25 June 2019

Review - The Edge by Tim Lebbon

Cover by Julia Lloyd
The Edge (Relics, 3)
Tim Lebbon
Titan Books, 25 June 2019
PB, 333pp

I'm grateful to Titan Books for a free advance copy of The Edge. This is the third and final part of Lebbon'd Relics trilogy. In the first book, Relics, he introduced us to an urban fantasy world where shady dealers trade in the remnants - relics - of long-dead mythological creatures. Unicorn horn is the least of it. Think pixie tongues, dwarf hearts, fairy eyes... But what if they weren't long dead?

What if some were recently alive?

What if some were still alive?

Introducing chancer Vince and his heedless wife Angela, who also appear in sequel The Folded Land, Lebbon showed how the beauty and terror of the creatures known as The Kin lurks behind our own bland world - and how Angela's and Vince's lives are changed forever once they discover this.

Both Relics and The Folded Land are complex, intricate stories following different factions among the Kin, and the humans who would exploit them. Some of the Kin want to hunker down and stay safe, others to rise up. Humans variously want to profit from Kin relics, wonder ate their beauty - or eat them. Often it's hard to tell who wants what, who is on whose side, with plenty of double dealing and guilt.

In The Edge, Lebbon tells a simpler story, rounding everything off. It's a more pared down book than either of its forerunners, bringing us back to the experiences and struggles of a few central characters. There is Mallian the Nephilim, a powerful being who wants the Kin to struggle for power - "Ascent" - and tread down impudent humans. There is Grace, the fairy Malliam sought to control but who turned on him. And there is Angela, Vince and Angela's niece Sammi, who was affected by an attack by Grace which has left her with developing abilities.

Much of the ambiguity of the previous books is gone, and we know where we stand, which gives Lebbon more bandwidth (so to speak) to tell the story these books were, perhaps, always about - the love between Angela and Vince, what they have lost, and what they still have. We saw in Relics, especially, what Vince meant to Angela. Now she has lost him twice - Folded land saw him stranded in Grace's pocket universe, ironically alongside Mallian, whose  dreams he helped destroy. Can she find him again? And if she does, can she keep him, at a time when great sacrifices may be required to face down the threat of Mallian? Living as a fugitive, Angela has also lost the ordinary life she had and, following Grace's attack, her sister. And teenage Sammi feels herself changing, which is also a loss of sorts.

There is a real sense here, as the endgame commences, of unfinished business. Lebbon gives us a new character, Bone, who as a boy was driven from his home town of Longford when the army gassed and flooded it. Bone has secrets, and has spent his life hunting the Kin. Mallian, obviously, has his own plans. Grace finds herself distracted from the Folded Land that she created. And out there is a government agency which has the Kin in its sights.

As I said, this is a simpler story, with less of a feeling of "what's going on?" but that is amply compensated for by a narrative drive, a feeling of coming disaster, of ending and a really fast pace. The story drives onwards, blurring the boundaries between fantasy and thriller as the Kin seem about to come out into the open and challenge the humans - who have taken over their world - to respond.

All through these books I've been struck by Lebbon's ability to depict the horror both of what are often, literally, cruel monsters, horrors from our darkest dreams and the chaos and devastation wrought by humanity on the natural world. That's symbolised here by the town of Longford and its fate, as it was in The Folded Land by the destruction of a forest where a tree-spirit sheltered. Conflict between the two seems wired into the nature of reality, but what will be the result if the Kin fight back seriously?

A satisfying ending to the series overall, an exciting book - and do I see Lebbon leaving himself a way out, perhaps, to further stories?

Strongly recommended.

23 June 2019

Review - Revenants and Maledictions by Peter Bell

Art by Paul Lowe
Revenants and Maledictions
Peter Bell
Sarob Press (Robert Morgan), La Bliniere, 53250, Neuille-Vendin, France
Published 2018
HB, 115pp
ISBN 9782956211525
Dust jacket by Paul Lowe

This review appeared first in the Ghosts and Scholars newsletter.

This is a thrilling and truly creepy collection of stories by Peter Bell. All the elements are there - the setting, slightly distanced in place or time, the coded (it mustn't be too obvious) 'theory' of the haunting, warnings or hints of menace - and the sprung trap. Whether that trap closes on an actual victim, or merely (merely?) leaves the narrator changed, it has to close the circle, leaving the reader thinking "ah!" or else dreading what the last paragraph will bring. All of the stories here deliver that, meeting and building on the best Jamesian standard. And in the course of the volume Bell explores some particular preoccupations - such as with the Hebrides and their folklore, and more widely, those of the celtic fringes in general, which feature in several stories here.

