Thursday, December 28, 2017

2017 books, #46-50

22.11.63, by Stephen King [audiobook]. Read by Craig Wasson. Audible edition.

Wow.  Just wow.  Jake Epping, a high school teacher, discovers that there's a wormhole in time back to 1958 through the back room of his local diner. The diner owner persuades him to go back in time to prevent the Kennedy assassination in 1963, and Jake has other reasons for making the journey.  Life, obviously, intervenes, too...  This is an amazing book - the details of life in the 50s, the implications of time travel, the interplay between past and present... Impossible to describe, but wonderful

The dry, by Jane Harper. London: Abacus, 2016.

Three of the Hadler family - mother, daughter and father - are found shot in and around their farmstead; the baby boy survives. It looks like a murder/suicide, but when Aaron Falk, a policeman who has moved away from the area, returns for the funeral, he finds it difficult to believe that Luke would have done this.  But then, Luke has always had secrets... and Falk was hounded out of the community after the death of a young boy.  There's been a lot of fuss about this as a "literary thriller"; I don't see it as being any more literary than many good crime novels, but on the other hand, it does genuinely work as a thriller. The crushing weight of the Australian drought is almost an extra character, too.  Highly recommended.

Boulting's vélosaurus: a linguistic Tour de France, by Ned Boulting. London: Yellow Jersey, 2016.

This is fun and silly, and one to dip in and out of. Boulting has taken French words, a few of which do actually have something to do with cycling, but many of which don't, and thoughtfully provided them with definitions and examples from cycling history. Some of these flights of fancy work wonderfully; some less so; but if you like cycling and French and France, this is a nice book to have by the bed, or if you keep bathroom books...

The hunting season, by Elizabeth Rigbey. London: Penguin, 2007.

Dr Matt Seleckis has never been much of one for the woods, but has moved back to Utah with his wife and young son.  After a disturbing incident at the hospital, he's more inclined to accede to his ageing father's request to a father-son hunting trip. While they're preparing, Matt meets an old friend and an unwelcome memory of one particular summer comes back, needing to be explored.  This is really claustrophobic with a creeping sense of dread - nothing's quite what it seems, and Matt's world threatens to come crashing down around him.

In bitter chill, by Sarah Ward. London: Faber, 2015.

Rachel Jones and Sophie Jenkins were abducted in 1978; only Rachel returned home. Over thirty years later, Sophie's case is re-opened when her mother commits suicide. And then there is another death. Rachel has taken refuge in a career in genealogy, but realises that the only way she will be able to live with herself in future is to investigate the past, and try to discover what really happened so many years ago.  As she does so, she and investigating detectives Sadler, Palmer and Childs uncover layers of deception, and eventually danger.  This was unputdownable, and I was very glad to find it was the beginning of a series.

Saturday, October 14, 2017

2017 books, #41-45

Gone with the wind, by Margaret Mitchell. Kindle edition.

I keep wondering why I haven't read many more books this year, but we've had some real bricks to read for book group, several of which I didn't quite finish so didn't count as reviewable...  This would have been a 993-page paperback so it had to be a Kindle book.  I hadn't read this before, although obviously had seen the film.  I didn't really enjoy the film because I hated Scarlett so much; and my opinion of her didn't really improve on reading this.  (I think she should just have been called Emma to warn the reader; literary Emmas seem uniformly awful.)  There are some moments, when she's in Tara with an entire household of hopeless and ailing mouths to feed, when I have some sympathy with her, but as soon as she starts to make her way in the world again, her natural selfishness becomes horribly rapacious, and it's painful.  What really did shock me, though, was what I find is called revisionist history of the Reconstruction, and much of that was left out of the film due to the prevailing atmosphere in 1930s America, along with the length of film production.  The idea that the Ku Klux Klan's foundation was entirely due to attacks by "uppity free blacks" on white women, though, was somewhat breathtaking, and the stereotyping of Yankee soldiers as opposed to our brave Confederate boys was a little bit nauseating in the current climate.  Parts of this book, which was named as America's favourite book (after the Bible) in 2014, definitely explain the romanticism around the Confederate statues in the south, and the myth of the noble Southern slave owner.  If you haven't read it, you probably should. I need a palette cleanser in the form of a more neutral account of Reconstruction, though.

