In Praise of the New 

Louise Pfanner shares her latest discoveries.

Green Penguins

 - Wednesday, August 28, 2013

When the green Penguin Crime Classics range arrived into the shop last month my eyes lit up. Here at last were fifty crime gems, most of which I hadn't seen before, all beautifully packaged, with a lovely price tag to boot. I grabbed a couple to start me off: Gideon's Fire by John Creasey (published in 1961) and Trent's Last Case by E. C. Bentley (1913). Gideon's Fire is the story of Commander George Gideon of Scotland Yard and the cases that cross his desk during a typical London week. Gideon is unlike any other crime hero I've met. He is not your usual obsessive, hard-drinking, utterly imperfect detective. Gideon lunches in clubs and is very well behaved indeed. His job is to oversee and coordinate the crime solving, and after reading the book, you get a good idea of how stressful a job that must be. The 'fire' of Gideon's Fire refers to Gideon's drive to do good, and also to a literal fire, started by a delusional psychopath in the slum areas of London. That case is on Gideon's desk, as are the cases of a homicidal lothario, a sexual predator, a married couple involved in high-end fraud and a collection of lowlifes implicated in a bank robbery. I suppose it's not ground-breaking stuff, but it sure is entertaining. Trent's Last Case is also entertaining, though the plot is less straight forward. The novel is dedicated to G. K. Chesterton, and from what I've read so far, it is almost as riddling as that writer's wonderful The Man Who Was Thursday (also in the 'green' range).  

This month I was lucky enough to lay my hands on a proof copy of a debut novel out of Ireland, Michele Forbes's Ghost Moth. Irish luminaries John Banville, Anne Enright and Roddy Doyle have all raved about this sad, gentle novel and it's easy to see why. The book tells the story of Katherine, both as a young woman in Belfast in 1949, and as a married mother twenty years later in 1969, just as the Troubles in Northern Ireland are starting to escalate. The young Katherine is trying her luck in musical theatre, working at a bank and attracting the fervent admiration of two very different men, Tom and George. She falls for both but ends up with George, the more reliable, less passionate one. The decision to marry George has tragic consequences for Katherine, and lingering feelings of guilt and regret continue to haunt her as she enters her middle age. Forbes transcends this rather traditional love triangle plot line by her memorable rendering of time and place and by her poignant, three dimensional characterisation of Katherine. Northern Ireland provides a turbulent backdrop to this affecting tale of love and loss.

If you're a fan of creepy thrillers like Before I Go To Sleep by S. J. Watson, I strongly recommend you get your hands on The Silent Wife by A. S. A. Harrison. Also a debut novel, The Silent Wife follows a married couple, Jodie and Todd, as they go about their seemingly normal daily life. Jodie is a part time counsellor and Todd is an über-confident, Porsche-driving property developer. They live in affluent comfort in Chicago, and they have come to an tacit agreement about Todd's womanising; neither of them wants to change how their life is structured, so she ignores it and he, well, he just keeps it discreet. Enter Natasha, the daughter of Todd's best friend Dean. Natasha is needy and maternal, basically everything that Jodie is not. Todd starts a relationship on the sly with Natasha, which sets off a devastating chain of events. I loved this book-I sped through it. This is a psychological thriller in every sense of the word; Jodie's career as a therapist and her own past demons, not to mention Todd's many personality faults, are major components of the story. The book is also surprisingly funny, full of withering insights into the male and female psyches. As a sad post-script, Harrison died earlier this year, leaving this terrifically assured debut novel as her only work of fiction