My brother turned me on to BookBub when I went over to the Darkside and bought a Kindle. You fill in your details, check some boxes to build a reader profile, and then each day you receive an email with book offers listed on Amazon. Most days there’s at least one book on it that’s free, with the most expensive hovering around the £3.49 mark. My selection is fixed for crime novels, whodunnits, and detective fiction and rarely do I shell out more than a quid. My kindle is my escape. My serious reading I still do in the old-fashioned format. I’ve picked some appalling offers that on a good day wouldn’t pass for anything approaching a decent read, but I’ve also chosen some gems. The best in recent months is the discovery of Kathryn Guare’s Conor McBride, a find worth sharing as it ticked a lot of boxes for me.
A box set of globe-trotting espionage thrillers! Conor McBride has a simple life — until MI6 transforms him into a deadly operative, propelling him into a world of international intrigue and dangerous secrets.
This was the blurb. And it was free. At most I’d lose 15 minutes of my life. That’s all it takes to know if I want to see the book through till the end.
Set in Kerry, London, Mumbai, Vermont, and Prague, the storyline is made for the big screen. Someone, sometime, has to nab the film rights. And while it might be a stretch of even the most fertile imagination to travel with this violin-playing Kerry farmer from a milking parlour in the south-west of Ireland to the backstreets of Mumbai to the concerts halls of Prague, I had no difficulty at all. Guare is a convincing writer. Her characters are credible, their antics (no matter how far-fetched) are strangely believable. And I loved the banter. Sometimes, in these types of books, the romantic element is overdone, underdone, or just plain awkward. But again, Guare nails it. It complements rather than detracts and adds depth to the story and the characters.
For a week, I followed my man Conor halfway around the world, rarely letting him out of my sight. Questions around trust, reliability, and dependability came to the fore. I found myself engaging with the characters and the story by asking myself if I’d have believed X when they said Y. And that level of engagement is rare. I wondered if I was identifying too much with the Irishness of it all and how well Guare seems to understand the Irish psyche [‘The Irish had spent centuries perfecting the art of cursing as poetic expression’]. Perhaps. Amongst the passions listed for Guare in her standard web-bio are ‘all things Celtic’. The bits of Gaelic that pop up are well placed and appropriate, with none of the usual artfulness I’ve come to expect from North American writers. In my experience, capturing this Irishness, this essence, is a rare thing for someone born and raised outside of Ireland. Guare is a third-generation Vermonter who has travelled a lot in Europe and India. She’s obviously called on her experience in shaping the life of Conor McBride.
While I had no difficulty in believing that what I was reading was real and no problem buying into all that double-crossing, lying, and subterfuge, I had a real problem with this:
‘Terror makes for strange bedfellows, Kate.’ Frank crumbled some Stilton over a slice of apple and handed it to her.
Given what I know of the North American hangups about double-dipping, Kate must be one special woman to eat cheese handled by someone else 🙂 I liked her. And Conor. And Frank. And Winnie. And all the other characters who went everywhere I went for a week.
If you’re looking for something to read this Christmas, and like intricate plots, believable characters, and a rollicking mystery, then this box set is worth checking out. The BookBub offer is over so you’ll have to pay for it – a whopping £5.99 (UK) $7.68 (USA) for all three books. A steal at twice the price.