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The Reckoning - Rennie Airth

1947. Britain is recovering slowly from the war. John Madden is happily retired from the police force and tending his farm. He soon finds himself drawn into a murder investigation when a victim of a bizarre shooting appeared to be trying to track him down. As Madden and his friend Billy Styles investigate further, they find that the echos of the First World War still reverberate.

 

You know that you’ve found a good book when you can’t wait to get back to reading it. That’s what happened whist I was reading The Reckoning. This is engaging from the beginning, opening with the murder of a mild mannered retired bank manager. I was soon drawn into the story, each character was well drawn, holding their own place and having their own importance in the story. I could easily imagine the foggy streets of post war London and the murders in particular were quite moving and sad in their descriptions, as they were told from the point of view of the victim.

 

I had guessed the murderer before the dénouement but this did not spoil my enjoyment. This was a gentle paced novel, despite dealing with the devastating impact of war. The topic of the events in the First World War were fascinating and made the story all themore interesting and moving for me.

 

The era/style was reminiscent of Miss Marple and that ilk, harking back to a bygone age with old fashioned crimes and values for want of a better phrase. This is the fourth book in the Madden series but the first Rennie Airth book I have read. I will certainly go back and read the others in the series.

The Dog Who Dared to Dream - Sun-mi Hwang

The Dog Who Dared to Dream tells the story of Scraggy, the odd one out of the litter of pups born to a mother who’s life has been series of pregnancies. Scraggly slowly sees her family disappear for various reasons until one day there is just her left. Alone she sets off to see the world outside the gates of her home. We follow her as she encounters other animals and humans, and grows up with her owner Grandpa Screecher.

 

The novel shows the trials of life through the eyes of Scraggly, grief at losing loved ones, the importance of friendship and the cruelties that can lay at the hands we trust the most.

 

This is a charming and moving tale about the relationship between man and dog. The symbiotic relationship and the often times cruel one that can exist. It is also a sad tale, one of the loneliness Scraggly faces as her family leave her.

 

It is a parable about the vagaries of life, of hardship, sacrifice and love. Scraggly’s children leave, some dying, others sold, never to return and she pines their loss equally. I was soon caught up with Scraggly’s tale, pulled along by the narrative, and oddly moved by it.

 

This is a short novel, only 160 pages in length but it packs a lot of story into those few pages. There is a fairytale like sense to the book, helped not only by the canine lead character but by the translation, which I always find tends to lend an aura of magic to a story. It opens on the door a little on a different culture, one perhaps unknown and therefore a little mysterious. Because it is such a short novel it is hard to discuss the book without giving too much of the storyline away and so my review will be one of brevity.

 

A lovely, perfectly paced story that will make you ponder.

The Curious Charms of Arthur Pepper - Phaedra Patrick

Arthur Pepper is still mourning the loss of his beloved wife Miriam. On the anniversary of her death he decides it’s time to take her clothes down from the wardrobe and give them to charity. As he is sorting through Miriam’s items he comes across a charm bracelet, one he does not recall Miriam every wearing. Spotting a clue on one of the charms Arthur is soon the trail of the history of the charms. The more he finds out about the bracelet, the more he learns about a Miriam he never knew, and learns more about himself in the process.

 

I found myself charmed by Arthur and his tale of discovery. I was soon wrapped up in his story, wondering where the next charm would take him and what adventure, or misadventure he would find himself in.

 

There were some wonderful characters in this book all perfectly drawn. Arthur’s description of grief at the loss of Miriam seemed all too real and his tendency to revert to introspection and loneliness felt true to live. Bernadette is a larger than life character who appears initially to be a busy body but who’s exterior hides a kind, lonely woman who has only good intentions for those she cares about. As Arthur bumbles along on his adventure he meets some wildly different but all wonderful characters, including Lord Graystock, who bears an uncanny resemblance to a real life eccentric member of the aristocracy with a penchant for wild animals, and Mike the former drug addict who helps Arthur when he gets into a spot of bother in London. As Arthur finds out about each charm on the bracelet he finds out more about Miriam. Her personality is rounded out. She is very easily imagined and is as much of a main character in the novel as the others are, even though she is gone before the book starts.

