Around the World in Eighty Days by Jules Verne

Journey’s End…

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It is Wednesday, 2nd October, 1872, and as he does every day, Mr Phileas Fogg is playing whist with his friends in the Reform Club. But this day the conversation turns to how the world is shrinking as more and more places become linked by fast steamships or railroads. Fogg claims that it is now possible to go around the world in eighty days. His companions pooh-pooh this notion, and Fogg offers to prove his point by making the journey. A wager is hastily arranged for the massive sum of £20,000 – half Fogg’s entire fortune. He intends to use the other half to cover any unforeseen expenses on his travels. And within hours he’s off, accompanied only by his French manservant, Passepartout, whom he had hired just that morning. But, unbeknownst to them, they are being followed…

I started my Around the World in 80 Books Challenge back in March 2016, so it has taken me considerably longer to make the trip than Phileas Fogg allowed himself! When I got close to the end I realised this was the only possible book I could choose to bring me back to London where my journey started all those years ago. And a perfect choice it proved to be! Not only is it a great book in its own right, but it also took me to all the places I’ve read about in the books I picked for my challenge. So when we got to Bombay I thought of playing cricket; when Fogg and his companions travelled by elephant I remembered Solomon’s journey; when they reached Omaha I thought of the World Fair. Anyway, I shall do a proper round-up of the challenge soon, but meantime, back to this book!

Fogg is a man of rigid habits and an obsessive concern with punctuality and exactness in all things. The narrator suggests his background is rather unknown, but that he must have travelled in the past to give him his fairly encyclopaedic knowledge of the world. He is unflappable to an extraordinary degree given that his entire fortune is in the balance, but we eventually see that he has hidden depths. Passepartout, in contrast, is volatile and constantly getting into scrapes, but on the other hand he soon develops strong feelings of loyalty to his master and shows true bravery on more than one occasion. Then there is Detective Fix, trailing Fogg whom he suspects of having robbed Baring Brothers bank on the day he left London so suddenly. Fix spends half the time trying to slow them down and the other half trying to speed them up since he can only arrest Fogg on British soil – and the book reminds us that British soil spreads fairly extensively across the world at this period. The fourth character is an Indian woman they pick up along the way, but I won’t say more about her because to tell her story would be a bit too spoilery.

The book starts a little slow, with a lot of concentration on timetables and dates and so on, and Fogg is not initially a very endearing character. He is interested only in achieving his aim of proving that the journey can be done in the time – he has no interest in the places to which they travel other than how quickly he can get out of them again on the next leg of the trip. Europe gets barely a mention, Egypt is a passing blur, and it’s only really when they reach India that they begin to have adventures. But by that time, Passepartout and Fix have developed into entertaining characters, sometimes friendly, sometimes not, and they give the story the life and liveliness that Fogg’s cold mechanical persona lacks. It’s in India too, though, that for the first time we see signs of humanity beneath that British stiffness, and from there on gradually Fogg also becomes someone we care about.

From India to Hong Kong, to Yokohama, across America – sometimes ahead of the clock, sometimes behind. One adventure after another holds them back, each time throwing Passepartout into gloom and desperation but leaving Fogg unruffled and determined. And each adventure is more fun than the one before – storms and Sioux warriors, acrobats and opium dens, trains and steamships, polygamists and Parsees, and oodles of luck both good and bad. Will they make it back in time? Even though I knew the answer, I must admit I found the last fifty pages or so pretty heart-pounding, and joined Passepartout on his emotional roller-coaster ride between despair and euphoria. And the end is brilliantly done, misdirection and twists abounding!

Jules Verne

The new translation by William Butcher in my Oxford World’s Classics edition is excellent – flowing and fun. His rather scholarly introduction left me somewhat befuddled, in truth. As always, I read the book first, and imagine my surprise on being told that it’s full of sexual innuendo and “brazen homosexual overtures” between the three male characters. I missed all of that! Even though he’s now told me it’s there, nope, I don’t see it. Maybe he’s right – in fact, since he’s a Verne expert and I’m not, I’m willing to assume he is right – but then, on the other hand… sometimes a cigar is just a cigar. Butcher goes so far as to say “the book is not designed for callow adolescents”. Hmm, I was probably a callow adolescent when I first read it, and I don’t think it corrupted my innocence! I did enjoy Butcher saying that Verne had portrayed the Mormons as an “erotico-religious group” though – I missed that too…

So an excellent adventure story suitable for all ages, or a walk on the wild side of sexual psychology, depending on whether you believe me or Butcher. Either way, highly entertaining – great stuff!

