Friday, 29 January 2016

Used to Be, by Elizabeth Baines

ReviewerJJ Marsh

What we thought:

An unusual and eclectic collection of stories which consistently upend and wrongfoot the reader’s expectations. And I mean that in a good way.

Baines reminds me of a scratch DJ, taking a conventional format and messing with it, expertly, to give the audience a whole new experience.

These twelve tales skip between perspectives, employ fallible narrators, follow parallel universes and ask exactly how much of any story is true. Reality is whatever is happening in this particular head, yours and the storytellers’, at the time. Much as the past erodes the distance, hardens the edges and wears grooves of memory and habit, you want to believe, even if you’re not quite sure any of it is true.

Highly readable, thought-provoking and with beautiful use of language, this collection is a rich and unexpected delight.

You’ll enjoy this if you liked: Kirsty Logan, Wally Lamb, DJ Taylor

Avoid if you don’t like:
Quirky, unsettling shifts in expectation

Ideal accompaniments: Salted caramels, a Dirty Martini and Lotte Lenya singing Kurt Weill

Genre: Short stories, Literary Fiction

Available on Amazon 

Summer House With Swimming Pool by Herman Koch

Reviewer: Jerome Griffin

What we thought: In Summer House With Swimming Pool, Herman Koch holds a mirror up to polite, civilised, western society and watches it squirm and balk at its own ugliness. As he did in his previous novel, The Dinner, Koch paints a canvas of upstanding, decent citizens who abide by the law and frown upon the dregs of society. They may occasionally bend the rules to suit their needs, but only the silly little rules, never the big important ones. And it's always for a good reason.

The story centres around Marc Schlosser, a doctor with an enviable patient list packed full of famous household names, including the celebrated actor, Ralph Meier. The stars flock to Dr. Schlosser because he has a reputation for real care and attention to detail. Marc's unique selling point is that he spends twenty minutes on each appointment, a practice unheard of in today's pacy world.

Patients love him for it, but he, like all other doctors, knows what the problem is within the first sixty seconds. The rest of the time is just fluff. More often than not he daydreams as his patients moan about their dull lives – none duller than the boorish Ralph Meier. But, when Ralph invites Marc and his family to join the Meiers on their summer holiday, Marc goes out of his way to make it happen... for his own mercenary reasons.

The families are joined by Stanley, an ageing film director and his teenage model girlfriend, and as the holiday progresses and each character follows their own agenda, relationships become increasingly strained. As tensions mount the masks slip and we see these upstanding citizens for who they truly are.

Koch's gift is his squirm factor. He seduces his readers with average everyday characters in average everyday scenarios. Then he leads them with hypnotic ease, one chicken step at a time, to the scene of their most vivid horror. By the time they realise where the story has taken them, they are far beyond their comfort zone. Imagine waking up naked in the middle of an open city square surrounded by the people you despise the most and you're still nowhere near understanding his power.

But the real discomfort lies in the truth. We all know that we do it too. We all bend the rules a little and make excuses for doing so. We also know that we're capable of so much more. So you have to ask yourself the questions that Herman Koch poses to his characters: How far would you go? Where would you stop? What would you do to someone who tried to steal your partner? Or harm your kids? Would you become the worst you that you could be?

Mr. Koch, thank you for the discomfort.

You’ll enjoy this if you like
: Bret Easton Ellis, Irvine Welsh, Chuck Palahniuk

Avoid if you dislike: The sinister side of civilised western society

Ideal accompaniments
: Barbecue, pool and alcohol. Lots of alcohol.

Genre: Contemporary fiction

Available from Amazon

From the Cradle by Mark Edwards and Louise Voss

Reviewer: Gillian Hamer, author of The Charter, Closure, Complicit, Crimson Shore & False Lights (

What we thought: I’ve read some of Mark Edwards solo thrillers in the past, so was interested to see how this crime thriller collaboration with Louise Voss would stack up. In fact, I thoroughly enjoyed the novel and thought the book was well plotted, well-paced and held the reader’s attention right to the final page.

