Longhand by Andy Hamilton – the story of Malcolm in a handwritten narrative

Long Hand by Andy Hamilton 

 

An unusual book in many ways, this book is a fictional autobiography of a remarkable man in a difficult situation. He has had an extraordinary and extremely long life, the penalty or bonus of being demi god. What makes it really enjoyable is the fact that it is effectively hand written by the author who is frequently seen on television and has been responsible for several highly successful comedy series. Apparently he wrote it by using no less than forty three italic pens. The writing is clear (at least I could read it) and it lends immediacy to the story, especially as mistakes are scribbled out and some words do not appear as being almost too painful. While it is mainly about events several thousands of years ago, the contemporary threat of what is happening as Malcolm  writes his extended letter definitely affects the style of the writing. Managing to cover classical tales and historic events, this story borders on fantasy, comedy and harsh reality, as fantastic stories and references abound and seem convincing. Malcolm becomes a convincing story teller, and the urgently of his plight so telling that this book lingers in the memory. I was very pleased to have the opportunity to read and review this unusual book.  

 

The book begins with a letter to the publisher explaining that this is the hand written manuscript written by Malcolm Galbraith to Elizabeth Dalglish when he disappeared from their joint home. Noting his evident distress as revealed in the letter, the reason for publishing the manuscript is to help in the search for him, and to allow the reader to make up their own mind. For what is written, literally, is a powerful tale of a life which embraces an apparent series of events of a dramatic nature from childhood onwards, through troubled teenage years, and a traumatic youth. Stories of armies, earthquakes and mass death abound in this tale of life across the ancient world. 

 

The reason for writing the manuscript by hand is given as the fact that Malcolm has realised from current events in their lives that he is under threat, and is determined to save Elizabeth or “Bessie” from the danger. He writes it as his computer was broken in an unfortunate moment, and it does seem that he does have extraordinary strength and abilities. He is writing to explain why he must leave so mysteriously, some of the reasons for his behaviour over the years, and how much he loves Bessie and regrets the necessity of leaving her forever. 

 

I found this a vibrant and sometimes moving story, though certainly not without humour, as Malcolm’s plight and honesty shine through his carefully written narrative. It shows a huge appreciation of the subject matter and the human side of a tale which is well known. I enjoyed its confidence and exuberance, as Hamilton seeks to justify questions that have disturbed readers for generations, while also telling a story of contemporary life. This is a strange and powerful novel which stands outside the norm as a very readable book on lots of levels. This is a really good read in many ways, and I recommend it to anyone who enjoys a good novel which works on several levels.  

The Forgotten Sister by Nicola Cornick – two time periods with an overlapping tale?

 

This two time period book is very clever, and incredibly atmospheric. The fates of Lizzie Kingdom, celebrity and tv personality and Amy Robsart, wife of Robert Dudley, in 1560 seem intertwined. Lizzie is the focus of the Present Day sections, which alternate with chapters on the life of Amy Robsart. Robert Dudley was the favourite of Elizabeth I, who like Lizzie had a much married father and a mother who died tragically young. Lizzie, childhood friend of Dudley, has long been associated with him, despite the fact that he is married to Amelia. Unfortunately for Lizzie, when Amelia dies in suspicious circumstances, her close association with Dudley is questioned.

 

 Fans of contemporary thrillers will find much to interest them in this book, as Lizzie’s life becomes complicated by scandal and suggestions that she was somehow involved in Amelia’s death. Historical fiction enthusiasts  will be fascinated by Amy’s story, as she tells of her young love and subsequent ambitious marriage. The period of history she lives through is a tempestuous one; Henry VIII’s attempt to leave a male heir has only succeeded in leaving Edward, now on the throne but physically frail. The struggle to take power after his death affect’s Amy via her ambitious husband and her own family. In the twenty first century Lizzie lives a pampered and isolated life, but nothing is certain in the culture of celebrity. I found this an intriguing and exciting book and I was pleased to have the opportunity to read and review it.

