Codename Villanelle by Luke Jennings

Codename Villanelle

John Murray|6 September 2018|224 pages|Review e-book copy|3*

Originally published as ebook singles: Codename VillanelleHollowpointShanghai and Odessa.

Synopsis from the publishers:

She is the perfect assassin. A Russian orphan, saved from the death penalty for the brutal revenge she took on her gangster father’s killers. Ruthlessly trained. Given a new life. New names, new faces – whichever fits. Her paymasters call themselves The Twelve. But she knows nothing of them. Konstantin is the man who saved her and the one she answers to. She is Villanelle. Without conscience. Without guilt. Without weakness.

Eve Polastri is the woman who hunts her. MI5, until one error of judgment costs her everything. Then stopping a ruthless assassin becomes more than her job. It becomes personal.

I loved the brilliant TV series Killing Eve and when I saw that Codename Villanelle by Luke Jennings was the basis for the series I was really keen on reading it. However, this is one of those rare occasions when I preferred the adaptation to the book. That’s not to say I didn’t enjoy the book, because I did – just not as much as the TV version. Now, that may be because I watched the TV series first – but I don’t think so. They begin at different points in the story. Codename Villanelle begins by introducing Villanelle, giving her background, real name and the details of her training as an assassin with the codename Villanelle, and her paymasters, known as The Twelve. Thus the suspense in that is built up in the TV series by not knowing anything about her other than her codename, just isn’t there in the book.

Both are fast paced, although the action sequences come over much better on TV, as you would expect.  Both portray Villanelle as a young woman who is psychologically invulnerable – a ruthless and successful killer, experiencing neither pain nor horror and totally unaffected by the pain she inflicts on others or the murders she carries out. But the dynamic between Villanelle and Eve Polastri that plays a large role in the TV series is missing in the book and there are several other changes too.

The book ends before the ending shown in the TV series and I’m assuming the next book Killing Eve: No Tomorrowwill continue the story, which I’m planning to read in the near future. There is a third book on the way too – Killing Eve: Endgame

About the Author

Luke Jennings is a London-based author and journalist who has written for The Observer, Vanity Fair, The New Yorker and Time. He is the author of Blood Knots, short-listed for the Samuel Johnson and William Hill prizes, and the Booker Prize-nominated Atlantic.

My thanks to the publishers, John Murray, for my review copy via NetGalley.

20 Books of Summer 2019

20 bks of summer 2019

20 Books of Summer is on again this year, hosted by Cathy at 746 Books!

Pick your own 10, 15 or 20 books you would like to read idea and review between 3rd June and 3rd September – even better you can change the list whenever you want, which is perfect for someone like me who can never decide in advance what to read next.

I love making lists – even if I don’t stick to them. Each year I’ve taken part in this I’ve never managed to stick to my list but I’m having another go this year …

Here’s my initial list (of course what I actually read could be very different, but I’ll try to stick to this list). I’ve not listed they in any particular order, but just as they came to my mind:

  • The Man in the Queue by Josephine Tey
  • Clouds of Witness by Dorothy L Sayers
  • Far from the Madding Crowd by Thomas Hardy
  • The Doll Factory by Elizabeth Macneal
  • The Seven Sisters by Lucinda Riley
  • The Moon Sister by Lucinda Riley
  • No Tomorrow by Luke Jennings
  • Blood on the Tracks by Martin Edwards
  • Operation Pax by Michael Innes
  • An Advancement of Learning by Reginald Hill
  • An April Shroud by Reginald Hill
  • Ruling Passion by Reginald Hill
  • The Island by Victoria Hislop
  • Those Who Are Loved by Victoria Hislop
  • Life After Life by Kate Atkinson
  • Becoming Mrs Lewis by Patti Callahan
  • Beneath the Surface by Fiona Neill
  • Anything You Do Say by Gillian McAllister
  • The Rose Labyrinth by Tatania Hardie
  • Daughter of Earth and Water: a biography of Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley by Noel Gerson

 

Mrs Whistler by Matthew Plampin

‘Maud could tell the whole story, but she will not.’

Mrs Whistler

The Borough Press|2 May 2019|465 pages|Paperback Review copy|5*

I loved this novel about the American artist James McNeill Whistler and his model and mistress, Maud Franklin, the ‘Mrs Whistler‘ of the title. I’m familiar with some of his paintings, his Nocturnes and the portrait of his mother, Arrangement in Grey and Black, known as Whistler’s Mother, but knew nothing about his private life. He was painting at the same time as the Impressionists at the end of the nineteenth century and some of his paintings seem to me to be similar in style to their work, but I think he is above all an individual, standing on his own. I love his signature, a stylised butterfly based on his initials, that heads up some of the chapters in Mrs Whistler.

