The Crow Trap – Ann Cleeves
I love Ann Cleeves and that’s the only reason I kept going with The Crow Trap, the first in the Vera series (I’ve read all the Shetland novels and a later Vera mystery). However, it was worth it for when the story finally lifts off around page 400, with Vera emerging for the first time as the central point of view.
For much of the book, Vera is only glimpsed – not mentioned at all until a couple of hundred pages in other than a minor reference you’d only recognise if you already knew her as a character. And Joe Ashworth is barely sketched in at all, which is a shame as he’s such a tremendous foil for Vera. It all feels unbalanced and the structure of the book – a vast amount of the first half is flashbacks and backstory about a couple of the characters that is either largely immaterial to the story or could be woven in far less intrusively – chokes the flow.
Another challenge is that, reading it in 2020, the book feels dated. First published in 1999, it has some language I found problematic. There are repeated references to one of the characters having “committed suicide” – we are now so far beyond thinking of suicide as committing a crime that this really jarred with me. Women are frequently referred to as “girls” – the men are always “men”. One of the characters seems to be black or mixed race but this is conveyed in rather coy, tentative language, a mention of dark skin and teeth looking white against his skin among other things, which made me cringe.
However – as always with Cleeves, there’s a wondrous complicated plot and strong intertwined sub-plots. Vera does spring off the page once she’s allowed more than a cameo appearance. When you get past the logjam of the first couple of hundred pages things move along nicely, and while it’s not an unpredictable killer the clues along the way are tidied up satisfyingly in the final wrap-up.
First published 1999 by Macmillan. Edition I read published in 2016 by Pan.
Dead Man’s Lane – Kate Ellis
Another in the excellent and enjoyable Wesley Peterson murder mystery series: number 23 to be exact. The complex plot twists and turns, and even though I picked up enough clues along the way to work out who the killer was a bit before the end, there was still a final twist in store that I hadn’t anticipated at all. More I won’t say so as not to spoil anything, but definitely recommended if you like a good mystery.
I interviewed Kate Ellis in 2016 and we talked about how she came to write the Wesley Peterson series of mysteries with their archaeological sub-plots. You’ll find the interview here.
Published by Piatkus in 2019.
The Second Sleep – Robert Harris
Excellent – a clever, absorbing post-apocalyptic story set 800 years in the future – the second sleep of the title referring to how people used to have a first sleep, wake during the night, and then fall into a second sleep.
Fairfax, the main character, is engaging and believable, though his rapid changes of heart through the story seem to happen a little easily. Every now and then small factual errors jerked my out of my immersion in the narrative (several references to a horse’s bridle when it made no sense, the context meaning it had to be the reins; a description of sheep lying down to feed their lambs – lambs nurse standing up from birth – but if you’re not a horse rider or familiar with the habits of sheep, you wouldn’t notice).
Harris gives you a lot to think about, though he paints in the world of the “Ancients” with a light brush. The plot rolls along satisfactorily, all the major characters are vivid, distinct, and likeable, and even when I thought I knew what was going to happen, I didn’t: the final couple of pages were genuinely surprising. Highly recommended.
Published by Hutchinson in 2019
Review: Monstrous Devices – Damien Love
When Alex’s grandfather sends him an old robot out of the blue, the mysterious writing of his English essay while he’s asleep is just the start. Whisked off to Paris and Prague by his grandfather, Alex finds himself galloping at breakneck speed through a secret, magical world where good battles evil, opening up a Pandora’s box of questions including some that challenge even Alex’s own beliefs about himself.
It’s a rattling good read sprinkled with dry humour and memorable characters; his grandfather is larger than life. Publishers Weekly captures it thus: “Raiders of the Lost Ark meets Toy Story” and that’s a fair comment that indicates the blend of whimsy, danger, and adventure.
Damien Love borrows freely (and openly, with tongue-in-cheek references) from an array of fantasy precursors (Frankenstein, King Kong, among others – John Masefield and The Box of Delights came to mind as well for me) but with a deft hand that doffs his hat to them even as he adds his own original spin.
A bonus is some lovely descriptive writing and the great cover illustration and frontispiece by Sam LeDoyen. Thoroughly enjoyable.
