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The Great Escape

Well, it’s April, the world is a different place — and I’ve realised I haven’t blogged since last year! How time flies, and who knew? And other such clichés.

We’re most of us at home, and if we are, I reckon it’s the perfect excuse to read more. I love settling down next to a window where the light pours in from a spring sun, with blossom and birdsong outside. When I’m not at my computer writing, reading is a great escape from the incessant flow of news.

In the next few blogs I’m going to talk about some of the books I’ve already read in 2020. I don’t always stick to my genre (psychological thrillers, in case you’ve forgotten!) so hopefully there’s something for everyone here — although there are a couple of cracking thrillers included too, here and in future blogs. I hope you enjoy my choices!

Brooklyn by Colm Toibin

If anyone doesn't think a writer can create an authentic character in a different gender from themselves, they should read this (and change their mind).

Brooklyn is a brilliant portrait of a young woman and the duty she feels to her family. I like Toibin’s style: it’s matter-of-fact and non-judgemental but at the same time sensitive. Often it’s what his characters don’t say that’s illuminating, I feel.

Set in Ireland in the early 1950s, the story follows a young girl, Eilis Lacey. Eilis is clever, but good jobs are hard to come by. Her well-meaning older sister, Rose, arranges for her to emigrate to New York to find work. Eilis has no desire to leave her widowed mother, her friends or her familiar surroundings, but Rose, the only breadwinner in the family, has sacrificed her freedom for her sister by staying at home to look after their mother. So Eilis sets out on the long journey without complaint.

Arriving in a crowded Irish lodging house in Brooklyn, she’s lonely and homesick, and struggles to settle in. But she meets a local man, an Italian-­American named Tony, and starts to feel more like this is home.

When her family calls her back to Enniscorthy for a funeral, Eilis feels the pull of her home country and her family, and is left with a difficult decision.

Things in Jars by Jess Kidd

Jess’s two previous novels were contemporary, while this novel is Victorian crime fiction set mostly in London — and it’s just as brilliant and imaginative as her previous stories.

The lead character is a fearless Irish woman called Bridie Devine, a red-haired, pipe-smoking, self-styled detective who sometimes dresses as a man to get into operating theatres.

Bridie is given the task of solving the kidnapping of Christabel, daughter of Sir Edmund Berwick, a peculiar, dangerous child whose supposed supernatural powers have captured the attention of collectors trading curiosities.

Luckily, her search is aided by Cora, her seven-foot-tall housemaid — and a lovesick ghost called Ruby, an ex-boxer who trails around after her, helping as much as a ghost can. He wears only boots, boxer shorts and tattoos, which move around and express themselves according to his mood. Their love is funny and sad at the same time.

It’s a lovely story with likeable characters, witty, warm and beautifully written.

The Hunting Party by Lucy Foley

If you like a good thriller, you’ll love this.

A group of old friends from Oxford University travels to an exclusive lodge in the remote Scottish Highlands for New Year’s Eve.

We know from the start that this reunion isn’t going to go well. By the second day in January, a body has been found and a huge snowstorm means the party can’t leave the property. We don’t find out who the victim is, or even the gender, until much later in the story. The truth is revealed in a drip-drip way, the narrative moving back and forth between the discovery of the murder and the events leading up to it.

The story moves along at a pace, narrated by some of the guests as well as the manager of the hotel and the rather mysterious gamekeeper. The characters are all very different and it’s obvious from the start that there are tensions and secrets between them.

This is a tense, fast-moving and compelling story. I particularly enjoyed the dark, cold atmosphere invoked by the remote Scottish location.


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