Talking about Books

The Dark Remains by William McIlvanney and Ian Rankin

After William McIlvanney’s death in 2015, his widow found among his papers a partially written manuscript with notes for a new novel about Jack Laidlaw, his original Glasgow detective who starred in the trilogy of books (Laidlaw, The Papers of Tony Veitch and Strange Loyalties) which are generally regarded as being the beginning of the “Tartan Noir” genre. Ian Rankin was asked to complete the manuscript and this novel is the result. The book is a prequel to the Laidlaw trilogy and is about DC Laidlaw’s first case in the early seventies in Glasgow, investigating the murder of a lawyer who was the fixer for one of two gangs in the city. His death ignites a power struggle between the gangs. Laidlaw has a rather unconventional way of investigating crimes which of course puts him at odds with his bosses (a bit like Ian Rankin’s Rebus stories set in Edinburgh). Rankin has done a good job writing in the McIlvanney style; I would not have known that there were two different authors writing the book. I very much enjoyed it.

You can buy it ~ here


The Heretic’s Apprentice by Ellis Peters

If I want a light, enjoyable read then I know one of Ellis Peter’s Brother Cadfael stories will be ideal. I have not read one for some time but this one was just right. It concerns a young man returning to Shrewsbury after many years away with his employer on a pilgrimage to Jerusalem. His employer had died on the return journey and the young man has brought his body back for burial in the abbey. He has also brought a precious gift from the employer for his god-daughter which would give her a good dowry. The young man has heard much theological discussion over his years away and makes the mistake of arguing with some Shrewsbury local men about some controversial religious beliefs. This leads to him being accused of heresy. At the same time, the gift to the god-daughter sets in chain a series of murders with a possible link between the heresy and the murders. Needless to say, Brother Cadfael solves the puzzles in a most enjoyable read.

You can buy it ~ here


Fiona Berryman

A Terrible Kindness by Jo Browning Rowe

This is a story of a young man who joins the family business of embalmers against the wishes of his widowed mother who wants him to use his extraordinary musical talent when he is accepted as a chorister at Kings College, Cambridge. The book opens with him, at 19, volunteering to go and help prepare the dead for identification by their relatives when the school is engulfed in the spoil tip from the colliery in Aberfan in 1966. Doing this ‘terrible kindness’ is a harrowing experience and influences the course of his life.

You can buy it ~ here


Give unto Others by Donna Leon

Donna Leon is now 80 and this is her 31st Guido Brunetti book. It has captured Venice during the pandemic and there are no tourists and little crime. It feels very different at the beginning and it is some while before you know whether any crime has been committed at all. It focuses on a somewhat dubious charity. All the usual characters are there. Vianello has become an enthusiastic acolyte of Signorina Electra when it comes to dodgy IT skills. Guido’s in-laws are, as ever, a huge asset when it comes to setting up introductions. Meanwhile Paola cooks up heaven on a plate in between lectures on Henry James.

You can buy it ~ here


Something to Hide by Elizabeth George

This is a story of Female Genital Mutilation among the Nigerian community in London. At 600 plus pages it is a weighty tome. A bit slow and drawn out for my taste but just the thing for when I was laid up with Covid for a couple of weeks. Lynley is bewildered by a new relationship. Havers has no romantic involvements but has taken up tap dancing in an effort to have a social life.
I preferred her previous novel set in Shropshire.

You can buy it ~ here


Love in the Blitz by Eileen Alexander

I love reading correspondence. Similar to reading diaries, it is vaguely voyeuristic. They are written by a young woman, from a privileged and well connected Jewish family, who has graduated from Girton with a first class degree in English in 1939. She writes daily for 5 years to her boyfriend and later fiancée, who is enlisted for some wartime intelligence work, with an account of London in wartime. That is the good bit. As the years go by and he is stationed in Cairo she whines continually. Amazing that he finally marries her!

You can buy it ~ here


The Slowworm’s Song by Andrew Miller

On the advice of his doctor, a recovering alcoholic in his 50s writes out his story to his estranged adult daughter with whom he is trying to establish a relationship. When his father dies, having been homeless for 30 years, he returns to the Quaker community in which he grew up. It transpires that he is still traumatised by his experience in Belfast as a very young squaddie.

You can buy it ~ here

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