 

The book opens with two events. Lizzie is attending Amelia and Dudley’s wedding in 2010, when a strange accident at the foot of a staircase leads Lizzie to meet Johnny Robsart, Amelia’s younger brother. Lizzie has one of her periodic visions or experiences resulting from her strange gift of seeing the past of objects. Amy meets the ambitious Robert again in August 1549, and become betrothed. Lizzie now is in the present day, a star of television, experienced child star, looked after by Kat since her mother’s death. Into her exciting and lucrative life comes the bombshell that Amelia has died, just as there was talk of a divorce, and against a background of Lizzie and Dudley’s long – term friendship. As the police investigate Dudley’s possible involvement in Amelia’s death, Lizzie is also accused by a fickle public and loses some of her opportunities for work.  Meanwhile in the 1500s, the Dudley family gamble on the succession of Lady Jane Grey to Edward’s throne, and not all goes to plan. 

 

This clever time slip novel explores the links between the present instability of celebrity life and the unpredictable nature of the Tudor court. A look at the “Cast of Key Characters”  which mentions those of the Present Day and the Tudor Story reveals the character names of both periods as being similar. Lizzie Kingdom is mirrored in Elizabeth Tudor, Dudley Lester is reflected in Robert Dudley. Other names mentioned in the novel overlap the two periods. The story of Amy Robsart is a well known historical mystery, the fate of Amelia has echoes many centuries later. This is a book which will appeal to those who have some knowledge of the historic period, who will enjoy spotting the suggestions of links with the present day story. There is an element of the supernatural in Lizzie’s gift of unsettling knowledge of objects. The story is cleverly written so that those with no knowledge of the history are enabled to discover the facts along with Lizzie. The story  of the two women is beautifully interlinked, and the book is cleverly constructed. The element of mystery is well maintained, and the suspense is well built up. This is a novel that will appeal to many readers, and I recommend it as a clever and satisfying read.   

 

Meanwhile the good news is that a careful search behind some of daughter’s stuff revealed some fugitive Pym novels! Together with what Husband bought the other day, I am probably covering all of her books (except Quartet which I am not tackling). Georgette Heyer and Angela Thirkell for older books with BP, some newer books and the just published like this one. Quite the variety as promised!

 

  

The Herring Seller’s Apprentice by L.C. Tyler – A funny book of murder, writing and mayhem

The Herring Seller's Apprentice (Herring Mysteries Book 1) eBook ...

 

Ethelred Tressider is a writer. In a way, he is three writers, Peter Fielding, J.R. Elliot, and Amanda Collins. All three have one agent, Ms Elise Thirkettle, who is always interested in Ethelred, but is far more obsessed with chocolate. Both are content in their way, alone but in contact if only so Elise can cajole, persuade and generally pressure him into producing books for sale and therefore commission. These two characters are the leads in a comedy murder mystery from 2007. To begin with it is a missing person hunt, as Geraldine, Ethelred’s ex wife, appears to have disappeared. Fairfax, Ethelred/ Peter’s police character, is refusing to be written, except in strange little extracts which involve various literary characters from Winne the Pooh to P.G. Wodehouse. As the novel proceeds, Elise takes over the narration of the story from Ethelred, and the lively story continues in a unique and very funny way. A body, Ethelred’s autobiographical tales and various people connected with the memorable Geraldine and Elise’s reflections on what is really going on makes for a lively novel, the first in a series of books by L.C. Tyler. I really enjoyed this engaging book, and am looking forward to subsequent novels in the series.

