This week: A story about how a cat managed to catch a killer
This week there’s a memoir about a childhood lived under the shadow of an alcoholic mother, from the child who later would become an alcoholic herself. There’s a story about how a cat managed to catch a killer. There’s a novel about a reality TV programme destined to outstrip all others. A true story about a prolific art thief proves that fact is always stranger than fiction, and a fictional life insurance fraud case goes horribly wrong.
The Villa, Ruth Kelly, Pan, €12.99
This author has written for many TV shows, among them the original reality TV programme Big Brother, so her debut novel is about the kind of show she’s familiar with. Although you’d hope no show would go this wrong. The story is set on a luxurious Balearic island where 10 contestants have arrived in the hope of winning a seemingly limitless amount of money. And every moment is being streamed on live feed to an interactive internet audience. So far, so Love Island. But because this an internet-only broadcast, as opposed to a TV station, anything goes. There are no rules. And the clickbait-hungry producer is intent on pushing everything to the limits.
Laura is not a genuine contestant, she’s an undercover journalist, sent by her editor to get the inside skinny on the competition. Thing is, Laura’s not the only contestant with a secret. This is a pacy thriller, exploring a world obsessed with voyeurism, especially when it comes to others’ misfortunes.
The End of Us, Olivia Kiernan, Riverrun, €14.99
It’s not another Frankie Sheehan detective novel, although Kiernan’s legion of fans are probably hoping we haven’t seen the last of Frankie. Here, the author has shifted her lens to domestic noir. Successful couple Myles and Lana Butler live in a des res in the exclusive Belvedere Court in Wimbledon. But after an investment goes wrong for Myles, the couple’s finances are in trouble. During an evening with their glittering new neighbours, Gabriel and Holly Wright, they confide their money worries to their newfound friends. The Wrights suggest a solution; life insurance fraud. They’ll help Myles and Lana for a cut of the insurance money. Harmless enough, what?
But then Lana goes missing. And Myles realises it’s game on, even though neither he nor Lana agreed to go ahead with the plan. He’s not exactly a pleasant chap, our Myles, and since the story unfolds from his perspective, we get a clear picture of just how murky he is. With an ending you really won’t expect, Kiernan proves she’s every bit as good at depicting the dark side of our interior lives as she is with her rollercoaster police procedurals.
The Art Thief, Michael Finkel, Simon and Schuster, €19.99
This is the true story of Stephane Breitwieser, a Frenchman who is probably the most prolific art thief in history. He has defended his numerous thefts (worth between $1.5 and $2 billion) by stating that he simply wanted to surround himself with beauty. His intention was never to sell the artworks, merely to enjoy them himself, many of them in his mother’s attic! Most of the thefts were from regional museums and galleries across Europe, where security wasn’t as tight as it might be. And his only tool was a Swiss Army knife.
American journalist Finkel really brings the story to life, not just detailing the robberies, which Breitweiser usually conducted with the assistance of his girlfriend, but also outlining the thought process of this most eccentric man, who truly believed he wasn’t stealing but was in fact an ‘art liberator’.
The Cat who Caught a Killer, LT Shearer, Pan, €12.99
This is another ‘cosy crime’ mystery but unlike others in the genre, it involves a talking cat! Lulu has lived in a boathouse in Maida Vale since shortly after her husband died as she couldn’t bear living in their old home without him. She’s a retired cop, she has plenty of friends and grows herbs on the patch of ground adjacent to her boat. And one day Conrad, a calico cat, comes strolling down the riverbank and decides to adopt Lulu. She soon finds out that Conrad can talk, albeit only to her.
Lulu regularly visits her mother-in-law Emily in a nearby care home. Emily has dementia but is otherwise healthy. So when Lulu hears that Emily has died, just hours after one of Lulu’s visits when she seemed very well, her old detective’s instinct kicks in, helped ably by the suspicions voiced by Conrad. Did Emily really die – so suddenly – of natural causes? Hmmm. A gently funny novel with an original twist.
Grand, Noelle McCarthy, Penguin Sandycove, €17.99
Noelle McCarthy is a successful broadcast and print journalist in New Zealand. She was born and bred in Cork and her mother was a chronic alcoholic. There’s nothing very unusual about alcoholic Irish mammies, but McCarthy’s mam wasn’t the secret-drinking-behind-the-net-curtains type. She was in fact the opposite. She was out there, in the bars around Cork city, in everyone’s face, being everyone’s problem. But she was also a force of nature. Noelle fled Cork for New Zealand soon after leaving college. There she built a successful career for herself as a journalist, working hard and long hours and, although as a child she thought she’d never drink, she would ‘come down’ off a hard shift by partying hard and drinking too much. Soon she was partying as hard as her mother used to do.
Her own addiction story doesn’t figure large in this memoir, but rather this is the story of her mother and her grandmothers, of an unforgiving and hypocritical Ireland buckled under the shadow of the church, an Ireland that put away its unmarried mothers and took their babies and hid its mentally ill in filthy Dickensian asylums. Her family history on both sides is heartbreaking.
This book was first published in New Zealand, where it has already won two major prizes. I imagine it will do the same this year in our own National Book Awards. It’s beautifully written, sometimes shocking, but shot through with flinty wit and ferocious, angry love.
The Graiguenamanagh ‘Town of Books’ festival runs this coming weekend from August 18 to August 20, somewhere to browse new and second-hand titles with an emphasis on collectors’ pieces. But there’s a lot happening besides. See graiguenamanaghtownofbooks.ie for details.