The opening scene is quite brutal, but in a more subtle way than many crime novels that open with a big crash and bang murder scene. Here, we are introduced to DI Patrick Lennon at his lowest point in his life, which immediately sets up a bond between the main protagonist and the reader.

The story revolves around missing children investigations and murders, and the resolution of the crime or crimes was actually unique and a refreshing change from many kidnap-type plots. The particular strength of the novel for me was the characterisation. Each character, whether on the police side, the victim’s families or the suspects were well crafted and believable, with a very competent and clever use of dialogue and dialect throughout.

For crime fiction fans out there who fancy something new, this novel comes highly recommended and I look forward to reading further novels from this talented duo.

You’ll enjoy this if you like: Peter James, Val McDermid, Ian Rankin.

Avoid if you don’t like: Family secrets and lies.

Ideal accompaniments: English afternoon tea with a glass of fizz.

Genre: Crime Fiction.

Available from Amazon

Friday, 22 January 2016

Brick Walls: Tales of Hope and Courage from Pakistan by Saadia Faruqi

Reviewer: Catriona Troth

What We Thought: Pakistani American author, Saadia Faruqi, wanted to convey a different image of her native land than the one that predominates in Western media. As she says in her introduction to her short story collection, Brick Walls:

“Yes, the poverty is deplorable, the politicians are corrupt, and religious strife is troubling. But it is also a nation full of kind-hearted individuals struggling to make their society better with optimism and resolve. That’s the Pakistan I want people to know about.”

The result is seven stories that take the reader through different strata of Pakistan society, from Lubna, a domestic cook battling a false accusation of theft and Asma, a single mother struggling to pay for medicine for her sick child, to Rabia, a wealthy young woman courting her brother’s disapproval by helping out at a clinic in the poorest part of town. There’s Farzana, a mother of grown up children living abroad who must come to terms with her changed life, and Faisal, disappointed in love, whose broken heart leads him into the company of extremists.

Two characters who beguiled and surprised me were Nida, a nine year old girl determined to prove herself worthy to play street cricket along with the boys, and Javed Gul, a rapper carving out a career in a district where, until recently, the Taliban banned all music.

The stories do not shirk to address poverty, extremism and corruption, but they brim with life and hope. In other hands, Rabia’s story could have fallen into the stereotype of a Muslim woman controlled by her family, yet Faruqi delivers an ending that is neither predictable nor saccharine.

If you want to learn about the real Pakistan behind the headlines, this is a good place to start.

You’ll Enjoy This If You Loved: Kartography by Kamila Shamsie, Moth Smoke by Mohsin Hamid

Avoid if you dislike: Tales that defy easy stereotyping.

Perfect accompaniment: Shami kebabs with roti, raita and chutney

Genre: Short Stories

Available from Amazon

On The Move: A Life by Oliver Sacks

Reviewer: Rebecca Johnson

What we thought: It emerges from Dr Oliver – of hat-mistaking and awakenings fame – Sacks’ autobiography that he was something of a Jekyll and Hyde: the genial doctor had a secret night-time (and weekend) existence, which he reveals in his own account of his life. Not that Sacks was evil, like Mr Hyde, but he was gay (in a time when to be gay was still illegal). This came as a surprise to me – although clearly his close friends and acquaintances (including writers such as Auden and Thom Gunn) knew this – as he was not officially ‘out’ until almost the end of his life. Nor does he make a political issue of his sexuality; while not being secretive, he writes about only a small part of life in San Francisco and New York’s gay community, a life which his few photos hint at tantalisingly. 

A strange life, then, lived in the public eye but in the shadow of what appears to have been a life-long burden of shyness, discretion, and – although he does not dwell on it – loneliness, regarding the truth of his own personal feelings. At one point in an interview for a hospital position he blurts out that he has not had sex for 35 years. If anything is a surprise, in the autobiography of a man who was so widely admired and who made so much of his life and work public, it is this. We all thought we knew Dr Sacks from his many fascinating books: the warm, enthusiastic, humane, indefatigably curious and eloquent neurologist who introduced the world to many of the bizarre fragilities of the human condition, especially the human mind. It turns out we didn’t, and Sacks had a fragility all of his own.

