Not My Brother’s Keeper by Colette McCormick

Reading Not My Brother’s Keeper I was reminded of the biblical story of Cain and Abel, the two brothers at odds with each other because of the catastrophically bad choice made by Cain. Living with the consequences of that choice was damning.
In Not My Brother’s Keeper, the older brother Robert is a bit like Cain: he makes the wrong – even immoral – choice and takes the wrong turn in life, a decision that will haunt him for years. He abandons his pregnant girlfriend Michelle and leaves town, asking his brother Tom to watch out for her.
Tom is to some extent the equivalent of Abel – the good brother who stays behind, picks up the loose ends, keeps the family together and ultimately is rewarded with love and happiness with Michelle. Until, that is, Robert decides to come back and open old wounds.
Not My Brother’s Keeper is a thought-provoking tale about family, morality, decency and second chances. The story will stay with you long after you read the last sentence. Highly recommended.

A Fatal Crossing by Tom Hindle

A Fatal Crossing by [Tom Hindle]

A transatlantic ship with over two-thousand passengers onboard carries the secret of an old gentleman’s death from Southampton to New York. At first, his death is dismissed by the captain as an accident, but James Temple, a persistent Scotland Yard detective, is permitted to investigate – as long as he is accompanied everywhere by the ship’s officer, Mr Birch. A thorough inquiry follows, witnesses are pursued and interviewed, and slowly a picture of art theft and high-society indiscretions begins to be painted.

Tom Hindle’s writing has been compared to Agatha Christie and indeed it has the elements of classic detective narrative and plotting. The partnership between James Temple and Timothy Birch is particularly vibrant and really benefits the story. Both characters are complex, each man harbouring his own secrets. The underlying tragedy of Birch’s missing daughter adds extra emotional depth to Birch’s narrative (the story is told from his point of view).

More deaths and further complications abound but the investigation ploughs on to the final unmasking of the killer. However it isn’t the identity of the killer that provides the ultimate, most unexpected twist to this tale. It is something entirely different. I did not see it coming and I must admit that it was quite a shock. I shouldn’t even intimate at what it is as that would spoil your pleasure of reading this book and getting to that earth-shattering denouement in your own time.

The Book of Sand by Theo Clare

The Book of Sand by [Theo Clare]

The Book of Sand starts as a story of two worlds – almost two different dimensions. There is the desert with shifting sands and dunes that are capable of burying whole cities; the nights are haunted by monstrous, blood-thirsty beings who are neither dead nor alive and who don’t seem to have a stable physical form. In that world a group of strangers is thrown together by fate or rather by mysterious design. The group – referred to as Family – travels by day in search of Sarkpont (a holy grail that has the power to end their apocalyptic ​desert trek). By night they cower in their shuck which is detached and suspended in mid-air to protect them against night-time perils. Spider, possibly of French heritage but that is only implied, is the focal character. We see the Family’s endeavours through his eyes.

In parallel to the desert world, there is the contemporary world of a teenage girl called McKenzie, a science geek, fascinated  with sand and desert ,who one day wakes up to find a lizard in her bed. Her world, though seemingly safe and ordinary, begins to undergo a strange transformation. Others can’t see what she is seeing and soon her mental health comes into question. 

You know that in time the two worlds will collide or merge in some way. The story leads that way. I found McKenzie’s story unremarkable at first, but soon it absorbed me and at some point took over from the fantastical world of the desert. Although you will have six hundred pages to plough through, this book is worth persevering with. Your time will be well invested.

The Book of Sand is a reflective and mesmerising tale set in a dystopian reality which tests man’s resilience. It is about interdependence and commonality of purpose.  It is about togetherness and the intrinsic value each of us represents. All in all, it is an exquisite and thought-provoking story. The ending will take you deep inside yourself, into your past and even your beginning.

Lethal Game by Charlie Gallagher

Lethal Game: An absolutely gripping crime thriller packed with suspense by [Charlie Gallagher]

Someone is playing a sick game, literally. A computer game has been transferred from screen to real life, with real people racing against each other and against death to save themselves and their loved ones. Detectives Joel Norris and Lucy Rose are tasked with catching the psychopathic killer before yet another casualty is found dead and someone else is too traumatised to talk to them.
Lethal Game is a very solid police procedural./suspense thriller. I found the investigation element of it authentic and convincing, full of inside knowledge about policing and full of credible detail. Only when I got to the author’s bio at the end of the book did I learn that he used to be a police detective. I wasn’t in the least surprised.
The plot comprises parallel developments in the investigation and the first-hand experiences of the victims; it is a skilfully handled., with visceral descriptions.
As reader, I found myself drawn into the lives of the detectives, particularly DS Rose. Her rocky, unstable relationships with her father were brilliantly conveyed – a highlight of the book.
Lethal Game is the second book in a series, but I didn’t feel disadvantaged in any way reading it without having read the first one.
A really good read.

