The Wilder Aisles 

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

Thin Air

 - Wednesday, November 05, 2014

Thin Air is the latest in the Shetland series by Ann Cleeves. I am a great fan of these books. I love the setting, the remote islands and their windswept barren landscape. The Shetland's remoteness and accompanying wild weather always play a big part in these books, and this outing is no exception. Thin Air is about a group of old university friends who travel to Unst, the most northerly of the Shetlands, to celebrate the marriage of one of them to a local Shetlander. When Eleanor, one of their number disappears, Detectives Jimmy Perez and Willow Reeves are called in. And their search becomes a murder hunt when Eleanor's body is found in a rock pool. Before she went missing, Eleanor, who was researching ghost sightings for a TV documentary, had claimed to have seen an apparition of a young girl in a white dress—the ghost of a girl drowned many years before. What follows is the usual great stuff from Cleeves—plenty of twists and turns seasoned with the odd red herring. The TV series based on the books is also very good. I like them a lot, but they are not really based on the books, although some of the story lines are similar.

Sophie Hannah, author of Little Face and other thrillers, received permission from the estate of Agatha Christie, to write a Hercule Poirot. It is called the Monogram Murders, and is set in London and a small country village called Great Holling. The story revolves around three murders that take place at the fashionable Bloxham Hotel in London. Poirot is living incognito at a lodging house nearby—trying to have a break from investigating crimes. Unfortunately, a fellow guest at the house is Edward Catchpool, a policeman from Scotland Yard, so when the murders are discovered, Poirot has no choice but to become involved. This is an extremely complicated story—all linked to a tragic happening in Great Holling years before. A lie was told, and terrible events set in train. I thought it was maybe a little too convoluted, but then so are many of Christie's books. The ending came as too much of a shock, but maybe that's because I didn't pick up the clues along the way. It's a good read for the summer holidays.

I have loved Marilynne Robinson's writing since reading Housekeeping so many years ago. How I loved that book. I don't know how many times I have read it. I like to play the game of what character you are in certain books—for example, I am Jo from Little Women and in Housekeeping, I am Ruthie. In her new book (and my new favourite), Lila, Robinson revisits the characters and settings of her previous novels, Gilead and Home. Lila, after years on the run, homeless and alone, goes into a small-town Iowa  church to escape the rain. There she meets and later marries the minister, John Ames. This is just the bare bones of the story. There is so much in this book. It is hard to describe Robinson's books. They are so evocative of place and time, you feel as if the stories couldn't happen anywhere else—at the same time as being universal and timeless. She has a wonderful way of capturing the way people talk and think. I feel as if I know them. If you haven't read Gilead and Home, please do and then read Lila.

I have a few books queued for my down time from 'The Aisles'. The new Colm Toibin, Nora Webster, looks good. His books are often sad. Being Irish, I'm sure that is almost a given—but he is such a lovely writer it's worth the tears. I loved Brooklyn, and also The Testament of Mary, which I found quite disturbing but very interesting.

Mr Mac and Me is the new book by Esther Freud. Freud isn't widely read in Australia, but she should be. Set in 1914, Mr Mac and Me is based around the life of the architect, Charles Rennie Mackintosh and the time he spent in a small English fishing village with his red-haired wife. The couple quickly became objects of fascination to the villagers, in particular Tom Maggs, the son of the local publican. They become close friends and then war is declared and everything changes. This is the story of an unlikely friendship, and of the home front during the First World War. It looks like something to really look forward to. I love Charles Rennie Macintosh and his wonderful arts and crafts, furniture and architecture.

Finally, a little book that I saw today on the shelf. It is called The Guest Cat and is by Takashi Hiraide. A Japanese couple,in their thirties are finding life difficult. Then the guest cat arrives and everything changes. A quote from the cover 'The Guest Cat is a rare treasure... beautiful and profound... whether you are a cat lover or not, don't pass this one up' NPR. It looks lovely, will read it tonight. My two books of the year are Love, Nina for entertaining good fun, and for a more serious read, The Golden Age by Joan London—it is as the back cover says 'a rare and precious gem'. I hope you all have a good Christmas and a happy 2015.