Macbeth by Jo Nesbo

William Shakespeare’s Macbeth retold

5*

He’s the best cop they’ve got. 

When a drug bust turns into a bloodbath it’s up to Inspector Macbeth and his team to clean up the mess.

He’s also an ex-drug addict with a troubled past. 

He’s rewarded for his success. Power. Money. Respect. They’re all within reach. 

But a man like him won’t get to the top.

Plagued by hallucinations and paranoia, Macbeth starts to unravel. He’s convinced he won’t get what is rightfully his.

Unless he kills for it.

I haven’t read any of Jo Nesbo’s books so I wasn’t sure what to expect from his version of Macbeth, translated from the Norwegian by Don Bartlett. And it’s been a long time since I read or saw a performance of Macbeth, one of my favourite plays, but it seems to me that Jo Nesbo’s retelling of Shakespeare’s Macbeth sticks well to Shakespeare’s version (which itself wasn’t original!) – it has the same themes and plot lines.

I loved the opening of Nesbo’s version describing the rain falling on an industrial town, the second largest after Capitol. The setting is rather vague – it is somewhere in the 1970s in a fictional Scotland in a lawless town full of drug addicts, where there is a titanic struggle for control between the police force, corrupt politicians, motorbike gangs and  drug dealers.

All the characters are here, including Duncan, the new police Chief Commissioner after Kenneth was killed, Malcolm his deputy, Banquo, Macbeth’s friend and his son, Fleance, Inspector Duff (Shakespeare’s Macduff, Thane of Fife), head of the Narcotics Unit, Caithness, the three witches, Lennox and so on. And watch out for Nesbo’s version of Great Birnam Wood – I don’t want to give any spoilers here!

It’s a tragedy, like Shakespeare’s, a tale of political ambition and the destructive power it wields, a tale of love and guilt, and of enormous greed of all kinds. Inspector Macbeth, an ex-drug addict is the head of the SWAT team, ruled by his passions, violent and paranoid. He is manipulated by Hecate, Shakespeare’s chief witch, here one of the drug lords, a man with a friendly smile and cold eyes, called by some the Invisible Hand; his ‘brew’ has made him one of the town’s richest men. Macbeth is corrupted by his renewed dependency on brew and fuelled by his passion for his wife, Lady, a tall, beautiful woman with flame-red hair who whispers seductively to Macbeth that he has to kill Duncan. And there’s a mole in their midst.

This is a dark, gritty and violent tale that had me completely enthralled and I loved it. It is the first book by Jo Nesbo that I’ve read – but it won’t be the last.

Thank you to Random UK/Vintage and NetGalley for my copy of this book for review.

  • Paperback: 624 pages (also available on Kindle and in Hardcover)
  • Publisher: Vintage (20 Sept. 2018)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 009959806X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0099598060
  • Review Copy
Note: Macbeth was first published  March 15th 2018 by Hogarth as part of  the Hogarth Shakespeare project that sees Shakespeare’s works retold by acclaimed and bestselling novelists of today. The series launched in October 2015 and to date will be published in twenty countries.

 

Appleby’s End by Michael Innes

3*

Appleby’s End was first published in 1945.

Description

First Chapter First Paragraph: Dead Woman Walking by Sharon Bolton

Every Tuesday First Chapter, First Paragraph/Intros is hosted by Vicky of I’d Rather Be at the Beach sharing the first paragraph or two of a book she’s reading or plans to read soon.

My book this week is one of the books I’ve been thinking about reading soon. It’s Dead Woman Walking by Sharon Bolton.

Dead Woman Walking

 

‘This woman – Jessica Lane – should have died. Eleven people were killed in that crash. Not only did Lane survive, she walked away. She’s still walking.

‘So, I want to know where she’s going. I want to know why she hasn’t been in touch. Why she isn’t seeking help. Why she’s deliberately avoiding the police.

‘I want to know who she’s running from.

‘Most of all I want her found.’

Blurb:

Just before dawn in the hills near the Scottish border, a man murders a young woman. At the same time, a hot-air balloon crashes out of the sky. There’s just one survivor.

She’s seen the killer’s face – but he’s also seen hers. And he won’t rest until he’s eliminated the only witness to his crime.

Alone, scared, trusting no one, she’s running to where she feels safe – but it could be the most dangerous place of all . . .

What do you think? Would you keep reading?

Well, I will – I want to know the answers too. And as I always find that Sharon Bolton is a brilliant storyteller I may just start reading it today.

The Way of All Flesh by Ambrose Parry

Edinburgh, 1847. City of Medicine, Money, Murder

Canongate Books|30 August 2018|417 pages|Review copy|5*

The Way of All Flesh is the debut novel from Ambrose Parry: co-written by best-selling crime writer Chris Brookmyre and consultant anaesthetist Dr Marisa Haetzman.

