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Five great covers for five recommended novels

According to Charles Dickens, ‘There are books of which the backs and covers are by far the best parts.’ On the whole the best I expect is that a book’s cover does not detract from its contents. But some book covers enhance what lies inside. And a few are works of art on their own. In this post I celebrate some excellent covers together with links to my reviews of the books.

Grief is the thing with feathers by Max Porter

This short but lyrical novel plays with the idea that Crow, from the poems of Ted Hughes, comes to assist a family through their grief when the mother dies. Sometimes it is amusing, sometimes poignant, and everybody I know who has read it has been moved by it.

The sparseness and simplicity of the cover design exactly matches the book’s contents. The cover was designed in-house by Faber using an illustration by Eleanor Crow.

Grief is the thing with feathers by Max Porter, published in 2015 by Faber & Faber 114pp

To the Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf

Among its many achievements, this classic novel displays Virginia Woolf’s perceptiveness. Here is an example, as Mrs Ramsay concludes the book she reads to her youngest son James.

‘And that’s the end,’ she said. And she saw in his eyes, as the interest of the story dies away in them something else take its place; something wondering, pale, like a reflection of a light, which at once made him gaze and marvel. Turning, she looked across the bay, and there, sure enough, coming regularly across the waves first two quick strokes and then one long steady stroke, was the light of the Lighthouse. It had been lit. (71-2)

The cover of the first edition was by Vanessa Bell, Virginia Woolf’s sister. It was published by the Woolfs’ own Hogarth Press.

To The Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf (1927) published by the Hogarth Press. Available in the Penguin Modern Classics edition (1964) 237pp

The Sleeping Beauty by Elizabeth Taylor

Not a traditional fairy tale, but The Sleeping Beauty is the story of an awakening. The central characters are not in the first flush of youth but love manages to awaken them from inner deadness. It is set in a seaside backwater and begins with a dreamy walk along the cliff. This cover was an inspired choice for an early Virago edition. By Winifred Nicholson it is called The Gate to the Isles (Blue Gate) and was painted in 1980. It is on display at the Falmouth Gallery until mid-September.

Many readers find the more recent cover designs for Elizabeth Taylor’s novels insipid in contrast to the original Virago choices such as this one.

The Sleeping Beauty by Elizabeth Taylor was published in 1953, now available in the Virago Modern Classics series.

The Essex Serpent by Sarah Perry

It was the cover that first attracted me to this novel. Its intricate, dense and convoluted patterning of natural objects reflects the storyline. It was designed by Peter Dyer, with acknowledgement to William Morris. Morris was contemporaneous with the setting of the novel. It’s a mystery and an investigation about beliefs and science all at the same time.

The Essex Serpent by Sarah Perry, published in 2016 by Serpent’s Tail. 418pp

The Eagle of the Ninth by Rosemary Sutcliff

I reviewed this children’s classic recently accompanied by a photo of the cover of my copy. Many people commented on it, saying they had read it in a much drabber schools editions. This cover captures the rituals of the Seal people north of Roman Britain. It was also inspired by the mysteries and dark dangers of the ancient world. It is by C Walter Hodges.

The Eagle of the Ninth by Rosemary Sutcliff, first published in 1954 by Oxford University Press and still on their list.

Related post

Thinking about … Book Covers was a blogpost from January 2014, which includes more examples and links to archives etc.

A post from Louise Harnby’s blog The Proofreader’s Parlour: The Design Essentials: creating a stand-out book cover. Advice for authors. It draws on work for Salt Books that frequently have captivating covers.

Over to you

Do you have any covers to nominate as adding something to the book? Or is an exceptionally pleasing cover?

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The Book of Memory by Petina Gappah

The author of The Book of Memory is not afraid of contradictions, starting with the title. Memory is both the name of the protagonist and – well you know what memory is – unreliable. Memory refers to it as ‘the treachery of my imperfect recall’ (267). Petina Gappah is also not afraid to be playful in this novel despite its grim location, Death Row in a prison in Zimbabwe, and Memory’s incarceration for the murder of a white man. Memory herself is a white black woman. As I said, contradictions!

