Tag Archives: thriller

Ace of Spades by Faridah Àbíké-Íyímídé

Book cover of Ace of Spades by by Faridah Àbíké-Íyímídé, a black female and male face each other on a black background with a large white ace of spades, Ace of Spades is written in block capitals in a red which looks like graffiti or blood smears/spatters.

“Growing up, I realized quite quickly that people hate being called racist more than they hate racism itself.”

Ace of Spades by Faridah Àbíké-Íyímídé

I finally got around to reading Ace of Spades by Faridah Àbíké-Íyímídé, and oh my gosh, I couldn’t put it down. Cue another late night reading until half one when I knew I’d be up before seven with the kids. Set in the rarefied world of Niveus Private Academy, Ace of Spades sees the lives of Devon, a scholarship kid from an impoverished single parent family, and Chiamaka, Head Prefect and Queen Bee, rapidly fall apart as an anonymous texter who calls themself Aces begins sending their darkest secrets – sex tapes, voyeuristic pictures, and crimes they thought were secret – to the campus population. As the cyberharrassment spills beyond the school gates, Devon and Chiamaka soon realise that Aces is intent on destroying more than just their reputations, and their only choice is to unmask them and fight back.

I think this book might be the perfect YA novel. It’s Gossip Girl meets Pretty Little Liars with a whacking bass line of social justice issues that lifts it from being a well written thriller to one of the best YA books I’ve ever seen. The Àbíké-Íyímídé has recently graduated from university, and the rawness of that teenage experience shows in her characters, the simultaneous cruelty and vulnerability of Chiamaka who is riding high on the wheel of fortune before she realises that hands other than hers are spinning it for her. The sheer desperation of Devon’s situation as he lives in survival mode relying on college or university to carry him and his family out of poverty, alienated from his peers by his sexuality in a homophobic community and seeing his hopes for a better, or at least more manageable future slip away with every card Aces deals him. Faridah Àbíké-Íyímídé writes YA at its best, an uncompromising thriller but with bucket loads of heart in the characterisation.

As a white person, I know that it’s not really for me to write about race and experience of race, but I thought that this novel was incredibly powerful in its portrayal of the experience of young black characters lives as they live through systemic racism on steroids. For me, reading Ace of Spades by Faridah Àbíké-Íyímídé was akin to the perspective shift you encounter reading Malorie Blackman’s Noughts and Crosses, the empathy for the characters that the story fosters allowing you for a moment to have a glimpse of life through the characters eyes. It’s a great thriller novel, but a powerful one for this dimension and I’d really love to see it being bought by secondary schools librarians and recommended by teachers who want to help their students access more anti-racist literature.

The Fourteenth Letter by Claire Evans

On a warm summer’s evening in 1881, a beautiful young woman is murdered in front of her fiance at her engagement party in full view of fifty guests. Her killer escapes, but her murder sets in motion a chain of events which begin to uncover a dark secret. When legal clerk William Lamb finds his comfortable life ripped away from him by his mentor’s violent suicide, his world begins to crumble as he is forced to confront why an ordinary man like himself has suddenly become the focus of a sinister group with links to three of the world’s major super powers.

On paper, The Fourteenth Letter by Claire Evans has hints of everything that should make a good mystery novel. A shocking and inexplicable murder; mysterious artefacts with a long and improbable history; a character on a journey of self-discovery; criminals with their hearts in the right places; the great and good of society engaged in terrible deeds; a mess of strong female characters…

But for me, while the plot was strong and on the whole well-paced this novel fell far short of its promise. It felt like a story board where characters were moved through set pieces which had been lifted from a selection box of plot ideas then slotted into a novel. So often, the characters’ actions seemed completely at odds with their characterisation at this point that it left me unable to understand what would make them act in the way they did.

Why would a ruthlessly pragmatic woman focused only on her own survival try to rescue an elderly man that she doesn’t know from a situation that she can’t hope to escape?

Why would a wiley and discreet detective spill the details of a secret meeting in a moment of offhanded unguardedness to a journalist friend when he has so successfully refused to divulge any information to him before?

Why would an elite group with unlimited wealth and power allow themselves to be thrown into chaos by one lone drip, when they have the police in their pockets and they have enough circumstantial evidence to bring him down?

Why would the meticulously controlled Obediah Pincott just let everyone go on a whim?

There were just so many plot holes when a bit more finesse at characterisation would have tightened all of this up. The character of Savannah Shelton was the most obvious problem here. With only the vaguest hints of where she’s come from, and that she’s on the run, wanted for murder, we have no understanding of why she would repeatedly risk her life to save William Lamb. It felt very strongly that the author is hoping to leave the door open for a sequel to The Fourteenth Letter (probably one which sees the Vicomtesse Adeline return in her mask like the Phantom of the Opera and attempt to claim her grandchild/nephew/niece to continue her eugenics programme with the help of now President Cornelius Tinbergen forcing Savannah to return to America…whether she’ll still have goose-stepping German soldiers propping up her eugenics programme following the demise of her brother remains to be seen) and if it does, I hope we’ll see more characterisation.

As a plot driven novel, it’s enjoyable enough but I felt that the switch from murder mystery to an exploration of Darwinism and eugenics was a bit of a cliché fuelled stretch.