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The Novels of Roger Ellory
Roger Ellory is an exceptional and unique talent. Exceptional because he writes extremely good thrillers from the heart and unique because he is an Englishman writing about America. Below are reviews of all his published books to date. The picture above shows myself, Roger and my wife Anne when we met up at Norwich Forum Library in March 2012.
Candlemoth - 2003
Roger Ellory's first published novel is a wonderful examination of the American dream gone sour.
I became fascinated by small town America many years ago and always dreamed of writing the "great American novel" interweaving fact and fiction. I never made it - Roger Ellory has.
It might seem rather trite to continue to heap praise on this man's literature but he is purely and simply an author of the highest calibre and Candlemoth is a wonderful example of the way he can twist and mould a plot to produce an evocative piece full of wonderful characterisation.
If I had a problem with the character of Ernesto Perez in A Quiet Vendetta, I certainly had no such doubts about the central character here. Daniel Ford is on death row having been convicted of the killing of his best friend Nathan Verney. But there are serious flaws in Daniel's conviction.
Once again the author uses the tried and tested way of getting the central character to tell his or her story by giving them a listening ear. This time it comes in the shape of Father John Rousseau who counsels Daniel as his final days to his execution begin to count down. Ellory's writing is perhaps more simplistic than in the other two novels of his I have read to date. That only adds to its allure, however. At no time do you feel anything but genuine sympathy for Daniel and his plight.
Of course not everything is as it seems. I won't go any further in fear of spoiling the story, but I will say that the tension of the last few chapters is almost unbearable. I read the end part of this novel on a long haul flight with Led Zeppelin playing in my headphones. I can't remember hearing the music - that's how good this book is.
Once again behind the basic story there is so much more. Daniel and Nathan live each other's dreams, suffer each other's nightmares and when Nathan is called up for Vietnam the couple go on the run. The book covers their relationship from the age of six through some of the most turbulent years in American history. It's a story about growing up, a rites of passage saga and a story about a great country that dips and falls almost into the abyss. There are times when Daniel and Nathan's friendship threatens to be ripped apart but the beauty of the human spirit always wins through - rather like the country itself.
It's also a story of love, redemption, honesty, truth, forgiveness and the futility of war. It takes us through the heady days of hippydom to the stark realisation that many potentially great lives are snuffed out in a conflict that few people understood.
Above all it is a portrait of racism. Daniel is white and Nathan is black. They are friends irrespective of the colour of their skins, but of course in America of the 50s, 60s and 70s all men were certainly not equal. The system and society tries to prise them apart but only the brutal murder of Nathan manages this.
This is a great American novel that, for some unknown reason, isn't available in the USA. Perhaps it's just too much to have an Englishman writing truly tear-jerking American literature. Candlemoth has so much to say. Finally a special mention for the heart-rending side story of the life of Eve Chantry, a wonderful and wise character.
This is one of those novels that you look back on with tremendous pleasure and satisfaction.
Ghostheart - 2004
Thankfully Roger Ellory has a new novel out later this year. Otherwise I would now be getting withdrawal symptoms as I read his first five novels in quick order and that really sums up just how good he is.
I was looking to wait before reading this book, but weakened badly and saw it off in a couple of days. I would almost bracket this with the exceptional Candlemoth. It has a similar feel to it. Once again all the Ellory ingredients are here.
This time, however, the main character is female and that called for a more subtle approach. In Annie O'Neill he has brought to life an endearing character. One reviewer on Amazon said that Annie is the kind of girl you would ask for a telephone number. She is engaging but in a fragile way and as the drama unfolds Annie becomes more worldly-wise.
A mysterious stranger arrives at the bookshop owned by Annie, stating that he knew her father. As far as Annie is concerned her father has been dead for 20 years (a close parallel exists here with the situation John Harper finds himself in in "City of Lies").
