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Book Reviews: 20 March

The Lady reviews of the latest books available to buy or download now


Books-Mar20-ShutEye-176THE SHUT EYE by Belinda Bauer (Bantam, £12.99; offer price, £11.69)
A ‘shut eye’ is a medium, and Anna Buck, whose little son Daniel has disappeared, is drawn to a meeting in the hope that Richard Latham can help her. Anna has been driven slowly insane by Daniel’s disappearance – she cleans hysterically and she and her husband James are drawing apart. Meanwhile, DCI John Marvel is investigating another missing-person case, that of Edie Evans, who failed to arrive at school one day. Although Anna finds the medium to be useless, a curious thing happens and she starts to see a garden. She doesn’t know if it is real or part of her mental disintegration. The author weaves the strands of her novel seamlessly, the atmosphere is kept downbeat and ordinary, and despite the horror of the events portrayed there are no monsters, just a building of suspense. Another excellent outing for Bauer.
Victoria Clark

Books-Mar20-GirlInThePhotograph-176THE GIRL IN THE PHOTOGRAPH by Kate Riordan (Penguin, £6.99; offer price, £6.64)
Reminiscent of Daphne du Maurier’s Rebecca, Kate Riordan’s novel jumps between 1933 and 1898, as she tells the tale of two women connected by fate. Alice, an unwed mother, arrives at Fiercombe Manor under false pretences to wait out the birth of her baby. The house has an air of mystery, and during her respite she discovers the tragic circumstances of its former inhabitant, Lady Stanton. Unlocking the secrets of the past, Alice realises their lives have become intertwined. An atmospheric read from start to finish.
Lyndsy Spence

Books-Mar20-Minnow-176THE MINNOW by Diana Sweeney (Text Publishing, £6.99; offer price, £6.64)
Tom is a pregnant teenage girl who has lost her family in a flood and is living with a supportive friend. She refers to the unborn child as ‘the minnow’ and holds conversations with her, just as she does with the ghosts of her parents and – more oddly – with fish.

The general premise, in conjunction with the symbolism, appears quite good, but its execution is lacklustre and somewhat baffling. The exchanges between Tom and the minnow are both funny and touching, against the sadness that runs through most of the book, but they are not enough to distract from the clumsy overall style.
Philippa Williams

Books-Mar06-TheRocks-176THE ROCKS by Peter Nichols (Heron Books, £17.99; offer price, £14.99)
Drawing on Homer’s Odyssey, with cunning and boats playing pivotal roles within fateful happenings, this exquisitely crafted tale is part love story, part miniature epic. Set amid the olive groves, bars and poolside parties of sun-drenched Mallorca, it begins and ends with scenes from 2005, flanking the earlier years, recounted in reverse to 1948, when protagonists Lulu and Gerald first met.

In this portrait of a very rare and precious union that reverberates across the years in a glorious whirl of colour, light and blazing emotion, the artistic jostles with the poetic.

Twists of destiny link these two unusual characters, even through their descendants. Returning to the present day in the closing scenes, to paraphrase TS Eliot, in their end is their beginning – structurally, literally and allegorically. An ambitious project, beautifully done.
Patricia Marie


Books-Mar20-FishLadder-176A thirst for origins
THE FISH LADDER: A JOURNEY UPSTREAM by Katharine Norbury (Bloomsbury, £16.99; o…ffer price, £14.99)
After Katharine Norbury miscarried a muchlonged- for second baby, she resolved to combat the ensuing depression by fulfilling an ambition to trace a river from the sea to its source. But as her quest evolved – and with her nine-year-old daughter in tow – she also found herself in pursuit of her own origins: Norbury was abandoned as a baby in a Liverpool convent, adopted and raised knowing nothing of her biological parents.

