Sunday Retrospective ~ June 23rd 2019

I suppose this is really another catch-up post, which is disgraceful. One of the aims I set myself for this Summer was to get back to writing full reviews again but for some reason I am finding that very difficult.  Perhaps it has been because I have had too much else on?  Well, that won’t be a viable excuse after this week, when teaching other than a few seminars, finishes until the beginning of September.  So, maybe more luck then.

As you probably realise, I am always on the lookout for new authors of police procedurals.  This week I have rejected one (flat, clichéd writing; I didn’t get far enough in to find out whether the plotting was any good; I couldn’t read another page) and enjoyed another.  Critical Incidents is not Lucie Whitehouse’s first book by any means, but it is the start of a series featuring DI Robin Lyons.  When we first meet Lyons she and her thirteen year old daughter, Lennie, are on their way from London to Birmingham following Robin’s suspension from the Met.  Her refusal to charge a seriously nasty piece of work just because he is a seriously nasty piece of work with a murder she doesn’t believe he has committed has brought her into conflict with her superiors and when he then goes AWOL it looks as though her time with the London police has come to an abrupt end.  Unable to meet her financial commitments she is forced to return to her parents’ home and face her mother’s long-standing disapproval of the way in which she has insisted on bringing up Lennie as a single mother.

At least she has a job to go to.  Maggie, a family friend of long-standing and an ex-cop herself, employs her to work in her private investigative firm and they are both soon embroiled in the case of a missing girl, Becca, whose disappearance (not a child, not vulnerable) the local police don’t feel merits a full enquiry.  Also, she has her lifelong friend, Corinna (Rin), whose support during the months after Lennie was born was the only thing that allowed Robin to complete her degree and retain her sanity.

And then Rin’s house is set on fire.  She dies in the conflagration, her ten year old son, Peter, is seriously injured and the police are hunting for her husband, Josh, convinced that he is behind what has happened.  Robin, shattered by all that has occurred, refuses to believe this and so sets out to try and discover both what has happened to Josh and who is really behind the fire.

Inevitably, the two cases come together but not before Robin has alienated both Maggie and the West Midlands Police by her interference and inability to work as part of a team.  There is no doubt that she has an incisive brain and excellent intuition, but her lack of forethought and failure to see the bigger picture to my mind, at least, make her something of a liability. If the book has a false step then for me it comes right at the end when suddenly, against all indications to the contrary, she is in line for a promotion that will allow her to stay on Birmingham.  Not only is this unlikely given her previous behaviour, but also definitely not what she has apparently wanted for herself, and not what her daughter, Lennie, also desperate to get back to London, is likely to greet with any enthusiasm   It was too neat for me and not in line with what had gone before.

One point I must make about this novel is to do with setting.  As far as I can see Whitehouse has no links with Birmingham. According to the blurb at the back of my edition she was born in Gloucestershire, went to University in Oxford and now lives in New York.  If this is the case, then as someone who, until a year ago, had lived in the city all her life, I can only congratulate her on her research; I could have walked round all the locations she mentions without any difficulty.  I think the only thing she makes up is the name of the road where her parents live, and even then I’m fairly sure which road she has in mind.  For the moment, Whitehouse is a keeper.  I’ll see how the next book progresses Robin’s story.

Sunday Retrospective ~ May 5th 2019

It’s been rather quite round here lately.  Since I last posted I have spent another seventy minutes in the dentist chair, with the inevitable aftermath, and then had the household disruption of having my old boiler and the associated hot tank ripped out and a new, more ethical boiler, installed.  In fact, the father and son team who carried out the installation were superb and caused minimum mess and disruption, nevertheless, having someone else in the house, chatting and singing and generally being there when you’re used to being on your own, isn’t conducive to either reading or writing.  The up side of this is that the hot tank (far too big for a one bedroom flat) occupied a cupboard five foot by three.  This is now empty – but not for long. The walls aren’t strong enough to take shelves to be loaded down with books but the space is more than big enough for bookcases to go in there.  I reckon I am going to get another fifteen foot of shelving.  Given that since I moved it has had to be a case of one book in, one book out, this is a cause for celebration. The Bears are taking bets on just how long it is going to take me to fill it.  Let them know your predictions and they will quote you odds.

