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The Devil's Claw - Lara Dearman

Jenny has moved back home to Guernsey after the death of her father and a traumatic experience in London. She works as a reporter for the local newspaper and whilst out on assignment comes across the body of a young girl. Her investigation into the girl’s death leads her to links to other deaths over the last 50 years. With DCI Michael Gilbert she discovers that a serial killer may have been hiding in plain sight on the island for over half a century.

 

I loved the setting of the novel. The island location helps to add a layer of claustrophobia, despite the beautiful landscape. It was the threat of being on a relatively small geographical area with a serial killer that made the story seem like that it was a closed room mystery.

 

There are a variety of characters, all of them adding to the story. Michael is tenacious, principled and still haunted by the loss of his daughter. He is driven by her death to find the truth about the drownings. He works well with Jenny who is also a determined character and not just because of her journalist background. The two have both lost loved ones to the sea and this shared trauma helps them to bond. The fact that Jenny isn’t bound by the same procedural restrictions as Michael also makes them a good team.

 

The unique political and historical background for the island was fascinating and added a richness to the story. I had guessed the identity of the killer before the reveal but it was still fun to read how Jenny and Michael come to the same conclusion. There were some parts of the story that seemed a little long, though I put this down to the fact that I had identified the culprit and was waiting for the characters to catch up, and the pace picked up as the story progressed to it’s conclusion.

 

An enjoyable introduction to Jenny and Michael. I’m looking forward to reading more from Lara Dearman in the future.

Too Close to Breathe - Olivia Kiernan

Detective Chief Superintendent Frankie Sheehan has just returned to work after a traumatic event in which she nearly lost her life. Her first case appears to be a suicide but Frankie is quick to spot a clue that shows the death was caused by someone else. Soon the gears are in motion to track down the killer. And then another body is found.

 

Don’t be misled if you start to read this novel and think you’ve arrived in the middle of the series. You haven’t. Frankie was involved in an incident and has just returned to work when the body of Dr Eleanor Costello is found. She is still dealing with the ramifications of that previous event as she comes to investigate an apparent suicide that is in fact murder. As the story progresses Frankie has to face that history to discover what is happening in the here and now.

 

Frankie is brittle, dedicated and takes no-nonsense. She is hard-working and expects that from her team of detectives. She doesn’t come across as that friendly, except with her boss Jack Clancy and fellow detective Baz. The relationship between these three, and Frankie and Baz in particular, brought light relief to what is otherwise a dark novel.  It is the theme of the novel that makes it so dark, BDSM and the desire to feel death without dying is central to the plot but is not used in a gratuitous way. The story travels from Dublin to the coast and becomes a little more personal for Frankie when events happen in her home town. The reader is given only a brief glimpse into her past, but the feeling is there that these are to sow the seeds for further revalations in later books.

 

Too Close to Breathe is a strong debut and opener to a new series. There are other characters that make up the team, each one with their own specialism that makes for interesting dynamics. I am hoping that future books develop the characters further (with Frankie hopefully being a bit nicer to her colleagues, particularly poor Helen). The reader can only create a small picture of Frankie Sheehan from this novel. She keeps her cards close to her chest. I get the impression almost that every reader of the book will have their own vision of who the characters are.

 

I had figured out who the culprit was which perhaps explains why I was shaking my head at Frankie as the denouement played out, wondering how she managed to get herself into such scrapes and telling her what she should not be doing. However this did not spoil my enjoyment of the story.

 

An entertaining, well written novel with an unusual plot, that moves at just the right pace. I look forward to reading more from Olivia Kiernan in the future.

Come and Find Me - Sarah Hilary

There’s been a riot at Cloverton Prison. Almost unimaginable violence had occurred and, hidden by smoke from a fire, a prisoner has escaped. Michael Vokey had been writing to two women, women who may now be in the cross hairs of a violent and dangerous man.  Now Marnie Rome and her team have to find Michael Vokey before he answers one of the women’s pleas of ‘come and find me’.

