The Lovely Bones – Alice Sebold

“If you have a sister and she dies, do you stop saying you have one? Or are you always a sister, even when the other half of the equation is gone?” ― Jodi Picoult

the-lovely-bones-9781447275206I had wanted to read this book for so long. I would often find myself seeking it out in bookshops just after it was released, picking it up and stroking the cover, reading the blurb on the back for the umpteenth time

My name was Salmon, like the fish; first name, Susie. I was fourteen when I was murdered on December 6th, 1973. My murderer was a man from our neighbourhood. My mother liked his border flowers, and my father talked to him once about fertilizer.

But I never bought it.

I have obsessed over the idea of this book for the best part of a decade – a story told by the spirit of a murdered girl, however macabre it may sound, is right up my street. I am fascinated by anything to do with the paranormal and spirituality. I wanted to get to know Susie Salmon better; I wanted to read her story.

So when my good friend Kate over at The Little Crocodile bought me the book last month for my birthday I was over the moon!

The Lovely Bones is a haunting tale told by the spirit of murdered school girl Susie Salmon. Looking down from her heaven Susie observes her family and friends. She watches the devastation and destruction that her murder causes, rippling through her small town, and shaking the community to its very core. Susie watches her family as they struggle to comprehend life without her, leaving the porch light on well after they know she is no longer coming home. As time goes on, and Susie watches her siblings and friends grow older, she learns that she must let go of her anger to allow those left behind to heal.

This book is not for the faint hearted. I become much more emotionally invested in a book than I ever have in film or TV and this one really got to me. I’ve had unsettlingly emotional episodes with books in the past; I grieved for Sirius black after reading Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix and Anybody out there? by Marian Keyes threw me into the depths of despair for a good few weeks. This one was different though. Sebold’s writing gave me nightmares, and at some points I doubted whether I would actually be able to finish it.

That is not to say that I didn’t enjoy the book – I did. It was everything I hoped for, and a little more. The effect that this book had on me speaks of the power of Sebold’s words – I was upset by Susie’s death, horrified by the circumstances and devastated by the effect that this had on the family. But more than this, I was distressed by Susie’s position in all this, as an outsider looking in on the effect that her death had in her community. She was intercepted by her neighbour on the way home from school that cold winter’s day in 1973; she never made it home. Susie’s story is incredibly moving in that it details her spirit’s journey, still attempting to find her way home after so many years; she may be in heaven, but her true place will always be on Earth.

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Sebold has taken a story about a murdered school girl and completely turned it around, presenting an intricate analysis into grief and resolution. Fans of crime fiction may be put off to know that there is no secret as to who the killer is, you know him from the start, and if you begin the book hoping for a revelation in which Susie’s killer is brought to justice you will likely feel disappointed. But approach Sebold’s work with an open mind and you will be pleasantly surprised.

The Lovely Bones is beautifully written and hauntingly captivating and will leave you quietly contemplating Susie long after you have finished her story. It is difficult to say who I would recommend the book to – so I will simply say that if you feel intrigued by my review, then give it a go.

Has anyone else read this book? I’d love to hear from you to find out what you thought. Drop me a line or comment below.

The Whitehall Mandarin – Edward Wilson

“A murderer is less loathsome to us than a spy. The murderer may have acted on a sudden mad impulse; he may be penitent and amend; but a spy is always a spy, night and day, in bed, at table, as he walks abroad; his vileness pervades every moment of his life” ― Honoré de Balzac

the-whitehall-mandarinCritically acclaimed author Edward Wilson returns with another seething spy thriller to add to his repertoire. A teeming broth of secrets, sex and scandals, the Whitehall mandarin is sure to be a hit with mystery fanatics and long standing Wilson fans.

Wilson specialises in spy fiction, with a strong focus on the Cold War, and there is no doubt he is a master of his subject. His novels blend seamlessly between fact and fiction, and The Whitehall Mandarin is no exception. The books alludes to a phenomenal amount of research on the part of the author where the smallest plot detail has been unquestioningly scrutinised and researched.  Through Wilson’s novels the reader travels back in time to rub shoulders with the upper classes, and witness firsthand the scandal which occurs behind closed doors.

Edward Wilson hones in on the year 1957, the Cold War is full swing, and British intelligence unit MI6 are investigating a soviet spy ring operating in London. They call upon secret agent William Catesby to keep a close eye on American cultural attaché Jeffers Cauldwell, who is accused of leaking somewhat compromising photograph of British officials to the Russians. The book begins with Catesby, his boss Henry Bone, and MI5 investigator Jim Skardon crammed onto the roof of a building overlooking St James’s Park, London, observing a secret liaison between Cauldwell and an employee of the British Admiralty. The Whitehall Mandarin follows Catesby on his hunt to uncover the truth in an intricately developed web of secrets, a journey which takes him from the scandals of 1960s London to the muggy jungles of Vietnam.


How strange, thought Catesby, that when you look through a telescopic sight and see another human being fixed in the cross-hairs you end up looking at yourself. It doesn’t matter whether it’s the lens reflection or imagination. You try to concentrate on your target but find your eye superimposed over their eyes. Those other eyes, so blissfully unaware of your unblinking predatory stare, are no longer evil. You feel your hate drop away and realise you can’t do it. It was Catesby’s most shameful secret from the war: he had never been able to pull the trigger. But he had learnt to since.


The Whitehall Mandarin is an intricate and multilayered book with a number of interweaving narratives; the plot is complex, and full of twists and turns. This is not the sort of book you can pick up and put down halfway through a chapter – not if you want to stand any chance of keeping up with the plot anyway – but requires considerable concentration on the part of the reader. Let your mind wander for even a second and you could well find yourself having to reread whole chapters.

Wilson portrays the British upper class as a literal hotbed of corruption and sexual scandal. Before reading the novel I will admit to being clueless as to the different between furries and plushies – in fact in all my innocence I’d never heard of either of these things – I’m now something of an expert on the topic. Did you know, for example, that ‘plushies’ are a rather difficult target for ‘honey-trap agents’? In fact, the scandalous things which the upper classes get up to provide the backdrop for the majority of the plot – this is somewhat epitomised by the photograph of a steamy reconstruction of Poussin’s The Triumph of Pan.

The very nature of spy novels makes them incredibly easy to ruin, so I am wary of sharing much more. But to give you a flavour – expect sex, high speed chases, intricate plot lines, and a beautiful English lady who is not quite what she seems.

The Whitehall Mandarin is a page-turning thriller which will leave you desiring more at the end of each chapter. If you are a fan of spy novels then this is undoubtedly the book for you. It is masterfully researched, stunningly written and, most importantly, utterly believable.

I was sent a free copy of The Whitehall Mandarin by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.