Apotheosis, the first story in the book, is one of these. The unnamed narrator, a distinguished historian now retired, relates an uncanny episode that happened to him many years before on visiting one of those islands. Ingeniously bound up in the neglected paintings of a lost master, the penny drops here for the narrator slightly after the reader may have joined the dots - but is no less effective for that. The Executioner is another Hebridean tale, focussing on the dangerous mountain peaks of the Black Cuillin - their Gaelic names recited in a hypnotic, spell-like litany - and the perils of climbing them unprepared. As in the best stories, it unsettles while leaving a lingering doubt as to what really happened. Similarly, while not 'Celtic' - venturing instead to the north of Iceland - Many Shades of Red also uses a remote and sublime setting, with its own dark mythology, to bring a sinister mystery from the past into the present.

In The Virgin Mary Well, we visit the Isle of Man (this book has an excellent geographic reach) - a setting I haven't encountered much in Jamesian fiction (I think I can recall one story by Robert Aickman?) and therefore with a sense of the unfamiliar that adds to the air of menace. An ancient well has been rediscovered, but there's an ambivalence about it from the locals because of a link with the Fair Folk. Despite this, Norman and his twelve year old daughter Alice, visiting from the mainland, decide to take a look...

The Island returns to the Hebrides, with an account of a traveller who wants to set foot on every Scottish Island. Sometimes, though, it's hard to find a way to land on an island, almost as though someone thinks it might be a bad idea... Perfectly realised, this story left a real sense of lingering unease both abut the reason for the abandonment of the island, and about what might have become - or might still become of - our brave narrator.

Sithean - my favourite story in this book - has a similar setting, with a mystery surrounding a holiday cottage to which a young couple have come for a week of climbing and walking.  (Seriously, shouldn't there be some kind of regulatory authority to make sure that cottages inherited form distant relatives are properly checked out for hauntings, fairy infestations and feelings of dread before they are let to unsuspecting tourists?) You just know something bad is going to happen. Just not how bad.

Wild Wales has again, of course, a 'Celtic' setting which this time hosts a classic ghost story when a somewhat fussy National Trust bureaucrat bites off much more than he can chew while on business in a remote district. Despite the story, in some respects, repeating a fairly familiar outline, Bell makes it distinctive by a startling juxtaposition of cultures. He also (and I know this seems unlikely) brings out the political and cultural background of the 1940s in a way that makes the supernatural seem almost a reaction to the pressures and stresses falling on stately homes and the landed gentry (I thought of Sarah Waters' The Little Stranger which pulls off a similar trick).

I'm going to place Blackberry Time firmly in the Celtic group here. Set on the Wirral, it takes place in a region that remained British longer than much of the rest of England and - even if the deity referred to on 'Thorphinstry Hill' has been Norseified - Bell suggests an older, much older origin for the evil he describes here. An eerily effective look back at the time - not that long ago - when two young children could go off blackberrying in the country unaccompanied by adults, this story has a sharp edge of horror.

The Robing of the Bride, while again set on Skye and based on the menace of ancient mythology, struck me as slightly different to the other stories in the book, almost more Lovecraftian than Jamesian in being focussed on the evil wrought by true believers as much as by the entities they worship. A story with a truly unsettling premise, this is, I think, really one to keep the reader awake at night.

The House departs from the theme of the Celtic fringes to narrate a wicked occurrence in the staid suburbs of North Oxford. These are streets I'm very familiar with (my son's school was on one of them) and I was amused to see three academics, bunking off from a conference, wander into trouble so close to their cloistered world.

In all, the stories in this collection meet the highest standards and deliver genuine chills. I'd strongly recommend them.

Finally, I always feel that cover artists get too little recognition. Paul Lowe's dust jacket for this book - illustrating Apotheosis - is especially effective at conveying the weird atmosphere of these stories and is a thing of beauty in itself.

20 June 2019

Review - The Girl Who Could Move Sh*t with her Mind

Cover by Steve Panton
The Girl Who Could Move Sh*t with her Mind
Jackson Ford
Orbit, 20 June 2019
PB, 444pp

I'm grateful to Nazia at Orbit for a free advance copy of this book.

