Kirstin Innes

(Fourth Estate, £8.99)

A few days before her 51st birthday, folk singer and political activist Clio Campbell is found dead from an overdose. Having grown up in a Highland mining town, the politicised singer famously turned a Top of the Pops appearance into a Poll Tax protest, setting her on a path of tireless activism which touched and inspired countless people. Each of Innes’s multiple narrators has their own version of who she was, and from their memories a picture gradually takes shape of a complex woman for whom the personal and political were inextricably entwined. Clio’s suicide casts a bittersweet pall over what follows as Innes traverses the political history of the last four decades, examining women’s roles in music and activism. But what makes it ultimately so moving is watching these disparate memories of Clio coalesce into a flawed but rich character who takes on a life of her own and leaves an indelible impression.


Helen McCarthy

(Bloomsbury, £12.99)

In Victorian times, working women were regarded as an oddity, even a “social problem”, despite numbering in the millions. Stretching from 1840 to the present day, McCarthy’s social history of women, particularly mothers, in the workplace examines the persistence of the Victorian idealisation of motherhood and policies intended to keep women dependent on their husbands. Even at times when they were well represented in the labour market, such as during the war and in the 1950s consumer boom, women’s work was considered temporary, justifying low wages. And today, while it may no longer be acceptable to say that women must choose between a family and a career, the world of work is still arranged with men in mind. McCarthy has drawn from surveys, reports and fiction, but the most important source for this weighty, authoritative tome has been the voices of working women themselves, a multiplicity of voices which can’t be reduced to simple archetypes.


Alan Gillespie

(Unbound, £9.99)

There’s only one road in and out, the phone signal is unreliable and everyone has secrets. In the remote Highland village of Cullrothes, no-one knows who they can trust. Gillespie’s whisky-centric novel keeps a close eye on numerous characters, from the distillery owner whose sideline is distributing drugs alongside whisky to the young couple who have just moved into the area to the 16-year-old girl who is desperate to escape it and her dying grandfather who hasn’t long to live. When the distillery owner’s son disappears, an anonymous American investor tries to muscle in on his business and the villagers’ secrets begin to unspool. With such a varied cast, there are always shafts of light to balance the oppressive gloom, like the sweet relationship between teenager Jessie and her grandfather, but The Mash House is a smart dissection of the darkness at the heart of an isolated community, a suspenseful and unsettling read.