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Shortlisted Bath Short Story Award 2013 Runner-up Cinnamon Press Competition 2013 WNNER: Don Louth Writer of the Year (run by Reading Writers) WINNER: Bradt/Independent on Sunday Travel Writing Competition 2012. SHORTLISTED: Scott Prize (Salt Publishing) 2012 for a short story collection. Writer/ Journalist - assistant editor and writer for the art and books pages of Wolfprint. Most recently published in Independent on Sunday and short story anthologies: Sentinel Champions No 9, 100 Stories for Queensland, 50 Stories for Pakistan, 100 Stories for Haiti and From Hell to Eternity. In a recent writing competition, Joanne Harris described my writing as '...compelling (but quite creepy)'

Thursday, 31 March 2016

A dish well-cooked with Masterchef precision – Sarah Hilary’s Tastes Like Fear

The third book in the Marnie Rome series, after Someone Else’s Skin and No Other Darkness

It was immediately obvious, from the opening few pages of Sarah Hilary’s Tastes Like Fear, that this was exceptionally well-written, the antithesis of pulp fiction. The scene is set beautifully or rather, London is presented in all its ugly squalid stink and risk. There are some eloquent turns of phrase that never feel over-written or didactic. Like a bad but rogueish lover, London become an oily, fascinating and distinct character of its own, like Hardy’s Wessex. I have rarely seen a better and more tender portrayal of kids on those harsh London streets, too, vulnerable as a crab’s belly. The Lost Children. I did a tiny bit of work in the past with a charity called Railway Children, who dealt with homelessless and runaways. So Tastes Like Fear is real and reflects the situation as it is now. Characters are strong, self-contained and memorable. Our detective has a past, a past damaged by murder. It fuels her, pushes her forward – a classic example of how anger at a situation can be productive, valuable. As a reader bored with being spoonfed, I was grateful that here, I was given the intelligence to deduce for myself and that wonderful gift that is mostly seen in Nordic Noir (which this is not, but it is equal in quality and darkness) , the space to think about things. Marnie is a fascinating gal who really pours heart and soul into finding the missing, helping the families who have lost them. If I needed help, I would want Marnie on my side.

Think writing crime is easy? Try juggling enviable pace, psychological insight, three dimensional characterisation, believable dialogue and a plot that compels the reader to keep that book open. Alternating perspectives are tricky too but they keep things fresh, fast and intriguing. If Tastes Like Fear was a cake – it would be one of Mary Berry’s best. Pacy, punchy and powerful, with some unusual but spectacular and unexpected flavours – it also has another factor that makes a book into a novel with resonance – compassion. As we watch the odd and disturbing world of a killer, a killer for whom family has become a warped concept that makes sense in his twisted and constructed world, we are equally horrified and fascinated by him. Harm – our perfectly named bad man – compels us to look and listen to him even if we feel ashamed, like straining to look at traffic carnage.

There were so many characters that drew me, that existed beyond the scope of the book. Noah was charming and sexy too. I wanted him as my friend. As with all the characters, I felt that they were flesh, brain and soul.

After I finished Tastes Like Fear, I had to analyse for a while why I found it such a satisfying read, why I was happy to rip through page after page, neglecting everything else around me. Ultimately, it’s because I felt the author’s sincerity. Nothing was gratuitous and the lurch I felt in my heart as a mother when reading about the young victims was also genuine. I was connected. Hilary is fierce as a writer but empathetic, oozing an angry intelligence about human nature, our capacity to be truly bastardly to one another. It helps that this is done in strong, muscular prose. The reader is never allowed to be complacent and in this, there is one particular shock that I absolutely did not see coming. Want to hear the plot? Read it.

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Prizes and Writing Awards

  • Winner Bradt/Independent on Sunday Travel Writing Competition 2012
  • Shortlisted for Salt Publishing's Scott Prize for short story collections 2012
  • Finalist in Brit Writers' Award 2011
  • 2nd in Sentinel Literary Competition 2011
  • Whitechapel Society Anthology to be published 2010
  • Shortlisted for the Mslexia Short Story Competition 2009
  • Shortlisted for The Asham Award 2009
  • Joint winner of the Penguin/Decibel Prize 2008 - Asian Invisible. Published as The Map of Me
  • Highly Commended in The National Galleries of Scotland Short Story Competition 2008
  • Runner-up in Segora Short Story Prize 2008
  • Joint Winner of The Lancet Short Story Competition 2007: The Resurrection Girl.
  • Runner-up in Virgin Trains/The Guardian Short Story Competition 2007: A Small Revolution
  • Winner of the Woman and Home Short Story Competition 2006: Ghosts of Jamaica.
  • Shortlisted for The Asham Award 2005
  • Runner-up in the Good Housekeeping Short Story Competition 2003
  • Winner of The Sunday Telegraph Tourism for Tomorrow Travel Writing Competition 2002: Wolves of Rumania. Winner
  • Winner and also Winner of Most Original Short Story in the Competition in Trowell and District Writers' Competition 2006