This week's bookcase includes reviews of The Owl Always Hunts At Night by Samuel Bjork, The Cows by Dawn O'Porter and The Blood Miracles by Lisa McInerney
The Owl Always Hunts At Night
There's something about Scandi-crime fiction that sets it apart from the norm and the second novel in Norwegian author Bjork's Munch and Kruger series exemplifies everything that is great about the genre. Veteran detective Holger Munch is reunited with the singularly perceptive, but haunted investigator Mia Kruger for a disturbing case in which a teenage girl has been found dead in an elaborately posed crime scene. Munch needs Kruger at the top of her game to solve this case, but Mia has her own demons to contend with and nothing seems to quite add up. Told in short, compelling chapters that alternate between several perspectives, Bjork creates a unique, twisting, unsettling thriller that really epitomises the phrase 'page-turner'. And at the heart of it are two police officers whose own emotional battles are as enticing as the crime they are investigating. Read as a standalone novel or as part of the series, the book works equally well. In fact, there is very little to fault in this Nordic crime thriller par excellence.
Whilst feminism is widely celebrated, in the age of social media, there is still overwhelming pressure on women to be perfect. So the first novel for adults from columnist and documentary-maker Dawn O'Porter is definitely much needed. The Cows is about three women; Tara, Stella and Cam. Through chance and the power of the internet, their stories meet and intertwine. Stella has lost both her mother and twin sister to cancer and has been told she may be unable to have children. Cam is a lifestyle blogger who promotes independence and childlessness, while Tara is a mother who becomes an online viral sensation when she is filmed masturbating on a train when she thought she was alone. Each of the women wrestle with their own desires whilst shouldering the weight of expectations placed on them by their families, society and themselves. Tara's storyline undoubtedly steals the spotlight - the way in which her sexuality is exploited and examined by the media is excruciating and sadly all too believable. It is a true testament to O'Porter's writing prowess that she is able to tackle these controversial subjects and turn them into symbols of empowerment. You'll only wish there was more of it to devour. A truly funny, important and fearless novel. Don't follow the herd.
The Blood Miracles
The Blood Miracles is McInerney's follow-up to her award-winning debut novel The Glorious Heresies. Published to critical acclaim in 2015, it featured a bizarre murder that entangled the lives of five marginalised characters living in post-crash Ireland. The Blood Miracles returns to Ryan Cusack; a teenage drug dealer in the earlier novel. Five years on, he is trying to manage his burgeoning career as one of Cork city's hard men. However, his mental health is fragile and his relationship with long-term girlfriend Karine, disintegrating. Plagued by the childhood loss of his mother, Ryan returns again and again to the gifts she left him: a flair for the piano and fluency in Italian. It's the latter skill his underworld mentor, Dan, exploits to establish a relationship with the Neapolitan mafia and set up a new ecstasy supply route to the city. With writing as punchy as the characters, The Blood Miracles is more than just a crime thriller. An intense and moving read, it explores class, culture and the toxic effects of modern masculinity.
The Surreal Life of Leonora Carrington
Born 100 years ago, surrealist artist and writer Carrington only died in 2011, making her a fascinating link to a long-gone world. Journalist Moorhead is Carrington's cousin, and befriended her in her last years, enabling a unique perspective for this biography-cum-memoir. Where art historians have often presented Carrington's family as an undifferentiated mass of conventional disapproval, Moorhead's intimate familiarity with the background enables her to tease out informative specifics, especially as regards the mother-daughter relationship. Carrington's amazing life and times are brought to vivid life - this was a woman who knew Picasso, fled the Nazis and was obliged to go on the run once again in her fifties - but Moorhead is always careful to establish Carrington as not merely interesting by association, but a significant figure in her own right, and one whose work, though rediscovered, has still yet to find quite the audience it deserves.
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