Wednesday, December 30, 2015

2015 books, #76-80

Kennedy's brain, by Henning Mankell [audiobook]. Read by Anna Bentinck. Oxford: Isis, 2008.

When archaeologist Louise Cantor's son Henrik is found dead at his flat, she refuses to believe it was suicide.  While going through his papers, she is shocked to discover that Henrik was HIV positive; and that he had an obsession with the conspiracy theory that John F Kennedy's brain disappeared prior to his autopsy.  She also finds a letter and photograph from Henrik's girlfriend in Mozambique. Travelling to Australia to inform her estranged husband of the death, and then to Africa, Louise becomes embroiled in other conspiracies and mysteries.  Mankell's knowledge of, and love of, Africa come out strongly in this book and the conclusion is both shocking and makes a lot of sense.

"Knitting by the fireside and on the hillside": a history of the Shetland hand knitting industry c. 1600-1950, by Linda G. Fryer. Lerwick: Shetland Times, 1995.

This is a fascinating account of the industry of knitting in Shetland.  There's very little about the actual garments themselves, but a lot about the financial dependence of women on knitting, and about the "truck" system which kept many women trapped in a barter system rather than a cash economy. The author uses contemporary statistics and accounts-books to illustrate, and it's presented very interestingly.  One factor I really hadn't understood was the serious over-representation of women in the economy due both to wars and to losses in the fishing industry, and the number of single women of working age in the population.  My only quibble with this book is that it was originally produced as a dissertation and it would have been advisable for the author to employ a competent editor - the over-use of commas, in particular, seriously detract from the readability of the book and break up the flow of what would otherwise be an engaging read.

The coroner, by M R Hall [audiobook]. Read by Sian Thomas. Bath, BBC Audiobooks, 2010.

Jenny Cooper is appointed HM Coroner for Severn Vale, after a period away from work due to a breakdown following a messy separation from her husband and teenage son, and after the sudden death of previous coroner Harry Marshall.  She starts off on the wrong foot immediately, offending her Coroner's Officer and reopening an inquest against the wishes of the parents.  As she continues, she realises that her fragility has contributed to her getting the job, and that powerful interests are at play in thwarting her investigations.  Really enjoyed this - the next one's on order. (Recommendation from my Dad, I think, this one!)

Cocaine blues, by Kerry Greenwood. Scottsdale, Ariz: Poisoned Pen Press, 2006. [Originally written in 1989]

The first of the Phryne Fisher mysteries, and an excellent start.  Phryne is now a creature of luxury and a flapper of some reputation, but grew up poor in Australia until war and other disasters catapulted her father into the family title.  In this book, she returns to Australia at a family friend's request - he's worried about his daughter who may be being slowly poisoned by an abusive husband. Almost as soon as Phryne arrives, she encounters another crime - the carrying on of an illegal abortion trade which nearly kills a young woman and has killed several others.  This is delightfully written - Phryne is rather in the Amelia Peabody mode of female detectives (Her dangerous imports into her native land included a small lady's handgun and a box of bullets for it, plus certain devices of Dr Stopes' which were wrapped in her underwear under an open packet of Ladies' Travelling Necessities to discourage any over-zealous customs official) with a similar love of appropriate clothing. I discover to my delight that there are twenty of these so far - thankyou, Ned, for the suggestion!

Front runner, by Felix Francis [audiobook]. Read by Martin Jarvis. [S. l.]: Bolinda, 2015.

Jeff Hinckley is back. In this case, he's approached by Champion Jockey Dave Swinton, who confesses he's deliberately lost a race.  Swinton then clams up, but phones Jeff the following day to discuss further - this turns into an attempt on Jeff's life, followed by Swinton's apparent suicide in his burning car.  Hinckley is, as ever, unconvinced by the obvious explanation, and investigates further into the murky business of race-fixing.  I am so glad Felix Francis picked up the reins (sorry) on this series; they are classic Francis and each one is a joy.

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