By Gaslight – Steven Price

By Gaslight - Steven PriceGenerally I read mostly contemporary fiction but the historical fiction presented in this book is fascinating and entertaining because of a vivid description of context: the American Civil War with violence and sickness and cruelty, and London in 1885 with orange-yellow fog and a trip into the sewers! The book describes an intricate cat-and-mouse conflict between two men over several decades: a master and mysterious thief and an obsessed detective (a Pinkerton). The back story unfolds in many flashbacks, the classic slow reveal of motives and actions. Very enjoyable.

Into The Water – Paula Hawkins

Into The Water - Paula HawkinsThe huge success of The Girl On The Train meant high expectations for Hawkins’ next book, and Into The Water delivers, in my opinion, another well written mystery/thriller. The setting is Northern England, a town with a drowning pool where too many women have drowned over many centuries, usually under mysterious circumstances. Many standard issues are present: lies and deceit and memories that are selective. The key relationship is between two estranged sisters – how did this estrangement begin and how did it evolve? The outcome, aka big reveal, is tantalizing and completely surprising. A thoroughly enjoyable read.

Nutshell – Ian McEwan

Nutshell - Ian McEwanFirst, a confession – my opinion on McEwan books runs hot and cold: there are great books (Atonement, Amsterdam, On Chesil Beach) but many are not so great, in my opinion. This new novel belongs firmly in the great category. First, there is a unique point-of-view; the narrator is an 8-month fetus. The description of his acquisition of consciousness is fantastic, and sage commentaries on placenta-filtered wines are provided. And then there is the great prose: “Long ago, many weeks ago, my neural groove closed upon itself to become my spine and my many million young neutrons, busy as silkworms, spun and wove from their trailing axons the gorgeous golden fabric of my first idea, a notion so simple that it partly eludes me now”. Exquisite writing.

The Dust That Falls From Dreams – Louis de Bernieres

The Dust That Falls From Dreams - Louis de BernieresDe Bernieres wrote the delightful Corelli’s Mandolin, and his latest book is also excellent. The setting is Britain in 1914. The horror of WWI, the mud and stink and brutal death, is described vividly. Also, very precise details of flying are detailed. But this is a book about relationships within the McCosh family, in particular the 4 sisters. At times, the book is a tender love story that also touches on grief and religion. The relationships are often complicated: a sister loves someone who does not love her in return, and vice versa. There is some wry humour, particularly the class-conscious matriarch Mrs. McCosh who should be played by Maggie Smith if this story is ever adapted for film or theatre. Overall, a very entertaining story.

The Little Red Chairs – Edna O’Brien

The Little Red Chairs - Edna O_Brien
An astonishing book: the seduction by an evil person, the desperate lives of the displaced and dispossessed. The title refers to a 2012 commemoration of the siege of Sarajevo: 11,514 red chairs were placed in rows, one for each person killed in the siege that lasted for almost 4 years. What is remarkable about this book is that it is an Irish woman, Fidelma, who is the central core to the story which takes place in Ireland and England. Thanks Mike, for this recommendation.

Swing Time – Zadie Smith

swing-time-zadie-smithAn un-named narrator tells a story that alternates between two times: childhood in NW London in the 1980s, and adulthood in the 2000s. All the important relationships in the narrator’s life are with women: her mother, her friend Tracey, and her employer Aimee, a Madonna-like rock star. A sub-plot in Africa is especially rewarding. Smith’s prose is insightful, she is an acute observer of the narrator’s world. This is sensational writing, the best of Smith’s books so far.

The Widow – Fiona Barton

the-widow-fiona-bartonThis contemporary novel is a very well-written story about a child abduction in Britain. The story unfolds Gillian Flynn-like with an alternating time frame and chapters from different points of view: The Detective, The Reporter … The Widow is a stand-by-your-man wife so her psychology unfolds ever so slowly. Several characters in this book are overcome by obsession. This is a very good companion book to Zoe Whittall’s The Best Kind Of People in that the main focus is on the aftermath of a traumatic event.