Cannonball Read 7, Book 5: The Point of Rescue by Sophie Hannah

2980614Normally, when I post a review of Hannah’s books on here and tweet the link, I’ll include her twitter handle. She gives good chat on there and also reads the reviews (she commented on something specific in one of mine, so it’s not like she was just all “oh thanks” about it). I won’t be doing it on this one, because holy fucking shit I thought this book was absolutely terrible.

Admittedly, I’ve read the books out of sequence, which doesn’t help matters. I started with book 5 in the series, went back and read books 1 and 2, jumped ahead and read books 7 and 8 and now am back here at book number 3. It’s very clear, given how much more I enjoyed the later books, that Hannah has, improved greatly as a writer. It also doesn’t help that I watched the TV adaptation of this a few years back and the TV writers really smoothed over a hell of a lot of cracks in the book.

The premise is a bloody good one though. Sally Thorne is a mother of two with a high stress job. She uses a cancelled work conference as an excuse to escape for a week from her life. She pretends to her husband it’s not cancelled and has a week in a spa hotel, where she ends up having a shagtastic time with a bloke called Mark Bretherick. The next time she hears that name is when his wife and daughter are found dead at home. Only, the Mark Bretherick on the news is not the man Sally Thorne spent her dirty week with…..

From there, the book goes somewhat off a cliff. Firstly, the characters are mostly ridiculous. I know a few mums, all of whom are juggling work and home life, none of whom seem to find it as impossibly difficult as Sally Thorne does. Her hysterically over the top reactions to pretty much everything to do with her job and her home life become very tiresome very quickly. There are too many police characters and expert witnesses, all of whom are a parade of stereotypes and caricatures. The only ones in any kind of focus are the main pair, Simon Waterhouse and Charlie Zailer. And their relationship is maddening, nonsensical.

The reveal of whodunnit and why is protracted, repetitive, tiresome and wholly unconvincing. Having spent a VERY LONG TIME waffling on about all kinds of boring twaddle, a race to find a missing witness is rushed and fumbled. All in all, this book is an unholy mess and you’re well advised to skip it if you’ve started reading the series. Nothing happens to any recurring characters that is of any import. Life is too short.

Cannonball Read 6, Book 50: Just What Kind Of Mother Are You? by Paula Daly

18104711I love a good thriller. Anyone who’s been reading my reviews since I started Cannonballing will have noticed that I’m a bit partial to a Sophie Hannah here, a Val McDermid there. So this much talked about debut from Paula Daly, with its intriguing tagline of “Your friend’s child is missing. It’s your fault” seemed right up my street. So it’s a shame it ended up leaving me flat.

Our put upon heroine is Lisa Kallisto. Living in the quiet Lake District, she’s a working mother of three kids, so she’s a bit pushed busywise, is Lisa. Her best friend is posh Kate, who’s married to well to do Guy. Their children are besties with Lisa’s children. When Lisa takes her eye off the ball over a planned sleepover at her house with her teenage daughter Sally and Kate’s daughter Lucinda, then Lucinda vanishes, leaving Lisa held responsible, wracked with guilt and determined to get to the bottom of what’s happened. Lucinda isn’t the first girl in the area to go missing though, and when the first girl turns up stripped naked and shellshocked by her ordeal, Lisa goes into a desperate tailspin as she races against the clock to find Lucinda.

See how that should be quite gripping? But Daly is so hellbent on trying to show us how Lisa’s life is beset with domestic normality and working class drudgery, that whole swathes of the book are devoted to banging on about her busy life and are not that interesting. Once we get into the investigation, alternate chapters go to DC Joanna Aspinall, told in the 3rd  person and again, tons of time given over to her awkward living arrangements and her pursuit of a breast reduction. It makes for fully rounded characters, yes. It also makes for some dull reading in what is supposed to be a thriller.

I would forgive that amount of extraneous faffery if the story being told was a cracking one, but this ended up falling short. All the clues as to what’s happened to Lucinda are uncovered by chance and coincidence. The mystery behind the other girls who are disappearing and then showing back up naked and abused is resolved by a tip off from the public. And when the full unpleasant truth as to where Lucinda went and why is unravelled, it’s both so lame and far-fetched as to cause much rolling of eyes and comments of “bitch, please” from the reader. Disappointing. But enough glimmers of talent shone through that I’d be willing to give her next book a try. Let’s see how it goes.

