WWWednesday ~ January 30th 2019

WWWednesday is hosted by Sam at Taking on a World of Words and is a great way of taking stock of where you are in your reading journey.

What are you currently reading?

My Monday Book Group meets next week and so I am rationing out Margaret Atwood’s Hagseed so that I will finish it on Sunday and still have it fresh in my mind for the group discussion. A re-imagining of The Tempest, it is part of the Hogarth Press series for which they have asked established writers to each take a Shakespeare play and write an updated prose version. As a student of Shakespeare’s plays I don’t really approve of this idea. The plays stand in their own right and don’t need to be messed around in any way.  Add to that the fact that I’m no great Margaret Atwood fan either, and you wouldn’t be far off the mark if you thought I wasn’t really looking forward to this book. Well, the great thing about book groups is that they encourage you to read works that you would never otherwise have picked up and I have to admit that I am very much enjoying Hagseed.  So far, at least, there is none of the magic realism that I associate with Atwood and find very hard to come to terms with in any writer, and I have to say that I think she has found a setting which allows her both to re-explore the story behind The Tempest and the theory that in writing it Shakespeare was dramatising his own farewell to the stage.  The only works that post date this are co-authored with John Fletcher, who took over as the company playwright, and who was probably glad of a bit of support when following in such illustrious footsteps.

The main character is one Felix Phillips, a man who like Lear would see himself as more sinned against than sinning, and who, in the production he is staging at the Fletcher County Correctional Institute, believes that he has an opportunity to take his revenge on the two people who ousted him from his job as director of a local theatre festival.  The way in which he persuades the hardened offenders who form his cast to vie for the role of Ariel, who they initially see as a fairy, is little short of brilliant and a perfect reimagining of the role in twenty-first century terms.  I’m really looking forward to next Monday’s discussion.

What did you recently finish reading?

I’ve just finished the most recent book in James Oswald’s Tony McLean series, Cold as the Grave. These are slightly unusual police procedural novels: unusual in as much as although there is always a crime at the heart of the story and, as would be expected, at the conclusion the actual perpetrator is brought to book, the force behind crime still remains at large.  Oswald seems to me to be more interested in the idea that the crime that we can see and punish is actually a manifestation of a power of evil that is as old as the world itself and almost impossible to apprehend.  In this instance the human representations of such evil are exploiting the fear of refugees from war-torn countries who have made their way illegally to the U.K. by threatening their children.  In many ways it is not an easy read, but unfortunately feels all too real.

I am suddenly aware of a contradiction here having just said that I don’t appreciate magic realism and yet I think if I had to try and describe what Oswald is doing in this series it is probably something very akin to that. Nevertheless I think these books are first rate and I shall offer a longer discussion of this particular novel nearer its publication date.

What do you think you will read next?

I shall probably pick up Elly Griffiths’ latest book in her series about Ruth Galloway, the Norfolk based forensic archaeologist whose work with the local police brings her  with uncomfortable frequently into the orbit of DCI Harry Nelson, the father of her seven year old daughter, Kate.  The Stone Circle is the eleventh book in this sequence and I’m hoping it will be better than the last one, The Dark Angel, which I felt concentrated too much on the relationship between Ruth and Nelson at the expense of the crime element in the story.  I shall go on reading these, however, partly because the quirky narrative voice that Griffiths uses always makes me smile and partly because in Kate, now seven, she has captured perfectly the potential for children to quite inadvertently show their parents up on every possible occasion.  This is another novel that is due out in a couple of weeks time and as with the Oswald, I’ll post about it in detail then.

 

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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.

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.

 

Six Degrees of Separation From The French Lieutenant’s Woman to A Second Chance.

I know that I am horrendously late with this post, but I had it all planned out when the dreaded lurgy struck and I am loath to waste the thought that went into a meme hosted by Kate at Books are my Favourite and Best, which I have to come to really enjoy participating in. So, ten days late – here goes.

January’s Six Degrees of Separation has as its starting point John Fowles novel, The French Lieutenant’s Woman.  I am of the generation who was bowled over by the 1981 film staring Meryl Streep and Jeremy Irons. I remember the wonderful scene shot on the Cobb at Lyme Regis and I did think about making my first leap into Jane Austen’s Patience, which also has scenes set in that picturesque South Coast town or possibly to Remarkable Creatures by Tracy Chevalier for the same reason.  However, in the end I decided to stick with one of the stars of the film, Jeremy Irons, an actor I saw several times at Stratford but whose ‘acquaintance’ I first made through the televisation of Evelyn Waugh’s book, Brideshead Revisited.  There has been a later cinematic version of this, but for me it didn’t come anywhere near that earlier dramatisation which was my first introduction to Waugh’s works and which prompted a splurge on almost everything he had written.