Published by Rock the Boat, 2020
Posted in Book Reviews, Children's Books, Fantasy, Fiction
Tagged Book Reviews, books, Children's Books, Damien Love, Monstrous Devices, novel, robots, Rock the Boat, Sam LeDoyen, writing
The Killer In Me (Frankie Sheehan #2) – Olivia Kiernan
Olivia Kiernan goes from strength to strength with the second title in her Frankie Sheehan books. Reading the first and second novel back to back, as I did, highlighted the difference in the writing – great the first time, and great this time too but with an added assurance of touch, a finesse, that (as a writer myself) made me whisper, yes. The plot’s as clever as you could wish for and I was second-guessing myself all through – and still taken by surprise.
Frankie leaps off the page, three-dimensional and real, but I particularly enjoyed in this book the filling in of Baz’s character. I love their easy friendship and I hope it stays like that. To find a police procedural series with such fine characterisation, complex plotting, and above all writing that sings, is a real joy. I’ve pre-ordered the third in the series, If Looks Could Kill, and I hope for many, many more. Brava.
Published by Dutton, 2019
Agent Running in the Field: John le Carré
The trademark John le Carré wry wit and obfuscation is there, but perhaps not sufficiently to carry what feels quite two-dimensional as a story. Nat, a has-been agent runner being put out to pasture, gets too friendly with a man he knows little about other than he’s an excellent badminton player. Brexit and Trump are factored in; Nat and Ed, his new badminton partner, are in accord. But the story plays out without a great deal of tension – we can see what’s coming – until the last few pages. The ending, quite abrupt, seems adrift from the book’s moorings and is puzzling rather than satisfying. There’s some inattentive editing too – just about everyone takes a “long pull” at their drinks, sometimes within a page of each other. A good novel, quite entertaining; but not Le Carré’s best.
Published 2019, Penguin Random House | Viking
A quick update: both my planned school visits and my signing day at Avebury for the launch of The Keeper of the Stones are on hold because of the understandable and necessary measures to manage the spread of the coronavirus.
Working from home, like many others, with quiet evenings and weekends, means I’ve been indulging myself by ordering books and I now have more than one to-be-read pile. (I’ve just finished Jonathan Coe’s Number 11; you can read my brief review here.)
In the midst of everything else, I was pleased to learn that a short story I wrote was longlisted in the international Fish Publishing short story competition, which this year had more than 1,400 entries. Apart from anything else, it’s an abridged version of a manuscript (a satirical novel) that I’m in the midst of pitching, so it was encouraging to see it has something going for it!
I’m lucky to have open fields around me, where I can head out alone with my dogs.
Wherever you are in this time of corona, stay safe, stay at home at much as possible and keep your distance when you’re out.
And keep reading and writing!
Posted in Uncategorized
Tagged about writing, Avebury, coronavirus, Dogs, Fish Publishing, Greyhounds, Jonathan Coe, Number 11, Roz Kay, Short story, The Keeper of the Stones
My publisher, Hayloft, is expecting the copies of my debut children’s novel, The Keeper of the Stones, from the printer on 23 March. There will be fewer than 500 copies available.
Advance orders are going well and anyone who pre-orders a copy has a chance of winning one of the stunning original inkwash illustrations (see my last post) by the multimedia artist and illustrator, Kelsea Rothaus.
If you’re in Wiltshire, UK, and can get to the Henge Shop at Avebury stone circles on 9 May — I’ll be signing copies from 11:00 am. It would be tremendous to see you!
My heading for this post is taken from a review quote:
“Absolutely gripping! My heart raced as I galloped along with Lizzie, and my brain whirled as I tried to unravel clues to the mysteries. The reading time flew by – as did time itself in this intriguing tale. Suspense, an occasional laugh, and many surprises… All here!” – Martha Kendall, American Library Association Winner of Best Book for Young Adults.
I hope you’ll want to take the ride too.
(c) 2020 Roz Kay
Posted in Children's Books, Fantasy, Fiction, Time travel
Tagged Avebury, Bronze Age, children's novel, Fantasy, Hayloft Publishing, novel, Roz Kay, stone circles, The Keeper of the Stones, Time travel, Wiltshire
How often do you get a chance to win an original piece of art? Now, you could – by advance ordering a copy of The Keeper of the Stones, my debut children’s novel. It’s illustrated by multimedia designer and artist Kelsea Rothaus and one of her original signed inkwash drawings is available for a lucky winner.
To be entered in the raffle, please visit Hayloft Publishing.
The Keeper of the Stones is a 200-page novel suitable for ages 10 and up. A midnight ride to the stone circles on the family farm catapults Lizzie and her brother Daniel back to the Bronze Age. Trapped three thousand years behind her own time, Lizzie must save Daniel and stop the Bullmaster before he destroys the Horse People and her family ceases to exist.