Spies by Michael Frayn #ThrowbackThursday

I’m borrowing the #ThrowbackThursday meme from It’s Book Talk

to share a book I read several years ago.

 Spies

Blurb

 A mesmerizing novel about secrecy, imagination, and a child’s game turned deadly earnest

The sudden trace of a disturbing, forgotten aroma compels Stephen Wheatley to return to the site of a dimly remembered but troubling childhood summer in wartime London. As he pieces together his scattered images, we are brought back to a quiet, suburan street where two boys, Keith and his sidekick-Stephen-are engaged in their own version of the war effort: spying on the neighbors, recording their movements, ferreting out their secrets.

But when Keith utters six shocking words, the boys’ game of espionage takes a sinister and unintended turn. A wife’s simple errands and a family’s ordinary rituals-once the focus of childish speculation-become the tragic elements of adult catastrophe.

In gripping prose, charged with emotional intensity, Spies reaches into the moral confusion of youth to reveal a reality filled with deceptions and betrayals, where the bonds of friendship, marriage, and family are unravelled by cowardice and erotic desire. Master illusionist Michael Frayn powerfully demonstrates, yet again, that what appears to be happening in front of our eyes often turns out to be something we can’t see at all.

My Review

You need to be in the right frame of mind to read “Spies”. It’s a slow ramble through the confused mind of a young boy in the apparently uneventful “Close” against the background of a war in Europe which only occasionally impinges upon his life. As long as you’re not in a hurry to get to exactly what’s happening behind the lies then it’s an enjoyable enticing read.

It reminded me of my own childhood in the 1950s planning and creating camps & schemes with my cousins. There is a languorous atmosphere created by the evocative scents and the summer weather. It is also a really frustrating book because you feel like shaking Stephen to make him react and to further the plot.

I have always enjoyed Michael Frayn’s plays because of the way he skilfully uses words but in this book he seems to work too hard spelling things out like “private”, “privet” and “privy”. He takes many chapters trying to explain the tortuous thoughts of a young boy as seen through the eyes of his mature self and then ties up all the loose ends of the plot in a few brief sentences at the end.

I have read critics comparing “Spies” to “The Go-Between” by L. P. Hartley and it certainly reminds me of the misunderstandings and deceit of that book. But somehow “Spies” feels unfinished. We weren’t given enough information to understand Stephen’s relationship with his family and I really wanted to know what happened to Keith’s family.

This book could have been something special but somehow it misses out. Stephen is not really very likeable even if he is a typical boy of his time & circumstances. The real passions are out of reach for the reader. We cannot see inside the mind of Keith’s mother & can only imagine how she is suffering. Someone needs to write the book again, from her viewpoint.

Spies can be found on Amazon UK

Michael Frayn

Frayn

Michael Frayn was born in London in 1933 and began his career as a journalist on the Guardian and the Observer. His novels include Towards the End of the Morning, Headlong (shortlisted for the 1999 Booker Prize), Spies (longlisted for the 2002 Man Booker Prize) and Skios. His seventeen plays range from Noises Off, recently chosen as one of the nation’s three favourite plays, to Copenhagen, which won the 1998 Evening Standard Award for Best Play of the Year and the 2000 Tony Award for Best Play. He is married to the writer Claire Tomalin.

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Raven Black by Ann Cleeves #BookReview

Raven Black

 

It is a cold January morning and Shetland lies buried beneath a deep layer of snow. Trudging home, Fran Hunter’s eye is drawn to a vivid splash of colour on the white ground, ravens circling above. It is the strangled body of her teenage neighbour Catherine Ross. As Fran opens her mouth to scream, the ravens continue their deadly dance . . .

The locals on the quiet island stubbornly focus their gaze on one man – loner and simpleton Magnus Tait. But when police insist on opening out the investigation a veil of suspicion and fear is thrown over the entire community. For the first time in years, Catherine’s neighbours nervously lock their doors, whilst a killer lives on in their midst.

