Reviews: e-book and audiobook fiction: The Saint, another Girl book, a Spanish talent
The Girl in the Red Coat
by Kate Hamer
(read by Antonia Beamish)
There are now many novels with the word "girl" in the title, and the late Stieg Larsson is partly to blame. But given that many of the new contenders are psychological thrillers, the real culprit is Gillian Flynn's Gone Girl. Refreshingly, the girl in Kate Hamer's impressive debut The Girl in the Red Coat is eight years old. The action is divided between her mother Beth's frantic reaction, grief, and slow acceptance that Carmel has vanished for good and the girl's own peculiar story. Kidnapped by a man purporting to be her grandfather, Carmel is brought to America, where her "power" to heal turns her into an evangelical gold mine. Hamer has real talent, convincing us of Beth's searing grief and also insinuating gothic menace into Carmel's hallucinatory progress. Other characters include the strange twins Silver and Melody, and a nasty piece of work named Munroe. Antonia Beamish reads Beth with sensitivity, even if the pace is a little slow. Her Carmel, both flighty and spooky, is impressively achieved. Gripping.
The Boy Who Stole Attila's Horse
by Iván Repila
Born in Bilbao, Iván Repila is one of Spain's intriguing young literary talents. In The Boy Who Stole Attila's Horse, two brothers, known only as Big and Small, are stuck at the bottom of a seven-metre-deep well in a forest. "It looks impossible to get out … But we'll get out," says Big, echoing Samuel Beckett. As the days pass, the siblings develop a routine, dictated by light, bodily functions and the need to eat. These practical concerns give way to dreams and strange intrusions (noises, birds) from the outside world. As their sanity unravels, the story becomes hallucinatory and unsettling, even a little nightmarish. There are maggots, fraternal rivalry and love, and also hunger and a gnawing awareness of death. Small fantasises that he can change the order of the universe and tries to save them both. The ending is chilling, yet oddly moving. This strange and haunting novella is Repila's second book, but the first to be translated into English (by Sophie Hughes). He worked in cultural management and as an editor before turning to writing.
The Saint on Guard
by Leslie Charteris
(read by John Telfer)
I've always had a soft spot for the Saint. Overshadowed by James Bond, he's an underdog in superhero's clothing. Simon Templar (his full name) is an update of Robin Hood, picking and beating the powerful and leaving his stick-figure calling card at the end. Classy. Created by Singaporean-born Leslie Charteris, the Saint spanned an extraordinary 35 years, opening in the Roaring Twenties and ending in the Swinging Sixties. The Saint on Guard pairs two novellas set during the second world war: The Black Market and The Sizzling Saboteur. In the former, the Saint is branded a sinner after he attempts to re-hijack, for goodly purposes, a consignment of iridium that has already been hijacked by American black marketeers. There are some nice lines. The best thing about The Sizzling Saboteur is the title, although this quest to find the rotter who has been sabotaging weapon factories has its moments. John Telfer reads with brio, lightness and pace, remembering that Templar is one part Bond with a splash of Bertie Wooster.