Drove House has always loomed large over village life. Boarded-up for years, it is reputed to be brimming with ghosts, and is shunned by the locals – all except Billy, for whom it has been the site of childhood dens and secret adolescent adventures. When the captivating Muriel moves in with her bohemian mother, they sweep out the ghosts and breathe new life into both the house and Billy’s quiet rural existence.
After an idyllic summer, though, Muriel returns to her life in London, and the newly empty Drove House becomes the backdrop for Billy’s struggle to reconcile the vanishing agricultural lifestyle he has inherited with the glimpses of a baffling new way of life Muriel seemed to offer.
Charting the conflict between these two competing worlds, Peter Benson’s award-winning first novel is at once a lyrical portrait of the landscape of the Somerset Levels and a touching evocation of first love.
"A very apt and unillusioned sort of modern pastoral, blessed with the kind of narrative gift that’s like perfect pitch."
"Funny and painful and beautifully done so that we recognise life with a gasp."
A LESSER DEPENDENCY
In 1971 the inhabitants of Diego Garcia, a small island in the middle of the Indian Ocean, a place too small to find on a map and one of the last paradisical outposts of the Empire, were suddenly evicted from their homes to make way for a US military base.
A trenchant critique of modern civilization, A Lesser Dependency movingly describes how one family’s tropical heaven became hell.
"This is polemic touched with poetry. Benson’s gift is to capture in strong visual terms the earth-based intuition of those 'dropped in the sand and tuned to the rhythms of tiny island life’."
The Sunday Times
"A powerful political novel which makes its case all the more forcefully for being so restrained."
"The lack of adornment lends the novel the directness of a folk-tale and sharpens its sting."
THE OTHER OCCUPANT
Greg is thirty-three, without a job or a place to live. Hiding from painful memories, he only half-exists, his lethargy a protection against the world. Alice, his Leninist aunt, disturbed by his apathy, sends him to Dorset to help out a friend. Living in the countryside, working for the wildly eccentric, sports-car-owning Marjorie, he begins to face his past. As their friendship grows Greg is faced with an unexpected challenge that threatens to destroy his new-found happiness.
A subtly lyrical novel, written with Peter Benson’s trademark wit and understatement, The Other Occupant explores the moving evolution of an unlikely relationship, against a beautiful countryside backdrop.
"A gem of understatement and compassion."
The Evening Standard
"A memorable, affecting novel, its elegaic theme complemented by a laconic wit."
Bishop Odo, half-brother of William l, commissions a hanging to commemorate the King’s conquest of England. The man he chooses to design this tribute, Turold, a Norman renowned for his skill but not his temper, reluctantly travels to the convent in Winchester where nuns will implement his sketches. He’s accompanied by his old friend Rainald the monk, sent to liaise with the nuns and their abbess, and the narrator Robert, his young, devoted but mute apprentice.
Weaving in the dramatic sequence of events portrayed by the Bayeux Tapestry, Peter Benson gives a striking impression of the politics, conflicts and religious beliefs of the era. With this intricately wrought and absorbing novel, he has brought to life a fascinating period of English history.
“The story, both mysterious and mystical, is told in exquisitely simple language, and is Benson’s most eloquent fiction yet.”
The Mail on Sunday
The story becomes a dazzling metaphor for the tapestry itself. The language overflows with the same imagery of birds, insects, trees, clouds, torchlight and blood as are sewn into the background of the hanging’s great tale of conquest.”
“A closely observed response to the tapestry – not just an interpretation, but an imaginative act which has its subject’s vitality and mystery, its clear gaze at the motives of rulers and the atrocities they cause, and its care for the details of ordinary life.”
Time Literary Supplement
On his nineteenth birthday in an English seaside town, Duncan Blaine gets a clue to the whereabouts of his mother, Diana, who, nine years earlier, left him to be raised by relatives when a tragic accident took the life of her husband. When he meets her Duncan is also introduced to the new man in her life, a cardiac surgeon with whom she intends to live in Canada. Distraught at the prospect of yet another separation, Duncan attempts to reconcile with his mother while conducting a passionate affair with an employee of the inn where he is staying.
A compelling coming-of-age tale, in which Benson employs surfing as a metaphor, adding graceful comic details and a series of charming secondary characters, Riptide is an intense, even transcendent examination of a young man’s struggle to establish his identity while facing the loss of both parents.
"There is a great deal of beautiful writing and thoughtful language here, particularly in the depictions of surfing and sex."
"Little gems of metaphor glint on every page … a triumph."
The Daily Mail
A PRIVATE MOON
Frank, a private eye in Brighton, is the perfect lodger: neat, quiet and solitary, a decent man leading an uneventful life. Then his neighbour announces she’s pregnant, his landlady’s budgie is strangled, his boss retires to a sauna, his client’s wife is murdered, the client himself drowns, and his client’s sister dies in a fall from a high cliff path.
As Frank’s world tightens into a circle of chaos and death, he seeks escape. But will this be the catalyst he needs, or just another step towards the total collapse of his life?
"Benson delivers great lines in a glorious deadpan … Death itself is the real criminal in this tale, and the real mystery is how we reconcile ourselves to knowing that he will doubtless pull the big job on us one day."
The Sunday Telegraph
"Benson’s ability to walk this tightrope, between cynicism and sentimentality, between the arbitrariness of death and the absolute value of life, is a measure of his admirable control."
THE SHAPE OF CLOUDS
After a lifetime at sea, Captain Michael Blaine has retired to an abandoned, remote Cornish village. He is the only inhabitant until Elizabeth Green, American movie star and one-hit-wonder, comes to see her mother’s birthplace, just for a couple of hours. But soon she finds herself stranded, then forced to make the decision she has spent a lifetime avoiding.
