Friday, September 21, 2012

2012 books, #81-85

How mumbo-jumbo conquered the world: a short history of modern delusions, by Francis Wheen. London: Harper, 2004.

Jeremy Paxman's comment, reprinted on the cover, was "Hilarious".  I'm not sure I'd agree but Paxo's a battle-hardened journalist who probably hears some of this stuff every day.  Wheen's fervent beliefs in Enlightenment values such as secularism, science and reason are battered at every turn by the forces of religious states, New Age mysticism and just plain silliness.  From the ascent of Ayatollah Khomeini and Margaret Thatcher to the death of Diana and the dotcom boom, Wheen looks at what happens when leaders  and thinkers take leave of their senses and descend into emotionalism and dogma.  A fascinating analysis, but with very few laughs...

The body farm, by Jefferson Bass.  London: Quercus, 2011.

Another excellent Jefferson Bass novel; this one set in and around Tallahassee, Florida.  If you want a guide to quite how creepy this one's going to turn out to be, do listen to the Mountain Goats' song of the same name.  Actually, "Oceanographer's Choice" from the same album, would do the job too.  Bill Brockton goes to Florida to help a fellow forensics person with the apparent suicide of her sister, and becomes embroiled in older killings which are potentially even more sinister.  Warning: if you get the hardback do not  read the synopsis inside the cover.  "Soon" does not mean what the composers of this think it means and you risk spoiling two thirds of the book...

Protect and defend, by Vince Flynn. London: Simon & Schuster, 2007.

A commenter, I think it might have been Babalor, talked about a previous book by this author as an exercise in seeing what the other side was thinking; and it does become increasingly like that.  I don't like Mitch Rapp very much, and although this is a well-plotted, very convincing book centred around the Iranian nuclear programme at Isfahan, I'm not sure I'll be going on to the next book.  I'm pretty convinced that some US dark ops do go to this lengths, given the results; but I'm also fairly determined not to read about it in fictional form.

The visitor, by Lee Child [audiobook]. Read by Hayward Morse.  Whitley Bay: Soundings, 2000.

Jack Reacher is picked up by the FBI because he fits the profile of a killer who's targeting victims of harassment by the US Army; but actually all's not what it seems and he's recruited as a consultant to help out.  I think that if you hadn't worked out who the killer was and why on the 4th cassette of 14, this would have been gripping.  Plot-wise this was a major so-what for me as a result, but then this is the first time I've outguessed Lee Child so this may have been a total fluke.  Having said that, I like Reacher; unlike Mitch Rapp, his sense of morality works with mine, and this is an interesting one from the point of view of personal relationships...

Fade away, by Harlan Coben.  London: Orion, 2002.

The third Myron Bolitar novel, and the best so far.  Myron's trying to deal with the unlikely revival of his basketball career (destroyed by injury before his first NBA match) allied with a new detective case, a renewed relationship with his ex-girlfriend Jessica, a very old relationship with his ex-girlfriend Emily, his sports agency business, and the undying loyalty of sociopathic, martial-arts-expert, ├╝ber-WASP Winston Horne Lockwood III.  Any semi-hard-boiled detective novel which makes you want to cry several times is a good one, in my opinion...

Sunday, September 09, 2012

Summer of Sport

So; damnit.  I'm listening to the closing ceremony of the Paralympics.

I said and thought a lot of bad things about the Olympic mascots over several years, and recently.  Maybe I've just been worn down by them; but one night last week, having resisted all summer, I ended up in the 2012 shop at St Pancras, picking up a keyring-sized Wenlock and Mandeville to go with DipsyWiggo.  (More on the medal in the middle later).   It sort of says everything about this summer.


As a typically cynical Brit who travels into and through London every day, I was so sure we'd make a mess of these Olympics and Paralympics. Something very London would happen - the Central Line would just die; the Jubilee Line would, as it does three times a week, lapse into sulkiness and signal failure; a main sewer or water main would just give out under a Games Lane.  Or it would rain steadily throughout.  Or there'd be a terrorist threat, real or hoax.

