Sunday, March 25, 2012

2012 books, #21-25

Homicide: a year on the killing streets, by David Simon. Kindle edition.

This year-long biography of a homicide squad in Baltimore first formed the basis of a 1990s detective series called Homicide, and then led the writer to go on and write The Wire. Simon was allowed to take a year's sabbatical from his job at the Baltimore Herald and spent 1988 in a squad-room, documenting the cases and lives of the men (and at the time they were overwhelmingly men) trying to hold back the mayhem on the streets which led to 250 deaths in the year.  None of the police depicted are stereotypes, although a few are certainly eccentrics.  It's a fascinating look into a world without much in the way of modern forensics, without mobile phones, without much in the way of CCTV footage, and how detection was done.  If you enjoyed Life on Mars, you'd certainly like this.  There's a lot of gallows humour and rounding-up-the-usual-suspects, but there's also a lot of dedication and determination for justice to be done, and an awful lot of slightly scary details on how politics affects policing.

One day in September: the full story of the 1972 Munich Olympics massacre and the Israeli revenge operation "Wrath of God", by Simon Reeve. Kindle edition.

This seems to have been written in around 2002, with various updates, and is the book-of-the-documentary, but stands well on its own.  The first third or so of the book is the factual account of what happened when 9 Israeli athletes were taken hostage by Palestinian terrorists in the Olympic village.  There follows an account of how this changed Israeli policy on pursuing terrorist suspects, and the hunting down and killing of various members of the PLO over subsequent years, including two of the three surviving hostage-takers.  I think what shocked me most was the disclosure of a cover-up by the German authorities of major incompetence by their police and armed forces; almost three decades after the massacre, the families were finally allowed to view the files they'd been told repeatedly didn't exist.  Extremely good and very moving book, anyway.

The good soldier, by Ford Madox Ford. London: Penguin, 2002.

I really loved this when I first read it, almost exactly 20 years ago; this time round, I wondered why on earth I'd kept it fondly in mind.  Stylistically, it's still very beautiful, but this time I found the characters shallow, the setting vacuous, and the ignorance of the narrator of the principal events of the novel unconvincing.  My irritation with it wasn't helped by the preponderance of notes in this edition - I started up looking the annotations up in the back, but they seem to have been prepared for people unfamiliar with both the UK and the US, and indeed the finer points of the English language.  It was a disappointment that a novel I'd held in my mind didn't stand a second reading - but it also showed me that I'm a different person to the one who originally read this book, and that's probably not a bad thing; it would be odder if we never moved on in our analysis of things!

Bad luck and trouble, by Lee Child [audiobook]. Read by Jeff Harding. Whitley Bay, Tyne and Wear: Soundings, 2007.

No time for psychological exploration with this one - Child doesn't do that sort of thing.  Jack Reacher's band of Special Investigators from the forces needs to get together, but five of the eight seem to be missing, and one has turned up dead.  Reacher is summoned to the California desert to find out why someone is torturing his buddies and dropping them from helicopters into the wilderness.  It's the usual all-action high-voltage stuff we expect from Reacher, and extremely good listening.

Sworn to silence, by Linda Castillo.  London: Pan, 2009.

A new-to-me author - but I already have the next one on hold.  Kate Burkholder is the chief of police in Painters Mill, in Amish country.  She's unusual not only for being a relatively young woman in the post, but for being born into an Amish family but having left the faith at the age of eighteen.  A series of brutal murders brings back horrific memories for Kate and the community; someone is using slaughterhouse techniques on young women and carving numbers into them, repeating a series of killings 16 years before.  Kate has more difficulty believing this than other members of the community, though - she knows she killed the perpetrator when she was 14.  This is an excellent book; atmospheric, with characters you care about, and some really tight plotting.

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