THE WHISTLER by John Grisham

Just in time for the holidays, readers!!! What an exciting and gripping ride this is. Make sure the highest SPF is slathered on, as you are likely to forget to reapply while immersed in this twisty-turny thriller.  I haven't read John Grisham for years and years, not for any particular reason, I just haven't. Plus, you can't help wonder if an author's later novels stand up to the same awesomeness as the early ones do, so many prolific genre authors losing their touch as the years go by. Oh no no no, not here!

Most of Grisham's novels have the legal system, in some capacity, at the centre. Corruption, murder, and lies also feature heavily and they form the core of this novel too. Lacy Stotlz and Hugo Hatch are investigative lawyers who work for the Florida state government, in a small department called the Board On Judicial Conduct (BJC). This body investigates judicial misconduct by judges, and is kept surprisingly busy. There is considerable uneasiness at the thought of those at the top of the judicial chain, passing judgement on others, who themselves are guilty of many and various sins. Lacy and Hugo are contacted by an indicted lawyer, Greg Myers, the middleman for a whistle blower, who has evidence of massive corruption involving local judge Claudia McDover, organised crime, the building of a casino on Indian Reservation land, money laundering, murder, and wrongful imprisonment. It is up to Lacy and Hugo to firstly, ascertain if there is case to be made, then file the claim of misconduct, and thirdly, begin the process of unravelling it.

At first I thought this would be a routine sort of whodunit, the good guys finally unveiling the bad guys, and untangling the enormous spider's web that had been so carefully constructed by the baddies.  And for the first hundred pages this is how it went. Then bam, a shocking thing happens. The action winds up several notches, people disappear, there is uncertainty as to who can and cannot be trusted, the tension becomes palpable. Can the BJC topple the house of cards before it is toppled? The author's extensive legal knowledge is strewn throughout the story, but at no time does it dominate or detract from the story line. Plus he has the gift of simplifying the legal system and jargon for the lay reader as the race to expose the judge before she and her associates can escape.

As with most of John Grisham's novels, we are reading about the depravity of human behaviour and how low people will go to get what they want. And it is not just the baddies. The whistleblower, when finally exposed, is also guilty of self interest. I was struck at how deep corruption claws into one's soul, how greedy people become on glimpsing the riches in their reach, and how easily people can be corrupted or turned. It is a gripping page turner of a read, I really liked it, and with holidays coming up I might just read another.

MY NAME IS LUCY BARTON by Elizabeth Strout

What a strange little book. Somehow it was longlisted for this year's Man Booker prize, I am no expert, but to me, it just didn't have the wow factor that so many other nominees have.  I don't really think it gave anything new or novel or stunningly different that would make it stand out. For a start it revolves around the well worn and trodden theme of mother-daughter relationships, moving around each other like a couple of tigers to arrive at a dubious companionable middle ground.

Narrated in both the present and past - the mid 1980s - Lucy is reflecting on a time when she was in hospital for nine weeks following complications from an appendectomy. At the time she was married to William,  the mother of two young daughters, a daughter herself, a sister and a successful writer. This forced rest has given plenty of time for her brain to begin the process of life reflection.  She is bored, missing her husband, missing her girls, wondering who is looking after them, if they are missing her. She wakes one afternoon to find her mother, whom she has not seen for many years, sitting in her room. For the next five days and nights, her mother is almost always there, and so they begin to talk. Lucy begins to think about her early life, her father, her siblings. And yet I don't recall learning why Lucy has been estranged from her mother.

Without going into too much detail, her childhood and early family life was not nice. Her parents were dirt poor, exhausted, broke and tired. There was little attention, love, engagement for the children. Lucy managed to rise above all this, discovering the library at school, it being the warmest place she could find,  and make a good life for herself. This could well be the source of the breakdown in communication with her mother and her family. But during the five days in hospital, both mother and daughter revert to those roles with pet names, gentle discipline, letting the barriers down. In that small room they both work hard at repairing the damaged bond between them. But then after Lucy comes out of hospital, it is another nine years before she sees her mother again, and you wonder why. For Lucy it was easier not to. Which seems weird.

