Thursday, August 01, 2013

2013 books, #61-65

On the road bike: the search for a nation's cycling soul, or, Sniffing the yak-skin shoe, or, The great eccentrics of British cycling, by Ned Boulting. London: Yellow Jersey Press, 2013.

This is another lovely book by Ned Boulting.  Taking 2012's Tour de France victory by Bradley Wiggins as its starting point, it looks at the people who quietly, doggedly kept British cycling going over the years before this recent trend, in near-invisibility.  He talks to people you'd expect - Chris Boardman, for whom he has a huge respect belied by their banter on the ITV4 coverage and podcasts, and David Millar. But he also talks to David Millar's mum; and Ken Livingstone, about cycling in London; and finds there are two Tommy Godwins, very different personalities but champions at the same time; and interviews professional cyclists from the 1950s, 60s and 70s only real aficionados would previously have heard of. Oh, and he goes for a ride with Gary Kemp out of Spandau Ballet and his New Romantic Ride; sort of.

Boulting's not a technical nerd - he's quite happy to admit that he glazes over when people start talking about gear ratios and bottom brackets, and is probably the only person whose puncture Chris Boardman's mended in the last few years - and he came to the sport at the elite level with Tour de France punditry, and only later got back on his bike and started cycling seriously.  He still regards himself as an outsider to the sport, and is therefore able to explain beautifully to other outsiders.  He's genuinely fascinated by people, what drives them, and their stories, and plays this wonderfully here.  If you like Stuart Maconie's books about Britain, I suspect you'll enjoy this one very much - the same sort of affectionate, humorous curiosity and genuine respect for endurance and eccentricity is at work.

Sample (from about two-thirds of the way through): In 1937, Ossie set out to reclaim his record. At exactly the same time an English resident, a Frenchman of Scottish descent (I am not making these people up) called RenĂ© Menzies launched his campaign. Ossie prevailed, riding a staggering 62,657 miles, beating Menzies by just 1,096 miles. Intriguingly, although scarcely of any relevance, Menzies, who had been decorated for valour in the First World War, went on to become Charles de Gaulle's chauffeur during the next war, a bizarre biographical detail which, by now, probably won't surprise you.

Force of nature, by C. J. Box. Kindle edition.

The third of the Lyon books, and another crackingly good Joe Pickett novel.  I think I've said everything there is to say about these over the years, but the way Box keeps producing a consistently high, interesting standard of novel is quite stunning.  Again, the theme is very much what people will do when forced to the edge, and as this one focuses on Nate Romanowski and his history in Special Forces, it can be a pretty gory read.  Box keeps the characters straight and consistent, though, and the mystery which is set up in Cold wind is finally explained.

The bomber, by Liza Marklund. London: Corgi, 2011.

Can't remember how I came to order this one from the library, but if someone reading this recommended it, thank you!  Stockholm is hosting the Olympics, but there's an explosion in the main arena; when all the pieces are collected and DNS analysis is done, the victim turns out to be the head of SOCOG, a former banker.  As Annika Bengtzon of the Stockholm evening paper investigates, she discovers a curious absence in the accounts of the victim's life - her husband speaks of her as if he were her PR, and her daughter with hatred.  Sources are also telling her that this was an inside job, not international terrorism.  And then the bomber strikes again... Tautly plotted and an excellent read.

Maxwell's island, by M J Trow. London: Allison and Busby, [2011].

Picked this up at the library when I realised I was going to be handing in all my reading material; I love these books.  Maxwell is at his hilarious best in this one, which involves him, Jacquie and son Nolan reluctantly leading a Year Seven school trip to the Isle of Wight after another member of staff falls down some stairs. This is not the only mishap to befall the cast of this book, and it turns out that the Year Sevens are the least of everyone's problems.  There's a huge great plot-plant at the end - one of those things you couldn't possibly have worked out from the previous information in the book - so if you don't like those, you're forewarned; but to be honest, that isn't what you read these for...

Time bomb, by Jonathan Kellerman [audiobook].  Read by Jeff Harding.  Oxford: Isis, 2009. [Originally published 1999.]

I'm not the world's biggest fan of Alex Delaware (Kellerman's main protagonist), it has to be said.  I picked this one up because I just love the sound of Jeff Harding's voice.  But this has an excellent plot, with twists and turns, and a lot to think about.  Here, a seemingly straightforward school shooting turns into something very different, and Delaware and Milo are drawn into something horrible and sinister. If you're a conspiracy theorist, this is the one for you. If you're not, it's still pretty diverting.

No comments: