Libraries Week 8th-13th October

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This week is National Libraries Week in the UK.  The theme this year is to promote wellbeing and is being promoted with the tagline “My Time.  My Space.  My Library”

Being a discerning and intelligent bunch reading this I hope I don’t have to tell you the key thing about libraries is use them or lose them.  With local councils continuing to make cutbacks library services  continue to be vulnerable.  If you haven’t visited your local library for a while this week would be an excellent time to put that right.

Before you go check out your local council’s websites as there may very well be special events going on to celebrate the week.  Libraries are no longer just about books and you may discover a whole range of activities which will get you socialising and lift spirits.  Here on the Isle of Wight, where, as I’ve mentioned many times before I am employed as a relief library assistant in a number of the libraries ,  this week we are offering activities such as talks about the history of libraries, art courses, Scrabble Club, initiatives to make poppies to commemorate the fallen of World War I in visual displays, reading , dancing, colouring, music and knitting groups as well as special rhyme times, story times, art activities, Lego and Minecraft challenges for children.  We will be running sessions to get people to use library resources online.  Many areas now offer an on-line book, magazine and audio books facilities free to use for library card holders (here we have recently moved over to Borrowbox and Press Reader which are proving very popular).

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On Saturday at Sandown Library I will be doing something which proved to be very successful last year.  I am holding a Readers Advisory Day.  Hopefully, people will be coming in for advice as what to read next and I’m planning to introduce them to their next favourite author.  I will let you know how I get on.  Those near enough to the Isle Of Wight can find information about the events I have just mentioned by following this link.

The rest of you will just have to look up your local council website to find out up-to-date information on events throughout the week.  Even if your area is not celebrating National Libraries Week why not visit your nearest library sometime during the week for your own celebration.  You might just find what you are looking for.

We have been provided with some fact around the use of libraries from the good people at http://www.librariesweek.org/facts.

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Be good to yourself.  Visit a library this week.  Let me know how you get on………………..

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The Perfect Murder- Peter James (2010) -A Murder They Wrote Review

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My second Peter James novel I’ve read this year is a much slighter affair than “Dead Man’s Grip” which will be in contention for my Book of The Year this year.  “The Perfect Murder” takes my tally of James’ novels to eight which eases him into the anchor position of my Top 10 most read authors alongside Martina Cole and John Steinbeck.  This was because I selected “A Quick Read Novel” from the Sandown Library Russian Roulette Reading Challenge.  This was published for World Book Day in 2010 and can be polished off quite easily in an hour.  The whole Quick Reads enterprise is to tempt people back into reading primarily but it can also provide a cheap, easy read for fans of the author.  Last year I read Minette Walters’ “Chickenfeed” from the same series.  You are not going to get the very best work from an author but hopefully a sampler of what they do in order to tempt you into finding out more.

“The Perfect Murder” is a stand-alone novel set like James’ Roy Grace series in Brighton, although on this occasion it could have been set anywhere.  Victor and Joan Smiley, a rather elderly-seeming pair of forty-somethings are so stuck in the rut of their marriage that the only way out seems to be murder and both are planning to bump the other one off.

Characterisation is broadly drawn yet effective and there are twists to the tale, some of which I didn’t see coming, some I did.  There is a danger when writing these Quick Reads to order that the more limited vocabulary and length these demand can mean that the actual defining style of the author does not come through.  I think this is, to an extent, a valid point in both the James and Walters novellas I’ve read but the Brighton location and very Peter James front cover goes some way to rectifying this.

I know that Peter James has produced at least one collection of short stories and here he displays that he has the knack of conveying a sinister involving tale in a succinct fashion.

threestars

The Perfect Murder was published by Pan Books in 2010.

Frederica – Georgette Heyer (1965)

 

heyerI’ve been meaning to read some Georgette Heyer since reading about her in Christopher Fowler’s “Book Of Forgotten Authors”.  Certainly less forgotten than most of the featured writers, she is regularly taken out in the libraries where I work and was a great favourite of my partner’s mother who was known to stay up the whole night whenever she re-encountered one of Heyer’s titles.

