Robyn Reviews: In The Wars

‘In the Wars’ is a moving medical memoir by an NHS doctor and Afghan refugee. It offers a fascinating, if horrific, look into life in Afghanistan in the 1990s and the experience of growing up through civil war. It also paints a stark picture of what it’s like to be a refugee in the UK – the rigidness of the asylum system and the impact this can have. Latter chapters explore Dr Arian’s humanitarian efforts – the charity he founded to improve healthcare in Afghanistan and other war-torn countries, and how his experiences have shaped how he approaches humanitarian aid. Dr Arian writes in a simple yet effective way, making profound observations. A highly recommended read.

The story starts with fifteen-year-old Waheed in Feltham Young Offenders Institution. He’s just arrived off the plane from Afghanistan as a refugee, and immediately been arrested on charges of travelling on a false passport – a charge with up to ten years in prison. Waheed is confused and alone, not understand why he’s been arrested when he believes himself a legitimate refugee. His cellmate is there on charges of theft – Waheed doesn’t understand why anyone would steal when they have the chance to legitimately work and earn money. It sets the tone for the rest of the memoir – a story with moments of positivity and hope, but also one that shows the harsh reality of growing up in a warzone and navigating a deliberately hostile immigration system.

We then go back in time to Waheed’s childhood. Born in Kabul, his early life was relatively peaceful, albeit with some strange quirks he never thought to question – not being allowed to play outside, only his mum and eldest sister being allowed to answer the door. The eldest son, he was granted privileges not afforded to his sisters. However, life changed quickly – his father was conscripted into the military, but wanting to remain neutral deserted, leaving the family in a precarious social and financial situation. As conflict escalated, the family fled to their first refugee camp in Pakistan, with the rest of his childhood split between spells in Pakistan and spells returning to Afghanistan in the hope things would be better. The family was regularly separated, and Waheed was forced to grow up far earlier than he should have. There was a constant fear of death, and not just from conflict – he nearly died of tuberculosis in a Pakistani refugee camp aged just five due to a shortage of medicines. It was that experience that cemented in Waheed’s mind that he was going to be a doctor.

These early passages are shocking. Britain is taught woefully little about modern history, and the precise origins of the conflict in Afghanistan were new to me. Dr Arian covers them almost matter-of-factly – because to him, there was no other way of living. This makes them more profound than any dramatisation. There are happier moments – the birth of siblings, trips to family in the Afghan countryside – but these are mere blips in an otherwise bleak canvas. Its difficult to imagine how anyone survived – harder still to think that there are millions living like this today.

Barely a teenager, Waheed decides to enrol to study medicine at the Islamic University in a Pakistani refugee camp. This is not an accredited university, but the only way he can see of achieving his dream of becoming a doctor. However, his family choose to return to Afghanistan – leaving him, at thirteen, living a totally independent life. Waheed is a child surrounded by adults, and reading about this time is heartbreaking. The mental toll of separation is almost inconceivable. However, his joy in his studies is clearly apparent. There’s an interesting dichotomy between his joy of being so close to his dream, and the sadness of everything he’s giving up – plus the knowledge that, as fulfilling as the course is, it won’t actually give a qualification recognised anywhere outside the refugee camp.

In these chapters, Waheed also gives the greatest insight into the political situation in Pakistan and Afghanistan, and how the rise of various militant factions affects day-to-day life. Again, it’s a fascinating look at a piece of modern history that is rarely contextualised in Western media. Waheed’s drive and determination is admirable, and its impossible not to be affected by the plight of a thirteen-year-old separated from his family in search of a better life.

It’s around this time that Waheed, naturally, starts to think about seeking asylum elsewhere to pursue his dreams. These passages are difficult to read in a different way. Waheed is hugely vulnerable to exploitation, and the way those around him use his plight is horrendous. It’s one thing knowing that the UK – and many other countries’ – immigration departments are designed to put off asylum seekers, another entirely to read first hand how confusing and traumatic the process is. In many ways, Waheed is fortunate – he does make it to the UK, and whilst he’s initially treated like a criminal he eventually succeeds in claiming asylum for both himself and his younger brother. Reading this section, it’s clear Waheed’s success is in a huge part down to both luck and his own intelligence. It’s clear that many others like Waheed will have had stories ending a different way.

