“Half A World Away” by Mike Gayle (2019)

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“I’m belting out ‘All I Want For Christmas Is You’ at the top of my lungs as I pull up in front of the house.”

I’ve been reading Mike Gayle’s stuff for a long time, and he remains one of my favourite writers. Not one to take on massive worldbuilding projects or fill his stories with aliens or witches, Gayle instead deals simply with human relationships and matters pertaining to friendship, family and romance. Once again, he steps up to the plate and knocks it out of the park.

Kerry Hayes has grown up on a tough south London estate, a single mum to Kian. Working as a cleaner in houses she could never afford, she strives to be a better mother than her own, who abandoned her to the horrors of children’s homes. Unable to forget her past, she has fought her own corner every day. Noah Martineau, however, is a successful barrister with a fancy home, beautiful family and an upbringing of great privilege and security. He was adopted as child and has never been especially curious about his past. When a letter arrives, however, informing him of a sister that he never knew existed, both Noah and Kerry’s lives are turned upside down.

Now bound by blood and many years of distance, Kerry and Noah get to know one another and learn more about each other’s very different backgrounds. While both are thrilled to learn of the familial links, nothing is ever as simple as that. Noah’s marriage is on the rocks because of his inability to communicate or talk about his past, and Kerry has more to ask of him than a simple reconnection, as she struggles with her own private issues that will impact the life of her and her son more than she could ever have imagined.

Watching Gayle’s career as a reader has been fascinating. I often described his early books as being chatty and informal, like a talk in the pub with a close mate. As he’s progressed, his style has become somewhat more mature, less out-and-out hilarious (although never dry) and all the better and more heart-breaking for it. Kerry, Noah and their families are immediately real and leap from the page, as if you know them and I’m not going to pretend there weren’t genuine tears at a couple of points in the novel as we begin to fall so hard for them and really, truly want only the best for them. It’s a wonderful addition to Gayle’s catalogue, even more poignant than the equally brilliant The Man I Think I Know, and it’s been such a joy to spend some time in his pages again.

In a society that is obsessed with telling stories about romantic love, it’s refreshing to find a really great novel about the importance of family. Like the phenomenal musical Blood Brothers, here we open up the debate again as to whether who we are comes from who we are or how we’re raised. We see people born and raised in both good and bad situations and going in all sorts of directions from there. I think we know full well from just looking at the news at times, just because one is born into wealth and goes to a good school, it does not automatically mean you are a better person and loaded with more compassion, just as coming from a difficult background doesn’t mean you’ll end up on the wrong side of the law. Gayle, as a black writer, is all well positioned to discuss the complexities of class and race, which play something of a role in the novel thanks to Noah being a mixed-race man adopted into an affluent white family.

A beautiful novel about hope, family, belonging, and how your background does not define you.

Did you know that as well as reviewing everything I read, I also write novels, too? My books blend black humour with light horror, crossing genres with ordinary characters dealing with extraordinary circumstances. Head over to wherever you buy books to take a look at my two offerings. The first, The Atomic Blood-stained Bus, introduces you to a cannibal, an ex-god and the last witches of Britain, while the second, The Third Wheel, follows a man who is tired of being single while all his friends get married, but has a change of priority when aliens invade the planet. I hope you enjoy!

“The Lido” by Libby Page (2018)

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“Step out of Brixton underground station and it is a carnival of steel drums, the white noise of traffic and that man on the corner shouting ‘God loves you’, even to the unlovable.”

Along with the loss of pubs, live theatre, a regular social life, holidays and a sense of calm and optimism, one of the things I’ve really missed this year is swimming. I’m not a brilliant swimmer but I enjoy it and love being submerged in the water. I haven’t swum in a lido since I was a child, though, and I’ve always said if I moved to London, I’d have to have access to one. This book just confirms that even more for me.

Rosemary has swum in her local lido in Brixton every day, and at eighty-six, it remains the one thing that is a constant reminder of happier times in a city that is changing around her. Kate is twenty-six, recently moved to London and finding it tougher than she imagined. She feels she is floundering in her role at a local newspaper, writing small pieces about missing pets and scheduled road works, and dealing with anxiety and occasional panic attacks by herself. When her boss gives her a piece to write about the potential closure of the local lido, her life changes.

