Reviews of Fatal Isles, The Jigsaw Man, Bessie Smith and The New Climate War
Thriller: Fatal Isles by Maria Adolfsson Zaffre, 528 pages, paperback €10.85; e-book £4.79
Somewhere in the middle of the North Sea, equidistant from Britain and Denmark, lies the imaginary ruggedly beautiful and staunchly independent island nation of Doggerland.
Detective Inspector Karen Eiken Hornby has returned to the main island, Heimö, having spent many years in London where she worked in Scotland Yard’s CID. Now she is having to struggle to establish herself as a competent investigator in the eyes of her male superiors in Doggerland’s police authority, most of whom haven’t yet embraced the notion of equal opportunity in the workforce.
However, she is handed the chance to lead a major murder investigation. The victim is a woman named Susanne Smeed, who has been beaten to death in her home.
Susanne is the ex-wife of her boss, Jounas Smeed, the head of the Investigative Division, who, for obvious reasons, can’t lead the investigation into his wife’s violent death. Karen knows that it is unlikely that Smeed is responsible as, just a few hours before she had, embarrassingly, woken up beside him in a hotel bedroom in Dunker, the island’s capital, with a monumental hangover. He was passed out cold in the bed. It had been a monumental mistake, the result of too much drink at the island’s Oyster Festival.
As she organises her team to delve into Susanne’s life in an effort to discover the culprit, she finds that the dead woman was almost universally disliked by anyone who knew her in the tight-knit island community. It gradually emerges that Susanne’s death may have its roots in a long-defunct hippy commune established by immigrants back in the 1970s. A cracking police procedural set in a richly described isolated island community.
Memoir: Becoming by Michelle Obama
Penguin, 464 pages, paperback €12.99; e-book £7
First published in November 2018, the former First Lady’s memoir has sold a whopping 15m copies in hardback to date. It’s finally getting a paperback release — as well as a special Puffin edition for children aged 10 and up. The memoir takes a look back at Obama’s early life, her fledgling career, marriage to Barack and her time in the White House, during which she dedicated herself to public health campaigns. She mixes the personal with the political and looks back on the business of parenthood while under the world’s glare. She has been tipped by some to stand for election in 2024, but she makes it clear in Becoming that she has little interest in seeking office. We shall see.
Thriller: The Jigsaw Man by Nadine Matheson
HQ, 448 pages, hardcover €14.99; e-book £5.99
When detached body parts are found on the banks of the Thames in south-east London, DI Anjelica Henley realises that there are, in fact, two victims, and worryingly, the deaths bear the hallmark signature of serial killer Peter Olivier, the notorious ‘jigsaw killer’.
But Olivier is in prison, and Anjelica herself bears similar signature scars that the killer managed to inflict on her as she arrested him three years before. If she is to catch the copycat killer, she must face her demons and talk to Olivier in prison to seek his help. But the last thing he wants to do is help, and the two engage in a battle of wits and will as Henley desperately tries to stop the carnage.
Memoir: Bessie Smith by Jackie Kay
Faber & Faber, 224 pages, paperback €12.90; e-book £4.46
Blues woman Bessie Smith was a formidable figure. As well as being one of the most popular vocalists of the early 20th century, she strived for racial and gender equality and apparently stood up single-handedly to the Ku Klux Klan when they threatened to burn down her show tent. Originally published in 1997, this unusual biography from Scotland’s poet laureate, Jackie Kay not only tells the story of Smith’s extraordinary and tough life as well as her remarkable talent — she was one of the first signings to Columbia Records in the 1920s — but that of her own up bringing as a young black kid in Glasgow. It’s a book that juggles elements of biography, fiction, prose and poetry.
Environment: The New Climate War by Michael E Mann
Scribe, 368 pages, paperback €21; e-book £14.39
The climate change message has finally hit home — with mantras of flying less and recycling more. In this provocative book, the American climatologist argues that while we can all do our part, we can’t allow big business off the hook. The fossil fuel industry, Mann argues, has mastered the art of deflecting the blame. Instead, they’ve blocked efforts to regulate or price carbon emissions, run PR campaigns aimed at discrediting viable alternatives and have abdicated responsibility in fixing the problem they caused. The New Climate War makes a compelling case both for revising the global Green New Deal and for counteracting disinformation from climate sceptics.