Book Review: Left Neglected by Lisa Genova

left neglected

Still Alice author Lisa Genova tackles another complicated medical condition in her latest offering: Left Neglected.

Left Neglected tells the story of Sarah Nickerson. Married with two young children, Sarah lives a hectic and demanding life, her job involving long hours, little time at home and reliance on a nanny for her children. Even when she is at home, Sarah’s time with her kids and husband is squeezed in between constant emailing and telephone calls, her position as primary wage earner enabling her family to keep up the two-house lifestyle to which they have become accustomed.

When Sarah suffers a devastating car accident, however, her life changes drastically. Waking up in hospital, she feels lucky to be alive and, determined to go back to work as soon as possible, she sets out to do everything she can to get better. What Sarah doesn’t realise immediately, though, is that her accident has left her with a life-changing condition: Left Neglect. Although not paralysed, she now has no awareness of the left side of her body. The left side of the room, anybody standing on her left, the left page of a book, for Sarah, simply don’t exist. Look left, scan left, go left becomes her mantra.

Having once managed her life as if it were a military operation, Sarah now must accept help for the first time: from her husband Bob, the staff of the hospital where she is recuperating and, even, her mother, with whom she has always had a difficult relationship.

What I liked most about this book is its realism. Sarah’s accident doesn’t immediately pull her up short. She continues to want to go back to work, is adamant that she will get her life back on track and, although positive (no spoilers here!), the ending of the book is not miraculous or sickly-sweet. The characters are all 3-dimensional and, like all of us, have their flaws, which makes it much easier to identify with them. Will Sarah get back to the job she so loved? Or will her condition change her life in more ways than she realises?

Left Neglected is available to buy now

 

Book Review: Who Killed Constable Cock? by Angela Buckley

constable cock

In the early hours of 1st August 1876, Police Constable Nicholas Cock was shot and killed as he patrolled his usual beat in the quiet area of Chorlton-cum-Hardy, Manchester. The fascinating series of events that followed the young constable’s murder form the second in historian Angela Buckley’s Victorian Supersleuth series: Who Killed Constable Cock?

Although only 21-years-old, Constable Cock had made some enemies during his time serving the Manchester community. As a result, Superintendent James Brent, leading the investigation, was convinced that the perpetrators of the crime were a group of Irish immigrant brothers, the Habrons, who had been heard to make threats against the policeman. Soon arrested, the brothers were brought to trial, with various witnesses giving surprisingly different  accounts of what happened in the days leading to the crime and of the shooting itself. Who was the strange man seen lurking nearby? What was the strange noise heard by residents of the area? Why were William Habron’s boots muddy on a dry day? Despite the presence of several witnesses at the time of the shooting, including student John Massey Simpson and Cock’s colleague PC Beanland, witness statements could not have been more varied. After the trial concluded, the mystery of what happened to PC Cock appeared to have been solved but when, many years later, a notorious criminal confessed his involvement, it seemed that this crime was not so clear cut after all. Did Superintendent Brent help convict an innocent man?

This book also gives a fascinating account of the origins of the forensic and investigative methods that are so familiar in policing today. For example, the use of footprints, and the casting of them in plaster of Paris, was pioneered in the early 1800s by French ex-convict and police informer, Eugène Vidocq. The technique was later refined by physician and criminologist Alexandre Lacassagne, who even began to make casts in the snow by using salt. Vidocq was also responsible for the first uses of mugshots to keep records of arrested criminals.

Who Killed Constable Cock? is a fascinating and meticulously detailed account of a Victorian-era crime, the impacts of which spread far and wide and stretched over a period of many years.

The book is available to buy now.

To find out more about Angela Buckley’s work as a Victorian Supersleuth, visit her Facebook page.

Book Review: Six Stories by Matt Wesolowski

six stories

In 1996, 15-year-old Tom Jeffries goes missing while on an outreach expedition to Scarclaw Fell. His mutilated body is found the following year by the son of the land’s owner. Twenty years later, no-one has been brought to account for the seeming crime and Tom’s story becomes the subject of a series of podcasts by renowned journalist Scott King, who likes to investigate so-called ‘cold’ cases. Interviewing the members of the Rangers group with whom Tom visited the fell, King sets out to get a clearer picture of the events that led to the tragic death of the teen.

Wesolowski’s book is no straightforward crime novel; it is a psychological thriller, Gothic novel, series of podcasts and an in-depth exploration of the motives behind human behaviour all rolled into one. Structured as six interviews with Tom Jeffries’ friends and acquaintances, the novel explores their different perspectives on the events leading up to Tom’s disappearance, each ‘story’ giving the plot another subtle twist. While each take on what might have happened to Tom is different, each podcast gives the reader another set of clues. Thus, Wesolowski successfully builds a bigger picture that enables the reader to ‘see around’ the characters’ limited viewpoints. Are Tom’s friends telling the truth? Or is there more to what happened than they are revealing?

With folkloric tales of terrifying creatures on the fell, Wesolowski also dips into the supernatural in this novel. Indeed, his atmospheric and highly detailed descriptions of the novel’s setting carry a strong link to 19th century Gothic literature. The contemporary structure of the book, however, most certainly gives Six Stories a modern twist, ensuring its appeal to the 21st century reader. If you are a fan of podcasts, particularly the seemingly much revered Serial, then this book is for you. If you are not a podcast fanatic (as I’m not) then the traditional murder-mystery aspect of the novel is still very much likely to appeal. In other words, Six Stories has something for everyone.

Six Stories is published by Orenda Books and is available to buy now.

Book Review: The Mask of Sanity by Jacob M Appel

mask of sanity

Dr Jeremy Balint appears to have it all. A successful and highly respected cardiologist, he has a professional reputation envied by many, is a supportive husband, doting father and model son. When his personal life and idyllic family set up are threatened, however, Balint’s Mr Hyde soon comes to the fore, the doctor making it clear that a sociopathic, and murderous, alter-ego is lurking beneath the suburban façade.

In this modern day, middle class version of Jim Thompson’s The Killer Inside Me, the reader joins Balint as he explores the darker side of his own character. Discovering his wife is having an affair with one of his colleagues, Balint sets out to kill his rival. However, in order to do this without detection, the doctor determines that a series of killings are his only option. Thus begins the calm and calculated killing spree of the so-called ‘Emerald Choker’, carried out, mostly, without regret or remorse.

Keeping us closely tied to the mind of his protagonist at all times, Jacob M Appel invites the reader to spectate as Balint attempts to save his family, his personal life, rather ironically, beginning to slowly unravel whilst he is busy killing people. While his behaviour is often unforgiveable, the reader, I suspect, in most cases, is very much on Balint’s side. Although this learn-on-the-job killer seems to, somewhat unrealistically at times, very much pull the wool over the eyes of the authorities, his colleagues and his loved ones, that is exactly what we want him to do. Whilst we know he should be held accountable for these awful crimes, it’s actually the last thing we are hoping will happen.

The title of the novel says it all: Dr Jeremy Balint does indeed wear the Mask of Sanity and he wears it well. Is he discovered? That is for the potential reader to find out, and to hope for or against. There seem to be differing opinions about the ending of this book, with some readers not liking Appel’s decision to leave the interpretation to the reader and other fans hoping the last line might lead to a sequel. For me, however, the unexpected twist that the end of Jeremy Balint’s story brings is perfect just as it stands, even if it did start my mind racing….

The Mask of Sanity is published by Permanent Press and is available to buy now.