Kate meets Rosemary and learns what the lido means to her, as well as getting to know some of the other local residents. As the wheels are set in motion for the closure of the lido, the swimmers and Brixton locals are determined to do what they can to save it. For Kate, the story is sure to jump start her stagnant career. For Rosemary, the closure of the lido will mean saying goodbye to her past and, particularly, many fond memories of her husband. The lido is more than just a place to swim. It is the heart of the community, and the heart is vital.

For a debut especially, this is staggeringly competent. The writing sings, each page laced with genuine pathos and you quickly fall in love with the main characters as Page brings them to a vivid existence. The ongoing plot is laced with flashbacks showing various points in Rosemary and George’s relationship, and every time I found myself on the brink of tears. They are a couple whose love is strong and poignant, and one cannot help but fall a little bit in love with them both too. Kate, too, is a wonderful character and it’s refreshing to see a character who suffers from anxiety and panic attacks in a deeply realistic way. The lido itself becomes an extra character and by the end you’re determined to see it stay, too. The main story is also accompanied by smaller vignettes of swimmers at the pool unrelated to Kate and Rosemary, and allows us to see some of the others who use it and what for, which is a delightful touch.

It’s funny, but above all it’s impossible to not feel your heart being warmed by it. Page has a beautiful way with metaphor and description, and Brixton – an area of London I don’t know at all well – comes alive with just a few words. It is the characters who truly steal it though, and I love every last one of them. I saved my tears for the last chapter, but it’s one of those that grabs you and is determined to make you feel things, whether you want to or not. It’s been a long time since I read a book that moved me quite so much.

If you haven’t read this yet, it’s time you did. I just wish I could go for a swim now.

Did you know that as well as reviewing everything I read, I also write novels, too? My books blend black humour with light horror, crossing genres with ordinary characters dealing with extraordinary circumstances. Head over to wherever you buy books to take a look at my two offerings. The first, The Atomic Blood-stained Bus, introduces you to a cannibal, an ex-god and the last witches of Britain, while the second, The Third Wheel, follows a man who is tired of being single while all his friends get married, but has a change of priority when aliens invade the planet. I hope you enjoy!

“Our Life In A Day” by Jamie Fewery (2018)

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“It wasn’t supposed to be a special evening.”

I’m not particularly experienced when it comes to relationships, especially long-term ones, so I admire anyone who can make a happy partnership last. It’s been a while since I dived into a typical romance novel, where the main focus is just on the central couple, but here we are. An interesting time-jumpy kind of novel where everything is out of order.

Tom and Esme have been together for ten years, and no one can say it’s been an easy ride to get to this point. On the evening of their tenth anniversary, Esme – always fond of a game – sets Tom a challenge. He has to come up with twenty-four significant memories from their relationship, one for each hour of the day. When he’s done, there will be a prize.

But in looking back over the last decade, and particularly over the turbulent few months that have led them to this anniversary, he begins to wonder whether everything was as good as it had seemed. From a tent collapsing in on them at four o’clock in the morning, to their to the first time she met his friends at nine o’clock in the evening, Tom begins to amalgamate their life into a single day, one hour at a time.

It’s generally impossible to describe a book in a single word (this blog would be much smaller if it was) but for this one, the word I keep coming back to is “surprising”. Far from being your average romance novel, the writing elevates it to something better, with genuinely funny and beautiful lines. The non-linear timeline isn’t new, but the way it is presented it, being something that the characters in-universe are actually doing, a game from their point of view. It’s also quite impressive that it picks up heavily on some of the negative parts of their relationship. Actually, I worry a bit that it focuses too much on the bad things. I get that relationships aren’t all sweetness and light and the book needs conflict, but it sounds a little bit like that friend you have who only ever complains about their partner, but has been with them over a decade and so there must be some good stuff going on but you only ever hear the bad.

Based on that, it’s hard to really get invested in Tom and Esme’s relationship. I like Tom a lot, and he reminded me of myself in some ways, but I found Esme quite aloof, hard to deal with, selfish and temperamental. Presumably these are not her only traits, given Tom is in love with her and has been for a decade, but the way she comes across is less than wonderful. That being said, I don’t think that makes it a bad book. It makes it hugely interesting, readable, and you wonder where it’s all going. It gives a sense of realness to the characters. It’s good that they aren’t perfect together and always singing off the same hymn sheet – few couples are – and therefore they leap off the page a little clearer.

A charming novel with a fun concept.