 

This book is as much about Arthur’s transformation as it is about Miriam’s hidden past. We see Arthur go from merely existing to living again. He rediscovers his zest for life and does things that he never imagined he would. This story shows that when life unexpectedly goes off course, the new paths open to explore are often exciting ones. It is never too late to try new things and to learn to love any new lives we may face.

 

The Curious Charms of Arthur Pepper is the debut novel from Phaedra Patrick. It is an assured, lovely tale of enduring love, grief and finding a new way to live after the loss of a loved one. I look forward to reading more from Phaedra Patrick in the future.

The Year of Taking Chances - Lucy Diamond

Gemma Bailey loves her life. She is still madly in love with her husband Spencer and has a beautiful house to raise her two children in. Caitlin has returned to her childhood home to sort through the belongings of her mum, who has recently died. Saffron is growing tired of life in London and has lots of thinking to do. All come together by accident at Gemma’s New Years Eve party. Life begins to throw obstacles at the three women and as they tackle these problems their friendship grows.

 

This is the first Lucy Diamond book I have read but it won’t be the last. This was a fun, comforting read, perfect to curl up with and get lost in. I liked all of the characters, though if I’m honest Spencer did grate on my nerves on occasion. All three main leads were likeable and individual. I enjoyed following all of the separate stories and seeing how their lives interacted. My favourite character by far though was Bunty, Saffron’s initially annoying client. I can see a spin off story with her as the lead and Gemma, Caitlin and Saffron as supporting cast.

 

Each chapter focusses on one of the characters and I found this to be a great technique as it allowed the reader to see how the story of each woman impacted themselves and the others and made the story rounder.

 

Yes I guessed every part of the storyline before it appeared on the page. Sometimes that’s something that can spoil a story but I didn’t care. It was an enjoyable journey watching the story get there. One I hope to take again with Lucy’s other novels.

Tastes Like Fear: DI Marnie Rome 3 - Headline Digital, Sarah Hilary, Imogen Church

A girl, seemingly distressed, runs in front of a car and causes a fatal accident. Marnie Rome and her team are on her trail but before she can be found another girl is found dead. Are the two girls linked? Where have they been staying? It is with Harm, a man who offers shelter to those who live on the streets. But is there more to Harm than meets the eye? Just how safe are the lost girls? After all, home is where Harm is….

There are some authors whose books find you in a quandary. You eagerly await the release of their latest novel but once it is in your hands you want to eek out reading it, delaying the gratification you know will follow, wanting to treasure each moment you have with the world they have created. Sarah Hilary’s books are such books as these. I eagerly await each new Marnie Rome novel, then put off reading it for as long as possible, knowing the wait for the next will be interminable. But then I got to the point I could wait no longer. But worth the wait it was.

It was a joy to return to Marnie’s often dark and twisted world, a world where she has to conquer devilish criminals and her own feelings for her foster brother Stephen Keene, the brother who murdered her parents. Stephen doesn’t feature as much in this story, but he is still there, lurking in the background, casting a sinister shadow over Marnie’s life. It was also great to see more of Noah Jake, and his personal life, insights into his relationship with Dan and background as to the troubled past of his brother Sol. As for the other characters they were all perfectly placed and imagined. They brought with them sadness, fear and pulled the story together perfectly. Particularly Harm, a terrifying yet abstract man, used to hiding his true self, which made the real him, when revealed, all the more terrible.

This case hits close to home for Marnie, involving runaway girls, girls she can see mirroring herself as a teenager. It is with sadness that she can now look back on her actions, and those of her parents, with an adult understanding, one she wishes she could share with the children involved.

A staple of Sarah Hilary’s novels is the choice of an abstract, little known or written about crime or condition as a driving force for the story. This is the case for Tastes Like Fear. Harm casts a strange spell over his victims, one which Marnie and Noah have not experienced before, but find chilling. The clues are carefully revealed, leaving a trail that allows the reader to work out parts of the story just before Marnie and Noah reach the same conclusion. It was as always a great source of reading fun, pitting my investigative wits against Harm, trying to figure out who it was or what had happened.