The novel is certainly beautifully written, empathetic and poignant, but there is so much missing from the story and from the characters themselves. Things are glossed over, hinted at, the surface barely touched. It is not a large book and the focus is mostly on what is taking place with Lucy and her mother, so maybe there isn't room to expand too much on these sub plots. For me, this book was simply ok. 

VINEGAR GIRL by Anne Tyler

Light and trite, but the perfect antidote and very welcome relief after reading the epic, depressing, but compelling 'Do Not Say We Have Nothing', shortlisted for 2016 Man Booker prize. This little gem will probably never make any prize lists, but delightful to read nevertheless, which after all is what we want in a book - something to entertain, take us away, and leave a sense of satisfaction on completion.

This novel will not go down as one of Anne Tyler's best works. She is one of a number of authors asked to do a modern retelling of a Shakespeare play to mark the 400th anniversary of his death. For whatever reason, she has rewritten 'The Taming of the Shrew'. There are a few links with the play - the lead character is unmarried reluctant bride Kate Battista, she has a younger sister Bunny, her father, Louis, is a widower, there is an unlikely suitor, a few quotes from the play are thrown around, including 'Kiss Me Kate'.

The whole point of the play is to marry the high spirited, belligerent, difficult Katherine off to whoever will have her, so that her younger, more beautiful and desirable sister Bianca can marry one of the many suitors keen on her. I was a little disappointed that the modern Kate was not nearly as shrewish, feisty or stroppy as Shakespeare created her. Here, in her late twenties, Kate seems to have settled into spinsterish-mode - bit frumpy, resigned to her life as a preschool assistant, caring for her scientist father and parenting brattish 15 year old sister Bunny. Not much to look forward to, not much achieved, therefore not much really to tame. Life is thrown into disarray when Louis realises that the visa of his brilliant Russian assistant, Pyotr, is about to expire, and to keep him in the country, he needs a green card, and how to get a green card? Marry a local. And so a plot is engineered, in a vague, haphazard and eccentric way, to have Kate marry Pyotr.

Complications ensue, hilariously brought about by Bunny, who declares herself to be vegan, with a name like Bunny! She thinks Kate is crazy for not marrying for love, and with her animal activist boyfriend any chance of a marriage could be derailed. Throw in Kate's disinterest in the whole wedding fiasco hijacked by well meaning relatives, her crush on a fellow teacher, and general lack of apathy it is a wonder any marriage ever happens. Which of course it does. And there is a rather nice little epilogue some fifteen years down the track.

I did enjoy this, however I did get the feeling that the author's heart was not entirely in her project. It felt like the whole thing had been rustled up, thrown together,  as if it was a bit of homework, meeting a deadline, just a little lazy. Anne Tyler is the most wonderful writer, an acute observer of the dynamics within family relationships. This novel has touches of all that, but lacks the refinement and delicate touch that she brings to her character interactions. I felt a bit cheated.


Short listed for The Man Booker Prize 2016, and definitely worth a read. Other than reading the autobiograhical  'The Wild Swans' some twenty plus years ago, I know very little about what went on in China from the 1950s through till the 1990s. And certainly not from the perspective of those who lived through these dreadful years. We know some of what went on of course - The Great Leap Forward, Cultural Revolution, re-education of virtually the whole population, banishment to the countryside, famine, Tiananmen Square massacre of 1989. But none of us really know about the day to day lives of the average person who lived through all this.

It is a complex narrative, epic, wide ranging and deep in its coverage, in plot and characters, as well as taking the reader deep into the hearts and souls of the main characters, searching for their identities amidst a world that wants to clean them of any personality and self esteem. These are not easy lives or times, ordinary people going about their daily lives increasingly faced with having to betray and expose their family members, friends, neighbours, work colleagues, fellow students, and then having to live with the consequences afterwards. It is hardly surprising that this crazed ideology and insane repression came to its horrific climax in 1989 with a new and young generation not willing to continue living as their parents and grandparents had lived.

