Book reviews: second part of bestselling author Linwood Barclay’s Promise Falls trilogy
Plus: Jonathan Safran Foer’s excellent debut novel and journalist John Sweeney’s elephant fiction arrive in audiobook format
Far From True
by Linwood Barclay
Orion Publishing (e-book)
Linwood Barclay is best known for No Time for Goodbye, which set out a stall for paranoia, spooky premises and titles of no more than three or four words. Far From True is part two of a trilogy that is set in the small town of Promise Falls and began with Broken Promise. That Gone Girl-ish premise had journalist (David Harwood) home after losing his job and attempting to defend his cousin Marla from accusations of murder. Like Twin Peaks, another touchstone, that original sin is merely the excuse for introducing several others – from a murderer on the loose to a gothic case of squirrel-cide. Far From True shifts Harwood from centre stage, which is shared by Cal Weaver, a private eye hired to investigate the deaths of four people at a drive-in movie theatre. Weaver quickly realises that the fatal explosion was deliberate and that the victims were connected in the oddest of ways. In truth, it is best to start with Broken Promise. Although Barclay offers plentiful backstory about his protagonists (some of which he covered in part one), the new focus leaves large holes. Some of these presumably will be filled in part three, The Twenty-Three, a nastily significant number in Promise Falls.
Everything is Illuminated
by Jonathan Safran Foer (read by Jeff Woodman, Scott Shina)
Audible Studios (audiobook)
New to audiobook download, Jonathan Safran Foer’s excellent debut novel is both a gift and challenge to any narrator. On one hand, Foer is an unmistakably visual writer, using all the typographical possibilities suggested by a text (CAPITALS, italics, blocksofunbrokendialogue) to tell his story. How, one might ask, do you speak such trickery? One answer is you get two speakers to handle our two narrators. There’s Jonathan, who arrives in Ukraine hoping to unpick a family mystery that inspired the novel he is writing. Jonathan wants to find Augustine, who saved his grandfather from the Nazis. He is both helped and hindered by Alex, his eccentric translator and man of many names: “Another [girl] dubs me All Night. Do you want to know why? I have a girl who dubs me Currency, because I disseminate so much currency around her.” Scott Shina does a pretty good job with this material, which can be very funny but also a little tiring. Jeff Woodman needs to display a greater range as he both narrates his novel-in-progress and writes about it at one step removed. It just about works, not least when the jokiness collides with the original tragedy. But have a copy of the novel on hand.
by John Sweeney (read by Helen Johns)
Audible Studios (audiobook)
Four years after journalist John Sweeney published Elephant Moon, his first novel comes to audiobook download. As befits someone who investigated Nicolae Ceausescu and lost his temper with a Scientologist, Sweeney’s debut fiction was inspired by a true story. It is Burma, 1942, and 62 orphans, fathered by British colonists, are left to face the invading Japanese unprotected. Their mixed ethnicity makes them essentially untouchable to all – save Grace Collins, the young English teacher who guards them from prejudice on all sides. Their main hope is to flee to India, battling inhospitable terrain, climate and, of course, the encroaching enemy forces. When all hope seems lost, the strangest of miracles occurs. Just when a seemingly insurmountable river threatens their progress, the weary group meet a herd of 53 elephants, led by a few “elephant men” (as they are christened) from the Royal Indian Engineers of the Fourteenth Army. Together they trudge slowly but dramatically towards safety. Helen Johns reads the no-nonsense Grace crisply, but with enough vulnerability to make her sympathetic. Some of the subplots involving murder feel surplus to requirements, and one or two of the soldiers feel cartoonish. Mostly she has great fun with the vividly described elephant heroes who steal the show.