Where books are concerned I’m part way through two novels neither of which I am really sure about.  Jill Dawson’s The Language of Birds is clearly a retelling of the Lord Lucan affair and as such there was always going to be a question over the narrative voice.  You can’t tell it from his point of view because you would have to take a stand on what happened to his lordship, but telling it from the nanny’s perspective is problematic as well, given that she is presumably going to end up dead.  It is Dawson’s solution to this which worries me.  At the moment I can’t see how the device she’s chosen fits with the rest of the narrative.  Maybe all will become clear if I get to the end of it.

The other novel is for a book group meeting tomorrow, so I must finish it tonight despite the fact that I am not at all convinced by it.  Esi Edugyan’s Washington Black has been much lauded and it appeared on the long and short lists for several awards but I just can’t see why.  It seems like a ragbag of ideas to me.  If I’m meant to take it seriously as  a slave narrative I can’t do that because so many elements are randomly unbelievable and I can’t find any other idea that serves as a focal point to hold the story together.  I’m hoping that someone tomorrow is going to show me where I have gone wrong with this book because at the moment I am flailing badly.  What do other readers think?



Sunday Retrospective ~ April 21st 2019

Happy Easter from The Bears and myself.  It’s a beautiful day here and The Bears are toasting their toes in the sunshine and trying very hard not to get chocolate all over their paws. I am allergic to chocolate and so they are kindly eating my share for me.  That’s what friends are for.

I have had a really barren period this last week where reading has been concerned.  It happens sometimes, doesn’t it?  I started a new crime series which had a reasonable first instalment, but the second book, so often the crunch point, was a definite let down and after about a hundred pages I gave up on it.  However, I’ve just begun Tessa Hadley’s latest novel, Late in the Day and I am getting on much better with that.  I’ve only read one novel by Hadley before, The Past, which, to be honest, I didn’t quite know what to make of, although I could tell it was very well written.  This latest book, while I’m not quite certain where it is going, is engaging me much more, perhaps because the main characters are involved in the worlds of books and art and so I feel comfortable in their company.  One of them, Christine, as a student, starts a PhD on Christina Rossetti and reading about it, as is so often the case, made me realise just how little I know about the poet, either her life or her work.  I do seem to remember that there was a flurry of interest in her sometime during the last decade.  Was there an exhibition of her drawings?  I don’t know; I am dredging the dregs of my mind here.  Anyway, a quick whip round the book sites shows that there has been a relatively recent biography and a reprint of an older volume.  So, if fiction continues to be something of a let down I might turn to her life history and poetry as a palate refresher.  The only one of her poems that I know is In the Bleak Midwinter, although I do know that there is some controversy about the subtext of another – Goblin Market.

The other nudge to my book list this week has come from the Great Courses Plus site.  Have you come across this?  I know a number of you have used the Great Courses as a study resource because it was a blogger who originally suggested their materials to me when I was looking for something to provide historical background to the novels set in Roma which I was then reading. I have bought several of their courses since that time, latterly as downloads because of space considerations.  They now offer a subscription service, Great Courses Plus, which for a reasonable price gives you on-line access to their more recent output as well as additional material not available elsewhere.  Often this will be in response to something currently in the news.  So, for example, this week they have put out responses to the fire in Notre Dame alongside the lecture on the Cathedral from one of their existing offerings.   Anyway, I have begun watching their lecture series on Irish Identity.  I used to teach part of a module on Irish Drama and I read a lot of novels set in Ireland so I thought it would be interesting to get a more in-depth background to the country/countries (depending on which part of the history you are dealing with).  It’s fascinating coming at this from the American perspective of the lecturer, rather than from a British perspective.  I’m only four lectures in, but so far it is definitely a case of everything Irish = good, everything British = bad, which as someone who had an Irish student severely injured in the Omagh bombing, presumably by another Irish person, and who was in Birmingham city centre when the pub bombs went off, is a bit hard to take.  Nevertheless, it is throwing up a lot of detail which I can relate to the novels I’ve read, especially those by Anne Enright and Colm Tóibín, and reminding me about works by earlier writers such as Swift and Goldsmith, that I wouldn’t mind revisiting.


