Laura Wilson on A Question of Belief by Donna Leon | The Weight of Silence by Heather Gudenkauf | blueeyedboy by Joanne Harris | City of Lost Girls by Declan Hughes
A Question of Belief, by Donna Leon (William Heinemann, £16.99)
Leon’s books are a joy, and the 19th Venice-based Commissario Brunetti novel is well up to her consistently high standard. It starts off pretty low-key, with the citizens of Venice languorous in the blistering summer heat as Brunetti heads to the hills for a holiday with wife Paola and his now eco-fascist kids, but is brought back when a body is found. The murder is the start of an official investigation into corruption in the Italian legal system, but there’s an unofficial case, too, concerning a faith healer who is conning large amounts of money from colleague Vianello’s aunt. All the Leon hallmarks are here: clear, unshowy writing, atmosphere, humanity and believable characters, although I did find myself wondering if a little more background information would, perhaps, be helpful for readers new to this superb series.
The Weight of Silence, by Heather Gudenkauf (Mira Books, £7.99)
More misery lite than misery lit, this debut novel was a bestseller in Gudenkauf’s native America. Tapping into the Jodi Picoult formula, there are issues aplenty, including alcholism, spousal abuse and selective mutism (brought on by witnessing said spousal abuse). It’s the story of the disappearance of, and search for, silent seven-year-old Calli and her talking schoolfriend Petra, who have vanished into a nearby forest. There are sub-plots concerning friendship, first love and the vagaries of small town life and some downright implausible police procedure. It’s narrated by several of the main characters, but as their voices are not particularly distinctive, and the sections are very brief, it can be hard to keep track of what, exactly, is happening. It’s the Disney version of the dysfunctional family, and looks set to become a book group staple (the publishers clearly think so too – there’s a list of discussion topics at the end).
blueeyedboy, by Joanne Harris (Doubleday, £18.99)
Harris’s latest novel is a strange and experimental work which may well disconcert those who have enjoyed her previous forays into crime fiction. BB is a single, middle-aged man who lives with his control-freak mother – a woman who goes so far as to colour-code her three sons by their clothes – in a small town. He spends much of his spare time on an internet site called badguysrock where saddos swap fantasies and “confessions” of violent crimes; he has synaesthesia (where the senses become cross-wired); in his case, colours have a strong association with odours. The chapters take the form of posts on a web journal, from which we gradually begin to learn the truth – or perhaps a version of it – about a string of unsolved murders and the disappearance of a little girl. Beautifully written, at times unfocused but always intriguing, this is a rewarding read, if not a particularly easy one.
City of Lost Girls, by Declan Hughes (John Murray, £19.99)
Irish writer Hughes’s fifth book is a welcome addition to a series which has given the tired private-eye sub-genre a much-needed shot in the arm. Protagonist Ed Loy, perceptive, funny and mercifully short on difficulties with either self-pity or Jameson’s, is a delightful character, as is his new(ish) love interest, Anne Fogarty. When Loy is contacted by his old friend film director Jack Donovan about some female extras who have gone missing, his investigation takes him from Dublin to LA, where other women have vanished in similar circumstances. Hughes gets plenty of mileage out of Donovan, a wonderfully infuriating, self-mythologising Oirishman, and his oeuvre. The plot is taut and pacey, the prose is gorgeous, and there are plenty of twists and turns: a page-turner and a treat.