Arthur Ransome and Pigeon Post

used red coffee cup and saucerAs many of you know, a large part of my career was spent lecturing in children’s literature and although I’d rather let the association drop over the last decade, I’ve been feeling a real hankering to go back and start to explore the area again. Obviously, I want to catch up with what has been published in recent years, but with the times as they are it’s also very comforting to go back and re-read old favourites. With that in mind, I checked back on the winners and, where possible, the shortlists, for the Carnegie Award, the leading British prize for novels targeted at children and found that the very first was presented in 1936 to Pigeon Post, the sixth in Arthur Ransome’s series featuring the children known collectively as the Swallows and Amazons.

It is almost exactly sixty years since I first read Swallows and Amazons. I was nine years old and was completely captivated by the entire series. I loved the detail that Ransome provided about sailing and camping and cooking and doing all the things that I, as a city bound child, simply didn’t have the opportunity to do. An avid library member already, I read them all again and again and was convinced that if I were to step into one of those small boats I would know exactly how to sail it. And do you know what? Ten years later, as a nineteen-year-old student, that is precisely what I did. Whether it was bravado born of overconfidence, I don’t know, but I was not a Duffer and I did not drown! (I did, however, have a very interesting experience with a herd of cows that decided to swim across the river just as my friends and I were sailing down it! But that’s a story for another day).

Of course, there was a lot more to Arthur Ransome than he is remembered for most clearly today. Having gone to Russia in 1913 to study its folklore, at the onset of the First World War he became foreign correspondent for the Daily News, covering the conflict on the Eastern Front. He also reported on the Russian Revolution of 1917 coming to sympathise with the Bolshevik cause. He was personally close to a number of its leaders, including Lenin and Trotsky, and during this time met the woman who would become his second wife, Evgenia, then working as Trotsky‘s personal secretary. He provided information to the British Secret Intelligence Service and at one point was very near to being exposed as an agent. Influential in bringing about the peace between the Bolsheviks and Estonia, Ransome and Evgenia set up home together in the Estonian capital, Reval, (now called Tallinn) before returning to England after his divorce enable them to marry.

Swallows and Amazons was published in 1929 and featured the Walker children, John, Susan, Titty and Roger and Nancy and Peggy Blackett as the eponymous Swallows and Amazons. By the time Pigeon Post was written the original six had been joined by Dick and Dorothea Callum, known as the Ds, and in many respects Dick is the leading character in the 1936 publication. Having fought for the right to lead the fleet, camped both on Wild Cat Island and in Swallowdale, climbed Kanchenjunga and built igloos on a snowbound fell, in a long hot summer when drought has reduced the River Amazon almost to a trickle, the combined forces of Swallows, Amazons and Ds decide that the time is right to search for gold. Slater Bob tells them the story of a young man who was said to have discovered gold in one of the old mine workings before going off to war and dying without having given up the secret of just where the precious metal was to be found. With the summer holidays stretching out before them and unable to sail for another fortnight, the children decide to capitalise on Dick’s love of all things scientific, discover the mother lode, mine and extract the metal and turn it into an ingot before Captain Flint (otherwise known as Uncle Jim) returns from his own failed expedition to find gold in South America.

Of course, their plans are not without opposition. The land is tinder dry and all the natives (a.k.a. the adults) are concerned about the possibility of seriously damaging fires. Mrs Blackett is also worried because she has responsibility for all eight of the children until various other parents turn up later in the holiday. However, Homer, Sophocles and the unreliable Sappho save the day, enabling the system of pigeon post to be set up so that messages of reassurance can be sent on a daily basis. A pigeon a day keeps the natives away. Then there is the question of the ubiquitous Squashy Hat, who seems to turn up wherever the children want to explore and who they are sure is out to jump their claim and make off with the gold for himself. And what about the mysterious Timothy, sent on ahead by Captain Flint? Why hasn’t he turned up? Has he died at sea? What, for goodness sake, is he? It all makes for what can only be called a rollicking good adventure.

