These are tales of fugitive lives: dazzling portraits of women and men on the run; from their present, their past, their future – from themselves…
Here, finally, is the complete collection of short fiction from award-winning author Wendy James. Holding a discerning mirror to seemingly ordinary lives, James captures recurring themes of love, betrayal, passion and guilt to show just how vulnerable and intricate the human heart really is.
Having just loved WHERE HAVE YOU BEEN? when I read it last year, I was really pleased to find this collection of short stories by Wendy James. Whilst not crime fiction, these stories expore a range of themes from extremely fragile friendships, awkward parent-child relationships, unhappy marriages and longing.
All of these stories vary in their style and content, many of them skating lightly through the subject matter, others pulling the reader into the lives of the characters.
This isn't a collection that can be read quickly as many of the stories need to be put down, considered, restarted, reconsidered and pondered. The writing is often raw and emotional, often searing and confrontational. But the themes discussed are fascinating, the the storytelling assured, even when stepping into unusual forms and themes.
OUT OF THE BLACK LAND - Kerry Greenwood
Eighteenth Dynasty Egypt is peaceful and prosperous under the dual rule of the Pharaohs Amenhotep III and IV, until the younger Pharaoh begins to dream new and terrifying dreams.
Ptah-hotep, a young peasant boy studying to be a scribe, wants to live a simple life in a Nile hut with his lover Kheperren and their dog Wolf. But Amenhotep IV appoints him as Great Royal Scribe. Surrounded by bitterly envious rivals and enemies, how long with Ptah-hotep survive?
It's always interesting to hear where the idea for a book came from. Kerry Greenwood was on a tour in the Valley of the Kings in Egypt when an inscription on the wall of a tomb triggered a desire to write a same-sex love story in a time and place where it wasn't something that was surprising, noticeable, wrong, or scandalous. What she has actually written is an elaborate, detailed, and fascinating story of an Ancient Egypt as a society which differs dramatically from current day mores.
I've never thought of myself as much of a fan of Ancient "epic" novels, but what I actually don't like is novels that read like research projects. That's not to say that I don't like learning things, but there's a world of difference between being told a story and reading a dissertation. Interestingly Greenwood bemoans the general state of Egyptology in the Afterword to the book, and whilst she's obviously had one serious slog to do the research for this book, she delivers the details in a very engaging style.
OUT OF THE BLACK LAND is a very elaborate book, taking the reader into the royal houses of Eighteenth Dynasty Egypt. It does this via two main narrators - Ptah-hotep, Royal Scribe, lover of Kheperren; and Mutnodjme, royal princess, sister to Nefertiti, lover of Ptah-hotep, wife of General Horemheb. The two main characters tell the story of events around the eventual death of Amenhotep III and the rise of Amenhotep IV who believes totally in monotheism. Amenhotep IV is a strangely afflicted man, impotent and increasing quite mad, he is prepared to overrule longheld religious beliefs ruthlessly. As the new Pharoah causes havoc in the land, Ptah-hotep and Mutnodjme deal with the consequences in their own personal lives.
Ancient Egypt Royalty had a considerably different attitude to sex than nowadays, and in OUT OF THE BLACK LAND there is a complicated series of love and sexual partnerships, marriages and family relationships. Ensuring an ongoing line for the Pharoahs was paramount and arrangements were made that would be considered extremely unorthodox these days, as would the extensive and seemingly incestous marriages that were established. As confrontational as this may be for some readers, it did seem to provide protection and support for people who would otherwise have been vulnerable, to say nothing of a society hierarchy and structure that everyone was used to and comfortable within.
