DWRF 2017: Hannah Kent with Majella Cullinane

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Book Review: Cold Earth, by Ann Cleeves

Available now in bookshops nationwide.

cv_cold_earthSeveral people had told me that I’d enjoy Ann Cleeves’ books and I wish now I’d sought her out earlier. Cold Earth is Cleeves’ thirtieth novel and the seventh in her Shetland series, so I’ve got a lot of catching up to do!

Set in the Shetland Islands, the book begins with a landslide at a funeral. Local detective inspector Jimmy Perez is at the graveside of his old friend Magnus when the landslide hits, and he watches it sweep away part of an old croft further down the hill. Unsure if anyone had been renting the croft, Perez goes to check. He spots a flash of red amongst the debris and finds the body of an exotic woman in a flowing red evening dress – not your usual Shetland winter apparel.

When investigations reveal the landslide didn’t kill her, that she had been murdered, Perez becomes obsessed with uncovering who she is and who killed her. Due to the damage inflicted by the landslide, finding clues in the croft isn’t easy. Two photos and a letter addressed ‘Dear Alis’ are all he has to go on. He invites Willow Reeves, a senior detective from the mainland, to join him and his sidekick Sandy Wilson. When Reeves arrives, it soon becomes clear there is unfinished business between her and Perez, but neither will let it get in the way of the investigation.

There are many inhabitants with many secrets, meaning there are also many suspects. The team uncovers evidence the dead woman had links to a number of locals, but does this mean one of them killed her? We learn a bit about most of the characters and once the dead woman’s identity is revealed, it seems almost every one of them could have had a motive for wanting her dead.

Just when you think you think you’ve got it sussed, a snippet about another suspect casts doubt in your mind.

I found the book really readable, and once I started I found it hard to put down. Having said that, I did feel the conclusion was a little rushed and a little melodramatic. It hasn’t put me off wanting to read more of Ann Cleeves’ books though, even if just to find out what happens between Perez and Reeves!

Reviewed by Faye Lougher

Cold Earth
by Ann Cleeves
Published by Pan Macmillan
ISBN 9781447278214

Book Review: Among the Lemon Trees, by Nadia Marks

Available now in bookshops nationwide.

cv_among_the_lemon_treesAnna’s twenty-five year marriage has hit a crisis and, with her two grown children off travelling for the summer, it is time for her to make time for herself, to reflect on her relationship and consider her future. And when her aging father decides he wants to spend the summer on his native Greek island, the perfect opportunity for relaxing and contemplating presents itself. Neither Anna or her father have been to the island since her mother died four years ago, however when they arrive, they slip back into the family’s welcoming and loving embrace. Memories of hot, lazy summers with Greek cousins aplenty flood back and soon Anna is one of the locals again.

Amidst the sun and idyllic settings, Anna slowly examines her heart as she is enfolded in the security of friendship and the familiar. The Greeks recognise four different kinds of love (agape – spiritual love; Éros – physical, passionate love; philia – ‘mental’ love, regard or friendship and storgé – affectionate love) and while on the island, Anna comes closer to understanding each of these through her own experiences both past and present, and from uncovering a closely guarded family secret. It is this secret, revealed initially through letters, that provides much of the action of the story – we are taken back to where it all began, pre-World War II. Not only does this history relate a dramatic love story, it opens a window into the lives of everyday citizens in both Greece and Italy during the conflict.

Gently paced, as is suitable for a story reflecting on the many aspects of love and set in a sun drenched Mediterranean island, the story really picks up once Anna discovers the hidden letters in her aunt’s house. Marks has done a fine job of knitting the past with the present and bringing together a village of varied supporting characters who each have an important role to play in helping Anna through her summer of growth and change. At the end of the story, she better understands her personal definition of love in all its forms.

Born in Cyprus and raised in London, Marks is well equipped to introduce us to life in the Greek village with its traditions and daily workings. Her background is in journalism and this is her third novel. Filled with sunny days, sparkling seas and balmy nights under the stars, Among the Lemon Trees could be just the ticket for the approaching cold rainy weekends.

Reviewed by Vanessa Hatley-Owen

Among the Lemon Trees
by Nadia Marks
Pan Macmillan, 2017
9781509815722

Book Review: Little Deaths, by Emma Flint

Available in bookshops nationwide.

cv_little_deaths.jpgBeing someone with a love of the USA as it was in the fifties and sixties, I had high hopes for Emma Flint’s book, Little Deaths. Set in the summer of 1965 in New York, it featured the disappearance of two young children from their home and focused on their non-conventional mother.