I knew as soon as I began reading The Way of All Flesh that I was going to enjoy it – it’s historical crime fiction at its very best.

Full of atmosphere and historical detail, I could easily believe I was there in Edinburgh in 1847 as Dr James Young Simpson, a professor of midwifery, discovered the anaesthetic properties of chloroform. It combines fact and fiction most successfully, the social scene, historical and medical facts slotting perfectly into the plot.

It begins with the death of Evie, a prostitute in Edinburgh’s Old Town, found by Will Raven, a young medical student about to start his apprenticeship with Dr Simpson. Will, Evie’s friend is suspicious, the place was reeking of drink and Evie’s body was in a state of contortion. He flees the scene, not wanting to be implicated in her death. There is a mystery surrounding Will – he has a past that he wants to conceal, and he is in trouble with a couple of villains who beat him, slashing his face when he is unable to repay his debt to a moneylender.

Will is anxious to fit in with the more genteel society of the New Town, where Dr Simpson has his surgery, a place where people from all levels of society congregated – the poor who attended his clinics, the wealthy who also wanted treatment, and the medical students and colleagues experimenting with new drugs and medical techniques. When Will comes across similar deaths during his work with Dr Simpson he is determined to find out who is responsible  – was it the same person who had killed Evie?

Sarah, Dr Simpson’s housemaid is an ambitious and enterprising young woman who would love to have a career in medicine just like the male medical students. Initially she dislikes Will, but eventually they join forces to uncover the killer in the depths of Edinburgh’s dark underworld . Through Sarah’s eyes we see the frustrations and limitations that all women experienced and through Will’s eyes we see the grim realities and danger that women at all levels of society faced with childbirth and unwanted pregnancies, and the brutally primitive state of the medicine of the period. The medical scenes are indeed gruesome and the attitudes of some of the clergy with their opposition to the use of anaesthetics is deplorable. The authors have combined their specialities to provide a compelling murder mystery interwoven with the exciting discovery of chloroform and how it transformed surgery.

This is without doubt an impressive and well written book that gripped me throughout – definitely one of the best books that I’ve read so far this year.

And I am so pleased that this is not the end of Will as Chris and his wife, Marisa are planning more novels revealing the development of medicine and the part that the Simpson household played. Also, I see that Benedict Cumberbatch’s SunnyMarch production company has secured the TV rights to The Way of All Flesh.

Thank you to Canongate Books and NetGalley for my copy of this book for review.

By Sword and Storm by Margaret Skea

By Sword and Storm (The Munro Scottish Saga Book 3)

Two of the best historical fiction books I’ve read in recent years are Margaret Skea’s Munro Scottish Sagas, Turn of the Tide,  and A House Divided, both of which transported me  back in time to 16th century Scotland and France, specifically to the world of the feuding clans of Cunninghame and Montgomerie.

By Sword and Storm is the third book in the Munro Saga. It stands well on its own but I recommend reading the earlier books to get the whole picture of what happened in the years before. It is now 1598 and the Munro family, Adam, his wife, Kate, and children, Robbie, Maggie and Ellie  are living in France. Adam and Robbie are in the Scots Gardes, serving Henri IV of France: Adam is a colonel  and Robbie is a sergeant.  The Scots Gardes were an elite Scottish regiment whose duties included the provision of a personal bodyguard to the French King.

The story is well grounded in research and based on historical facts, seamlessly interweaving fact and fiction. It is  complex novel with several plot lines, locations and characters, some based on real historical figures and others fictitious, such as the Munro family. There’s a useful list of the main characters and a map at the start of the book and a glossary and historical note at the end.

As the story begins the French Wars of Religion are drawing to an end and the Edict of Nantes has established religious freedom, placating the Catholics whilst making concessions to the Huguenots – but not in Paris or at the French court, where Protestants are still banned from openly practising their religion. When Adam saves Henri’s life as a shot is fired from the crowd, he and his family are summoned to live at the French court, despite their religious beliefs. Life in Paris holds many dangers for the Munros, especially for Robbie when he falls in love with a girl from a Huguenot family.

Back in Scotland some members of the Cunninghame and Montgomerie factions are still feuding, notably Hugh Montgomerie, the Laird of Braidstane and William, the son of the head of the Cunninghame clan, whilst other clan members try to maintain the peace.  James VI has banned duelling but that doesn’t deter Hugh and William. Meanwhile, Hugh’s wife, Elizabeth, pregnant and left on her own in the depths of winter with only her children and a servant for company, faces her own dangers.

There is so much to enjoy in this book – first of all the story itself, expertly narrated, full of tension and surprise, and also the characters. But I also loved the personal touches, revealing what life was like in the 16th century,  how both ordinary people and royalty lived, and the dangers that faced them in their daily lives, particularly for women in childbirth and sickness and for those who dissented from the established religion.