Rain dogs, by Adrian McKinty. Kindle edition.

Sean Duffy's still there, in the Troubles, in the rain, in riot gear; but then journalist Lily Bigelow is found dead in the middle of the courtyard of Carrickfergus Castle, having supposedly fallen from the parapet.  The castle was locked, though, and the portcullis down; the only real suspect is the castle caretaker, but Duffy just can't find a motive. His superiors are as exasperated as ever at what they see as his tendency to overthink the case, but Duffy won't be bullied or rushed, and uncovers a series of plots involving local and international economic politics.  Another terrific book from McKinty.

Triple crown, by Felix Francis [audiobook]. Read by Martin Jarvis. Audible edition.

Jeff Hinckley's at it again in Francis's new thriller.  This time, he's investigating horse nobbling at the major US races, the famed "triple crown".  He goes undercover as an Irish "lad" (and oh dear, while I love Jarvis, his Irish accent isn't exactly stellar here; nor's his Puerto Rican) in a multinational crew, and keeps in touch with the US authorities with a succession of burner phones.  All the classic Francis elements are there - the teaching-us-about-an-unfamiliar-area, the derring-do, the personal peril, the getting-the-girl - and the plot rattles along very well.  Hinckley himself, however, is almost a cypher - Sid Halley, Toby Beach and Kit Fielding, just thinking off the top of my head, were memorable characters. Jeff's had three books to prove himself, and we still don't really know any more about him than we did at the beginning.  I'll keep reading these because they're immensely entertaining, but it's a bit of a quibble.

The burial hour, by Jeffery Deaver [audiobook]. Read by Jeff Harding. Audible edition.

Lincoln and Amelia return; and travel.  A nine-year-old girl witnesses a kidnapping in New York; the only thing remaining where the businessman stood is a miniature noose.  Shortly afterwards, an almost identical crime happens near Naples.  In both cases, the final breaths of the victim are recorded, set to music and put online.  Who is "the Composer"?  Rhyme and Sachs, all set to get married but bickering about their honeymoon location, fly to Italy to try to find out.  I don't think this is one of the best Rhyme books, but hey, it's Deaver, and Rhyme, and Italy, and Deaver's getting a great deal of fun out of taking Rhyme out of his comfort zone and giving him something additional to grumble about.  And while Jeff Harding's Italian accent isn't great, it's Jeff Harding.  There's a classic rug-being-pulled-out-under-you Deaver moment in there, too, which I enjoyed.

Deep France: a writers yarn in the Béarn, by Celia Brayfield. London: Pan, 2004.

Celia Brayfield's daughter goes off to college, and so rather than stay in London in her empty nest, she takes the gap year she never had and heads off to south west France with her page proofs, her cats (the extremely stupid Duchess, who lives on "Planet Pedigree", the perennially petrified Piglet, and Tarmac, the black one) and some trepidation.  The Béarn isn't the Dordogne with its huge proportion of "expat" residents (why we call them expats rather than the more accurate migrants is both obvious and depressing), but there are fair numbers of foreign residents around and despite her very good French, Brayfield seems to stick around mainly with them.  This is a lovely book - Brayfield obviously appreciates the slower more sustainable, rhythmic, seasonal way of life, and we hear about a year in a small community in one of the lesser-known bits of France, and recounts the year month by month with accompanying recipes. But she's not sentimental, either; one Kiwi couple's business is almost wiped out in a hard winter, and she's realistic about only really wanting to spend a year living in France.  I enjoyed this immensely.  As did the previous owner (this is yet another find from the Colts bookcase at Hove station - I really need to start leaving things there), given the various food splashes on the recipe pages...  One thing: the last section made me bawl on the train at the sheer optimism of it in terms of freedom of movement., people starting businesses, etc. - it was written in 2002. You might want to leave that section to read in private.

2017 books, #36-40

End games in Bordeaux, by Alan Massie. Kindle edition.