Selecting “a member of staff’s favourite author” from the Sandown Library Russian Roulette Reading Challenge gave me a chance and I chose one of her later historical novels published 44 years into her lengthy career.  I think I was fully expecting a strong Jane Austen influence and that is very much present in this Regency tale.

 After settling down with the endearing opening where the Marquis of Alverstoke tries to avoid hosting a ball to introduce young female relatives to “the ton” at the start of “the Season” and whilst doing encounters distant family members who he is pushed to feeling responsible for I did find myself getting restless.  Much talk of balls and society and possible suitors was making this feel a bit of a dense slog.  It was, however, livened by the odd set piece- a runaway dog, a Pedestrian Curricle ride.  I did begin looking out for unintentional double entendres, which is a sign I’m wandering when reading classic and historical novels- a childish habit I know.  This was because I was finding Frederica Merriville’s attempts to get her stunning sister, Charis, paired up with an eligible man a little too predictable.  However, mid-way through this book did come into its own with the stunning Charis (probably the least interesting character in the novel) taking a back seat as the two younger Merriville boys, Jessamy and Felix take a more central role.  There is real drama in an expedition to watch a hot air balloon and it is from this point that this novel really lifts off (pun intended!).

 I can’t say I got a real feel for the Regency London setting but there’s no denying the amount of research Heyer must have put into her works to get it sounding right.  There’s a joyous use of contemporary slang and terms, many unfamiliar but which do not need further explanation.  Characterisation really won me over and I couldn’t help but feel that if Jane Austen herself had produced this work that she’d feel rather proud of it.  It’s certainly a long way from Mills and Boon historical novels and to be honest I wasn’t expecting it to be.  It’s actually a book that demands hunkering down with making it a better autumn/winter at home read rather than an on the beach one.  I think if time and duties had allowed me to read it in a more concentrated way I would have got more out of it, certainly from the sections I was finding heavy going.  I actually think my late mother-in-law might have had the right idea.

 I now know that there is a lot to enjoy in Georgette Heyer and there are a lot of books to discover.  She wrote 38 historical novels, 12 detective novels and 4 contemporary novels.  Next time I might see how she fares in the world of crime.

 fourstars

Frederica was first published in the UK in 1965.  I read the 2013 Arrow paperback reissue.

One For The Money – Janet Evanovich (1994) – A Murder They Wrote Review

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Selected because I drew “Read A Book From A Female Point Of View” from the Sandown Library Russian Roulette Reading Challenge this is my first Janet Evanovich.  It is also her first book to feature Bounty Hunter Stephanie Plum – a series the author certainly decided to run with as there are now twenty-four novels together with four which fall out of the numbered sequence of the main series (at least the reader will know what order to read them in!).  Book #25 “Look Alive Twenty Five” is due in November 2018.

Back at book number 1 we meet an unemployed Stephanie persuaded by her mother to go for a filing job at her cousin Vinnie’s Bonding Company.  With that position unavailable Stephanie persuades her relative to take her on as a “skip tracer”, tracking FTA’s (individuals who have failed to appear at court).  At this point I thought I was going to be thrown by the complexities of the American legal system but here we get a somewhat hapless inexperienced but enthusiastic bounty hunter attempting to find her place in this dangerous environment.

Cousin Vinnie gives Stephanie a week to track and capture New Jersey’s currently Most Wanted, cop Joe Morelli who has gunned down a man in suspicious circumstances and gone on the run.  The potential pay-off for finding him will sort out Stephanie’s financial problems.

Her main difficulty is that she is clueless about how to proceed and this sets up much humour alongside the crime which is a good part of this series’ appeal and is the reason this author gets such good feedback from crime readers of both genders.  I was concerned, especially with the cover of this Penguin reprint that it might be fairly standard chick-lit with a gun and although Stephanie’s ineptitude does mean she has much in common with many light romantic fiction heroines the crime aspect is well done, actually really quite thrilling which gives the whole thing a different and very satisfying complexion.

