Saturday, May 15, 2010

2010 books, #36-40

Third book review post running! I promise some knitting content in the next one...

In the bleak midwinter, by Julia Spencer-Fleming. New York: St Martin's, 2002.

A completely new-to-me author, and sent to me from Canada by the friend who also gave me the Christine Poulter book from the last batch of reviews. I realised why she was new to me when I went hunting in the library catalogue for the second one in the series - we don't have a single one of her books anywhere in Cambridgeshire libraries (and now Borders has gone, probably nowhere in Cambridgeshire bookshops either). Which is a great shame. The protagonist of this book, the first in a series, is Clare Fergusson, Episcopalian priest and ex-Army chopper pilot - it's a tribute to the author that she actually makes this a believable combination. A newborn baby is left on the doorstep of the church, bringing Clare into contact with the local police in upstate New York. It's a very good combination of action thriller and exploration of church politics and general human nature; and there's a lot of chemistry with the other main character, the local (married) police chief. I always enjoy a thriller where a character with religious belief doesn't turn out to be either a psychopath or just a sad weirdo - I like Faye Kellerman's Peter Becker for the same reason. Chai sent me books 1 and 3, so I've just ordered 2 and 4 secondhand on Amazon...

The pyramid, by Henning Mankell [audiobook]. Read by Seán Barrett. Oxford: Isis, 2009.

Some back-stories to the Wallander books; I can't remember whether there were three or four, but all from different time periods. The first is set in the period before Wallander and Mona are married and you do wonder why they ever bothered; there's more light thrown on the relationship between Wallander and his father. Although there is a crime in each of these stories, Mankell is more interested in the characters involved. Another very good reading by Seán Barrett.

Losing ground, by Catherine Aird. London: Allison and Busby, 2008.

A chance find at the library; I think I read one of hers a couple of years ago, set around a psychiatric hospital. This is one you inhale rather than read; and even though it includes a rock singer, it's very compelling. An 18th-century painting is stolen and the manor house featured in it goes up in flames on the same night; the cast of characters is nicely quirky, and the plot is a good one, even if there is a bit of a rabbit-out-of-the-hat at the end.

Killing the fatted calf, by Susan Kelly. London: Allison and Busby, 2001.

The second of the Gregory Summers novels and a good follow-up to the first. Kelly combines a very private plot (the reunion of an adopted son and his birth-family) with a general social issue (illegal immigration into the UK) and manages it very skilfully, and with some humour on occasion.

Death watch, by Jim Kelly [audiobook]. Read by Roger May. Oxford: Isis, 2010.

On the 18th anniversary of the disappearance of his twin sister Norma Jean, the remains of Bryan Judd are found in the chamber of the hospital incinerator he managed. There must be something in the water this year - Peter James and Jim Kelly must both have been writing books about human organ trafficking at the same time. This one has a more cheerful outcome, and there are some interesting characters along the way. Jim Kelly is Ely-based and this one is set in King's Lynn; I tried reading his first book and didn't get all that far with it but on the basis of this one I'll go back and try again. Quite a nice reading from Roger May, although I was slightly predisposed against him - he's also the voice of the dastardly James Bellamy in The Archers.

2010 books, #31-35

The brutal art by Jesse Kellerman [audiobook]. Read by Adam Sims. Oxford: Isis, 2008.

The third member of the Kellerman family (son of Jonathan and Faye) to write thrillers. This one is a curious book - you really don't like the narrator all that much, particularly in the beginning; it's in a strange milieu, being set in the art galleries of New York; the art in the centre of the plot is very strange and somewhat unpleasant. But starting off from the point of view of an unreliable narrator, telling a biographical plot, is a stroke of genius; it's oddly compelling. I was listening to this on the train, and I may have missed the vital moment which connected points A to B, because somewhere in the middle I think there's a hole in the plot. But that may just have been a fault in my listening... I was prepared to dislike this, in the same way I'm always prepared to dislike a second-generation politician, or rock musician, or whatever; but Kellerman fils is definitely striking out in a different direction... Sims's reading is pretty good, too

The night of the Mi'raj, by Zoë Ferraris. London: Abacus, 2009.

This time's Kniterati [Ravelry link] book. I'd put off reading it until the last minute because I wasn't sure I'd enjoy something set in Saudi Arabia - I'd somehow missed the fact that it was also a detective story, possibly because the library seems to have it down as General Fiction, which is really quite weird. It's not the best example of a detective story, and the dénouement is pretty weak, but the atmosphere and environment are very interesting. I know nothing at all about Saudi society, so I have no idea how accurate any of it is, but the pride and prejudice displayed in this book were fascinating, and I look forward to the discussion.

The girl who played with fire, by Stieg Larsson [audiobook]. Read by Saul Reichlin. Rearsby, Leics.: W F Howes, 2009.

