The eagerly anticipated follow up to Sarah Perry’s award winning ‘Essex Serpent’ has finally hit the shelves and her new novel is a very different kind of tale. Darker and disturbingly atmospheric it is a gothic chiller of rare grace and power.
It opens in Prague where Helen Franklin, lonely and remorseful, leads a sad and reclusive life working as a translator. A collection of manuscripts is passed to her which describes the mythical being, Melmoth, a tormented soul destined to roam the earth through the ages to bear witness to the violence and cruelty of humankind.
We discover the reason for Helen’s guilt as the narrative springs back to her earlier life and the events that traumatised her. Within the main plot are spliced a number of storylines from other times and places but all are linked by the shadowy figure of Melmoth, always watching from the margins and forever attracted to the lonely and the tormented.
Beware reading this on your own in the dark.
Serpents Tail hardback, £16.99
In 1940, aged just 18 and recently orphaned, Juliet Armstrong is recruited by MI5. Her initial work is boringly secretarial, transcribing the secretly recorded meetings of British Nazi sympathisers but before long she is sent out to infiltrate these pro Hitler activists.
The unfolding story of Juliet’s wartime years are spliced between her very different life ten years later. By 1950 Juliet is working for the BBC in a dark annex devoted to school’s broadcasting. When she receives a note: “You will pay for what you did.”, she begins a search to uncover which part of her shady past is catching up with her.
The tangled lies, inventions and compromised loyalties of espionage are at the heart of this novel. Who can be trusted when everyone is involved in an elaborate game of deception? Through it all, Juliet’s bright, perceptive and often humorous observations on the grey, humdrum word of post-war London make this a stylish and entertaining spy thriller.
Transworld, Hardback £20.00
Home to Essex girls and Basildon Man, our county has suffered from unfair stereotyping as a place of fake tans, boy racers, chavs and bling. Part of a long-term project, ‘Radical Essex’ is a book which overturns that warped view of our county. For Essex has always been a place of new ideas, pioneering communities, innovative social experiments and bold new architecture.
The Othona Community, established in 1946 in the Dengie Peninsula, is a religious retreat dedicated to enlightened spiritual dialogue and ecological self-sufficiency.
Earlier, in 1924, Wickford was the location for Britain’s first nudist colony. It was called Moonella and amongst its residents was novelist Ursula Bloom who earned a place in the Guinness Book of Records for writing over 500 novels.
And in architecture Essex has led the way. From the 1920’s worker’s village at Silver End with flat roofs, white rendered walls and art deco detailing to the new brutalism of Essex University’s iconic towers.
Also covering art and culture this book really gets beneath the skin of our fascinating county.
Focal Point Gallery, paperback, £20.00
Boosted by the popular tv series, DI Jimmy Perez has become one of the country’s favourite detectives as he confronts the criminal underworld in the beautiful isolated landscapes of the Shetland Isles.
Wild Fire is the eighth and final novel in the Shetland series and it opens with an English family, recently moved up from London, who have bought and renovated old crofting buildings in the remote northern end of the island. As a designer using Shetland wools for her high fashion garments, Helena Fleming has built a reputation for herself but she and her family are still treated with as outsiders in a small tight knit community.
Jimmy Perez is called in when her 11-year-old son discovers the body of their neighbour’s young nanny hanging from the beams in their derelict barn. Among the suspects are some strong characters with plausible motives and dark secrets and it needs Perez’s good sense and local knowledge to uncover the truth in this intense drama of fractured family relationships.
Anyone starting to explore their family tree has to be prepared for a surprise or two but it’s not often that a ghost turns up when researching the ancestors. This is what happens to Ruth when she returns to Edinburgh to sort out the family home after the death of her father. Inside a box of dusty family papers she finds the diary of 18th century ancestor, Thomas Erskine. In later life he was to become Lord Chancellor, but as a young man travelled the world as a sailor. It becomes clear that on one voyage Thomas made a very powerful enemy who was to haunt him to the end of his days….and beyond. As Ruth immerses herself in his story she herself seems to attract the attention of a strange and terrifying presence.
Barbara Erskine has a large following in the area from the days when she used to live close to Colchester and all those who like her unique mix of history and the supernatural will not want to miss this enthralling novel.
HarperCollins, hardback £14.99
This is a collection of 366 nature poems for children – one for every day of the year, including leap years. The poems range across all styles and ages from William Blake and Shakespeare through to current poet laureate, Carol Anne Duffy and rasta dub poet, Benjamin Zephaniah. There are poems of the sea and the forest, of crows and caterpillars, moonlight and mice.
Every page features Frann Preston-Gannon’s startlingly beautiful illustrations from colourful springtime flowers to misty November mornings and snowy winter landscapes.
The title is the first line of a short poem by Judith Nicholls, which reads
I am the seed
that grew the tree
that gave the wood
to make the page
to fill the book
Share a poem at the start of every day or at bedtime or just dip into it when the mood is right, this is simply the most glorious collection of poetry we have seen in a long time.
Nosy Crow, hardback, £25.00