Sunday Retrospective ~ March 9th 2019

A very brief retrospective this week because I am running up against the deadline for the second assignment on my Shakespeare course so just two simple genre related points.

First, a plea for help.  A friend of mine (really, a friend of mine, I’m not hiding behind a false anonymity here) has been asked by the local library service to select books for some of their housebound borrowers. One of these only wants to read what I would call cosy (cozy) crime.  My friend isn’t a crime reader at all and I am not really into the cosy end of the spectrum.  I have the beginnings of a list of recommendations but would welcome any further suggestions. This borrower gets through fifteen books a month so it may have to become a question of quantity over quality.

My current list is

A C Beaton

Carola Dunn

Elizabeth Peters

Alan Hunter

Kerry Greenwood

Simon Brett

Nicola Upson

Frances Brody

I shall also suggest that she looks at writers like Agatha Christie, Dorothy L Sayers and Elizabeth Peters and, if those go down well, point her in the direction of the British Library Classic Crime series.  Are there any other writers that you can suggest?  We would both be very grateful for any help you can give.

Secondly, an observation about my own stupidity.  I have been reading my friend Helen’s blog, She Reads Novels, quite literally for years. As those of you who are discriminating enough to do the same will know, Helen mostly reads and blogs about historical fiction.  I really enjoy her posts but if you had asked me before the beginning of this week I would have told you that personally I was not a fan of the genre.  Well, on Wednesday The Walter Scott Prize announced the long list for this year’s award, which unsurprisingly is for Historical Fiction and Helen posted about it here. I was astounded.  What do I mean I don’t read historical fiction?  I’ve already read three of these novels and have another three on my up and coming list. (That’s the one with books I really do intend to read as opposed to the tbr list which we all know is a flight of fancy.). So, I went back and checked previous nominees and discovered that one year I’d read the entire short list!  I simply didn’t classify them as Historical Fiction because in my mind (Helen, I’m really sorry!) they were far too good.

Actually, I think there are two factors at work here.  First, when I was reading historical fiction, in my teens, there were a lot of poorly written examples of the genre and for the most part what I was borrowing from the library was substandard romance fiction in an historical setting. That experience has undoubtedly coloured my view. The second is to do with what counts as historical. For goodness sake, Linda Grant’s The Dark Circle is on one of the short lists. That describes events that happened in my own life time. When did I become historical?

Anyway, enough of my blinkered approach to genre. As soon as my course is over (I have loved doing it, but it has really cut into reading time) I am going to mine the back lists of the Walter Scott Prize because, if the novels I have read are anything to go by, the others are going to be well worth exploring too.

Sunday Retrospective ~ February 24th 2019

During weeks three and four of my Shakespeare course we were focusing on Twelfth Night.  (Henry V this past week and next, The Bears have spent the last few days declaiming ‘Once more unto the breach’ and proudly proclaiming themselves a ‘band of brothers’; goodness only knows what is going to happen when we reach ‘Exit pursued by a Bear’.) anyway, back to the point – Twelfth Night.  One of the things we were asked to consider was what constitutes a comedy and what makes us laugh.  Well, the general view in our family is that I was born without a funny bone because almost nothing makes me laugh.  Oh, I can laugh because I’m happy, but laughing because I am amused almost never happens.