Perhaps – and in parallel – the other unexpected aspect of his life is its physicality, in someone so devoted to concerns of the mind and intellect. As a young man in London he had a passion for motorbikes and was a member of the Ton Up club, doing 100mph circuits of the North Circular, and in the United States, where he emigrated early in his career, he befriended Hell’s Angels. He became a champion weight lifter in his early days on Muscle Beach in California, while studying for his US qualifications. And he retained a passion for swimming and snorkelling throughout his life, swimming whole circuits of City Island where he lived. He would take off to ride for hundreds of miles across states at the weekends from San Francisco, visiting Las Vegas and the Grand Canyon and barely sleeping, or sleeping rough. He makes no secret, either, of his prolonged experimentation with recreational drugs, mainly amphetamines. He also played the piano and his knowledge of and interest in music is dispersed through the autobiography in the same way as are his references to eminent friends and their work and to detailed knowledge of a wide and fascinating range of scientific and literary subjects. Sacks was truly a polymath who lived a full and interesting life.

For a man so ultimately successful, Sacks takes pains to document his many reversals and losses along the way, providing a perspective that illuminates how much of his glittering career was felicity, how much teetered on the brink of failure and despair. At the point when he was about to become successful with the publication of his most famous work, Awakenings, he was sacked, his mother died, and in losing his job he also lost his home and most of his income. He writes, too, of his many rejected and even lost manuscripts, and the painful experiences of failed relationships, his fumbled experimental science career, and his self-confessed personal awkwardnesses. His modesty is endearing, enlightening and encouraging. And yet his charm and underlying strength of character meant that he came through to find his own way.

Dr Sacks takes us through the background to and composition of his well known books, from his first publication Migraine through Awakenings to The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat, and A Leg to Stand On, about his struggle to recover after a serious leg injury. He also narrates his relationships with illustrious friends and acquaintances: Jonathan Miller, W H Auden (who left him all his LPs and 78s), poet Thom Gunn, the eminent Soviet neuropsychologist A R Luria, Robert de Niro (about whom he tells a very funny story), and Robin Williams among them. He also tells the stories of the equally extraordinary members of his family: his eminent gynaecologist mother, his dedicated GP father, his autistic brother, his amazing Auntie Len, all in the same gently humorous, forgiving and warmly appreciative style. He bats off the many criticisms levelled at him of his life’s work decisively, yet with equal charm and grace, although he felt for a long time that he didn’t receive suitable recognition from the medical profession.

Dr Sacks’ work is always a pleasure to read, and beautifully written, full of humour, insight and revelation. I might have wished that he had been a little less circumspect and discreet about his personal life and the circles he moved in, as he is clearly a wonderful gossip, and the stories he tells about people are almost always to their credit rather than his own. As with most autobiography, there is a sense of judicious omission in many areas. The memoir is in a way a prolonged note of thanks and acknowledgement to everyone who has been formative in his life and work, including, finally, the late-life love of his life. “Let your last thinks all be thanks” as the line he quotes from Auden has it. Oliver Sacks died in August 2015 only a few weeks after the publication of this book.

You will like this if: you like Awakenings, The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat, popular psychoanalytic writers such as Adam Phillips, or you are generally curious about the human condition, medical discovery, and how we function.

Avoid this if you don’t like: medical or scientific detail or what makes people tick – or “tic”.

Best accompanied by: two half-gallon jugs of cider, a squid dinner and an L-Dopa cocktail.

Genre: autobiography/memoir, popular science/medicine.

Available on Amazon

Human Rites by JJ Marsh

ReviewerAnne Stormont

What We Thought: The latest book in JJ Marsh’s series of European based crime thrillers features Scotland Yard’s Detective Inspector Beatrice Stubbs. It had a lot to live up to in terms of my expectations as I’ve read and very much enjoyed the three previous books. It didn’t disappoint.