Jeremy Irons played the part of Charles Ryder.  One of the novel’s other leading characters is, of course, Aloysius, Sebastian Flyte’s Bear.  As many of you know I too share my life with a number of distinguished and erudite Bears (they are looking over my shoulder as I write so I wouldn’t dare say anything else!) one of whom is also called Aloysius.  In our previous home Aloysius sat on the same shelf in the bookcase that contained all our Harry Potter books and as a result, in a reference to Hagrid’s role at Hogwarts, he became known as The Keeper of the Harry Potters.  My second link, therefore is to the first of the Harry Potter novels, Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone.  I read this in my role of Lecturer in Children’s Literature and am therefore very proud of the fact that I was a Harry Potter fan before most of the world knew that he existed.

In this earliest novel Voldemort is searching for the philosopher’s stone in the hope that it will grant him everlasting life. Another novel in which the search for eternal existence is key is Peter Ackroyd‘s The House of Dr Dee.  Again, this was the first novel that I had read by this particular author and again, it sparked off something of a binge where Ackroyd’s novels were concerned. It could link into my fourth choice, in two ways. Firstly, there is a title link and secondly it is a novel which takes place in two different time spans.  As I want to use the second link between my next two books, I am going to go with the first of those and claim a link through the title of Daphne Du Maurier’s The House on the Strand.

As some of you know, I run a Summer School each year, where we read three books linked thematically in some way and several years ago now that theme was ‘Then and Now’; all three books were set in both the author’s present and a particular moment in history. The House on the Strand was one of these, featuring a character who moves between his own time and the fourteenth century.  Another choice was Ghostwalk by Rebecca Stott.  Stott is one of a number of writers who have written excellent books that I have really enjoyed but who appear to have vanished from the literary scene.  She is well known for her academic writing, but this 2007 work and a slightly later novel The Coral Thief, are her only works of fiction.  Ghostwalk is excellent.  It is a literary murder mystery set in present day Cambridge but also exploring that city’s past, in particular the life and work of Isaac Newton.  In fact, it links back to two earlier choices because the victim, Elizabeth Vogelsang, is writing a book on Newton’s involvement with alchemy.  Vogelsang dies with a prism in her hand and that, along with the Newton connection provide me with my final link to Jodi Taylor’s novel A Second Chance.

A Second Chance is the third in Taylor’s series The Chronicles of St Mary’s, which relates the adventures of an intrepid group of historians who explore historical events in contemporary time.  Don’t call it time travel. Dr Bairstow doesn’t like it.  At the beginning of this particular book Taylor’s heroine (?), Max, is busy preparing for the expedition of a life time, to visit Troy immediately before and after the Trojan War of The Iliad.  However, as a favour to Dr Bairstow she agrees to take a old friend of his back to seventeenth century Cambridge to catch a glimpse of his hero, Isaac Newton.  It is a the St Mary’s equivalent of the prime directive that its historians must in no way interfere with past events but sometimes Max just happens to be in the wrong place at the wrong time, or as she would see it the right place at the right time and who knows if Newton would ever have made all those discoveries about light if it hadn’t been for the small hand mirror that she carries to help her see what is going on when she is supposed to be keeping her eyes modestly to herself?  Newton runs off with her mirror and the rest, as they say, is history.

So, from the nineteenth century Cobb at Lyme Regis to a seventeenth century Cambridge quad in six moves.  Next month’s six degrees starts with Fight Club, a work I haven’t read turned into a film I haven’t seen.  I shall have to do some digging!

 

 

Recovering Nicely

This is just to say thank you to everyone who sent good wishes for my speedy recovery from what can only be described as the dreaded lurgy. The Bears have tended me solicitously for well over a week now and they finally seem to be winning the battle against whatever bug it was that laid me low.  Normal service will be resumed in a couple of days.

WWWednesday ~ January 2nd 2019

Most of the books I have read over the holiday period have been forthcoming novels that I can’t really review fully until their publication date, so to fill the gap I’m going to take part in WWWednesday, which is hosted by Sam at Taking on a World of Words, and tantalise you with brief summaries of some of the novels on their way in the next few months.  