I’ve never been a huge fan of first-person American crime fiction when that first person has been some macho action or hard-boiled detective but Stephanie’s point of view is irresistible as her attempts to convey crime noir falls apart as she gets herself into deeper and deeper scrapes.  I wasn’t expecting to enjoy this as much as I did. although I should have known this was Evanovich’s strength and that she really wins readers over.  I often see library borrowers bring back the one book they’ve tried and then check out an armful from the series.  I will certainly be interested in finding out how Stephanie gets on.  Don’t be put off by what might on the surface seem formulaic, this is a winner both in terms of commercial sales and critical acclaim (this first book won the Crime Writer’s Association John Creasey Award).  It all starts here……..

fourstars

One For The Money is published by Penguin Books in the UK.  Originally appearing in 1994 I read the 2004 paperback version.

Isle Of Wight Pride 2018

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This weekend was the second ever Isle Of Wight Pride Celebration. It took place in Ryde amidst glorious sunshine. The Island has had a reputation of being backward- looking, set in the past. This was not helped by our previous MP of long-standing, a man who had control of one of the largest constituencies in the UK and who voted against any proposals in government to give equal rights to his LGBT+ constituents. When last year a Pride gathering was proposed, an event which would bring about a boost to the fading island economy there was some backlash from journalists in the local press which made news worldwide and was used as further evidence of how unready the island seemed to face the present day. The MP then sealed his own fate by informing a group of sixth formers that gay people were a danger to society and when one of these posted her outrage on Twitter it was not long before this MP resigned, at last accepting that he was out of step with the modern world.

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The Pride parade went ahead and hundreds thronged the streets, families, well-wishers who all entered the spirit of the event. The organisers, flushed by the success and positive feelings from a community who we were often informed were not keen on the idea of Pride by those in power decided to go one further and applied to become the hosts of UK Pride, a prestigious event which would bring many more over to the island. Other towns and cities applied but the bid for the Isle of Wight was the successful one and through hard work and dedication of a small group of people UK Pride at the Isle of Wight took place. Everyone was aware that it needed to be more than just a one day event and there has been many fund-raisers and events which have stressed the cultural and political importance of being able to accept and be accepted for your identity. The hashtag- I Own My Destiny has become the theme for the events. My partner Karl organised art exhibitions which displayed work from those artists on the island who identify as being LGBT+ and also from those who were finalists in a UK Pride art competition. His short interview with Solent Radio can be found here.

https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p06dk58p

 The 15,000 tickets went incredibly quickly and a parade through the streets of Ryde was cheered by the thousands more who came to see it.  We stood to watch the parade on Union Street, which is steep and heads down to the seafront. As well as the floats and marchers representing many different organisations there was a 150m rainbow flag which looked absolutely fantastic as it billowed down the steep hill, being lifted by the breeze and covering the whole street as far as the eye could see. This was a breath-taking moment.

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Celebrations continued on the beach for those lucky enough to be ticket-holders. Pride on the Isle Of Wight is apparently the only Pride event to take place on a beach in the world. This is a little bit of a risk if the weather is not so good but Saturday was fabulous and we enjoyed a sun-drenched afternoon watching performers, wandering around the stalls and soaking the atmosphere of a truly inclusive event at which there were people of all ages and very positively, lots of families. It seems a little mean to single out certain performers but there were three which will stick in my mind. The crowd was really lifted by a Dolly Parton tribute act Kelly O’Brien who went down an absolute storm, as did Britain’s Got Talent 2016 semi-finalist Danny Beard who has a great voice and whose version of “Bohemian Rhapsody” was terrific. Promoting EuroPride 2019 in Vienna was its ambassador and top of the bill act, Eurovision song contest winner Conchita who charmed the audience and who also really can sing live.

 

Danny Beard and Conchita – two of the main stage performers

It was a great day, superbly organised and must put Isle Of Wight Pride, on just its second year in the list of the best Prides in the UK alongside London, Brighton, Birmingham and Manchester. It brought in a lot of tourists who were prepared to spend money boosting the island economy (unlike the IOW Festival) and most importantly showed that the Isle of Wight is a relevant place, no longer rooted in the past, but with a vision of the future.
I’ll leave you some words from the official guide publication.

“We really want to capture the essence of Pride, celebrating how far we have come, but realising who much there is still to do. Pride has always been about fighting for rights, for the right to be yourself without fear or prejudice. The right to be in control of your own life and to OWN your destiny.”

