I Have a Friend and We Talk About Books*

MCIf you’re kind enough to read this blog on anything like a regular basis, you’ll know that I don’t do book reviews. I leave it to others, far better qualified than I, to do that. But I do love to talk about books. One person whom I very much wish were still here for a ‘book chat’ is the late Maxine Clarke, who was a true friend of the genre.

As a way of remembering Maxine, and of building a resource of fine crime fiction novels, Bill Selnes at Mysteries and More From Saskatchewan had a terrific idea. Each month, different crime fiction bloggers could contribute a post about a book they would recommend to Maxine. Those posts would be collected at Petrona Remembered, which is the site for great crime fiction. This is my contribution.

I believe Maxine would have been very pleased about several recent releases, as there’s been some fine crime fiction out lately. One of them is Patricia Abbott’s Concrete Angel.

Concrete Angel is the story of Eve Moran and her daughter Christine. Eve has always been driven to acquire, whether it’s Concrete Angelthings, or money, or men. She stops at absolutely nothing to get what she wants. Her daughter Christine has grown up in this dysfunctional atmosphere. Dependent on her mother, as children are, she’s been caught in Eve’s web since early childhood. At some level, she’s always known that her mother was toxic. Eve can be very persuasive, though. What’s more, Christine has not been raised with anything like a normal perspective on life, and that’s had a powerful impact on her. Their relationship is both complicated and dysfunctional, and gets more so as time goes by.

Everything changes when Christine sees a disturbing pattern begin to repeat itself. Eve starts to draw Christine’s three-year-old brother Ryan into her web, too.  Now that she’s older, Christine begins to see her life and that of her mother for what they are, and she wants to spare Ryan what she’s been through herself. Once she sees that Ryan may soon be trapped in the same unhealthy, dangerous patterns, Christine knows that she’ll have to find a way to free herself and Ryan from Eve. But that choice may cost her more than she knows.

Maxine was always interested in books that take larger issues down to the human level. And in this case, Abbott does that with the mother/child dynamic. As we follow the Morans, we see how the larger psychological questions of dependence, the parent/child bond and sibling relationships play out in this one family.

Another element in this novel that Maxine would have appreciated is the psychological suspense. Abbott builds the tension through the interactions among the characters, and through the psychology of those interactions. Maxine was never one for gory violence or gratuity, and Abbott resorts to neither as she tells the Morans’ story.

Abbott explores the complex nature of the parent/child relationship and poses the question of what happens when it becomes twisted. Maxine would, I am sure, have liked her take on it very much.

In Bitter ChillAnother book I truly wish Maxine could read is Sarah Ward’s In Bitter Chill. DI Francis Sadler and his team are called in when the body of Yvonne Jenkins is discovered at the Wilton Hotel in Bampton, Derbyshire. It looks to be a clear case of suicide, but there is one unusual thing: a link between this death and a case that has haunted the Derbyshire police since 1978. In January 1978, Sophie Jenkins and Rachel Jones were walking to school together as they usually did. But that day, only Rachel came back. No trace of Sophie, not even a body, has ever been found. Now that old case is re-opened.  With help from Superintendent Llewellyn, who remembers it well, Sadler and his team piece together what happened that day, and how it led to Yvonne Jenkins’ death. And in the process, several secrets, some of them very uncomfortable, come to the fore.

This novel takes place in the Peak District, and Ward places the reader there very clearly. Maxine would have appreciated the sense of setting and local culture in this story. The scenery, the weather and the local customs are all woven through the novel.

She would also have very much liked the way the 1978 story and the present day story are tied together. Maxine enjoyed novels where we see the impact of the past on the present; she would especially have appreciated the personal, almost intimate way in which that impact is depicted in this one. She would also have liked the focus on characters.

Maxine would also have liked the police procedural element of In Bitter Chill. The detectives involved in this case are not stereotypical demon-haunted mavericks (character types with which she had little patience). Rather, they are humans trying to do the best job they can. I’m sure Maxine would have liked that.

Both Concrete Angel and In Bitter Chill also reflect the kind of focus Maxine preferred in her stories. Neither author opted for gratuitous violence or improbable events. Both authors focus on character development. And that would have suited Maxine perfectly.

Along with that, there’s another reason Maxine would have been happy about these books. Both are written by authors Maxine knew and respected. She was always extremely supportive of authors, and I think she would have been so happy and proud to see Patti Abbott and Sarah Ward enjoy success with their novels. She’d have been there at their launches if she could.

Now you’ve read my contribution, do stop by Petrona Remembered and check some of the other great books discussed there!



*NOTE: The title of this post is a line from Everything But the Girl’s Blue Moon Rose.



Filed under Patricia Abbott, Sarah Ward

20 responses to “I Have a Friend and We Talk About Books*

  1. Margot, both of these sound like fascinating reads, the type you don’t won’t to put down because you just know something is about to happen any minute. They are truly books Maxine would have enjoyed. I think this is a wonderful way to honor her memory.

    • Thanks, Mason. I’d like to think Maxine would liked these books too. In both of them, the story unfolds in a way that really does engage the reader (at least this one) all along the way. And yes, I think Bill had a great idea for a way to remember Maxine.

  2. Great choices, Margot! I enjoyed reading Sarah’s grippiing debut and look ahead to reading Patti’s first.

  3. Good stuff. I’m looking forward to both of those.

  4. A wonderful way to honour your friend’s memory and talk about books. Beautiful, Margot.

  5. Kathy D.

    I know that Maxine would have liked In Bitter Chill. It has all of the elements of a classic mystery without gore and mounting body counts.
    And I’m sure she would have liked Concrete Angel.

  6. Col

    An interesting pair of books!

  7. tracybham

    As you know, I have read and thoroughly enjoyed Concrete Angel. I haven’t gotten a copy of In Bitter Chill yet, but am looking forward to reading that one, too.

    • Oh, Tracy, I really hope you’ll enjoy In Bitter Chill. And yes, I do remember how much you liked Concrete Angel. I am sure that Maxine would have liked both of these, too.

  8. Margot: Sorry I am late with this comment. On Saturday we had our first Selnes family reunion. I was one of the organizers and also made a 45 minute presentation on our family history in Canada, the U.S. (my grandfather and his brother came to South Dakota before Saskatchewan) and the Lofoten Islands in Norway which was where they grew up. Sharon and I had been there 3 years ago. We had a very good day.

    Thanks for your choice of these books. Maxine was willing to read books of any era but she was always looking forward to reading gifted new writers. Not for her to be content with those writers with whom she felt comfortable.

    • It sounds as though you had a wonderful time, Bill, and I’m so glad to hear that. The Selnes family has, I am sure, an interesting history, and I’ll bet your presentation was great.
      You’re right about Maxine. As you say, she was always especially pleased to read the work of new-to-her authors. I think she would really have enjoyed these novels.

  9. Lovely post, Margot, and I agree with you and lots of the commenters above that In Bitter Chill was excellent! I’ve yet to get to Concrete Angel.

  10. What a wonderful way to memorialize someone. I’m sure she’s smiling in heaven.

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