On Chapel Sands ~ Laura Cumming

B98E6A23-FF35-4FAD-B690-492D63C5F2E2On Chapel Sands has already made something of a stir in the book world. First published last July, it was shortlisted for the Costa Biography Award 2019 and was chosen by Radio 4 for serialisation last summer. Now, it appears in paperback, and having missed it the first time round I thought that I ought to make the effort to catch up with it.

The book tells the story of Cumming’s attempts to find the truth about her mother, Betty’s, background. Pretty much all that her mother knows is that she was adopted. However, as the search progresses it becomes apparent that there is something in her history that she has either truly forgotten or subliminally suppressed. This is the feature of the book that most people will probably have heard about, the fact that as a small child Betty was kidnapped while on Chapel Sands, near her Lincolnshire home, and was missing for three days before being returned unharmed.  It is the search for the true reason behind this event that is the driving force of the book’s narrative.

Betty’s childhood was not particularly easy.  Her father, George, was a difficult man given to fits of temper. Her mother, Veda, a far more placid character, was hard pushed to make ends meet in the small two up two down terraced house that Betty knew as home. Although she eventually “escapes“ to Edinburgh, where at art college she meets Cumming’s father, Betty, now known as Elizabeth, is in many ways marked by her childhood for the rest of her life. The only evidence that the family can find about her earlier history comes in the form of a number of photos, almost all of which appear to have been taken by George, and it is through the interpretation of these that Cumming weaves her narrative about the gradual discovery of what happened to her mother on Chapel Sands and why.

The interpretation of images is a central theme within the book. Cumming herself has a background in writing about art and artists and she laces her narrative with discussions of the work of painters such as Bruegel the elder, Vuillard, Ravilious, Seurat and Degas, as well as making many references to the poet Tennyson, who grew up in a nearby village.  She focuses particularly on Bruegel’s interpretation of The Fall of Icarus, where the viewer almost certainly concentrates her or his attention on aspects of the work which have nothing to do with the title, given that the real import of the painting is hidden away in a tiny detail. This, she argues, is indicative of what happened in her mother’s story, important facts have been lost, concealed behind the larger canvas of every day life.  All around us are stories that cannot be squared or circled or turned into something so easily defined, she suggests, stories that are larger and more unexpected than we ever recognise because the tiny detail that gives them the relevance is lost, or deliberately underplayed. Chasing down such details brings to light unexpected and vital aspects of Betty’s story.

I recognise that this is a very well written and very well researched book, well worthy of the accolades that it has received. I can think of a number of people to whom I would give it secure in the knowledge that they would derive considerable pleasure from the reading. However, it was a book I struggled with, mainly I think because of the way in which it is structured. Cumming, in a manner that reflects the piecemeal and often tortuous way in which her mother came to understand the truth about her background, offers the reader a very slow and convoluted reveal. While many will appreciate the small details that she offers about her mother’s upbringing, I found myself wanting to say, please, just tell me what happened. Who took Betty from the beach that day and why? What is the truth about her background, about her adoption, about the way in which George treats her?  This, I am sure, is a reflection of my own preference for a plot driven narrative. It is certainly not a fault with the book. Cumming chooses to explore all the tiny byways of her mother’s life and the family’s search for the truth. There is absolutely nothing wrong in this. It just wasn’t for me.

With thanks to Random House UK, Vintage Publishing and NetGalley for a review copy. 

The Bass Rock ~ Evie Wyld

IMG_0093Evie Wyld’s new novel, The Bass Rock, is a remarkable piece of work. It’s a long time since I’ve read a novel that has engaged me so thoroughly and moved me to the extremes of this book. Set over three different time periods, the present day, post-World War II and the seventeenth century, the narrative focuses primarily on the lives of three different women, all linked by location and by the looming presence of the Bass Rock.  Just as the rock stands immovable, dark and brooding over the landscape, so too does the question of male sexual violence darken the lives not only of Viviane, Ruth and Sarah but also of the nameless, beaten women whose stories punctuate the seven segments into which Wyld organises her book.

