One of my favourite books of about ten years ago was Maria McCann’s As Meat Loves Salt, a fabulous story set in seventeenth century England in the midst of the civil war. We meet Jacob Cullen, a young man who has grown up disillusioned and distrustful. He is violent, and perhaps mad. He escapes into the New Model Army and this story of obsession and eroticism just wont let you go. McCann has just published her second book, The Wilding, and it has already been longlisted for the Orange Prize. It’s set in 1672 after the Civil War, Jonathan is a cider maker living with his parents. When his uncle dies and Jonathan discovers his uncle’s letter to his father hinting at inheritance and revenge, Jonathan is determined to unravel the mystery in his family. His aunt is a very nasty woman, Jonathan is a trusting young man who is completely outmanoevered by her and the young girl he falls in love with has some devious secrets of her own. Brilliant.
Malla Nunn’s first book, Let the Dead Lie, was one of those really exciting finds – I knew nothing about the author or the book when I picked it up, but it grabbed me right from the beginning. Nunn sets her books in 1950’s South Africa where life was governed by apartheid laws. We meet Emmanuel Cooper, a detective sent to Jacob’s Rest, a small town near the Mozambique border. Cooper tends not to play by the usual rules, and arrives to discover the body is in fact Captain Willem Pretorius, an Afrikaans police captain. The Security Branch arrive shortly after and they are determined to thwart Cooper in his investigations. It was such a fantastic story, and now Nunn’s new book, Let the Dead Lie, very shortly. Cooper is now a changed man. Forced to resign from his position of detective sergeant and reclassified as ‘mixed race’, he winds up powrless and alone in the tough coastal city of Durban, mixing labouring with surveillance work for his old boss, Major van Niekerk. Patrolling the freight yeards one night, Cooper stumbles upon the body of a young white boy, and he will not let this body lie. A really fabulous story.