26 July 2017

Review - Strange Practice by Vivian Shaw

Image from http://www.orbitbooks.net/
Strange Practice (Greta Helsing No 1)
Vivian Shaw
Orbit, 27 July 2017
PB, 353pp
Cover and design by Will Staehle

I'm grateful to the publisher for an advance copy of this book.

For me, this was one of those knock out, near perfect books that - in any genre - comes along all too rarely. This time it's urban fantasy, but urban fantasy as seldom seen: smart, grounded, fresh and funny. As if to underline the difference, the cover itself is strange and beautiful. It's woodcut-y, stylised, with a touch of the macabre medieval - but modern detail in the background, as if one of those broadsides from the days of the Great Plague had come back to haunt us. (Once you've read this book you'll beleiev it might).

Excellent, unearthly work from Will Staehle who I last spotted illustrating this.

Strange Practice introduces us to Dr Greta Helsing, doctor to the monsters of London. Whether she's preparing surgery on a mummy whose bones are showing 2,000 years of wear (the proper spells will be used, naturally), treating a baby ghoul for an ear infection or, indeed, helping the leader of the ghoul tribe with his depression, Greta is there, dedicated to her patients, doing the job she loves, carrying on her father's work. She is a doctor, and monsters are, as she explains at one stage to a troubled vampire, people.

Ah. Vampires. Van Helsing and vampires. That must be the, er, meat of the story? Stakes, garlic and deserted churchyards? Because in this book we have not only vampires but, indeed, vampyres as well. (The difference is the diet).

Actually, no. Greta's relationship with Ruthven (he prefers you drop the "Lord") and (Sir Francis) Varney is civilized, professional and respectful. Her relationship with old friend of the family and former demon Fastitocalon is tender. These are, as I said, people and Shaw is excellent at portraying a whole society, by necessity a shadowy and secretive one (the threat of pitchforks and flaming torches is never far away) but complete in itself, a vital part of London and with its own pulse, its own hierarchy, its own personalities. You sense all that just as you sense modern London too.

Greta is unusual in being a normal human who inhabits this world, but she's not the only one. We also meet Cranswell, researcher at the British Museum (useful) who with Greta, Ruthven, Varney and Fass, is going to take on something rather nasty and rather unusual in this book. And Greta has a couple of assistants who help out with her practice - one of them a witch.

Because the balance between monstrous and mundane London has been upset by a series of killings of both humans and monsters. The threat is coming closer and closer to home. As with the monsters, and with Greta, Shaw sketches a frighteningly plausible brood of troublemakers, determined to upset the harmony of a diverse London, and whom our new friends must confront.

And behind them is something even worse.

The resulting story is just right - it has tension where it's needed, a dash of humour, it doesn't take itself too seriously and it takes an honest look at the difficulties such a varied group of beings would encounter (in particular there's a real touch of sadness about Varney, who is pretty hard on himself and sees nothing good in his life). And it's a well-plotted, satisfying mystery too.

Along the way, Shaw nods to some classic vampire (and vampyre) literature - Dracula, obviously, but also the writings of Polidori and others, taking characters from earlier books which then become backstory (you can do this with Victorian classics if your protagonists are near immortal bloodsuckers!) That helps to round out her characters and give a sense of reality outside this book.

So, a rollicking adventure with real substance, rooted enough in the traditions of the genre to have real weight, while also firmly located in the modern world. Combine this with sharp writing and great characters and - since this is described as the first Greta Helsing novel - you have what promises to be a great series.

Oh - and there's a real surprise towards the end, when a most unexpected character turns up who will, I suspect, be back...



23 July 2017

Sunday Special No 3: We dig, dig dig...

I've had a week off from my normal job at the Circumlocution Office, leaving the colleagues to wrap things in red tape and generate memos in triplicate.

Instead, I've been digging up Roman Dorcester on Thames  - my third year there. I've never studied archaeology, though it's something that has almost interested me. (When I was at school I volunteered to help out in a resistivity survey of Vale Royal Abbey - the technique was in its infancy then, rather than the sophisticated stuff you see on Time Team we had to record the readings in a notebook and then type then into an Oric-1 compute to generate an image.)

What I've been doing at Dorchester is volunteering to help with a long running project to understand better the development of this Roman town, and especially its transition into the later medieval town. Dorchester was once a very important place - it had its own Abbey, its own saint, and the Saxon King Cynegils was baptised there. The Roman town lay on the road between Alcester and Silchester (and as a coin dating to around 72AD was found last week under the road, we now know the road was built after that).

