Cosy crime, downright horror and the return of Lucy Barton … Orna Mulcahy chooses books to read now
Crime is paying spectacularly well for Richard Osman who has spent the last two years as a near-permanent fixture in the bestsellers charts. His Thursday Murder Club series, featuring a quartet of brainy retirees who solve “cold” murder cases, is now on book three with combined sales of well over a million copies. What’s the appeal? Perfect escapism. The world may be a frightening place, but in Coopers Chase, a retirement village somewhere in Kent, things feel reassuringly safe in the hands of the four pensioners – an ex-spy chief, a psychiatrist, a trade union boss and a former nurse who loves baking. Yes, there are diabolical villains to confront, but there is also a nice cup of tea and doggy chats to be had at the end of the day. Book three, THE BULLET THAT MISSED (Penguin Viking, €24), sees the club tackle the decade-old murder case of TV reporter Bethany Waites who was investigating an case of fraud when her car was found tipped over a cliff with her bloodstained clothes inside. TV colleague Mike Waghorn, who has never got over her death, is easily drawn in by the elderly sleuths. Soon the four are confronting cryptocurrency kings and a drug queen running her empire from a prison cell. Osman is an expert storyteller, reeling in the reader with intriguing plot lines and a great sense of humour. This is cosy crime comfort reading at its best.
Lucy Barton is back! In Elizabeth Strout’s latest book, LUCY BY THE SEA (Viking, €17.40), the virus has hit New York and, writer Lucy is still recovering from the death of her second husband. Sensing that things will get nasty, Lucy’s former husband William persuades her to pack up in a hurry and move with him to Maine. She agrees in a kind of daze and soon finds herself in a cold and lonesome clifftop house where on a trip to the grocery store she runs the risk of being shouted at to go back to New York. Lucy frets for their grown-up daughters who are isolating elsewhere and finds William both annoying as hell and quite attractive. Could Covid bring them back together again for good? Lucy’s observations are sharp as ever, her recollections of childhood just as ghastly. Instead of a happy ending, there are hints of what might happen next. The story goes on.
It’s London in the roaring 1920s and the champagne is flowing in SHRINES OF GAIETY (Doubleday, €16.26), Kate Atkinson’s latest novel set largely in and around a string of drinking dens frequented by dukes and actresses. Owner Nellie Coker rules her empire, and her six children, with iron discipline but a recent spell in prison has made her feel her age even as rival operators begin to move in. When fresh-faced Gwendolen joins the staff, her eldest and smartest son Niven is intrigued. He knows she’s not as she seems and indeed the former librarian is on a mission to discover a missing girl, last seen at a Coker establishment. Highly atmospheric.
Plucky librarians are at the heart of the OUR MISSING HEARTS (Abacus, €23.25), the latest novel from Celeste Ng of Little Fires Everywhere fame. In a dystopian tale set in future America, twelve-year-old Bird and his father, a former professor who now stacks bookshelves, live a quiet life mindful of a new law called PACT – Preserving American Culture and Traditions which came in after the great Crisis, a time of food and energy shortages and a rise in anti-Chinese sentiment. The law allows for children to be removed from parents identified as unpatriotic, which could have spelled danger for Bird had his mother Margaret, a Chinese-American poet, not disappeared. Could she be trying to get back in touch? A mysterious letter carries a hint but Bird will need help from a group of librarians who are part of the growing Resistance.
THERE’S BEEN A LITTLE INCIDENT (Head of Zeus, €16.26), the debut novel from Alice Ryan, is an exuberant family saga that centres on Molly, a cherished orphan who ups and disappears. Aunts, uncles, cousins and a best friend delve into their collective histories for hints as to where Molly might be but all roads lead back to Annabelle, Molly’s magnificent mother who died in a tragic accident a decade earlier. The formidable Black family bristles with charming eccentrics, each of whom carries sadness or torment. The Blacks “don’t stop talking. They don’t stop meeting. They don’t stop phoning. They were insufferable.” Good reasons for Molly to run away, but when her exit coincides with the disappearance of a young nurse, the Blacks are determined to find answers. Ryan writes with a featherlight touch but her message is supremely warm and hopeful. Love really does conquer all.
Things take a very dark turn from the start in Sophie White’s WHERE I END (Tramp Press, €15) a first novel from the memoirist and journalist who delves deep into the mental torment that motherhood can bring. The setting is a remote island with a nightmarish topography starting with a gritty windy beach rising up to a cliff edge where unspeakable things have happened. The last house on the rise is home to Aoileann and her grandmother Móraí, who between them care for Aoileann’s mother, a bed-ridden husk of a woman who was brought to the island by Móraí’s son, resulting in a horrifying event to be revealed later in the book. White draws the island in relentless greys and black, the house with its windows blocked up with stones and its locked cupboard containing everything that’s sharp. Aoileann sees a chance to escape when an artist and her baby come to live on the island. Like the wind that tears through the island, the book rushes towards an evil conclusion.
In 2009, sculptor Eoghan Daltun sold the Kilmainham cottage he had built from a ruin and bought an abandoned farm on the Beara peninsula with glorious views and over 40 acres of wild woodland. AN IRISH ATLANTIC RAINFOREST: A PERSONAL JOURNEY INTO THE MAGIC OF REWILDING (Hachette, €19.74) is his fascinating account of moving his family to Eyries and slowly restoring the farm and renewing the woodland to the point where it’s now “simply exploding with biodiversity”. While there’s plenty of personal detail about making the big move, the book is more a manifesto for saving our own corner of the planet through letting things be.
Queen of the withering put-down, Marina Hyde has been puncturing egos for over 20 years as a Guardian columnist, and she’s not done yet. Now a collection of her most chortled-over columns is to be published by Faber in WHAT JUST HAPPENED?! DISPATCHES FROM TURBULENT TIMES (€20.46). Boris of course features in many of the columns in various guises (who could forget Shagatha Christie) but imbecile politicians in general as well as showbiz darlings, reality TV stars, Donald Trump and other famous narcissists get a good trouncing from one of the funniest women on the planet.
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