The story

Memory is in Chikurubi Prison, Harare, in post-independent Zimbabwe. She has been sentenced to death for the murder of her adoptive father Lloyd, a white man. What we read is her account written for a journalist. The narrative follows the events within the prison as well as Memory’s childhood and the events that brought her to Chikurubi Prison.

She had a troubled childhood, brought up in a township. Her father works at home as a carpenter and does most of the childcare because her mother has serious mental health problems. Before the story begins her older brother has died, she is not sure how. Soon after, Memory’s youngest sister also dies.

Memory has her own problems, for she has been born with albinism and suffers from the torments of her fellow school students, the beliefs of many people that she has been touched by witchcraft, and her physical vulnerability to light and water.

Memory’s mother is unstable and joins church after church, usually to try to cure Memory’s albinism. Eventually a white man, Lloyd, gives her father money and takes Memory away to his home, Summer Madness. She lives with Lloyd for about 8 years, not understanding how such a generous man could do something as dreadful as buy her from her family. But she now can take advantage of living in the white area, of improved skin care and educational opportunities. She takes a lover, a beautiful Zimbabwean artist Zenzo, but when Zenzo finds his way to Lloyd’s bed she sends an anonymous letter to the police. Lloyd is imprisoned for two weeks. On his release things are bad between them so Memory leaves the country to study in Cambridge. After several years she returns and finds that Lloyd has forgiven her. The country is changing, becoming more troubled. In this heightened context, Memory returns home one day to find Lloyd dead. She is arrested and convicted of murder and begins her stay at the prison.

Questions raised by The Book of Memory

The reader is constantly faced with contradictions about identity and meaning in life. Memory is a black woman, and suffers racial discrimination as a result. But she is a white black woman.

Lloyd is a member of the privileged white hierarchy, but he is generous and liberal and does not share the macho posturing of typical Rhodesian white men.

The country of Zimbabwe is new and trying to move into its future, but many of the people are held back by the beliefs in spirits and fate that dominate, especially in the rural areas.

Memory is a highly educated woman, on Death Row. The Book of Memory captures the particular cultural mix and tensions that run through Zimbabwean society today and in the past.

Readers know that memory is imperfect and can cause the wrong meaning can easily be given to events. People who appear cruel may provide comfort; your family may have been more generous than you know; the violent death of a white man may be misinterpreted.

Responding to the writing

I found that the first part of The Book of Memory moved too slowly for me. Only gradually do we find out why Memory is in prison, about her albinism, about her family and its history and how it was that she was sold to Lloyd. While the framing of the novel leads the narrative drive, it also makes for much repetition about the present-day events in prison. From the point when she leaves her family to live with Lloyd the novel develops more pace.

There is a great deal of humour in this novel, despite its grim setting, and its grim subject matter. Much of this comes from the prison setting, especially the nicknames that prisoners and wardens are given. I am reminded of playful naming of people and places in We Need New Names (2013) by another Zimbabwean, NoViolet Bulawayo. The interactions are full of wonderfully inventive malapropisms. I love the idea of rigour motion, of saying reminded instead of remanded, and the expectation of Amnesty International after the election. And each misspoken phrase points to a truth, adding depth as well as humour to the to-and-fro of the women‘s conversations. The guard Patience is a particularly rich source of misspeaks.

Unlike the others, Patience prefers to speak to us in English. She is in training to be a court interpreter. ‘Irregardless of the absence of water,’ she says, ‘you should make sure the hoarse pipes are connected.’ (29)

I overheard Patience and Mathilda talk about a funeral Patience had attended at the weekend. ‘They tussled at the graveside, can you imagine. They fought until he fell in and smashed his head on the coffin, and just like that he was deceased. I have never seen such boomshit. We were all in mayhem.’ (112)

Much of the conversation between the women is conducted in Shona. The words are sprinkled in the text, and usually it is possible to understand the meanings from the context. Some of the words describe culturally specific concepts, such as the ngozi that pursues Memory’s mother as a result of an ancient vendetta between families. This ngozi is responsible for much of Memory’s suffering.