In fact, I think this might be because I was exposed to Shakespearean comedy from a very early age and the point that was being made on the course was that for Elizabethan audiences comedy was very much about structure.  We start with a certain amount of chaos, proceed to stir things up even more and then in Act Five (not that they would have called it that) we miraculously manage to bring everything to a happy(ish) conclusion.  Comedy describes the journey not the rib tickling sideshows along the way.  I am still fascinated by how this, and other narrative structures, work out and obviously never got round to taking account of the funny bits along the way.

All this is by way of a preface to telling you that yesterday I went to Stratford to see not a Shakespearean Comedy but a retelling of Molière’s Tartuffe set among Birmingham’s British Pakistani community with Tartuffe as a fundamentalist Muslim preaching reform to the paterfamilias of a modern family who have adopted a British lifestyle – even Grandma, although she would never admit it –  in an attempt to fleece them all of their money and possessions and the women of their honour as well.  Now, I could see that this was a clever (possibly in the less than positive sense of that word; I haven’t quite decided yet) way of approaching the play to make it relevant to a current audience. Recasting the family maid, Dorine, as a Bosnian Muslim cleaning lady, Darina, was a stroke of genius and Michelle Bonnard was the star of the show. But, when everyone around me was laughing away, at times uproariously, I was sat there cringing because what was happening on stage was everything I would normally avoid. People, especially the aforementioned paterfamilias, were ranting and raving, making total fools of themselves and being blackmailed before our eyes and for the life of me I couldn’t, still can’t, see why this is supposed to be funny.  All right, I go in knowing that this is a comedy and therefore also knowing that it will all come out right in the end.  Tartuffe will get his comeuppance and family harmony will be restored.   But, I’m  still not sure why this makes it all right to laugh at people who are being duped.  Perhaps it’s my Asperger’s getting in the way. I don’t know. I do know that it was one of the most uncomfortable afternoon’s I’ve spent in a long time.

My discomfort wasn’t helped by the fact that the play ended with a ‘message’.  Now I don’t know the original well enough to be able to say whether or not it finishes with a warning about marginalising people because of the way they look.  Perhaps someone can tell me.  However, here Tartuffe’s final speeches preach the idea that it is impossible for someone who looks like him to make his way in British society by any other means than that which he has chosen. And I do mean preach.  It was far too obvious an insert for it to have any real impact.  And, I wasn’t certain quite what he meant.  If he was referring specifically to his long beard then he might have been said to have a point.  But, if he was just talking about British Muslims being unable to rise to positions of power then I surely can’t have been the only one who wanted to say “er – Home Secretary”?

I know that the problem is mine.  Everyone else there was having a great time until the final message clearly made them uneasy.  Not that their dis-ease lasted for long, mind you.  The comedy police act turned up just in time to save the day and the laughs.  They were straight out of a Brian Rix farce.  Another form of humour I never really understood.

Why did I go?  You may well ask.  But I live in hope that one day there will be a flash of light and suddenly all will be revealed to me. I will be able to join in with the mirth around me and be one of the crowd.  Unfortunately, it didn’t happen yesterday.

Sunday Retrospective ~ February 17th 2019

It’s been a busy week!  It started with a visit to the dentist, never a good move.  In this case even less of a good move than usual as we ended up planning an intensive programme of further visits over the next six months or so.  There’s a passage in one of Helene Hanff’s books where she tells how she has been intending to visit London only to discover that she is going to have to spend her savings on dental treatment instead. I know just how she must have felt.  As I watched the projected costs mounting I could hear Jolyon Bear (he who keeps hold of the purse strings) in my head telling me that it is going to be the library for me for the next year or two.

