Monday, 24 March 2008


* TRIBUTES by Nora Roberts ((Piatkus 2008) - read Nov/Dec 2009

My friend, Sheri, has been recommending Nora Roberts for some time because we're both heavily into crime fiction (sounds like some kind of fetish) and she said that Nora Roberts wrote crime fiction. However, I found Tribute eventually at my local W.H.Smiths under the Romance Section, so initially I wasn't too keen to read it, 'cos I'm not into romantic fiction.

However, I was pleasantly surprised when I started to read it. There are crimes involved but the emphasis is definitely on relationships.

The two main characters are Cilla McGowan, once a T.V. actress and now into renevating property. The property she's renovating in this novel is the farm house owned by her famous actress grand-mother, Janet Hardy, who died under mysterious circumstances.

And her closest neighbour is Ford Sawyer, who is a free-lance writer and illustrator, and very convienently unattached.

So, the focus is about how their relationship develops against a background of the unfurling of the mystery as to how Janet Hardy died and who is trying to stop Cilla from renevating the property.

I found myself drawn into the story pretty quickly because the two main characters are just 'darn attractive', plus the rest of the characters are interesting, too.

Plus, the descriptions of the farm house and its renovation were very enjoyable.

And Nora Roberts' writing style? Fully and extensively descriptive, is how I would sum it up, including the sex scenes (not that I'm interested in such things).

I shall certainly read another of her books.

She also writes under the name J. D. Robb, described as 'futuristic suspense'novels. Sounds promising.

Apparently, she's highly successful and prodigious, so I'll have plenty of tomes to enjoy.

* TOO CLOSE TO HOME by Linwood Barclay (Orion Books 2008) - read Sept/Oct 2009

One thing is for sure - Linwood Barclay does not write literary prose, which is why I like him!

The emphasis in his writing is character and plot and just like his last novel (his 1st?), he takes an ordinary family and puts them into a nightmare situation. For most of the novel you've no idea what the actual answer is, which makes for a perfect page-turner of a novel. He's easy to read and the story and characters pull you in effortlessly.

The plot of this novel goes like this: the central family of dad, mum, and teenage son live next door to a house where the family have just been murdered but they are far more involved than they care to be. I shan't say anymore. Buy the book if you're interested and need an easy, exciting read.

* THE WHOLE TRUTH by David Baldacci (Macmillan 2008) - read on holiday in September 2009. This is another best seller that had me scratching my head in puzzlement. Why so popular? In fact, I considered ditching it before even reading a quarter of it but John's alternative 'The Budda of Suburbia' didn't appeal and so I stuck with it.

I'm glad I did, because it got better until near the end and then it was just ridiculous. The plot is based on the desire of an extremely rich arms manufacturer who wants to restore the old balance of power world-wide by creating a phony crisis.

Nothing wrong with the plot. It was exciting and fast moving and the chapters were short, which makes for a good 'no-brainer' read. Plus, the description of 'perception management' (companies who artificially create situations for wealthy clients) was fascinating.

What infuriated me was that there were a number of chapters 'telling not showing' to move the plot along and I found them tedious and lazy writing; the characters were one-dimensinal and I couldn't visualise them; and with each new setting came a description which appeared to come out of a travel guide.

For example, anyone who has been to Amsterdam several times will know that The Bulldog it is famous for its coffee shop, where cannabis is sold, and not as a hotel.

However, all that said, I would recommend it because it is generally a cracking good read and its flaws are bearable. How's that for a recommendation!

Very aware that my novel 'Cyprus Blues' (unpublished) has long chapters and I've tried everywhich way but can see no way of shortening them without an editor to guide me. However, 'Winchester Blues', which I've now started will certainly have shorter chapters. Or perhaps I just need a boob enlargement, a racy life style and a willingness to tell all to the media, like Jordan.

On the subject of Jordan, it's in the news that leading booksellers are considering boycotting her latest autobiography (4th in 5 years or 5th in 4 years) because they don't want to be seen to exploit her fans. Maybe so or maybe they just want a better deal with the publishers.

However, frustrating as it is to see Jordan in print so often when she doesn't even write the darn things, I think the booksellers should give their customers the choice.

And also, when I was part of the 'Sexy Shorts' forum, where the writers exchanged news, one of the writers, who worked in W.H.Smiths, praised Jordan for her willingness to do personal signings to promote 'her' books. She certainly has an astute business mind and you can't fault her for that.