My Review

Raven Black is the first of Ann Cleeves “Shetland” novels. Having heard of Ann’s excellent reputation as a writer and long being a fan of “Vera” on TV, I finally managed to sit down and read this book.  And I’m so glad I did.  From the first suspenseful scene on a cold New Year’s Eve, to the last surprising denouement, I was hooked.  Yet there is no hurry to reveal the perpetrator of the murders on this remote island.  We gradually become acquainted with the harsh environment, the incestuous community where everyone knows each other’s business and the difficulty for young people growing up there.

If you have seen any of the television programmes you will find Jimmy Perez, the detective investigating the murder, a little different but still recognisably a quiet, thoughtful man.  His approach is in contrast to the usual stereotypical policeman and is nicely balanced against the hyperactive, determined Detective Taylor.  All the characters in this complex story are beautifully drawn and intensely human, fitting perfectly into a carefully plotted imaginative narrative.

In this book we learn a little about Jimmy’s youth and failed marriage but there is so much more yet to be revealed about his character, so I cannot wait to move on to the next investigation, especially as in September, the final “Shetland” novel, “Wild Fire” will be published.

Raven Black is available from Amazon UK

 

Ann Cleeves

Ann Cleeves

On 26 October 2017, Ann Cleeves was presented with the Diamond Dagger of the Crime Writers’ Association, the highest honour in British crime writing, at the CWA’s Dagger Awards ceremony in London.

Presenting Ann with her award, Martin Edwards, Chair of the CWA, said: “It’s a lifetime achievement award, and above all it recognises excellence in writing. But it also recognises a significant contribution to the crime writing world. And nobody can deny that Ann Cleeves’ contribution has been magnificent.”

He went on to say that “You all know about the wonderful books, and you all know about the fantastically successful TV series. So, given that the recurring theme of this evening is friendship, I just want to say a few words about Ann the person,” and praised Ann for her kindness and generosity to others, and as a passionate advocate of the library service.

In 2006 Ann was the first winner of the Duncan Lawrie Gold Dagger Award for best crime novel of the year, for Raven Black, the first volume of her Shetland series. In addition, she has been short listed for CWA Dagger Awards, once for the short story dagger, and twice for the Dagger in the Library award which is awarded not for an individual book but for an author’s entire body of work.

Ann says: “It’s a huge honour to be recognized by my peers, the crime-writers whose books, friendship and support I’ve enjoyed for more than thirty years. I am privileged to have had such a happy career and I will always be grateful for the support of booksellers and forever indebted to the passion and expertise of librarians, without whom I wouldn’t still be writing today.”

The Story Collector by Evie Gaughan #BookReview #TuesdayBookBlog

story collector

The Story Collector is set in an Irish village in two time zones, a hundred years apart.  On a last-minute whim, Sarah Harper has boarded a plane from America to Ireland rather than face her family after the break up of her marriage.  Arriving with no place to stay she soon finds the kindness of strangers providing her with accommodation and companionship. And then she finds a diary written by Anna in 1910.  Between sketching and drowning her sorrows in drink, Sarah follows the young woman’s life story page by page.

 

Anna works hard helping her parents on their small farm while admiring from afar the wealthy Anglo-Irish twins in Thornwood House.  Her everyday life becomes more interesting when Harold Griffin-Krauss, an American academic, arrives in the district. Investigating Irish folklore for his book.  Anna is employed to translate the tales told to him, from Irish into English.  They soon become good companions, but she is unsure whether to admit her deepest secret to him.

 

Sarah is also intrigued by the stories of fairies and the beautiful setting. As an artist she appreciates the countryside, so well described by Evie Gaughan.  There is a touch of magic but also a feeling of sadness and menace.  Both Sarah and Anna have suffered loss, but both will finally have to make new beginnings.  This lovely novel is a great pleasure to read and definitely a page-turner.

The Story Collector is available on Amazon UK

Fatal Finds in Nuala (The Inspector de Silva Mysteries Book 4) by Harriet Steel #fridayreads #RBRT

Fatal finds

 

In the latest Inspector de Silva mystery, set in the hill country of 1930s Ceylon, it is monsoon season, so travelling about to investigate a murder is particularly difficult.  Although already feeling unwell, Inspector de Silva is determined to brave the treacherous roads and dangerous criminals to solve the murder of an insignificant local villager.  This leads him to find unusual coins and the possibility of valuable artefacts, but on this occasion, it seems that he is mistaken.

