30 September 2016

The Child Garden

The Child Garden
Catriona McPherson
Constable, 29 September 2016
PB, 292pp
I'm grateful to the publisher for an advance copy of this book.

Eden was its name. "An alternative school for happy children," said the  brochure. "A load of hippies running wild in the woods," said the  locals.  After a suicide it closed its doors and the children scattered. Thirty  years later, it's a care home; its grounds neglected and overgrown, its only neighbour Gloria Harkness, who acts as tenant-caretaker in a  rundown farmhouse to be close to her son. Nicky lives in the home, lighting up Gloria's life and breaking her heart every day. Nicky and a ragbag of animals aren't enough to keep loneliness at bay, and when Gloria's childhood friend and secret sweetheart, Stephen "Stig" Tarrant, turns up at her door one night, all she can see is the boy she knew. She lets him in. Stig's being stalked by an Eden girl, he says. She has goaded him into meeting her at the site of the suicide. Except that suddenly, after all these years, the dead are beginning to speak and suicide is not what they say.  

This book is just what I want from a crime novel - which, perhaps strangely, is to not be plunged right away into the crime. I want atmosphere and lots of it. Yes, there's a prologue here which describes just what happened 30 years before (or maybe it doesn't...) but then when we quickly come back to the present day, McPherson skilfully establishes a great sense of place. That's what I look for - ever since reading Sherlock Holmes years ago, I want to be shown the setting, I want it to be real. And that's what The Child Garden does. We're introduced to Gloria, to her lonely (or self sufficient) life in a remote cottage, ten miles of single track road from the nearest town. To her old and beloved dog Walter Scott. To her house cats and her byre cats. To her tumbledown house - shabby, draughty, damp, remote, but safe.

Or maybe not so safe. It isn't long before the action starts, before there's a pounding on Gloria's door one rainswept night and her life changes forever. An old friend is in trouble, and she agrees to help, putting herself outside the law and stepping into matters that definitely don't concern her.

I loved Gloria as a character. She has stubbornness woven into her nature, whether in caring for her disabled child when abandoned by his father or in helping out that old friend, despite it bringing trouble down on her head. She has wounds - a vile parent and sister, that divorce - but she's bright, realistic about life and loves her dog and cats. Best of all she's a reader, the shelves of the old cottage stacked with books and story strewn with bookish references (indeed even the very title, which plays on Robert Louis Stevenson's A Child's Garden of Verses, some of which are quoted here).

Gloria is a great character to spend time with. McPherson has perhaps given a little help here - she's got a job (local registrar) that is useful for finding out about people, there is the odd useful fall of snow (showing up footprints) and she has quite a bit of luck, but none of this is implausible. And she has a difficult quest - to work out what happened in the grounds of Eden all those years ago. The account in the prologue is tantalising but incomplete. Every one of the children who was there - every one who survived - has a version of their own, but what's the truth? And how does it explain what's happening now? I enjoyed Gloria's unravelling of this - necessarily constrained by practicalities like caring for Nicky, doing her job, and avoiding letting on to the police what she's up to.

But beneath that mystery there's another which is older, darker and stranger. It concerns the Devil's Bridge in the grounds of Eden. The "hallowed place". The "rocking stone" behind Gloria's cottage. Does the pattern of that she's tracing have echoes in the geometry of an earlier tragedy? If it does, how can she hope to put things right? There are dark shadows here that are just right for a chilly Autumn evening.

This is a thoroughly enjoyable mystery with a great setting, believable characters - the vignettes of the ex Eden children are excellent sketches of their varying, mostly sad, lives - and, especially in the final few chapters, a rising tension that makes the pages fly by faster and faster.

Highly recommended.


29 September 2016

Blogtour - The Vanishing Year extract


I'm really pleased to feature an extract from Kate Moretti's new book The Vanishing Year - a thriller with pace, intelligent, rounded characters and above all, heart.

You can read my review here. Now, over to Zoe...


1. APRIL 2014, NEW YORK CITY

Lately, I’ve been dreaming about my mother. Not Evelyn, the only mother I’ve ever known, the woman who raised me and loved me and taught me to swim in the fresh water of Lake Chabot, bake a sticky sweet pecan pie, fly-fish. I’ve thought about Evelyn plenty in the five years since she died—I’d venture to say every day.

My dreams lately are filled with the mother I’ve never met. I imagine her at sixteen years, leaving me in the care of the neonatal nurses. Did she kiss my forehead? Study her baby’s small wrinkled fingers? Or did she just scurry out, as fast as she could, hugging the wall, ducking the shadows to avoid detection until she burst through the doors, into the night air, where she could breathe again?

