The Other Side of the Bridge by Mary Lawson

The Other Side of the Bridge

The Other Side of the Bridge is a beautiful book set in  in Northern Canada about two brothers, Arthur and Jake Dunn who grow up on a small farm near Struan (a fictional town) in the 1930s. The brothers are poles apart in nature. Arthur is older, shy but reliable and hardworking, whereas Jake, the younger brother is handsome, reckless, unreliable and a troublemaker. Their story spans the 1930s and 1940s as they grow up through the Depression years and the Second World War, up to the early 1960s.

It’s also the story of Ian, Dr Christopherson’s son, beginning in the late 1950s when he became infatuated with Arthur’s wife Laura. I think the dual time frame works well, moving almost seamlessly between the years, and the characterisation is excellent. I was totally engrossed in the story and able to visualise the scenery, including the Ojibway reserve where Ian’s school friend Pete lived:

He [Ian] cycled down Main Street to the outskirts of Struan, which took all of three minutes, and then out along the road to the Ojibway reserve, which took a further five. The reserve was spread along the shore of a bay, with a point of land jutting out into the lake between it and Struan, a symbolic barrier as well as a geographic one. The road ran out of pavement half a mile before it reached the reserve, and the land itself was so low it would grow nothing but bulrushes and bugs – black flies by the million in early summer then mosquitoes big enough to pick you up and carry you away. The reserve store, though where Peter Corbiere lived, was situated right down by the lake, which meant it got the benefit of the wind and was less buggy than the rest. Pete’s grandfather was sitting on the steps when Ian arrived, smoking and staring off into the woods. He had scars on his fingers from letting cigarettes burn down too far. (page 18)

There is much joy in this book mixed in with immense sorrow and pain. The title of the book refers to the time before and after a shocking incident on the bridge  – a roughly made bridge across the river that separated the Dunns’ and their neighbours, the Lintz’s farms. It was a shortcut that saved more than a mile. The River Crow was fifteen feet below the bridge as it boiled its way over rocks. That incident changed not only Arthur’s and Jake’s lives but its effect lingered on the their community the rest of their lives.

The Other Side of the Bridge is Mary Lawson’s second novel. I loved her first, Crow Lake (which I read ten years ago) and I love this one just as much. It’s one of the best books I’ve read this year. It was longlisted for the Man Booker Prize in 2006, which was won by Kiran Desai’s The Inheritance of Loss.

Reading Challenge: the 21st book I’ve read this year for Bev’s Mount TBR 2017 – a book I’ve had for 10 years.

Mount TBR Checkpoint 3

It’s time for the third quarterly checkpoint for  Bev’s Mount TBR Reading Challenge 2017 now that we only have 3 months of the year left to complete the challenge.

I’ve not been doing too well with this challenge, mainly because I keep reading new books and library books! I’ve read 20 of the books I owned prior to January 1 this year, which takes me near the top of Mont Blanc (24 books). I hope to get back to reading my TBRS soon!

Bev has asked asked some questions … I’m answering these:

 Who has been your favorite character so far? And tell us why, if you like.

My favourite character is one of the main characters in  Winifred Holtby’s South Riding., Mrs Beddows. She was the first woman alderman of the district, a strong older woman (age 72), a generous, warm-hearted, compassionate and charitable woman, dedicated to fighting poverty and wanting the best for the South Riding and its people.

 

Pair up two of your reads. But this time we’re going for opposites. One book with a male protagonist and one with a female protagonist. One book with “Good” in the title and one with “Evil.”

Colin Dexter’s The Dead of Jericho is set in a city – Jericho is an area of Oxford – with a male detective – Inspector Morse, whereas A Death in the Dales by Frances Brody is set in and around Langcliffe, a village in the countryside of the Yorkshire Dales, with a female sleuth, Kate Shackleton.

Extraordinary People by Peter May

Extraordinary People (The Enzo Files, #1)

I loved Peter May’s Lewis trilogy and I also enjoyed his standalone book, Entry Island, so I decided to read Extraordinary People, the first in his Enzo Files series when I saw a copy in a secondhand bookshop (along with the second in the series, The Critic). They are both TBR books.

