John—In What It Is by George Pelecanos Derek Strange, a long time protagonist in Pelecanos’ novels, relates the story ‘Red Fury’. Red is a young man in a hurry to make a name for himself in the summer of 1972—knowing full well that his murderous rampage through the fringes of DC will create his legend, and one way or another cause his own death. Desperately, sweatily real, the story unfolds with Strange as the narrator telling a driven unputdownable tale.
Walter Mosley, like Pelecanos, is another icon of contemporary American crime writing—both highly skilled writers who happen to write crime. When the Thrill is Gone is the third novel in the Leonid McGill series, picked up for holiday reading a couple of months ago and finished in a single day. I read Devil in a Blue Dress 20 years ago and have always enjoyed Mosley’s style, there is always a questioning of society’s priorities, not obvious but lurking just below the surface. I so enjoyed When the Thrill is Gone that I felt compelled to read another of the Leonid McGill books and as luck would have it the fourth book in the series, All I Did was Shoot My Man, has just been released, so I’m now happily caught up in further adventures with PI McGill.
Louise—I’ve just read The Cat’s Table by Michael Ondaatje, and loved it. It’s a very evocative story of an unaccompanied child’s journey from Ceylon to London on the Oronsay, in the 1950s. Unlikely characters weave in and out of the story, with the narrator taking threads into his present life. This is an extremely touching account of a childhood, which never descends into sentimentality. And, of course, it’s a delight to be immersed in Ondaatje’s world of language
We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson is a small perfect gothic novel, with surprisingly beautiful descriptions of the natural world. Mary Katherine, the book’s (unreliable) narrator, is 18 when the novel opens, and her sister Constance is 28. They live in a mansion at the edge of town with their ailing uncle—the bulk of their family having been murdered six years before by a spot of culinary poisoning. One of the features of a gothic novel is that the building the novel is set in is seen to be a character itself, and the Blackwood’s mansion is a perfect example of this. The house and the garden are the domain of Mary Katherine and Constance, and its fate is as disturbing as that of its inhabitants. Satisfyingly creepy while not being too grotesque.
Andrew—I’ve just finished Waiting for Sunrise by William Boyd, and like everybody else here in the shop who has read it, I heartily recommend it. I haven’t read Boyd before, but I appreciate now why he is so hugely popular. He falls into that shadowy area somewhere between the ‘literary’ and the ‘popular’, and this one—a psychosexual spy thriller set in Vienna, London and Geneva in World War One—gallops along at a wonderful pace. He’s incredibly adept at exploring the shadows in all our lives, but at its core the book really is simply a cracking good page-turner; and is wonderfully evocative of the era.