A Lovely Way to Burn by Louise Welsh: Mini Review

A Lovely Way to Burn

John Murray|2004|358 pages|Hardback| Library book|4*

I’ve read a few of Louise Welsh’s books and enjoyed each one so when I saw this on the library shelves I borrowed it. I agree with Val McDermid’s description of it on the back cover: ‘a terrifying journey into the possible, this is dystopia for today. Feral, frightening and fascinating, A Lovely Way to Burn gripped and chilled me in equal measure.

Once I started reading I just didn’t want to stop. I was gripped as Stevie Flint, a presenter on a TV show, Shop TV, finds her boyfriend, surgeon Simon Sharkey, lying dead in his apartment. At first it appeared that he had died of natural causes and then that he had killed himself. But he had left a hidden note for her with instructions to deliver his laptop to Malcolm Rhea, a colleague at St Thomas’s Hospital. Under no circumstances was she to take it to the police or to entrust it anyone except Rhea. Stevie is determined to find out what happened to him. Her search takes her into the most dangerous situations.

It is a horrifying vision of what could happen when a new and unidentified virus, known as ‘the sweats’ sweeps the globe. London quickly descends into chaos – supermarkets are looted, roads are gridlocked as people try to flee the infection, then society just crumbles as people look out only for themselves, rioting and eventually succumbing to the mysterious illness and dying. 

After quite a leisurely start the pace picks up, and the tension rises rapidly before reaching a nightmare scenario as decay and disintegration set in. It’s a mix of murder mystery and a surreal and frightening story of a plague. This is the first in Louise Welsh’s Plague Trilogy, but it is complete in itself. I have the second book, Death is a Welcome Guest and it looks as though it has a new set of characters – I’m looking forward to reading it!

A Beautiful Corpse by Christi Daugherty

a beautiful corpse

Harper Collins|March 2019|384 pages|e-book via NetGalley|Review copy|5*

I saw A Beautiful Corpse by Christi Daugherty on NetGalley and thought I would like it from the description, but not expecting to enjoy it as much as I did. I didn’t realise that it’s the 2nd in the Harper McClain series but I think it works very well as a standalone.

I liked a lot about it – it is well written, has a fast-paced plot, but not at the expense of the characters, and it’s set in Savannah, with its historic buildings, parks and ancient oak trees covered in Spanish moss.

Harper McLain is a crime reporter with the Savannah Daily News. The book begins late one evening as she is playing pool in the Library Bar with her friend and bartender, Bonnie. The crime photographer rings her, telling her about a murder on downtown River Street, a narrow cobblestoned lane between the old wharves and warehouses and the Savannah River. And she is shocked to discover that the young woman sprawled on the uneven cobbles is Naomi, a law student, who had worked with Bonnie at the Library Bar. She had been shot dead.

There are three men who are all suspects, but her current boyfriend Wilson Shepherd is the prime suspect. The Library Bar owner, Fitz, is also a suspect especially as no one has seen him after the shooting. And then there is her ex-boyfriend Peyton Anderson, the powerful DA’s son. The police are convinced that Wilson is the killer, but after Harper talked to him, she just can’t believe that it was him. There were no witnesses to the shooting and when Harper talks to Jerrod, Naomi’s father, she realises that Peyton’s alibi may not be as solid as the police maintain it to be. 

This a story of obsession and jealousy and the tension rises as the killer’s focus shifts on to Harper herself. She is a strong determined character, determined to find out the truth. But as well as the murder investigation Harper has her own personal problems to contend with. Her job as a reporter is under threat, someone is breaking into her apartment and her personal relationship with Detective Luke Walker seems about to be revived, but she is wary where it will end. On top of all that she is desperate to find out who had killed her mother twelve years earlier. 

I loved it and it has made me eager to read the first book, The Echo Killing, to find out more about Harper and her background and also to read the next book in the series – Revolver Road due to be published in March next year – to find out what happens next.

WWW Wednesday: 27 November 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?

a beautiful corpse

Currently I’m reading A Beautiful Corpse, crime fiction by Christi Daugherty, set in Savannah, Georgia. A beautiful law student has been killed and three men close to the victim are questioned. All of them claim to love her. All of them say they are innocent of her murder.  As journalist Harper McClain unravels a tangled story of obsession and jealousy, the killer turns his focus onto her. I’ve read over half the book and it is growing on me – I’m enjoying it more and more as I read on.

Watching the EnglishI’m also reading Watching the English by Kate Fox, a nonfiction book about the ‘Hidden Rules of English Behaviour’. I’ve only just started reading and so far it is really interesting as the author sets out her parameters and defines what she considers to be  ‘Englishness’ and why it is different from ‘Britishness’, which I think is a very tricky question and one that I have been puzzling over for years.