This is the third novel to feature Marnie Rome and whilst it can be read as a standalone I would urge you to read Someone Else’s Skin and No Other Darkness first, simply so you don’t miss out on such terrific novels.

As always, Sarah Hilary has written a taut, gripping and brilliantly stifling thriller, one which grabs you at the first page and makes you want to cling on until the very end.

In Someone Else’s Skin Sarah Hilary set herself out as one to watch. She is now an author that is firmly on the crime writing scene, and a standout author at that. It is often suggested that genre novels, in particular crime novels, aren’t as ‘worthy’ as literary fiction, not a notion I’d endorse. I’d suggest that whoever says this hasn’t read a novel such as one by Sarah Hilary. She is an author that can be relied upon to create compelling, moving crime thrillers, tackling little mentioned crimes, shied away from or unknown in the wider world but which lend themselves to moving, thought-provoking stories.

Sarah Hilary joins the short list of authors, including Jonathan Kellerman and Donna Leon that I eagerly anticipate. I look forward to reading more from her in the future.

Mothering Sunday: A Romance - Graham Swift

Mothering Sunday, 1924. Jane Fairchild, like all other household staff, has the day off but having no mother to visit, she has the day to herself. The eventful day will help shape her future in unforeseen ways.

Mothering Sunday is a short novel but is packed full of beautiful, evocative writing. It takes skill to round out a character in few words and Graham Swift has that skill. Jane Fairchild is a complex character, she is a glimpse into what it is like to be both seen and invisible. Graham Swift explores the class divide of the early 20th Century, when the shift was moving towards fewer household help, when women’s liberation was a fledgling idea. Jane Fairchild is a perfect metaphor for the undercurrent of the time. Outside meek and bidding, perfect in her role as housemaid, unaware of her secret, the way she has bridged the divide. She has ideas and desires ahead of her time, ambitions and aspirations of doing more with her life than being in service.

An event in the novel, on Mothering Sunday, precipitates her eventual change to famous author. The narrative weaves from Jane in her twenties to a ninety year old reflecting on her life and all the intervening years.

The book is a commentary on how minor incidents and major shifts can both impact on our lives. It is, on first appearance, a short novel about a young orphan girl and a reflection on a day in her life. In reality it is much more. It is a social commentary, a coming of age tale and a love story, of falling in love with others and with yourself, of accepting who you are and of challenging boundaries. In short, a beautiful, thought-provoking read.

The Lido - Libby Page

The lido is an oasis of calm in the whirlwind that is Brixton. It’s where children learn to swim, where people escape the day to day grind for a time, where memories are made and love is found. When the council threaten to close the Lido, Rosemary is determined to do something about it. Kate, a local reporter is sent to cover the story. Little does she realise that Rosemary, and the lido, will change her live in many ways.

 

Rosemary is a lovely character. The story of her and George is one that is just as central to the story as the lido itself. It is bittersweet to read about the great love of her life. It is the fact that the lido is the last link to her husband that drives Rosemary’s need to save it. The battle opens up the world to both her and Kate. Through the lido they both gain friends, experience new things and take leaps of faith. Kate is lonely. She shares a house with people she still doesn’t know. She cries herself to sleep most evenings and suffers from crippling anxiety. When she is given the story of the battle to save the lido she doesn’t foresee that the lido and it’s users will bring friends, confidence and drive into her life.

 

It was lovely to see the friendship between Rosemary and Kate develop. The two grow close, their ages irrelevant, and both are aware that their friendship is a legacy of the lido. Kate’s confidence grows as the story progresses, to such an extent that her actions surprise even herself.

 

This was a very easy to read novel. The short chapters allow the reader to glide through the story, justifying ‘just one more’ that soon turns into three or four. I found myself flying through the final third of the book. There’s a wonderful charm to the story, the way it’s told gives it shades of an almost fairy tale.

