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 Unusual Possession of Alastair Stubb, by David John Griffin

Publisher:  Urbane Publications  |  Publication date: 1st November 2015  |  Edition: Paperback (Review Copy)

Alastair Stubb My Review

The Unusual Possession of Alastair Stubb COVERThe wondrous prose of ‘The Unusual Possession’ is laced with some exceptionally unhinged moments. This eerie tale dares to venture into the unnerving descent of madness, where eccentricities run feverishly high.

Theodore Stubb of Muchmarsh believes people cannot fail to fall for his hypnotic charms and weaves his wicked way in the world without conscience. Little could anyone know that wielding such power will have consequences beyond their wildest imagination.

Following the tragedy surrounding her first born, Alastair, Theodore’s daughter-in-law has returned from The Grinding Sanatorium for the Delusional. During her illness, after falling on hard times, she and Theodore’s son, William, come to reside in this rather sprawling house. With its shadowy corners, cellar-dwelling-wine-o’clock butler and ample glass cases of invertebrates (their bodies skewered to boards so they can never leave again), the couple try to settle in as best they can.

There’s nothing worse than having to fall back on your father’s goodwill, particularly as it appears that Theodore doesn’t only like to peer at his special collections while he’s rattling around the big house…

With the aid of his enigmatic pocket watch, Theodore succeeds in taking full advantage of these new living arrangements. When his son learns of what occurred he launches a revenge-fuelled campaign of hate and the couple conspire to rid themselves of a monster who humiliates his family and his staff in the most deplorable manner.

Pregnant again, and still unstable, Eleanor is secretly resolute she is The Queen and can communicate with all the creepy-crawlies, so you can gather that things don’t go exactly to plan. Although she’s elated to have been given the gift of another child, the apparitions she witnesses threaten to break her already fragile mind.

At the age of thirteen, Eleanor’s second child begins to develop disturbing habits that mimic the old boar, Theodore. It’s stealthily done until the gap between our world and another is bridged, creating a puppet for a tortured soul to torment those who had the audacity to challenge him.

So there you have it. Here’s a virtual round of applause for the author, who has created an amazingly surreal world where devilry thrives – it’s a hauntingly good read.

Rating: 5/5

(My thanks to Urbane Publications for providing a paperback copy of this book for review – a great read, as always.)

Alastair Stubb Book Summary

(Courtesy of Amazon UK)

The turn of the last century and Theodore Stubbs’ manor house resides in the quirky village of Muchmarsh. A renowned entomologist, he is often within the attic adding another exotic specimen to his extensive collection of insects. But Theodore is also a master hypnotist, holding the household in thrall to his every whim.

Theodore’s daughter-in-law Eleanor returned from the sanatorium two months before is a haunted figure, believing that her stillborn child Alastair lives and hides in the shadows. Then she falls pregnant again, but this time by the hypnotic coercion and wicked ravishment of Theodore.

A dreadful act begets terrible secrets, and thirteen years later the boy Alastair Stubb begins to lose his identity. It is not long before mystery, intrigue and murder follow gleefully in his wake. The Unusual Possession of Alastair Stubb is a gothic terror of the highest order, delivering a dream-like and hallucinatory reading experience that promises to reveal secrets both disturbing and astonishing. Do you dare meet the Stubbs?

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Alastair Stubb Author Profile

(Courtesy of Amazon UK)

David John Griffin is a writer, graphic designer and app designer, and lives in a small town by the Thames in Kent, UK with his wife Susan and two dogs called Bullseye and Jimbo. He is currently working on the first draft of a third novel as well as writing short stories for a novel-length collection. His first novel published by Urbane Publications in October 2015 is called The Unusual Possession of Alastair Stubb. The second is a literary/psychological novel, entitled Infinite Rooms. He has independently-published a magical realism/paranormal novella called Two Dogs At The One Dog Inn. One of his short stories was shortlisted for The HG Wells Short Story competition 2012 and published in an anthology.