Cannonball Read 6, Book 47: Lost For Words by Edward St Aubyn

18490609There are some novelists who, when you read them, you really feel like you get to know them. And you like them. My literary crush on Patrick Ness is well documented, but I’d also happily go for a pint with Stephen King, Sarah Waters, David Mitchell and so on. Purely based on how much I enjoy their books and how their voice comes across in it, you understand. Based on this so-called novel, I wouldn’t want to go anywhere near Edward St Aubyn. Not  only is he a godawful smug twat, but he’s also a very bitter one.

St Aubyn has never won the Booker prize. He was shortlisted for it back in 2006, but failed to clinch the prize (it went to The Inheritance of Loss, which I hated. In my humble opinion, it should have gone to The Night Watch). Five years after St Aubyn was so egregiously overlooked, the Booker prize found itself in a bit of a pickle. Chaired by Stella Rimington, the ex-head of MI5 turned author, the opinions of her and the judges was repeatedly criticised for being simplistic, plebeian and so on and so forth. Redeemed by choosing The Sense of an Ending as the eventual winner, you would think that three years later, it should really fade into the mists of time.

But St Aubyn doesn’t think it should. With Lost For Words, he gives us a thinly fictionalised Booker Prize, here renamed the Elysian, with an awful lot of similarities to the 2011 hoo-ha. And it has to be one of the most unfunny, unpleasant, and borderline unreadable steaming piles of shite I’ve read in a very VERY long time. Among the “characters” (the only one St Aubyn attempts to give more than two dimensions to is the lovelorn debut novelist, Sam Black. Black has written, we’re repeatedly told, the only worthwhile book on the Elysian shortlist. I wonder who St Aubyn based him on?), are Katherine Burns, who is desperate for the attention of the Elysian committee, her publisher, who she’s having an affair with, an Indian prince who’s written what he is convinced is a masterpiece, and his aunt, whose cookbook is submitted to the committee in error, instead of Katherine’s book. When it ends up on the longlist for the prize, it starts to go from bad to worse.

With me so far? This slender tome drips ugly bitterness from every page. There are several many “excerpts” from the Elysian books and the books written by the judging panel (that’ll be the Rimington-esque judge then). All of them are all too obvious in who they’re skewering and none of them are really readable. St Aubyn seems blissfully unaware the message he’s sending out is “you’re so beneath me” with these horribly constructed paragraphs. Another character, the French philosopher Didier, speaks in unfathomable and VERY long speeches, none of which are remotely interesting or amusing. You’ve got the joke, such as it is (oh hey, he’s really pompous, oh my sides), after about a sentence and a half, but you’ve still got whole paragraphs to mirthlessly wade through. For me, St Aubyn really missed the point that for satire to really work, it has to be somewhat good natured. Joe Keenan and James Hamilton Paterson have written books along similar lines that have had me roaring with laughter. I didn’t so much as smile even once at this godforsaken and worthless piece of crap.

Far from going for a pint with St Aubyn, after this I’m far likelier to grab the nearest hardback and brain him with it, before calling him a name that rhymes with “blunt”. This book is AWFUL and it’s a real shame the author has absolutely no idea what a total tool it makes him look.

Cannonball Read 6, Book 38: Bellman & Black by Diane Setterfield

17726082I really enjoyed Setterfield’s debut novel, The Thirteenth Tale. It was a book as much about the love of books as it was the dark tale it was telling, and telling it with an unreliable narrator to boot. It left a lasting impression and when I spotted her follow up, a ghost story no less, on the shelf in Foyles, I had to buy it. I bloody love ghost stories. I love being scared when I’m reading or watching something, it’s the best. I haven’t had a book send shivers down my spine since Sarah Waters’ The Little Stranger (there’s one scene in that book so tense and frightening, it nearly caused a panic attack. High praise indeed). So I was properly excited to read this one. And that’s where it all goes wrong.

It doesn’t help that the marketing for the novel has this to say about it: “Bellman & Black is a heart-thumpingly perfect ghost story, beautifully and irresistibly written, its ratcheting tension exquisitely calibrated line by line”. I spent the whole book waiting for there to be anything approaching tension, but I couldn’t find it among the long rambling descriptions of mundane day to day workings of mills and funeral emporiums. So, our hero is William Bellman. At the age of 11, he has the best catapult and is the envy of all his friends. He kills a rook with it one day, which apparently will be important later. He grows up and leads a charmed life, until people around him begin to die. At every funeral William attends, a stranger is present, dressed in black and smiling at him. After losing his wife and all but one of his children to illness, William is almost insane with grief and at his wife’s grave, he encounters the stranger again. This time, they talk and the stranger makes a proposition.

