The Wilder Aisles 

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

February 2018

 - Friday, February 09, 2018
Every year I decide I will take note of what I have read over the holidays—but I guess the woman who looked over my shoulder as I considered purchasing a reading diary and said, ‘You’ll never do it!’, was right. Anyway—here are the books that I do remember.

Some time ago I wrote about a book I enjoyed a lot called The Atomic Weight of Love by Elizabeth Church—so I was pleased to see her second book appear. All the Beautiful Girls (due in March) is the story of Lily Decker, who, after surviving the car crash that killed her parents and sister, goes to live in a small Kansas town with a cold and distant aunt and an uncle who pays her too much attention. This lonely existence is alleviated by having dance lessons that are paid for by an unknown benefactor. Anxious to leave her home and the unwanted attentions of her uncle, she heads for Las Vegas to be a troupe dancer. She stands out at the auditions and is hired to be a show girl, and as ‘Ruby Wilde’ she is soon the toast of the town—earning big money, and the title of Show Girl of the Year. She makes some close women friends, who help her navigate the pitfalls of life in Las Vegas, and give her much-needed to support when, because of the ghosts of her past abuse, she falls for the wrong man. Eventually, Ruby finds her mystery benefactor and her life changes forever. This is a book about love, loss, friendship and salvation—salvation that comes from a most unlikely source. There is much more to this story than I have room for here, so I encourage you to read it and make up your own mind. I loved it!

Henning Mankell’s last book, After the Fire is a sort of sequel to 2006’s  Italian Shoes—which has the same characters. Dr Fredrik Walin has retired to an island in the Swedish archipelago—having given up practicing medicine after an operation that went disastrously wrong. He lives a quiet life, isolated from people—his only contact being Ture Jansson the postman, who arrives by boat whenever there is any mail, or sometimes for a consultation for some imaginary complaint. Ture is Dr Walin’s most frequent patient, albeit the only one. One night Fredrik wakes up to a strange light, and after a minute or two he realises that his house is on fire. He escapes with his life and two left gumboots. In the ashes of his house he finds a buckle belonging to a pair of shoes, made for him by his friend, Giaconelli—he of the Italian Shoes. Fredrik stays on the Island living in a caravan. His estranged daughter Louise turns up and after some uncomfortable nights sharing the small caravan, Fredrik pitches a tent on one of the smaller rocky outcrops. Another house fire occurs on another part of the archipelago, and then another—and when all is revealed, the arsonist is a big surprise. Mankell is a most assured writer—I became so involved I could see the island, the rocky outcrop and the surrounding blue water. Highly recommended and I also suggest you read Italian Shoes—just as enjoyable.

Elly Griffiths is the author of the Ruth Galloway crime novels, featuring Ruth Galloway, a forensic archeologist. A new one called The Dark Angel is due this month. Griffiths also writes another series—the Stephens and Mephisto books—in which Max Mephisto, a stage magician, and DI Edgar Stephens solve mysteries in Brighton. In order: The Zig Zag Girl, Smoke and Mirrors  and The Blood Card. I’ve read 1 and 2, and there is a fourth to come called The Vanishing Box. Being a great lover of magic, I found the character of Max Mephisto very interesting—and of course, DI Edgar Stephens is a treasure. The story in The Zig Zag Girl looks back to the time Max and Edgar spent during the war as part of a group called the Magic Men. The body of a girl is found cut into thirds and DI Edgar remembers a magic trick from that time called the Zig Zag girl. He contacts a reluctant Max who gets involved when he finds out that the dead girl was once known to him. Then another death occurs and this time both Max and Edgar know the murdered girl. When another of the Magic Men, Tony Mulholland, contacts Edgar and wants to meet up Edgar is puzzled, but as other members of the war time group start to appear he becomes certain that the murders are related to the past—it looks as if someone is trying to pick off the Magic Men one by one. I wasn’t sure if I’d like this series as much as the Galloways, but Griffiths tells a good story in a very likeable way and I’m now going to open up The Blood Card, and am looking forward to the Vanishing Box. Although Max Mephisto and the Magic Men are entirely fictitious, there was a group called the Magic Gang doing camouflage work in Egypt during WW2, although the actual work they did is shrouded in mystery. Janice