 

A warm, comforting, uplifting read. I look forward to reading more from Libby Page in the future.

In Bitter Chill - Sarah Ward

This is an assured debut from Sarah Ward. This isn’t a book filled with core or bloody scenes. It is a gentle paced novel but don’t let that fool you. This is a story that creeps up on you and draws you in without really noticing. I soon got lost in the pages and looked forward to reading it when I was away from the book.

 

I liked the character of Sadler and would love to see him return in future books. He had a gentle way of dealing with people and situations, though was not without personal issues. It would have been nice to learn more about his back story and see more of his character develop, hence my hope for more from him. Of his colleagues Connie and Palmer I felt that Connie was the stronger of the two. Palmer almost faded into the background. I found myself a little distanced from him and unable to figure out the dynamic between him and Connie. As for Connie I would have liked to know more about her, as what was revealed helped shape her for the reader.

 

The real focus of the story is Rachel. We see how the kidnapping has effected her life, her distrust of women conflicting with the fact that her family tree focussed on the matriarchal line only, or perhaps because of it. The genealogy aspect was fascinating and very relevant to the story. It allowed Rachel to be her own form of detective, looking into things that she can control i.e. the past.

 

I had fun figuring out the twist in the tale and the outcome was one I can’t recall coming across in recent crime novels I’ve read.

 

A great read. I’m looking forward to more novels from Sarah Ward.

The Offering - Grace McCleen

Madeline is incarcerated in a mental asylum, having lived there for over 20 years, she has come to accept her life in an institution. One day a new doctor, Dr Lucas, decides to try to unlock memories of what happened on Madeline’s fourteenth birthday, and with it, gives hope to Madeline that she may one day be released. As the treatment progresses Madeline struggles with memories that re-emerge and wonders if the promise of release is worth the pain the memories trigger.

 

There is an air of melancholy and detachedness that runs through this novel. This reflects Madeline’s outlook on the world, she has detached herself from the outside world, so long ago now she cannot, or will not remember why.

 

Whilst religion runs through this book it less about every day beliefs and more about religious zealotry and dogma. It plays a major part in Madeline’s breakdown, though it is unclear whether it is because of her religious indoctrination that her breakdown plays out as it does, or despite it. As the story develops and the more we learn of her parents, it becomes clear that although her upbringing is unusual, and will have affected her mental state, Madeline’s condition may also have been hereditary. However, Madeline is an unreliable narrator and we can never be sure what is fact and what is fiction. This is not an easy read, and part of that has to be intentional and due to the fact that Madeline is such an unreliable narrator.

 

What I did find shocking was how those with a mental illness were treated in the institution. There was a distinct lack of rehabilitation apparent, it appeared more like the patients were inmates and spent most of the time drugged to keep them compliant. It was more reminiscent of how one would imagine such patients were treated in the past than in the 21st Century.

 

I struggled with the book at times. Not because of all the religious connotations, I let these wash over me, but more with the language fourteen year old Madeline uses in her diary entries. This was not the language I would assume, rightly or wrongly, would come easily and naturally to a teenager on the brink of puberty. I found myself more interested in the older Madeline, and how she was responding to treatment than to the younger Madeline and her journey to being institutionalised.

 

When it comes, the release Madeline gains, is perhaps not the one she thought she was seeking, but the one she needed nonetheless.

 

In summary a book I found equally interesting, frustrating, uncomfortable and thought-provoking.

Falling in Love: A Commissario Guido Brunetti Mystery (Commissario Guido Brunetti Mysteries) - Donna Leon

Flavia Petrelli has returned to La Fenice, this time appearing as Tosca. Many years ago Brunetti met Flavia when a German conductor was murdered. Meeting Brunetti again after one of her performances she mentions to him that she has been receiving unwanted attention from an admirer. Yellow roses, and lots of them have been left for her in her private dressing room, and inside her locked apartment building. When another opera singer is attacked Brunetti realises he has to find the obsessive fan before Flavia is hurt.

