By John Sandford
Simon & Schuster
The snow-filled landscape on the cover of John Sandford's latest Lucas Davenport instalment feels very out of place as we enjoy our annual back-to-school sunshine, but – as always – it's only a matter of pages before Sandford transports his reader to wintry, icy Minneapolis.
Special investigator Davenport is on a new case and, not for the first time, this one is personal. Over at the hospital where his surgeon wife Weather is preparing to separate conjoined twins, a daring raid on the pharmacy results in a huge haul for a gang of misfits, but also leads to the death of one of the hospital workers.
Running scared, the criminals decide their only chance of getting away with it is to get rid of all remaining witnesses – including Weather. As Davenport steps up the security detail on his wife, he doubles his efforts to identify the gang behind the raid, with mounting certainty that there is a hospital staff member involved.
The Secret Intensity of Everyday Life
By William Nicholson
Not so much a "who are the people in your neighbourhood" as a "what are their hopes, dreams and innermost secret thoughts" kind of book, this one. The ensemble novel – in which a writer takes a group of people connected through friendship, family, work or school and tells their stories – is a fairly common structure and one that doesn't always work.
William Nicholson has elevated it into an art form in this excellent novel – which takes a random group of characters who just happen to live in the same Sussex village. Laura is fairly content with her marriage and her kids and her part-time job, until her first – and very serious – love comes back into her life.
Her husband Henry, a documentary producer, is fed up of living off his in-laws. Their son's teacher is distracted by his own writing career which seems to be going nowhere fast, while another of the students is at the mercy of the class bully.
Slowly and softly, Nicholson weaves the chain that binds these people together. From the vicar who has lost his faith to the local Lord trying to trace his dead father's mistress, the characters are captivating. There is nothing everyday about this one, it is a once in a blue moon type of reading experience.
Dublin Zoo: An Illustrated History
By Catherine de Courcy
The Collins Press
Silly zoo stunts are nothing new, it seems: as this comprehensive new history of Dublin Zoo records, a young carpenter was taken into police custody in 1867 for giving matches to the monkeys who "very nearly set the cages on fire."
Founded in 1830, and the first of its kind to be open to the general public (on Sundays for a penny a head) as opposed to just the members of the zoological society, our national zoo continues to be one of the most popular family attractions in the country.
The addition of an exotic giraffe to the animal stock and the subsequent surge in visitor numbers proved the salvation of the zoo during the early part of the Famine, but by 1847 things were more difficult and the council announced that they were no longer using food that could be consumed by humans.
Easter weekend of 1916 was anticipated as being a particularly busy few days and a welcome boost to the zoo coffers, but instead the keepers ended up having to stay on site until the citywide fighting came to an end. In the early years, many of the animals also worked for their keep: the elephants were available for rides, the chimpanzees hosted tea parties, and the pythons were available for a petting.
Then, having survived the Famine, two world wars, civil war and economic depression, the zoo came under serious threat of closure in the 1980s due to its lack of modernisation.
Within 20 years, after a sustained effort, it had doubled in size and evolved into a much more up-to-date facility. This is a hugely comprehensive history of a national monument.