Quick Review: The Dark Lake by Sarah Bailey

lakeIs The Dark Lake Aussie Noir, Chick Noir or something else? How easy it is to fall into the trap of seeing every book you read in the terminology of a marketing team. With its unreliable narrator (Detective Sergeant Gemma Woodstock), the murder of a beautiful young teacher and a small town in mid-summer creating a suitably claustrophobic setting, it seems to tick all the boxes for Chick Noir (Girl on a Train, etc.).

However Gemma is also a pretty good cop, working out of police HQ, taking endless witness statements and arguing with her crusty,  salt-of-the-earth boss, Jonesy. It’s just a pity that she’s having a clandestine affair with fellow DS Felix McKinnon while trying to keep the peace with Scott, her partner and the father of their son. This alone has Gemma on tenterhooks, while Christmas looms and the Australian heat makes everyone tetchy.

Then there’s the murder. The victim, Rosalind Ryan, was in Gemma’s year at school and the novel soon hints at some unfinished business between them, which may or may not have something to do with the death of Gemma’s first true love, Jacob. So while there’s a fair bit of your standard police procedural to the storyline, Gemma’s backstory and her mounting stress levels, a tendency to drink too much and behave badly add a truckload of suspense.

The story comes to a satisfying conclusion with plenty of drama and red herrings along the way, and Gemma finally gets to put away her murderer. We also hope that she has a good hard look at herself because, with another book in the series already published (Into the Night), we know that she can’t do justice to her job and maintain a personal life any other way. And although yes, Gemma is not always easy to like, Sarah Bailey has made her interesting enough to make you want more. Roll on book 2.

Three and a half stars from me.

Thursday’s Old Favourite: Lady Oracle by Margaret Atwood

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I used to read Margaret Atwood avidly at one time. She is undoubtedly one of the world’s literary greats, and books like The Handmaid’s Tale, first published in 1987, have found a new readership with its dystopian themes that are oddly resonant today.

But of all her books, it is Lady Oracle that I seem to come back to time and again. It’s heroine, Joan Foster, is a romance writer with a bunch of secrets and a life that regularly gets out of control. When she receives a blackmail threat, Joan reacts true to form by running away. She does this by staging her own death and flees to Italy. The novel pieces together her unhappy childhood; her affair with a Polish count who inspires her to write gothic romances; her marriage to Arthur who seems to be the opposite in so many ways to Paul. Continue reading “Thursday’s Old Favourite: Lady Oracle by Margaret Atwood”

Quick Review: The Wildflowers by Harriet Evans

 

The Wildflowers coverSometimes you just need an absorbing read that spirits you away to another place and time and connects with the emotions. Harriet Evans’ new book does just that, delving into the family secrets and tragic events that shape the lives of the Wilde family.

Anthony Wilde is the greatest stage actor of his day; his wife Althea has taken a pause from acting to raise her two children, eventually to become a success on television. They are the beautiful couple, with two beautiful children: precocious songbird Cordelia and her sensitive brother Ben(nedict). Every summer they arrive at the Bosky, the house built by Tony’s gambler grandfather, which nestles just above the sand dunes. Continue reading “Quick Review: The Wildflowers by Harriet Evans”

Writing Tips: What’s in a Name?

name cloudSometimes you’re working on a novel, but don’t feel happy about a character’s name. Maybe it doesn’t ring true for the setting or the time that they were born. Then there are those awful realisations that a third of your characters have names that start with the letter H. Or what about those moments when you are deep within the story, and the writing is going well, when a minor character turns up and needs a name. For some reason having to suddenly decide what to call them throws you into a spin. What do you do? Continue reading “Writing Tips: What’s in a Name?”

Thursday’s Old Favourite: Case Histories by Kate Atkinson

caseYes, I know they put Atkinson’s Jackson Brodie novels on television and the series was so memorable you can probably remember the broad shape of each plot. But even if you can remember the ending, as soon as you pick up one of the books – and let’s start with the first one: Case Histories – you know you are in for a really good time.

In case you’ve forgotten, Jackson Brodie is a private investigator living in Cambridge, a failed marriage behind him and trying to be a good father to a daughter he only sometimes sees. He’s middle-aged and smokes but fortunately keeps himself in shape because someone is out to kill him. On his books are a bunch of cold cases when two eccentric sisters ask him to look into what happened to their baby sister thirty years ago.

