Book reviews: New from Maurice Leitch, Olivia Kiernan, Mark Haddon, Denise Mina
BOOK OF THE WEEK
Gone to Earth by Maurice Leitch is published by Turnpike Books, priced £12.99
AN IRISHMAN recalls an incident from the Spanish Civil War in which a group of women trade unionists from a factory lift their skirts to expose themselves in a final act of defiance as they are executed by fascists.
Symbolism ripples through these pages as Co Antrim-born novelist Maurice Leitch taps into to the menacing backdrop of life in Spain during Franco’s dictatorship.
Set in Torremolinos, Gone to Earth focuses on those who were on the losing side and the vindictiveness of the winners towards them.
Leitch sets up a cast of characters plagued by self-hate, alcoholism, fear and betrayal. Most Irish fiction or memoirs that deal with the Spanish Civil War are told by those who went to fight against fascism for the Republicans – but Leitch’s Irish protagonist, Eugene, was a Blueshirt who fought for Franco.
American crooner Johnnie Ray is holed up in an opulent hotel, his career on the decline – a quick Google search reveals that the real Johnnie Ray did in fact spend eight months in Spain in the mid-1960s.
Diego, a former communist mayor and Republican soldier, is believed to have been killed during the Civil War but has been in hiding for more than two decades. Adriana, his wife, keeps up the pretence that she is a widow, but returns to her apartment after work to where Diego lives hidden in an attic.
She works in a hotel called the Miramar in Torremolinos, which at the time this novel is set is still a small village on the coast of Andalucia just before the onslaught of mass tourism and the high-rise hotel transformation of the coastline.
This is a central theme of the novel – the first stirrings of the massive structural and societal changes that are about to take place, but it is Franco’s Spain where fear and recriminations from the brutal civil war a quarter of a century earlier are still playing out.
Leitch uses the hotel as a symbol of this change: “On the short walk to the Miramar [Eugene] could see its neon-lit outline ahead, while beyond its perimeter the rest of rural Spain seemed to lie in darkness. Out there, it struck him, brooded something unpredictable, possibly dangerous and resentful of all that opulence…”
In different ways the actions of each of the three male narrators impacts on Adriana, driving her into a corner as history closes in on her.
In Gone to Earth, Leitch, now in his mid-80s and best known for his ‘Troubles novel’ Silver’s City, delivers a richly layered story in which tension and fear permeate like a constant background hum.
:: Maurice Leitch will read from Gone to Earth at No Alibis bookshop on Belfast’s Botanic Avenue on May 29.
The Killer in Me by Olivia Kiernan is published by Riverrun, priced £13.60
CO MEATH-born Olivia Kiernan is gaining a reputation for her gritty, psychologically complex portraits of family life haunted by the sins of the past. In The Killer in Me, set during a chilly summer in Clontarf, DCS Frankie Sheehan probes the case of two mutilated corpses discovered in a church, one dressed in a priest's vestments.
The investigation is complicated by a campaign to clear the name of a recently released murderer, convicted as a teenager of killing his parents. Frankie's superiors appear more interested in suppressing past police mishandlings than in uncovering the truth, and her work is also hampered by family dynamics.
The key element to good crime fiction is conflict and the terrain covered here is a battlefield with the various characters, including Frankie herself, struggling to hide, overcome or exorcise their sense of lingering guilt and culpability. Guilt might be a particularly Irish scourge but, as Kiernan proves, it fires great stories.
Anthony J Quinn
:: Anthony J Quinn's latest crime novel, The Listeners, is out in paperback on June 13.
The Porpoise by Mark Haddon is published in hardback by Chatto & Windus, priced £18.99 (ebook £9.99)
MARKEDLY different from his breakthrough novel The Curious Incident Of The Dog In The Night-Time, Mark Haddon's latest work The Porpoise retains its ability to envelope the reader in an imaginative new world. Starting with the modern tragedy of a fatal air crash and the uncovering of a dark secret, the novel then turns into a tale of history and myth, being woven by a teenage girl – sole crash survivor Angelica.
A whirlwind of sea voyages to plague-ridden ports, royal murder plots, Greek goddesses, and the ghost of Shakespeare, it is an updating of one of the Bard's lesser known works, Pericles, Prince of Tyre, itself a reworking of the Greek myth of Apollinus/Apollonius, and said to be written in part by playwright George Wilkins.
This gripping and evocative novel questions the nature of the stories we tell ourselves and others, and proves the ancient tales are far from boring.
Conviction by Denise Mina is published in hardback by Harvill Secker, priced £12.99 (ebook £9.99)
IT WON'T take you long to finish this thriller from the whip-smart Scottish crime writer. Conviction reads so quickly the pages turn themselves. The premise throws seemingly standard-issue middle-class mum Anna into a plummeting lift of a plot, as her husband suddenly leaves with her best friend, taking their young daughters.
As her word falls away, Anna follows the twists of a true-crime podcast about the murderous sinking of a yacht in the Med. She chases up the story behind the podcast, in the company of anorexic rock star friend/needy hanger on Fin; abandoned husband to her faithless best friend.
In a dangerous race around Europe, Anna swerves through a deadly maze and her identity peels off, revealing someone other than she seems. Grimly hilarious, emotional and addictive, Conviction rushes to a slightly barmy didn't-see-that-coming denouement that unlocks the puzzle.