Did you know that as well as reviewing everything I read, I also write novels, too? My books blend black humour with light horror, crossing genres with ordinary characters dealing with extraordinary circumstances. Head over to wherever you buy books to take a look at my two offerings. The first, The Atomic Blood-stained Bus, introduces you to a cannibal, an ex-god and the last witches of Britain, while the second, The Third Wheel, follows a man who is tired of being single while all his friends get married, but has a change of priority when aliens invade the planet. I hope you enjoy!

“Unnatural Causes” by Dr Richard Shepherd (2018)

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unnatural“Clouds ahead.”

Death comes to us all. It is the great equaliser. Cultures all deal with death in different ways, but generally the deceased are treated with absolute respect. In many cases, this also means ensuring that if the death wasn’t natural, we do our best to deliver justice. That is where the world of forensic pathology comes into play, and Dr Richard Shepherd is one of the best.

In this staggering memoir, Shepherd explores his career at the forefront of the morgue, with over 23,000 autopsies to his name. He has taken on the mantel of a detective, using his expertise to work out how all those who come before him have died. In his time, he has dealt with serial killers, freakish accidents and natural disasters, been pivotal in some of the most important and famous cases of the last forty years, and has freed the innocent, jailed the guilty, and turned whole cases upside down. All of it, however, has come at an enormous personal cost.

So, first up, this certainly isn’t for everyone. Shepherd does not gloss over much of his work, so there are a lot of details about the process of death, what dead bodies look and feel like, what happens to us after we die, and what illness really does to the human body. He is also frequently involved in cases that feature infant mortality, which are not the easiest things to read. That said, it’s nonetheless a fascinating insight into the world of pathology.

I’ve often contemplated the notion that, in another timeline where I did all my education differently, I may have ended up doing something about death. It’s important work, and at least you know (however morbid this sounds) you’re not going to run out of it. I find the whole thing really interesting, and the book is very engrossing, allowing you to stand at Shepherd’s shoulder as he dissects the deceased. He has been involved in some big cases including the murder of Stephen Lawrence, the aftermath of 9/11, the Marchioness disaster, and was even instrumental when the case behind the death of Princess Diana was reopened years after her death. It is quite something to read about these cases from someone who was there.

A stunning, candid and impressive memoir.

Did you know that as well as reviewing everything I read, I also write novels, too? My books blend black humour with light horror, crossing genres with ordinary characters dealing with extraordinary circumstances. Head over to wherever you buy books to take a look at my two offerings. The first, The Atomic Blood-stained Bus, introduces you to a cannibal, an ex-god and the last witches of Britain, while the second, The Third Wheel, follows a man who is tired of being single while all his friends get married, but has a change of priority when aliens invade the planet. I hope you enjoy!

“Lord Edgware Dies” by Agatha Christie (1933)

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“The memory of the public is short.”

What I find when it comes to re-reading all the Christie novels is that I often think I remember the solutions. Lord Edgware Dies, it turns out, I haven’t read since 2012, so it’s one of the handful that aren’t on the blog yet. I thought I remembered it really well, and was content to settle down and see how it was done, rather than worrying about who the killer was. Unfortunately, it turns out my memory was not quite as good as I thought it was.

After a night at the theatre seeing the latest show by celebrated comic Carlotta Adams, Poirot and Hastings run in to Jane Wilkinson, the air-headed and selfish Lady Edgware. She accosts Poirot after the performance and asks him to go and visit her husband, Lord Edgware, and try and convince him to divorce her so she is free to marry a Duke she has been courting. Curious, Poirot follows through with the request but is surprised to learn that Lord Edgware wrote to Jane months ago to say he was willing to allow the divorce. Later that night, Lord Edgware is found dead in his study, stabbed in the neck.

The case at first seems easily solved. Jane Wilkinson was seen entering the house just before the murder occurred, and the police are ready to arrest her for murder. The difficulty is, there are twelve people who were at a dinner party elsewhere in London which was happening at the same time as the murder – and Jane was in attendance. Besides, why should she want to kill her husband when he’s already given her the one thing she wants? As Poirot uncovers more and more deceptions, he begins to unravel how one woman could be in two places at once, and who really did the murder.

Still one of the smartest, in my opinion, Lord Edgware Dies plays with the concept by having the solution appear immediately obvious. All the while you’re dancing around it wondering why Poirot can’t see it too (even though you know he would do), the truth is hiding behind a series of increasingly devilish red herrings, misdirections and bluffs. Hastings and Japp are both on good form, and Poirot is constantly having to change his theories. Even he seems a little more stumped than usual here, and it is in fact an idle comment he hears on the street that directs him to the correct solution.

The killer is a fascinating character, and even after being caught, they still insist on writing to Poirot to explain exactly how it was done, being proud of their actions rather than showing any remorse. Indeed, their final words are to wonder whether they will be immortalised in Madame Tussauds. The suspects are all a slightly unpleasant bunch, with a number of them being egotistical performers, the story being set against a backdrop of actors and the theatre. Unfortunately, this seems to be one of the Christie novels that never saw an editor’s pen in later years, with several references to Jewish people being greedy and one use of a swear word that feels especially inflammatory given the news this week. Oh dear. We can only mutter “of it’s time” and not dwell. No one’s claiming Christie was perfect, but as times and attitudes moved on, she did go back to some of her earlier works and change details like this, having learnt better. It’s jarring when they remain.

Nonetheless, a fun and interesting puzzle.

Did you know that as well as reviewing everything I read, I also write novels, too? My books blend black humour with light horror, crossing genres with ordinary characters dealing with extraordinary circumstances. Head over to wherever you buy books to take a look at my two offerings. The first, The Atomic Blood-stained Bus, introduces you to a cannibal, an ex-god and the last witches of Britain, while the second, The Third Wheel, follows Dexter who is tired of being single while all his friends get married and settle down, but has a change of priority when aliens invade the planet. I hope you enjoy!

“Dream London” by Tony Ballantyne (2013)

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“Crunch crunch crunch.”

Many of the world’s finest cities are built on grids: New York, Barcelona, San Francisco, Paris, parts of Edinburgh and much of Rome. London, however, is not quite like that. With so many dead ends, cut-throughs, alleys, curves and very little regulation regarding street naming, there’s a theory that it’s been built like that specifically to confuse tourists. Or maybe it’s just to slow down any army that returns to take its nations stuff back from the museums. Dream London take this to a whole new level, and as I’m really missing my visits to the capital this week, it seemed a good place to spend a little time.

Dream London is not the London we once knew. The city changes a little bit every night, and the people change a little every day. The parks have disappeared, the Thames is now an impassable mile-wide waterway, the towers are gaining new floors with alarming regularity, and you never know if you’ll wake up to find your house next to a pub or a train station, or even if your house still exists. No one knows why this is happening, and have even less idea of how to stop it. Enter, Captain Jim Wedderburn. A former soldier, he left the army and is now struggling to make ends meet in this twisted version of his old home. He looks after a cohort of prostitutes and does his best to keep out of trouble, but Dream London has a way of making you into someone new.

Wedderburn’s fame is large, and when two rival factions seek him out for help against one another, he finds himself torn in two. Does he follow the Cohort into the legendary Angel Tower, the thousand-storey skyscraper that seems to be the centre of the changes, or does he join Daddio Clarke and his army of captive followers who all possess eyes on their tongues and send foul-mouthed little girls in to do the dirty work? Elsewhere, Dream London has given Wedderburn his fortune and he learns that he will soon betray one of his friends, and another will betray him. There’s no escape, the parks are getting bigger – even if no one can access them – and something terrible is coming. But this is a city where nothing is ever the same two days running, so how on Earth can it ever be put back together?

With shades of Neverwhere and Jasper Fforde abounds, this is a riotous romp through a fictional London that still seems oddly familiar. This must be what it’s like to be a first-time visitor to the city, with roads and train stations that come and go as they please, an inconsistent skyline, and people everywhere only out for themselves. Dream London seems to slowly be sinking back into a place of Victorian values, where workhouses exist and women are relegated mostly to either selling sex or cleaning floors. It’s not a bad life for everyone, but it very much depends who you are. Ballantyne does amazing work at spinning this mythical city on the page and bringing it to life. The complications of trains that never take you where you want, least of all out of Dream London, the obsession with eggs of the people who live near the fabled Egg Market, and the astounding reveal of who is behind it all are strokes of genius.

One of my favourite inventions is the Angel Tower, which is hiring people to rewrite the laws of the universe. On the Writing Floor, whatever is written becomes fact and shifts the city into a new shape. Anything from here that then gets moved to the Contracts Floor is immutable and unchanging. The Numbers Floor is the most interesting, however. There are no prime numbers in Dream London, and so Wedderburn is hired to prove this. When looking at the numbers, his mind begins to be affected by the city and he realises that there are other numbers between the numbers we know. As of now, seventeen has always been two times green. This is beautifully followed with the chapter titles, which insert the colours (and one two occasions, mere sensations) into the running order. A madcap idea that is executed with true skill.