In each of the main storylines the focus rests upon a woman whose relationship with both herself and those around her is to some extent dictated by the men in her life. In the present day, Viviane, commuting between London and Scotland, where she has been tasked with the job of closing down the old family home of her recently dead father, is wracked with guilt at having slept with her sister, Katherine’s, husband, Dom, while at the same time beginning a tentative relationship with Vincent, a man she meets in a queue. In the post war period the narrative centres around Ruth, second wife of the widowed Peter, whose younger son, Michael, is Viviane’s father. Very aware that in the eyes of many she does not live up to the expectations associated with the ‘Lady of the Big House’ and often lonely given the boys absence at school and Peter’s frequent expeditions to London for work, Ruth makes friends with Betty, their cook cum housekeeper and through her begins to understand what motivates the disturbing undercurrents she finds in the society around her. The final strand, set in 1600s, centres on Sarah, proclaimed a witch and forced to flee with a family who, to all intents and purposes, are running not only to protect her but also themselves. These segments are perhaps less well worked than those relating to Viviane and Ruth, but the menace felt by Sarah, the constant danger that she is in simply because she is a woman, is much more directly communicated. And, between each of the seven major segments there is the story of a series of unnamed women, united by the violence that they suffer at the hands of men.  The universality of the theme that Wyld is exploring is given explicit voice quite late in the book:

I can see that there are people in the kitchen with us, there are children and women, all holding hands like us, and I wonder, is this the ghost everyone sees, is it in fact a hundred thousand different ghosts? It’s only possible to focus on one at a time. They spill out of the doorway, and I see through the wall that they fill the house top to bottom, they are locked in wardrobes, they are under the floorboards, they crowd out of the back door into the garden, they are on the golf course and on the beach and their heads bob out of the sea, and when we walk, we are walking right through them. The birds on the Bass Rock, they fill it, they are replaced by more, their numbers do not diminish with time, they nest on the bones of the dead.

Apparently, Wyld was in the middle of writing the novel when the #MeToo movement began and it is clear to see that she is exploring many of the issues relating to violence towards women which that brought to light. However, it would be to diminish this book  to suggest that it is nothing more than a feminist tract. There are good men in the book, especially Christopher, Michael‘s elder brother, and, by implication, Michael himself. Both of them, as boys, have suffered at the hands of predatory men and equally both of them have suffered as a result of a conspiracy on the part of other men who have power over them, to refute any complaint that they might make. Both of them appear to grow up to be decent human beings. It is also the case that to some extent society has conditioned women to be instrumental in their own suffering. We see this in the way in which the post war women readily take part in a traditional picnic that ends in a rite which has obvious sexual overtones and it is there in the attitude of Ruth‘s mother who has no sympathy for Judith‘s loss of a daughter, she had lost her only son after all, which was surely worse than losing a daughter. And, there is also the suggestion that when faced with violence, women don’t always act in their own best interest, almost as if accepting that such treatment is inevitable. When Viviane and Katherine are threatened by an angry Dom on both occasions their response is to freeze rather than to assert their right to safety.

The Bass Rock is a powerful and most beautifully written novel and I was gripped by it from beginning to end. My only question is this: can somebody please explain to me why such an excellent book is not on the long list for the Women’s Prize this year?

With thanks to Random House UK, Vintage Publishing Jonathan Cape and NetGalley for a review copy.

Bringing It Home

Yesterday, the husband of one of my closest friends died as a result of Covid 19.  His wife is in isolation at home, so am I. She can do nothing and, even though I only live five minutes walk away, I can do nothing to help and support her. Suddenly I am faced with the stark truth of what we are living through.  The deadly possibilities of this virus are no longer something that people in the media are talking about but a reality of my life. Please, will you all implement the precautions we have been asked to take and keep yourselves safe.  I do not want to lose another friend.

When Shadows Fall ~ Alex Gray

IMG_0245I’ve come rather late to Alex Gray’s series featuring Detective Superintendent William Lorimer and psychologist and criminal profiler, Dr Solomon Brightman. As a result, while this is the latest in the sequence, I’m still catching up with some of the earlier volumes, which means that I haven’t yet met Joseph Alexander Flynn, reformed drug addict and now Lorimer family friend, who kicks off this latest novel when he digs up a skull while landscaping a garden. The Cold Case Team are called in and, even though it’s clear that the man has been murdered, the death would hardly have troubled Lorimer and his Major Incident Team were it not for the fact that the bullet is also retrieved and, when it is examined, it proves to have been fired by a gun that is still around, a gun that is being used to execute retired police officers.

The first of these is George Phillips, Lorimer’s old boss, gunned down in his own garden. The killing of one of their own brings all the members of Police Scotland together in the search for the gunmen and their efforts are redoubled when the murder of Ex DI Stephen McAlpine follows hard on the heels of that of Phillips. At first the two deaths are treated as a dreadful coincidence, but when ballistic evidence shows that the same gun fired both bullets and those bullets are then linked to that found by Flynn in a suburban garden, it becomes apparent that a single mind is behind all three murders.

