Wednesday, 31 July 2019

This Mortal Boy - Fiona Kidman

Fiona Kidman is a much lauded author in her native New Zealand but she isn’t a name to immediately spring off everyone’s lips beyond her antipodean homeland. Maybe this is the book to change that?
I read Songs from the Violet Cafe several years ago and enjoyed her style of balancing the simple with the complex, seamlessly, and encouraging readers to think beyond the immediate.

This Mortal Boy is based on a true story and is controversial since it deals with the death penalty ostensibly but further it touches on prejudice and racism and asks us to question the nature of justice and the judicial system.  I don’t think it can be a spoiler since the knowledge is widely available on the Internet but Albert ‘Paddy’ Black was the second to last man to be hanged in New Zealand. He was only 20.

Kidman’s book tells the story of Albert from his beginnings in Belfast and his desire, ironically,  for a better life in New Zealand which results in him being dubbed the Juke Box killer after an unfortunate encounter with a less than exemplary young man who chose to go by the name of a character from a Mickey Spillane novel.  However nothing is simple and what might appear initially to be an uncomplicated murder/punishment scenario is far from it. Firstly the complexities of the case itself, regardless of any additional considerations, pose questions and doubts as to just how straightforward this crime actually is. Secondly these unfortunate circumstances were played out against a backdrop of concern over the morality and behaviours of the young in Auckland and New Zealand at that time in the 1950’s. Thirdly, Black was not a native New Zealander, he was an Irish immigrant, a ‘Paddy’, ‘not one of ours’, and that simple phrase conjures a depth of prejudice and racism that sees the dice loaded before the poor boy ever gets to the courtroom. Finally was the justice system beyond reproach?  Could all the witnesses’ testimonies be accepted as accurate and truthful? A crucial witness, himself in jail for an unrelated crime, is not allowed to testify. His testimony could have changed the course of the eventual outcome for Black. 

Powerful stuff, huh? You bet. And Fiona Kidman does an impressive job of weaving these strands all together in a fictionalised account. For all that it’s true, it is readable as a novel, and her portrayal of Black arouses our sympathy and liking for this young man, who seems to have a song for every occasion! But this is a verifiable story, this really happened. The portrayal of his parents, too, adds texture to our emotions as we share a mother’s agony of being able to do so little or go to her son’s side in his hour of need. Of course, with a fictionalised account you can be carried along, especially with such a strongly written narrative as this, believing every word to be the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth. So the reader is given the task, a judge and jury task maybe, of deciding what the real facts are and whether the characters depicted in the novel are true to life. But you only have to take a look at the depth of research undertaken by the author at the end of the book to get an glimpse of how thorough she’s been, add to that fact that Albert’s daughter, born after his death, gave assistance. You only have to do a cursory Google and sift through some of the newspaper articles to see the same facts appear again and again. 

I very much got the sense from the book that Black was a scapegoat. Wrong place, wrong time, kinda thing. Of course the fact that he did commit a crime and someone died subsequently cannot be ignored but maybe if Albert hadn’t been Irish and the moral climate of the country hadn’t been on high alert he might not have suffered the fate he did. Fiona Kidman is currently campaigning for Black’s sentence to be commuted to manslaughter. 

My thanks to Gallic Press for a copy of this powerful story.

Sunday, 28 July 2019

The Electric Hotel -Dominic Smith

In this homage to the silent silver screen Dominic Smith has fused a detailed factual history of early cinema with a love story and a war story that spans several decades and several countries. It’s a must for the movie buffs as Smith lovingly depicts the passion with which early filmmakers honed their craft and the stumbling blocks that impeded their progress. Who knew Edison insisted on such a monopoly of this new, moving picture craze?!

Moving effectively from present to past Claude Ballard is our main protagonist, aged as the story begins, but still with a zeal for capturing the world through his lenses. He is approached by film graduate student, Martin Embry, interested in Claude’s career. The two strike up an harmonious understanding and Martin offers to restore some of the ancient reels of film.

