Book Review: The Life Assistance Agency, by Thomas Hocknell

Publisher:   Urbane Publications

Publication date:   22nd September 2016

The Life Assistance Agency - MY REVIEW

The Life Assistance Agency by Thomas Hocknell 22.09.16Ben Fergusson-Cripps: owner of a half-cocked blog, the copyright to a book, and an unusual double-barrelled surname, is currently watching his life swirl down the pan after the launch of his literary debut, Mirrors and Lies. Just as the tome tries to debunk psychics and spiritually, all everyone else wants to do was debunk him and you can sense his nonchalant desperation from page one.

Quickly coming to terms that he needs a day job to prevent him eating out of dustbins, a business card from The Life Assistance Agency left on a pub table piques his interest. The company claims to offer solutions to all manner of calamities including the finding lost things, arranging coincidences, and bonsai trimming.

A desperate Ben finds himself in need of their ‘talents’ to turn his life around and visits an office he finds is manned by an old acquaintance who is delighted to clap eyes on him, even though the telephone is sitting in the middle of the floor and it looks like they should call their own help line and request immediate assistance.

When Ben enquired what life assistance agencies do, Scott Wildblood replied, “It’s like a detective agency without detectives.” That’s when Ben’s temporary career move took flight, with their first case to find a missing man from Mortlake. The trail of the eccentric University lecturer will take them from Kent to Krakow in a battered Saab, with nothing but Scott’s heart pills rattling around in the foot well to keep them on their toes.

On a road trip from hell, the not-very-dynamic-duo stay in flea pit hotels while stumbling across relics of historical or psychic significance. Each new destination draws them closer into the furtive subjects of Scrying and Alchemy until they find they are being tailed by hired hooligans courtesy of ‘The Society’, whose job it is to keep an eye on matters all things otherworldly to prevent members of the public accidently wading into dangerous waters. The manner in which Ben and Scott shake them in various escapades would be best left to village idiots in You Tube Videos!

A few inexplicable events later and sceptic Ben is contemplating the mockery of his own ‘Mystic Meg’ mother in his book. As 16th C ideals and morals merge with the present, he is lead to question his own beliefs and the suggestion that immortality is tangible (while wondering why a mysterious, intellectual man can continually whack his brow off everything and not become permanently concussed).

I was so immersed in this utterly bonkers reading experience I greedily devoured it in one sitting. There’s a cracking turn of events and it’s walloped in some brilliant one liners too. Undoubtedly, considerable attention has been paid to merging the past and the present which are brought alive by the frantic finesse of mystic mayhem, and a constant stream of curiosity that I found impossible to ignore.

Unquestionably quirky. Brilliantly barmy. Absolutely recommended.

Rating:  5/5

(I received a copy of this title from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for my unbiased review, with my thanks.)

The Life Assistance Agency - BOOK SUMMARY

(Courtesy of NetGalley)

Do you want to live forever? is THE question facing anyone pursuing immortality.

But what happens when eternal life is disappointing, and everyone around you keeps dying? Ben Ferguson-Cripps, a struggling writer with a surname that gets more attention than his creative endeavours, sets aside his literary ambitions to join the mysterious Life Assistance Agency.

Their first case is to trace a missing person with links to the Elizabethan angel-caller Dr John Dee. Pursued by a shadowy organisation – and the ghosts of Ben’s past – the trail leads through Europe into the historic streets of Prague, where the long-buried secrets of Dr Dee’s achievements are finally revealed, and Ben discovers there is far more to life than simply living…


The Life Assistance Agency - AUTHOR PROFILE

(Courtesy of NetGalley)

Thomas Hocknell was brought up by Springer spaniels and his family in Kent. He knew the distance to central London from the foot of his childhood bed, and moved there the first moment he could 23 years ago. He has been writing music reviews for Record Collector, The Metro, Classic Pop, BBC and Line of Best Fit while also practicing as a mental health social worker. He won some short story competitions a long time ago, and completed the Faber Writing course under Richard Skinner in 2012. The Life Assistance Agency is his first novel.


Book Review: Alchemy, by Chris James

Publisher:  Globe Literary, London  |  Publication date:  15th February 2015  |  Edition:  Kindle (Review copy)

Alchemy by Chris James

Alchemy is a chilling psychological tale of mystery, murder and suspense and reveals an extraordinary decade in the life of a talented, sweet young and innocent genius, as he transforms into a monster. The author, well used to murder and the macabre, was a criminal trial lead detective in the British police.

In Victorian London, England, close to the end of the 19th century, a young artist unravels what he believes to be the formula for immortality and raising the dead, prescribed in an ancient tome: Alchemy

Just when he cracks the secret code for the final components of his elixir, his mistress and inspiration, dies. His life is devastated, his mind fragile, destroyed by drugs. He knows he has the power to revive her. But obtaining the last ingredients means resorting to murder, taking innocent lives.

He just has to decide whose.

His only surviving model, our narrator, infatuated with this painter of her portrait, attends the trial of the century, where she finally learns someone got away with murder.

Based on a true story? Why not decide for yourself?

Alchemy, my Review

I was overwhelmed by the ultimate suspense that author Chris James has created in his sensational murder mystery, Alchemy. As it has such an intriguing subject matter, and it was marvellously gruesome in all the right places, this story captured my attention from the get-go.

In a Jack the Ripper-esque tale the essence and mood of the period is paramount, and Alchemy has this in abundance. The story starts with the trial of an Artist accused of murdering several ladies. The prosecution does not paint the artist in the best light (excuse the pun) and makes short work of his lifestyle, including his potion-induced episodes and his overall mental stability, that is if you take into account his ‘guinea pig’ acquaintances in his earlier life. His parental influence meant the artist developed a skill for pharmaceuticals, dispensing various remedies via his late father’s old apothecary shop, above which he lived and continued his passion as a painter.

But the subject matter is almost always the same – his dear, fragile Emily, his one and only true love. He endeavoured capture her image forever. His father had once said, discover immortality through your work. No one could have predicted the fatal outcome of these last words…

When a particular book ‘Alchemy’ fell into his hands, the whole idea of immortality took a whole new meaning – but to succeed, a few unfortunate others must suffer a deadly fate. As a result his work becomes darker, as does his devotion to Emily.

As he strives to succeed, a series of grotesque events affect some of the colourful characters he comes into contact with, none of whom can ever compare to his lost love. The story leads you to wonder if he was working alone, or had lost his mind with the potions he consumes, or was in fact in any way responsible for the macabre acts that had been committed.

Told not only in the voice of his last known muse as she listens to the trial where the artist is accused of murder, but also in his own voice, made for a lively account and kept me on my toes. As events leading up to the trial were recalled, a picture of the artist and his life starts to build. Intermittently, various historical references also offered an interesting flourish to give the story an odd plausibility (I’m won’t give any more away about this – the cover suggests what to expect!).

If you’re an avid fan of vivid, wonderfully atmospheric and graphically murderous tales that are told with suspenseful relish, then I’d wholeheartedly recommend you read this.

Rating: 4/5

(My sincere thanks to the author for providing a Kindle copy of his book for review.)

Alchemy Author Profile

A former murder squad detective in England, Chris was often the lead-detective in murder trials. No stranger to murder and the macabre, he was a regular contributor to British True Crime television series. He has maintained an interest in criminology his entire adult life. In 2006 he moved from England to Mallorca, a beautiful Spanish island in the Mediterranean, where he is a keen yachtsman.

(All clipart images provided courtesy of