The author: Petina Gappah

The author (born in 1971) grew up in Zimbabwe and later read law in various universities in Zimbabwe and Europe, including Cambridge. The Book of Memory is her second book. An Elegy for Easterly, a collection of short stories, won the Guardian First Book Prize in 2009. In 2016 Faber & Faber published another collection of her stories Rotten Row.

The Book of Memory by Petina Gappah, published in 2015 by Faber & Faber. 270pp. Short-listed for Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction in 2016.

Related articles

Literary Hub posted an interview with Petina Gappah in February 2016, Petina Gappah On Zimbabwe, Language, And “Afropolitans”.

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The Little Red Chairs by Edna O’Brien

Few books have unsettled me as much as The Little Red Chairs. In my reading group we agreed it was a powerful, difficult and in some ways enchanting book. The evil in the novel would be unbelievable if it weren’t based on the real story of the Beast of Bosnia, Radovan Karadzic. There is also a luminous description of a village in the West of Ireland from which the main character flees, and innumerable other stories of displacement and loss from around the world. And we all loved the anarchic, chaotic and over the top performance of Midsummer Night’s Dream in the final chapter.

The Story

There are many stories in this novel, to the extent that it could be argued that telling stories is proposed as therapeutic and healing to individuals and to communities. The story that leads the novel begins in a rural community with the arrival of a visitor. He tells them he comes from Montenegro, and without explanation he settles in their community offering himself as a kind of new age healer. Fidelma, an energetic and attractive Irish woman who longs for a baby which she is unable to conceive with her older husband, asks Dr Valdimir if he will help her conceive. He agrees and the consequences are truly terrible.

There is tension from the opening pages. Dr Vlad does not fit in this generous community, in this gentle landscape. And we have been given plenty of warnings that wicked things are going to happen.

The title: to commemorate the 20th anniversary of the siege of Sarajevo, 11,541 chairs were laid out along 800 metres of Sarajevo street. 643 of them were small chairs representing the children who were killed during the 1425 days of the siege. The paragraph explaining this precedes the first section of the novel.

Sarajevo October 2010, photo by Bizntaze via Wiki Commons

Dr Validmir: Vlad is not a name to inspire confidence. He is portrayed as a dark character, always in black clothes, secretive, mysterious, untrusting, on his guard.

The dream: And if we still are unaware of the provenance of this man, Edna O’Brien gives us his dream, in which his collaborator, K, relates the terrible events of the siege of Sarajevo and the war in Bosnia.

Moju: the mute kitchen porter at the Castle Hotel reacts to the voice of Dr Vlad with complete hysteria.

The story follows Fidelma as she is violated by disappointed followers of Dr Vlad. She flees to London, and falls to the bottom of the heap as she tries to find accommodation and work, to simply survive. Small acts of kindness, different communities, havens, help restore her. Finally she goes to The Hague, where Dr Vlad is on trial. His final speech to the tribunal is chilling, as he denies every charge in an increasingly illogical and crazy manner. Fidelma is able to name him for what he is.

Reading The Little Red Chairs

There is so much in this novel, the reading group felt it could have been twice as long to do justice to the lives within it. We asked and discussed all kinds of questions. We were interested in the contamination by evil and what restores, redeems people.

The villagers watch reports of Dr Vlad’s capture on tv.

‘Well, he’s caught now . . . the worst is over,’ Mona said.

‘But the contamination has happened,’ Schoolmaster Diarmuid said and there were knowing gasps. Father Eamonn, who had not stirred from the fire, just looked across from the fire at her and shook his head, dolefully. (134)

How did Dr Vlad manage to evade capture for 13 years? Should communities be less trusting? Is there something in the man that answered their needs, not just Fidelma’s? Is that the nature of the contamination?

