Six Degrees of Separation from The Book of Form and Emptiness to Death at Wentwater Court

It’s time again for Six Degrees of Separation, a monthly link-up hosted by Kate at Books Are My Favourite and Best. Each month a book is chosen as a starting point and linked to six other books to form a chain. A book doesn’t need to be connected to all the other books on the list, only to the one next to it in the chain.

The starting book this month is Ruth Ozeki’s The Book of Form and Emptiness, which won the Women’s Prize for Fiction this year. The judges stated that: it stood out for its sparkling writing, warmth, intelligence, humour and poignancy. A celebration of the power of books and reading, it tackles big issues of life and death, and is a complete joy to read. Ruth Ozeki is a truly original and masterful storyteller.”

I haven’t read it. Amazon’s description makes me wonder whether I want to: After the tragic death of his father, fourteen-year-old Benny Oh begins to hear voices. The voices belong to the things in his house and sound variously pleasant, angry or sad. Then his mother develops a hoarding problem, and the voices grow more clamorous. So Benny seeks refuge in the silence of a large public library. There he meets a mesmerising street artist with a smug pet ferret; a homeless philosopher-poet; and his very own Book, who narrates Benny’s life and teaches him to listen to the things that truly matter.

First Link

There are a number of ways I could have started my chain, but I made it easy by linking to another ‘Book of’ title – The Book of Illusions by Paul Auster. It tells the stories of two men, David Zimmer, a professor whose wife and two sons were killed in a plane crash and Hector Mann, a silent movie star who disappeared mysteriously in 1929. David is plunged into depression and ‘lived in a blur of alcoholic grief and self-pity’ until he watched a clip from one of Hector’s films. It made him laugh. In typical silent movie style Hector, with his slicked-back hair, thin and greasy little mustache and white suit, is the target and focal point of every mishap.

Second link

Another silent movie, Safety Last!, features in Simon Garfield’s Timekeepers: How the World Became Obsessed with Time. Harold Lloyd climbs the outside of a department store, obstacles falling on him as he does so, until he reaches the giant clock at the top, grabs hold of it, and dangles above the street below. Garfield recalls that for the first audiences time just froze, some went into hysterics and others fainted. Garfield’s focus is on the concept of time that the movies portrayed and goes on to explain how films were originally produced and shown when the timing depended on the cranking skills of the cameraman during filming and the projectionist during showing.

Third link

I’m linking next to another book with the word ‘Safety‘ in the title – A Place of Greater Safety by Hilary Mantel, nonfiction about the French Revolution concentrating on three of the revolutionaries – Georges-Jacques Danton, Camille Desmoulins and Maximilian Robespierre, from their childhoods to their deaths. I never really sympathised with any of them – after all they were responsible for the deaths of many people, including their own friends and played a major part in the Reign of Terror. But at times I was drawn into hoping that they would escape their fate – they were all guillotined. 

Fourth Link

From a book about the French Revolution my next link is to : Wild Swans: Three Daughters of China by Jung Chang, about her grandmother, her mother and herself, telling of their lives in China up to and during the years of the violent Cultural Revolution from 1966 until Mao Zedong’s death in 1976. In it she casts light on why and how Mao was able to exercise such paralysing control over the Chinese people. His magnetism and power was so strong and coupled with his immense skill at manipulation and his ability to inspire fear, it proved enough to subdue the spirit of most of the population; not to mention the absolute cruelty, torture and hardships they had to endure.

Fifth Link

From a book about a grandmother, mother and daughter in China the next link is to another book about a grandmother, mother and daughter, in Kingsmarkham, a fictional English town, a novel Kissing the Gunner’s Daughter by Ruth Rendell, an Inspector Wexford mystery. Chief Inspector Wexford and Inspector Burden are faced with solving the brutal murders of author Davina Flory, her husband and daughter, shot dead at Tancred House. Only Daisy, her granddaughter survived, and wounded in the shoulder she had crawled to the phone to call for help. ‘Kissing the Gunner’s Daughter’ is a phrase derived from a tradition in the Royal Navy, as Wexford explains, it means being flogged.

