The Thalidomide Catastrophe is a book written by Martin Johnson, Raymond G. Stokes, and Tobias Arndt. Released today, I was lucky enough to be able to review an advanced reader copy.

As a journalist, I have been interested in this story for a while now; I’m working on a story that’s related to it. It was also around the tie of the fiftieth anniversary BBC documentary that I was introduced to the concept of Thalidomide. (What still strikes me-and what is further illustrated by the book-is the lack of awareness or knowledge of it.)

The tagline on the cover says it all: ‘How it happened, who was responsible and why the search for justice continues after more than six decades.’

The Cover:

The cover is brilliant, in my opinion. It’s stark-the white background, with the innocuous object of a medicinal bottle. It looks harmless, however because of the history since Thalidomide was on the market makes it kind of terrifying. It’s horrific to think that this pill-marketed on the basis of apparently being a “wonder drug”-was, and still is capable of so much harm.

The white background also makes it stand out on a book shelf; if I was at a bookshop, my eye would catch this. I’d be curious as to what it was about, etc.

Content:

Initially, I found it a little bit hard to get into. I think that after seeing Attacking The Devil, I perhaps expected too much of the book. My expectations were also flawed in this respect; the book gets into the nitty gritty of Thalidomide, not the Sunday Times campaign. (It’s not about the journalistic side. It’s the full-on, comprehensive history.)

It’s also shocking to me how there hasn’t truly been justice. I haven’t got to this particular chapter yet, however it is alleged that there was corruption surrounding the German trial. There is a lack of accountability surrounding Thalidomide, and I can’t understand that. Surely, as an empathetic human, you’d do your best to help, when you’ve caused this catastrophe?

I was also struck by the images that are dotted throughout. I have met one Thalidomider; however, I wasn’t aware of the full range of disabilities that Thalidomide caused. (It sounds silly, doesn’t it?)

There had previously been a disconnect for me; it’s all very well to watch footage on the TV or whatever. There’s a distance in that respect; I don’t think that there is with books and photos. The use of photography bought it home to me, making this story truly alive for me.

What would I have changed?

At times the book can be clunky, in the way it’s written; however, I think that is partly caused by being a book of history. It’s not a book about people; it’s the factual facet.

Conclusion:

I think that this is a book that everyone should read, or at least be aware of. Thalidomide is known for its notoriety, however I don’t think the full scale of its history is known. I hope that this book goes towards correcting some of that, along with bringing it into the public consciousness. And I hope that this book, in its majestic state, goes towards contributing to the justice that has been denied for so long.

As a follow up, could I make a suggestion? I’d like to have a book of interviews, with people involved: so people like Mikey Argy, Harold Evans, people at the trust, etc.

The Thalidomide Catastrophe is published by Onwards and Upwards. For more information, visit their website. You can buy the book here. 


Disclaimer: I was lucky enough to be gifted this book at my own request. I have not been paid to review this. For more information, please see my disclaimer.

The Reckoning landed on my door matt after a mix up; however, as with virtually every crime novel, I was intrigued by this tome. It’s not every day that a book arrives, after all! Please note, this review contains spoilers.

The book as a whole:

Instantly, I was captivated by the language and the method of storytelling; I have a tendency to read about plots in either the UK or America. However, this takes place in Iceland, a departure from what I tend to read. (It’s a cross between The Snowman and The Child.

At first, I was staying up late to read this book; it reminded me of The Shadow Of The Wind, due to the break-neck pace, genre blends, etc.

But: I was disappointed with this book. And by the end, I felt inexplicably angry, as it was almost as if the characters had suddenly become real. Too real in fact.

Characterisation and plot:

The plot seems too eerily now, in mirroring what has been in the news recently; a time capsule is dug up, and in it is a note that says x amount of people are going to die. At the same time, a school in America (twinning with this project) also dig up their time capsule. Yet, as a detective and his sidekick, a child physiologist, try to “crack the case”, the bodies rack up.

As to the ending? Well, I could not help but feel more than a bit disturbed. The killings were in revenge for the killing of a little girl, Vaka, in collaboration with the son of the alleged killer. But… this brings me on to characters.

Who dreams up a scene where a man dressed as Santa tries to abduct two young children? There was also one character that had me raging; when kidnapped, he has to have his hands cut off, to save his children from being abused. Yet, when asked to name one of his children, he does! And he pities himself, not the child afterwards!

What to improve:

There could have been a lot less description, and more cutting to the chase. I also did not like the fact that the reader can see when someone is going to be kidnapped, and yet it leaves the Detective clueless. “Wake up, he’s about to be killed!” is what I wanted to shout-yet couldn’t, as it is fiction.

In conclusion:

On finishing this book, I felt such a sense of betrayal; there is also a twist at the end which I did not see coming. However, I think that it would be suited to someone more at GCSE level; I would have also liked a book without the scenes I mentioned under Characterisation And Plot.

Click here to buy the book.


Disclaimer: this book was sent to me via a member of the publicity team at Hodder & Stroughton. However, this post contains my honest opinion, and is not advertising; I have also not received any fee for review. You can read more about this in my disclaimer.

Note: this review may contain spoilers. 


I have been a huge fan of Helen Callaghan’s work ever since I spotted the paperback of Dear Amy; the sleek, red paperback stood out of the pile of best sellers that dominated an already crowded table. Therefore, I was delighted to have been sent her new book, Everything Is Lies. 
This book is a departure from Dear Amy, and I think the quality of Callaghan’s work is better because of it. The language is bolder, the characters more realistic, the plot grounded in realism. This book made me feel much more positive about reading, as I had been wanting a book to captivate me for a long time; it is addictive, a thudding read that craves attention. (To illustrate further: I stayed up to midnight, anxious to get to the bottom of the mystery, prior to an interview the next morning.)
Plot? It has more substance than Dear Amy had; the dual narrative is what lends to its distinction.  On the one hand, Sophia comes home to find her Mother hanging from a tree, her Father terribly wounded, barely alive. But another character has a story to tell; they compliment each other, reaching a startling conclusion.
This book is also made for English students; on an A level course, your teacher is probably going to bang on about the symbology, the techniques used. But this book uses a wide variety in such an effective manner, creating a sophisticated narrative.
To improve, I think that there could have been a lot less scene setting, and more subtle hints to the true nature of some characters. The book is hard to get into; for the first chapter, I was a little bit bored. The phone call which dominates the opening could have been more dynamic; the protagonist, Sophia, can also sometimes be slow on the uptake-enough so that I could feel myself getting frustrated, as if she was real.
If you need a crime novel fix, or are in withdrawal from your Netflix boxset of choice, this book will perfectly fill the void for you; buy it from Amazon. And see my interview with Helen Callaghan here. 


Disclaimer: I was sent this proof copy in exchange for a review by Sarah Harwood at Micheal Joseph. However, prior to this, I had read Dear Amy by the same author and loved it. This review is my honest opinion. You can read more under my Disclaimer.