* FAMILY CONNECTIONS a collection of short stories by Chrissie Gittens (Salt Publishing) - read August 2009. What a delight it was reading these short stories, all so very different and yet maintaining the theme of relationships. Most are set in present time and are based on the kind of situations you or I might find ourselves in, although there are two exceptions: a fairy tale and a story set in the future. Thet are all short and perfectly crafted.

At last, a short story writer who doesn't use obviously flowery language, I thought. Very down to earth and no-nonsense kind os stories. So impressed was I that I took my favourite story - Onyx, about a tenant getting revenge on an unscrupulous landlord - with me on holiday to see more closly how Chrissie achieved this. I could get some good writing tips here, I thought.

However, I was most surprised at the results of my research. I highlighted all the adjectives and adverbs and found, to my astonishment, that the story was rich with such parts of speech. And then I highlighted the verbs and saw what a variety she used.

To me, this is what makes a good writer. They use a richness of language that doesn't shout out 'Hey, this is very descriptive writing - look at me and never mind about the story'. No wonder many of these stories have been published previosly or been read on Radio 4 (who I know, to my cost, only use stories of a very high standard.)

* DEVIL BONES by Kathy Reichs (read August 2009). Kathy Reichs is a best selling author. A working forensic anthropologist, she uses her knowledge in her writing and boy, don't you know it. This is the first and last book I shall read of hers. It was all about the forensic stuff, which became really boring. Characterisation was weak and the plot slow and tedious and quite gory at times. Bones have been found in an old building and it appears that some kind of witchcraft is involved. Yawn, yawn. And the main character, Dr Temperance Brennan, is an alcholic. How novel. As you can gather, I didn't rate this book highly and am perplexed at how she sells so well.

* CHANGE OF HEART by Jodi Picoult ( read June 2009). Boy, am I glad I found this writer because she really knows how to tell a good story. This one is about the dilemma that a mother and daughter face: the daughter needs a heart transplant and the only heart available would be from the murderer of the rest of their family. Shay Bourne, on death row, feels that this will be his only way to redemption. But he's due to be executed by lethal injection, which would make his heart unsuitable. Enter attorney, Maggie Bloom, an anti-death penalty campaigner, and Father Michael, Shay's spiritual adviser, who has his own secret.

It's compelling reading and I kept pushing myself to read more because I wanted to know more. And Jodi Picoult's style is easy to read; I'm somewhat jealous at how good she is. She presents the story through the eyes of several different characters, which seems to be one of her trade marks, as is flashbacks, and all her characters are drawn sympathetically, no matter who or what they are. My favourite in this novel is Maggie's father, Rabbi Bloom, who has a wonderful sense of humour.

If you're not put off by the controversial themes, including, in this novel, is Shay Bourne actually the Messiah? (that should really get Christians rattled), then it's a great read.

* BRISTOL SHORT STORY PRIZE ANTHOLOGY 2008. When I entered The dog in the Pram for the 2009 competition, I ordered a copy of the anthology of last year's winners and runners up, 20 in all.

The standard of writing was very high and I enjoyed all of stories bar one, which made me feel very uncomfortable. There are obviously a lot of very skilled writers in the UK, all vying for publication, which explains why there are so many rejections: a publication can only include so many stories.

The range of subject matter, mood and style was wide so there was a good balance and variety.

My favourites (none of which were in the first three) were:

*'Facing Facts' by Susan Akass, a very funny story despite the seemingly somber setting of a widow faced with the problem of sorting out her recently deceased husband's possessions.

*'Life Sucks' by Fran Landsman, again a funny story about a teenager who discovers an uncomfortable secret about her father.

*'Virtue in Danger' by Nick Law, a salutary tale set in a time of brothels and rogues and written entirely in verse.

*'Killing Me Quietly' by Dominica McGowan', a far blacker take on the death of a husband.

*'Intervention' by Charlotte Mabey, about the dilemma of a young man with first-aid knowledge.

* 'Burying The Presidents', yet another funny story and certainly not what I expected from the title.

* 'Going Down Brean' by Rebecca Watts - my very favourite. It's a gentle, nostalgic story of a small group of children taken on their annual day-trip to the sea-side, accompanied by the church vicar and the formidable Mrs Chubb, who won't stand for any nonsense. The descriptions of the small, pleasurable activities that the children indulge in, plus their meticulous choice of small gifts in the old gift shop, brought back very many happy memories and the ending is brilliant.

The short story is a difficult genre to write and to read because the writer is trying to say so much in a relatively few words. Full-length novels have the luxury of development of characters and plot, the continuity of the build up.

