Saturday, April 22, 2017

2017 books, #16-20

The apprentice of Split Crow Lane: the story of the Carr's Hill murder, by Jane Housham [audiobook]. Read by Jim Barclay and Anna Bentinck. Rearsby, Leics.: Clipper/WF Howes, 2016.

Sarah Melvin was killed at the age of five in Felling, Newcastle, in 1866; the first suspects were her parents, poor Irish immigrants, but then when the real killer was discovered, it raised as many questions as it answered.  While Housham keeps returning to the murder, this is also a wider investigation into notions of sanity and responsibility in Victorian England, an exploration of the treatment of mentally ill prisoners, a look at the early days of Broadmoor, and a discussion of a few similar cases of the era.  Really interesting, and genuinely suprising at times.

In the morning I'll be gone, by Adrian McKinty. London: Serpent's Tale, 2014.

Sean Duffy has been demoted for an incident which happened, unseen, during I hear the sirens in the street; he's offered his old rank back, in Special Branch, for agreeing to investigate the escape of an old school friend, IRA commander Dermot McCann, from the Maze Prison in 1984.  When visiting McCann's ex-wife, Duffy hears about the unsolved suspicious death of her sister, Lizzie Fitzpatrick, three years earlier.  He makes a dangerous bargain, and continues to pursue both cases.  As ever, real events are woven carefully into the narrative here, with tremendous effect in the eventual climax of this novel.  It's probably just as well I have to wait for the library to come up with the next book...

Zola and the Victorians: censorship in the age of hypocrisy, by Eileen Horne. London: MacLehose, 2015.

Unlike the English Victorians in the first book in this post, nobody comes out well here.  Including Emile Zola, who is a hero of mine.  I had no idea about the reception of Zola's books in Britain - I read them in French and was captivated enough to want to do a PhD in them - although I did know that they'd scandalised a section of French society.  Here, the attitudes expressed 60 years later in the Chatterley case - "would you wish your wife or servant..." - are right to the fore, to the extent that publishers of Zola in English, in however bowdlerised a fashion, were prosecuted for indecency, while copies of the books in French were openly sold.  Henry Vizetelly, the publisher involved, is ruined, while Zola seems profoundly indifferent to his fate, quibbling only about his royalties. It's a stunning indictment of hypocritical prudishness, closed-minded Philistinism and a distrust of foreign influences which is depressingly familiar today.

Silent witnesses: the story of forensic science, by Nigel McCrery. London: Arrow, 2014.

I'm told the author of this is the creator of Silent Witness on TV, but as I've never seen it... A short, workmanlike history of forensic science which covers all the usual bases, but less interestingly than Val McDermid's recent similar book.  Some interesting additional/alternative test cases for some of the information though.  The photos in the middle of the book are stunningly uninformative and could easily have been left out...

To hell on a bike: riding Paris-Roubaix, the toughest race in cycling, by Iain MacGregor. London: Bantam, 2015.

MacGregor cycled from Lands end to John O'Groats in the 1990s, and took up cycling again in his early 40s; after cycling the Etape du Tour in 2013, he looked for another challenge.  So why not the "hell of the North", Paris-Roubaix, or its sportive equivalent?  This is a nice mixture of a history of the race, some self-deprecating stuff about MacGregor's own cycling prowess, and some excellent interviews with journalists, commentators, former racers and organisers of the race - MacGregor's background in publishing has obviously allowed him to build an impressive contacts book - ending with an account of the ride itself.  Very enjoyable and readable; and some really good photos in this one.