OUT OF THE BLACK LAND does concentrate on the Royal houses and their connections, with little or no reference to the day-to-day lives of ordinary Egyptians as it charts the rise and fall of a despot, interwoven with tales of power games, intrigue and ongoing love and commitment that meld into the day to day life of these people. The same-sex love story that originally triggered Greenwood's desire to write this novel is simply a part of the overall story. It sits within all the other tales of ongoing love and support, the rise and fall of individuals, and the turmoil of a society. The lives and fortunes of Ptah-hotep and Kheperren, Mutnodjme and Horemheb are inextricably linked with that of Egypt as a whole. As society falls into turmoil, so do they. As society settles and matures, so do they. And that is probably the underlying story of OUT OF THE BLACK LAND. Greenwood writes about a world in which a same-sex love story isn't particularly exceptional, but she has created an elaborate, detailed yet extremely readable and accessible story about a society peopled with some exceptional characters.
(Disclaimer: Clan Destine Press is run by friend and colleague Lindy Cameron and I'm lucky enough to wrangle the web site for her).
DOUGAL'S DIARY - David Greagg
After some traumatic early life experiences, Dougal the black-and-white kitten falls on his paws into a loving home with two kind humans.
Dougal decides to repay his humans' kindness by trying to be a Good Cat at all times. When you have a sister like Shadow, being good isn't as easy as it should be.
Dougal is a very lucky cat. He knows that, so he's very determined to be a Good Cat and repay Man and Woman who kindly took him and his sister Shadow home with them after a shaky start in life.
Not being much of a reader (paws won't turn pages, let alone switch on a reading light), I had to have this book read to me by my Woman (although we call her She Who Often Returns from the Shops with Squeaky Toys). Our Man (He Who Disapproves Heartily of the Ongoing Provision of Squeaky Toys) just rolled his eyes and told me to go look for rats in the chook shed, but a dog does not live by exercise alone, and besides, reading involves lots of lying around on beds which is a Very Good Thing.
Dougal seems like a very lucky cat. Not that I'm a big fan of cats, but I can tolerate them if they Don't Touch Me! So I was pleased that Dougal found a lovely home with Man and Woman who give him lots of cuddles and lots of food (note to self - must discuss this one daily meal idea with ProSqueaky and AntiSqueaky... may need to find favoured shoe to concentrate their attention on the subject at hand!). Personally, I'm not that convinced about this being a Good Cat thing as I've never seen the need. My sister Meg moved in from next door a while ago and she says it's very important as if she's a Very Good Dog she won't be made to go home and sleep in her own little house (she prefers to sleep on big beds with fluffy doonas). My other sister Jedda and I know that we're the only reason that ProSqueaky and AntiSqueaky have to get up every morning and do something called work (or at least they keep telling us that Squeaky Toys don't grow on trees and you have to work to earn something or other that magically creates Squeaky Toy bushes). Or something.
I did like the idea of the walks that Dougal and Shadow go on. They sound much more interesting than the once arounds the paddock that we get as there are no cats to be glared at and the Alpacas hate us. But we do have rabbits to chase and I bet Dougal and Shadow would like that - so maybe they could visit one day and maybe they could show us how to sneak up on a rabbit, because we're something called a "Smash and Grab Gang without the Grab". Whatever that means.
Dougal's Diary is a very nice book about a very nice cat who looks after the girls in his household (even though girls are really annoying). I know how very hard it is to be Good when you have a little sister (I've got two of them and they are a real trial so I know exactly how Dougal feels!). I hope he has a very happy life and that he figures out how to get on and off the roof and out of the trees. I'd like it if he would write another book about how you do that as I can't seem to even get close to climbing and there's this crow that lives in a tree outside the front door that I'd really like to surprise one day.
Review by Clancy the Australian Terrier (11 years and 1 month old)
Clancy (at the bottom) with his sister Jedda
(ProSqueaky is not from a cat household, and should declare an interest being the WebWrangler for http://www.clandestinepress.com.au - Publishers of this book. She would, however, genuinely recommend this very sweet, funny, often very touching little book to animal lovers of all ages - it's perfect for kids as well as adults. It's a joy to know that there are people out there that love and care for their animals as much as Dougal's Man and Woman do. It really makes you think very hard about animal adoption from shelters as a real alternative to pure bred breeders - and that's from somebody who is utterly besotted with Aussie Terriers!)
