Close Of Play

close of play

Close of Play
by P.J. Whiteley

Brian Clarke has an ordered life, a life of village cricket, solid principles, and careful interaction with those around him. He is resolutely fending off advancing middle-age with a straight bat, determined to defend his wicket against life’s occasional fast balls. Then he meets Elizabeth a gentle, caring, genuinely selfless soul who is a glowing bloom amongst the ordered hedgerows of his existence. As Elizabeth demands Brian’s interest and breathes hope into his heart he must reassess his self-defined role as the lone batsmen and fight to find the courage to fall in love. Or risk losing her forever. Close of Play is a thoughtful, funny, beautifully honest story of love and manners. It is a tale of missed opportunities and a chance at redemption and the fear of opening our hearts to another when we think we have forgotten how to love.

Brian Clarke, or Colin as he is known to his fellow cricketers…and the vicar…and Elizabeth, is a man of tradition. A very conservative man who feels out of step with the times he is living in. When he meets Elizabeth, he is immediately attracted. But will she feel the same? Despite his many friends at the cricket club and church he lives on his own and is lonely and terribly fearful of rejection. His attempts to woo Elizabeth are both funny and sad.

Brian’s happiness depends on him finding a way through his rigid beliefs and trying to encompass someone who is not always on the same wavelength as him. And while watching him trying to sort through his emotions can be very poignant, at other times it is hilarious:

On unrequited love:
“perhaps love never goes completely unrequited, or unrewarded” I offered…
“yes, that’s what he said too. Something about karma.”
“oh – I’m not sure unrequited love helps you become calmer,” I said.

We get to know Brian through his own eyes, and he happily lets us into his world of cricket, church, good manners, philosophy. This is Jane Austen from a man’s point of view, and it’s wonderful.

This book is written in the most beautiful language. I took longer to read it than normal because I would read a sentence or a paragraph and have to go back and re-read it; such was the enjoyment.

If you like a romance with a dash of cricket and a whole lot of life thrown in, you’ll love this book.
****1/2

Thanks to Matthew at Urbane Publishing for sending me a copy.

The Faerie Tree

the faerie tree

The Faerie Tree
by Jane Cable

How can a memory so vivid be wrong?

I tried to remember the first time I’d been here and to see the tree through Izzie’s eyes. The oak stood on a rise just above the path; not too tall or wide but graceful and straight, its trunk covered in what I can only describe as offerings – pieces of ribbon, daisy chains, a shell necklace, a tiny doll or two and even an old cuckoo clock.
“Why do people do this?” Izzie asked.
I winked at her. “To say thank you to the fairies.”

In the summer of 1986 Robin and Izzie hold hands under The Faerie Tree and wish for a future together. Within hours tragedy rips their dreams apart.

In the winter of 2006, each carrying their own burden of grief, they stumble back into each other’s lives and try to create a second chance. But why are their memories of 1986 so different? And which one of them is right?

Central to this story is The Faerie Tree, a magical place where people leave messages and gifts in the hope of them being answered by the fairies. In 1986 Robin took Izzie to the Faerie Tree and they both realised they were in love. Unfortunately the same day brought tragedy and the couple parted and didn’t see each other again for 20 years.

2006: Izzie and her daughter Claire are facing their first Christmas without husband and father Connor who died a few months earlier. While out shopping Izzie recognises a tramp on the street as Robin, the man she was in love with 20 years earlier. Finding out that he has been hospitalised, Izzie visits him, offering him a place to stay when he is well enough.

The couple find that they still have feelings for each other, but will that be enough? Their memories of the past are wildly different.

I love the characters in this book. Robin is wonderful, so fragile and damaged, yet still so full of love and compassion. His pagan beliefs and love of the natural world helping him through very difficult times. I fell a little bit in love with Robin and he will stay with me for a long time.

Izzie has also had her share of tough times, widowed at 44, and trying to cope with her teenage daughter looking for more independence, she is not dealing very well with her grief. Her mood swings are frequent; from seemingly happy and contented to fractious and petulant.

Claire is a teenager wise beyond her years; needing independence and starting a new relationship with a boy, she nevertheless understands her mother is not as strong as she would like her to believe.

This is such a wonderful book. It’s about so much more than just two people losing and finding each other again. It’s about memory and how the mind deals with grief; it’s about tragedy and people’s differing reactions to it. But it’s also about love and friendship and it is beautifully told. What could be a heavy, dour subject is written about with such a light touch that it is very affecting but never depressing.