Sharp, interesting characters, a well-defined world, and some utterly believable silliness. What isn’t to love about this?

Did you know that as well as reviewing everything I read, I also write novels, too? My books blend black humour with light horror, crossing genres with ordinary characters dealing with extraordinary circumstances. Head over to wherever you buy books to take a look at my two offerings. The first, The Atomic Blood-stained Bus, introduces you to a cannibal, an ex-god and the last witches of Britain, while the second, The Third Wheel, follows Dexter who is tired of being single while all his friends get married and settle down, but has a change of priority when aliens invade the planet. I hope you enjoy!

“Crudo” by Olivia Laing (2018)

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“Kathy, by which I mean I, was getting married today.”

I did the rare thing this week of giving up on a book that I wasn’t enjoying, and instead plunged headfirst into this novella about the end of the world.

It’s 2017 and Kathy is about to get married. She is worried, however, by the state of the world, with right wing governments taking office, the UK paralysed by Brexit, climate change is out of control, and anyone can lose everything with one wayward tweet. Nonetheless, she is determined to make her marriage work. Olivia Laing constructs a snapshot of a fleeting moment, capturing one hot, horrific summer in the early 21st century, as she asks if there is any point in learning to love when everything’s about to end.

The book is entirely set in 2017, and frequently mentions news stories of the time, with Kathy feeling the world is ending with every new story she hears. It’s only three years later that I’m reading it, and yet it seems like an entirely different world already. As the story progresses we see the world come to terms with the election of Trump, the President’s firing Bannon and Comey, the early repercussions of the Brexit vote begin to get felt, Jeremy Hunt denying trying to sell the NHS off, and the horror of the Grenfell Tower fire. Each seemed an earth-shattering story at the time, and while the fallout from each trundles on today, it’s remarkable to think how many tragedies we’ve been through in the last few years.

Kathy’s story, laced through these events, is one of falling love. A survivor of breast cancer, she has finally found someone she loves enough to get married at the age of forty, although we learn later that her husband is twenty-nine years older than her. It is believed that narrator is based on Kathy Acker, who is not someone I knew so I probably missed a good deal. Acker, however, died in 1997, so while our author here shares the same name and published books of identical titles, it isn’t the real one. This is obviously some literary allusion that went far above my head, although I don’t think it’s necessarily any worse for not understanding. The writing is too charged with emotion, juxtaposing falling in love with the fall of civilisation in one of the most tumultuous periods of recent history. Some of it stings a bit too close to home as the world around us becomes messier and madder and it makes you ask fundamental questions about why and how we bother carrying on as if there is some future we’ll be save in. I guess we just have hope there is.

The perfect novel to consume on a hot day, and a stark reminder of how quickly the world can change.

Did you know that as well as reviewing everything I read, I also write novels, too? My books blend black humour with light horror, crossing genres with ordinary characters dealing with extraordinary circumstances. Head over to wherever you buy books to take a look at my two offerings. The first, The Atomic Blood-stained Bus, introduces you to a cannibal, an ex-god and the last witches of Britain, while the second, The Third Wheel, follows Dexter who is tired of being single while all his friends get married and settle down, but has a change of priority when aliens invade the planet. I hope you enjoy!

“London’s Labyrinth” by Fiona Rule (2012)

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“My journey into London’s underground labyrinth began on a warm July afternoon, in the leafy communal gardens that lay behind the red-brick walls of a mansion block in west London.”

Since we currently can’t explore the real world, I am even more grateful for the existence of books. They not only allow you to explore places you may know well, but also those that you are less likely to be able to get access to – and I don’t just mean Hogwarts or Mars. It’s time to head to London and take a look at what’s going on beneath the surface.

Fiona Rule takes us on a journey beneath London’s facade to explore the world beneath. It’s a tour through the enormous and efficient sewers created by Joseph Bazalgette (which still function as well today as they did in the 1800s), the birth of the world’s first underground railway, and the secret bunkers that held the government during the bombings of the world wars. Along the way we learn how the Tube led to the creation of the British Transport Police, the worst acts of terrorism ever committed on the network, why there are so many abandoned government offices, and see the use of the tube stations as bomb shelters.