Peter Benson’s beguiling novel is about dreams fulfilled, lives affirmed and a love as unexpected as it is late, confirming his place as one of the most individual voices in modern British fiction.
"Beautiful writing and thoughtful language... image is piled on image, often page after page of stunning prose."
"Benson is a sharp stylist and delivers great lines in a glorious deadpan... Fine writing, clear thinking and a life-enhancing sense of hope."
TWO COWS AND A VANFUL OF SMOKE
When young Elliot gets a labourer’s job at Mr Evans’s after being sacked from a pig farm for liberating six of its sows, he thinks he’ll have even more opportunities to lean on gates or stare at fields. But his best mate Spike keeps getting him into trouble, first by showing him what is being grown in a tucked-away polytunnel, and then turning up at his caravan’s door with a van full of weed. As Elliot tries to help his friend get rid of the hot merchandise, they find themselves at the receiving end of a cruel cat-and-mouse game.
A tale of adventure with as many twists and turns as the enchanting Somerset landscape that forms its backdrop, Two Cows and a Vanful of Smoke is, above all, a celebration of the English countryside – full of magic, history and superstition – where smoke is in the air, and where not all is what it seems.
"At a time of growing urbanism and reductive social interaction, this delightful novel extols the simple virtues of landscape and love, a sentiment that is as important now as it was when Benson first became a storyteller. Perhaps even more so."
Independent on Sunday
"Two Cows and a Vanful of Smoke mixes Somerset drifters, corrupt police and stolen cannabis, but the real magic – literally – of the book is in its evocation of a mystical English countryside … The prose twists and rolls like a vine creeping over a medieval brick wall."
"A Huckleberry Finn for the Somerset wilds."
The Independent on Sunday
"A coming-of-age novel that turns the plot of a thriller into a lyrical celebration of the mysterious and enchanting power of the natural world."
Times Literary Supplement
David Morris lives the quiet life of a book valuer for a London auction house, travelling every day by omnibus to his office on the Strand. When he is asked to make a trip to rural Somerset to value the library of the recently deceased Lord Buff-Orpington, the sense of trepidation he feels as he heads into the country is confirmed the moment he reaches his destination, the dark and impoverished village of Ashbrittle. These feelings turn to dread when he meets the enigmatic Professor Richard Hunt and catches a glimpse of a screaming woman he keeps prisoner in his house.
"Benson’s story is a spine-tingler complete with macabre twist and dastardly villain, but one shot through with musings on the beauty of our bucolic vistas."
"This classic Gothic novel is perhaps best kept on the bed stand until the nights turn windier, colder, to be read, hot toddy to hand, by flickering candlelight."
"This dark Gothic tale murmurs with fear and unease."
The Good Book Guide
THE SOUTH IN WINTER
Matthew Baxter was almost there. Almost a writer, almost a lover, almost a traveller. He wrote for the Tread Lightly range of travel guides, he loved his boss and he was about to catch a plane to the south. His job was to give an out-of-season slant to the Italian guide, and he was ready. Almost. For everything wasn’t exactly as it should have been. In fact, nothing was exactly as it should have been. Especially Matthew Baxter.
The South in Winter is a story of (almost) unrequited love and a meditation on the possibility of redemption. It’s also a tour of southern Italy, and aims to prove that although some people say “Never go back”, some people don’t know what they’re talking about.
"Vividly, defiantly realistic at times, luridly surreal at others, his writing’s ability to compound striking metaphors of the abstract with a graphic physicality has won him a deserved following."
Times Literary Supplement
THE TWO FRIENDS
A theatrical retelling of Gogol’s famous story of the two Ivans squabbling over a trifling insult, The Two Friends transposes the action to the village of Newington Green on the outskirts of London in the year 1722, when Daniel Defoe was a resident of the parish, the South Sea Bubble had recently burst and a terrible gin epidemic was about to break out.
Peppered with memorable lines, populated by an unforgettable cast of characters and written by multi-award-winning duo Peter Benson and Alessandro Gallenzi, The Two Friends is about the triumph of hilarity in a “dreary old world”.
"The authors have cleverly caught the atmosphere and preoccupations of the time, and the play well deserves being added to the repertory of period drama."
THE STROMNESS DINNER
Ed Beech is one half of Beech Building Services. He's based in Bermondsey but no job's too small, no distance too great. So when he's asked to do some work on a house in Orkney, he loads his van with paint, tools and sandwiches, and sets off.
Ed gets nervous around farm animals and large ships, and he's never been so far north, but when he's joined by Claire, his client's city banker sister, he discovers that in Stromness, anything is possible.
"What's on the menu at The Stromness Dinner? Small plates, big flavours. Peter Benson has the miniaturist's eye for the tiny details that bring grand themes to life: the love of food, the love of island life, and a love of love itself." Duncan McLean
KIDNAP FURY OF THE SMOKING LOVERS
Fargo Hawkins dropped out of school and now works for Harry Swaine, an abusive butcher with a chain of shops on the south coast of England. After witnessing a fight between Harry and his wife Anne, Fargo steals a car and together he, Anne and a dog called Radar go on the run.
An incandescent Harry and a firm of private detectives chase them across the country, and in no time they're a news- paper headline – Kidnap Fury of the Smoking Lovers. After a series of close calls and near misses, journey’s end for Fargo and Anne is a remote cottage in North Wales. For Harry, it is somewhere darker.