As it turns out, it's been just lovely.  The weather's not been great (particularly over the two weeks I took annual leave) but it's been good enough; the Olympic Gamesmakers and Ambassadors have been wonderful, and friendly and smily even to those of us just trogging to work and back; people have smiled and laughed on the Tube (gasp); and people, cars and houses flying the Union Flag don't worry me.

And here are Wenlock and Mandeville again, in the gardens just east of St Paul's Cathedral and seen from the top of a bus.


This is nowhere near a Games venue but there it is - people tipping up and loving it and being photographed.

Oh, and the sport was pretty good too; I've watched very little on catch-up because the radio coverage was so good.  And if there was anything going wrong between the two events, we seem to have sent a member of HM Household out to get his kit off abroad to distract attention...

Tonight, unbelievably, I'm even enjoying Coldplay.

Saturday, September 08, 2012

2012 books, #76-80

Codex, by Lev Grossman [audiobook]. Read by Jeff Harding.  Whitley Bay: Chivers, 2011.

Edward Wozny, a banker on two weeks' holiday between his old job in New York and a promotion in London, is asked by a very valuable client to catalogue a library of old books.  Edward is (happily) as bemused by this obvious plot-device as the reader, but becomes fascinated by the books, and by a young woman he meets at another library he visits for information.  He is also intrigued by the owners of the collection who are extremely rich eccentrics living in the UK.  At the same time, he's introduced to an addictive multi-user computer game by a geek friend...  The plot sounds unlikely (and I mightn't have carried on with this one if it hadn't been a Jeff Harding-narrated audiobook) but it's actually surprisingly gripping.  And while it has Dan Brown elements, it's much better, and more humourously, written.

Injustice for all, by J A Jance. New York: Avon Books, 1986.

Still not sure about these J P Beaumont mysteries even after the second one.  I'm sort of bemused by the fact that the man's still undeterred by the fact that three women he's been in close proximity with so far have ended up dead shortly afterwards...  and slightly unconvinced by a woman trying to write the part of a hard man, particularly when it comes to sex scenes.  But the plots rattle along with some quite surprising elements, and there's a lot of self-deprecating humour and some nice relationships...  The next one's not available at the library, so gives me an excuse for a hiatus...

War crimes: underworld Britain in the Second World War, by M J Trow.  Barnsley: Pen and Sword Military, 2008.

Trow writes non-fiction as engagingly as he does fiction; here, he examines the nature of crime in Britain during the war years, with chapters on the fifth column, crime in the blackout, the black market, GIs, the changes to childhood, the police and the judiciary.  As you'd expect from the author of Let him have it, Chris: the murder of Derek Bentley, he is particularly interested in the sort of climate children growing up in cities in the war years experienced.  Some of the statistics make fascinating reading, and there's a great mixture of individual cases and overall trends.

Rain gods, by James Lee Burke [audiobook].  Read by Tom Stechschulte. Bath: Clipper, 2009.

Can't remember who recommended this but it was very good, and the reader was excellent.  A sheriff who is also a former POW in Korea digs up nine dead bodies behind a Texan church, after a tip-off.  The women are from the Far East, and have been machine-gunned.  Sheriff Holland has the case taken away by the federal authorities, but is determined to find out what happened on his patch.  Very gripping, with lots of Southern detail.

On writing: a memoir of the craft, by Stephen King. London: Hodder, 2000.

After about the fifth author I admire mentioned the excellence of this book, I decided to see what they were on about; and indeed they were right.  Part memoir, part textbook, this is a brilliant description of, and instruction manual for, the writing process.  King is absolutely direct and very funny, entirely without pretension when talking about his craft (not art).  I think anyone reading this book might come out a better creative writer, but equally may well leave a better reader.  I need to find some of King's fiction now - preferably one which is more suspenseful rather than direct horror.