I could have been born in a bathroom stall at the junior prom or in the back of her parents’ car. I prefer to imagine her as a scared young kid. The only thing I know about her at all is her name: Carolyn Seever, and that is likely a fake.

My dreams are disjointed, filled with bright colors and blinking lights. Sometimes Carolyn is saving me from a faceless killer and sometimes she is the faceless killer, chasing me with knives up winding staircases that never seem to end.

Even when I’m awake, chopping vegetables for a salad for lunch or taking notes for a board meeting, I’ll drift off, lost in a daydream about what she might be doing right now or if we have the same dark, fickle hair or the same handwriting. Wonder what quirks, biologically, I’ve inherited from someone I’ve never met, and sometimes, I’ll come to in the middle of the kitchen wielding a large butcher knife, the lettuce limping on the counter. I’ve killed quite a bit of time this way.

I wonder if she’d be proud of the woman I’ve become.

The benefit for CARE, Children’s Association for Relief and Education, starts in an hour. I pace back and forth in the bedroom. I’ve never chaired before and I can’t afford to be distracted, yet here I am, my brain run amok when I can least afford it.

“Relax, Zoe, you’ve done a fabulous job, I’m sure. Like always.” Henry approaches me from behind. His large hands dance over my clavicle as he fastens the clasp of a single strand of freshwater pearls around my neck. I close my eyes and relax back into his lean frame, all sinewy muscle despite his forty years. He kisses my bare right shoulder and runs a hand down my side. His palm is hot against the fitted silk of my gown and I turn to kiss him. I step back and admire his tuxedo. His slick, blond hair and angular jaw give him an air of power, or maybe it’s just the way he appraises people, even me. He is studying me, his head cocked to the side.

“What?”

“I think the single diamond would look stunning with that dress,” he suggests softly, and I pause. He crosses the bedroom and opens the safe, retrieving one of many velvet cases and I watch him deftly remove a thin, sparkling chain, return the box to the safe, and give the dial a clockwise spin. I love the curve of his neck as he examines the necklace, the small dip behind his ear and the slope of his hairline, his hair curled slightly at the nape, and I want to run my nails up the back of his scalp. I love the long lines of his body and I

imagine his spine beneath the layers of thick fabric, all hard-edged dips and valleys. I love his almost invisible smirk, teasing me, as he motions me to spin around. I comply and in one swift motion he removes the pearls and clasps the solitaire. I turn and gaze into the mirror and a small part of me agrees: the solitaire looks fantastic. It is large, five carats, and it rests above the wide band of the strapless dress, the bottom of the teardrop hinting seductively at an ample swell of cleavage. As always, I am divided with Henry. I love his authority, the strength he has that his opinions are not merely suggestions. Or maybe it’s just that he’s so different from me: decisive, definitive.

But I did love the pearls.

“Seems indecent somehow for a benefit, doesn’t it?” I am tracing the outline of the diamond, watching him in the mirror. His eyes flicker over my reflected body. “The size of the diamond,” I clarify.

He shakes his head slowly. “I don’t think so. It’s a benefit for children, yes, but only the wealthy attend these sorts of things. You know this. It’s as much a display of the organizer as anything else. Everyone will be watching you.” He rests his hands on my shoulders.

“Stop! You’re making me nervous.” I am already on edge, my mind swimming with details. I’ve done a few of these kinds of events as a second chair but never as a chairperson. There will be a large crowd, all eyes on me, and my heart flutters against my rib cage at the thought.

I’ve been in Henry’s world more than a year now and the need to prove myself seems never-abating. This will be the first time I’ve taken any of the spotlight for myself. My debutante ball, if you will. And yet, I’m completely foolish. I’m risking everything for a slice of validation. These are things I can’t say to Henry, or to anyone.

His palms are cool and heavy. We stand this way for an indefinite amount of time, our eyes connected in the mirror. As usual, I can’t tell what he’s thinking. I have no idea if he is happy or pleased, or what he feels beyond anything he says. His eyes are veiled and closed, his mouth bowed down in a slight frown. He kisses my neck and I close my eyes.

“You are beautiful,” he whispers, and for a moment, his cheekbones soften, his eyes widen slightly, the tautness of his mouth, his chin, seems to loosen. His face opens up to me and I can read him. I wonder how many other women say this, that their husbands befuddle them? Most of the time, Henry is a closed book, his face a smooth plane, his bedroom face similar to his boardroom face, and I’m left to puzzle him out, to tease the meaning from carefully guarded responses. But right now, he looks at me expectantly.