 

Donna Leon’s novels are very much character driven. I’d recommend reading the series from the beginning for part of the joy of the books is watching the characters develop over the years. Each one is vital to the story, impinging on how Brunetti investigates, be it with the help of Vianello or Signorina Elettra’s insights or indeed working in an alternative way to either spite or circumvent Bruentti’s annoying and snobbish boss Patta.

 

Because the books are so heavily dependent on the characters I often find that the crime that drives the story takes something of a back seat. This could be said for this book. Brunetti rarely has to deal with gruesome crimes, though often they are sad and this sometimes makes them more effecting. In Falling in Love the crime is unusual in that this is a case of stalking, at once a rather personal crime but one that can be carried out by someone unknown to the victim as easily as by someone known. There are no clues dotted around to enable the reader to discover who the perpetrator is, we find out when Brunetti does. This is not to say that the story lacks something as a result. It does not. It was good to see how Brunetti identified who was stalking Flavia, helped as always by Vianello and the incomparable Signorina Elettra, who has connections that it is perhaps best that a police detective doesn’t enquire into.

Donna Leon’s skill lies in the vivid descriptions she provides for scenes and location. The family life of Brunetti and the location of Venice are beautifully portrayed. In such novels as Falling in Love this is important for it rounds out Brunetti’s character and makes him the detective he is.

 

As always, I looked forward to reading the latest Donna Leon and I was not disappointed with Falling in Love. Reading it was like returning to visit old friend and what an enjoyable return it was.

The Return of the Soldier (Virago Modern Classics) - Rebecca West

Kitty and Jenny sit at home, awaiting the end of the war and the return of Chris, Kitty’s husband and Jenny’s cousin. However he returns to them sooner, suffering amnesia from shell-shock. He can remember Jenny and Margaret, his first love, but has no recollection of Kitty. Between the women they have to decide if they should allow Chris to remain 15 years in the past or to find a cure. That cure will be an act of love.

 

It is little wonder that Chris resorts to only remembering his past. It is a coping mechanism, his brain’s way of allowing him to heal, by remembering the happiest time of his life. It is telling perhaps that his mind does not remember the early courtship with his wife, though she is inextricably linked to the loss of his son.

 

The house and it’s grounds are idealised. It is the house of old that Chris longs to return to, a place for him to be comfortable and to heal. Jenny marvels at its beauty in the present day, at the wonderful grounds and the many changes wrought by Kitty. With Chris’ situation her eyes are opened to the fact that these changes may not be as welcome to him as once believed.

 

The house and it’s setting are also used to juxtapose the battlefields. Rebecca West doesn’t attempt to portray the horror of war. It is mentioned briefly by Jenny, referring to the film reels seen and the dreams they cause. However the reader is left to imagine the scenes, stark in their absence, when compared with the idyllic life Chris has left behind. To Jenny it is a haven, a cocoon to keep them safe. The house is in a perpetual golden glow if her descriptions are to believed but it becomes more apparent that it may be something of a gilded cage.

 

Kitty isn’t a particularly likeable character. She seemed less concerned with Chris’ mental health than how it affected her. She thinks that by draping herself in the jewels he bought her, he will suddenly remember her. Her avoidance of him seems more caused by petulance than anxiety. She is discourteous to Margaret, though this seems less to do with jealousy and more to do with snobbery. Jenny is a more complex character. She views Margaret initially with disdain, a disdain towards her poverty and obvious signs of beauty than anything else. She is quick to assume that Margaret is unhappy with her life in her pokey little house, that her lack of style and money has leached her of beauty. She misses the signs of fidelity that are briefly brought before her when Margaret and her husband interact. She fails, initially, to see the beauty behind the shabby clothes. But she gets to know Margaret, learns the history of her and Chris and soon comes to rely on her. Margaret is ultimately selfless. She does attend on Chris in part to remember happier days, to relive her youth and in some respects to obtain closure or to confirm her life choices. She is also there for Chris, to help him heal. Chris is the tie that binds them together and though he is the focal point for the women, it is those women that are very much the focal point of the novel.

