In brief: How to Kill Your Family; Guarded by Dragons; Dancing With the Octopus – reviews

An antiheroine on a mission to bump off her father, confessions of a bookseller and the compelling true-life story of rape, ransom and family cruelty

How to Kill Your Family

Bella Mackie
The Borough Press, £14.99, pp368

In a nod to the Ealing comedy Kind Hearts and Coronets, twentysomething Londoner Grace Bernard sets out to avenge her late single mum and the privations of their shared life by bumping off the fashion tycoon father who’s refused to acknowledge her, though not before dispatching every member of his pampered clan. Ironic twists and caustic commentary on everything from liberal guilt to the consumerist con that is “self-care” sharpen a debut novel that may lack the subtlety of the classic film, but delivers an antiheroine able to best villainous male protagonists such as Patrick Bateman any day.

Guarded by Dragons: Encounters With Rare Books and Rare People

Rick Gekoski
Constable, £18.99, pp256

Gekoski has been in the rare books trade for more than half a century, years during which time the business has changed only modestly. To outsiders, its appeal remains rarefied, but dip into this shrewd, gossipy memoir and you’ll find an altogether different world, one of shameless wheeler-dealing, scurrilous cunning and blind luck. Vital to the success of any hunter-dealer is an ability to negotiate with the dragons who invariably guard sought-after treasures. As Gekoski notes: “I get on well with some, others leave scorch marks. All leave stories.” Questions of authenticity, value and worth are slyly woven into the ensuing capers.

Dancing With the Octopus: The Telling of a True Crime

Debora Harding
Profile Books, £9.99, pp432

In 1978, aged 14, the author was abducted in a Nebraska ice storm, just outside a church. Her 17-year-old assailant raped her, ransomed her, then left her tied up in a frozen railway yard. She escaped and “Mr K”, as she dubs him, was caught and sentenced to 25 years in prison. But Harding’s ordeal doesn’t end there. Back home, her dysfunctional, violent mother refused to believe her and, decades later, her insistent denial finds Harding embarking on her own investigation. A riveting story perceptively told, it’s all the more powerful for the absence of easy resolution.

To order How to Kill Your Family, Guarded by Dragons or Dancing with the Octopus, support the Guardian and Observer and go to Delivery charges may apply


Hephzibah Anderson

The GuardianTramp

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