Brand New Friend by Kate Vane


Brand New Friend

I found the author Kate Vane via Twitter, we follow each other, and recently I read a book review she posted on her website. I liked her review as it was honest without being hurtful. So I decided to read her latest book.

Rating systems do not allow for partial stars so I am giving this book 4 stars, although in reality I would rate it in the range of 3.5-3.8. In other words somewhere between “I liked it and I really liked it”. I am comfortable leaving my rating at 4 based on the writing strength and the keen ability of Ms. Vane to draw characters and to set scenes.

I found the promo blurbs to be a little misleading so I am creating my own— because this book is different from what you are led to believe—I am not alone in this comment.

For the record, I thought it was going to be a crime mystery wherein a journalist for the BBC, would unravel the “who-done-it” before or by working with the police. And it is sort of…but this book refuses to pigeon-hole itself into one genre and I like that as it makes for a more interesting read. I am also a fan of books that flip through time with alternating storylines involving the past and the present.

Paolo, her main character, is a somewhat disaffected foreign correspondent who finds himself working as a home-based journalist for the BBC serving as a “couch sitter” on various news shows. His career has diminished due to some life altering events surrounding Salma, his Egyptian wife, a fellow journalist, and their children.

Salma, was forced to flee the Middle East in the midst of the Tahrir Square incident, but once her own family was safe, she worked tirelessly to free the colleagues she left behind. Her efforts were ultimately successful but took their toll, after which she felt the need to disappear into the oblivion of “normal” life. Paolo, understanding the need, made the necessary career sacrifices to help his wife and family heal. 

All well and good, but Paolo was having troubling transitioning from his former identity as a headline generating Middle Eastern correspondent to his current role as a well-heeled suburban family man living in Suffolk. He was at a bit of loose ends and more than a little worried about the state of his marriage.

All this ennui changes when Paolo gets a phone call from Mark Benson, a man he knew during his university days, thirty some years ago, when they were fellow members of the same animal rights activist group and hadn’t heard from since…

It turns out that instead of just being a fellow activist Mark was an uncover cop working to infiltrate an extremist organization and was now on the brink of being outed via national press coverage. Seems like old news— but Paolo was curious enough that he made the trip back to Leeds. It was during their first sit down that Mark gets a phone call regarding a dead body found in the City Garden that he manages.

This body turns out to be Sid, Mark’s old handler during his undercover days, a fact that is not divulged to the police. Mark disappears and Paolo decides to continue investigating, and from there the story emerges.

There is no black and white in this book as it is more of a character study than anything else…lots of varying shades of gray.

The story is told through alternating flashbacks and the present day as Paolo soon realizes that the key to figuring out this crime comes from revisiting his own past and the surrounding incidents that involved their tiny activist group, his fellow house mates and Mark—their Brand New Friend.

Ms. Vane is an English author and I am an American reader so at first I had a little trouble puzzling out the colloquialisms and cadence of the speech patterns of her characters. Once I got up to speed I was golden. Although I still question: wall muriel instead of wall mural.

I think that Ms. Vane did an excellent job with the ’80’s flashbacks as the activist scene—flat mates— University parts of the book were extremely well written.  Fewer people to keep track of back then was a bonus but I mostly enjoyed it because she fleshed this set of characters out in ways that all of us former ’80’s college students can relate, even though, in the US, I had a completely different play list.  I particularly enjoyed reading the chapters where Paolo contacts all of his old roommates and the “where are they now” stories.

However, the chapters that are set in the present day feature an additional abundance of minor characters and side stories and I personally had difficulty remembering who was who and their part in various plot lines—especially as things were seldom exactly what they seemed.  I was further impeded by the fact that I was only able to read in a short burst/ long pause fashion. I kept forgetting who was who and who did what, where they fit in, and how did they figure that out…

Kindle reading does not make for easy going back and checking so when my brain let me down on some of these connections I simply accepted the given explanations and did’t try to back fact check. I’m still not sure I got everything right or understand some finer details. But no spoilers.

No regrets on time spent reading this book and would read more of Kate Vane.

About Kate Vane:

Kate worked as a probation officer in Leeds for a number of years. She started writing crime fiction because she thought made-up criminals would be easier to manage (Kate was wrong).

Kate has published four novels. She has written for BBC drama Doctors and her short stories and articles have appeared in various publications and anthologies, including Mslexia and Scotland on Sunday.

Kate always loved the sea, and now live on the beautiful south Devon coast. If she's not reading or writing, she's probably in the garden.

For the latest on her writing, go to where you can sign up for her newsletter.


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Hi! I'm Debbie. Here at Categorically Well-Read I give an extra layer to the reading life. Learn more about me, check out my current category of books, submit your own suggestion, or check out my latest post.