Catching up on some books read much, much earlier; it's too easy to leave books on the Kindle unreviewed because you don't physically have to put them anywhere.  I read this back in February in Paris; it turned out to be the last part of a 4-volume series, and I might go back and read the rest.  D-day has come, and the people of Bordeaux are waiting for the Nazi regime to crumble.  In the chaos of the liberation, consciences are examined; punishments are starting to be dealt out; and there's still hope that people who disappeared earlier in the war. Meanwhile Inspecteur Lannes, suspended from duty by his Vichy masters, is searching for a missing girl and uncovering allegations of historic sex abuse. It's a dark, slightly gloomy sort of book which fitted in terrifically with Paris in February...

The lion's mouth, by Anne Holt. Kindle edition.

The Prime Minister of Norway is found dead at her desk, having been shot. The last appointment she had was with a judge who, it turns out, is also an old friend, and has just been appointed chief of an enquiry into the deaths of babies in 1967.  As Hanne Willemson returns from her sabbatical in California to lead the investigation, she begins to discover other, more sinister, associations in the corridors of power, and to wonder exactly how corrupt the Norwegian establishment has become.  I really enjoy Anne Holt's books - and as a former Home Secretary for Norway, she presumably knows what she's talking about it terms of machinery-of-government!

Swallows and Amazons, by Arthur Ransome. Kindle edition.

A book group book.  I saw the recent film when it came out, and really enjoyed it; which meant that the actual plot of this book was somewhat tame in comparison without the additional spy story added in; but had forgotten quite how good the writing was, and how refreshing the children, and their freedom, was.  If it's been a while since you read this, or you never have, definitely worth a re-read. I am also remembering the look of joy on the face of one of our members who grew up in Canada, on hearing that this was the first of rather a long series!

A lesson in dying, by Ann Cleeves. Kindle edition.

The school at Heppleburn isn't an entirely happy place to be - the headmaster has a vendetta against a nervous young male teacher, and the PTA is in disarray. The caretaker, George Robson, notices all these things, and is worried about his somewhat scatty daughter joining the PTA.  Not as worried, however, as he is when the headmaster is strung up on the basketball hoop in the playground during a parents' Hallowe'en party. Inspector Ramsey investigates, and uncovers a morass of old grudges, incomer/native tensions and one final shattering secret.  I enjoyed this a great deal; haven't read any of the Ramsey books until this one.

A bird in the hand, by Ann Cleeves. Kindle edition.

Teenager Tom French is found, binoculars in hand, on the North Norfolk coast; he's been viciously beaten.  The floating population at the local bird observatory is shocked, but many of them soon move on to the next twitch. Retired civil servant and keen birdwatcher George Palmer-Jones starts to investigate, and discovers more secrets than he was bargaining for. Again, a new Cleeves series for me and one I'll follow up.

2017 books, #31-35

Another day in the death of America, by Gary Younge. London: Guardian Books, 2016.

Gary Younge picked a random 24 hours in the US, and the stories of 10 random children and young people killed by guns in that period.  The kids range from 8 to 20 years old, from a variety of backgrounds and ethnic origins; and in many cases, the deaths didn't even make the local news. The individual stories are heartbreaking; but the sheer banality of death by gun violence, and its acceptance by many families, is the most horrifying aspect of this book. Younge interweaves the history of, and attitudes to, firearms into the separate stories as a powerful howl of rage against the situation.

The absence of guilt, by Mark Gimenez [audiobook]. Read by Jeff Harding. Oxford: ISIS, 2017.

The Super Bowl is due to happen in Dallas, and the authorities uncover a plot to use a weapon of mass destruction inside the stadium.  A hate preacher is arrested and the president announces "We won!" on national TV.  Unfortunately, there's one snag: there's no evidence of a connection between the plot and the preacher.  That problem falls to new US district judge A. Scott Fenney; is he holding an innocent man, and if so, who are the guilty ones?  This is extremely well plotted with a good reveal towards the end.  It's also really quite hawkish and strays from anti-extremist to anti-Muslim an uncomfortable number of times.  Rather like the Vince Flynn books, it's slightly "know your enemies". Having said that, Judge Fenney is a good guy, and so are the characters immediately surrounding him.  I'd try another by this author, if Jeff Harding were reading it...