NB This book was provided for review by the publisher, Oxford World’s Classics.

Book 5 of 20

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TBR Thursday 243…

Episode 243

The TBR has remained steady over the last couple of weeks with a few drifting out and a few drifting in – still 208. The reading slump continues, the reviewing slump continues – fortunately, there hasn’t been either a chocolate slump or a cake slump, or life would be truly intolerable!

A couple of review-along announcements to start with:

  1. A Month in the Country review-along. This is one of my 20 Books of Summer and Sandra suggested we should read and review it at the same time. Sounds like a great idea to me, so we’ve set 31st August as the date for our synchronised reviews. Alyson and Christine (both non-bloggers at the moment, though I’m working on it 😉 ) have already joined in and anyone else is welcome to jump aboard! The rules are simple – either review it on your blog on 31st August or if you prefer leave your views in the comments section on my review and/or the reviews of anyone else who reviews it. I’ll put links to any other reviews on my own.
  2. Tender is the Night review-along. This didn’t win last week’s People’s Choice but Alyson suggested it would be fun to read it at the same time and discuss. Another great idea! Since then Sandra and Eva have said they might join in too, and again, anyone else is welcome! Same rules – we haven’t set a firm date for reviews yet, but I’m proposing 26th October. Anyone who’s thinking of joining in, especially you, Alyson, of course, please let me know in the comments if that date does or doesn’t suit you.

Doesn’t that all sound like fun? 😀

Here are a few more I might or might not miss dinner for…

Winner of the People’s Choice Poll

The Messenger of Athens by Anne Zouroudi

Excellent choice, People, especially since it will fit in well with my plan to read some lighter stuff for a while till my slump lifts! Tender is the Night stayed in the race but was always a furlong or two behind, and I fear the other two collapsed on the verge just a few yards from the starting line. This will be my introduction to Zouroudi and her detective, more or less, except for one short story I read and enjoyed in an anthology several years ago. It’s been on my TBR since 2014. I plan to read and review it by the end of August.

The Blurb says: Idyllic but remote, the Greek island of Thiminos seems untouched and untroubled by the modern world. So when the battered body of a young woman is discovered at the foot of a cliff, the local police – governed more by archaic rules of honor than by the law – are quick to close the case, dismissing her death as an accident.

Then a stranger arrives, uninvited, from Athens, announcing his intention to investigate further into the crime he believes has been committed. Refusing to accept the woman’s death as an accident or suicide, Hermes Diaktoros sets out to uncover the truths that skulk beneath this small community’s exterior.

Hermes’s methods of investigation are unorthodox, and his message to the islanders is plain – tell the truth or face the consequences. Before long, he’s uncovering a tale of passion, corruption and murder that entangles many of the island’s residents. But Hermes brings his own mystery into the web of dark secrets and lies – and as he travels the rugged island landscape to investigate, questions and suspicions arise amongst the locals. Who has sent him to Thiminos, and on whose authority is he acting? And how does he know of dramas played out decades ago?

Rich in images of Greece’s beautiful islands and evoking a life unknown to most outsiders, this wonderful novel leads the reader into a world where the myths of the past are not forgotten and forbidden passion still has dangerous consequences.

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English Classic

The African Queen by CS Forester

One from my Classics Club list. I’ve seen a couple of reviews that suggest this is one case where the film perhaps is better than the book, but since the film is brilliant that’s hardly surprising! And happily, I have the DVD lined up for a re-watch after I’ve read it…

The Blurb says: As World War I reaches the heart of the African jungle, Charlie Allnutt and Rose Sayer, a dishevelled trader and an English spinster missionary, find themselves thrown together by circumstance. Fighting time, heat, malaria, and bullets, they make their escape on the rickety steamboat The African Queen…and hatch their own outrageous military plan. Originally published in 1935, The African Queen is a tale replete with vintage Forester drama – unrelenting suspense, reckless heroism, impromptu military manoeuvres, near-death experiences – and a good old-fashioned love story to boot.

