His and Hers by Alice Feeney

His and Hers by Alice Feeney

His and Hers is an unusual and unsettling novel that will keep you guessing right to the final reveal. Anna has gone from reading the lunchtime news bulletin on television back to being a reporter, and is sent out to cover a murder in the village of Blackdown where she grew up. She is not happy about this demotion, and the situation goes from bad to worse when she discovers that her ex-husband, Jack, is the detective in charge of the investigation.

The story is told in alternating chapters by Anna and Jack, with occasional extracts from a third voice – the killer. This probably works well in the printed book, but in the kindle version I received from NetGalley it was a bit confusing until I realized who the voice belonged to. Anna and Jack are both unreliable narrators, and Alice Feeney plants just enough doubt in your mind to make you think that either one of them might be the killer.

The main characters are well written and believable though deeply flawed as individuals; we are gradually let into the secret of their backstory and everything starts to make a lot more sense. The chapters are short which moves the story along fairly quickly, and increases the tension as the body count rises and we try to guess the identity of the killer. Several times I thought I’d worked out who it was, but ambiguity and misdirection in the plot meant I was wrong every time.

I can imagine this story working well as a film or television drama. There are occasions when the reader has to suspend disbelief, but to avoid spoilers I won’t say any more. Certain themes in the book (such as bullying, grooming, animal cruelty and sudden infant death syndrome) have the potential to upset some readers, but are all relevant to the plot. I really enjoyed His and Hers, but it certainly kept me guessing right to the very end.

Thanks to HarperCollins HQ and NetGalley for a digital copy to review.

The Searcher by Tana French

The Searcher by Tana French

Cal Hooper, a retired detective from Chicago, has moved to the depths of rural Ireland looking for a slower pace of life. He plans to take his time doing up his cottage, mind his own business, and maybe do a bit of hunting and fishing. But, in the words of Robert Burns, ‘the best laid schemes o’ mice an’ men gang aft a-gley’.  Local teenager, Trey, wants Cal to find out what happened to his elder brother, Brendan, and won’t take no for an answer.

When Cal begins to investigate he uncovers layers of darkness buried beneath the picturesque surface of life in Ardnakelty. Told entirely from Cal’s point of view, the mystery surrounding Brendan’s disappearance is slowly uncovered, piece by piece. The pace is quite slow at the beginning as Tana French sets the scene and introduces us to the locals. The writing is skillful as she describes them without turning them into caricatures. They are completely believable, and help to convey how insular and suffocating life in a small rural community actually is.

For the story to work, Cal had to be a complete outsider, like the ‘stranger in town’ in Western films, acting as a catalyst to bring everything out into the open, away from the reach of the forces of law and order. To save the narrative from becoming too bleak, there is a lot of black humour to lighten the darkness. The writing is atmospheric with evocative descriptions of the landscape and wildlife, particularly the terrain he encounters while out walking on the hill, and the antics of the rooks high up in the treetops in his garden.  

The Searcher is the first novel I have read by Tana French, but it won’t be the last. I watched and enjoyed The Dublin Murders on TV, and have since found out that they are based on books written by her; they are now waiting on my bedside table.

Thanks to Penguin and NetGalley for a digital copy to review.

Small Pleasures by Clare Chambers

Small Pleasures by Clare Chambers

In Small Pleasures, Jean Swinney, a reporter on the North Kent Echo in the 1950s, is sent to investigate Gretchen Tilbury’s claim to have had a virgin birth. As Jean looks into the case, and gets to know the Tilbury family, she realizes all the things that are missing from her own life.

This is a beautifully written story full of historical detail and a strong sense of time and place. The characters are convincing and illustrate the conflict between duty and personal happiness in the post-war years, before the freedom of the ‘swinging sixties’.

The title is very apt; Jean looks forward to the ‘small pleasures’ in her day, as they provide solace in a life at the beck and call of her frail and demanding elderly mother.

Small Pleasures would make an interesting period drama, on television or film, as the story leaves a lasting impression. I had not read any other novels by Clare Chambers, but now intend to explore her earlier work as I enjoyed this story very much.

