Have you set yourself any reading-related New Year’s resolutions for 2018? If you’d like to read more books, or read more widely, then I am here to help you along.
Read along with Fargate From The Madding Crowd this year, and I promise that each read of the fortnight will be a gem for you to enjoy. Let me know what you make of the choices. I’d love to hear from you with your reviews, or a problem you’d like me to solve. Get in touch on firstname.lastname@example.org or contact me on twitter @AnnaCaig
READ OF THE FORTNIGHT
The Zealot’s Bones by DM Mark
DM Mark is better known as David Mark, the name under which he has written six modern day thrillers, the DS McAvoy novels.
But 2017 saw him publishing his first historical crime fiction book, The Zealot’s Bones, a bleaker than bleak tale of murder set in 1849 Hull, a city in the grip of a cholera outbreak.
DM Mark gave a star turn at the 2017 Off The Shelf festival, and I couldn’t resist this book. I may have mentioned once or twice that the number of books I have in my house waiting to be read is ridiculous. Over and over again I vow: no more new books.
I will just read what I have. And one day maybe I will keep my vow.
But not when DM Mark comes along with a book that looks like it could have been written just for me. Curse him. The Zealot’s Bones is a whodunit, but death is far from confined to the crimes of one killer.
From the centuries-old bones of saints and martyrs, to the hundreds dying at the hands of cholera, corpses litter almost every page.
It is against this backdrop that prostitutes are being brutally murdered, but where death is everywhere, who will notice a few more?
These are invisible killings of invisible women, until our villain murders the wrong girl, a prostitute called Laura who will be missed, and avenged. The heroes of the story are a double act made up of the privileged, affable Canadian Diligence Matheson, and his bodyguard, the battle-hardened ultimate tough guy Mesach Stone.
Their partnership is part Holmes and Watson, part Jeeves and Wooster, part Karras and Merrin, and it is the wonderfully effective beating heart of this book.
The city of Hull itself is portrayed as a hellish cesspit of pestilence; the descriptions of a city ravaged by disease are vivid and revolting.
This is a book that builds grim on grim on grim.
And just when we think we must have reached peak grim, we get even more grim.
It all builds to a denouement that is dramatic, gruesome and yes, spectacularly grim. Brilliant. The only thing lacking in The Zealot’s Bones is strong female characters who aren’t grotesque or angelic, and who have some real agency within the story.
I missed female company by the end of the book.
But other than that it’s a joy.
A relentlessly grim joy.
Elmet by Fiona Mozley
Sally says: I came to this novel with high expectations – a dark, gothic story set in the West Riding sounded like the perfect book to read over winter. Indeed, there was much that I enjoyed about this novel. It tells an interesting, dramatic story, focusing on characters who live literally and metaphorically at the edgeland of civilization. It is full of atmosphere and tension, and the characters of Cathy and Daddy are complex, charismatic and fascinating.
However, what I appreciated most about Elmet was that it makes the familiar landscape around me look different; the Yorkshire Mozley describes is made up of the unexplored and wild patches of land glimpsed from motorways or railway lines, and I was thoroughly convinced by her depiction of the liberation, freedom and brutality to be found in such places.
That said, a few things kept me from loving this novel. Next to his sister and father, the central character of Danny is a little unmemorable and for me the novel lost some of its power in the scenes without Cathy and Daddy. The middle section of the novel is slightly baggy (I could have done without so many descriptions of drinking strong tea, but perhaps that’s to be expected in a novel set in Yorkshire!) I would have liked more use of the dialect that Mozley sprinkles sparingly though her book – it’s used so tentatively that the dialogue sometimes feels flat and stilted.
Nonetheless I still found much to enjoy in this unflinching and powerful novel, and many of the scenes are as vivid in my memory as when I first read them.
Literary City: The Sheffield Connection
A star Sheffield librarian has been singled out nationally for her work helping children across the city to read.
Anne Frost works for the Little Library service, one of the gems of Sheffield’s libraries.
The Little Library is a van full of books that drives around the city visiting services and families with children under five years old. Its rounds can include everything from nurseries and playgroups, to hearing-impaired units, and even visits to homeless families, looked-after children, and newly arrived refugees and asylum seekers.
The Book Trust, the UK’s largest children’s reading charity, has awarded Anne with the Bookstart Coordinator Award in their twenty fifth anniversary awards, which recognise and showcase work being done across the country. Anne made a huge impression on the judges with her personal energy and passion, as well as her efforts working at all levels to reach those families that would most benefit from Bookstart.
Anne Frost is an early years librarian, and has worked for Sheffield Council’s library service for the past 30 years. She said: “’Someone once said there are three important documents in life: your birth certificate, passport and library card. Introducing families to book-sharing and seeing how the children react is a gift.
It’s given me a greater understanding of the power of stories and rhymes on a person’s wellbeing – not just the child but also the parent or carer as a first teacher. Winning this award is exciting, humbling and rewarding, and I’m over the moon to get it.”
Anne is part of the children and young people’s team providing library services to children across Sheffield, and encouraging families to read and use the range of library services.
She also coordinates Bookstart, which is a national book-gifting programme run by the Book Trust, which provides free books for all children under five.
Coun Mary Lea, Sheffield Council’s cabinet member for culture, parks and leisure, said: “We’re really proud of the work that Anne has done over the years, and she’s a fantastic asset to our library service.
Anne is inspiring in her ability to engage with families, and help them enjoy stories and rhymes together. Reading is an essential skill and Anne makes sure as many children as possible are set up with this skill for life.”
Diana Gerald, BookTrust CEO, said: “We are delighted to give Anne the Bookstart Coordinator Award winning trophy for her enthusiasm for encouraging a love of reading.
“ Anne goes above and beyond to help families to read with very young children, especially in deprived areas.”
Visit www.sheffield.gov.uk/libraries for information about the Little Library, and all libraries in Sheffield.