“The Widow” and “Recipes For Love & Murder” are both hard to put down
BOOK OF THE WEEK
The Widow by Fiona Barton is published in hardback by Bantam Press. HOTLY tipped as 2016’s The Girl On The Train, The Widow certainly comes with great expectations as this year’s unputdownable psychological thriller. Fiona Barton’s crime debut is an emotional rollercoaster from the get-go. The titular character is Jean Taylor and the novel maps her journey as the loving and devoted wife of accused murderer, Glen.
Each chapter is told from a different perspective of those involved in the case, including the sceptical detective, the savvy reporter and the worn-down widow. Barton expertly jumps back and forth between time frames from the original date that ‘Baby Bella’ vanished from her front garden, to the present day where Jean Taylor is dealing with the repercussions of her husband’s sudden death.
As the story unfolds, Barton sheds light on the turmoil that Jean faces, desperate to protect the man she loves, but each day growing more concerned for the truth about Bella’s disappearance.
The reader soon discovers that Jean and Glen’s relationship was riddled with its own problems; Glen’s secrecy, Jean’s obsession with children and the fact the couple were never able to reproduce. The character of Kate, the hardnosed reporter is also fascinating as she manages to gain the trust of many of the key players within the case.
As the story develops, it is extraordinary to watch the changes in each character, as new pieces of information are revealed from past and present. This progression is beautifully crafted and we soon start to question the honesty of Jean’s perspective and she transforms into the ultimate unreliable narrator.
As an ex-journalist, Barton writes with conviction, clarity and a shrewd understanding of the ruthlessness of the UK media. The permeating sense of ambiguity that runs through the novel keeps the reader guessing at every turn and allows us to understand how hard it must be to cope when your husband is branded as a monster. A fast-paced, relevant and gripping read, The Widow isn’t one to be missed. 9/10 (Review by Heather Doughty)
Recipes For Love & Murder by Sally Andrew is published in paperback by Canongate. THE colourful backdrop for this debut novel is South Africa’s beautiful but unforgiving semidesert region, Klein Karoo.
Meet Tannie Maria, still bearing the psychological scars of her late husband’s brutality.
Although she lives alone, with just her chickens and local wildlife for company, she bakes cakes, milk tarts, rusks, jams and stews to dole out to friends and those who need them most.
Everything changes when she becomes an agony aunt for the local newspaper and begins her unique brand of rescuerecipes – mouth-watering dishes tailored to solve the problem.
But when she receives a cry for help from a battered wife who is found dead shortly afterwards, she becomes embroiled in a dangerous murder investigation.
Author Sally Andrew, who lives in a mudbrick house on a nature reserve and camps in the wilderness, was an environmental activist and it shines through in her passion for the land.
Bravo for a funny, poignant celebration of life, love and food, which handily contains Tante Maria’s delicious recipes at the back.
9/10 (Review by Gill Oliver)
Strictly Between Us by Jane Fallon is published in paperback by Penguin. THIS lively and witty novel from bestselling novelist Jane Fallon follows the success of her previous page-turners such as Getting Rid Of Matthew, The Ugly Sister and Skeletons. It tells the story of Tamsin and Michelle, who have been inseparable since childhood and have shared everything together.
When singleton Tamsin hears rumours that Michelle’s husband is cheating on her, she sets her trusted assistant Bea on a mission to seduce him as a test. Bea, who is reluctant at first, eventually agrees, but as the story moves on, it seems she has her own agenda...
This is a fantastic exploration of friendship, infidelity and trust and is pacey, original and really enjoyable. Fallon’s characterisation is always spot-on and this book is no different, with well drawn out characters and a tight plot that barrels along towards a brilliant climax.
9/10 (Review by Georgina Rodgers)
The Promise by Robert Crais is published in hardback by Orion. THE Promise is the 16th novel in Robert Crais’ series of books following LA detectives Elvis Cole and Joe Pike. But this time they are joined by LAPD officer Scott James and his faithful patrol dog Maggie, the heroes of his stand-alone novel Suspect.
The two worlds start to collide right from the opening chapters, when Cole’s investigation into the disappearance of a grieving mother leads him to the same house that James is chasing an armed thief into. What James discovers inside the building immediately throws his life into danger, and it is soon in all their best interests that the woman is found.
Flitting between narratives, the tension is held taut and the action doesn’t stop. The inclusion of chapters from Maggie’s point of view are a bit ridiculous, and Crais’ love of dogs is maybe pushed too hard. However, with themes of terrorism, war and the devastating nature of loss running throughout, this is a clever tale that is much more than just another cheesy thriller.
The Promise is a far-fetched adrenaline ride that will provide some unexpected twists for loyal Crais fans, as well as those who are just discovering him. 8/10 (Review by Harriet Shephard)
I’m Travelling Alone by Samuel Bjork is published in hardback by Doubleday. AS another Nordic novel translated into English, this debut offering from Samuel Bjork has a lot to live up to. Inevitably it’s going to be compared to the likes of Jo Nesbo and Stieg Larsson. The novel is already a bestseller across Europe, and UK TV rights have been sold, so does it live up to the hype?
The story centres around ex-detective Mia Kruger and veteran police investigator Holger Munch as they come together to solve one of the most terrifying cases of their careers. A young child is found hanging from a tree, with an airline tag around her neck which reads ‘I’m travelling alone’. She won’t be the only one...
