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Friday 27 November 2009


by Rosie Thomas

Rosie Thomas writes prolifically, and I’ve not read one of her stories that didn’t delight me.

Constance is Connie Thorne, a woman in her forties constantly haunted by her origins. She was a foundling, abandoned by her mother at birth, but her efforts to trace her mother are fruitless. She clings to a little earring placed in her swaddling clothes, her most precious possession worn close to her heart.

Constance is beautifully written, a tale of love, betrayal and forgiveness, with Thomas moving the reader seamlessly between the years, the characters and the settings.

Deeply unhappy in her adoptive family, Connie finds a job and leaves home the day after her sixteenth birthday. Always competitive with her deaf sister, Connie falls in love with Bill, her sister Jeanette’s boyfriend. The feeling is mutual, and Bill often comments: ‘I’ve married the wrong sister.’

Their illicit love continues through the years, with Connie and Bill undertaking a lengthy affair until they are discovered. The family is driven apart and Connie, rejected, moves from London to a peaceful hideaway in Bali, conducting her musical career from this idyllic paradise. Thomas’ description of Connie’s house in Bali with its ‘feathery leaves against broad blades against sharp spikes, a lush billow of textured greenery’ had me swooning. Yet into this paradise technology intervenes when Jeanette sends an email telling Connie she is dying. They must face the past, put the bitterness of betrayal behind them.

Constance is beautifully written with a cast of characters who the reader can identify with. Connie, the heroine, is definitely flawed, yet extremely likeable. I admire her easy acceptance of others, such as Roxana, her nephew Noah’s feisty young girlfriend from Uzbekistan. Also, even when committing the ultimate betrayal she seems to be considering others on some level.

Thomas tackles several themes in this novel, displaying her understanding of the human condition. As well as infidelity, the search for identity, love and forgiveness, she also explores the difficult subject of impending death. Instead of being dark and depressing, it is dealt a deft hand, with the cremation scene in Bali and Jeanette’s reaction to it a brilliant, uplifting touch.

With very different locations – London, Surrey, Suffolk, Bali and Uzbekistan, Constance is quite a revelation with Thomas obviously having done her research. Balinese customs are intricately explained and Connie’s dealings with the native Balinese sensitively portrayed, as are those in Uzbekistan. Connie and Roxana’s visit to the Hammam in Uzbekistan where they partake in a bathing ritual similar to those in ancient Rome, is an amazing insight into the culture of women in this politically troubled country caught between ‘Marx and Mohammed.’

Able to be enjoyed on several levels, Constance is a thoroughly entertaining read, but at times you will be moved to tears.

Reviewed by Denise Covey who blogs at L’Aussie

Thursday 12 November 2009

Nine Dragons

By Michael Connelly

“Harry Bosch is back” - four words that will get a queue of fans forming outside the bookshops. But is there enough in “Nine Dragons” to draw in the new reader?

The answer is “yes”. Anyone reading this as a standalone novel, and their first introduction to the cast of Michael Connelly’s world, will find more than enough excitement and mystery to carry them through.

What starts out as almost a routine murder investigation (albeit one that throws echoes back from Harry’s earlier days) becomes complicated and deadly as the Triads get involved, Harry’s daughter’s life is placed in jeopardy, and Harry is forced to operate outside the strict boundaries of the law. Mysteries baffle, heads roll, blood flows, the plot twists back on itself like a dragon in a Chinese New Year celebration, and the end of the novel finds Bosch looking at a life that has changed considerably.

Connelly has been writing about Bosch for almost twenty years, and the character ages at the same rate as the author; the Harry of “Nine Dragons” has grown older, but perhaps little wiser, since his debut in 1992’s “The Black Echo”. In this latest novel, we see Harry as a less sympathetic character than before. His obsession with “the mission” puts him at odds with his co-workers from the outset, and the threat to his daughter magnifies his sense of purpose (and consequent disregard for the feelings of others) to the point where the reader can see him for what he is; not a knight in shining armour, but a flawed, complex human being.

The Harry-verse is populated by recurring characters and, indeed, characters who have their own separate literary existence in which Bosch may occasionally make a guest appearance. In one Connelly novel the hero even proves to be on nodding acquaintanceship with Elvis Cole, a private detective created by a completely different author. So, for the seasoned Bosch reader, there is the added delight of seeing old friends come and go. The delight for the new reader will, of course, be when they delve into the back catalogue and catch up on the back stories, as they undoubtedly will after reading “Nine Dragons”.

Reviewed by Mike Deller