The volunteers on the project include local residents like me, people doing various extra mural archaeology course including at Oxford, more conventional students and others - we're a very eclectic lot. I just wanted to get involved and I've found it great fun doing something totally different from my normal life, being outside and getting some exercise (my FitBit got very excited) and - best of all - not being in charge. (Encouragingly, my knees didn't ache as much this year as the past two so all the exercise dogwalking seems to be paying off).

I always seem to have good luck with the rain on these weeks, and apart from one iffy morning there was no time lost this year (and that was because of overnight rain which made the clayey site rather treacherous - we were all set to cleaning finds while things dried out). But on Saturday the skies opened and it rained all day, so the timing was very, very good. (The site is covered over and filled in again to protect it till next year: I am glad I didn't have that job to do).

Yes, David, I hear you ask. That's all very well, but what did you FIND? The answer is - this year - not that much, plenty of pottery and bone and a few Roman nails. The interest was mainly focussed on resolving which bits of coloured earth overlay which other bits, as part of establishing a detailed sequence for the site and (eventually) working out what was going on. So I was doing things like taking away a brown deposit which overlay an orange deposit and then helping to record the result. This is where my lack of training kicks in - there were supervisors who understood the techniques in play (such as when to decide that the context had changed) and I just did as I was told.

That isn't to say nothing out of the ordinary turned up - there were several Roman brooches found, for example, as well as some lovely bits of pottery, one quite early and with a maker's stamp.

As well as digging, we also had some lectures/ talks ranging from the practical (archaeological photography, processing of finds) to the theoretical (how the modern view of the Roman countryside and its occupants is coloured by centuries of modern prejudice against peasants, for example - that one was VERY thought provoking, given by a research student working on the subject and I'll be interested to see what comes of the whole idea).

So, a week of sun (mainly), moving earth, plentiful teabreaks (VERY important) and moments of excitement).

I took some pictures and here are my highlights.

The site overall. The heap of soil at the back came out of here and everything removed had to be wheelbarrowed to the top!

In the middle is the pit in which I spent most of the week. The brown blob in the centre is where I was digging for the last two days. The north-south road runs across the far side (north is left, as is modern Dorchester).

I found this on Thursday just before the end of the day and had to leave it overnight. I got very excited - might it be a complete pot with something interesting inside?

Well, might it?


Er, no. Just a broken rim.



I found that broken rim towards the top of this photo, which shows the orange underlying the brown fill (you just see the change in the section across the middle)

Moving on and turning round 180 degrees: I didn't dig this bit, it's the very bottom of the site, where after several years, natural gravel has been reached. Note all the labels which tag the different contexts - supervisor stuff...

Coda: this was the site two days later, on Sunday 23rd. Ready for the spoil to go back in, protecting everything till Spring. (Note Portaloos, tool shed and site office in the background).

21 July 2017

Blogtour review - Corpselight by Angela Slatter

Corpselight (Verity Fassbinder book 2)
Angela Slatter
Jo Fletcher Books, 13th July 2017
PB, 379pp

I'm grateful to the publisher for an advance copy of the book and for inviting me to take part in the blogtour.

Verity Fassbinder, introduced in Vigil, is part Weyrd (on her father;'s side - her mother was a Normal). So she can duck in and out of both Brisbane's, er, special and its mundane populations, as comfortable dealing with one of the Norns (they do a mean latte) as with a police officer. This is useful since she's employed to keep order in the Weyrd community and prevent their existence becoming too widely known.

Verity is a noteworthy character, a woman who willing to keep a godslaying knife that's the property of the Boatman (he who carries dead souls to oblivion) and to face off with a rogue angel. But she still has a home life to manage: there are complications in this book because she's now heavily pregnant and begins to give birth at a key moment. Slatter successfully combines the details of parenting a new born baby with Verity's monster-hunting career, creating some humour on the way (the detail of Verity's breast pump!) but also prompting her to reexamine her own difficult relationship with her parents. (I say "difficult" - in fact V's mother disappeared and her father was subsequently discovered to be a butcher, serving up children as meat to the more traditional of the Weyrd). Naturally, when Verity wonders, she acts... and we learn rather more about her family background than we previously knew

Which is just as well.  Amidst Verity's focus on her own newly enlarged family, as well as her search for the person or being who's drowning random strangers on dry land and engulfing a nice lawyer's house in mud, that past suddenly poses very urgent questions. And it isn't just about her. Verity learns new things about her closest associates too. It's spectacularly badly timing, just when she needs to concentrate on other things, but life's like that in Verity's world.

