What’s new on the bookshelves

Revenge by Martina Cole and Margaret Thatcher: Power and Personality by Jonathan Aitken
Revenge by Martina Cole and Margaret Thatcher: Power and Personality by Jonathan Aitken

Crime writer extraordinaire Martina Cole releases her latest gripping novel

Revenge by Martina Cole (£19.99, ebook £6.99).

The award-winning author, and British literary powerhouse, Martina Cole is back with her 20th gritty novel, exploring the criminal underworld.

The Flynn family is headed by Michael, a notorious criminal lord who rules the seedy and illegal underbelly of most of Europe.

It’s a family who are fractured, to say the least.

When Michael’s only child, daughter Jessie, goes missing, he gets his best on the case – this includes several paid members of the police force.

His wife Josephine, mentally unstable and locked away in their grand home, is hysterical.

Who would take her baby girl away from them? Michael, though, knows his daughter only too well, and assumes her party girl lifestyle – and penchant for unsavoury boyfriends – means she’s in big trouble.

But is it kidnap for a hefty ransom, or murder for revenge?

We delve deep into Michael’s past, as the book flits between present day and the years gone by.

From his start in the criminal underworld, to the heinous crimes he has had to commit to keep his family safe, we learn all about Michael Flynn, and the list of Jessie’s kidnapping suspects gets longer... and longer.

Back to the present day, we see that days have passed, then weeks, and Jessie is still in the hands of her captor.

Her disappearance is tearing the family apart, and when the kidnapper ups his game and turns to murder, Michael is desperate to discover which shady figure from his murky past wants to inflict such terror upon him.

If you can get past the blue language (of which there is a lot), this is a great thriller.

It’s fast-paced, and straight to the point, and you can see why Cole is a leader in her field.

Once it gets going, this book is hard to stop reading (expect a few up-until-2am nights of reading).

Still hard-hitting 21 years after her first novel, Cole has created another must-read.

The Woman In Black - The Sequel, Angel Of Death by Martyn Waites (£9.99, ebook £6.83).

If you read Susan Hill’s original, or saw the 2012 movie starring Daniel Radcliffe, you’ll know the story of the Woman In Black.

Depending on the strength of your nerves, you might be pleased to hear that a second film, based on this authorised sequel novel – Angel Of Death by Martyn Waites – is due out next year.

Set during the Second World War, a group of children are sent to the sinister Eel Marsh House with two of their teachers.

They are faced with the fear of being bombed at every turn, but they soon realise there is something far more deadly waiting in the walls of the old building.

If you read this novel having only seen the first film, and not read the first book, you might find the scare techniques somewhat lacking – creepy faces popping up in windows just don’t have the same effect unless they are seen on the screen.

But don’t give up. The dramatic finale here more than compensates for lack of visuals, with ever-building tension, and a realisation that the story may not quite be over...

Dark Witch by Nora Roberts (£19.99, ebook £6.99).

With a Halloween release date, it is only fitting that this novel from international best-seller Nora Roberts should feature witches.

The first book in her Cousins O’Dwyer trilogy, this is a tale of good versus evil, featuring a blend of fantasy and romance.

The story centres around Iona Sheehan, an American of Irish descent, who decides to leave her job and home behind to search for answers about her roots.

Unbeknownst to Iona, who never felt like she fitted in anywhere back home, she has inherited a powerful gift from one ancestor known as the Dark Witch.

When Iona meets her two cousins, and discovers they too have this gift, she begins to realise her destiny.

What follows is a highly believable and magical tale of family and friends, with a good portion of romance, though the path of true love doesn’t run smoothly.

The story flows well, as we meet the various characters who soon become part of Iona’s life, and though there is a supernatural element, it’s not so dark that you’ll be sleeping with the light on.

A Sixpenny Song by Jennifer Johnston (£14.99, ebook £7.49).

Occasionally, a book is best judged on whether or not it’s easy to put down. This one was difficult.

Living in London and working in a book shop, Annie is called back to Ireland when her father dies.

He has left the house to her and as she walks around, she gets flashbacks of her childhood and learns from house staff and family friends that her mother did not die the way she thought.

In all the stories Annie is told and remembers, her father comes across as controlling, yet caring, and always with her best interests at heart.

Even when she comes across his old diaries, nothing malicious or hateful towards her ever comes across.

So what did he do to drive her away from their £5m mansion in Ireland? And how did Annie’s mother really die?

The book, though alluring and powerful, is confusing at times and would gain a lot more substance if the story would expand more; everything was in place to make this novel at least double the size.

Having said that, Booker-short listed author Jennifer Johnston has a talent, and it is not a surprise as to why her work gains so many readers.

Pig’s Foot by Carlos Acosta (£12.99, ebook £8.27).

Born in Havana in 1973, Carlos Acosta is most well-known as a ballet dancer, having won numerous international awards.

Following on from his autobiography No Way Home: A Cuban Dancer’s Story, comes his debut novel, Pig’s Foot, translated from the Spanish by Frank Wynne.

The title is a translation of the fictional town around which the story centres: Pata de Puerco (sounds better in Spanish, doesn’t it?).

Suddenly finding himself completely alone in the world, Oscar Kortico, the chummy narrator of the tale, goes searching for identity in the origins of his ancestral village.

As his grandfather once told him, “No man knows who he is until he knows his past, his history, the history of his country.”

What follows is a family saga spanning four generations over 200 years, interspersed with contextual information relating to various political movements and figures.

While certainly ambitious, the novel suffers from trying to fit too much in; the final third lacks emotional engagement with the characters as we don’t have the chance to know them well enough.

