The Walter Scott Prize for Historical Fiction 2019: Who Will Win?

WalterScottPrizeThe shortlist for the tenth Walter Scott Prize for Historical Fiction was announced on 2nd April 2019 and the winner will be crowned on Saturday 15th June at the Borders Book Festival. I was hoping to read all the books on the shortlist before the winner is announced but in the end I’ve only managed five of the six.  I’ve also still to write full reviews of all the books I did read however you can find brief thoughts on the shortlisted books – and my prediction for the winner – below.

Click on the title to view the book description on Goodreads or my review.

WalterScottPrize 2019 Shortlist

A Long Way From Home by Peter Carey (Faber)

The author uses the Redex Trial, a car race around 1950s Australia, as the vehicle (excuse the pun) for several different story lines: the dissection of the marriage of Irene and ‘Titch’ Bobs; the gradual unearthing by their navigator, Willie Bachhuber, of who he really is; and and insight into the appalling history of the treatment of the aborigines and their culture.  For me, the parts involving Willie and his journey of discovery were more compelling than either the events of the race or the relationship between the Bobs.

After The Party by Cressida Connolly (Viking)

This book is the only one I had read and reviewed before it appeared on the longlist.  What I liked about the book was the way it explores the changing dynamics of the relationship between sisters Phyllis, Nina and Patricia and their different characters. I also liked the imaginative descriptions and quirky similes.  However, overall I was left with a slight sense of disappointment; the feeling that the book was less than the sum of its parts.  I’ll confess I was quite surprised to see it on the longlist and even more surprised it made the shortlist. This probably means it will end up winning!

The Western Wind  by Samantha Harvey (Jonathan Cape)

Set in a small village in 1491, the book’s narrator is the priest John Reve.  As he hears the confessions of his parishioners, the reader learns both about life in the village and the mystery surrounding the disappearance of one of its wealthiest inhabitants.  The most intriguing aspect of the book is that the story unfolds in reverse.  Although I found a lot to enjoy and admire about the book, I didn’t find the eventual reveal completely satisfying.

Now We Shall Be Entirely Free by Andrew Miller (Sceptre)

This is the only book on the shortlist that I’ve yet to read so my comments are based purely on reviews by others whose opinion I respect.  In her review, Helen at She Reads Novels described it as ‘a beautifully written novel’ although she found one or two aspects of the plot ‘unconvincing’ and would have liked ‘a much stronger sense of place’. Margaret at Books Please was drawn in immediately by the opening chapters but what really made the book ‘remarkable’ for her, she says, is ‘Miller’s ability to write in such a lyrical style, to convey emotions and create such complex characters that are so believable’.  I think I’m likely to enjoy this one when I get round to reading it.

Warlight by Michael Ondaatje (Jonathan Cape)

This is probably my favourite of all the books on the shortlist, although that doesn’t necessarily mean I think it will win. With its striking opening line – ‘In 1945 our parents went away and left us in the care of two men who may have been criminals’ – quirky characters (such as The Moth and The Darter) and depiction of a shadowy post-war London, the first part of the book which charts the experiences of Nathaniel and, to a lesser extent, that of his sister following the departure of their parents was the most compelling for me.  The later parts in which Nathaniel sets out to discover the secrets of his mother’s past had a few too many convenient coincidences for me.  However, as you would expect from an author of Ondaatje’s calibre, the book is beautifully written.

The Long Take by Robin Robertson  (Picador)

Written in prose/verse, I found this account of a Canadian war veteran’s journey through the streets of Los Angeles, San Francisco and New York mesmerising, haunting and atmospheric.  If, like me, you are a little daunted by the idea of its unusual narrative structure, I can highly recommend the audiobook version narrated by Kerry Shale.  I thought his narration was outstanding and really brought the poetic quality of the book to life.  Given the judges in recent years seem to have been drawn to books with distinctive narrators (Days Without End by Sebastian Barry in 2017 and The Gallows Pole by Benjamin Myers in 2018) and have described The Long Take as a book that ‘defies conventional literary boundaries’ and a ‘wholly original work of writing’, this is my prediction for the winner.

