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The Marrying of Chani Kaufman, by Eve Harris, Sandstone Press, RRP£8.99, 350 pages
Eve Harris’s debut novel is set in London’s Orthodox Jewish community. Chani, from a pious but impecunious family, is to be married to Baruch, a gangly scholar. Though Baruch is smitten, his mother fears that he is marrying beneath him, and is out to scupper the match.
Meanwhile Rivka, a middle-aged rabbi’s wife, has come to feel suffocated by religious strictures. As she and her husband grow apart, she wistfully recalls their early years together in Jerusalem, when their faith blossomed alongside their romance. Her disaffection may suggest what lies in store for Chani. But if Harris evokes the community’s insular nature, she also suggests the sense of comfort and belonging that it confers, offering a sympathetic window on a way of life little glimpsed in contemporary fiction.
And that might explain why, despite a muddled narrative structure and some rather gauche prose (“the Kaufmans blinked stupidly like rabbits in headlights”), The Marrying of Chani Kaufman has been longlisted for the Man Booker prize.
Review by David Evans
The Detainee, by Peter Liney, Jo Fletcher Books, RRP£14.99, 368 pages
The Detainee is set on an island, now a garbage dump serving double duty as a depository for society’s unwanted: its incurably ill, its old, its disenfranchised and its feral youth, who hole up in shanty towns and subsist on civilisation’s detritus. Low-orbit satellites keep an eye on them, using laser beams to hurt or kill anyone who steps out of line. Whenever the fog rolls in, though, the satellites are blind, and the island’s inhabitants turn on one another violently.
Clancy, known to most as “Big Guy”, is an ageing former mob enforcer who has lost almost all hope, until he meets Lena, a blind woman living in tunnels below the island’s surface. Around them they accrue a makeshift “family” of like-minded individuals – people yearning for more than the hellish status quo – and start to fight back.
Television scriptwriter Peter Liney’s debut novel is an impressively dark, dystopian piece with much to say about capitalism’s tendency to treat human beings as commodities, disposable when no longer useful.
Review by James Lovegrove
The Executioner’s Heart, by George Mann, Titan Books, RRP£7.99, 320 pages
The fourth outing of Holmesian detective Sir Maurice Newbury and his sidekick Veronica Hobbes is the same heady brew of steampunk, occult mystery and Victoriana as before.
A French female assassin known as the Executioner is on the loose in London, slaying agents of the Queen one by one and excising their hearts – her “signature”. Prince Albert engages Newbury to investigate. He believes emissaries of the Kaiser are behind the murders, aided by traitors within the British secret service, hoping to destabilise and overthrow the monarchy. The Executioner, meanwhile, has her sights set on Newbury and Hobbes, the latter of whom is apparently killed in the opening chapter.
George Mann not only fashions a satisfying thriller plot but wraps it in the foggy decadence of a world where airships, artificial clockwork hearts and motorised hansom cabs sit alongside Satanist cabals and establishment conspiracies. The result is a splendid fusion of Conan Doyle, Le Fanu and Wells.
Review by James Lovegrove