Sunday 16 December 2018

Femme bookend: Sex prisoner can't excape the past

The Big Novel

Wealthy Washington housewife Eliza Benedict has little to worry about -- her main focus is on making sure her children get to soccer practice and use adverbs appropriately, in Laura Lippman's Don't Look Back (Avon).

But in her teens Eliza was abducted by a travelling rapist, who kept her prisoner for months, almost a co-perpetrator of his crimes. Now he's due to be executed for one of his murders -- and Eliza gets a letter from him, smuggled out of prison and sent to her home.

Americans led the queasily lubricious craze for books like this, about men who kill young girls -- a craze edging towards its sell-by date -- but the rest of the world followed. Don't Look Back is cleanly written and high-concept enough for a good airport read, but part of a tired genre.

The Chicklit

Dara Flood's dad walked out two days before she was born. But now, in Finding Mr Flood by Ciara Geraghty (Hachette Ireland), Dara's sister Angel needs a kidney donor if she's to survive. So Dara hires sexily scruffy private eye Stanley Flinter, the one non-Garda in an all-cop family, to find Mr Flood. Why wouldn't they? Stanley successfully found Spinach the missing Persian cat, identified only by a Facebook mug shot.

Stanley, his dog Clouseau, Mr Flood's alcohol-sodden cousin Slither Smith, the dogs in the pound where Dara works, and a trip to Paris make the search flirty and funny.

As Stanley and Dara search for the missing father, they uncover a trail of violent 1980s moneylenders, eccentrics and Paris lovelies.

Geraghty's in form with her off-centre dialogue and heartwarming heartbreak -- a great beach read.

The big non-fiction

Those tempting bars of chocolate come from a surprising place: the Quakers of the 19th century. Chocolate Wars by Deborah Cadbury (Harper) tells the stories of those English Quaker families -- the Cadburys, Frys, Rowntrees and the rest -- how they invented the creamy treats and how they competed, and also of their competitors, the Swiss and Dutch and American chocolatiers.

Sounds dull, yes? Not! Because the Quakers weren't above a little industrial espionage, when they weren't teaching slum adults to read or doing surveys of the horrifying conditions in 19th century Birmingham. They also had an extraordinary relationship with their staff; the Cadburys tripled their women workers' wages when the firm was losing money, and built Bournville, a "factory in a garden" with three-bedroom detached houses with gardens (and a gardening teacher), gyms, swimming pools, playing fields and night schools.

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