Monthly Archives: September 2014

Book review: The Soul of Discretion

the soul of discretion by susan hill 10-9-14Lafferton, England. A naked child wanders down a street. A woman is raped at a black tie Freemansons’ Dinner. Detective Simon Serrailler is coming to terms with his girlfriend moving into his flat which now seems very small and confined, no longer his own private space. His widowed sister is struggling for money and must decide what to do about it. His stepmother is struggling to deal with the detective’s increasingly irritable and irascible father. Serrailler’s girlfriend feels like the lodger in her boyfriend’s flat. And then Serrailler is posted undercover.

This is the eighth novel about detective Simon Serrailler and as far as I’m concerned, Susan Hill can continue writing them until kingdom comes. I have read them all over the years, but this is the first I have reviewed [something I will remedy over the coming year]. Serrailler is a thoughtful, solitary-minded detective, surrounded by a family which, in The Soul of Discretion, has its own crises. But the central thread of the book, which kept me reading late into the night, was Serrailler going undercover. In this book, you wonder if he will live or die. I read this book in 24 hours, including a night’s sleep. The subject matter is difficult, the nastiest child abuse, and to go undercover Serrailler must know his subject, be able to act the part of a ‘nonce’, he must look as if he likes the nasty stuff.



Susan Hill [above] doesn’t show us the unpleasantness, she lets us imagine it by showing us Serrailler’s reaction. He becomes Johnno Miles and we take every step with him as he goes to prison, the aim to get close to a prisoner who it is hoped holds the key to unlocking a prolific child abuse ring. With him is a James Bond-style watch with coded buttons to send messages to HQ, except it is a cheap black plastic watch, not a Rolex. There are a lot of heart-in-mouth passages, Hill’s writing makes you turn page after page. And just when you get to a key bit, the chapter ends and the attention switches – to Cat who is trying to decide whether to work for a hospice or a GP practice, or his stepmother Judith on holiday in France with his father, or Serrailler’s girlfriend Rachel who is opening a bookshop – and you get an emotional breather from the tension. But all the stories are linked, in the end.

Click here for Susan Hill’s website and more information about her books.
‘The Soul of Discretion’ by Susan Hill [UK: Chatto & Windus, published October 2, 2014]

Book review: The Sunrise

the sunrise by victoria hislop 21-8-14I’m a big fan of Victoria Hislop’s previous three novels, The Thread, The Return, and The Island so was expecting a lot from the new one, The Sunrise. I was a little disappointed and it’s difficult to pin down why. The Cyprus setting is great, the historical setting is stirring, the characters… I didn’t connect as well with them as I did with Alexis and Eleni in The Island. Finally, I decided that the difference between The Sunrise and the Hislop’s earlier books is that it wears its history a little too heavily. That said, it is a fascinating period and one I knew little about, except a memory of a distant cousin who lived near Kyrenia at the time. He and his family were forced to flee their house, empty-handed, running across open countryside towards a cave, dodging bullets being fired from an airplane

The Sunrise tells the story of three families in Famagusta from the sunny days of 1972 when tourism brings riches to Cyprus, to 1974 when a Greek coup forces the island into chaos. Greek Cypriots flee in one direction, Turkish Cypriots flee in the other, and the Turkish army invades to protect the Turkish Cypriot minority. The city of Famagusta empties as people run for their lives. Today, 40 years later, the city is still empty. This is the setting for Hislop’s novel.

Two of the families in The Sunrise – the Georgious and the Ozkans – remain behind in Famagusta, hiding, scavenging for food, keeping silent to avoid capture. One is Greek Cypriot, the other Turkish Cypriot. Initially suspicious of everyone, the families are brought together by the two mothers and encouraged to support each other. This is a story of survival on the edge of war, of starvation, ingenuity, bravery and fear. Sons disappear, the city is bombed, soldiers patrol the streets, and a baby is born. The third family – the Papacostas, owners of the sparkling new hotel The Sunrise – flee to their apartment in Nicosia, locking up their stronghold hotel and leaving valuables in its safe, but taking the danger and emotional attachments with them.

Though the book at times drifts towards impersonal reportage and can feel a little like reading a history book or newspaper report, the accuracy of the complicated political and social situation is clearly explained. The island is heft in two and its population uprooted with possessions, without warning. They are attacked, raped, killed, simply for being ‘the other kind’. Finally they settle into North and South, either side of the east-west dividing line.

