The Death of Bees, by Lisa O’Donnell, William Heinemann £12.99

No dead bees but there are two dead parents, buried in the back garden by Glaswegian teenager Marnie and her little sister Nelly – a violin-playing prodigy with the speech patterns of a Jane Austen heroine. With the neighbour’s dog on the scavenge and only a few clumps of lavender to hide the corpses, the girls face a tough task to pretend their parents are on holiday. Too bad, then, that the local drug dealer wants his money back and a long-lost grandfather wants to bring the girls to Christ. But, when you’ve grown up the children of junkies, you learn to improvise.

Channelling the spirit of Joe Orton, screenwriter Lisa O’Donnell’s first novel splits the narration between the sisters and Lennie, the gay pensioner next door who takes them under his wing. Throughout, O’Donnell cuts black comedy with a big dollop of sentiment and, though it takes a while to buy completely into the voices, The Death of Bees steadily draws you into its characters’ emotional lives.

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