Asylum seekers are not allowed to work. They receive housing benefit, but many landlords won’t accept tenants on housing benefit, and the benefits available don’t always cover the cost of living. Young asylum seekers like Waheed can access education, but are not given the knowledge of what qualifications will be useful to them – they must figure this out by themselves. Like many asylum seekers, Waheed works multiple jobs illegally to scrape together enough money to survive and build a life for himself. Once again, his sheer tenacity shines through. It’s difficult to imagine just how hard this period was for him.

Against all the odds, Waheed makes it to medical school – initially Cambridge, then transferring to Imperial for the clinical years, a path that was common then. Here, his struggles take on a different note. A little older, and far less affluent, than his course mates, Waheed struggles to make genuine connections. His cultural background leaves him unsure how to interact with them – women especially. He also, for the first time in his life, starts to struggle academically. Elements of this section are harder for Westerners to relate to – his search for a wife, for example – but it’s interesting seeing why this is so important to Waheed and his family, and how the intersection of his Afghani and Western upbringing affects how he approaches things. The guilt he feels about betraying his roots is palpable and very moving.

The final part of the tale follows Dr Arian as he navigates medical training and sets up his charity, Arian Teleheal. It’s lovely seeing how much joy he gets from his dream job and what being a doctor means to him. After so much suffering, it’s also wonderful to see him settled and happy with a family of his own. The guilt is still there – most of his family is still in Afghanistan or Pakistan, and he worries about leaving them behind – but there’s also the awareness that he’s helped them far more by taking the risk and leaving than he would have by staying.

The sections on the charity are interesting, but after a time become a bit repetitive. Arian Teleheal is a wonderful organisation, allowing doctors in countries like Afghanistan and Syria to access the knowledge of doctors practising in the Western world. Its expansion and achievements are incredible, but unfortunately the end of the memoir turns into a sort of list of them, losing some of the emotional impact of the rest of Waheed’s story. Teleheal appears to be the only reason he’s released a memoir – in the hope that his story will drive further investment and achievements for the charity – which is admirable. I hope it succeeds. It’s a shame, therefore, that the Teleheal section is the one with the least poignancy and resonance to the reader.

Overall, ‘In the Wars’ is a powerful and moving story about living through conflict, the refugee experience, and one man’s determination to give back. Dr Arian is clearly an incredible person and I hope his charitable endeavours have the success they deserve. Recommended for those who want to learn more about an important piece of modern history and those just looking for a powerful, moving read.

Thanks to NetGalley and Penguin Random House for providing an eARC – this in no way affects the content of this review

Published by Bantam Press
Hardback: 17th June 2021

Robyn Reviews: The Stranger Times

‘The Stranger Times’ is a debut comedy-fantasy by Caimh McDonnell, an Irish stand up comedian. The premise is excellent – a divorcee seeking a job to pay the bills accidentally ends up working for Manchester’s leading newspaper of the paranormal (or at least, what people claim to be the paranormal). The urban fantasy elements are solid, but unfortunately the comedy isn’t my cup of tea.

Hannah Willis is desperate. After finally divorcing her serial cheater of an ex-husband – and accidentally burning down his house in the process – she needs a job, any job, to pay the bills. After a series of failed interviews, she finally responds to an ad she isn’t entirely sure is real:

“Publication seeks desperate human being with capability to form sentences, using the English language. No imbeciles, optimists or Simons need apply”

Suddenly she finds herself the assistant editor of ‘The Stranger Times’, a newspaper of the world’s weird and wonderful – from a parrot that its owner claims is the reincarnation of Elvis Presley to a haunted toilet in Scotland. She’s not sure what’s weirder – the paper’s subject matter or her new colleagues. However, when tragedy strikes, she finds out that the paper’s subject matter might have a grain of truth after all -and everyone at ‘The Stranger Times’ is in the firing line.

Hannah has great potential as a protagonist. A woman who’s gone from being a trophy wife in Knightsbridge to living in a spare room in Manchester, her entire life has fallen to pieces – and that’s without bringing the secret existence of the paranormal into it. However, whilst the novel is told through her eyes, she’s never developed as fully as she could be. She’s more used as a piece of normality amongst the strangeness of everything else in the book than as a fully-fledged character of her own. She’s likeable enough without being particularly memorable.

The other employees of ‘The Stranger Times’ are far more interesting – especially Banecroft, the paper’s editor who was once a famed media mogul and ended up at ‘The Stranger Times’ after a public mental breakdown, and Manny, a secretive man who runs the printing press. Banecroft initially comes across as incredibly unlikeable, but whilst he’d be an awful boss he becomes far more endearing as the story progresses. Manny plays a relatively small part but is an absolute sweetheart with a clearly fascinating backstory.

