Two reviews – a dystopian debut and an Irish crime thriller

The Third Magpie by M.S. Clements

Third Magpie M S Clements

The Third Magpie is a dystopian romance set in an insular post-Brexit England, now called New Albany, that is (at least partly inspired by I’d wager, and) approaching Atwood’s Gilead in some of its strictures. Sons are revered, young women are once again chattels, to be married off in the most advantageous deals, and those foreigners remaining in New Albany are treated as second class citizens, tagged and subject to even stricter rules. Finn, an Irishman, married Sophie before the new rules came in and opted to stay to be with the love of his life, but accepting the Draconian rules he has to live under is hard, even though Sophie is the daughter of a high up government minister. Sophie and Finn muddle along, she a nurse, he an English teacher, but when the new governor of their region employs Finn to give his manipulative teenaged daughter extra lessons, events are set off that will make surviving in this environment a nightmare for the couple, and will place their lives in jeopardy.

Despite being 525 pages long, I did engage with the book, wanting to find out what would happen to Finn and Sophie, but particularly Finn. Clements mixes an awful lot into the plot – parallels between New Albany and the marriage market in Jane Austen’s world feature strongly in Finn’s extracurricular lessons with the awful Cat; then of course there is the ghettoisation of foreigners and the SS-like treatment meted out to them, Sophie’s privileged status and diary inserts from Finn’s pre-New Albany life, and I nearly forgot the magpie rhyme (One for Sorrow etc). Phew! As is often the case with first novels, there are many different themes competing for attention as the author feels compelled to use all their ideas. It sometimes lost pace; there were far too many scenes of Sophie trying to get Finn to drink chamomile tea to calm him down, for instance. I also had some problems with Sophie’s relationship with her father, which I won’t spoil here. I felt that underneath there was a 350-400 page novel trying to get out and that some streamlining would have generated more suspense. As I read far more thrillers than romances, I would prefer the plot concentrated on the former rather than the latter. (7/10)

Source: The author kindly supplied a copy – thank you. M.S.Clements, The Third Magpie (Pg Up Books, 2020) paperback original, 525 pages.

BUY at Blackwell’s (affiliate link, and cheaper than Amazon for this book – free UK P&P)

Six Wicked Reasons by Jo Spain

I discovered Jo Spain last year when I read one of her standalones – Dirty Little Secrets (reviewed here) which I enjoyed very much, so I had high hopes for her latest which came out in January, again a standalone novel.

When Adam Lattimer disappeared in 2008, he was twenty-one and presumed dead, which killed his mother, who kept on hoping. Ten years later, he reappears at the family home in Spanish Cove, near Wexford, his father Frazer gathers the family together from far and wide to celebrate the prodigal’s return with a big party on a boat…

The family comforted each other, as they waited to give their statements.
The unity, however, was forced.
Their brother had returned and now their father was gone.
Frazer Lattimer, sixty-one years of age, native of Scotland, resident in Ireland most of his adult life, was dead.
His children looked at one another, and wondered.
Which of them had murdered him?

This is how the prologue ends. The main narrative is then told in the voices of each of the six Lattimer children, in two time-frames before and after. We begin with Clio, the youngest who has been living undocumented in New York for the past four years, making ends meet, her father having decided she was not to be trusted with the €50k trust fund that had been due to her on her twenty-first birthday. Returning to Ireland means she won’t be able to go back to the USA, but she wants to see Adam, she has questions for Adam and her father. The oldest son, James, also has financial reasons for coming back, he’s a TV producer badly in need of investment for his next project. Middle daughter Kate though has done alright for herself despite being near anorexic. She married Cheng, who is half-Irish, half-Chinese; they run a Dublin hotel together. Ryan, the youngest son has been bumming around Italy, drinking, trying to write – it’s amazing they could find him to share the news. That just leaves Ellen, who never went away, the oldest spinster sister who got stuck looking after the house and their father after their mother died. Add in their ‘uncle’ Danny, an old family friend of their mother Kathleen, and Ana, Frazer’s new fiancée into the mix on the boat, and our pool of suspects is extended to eight.

As you’ll guess, they all have secrets, and reasons for wanting their father out of the picture. But which of them actually did it? That’s the mystery for young Detective Downes to unravel, although he hopes it wasn’t Clio, whom he was at school with… The siblings also worry if Frazer had changed his will so that Ana would inherit the huge house, which came down their mother’s side of the family.

All the way through this novel I was hoping that it wasn’t going to turn into a ‘Murder on the Orient Express‘ style killing, but given that one of the back cover quotes mentions Christie’s book, I was relieved that it wasn’t that obvious. Frazer was obviously a manipulative bastard and no-one minded that he was dead, compared with the death of their mother some years before. I moreorless worked out whodunnit though, despite the red herrings. I found the character development of the siblings was uneven, which was how I worked out a lot of the mystery I think, but ultimately I found it hard to care about any of them, except for Ellen perhaps. Six Wicked Reasons was not as good as her previous novel, but it was a good read, and I will still be happy to read more by Jo Spain. (7/10)

Source: Review copy. Jo Spain, Six Wicked Reasons (Quercus, 2020) hardback, 426 pages. BUY at Amazon UK or Blackwell’s (via affiliate links).

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