This proves to be the catalyst for the unleashing of Claude’s memories and the bulk of the book goes into intricate detail of Claude’s progress from humble beginnings as a photographic apprentice at an asylum where he photographed still shots of the inmates’ behaviour to silent film cinematographer, whose crowning masterpiece, The Electric Hotel, was vetoed by an influential competitor causing bankruptcy, to war photographer. I’m risking giving too much away if I continue so I’ll stop right here!!

Interspersed with the cinema story is a love story, bittersweet, but offering a welcome human element that works in parallel with the film story. It illustrates the dedication to creativity  and the effect that creativity may have on personal lives. 

It’s a work of historical fiction, painstaking research must have gone into the writing, particularly of the cinema history . It’s also a love story on several levels. The love and passion for the dramatic and cinematic arts and romantic love that may or may not run smoothly and a wider love of humanity.

 I did struggle to get into the book initially. I’m not sure exactly why but fortunately I seldom give up on a book and I found myself becoming more and more absorbed as the book progressed. It’s a dedicated and authentic recreation of a time gone by, without resorting to superficial nostalgia to harness the reader.

My thanks to Nudge Books for this copy.

Monday, 22 July 2019

RETRO REVIEWING: Songs from the Violet Cafe - Fiona Kidman

Another one that slipped thought the net. I received a copy of Fiona Kidman's latest book This Mortal Boy to read and review. I hadn't thought of Songs from the Violet Cafe in a while but unsurprisingly I was reminded of it and I searched the blog to read what I'd written and  - it wasn't there!! Hence a retro review. Just wondering how many other 'lost' reviews I have skulking around my hard drive! It's spooky too as a tentative title for my WIP is Cafe Society. I always take notice of strange forces at work. 

This book was originally published in 2003. What the thinking is behind republishing and remarketing it I am not sure. But it did mean I was able to secure a second hand copy at a reasonable price instead of having to endure it as an e-book which I loathe!! Fiona Kidman is a celebrated New Zealand author who I have not encountered before.

Firstly I enjoyed it very much. The title alone conjured up a multitude of past ‘Cafe’ experiences that I hold dear - Bagdad Cafe, Fried Green Tomatoes at The Whistle Stop Cafe and The Ballad of the Sad Cafe. (In fact another Carson McCullers novel The Heart is a Lonely Hunter was also brought  to mind by some of the descriptions and action within the Violet Cafe itself.)

And so with a certain frisson of anticipation I settled into this book relatively easily and happily. The action takes place mostly in New Zealand but also reaches into the heart of Cambodia. Sitting here in leafy England I sometimes forget that Asia is almost no distance relatively from the Antipodes and I had to keep reminding myself of that to keep a perspective on the narrative.

Violet Trench is one of the main protagonists and obviously where the book and the cafe attain their title. She is a strong, autocratic woman and runs the cafe with a rod of iron. She employs a number of individuals, mostly women, who all have their own story. The cafe is the cement that binds them all together despite it crumbling in places. I guess their stories are the ‘songs’ of the title although there is some discordance among the melodic.

Whilst I really did enjoy the book I did find it a little disjointed. There was much switching between time frames and characters. I frequently had to refer back to remind myself who was who and when was when. (Another plus for reading the physical book. What a drag it is trying to do that with an ebook?!) It struck me several times that it was very much like reading several short stories with the cafe being the link between the characters whose stories were told. I think Ms.Kidman is very comfortable with the short story format as she has had several volumes published. And maybe I am making that sound like a criticism? Forgive me, I don’t mean to. 

The writing is accomplished, economic without being sparse. There is no overload of description but all that needs to be conveyed is done so with eloquence. The characters are a troubled bunch on the whole; some are difficult to warm to but I found myself engaged with them and keen to follow their histories. Violet herself seems to place everyone at arms length including the reader and in contrast Jessie draws us towards her. 

This isn’t merely a discourse on the lives of a cafe owner and her employees, the net is cast wider than that with some food for thought of what happens to a country in conflict with itself and people in conflict with themselves. 