Slowly a strange and tough story unfolds that includes Annie's relationship with a man who is much more than he seems. Once again we are driven into the world of American gangland, but once again the themes are much more subtle, encompassing loneliness, longing, desire and almost despair.
The author is equally at home writing about harsh violent themes and tender areas and this book takes us from the horrors of Auschwitz to gangland New York but also to the rural idyll of Annie's bolt hole - her book shop. It's a story about books, their power and their meaning by an exceptional writer who brings his world and his characters to life in an exceptional way. Can't wait for number six to be published.
A Quiet Vendetta - 2005
Having loved A Quiet Belief in Angels I was keen to see whether Roger Ellory's other books reached the same high standard.
This one is very different. It is a brutal and at times savage book rooted in the life of Mafia hitmen, but still retaining the characterisation of fragile human beings that the author has the ability to conjure up.
The success of this book lies in a very different area to that of A Quiet Belief. Here was have a central character in Ernesto Perez who seems to kill men at will. But there is more to Perez than meets the eye and that in many ways is the point of the novel. After reading of Perez' killing sprees can we find any sympathy for the man and his own tragedies. The brilliance of the novel lies in the fact that I still can't answer that question. You try to like the man but in the back of your mind is always the sordid murders and violence. You try to hate him but in the back of your mind is always the other side of Perez - the side that loves and is loved.
It wouldn't be an Ellory book without characters wrestling with their own demons. Here it comes in the shape of investigator Ray Hartmann, a man struggling with alcoholism and the potential breakdown of his own marriage.
Perez unveils his life story to Hartmann in a series of interviews. There is always the underlying feeling that there is more at stake here than the truth and this is the way it turns out with a neat twist at the end which leaves us wondering about Perez' motives yet again.
Once again Roger Ellory underlines the corrupt nature of American politics and the way the system can be bucked by those who are little short of criminality themselves. By the time the story reaches its climax we are entitled to feel exhausted by the sheer scope of what takes place over decades of American history.
City of Lies - 2006
The great thing about Roger Ellory's books is I can't help dissecting them and that to me is the mark of a master storyteller. This was my fourth Ellory book and in many ways another tour de force. This one moves more like a movie than the others and I know that is what the author was trying to achieve.
You can imagine the end chapters which involve a series of bank robberies as a shoot-em-up ending to a film and in many ways City of Lies would lend itself to the big screen better than some of his slower moving books where the plots unravel at a relatively leisurely pace.
I didn't quiet connect with the central character in the same way I have done in his other novels, but there is no denying the power once again of his description of the lawless side of New York life. Ellory deals with seamy subjects and once again conjures up the ghost of William Styron in his hard-hitting Big Apple descriptive pieces.
The action of this book covers just 12 days, rather than years, and because of that it has to be tight in its construction. John Harper is thrust into a world of hoodlums when he discovers that a father he thought had been dead for 30 years is still alive - albeit in a coma after being shot in a New York robbery.
Harper travels to New York against his better judgement and gets drawn into a world of violence and intrigue with rival gangs posturing over territorial rights. Once again superbly researched, Ellory conjures up the nether-world of urban New York where nothing is as it seems. Strangely the power of the book comes not so much in the violence of New York but in the Epilogue where the peace and tranquility of rural Florida acts as a foil to the violence of the rest of the book. This is not a comfortable read - but the author never meant his books to be comfortable.
A Quiet Belief in Angels - 2007
The tension at times in this beautifully written book is almost too much to bear. I wanted to rush headlong through to its conclusion, but at the same time I wanted to slow down to savour every word.
I love it when an author takes a particularly popular genre and turns it into genuine literature through a style of his own. That's exactly what top selling author Roger Ellory has managed to do.
I always feel that the enjoyment of a book is reflected in whether, once it is finished, you want to seek out anything else by the same author. The answer to that with Roger Ellory is an unqualified yes.
The author gets his power from originality through his very existence. He is an English writer producing novels about America. The fact that it works marvellously is a tribute to his writing skills and his skills as a storyteller.
