William Boyd is one of those rare writers you can trust to turn in a taut and thrilling plot while paying attention to the fine craft of writing. His sentences are thoughtful and elegant and his characters multi-faceted. So it is with Restless, first published in 2006, and later dramatised by the BBC.
The story spans two eras, the most recent taking place during the heatwave of 1976 as Ruth visits her mother, Sal, in the Cotswolds and finds cause for alarm. Sal is showing paranoid behaviour to the point of pretending she needs a wheelchair. She hands her daughter a packet with the start of her memoir, detailing events going back to 1939 and her recruitment into Britain’s secret service.
I can see what the BBC saw in Restless. It’s got a lot going for it and not just pleasant locations which would look attractive on the small screen: Oxford in the heatwave of 1976; Scotland (where Eva has secret agent training and changes her name); London during the blitz; New York in winter; and New Mexico and even Paris get a look-in too. Continue reading “Book Review: Restless by William Boyd”
Smoke and Mirrors is the second novel in Griffiths’ Stephens and Mephisto mystery series. I’ve read all her books in the Ruth Galloway / DI Nelson series and I enjoy them for their wit, great characterisation and intelligent plotting. But what I love about them is the archaeological background she brings into each story and the Norfolk history and prehistory that bubbles through.
I guess I shouldn’t be surprised by how much I enjoyed Smoke and Mirrors for once again, you’ve got the characterisation and an engaging plot to draw you in. Instead of Norfolk and archaeology, you’ve got 1950s Brighton, it’s just before Christmas and there’s a pantomime on at the Pavillion, when two small children go missing.
Leading the investigation is DI Edgar Stephens, only thirty-one and quickly promoted to this role because of the effects of the war on the police workforce. This causes some resentment from his boss, and means he has a lot to prove. He’s also smart, well-educated and reasonably cultured. Interesting, in other words. He’s got a team of two sergeants who couldn’t be more different, and who should be starring in Alladin at the Pavillion but his old mate Mephisto.
Why you should read it:
- Backstage goings-on are just as interesting as the performances with actors rewriting their lines to the despair of the playwright, theatrical rivalry and witty back-handers. Meanwhile there is a curious link between the current crime and the murder of a young pantomime actress thirty odd years ago.
- Elly Griffiths has a knack for pulling you into the story. There’s a lot going on with an assortment of suspects, red-herrings aplenty and the high emotional quotient you get with crimes against children.
- Young Annie, one of the victims, was writing a play based on a Grimms fairy-tale, and ramping up the grim quotient. This adds a sinister quality and keeps poor Edgar guessing – is there a clue to be found in Annie’s script?
- Snow. It’s coming up to Christmas and there’s a ton of the stuff, hampering the investigation and causing both the police and the reader to expect the worst.
- Tension builds in a satisfying way towards a dramatic ending – just as it should. Four out of five from me.
Anyone for Seconds? is a follow-up book to Laurie Graham’s first novel about TV chef, Lizzie Partridge. Perfect Meringues came out twenty years ago, so it’s been a long wait, but worth it as Lizzie is a heap of fun.
As the story begins, Lizzie is feeling like she’s on the scrap-heap. Her former boyfriend Tom, such a nice chap, seems to have made domestic arrangements elsewhere and she’s never resurrected her TV career since that on-air food-fight in Perfect Meringues. Now Global magazine has just axed her What’s Cooking? column. It’s the last straw. In a desperate bid to be missed, Lizzie heads for the train station and on a whim lands up at a hotel in Aberystwyth.
It’s November, so the seaside town doesn’t have a lot of sightseers. There is a furry conference on, though, and before her return a week later, Lizzie hooks up with a racoon with connections to her past. Back in Birmingham, it’s as if she never left: her elderly mother still ignores her, obviously preferring her younger brother Philip; she has to make appointments just to talk to her high-flying lawyer daughter, Ellie; there’s a mouse in the kitchen and the bills are piling up.
Some chance encounters and a few random events shake up Lizzie’s life so that by the end of the book there’s a promise of new beginnings. Along the way, there are plenty of laugh-out-loud moments. Anyone for Seconds? is such a fun read and it reminded me of what I liked so much about Graham’s contemporary fiction. Here’s why you should read it:
- Lizzie Partridge knows her grub, so there are plenty of interesting food references, if you like that kind of thing. I do.
- Lizzie is sixty-four. How many heroines do you know who are that age? But she’s terrific in so many ways, which is just as it should be – being sixty-four doesn’t stop her from having a go at romance and taking advantage of new opportunities. Not that this should be surprising. If you read Graham’s Dog Days and Glen Miller Nights you’ll know what I mean.
- There’s a real feel for the Midlands tone of voice. You can hear the characters speaking without any annoying dropped consonants or quaint expressions. It just seems to happen in your head.
- Graham is really good at dialogue, which makes the story bounce along. There are numerous phone calls, family dinners, and other verbal to-ings and fro-ings, including a pilot for a TV chat show.
- Like everything Graham writes, the prose is sparkling, sharp and witty – humour guaranteed.
Four out of five for me; oh, and I wouldn’t pass up a third helping, either.
I reviewed The Dark Lake by this author not so long ago but actually, it was this book – her second Gemma Woodstock crime novel – that I picked up first. It just looked so interesting with its brooding Melbourne in winter setting; a damaged detective (Woodstock is hopeless at relationships, has more baggage than you can shake a stick at, including a young son she has left behind in the small town where she grew up); and everything’s new – new flat, new job, new city, new partner.