Thanks to Orion and NetGalley for a digital copy to review.  

Gentleman Jim by Mimi Matthews

Gentleman Jim by Mimi Matthews

I have read and enjoyed quite a few novels by Mimi Matthews, but Gentleman Jim is my favourite so far. Set between Somerset and London in 1817, this is a tale full of love, adventure and revenge.

Maggie Honeywell and Nicholas Seaton were childhood sweethearts who grew up together on her father’s estate in Somerset; she the squire’s daughter, and he the illegitimate son of the kitchen maid, though his father was rumoured to be the notorious highwayman, Gentleman Jim.

Her father had always wanted to join his estate with the neighbouring one by having Maggie marry Frederick Burton-Smythe. She loathed him, but this was no deterrent to her father’s plans. Jealous of their close relationship, Fred falsely accuses Nicholas of stealing Maggie’s jewellery, and intends handing him over to the magistrate, thereby eliminating his rival. Maggie has other ideas – she helps Nicholas escape and vows to wait for him. He sets off to find his father and promises to return.

We learn all this in the prologue. Ten years have gone by, and Maggie’s father is now dead. She is completely at Fred’s mercy – in six months she must either marry him or lose everything. In this day and age it is hard for us to fathom that a devoted father would put his daughter in this position, but women were simply seen as possessions with little or no say in what happened to them.

Maggie goes to stay with a friend in London to try to come up with a plan. She learns that a Viscount St Clare has challenged Fred to a duel. If anything should happen to Fred, her estate will go to a distant relative, and she will be no better off, so she visits St Clare to try and dissuade him from fighting the duel. She comes away convinced that St Clare is Nicholas Seaton, though he denies it vehemently, as this would mess up his plans to prove he is the grandson and legitimate heir of the Earl of Allendale.

The emphasis in Gentleman Jim is different from Mimi Matthews’ previous books. It is partly set in London during the season, with more exposure to the eyes of the ton, and all this entails – balls, duels, etiquette and carriage rides in the park. There is a large element of suspense, mystery and adventure which shows Maggie to be a fearless, feisty heroine capable of holding her own when the going gets tough.

The characters are all well written and relatable, even the nasty ones who are willing to go to any lengths to satisfy their greed. Mimi Matthews brings Regency England to life, seamlessly inserting the period detail into the story with a light touch. My only reservation would be that I don’t think the cover art does the book justice.

At the start of Gentleman Jim, the likelihood of Maggie and Nicholas ending up together seems pretty remote, but this is a romance novel so the ending is almost a foregone conclusion. It is how Mimi Matthews brings the story to a satisfying and believable finale that makes this such an enjoyable read.  

Thanks to Mimi Matthews for a digital copy that I review as a member of Rosie’s Book Review Team #RBRT

Redhead by the Side of the Road by Anne Tyler

Redhead by the Side of the Road by Anne Tyler

Redhead by the Side of the Road is the latest book by Anne Tyler. This novella-length story is about Micah Mortimer, who is janitor for the residents of his building, and a freelance computer technician, Tech Hermit. His life is very ordered and organized; I would say he has Asperger’s or something similar. Set in Baltimore, as all Anne Tyler’s novels are, Micah’s quiet life goes off-course, when the son of a former girlfriend turns up at his door thinking Micah might be his real father.

He is not, but tries to help and gives Brink a bed for the night. His lady friend, Cass, is facing eviction, but is upset when Micah does not offer her somewhere to stay; she breaks up with him.

Their relationship had seemed to be built on habit rather than passion, but Micah only appreciates what he had when it is too late. The book ends a bit abruptly, but perhaps Anne Tyler was leaving it to the reader to decide what happens next.

This character-driven narrative is about the minutiae of everyday life, and what it is to be human. It is not Anne Tyler’s best novel (my favourite is The Accidental Tourist), but it is still a joy to read.

Thanks to the publisher and NetGalley for a digital copy to review.

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