The plot is solid – the adventures of the employees of a paper about the paranormal – with some great twists and turns. Where it falls down is the humour. The approach is slapstick and over-the-top, making all the characters unnecessarily caricaturic. As the plot progresses, and starts to become a more conventional urban fantasy rather than a comedy, the novel improves – but the lack of subtetly at the start is hard to recover from. Those who like their humour brash and juvenile may love the approach McDonnell takes, but those who are more fond of biting sarcasm and clever quips will probably struggle with it.

My other big issue is with the dialogue. This isn’t a particularly fast-paced book – there’s a slow introduction to all the main characters before the plot takes off at all, and once it does there are regular interruptions – but it’s slowed to a turgid pace at times by the dialogue. Several of the characters are clearly intended to be very proper, which is shown by the omission of abbreviated words during speech – were not instead of weren’t, it is instead of it’s. I can see why McDonnell has chosen to do this, but it makes simple sentences take an awfully long time and feels very stilted. It says a lot that in a book featuring haunted toilets, the way characters speak is sometimes the least believable part.

Overall, I’m sure that some people will love this book, but unfortunately it isn’t the book for me.

Thanks to Transworld and NetGalley for providing an eARC – this in no way affects the content of my review

Published by Transworld
Hardback: 14th January 2021

Robyn Reviews: The Year of the Witching

The Year of the Witching is an atmospheric dark fantasy novel about a secretive cult. The land of Bethel is ruled by the Prophet, blessed with visions from the Father. Immanuelle is a true believer, but will never be fully accepted because her father was an outsider, and her mother burnt as a witch. One day, Immanuelle dares to step outside of the confines of Bethel and into the forbidden Darkwood – but her adventure sets off a chain of events that could alter the fate of Bethel forever.

Immanuelle is a delightful protagonist – feisty yet caring, outwardly compliant but inwardly with a spark of rebellion. Her friendship with Leah is sweet and the difficulties of her outsider status well portrayed. I also liked how intricately the novel explored Immanuelle’s relationship with her family – as an outsider and a reminder of her mother’s mistakes, Immanuelle was both a beloved daughter and granddaughter and a curse upon their fortunes and reputation. Immanuelle and Martha especially had a complicated relationship that was deftly dealt with.

Ezra’s character arc was predictable but that didn’t make him unlikeable – there was little about him not to like. The son and heir apparent of the Prophet, Ezra’s future is set in stone – and there’s no place in it for an outsider like Immanuelle. But those with conscripted futures like to bend the rules – and Ezra is no exception. His character was a little too shallow for my liking – I would have liked to see more of his interactions with his mother and the Prophet and learn a little more about his motivations – but nonetheless he kept me rooting for him throughout.

The setting of Bethel is intriguing, especially the Darkwood. The religion followed shares aspects with Christianity – such as Lilith, mother of all evil – but is subtly different to any existing religion that I’m aware of. The version of witchcraft explored is also interesting, with power only accessible to those of certain bloodlines and by using distinct sigils carved onto objects or skin. However, neither the root of this power nor the origins of the religion and Bethel are ever explained. In many ways this works well – it cuts out any slow exposition at the start of the novel, instead launching straight into Immanuelle’s life – but I find myself wanting to know more. Why has no-one in Bethel ever tried to do anything about the Darkwood, this version of Hell that sits right on their doorstep? Why does everyone hate witchcraft? What exactly are Lilith and her kin? I love the idea and creativity, but wish the author had included some basic answers.

The writing is lovely – simple, with no excess description, but evocative and atmospheric, transporting you to Bethel and the eerie Darkwood. It’s also exceptionally easy to read – I breezed through this in a couple of hours. If you’re looking for a quick novel to take you somewhere else for a while, this makes a compelling choice.

Overall, I enjoyed the book. It’s not perfect, but as the author’s debut it’s a solid work with likeable characters and an intriguing setting. I suspect many people will love it – I just wanted a little more exposition.

 

Published by Bantam Press (Penguin)
Hardback: 23 July 2020

Book Review: The Restless Dead

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The Restless Dead, by Simon Beckett, is the fifth book in the author’s David Hunter series of crime thrillers. Dr Hunter is a forensic anthropologist working as a consultant to police forces throughout England. His is a specialist field and the details of how he studies human remains to ascertain how they lived and how they may have died are fascinating.

Set in the backwaters of Essex this instalment sees Hunter called to a remote and run down coastal town where two people have been reported missing and one body has been discovered floating to the surface in the tidal wetlands. A wealthy businessman and local landowner believes it is the remains of his son and is pressurising the police to confirm his suspicions. He has powerful contacts who make life difficult for those who do not bend to his will.