 

In this novel, Shanti’s wife Jane and his boss Archie Clutterbuck take more active participation in the investigation.  Jane and Inspector de Silva have a hair-raising adventure on board a train to Colombo, equal to those of an Agatha Christie novel, while Archie makes the most of his wife’s absence on a cruise to help the Nuala police force, seeking treasure.  There are dastardly villains contributing to the excitement of this drama.

 

The effects of the monsoon weather and the dense, frightening environment are vividly described, in contrast to the de Silva’s calm homelife.  I am surprised that Shanti does not have more interaction with his servants, who are never named.  During the story, Shanti and Jane discuss going on a cruise one day.  Now that would provide a perfect setting for his detective skills.

Fatal Finds in Nuala is available at Amazon UK

To read my review of the first Inspector de Silva mystery Trouble in Nuala

I read this book as a member of Rosie’s Book Review Team

A Lake in Switzerland by Melinda Huber #TuesdayBookBlog #BookReview

Lake in Switzerland

A Lake in Switzerland is a feel-good novella, just perfect for reading while on holiday. We accompany Stacy and Emily on a relaxing vacation by Lake Constance, as Emily recovers from a long-term knee injury. Stacy is kind and considerate, though missing her fiancé, medical student David, while Emily has forsworn men since being abandoned by her boyfriend after the accident he caused. Though the food is unexciting, the hotel is in a beautiful setting and the British barman, Alan, treats them like star guests. However, Rico, the son of the hotel owner, is quiet and distracted as he worries about his father’s threat to sell the hotel.

Melinda Huber’s intimate knowledge of the area brings to life the wonderful experiences of the two young women and we soon believe that Emily’s life will improve, but Stacy is worried at the lack of communication from her fiancé and whether she should return to her nursing career in the near future. At times she and Rico strike up a rapport, but she has no need for more complications and he seems to be severely depressed at what has happened since his mother’s recent death.

As the girls return home it is evident that this is no simple romance. The difficulties of finding a vocation and running a successful business are as relevant as maintaining relationships and then another element is introduced in the form of betrayal. Gradually the plot unfurls to a pleasing conclusion but by no means the end of the story for Stacy. Thank goodness there is a sequel; A Spa in Switzerland.

A Lake in Switzerland is on sale at Amazon UK

Melinda Huber

Huber

Melinda Huber is the feel-good pen name of psychological suspense writer Linda Huber – she’s hiding in plain sight!

Linda grew up in Glasgow, Scotland, but went to work in Switzerland for a year aged twenty-two, and has lived there ever since. Her day jobs have included working as a physiotherapist in hospitals and schools for handicapped children, and teaching English in a medieval castle.

Her writing career began in the nineties, and since then she’s had seven psychological suspense novels published, plus a collection of feel-good short stories.

Her latest project is the series of Lakeside Hotel novellas, set on the banks of Lake Constance and just minutes from her home in north-east Switzerland. She really appreciates having the views enjoyed by her characters right on her own doorstep!

Visit her blog at: www.lindahuber.net

Goddess of the Rainbow by Patrick Brigham #FridayReads #BookReview

Goddess Rainbow

 

Goddess of the Rainbow gives, in 16 chapters, the interconnected stories of the community of a small town in Northern Greece when constant rain threatens imminent flooding.  The goddess of the title takes the form of Iris, a DHL courier, who like her namesake is a messenger.  The other inhabitants of Orestiada include an estate agent and his wife, who are plotting murder, a Greek Australian returning to his father’s birthplace, the Greek Orthodox priest whom everyone trusts but who has had a crisis of faith, a Syrian illegal immigrant, a writer with a dangerous past, who has found sanctuary and a group of Russian women invited to the town by the mayor, due to a lack of potential wives for the towns aging bachelors.

