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…

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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.

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Book Review: The Missing, by C.L. Taylor #TheMissing

Publisher: Avon (Harper Collins)   |   Publication date: 7th April 2016

My Review - The Missing

The Missing - Kindle CoverAfter reading The Lie I couldn’t wait to get my hands on Cally Taylor’s new book – and what an outstanding performance by the cast in The Missing, from each and every one of them!

These perfectly ordinary folk are going about their perfectly ordinary lives until one day the extraordinary occurs – fifteen year old Billy Wilkinson goes AWOL. Okay, so he’s developed an attitude lately and seems hell-bent on looking for trouble, but the remaining members of his household never expected to be left wondering if he is alive or dead.

After an unsuccessful TV appeal and an ongoing online campaign, the thoughts of those close to Billy are starting to veer toward their worst fears. As the narration continues, you feel the haunting effect his disappearance has on the immediate family – their desperate situation unfolds before your eyes and sees them beginning to fray around the edges.

His mum, Claire, begins to suffer from random blackouts where she finds herself in different parts of town, questioning how she arrived there, scarily without any memory of the event. His father, Mark, projects an almost cold and unfeeling persona, but it’s his method of dealing with varying situations in his life, by ‘compartmentalising’ them in his mind and not really considering the effect of his behaviour on those around him. Billy’s older brother, Jake, is seeking solace at the bottom of a bottle, while Jake’s girlfriend has also been living with the Wilkinsons as she is experiencing difficulties with her own ‘devoid of all emotion’ mother. The only thing they have in common anymore is the fact Billy is missing.

The anguish of waiting for further developments strikes cruel blows throughout as they consider the painful fact: could they have done something differently that day? Well, little things occur to make them realise their life wasn’t as settled as they thought, but how did they miss the signs? Each of them were probably too busy keeping their own secrets safe.

The Wilkinson’s story is hit with the occasional burst of an online chat, which preceded the family’s current torment. The sneak previews of these two-sided and anonymous snippets of conversations are quite revealing, yet still conceal both senders’ identities. They are often graphic, sometimes explicit, but that’s before they morph into something else entirely as time ticks on. My perceptions of the characters changed dramatically, so my suspicions were aimed at just about everyone – and I was way off the mark!

Without a doubt the subject of The Missing is a waking nightmare. Those waiting for news don’t know how long the flickering glimmer of hope will stay alight for, nor can they grieve as the ordeal never ends. The author successfully captures the very essence of this perpetual state of limbo by lacing her words with an unsettling energy that simmers throughout, until they brew to a gobsmacking conclusion.

Rating: 4/5

(My thanks to the publisher for providing a copy of this title via NetGalley – and also the surprise paperback copy! – in exchange for an honest review.)

Book Summary - The Missing

(Courtesy of Amazon UK)

‘The Missing has a delicious sense of foreboding from the first page, luring us into the heart of a family with terrible secrets and making us wait, with pounding hearts for the final, agonizing twist. Loved it’
Fiona Barton, Author of THE WIDOW

You love your family. They make you feel safe. You trust them. But should you…?

When fifteen-year-old Billy Wilkinson goes missing in the middle of the night, his mother, Claire, blames herself. She’s not the only one. There isn’t a single member of Billy’s family that doesn’t feel guilty. But the Wilkinson’s are so used to keeping secrets from one another that it isn’t until six months later, after an appeal for information goes horribly wrong, that the truth begins to surface.

Claire is sure of two things – that Billy is still alive and that her friends and family had nothing to do with his disappearance.

A mother’s instinct is never wrong. Or is it?  Sometimes those closest to us are the ones with the most to hide…

“I was grabbed by this book from the first page and read the ending with an open mouth. I wish I could unread it so that I could go back and discover it again. Brilliant!”
Angela Marsons, Author of SILENT SCREAM

Author Profile - The Missing

(Courtesy of Amazon UK)

CL Taylor lives in Bristol with her partner and young son. Born in Worcester, she studied for a degree in Psychology at the University of Northumbria, Newcastle then moved to London to work in medical publishing as a sales administrator. After two years she moved to Brighton where she worked as a graphic designer, web developer and instructional designer over the course of 13 years. She now writes full time.

CL Taylor’s first psychological thriller THE ACCIDENT was one of the top ten bestselling debut novels of 2014 according to The Bookseller. Her second novel, THE LIE, charted at number 5 in the Sunday Times Bestsellers list. Combined sales of both novels have now exceeded half a million copies in the UK alone.

Cally’s third psychological thriller THE MISSING will be published by Avon HarperCollins in April 2016.

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Elizabeth is Missing, by Emma Healey

Elizabeth is Missing 23.08.14

Excellent read and a real conundrum for Maud – gives a realistic insight into the life of a dementia sufferer and those around them, from both sides.

Publisher: Viking 1st Edition | Publication date: 5th June 2014 | Edition: Hardback (own copy)

To me, this wasn’t really a mystery – it was more of a journey.

This is an easy paced read which sets you on a slow path to offer a peek into Maud’s everyday life, a life where she is becoming increasingly forgetful and frustrated. Her only constant is her search for her friend, Elizabeth – with ‘clues’ being scrawled on post it notes that she shoves in her pockets for her to solve later. These random pieces of paper are a reminder of Maud’s never-ending endeavours, seemingly to no avail and with no one taking her seriously.

As we are transported from the current day to the ‘young Maud’s’ past and back again, a more sinister plot gradually begins to reveal itself.

Throughout the pages we can experience the various POVs of someone suffering from Dementia – the Marvellous Maud, her Daughter, Helen, and the many people that touch her life, both past and present. The struggles and dilemmas that are created by Maud’s condition are captured excellently in this book, it’s balanced without being too sappy or equally ‘as hard as nails’ about it.

Although there is no massive shock/surprise when you reach the conclusion of Elizabeth is missing (not for me anyway) it is certainly a very clever bit of writing that handles a difficult subject with ease, scattering a little humour along the way.

I’ve given this a 4 star rating as at times the pace was a little too slow for my liking. This is most definitely down to my personal preference rather than through any fault of the book.

All in all I would wholeheartedly recommend it, as it’s the little details it shares with us that are quite special.

Rating: 4/5


You can follow the author on Twitter: @ECHealey