Saturday, May 09, 2015

2015 books, #26-30

The burning room, by Michael Connelly. London: Little, Brown, 2014.

Harry Bosch has been teamed up with a new partner, Lucia Soto, and they have a case which is both cold and live at the same time: a mariachi musician who was shot in an apparently gang-related incident ten years before dies from his injuries, and Bosch and Soto can finally take charge of the bullet.  As they begin to investigate, Bosch suspects that Soto is not entirely focused on the case; he challenges her, and suddenly they have two cases on their hands... Another excellent book with the very likeable Bosch; and with a very unexpected ending which leaves the reader in suspense about Bosch's future...

Forensics: the anatomy of crime, by Val McDermid [audiobook]. Read by Sarah Barron. Whitley Bay: Clipper, 2015.

I'd heard the abridged version of this on Radio 4 earlier in the year, and went to the exhibition at the Wellcome Trust, which was fascinating; when it was mentioned again somewhere, I thought I'd get the full version out in hopes that Ms McDermid would be reading it*. She wasn't, but this reader is excellent; sounds enough like McDermid in the main narrative, and is able to produce accents from all over the place to differentiate the various experts.  If you're interested in the history of forensic science it (and the exhibition) won't tell you anything very new, but it's a great shortish introduction, and rattles along, much like a McDermid novel.

*My main criticism of our new library catalogue is that although you can search by reader, it doesn't appear on the record display, so if you're interested in the title, you have to search multiple times to make sure it's not being read by someone you really dislike...

I know why the caged bird sings, by Maya Angelou. London: Virago, 2014 (originally published 1969).

 The first of Angelou's seven volumes of autobiographies, this one starts with young Marguerite (Maya) Johnson and her brother Bailey Jr growing up in Stamps, Arkansas, having been delivered to her maternal grandparents at the ages of 7 and 6. It's a childhood defined by the walls of church, school and the racism endemic in the South in the 1930s, with some truly shocking illustrations of how respectable black people were subject to humiliation by white people, even the "powhitetrash". Maya and her brother are transferred between Stamps and California to stay with one parent or another; during one of the California stays, something happens to 8-year-old Maya which ends her childhood way too early and she returns to Stamps.  While this could be the worst of misery memoirs, which much justification, little Maya's (and grown-up Maya's) humour and appetite for life shine through, and there is hope and joy in this book.  This was a book group book, one I've meant to re-read for a while, and I have the second volume of the autobiography on hold at the library.

Second term: a story of spin, sabotage and seduction, by Simon Walters. London: House of Stratos, 2001.

As you can probably tell from the date, the second term of the title is that of a fictional PM rather like Tony Blair, had Blair been a hospital doctor before his arrival in politics.  PM Stephen Cane does have a pitbull-like Press Secretary, in this case a Liverpudlian redhead called Charlie Redpath, a fearsome woman with seemingly no scruples.  While it's fascinating in its imaginings of the lengths politicians will go to to retain power, and in the characters crushed in their paths, it ultimately fails because there are no likeable characters in this book at all.  It's interesting as a roman à clef, trying to imagine who's who, though, given that the author had been a political journalist for 20 years at the point of writing this book.

Runaway, by Peter May. London: Quercus, 2015.

This, on the other hand, has sympathetic characters galore.  Jack, Maurie and Dave escape their various family and carers to follow their 50-year-old path back to London, as a dying wish to Maurie; the body of a man they'd all assumed long dead has just been discovered, and Maurie knows who the murderer is.  The book switches between the 17-year-olds in 1965 and the 67-year-olds now; with the addition of Jack's grandson Ricky who they've more-or-less kidnapped.  It has elements of early Iain Banks in its humour and slight absurdity (think Espedair Street or The crow road); and is also able to turn instantly from farce to tragedy.  The plot's good, but the plot's largely unimportant compared to this cast of wonderful characters. Different from the other May I've read, and absolutely brilliant.