I personally enjoy reading and writing short stories that tell a story. It's been fashionable for some time with short story writing that language is often more important than plot and characters, that the more flowery the language then the more likely it is to be published (apart from national magazines like Women's Weekly and The People's Friend, where the feel-good factor is the most important criteria). Also, there seems to be a penchant for gloomy or fantastical tales. My kind of story writing doesn't really fit in with these criteria but it's just the way I prefer to write and I'm hoping that, one day, the good old-fashioned story will become fashionable again.

However, this anthology is a really good read and to purchase a copy log onto

* THE OVERLOOK by Michael Connelly. This is another of the Harry Bosch detective novels and it progresses at a fair lick, engaging interest immediately and maintaining it throughout. Connelly has such an easy writing style, with just the right mix of plot, characterisation and description and there's always a real sense of place in these novels. You do actually feel as if you are in Los Angeles. My only criticism would be that I found the cessium part of the plot somewhat far-fetched but sexy, maverick Harry makes up for that in bucket loads,

* GEORGIANA DUCHESS OF DEVONSHIRE by Amanda Foreman. This work of non-fiction, based on extracts of diaries and newspaper articles, is a real Jekyll and Hyde read. I haven't seen the film, which looks lavish from previews, although why they chose stick-thin Keirly Knightly is a mystery because apparently Georgina had a most ample figure, but I had heard an adaptation on Woman's Hour, which was excellent, so reading the book seemed a good idea.

Reading the book, though, is a different matter and it's very much a 'dry' read. The sections about Georgiana are just about bearable but the vast descriptions of the politics of the time left me with no option but to skim read. So, no, I wouldn't recommend this book.

Georgiana, by the way, was the Princess Diana of her time, married to a husband who didn't love her and kept a mistress, literally under the same roof, and who fell in love with some-one else. So it should have been far more interesting than it was. Very glad to have finished it!

*THE READER by Bernhard Schlink. This is the novel made into a film which got Kate Winslett (do you spell her surname like that?) her Oscar. I chose to read it because the story sounded most interesting - the German woman who seduces a young boy only to be revealed as a guard who worked at Austerlitz etc and was possibly responsible for a number of deaths.

It's mainly an interesting read and I could really imagine the character of Hanna Schmitz being played by Winslett, portraying her detached, unemotional personality. But the novel (a translation) breaks all the rules about show rather than tell and when Schlink tries to examine the role of Germans during the Second World War and the concentration camps, it felt rather forced.

I'm glad I read this novel but I wouldn't want to read it again.

* FACELESS by Martina Cole. This is definitely commercial fiction and Cole breaks many of the rules of fiction: she includes great chunks of telling rather showing and repeats each character's motivation endlessly; the editing is suspect at times:she has obviously experimented with several ways of saying the same thing and then not totally deleted all the redundant words and sometimes commas are not used correctly; and her main character, Marie, who has just been released from prison for a double murder (but I don't believe she did it),speaks in a very middle class way, when she's supposedly working class, apart from a few "me's' instead of 'my's' and the occasional 'fuck'.

HOWEVER, not only am I really enjoying the read but also, Martina Cole is a best seller and must have made more than a few bucks and I still can't find an agent, so I don't feel in way superior about her not particularly fantastic writing skills. Her characters, most of whom are scumbags, are believable, if somewhat over-stated, and she writes about an underclass where drugs, prostitution and violence are prevelent so it makes for a fascinating read. I don't know what 'rocks' are but I'd certainly not like to get addicted to them.

Okay, the Festival is over, so here's my second 'take' on novels I've been reading recently.

But before I do so, I want to set the scene about my reading preferences.

Because I studied literature for 'A' levels and then my degree in the 1960s and 1970s, I've already read many of the great novels of literature. Favourites that readily spring to mind are: 'War and Peace', Doctor Zhivago', 'The Alexandrian Quartets', 'Gone With the Wind', 'Madam Bovary', 'How Green Was My Valley', 'Pride And Prejudice' in fact, all of Jane Austen's novels, 'Tess of the Durbevilles', 'Far from the Madding Crowd' (don't you just hate the hypocrisy of Angel!),'Exodus', 'Catch 22' (brilliant), 'A Town Like Alice', 'A Tale of Two Cities', 'For Whom The Bell Tolls'( a real weepy) - the list is endless. I also had a penchant for authors like Alistair Maclean, Agatha Christie, Jack Higgins etc, what I would call more commercial writers.