From that proposition, William builds a successful funeral emporium, the titular Bellman & Black. The first half of the novel is focussed so much on William’s work at the family mill, it’s mostly quite dull. The second half focuses on the building of this new venture and is even more dull, because people stop dying. Nothing ratchets up line by line, apart from maybe my impatience for something to actually happen, for Setterfield to pay off Bellman’s obsession with rooks, why people died around him, something, anything. But when it comes, the payoff is a crushing, boring, and very much not scary disappointment.

If you don’t believe the hype, and don’t know this is supposed to be heart thumping, perfect and tense or whatever, then there’s something quite absorbing about the earlier parts of the book. William is a charming rogue of a character, and the happiness he finds with his family being so comprehensively shattered makes for some bleak reading. But nothing can save the second half, where William is cold, closed off and occasionally barking mad, monomaniacally focussed on his business. Such a disappointment.

Cannonball Read 6, Book 33: The Gunslinger by Stephen King

884572After ploughing through the biggest of the big books with The Quincunx, I was, as I saw someone put it on Twitter after back to back reading The Luminaries and The Goldfinch, “yearning for a pamphlet”. And what better palate cleanser, I thought, than the opening volume of Stephen King’s epic Dark Tower series? It’s a trifling 210 pages and it’s the opening gambit to a series of books that increase in page count as they do in scope. Bound to be a winner, right? Well, as it turns out, no.

As it turns out, I really didn’t enjoy this at all. I didn’t get any real sense of anything, time, character, place, nothing. I didn’t really care who anyone was, where they were going or why. Roland, our titular gunslinger, is an enigma, as is the Man in Black he is relentlessly pursuing. There are some peripheral characters swirling around too, but they’re even less filled in and hard to care about. Especially as one of them already seems to be dead. Or something.

Another aspect that kept yanking me out of the story is that the quality of writing is noticeably lower than that of his later output. King, like all novelists, grew more accomplished with each book he wrote and while I have banged on at length about how wonky his output got after he had his near death experience, there’s no denying for me that he started out good and became really truly great. The Gunslinger was started in 1978 and published in 1982 and, well, it shows. The language is repetitive, it’s littered with adverbs, the structure is confused and incoherent, it essentially drove me a little bit crazy trying to read it.

I got through it though, but I really was not that fussed. However, everyone else I know who has tackled the Dark Tower series assures me that this is merely the undercooked appetiser which belies the delicious banquet to follow. So I won’t give up and still plan to carry on reading them, not least because every volume of them is sitting on bookshelves in my flat. I’m also advised by a fellow King aficionado that re-reading ‘Salem’s Lot before carrying on with them would also be a worthwhile detour. So since that’s also on shelves here, I will be doing that too, I imagine.

Cannonball Read 6, Book 29: In The House Upon The Dirt Between The Lake and The Woods by Matt Bell

16041846Ah this book. Last year, it was everywhere I turned. It was on list after list after list of recommendations, of mid year and year end round ups. It was hotly anticipated and has been highly lauded. So even though it wasn’t really something I would normally go after, I thought I would see what all the fuss was about. And as unwieldy as it is, I do really like the title. It’s not yet published in the UK, so I imported it via a friend visiting from the USA. It tells the story of a married couple who move to the titular house to start a family. But this is a fairy tale world, where the wife can sing things into existence and the husband can commune with the wildlife and as every pregnancy fails, events become ever darker and more sinister.

Things do get off to a promising start. Our narrator, the husband (Bell doesn’t give them anything as straightforward as names), takes one of the failed foetuses into himself, calls it a fingerling, and begins to listen as it talks to him. It’s super creepy and kind of brilliant and the rage that consumes him as they watch his wife take ever more desperate measures to pretend her last pregnancy has not failed is quite chilling. But things begin to go downhill fast. Bell is making his debut as a novelist, and the idea isn’t enough to be spun out to a full length novel at just over 300 pages. It’s a short story, stretched far beyond its scope for narrative and Bell’s use of language. What starts out as equal parts florid, lyrical and spiky soon becomes tiresome, repetitive and dull. I really wanted to like it. And for about 50 pages, I did enjoy it.