Set in France the action moves between various locations, but is mainly in Paris, as Enzo Macleod tries to solve a cold case mystery, that of the disappearance and presumed death of Jacques Gaillard, an eminent professor, 10 years earlier. Enzo is trained as forensic scientist, who is now a professor of  biology at a university in Toulouse. He has taken a bet that he can solve seven of the most notorious murders, using modern technology. Journalist Roger Raffin had originally researched the Gaillard case and shares his information with Enzo and accompanies him on the search.

It helps that a metal trunk had been found in the catacombs under the Place d’Italie, containing a skull and a number of apparently unconnected items. Enzo succeeds in establishing that it is Gaillard’s skull and using the items in the trunk as clues begins the search for the rest of his skeleton. This takes the form of internet searches, DNA investigations and leaps of intuition, ending up in a dramatic scene back in the Paris catacombs. Enzo’s own life is in danger and that of his elder daughter, Kirsty.

There is quite a lot about Enzo and his family background. He is of Scottish/Italian parents, with a complicated personal life. He has two daughters, by different mothers. Kirsty refuses to have anything to do with him, whereas Sophie who dotes on him, lives with him, whilst Enzo can’t stand her boyfriend.

I had a couple of small issues with this book. It takes the form of a puzzle and a chase to find the culprit, much in the same vein as Dan Brown’s books. I did find it rather implausible that the murderer would have left such specific clues and although Enzo does raise the question of why anyone would do that, it’s never properly answered (to my mind at least).

I also questioned why the French police ordered him to leave the investigation solely to them without using his obvious skills and knowledge (there is a reason for that, which I quickly surmised).

Another little niggle is the way May interspersed the text with French words for some items, but not others – the word séjour is used a lot but other rooms such as ‘bedroom’, ‘hall’ are in English – a minor quibble I know, but each time I read it I wondered why.

But, having said all that I did like the book, it’s very readable and I learned a lot about Paris and its catacombs.

  • My copy: published in GB in 2014 by Quercus Editions Ltd, 420 pages
  • Source: I bought a secondhand paperback copy
  • My rating: 3* (it would have been 4*, but for the leaps of intuition and other small issues I had with this book)

Reading Challenges: my 3rd book for the RIP 2017 challenge and my 20th book for Bev’s Mount TBR 2017.

The Taxidermist’s Daughter by Kate Mosse

The Taxidermist's Daughter

Publication date: September 2015, Orion Books

Source: my own copy

Rating: 3*

The Taxidermist’s Daughter is a difficult book to review without giving away too much detail particularly about the element that almost made me stop reading and because of that I was in two minds what rating to give it. The main thing that I didn’t like is all the detail about taxidermy – and there is a lot of detail. I found its gruesome application in this book absolutely sickening. But I still read on, such is the strength of Kate Mosse’s ghoulish storytelling.

Blurb (from the back cover):

1912. A Sussex churchyard. Villagers gather on the night when the ghosts of those who will not survive the coming year are thought to walk. And in the shadows, a woman lies dead.

As the flood waters rise, Connie Gifford is marooned in a decaying house with her increasingly tormented father. He drinks to escape the past, but an accident has robbed her of her most significant childhood memories. Until the disturbance at the church awakens fragments of those vanished years . . .

Connie Gifford is the taxidermist’s daughter and she has grown up learning the art of taxidermy, taking over from her father who is a hopeless drunk. Her mother had died giving birth to her and there had been an accident when she was twelve (ten years earlier), which had almost completely wiped the first twelve years of her life from her mind.

The book began well, full of atmosphere, set in the Fishbourne Marshes and the tidal estuary in West Sussex (where Kate Mosse grew up), with Gothic overtones and hints of dark and terrible secrets and revenge. There is the mystery of the dead woman who has been garroted – who was she? What, or who haunts Connie’s father? What had happened to Connie when she was twelve, and who was the girl Connie vaguely remembers – older than her, with a love of life and a yellow ribbon in her hair? She experiences strange episodes where she feels herself falling out of time, spinning and flying through the air – episodes full of menace and threat.