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Influence, by Chris Parker

Publisher: Urbane | Publication date: 1st March 2014 | Edition: Paperback (review copy)

I select my prey with care. I talk to them so that I can listen. I listen so I can see…

Influence by Chris Parker

An unnerving read, one that really gets into your head.

You and I follow the herd. The killer, it seems, does not.

“Influence” is a consulting agency, the brainchild of one Marcus Kline. He’s a seemingly arrogant know-it-all, who knows your mind better than you do. People hire him, people that need help to turn themselves around.

Nothing gets passed him – he believes he’s the best at what he does – which is influencing people by scientifically reading their every move. That’s what he gets paid for, to teach people how to communicate effectively, take charge, and in turn influence their own lives and those around them.

Marcus is so emotionally detached in his work, he could give the deep-seated, psychological side of Sherlock Holmes a run for his money! He notices (then analyses) something so invisible that it’s undetectable to everyone else. He has a gift, which he has perfected over many years. But if he’s not careful, his ‘perfection’ could alienate even his closest allies.

When a gruesome and unique murder takes place, Marcus’s ability is the reason why his friend, Detective Chief Inspector Peter Jones, consults with him. But it’s not long before they realise that all hell will soon break loose, as a series of events unfold, affecting them both and those close to them.

I’m not giving away any of the plot, as you need to experience the killer’s mind games for yourself. Let me just say that the story builds to a shocking crescendo in a way you cannot fathom. That ending really throws you quite a curve ball!

I hadn’t the faintest clue what to expect with this book, but I was overwhelmed by the way this story was tackled. The characters are genuine, their individual lives are on full display, and the cascading plot with its bubbling undercurrents make for a great read.

And my favourite part? Although exceptionally creepy, throughout the book the ‘killer’ offers to us various monologues. These were particularly unsettling, as they have the knack of making you feel that you are the intended audience. The writer has successfully created the killer’s voice, so it speaks to you directly from the page.

Recommended to anyone looking for a crime thriller that’s just that little bit quirkier than the norm.

Rating: 4.5

(My thanks to Matthew of Urbane Publications for providing a copy of this book for review.)


You can follow the author on Twitter: @Chjparker | Publisher: @urbanebooks & @urbanepub

The Blood of the Rose, by Kevin Murray

Publisher: Urbane | Publication date: 9th June 2014 | Edition: Paperback (review copy)

He sighed as he bent his face to the cold stock of the crossbow. Through the weapon’s illuminated night sights he could make out every detail on the head of the Siamese cat twenty yards away…the animal watched him, the fur on its back slightly raised, whiskers trembling…

Blood of the Rose 24.12.14

An intense psychological crime thriller, published by @urbanepub.

Despite their best efforts, the police are unable to solve the brutal murder of a newspaper editor that had been killed by an assassin with a crossbow. It appeared that prior to his death he’d received a series of menacing letters as a warning, yet hadn’t taken them seriously enough until it was too late.

But it wasn’t long before Scotland Yard was called to investigate more carnage, with seemingly no connection between the victims, other than a single red rose left at the scene. If the circumstance surrounding their deaths was not alarming by itself, the calling card is – the killer left the rose especially for them.

And while you wait for the twisted ‘assassin’ to strike next, deceit rumbles amongst the characters you think you can trust.

Set in the 80’s the story relies on good old fashioned detective work, which I enjoyed. In this psychological crime thriller you come to learn more about the killer’s motives and the significance of the rose by listening to his thoughts that are woven into the pages. I had a hunch as to ‘The Rose’s’ identity about halfway through. I was close, but no cigar!

There was only one very, very minute thing for me, which was how quickly the Detective in charge of the case fell head over heels for the editor’s daughter. But, perhaps that’s due to me having a heart of stone?!

Overall, very impressed with this unusual and intriguing read. Great ending, too, with a nice little twist to round things off.

Certainly worth a look.

Rating: 4/5

(My thanks to Matthew of Urbane Publications for providing a copy of this book for review.)