The Girl Who Could Move Sh*t with her Mind is Jackson Ford's debut novel, it's published today, and you should read it.

Teagan Frost is having a bad day at work. A VERY bad day. It begins when a routine job goes wrong, endangering her and a colleague, gets worse when her boss gives her a carpeting for how she got out of that situation, and positively implodes when she's framed for murder and has to go on the run as the city of Los Angeles burns around her.

Oh, due to being on the run, she has to miss a date with a nice, single man at THE up and coming restaurant in LA.

And she hasn't slept in 48 hours.

Welcome to the world of The Girl Who Could Move Sh*t with her Mind. Teagan is The Girl, and she can, indeed, move - stuff - mentally, a talent referred to as psychokinesis (Boss Paul won't let her call it PK for reasons explained herein). That talent's employed in the service of a secretive branch of Government, Teagan's cooperation the price she pays for not being taken away to a secret lab and vivisected to find out how she works. It doesn't make her very happy, but it's a living, and as long as she's living, she can dream and plan about opening her own restaurant.

I just LOVED this book. It's a non-stop, hectic chase around the seedy side of LA (presented with no glitz and glamour: somewhat reminiscent of Joseph Wambaugh's LA based police procedurals) as Teagan and her colleagues seek to establish her innocence while a mysterious opponent plays them from street to street, mall to mall and scuzzy diner to scuzzy diner. And that fire just keeps getting closer.

Written largely from Teagan's point of view and giving us a lively, if rather pissed-off, protagonist who's perhaps just a little too persuaded that she's right and that everyone around her is stupid, the book is nothing if not engaging. For a story with such a gaping, fanatical premise - PK is real, people, and can be genetically engineered - the writing makes it very believable. Getting the register and attitude of a bored, annoyed and overtired employee in a dead end job just right, Ford evokes roughly the same psychological/ bureaucratic space as Charles Stross's Laundry books, except that Teagan's not a diffident English male geek but a forthright LA woman with views on everything, especially food. And rap music. And her colleagues. And did I mention food?

It is, really, simply fun and a joy to read - though it does go to some very dark places. Teagan's Nemesis, whose point of view also features, is a truly grim and mixed-up person, especially dangerous for being convinced of being right (and, indeed, having some degree of justice to back that up) and does some truly grim and mixed-up things. And, as I've said, the book doesn't spare us the seamier side of the city, presenting the paradox of a vast area where the homeless live in tents amidst the wealth of one of the world's richest cities. There are also gangs, corruption and a particularly nasty black-ops soldier who really has it in for Teagan.

When you see what Teagan has to go before she can have a meal, a sleep and a beer, you won't be surprised how cross she gets - but you might be surprised by the results...

In all, a great read and, yes, I can see this becoming a popular and I hope long-running series. I wouldn't want to work with Teagan Frost but I do want to read more about her, please Mr Ford and please, O Orbit.

For more about the book, see the Orbit website here.

18 June 2019

Review - Joe Country by Mick Herron

Joe Country (Jackson Lamb, 6)
Mick Herron
John Murray, 20 June 2019
HB, 334

I'm grateful to the publisher for sending me a free advance copy of Joe Country.

I'm torn between introducing this book by describing the series and where it has got to, and launching off in the style of the book itself.

Something like "You know where Joe Country is. It's where you get to if you carry on down Spook Street, out beyond the lights and the pizza restaurants..."

Better not, -a poor pastiche of someone else's style is a sorry recommendation for a book, and the style is one of the delicious things about these books. But to get that urge out of my system,  I'll quote a, non-spoilery, bit, just to give a taster (obligatory disclaimer: this is from an advanced copy, final text may not match)

"It was cold on the street - not long now, and this weather would have its way with her bones. She'd creak on waking, slow to a crawl on frosty pavements. There were so many things age could do to you; so few you could do in return. In the end, she supposed, you just stayed on your feet as long as you were able, then took the rest lying down."

This is Catherine Standish, the closest that Jackson Lamb - the seedy, shady walking health emergency who presides over Slough House, where MI5's dimmest and worst are hidden away lest their failures reflect on the Service as a whole - has to a deputy. Catherine is a recovering alcoholic, who's taken to leaving her Tube train a stop early on her way home so she can buy a bottle from the wine warehouse. She manages the office, gets Lamb to sign things, and worries a lot. (Principally about the fact that Lamb killed her former boss).

