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June 2019

THE BODY LIES . . . Between the covers

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As the immortal Juliet once asked, “What’s in a name?” To her, not very much, as I recall, but it takes a brave novelist – such as Daphne Du Maurier in Rebecca – to keep the narrator and central character anonymous. Jo Baker uses this literary ploy in her latest novel, The Body Lies. Even the title is ambiguous, but the young woman at the centre of this dark domestic thriller is anything but anonymous or sketchily drawn.

TBL coverIn the absence of a name, what do we know of her? She is a writer who, like so many others in real life, has been published but needs a day job to stay afloat. She is married to a rather dull but worthy London schoolteacher. They have a young son, Sammy and, in an effort to re-establish her identity she makes a successful application for a lecturing job at a university in the north of England. Husband Mark is unwilling to leave his post, and so they agree to live separately but meet up at weekends. At the very beginning of the novel the woman is assaulted by a stranger while she is out jogging: the attack is not physically serious but leaves deep mental scars.

She finds herself in a provincial university which is aspirational rather than distinguished, and once she has conquered her nerves about delivering lectures, her main challenge is to conduct tutorial sessions with a group of would-be authors, each drawn to the crime fiction genre. The students are a diverse bunch: a voluble and emotive American woman who is, if nothing else, extremely ‘woke’; a suit-and-tie solicitor who is a fan of gritty police procedurals where the corpses are invariably female; most troubling – and troubled – is a young man called Nicholas who is writing a stream-of-consciousness narrative about a mysterious death which could be suicide, or then again….

When Nicholas and his tutor go beyond the accepted boundaries of student-teacher relationships, the story moves from a wry and sardonic satire on the political and social politics of schools and universities, and takes on a much darker hue. Nicholas disappears, but sends in the weekly updates to his work-in-progress via email – and they are nothing more or less than a blow-by-blow account of his most recent sexual encounter.

Jo BakerAll the familiar tropes of modern British domestic noir kick in, to good effect. We have a stalker, marital infidelity, a woman alone in a remote cottage, the debilitating after effects of recreational drug use, a murder disguised as a suicide and, tellingly, a very scary confrontation on a Wuthering Heights-style moor.

Jo Baker has written an intriguing and very clever novel which, while asking probing questions of readers and writers of crime fiction regarding their tolerance of the woman-as-victim trope, never preaches. Her nameless but vividly real central character is memorable for her courage, resilience and sheer humanity. The Body Lies is published by Doubleday and is out on 13th June.

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ON MY SHELF . . . June 2019

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A MISCHIEVOUS BOOK PERSON on Twitter last week sought suggestions on trigger words in CriFi book titles which induce an automatic sinking feeling in the prospective reader. I weighed in with  ‘Papers‘, ‘Code‘, ‘Conspiracy‘, ‘Legacy‘, ‘Ultimatum‘ and, worst of all, the one which will have me reaching for the nearest box set of DVDs or even checking out the backlog of Peppa Pig episodes I record for my granddaughter, the dreaded four-letter word ‘Girl‘. Happily, those fateful words are missing from a bumper crop of new books on my shelf.

KEEP YOU CLOSE by Karen Cleveland

Keep You CloseA writer who spent years working for the CIA and the FBI – as well as graduating from Trinity College Dublin and Harvard – is going to be an author to be reckoned with. Karen Cleveland’s 2018 best-seller Need To Know hit all the right buttons for readers who like psychological anxiety, tension and that delicious schadenfreude  that washes over us when we watch someone’s domestic bliss unravel. Cleveland taps into her FBI background with her latest thriller, as FBI analyst Steph discovers something in her teenage son’s bedroom which turns her world on its head. This is out in Kindle on 13th June, in hardback on 27th of the month, and is published by Bantam Press.

 

CLEAR MY NAME by Paula Daly

Cover037Carrie Kamara languishes in prison, sent down after an open-and-shut investigation and trial where she was convicted of murdering her husband’s mistress in a cold blooded attack fueled by humiliation and jealousy. The evidence? DNA. Conclusive, isn’t it? Or is it? Tess Gilroy is a tireless campaigner for Innocence UK, a charity which exists to overturn miscarriages of justice. When she takes on Carrie’s case she is initially swept along by her burning desire to establish the truth, but as she mines down into the detail of the case, she realises, to her horror, that she will be forced to confront some very uncomfortable issues of her own if she is to secure Carrie’s freedom. Again, this is from Bantam Press but you will have to wait until 8th August to get your hands on a copy.

ONE WAY OUT by AA Dhand

One Way OutThe issue of Muslims in Britain, and the extent to which they do – or don’t – integrate with mainstream non Islamic communities is a source of continuous political and social media debate where, as a rule, more heat than light is generated. Dhand has established his Bradford-based copper D.I. Harry Virdee with three previous novels, Streets of Darkness (2016), Girl Zero (2017) and City of Sinners (2018). Now, Virdee becomes personally involves in a campaign by an extreme right wing group who are targeting Muslims in the Yorkshire city of Bradford. The Patriots have one specified target, the leaders of a group of Islamic extremists known as Almukhtaroon. Virdee has to make decisions which threaten not only his own life, but the lives of his family – and the future well-being of thousands of fellow Bradford citizens. I promise I am not it the pay of Bantam Press, but this is one of theirs, too, and it will be available from 27th June.

J SS BACH by Martin Goodman

JSSBThe author is a distinguished British academic who has written extensively on Roman and Jewish history. There are no Romans in his latest book – a work of fiction – but the fate of European Jews in the late 1930s is examined here in painful detail. Otto Schalmik and his family are dragged from their Vienna home and sent first to Dachau, and then to Birkenau. Due to his consummate skill as a cellist, and the intense love of Bach displayed by the camp commandant and his wife, Otto survives. Years later, when he is an internationally revered artist, his world and that of the commandant’s wife and granddaughter collide, with unexpected personal consequences. Published by Wrecking Ball Press, Martin Goodman’s novel is available now.

A KILLING SIN by KH Irvine

AKSIrvine’s novel, like One Way Out, visits the fraught and potentially explosive world of relations between British Muslims and their host country. Islam. Is it a religion? Certainly. Is it a race? Well. clearly not, as the faith bestrides many nationalities. Is Islam immune from criticism? Here lies the rub, explored in painful detail in this startling debut from an author who grew up in Scotland and now lives near London. The book was her 50th birthday gift to herself, believing you are never too old to try something new. Her day job has taken her to board rooms, universities and governments all over the world and has included up close and personal access to special forces. In A Killing Sin, three women from across the religious, political and racial divide in modern Britain find that their lives mesh together against the backdrop of a national political and social emergency. A Killing Sin will be published by Urbane Publications on 4th July.

THE BOY WHO FELL by Jo Spain

TBWFJo Spain has a dazzling ability to write stand-alone crime novels which hit the spot every time, but she is also canny enough to know that most crime readers like a good series, and hers is right at the top of the  ‘unmissable’ list of modern police procedurals. In his latest case, Dublin copper Tom Reynolds has just been promoted, but he is asked to take an interest in an uncomfortable case which is well below his new pay grade. A teenager appears to have been pushed to his death from the window of an abandoned house. The case has extra spice because the house was the scene of a savage domestic murder years earlier and the dead boy is judged by the pathologist to have been the victim of a homosexual rape shortly before his death. Reynolds takes on the case as a favour to a fellow Garda Síochána officer who is related to the mixed race teenager suspected of the rape and murder. Quercus will be publishing this latest episode in the casebook of Tom Reynolds on 27th June. For more on Jo Spain and to discover why I am a huge fan of her writing, click this link.

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