On the surface this is a book about the serial killings of children over a number of years. To leave it there would be to cheapen the way in which Ellory skilfully introduces side issues. It is much more than a crime novel. It is a novel that at times can make you gasp at its literary beauty. It is a story about love, redemption, prejudice and above all small town America and the way the heart always returns to ones roots. It is a story about loss, sadness, longing, missed opportunities, hatred and just about every other human emotion you can think of.
And the fact that the author sums up the prejudices and atmosphere of small town America is almost breathtaking from a literary point of view. He does it so much better than the majority of American writers that it's almost scary. A Quiet Belief in Angels has much in common with To Kill a Mockingbird as far as feel and development goes and the scenes in New York reminded me of William Styron's epic Sophie's Choice.
By the end of this book the unveiling of the murderer seems almost to be a side issue to all the other themes. In Joseph Vaughan the author has produced a wonderful central character - a man battling with demons, but a survivor. We connect with him on all levels. We celebrate his success, we share his joys and we suffer his sorrows and we go with him through his life journey..
Bearing in mind that there are relatively few central characters the list of possible killers is very small and it isn't too difficult to work out who is responsible. But to moan about that would be to miss the point of the novel. When I reached the end I wanted to return to the passages between Joseph and the murderer to see if I could pick up any clues and they are certainly littered all over the place - more in the killer's attitude than anything else. I found the murderer's character odious from the start and this changed to hatred. Only top class characterisation can have this effect on a reader.
Above all the great thing about this book is its poetic feel, the changes in style, the changes in pace. They somehow sum up the way the world changes. Whoever said there are only two things certain in life - death and taxes - was wrong. There are three - death, taxes and change.
This is the ideal book for those summer days on holiday for those who want something a little more thought-provoking than the norm.
A Simple Act of Violence - 2008
It's difficult to know where to start with one of the finest thriller novels I have ever read.
So let's begin with a simple statement of belief. This book is even better than the best selling A Quiet Belief in Angels. I really cannot recommend this one highly enough and Roger Ellory just gets better and better.
This novel is full of twists and turns, dead ends, leads that seem to go nowhere. On the simplest level it's a murder detective novel. But on a much higher level it's about corruption, greed, hatred but also the power of good. Some of the suggestions made in the book would have huge ramifications for the USA if they were found to be true - that's how good this book is.
One thing is certain - nothing is quite what it seems. In Detective Robert Miller we have one of the author's best characterisations to date - a man of honour, determined to root out the truth, a man as unsure of the future as he is of the past.
To try and outline the plot of this novel would be to do it a disservice. It is far too vast and too complex for that. The complexity of the novel is in the subject matter and never in the writing style which is as vibrant as ever. Never for one moment did I lose interest in this book, never for one second did my mind wander or did I wish to be somewhere else. Once again the author gives us a history lesson on the way. The amount of research that went into this novel must have been massive.
To say I am in awe of this man's writing ability would be true. He weaves intricate plots that twist and turn - always giving us a drip of information but leaving us guessing. The subject matter is complex, it involves the CIA, the American Government, the judiciary. The action is painted across a massive vista where very little is what it seems as a number of serial murders occur with the victims seemingly being people who do not exist. You are never quite sure exactly who is who, but there is a clarity to the writing that makes this irrelevant because you always know that by the end all the pieces will be tied up.
Identifying with Detective Miller is easy and this is where the writer's supreme ability comes in. And whilst the author does tie up all the loose ends we are left wondering what life holds for Miller. He has found the answers but this leads to as many questions in his own life, questions that only a subsequent appearance can answer.
So let's end with a Simple Statement of Fact - this is the most enjoyable book I have read in years. I was desperate to get to the end to find out exactly what it was all about, but sad when I reached the final page. As they say in the old cliche - if you only read one book this year, make it this one. I just cannot recommend it too highly.