THROUGH BLACK SPRUCE - Joseph Boyden
Fifteen years after the death of their patriarch, the Bird Clan finds itself struggling to survive on the hardscrabble reservation it calls home.
On Christmas Day, the youngest of the clan, beautiful Suzanne Bird, leaves by snowmobile with her boyfriend Gus Netmaker, against both families' wishes, hoping to find purpose and a better life in Toronto. When word from Suzanne and Gus suddenly ceases, the Netmakers and Birds fear the worst and tensions between the two families escalate to violent levels.
THROUGH BLACK SPRUCE isn't the first book it's taken me quite a long time to read, it's not even the one that took the longest to read, but it did take many attempts before I was able to get any traction. This attempt I read the blurb first-up and did a little Google hunting - something I normally try not to do. But this time I really needed it to find out what on earth was going on. Then it dawned on me why I was having so much trouble getting into the book.
THROUGH BLACK SPRUCE is a family story, told from two main points of view. Annie is the sister of the missing Suzanne, as per the blurb. She's the one who did come home, after a whirlwind time in the big cities which started off with her looking for Suzanne and ended up with her almost living Suzanne's life. The other main narrator is their Uncle Will, a man haunted by loss, old, looking back at his life and the disastrous outcomes surrounding the disappearance of Suzanne. The book launches into these individual voices very quickly, and there's no real hint at the start as to what the story is about, and where the reader is being taken. It's a controlled, contained, almost placid book to start off with, beautifully evocative of life in a harsh and difficult environment and the joys and tensions of living in a small community. It draws a series of wonderful, thoughtful, sometimes eccentric, often quite poignant characterisations. At no stage does THROUGH THE BLACK SPRUCE give anything unnecessary away.
And that is why the book may have been so difficult to get any traction on. There is no indication at the start where this is going, even for a while who is narrating; what has happened; how anybody got to the position they are in, or even what exact position that is; where the story is leading. This is immersion reading, and in a way extreme faith reading. The reader has to simply give in to the author, allow this world and these people to slowly, very very slowly emerge, draw their pictures, cohere into a tale of violence and extremes, kindness, love and compassion. Once you do give in, allow this book to work it's way into it's own story and draw you into the world, it's often rather beautiful. Uncle Will is a marvellous old character, wise and stupid, kind, stubborn and game as. Annie is very much a survivor, whether that's in the modelling studios and parties of New York and Toronto or deep in the frozen forest in the hunting camps, setting traps and coaxing the old snowmobile into one more trip, she's strong and very very like her Uncle.
THROUGH BLACK SPRUCE is not however, a perfect book. It's strengths are most definitely in Will's world, as he narrates his life, as he moves through the Canadian wilderness, as he goes backwards and forwards through his past and his present. Less convincing are the times that Annie spends away from forest, in the cities and the modelling life. This is more sketchy, flat and bland, hard to follow, less immersing. Because of that there's frequently a lack of balance in the narration. Will became a real focus, allowing the reader to understand and accept his connection to his home, the land and the creatures around him. There was less of that connection with Annie - maybe because of the Indian spiritualism which worked well for Will but didn't seem to have such authenticity in her city based world. Once she's back in the forest, at her Uncle's side, and once the events surrounding the disappearance of Suzanne start to clarify, Annie starts to make more sense. But it was hard to shake a slight suspicion of contrivance.
But that's a minor quibble. Ultimately I really liked this book, once I'd figured out how to read it. It's probably not a book for a more traditional crime fiction fan - it's definitely about the journey and not the destination, but once into it, once I'd figured out who was who and that I wasn't supposed to have the slightest idea what was going on for most of the book, I just went with it. And along the way there were some glorious moments.
