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March book reviews

The pick of the latest hardbacks, reviewed by Simon Evans

Original_Sins_book_cover.Original Sins, by Erin Young

This is the second novel in what will hopefully be an extended series featuring likeable, troubled female cop Riley Fisher. Newly relocated to Des Moines, Iowa, following the shocking events of the excellent first book in the series, The Fields, Riley is having to effectively start again, alone and adrift.

Troubled by her difficult family background and lingering ghosts from her traumatic past, Riley also has to deal with a partner she’s not entirely sure she can trust as she investigates a death threat against the newly elected state governor that may or may not be linked to a brutal serial attacker known as the Sin Eater.

It’s a compelling, fast-moving read, and I can’t wait for the third instalment.

Published by Hodder & Stoughton Price £20 Pages 352 ISBN 9781444777819


My_Mother_and_I_book_front_coverMy Mother and I, by Ingrid Seward

Hard on the heels of Robert Hardman’s revelatory biography of King Charles comes this book by another renowned royal chronicler, covering similar ground but with the emphasis very much on the sometimes-rocky relationship between our monarch and his late mother.

Seward details the King’s rather bleak early life and reveals the telling detail that Charles still carries round a teddy bear with him wherever he goes; a reminder, perhaps, of the normal childhood that was denied him.

The relationship between Charles and the then-Queen reached its lowest point with the divorce from Diana, but by the time of Elizabeth’s death it was the warmest it had ever been. So distraught was Charles in the immediate aftermath of his mother’s passing that it was left to the ever-reliable Princess Anne to take charge and look after family members as they arrived at Balmoral to pay their respects.

The book is full of such details and, inevitably, there is an account, admirably balanced and nuanced, of the ongoing Harry-Megan saga right down to Prince Phillip’s rather telling nickname for Megan, DOW (Duchess of Windsor).

Admirably concise and consistently engaging, this is an object lesson in how royal biographies should be done.

Published by Simon & Schuster Price £25 Pages 304 ISBN 9781398515178


The_Dream_Home_front_coverThe Dream Home, by TM Logan

When Adam, Jess and their three young children move into their dream home, a rambling Victorian villa in a posh area of Nottingham, the future seems bright. But there are already dark undercurrents, with Adam keeping a potentially devastating secret from his wife.

Then there’s the hidden room he has discovered, containing an apparently random selection of objects – which is when things start to get really sinister, for it turns out a mysterious disappearance from 20 years ago appears to be linked to the house. And then the threats start…

TM Logan is one of Britain’s great thriller writers and this is right up there with his best.

Published by Zaffre Price £16.99 Pages 432 ISBN 9781804181324


The_Rejects_book_cover.The Rejects, by Jamie Collinson

The subjects of Jamie Collinson’s enjoyable book are the also-rans of pop history, the men and women eased out of groups, either on the cusp of fame or at its height, who are now barely remembered.

Sadly many never recovered, and there’s a preponderance of lives cut short by various forms of abuse. Others, however, were able to find new pathways in life, and no story is more remarkable than the former Nirvana guitarist who, after being thrown out of the band, became in turn a soldier, philosopher and poet.

So perhaps, amidst all these tales of woe and disappointment, there is a lesson to be learned - never give up.

Published by Constable Price £25 Pages 439 ISBN 9781408717967


Little_Englanders_book_front_coverLittle Englanders, by Alwyn Turner

In his excellent histories, which have mostly focussed on life in the second half of the 20th Century, Alwyn Turner has drawn heavily on the popular culture of the time to give a flavour of a particular decade, year, or era. While this can result in a certain lack of archival rigour it does bring the subject alive, and this latest book, which takes as its subject the Edwardian era, is no exception.

Although it takes its name from the reign of King Edward VII, from 1901 to 1910, the Edwardian period is usually extended to encompass 1900 to the outbreak of the First World War in 1914.

Although usually regarded as a period of decline following the great innovations and transformations of the Victorian age, Turner prefers to see the Edwardian era as a period of consolidation and anticipation.

The arrival of the motor car and the gramophone would prove to be increasingly important as the century progressed, and the emergence of the Daily Mail and the popular press was also a sign of change in the air. The increasing influence of cheap American fiction was another harbinger of what was to come, fears over its corrupting influence being the first of many moral panics that would swirl around popular culture in the decades ahead.

The end of the Edwardian era, just before the First World War, is often romanticised as a last metaphorical golden summer before the industrialised slaughter of 1914-18 ushered in a more brutal world. Turner insists that is something of a misnomer, with industrial unrest, political strife, the rise of Irish nationalism and the impoverished state of what were then called the ‘lower orders’, hardly speaking of a nation at ease with itself before the war.

“With seemingly insoluble problems mounting up at home, and with wars and rumours of wars abroad, it came to seem as though the very fabric of society was unravelling, and there was much trepidation about what might lie ahead.”

Sound familiar? Turner is describing the late Edwardian era, but he could just as easily be writing about Britain today. As a Zen master once noted, everything changes, everything stays the same.

