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General Election Night, 1983. The staff and diners at the upscale Oyster House restaurant on Jermyn Street, London, are ready for an evening of hard work and hard celebration of the Tory victory, but everything changes when two masked gunmen burst in and take them hostage in the downstairs kitchen. On the outside, the Police mobilise themselves to try and end the siege in the most peaceful way, while on the inside, the hostages realise that they are trapped with a psychopath who is armed and very dangerous.

This book is an undemanding and quick read, which starts with the onset of the siege and then alternates between the current time with the gunmen and hostages in the kitchen, and the past, where one of the gunmen’s back story is revealed in stages until we find out how he came to part of the events. We also have several chapters from the point of view of the Police – in particular that of Sergeant Willy Cosgrove, an honest man with an unusual idea of how to end the siege, and his commanding Officer Petersen, who is perhaps less honest and less bothered about a peaceful ending.

As you might expect from an author who is better known as a food critic, the action is intercut with scenes of cooking some intricate and delicious meals (which seemed slightly implausible  under the circumstances, but just believable enough not to annoy me) – if nothing else, this book has definitely made me determined to try a Rum Baba!

The story moves on at a fast pace, even allowing for the chapters set in the past, which are necessary to understand Nathan, the main hostage taker, whose story is told bit by bit. However, apart from Nathan and his lifelong friend Kingston, most of the characters weren’t that roundly developed. I don’t feel that I knew any more about the two cooks Tony and Stevie for instance by the end of the book than I did at the beginning. That said however, it didn’t detract from the enjoyment of the book.

I’m not sure how I feel about the ending, but I won’t post any spoilers here; what I will say is that while I’m not sure I liked it, I definitely wasn’t expecting it, so that’s a good thing.

Overall, I think I probably would read more by Jay Rayner in future, and would probably recommend this novel to fans of thrillers and very dark humour.

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An unnamed Latin American country is holding an international gathering, in the hope of securing trade with a rich Japanese businessman, who has only attended because his favourite opera singer is performing there.  However, shortly after her performance, terrorists storm the house, but are disappointed when their intended target – the President of the country – is revealed not to be present.  They take everybody there hostage, and a siege situation develops, which lasts four and a half months.  Over this time, the hostages and terrorists become accustomed to one another and form friendships – two couples fall in love – and many people on both sides find out things about themselves that they never realised.

I really enjoyed this book, despite the fact that I found the behaviour of almost all of the characters to be unbelievable.  However, for the most part, their actions take second place to the development of the characters, who are revealed bit by bit, so that in the end, we feel like we know most, if not all of them, very well.  The book treats hostages and terrorists with the same sympathy.

The situations which develop seem to be a highly unlikely scenario, but it is interesting to see how people’s personalities and priorities developed in the isolated situation they found themselves in.

The writing is beautiful and poetic – sometimes too much so; I felt that at times, the story got bogged down in too much unnecessary description.  However, those times were few and far between, and for the most part, it was a pleasure to read.

Overall, I would say that if you are looking for a realistic book about a hostage situation, then this might not be the one for you.  But if you are willing to suspend your credibility a little, and enjoy eloquent writing, I would recommend it.  I am certainly considering seeking out more by this author.

(Author’s website can be found here.)

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