The immediate focus of the investigation centres on criminals put away by the murdered officers. However, try as they might, Lorimer’s team finds it impossible to discover a common individual among the rogues apprehended and incarcerated as a result of the work of those have been killed. If there is a mastermind behind the deaths, he or she is not going to be easy to pinpoint.

Solly Brightman, of course, is looking for a pattern in the killings. Most obviously the killer appears to be targeting officers who have retired. This theory is apparently blown out of the water when the fourth victim is still in service. Have all their deliberation so far been misdirected?

Meanwhile, in Barlinnie prison, John Ramsey is coming to the end of a fifteen  year sentence. Now elderly, and suffering from the cancer that he knows will kill him within a year, he is both looking forward to and dreading his release. While the pleasures of freedom are enticing, as soon as he gets out he has a job to do for the mysterious figure known as The Old Man. He has to kill a man he has no reason to dislike other than for the fact that he is a police officer and, despite his past record, the thought troubles Ramsey. But should he fail to go through with the execution his own death will follow even more swiftly than expected and it will not be pleasant.

While I enjoy Gray’s work enough to keep coming back to it, there are features of her writing which I have to say I do find irritating. In particular, she has a tendency to over explain things, very often by Lorimer imparting information to his long-suffering wife, Maggie, that I’m sure, after all these years of being married to a policeman, she must already know. It feels clumsy. There are also elements of the plot line in this particular novel, which I didn’t feel worked very well. One of these proved to be a red herring which petered out into nothing. The other, for me, meant that the ending was unsatisfactory, although I’m sure some readers will have no problem with it. Nevertheless, it was an interesting enough read and I’m certain true fans of Lorimer and Brightman will enjoy it very much.

With thanks to the Little, Brown Book Group and NetGalley for providing a review copy.

A Thousand Moons ~ Sebastian Barry

B7565CB2-4272-4F45-9DC9-02CE18ED9356Sebastian Barry’s 2016 novel, Days Without End, would, without any doubt, stand very high in any top 10 list of all time reads I might ever be asked to compile. I have said it before and I am willing to say it again, I think that book is word perfect. His most recent novel, A Thousand Moons, continues the story of John Cole, Thomas McNulty and their adoptive daughter, Winona, who are still living and working on the farmstead owned by Lige Magan, alongside freedmen, brother and sister, Rosalee and Tennyson Bouguereau.

Each in their own way harbours an identity which is an anathema to the majority of those in their community.  John and Thomas are homosexual, Rosalee and Tennyson are black and Winona is a Lakota Indian. And, of course, in the previous novel they were all involved in the killing (in self defence) of Tach Petrie, hardly an upstanding member of the local fraternity, but certainly a power in it.

While the previous novel focused primarily on John and Thomas, this book centres itself around Winona. Having been taught to both read and write and to figure her numbers by Mrs Neale, Winona is able to find work with Lawyer Briscoe in the local town. Although she finds the job fulfilling and the money that it brings in is much needed, her position calls her to the attention of those who have an in-bred contempt for her and her people. One young man, however, Jas Jonski, is seriously attracted to her and pays court to the point of seeing himself as her fiancé. For her part, Winona goes along with this until one disastrous evening, the events of which leave her both physically and psychologically damaged. From this point on, not only Winona but her entire family are threatened by the consequences of that one night, and the challenge that their way of life is seen as posing to the local community means that they and all those who offer support become vulnerable to smalltown vigilantes.

While the plot of this book is engrossing and marches on apace, like all Barry’s work it is about so much more than simply the events that take place. Chief of these, perhaps, is the question of identity. Although she is deeply embedded in the family unit centred on John Cole and Thomas McNulty, Winona is at all times conscious of the fact that the life she is living compromises the identity into which she was born. Much as he loves her it is Thomas who begins this process by changing her name.

I am Winona.

In early times I was Ojinjintka, which means rose. Thomas McNulty tried very hard to say this name, but he failed, and so he gave me my dead cousin‘s name because it was easier in his mouth. Winona means first-born. I was not first-born.

If one’s name is essential to one’s identity, then so to is one’s language. Returned temporarily to her people Winona discovers that she

couldn’t conversed with them. I remember sitting in the teepee with the other women and not being able to answer them. By that time I was all of thirteen or so. After a few days I found the words again. The women rushed forward and embraced me as though I had only just arrived to them that very moment. Only when I spoke our language could they really see me.

