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Your Still Beating Heart

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'Equally compelling and unsettling, this razor-sharp thriller reminds us that, for life to be truly lived, we must know death. In loss we confront our true nature, though we might not recognise the person we discover. In his customary electric prose, Keevil cranks up the tension. You won't be able to look away.'—Katherine Stansfield

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The Literary Sofa’s Books of 2020 – Fiction
Penrallt Gallery Bookshop’s November Book Pick

From its show-stopping opening scene, Keevil’s tightly plotted page turner is full of momentum and unforgettable characters. Moving, profound and ultimately joyful, it turns on an exceptionally clever twist and is as revealing in its psychological acuity as it is in its portrait of organised crime.

All it takes to change a life is a single moment. A random stabbing on a London bus leaves Eira stripped of a future that should have been hers and propels her into a life skewed out of all recognition. In Prague, the city where she and her husband got engaged, the city where now she flees to in her grief, a chance meeting leads to an intriguing proposition. There’s a small job for someone like her: someone without a criminal record or personal connections; someone willing to take a minor risk. All she needs to do is pick something up, and drive back. Just once. Only ever once.

Her mission takes her to a place where life is cheap and sordid deals are done. Risking her own life to save another, she must confront unspeakable evil and outrun those who would betray her.

Literary Lucie, Bookstagrammer

7 January 2021

How can one moment change the course of your life forever? For Eira, this moment felt like a lifetime. On a London bus, just a ride home after a trip to the cinema, her husband Tod was stabbed in the heart. Wanting to feel something again, feel anything, she went to Prague and willingly took on a potentially dangerous job, only dangerous if she didn’t follow instructions to a tee. But Eira was never one for playing by the rules, and especially with this overriding numbness, she went rogue. Crossing both physically and personal boundaries, she soon realises that her still beating heart isn’t the only one she should be protecting.

What we thought at first to be an omniscient narrator turns out to be a friend telling Eira’s story as if to her. ‘You did this’ and ‘you did that’ is clearly aimed at Eira as the protagonist, however it also effectively places the reader as that character too. We are the ones who witnessed our husband get murdered, we are the ones who place ourselves in a life or death situation, we are the ones who have hearts on the verge of no longer beating. Keevil puts us right in the centre of the action like no book has ever done before. I honestly felt like the actions and questionable decisions of the characters were placed on my shoulders and I would have to face the consequences.

Your Still Beating Heart can be read as a fast-paced high-speed chase, the tension building with each page, compelling you to read on. With masterful storytelling and beautifully complex characters and dynamics, it really goes it show, sometimes you must experience death to truly understand life.
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The Biblio Sara, Bookstagrammer

21 December 2020

Life has a peculiar, unpredictable and eccentric way of changing in a moment.

In the blink of an eye.
A split second.
A jiffy.

A bus.
A random stranger.
Stabbing.
A woman widowed.

That's the story of a young woman named Eira. Soon after her husband's demise, she books a trip to Prague and encounters an odd job. Things take a sinister turn as she struggles with the task at hand and her conscience. Can she make a decision that will save her? Can we learn the importance of life?

Your Still Beating Heart is a phenomenal thriller by Tyler Keevil. It was outside my comfort zone, but I enjoyed it thoroughly. Every sentence was meticulously crafted and it left me in awe of the author and his ingenious storytelling. He took us through the bleak cold lands of Eastern Europe which greatly resonated with the themes of this book - loss, abandonment and grief. Keevil is scrupulous with the portrayal of his complex characters and their development. He put together an extremely menacing and electrifying narrative.

One of the things that I loved the most about Your Still Beating Heart was how Keevil skilfully immerses the reader in the story slowly. He perfectly builds the tension which leaves one feeling unsettled. I couldn't put it down. It was lingering in my mind for days. I believe that's the quality of a well-written book and the reason why I'll recommend it to the fans of thrillers and mystery.

Riveting, gripping and an emotionally enthralling title! Your Still Beating Heart will be out on September 10th. Thank you @myriad_editions for the review copy. 🖤

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Emma Schofield, Wales Art Review

4 December 2020

Emma Schofield reviews Your Still Beating Heart, the new thriller from Tyler Keevil which places moral dilemmas at the heart of a very human story.

I sat down to read Canadian-Welsh author Tyler Keevil’s latest novel, Your Still Beating Heart, on a drizzly evening when I felt more like planning my hibernation than reading a book. Three hours later I was still sat in the exact same place reading. It’s impossible not to be drawn immediately into the novel which starts with protagonist Eira watching her husband pass away following a random stabbing on a London bus. It’s equally difficult not to be drawn in to her spiralling sense of despair and confusion as she tries to make sense of what happened and the emptiness of the life which now stretches out ahead of her. Tightly structured prose, tension and a vaguely threatening feel which seems to lurk in the background set Keevil’s novel in motion and make it very difficult to turn away, even during its most uncomfortable moments.

These uncomfortable moments come thick and fast throughout the novel. In the opening chapters they are provided through Keevil’s ability to capture Eira’s feelings of utter desolation and helplessness following her husband’s death; there is an almost suffocating sense of despair in the way Eira tries to continue with her job, and other mundane parts of daily life, before realising that she ‘no longer feel(s) anything about it, one way or the other’. These uncomfortable moments only intensify as the setting for the novel switches to Eastern Europe and Eira decides to travel to Prague, revisiting the city where she got engaged. It is against this backdrop of towering architecture and bustling tourism that Eira’s loneliness peaks and leads to her encounter with Mario and his shady circle. As Eira finds herself lured further into Mario’s story she finds herself agreeing to exploit her status as a white, middle-class British tourist to carry out a job trafficking a child from neighbouring Slovakia.