I loved all the details about the French court, in particular about Henri’s mistress and the relationship between her and Kate. As in the earlier books Margaret Skea writes such beautifully descriptive passages, bringing to life the details of the French court and of the landscape in both Scotland and France as well as the dangers of travelling by sea.

This is ostensibly the end of the Munro saga – but Margaret Skea has revealed on her blog that she is hoping to revisit the Munro story at a later date. I hope she does, but if not this is an excellent end to the series.

  • Format: Kindle Edition – also available in paperback
  • File Size: 1339 KB
  • Publisher: Corazon Books (Historical/Saga) (11 July 2018)
  • Source: Advance copy from the publisher
  • My rating 4*

The Rules of Seeing by Joe Heap

Harper Collins|9 August 2018|416 pages|Review copy| 2*

Nova, an interpreter for the Metropolitan police, has been blind from birth. When she undergoes surgery to restore her sight her journey is just beginning – she now has to face a world in full colour for the first time. Kate, a successful architect and wife to Tony, is in hospital after a blow to the head. There, she meets Nova and what starts as a beautiful friendship soon turns into something more.

Nuanced and full of emotion, The Rules of Seeing poignantly explores the realities and tensions of a woman seeing the world for the first time – the highs and lows, the good and bad.

I thought from reading the blurb that this would be a book I would enjoy reading. The idea of a book about a blind woman whose sight is restored sounded enlightening – how she learned to interpret what she can see, having been born blind. And I did enjoy that aspect of this book. It does give an excellent insight into Nova’s struggle to cope emotionally with a world she can now see as well as hear and touch, and learning what it all means. And I liked the Rules of Seeing that she compiles from her experiences, although I think they are only loosely linked to the main story.

But, this isn’t just the story of a blind person learning to see and it’s not the main focus of this book which is Kate’s relationship with her husband and with Nova, and I didn’t like Kate’s story; the violence and anger of her husband, Tony was hard to read. If this had been referred to in the blurb I wouldn’t have chosen to read this book. I also found the pace very uneven and by the end of the book I thought it was too drawn out and I just wanted it to end.

One of the drawbacks of reading a review copy prior to publication is that you can’t read the beginning of a book. And if I had read the opening pages I wouldn’t have chosen it. It is in the present tense – there are some books that work well for me in the present tense and it certainly helps if I like the plot, but this isn’t one of them. I didn’t like the constant changes of scene -a bit like watching a drama or film where the action is filmed with a hand-held camera constantly changing focus, zooming in and out. It makes me feel claustrophobic. The use of the present tense in this book made me feel I was watching TV with the audio description turned on, explaining what is happening on screen.

It’s a pity as the basic concept is good and the characters came over as real people. I’m sorry I just couldn’t like it.

Thank you to Harper Collins and NetGalley for my copy of this book for review.

No Further Questions by Gillian McAllister

⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

I was hooked right from the start of No Further Questions by Gillian McAllister. It plunges straight into a trial as Martha sits in the courtroom listening to expert witnesses being questioned  and cross-examined about the death of her baby, Layla, just eight weeks old. Her sister Becky is accused of murdering her.  Becky was looking after Layla, a difficult baby who cries and screams endlessly, whilst Martha was away in Kos, organising a school for refugee children and her husband, Scott was away at a work conference. She found Layla dead in her cot and denies killing her. It looked like a cot death – until the postmortem showed otherwise – and the police are convinced it was murder.

This is a tense, tightly plotted book, narrated from several viewpoints, but mainly alternating between Martha and Becky, revealing their thoughts and emotions as they relate what had happened. Despite being very different characters with different lifestyles Martha and Becky love and trust each other – otherwise Martha would never have left Layla with Becky. Martha doesn’t want to believe Becky is guilty but as the trial proceeds, as medical and social worker witnesses as well as neighbours and a school teacher present their accounts it looks increasingly bad for Becky. And yet, and this shows how real this trial and these characters came over to me, I couldn’t believe she had done it either.

Despite being written in the present tense, I was gripped by this book. I didn’t want to stop reading it and when I wasn’t reading it I was thinking about it, about the characters and their relationships, about how they had got themselves into such a terrible situation. Gillian McAllister presents such a complex subject, with great insight into human nature, with characters that are not perfect (as none of us are) – they each have their flaws and make questionable decisions, so it is next to impossible to untangle the truth from supposition.

This  is simply an excellent book, and it is without doubt one of the best books I’ve read this year.

Thank you to Gillian McAllister, the publishers and NetGalley for my copy of this book for review.

  • Format: Kindle Edition ( also to be published in paperback on 18th October 2018)
  • File Size: 2892 KB
  • Print Length: 421 pages
  • Page Numbers Source ISBN: 1405934603
  • Publisher: Penguin (2 July 2018)-