What Are You Currently Reading?

I have two books on the go at the moment.  As before my bed time reading is a complete survey of Robin Hobb’s Farseer Sequence and I’m still working my way, a few pages a night, through Ship of Destiny, which is great because it means that there are still ten more books to go.  I wrote in more detail about this project here, so in future I’ll just note that it is on-going.

The other book currently on my reading table is the forthcoming novel from Kate London, Gallowstree Lane.  This is the third in her Collins and Griffiths series which is set in a London that Kate herself once helped to police.  I’ve hardly started this as yet, so I can’t say much about it other than that it is about an undercover operation that is threatened when a teenager is mortally injured and in asking for help threatens to bring the undertaking out into the open.

London’s work has a harsher edge to it than that of many of her contemporaries.  It took me two attempts to get into her first novel, Post Mortem, because the opening was so realistically hard hitting.  However, I have come to appreciate the veracity of her story telling and so I am looking forward to getting further into this latest instalment.  The book is published at the beginning of February so my review will be available in four or five weeks time.

What Did You Recently Finish Reading?

I’ve just finished the second in Dervla McTiernan’s Cormac Reilly series, set in Galway on the West Coast of Ireland.  If you’ve read my previous post you will know that a re-read of the first novel, The Ruin, wasn’t as enjoyable as I’d hoped.  So I went into the new book, The Scholar, due for publication in March, with a certain amount of trepidation.  Again, I can’t offer a full review until the novel is published, but I can say that McTiernan has addressed two of the problems that concerned me in respect of The Ruin: the narrative line is tighter and the politics within the police squad more believable.  I do, however, have some concerns about the main plot, which hinges on a student at the local university submitting work carried out by someone else.  (I’m not giving anything away here, it is made clear very early on that this is the case.)  This is a situation I have had to deal with and although the deception is one that you might get away with for a short time, I’ve never known it run on for the two year period that is suggested here.  If class work doesn’t match up to written work someone will pick it up.  University lecturers aren’t as distant from their students as this suggests.

What Do You Think You Will Read Next?

My next read will be Bernard MacLaverty’s Midwinter Break.  This is for my Monday afternoon book club next week and several of the other members of the group have already said how much they have enjoyed it, so I am looking for good things.  Fantastic Fiction describes it as:

An intense exploration of love and uncertainty when a long-married couple, Gerry and Stella, take a midwinter break in Amsterdam to refresh the senses, do some sightseeing and generally take stock of their lives. Their relationship seems easy, familiar – but over its course we discover the deep uncertainties between them.

Gerry, once an architect, is forgetful and set in his ways. Stella is tired of his lifestyle and angry at his constant undermining of her religious faith. Things are not helped by memories that resurface of a troubled time in their native Ireland. As their vacation comes to an end, we understand how far apart they are – and can only watch as they struggle to save themselves.

I loved MacLaverty’s 1997 novel, Grace Notes, which was word perfect. However, I do seem to recall that whichever group it was I read that for had difficulty getting a handle on it for discussion purposes so I shall be interested to see how next Monday’s session goes. I’m rather glad that I’m not leading it.

Three Short Christmas Reviews

A Snapshot of Murder ~ Frances Brody

This is the tenth in Frances Brody’s series set in 1920s Yorkshire and featuring Kate Shackleton, a war widow who has drifted into the world of the private investigator.  It is 1928 and Haworth Parsonage is just about to be given to the nation for use as a Brontë Museum. Kate and five of her fellow photographers set off on their society’s first ever outing to record the event and to take photographs of the surrounding countryside, especially that associated with Wuthering Heights. Among the party are troubled husband and wife, Carine and Tobias Murchison. Theirs is a marriage that should never really have come about and one which has been placed under severe pressure both by his drinking and the fact that Carine has never stopped loving Edward Chester, her fiancé who failed to return from the trenches.  Also among the group are Derek Blondell, a teenager besotted by Carine, and Rita Rufus, another of Carine’s admirers. The photographers stay at Ponden Hall and it soon becomes clear that Tobias has history with the family there, who have no cause to welcome him into their home.  Thus, when he is stabbed in the crush of spectators gathered to witness the handing over of the parsonage, there is no shortage of potential suspects.