 

The book opens with Ethelred stating that “I have always been a writer” and listing his various authorial aliases. Peter Fielding writes of Fairfax, a policeman who is nearing retirement, JR Elliot writes of a character in the time of Richard II, and Amanda  Collins who writes modern romance. Elise has arrived at Ethelred’s house to read his latest submission, hoping that his recent stay in France has fuelled his creative impulses. She is just informing that far from being a literary masterpiece as he hopes, his latest work is rubbish ( which she puts more basically)  when a police officer turns up to inform Ethelred  that Geraldine’s hire car has been found abandoned locally.  Ethelred is very informative about his separation from his ex wife and her subsequent relationship with Rupert Mackinnon, now ended it transpires, which Rupert confirms when he turns up at Ethelred’s house. It is assumed that Geraldine, with her “perpetual money troubles”, has committed suicide having left a note. When a body is discovered, Ethelred duly identifies it as Geraldine, and begins the process of sorting out her affairs. It seems that everyone, excluding Ethelred, has invested money with her, which has disappeared. Elsie realises that he will not get down to writing his next book until everything is sorted out, so gets involved in investigating what really happens while consuming heavy amounts of chocolate of course.

 

This is an unusual, funny and really well written book. It casts a cynical look at the progress of writers and a possible relationship with agents, though I suspect Elsie is completely fictional. It is a clever and humourous book which calls in lots of literary references and the sort of investigations in a criminal matter which may well have been attempted in a pre internet world. I really enjoyed its unusual storyline and the robust dialogue between the main characters. I recommend this book as a fun read with some serious themes, well handled. It looks towards subsequent books, and has many strengths on its own.   

 

This is a very different book from yesterday’s Barbara Pym post, but both are quite funny and light in a way. They both attempt to reflect a version of contemporary life in their time. All part of my attempt to offer a wide variety of reviews to distract and tempt people into trying new authors and even genres of book.

The Love Detective – Next Level by Angela Dyson – Clarry P and positive female characters

 

This is the second novel to feature Clarry Pennhaligan working as a private detective; as it was the first book I had read from Angela Dyson I had read so  I can definitely say it works as a standalone novel. A contemporary view of London life and in particular the varied experiences of some women, with some dangerous moments, perilous situations and a dash of romance, Clarry gets to grips with her case as she investigates a young woman’s secrets. It also has large doses of humour and realism as Clarry realises and relates to the reader that she is hardly a glamorous detective, and her clothes choices are sometimes a little haphazard. I really enjoyed this fast paced, exciting and genuinely funny book, and was pleased to have the opportunity to read and review it.

 

Clarry is capable of getting herself into some complicated situations as she accepts the seemingly straightforward job of checking on the friendships of a difficult daughter, as the narrative switches from situation comedy moments to gentle thriller with pursuit across the more interesting parts of London. To add to the challenge her worthy assistant is a seventy year old friend whose lovelife is far more exciting than Clarry’s own, which is fortunate as Fran can call on the expertise of a variety of gentlemen who offer computer skills and driving a memorable vehicle on a search for the truth of some interesting people. 

 

The pace rarely lets up as Clarry tries to navigate the etiquette of escaping an anniversary party, deals with drunken rugby players, climbs ever higher in a mysterious building and investigates a group of unusual women. Some comic set pieces includes an outing in a hearse and a visit to a new age shop for notelets and information. As financial irregularities come to light, Clarry looks further into a group with interesting motivations, and finds out more family secrets. The tone turns a little darker as a midnight meeting exposes a threat which will become very real. Lots of interesting characters flit across the story as Clarry tries to follow the convoluted mystery that surrounds Vanessa. 

 

This is a well written and well paced novel which maintains interest throughout and includes so much. Clarry as the main character is an essentially interesting person as she navigates part time work and being an amateur detective, without any great trauma in her past life and a positive collection of friends. This essentially a light hearted read with genuinely funny dialogue, which handles the dark side of the investigation well. I liked the range of characters as older women are seen as capable, funny and attractive, while the main character is seen as having insecurities and doubts as she pursues the truth. An elderly couple who help with the detecting are realistically depicted, as is the landscape of a small bit of London which the author obviously knows well. For me this book achieves a good balance of humour, mild peril, gracious living and positive female characters who take the lead in a very readable novel. I shall definitely look out for more books by this author, and I recommend it as an unusual contemporary detective novel. 

The Lost Ones by Anita Frank – An intense and vivid novel of mystery and threat.

