David Crane’s fantastic Empires Of The Dead, plus new novels by Margaret Drabble, Charles Palliser and James Patterson
Empires Of The Dead: How One Man’s Vision Led To The Creation Of WW1’s War Graves by David Crane (£16.99, ebook £8.49).
This is the truly remarkable story of the man behind the planning and establishment of the war cemeteries right across Europe, containing the graves of the thousands upon thousands of British and Commonwealth soldiers who fell in the horror of the First World War.
What is, perhaps, most astonishing though is that this man, Fabian Ware, a staunch patriot, a visionary and also a man who struggled against what seemed like insurmountable odds, is all but forgotten today.
He was the one who saw to it that those who gave their lives were given decent burials, identified where possible, and laid to rest in a manner which ensured they would never be forgotten.
It seemed like, and indeed was, a superhuman task, often involving personal danger for Ware and those who worked for him as they scoured the mud, the slime and the blood of the front-line trenches while the guns were still blazing.
On top of all that, Ware had to contend with warring architects, stubborn bureaucrats, dithering clergymen and, most touching of all, the heartfelt cries of the bereaved and anguished next of kin.
As the author points out, “for those who shared or responded to his idealism, energy and sheer personal magnetism [Ware] was an irresistible force”.
David Crane has done his subject proud in a clearly and beautifully written narrative which, frankly, makes one gasp at the enormity of the task faced, and ultimately accomplished, by Ware.
His passage on the events leading up to and including the placing of the Unknown Warrior in Westminster Abbey is particularly moving.
Let us hope that this work will entitle Ware to the honour which he so richly deserves and which, so far, has eluded him.
The Pure Gold Baby by Margaret Drabble (£16.99, ebook £8.61).
The Pure Gold Baby is accomplished author Margaret Drabble’s 17th novel.
Although the story focuses on Anna and her mother Jess, someone else – a neighbour whose identity is obscured – narrates their story to the reader.
Jess is an anthropologist who has to suppress her adventurous spirit and curiosity about studying Africa for the world of North London after falling unexpectedly pregnant during an affair with an older man.
The resulting child Anna is a “pure gold baby”, an intensely happy child, but with unspecified learning and developmental difficulties.
Spanning several decades from the 1960s onwards, Jess’s story examines the female perspective and conflict between motherhood and opting for a more intellectual existence.
The theme of anthropology runs throughout, exploring societal attitudes to abnormality both in their tiny London enclave, as well as against Jess’s studies and first hand experience of life in Africa.
The Pure Gold Baby might not be an action-packed and gripping page-turner, but Margaret Drabble’s insightful characterisation and beautifully written prose make it a deeply absorbing read.
Nothing particularly dramatic happens, but it is a contemplative, moving and compelling portrait of a fiercely devoted mother and her symbolic “pure gold” daughter.
Back To Back by Julia Franck (£16.99, ebook £10.40).
Following the success of Julia Franck’s highly-acclaimed The Blind Side Of The Heart, this latest novel – translated from German by Anthea Bell – observes similar themes, telling the story of a family living through The Cold War in East Berlin.
The novel opens with pre-teen siblings Thomas and Ella awaiting the return of their mother following a two week absence.
As events transpire it becomes blisteringly obvious that a maternal bond is lacking, as Kathe reacts with indifference to the children’s efforts to please her.
Kathe’s preoccupation with the socialist party outranks any concerns for her children, leading them to a world of fantasy and dreams of a better life.
As Thomas yearns for a creative outlet and Ella simply longs to be loved, the characters come to represent a nation searching for freedom from years of oppression and abuse.
Franck skilfully contrasts the romantic language of the children’s fantasies with the bitter reality of emotional neglect, which engages and shocks the reader with the same hand.
A harrowing and often difficult read, you will not be able to put this book down.
Rustication: A Novel by Charles Palliser (£12.99, ebook £8.54).
The American-born British-based Palliser has gone and done it again.
Following the success of his best-selling novels Quincunx and The Unburied, among others, he has created a story so engrossing that you’ll be flipping the pages in desperation trying to discover the mystery surrounding the characters.
Set in the late Victorian period, 17-year-old Richard Shenstone has been ‘rusticated’ – kicked out – of university and has returned home to his unwelcoming mother and sister.
He passes the time writing diary entries, which is the format of the novel from start to finish, exploring the mystery of his father’s death and the strange occurrences within the little town of Thurchester.
While desperate for his trunk to arrive, which contains his most needed and secretive possessions, the reader learns of Richard’s suspicions about his family as well as the mysterious truth about his past.
The diary form helps keep a quick pace throughout the novel and the suspense is maintained right through to the end.
Those who enjoy Gothic-esque novels and historical fiction will enjoy this book, with Palliser’s dark humour and graphic scenes firmly woven into the story.
Cross My Heart by James Patterson (£18.99, ebook £7.49).
Those familiar with the James Patterson’s Alex Cross series of books will no doubt be expecting the usual page-by-page mix of action and intrigue in his latest instalment, Cross My Heart. And it delivers.
Cross has always been a loving husband and father and a dedicated police detective, but all that is about to be put to the test, can he solve the most important crime of his career while trying to save everything he
James Patterson turns the crime thriller on its head as Cross becomes the hunted, taking the attention away from the in-control detective and instead giving power to the criminal mind.
