Tag Archives: Bloomsbury Publishing

The Suspicions of Mr Whicher – Kate Summerscale

You know when you keep seeing a book and you pick it up four or five times in the space of a few weeks and you think you want it, people have said you should read it and you just think you have too many books? If this is the case just buy the blinking book, as this is how I have been feeling about Kate Summerscale’s ‘The Suspicions of Mr Whicher’ or ‘The Murder at Road Hill House’ as it suggests, and frankly I think this is one of the best books that I have read all year. So I must say a thank you to Bloomsbury for sending me this.

The subtitle of the book refers to the fact that this is not your normal gothic Victorian murder mystery; it’s a real murder mystery. In fact ‘The Murder at Road Hill House’ somewhat gripped the nation back in 1860 and saw the dawn of the detective in the form of Jack Whicher. This murder mystery in a country house where one of the occupants definitely did it sparked imaginations of the greats and inspired novels by Dickens, Conan Doyle and Wilkie Collins over the years. It all started on an unremarkable evening during the night in Summer 1860, the Kent family went to bed a s normal however the next morning the body of a young boy was found having died in tragic circumstances, the police couldn’t work out who had done it and so Scotland Yard were called. The case became huge news and in the small town of Road there was uproar and unwanted attention with the whole world guessing ‘whodunit’.

Now I am not a massive fan of non fiction, I love diaries and letters but with most non fiction I tend to wander and read it alongside my fiction, the fiction taking priority. Not when this book was around it wasn’t. Summerscale makes all the facts and theories turn into a wonderful and spellbinding read that could put to shame some crime fiction around at the moment. The research she has done is incredible down to the trains caught on what dates, the timetables from the time to match the possible escape of the killer. Clothes worn, movements of every member of the household and makes it come to life effortlessly. You really could have been a member of the public at the time following the case, making your own assumptions and falling for the red herrings along the way.

The book does also deal with the time significantly after the murder and looks at the future of all those involved including the murderer themselves. What is also fascinating with this book is that Summerscale shows how the best writers of that era and just after used various parts of this story and its characters to create some of the masterpieces still being read today such as the ‘Moonstone’ so it’s a fascinating look at the history of crime fiction and the ‘sensationalist’ novels that became so popular following, and of course left me with a list as long as my arm of books to read in the future.

This book is nothing short of pure brilliance, and will appeal to so many people for so many reasons. If you love books then you can learn about the history and add another twenty to your TBR. If you love crime then read the murder that helped establish the genre. If you love a good yarn this ones brilliant and its true. If you like non-fiction then the research and facts you’ll read and learn without even knowing is unbelievable. Yes you might have guessed that this book is one of my very favourites of the whole year, simply a must read.

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Filed under Bloomsbury Publishing, Books of 2008, Kate Summerscale, Review

In The Miso Soup – Ryu Murakami

After having read a few ‘ropey’ books that were not exactly my sort of book but also not really ones that I have particularly enjoyed ‘In The Miso Soup’ by Ryu Murakami. Bizarrely this wasn’t actually the book that I had originally wanted, I wanted ‘Piercing’ which is a shocking tale of a man who stands with an ice pick above his child’s crib every night. But you don’t want to hear about that story you want to hear about this one.

The story is told by Kenji, an unlicensed tour guide of Tokyo, however this isn’t the normal tourist traps, he is a guide of the darker back streets and red light district. He is a sex tourist guide. We first meet him as he first meets his latest client an American called Frank. However there is something odd about Frank, he has a slightly inhuman quality and he lies, not just ashamed business man lies, but lies that sink deeper. There has also been a murder or two in Tokyo of late and evidence seems to point to Frank, but is Kenji’s client a psychopath, and if so will Kenji survive three nights or be an accomplice to murder?

This book was fantastic. At only 180 pages it manages to pack a real punch. You have a meaty and clever story line that not only studies the minds of psychopaths but also looks at the sex industry in Tokyo in modern times. I found the character of Frank fascinating and incredibly creepy. While there are some seriously gruesome scenes this book is more creepy and sinister than all out gore, a dark and disturbing modern thriller all in all.

