This month's selection of leisure reading, chosen by the Journal's book review editor

The Perfect Wife 

J P Delaney (Quercus: £7.99; e-book £1.99)

Is this a tale of misogynistic cyber-geeks with deific delusions?

Five years after an accident, Abbie wakes up. Well, no. Not Abbie. The newly awakened Abbie is a little disappointed to discover that she is a “companion robot”. 

The real Abbie – a talented, tattooed, artist and devoted mother – was never found. Her husband/creator, Tim, owns Scott Robotics, a cutting-edge Silicon Valley titan. Tim has used his wealth and skills to bring a representation of his wife back. 

The novel is told from the alternating perspectives of Abbie the “cobot”, who drives the narrative, and Scott Robotics employees, who provide the Greek chorus exposing foibles and frailties. Tim imposes/uploads human relationship on a cyborg who might be drifting towards a conscience (or is that just Tim’s clever programming?).

There is clumsy comparison between autism and automaton as Abbie is “reunited” with her autistic son – but the author demonstrates a moving insight as he uses passages in the novel to explore the stigma attached to autism.

Written in the style of a made-for-Netflix screenplay, the story shifts between timelines, to tell the darker story of this former marriage. Danny, their 10-year-old autistic son, creates the tension which forms the development of the plot. The more we read about Danny’s autism “outbreak”, the more we learn about Tim and Abbie’s less than perfect marriage.

Only two characters have any depth in the narrative; everyone else has a walk-on part, creating a thin veneer as the story moves to its climax. Perhaps written for the screen, the novel follows a classic structure with a denouement proclaiming that a sequel might be already in its final stages. 

This book is literary marmite. If you find predictable prose at a Netflix pace tedious, this might be a turgid slog, but if you like a psychological thriller with a scintilla of sci-fi it is an irresistible page turner. 

Hitler's Secret 

Rory Clements (Zaffre: £12.99; e-book £5.02)

This is another terrific outing of Mr Clements' authentic Cambridge Professor Tom Wilde. 

Wilde is approached by US intelligence in late 1941 and tasked to travel to Germany to secure the removal of an unspecified "package", which if successfully achieved will end the war, the underlying principle being that the "package" will result in the Nazis, in particular Hitler, being brought to the negotiating table. Wilde finds himself securing the "package" and, together with a German socialite with connections to Hermann Göring's wife Emmy, races through Germany being pursued by assassins instructed by Martin Bormann, the Reich Chancellor's gatekeeper, one of the few who know of the existence and significance of the "package". It would utterly ruin the suspense of this book to disclose the "package", other than to say the author skilfully and convincingly builds a fast paced thriller around the kernel of the relationship between Hitler and his niece, Geli Raubel, who died in largely unexplained circumstances in his flat in Prinzregenten Straße, Munich. A perfect book to ease you through these lengthening summer days.  

The Flat Share

Beth O'Leary (Quercus: £7.99)

(Abridged version on BBC Sounds, also on Audible, Google Play etc)

The basis of this story holds a practical solution to the problems associated with getting a foot on the property ladder. Tiffy needs a place to live following the breakup of a relationship. Leon is trying to fund his brother's appeal and needs extra cash. They agree, without ever meeting, to share Leon's London flat. He works permanent nightshift, so sleeps during the day, conveniently spending weekends with his girlfriend. Tiffy makes sure to be out and on her way to work by the time he comes in, and does not return until after he's gone. It sounds, to the cynical, just like another contrived rom-com. And yet we live in a time when people rent out their driveways and parking spaces to commuters, and their spare rooms or even whole houses on Airbnb, so I did find myself thinking, what a great idea! Why don't more people do this? (Of course this was before COVID-19 reared its ugly head.) The story weaves it way through both lives, to a very satisfactory outcome.

What's refreshing about this story is that the characterisation is lovely, the plot has beautiful twists and turns and it's truly entertaining. I found myself thinking it would make a great film due to the flow, the warmth and the potential for great visual comedy moments. Under other circumstances it would make a great book to take on holiday. For now, it's the perfect book to stay at home with.

 

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