 It will be interesting to see if republication propels the novel into a wider realm.

Tuesday, 16 July 2019

Prodigal - Charles Lambert

Just a one word title and the very word conjures a plethora of images, Biblical and otherwise. I found this story of Charles Lambert reminiscent of some of Patrick Gale’s work, initially. Published last year this novel has been long listed for the Polari Prize 2019. The Polari Prize seeks to 'honour writers whose work explores the LGBT experience, whether in poetry, prose, fiction, or nonfiction.'

Jeremy Eldritch is an older, gay man who earns his living as a soft porn writer living in Paris. Sounds almost sleazy but it isn’t at all. It’s a readable and moving account of the dilemmas we face when family issues demand we leave our familiar and ordinary life and confront pasts and futures. It’s a story that looks at life, love and death, not necessarily in that order, and how people behave and how secrets can be buried for years and what potential devastation their unearthing might bring.

It’s the story of one man, yes, but it is also the story of his family, his place in that family and the dynamic of that family even when they are fragmented. It examines all the different relationships in their complexities and hint at how far nurture may go to shape the people we become or not become as the case may be. 

We see things primarily from Jeremy’s perspective but his sister, Rachel, has her story to tell as well. Both brother and sister are flawed people floundering in their relationships with themselves, with others and each other. There’s a bittersweet dynamic to their relationship. And if this all sounds as if the book is too dark there is some wit running through. For example, Rachel’s culinary response to Jeremy’s homecoming is from M&S because, as she says with allusion to the title, ‘I’m afraid we’re out of fatted calves.’ That had me chuckling.

Lambert is a perceptive observer of humankind and he hits the nail on the head more than once creating situations that are awkward, uncomfortable and yet many of us have been there and wished the ground would swallow us up. It’s emotionally raw and brutally honest. 

Structurally the novel is divided into four parts, beginning and ending in 2012 with two sections taking place in 1977 and 1985 detailing pertinent events that in simplest terms look at the breakdown of a family. What I think Lambert has done very cleverly is to show the complexities and absurdities of such dysfunction but in a way that is comprehensible, paradoxical as that may seem. He doesn’t offer the reader finite conclusions, but rather suggestions as to the nature of this fine mess they’ve gotten into. But if you pare it down to basics their fundamental arguments against each other remain the same throughout  the book and then you’re left asking whether its nature or nurture that has caused their fraternal unrest. There’s a cyclical effect to it all, almost oppressive as the siblings go back and forth in a seeming stalemate of unresolved resentment. 

However downlifting that may seem the book concludes with an element of optimism but it isn’t, on the whole, an uplifting book. It does offer us an interesting portrayal of family life and one man's attempt to deal with who he is and how he became.

My thanks to Gallic press for a copy of this book.  

Monday, 15 July 2019

The Last Stage - Louise Voss

This review was originally part of the Nudge Books/New Books Magazine slot on the Blog Tour for this book

Look away now those of you who love to second guess a psychologic thriller ‘cause I don’t think you will. I don’t even think you can! I don’t even think you’d want to, why spoil the thrill?! And yet……. all the clues are there, so snuggly and craftily nestling in amongst the bulk of the narrative. I was reminded briefly of Minette Walters especially by one of the significant locations in the story. 

This is a delicious exploration into the clandestine and the obsessional with a smattering of police procedural thrown in for good measure. It’s an onion story where layer by layer the truth is divulged to us in the form of the past first person narrative of our ‘heroine’ Meredith Vincent. The rest of the  book is third person narrative and the technique works very well here.  Meredith’s exposition is almost confessional if it weren’t so chronologically detailed and thought provoking. For a while I thought there was too much detail and I was inwardly willing the writer to ‘get on with it’. But I realise now that it was my own impatience to find out ‘whodunnit’  and ‘howdidtheydoit’ that provoked such a response. The expansive detail is absolutely necessary for everything to make sense and slip into place so that by the end the reader is satisfied by all that has happened and the explanation of events. 

