This Little Bag of Dreams

O body swayed to music, O brightening glance,/How can we know the dancer from the dance?

Category: missing Persons

The Trophy Child by Paula Daly

UK edition

Rewind four years, back to when I was a Waterstones assistant manager, and I remember cheerleading Paula Daly’s debut, Just What Kind of Mother Are You? (JWKOMAY). Well, Daly has done it again with her latest novel, The Trophy Child.  Once again, missing persons is her theme, but do not fear: this is not the same novel.  Despite being as compelling as JWKOMAY, you are in for a treat with some brand new characters and story lines.

All the same, familiarity is a nice foil to crime.  So it is good to see old faces reappear from JWKOMAY and Keep Your Friends Close, including DC Joanne Cunliffe (as likeable as ever and now a DS) and her weight-obsessed aunt, Jackie.  That said, despite this continuity in characters, there is no need to read Daly’s work in order.  (Yes, reader, you are free to read whichever one you like first.  And in this world, with its increasing lack of freedoms, THAT is a privilege.)

So, just to confirm:

  1. The Trophy Child does not ruin your fun by being the third novel in a series.
  2. But Daly does have some other fab novels to discover once you’ve read it.

Right, then.  Let us resume the task at hand.

US edition

The Trophy Child, as the title suggests, explores the effects a pushy mother can have on a child.  Bronte Bloom – and let’s face it, no ordinary parent would christen her child BRONTE – is ten years old and her mother, Karen, has imposed on her harp lessons (yep, you read that correctly), extra Maths, dance, drama and a veterinary degree (ok, one of those is incorrect).  Karen’s husband, Noel, is a GP who not only works long hours, but also prefers to extend his working day by doing overtime (read ‘going to the pub’ for ‘doing overtime’).  Noel tends to leave the parenting to Karen, and poor Ewan, Karen’s 19 year old son from a previous relationship, tends to get forgotten altogether.  The novel starts in the aftermath of Karen’s stepdaughter, Verity, attacking her, and oddly enough, relations between the two are a bit frosty.

But The Trophy Child is not about Verity’s attack on Karen.  Rather, it is about Karen’s relentless ‘attack’ on Bronte, seeking constantly to improve her instead of letting her enjoy her childhood.  And when it is perceived that this tiger mothering has gone too far, Bronte suddenly goes missing……..and soon afterwards, so does Karen.

I enjoyed this novel immensely.  Daly’s style of writing is so natural, and she has the ability to notice the quirks of human behaviour which go unobserved by most authors.  Some people may identify with Karen, although most will find her unbearable, both as a wife and a mother (I know that I was hoping for her downfall, but maybe that’s just me….).  As usual, the other characters are harder to place in terms of morality, which is what makes Daly’s work so true: they are all human and they all make mistakes.

Thank you to Alison Barrow at Transworld for the review copy.

 

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Himself by Jess Kidd

It is a tremendous privilege to review the wonderful Himself on publication day.  And what better time to discover this fantastic debut, immersed as it is in the dead and a forest borrowed from the Brothers Grimm, than a dark autumn evening?

The story begins in that same forest in 1950 and then fast forwards to 1976, just like two other wonderful recent novels, Maggie O’Farrell’s Instructions For a Heatwave and Joanna Cannon’s The Trouble With Goats and Sheep.  Furthermore, like those two novels, there is a mystery to be solved. The mystery relates to the parenthood of one Mahony, who arrives dirty and hippyish from the streets of Dublin with only a note and a photo as proof of his origins.  The villagers are adamant that Orla Sweeney departed Mulderrig twenty six years ago in the direction of Ennismore, and they will hear no more about one who, with her brazen ways, was so unpopular.  But Mahony and the eccentric old Mrs Cauley believe differently.  What happened to Orla? Did she leave Mulderrig alive? And if not, who killed her?

Himself is a truly stunning debut. Kidd’s writing is humorous and delightful; it’s original whilst still maintaining that beautiful Irish intonation.  If you like Angela Carter and Roddy Doyle, you will love this. 

We Shall Inherit the Wind by Gunnar Staalesen

We Shall Inherit the Wind Blog TourLong time, no blog.  But you have a treat in store with my review of the fantastic We Shall Inherit the Wind.  And what an honour to host the final day of the blog tour!

The novel opens in the late nineties.  Our alliterative hero, Varg Veum, sits by the bedside of his critically ill partner, Karin.  How did she get in this state?  Is it because of Varg’s private investigations?  And does she recover?

Rewind to the week before, when Varg is summoned by Ranveig Maeland to investigate her husband’s disappearance.  They had argued and he had stormed off; so far, just like any other marriage, and just like any other disappearance.  However, when no trace of Mons Maeland’s mobile phone or banking records can be discovered, and when it comes to light that Mons was on the cusp of changing his mind about his company’s planned wind farm, Varg begins to fear the worst.

Soon enough, the plot thickens.  It comes to light that Mons’ two children, Kristoffer and Else, are on opposing sides of the wind farm debate.  Whereas Kristoffer is firmly for the wind farm, Else is, like the zealous preacher Lars Rordal, decidedly against it.  This, of course, suggests either child as an accessory to Mons’ disappearance, depending on his views on the wind farm at the time of his disappearance.  What’s more, when we discover that Ranveig is, in fact, Mons’ second wife, and the children’s mother, Lea, went missing in the eighties, another motive is suggested for Mons’ own disappearance: revenge.  And as with all excellent crime, you will never guess what has really happened.

What I really enjoyed about We Shall Inherit the Wind was Staalesen’s incorporation of religious themes; indeed, these are themes which he has been exploring for more than twenty years, as discussed here.  Unlike other proponents of Scandi crime, such as Stieg Larsson, where misogynistic violence is a recurring theme, Staalesen instead places his novel in a greater context, using his character, Lars Rordal, to implicitly ask the question, ‘Who owns the earth – mankind or God?’

‘This land is the work of Our Lord.  He’s given it to us, but not so that we let it rot as we’re doing at the moment.  It’s an abomination in God’s eyes, and He will strike back with a vengeance.  Pestilence, destruction, storms, flames and other catastrophes will smite us all if we don’t change course and learn to live according to God’s word.’

Also, like Larsson, he shows us all sides of a woman: usurper, whore, angel and victim.  I very much look forward to what he does next.

Many thanks to Karen at Orenda Books for the review copy.

Husband Missing by Polly Williams

I have read all bar one of Polly Williams’ novels, and her first, The Rise and Fall of a Yummy Mummy, is still my favourite. Husband Missing, and I’m sure you can guess the main plot, enters darker territory, and successfully so, I’m pleased to say.

Gina Adler has been married for six months to the gorgeous and rich Rex. Life is a beach. Until, that is, Rex goes missing from one. Where is he? Is he as good a windsurfer as he makes out? And will he come back to her?

I’ll leave no spoilers here – I’m not that sort of reviewer – but suffice to say, Williams is on her usual skinny jeans and heartbreak form in this powerful novel. Do you know who your friends and family really are? You will want to find out after reading Husband Missing.