 

A new Sarah Hilary novel is always one of the highlights of my reading year. As ever with her writing, I was immediately drawn into the story, glad to be back with well-loved characters and knowing I’d be guaranteed a story with a difference. I wasn’t disappointed.

 

The chapters alternate between Marnie and her team investigating the riot and Vokey’s escape with the inner monologue of Ted Elms, Vokey’s cellmate. This allows the story to evolve in layers. I did suspect the final outcome before the big reveal but that allowed me to scour even more for clues and enjoy watching Marnie and Co reach the satisfying conclusion.

 

Familiar characters returned and whilst it was Marnie’s investigation, Noah Jake seemed to feature more heavily. The  fractured relationship with his brother Sol continued and was developed after the ending of the last novel. The main character however, was one that actually didn’t really appear on the page, that of Michael Vokey. He’s escaped at the start of the novel and we only really find out about him from the people who circled his life. The character of Vokey emerges from the narratives of Ruth and Lara, who write to him in prison, from Ted, from his prison officer, his sister and his victim. As such he is both a real character, easily imagined and something of an enigma. Aiden Duffy makes a welcome return after featuring in Quieter Than Killing. I’m not sure of the reader is supposed to be charmed by him but this reader was. Some of Marnie’s actions did leave me feeling a little disappointed with her though. Hopefully she will have seen the error of her ways before the next novel!

 

Whilst not strictly necessary I would advise any new readers to start with Sarah Hilary’s first novel, Someone Else’s Skin and to read the series in order. Mainly so that you don’t miss out on a cracking set of books.

 

Come and Find Me is a worthy addition to the Marnie Rome series. Brilliant as always.

Soviet Milk - Nora Ikstena

Soviet Milk follows the life of an unnamed doctor in Soviet governed Latvia. Her narration is interspersed with that of her daughter, also unnamed. The story follows the mother’s battle with depression and her enforced exile to the Latvian countryside by the Government and the daughter’s struggle to show her mother reasons for living.

 

This is a short novel, and like all Peirene books, one that can easily be read in a couple of hours. Also like other Peirene books it is a no less effective and impacting because of its short size. The prose pulls the reader into the story, transporting them to an easily imagined Soviet run Latvia. There is a bleakness to the tale, one interspersed with the hope of youth, the sense of change that can be felt in the air as the younger woman grows. As she ages she comes to quietly question the norm of communist rule, seeking out renegades and those fighting the system without even realising it. Her mother, conversely, was once one of those who questioned the system but has now come to feel freedom from it will never been obtained.

 

The writing is descriptive yet paired down. There is a detachment from the narrative due to the lack of names, but yet that too lends an intimacy to the tale.

 

This is by no means a cheery story, however, the development of the relationship between the mother and daughter lifts the gloom, in a realistic, understated way.

 

Each time I read a Peirene novel I’m introduced to literature I would not usually have access to. It is eye-opening, informative and thought-provoking. A worth addition to the Peirene family.

How Much the Heart Can Hold - Various

Seven stories about seven forms of love. Can there be that many really? Well yes as How Much the Heart Can Hold shows. Each of the stories in this collection focus on a different form of love: La Douleur Exquise – the exquisite pain of unrequited love; Pragma – a longstanding love; Philautia – self love, which can either be narcissism or a noble understanding of the self; Mania – a love that is without rational thinking; Storge- familial love; Eros – romantic love or desire and Agape – unconditional, altruistic love.

 

This collection takes the concept of love and turns it on it’s head. These are not traditional love stories for they are not inspired by the traditional concept of love. As you read some, the love that is the inspiration to the story is obvious, with others it is more subtle, emerging from the story sometimes after it has long since been read.

As with any collection there were stories I enjoyed more than others. The ones that standout for me are Codas by Carys Bray, White Wine by Nikesh Shukla and the final story, The Human World by Bernadine Evaristo.

