Amazing that I’m on target with my 20 books. Famous last words probably as I have four blog tours lined up for July, and the rest of the review pile beckons not to be left behind. But, I only have one more mega-hectic week at school, followed by a busy few days, then I’m at leisure for most of the summer, when I love to wake up at my usual time, and read for longer each morning. Meanwhile, here are my thoughts on nos 5-7…
Vanish in an Instant by Margaret Millar
This 1952 novel was reprinted by Pushkin Vertigo a few years ago. I remember Harriet loving it for Shiny (see here) and acquired a copy. Now, I’ve finally read it, and there is so much to enjoy in this suspenseful murder mystery. Millar was born in Canada, but lived mostly in California with her husband, the crime author Ross Macdonald. Millar wrote loads of novels between the 1940s and 1980s, specialising in psychological dramas that explored women’s minds, and that is very much to the fore in this book.
Claude Margolis is found murdered in the snow, stabbed multiple times in his neck. It’s the middle of the night, and a quarter of a mile away Virginia Barkeley is also found, drunk and covered with blood. To the small-town police, it appears an open and shut case – Margolis is well-known for his philandering, they say Virginia was his latest mistress. But Meecham, the local lawyer isn’t so sure. Hired to defend her by Virginia’s husband he soon has to deal with her overwhelming mother who flies in from California. To him, the whole thing stinks, and then another suspect comes into the frame – Earl Loftus – but his answers to the police and Meecham’s questions are all too conveniently off pat perhaps…
The star of this novel is undoubtedly Mrs Hamilton, Virginia’s mother who will throw money at anything to get her own way. But my favourite character was Meecham, who turns out to be a fine investigator, and he gets the girl – this is the early 1950s after all – when Alice, a young woman employed as Mrs Hamilton’s companion abandons her post for him, it’s love at first sight for both of them. This was a great, suspenseful read, and I’d love to read the other two of Millar’s books that Pushkin Vertigo have published.
Source: Own copy from the TBR. Pushkin Vertigo (2018) paperback, 256 pages. BUY at Blackwell’s via my affiliate link (free UK P&P)
Undoctored by Adam Kay
I really enjoyed Kay’s first book of memoir, recounting his time as a junior doctor until he burned out. This is Going to Hurt (reviewed here) was a huge bestseller, with its mixture of humour, candour and heartbreak. Kay went on to fictionalise it for TV with Ben Whishaw playing him, and adding a newly qualified young woman doctor to the story to illustrate how badly they are treated.
In Undoctored, although we get some *FLASHBACK* chapters to medical school, the majority of the text is about what happened to Kay after he left the medical profession, and it is very clear that he was scarred badly by it, and suffers from PTSD. Writing about it and doing comedy shows would appear to be part of his dealing with everything that happened. As before, there are some good jokes and hilarious set-pieces, including when he was invited to talk to Jeremy Hunt, who had been Health Minister. Kay launches in with a question about the new health contract that was jeopardising patient safety in the eyes of junior doctors who had been striking, only to find…
It’s slightly demoralising to meet someone with whom you disagree absolutely and profoundly on an ideological level, who then has the gall to be cleverer than you. It was like playing tennis against a pro – […] Plus, I realised, he must have faced every single one of these questions many, many times before. But I kept asking, trying to pull a point back in the match.
This contrasts with his experiences meeting Matt Hancock.
I went to Hancock’s office* a couple of times and he actually seemed a nice enough bloke. Speaking to him, I never felt that I was being bested in a game of intellectual tennis but nor did I have the suspicion that he wanted to nail my testes to the central plinth of Westminster Bridge.
*Or sex palace, as it later turned out to be.
Amusingly, Kay publicly called Hancock out through Covid repeatedly, and each time Hancock would DM him back! That man was addicted to messaging!
There are also heart-breaking moments when Kay is hospitalised for various medical emergencies, when he is raped in New Zealand, gains a stalker, and more psychological pain, but you sense that he is happier since he came out properly and met J, his husband, whom he married a few years ago now. Kay was recently on Desert Island Discs and he joked that his life had been both transformed for the better – and ruined by becoming a father. The couple now have two babies, born using US surrogates. Some commenters on Twitter and Mumsnet don’t approve of this of course, but I’m don’t really have an opinion if it is all done legally and the babies are wanted and loved – he’s far from the only gay celebrity to use surrogacy to start a family.
I do love reading medical memoirs and Undoctored is brutally honest, told with an unswerving sense of humour. It feels confessional and heart-felt and maybe draws a line underneath his medical career – or not! His first book had more of a narrative drive to the memoir, here we pop in and out of various times, but it was an engrossing read.
Source: Own copy from the TBR – Trapeze hardback, 2022, 274 pages. BUY in paperback at Blackwell’s via my affiliate link (free UK P&P)
The Miseducation of Evie Epworth by Matson Taylor
One for fans of Nina Stibbe’s wonderful comic Lizzie Vogel novels (Man at the Helm, Paradise Lodge, Reasons To Be Cheerful). Taylor’s debut tells the story of sixteen-year-old Evie Epworth, who is on the cusp of things. Set between June 1962 and January 1963, Evie has done her O-levels and now has to decide whether to go out into the wide world and get a job, or train as a secretary, or stay on at school for sixth form. At the moment she favours the latter, and her widowed dad, Arthur, will go with whatever she is happiest with. He’s happy on the family farm in Yorkshire.
But Arthur’s new housekeeper turned girlfriend, Christine (who is tasteless), has other ideas. She wants Evie earning and lines her up a job shampooing at a hair salon. She has big plans for Arthur too, and first is to get a ring upon her finger. Evie, along with her ally and neighbour Mrs Scott-Pym, will do their best to prevent this.
Along the way, Evie will make new friends and decide what she want to do with her life, but in between there is much hilarity, especially relating to Evie’s battles with Christine. Interspersed throughout the chapters are some flashbacks to Arthur’s nascent career as a cricketer back in 1936, and his courtship of Diana, similarly with Mrs Scott-Pym’s back story.
There is plenty of drama to the story, but the overall tone is delightful and funny, light-hearted and frothy. I sped through this coming of age story. This book would make an ideal holiday read, and his sequel, All About Evie, which came out in paperback earlier this year, and set ten years later, recounts what Evie did next. I shall definitely be reading it too.
Source: Own copy from the TBR, Scribner paperback, 2021, 359 pages. BUY at Blackwell’s via my affiliate link (free UK P&P)