My dad is somewhat preoccupied with the question of why, given we’ve excavated so much of London’s sub-surface, the city hasn’t just fallen in on itself, and I increasingly see his point. It seems remarkable today that there was ever a time when we weren’t using the area under any of our cities, but now London is propped up above miles upon miles of tunnels, ferrying trains, people, electric cables, sewage, and even rivers across the metropolis. Rule takes us to bits of the capital that we never see, explaining with a simple, if occasionally dry, touch how this subterranean world works. I like to think I know a lot about this sort of thing, but I had no idea that Bazalgette was building his sewers at the same time as the District Line was trying to be installed, and everyone spent the best part of a decade in each other’s way, as great piles of soil blocked busy streets and routes had to be altered to accommodate both projects.

Elsewhere, we learn about some of the worst accidents that ever occurred underneath London, including the 7/7 bombings, the fire at King’s Cross Station, the crash at Moorgate station, and the death of many trying to build Brunel’s tunnels under the Thames. We discover the Post Office Railway, which transported everyone’s letters and parcels across the city until 2003, and the legendary Necropolis Railway, which took coffins and mourners out to a cemetery on the edge of the city when everything got too crowded within the border.

It’s a fascinating look at a world that most of us take for granted and only see a small portion of.

Did you know that as well as reviewing everything I read, I also write novels, too? My books blend black humour with light horror, crossing genres with ordinary characters dealing with extraordinary circumstances. Head over to wherever you buy books to take a look at my two offerings. The first, The Atomic Blood-stained Bus, introduces you to a cannibal, an ex-god and the last witches of Britain, while the second, The Third Wheel, follows Dexter who is tired of being single while all his friends get married and settle down, but has a change of priority when aliens invade the planet. I hope you enjoy!

“Lethal White” by Robert Galbraith (2018)

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“If only the swans would swim side by side on the dark green lake, this picture might turn out to be the crowning achievement of the wedding photographer’s career.”

A national lock down seems like the right time to get through some of the larger hardbacks on my shelf while I haven’t got to be carrying them around. As such, we come at last to the fourth part of the Strike series, Lethal White. It turned out that aside from the last couple of pages and one or two smaller plot points, I had all but entirely forgotten everything that had happened in Career of Evil. Fortunately, you don’t really need to know that much, as very quickly we’re plunged into a brand new case which leaves you almost unable to put the book down. There are also some spoilers ahead for the previous books, so that’s your final warning.

Robin and Matthew have just tied the knot, but within minutes of the vows being said it seems that that knot is strained. When Robin realises that Matthew deleted some messages from Strike from her phone, she loses a great deal of trust and respect for him, but for the sake of their families, they go ahead with the honeymoon. A year later, their marriage isn’t in much a better position, but there are other things to worry about now. Following the high media attention that Strike and Robin received after finding the Shacklewell Ripper, Strike has fewer money worries and can hire some more detectives, but is less able to be covert himself. A problem falls in in his lap, however, when Billy, a mentally disturbed young man, bursts into his office and tells him he once witnessed a murder. Before Strike can find out anymore, Billy bolts in a panic.

Thus the case begins. Using what scant knowledge he has, Strike finds himself going from the very poorest corners of London to the highest echelons, where Jasper Chiswell, the Minister for Culture, has asked him to step in and find out something about Geraint Winn, the husband of the Minister for Sport, who is blackmailing Chiswell. Robin goes undercover in the Houses of Parliament and begins to get to know the Chiswell family and the people around it. Strike meanwhile is keeping tabs on Billy’s brother Jimmy, an anarchist who is currently protesting the damage done to London by the upcoming Olympic Games. When these two cases collide, it spells a fatal end for one of Strike’s clients. He and Robin now need to work out who is keeping secrets, because someone knows more than they’re letting on, and they’re determined to get to the bottom of it.

Rowling, despite her flaws, has always had a knack for characters and really has a good handle on how mysteries should work. It’s been said before, but several of the Potter books are basically just murder mysteries and it’s never been a surprise that she went into crime once she’d finished those. As with all the best mysteries too, it’s all there for you to solve, but I admit I didn’t quite see the ending coming. Rowling excels once more at keeping a complicated and twisted plot together and the book’s length seems almost justified. There’s a stark realism to the books that is thoroughly captivating. It’s also a prolonged study into the class system, showing the working classes being brushed aside and left to struggle, with the wealthy repeatedly showcase their belief that the world is there solely to bend to their will. Divisions are hugely prevalent, as are the themes of pairs and partnerships. Rowling is, really, quite a skilled writer, and becoming increasingly brilliant.