GIRLS LIKE FUNNY BOYS - Dave Franklin
Meet Johnny Goodwin. He's grown up in a quiet Brisbane suburb with loving parents, a faithful dog and an unrequited yearning for his teenage sweetheart Angie Everson. Now in his last year at school, he's finally caught her eye by starring in a teacher-baiting panto. Dreams are already taking shape of a career in entertainment, perhaps with Angie by his side. All he's got to do is pass his exams, get to uni and keep away from Gina Wood, that weird girl who once let him touch her....
I will confess to being a fan of Dave Franklin's earlier novels - but when asked, I've only ever been able to describe or classify them as "rant novels", which, incidentally is a good thing. I was very pleased to hear there was another book out, but GIRLS LIKE FUNNY BOYS surprised me. Very much. Sure there's a tiny bit of "rant" in there, but this book is considerably more.
GIRLS LIKE FUNNY BOYS is the story of Johnny Goodwin. Growing up in a quiet Brisbane suburb, with loving, if not slightly batty parents, a faithful dog and a big crush on his teenage sweetheart, Johnny is just a normal sort of an Australian kid. Who dreams of a career in show biz, maybe a life with Angie, and some way to dodge that weird Gina Wood, even though she once let him touch her....
This book is very much a coming of age tale. I'd suspect it's the story of a lot of teenage boys - getting older, balancing peer pressure, with family life, a desire for the love and safety of the known, balanced against the longing for adventure, risk, and let's face it - sex, drugs, booze, rock and roll, fame and notoriety, and excitement. Johnny is an absolutely wonderful character - an open, caring, kind, faithful teenager, he grows up into the entertainer he always wanted to be, playing the part he always wanted - the big, famous comedian, with the gorgeous ex-Gladiator girlfriend. He becomes the ultimate example of don't wish for what you want, because you just might get it. Seemingly with everything he's ever desired, he's still searching, still fighting against the machine, still longing to be that young suburban boy, with the faithful dog (whose death he's never quite come to terms with), still secure and safe and still with Angie.
Johnny's supported by a great cast of characters - his parents, loving, vaguely distant. An older brother alternatively worshipped and hated. There's also his school friends, many of whom fall by the wayside as Johnny's career takes off, some of whom he seeks out as his life takes a weird turn and he finds himself acknowledging that what he wanted, might not be what he needed. All the teenagers in this book - boys and girls are wonderfully real and present throughout the entire story. Even Johnny's live in lover Jen, the ex-Gladiator and major league nutter is a fantastic character, as is Gina Wood - the weird girl, the subject of much lust and considerable disquiet in Johnny for a large part of his life.
GIRLS LIKE FUNNY BOYS wasn't what I expected it to be - and that's simply not fair as Dave Franklin's not meant to be writing to a formula. But I really didn't expect to find this as engaging, as involving and quite as emotional as I did find it. I loved Johnny, rode the waves of his life every step of the way with him. I laughed out loud at points in this book, and find myself sniffing back tears at other points. I felt for Gina, and was scared of Gina, I worried about that lunatic Jen and what on earth she was going to do to Johnny.
Most of all I just loved this book.
ITALIAN SHOES - Henning Mankell
Once a successful surgeon, Frederick Welin now lives in self-imposed exile on an island in the Swedish archipelago. Nearly twelve years have passed since he was disgraced for attempting to cover up a tragic mishap on the operating table. One morning in the depths of winter, he sees a hunched figure struggling towards him across the ice. His past is about to catch up with him.
ITALIAN SHOES by Henning Mankell goes to prove, once again, that a really good writer is a really good writer, regardless of the genre, styling, or setting of the book. Exploring the themes of estrangement, loss, fear and isolation ITALIAN SHOES isn't a crime fiction novel, it's a poignant, beautiful, sad, uplifting and evocative look at a man, his life, his mistakes and his redemption.
Frederick Welin is sixty-six years old, a former surgeon who has spent the last 12 years of his life, purposely exiled to the island home that his grandparents left him. He has carved out a life with his dog, his cat, and occasional visits from Jansson the postman. Woken just before dawn on a dark December morning, the sound of the "ice singing" evokes memories of his past - his father, his grandparents, his island, his professional and personal mistakes.
