Llanelli Star - - BOOK SHELF -

LADY IN THE LAKE by Laura Lipp­man, Faber & Faber, £12.99 (ebook £6.99) ★★★★★

IT is 1966, Mad­die is Jewish, in her late 30s, di­vorced (more or less), and de­ter­mined to be a re­porter, what­ever any­one says.

She lands a job as an as­sis­tant at the Bal­ti­more Sun, and two deaths help Mad­die on her way: A Jewish girl killed in a pet shop and a young ne­gro woman found in a foun­tain.

Mad­die be­comes ob­sessed with Cleo Sherwood, the ‘lady’ in this Raymond Chan­dleresque ti­tle and dredges the murky story, de­spite warn­ings to stay away – in­clud­ing, oddly, from the dead woman.

Lu­mi­nes­cent writ­ing, im­mac­u­late plot­ting and mul­ti­fac­eted sto­ry­telling make for an in­ge­nious and sat­is­fy­ing read.

THE NICKEL BOYS by Col­son White­head, Fleet, £16.99 (ebook £8.99). ★★★★ ★

THE Pulitzer Prizewin­ning au­thor of The Un­der­ground Rail­road de­liv­ers an­other sear­ing in­dict­ment of in­jus­tice and suf­fer­ing.

It’s 1960s Florida and black stu­dent El­wood Curtis, guilty of noth­ing more than naivety and ide­al­ism and in­spired by a worn-out record­ing of a Martin Luther King speech, finds the door slammed shut on his dream of a bet­ter life when he is thrown into the Nickel Academy. Osten­si­bly a ju­ve­nile re­form school, it is in re­al­ity a cham­ber of hor­rors.

As he is taken un­der the wing of the more cyn­i­cal Turner, El­wood at­tempts to hold on to Dr. King’s words but soon dis­cov­ers there is no promised land, and in the end, he is forced to take a stand to try and right ter­ri­ble wrongs.

White­head’s pow­er­ful prose is a cool study of an era which still shakes the foun­da­tions of the US to­day. In­spired by shock­ing events at a real re­form school, some­times the truth suf­fo­cates the story and there are some over-fa­mil­iar tropes.

Not quite the must-read which led to the run­away suc­cess of The Un­der­ground Rail­road, but close enough for fans old and new.

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