Then I had my first assignment to write for my Shakespeare course – only 500 words, but that actually made it all the more difficult.  I just about managed it (518) in as much as I answered the question, but there was no room for eloquence and I always feel that anything you write should take account of the “music” of the words as well as the content.  This felt more like a simple check list of the points I needed to make than anything else.  Submitting it electronically was fun too as the instructions provided bore very little resemblance to what actually happened when I tried to download it onto the University site.  In the end one of the other students (a software engineer) and I found a way to get round the problem but IT support and I are going to have words tomorrow morning.  A Russell Group University should not be making mistakes like that.

So, all in all there has been very little time for reading or blogging this week.  I have just finished Mari Hannah’s latest Oliver and Stone novel, The Scandal, which comes out at the beginning of March so I will leave a review until nearer the publication date. I like Hannah’s work very much and for the most part this was no exception.  My one quibble was that she stood on a particular soapbox and thumped a particular drum rather too loudly and obviously and weakened her argument as a result, but more later.

I am also halfway through Diane Setterfield’s second novel, Bellman and Black which is next week’s Book Group choice.  I was one of the few people who didn’t like The Thirteenth Tale.  I was getting along fine with it until about three quarters of the way through and then the plot lost credibility for me and I felt cheated.  I was getting along fine with this book too until yesterday when it suddenly took a turn that left me feeling a bit grubby for reading it, so I’m not certain how I’m going to respond to what I still have left to read.  Still, at least there will be something to talk about next Wednesday. One of the things that I am most interested in is how unusual a choice it is for the person whose turn it was to select the book.  I’m also interested in the fact that I feel that way.  Perhaps we stereotype each other as particular categories of readers too easily.  It’s a lazy way of thinking.

Sunday Retrospective ~February 10th 2019

So, on to Twelfth Night this week for my online course.  I am much happier studying this play than I was with Macbeth.  It was the first Shakespeare I ever saw on stage and was as responsible as anything for lighting in me the muse of fire (Henry V  next on the list) that has never since dimmed for a moment.  Actually, that first performance was staged by an all-girls’ school which, when you think about it, adds all sorts of interesting dynamics to the gender complexities that are at the heart of the play. Whereas Shakespeare had a boy playing a girl dressed as a man and being wooed by a girl who was also a boy while falling in love with a man who really was a man, that production had a girl playing a girl dressed as a boy being wooed by a girl who was also a girl but falling in love with a girl who was playing a man. Get your head round that, if you can. The last theatre production I saw played around with any number of homosexual innuendos but I’m willing to bet that that first staging, at the beginning of the 1960s and in an eminently respectable grammar school, didn’t have a lesbian overtone to be seen.  The focus of our study this coming week is the question of gender both on the Elizabethan stage and in the society in general.  I might bring that early staging up and see what others have to say about it.  Stirring again, you will notice.

Where my personal reading is concerned I have just finished Jo Spain’s latest book, Dirty Little Secrets. Spain is a writer I discovered last year through her Tom Reynolds’ series which, like this standalone novel, is set in the Irish Republic. I’m not a great lover of standalone thrillers, but I have enjoyed this author’s work so much that I thought it would be worthwhile giving this one a go; I wasn’t disappointed.  This may be in part because although it is a not one of the series, it is very much along the lines of a police procedure. It is, however, also due to the writers ability to unwrap mysteries slowly in front of her audience and allow them to play along with the detection game as well.

Olive is dead. More to the point, Olive has been dead for three months and none of her neighbours, in a small gated community, have noticed. It is only with the blue bottles and the smell become overpowering that the police are finally called in. They were community, however, is something of a misnomer, because the residents of Withered Vale have never exactly bonded. Each home keeps very much to itself, much to the annoyance of Olive, who would like to be part of the lives of her neighbours.   But would you want Olive involved in your life? As the story unfolds, told partially in flashback and from multiple perspectives, it becomes apparent that Olive has a way of ferreting out details of each household’s past and, whatever the circumstances, turning them into the dirty little secrets of the title.