Blazing saddles: the cruel and unusual history of the Tour de France, by Matt Rendell. London: Quercus, 2007.

Matt Rendell's wild sense of humour is in evidence here; but he's also put together a great year-by-year history of the Tour with some anecdotes and a lot of fact (and some seriously good photos).  You get a really good sense of the different eras.  What comes over most, though, is the sheer lunacy of Henri Desgrange, the founder of the Tour and its first director, a man who said that the ideal Tour would be one only one rider could finish.  Obviously it's slightly dated now, but still an excellent read.

Presumed guilty: the British legal system exposed, by Michael Mansfield with Tony Wardle. London: Mandarin, 1994.

Michael Mansfield looks at miscarriages of justice in the British legal system, after his experience of representing the Birmingham Six and other high-profile cases.  The case he examines, though, is the murder of a man in a High Wycombe café in 1989, and the trial, conviction and subsequent acquittal of a man called Talat Sarwar.  Mansfield presents a compelling case for the adoption of the juge d'instruction system used in France, and includes a detailed description of how French prosecutors work with investigators, something I've found quite difficult to understand in the past.  Some of the things Mansfield recommends have been adopted in the 23 years since this book was written; some of the things he deplores have been reinforced.  A very interesting read, anyway.

Re: cycling: 200 years on two wheels, by Michael Hutchinson. London: Bloomsbury Sport, 2017.

An immensely entertaining history of cycling, from the earliest machines to the present day.  What I particularly like about this book is the social history element - the amount of freedom which cycling was able to give people, particularly women (and the kerfuffle about appropriate cycling attire for women is a sad and hilarious section), and the class perceptions of the activity at different periods in history.  There's also a thread running through which explains why the phenomenon of the competitive British road cyclist is relatively new, and includes Hutchinson's own history as a champion time-triallist.

Sunday, August 13, 2017

2017 books, #26-30

The underground railroad, by Colson Whitehead.  London: Fleet, 2016.

Cora's life on a cotton plantation in Georgia, where she is an outcast even among her fellow slaves, ends when she's persuaded by Caesar, a recent arrival from Virginia, to run away.  Things go badly from the start - Cora kills a young white boy who tries to capture her.  Although they find a station on the railroad,  and are transported to South Carolina, they are now hunted.

In this book, and this is where the fiction comes in, the Underground Railroad is literally there, a network of hidden railroads with irregular trains flying North to freedom, with engineers, and tunnels, and conductors.  As Cora travels, she realises that situations which at first seem benign are actually quite insidious, and that she is endangering the people who shelter her.  It's an amazing story. There is, as you'd expect, an awful lot of casual brutality; that part isn't fiction... but it's also a compelling story, and very readable.

Bring me the head of Sergio Garcia! my year of swinging dangerously on the pro golf tour, by Tom Cox. London: Yellow Jersey, 2007.

I have no interest whatever in golf; but I do like the way Tom Cox writes.  Turning 30, Cox and his wife decide that he needs to get the teenage desire to be a golf pro out of his system, so he applies to join a minor Tour and competes in various tournaments.  This is a lovely account of falling in and out of love with a sport, and a critical look of the culture around golf.  Very readable if you like Tom Cox's cat books (he's the chronicler of the late lamented The Bear, AKA @WHYMYCATISSAD).

Peter Pan must die, by John Verdon [audiobook]. Read by Jeff Harding. Rearsby, Leics.: WF Howes, 2016.

A Dave Gurney book; and follows the same pattern as the others. Gurney gets involved in a new and potentially dangerous case; his wife alternately sulks and whines at him; things get ever more dangerous and he exceeds his brief but keeps on with the investigation; dangerous things happen; there is resolution.  That doesn't mean it isn't a good ride while it's going on (and Jeff Harding does his usual excellent job here) but there is a certain formula, and Verdon isn't as good as someone like Lee Child about varying it up, or telling us something new about his characters.  Definitely worth listening to; I'm not convinced I'd have read it in print though.

We'll always have Paris: trying and failing to be French, by Emma Beddington. London: Pan, 2017.