Beautifully described and fascinating settings, compelling, suspenseful and twisting plotlines and a cast of wonderful characters both familiar and new. You don’t have to have read the earlier books in order to follow this one. Like the rest, this also works as a standalone, but it is nice to be re-united with characters you’ve become fond of.

Beatrice’s old friend and neighbour, Adrian, is back, as is his now-ex lover Holger. Her grumpy boss Hamilton and her not-living-together yet partner Matthew also feature once more. However, some captivating new characters appear. What’s not to love about the septuagenarian art expert, Frau Professor Eichhorn who has a Howard Jones hairstyle and wears a red coat and black boots? Hairy and adorable Daan and his crazy husky, Mink. Catinca, Adrian’s new assistant in his wine shop, described as Bow Bells meets Bucharest makes a disproportionately big impression considering her short amount of page time. Likewise Tomas, the socially awkward, computer data-analyst member of the German police team is a minor but memorable character. And what a wonder is the tastily handsome, but also nuanced and layered, character of German Detective Jan Stein.

The plot has two main strands. The criminal investigation requires D.I. Stubbs to leave her London base and travel to Europe to work on a series of art thefts in London, Amsterdam, Berlin and Hamburg. These aggravated burglaries are efficiently organised and co-ordinated, and also target a very specific form of German Expressionist art.

The other unrelated problem is a possibly malevolent stalker threatening Adrian, one of Beatrice’s closest friends. By getting away from the stress and fear of the situation, he hopes he can regain some perspective. These two storylines provide a good balance. There’s the logic, control and rationality of the police investigation with its insights into the methods and teamwork employed. And alongside there’s the fear, suspense, suspicion and twists of the stalking situation.

The action takes place mainly in Hamburg and on the island of Sylt, just off Germany’s north-western tip. Hamburg in the December snow, with its wide streets, its waterways and bridges, and its spires, museums and galleries is so beautifully described that I’ve now added it to my ‘cities to visit’ list. And, there’s one moment when the sighting of a sinister figure against this backdrop recalled for me the mysterious appearances of the small, red-hooded figure in Venice in the Daphne du Maurier story Don’t Look Now.

The island of Sylt is vividly presented as a beautiful but remote and windswept place, the perfect location in which to isolate a character in potential danger. Woven throughout the action there are small but significant moments of introspection such as when Beatrice reflects on her bipolar condition via the concept of an ‘inner pigdog’ (yes, you read that right), or contemplates her approaching retirement from the police force and finally settling down to live with her partner. Some moments are unexpectedly poignant––one in particular stands out as unexpected but affecting. And the issues raised by the characters, their motivations and situations, also cause the reader to reflect on friendship, compassion and love, on the facts of ageing and mortality, but also on greed, obsession and hatred.

And finally, as an already smitten fan of Beatrice Stubbs, I was delighted to see several new Beatricisms. I counted six instances of her taking a well known saying and mangling it to great comic effect – for example ‘no more exciting than watching pants dry’. And I also learned two new words––imbiss which is a German word meaning snack and sphenisciphobia which is the fear of nuns or penguins. Who knew? Not me.
But what I do know is that Human Rites is a first class novel and is in the running for my favourite read of 2015.

Type of read: Glass or two of Barolo or other quality red wine to hand, curtains drawn against the wet, windy night, log fire, comfy chair and dog curled up at your feet. Relax in the lamplight and enjoy!

Genre: Crime

Available on Amazon

Saturday, 16 January 2016

The Round House by Louise Erdrich

Reviewer: Catriona Troth

What We Thought:

A few months ago, Ann Morgan (from A Year of Reading the World) and I asked Native American book blogger, Debbie Reese, what adult book by an indigenous writer she would recommend. Her answer, unhesitating, was The Round House by Louise Erdrich.

Set in 1988, The Round House is the story of the unravelling consequences of the rape of an Anishinaabe woman in North Dakota, as seen through the eyes of her 13 year old son.

