June 21, 2013 7:15 pm

In brief

Book cover: In Between Days

In Between Days, by Andrew Porter, Jonathan Cape RRP£16.99, 336 pages

After 30 years of marriage, Cadence and Elson Harding have divorced, and neither is taking it very well: Cadence is in therapy, while Elson struggles in his job at a Houston architectural firm.

 

Their grown son, Richard, has his own problems: still living at home, he is unable to make up his mind about his future, and drifts towards drugs. But when his younger sister is kicked out of college and flees with a boyfriend, the Hardings must draw together to find her.

Andrew Porter’s 2010 debut, the story collection The Theory of Light and Matter, was much acclaimed. This compelling, perceptive novel confirms his talent. Porter gives us a portrait of a household on the brink of dispersal, but even as he depicts the tensions of family life he movingly affirms its consolations: “You could have a family torn apart by tragedy ... and yet you could still take simple pleasure in the fact that you were somehow a part of something larger, and that the people around you needed you.”

Review by David Evans

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More

IN Fiction

The Spinning Heart, by Donal Ryan, Doubleday Ireland RRP£12.99, 160 pages

Donal Ryan’s funny, moving, technically inventive first novel is set in an unnamed town outside Limerick, which serves as a microcosm for Ireland in the aftermath of the financial crisis.

The story begins soon after the disappearance of Pokey Burke, head of a construction company that mortgaged everything “on the building of one last massive estate of houses no one was going to buy”, and in doing so ruined the local economy.

 

Each of the book’s 20 chapters is recounted by a different character (builder, prostitute, housewife, even ghost) who has been more or less directly affected by Burke’s greed. This chorus is brought to life in an impressive feat of ventriloquism.

Structurally the novel gestures to William Faulkner’s As I Lay Dying, while Ryan’s sensitive observations on Irish life seem responsive to the work of his compatriot Patrick McCabe. That Ryan does not look out of place in such literary company is a measure of his achievement.

Review by David Evans

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The Anarchist Detective, by Jason Webster, Chatto & Windus RRP£12.99, 256 pages

If you’re tiring of the frigid climate of Scandinavian crime fiction, a welcome antidote may be found in Jason Webster’s sultry (and elegantly written) Max Cámara series set in Spain.

This third entry is the most accomplished yet. The publishers name Donna Leon as a comparison but Webster is very much his own man, and his dyspeptic Spanish detective should not be compared with Leon’s Brunetti.

In The Anarchist Detective, Cámara, normally seen working in Valencia, is in elective exile in Madrid, with a view to cultivating his cordon bleu skills (and enjoying an intense romance, “a late mini adolescence”).

The day job exerts its inevitable hold and this time Cámara is drawn back to his home city of Albacete, a place he has tried to forget. Back on familiar territory, he meets a childhood friend, now a senior police officer, and is soon deep in betrayal, lies – and the grim residue of the civil war, which is still poisoning lives.

Review by Barry Forshaw

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The Crocodile, by Maurizio de Giovanni, Abacus RRP£12.99, 272 pages

After a bruising encounter with the Sicilian Mafia, Detective Inspector Giuseppe Lojacono, accused of collusion with criminals, has damaged both his prospects and his relationship with his wife and daughter.

Transferred to Naples, he finds himself persona non grata. But his stalled career is soon active again when the mutilated bodies of teenagers are discovered around the city, victims of a murderer the locals call “The Crocodile”. The police are dismissing the killings as Camorra hits, but, never one to accept straightforward solutions, the disgraced detective demurs, and finds himself up against a truly malign nemesis.

The Naples we are plunged into in de Giovanni’s vivid and astringent novel is a phantasmagoric place, and it is the acute sense of locale that transforms the piece (imaginatively translated from the Italian by Antony Shugaar) from standard police procedural into something rich and strange.

Review by Barry Forshaw

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NW, by Zadie Smith, Penguin RRP£7.99, 335 pages

Set in the northwest London of the title, Smith’s fourth novel explores the lives of two childhood friends facing up to crises.

Leah Hanwell and Keisha Blake come from the same rough estate but as they get older their friendship cools. Keisha reinvents herself as Natalie, trains as a barrister and has a seemingly perfect husband and children; while Leah emerges from grungy adolescence into a happy marriage fractured by rows over whether the couple should have a baby.

Smith grew up in northwest London, and writes about what she knows well, while her plot has an undertow of disquiet as we meet other characters and the action unfolds over a hot, tense summer carnival weekend.

Throughout the novel, Natalie and her conflicted sense of identity resonates with a wider theme of mixed-race heritage and relationships Funny but rarely comfortable, NW is a beautifully written novel.

Review by James Urquhart

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