Leading neurosurgeon Henry Marsh won acclaim for his first book ‘Do No Harm’. Now retired, this book reflects on a career where decisions are taken daily that can mean life or death for patients.
For Marsh, retirement was never going to mean the quiet life. He heads off to Nepal to help out at a clinic in Kathmandu, beneath the cloud shrouded Himalayas, where people might hike for days to reach it. And then to Ukraine to help train neurosurgeons in a country struggling to provide the basic medical care expected in a developed country.
Back home he buys a derelict cottage beside a canal. He aims to transform it to a place of beauty but wonders whether he will have time enough even to make it habitable.
Detailed accounts of operating to remove brain tumours are interspersed with tender memories of his insecure childhood and troubled adolescence.
He is opinionated and by turns passionate and tender as he reflects on a life time in medicine. On chronic underfunding of the NHS and of the of the cowardly politicians who watch while private companies ‘circle like hyenas around a elderly elephant’.
With honesty, he recalls not just the successes but also his mistakes and considers the decisions that must be made if ‘the doctor’s role is to reduce suffering and not just to save life at any cost.’
Orion Hardback, £16.99.
In the 1960’s American crime writer, Patricia Highsmith, rented a cottage in Suffolk She was seeking a quiet hideaway; a place where she could escape her fame and her fans to concentrate on writing. In this novel Jill Dawson takes this period of Highsmith’s life and blends fact with fiction in an imaginative exploration of her mind and her creativity.
And so into the calm of a small, rural village arrives the eccentric, troubled writer. A strong character she may be but, in the grip of severe depression, is turning to drink for consolation. In London she has a secret lover struggling in a destructive marriage and when an ambitious young journalist turns up events take a sinister turn. She finds support from neighbour, friend and confidante, Ronnie, whose gentleness is an island of understanding within the turmoil of her life. In Ronnie, many will recognise Ronald Blythe, now in his nineties and our local literary legend, but then himself a young writer.
Patricia Highsmith’s dark, brooding, psychological mysteries anticipated many trends of modern crime fiction and this powerful novel has much of the same edgy suspense.
Sceptre paperback £8.99
Diana Jager is a high-flying surgeon. Off duty, as ‘Scalpelgirl’, she writes an anonymous blog that exposes sexism in the medical profession. What she says is not popular in some quarters and when her identity as the blog writer is exposed she becomes the victim of online trolling and some vicious personal threats. She moves to Scotland, to new job and a new life but when her husband is killed in a road accident just 6 months into a dysfunctional marriage, suspicion quickly falls on Diana herself. Washed up journalist, Jack Parlabane, the maverick hero of many of Brookmyre’s earlier novels, is called in to investigate. He senses a story that might resurrect his career.
But the real detective here is the reader. Through the narrative is sprinkled a trail of clues about what really happened and why. Alongside the investigation of a crime the novel becomes an investigation into the fault lines of a disintegrating marriage. The tension is high, the mystery is complex – and the solution is satisfying
Abacus paperback, £7.99
It was in 1878 that Epping Forest was formally preserved from enclosure for the benefit of the people of London. But the area has been woodland since Neolithic times and part of the much larger King’s Essex Forest since the 12th century.
This is a lively personal exploration of the history of Epping Forest seen through the lives of some of the colourful characters who lived there.
Dick Turpin and Tom King were the highwaymen who terrorised travellers in the eighteenth century. Their secret hideaway was a cave in the forest large enough to take their horses and provisions.
John Clare, the mad poet, was imprisoned at an asylum in the forest. After four years he escaped and marched alone through the forest, eventually finding his way home.
There was Ken Campbell, avant-garde play write and actor, who, in the 1970’s directed ‘The Warp’. Lasting 23 hours it was the longest play ever staged.
And in the 1980’s, Crass, the most radical, politically engaged band of their era, established a counter cultural commune. One member of that band was Gee Vaucher, now an acclaimed artist with a major exhibition shown recently at Colchester’s Firstsite.
Thee lives of poets and protesters, misfits and mystics tumble through these pages as the author reflects on the extraordinary legacy of London’s public forest.
Granta Hardback, £14.99
Over the last 30 years the Glastonbury Festival has been the biggest annual event in the popular culture calendar. But it could have been so different. It could have been Weeley!
For in 1971 Clacton Round table decided to put on a little outdoor pop concert. They had heard that the biggest festival of the time, in the Isle of Wight, had been cancelled and thought they would put on something to help fill the gap. Most years they organized a traditional Summer Fete and Donkey Derby but this year they decided on an open air pop concert. That was in January. By the time the festival took place over that summer’s August Bank Holiday weekend the idea had taken on a life of its own. Originally planned with 10,000 tickets, it attracted 150,000 people! Many of the biggest name bands of the day were booked. Rod Stewart & the Faces, Marc Bolan, T Rex, Status Quo and Lindisfarne were all there and many more bands heard about it and just turned up. So many, in fact, that the music was non stop round the clock. This highly illustrated book tells the inside story of this remarkable event.
History Press Paperback, £16.99
Alex is not much of a people person. He has little enthusiasm for his job as a mortgage adviser and his marriage is on the rocks. Though just separated from his wife and eight year old son, it’s really not that he doesn’t love his family – more that he lacks the skills to show it.
His son, Sam, is autistic and needs certainty to feel safe. The often unpredictable reactions of people are hard for him to handle. Sam discovers the computer game Minecraft, where the object is to build imaginative worlds out of blocks like a giant virtual Lego set and in the fixed structures of the game Sam finds the certainties that the human world lacks. Alex links up with his son in this virtual world and together they embark on adventures, battling zombies, creating fantastic cities and in the process building the relationship which has eluded them in the real world.
This is a funny, moving and uplifting story about the trials of modern family life and the challenges facing an autistic boy growing up in an unpredictable world.
Published b Sphere in paperback , £7.99.