 

This is a slim volume, but nonetheless is an effecting story, despite it’s size. It is a quiet, beautifully told story of love and war. Recommended.

The Defenceless (Anna Fekete) - Kati Hiekkapelto,  David Hackston (Translator)

An old man has been found run over, seemingly an accident involving a young Hungarian au pair. Anna has been called in to investigate, given her common language with the suspect. Meanwhile her partner Esko is investigating an immigrant gang, who are trying to muscle in on Hell Angels drug dealing territory. It is only when a knife and a pool of blood is found that the two investigations begin to merge together.

 

Given the refugee crisis that has enveloped the world at the time of reading this story echoes what has been happening over Europe as those seeking help from persecution leave their homelands. This I think makes it even more hard hitting and poignant.

 

There is something inexplicably sad about this book. That sadness runs throughout the story, echoing almost the long nights of a Finnish winter. Part of the sadness comes from Anna and Esko, both having their own reasons for being sad and unsatisfied with life. The main darkness comes from the story of Sammy, the Afghan illegal immigrant. I will say no more about his involvement in the story for fear of spoiling the same.

Esko’s inherent racism was apparent in full force. Whilst it is part of his character and the racist language is necessary to some point to show his prejudices I did find it upsetting and the constant exposure to it was at times draining.

 

I would have liked to see more character development. There is a little of Anna and Esko’s separate histories hinted at, though little is revealed. I can see though that this is the author’s intention and that more will be revealed in future stories. There were some aspects of Anna I found contradictory, though this perhaps is a commentary on people as a whole. For example she is very aware of Esko’s alcoholism  but then promises herself she will go out and get drunk. It was good to see more of Anna’s relationship with her family emerge, and  her feelings regarding where she fits in life, where is ‘home’ were interesting reading.

 

I had commented in my review of The Hummingbird that for me the translation was obvious. By this I mean that I could tell I was reading a translation as some of the words used were colloquial to England. That was not the case with this book. The translation seemed to feel more true to the original, an assumption of course, but one that for me shows the signs of a good translation.

 

I was however drawn to the book. I wanted to keep reading to find out what had happened and why. The fact that I wanted to read on despite my deep loathing of Esko is an indicator of a good story-teller. Part of what drew me to the book was the location. I love the setting of this book. I found the social commentary on Finland, its cultures, values and views that were decpicted fascinating.  I will be looking out for more books by Kati Hiekkapelto, all the while hoping she perhaps makes Esko less of a racist, sexist dinosaur.

 

This isn’t easy reading. It is not a cosy crime drama. It is a thought-provoking, at times dark read, that is also a commentary on asylum seekers and those who decide who stays and who goes.

 

Whilst this is the second book in the Anna Fekete series you do not need to have read The Hummingbird, the first book, before reading The Defenceless. I’ll be keeping a look out for book three.

White Hunger - Aki Ollikainen

Marja has made the difficult decision to leave her dying husband behind as she sets off with her children. Her aim, to get to St Petersburg, where she believes there will be food. She must do something other than wait for what seems like inevitable death from the famine that has ravaged Finland.

As I read this book I was again left marvelling at the skill of a writer such as Aki Ollikainen to create such a world, and such a moving story in so few words. Words are in short supply in the novella and so are not wasted, each sentence carefully constructed to add a layer to the tale.

It plays as a film in your head as you read it. Colour is stripped bare, the white of the winter snow sapping colour from the surroundings and the people who inhabit it. I envisaged the bleak landscape and treacherous journey of Marja and her children in shades of black, white and grey.

This is not a novel to read if you are looking for warmth, fun, a happy ending. it left me with a lingering sense of sadness. It is bleak, harsh and moving, much like the winter described in its pages. Marja, driven by the need to protect her children, goes through terrible hardship and grief and a reader must be made of stone not to feel for her.

The title is apt. It represents the hunger that drives a woman, and others, to take their families and leave their homes, trudging through dangerous weather, and dangerous times, in the hope of finding little to eat. It also represents the harsh winter of 1867, of the insatiable appetite of the snow to destroy crops and food, and to swallow up unsuspecting travellers when given the chance.