It’s dark and uncompromising and there are some ‘nasty bits’, but I don’t do spoilers so you’re going to have to read it for yourselves! If you’re a fan of the genre I cannot see how you would be disappointed.

But for all that it’s a psychological thriller it’ s a clever piece of work because you kind of have an almost  ‘big house’ story, in the shape of Minstead House, an almost ‘rock chick’ story with the band Cohen, an almost LBGT story with some of the characters, an almost retro protest story with Greenham Common  but none dominate or offer anything to unbalance the main thrust of the thriller.(I hope none of that info can be considered as spoilers?)  It’s a competent piece of writing by an experienced writer who seems to understand what her readers want and, what’s more, gives it to them generously.

There’s a touch of poignancy as the story hinges on misunderstanding with no real malice intended yet a whole chain of events spiral out of control from a misinterpretation causing the most devastating of occurrences that will affect many of the characters in this novel for a long time. Secrets are uncovered, friendships and relationships are tested.

Publishers Weekly assert that the book is ‘An expert piece of contrivance.’ yet it doesn’t read as contrived at all in my opinion. Retrospectively, I suppose you could argue, there’s some jig saw piecing of action but the very fact that it’s so hard to second guess explodes the contrivance theory I think. But, best you read it for yourselves and decide! ;-)

My thanks to Erin Britton at Nudge Books for the opportunity to read this book and be part of the blog tour.

Thursday, 11 July 2019

The Doll Factory - Elizabeth Macneal

I’m generally suspicious of hype and over hype but this book somehow ingratiated itself onto my bookish radar to the extent that I couldn’t hold out any longer and I bought myself a copy.  An award winning debut novel, a serialised reading on Radio 4 and a cover to intrigue has to have some considerable merit, hasn’t it?

Set in 1850’s Victorian London with an atmosphere that reminded me of Sarah Waters,  little of Jessie Burton and Victor Hugo’s Les Miserables for starters, it creates a palpable picture of extremes from poverty and prostitution to affluence and art. You can try and label it as history fiction, gothic fiction, romantic fiction, a psychological thriller et al and I guess they all fit but when all is said and done it’s a story and it rises above compartmentalising. Thematically I guess obsession rules, followed by a consideration of the female aspiring to be an artist in a male dominated world. I’m worried about offering spoilers but I get the feeling that I’m possibly one of the last people to have read this book?!

The characterisations are vivid and the main characters step off the page at you. That’s not to say the lesser characters are in any way ‘lesser’ in terms of the fiction but the main players do dominate. Iris Whittle and her twin sister Rose, quite the bouquet, although Rose has suffered some disfigurement due to smallpox, work a soulless existence in Mrs. Salter’s Doll Emporium.  Iris aspires to more, and a chance meeting with an artist, Louis Frost, is the catalyst to further those aspirations. Frost is a member of the PRB and, no, this has nothing to do with Line of Duty (!), it’s the acronym of the Pre Raphaelite Brotherhood. Silas Reed is a disturbed individual who earns a crust as a taxidermist often furnished with specimens ‘caught’ by Albie the ubiquitous Victorian urchin who offers more than a passing nod to the Artful Dodger and is the link between Iris and Silas. In turn Silas provides artefacts for the PRB. It all dovetails in quite nicely and prepares the way for the spinning plates to spiral out of control. Even if I am the last person on earth to read this book I still can’t bring myself to ‘do spoilers’ so that’s all I’m saying!

It’s a very readable book with plenty of suspense and tensions that have you turning the pages. The romancey bits were weaker in comparison, in particular some of the dialogue, or that might be me not doing the romantic lit thing. But that didn’t detract from the story as a whole. It was authentic and easy for the reader to become immersed in the contrasting environments; The Royal Academy and the Great Exhibition in Hyde Park, other areas of London, Regent Street and the Strand, beautifully realised in descriptive passages. The research was competent and the detail enveloped the reader. The parallel stories offer a wider appeal than had the author confined herself to the ‘mere’ thriller aspect or romance aspect.  I found the art sections of particular interest and the interaction between the painters at times offered some light relief. For the book is dark and unyielding at times. Have a tissue handy!