And so it goes for all of Jackson's coterie - JK Coe, who's found he has killer instinct; Shirley Dander, who has "anger issues"; Louisa Guy - was it drugs with Louisa?; River, who engineered some mess-up at King's Cross Station; Roddy Ho (don't ask).

And new entrant Lech Wicinski, introduced last year in novella The Drop, who had some very nasty images on his laptop (his Service laptop, moreover). These are the stories of the left behinds, the no-more-hopers, told in Herron's thick, noir-tinged argot which at once distinguishes his books from other popular espionage series (at which he's not above poking a little fun, as with a reference to "the spy who walked round in the cold" or the strapline to this one "less MI5, more 9 to 5"). In this jargon, Slough House really comes to life, or perhaps to near death, a patched, flaking office building of doubtful future where the heating booms and creaks but gives little heat, the carpets are thin and the bloodstains poorly concealed. And, in Lamb's office, the smoking ban isn't so much flouted as continually trolled.

But there's much more to this series, and to Joe Country in particular, than an exercise in noir. The story here is very up to the moment ("...the Cold War didn't really end. It just hid behind closed doors, like Trump in a tantrum") taking in as it does the shady security  backwash of Brexit and also the shifty (I said SHIFTY) behaviour of apparently respectable public figures who Herron comes within a whisker of identifying (except, of course, for the fact that everyone in this book is fictional and any resemblance to real people a coincidence - the disclaimer say so quite clearly).

It's all tangled up with a call for help from an ex colleague's wife, to whom Louisa feels a debt of honour because she was, after all, sleeping with the colleague. Before his death. Responding to that call takes the team, one by one, off into the depths of Joe Country which is of course a cold and careless place where the rule is that any stranger is a hostile.

As always, Herron's writing is superb. That world-weary tone still conveys, I think, that these are colleagues who have strong feelings for each other. they may be strong feelings of resentment, yes, but who, in the end, have they got left - stripped of career, respect and, in many cases, of friends and family? At the start of the book, Lech makes a pilgrimage back to where his grandparents, Polish refugees who served this country in the War, lived. Little remains and he has become, it seems, almost an internal refugee himself, disgraced, fearful and alone. Will the Slough House team accept even him?

At the same time we see political machinations and the steps ruthless men will take to defend their own reputations. The issues in Joe Country are all very personal, about loyalty and trust and, perhaps, a little redemption. Which isn't to say that the stakes, and the dangers, aren't high.

An excellent thriller, culminating in near a hundred pages of knuckle-biting, sustained action, taking the team well outside their discomfort zone (you can't really call Slough House a "comfort zone", but perhaps there are worse things out there). And not all return to it.

It's a close-run thing, but I'd almost go so far as to say that this is my favourite of the Jackson Lamb novels. So, it's STRONGLY recommended.

15 June 2019

Review - The Girl in Red by Christina Henry

Cover design by Julia Lloyd
The Girl in Red
Christina Henry
Titan Books, 18 June 2019
PB, 363pp

I'm grateful to Titan Books for a free advance copy of The Girl in Red.

The Girl in Red is another of Christina Henry's twisted takes on fairytales and childhood stories, following her treatment of Alice, Peter Pan (in Lost Boy) and The Mermaid. Like the latter, it's more rooted in the actual world than in story, though rather than a magic-tinged world it is a disturbed, post-apocalyptic version. The disease known as The Cough has raged, slaughtering millions and leaving terrified, scattered communities and families to their own resources - and the mercies of their neighbours.

Against this backdrop, Red, a woman in her early twenties has to take a journey from her middle American home into the woods to find (of course) her grandmother's house. But while these may not be innocent woods peopled by honest woodcutters, nor is she naive and trusting. In some ways Red seems to have been preparing for this journey all her life. She has her pack ready, laden with just the things she'll need. She has watched enough horror films to know the rules ("don't split up") and she believes that if she does things just so - she may, just may, survive.

It was fun reading such a conscious, knowing take on a familiar story. Yes, Red wears a scarlet hoodie and she worries about "wolves" - which stand for the whole gamut of dangers, from actual animals to ticks, infected water, hunger, and damage to her prosthetic leg. But she also recognises that the greatest risk isn't from nature, or from the catastrophe that has destroyed civilisation, but from the behaviour of people - specifically, of men - variously portrayed here as lawless neighbours given licence by the times to act out their darkest desires, crazed militias which kill any man they find and take the women children away and rogue fragments of the Army.

There are good reasons why Red carries an axe...

