MAY BOOKS 2023 - random reviews 

THE COUPLE NEXT DOOR by Shari Lapena - Penguin Random House, 2016

 Every neighbour’s worst nightmare and the nightmare of the worst neighbour, this is a race of a thriller.  It has so many twists and skewers its characters into such tight corners it seems impossible they will ever get out.  But they do.  Lapena creates unlikeable but compelling characters and a terrifying plot.  Best read in one sitting otherwise you will never get anything done.


GIRL A by Abigail Dean - Harper Collins, 2021

 I can’t say the same for this!  I needed to pause for breath - and therapy.  It’s a novel that got right under my skin in the best-and worst – way possible.  The plot is a mesmerising dance between recalled memory, the present and the uncomfortable truth.  Having had far too many Girl A moments in my own life, it was quite triggering in places; in others, unbelievably cold.  I feel it belongs in the same realm as Tara French’s ‘Broken Harbour’.  It's haunting, spellbinding, yet rooted in very familiar realities. It’s a thoroughly satisfying read and Dean’s poignant snapshots stick fast:

‘Sometimes,’ said Jolly, ‘I look out at the congregation.  You’ve got people nodding along, you’ve got people with tears in their eyes, you’ve got people possessed.  But you know – you know in your heart – that most of them are cowards. They come for the music, maybe. For the community.  But they’ll choose to be exactly what the world says they should be.’

And of course: ‘Do you really think I ever left this room?’

The adult, successful Lex is so less real than the one she runs from and Dean’s prose pulls into focus the narrative from the past rather than the intrigue and wealth of the present.  I’m glad I persevered with this one; worth every tough minute.


FORCE OF HATE by Graham Bartlett - Allison & Busby Ltd, 2023

 Not only is Graham Bartlett a former Police Chief Superintendent, he’s also a pretty skilled storyteller and fearless about approaching a story from an unknown perspective.Not only is this very human story set in a post-Brexit world in the Kent/Sussex whirlwind of immigration and right-wing extremism, his forensic knowledge of procedure and criminal possibility makes this an utterly riveting read.  I don’t have thirty years to give to learning the Crime Investigator’s Handbook off by heart or to keep up with all the changes in policy but Bartlett has put his to good use combining it with a natural flair for direct narrative and the importance of detail.  It’s brilliantly structured, pacy as any TV drama, and gripping without being remorselessly grim.

The best part for me was the beat of the dialogue.  It brings the immediacy of police banter and the criminal worlds into your front room.  It’s a totally immersive, edicatove read.  A story bang on time and written with the urgency of now. 

Everything you could hope for from a UK police procedural: whipsharp, funny but brutally real.  Guy Ritchie couldn’t write better action scenes!  The advantage of being an ex-cop is a lean, mean, adverb-free prose.  And the depiction of the trafficked Ajee is just heart-wrenching.


 OUT OF BOUNDS - British Black and Asian Poets

Edited by Jackie Kay, James Procter and Gemma Robinson

- Newcastle/Bloodaxe Poetry Series, 2012

 A poem a day keeps the doctor away (I say) and this month it’s been  from this anthology which spans the width and breadth of the United Kingdom.  Tellingly, there’s twice as many poems written by people of colour in the South than in other regions but the ones that are included have such a strong sense of style, voice, time, dialect and a specific history.  I'll take  a poem like any of these any day over a novel.   Nothing gives a sense of pace, passion and the vernacular more than regional poetry.  I think poetry is the algebra of consciousness; it’s where I go and what I do whenever I’m trying to work something out. Write a poem or do a sum.  It’s the crucible which tests a thing to prove how far it is true.  The structure, content and style limitations prove the strength of a thought.  And there is obviously a lot of bold, tough thinking and beauty in the regions.