Wednesday, 8 August 2012

Mistresses of Mystery

Last year, I was introduced to the most amazing British mystery writer, Ariana Franklin. Her first novel in the Mistress of the Art of Death series was called, not surprisingly, 'Mistress of the Art of Death'. These books are historical detective stories, much in the way of the wonderful Murdoch Mysteries by Maureen Jennings. The writing is flawless, the historical research impeccable and the plots skilfully woven. The author's speculation about what might have been possible in the way of forensics, gives a very satisfying dimension to the works.

Sadly, Ariana Franklin died last year, so this addiction needed to be replaced.

My next find - quite by chance, in the book shop at Heathrow, was another Brit, Scottish crime writer Denise Mina. I read 'The End of the Wasp Season'. Mina's detective novels are set in Glasgow and are as gritty as you would expect. But her characters are nonetheless sympathetic. Her detective, Alex Morrow has baggage, is flawed, but she is good at her job, dogged, determined. And all of this makes for compelling reading.

My most recent addiction is Canadian Author Louise Penny. And good gracious am I addicted. I was strangely drawn to the first of her Three Pines series 'Still Life', whilst standing at the checkout in Save-on Foods supermarket. I didn't read it straight away, but when I did, I was almost instantly drawn in. Her characters and imaginary village are so well portrayed that I felt as though I'd been there and knew the people. Her plots are also page-turningly intricate, like a carefully stitched appliqué.

In many ways, Louise Penny has replaced two well-loved authors for me. Her work also has the 'snuggle under the duvet with a bar of chocolate and a damned good read' factor that Maeve Binchy's writing had for me. Sadly, Maeve died in the past few days.

Monday, 6 August 2012

Three Fine Books

Three books that I have read and loved this year all have a backdrop of extremes of temperature. 

Hilary Mantel’s ‘Eight Months on Gazzah Street’ is based on the author’s own experience of living in Saudi Arabia. As the situation and the institutionalised misogyny entrap her more deeply, the feeling of powerlessness is heightened by the constant and inescapable heat, until like her, we are not sure what is real and what is imagined and we welcome the news that she and her husband have permission to return to England.

Heat and powerlessness haunt the women in 
Dipiki Rai’s ‘Someone Else’s Garden’. Probably one of the most beautiful books I’ve read, it takes us on a journey from the most abject poverty of the Indian countryside and a community where inhumanity towards women is just accepted, to a different impoverishment as one of the protagonists reaches the sprawling city. Yet here she finds a freedom and personal growth she’d never experienced. Throughout the book, she is supported by her spirituality, which gives the book a feeling of intimacy.

By contrast, in ‘The Seige’, by Helen Dunmore, it is the cold that creeps up on us and stalks us. I found Dunmore’s writing compelling. Life in Leningrad in the summer of 1941 seems harsh by modern standards, yet far worse than we can possibly imagine is to come. Somehow Dunmore gives us a taste of the harshness of it. She makes us glimpse shadows out of the corner of our eye, yet still it seems sudden when war is upon us. And the siege isn’t just the army of one formidable nation besieging the people of another, it is also the winter which pushes them to the limits of their endurance. They never lose their belief that the Red Army will break through, that the siege will end, and that the soul of their nation is shared in its greatest writing.