A labyrinthine novel about the sex-trade and its devious and self-serving financial backers, Sandra Davies’ Drink with a Dead Man is also about the fractures and bonds between long-time friends weighed down with guilty secrets. If you relish whodunnits and whydunnits, and tangled plot puzzles to unravel, this is definitely a novel for you.
Welcome to my final lockdown book blog!
|Drink with a Dead Man|
Exiting the county, his train having slowed to cross the Tweed at Berwick via the multi-arched bridge, Del texted Arch: Northumberland St available to stay in?
Arch’s reply was immediate: Suite reserved @Howard. King St. ABCD Mathers @9
Del checked the hotel. Five stars, discreet. Looked good. He checked again, asking whether Arch really meant ABCD? Meant all of them?
Arch succinctly did.
And yes, on arrival the hotel as pleasing as its website.
Less pleasing, because incomprehensible, was the envelope handed to him as he checked in. It contained a half sheet of paper on which had been typed an address in Portobello.
First thought, it had come from Arch, surely the only person who knew his whereabouts? Then, re-reading, it occurred to him Arch had likely booked the others in here as well. Though didn’t Baz live in Edinburgh? Possibly his was the Portobello address. No idea – obviously! – where Chris was travelling from.
Arch was no longer responding to messages.
Kit Talamantes is ultra-cool, ultra-confident, ultra-handsome: a ladies man through and through. The novel opens with a scene from his very comfortable life in Spain, which an anonymously sent sliver of newsprint threatens to disrupt. The newsprint – an announcement of a forthcoming wedding – forces him to jettison the idyll of the artificial identity he has created for himself and head back to England to work out who knows his secret.
What follows is a standard police procedural yet so much more. Drink with a Dead Man drops the reader into the centre of a pre-existing web of intrigue and a complex network of friendships with overlapping layers and subtleties. Over the course of the first few chapters, we become acquainted with a group of characters who shared a house at university, despite being from very different social circumstances. We pick up hints about their very human mix of trust and mistrust of each other, tolerance and intolerance, love and understanding. Well over a decade later they’re established in their careers – the upper class male model, the earthy Scots ex-navy man, the earnest and loyal journalist, the morally questionable Kit Talamantes, and – oh yes, Lucy, the high-class call girl, who selected them as housemates and for whom they played a not-unwilling part in her self-directed apprenticeship.
Not having read the earlier books in the series meant I had to work quite hard at the beginning to commit to memory everyone in this big cast of characters. The author also has a certain syntactical style I learned to tune my ear to. The intrigue soon had its hooks in me and I grew more and more eager to unravel all the clues as to who had done what to whom. And why. Drink with a Dead Man is undoubtedly a novel on the dark side. It features blackmail, double-dealing, the sex-trade and other forms of devious criminality. It also centres on a murder. Actually, two murders.
Thematically dark, but it's hallmarked by sensitive character profiling which ensures we care about these characters. Sandra Davies' writing demonstrates her enormous empathy and understanding in the way she presents the spoken – and most particularly the unspoken – communication between the core characters and their interpretation of others’ inner turmoil. This was evident in the police interrogation scenes, marking them out, for me, as far from genre convention stereotyped.
As Sir Walter Scott put it, ‘O what a tangled web we weave, When first we practise to deceive.’ In Drink with a Dead Man, Sandra Davies sets her readers a multi-stranded puzzle that has us craving to untangle the knots, and ultimately finding the satisfaction of doing so.
|Author Sandra Davies|
CMcK: Hello Sandra. Thank you so much for joining me on my lockdown book blog. I’m full of admiration! My first question has to be – how on earth do you manage to dream up such multi-layered plots? Seriously – do you have a big white-board or computer file? How do you keep track of everything and judge how to drip-feed enough information to keep your readers’ brains whizzing?
SD: Thank you Carol – I'm delighted to be here for my first-ever independent review. Plotting is something I really struggle with because I do rely to a large extent on my characters telling me what next. A timeline is essential, and it does help to have the previous one unpublished so I can make retrospective tweaks. Sympathetic and eagle-eyed beta readers are worth their weight in gold.
CMcK: This is the fourth novel you’ve written featuring a central cast of characters. Where did this idea spring from?
SD: 'Step so grave', the first in the series, used plotlines and characters generated via an online challenge to supply an imaginary blurb to match a weekly-posted photograph of a book cover. Trying to stuff a cast of 40+ into half a dozen plots explains why it took eight years to knock it into shape. I then needed to write 'Longest shadows reach' to discover why there'd been a seventeen-year stand-off between Luke Darbyshere and Baz Rose. 'Commission & omission' examines what came next.
CMcK: That's fascinating. You must have got to know your main characters really well over the series. It strikes me that you keep a central core and then introduce new characters for each new storyline. Was this something you planned, or did it come about organically? I felt a strong connection to Baz and Arch, and also to Fran and Luke. Do you ever hanker after new storylines, leaving your central characters behind?
SD: Having a free-standing story around which the doings of Luke and Baz intertwine is essential if I want each book to appear fresh, and work as a stand-alone. 'Drink with a dead man' is Arch's first appearance, but I've made room for him in 'Snap is not a children's game' by killing off one of my long-standing characters. I suspect the sixth – 20K in, plenty relationships and a murder victim, but no idea how she died – will be the last, which saddens me, especially as I've currently no replacement for them.
CMcK: What’s been most influential for you in your development as a writer? And who are your favourite authors?
SD: The encouragement of my peers, and copious amounts of reading! (I average 170 books a year) There are so many variations of excellence in crime writing, especially Scottish, Irish and Australian, that I couldn't choose even a dozen representatives, but Dorothy Dunnett's Lymond series will always be tops.
CMcK: Final question – where can we learn more about you and your writing?
SD: I have a blog: http://sandra-linesofcommunication.blogspot.com/ and a Facebook page https://www.facebook.com/sandradavieswriter. My books are available from Blurb https://www.blurb.co.uk/user/SandraDavies?profile_preview=true. And you can also find me on https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/1226042.Sandra_Davies
I'm not on Amazon because I prefer to support Drake the bookshop, my local independent.Sandra will gladly send a pdf of 'Step so grave' to everyone who requests one via this blog, so get in touch!
Back cover text for 'Drink with a dead man'
Eight years ago Kit Talamantes faked his own death. When he receives notification of a wedding which cannot be allowed to proceed he has no choice but to return to England to correct mistakes made in his previous life. But who has summoned him? And why?
Similarly unexpectedly Edinburgh crime reporter Baz Rose hears of a proposed, and potentially problematic, reunion for four ex-uni friends who fled apart on graduation.
DI Luke Darbyshere receives a tip-off more interesting for its provenance than its content. In pursuing that he finds himself in professional conflict with the woman who, having given him six months to convince her they should marry, is struggling to solve a murder.
And Drew Bishop is determined on revenge.