Inevitably, time has dealt less kindly with some aspects of the book than others. Susan still does all the cooking, helped by Peggy, but never John. However, there is always Nancy to tip the balance in favour of a feminist reading. And, during this excursion through the book’s pages, I was away for the first time just how different the upbringing of these children was when compared with mine in a backstreet in Birmingham. I have to say that at nine the class issue really didn’t bother me at all. Something else which struck me this time round was how attuned Ransome is to the character of Titty. We see into her thoughts and emotions to an extent that simply isn’t the case with the other characters. This is particularly true during the episode when they are dousing for water, but it comes out at other points as well, for example, as the book draws to a close:

Titty slipped off into the dusk. The bramble thicket had been saved from the fire, but the little hedgepig, she thought, might have died from fright, with all the smoke, and the roaring of the flames, and the trampoline the firefighters…And then she heard the stirring of dry leaves, away under the brambles. She heard a sniff…a grunt… a sneeze. Perhaps some of the ash blown down from the Topps was tickling its nostrils. Then, in the dim light, she saw it. With steady lumbering trot it was making for the well. She watched a little dark lump work itself down the steps. It was drinking. The water got into its nose, and she heard a small impatient snuffle. It climbed out again and trotted off. She lost sight of it in the shadows. But she had seen enough and slipped back to the camp.

I’ve not been well this week (NOT the virus) so this trip down memory lane has been a really relaxing way of spending some time. The following year, 1937, the award was won by Eve Garnett’s The Family From One End Street. I remember enjoying that as well, although ironically, given that the background of the children was much more like my own, not as much as Ransome’s tales. Maybe I’ll add that to the list for June’s reading.



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.

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!

Between Silk and Cyanide ~ Leo Marks

When in 1969 Helene Hanff finally managed to get to London her beloved bookshop, 84 Charing Cross Road, had closed.  However, as she recalls in her memoir, The Duchess of Bloomsbury Street, waiting for her at her publishers was a letter from a man I never knew existed.

Dear Miss Hanff,

I am the son of the late Ben Marks of Marks & Co. and want you to know how delighted I am that you are here, and how very much my wife and I would like you to dine with us.

I do not know where you are staying so could you please ring me at the above telephone numbers? The second one is an answering service and any message left there will reach me.

We are both looking forward to meeting you.


Leo Marks

The Leo Marks that Hanff then goes on to describe is a writer best known for the script of the 1960 film Peeping Tom and for a number of plays that appeared in the West End.  Not once, in either this or in subsequent books, does she mention his wartime role as the man who completely restructured the codes used by the Special Operations Executive (SOE) agents sent into Occupied Europe and further afield between 1942 and the end of hostilities three years later.  To some extent this silence isn’t surprising.  Given that Between Silk and Cyanide, the book in which Marks records his time with SOE, was not allowed by the powers that be to be published until 1998, despite having been written over fifteen years earlier, in 1969 Marks almost certainly wouldn’t have been allowed to discuss his wartime role. Apart from anything else, he would probably have had more than enough to say about the bloody-minded incompetence of many people still with a finger in the pie of government to put several cats among a whole flock-load of pigeons.

Having been fascinated by codes since the age of eight after he cracked the one used by his father to indicate what 84 had paid for a book, when he is called for war service he applies to work as a cryptographer.  Rejected by Bletchley Park, (who later recognise him as the one that got away) he finds himself installed with SOE training FANYs (First Aid Nursing Yeomanry) to decrypt those messages that have been garbled in transmission.  If the wireless operators in Occupied Europe have to be asked to repeat a message then there is a far greater chance of their being captured and so the decryption of indecipherables is a unit priority.  Marks is horrified by the codes that the agents are being asked to use.  Based on a poem chosen by each individual agent anyone intercepting a message and working out key words has only to flick through a volume of best loved poetry to gain access to the code and thus read any future messages sent by that particular agent.  Consequently he devises a number of more secure codes, one of which involved a series of non-repeating keys printed on silk for ease of concealment.  Hence the book’s title: he saw the executive’s choice as being between providing either the silks or cyanide.  In fact, each of the agents did carry a cyanide table with them and despite Mark’s best efforts too many had to resort to using them.

Ultimately it became clear that agents would still have to have a named poem that they could use if their silks, and later their ‘one time pads’, were not immediately available to them and so Marks and his decoders set about writing original and often scurrilous verses that would be difficult to predict. The most famous of these is the one that Marks wrote after the death of a woman he had hoped to marry and which he later gave to Violette Szabo, the agent whose story is told in the film Carve Her Name With Pride.  