Problem is, I then had another 250 pages to wade through, with nameless characters I’m not overly invested in. The wife is barely there, and once you get past the lengths she’s gone to for a child, there’s not really anything more there to hold on to. Instead we have seemingly endless pages of the husband fishing in the lake and trapping animals in the dirt.  And I hope you like the words “house”, “dirt”, “lake” and “woods”, because you will read them approximately eleventy billion times before you get to the end of this not really that long but still far too long book.

Ultimately, if you read this sentence: “The squid was a hunter and a trapper too, and I was the squid and the squid was me, and we shot through the ink toward the bear, searching for that thin breadth of bone-spaced chance, and as we jetted through that horror I heard the fingerling’s voice call out to me, call out in many voices for me to save him, to take him back in, begging as only a child can beg” and you think “holy fuck that’s amazing” then this is the book for you and I hope you enjoy it much more than I did. If you rolled your eyes and thought “oh for heavens sakes” then don’t even pick it up. I prefer books with characters and a narrative, something I can get interested in and care about. If I am left in awe of the wordsmithery along the way, bonus. If I’m not gripped and I call think is “STOP SAYING THE WORDS ‘HOUSE’ AND ‘LAKE'” then nobody is having any fun. Ah well!

Cannonball Read 6, Book 26: I Am Pilgrim by Terry Hayes

14781675This book seems to be everywhere at the moment. It has been prominently displayed in bookstores since its hardback publication last year and the paperback just came out, causing a fresh wave of publicity. There are posters everywhere I turn, all of them emblazoned with pull quotes from glowing reviews about how exciting, pulse racing, daring, smart and thrilling it is. You’ll see there’s a sticker on the cover there that denotes it is “the only thriller you need to read this year”. Having now finished it, I can only scratch my head and quote Tori Amos to ask “baby, what have you been smoking?”

The back cover does, I’ll admit, hook you in. “A young woman murdered in a run-down Manhattan hotel. A father publicly beheaded in the blistering sun of Saudi Arabia. A man’s eyes stolen from his living body as he leaves a secret Syrian research laboratory. Smouldering remains on a mountainside in the Hindu Kush. A plot to commit an appalling crime against humanity. One thread binds them all, one man to take the journey. Pilgrim.” But Hayes, an ex-screenwriter making his debut as a novelist, puts his foot wrong from the very beginning. Some of the plot points he asks to swallow are served up in indigestible chunks. I could not ever believe an ex-agent from a top secret agency only ever known as The Division would write a book detailing forensic criminal investigation and how you would commit a perfect murder, let alone that anyone would ever allow it to be published, for starters. But that book was used to plan the hotel murder which opens the book, and it’s the reason our Pilgrim narrator is there and that the whole book kicks off at all. So, whatever.

Another issue I had with the book is how much Hayes loves a back story. After a couple of chapters in the hotel dealing with the murder, he then delves into the backstory of Pilgrim, his NYPD buddy who also read the book and consults him from time to time and into the history of the man plotting to commit the appalling crime, only known as Saracen. We don’t return to the story and start to gather any kind of momentum for 150 pages. And those 150 pages could easily have been 30. And even better, there’s five “missing years” in Saracen’s backstory, one that otherwise has a forensic level of mind-numbing detail. Those years are missing purely because if they weren’t, something that takes Pilgrim A REALLY LONG TIME to figure out would have been immediately obvious.

Once Saracen’s plot becomes known to Pilgrim (spoiler alert: it’s smallpox. Saracen managed to steal the vaccine, using someone else’s eyes, and then synthesise the virus in his garage, having taught himself how from the internet. I shit you not.) the race to find Saracen takes him to Turkey, where we have a shitload more backstory. Parachuted in under the cover story of investigating the death of an American billionaire, Pilgrim actually has to investigate that and the Saracen plot as well, to maintain cover. While delving into the death, desperation forces his hand and there’s a plot point involving fireworks and giant mirrors that even Dan Brown would have raised an eyebrow at and said “bitch, please”. It also doesn’t stack up with someone who repeatedly says “had I been paying more attention at the time, I would have noticed…” or something along those lines. I got to the point where every time he said it, it caused an eye roll and an exclamation of “you’re supposed to be the best secret agent alive!”

