On this week’s Hannah’s Bookshelf on North Manchester FM, I was talking about all things blue in the fifth of my semi-regular series of colour-themed shows. I’m continuing to follow the colours of the rainbow with this series, so it’ll be indigo next time!
You can listen to the show on the player below, but as promised, here’s a list of the books I talked about on the show…
The first book on today’s list is Black & Blue, the eighth Inspector Rebus novel by Ian Rankin (though it was the first of the series to be adapted for the television series). The novel sees Rebus transferred to Craigmillar and on the trail of the killer. Rebus believes that the murderer he’s hunting might be the infamous (and real-life) serial killer known as Bible John, who committed a series of murders in Glasgow in the late 60s. As is typical of the Rebus novels, though, this is not the only plotline in the novel. Rebus is also facing investigative journalists looking into a possible miscarriage of justice, and some possible connections to the oil industry. The book is notable for its inclusion of the historic murder case, and also for its further development of Rebus’s character and career. It also won the Crime Writer’s Association’s Gold Dagger award in 1997.
A Pair of Blue Eyes was serialized in 1872-3, and then published as a novel in 1873. The book follows heroine Elfride Swancourt, an attractive but naive young woman who is courted by two different suitors. On the one hand, there is Stephen Smith, with whom Elfride shares some traits of personality and upbring but who is lower down the social scale. On the other, there is Henry Knight, a man who is more attracted to Elfride’s purity and innocence than her actual personality, but who is a more acceptable prospect to Elfride’s father. As with a number of Hardy’s novels, the landscape (Cornwall this time) and society depicted often threatens to steal attention from the characters. However, the book is also memorable for showing off Hardy’s ability to write suspense and tension, in particular it has a literal cliff-hanger which has been the subject of some critical interest.
A bit of a change of pace from Thomas Hardy, the next book on my list was Katie Price’s novel Sapphire. Unlike in Price’s previous two novels, the heroine of this one isn’t a celebrity, though she does have to deal with the celebrity world. Sapphire Jones runs a lingerie and hen-night-planning business. After a messy break-up, she throws herself full-on into running her business, but a difficult hen night client (who also happens to be a well-loved soap star) threatens to causes her more than a couple of problems. Sapphire is definitely a flawed protagonist – some might even say unlikable – and readers have been a bit divided on whether or not they sympathize with the choices she makes. But there’s something quite refreshing about a heroine who is unrepentant in her flaws. There is, of course, a bit of romance here as well, which adds another element to Sapphire’s story.
I could talk about this next book for hours – I feel like it’s been ages since I included an Agatha Christie on one of my lists. The Mystery of the Blue Train was an adaptation of a ‘The Plymouth Express’, a Poirot short story published in 1923. Although it’s not the most iconic of Christie’s Poirot novels, it certainly has it’s charms. The central mystery is the murder of Ruth Kettering, who is found dead on Le Train Bleu, and the theft of the ‘Heart of Fire’ ruby that was a gift from Ruth’s father. As you might expect, there are suspects galore on board the train. But what I think what I love most about this one is that it’s an early example of Poirot having to fly solo after Hastings’s departure to South America with his new wife. Poirot is forced to solve this one with the help of his valet, George, who he finds a poor substitute for his absent friend (as he’ll explain to Hastings when the two team up again in Peril at End House). For all Poirot berates Hastings when they work together, he doesn’t half miss him when he’s not there!
The Bluest Eye was Toni Morrison’s debut novel. It’s set during the Great Depression and tells the story of a young African American girl called Pecola Breedlove. Pecola’s childhood is brutal, marked by abuse (including sexual abuse at the hands of her father) and racism. The story is told through the narration of Pecola’s foster-sister Claudia MacTeer, but also through flashbacks to Pecola’s childhood and the upbringing of her parents, Polly and Cholly Breedlove. The novel’s title refers to Pecola’s preoccupation with what she perceives as her ‘ugliness’, a perception that has been fuelled by the racist attitudes of the predominantly white community in which she lives, and by the lack of affection and care she’s experienced in her short life. Pecola comes to believe that if she could magically acquire a pair of blue eyes, she would be accepted and loved by others. Morrison’s storytelling techniques are captivating, though the themes explored in the book are hard-hitting and painful.
The final book on today’s list was also the most recent. Steel’s novel tells the story of journalist Ginny Carter, who experiences a tragic loss in a car crash. As she tries to recover, Ginny tries to reconnect with life through volunteering as a human rights activist. Although this seems like a selfless mission, there is also a certain lack of self-care, as she throws herself into dangerous locations and situations. When Ginny meets the titular Blue, a homeless boy who has been abandoned by his family, she finds her life changing once more. The bond between Ginny and Blue grows, but there are secrets lurking under the surface that will test this, and Ginny has to decide whether she has the strength to keep fighting.
To hear more about all of these books, and my reasons for choosing them, you can catch the show again here: