And Finally: Matters of Life and Death by Henry Marsh is the neurosurgeon’s account of being diagnosed with advanced prostate cancer shortly after his retirement. If you have read Marsh’s first two books about his career, Do No Harm and Admissions, then you will know that he doesn’t sugar coat things, and after a long career in medicine and the realisation that he is now a patient himself, he is similarly candid in his personal reflections about his own ageing and mortality. The first part of the book which deals with his denial about the diagnosis is darkly funny. He also talks about his experiences supporting colleagues in Nepal and Ukraine and his worries about the impact on his family. ‘And Finally’ is a relatively short and unstructured book which reflects Marsh’s uncertainty about the future, but still beautifully written. Many thanks to Vintage Books for sending me a review copy on NetGalley.
These Precious Days by Ann Patchett is the author’s latest collection of essays which deals with similar themes to those explored in This Is the Story of a Happy Marriage. As well as her career as a novelist and her friends and family, Patchett discusses topics such as her love of Snoopy from the Peanuts cartoons, taking up knitting and giving up shopping. While many of the essays address events from several years ago, the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic and lockdown are also featured. One of the longer pieces initially details how Patchett became friends with Tom Hanks, but the essay then takes an unexpected turn when his personal assistant, Sooki Raphael, starts chemotherapy for pancreatic cancer during lockdown and ends up staying with Patchett and her husband in Nashville, Tennessee. The cover illustration is one of Sooki’s paintings. As ever, Patchett’s portraits of the people she knows and loves best are always written with fondness and generosity, and she has produced another eclectic and thoughtful collection of personal essays.
The Ink Black Heart by Robert Galbraith is the sixth book in the Cormoran Strike series. Set throughout 2015, Strike’s latest case sees him and his business partner Robin Ellacott investigate the murder of Edie Ledwell, the co-creator of a cult gothic cartoon series called ‘The Ink Black Heart’ which started out on YouTube and was later picked up by Netflix. Ledwell has been accused by some members of the online “fandom” of being a sellout, a plagiarist and for using racist and sexist tropes in the cartoon’s characters, and she approaches the detective agency for help with the extreme online harassment she is facing. Shortly afterwards, she is murdered in Highgate Cemetery in north London while her ex-boyfriend and co-creator of ‘The Ink Black Heart’, Josh Blay, is seriously injured.
The development of Strike and Ellacott’s personal and professional relationship is largely put on hold during this case, while they set about uncovering the identities and real-world violence of the online trolls, with a particular focus on the vicious Anomie. At just over 1,000 pages, it’s the longest book in the series yet, but with a fair amount of white space on the pages detailing Twitter threads and online conversations between the Drek’s Game moderators. I think Troubled Blood justified its length more than this latest instalment does, but Strike and Ellacott’s most chilling case yet is an intricately plotted piece of crime fiction which will satisfy fans of the series.