Whilst the story is well written, and the plot twists along nicely to keep the reader guessing, it is all rather formulaic with a couple of crime thriller cliches thrown in for good measure. This doesn’t mean it’s a bad book, because it is very enjoyable and will keep the reader hooked to the very last page.
7/10 (Review by Rachael Dunn)
The Expatriates by Janice YK Lee is published in hardback by Little, Brown. THIS new novel, by the author of the bestselling The Piano Teacher, is another story of love and loss set in Hong Kong, but this time in the present day. It revolves around three American women who, between them, dramatise the politics and protocols of this highly stratified expat community.
Hilary is a wealthy lady who lunches, and despairs of ever conceiving a child with the corporate-lawyer husband she never sees. Happily-married mother of three Margaret, another wealthy expat, looks to have it all. And then there’s Mercy, a recent Columbia graduate who’s short of funds and struggling to find a lasting job or relationship.
Slowly and subtly, the novel weaves together the lives of these three people in poignant and tragic ways. Margaret’s youngest child is abducted in Korea when in the care of Mercy, whom she had hired as a nanny. Then Hilary’s husband David decides to quit his marriage, and has a feckless affair with Mercy, who becomes pregnant.
The writing is crisp, tender and melancholic. And though the abduction element did not entirely convince me and the ending seemed a tad pat, the delineation of this painfully hierarchical and oddly artificial society – a world of westerners in corporate aspic, haunting the same old haunts, their every need served by Asians they don’t even notice they are patronising, is fleshed out in subtly damning detail.
7.5/10 (Review by Dan Brotzel)
The Long Room by Francesca Kay is published in hardback by Faber & Faber. THE Long Room is where Government “listener” Stephen Donaldson spends his working day taking notes from bugged phone calls. He was recruited for the secret service hoping to be a spy but is stuck – an eavesdropper desperate for fieldwork. He’s a naive loner who often drifts off into a fantasy world and imagines seducing the woman of his dreams, Helen Greenwood.
One snag is she is the wife of his co-worker Jamie, whose calls Stephen is monitoring as he is a suspected double agent. As Stephen’s lustful daydreams of Helen spiral, he takes risks to bring about Jamie’s downfall. Can he cover his tracks and snare the woman he loves?
Francesca Kay’s third novel is an exciting thriller that twists and turns to the last page. Her obsessive anti-hero is likeable but infuriating in equal measure, as he’s intelligent but has no common sense. Prepare to throw the book in frustration.
7/10 (Review by Caroline Firth)
And Yet... Essays by Christopher Hitchens is published in hardback by Atlantic Books. HITCHENS’ death in 2011 robbed the world of one of its foremost critics of cant, tyranny and puritanism. The essays, articles and reviews here are previously uncollected (though not ‘unpublished’ as the jacket claims – an omission a living Hitchens would surely not have countenanced), perhaps because, alas, they’re not always among his best work.
A piece on GK Chesterton seems too fixated on Chesterton’s ideological sins to sufficiently admit his skills as a writer; an aside elsewhere on the phrase ‘more heat than light’, whether disingenuous or genuinely missing the point, seems uncharacteristically wrong-headed.
Still, elsewhere the penetrating eye, powerful mind and excoriating wit are on typically fine form. Nobody agrees with everything Hitchens wrote, not even Hitchens (one of the anti-christmas essays here is admitted in its successor to be “straining for effect”), but even off-par, he reminds us how diminished our cultural sphere is by his passing.
7/10 (Review by Alex Sarll)
Dark Matter And The Dinosaurs: The Astounding Interconnectedness Of The Universe by Lisa Randall is published in hardback by Bodley Head. IF you’ve been craving a more substantial read following a season of stocking stuffers, renowned theoretical physicist Lisa Randall’s latest book might be just what you’re looking for. In Dark Matter And The Dinosaurs, she suggests a wildly exciting idea – that dark matter could be responsible for influencing the movement of
celestial bodies. As a result, she suggests, the asteroid or comet falling to earth that brought about the extinction of the dinosaurs could be down to this invisible force – and, in turn, have had a huge influence over the development of our own species too.
Randall is transparent from the off that this is a theory – not proven fact. So as a result, you’re drawn on an exciting journey exploring the depths of her ideas. What’s great is that Randall’s style is plain, clear to understand and engaging, even when she’s exploring the kinds of concepts that you’d usually only find inside a university’s physics department.
It helps, of course, that dinosaurs have captured our imaginations since we were children. A great read for a little more perspective than usual.
8/10 (Review by Amy Nicholson)
Why Fonts Matter by Sarah Hyndman is published in paperback by Virgin Books. CAN fonts really alter the taste of your food? Or even change what certain words mean to you? One graphic designer certainly thinks typography plays a big influence in our lives and that we respond emotionally to fonts – whether we know it or not.
Sarah Hyndman, who has worked in the industry for over a decade, explains how fonts have different personalities while pointing out that there’s a subtle art behind how they elicit emotional responses. Hyndman uses the example of American clothes retailer Gap, who changed their logo five years ago to a new font, only to scrap its redesign and revert back to the original logo following protests from loyal customers.
The author also makes another point about typeface, saying that research suggests fonts on food packaging are “designed to stimulate a craving or hunger”.
Bottom line, next time you come across fonts splashed on a can of baked beans, or pick up a magazine with beautiful cursive writing, there’s a chance they are subtly speaking to you.
7/10 (Review by Nilima Marshall)