Olive is dead, but is it a natural death, a terrible accident or was she murdered?  Frank Brazil, shortly to retire and happy just to put in a day’s work and go home, is called in with his partner Emma to try and find the answer.  But Frank and Emma each have their own secrets and as the investigation continues they, like the residents of Withered Vale, will find that by turning something into a secret you give it a power over you that it doesn’t necessarily merit.  It is the power that those secrets have, and the way in which they are coloured by the mind of the individual who either hoards them or discovers them, which lies at the heart of the book.  You may, as I did, realise who killed Olive some time before you get to the end of the novel, but that won’t stop you reading on because you will be as eager as I was to discover whether or not the other residents of the Vale will find the courage to face their secrets, acknowledge them openly and thereby deny them the power to continue controlling their lives.  Jo Spain is an excellent storyteller and if you haven’t yet discovered her work, then I seriously recommend her to you.

I don’t know how much personal reading I will get done this week because my first assignment is due in on the 19th.  It’s only 500 words long but that in itself makes it more difficult than if I could be expansive. I do have to find time to start Diane Setterfield’s Bellman and Black for my next book group.  Am I going to enjoy it?

Sunday Retrospective ~ February 3rd 2019

A better week all round really. The second week of my course that was devoted to Macbeth had much more of an emphasis on the theatre of 1606 and the politics that might have influenced the subject matter that Shakespeare included in the play.   I am fascinated by the writer’s work in context and so delving into James I reaction to the Gunpowder Plot and his views on kingship (he believed not simply in the Divine Right of Kings but that God had decreed that kings were gods themselves) has been much more my thing.  Nevertheless, I shan’t be sorry to leave the play behind and start tomorrow on Twelfth Night, which is one of my favourite texts. Where my own teaching is concerned, we finished with King Lear this week but not before one of my group had been off and done some research into Nahum Tate, the chap who rewrote the play in 1681. Having discovered that he was also a hymn writer this lady had set out to pin down just which hymns he was responsible for.  I think it is highly appropriate, if not a little ironic, that his most famous opus is that most plagiarised of works, While shepherds wash their socks by night.  Serves him right!

Not content with surrounded myself with Shakespeare academically,  my leisure reading has also been Shakespeare based this past few days. The choice for tomorrow afternoon‘s book group is Margaret Atwood‘s novel Hagseed, which is of course based on The Tempest. You will remember that I wasn’t looking forward to this at all. I don’t like the idea of turning Shakespeare’s plays into novels and sacrilegious as it may seem to many of you, I’m not really a fan of Atwood’s work.  Well, I’m ready to hold my hands up and say I was wrong. I enjoyed every last moment of this book and I think it’s one of the best things I’ve read in a long time. I’m not going to say any more about it now, I’ll wait until after the discussion and then do a mid week post.  Something that I have found very interesting is the way in which reviews of the book divide. Those from the more general press are on the whole very favourable, but those published in academic journals,  considerably less so. That’s something I want to raise with the group when we meet and I’m tempted now to suggest that my other book group, which is a much more academia-based, put it onto their schedule.

My other reading this week has been Elly Griffith’s The Stone Circle, the latest instalment in her Ruth Galloway series.  I was disappointed in the last of these, The Dark Angel, which I felt got the balance between the crimes involved and the relationship between Ruth and DCI Harry Nelson, wrong. This is much better and again I will write about it after publication, which is later this week.

Sunday Retrospective ~ January 27th 2019

I’ve spent most of this week immersed in Shakespeare. The group I’m teaching is just coming to the end of a sequence of sessions on King Lear, one of my favourite plays.  We’ve been looking at the production history and as you might imagine there have been more than a few stagings to consider. However, there have been a couple of periods when it has been absent from the stage.  In 1810 it was banned because it was thought that audiences would draw a parallel between Lear’s madness and that of George III.  When the King died in 1820 producers fell over themselves to be the first to stage it again.  Then, it fell out of favour at the turn of the nineteenth/twentieth centuries after Henry Irving flopped in the part.  I find it fascinating that one man could so dominate the theatre scene that his failure in a role could see it ignored for eighteen years.  Presumably there had to be something wrong with the play itself if Irving was unable to rise to its demands.