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Fiction

Around the World in Eighty Days by Jules Verne

And finally! What other choice could I possibly make for the final book in my mammoth Around the World in 80 Books challenge? This will be a re-read from a long time ago, and Oxford World’s Classics have kindly provided me with a copy, so the intro and notes will make it even more fun to read…

The Blurb says: One night in the reform club, Phileas Fogg bets his companions that he can travel across the globe in just eighty days. Breaking the well-established routine of his daily life, he immediately sets off for Dover with his astonished valet Passepartout. Passing through exotic lands and dangerous locations, they seize whatever transportation is at hand—whether train or elephant—overcoming set-backs and always racing against the clock.

Around the World in Eighty Days has been a bestseller for over a century, but it has never before appeared in a critical edition. While most translations misread or even abridge the original, this stylish version is completely true to Verne’s classic, moving as fast and as brilliantly as Phineas Fogg’s own race against time. Around the World in Eighty Days offers a strong dose of post-romantic reality but not a shred of science fiction: its modernism lies instead in the experimental technique and Verne’s unique twisting of space and time.

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Historical Fiction on Audion

Dissolution by CJ Sansom

Sansom’s Shardlake books are my favourite historical fiction series of all time. I’ve been meaning to re-read them for ages but never seem able to fit them in. So I decided to try the first one on audio since on the whole I prefer listening to books I’ve already read. The narrator is Steven Crossley – I haven’t come across him before but the reviews of his narrations are very positive…

The Blurb says: The first book in the best-selling Shardlake series. It is 1537, a time of revolution that sees the greatest changes in England since 1066.

Henry VIII has proclaimed himself Supreme Head of the Church. The country is waking up to savage new laws, rigged trials and the greatest network of informers ever seen. And under the orders of Thomas Cromwell, a team of commissioners is sent throughout the country to investigate the monasteries.

There can only be one outcome: dissolution. But on the Sussex coast, at the monastery of Scarnsea, events have spiralled out of control. Cromwell’s Commissioner, Robin Singleton, has been found dead, his head severed from his body. His horrific murder is accompanied by equally sinister acts of sacrilege.

Matthew Shardlake, lawyer and long-time supporter of Reform, has been sent by Cromwell to uncover the truth behind the dark happenings at Scarnsea. But investigation soon forces Shardlake to question everything that he hears, and everything that he intrinsically believes….

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NB All blurbs and covers taken from Goodreads, Audible UK or Amazon UK.

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So…what do you think? Are you tempted?

Twenty Thousand Leagues under the Seas by Jules Verne

Drama in the deeps…

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A mysterious sea monster has been damaging ships around the world, so a team is put together to hunt it down. The famous French naturalist Dr Aronnax happens to be in America at the time, so is invited to join the hunting party. Soon he will discover that the monster is in fact man-made – a submarine built and captained by the enigmatic Captain Nemo, and Aronnax and his companions will find themselves unwilling guests aboard the Nautilus as Nemo takes them on a fabulous journey beneath the seas and oceans of the world. But Nemo is more than a simple explorer – gradually Aronnax begins to suspect there is a darker purpose to his travels…

The beginning of the book is very reminiscent of my old friend Moby-Dick, as the hunting party sets off to sail rather aimlessly around the vastness of the world’s oceans hoping that they might coincidentally happen upon the sea-monster. Aronnax’s servant, Conseil, accompanies him, and on board they meet Ned Land, a master harpoonist whose task is to kill the monster should they find it. When their ship finally has a disastrous encounter with the Nautilus, these three men will be taken aboard as captives, although for the most part they will be treated more as guests, free to participate in the submarine’s adventures but not free to leave it.

Book 47 of 90

And what adventures! They will visit coral reefs and underwater passages between seas; they will slaughter all kinds of things for food or fun; they will visit islands inhabited only by savage tribes and find themselves in danger of being slaughtered themselves for food or fun, which seems like poetic justice to me! They will observe all kinds of strange creatures that live in the depths, some of them real, some mythical. Aronnax and his faithful assistant Conseil will catalogue hundreds – nay, thousands – of different species of fish and underwater plant life. And Aronnax, our narrator, will kindly list most of these, giving their Latin names and telling us their biological classification.

