In brief: The Wichita Lineman; How It Was; Breathe – reviews

Dylan Jones offers a vivid study of a timeless ballad, Janet Ellis an affecting second novel and Dominick Donald a taut thriller

The Wichita Lineman
Dylan Jones

Faber, £10, pp288

It might seem hubristic to write a book about one song, no matter how good it is, but Dylan Jones’s lively and revelatory study of Jimmy Webb’s impossibly moving ballad Wichita Lineman amply justifies its existence. Made popular by Glen Campbell, the song was recorded in an unfinished form, but, as Jones authoritatively explores its creation, reception and near-mythic aftermath, one understands why none other than Bob Dylan referred to it as the greatest song ever written. As Jones eulogises its greatest couplet – “And I need you more than want you/ And I want you for all time” – it is impossible not to want to listen to it again.

How It Was
Janet Ellis

Two Roads, £16.99, pp448

Janet Ellis’s follow-up to her fine debut novel, The Butcher’s Hook, deals with tension between generations, exacerbated by a long-buried secret. As Marion Deacon sits dutifully by her dying husband Michael’s bedside, she thinks about the shortlived love affair she had decades ago, as even greater tragedy befalls her family. Ellis has a knack for depicting the way in which families struggle to communicate, while the use of multiple narrators enables her to parcel out information right up until the affecting conclusion. Despite being somewhat overlong, How It Was remains engaging and readable.

Dominick Donald

Hodder, £8.99, pp528

Dominick Donald’s debut novel is set in a miserable 1952 London, where the streets have been reduced to rubble by bombs, literal and metaphorical fog has overtaken everything and PC Dick Bourton finds himself investigating a particularly unpleasant series of murders. It takes undeniable courage to introduce John “Reg” Christie, one of Britain’s most notorious serial killers, into the mix of a crime procedural, but Donald’s grim, brilliant book justifies his presence by sustaining the ghastly plot reversals and suffocating tension until the climax.

To order any of these books for a special price go to or call 0330 333 6846. Free UK p&p over £15, online orders only. Phone orders min p&p of £1.99


Alexander Larman

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
In brief: On Earth We're Briefly Gorgeous; Mind Games; Savage Kiss – reviews
Ocean Vuong explores family trauma, ex-goalkeeper Neville Southall reveals all and Robert Saviano goes back to the mob

Ben East

20, Sep, 2020 @12:00 PM

Article image
In Brief: A Year With Swollen Appendices; The Octopus Man; The Dark Knight and the Puppet Master – reviews
Brian Eno’s diary gets an anniversary reissue, Jasper Gibson’s new novel asks what normal really is, and Chris Clarke tells the modern left some home truths

Alexander Larman

24, Jan, 2021 @1:00 PM

Article image
In brief: Untitled: The Real Wallis Simpson, Duchess of Windsor; The King’s Evil; Circe – reviews
A sympathetic biography of Edward VIII’s American wife, an enthralling Restoration crime thriller and Madeline Miller’s excellent retelling of The Odyssey

Alexander Larman

24, Mar, 2019 @3:59 PM

Article image
In brief: Water Ways, The City Always Wins, A Shot in the Dark – reviews
Jasper Winn on the mood and meaning of Britain’s canals, Omar Robert Hamilton crafts a vivid story about Egypt’s revolution, and Lynne Truss exhibits her mastery of mystery

Ben East

10, Jun, 2018 @9:00 AM

Article image
In brief: Magpie Lane; I Want You to Know We're Still Here; The Language of Birds – reviews
A child goes missing from an Oxford college, a daughter uncovers a family secret about the Holocaust and the Lord Lucan scandal gets a vibrant rewrite

Hannah Beckerman

26, Apr, 2020 @12:00 PM

Article image
In brief: When Time Stopped; The Book of Echoes; The Adventures of Maud West, Lady Detective – reviews
A gripping family memoir reaching back to Nazi Germany, a debut novel tracing two centuries of colonialism and a quest to discover the identity of a pioneering female sleuth

Hannah Beckerman

01, Mar, 2020 @3:00 PM

Article image
In brief: House of Music; The Midnight Library; Signs of Civilisation – review
A joyous account of the remarkable musical Kanneh-Mason siblings

Hephzibah Anderson

30, Aug, 2020 @2:00 PM

Article image
In brief: The World Aflame; The Last Protector; Beneath the Streets – review
Images of the world wars are given colour; Andrew Taylor’s latest 17th-century mystery; and what if Jeremy Thorpe got away with murder?

Alexander Larman

17, May, 2020 @12:00 PM

Article image
In brief: The Bach Cello Suites; The Book of Mother; Reality and Other Stories
Steven Isserlis gives his take on a musical masterwork, Violaine Huisman dramatises an intense daughterhood and John Lanchester evokes the ghost in our machines

Hannah Beckerman

10, Oct, 2021 @3:00 PM

Article image
In brief: Born to Be Posthumous; The Chestnut Man; How to Rule the World
A biography of the influential American illustrator Edward Gorey, debut crime fiction from the creator of The Killing, and a comic novel from Tibor Fischer about a documentary film-maker

Alexander Larman

27, Jan, 2019 @4:00 PM