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Reading for pleasure

14 July 14

This month's selection of leisure reading chosen by the Journal's Book Review Editor

by David J Dickson, Alison Riley, Tom Johnston

The Good Priest

Gillian Galbraith (Polygon: £14.99; e-book £5.99)

Gillian Galbraith will be familiar to readers as the author of the DC Rice books set in and around Edinburgh. This book introduces a new character in a new setting and is a worthy addition to the fold.  

Father Vincent Ross is a parish priest based in Kinross who, when faced with an admission in the confessional to murder, sets out to identify the identity of the unknown voice. This is however not a "detective" story as such, but a more interesting one, focusing as it does on the reality of life for the priest, who started life as a defence lawyer before taking up his calling.

Ross enjoys a glass of good wine, of which he is very knowledgable, and we hear his inner voice on the women around him. A female parishioner seeks to entice him, and when he does not respond, false allegations are made which see him removed from the parish. As the first in what I hope will be a series, there is a lot of backstory and excellent character development, not only of Ross but the other parishioners, in particular those characters that infect every local church – the gossip, the stalwart in the know, the confidant.  

More priests die and a pattern develops that leads Vincent to a previous unknown church chronicle of misdemeanours. Drawing on recent events faced by the Catholic Church, Galbraith draws a picture of a "good priest" who when faced with an ultimate, personal decision on what to do with the knowledge he has gained, shows his true character. This is a very enjoyable page turner, and while it is less of a thriller than one might anticipate, it is an excellent chronicle of a very human priest faced with difficult decisions. 

The Language of Dying

Sarah Pinborough (Jo Fletcher Books: £12.99; e-book £0.99)

“The clock ticks. I listen to the pauses between your breaths and, although I know that they will get much longer before the everlasting peace takes over, I still find my heart hitching slightly in the gaps. Cheyne-Stoking. Ugly as the name is, it can’t compete with the meaning. The agitations are ending. The Cheyne-Stoking is beginning. And under all of this is Daddy. At least, I think you are still there. I am exhausted and you are nearly invisible. What a pair we are.”

A daughter sits beside her dying father on the last night of his life. After a week together, her siblings have left her alone with him in the house they share. She reminisces about her family and the things that caused it to fracture. She is the middle child of five children and each has their own story, their own challenges and their own way of dealing, or not, with their father’s death. The book explains why her father chose to spend his dying days with her and also details his own reaction to his impending demise.

This is a beautifully written novella, the prose short and sharp. Sarah Pinborugh does not use 10 words where one will do, whether writing about emotions, family relationships or the practicalities of caring for the dying.

A mystical element runs though the book, explaining why the woman felt compelled to return to her family home, and recurring at key moments in her life. This adds an extra dimension which in no way detracts from the main story.

101 Reasons to Kill All the Lawyers

That Part Which Laws or Lawyers can Cause or Cure

Paul Brennan (Brief Books, Queensland: £11.96; e-book £6.77)

When asked, “Why 101 reasons”, Paul Brennan, who is a practising lawyer, explained: “I didn’t want to depress the entire legal profession by having 1,001.”

Having started life as a blog, this book combines cartoons, satire and anecdotes about our profession. Some of them may even be true. Almost without exception they contain something to make the more self-aware pause and reflect on how we have gone about our business.

Let’s start with the introductory page. Lawyers, we are told, are thought to be arrogant, pompous, aggressive, tactless, confrontational, pedantic, expensive, unscrupulous, ruthless, negative, devious and slow. It is suggested that one of the main causes of stress in the profession is the difficulty many of us have in living up to these expectations at all times. One lawyer, who declined to be interviewed, confessed that on occasion he spoke to his staff in a normal manner: one client, who did not wish to be named, said that he found his lawyer “quite nice.” O tempora, o mores. Rumour has it that some have turned to training organisations which deal with medical receptionists because of their ability to generate aggression and ill will among patients with such minimal interaction.

Nonsense aside, this book will make you laugh out loud. Buy it for your waiting room; buy it for your lawyer friends, or just buy it for yourself. A treat.

The Deliverance of Evil

Roberto Costantini, translated by N S Thompson (Quercus Books: £7.99; e-book £4.12)

Appropriate to be penning this review mid-World Cup. The beautiful Elisa Sordi was murdered on the day of Italy’s 1982 triumph. Twenty four years later her killer returned. Still in post is the once young, fearless, brash ragazzo Michele Balistreri. Did he do enough first time round? Was too much taken at face value? Or too little?

How does the relationship between Balistreri, now head of the new Special Section in Rome, and Pasquali, head of the newly formed Special Foreign Section, impact on the investigation?

If you are already tired of this number of questions, don’t open this book. If, on the other hand, you want to become immersed in one of the meatiest and fastest moving of detective stories, then lay your hands on it at once. I generally read at a fairly furious pace, but the plot was always at least one page in front even to the end, but without becoming contrived. All of the characters, even the most minor, stand out from the pages. So many of the scenes, whether town or country, Romany camp or ministry offices, lowly bar or swish night club, come immediately and vividly to the mind’s eye. Many authors try to evoke Italy but fail. Signor Costantini himself obviously should have no such problem, but N S Thompson’s translation also delivers the Roman flavours perfectly.

Once again the very talented people at Quercus have delivered to us another tasty dish from the vast menu of world crime fiction.

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