Small gestures, the littlest bit of trust may be required to help restore human relations. The offer of a job, accommodation, friendship, these things are of huge significance in the life of those who have descended so low, who are lost.

A Postscript

One of the strongest scenes in the novel is Dr Vlad’s defence of himself at the court in The Hague. He begins in a reasonable tone, and then ‘in vivid strophes and with blazing contempt’ he attacks the prosecution and pours contempt on every piece of evidence and every witness. The court listens in silence.

They sat politely, bludgeoned from the sheer onslaught of rhetoric and evidence. As he cited document after document, raved, ranted, repeated himself and finally, declared that Serbs did not have any intention of taking that city, that there had been no siege and that it was a delusion and invention on the enemy’s part. (264)

I write this following the inauguration of America’s new president. The vilifying of the press, the argument about numbers of attendees, the bluster, the desire for the accepted version to be what the administration wants it to be … These seem to be from the same kind of twisted minds. It is offensive to those of us trying to live with integrity. And I thank Edna O’Brien for this amazing look at a sad aspect of humanity.

The Little Red Chairs by Edna O’Brien (2015) Faber & Faber 299pp

For another review is available from Heavenali on her blog in October 2015.

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That They May Face the Rising Sun by John McGahern

John McGahern is another great Irish writer. Or to put it another way – John McGahern is great writer. That They May Face the Rising Sun was his last novel, published in 2002. John McGahern (1934 – 2006) wrote 6 novels, numerous short stories and radio plays and a memoir, called Memoir. That They May Face the Rising Sun was the Irish Novel of the Year in 2003. Its title in the US is By The Lake.

If you haven’t yet read his novels I urge you to start now.

270 That they

The Story

In beautiful slow prose, That They May Face the Rising Sun follows a rural community over one year, through the farming activities and social lives of the small group of men and women. John McGahern once said that ‘the ordinary fascinates me’, and that ‘the ordinary is the most precious thing in life’. He writes about the ordinary in a way that is deeply moving.

Joe and Kate Ruttledge have come to live on a smallholding near the lake. They had met and married in London where they worked together in an advertising agency. Joe is connected to the place through his childhood and his uncle, the Shah. In a series of scenes the reader meets their neighbours. With Jamsie and his wife Mary they share a friendship and smallholding activities. Jamsie is very newsie (a gossip I guess). Bill Evans was badly treated as an orphan and more or less given into slavery, which he eventually escapes. He is traumatised and unable to manage any idea of the past or the future. The people who know him care for him and provide him with a limited number of smokes and drinks. Then there is John Quinn, who loves women, and is brazen about his conquests, and abusive too. Patrick Ryan is the ever-absent builder. The Shah despite being unable to read or write has made a fortune for himself. He never speaks to his manager, but sells the business to him when he retires, lending him the money to do it and carrying on working there. He is something of a wise uncle to Joe, but also depends upon his nephew to make sense of the world and his negotiations with it. There are cats and dogs and a heron

The narrative emerges through a number of scenes in the year. It opens with Jonny’s annual visit from England (where so many went in the 70s, including John McGahern), and concludes with his death the following year and a moving description of the community that assembles to do the right thing at his death. Throughout this novel neighbours share tasks, do favours, tell stories, drink together and eat sandwiches. It’s peaceable, atmospheric, slow and very moving.

270 j McGahern

The style

The nature writing is also wonderful, describing what you see in a rural setting as the year follows its cycle.

September and October were lovely months, the summer ended, winter not yet in. The cattle and sheep were still out on grass, the leaves turning.