It is within Keevil’s portrayal of how Eira slips so seamlessly into the role of trafficker that the novel raises some of its most challenging questions. Woven into every aspect of the story is the ugly reality of the utter personal devastation brought about by trafficking and the sheer horror of a situation where one life lies completely within the hands of another. As Eira begins her journey back to Prague, with her young charge, a boy named Gogol, concealed within the boot of her car, their lives becomes bound together by her determination to rescue him from the horrific fate which she gradually realises awaits him. Here, the directness of Keevil’s second-person narrative comes into its own. The narrative advises that ‘self-sacrifice won’t be enough. If you don’t survive, he won’t either. Your fates are entwined now, like strands of rope’, drawing you further in until you find yourself feeling almost complicit in the choices being made by Eira.

If the second-person narrative works well to create tension and absorb readers into the story, it does have a few drawbacks. As a general rule, I’m often wary of second-person narratives, in part because of the way they narrow the reader’s field of vision, leaving little room for context or alternative perspective. Yet in a novel such as this, which is unashamedly a thriller, the intimacy of the narrative certainly heightens the tension and uncertainty of Eira and Gogol’s attempted escape. There are a few hiccups with this approach, of course. At times, there are questions which remain unanswered and the singular focus within the narrative has the feel of a story which has been written with a dramatic adaptation in mind; it’s certainly easy to envisage the novel making the transition to a short TV series with relatively little difficulty. Whether it’s a style of writing you generally prefer or not, it’s undeniable that it works well in this context.

As you might expect in a novel which ultimately focuses on the human reality of people trafficking, there are some challenging moments, not least in the limited, but gory, detail of human organ harvesting which the traffickers plan to carry out. Yet the casual remarks revealed, often as an aside within the wider narrative, is where Your Still Beating Heart really comes into its own. The observations, such as Eira’s surprise at how light Gogol’s emaciated body feels as she lifts him carefully into the bath and the chilling effect of the crime ring’s view that ‘a boy is no different to an adult… no different to any other package’ make for uneasy reading. These details, more than the menacing threats raised by Mario and his boss, Valerie, have the power to bring home the true cost of one of the bleakest criminal activities still prevalent within our world.

Amongst this darkness, there is some light. The protective bond which starts to grow between Eira and Gogol offers warmth to the story, as does Eira’s friendship with her landlady in Prague, Marta. The willingness to put others first, to the extent of sacrificing their own safety, makes these relationships both believable and something of a relief against the cruelty and coldness demonstrated by those caught up in the human trafficking ring. At its core, this is a human story, one about grief and love and having the strength to fight for what is right. In exploring the choices made by Eira as she stumbles through the early stages of grieving for her husband and finds herself faced with challenging moral dilemmas, Tyler Keevil is able to bring together an emotion which will be familiar to so many, with a world about which the majority of us are likely to be fortunate enough to have never personally experienced.

Above all, what really stands out throughout Your Still Beating Heart is Keevil’s distinctive writing style and his ability to lead readers to question the choices they would make if they found themselves confronted with a situation such as the one Eira unwittingly finds herself in. This is a snappy and pacey read which makes for an excellent page-turner and a poignant reminder of the frailty of human life.

 

Your Still Beating Heart by Tyler Keevil is out now and is available through Myriad Editions.

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Isabel Costello, The Literary Sofa's Books of the Year

18 November 2020

IN BRIEF: My View of Your Still Beating Heart

As my Books of the Year post is currently taking shape, I’m going to kick off with a spoiler and tell you this is one of them. Randomness fascinates me and the inciting incident for this story is an extreme case, when a young woman’s life is torn apart by the senseless murder of her husband, prompting her to return to the city where they got engaged.  There’s a transcendent quality to novels which wrest tenderness and beauty from brutality and ugliness, and this one has it in abundance.  And whilst this is rooted in empathy, it’s reinforced by the writing itself.  There’s a cleanness to Keevil’s style that allows the reader space to hear what’s being said, what isn’t, and who’s doing the talking.

Your Still Beating Heart has the emotional heft of a character-driven literary novel despite being a palpitation-inducing page-turner, a rare combination and, as writing challenges go, an ambitious one.  The story has elements I wasn’t expecting at all.  The journey Eira embarks on when she gets to Prague is not just a high-stakes mission involving some very dangerous people; it’s the road back to meaning and to life from a place of profound grief and shock. If she makes it back. I found it moving, gripping and evocative of place – if you enjoyed Judith Heneghan’s Snegurochka (set in Kiev) or Garth Greenwell’s What Belongs To You (set in Sofia), there are shades of overlap, but this book’s heart beats to its own tune.

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The Review Show, BBC Radio Wales

9 September 2020
‘This really grabbed me right from the start. I just couldn’t put it down. It’s unashamedly a pacy thriller. It's hard-hitting with a really strong political undercurrent… in places I wanted to look away but I couldn’t. It’s very, very strong.’  Emma Schofield
‘I really enjoyed it… it really drew me in and it drew me in quickly too. It does ‘menace' well. It has some strong parallels with the film Don’t Look Now… What I really liked was the personal questions it poses about  the moral importance of opting for bravery over cowardice and the very pertinent political overtones… It’s a book that stayed with me and a book that made me ask serious questions of myself. ’  Craig Austin, ‘The Review Show’, BBC Radio Wales
 
‘Very immediate snappy prose…it reminded me of writers like Gillian Flynn who get straight to the heart of the matter.’  Gary Raymond, ‘The Review Show’, BBC Radio Wales
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