Tag Archives: novella

Review: The Drop by Mick Herron

The DropThe sixth Jackson Lamb thriller, Joe Country by Mick Herron, is hitting our bookshelves. The Drop is a novella in the series that only a few months ago introduced a new character into the cast of Regent Park’s drop-outs whiling away the time as “slow horses” in Slough House, where Jackson Lamb rules supreme. Whereas most of them arrive on Lamb’s doorstep after a major screw up in the field, the new addition ends up in the dubious care of the obnoxious Cold War spy through a set of weird coincidences. His fate is sealed after Solomon Dortmund, an old spook, observes an envelope changing hands in a way that stirs all the retired spy’s hard-wired intuitions into action.

“A drop, in spook parlance, is the passing on of secret information. It’s also what happens just before you hit the ground”, the novella’s blurb tells us. What it does not give away is that sometimes it is information which is planted without your awareness that can have the direst consequences for your future. Slough House is a dead end for most.

Before you turn to Joe Country, treat yourself to The Drop, a slim gem that you can devour in one sitting. Herron is the best thing to happen to the spy thriller genre since Graham Greene. Each book in the series can be read independently, but once you start on any of them, you will want to read them all. Characters, plots, crisp writing and especially the humour are irresistible; I’m totally hooked.

The Drop

by Mick Herron

John Murray, 2018

Review first appeared in the Cape Times on 19 July 2019.

Review: Cove by Cynan Jones

coveI was born in Poland, but as a student I used to live in Wales. About two years ago, I read a glowing review of Everything I Found on the Beach by the young Welsh writer Cynan Jones. The reviewer mentioned that the novel featured a Polish character. A Welsh novel with a Polish character was an irresistible combination for a reader with my literary background. I ordered and devoured it, and since then I have read every other novel or novella I could get hold of by the same author: The Long Dry, The Dig, and the latest, Cove.

Cynan Jones has become one of my favourite writers and I await each new book of his with fervent anticipation. I have never been disappointed. His work offers two elements which I find most exciting in literature: the ability to lay bare the intricate landscapes of the human heart and soul, and a prose powerful enough to match what is revealed: the brutality and beauty of our existence. Jones is constantly being compared with the greats of modern literature – rightly so. But his voice is distinct, unforgettable.

Cove opens on a beach. A child is missing. A doll is washed up by the tide. And a dead pigeon is found: “The head was gone, the meat of its chest. The breast-bone oddly, industriously clean.” The man who finds it feels a sense of horror that the bird “knew before being struck. Of it trying to get home. Of something throwing it off course.” He removes the rings from its leg to return them to the owner who will be wondering about its fate.

As the epigraph explains, a cove can be “a small bay or inlet; a sheltered place” or “a fellow; a man”. Cove tells the story of a man who finds himself adrift in a kayak after he is struck by lightning. His recollections of how he got there and who he is are vague. He is injured, covered in ashes: the remains of someone who will definitely not return. The shore seems unreachable, but intuitively he knows that someone is waiting for him to come back: “The idea of her, whoever she might be, seemed to grow into a point on the horizon he could aim for.”

Cove is a quest for survival – man versus the elements: “Stay alive, he thinks.” Jones knows how to tell unique stories with universal appeal. He is fearless in his explorations of places most of us are terrified of. As in life, death is a constant in his stories. He reduces his plots to essentials and by doing so magnifies what is truly important. His work reminds us of the strengths and brilliance of the novella, an underestimated form in our time.

When you face the impossible, and all seems wrecked and lost, not many options remain: “If you disappear you will grow into a myth for them. You will exist only as absence. If you get back, you will exist as a legend.”

Cove

by Cynan Jones

Granta, 2016

Review first published in the Cape Times, 13 January 2017.