BOOK BITES | Richard Lumsden, Martin Suter, Alice Clark-Platts

A story about a centenarian's past loves, a novel about the ethics of genetic engineering and a thoughtful thriller - here's what we read this week

31 March 2019 - 00:00
The Six Loves of Billy Binns, Elefant, The Flower Girls.
Book Bites: The Six Loves of Billy Binns, Elefant, The Flower Girls.
Image: Supplied

Published in the Sunday Times (31/03/2019)

The Six Loves of Billy Binns ***
Richard Lumsden, Headline, R330

The title says it all as centenarian Billy Binns recounts his past loves to his son, Archie. Billy's story, painstakingly typed out on an ancient typewriter, takes us from World War I, where he falls from the sky and is saved, to the present day. Billy is not the most reliable of narrators as his memory is failing, so the reader is not even certain if Archie is alive or not. Nor is Billy necessarily a likable character. It depends on redemption, and if, even at 110 years old, readers believe he is worth it. Tiah Beautement @ms_tiahmarie

Elefant ****
Martin Suter, translated from German by Jamie Bulloch, HarperCollins, R195

A homeless man in Zürich encounters a miniature pink elephant in the cave where he sleeps. He blames the booze and nods off, only to find that the creature of his drunken hallucinations is still there in the morning. How did it get there? Where did it come from? And why is it so small ... and pink? Suter's carefully crafted plot takes readers to the streets of Zürich, the forests of Sri Lanka, Romania, Austria and Burma. A rogue scientist and his investors are determined to clone the little elephant, and the only people standing in their way are an elephant whisperer, two veterinarians and the homeless man. It's a gripping story, and the elephant and its ragtag saviours will climb into your heart. A must-read for animal lovers and anyone interested in the ethics of genetic engineering. Anna Stroud @annawriter_

The Flower Girls ****
Alice Clark-Platts, Bloomsbury, R300

Laurel and her sister Primrose (Rosie) are known as The Flower Girls - the children who killed a baby. Laurel, 10, is convicted, but Rosie is only six so she cannot be charged for a crime. Almost two decades later, Laurel is requesting parole for the umpteenth time and Rosie is now Hazel, after the police gave her and her parents new identities. But her cover is blown when a five-year-old girl goes missing while Hazel and her boyfriend are at a hotel for New Year's celebrations. This is not your humdrum mystery with twists. As a former human rights lawyer, Clark-Platts focuses sharply on big-picture stuff: the families and the repercussions of a child murder/er, trial by media, the death penalty, and what is true evil - if it even exists. A thoughtful thriller. Jennifer Platt @Jenniferdplatt