But it dragged in the middle, with too many indistinct male characters and even though there is a map showing the layout of Fishbourne in 1912 I had difficulty in following the location of the action, nor could I work out how quickly they seemed to be able to travel between the various houses and Chichester.

It ends dramatically in death and destruction, with all the strands of the story coming together, one dark and stormy night. The waters rise, as the banks of the rivers, streams, the mill pond and the sluice gates break, flooding the whole area. Connie’s memories too come flooding back as the wind and rain join the thundering torrent of the flood water.

After a while though too much was foreshadowed and the story became rather predictable, which lessened the tension. Its gruesomeness however will stay with me for quite a while.

Reading Challenges: Mount TBR 2017 and R.I.P. 2017

South Riding by Winifred Holtby

South Riding

Blurb:

The community of South Riding, like the rest of the country, lives in the long shadow of war. Blighted by recession and devastated by the loss, they must also come to terms with significant social change.Forward-thinking and ambitious, Sarah Burton is the embodiment of such change. After the death of her fiancé, she returns home to Yorkshire focused on her career as headmistress of the local school. But not everyone can embrace the new social order. Robert Carne, a force of conservatism, stands firmly against Sarah. A tormented man, he carries a heavy burden that locks him in the past.

As the villagers of South Riding adjust to Sarah’s arrival and face the changing world, emotions run high, prejudices are challenged and community spirit is tested. 

My View:

I bought Winifred Holtby’s sixth and last novel, South Riding, after watching the BBC television adaptation by Andrew Davies, starring Anna Maxwell Martin and David Morrissey, broadcast in February 2011. And I’ve  only just got round to reading it – it was well worth the wait. It’s one of those books that make you feel as though you are there taking part in the action – I was totally immersed in the story and I loved it.

The book was first published in 1936, six months after Winifred Holtby’s death, aged 37, from Bright’s disease. Set in the early 1930s in Yorkshire it paints a moving and vivid portrait of a rural community struggling with the effects of the depression.

South Riding is a fictional place – Yorkshire consists of a North, East and West Riding – there is no South Riding. The word Riding is derived from a Danish word ‘thridding’, meaning a third. The invading Danes called representatives from each Thridding to a thing, or parliament and established the Ridings System. South Riding is based on the East Riding where Winifred Holtby’s mother was a county alderman, but she explained in a prefatory letter to her mother that Alderman Mrs Beddows was not Alderman Mrs Holtby, that the characters were not her colleagues on the county council and that the incidents in the book were not derived from her mother’s experience.

Nevertheless,the main focus of the novel is centred on local politics and the work of the county council in dealing with a variety of issues  including social issues, education, unemployment, local building programmes, poor relief and the treatment of the insane. There is a large cast of characters and a list is given at the start of the book, which I found most helpful.

It is an intensely detailed story, involving many sub-plots as the lives of all the characters unfold. The main characters are Sarah Burton, the new headmistress of Kiplington High School for Girls, a fiercely passionate and dedicated teacher; Councillor and farmer Robert Carne of Maythorpe Hall and his struggles both personal and financial; Joe Astell, a socialist fighting poverty; and Mrs Beddows, the first woman alderman of the district, a strong older woman (age 72), a generous and charitable woman – my favourite character. This is how Winifred Holtby describes her:

She was a plump sturdy little woman, whose rounded features looked as though they had been battered blunt by wear and weather in sixty years or more of hard experience. But so cheerful, so lively, so frank was the intelligence which beamed  benevolently from her bright spaniel-coloured eyes, that sometimes she looked as young as the girl she still, in her secret dreams, felt herself to be. (pages xxiv-xxv)

And here is one of the passages in which she describes Sarah Burton:

Sarah believed in action. She believed in fighting. She had unlimited confidence in the power of the human intelligence and will to achieve order, happiness, health and wisdom. It was her business to equip the young women entrusted to her by a still inadequately enlightened state for their part in that achievement. She wished to prepare their minds, to train their their bodies, and to inculcate their spirits with some of her own courage, optimism and unstaled delight. (page 42)

I could go on – all the characters are clearly defined and well rounded people and the locations bring the area to life, showing the contrast in living conditions between the different sections of society.