There is lots of trauma here, and Henry is very good on the psychological reaction of a young woman alone to all of it - her practicality on the one hand, her coping (or not) with what she has to do on the other. Told in jumps between a "before' and an "after" the story makes clear that there have been losses, but only gradually reveals exactly what and how. It's a compelling, action-filled and fast moving story, to be read in a single sitting because there's no easy place to pause and rest. Like Red, we have to keep moving on.

It is I think very much a story of growing up. While Red is an adult she has attended a local college rather than the more prestigious school she could have gone to. This is put down to her mother's somewhat smothering attitude, her doubt about whether Red will cope away from home, but there seems to be a sense in which it has still kept Red - fiercely independent though she is - a bit helpless. It's not that she can't do stuff, it's just that people won't listen. Everything would be fine if everyone else would just listen to her. Never having lived alone she hasn't had a chance to learn that sobering lesson of adulthood - sometimes it just isn't "all right".

Sometimes it's nobody's fault.

And you have to keep on going.

I found this a fascinating, character-centred book. Other stuff is happening - The Cough, and an even greater threat that perhaps sat a little uneasily with the rest of the story - and we do learn a bit about all that, but it remains secondary, which feels right. This isn't a heroic story of humankind saving itself. Rather the drama here is localised, close-up and personal. And Red is a splendid character, annoying at times but well able to carry this enthralling and terrible story. I also loved the Shakespearean allusions!

I would strongly recommend this book, and I have a little bit of hope that there may be a sequel, as the story does close on what we might guess - from the original tale - is a point far from the end. No sign at all of anyone living happily ever after...

For more information about the book, visit the Titan website here. To buy it, try your local bookshop - or from Hive Books who support some local shops. It's also available for preorder from Blackwell's, Waterstones and Amazon.

13 June 2019

Review - Velocity Weapon by Megan E O'Keefe

Velocity Weapon
Megan E O'Keefe
Orbit, 13 June 2019
PB, 505pp

"The last thing Sanda remembers is her gunship exploding..."

I'm grateful to the ever awesome Nazia at Orbit for a free advance copy of Velocity Weapon.

Debut author O'Keefe's novel is a proper serving of space opera - a genre I don't read regularly, but when I do, it has to be just right. And this is. We have a space war, political machinations, galaxy spanning civilisation, futuristic technologies, a doomsday weapon, and a nagging feeling that someone we can't see is pulling the strings. All smoothly written, with pace and verve - and more to come.

When Sergeant Sanda Greeve wakes in a survival pod after the disastrous battle of Dralee, any joy at her survival is soon tempered as she's told it has been hundreds of years since Dralee. Both her homeworld and Iscariot, planet of her enemies, have been destroyed by Iscarion's new planet-busting weapon, along with her family, and she's now stranded on an enemy ship. The Light of Berossus, the only human left alive in the system.  The Light - or Bero, as he prefers to be known - is himself a character in the person of a brooding AI who welcomes Sanda (as well he might after so many years alone). But as she explores the ship and begins to discover what went on there, she has to question what he knows - and what he did...

Between chapters detailing Sanda's discoveries in the year 3771, the book follows her brother, Biran, in 3541 - the time of the battle itself. Biran has just passed out as a Keeper, one of the ruling class of his planet. Keepers are implanted with chips containing the plans for the Casimir Gates that link humanity's colonies in disparate start systems, and they also direct affairs on those colonies. Believing Sanda to be marooned in her survival pod, Biran is about to risk a great deal for her.

There is also a third strand - a heist organised by a group of criminals led by Jules, on another, unidentified, colony world. This might risk breaking the flow of the other two narratives, but O'Keefe's writing and plotting easily makes Jules' adventures absorbing in themselves, not least as she uses them to feed us additional information about the doings of the Keepers. In a neat contrast to Biran's high-mindedness, Jules seems pretty much amoral - she just wants to get a break, and claw her way up from the bad side of town. But the existence of that bad side and the way that people like her are treated does rather undermine the glittering vision of future society that Biran holds. How this will play out in future volumes remains to be seen but I think the idealism of Keeper society may actually mask some dark secrets.