Sixth Link

Another character called Daisy also in Death at Wentwater Court by Carola Dunn, the first book in her Daisy Dalrymple series, a typical country house murder mystery, with plenty of suspects. The Honourable Daisy Dalrymple, keen to be independent and earn her own living, is on her first writing assignment for Town and Country magazine, writing about country houses. One of the guests, Lord Stephen Astwick is found dead in the lake and it appears he has had a skating accident. Enter Detective Chief Inspector Alec Fletcher of Scotland Yard, who is also investigating a jewel robbery at Lord Flatford’s house nearby.

My chain this month has a variety of books linked in different ways – words in the titles, revolutions, daughters and characters with the same name. I has books of historical fiction, crime fiction and nonfiction.

Book Beginnings & The Friday 56: The Daughters of Cain by Colin Dexter

Every Friday Book Beginnings on Friday is hosted by Gillion at Rose City Reader where you can share the first sentence (or so) of the book you are reading, along with your initial thoughts about the sentence, impressions of the book, or anything else the opener inspires.

I began reading Colin Dexter’s Inspector Morse books years ago and have read 9 of the 13 books in the series, mostly out of order, so I’ve been reading the earlier books to fill in the gaps, as it were. Chief Inspector Morse is one of my favourite fictional detectives (maybe even the favourite). I first ‘met’ him years ago in the ITV series Inspector Morse and so, just as Joan Hickson is forever in my mind as Miss Marple and David Suchet is Poirot, John Thaw is Morse. This post is about the 11th book The Daughters of Cain.

It begins with a Prolegomena ie Prologue

Natales grate numeras?
(Do you count your birthdays with gratitude?)
(Horace, Epistles II)

On Mondays to Fridays it was fifty-fifty whether the postman called before Julia Stevens left for school.

Julia is a teacher, not a pupil.

Also every Friday there is The Friday 56, hosted by Freda at Freda’s Voice, where you grab a book and turn to page 56 (or 56% of an eBook), find one or more interesting sentences (no spoilers), and post them.

Page 56:

She’d never loved anyone in life really – except for her mum. But amongst her clients, that rather endearing, kindly, caring sort of idiot, Felix, had perhaps come nearer than anyone.

Synopsis from Goodreads:

Bizarre and bewildering – that’s what so many murder investigations in the past had proved to be… In this respect, at least, Lewis was correct in his thinking. What he could not have known was what unprecedented anguish the present case would cause to Morse’s soul.

Chief Superintendent Strange’s opinion was that too little progress had been made since the discovery of a corpse in a North Oxford flat. The victim had been killed by a single stab wound to the stomach. Yet the police had no weapon, no suspect, no motive.

Within days of taking over the case Chief Inspector Morse and Sergeant Lewis uncover startling new information about the life and death of Dr Felix McClure. When another body is discovered Morse suddenly finds himself with rather too many suspects. For once, he can see no solution. But then he receives a letter containing a declaration of love… 

What do you think? Have you read this book – or any of the Inspector Morse books?

A Town Like Alice by Nevil Shute

Rating: 4 out of 5.

First published in 1950 A Town Like Alice by Nevil Shute is one of those books I’ve been meaning to read for years and now I have at last read it. It was not quite what I had imagined it to be, about Alice Springs in Australia. It is actually set in three parts, with just the third part set in Australia, not in Alice Springs but in Willstown, a fictional town in the outback.

Narrated by Noel Strachan, a solicitor, this is the story of Jean Paget. It begins a few years after the Second World War, when he tells her she has inherited a considerable sum of money from her uncle. But it is held in trust until she reaches the age of thirty five. Until then she will receive about £900 a year to spend. She wonders what to do with the money and eventually decides she wants to go back to Malaya, where she had been a prisoner of war, to dig a well. She tells Noel about what had happened to her in Malaya.

The second part is about that time in Malaya during the War at the time when the Japanese invaded the island. Jean and a group of European women and children were forced by the Japanese to walk for hundreds of miles from place to place before finally managing to stay in one village. Able to speak Malay and being courageous and resourceful, she takes on the role of the leader of their group. She met an Australian soldier, Sergeant Joe Harman, also a prisoner, who was driving a lorry for the Japanese and they became friends with disastrous consequences. This section is the best in the book to my mind.