The life that I have
Is all that I have
And the life that I have
Is yours

The love that I have
Of the life that I have
Is yours and yours and yours.

A sleep I shall have
A rest I shall have
Yet death will be but a pause
For the peace of my years
In the long green grass
Will be yours and yours and yours.

Szabo was eventually executed in Ravensbrück in 1945.

Three things scream out from the pages of this book.  The first is the incredible bravery of the men and women who risked, and all too often lost, their lives in an attempt to free their homelands from occupation.  The second, the devotion to duty of the (mostly) women who struggled to decode the messages sent back, sometimes at the eight or nine thousandth attempt. And the third, the sheer stupidity and egotistical search for power of many of the people who commanded them.  Why Britain was not overrun in the early 1940s is beyond me.  The ordinary people may have been pulling together, but those at the top were definitely not.  I can only assume that the same was true of the German High Command and that one set of narcissistic idiots cancelled the other out.

Re-reading this book in preparation for the Summer School it seems clear to me that Leo Marks had Asperger’s and at quite a high level too.  Not only is this apparent in his fascination with codes but also in what we learn of his relationships and in his style of writing.  He assumes his reader is going to be able to follow all the minute detail he includes about the way in which the codes work and even though I am minded in much the same way as he was, I soon recognised that I didn’t need all the information he was giving me to get the gist of what was really important.  If you decide to read the book don’t be put off by all the coding information; you can manage perfectly well without it. And I would strongly recommend that you do read it.  The sacrifices of the SOE agents and those who supported them in the U.K. and elsewhere, deserve to be commemorated in the minds and hearts of those who came after.  And, as book lovers you will also relish all the mentions of 84 Charing Cross Road, the shop that Leo was intended to take over from his father and a place that he loved with a passion that Helene Hanff was replicate a decade or so later.

And The Winner Is…..

So, the votes are all in, the counting has taken place and been verified by independent assessors and the result can now be declared: this year’s Summer School will be reading the three novels gathered together under the heading Paying the Price. To save you hastily scanning through previous posts to find out what they are, here is the list and contrary to the usual disclaimer, they are in a particular order.

A Whispered Name ~ William Brodrick

The Reckoning ~ Rennie Airth

The Girl Who Fell From The Sky ~ Simon Mawer

Collectively, these novels deal with issues to do with the First and Second World Wars and they need to be read in the order I’ve listed them because the central book looks both ways, back to to the First World War issues dealt with in the Brodrick novel and forward to those concerning the Second and written about by Mawer in the last of the trio.

A Whispered Name is one of Brodrick’s Father Anselm novels and deals with the question of those young men who were shot for desertion.  I am going to lead this discussion myself because one of the subjects that Brodrick is concerned with is the flexibility of narrative depending on who is telling the story. However, I know that I will find it very difficult to reread this book because the horror of what was done to those young men by their own side is truly abhorrent.  Nevertheless, it is an excellent piece of writing and certainly gives the lie to those people who decry genre fiction as ‘not really good literature’.

The second choice, The Reckoning, is the fourth in Rennie Airth’s series featuring DI John Madden.  This book is set in the late 1940s but deals with family secrets that stem from both the First and Second World Wars.  In the case of the First it is, like the Brodrick, to do with the question of desertion; in respect of the Second it is concerned with those brave individuals, members of the SOE, who put themselves in terrible danger by parachuting into occupied France to help with the Resistance.  This is a more typical crime novel than the Brodrick, but Airth is a seriously good writer and not, I think, well enough known.  I’m looking forward to introducing his work to a group that I think will appreciate him.

Simon Mawer’s The Girl Who Fell From The Sky, (published in the US as Trapeze) tells the story of Marian Sutro, half French, half English, who is recruited by the SOE and then sent into South West France, officially to act as a Resistance courier.  Her real mission, however, is to make her way to Paris and establish contact with an old family friend who is involved in developing a nuclear weapon.  The novel is based, to some extent, on the wartime experiences of Mawer’s mother and other women whom she knew during that time.  This will be quite a hard hitting book to finish the week on but I’m hoping that it will encourage people to go off and read Tightrope, which carries the story forward and possibly Mawer’s other books about European conflict, The Glass Room and Prague Spring.  Again, he is a writer that I don’t think is well enough known.

