Book Review: The Piper’s Dance by Maxim Jakubowski

I’ve always loved the story of the Pied Piper of Hamelin. My mother had a book of verse which included Robert Browning’s poem on the story and the bit I loved best was the casual reference to a strange tribe who may or may not have been descended from the lost residents. For this is the question that most intrigues us. What happened to the children?

Maxim Jakubowski’s latest book, The Piper’s Dance, begins with an intriguing premise. That the piper took the children to an island where they’ve resided for centuries, some getting older while others stay young. This section of the novel has a wonderful dream-like state to it which reminded me a little of Susanna Clarke’s Piranesi. The lost children are happy but suspended in time in this strange nether-world of beautiful sunsets.

Two of the now adult children, Tristan and Katerina, discover a golden pipe and use it to flee the island and the clutches of the piper, who has been paying intermittent visits to the community. They arrive in contemporary Germany where they’re forced to make hard decisions to survive, eventually ending up in Paris. This shifts the tone of the book from its dreamlike state to a blend of fantasy and dystopian realism (this novel does defy categorisation). The piper, however, has not forgotten his lost charges and his re-arrival forces the hand of each character.

Although not a crime novel, the piper is the villain of the book. He shares many of the characteristics of the devil, forcing the characters to make unpleasant choices to survive. But Katerina and Tristan are not without their own resources and you fund yourself rooting for them as they continue to dance, or not, to the piper’s tune. To say any more would give the plot away but there’s plenty here for lovers of fantasy and dystopian novels to enjoy. It’s always good to read a book that defies categorisation and which lets the author’s imagination run riot. It’s a testament to Jakubowski’s storytelling skills that I picked up the book intending to read a few chapters that evening and raced through it. I loved it.

Book Review: Running Out of Road by Cath Staincliffe

It’s always good to read a new novel set in the Peak District especially one written by one of my favourite crime writers. There’s so much wonderful landscape to choose from in the Derbyshire Peaks but Satincliffe never lets it get in the way of a good plot.

Scarlett is abducted after school by her estranged father, the violent Gregory Martin, and her kidnapping brings back terrifying memories for the young girl. They meet 17 year-old Dylan, county lines drug dealer whose life is spiralling out of control following death of addict Petey. Ron is a retired detective looking after a property while the owners are away. It should the last place where trouble is brought to him. While the hunt is on for Scarlett, the investigation led by DS Laura O’Neill, takes dramatic twists and turns. The lives and investigations into both crimes involving both Gregory and Dylan intersect in a dramatic and tense way as the Peak District experiences a bout of atrocious weather.

I love how Staincliffe cleverly entwines the various plot strands without forgetting about the personal dramas of each character. She excels at showing what the impact of a crime has on everyone involved – the victim’s family, the community, the investigative team, and even the criminal. She’s very good at detective duos. The police characters are never composite sketches but well drawn and interesting characters. I loved both detectives including PC Ahmed Ali. The Peak District comes to life – it always makes a great plot setting but the author has really nailed the bleak atmosphere.

I always look forward to the next Staincliffe and each book just gets better and better.