Monday, February 13, 2012

2012 books, #6-10

Snuff, by Terry Pratchett.  London: Doubleday, 2011.

Terry Pratchett is a man with a lot to be angry about, these days, and in this book he finds his perfect vehicle in Sam Vimes.  Vimes has been forced to go on holiday to his (actually his wife's) country estate; and as the bookcover blurb says "It is a truth universally acknowledged that a policeman taking a holiay will barely have had time to open his suitcase before he finds his first corpse."  As ever with the Vimes books, this is darker in quality than some of the others.  There's a lot of justice and injustice in this book, and a lot of righteous anger; the title does refer to tobacco in part, but also to what happens when one group of people declare another group of people not to be people at all, but commodities to be exploited.  This is a Pratchett tour de force and every now and then you're just stunned by the quality of the argument.  Although he's an atheist, he's never afraid to corral religious language when no other will do; at the end of one long ramble by his trainee copper, "the voice of Vimes, and this time sounding rather far away, said, 'Do you know what that little speech you made was called, Mister Feeney?' 'Don't know sir, it's just what I think.' 'It was called redemption, Mister Feeney. Hold on to it.' "  My only reservation with this one is the transformation of Willikins from the perfect gentleman's gentleman to something far more elemental and dangerous; but it does work.  And of course, it's also hilarious; there's the 12-year-old's humour, but also something much more knowing and subversive of literary genres too, and he blends all the strands in wonderfully.

Just my type: a book about fonts, by Simon Garfield. London: Profile, 2011.

This was a Christmas present - thanks, Sue!  I'd heard one of the episodes when this was book of the week on Radio 4 and I was working from home, but had promptly forgotten all the details of the book.  If I'd realised it was the guy responsible for the equally fascinating Mauve, about the history of the chemical dye, I'd have remembered it better!  This is a fascinating roller-coaster ride through the intricacies of font history and design; and I've spent the last week or so looking at packaging and signposting with new eyes.  From Gutenberg to the guy who designed the Rolling Stone masthead and the man responsible for Comic Sans, Garfield explores the history and aesthetics of font design while never losing a sense of humour.  And at the end, his 8 Worst Fonts of All Time are hilarious.

The coldest blood, by Jim Kelly [audiobook]. Read by Ray Sawyer. Oxford, Isis, 2007.

Two men die in the Fens around Ely - both frozen to death in different ways.  Philip Dryden, a former Fleet Street journalist demoted to chief reporter for the Ely Crow, realises there's a link both between the two men and with his own childhood.  He investigates with his unlikely sidekick Humph, and finds himself digging into his own past.  The plot is fascinating and twists and turns nicely, and the geography is spot on; I wasn't sure about Jim Kelly from the previous book of his I read, but will definitely give him another go now.

Hostile witness, by Rebecca Forster. Kindle edition.

Sixteen-year-old Hannah Sheraton is remanded for the murder of her step-grandfather, a retired judge.  Hannah's mother Lynda hires an old college roommate, Josie Baylor-Bates, to represent Hannah who suffers from obsessive compulsive disorder.  Hannah is not a likeable character - spoilt, unaware of the magnitude of her situation and occasionally violent - but as Josie investigates further to find the tangled disfunctional family's secrets, she becomes aware that each time she excavates a layer, the picture becomes completely different.  Excellently plotted with a number of surprises.

Broadmoor revealed: Victorian crime and the lunatic asylum, by Mark Stevens. Kindle edition. 2011.

Mark Stevens is the archivist at the Berkshire records office which holds the records of the Broadmoor Hospital for the Clinically Insane, and has extracted some of the more interesting stories from the archives to give both a profile of the general population of the hospital in the Victorian era, and the stories of some of the more high-profile inmates (Richard Dadd, Edward Oxford, William Chester Minor) and some less-known but typical in some way.  He also explores the Victorian attitude to crime and to mental illness, and does it all tremendously entertainingly.