Of course, for most of the period between 1681 and the middle of the nineteenth century it wasn’t so much Shakespeare’s version of the Lear story that was staged as the adaptation made by Nahum Tate, probably the most well-known of the many ‘re-writes’ of Shakespeare’s play’s that graced eighteenth and nineteenth century theatres. Among many other changes Tate is best known for his alteration of the ending.  In his version both Lear and Cordelia live, Cordelia marries Edgar and they rule in her father’s stead.  Lear, Kent and Gloucester go off and live in ‘a cool cell’.  I take it that is a reference to the temperature rather than an indication that they were having a rave up every night.

So, I have enjoyed teaching King Lear.  However, my other contact with the Bard this week has been via the material I’ve been asked to tackle for the first week of an on-line course which for the opening fortnight is concentrating on one of my least favourite plays, Macbeth.  I have a theory about Macbeth.  I don’t think we have all the play as Shakespeare wrote it.  It is much shorter than any of the other tragedies, in fact I’ve seen it played without an interval in just over two hours. The only text we have is that which is in the First Folio and I suspect that all Heminges and Condell had to work with was what we would call a prompt copy, cut down to fit ‘the two hour traffic of our stage’.  By-laws meant that performances had to be over by a certain time and a four hour version of Shakespeare’s latest opus just wasn’t going to cut it. This, I think, is the reason that Macbeth as a character is so hard to make work psychologically.  He’s lost a lot of the stages in his downward spiral. What Burbage thought of having his part slashed like that, goodness only knows. Certainly, although I must have seen upwards of a dozen productions, I have only seen one that I thought successful; that was Trevor Nunn’s staging with Ian McKellen and Judi Dench and that only worked when it was in the confined area of The Other Place where a sense of claustrophobic evil could be built up.  Moved into the Main House it lost all its power. So, I have been ploughing my way through the play this week and trying, without much success, to drum up some enthusiasm for the on-line discussion that is part of the course.  Fortunately, the other plays involved are all favourites: Twelfth Night, Henry V, Measure for Measure and The Winter’s Tale.

All this Bardolodry has severely cut into my reading time and so the only book that I’ve completed has been Olivia Isaac-Henry’s Someone You Know, which I reviewed earlier in the week.  I’m not a thriller reader at the best of times and I don’t think that this is the best of times.  The thriller is the ‘in’ genre at the moment and as a result I rather think publishers are taking on board novels that they might otherwise have had second thoughts about. While Someone You Know is not by any means a bad book, I’m not sure it would have stuck out enough to attract attention if there weren’t a demand for this type of novel and to be honest I wouldn’t have finished it if I hadn’t had a personal connection to the author.  I am not looking forward to my next meeting with one of the book’s dedicatees.

I do like police procedurals’ however and the more so when they are as well written as those by James Oswald.  I’ve just started the ninth in his Edinburgh series, Cold As The Grave and once I’ve whipped round everyone else’s blogs to see what they are up to I’m going to spend the rest of this wild Sunday curled up in my chair and being suitable scared by the wicked Jane Louise Dee who is back in harness again proving that unfortunately real evil is unlikely ever to be completely defeated.  I wonder if she was one of the original wyrd sisters?

Then it’s back to Shakespeare, not only for another week of Macbeth but also for a dose of The Tempest via Margaret Atwood’s Hagseed, her retelling of the play for the Hogarth series.  This is my next book group choice and if I’m honest, not one I’m looking forward to.  I have a fundamental problem with trying to rewrite Shakespeare in this way and although I know that this is reckoned to be the best of those so far published I am still very uneasy about the project.  I’m also not really a great fan of Atwood.  Oh well, maybe this will be the book that will convince me I am wrong about both Hogarth’s endeavours and the author.  Or maybe not!