I read this book so quickly but I didn’t want to finish it. I am now looking forward to reading other books by Jane Cable.
Highly recommended.
****1/2

Many thanks to the author for sending me a copy via Netgalley

The Corpse Role

the corpse role

The Corpse Role
by Keith Nixon

Not everything that gets buried stays buried… sometimes things have a nasty habit of resurfacing…

When the body of a security van driver implicated in an unsolved £1.2 million heist turns up in a shallow grave two years later it’s just the beginning for Detective Inspector Charlotte Granger.

She embarks on an investigation that takes her into dangerous territory – a world of dirty cops, dodgy private investigators, local villains and nosy journalists. Meanwhile events from Granger’s own past are threatening to come back and haunt her…

As people are killed to silence them and vital information vanishes from files, can DI Granger get to the truth? And if she does, what will that truth reveal?

Paul Wheeler, a man implicated in a robbery two years earlier, is found murdered. A business card belonging to Chris White, an ex-policeman now a private detective, is found on his corpse.
D.I. Granger is in charge of the investigation, but before she gets very far Chris White is also murdered when it becomes apparent that he knows who was behind the unsolved robbery.

This is Keith Nixon’s first foray into the police procedural genre; his previous books being historical fiction, humour and crime. This is also my first fix of Keith Nixon and to say I was pleased is an understatement.

The story very cleverly jumps back and forth between the time of the heist and the present day murder investigation. There is much going on between the two timescales and it is enthralling but somehow never confusing: the sign of a master at work.

This is a wonderful book peopled with fabulous characters, many of them on the wrong side of the law, whether that be gangsters from the underworld or ex and serving police officers.

The twist at the end is one of the most jaw-dropping moments I have had reading crime thrillers. For hours afterwards I was going back over everything in the book and the clues are all there, but I did not see it coming at all. Love that!

Credit should also go to Jim Divine, who designed the cover. It is fabulous and goes perfectly with this book. I shall be purchasing a paperback copy just so I can have that cover on my shelf.

I cannot recommend this book highly enough.
****1/2

The Shut Eye

the shut eye

The Shut Eye
by Belinda Bauer

Five footprints are the only sign that Daniel Buck was ever here.

And now they are all his mother has left.

Every day, Anna Buck guards the little prints in the cement. Polishing them to a shine. Keeping them safe. Spiralling towards insanity.

When a psychic offers hope, Anna grasps it. Who wouldn’t? Maybe he can tell her what happened to her son…

But is this man what he claims to be? Is he a visionary? A shut eye? Or a cruel fake, preying on the vulnerable?

Or is he something far, far worse?

A young child has disappeared. Anna and James Buck are the child’s parents, and we watch Anna’s descent into almost madness and James trying his best to understand her and cope with his own grief.

Anna’s desperation has her turning to a psychic for help. This psychic has already been involved in another missing child investigation and Detective John Marvel is not impressed. Since Edie Evans went missing John Marvel has been haunted by her, he can’t find her and he doesn’t want charlatans like Richard Latham getting involved.

What a brilliant character John Marvel is, he can be impossibly rude and a little bit arrogant, he’s certainly not perfect, but who is? He is, however, wonderfully human and I would love to meet him again in future books.

That is one of Belinda Bauer’s strengths, her characters have so much depth, even the peripheral ones have so much to offer.

Her other strength is humour. In the face of unspeakable grief you find yourself laughing out loud: Marvel trying to locate a missing dog springs to mind. But she hold your emotions in the palm of her hand and she tugs on them at will.

When I read Rubberneckers I knew I was in the hands of someone special and that is vindicated in The Shut Eye. I highly recommend this book.
****

Many thanks to the publishers and netgalley for sending me a copy.

Classic Books

classics

Being handed a classic book strikes fear into many. As if the author’s hand is stretching from as far back as the 18th century, daring you not to like it. And ofcourse the person giving it to you states with careless ease that it’s absolutely impossible not to love this book, infact they are surprised that someone who loves books as much as you do has managed to live without it so far. No pressure then.

The problem with this books-that-must-be-read thing is that despite reading thousands of different books, all different genres, despite reading some classics and enjoying them; it is the ones that I couldn’t get through, the ones that I couldn’t make myself like, despite trying to read them multiple times: these are the ones that stay in my head and scream failure at me.

Well no longer.

I am purging the main culprits. I am putting them in print and shouting out loud: these book are just not for me! They are being rounded up and sent to the nearest charity shop and I am finally going to move on with my life.

