|Design by Amy Musgrave|
Del Rey, 5 November 2020
Available as: HB, 465pp, e, audio
Source: advance e-copy, bought copy from Wallingford Bookshop
|Design by Amy Musgrave|
|Design by Julia Lloyd|
I'm grateful to Orenda Books for providing me a free copy of The Coral Bride to consider for review and to Anne Cater for inviting me to take part in the book's blogtour.
The Coral Bride takes us to a part of the world I was completely unaware of, the Gaspé Peninsula in Quebec, on Canada's eastern coast. It picks up the story of Detective Sergeant Joaquin Moralès from We Were the Salt of the Sea (which I hadn't read, shame on me: now I will) as he investigates the suspicious death of Angel Roberts on her lobster trawler. Forced to locate himself close to the scene of the death, Moralès finds himself in a guest house, run by the enigmatic Corine, out of season. The only guest, he has the run of the place. I rather liked this setting: Morales spreading out his papers in the empty dining room, looking at over the sea as he unravels the case.
That investigation is a taut, satisfyingly complex crime/ mystery in itself. Roberts was closely enmeshed in a network of fishing families with complex rivalries - both personal and financial - all struggling to make a living from the sea amidst environmental crises - the disappearance of the cod - and financial challenges going back generations. There are whispers of poaching, and time was that every trawler's skipper carried a rifle aboard. Once Moralès digs into the investigation he finds an abundance of motives for a murder and a great deal of shifty behaviour - but is still baffled as to whether this wasn't actually a simpler story of suicide. If it was a murder, how could it have been done? If it was a suicide, why?
This part of the story alone would be enough to make this a compelling and page-turning read. But The Coral Bride offers much, much more.
Alongside Moralès's investigation, his own life and family is in turmoil. His wife won't speak to him and he's not sure whether or not his marriage is over. Son Sébastien has arrived home unexpectedly, clearly going through a crisis of his own. We see events from both Joaquin's and Sébastien's viewpoints, so get to appreciate the delicate dynamics between father and son, the past events - and misunderstandings - that have shaped their lives, particularly when it comes to relations with women. Confronted with considerable amounts of misogyny in the local community, the two men are forced to reconsider their own attitudes: Joaquin has a tendency to fixate on a particular feature of a woman's body - a protruding vertebra, an ankle - and Sébastien punts an idea that his father has ruined his life by not teaching him to assert himself with women.
The reality is that it's hard for women on the Gaspé to make it in a man's world. That's true for fisheries inspector Simone Lord as much as it was for Angel Roberts herself. That's easily said, but oh, to really understand it - and this story - you have to move in to this book, as Joaquin does, and meet its people (Lord, Detective Lefebre who can't be in a room five minutes without beginning a collection of objects, Corine herself, and many more). As well as being a masterful study of a place and way of life (rooting what happened to Angel in a richly portrayed setting) the characters here are spot on - quirky, fully realised, believable and deeply human. I especially loved the way that Bouchard has the Moralès men lapse into cooking - whether alone or working together - either when they are very content or brooding, needing to work through something (either personal issues or the finer points of the case). There's a physicality to the descriptions of food, of ingredients and how they are put together that is just very satisfying (also, mouth-watering). It's a lovely way to learn about characters and makes me wish there was more cooking (and eating) in writing.
In short - the book really was an absolute joy to read. I don't think I've actually done it justice here. I strongly recommend it and I hope you will read it and love it too.
For more information about The Coral Bride see the publisher's website here - and also the other stops on the blogtour (see the poster below).
You can buy the book from your local high street shop (they need your support right now and many are able to order books and let you collect). Or you can get it online from bookshop.org, from Hive Books, Blackwell's, Foyles, WH Smith, Waterstones or Amazon.
OR you can order a SIGNED COPY from Bert's Books - contact firstname.lastname@example.org or call 07960 002056
|Design by Lauren Panepinto, |
illustration by Karla Ortiz
|Cover by Sophie McDonnell|
I'm grateful to the publisher for an advance copy of How to Belong to consider for review and to Tracy Fenton at Compulsive Readers for inviting me to join the book's blogtour.
I'm a fan of books that match well-drawn, interesting characters with a great sense of place, and How to Belong scores well on both counts. It's the story of Jo and Tessa, coming to terms with their pasts and with their lives when returning to the Forest of Dean.
Jo has been - is - a barrister. She's one of those who "got out", taking a degree and finding a glamorous job in London. Or not, because once there, she found, of course, that it wasn't all as shiny as she hoped. Life was an endless slog round the country, working on dispiriting cases for clients who scarcely seem deserving, arriving back on late trains from distant courts. All the plum work goes to the men, she's pretty friendless in London and even the money isn't very good. So coming home for Christmas and finding herself in the familiar hubbub of the family butcher's shop strikes a nerve with Jo, especially as her parents are about to sell the shop and retire. Maybe taking over the shop might be a way to return to the familiar, and preserve her family heritage?
Farrier Tessa has also come back to the Forest - after her relationship with Marnie in Bristol ended. Emotionally bruised and struggling with a debilitating illness, she's drawn the circles of her life tighter and tighter to protect herself. Finally, she holes up in her cottage in the woods, struggling to make ends meet on the tiny amount of work she can do.
I loved the way that Franklin depicts these women, giving us flashbacks to show their earlier lives and the wounds and struggles that have made them.
Jo is bright and intelligent and full of plans and ideas. We are told that her career as a barrister has given her resilience and an ability to deal with people, yet she can also get things so, so wrong: with Ron and Mo, who run her parents' shop, with old friend Liam - at times, it's hilarious to see Jo's mistakes. Moreover, she can scarcely bear the smell and texture of fresh meat so at one level it seems slightly comic that she would take on the butcher's shop, at another, it is rather noble and admirable.
Tessa's wounds didn't begin with her and Marnie's break-up: there was a shocking event that cut to the core of her family and for which she has assumed responsibility and a resulting belief that she's hateful and can come to no good. The forest seems a good place for Tessa to hide away, to not be known or recognised.
Jo has returned to the Forest of Dean for exactly the opposite reason, to be somewhere she is known, somewhere she fits in.
It doesn't work out as either expects, of course. There are many eyes in the forest and Tessa is observed and remembered, while Jo finds that her friendship group has moved on (and her family house sold). Many outsiders are coming to the Forest with new estates spring up where the sheep grazed and second homers appearing. Is Jo, despite her origins, really one of them - an urbanite with over romantic views about this place stuck between England and Wales, with its own history and traditions?
The interplay between Tessa and Jo, and also Jo's relationships with Liam and with Ron and Mo and indeed her parents (largely absent though they are) makes a fascinating character study. Franklin lets things build up slowly, with plenty of time and space for each of the two women, and allows us to draw our own conclusions about what's going on rather than having her characters tell us. The Forest is almost a character itself, and we see both the pluses and minuses of increasing tourism and of "incomers" - as well as the resilience of the Forest people themselves. Best of all, perhaps, the ending is left tantalisingly open. I think I know what's going to happen, but as Franklin has shown, Jo and Tessa are real people with real quirks and with their own histories, so really, who knows what comes next?
For more information about How to Belong, see the publisher's website here - and also the other stops on the tour, listed on the poster below!
You can buy How to Belong from your local highstreet bookshop - many are still open for orders even if you can't browse - or online from Hive Books, bookshop.org UK, Blackwell's, Foyles, WH Smith, Waterstones or Amazon.
Cover by Tomás Almeida
For more information about the book, see the publisher's website here.
|Cover design by |