Sunday, March 27, 2016

2016 books, #21-25

The moth catcher, by Ann Cleeves [audiobook]. Read by Janine Birkett. Oxford: Isis, 2015.

Valley Farm is a tiny community, a big house and three luxury homes built on the land, lived in by wealthy people enjoying their early retirement and describing themselves as "retired hedonists".  The peace of the place is shattered when the young house-sitter at the big house, Patrick, is found dead by the side of the road.  Vera and her team investigate, and immediately find another body in the granny flat at the back of the house.  The only connection they can find between the two men is a fascination with moths.  As they dig into the history of the people in the new development, they find a great deal of boredom and dissatisfaction, and some very nasty secrets.  Janine Birkett does an excellent job with the different Durham/Newcastle/Northumbrian accents here.

Oh, and if you've already watched this in the TV series, still worth watching - unrecognisable.  I waited to finish listening to this to avoid plot spoilers - really needn't have bothered...

And the mountains echoed, by Khaled Hosseini. London: Bloomsbury, 2014.

Abdullah and his younger sister Pari live with their father and new stepmother in 1950s Afghanistan; until Pari is taken to live with a wealthy couple at the age of three and a half.  The book follows their lives, and that of their little brother Iqbal and their uncle Nabi; as well as the history of a Greek facial surgeon who comes to work in Afghanistan to repair the physical destruction caused by the war.  There are dark secrets here, too - and the savagery of poverty and war in Afghanistan and the Afghan diaspora over sixty years.  This is an intensely moving book, but has many loose ends - characters appear and then disappear just as suddenly - and somehow doesn't quite satisfy.  (Quick disclaimer that I haven't read any others of Hosseini's novels and I suspect a few of the characters may appear elsewhere, so this may make a lot more sense to people who've read the other two.)  It does give a fascinating look into a country we mainly know for its destruction, though.

The yellow jersey club: inside the minds of the Tour de France winners, by Edward Pickering. London: Bantam, 2015.

The idea for this book is the collection of living Tour winners which were assembled by ASO for the centenary tour in 2002. Pickering then decided to look at the post-Mercx-era winners, and the result is a series of short profiles of 21 Tour winners since 1975.  Some, like Bernard Thévenet, are less known to people like me who've only come to the sport recently.  Some stories are mostly recounted by the rider's peers. Some, like Greg LeMond, can talk the hind leg off a donkey.  And there's the odd chapter, like the one on Chris Froome, which seems to have been assembled from clippings.  And Lance Armstrong gets a chapter, because there'd be a huge gap in the record if not; Pickering doesn't pull any punches about the sport's drug-soaked history, though.  Definitely worth a read, if only to confirm the impression that these guys are all ever so slightly mad.

After the Armistice ball, by Catriona McPherson. London: Constable, 2005.

The first book in a series featuring Dandy Gilver, a society woman somewhat buried in early 1920s Perthshire with her staid husband, and her two sons away at boarding school.  A friend in trouble makes appeal to Dandy to investigate a supposed diamond theft, and she seizes the opportunity.  The investigation soon takes a tragic turn, but Dandy and friend-of-the-family Alec become rapidly convinced that everyone has something to hide.  An excellent beginning to a series - have already reserved the next one...

The rider, by Tim Krabbé. Translated from the Dutch by Sam Garrett. London: Bloomsbury International, 2003. Originally published in 1978.

This is the weirdest, simultaneously documentary and hallucinatory book, the story of a 150km race told in 150 or so pages.  Krabbé is an author and former chess champion who also took up cycle racing in his late 20s, and rode many races in Holland, Belgium and France.  In this case, the race is the fictional Tour du Mont Aigoual (reconstructed since by various publications). Every move in the race is relived, and then there are special appearances by heroes of the sport, cycling alongside Krabbé in fantasy moments.  This was nominated by The Guardian as the best cycling book ever; the only way I can describe it is as an existentialist novel on wheels... Highly recommended.