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Author of the Month

Name: Natasha Mostert

First Novel: The Midnight Side

Most Recent Book: Season of the Witch

'The writing is dense and dark – like a sparkling black diamond...'

Synopsis:
Gabriel Blackstone is a man so self assured in every way that he could be described as arrogant. However, what stops his manner from becoming quite so dislikeable is something from his past. Something he had wanted to leave behind. Enter his old flame, Frankie, who asks Gabriel to find her missing stepson. She wants Gabriel to use his gift of “remote viewing” to find Robert and bring him home. Gabriel has not used his gift for some years and is initially unwilling to help.

Soon, Gabriel finds himself in a situation that he wonders how he can escape. Robert’s disappearance seems to revolve around two sisters who are pretty amazing creatures in their own right. Gabriel manages to access one of the sister’s computer and begins to read a very personal diary. But which sister is it? Morrighan or Minnaloushe? As the narrator uses no names, only initials, how can he tell which sister is the writer and, therefore, the woman he is slowly falling in love with?

As the summer rolls along, Gabriel is invited into the two Monk sister’s world and, as he gets more and more involved, finds that it is a world that seems to be enchanting - until he realises that with every good dream, there is always a nightmarish element waiting to claim its next victim...

Review:
Every once in a while you discover a book that you sense is going to be well worth reading. As I opened the packaging and the book slid out into my hand, I could instantly feel that I would be reading this book straight away. Could this be witchcraft? The book had all the desirable elements that I enjoy in a novel. Not only does a murder seem to have taken place, but with the enticing promise of witchcraft combined with a spot of mind reading and a dash of the gothic, it was simply irresistable. This novel has the call of a siren on the rocks to unsuspecting sailors – read it and know you’re doomed to finish.

Did it live up to its initial promise? It certainly did.

The writing is dense and dark – like a sparkling black diamond - and beautifully describes every emotion, every scene. When Mostert describes the hot summer afternoons that Gabriel spends with the Monk sisters, the reader really feels quite languid as they gaze lazily into the sun. As he entertains the sisters, Gabriel is supposed to be finding out if one of them, or possibly both, is a killer. But he has become entranced by these magical beings who seem to hold such promise of strange and unusual things. As you read the words of the diary, you can see why Gabriel becomes obsessed with the writer of this journal. Mostert evokes a familiar world in everyday London and, yet, it could also be part of an alternate universe. As Gabriel is drawn deeper into this world, they seductively entice him into their circle for their own purposes.

Mostert has obviously done her homework about remote viewing and memory palaces. At the same time, she is clearly personally interested in the matters she writes about and the reader can clearly sense this as they read each page. At its core this novel is about love and a hunt for the ultimate power of deep knowledge. I was certainly gripped by the marvelous, larger than life characters of Morrighan and Minnaloushe. This book had echoes of Ruth Rendell at the height of her writing in the eighties. It’s an excellent, genre-busting book which luxuriously unravels its tale and like a fine red wine should be savoured and never rushed. It certainly shouldn’t be Berry Wine. Read the book and you will know what I mean...!

Also click on to Natasha’s own website www.natashamostert.com
and play the memory game. It's brilliant!

Reviewed by: C.S.

CrimeSquad Rating



Questionnaire

1) As it slowly evolves and increases in popularity, crime fiction seems to be organically sub-dividing into a number of widely diverse categories. Which genre (or sub-genre, even…) of crime novel would you say you write in?
I’m usually described as a paranormal thriller writer. This makes my books sound very woo woo! But even though my novels incorporate ideas, which some people may consider far fetched and fey, I make sure to embed these concepts firmly within a modern framework. I like to think that I seduce my reader not into ‘a willing suspension of disbelief’, but rather into accepting unquestionably the veracity of the world I build in my book. I therefore make sure to mix one part paranormal with two parts reality.

On the one hand, Season of the Witch is a straight-forward who dunnit. A young man is killed in the opening chapter and the driving question for my hero is to find out who the murderer is. But it becomes clear very early on that this is by no means your ordinary garden-variety murder and that my hero is in for a wild ride…
2) What type of crime novels do you prefer? Do you prefer series or standalone?
I like crime novels that surprise you. Many crime novels have stock characters: the spunky self-deprecating female detective/forensic pathologist or the tortured private investigator with skeletons rattling in his closet. Even though I enjoy these novels – some of them are very accomplished – it is always a joy to discover a writer who chooses the road less travelled. I’m a huge Mo Hayder fan. Novels such as Pig Island and Birdman are unconventional crime novels, which rush through your brain like a tornado.

Standalone or series? Well, both have their strengths and weaknesses. I like standalone because they are likely to be more original in their scope. On the other hand, some characters – Scarpetta, Dalgliesh, Rain, Rebus -- you get to know so well, they become old friends. As for my own work: I can’t see myself ever writing a series. I like to experiment with new characters and ideas and would not want to create the same environment over and over again.
3) Have you had the idea of writing a crime novel for some time?
In a previous life I was an academic teacher and the kind of writing I did in those days can best be described as belonging to the ‘big yawn’ genre. But I always knew that one day I would like to write creatively. It was therefore with a feeling of liberation that I left academia and jumped into a world of dead bodies, dastardly deeds and intricate plots.
4) Who or what influenced you to write a crime novel in the first place?
I’m not really able to point to an author who influenced me to write in this genre. I seem to have gravitated instinctively towards characters with murder in their hearts!
5) Whilst reading Season of the Witch it seemed clear that the magical arts, witchcraft - and all that it involves - is something you have been personally interested in for a very long time. Is this actually true, and have you enjoyed writing a novel which encompasses an area that you seem passionate about?
I grew up in South Africa and my aia (nanny) was a Zulu woman who introduced me to African mysticism and the world of the isangoma (witch doctors). I thought she was the coolest person on the planet and tried to imitate her in every possible way. I remember exasperating my mother by insisting on stacking bricks below each corner of the bed to keep out of reach of the tokkelosh – an evil gnome with an enormous head but very short legs!

