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‘Proof Positive’ by Lucy V Hay

An essential criterion for any good book – as it is for any good poem – is that it should say something important about the human condition in a powerful way. 'Proof Positive' does that from the beginning. I have rarely read an opening chapter so powerful and profound. Lucy Hay has a sharp eye for telling detail and an almost pathological awareness of the discrepancy between human potential and actual achievement within the constricting contexts of family and social class. It hurts like ‘Hamlet’, and Alan Bennett’s ‘Talking Heads’. The action is intimately observed, each character scrupulously and minutely...

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“The Girl He Left Behind” by Lesley Hayes

Life relentlessly returns us to the truths we need to learn. The last two words of this book - “I’m hopeful.” - reflect what I have come to expect from Lesley Hayes’ novels. She always takes us on a fascinating journey through the trials and tribulations of her characters, enabling us almost constantly to identify with them and to relate their experiences to our own in a way that helps us understand ourselves; but just as reliably, she leaves us with hope that despite “the thousand natural shocks that flesh is heir to”, all may yet be well. So many of her...

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“Each molecule is a Little Angel’s Harp” by Philip Newey

This is a brilliant book: gentle, profound, understated and beautifully written. It portrays its protagonist’s attempt to understand what it is that makes the core of his being occasionally vibrate with wonder. I think Keats was grasping at the same thing in his Ode on a Grecian Urn when he concluded: “Beauty is truth, truth beauty. That is all ye know on earth, and all ye need to know.” Alan’s quest leads him to train as an Anglican priest, where he learns that the human response to those moments when the molecules reverberate inside you with a mystical sense of...

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“The Coven Murders” by Brian O’Hare

What gives Brian O’Hare’s Inspector Sheehan mysteries their added frisson for me is the pervasive influence of a rigorously traditional, fundamentalist Roman Catholic viewpoint dominating the thoughts and actions of one or more of the main characters in the context of a rigorously tradition-bound, fundamentally troubled ‘Norn Iron’ (Northern Ireland). I imagine that in such a place, it is as easy to believe in the Devil as it is to believe in God. In this story, the devils and their minions are very real. It opens with a prologue containing a vivid description of the depraved actions of a Satanic...

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‘Novy’s Son: A Selfish Genius’ by Karen Ingalls

This is a long and painfully revealing story about the author’s father. He saw himself as “someone who was betrayed, who was never understood nor appreciated, but who is a genius of aristocratic blood”. His behaviour throughout his ninety-five years, however, deservedly earned him his reputation as “a ladies’ man, a curmudgeon, a son of a bitch, and an elitist.” It is a tough read. Murray Clark, or as he later re-named himself to escape his debtors, Michael St Germain, was a selfish, self-centred, egotistical, alcoholic, sex-addicted sociopath. He continually trashed the opportunities presented to him while exploiting the generosity...

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Three-Ways: Book 4 in the Karen Seagate and Ryan Miner Mysteries by Mike Markel

As entertaining and revealing as in Books 1-3, Karen Seagate doesn’t cut herself much slack: “I should start to feel a little better about myself. Once each blue moon, I get something right.” She says of her partner, Ryan Miner: “He sets the bar so high I just walk under it. Don’t even have to bend.”             The crime is committed in the Prologue, described in enough detail to put the reader several steps ahead of the police by narrowing the number of suspects to the number of women who had had sex with the victim that evening. That throws...

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“The Broken Saint: Book 3 in the Karen Seagate and Ryan Miner Mysteries” by Mike Markel

This is another entertaining and intriguing investigation in Rawlings, Montana by this very talented author. Rawlings is described by Karen Seagate as “our little city located quite close to the exact geographic center of nowhere in Montana.” It will come as no surprise to fans of this series that human beings in Rawlings display the qualities, eccentricities, strengths, weaknesses and coping strategies of human beings everywhere. I appreciate the painfully honest, self-deprecating dry humour of Mike Markel’s protagonist, who narrates the story. Detective Karen Seagate is “what they call a recovering alcoholic.” She despises the phrase, although she understands why no...

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“Fractures”: Book 5 in the Karen Seagate and Ryan Miner Mysteries

By Book 5 of this series, Karen has been off the Jack Daniels for more than a year, “with just a couple of blurry days here and there.” She and Ryan have been detective partners for two years, and their characters, as well as the relationship between them, are/is becoming more complex and engrossing. Their very different approaches – as well as their tolerance and appreciation of each other - tell us a lot about how different people handle the pressures of life in the 21st century, and that is as interesting as following their progress through the case they...

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‘BIG, SICK HEART’ by Mike Markel

I read Book 2 in this series before reading this opening book, so I had already decided Mike Markel was a master of this genre. This book confirms it. What takes it beyond the usual, clever ‘are you as a reader astute enough to pick up the clues the writer has artfully woven into the proceedings as you move towards the eventual solving of a crime?’ is that the author is as interested in the struggle of his main character, Karen Seagate, to solve the problems that are messing up her life as he is in her solving the crime...

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“Deviations”: A Detectives Seagate and Miner Mystery by Mike Markel

Mike Markel is a master of this genre. “Deviations” is exceptionally well-written throughout, with no wasted words: “Age had defanged the Reverend Barry and was draining the lifeblood of his organization.” It’s the stripped-back writing style of this genre at its best: “I give him money. He gives me drinks. A streamlined relationship.” The author has a similar relationship with his reader: s/he gives him a little money, he gives her/him a great story, skilfully told. I read this one in one go during a ten-hour flight from Manchester to Cancun. He can get across a whole heap of hurt...

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