Brian Martin

Frederic Raphael settles old scores with a vengeance

Last Post is a collection of reminiscences, anecdotes and a settling of old scores by Frederic Raphael in the form of imaginary letters to many of the people who have been part of his long life. You might expect a nonagenarian’s critical faculties to have ‘mellowed by the stealing hours of time’, but far from

A.N. Wilson has many regrets

‘Spare thou them, O God, which confess their faults.’ A.N. Wilson seems, on the surface, to have taken to heart the wise words of the Anglican general confession. Aged 71, he looks back on his life and career and records his regrets and failures both private and professional. His major concern is the failure of

Connecticut connections: A Little Hope, by Ethan Joella, reviewed

A Little Hope, Ethan Joella’s debut novel, is about the lives of a dozen or so ordinary people who live in smalltown East Coast America. By helicopter over Connecticut ‘you wouldn’t notice Wharton right away’. Yet the problems its inhabitants face are universal. There is the seemingly American Dream family – Greg, Freddie, Addie the

In search of Great-Aunt Pearl’s will: a black comedy of familial strife

Lendal Press has found a brilliant novelist in Matt Cook: funny, shrewd, satirical, disturbingly and entertainingly analytical in his psychology of character. This debut novel is narrated by a precocious 14-year-old, Benjamin Carter, whose family on his father’s side is having a collective nervous breakdown. Great-Aunt Pearl has died; her derelict house, ‘a riot of

On the cowboy’s trail: Powder Smoke, by Andrew Martin, reviewed

Detective Inspector Jim Stringer is back. This is a York novel, or rather a Yorkshire crime novel. The LNER railway policeman investigates a supposed double murder, tracing a young fairground sharpshooter, Kid Durrant, through the Yorkshire countryside. The action takes place over five days in early December 1925, but is interspersed with flashbacks to the

Appearances are deceptive: Trio, by William Boyd, reviewed

Talbot Kydd, film producer; Anny Viklund, American actress; Elfrida Wing, novelist; these make the trio of the title. Private lives are the issue. Wing’s long-suffering agent tells her if you want to know what’s going on in people’s heads, ‘behind those masks we all wear — then read a novel’. The main setting of Trio

Cuckoo in the nest?

You might think The Carer rather an unpromising title, but Deborah Moggach’s book delivers a wickedly witty entertainment. Towards the end, she describes the setting where a crucial event takes place — ‘somewhere as humdrum as a caravan park, toilet block, clock golf, Tupperware’. So very good at describing the ordinary, she transforms it into

Cat and the King

The scene is London in 1667, the city recovering from the Great Fire the year before, with 80,000 people homeless and refugee camps established on the outskirts. Andrew Taylor introduces his readers to life as it survived there and involves them in the politics of Charles II’s court. Cobblestones are ‘slick with rain’, rushlights smell

Eros and Agape

‘I still think he was a bastard.’ This is the opinion that Julia, daughter of the novelist Arthur, has about Peter Abelard. In Melvyn Bragg’s narrative, Arthur is finishing his novel about Abelard and Heloise, living in Paris, separated from his wife, and visited by Julia. She gives a modern woman’s view of the behaviour

Flights of fancy | 6 December 2018

In the opening pages of Turbulence, a woman in her seventies, who is visiting her sick son in Notting Hill, thinks how easy ‘it was, these days, to acquire a plane ticket’. Instead of a ticket to take us around the world, we have David Szalay’s novel, which takes us across continents in a series

All shook up

The polymath writer A.N.Wilson returns to the novel in Aftershocks, working on the template of the 2011 earthquake which devastated Christchurch, New Zealand. He protests that the setting is not New Zealand but, as he admits, there are many recognisable similarities. This is a novel about true love, its agonies, ecstasies, and eventual fulfillment, told

Eat your heart out, Holden Caulfield

Tim Winton’s novel about a journey of teenage male self-discovery is raw, brutal and merciless. You need to be familiar with Australian vernacular to appreciate the first-person narration by the young protagonist who says he is 17 but is thought to be ‘more like 15’ by an old renegade Irish priest he meets in the

An act of piety

Census is a curious, clever novel. It depicts a dystopia with a father and his Down’s syndrome son journeying from town A to town Z taking a census. The father, the narrator, knows he is dying. As a retired doctor he can interpret the fatal signs of his disease. His is a bizarre family; his

Not for the fainthearted

In 2014 Michael Alig, impresario, party promoter and drug provider, was released on parole after 17 years in prison for the manslaughter of Angel Melendez. Alig, leader of New York’s Club Kids during the 1980s and early 1990s, features as a minor character in Jarett Kobek’s breakneck, crazed ride through NYC’s nightlife from 1986 to