The book begins in prison and in a series of flashbacks we learn of the life Ruth Malone had on the outside. The freedom, the men, the stresses of caring for two children on her own, and the resentment for how her life has turned out.

Next Ruth is now being questioned by the police, and we soon learn that she woke up one morning to find her two children, five-year-old Frankie and four-year-old Cindy, missing from their apartment. She is separated from the children’s father, Frank, and the couple are embroiled in a custody battle. Ruth assumes he’s taken the kids; he denies it.

The police focus on her as their chief suspect, mainly because of the way she looks and acts. Ruth is a bright, vivacious woman who works in a bar and wears too much makeup and too-short skirts. She also has a number of male friends, something USA in the 1960’s was not always ready to accept.

In the hands of someone who knows their location well, a book set in this era in the USA is a magical thing. Emma Flint is a UK writer who lives in London. I don’t know if she’s spent much time in the USA but the scenes lack colour and atmosphere and seem forced. The parts with the journalist who takes on Ruth’s story are a bit more believable, but even then, there are some moments when you’re reminded it’s definitely a work of fiction.

I didn’t find out until after I’d finished the book that Little Deaths was based on the true story of Alice Crimmins. Out of curiosity I looked for more information on the real case and found Flint had followed the facts – very closely. I also discovered hers was the 10th fictional account of the case.

As an avid reader of true crime magazines as a teenager and with the book being based on a true story, I should have loved Flint’s book, but I didn’t. I found the book not quite satisfying and the ending disappointing, and I also felt cheated that the book was not really the work of a talented and imaginative author, but one who reworked an old story.

Reviewed by Faye Lougher

Little Deaths
by Emma Flint
Published by Pan Macmillan
ISBN 9781509826599

Book Review: Anxiety for Beginners, by Eleanor Morgan

Available now in bookshops nationwide.

cv_anxiety_for_beginnersIf the fluorescent cover doesn’t catch your eye, the title will. In Anxiety for Beginners, Eleanor Morgan tells us what it’s like to live with anxiety and why it’s so important to identify and learn to manage it. She leads off with a raw account of her own experiences, then explores what anxiety is, why it happens and what can be done about it.

Morgan reassures us that feeling anxious need not be a life-sentence – that it is possible to get on top of it and that we can learn to deal with the intrusive chorus of ‘What ifs?’ that roll through our minds. She reminds us that some anxiety is okay, even essential – especially in situations that are in some way threatening, where anxiety prepares us to act. It’s when anxiety takes over and our response is disproportionate to the threat that it causes distress. That is the point that we should seek help – or support someone else to seek help if we see that anxiety is dominating their life.

I share her belief that spreading knowledge about what anxiety is – and the different forms it may take – is beneficial not only for people living with anxiety, but also for their partners, families and friends. She’s quite frank that anxiety can ‘creep or crash’ into anyone’s life without warning. This means that even if we are not living with anxiety ourselves, there’s a good chance that someone we know is: someone we live with, someone we study or work with, a friend, neighbour or colleague.

Morgan tackles a serious topic with empathy and humor – and a generous smattering of f-words. Her first experience with anxiety was at age 17. She describes feeling that she was about to detonate or crack down the middle like an egg – her legs hollow, her breathing ragged, her guts fizzing. She’s open about the challenges she continues to face – although she has, over time, learned how to manage her anxiety on an ongoing basis. Even so, she admits that – like many of us – she’s still searching for that elusive ‘sweet spot between allowing [herself] to relax and pushing [herself] to do more’.

Morgan does a good job of helping us to understand what’s going on inside the brain and body, the physiological basis of anxiety. In exploring the causes, symptoms and consequences of anxiety, she’s spoken with psychologists, psychiatrists, behavioral neuroscientists and academics, as well as others, including several well-known people, who live with anxiety disorders. Morgan is based in East London and so draws primarily on material from the United Kingdom, although there’s a sprinkling of information from other countries too. She’s written a well-researched book with information and resources drawn from diverse sources, although none of it from Aotearoa/New Zealand. There are plenty of references throughout most chapters, as well as a bibliography and a detailed index. It’s a book you can go back to if you want to learn more or point a friend towards resources.

