Brian Keaney

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5 out of 5 stars

Reviewed: 23-04-13

A First Rate Thriller And A Great Deal More

This is the story of a young woman who goes missing in Missouri. It's told in two contrasting and utterly believable voices: the woman's and her husband's and the truth about their relationship is gradually revealed as layer after layer of lies is peeled away.

It's hard to say much about the story without giving away the plot. What I can say is that the premise is wonderfully audacious and the structure is a labyrinth of twists and turns. Watch out for the really dramatic twist half way through the book that projects the novel into a whole new narrative dimension.

The result is a first-rate thriller but what makes it stand out from other first-rate thrillers, is the quality of the writing: the keen observation of human behaviour; the cinematic use of visual detail; the attention to even the most minor characters, the rigid control of narrative technique, and, above all the forensic examination of contemporary relationships. It's an acute commentary on love and infatuation, marriage and parenting, gender stereotypes and social class and it's perfectly read by the two narrators.

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2 of 2 people found this review helpful

5 out of 5 stars

Reviewed: 09-04-13

Like Game Of Thrones But With A Lot More Laughs

Set in a world in which the gods have been murdered by a cartel of magicians who have since fallen out and now compete for dominion, The Grim Company is a multi-viewpoint fantasy with some distinctly original touches (for example, the decaying bodies of the gods are responsible for freaks of the climate), plenty of graphic violence and a dark but contagious sense of humour. Its central characters, deeply flawed and often thoroughly misanthropic, are boldly drawn and quickly take hold of the imagination of the reader. The result is a compelling piece of storytelling that keeps you listening until the last sentence. A bit like A Game Of Thrones but with a lot more laughs.

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12 of 14 people found this review helpful

5 out of 5 stars

Reviewed: 31-03-13

America, Land of Opportunity and Slavery

When Dorsetshire Quaker Honor Bright is jilted, she emigrates to America along with her sister Mary, who is intending to marry an established emigré from the same community now running a drapery in a small town in Ohio. But Mary dies of Yellow Fever on the journey and Honor finds herself a stranger in a strange land, entirely dependent upon the charity of her dead sister's fiancé.

A hasty marriage to local farmer Jack Haymaker seems to be the answer but Jack is part of an intimidating family, at the head of which stands his formidable mother Judith who is less than impressed with her son's choice of partner.

The gap between Honor and the Haymakers begins to widen when she becomes involved with the underground rail road of people smuggling slaves to freedom in Canada. Eventually a crisis is reached and both Honor and Jack are forced to make difficult choices.

Tracey Chevalier is an immensely visual writer, able to bring a scene to life with a few well-chosen details - the gleam of light on a bowl, the curve of a lock of hair, the colour of a ribbon - and this is a book that draws its strength from the intensely realised minutiae of domestic life.

It is marred a little by a tendency towards simplification and sentimentality in the latter third of the book, particularly in the depiction of the black characters, and the dénoument feels a little too neat. Nevertheless, I found this beautifully-read story to be both entertaining and moving.

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1 of 1 people found this review helpful

5 out of 5 stars

Reviewed: 16-03-13

A Powerful Study In Characterisation

Set during the siege of Leningrad, Quigley's powerful and enthralling novel focuses on the character of Karl Eliasberg, the conductor who managed to assemble an audience of half-starved musicians from the city's desperate inhabitants and coax from them a performance of Shostakovich's newly-composed seventh symphony. This performance, broadcast on loudspeakers to defenders and assailants alike, would come to stand for the resilience of the Leningrad people under the most extreme privation. Eliasberg is a man tortured by lack of confidence and low self-esteem. Yet in in the pursuit of a task so utterly demanding that there is scarcely time for him to drag his mother's corpse to the frozen cemetery, and no time at all to tell his friends and colleagues of her death, he manages to find a redemptive strength and purpose.

All the characters in this novel are powerfully drawn - they are, after all, individuals under the most extreme stress, inhabiting the very margins of existence; and behind them lurks the overwhelming personality of Leningrad, a city where bombs and artillery fall like rain and where the melting snow of Spring reveals dead bodies that have been partly cannabalised by the starving inhabitants. Despite its often cerebral concerns, this novel manages to be a real page turner and it is marvellously read by Sean Barrett. I was scarcely able to think about anything else until I reached the end.

