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Book Bites: 4 March

Published in the Sunday Times

Head Case
****
Ross Armstrong, HarperCollins, R285

“‘Pre-bullet’ I was directionless. ‘Post-bullet’ I had a lust for the world.”So says trainee community support officer (a nonofficial rank on the bottom rung of Britain’s bobby brigade) Tom Mondrian after being shot in the head. The shards of metal lodged in Tom’s brain make some things difficult for him, most notably walking, reading and recognising faces, but in its subtle rearrangement of his grey matter the bullet also turns the former apathetic loser into a driven workaholic with heightened senses (he can smell carbon monoxide) and preternaturally sharp instincts. If Arthur Conan Doyle and Nick Hornby collaborated on a book, it would probably turn out something like Head Case. Tom is an endearing and often very funny narrator, but can we trust a man with a severely altered brain to solve a crime involving abducted girls when he can’t control his own impulses or even remember what his partner looks like? Wait and see. Sue de Groot @deGrootS1

The Maid’s Room
****
Fiona Mitchell, Hodder & Stoughton, R295

“There are more than 200000 foreign domestic workers in Singapore. The majority of them are from the Philippines and Indonesia,” notes Tala, the anonymous writer of the blog Maidhacker. She and her sister Dolly work abroad to send money home to their children. Dolly tries to toe the line, and Tala tries to fight back against the systematic abuses foreign domestics suffer. But is Tala’s blog putting herself and the women she champions in danger? Award-winning journalist Mitchell has researched the subject in depth, creating a page-turner that does not succumb to the “white-saviour” narrative. Tiah Beautement @ms_tiahmarie

The Bedlam Stacks
*****
Natasha Pulley, Bloomsbury Circus, R305

Injured explorer Merrick Tremayne is spending his days in a rundown greenhouse facing an uncertain future when he is offered a chance at another adventure. His mission is to go into an unmapped area of Peru in search of quinine to fuel the British Empire. He travels through a fantastical landscape, finding a life he could not have imagined. Everything slips quietly into place, like clockwork. If you loved her first novel, The Watchmaker of Filigree Street, and are worried her second can’t live up to it, don’t worry, it does. Jem Glendinning @jemathome

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