On her return after the War she writes to Noel telling him how she set about organising the villagers to dig the well so that the women would have fresh water close to their houses and also build a washing-house. And it is here that she learns more about what had happened to Joe and decides to carry on travelling to Australia to find him and thank him for the help he had given her and the other women.

The third part is set in Australia. Jean is an organiser and on her arrival in Willstown she discovers that this is a place where the young women leave as soon as they are old enough. There are no jobs or entertainment to keep them there. So Jean decides she wants to make the town into a town just like Alice Springs. And she does this with remarkable success building a workshop for the girls to make shoes and handbags, providing an ice cream parlour and a public swimming pool and shops. At the same time her search for Joe is eventually successful. She continues writing to Noel about her life in the Australian outback, letters full of detail about her enterprises and the difficulties of cattle ranching in such isolated places – a bit too much detail for me really. But the episode where Jean helped in rescuing an injured stockman is full of drama.

This is really just the bare bones of the story – there is so much more to it than that. Others have commented on the casual racism in the book. It tells it as it was, how people lived at the time, and reflects the attitudes that people had. Jean is of course the main character, a woman somewhat ahead of her time with great strength of character, determination and entrepreneurial skills. The resourcefulness she showed in Malaya is developed in Australia.

In his Author’s Note Shute explains that the forced march during WW2 took place in Sumatra and not in Malaya and the women in the group were Dutch and not British. As in his novel, the local Japanese commander was reluctant to assume responsibility for these women and, to solve his problem, marched them out of his area and took them on a trek all around Sumatra that lasted for two and a half years.

Jean Paget was based on Mrs Geysel, whom Shute had met when he visited Sumatra in 1949. She had been one of the Dutch party, then aged 21, recently married and with a young baby she had carried for over twelve hundred miles around Sumatra. A remarkable story that I really enjoyed.

Top Ten Tuesday: Books with a Place in the Title

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme created by The Broke and the Bookish and now hosted by Jana at That Artsy Reader Girl. For the rules see her blog.

The topic this week is Books Set In a Place I’d Love to Visit, but I’ve tweaked a bit to Books with a Place in the Title. These are all books I’ve read and I’ve linked the titles to my reviews:

4.50 from Paddington by Agatha Christie

12.30 from Croydon by Freeman Wills Crofts

100 Days on Holy Island: a Writer’s Exile by Peter Mortimer

A Death in the Dales by Frances Brody

The Doctor of Thessaly by Anne Zouroudi

Excursion to Tindari by Andrea Camilleri

The Fall of Troy by Peter Ackroyd

The Good Thief’s Guide to Amsterdam by Chris Ewan

The Cleaner of Chartres by Salley Vickers

The Madman of Bergerac by Georges Simenon


Book Beginnings & The Friday 56: Wednesday’s Child by Peter Robinson

Every Friday Book Beginnings on Friday is hosted by Gillion at Rose City Reader where you can share the first sentence (or so) of the book you are reading, along with your initial thoughts about the sentence, impressions of the book, or anything else the opener inspires.

My book this week is Wednesday’s Child by Peter Robinson. I began reading his Inspector Banks books years ago and have read 11 of the 26 books in the series, mostly out of order, so I’ve been reading the earlier books to fill in the gaps, as it were. This morning reading Margot’s post I remembered that the next book in the series I have to read is the 6th book, Wednesday’s Child.

The room was a tip, the woman was a slattern. On the floor, near the door to the kitchen, a child’s doll with one eye missing lay naked on its back, right arm raised above its head. The carpet around it was so stained with ground-in mud and food it was hard to tell what shade of brown it had originally been. High in one corner, by the front window, pale flowered wallpaper had peeled away from a damp patch. The windows were streaked with grime, and the flimsy orange curtains needed washing.

Also every Friday there is The Friday 56, hosted by Freda at Freda’s Voice, where you grab a book and turn to page 56 (or 56% of an eBook), find one or more interesting sentences (no spoilers), and post them.

