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What I’m Reading : Episode 39, October 2021: justice and injustice

October has been a month with some wonderful books, my first real visit to a library and my first in-person author event for about 18 months. November is going to be all about novellas but before I get stuck into that, let’s take a look at what I’ve been reading lately and what might be next in line.


What I just finished reading

The Beekeeper of Aleppo  by Christy Lefteri : this has been hanging around on my bookshelves for a couple of years because I wasn’t sure whether it would be too much of a misery fest. I think I was jaundiced by the plethora of books about people who survived horrendous experiences (including The Tattooist of Auschwitz , The Librarian of Auschwitz). I knew Lefteri’s book was based in an entirely different country and time period but my mind couldn’t help but make a connection. Fortunately I did overcome my prejudice because this was such a haunting, provocative novel about a couple forced to flee from civil war in Syria and endure a horrendous journey through refugee camps to reach an uncertain future in Britain.

The Fortune Men by Nadifa Mohamed: deservedly shortlisted for the 2021 Booker Prize this is an equally powerful novel based on a real-life story of injustice. It’s set in Cardiff, not far from my home, so the local connection was one of the reasons I wanted to read the book. Nadifa Mohamed brilliantly conjures up the multi-cultural nature of the city’s Tiger Bay community and also the racial differences which played a key role in the execution of the Somai seaman Mahmood Mattan. I finished reading the book just a few days ahead of Nadifa’s visit to Cardiff to talk about the story that inspired the book, her own family connection and reflections on justice.

What I’m reading now

I thought I’d get a head start on some of the titles I’ve picked up for Novellas in November and Australia Reading Month. So I’m off to France to catch up with Inspector Jules Maigret via Maigret In Court  the 55th title in the Maigret series created by Georges Simenon. This one shows the detective towards the end of his career; he’s aged 53 and is preparing for retirement by purchasing his first home, a country retreat in a quiet village. As the book opens, Maigret is in court at the trial of a picture-framer accused of murdering his aunt and her four year old ward.

On the iPod to accompany my gym sessions is Still Life, one of the most recent novels from the queen of crime Val McDermaid. I’ve never read anything by her but, given her reputation, I was expecting this to be a much more engaging read. It has two murder cases, one begins with the discovery of a skeleton in an abandoned camper van and the other with a body fished out of the Firth of Forth. Responsibility for both cases falls to DCI Karen Perie who has featured in five earlier novels. The two plots are skillfully woven together but I’m not feeling a great deal of enthusiasm overall.

I made a preliminary selection for Novellas in November and Australia Reading Month way back in September. But that was before my recent visit to the library where for the first time since Covid knocked everything sideways, I was allowed to browse, rather than just stand at the door to be handed a bag with reserved items. So of course I came away with a few more books. So now I’m torn between reading the ones I’d chosen in November and the newer arrivals which include a few more novellas like Cousin Phillis, a short work by Elizabeth Gaskell that I’d not heard of previously. China Room by Sunjeev Sahota is also on the bedside table, calling loudly to be read.

What are your reading plans for the next few weeks? If you’ve read any of the books on my “reading next” list you can help me make a decision.


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