The little vetch pods on the bank turned black. Along the shore a blue bloom came on the sloes. The blackberries moulded and went unpicked, the briar leaves changed into browns and reds and yellows in the low hedges, against which the pheasant could walk unnoticed. Plums and apples and pears were picked and stored or given around to neighbours or made into preserves in the big brass pot. Honey was taken from the hives, the bees fed melted sugar. For a few brilliant days the rowan berries were a shining red-orange in the light from the water, and then each tree became a noisy infestation of small birds as it trembled with greedy clamouring life until it was stripped clean. Jamsie arrived with sacks of vegetables and was given whatever he would take in return. (191)

I love the way the domestic activities of the inhabitants of the lakeshore are included in this description.

Many of the scenes are carried forward through the dialogue, which catches the humour and pain of the neighbours. Irish history is present through recollections of the characters, none so vivid as the ambush by the Tans of a group of republicans from Jamsie’s past. And so we learn on p255 the fearful origin of Jamsie’s characteristic greeting first heard on the opening page: ‘Hel-lo … hel-lo … hel-lo.’ Such details link the scenes over and over.

For a taste of the dialogue, here is an early excerpt, when Bill Evans, much abused and exploited on the farm where he lives, calls in hungry at the Ruttledge house. Joe tells him,

‘You’re welcome to anything in the house but there isn’t even bread. I was waiting till tonight to go to the village.’

‘Haven’t you spuds?’

‘Plenty.’ He hadn’t thought of them as an offering.

‘Quick, Joe. Put them on.’

A pot of water was set to boil. The potatoes were washed. ‘How many?’

‘More. More.’

His eyes glittered on the pot as he waited, willing them to a boil. Fourteen potatoes were put into the pot. He ate all of them, even the skins, with salt and butter, and emptied the large jug of milk. ‘God, I feel all roly-poly now,’ he said with deep contentment as he moved back to the ease of the white rocking chair. ‘Do you have any fags?’ (10)

That They May Face the Rising Sun by John McGahern, published by Faber & Faber in 2002. 314 pp

Here are two other recommended books by John McGahern: The Barracks (1963), Amongst Women (1990).

The Barracks by John McGahern

This is a much earlier novel, published in 1963. It is set in an Irish Garda Barracks just after the Second World War. Elizabeth is married to the sergeant, and the novel follows her decline through cancer into death, as she wonders about her life, its meaning purpose and pleasures. The novel ends as it began in the kitchen, with the stepchildren, but she is no longer with them.

There are some acute observations about how people behave in groups, how people relate badly to each other, how people live intimate lives without any connection. In common with That They May Face the Rising Sun, its sense of place is acute. He describes the seasons in the village, the people, their concerns, the rituals of the church with deep knowledge and affection.

The Barracks by John McGahern published by Faber & Faber in 1963.

Amongst Women by John McGahern (1990)

270 Amongs Women

Moran was once a feared IRA fighter in the 1920s, but the story concerns his attempt to defend himself in the 50s and 60s when Ireland and the troubles are history. His relationship with his family and the way in which he communicates with his daughters are the themes of this novel. Moran is a fierce and mistaken old man, proud, strict, with clear principles, but unsociable … what a character sketch. We have little of description, but as with The Barracks a small world is brilliantly evoked.

Amongst Women was no 97 on the Guardian’s 100 Best Novels list. It was published by Faber & Faber in 1990.

 

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Grief is the thing with feathers by Max Porter

It doesn’t happen very often. I opened the book to just get a flavour and I found myself reading the final page about an hour later. It’s a short book at just over 100 pages. There are lots of white spaces, giving the appearance of a poetry book. Grief is the thing with feathers is one of most powerful books I have read this year. I have revisited it several times since that first reading.

222 Grief cover

The Story

A father and twin sons are grieving at the sudden death of the wife/mother. Crow arrives to look after them all and stays until he is no longer needed. The text is presented in the voices of Dad, Crow and Boys. There is no narrative, although the progress of Dad’s book about Ted Hughes marks some changes over time. Grief must be endured. You don’t need time and you don’t move on. You endure. It’s hard, lonely and very, very raw. That is what Grief is the thing with feathers communicates.

