The BookBrunch team reveals what's on their bedside tables
In many psychological thrillers, there is a small number of candidates for the role of murderer. In many of the most satisfying ones, you still fail to come close to the solution. The author is a conjuror, misdirecting you. Katherine Faulkner's Greenwich Park (Bloomsbury, April) appears to be a stalker story, in which you but not the protagonist Helen can see that Rachel, chaotic but with an uncanny skill at invading Helen's life, spells trouble. But Helen has other distractions: she is pregnant but frightened for the health of the child following a series of miscarriages, her husband is behaving erratically, and her house is in turmoil owing to terrifyingly expensive renovation work. These and other elements - including a final twist familiar from stories ranging from The Lavender Hill Mob to The Kind Worth Killing - kept me gripped.
Last year I rhapsodised about the joys of rereading Robin Hobb's Farseer trilogy, and now I am here to talk about how much I'm enjoying rereading her Liveship Traders trilogy. Set in the same world as the Farseers, it is somehow even richer than those books as it expands to cover a huge range of characters and plots. I'm about halfway through the third book, Ship of Destiny (HarperVoyager), and already bereft that they're going to end soon. These books are just so great: packed full with politics, adventure, family, friendship, romance, and everything else besides. Hobb's plotting is incredible and ambitious, but even better than that are her characters: the way they develop over the books is wonderful, how Hobb manages to make despicable characters sympathetic. There are dragons, ships that can talk, pirates, sea serpents, a community tearing itself apart - and for those who miss the Farseers, if you look closely, there are a few snippets of Fitz and the Fool's story too. These are the sort of books that make me resent having to do anything other than read.
Set in London in the 1780s, Laura Shepherd-Robinson's Blood & Sugar (Pan) is a remarkably good debut thriller. Our swash-buckling hero, Captain Harry Corsham, investigates the death of his friend who was tortured and horribly murdered in seedy Deptford, a crusading lawyer close to uncovering evidence that could finish off the slave trade. One of the strengths of the book is the way it teaches you some of the horrors of the slave trade without forgetting its primary purpose is to be a thriller, not a history lecture. At school we learnt almost nothing about what was euphemistically called 'the triangular trade': I suspect the rest of our lives will see Britain's central role in that evil trade gradually put under the spotlight, and this book is part of that. And a good thriller.
Over the past week or so I've found myself in something of a reading slump, similar to that experienced by many in the first lockdown when it was difficult to get engrossed in a book - despite the easing of lockdown and the spring sunshine (albeit tempered by some fierce snow/hail flurries). One of my go-to authors when I can't settle to anything else is Lee Child, but a check online showed that the latest Jack Reacher book The Sentinel (Bantam), the first written in partnership with his brother Andrew, has had some very mixed reviews indeed, and I don't want my image of Reacher sullied in any way (can anyone reassure me otherwise?). So instead I found myself re-reading a couple of backlist Reacher books, The Visitor (no. 4 in the series) and Persuader (no. 7), and I can confirm that the pure story-telling genius of these books still works its magic even on a second reading. It's great to know that there are another 22 to re-read when needed. And now on to something completely different...
I guess we all get sent or recommended stuff by someone looking for a book deal. When I used to work in bookselling, the standard response was 'if your Gran had knitted you a Christmas jumper would you take it into M&S and suggest they stock it?' However, once in a blue moon something will come along and surprise you and make you wonder why it hasn't been snapped up. The Ballad of Us Against Them (unpublished manuscript) by Dan Oakey is one such that I received recently. Its protagonist is Justin Reid, a tween kid who wants to reject his uncaring middle-class parents and accidentally starts a movement online that mobilises millions of children to stand up to Spents - their term for adults. Justin becomes the voice for his generation but when a passenger jet crashes and people start to die, he is incarcerated. The system swings into place to protect the status quo and populist politicians want children brought to heel. This debut novel is a real page turner, well written and clever, with big, global issues in play. Its downside according to the very few trade insiders who have seen it is that it doesn’t fit easily into any existing category. But that is what is great about it! It's genuine crossover, it's Greta Thunberg meets Hunger Games with a bit of Lord of the Flies thrown in, and it's the first book in a trilogy. What is not to like...?