I’m really pleased with this selection and as far as is possible, given the subject matter, looking forward to rereading them all.  If I have time I shall also try and reread Leo Marks’ book From Silk to Cyanide.  Marks, a member of one of the families which owned Marks and Co, better known as 84 Charing Cross Road, worked as a code maker for the SOE from 1941 to 1945 and the story he has to tell will prove useful background for the second and third books as well as being a worthwhile read in itself.

The Summer School will take place during the week beginning August 19th and as far as is possible I shall try and post about our deliberations as soon after they happen as I can.  If any of you want to read along with us and join in the discussion on line then you would be most welcome.


Sunday Retrospective ~ April 7th 2019

Sorry for the silence. It has been both literal and enforced.  The squeamish should not read on.

An x-ray during what was meant to be a routine dental appointment showed that one of my teeth was eating itself from the inside out because of something that was lodged in my jaw.  Immediate action was called for in the shape of extraction and excavation. The tooth came out easily enough but the foreign object was another matter.  It turned out to be the root of a tooth that was pulled over fifty years ago and in that time the jaw bone had grown round it.  The dentist’s breezy “I’m sure it will just flick out” will probably qualify for the most optimistic prediction of the year.  When I said excavation what I meant was excavation, because eventually the drill had to come out and the offending item was gouged out of my jaw.  Consequently I have spent the last week or so imitating someone who has gone the proverbial twelve rounds with any heavyweight boxer you care to name and not really feeling like being sociable even on line.  The external swelling has now almost gone and the pain is bearable but the swelling inside the mouth is still extensive and the stitches have yet to dissolve.  Anyway, as you can imagine, I have been very busy sitting round feeling sorry for myself and surprisingly being completely exhausted.  It seems to have taken as much out of me as major surgery.

Not surprisingly, I haven’t read anything that could be called demanding.  I caught up with the new Olivia Kiernan police procedural, The Killer in Me.  I was very impressed by the first in this series, Too Close to Breathe, and this new novel is better than the first.  Set in and around Dublin, these books feature Detective Chief Superintendent Frankie Sheehan who is faced not only with a double murder but also with a possible case of false imprisonment following the release of Seán Hennessey who has served seventeen years for the killing of his parents. Caught between those who would prove Hennessey’s innocence and those who think he is also responsible for the current offences, Frankie then discovers that there is a link between the crimes past and present and her own family. Kiernan is going to be very good indeed and if you haven’t started reading her yet I would say catch up quickly.

I also read the first in another crime series, this one set in Derbyshire and written by Roz Watkins.  Having seen a very positive review of her second novel, Dead Man’s Daughter, I got hold of the first, The Devil’s Dice, an absolute page turner if ever there was one.  DI Meg Dalton has returned to her Derbyshire roots having previously served in Manchester.  During the course of the story it becomes apparent that Meg has suffered some sort of trauma in her previous posting and that she is now anxious to regain not only her standing with her colleagues, but also her belief in her own abilities.  Called out to the discovery of a body in a cave system she has to decide whether the death is the result of suicide or of murder. Investigating the victim’s background she finds herself caught up in a fierce struggle between a group who believe in assisted dying for those who are in the final stages of debilitating and painful illnesses and fundamentalist Christians who will go to any lengths to stop them. As with the Kiernan novel, the protagonist discovers that her own family have an involvement in what is happening and Meg is placed in the difficult posisition of having to decide whether to give evidence against a close relative.  I thought this was a very strong first novel and will definitely be getting hold of a copy of Dead Man’s Daughter as soon as possible.

Sunday Retrospective ~ March 24th 2019

This coming week sees the end of the Oxford University online Shakespeare course I have been taking.  I’ve very much enjoyed it, but although when I began I thought I might continue working with them, taking a different course each term, the last ten weeks have changed my mind.  Like all such courses the amount of time that it is suggested you need to give is radically underestimated. Ten hours a week is what is proposed, but if you want to be properly involved and be in a position to complete the necessary assignments then you are definitely looking at nearer twenty.  When I look back at what I have read so far this year I can see just how that has eaten into my reading time and I know that if I went on and did any further study I would really begin to resent that.  The pressure is particularly intense when it comes round to the time for submitting assignments. My last one went in this week and so I am now waiting judgement on it.  I was explaining what I had written to a friend, a Professor of English Language, who just said, “I am really glad I don’t have to mark your work”.  What is so unusual about comparing Leontes ‘journey’ through The Winter’s Tale to St Paul’s damascene moment in the Acts of the Apostles, that’s what I want to know?  My only problem was trying to manage it in 1500 words.  I like what I write to have a certain rhythm to it and that often makes extreme brevity difficult.

