Sunday, April 28, 2013

2013 books, #31-35

Entombed, by Linda Fairstein [audiobook]. Read by Barbara Rosenblat. Rearsby, Leics: WF Howes, 2004.

This was excellent; while Barbara Rosenblat's reading will make the phonebook sound good, this is a really well-written, tight thriller which makes you care about the characters.  In this case, attendees at a lawyers' dinner accidentally become privy to the discovery of a walled-in skeleton in a house once inhabited by Edgar Allan Poe.  It's a good twisting and turning plot with a lot of info on Poe and his circle.  I'll be looking for more in this series.

The man who ate the world: in search of the perfect dinner, by Jay Rayner [audiobook]. Read by the author.  Rearsby, Leics.: Clipper/WF Howes, 2008.

Rayner tells the story of how, several years after he became a restaurant critic, a chef told him that Michelin *** restaurants exist only so that the very rich can eat the same food all over the world.  Determined to prove the chef wrong, Rayner travels the world to find the perfect meal.  We have accounts of restaurants in Las Vegas, Dubai, London, Tokyo and Paris, some truly epic meals, some local colour, a bit of a discussion of the food blogosphere and a lot of very funny commentary.  The author's a great reader with very good comic timing, and this is a fun read even if you, like me, will probably never be able to afford to eat in the establishments described...

Valentine Grey, by Sandi Toksvig. London: Virago, 2012.

Valentine Grey hates England in 1897, arriving after an idyllic childhood in India with her father.  The only bright spot is her exciting but irresponsible cousin Reggie and his theatrical friends.  When a volunteer brigade is created to support the troops in the Boer War, Reggie's father signs him up, to Reggie's horror. Valentine decides to save both of them by dressing in Reggie's uniform and joining the bicycle corps.  Both of them find that "freedom" has its price; Reggie's life as a gay man in Victorian London is as confining as the army, and Valentine learns the horror of war.  This is an extraordinary book, both moving and very funny, and with genuine anger about both war and prejudice.

One false move, by Harlen Coben. London: Orion, 2004.  Originally published 1998.

A Myron Bolitar book; and well up to the usual standard.  Myron is conned into looking after rising basketball star Brenda Slaughter, on the basis that he can become her agent. But Brenda's father goes missing, and somehow, someone has links with organised crime.  Myron's life, business and relationship are all at risk, and his compulsion to discover the secret just drive him into more trouble.

Raven black, by Anne Cleeves. London: Pan, 2006.

I gather this is the first of the novels on which the recent mini-series Shetland was based; but it's difficult to tell this other than by the name of the detective.  A young girl, Catherine Ross, is discovered dead in a snowy field, strangled with her own scarf.  There is one obvious suspect, an elderly learning disabled man in the next cottage along, but when the mainland police arrive to investigate they're determined to keep a more open mind than the locals.  There's also an echo of the disappearance of young Catriona Bruce years before, and this opens up long-sealed resentments and family secrets.  I really didn't see the dénouement of this book coming!  I'll definitely be reading the others in this series and Cleeves's other books.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

2013 books, #26-30

Legal briefs: stories by today's best thriller writers. Edited by William Bernhardt.  London: Headline, 1998.

I'm never sure how I feel about short stories - I love Saki, and de Maupassant, but they're meant to be the best of the bunch, I think...  Anyway, very often I'll get halfway through a collection of short stories and sort of run out energy, and about a year ago I did that with this collection, so my memory of all of them isn't that great.  However... Steve Martini's story, Poetic justice, made me cringe slightly with its doggerel/prose/folksy quality although I really enjoy his novels.  John Grisham contributes a three-page story which just rips you apart with its pathos; quite stunning. Michael A. Kahn's contribution gives you an idea of how law just might be practised in Cook County; Philip M. Margolin plays on the inaccuracy of eye-witnesses, and Jeremiah Healy sets up an excellent twist in the tail, before bottling it slightly at the end. Philip Friedman tells a bleak little tale of a lawyer heading cross country into his past, before Lisa Scottoline rounds up the collection with a somewhat hilarious re-take on "take your daughter to work" day; said daughter being three months old and father being a hapless and sleep-deprived new father of twins.  Definitely worth getting hold of.

The daughter of time, by Josephine Tey. London: Folio Society, 2006. First published 1951.

This was my suggestion for book group this time round.  I'm not sure it made for great discussion, but it was very interesting to read it again in the light of the discovery of Richard III's bones under a Leicester car park, and part of the reason for getting the Nicola Upson (last set of book reviews) out of the library was the Tey connection.  I treated myself to a Folio edition to replace my battered paperback when I found it in the lovely Oxfam bookshop in Saffron Walden a year or two ago, and the introduction by Alison Weir is worth the £4 or so I paid.  Weir points out, without actually using the phrase, that this is really the first "cold case" detective novel.  There are elements in some of the Wimsey stories, I suppose; but this is the first where the protagonists, as very often, are dead, where the eyewitnesses are not only more-than-usually unreliable but also long dead, and where politics and propaganda blur the scene.  Weir also probes the holes in Tey's defence of Richard III; some of them caused by accounts being discovered/published only later; some caused by an over-zealous wish to set the record straight.  In discussion, we were all slightly boggled by the very luxurious NHS of the past.  I think I need to go back and read the other Alan Grant novels again though...

The debt to pleasure, by John Lanchester. London: Picador, 1996.

This is a wonderful, funny, sinister little book.  Tarquin Winot, epicure and dreadful snob, sets out to produce a culinary year through menus while travelling from Portsmouth to the Provençal town of Ste-Eulalie.  As the book progresses though, you realise that there's more going on - why is he carrying the Mossad manual of surveillance techniques?  why has he shaved his head?  Tarquin is a splendid, monstrous character, and the slow reveal of this book makes it unputdownable, to the extent that I suddenly realised I'd gone past my Tube stop on one occasion...

The casual vacancy, by J K Rowling [audiobook]. Read by Tom Hollander.  Oxford: Isis, 2012.

This was great.  I'd started reading the book, but had to take it back to the library because someone else needed it, and then I found out who was reading the audiobook...  I really enjoyed this.  No, it wasn't Harry Potter (which seems to have been the main criticism) but it had a seething, lively bunch of characters who reflect life in a small town pretty well.  At first I thought they were going to be caricatures; but as it develops, the main characters become three-dimensional and there's a huge amount of authorial sympathy for the most alienated and powerless.  If this is what Rowling is going to do in future, I'm all for it...  Hollander's reading is absolutely excellent, as I'd hoped.

Beekeeping for beginners, by Laurie R. King. Kindle edition.

Background to the first Holmes/Russell novel, The beekeeper's apprentice. How Holmes and Russell inadvertently saved each other's lives.  Lovely little vignette which turned up as a very cheap read on Kindle. I wondered at the end whether it was a duplication of something in A study in Sherlock which King edits and which is sitting on my to-read pile, but it turns out not, happily.  If you're a Holmes/Russell fan, this is definitely worth getting hold of...