The Runaway Bride by Sheila Walsh, Hutchinson £7.95. The Black Velvet Gown by Catherine Cookson, Heinemann £8.50.
A Gathering of Old Men by Ernest Gaines, Heinemann £8.95.
Death In Kenya by M. M. Kaye, Allen Lane £6.95.
Time after Time by Molly Keane, Andre Deutsch £7.95.
ANYONE seeking a "romantic" read need look no further than The Runaway Bride, a light-hearted, surely tongue-in-cheek, novel. Sheila Walsh sets the scene with her description on the first page of her heroine, Consuelo, who has "a, delightful nose, short and straight, flaring slightly above a wilfully curving mouth". Her love-hate relationship with the strong, silent Nick Bannion (his eyes were like hard blue chips of ice) involves her in some entertaining, lively, if unlikely, adventures, Move over Barbara Cartland!
Catherine Cookson is always good value with her robust characterisation and North Country directness. Here she tells the story of a young widow and her four children living in County Durham in the 1830s. Riah Millican and her family are poor, but intelligent and, unusually, literate. Their refusal to be daunted by hardship and prejudice contrasts with the mother's longing for love and understanding.
There are two stories here the eldest daughter of the widow takes over the leading role and demands our attention with her lively mind, her impudence and her beauty. Perhaps the novel suffers from a surfeit of material, but Catherine Cookson's fans will be wellsatisfied with this fast-moving, meaty story.
A white man is murdered in the deep South of the-US and A Gathering of Old Meri tells what happened next.. It is far from being a whodunnit and Ernest Gaines has chosen this critical situation to work out some of the deep-rooted problems and feelings of the black/white community of Louisiana. The twelve "old men" of the title gather to support each other and speak up for their people each black man claiming to be the murderer and feeling dignity and responsibility beyond their gsperience of life.
Every chapter of the novel is written from a different point of view and the writing has a haunting compassion and musicality which chime well with the sadness of the themes of courage and despair. A stimulating and beautiful book.
Death In Kenya sounds like a good old-fashioned whodunnit, and sure enough it is. No sex, very little violence — murders as discreet as those of the latelamented Agatha Christie — no bad language. Not that Death In Kenya is a dull book; it has the right amount of suspense, halfa-dozen likely suspects, and all the ingredients beloved by detective-story afficionados. Added to this is the author's personal experience of the background — "Keeyna" before it was "Ken-ya" (or vice
versa?) • The spectacular scenery is lovingly described, the tension at the time of the Mau-Mau trouble is skilfully implied, and the mixed feelings of fear and bravado revealed by the white settlers have a ring of truth about them which adds interest and quality.
Do pay the extra pound and buy Molly Keane's new novel, Time After Time, the second written under her own name. Readers of Good Behaviour will know what to expect in the way of wit, sharp observation and a satisfying mix of ribaldry and respect for the human condition. Time After Time is set in Ireland, but don't worry lest Molly Keane would be subjecting you to a politicoreligious tale of the Troubles. All the troubles in this book are, one might say, little ones — the interactions of defective personalities on each other. The Swift family, a brother and three sisters — April, May and June — are welded together by financial interdependence and by a kind of love-hate tolerance of each others' inadequacies.
Jasper. head of the household and king of the kitchen, is blind in one eye. His cooking is superb, in spite of his cat-ridden recipes, and his clandestine friendship with a neighbouring Trappist monk is suspect. April is deaf, elegantly clothesand figure-conscious. Unlike the other three, she has been married — she found the experience appalling, but revels in the superiority of her widowed status. She tipples behind the closed doors of her bedroom.
May is big and blowsy; her deformity is the lack of three and a half fingers. She overcompensates with tremendous pride in her dexterity — flowerarranging, needlework, and a little extra hobby of pilfering. "Baby" June, retarded as a child, finds her niche in the stables and among the pigs.
Each of the sisters owns a repulsive dog. They-shere little of their lives with each other, but all participate in the decaying of their estate and their way of life. The plot hinges on the impact on the household of yet another maimed personality — Leda, a key-figure from their childhood days, who, although now totally blind, returns into their lives with malicious effect.
It is an extremely clever novel that Ms Keane has woven round this family. She is devastatingly destructive in her observation, often achingly funny, but her characters' defects are (like original sin perhaps) redeemable, and in the end she views them kindly, dogs, warts and all! Unbelievably Molly Keane is in her late seventies; long may she entertain her readers with her wit and wisdom.