The Wilder Aisles 

Janice Wilder has been a legend of Sydney bookselling for over 40 years.

November 2019

 - Friday, October 25, 2019
Good news for lovers of Ann Cleeves’s Shetland/Vera crime novels. The first in her new Two Rivers series—The Long Call—is here. Far from the cold, windy Shetland islands, and the bleak Newcastle-on-Tyne area, Cleeves fans now find themselves in North Devon, where two rivers converge and run into the sea. The funeral of Detective Matthew Venn’s estranged father is taking place—with the unwelcome Matthew standing apart. Brought up in the evangelical brethren, he was cast out when he left the faith. After the funeral he gets his first major case back in his home town—a murdered man found on the beach. An old timber yard repurposed as a place for adults with a learning disability, a Down’s Syndrome girl courted by sweets and secrets, and Matthew’s mother reluctantly involved when he meets a stonewalling from the brethren who refuse to believe one the church congregation may be involved in murder—this book has many layers, complicated characters, a quite a few twists and surprises along the way. Being a great fan of the Shetland books and the TV series, I was very happy to see a new outing from Cleeves—and The Long Call’s Matthew Venn is certainly well-placed to join Vera and Jimmy Perez in Cleeves’ gallery of great characters.


I then crossed the channel to The Awkward Squad by Sophie Henaff. A bit like New Tricks and the eccentric old men of the Christopher Fowler novels, the eponymous squad are a bunch of police officers who have blackened their reputations in some way—and HQ has stuck them on cold cases where they can do little or no harm. Suspended for ‘firing one bullet too many’, Anne Capestan is charged with leading this bunch of misfits—drunk Capitaine Merlot, Jose Torres—nicknamed Malchance, as bad luck befalls anyone nearby, and Capitaine Eva Rosiere who has a lucrative side-line writing crime novels which use her fellow officers and cases (thinly disguised) as plot. With Capestan teamed with Malchance as no-one else will work with him, the squad chooses two cold cases to work—a woman murder 7 years ago, a man found in the Seine with three bullet holes in him, a ferry that capsized off the coast of Florida. As they dig deeper—it begins to appear that they have been set up to fail—with a senior officer in the middle of the whole affair. This is perfect holiday reading—I do hope Haneff gets to give the Awkward Squad more cases.


I have been reading some children’s books this year, and as gift-giving season is just around the corner I’d like to mention a few. Most of these are suitable for ages 8-12, with a leeway either side. The first is The Lotterys series by Emma Donoghue. The first book is The Lotterys Plus One, the second, The Lotterys More or Less

. In a house called Camelottery in Toronto lives a family made up of four parents, seven kids and five pets ... These are wonderful books, full of fun and joy—yet with a serious, but not overbearing, message of diversity and how to get along in a large group of quite different  individuals. 



I also loved Hilary McKay’s multi-award-winning The Exiles trilogy (The Exiles, The Exiles at Home and The Exiles in Love)

. Four sisters—Ruth, Naomi, Rachel and Phoebe—are prolific readers. In the first book they are sent to Big Grandma for the holidays, and horror of horrors, all books have disappeared. Big Grandma makes them go for walks even in the rain, do housework and bans books. How the girls cope makes for great reading. The two following books are just as much fun. 

      



2018 Costa Award winner, The Skylarks’ War, also by Hilary McKay, is a more serious book—perhaps for older readers. Set against the backdrop of WW1, it follows Clarry, her brother Peter and their cousin Rupert. After a summer holiday in Cornwall. Peter and Rupert return to boarding school and Clarry to life with her more and more distant father. When Rupert goes to war, Clarry realises that their Cornwall holidays are truly over. This is a beautiful book, following the losses and loves of three young people as the war to end all wars, gains momentum and their lives change for ever—it has been called one of the best books of the First World War. Highly recommended.


Lastly, When Hitler Stole the Pink Rabbit a semi-autobiographical account of author Judith Kerr’s life in Berlin, and her family’s escape from the Nazis—first to Switzerland , then to France and finally England. I usually avoid books about Hitler and the Nazis, but I found this very compelling. Kerr’s father was a distinguished Journalist, who made no pretence of his attitude to the rise of the Third Reich. Finding himself on a hit list, he and his family realised they had to pack up and leave. A wonderful story of love and courage and the triumph of the human spirit against terrible events.