From our reviewers: General fiction

22:00, Jul 10 2014

T K Roxborogh (Penguin, RRP $35)

Reviewed by F Mulligan

Birthright is the third book in the Banquo's Son trilogy.

Fleance, the son in question, is now king of Scotland.

He is married and his wife, Rachael, is pregnant with an heir. All should be well, with his claim to rule seemingly secure. Alas, he of course, is in for stormy weather.

An illness is starting to spread plague- like across the land.


His wife's own pregnancy is troubled by nausea and this is seen as an evil sign. Rumours of evil omens and the unease of some regarding the legitimacy of his royal position, are the cause of an armed rebellion.

T K Roxborogh is a Dunedin-based author and educator with a self-confessed passion for Shakespeare's work. The story owes its origins to MacBeth and is purposely written in that style. So, in effect, it's a stylised historical novel which tells a fair tale.

I hadn't read the previous two but found the introduction helpful and the story engaging enough. I did, however, feel that there was something missing. I enjoyed the premise of the what-might-have- happened-next and the plot was suitable but the delivery maybe wasn't detailed enough with period minutiae.

Of course, that is more than slightly unfair as the author states from the outset the form and style and as such it is successful.

Someone Else's Wedding
Tamar Cohen (Random House, RRP $38)

Reviewed by Naida Mulligan

Fran is in her mid forties and having a weekend away with her husband and two adult daughters at the wedding of a family friend.

She is the first person narrator and, as such, we can see the flaws in her thinking that take her a lot longer to discover for herself.

It is soon obvious that there are cracks in Fran's marriage, that she has a much deeper relationship with the groom than is proper, and that she is still in deep mourning for her still-born daughter who would now be two.

Add to this the anonymous text messages telling her to stay away and a few pointed remarks from some of the groom's family.

It is also interesting to see Fran meeting new people and making value judgements and assumptions which are altered over the weekend as she discovers more about them.

The climax comes in the middle of this tale and I enjoyed the second half much more than the first. A thoroughly good read once I got into it.

This is critically acclaimed author Tamar Cohen's third novel.

King and Maxwell
By David Baldacci (Macmillan, RRP $38)

Reviewed by Jillian Allison-Aitken

In what at first appears to be a straightforward story, a teenage boy is told his father - a soldier - has been killed in action in Afghanistan but then something extraordinary happens: he receives a communication from his father.

The boy, Tyler, hires private investigators Sean King and Michelle Maxwell in this latest in the "King and Maxwell" series, asking them to solve the mystery.

Their investigation raises more questions than it answers: is Tyler's father still alive, what was his mission, and could his son be the next target?

I tend to be a bit of a magpie with books, picking up whatever shiny cover takes my interest and diving on in.

Most of the time - even when the book in question is part of a series - this is fine. I've read many a series out of order and still enjoyed them, but David Baldacci's "King and Maxwell" series wasn't one of those that falls into the "OK in any order" category. Which is why I very nearly stopped after the first book I picked up: book three of the now six- parter, Simple Genius.

That one left me a little cold, and I had some trouble believing the relationship and interactions between the two main characters, ex-Secret Services agents turned private investigators.

Luckily, I hunted out the first two books in the series and having read those, I found this one a lot easier to digest.

I know some readers won't touch a sequel or part of a series without reading everything that came before, in order, but I normally don't have a problem with it.

However, in this series I felt like an outsider looking in; like I was missing the point of some well established in-joke that everyone else knew. Reading those first two books filled in some gaps and I ended up really enjoying this latest offering.

From their first encounter with Tyler, as he wanders a highway in the middle of the night, to the very conclusion, this is full of action, twists and insight.

A King's Ransom
By Sharon Penman (Macmillan, RRP $38)

Reviewed by F Mulligan

For his part in the third Crusade, King Richard the Lionheart has won prestige, legendary status and, sadly, enemies within Christian Europe itself.

As a result, his journey home becomes fraught with danger. Storms and pirates fade into insignificance when he is detained by Duke Leopold of Austria, a man with a grievance against Richard. This is really only the start of his travails.

His brother, John, and Philip, the King of France, are conspiring to divide up his lands in France. As well, Leopold's emperor sees Richard as a cash cow, a way to increase his power and to exact his own revenge.

This is a follow-up to Penman's previous historical novel about Richard, set during the time prior and during the third Crusade. It seems extremely well-researched and provides an eye-opening glimpse of medieval European politics and one of the more famous of England's kings.