Emma Beddington had a fascination with the French from an early age; she went to French films, envisaged herself sitting moodily outside a Paris café smoking a Gitane, and mugged up on her Gainsbourg and Besson...  She met a Frenchman, married, had two children, and then had the chance to live in Paris.  And it wasn't at all what she expected.  This is the best account I've ever read of being miserable in posh Paris (granted, that's a niche memoir); weirdly, Beddington ended up living just round the corner from where I'd been miserable a a few years before, sitting on benches in the Parc Monceau watching her kids (my au pair charge, in my case), staring through the windows of pâtisseries, dealing with incredibly unfriendly French bureaucracy.  It's also an exploration of grief, and some tragedy; but it's also handled with a wonderful honest, humorous sense.  And there's a love story at the heart of all this; the central relationship, but also falling in and out of love with cities and the notion of home.  Brilliant book. One to be kept, which is a rarity these days.

Death ship, by Jim Kelly. London: Crème de la Crime, 2016.

Kids digging a fort in the sand on Hunstanton Beach unearth a bomb,which explodes.  Is it a WWII unexploded bomb, or something newer and more sinister? And is it connected with the new, and contentious, pier being built?  Shaw and Valentine are already based in Hunstanton, trying to catch a killer who's handing out poisoned sweets at bus stops, while looking for a missing Dutch tourist who walked out of his hotel one day and disappeared.  The more they look into the case, the more confusing all these strands become; and the further back Shaw finds himself digging.  Another really excellent book by Kelly, which romps along, and captures the atmosphere of the Norfolk Coast perfectly.

2017 books, #21-25

Dominion, by CJ Sansom [audiobook]. Read by Daniel Weyman.  Rearsby, Leics.: Clipper, 2012.

It's 1952 and Britain is twelve years into Nazi rule under Lord Beaverbrook, Winston Churchill is leader of the Resistance and the British Jews are being rounded up for deportation to camps on the Isle of Wight.  Civil servant David Fitzgerald is recruited to the Resistance and asked to break scientist Frank Muncaster, an old school friend, out of the mental hospital in Birmingham where he has been confined after being accused of killing his brother.  This is very cleverly done - you find yourself thinking aaaah every now and then as another piece of the alternative world slots into place - and a good read.  Daniel Weyman narrates this very competently and reminds me that a well-read audiobook is a very satisfying thing indeed.

Silence, by Shusaku Endo. London: Picador, 2015. Originally published in 1966.

Portuguese priest Sebastian Rodrigues sets sail for Japan in 1640 to help the suppressed Christians there; and to find out what has happened to his former mentor who is rumoured to have renounced his faith under torture. Rodrigues is idealistic, but life in Japan gradually brings him to the realisation that although there are still faithful people there, his presence is as much of a danger as a comfort to them.  This was... interesting... but really, if you want to read an account of a priest examining his usefulness in a hostile environment, you'd be better off with Greene's Power and the Glory.  There's a curious lack of detail about daily life in 17th century Japan to distinguish this from the Greene, too.

The wrong side of goodbye, by Michael Connelly. London: Orion, 2016.

A Harry Bosch book; and a good one. Bosch is working for the cold case unit in San Fernando, California, as a retired volunteer detective, and also doing private investigations on the side.  He is summoned to a meeting with a billionaire aerospace company owner who is at the end of his life, and tortured by the idea that he may have a living heir.  Bosch makes progress quite quickly despite worries about the people who might be interested in his not finding out about living relatives; but at the same time, the "cold case" he's working on, a series of rapes, suddenly starts to heat up again with another suspected attack.  This is very good indeed, even by Connelly's usual standards; having read much less than usual this year for whatever reason, I raced through this in a day and really enjoyed it.

Strangers on a train, by Patricia Highsmith. London: Vintage, 1999. Originally published in 1950.

Guy Haines and Charles Bruno meet on a long-distance train; after a night of drinking, Bruno proposes that he dispose of Haines's troublesome estranged wife, in exchange for Guy killing Bruno's hated father.  It would, he suggests, be the perfect crime as both would be entirely motiveless. Haines shrugs it off as a chance encounter; but then he leaves a book in Bruno's train carriage with his address in it, and creates a disturbing link between them...  I'd forgotten quite how compelling this thriller really was; it seems much more modern than something written in 1950, and most of us in my book group found it unputdownable once we'd started to read it. Very glad to have read it again.