The narrators are many, all part of the same family, beginning with two sisters, Big Mother and Swirl. They marry respectively, a man who is a hero of the revolution that swept the Communists to power. They live in a nice apartment in Shanghai, he has a good job.  Their son Sparrow, a gifted musician and composer, is also on the path to a successful life. But it is not to be. In many ways Sparrow suffers the most. Swirl marries into a wealthy rural land owning family. Her husband is primarily a writer, and as life becomes increasingly difficult he writes a secret book, creating characters whose life experience mirrors his and Swirl's lives. Both families give birth to daughters, Zhuli and Ai-ming who grow up in and in turn suffer under the same repressive regime their parents and grandparents lived under. Husbands and wives are separated, children are separated from their parents, scattered all over the vast geographical mass that is China, and following an act of betrayal in Canada. It is actually a miracle they ever end up finding each other again.

A thread of despair runs through the story, the souls of the characters having their very essence sucked out of them by the hideous regime they are living under. Any expression of individuality rigorously crushed, any criticism of the system, the work, the living conditions, the indoctrination and propaganda treated in a similar manner. I was constantly reminded of a previous Booker Prize Winner, the wonderful 'A Fine Balance'. It too is a story of ordinary people simply trying to live, but this later novel lacks the sense of optimism, hopefulness and as a friend put it, the joy that infuses the lives of those in A Fine Balance.

I recommend reading this, but don't expect a happy relaxing read. Despite its length, and that it is possibly 100 pages too long, it is compelling reading, written with compassion and understanding. The last quarter, focusing on the build up to Tiananmen Square is by far the best part of the book, and worth reading just to get the first hand experience of what really happened in those few months in 1989.


I have just recently read Dame Fiona's latest novel 'All Day at the Movies'. Loved it, loved it, loved it. It would seem that it had its roots in this novel, published 15 years earlier. Jessie Sandler is a major character in the earlier novel, not so much in the latter, although her presence is there, lingering in the background. An integral part without integral action.

In this novel, Jessie is in her teens, running away from home - her mother, stepfather and three step/half siblings. The family structure is slightly different in the later novel, but it has no bearing on Jessie's life or how either novel pans out. How clever is that - I wonder if 15 years ago the author knew this character would be resurrected into a slightly different form.

Digressing.....  The Violet Cafe is run by Violet Trench, a middle aged woman with a hidden shadowy past. It is the early 1960s, the cafe helmed with steely hands by Violet, is on the shores of Lake Rotorua, or an anonymous town remarkably similar.  It would seem her cafe is very popular, a 'pot of tea' being a most popular drink of choice in these hard to come by liquor serving establishments! Violet's employees are young people she has taken under her wing, not necessarily damaged young people, but we do know that attractive young employees attract the most desirable customer base. On running away from her home in Wellington, Jessie turns up at the cafe, promptly taken in by Violet, and so drawn into the lives of those who work there. Violet certainly has her work cut out for her, managing the young women and men who are in her employ. And then there are her patrons, also a diverse and interesting bunch, the small town nature of the community making many of these connections very fraught and ticking time bombs.

Violet is the pivotal character in this novel, right from the very start when some 20 years earlier, in 1943, she rows across the lake said town is sited on,  a small Chinese child with her, that she leaves with Hugo, an old family friend and his Chinese wife. Is the child Violet's? Or is it Hugo's? There is something unsettling about this arrival, this transfer of the child, and sudden departure of Violet into the mists of the lake.  And ultimately it is this one event that down the years, brings us to the slow rumbling volcano about to blow one night in the cafe.

In a story within the main story, Jessie's story continues with her now a journalist working in Communist controlled Phnom Penh, living in a tiny room at the Foreign Correspondents' Club, seeking out stories, helping refugees, risking her life every day. What happened in 1964 continues to haunt her, and unexpected meetings with some of those from that time, plus her decision to adopt an orphaned girl, force her to make some very tough decisions, and revisit that time in her life.

