Season To Taste by Natalie Young (Tinder Press, £12.99) is the tale of Lizzie Prain, who kills, joints and freezes her husband of thirty years and then methodically, and with much detail in the way of sounds, smells, textures and the like, cooks and eats her way through him. It’s unclear what, exactly, Jacob Prain has done to deserve his fate, or why his fifty-something wife decides to dispose of him in the way she does, given that she not only lives in an isolated cottage in the middle of a wood but also owns an enormous and hungry dog. It seems reasonable to assume that Lizzie, who is appallingly matter-of-fact about the whole thing, is off her rocker. The notes that she writes to herself – motivational statements, things to do, cookery tips and so on, which are scattered throughout the text – would tend to confirm this. Season To Taste is an odd mixture of the twee and the gruesome, and, although there are moments when it seems likely that Lizzie may be found out, it’s rather lacking in tension, largely because the emetic nature of the subject matter easily overwhelms a fairly slight storyline. I wasn’t entirely sure what to make of this book, but I can certainly vouch for its effect on the appetite and unhesitatingly recommend it to anyone who is struggling to stick to their new-year diet.
In Farthing (Corsair, £7.99), SF and fantasy writer Jo Walton fuses an old-fashioned country-house mystery with alternative history for a dystopian vision of Britain in 1949, eight years after Conservative politicians cut a deal with Hitler and abandoned Europe to the Nazis. The chief architect of this peace-with-dishonour, Sir James Thirkie, is found dead during a weekend house-party at Farthings, home of his aristocratic fellow appeasers, with a yellow star pinned to his chest. Lucy, the daughter of the house, has seriously blotted her copybook by marrying a Jewish banker, and he immediately becomes the chief suspect. Told from the point of view of the investigating policeman and of Lucy herself, the tone of the book gradually darkens as the human cost of Realpolitik becomes clear. There’s more than a whiff of central casting about the characters, and a few false notes, such as anachronisms and Americanisms, but Farthing, which was published in the US in 2006 and is the first of a trilogy, is both intriguing and utterly chilling.
Modern-day Peterborough provides the all-too-realistic setting for Long Way Home by Eva Dolan (Harvill Secker, £14.99). One of the UK’s top destinations for both legal and illegal immigrants, it’s less melting pot than powder keg, fuelled by distrust on all sides as well as competition for limited resources and exploitation by ruthless gangmasters who treat their exhausted and disillusioned workforce like slaves. Despite having experience of outsider-ship themselves, DI Zigic and DS Ferreira struggle to get anyone to talk openly to them when they are investigating the immolation of a man who was squatting in a garden shed – and, of course, the issues are nowhere near as cut-and-dried as they first appear. Perceptive and intelligent, with the ring of authenticity, Dolan’s debut novel is the first in a projected series.
The Sudden Arrival of Violence (Mantle, £12.99) is the final novel in Malcolm MacKay’s wonderful Glasgow trilogy. First seen here masquerading as a police officer in order to perform an execution-style killing, hitman Calum MacLean now works for crime boss Peter Jamieson, but he wants a new life and that means doing a runner. Meanwhile, Jamieson and his rivals are engaged in a turf war, and various criminal small-fry are desperate to make sure that they finish up on the winning side… Gripping and vivid, with a labyrinthine plot involving double- and treble-crossing, The Sudden Arrival of Violence is told in a staccato, abbreviated style throughout. It’s very difficult to keep this up, let alone do it well, but MacKay succeeds magnificently, and his third novel is well up to the high standard of its predecessors.
Set in North Carolina, Wiley Cash’s second novel, This Dark Road to Mercy (Doubleday, £12.99) is the story of twelve-year-old Easter Quilby and her six-year-old sister Ruby, who are snatched by their father from the children’s home where they have been living since their mother died from an overdose. Wade Chesterfield, failed baseball player and all-round no-goodnik, has chanced upon a hoard of stolen money and is desperate to redeem himself as a parent, but he’s being pursued not only by the girls’ court-appointed guardian, but also by former ball-player Bobby Pruitt, full of ‘roid rage and determined to get his revenge for a past injury, even if it means killing the children. Exciting and suspenseful as well as moving, with a captivating heroine, This Dark Road to Mercy is a tremendous book, although British readers may find the ending rather treacly.
© Laura Wilson, 2014