The only writers I have a real dislike for, despite the fact that are world renowned and I know that technically they are brilliant writers, are D.H.Lawrence, E.F. Foster and Joseph Conrad. Their novels are just too dark for me and somewhat boring. I would also never even attempt work by authors like Proust: life's just too short.

There are very few authors that I've come across who make me laugh out loud, which is a real pity, but both Evelyn Waugh and Lyn Truss do that for me, plus Tom Sharpe and not forgetting 'The Little World of Don Camilo'series. I'd love to be able to write a comedy -I think that making people laugh is a wonderful gift - but it's very hard to do, which is why there are so few genuinely funny novels about.

If you come across any, then please leave details in the comments section!

More recently, I've become addicted to crime novels, particularly those written by Michael Connelly (I'm partly in love with Harry Bosch, who is the detective most featured in the novels - although he must be hell to live with), Mo Hayder and Mark Billingham. I'll also read anything by John Le Carre, who is the greatest living novelist of our time, in my opinion. But because I want to break into publishing, I'm devouring novels that are very popular with agents/publishers/book awards/the general public in some hope of seeing where my Cyprus novel would fit in.

Most, but not all, of the novels I'm reading are set in modern times, which I now prefer, and here are my comments on what I've been reading recently:-

by Stef Penney. Set in the wilderness of Canada before modern days, where life is rough not to say extremely cold. Laurent Jammet, an ex-fur trader is murdered and the teenage son of the main character, Elizabeth Knox,disappears, presumed to be the killer, so Elizabeth sets off to look for him. This is a phenomenally praised novel, recommended in Mslexia as a perfect example of novel structure.It's certainly beautifully crafted and written BUT I just couldn't relate to it in any meaningful way. I didn't like any of the characters , apart from the bolshie one of the sisters, and didn't care what happened to them. I don't like cold or snow so that didn't help and there were only brief references to wolves. I only finished it because the last few chapters were more dramatic and I did like the way that all the threads joined together at the end. Not enough wolves for me, though.

* WE NEED TO TALK ABOUT KEVIN by Lionel Shriver. I'm the only person I know who has read this book because the subject matter is so dreadful: Kevin is a high school killer in America and the whole awful story unfolds via the letters his mother writes to his father after the fact, examining in detail the possible reasons for their son's cruel streak and tracing all the warning signs starting from when Kevin was born, a limp and unresponsive baby right from the word go. I spent most of the time I was reading this book being angry with all of the family: the workaholic mother, the inconsiderate father, Kevin himself who's a complete little shit and even the perfect sister. HOWEVER, I just couldn't stop reading it because it drew me in and engaged with me as a reader. It was a fascinating, if morbid, insight into school serial killers and although I was very angry with all of the family, I could see what led Kevin to commit his crimes and it was quite chilling: there for the grace of God go I, sort of effect. And the last few chapters were breathtakingly fantastic and the ending a total surprise. THIS is the book that really excels in structure and plot development and I want to read it again to see just how Shriver weaved in the clues so subtly that I was gasping with surprise and horror at the end. Woman's Hour on Radio 4 serialized it and the episodes I caught were just as good. What a cleverly written book but not for the faint hearted!

*NO TIME FOR GOODBYE by Linwood Barclay (what a lovely name) and recommended by the Richard and Judy Book Club. Set, again in modern America. I was initially attracted by the mysterious plot: a teenage girl wakes up the morning after a tremendous argument with her parents only to find the whole family have disappeared. Intriguing. Years later, Cynthia is now married with a daughter and the mystery of this bizarre situation is gradually revealed. Told from the view point of the husband and written in a most natural, conversational way, I was hooked from the start and it just got better and better and better so, really, I can't recommend this book highly enough. Easy to read but beautifully and intelligently written, I sometimes re-read paragraphs straight away because I loved the language and phrasing that Barclay used. READ THIS BOOK is my suggestion.

* PRIME WITNESS by Penny Morgan. I chose this book because not only is it a sort of a thriller but the author used to teach at the college just over the road from us and I wanted to give support to a Winchester writer. This is a most unusual and fascinating novel (a first novel, too) about a series of crimes centred around two Centres for Animal Behaviour Studies, one in Hampshire and the other in The States. The witness to the first murder is Caro, a bonabo (part of the ape family), and who is committing the crimes is really less important than the structure around which the plot is set: animal experimentation and the highly contentious issue of not only animal rights for animals, in particular apes, but their 'human rights'. It's a most interesting subject and although I found the novel rather slow to begin with and I got a bit confused about who as who, I ended up not only enjoying the read but desperately wanting to cuddle and be cuddled by a bonobo, which is not as kinky as it sounds. I defy you not to fall in love with Caro by the end of the novel if you choose to read it.

