Sunday, June 07, 2015

2015 books, #31-35

Knife edge, by Paul Adam [audiobook]. Read by Seán Barrett. Oxford: Isis, 2009.

In London, a Kurdish immigrant is murdered and found on Hackney Marshes; Joe Verdi, an investigative reporter, makes contact with part of the man's family, but the man's wife Irena has vanished into the world of illegal agricultural workers in Norfolk.  Joe tries to track Irena down, and investigate the trade in illegal workers, by going undercover as a Romanian migrant worker.  Meanwhile his partner Ellie is investigating the death of a neighbour due to typhoid, and making connections between the two cases.  This is an occasionally horrifying exploration of the world of illegal immigration, and of the price we pay for cheap food; the geography of the Downham/Lynn area is spot on here, and Barrett's reading is as excellent as ever.

Blaze: the forensics of fire, by Nicholas Faith. New York: St Martin's, 1999.

This book looks at the history of fire investigation through examples of some of the most infamous fires in the UK, Ireland and the US.  It's extremely well-written, as you might expect from a guy who has been in editorial posts at the Sunday Times and the Economist; and what surprised me was how recently forensic investigation, used in crime detection for so long, was introduced to the area of fire research.  There's also a description of how computer modelling is used to explain the causes of many fires.  I picked this up a a result of the Val McDermid book, where it was cited several times, and will try and track down some of Faith's other books on crime and air accident investigation.  Slightly harrowingly, one of the fires discussed is at the World Trade Centre, but this book was written before September 11, and the assurance Faith has that the fire precautions there worked extremely well seems sadly dated now.

How to build a girl, by Caitlin Moran. London: Ebury Press, 2014.

I am eating this noise like mouthfuls of freezing, glittering fog. I am filling with it. I am using it as energy. Because what you are, as a teenager, is a small, silver, empty rocket. And you use loud music as fuel, and then the information in books as maps and co-ordinates, to tell you where you're going.

This is brilliant.  Moran emphasises that this book isn't autobiographical - it's just about some other girl who grew up in Wolverhampton with a lot of siblings at exactly the same time as she did...  She does a fabulous job of remembering exactly what it was like being a teenage girl in a dull town; and interweaves it with tales of overly precocious (and hilarious) rock journalism and excess; she takes you along for the ride while also being able to laugh at herself in retrospect.  It's a wonderful, wonderful book.  It is, as you'd expect, very sweary and pretty no-hold-barred; and all the better for it.

Rough ride, by Paul Kimmage. London: Yellow Jersey Press, 2007. (E-book version)

(Couldn't have a set of book reviews without a cycling book, obviously!)
Paul Kimmage had four seasons as a professional bike racer in the late 1980s, leaving the sport in 1990. He has immense affection for the sport, and a total hatred of the dopers who brought it down. He's very honest about his own professional career, and gives a good idea of the life of a professional domestique in an era with considerably less money in the sport, where cyclists had to wash their own kit after seven hours on the road and accommodation was occasionally on school floors. And he's also followed all the scandals, and the scientific developments, which are included in a series of epilogues to the different editions (this was originally published shortly after his retirement in 1990). It's an excellent, predictably moving account of what happens to the majority of contenders in professional sport; but with the additional horrible twist that nothing in cycling in that era or the succeeding one was as it seemed.  I started reading this in the immediate aftermath of the rather puzzling CIRC Report, with its unsubstantiated claim from one (unnamed) rider that 80% of the peleton were still doping; it does make quite sad reading.

Teenage revolution, by Alan Davies. London: Penguin, 2009.

Alan Davies was born at the other end of the country from me, but only a year before; so many of the people and events he talks about in this book are recognisable and familiar - I suspect I spent a lot of the time reading this book nodding my head...  Davies canters through his adolescence and student years in full recognition that he was a bit of an idiot a lot of the time; some of it's hilariously funny, and some quite moving, but all of it's entertaining.

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