Morgan makes it clear that although there are common symptoms, there can be tremendous variation in how each individual experiences anxiety. She’s a firm believer that people should be offered a choice about how to manage their symptoms, although cautions that it’s easy to get swamped by information during the search for relief. Despite knowing the importance of finding good, informed care and support, some of her own experiences with helping professionals have been of variable quality.

There’s a surprisingly brief chapter on how to help someone else with anxiety. It points to a range of websites, as well as reminding us to be patient and non-judgemental.

Morgan tells it like it is. She wants readers to understand that although there’s no perfect antidote for anxiety, there are a number of things that are likely to help over time. For her, cognitive behavioural therapy has made a world of difference. For some people living with anxiety medication will be effective, for others it may be therapy, exercise, meditation or mindfulness – or a combination of different approaches. (Dogs may have a role to play too: the single photo in the book is of Morgan’s re-homed schnauzer-cocker spaniel cross, Pamela – a Hairy Maclary lookalike bringing ‘joy, routine and purpose’ into Morgan’s life.)

I appreciated Morgan’s honesty, humour and optimism. She’s encouraged by society’s gradual shift towards considering mental health problems as less of a stigma and more a part of what it means to be a human being: ‘a bump in the road, rather than the end of it’. She stresses the importance of improving public education and awareness of anxiety and other mental health problems, so that all of us know what is available and what might help. Her book is an excellent place to start.

Reviewed by Anne Kerslake-Hendricks

Anxiety for Beginners
by Eleanor Morgan
Publisher: Bluebird (a Pan Macmillan imprint)
ISBN 9781509813261

Book Review: Killing Time, by Karl Williams

Available now in bookshops nationwide.

‘Dedication: To all the people who have fallen foul of justice systems around the world’

cv_killing_time_karl_williamsThree young Brits enjoying the high life in Dubai—alcohol, women, clubs, a car—and their life flips upside down when a stash of dokha is “found” in their rented white BMW convertible. Under the pretense of making an arrest, police officers take them firstly out into the desert night, where they are beaten and tortured, before being taken to the city and formally charged with drug dealing, a charge which could lead to a twenty-five year prison term or the death penalty.

Bewildered, in pain, scared s**tless—Karl, Harry and Tariq are questioned without legal representation and sent to Port Rashid prison to await their trial. They soon learn the UAE justice system is very unlike that in the UK. In Port Rashid, the prisoners are in charge. And the harder the criminal, the higher his influence on fellow prisoners and guards. Wasta is the unit of power-currency, and those with wasta inside are drug dealers, gang leaders and violent criminals. It is earned through fair means or foul—mostly foul.

The British Embassy fails to assist, and the outlook is grim. With the overhead cloud of the possible penalty, Karl and his friends have to adapt, and their ways of killing time both help them and harm them. Port Rashid is overcrowded, slummocky, the food is disgusting, the prisoners are dangerous. They must adapt to fit into the prisoners’ system of managing life inside, to survive.

The lads’ easy-going street ways are both an asset and a curse—a joking remark can defuse a taut situation and save a touchy situation from becoming violent, or turn someone into a raging maniac. Karl is soon befriended by Mohammed, a drug dealer, who lets Karl work his way up the power ladder, to the point at which he is accepted as being one of Port Rashid’s leaders.

The personality of all three friends change over the months of being in Port Rashid, and the friendship is tested. Through good times and bad—and worse—Karl struggles to hold onto his friends, to cope with missing his wife and baby girl, to hope for a fair trial and release. He is supported by “Reprieve”, an organisation which aids Brits in prison around the world.

He is shifted to the dreaded Central prison – the holding prison for those whose sentence has finally been decided. An epiphany helps Karl decide to avoid his involvement in the criminal activities within prison, and instead to try to help to give other prisoners small comforts

It may seem I have revealed too much. But the story is in the interactions between Karl and his friends, the police, and his fellow prisoners…

I have reviewed many crime stories. This crime is the maltreatment of prisoners in a city we assume to be a sparkling centre of life in the UAE. It is an eye-opener, fascinating, enthralling and appalling in equal measures. Buy it. Read it.

A forty-four minute interview on his experiences is available at http://bit.ly/24rpIMn

dokha – a tobacco product, with ‘extras’; legal in UK; ‘ignored’ in UAE unless…
wasta – influence

Reviewed by Lynne McAnulty-Street

Killing Time—Surviving Dubai’s Most Notorious Prisons
by Karl Williams, written with Justin Penrose
Colour-plate illustrated.
Published by Sidgwick & Jackson
ISBN: 9780238072390