This is a great read, evenly paced, never slackens. All the characters are interesting, well drawn and multi dimensional, and believable. All of the characters are introduced very early in the story, and all at once, all with a bit of back story, which does mean there is a lot to take in over the first 70 pages. Small town New Zealand of the 1960s is captured beautifully, although I think this story, with these characters and events could actually be set anywhere, with a few tweaks for advancements in communication and possibly medical technology. Which means that it is a novel primarily about people and their relationships with each other, rather than its historical or physical location. 

DEAR MR M by Herman Koch

Famous in the Netherlands, and since translation into English of The Dinner and Summer House with Swimming Pool, well known elsewhere, Herman Koch is a most interesting man. He was in Auckland earlier this year for the Auckland Writers' Festival and I was lucky enough to be able to go to his session. Smart, funny, quirky, ever so slightly subversive - after all he was in a Dutch version of Monty Pyton's Flying Circus - this was an entertaining and stimulating session, and not at all what I was expecting from the author of the two aforementioned books which are more like psychological thrillers with plot twists, cat and mouse manoeuverings between  horrible characters, the darker side of human behaviour and at times really quite creepy.

He read an excerpt from Dear Mr M, just the first few pages as I recall, all those elements so critical in The Dinner and Summer House simply dancing off the page. In beginning my own read of this, a huge sense of familiarity rose up, anticipation in knowing I was going to be reading more of the same, with a totally unexpected ending. Settle in for the ride.

This book, however, is considerably more complex than his two previous novels, and although a similar size and length to these others, actually feels much longer, often a bit of a wade through rather than a clear cut brisk hike. There are three, maybe four different narratives going on in this story. Mr M, now well past middle age, is a famous writer, but beginning to feel the vulnerability of his age, with dwindling sales wondering if he is still relevant, not wanting to lose his footing on the ladder of fame, the adulation and vanity this brings.  Being married to a younger woman helps of course, but there is no denying he has become a grumpy old man. Observing him is a younger man, Herman, the author of the letter, Dear Mr M, that opens the book. This younger man, perhaps in his mid 50s, has been an acute observer of Mr M, because some years ago, Mr M wrote about the involvement of Herman and girlfriend Laura who were teenagers at the time, in the disappearance of their school teacher, Mr Landzaat. It is this creepiness of the adult Herman stalking Mr M and his family that is pure Herman Koch, and is done so very well.

The story of this disappearance is a second thread in the story and takes about half the book. This is actually a complete story of its own, that for the most part, is not at all connected to Mr M and Herman in the present day. But rather the story of teen love,its volatility and oddness, the angst of being a teenager, parents, sexual awakening, teachers. All quite normal and predictable really, but some uncertainty in reading this as to where it was all headed. Other than the disappearance of the teacher of course. It takes a long time to get to this event, which after all, is what the whole book is really based on.

The third strand is Mr M himself. His vanity and insecurity fight with each other continually, gradually revealing themselves to the reader through interviews that take place with variously, a journalist, questions from the floor during a book reading, and with Herman himself, where he confronts Mr M with his novel of the teacher's disappearance. This inevitable 'confrontation' between the two becomes the crux of the book - firstly the reader discovering who Herman is; secondly that in the novel, Mr M being very liberal with the facts of the case, essentially accusing Herman of causing the disappearance of the teacher, the burden of which Herman has had to carry all his life; and thirdly what is going to happen when Mr M figures out it is Herman who has infiltrated himself into the lives of him, his wife and child. How much of Mr M is in Herman Koch I wonder, or even how much of Herman is in Herman Koch?

This undercurrent of tension is most apparent when the narration is by Herman the adult. Mr M, by contrast, is far too preoccupied with his diminishing presence and influence in literary circles, and thus unaware of the danger that may be creeping up on him. Although he does become aware that there is something increasingly familiar about Herman, but unsure what it is. In the end the danger comes from a completely different source, in turn leading rapidly to his downfall.

