HISTORICAL   | Daily Mail Online


HISTORICAL

The Maiden is the Scottish precursor to the French guillotine, a deadly piece of machinery designed to behead the guilty

The Maiden is the Scottish precursor to the French guillotine, a deadly piece of machinery designed to behead the guilty

HISTORICAL  

THE MAIDEN 

by Kate Foster (Mantle £14.99, 384pp)

The Maiden is the Scottish precursor to the French guillotine, a deadly piece of machinery designed to behead the guilty.

It’s very much in the mind of Lady Christian Nimmo, who has been convicted of murdering her uncle by marriage, the libidinous laird James Forrester, and sentenced to death.

This much is historical fact, but debut author Kate Foster expands the slender facts of the case into something exceptional — a tense, thrilling investigation, with a decidedly feminist slant.

Foster recreates the Edinburgh of 1679 with great aplomb. A mucky, malodorous place, where a man’s sexual proclivities are a given and a woman’s are judged immoral, as revealed by the testimony of fierce Christian and the irrepressible Violet, a prostitute, who’s all too familiar with Forrester, the world and its ways.

Sparrow is 'a twiggy-limbed, knock-kneed boy treading as softly as he can' through the rowdy streets of New Carthage in Spain

Sparrow is ‘a twiggy-limbed, knock-kneed boy treading as softly as he can’ through the rowdy streets of New Carthage in Spain

SPARROW 

by James Hynes (Picador £16.99, 464pp)

Sparrow is ‘a twiggy-limbed, knock-kneed boy treading as softly as he can’ through the rowdy streets of New Carthage in Spain.

He’s a slave with an unknown past, a harrowing present and a future that already looks bedimmed to his curious eyes, as he takes in his surroundings — the kitchen, the tavern and the upstairs brothel, which is his home and the site of his captivity.

‘A product of rape, murder, bastardy. . . I am the empire in a nutshell’, his fellow prostitutes — ‘the wolves’ — are both protective and pragmatic about his fate: his life will indeed be abusive, violent and unpredictable.

They offer companionship and a kind of stability, until manipulative Melpomene takes matters into her own hands — and with murderous consequences. It’s a bleak and brutal story, vividly told by Hynes, who has created a truly unforgettable character in the resilient Sparrow.

This stunning debut opens on a sweltering day in the Greenbrier County Circuit Court in 1897

This stunning debut opens on a sweltering day in the Greenbrier County Circuit Court in 1897

THE RED BIRD SINGS 

by Aoife Fitzpatrick (Virago £16.99, 336pp)

This stunning debut opens on a sweltering day in the Greenbrier County Circuit Court in 1897, where blacksmith Trout Shue is on trial for the murder of his wife Zona, three months after their marriage.

Based on a true story and meticulously researched, Fitzpatrick unspools an uneasy shimmering tale of coercive control, spiritualism and staunch friendship.

It’s a brilliant take on Southern Gothic, honing in on the central suffocating relationship, the mysterious death of Zona and a local population who side with the accused.

Add in an unconventional mother, Mary Jane, who believes she can channel her departed daughter’s spirit, and an obstinate, feminist best friend, Lucy, who’s determined to bring the truth to light whatever the personal cost, and you have a novel that simmers with suspense and suspicion.



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