A Murder Mystery: The Murder Bag – Tony Parsons

Crime fiction is my guilty pleasure. I pretend I will only read great works of literature – seminal novels – and then, when I am alone (or when I can hide behind my Kindle) I binge-read entire crime series. I like to get cross when I can guess a major plot twist in advance, then I am rightly put in my place when I can never guess the ending.

This series looks like it might be a good ‘un. A single father detective, and enough nods to historical crime to whet the appetite of any wannabe detective. When I’m not reading, I binge-watch Elementary, Criminal Minds, Cold Case, old Morse.

Parsons says, in an afterword, that he intends the series, and his protagonist Max Wolfe, to make good use of The Black Museum, or The Crime Museum in New Scotland Yard. A room containing evidence of “London’s fight against crime for the last 140 years”. I love this, the idea of a room stuffed with old weapons, clues that were never solved, early attempts at finger-printing and the like. There was an exhibition about it just this year. I missed it. I did, however, go to see an awesome collection called Forensics: Anatomy of Crime, at the Wellcome Trust. It was gory and wonderful and had replicas of the dolls houses that were ‘decorated’ with murder scenes to educate trainee detectives.

I would’ve been a good detective.


A New York Times Bestseller: A Man called Ove – Fredrik Backman

Is there a name for this kind of genre – The Man who climbed out of a window, and the like? They’re sort of grown up picture stories, without the pictures. Not fairy tales, something else. I’m sure someone knows.

Anyway, this one’s just lovely: grumpy old widower who spends his days patrolling the neighbourhood and telling people off, wants to kill himself. Instead, he has his life turned upside down by the ‘foreigners’ that move in next door. In the end, it turns out that grumpy old man can actually teach us all something about what it means to be a part of a community, and to ‘love your neighbour’.

That makes it sound like a simplistic, dull story. It is simple, but it is beautiful and very much worth a read.

A book that’s under 150 pages: The Lady in the Van – Alan Bennett

My dad told me that he had to leave the cinema fifteen minutes into the film of this book, because it wasn’t funny – it was too close to home. In his life’s work as a clergyman, he has come across enough people like Miss Shepherd to be unable to see the lighter side. I haven’t seen the film (surprise!), but I know that after I read the book I found the woman in the trailers of the film to be quite unrecognisable as the lady in the van of the book.

This is an immeasurably sad book – but an honest one – about loneliness, social mindedness, religion, mental illness. There are many moments that raise a smile – but it is a rye smile – it is not Laugh Out Loud comedy.

As someone who has always seen the romantic side of living in a van / houseboat / cabin in the woods, this book is a reminder of the darker side of living outside of society in that way. It’s also a frightening reminder that we still don’t do enough as a society to help the mentally ill, or the old (even decades later).

The first book you see in a bookstore: I love Dick – Chris Kraus

How can you not be drawn to a book that shouts, proudly, from its front cover I LOVE DICK? But that’s not what led me to choose this book, it was the quote on the front stating that this “is the most important book about men and women written in the last century” (Guardian).

I love to read to be entertained, but I particularly love it when I read a book which feels novel, momentous, important. This is one of those books. One which will sit with me for a long time afterwards. One of those books that makes me want to write. To really write.

I read this book in just one evening and morning. I read it with my phone next to me, so that I could look up all the people and things Kraus references: Hannah Wilke, Kitaj, The Third Mind, David Rosenhan. (How much I’ve learnt in just a few hours!). I kept a notebook by my side so I could record all the quotes that just seemed so important. I felt like a teenager again, discovering books that were written by real people, people who were smarter than me, but who’d had the same problems.

It’s a feminist manifesto. It’s about being a woman who is scared to write because “they don’t think anyone will listen” (p213). It is about being in love with men, even though you know that often they are merely a blank slate onto which you are projecting your own thoughts and impulses. Maybe it says something about why we feel we need men to give us permission. It is too clever for me, and it is inspiring and wonderful at the same time.

My favourite quote (and especially relevant after a weekend visit to my father’s church): “RD Laing never figured out that the ‘divided self’ is female subjectivity. Writing about an ambitious, educated 26 year old schizophrenic in the suburban 50s: ‘… the patient repeatedly contrasts her real self with her false compliant self’. Oh really” (p225)

At the end of the book, it seems that the male characters manage to erase the female author. That’s clever. And sad. And very, very important.