She refers in some instances to Jeremy Paxman (and I see from the index there are several references to him in this book) and she lists his book The English: A Portrait of a People, which I read about 5 years ago. I decided from reading his book that I didn’t really feel any clearer about what is is to be ‘English’ and it seemed there really is no such thing as ‘the English’ – we’re a mixture of all sorts, or as Paxman puts it, The English are a mongrel race‘. (page 59)

Furious hours

I’ve recently finished Furious Hours: Murder, Fraud, and the Last Trial of Harper Lee by Casey Cep, a nonfiction book about Willie Maxwell, an Alabama serial killer and the true-crime book that Harper Lee worked on obsessively in the years after To Kill a Mockingbird. I found this a fascinating book and posted my review yesterday

As for my next book I don’t know right now. I’m torn between wanting to read several, including A Pinch of Snuff by Reginald Hill, the 5th Dalziel and Pascoe novel, A Lovely Way to Burn by Louise Welsh, the 1st in her Plague Trilogy, Go Set A Watchman by Harper Lee and In Cold Blood by Truman Capote (the last two as I’ve just finished reading Furious Hours).

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

An April Shroud by Reginald Hill

April Shroud

HarperCollins|2011|326 pages|Paperback|my own copy| 3* 

An April Shroud is Reginald Hill’s fourth Dalziel and Pascoe novel, first published in 1975, in which Dalziel is on holiday and Pascoe is on his honeymoon.

From the back cover:

Inspector Pascoe may take holidays but Death never does – and neither, it seems, does Superintendent Dalziel. A watery accident on a solitary country holiday leads to the Fat Man drying off in Lake House, a nearby mansion well past its prime.

The same cannot be said for its owner, the fulsome Mrs Fielding. She has only recently buried her husband, but seems more concerned with her future. Dalziel’s curiosity is aroused – purely professionally of course – and by the time Pascoe’s honeymoon is over, there have been several more deaths and Dalziel might have compromised himself beyond redemption …

Whereas in the previous book, Ruling Passion Dalziel’s character was more of a caricature, on An April Shroud Hill develops his character more fully, in fact I think the book is primarily a superb character study of Dalziel.  He is rude, coarse and insensitive, but his capacity for getting to the bottom of a mystery is shown to be immense.

Although on holiday he cannot help but ferret out what really happened to Conrad Fielding, when he meets the Fielding family on their way back home after Conrad’s funeral. He was rescued by them when his journey south was brought to an abrupt end by floods. The police had decided that Conrad’s death had been an accident – he had fallen off a ladder onto the drill he had been using and it had pierced his heart. Mrs Fielding invites Dalziel to stay at their home, Lake House, where it soon becomes apparent to him that the family have plenty of secrets they would rather he didn’t discover.

I couldn’t easily distinguish who was who in the family, except to realise that they were all rather odd. The plot seemed over complicated and in parts I thought I was reading a farce as more bodies turned up dead. I had little idea who was guilty and the identity of the culprits took me by surprise. Dalziel’s ‘interlude’ with the widow, Bonny Fielding, was entertaining as well as revealing about Dalziel’s personal life – he is sensitive and vulnerable beneath his boorish exterior. 

Overall, I enjoyed the book, although for me it was far from Hill’s best Dalziel and Pascoe book and I’m looking forward to reading book 5, A Pinch of Snuff, as I know that the later books are much better. Reginald Hill wrote 24 Dalziel and Pascoe novels. I’ve read some of them and currently I’m reading my way through the rest.

These are the Dalziel and Pascoe books I’ve read so far:

1. A Clubbable Woman (1970) 
2. An Advancement of Learning (1971)
3. Ruling Passion (1973)
4. An April Shroud (1975) 
8. Exit Lines (1984)
11. Bones and Silence (1990) 
14. Pictures of Perfection (1993) – read, no post
17.On Beulah Height (1998) 
20. Death’s Jest Book (2002) 
21. The Death of Dalziel (2007)

Reading Challenges: Mount TBR 2019 (a book I’ve owned for four years) and the Calendar of Crime 2019 challenge (for the month of April – a book with the month in the title).

My Friday Post: Northern Lights by Philip Pullman

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.

I’ve been watching the BBC One adaptation of His Dark Materials by Philip Pullman, which has made me pick up the first book in the trilogy, Northern Lights. I first read it several years ago but seeing the first two episodes has made me want to re-read it.