Middlemarch
Oh my; this book is top of my list. I plodded and trudged, slogged and toiled my way through to the halfway point in this book. Then I gently replaced the bookmark and set the book back on the bookshelf where it has sat from that day forward, collecting dust like Miss Haversham, who sits in a more exalted position being involved in a classic that I love. There is only one word to describe Middlemarch concisely: dense.

Vanity Fair
Becky Sharp comes up as a favourite heroine in poll after poll. I would personally go a long way to avoid her. No chance of getting through this book with her involved.

Ulysses
I have a theory about this book and it is that it is not meant to be read cover to cover. I believe it is meant to be dipped into whenever you want to immerse yourself in some of the most beautiful prose ever written. It is truly magnificent but wholly unreadable as a story, although maybe you know better.

The 20th Century has its own classics.

Catch 22
This is a book that I really expected to enjoy. To say I hated it is an understatement. I just didn’t have a clue what was going on, I didn’t find it funny and I certainly didn’t find it entertaining.

Underworld
I wanted to love this book so much. The short time I was reading it I would walk around with it under my arm or casually drop it onto the coffee table (being careful not to crack it) so everyone could see what a well-read person I am. Hmmm…so much for that, I barely made it past the baseball scene. Wordy does not even begin to cover this book. However it is still on my shelf so people may still think I am well-read.:-)

Captain Corelli’s Mandolin
I don’t know if this book has classic status but it is spoken of in revered terms and many a celebrity has declared they couldn’t possibly be friends with someone who doesn’t like this book: so be it.
Slow, ponderous, slow, ponderous. Need I say anymore?

These are the main culprits that have plagued me for years, but now I am getting them off my back. It doesn’t make them bad books, it doesn’t mean no-one else can like them (many obviously do) it just means I am moving forward, there are too many good books in the world to keep re-reading ones that you’ll never get on with.
Now I’m re-reading Frankenstein: that’s what I call a classic.

The Murder Bag

The Murder Bag

The Murder Bag
by Tony Parsons

Twenty years ago seven rich, privileged students became friends at their exclusive private school, Potter’s Field. Now they have started dying in the most violent way imaginable.

Detective Max Wolfe has recently arrived in the Homicide division of London’s West End Central, 27 Savile Row.

Soon he is following the bloody trail from the backstreets and bright lights of the city, to the darkest corners of the internet and all the way to the corridors of power.

As the bodies pile up, Max finds the killer’s reach getting closer to everything – and everyone – he loves.

Soon he is fighting not only for justice, but for his own life…

Hugo Buck, an investment banker, is found with his throat cut open in gruesome fashion. Then a homeless man, Adam Jones, is murdered in the same way. At first it looks as if they have nothing in common until the same photograph of seven students at an exclusive private school turns up in each of the men’s possessions. As the other students in the photograph are being picked off and murdered Detective Max Wolfe has to find the killer..and soon.

This book started off so well with the prologue depicting the murder of a young woman which is both shocking and disturbing. If the rest of the book had concentrated on the crime it would have made a much better book. Tony Parsons usual fare is based on relationships, so I suppose it’s fairly natural for him to want to include a lot of his detective’s relationships in this book. Unfortunately the relationships are wholly sentimental and do not work in the midst of a crime book. Whole chapters devoted to his daughter and their dog. Picking a fight with a man because he’s laughing at his dog. It was really wearing. I like some background on the protagonists, you need to get to know them but this was just mawkish sentimentality.

I also had a large problem with one aspect of his relationship with his wife. I don’t want to give any spoilers away but we are given information at the start of the book that strongly suggests one thing and your feelings are in accordance with what has been suggested. Then later on in the book it turns out that it is something else entirely and I was not impressed. I love twists and turns in a book but this was neither; I felt this was dishonest and the character was deceitful for no reason whatsoever. The issue had nothing to do with the crime and could easily have been set out honestly from the start. I lost any empathy I had and really couldn’t be bothered with Wolfe’s domestic situation after that. It may have bothered me more than it should but that’s the way it is.

I did enjoy the crime story. There was decent plotting and lots of real twists and turns that were well done. There was lots of research into police procedurals, which really didn’t all have to be transferred to the page: trying to find the knife used in the attacks was long-winded. The detail about The Black Museum, an actual museum of criminal artifacts in London, was really interesting.

Overall, the crime story was enjoyable but be aware there is a lot of background sentimentality and if you can cope with that it’s not a bad read.
I give it three stars but it’s probably nearer two and a half for me.
***
Many thanks to the publisher and Netgalley for sending me the copy.