Repetition is another of Hayes’s problems. When endlessly discussing the smallpox scenario, I lost count of how many times I read the words “crash through the vaccine”. The writing generally isn’t anywhere near as good as it thinks it is. There are flashbacks which last over several chapters and are purely there to introduce one character and one tiny plot point. And those flashbacks are clumsily constructed, to say the least. Hayes also talks down to his audience, pausing to explain what a tagine is, which just made me yell “I KNOW WHAT A FUCKING TAGINE IS”. Having patronised us, he then talks about craigslist as if it’s actually a list belonging to a guy named Craig and worst of all, doesn’t know what a zombie is. When detailing how Saracen will unleash the smallpox he notes that after exposure, the exposed can then “accurately be described as zombies – one of the walking dead.” Anyone who’s ever seen a zombie film will be happy to tell you that zombies are actually undead and unless the smallpox has killed you and then you’ve come back to life with a desire to eat brains, you’re not a zombie.

So there we are. A fast paced thriller that is neither fast paced nor especially thrilling. Ambitiously constructed, sure, but Hayes’s reach far exceeds his grasp and what could have been an absolute slam dunk is instead by turns frustrating, dull and laughable.

 

Cannonball Read 6, Book 15: The Kills by Richard House

18224507Since I don’t want to be a total Debbie Downer about this book, I’m going to start with a positive. Ten years after first attempting to do so, I have finally ploughed my way through all 13 books on the Man Booker Prize Longlist. Some years I didn’t bother to try (mostly years when Hilary Mantel was on the list) and other years I’ve lost interest or had such a bad book experience with one of the novels that I’ve abandoned it. But, spurred on by Cannonball participation, I went all in with 2013’s list and now, finally, I can rest. After the ups and downs of said list, I don’t think I’ll be attempting a repeat of the challenge. Especially after ending on such a very long book, about which I have very little good to say.

Fellow Cannonballer Travis recently lamented that almost every book with a big page count he’s attempted has disappointed him and gone unfinished. All I can say is, Travis, don’t even go near The Kills. Four interconnected novels allegedly telling one massive story, it clocks in at 1024 pages in hardback form, a veritable brieze block of a book. Comprising Sutler, The Massive, The Kill and The Hit, House has apparently written an epic novel of crime and conspiracy. The publicity machine loves to tell us how House moves across continents, characters and genres and that 2013 did not produce a more exciting novel. Also, in a groundbreaking world first, House has created multimedia content to accompany the novel. Links to the appropriate content are noted throughout, they can all be found here. And while that’s all well and good, if you’re not going to write an interesting epic novel, then what on earth is the point?

The blurb also tells us that the book opens with a man on the run and ends with a body burned beyond recognition. That plus the previous excited tub thumping made me think I was in for a breathless, pulse racing, Bourne style read. How wrong I was. Even without those expectations though, I wouldn’t have been able to escape that The Kills is an overstuffed, overlong, over-populated, overambitious and overly dull disappointment. The conspiracy is never properly unravelled. Sutler is at the heart of it and disappears entirely for about a third of the book. When he returns, there’s three possible versions of him on the loose, we never find out who any of them actually are. The heavily sketched in backstory about an unsolved murder in Italy which may never even have happened (and the only element of the story to feature in all 4 of the linked novels) actually causes one of the characters to say this: “Perhaps someone will write a book about making a film about a story that is taken from this book which is taken from a real-life story that was copied from a story in a book. You know?” I don’t know about you, but I didn’t make it to the end of that little statement without wanting to smack both the person saying it and the author who wrote it.

The Kills is full of characters banging on so lengthily and so inanely, so if reading these kind of exchanges is your thing, then have at it. However, if you prefer your crime/conspiracy/action books to actually contain crime/conspiracy/action then this probably isn’t a wise choice. After acres and acres and ACRES of painfully incoherent and tiresomely dull chit chat between equally boring characters (the sisters in the final section, The Hit, really take the biscuit on that), the book winds to a drab and boring close. What’s more, as a final insult to the reader who bothered to stick with the book for the whole journey, it does so without resolving a single plot strand.

I didn’t bother to look at any of the multimedia content House created. He notes that the book can be enjoyed (his word, very much not mine) without them. The experience of those who have bothered doesn’t seem to be overwhelmingly positive, with one user noting that he reads books to get away from computers and another noting that the content of the website was just as boring as the book. So, all in all, while House should be commended for undertaking such an experiment, I can’t say that I found it to be a success.

Cannonball Read 6, Book 14: The Child’s Child by Barbara Vine

15823440I’ve loved Barbara Vine for like ever. I know she doesn’t exist and is in fact Ruth Rendell, but still. It’s an irony that I have not now nor have I ever had any desire to read a Rendell novel. Vine first showed up on my radar when A Fatal Inversion was televised for the BBC way back in time before the hula hoop. Okay, it was like 1992 or something but still, I’m old, alright? Anyway, I read the book of that, then burned my way through everything she’d published, and she went on to my list of Authors Who I Will Read Everything They Ever Publish. Which brings us to her latest novel, The Child’s Child. 