Sunday Retrospective ~ January 20th 2019

Where Are They Now?

I don’t know about you, but when I’m ill I really don’t want to be reading anything new.  This is the time when I search the bookshelves for something that has given me pleasure in the past and wallow in a surfeit of re-reading.  And, that is precisely what I’ve been indulging in over the past couple of weeks while recovering from the dreaded lurgy. While I was really ill I stuck to books that I know so well I can practically recite them. 84 Charing Cross Road is a particular favourite. (Not books, I know, but never go to a production of Twelfth Night or As You Like It with me. I have been known to prompt from the audience, and woe betide a director who decides to cut any of my favourite lines.  I’m likely to demand an explanation there and then having supplied the missing iambic pentameters myself!)  Once on the mend, however, I searched through the available volumes and alighted on the two police procedural novels centred on war veteran Joseph Stark and written by Matthew Frank, If I Should Die and Between the Crosses, published in 2014 and 2016 respectively.  I don’t know about the later book, but the first of these definitely won awards and rightly so.  I read it at the latter end of 2015 and it was definitely one of my books of the year.  What is more, it bore a re-read and that isn’t always true of a book where plot and carefully placed reveals are essential to its success. But, for the last two and half years, silence.  Frank’s name is on a list I keep of authors to check off against forthcoming publications but at the moment I wait in vain.

Another such series that appears to have run into the buffers after only two instalments is that by Rob McCarthy focussing on one Dr Harry Kent, the first of which, The Hollow Men, was nominated for the Betty Trask first novel award.  I’m not certain what won that year, but it must have been pretty good to beat this, also a crime novel centred around the problems that veterans have returning to civilian life.  In this instance the main character is a doctor who has taken up a post in the NHS but who also serves as a police surgeon with the Metropolitan Police. McCarthy is particularly good at describing the temptations for anyone in the medical profession to self medicate rather than admitting to what they see as failure to adapt to life out of uniform.  To be fair, the second novel, A Handful of Ashes, was a 2017 publication, but there is no sign of a third.

Where are you both now? I ask.  And more to the point when are your books number three on the way?

Tell me, am I the only reader to get impatient in this way or are their authors whose next works you feel are becoming overdue?


Sweet Little Lies ~ Caz Frear

I am now back reading new fiction and this week picked up a first novel by Caz Frear, Sweet Little Lies.  This is also a police procedural set in London and featuring DC Cat Kinsella, a member of the Murder Squad, although perhaps not for much longer, given her boss’s concern about the effect her last case has had on her.  Cat, desperate to stay in the squad, is horrified then when the next major investigation turns out to have connections not only to her past, but more specifically to her current family dynamics. She ought to declare an interest and excuse herself from the inquiry, but both her precarious hold on her posting and the fact that a twenty year old personal mystery may at last be about to be solved keep her quiet and she continues to work the case knowing that at any moment she could be found out and face disciplinary procedures.

Both Cat’s story and the investigation centre on the way in which the sins of the father can be seen to blight the lives of their children.  Frear also reminds us that while the horrors of the Magdelene Laundries might be behind us there are still people are more than willing to exploit young women who find themselves pregnant and without any form of family support.  The story she tells is at times horrific, but unfortunately never pushes the bounds of believability.

I thought this was a well plotted first novel with some excellent characters.  I particularly liked the fact that all the police were decent human beings who deserved the ranks to which they had risen.  I am a little tired of police procedurals where squads are full of first class rotters who in many instances are as bad as the people they are pursuing.  Yes, I know that can happen.  I lived in the West Midlands through the 1970s, 80s and 90s; there is nothing you can tell me about police corruption.  Nevertheless, the bullying DCI has become something of a cliché and I was glad not to have to deal with one here.  I shall definitely be reading the second instalment, Stone Cold Heart, when it comes out later this year.  Please Ms Frear, don’t then make me wait for years for episode three.