Comment • reviews • Nordic Noir • whimsy
Good evening. Today we’re joined in the Secret Library by the psychological thriller writer, Rachel Sargeant. Her latest title is The Roommates, published by HarperCollins. Rachel has been based in Gloucestershire for several years, but previously lived in Lincolnshire, Surrey, Shropshire, Nordrhein-Westfalen and Ceredigion. She likes to feature settings she knows in her writing, but gives them a twist so they are far darker than the real places. Brr.
Before lockdown her hobbies were visiting coffee shops, watching amateur dramatics and swimming. These days she enjoys walking to the local park and sitting in her garden. Her other hobby – reading – has carried on being a delightful distraction from real-world problems. Let’s get straight to her choices:
The Pledge by Friedrich Dürrenmatt (translated by Joel Agee)
Friedrich Dürrenmatt was a prolific Swiss dramatist whom I first came across during my A level German studies. As well as plays, he wrote three detective novels, the most well-known being The Pledge. As a sixth former I enjoyed the book at face value – a good story I could just about understand in the original German. But when I returned to it as a writer, I realised how Dürrenmatt had subverted the genre, ripping up the whodunit rule book. The story follows a detective who has promised the mother of a murdered child that he will find the culprit. He goes to extraordinary lengths to trap the killer. The characters, setting and haunting plot stuck so strongly in my mind that when I was TV channel-hopping years later, I tuned into a Jack Nicholson film and knew within two minutes it must be an adaptation of The Pledge. Like Dürrenmatt, the director Sean Penn, knew how to strip out all extraneous detail to create a taut and unnerving story.
A Meal in Winter by Hubert Mingarelli (translated by Sam Taylor)
A Meal In Winter by Hubert Mingarelli is another book that strips to the bare bones. Set during the Second World War, three German soldiers are tasked with rounding up an escaped Jew. It explores the unpalatable question: how could average men commit unspeakable atrocities. The author says all that needs to be said in 138 pages. The sub-zero Polish setting is stark and the characters real. Although written in 2013, this outstanding book is reminiscent of All Quiet on the Western Front or One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich.
Precious Bane by Mary Webb
On a lighter note, my favourite book is Precious Bane by Mary Webb.
I only picked it up because I’d moved to Shropshire, the home of the late author who is much celebrated locally. It’s written in a dialect of nineteenth century country people which takes a bit of getting used to but ultimately works well. I loved the romance between Prue and Kester, two intelligent, compassionate people in a community which doesn’t value either of these qualities. Although it was published in 1924, the wry humour still works today. When Prue and Kester write each other love letters, supposedly on behalf of other people, the scene has all the hallmarks of a modern romantic comedy. After I had read the book, I vowed never to read it again as I didn’t want to spoil the magic of the memory I had of it. However, last year after returning to rural Shropshire for a holiday, I succumbed to reading it again. It didn’t disappoint. I loved it even more and am inspired to set a future thriller in that county.
Thanks to Rachel for these thought-provoking choices. As we know we should never judge a book by its cover, and Precious Bane in particular sounds a lot more interesting than it looks. That said, I’m intrigued by the cover of Rachel’s latest novel: The Roommates is a campus psychological thriller and the cover reminds me a bit of my old halls of residence. ‘Four new students, each hiding a secret from their past, find themselves sharing a flat. When one of them suddenly disappears, the others must trust each other and work together to find out what has happened. Little do they realise the danger ahead.’ Here’s the excellent cover:
You can get The Roommates here (all links in this post are affiliate links).
Secret Library is back next Friday but in the meantime you can join previous guest librarians here.