So you can see, there is a lot happening in this novel. Too much for me I am afraid, which makes it difficult to say what type of novel it is. Are we reading of the self destruction of a gifted and famous writer? Is it a tale of revenge and thus a lesson to all writers that they must be careful how they tread when basing a novel upon actual events? Is it primarily a coming of age story for a group of teenagers and how quickly things can spiral out of control? I wanted much more of the interactions between nasty and horrible people, that make his other novels so fascinating and terrifying to read. I wanted more tension, twists and surprises that left me gasping with evil glee. With much less of the navel gazing, and self glorification that Mr M wallows in. Is this who all writers are? I hope not....

However despite the shortcomings for me in this novel, it is still a good read. Herman Koch fans will enjoy it very much, as there is still plenty of that mistrust and dread brought on by tigers circling each other so as to remain ahead of the game.


Turkey, that mercurial country that bisects Western Europe from Asia, for centuries a crucial player in world history, constantly aligning and realigning its allegiances, loyalties, friends and enemies. A hot bed of political intrigue throughout its history. Thanks to some great diplomacy Turkey remained neutral during WWII, but this in turn made it honey pot for all manner of war flotsam and jetsam after the war - ex Nazis fleeing, Russians on the prowl, Jewish looking to escape to Palestine, Americans re-establishing trade and diplomatic networks, spies everywhere facilitating information and money exchanges between all these parties, Turkish police and secret service trying to protect their own interests amongst all this. A breeding ground for intrigue, secret meetings and liaisons, espionage, treason, against the exotic, sensuous backdrop of this ancient city.  The cover is fantastic, evoking superbly the atmosphere of the narrative.

In this murky, post apocalyptic world lives Leon Bauer, an American expat who works as a tobacco rep. He has lived in Istanbul for quite some time, knows the city inside and out, speaks Turkish, and has been doing his patriotic duty in a casual haphazard manner for his pals in the US Embassy - envelope drops and pick ups and the like. A spy, but not a spy. And on a more personal note helping out with refugees Jews getting to Palestine. He is married to Anna, a German Jew herself who managed to escape Germany during the war, but is now lying in a hospital bed, in a coma like state due to her involvement with refugees in a ship that sank. In Leon's daily life, where you never who know can be trusted, who is a spy, who wants something from you, who in actual fact you really are yourself, his devotion to his wife is the only constant in his life, and which he hangs onto desperately.

As a final favour to one of his old friends at the US Embassy, he reluctantly agrees to help smuggle out of Istanbul a Romanian on the run from the Russians, who has a bunch of secrets to share with the Americans in return for his escape. Everything goes spectacularly pear shaped, leaving Leon with the sole responsibility to determine what to do with this man, who like everyone  else is not what he claims to be, how to get him out, and eventually to save himself.  This is classic spy thriller stuff, almost up there, for me, with John Le Carre, but not quite....! The twists and turns are very impressive, there are plenty of moral and ethical dilemmas, Leon out does himself as a man alone, in fact completely wasted as a tobacco rep. Surely the author has lived in this city, he knows and describes it so intimately and lushly, The city is actually the true star of the book. I just want to get on a plane and go. I really liked this, my only criticism being that it was a bit long, especially in the long meandering conversations that take place. I don't think the book would have suffered at all being 100 pages shorter. 


For us humans, eating is not simply about feeding - life giving, sustenance, nutrition, energy and survival. Sure this is part of the package, but what sets us apart from the animal world is that we enjoy our food, we take pleasure in what we choose to eat, we savour taste, texture, smell. Unlike any other creature, we cook food, we transform it from a base state into something else, combining it in various ways with other base ingredients to produce an almost infinite variety of eating experiences.

You would have to live under a rock to not have some awareness of many modern food related issues that blight our newspapers, magazines, television and saturate our social media networks. It can be intensely overwhelming, especially when you are being made to question daily the food choices that you make - organic food sources, GM, Fair Trade, the ethics or morality behind eating animals, obesity, fasting, food as a social lubricant, food as art.

