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.

Breathe
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.

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Contributor

Alexander Larman

The GuardianTramp

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