I remain disappointed by the inclusion of the romantic sub-plot, though. I’ve no problem with Robin or Strike being in relationships, as indeed they are, but the constant nods to the fact that they might be falling in love with each other are non-essential. The story works perfectly well without adding in the further tension to their relationship that it might be more than professional. The relationship, nonetheless, feels real and well-painted. As ever with Rowling, the characters are solid and real, each with depth and perfectly-fitting names. Strike is still one of the most interesting detectives of recent years, and Robin is aptly named as his competent sidekick who this time round gains a new strength that we had already seen coming to the forefront. She is determined and forceful and I adore spending time with her.

Another excellent addition to the series. I read this week that Rowling has plans for “at least ten more”. I’m not sure I have space on my bookshelf (or the upper arm strength) for them, but if the quality stays this good, I’ll do my best to try.

Did you know that as well as reviewing everything I read, I also write novels, too? My books blend black humour with light horror, crossing genres with ordinary characters dealing with extraordinary circumstances. Head over to wherever you buy books to take a look at my two offerings. The first, The Atomic Blood-stained Bus, introduces you to a cannibal, an ex-god and the last witches of Britain, while the second, The Third Wheel, follows a man who is tired of being single while all his friends get married, but has a change of priority when aliens invade the planet. I hope you enjoy!

“Carry On, Jeeves” by P. G. Wodehouse (1925)

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“Now, touching this business of old Jeeves – my man, you know – how do we stand?”

Literature is full of iconic pairings. Benedick and Beatrice, Elizabeth and Darcy, Holmes and Watson, Poirot and Hastings, Thursday and Landen – all of them at their best when with one another. Jeeves and Wooster, however, are a cut above the others, having a symbiotic relationship that is for all time. It’s not a romance, and it’s not even really a friendship – this is a relationship drawn on professional lines – yet they stand together with loyalty and respect nonetheless.

Here are ten early stories about one of fiction’s greatest pairings, starting with the moment Jeeves walks into Bertie’s life and cures his hangover with a drink of his own invention. From that moment on, Bertie cannot live without Jeeves. Throughout these stories, Bertie finds himself in many a pickle, as do many of his friends including Sippy, Bingo, Bicky and Corky, and with little intellect of their own, they must routinely ask Jeeves for help. Jeeves, to his credit, always knows what to do and can always solve the problem thanks to his intelligence, wisdom, and a huge number of contacts with whom he is always in communication with. There are, as ever, a huge collection of overbearing aunts and dangerous misunderstandings in here too, and we even get to see Bertie out of his native England, with some the stories taking place in New York and one in Paris.

The collection also contains “Bertie Changes His Mind”, the only time that Jeeves himself narrates the story. It’s really funny to see things from the other side, as we get to see Jeeves as not just being an almost supernaturally good valet, but actually being incredibly manipulative, if always for a good cause. He does seem to genuinely like Bertie, and his actions are always for his own good, whether that be discouraging him from taking in children to liven up the house, or getting rid of his purple socks.

As ever, the stories are charmingly hilarious and while Bertie would probably begin to grate after a while if I knew him in real life, on the page he’s a delight. Completely able to accept that he’s a bit of a “chump” and lacking in imagination and brain power, he knows that he wouldn’t be able to cope without Jeeves. In one story, he finds himself without him for a while and realises that some men don’t have a “gentleman’s gentleman”. He genuinely can’t see how they could manage.

Jeeves and Wooster are a dynamite pairing, and each would be lost without the other. I’m still fairly new to the series and am enjoying dipping in to the back catalogue, but they are books to be enjoyed sparingly like a good glass of port at the end of the day, not knocked back like cheap vodka shots. Wodehouse is one of the few writers that can make me genuinely laugh out loud, and it’s always a delight to spend some time in the company of his characters.

Blissfully silly stuff.

Did you know that as well as reviewing everything I read, I also write novels, too? My books blend black humour with light horror, crossing genres with ordinary characters dealing with extraordinary circumstances. Head over to wherever you buy books to take a look at my two offerings. The first, The Atomic Blood-stained Bus, introduces you to a cannibal, an ex-god and the last witches of Britain, while the second, The Third Wheel, follows a man who is tired of being single while all his friends get married, but has a change of priority when aliens invade the planet. I hope you enjoy!

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