I must be honest and say all those lists of fish nearly did for me after a bit…

In the 89th genus of fish classified by Lacépède, belonging to the second sub-class of osseous fish characterized by a gill cover and a bronchial membrane, I noticed the scorpion fish, whose head has stings on it and which has only one dorsal fin: according to the subgenus, these creatures are either devoid of small scales or covered in them. The latter subgenus provided us with specimens of didactyls 30 to 40 centimetres long, with yellow stripes and fantastic-looking heads.

Now you may (possibly) be thinking that sounds quite interesting but, believe me, by the time you’ve travelled about four thousand leagues you will never be able to walk past another sushi restaurant without shuddering. Fortunately, I am a master of the art of skipping – obviously, or I’d never have made it through Moby-Dick’s interminable whales either – so very quickly learned to recognise when Aronnax was going to become the world’s leading fish bore and jump a few paragraphs. This worked excellently since, in between the excruciating fishiness and the mind-numbing technical descriptions of the submarine, there’s lots of adventure and some interesting insights on the world as it was in Verne’s day.

The characterisation is good too. Aronnax doesn’t much mind his status as prisoner since, as a scientist, the journey is giving him the opportunity to observe first-hand things that no man has seen before. Conseil is simply his faithful servant – wherever Aronnax is is where Conseil wishes to be – but he provides some gentle humour and acts as a bridge between Aronnax and the third member of the group, Ned Land. Ned feels his imprisonment harshly, especially since Nemo is not keen on letting him harpoon everything he sees, and he’s always pushing Aronnax to consider ways to escape. And Nemo himself is an ominous, brooding presence on board – a scientist too, but who has deliberately cut himself off from the world of men. Aronnax studies him much as he studies the other ocean life, and comes to think that he has perhaps suffered some tragedy or injustice that has driven him to this strange existence. He is another Captain Ahab, although he is sailing in the belly of the monster of the deep rather than chasing after it. But he is driven by the same desire – revenge!

Two hours after leaving the Nautilus we crossed the tree-line; the mountain peak towered 100 feet above our heads, its dazzling radiation projecting a shadow on the slope below. A few petrified shrubs ran here and there in grimacing zigzags. Fish rose as one before our feet like birds surprised in tall grass. The rocky massif was hollowed out with impenetrable burrows, deep caverns, and pits at the bottom of which I could hear frightening things moving about. I blanched when I spotted an enormous antenna blocking my route, or terrifying claws clattering shut in the darkness of a cavity! Thousands of luminous points shone in the darkness. They were the eyes of huge crustaceans lurking in their dens, of gigantic lobsters standing to attention like halberdiers and waving their legs with metallic clanks, of titanic crabs set like cannon on their mounts, and of awe-inspiring squid twisting their tentacles into a living brush of snakes.

This is a new translation by William Butcher who is an expert on Verne, and that expertise shows in the avoidance of any of the obscurity that can happen in translations, especially of older works. He also wrote the excellent introduction and notes, which give a lot of insight into the writing of the book – what influenced Verne, his ongoing negotiations with his publisher to get the book into shape, how the book fits into his overall body of work, etc., along with a literary analysis of the various themes. There’s lots of actual science in the book, and unfortunately I lacked the knowledge to know what was still considered true and what had been superseded since Verne’s day. I was a little disappointed that the notes didn’t do a bit more fact-checking, but there are so many facts it would have been a huge undertaking. However, the notes do explain many references to contemporary scientists and events that would otherwise have gone over my head.

Jules Verne

Truthfully, if I factored in those endless fish-lists, I’d find it hard to rate the book as more than a 4-star read, but since I found it easy to skip them without missing anything essential to the story, they didn’t bother me (and fish enthusiasts might even enjoy them!). The descriptions of the wonders of the deeps, the glimpses of other civilisations, the mystery surrounding Captain Nemo and the thrilling adventure aspects all more than made up for the excessive fish-detail, making it a five-star read for me – a true classic!

NB This book was provided for review by the publisher, Oxford World’s Classics. The illustrations, which I’ve taken from Wikimedia Commons, are by Alphonse de Neuville (1835—1885) or Édouard Riou (1833-1900).

