Claiming Noah: debut psychological suspense by Amanda Ortlepp

Catriona and James are desperate for children, so embark on an IVF program. Four embryos are created, and by the third treatment Catriona is pregnant. They decide to adopt out the fourth embryo anonymously. (from publisher’s blurb)

Claiming Noah by Amanda OrtleppI must admit, when a copy of Amanda Ortlepp’s debut novel, Claiming Noah, arrived in the post, I wasn’t sure I wanted to read it. My reluctance wasn’t due to the subject matter. I devoured both of Dawn Barker’s books, Fractured and Let Her Go, which deal with similar difficult subjects, including post-natal psychosis and issues relating to a child’s true (or legal) parentage. I just wasn’t sure I wanted to traverse similar territory in another novel.

Nevertheless, amid all the excitement of releasing my own debut novel this week,* I persisted, and I’m happy to report Claiming Noah is worth the read.

In Claiming Noah, Ortlepp creates a very Solomon-esque story in a contemporary setting, and teases it out to a tense and satisfying conclusion. Her point-of-view characters are Catriona, the donor mum, and Diana, who adopts Catriona’s embryo; both are sympathetic characters who go through a very rough time and deserve better. They have problems with husbands, newborns and adjusting to dramatic changes in their life circumstances; both suffer tragedy and deception which cause them heartache and take them to the brink.

At times when reading I found myself pulled out of the story thinking, She wouldn’t do that. Why doesn’t she…? But it’s a credit to Ortlepp that she is able to bring her characters to life so well that I began think I knew them!

Claiming Noah is billed as a thriller, but I think it’s more mainstream than that: I wouldn’t put the “thrills” at much more than you’d find in suspense (which is fine by me). There’s nothing externally life-threatening in this story; the life challenges, when they come, stem from the characters’ inner worlds, and the impact of external events on their psychological and mental health, which is only ever really severely tested for Catriona.

I read the novel over a few days and it kept me engaged – rather than “hooked” – for that time. (Considering I also had a lot going on with my own release, that’s no mean feat.) The moral dilemmas the novel presents are interesting, even if the references to the Catholic church’s influence seem a little dated. The ethical issues the story raises deserve to be explored. And what better way to explore them than in entertaining fiction?

Fans of Dawn Barker’s work won’t be disappointed.

~

Author: Amanda Ortlepp
Title: Claiming Noah
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Date: March 2015
ISBN: 9781925030600

A review copy was kindly supplied to me by the publisher.

This review forms part of my contribution to both the Australian Women Writers Challenge and the Aussie Author Challenge 2015.

 

* You can read about my debut romance, Snowy River Man, and enter a giveaway to win an ebook copy here.

Hades by Candice Fox – a disturbing debut

When I first read Candice Fox’s debut novel Hades earlier this year, I couldn’t bring myself to review it. Its themes are so dark, I couldn’t get over the emotional impact it had on me enough to write about it.

Dark themes, drawn from a chaotic childhood. Fox grew up as part of a “shared” foster household where encounters with police and visits to prison were routine.

As an author, I’ve spent years trying to shut out the late-night knocking, the grisly stories half-heard around the kitchen corner, the screaming and the crying and the wild eyes, by writing myself into safe places, predictable places. But lately, all that darkness has been creeping back in.

Because, really, the best writers will tell you that you should write what you know. I’ve known how bad the world can be from the very beginning. (Read more here.)

Hades Candice FoxRereading the book months later I was able to detach. I knew already the terrain it covered and could concentrate on the author’s skill – in coming up with the plot, in characterising the villains as heroes and the heroes as both victims and perpetrators, and in setting the scene.

Hades is a hard book to classify, though its title gives some clue. “Hades” refers to one of the book’s characters, a “fixer” for Sydney’s underworld who takes in two orphaned children, Eden and Eric, and raises them to become police officers – and avengers of their murdered parents. But Hades the Fixer isn’t the central character; the book’s narrator Detective Frank Bennett is. The story switches from third person flashbacks showing Hades and the children, to Frank’s first-person narration, to the points of view of various victims of a serial killer. The hunt for the serial killer provides the chief narrative drive and opportunity for moral questioning of the story. In this context, “Hades” refers more to the place of torment and suffering that many of the book’s characters appear to occupy. The language of morality pervades the book, nudging it from crime into the realms of horror – without ever being supernatural. As Fox has named Stephen King as the person she’d most like to be trapped in a lift with, perhaps this horror element isn’t surprising.