Whistler Arrangement in White and Black Maud Franklin 1876
Maud Franklin (Arrangement in White and Black) by Whistler 1876

The book covers two episodes in their lives during the years 1876 to 1880 – a bitter feud with his patron Francis Leyland about his fee for painting The Peacock Room, and the libel trial in which Whistler sued the art critic John Ruskin, over a review that dismissed him as a fraud. Ruskin had criticised Whistler’s Nocturne in Black and Gold: The Falling Rocket, accusing him of asking for ‘two hundred guineas for flinging a pot of paint in the public’s face.’ These two events brought Whistler to the point of bankruptcy.

Whistler Nocturne in black and gold
Nocturne in Black and Gold (c.1875, Detroit Institute of Arts)

And interwoven is the story of Maud and her relationship with Whistler. Maud, as the title indicates, is the main character, on the borders of society she is not only his model, but also the mother of two of his children – both fostered at birth. Alongside these two are Whistler’s so-called friend, the flamboyant and duplicitous Charles Augustus Howell, known as Owl, and Howell’s mistress Rosa Corder.

It’s a good story, albeit a long one, that moves quite slowly through these four years. I loved all the detail – of Whistler’s impetuous and rebellious character, his relationship with his brother and mother (the real Mrs Whistler), as well as with Maud – and the details of the house he had built in London on Tite Street in Chelsea, which he called the White House, his flight to Venice and most of all about his paintings.

In his Author’s Note Matthew Plampin lists the books he consulted in writing his novel and referenced the online archive of Whistler’s correspondence at the University of Glasgow, which he used, as he puts it, for ‘many of this novel’s best lines.He explains that there are gaps in the records – notably about Maud. The American art critic Elizabeth Pennell and her husband Joseph had compiled a biography of Whistler in 1903, but they found that certain details were elusive. They had questions about Howell, about the saga of The Peacock Room and about Maud. Maud was still alive at the time but refused to talk to the Pennells, as they described it: ‘Maud could tell the whole story, but she will not.‘  Plampin’s fictionalised biography fills in some of the gaps in the story, imagining what Maud thought and how she coped with Whistler’s behaviour and attitude towards her and especially about how she felt about her daughters, living with their foster family.

Many thanks to the publishers, The Borough Press for my review copy via NetGalley.

About the Author

Matthew Plampin completed a PhD at the Courtauld Institute of Art and now lectures on nineteenth-century art and architecture. He is the author of five novels, The Street Philosopher, The Devil’s Acre, Illumination, Will & Tom and Mrs Whistler. He lives in London with his family.

WWW Wednesday: 15 May 2019

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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?


Currently reading: Two books,  D H Lawrence: the Life of an Outsider by John Worthen and Before the Fall by Noah Hawley.

Lawrence Worthen001

I’ve made some progress with D H Lawrence: the Life of an Outsider. His mother Lydia is seriously ill with cancer and Lawrence has started to write a novel to include her girlhood, and her marriage moving on to his own upbringing. By October 1910 he was calling the book ‘Paul Morel‘ – which later became ‘Sons and Lovers.’ It will take me several weeks (at least) before I finish the book as I’m reading short sections each day.

Before the Fall won the 2017 Edgar Award for Best Novel.

Before the Fall

Description:

THE RICH ARE DIFFERENT. BUT FATE IS BLIND.

A private jet plunges into the sea.

The only survivors are down-on his luck artist Scott Burroughs and JJ Bateman, the four year old son of a super-rich TV executive.

For saving the boy, Scott is suddenly a hero.

And then, as the official investigation is rapidly overtaken by a media frenzy, it seems he may also be a villain.

Why was he on the plane in the first place, and why did it crash?

I’ve read 72% of this book so far. It begins well, but then it becomes rather disjointed, as it relates each character’s back story in some detail. So any suspense that the opening had built up is fading as I read about each person’s life story up to the time they entered the plane. But with nearly a quarter of the book left to read I’m hoping the tension will rise.

Recently finished:

Mrs Whistler

Mrs Whistler by Matthew Pamplin, a novel is based on the life of the artist, James Abbott McNeill Whistler, and his muse Maud Franklin, covering the years from 1876 to 1880. I loved this book and am in the middle of writing a post about it  – I may finish it today, or tomorrow …

My next book could be:

It could be Codename Villanelle by Luke Jennings, the basis for the BAFTA-winning Killing Eve TV series. I’ve had this book for a while – after I watched Killing Eve, which I loved, and it seems a good time to read it now. The second series began on 7th April 2019 on BBC America and all I know so far is that it will be shown here in the UK – soon!

Codename Villanelle

She is the perfect assassin.

A Russian orphan, saved from the death penalty for the brutal revenge she took on her gangster father’s killers.

