The BookBrunch team reveals what's on their bedside tables
Marian Keyes is a marvel. And when she reads her own audiobook, she is a double marvel. For the last week, I've been living alongside the three Casey brothers and their wives and children, whose stories are recounted in Grown Ups (Penguin). As always with Keyes, some big issues (divorce, death, bulimia) are dealt with but the ordinary joys of life are in good supply too, alongside some great craic helping to mitigate life's many pitfalls. Her voice echoes in my head all day long now, so, if you do not want your life taken over by a story telling genius, do NOT download this audiobook!
One of the lovely things about flagging up what the BookBrunch team are reading individually is checking out each other's experience and adding to an already unmanageable TBR list and growing bedside pile. Nick Clee recommended Rules for Perfect Murders (Faber) by Peter Swanson a while back and the premise struck me as an excellent one then so I made both a mental and written note to seek it out later. Here it is again: a series of unsolved murders with one thing in common: each of the deaths bears an eerie resemblance to the crimes depicted in classic mystery novels. I'm halfway through and really enjoying it - if the idea for the novel rings your bell then get yourself a copy right away.
When we first reported the deal for Hallie Rubenhold's The Five: The untold story of the women killed by Jack the Ripper (Doubleday) back in 2016, I remember thinking what a brilliant idea for a book. No-one had ever bothered to write about them before, but done well it would be a brilliant piece of publishing. Now I read the book I am entirely won over, this is a staggering achievement. Two things stand out: this really is a labour of love from a proper historian, the level of research that has brought these women back to life is incredible, and not just the victims, but their friends, families and partners, with proper biographical detail derived from multiple sources. We learn about their loves, lives, tastes, where they lived and how they worked. The other thing is the sheer gob-smacking awfulness of the lives of working class women in Victorian England: uneducated as children, then a brief young adulthood often in domestic service, then marriage, no control over multiple pregnancies, and dead by 42 on average. The twist, of course, is that of the victims, only one was a prostitute, not all five as we have always been told. The others were merely destitute, sleeping on the streets and using alcohol as an escape - but to the Victorians, 'fallen women' nevertheless.
If you're a fan of hard-boiled fiction, I recommend Death on Demand by Paul Thomas (Bitter Lemon). Rugged prose, laconic dialogue, moral murkiness, a femme fatale: Paul Thomas has all these ingredients at his command, and makes them fresh. His hero is Maori police detective Tito Ihaka, here dealing with apparently motiveless murders, racist colleagues who wish him serious harm, and his own reckless nature. He'll do the right thing in the end - but at a cost.
I heaved a sigh of relief when I started Firewatching by Russ Thomas (Simon & Schuster). A handsome-yet-scarred young detective with a past investigating a case of a body hidden behind a bricked up wall? Heaven. Like many people I've had times during lockdown when I've found it very hard to focus on a book so it felt brilliant to read this one in a couple of days: the story is well told and well paced and it was extremely compelling to have it unfold in front of me. The plot was great - horrible politicians doing truly ghastly things, arson attacks, an old and spooky house, an elderly lesbian couple with secrets - but most of all I loved the central character. I hope to read an entire series about Adam Tyler - he's snarky, tough, clever, prone to making terrible decisions, and spends a good amount of the book having an indecent amount of chemistry with a hunky fireman.