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Book 7 of 20

TBR Thursday 199…

Episode 199

Well, I couldn’t bear the anxiety I’ve been causing all round the blogosphere the last few weeks with my plummeting TBR. So just for you, I’ve added a few, meaning the total is now up 2, to 223! I hope you all feel better…

No, I don’t see the relevance of that GIF either, but Jessica rises above mere relevance! Anyway, here are a few more that I’ll be guzzling  soonish or in fact June-ish… all four are from my 20 Books of Summer list.

Classic Science Fiction

Courtesy of Oxford World’s Classics. This is such a “me” book I can’t quite understand why I’ve never read it! So this new issue from the OWC complete with a new translation was too tempting – I had to slot it onto my Classics Club list…

The Blurb says: French naturalist Dr Aronnax embarks on an expedition to hunt down a sea monster, only to discover instead the Nautilus, a remarkable submarine built by the enigmatic Captain Nemo. Together Nemo and Aronnax explore the underwater marvels, undergo a transcendent experience amongst the ruins of Atlantis, and plant a black flag at the South Pole. But Nemo’s mission is one of revenge—and his methods coldly efficient.

This new and unabridged translation by William Butcher, the father of Verne studies, brilliantly conveys the novel’s varying tones and range. This edition also presents important manuscript discoveries, together with previously unpublished information on Verne’s artistic and scientific references.

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Vintage Crime

Courtesy of the British Library. Having loved the first two of the Michael Gilbert novels the BL has reissued, Smallbone Deceased and Death In Captivity, I have extremely high expectations for this third one…

The Blurb says: At the Central Criminal Court, an eager crowd awaits the trial of Victoria Lamartine, an active participant in the Resistance during the war. She is now employed at the Family Hotel in Soho, where Major Eric Thoseby has been found murdered.

The cause of death? A stabbing reminiscent of techniques developed by the Maquisards. While the crime is committed in England, its roots are buried in a vividly depicted wartime France. Thoseby is believed to have fathered Lamartine’s child, and the prosecution insist that his death is revenge for his abandonment of Lamartine and her arrest by the Gestapo.

A last-minute change in Lamartine’s defence counsel grants solicitor Nap Rumbold just eight days to prove her innocence, with the highest of stakes should he fail.

The proceedings of the courtroom are interspersed with Rumbold’s perilous quest for evidence, which is aided by his old wartime comrades. 

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Fiction

This was a People’s Choice back in the days when I used to do that – I stopped because I never seemed to get round to actually reading the books! However, they still linger on my TBR – this one’s been on there since 2015. Hopefully it will fit neatly into my Around the World challenge since I understand it’s set in Papua New Guinea…

The Blurb says: On a copper-rich tropical island shattered by war, where the teachers have fled with most everyone else, only one white man chooses to stay behind: the eccentric Mr. Watts, object of much curiosity and scorn, who sweeps out the ruined schoolhouse and begins to read to the children each day from Charles Dickens’s classic Great Expectations.

So begins this rare, original story about the abiding strength that imagination, once ignited, can provide. As artillery echoes in the mountains, thirteen-year-old Matilda and her peers are riveted by the adventures of a young orphan named Pip in a city called London, a city whose contours soon become more real than their own blighted landscape. As Mr. Watts says, “A person entranced by a book simply forgets to breathe.” Soon come the rest of the villagers, initially threatened, finally inspired to share tales of their own that bring alive the rich mythology of their past. But in a ravaged place where even children are forced to live by their wits and daily survival is the only objective, imagination can be a dangerous thing.

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Crime

Courtesy of Random House Transworld via NetGalley. If you’ve been living under a stone recently, you may have missed the fact that Kate Atkinson is about to publish a new book in her Jackson Brodie series. Big Sky. As part of the publicity drive, the publisher has put three of the earlier books on NetGalley so far, so since I’ve long wanted to read the series, that’s given me the push needed to actually do it! This is the first…

The Blurb says: The scene is set in Cambridge, with three case histories from the past: A young child who mysteriously disappeared from a tent in her back garden; An unidentified man in a yellow jumper who marched into an office and slashed a young girl through the throat; and a young woman found by the police sitting in her kitchen next to the body of her husband, an axe buried in his head.

Jackson Brodie, a private investigator and former police detective, is quietly contemplating life as a divorced father when he is flung into the midst of these resurrected old crimes. Julia and Amelia Land enlist Jackson’s help to find out the truth about their younger sister. They embroil him in the complexities of their own jealousies, obsessions and lust.

