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The Guest House
by David Mark
Review

THE GUEST HOUSE

cover image of the book 'The Guest House' by author David MarkMum-of-three Ronni Ashcroft had just pieced her life back together after her husband left.

On a remote spur of the Scottish Highlands, she kept her successful guest house going and even met a new man, Bishop.

But it turned out that Bishop had secrets. He had shady connections and shadier plans to use the coastal town as a European gateway for drugs, guns – and something far worse.

Now he’s disappeared, and Ronnie wants answers.

Is he in trouble or simply ignoring her? Was she just his play-thing from the start? And, most importantly, is he dragging them both into something that neither of them will survive?

cover image of the book 'The Guest House' by author David Mark

DAVID MARK

Image of author David MarkDavid spent more than 15 years as a journalist, including seven years as a crime reporter with The Yorkshire Post – walking the Hull streets that would later become the setting for the internationally bestselling Detective Sergeant Aector McAvoy novels.

His writing is heavily influenced by the court cases he covered: the defeatist and jaded police officers; the inertia of the justice system and the sheer raw grief of those touched by savagery and tragedy.

David’s Radio 4 drama, A Marriage of Inconvenience, aired last year. His first novel is currently being adapted for the stage. He has also written for the stage and has contributed articles and reviews to several national and international publications. He is a regular performer at literary festivals and is a sought-after public speaker. He also teaches creative writing.

Keep up with all David’s latest news at his Website

Follow David on Twitter

Catch up with David on Facebook

cover image of the book 'The Guest House' by author David Mark

FIRST LINES

PROLOGUE

JANUARY 18, 2.14am

A sea of smashed glass. Snow and ice, ocean and darkness: a barbed frieze of ash and teeth and steel.

Five miles from the West Coast of Scotland, the elements become a maelstrom of power and violence. The Atlantic has saved its fury for this final stretch of water: a final, lethal punch thrown by a fading adversary. Here, nearing the wild, saw-toothed peninsula of Ardnamurchan, the sea and sky seem to conspire. The snow becomes a blizzard; the stormy waters now almost Biblical in their fury. Where the water meets land it attacks as if trying to claw great chunks of earth within its embrace.

.

PART ONECHAPTER ONE

NOWJANUARY 23, 7.54am

MURT GORM CROFT, NEAR SALEN, ARDNAMURCHAN PENINSULA

‘Daddy!’

‘No, Lilly. Mummy. Say “Mummy”. Mummy’s here. Mummy’s trying.’

‘No, Daddy. Daddy!’

‘Daddy’s busy, Lilly. Busy… somewhere else. I’m doing my best, just push… wiggle your foot…’

‘Not Mummy. No. Not Mummy! Mummy hurts!’

‘Please, Lilly. It makes Mummy sad when you say that. I’m trying, I promise. It still fits – you just need to push…’

‘Mummy mean. Mummy hurt toes. Daddy nice…!’

‘He’s not here, Lilly!’

‘Where Daddy gone?’

‘Away, Lilly!’

‘Where, Mummy!’

‘Fort William, Lilly! He’s banging Kimmy, because she’s twenty-three and doesn’t have stretch marks and because she eats up all his bullshit with a spoon!’

cover image of the book 'The Guest House' by author David Mark

MEMORABLE LINES

“He cherishes the unsullied touch of the wind and rain; adores every naked connection between himself and that which he holds to be untainted. It is the intercession of people that begins the process of defilement. He learned that in prison, and the knowledge was dearly bought”

.

“It takes twenty minutes to reach the cosy, white-painted pub that serves as an entry point to the tiny village of Kilchoan. It’s quiet to the point of deathly, but it’s a bleakly beautiful spot. The gale whips in off the loch like the lash from a whip but it carries with it an uncanny ability to strip away all the tangled baggage of the day. To take a walk to the water’s edge is to invite a bombardment from the elements. I’ve never come back from Kilchoan without pink cheeks, tired calves and considerably fewer woes”

.

“He’s quiet for a moment. I feel a lovely warm tingle in my fingertips and toes, as if the blood is starting to flow again after a wee nip of frostbite. I don’t get many chances to be nasty and I save them all up for those who deserve to see that side of me. Callum’s never really seen it. He’s heard me whine and sometimes get a little snappy when I’m tired or things aren’t going my way, but the person I’ve been since I found out about his lies must have boggled his mind”

.

“It’s a foul night: wet and dark and filled with the roar of the storm. Beyond the garden the trees thrash like fighting stags, the sound fighting for superiority over the suck and surge of the water against the shingly bay across the road and the churn of the rising river beneath the bridge. On such nights I cannot help but think of the crofters who used to make their home here: huddling together in a single room, arthritic fingers struggling to light a peat fire in the cold, black hearth. I know I am a child of my time. I sometimes wonder how much weaker we will become before we turn our backs on softness altogether”

.

“Grief softens the heart but anger gives it steel”

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“He will live because I have procured him a heart, Mr Roe. He will die when I take it away”

.

“Perhaps tonight they will finally talk things through. What she means to him and what he means to her. It will never be physical – it is a bond beyond that. She kept him alive even as she sentenced him to death. She’s turned him from one thing into something else entirely. Whatever he is, she has created. She is his redemption, and he is hers”

cover image of the book 'The Guest House' by author David Mark

REVIEW

“How much would you pay to survive?”