This isn’t only true when she returns to her original home, but has its parallel in Tennessee.

To present yourself in a dry goods store to buy items you have got to have the best English or something else happens.

Throughout the course of the novel, Winona discovers more and more about who she essentially is, until at the end, despite being in the direst of situations she takes her future into her own hands and forbids the rest of her ‘family’ from coming to her aid.

If identity is one of these books major themes, then the concept of time is another, especially as it is viewed by different cultures. This is very much influences the way that people see the relationship between themselves and eternity. Winona speaks of “the whiteman’s strict straight line” through life to the end. Whereas for the Lakota there is no past, present, or future

time was a kind of hoop or circle…if you walk far enough…you could find the people who had lived in the long ago.

How you envisage time, and the end of your time here on earth, inevitably affects how you see yourself, your identity, your relationship to the people and events around you.

And the book is also about the concept of justice and how justice relates to truth. Justice and truth are poor bedfellows in the Tennessee of the 1870s. There is little hope of justice for those who are in anyway seen as different.

You only had to look like you done something wrong in America and they would hang you, if you were poor.

To that you can add if you were black, homosexual, or from any of the first nation races.

A Thousand Moons is a superb piece of writing.  There is almost no limit to the number of beautifully expressed passages that I could quote as an example of this; one will have to suffice.

The land was trying to loosen itself from the royal heat of summer.

If I wasn’t as overwhelmed by it as I was by Days Without End then that is probably because I wasn’t as engaged by Winona as I was by Thomas and John in the previous novel. However, I’m sure that for many readers the opposite will be true. I can’t recommend it strongly enough, my only caveat being that if you haven’t read the earlier book you really do need to do so in order to place the characters and what happens to them in a complete perspective.

With thanks to Faber & Faber and NetGalley for a review copy of this novel. 

National Theatre at Home

IMG_0250Although we normally talk about books on this site, I know many of my blogging friends are also theatregoers. I’m wondering therefore if you have seen the announcement that the National Theatre are going to make some of their productions available on YouTube over the next couple of months under the title National Theatre at Home. Each Thursday, starting from the first Thursday in April, at 7 pm they will release one of their past NT live shows. This will then be available to watch, free, for the next week. The first of these performances is One Man, Two Guvnors and it will be followed by Jane Eyre, Treasure Island and Twelfth Night.  They plan to continue this through May, but haven’t yet announced what the future plays will be. Personally I’m hoping for Othello, Timon of Athens and Simon Russell Beale’s King Lear.

You can find out more on the National Theatre website or by checking in to YouTube.

The Bears and I are planning for a regular Saturday afternoon matinee!

Without A Trace ~ Mari Hannah

virgilio-dias-universitc3a1ria-2011-o-s-t-60-x-60It’s four years now since we had the last novel from crime writer Mari Hannah featuring her volitile Northumbrian DCI, Kate Daniels. In the interim she has developed two other series, one featuring DS Matthew Ryan and the other CID officers David Stone and Frankie Oliver. While I’ve enjoyed both of these, nevertheless I was looking forward to getting back to Kate, whose exploits were our first introduction to Hannah’s work.

Without A Trace, the seventh Daniels’ novel, begins with Kate in turmoil. The personal relationship between her and the Force’s profiler, Jo Soulsby, lies in ruins and now that it seems there is no hope of resurrecting it, Kate is finally realising just what she has thrown away by her devotion to her job. Jo has taken off to New York and when news comes through of the disappearance of Flight 0113 somewhere over the Atlantic Ocean Kate is beside herself thinking that their final row has put Jo on the missing plane. Determined to find out just what has happened and desperately trying to convince herself that something will have stopped the profiler from boarding the flight, Kate takes off for London in an attempt to insinuate herself into the investigation into what it seems increasingly likely has been a terrorist incident. Accompanying her on their journey, even though he knows that their commander DCS Bright will not approve, and that their absence is likely to amount to professional suicide on the part of both of them, is the ever faithful DS Hank Gormley.  

There are people around who owe Kate favours and as a result of calling in some of those she and Hank find themselves involved in the search for whoever was able to smuggle an explosive onto the plane, working hand in glove with homeland security agent, Gabriele Torres. However, DCS Bright is not so easily accepting of the absence of two of his senior officers, especially when the body of one of the local drug-lords, Russian, Yulian Nikolaev, is deposited at the local hospital with half his face blown off. Bright wants at least one of them to go back to lead the investigation and is incandescent with rage when it becomes apparent that that isn’t going to happen.