The style

Max Porter’s style is a mixture of poetry and prose in stream of consciousness. Poetry runs through the novella, from the appearance, title and epigram. The epigram by Emily Dickinson has been altered by Crow: That love is all there is, … Crow is a great invention.

222 epigram

And the poetic feel runs through the subject matter, Ted Hughes, R S Thomas, Crow’s passages, to the final two sentences. Father and sons are at the sea to scatter the ashes.

And the boys were behind me, a tide-wall of laughter and yelling, hugging my legs, tripping and grabbing, leaping, spinning, stumbling, roaring, shrieking and the boys shouted

I LOVE YOU I LOVE YOU I LOVE YOU

and their voice was the life and song of their mother. Unfinished. Beautiful. Everything. (114)

The novella is in three parts, A Lick of Night, Defence of the Nest and Permission to Leave. And as the whole text is in the voices of those three, the reader is kept very near in the closed world of grief.

Crow

Crow enters, his smell arriving before Dad sees him.

There was a rich smell of decay, a sweet furry stink of just-beyond-edible food, and moss, and leather and yeast. (6)

Crow is amusing, perceptive, arrogant, caring and violent. He tells the father that he wont leave until he is not needed any more.

It could be argued that Crow is Ted Hughes’s creation as the novella acknowledges.

‘Thank you Crow.’

‘All part of the service.’

‘Really. Thank you, Crow.’

‘You’re welcome. But please remember that I am your Ted’s song-legend, Crow of the death-chill, please. The God-eating, trash-licking, word-murdering, carcass-desecrating math-bomb motherfucker, and all that.’

‘He never called you a motherfucker.’

‘Lucky me.’ (70)

Carrion Crow in silhouette: Andreas Plank Dec 2010 adapted from Aomrikuma via WikiCommons

Carrion Crow in silhouette: Andreas Plank Dec 2010 adapted from Aomrikuma via WikiCommons

Crow is a mysterious delight. He writes notes for Dad for his own literary memoir; he puts him straight about ghosts, sets comprehension questions for the reader (a brilliant pastiche of those book club questions you find in the back of novels), and is poetic in his description of the triptych of death (Father, Mother, Twins). Crow, I think I should meet you in Ted Hughes poetry, Crow, also published by Faber & Faber. Ted Hughes knew a thing or two about wives who die.

222 Crow Hughes cover

Dad

The bereaved husband carries the story, but his contributions are labelled Dad and thus his contribution is located in his relationship to his sons. At times he can’t cope and Crow steps in to babysit, but mostly he is there for them.

Dad shows us the full range of his grief: the incompetence of the days following her death, his memories, the continual presence of the absent one, physical missing as well as the practical woman.

The whole city is my missing her.

Eugh, said Crow, you sound like a fridge magnet. (50)

Dad allows the reader to both see and empathise with his grief, while he is also able to reflect upon it.

There is a fascinating constant exchange between Crow’s natural self and his civilised self, between the scavenger and the philosopher, the goddess of complete being and the black stain, between Crow and his birdness. It seems to me to be the self-same exchange between mourning and living, then and now. I could learn a lot from him. (22)

Boys

Sometimes the boys speak independently, but are not differentiated. They are gentle, kind, fun, sad, amusing, interested in death and imaginary crows and all the things young boys should be interested in. They accept the change to their father, miss their mother and occasionally their father.

Dad has gone. Crow is in the bathroom, where he often is because he likes the acoustics. We are crouched by the closed door listening. He is speaking very slowly, very clearly. He sounds old-fashioned, like Dad’s vinyl recording of Dylan Thomas. He says SUDDEN. He says TRAUMA. He says Induced . . . he coughs and spits and tries again. INDUCES. He says SUDDEN TRAUMA INDUCED ALTERATION OF THE ALERT STATE.