Hunter is asked to assist with the recovery of the bloated body. The cold and wet procedure takes its toll on his compromised health. When Hunter’s car is damaged he ends up requiring temporary accommodation and becomes caught up in a local feud. There are unforeseen links to missing persons.

This is a small community and grudges have festered. Hunter is aware that he must not compromise the police investigation, especially as his reputation is already fragile following a previous case. He cannot, however, resist the charms of Rachel, a beautiful young woman whose family owns the holiday let in which he stays.

The plot has many twists and turns as families are introduced and old hurts revealed. The writing is assured and competent although in places I would have preferred it to be a little less clichéd. A love interest seems such a predictable device to enable the protagonist to gain access to family history. I pondered why all key women must be regarded as conventionally attractive; a little diversity would be so refreshing.

Having said that I couldn’t stop turning the pages. Many chapters ended with a little teaser that demanded one more be read. I had not guessed the key elements of the denouement and they were neatly presented. Here I had the thought provoking issues I relish.

An entertaining and engaging read that will undoubtedly appeal to fans of the genre. The action would transfer well to a screen.

My copy of this book was provided gratis by the publisher, Bantam Press.

This post is a stop on The Restless Dead Blog Tour. Do check out the other posts, detailed below.

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Book Review: Night School

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Night School, by Lee Child, is the twenty-first Jack Reacher novel to be published but the first that I have read. It is easy to see why this series sells so well. The writing is slick, the plot engaging, the tension pitch perfect. Jack Reacher is an all American character willing to break the rules and put his life on the line for his country. He is street savvy but without the swagger. He gets the girl. With my distrust of unswerving nationalism I didn’t warm to him at all.

The action in this tale occurs in Hamburg where intelligence reports a dangerous international deal is being brokered. They don’t know what for or who is involved. What they do know is that the goods are changing hands for one hundred million dollars, that an American is the supplier, and that the leak has come from a sleeping cell of smartly dressed young Saudis.

Reacher is to work with two other highly regarded government employees, one from the FBI and the other from the CIA. Their task is shrouded in secrecy but they have top level clearance to ask for whatever they need in order to find out what is going on. The key is the unknown American and locating him becomes their top priority.

Investigations uncover details of many more crimes in the city – the death of a prostitute, forged documents, and a nasty undercurrent of resentment from aggressive German nationalists. Reacher needs the help of the local police but cannot tell them exactly what he seeks. The arrogance he displays goes some way to explaining why the American interlopers are widely disliked.

Many of the male characters are depicted as grotesques with their voyeurism and sexual preferences. The descriptions of clubs attended make for sickening reading – I want to think better of men than that they should choose to visit such places in numbers big enough to keep them in business. There are a few strong women in the story but they are supports for Reacher’s attributes and feats of daring. Stereotypes are rarely challenged.

The plot offers the reader puzzles to solve while keeping Reacher just a little behind that how he catches up may be fully savoured. Much of what goes on is fanciful but makes for entertaining reading. Reacher’s behaviour is the stuff of male ego dreams. I would guess it is this capably presented escapism which makes the books such popular reads.

My copy of this book was provided gratis by the publisher, Bantam Press.

Book Review: The Shogun’s Queen

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The Shogun’s Queen, by Lesley Downer, tells the story of Okatsu, the daughter of a minor Japanese lord, who is taken from everything and everyone she knows to become wife of the most powerful ruler in the land, the Shogun. It is set in the mid nineteenth century when Japan was invaded by those they referred to as barbarians – well armed traders sent from countries in Europe and America. The cherished culture and rituals of the Japanese way of life was thereby changed forever.

Okatsu has never known poverty but, as the political machinations of the lords and princes of her region propel her ever higher up the strictly preserved social and political hierarchy, she discovers wealth beyond comprehension. Those who have acquired these riches and the power it brings are loath to risk relinquishing it. They will stop at nothing to strengthen and secure their position.

As a woman Okatsu has little choice in the course her life must take. Whilst she accepts this she also rails against the loneliness she must endure. There are few she can trust. She is watched constantly and is required to obey. When she grows close to her husband this is seen as a threat as well as a distraction by those who demand her compliance, whatever the cost to herself.