The story itself was a joy to read. O'Keefe's writing is, as I said above, always compelling and the story itself moves along at a rattling pace with many surprises, reversals and twists (even as the seeds are planted for a much bigger story than a squabble in a remote system). The book may not be groundbreaking, but in giving Sanda a leg damaged in battle O'Keefe places a character with a disability centre stage (and gives the book overtones of Treasure Island) and she also has the original of her spacefaring civilisation be Ecuador, not the US, Russia or China, making it a little different. Spending time with Gunnery Sergeant Sanda Greeve is fun - she is a protagonist with a lot of whoomph, rather overshadowing comms specialist Tomas and indeed, little brother Biran.

I would strongly recommend this book - and am looking forward to its sequels.

For an extract from Velocity Weapon, see the Orbit website here.

9 June 2019

Review - My Name is Monster by Katie Hale

My Name is Monster
Katie Hale
Canongate, 6 June 2019
HB, 320pp

I'm grateful to Canongate for a free advance e-copy of My Name is Monster via NetGalley.

In a ruined world, two hurt women try to find a way to live. The first is called - calls herself - "Monster". We never learn what other names she may have had. Monster was a scientist, working at the seed bank on the Arctic island of Svalbard. After a time of war and plague and the Last Fall, she makes her way south by boat, and reaches the coast of Scotland, which is where the book begins.

Monster starts to walk, avoiding towns - where the Sickness may still lurk - to find her home. Facing starvation, thirst, and packs of feral dogs, Monster visits her home, which seems to make little impression, and then eventually settles in a farmhouse near a city into which she forays for food and other necessities.

We gradually learn a great deal about Monster from her recollections - of her life as a child, her exasperated mother, her isolation at school and her job in repairing and rebuilding things. Monster thinks she doesn't care about other people and many of her memories of resting them - the girl who wanted to kiss her at school, the young woman who, Monster realised too late, had taken her on a date. There is also her reaction to her colleague on Svalbard, and the fact that, when her parents were dying of the Sickness, she ceased contact with them. But Monster isn't self-sufficient, happy at pushing everyone away. There is a history too all these relationships, which we only see hinted at, and we see especially that Monster was developing as a person in relation to other people  - a development that has been stopped now that she is alone, and is very conscious of being alone - she wonders long she can endure like that. Three months, she recalls having been told - underscoring that while there has been a slide to war and disease this isn't a far future post-apocalyptic story, rather the axe has only just fallen: those feral dogs would have been someone's pets or working animals a year or two ago.

Hale's storytelling here is very gentle, very allusive, very powerful. We don't find out exactly why Monster is like she is. She makes it clear that she is in some sense odd (or that she has been made to feel that she is odd) but it seems like an oddness that only exists in relation to other people. Now everyone else is gone, there are only questions of survival, practical matters about food and infections and whether water is safe to drink. The rest is set aside.

But then things change and we meet - Monster meets - another woman, a girl perhaps at that point, finding her starving and feral. She passes on to her the name Monster, deciding instead to become "Mother". She pronounces herself the young girl's creator, and starts to try to civilize her, driving out all the "wildness". And, yes, with all this stress on who is the monster and who is the creator, there are hints of Frankenstein (as well as in the journey from the Arctic, of course).

It's the relationship between Monster and Mother - Monster and Monster - that is at the heart of this book, of course, and it's one which Hale takes her time over, exploring Monster/ Mother's viewpoint first, then switching to the younger Monster. It's a testament to how convincing, how thorough, this depiction is that when we move on to that second part, a real sense of Mother's personality, of her wants and needs, her presence, hangs over the text. It's not always a comforting or welcome presence - Hale makes it clear that, despite being the only two people left in the world (or at least, in their locality) these women are not always good for one another: while Mother's earlier life is often dim, we can see something of the same pattern emerge here as existed between her and her own mother. But it's a pattern that the other Monster won't be drawn into easily. She has her own secrets, memories from before her "creation", and has been through a different trauma in the dying days of the human race. Accepting, at first, what she is told, she inevitably begins to question.

That eventually leads to an action on Monster's part - I'm not going to say exactly what because of spoilers - which supremely strains her relationship with Mother. By the time this happens, both characters have become so real that the rift between them - while anticipated - is as anxiety-inducing and involving as when your best friends fall out. You have to find out what happened/ what's going to happen. Which leads me to one of this book's great joys - it is wonderfully, entrancingly readable, compulsive, a book whose pages simply fly by. At times things come up - coincidences, items of knowledge - that might perhaps seem unlikely - but Hale tells her story with such verve and life that these hardly detract at all.

I really enjoyed this book, and I would happily have read it if it had been twice as long. One of the high points of my reading so far this year and I'd strongly recommend.