In short South Riding is a wonderful book, portraying life in the 1930s. I would very much like to re-read and enjoy it again and again. I’m sure that I would find plenty in it that I’ve missed on this first reading.

  • Paperback: 560 pages
  • Publisher: BBC Books (6 Jan. 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1849902038
  • ISBN-13: 978-1849902038
  • Source: I bought the book
  • My Rating: 5*

South Riding is my 18th book for Bev’s Mount TBR 2017 challenge and my final book for Charlie’s What’s in a Name Challenge 2017.

Catching Up: three crime fiction books

I’m following the example of my blogging friend, Cath at Read Warbler, by writing a ‘catch up’ post as I am behind with writing reviews. That’s what going away for two weeks and then having an awful cold afterwards does for you!

So here are three crime fiction books, all very enjoyable 4 star books, that I read earlier this year:

A Dedicated Man by Peter Robinson, the second novel in Peter Robinson’s Inspector Banks series, first published in 1988, and my 17th book for  Bev’s Mount TBR 2017 challenge. I’ve been reading these books totally out of order and have gone back to the first ones to fill in the gaps in my reading.

Banks is now more settled in Yorkshire after the events described in the first book, Gallows View. I was struck as I read the books how unlike the TV version of Banks they are. Banks, himself, is nothing like Stephen Tompkinson (who plays his role). Robinson’s Banks is ‘a small dark man, in appearance rather like the old Celtic strain of Welshman, and his physique certainly didn’t give away his profession.

The ‘dedicated man‘ is local historian, Harry Steadman, who was found half-buried under a dry-stone wall near the village of Helmthorpe, Swainsdale. It seems that nobody would have wanted to kill such a good man, but as Banks investigates his background several suspects emerge. Sally Lunn, a young teenager knows more than is good for her and sets out to beat the police in finding the culprit.

Banks is a dogged and determined police officer, also a ‘dedicated man‘ and he concentrates on Steadman’s past; after leaving Cambridge where he got a first in history, he’d taught at Leeds University where he’d developed an interest in industrial archaeology. After his father died he’d inherited a considerable fortune and left his job to concentrate on his own interests. He’d married, Emma, a plain-looking woman who Banks first mistook for the cleaning lady.

Other characters include Jack Barker, a crime fiction writer, Penny Cartwright, a folk singer and Michael Ramsden, a close friend who worked in publishing. I thought Barker’s comment about his editor was interesting – that he could spend two days working on a fine description and find his editor wants him to cut it out because it slows the action. I wondered if that was Robinson’s own experience because he does include passages of description that do slow down the action. But I like his style, which is a good balance of description and fast -paced action.

Completely different in style is my next book, also detective fiction. It’s The Hanged Man of Saint-Pholien by Georges Simenon, translated by Linda Coverdale. This is the third book in the new series of Maigret novels in new translations, published by Penguin, originally written in 1930. In this short book (144 pages) Maigret observed a shabby man, travelling on a train from Holland to Bremen, carrying a small suitcase. He replaced the man’s suitcase with another exactly like it and followed him when he left the train, only to watch him through a keyhole in hotel bedroom, place a revolver in his mouth and press the trigger.  Maigret is disturbed by the thought that he had both witnessed the tragedy and been the cause of it. Wonderfully mysterious and obscure I was baffled for most of the book, as Maigret uncovers a crime from ten years earlier, revolving around the macabre drawings of hanged men of all types. A recurrent theme was the steeple of a church – the same church, that of Saint-Pholien in Liège.

A note at the beginning of the book reveals that the book was drawn from Simenon’s experiences in Liège, when he was ‘involved with a literary set, comprised of poets and young artists. A member of the group, Joseph Jean Kleine, was  found hanging from the doorway of the church of Saint-Pholien during this period, a tragedy that left its mark on Simenon.

