Review of the reads – March 2024

Words by:
Yusef Sayed
Featured in:
March 2024

Yusef Sayed’s review of the reads.

A Guilty Secret by Philippa East
Published by HQ, price £8.99

Philippa East’s previous novels have all, in their different ways, centred around missing people. Likewise most of the characters in A Guilty Secret are not fully present – dwelling on past actions and unanswered questions that haunt them, those who are no longer around and those who never really were.

Following the unexpected suicide of psychologist Kate Fallon, her closest friends – and former husband and wife – Mhairi and Finn are determined to uncover what led to her devastating decision. Their enquiries lead them to a prestigious boarding school in Scotland and a group of now grown-up ex-students whose lives have been forever damaged by events which unfolded there during their teens.

Guilty Secret is a story that largely takes place at the edges: the geographical locations just away from day-to-day life, such as the woodlands where the schoolfriends meet. The characters, too – not least the ‘Fainting Girls’ at the school, or the cocaine addict Victor – are themselves on edge; on the verge of confessing, lashing out, or an out-of-body experience. These states are prompted by traumatic and therapeutic experiences alike.

Highlighting the benefits of therapy and the risks of individual harm due to lack of resources and poor managerial oversight, East seems to be responding to personal experiences as a practising psychologist herself. The story also resonates with historical abuse scandals, while not losing the atmospherics of fiction.

As a thriller writer, East draws the reader in and keeps them guessing, even which characters – and narrators – might be alive or dead. It’s a story full of contrasts, the action moving from everyday domesticity in Cambridge to sunbathed Monaco, to dank, rugged Scotland.

At the same time, the literal and the figurative begin to merge – permanently unlocked doors and unearthings work at the level of the plot and character development.

East brings a depth of clinical knowledge and local detail to an engaging and unsettling novel that explores the spectrum of human connections, painful and tender.

Good Honest Tales by Adam Cartwright
Published by Amberley Publishing, price £16.99

To coincide with their 150th anniversary celebrations, this new illustrated book tells the story of the Batemans Brewery in a light-hearted, informative style, drawing on the company archives and reminiscences of those most closely involved through the decades.

It begins with a friendly meeting in Wainfleet, one day in 1874, between farmer George Bateman and his friend Edwin Crow. This encounter, here freshly imagined by Cartwright, was the starting point for this well-known producer, whose draught and bottled ales will be familiar to many, not only in Lincolnshire but beyond the county.

Offered the chance to buy Crow’s brewery, Bateman took a decision that would define his family’s life for five generations. While determined to remain independent, Batemans has also placed great importance on local community and collaboration. Cartwright outlines the changing social and economic conditions through which Batemans has both struggled and thrived, including severe restrictions during wartime and the recent Covid-19 pandemic.

Investment in hotels, wine merchants and tied houses, as well as other shrewd decision making have helped Batemans survive as countless breweries have come and gone. But Cartwright makes clear that supporting other firms, securing jobs and building a loyal workforce, and support from residents in Wainfleet, have also been vital to carrying the brewery through to 2024 – and seen its drinks enjoyed and acclaimed far and wide.

A variety of photos – of the recognisable Salem Bridge mill and brewhouse, staff, the Batemans curved label designs, and modern interpretations of the same, take us through the ages.

The familiar maroon colour scheme on pub signs and the Leyland drays once used to transport Batemans’ products may evoke strong memories for older readers – as might the snaps of pubs now gone.

Cartwright’s narrative is accessible, fact-filled and never too dry. It’s a timely compendium that should inspire other independents who are trying to make a name for themselves.

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