So, I have read almost nothing during the last seven days with the exception of the book I mentioned in my previous post: the one that was a complete disaster.  I’m hoping things will now pick up.  I’ve just started Linda Grant’s new novel, A Stranger City, which is promising well.  I really enjoyed her last book, The Dark Circle, which uses the setting of a 1950s sanitorium to explore the changes in society after the Second World War, but other than that I haven’t read anything else by her.  Does anyone have any favourites that I might put onto a summer reading list?  I also have Olivia Kiernan’s second Frankie Sheenan novel, The Killer in Me, waiting.  Too Close to Breathe was an excellent start to this series and with the new one due out at the beginning of April I must get reading quickly and post a review.

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!

Someone You Know ~ Olivia Isaac-Henry

When Tess Piper is thirty five she receives a message from her father that she has been dreading for the past twenty years: you need to come home, this time it really does look as if they’ve found her.  Tess is the younger and sub-dominate half of non-identical twins but when they were fifteen, ebullient and popular Edie went missing and despite an extensive police search and various false alarms over the years, the family is no nearer knowing what happened to her.  Tess, at least on the surface, has always hoped that Edie is still alive and that at some point she will decide to come home, but now it looks as though this is never going to happen.  So, Tess takes leave from her London based job and walks out of the flat that she is sharing with Max her now ex-partner of nine years and travels back to the West Midlands to be with her father, Vince, as they await the pathogist’s report.  When the news comes through that it is indeed Edie’s body that has been found and that there can be no doubt but that foul play was involved, the police re-open the inquiry and the family, including Vince’s brother Ray and his wife Becca come under renewed scrutiny.

Told in alternate chapters from Tess and Edie’s point of view, with Edie’s narrative taking us from the twins’ tenth birthday to the moment of her disappearance, the story not only of what happened to her, but also to Gina, the girls’ mother, gradually unfolds.  Are the Vickers, the oddly matched next door neighbours on the rundown estate where the family lives when we first meet them, somehow involved?  Or is Max, once besotted with Edie and possibly only in a relationship with Tess as second best, to blame for what happened?  Maybe Michaela, the older girl that Edie tags after when the family fortunes alter and they move to a ‘better’ neighbourhood had something to do with the disappearance? The police, both twenty years earlier and now, clearly think that someone in the family is behind the death and Vince and Ray’s attitudes towards staging an appeal or a reconstruction do nothing to assuage that view.  Or what about Tess herself?  She and Edie had argued that afternoon and their relationship, once so tight, had been strained for sometime as Edie fought for independence and Tess struggled to keep her twin close.  Certainly Edie’s erstwhile friends, now eagerly engaged in the vicarious ‘pleasure’ of social media mud-slinging, are sure that the ‘creepy’ twin was somehow involved.  Is it possible that Tess was responsible and has blanked out the memory?

I am going to ‘come clean’ on this.  I was asked to read Someone You Know as a favour to a friend (not the author).  However, although I love police procedurals, thrillers are not really my cup of tea, so I am probably not the ideal reader to judge the novel;  I’m not well enough versed in the genre to know how it rates against the considerable opposition out there.  It’s certainly well written and the dénouement when it arrives is plausible, although I think the subsequent conclusion is hurried through and some loose ends are left floating.  The structure, although it is one which is frequently used (Sophie Hannah, for example, manipulated it to considerable effect in Little Face) I found less satisfying.  I think this was because the chapters were so short, sometimes hardly a page in length, and I felt that I was having to switch focus too often and not being given the opportunity to really get to understand what was motivating either twin’s actions.  And, I never really appreciated how the teenaged Tess became the Tess of the present day action; there was a disjunction there I felt needed addresssing somewhere in the course of the narrative.

But, this is a first novel and it may be very good of its type. It’s certainly very readable but it didn’t make me want to go rushing out and look for more thrillers.  That is probably  more my fault rather than the author’s. Perhaps some of the triller readers out there could try it and let me know what they think.

Someone You Know is Olivia Isaac-Henry’s first novel and it will be published on February 4th.