Reading for pleasure
This month's selection of leisure reading, chosen by the Journal's book review editor
Helen Fields (Harper Collins: £7.99; e-book £0.99)
On Luc Callanach’s second day with Police Scotland’s Major Investigations Team in Edinburgh, a body is found in the hills above Braemar. Thus begins one of best first crime novels I have read in a long time, adroit, ingenious and macabre in equal measures. Callanach has been transferred from a major post in Interpol in circumstances as yet unknown. He is burdened by a French accent and extreme good looks. He needs a case like this just as he needs a… (whoa, was that nearly a spoiler alert?). All that can be found of the victim’s charred remains are a few teeth, a baseball bat with a trace of blood and a fragment of fabric carelessly left behind.
The next 370 pages reveal the plot in stages, teasingly, confusingly, and with many a twist. Fields practised as a criminal barrister for 13 years. As a result, her police characters seem authentic. She has the good sense to keep lawyers well out of it – we never make good heroes unless we are played for laughs. Quite where she found the depravity of the villain is anyone’s guess. A twisted imagination, or just a series of nightmares? She has written fantasy novels in the past, but unlike some who have recently made that transition she has not permitted one genre to bleed (don’t mention the blood – Ed) into the other.
I try never to be late; however, when a reminder on my calendar pinged with only five chapters left to read I was sorely tempted to break the habits of a lifetime. This is a book to get your teeth into (oh, no, I can’t say that either…). Ms Fields' next novel, Perfect Prey, will be published in June. That’s in my calendar too.
Daniel Shand (Sandstone Press: £8.99; e-book £4.07)
In this intriguing, atmospheric debut by young Scottish writer Daniel Shand, brothers Paul and Mikey Buchanan have gone on the run. Mikey, younger and less sophisticated, has been released from prison after serving a sentence for the killing of a young girl; Paul, who narrates, sees himself as Mikey’s protector from the unwelcome attentions of social workers and the media, which in the usual fashion have taken to calling Mikey “the Buchanan Beast”. Their journey, which starts in a dank tent on a rural hillside, is punctuated by sudden outbursts of violence, generally on the part of Paul, which starts to provide clues that his account of the history he shares with his brother might not be wholly reliable.
In the end, following a chance encounter with an inadequate young drifter, the two of them find themselves in an off-the-grid community, part peace camp and part religious cult. Readers looking for something approaching realism might take the view that at this point Shand perhaps over-eggs the pudding a little, particularly when the leader of the religion purports to regard Mikey as something akin to a reborn Christ. But my feeling is that Fallow is best taken as something of a fever dream, a creation of the imagination, and as a first novel it represents achievement as much as promise: the characters are richly drawn, and the clammy mood of impending disaster kept me turning the pages. I look forward to seeing where this undeniably talented writer goes next.
Walking in Berlin – A Flaneur in the Capital
Franz Hessel (Scribe: £12.99; e-book £8.28)
In this book, originally published in 1929, the author describes this ever evolving city in the heady, vibrant interwar years. There is little description of the political turmoils of Weimar nor what was to befall the city four years later. Much of the city was destroyed through Allied bombing, but post-war reconstruction retains the core of the city landscape, albeit that almost 30 years after the cessation of the division of the city, new building continues apace. This book however offers a superb guide to the city as much today as when written.
The longest chapter describes a guided tour by bus that the author took through the centre of Berlin. He evocatively describes the Cölln, the original heart of the city now found in the Nikolaiviertel. The description of the nearby Fischerinsel, with its original harbour (still to be seen) and the drinkers at the Nußbaum Inn (still trading) is of a city as diverse and vibrant as it is today: ladies of high stature rubbing shoulders with fishermen and butchers. The author takes us through the Tiergarten, to Tempelhof airport which had opened two years earlier, describing (much as today) the size of the airfield with its community utility space at the end of the runway, and along the fashionable Kurfürstendamm. The nightlife of Berlin, as the author goes from dance hall to club through the night, is as today, the city renowned now as then for its hedonism. The infamous Berlinerhöfe with their internal courtyards are described, as are the various business districts, whether the clothing area of Spittelmarkt to the Gendarmenmarkt or the newspaper district of Kochstrasse. Take a trip, take the book, step back for a moment and gain even more from this endlessly fascinating city.