[photo: Angus Muir]

[photo: Angus Muir]

Victoria Hislop [above] always writes about places she knows well and that knowledge shines off the page in every sound, smell and touch she conjures up. She was not able to go to Famagusta, the city is still closed off, and had to be content with looking through the wire fence. In The Sunrise she has tackled a hugely complex political and emotional subject. For me, the story took off in 1974 once the Georgious and Ozkans were trapped in the city and fighting to survive. I found Savvas and Aphroditi Papacosta less sympathetic, I’m afraid, perhaps because the story starts in 1972 when they develop their luxury hotel, two years before the Cypriot coup takes place. Perhaps that’s just me, impatient for the action to start.

For Victoria Hislop’s website, click here.
Watch this TED talk on You Tube in which Victoria Hislop talks about how courage inspires her writing. The Sunrise is set in Famagusta during the Cypriot coup.
Victoria Hislop re-visits Famagusta, in this article for the Daily Telegraph.
‘The Sunrise’ by Victoria Hislop [UK: Headline Review, from September 25, 2014]

A poem to read in the bath… ‘Not Waving but Drowning’

I remember the title of today’s poem from my schooldays but have no strong memory of reading the poem until many years later. But it always made me smile, then feel guilty for smiling.



Because of copyright restrictions I am unable to reproduce the poem in full, but please search it out in an anthology or at your local library.

‘Not Waving but Drowning’
Nobody heard him, the dead man,
But still he lay moaning:
I was much further out than you thought
And not waving but drowning.

Stevie Smith [1902-1971] was born in Hull, East Yorkshire, and knowing that made a big impression on me: born in East Yorkshire, 1960. The fact that her family moved to London when she was three didn’t stop me seeing her as a Yorkshire role model. Her poetry never seemed to fit a label and she seems to have been rather overlooked. I love her rather dry wit. My copy of Selected Poems was bought in October 1981, I know this as I have written my name and the date on the inside front cover. The green cover design [below] is still a favourite of mine. Selected poems by stevie smith 19-6-14aTo watch a 1950s seaside film as Stevie Smith recites ‘Not Waving But Drowning’, click here.
To read Stevie Smith’s biography at The Poetry Foundation, click here.
Selected poems by stevie smith - new cover 19-6-14


‘Selected Poems’ by Stevie Smith [Penguin Classics]

Book review: One Step Too Far

one step too far by tina seskis 6-8-14I became aware of this book by word of mouth, often the best kind of recommendation. Google the title and you will find literally hundreds of blog reviews. It is certainly a page turner. I sat down to read it one hot sunny day and raced through it.

The theme is running away. What place a woman has to be in to leave everything behind, the desperation, the guilt, the expectations for a new life, the logistics of running. Emily runs, and runs one step too far. The reason for her running is dangled in front of the reader like a carrot, hints, deceptions, and this is why you keep reading. Is it something she did, or something done to her? Is it criminal or emotional? The story of Emily’s escape, and the story of the reason for her escape, are told in parallel. I had my suspicions about her reason, and I was almost right. Almost, but not quite.

One of the intriguing things in the narrative mix is that Emily is a twin, and the two twin sisters do not get on. This added welcome spice to the tale of Emily’s childhood in Manchester, and her reinvention in London. The twin thing enables some convenient misunderstandings, doppel-gangers and threat of discovery. It turns out that Emily Catherine, and her twin Caroline Rebecca, are more alike than they realize.

A great holiday read.



Another Tina Seskis novel, A Serpentine Affair, will be published by Penguin on Kindle in the UK on February 12, 2015.

To watch the book trailer for One Step Too Far, click here.
For Tina Seskis’ website, click here.
‘One Step Too Far’ by Tina Seskis [Penguin]

Great opening paragraph 59… ‘The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry’ #amwriting #FirstPara

Rachel Joyce“The letter that would change everything arrived on a Tuesday. It was an ordinary morning in mid-April that smelt of clean washing and grass cuttings. Harold Fry sat at the breakfast table, freshly shaved, in a clean shirt and tie, with  slice of toast that he wasn’t eating. He gazed beyond the kitchen window at the clipped lawn, which was spiked in the middle by Maureen’s telescopic washing line, and trapped on all three sides by the neighbours’ closeboard fencing.”
‘The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry’ by Rachel Joyce

