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Books you need to read in July

BY James Walton

4th Jul 2023 Book Reviews

Books you need to read in July

July's must-read books include a classic whodunit meets reality TV, and a dive into the fascinating history behind the Bee Gees

A Game of Lies by Clare Mackintosh

A Game of Lies by Clare Mackintosh

A traditional aspect of any whodunit is that all the suspects have secrets, but that only one of those secrets is having committed the murder. In A Game Of Lies, Clare Mackintosh neatly cranks up this ruse—because the setting is a reality TV show where the contestants must battle it out to conceal something terrible from their past.

Not that they knew this when they signed up. Only on the first night in camp is it revealed that they’re not taking part in a standard survival series in rural Wales. Instead, the producer Miles has dug up dirt on all of them, and they must guess each other’s skeletons before their own is broadcast to the nation. True, they can leave if they want to—but if so, they’ll lose the hefty appearance fee that Miles knows they badly need. 

In the circumstances, it’s perhaps not surprising who the murder victim is. Yet who could have killed Miles when everybody appears to have a rock-solid alibi? 

"A traditional aspect of any whodunit is that all the suspects have secrets"

This is the puzzle facing the spiky but likable DC Ffion Morgan, here appearing in her second Mackintosh novel, and developing nicely as a character with a lot more than just detective work to worry about. There is, for example, her daughter Seren to get through A Levels; day-to-day life in her nearby Welsh village where secrets aren’t easy for anyone to keep; and a "will-they-won’t-they?" romance with fellow officer Leo (or, more accurately, a "why-on-earth-don’t-they?" romance, given that they’re both obviously smitten).

Mackintosh juggles these many elements with aplomb, making for a far richer read than the average police procedural—but without ever sacrificing the procedural bit, which twists unguessably along in the approved manner. She also pays due attention to every character in a large cast, while still finding time to show us how reality TV operates (pretty scuzzily, on the whole) and, as an ex-copper herself, to spill a few beans on police-station politics.  

Ever since her first book I Let You Go won a Crime Novel of the Year Award in 2016, Mackintosh’s reputation and sales have both been growing fast. A Game of Lies seems deservedly likely to continue the process. 

Bee Gees: Children of the World by Bob Stanley

Bee Gees: Children of the World by Bob Stanley

Few groups in history have been as successful as the Bee Gees. And yet, as Bob Stanley acknowledges, at almost no point in a career of five decades, and 220 million records sold, have they been considered cool. Instead, they’ve often been unfairly mocked.  

Which is where Bee Gees: Children of the World comes in. “I’ve written this book,” Stanley tells us, “to give them their rightful place at the very top of pop’s table.” And from there, he makes a case that feels indisputable as he reminds us of just how many great songs they’ve written. 

"Few groups in history have been as successful as the Bee Gees. And yet, they’ve often been unfairly mocked"

Meanwhile, the band’s story is great too. Barry, Maurice and Robin Gibb were born in the Isle of Man but grew up in Manchester as somewhat unlikely juvenile delinquents, with arson a speciality. Advised (strongly) to leave the city by the police, the family moved to Australia, where the singing brothers—still not teenagers—got their first break, and one of the wildest up-and-down rides in showbusiness began.  

In 1967, they returned to Britain, where they were soon being hailed as rivals to the Beatles. By 1974, they were playing half-empty variety clubs. A few years after that, they were "the Kings of Disco", when Saturday Night Fever swept the planet. But then came the disco backlash, which left them so unfashionable that they were obliged to hide behind other singers, writing—among much else—“Islands in the Stream” for Kenny Rogers and Dolly Parton. There were also plenty of battles with drink and drugs along the way, before the Bee Gees finally got recognition they deserved, winning four Lifetime Achievement Awards in 1997 alone. 

But here they are as excited young expats in the Queensland town of Redcliffe… 

The Bee Gees performing on This is Tom Jones, 1969. ABC Television, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

The Bee Gees performing on This is Tom Jones, 1969. ABC Television, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

“The biggest thrill came when they discovered Redcliffe’s Speedway. By the beginning of 1959 Barry and his schoolmate Ken Griggs were selling Coke and Fanta there on Sundays. The roar of the bikes and the cars, and the smell of the dust flying off the red, sandy track were irresistible. Gaps between races were long and uneventful, so Barry got the brothers to do what they loved to do, singing ‘Lollipop’, ‘Wake Up Little Susie’ and the odd Barry Gibb original for good measure. A crowd formed, and the crowd bought more Coke and Fanta.  

This got them noticed by the track’s owner, Bill Goode, a natural-born car nut whose hands were always covered in oil and grease. The day the Gibbs started their impromptu show, he was doubling up as a mechanic because his marshal hadn’t arrived, and he came out of the pits to see what was going on. ‘When I heard these beautiful, melodious voices coming through the speaker. it stopped me in my tracks. I thought, Geez, they’re good.’  

The following day, Goode invited the Gibbs back down to the track and asked them to sing him another song. What would he like to hear? Well, how many have you got? Twelve-year-old Barry Gibb told Bill Goode that he had written around 180 songs.  

"Goode and Gates were the first people to believe the brothers were a significant talent"

‘They sang me an Everly Brothers song and I was absolutely amazed.’ Sensing something special, Goode quickly got in touch with radio station 4BH disc jockey Bill Gates to check he wasn’t hearing things. Goode wanted to sign the boys to a contract, but required a second opinion.  

Like Goode, Bill Gates loved his cars. More importantly—as ‘Swingin’ Gates’—he was the most popular DJ in Queensland, the host of 4BH’s Midday Platter Chatter. Gates just happened to be driving a car in a charity meeting at Redcliffe. He heard the brothers’ harmonies over the Tannoy. He confirmed that Goode wasn’t hearing things: ‘Even under such primitive conditions,’ he recalled, ‘their sound was remarkable.’ Goode remembers Gates being ‘pretty stoked. I asked him if he wanted to join in the [management] company and promote them and he said yes please!’  

So Bill Goode introduced Barry Gibb to Bill Gates, whose sign-off happened to be ‘BG on BH’. Gates was taken aback by the older brother’s brio and confidence. He also suggested a new name. It was goodbye to Barry and the Twins, goodbye to Johnny Hayes and the Blue Cats, goodbye to the Rattlesnakes. The trio re-named themselves for the fourth and final time at Redcliffe’s speedway track: Bill Goode, Bill Gates and Barry Gibb—all the main players had the initials B G. They became the BGs. It would take a while for an official spelling and house style to settle in, and later the name would be retro-fitted to stand for Brothers Gibb, but Goode and Gates were the first people—aside from their parents—to believe the brothers were a significant talent.” 

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