As crime-horror, the novel poses a number of ethical and moral questions. What creates a killer – nature or nurture? When is taking another human being’s life justified – if ever? What happens to victims of crime? What moral stance would we take if faced with the prospect of imminent death versus the chance of survival? Does every human being deserve to live, no matter what?

With a page-turning plot and enviable style, Fox’s narrative forces the main character – and the reader – to confront these questions.

One of the admirable features of Fox’s writing is her way of accomplishing several narrative tasks at once. In the following example, where Frank the narrator observes his new colleagues, Fox manages to characterise the narrator, provide backstory, introduce secondary characters in an interesting way, set the mood and foreshadow major themes:

My mother had been a wildlife warrior, the kind who would stop and fish around in the pouches of kangaroo corpses for joeys and scrape half-squashed birds off the road to give them pleasant deaths or fix them. One morning she brought me home a box of baby owls to care for, three in all, abandoned by their mother. The men and women in the office made me think of those owls, the way they clustered into a corner of the shoebox when I’d opened it, the way their eyes howled black and empty with terror. (Kindle location 142)

Rereading Hades, I highlighted countless examples of fine writing, way too many to include here.

The overall impression created by the story is that good and evil aren’t separable. As Eric remarks to Frank about working for the police:

This job is about knowing each other, Frank. It’s about knowing each other’s secrets and ignoring them. We’re all good guys here. No one’s better than anyone else. We’re all dirty. We’ve all got something shadowing us.

It’s my hunch Fox thinks this is also true about human nature.

Hades is a very interesting read.

~

Hades by Candice Fox was published 1st January 2014 by Random House Books Australia (Bantam imprint) ISBN: 9780857981172. Review copy kindly supplied by the publishers via NetGalley.

This review forms part of my Australian Women Writers Challenge and Aussie Author Challenge.

Introducing Lizzy Chandler – a new name, a new blog and a new story

When I was about seven I defaced the inside back cover of a picture book by writing my first story. I don’t remember much about it, except that it featured the Nativity. Instead of getting me into trouble, my act of vandalism gave me unexpected celebrity with my (usually distant) father. He said it should be printed out and sent in to the Catholic Weekly. Receiving that praise was the start of my lifelong ambition to be published in fiction.

Last year a good writer friend, Cathleen Ross, did a spontaneous psychic reading for me. She said my “guides” had just one message: I needed a good kick up the backside as I should have been submitting my work to publishers. As I’d once had a reading by an Indian psychic in Agra near the Taj Mahal, I was dubious. That psychic hadn’t picked me as a writer. Nevertheless, I listened to Cathleen. She suggested I approach Kate Cuthbert of Escape Publishing (the Australian digital arm of Harlequin) with one of my romance novels, a story that had been a finalist in the Clendon Award some years ago. After seeing the first three chapters, Kate requested the whole manuscript. A couple of weeks ago, she sent me an offer of publication.

This is it. My lifetime ambition is about to be realised, after years of rejections and near misses, and all the self-doubt and frustrations any aspiring author will know only too well.

While I’ve shared this news already to family, close friends and the Australian Women Writers team, I wanted to organise a few things before I went public with my news. The first thing I needed to do was to settle on a pen-name. (Anyone who has pronounced my surname, Lhuede, as “lewd” will understand why this isn’t a great name for romance.)

So I’ll be publishing under the name Lizzy Chandler.

Chandler is a family name that I’ve been able to trace back to the late eighteenth-century in Gloucestershire, UK. My great-, great-, great-, great-, great-grandmother was Sarah Chandler, on my mother’s side. Elizabeth is also a family name that goes back many generations, and my darling grandmother was always known as Lizzy, so I love my new name (and it’s much easier to spell).

If you’re a friend, family or writing acquaintance, if you participate in the Australian Women Writers challenge, and if you love a good story with romance and suspense, I hope you’ll like my Lizzy Chandler Facebook page, find me on Twitter @Lizzy_Chandler, and follow my new Lizzy Chandler blog. I’ll keep you posted when my book is out. It’ll  be available in digital format (ebook) all around the world.

In the meantime, I want to share this photo of the countryside that inspired my story, Her Man From Snowy River Country. It’s a cabin where we stay from time to time. I’ll keep the incredible tale of what happened when I was down there researching this story for another time.

Special thanks to my family and friends, the team and participants of the Australian Women Writers Challenge, and Kate at Escape Publishing. I’m thrilled that I’ll be a published author after all this time.

Photo by Rodney Weidland (used with permission)

Photo by Rodney Weidland (used with permission)

  • Goodreads

  • Country Secrets – anthology

  • Snowy River Man – rural romance

  • By Her Side – romantic suspense

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