This book is Peirene title no.16 and is part of the Chance Encounter trio of books. The theme of encounters moves throughout this novella, how chance encounters can change the course of a life. I'm keen to read the other books in the Chance Encounters theme and will do so soon.

The Awakening of Miss Prim - Natalia Sanmartin Fenollera, Sonia Soto

Miss Prudencia Prim, seeking a new challenge, applies for the role of Librarian in the village of San Ireno de Arnois. Despite the fact that the advertisement specified no qualifications, and the fact that Miss Prim has her fair share of degrees, she is offered the post. She soon discovers that the villagers and her employer will have a lasting effect on her life. Miss Prim, a librarian, comes to the village of San Ireneo de Arnois, a place more eccentric and enlightening than she’d imagined. A delightful tale of literature, philosophy and the search for happiness.

 

The main focus of the story is the relationship between Prudencia and her employer. We only ever know him as ‘the man in the wingchair’ and he challenges Prudencia’s ideas on literature, dismissing her beloved Austen and snubbing Little Women. He raises his nieces and nephews in a way that is alien to Prudencia at first, teaching them Latin, Ancient Greek, Philosophy and Theology. The children appear quite strange to her in the beginning. However the time she spends with them makes her aware of the fact that there ways of living and loving other than the norm.

 

The village itself has a mystical charm to it, much like the story. There is obviously something outside the norm about the residents and as the story unfolds Prudencia learns more of how the village was founded, and how it has evolved.

 

One of the main ways Prudencia awakens is her eyes are opened to love, and the idea of marriage. After seeing her parents marriage she had always told herself such a relationship was not for her. When the village Feminist Society decide to find her a husband ,she at first balks at the idea. Then, as she discusses it with her friends and thinks more on the situation, she becomes aware of the reasons for her opposition to matrimony and explores her feelings to find out what she truly wants.

 

There is a surreal, mystical air to the story. It is shot through with little philosophical ideas and sly observations. Some things are brought closely into focus, for example Prudencia is clearly the main character. Others seem to be more obscure and dream like. Prudencia’s employer is only ever referred to as ‘the man in the wingchair’ giving him the feel of some type of wil o’ the wisp.

 

Whilst reading this book I was reminded of Jane Eyre. No there is no Bertha in the attic, but the transformation of a person, as Jane emerges from Lowood attendee to a strong, capable, independent woman, is mirrored, albeit in a different way, by Prudencia. The interactions and arguments between Prudencia and ‘the man in the wingchair’ reminded me of the conversations Jane would have with Rochester and both are clear in their love of such debates.

 

An enjoyable story, that much like the village and its inhabitants to Prudencia, works its magic on you.

The Hummingbird - Kati Hiekkapelto

A young woman goes out for an evening run. She doesn’t return. Her body is found the next morning. She has been brutally shot. Anna Fekete’s first day on the job as a police detective finds her head first in the investigation. Soon possible leads run dry. But then another body is found and it becomes apparent that Anna’s on a race against time to stop the killer before he or she strikes again.

 

This is the first in the Anna Fekete series from Kati Hiekkapelto and being someone who likes her crime series I was keen to read this one.

 

Anna is a complex character. She moved to the country in her youth, escaping the war in the former Yugoslavia she had settled in Finland. Keen to do well she is met with the ultimate obstacle in the form of Esko, her new partner. He is a mysognist, openly racist character who makes her life hell. Others seem to pander to him, or at least excuse his actions. Having learned in the past it is not always best to confront prejudice, Anna internalises the upset Esko causes. I wasn’t always sure I liked Anna. There were times that she came across as a caring, friendly person, eager to repay the country that had taken her in and to help others who needed it. Other times she was rash or acted in a way that I wanted to shout at her and urge her to stick up for herself. However I did feel that Anna’s personality was not fully shown to the reader. There was the impression that the author was holding something back. This makes sense in some ways as it appeals to the reader, encouraging them to want to read more stories featuring Anna Fekete. It was also though slightly frustrating as I felt I couldn’t get a proper handle on her character.