The world depicted is close to unimaginable for modern sensibilities and offers an insight into a way of life that those living it fought to preserve despite the gross inequalities. The powerful men kept palaces of women locked up for their own personal use. When a ruler died this household was required to take holy orders and spend their remaining days praying for their master’s spirit. Some of the women were chosen for their youth and beauty yet never spent time with the man who owned them and could never belong to another. They endured a life filled with sniping and backstabbing, locked up forever in a luxurious prison.

The descriptions of the barbarians are particularly interesting – how what is unknown is feared, as is change. There were plenty who were intrigued by the gifts presented by the invaders – telescopes, cameras, steam engines, weaponry – but they regarded the smelly, hairy, meat eating giants as uncivilised if dangerous buffoons.

I found the pace of the story slow at times, as was court life for the women at the time. There was much repetition as Okatsu grappled with her assigned quest, her loneliness and her feelings of betrayal. The treatment of children in the Shogun’s household was particularly difficult to comprehend.

The story is a fictionalised account of true events. Each of the characters existed and their roles are as accurately portrayed as remaining accounts allow. The author has a personal fondness for the area and was meticulous in her research.

For those interested in Japanese history and in the effects of the spread of western influences around the world this is a worthwhile read. As a story I would have preferred a tighter telling, but it is a fascinating window into a way of life where change was opposed, yet where it is hard not to regard such change as a progression.

My copy of this book was provided gratis by the publisher, Bantam Press.

Book Review: The Couple Next Door

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The Couple Next Door, by Shari Lapena, is a psychological thriller that explores every parent’s worst nightmare – the abduction of a child. This is no ordinary abduction though, if such a thing can be possible. Six month old Cora has been taken from her crib while she slept in the tastefully decorated nursery of her parent’s upstate New York home. She has been taken in the middle of the night when she was home alone.

Her parents, Anne and Marco, had not intended to leave their baby girl alone when they agreed to attend their next door neighbours’ birthday dinner party. A sitter had been booked but then she cancelled just an hour before the event. The childless couple next door had clearly stated that this was to be an evening for adult’s only. They could hear how much Cora cried through the shared wall and had no intention of allowing this difficult to settle baby to disrupt their plans.

Marco, keen to enjoy an evening out, persuaded Anne that they should still attend. They took with them their baby monitor and popped home every half hour to ensure Cora was fine. When they eventually returned in the wee small hours, drunk on wine and irritated by each other’s behaviour, they found their front door ajar and their daughter gone.

The prose has a dispassionate quality that enables the reader to discern each of the main characters thought processes. There is the mother, heaping guilt on herself for her post partum depression, for not appreciating the perfect baby she has been gifted, for allowing her husband to persuade her to go out when she knew it was wrong. There is the father, shocked and numbed, fearful of the impact this is having on his fragile wife and their relationship, aware that the police investigation will bring to light financial troubles he has not divulged. There is the lead detective, meticulously carrying out his investigations, aware that in cases like these the parents are most often to blame, determined to uncover how and why.

Anne has wealthy parents and hopes that Cora has been kidnapped for a ransom. As the days pass and the media circus outside their home condemns them for leaving an infant whilst they partied, the police begin to believe the worst. There are possible motives – Anne’s mental history, Marcus’s financial distress – but leads are scarce. The detective digs deeper in an attempt to uncover the truth and loses the trust of the family. They decide to take matters into their own hands.

A good thriller will keep the reader hooked, offering clues but hiding the big reveal until the end. As the denouement approached and the threads came together I couldn’t read fast enough. I had not anticipated those final twists in the tale.

It is terrifying to consider how an ordinary life can be picked apart. Seemingly innocuous details were construed to imply guilt, secrets unearthed and their importance inflated. The shock and stress of the unrolling events are finely depicted. The analysis of a relationship will always bring to light flaws.

A tense and taut tale, cleverly constructed. The quality of the writing offers enough originality to make it worth selecting from a crowded genre. I finished this in a sitting and felt sated. A fast moving and enjoyable read.

My copy of this book was provided gratis by the publisher, Bantam Press.

Book Review: Streets of Darkness

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Streets of Darkness, by A. A. Dhand, introduces the reader to Detective Harry Virdee, a man who, it seems, will do whatever it takes to bring criminals to justice. At the beginning of the story we learn that he has recently been suspended from his job pending an investigation by the IPCC. He is trying to keep this fact hidden from his wife, Saima, who is due to give birth to their first child.

While out for an early morning run Harry discovers the body of an eminent, local public figure. The crime scene points towards a motive of race. Blood from a recently released prisoner is found in the victim’s home. With Harry’s boss less than a week from retirement he wishes to wrap up the case quickly before the volatile public in this run down, ethnically diverse city react. Knowing that Harry has secretive contacts he asks for his assistance, off the record, in finding the suspect and bringing him in.

