Book Review – Cold Calling by Russell Mardell

Russell and his new genre

Cold Calling is the second book I’ve read by Russell Mardell. My first was Bleeker Hill back in December and I really enjoyed it, but this new book is completely different: Russell has moved from ghost story all the way to romance at the other end of the literary spectrum!

It’s rather refreshing to see an author who is able to move between genres. If you have the talent, generally speaking only the very famous and the self published are allowed to make that sort of  switch. An agent or publisher will usually be concentrating on a single focused path and that means a restricted set of genres. I guess that this is an astute approach: if you find a seam, you mine it, but at what cost? Life is a many faceted thing and people are built to live in it. As a reader I can cross any genre boundary I like, I feel strongly that authors should have the same right!

Russell has used his artistic freedom (unfortunately not as very famous author, but fortunately as a very talented self published author !) to produce Cold Calling, a book every bit as good as Bleeker Hill (Russell has written 5 books.) It is so totally, completely different that I’m not sure what measure I would use if I tried to compare the two books, so I won’t 🙂

Cold Calling

cdgv3n7xeaq4ler-jpg_largeOur story starts: Two star crossed lovers… [cue sound of needle scratching across a record.]

Cold Calling is not a conventional love story, nor does it have a simple A to B plot. The story just sort of happens, and you are taken along as the two main characters and their supporting cast open themselves up to you and to each other. Most, if not all of the book is written in first person, and we join a varied cast as the story unfolds. I was reminded of Dracula here, but Cold Calling is not a written account that we read as a posthumous voyeur, we join live events and thoughts; thankfully no one has to write a bloody diary! Russell cleverly uses the supporting roles to reflect the thoughts and actions of Anya and Ray. This creates depth and an ability to subtly cross examine the story.

Characters carry the day

The whole book is full of insightful, realistic characters. The story comes alive as layer upon layer of high quality observational writing is laid down. It really does feel like a window on people’s lives more than a story.

Subtlety, depth and insightfulness all come together to allow Cold Calling to encompass some very personal thoughts and emotions competently. There were multiple times when I recognised my own internal thoughts in someone else’s!

When Anya starts talking about her past life it becomes obvious that Anya is more closed off and is obviously forcing herself towards a confession of reality. Ray, on the other hand, has received counselling and is happier to voice his issues. Characters who can hide or articulate so much are the lifeblood of this book. Writing that  is able to articulate those personal emotions can only be described as excellent. The characterisation in Cold Calling is one obvious place where l could describe it as “better” than Bleeker Hill, but its a different type of story, in this case one that needs a deeper emotional attachment to it’s characters. It has delivered.

l don’t want to wax on about the same subject for too long, so I will close the characterisation section with love… Yes, dear reader I love you very much, you must know that by now? But you miss my point. I’m still talking about Cold Calling. It depicts love in many ways: caring, friendship, real, melancholy, lost, misunderstood, brotherly. My list is not exhaustive, yet my point is simple. Cold Calling is wonder fully complex.

Anya and Ray’s cold calls, and all the events that surround them, come together to form a coherent whole. A group of story lines that blend very well throughout the book. I dont think there was a story strand I didn’t like or actually any part of the book that I wanted to skip through.

The Publishing industry

Anya’s best friend Eva is a successful author.This character had a dual role in the plot. There was a beautifully self indulgent aspect to her that drew stark contrasts to the more fundamental events other characters were experiencing. On the other hand Eva provided an interesting glimpse into what literary success might look like? There is some good observations of the publishing industry in there, but importantly, Eva hates her fame. This created an interesting sub-plot in the book, but I really empathised with the dislike of this dual life that authors now need to lead: part literature generating hermit, part self promoting limelight junky.

Conclusion

The bottom line is that I really enjoyed this book. It took me through a very articulate set of emotions in a story that was believable and engaging. It managed to deliver all this and was still able to inject just the right amount of comedy. There were moments that I almost laughed out loud. Cold Calling didn’t affect me in any fundamental way, but I know that some things will happen in my life and l will be reminded of a situation l read in Cold Calling!

For the hundredth time since I started this blog, Cold Calling is not a book l would usually have read. But I’m very very glad I did.

Thanks Russell.

Rating: 9/10

 

Book Review – Bleeker Hill by Russell Mardell

I’ve been itching to read this book since I got it back in the summer. I met Russell in a pub with some other writing types (you know who you are!) and was enthusiastically recommended his book by one of my friends. It was hurriedly procured from the local Waterstones and I quickly added it close to the top of my reading list. I’m sure I had a good excuse to buy it, but the date in August is not near any special dates like birthdays or fathers day? I think Bleeker Hill may have the dubious honour of being the first book that I have added to my list without excuse since I started the blog! (Good grief, that’s rule 10 broken for the first time!)

There have been quite a few distractions from reading over the last few months, most of which I have already mentioned. Not least, finally writing some fiction! I succeeded at NaNoWriMo and it felt great. The downside is that writing doesn’t let you get many books read! I also got a bit stuck with Anna Karenina; not as stuck as Vronsky, and in a totally different way, but stuck none the less. I am glad to say that I am now unstuck; in more ways than you can imagine dear reader, in more ways…

Bleeker Hill, the actual review

bleekerhillBleeker Hill’s main storyline builds wonderfully from the first pages of the prologue right through to the finale. The book takes you on a journey with a set of well realised characters into a vision of the future that is shrouded in confusion. The central character has been out of touch with the world for some time, and his lack of knowledge is followed through the book. This provides a back story that leaves you wanting to know more about what has happened, while giving enough to support the main story. I would love other books to be written in this world so that they can elaborate on it’s interesting version of the future…

All of the story arcs come together well to support the main event. At it’s heart, Bleeker Hill is a ghost story with realism to give it credence; a broken vision of the future.

Bleeker Hill bought various films and books to mind and I give some examples below. I need to be very clear that there is no relationship between the book and any of these references. I hold all in high regard and it is the feeling of the environments that Russell Mardell has built that evoked memories of the other stories for me. When I am talking about some of my favourite films and books, this can only be a great thing:-

The distopian future depicted in the story echoed “Children of Men” (the film) to me. Political parties struggling to keep order in the face of disaster. There is no dictatorship in place, but there are a lot of people trying to make sense of a broken society.

V for Vendetta also popped up in my mind. This time for the human experiments back story. There are again no real story parallels here. Bleeker Hill is the setting for experiments so much more profound than an attempt to create a super human. Trying to solve the human condition? Maybe.

Lastly, Woman in Black. Now, Bleeker Hill is not as jumpy as Woman in Black, but it definitely has the good old ghost story at it’s heart. If you were to take the Children of Men setting and play out a ghost story in it, then you would get somewhere close to Bleeker Hill.

To conclude, Bleeker Hill delivered exactly what I needed from this type of book. A well paced ghost story in a realistic and viable setting augmented with great characters.

Read it ASAP.

Rating: 9/10