When you have to lie on your back after knee surgery, you're able to keep working on your laptop, supported by several pillows. It's a little awkward and you have to manoeuvre the mouse on the sheets, but it can be done.
Something that's much easier is reading. Therefore, and because I am lucky to have someone who organises food and care, I have devoured several books in the past week. One I accidentally gave away and can't remember the title. But six is ample for one story: I decided, as in the days of #boekbedonnerd, to offer glimpses of half a dozen books — just like my esteemed colleague Kerneels in his column.
Of course, suspense stories were part of my medication, and this book kept me glued to the bed. Slaughter always provides a lot of detail: police procedure, forensic evidence, diagrams on a whiteboard. But she also pays a lot of attention to character, one of my prerequisites. And because her characters are flawed and far from perfect, the reader can easily identify. Sara Linton is a successful physician and engaged to the man of her dreams, Will, a gentle giant of a detective. But she was raped in college and has tried to put the incident behind her. One night in the emergency room, Sara struggles to save the life of a young woman, Dani Cooper. Before she dies, Dani tells Sara she was violently assaulted and raped, and by whom. The perpetrator is the son of two wealthy doctors who studied with Sarah, and quite a few similarities and links between Sara's assault and Danni's come to light. Now Sara, Will and his colleague Faith try to unravel the mystery. There is evidence of many more rapes over the years, and of a “rape club". It's one of those books that fills you with hatred towards rich, privileged men who get away with murder.
After That Night by Karin Slaughter was published by HarperCollins and costs R332 at Exclusive Books.
A domestic noir. This one kept my attention but was a bit slow at times and the denouement didn't quite satisfy me. Still, I didn't put it down. The cast and plot are much less involved than Slaughter's. Tess mourns her sister's death, a murder that was never solved. She is freaking out and is your typical unreliable narrator. She moves into her sister's apartment and dons her life like a piece of clothing. She rents out her sister's room to help pay the mortgage. She's a kleptomaniac and a peeping tom who loves to snoop through her tenants' belongings. She begins to read the diary of Arran, her handsome and charming boarder. It becomes clear that, unbeknown to her, he had been involved in her life before he moved in. She is determined to unravel the mystery and, of course, there is chemistry between them.
The Guest Room by Tasha Sylva was published by Wellbeck Publishing Group and costs R379 at Exclusive Books.
A noir with body. It begins with the gruesome find of a young girl at the side of the road. For once, at least, she's still alive. Wyatt, a truck driver who has struggled with mental health issues since his sister's unsolved disappearance, picks up the girl and takes her home. Then keeps quiet about her existence. Odette Tucker is a young detective who has a history with Wyatt and a soft spot for him. She is forced to keep silent about the girl as well, in case the villagers arrive at Wyatt's house with pitchforks — he is already regarded with suspicion. Hearbelin is the author of the bestseller Black-Eyed Susans, which I also devoured. She has a flair for character and is an inspired weaver of psychological thrillers.
We Are All the Same in the Dark by Julia Heaberlin was published by Penguin and costs R253 at Exclusive Books.
Loaves and robots
This book is something quite different, a satire. It's fascinating and funny. The main character is an overworked programmer/coder who becomes attached to a takeaway dish: homemade bread and vegetable curry sold by two refugee brothers from their apartment. They call her their No 1 eater. Then they arrive at her door to say goodbye: due to visa problems, they have to flee to Berlin. They bequeath their sourdough starter to her, with instructions. She starts baking the dreamiest loaves and gets involved in a highly eccentric farmers' market that fuses food and technology. She takes along the robotic arm she's working on as a coder. Things get out of hand. It's highly entertaining and funny, and makes you think.
Sourdough by Robin Sloane was published by Atlantic Books and costs R253 at Exclusive Books.
I loved Jane Eyre, Rebecca and Wuthering Heights. Now gothic is big again. This novel is set centuries ago. After the death of Marta's grandmother, who was labelled a witch by the villagers, her aunt sends her off her to the estate of an elderly wealthy man. She is employed as governess for his daughter who lives with Down syndrome. It's a ghostly mansion, ice cold, with candles like torches on the walls. Marta encounters Vaughn, the owner's disinherited son who was banished from the house, at the river with his hunting falcon. Vaughn is a troubled young man and the evil in him speaks to Marta's dark side. Forbidden and unrestrained passion blossoms in his rooms above the stables. Marta, who is drop-dead gorgeous, begins to forge plans to become the woman of the house. Things may turn out differently, though. At the end of the novel, you grasp the connection to Henry James' The Turn of the Screw, a classic ghost story. I couldn't turn the pages fast enough.
Fyneshade by Kate Griffin was published by Profile Books and costs $27.05 at Amazon.
Another book set centuries ago, and whose pure storytelling prowess intoxicates. It's about the gritty side of London in Elizabethan times. The main characters are street children belonging to a theatre company. Theatre lovers will lap up the descriptions of the magic fashioned with primitive props, by candlelight. The protagonist, Shay, belongs to a cult that lives on an island near London and worships birds. Its members predict the future and are bird whisperers. Shay joins the theatre kids, who are brutally exploited by bored rich people and decide to start their own company: Ghost Theatre. On the streets and in ordinary spaces, they tell the stories of ordinary people. Shay is gifted: she can sing in tongues and predict the future. She and Nonesuch, a boy who is clearly noble and was presumably stolen from his home by the mercenary theatre mogul, forge a close friendship/love affair as they fight for survival. It's beautifully written and full of enchantment. You will gape in surprise.
The Ghost Theatre by Matt Osman was published by Bloomsbury and costs R430 at Exclusive Books.
It's no wonder Netflix series fail to grab my attention. There are a host of worlds between the pages of books, and your imagination is the stage. It's completely boundless.
♦ VWB ♦
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