The BookBrunch team reveals what's on their bedside tables
For a book about a woman captured in a war and forced into concubinage, there is surprisingly little sex or indeed violence in Pat Barker's The Silence of the Girls (Penguin). Like the best horror films where you never see the monster, that is all left off the page. What you get instead is a fascinating psychological study of the mind and fate of Briseis, presented to Achilles as his concubine during the siege of Troy, and of other women similarly enslaved by the Greeks. Trapped in the army camp, the women never see the fighting, but only have to bear its consequences. Briseis had been a Queen in her own right, and Achilles killed her brother with his own hand. Yet Barker is too skilled a writer to lapse into stereotype, so Briseis' view of Achilles is never as binary as you would expect. Shamefully unfamiliar with the Iliad, the ending came as a surprise. My only disappointment was the non-appearance of the wooden horse I had been looking out for all along.
Eliza Clark made the news around the launch of Boy Parts (Influx Press) this summer with the quote: "I'm from Newcastle and working class. To publishers, I'm diverse...". In her 26 years Eliza has worked for Mslexia magazine in her native Newcastle, received a grant from New Writing North to develop her creative writing, and studied at Chelsea College of Art in London. This her first novel, and what an entertaining, brassy ride it is! Its main figure is Irina, who asks boys she meets to model for her as she takes their explicit and taboo photographs in the hope of constructing a gallery project which could be the making of her but is always likely to be dynamited by her own actions. Irina is massively flawed and self-defeating but she's perversely engaging, definitely alternative, and never boring. The dedication is "For my mother and father. Please don’t read this." which gives you a clue as to its edginess, but this is also a confident and punchy debut novel and Eliza Clark is one to watch.
There's something about Lisa Jewell's thrillers that forces me to sit down and read them in one go, and her latest, Invisible Girl (Century), is no different. I think she's one of the best domestic thriller authors out there, and I love how intensely current the themes of Invisible Girl are: it takes on the worrying 'incel' epidemic and there's also a plotline that reminds me of The Lost Honour of Christopher Jefferies. Jewell is brilliant at navigating the intricacies of family relationships - with extra hidden darkness, of course - and at delivering genuinely unforeseen twists that nonetheless work perfectly.
Many years ago I worked in sales at Victor Gollancz where we had a wonderful iron spiral staircase leading to the archives in the sales department. Company myth had it that our author Dorothy L Sayers used this as inspiration for the murder weapon in Murder Must Advertise so, on being reminded about DLS by reading Square Haunting (Faber) recently, I felt that the time was ripe to read (and in some cases re-read) her Lord Peter Wimsey books. And what fun! I've raced through Whose Body (hugely enjoyable despite what would nowadays be considered rather anti-Semitic tropes) and The Unpleasantness at the Bellona Club, and am looking forward to the next 11 titles. It's very impressive that from the first book in the series Sayer's characterisation of her main characters (manservant Bunter and police inspector Parker alongside Wimsey) is so nuanced that it stands the test of a long series. I am particularly enjoying the tension - despite them being good friends - between Wimsey as amateur detective and Parker as professional policeman, and am looking forward to getting to Wimsey's on-off relationship with Harriet Vane too, after discovering so much about the author and her views on the role of women from Francesca Wade's book.
I loved Candice Fox's Crimson Lake series, set in swampy and claustrophobic Queensland. In Gathering Dark (Arrow) she has switched to Los Angeles, with no sacrifice, as far as this reader can tell, of atmospheric detail. Like Ted Conkaffey in Crimson Lake, Blair Harbour has had her life ruined as a result of a false murder charge; a former surgeon, she has done her time, and is now working nights at a cartel-run gas station. One night, the daughter of a former prison mate, Sneak, arrives in distress, points a gun at Blair, and steals money from the till. With the chronically unreliable Sneak and a psychopathic gang leader called Ada, Blair sets out in pursuit of the girl, and finds herself back in contact with Jennifer Sanchez, the cop who put her away. Perhaps one cannot describe someone who has worked with James Patterson as underrated; nevertheless, I think that Fox's gifts for memorable scene-setting, sharp dialogue, and vivid and quirky characterisation should earn her wider recognition as a member of the top tier of crime writers.