Review: Chris Womersley – Cairo

9781848663916It’s funny how writers can creep up on you. If you’d asked me to compile a list of my ‘must read’ authors, I doubt I’d have thought of Chris Womersley. And yet the minute I received his latest book to appear in the UK, Cairo, I couldn’t wait to read it. Womersley’s Bereft was one of my favourite books of 2012 and a wonderful exploration of the effects of a miscarriage of justice on a man. His The Low Road was a little bleak for my tastes but still a compelling read. Now, in a book that shows Womersley’s versatility as a writer, we get a different insight into Australian life: the world of bohemian Melbourne in the 1980s.

Tom’s aunt dies and he persuades his parents that he is ideally suited to take over the occupancy of her old apartment while attending Melbourne University. But in his first few weeks as tenant in the Cairo apartment block, he encounters the bohemian Max Cheever and his beautiful wife, Sally. He is sucked into their plans to steal a renowned picture in the city’s art gallery. However as the boundaries between what is real and fake begin to blur, Tom realises he may be part of a grander scheme of deception.

Womersely’s writing is exquisite to read. There’s a poetic quality to the prose that allows you to enter the world of smoke and mirrors created by the central characters. There’s also a timelessness about the writing which means that the action is sometimes hard to place. Womersely mitigates this by referring to seminal events and personalities from the 1980s, for example the explosion of the Challenger space shuttle. I found this jarred sometimes – did I really want to read about Madonna in this small world that the writer had created?

It only just makes it into the category of crime novel – a killing happens towards the end of the book although there is a strong sense of impending catastrophe throughout the novel. Womersely is adept in layering his writing with various deceptions and it is the blurring of fake and real that makes this book such a compelling read. Tom’s naivety is completely believable and the reader is always slightly ahead of the protagonist in judging what might befall him. It reminded me a little of the early twentieth century crime novels that I loved as a teenager. It was a delight to read.

Thanks to Quercus for my review copy.

The best of February’s reading.

February can be summed up as quality not quantity when it came to crime fiction reading. After a glut of Scandinavian crime fiction in December and January it was great to read some excellent books by British writers including Elly Griffiths and R J Ellory.

However, my book of the month is a tie between Stav Sherez’s A Dark Redemption and Peter May’s The Black House. I loved Sherez’s book because it cleverly combined the horror of modern day demonic crime in London with the political violence of East African insurgent groups. I’m already looking forward to the next in the series. Peter May’s book, the first of a trilogy, created some memorable characters to the backdrop of the picturesque Isle of Lewis. Again it should make a great series.

The 8 books I read for crimepieces were:

1. City of the Dead by Sara Gran

2. A Simple Act of Violence by R J Ellory

3. Bereft by Chris Womersley

4. A Dark Redemption by Stav Sherez

5. Skin and Bone by Kathryn Fox

6. The Black House by Peter May

7. The Crossing Places by Elly Griffiths

8. Tom-All-Alone’s by Lynn Shepherd

February was also marked by a cold snap across Eastern Europe including Greece. The picture is the view from my balcony in Athens. Meagre by British standards I appreciate but Greek houses are not insulated….

Kerrie over at Mysteries in Paradise is hosting a meme summarizing the crime fiction recommendations for February 2012.