The News Where You Are by Catherine O'Flynn
I liked British writer Catherine O'Flynn's award-winning debut novel, What Was Lost, and this one has much the same feel and themes. The story of small lives set against a bleak, urban landscape with a hint of a murder mystery in the mix, it's wry, engaging and understated.
Set in Birmingham, The News Where You Are is about slightly hapless local news presenter Frank Allcroft. While his charismatic predecessor, Phil Smethway, went on to glitzier things, Frank's been content to spend 20 years delivering the same small stories and corny jokes.
But now Phil's dead, mysteriously killed by a hit-and-run driver in the very first chapter and Frank, a melancholy sort of guy, is becoming increasingly obsessed with the solitary deaths of lonely people - even attending their funerals.
Much of Frank's life is a bit of a downer, actually.
His misery of a mother is in a rest-home waiting to die, his workaholic architect father is long-gone and every building he created is being demolished as people realise the stark, ugly designs of the 1960s and 70s are impossible to live with.
It's a little difficult to see why Frank's super-cool wife and spirited daughter put up with him, since he's so drippy in the opening chapters that I almost gave up on him myself, but I'm glad we all persevered.
It's when Frank becomes caught up in the death of another lonely person, Michael Church, that the murder mystery element of the plot sparks up. But this is not a thriller by any means. O'Flynn is concerned with Britain, its foibles and its follies.
She's fascinated by Birmingham, a city that keeps trying to "reinvent itself, to be the city of the future, but then always changes its mind about what the future might be". She has an eye that picks out small sadnesses and an ability to retrieve humour and pathos from unlikely places.
The plot and her cast of characters are really only the framework for her to hang her ideas on.
Although it's very much a story about contemporary Britain, this novel offers plenty of tasty stuff for those of us who don't live there to chew through.