The Cult by Abby Davies

Religious cults have been the subject matter of many works of fiction, the idea of secretive communes pursuing rapture and eternal life fascinating writers and inspiring endless speculations and fears, curiosity, suspicions, even envy and loathing.
In “The Cult” Abby Davies takes an interesting perspective of looking at the interaction between the world at large and the small but fierce world of a spiritual sect seeking immortality through the blood of the pure and innocent who need to be “resourced” from the outside.
Two young children are induced out of their home in the middle of the night and, after having witnessed a violent attack, disappear in the woods. The reader senses that there is more to their disappearance than the two mobster wanting to silence them. As the search for the children gets under way, a story of another child, called Love, is told. We follow Love’s story from the time she is about ten through to adulthood. Love isn’t an ordinary child – she is the product of a cult led by the charismatic, and controlling, Uncle Saviour. Love worships him and her unconditional belief in him shapes her into someone even more deluded and coercive than him.
There are three distinctive narratives within this story: that of Love, Lilly (the children’s mother) and DI Pearline Ottoline (the detective in charge of the investigation). The three narratives come together in the final denouement. I found Love’s tale the most compelling but not the easiest to digest. Unlike in other cult fiction, such as “After the Fire”, there does not seem to be any room for redemption; the years of brainwash leaving Love bereft of sense of reality and empathy. A thought provoking read.

An Accidental Tragedy, the life of Mary, Queen of Scots by Roderick Graham

In this hefty volume, Roderick Graham paints a vivid and engaging portrait of Mary Queen of Scots. He takes the reader through her life and her times, demonstrating great sensitivity and objectivity. The geopolitical and societal realities of her days are thoroughly analysed, with the all main historical players deftly brought into the fold of her story.
Mary herself comes across as a real human being, a lone woman in a man’s world, a monarch amongst rivals and contenders, fallible, naive and gullible, sometimes dangerous (to others, but mainly to herself), a romantic and adventurer at heart, a woman manipulated, betrayed, fighting back, winning a few battles and squirmishes, but losing a war, and ultimately her head.
It is a fascinating read, showing vividly Mary’s fatalistic path towards her final demise in a way that makes the reader understand, become sympathetic towards her and furious about her detractors and duplicitous, side-swapping allies and advisers.
What I particularly appreciated about this book (as opposed to others I read about her) was the lack of spurious judgment dictated by the perspective of the victor (Elizabeth I and England) and the sensibilities of the twentieth century. This story is firmly set in the sixteenth century before posterity had a chance to analyse it, twist and warp it to meet the objectives of our modern context which did not exist in Mary’s day. Roderick Graham gave Mary a chance to tell her story as it was.
A wonderful book that reads like action-packed fiction, but at them same time is based on detailed and in-depth research.

Piranesi by Susanna Clarke

This wasn’t my first read by Susanna Clarke so I knew to expect something magical and otherworldly, but “Piranesi” surpassed my expectations. It isn’t about magic, but it certainly is otherworldly, and more. There is something profound, almost biblical about this book.

The House, which is immeasurable and whose kindness is infinite, is the only world Piranesi knows. And it is that knowledge, or its limitation, that are pivotal here. For Piranesi a house of many chambers and vestibules, rising from the waves, filled with statues depicting real-life and mythical scenes, but otherwise devoid of our modern-day props, constitutes his whole universe. He recognises it as his creator, guide and protector – the House is God-like. The House defines Piranesi’s identity. He worships it, but he also explores and studies it. In a way, he reinvents it: its topography, its dead, its beauty and kindness. The whole premise of one man detached from reality but insistently scientific in his understandings, alone but not lonely, innocent through his ignorance of the existence of others is fascinating. His awakening and transition to the truth seems almost cruel although, despite his naivete, he deals with it admirably.  

“Piranesi” isn’t about action or relationships, at least not in the conventional sense, but it is utterly compelling and it will draw you in and make you forget about everything else.