Try one of these 1st paras & discover a new author:-
‘Perfume’ by Patrick Suskind
‘Original Sin’ by PD James
‘Illywhacker’ by Peter Carey

And if you’d like to tweet a link to THIS post, here’s my suggested tweet:
A 1st para which makes me want to read more: THE UNLIKELY PILGRIMAGE OF HAROLD FRY by @R_Joyce_Books #books via @SandraDanby

Great opening paragraph… 59

the unlikely pilgrimage of harold fry - GOP 5-6-13
“The letter that would change everything arrived on a Tuesday. It was an ordinary morning in mid-April that smelt of clean washing and grass cuttings. Harold Fry sat at the breakfast table, freshly shaved, in a clean shirt and tie, with  slice of toast that he wasn’t eating. He gazed beyond the kitchen window at the clipped lawn, which was spiked in the middle by Maureen’s telescopic washing line, and trapped on all three sides by the neighbours’ closeboard fencing.”
‘The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry’ by Rachel Joyce

Book review: Found

FOUND BY HARLAN COBEN 12-8-14September. A sunny day in Paris and I needed a book to read on the Eurostar train home. I needed a page turner. I searched my Kindle. What was required was Harlan Coben.

I started to read Found, Coben’s latest UK release, which I thought was the new Myron Bolitar story. Except, it isn’t. It is the third in the Mickey Bolitar YA [young adult] series. I didn’t know this series existed. Mickey Bolitar is Myron’s nephew. I guess the two M’s got me confused… oh well.

Found may be a YA novel but that doesn’t stop the story from being gripping, in true Coben fashion this really rattled along. Ideal for a train journey. Mickey is Myron Bolitar’s nephew who, surprise surprise, is a basketball player and amateur detective. This is story three in the series, and I did need to know the back story. But Mr Coben [below] is very efficient at filling that in without stopping the story moving forward.

Two storylines are woven together. On Mickey’s basketball team, one player moves away suddenly, another is dropped from the team for taking steroids. Mickey investigates. Meanwhile, continued from book two in the series, one of Mickey’s friends is in hospital after an adventure when the four friends – Mickey, Spoon, Ema and Rachel – solve a mystery. It appears now though that this mystery is not completely solved.

[photo: Claudio Marinesco]

[photo: Claudio Marinesco]

The quartet combines to track down a missing teen and discover the truth of what happened to Mickey’s father. In true thriller fashion, it starts out with the two stories being completely separate but in the end they overlap. I knew the overlap was coming, but couldn’t see where.

To read my review of Coben’s One False Move, part of the Myron Bolitar series, click here.
For Harlan Coben’s website and details of all his books, click here.
Follow Harlan Coben on Twitter here.
‘Found’ by Harlan Coben [UK: Orion]

Book review: A History of Loneliness

A history of loneliness by john boyne 2-9-14I don’t normally start a book review by talking about a completely different book, but I will today so bear with me. John Boyne is probably best known for The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas, a book about a young German boy during World War Two who moves to a house in the country where he makes friends with Schmuel, a boy who lives at the other side of a wire fence. Written for ‘younger readers’ it is the story of Bruno’s transition from childhood innocence to horrific understanding, the book was made into a film starring David Thewlis. Despite the label ‘for younger readers’ this, and Boyne’s more recent First World War novel Stay Where You Are & Then Leave, provide food for thought for adult readers too.

So with that in mind I came to A History of Loneliness, Boyne’s latest adult novel, excepting a harrowing storyline which tackles emotional and difficult issues with honesty. I was not disappointed. When I look back at the books I’ve most enjoyed reading, so far this year, Irish writers rank highly – particularly A Long Long Way by Sebastian Barry.

The History of Loneliness is a depressing title – it has to be about loneliness, doesn’t it? Yes, but it’s about so much more – the soul of a boy growing up in 1960s Ireland and becoming a priest, it’s about guilt and responsibility and honesty [with oneself, with others]. And, given its setting and time, it is about the Catholic church in Ireland and child abuse. But it is not a depressing novel. It is the story of Odran Yates’s journey from childhood to seminary to adulthood, via Rome where he serves tea to two Popes, back to Ireland where he watches from the sidelines as one then another trusted Irish priest is convicted of child abuse.