* NINETEEN MINUTES by Jodi Picoult. There was an article about the author and the novel in Mslexia, which inspired me to read the book. It was claimed that Jodi Picoult dealt with the same gritty themes as Martina Cole but was the better of the two authors.Having the read the book I can say that that is one of the biggest understatements I have ever read. Picoult is a fantastic writer, easy to read but with a great use of language. Sentence structure, character development, pace...everything is far superior to Cole, in my opinion. The secret of great writing is for it to appear effortless, for the reader to feel totally confident that every sentence reads well, that the language used is just right and affording the reader some intelligence. Picoult has this ability in bucket loads and she is definitely a 'find' for me. I shall be reading far more of her novels, particularly when I want to read something that I know I'll enjoy.

'Nineteen Minutes' is about a school serial killer in America and I was interested to see how this compared with 'We Need To Talk About Kevin'. It's very, very different, which is not taking anything away from Shriver's novel. There are far more characters, many of whom are very likable, including the killer, Peter, and present and past scenes alternate, which gives a gradual insight into the Peter's motives, which I found very effective. As with '...Kevin', you know who is the killer right from the off so it's the understanding of why which is of interest. I found myself feeling very sorry for Peter. He seemed to have no other alternative, which is very chilling to admit. The surprise is, given the problems that we have in society, which is shadowed by what goes on in schools, that school serial killings don't happen as often as they do and political correctness means that often firm action doesn't take place to stop, for example bullying, when actually it should. That's the teacher talking in me. Anyway, Picoult is a great writer and I suggest that you check her out.

* A DOG YEAR by Jon Katz. I took this book to Italy with me and have just finished it and I'm still smiling because this is a delightful book. Non-fiction, it's the account by the author of his adventures in training two Australian border collies at his home in New Jersey under the watchful and wary eyes of his two placid, peace loving golden labradors, Stanley and Jules. If you like dogs, enjoy having a good laugh (here's another writer for my funny novels list) and you don't mind crying uncontrollably a couple of times (even on a public beach), then this is the book for you.

Devon is the fist border collie to arrive and he's classed as the most troublesome dog in the world, although the author has certainly not encountered our dog, Archie. He's highly strung, badly damaged and a whole load of trouble. Lying on an Italian beach this summer, I laughed uncontrollably at the description of how Devon manages to escape from the backyard, over and over again, leaving no clues. This dog knows how to open a fridge, attacks moving school buses, and makes his feelings about being left alone in very visible ways. It really is amazing that Katz manages to tame, love and adore this dog.

But not content with that, he ships in Devon's cousin, Homer, who's cute and adorable and initially under constant attack by Devon.

Like 'No Time To Say Goodbye', it's set in America and written in a very conversational way. Descriptions are only included when essential to the story and there's no attempt here to write something literary or to create beautifully flowery language. This is not to say, however, that it's not well written. Katz is a masterful writer and a great story teller.

Our first dog was a border collie (Syder) and our present dog a very disturbed rescue dog so a lot of the antics of all the dogs rang very pleasurable bells. You may even enjoy this book if you're not a dog lover!

* GORDON'S GIFTS by Sally Petch. This is a delightful novel about a chap, Gordon, who knows that he is dying and sets about donating his money anonymously to people who he thinks either deserve or need it, which causes lots of misunderstandings and problems. Set in an English village, it has that 'feel good factor' and Gordon and most of the people he becomes friends with are likable, interesting and believable. I came across this novel purely by chance: signed copies were being sold in a charming restaurant/hotel near Chichester. Given the plot, it could have been mawkish but it wasn't - it was a real pleasure to read.

* A QUIET BELIEF IN ANGELS by R.J.Ellory (another Richard and Judy Book Club choice). I have just finished this novel and I'm soooooooo relieved because it was really tough going. About half way through, I considered ditching it altogether but decided I had already invested so much time in reading it that I might as well continue. Three quarters of the way through, I considered skim reading that last quarter, but with grim perseverance, I struggled on and YIPPEE! I finished it yesterday.

The novel is set mainly in the deep south of Georgia, America:it starts pre-second world war, flits occasionally to New York and eventually jumps in time to the sixties in both New York and Georgia.

