Welcome to our weekly un-paywalled Books Digest where we round-up the new books you should, and shouldn’t, be reading. This week features Tango Juliet Foxtrot by Iain Donnelly, Lear Wife by JR Thorpe and The Invisible Universe: Why There’s More to Reality than Meets the Eye by Matthew Bothwell.
For more books take a look through our Books Digest Archive.
Tango Juliet Foxtrot by Iain Donnelly (Biteback Publishing), £15.05
British policing seems to stagger from one institutional crisis to another. In an increasingly polarised society, police officers frequently find themselves on the front line of the culture wars as well as the perennial fight against crime. Crime too is more sophisticated and well-funded than it used to be. We expect to see officers patrolling our streets and responding to everyday incidents as well as protecting us from invisible but damaging cyberattacks and the malignant effects of international criminal activity.
We expect them to be tough and robust but resent it when they seem heavy-handed and provocative. The structure of county-based forces adds layers of cost and bureaucracy, yet somehow we feel attached to our local force. At the top of this pyramid sits the Metropolitan Police, both London’s own force but with significant national responsibilities. With its increasingly devolved structures – Mayors, Commissioners, and regional governments – accountability can seem confused and confusing.
Iain Donnelly, who has spent a lifetime in the police service in various jobs and roles, paints an unsparing picture of what life is really like fighting crime and what is going on. He assesses the good and the bad, and he is clear about where praise and blame rests. He is also compelling about what needs to be done and how to do it.
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Given all that has gone on in recent times, this is a relevant book well worth reading because somehow of course, through all the ups and downs, we remain reliant upon and residually confident in this most frontline of all the public services we rely on each and every day and it is very important that we do.
Lear Wife by JR Thorp (Canongate Books), £14.99
“Haunting” is often used too easily to describe books, films, and plays. Does the text really hover over your thoughts, appearing in the most unlikely of places and spooking you? Does it really live on after it has finished, after the last page has been turned?
J R Thorp’s Learwife certainly does. Thorp imagines the life of King Lear’s wife: unnamed in Shakespeare’s play, and assumed to be dead. In Act 2, Scene 4 – the only time she is mentioned – Lear tells Regan he would “divorce me from thy mother’s tomb / Sepulch’ring an adulteress.”
In Thorp’s book, Lear’s wife is not dead, but instead living out her days in an abbey in the far north of the country. The action begins after the end of Shakespeare’s play: Lear’s wife learns of the death of her husband, the King, and her three daughters. What follows – dreams of young daughters, plague, and abbey politics – deftly mixes Shakespeare’s text with a narrative that feels as achingly modern as it is medieval.
Thorp weaves a tale of heartbreak, memory, and power with such skill that the setting of an isolated community of nuns becomes all-encompassing; there is no conceivable world beyond its walls. Nothing, famously, comes of nothing, but Thorp has managed to create something magical out of only the slightest source material: Learwife is a masterpiece.
The Invisible Universe: Why There’s More to Reality than Meets the Eye by Matthew Bothwell (Oneworld Publications), £14.49
There is far more to our Universe than first meets the eye. This is the core message of Bothwell’s latest book, The Invisible Universe. Armed with a “toolbox of concepts”, Bothwell sets the latest astronomical discoveries in their historical and social contexts. Beginning at our understanding of light, we are whisked away on a tour of our spectacular Universe.
Bothwell covers nine key concepts, writing in a concise and clear voice. From the birth of modern cosmology, the invisible ripples in the fabric of the universe and ultimately to our universe’s fate in the hands of dark energy, we begin to unlock the secrets hidden in plain sight.
Bothwell’s writing is peppered with humour, enthusiasm and personal anecdotes and he brings to life the science hidden in the night sky. It is a fascinating account that particularly stands out in the crowded field of scientific literature.
Explaining difficult concepts in a digestible way, The Invisible Universe is a must-read for those seeking a straightforward route into the world of astronomy. One can’t help being attracted to Bothwell’s infectious passion for science, prompting us to stare out at the night sky and wonder what other discoveries lie hidden amongst the stars.