 

Codas is a moving tale of familial love, in more than one respect and one in which many readers may see reflections of their own lives. White Wine is a story of self love but not of the narcissistic type. In it we see the internal battle to love who we are, that attempts to change our core to pleases others is often futile, that the issue is the other person’s alone and that this realisation is about finally loving ourselves. The Human World is based on altruistic love, of its futility and it’s reward and is thought-provoking in its concept.

 

All of the stories have the ability to effect the reader. Love is, after all, one of the ruling emotions for humans. The stories are moving, thought provoking, familiar and also unknown.

 

A varied, interesting, contemplative collection, with an unusual but effective theme.

The Division Bell Mystery - Ellen Wilkinson

A wealthy American financier is found shot dead, alone in a room. Initial thoughts are that he killed himself but parliamentary private secretary Robert West isn’t so sure, especially when the financier’s granddaughter insists that it was murder. Bob is soon caught up in trying to uncover the truth, without creating a national crisis in the process.

The setting of the Houses of Parliament lend an air of intrigue to the novel. There is something a little remote and otherworldly about this institution that everyone is aware of but where only a few know the inner workings. This book gives a little glimpse of what it would have been like 80 years ago to walk the halls and in particular give a brief insight into what it may have been like to be a woman MP.

 

There are moments that are dated but also still relevant somewhat to today. The way women are viewed, particularly in the traditionally patriarchical society of government, was more obvious now than it may have been when the book was first published. However I think that was the author’s intention. She was an MP and would have faced such treatment and thoughtless assumption that her ideals and position were secondary. West is enamoured of Miss Oissel, to the point were he is very nearly blind to everything else. He compares her to his friend Grace, barely noticing how he hurts her in the process.

 

West is a character that I both liked and disliked in equal measure. He is arrogant but almost unaware of it, which makes it somewhat more forgivable. He is dismissive of women but respects them and his stubborn nature almost means that the mystery remains unsolved.

 

The murder itself is engaging, the very definition of a locked room mystery. How can a man be murdered in a room when the only means of escape for a murderer is through a door that has three people standing outside? The denouement is given, not with a big reveal with many flourishes, but in a matter of fact manner and is somewhat tongue in cheek given it is not Bob West who finds the final clue to solving the puzzle.

 

Every book I read in the British Library crime classics has something to recommend it. There is something eminently entertaining about their novels, each one bringing with it a glimpse of the past. The Division Bell Mystery is no different. It is a worthy inclusion into the series.

The Retreat - Mark Edwards

Lucas has come to the writing retreat to write an overdue, difficult, novel, living under the shadow of his last best-seller and a personal loss. It’s just coincidence that the retreat is located in his childhood town. There he finds Julia, the retreat owner, suffering her own loss following the disappearance of her daughter and the death of her husband. Everyone tells Julia her daughter is dead but she refuses to believe them. When mysterious events begin to occur in the house rumours abound about a legendary widow but Lucas and Julia are sure they are on the hunt for more someone more real and more dangerous.

 

There is a sense of malice running through the novel. There is the claustrophobia of the small town, the fact that everyone knows everyone else. The retreat itself seems closed off, separated by Julia’s grief as much as geography. There’s the legend of the Widow, weaved throughout the story and then there’s the fact that Lucas is a horror writer so sees the macabre in things in any event and finds it easier to see the story of his bestseller reflected in his surroundings.

 

There are a host of characters that fill the story, some having more involvement than others. There’s Karen, whose claims of things going bump in the night are questioned as being the result of drug use, Max who at first appears to be nothing but a snobbish Lothario and Suzi, a fellow resident at the retreat. There are the locals who all have some secret to hide. Then there’s Lucas and Julia. Lucas is a mixture of driven and despondent. His motivation for helping Julia seems to be driven as much by desire as it does by altruism. Julia herself is understandable downcast. She flits between melancholy and fierceness, sometimes to the point where the ferocity of her actions is a little extreme.

