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.

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

IMG_1384-0

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? 

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?

 

New Additions

May bks 2019

These are my latest additions to my TBR books from Barter Books in Alnwick. From top to bottom:

  • Anything You Do Say by Gillian McAllister – because I’ve loved other books by her. This is a psychological thriller that has two separate storylines following two paths that Joanna’s future might take.
  • Fire from Heaven: a novel of Alexander the Great by Mary Renault – because this book caught my eye in the historical fiction section and I remember enjoying some of her books years ago. This is the first in her Alexandrian Trilogy.
  • The Dark Angel by Elly Griffiths, a Dr Ruth Galloway Mystery – because I like Ruth and enjoy these books, even though they are written in the present tense, which I can find irritating. This one is set in Italy.
  • The Sleeping and the Dead by Ann Cleeves – because I love her books. This is one of her earlier books, first published in 2001. It’s a standalone murder mystery featuring Detective Peter Porteous.
  • Christine Falls by Benjamin Black -because I’ve been on the lookout for this book ever since I read Vengeance, the 5th book in his Quirke Mysteries series. This is the 1st book in the series, a murder mystery set in the 1950s in Dublin where Quirke is a pathologist. Benjamin Black is the pen name of John Banville.

The Passengers by John Marrs

The passengers

 

The Passengers by John Marrs paints a scary picture of the future and I began to wonder whether this could actually happen one day as driverless cars become more advanced.

As I read it reminded me of those debates we had at school – about a hot air balloon which is losing height rapidly and will soon crash because it is overweight. The solution is to get rid of some of the passengers to enable the others to survive. Each passenger has to put forward a persuasive case as to why they should survive.

In The Passengers driverless cars have been developed to Level Five, with no steering wheels, pedals or a manual override option. A Hacker has taken over control of the cars, set them on a collision course, and tells each passenger that the destination they programmed into their GPS has been replaced with an alternative location. In approximately two hours time they are going to die. They are trapped inside unable to contact the outside world.

Meanwhile Libby Dixon has been selected for service on a Vehicle Inquest Jury, assessing liability for accidents involving driverless cars. Libby hates the way these cars are becoming the norm and she has reason to do so – but we only discover why much later on the book. So she is not comfortable with what she is forced to do and is determined to challenge decisions when she doesn’t agree with the other jurists’ verdict. The Hacker interrupts their proceedings and they are told that only one passenger can be saved. They have to talk to each passenger before deciding who is to be saved. In addition the whole thing is being broadcast and the public also has a vote. The passenger with the most votes will be spared when the cars collide.

This raises all sorts of issues as details of each of the passengers lives are made public – but are they all what or who they seem?  The passengers are: a TV star, a pregnant young woman, a disabled war hero, an abused wife fleeing her husband, an illegal immigrant, a husband and wife – and parents of two – who are travelling in separate vehicles and a suicidal man.

The tension rises, as the passengers’ private lives are exposed and moral and ethical questions about race, gender, immigration, religion and age are all scrutinised. I was expecting a particular twist in the plot and it came – but not when I thought it would! There were plenty of twists and surprises to follow before the book came to an end.

The Passengers is a shocking book. I found it riveting, even if it is preposterous, and sinister with a frightening view of the future that may not be that ridiculous. It kept me glued to the page right to the end.

  • Format: Kindle Edition
  • File Size: 21081 KB
  • Print Length: 406 pages
  • Publisher: Ebury Digital (1 April 2019)
  • Source: I bought it
  • My rating: 5*

The Butterfly Room by Lucinda Riley

The Butterfly Room

Macmillan|2 May 2019|624 pages|Review copy|4*

If you love family sagas spanning generations then you’ll love The Butterfly Room by Lucinda Riley. This is a standalone novel and the first book by Lucinda Riley that I have read, although I have some of her Seven Sisters series waiting to be read.

The story revolves around Posy Montague and her family home, Admiral House in the Suffolk countryside, a house that had been in her family for generations. The narrative alternates between the different periods of her life from her childhood in the 1940s to the present day in 2006 as she nears her seventieth birthday. It is not a fast paced book but moves in a leisurely fashion through the various decades building a complex picture of her life.

Her early childhood years were idyllic spent with her parents at Admiral House. It was then that her love of nature began as her beloved father encouraged her to draw plants and showed her how to catch butterflies. The Butterfly Room in the Folly in the grounds of Admiral House plays an important role in the book. As a child Posy thought it looked like a fairy-tale castle with its turret made of yellow sandy brick. It was there that her father spent a lot of time on his own and she imagined it as a place where fairies and their butterfly friends lived. However, as the story developed it was clear to me that the Folly was not the wonderful place she imagined – and there is a dark secret hidden behind its locked door.

After a period spent with her grandmother in Cornwall and her time at Cambridge University followed by a job at Kew Gardens, she married and returned to Admiral House where she brought up her two sons. Years later the house is in desperate need of restoration, which Posy can’t afford and she is faced with the prospect of selling it, despite all the memories it holds and the beautiful garden she had created in the grounds.

But life is never straightforward for Posy and her two sons both present her with almost insurmountable problems. Then Freddie arrives on the scene, a man who broke her heart fifty years earlier when he suddenly ended their engagement without any explanation. He is still reluctant to tell her why and much as she wants to trust him she hesitates.

There is so much more in the book than I’ve mentioned here, too much to reveal in this post without spoiling the story.  I used to read family sagas like this years ago, books I used to race through and read one after another. I don’t think they have quite the same appeal to me these days, but I did enjoy it, and even though I think it is too long, it kept my attention to the end. Maybe because I read a lot of crime fiction I could see what would happen to some of the characters, but as for the secret of the Butterfly Room, I guessed some of the truth, but not the whole secret! It reads well, is a page-turner, full of interesting situations and believable characters. A minor criticism, which is purely personal, is that I became so tired of Posy addressing her family and friends as darling/dear boy/girl so often.

Many thanks to the publishers, Macmillan for my review copy via NetGalley.