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On a hot afternoon in Ryde this weekend this was achieved.

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The Outcast – Sadie Jones (2007)

 

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From the hat of the Sandown Library Russian Roulette Reading Challenge I pulled out “Ask a member of library staff their favourite book” and with there being only two of us working that day, my only option was to ask my friend and colleague Louise for a recommendation. I knew full well it would be “Count Of Monte Cristo” (just too long for now but I will get round to it one day) but as an alternative she asked me if I’d read “The Outcast”. Yes, was my initial response but then I began to doubt and checking my records it seems as if I hadn’t. Nor had I seen the 2015 BBCTV two part adaptation.  But the book seemed so familiar as if it had been sitting on my shelves at home, but it wasn’t. This gave me a curious initial relationship with this book, a kind of half-baked déjà vu. Its strong familiarity must have been because ten years ago it was everywhere and one that I’d earmarked for reading but for some reason had slipped through the net.

It was just the sort of book that I would seek out and with inside cover comparison to Ian McEwan ( “Atonement” feels the closest match and that is one of my Essential Reads) I was delighted to fit this into my reading schedule.

It is a tale of English repression, a stifling tale, impressively written. At the start of the novel it is the summer of 1957 and Lewis Aldridge, aged 19, is released from prison and returns home to his father and step-mother. Lewis is the Outcast of the title and this is his story. It is an easy gripping read but Sadie Jones’ very accessible style hides the emotional complexity that runs throughout. Lewis’ return to his home in Waterford, Surrey, reopens a wealth of emotions amongst family and neighbours, all keen to put on a public face of conformity whatever dark deeds and mistreatment of others is going on. We discover why Lewis has become the outcast and why his attempt to fit back into this community seems doomed to failure.

I did really like this but it just felt a little relentless on the piling on of the difficulties for Lewis, both within and outside his control and at times I just longed for greater contrast from its pervasive claustrophobia. This sounds a little churlish because it feels so close to being a classic novel but it just doesn’t quite pull it off and I think this was because of the frustration I felt towards the characters.  It is, however, a fairly extraordinary debut and one which took the 2008 Costa Award for best debut. In the ten plus years since this appeared Sadie Jones has certainly slipped under my radar because I wasn’t aware of her other titles- three further novels with a 5th scheduled for 2019. Reading this does feel like I’ve filled a small hole in my literary experiences, however, and I would certainly seek out more by this author.

fourstars

The Outcast was first published in 2007. I read the 2008 Vintage paperback version.

 

The Boy At The Top Of The Mountain – John Boyne (2015) – A Kid-Lit Review

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I’m more than happy to delve into the back catalogue of the writer of my current Book of The Year “The Heart’s Invisible Furies”. This book choice was thanks to me drawing from the Sandown Library Russian Roulette Reading Challenge: “Read A Book With A Red Cover”. I do have John Boyne’s newest adult title “A Ladder To The Sky” lined up to read next, thanks to Netgalley, but I thought I’d explore his writing for a younger audience first.

I am still to read “The Boy In The Striped Pyjamas” but I know enough about it (and I’ve seen the film version) to realise that there are parallels here. We begin in Paris in 1936 with 7 year old Pierrot living with his widowed mother. In the first few pages we get shell shock, domestic abuse and suicide all related to his German father unable to adapt to living in post-World War I France. Tragic circumstances pile up forcing Pierrot to leave France for Austria and a home at the top of Obersalzberg.

I actually didn’t know where this book was going (I read nothing about it beforehand) so I’m determined not to give away much plot for there are twists a plenty to satisfy its intended audience.

This is a great novel for an enquiring developing mind. It is a complex book, emotionally speaking.  Perhaps elements of the plot might seem contrived if written for the adult market but it would all make sense for a younger audience and has a moral depth that I’m certainly unused to in Junior Fiction. Pierrot develops from being an extremely likeable character to something of a monster and this feels unusual and chilling. His actions become increasingly difficult to explain away even in a society where the old rules no longer apply. All this would resonate with every reader, child or adult.