 

There doesn’t seem to be much happening for the first third of the story and then the pace picks up and the narrative kicks in. Some parts worked better for me than others. As said previously the sense of claustrophobia and malice was created well in the story, with seeds of doubt sown throughout and the limited character/suspect pool lends suspicion to be thrown every which way. The setting of the story in the retreat worked well and I enjoyed the air of suspicion a group of people used to making things up created. It also made me want to attend a retreat and get writing, though perhaps not at this particular retreat! There were parts that didn’t work so well for me, such as a rather incongruous love scene and the last couple of pages seemed a little too much, though I could see how they could also be argued as vital to the story.

 

If you like your thrillers with a hint of horror to them then The Retreat is for you. An interesting read.

A Secret Garden - Katie Fforde

Lorna is in charge of the garden at the country house estate of childhood friend Peter. She loves her job and also happens to love Peter. Peter meanwhile has met and fallen head over heels for Kirstie. Philly ran away from home with her grandfather. Together they live in a rather ramshackle holding, where Philly can raise her plants and Grand can bake his cakes that they sell at the local market. At a dinner party held for Kirstie, Lorna meets Jack and Philly meets Lucian. But as the year goes on and Lorna and Philly work on a newly discovered secret garden it appears that not everything is coming up roses in their relationships.

 

I always find myself speeding through a Katie Fforde novel. I would have finished A Secret Garden in a day if real life hadn’t got in the way. I was soon wrapped up in the lives and loves of Lorna, Philly and their friends.

 

As I’ve come to expect there was a mixture of characters. There were the lovely ones, easy to warm to. There were the awkward ones, snobbish ones and down right rude ones. All come together to create an entertaining and warm-hearted tale.

 

Katie Fforde novels are always great escapism. I don’t care that people fall in love almost immediately, and marry at the drop of a hat. There are some who say that they can be predictable. I like that. Yes real life isn’t always like that but sometimes is nice to escape from reality. In a time where life can be anything but predictable, settling down to read a story where you know there will be a happy ending is sometimes just what you need.

 

A lovely way to while away a few hours. I’m already looking forward to the next book by Katie Fforde.

The Little Shop of Happy Ever After - Jenny Colgan

this book is known as The Little Shop of Happy Ever After in the UK but for some reason the updates I've tried to make haven't been kept.

 

Nina finds herself on the brink of redundancy. She loves being a librarian, being surrounded by books and finding the right book for the right person. But redundancy brings Nina the opportunity to open her own bookshop. It just happens that the bookshop is in the back of a van. And the need for the bookshop is in Scotland, not Birmingham where she lives. Finding the courage she didn’t know she had, Nina moves to the highlands. But things don’t always go as planned.

 

Books about books have a special feel about them. Books celebrating the love of the literary, the joy of accessing books of all forms are a bibliophile’s boon. There was a lovely atmosphere to this tale and I was soon wrapped up in the lives of Nina and co.

I loved the idea of the bookshop, tootling around the local villages, taking in all of the beautiful scenery. Some of the books mentioned in the novel were so well described that I found myself looking them up to see if they were available to buy, only to find that they were created purely as part of this story.

 

The book is full of charming characters. Nina is lovely and as the story progresses the reader sees her rediscovering herself, finding strength, confidence and drive she wasn’t aware she possessed. The villagers are a lovely bunch and together with Nina’s friends bring humour and warmth to the story. Then there are Marek and Lennox, two men between whom Nina is torn. Both bring different qualities to the story. It is though Nina who drives the narrative.

 

A lovely, entertaining way to spend a few hours. I’ll be reading more by Jenny Colgan soon.

Dark Pines - Will Dean

Tuva Moodyson has moved to Gavrik to be near her ill mother. The small Swedish town is surrounded by huge pine forests. The trouble is, Tuva isn’t a fan of the woods. Her ideal scenery would be the bright lights of a big city. She spends her days writing about the small news of a small town. Then a body is found in the forest, a man, shot, and with his eyes removed. It echoes back to 20 years ago when three bodies with similar injuries were found. Can Tuva find out who’s been hunting more than Elk before more bodies turn up?