The novel opens on a moment of normality – a boy and his father working quietly together to pull up saplings that threaten the foundations of their house. When Joe’s mother does not return in time for dinner, they drive round looking for her, thinking perhaps that her car has broken down. Then they find her sitting in the car, “her hands were clenched on the wheel and she was staring blindly ahead.”

At first, Joe’s mother, desperate to protect another young woman and her child, will not speak about what happened. But bit by bit, the story reveals itself. She was raped in a place where the boundaries of different lands meet, making it almost impossible to determine who is responsible for prosecuting the case.

The novel was inspired in part by the Amnesty report from 2009 – the Maze of Injustice – which revealed that at least one in three Native women will be raped in their lifetime. Native women are 2.5 times more likely to be raped or sexually assaulted than other women in the US. 86% of those rapes are committed by non-Native men, often with additional violence. Prosecution is further complicated by such a tangle of jurisdictions – federal, state and tribal –that frequently no action is taken at all.

Seeing the case through Joe’s eyes allows us to understand, at the most intimate level, how rape effects the family and the whole community. But at the same time, Erdrich finds ways of showing us a bigger picture – one that tells of the rape of Indian lands by the white settlers.

Joe’s father is a judge in the native courts. When Joe starts to realise how limited his father’s jurisdiction is, he shows him how the legal precedents he and his fellow Native judges set are built above a rotten foundation of case law, going back to the early 1800s, that stripped Indian tribes of their right of self determination.

“Everything we do, no matter how trivial must be crafted keenly,” he tells Joe. “We are trying to build a solid base here for our sovereignty.”

Threaded through the novel, too, are the stories told by Mooshum, Joe’s Métis grandfather, who is old enough to remember a time when the Anishinaabe people starved because of the loss of traditional hunting grounds, as the buffalo were slaughtered and they were driven onto ever-shrinking reservation lands.

Mooshum also tells him about the wiindigoo – a person possessed by a spirit that would make them "become an animal and see fellow humans as prey meat". "The thing to do," his grandfather explains, "was you had to kill that person right away."

Louise Erdrich is an enrolled member of the Turtle Mountain Band of the Anishinaabe (also called Chippewa in the US and Ojibwe in Canada), so her portrait of life on the reservation is rooted in reality. These are not the romanticised Indians of the Great American West, but flesh and blood people struggling to survive.

The book is full of wonderful, unexpected, characters, like Grandma Thunder, one of those "Indian grandmas where the church doesn't take, and who are let loose in their old age to shock the young". Joe and his friends help out at ceremonies, like the sweat lodge, that barely ten years earlier, were still illegal to practice. The book explores the tensions that still exist between the Catholic Church and traditional religion.

Above all, however, this is a story of the end of childhood, the loss of innocence, and the intense friendships of early adolescence. Joe and his best mate, Cappy, hover on the edge of boyhood – in one breath imagining themselves as characters in Star Trek, the next falling in love with his aunt’s “full, delicate, resolute and round” breasts. But the events of that summer will force them to grow up in the most painful way possible. Joe, faced with the probability that his mother’s attacker will never face prosecution, will have to make choices that no one, let alone a boy of his age, should ever have to make.

You'll Enjoy This If You Loved: If I Ever Get Out of Here by Eric Gansworth, Peace Like a River by Lief Enger

Avoid If You Dislike: Stories that centre around violence against women

Perfect Accompaniment: Frybread with meat and beans, topped with grated cheese.

Genre: Literary Fiction, Fiction by Indigenous Writers

Available from Amazon

Music from the Fifth Planet by Anne Nicholls

Reviewer: Barbara Scott Emmett, author of Delirium: The Rimbaud Delusion, The Land Beyond Goodbye, and Don’t Look Down.

What We Thought: First of all, ignore the cover completely. When I first saw it, it made me think this was a collection of bog standard science fiction stories which didn’t especially appeal. Fortunately, I looked inside and discovered it was anything but what I had imagined. There is some sci-fi in this collection but it’s certainly not the main thrust of the anthology, though all the stories are in some way speculative.