“I was thinking about Carolyn.” I wince, knowing this isn’t the right time. I want to pull the words back. He gives me a small smile.

“We can talk later. Let’s just have a nice time, please?” He reaches into his pocket and pulls out his cell phone. He strides out of the room and my back is cold, missing the heat of him. My shoulders feel lighter, and when I glance back to the mirror, my mouth is open as if to call him back.

It’s not that he objects to my finding Carolyn necessarily, he’s just impatient with the recent obsession. He doesn’t think these things ever end well, and he is the kind of man who respects the current “state of affairs”—he may have used those words. He can’t understand the need. You have me, he says when I bring it up. You have us, our life, the way it is now. She rejected you.

I think he takes it personally.

We have been married nearly a year and have the rest of our lives to “complicate things.” I think about couples who giggle and share their pasts, their childhood memories and lost loves. Henry thinks all these conversations are unnecessary, trivial. He is the kind of person whose life travels a straight path, his head filled with to-do lists and goals. Meandering is for slackers and dreamers. And certainly, mulling over the what-has-been is a fruitless effort; you can’t change the past. I admitted once to having a journal in college, a place to keep scraps of poetry, quotes I’d picked up along the way, slices of life. Henry cocked his head, his eyebrows furrowed, the whole idea unfathomable.

And yet, here I am. This house. This man. This life. It’s mine, despite the insecurities that seem to follow me around like a stray cat. I stare at my reflection. A thin, pink scar zigzags horizontally across the top of my right wrist, as I touch the diamond at my throat, the setting big as a strawberry.

His sure footsteps beat against the teak floor of the apartment and his deep baritone echoes as he calls for the car. Time to leave.

Blogtour: The Vanishing Year by Kate Moretti

Image from titanbooks.com
The Vanishing Year
Kate Moretti
Titan, 27 September  2016
PB, 384pp
I'm grateful to the publisher for an advance copy of this book.

Zoe Whittaker has had a difficult start in life. Growing up poor before her adoptive mother died, she dropped out of college, and then things fell apart. Really apart, that is: leaving criminals after her for revenge and her old life, necessarily, abandoned.

However she put all that behind her, changing her name, and marrying a wealthy New York banker. Now she's a lady of leisure, spending her time arranging charity fundraisers and NOT dwelling on the past. As long as she's careful that nobody from that past catches up with her - and that her husband stays ignorant of it - nothing can go wrong, can it...?

This thriller takes a perhaps somewhat hackneyed theme - the buried past - and jolts electricity into it till the genre revives - and the pages crackle with tension. There result is a story with multiple themes: Henry, the husband, exemplifies a certain type of controlling spouse, always pawing at Zoe, claiming rights over her body as though it were his property, whenever and wherever he chooses, and becoming creepily jealous at how she chooses to spend her time.

Behind that, there are are definite overtones of the Gothic: Henry's first wife died and we know little about her, there's a disapproving family retainer who seems to be judging Zoe harshly, and most of all perhaps the sense that somebody is watching. Strange things begin to happen - is it coincidence, or is the past really catching up?

Zoe is isolated and trapped. She's out of touch with her friends. Her adoptive mother is dead. She has no idea who her real parents are. She keeps secrets from her husband, and his behaviour is scary at worst and suffocating at best. So she has little alternative but to investigate those strange things herself.

I really enjoyed this book. Zoe is a remarkable character - brave and resourceful but not perfect, perhaps too trusting at some times, too fearful to trust at others. She's already overcome a lot in her life so this isn't the typical 'unsuspecting woman gets into a load of trouble' story you might expect. At the same time, things get so convoluted, and she is so alone that nor is she effortlessly on top of everything. Moretti treads a fine line here, both keeping surprises coming and having them (mostly) character driven, and she manages it with aplomb.

And also constructs a surprise twist that I really didn't see coming - I mean, I had some suspicions, but the reveal was still a genuine surprise.

The book's also good on friendships. The details of Zoe's life with her spiky flatmate and colleague Lydia are convincing - you can't but help wish Zoe had followed Lydia's advice a number of times that she didn't - and Zoe's recollections of her life with Evelyn, her adoptive mother, are deeply touching. (Evelyn herself comes across vividly, in some ways the most well rounded and likeable character in the book).