Aided and abetted by the ever reliable Jim Sykes, her niece Harriet and the intrepid Sergeant Dog (otherwise known as failed bloodhound number two) Kate sets out to solve yet another mystery. Despite the fact that there are some really very nasty people populating this novel, the overall tone remains that associated with crime fiction of the Golden Age rather than of contemporary examples of the genre and although I don’t really get on with the books actually written in that era, I do enjoy Brody’s work; this is one of the better books in the series.

 

Body Breaker ~ Mike Craven

Mike Craven, whether writing in this persona or as M C Craven, has been one of my discoveries of the year.  This is the second in his series featuring D. I. Avison Fluke a member of the Cumbrian FMIT.

When a body is found scattered all over the tenth hole of a local golf course it is Fluke and his team who are initially called in.  However, almost before they have got past the first stages of the investigation they are elbowed out of the way by a squad from the Met.  For whatever reason, the dismembered corpse is on their radar and they are intent on taking the case over.  Neither Fluke, nor any of his team, are happy about this, the less so when it becomes apparent that the name assigned to the victim is a false one and he is, in fact, Mark Bishop (Bish), an old friend of the Inspector, someone with whom he served in the marines. Characteristically, they are determined to continue with the investigation. Fluke’s personal involvement deepens when Jinx, a young traveller, turns up at his door claiming that she is Mark’s wife and that he told her if he was ever to disappear she should appeal to Fluke for help. Loathe to let the Met officers know of her existence, Fluke turns to the last person he should really involve, Nathaniel Diamond, the local criminal kingpin and asks him to find a safe house where Jinx can hide.

The plot twists and turns as Fluke gradually uncovers the reason why Bish had taken up the travellers’ way of life and why the Met are so interested in him.  Craven lays a number of red herrings and I fell for most of them.  However, I wasn’t as convinced by the ultimate reveal as I have been in the other two books of his that I’ve read and the final sting in the tail, the hook that is supposed to draw the reader to the next in the series, just annoyed me.  I don’t like these cliff hangers.  If an author’s work is good enough I am going to come back anyway.  And, in this case, I wonder if Craven hasn’t gone over the top and left his main character in a predicament too hard to write his way out of.  Is this why he has started to write under another persona, with a new protagonist? I shall have to wait and see.

 

The Ruin ~ Dervla McTiernan

The third of these short reviews is actually of a re-read.  I am just about to start the second of Dervla McTiernan’s Cormac Reilly novels, The Scholar, but, having read The Ruin at a time when I wasn’t really giving my full attention to what I was reading (moving house can be like that!) and not having reviewed it at the time, I thought I had better go back and renew my acquaintance with her characters and the setting first.

Cormac is a D.S. with the Irish Gardaí, based now in Galway, having just transferred from an elite squad in Dublin to be with his partner, Emma.  In his new posting he meets with considerable hostility and is pretty much consigned to re-examining cold cases.  Used to leading high powered investigations, Reilly is uncertain whether his reception in Galway is due to professional jealousy or, more worryingly, that there is a level of corruption among his new colleagues they are concerned he will pick up on.  However, one of the cases assigned is of personal interest to him.  Two decades earlier, as a rookie on the force, Cormac was sent in response to a call about, seemingly, a minor domestic.  What he discovered then has now resurfaced due to the apparent suicide of twenty-five year old Jack Blake. Jack’s sister, Maude, newly returned from Australia, demands that the investigation is re-opened, convinced that her brother was, in fact, murdered and pursuades his partner, Aisling, to join forces with her.  Reilly is ordered to reinvestigate the original call out and associated death and in doing so unearths a web of evil that has cast a pall over the lives of many of the novel’s characters.

The Ruin was published to great acclaim and I remember thinking when I first read it that it lived up to the hype.  After this second reading I am not quite so sure.  McTiernan’s over-riding concern is a particularly nasty type of child abuse and, to some extent, the use of religion as a means of covering up what is happening. I think at times she lets her desire to push home the message get in the way of plot coherence.  There is a side story about the rape and murder of young women on both sides of the Atlantic, which is vaguely thematically linked, but which can distract from the main narrative line.  Second time round, I also felt that the amount of hostility and indeed corruption that Cormac encounters in the Galway force is just too much.  I have friends in Galway and I am loath to think that their safety is being overseen by a set of Gardi who, with a couple of low ranking exceptions, are a darned sight worse than the criminals they set out to apprehend.  This isn’t going to stop me reading The Scholar because there is still a lot about McTiernan’s writing that I did enjoy, but I hope that in a few years time we will look back on this first effort and see it as just that, an apprentice piece from an author who has gone to become a master.