Ruthlessly trained. Given a new life. New names, new faces – whichever fits.

Her paymasters call themselves The Twelve. But she knows nothing of them. Konstantin is the man who saved her, and the one she answers to.

She is Villanelle. Without conscience. Without guilt. Without weakness.

Eve Polastri is the woman who hunts her. MI5, until one error of judgment costs her everything.

Then stopping a ruthless assassin becomes more than her job. It becomes personal.

Originally published as ebook singles: Codename Villanelle, Hollowpoint, Shanghai and Odessa.

Have you read any of these books?  Do any of them tempt you? 

Top Ten Tuesday: Page to Screen

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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.

This week’s topic is Page to Screen Freebie (Books that became movies/TV shows, movies that became books, great adaptations, bad ones, books you need to read before watching their movie/TV show, movies you loved based on books you hated or vice versa, books you want to read because you saw the movie or vice versa, etc.)

I don’t often enjoy an adaptation if I’ve read the book first, but the other way round works well. So my choice this week includes examples of both.

First film/TV adaptations I saw before I read the books – and I loved both:

The Shining by Stephen King – I saw the film first with Jack Nicolson as Jack Torrance, which terrified me. I remember his crazed face as he rampaged through the hotel, the sense of evil and terror, and I decided that was enough – I wouldn’t read the book. Then later on I changed my mind. An I thoroughly enjoyed the book, picturing the characters as they are in the film.

Gone with the Wind I saw the 1939 film many, many years ago and my memories of it are vague, not much beyond its setting, Clark Gable as Rhett Butler and Vivien Leigh as Scarlett O’Hara, and a few quotes: ‘Tomorrow is another day‘ and ‘Frankly, my dear I don’t give a damn‘. The book, which I read only a few years ago is very readable, although long, and I loved it – still seeing Clark Gable and Vivien Leigh as Rhett and Scarlett.

The Help by Kathryn Stockett – I watched the film at my local cinema. The audience laughed, and then sighed at the poignant moments as the film rolled on and even if I couldn’t quite catch all the words I thought it was brilliant. Then I read the book – as good as the film is, the book is even better because there is so much more in it, the characters are so well-defined, so believable, and the tension caused by the contrast between the black maids and their white employers is so appalling that I didn’t want to stop reading.

When we began watching the HBO TV series, A Game of Thrones I was hooked and once we finished watching I immediately wanted to read the series and began with A Song of Fire and Ice George R. R. Martin’s first book in the series. The actors and scenery were perfect for my reading of the book, although there are some differences (the ages of the Stark children for example). I loved both the book and the TV series.

Way back in 2008 I watched The 39 Steps on TV with Rupert Penry-Jones as Richard Hannay, so inevitably as I read The Thirty-Nine Steps I could see Penry-Jones as Hannay. The dramatisation, however, although there are similarities, is different from John Buchan’s book. There are a number of historical inaccuracies and some artistic licence was used – none of which I was aware of as I watched the film and I thoroughly enjoyed it. It made me want to read the book.

Next a couple of films that I watched that have made me want to read the books they are based on, but I’ve yet to read the books:

Lincoln – with Daniel Day Lewis as Abraham Lincoln. The film is loosely based on the biography by Doris Kearns Goodwin – Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln. I enjoyed the film so much I just had to buy the book.

I watched The Theory of Everything, with Eddie Redmayne playing the part of Stephen Hawking.  It’s adapted from the memoir Travelling to Infinity: My Life with Stephen by Jane Hawking. I think it’s a brilliant film and I’m hoping the memoir will be just as good.

Books I read first and then watched the TV version:

Raven Black by Ann Cleeves, a 2006 novel that I read  in 2010, listened to on the radio and watched The BBC adapted Raven Black for television in 2014, as the first and second episodes in the second series of Shetland, starring Douglas Henshall as Jimmy Perez and Brian Cox as Magnus Tait (renamed Magnus Bain). I prefer the book and her later Shetland books although, of course, the locations are beautiful in the TV adaptations.

I loved Elizabeth Gaskell’s Cranford when I read the book. The TV adaptation disappointed me even with Judy Dench’s wonderful performance as Missy Matty. As I watched it I kept thinking that’s not how it is in the book and that’s because it’s an amalgamation of three books – CranfordMr Harrison’s Confessions and My Lady Ludlow. The cast includes many well known actors and I enjoyed all their performances, although at one point it did feel a bit like spot the stars.

Partners in Crime is a collection of Tommy and Tuppence stories by Agatha Christie. Tommy and Tuppence Beresford first appeared in Agatha Christie’s The Secret Adversary (first published in 1922) when they had just met up after World War One, both in their twenties. Their next appearance is in Partners in Crime, a collection of short stories, first published in 1929.  I was very disappointed by the TV version, with David Walliams playing Tommy as a bumbling fool and Jessica Raine as a meddling and determined Tuppence. Most of it bore no resemblance to the original.

