Saturday, January 25, 2014

2014 books, #1-5

Refusal, by Felix Francis. London: Michael Joseph, 2013.

Another extremely good book by Felix Francis; as Francis finds his stride, he's even dared reprise one of his father's classic heroes, one-handed former jockey (and, when we find him, former private detective) Sid Halley, and managed it very well.  Sid is married, with a daughter, making his living by playing a different sort of form book on the stock exchange, when the chair of the British Horseracing Authority asks him to help in what looks like a serious case of race-fixing.  While Sid is deliberating, the BHA chair dies, apparently having committed suicide, and Sid and his family are threatened.  Classic Francis but with the benefits of technology like GPS tracking the original Halley books would have loved to have employed.

Final jeopardy, by Linda Fairstein. London: Sphere, 1998.

The first of the Alexandra Cooper series - thought I'd go back and read them in order. Alex finds that she has been reported in the media as dead, because someone has been killed in the driveway of her holiday home in Martha's Vineyard; the victim turns out (somewhat improbably) to be a film star Alex has met through a literary agent friend.  The mystery deepens when it becomes apparent the victim was complaining about being stalked, and was also staying with a male friend nobody knew about.  This is well-paced; these books are always somewhat histrionic, but worth sticking with.

Die trying, by Lee Child [audiobook]. Read by Garrick Hagon. Whitley Bay: Soundings, 1998.

A typically excellent Lee Child, one of the early ones. Jack Reacher stops on a Chicago street to help a woman struggling with a door, a crutch and her dry-cleaning, and is abducted along with the woman. When the woman turns out to be an FBI agent, and the daughter of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, he realises this is a high-stakes abduction.  Tightly-plotted as ever. Two slightly comic elements for Brits of a certain age - the FBI agent's name is Holly Johnson, which means I had Two Tribes running round my head throughout the book; and it features the Montana Militia, who are sinister enough, but combine with the original Chicago setting to give the Illinois Nazis...

Raising steam, by Terry Pratchett. London: Doubleday, 2013.

The railways come to Ankh-Morpork.  And in fact, many places on the Disc.  As with any innovation, Moist von Lipwig is right there in the vanguard, or in this case in the guard's van, with Harry King and the Patrician. This is classic Pratchett, not afraid to be a little bit emotional at the power of technology in the hands of Yorkshire lad Dick Simnel, but also slyly combining all of those classic railway moments, such as Brief Encounter and The Railway Children, as well as introducing us to the first trainspotters; and just a hint of sapient machinery. Excellent.

Nightrise, by Jim Kelly [audiobook]. Read by Ray Sawyer. Oxford: Isis, 2012.

Philip Dryden is somewhat surprised to be informed by police that his father has just died in a car accident, as his father drowned during the fenland floods in 1977; Dryden Senior's body was never found though, so Dryden can't help wondering...  Two other stories are demanding Dryden's journalistic attention, though; that of a body found hanging in the middle of a lettuce field, and a couple whose baby daughter's remains were buried in a mass council grave and want to reclaim the body for burial.  Another of Kelly's Ely-based books; the setting, as ever, is very accurate although it would be lovely if there really were a fabulous Italian restaurant in the alley next to Oxfam!

Thursday, January 02, 2014

2013 books, #101-105

Round up of the last few books of last year.  Not quite as many as last year, but I seem to have had a lot of audiobooks I rejected halfway through this year!

Dead water, by Ann Cleeves. London: Pan, 2013.

The fifth of the Jimmy Perez/Shetland series. Perez is still on leave and shattered by recent events, but when the body of a Shetland-born London journalist is found in a racing boat by the Procurator Fiscal herself, he summons up the interest to join DI Willow Reeves and her team.  The Fiscal is definitely hiding something, but so are others in the islands. Sandy Wilson makes another appearance, and I hope we see more of Willow.  This is the sort of tightly-plotted page-turner we're used to from this series.

One cold night, by Katia Lief. Kindle edition.

Susan and her husband Dave are providing a home for Susan's teenage sister Becky; but Susan has a secret - Becky is not her sister, but her daughter. When Becky decides to go looking for her birth-parents, Susan knows it's time to tell the secret. Becky, upset, leaves the house, and is then abducted.  At first all clues seem to lead back to Susan's high-school boyfriend, Becky's father, but it's not as straightforward as that...  This is well-written but somehow I didn't really warm to the characters.

The Moat Farm mystery: the life and criminal career of Samuel Herbert Dougal, by M W Oldridge. Kindle edition.

In 1903, Samuel Herbert Dougal stood trial for the murder of Camille Cecile Holland, a spinster he had seduced and murdered, afterwards clearing out her bank account  This account of Dougal's life shows this to have been the culmination of a thoroughly unpleasant life. After a reasonably successful army career, Dougal soon found he was both entirely unsuited to civilian life, and somewhat irresistible to women.  He tried his hand at pub landlording at Royston but was tried for arson after his pub burned down in suspicious circumstances; he applied for the position of public hangman but was turned down; and he had a history of forging cheques even before he met the wealthy and reclusive Miss Holland.  This narrative is fascinating, if unpleasant, and very readable.

Quiet: the power of introverts in a world that can't stop talking, by Susan Cain. Kindle edition.

This is one of the most interesting books I've read this year - and I can't work out why I didn't review it when I read it in September/October!  Cain talks about the differences between introverts and extroverts, and explains some reasons why contemporary (particularly US) society is more comfortable for extroverts. She talks about the Asian-American experience and how cultural values play into introversion, and discusses situations in which introverts perform more strongly.  This book told me some things I didn't know about myself, and explains some things I did; I found it fascinating.

A shilling for candles, by Josephine Tey [audiobook]. Read by Stephen Thorne. [S. l.]: Chivers, 1993.

I'd forgotten this one despite having read it years ago.  The body of Christine Clay, a prominent film actress, is found on a beach near a cottage she's renting; the initial suspect is a young man who has been lodging with Clay.  Although he's exonerated early on, his continued disappearance is a worry for Grant and his colleagues.  Rivalries on stage and in the theatre are exposed, and recurring Tey characters Grant and Marta Hallard feature.  Having read the excellent Nicola Upson books set among these characters, I found it slightly difficult to straighten out the time period and relationships, and particularly to keep my Lydias straight! Definitely worth re-reading though, and Thorne's dry narrative style fits Tey's sly humour very well.