You pick up book after book and read the blurbs and nothing goes in. You read the opening chapter of one, the first page of another, the first line of the next, then they all go back on the shelf. You go back to an old favourite, a classic, a comfort read, open them in the middle and read a passage and think I loved this book but I don’t want to read it again. You’re stuck. You, my friend, are in a reading rut.
We’ve all been there at one time or another and that’s exactly what has been going on with me for the past few weeks. That was until I picked up an absolutely rip-roaring thriller a couple of nights ago. So, this week’s article is a celebration of the books that have dragged me from the despair of various reading ruts over the past few years.
The book that saved me this week is ‘The Chain by Adrian McKinty‘, a stupendously entertaining and satisfying thriller with an awesome concept. A teenage girl is kidnapped from a bus stop. Two minutes later, her mother receives a phone call from the kidnappers. To get her daughter back, she must pay £25,000 into a secure account… and kidnap another child. She must choose her target wisely, someone whose parents can pay, whose parents will do anything to get their child back. No help. No police. Despite some critical success with his earlier PI series, Mckinty almost gave up writing a couple of years ago and was back driving an Uber to make ends meet, until he was encouraged to keep going by Don Winslow and Val McDermid, among others. It is lucky for thriller fans that he kept at it because ‘The Chain’ is as good an example of the genre as you’ll read.
‘Gun Love by Jennifer Clement’ is a book that loads of us at Mr B’s have read and loved, and there’s every chance you’ve had it thrust at you by someone on a visit here. Pearl is a teenager growing up on a derelict Florida trailer park, with only her mother and a small collection of neighbours for company. Bleak though this life seems, it is all she has ever known. But things change when the mysterious Eli, a drifter who smells like trouble, arrives on the scene. A shocking act of violence turns Pearl’s life upside down and so begins a reckoning with loss, grief and identity. Written in luminous prose, this is a gritty and heart-wrenching story seen through the sheen of innocence of a wholly convincing child narrator.
Another beloved author around these parts is the brilliant Benjamin Myers. His majestic ‘The Offing’ has been one of our favourite books of 2020. But it was his previous novel, ‘The Gallows Pole’, that helped me out of a fix. Based on the true story of The Cragg Vale Coiners, it tells the tale of one of the greatest ever frauds against the British state. Led by the charismatic, diabolical David Hartley, this group of peasants and farmers developed a way of forging coins, which they used to build great wealth. But when one of their own becomes turncoat, things turn bloody. Myers’ roaring tale of forgery and murder is gritty, raw and rendered in prose that seems hewn from the earth itself.