 

There is very much a closed room feel to Dark Pines, despite it being set in the vastness of the pine forest. The many trees begin to feel oppressive, the fact that anything could be hiding just out of sight helps to ratchet up the tension. There’s also a limited number of suspects which again aids to increase the unease.

 

Tuva is a great character. Tenacious, driven, with a genuine understanding that the news matters, and that it is important to report it well. It was refreshing to realise that the reader doesn’t really know much about Tuva but is still drawn to her. We know that something happened in London when she lived there, though not what. We know she is deaf, and how that deafness came about. We find out about her difficult relationship with her mother after the death of her father. But we are never really told what she looks like, except her age and that she has hair long enough to put in a pony tail. The reader is left to create Tuva in their own conjured image.

 

There are an eclectic group of characters in Dark Pines, from the hoarder, to the lonely taxi driver and the troll whittling sisters. All add to the story, driving it along to it’s satisfying conclusion.

 

I was also endeared towards Tuva when I saw her diet of digestive biscuits for breakfast, supplemented by Thai food and wine gums, which mirrored my own favoured food groups.

 

I had figured out quite early on in the story who the killer was. However it was fun to sit back and see the story unfold. And it allowed me to indulge in worrying about whether Tuva would submit her stories in time, would she ever remember to replace the batteries in her hearing aid and whether she’d have the whole case wrapped up in time to visit her mother.

 

Sometimes an author paints such a picture of the world their story is set in that the reader becomes enmeshed in it. I was rather disappointed to turn the final page and realise I was not actually stuck in the middle of a Swedish pine forest. Though this was of course tempered by the fact that I was also not in the crosshairs of a hunting rifle.

However, the book should come with a warning that it is extremely grippy. And that you’ll need some wine gums to eat whilst you read.

 

In Dark Pines Will Dean has created a vibrant, refreshing and engaging new protagonist and has firmly cemented himself as one of my new favourite authors. I impatiently await Red Snow, the next book in the Tuva Moodyson series. Highly recommended. Now where are those wine gums I bought…

I may have bought a few books recently...

I'm trying to collect old Agatha Christie novels. I got chatting to a volunteer in my local charity shop on Monday who said she had about 20 she would bring in. Yesterday I went down for them and they said they had some old Enid Blyton books as well. I bought them all without looking at them

 

I was also in London a couple of weeks ago so had to visit Persephone Books. And a couple of second hand bookshops. And Foyles on Charing Cross Road. It's a good job I was travelling a few hundred miles back on the train otherwise I'd have bought more!

 

Perfect Prey - Helen Fields

A young man is murdered in front of a crowd of thousands, though no one sees the killer. A nurse is brutally murdered in her own home. DI Luc Callanach and DI Ava Turner soon find that their separate cases are linked. It appears the murderer is announcing their next victim and as more murders occur Luc and Ava are on a race to decipher the clues before the next person is killed.

 

This is not a slow build novel. It opens with an unusual and somewhat barbaric murder at a music festival and soon more bodies are piling up. The murders are gruesome, the kind nature of the victims making the reader perhaps feel even more sorry for them that they met such untimely and grisly ends.

 

The characters are beginning to develop more in this novel. There are flashes of humour from Ava Turner, which lighten the tone to just the right amount. The more I read of the novel, the more I liked Ava. Luc still has his issues, tied over from an incident from his past whilst working at Interpol. This lead him to move to Scotland and has had a somewhat physical effect on him. I’m going to sound very unsympathetic but his issues began to grate on me again, as they did with the first book. It seemed as if the issue was a little laboured. I was glad to see that a little peccadillo of his from the last novel didn’t emerge in this one. I was able to be a little bit more sympathetic towards him as a result. (I know this sounds a little vague but I don’t want to give too much away and spoil the story).