What Harry discovers is a web of obfuscation within the criminal underworld. He begins to suspect a set up but, if this is so, the motive is unclear. With time of the essence he realises that whoever is directing events has leveridge within the highest echelons of power in his city. Their reach is wide, encompassing those Harry believed he could trust. Harry ignores their repeated warnings and pays the price. These shadowy figures will stop at nothing to achieve their aims.

This is edge of your seat writing. There are twists and tension aplenty but it is the character development that impressed. Harry is a Sikh married to a Muslim, both estranged from their families for the choices they have made. The fundamentalism of the religious is frustrating to read but aids understanding of issues that so often make little sense.

The denouement left me gasping. The questions left to ponder were not around plot, which is satisfactorily concluded, but rather what is meant by justice and its cost. The author has set the stage for what I hope will be a series. Harry Virdee and his Bradford deliver an outstanding read.

My copy of this book was provided gratis by the publisher, Bantam Press.

Book Review: Daisy In Chains

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Daisy In Chains, by Sharon Bolton, is a psychological thriller that grabs the reader’s attention from the off and doesn’t let go. The tension and sense of foreboding that permeates each page make it hard to put down. This is a book that will demand you read just one more of the short chapters until the end.

The protagonist, Maggie Rose, is a true crime writer and lawyer who has made her name overturning the convictions of murderers. She takes on few cases as she is only interested in those she is convinced she can win. When she is approached by supporters of Hamish Wolfe, a handsome doctor serving a life term for the murder of three young women, she is reluctant to engage as she can see no immediate flaws in his conviction. This is unacceptable to his fan club. Apparently it is a thing that felons acquire fans who adore them and care little for what they have done to warrant incarceration.

Maggie shows no desire to take on the Wolfe appeal but is intrigued by the web surrounding the man. She is befriended by the policeman who led the investigation into his crimes, whose career could be at stake if she were to become involved. His concern for her welfare, especially when Wolfe’s supporters find out where she lives, starts to penetrate her carefully cultivated reserve.

Throughout the telling of the tale clues are given which made me think I knew where the plot was heading only to discover that while I may have guessed correctly this was simply another thread leading elsewhere. The twists and turns are chilling, unexpected and suffused with a darkness I found delicious to explore. The characters are intriguing, each planting questions in the reader’s mind as to motivation and how this meshes with the plot. 

Wolfe’s victims were overweight and the insights into how popular society regards fat girls was poignant. The advice given on how to disappear and remain hidden were an interesting aside.

The denouement ties together the many strands whilst leaving a little space for reader interpretation. The questions over who was using who and why are answered. There is much to ponder around the after of a prize so hard won.

A highly enjoyable read for fans of this genre. The author is a master at her art. Treat yourself by picking up this book.

My copy of this book was provided gratis by the publisher, Bantam Press.

Book Review: The Widow

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The Widow, by Fiona Barton, tells the story of a high profile child abduction from the point of view of the wife of the man accused. It explores how much she may have known at the time, and as time moved on; how far she would be willing to go to protect her husband, and why.

The protagonist, Jean Taylor, was still a teenager when she married the handsome Glen. He worked at a bank and offered her a comfortable life so long as she did as he asked. Jean admired his ambition and enjoyed his attention, content at first to submit to his controlling nature.

When a two year old child goes missing from her front garden, Jean, childless after many years of marriage, blames the mother for leaving her toddler unsupervised. As the police and media scrabble for leads they come knocking on the Taylor’s immaculately kept front door. Jean discovers that her husband harbours unsavoury secrets.

The author worked as a journalist for many years and used her experience of real cases to craft this tale. It is a taut, tense read and utterly compelling. The drip feed of facts from the original case, the police investigation and the media response are woven together to tease the reader. Throughout we have Jean’s thoughts as the love she felt for her husband morphs into contempt banked by fear.

As well as considering the crime, and the horror that any parent must feel when they hear of a child going missing, this is a fascinating exploration of a marriage and how much is overlooked for want of an easier life. Jean does not mourn the death of her husband. She feels a freedom after so many years of putting up with his ways. What is not clear, perhaps even to herself, is how she intends to be now that she may choose.

An impressive debut and a very fine thriller which kept me up late at night and then invaded my dreams. My only regret is that I finished it so quickly. I couldn’t stop turning the pages.

My copy of this book was provided gratis by the publisher, Bantam Press.