As any voracious reader knows, there are so many books out there, it can be hard to choose just what to read next. So what could be better than a hand-picked recommendation from someone in the know? Every Wednesday the XOXOAD team likes to find out what some of its favorite authors are reading. This week, we’ve asked Kate Mayfield, author of the Southern memoir The Undertaker’s Daughter, what she’s got on her TBR list.
Little towers of historical fiction and non-fiction books teeter on my shelves and desk and are creating collision courses on the floor. The research for my next book seems unending. But as a result I’ve read several outstanding books recently.
Devastation Road by Jason Hewitt is a compelling and immersive story about a young British man who wakes hurt and without his memory in a foreign field in the last days of World War II. Accompanied by a young Czech who speaks no English, and eventually, a Polish woman and her baby, their survival and journey to safety in what is still a dangerous world is utterly captivating. Powerfully told, beautifully written, this story has a gigantic heart at its center.
I’ve always been fascinated with a remnant of a prison wall near London’s mighty Thames, which is all that remains of the Marshalsea debtor’s prison. It was made world famous by Dickens’ Little Dorrit and by his own sad history when his father was imprisoned within it. The Devil in the Marshalsea by Antonia Hodgson transports us to the first, original Marshalsea before it was rebuilt only 130 yards south on the same street. There’s been a murder inside the Marshalsea and as the imprisoned protagonist tries his best to solve the crime, it is the prison itself that throbs with miserable life throughout the book. The author has filled the wretched place with glorious characters that we love and hate, who evoke our sympathies and curiosity and keep us turning the pages to the astonishing end.
If you like the satisfaction of a good series here are two excellent choices. The first is from the award-winning author Mari Hanna whose detective series set in northern England has been picked up by Stephen Fry’s production company. Can’t wait to see detective Kate Daniels on the screen. The first in the series is The Murder Wall. It’s atmospheric and smart with terrific plotting. A thrilling read.
Another series answers this question: What did the former sidekick of Sherlock Holmes do after he parted ways with the great detective? Dead Man’s Land has Watson on the case of a serial killer in the British trenches of Flanders Fields and the climax is as satisfying as the premise. Author Robert Ryan brilliantly places Dr. John Watson with the wounded and dying of World War I, and it ain’t pretty. Fully endorsed by the Conan Doyle estate this crime mystery is incredibly rich with detail and is a genuinely fascinating read.
I rarely have time to re-read books, but I have again dipped into the dark and visceral novel Savage Magic by Lloyd Shepherd. Madness, witches, whores, graveyards, a secret society, a sinister country house – all convincingly set within the Georgian era. I re-visit the passages that remind me of what it is to write with one hand that is sensitive and specific with detail and compassion, and the other hand that writes in a fist of brutality and truth. Splendid and entertaining stuff.
For amazing historical true crime you can do no better than Mr. Briggs’ Hat and Did She Do It? both by Kate Colquhoun. Meticulous research combined with breathtaking narratives, these true Victorian crime stories are edge of your seat reading.
Lastly, I have just begun Our Endless Numbered Days by Claire Fuller and am instantly intrigued to know where this novel is heading. It’s haunting and beautiful and there is such a sense of dread that I forget to breathe.