Page 56:

‘The superintendent mentioned the Moors Murderers, Brady and Hindley,’ said Banks. I know he’s got a bee in his bonnet about that case, but you have to admit there are parallels.’

Synopsis from Amazon

When two social workers, investigating reports of child abuse, appear at Brenda Scupham’s door, her fear of authority leads her to comply meekly with their requests. Even when they say that they must take her seven-year old daughter Gemma away for tests . . .

It is only when they fail to return Gemma the following day that Brenda realizes something has gone terribly wrong.

At the same time, Banks is investigating a particularly unpleasant murder at the site of an abandoned mine. Gradually, the leads in the two cases converge, guiding Banks to one of the most truly terrifying criminals he will ever meet . . .

Mmm … It sounds very grim! What do you think? Have you read this book – or any of the Inspector Banks books?

The Riddle of the Third Mile by Colin Dexter

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Pan| February 2011| 289 pages| e-book| 5*

From the Back Cover

Inspector Morse isn’t sure what to make of the truncated body found dumped in the Oxford Canal, but he suspects it may be all that’s left of an elderly Oxford don last seen boarding the London train several days before. Whatever the truth, the inspector knows it won’t be simple — it never is. As he retraces Professor Browne-Smith’s route through a London netherworld of topless bars and fancy bordellos, his forebodings are fulfilled. The evidence mounts; so do the bodies. So Morse downs another pint, unleashes his pit bull instincts, and solves a mystery that defies all logic. 

My thoughts

The Riddle of the Third Mile is Colin Dexter’s 6th book in his Inspector Morse series, first published in 1983. I remember watching the TV adaptation based on this book, The Last Enemy, but, as with most TV adaptations, it has several changes from the original. Like all of Dexter’s books this is a most complicated mystery, one of the ‘puzzle’ types. Dexter, himself, constructed crossword puzzles and made Morse a crossword aficionado. I agree with Sergeant Lewis when he asks Morse: ‘Aren’t you making it all a bit too complicated?‘ (page 145). I enjoyed trying to follow all the clues that Dexter planted in the mystery, although I had little idea about most of it. But I thoroughly enjoyed it.

The identity of the dismembered and headless corpse could have been that of Morse’s his old classics tutor, Browne-Smith or Browne-Smith’s hated rival, Westerby, or even one of the Gilbert twins who both harboured a grudge against Browne-Smith dating back to the Second World War. Or one of the twins could have been the murderer. Morse eventually works it out, by various means, including considering ‘the most improbable notions, in the sure certainty that by the law of averages some of them stood a more reasonable chance of being near to the truth than others.’ ( page 145) He’s also helped by his intuition, when a passage of scripture springs to his mind about forgiving one’s enemies: ‘ And whosoever shall compel thee to go a mile, go with him twain (Matthew 14.1)’ which he checks in a Gideon Bible, and letting his mind ponder this he remembers a sermon he had heard on the ‘Religion of the Second Mile’:

And it was with the forty-watt bulb shedding its feeble light over the Gideon Bible that Morse smiled to himself in unspeakable joy, like one who has travelled on a longer journey still – that third and final mile …

At last he knew the truth. (page 220)

I can’t say I was also enlightened, and so I just had to read on to find out what Morse had managed to deduce.

Along with the mystery details of Morse’s earlier life when he was a student at St John’s College, Oxford are revealed. He had failed the classics degree, known as ‘Greats’, after his love affair with a postgraduate student at St Hilda’s, Wendy Spencer, came to an end. It had had a disastrous effect on his academic work.

… he departed from Oxford, a withdrawn and silent young man, bitterly belittled, yet not completely broken in spirit. It had been his sadly disappointed old father, a month or so before his death, who suggested that his only son might find a niche somewhere in the police force. (page 61)

I’ve now read 9 of the 13 Morse books:

1. Last Bus to Woodstock (1975) – read in October 2020 not reviewed
2. Last Seen Wearing (1976)
3. The Silent World of Nicholas Quinn (1977)
4. Service of All the Dead (1979)
5. The Dead of Jericho (1981)
6. The Riddle of the Third Mile (1983)
7. The Secret of Annexe 3 (1986)
8. The Wench Is Dead (1989)
9. The Jewel That Was Ours (1991)
10. The Way Through the Woods (1992)
11. The Daughters of Cain (1994)
12. Death Is Now My Neighbour (1996)
13. The Remorseful Day (1999)

Inspector Morse: A Mysterious Profile by Colin Dexter is also available, published as one of the Mysterious Profiles series of 26 books.