This is an auspicious debut. I’m delighted I ‘gave in’ and bought the book. I thoroughly enjoyed it!

Tuesday, 9 July 2019

The Carer - Deborah Moggach

Deborah Moggach has an impressive back catalogue but this is only the third book of hers that I have read. I enjoyed it immensely, You’ve heard of a ‘people person’? Well, this is a ‘people book’.  For people. Of people. About people.

There is an unexpected and magnificent twist just over half way through the book which is a masterstroke if you didn’t see it coming.And I didn’t see it coming! Although all the clues were there. 

Moggach demonstrates an understanding of people from all backgrounds and walks of life, all stages of life. Of the loneliness of old age one of her characters acutely observes,’It’s one of those things, like flatulence and phlegm, they don’t warn you about.’

So what’s The Carer all about? Two siblings, Robert and Phoebe, engage the services of highly recommended carer, Mandy, to look after their ageing father, James. She appears to be the very antithesis of the two of them in terms of background and aspirations. Yet she quickly renders herself indispensable to James who seems to find her company and ministrations uplifting. So much so that it seems as if Phoebe and Robert have been superseded in his affections.

The story is told from the perspectives, primarily, of Robert and Phoebe in the first part of the book and in the second it opens up to include James and a couple of other people including an epistolary reveal. But more than that I’m reluctant to say for fear of spoilers. Except that we never actually hear Mandy, the carer’s, perspective which is an interesting device and leaves you wondering. Everything we learn of Mandy is through others and we have to trust to the accuracy of their perceptions and opinions, good and bad. But it’s all done so plausibly and its all so convincing. You can get under the skin of the characters. It isn’t what I would call a humorous work but there are some instances that elicited a wry smile from me. The narrative has an even, pleasing flow and demonstrates the experience of this much acclaimed author. 

Moggach gets to the heart of peoples’ motivations and suspicions, fuelled by self doubt and perceived inadequacies that must touch upon the sensibility, I should imagine, of most of us. It's topical too as in this current age of living longer the care of elderly parents is a pertinent issue for many.

Whilst there are some very sad moments in the book it is ultimately a book of redemption and upliftment. Robert and Phoebe learn a great deal about themselves and both find themselves better placed at the end of the novel then they did at the beginning. I hope that isn’t a spoiler. 

It’s a fiction but it’s also broad enough to pose some questions and considerations for its readers. There are some nice little observations, for example:-

‘There was no such thing as bad weather, just the wrong clothes.’

Isn't that perfect?!

It’s a substantial yet comfortable read despite the serious implications of its theme and will delight the legions of Deborah Moggach fans out there and probably gain her some new ones!

My thanks to Georgina Moore and Tinder Press for an advance proof of this thoughtful tale. 

Monday, 8 July 2019

Baby - Annaleese Jochems

A new name to me and I suspect to you too!  Annaleese Jochems has contributed to a genre that may not exist yet - the ‘quirky’ genre!! For this book is quirky, to put it mildly. Whilst the book was long listed for the Ngaio Marsh prize last year the crime aspects seems less dominant than the, erm, well, quirky aspects!! The author also won 2016 Adam Prize from the International Institute of Modern Letters  and the 2018 Hubert Church Best First Book Award both awards in Jochem’s native New Zealand. 

It’s a very contemporary, novel with its roots firmly in the world of social media and reality TV. It’s a curious fusion between social comment and an almost farce/ slapstick type humour which works in places but not in others. I suppose the buzzword and alternative genre descriptor might be ’millennial’? Very much the debut novel from a clearly intelligent young writer who is not afraid to tell it how she sees it. There is wit in the novel and some irony, the title, surely is ironic? But it’s a bizarre book that teeters on the brink of abnormality. 

At first I thought it was going to be a Thelma and Louise type tale, but in a boat! However our main protagonist, Cynthia, is little short of a monster!! She is hard to like and you wonder if she is just a self absorbed, spoilt brat but there is an undercurrent of disturbed individual and you also wonder whether she might be somewhere on the spectrum or a victim of parental neglect. 