Am I right?  We’ll find out on Saturday afternoon…   If you’ve read any of the shortlisted books, what are your thoughts? 


Blog Tour/Book Review: The Playground Murders by Lesley Thomson



I’m delighted to be hosting today’s stop on the blog tour for The Playground Murders by Lesley Thomson. Described by Ian Rankin (no less) as ‘A class above’, The Playground Murders is the seventh in the author’s ‘The Detective’s Daughter’ crime series.

My thanks to Vicky at Head of Zeus for inviting me to take part in the tour and for my review copy.

The Playground MurdersAbout the Book

Forty years ago, in the dark of the playground, two children’s lives were changed forever.

Stella Darnell is a cleaner. But when she isn’t tackling dust and dirt and restoring order to chaos, Stella solves murders. Her latest case concerns a man convicted of killing his mistress. His daughter thinks he’s innocent, and needs Stella to prove it.

As Stella sifts through piles of evidence and interview suspects, she discovers a link between the recent murder and a famous case from forty years ago: the shocking death of six-year-old Sarah Ferris, killed in the shadows of an empty playground.

Stella knows that dredging up the past can be dangerous. But as she pieces together the tragedy of what happened to Sarah, she is drawn into a story of jealousy, betrayal and the end of innocence. A story that has not yet reached its end…

Format: Hardcover (384 pp.)    Publisher: Head of Zeus
Published: 4th April 2019   Genre: Crime, Mystery

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Find The Playground Murders on Goodreads

My Review

Switching back and forth in time from the present day to 1980 (always clearly signposted), the reader is soon immersed in the uncanny connections between people, places and events. The connections are especially personal for Stella because of her links to those involved in investigating the original murder at a pivotal moment in her childhood. To this day there is a fascination about child murders that makes them compelling (albeit possibly uncomfortably so) as subject matter for a crime novel.

Cleaner, Stella, and underground train driver, Jack, make an interesting partnership both as detectives engaged in solving cold cases and in their out of office hours activities. Stella has the eye for detail of a cleaner and the strong stomach needed at a crime scene. Jack is blessed with a photographic memory and a ‘sixth sense’ when it comes to spotting murderers and psychopaths (whom he refers to as ‘True Hosts’ and to whom he ascribes particular psychological traits and powers). As Stella admits, ‘Jack saw what others missed, what she missed.’ I’ll confess this ‘paranormal’ element took me slightly by surprise in what is otherwise a conventional crime mystery.

Coming new to the series, I did miss having witnessed the development of Jack’s and Stella’s relationship over previous books. In fact, The Playground Murders sees them at a particularly fractious point in their relationship with past liaisons resulting in mistrust, misunderstandings and big decisions about their future. I was soon rooting for them to work things out however. There are references to events in earlier books but not so much that it would deter me from reading previous books in the series. Equally, The Playground Murders works perfectly well as a standalone novel.

As Stella’s and Jack’s investigation progresses, things get very close to home for both of them. There are multiple suspects, possible scenarios and motives. Because of the number of characters, some of whom are known by different names at various points in the book, some concentration is required from the reader. Well, at least it was from this one. I did have suspicions about one particular character early on although I certainly didn’t predict how events would unfold as the tension builds to a dramatic climax.

Having read The Playground Murders, I can appreciate why ‘The Detective’s Daughter’ series has attracted so many fans amongst crime fiction lovers. They may be reassured by the fact that there still seem to be some unopened case files belonging to her father in Stella’s attic.

I received a review copy courtesy of publishers, Head of Zeus. The Playground Murders is the second book on my 20 Books of Summer Reading Challenge list.

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In three words: Compelling, intricate, atmospheric

Try something similar…The Temptation by Vera Morris (read my review here)

Lesley Thomson NewAbout the Author

Lesley Thomson grew up in west London. Her first novel, A Kind of Vanishing, won the People’s Book Prize in 2010. Her second novel, The Detective’s Daughter, was a number 1 bestseller and sold over 500,000 copies.

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