 

Despite my issues with Luc I still enjoyed the story. The dark web features heavily and it made the story feel all the more oppressive and gritty (in a good way) for it. It also made me glad that I really don’t know much about the dark web! The motive for the murders was dealt with in a clever way. I also love the setting of Edinburgh. The story, and back stories kept me engaged, so much so that I went to check my bookshelves to see if I had the next book in the series.

 

An entertaining, dark, interesting second installment in the Callanach series. I look forward to reading more Callanach and Turner stories in the future.

Candra's Freedom - A.J. Nuest

Rowena still cannot remember anything after she lost all of her memories, which were wiped when she crossed the veil from her world into Caedmon’s. Caedmon, the only person who can help her regain those memories has been held prisoner in Seviere, the enemy of Austiere.

However, Rowena has been busy whilst Caedmon has been away. Determined to win her freedom and flee the her castle prison Rowena has been training to fight it out it in the Gautlet, a physical battle of wills where the winner receives land and the means to pay for a life away from court.

The story details Rowena’s hardships, how she has gained the respect of the guards through her fairness and her fighting skills. Whilst she cannot recall how she arrived at the castle, she is determined not to be curtailed by it.

Caedmon, on being released, finds out how badly she has been treated and is determined to protect her. Rowena, still believing Caedmon is her enemy, wants nothing to do with him and fights her growing attraction to the prince.

She has become a warrior in their time apart and will fight for her freedom, he will do whatever it takes to keep her near him and safe.

I enjoyed this second instalment greatly. Rowena’s character has developed in such a positive way. She shows how she has become a determined fighter, not just a woman who is bound by the term sorceress. She has faced fear and violence and is determined to be a free woman, rather than give into the pressures of court. She is also determined not to rely on a man and fights the attraction to Caedmon which confuses her.

This is less of a love story and more of a tale of empowerment and determination, the search for freedom and ultimately being able to trust once more.

I couldn’t wait for part 3, Caedmon’s Curse, so I read this straight after.

Fever at Dawn - Gárdos Péter, Elizabeth Szász

Miklos is looking for a wife. Having suffered horrific suffering in Belsen concentration camp, he finds himself taken to Sweden for medical care. Whilst in his hospital bed he decides to write to the women from his home village who are also convalescing in Sweden, all 117 of them. He intends to find a wife. And he’s not going to let the fact that he’s just been told he has six months to live get in his way.

 

This story is based on the author’s parents and how they met so you can guess how it ends. This isn’t a spoiler though as the story is more about the story of how they get together, than whether they get together.

 

There are times in this book when it’s charm takes over and you almost forget it sets set against the backdrop of one of the worst times in human history. Peter Gardos weaves the romance of how Miklos and Lili meet and fall in love, in with the glimpses of the darker story of what led them to be convalescing in Sweden. The horrors of the war and their separate internment in Belsen is almost too much for them to talk about, and indeed when they do meet, one of the scenes mentions the things that they don’t discuss.

 

Miklos is a very strong willed character. He refuses to believe that he has only months to live and refuses to believe that he won’t be able to meet the woman who will become his wife. He writes to a number of women who responded to his first letter but has his sights on Lili and is determined to meet her, not concerned with the fact that he is in ill health and that Lili is at the other side of the country. He has socialist ideals, which he tries to explain in his letters to Lili.

 

It is a romantic story, though not overtly so. Miklos’ gifts show more thought and care than flowers or chocolates could and they give each other the gift of hope, something which had been sorely lacking from their lives in the previous years. Their romance is one of letters, falling for each other from a distance, indeed, falling in love with an idea rather than reality at first. But it is a love that once formed stands the test of time for the real Miklos and Lili remained together until Miklos’ death decades later.

