Book Reviews

Book Reviews for July 2020

Book Reviews for July 2020

Here are my book reviews for July 2020 – a bestselling police procedural; a literary novel by a multi-prize-winning author; and a collection of flash fiction.

Their Little Secret by Mark Billingham

DI Tom Thorne is called to a tragedy on a railway line. It’s an obvious suicide, but discussion with the victim’s family leads Thorne to believe a mysterious conman might have driven the woman to take her own life. Despite the conman’s moral culpability, it’s a case for the fraud team, not the murder squad, so Thorne reluctantly steps away. Then the conman’s DNA turns up at murder scene, along with evidence that he wasn’t acting alone. Game on for Thorne and his colleague DI Tanner, but can they trace the conman-turned-killer and his female partner before a spate of serial killings ensues?

Almost from the start, we know the identity of the villainous pair. As we get into the viewpoints of both murderers, the question is why? Or even: why on earth? The depictions of sexual manipulation and dangerous power play between the killing partners are absorbing as well as uncomfortable. You want to look away but can’t resist watching their evilness unfold. The why of their joint enterprise, together with a secondary who question introduced later, become the driving forces of the novel.

It’s my first visit to the series and I’m sure Thorne and Tanner fans will enjoy this latest outing, but there is also much here for psychological thriller enthusiasts. It’s a definite page-turner.

Lanny by Max Porter

Robert, Julie and their young son Lanny have moved out of London to a village.

Robert still works in London and doesn’t entirely trust the countryside so spends as much time as possible at work.

Julie [It’s Jolie. Sorry, Jolie.] is a crime writer, trying to put a brave face on her life, her marriage and her son. (Did I detect authorial leakage in the disparaging thoughts by and about Jolie and her writing? What’s wrong with crime fiction, Max?) Lanny is a strange, happy little boy, in tune with nature but, possibly, out of tune with most of his peers.

Jolie asks elderly artist Pete to give Lanny art lessons, partly to develop Lanny’s natural creativity, but also to tap into some handy afterschool childcare. Pete is reluctant but soon grows fond of the boy’s old-soul company.

In Part One, we see life from the viewpoints of Lanny’s Mum, Lanny’s Dad and Pete. But overseeing the action is another narrator: Dead Papa Toothwort, an eternal man of the woods who entwines forest folklore with snippets of mundane village conversation and presents them as swirly patterns of print on the page. The patterns become more frequent and lines cross each other as Part One comes to an end and Papa Toothwort decides it’s time to shake things up.

Part Two. Lanny has gone missing. The story continues to jump in and out of the viewpoints of the principal players: Jolie, Robert and Pete. We also hear the commentary of the villagers who make their various pronouncements on the case. Nathan Filer described the book as “Under Milk Wood meets Broadchurch.” An apt description for Part Two.

In Part Three, Papa Toothwort leads his players to a satisfying conclusion. The surrealist descriptions reminded me of Kafka’s The Trial.

Lanny is a quick, lyrical read that made the Booker longlist in 2019. It would have been my winner. I will seek out Max Porter’s first book, Grief is the Thing with Feathers, soon.

On the Edge of a Raindrop by Sarah Brentyn

This little collection of short fiction provided a pleasant change of pace and rounds off my Book Reviews for July 2020. At only 48 pages, it might be described as a quick read, but it is one I took my time to savour. Some of the pieces are a few lines long, some are a couple of pages. Some are stand-alone, others are connected. It was nice to take a step back and really enjoy the writer’s play with language. It’s currently available on Kindle for 99p. If you like something a little different, it’s worth having a look at this.

With thanks to author Graeme Cumming whose review alerted me to the book.

My Writing News

This month I worked on edits for my agent and attended a Virtual Writing Summer School at the University of Birmingham.

My husband and I went on our first journey since lockdown to clear our daughter’s university flat. We called into a nearby shopping centre for our first non-essential shop in four months. I was delighted to see The Roommates in The Works, mixing and matching with such big names as C.J. Tudor, Michael Wood, Rebecca Tope, C.K. Williams and James Patterson. The Roommates is available in most branches of The Works in the “three for £5” offer.

The Good Teacher is now out in Italy. Yesterday, I was delighted to come across a lovely five-star review. Google Translate reliably informs me it says: “Superb…finished with a smile, it really satisfied me.” Positive reviews give authors such a boost, and getting one in another language made my day.

By Rachel Sargeant

Rachel Sargeant is a British author. Her latest thriller, The Roommates, is a Closer Magazine "Must Read". Her other titles are The Good Teacher, The Perfect Neighbours and Gallipoli: Year of Love and Duty. Rachel won Writing Magazine’s Crime Short Story competition and has been shortlisted in various competitions including the Bristol Short Story Prize. She was born in Lincolnshire and is a graduate of Aberystwyth University. She now lives in Gloucestershire with her husband and children.

Comments (1)

  1. Sarah Brentyn 30th July 2020 at 4:47 pm

    Thanks so much for the mention. 🙂 Glad you enjoyed my little book of flash.

    These both sound like great reads. I’m looking forward to GITTWF by Max Porter–it’s on my threatening-to-topple-and-bury-me TBR pile.

    Cheers!

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