But you just have to read book one first. Into the Night begins with the murder of a homeless man and Sergeant Gemma Woodstock feels the pressure to close the case quickly so that other Melbourne homeless feel safe and the news media think the police care about those who slip below the radar. Continue reading “Book Review: Into the Night by Sarah Bailey”
The Detective’s Daughter is the first in a series by Lesley Thomson featuring Stella Darnell, a solitary forty-something who runs a cleaning company called Clean Slate. Her father, Terry Darnell, a career policeman, had always wanted her to join the force, but a messy divorce and Stella’s resentment that he’d always put his job before his daughter meant that she preferred to do her own thing. She likes things tidy, obsessively so, and being her own boss; Clean Slate is perfect – until Stella’s father dies.
Cleaning out her dad’s house, Stella comes across a file that fascinates her: the case Terry was working on when suddenly struck down by a heart attack. Even though he was retired, Terry couldn’t forget the murder of Kate Rokesmith, strangled in broad daylight while walking with her four-year-old son near the river at Hammersmith Bridge. Her husband Hugh carried the stigma of suspicion for the rest of his life, while little Jonathan was sent to a boarding school to be brought up by strangers. Continue reading “Review: The Detective’s Daughter by Lesley Thomson”
I love it when I discover a new series at its very beginning and enjoy it so much I read each book that follows as soon as it comes out. So it is with Abir Mukherjee’s mysteries set in Calcutta in the early 1920s. Featuring ex-pat British policeman, Capt. Sam Wyndham, the author throws you right into Calcutta during the British Raj era. Wyndham is still recovering (or not!) from his time in the trenches of WW1, and the loss of his much-loved wife during the flu epidemic, self-medicating with opium. It’s just as well he’s so smart, energetic and won’t let the rules get in the way of his investigations or he’d never catch the perpetrators.
In Smoke and Ashes, Wyndam investigates a brutal killing which he discovers quite by chance when he has to make a hasty retreat from an evening visit to an opium den. Continue reading “Ripping Reads: Smoke and Ashes by Abir Mukherjee”
A novel based on letters can be instantly engaging, especially when the writers start out as strangers and through writing, become friends. One of my favourites is The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Anne Shaffer, which is one of the most heart-warming books ever. And then there is 84 Charring Cross Road by Helene Hanff, which isn’t a novel, but the actual correspondence between the author and the staff at a second-hand bookshop. You wouldn’t think that could be interesting, but thanks to the wonderful personality of the author, has become a classic, especially for book lovers.
Now we have Meet Me at the Museum, a novel in letters which begins when farmer’s wife, Tina Hopgood, writes to the museum housing The Tollund Man, in Denmark. She writes to the author of a book she discovered as a child and regrets in the fifty years since that she has never been able to make the pilgrimage to the museum to see The Tollund Man or meet the author, Professor Glob. Continue reading “Quick Review: Meet Me at the Museum by Anne Youngson”
Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen is one of the most beloved of classics, and has been filmed and televised again and again. In Longbourn, Jo Baker takes the reader downstairs among the meal preparations, the endless laundry, boot-polishing and bell-answering by the hard-working servants, much of it shown from the point of view of Sarah, a maid in the Bennett household.
The events of the original book seem like the tip of the iceberg as far as physical activity is concerned – Mrs Bennett’s anxious hanky-wringing, Mr Bennett’s library brooding, Jane and Elizabeth’s thoughtful chats and needlework, while gentlemen call and invitations are answered.
It all drives such an effort in keeping up appearances, the work of which falls to the small staff of Mr and Mrs Hill and two maids, one of whom, Polly, is just a child. Their working day seems to stretch forever, and the reader feels the pain of Sarah’s chilblains and her yearning to see something of the world. Continue reading “Book Review: Longbourn by Jo Baker”
Trollope’s latest novel begins where many stories end – with a proposal of marriage. Rose and Tyler have fallen in love in their sixties, and within a few short months recognise that in spite of previous marriages for both of them, they’ve never felt like this before. The problems begin when they tell their children they plan to marry.
Rose has an elder daughter, busy mum and doctor, Laura, who at first supports her mother’s decision – it’s her life, after all. But twins, Nat and Emmy are appalled. Their reaction is emotional and soon legal advice and prenups are being talked about. Then there’s Mallory, Tyler’s American actress daughter, who is enjoying having her father around for once, but now it looks like he’s going to abandon her again, to live in England. No wonder she finds it difficult to answer his calls. Continue reading “Quick Review: An Unsuitable Match by Joanna Trollope”
The Cazalet Chronicles is a kind of historical saga set in England around the years of World War Two. The great thing about it is that there is such a large cast of characters and multiple plot threads, that every time I read it there is more to discover. It follows the Cazalet family of three sons, Hugh, Edward and Rupert, and their families – particularly daughters Polly, Louise and Clary – who each take up a chunk of the narrative. There’s also the unmarried sister/aunt, Villy, as well as elderly parents which provide a link with the past. Howard published the Chronicles in the 1990s and they were massively successful, with a follow-up book, All Change, in 2013 about the same characters some years later.
What I really like about it: Continue reading “Thursday’s Old Favourite: The Cazalet Chronicles”