A blindingly good sequel to The girl with the dragon tattoo. Larsson is the same sort of dangerous narrator as Jeffery Deaver - there's no guarantee that even major characters will survive; and none that they'll be honest, or innocent - there are no innocents in this novel. You have a feeling that he's prepared to do literally anything - and in this one, he actually does, while leaving himself enough rope for the final novel in the trilogy.

Murder is academic, by Christine Poulson. New York, N.Y. : St Martin's Press, 2004.

This is one set in Cambridge; an academic turns detective after the death of an English department colleague. It has some very nice characterisation, and the plot twists and turns well. Its sense of the geography of Cambridge is also very good - sometimes this can be totally exasperating in books about places you know well. There's the occasional "huh??" moment when she talks about University procedure (but maybe it's changed...) and I think there's one loose end in the plot which is never tied up (I lent this to a friend immediately on finishing it so I'll have to go back and check that), but it's a very engaging quick read.

The crossing places, by Elly Griffiths [audiobook]. Read by Jane McDowell. Bath: Chivers/BBC, n.d.

Another one set in my general area, in North Norfolk; this was originally recommended by a member of the Archers group on Ravelry when we were talking about Woodhenge. Another academic (this time an overweight archaeologist living with her cats) gets involved in detective work after bones are discovered near the henge site; these turn out to be Iron Age, but she's gradually drawn in to a more recent murder hunt. The depiction of the landscape around King's Lynn is very good, and the plot is gripping, with some genuinely terrifying moments. I'll be looking for anything else Ms Griffiths has written...

Monday, May 03, 2010

2010 books, #26-30

Ford County, by John Grisham. London: Century, 2009.

A collection of short and longer stories: Grisham seems to get better and better in his non-crime work. The blurb inside the book cover describes the subject matter as well as I would: A mercy mission that is hilariously sidetracked by human weakness; a manipulative death row inmate with one last plea; a small town divorce attorney who suddenly hits pay dirt; a man that sets out to break a casino to revenge a broken heart; a kidnapped lawyer who is confronted with one of his previous cases at gun point; a conman who preys on the rich and elderly; the boy dying of AIDS who finds mercy across the tracks in downtown Clanton. Grisham has a wry, humorous perspective which is never cruel, and particularly in the final story, an enormous compassion. His affection for the place in which he grew up, and continues to live, is obvious, despite the venality of some of its inhabitants.

Blacklist, by Sara Paretsky [audiobook]. Read by Barbara Rosenblat. Rearsby, Leics.: W F Howes, 2004.

I first read this when it came out in 2003, and although it's a very fine detective novel I was most struck by its also being a howl of protest against the depredations of the USA PATRIOT Act. Reading it again 7 years later (and with the benefit of Barbara Rosenblat's wonderful narration), I'm struck again by the parallel narratives - there's a modern day anti-terrorist secnario overlying a long-hidden secret from the HUAC hearings in the 1940s and 1950s, which has poisoned three great families and led to the death of an investigative journalist. Even if you don't like detective fiction all that much, this is a fascinating read and Paretsky at her finest.

Term limits, by Vince Flynn. London: Pocket Books, 2008 [originally published in 2000].

Brilliant, fast-paced US political thriller - the strapline says Taking America back, one politician at a time. One of the reviews said Vince Flynn is like Tom Clancy on speed - but thankfully it's way better than that (I've always got very annoyed with the amount of technical detail in Clancy's novels). Someone is killing unscrupulous and corrupt senators and congressmen as a way of demanding a return to non-partisan politics. The wheeling and dealing of Washington DC is very well done; the action heros aren't too unrealistic, and the plot rattles along at high pace. There is quite a lot of technology - I can understand the Clancy analogy - but it doesn't take the whole book over.

Dead tomorrow, by Peter James [audiobook]. Read by David Bauckham. Rearsby, Leics.: W F Howes, 2009.

The fifth Roy Grace novel, and probably the best so far. Someone is killing teenagers for their organs and dumping them at sea; meanwhile, the daughter of one of the dredgermen who recover the first body is in desperate need of a liver transplant. The stories interweave, and questions of legality, morality and ethics clash; parental desperation comes up against the law, and otherwise honest people commit criminal acts. I can't say much more without spoiling the ending, which explodes on you. Probably not one you'd want to read if you were too close to the situation, though. The day I finished reading this, the public consultation on organ donation began.

The mind readers, by Margery Allingham. London: Vintage, 2008 [originally published in 1965].

An Albert Campion story, but Campion is curiously absent in this story. Halfway between a COld War era spy thriller and science fiction, this is extremely dated but still bears reading. An island research station is experimenting with ESP, but then two schoolboys turn up in possession of devices which can achieve telepathic communication, and powerful interests will kill to get hold of them. Stylishly written, and a period piece, but very enjoyable.