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by Joan Smith
Arcadia, June 2007
256 pages
15.99 GBP
ISBN: 1905147562

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

For British crime fiction fans of a certain age, Sarah Dunant, Gillian Slovo and Joan Smith were the three home-grown writers who were staking their claim against the American big guns such as Paretsky, Grafton and Muller. All three have gone quiet on the mystery front in the past few years, but Joan Smith is back with a quietly intelligent book.

Smith is a noted British journalist who, in recent years, has concentrated on non-fiction. WHAT WILL SURVIVE is not really a mystery in the conventional sense, although there is that aspect to it as a young reporter, Amanda, sets out to find what happened to former model Aisha Lincoln

Aisha has given up the catwalk and is campaigning for a ban on landmines. She's on a trip to the Middle East with a photographer when she's killed. But no one can understand how Aisha and Fabio, had strayed so far off the beaten track.

Amanda is rather nave at times. She makes her living writing fairly lightweight celebtrity pieves, so when shes thrown into the turmoil of Beirut which is described with clarity shes out of her depth and throws a hissy fit rather than leaping on what most journalists would see as the story of a lifetime.

Smith writes precise and clear prose, marred only by an inability to stay in point of view for very long. On several occasions it took me a moment or two to realise that within the course of a paragraph or two, we'd moved into someone else's head. Grr! The other potential weak spot in the book is the ending my jury is still mulling over how much of a cop-out it was.

In the hands of a lesser writer, the middle section, where we lose sight of Aisha, would drag. But Smith just about gets away with it, as she focuses mainly on Stephen Massinger, a maverick Tory MP, who had been having an affair with Aisha.

Men dont come out of the book with an awful lot of honour. Aisha's husband Tim is shown as a tetchy has-been (or maybe a never-quite-made-it). Stephen is shallow and selfish. And the newsdesk figures are all superficial climbers.

The book works on several levels. It's set in 1997, so the Princess Diana angle is clear. Also New Labour has just come to power, leaving Stephen and his Tory colleagues out of favour and facing a long stint in opposition. The underlying and depressing message which is probably worse, ten years on is what motivates the media.

Reviewed by Sharon Wheeler, August 2007

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)

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