Grace and Andrew Eaton inherit their grandmother’s vast Hampstead house when she dies. They move in and divide the house down the middle, taking half each as their own flat, with a little bit of shared living space. The wheels start to come off when Andrew’s boyfriend moves in and upsets the sibling harmony they have established. James Derain is a novelist, highly sensitive and initially clashes with Grace over her thesis. She is looking at the treatment of illegitimacy in literature and comparing it to the treatment of homosexuality. He takes it a little too personally, but then a personal tragedy comes along and everything spins completely out of control with potentially fatal consequences.

Not every Vine novel is a home run, but they are always a good read, you know? Well, this latest is a crushing disappointment from start to finish. Only one third of the novel is actually about the Eatons. The other two thirds are an unpublished novel Grace finds while researching her thesis. Dealing in a thinly veiled fictional account of the author’s family, it covers gays and illegitimate children, but it’s not interesting and the lead character of Maud is increasingly less likeable and infinitely more crazy with each page turn. And it’s TWO THIRDS of the book. As for the Eaton’s third, well, I didn’t believe one single word of it. Not one. The characters are ridiculous, especially James Derain. The arc that drives the Eaton’s apart is dumb, the arc that pulls them back together again is so patently unrealistic, I was actually shouting at the book when it was all kicking off. An unexpected and total failure from Vine. And what’s really sad is this could well be her last novel, as Rendell is pushing 90 years old.

Cannonball Read 6, Book 11: Unexploded by Alison Macleod

18903281And so we reach the penultimate book in my apparently neverending Booker Prize Longlist challenge of 2013. Apparently, it’s a “much anticipated” new novel, which I’m sure is the case for those of us who have read MacLeod’s previous novels and knew this one was coming out. As it is, I was blissfully unaware of either, but the subject of this novel was very much up my alley, so to speak. Set in 1940, it focuses on a maddeningly middle class family, the Beaumonts. Geoffrey and Evelyn are unhappily married and living in Brighton, which is living with the very real threat of being invaded by Hitler’s army in the early years of the Second World War. Geoffrey has been made superintendent of an “enemy alien” camp at Brighton racetrack, Evelyn wafts around desperately, feeling alienated herself. Their only child, Phillip, is obsessed with the rumours that Hitler will make the Brighton Pavilion his UK HQ and is generally either fascinated by or oblivious to the horrors of the war beginning to encroach on his family. Back at the camp, Evelyn meets Otto Gottlieb, and well, the blurb would have it that “Love collides with fear, the power of art with the forces of war, and the lives of Evelyn, Otto and Geoffrey are changed irrevocably.”

I think the biggest issue I had with this book is that said change takes a bastard long time to appear, and the groundwork of laying out the lives we’re going to see change takes WAY too long and is not at any point even the slightest bit interesting. The awful middle class musings of the Beaumont couple really made me yearn for someone to wander in to the novel and shoot them both dead. It’s pushing the halfway mark before Evelyn and Otto actually meet, and nearly three quarters of this tiresome novel has elapsed before anything happens between them. Which would be fine if a) the jacket copy didn’t make it seem like there was going to be FAR more to it and b) the lead up was interesting.

Macleod also darts about in time and in character POV, which for me made it a very bitty and shallow read. I wanted more of Otto’s history, and infinitely less of Evelyn’s hand wringing. I don’t know if it’s because I saw the driest World War One play just as I started reading this, or whether it’s because I don’t think any WW novel is ever going to top Pat Barker’s Regeneration trilogy, but I just didn’t take to this book one iota. I know it’s WWII and not I, but even so, the comparisons were made. Of course, it could also be that MacLeod has really gilded the lily with her prose. There’s some awful flowery overwritten guff that made me roll my eyes and dislike the Beaumonts even more. And my word does she ever foreground the fact that the Beaumonts have two cyanide pills, just in case. That comes to nothing, but every other page had me yelling “JUST TAKE THEM, WHY DON’T YOU?”

MacLeod does all her characters a huge disservice with the fate she ultimately deals them. I suppose we’re meant to find it heartbreaking and tragic and real. I just found it incredibly annoying and deeply unsatisfying. If the gorgeous cover and good jacked copy make you think about reading this book, I have one thing to say to you: Don’t.