Saturday, October 31, 2015

2015 books, #56-60

Longbourn, by Jo Baker. London: Transworld, 2013.

A book group book, and not one I was particularly looking forward to - yet again, I was pleasantly surprised.  This is Pride and prejudice told from below stairs, and to my non-Austenite mind, the lack of concern the Bennets' servants pays to them does them credit.  There are descriptions of the hard reality of early 19th century servanthood - the chilblains, the swill buckets, the emptying of the gazunders and all - but also a more sweeping, less confined view of the world than the gentry are allowed. We see the impact of the Napoleonic wars, and the ways the characters have made their money (I don't know whether the Bingleys did make their fortune in sugar plantations, but it leads to some interesting ideas); and there's a really rather wonderful and powerful love story in the middle of it all.  Maybe two.  I'd completely recommed this as a Good Read

Good as dead, by Mark Billingham [audiobook]. Read by the author. Oxford: Isis, 2011.

Tom Thorne is called in personally to help with a siege in a newspaper shop. The owner, a man whose son had killed himself in prison, has kidnapped Helen Weeks, a policewoman involved in family cases and another man; Tom has to investigate the son's death, the original case and also try to make sure that both hostages stay safe.  I'm not doing a good job at describing this one, but it's another really good Mark Billingham plot and keeps the tension ramped up.

The ghost fields,  by Elly Griffiths. London: Quercus, 2015.

A Ruth Galloway novel, and an excellent one.  This time, Ruth is called in to look at bones found in a WWII aeroplane found in a field during building works.  Weirdly, the body isn't decomposed in the way Ruth would expect - it seems to have been buried in different earth entirely.  There's the usual cast of characters, with a return from Frank Barker whose TV company wants to make a documentary on the US involvement in WWII...  and the introduction of the rather sinister Blackstock family.  The plot takes you along, the relationships are complicated and interesting, but as ever, it's Ruth and her personality and observations which keep me reading.

"Ruth switches on Radio 4 for comfort but it's a dramatisation of Wuthering Heights, and after a few minutes of desolate moorland and doomed love, Ruth turns it off again. I cannot live without my life. I cannot live without my soul. That's all very well, Ruth tells Cathy, but sometimes you just have to."

The brutal telling, by Louise Penny [audiobook].  Read by Adam Sims. Oxford: Isis, 2009.

Gamache is back in Three Pines; this time, the body of a man has been found in the village bistro.  Nobody seems to know who the stranger is, or where he's come from; but as the details appear, we seem to know even less about how he died, and why.  Gamache is with Beauvoir and Lacoste, both of whom have troubles of their own; and we encounter old friends including mad poet Ruth Zardo and the continuingly odd Peter and Clara Morrow with their artistic rivalry.  In the end, the revelation is genuinely shocking; while I've never considered this series belonging to the "cozy" category, I'm now sure that Penny is another of those authors like McDermid who's unafraid of the demolition of a well-loved character.

Silent voices, by Anne Cleeves [audiobook]. Read by Charlie Hardwick.  Oxford: Isis, 2011.

Vera Stanhope is a very reluctant gym-user, but has been pressured into it by her GP. When she finds a woman's body in the steam room, she hopes she's just come across a natural death from over-exertion, but no such luck. Vera investigates with her usual vigour, trampling witnesses and colleagues in her path... This is a brilliant reading by Charlie Hardwick who's able to distinguish between a variety of North East accents.