This is the book that Grotesque really wanted to be but in about 300 less pages and with much greater pace and intrigue. The more Chinese and Japanese writing I read the more I love it. So with that I am really looking forward to reading more of it, and will be ordering ‘Piercing’ as soon as possible. Though this may not be the sort of subject that you may want to read, try, its great writing and you’ll manage it in one sitting I promise, it also has an ending that seriously makes you think.

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A Thousand Splendid Suns – Khaled Hosseini

This was a book group choice, but one that I had been looking at and debating in every bookshop I went into after my love of ‘The Kite Runner’ which was one of my favourite reads last year. Plus it was on the Richard and Judy latest list and 90% of the time Amanda Ross seems to know a good book when she sees one. So when Katie’s choice of five was whittled to this one (that’s how we do it in our book group) I was over the moon.

I wasn’t disappointed which can be a worry after you have loved an author like Khaled Hosseini and don’t want that spell to be broken. Oh dear that sounds a little over dramatic. People have said this is ‘the female Kite Runner’ and it isn’t. I don’t want to give too much away as this spectacular novel that I found as moving as The Kite Runner and had so many more ‘oh no that cant have happened’ moments (where you have to re-read a paragraph) than its predecessor, they also start early which is why I cant really give you a massive insight into the plot I dont want to spoil it. Here’s what I can tell you…

The novel centres around two women, Hosseini here proves he is one of those men who can write women really well, Mariam who is sent to Kabul to marry the vile Rasheed, and two decades later Laila a fifteen year old girl for who tragedy strikes on more than one occasion. These two women are thrown together through adversity and what follows is an epic tale of heroines and their struggle to make a better life amongst the bloodshed and fear in a Taliban controlled environment.

This book will stay with you for a long time. I did think the ending was written for a film which I think is bound to happen and had a slightly nicely rounded off edge after several scenes that had left me in tears but that is a minor, minor point in what is seriously a fantastic book. I know people are jumping on to a band wagon of bashing these books now, however I don’t think that Hosseini is a one trick pony which I know certain critics of this second novel have been stating, I guess we will see what he comes up with next… I can’t wait.

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Filed under Bloomsbury Publishing, Book Group, Books of 2008, Khaled Hosseini, Review, Richard and Judy

The Battle For Gullywith – Susan Hill

If you don’t know by now, I am sure it will become apparent; I am a big fan of Susan Hill’s books. You will also know that I can be a big fan of some children/young adult fiction, and that I am big on getting kids to read and love nothing more than spoiling my little brother and sister with books. This was originally going to be a book for them (once I had read it to check it was suitable, not that I wanted to read it myself of course) however somehow I doubt it’s going to ever go in the post and I will just have to buy another copy for them.

This is the tale of Olly Brown a boy who is forced to move from his London home to the middle of nowhere (the Lake District) and onto Gullywith Farm. He hates it, he hates the weather, he hates the house, and he hates the creepy stones that seem to be appearing everywhere. When Olly meets KK, a girl who lives nearby, she tells him that many people feel like he does about the house and that very few ever go there, Gullywith it seems has many secrets. In the space of a summer Olly finds himself on an adventure that involves a wonderful bookshop (I wanted it to be real), bats, caves, evil stones, a stone King, the mysterious slightly crazy Nonny Dreever and some very clever tortoises.

I think I empathised with this book in particular as I moved around a lot as a kid and could understand the annoyance and hatred whenever I was moved. I didn’t get to know the characters as well as I would have liked in particular KK’s family as she was so curious and I wanted to know more. However Susan Hill has announced that she will now be writing a sequel and so I am sure I’ll read that and get to know them much better.

If your not a fan of adults reading kids books then I don’t think this review or book with really convert you, if you embrace the reading of young adult fiction then this is a highly enjoyable book that you should be adding to your shelf.

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Poppy Shakespeare – Clare Allan

I was determined to read this since I had seen they were filming it for channel 4 so naturally I ended up reading it just a few days before it was going to be shown and actually finishing it a few hours before the TV version. I have had the actual book on my shelves (well in my boxes) for quite a while and been meaning to read it so this has been the perfect opportunity.

The tale of Poppy Shakespeare is told by N, a day resident of the Dorothy Fish Hospital in North London. One day N is asked to look after a new patient Poppy Shakespeare who is insistent that she isn’t made and shouldn’t be there at all. Despite N thinking she clearly is mad, she sets out to not only look after Poppy but to help her convince the doctors she isn’t mad, by being really mad. Are you confused yet? Fortunately the author Clare Allan manages to put what is quite a complex story across in an easily digestible and very funny debut with seriously dark undertones. I can see why this has had such rave reviews and why Allan has been up for the Orange Award.

