Big Sky by Kate Atkinson

History is Kate Atkinson’s subject in every book (well every book that I’ve read), not just history in the sense of World War II in Life After Life and Transcription, but history in terms of all the pieces of what we have done, experienced, seen or thought about makes us who we are today, and she is an expert in introducing that history one piece at a time, and moving us from one moment to the next to different times and places. And Jackson Brodie, the private detective that she first introduced in Case Histories in 2004, is back again after nearly a 10 year hiatus. He is the centre of this book, and he isn’t, but he is torn apart by all his conflicting and conflicted histories, and he fails to operate in the world he inhabits,, or succeeds despite his failures.

Another part of Atkinson’s genius is the way her major and minor characters all have depth. Almost no one is there just to carry a spear. And, I am always amazed at how she gives just enough of their story to deepen the character, saving more for later. Their are heroes here, and there are very evil people, but most are in between trying to make their way and failing, some failing their way to love or friendship, others failing their way to failure.

I am not going to tell you the story. It involves Brodie and his ex-partner and their son and their dog Dido; it involves women who have been or are being used and controlled by men; it involves women who overcome the darkness; it involves children who find themselves in dark spaces who come through; it involves so many more characters worth meeting, and it involves sex trafficking, Epstein-esque soirees, where we see the evil and the suffering without it wallowing in horror and gore. The characters are glorious and more than worth spending time with. Read the book. Read everything she has written–I feel confident in saying that, despite not having read everything.

Transcription by Kate Atkinson

This is a quieter book than most of Atkinson’s. It’s a spy story that slowly unveils deeper and deeper levels. The book begins and ends with brief chapters as Juliet Armstrong is dying. Then Atkinson moves, as she always can, deftly to sections of the story in 1940 and 1950. Atkinson can shift from scene to scene in the space of a sentence. In 1940, Juliet is hired as a “girl” to be in a secretarial role with MI5, where she has to transcribe the meetings of a cell of fascist sympathizing fifth-columnists organized by an MI5 agent. She is soon sent undercover to infiltrate the Right Club led by the formidable Mrs. Scaife. For much of the novel, it seems this is all Juliet has been up to. It is a very English novel of ordinary men and women drably functioning in a grey world. Juliet mixes with the upper-classes among her bosses in the service, among the fascists and among her fellow secretaries.

Without fanfare, but just quietly moving us on, Atkinson reveals that there is so much more going on for Juliet and for the war effort, and hints that nothing ever quite ends, just from time to time, one after another, someone drops out or dies.

I thought I was disappointed in this, but now it may not be Atkinson at her most exciting, but it is this author at the top of her game.

Rivers of London (Graphic)

RiversOfLondon-CollectedEditions-Blog-2Rivers of London began as a series of novels by Ben Aaronovitch.

Each volume is a separate story featuring Peter Grant, who is both a junior detective and trainee wizard.  He is joined in the stories by his boss Detective Chief Inspector Thomas Nightingale, a police colleague of Nightingale’s, and Peter’s girlfriend, Beverly Brook, who is the goddess of her namesake waterway.

The setting is the dark side of London, where criminality and evil collide. You can read the graphic series, or the novels or both, and on his own website Aaronovich has a chronology, which, of course, is not the publishing chronology, where you can read both in the sequence that the events unfold (mostly).

London is a background, and clearly the inspiration, but these could take place in any big city, on cusp of night and darkness, where reality meets the fears and real dangers that haunt us all.

Desert Remains — Steven Cooper

Desert RemainsI started reading Desert Remains, because I had to run a reading for Steven Cooper–I was given the book a few days before and got through the first 150 pages, and–always a recommendation once you reach page 100–I wanted to finish it.

Main characters:
Alex Mills–a Phoenix PD detective, who, married with a son, is not as macho as many of his colleagues. As the book progresses, he opens up to his intuition about people and events.
Gus Parker–this is where much to Cooper’s credit, I stayed with the book.  Gus is a psychic. I usually hate the way that someone with “powers” can magically jump the story forward. Gus though is an engaging character with his own limitations, and his powers can lead him and Alex astray as much as they help. If anything, he is the character one most wants to follow.
Beatice Vossenheimer–is the more traditional psychic and larger than life mentor, and would be yenta to Gus, and early in the book she is on a mission to root out fake psychics.  These scenes bring energy and humour to the early stages of the book.

However, the true central character is geography: the mountains in and around Phoenix.  They are the site of the murders, but also they connect to earlier settlers in the area, and provide a backdrop to put the stories in context.  Many of the desert remains of the title are the many petroglyphs that are on rocks and in caves all over the valley. Each death, would be romance, relationship stress, no matter how big they seem, are puny moments on the immense time-lines of human and geological history.  I finished the book when I would usually  be in Phoenix working at Changing Hands Bookstore–it was a way to be there, but also made me miss that time and those friends intensely. Changing Hands appears in the book renamed Turning Pages–and probably still on Mill.