Not unexpectedly, because that’s the way crime novels work, the two investigations gradually come together and Kate and Hank return to Northumbria to support Acting DI Paul Robson (Robbo) in his hunt for Nikolaev’s killers. As those who have read the previous novels will know, Robbo has had a chequered history in his time in the murder squad, having made himself vulnerable as a result of a gambling addiction. With that now behind him, this killing is his chance to prove that he has what it takes to step up and lead an investigation and it seems that a link with his past might just provide him with the leverage he needs to identify those responsible.

Glad I was to see Kate and Hank return and to spend time again with those who make up the Northumbrian Murder Team, I didn’t feel that this was the strongest book in the series. You can’t read the other six books without being used to Kate going off piste, but in this novel she really pushes the boat out and although she gets results there were times when I found her behaviour and the way in which she is allowed to get away with it, too extreme to be believable. I also thought that the book was unbalanced in its treatment of the two cases and that, in fact, neither of them was given sufficient space because they had to vie for attention with Kate’s search for evidence that Jo might still be alive. It isn’t unusual in a crime novel for the detective’s personal life to impinge on an investigation, but in this instance I felt it spoilt the focus of the book.  Nevertheless, I was glad to see Kate return and I hope that future outings may prove to be a little more centred on the crime itself.

With thanks to the Orion Publishing Group and NetGalley for providing a review copy.

Forced Confessions ~ John Fairfax

EB851C85-08A9-4ACA-A41D-4FCB0C0015E7Forced Confessions is the third title in John Fairfax’s series featuring Will Benson and Tess de Vere.  If you haven’t read the earlier books then you’re going to need to do some fairly quick catching up in respect of Benson’s history. Sentenced to eleven years for a murder which he claimed at the time he did not commit, Will chose to spend his period of incarceration studying for a law degree and then, on his release, qualifying to practice at the bar. As you might expect, this was a progress which met with a great deal of resistance, not the least from the Secretary of State for Justice, Richard Merrington.  However, supported by members of the less than always honest community, who believe implicitly in his innocence, and the barrister Tess de Vere, by the time this novel opens Benson has already begun to build something of a reputation for himself in respect of defending those accused of murder who seem to be practically ‘undefendable’. Tess, clearly well on her way to falling in love with Will, is not always as convinced of his innocence, but in the previous novel she and her close friend Sally Martindale had begun to make strides in discovering the truth of what really happened on the night that Paul Harberton died. And the implication is that Richard Merrington’s family are in someway involved.

This then is the situation when Forced Confessions opens and we are introduced to John and Karen Lynwood, jointly accused of the murder of a Spanish doctor, Jorge Menderez, a patient of Karen who works as a therapist.  The prosecution claim that John, having discovered that Menderez and his wife were in love and about to run off together, had killed the doctor and Karen, implicated by her silence, refuses to supply information that might save them both.

Menderez was clearly a man tortured by something he had done in his past but why that should have caused him to leave his home country and come to England, what the secret that he is carrying that distresses him so much might be, proves hard to ferret out. Karen insists that he told her nothing of any relevance during their therapy sessions and so Will  and Tess have to try and discover what motivated his journey themselves in the hope that this will then indicate that someone else had a viable motive to carry out the killing.

The two plot lines are linked by a discussion about the relative importance of truth, justice and evidence. Knowing the truth, it is suggested, is the bedrock of not only are relationship with other people but also with ourselves.

People can learn to live without justice, but not without the truth. Living with out the truth… That’s unbearable.

And yet, living with the truth, can be just as difficult, especially if the community around you sees what has been done to you as marking you out as in some way shamed.

However, if you hide the truth then you are well on the way to a miscarriage of justice for as Will himself has learnt to his cost, fighting a case according to the evidence without worrying about the truth is a sure way to lose.

As I’m sure you are all aware, John Fairfax is a pseudonym for William Brodrick, the author of the Father Anselm novels. Like Anselm, Brodrick has spent time both as a monk and working in the law and the concern for truth and justice, common to both vocations, permeates all his writing, which is also characterised by a very close attention to detail and great insight into the way that the human mind works.  You don’t read a Fairfax/Brodrick novel quickly, not if you want to understand all the nuances that he is exploring.  In Will Benson he has created a character far more tortured by his own past than was the case with Father Anselm and although by the conclusion of this book we have come to understand some of the demons which have driven Will, the final pages make it clear that there is one truth that he still has to learn to give voice to. In a sort of perverse way this is very comforting, as it means there will be a fourth book.