Allan is asking the question who is sane? Who is mad? How do we define the two? Where do they overlap? I think what I loved about the book was how real some of the characters were, I loved the fact that N had no desire to leave the Dorothy Fish and couldn’t understand why anyone would. N is a great narrator and extremely original, if you are put off by swearing just ignore it in this case as you will be missing out on a real treat. Her language is also not politically correct, she calls the patients ‘dribblers’ of which Allan herself was one and so you know the book also has that slight edge of realism whilst being quite surreal. Overall a funny, heart breaking, heart warming debut.

Sorry this is a short review… I just dont want to give anything away and also the storyline sounds much more confusing than it is and I dont want that to accidentally put you off.

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Filed under Bloomsbury Publishing, Clare Allan, Orange Prize, Review

Death of a Murderer – Rupert Thompson

I wasn’t alive when the awful things that happened with Myra Hindley on the moors, it is something that I have always grown up knowing of and not being interested in but wondering what happened exactly. This book deals with the events after Myra Hindley’s death and is based around the night when she is put in the morgue. However don’t expect that this is a novel about what happened on the moors or that you are going to get a gritty dark and disturbing tale even though the ghost of Myra does turn up further along the tale. Oh hang on he never mentions her name, which is odd as she has been put on the cover of the book. I do hate it when book covers and blurbs are misleading, it can actually completely put me off a book.

So the premise of the novel is that PC Billy Tyler is called to look after the dead body of a ‘famous female child killer’ in November 2002 which pretty much says what a name wont, and the female in question has the exact looks of the murderess that cannot be named, what a coincidence. It sounds like I am slagging the book off and I am not as in other ways it is accomplished and well written.

PC Billy is not a hero of the novel, there isn’t one. What you have is a man in a difficult marriage who has secrets from his childhood that haunt him and make him the man he is today, these secrets are also linked to the woman in the morgue and her ghost comes to haunt him during the long night as do his childhood memories he has been trying to hide. There is a very surreal feel to this novel no characters are the lead character and they don’t seem to communicate to one another other than the occasional short sharp five line conversation. There is also the ghost herself not quite the novel you expect it to be but gripping none the less.

Yes I picked up the book because the cover led me to believe it was going to be something else. What I didn’t get was a dark crime novel that I expected, instead I got a novel that looks at how a killer can effect a generation of children, why they might do what they do and what leads them to it and the aftermath it leaves. Fascinating and very well written.

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Cock & Bull – Will Self

I have tried Will Self once before when I tried and failed to read Dorian his reworking of Oscar Wilde’s ‘The Picture of Dorian Grey’ – I didn’t finish that either. However I was in Oxfam and looking for something that looked fun and saw this for 49p and simply couldn’t say no.

Will Self is renowned for having a massive intellect or of being accused of being attention grabbing and indeed with this slightly controversial pair of novellas that create the book. The tales ‘cock’ and ‘bull’ both tell tales of people gaining sexual organs of the opposite sex. In ‘Cock’ Carol is miserable, her marriage is horrific and she has finally realised that Dan is not the man for her. Dan has joined Alcoholics Anonymous yet it doesn’t seem to be working. One night when he is out on the lash Carol finds out she has gained something, something that will change her life and her relationship forever.

In ‘Bull’ we meet John Bull, he is a real mans man; he drinks (not to excess) and plays rugby. One day he wakes up to find something new has appeared on the back of his leg. He goes to the doctor and finds his doctor takes more than just a patient-to-doctor relationship, he gains a new admirer. Both of these tales have extremely comic if slightly eye opening consequences and take us into the minds of people who have just had the shocks of their lives.

People will slate this book as being trash and filth, they will be missing out. These tell how daft, crazy, naughty, dirty and enthralling sex can be. Will Self is refreshing in his no holes barred description of the sexuality have, this is funny not filthy. It’s also very clever and asks the question of would women become more male and vice versa and these questions are answered as the stories go on. This is not your run of the mill novel and I absolutely loved it. Maybe I will give Dorian another go one day?

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Filed under Bloomsbury Publishing, Review, Will Self