The mystery is engaging–I caught on at just the right time–the characters are people you want to spend time with, and there is energy and humour in the writing.  I’m looking forward to the next Mills and Parker book.

Her Every Fear by Peter Swanson

Peter Swanson writes thrillers and his last two, the only two I have read, are set in Boston and New England.

Her Every Fear is set on Beacon Hill, in Boston, where I used to teach, and it has a second strand of the story set in Belsize Park in London, near where I went to secondary school. How could I not read it?

The “Her” of the title is Kate Priddy, and she has arranged a flat swap with her cousin, Corbin Dell, who she has never met.  Kate is all alone in the opulent flat in Boston.  Then a neighbour disappears, who it turns out later has been murdered and Corbin is a suspect. Several creepy neighbours befriend Kate, but she suffers from some form of anxiety that may come from and although she lets them close, she is both nervous, but can’t step away.  The net closes in, and Kate is in real danger that stems from a meeting Corbin had as an exchange student in London many years earlier.

As a writer, Swanson is ruthless.  He draws a string around his characters and his readers until the bag is closed above their heads and there is almost no escape.  For the readers who like tightly written thrillers with an impressive sense of place his books are perfect entertainments.

Bookstrails website 


Before the Fall by Noah Hawley

Before the FallWhat first drew me to Noah Hawley’s current novel was the fact that the first two seasons of FX’s Fargo were some of the tensest, tightest, most strikingly filmed television programmes ever. Hawley is the show runner for the show, he writes a majority of the episodes and directs some of them.  To take someone else’s vision and remake it while keeping a sense of the original takes guts and skill. Noah Hawley

Before the Fall is all Hawley’s own work.  A private plane crashes in the Atlantic on the way from Martha’s Vineyard to New York.  On board are David Bateman, the founder and CEO of a Fox News type network, Ben Kipling, a  financier–“a blue-eyed shark in a tailored button-down shirt,” and Scott Burroughs, an artist.  The wealthy men have wives–Maggie is present in the story,  but the Ben’s wife is barely there.  Also on the plane are the crew and the Batemans’ children.  Only two of the characters survive, but everyone’s story is told.  The narrative moves forward with as Hawley looks back at the lives of most of the characters. As the book proceeds, and more of the story happens in the present, the back stories are still there.

While creating a mystery, Hawley manages to develop empathy for the crooked, the troubled and the heroic–not equally but enough to have woven a human tapestry from characters whose connection is the plane crash brought in later are treasury agents investigating financial misdeeds, the National Transport Safety Board the FCC, the FBI. Some of these agents become characters in the story.

Hawley examines how the media respond to the accident that killed on of their own and it becomes clear that the story takes over from the truth.  Some of the media are actively working that way, especially Bateman’s leading anchor, Bill Cunningham, others are just following the sensationalist’s lead.

But at the centre of the story are the two survivors and their bond even as the harsh world of finance, tabloid media and excessive world circle around them.

I came to the book from good TV, and went away with questions about TV and found a good book.Fargo Logo

The Guardian review of the book

The Dry: A Novel by Jane Harper

Aaron Falk, now a Federal agentthe-dry-cover in the big city, in Melbourne, returns to his home town, Kiewarra, a drought-wracked, small country town, for the funeral of his close friend Luke Hadler, who has seemingly murdered his wife and son and then killed himself.  This is a mystery, so nothing is that straight-forward, and the new local cop draws Aaron into the investigation. Many local characters resist his involvement. Partly because he moved away and partly because they believe that years before he was involved in the death of a teenage girl that Luke gave him a questionable alibi for. Much as the mystery and the characters draw the reader in, this is a vital novel for big city readers to encounter a vivid, contemporary examination of how hard life can be in the country–the land and weather don’t cooperate, the local authorities seem far away, and the urban centres don’t even notice or understand.

In Memoriam Peter Dickinson


Peter Dickinson the author of around 60 books, has died at the age of 88. He is a children’s book author, fantasist and mystery writer.


I read The Changes years ago, and then later on read EvaAK and Tulku,  before discovering some of his adult mysteries.  He has such a fluent imagination. HE’s one of those writers who keeps working year after year, and none of the books I have read have not been worth reading.


New York Times
The Guardian
The Independent
The Times
The Telegraph
Publisher’s Weekly
School Library Journal

Author’s Website
Fantastic Fiction

Currently Reading, Jan 13,2015

Just finished The Disappeared by Kristina Ohlsson. This is the third in the Alex Recht and Fredrika Bergman series. I like the way that the characters’ issues are as dramatic as the mystery. You are certainly drawn in and pulled along by Ohlsson. This book is good, but 1 and 2 are better. Start with Unwanted (I managed to find the second one first). This Nordic and somewhat noir.