What We're Reading - 4 June 2021

Lucy Nathan
Opinion - Books Friday, 4th June 2021

The BookBrunch team reveals what's on their bedside tables


David Roche
Rónán Hession made his name with his kind and comforting debut Leonard and Hungry Paul that has gone on to growing commercial success and acclaim. His second novel, Panenka (Bluemoose Books), had a hard act to follow, and the Dublin based author has, for me, not only matched it but built additional layers of maturity and complexity in this book full of life lessons, wisdom, and often, kindness. The main character is nicknamed 'Panenka' after an avoidable incident of embarrassment on the field that had long lasting implications for the local football club, and also potentially for the town. This is his story many years later and his relationship with several key family and friends. I was drawn in completely and wished for his redemption and closure. It's a pleasure thinking back after finishing this book and for some reason, the Panenka in my mind's eye looks like Mark Rylance - roll on the screen or stage adaptation. I hope this novel goes on to great success and I will recommend it to those who ask what to read over the summer. It's just the right length and a beautifully published package too from the impressive indie Bluemoose Books. 

Jo Henry
The hard work of sitting in the sun requires some light reading material, so what better than Sophie Hannah's recreation of Hercule Poirot in The Mystery of Three Quarters? Hannah is good at sustaining the essentially fussiness of Poirot, although I suspect that has more to do with David Suchet's incarnation of him than Christie's original. Four people receive letters purporting to be from Poirot, accusing them of a murder of a man who appears to have died completely naturally, and Poirot is piqued into investigating why. While it's perfectly readable, I did find the plot unnecessarily opaque and labyrinthine - none of those 'clues' that at the end of a real Christie you realise you might, just might, have worked out for yourself - so I think I may have to go back to the originals instead if the sun keeps on shining! 

Nicholas Clee
It's quite a relief to find that the 600-page novel by an unknown author you've been sent to review is thoroughly enjoyable, and pleasing that other reviewers are enthusiastic too. Peterdown by David Annand (Corsair) is an astute social comedy as well as a portrait of a town subjected to mostly damaging social change: de-industrialisation followed by the arrival of new, and ruthless money. The plot centres on the construction in Peterdown (somewhere in Yorkshire) of a new railway hub, and on what will be demolished to make way for it: will it be a white elephant of an arts centre, or our hero Colin's beloved football stadium, or his architect girlfriend's beloved neo-brutalist housing estate? I was very happy to spend 600 pages in the place that Annand so convincingly evokes.

Neill Denny
'The scent and smoke and sweat of a casino are nauseating at three in the morning.' With that famous opening line, Ian Fleming began Casino Royale and started one of the most famous franchises in publishing (and film) history. I was prompted to return to the ur-text after reporting last week that Anthony Horowitz has just agreed to write another James Bond continuation novel, one that will see the evergreen franchise continue into its eighth decade. In my dinky-but-gorgeous 1963 Pan paperback edition, Bond only gets 189 pages to strut his stuff, but Fleming is such a fine thriller writer a wealth of detail is packed in amidst the gripping plot, and an icon steps forth full-formed. The spy-craft, the heavy smoking and drinking, the viciousness, the sheer screwed-upness of Bond are all sketched in masterfully, together with a rich supporting cast of M, Q, Moneypenny, Felix Leiter and Smersh. Also present are period attitudes and notes that jar horribly on the modern reader, and probably even annoyed some of the original readers when Cape first published it in 1953. But God, Fleming can write.

Lucy Nathan
Everyone Dies Famous in a Small Town by Bonnie-Sue Hitchcock (Faber) is one of the most interesting YA books I've read in a while. It's a series of interlinking stories set in the rural American West, from Alaska to Colorado. I am not usually a short story person, but each of these interludes packed a real emotional punch, and it was a lot of fun picking up on where different characters are mentioned in different stories. The writing is quiet but it's funny and sharp despite the often devastating content of the stories - Hitchcock draws the stories back from bleakness with that humour and delivers an incredible range of topics and characters who pulled me right into their worlds.