Book of the Month:
The Paying Guests by Sarah Waters (£20, Virago, 28th)
Latest from the author who has achieved the holy grail of vast sales and huge critical acclaim (twice shortlisted for the Man Booker) – plus four novels adapted for television. After three Victorian novels (Affinity, Tipping the Velvet, Fingersmith) and two set in the 1940s (The Little Stranger, The Night Watch) Waters now turns to the 1920s, and a villa in the genteel surrounds of Champion Hill, Camberwell, where 26-year-old spinster Frances and widowed mother must take in lodgers to make ends meet. Modern couple Lillian and Len Barber, of the “clerk” class, will shake things up in a way no one could ever have predicted. I’ll stop there for fear of spoilers but this is a totally absorbing story from a novelist at the top of her game.
The Fair Fight by Anna Freeman (£12.99, Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 28th)
Rollicking historical debut set in 18th-century Bristol in the world of female prize fighters and their patrons. Ruth is the neglected but hardy daughter of a brothel madam who discovers her talent for fighting when she is only 10-years-old. Soon she is fighting for money and her flair for boxing on stage brings her to the attention of Mr Granville Dryer. This truly bears comparison with Michel Faber’s The Crimson Petal and the White as first-time author Freeman (a performance poet who has appeared at Latitude and Glastonbury) brings the 18th century to throbbing life, in an immersive novel rich with extraordinary characters and a cracking plot.
The Secret Place by Tana French (£14.99, Hodder, 28th)
In Dublin detective Stephen Moran works on cold cases. One year after a boy was found murdered in the grounds of an exclusive girls’ boarding school – with no one arrested for the crime – a 16-year-old girl turns up at the police station with a clue. A photograph of the boy that is pinned to the “Secret Place” – a school noticeboard where girls can reveal secrets – with the words “I know who killed him” below. This could be Moran’s chance to move to the Murder Squad if he can only unravel the twisted loyalties and passions of two groups of rival teenage girls at the school. A real page-turner and Hodder is aiming for the top.
Dear Daughter by Elizabeth Little (£12.99, Harvill Secker, 7th)
Surprisingly commercial crime debut for the literary imprint but this is a terrific page-turner narrated by the fabulously bitchy LA brat Janie Jenkins, newly released from prison after serving 10 years for murdering her socialite mother. She’s out on a technicality and determined to solve the mystery of her mother’s last words – a search that will take her to the heart of the Midwest using just her wits while hiding from the press. Janie’s voice is hilarious and her narrative is punctuated with tabloid stories, Wikipedia entries and posts from a vengeful crime blogger. Finally, a thriller that deserves the tag “the new Gone Girl”.
The Vanishing Witch by Karen Maitland (£12.99, Headline Review, 14th)
Maitland (Company of Liars, The Owl Killers) moves from Penguin to Headline with this dark tale of treachery and superstition set against the backdrop of the Peasants’ Revolt. In Lincoln, wealthy cloth merchant Robert of Bassingham encounters a beautiful and attentive widow, the Mistress Catlin. Then his wife Edith starts to sicken. Meanwhile, the peasants of Lincoln are being taxed beyond endurance, violence is brewing and then the mysterious deaths start…
Man at the Helm by Nina Stibbe (£14.99, Viking, 28th)
Follow-up to Stibbe’s hugely acclaimed memoir Love Nina which has sold 29, 567 [as of 2nd May] in all formats and was chosen as a 2013 “Book of the Year” no less than 12 times. This is the story of nine-year-old Lizzie Vogel who, after her parents’ marriage implodes, is forced to leave the city and move to the countryside with her mother and two siblings. This being 1970s Leicestershire a 31-year-old new divorcee is viewed with suspicion by the villagers. As their mother develops an interest in drinking and writing plays the children decide to take matters into their own hands to find a new man for their mum. The first step is to write a list of eligible men, and then invite them over for a drink…