jack Sullivan, a heavy-drinking Vietnam veteran and journalist nearly twice her age.
Through the eyes, mind and heart of a woman with little in the way of previous experience in matters of love and commitment, and who knows a lot less about her late father than she would like, the reader is taken on an odyssey of emotional traumas that encompass both the present and the past, with issues such as love, honesty, trust, heritage and revenge just some of the tests of spirit and resolve that Annie has to endure. Key among these is the drama of discovering that the past life she thought she knew is shockingly different in reality, and that she has been deceived by those closest to her for her entire life until now.
The realisation of the truth is told in minute detail, a revelation that covers almost the entire length of the novel, and while the reader might second-guess the outcome, or some elements of it, before Annie does, the conclusion is moving and narrated with great skill and sensitivity. This is a story that I will remember long after closing the final page, a tale expertly and convincingly told despite the preconceived objections some have apparently had, that a British writer should tell a story entirely based in America, and a man writing through the emotions of a woman. The open-minded will soon realise, as they most likely had done previously with other Ellory novels, that this is a storyteller of exceptional talent and diversity, and also that he is no one-hit-wonder by any means. A Quiet Belief in Angels may have been the one that everybody has heard about and read, but the truth is that everything that went before - including Ghostheart - is every bit as good.
on 25 November 2008
I took this novel on holiday and ended up walking around the apartment with it, bumping into furniture. I put it down to sleep and to eat, and that's about it. I became horribly unsociable until I'd finished it. I then couldn't, in a home full of books, find one other I wanted to read. Because although I'd closed Ghostheart, the story and the characters hadn't left me.
Roger Ellory's talent in creating real humans, with all their loves, fears, complexities, cruelties and dark corners, is one of the joys of reading his work. I don't know who I'm going to meet next, and I start each one of his novels curious to get to know new people. I may loathe them, they may make me shudder, or I may even, as with this one, fall in love with them. I always remember them. Jack Sullivan, Annie's irascible, booze-soaked but golden-hearted neighbour who adores her, is a wonderful creation.
I found the character of Annie quite entrancing, I could identify with her loneliness and her searching, and I wanted her to find who she was looking for. Will it be the seductive but elusive David Quinn?
There are some teeth-rattling horrors in Ghostheart, which haven't left me either, starting at Auschwitz and moving forward into the brutal gangland world of America in the 50s and 60s. All of it has the raw stench of authenticity which made it both difficult, and compulsive, to read. I had to know what happened.
It all works beautifully together, and I loved it.
In Manhattan her tiny bookshop "The Reader's Rest" is Annie O'Neill's brief oasis of sanity. There are few customers but she does not mind. Now thirty one and virtually alone, her main ally is neighbour veteran war reporter Jack Sullivan. He is almost a father figure, she without hers since seven. Her unassuming life is to change when stranger Forrester calls, he with a tale to tell - it to be unfolded in stages....
That story within a story is very dramatic indeed - concentration camp horrors vividly described, these but a prelude to much else that is grim. Here is the saga of two mobsters, their relationship complicated, details revealed against a background of key moments in America's modern history.
The novel's first half grabs and holds attention. I confess, though, to real problems as it progresses - the writing increasingly overwrought, certain developments lacking credibility. Annie, hitherto liked, becomes irritatingly neurotic, the motivation of certain others simply not ringing true - nor does that end depending completely on contrivance.
Thus mixed feelings about this one, read with interest but its strengths more evident in the earlier stages.
(Very strangely, it is a character only mentioned in passing who really fired the imagination. In the nineteen thirties, that scraggy musical vagabond Joseph Kelzac. Mop-haired, wild-eyed, he could easily have been ridiculed, but the moment he played all would grow quiet, even the most hardened to become strangely moved. The story of him, his great love and its outcome, proved deeply affecting.)
RJ Ellory is marketed as a crime writer, he describes himself as a crime writer but once again he has delivered a novel that is so much more than a crime story. Whilst there are crimes, and some pretty gruesome and violent ones at that, these crimes are not the heart of the story.
A real study of people, life, circumstances and destiny and not a police man or procedure in sight. Annie O Neill is thirty year old American book-shop owner - initially a pretty drab character with not much to look forward to in life but as the story unfolds and Annie meets two new people; Forrester and David, her life becomes more interesting.
Annie's neighbour, Sullivan is one of the most fabulous characters I have ever come across and all of these central characters are so well written and drawn that I felt as though I was part of their world.
A truly remarkable story that takes the reader from the horrors of Auschwitz to the gangster-led, seedy underworld of 1960s America.
I got completely immersed in this story and could almost feel the passion that it was written with, the language, the descriptive prose, the pace - it was perfect.
Brilliant, brilliant, brilliant! To any reader that doesn't `do' crime - please give this author a try - you wont regret it!
on 19 January 2013
I do not understand the high praise this book has received. It is essentially a tale of revenge, with a dollup of sex thrown in to give the story some credence and to justify the pay-off at the end. The writing is good but has an ending you can see a mile off and a soppy main character you want to empathise with but cannot. When all is revealed at the end, it is just too hard believe and therefore loses any of its impact it was storing up.