Recently read a number of first books, that are well worth trying.
Martin Davies. The conjurer’s bird. I just loved this picture. Joseph Banks, great name of my botanical history, plus a modern day piece of a puzzle together to create a new story. I liked that it was a story well known within one family, but of course not available to history. It is only by connecting dots, and seeing some coincidences, that a possible truth is discovered. And what a lovely story. I liked all of the characters (although the back and forth between centuries is not always the best venue for readability).
Reminded me somewhat of Andrea Barrett’s short story of Linneaus. Both tragic, both romantic, both atmospheric. And such beautiful prose or turn of phrase. The author is a BBC producer, who has written other books: e.g.Mrs. Hudson and the Malabar rose. He is writing Sherlock Holmes, with the housekeeper as crime solver! I loved the time frame – these are light, fast reads, not meant to be Holmesian. Delightful. She isn’t flustered by anything (of course not, she’d have to be intelligent to put up with Holmes or to be kept by him).
Gerald Elias. (2009)Devil’s trill This was a debut novel, written by an amazing violinist, who is also an avid mystery reader! Concert Master for Utah Symphony, Music Professor, Violinist with the BSO. Graduate of Yale. The first book in what will be a series. Almost a bit formulaic in having the tragic antihero, the twisted plot, the race to prove innocence, the locked room of course! the florid writing that nearly gushes at some of the musical passages (but I loved it-and imagine other music lovers will also like the descriptions), with all the history, the revelatory insiders view of musical exploitation of children (like beauty pageants)… lurid musical underworld, shady violin dealers, venal patrons, backstabbing teachers and parents.
The writing is thoroughly engaging – you know he (author) is setting you up too.
Daniel Jacobus, blind, young, bitter, chainsmoking, reclusive violin teacher (went blind at pinacle of career when offered concertmaster to BSO but rare genetic eye disease permanently blinded him.) But many of his students ‘love’ him, and eventually go on to become amazing musicians. Every description of playing, notes, scores is both instructive and moving (I would close my eyes and listen to the words/music). Jacobus attends the Grimsley Competition held every 13 years at Carnegie Hall to children/prodigies younger than 13; the winner gets cash, symphonic appearance and use of the world’s only ¾ size stradivarious legendary Piccolino. And the plot begins. After the winner plays it the violin goes missing, the teacher is murdered and the finger points to Jacobus of course.
Emily Arsenault (2009) The Broken Teaglass
This reminded me of the Secret History – (Donna Tartt’s first book) This is also a first book, but that might prejudice the reading of this novel. Set in New England, and the old NE façade, but also an academic façade. 2 recent college graduates work in a dictionary company as lexicographers, with a dry sense of humour and budding romance. Numerous dark twists to each character, some completely out of place or unnecessary (you can tell it is a first novel). Oh, to have a job looking for new expressions, new words, same words but new meanings, and just write them on chits, to pile up the number of chits, to eventually put it into the dictionary. Paid to read newspapers, magazines, etc. Not at all sure I would recognise the words/phrases if I saw them, but then, they are solving a mystery, hunting for the clues hidden in the chits – citations from a book that doesn’t exist. Billy Webb seemed too young, esp with the Billy, not Bill, not Will, and it didn’t fit at all with his run in with mortality; so unusual with teenagers. Off beat mystery cum coming of age novel. ‘Sweet and charming’ – not really my description of it. I found myself laughing, but also shaking my head feeling old. These kids have no concept of what they need to do to survive, live and thrive. Wake up!
This last is NOT a first novel, but perhaps made the others seem very much like first novels!
Andrew Taylor (2009) Bleeding Heart Square. 1934 England. Mrs Lydia Lanstone seeks refuge in 7 Bleeding Heart Sq, London because her father lives there and she is fleeing her husband. But a story that seems decades older begins to unravel (only four years) with her arrival. We know of the next war, the fascist/Nazis and the hardships that are about to come. We see the loss of class structure and the thin veneer of aristocracy, as well as human decency. This book is enveloped in historical detail, quite convoluted plot, presence of true evil in the world. Yet. Yet, we have the future hope and we are living in the present. The story is more about Rory Wentwood too = his struggle to get a job, after returning from India, without an anchor in a country he doesn’t recognise. (anyone recognise Richard Hanney in the 39 Steps on tonights Masterpiece theatre?!! Remake (5)of the John Buchan book,and although wonderfully set in Scotland, I like the Hitchcock best!) The writing is compelling and the first account is horrifying (esp as he writes of mobs, the changes in England, and begins to find his vocation). Society isn’t pretty. This reminds me of PDJames (not quite as well written, but historical atmosphere, intricate people, decisions have far reaching consequences). His first novel won the John Creasey Award, shortlisted for the Gold Dagger and Edgar. He is the only author to receive CWA Ellis Peters Historical Dagger Award twice. Lives in England and has so many more books published:: Roth Trilogy (four last things, Judgement of Strangers, Office of the Dead), the Lyndmouth Series, Blaines Trilogy and Dougal Series. Can’t wait!! A stain in the silence, The Barred Window, Raven in the water, The American Boy. I just donated my copy of Bleeding Heart Square to the Library, and have taken several of the older ones out. Looks like great reading ahead!