There are throughout references to a children’s classic of an earlier generation “Emil And The Detectives” which I certainly loved as a child and Boyne’s novel should have an equally long life for future generations. He has written a powerful, compelling novel which I found difficult to put down and read in a day (which is unusual for me- even for a children’s book) and as in “The Heart’s Invisible Furies” he brought me close to tears on a number of occasions. The characters are memorable and the plot, as in “The Boy With The Striped Pyjamas” would be impossible to forget- and nor should we. It would be a great and lasting purchase for a sophisticated child/young adult.  This is a children’s book now in its third year after publication and its reputation should continue to grow.

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The Boy At The Top Of The Mountain was published by Doubleday in 2015.

 

Mrs Palfrey At The Claremont – Elizabeth Taylor (1971)

 

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I chose this when “read a book with a female’s name in the title” was pulled out of the hat as part of Sandown Library’s Russian Roulette Reading Challenge.  I’ve never read Elizabeth Taylor before but had my eye on her for some time.  She came to mind on a previous challenge when I had to read a book with a main character aged over 60.  This book wasn’t available on the shelves then so I opted for “Elizabeth Is Missing” instead but I was pleased to be able to select “Mrs Palfrey” for this new challenge.

 I know that Elizabeth Taylor (1912-75) was an exquisite writer of short stories, a format I choose to read less of than I should, but I always suspected she would be able to win me over.  This is the 11th out of her 12 novels in a career which dated from her 1945 debut “At Mrs Lippincote’s” (which would also have sufficed for this particular challenge). Virago Modern Classics have done a great job in bringing the works of this author to a new generation and I am sure more or less everyone who reads her will turn into at least a bit of a fan.  In his introduction to this book, Paul Bailey states;

 “I envy those readers who are coming to her work for the first time.  Theirs will be an unexpected pleasure, and they will, if they read her as she wanted to be read, learn much that will surprise them.”

 As one of those to be envied readers I can certainly confirm that I got a lot of pleasure out of this short novel, which I read quickly but which is likely to remain with me for some time.

 

One of these Elizabeth Taylor’s is a giftes British writer and the other is a Hollywood Icon.  Can you work out which is which? !!

Mrs Laura Palfrey moves into the Claremont Hotel in London at the beginning of the novel.  Widowed and finding her house in Rottingdean has become too much for her she up sticks to this slightly down-at-heel establishment feeling she should still remain at the centre of things.  The hotel is a stop-gap for an elderly group of residents, just tolerated by the management, most likely to end in a final move to a nursing home should nothing turn up.  And nothing much turns up for them, even visitors are thin on the ground.

 This is a delightful bitter-sweet comedy of manners where everyone is keen to say the right thing but which is often delivered barbed with hidden meaning.  The residents range from the arthritic Mrs Arbuthnot whose pain is used to explain her spite; the flirty and fun loving Mrs Burton; the out of his depth solitary man Mr Osmond and Mrs Palfrey herself, described as looking like “a famous general in drag.”  When Mrs Palfrey has a fall on the streets of London she starts a friendship with a young writer who comes to her rescue and in an attempt not to look like the lonely widow she is she passes him off amongst the other residents as her grandson.  Other than that, not a vast amount happens, there are quite a few agonising social situations, indifferent hotel meals, a few fadings away and a proposal of marriage and I lapped it all up. 

 This came so close to being a 5* read but I think it ended too soon and left me with the impression that it lacked a little of the depth I would look for in my search for the very best.  This is a great introduction to a new author.

 fourstars 

Mrs Palfrey At The Claremont was first published in 1971.  The Virago Modern Classics reprint first appeared in 1982.

Elizabeth Is Missing – Emma Healey (2014)

 

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One of the big sellers of 2014 and the winner of the Costa First Novel Award this book has been my shelves since then.  I really wanted to read it when I bought it but over the time it has been sat there I’ve wondered whether it might be too whimsical, heart-warming or quirky for an old cynic like me and other books have taken precedence.

 However, out of the Russian Roulette Reading Challenge box at Sandown Library came “read a novel where the main protagonist is aged over 60”, so a perfect cue to discover what the fuss around this debut was all about.