In a strange way he's not surprised then, when early in the New Year his past comes back to him in the form of a little old lady on a walker, making painful slow progress across the ice towards him. He had loved Harriet Hörnfeldt intensely, and he'd abandoned her abruptly in 1966. Dying of cancer, she has come looking for him. She wants answers, she wants Frederick to finally make good on a promise he made all those years ago. She wants to see the pool in the middle of the northern forest, where he talked of one joyous day with his father.
A road journey, in a beat up old car, in the harshest weather in decades, follows. Unsure if he can even find the pond, the two embark not just on a quest for the place, but also, in a touchingly clumsy manner, some understanding of how they both got to where they are now jointly and separately in their lives. They argue and bicker, rescue abandoned dogs, leave behind Frederick's own pets in a mildly distracting way, but find the pool. Frederick nearly loses his own life on the ice in the pond, Harriet saves him, they move on in the journey, to somebody, somewhere... but more would be telling too much.
ITALIAN SHOES is a moving, tightly drawn portrait of a couple of people who could seem, on the face of it, emotionally shut down and withdrawn. What Mankell does is draw you into the lives and thoughts of Frederick mostly, and Harriet to a slightly lesser degree as Frederick is forced to consider his past and how he wants his future to be. What Mankell has done is written a central character who it is really easy to dislike, and yet... A profoundly self-centred man, Frederick's life has been an odd combination of bravado and running away. He's a faithless lover, a haphazard animal owner, a brilliant surgeon whose arrogance led him to make a profound mistake - which he ran away from. A snoop, a bad-tempered man, a loner who regards the world with suspicion there's an awful lot to dislike about Frederick, and yet, Frederick is very human and his slow, hesitant steps to redemption, recompense, are profoundly touching in the main because of their simple humanity.
Quiet, intense, low key almost ITALIAN SHOES is a beautiful, glorious tale of confrontation, human frailty and redemption.
PANDAEMONIUM - Christopher Brookmyre
The senior pupils of St Peter's High School are on retreat at a secluded outdoor activity centre, coming to terms with the murder of a fellow pupil through the means you would expect: counselling, contemplation, candid discussion and even prayer - not to mention booze, drugs, clandestine liaisons and as much partying as they can get away with.
Not so far away, the commanders of a top-secret military experiment, long-since spiralled out of control, fear they may have literally unleashed the forces of Hell.
Fans of Christopher Brookmyre's dark, black-comedic writing are probably going to do what I did when this book arrived. A bit of dignified happy dancing and a general clearing of the activity calendar to sit down for a jolly good read and, along the way, a lot of very undignified laughing. A lot of readers new to this writer may be stepping away from the book (and this review) in droves. But really - don't. To steal a famous phrase - do yourself a favour (perhaps this needs to come with a strong language alert).
Sure Christopher Brookmyre writes gory, savage, lunatic satire with little regard for "social sensibilities" or "political correctness". But within the lunacy of a bunch of school kids, pretty well intent on the things that teenagers have always been intent on - the booze, sex, drugs and partying bit of the recovery retreat; there is some fantastic sense and sensibility in the way that Brookmyre gives us a storyline, a morality play in many many ways and a set of characters to really get involved in.
It goes without saying that any military base, deep in the highlands of Scotland, that appears to have opened the very Gates to Hell, releasing horned creatures with long tails, is probably going to stuff it up. Calling in Cardinal Tullian of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith aka The Inquisition, allowing him to torture and torment the demons, and then announcing the shutdown of the place would obviously lead to a spot of sabotage, and the release of the demons of Hell. Which has to happen about the same time as a bunch of school children arrive in a slightly damaged bus at a resort very nearby. Of course the bus is damaged, a simple bus trip full of kids isn't going to be a method of transporting people from A to B in Brookmyre's hands - it's got to get a bit pear-shaped just to make sure that the group's chaperones arrive at the resort just that little bit frazzled to start off with.
