Sunday, 30 December 2007


AUTHOR: C. J. Sansom


DATE READ: December 2007

NOTES: The third Mathew Shardlake novel is excellent. The lawyer this time finds himself sent north to join with King Henry’s Progress to the North in 1541. As well as helping with some legal petitions he is also required to oversee the welfare of a prisoner, Broderick, who is being held in York before being sent to London for further questioning – and a certain death.

But nothing is as it seems and a multi-layered plot of heresy, greed and fanaticism ensues as Shardlake uncovers a conspiracy that could unseat the King. The Tudor England portrayed is not one of elegant court manners and devoted commoners. Instead he reveals a brutal and harsh regime with constantly changing mores – a regime in which just the knowledge of certain information could lead to execution.

The logistics of the Progress in the North are superbly well drawn, as are the scenes in the boat and in the Tower of London. His assistant Barak has developed well as a character and is a good counterweight to Shardlake. Although over 600 pages it is a very fast read – I found it hard to put down and it made a wonderful post-Christmas read.

Surely this can’t be the last we will hear of Matthew Shardlake? He is young enough for more adventures – and lots more conspiracies and political chicanery to come with Edward VI, Lady Jane Grey and Mary Tudor.

Thursday, 20 December 2007


AUTHOR: Catherine OFlynn


DATE READ: December 2007

NOTES: A very accomplished debut novel. A young girl who wants to be a detective regularly stakes out the local shopping centre making notes and looking for suspects accompanied by her loyal sidekick – a toy monkey. Twenty years later the ramifications of her disappearance are still being felt by people who knew her.

There are some great characters sharply defined and the atmosphere of both the 1980s and the present day well drawn. But central to the story is the Green Oaks shopping centre – glitzy and attractive to customers but tawdry and creepy to the staff who work there. There is a black comedic thread running through the story – the Mystery Shopper is fantastic!

But there is an underlying sadness – loss of love, loss of ideals, guilt and lack of ambition. But O’Flynn handles this all brilliantly and I found I could not put the book down. And for once all the loose ends were satisfactorily tied up……

Very highly recommended. This book well deserved its place on some prestigious book prize lists. One of my top ten books of the year - am now pressing it on others to read!

Tuesday, 18 December 2007


AUTHOR: John Fowles


DATE READ: December 2007

NOTES: As fresh and intriguing as on my first reading of this book. The Victorian age is brilliantly portrayed from the genteel pretensions of Lyme to the rough and tumble of the seedier parts of London. The main characters are strongly portrayed. Would-be paleontologist Charles is from a comfortable upper class background but condescends happily to become engaged to Ernestina who is a pleasant but shallow daughter of a prosperous middle class draper. But into their lives comes Sarah, the enigmatic woman who is rumoured to have been “ruined” by a liaison with French seaman.

Fowles is particularly good on the class war and social mores of the time: The attitude of society to Sarah is shocking as is the off-hand way in which servants are treated. When Ernestina’s father suggests that Charles join the drapery business he is truly aghast at the idea even though he has no career in mind.

Sarah remains ambiguous – we are left uncertain as to whether she is manipulative and self-absorbed or badly treated and depressed. Throughout the book she both irritates and evokes our sympathy.

The other central character is the writer himself. He drops in and out of the writing, discussing the motives of the characters and suggesting three different endings. This works superbly.

Tuesday, 11 December 2007


AUTHOR: Peter Hoeg


DATE READ: December 2007

NOTES: This is a complex crime novel. At its heart is Smilla, a feisty independent woman. Her Inuit ancestry makes her very much an outsider in Denmark – the iciness of the winter is reflected in her perceived coldness of the Danes around her. When her seven year old Greenlander neighbour, Isaiah dies she is convinced it is not an accident and sets out to find the truth.

There are some great characters in the book – all well drawn: Jakkelson, Lukas, Isaiah. The dialogue is sparky and often funny. The descriptions of ice and snow are brilliant, as are the flashbacks to life with her mother in Greenland. The pages are scattered with Inuit words which gave an added layer of authenticity and there are some wonderful descriptions of ice and snow (and Smilla’s affinity to them both)

The earlier parts of the book are brilliant and made compelling reading. Unfortunately as the plot becomes more and more convoluted it developed into a sort of sci-fi thriller and the ending is a bit of an anti-climax.

A book to be read in winter curled up in a warm place drinking hot chocolate!

Tuesday, 4 December 2007


AUTHOR: Patrick Gale


DATE READ: November 2007

NOTES: When Rachel Kelly dies the emotions felt by her family veer from sadness to relief. A talented artist, she had always been a powerful influence on her children who grew up in awe and fear of her mood swings and erratic behavior due to her mental problems. The book moves from present day Cornwall to Toronto in the 1960s and the story of each member of the family is gradually allowed to unfold, their struggles and their successes, their longings and their fears. The chapters open with a different “note from an exhibition” – each one intriguing and fascinating in its own way.

Rachel’s background is a mystery – she refuses to talk about where she comes from apart from vaguely alluding to Canada. After her death her husband Antony, encouraged by her oldest son, begins to seek out her origins.

The Quaker faith of Antony gives the book a calm still heart which contrasts well with the difficulties weathered by the family.

Above all it is an optimistic book that shows that although the family has had to endure the pain and misery of living with mental illness they can nonetheless find strength and happiness through the love and memories that they all share.

I struggled towards the end of the book between wanting to know Rachel’s story but not wanting the book to end! It is the first Patrick Gale book I have read – but I’ve already started looking out for his other work.