Julian Baggini, is a philosopher and writes about issues such as food and our relationship to it,  in such a way as to appeal to the very general audience that most of us are part of. Very few of us being professional philosophers! So he is well placed to dissect the thinking behind how we eat, why we eat, and our own peculiar relationship that each of us has with food. He wants us to look critically at how we eat, where our food comes from, to question, but to not necessarily feel guilty or judged for coming to a decision that may not be the mainstream or the mantra of the moment. If we consider carefully and thoughtfully what we are eating, how it gets to our table, and how we taste and enjoy what we eat, then we are actually doing ok. At times the author is a bit of a pointy head, wearing his academic philosophy hat a little to tightly, but he quickly brings his theories back to the reality of our daily dining experiences. I particularly enjoyed his chapter on food as art, or food vs art as you will. He writes about restaurants such as Noma and El Bulli which take dining to a whole new level, fast food chains such as MacDonalds winning awards for its of sourcing of non battery farmed eggs, the significance of saying a grace before starting to eat, sharing food with strangers, foods that are protected by the 'protected designation of origin' established by the EU, is there such a thing as locally sourced fruit and vegetables - for example tomatoes in winter. And so on.

Despite at times his logic and rationales making me a little cross eyed, this book really has made me think about how we eat, appreciate the food around us and what we do with it. And if you want more of Julian Baggini, he has written at least 17 other books, pontificating important subjects, and has also given a TED talk about is there really a real you. Watching this TED talk will give you an idea of how he writes, because reading him is exactly like listening to him - entertaining, wide ranging, confusing, moving backwards and forwards within the topic, and quite compelling.


Spain has always been the ultimate in melting pots, providing history with some of the most spectacular clashes between the Christians, Jews and Muslims. The Spanish Inquisition began in the late 15th century, and it was still going strong one hundred years later, the idea being to purge Spain of Muslims and Jews. It must have been an almost impossible task for the Inquisition in all its horror and brutality to still be going one hundred years later, which is when this murder mystery thriller is set.

1584, in the Aragon region, close to the Pyrenees and the border with France, a priest is brutally murdered, the church defaced, and a threatening letter sent to the local Inquisitor. No need to ask what his job is. This threat to the might of the Catholic monarchy is taken very seriously, resulting in a highly regarded and respected criminal judge, Licenciado ­Bernardo Mendoza being appointed to investigate and bring the perpetrator to justice. He takes a small team with him and makes the journey to the small area where the murder took place. 

It becomes very clear that he has ridden into something much more serious than just this one murder. Like much of Spain at this time, the region is very fragmented,  made up of old Christians and new Christians being ex-Muslims. Many of the new Christians still practise their Muslim faith in private. There are also divisions between the villagers and small town dwellers, and the people of the mountains and hills - shepherds, farmers and mountain dwellers. Fear and suspicion abound, the Inquisition is remorseless in its tracking down and treatment of those who don't tow the line. Mendoza must navigate all this in order to get to the bottom of what is going on. And it becomes very clear early on that there is much more at stake than Catholic versus Muslim. As an outsider, with his battle hardened team, he quickly learns he has to tread very carefully amongst the different groups in the region, being blindsided more times than you shake a torture rack at, trying to stay one step ahead of the enemy he does not know, dealing with unexplained acts of violence, and inconsistencies.

This is a great historical thriller, plenty of suspense and tension, tightly held plot, well developed and diverse characters, so much historical detail, very vivid and intelligent writing. I really liked this, really enjoyed reading it. This is the first novel from this non-fiction writer who has an interest in this theme, having written a book on purging Spain of those following the Muslim faith. As we all know, this subject is still just as relevant today as it was five hundred years ago, regardless of the religions or cultures involved. 


I loved this, a wonderfully sensual, erotic and sumptuous fairy tale novel of a young woman who, against all the odds, is a survivor. The gorgeous cover illustrates perfectly the colour, imagination, distortion, magic, luxury and decadence of the world of the courtesan in the mid-1700s, when apparently one in five women in London worked as a prostitute. 