And lunacy, gore, elaborate death scenes, and a hefty does of utter and total chaos needless to say happens. But in all this build-up, and within the night where all hell breaks lose, Brookmyre does what he does so well. Stereotypes are tipped on their heads, expectations turned inside out, people - kids; adults; bullies; goths; priests and the preachy; bitches and the sweet; the chaste and the profligate all step up to the mark, and you find yourself caring about each and everyone of them. You also find that what you see is not always what you get, and sometimes people are more than the sum of their external persona, and sometimes they're not. The portrayal of teenagers in this book is particularly delightful - and particularly reminiscent, and something I wish I'd read when I was that age and wondering why I was the only one in the world that thought / looked / behaved / stuck out like I did.
Undoubtedly extremely violent, gory and confrontational, (it's fiction for goodness sake, personally I'm not convinced that I need to worry I could be torn limb from limb by the demons of Hell in the middle of the Scottish Highlands), PANDAEMONIUM is considerably more than it's external persona. Not just a bit of a dig at a bunch of societal attitudes, Brookmyre digs a hole through to the depths of hell and buries a heap of garbage in it, and he does it delivering something that will make you snort with laughter, hold your breath with anticipation, and finish with great regret.
THE DEATH OF BUNNY MUNRO - Nick Cave
Bunny Munro sells beauty products and the scent of adventure to the lonely housewives of England's south coast. Set adrift by his wife's death, he hits the road one last time - with his young son in tow.
Despite the title, THE DEATH OF BUNNY MUNRO is not a novel from my preferred genre of crime fiction. Defining exactly what it is, however, is a lot harder. Nick Cave is one of my favourite musicians, despite so much of his subject matter being somewhat more biblical than would normally be of any particular appeal. With this novel he's moved from the overtly biblical, southern gothic feel of AND THE ASS SAW THE ANGEL released in 1989, but not completely away from some of all of its core themes. THE DEATH OF BUNNY MUNRO explores human frailty, fanaticism and vengeance, set this time within the confines of a small family, over which Bunny Munro's behaviour casts a sad, reflective, self-interested and yet strangely touching pall.
Bunny is a man who gives into his natural urges. Constantly. He's utterly obsessed with sex, his every waking moment seems to be devoted to the pursuit of casual sex. He gives nobody a second thought - his conquests, his wife, their young son. All he thinks about, all he can do is pursue sex. When his wife finally gives up the constant pain of their marriage - and her life - and kills herself with Bunny Junior in the flat with her - Bunny is still unable to grasp the message she leaves him. He's also not quite able to grasp the ramifications of being a sole parent to a sad and lost little boy, even though somewhere inside his self-obsessed, pleasure-obsessed, mindless behaviour something human, something beyond himself, is tantalisingly close to being reached by Bunny Junior. But Bunny Senior isn't able / willing / open enough to change, to let go of his own, to stand aside from his pleasure, to look outside of himself. Or at least not in time he isn't.
There were aspects of this book that made me profoundly uncomfortable. Not the sexual descriptions - which are prolific, and explicit, but rather the starkness of Bunny's obsession with sex. The starkness in which pursuit became predation, pleasure became cruel, made me wince. A lot. Especially as what little control there had been simply gave way. The violence implicit in that one person's complete disregard for everyone around him, writ large against his little boy's unconditional love, acceptance, sorrow, understanding. The finale in which everything, all pleasure, all pursuit, is revealed as pointless.
There were also aspects of this book that soared, that were hilarious. Gallows humour maybe, certainly absurdist, THE DEATH OF BUNNY MUNRO grabs you, shakes you, slaps you to make sure you're still paying attention, then tugs your heart-strings. Then it wraps them around your ears and tweaks like crazy until your heart aches and your ears ring.
