Book reviews: Nordic noir fans will enjoy Marked For Revenge by Emelie Schepp
Marked For Revenge by Emelie Schepp, published in paperback by HarperCollins
PUBLIC prosecutor Jana Berzelius returns to take on more Swedish baddies in the second part of Emelie Schepp's Marked For trilogy. After tackling child traffickers in the first instalment, Marked For Life, she now helps uncover a drug-trafficking ring involving high-ranking members of society. Along the way, she comes face to face with her nemesis, criminal mastermind Danilo, and continues to battle the demons of her past. Thriller fans won't help but notice the similarities to Stieg Larsson's Lisbeth Salander series: Both Jana and Lisbeth are extremely secretive characters who have suffered abuse at the hands of men and are seeking justice for other victims. Sadly, many of Schepp's characters are overdrawn and stereotypical, and much of the dialogue is exposition-heavy and unrealistic. But she does manage to move the plot along at a quick pace, jumping between several subplots and bringing them all together in the final bloody showdown. Nordic noir fans will enjoy Schepp's books for the description of the snowy Swedish landscapes alone.
Some Kind Of Wonderful by Giovanna Fletcher, published in hardback by Michael Joseph
LIZZY and Ian have been an item since university, and after 10 years together and a trip to Dubai on the horizon, it looks as if marriage is on the cards. Except it isn't. Lizzy's dreams are shattered as her boyfriend decides this life isn't what he wants, leaving the protagonist at a crossroads: Who is she without Ian? Was any of the past 10 years worth it? What is next? In finding out, Lizzy heads on a personal discovery, with her friends and family providing enjoyable foils along the way. Giovanna Fletcher's latest book isn't about finding that next partner, but more about considering who you really are when someone else has helped mould you both into one entity. Fletcher's writing is as wonderfully readable as ever, and the plot engaging, witty and heartbreaking. However, in not having a next romantic interest, and seeing Lizzy go through a past life over and over again, it feels like Fletcher has missed that final ingredient to make this good book a great one.
Bloody January by Alan Parks, published in hardback by Canongate Books. Available December 28
ALAN Parks's debut is the first in a new series of Scottish noir novels. Taking us straight into the dark, grimy streets of 1970s Glasgow, we're introduced to police detective Harry McCoy and his new apprentice Wattie. Highly cynical and unethical, antihero McCoy has an on-off relationship with prostitute Janey and is complicit with crime boss Stevie Cooper, an old reformatory school friend. Investigating a series of murders – one of which happens in broad daylight, right in front of their eyes – leads McCoy deep into a secret high-society sex and drug ring. Dark and violent, Bloody January embraces the brutal, offering an authentic and gritty account of Glaswegian crime. A dark and gripping winter read.
The Princess Diarist by Carrie Fisher, published by Black Swan
BEFORE she died a year ago, Carrie Fisher discovered some of the diaries she had written as a 19-year-old during the filming of Star Wars, and her first turn as Princess Leia. She also happened to fall into a brief affair with the married Harrison Ford during production. Fans hoping to learn more about the filming will be disappointed, bar her insights into a few costuming and hairstyling decisions. Instead this memoir – the paperback version, timely issued to coincide with the latest – and Carrie's last – Star Wars film, The Last Jedi – offers the insecurities and dreams of a 19-year-old in poetry and an unfiltered stream of consciousness, angsting about loving someone who clearly isn't perfect, because they can't see through her. It is also a look at the impact of fame on her life and the impositions of fans that come with it. Her trademark witty one liners are sprinkled through the book, but their payoff feels insufficient to fully balance out the rest.
Francis Stuart: Artist and Outcast by Kevin Kiely, published by Areopagitica Publishing
FRANCIS Stuart wrote around 20 novels, his most successful based on his wartime and post-wartime experiences in Germany; two of his later novels are set in Northern Ireland during the 1970s. His early work was lauded by Yeats, he was friends with Beckett and Liam O’Flaherty and honoured by the Irish literary establishment up until his death in 2000 aged 97. But Stuart’s literary achievements have always been tainted with his decision in 1940 to live in Berlin from where he broadcast propaganda back to Ireland. Biographer Kiely does not shirk from confronting Stuart as a Nazi collaborator, but writes: “This forces the biographer of Stuart to refrain from acting as presiding tribunal assessor and perform the task of unravelling the man who wrote alongside the man who lived the life.” Stuart, who was born into a family of Antrim unionists but became an Irish republican, emerges as a deeply flawed character, but one who carried a lifelong sense of being an outsider. Kiely, in this reissued and expanded biography, writes: “My investigation is twofold, to explore his fatal affiliation, and the use he made of his great failing in fiction.” The result is a revealing portrait of one of Ireland’s most controversial but original and challenging novelists.
An Almost Perfect Christmas by Nina Stibbe, published in hardback by Viking
WHETHER you like it or not, Christmas is nearly here. If you're a festive nay-sayer, or just fraught with concern that the 'big day' won't go off without a hitch, then Nina Stibbe is here to tell you... it doesn't matter anyway! A collection of anecdotal short stories from award-nominated author of Love, Nina, brings into focus the joy, insanity and chaos of the festive season – with witty tales on department store Santas, gift giving and Christmas pudding. Come along on Nina's journey through a life of disappointing turkey, re-gifted presents, music to make your ears bleed and bald Christmas trees. It's a frantic, imperfect journey – but at the heart is a surprisingly warm message from the often cynical writer that, whatever you eat/do/get, it's about making the effort and being together. A sarcastic, frank and hilarious depiction of the modern Christmas – if you're anxious about the impending festivities, Nina Stibbe will get you through.