3-4-Friday - Serpents, Wickedness and Watery Secrets

With two heavyweight books out this week - one in paperback, one in hardback - we thought it was great opportunity to start putting together our pick of the best fiction that you'll be wanting to read over the coming months (yes, OK, we admit it - we've called it 'The Summer reading Table')

Yes, Summer is some way off. And yes, we've a few big 'events' politically to navigate our way past in the meantime. But it looks to be a bumper crop of books out over the next few weeks, so we thought we'd better start early.

So for today's '3 4 Friday' #FridayReads here's our starter-for-3...

With one of last year's biggest books 'The Essex Serpent' by Sarah Perry coming out in paperback, here's what Nicki wrote as her review last year. It's a book that we wholeheartedly recommend from one of this country's most brilliant new writing talents.

The friends of newly-widowed Cora Seaborne in Victorian England are indulging their passions for science, medicine and social reform. Cora is just happy to be out of an abusive relationship and finding herself both independent and wealthy, she is determined to follow in the footsteps of her heroine, Mary Anning, and discover fossils.

Her amateur geology draws her to a tiny village in Essex and rumours of a giant sea serpent, perhaps still living from prehistoric times. Science and Darwin have yet to penetrate the mud and the salt marshes and fear and rumour about the serpent means every crop failure, every death, is attributed to the creature. Local pastor, William, is having trouble convincing his flock and not allow myth and hysteria to take over.

A finely-tuned cast of characters get drawn to the beguiling Cora and her quest for science to be able to answer every question with reason. They all do battle on her behalf as she argues against superstition, pagan fear and religion. But whether it’s a community increasingly troubled by fear of the unknown, or the urban squalor Cora’s friends back in London are struggling to reform, the ideals of science have much to contend with in this rich and wonderfully human story of the clashes of the Victorian age.

As rumours and sightings of the serpent persist, will the ideals of science triumph in this rich and wonderfully human story of the clashes of the Victorian age?"

Out on May 2, Paula Hawkins follows her bestselling ‘The Girl on the Train’ with another claustrophobic tale, this time about the pressure of long-kept secrets...

'Into The Water' is set in the water-centred community of Beckford, where teenagers and families go to the water, sometimes to play. But it's best-known for being a famous suicide spot. Nel Abbott is writing a history of the many deaths and the narrative is shared between all of those living in the village who have been affected by a drowning – and no-one is left untouched. This leads to the central question that Nel is probing – is it a place where people go to die – or is it a handy place to cover up a murder?

Some of the deaths are none too so recent, so the narrative swoops between times as well as people as the hidden connections and secrets, like all good detective fiction, are slowly uncovered. The threads that tie everyone together are also tested to breaking point. A twisted story of secret affairs and the damaging effect of too many lies in a community makes for a compelling, claustrophobic thriller and a brave new direction to follow up the monster hit that was ‘The Girl on the Train’.

It's difficult to believe that it has been six years (!) since we welcomed author Kate Summerscale to Abingdon the day after her triumph at the British Book Awards with 'The Suspicion of Mr Whicher'.

Here latest book 'The Wicked Boy' is another forensic examination of a true-life murder that shocked Victorian society, but - on closer examination - isn't quite the story that you first think it is.

It's both horribly compelling, but also thought-provoking, and has lesssons to teach us about empathy and ethics, and the responsibilities that wider society has to its most vulnerable members.

Over the next few weeks we'll be picking more of our Summer reading choices, but for now - come in and browse our picks on the table!

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