Anahera, the object of Cynthia’s obsession doesn’t come across as especially likeable either and you feel that she’s using Cynthia to assuage her own unhappiness but ultimately finds she’s in much deeper than she intended. 

The male characters, are there, functional to a degree. But they fade against the two girls whose idiosyncrasies and obsessions with food and money dictate many of their actions. 

It’s a novel of contradictions in intent and execution. Some of the writing is flowing and intelligent, at other times, some of the dialogue particularly,  is almost banal. However it is compelling reading. You can’t quite believe it in places and you can’t wait to see what happens in others. It’s dark and black and downright disturbing.  The passages on the boat are claustrophobic and create a tense atmosphere. In Cynthia the writer has ably demonstrated what a chaotic mind is capable of and ordered thoughts just don’t figure! 

What it does do is force the innocent reader to think, re think and question their sanity maybe!! Reading this book is a surreal experience almost, it’s as if the book is describing a dream you’re having and not a particularly good one. But I’d put money on one thing - it’ll get people talking!!

Thanks to New Books Magazine/Nudge for a copy.

Thursday, 4 July 2019

A Killing Sin - K.H. Irvine

I do not habitually seek out novels with a political flavour, let alone a terrorist one, but some sixth sense, some instinct, kicked in here and I found myself requesting a copy. As Obi Wan Kenobi said to Luke Skywalker,’Your instinct serves you well.’ I am so glad I did.  This was an amazing read. It's one of those books that you continue to think about long after you've finished reading it.

Not for the fainthearted it pulls a punch that has you open mouthed in disbelief. But more than that it is a chilling reminder of what can happen and what probably is happening as we speak, if not in this country then elsewhere in the world.

Set in an almost future but not very removed from our today three friends find their world turned upside down.  Amala is a Muslim although less than devout, a technology wizard and alternative comedian, Ella, a journalist following a couple of stories, on the verge of one she believes is big and Millie, an academic, bohemian and an expert in radicalisation. Friendships and secrets. Families and trust. No spoilers here so that’s all I’ll say as far as the story line goes.

Most of the action takes place during the day of May 25th from 06:30 until 17:44. it’s tense, shocking, nail biting, compelling reading. The rest of the narrative paints the scene from ten days previously and about ten days afterwards together with past flashbacks allowing us to see the progress of the friendships and relationships of these three women. There are other significant characters and their stories unfold along the way.

The writing is taut, economic, yet detailed where it needs to be. The author seems to have an ability to get into the minds of some diametrically opposed people and their ideologies that ensnares the reader and enables us to engage fully with what unfolds. It’s edge of the seat stuff. I wouldn’t be surprised to see this on either the big or small screen. 

It’s highly contemporary and the research takes this novel to just past fiction into a realism that sends chills through you. It’s not an easy read or an uplifting read but it is an important read for it examines religion, radicalisation, corruption, politicians  and what can happen when you mix it all up. It’s an intelligent thriller and I can hardly believe that it is a debut novel!! I am so impressed with it. I want this book to be successful. It deserves nothing less. 

Thanks to Urbane Publications for sending me a copy. 

Wednesday, 3 July 2019

Murder in the Mill-Race - E.C.R.Lorac

What happens in the village, stays in the village could well be the motto of the inhabitants of Milham in the Moor, a Devon village, where its unspoken law is ‘Never make trouble in the village.’ It reminded me of League of Gentleman’s Royston Vasey, ‘This is a local shop for local people.’ and that 60s TV series The Prisoner to a degree. 

So what happens when newcomers move to the village in the shape of Dr. Raymond Ferens and his wife Anne? Well, it sure ain’t ‘Escape to the Country’! They’ve barely been there when a body is found floating in the mill race. The deceased is the warden of the local orphanage and when the local bobby flounders in his investigations of what is first viewed as an accidental death enter MacDonald of the Yard and D.I.Reeves. Those familiar with Lorac’s work will also be familiar with MacDonald’s work and his style of meticulous, detecting. I’ll confess I’ve come to love MacDonald. Lorac has sustained the characterisation though all of the books I’ve read and I enjoy the balance between objective, unemotional policeman and a man of humanity and understanding.