Moving forward to 2016 my final book is Present Tense by W H S McIntyre, a criminal defence lawyer. It’s the 7th book in his Best Defence series, featuring criminal lawyer Robbie Munro. Munro is based in Linlithgow and deals mainly with Scottish Legal Aid cases.

Billy Paris, ex-military, leaves a cardboard box with Robbie and asks him to look after it for him, without telling him what it contained, but assuring him it wasn’t guns, knives or drugs. That’s OK until two men in black suits, one a detective inspector and the other from the Ministry of Defence, ask him for the box and want to know where they can find Billy.

It’s a legal drama, a tense and complicated mystery, combined with details of Robbie’s personal life. He is a single dad with a daughter, Tina, aged four and a half, living in his dad’s house along with his brother, Malky, an ex-footballer. His dad has promised Tina a Pyxie Girl doll for Christmas, but they’re impossible to get. There’s a lot about parenthood, more specifically fatherhood, and family relationships told with dark humour, all making for an intriguing and absorbing mystery.

Gallows View by Peter Robinson

Gallows View: DCI Banks (Inspector Banks 1)

This year marks the 30th anniversary of the first Inspector Banks bookGallows View by Peter Robinson* (see below). I’ve read some of the later Banks books, totally out of order, which doesn’t seem to matter as I think they work well as stand alone books.

Inspector Alan Banks has been in Eastvale in the Yorkshire Dales for six months, having relocated from London. He has now got used to the slower pace of life and is working well with his colleagues. Sandra, his wife, has also settled well in Eastvale, making friends with Harriet and joining the local photography club.

There’s a peeping tom in the area, targeting young, blonde women, following them as they leave the pub and then watching as they undress for bed and there is also spate of break-ins by two balaclava-wearing thugs who rob old ladies and vandalize their homes. It’s clear quite early in the book that the two thugs are teenagers, Trevor Sharp and his friend, Mick Webster, who progress from robbing old ladies to burgling more prosperous homes when their owners are away from home, guided by Mick’s older brother, Lenny.

The main mystery is that of Alice Matlock, an old woman, living on her own, who is is found dead in her ransacked house in Gallows View, a row of old terraced  cottages. Her body was discovered by her friend, Ethel Carstairs, lying on her back, having fractured her skull on the corner of a table while falling backwards – or had she been pushed? Was she also a victim of Trevor and Mick, could it have been the peeping tom, or was someone else responsible? It might have just been an accident – she was old and her bones were brittle.

Dr Jenny Fuller, a psychologist at York University, has been brought in to help by providing a profile for the peeping tom case. Banks, a happily married man, is immediately attracted to her. They work well together, although Sandra, his wife, is rather suspicious at first about their relationship when she discovers that Dr Fuller is a young, attractive redhead.

It’s a good start to the series, which has now reached 24 books. It has quite a relaxed pace, with a complex and well constructed plot. The characters are convincing and realistic, and I like Banks, a hard working dedicated detective who gets on well with his boss, Superintendent Gristhorpe, who likes to build dry stone walls in his spare time.

As well as the crimes Robinson also explores a number of other issues – for example, feminism and gender, and education, comparing comprehensives and grammar schools. One thing that really dates it is the frequent mention of smoking in pubs!

As with other detective novels that have since been adapted for TV there are differences from the books. Peter Robinson explains on his website he has no power in the TV universe, and he thinks of the Banks books and the TV series as parallel universes. The characters are clearly meant to be different versions of the same person; they look different, have different personalities and meet different fates in different worlds.

  • Format: Kindle Edition
  • File Size: 826 KB
  • Print Length: 324 pages
  • Publisher: Pan; Reprints edition (21 Aug. 2009)
  • Source: I bought the e-book
  • My Rating: 4*

Gallows View is a book I’ve owned for over 2 years, so it qualifies for Bev’s Mount TBR Challenge.

*Peter Robinson later wrote a novella, Like A Virgin published in a short story collection, The Price of Love, which is about his last case in London just before he moved to Yorkshire.