The Isle of Dogs by Daniel Davies (Serpent's Tail) caught my eye when writer Clare Dudman mentioned it on her blog (more later on that one). I share a surname with the author and he's half Welsh; and I do like to support Welsh authors. The book, a work of fiction, explores today's surveillance society and the paradoxical rise of the activity of dogging. Both sets of facts had me curious. In 2006, I spent a week in Aldeburgh where there is a long rough track shoreside and to the south, near the Martello tower. On certain evenings this area would fill up with cars and I took a walk down there more than once. Everyone was tucking into the renowned local fish and chips, with the windows steaming up inside the vehicles. But I wondered if that was the endgame or a prelude to something else. Did another activity take over after dark? I did not stick around to find out.
Published in June by Cardigan-based Parthian Books, Mrs D'Silva's Detective Instincts and the Shaitan of Calcutta is an absolute delight and quite original. Both facets come from the author drawing on his own experience of a childhood in India in the 1950s, lovingly recalled in this novel. From the first page you are immediately transported to another time, place and culture in the full confidence that an accurate portrayal is delivered.
The novel opens in 1960 with a group of Anglo-Indians heading out for a picnic at the shrine of Our Lady by the Hooghly, a tributary of the Ganges. All goes well, with tensions dissipated when the all important food proves to be of the usual high standard and with the new transistor radio working a treat. All until Joan D'Silva's ten year old son Errol wanders off and returns horrified, having discovered the dead body of a young woman on the banks of the river.
Not enough that this idyllic scene is destroyed by the discovery, Calcutta itself is subject to dark undercurrents with the activities of the Workers' Revolutionary Movement of Bengal starting to have an impact. The widowed Mrs D'Silva, a teacher at Don Bosco's Catholic school then discovers that a former pupil, Anil Sen has been charged with the murder of a factory manager at a riot. Sen was a close friend of the dead woman, Agnes Lal.
Along the way Mrs D'Silva's Detective Instincts and the Shaitan of Calcutta manages to take in mystery and suspense; political corruption; cultural tensions; the changing face of India during those times; the pressures of emigration; a huge amount of food; the nature of relationships and more than one love story. It is hard not to smile many times on reading because the people are lovingly engaging, even the not well-liked ones. Here's sample from a passage on the school's sports day:
Finally they were under starter's orders and they were off. Punditji waddled with all his might, kurta flying in the air and determination on his face. He was fixed on getting somewhere, but not necessarily on the track, and he wove in and out of Mrs Shrove's path, much to her annoyance as she thundered forwards, her large breasts flying ahead of her.
Mrs D'Silva's Detective Instincts and the Shaitan of Calcutta is an absolute gem of a novel. And if that that's not enough to tempt you, the cover includes three recipes.
The author pursued a career in engineering management and is a partner with PriceWaterhouseCoopers. But he also has Welsh connection, deeper than that with his publisher. He is the founder of Project Rhosygilwen in west Wales, a Pembrokeshire-based rural arts regeneration venture. I do hope he continues with his fiction writing career and look forward to more.
Beachcombing by Maggie Dana is another one from the Macmillan New Writing stable. You could put it in the romance genre but it's more than that as it's a coming of age, in the second half of life sort of novel. Add to that some glorious humour and a pace akin to a thriller and you have a rather engaging tale, perfect for summer reading.
Jillian Hunter, now 52, did not have the happiest of childhoods with a rather distant mother. At 17, she was finding love with Colin, but he quickly disappeared for reasons unknown to his friends at the time. Jill departed to the US where she married the not too suitable Richard, had two sons, renovated a beachside cottage, divorced and set up her own business. Thirty-five years on, with her business not going too well, Colin returns into the fold of old friends and on a trip to London, Jill falls into his arms. Literally.
Continuing in the vein she so competently set with her first adult crime novel Last Rituals, Yrsa Sigurðardóttir thrills with a contemporary mystery set in her homeland of Iceland, while also paying respect to its beautiful setting and educating by again exploring its history in My Soul to Take.
Amateur sleuth, but professional lawyer Thóra Gudmundsdóttir returns with a case of commercial conveyancing gone wrong. But oh, if it were only that simple. Her client, Jonas Juliusson, for whom she had facilitated the purchase of land and a farmhouse just a year before, calls to say there is a defect with the property. Thóra, unsure whether the middle-aged man had 'always been odd or whether having money had turned him eccentric' finds herself listening to claims that the property – now a hotel and New Age health spa, specialising in alternative treatments – is haunted.