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June 2018 book reviews

Connexion journalists read the latest French releases. To be fair, each gets 20 minutes’ reading time

The Spider Network, David Enrich

£9.99; ISBN: 978-0-7535-5751-8

The sub-title for this is ‘The wild story of a maths genius and one of the greatest scams in financial history’ which, until a few years ago, would have been an astonishing once-in-a-lifetime event... but now seems curiously commonplace.

No matter, the book itself – after much scene-setting of the over-the-top lifestyles of scruple-free traders – is a thriller on the Libor bank interest rate scandal where complicity rivals duplicity in earning top billing. Happily, though, at least one of those involved has a conscience. He still gets 14 years’ jail, though; he’s the fall guy.

The author’s name – Enrich – pretty much sums up the book but the writer is a respected Wall Street Journal business reporter and spent many months speaking to the leading players and, while their colourful lives are memorable, what hits deeply home is the dysfunctional nature of the banks involved and their lack of integrity.

The cast of characters include a Frenchman nicknamed Gollum and a former Kazakh chicken farmer known as Derka-Derka; the list of offences encompassed 18 finance houses and three dozen people across four continents...

This will not help you sleep at night... especially if you have a pension, a mortgage or a bank loan.


Her Mother’s Secret, Rosanna Ley

Quercus, £7.99; ISBN: 978-1-78648-342-3

What could be better as the summer approaches than a sun-soaked escape to Belle-Ile-en-Mer in Brittany for this intriguing tale of Colette and her mum Thea’s family secret...

Perhaps the secret should have stayed buried but Colette is drawn back to the island of her birth from Cornwall as she learns her mother is ill and she is the only family she has left.

But, once back, she finds that much is as it was, much that has been unsaid is still unsaid and there is still much suspicion and pain.

The island itself is enchanting and is working its charms, reviving some of the magic and meeting Henri, her father’s fisherman friend, her eyes start to brim and she is swept back to more care-free days but also to memories of fights with her mother; the fight between her mother and her father... the last time she saw him alive.

Others have secrets, too. Whether it is Mathilde, who once employed Thea as an au-pair, or her daughter Elodie who becomes fast friends with Colette... plus there is Etienne, a writer whose mother has died – he is home on the island to tidy her affairs and sell the house.

Too many secrets and too many stories almost forgotten, but Colette, Elodie and Etienne have much to find out.


Madame Bovary, Gustave Flaubert

Macmillan Collector’s Library, £9.99; ISBN: 978-1-5098-4288-9

More than 160 years after it was written, Madame Bovary has a shocking relevance today in a world dominated by petty celebrity romances, unreasonable aspirations and doubtful ambition.

Romantic escapism turns Emma Bovary’s head, puffs up her vain and selfish views and fuels her belief that her husband is more than dull, he is a failure; but, no, the grass is not always greener.

Her passionate affairs, the search for her romantic ideal, scandalised France when written, but looking back today it is the sensual writing that attracts and makes this worth reading.

This beautifully crafted edition of the classic Flaubert tale is cloth-bound, with gilt edges and a ribbon bookmark that make its pocket- size perfect for a book to carry on all occasions, something to dip into. Something to savour


Walking in the Dordogne, Janette Norton and others

Cicerone, £14.95; ISBN: 978-1-85284-843-9

With 35 walks based around Bergerac, Lalinde, Sarlat and Souillac, this book comes at a perfect moment for readers as it allows time for some of the walks before the tourist season makes travelling less fun.

It may be a bit of a disappointment for readers in the northern half of Périgord as all the walks are in the south and Lot, but it is worth the drive and the routes are simple half or whole day trails roughly along the trace of the Dordogne and Vézère rivers and up into their hills

The original book was written in 2004 and although it has been updated and has extra walks, it is not clear how thorough this was, but much has been revised.

Even so, the wealth of detail and handy signposting of must-see sights make this worthwhile.


Flamingo Boy, Michael Morpurgo

£12.99; ISBN: 978-0-00-813463-1

What a find in this little gem of a book. Aimed at children aged nine and over, it grabs the attention with an amusing tale of an old man, his horse and a kind policeman and then sweeps the reader off to the south of France and Vincent van Gogh with mosquitoes and the wild winds of the Camargue.

Plus, of course, the flamingos “their stick-like legs seems to be wading backwards through the water and yet, impossibly, they were moving forward”. They have a secret guardian, Renzo, who cares and helps cure any that fall sick or are injured.

He has found Vincent collapsed on the road and, caring for him too, takes him home to a farm in the marshes where he hears a tale of history.

Renzo was once the Flamingo Boy during the war before the Germans arrived and shattered the people’s peace and also the lives of the flamingos. He is autistic and this is a wonderful step into a mind that is different from others, unique within its thoughts but innocent.

He meets Kezia, a Romany girl who helps her parents run a carousel, and Renzo loves to ride on it until it is torn apart by a storm. He wants to cure it and we discover that not all Germans are Nazis and even in wartime there is room for the simple bond of a desire to make something right.

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