I really enjoyed this second book in the series, possible slightly more than the first (which WAS great mind you!) The setting and characters are now firmly established, and Slatter has scope to go a bit deeper and confront V with some real challenges - challenges that can't just be settled with a knife, however epic a knife it may be. We see her under pressure, and we see her having to think on her feet.

Most of all, though, we see her cool, shrewd, never short of a pithy remark or thought ('Mummy spit for the win", 'Afternoon tea was being served - because what is a council of war without the beverage of the Empire?', 'Your heart is in a Hello Kitty box?') and we see her refuse to lower her standards or compromise. That moral core is something very special in Verity's world, I think, and it helps define her character and make her almost like the hero in a noirish thriller: walking those mean streets although she is not herself mean. (Though Slatter gives Verity stable relationships rather than the raddled life of the over-committed detective - she's a rounded character not a cliche.)

It's a most enjoyable and slightly unusual UF, with lots of scope for more (Verity on a Quest) as well as more to learn about her background and associates. A good followup to Vigil.

For more about the book, see here.

You can buy it at your local bookshop or here, here or here.




17 July 2017

Review - All Good Things by Emma Newman

Image from http://diversionbooks.com/
All Good Things (The Split Worlds, 5)
Emma Newman
Diversion Books, 6 June 2017
PB, 357pp

I bought this book from my local independent bookshop.

This is the 5th and final part of Emma Newman's Split Worlds sequence (quintology?)

Across the previous four, she has spun an extraordinary number of stories and deployed many characters (a list might have been helpful by this stage!) Tying everything together would be a formidable challenge for any author. Doing so - as Newman does in All Good Things - while still keeping the story fresh and maintaining a sense of narrative drive must have been even harder. Yet All Good Things succeeds triumphantly. The book moves closes in on its climax like an ocean liner chasing down the Blue Riband, Newman wringing every last drop of emotion - triumph, despair, rage, fear, acceptance - from both characters and reader. While it's tightly plotted throughout, new elements continue to appear. This series has not has tired itself out, the writing continues to dazzle and the description of Exilium (Newman's fairyland) is seriously haunting and beautiful.

The book goes to some very dark places indeed - including long sections narrated from Will's point of view. We readers have now long known - and Cathy learned at the end of the previous book - that he's a liar, a murder and a rapist, having used magic to obtain her compliance wish his wishes. He continually makes excuses, but it's hard to sympathise with him (and nor should we). Yet this story demands that we stay with him, that, to a degree, we understand him. It's very uncomfortable in places yet makes the book very raw (at the same time we are also seeing Cathy's point of view, with her outrage, shock and PTSD. Rest assures she directs some choice swearing at Will...) 

That isn't the only dark aspect. There are several deaths here, including those of well established characters. I felt that in a couple of instances these were handled a bit briefly and at arm's length, but possibly it reflects a desire not to dwell too much on suffering: the fact of what happened remains in the story and perhaps we don't need detail (in both cases the context of the deaths added to the shock - sorry if that sounds a bit convoluted: spoilers).

The redemption, though, is that, for the first time in the series, Cathy is fully aware of what's been done to her and of the realities behind the Fae, the Arbiters and the Elemental Court. And therefore for the first time she is able to fully match herself against her enemies (both persons and things) by practicing magic herself: relentless angry sweary sorceresses FTW! So in All Good Things we get the confrontations and conflict that we've been waiting for - and perhaps a sense of release that very distantly echoes Cathy's sense of liberation. It's been a long time coming but the wait was worthwhile.

Some thoughts on the series as a whole may be in order. I think these books are not only a terrific example of storytelling but, with its completion, we can now see that the books are also very important in the present moment of SFF storytelling. Newman has taken an old fantasy idea - the possibility of a fairyland and of dealings with those who live in it - and upended things, creating a mythology of sorts, and one that doesn't retread tired ideas about princesses, princesses and magic. Instead her theme is power: individual power, power structures and our relationships and responses to them. The books explore a number of possible reactions to the codified privilege embodied in the Spilt Worlds - acquiescence, quiet dissent, collaboration (get to the top and then we'll sort things out - Will's self justifying refrain right to the very end), more or less polite agitation and, in this book, an additional option, burning the whole place down. (But what then?) 