Music from the Fifth Planet by Anne Nicholls is eclectic and well written; the offerings range from the futuristic to pastiches of the short fiction of the past. Actually, ‘pastiches’ probably isn’t the right word as even the stories set in the past are as original as those set in the future or the altered present. We visit different countries, different times, different planets and different realities; from China in the early 20th century, to Sherlock Holmes in the 19th, from lost valleys to high tech futures, from mysterious deaths to vengeful artists.

There is something for everyone here – humour, action, literary language, imaginitive plots and fascinating characters. Sometimes the plots are confusing and seem not to be fully resolved but the writing is so good this hardly matters. I found the stories gripping even while I was puzzling at the outcomes or lack thereof.

There is no doubt Anne Nicholls is a talented and intelligent writer; the worlds she creates are fully rounded, visual, and beautifully described. As much as anything, it’s the way these intriguing stories are told that holds the reader; the wit, humour and sense of justice shines through.

You’ll enjoy this if you like: Good writing in a variety of genres.

Avoid if you dislike: Vague outcomes and puzzling resolutions.

Ideal accompaniments: A tankard of blood at the Carpathian Arms.

Genre: General/Speculative Fiction. Short stories.

Available from Amazon

My Brilliant Friend by Elena Ferrante (translated by Olivia Goldstein)

Reviewer: JJ Marsh

What We Thought:

On the surface, this is a coming-of-age novel set in the late 1950s in a poor, violent suburb of Naples. Yet it has depths of love, beauty, politics, social observation, spite, generosity and anger all rendered in sparkling prose.

The reader is immersed in this Southern Italian environment, narrated by Elena Greco, whose entire story of her growth and development into her late teens is refracted through the lens of comparison. Lila Cerullo is a wild, stubborn, intelligent, spiteful and completely hypnotic eight-year-old. Elena is drawn to this bright flame, despite her fears. The two support and compete, discuss and fantasise, gossip and observe their world as best friends. Small gestures of cruelty are followed by selfless acts of love, constantly testing one another and keeping score.

Ferrante’s cast of characters is broad and its hierarchy rigid. Brutal threats between neighbours, families, lovers are rarely idle and an undercurrent of honour, vengeance and blood runs just below the surface.

Passions and dramas abound on the small stage of their little community, set against a greater backdrop of the recent war, political extremism and the importance of having the right connections.

Ferrante is an extraordinary writer, able to observe the smallest details in grains of sand, then rush you through a scene such as the fireworks on New Year’s Eve so you feel exhilarated and unnerved. It’s a world you don’t want to leave. Thankfully, you don’t have to. This is the first in her series of Neapolitan novels. So that’s my Christmas sorted.

You’ll enjoy this if you liked: Accabadora by Michaela Murcia, Nervous Conditions by Tsitsi Dangarembga, To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee.

Avoid if you dislike: large casts of characters, domestic dramas, the male-dominated attitudes of the time

Ideal accompaniments: Pasta Puttanesca, a glass of Greco di Tufo and a sun-warmed balcony (or flickering fire).

Genre: Literary fiction, In Translation

Available on Amazon

Friday, 8 January 2016

The Lost Thorn by Joshua P. Aguayo

Reviewer: JW Hicks

What we thought: The Lost Thorn is a sci-fi tale seeped in cyberpunk strangeness delivering a fast-moving shockingly tense narrative that grips to to the very last page.

The author gives the reader a fabulously realistic and horrifically descriptive portrait of an addict hooked on the toxic drug Obsidian Dust; a poison she needs to ‘stay alive’, escape reality and be taken to another place. Despite knowing the consequences: the after burn agony, the holes drilled into her memory, and the bleeding and disorientation that follows a dust-blitz, she submits willingly to the burn. She has no choice, as the reader will discover.