Gun Street girl, by Adrian McKinty. London: Serpent's Tail, 2015.

Sean Duffy has what looks like a double murder and suicide to deal with. But as ever, he seems to be determined to make it as complicated as possible, at least in the eyes of his superiors.  The more information he turns up about the suspect, the less convinced he is by the initial view of the case.  And then a mysterious American agent, and MI5, turn up on his doorstep.  This series continues to be extremely engaging.

Saturday, April 22, 2017

2017 books, #16-20

The apprentice of Split Crow Lane: the story of the Carr's Hill murder, by Jane Housham [audiobook]. Read by Jim Barclay and Anna Bentinck. Rearsby, Leics.: Clipper/WF Howes, 2016.

Sarah Melvin was killed at the age of five in Felling, Newcastle, in 1866; the first suspects were her parents, poor Irish immigrants, but then when the real killer was discovered, it raised as many questions as it answered.  While Housham keeps returning to the murder, this is also a wider investigation into notions of sanity and responsibility in Victorian England, an exploration of the treatment of mentally ill prisoners, a look at the early days of Broadmoor, and a discussion of a few similar cases of the era.  Really interesting, and genuinely suprising at times.

In the morning I'll be gone, by Adrian McKinty. London: Serpent's Tale, 2014.

Sean Duffy has been demoted for an incident which happened, unseen, during I hear the sirens in the street; he's offered his old rank back, in Special Branch, for agreeing to investigate the escape of an old school friend, IRA commander Dermot McCann, from the Maze Prison in 1984.  When visiting McCann's ex-wife, Duffy hears about the unsolved suspicious death of her sister, Lizzie Fitzpatrick, three years earlier.  He makes a dangerous bargain, and continues to pursue both cases.  As ever, real events are woven carefully into the narrative here, with tremendous effect in the eventual climax of this novel.  It's probably just as well I have to wait for the library to come up with the next book...

Zola and the Victorians: censorship in the age of hypocrisy, by Eileen Horne. London: MacLehose, 2015.

Unlike the English Victorians in the first book in this post, nobody comes out well here.  Including Emile Zola, who is a hero of mine.  I had no idea about the reception of Zola's books in Britain - I read them in French and was captivated enough to want to do a PhD in them - although I did know that they'd scandalised a section of French society.  Here, the attitudes expressed 60 years later in the Chatterley case - "would you wish your wife or servant..." - are right to the fore, to the extent that publishers of Zola in English, in however bowdlerised a fashion, were prosecuted for indecency, while copies of the books in French were openly sold.  Henry Vizetelly, the publisher involved, is ruined, while Zola seems profoundly indifferent to his fate, quibbling only about his royalties. It's a stunning indictment of hypocritical prudishness, closed-minded Philistinism and a distrust of foreign influences which is depressingly familiar today.

Silent witnesses: the story of forensic science, by Nigel McCrery. London: Arrow, 2014.

I'm told the author of this is the creator of Silent Witness on TV, but as I've never seen it... A short, workmanlike history of forensic science which covers all the usual bases, but less interestingly than Val McDermid's recent similar book.  Some interesting additional/alternative test cases for some of the information though.  The photos in the middle of the book are stunningly uninformative and could easily have been left out...

To hell on a bike: riding Paris-Roubaix, the toughest race in cycling, by Iain MacGregor. London: Bantam, 2015.

MacGregor cycled from Lands end to John O'Groats in the 1990s, and took up cycling again in his early 40s; after cycling the Etape du Tour in 2013, he looked for another challenge.  So why not the "hell of the North", Paris-Roubaix, or its sportive equivalent?  This is a nice mixture of a history of the race, some self-deprecating stuff about MacGregor's own cycling prowess, and some excellent interviews with journalists, commentators, former racers and organisers of the race - MacGregor's background in publishing has obviously allowed him to build an impressive contacts book - ending with an account of the ride itself.  Very enjoyable and readable; and some really good photos in this one.

Saturday, March 25, 2017

2017 books, #11-15

Cast iron, by Peter May. London: riverrun, 2017.