While this nature memoir-cum-travelogue will inevitably be talked about in the same breath as Helen Macdonald’s H Is For Hawk, it is no pale imitation. The keenness of Norbury’s vision is a delight – three tumbling fox cubs look like ‘hot loaves knocked out of their tins’, for example – and her prose is imbued with a quiet but infectious vitality. Her background as a former  lm and script editor is evident in the cinematic quality and  nely timed pace of her scenes.

But despite its emotionally charged themes, there is nothing sentimental about Norbury’s account: her dramatic journey is shaped by grief, illness and mental breakdown, and she writes un‡ inchingly and with great power about each. The result is as gripping as any  ctional family saga, and few readers will fail to be moved to tears.
Stephanie Cross


THE SCOTTISH COUNTRY HOUSE by James Knox and James Fennell (Thames & Hudson, £18.95; offer price, £17.05)
The Scots, as well as having magnificent old castles to transform into country houses, were also fortunate in having the Adam brothers in the 18th century to design the perfect classical buildings with interiors to match. Added to the mix at Drumlanrig is a French influence.


The book covers 10 Scottish country houses, from 1612 to Robert Lorimer’s 1908 Monzie Castle, with photographs of peerless plaster ceilings, fi ne rococo gold mirrors and rich colours on the walls and in the fabrics. You can see why Prince Charles wanted to save the untouched Dumfries House (by the Adam brothers) for the nation.
Hugh St Clair



CREATURES OF A DAY by Irvin Yalom (Piatkus, £14.99; offer price, £12.99)
Still practising in his 80s, the renowned psychotherapist recounts some of his more recent cases, as old age – his and his patients’ – brings into sharper focus an issue that has interested him throughout his career: facing up to our mortality, and making our lives meaningful in spite of it.

From the ageing ex-ballerina who cannot let go of her youth, to the elderly ‘writer’ whose magnum opus is still unwritten, he captures the people that file through his consulting room with a novelist’s skill for nuanced characterisation. His writing combines razor-sharp analytical skills, a down-to-earth approach and the gift of true empathy. Laced with humour and warmth, despite dealing with the most existential form of anxiety, this is an enlightening and uplifting book.
Juanita Coulson

KOLYMSKY HEIGHTS by Lionel Davidson (Faber & Faber, £8.99; offer price, £8.54)
A spy thriller that fits firmly into the territory traversed by the likes of Graham Greene, John le Carré and Ian Fleming, this reissue with a new introduction by Philip Pullman should be welcomed by fans of the genre. It charts the complex deceptions undertaken by Jean- Baptiste ‘Johnny’ Porter, exotic hero and intellectual par excellence. Porter is sent to Siberia to investigate radical scientific experiments, leading to breathtaking escapades across continents.
Martyn Colebrook


The golden age of crime fiction was dominated by female authors. How do their contemporaries measure up, asks Victoria Clark

The genre of crime fiction experienced a ‘golden age’ between the two world wars and these novels are again flooding the market, but with varying levels of success.Š

Murder At The Brightwell by Ashley Weaver (Allison & Busby, £12.99; offer price, £11.69) seems confused as to whether it is an etiquette guide, a romance or a detective novel. Amory Ames is rich, beautiful and unhappily married to the equally rich and beautiful, but flawed, Milo. While she is staying at the seaside hotel of the title, a cad and bounder is murdered. In a nod to Agatha Christie, all the guests are suspects. But that is where the similarity to Christie ends. The authorial voice is not very convincing, the motive even less so, and the characterisation is weak.

By contrast, Christobel Kent’s The Crooked House (Sphere, £14.99; offer price, £13.49) is a darkly impressive novel that cracks off at a good pace. A family is slaughtered in their own home and the only survivor is 13-year-old Esme. It is assumed that her father is the perpetrator. Having grown up under this burden, Esme has changed her name and created a limited life for herself in London. But when she starts a relationship, she finds herself drawn back to the bleak estuary town of her childhood – past and present meld in a terrifying way, leaving her in danger from she knows not what.ŠThe sinister, windswept town of Saltleigh is a brooding backdrop, and the characters are sharply drawn, yet murkily unattractive.Š


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