Synopsis:

The international-bestselling author answers readers’ questions and discusses the origins of the Oxford inspector with a penchant for classical music.

In 1975, Inspector Morse debuted, working to solve the case of a murdered hitchhiker in Colin Dexter’s Last Bus to Woodstock. The book led to a multimillion-bestselling mystery series and a television show that spawned a spinoff and a prequel. But how did the beloved DCI from Oxford come to be exactly?

In this quick read, Colin Dexter addresses some of the many questions posed to him by his readers. He reveals what motived him to break into crime writing and which authors and novels influenced him. He discusses Morse’s many traits and inner workings, as well as how he got his first Morse novel published. He also shares how he maintains a discipline with writing, how he deals with critics, and what it’s like to transform a series of novels into a television series.

WWW Wednesday: 27 July 2022

WWW Wednesday is run by Taking on a World of Words.

The Three Ws are:

What are you currently reading?
What did you recently finish reading?
What do you think you’ll read next?

I’m currently reading J R R Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings. This is a book I’ve read several times over the years since the first time I read it, just after I left school (a long time ago). I have finished Book 1, The Fellowship of the Ring and have nearly finished Book 2, The Two Towers. This time round I am struck by Tolkien’s world building and his powers of description of the characters and the locations, but most of all by Tolkien’s storytelling – superb. I am reading this hardback book slowly, taking my time over it, just a small section each day – letting the story soak into my mind.

The other book I’m reading is A Town Like Alice by Nevil Shute, which is also a fantastic story. I’m reading this one quickly on my Kindle, so different from The Lord of the Rings, but although Shute’s style of writing in straight forward, almost plain language, is not at all like Tolkien’s he is also an excellent storyteller, bringing the characters to life. So far I am still in Malaya with Jean and her companions as they walk hundreds of miles around Malaya as prisoners of war of the Japanese.

I recently finished True Crime Story by Joseph Knox and wrote about it in this post. I didn’t enjoy it, as much as I had hoped, but after a confusing start it picked up at around the 50% mark. It’s a novel about a 19 year old university student who walked out of a party taking place in the shared accommodation where she had been living for three months and just disappeared. Seven years after her disappearance, struggling writer Evelyn Mitchell begins piecing together what really happened in 2011.

As always I haven’t decided what to read next. I have so many books I’d love to read, but until I’ve finished The Lord of the Rings and A Town Like Alice, I just don’t know which one it will be.

True Crime Story by Joseph Knox

Transworld Digital| 17 Jun. 2021| 433 pages| e-book Review copy| 2.5* rounded up to 3*

Synopsis:

What happens to those girls who go missing? What happens to the Zoe Nolans of the world?’

In the early hours of Saturday 17 December 2011, Zoe Nolan, a nineteen-year-old Manchester University student, walked out of a party taking place in the shared accommodation where she had been living for three months.

She was never seen again.

Seven years after her disappearance, struggling writer Evelyn Mitchell finds herself drawn into the mystery. Through interviews with Zoe’s closest friends and family, she begins piecing together what really happened in 2011. But where some versions of events overlap, aligning perfectly with one another, others stand in stark contrast, giving rise to troubling inconsistencies.

Shaken by revelations of Zoe’s secret life, and stalked by a figure from the shadows, Evelyn turns to crime writer Joseph Knox to help make sense of a case where everyone has something to hide.

Zoe Nolan may be missing presumed dead, but her story is only just beginning

True Crime Story is Joseph Knox’s fourth novel, his first standalone. Previously I’ve read two of his Detective Aidan Waits novels, The Smiling Man and The Sleepwalker, which I loved – they’re both brilliant, dark and violent urban noir novels. They’re also amongst the most complicated books that I’ve ever read. So my expectations for True Crime Story were very high, but, I’m sorry to say, I was disappointed. In fact I almost abandoned it several times, until about the 50% mark when I realised that I had to read on because I wanted to know what had happened to Zoe.