Another woman named Shirley needs Jackson to help find her lost niece. Jackson meets solicitor Theo Wyre whose daughter, Laura, was murdered in his office and is desperate for Jackson to help him lay Laura’s ghost to rest.

As he starts his investigations Jackson has the sinister feeling that someone is following him. In digging into the past Jackson seems to have unwittingly threatened his own future. This wonderfully crafted, intricately plotted novel is heartbreaking, uplifting, full of suspense and often very funny.

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NB All blurbs and covers taken from Goodreads.

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So…what do you think? Do any of these tempt you?

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I’m going to take a little break due to having been too lazy to write any reviews. The two big summer tennis tournaments are coming up, so I’ll be drifting in and out for the next few weeks. Be good! You never know when I might be watching…

(I live in hope!)

Twenty Trillion Leagues Under the Sea by Adam Roberts

twenty trillion leagues under the seaMostly brilliant…

😀 😀 😀 😀 🙂

It’s June 1958, and French experimental submarine the Plongeur has taken off on her maiden voyage to test her new nuclear engines and her ability to dive to depths never before reached. The small crew is supplemented by the two Indian scientists responsible for the submarine’s design, and an observer, M. Lebret, who reports directly to the Minister for National Defence, Charles de Gaulle. It is soon enough after the war for resentments against those who supported the Vichy government still to be fresh, and Lebret was one such, so there are already tensions amongst those aboard. The first trial dive is a success, so the Captain gives the order to go deeper, down to the limits of the submarine’s capacity. But as they pass the one thousand five hundred metre mark, disaster strikes! Suddenly the crew lose control of the submarine, and it is locked in descent position. The dive goes on… past the point where the submarine should be crushed by the pressure… and on… and on…

twenty trillion leagues 2

This is a brilliant start to a novel that remains brilliant for about two-thirds of its length and then fades a little towards the end. Undoubtedly the most original sci-fi I’ve read in a long time, it’s a mash-up of references, both explicit and in style, not just to Jules Verne and the Captain Nemo stories, but to lots of early sci-fi, fantasy and horror writers, from Alice in Wonderland to Poe, and even to Dickens. And I’m sure a more knowledgeable sci-fi reader would pick up loads that I missed. Stylistically it reads like a book from the early twentieth century, Wells or Conan Doyle perhaps, but it has a surreal edge and a playfulness with the traditions that keeps the reader aware that it’s something more than a pastiche.

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And the surreality grows as the adventure progresses and the Plongeur continues its dive to depths that should have taken it through the centre of the earth and out the other side. As it gradually becomes clear to those aboard that the normal rules of physics seem no longer to apply, their reactions range from panic to getting royally drunk to religious mania, while one or two are still willing to speculate that there might be a rational explanation. Arguments begin over what can be happening and what should be done, and the crew are soon at each other’s throats. And when it eventually becomes a little clearer where they might have ended up, there’s a Lovecraftian feel about the Plongeur’s new surroundings and the creatures it encounters there. The book contains 33 illustrations by Mahendra Singh, and even in the Kindle version they work well in adding to the ever-growing atmosphere of horror. There’s much science and philosophy in the book, especially around the nature of reality and God, and even a little politics, but this too all feels deliberately off-kilter – not quite in line with the real world and therefore not to be taken too seriously.

Adam Roberts
Adam Roberts

I thought I might be hampered by not having read the original Captain Nemo stories, but for the most part I didn’t feel I was, though I suspect someone familiar with those would have got more of the references. There was only one point where I felt a little lost (when we were introduced to a character and were clearly supposed to recognise him from elsewhere) and a quick look at Wikipedia’s pages on Jules Verne and Captain Nemo was enough to get me back up to speed. The story moves through the Verne originals and on beyond where they finished. But Roberts is playing with Verne’s world rather than retelling it, just as he is playing with the real world and science of the ’50s too. In the last section he gets a bit overly philosophical and a little too clever, and also takes us into a sequence that drags a little, unlike the rapid pace of the earlier part of the book. But while I felt the ending wasn’t as strong as the rest, overall I found this an exciting ride, cleverly executed and full of imagination, and with a great mix of tension, humour and horror. Highly recommended, and I’m looking forward to trying some of Roberts’ other books.

NB This book was provided for review by the publisher, St. Martin’s Griffin.

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