Indeed these warm friendships give the book some real heart, even as the plot unwinds and Zoe goes through some bad stuff you're willing her on, wanting better things for her. It's strong stuff but in short: The Vanishing Year is a great read.

27 September 2016

Review: A Head Full of Ghosts

Image from titanbooks.com
A Head Full of Ghosts
Paul Tremblay
Titan Books, 27 September 2016
PB, 369pp
I'm grateful to the publisher for an advance copy of this book

Possession. A staple of horror fiction, in books and films, but really, a problematic staple, over used, under analysed - the biggest problem perhaps being how to make a new story when overshadowing the entire genre is The Exorcist?  The film is so culturally ubiquitous that any family (and it always is a family) portrayed in a story as undergoing possession will inevitably think in Exorcist terms - the young girl, the obscene language, the eccentric Roman Catholic priest and so on.

Well, here's a way to do it. Accept the self-referentiality. Glory in it. Indeed, let the story analyse itself. Let your characters - or at least some of them - be conscious of all that baggage. Let the possession itself be the subject of a reality TV show, introducing another layer of artificiality to this already artificial situation. Then add more.

A blogger, 15 years later, reviewing and analysing the TV series.

One of the family, putting forward her side of things in a book.

In Tremblay's new book, we don't "see" the "possession" and its aftermath "ourselves". Instead we get several interlinking accounts: The older Merry's story, told to a journalist, Rachel. The Last Final Girl Blog, prop Karen Brisette, reviewing that seminal reality TV series, The Possession. But nothing pretending to be an unmediated, direct narration of the events themselves - not even a straight account of the TV series: instead, only recollections and analysis (including discussion of how, even at the time, the TV series was distorting, exaggerating, sexing up the events). If you're already thinking "unreliable narrator" I think you're on the right track - except there are several of them.

The result is at the same both a spooky horror story - or at least it might be spooky, there may or may not be real supernatural stuff here but there is horror - and an acute meditation on popular belief (both in the supernatural and in religion itself), the role of the media and even the politics of the horror story itself .Tremblay follows this up with a shrewd essay which may or may not deconstruct this particular story, but adds greatly to its resonance.

The story then. It is now(wish) and the Barrett family - Merry(8), Marjorie(14), Sarah and John - are struggling. Marjorie's going a bit weird. John's lost his job but found religion, and the home is about to be repossessed.

It's also 15 years in the future and Merry, the younger daughter, is telling her story to a journalist or ghostwriter (I wasn't sure which). In the same timeframe (I think) Brisette is reprising the TV series.

There follows a claustrophobic, multi layered story in which, perhaps, concerned, civilized parents, despairing of modern medicine, resort to a primitive religious rite (involving their daughter being strapped to her bed) which goes chaotically wrong.

Or, a manipulative child, seeking attention, orchestrates everyone around her to get it.

Or there is a subtle and implicit conspiracy between parent and child to keep the interest of the TV producers and so raise money to pay the family debts.

Or there is actual possession of one family member or another. All these alternatives, and others, are possible. Perhaps at one level all of them are true, perhaps there is a very particular and very definite answer. One senses that the clues are here, and they relate as much to how popular culture has embraced the idea of possession - they lie in references to books, to films - as they do to the detail of the house and the events in it, set out as these are in forensic detail.

It's an engrossing and, as events move on, increasingly scary and disturbing read which kept me up past midnight. Not least because the characters are so scarily convincing - both the disturbed older sister and the baffled younger one: the father, affronted by loss of his job, seeking perhaps to reinforce the traditional (male dominated) order of things by turning to religion and using it to tame his unruly child: the mother, falling apart, knowing she wants to stop what's happening but unable to act. Yes, whether or not there is really an "possession" here, this family is in Hell...

Disclaimer - I am married to a priest, although she has never (to my knowledge) conducted an exorcism. And long may that continue.

(A passing point: in two successive books I've read, this and Kate Moretti's The Vanishing Year,
American families are stressed by the horror of medical costs. I'm not political on this blog but reading both, I said a quite prayer of gratitude for Aneurin Bevan and the NHS.)

26 September 2016

Ninja Book Box is Coming!


I'm very pleased to be able to use the blog to support the Ninja Book Box.

If you're around booky bits of Twitter (other social networks are also available) you may have seen tweets referring to this - I did, and was so intrigued I had a look.

Ninja Book Box is a new quarterly box shipping worldwide from the UK and featuring books published by independent publishers. They aim to introduce excellent books (both backlist and new releases) particularly those which the team and the publishers they work with feel haven't received the recognition they deserve, and help you find favourites in genres you wouldn't necessarily pick up for yourselves.