I chose this novel because the plot sounded interesting: young girls are being attacked, murdered and their bodies mutilated so who is this terrible murderer? It's written through the eyes of Joseph Vaughan, a young boy, who is deeply affected by these murders and we see him grow into a young man and then a middle-aged man and still these murders haunt him until he finally discovers the culprit.

So, why did I find it so tedious?

a. It didn't seem to know what kind of book it was because although the murders were the thread that weaved their way, plotwise, throughout, there were an awful lot of other issues tackled e.g. the war, writing a novel, unusual relationships, so there was no real focus. The murders and the investigations were by far the most interesting part of the novel but they were all diluted by the many sub-plots. (At one stage, though, Ellory devotes a short chapter describing the different stages of one of the attacks from the viewpoint of the victim and I did find that chapter exceptionally moving. I understood what the girl was thinking and full marks to Ellory here for capturing, in a most convincing manner, those thoughts.)

b. Too many things happened that just didn't ring true for me, particularly in Joseph's relationships. In fact, I didn't 'get' the character at all. Although he babbles on ad infinitum, I couldn't see him in my mind or understand his character and, quite frankly, I eventually didn't care. And there was no real understanding of the murderer's motives. Ellory tried to explain this in almost a throwaway manner and , for me, that wasn't good enough.

c. But by far the most irritating aspect of the book was the writing style and here is the irony because the writing style is by far the best thing about the novel. In fact, Ellory's use of language and imagery is breathtakingly wonderful and creative. I've never read such original but appropriate language. If Ellory extracted all his descriptions and put them into some sort of dictionary of great imagery, then it would make a fantastic reference book for any writer. BUT this was also the downfall of the book because there was SO MUCH description and over-use of language that it totally submerged the plot and multiple sub-plots, stifling the flow of the narrative and negating dramatic impact. Time and time again, a single idea or description took a whole paragraph, Ellory using a variety of ways of saying the same thing (although absolutely beautifully) but eventually I just wanted him to get on with the story.

This should be entered for the Booker prize because don't the judges look for the quality of the writing, irrespective of how boring the book can be? I shall certainly ask my husband to read this novel to get his opinion. He actually enjoys reading Proust so there really is no counting for taste: 'one man's meat is another man's poison' kind of thing.

BUT I'm glad I persevered with this novel because:-

a. It has inspired me to improve my own imagery and descriptions so that they are original and interesting (hopefully!) and not cliched.

b. It's been an excellent lesson for me not to bog my own writing down with too much description and inner thought. A good writing style should, I believe, blend so seamlessly into a novel that it's a means, albeit a very skillful one, of moving the plot and characterization along without becoming 'the star' of the story.

So now I've started a Ben Elton comedy about an imaginary reality t.v. show, rather like the X Factor, and Elton doesn't mess around with too much clever language - the plot zooms along most satisfactorily. I'll have to include Ben Elton in my list of writers who make me laugh because I'm already finding it a lot of fun.

*CHART THROB by Ben Elton. This is a light, amusing book based upon the reality T.V. show The X Factor. It plots the meticulous manipulation of wannabe stars to squeeze as much 'good television' out of each programme. Acts are chosen, not because they can actually sing, but because they can be shaped into some kind of 'story' that the audience can relate to - either loving or hating. The twist is that Prince Charles is one of the contestants and I have to say that he is portrayed with some affection and the language he uses is so him that's uncanny. The judges are quite obviously Simon Cowell, Sharon Osbourne and Louis Walsh, which just about sums up my opinion of them. My only criticism is that the novel trundles along at the same pace so it gets a bit monotonous but generally it's a lot of fun.

*RITUAL by Mo Hayder. I think that Mo Hayder has lost her edge as a crime writer. She's obviously happy with the genre that she's chosen - weird, gory, unsavoury scenarios - and she's now churning them out rather pedantically. This is another Jack Caffery case and he's now moved to Bristol and is involved with an African ritual case of murder. It's all very predictable and, because it's to a set formula, used in her previous novels, lacks surprise or shock. Cut off hands, a character with webbed feet, blood sold as an a lucky omen... so what! Everything is tacky and distasteful. Jack Caffery having sex in the back of his car with a prostitute... surely, the guy can do better than that. Plus, she drags in some kind of wierdo, who brutally murdered the killer of his son, for no obvious reason but to titillate. Sorry, Mo, but it just doesn't hang together. You'll have to do much better if I'm going to buy your next book.

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