My nanny sharpened my awareness of things that are not easily explained: synchronicities, coincidences, those small ripples that hint at something hiding behind the dusty curtain. She believed that magic lurked in the shadow of the mundane. This is a very African way of looking at the world. In Africa magic permeates every aspect of every day life: it is not a thing apart. This belief is reflected in Season of the Witch. And yes, I very much enjoyed writing this novel. It was challenging – and the research was very rigorous – but it was great fun as well.
6) What was it that appealed to you to include the angle of “Remote Viewing” which was investigated in the States during the seventies through to the nineties?
I wanted to write a book that was truly chilling but I am not at my best when it comes to gore. Deranged serial killers, eyeballs impaled on tooth picks, severed fingers – those kind of thriller concepts are not my strong suit.

However, Carl Jung once said that nothing is more fascinating – and frightening -- than watching your own mind self-destruct. This must be true. If you are going insane and you know you are going mad, it must surely be the most terrifying experience imaginable. And if you couple this idea with the possibility of someone entering your mind and manipulating your thoughts… well, that is horror indeed.

So I set out knowing that I would like to give my hero the ability to enter the mind of others. However, I also knew that I was walking along a well-trodden path. ESP, the shining, second sight, telepathy -- call it what you will -- is a staple of paranormal crime thrillers. If I wanted to go this route, I knew I would have to find something fresh to bring to the table.
And this was where I got lucky. Quite by chance I picked up the book River Dreams written by Dale Graff. Graff was the former director of Project STARGATE, a top secret program of the US government, which made use of remote viewers to gather intelligence information. STARGATE’S viewers, for example, assisted the DEA in tracking down drug smugglers. Another notable success was locating a missing Soviet plane. STARGATE received federal funding before it was shut down in the nineties.

What I liked about STARGATE was that it had passed the scrutiny of hard nosed military types. Any project run by the military has to adhere to rigid protocols. STARGATE was not a soft-core enterprise for channeling the spirit of Elvis Presley or searching for little blue men. I therefore thought the concept would be perfect for my book, because in Season of the Witch I take great care to blend paranormal conjecture with hard fact.

It was great fun to turn my hero into a remote viewer a la STARGATE. With the tool of remote viewing in his arsenal, you would think that he would be able to take on anything that comes his way. But what comes his way is rather special herself and she too has some unique skills up her sleeve.
7) The characters of Morrighan and Minnaloushe Monk are very large and memorable creations. Are they loosely based on people you have actually met whilst on your journey through the arcane arts?
I very rarely use people I meet as role models for my characters. Although, come to think of it, wouldn’t it be interesting to meet someone like my villainess? Beautiful, brilliant, a visionary and completely insane. She should be good company!
8) Many great men have sought the quest for knowledge over the centuries. Did your hunger for knowledge lead you to include ‘The Memory Palace’?
I suspect it is more my fascination with the ‘great men’ you mention than the quest for knowledge, which led me to Memory Palaces!

When I started doing research for Season of the Witch, I fell in love with the memory artists of the Middle Ages and Renaissance period and with their world. Giordano Bruno, Giullo Camillo and Ramon Lull were information addicts who believed they could build an information system that would capture all the knowledge in the universe…but an information system located in the mind alone: wetware, not hardware. They built appallingly complex memory palaces and theatres that were steeped in the occult. Their ultimate goal was to tap into these mind systems and access all universal knowledge at once in a single gigantic blast of data. Crazy? Certainly. But so cool…and dangerous. Bruno ended up dying at the stake.
9) Without giving away the plot, which book - yours or another by another author - included your favorite plot twist of all time?
Oh, an oldie but a goodie. Agatha Christie’s ‘The Murder of Roger Ackroyd’ has to my mind the all-time blow-out plot twist.
10) What is your favorite movie adaptation of a crime novel?
Would you describe yourself as a crime fiction fan in general and, if so, which authors do you most admire and why?
11) Would you describe yourself as a crime fiction fan in general and, if so, which authors do you most admire and why?
Yes, I like crime fiction. P.D James is always good value. My fellow South African writer, Deon Meyer, can write the skin off your bones. And then there’s always Jeffrey Deaver to rely on if you’re looking for a well-crafted plot. But my favorite crime series is the John Rain novels by Barry Eisler. Rain is one sexy assassin: killer martial artist, connoisseur of good whisky, and a jazz aficionado. Definitely my kind of guy!
12) What is your favourite crime read of all time?
That’s a tough question. This is probably stretching the definition of ‘crime novel’ to its limits but I think Donna Tart’s The Secret History is imaginative, erudite and truly takes you into the heart of darkness the way a good crime novel should.