Thank you to everyone for their kind words about my Shiny cock-up! Much appreciated. About one year’s worth of reviews are now back up for your delectation – five to go – but I’m really enjoying revisiting them and getting links up to date and so on. Meanwhile I have been reading, and here are some shorter reviews for you…
Keeper by Jessica Moor
This debut novel puts a very different spin on the cliché, ‘He’s a keeper’. It begins ‘Then’ with Katie meeting a chap in a bar when out with her girlfriends. It moves on to ‘Now’ with the body of a young woman being found in the river – it’s Katie.
Suicide is presumed, but when DS Dan Whitworth goes to talk to the women at the refuge where she worked, he is convinced that the women there know more about Katie than they’re letting on. Whitworth, being an older, slightly old-school copper needs to tread very gently with these damaged women, and especially the fiercely protective Val who runs the shelter. But Katie was not much older than his own daughter which helps him to understand them a little. However, the women aren’t used to any men let alone policemen being in their space, so Whitworth uses his younger colleague DC Brookes’ empathetic skills to befriend them a little.
The chapters alternate between then, and now which follows the police investigation. In the earlier strand we see how that chance meeting developed into a serious relationship for Katie and Jamie – her mother, who has terminal cancer, adored him. For a while it was great, but gradually Jamie becomes more and more obsessive and he morphs into a controlling and coercive partner. We’re left wondering if Katie’s death was suicide or murder right until the end. I shall say no more.
Moor spent a year working in the violence against women and girls sector, which inspired the novel. The subject matter of Keeper may be dark, but the story is compulsive and well-written, the dual timeline working really well. Given some of the stories we’ve heard during recent weeks in lockdown about domestic abuse, it also felt rather timely in helping to understand their plight better. (9/10)
Echo Cycle by Patrick Edwards
This novel combines the ancient Roman Empire with a post-Brexit Euro-dystopia in a gripping timeslip adventure. Cross the film Gladiator with Dave Hutchinson’s spec fiction Europe series (I reviewed the first one here), and mix in a bit of MI5 TV drama Spooks, and you’ll get a feel of the scope of this novel in which a regressed Britain is now outside the futuristic EU, the EU capital is relocated to Rome and Latin is back as the lingua franca.
Rome as a capital made sense: it came down to language. With the history of aggressive intervention by the USA and Britain even the idea of using English as a common language was unpalatable […] It was more than getting away from one language, though – they wanted a common tongue that was not proprietary to any individual member state.
A group of schoolboys is on a trip to Rome. One of them, Monk, is fed up of being bullied for being other, and thwocks the bully and runs off into the Roman ruins – waking up to finding himself back in Nero’s ‘Domus Aurea’ in 68CE. Only the fact that he knows future Roman history saves his life then, but despite making friends with and falling for slave Sporus, he’ll end up in the arena before something sends him back to the present day, years later.
Meanwhile, in 2070, one of Monk’s compadres on that trip is now a diplomat, and is in Rome with the British delegation, falling for his host Mariko, when Monk reappears after years missing. This throws a spanner in the works of trade negotiations, which exposes a darkness at the heart of new Europe. I really enjoyed this bonkers thriller; it appeals to my inate Latinist bent, but even more than that, I loved exploring this speculative future… I think I’ll take up Irish citizenship if it looks like going this way! A great fun read. (8/10)
Night Raiders by Eloise Moss
Subtitled, ‘Burglary & the Making of Modern Urban Life in London, 1860-1968‘, this book is really aimed at a more academic audience than the general reader. Thus, to me, it was rather too focused and didn’t always set the specific themes under examination into a broad enough context. I was fascinated to discover that until the 1968 Theft Act – hence the upper year under consideration – that ‘burglary’ was specifically defined as happening at night – daytime theft from houses was a separate and slightly less serious crime of ‘house-breaking’, whereas robbery from non-domestic premises isn’t considered burglary at all. I would have liked more discussion about the different historic types of robbery and why the punishments for burglary were so much more severe (hanging usually until around 1930 apparently). Moss includes stories of key burglars and their victims illustrating the various types of burglary in the following chapters.
The chapter on the fictional character of ‘Raffles’ (which I reviewed some years ago here) and how the romanticisation of the gentleman thief affected public awareness of burglars was more to my liking, but again the focus on Raffles narrowed the scope. Wilkie Collins’ The Moonstone and Dickens’ Oliver Twist were mentioned, but the contrasting themes in them nor other novels of the era involving burglaries were not developed accordingly. Similarly, in the chapter on cat burglars, not mentioning Hitchcock’s classic film starring Cary Grant as a cat burglar forced out of retirement, To Catch a Thief (1955) was a missed opportunity. The chapter that jarred for me though was the last one on ‘Spy-Burglars’ which took us up to the 1968 act, gratuitously opening with a James Bond quote. I realise that burglary is part of a 1960s spy’s skillset, but it’s usually (govt-sanctioned) stealing information rather than the family jewels, so for me, didn’t fit with the classical definition, being too different to all that had gone before.
The 214 pages of text are accompanied by a good number of illustrations – newspaper clippings and adverts for ‘boudoir safes’ etc, which lightened the reading. And at the end there are another 35 dense pages of charts and bibliography plus indexes etc, which I didn’t feel the need to examine in any detail. Indeed, the main text has copious footnotes of every single source referenced, some of the footnote lists running to half the page – evidence of the book’s origins, it having been developed from the author’s PhD thesis. Forgive me for sounding critical, for all its academic approach, there were plenty of nuggets of interest in this book, and it was interesting to see how insurance companies preyed on home-owner’s fear. The social aspects of burglary – class, gender, media, and more made for some good analysis in the author’s commentary on the subject. (6.5/10)
Source: Review copy (via Vine). Eloise Moss, Night Raiders, OUP 2019, hardback, 250 pages incl notes etc.