This story boasts a cast of characters who all seem, on the surface, to revere and admire the dead woman. However all is not as it seems and true feelings and revelations emerge as the investigation progresses. Clues there are a plenty, and with the absence of modern policing methods the amount of work and thinking form the meat of the book. There’s a pleasing juxtaposition of the perceived idyll of village life that the Ferens think they might have found with a darker, uninvited  hypocrisy that binds some of the villagers. 

The plot is intricate and well constructed. It's ingenious too. NO second guessing here. Much time is given to the details of the crime and its execution and form the conclusion of the book. To reach that conclusion people are forced to lay themselves bare to the police and confront their own selves to a certain extent. 

I’ve read several of Lorac’s books now, all  thanks to The British Library and there’s not one I haven’t enjoyed. Whilst the emphasis is on the story telling there is often a subtle, understated comment of some kind. Here it seems to be a sense of village versus city life and the explosion of preconceived notions as myths.  

As ever, Martin Edward’s introduction is almost as much a pleasure as the novel!!

Monday, 1 July 2019

The Poison Bed - E.C. Fremantle

If I’m truthful I’ve been delaying reading this book for months. Why the reluctance, I hear you ask?! Because I knew I’d love it and I knew that once I’d read and finished it I’d no longer have it to read, if that makes sense? I wanted to hold on to that delightful sense of anticipation that I get from Ms. Fremantle’s books. Ever since Queen’s Gambit I’ve been a fan. I’m not sure if it’s because she writes so vibrantly about one of my favourite periods in history or that she’s exceptionally good at writing historical fiction. I suspect it’s a little of both! But when I realised the paperback edition has just been published it seemed timely.

One of the marks of a good historical fiction for me is where you go scuttling off to research the main characters. Barely had I closed the cover than I was googling Frances Howard, Robert Carr, and Thomas Overbury, hungry for more knowledge. We think we live in an age of subterfuge, corruption and false news but when I read of the Tudor/Stuart/Jacobean antics I wonder whether if anything has really changed?!

 Another mark of good historical fiction, in my opinion, is the depth and quality of the research. And if that sounds like stating the obvious it’s how a writer utilises that research to construct a narrative that envelopes the reader, transporting them back to that age with such convincing detail that you can see, smell and hear the era.  It’s only when you sit back and reflect objectively that your jaw drops when you realise the extent of that meticulous research. 

The structure of this novel is simple; a dual narrative, ‘Him’ and ‘Her’ with the ‘Her’ divided into a third person story telling and a first person confessional type account. Initially, you think why? But as you progress through the novel it hits you and you realise how damn clever it is!

Something that really stood out for me was the author’s understanding of character; how to develop, not just the character but through that development manipulating the readers’ response, both cerebrally and emotionally, and then turning it all around on a sixpence. Masterful. But far from the poor reader feeling duped you’re drawn in deeper and deeper marvelling at how such deception could have taken place and fooled you. So satisfying to read. 

Court etiquette, social conventions, loves that shall not speak their names, political ambition, nature and nurture, friendship, loyalty, this book has the lot and more besides and I am bereft that I’ve finished it. It’s one thing to write good historical fiction, our bookish world isn’t short of it, good historical fiction that entertains and informs us of ages other than our own but it’s another to take historical facts and weave them into something akin to a contemporary psychological thriller! Gone Girl? Go girl!

I’m one of the first to affirm that I read a book and not its cover. But I was reading this book on public transport (I really couldn’t put it down!) an d someone approached me saying how fantastic the book I was reading looked! So with much enthusiasm I proceeded to wax lyrical about the book, its author and her other works. Cover Power! 

I’ve said very little about what actually happens in the story, have I? Ooops! Best you go read it for yourselves…….