It's clear that, by this point, nobody's hands are totally clean (though some are dirtier than others), nobody has a certain answer, and nobody really knows what's going on. To a degree everyone here is a victim, but that doesn't make them all innocent.

That's not only true of the Fae and the puppets of Society - it applies too to the resource barons of the Elemental Court where Sam faces the same dilemmas as Cathy, to the Arbiter Max and his Gargoyle and to the Sorcerors as well. (Let me just taken a few moments to appreciate how Newman also twists the trope of the bluff, no nonsense industrialist - that would be Lord Iron - in contrast to the foppish toffs (the Fae touched).

What's the answer? Not an easy one, I'm afraid. Newman shows courage I think in even raising these issues - this definitely isn't escapist fantasy - and it would be wrong to expect her to announce an entire political platform as well. Truth, friends and courage feature: as Cathy goes into her future at the end of the book it's clear that more challenges are ahead and that she will need all those. A "Happily ever after" is far from certain, although taking command of one's own life is a beginning.

In short: I loved this book, and the whole sequence. The writing starts good and gets better and better and the books deserve a wide audience. I'm grateful to Emma for writing them - I hope they find and delight many, many readers for a long time to come.

You can buy the book here or here

13 July 2017

Review - The Delirium Brief by Charles Stross

Image from http://www.orbitbooks.net/
The Delirium Brief
Charles Stross
Orbit, 13 July 2017
HB, 435pp

I'm grateful to the publisher for an advance copy of this book.

What can I say? Strauss's Laundry series gets better and better with each volume.

The Laundry is the section of the British Civil Service that deals with funny business - monsters, magic and unspeakable beings from beyond the stars. The books are, if you like, techno thrillers - if your tech is necromancy, and the thrills come from abstract maths.

In the latest book, we see the aftermath of the attack on Leeds by an elven host in The Nightmare Stacks. And if that was a spoiler then stop now and go and read the earlier books - you shouldn't be here. If you read any further your eyeballs will catch fire, unless you've applied the correct wards, OK?

Now, assuming you haven't been blasted into another universe which has too many corners, I'll continue.

This is the eighth volume in the series (with a few novellas and short stories besides) and what strikes me is how the storytelling has evolved, in two ways.

First, the theming of the books. Beginning as brilliantly written pastiches of different espionage authors, the series then moved onto books each featuring a well known fantasy creature. It has now dropped the pastiche/ monster of the day thing - fittingly, since the Laundry is exposed to its enemies as never before and confronting a new level of threat. It's time to come out in the open.

Secondly, the books have also shed what was very characteristic wheels-within-wheels-within-wheels plotting, where every paragraph seemed to hint at a secret, for something a little more straightforward. There are still of course plot twists, and indeed deeply shocking reverses and hidden agendas, but it's a little more "what you see is what you get" with the psychic space thus cleared allowing a greater focus on character (Mo and Bob are one of the great couples of modern fantasy: genuinely real, fleshed out people, albeit with bizarre problems) and on how those characters shape up in view of the coming threat.

The trademark cynical humour is still there, but accompanied now perhaps by a new, sober mood. In my view, it's this ability and willingness to shift tone that keeps this series fresh despite its now considerable length.

This book also brings together for the first time most of the character ensemble which has been forming over the last few volumes - so we meet againAlex and Mhari, the blooddrinking ex-bankers, maniac pixie dream girl Cassie who is dread leader of the aforementioned elven Host, as well as Persephone Hazard (Hooray!) and her sidekick Johnny. There are also several other figures from Bob Howard's past who I won't name (spoilers: but also, something may be listening).

Best of all, we see Mo again and we're back inside Bob's nightmare-haunted mind. Darkness is gathering, and business he thought dead and buried - or at least safely thrust into a cursed dimension - comes back for revenge. Exposed to Government displeasure and a hostile Press storm (there is a very funny passage in which Bob Does Media, specifically Newsnight) the Laundry has for the first time to account for itself. Having had dealings with the eldritch bodies that hold HMG accountable, I smiled to see our favourite necromancers, for the first time, come up against little things like democratic accountability and the need for things to be seen to be done.

