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Bending the Spine

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Review: The Society of Dirty Hearts by Ben Cheetham



(Warning: if cozy mysteries are your thing, this book isn't for you. There are scenes of sexual violence. All necessary to the plot, but not necessarily to everyone's taste)

In a small town where nothing much happens, teenage girls are going missing with alarming regularity. Some turn up dead. Others don't turn up at all. The police attribute the deaths to suicide and drug use. Julian Harris, a young man haunted by nightmares about the girls, believes there's something more sinister at work.

When Julian stumbles across the body of one of the girls, he determines to find out the truth. A decision that leads him to a seedy underworld of drugs, prostitution, blackmail and murder headed by a man who seems to have stepped straight out of his nightmares.

The Society of Dirty Hearts is a full-length (78000 words) mystery novel that explores twisted psychological depths full of dark secrets and darker desires.
Published July 22nd 2011


I have been “writing” this review for a couple days.  This book has been hard to wrap my mind around.  This was an awesome book.  I’ve even recommended it to people already.  I just couldn’t figure out how to review it.
To say I really enjoyed this book doesn’t seen quite strong enough, but to say I loved it seems awkward since this book is so dark.  It’s so well crafted, so gritty and real, so…I just can’t find the right words.
The characters are three-dimensional.  They’re genuine.  You relate to them.  Even though they were completely opposite from me, and I’ve never been through anything like them.  But you felt for them, wanted them to succeed, to survive, to excel.  Through all the drugging and alcoholing and violence and sex, you still rooting for them!
But I was always a little wary of Julian.  I just couldn’t ever figure out what was going on with him.  And that was a unique aspect of this book, that you wanted to give-in and trust Julian completely, but there was always a reason to hold back, always something there that just wasn’t right about him.
Cheetham ensnared me in the web of his inescapable story.  I felt like a junkie needing a fix—I had to know what was happening next and couldn’t get enough of this book.  If I could have mainlined this book, I would have.  Then my supply ran out.
I used up all the words in The Society of Dirty Hearts, flipped all the pages.  I’ve been going through withdrawal.  Cheetham ends then book, but leaves so many questions unanswered, so many blanks left empty.
And I needed a fix, so I emailed Ben a Totally Impromptu Interview.

The Totally Impromptu Interview:


Is there a sequel in the works? I NEED MORE!

I love writing crime fiction with a dark, almost Gothic mood, but it doesn't seem to sell as well as more conventional crime thrillers. My novel Blood Guilt outsells The Society Of Dirty Hearts by roughly 10:1, so simple economics dictates I write a follow-up to it first.

Will we ever find out if Julian has psychic abilities?

Julian's psychic abilities remain ambiguous throughout the novel for several reasons. Firstly because I wanted to write a Lynchian psychological horror rather than a paranormal thriller. More importantly, though, if I made it clear that Julian has psychic abilities he'd be a far less complex character. I didn't want him to be someone readers feel comfortable with, I wanted to challenge them to identify with a character who, if he isn't a psychic, has something seriously nasty going on in his subconscious.

What's next for you?

Hopefully, what's next is a sequel to Blood Guilt. The novel is still in an embryonic stage, so I don't want to say too much about it.

So there you have it, folks.  This Cheetham-junkie will have to find other ways to get his fix.

5 Trees: Addictive and unnerving!


Go buy this book…


Get to reading,

*This book was provided to me by the author in exchange for an honest review*

About the author:

Ben Cheetham is an award-winning writer and Pushcart Prize nominee. His writing spans the genres, from horror and sci-fi to literary fiction, but he has a passion for dark, gritty crime fiction. His short stories have been published in Swill Magazine, The Fiction Desk, Deadcore (Comet Press), The London Magazine, The Willisden Herald New Short Stories 3, The Grist Anthology of New Writing, Dream Catcher, Staple, Fast Forward: A Collection of Flash Fiction, Voice From The Planet (Harvard Square Editions), The Momaya Annual Review, Transmission, The Chaffey Review, and numerous other magazines.

Ben lives in Sheffield, UK, where - when he's not chasing around after his two-year old son - he spends most of his time locked away in his study racking his brain for the next paragraph, the next sentence, the next word. 


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