Nevertheless, there is still much to enjoy in the array of diverse characters and their tales of fortune and woe, particularly early on in the novel, and the narrator’s conversational tone is never less than endearing.

Eminent Hipsters by Donald Fagen (£16.99, ebook £9.49).

Donald Fagen is one half of Steely Dan, New York State’s premier jazz rock cult outsiders.

Aside from that, and writing more than a few crossover hits (you must know Reelin’ In The Years from their album Can’t Buy A Thrill?) he’s a full-time grump.

And he displays that streak in his character throughout this autobiography-of-sorts/collection of essays, in which almost no subject is spared his snark.

Hometown gigs are “a drag”, and he has little time for the internet, modern music or, worst of all, “TV babies” – the generation raised by the robotic babysitter, the television, who have turned out entitled and snap happy with their camera phones as a result.

Despite all this, Eminent Hipsters is regularly funny and insightful, particularly if you’re interested in what a life on the road in a touring band does to a person.

Perhaps an appreciation of Steely Dan’s music is required to fully enjoy the book, but whether you know who Fagen is or not, it’s still worth anyone’s time.

Her Brilliant Career: Ten Extraordinary Women Of The Fifties by Rachel Cooke (£18.99, ebook £9.49).

The Fifties are defined by Mad Men and other TV dramas as a decade of glamorous men ruling the roost at work, while women either fretted as housewives looking at their brand new Ercol furniture, or, if they actually managed to get into an office, fretted after the men who worked there.

Rachel Cooke, a prolific journalist, says women at this time faced a fearsome choice: marry or die.

But the Second World War “kicked open the door to another life” and a brave, determined handful defied convention to sidestep that choice, some to national acclaim.

The ten fascinating lives detailed include failed actress turned top barrister Rose Heilbron (one of the first two women barristers ever to take silk), rally driver and later Windmill Theatre owner Sheila van Damm, architect Alison Smithson (whose brutalist designs were hardly improved by time), film producer Betty Box and the remarkable high flying journalist and broadcaster Nancy Spain, whose death alongside her female partner in 1964 in a plane crash near the Grand National racecourse in Aintree transfixed a nation which rarely mentioned the issue of lesbianism.

There’s also a chapter on Peggy Mount, a film and stage actress whose sense of timing and slapstick made her a childhood heroine for many of those born in the 1950s.

But these lives, set so skilfully in the context of their times, are not only about being icons of their era, they will fascinate plenty of younger readers too.

A splendid first book from Rachel Cooke.

A Blaze Of Autumn Sunshine: The Last Diaries by Tony Benn (£20, ebook £11.39).

A lot of people interested in politics, to any varying degree, will miss Tony Benn’s political diaries, which he began in 1940.

Having been out of Parliamentary politics for many years, the former Labour Cabinet minister has proved himself to still be astute, and often blunt, about people in general and people in the political world in particular.

In this volume, covering May 2007-July 2009, he predicted the fall of Gordon Brown’s Labour government and foresaw a coalition.

It’s a chatty account of the private and public life of the veteran socialist politician.

In coping with old age and poorer health, Benn has clearly been determined to stay active, one moment getting uncomfortably close to scuffling near the front of an anti-war demo, the next heading off to give talks or take part in TV and radio interviews or debates.

These diaries – in which he is surprisingly complimentary, given his own political views, about past political figures like Ian Paisley and Baroness Thatcher – are always readable, and often warm and humorous.

Peas & Queues: The Minefield Of Modern Manners by Sandi Toksvig (£12.99, ebook £6.64).

Sandi Toksvig has used the confusing world of modern manners and cyberspace etiquette as the basis for her latest literary offering, Peas & Queues: The Minefield of Modern Manners.

Writing in the form of a letter to eight-year-old Mary, the Radio 4 broadcaster offers helpful hints and nuggets of advice about how to avoid social pitfalls in almost every situation – from dating and dining, to funerals and christenings.

Focusing on a slightly bygone middle class set of rules, much of what Toksvig writes could be considered rather useless for the Average Joe.

But using her characteristic wit, Toksvig also travels down the largely untrodden path of Twitter, Facebook and other 21st century etiquette.

Should you put an ‘x’ at the end of a text message? Tweet during a meal? Sandi has the answer.

Essentially, this is still a reference book and should be treated as such.

But through her entertaining musings and funny anecdotes, Toksvig turns a light-hearted guide book into a charming read.

Margaret Thatcher: Power and Personality by Jonathan Aitken (£25, ebook £14.62).

Former Conservative MP Jonathan Aitken’s portrait of the Iron Lady weighs in at a hefty 700 pages and chronicles her private life and career, from a childhood spent above a grocer’s shop in Grantham through her steady, but often stormy, rise to power.

Aitken, who incurred Thatcher’s wrath by breaking off a relationship with her daughter Carol, has produced a warts-and-all view of the former Prime Minister who seemed better at making enemies than friends.

As early as 1971, The Sun newspaper dubbed her the ‘Most Unpopular Woman in Britain’, after she stopped free milk for primary school children.

Here, Aitkin mercilessly exposes Thatcher’s hectoring, argumentative nature and lack of humour, and provides an insider’s view into her battles with senior civil servants and unions.

He does concede that, as a lone woman in a heavily male-dominated profession, she was the victim of sexism within and without her own government.

But from the triumph of The Falklands War victory, to the depths of despair after her fall from power, the book has an uncomfortable feel of spiteful gloating.

Nonetheless, it remains a fascinating insight into what made Maggie Thatcher tick.