What I like about this book:

  • This is a really intricately plotted mystery interweaving a bunch of story threads so that you have to keep your wits about you.
  • The character of Brodie who is almost your classic troubled PI – the smoking and broken marriage are dead giveaways – but he’s just so much more interesting than that. Perhaps it’s because he comes from the North.
  • All the characters are interesting, have strong backstories and are richly rendered on the page.
  • Best of all, I love Atkinson’s writing. It shows that she has won the Man Booker a couple of times. She really crafts her prose and yet at the same time, it is lively and readable.
  • Stephen King said it was the best crime novel of the decade – and he could be right.

Books from 2017 I Forgot to Read

It is humbling to look at your Must-Read List and see novels just getting away from you. You pick them up and put them down again because the reading experience is so personal that you know when a book is right for you – and when it isn’t.

Some books need a lot of concentration so you save them for a holiday or a long, wet weekend. Others are just the wrong genre for your mood at the time. Or maybe you wanted to read it but were put off by that negative review, or worse, the review that had too many spoilers in it. And then there are those books you just want to save for a special occasion – like the last chocolate in the box of Belgian pralines. You just never know when you might need it.

So here is my list of really good books I should have read last year but, for whatever reason, didn’t: Continue reading “Books from 2017 I Forgot to Read”

What’s So Special About Scottish Islands?

I’ve done it again – picked up a novel because it was set on a Scottish island. Not that I was disappointed. Keep the Midnight Out is a solid mystery novel featuring Alex Gray’s regular investigator, DI Lorimer. I enjoyed it so much I plan to read the rest of the series, even if I do have to cross the water to the mainland.

And while I do have ancestral connections to the Isle of Skye, I know I’m not the only one to really enjoy these Scottish island settings – the remoter the better. Once you’re on an island, cut off from super-fast broadband and other tricks of modernity, well, anything can happen and so often does. Continue reading “What’s So Special About Scottish Islands?”

Thursday’s Old Favourite: The Hollow by Agatha Christie

the hollowWhenever I am stuck for something to read, or need a cosy novel to cheer me up, I tend to dip into my extensive Agatha Christie collection. I know I’ve read them before numerous times, and can probably remember ‘whodunit’, but the good ones offer more than just the mystery of the crime. One of my favourites is The Hollow, a classic country house murder mystery, where the reader can depend the murderer is one of the guests invited for the weekend. Of course, it’s never one of the servants, so no one ever bothers to investigate them!

What I like about it:

  • Lucy Ankatell is one of Christie’s more amusing hostesses – she is a terrible snob but gives out enough self-deprecating humour for this to be forgivable.
  • There is a good reason for almost everyone to have killed the victim, so because they’re all friends and family, the suspects muddy the waters of Poirot’s investigation.

Continue reading “Thursday’s Old Favourite: The Hollow by Agatha Christie”

Quick Review: The Man I Think I Know by Mike Gayle

The Man.jpgHere’s a lovely read about that rare thing in fiction – male friendship.

James de Witt and Danny Allen both went to the same boarding school and as top scholars, both were expected to make a mark on the world. Danny, a scholarship boy, even won the school’s academic prize, but while he’s a university student, a tragedy occurs for which he feels to blame and his life unravels. We meet him years later as a layabout and recovering alcoholic, on his last chance with the Job Centre, and likely to lose his flat.

Danny takes work as a carer at a residential  home. He’s quite good at this because he is so apathetic, he isn’t bothered about cleaning up people’s messes and having things thrown at him. Continue reading “Quick Review: The Man I Think I Know by Mike Gayle”

Thursday’s Old Favourite: A Long Way from Verona by Jane Gardam

veronaA Long Way from Verona is a coming of age story about Jessica Vye, told in her own quirky voice, a thirteen-year-old schoolgirl who dreams of being a writer. If this novel had been published in the last twenty years, you’d find it classed as YA. But the subtlety of the title might be lost on many young readers, referring as it does to Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet. In one humorous scene, it is the end of term and Jessica and three friends decide to celebrate by treating themselves to a ‘shilling tea’ at a tea shop. A somewhat theatrical old woman at a nearby table exclaims with delight when she sees the girls, calling them little Juliets.

It’s a short novel, but there’s such a lot packed into it. Through Jessica’s eyes, we have a snapshot of wartime Britain, the class system, and what it takes to stick to your principals – Jessica’s curate father does this in spades. Jessica struggles to please her teachers or be taken seriously and is often in trouble for just being Jessica. Continue reading “Thursday’s Old Favourite: A Long Way from Verona by Jane Gardam”