March Picks

Gardner, Lisa (2020) Before She Disappeared. Century.

Itinerant recovering alcoholic, Frankie Elkin, makes it her life’s mission to find missing people once the police have given up. Her new case brings her to Mattapan in Boston where she begins searching for a lost Haitian teenager. Frankie’s search puts her in danger as she encounters gangs, traffickers, racism and a grumpy cat. Frankie is a nuanced narrator, damaged but unflinchingly honest, with a determination that makes this gritty procedural exciting and a conclusion that suggests that we might meet Frankie again. Action packed.

Rating: 8/10

Grenville, Kate (2020) A Room Made of Leaves. Text.

A fictitious memoir of Elizabeth Macarthur in the earliest days of New South Wales. Elizabeth was a naive farmer’s daughter from Devon when an unfortunate mistake saddled her with an obsessive and corrupt husband. In this retelling of the story of the notorious colonist and wool baron, John Macarthur, Grenville seeks to set the record straight on the contribution Elizabeth made to the agricultural heritage of Australia, within the heartbreaking constraints of being an unhappy and silenced wife. Told in small chapters with vivid descriptions of the hostile life of a settler, the Australian landscape, and dispossession, Elizabeth’s voice is frank and guileful. A rich dance of possibilities, challenging history as told by white men. Irresistibly believable.

Rating: 8.5/10

Harding, Luke (2020) Shadow State: Murder, Mayhem, and Russia’s Remaking of the West. Guardian Faber.

As Trump geared up for the 2020 election, his relationship with Putin was still not fully explained. There is no doubt that under Trump’s watch the US had become vulnerable to Russia’s disinformation campaigns. Journalist Luke Harding sleuths Moscow’s methods and ruthless incursions, from London to Washington, Salisbury to Kyiv, to the Central African Republic. Twenty-first century espionage tactics that include fake news, poisonings, cyber attacks, subversion, annexations, gaming politics and democracy, and treason; an unofficial vengeful war to create division, paranoia, and chaos in Western societies. Mind-blowing and beyond alarming.

Rating: 8.5/10

Lodge, Gytha (2021) Lie Beside Me. M. Joseph.

Louise wakes up with a dead stranger in her bed after a drunken night out. As she struggles to piece together her memories she becomes the prime suspect for murder. As DCI Jonah Sheens and his team, in their third outing, begin to unpick the intricacies of the crime nothing is adding up. Is Louise a victim or the culprit? A gripping police procedural, with diarised alternate chapters by “Drunk Louise” and “Sober Louise” as the unreliable narrator. Fast paced with heaps of twists and turns.

Rating: 8.5/10

Macfarlane, Robert and Jackie Morris (2020) The Lost Spells. Hamish Hamilton.

This enchanting collaboration, a companion to The Lost Words, is a celebration of British wildlife in a time of ecological crisis. Macfarlane’s spell-poems and Morris’ watercolours evoke the wonder of nature and language in an inspiring and imaginative way. Meet, amongst others, the red fox, the barn owl, the snow hare, the silver birch and the ancient oak. Robert Macfarlane in another guise. Delightful small gem.

Rating: 8/10

Griffiths, Elly (2020) The Postscript Murders. Quercus.

Elderly Peggy Smith’s death seems to be from natural causes, that is until her homecare worker Natalka, and friends Benedict and Edwin, suspect foul play.  When they discover that Peggy was a “murder consultant” who plotted deaths for mystery novelists, and find a postcard with a disturbing message, they call in DS Harbinder Kaur. Kaur is forced to undertake her investigation alongside the enthusiastic amateur sleuths in Shoreham-by-Sea and in Aberdeen, as authors die in suspicious circumstances. A sleepy literary mystery in the tradition of Agatha Christie.  

Rating: 7.5/10

Silvey, Craig (2020) Honeybee. Allen & Unwin.

When fourteen-year-old Sam meets elderly Vic late one night on a quiet overpass, both with the intention of ending their life, a bond is formed and two lives are saved. This unlikely friendship takes us on life-affirming adventures, from drag shows, dog rescues, bank robberies, to Julia Child. This imaginative and compassionate coming-of-age tale, Silvey’s first since Jasper Jones, is about a sensitive solitary trans child overcoming family trauma to find unconventional love and self-acceptance. Moving redemptive story, brimming with colourful characters.

Rating: 8.5/10

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