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.

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