Theatre Closures ~ Nothing New

70757~Cafe-Mocha-PostersA feature of this week has been the number of emails I’ve had from various theatrical organisations, including the RSC, explaining that they will be closing their doors for the foreseeable future.  Now, don’t think for a moment that I am belittling the plight that many theatrical companies, and museums and art galleries, are going to find themselves in as a result of their enforced closures, but surely just down the road  from the RST, in Holy Trinity Church, Shakespeare must be lying back in his grave thinking something along the lines of “Now you know what it was really like”. Shutting the theatres because of plague was a regular occurrence in his day. There was a rule of thumb, a certain number of deaths within the City of London in a week (I can’t remember for the life of me whether it was thirty or forty) and the theatres closed – sometimes for as long as two years. Of course, for the most part the plague tended to be confined to the city and it was possible for the companies to go touring round the country in the interim, but not always. Shakespeare wrote his two long narrative poems, The Rape of Lucrece and Venus and Adonis during the period of 1592 to 94 when the theatres were dark and when the doors eventually did reopen it was to a very different theatrical world. Laws were passed that meant only two companies could now exist and they each had to be licensed through a patron: The Lord Chamberlain in the case of Shakespeare’s fellow players and the Lord Admiral in the other instance. The Elizabethan cultural world was a very different place in 1594 to what people would have known in 1592 and we may find the same is true when the current crisis is over.

As I said, I do appreciate that this is going to be a very difficult time for theatrical companies, especially as a great deal of time and money will have already been expended on productions that may not now open. Because I haven’t been too well lately I haven’t actually got any theatre tickets booked, but a number of my friends who have are choosing to donate the money back to the companies rather than taking their refunds.  If we want a cultural world to come back to perhaps this is something that more of us might think about.

Reading Retreat

DSC_0382How often in the past have I wished that I could have an extended period of time which I could treat as a reading retreat: a time when I could just step out of the world for a couple of weeks with a pile of books and a comfortable chair and nothing to come between me and my reading material.  So why is it, now that it appears that I may have not a couple of weeks but at least a couple of months with the opportunity to do just that, that I find the prospect rather daunting? Maybe it’s to do with the fact that it’s easier to consider provisioning a couple of weeks than it is a couple of months. Good food and an endless supply of tea was definitely a feature of that original vision!  I contemplated a fortnight’s isolation with complete equanimity. I’ve always been comfortable in my own company and anyway I’ve got The Bears. What more could anyone want in the way of companionship? The possibility of twelve weeks, however, is another matter entirely.

And yet, what is the option? I know from past experience that the more I worry about something the more my health suffers and from what I can gather I am going to need all the health I can get if I catch this wretched virus. So, I’m going to try being more positive about the whole thing and treat the forthcoming weeks as an opportunity to get through that endless TBR pile and, even more importantly, to get back to writing here regularly. Of course, if I want to read anything new then I’m going to have to sweet talk Jolyon Bear (he who looks after the money) into letting me buy what I need.  No more visits to the library for the moment, I’m afraid. Perhaps if I limit myself to one new book a week he will be understanding. (The other Bears are now standing at the window looking for the flying pigs they are expecting on the horizon at any moment; I have more faith in Jolyon.)

In fact, I actually do have three new books in my pile at the moment: John Fairfax’s Forced Confessions, the third of his Benson and de Vere series, Mari Hannah’s Without a Trace, a welcome return to her Kate Daniels novels and a forthcoming publication, Olivia Kiernan’s If Looks Could Kill.  This is her third Frankie Sheehan book, set in the Dublin Crime Agency, and I’m very much looking forward to it. Kiernan is one of the brightest new lights on the crime scene and if you haven’t already read her work then I very much recommend her to you. For various reasons all three of these need to be read fairly quickly (sorry Jolyon, I can’t spin them out to one a week I’m afraid) so maybe I better get on with that and hope that they will prove a considerable reinforcement to my determinedly positive state of mind.

I know that many of you will not have the “luxury“ of being able to stay at home during the coming weeks and I do recognise that while being confined will have its difficulties, my position is, in many respects, really rather privileged. We are simply all going to have to support each other and as a community we are lucky that we know the value of books, bookish friends and the comfort that they can bring.