Supporting primarily UK based small businesses, each box will contain a book (often signed by the author & with additional material) plus at least two gift items and lots of other fun extras and will take its theme from the book. The box is intended to expand reading horizons, and it is aimed at anyone who wants to have a more absorbing experience, and who likes to read as a way to engage with and learn about the world as well as for entertainment. Each quarter will feature a title from an independent publisher in a different genre, including mystery, historical, graphic novels, fantasy and science fiction as well as general fiction, and each box will have a theme taken from the book.

NBB want to support excellence and promote exploration and discovery in all aspects of the box. Subscribers will also gain access to lots of additional community perks. For more information sign up to their newsletter, or check out their website for details of how to get the first box!

The project is seeking support on Kickstarter - you can also read more about them and support their Kickstarter, (I've backed it already). The Kickstarter ends on October 2nd and boxes will be available until 12th October. There is even a Rafflecopter giveaway of the first box which runs up until 11th October - so you can win stuff!

I'm so aware that - alongside the large publishers that fill so much space in the bookshops and online sites - there are plenty of independent publishers who do wonderful work finding so many different authors for our pleasure. It can be hard for them to get readers' attention and when I heard about this project it seemed such a creative way to do that.

Anyway, pitch over. I think this is a brilliant, creative and worthwhile way to encounter a wide range of interesting books.

So - website here, Kickstarter here. You know what to do!



21 September 2016

The Family Plot by Cherie Priest

Image from www.goodreads.com
The Family Plot
Cherie Priest
Macmillan, 20 September 2016*
e-book, HB (336pp)
Source: e-copy kindly provided by publisher via NetGalley

*According to NetGalley, though Amazon has 13 August

This was the first book I'd read by Cherie Priest. (My next book was the first one I've read by Christopher Priest. I'm also married to a priest - something going on here...)

I had, somehow, associated (Cherie) Priest with steampunk, and while I'm not averse to that, I'm not a massive fan: perhaps that's why I just never quite picked anything of hers up.

Big mistake. BIG mistake. Reading this - and then looking at what else Priest has actually written - shows she has a much wider range and this book in particular is as far from cogwheels, airships and brass goggles as you can imagine. Instead, it's a lush helping of gothic, set in a decaying mansion in Tennessee, from which Dahlia Dutton and her salvage crew are tasked with stripping anything saleable.

Dahlia is a tough cookie, divorced and working for her dad, Chuck Dutton of Music City Salvage, in a tough trade. The company's in debt and needs some luck - so when mysterious Augusta Winthrop comes into the office offering a tempting job, Chuck can't really say no... so far so noir, perhaps. However that impression rapidly fades as Dahlia and the team get to grips with the old Winthrop place.

They're an experienced gang, not unaccustomed to spooky stories about the places they tear down (I smiled at the implication that any building so ancient as to be built in 1890 MUST have ghosts), and used to rough conditions. However something about the Winthrop place - they have to sleep there, Music City has no money to spare for a hotel - preys on everyone's mind.

Priest expertly builds tension, with things glimpsed out of the corner of the eye, doors that won't open - and then do, with nobody near - footprints in the dust, and a slowly emerging mystery to bring it all together. Very soon, you begin to feel that the team may be in real danger. Yet it's all juxtaposed with practical detail about the job of a salvage firm - the value of American chestnut, the significance of Philips screws, what you tear out first, when to cut the power from the house. I found this fascinating in itself. Brought together, the two themes go very well: Dahlia & co can't just up and go when things get scary because they need that job. The firm needs the job. Yet their very activity threatens to make things worse - what ghost wants its home dismantling? - and requires them to poke around in those very corners and long hidden rooms which you'd normally avoid.

So much so that I'm amazed nobody set a horror story round the activities of a salvage team before. It's a much more hands on approach to the supernatural than a Jamesian scholar poring late over his manuscripts and, somehow, the matter of fact nature of the team - all jokes about Scooby Doo and about who's had the last of the whiskey - only accentuates the horror when it breaks loose.

The characters, too, are well drawn, especially Dahlia with her post-divorce issues and love of old houses (she'd save them all if she could) and her cousin Bobby with whom she bickers endlessly (it's not said, but is implied, that he has issues working for a woman). While the focus is on Dahlia, what happens in the house happens to the team, not only to her, and I enjoyed that: much more interesting than the lone hero(ine); you get to see the different response of the different types and there is an element of pulling together as well.

All that, and a sad and touching story beneath it all as well.

