From our reviewers: December 20

Last updated 16:30 20/12/2012

From The Southland Times book reviewers.

The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry
By Rachel Joyce (Doubleday, RRP $37)

Reviewed by Lesley Soper

Harold Fry, 65 years old and living in Devon, is six months retired from a boring 45-year career at a brewery. Harold is a mild, inarticulate man, living a safe suburban life with his wife, Maureen, from whom he has been emotionally estranged for 20 years - largely because of the sad story of their only son David.

On an ordinary morning in mid-April Harold receives a letter from former colleague Queenie Hennessy, his only work friend. Queenie and Harold share a secret from the last time they saw each other, 20 years ago. Queenie is dying of cancer, far away in Berwick-on-Tweed. Harold tries to pen a sympathetic reply, but every word seems inadequate. He goes out to post the few words he has managed. He passes the first post box, and keeps on walking.

So begins the Unlikely Pilgrimage. An unfit, ill-prepared Harold - no compass, map, rucksack, mobile phone; and wearing yachting shoes - simply keeps walking on a journey of hundreds of miles. He finally sends Queenie a message - "As long as I walk, you must live. This time I won't let you down. Wait for me", and he keeps walking.

He walks on, through a series of chance meetings with fascinating and emotional people; through his own journey and memories; and through physical pain. As he walks Harold reflects on the early events that shaped his life.

He phones Maureen regularly, and he sends postcards to her and Queenie, and he keeps walking. At some point he acquires media attention and a group of fellow "pilgrims", who all eventually drift away.

Harold Fry deals with tragedy, laughter, friendship, ordinary living, extraordinary undertakings, forgiveness and hope. A quiet man transforms the lives of others, and he tries to make sense of his own life - one where he loved much and lost much. Through it all the reader wonders whether Queenie in her hospice can and will keep living.

Tender, quietly funny, emotionally powerful and unputdownable. Difficult to believe this is a debut novel. The reader who doesn't want Harold to reach his destination will be hard to find.

Bilbo's Last Song
By J R R Tolkien; illustrated by Pauline Baynes (Random House, RRP $17)

Reviewed by Maree Field

Bilbo's Last Song is a relatively short poem, detailing the redoubtable hobbit's last thoughts before he takes to the ship and sails away to the Grey Havens beyond the sea.

It has a slightly sad tone as Bilbo reflects on the journey ahead of him.

The text is accompanied by lovely bright illustrations by Pauline Baynes, bringing Bilbo's Last Song to very vivid life.

The five-year-old declared it "short" but it's a great gateway story into Tolkien's world and words.

Inheritance
By Simon Tolkien (HarperCollins, RRP $25)

Reviewed by F Mulligan

This is the next instalment of the Inspector Trave series. Inspector Trave is a DI working for Oxfordshire police in the 1950s.

While attending the trial of a young man he has arrested for murder, Trave suddenly doubts the man's guilt. It seems an open and shut case, as Stephen Cade was found with a smoking gun and the body of his father. The murder scene is archetypal: A large manor house. Assorted guests and staff are all called to the witness stand and through them we learn of the events and, indeed, their own stories.

The character development fills out the story and provides an Agatha Christie-type kaleidoscope of motives and suspects.

Trave re-examines the case but causes disquiet from the prosecution. He is forced to work unofficially and against the clock as Cade's case heads towards an inevitable guilty verdict. Before you ask about the author, yes he is; he's his grandson. And yes, he has talent.

If you enjoy crime thrillers without the CSI science but with old-fashioned flair, this is one to enjoy.

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