Friday, August 07, 2009

2009 books, #26-#43

I haven't been reading all that much, by my standards, recently; and I haven't blogged books since the middle of May; so here's a big splurge of them... I seem to have started reading again in the last few days, though...

Unnatural justice, by Quintin Jardine. London: Headline, 2004.

Oz Blackstone is what PG Wodehouse would have called "a queer bird"... I don't know what to think about him; I've read four or five books featuring him, and I think I like him, and his various families; but he's still a bit of a cipher. The books are pretty compelling nevertheless. I feel this way about Jardine's other main character, Bob Skinner, too; don't think it's necessarily a bad thing...

The private patient, by P. D. James. London: Faber, 2008.

Oz makes Adam Dalgliesh look like an open book. This book is superbly plotted and paced, but somehow still, the dialogue doesn't really work. I think because sometimes the characters don't sound like anything anyone would say (and I am, you may recall, a fan of The West Wing, where multisyllabic dialogue is the norm). As an example:

Dalgliesh said "I'm prevaricating, but the question is hypothetical. It must depend on the importance and reasonableness of the law I would be breaking and whether the good to the mythical loved person, or indeed the public good, would in my judgement be greater than the harm of breaking the law."

The plot works, though.

The ritual bath, by Faye Kellerman. Oxford: Isis Audio, 2007 (originally published 1986); Sacred and profane, by Faye Kellerman. London: Hodder, 1989; Milk and honey, by Faye Kellerman. London: Hodder, 1990. Day of Atonement, by Faye Kellerman. London: Hodder, 1991. False prophet, by Faye Kellerman. London: Hodder, 1992. Grievous sin, by Faye Kellerman. London: Hodder, 1993. Sanctuary, by Faye Kellerman. London: Hodder, 1994. The forgotten, by Faye Kellerman. Oxford: Isis Audio, 2001. The burnt house, by Faye Kellerman. Oxford: Isis Audio, 2008 (originally published 2007). Cold case, by Faye Kellerman. Oxford: Isis Audio, 2009.

Yes; I've basically devoured about half of this series of books now... The first one I "read" was the latest one, on audiobook (because it was read by the wonderful Jeff Harding who could read the Yellow Pages and make it sound interesting); but then I went back and got the first one, and have been reading them more or less in order, except for occasional excursions into audio-book-land with Mr H. The plots in these are great; and I like Peter Becker who's a slightly less scary Harry-Bosch-type cop. But the main interest for me is what I'm learning about the different types of observant Judaism; Kellerman (and her husband, fellow crime-writer Jonathan Kellerman) are religious Jews and so it doesn't come over as an endearing quirk the writer has decided to give her detective so we remember who he is; it's very interesting to see religion being woven so tightly into the fabric of a crime novel and taken seriously. So many times, you'll get religion turning up in something like the Morse novels to explain sexual repression or Satanic behaviour as a plot device or curiosity, (or in other fiction and drama to explain fanaticism and terrorism) and it does usually just wind me up...

The poet, by Michael Connolly. London: Orion, 2005.

This is a very belated edition of a book which came out in hardback in 1996. It twists and turns in a way which is more reminiscent of Jeffery Deaver; and although it doesn't have any of my favourite Michael Connolly characters, it's still extraordinarily good, and kept me from my knitting for two days on the train...

What's going on? the meanderings of a comic mind in confusion, by Mark Steel. London: Simon and Schuster, 2008.

I love Mark Steel's books, and I've already mentioned the fact that I'd spent a chunk of my birthday listening to him. This book is a wonderful exploration of what it's like to suddenly be middle-aged, still radical, and have your life fall apart around you. He rants on everything from identikit shopping centres to the death of the Socialist Workers' Party, while talking movingly about the disintegration of his marriage; and it's all funny as well as making you want to cry out of sheer exasperation. Wonderful.

Restless, by William Boyd. London: Bloomsbury, 2007.

A very well-paced spy drama, set in the 1970s but with long flashbacks to the 1940s - a daughter discovers that her mother, Sally Gilmartin, is actually Eva Delectorskaya, a wartime spy. I wouldn't normally read spy dramas, but this one was well-told, and the device of setting it in two time-periods worked extremely well.

The city and the city, by China Miéville. London: Macmillan, 2009.

This is a wonderful book; I had started his Perdido Street Station several times and found it somewhat too rich and strange at the time; this is a noir crime novel set in an extremely unusual city. There's a double detection going on - the murder mystery investigated by Borlú and his colleagues, and the additional mystery for the readers of trying to figure out the workings of the city itself, which most of the characters in the drama know instinctively. It works brilliantly on both levels. China Miéville did a reading/Q&A at the Royal Festival Hall on Thursday night and said he'd written it partly to draw in crime readers and present them with some fantasy elements; certainly worked for me. I'll be going back to read his others.

Skinner's mission, by Quintin Jardine. London: Headline, 1997.

I've read these all out of order; and it's been both intriguing and frustrating. The plots work out just as well in any order, but Skinner's somewhat complicated personal life gets even more convused in random order; I'll be going back and reading the ones surrounding this one now...

A scandalous man, by Gavin Esler. London: Harper, 2008.

Yes, that Gavin Esler... who apparently, when I Googled him for this link, has been quite a scandalous man himself recently, although this is according to the Daily Mail, so, you know... I really enjoyed this book. One of the main narrators is a Thatcher-era former cabinet minister; the other his estranged, Blairite son. Sometimes the dialogue is a bit stilted - Esler's trying to educate us on the politics and history of the 80s and how it has affected life since, and while I occasionally found this irritatingly didactic as it's exactly my era, obviously it's not everybody's! Highly recommended. The Times reviews it here.

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