The sixth, and presumably last, of the Enzo books - although Enzo's wager with Roger Raffin covers seven historic cases, all the loose ends are tied up in this book and it seems very final.  Which is a shame, as this is an immensely entertaining cast of characters.  In this book, though, Enzo is looking for the killer of Lucie Martin, a 20-year-old girl found in a dry lake bed years after her disappearance. The killing has always been blamed on Régis Blanc, a serial strangler who was known to Lucie, but Enzo isn't so sure, and Blanc has always denied the killing.  Meanwhile, Enzo's investigation is putting his daughter and her fiancé in danger.  Excellent plotting, the sort of book you devour in a couple of sittings.  I'm going to miss this series.

Ashes of London, by Andrew Taylor [audiobook]. Read by Leighton Pugh. Rearsby, Leics.: WF Howes/Harper Audio, 2016.

In the aftermath of the Great Fire of London, a body is found in a tomb which ought to be empty; James Marwood is asked by the government to investigate. Marwood has no choice - he's the son of a printer who was disgraced for Republicanism and who is now deeply affected by dementia - but the investigation takes him deeper into political intrigue and danger.  I sort of enjoyed this - but I found it really difficult to remain concentrated on it, despite the reader being a good one.

Medium raw: a bloody Valentine to the world of food and the people who cook, by Anthony Bourdain. London: Bloomsbury, 2010.

This has all the hallmarks of classic Bourdain - hundred-miles-an-hour, no-holds-barred, full-frontal writing; but from ten years after Kitchen confidential opened up many doors to the restaurant world, and after Cook's tour gave Bourdain the opportunity to travel all over the world in the search for exotic food.  Starting, shockingly, with the consumption of ortolans, Bourdain writes about the world of cooks and restaurants and food producers, and also about the difference in himself between the angry, burned-out man who wrote Kitchen confidential and the husband and father he is by 2010. Excellent book.

Long time dead, by Tony Black [audiobook]. Read by Darth Cruickshank. Oxford: Isis, 2010.

This is the fourth one in a series, which may be why I felt as if I was slightly missing information all the way through.  Anyway; Gus Dury is taken to hospital after a hit-and-run, but his alcoholism is causing worse problems.  His best friend Hod asks him to investigate the on-campus hanging of an Edinburgh University student with a rich, high-profile mother who has promised a large reward. Gus needs the money, and gets a janitor's job at the university so he can take a look into the case; he uncovers a similar hanging which happened in the 1970s, and realises his life is in danger.  I enjoyed this; but I'm not convinced I'll be looking for others in the series.

I hear the sirens in the street, by Adrian McKinty. London: Serpent's Tail, 2014.

Sean Duffy, back at work after the events of The cold cold ground, is given the case of a torso found in a suitcase.  When he tracks the suitcase back to its previous owner, he finds another murder, that of a UVF soldier; everything becomes more complicated, step by step.  And then there's the Troubles to deal with... Another excellent, gripping read with the background of the Falklands War...

Sunday, March 12, 2017

2017 books, #6-10

The hanging tree, by Ben Aaronovitch.  London: Gollancz, 2016.

The sixth of the Peter Grant series, and another really enjoyable read.  A young girl is found dead at a party of Bright (and Drugged-up) Young Things, and Lady Ty's daughter is present.  Peter is called in because he owes Lady Ty a favour, and because it's probably not politic to have the daughters of river gods involved in this sort of thing.  So we have a combination of Peter, the super-rich, magic and the river gods. What could possibly go wrong?  If you haven't picked up this series before, do. But start at the beginning or parts of this will make no sense whatsoever.  Only regret is that I raced through it way too fast...

Cold earth, by Ann Cleeves [audiobook]. Read by Kenny Blyth. Oxford: Isis, 2016.

During the funeral of Magnus Tait, a landslide crashes through what should have been an abandoned croft, and the body of a beautiful woman in a red dress is found in the wreckage.  Jimmy Perez has no idea who she is, and starts to investigate; then he finds the woman was already dead when the landslide hit.  As he tracks the woman back through her stay on the island, he begins to realise that he is stirring up a number of vested interests including the oil companies which give Shetland their prosperity.  I don't know why I really didn't quite get into this book; the reader is good; the plot is well-done. Maybe I was just distracted by other things.  I may go back and read/listen to this one again before the next one comes out...