This is only the second David Mark book I have read, both of which have undergone re-publishing after title changes and both reportedly the first in their respective new series, although as yet there are no signs of #2 on the horizon, which is a shame because they were both so darned good!

I am totally in tune with David’s brutal style of writing and the lugubrious characters he creates, who are just begging to be hated by everyone. The thriller junkie half of me is convinced that “Nicholas Roe” would work really well as an adaptation for a television series, whilst my nicer, kinder side thinks that his style of action might just be a little too dark and complicated to squeeze into an hour long programming schedule.

So, typically I try to assign four distinct segments to my ideal thriller reading experience: a storyline which hits the ground running and grabs my attention; a plot which moves along a fair pace without too many ‘flat’ spots; an ending that neatly ties up all the loose ends; oh! and I don’t really like my main protagonist to have got themselves killed off! – This one ticks just about all those boxes, although I was a nervous wreck by the time I closed the final page, as how close you can come to getting yourself killed and still live to tell the tale, is a very moot point.

The chapters were relatively short, succinct and well signposted, although there was quite a bit of backwards and forwards in time zones, so I did need to be on my toes with keeping track of who was who, as names were not always used and even if they had been, I could never have been sure if it was a genuine name or an alias. However once the twisted plot began to unravel somewhat, all became much more clear and easy to piece together, although those red herrings and twists just kept coming. So if I was confused, just spare a thought for poor Ronnie, probably the only person who was actually the ‘real deal’, unless you count three young children and the village gossip, who definitely got more than she bargained for!

Some lovely descriptive narrative definitely set a truly visual sense of time and place, with real locations that I could check out on the map, adding an authenticity to the entire storyline. A Scottish coastal area, which despite is alluring tranquillity and rugged beauty for much of the time, can turn in the blink of an eye, into the wild, stormy maelstrom which dominates the period of this story, making the place as ruthless and unforgiving as the characters who are temporarily calling it their own. Boats navigating its churning waters with their illicit cargo and human sacrifice. Guest lodges which are isolated places offering solitude and anonymity for those who want to stay below the radar. A castle undergoing ‘renovation’ although despite speculation, nobody quite knows into what and it’s probably just as well they don’t!

A gripping and disturbing, covert police and NCA operation, meant that the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, was in very short supply for most of the time. Officers were so deeply undercover as to be almost unrecognisable to their own mothers and I had a list of characters to whom I had assigned ‘guilty’ or ‘innocent’ labels, just to try and get things straight in my own mind – You have no idea how many times those labels got swapped around, with the innocent becoming guilty, the guilty becoming innocent and just about every permutation in between. I’m certainly pleased this wasn’t a game of ‘Cluedo’, because I would have been out after the first round of guessing!

This compelling, powerful and truly multi-layered story, is well structured, highly textured, extremely intense and with no holds barred in the violence game, although it is completely in sync with the ruthless nature of the perpetrators and in no way gratuitous. You don’t take risks in such a high stakes endeavour, which has extensive and fatal penalties should you get caught by the authorities, or fail your masters, without being prepared to defend yourself to the hilt at the first signs of trouble.

David has created a well drawn and developed, dour, duplicitous and highly manipulative cast of characters you can’t help but dislike, even though they might try to wheedle their way under your skin and appeal to your better nature. It’s as though they suck all the air out of a room when they are near, leaving you feeling claustrophobic and gasping for breath. Even Ronni and Callum’s three young children know that something isn’t right with the new family scenario they have been presented with, so there are no joyous moments to break the tension and definitely no reasons to invest in, relate to, or empathise with any of them. I know that this is the beginning of a new series for Nicholas Roe, so he is meant to be the star of the show, although whether he will live to solve another case is anyone’s guess. I’m sure that it’s only the sticky nicotine tar from his chain smoking which is holding body and soul together like a glue! However for me, Ronni was the stand-out character and it may be that we have not seen the last of her, such a good impression did she make on Roe’s superior officer. She was feeling quite vulnerable and displayed a very complex jigsaw of human emotions, although she was just about the only person who started out totally innocent of any crime. Once she had worked out that Roe and Bishop, the new man in her life were not quite who they purported to be, she finds herself getting drawn into their web of lies and deceit. However when plans go wrong and Ronni finds herself at the mercy of a very unsavoury gang, who treat torture like a favourite pastime, she fights like a lioness, against all the odds, in an effort to get back to her children and protect them from harm.

I’m not sure if there is just a glimmer of hope that Ronni and Callum might in some way be reunited, as although he was duped and coerced by the police, he was very far from being an innocent party to events. It still remains to see if his shattered body and mind will heal and recover and whether Ronni can ever forgive him for bringing trouble to their family door. Perhaps she will discover a new personal strength to take her on her journey alone with her children. I can’t wait to find out if Ronni’s ‘Guest House’ takes on a whole new meaning in the future!!

Image of author David Mark

A complimentary kindle download of this book for review, was made available by the publisher Aries & Aria Fiction and supplied by NetGalley.

Any thoughts or comments are my own personal opinion and I am in no way being monetarily compensated for this, or any other article which promotes this book or its author.

I personally do not agree with ‘rating’ a book, as the overall experience is all a matter of personal taste, which varies from reader to reader. However some review sites do demand a rating value, so when this review is posted to such a site, it will attract a well deserved 5 out of 5 stars!

 

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