Review of the reads – December 2017
FAIR OF FACE BY CHRISTINA JAMES
Published by Salt Publishing, Price £8.99 (pbk)
Ian Rankin recently predicted that the taste for crime fiction will begin to decline in our increasingly fraught and violent times. There is little sign of any slowdown yet, with Val McDermid and Peter James regularly racing up the bestseller charts.
There is little gratuitous violence in Christina James’s sixth DI Yates novel, Fair of Face, yet its subject matter certainly has the potential to jolt even the most hardened crime readers. A mother and baby daughter are found strangled and Yates and DS Juliet Armstrong are called in to investigate. James’s narrative draws in numerous characters and even a parallel, historic criminal case, with the only first person narration given over to Armstrong. The story follows a week of intensive investigation that focuses on the secrets guarded by the adult victim’s surviving ten-year-old foster child.
James was born in Spalding and sets her crime fiction in the area. This is the first of the series I have read and aside from place names, there is little evocation of Lincolnshire’s specific environments and voices. Nevertheless, James is competent at keeping questions tantalisingly unanswered, pulling the reader along through interview scenes and heated encounters between police officers, witnesses and solicitors. I was far from shocked by the eventual revelation of the perpetrator, though James managed to cast some doubts throughout on my dispiriting presumptions to keep me reading to the end. With some references made to real life cases, James also reveals a general interest in British criminal history that does not distract from her fictional world.
Six novels into her series, James is evidently keen to explore the genre further. She is clearly not averse to facing in her writing the grim, all too possible headlines that we might now see on an ordinary news day.
TALES FROM THE BIG HOUSE: NORMANBY HALL BY STEPHEN WADE
Published by Pen & Sword History, Price £14.99 (pbk)
Best known for his many publications focusing on crime, county based social historian Stephen Wade here focuses his attention on the varied social history connected with Normanby Hall. A longtime resident of Scunthorpe and eager to uncover both the ‘micro’ and ‘macro’ history of the nearby country house, Wade examines the lives of the wealthy Sheffield family across several generations as well as the gamekeepers, gardeners and cooks who lived and worked on the land.
More than simply biographical miscellany, Wade widens the lens to show many aristocratic lives – including that of the 1st Duke of Buckingham, John Sheffield – within a shifting social, economic and political environment that also takes in much of Scunthorpe’s development as an industrial hub in the twentieth century.
All of this is a lot to take on in a book of fewer than 130 pages, but as a concise overview, full of factual information – and a brief attempt at cutting against certain stereotypes – it will likely find interested readers. The book draws on local newspaper and periodical articles and is illustrated with black and white photographs, many of which are taken by the author.
CHRISTMAS LIST – BEST LINCOLNSHIRE READS OF 2017
FRAGILE LIVES BY STEPHEN WESTABY (HARPER COLLINS)
The eminent heart surgeon brings the reader to the operating table. The heroics for which Westaby has rightly become renowned over the last forty years are not indulged here. The painful realities, the breakthroughs and the frustrations of his surgical career are all described with bluntness and an eye to improvement in the future. Reviewed March 2017.
MISSING FAY BY ADAM THORPE (JONATHAN CAPE)
Thorpe gives us glimpses into the lives of seven characters including Fay, a 14-year-old raised on a Lincoln council estate, whose disappearance forms the thread of the novel. The voices and personalities Thorpe creates convey vulnerabilities, resentments and different registers of dread with apparent ease. Reviewed November 2017.
THE MAJOR WORKS BY ALFRED TENNYSON (OXFORD UNIVERSITY PRESS)
This year marks the 125th anniversary of the death of Tennyson. While many readers will be familiar with the line, ‘Tis better to have loved and lost/Than never to have loved at all’ how many are aware that these are from ‘In Memoriam AHH’? The ideal collection for poetry lovers. Also includes ‘Maud’ and ‘The Charge of the Light Brigade’.