Despite the title this is not a nonfiction true crime story, nor a mix of fact and fiction, it is a novel and it includes the author, Joseph Knox, as one of its characters. It has a story within the story – made up of emails to and from Knox and another writer (fictional) Evelyn Mitchell. Evelyn is writing a book about the disappearance of a student at Manchester University, Zoe Nolan. Her book is a collection of the interviews she carried out with Zoe’s family and friends seven years after Zoe’s disappearance, which she sends to Joseph Knox as she collates them, and asks for his advice.

Initially I found this rather confusing but I gradually worked out their relationships and characters, although it is repetitive and reads as a long session of interviews about the same events as seen through each character’s perspective. For me, this makes it fragmentary and in parts disjointed, slows down the action, and lessens the tension and suspense even as the facts about the mystery emerge, including what happens to Evelyn herself.

However, many other readers love this book, so I am in the minority. It has had rave reviews and was short listed for this year’s Theakston Old Peculiar Crime Fiction Novel of the Year, an award that celebrates excellence, originality, and the very best in crime fiction from UK and Irish authors. You may enjoy it more than I did!

My thanks to the publishers Transworld Digital for a review copy via NetGalley.

Top Ten Tuesday: Books From My Past Seasonal TBR Posts I STILL Haven’t Read

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme created by The Broke and the Bookish and now hosted by Jana at That Artsy Reader Girl. For the rules see her blog.

The topic this week is Books From My Past Seasonal TBR Posts I STILL Haven’t Read. I’m not very good at predicting which books I’m going to read next, so I’m pleased to discover that I have actually read some of the books from three of the last three seasonal TBR Top Ten posts!

These are the books I still haven’t read:

Five books from my Spring 2022 TBR List:

Quichotte by Salman Rushdie – a retelling of Don Quixote for the modern age. Sam DuChamp, mediocre writer of spy thrillers, creates Quichotte, a courtly, addled salesman obsessed with television, who falls in impossible love with the TV star Salman R. Together with his (imaginary) son Sancho, Quichotte sets off on a picaresque quest across America to prove worthy of her hand.

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson – Harriet Vanger, scion of one of Sweden’s wealthiest families, disappeared over forty years ago. Years later, her aged uncle continues to seek the truth. He hires Mikael Blomkvist, a crusading journalist to investigate. He is aided by the pierced and tattooed punk prodigy Lisbeth Salander.

Strangers on a Train by Patricia Highsmith – Guy Haines and Charles Anthony Bruno meet on a train. Bruno manipulates Guy into swapping murders with him. From this moment, almost against his conscious will, Guy is trapped in a nightmare of shared guilt and an insidious merging of personalities.

Night of the Lightbringer by Peter Tremayne – This is the 28th Sister Fidelma mystery, a medieval murder mystery,  featuring a Celtic nun who is also an advocate of the ancient Irish law system. It’s set in Ireland in AD 671 on the eve of the pagan feast of Samhain.

When Christ and His Saints Slept by Sharon Penman – the first book in the Eleanor of Aquitaine trilogy. Historical fiction about Stephen and his cousin, the Empress Maude, and the long fight to win the English throne.

Two from my Fall 2021 List and three from my Summer 2021 List:

Another Part of the Wood by Beryl Bainbridge – 159 pages -literary fiction set In a remote cottage in Wales where two urban couples are spending their holiday with the idealistic owner and his protege. The beginning is idyllic but catastrophe lurks behind every tree.

The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry by Rachel Joyce, which I bought in 2013! It’s about Harold’s journey on foot from one end of the country to the other – from South Devon to Berwick-upon-Tweed and I was intrigued. I wondered which places he went through.

The Mouse Trap and Selected Plays by Agatha Christie – the world’s longest running play, plus three other thrillers adapted from the novels (which I have read) – And Then There Were None, The Hollow and Appointment with Death. Set in a manor house, a number of people are isolated from the outside world by a blizzard and faced with the reality that one of them is a killer. This is also on my 20 Books of Summer list, and is my Classics Club Spin book for August, but it’s in such a small font I’m finding it extremely difficult to read! I may not manage it.