 

A book which makes you hold your breath with suspense, tension and anticipation, “The Lost Ones” is a memorable novel. This is a book of historical fiction but with a contemporary understanding of people. A ghost story, a story of spiritual awareness, a woman struggling to recover from an enormous trauma. This is a mystery story set in a large house, indeed this is a novel about the breakup of a society that lived in huge mansions with a considerable staff. The layers of this story are so carefully constructed as to be totally absorbing, as each character is carefully drawn from the most minor servant to the main protagonists. This is an extremely atmospheric novel in every sense of the word, as the House in which most of the story takes place becomes another character, dark and hostile, threatening and full of menace as darkness descends. Some of the characters are also fearsome, a fact contributed to by the setting. The achievement of this book is its success in creating climatic events throughout the narrative with keeps the attention of the reader. I was so pleased to have the opportunity to read this book and join in this day of reviews.

 

The main character, Stella, is a young woman who has evidently lost the love of her life, Gerald, in the battlefields of the First World War. In 1917 the war continues, but Stella has been sent back from her nursing as a VAD. As she walks around her family home she remembers an old tragedy, and she worries about a maid whose connection with the household is a matter of gratitude, despite her slight oddness. When Hector, Stella’s brother in law, asks Stella to visit Madeline as she is worried about her pregnancy, she tries to put aside her sadness to go to the country mansion where her sister is staying with Hector’s mother. Forced to take Annie Burrows with her, Stella is not anticipating the extent of Madeline’s distress which soon becomes evident. Despite the prevailing tension in the house and several incidents which disturb her, Stella is keen to find a rational explanation for the events which are upsetting the household. When a new and extremely sceptical investigator arrives, it would seem that supernatural forces become even more terrifying. 

 

Without giving too much away, this book has several themes and narrative questions. The matter of unresolved grief at this stage of the twentieth century is universal, as nearly every family has been affected by this war. Family secrets have to be unearthed and dealt with as the story develops. Stella must decide what is important to her as she faces so many challenges. There is not an actual plan of the house provided, but the power of the description is so strong that I could visualise the rooms in a lot of detail. The element of threat throughout the book to Stella and others feels very real.This is a vividly written book that is memorable for its impact. 

 

I thoroughly enjoyed this book, with its brilliant pacing and intense situations. I recommend it to fans of gothic thrillers, those interested in the later part and aftermath of the First World War, and the tragedy of loss. A mature and compelling read, it is a remarkable debut which I greatly enjoyed.    

The Hourglass by Liz Heron – time, Venice, love and loss in a unique novel.

This is a mysterious book, dealing with time and a woman that does not age, places and people she encounters, and in the centre, the beautiful and lovely Venice “no ordinary city”. As the story develops, tantalising hints and sophisticated subtle writing tell a truly extraordinary tale of love, a long life and the crumbling of a city with a unique nature. This is a confidently written book, full of the mystical memories of a woman who has known love and loss, change and challenges. Heron has constructed a story of a powerful personality, glimpsed through her own eyes, full of the self-knowledge that comes with a long life. From the first, the reader is shown that not all is how it first appears, and thus the stage is set for a glorious exploration of opera and Venice over so many years. I was very grateful to receive a copy of this unique book to read and review as part of a tour.

The book opens with various quotations, most poignantly from Mozart, as the idea of the “constant woman? As mythical as the phoenix”is mentioned. In contrast, a young man is described arriving in Venice, Paul Geddes, seeking a Mrs Forrest. It soon emerges that he is seeking information, the story of a barely mentioned opera singer, Esme Maguire, with all the fervour of a new convert to the magic of opera. He has heard that Mrs Eva Forrest, a widow, has discovered some papers relating to the mysterious woman in her late husband’s belongings. He meets the lady, becomes entranced by not only the tantalising folders of papers that she dispenses to him, but also the lady herself. As they glide effortlessly into a relationship, she shows him the faded glories of Venice, the crumbling buildings of great age, the more recent restaurants and sites of interest beyond the first impressions of tourists. Against this background Paul reads the papers that form an account of the life of a woman who claims to have lived through so many years. She reveals how an illness led to her seemingly supernaturally long life, escaping the signs of age, having to use her wits, charm and singing abilities to literally veil her secret, mask her identity from even those she loves the most. Her connection to Venice dominates everything, and her memories echo the present day journeys around Venice as Paul is shown a mysterious city. He searches not only for the elusive Esme, but for a resolution for his suspicions of the unpredictable, beautiful Eva.