It's all, of course, in service of a deeply threatening move by a sinister cult, and they should have seen it coming, but the sheer speed of events puts our heroes on the back foot very quickly. Stross gets some digs in here at the outsourcing process: underfund something, make the service bad, then invite in the boys and girls with the spreadsheets to cream off the work, making a fortune in the process.

If only that were the worst threat here.

By the end of this book we've seen Bob - and Mo - and all the rest pushed to the edge, in several ways, personal as well as professional, and - again on both fronts - there is a real sense of peril which isn't tidied away neatly on the last page. This is certainly the darkest Laundry book yet - despite the vein of humour that does run through it - and in its writing, I'd say, easily the most assured.

And the timing couldn't be better. The books shows a trusted Government organisation seriously challenged by flaky and dangerous outsiders. The organisation we depended on to keep us safe is vulnerable to subversion from above, by the arrogant, the greedy, the stupid. Does that remind you of anything? And more, at a stroke, the Laundryverse becomes a grimmer place - through this series, despite the grim warnings of unspeakable horror, we have perhaps come to see the Laundry as if not a certain shield, a pretty good one. Now... well, read the book and see for yourself.

In passing, I smiled that - despite what I said above - there is a little bit of classic spy fiction resonance here, in that parts of it reminded me of George Smiley & Co running their clandestine operation against the mole-infested Circus from a grubby hotel.

Stross has said that he'll never do Le Carre in this series, and yet...

You can read a sample of the book here.


11 July 2017

Review - The Rift by Nina Allan

Image from titanbooks.com
The Rift
Nina Allan
Titan Books, 11 July 2017
PB, 418pp

I'm so grateful to Titan for an advance copy of this book, which was one of my most anticipated of 2017 after Allan's stunning The Race last year.

The books have some similarities. Like The Race, The Rift is complex in form - the story is told both through viewpoint narratives and through interpolated artefacts: letters, lists, newspaper articles, school essays, bits of stories, diaries. These aren't all written by the main characters, so for example we get a section from the diary of a specialist metallurgist who's consulted about an item of jewellery, giving a shrewd sidelight on one of the main characters.

Like The Race, this book centres on a disappearance: Julie, elder sister of Selena, goes missing from the North Cheshire village of Lymm in the mid 90s. Nearly 20 years later, she turns up again and the heart of the book is the section describing what happens then as Serena attempts to make sense of what happened.

It's a shifting, teasing story. There are issues of identity. Is it really Julie? She tells a fantastic story about what happened to her, but it's a very partial story. Apparently Julie stepped in a blink from the banks of Hatchmere, a lake in Delamere Forest some way from Lymm, to an alien planet, Tristane. But almost immediately this clarity begins to wash out. Julie poses two mysteries: the craziness of her story but also the fact that the account given hardly covers a few weeks of the time she was missing.

A lot has been missed out, one feels, is being hidden, even as Allan relishes the opportunity to sketch the geography, history and society of Tristane.  Indeed there's enough material there for whole volumes of a more conventional )and conventionally narrated) SF saga - the strange, mind eating parasites, the abandonment of travel to nearby planets, the thousands of years of history, the suspicion of a coverup - but I think making it into that would be waste: instead Allan presents this material in fragmentary form, scattered through the book, and it seems more real than any spacefaring epic I've read.

At the same time, the loss of Julie brings to a head a crisis in her family, making visible faultlines already there. Allan's writing is never more beautiful than picking apart the impact on father, mother, daughter - the guilt, the wondering what really happened, the dislocated lives, the need both to go on living and to not give up hope. In the course of this Allan explores - again almost in passing but never superficially, never without respect - the other lives touched, such as the teacher who befriended Julie, was hounded by the press and whose story ends up turned into a novel, extracts of which are quoted. There's a weird foreshadowing of this in a character introduced early on who seems to be going to play a significant part in the book but, after a tragedy, is barely heard of again. And yet, there are hints about him, echoes of him and his life in other parts of the book, other characters and other scenes. Somehow it is, I think, all part of a whole - something also glimpsed in the resonances between different parts of the story (such as Julie's using the word "temple" for Coventry Cathedral, inviting a comparison with her description of those in the Tristanian city of Firby.

Alongside Julie's and Selena's parents, there is also a focus on another tragic couple, Cally and Noah, with whom she seems to belong in Tristane (but is the Julie of Tristane the same person as the Julie of Earth? Is one dreaming the other and, if so, which is which?) Again, little is said explicitly about their situation though Allan is marvellous at implying things via a few words via behaviour such as Noah's endless nighttime expeditions.