[photo: Richard Gilligan]

[photo: Richard Gilligan]

It is an unexpected page turner. Boyne [above] drops hints at ‘things that happened’, enough to make you want to know what. He maintains the suspense by telling Odran’s story in disparate chunks – the first four chapters move from 2001 to 2006, 1964 to 1980 – answering some questions and asking new ones, and weaving in the story of Odran’s sister Hannah and her family. Some bits made me chuckle, some made me laugh out loud, others brought a lump to my throat. A favourite was the discussion with Katherine Summers, a neighbour of the Yates who cycles by wearing short skirts to the horror of all the Catholic mothers, about the naughty bits in The Godfather. Most of all, this book tells the story of the priesthood from the 1960s when the word of the priest was God, to 2008 when a stranger spits in Odran’s face because he is a priest wearing a black suit and a white plastic collar.

I’ve found a new author to explore, and that is always exciting.

To read my review of John Boyne’s Stay Where You Are & Then Leave, click here.
For more about John Boyne’s writing, click here for his website.
To read my review of A Long Long Way by Sebastian Barry, click here.
‘A History of Loneliness’ by John Boyne [published in the UK by Doubleday]

A poem to read in the bath… ‘Cloughton Wyke 1’

John Wedgwood Clarke writes about the edges of North Yorkshire, the forgotten bits, the ugly bits, the hidden bits. He is a new discovery for me. His latest pamphlet, In Between, was written for the York Curiouser Festival, and is inspired by the snickets and alleys of old York.



Because of copyright restrictions I am unable to reproduce the poem in full, but please search it out in an anthology or at your local library.

‘Cloughton Wyke 1’
Iron light. Fulmar and kittiwake
laugh in Anglo-Saxon,
ripple quick shadows
over the beach.

It transports me instantly to the North Yorkshire cliffs where I grew up, and the constant presence of seabirds. Cloughton Wyke [below] was one of many destinations for the Danby family explorations on Sundays, sandwiches wrapped in foil, trifle in colour-coded Tupperware bowls, orange squash.

I cannot read this poem enough.



For John Wedgwood Clarke’s blog, click here.
To find John Wedgwood Clarke’s poems around York as part of the York Curiouser Festival, click here for a map.
To listen to John Wedgwood Clarke read his poem ‘Castle Headland’, click here.
For more poetry published by Valley Press, including In Between, click here.

ghost pot - cover 15-7-14


‘Ghost Pot’ by John Wedgwood Clarke [Valley Press]

Book review: Pop Goes the Weasel

Pop Goes the Weasel by MJ Arlidge 2-9-14Fog creeps up the Solent and into the city from the sea, casting a shroud over the streets, driving the population indoors at the end of the day and pulling the streetwalkers out into their night domain. Empty backstreets, dirty abandoned industrial estates, overgrown riverbanks. Murder will take place this night.

This is a great follow-up by Matthew Arlidge to his first novel about Detective Inspector Helen Grace, but please read Eeny Meeny first or you will be a bit baffled by the back story. These two books tick a lot of boxes: gritty realistic drama, lead female detective with a raw damaged personality, in fact a lot of female characters, set in Southampton [not London, not Edinburgh] with flawed heroes and damaged villains. Arlidge [below]is an accomplished TV writer and author; whether he is writing about police procedure, or the nasty druggy backstreets of a port city where the population rises and falls with the tide, I believe him.



The murder scenes are graphic and anatomical, a bit too much for me, so I admit to skipping a few paragraphs. I don’t like blood and gore, but I do like Helen Grace and DC Charlie Brooks. I didn’t take to Emilia Garanita , the reporter from the local paper, or the new Detective Superintendant Ceri Harwood. Woven through the chase to find the hooker who kills her victims are stories continued from Eeny Meeny: why is Helen Grace driving to Aldershot to spy on a boy, what happened to Helen’s sister, can Charlie have a baby and stay in the force, and how does Garanita always know where Grace is?

Helen Grace’s story will run and run, I am sure there will be a third book.

To find out why Matthew Arlidge likes the bad guys, click here to read an article for the WH Smith Richard and Judy Book Club.
To find out why I liked the first book about DI Helen Grace, Eeny Meeny, click here.

‘Pop goes the Weasel’ by MJ Arlidge [published in the UK on September 11, 2014 by Penguin]