Published by Profile Price £25 Pages 402 ISBN ‎9781800815308


The_Devil_You_Know_book_coverThe Devil You Know, by Neil Lancaster

This is the fifth in the excellent Max Craigie series of Scottish-set crime novels and, for all the plaudits justifiably heaped on its predecessors, this is the best of the bunch so far.

Described by one villain as the last honest copper in Scotland, DS Craigie faces a daily battle against the remnants of a particularly nasty gangland family, careerist superiors more interested in watching their back than fighting crime, and, worst of all, corruption in the ranks, with someone close to the latest investigation leaking information, with devastating results.

The murder of a Polish sex worker six years before was seemingly ordered by someone in a very powerful position indeed, and they will, it seems, stop at nothing to preserve their nasty secrets. It all adds up to Craigie’s toughest, and most absorbing, case to date, an absolutely compelling read.

Published by HQ Price £16.99 Pages 384 ISBN ‎9780008551322


The_North_will_Rise_again_bookThe North Will Rise Again, by Alex Niven

Mixing personal reminiscence with political, historical and cultural analysis, Alex Niven looks at how the part of the country we know as the North, once the driver of modernity and innovation, has lost its way in recent times, a victim of long-term deindustrialisation, austerity and the breakdown of community

But he also sees hope in the resilience of the North, “a country apart from England… where a mostly forlorn desire for things that might be, rather than things that have been, is a sort of unshakeable collective inheritance.” Only by reviving this sense of ‘radical regionalism’, Niven argues, can the North once again recover its sense of purpose, its very soul.

It’s a thoughtful, wide-ranging book full of big ideas, and whether or not you always agree with the author’s point of view, the questions he raises are important and worthy of consideration.

Published by Bloomsbury Continuum Price £20 Pages 336 ISBN 9781472993465


Also recommended, in hardback and paperback:


Lewis_Carrolls_guide_for_insomniacs_book_coverLewis Carroll’s Guide for Insomniacs, compiled by Gyles Brandreth and originally published in 1979, is now available in a new edition, from Notting Hill Editions (£12.99). It’s an enjoyable mixture of puzzles, games and rhymes, all devised by Alice In Wonderland’s creator Lewis Carroll, himself a renowned insomniac, with the aim of allowing the user to surrender to the arms of Morpheus. And, believe me, it works…

1999: The Year the Record Industry Lost Control, by Eamonn Forde (Omnibus Press, £27.60), is the rigorously researched story of how the music business was upended by the arrival of digital downloads and the concomitant rise of illegal file-sharing, and Pulp’s This Is Hardcore is the latest album to come under the spotlight in the excellent 33 1/3 series (Bloomsbury Academic, £9.99), with former Britpop mover and shaker Jane Savidge examining how the 1998 record sounded the death knell for Cool Britannia…

The_Teashop_girls_at_war_book_coverThe Teashop Girls at War (Pan, £8.99) is the third novel in Elaine Everest’s compelling series of novels set during the Second World War, following the fortunes of girls working for the Joe Lyons teashop. This instalment is set in 1942 and catches up with the girls as they pray for the safe return of their loved ones. And The Wartime Book Club, by Kate Thompson (Hodder & Stoughton, £22), is an absorbing novel set in 1943 and based on the women who joined the resistance in Jersey during the German occupation…

 The Achilles Trap, by Steve Coll (Allen Lane, £30) untangles the people and geopolitical forces involved in America’s decades-long relationship with Saddam Hussein, culminating in the disastrous war with Iraq, and Politics, Poverty and Belief (Bloomsbury Continuum, £10.99) is the autobiography of former Labour MP and minister Frank Field…

With Formula One in the headlines recently, for all the wrong reasons, Joshua Robinson and Jonathan Clegg’s The Formula (Monoray, £22) is a timely, in-depth examination of the rise of F1 and the weird mixture of speed freaks, obsessive petrol heads, engineering whiz kids and single-minded entrepreneurs behind it…

The_24th_hour_book_coverGiven the police seem reluctant to solve much crime these days it’s a good job that murder clubs seem to be springing out all over the place, with plucky pensioners and feisty females bringing the bad guys to justice, in fiction at least. Latest off the blocks is The 24th Hour (Century, £20) a new addition to James Patterson and Maxine Paetro’s Women’s Murder Club series, and a case that’s a little too close to home for the ladies…

Iris Costello’s The Story Collector (Viking, £8.99), is an historical mystery that tells of three women, separated by time and circumstance, a long-buried secret, and a story that could free them all, and Katy Massey’s gritty debut crime novel All Us Sinners (Sphere, £16.99) is set in 1977 Leeds against the backdrop of the Yorkshire Ripper murders, vividly evoking the atmosphere of fear that prevailed at the time…

The Assassin (Canelo, £18.99) is a fast-moving espionage thriller, written by diplomat and former 10 Downing Street Foreign Policy advisor Tom Fletcher, which concerns a High Commissioner whose attempts to free his daughter, kidnapped by Somali terrorists, lead to him uncover a murky trail of conspiracy and murder, and The Eye Collector, by Sebastian Fitzek (Head of Zeus, £9.99) is the first in an unsettling new trilogy from a master of European psychological fiction…




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