It's an entrancing, audacious book. Somehow the games with language and setting reminded me of another book - M John Harrison's Viriconium. It's less in the subject matter or setting but more the way that Allan seems to create, almost, a body of myth in this book - a deposit of stories around a central theme but not all consonant, sometime contradicting one another but, by their separateness, actually supporting one another. (I note in passing that Harrison uses many placenames from the North West of England in those stories, Lymm included, and locates parts of at least one in Manchester).

It's also book that can't really be captured in a few words. The Rift put me in mind of a Kaleidoscope, perhaps, or of washing going round in a machine: all the colours and shapes are there but one can't quite see how they relate to each other. It works, though. I think, at a different level from a logical, unfolding story, those pieces assemble themselves, somehow. If you've ever tried to imagine a 4D object, you may see what I mean. You literally can't imagine the whole, but you can model it, capture it your mind at some other level. In the same way, this story comes together such that even the most improbable seeming details fit and make a mind of sense. In the same way, Selena's acceptance and rejection of Julie, and the response of Julie's mother Margery, and some of the other discoveries in this books, do click into place.

I see this as very much a 21st century equivalent to those stories of children being carried off by the fairies and returning years after, unable to explain where they've been, unable to be in the society they left, unable to go back. At the same time it's also very preoccupied with modern problems, with relations between parents and children/ teenagers, with shifts in loyalties and "growing up", with lonely people making their own worlds for themselves - or trying to.

Finally, is this book perhaps to some degree a comment on or response to Boneland, the recently published third part of Alan Garner's Weirdstone of Brisingamen trilogy? Both concern the aftermath of losing a sister, both look to the stars for explanation, both focus on the Cheshire meres and seem to speak of sacrifice, sacred landscape and mystery.

A magnificent achievement, and a book to go back to again and again, I think.

10 July 2017

Review - Ten Dead Comedians by Fred Van Lente

Ten Dead Comedians
Fred Van Lente
Quirk Books, 11 July 2017
HB, 288pp

I'm grateful to Quirk Books for an advance copy of this.

Ten Dead Comedians is an ingenious and entertaining take on Agatha Christie's well-known mystery And Then There Were None (successfully dramatised on BBC TV at Christmas 2015). (This was the story that was originally published under a different title, unquotable today although closer to Van Lente's).

Basically, ten guests are invited to a remote island by a mysterious patron. They come because they are led to expect some benefit: they stay because escape is impossible - and one by one, they die. We know all that beforehand, and if we've read Christie, we may also think we know why this is happening and what the outcome will be.

The questions are, who is doing the killing and why, and can any of the guests survive? As that is unravelled we learn more about each guest and their history and why someone may wish them dead.

Van Lente has perhaps put himself at a disadvantage because so much is known or may be inferred from Christie's work, but of course he has also given himself the option of either confirming her structure or undermining it. And he claims another advantage by making his collection of mostly unappealing guests comedians. A problem with this template for a book is that you have ten main protagonists. For the reader to "get" the book they need to be well realised, and quickly. The comedy angle gives an immediate way in because by including or describing their various acts, Van Lente can sketch his characters very efficiently and effectively. In other words the presence of the comedy material - in very different forms - isn't just a fun bonus to this book, it's an integral part of the narrative (as well as being very funny).

More, by using the comedy to set up tensions between the protagonists Van Lente makes his Murder Island almost a microcosm of society - from the cultured, entitled comic cynically playing a redneck bigot to the New Age "Orange Baby Man" who has found release from a lifetime of bullying to the radical podcaster to the taboo-breaking young woman comedian who's smuggled a friend onto the island. It's a more diverse group (in every way) than Christie's original (although she wasn't completely blind to class and gender tensions either).

That's all very well, but a book like this could still fall flat if it didn't have a sense of mystery - and if Van Lente wasn't adroit enough at both embodying and undermining Christie's plot. I'm glad to say he does well on both scores and, while much of the enjoyment in this book is in the character development and interaction, there is a genuine sense of menace and a genuine mystery about why the murders are happening and who is responsible. You'll have to look closely to get any clues (though they are there).

So - a smart, rather unusual, book that manages to be both funny and bleak but never less than absorbing. Ideal for a summer holiday.

Though not, perhaps, one on an exclusive Caribbean island.