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The Man with the Compound Eyes, by Wu Ming-Yi, Harvill Secker, RRP£16.99, 304 pages
On his 15th birthday, Atile’i is sent out to sea as a sacrifice to the Sea God, in keeping with the custom on Wayo Wayo, a floating island like “a small, hollow clam shell in a tub of water”. Meanwhile in Taiwan, literature professor Alice Shih decides to commit suicide after losing her partner and son in a climbing accident. But both deaths are forestalled. The Trash Vortex, a gyre of debris in the Pacific Ocean, crashes into the seaside town where Alice lives, and brings the two together.
Taiwanese author Wu Ming-Yi’s new novel, his first to be translated into English, explores big ecological issues – from ocean pollution and seal hunting to quarry mining and forest preservation – but he weighs down an otherwise inventive narrative with laboured metaphors. A huge wave is “like a gargantuan carpenter’s plane” while a character’s ear is “a shy animal hiding in a thicket”.
Nevertheless, the depiction of Atile’i’s magical realm and his innocent wonder at this unfamiliar and murky world is imaginative and moving.
Review by Trisha Andres
The Tilted World, by Tom Franklin and Beth Ann Fennelly, Mantle, RRP£16.99, 306 pages
Sometimes a crime writer comes along who shakes the genre so that all the clichés come rattling out like loose nails, leaving something clean and spare. Tom Franklin proved to be such a writer with his atmospheric Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter (2010), set in rural Mississippi. But is Franklin even a crime writer at all? Or is he, like his great predecessor William Faulkner (a clear influence), using the trappings of the crime novel for literary ends?
Set against the great Mississippi flood of 1927, The Tilted World tells the story of Ingersoll and Ham, a pair of incorruptible prohibition agents who are sent to the town of Hobnob as the levee threatens to burst. They are there to investigate the strange disappearance of two colleagues who had been closing in on a bootlegger.
So authoritative was Franklin’s previous (solo) novel that the heart sinks when seeing he’s enlisted his wife, the poet Beth Ann Fennelly, as co-writer here. But this gritty, vivid tale is even more impressive than Crooked Letter.
Review by Barry Forshaw
Seven for a Secret, by Lindsay Faye, Headline Review, RRP£14.99, 395 pages
“One for sorrow,/ Two for joy,/ Three for a girl,/ Four for a boy,/ Five for silver,/ Six for gold,/ Seven for a secret, never to be told.” So runs the nursery rhyme, but we can be grateful that the talented Lindsay Faye does tell us the grim secrets here.
Seven for a Secret centres on the “blackbirders” – slave catchers – whose violent kidnapping trade, acted out on the streets of 19th-century New York, is actually state-sanctioned. Timothy Wilde, the star of the city’s recently formed police force, who we first encountered in Faye’s impressive novel The Gods of Gotham (2012), takes on the sinister traders and is shocked to find he is not quite as immune to the malignity of human behaviour as he believed.
Faye is a member of the “Baker Street Irregulars”, a group of Sherlock Holmes enthusiasts obsessed with the work of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. But it is her own skill at evoking this dark, 19th-century world, crammed with plausible detail, that distinguishes this slice of historical crime writing.
Review by Barry Forshaw