 

As for Esko I positively hated the man. He racist rants and childish actions offended me and it was these that made me wish Anna would just stand up to him. Again I think the author was holding something back from the reader as to his background as others seemed to excuse his actions as if something in his past warranted them.

There are a whole host of other side characters that add to the story. Virkkunen, Anna’s boss, seems to be slightly kowtowed by Esko, but hovers around in the background as most good fictional bosses do, popping up now and then to cause a headache for the lead character. I liked the interaction between Anna and the coroner and her colleague Sari.

 

The mystery is engaging. The reader is kept guessing and it wasn’t until shortly before the reveal that I figured out the killer’s identity.

 

One thing I have noticed as I read more translated fiction is the fact that, for me, the key to a great translation is the fact that I can’t tell it is translated. That’s to say I don’t think twice that the words I am reading are the ones the author intended to be read. For the most part that’s what happened with this book. But every now and then I came across a word or turn of phrase that seemed to jar, it was almost as if the translator had picked the words specifically for a British target audience and I had a little difficulty in thinking that such phrases were in common Finnish usage. They would appear every now and then to remind me I was reading a translated piece of fiction and stay a little while until I was drawn into the story again.

 

I loved the setting of the novel. Finland is a place I know little about but on reading this it is added to the list of places I want to visit. The insights into Finnish lifestyle was interesting, their attitude to drink for example, or how the shifts in weather and season affect the residents.

 

Overall I enjoyed the first outing of Anna and Esko. Luckily I have the next book in the series, The Defenceless, waiting on my reading pile so I will turn to that one soon.

The Perfect Match - Katie Fforde

Bella Castle thinks that her life has settled down. She has a job she loves at a local estate agency, she’s adores living with her Godmother, and she’s happy enough with her boyfriend Neville. And then one day Dominic turns up. And it just so happens that Dominic was the man she left her home town for, a man she had fallen in love with but who was unobtainable. Bella’s settled life, make become anything but settled…

 

When it comes to my favourite authors I tend to prolong reading their latest book for as long as possible. This may seem a little perplexing but I get so caught up in the worlds they create that I don’t want to wait ages for their next book. My random thinking is that if I wait for a long time to read one book, their next will be here sooner. And so that is what I did with The Perfect Match, knowing that Katie Fforde’s next book would soon be here.

 

Neville was quite slimy and annoying from the outset and made me wonder what Bella saw in him. Dominic was taciturn and grumpy but in a way that this disappeared as he spent more time with Bella, allowing the reader to grow to like him more. As for Bella, she was mixed character, content in her life and then trying to deal with the fallout her emotions feel when Dominic returns.  For me she took more of a back seat to Alice and wasn’t the lead character as such. There were times when I didn’t agree with her thought processes and when she appeared to be making more of fuss about things than were necessary. For example I didn’t see why she should have run away when she fell for Dominic rather than just getting on with things and when she didn’t stand up to Neville but thought of the things she should say. On the whole though she was a pleasant enough character and meant well. There were some obvious mistakes and assumptions made by the characters in the novel but these lent themselves well to the story, making it a pleasure to anticipate them and see how the characters dealt with them.

 

The other characters were great additions to the story. I loved Alice and her side story of meeting Michael, and the trials they faced as ‘older’ people stepping into the world of romance. In fact, their story made the book for me. It was lovely to follow the relationship between the two develop, to see how they got over the hurdles that could put a stop to their fledgling romance before it had really started. Even the way they met was lovely.  The Agnews, house hunting clients of Bella’s were quirky and Jane Langley lent a down to earth bent to the story, echoing the fears of some older people who are afraid of having to leave the place they love when they age.

 

I always find Katie Fforde’s novels lovely escapist reading, they provide a lovely world to be engulfed in for a few hours. They are what I like to call a hug in book form. The Perfect Match was a lovely way to get away from the world for a few hours. I’m looking forward to escaping into another of Katie Fforde’s books soon.