 

This is a lovely, moving tale, made all the more so by the fact it is based on a true story. Fever at Dawn is a simply told story but this is as it should be. Whilst artistic licence has been taken, Peter Gardos has written a beautiful tribute to his parents and shows that even in the shadow of great tragedy and adversity, hope and love can still shine through.

Deadly Harvest  - Michael Stanley

A young girl goes missing on her way home from shopping. The police do little to find her and she vanishes without a trace. Months later another girl disappears, her father taking it upon himself to find out what happened to her. New detective Samatha Khama is dealing with the cases and believes the girls were taken to be used in muti, African traditional medicine. Calling on the help of Assistant Superintendent David ‘Kubu’ Bengu, Samantha is soon on the trail of a serial killer shrouded in magic and mystery.

The storyline dealing with muti was fascinating. Whilst I had heard of the traditional medicines of witch doctors I had little knowledge of this area. The basis of the witch doctors, both those who dealt with traditional herbal medicines and those who dabbled in the darker aspects of the trade was a major theme of the story. It was extremely interesting to find out more about this little known aspect of African culture.

 

The mystery itself was engaging, made more emotional as the view points of the victims were shown at various times throughout the novel. Whilst I’d guessed the culprit before the reveal there were plenty of red herrings and potential conspiracies, especially as the belief in muti is widespread and encompasses a variety of people, including those in power and in positions of responsibility.

 

There is an eclectic cast of characters, some of them easy to envisage, such as Big Mama who runs the local pub and Joy, Kubu’s wife. I particularly liked Kubu. He was both jovial and serious, a man used to thinking carefully and using intellect to help solve cases. I wasn’t as sure about Samantha who seemed to have a sense of perpetual anger, understood to a point in that she is one of the few female detectives. However, she did seem to take her stance to an extreme, being overly confrontational in some respects when perhaps you would have expected some deference in consideration of her rank compared to Kubu. This is the first novel I have read featuring Kubu and his world and I hope that the characters are expanded upon more in future books.

 

I loved the setting of the novel. Botswana is a place I am not familiar with and I found myself searching for pictures of the places mentioned so I could see if my imagination was close to reality. The location was very much a character in itself and I believe shaped the nature and style of the story. I could easily imagine the people and locations, the mix of the relaxed nature of the inhabitants who were at the same time obviously hard working. The culture of how women as perceived and the tradition of big families was often mentioned as was the tragic situation with HIV and the treatment of lack thereof.

 

All in all a good mystery. I’m looking forward to reading more about the adventures of Kubu in future novels.

Shatila Stories - Various

The Shatila refugee camp in Beruit is not how one may imagine a camp. Instead of tents there are buildings, tightly packed together, some perpetually unfinished as they grow to accommodate the rising population. There are cafes, schools, community centres and bakers. It is populated by people who have escaped oppression and violence in the countries they were born in, and by those who have only ever known the camp. Nine of its residents have worked together to create Shatila Stories.

 

The novella follows Adam and his family, as they arrive in the camp. A series of interlinked stories follow Adam as he comes to term with his new home. His sister looks back at her marriage and re-evaluates her life. A father, not known for his kindness to his family, makes a drastic decision to save his only daughter and a drug dealer makes his mark on the camp. One day Adam walks into the community centre and meets Shatha. His life is changed irrevocably.

 

This is a short novel, only 120 pages, but nonetheless impacting. There is a sense that the reader is walking down the narrow alleyways of the camp. The sights and smells are almost within touching distance. The faint buzz of the live electricity cables can almost be heard overhead.  All of the authenticity is brought about by the fact that the various authors all reside in Shatila. It is eye-opening to read about a refugee camp that, I’ll admit, I didn’t know existed. And it has existed for years. The sense of limbo, perpetual estrangement with the rest of the country they reside in is inherent in the book.

This book is an informative, first person glimpse into a little known world and a worthy one.

 

There is tragedy in Shatila Stories. But there is also resilience, love, tenacity and hope. All of which are a necessary part of humanity. And if they can be found in the most trying of circumstances there is hope after all.