Reading for pleasure
This month's selection of leisure reading chosen by the Journal's Book Review Editor
S J Bolton (Bantam Press: £12.99; e-book £7.47)
This gripping tale sees Constable Lacey Flint take an undercover role at Cambridge University following a number of bizarre suicides of young female students. However her senior officer Mark Joesbury fails to tell her the whole story behind the investigation. The truth slowly, tantalisingly but horrifically unfolds. We do not fully learn about Flint and Joesbury's previous operation, but we do learn both were badly injured and this causes Joesbury to reflect on whether he has asked too much of Flint and exposed her to unnecessary danger. Flint goes uncover, befriends the student counsellor, who too becomes a victim of the very dark side of what lies behind the suicides. This book is dark but lightened by Bolton's careful crafting and weaving of the relationship between Flint, Joesbury and Evi.
A Humble Companion
Laurie Graham (Quercus: £16.99; e-book £8.07)
Don’t let the rather anodyne cover photograph fool you into thinking that this is a standard historical romance. It is much more than that. What you get is a fascinating insight into the Hanoverian dynasty over almost 70 years, as seen through the eyes of the chosen companion to one of George III’s younger daughters, Princess Sofia.
It’s difficult not to warm to the energetic, resourceful Nellie and her royal companion as they support each other through the ups and downs of their extraordinary lives. Nellie’s distinctive birthmark and forthright manner means that hers will never be an ordinary life, any more than Sofia’s birthright will allow her to enjoy the happy family existence she longs for. The story ends in the reign of Queen Victoria, seen as a calming influence on the nation after the turbulence brought on by the French Revolution, George III’s ill health and the profligacy of his son the Prince Regent. It’s well researched without being dry and fussy. The author is confident enough in the strength of the story of its two main characters to let it take centre stage. A real pleasure to read.
Alone in the Classroom
Elizabeth Hay (Maclehose Press: £18.99; e-book £9.02)
Part murder mystery, part family saga, this novel by established Canadian author Elizabeth Hay is an absorbing examination of a genuine unsolved crime from the early part of last century. The solution it offers is, however, at times overshadowed by her parallel study of the relationship which develops between a young female teacher and a dyslexic pupil in her class. With hindsight, it might have been more rewarding for the reader if the author had either stuck to exploring this aspect of the story, or had instead concentrated on exploring the unsolved murder mystery and its ramifications.
Sunshine on Scotland Street
Alexander McCall Smith (Polygon: £16.99; e-book £8.99)
If your boss is making silly demands of you, if your spirits are low at the extinguishing of the Olympic flame, then rush out and buy a copy of the latest tales of life in and around Scotland Street, for you will soon realise there is a gentler, happier world all bound up in a greater sense of community.
Angus Lordie and Domenica wed and set off on honeymoon, leaving their dog Cyril in the care of Bertie and his irascible and uncompromising mother – who herself is taken by Bertie's new psychotherapist Dr St Clair after Dr Fairbairn beat a hasty retreat to Aberdeen on the birth of Ulysses. Big Lou goes viral and Bruce has a chance meeting, with hilarious and unforeseen circumstances.
As ever, McCall Smith observes the human psyche, emotions and foibles, dispensing wit and wisdom on the way: "the danger is that we spend time imagining that we could be happier elsewhere and forget to cultivate happiness where fate has placed us". We are enjoined perhaps not to do so with that unreasonable boss, for whom we should offer forgiveness, but within that close circle of friends and family.