I could not get the lyrics from INTO MY ARMS out of my head as I read this book, which didn't help as THE DEATH OF BUNNY MUNRO made me cry. A lot. I read it a second time. Laughed, winced, lost my temper with Bunny, cried a lot all over again.
ENGLISH TOSS ON PLANET ANDONG - Dave Franklin
'Don't you realise you can get by without other people? They're the ones who make you sad. They're the ones who let you down, who disappoint you. And a troubled heart's such a chore.'
Every year, thousands of people travel to faraway lands to teach English as a foreign language. The fools. One such expat is Paul Taylor, a heartbroken Aussie looking for a fresh start in a South Korean classroom.
I really hope Dave feels better after writing this book. I'm guessing that there's a somewhat autobiographical element to the events that happen in this book - it's too starkly drawn surely for just imagination (mind you, if I'm wrong, well it's some imagination this man has!)
Paul Taylor has taken a job - along with a lot of other people trying to escape from something - in Andong, South Korea. Teaching English to young Korean children. The fascinating thing is that horrible kids are basically horrible kids - no matter what country they come from, and teaching English to kids who could care less is obviously a very soul destroying occupation. Why you'd put yourself through the social isolation, the social deprivation and the dislocation from all you know - just because of a broken heart, well I'm not too sure that you'll know why at the end of this book.
But you'll surely know what to look out for if you're thinking of taking one of these jobs. And it absolutely has to either put you off, or if you're more masochistic than others, than maybe you'll be chaffing at the bit to get out there and make it work.
But what I do know is that Paul has a certain way of dealing with all of this and that is to partially disconnect, partially whinge (a lot), partially fight back in weird, devious and frequently petty ways - all of which combine to keep him as close to sane as this bloke's ever going to be.
Now ENGLISH TOSS ON PLANET ANDONG is not strictly crime fiction (although sharing a flat with some of those people could be called a crime), but how to define it is quite a question. It's a journey novel, it might even be looked upon as a cathartic novel for the writer - it could be called a rant novel, but it is very funny in places, and at other times it's gross and offputting, but it's also touching and revealing in others.
I bet it's not the sort of book that readers of this blog will pick up on a regular basis, but if you're looking for something that is startlingly different (or if you're contemplating a stint as an overseas teacher of English) - ENGLISH TOSS ON PLANET ANDONG is just the ticket.
LABYRINTH - Kate Mosse
Two young women, born hundreds of years apart, share a bond.
For such a massive tome, the time passes quickly on the read of LABYRINTH. Almost chatty in places for an historical drama, it manages to spin out its tale of holy secrets through the ages in a very comfortable, easy style that invites the kind of coffee and chat it generated during its creation (a six year process). The work in progress of author Kate Mosse on LABYRINTH was live on-line during the novel's creation and spurned a massive amount of interest from the snippets of plot details and historical data that were released en route. Similar has been done with SEPULCHRE, the second standalone work from this author.
The past mirroring the present premise never quite washed with this novel - the modern day scenes read something like a movie-of-the-week thriller and did little to enhance the read. The elusiveness of a plot driver in LABYRINTH was pure frustration - such a long wait for resolution, and when it supposedly came, could it be truly regarded as such? This is a book, perhaps mostly for the ladies, very much written in the melodramatic vein of "the young lady in jeopardy with only her fragile wits and sensibilities", who, of course, somehow manages to find her way through to the truth - delicious, if you are in the mood for such a thing. Those seeking some sort of immensely satisfying historical experience with gratifyingly plausible answers for the past deeds of those pursuing some kind of religious enlightenment - pass on this one.
LABYRINTH is though still an immensely entertaining read as you are caught up in the perils of Alais, her wisdom and bravery, her skills in medieval apothecary, tackling tasks that we assume were mostly foreign to women of her station, British author Kate Mosse shows great affection for her home of Carcassonne and brings the past of the town to bloody glory with her impassioned descriptive narrative. It is quite the love affair of a place, not so much of the story, that dominates this book.