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Thursday 10 September 2020

‘Your Still Beating Heart’ by Tyler Keevil

Published by Myriad Editions.
10 September 2020. 
ISBN: 978-1-912408-62-7 (HB)

Every now and then a crime novel appears which is a little different. The usual ingredients are there – protagonist to warm to, bad guys to hate, interesting background, twisty plot – but they’re put together in a way which takes the story out of the mainstream. This is one of them.

It’s apparent from the first page, the first sentence even, that Your Still Beating Heart is a little out of the ordinary. Most novels are written in the first person – I – or the third person – he or she; this is in the second person – you – as if the protagonist’s actions are being described by an outsider. It’s a little disconcerting at first, but I got used to it surprisingly quickly.

It begins with a murder, a random stabbing on a London bus, but that’s only a trigger for the events which follow. Eira, the protagonist, is in shock after her husband meets a senseless death, and travels to Prague, where they spent some happy times. Still numb, and running out of money, she accepts a job which in normal circumstances she would never have entertained: to drive to Ukraine, pick up a package and bring it back to Prague. She knows it’s illegal, but in the wake of her husband’s death she doesn’t care about anything much – until she discovers that the ‘package’ is actually a small boy, whose only use to her employers is to provide organs for transplant.

What follows amounts to a long car chase, but it’s far from typical of the genre, or even ordinary. Travelling through the icy eastern European winter, Eira’s frozen feelings start to thaw. The result is part desperate flight from vicious criminals, part coming-of-age novel, and all gripping thriller. It’s peopled with characters who fall firmly on one side or other of the good/bad divide but are still real and solid. Marta, Eira’s landlady, is hardly sympathetic at first, but proves her greatest ally. Mario, who gets her the job, is a Czech wide boy; Pavel and Valerie are the arch-villains, pure evil under a façade of normality. Then there’s Gogol, the little boy, clearly neglected and abused, slowly coming back to life as he discovers kindness. They have one thing in common: they all seem to live and breathe. 

The locations, too, are too lifelike for comfort. From seedy hotel rooms and apartments, via cheap cafes and bars, to icy streets lined with faded elegance, and finally the river; it’s all laced with a layer of menace. And the frozen lake where the dramatic, violent denouement takes place is the most sinister of all.

This isn’t the kind of thriller that makes you race through it to find out what happens next. It’s one to relish, to savour and appreciate thoroughly. Tyler Keevil is clearly a name to watch. 
Reviewer: Lynne Patrick

Tyler Keevil  grew up in Vancouver and in his mid-twenties moved to Wales. He is the author of three previous books and has received a number of awards for his writing, including the Missouri Review's Jeffrey E. Smith Editors' Prize, the Wales Book of the Year People's Prize, and The Writers' Trust/ McClelland & Stewart Journey Prize. He lectures in Creative Writing at Cardiff University.

Lynne Patrick has been a writer ever since she could pick up a pen, and has enjoyed success with short stories, reviews and feature journalism, but never, alas, with a novel. She crossed to the dark side to become a publisher for a few years and is proud to have launched several careers which are now burgeoning. She lives in Oxfordshire in a house groaning with books, about half of them crime fiction.

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