In all I fund this a refreshing take on an old staple ('don't go in the spooky old house') and would like it to be the first of a series, although I'm not sure whether or not that's intended (tell me what you think when you've read to the end).

With Hallowe'en coming, this would be a nice book to give the horror fiend in your life. Though perhaps not if their job is architectural salvage...


11 September 2016

Crosstalk by Connie Willis

Image from http://www.sftv.org/cw/
Cross Talk
Connie Willis
Gollancz, 15 September 2016
PB, 512pp
Source: e-copy kindly provided by the publisher via Netgalley

I find it hard to categories this book - at the same time it's SF, with a premise based on a classic SFnal idea, telepathy; it's a sort of thriller with the main protagonists on the run (in a way) and having to hide themselves and their thoughts; and it's a romance of a kind - will true love triumph. And it's also comedic. So a SF-thriller-romcom?

I don't suppose it really matters that much, except that I think it's a key feature of this book that while there is tension and high jeopardy, there isn't a conflict, there is no evil opponent (only a rather selfish and self-absorbed one), there is no violence, no weapons.

Briddey is a stressed executive in a hi tech firm, Commspan, which is desperate for the Next Big Thing in phones to challenge Apple (hint - try something with a headphone socket). At the same time she's in a relationship with the Creepiest Man Alive, Trent, who suddenly wants to marry her: but asks her to have a teeny operation first...

The EED - acronym never explained - is surgery that apparently makes a couple more emotionally receptive to each others' moods. Trent insists they have it, and soon. They're love so why wouldn't Briddey go along? But Trent doesn't want anyone else to know. Brides will just have to find a way to absent herself form the office without the gossip network guessing the reason.

Trent also has a key to her flat and seems to assume he controls her entire life, cancelling arrangements and setting up new things that she has to go along with. After all, he's her boss, right?

There are elements here of a controlling, harassing boss, but Willis doesn't really pursue that angle very far. Trent is only one annoyance. As if he wasn't enough, Briddey's family seems to be impossible. They phone her up at all hours of the day and night for advice on relationships or on bringing up their children. Her aunt tries to pair her off with a nice (40 years old) "Irish boy" (everyone in this book is American, but it doesn't stop Aunt Oona wallowing in a sort of ultra Irishness complete with fake accent: more Irish than the Irish as it were).

All this external pressure tells on Briddey, and this is reflected in the way the story is told, with a lot of internal monologue from her. From the moment she walks into Commspan at the start of the book, trying to conceal her engagement wand agreement to surgery, we have a stream of thoughts, plans, speculations, deductions, concerns

I found this his is quite hard to get used to at first: it comes across as a very different from the more action packed style you'd expect in a SF story. But it's very suitable for a tale that, after all, is about communication, lack of communication and - indeed - crosstalk. And it means that when the telepathic episodes begin the mental communication can be integrated seamlessly into the style with the pressure of Briddey of those external voices underscored by the way that Willis pushes the text at the reader, in a somewhat breathless style.

I suspect this won't suit everyone. It does, as I said, get some getting used to but I did, and kept with it despite this being a fairly lengthy book.

Whats helped by there being plenty of plot. Essentially, Briddey races from crisis to crisis, these being increasingly convoluted scrapes in which she has, first, to hide her relationship to Trent, then the progress of her surgery and finally a succession of secrets with more and more significance, secrets that affect not just her but others. Not everybody around her is being as honest as they ought, and it becomes hard to keep track of the details of the lies and omissions she has used to keep on top of it all. In that respect the closest comparison I can think of is a PG Wodehouse novel - one of those, perhaps, where Bertie Wooster is trying to get out of an engagement while maintaining three different cover stories for three different audiences. Oh, and Jeeves is only intermittently present, and seems to have plans of his own...

While it suits the theme of the story, this ever-growing complexity and the tendency to verbalise everything perhaps at times leads to rather too many nested explanations and speculations about the nature of the telepathy, and what might cause or inhibit it. We keep being given different answers, some speculation, some chaff to confuse other characters, some - within the frame of the story - true. At times there was almost too much of this, and it almost began to feel as though Willis was continually changing the terms of the discussion just to suit the plot. By the end I couldn't be sure whether what we were finally told was the truth actually matched up with what had happened.

I wouldn't want to make too much of this last point - it didn't really detract very much from my enjoyment and to a degree, perhaps keeps a note of mystery in play that suits the theme.

Overall this was an enjoyable and somewhat different book, from an author who clearly enjoys playing with the form and taking risks.