Tully Truegood is the narrator of this story, it is her story she is telling. It opens with her in Newgate Prison, awaiting trial and probably the death penalty for murder. She is writing her story in the form of a letter to an ex lover, knowing that it is unlikely to ever be read, detailing how her life brought her to such a catastrophic end. And what a tale it is. 

Her mother dying in childbirth, her father a no-good drunk gambler, she lives in London, looked after by Cook. For reasons not disclosed till later in the book, Tully is married off at the age of 12 to a young man whom she does not know. This is the defining event in her life, which is what ultimately leads to her being in Newgate. But her life also takes another path when her father marries Queenie Biggs, bringing into the house not only order, clean clothing, good food, an education  but also love, care and companionship for Tully in the form of two young women, Hope and Mercy.

Queenie is actually a brothel owner, of the Fairy House, a high class and popular house in London. She has a number of courtesans under her care/control, of which Hope and Mercy are part of, and in due course Tully also. Tully is not only gifted in the art of lovemaking, she also has the gift of magic, expressed in many and various ways, which is recognised by the magician Mr Crease. Over the course of the next few years, Tully rises through the courtesan ranks, falling in love and out of love, her supernatural powers beguiling and terrifying those around her, her notoriety following her far and wide, famous for her many talents. 

The great thing about Tully is that she never gives up. This is a society and time where if you were female, it didn't matter a jot if you were born into wealth or poverty, you were simply a commodity to be traded, used and discarded at will by men. Tully always believes in love, she believes in her self worth. She knows she is clever, she knows her beauty and desirability  is not just in her looks, she uses her magic gift carefully, she is loyal and determined to break out of the courtesan life, becoming self sufficient and independent in her own right. 

Like any good fairy tale, wickedness and malevolence are never far away, and Tully has to use all her powers to outwit and destroy the evil that continually threatens to destroy her and those she loves. This is all told in the most wonderful writing, sensuous, descriptive and so vivid. Some of the writing is graphic, erotic, but it is never inappropriate, the sexual awakening of a young woman delightfully, deliciously and outrageously told. You will never look at a maypole the same way again. 

This is the first adult novel for this writer who has written it under a pseudonym. She is actually Sally Gardner, a children's writer and illustrator who has won many awards for her books. A quick bit of Google research reveals that many of her children's books also have magic and fantasy in them, and here she has brought this magic realism to an adult novel, managing to make it believable and entertaining, a joy to read. 


Having recently read and reviewed the thirteenth out of fourteen novels in the Night Soldiers series which I enjoyed enormously, I thought I would try one earlier in the series, randomly picking number four, published way back in 1996. Not quite as good in plot and character development, but superlative in describing and evoking what occupied Paris and France may have been like in 1940 after the Germans waltzed in. A frightening and confusing place - who can be trusted, who is watching you, keeping your head down, queuing up for bread, sorting ration cards, what you are willing to do to get food, petrol, out of Paris, out of France, citizens now refugees leaving the city with nowhere to go or means of getting there.

Jean Casson is a film producer, lives a good life, divorced, more women than he knows what to do with. When the Germans arrive, and the French government gives in without a fight, it sets something off in Casson. He realises he is still crazy in love with the beautiful Citrine, an actress who has fled to the south of France. Jean himself is asked to produce a movie which may or may not be Nazi propaganda, and may or may not be run by a bunch of allied spies or Nazi spies, and in the process, somehow, gets involved with a group of money smugglers. His first trip is to Spain where things don't go entirely to plan, bringing him to the attention of the German occupiers. And then his problems really start, always trying to stay just one step ahead of the SS. So pretty good plot line really, but it is all sort of disconnected, things happen and you can't quite recollect how the happening happened. Despite going back through the pages looking for the connection.

I expect living in France during this time was quite surreal and disorienting.  This certainly comes through in the writing, a frightening and horrible time. So maybe the loosely held threads are supposed to be like that. But there is no getting away from the vivid descriptions of Paris and France, the fear of the population, the brutality of the Germans, and the looking away of many of the locals. Suspicion and betrayal saturating the air. It's not a bad read, but could be better.