My Friday Post: The Dark Angel by Elly Griffiths

Book Beginnings Button

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.

The book I’m featuring this week is The Dark Angel by Elly Griffiths, one of the books I wrote about in my New Additions post on Tuesday.

The dark angel

Prologue

‘This grave has lain undisturbed for over two thousand years.’ Professor Angelo Morelli speaks directly to the camera. ‘This countryside has been the scene of invasion and battle from the Neolithic times until the Second World War, when the German troops fought Italian partisans in the Liri Valley. In all that time, this body has lain under the earth. Now we are going to exhume it.’

Also every Friday there is The Friday 56, hosted by Freda at Freda’s Voice.

30879-friday2b56These are the rules:

  1. Grab a book, any book.
  2. Turn to page 56, or 56% on your eReader. If you have to improvise, that is okay.
  3. Find any sentence (or a few, just don’t spoil it) that grabs you.
  4. Post it.
  5. Add the URL to your post in the link on Freda’s most recent Friday 56 post.

Page 56:

It’s still warm, but at least the murderous heat has gone out of the sun. She’s able to appreciate the beauty of the evening, the glimpses of the valley through archways and across rooftops, the scent of lemon trees and wild garlic, so deliciously un-English.

Blurb:

Dr Ruth Galloway is flattered when she receives a letter from Italian archaeologist Dr Angelo Morelli, asking for her help. He’s discovered a group of bones in a tiny hilltop village near Rome but doesn’t know what to make of them. It’s years since Ruth has had a holiday, and even a working holiday to Italy is very welcome!

So Ruth travels to Castello degli Angeli, accompanied by her daughter Kate and friend Shona. In the town she finds a baffling Roman mystery and a dark secret involving the war years and the Resistance. To her amazement she also soon finds Harry Nelson, with Cathbad in tow. But there is no time to overcome their mutual shock – the ancient bones spark a modern murder, and Ruth must discover what secrets there are in Castello degli Angeli that someone would kill to protect.

~~~

This is the 10th Dr Ruth Galloway Mystery and the first one to be set in Italy. I like the mix of archaeology, mystery and crime fiction in Elly Griffiths’s books and also the continuing story of Ruth and the other regular characters. Cathbad is one of my favourite characters and I’m hoping that he will have a bigger role in this book than he did in the last one, The Chalk Pit.

What do you think? Would you keep reading?

 

WWW Wednesday: 8 May 2019

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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?


Currently reading: Two books, Mrs Whistler by Matthew Pamplin and D H Lawrence: the Life of an Outsider by John Worthen.

Mrs Whistler is a new publication (3 May) and I’m reading an e-ARC from NetGalley. I’m loving it. It’s a novel is based on the life of the artist, James Abbott McNeill Whistler, and his muse Maud Franklin, covering the years from 1876 to 1880. During this period Whistler was engaged in a dispute with his patron F R Leyland over payment for his decoration of the Peacock Room and the trial in 1878 of the action Whistler brought against John Ruskin for his criticism of his works exhibited at the Grosvenor Gallery in 1877. My description is the bare bones – the novel brings it all to life.

D H Lawrence: the Life of an Outsider is one of my TBRs. I bought the book in 2008 when I visited D H Lawrence’s birthplace at Eastwood, 8 miles from Nottingham. I’m reading this slowly, as I like to do with all non-fiction. It’s very readable and detailed – so far I’ve read about his birth in 1885, childhood and education and I am now reading about his first teaching job in Croydon as an elementary teacher in 1908. By 1908 writing had become a necessity to him – writing poetry, but he was too insecure to send any of it to a publisher.

Recently finished:

The Butterfly Room

The Butterfly Room by Lucinda Riley, a family saga that revolves around Posy Montague and her family home, Admiral House in the Suffolk countryside, a house that had been in her family for generations. I really enjoyed it and will read more of Lucinda Riley’s books. I’ve written more about it in this post.

My next book could be:

This is the most difficult part of this post – I don’t know until the time actually arrives. I’m itching to read several books – those I wrote about yesterday, but also new publications from NetGalley, the latest of which is The Family Upstairs by Lisa Jewell to be published in August, but then I want to read Sweet Thursday by John Steinbeck, my Classics Club Spin book, and Before the Fall by Noah Hawley, the next choice for my local book club at the end of this month. Or it could be The Tattooist of Auschwitz by Heather Morris, that a friend has lent me – she says it’s good.

I can’t decide today!

Have you read any of these books?  Do any of them tempt you?