It’s a plot so full of twists you’ll find it hard to put the book down as page after page you’re drawn deeper into the sick world of a serial killer like no other Cross has faced.
A must for those new and old to the Alex Cross series.
The Last Kings Of Sark by Rosa Rankin-Gee (£14.99, ebook £7.49).
This debut novel from Rosa Rankin Gee follows three teenagers thrown together for one summer on the remote island of Sark.
With the man of the house away on business, new tutor Jude, her 19-year-old pupil Pip and the household’s feisty chef Sofi ditch their daily chores and embark on an unplanned journey of self-discovery.
The result is a magical summer of love, adventure and unlikely friendships – but there’s an overwhelming sense that this perfect world won’t last forever.
The book is written in two parts: the first is a conversational, whimsical account of the teenagers’ hedonistic summer; the second explores how the memories of that blissful time have cast a shadow over the rest of their lives.
Both are done with an attention to detail that makes the pages breathe with nostalgia and charm.
And just like the end of a perfect summer, the feeling at the end of the book is one of bittersweet reflection.
A stunning read, Rankin Gee is one to watch.
Watch Your Back by Karen Rose (£16.99, ebook £7.60).
The American best-seller returns with her 15th thriller.
For eight years, Baltimore detective Stevie Mazzetti has mourned the loss of her murdered husband and son.
With the killer in prison and her eight-year-old daughter to take care of, Stevie is finally moving on with her life.
When Stevie discovers her ex-colleague might have miscarried justice the detective sets out to make it right, fighting for the victims and going after the real bad guys.
As she continues to investigate past cases and the level of corruption unfolds, Stevie and her daughter find themselves in grave danger.
Former Marine Clay Maynard loves Stevie despite it being unrequited.
Yet, he is determined to protect her and her daughter at all costs.
Will Clay succeed in keeping them alive as well as locating those intent on killing them?
A gripping page-turner that will have you on the edge of your seat.
Cold: Extreme Adventures At The Lowest Temperatures On Earth by Ranulph Fiennes (£20, ebook £10.99).
Sir Ranulph Fiennes has crossed the Antarctic during winter, climbed Everest, and circumnavigated the world at its poles – and this is his 21st book.
Cold details his experiences surviving at brutal temperatures in the most inhospitable parts of the planet.
His exploits are interspersed with accounts of history’s other explorers and mountaineers.
Rivalries as bitter as the temperatures emerge, and accidents and gore abound.
On Norwegian glaciers, Fiennes clings to ice blocks as the landscape crumbles into perilous crevasses beneath his feet, taking vast quantities of vital scientific and basic kit with it.
At the poles he loses bits of fingers and half his body weight.
There’s frostbite and crotch-rot, haemorrhoids, snow blindness, and ultraviolet sores.
So why bother? We’re never really told what drives him; in his chronicles of ascents, descents, accidents, and extreme physical hardship, his style is as controlled and dry as you’d expect from a man who has endured the
His motivation might be obvious to a mountaineer, but there’s something missing for the ordinary reader.
Is there anything beautiful or moving to him in these places, any insight into the character or mission of the mountaineer throughout history?
There’s no closing chapter that weaves it all together, or tells us why.
A three-page appendix on climate change seems insufficient epilogue to a 470-page book.
A must-read for explorers – but a bit long for the rest of us.
Magic Words: The Extraordinary Life Of Alan Moore (£20).
One of the first comic book writers to be considered a serious literary figure, Alan Moore achieved further cultural notability when the Guy Fawkes masks from his V For Vendetta were adopted by Anonymous and Occupy protesters worldwide.
But the masks’ ubiquity came via a film adaptation for which Moore determinedly refused any credit or payment.
The self-proclaimed wizard has now severed ties with a mainstream entertainment industry still profiting from his old ideas.
Instead he’s working on a series of short films and a novel longer than War and Peace, both projects being metaphysical odysseys set entirely in his lifelong home, Northampton.
Clearly there’s no shortage of material for this first full biography of Moore.
Parkin was previously best known as a Doctor Who writer, so has form in chronicling the exploits of principled British eccentrics; his account is as readable as it is incisive, and commendably even-handed.
The Beatles, All These Years – Volume One: Tune In by Mark Lewisohn (£30, ebook £14.25).
Tune In is the first of Beatles historian Mark Lewisohn’s three-volume biography of the band called All These Years.
Volume 1 begins with John, Paul, George and Ringo’s family backgrounds, then follows them growing up in post-war Liverpool, how they met, their formative years as a band, teenage adventures in Hamburg, and then ends
in December 1962, with Brian Epstein as their manager, two hit records, an album, a fan club and on the cusp of world-wide fame.
Fans who have spent years buying Beatles biographies, wondering if they need yet another one, will be (pleasantly) surprised to hear that they should certainly make room for this one.
Lewisohn has spent 10 years researching, interviewing and trawling through archives, determined to write the most accurate and true Beatles biography.
There are wonderful photographs, never seen before and old myths are analysed and either clarified or rejected.
Written with passion, authority and vitality this is an absorbing book, capturing the band’s charismatic personalities and youthful energy transporting the reader back to those early years, that with hindsight, feel like an age of innocence before Beatlemania madness.