Sam – Samantha Merling Thorn de la Rosa – orphaned by the mega corporation ClearSightEnterprises and shadowed by a corporation watchdog, is daughter to a mage, murdered because of his amazing talent. After his death she allies herself to the criminal drug producers, enemies of CSE. The story-thread, the hows and whys of what Sam is and what she does, winds through a rich and exciting narrative like a poisonous scary-coloured serpent, leading readers through secret upon secret until they arrive at the dramatic and complex conclusion of this terrific and so very satisfying futuristic novel.

The strong, even compulsive storyline easily overcomes the occasional translation glitch. Three quarter way through with the tension ratcheting tighter and tighter, I found my heartbeat racing as I devoured Aguayo’s words like a starving raptor its prey.

A terrific read. Highly recommended.

You’ll enjoy this if you like: William Gibson. Pat Cadigan.

Ideal accompaniments: A fortifying fruit punch and a large dish of nibbles.

Genre: Futuristic fiction. Cyberpunk.

Available from Amazon

The Mermaids Singing by Val McDermid

Reviewer: Gillian Hamer, author of The Charter, Closure, Complicit, Crimson Shore & False Lights (
What we thought: As I have recently done with Lee Child, I decided I wanted to start the Wire in the Blood series by Val McDermid on audio from book one, so having dipped into this author’s books only randomly in the past, I found myself back in 1995 with a book titled The Mermaids Singing.

The novel was much darker than I had expected if I’m honest, with the torture and murder scenes described in vivid detail. The thread written from the killer’s POV I found very dark and disturbing and gave a real chill to the novel.

Lead protagonist, Tony Hill is a much more complex character than I remember from television adaptations. When he becomes drawn into a serial killer investigation, he finds himself dealing with his own insecurities as well as assisting the police by trying to identify patterns in the killer’s behaviour. And just as he begins to piece together what could turn out to solve the case, he finds himself more involved than he would have dreamt possible.

The crimes are clever and also gory, and the plot well-paced and full of tension. The reader is left with lots of questions throughout which keeps you turning the page. All of the characters were very strong, I particularly liked the complex tension between Hill and Carol, the female DI who was police liaison officer. I found I had guessed much of the plot a fair way before the end, but there were some clever twists that made for an exciting conclusion.

A strong start to the series and I’m looking forward to working my way through them all!    

You’ll enjoy this if you like: Peter James, Patricia Cornwell, Ian Rankin.

Avoid if you don’t like: Serial killers, torture and psychologists.

Ideal accompaniments: A light salad and dry white wine (to cleanse your palate as you may not feel much like food while reading the novel!)

Genre: Crime Fiction.

Available from Amazon

Epitaph for a Working Man, by Erhard von Büren (translation by Helen Wallimann)

Reviewer: by JJ Marsh

What we thought: The first English translation of Erhard von Büren’s Swiss novella Abdankung is a quiet, understated and thoughtful piece which leaves echoes. Haller, an elderly man lives out his days in a care home, doing the odd job here and there in his previous role as a stonemason.

His son narrates the tale with a mixture of detachment and close observation of the minutiae of daily life in a cool, almost dazed prose. Life and death, unemployment and keeping busy, infidelity and the practicalities of being a house husband occupy his mind while an undercurrent of concern and curiosity regarding his father draw him back to Breitmoos and the Löwen pub.

The tone of distanced yet genuine love creeps up on you so that the reader begins to feel true affection for old Haller and his preoccupations – his insistence on working for two francs an hour, his opinion of the doctor who would set up a practice in a village without a pub, his bluff regard for his neighbours.

Somehow, this book has a very Swiss-German quality. On the surface, it is remote and unemotional. Yet there is real warmth and heart to these characters which makes them hard to leave. As if you didn’t realise how much you’d miss them till they were gone.

You’ll enjoy this if you liked: L’Etranger by Albert Camus, The Twin by Gerhard Bakker, Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro.

Avoid if you don’t like: Quiet storytelling, undramatic episodes

Ideal accompaniments: A selection of Swiss cheeses, coffee with Kirsch and Herbert Grönemeyer playing in the background.

Genre: Literary fiction, In Translation

Available on Amazon