Dad comes back. Crow changes his tune. (23)

The boys add some lightness to the novella, but lightness true to their youthfulness. And they also represent continuing life and change and will live with the death in a way that their father never can. And they will carry their father after Crow has gone as we learn from those final words:

… and their voice was the life and song of their mother. Unfinished. Beautiful. Everything. (114)

Recommended

222 crow rspbIt’s a beautiful book, the design (cover, paper and arrangements of words on the page). I love to have book like this on my shelves, even if I am not sure whether to place it among poetry, philosophy, psychology or fiction.

I was so affected by this book that I was relieved to read that Max Porter lives with his wife and children in London.

Shortlisted for Goldsmiths Prize 2015 and Guardian First Book Award 2015.

Grief is the thing with feathers by Max Porter published in 2015 by Faber & Faber 114pp

Related links:

The review by Kirsty Gunn in The Guardian in September 2015 alerted me to this book.

Max Porter wrote about writing Grief in the Guardian in November 2015. Of Crow he says ‘I didn’t know how badly I wanted to write him until I did.’

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The Killing of Bobbi Lomax by Cal Moriarty

Three bombs exploded within 24 hours, even before this book started, and a fourth on page 158. Who on earth wanted at least four apparently unconnected people killed in Canyon County in 1983?

165 Killing of BLThis is the first of Cal Moriarty’s ‘wonderland’ series. She is due for exposure in the Faber Crime series. She is a graduate of Faber Academy’s Writing a Novel course. As were SJ Watson, Before I go to Sleep and Rachel Joyce, The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry.

Some of the plot without spoilers

I found the plot somewhat Byzantine and hard to get into, but after a few chapters I got the hang of the main issues and the structure. We are in 1983, in the US, in a remote city dominated by a mysterious cultish organisation called The Faith. Like many cults they have enemies (including a breakaway group called the Real Faith) and a history to give the ruling fathers authority, the very creepy Order of the Twelve Disciples. As with many faith-based movements, their claims to power are founded in the documents that have survived from their past. It is upon this that the plot turns.

And being 1983 there are no mobile phones (only pagers) and no helpful internet. So our detectives have a great deal of legwork to do. We are helped to understand their quest by following their investigations in the 5 days after the third explosion. But also by an interwoven plot thread that follows one of the bomb victims from the summer of the previous year.

Some of the characters are easily recognizable as inhabitants of planet US police fiction.

  • The hard-bitten detective, Marty Sinclair (described as a veteran detective), who has lost people close to him,
  • His Latino side kick, Al Alvarez. There is a deep bond between them as a result of being long-term cop partners,
  • The attractive red-haired divorcee, Marion Rose, who quickly takes a shine to Marty,
  • Ziggy, who lives in a house built of books (brilliant detail),
  • The Captain in thrall to The Faith,
  • Rod and Ron Rook who deal in coins and antiquarian books,
  • The crook who married the much younger woman, scorning his wife of two decades …

But there are some interesting and original plot details.

  • Ziggy’s house,
  • The use of the theme of Alice in Wonderland …
  • … and of Edgar Allen Poe,
  • The details of the forger’s trade,
  • The mysterious Order of the Twelve Disciples who run The Faith,
  • And Mesmerism.

Actually this last element stretched my credulity too far. The story did not require Mesmerism, it could have stood up without it.

Loose ends

Having managed to keep the story, including the plot against the Faith, clear in my mind I was sorry that I did not find out what happened to the good guys: the two detectives and the redhead. In the postscript Abraham City, several years later there is no mention of them. They are no doubt being saved for the sequel, after all, as a result of the events in the novel The Faith is …

Come on Faber! The author’s name should figure prominently on the cover. On my uncorrected proof copy it can only be found among the blurb.

Good luck to Cal Moriarty. The Killing of Bobbi Lomax demonstrates that she has a good line in inventive crimes to be solved by an educated and troubled detective. The internet reveals that she has worked as a private eye and that a second ‘wonderland’ novel will appear.

 

Cal Moriarty, The Killing of Bobbi Lomax. To be published in May 2015 by Faber & Faber 335pp. My pre-publication copy was provided by the publisher.

 

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