This week, I’m reading two clever crime novels set in England. One, published this month, is set in London and runs on two timelines, 1791 and the present day. The other is a sequel to one of my favourite Young Adult books of 2019.
I’m hoping for a relaxing week filled with clever ideas and strong female characters.
‘The Lost Apothecary’ by Sarah Penner (2021)
Sarah Penner must have great marketing skills. ‘The Lost Apothecary’ has been heavily hyped everywhere as a ‘must read’ book, which would normally make me stand back and wait for the dust to settle, especially when it’s a debut novel that’s being promoted. It can feel like the publisher is pushing to get as many sales as possible before word-of-mouth kills the book.
I’m making an exception for ‘The Lost Apothecary’ because I find the premise so intriguing. I want to know why the apothecary is helping other women to murder men and why she insists on keeping a record of it and what goes wrong with her system.
If the activities of the eighteenth-century apothecary had been the only storyline, I’d probably still have bought the book but, as seems to be the current fashion, there is a second storyline, connecting our eighteenth-century apothecary to a modern woman who, after ten years of marriage, is dissatisfied with her life and unhappy with her unfaithful husband. This is a risky strategy but one that could greatly increase my engagement with the story, expand its relevance and heighten its symbolism. In ‘The Weight Of Ink’, I thought this worked well. In ‘The Sun Down Motel’, the modern storyline was significantly weaker than the historical one. I’m curious to see what balance Sarah Penner strikes.
Each storyline is written in the first-person from the point of view of the main character. This gives two challenges, sustaining the first-person perspective for two stories of about 150 pages each while keeping the story lively and providing each storyline with a distinctive voice.
I’m hoping the book lives up to the hype and that I get an exciting story that also explores some challenging ideas.
‘Good Girl, Bad Blood’ by Holly Jackson (2020)
I really enjoyed Holly Jackson’s debut novel, ‘A Good Girl’s Guide To Murder’ when I read it in 2019. It was a book that I looked forward to getting back to whenever I had to set it aside for a while. It did contemporary England well and the main character, Pippa, was easy to believe in. The mystery kept me guessing right up to the end and Holly Jackson also managed to some interesting, non-pretentious things with form.
‘Good Girl, Bad Blood’, a sequel that was published in 2020, promises to be just as good. The story continues straight on from the previous book and has Pip trying to get the real story (apart from the bits she lied about) out to the world by making a series of podcasts. Holly Jackson continues to play with form by having some chapters in a podcast format.
I’m hoping for a book where Pip grows up a bit but doesn’t change too much, where the mystery is as complex and compelling as in the first book and where all I have to do is to settle in for an entertaining read.