Tuesday, August 31, 2010

The Devil's Staircase - Helen Fitzgerald

Bronny, a young Australian, finds herself down and out in London. She's a sweet girl who has spent her teenage years in a fearful, cautious bubble.

She's never taken drugs, had sex or killed anyone.

Within six weeks she's done all three.

A group of backpackers (and Bronny) break into an abandoned London townhouse seeking a rent-free life of partying. They don't realise someone's already there: a terrified woman bound and gagged in the basement. (back cover blurb)

Anyone hooked on the blurb?

Chapter one opens with these two lines:

It was fifty-fifty. Mum had it and died in a pool of her own mad froth. <3

As the story opens, Bronny's in Melbourne, after her 18th birthday, being tested (and will find out if she has a death sentence disease) in hospital. By page ten, she's run away from her dad and sister, impulsively flown to London, met two guys, she's in a hostel, no money, no job... 

The pacing is insane - really, it's like being caught up in a tornado. It wowed me and sucked me in big time.

Don't you just love the feeling you get when you pick up a random book and it turns out to be truly awesome? I was only one chapter in when I started thinking, 'this is goooood.' and it just kept getting better.

Bronny is the most likeable of characters, although she starts out as naive and sheltered, she pretty much lets loose and her experiences are wild but also kinda cute.

Then, half way through, when Bronny's romance with a fellow squatter (squatee? haha) - of whom I very much approved - has just kicked up a notch... they make a gruesome discovery. One of Bronny's squatter friends just may be a serial killer...

And guys, it's set in London (who doesn't love books set in the UK?) 

Bronny on exploring London: "I suppose I'd formed an image of London in my eighteen years, mostly from An American Werewolf in London. I'd imagined scary underground tunnels, fog, grey skies, unhappy people and werewolves." (page 18) Isn't she the best of narrators?

I love the sentences, which were so readable and cracked me up - I often paused to re-read sentences a few times over. And I wrote a whole bunch of lines in my book of fave quotes.

I love how it's a wild but kinda sweet contemporary read, but then it turns thriller and it sounds crazy, but it works. 

What I love most is how I honestly had no idea what was going to happen next. 

The whole time there's mystery surrounding Bronny and what exactly happened to her mum, mystery surrounding her new backpacker buddies and then the mystery of the serial killer, which I didn't pick, but on the re-read I loved seeing all the clues and foreshadowing.

It's brilliantly original. I can't think of another YA to compare it too. It's been reviewed as black comedy. Confession: I didn't know I was into black comedy - if this is black comedy, bring it on! I thought it was clever and hilarious.

Some other professional reviews that sum the Devil's Staircase up better than me :) :

'Lovely, sparse, elegant writing, highly original plot and ever- building tension make this book irresistible.There's sex and drugs and rock-and-roll, a whiff of true evil and a scream-out loud finale. Wow!' AUSTRALIAN WOMEN'S WEEKLY

'Brilliant, shocking and unputdownable' SYDNEY MORNING HERALD

"deftly written, fast-paced, scary and well-plotted - and would seem ideally suited to becoming a film script." SUN HERALD

As A Writer:
  • So, it's in first person past. Occasionally switches to third person past (still from Bronnies POV). And in different parts of the book, it's third person from the POV of the serial killer and the kidnapped victim, ah, kidnappee? Anyway, Helen basically wrote it however she wanted and I am awe.
  • Pacing was wild - no need to skip a paragraph anywhere (not that I'm big on skipping paragraphs, heheheh ;) Each sentence was succinct and conveyed a page worth of meaning.
The Devil's Staircase is marketed as YA in Australia, but other countries may shelve it as Adult fic. Bronny has just turned 18, and the Love Interest is older, 23. And hot. Just saying :) So, a crossover book.

Anyway, I really found it refreshingly awesome and I raced through it and have read it twice. I don't see much suspense/thriller in the YA genre, and this was even cooler as it has the whole coming-of-age, adventure in a foreign country thing going on. And Jack the Ripper gets mentioned. Yeah, I know... very cool.

Do I recommend it? Absolutely. I seriously loved this book (enough to go out and read all her other books after). But only if you're into this type of book (by now you've probably gathered it's a bit wild and has a veeeery creepy serial killer. Plus, if you're a fan of dark humour. 

The Devil's staircase was also short-listed for the 2010 Davitt Awards - which award the best crime writing by Australian women.

And... she's got a YA title coming out in November 2010 (as I mentioned, ah, last week?):

Everything's going swimmingly at school for Rachel, until she finds a newborn baby in the cupboard....(from authors site) 
With an utterly original, hilarious, and honest voice, Helen Fitzgerald delivers a sexy new boarding school tale with true heart-and a surprise ending you won't forget. (teaser review)

AND NEWSFLASH:  Speaking of The Davitt Awards... Justine Larbalestier won the 2010 best crime fiction for YA with her novel Liar - winners were announced today. The Davitt Awards celebrate Australian women who write crime :)


  1. Wow, great review Nomes I have to find myself a copy of this book. It sounds like a really dark and gritty read, I like that it has dark humour too. I love it when you have no idea what to expect next when your reading a book, so refreshing.

    Romy :)

  2. I had never heard of this book but now I am completely intrigued!

  3. Once again you have sold me on a book I had never heard of, but have to have. I got Beatle Meets Destiny after reading your review and now I will be ordering this too. Absolutely amazing review.

  4. Wow, this book sounds awesome! Really fresh. Really cool. It definitely needs to line up in my reading queue. Thanks so much for the review!

  5. Oo this sounds good. It's been a while since I've read a really good creepy book - MJ doesn't count. It's just not realistic creepy. Dang I need to stop reading your reviews or else I'm never going to dwindle down my TBR list. JK. I LOVE your reviews!!

  6. All her books turn into thrillers, don't they? I haven't read this one, but I'm certain to pick it up, after it crazy-awesome review :))

    She writes the wickedest books, doesn't she? I love it when they go the unconventional route.


Thanks for the commenty love :)