First thoughts

This week's reviews in brief

The Orchard Of Lost Souls

Nadifa Mohamed

Simon and Schuster, €18.75; ebook €18.99

Review: Catherine Small

It is 1988 and Somalia is on the brink of revolution. Its descent into civil war is seen through the eyes of two women and a child.

Nine-year-old orphan Deqo has escaped from a refugee camp, lured to the city by the promise of a pair of shoes. World-weary Kawsar, a widow, is house-bound and bed-ridden after a beating at the police station. Ambitious young soldier Filsan has moved from Mogadishu to suppress the rebellion, and is struggling to be accepted as an equal by her male comrades. As the military dictatorship unravels, the lives of these three women become irrevocably entwined.

The Orchard of Lost Souls is a heart-breaking portrayal of conflict and a shocking reminder of the human cost of war. But it is also a tale of compassion and hope. Deqo, Kawsar and Filsan are tested physically and psychologically but, by pulling together, they might just survive.

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Straight White Male

John Niven

William Heinemann, €18.75;ebook, €17.99

Review: Andy Welch

Kennedy Marr is an author, Hollywood scriptwriter, womaniser, alcoholic and, through much of Straight White Male, a self-centred, altogether terrible human being.

Yet somehow, largely due to the tack-sharp dialogue and enviable turn of phrase put in his mouth by John Niven, he’s hugely loveable — a tragic figure with the soul of a tortured poet.

This is Niven’s sixth novel and, as with his breakthrough Kill Your Friends, loosely inspired by his time working at a London record label, Straight White Male is at its best when he really lets rip. He, and in turn the central character Kennedy, never pulls a punch, making his lead character say the unsayable and do the wrong thing.

When the prose really leaps off the page, though, is when Kennedy puts aside his caustic barroom brawler persona to reveal his sensitive, WB Yeats-quoting side. It’s a stark contrast to some of the wild hedonism, but it serves to make him believable.

It’s not for the faint of heart, but man, what a yarn.

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Precious Thing

Colette McBeth

Headline Review, €15.99; ebook, €10.99

Review: Lauren Turner

Rachel Walsh finds her world turned upside down when what starts as a routine day as a television news reporter — author McBeth’s former career — suddenly finds her getting much too close to the story.

Telling the nation about a missing Brighton artist, she doesn’t let on that Clara — the young woman in question — is her best friend. Or is she?

Rachel gives her version of events in what takes on a nightmarish quality as her partner and work colleagues also become tangled in a deadly web of lies and deceit. As she describes the story of her and Clara from their first meeting at school, it becomes clear that Rachel is not quite giving the whole truth.

McBeth keeps the suspense levels high in this gripping page-turner, but it is frustrating having a narrator who seems untrustworthy and, for the most part, unlikeable. A promising debut that will make you think.

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The Bone Season

Samantha Shannon

Bloomsbury, €13.99; ebook, €13.16

Review: Rachael Dunn

Big things are expected for this debut novel from 21-year-old Samantha Shannon. It’s the first in a series of seven planned books. Bloomsbury has paid £100,000 for the first novel, rights have been sold in 20 countries and actor Andy Serkis’s company, The Imaginarium, have bought the film rights.

Set in 2059, in an England quite different from the one we are familiar with, the book’s heroine, Paige Mahoney, is a clairvoyant, employed within the underworld of Scion London to break into people’s minds.That is, until she is attacked and transported to a secret city.

With echoes of Suzanne Collins’ The Hunger Games and Trudi Canavan’s Black Magician trilogy, this is an excellent debut that will keep the reader gripped all the way to the end — and leave them asking when book two will be released.

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