Wednesday, December 30, 2015

2015 books, #66-70

The citadel, by A J Cronin. London: Vista, 1996.

Originally published in 1937, this is a powerful, semi-autobiographical novel about a doctor in South Wales and in London. Andrew Manson, newly-qualified, comes to Wales to learn his trade from an experienced GP.  When he arrives in Drineffy, he finds that his mentor is paralysed by a stroke, and that the other GPs in the town are a strange ragtag bunch.  Manson learns on the job, and becomes aware of how inadequate his education has been in equipping him to help with real-life problems; and he also develops a burning rage at how inadequate health services are for the poor.  This is both a great read, despite its somewhat old-fashioned melodramtic style (I read this as a teenager and found it unputdownable on re-reading) and a very influential book; Cronin and Aneurin Bevan both worked at the Tredegar Cottage Hospital which was the model for the creation of the NHS.  One feeling I don't remember having when first reading it was the amount of sympathy I have for Manson's wife Christine; probably a function of age and experience!

Library of the dead, by Glenn Cooper [audiobook].  Read by Pete Bradbury. Rearsby, Leics.: WF Howes, 2010.

A murderer is on the loose in New York; FBI agent Will Piper is assigned the case. All that connects the victims is their having received a postcard telling them they were about to die.  The story boings around between contemporary New York, medieval Isle of Wight (second audiobook running with an Isle of Wight component!) and the 1930s.  And, to be honest, is overly complicated.  I may not have been concentrating when we finally understand the why of what's happening, but I don't think so.  I didn't really enjoy this, or really work out what was going on...

The book of souls, by James Oswald.  London: Penguin, 2013.

The last victim of the Christmas Killer was DC Tony McLean's fiancĂ©e Kirsty. 12 years after McLean was instrumental in the killer's conviction, the man dies in prison.  And then the killings start again...  I really enjoyed reading this one, as the last; but while the final scenes were thrilling, it just felt a little empty.  There are supernatural elements here I don't get, and they're fundamental to the plot; and while I can deal with quite a lot of what the Americans helpfully call "woo", it does detract for me from what's otherwise a really excllent police procedural with a lot of great characterisation...  If you're not bothered by Greg Iles's leaps of faith, you won't be here either; it just feels weirder in a British context.

Damage: a Dick Francis novel, by Felix Francis [audiobook]. Read by Michael Nielson. [S. l.]: Bolinda, 2014.

Jeff Hinckley is an investigator for the British Horseracing Authority.  In the course of his investigations, he witnesses a murder of a racecourse bookie by a banned trainer. Days later, it turns out just about all the horses at a major race meeting have been doped.  There's something deeply wrong in horseracing - and Jeff has a nasty suspicion it might come back to the board.  This is another wonderful Felix Francis book which recreates the themes of vintage Dick Francis within the modern context. Doping, bribes and a leading sporting body - surely not?  And a good reading by Nielson.

Go set a watchman, by Harper Lee. London: Heinemann, 2015.

I bought this the day it came out - but it took until suggesting it for book group to make me read it. To kill a mockingbird is probably my favourite novel, and while I knew the background (and associated controversies) to this one, I was pretty nervous coming into it.  I shouldn't have been; Lee's style shines through and by about page 12 I was heaving a sigh of relief.  It's not a patch on To kill a mockingbird - if it had been, it'd have been published as is, and we might not have had the later book - but it's an interesting read, and there are some genuinely funny moments, particularly the waspish descriptions of the coffee party Jean Louise's aunt throws for her.  It degenerates rather when people start hurling bits of the constitution at each other, like a sub-standard episode of The West Wing, and the ending is probably even more ambiguous than Lee intended; but if you enjoyed Mockingbird, this is definitely worth a read.

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