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1 of 1 people found this review helpful

5 out of 5 stars

Reviewed: 12-03-13

A Wonderful Sequel

Rose Tremaine's 1989 novel, Restoration, was such a feast for the reader, so funny, so well-researched, so humane and so moving, that I doubted whether she could possibly succeed with a sequel, especially more than twenty years later. In fact, she pulls it off wonderfully. Though still liberally peppered with sex and low comedy, this is a more sombre tale. Merivel, King Charles and the other characters who careered through the pages of the first book, are fifteen years older. Old age and sickness are beginning to take their toll. The whole mood of the country has changed and disillusion with the monarch has set in. Merivel now bears the responsibility for the welfare of his teenage daughter, Margaret. Despite this, he is still a man inclined to pleasure, flawed but likeable, weak but disarmingly honest. It is this weakness that is the wellspring of the plot. When his daughter is given a place at court and Merivel finds himself alone in his big house, he decides to to set off for Versailles in search of a purpose and a position with Louis XIV. Instead he becomes enamoured of a captive bear and involved with the wife of a member of the Swiss Guard. What makes Tremaine a really first-class writer is the depth of her characterisation and the honesty of her writing. She is not afraid to tackle any subject. She goes wherever human beings go. There is a remarkable scene in a stagecoach in which a woman exposes herself to a group of male passengers that is simultaneously horrifying and hilarious. I can't imagine anyone else writing it with such ease and such obvious relish. I enjoyed this book enormously. It made me feel glad to be alive and this recording was perfectly pitched.

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3 of 3 people found this review helpful

5 out of 5 stars

Reviewed: 27-01-13

An Intelligent, Well-Crafted Thriller

Sensitively narrated by Anna Bentinck, Simon Mawer's The Girl Who Fell From The Sky is the story of Marian Sutro, a young Anglo-French woman parachuted into occupied France during World War Two by the Special Operations Executive to help run an espionage network in the south west.

With its focus on identity and loyalty, it's an intelligent, well-crafted thriller drawing its power from the inner world of its protagonist, where fear is an ever present backdrop, overshadowing friendship, love and sex, making the simplest judgement complex and the most cherished memory untrustworthy.

I felt a little unsatisfied by the ending. Nevertheless, it's a gripping story that convincingly portrays the shabbiness of wartime France in its daily accommodations with the Nazis and the claustrophobia of those who struggled to nurture the spark of resistance.

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5 out of 5 stars

Reviewed: 11-12-12

Beautifully written but deeply harrowing

Set in London and Monmouth in the eighteenth century, Slammerkin is the story of Mary, a fourteen year old girl abandoned by her family and forced to resort to prostitution in order to survive. Be warned - it is often deeply harrowing. However, Emma Donoghue's eye for detail, coupled with her delight in language made even the darkest moments pulse with energy.

"The old man's tongue pushed past her lips as if looking for something, buried treasure. It tasted like a burnt thing. It thrashed like a dying fish and bruised the roof of her mouth. She thought she might choke."

This is an unflinching portrait of life at the bottom of a brutal society and from the first page, it's clear that things will not end well for Mary. Yet I kept on hoping until the very end, because despite all the squalor, there is so much that is life-affirming in these pages, and because the characters are so recognisably human. You feel you know them all so well and you desperately want their plans to prosper. Sadly, very few of them do.

The narration by Charlotte Stevens was first class: beautifully clear and fully engaged.

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6 of 6 people found this review helpful

5 out of 5 stars

Reviewed: 18-11-12

Thoroughly entertaining

I'm not sure what this would be like to read but it makes terrific listening. It's the ridiculously high-concept story of an immensely wealthy Arab Sheikh who falls in love with salmon fishing on his estate in Scotland and hatches a plan to introduce it to the Yemen, despite apparently insuperable natural obstacles.

It's told from the point of view of a rather nerdy fisheries scientist who is reluctantly roped into the project but becomes entirely obsessed by it, and features a great cast of characters, notably, the self-important Director of Communications to the Prime Minister, who is clearly based on Peter Mandelson. The book is narrated by John Sessions who does a superb job in bringing the characters to life.

It goes a bit over the top in the middle with the introduction of a quiz programme for the Arab world dreamed up by Peter Maxwell whose occido-centric tunnel vision becomes a bit implausible. Nevertheless, it's thoroughly entertaining.

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3 of 3 people found this review helpful

5 out of 5 stars

Reviewed: 11-09-08

Authentic, evocative and moving

Naguib Mahfouz won the Nobel prize for this trilogy and I can see why. This trilogy tells the story of three generations of one family against the backdrop of the Egyptian struggle for independence. The remarkable authenticity of the production (it was recorded in Cairo), the quality of the acting, even the evocative background music all make this a really memorable listening experience.

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5 of 6 people found this review helpful