The White Rajah by Tom Williams

The White Rajah: In Borneo with Rajah Brooke (The Williamson Papers) by [Tom Williams]

A sweeping historical adventure set in the exotic jungle of Borneo, The White Rajah tells the true story of James Brooke, an adventurer who became the Rajah of Sawark.
This fictionalised and vivid version of Brooke’s life as ruler of a war-torn region in the Far East is narrated by a humble shipmate Williamson who joins Brook on a trading missing to Borneo as an interpreter, grows close to him and becomes his lover and companion.
There are echoes of Conrad’s “Lord Jim” in this wonderful book – the distant, exotic settings, the seafaring themes, the richly portrayed locals under threat from pirates/unscrupulous enemies, and concepts of honour, courage, redemption and fairness; Brook, the white Rajah brings to mind Tuan (lord Jim) with Williamson taking on the role of an eye-witness, not unlike Marlow.
A thoroughly enjoyable tale that will take you on an adventure back in time and to far-flung locations.

A Little Poison by Tim Stretton

Estranged from his aristocratic family and impecunious, but defiantly irreverent, Lothar von Schnusenberg walks into a nest of vipers when he arrives in the duchy of Haskilde. His undercover assignment is to sway the duchy’s weak and elderly ruler into concluding an alliance pact with the Empire of Beruz. When the old duke dies, his young and seemingly psychopathic son, Valdemar, succeeds him. If the boy’s own degenerate inclinations weren’t enough, he is also surrounded by cunning rival power’s ambassadors and his own ruthless advisers, notably the notorious Fox. The nest of vipers is stirred into further frenzy when the Empire’s ambassador is murdered. Lothar is appointed his acting successor, and at the same time, stands accused of his murder. The vipers slither all around him, ready to execute the final and deadly strike.

Lothar is not entirely defenceless. Resourceful and clever, conversant with poisons and other low-key weapons of choice of any decent spy, he is in fact in his own element. But more significantly, he has friends. One of them is Torkild, navy lieutenant who is developing the duchy’s new secret weapon: naval steam warships. There is also the fiercely independent and intelligent Edda. And finally, Lothar’s romantic interest, Asta, who also happens to be Duke Valdemar’s governess. All of the characters are drawn with an assured hand and go on take on a life of their own as the story unfolds. They are very complex and dynamic. They will surprise you, entice you, deceive you and prove you wrong. You will grow to care for them, and in some cases, to despise them, but you won’t be indifferent to any of them.

Stretton’s world, of which he has laid foundations in “Bitter Sky”, expands and fully immerses you in “A Little Poison”. It becomes so intricately developed, with regions and nations fleshed out and geo-politically interlinked, that at some point you will feel that this is no longer fantasy but a real place somewhere there in the time-space fabric of your own universe.

The language, and particularly the dialogue, remain trademark Stretton. In a number of scenes revolving around personal relationships, I had a peculiar impression that Jane Austen stepped in to lend the writer her unique style.

All in all, an absolutely engrossing spy adventure with a dose of romantic intrigue and, of course, the inevitable flare of warfare. Loved it.

The Man Who Died Twice by Richard Osman

Reading just those first opening paragraphs of “The Man Who Died Twice” I was instantly transported to the cosy, yet somewhat deadly, word of the Thursday Murder Club and its jolly members. I experienced a thrill equal only to that of coming home after a long time away and catching up with dear old friends whose lives, let me assure you, did not stand still in my absence. Far from it!

In the second instalment of Richard Osmond’s mysteries, Elizabeth, Joyce, Ibrahim, Ron and Bodgan are up to their eyeballs in murder, theft, mugging, spies and all sorts of crime and punishment. The fearsome septuagenarians are drawn – rather willingly – into the world of espionage, mafia, diamonds and double-crossing, not to mention the inexcusable mugging of one their own which they vow to avenge, come hell or high water.

The man in the title of this book is Douglas, Elizabeth’s ex-husband and her fellow ex-MI5 operative who arrives in the retirement village with his pockets full of stolen diamonds and the merciless mobster, Lomax, hot on his heels (followed closely by the Mafia). If that wasn’t enough for the Club to reckon with, Ibrahim is attacked in the street by a teenage troublemaker, Ryan Baird (who has no idea what deep water he has just waded into). The two plotlines take off from here, wheeze, twist and meander, until they are brought together in a spectacular finale.

Vibrant, funny, wonderfully human, “The Man Who Died Twice” is a worthy successor to “The Thursday Murder Club”. More please!