This is a novel which achieves so much as the truth slips in and out of view, forming a fascinating, almost hypnotic, tale of a woman’s life through various settings. I found it a mesmerising account of episodes of life, with the fear of relationships which end too soon, or in one case, not soon enough. This book evokes so many images, of a woman exiled from the city she loves, only able to return as a new person, of a crumbling but beautiful set of buildings, of the loyalty and love of many people who cannot be allowed to find out the truth. This is a book that will linger in the memory, with its yearning for love and truth of a life so unusual.

This is a truly lovely book, and once again it is lovely to read such an unusual novel.

Something very different soon!

Into the Silent Sea by Claire Stibbe – An American thriller with an Unreliable Narrator

This is a book of obsession. Told in the first person this is the story of a woman who is an unreliable narrator of her own story. She is a hunter, a thinker, a commentator on her own situation in all its gory detail. This is a story that pulls no punches in describing the minute details of her progress; as the tale proceeds the reader is caught up in a campaign of observation, full of the underlying threat of murder. A woman scorned is indeed a dangerous thing, and this is a book full of dark hints that it is only a matter of time before murder is done. This is an intriguing book to review for a blog tour, so I am grateful to receive a copy.

“Clo”, a shortened form of a name which is difficult to find the truth of, discovers that her husband is a having an affair. Moreover, he returns to their home and demands a divorce, with physical violence to emphasise his point. Using her skills as a police forensic photographer and her knowledge of murder investigations, she plans to get her revenge against her husband’ mistress. As this is contemporary America, she has a gun which she knows how to use, and she visits The Hamptons, the beautiful houses which look out onto a stunning beach, to find out how to gain access to her target. She carefully swops cars, parks out of sight, adopts a disguise and views the beach, house and lifestyle of the amazing Marion. While she has carefully worked out all the angles, the use of drugs to calm her excessive anxiety, a lot of caffeine and some alcohol begin to make her more unreliable as a narrator, especially as she is increasingly anxious about her husband and her own welfare. Chillingly, she dyes her hair and has been dieting to make her appearance similar to Marion’s; this is a woman with full knowledge of what she wants to do, but uncertain the best way to do it. She is hampered by a colleague who is intrigued by her situation, and things begin to swirl out of her control as the unexpected and terrifying begin to close in on her.

This is a thriller set in two very different communities in contemporary America, where advanced technology contributes to the oppressive tension of a woman on a mission. Clo’s actions swing from the precise to the inexplicable, as she becomes increasingly desperate and events crowd in on her. I found this book unsettling and sometimes confusing, as the author seemed to find it necessary to repeat certain feelings and actions by the protagonist, though this was probably a device to illustrate her confusion and fear. This is not an easy book to read on many levels, with an uncertain time line, changing characters and a degree of brutality which can be off putting. It does succeed in creating an atmosphere, a sense of place, and a voice for a woman pushed over the edge. This is a frightening book because it is so intense, so vocal in terms of what could and will happen, fearsome because Clo becomes so embroiled in her plans. Undoubtedly a strong book, this is a female led thriller which lingers in the mind.

Yesterday we went to see something very different from the above – the film “Mary Poppins Returns”. Having many happy memories of the original 60s film, and the more recent “Saving Mr Banks”, we were keen to  find out what this new film was like, and we were not disappointed. The acting was superb, the photography very special, and the score quite wonderful. I did feel it was a little long, especially for a younger audience, but it is certainly a worthy sequel to the first film, and i would love to see it again.