The Enchanter’s Forest by Alys Clare – historical fiction set in Midsummer 1195. A ruthlessly ambitious man has fallen deeply into debt, his desperate situation made even more difficult by the contribution he has had to pay towards King Richard’s ransom. To make matters worse the beautiful wife he tricked into marriage has tired of him and her mother hates his guts.

The House on Bellevue Gardens by Rachel Hore – Bellevue Gardens is a tranquil London square, tucked away behind a busy street. You might pass it without knowing it’s there. Here, through the imposing front door of Number 11, is a place of peace, of sanctuary and of secrets. It is home to Leonie; once a model in the sixties, she came to the house to escape a destructive marriage and now, out of gratitude, she opens her house to others in need.


The Second Sight of Zachary Cloudesley by Sean Lusk

Random House UK, Transworld| 9 June 2022| e-book, print length 355 pages| Review copy| 4*

Synopsis from Amazon

In 1754, renowned maker of clocks and automata Abel Cloudesley must raise his new-born son Zachary when his wife dies in childbirth.

Growing up amongst the cogs and springs of his father’s workshop, Zachary is intensely curious, ferociously intelligent, unwittingly funny and always honest—perhaps too honest. But when a fateful accident leaves six-year-old Zachary nearly blinded, Abel is convinced that the safest place for his son is in the care of his eccentric Aunt Frances and her menagerie of weird and wonderful animals.

So when a precarious job in Constantinople is offered to him, Abel has no reason to say no. A job presented to him by a politician with dubious intentions, Abel leaves his son, his workshop and London behind. The decision will change the course of his life forever.

Since his accident, Zachary is plagued by visions that reveal the hearts and minds of those around him. A gift at times and a curse at others, it is nonetheless these visions that will help him complete a journey that he was always destined to make—to travel across Europe to Constantinople and find out what happened to his father all those years ago.

With a Dickensian cast of characters that are brilliantly bonkers one moment and poignant the next, Sean Lusk’s debut will take listeners on an immersive journey into the wonders of the world of Zachary Cloudesley.

I’ve enjoyed novels about clockwork and automata inventions before, so I was hoping Sean Lusk’s debut novel, The Second Sight of Zachary Cloudesley would be just as enjoyable – and it is. It’s a mixture of historical fact and fantasy set in the 18th century, in London and in Constantinople.

It follows the events in Zachary’s life from his birth in London, brought up two strong-minded women, surrounded by the clocks and clockwork automata in his father’s workshop, to his teenage years, when he travelled to Constantinople in search of his father, Abel. Zachary, an intelligent and gifted child, who had visions of future events, had an unusual most unusual life – as indeed, did Abel.

For me this book was as much about Abel as about Zachary and I loved the rich descriptions and all the detail that Lusk packed into his book. It did slow the action down at times, but it didn’t spoil my enjoyment at all. The characters are fabulous, the settings are beautifully described and the historical background is fascinating.

Lusk begins his book with an extensive note about Ottoman heirachy in the mid eighteenth century and ends it with a section of Historical and Other Notes explaining that his inspiration to write his novel came when he discovered an eighteenth century Ottoman clock made in England, in a shop in Istanbul. He finally produced his book after several years of research into clockmaking, Anglo-Ottoman relations and other 18th century matters, and having spent numerous hours in the British Library. He also includes a list of books for further reading. It is a remarkable book on a grand scale that entertained me enormously. I’m looking forward to reading more books by Sean Lusk.

About Sean Lusk

Sean Lusk is an award-winning short story writer, winner of the Manchester Fiction Prize, the Fish Short Story Prize and runner-up in the Bridport and Tom-Gallon Trust prizes. He has lived in Greece, Pakistan and Egypt, working variously as a gardener, speechwriter and diplomatic official. He now lives near Forres on the Moray Firth. The Second Sight of Zachary Cloudesley is his debut novel.

My thanks to Random House, UK for a review copy via NetGalley.