The Wilder Aisles 

Janice Wilder has been a legend of Sydney bookselling for over 40 years.

June 2017

 - Wednesday, May 31, 2017
Charity Norman is the author of five novels, including Freeing Grace and Second Chances, both of which I have reviewed in these pages. Her latest is about to be released, and having really enjoyed reading it, I thought I should share it with my readers. See You In September ($30) is about Cassy and her holiday in New Zealand—a short trip, she takes with her boyfriend Hamish, before her best friend’s wedding. ‘See you in September’ are the last words Cassy says to her family as she prepares to board the plane. Things go awry when they reach Auckland, and they find themselves on the outskirts of the city, trying to hitch to Taupo. With the weather getting worse along with their relationship, Cassy, cold and miserable, decides to take the first lift that comes along, which turns out to be a white van—full of people singing loudly. The door slides open, and a feeling of warmth and welcome encloses Cassy—she abandons Hamish, and jumps in. The friendly crowd in the van say they will take her to Rotorua, but before long Cassy is drawn into the group and easily persuaded to accompany them to their home, Gethsemane, deep in the forest. What happens to Cassy here after she meets the very charismatic Justin Calvin is a great story of obsession, love, family and faith. I can easily relate to Cassy’s desire to stay safe and cared for, to be Justin’s special friend, and find the idea of leaving intolerable. This is an absorbing hard to put down novel, with a very interesting cast of characters, living a supposedly idyllic life, in beautiful surroundings, but like the other Eden, things can go horribly wrong.

Where I Lost Her by T. Greenwood ($30)—an author up to now unknown to me—is an unusual crime novel. Tess and Luke, a well-known couple in the world of publishing, are staying with friends, Effie and Devin, in their camp in Vermont, a six-hour drive from their home in Brooklyn, but another world in terms of surroundings. Tess seeks help and consolation from Effie about her inability to have a child and the deteriorating state of her marriage. She is drinking too much and one night when the wine runs out she insists on driving to get more. On her way home, she sees a tiny child standing in the middle of the road—naked from the waist up, wearing a ragged tutu and ladybird boots. Tess slams on the brakes and approaches the child, who is unresponsive to her questions. When Tess accidentally sets the car alarm off the girl vanishes into the woods. What follows is a severe test for Tess. The ensuing search is called off without a result, and everyone, including the police, decide that either Tess was drunk and imagined the whole thing, or just made the story up for the chance to be on television. The story progresses with many varied strands, including sexual attacks on children and drugs. As Tess sorts out her marriage, her career, and her life back in Brooklyn, she matures and starts to come to terms with her lack of a child. I really liked this book. It has a bit of everything—crime, a touch of romance and a very satisfactory ending.

The Shadow District by Arnaldur Indridason ($33), my favourite Icelandic writer is the first book in a new series. It features retired detective Konrad—a great character who will never give up once he has started investigating. During the war, a young woman is found strangled in a rough and dangerous are a of Reykjavik, known as the shadow district. The Americans are in Iceland and the American military police and a local detective are investigating the murder. In the present day, a ninety-year- old man is found dead, smothered by his pillow. Newspapers found in his flat date back to the war. So what is the link between the two crimes, and why has the old crime resurfaced now. During the war, the case is investigated by two detectives, Flovent and Thorson. In the present day, Konrad, who grew up in the shadow district, remembers the crime and his memory may be an asset in solving the case. Also, in the present, a woman and a child have gone missing and Konrad becomes involved in the search. This becomes personal for him due to the earlier death of another missing child, a case with which he was connected. This is a complicated story, with so much going on it is hard to summarise it. I do recommend reading it, you won’t be disappointed.

Just quickly, I want to mention the new Anita Shreve, The Stars are Fire ($30). It is set in the late 1940s when fires, caused by drought and  high temperatures, ripped through the coast of Maine and destroyed many houses and acres of land. The pregnant Grace Holland is forced to leave her houseand shelter on the beach with her two young children. Her husband, Gene, has gone to fight the fires, with other volunteers, who are trying to bring them under control. Grace is left with nowhere to live, no money and no husband. Her mother’s house has also been destroyed so Grace, her children and her mother move in with old friends until they can sort their lives out. Grace finds that although she is worried about her husband, she experiences a new feeling of freedom. How Grace uses her new freedom, reinvents herself and finds unexpected strengths makes for a really good read. I admired Grace, her fight for her children, her ability to make a new life for them and her coping skills when things threaten to collapse around her. I like Anita Shreve’s books. They may not be great literature, but they are entertaining and well-written. Good to while away a cold winter’ afternoon. Janice Wilder