Careless Love by Peter Robinson

I have been a huge fan of Peter Robinson’s Inspector Banks novels, relishing each new arrival, reading them quickly and then being so disappointed when I finish and have to wait for another one. Careless Love was no different… to start with. I gulped it down but, rather than eagerly awaiting the next instalment, I am left feeling a wee bit short-changed.

Let me explain why.

The crime is set up early in the novel – a young student is found dead in an abandoned car. It becomes evident that her body has been deliberately placed here as she didn’t drive and certainly didn’t own the car. A bit further along, a successful businessman is found dead at the bottom of an incline, apparently from a fall. Pretty soon, the inconsistencies in the two cases start to show some commonalities, as does yet another death. Add to this information Zelda, Annie’s father’s new partner gives to Banks and Annie one night, about the man who tried to murder Banks a few books ago, and the team is on the case – all of them.

So, it starts off so promising and then…it isn’t so much. Don’t get me wrong, the writing is tight, as one would expect from someone so practiced in their craft. Banks and Annie are mostly true to form, except, in what appears to be a bit of self-indulgence, Robinson has Banks bang on and on and on about his music – and when it doesn’t really fit the narrative and most certainly holds it up. In the past, it was sort of funny and quirky, Banks’s ad hoc musical references and preferences for certain types of (to most of us) obscure jazz and other artists. In this book, it interferes with and interrupts the narrative to the point of distraction. Further, Banks has also taken it upon himself to become familiar with poetry. OK. Poetry can function as a great analogy to the action of the novel, as a metaphor, or prolepsis… only, no. Not here. All the references to it do nothing to serve the story. Music and poetry, both of which show Banks to be sophisticated, I guess, do nothing except become great ellipses in terms of the narrative and overall action. Then there’s the fact a great deal of the book is taken up with interviews that go absolutely nowhere. I was left wondering where my beloved, feisty and clever Banks had disappeared to. It doesn’t help that he develops what’s tantamount to a pervy, middle-aged crush on one of the suspects that is both grating and borders on inappropriate. As a consequence of all this, I found this instalment to fall well short of expectations.

So, sadly, unlike previous books, I cannot make a song and dance about this one – not when Banks does that in almost every scene he appears. Well, makes a song of it, anyhow.

Nonetheless, I am looking forward to the next book in the hope that what Zelda has uncovered is explored, sans the unnecessary poetry and most of the musical references.

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Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman

Oh. My. Where do I begin with this utterly original, completely heart-wrenching and beautiful story that kept me awake until the wee hours as I simply had to finish it? I have actually delayed writing a review because I am concerned I won’t do this magic novel justice. But I will try.

Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine is a debut novel by Gail Honeyman. It tells the tale of the socially inept, friendless, simple (as in uncomplicated) Eleanor, who’s worked at the same place for almost a decade, eaten the same things, drunk a couple of bottles of vodka every weekend, and followed, with minor aberrations, the same routine for years. This routine includes a weekly telephone call to her cruel institutionalised mother, who appears to have an unnatural and unhealthy hold over her daughter.

When one of Eleanor’s co-workers accompanies Eleanor down the street after work one day and they witness an accident, their subsequent kindness leads to some extraordinary and slow alterations in Eleanor’s life. Suddenly, Eleanor is forced to face the fact her life might be “fine” but is it complete? What she finds when the answers start to come is something unexpected, thrilling and totally frightening.

Beautifully written, sparse and yet, laden with meaning, it is both sweetness and light as well as darkness and horror all at once. Reading was akin to riding an emotional roller-coaster, but one I didn’t want to step from. Your heart aches for Eleanor and those who enter her sphere. As for the mystery that is her past, as it slowly unravels, you quake for Eleanor and what she must face.

This is about inner strength and the demons that try to weaken even the bravest of souls. It’s about friendship, and unexpected and simple acts of kindness and empathy, that come when you least expect it, but often most need them. It’s about fear of change, of the past, but also how both need to be embraced in order to alter the future.

Unsentimental, yet totally heart-warming, it is bitter-sweet as well. You yearn for Eleanor and for the light of hope that flickers through the pages never to be extinguished, though there are moments where it dims dangerously.

I am still thinking about this book days after reading it and cannot recommend it highly enough. A treasure of a story.


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