 Main character, Maud, at aged 82 fulfils my brief nicely.  She suffers from dementia and when she believes her friend has gone missing she is determined to find out what has happened.  Only occasionally lucid, she has to rely on her hand-written notes but her investigation strategies are continually forced backwards by her confusion and the symptoms of this cruel disease.

 The past also intervenes as her friend Elizabeth’s predicament becomes aligned in Maud’s brain with the disappearance of her older sister Sukey just after the war, a mystery Maud has never been able to come to terms with.  Flashbacks triggered by the present events seem to bring these days back with greater clarity.

 It is the Dementia aspect, of course, which gives this gentle mystery its unusual slant just as an earlier best seller “The Curious Incident of The Dog In The Night Time” (2003) by Mark Haddon created something similar with his young, probably autistic detective.  That condition was never really made clear in that book and so it felt more subtle than what we have here although there is little doubt that if you loved that book then this is an obviously worthy recommendation. 

 I actually had my reservations about Haddon’s novel and I didn’t find myself totally buying into this either.  I found it to be all a little too much on one level and as well as being frustrated for Elizabeth I found myself becoming frustrated as a reader as I wanted the novel to move on more than it did.  The “mystery” aspect did not work as well as I expected it to, however, the human aspect of living with dementia and the toll this takes on the family works better, but I’m not really sure that I wanted to read this type of book at this present time. The dementia and mystery elements did not integrate as seamlessly as I thought they would. 

I know I’m in a minority here as this book has been so highly praised for both of these elements and I know it is the subject matter that largely dictates my reservations.  If it feels samey it is because Maud’s world is samey and continually challenging.  I did enjoy it but not as much as I was expecting to.

 Emma Healey’s second novel “Whistle In The Dark” has been published this month (May 2018) and the initial reviews are just as promising.  I would certainly be interested in reading this as there is no doubt that it seems to confirm her status as a writer who takes a unique slant towards the crime/mystery genre.

 

threestars

Elizabeth Is Missing was published by Viking in 2014.  I read the Penguin paperback edition.

The Pure In Heart- Susan Hill (Vintage 2005) – A Murder They Wrote Review

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The third Susan Hill novel I’ve read this year came about when I pulled “Read a Crime or Thriller novel” from the box for my third book in the year long Russian Roulette Reading Challenge that I am taking part in at Sandown Library.  I’d always thought Hill was most celebrated for her sparse, short horror tinged works of which “The Printer’s Devil Court” was an example but I am much preferring her crime series featuring Detective Chief Inspector Simon Serrailler of which this is the second out of nine full length works. 

 Here, Hill feels like a very different novelist as she writes at length and allows the plot considerable time to unfold.  “The Various Haunts Of Men” had Serrailler pretty much in the background and I felt he was one of the least interesting characters but he’s pushed centre stage for this follow-up published a year later.

 This is a very readable novel but I can’t help but feel that the author is toying with her readership.  Last time round the crime was a long time coming, here, it happens quicker but is far from the only thing going on, which makes it unusual compared to most other police procedurals where the solving of the crime dominates.  There are momentous events happening in the Serrailler family and Hill is prepared to devote as much time to these as the unfolding of the case, but, and here’s the thing, it doesn’t frustrate, it doesn’t feel purposely slowed down and it all feels relevant.  The odd crime reader may feel a little cheated but I personally think her style has enriched her characterisation and her feel of Lafferton, the small town where these novels are set which has already endured in just two books a serial killer and this time the disappearance of a nine year old boy on his way to school.

 I’m enjoying the family stuff and look forward to seeing how plot seeds sown here will develop in subsequent novels.  However, I’m still not buying into the main character’s love life, his hot and cold emotions are being developed as a flaw but it feels a little tacked  on, as it did in the last novel, and as a result a little unconvincing.

 Susan Hill likes to provide surprises along the way and has once again achieved this.  She takes risks, not so much with characters, as in the debut (if you have read it you will know what I mean) but here with the actual case.  Things may not go exactly the way the reader expects it to and I like that.

 I’m also liking that it feels like a traditional police procedural and yet it’s not a traditional police procedural.  I can see the parallels with her horror writing as it is what is under the surface which most unsettles.  I’m fascinated to see how this series continues.

 fourstars

 The Pure In Heart was published by Vintage in 2005