Pullman Northern Lights

Lyra and her dæmon moved through the darkening Hall, taking care to keep to one side, out of sight of the kitchen.

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.

Pages 55-56:

“What is them Gobblers?” said Simon Parslow, one of Lyra’s companions.

The first gyptian boy said, “You know. They been stealing kids all over the country. They’re pirates -”

“They en’t pirates,” corrected another gyptian. “They’re canniboles. That’s why they call ’em Gobblers.”

“They eat kids?” said Lyra’s other crony Hugh Lovat, a Kitchen boy from St Michael’s.

“No one knows,” said the first  gyptian. “They take them away and they en’t never seen again.”

Blurb:

‘Without this child, we shall all die.’

Lyra Belacqua lives half-wild and carefree among the scholars of Jordan College, with her dæmon, Pantalaimon, always by her side.

But the arrival of her fearsome uncle, Lord Asriel, draws her to the heart of a terrible struggle – a struggle born of stolen children, witch clans and armoured bears.

As she hurtles towards danger in the cold far North, Lyra never suspects the shocking truth: she alone is destined to win, or to lose, the biggest battle imaginable.

~~~

It’s compelling reading, both in terms of storyline (with many parallel worlds) and in terms of ideas.

Are you watching His Dark Materials too? Have you read the books? Do let me I know.

Latest Additions at BooksPlease

Yesterday I brought this little pile of books home from Barter Books in Alnwick, my favourite bookshop. (This is where you can ‘swap’ books for credit that you can then use to get more books from the Barter Books shelves.)

Barter Bks Nov 2019

From top to bottom they are:

The Agony and the Ecstasy by Irving Stone, a biographical novel of Michelangelo. I was delighted to find this almost pristine copy on the Barter Book shelves to replace my old tatty copy that is falling to pieces (you can see it in this post). There’s not a crease on the spine – I don’t think it’s ever been read!

Missing Joseph: An Inspector Lynley Novel by Elizabeth George. I haven’t read any of the Inspector Lynley novels, although I’ve watched the TV adaptations. This is the sixth in the series. I’m wondering if the book will be as good as the TV version. An Anglican priest is found dead – from accidental poisoning. But his death is far from straight forward.

Staring at the Light by Frances Fyfield. I’ve read just one of her books before, which I enjoyed. John Smith’s twin has disappeared. Cannon, a gifted artist, goes into hiding to avoid John’s destructive behaviour. Attorney Sarah Fortune shields Cannon, and more importantly, his wife, the real target. But is Cannon really telling the truth about John? Val McDermid is quoted on the back cover: ‘I doubt I will read a better book this year.’

Next two books by Edmund Crispin. I’ve read reviews of his books, so when I saw these two I decided to see for myself what they are like. The Case of the Gilded Fly, Crispin’s first novel, contains the first appearance of eccentric amateur detective Gervase Fen, Professor of English Language and Literature in the University of Oxford. It’s a locked-room mystery, written while Crispin was an undergraduate at Oxford and first published in the UK in 1944.

And Buried for Pleasure, in which Gervase Fen is running for parliament and he finds himself ‘in a tangled tale of lost heirs, eccentric psychiatrists, beautiful women and vengeful poisoners.’

And last but not least I found this hardback copy of a Daphne du Maurier novel – Rule Britannia. First published in 1972 in this novel the UK has withdrawn from the Common Market (as it was then called) and has formed an alliance with the United States – supposed to be an equal partnership but it looks to some people like a takeover bid. Rather prescient of Daphne du Maurier, I wonder …

My Friday Post: The Greatcoat by Helen Dunmore

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.

Greatcoat

The library van visit was on Tuesday this week and The Greatcoat by Helen Dunmore caught my eye because ever since I read her last book, Birdcage Walk I have been wanting to read more of her books. 

The description on the back cover:

It is the winter of 1952, and Isabel Carey  is struggling to adjust to the realities of married life in Yorkshire.

Isolated and lonely, she is also intensely cold. And her husband – a doctor – is rarely at home. And then one night, she discovers an old RAF greatcoat in the back of a cupboard. She puts it on for warmth – and is startled by a knock at her window.

Outside is a young man. A pilot. And he wants to come in …

Chapter One

1952

Isabel sat back on her heels and watched flames spring up in the grate. They were pale and there was no heat in them. She was cold, she was tired, her back ached and her eyes stung – from the smoke of course. But at least the fire was lit.

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.

 

Pages 55-56:

There was a man outside the window. She saw the pallor of his face first, as it seemed to bob against the glass, too high up to belong to a man who had his feet on the ground.

I want to know more – do you too?