REMEMBER ME... MELVYN BRAGG
THE flyleaf on Melvyn Bragg's latest book would have us believe that Remember Me... is a novel.
It is not. It is much, much more.
The book's dedication page, in memory of 'LR', is the first indication that things are not quite what they seem. And before much longer, two facts have become perfectly clear.
The first is that the book's central character, Joe – an earnest, unashamedly romantic former grammar-school pupil from Wigton, in Cumbria, whom we first meet busily preparing for his finals at Oxford University in the early 1960s – is clearly Bragg himself.
And the second is that Remember Me... is in reality a thinly-disguised autobiography, dealing in moving detail with some of the most emotionally-traumatic events in Bragg's life.
Bragg's story begins with Joe looking back more than 40 years to his Oxford days, to the time when he met the woman he was soon to marry.
She is called Natasha – although Bragg knew her as Lisa Roche. Lisa became Bragg's first wife, and is the 'LR' to whom his book is dedicated. But their marriage was doomed to end in tragedy.
Despite the birth of a much-loved daughter, they separated; and in 1976, Lisa committed suicide.
I very much doubt that Bragg's decision to frame such a personal story in the form of a novel made the task of writing it any easier.
However, at least it made it possible – and for that, we should be grateful. For with Remember Me... Bragg has given us possibly his finest work; a book of rare honesty and profound depths.
From its opening chapters portraying Joe's passionate and impetuous romance with Natasha, to its inevitably-tragic conclusion, it is utterly spellbinding.
I suspect Bragg underwent much soul-searching before finally making the decision to begin writing this book. And I'm sure it took considerable bravery for him to complete it.
But I'm glad he did. So will you be.
THE LAST GOSPEL
UNDERWATER archaeologist Jack Howard embarks on his third adventure in David Gibbins's latest yarn.
He's still on the look-out for his next big discovery, but a dive off the coast of Sicily sends him on a quest far bigger that even he could dare imagine.
The destruction of Pompeii, ancient Rome, the holiest site in Jerusalem – all this and more are thrown into an exuberant plot in which Howard and his sidekick Costas find themselves discovering the secret origins of Christianity.
If you think this all sounds a bit derivative, well, you'd be right. But Gibbins keeps things moving along fast enough for any such misgivings to be pushed firmly to one side. RC
The Original Highway Code
This nostalgic tome takes us quite literally down memory lane via reproductions of Highway Code booklets from the 1930s, 40s and 50s. The booklets are a fascinating illustration of changing times, from the instructions for signalling with your whip before the introduction of indicators to the appearance of traffic lights in the fifties. A fantastic gift for everyone interested in motoring.
Michael O'Mara 7.99
Review supplied by www.waterstones.com
THE WOLF SEA
THE epic, saga-like adventures of a band of Viking warriors provided an impressive debut for Robert Low, in his novel The Whale Road.
Now, in his eagerly-awaited sequel, the Oathsworn embark on another series of bloodthirsty adventures as they search for the twin essentials of wealth and warfare.
The Wolf Sea picks up the story where The Whale Road left off, with the Oathsworn definitely down on their luck and their morale sapped by battle-weariness.
They need some firm guidance; but the young Orm, who is saddled with the job, is proving a reluctant leader.
He is mourning the theft of his legendary sword, Rune Serpent, upon whose hilt is a vital runic description that only he can decipher.
The Oathsworn's mission to retrieve the sword takes them on a violent and bloody adventure that sees them travelling far from home, to Greece and Jerusalem.
It's narrated by Low with all the gritty, down-to-earth realism that breathed such life into his first novel, and shows just why historical fiction is one of today's most rapidly-growing genres. RC
HARPERCOLLINS, 12.99Something nasty in The City
PROCESSION OF THE DEAD
DB Shan is the not very well disguised alias of prolific award-winning children's author Darren Shan – but you wouldn't want your kids reading this.
Bringing his dark side well to the fore he revels in this strangely magical and mysterious but compelling and well-disguised horror story.
Quick-witted and cocksure, young upstart Capac Raimu arrives in The City determined to make his mark.
As he learns the tricks of his new trade from his Uncle Theo – extortion, racketeering, violence – he's soon well on his way to becoming a promising new gangster.
Then he crosses paths with The Cardinal...and his life (and the tone of the book) changes forever.
The Cardinal is a mystical and frightening figure who rules the City with a grip of steel and an air of fear. Nothing happens above or below ground that doesn't reach the Cardinal's ears. His rule is absolute.
But as Capac begins to discover the extent of the Cardinal's influence on his own life he is faced with hard choices.
As his ambition soars ever higher he will learn all there is to know about loss and the true cost of ultimate power. He'll even find out why the Cardinal's private office is littered with lifelike puppets.
DB Shan has scored with a well written, taut horror-mystery that grips the reader from page one. It's a can't-put-downer that suspends any hint of disbelief with the mastery of its execution.
Well worth the money.
HE KILLS COPPERS
The long-awaited follow-up to the brilliant The Long Firm caught the imagination so much it was turned into an all-star TV series.
Like the book – now re-released to cash in on the telly boom – the major three-part ITV drama is set over three decades and kicks off in the 60s when the long hot summer of World Cup euphoria is suddenly shattered by the brutal slaying of three policemen.
As viewers will know, the fates of a detective, a journalist and a villain are irrevocably bound up with this shocking event. The book is a well-written, well put-together gripping read, a real page turner.
The TV version may well be compulsive viewing, the book is far more satisfying.
Another one for the shelf, not the charity shop!