This disparate group provide, humour, pathos and intrigue.  Fate and the floods brings them together and changes their future. Patrick Brigham is a talented writer with specialised knowledge of the people and politics of the Balkans and the lifestyle of northern Greece.  His imaginative stories show an awareness of the human condition and the effects of relationships, both loving and poisonous.  These stories tempt me to look further into his other published books. A good read.

To purchase Goddess of the Rainbow on Amazon UK

 

Patrick Brigham

Patrick

The author Patrick Brigham has written several mystery books, many of which are set at the very end of the Cold War and Communism. Featuring fictional police detective Chief Inspector Michael Lambert, he is often faced with political intrigue, and in order to solve his cases – which frequently take place in Eastern Europe and the Balkans – he needs to understand how an old Communist thinks, during the course of his investigations.  There are few good books on the subject of international crime, especially mystery stories which delve into the shady side of Balkan politics, neither are there many novelists who are prepared to address Mystery Crime Fiction.

 
Patrick Brigham was the Editor in Chief of the first English Language news magazine in Bulgaria between 1995 and 2000. As a journalist, he witnessed the changes in this once hard core Communist Country and personally knew most of the political players. Traditionally a hotbed of intrigue and the natural home of the conspiracy theory, Bulgaria proved to be quite a challenge and for many the transition into democracy was painful.  Despite this, he personally managed to survive these changes and now lives peacefully in Northern Greece.

https://authorpatrickbrigham.com/

 

 

The Glass Castle by Jeanette Walls #TuesdayBookBlog

Glass Castle

“I was sitting in a taxi, wondering if I had overdressed for the evening (party), when I looked out the window and saw Mom rooting through a Dumpster … She had tied rags around her shoulders to keep out the spring chill … To the people walking by, she probably looked like any of the thousands of homeless people in New York City … I was embarrassed by them, too, and ashamed of myself for wearing pearls and living on Park Avenue while my parents were busy keeping warm and finding something to eat.”

This is a startling memoir of a successful journalist’s journey from the deserted and dusty mining towns of the American Southwest, to an antique filled apartment on Park Avenue. Jeanette Walls narrates her nomadic and adventurous childhood with her dreaming, ‘brilliant’ but alcoholic parents.

At the age of seventeen she escapes on a Greyhound bus to New York with her older sister; her younger siblings follow later. After pursuing the education and civilisation her parents sought to escape, Jeanette eventually succeeds in her quest for the ‘mundane, middle class existence’ she had always craved. In her apartment, overlooked by ‘a portrait of someone else’s ancestor’ she recounts poignant remembered images of star watching with her father, juxtaposed with recollections of irregular meals, accidents and police-car chases and reveals her complex feelings of shame, guilt, pity and pride toward her parents.

I expect those of us reading Jeanette Walls’ book, who do not live in the US, see this story from a different perspective to those who know her as a journalist.  “The Glass Castle” instantly reminded me of Helen Forrester’s “Twopence to Cross the Mersey”; a different place, a different time but both autobiographies about poverty and parental neglect.

The world in which Jeanette grew up, was not such a shock after reading Bill Bryson’s accounts of life in some parts of the States, but it does seem amazing that the children managed to escape being taken into care.  What is surprising is her ability to describe her upbringing in such a lucid, unemotional way.  It is clear that her dysfunctional parents were imaginative and talented and that her father, at least, cared deeply for her except when his alcoholism caused him to act despicably.  It is difficult to imagine how she could forgive him when he stole their savings and he certainly never built the glass castle, but at least he taught her how to dream.

Jeanette’s mother was much more difficult to empathise with.  A self-confessed “excitement addict”, she seemed to have no maternal instinct at all.  What she did have was a close bond with her husband even when he let them down, probably because of her inclination for self-destruction whenever things seemed to be going well.

The stories of life in the desert were fascinating but the events in cold Virginia were much more depressing.  And yet, even when being bullied, Jeanette remained positive.  The optimistic tone of the book is incredible.

On the back cover of my copy, a reviewer has written, “Jeannette Walls has the talent of knowing exactly how to let a story tell itself.”  How true.  You feel as if you are part of the story not just seeing it through her eyes.  A fascinating read.

The Glass Castle on Amazon UK