BOOK BITES | Joakim Zander, Sonia Velton, Kate Hamer

A soppy love story which turns into an action-filled thriller, a fascinating novel about women subverting societal norms in 18th century England, and a haunting thriller featuring witchery, wishful thinking and death

14 July 2019 - 00:00 By Sunday Times Books
'The Friend', 'Blackberry & Wild Rose', 'Crushed'.
'The Friend', 'Blackberry & Wild Rose', 'Crushed'.
Image: Supplied

Published in the Sunday Times: 14/07/2019

The Friend ***
Joakim Zander, Head of Zeus, R290

In his first job in international diplomacy, Jacob, a naive young Swede, arrives in Beirut with lofty ambitions, leaving behind a past he'd rather forget. Jacob meets Yassim at a party, falls for him and plunges into a passionate sexual relationship. But Yassim is not what he claims to be (a news photographer) and Jacob is threatened by Swedish military intelligence to hack Yassim's laptop. They claim that Yassim is a terrorist who has knowledge of an imminent Isis attack in Europe and if he doesn't comply, they will expose an encounter Jacob had with an underage boy in a bathhouse. Jacob hacks Yassim's computer while he's asleep, but Yassim wakes up and after a furious row Yassim breaks down and tells Jacob his story: because his family was killed in a drone strike, he is covertly documenting strikes on civilians in Syria, information he urgently needs to get to Europe. The soppy love story thankfully switches into a action-filled thriller as Jacob embarks on a journey to get a memory card with the information into safe hands in Europe, all the while being pursued by armed men. Gabriella Bekes

Blackberry & Wild Rose ****
Sonia Velton, Quercus, R330

1768, London: Esther Thorel, wife of a Huguenot silk-weaver, saves Sara from her life in a brothel, hiring her as a maid. But Sara is suspicious of the Christian household, a den of lies and hypocrisy. Meanwhile, Esther, inspired by the real-life Anna Maria Garthwaite, longs to put her artistic talents to use in the family's weaving empire, but her husband forbids it. Both women, in their attempts to subvert societal roles, will create cataclysmic events. A fascinating and engaging read. Tiah Beautement @ms_tiahmarie

Crushed ****
Kate Hamer, Faber & Faber, R295

This haunting thriller starts off a bit slowly and then halfway it speeds up and goes to unexpected dark places. Crushed is about three teenage girls in Bath, England, who all have difficult emotional lives to navigate. There's Phoebe, whose übercontrolling mother drives her to extremes: Phoebe thinks her thoughts can cause random murders. Her best friend Orla has tried to hide the fact that she is in love with Phoebe, but soon realises that her love has horrible consequences. Lastly, there is Grace, whose mother is bedridden with MS. Grace will do anything to convince social services that she can handle the responsibility of being her mom's carer. The three meet at their special place, The Spinney, a hidden alcove in the woods near the edge of the town. Their encounters here become an outlet for their feelings and soon The Spinney becomes a place of witchery, wishful thinking and death. Jennifer Platt @Jenniferdplatt