Fear of 13. Netflix.

A bit unusual, as this isn't a book or an audiobook, but it might as well have been the latter; you could listen to it without the visuals, as the majority of the visual content is watching one man sitting on a chair telling his story of wrongful conviction.  It's quite disorienting, because you find out a lot about Nick Yarris's life inside prison, and his state of mind, before you ever find out how and why he ended up on Death Row for 21 years.  It's two hours of intense, very moving narrative delivered like a one-man show - it's no wonder that Yarris now makes part of his living in public speaking.

A very English scandal: sex, lies and a murder plot at the heart of the establishment, by John Preston. London: Penguin Viking, 2016.

This is a story I vaguely remember from childhood, but didn't understand properly at the time; it's Jeremy Thorpe, and the attempted murder of his lover Norman Scott.  As the child of card-carrying Liberals, I remember the shock when he resigned, and the scandal of the trial, but not much else.  This book gives short biographies of everyone involved, who might have known what and when, and how much coverup there actually was (spoiler: a lot).  And it's all very readable.

Trieste and the meaning of nowhere, by Jan Morris. London: Faber, 2002.

Trieste is literally neither here nor there, a place which no country has really seemed to want over the centuries and which has ended up as the tag-end of Italy, nearer former Yugoslavia than anywhere else, and without its original purpose as a trading port for the whole Mediterranean.  Morris writes lovingly about it - the first visit, as a young soldier during World War II, and the subsequent ones - but also slightly wonderingly, not really being able to pin down its charm.  It's a memoir of the city, and also of Morris herself.  Not a lot happens, but I have a strong desire to visit it and just be a flâneuse in this city.

Sunday, January 29, 2017

2017 books, #1-5

Inferno, by Dan Brown [audiobook]. Read by Paul Michael.  Rearsby, Leics: Clipper, 2013.

This is, of course, dreadful tosh.  But a good shout at the CD player over New Year was welcome, and although it was initially a disappointment that Jeff Harding wasn't reading this one as well, the reader was excellent, particularly in the area of Italian pronunciation.  There was so much wrong with the Dante part of this that I won't even start; and the setup so that Robert Langdon could mansplain his way round another landscape was as clunky as ever.  But there were some pleasing plot twists, and a lot of knitting, tidying up and reading was done while listening to this.

The cold cold ground, by Adrian McKinty. London: Serpent's Tail, 2012.

I heard about this author via @TriciaindaHouse on Twitter - an excellent source for book recommendations if you like the sort of thing I review here.  This is a brilliant book, and happily it's the first in an ongoing series.  Sean Duffy is a rare bird, a Catholic sergeant in the RUC in the spring of 1981.  Most of his work is in attempting to contain sectarian violence, but then he comes across a very odd case - two killings of gay men within a matter of hours.  Is this the work of a serial killer, or something different?  There are some great "period details" here - high-security visits of Margaret Thatcher, the IRA hunger strikers, the backdrop of the Royal Wedding - and also some shocking reminders of how totally abnormal life in the North was at the time.  Highly recommended.  I've already got the second one on reserve.

Saturday requiem, by Nicci French [audiobook]. Read by Beth Chalmers. Rearsby, Leics.: Clipper, 2016.

It was a completely open and shut case when 18-year-old Hannah Docherty was arrested for the murder of her mother, father and brother, and she's been incarcerated in a secure hospital ever since.  When Frieda Klein, a psychotherapist, is asked by the police to assess Hannah, she is horrified and haunted by the girl's condition, and begins to investigate the circumstances of the murders.  What she finds makes her doubt both her own sanity, and Hannah's guilt.  This is tightly plotted and fascinating.

Paper towns, by John Green. London: Bloomsbury, 2010.

Margo Roth Spiegelman is Quentin Jacobsen's next door neighbour, and an awesome rebel. Q has been in love with her forever, and is amazed when she commandeers him to go on a riotous, night-long revenge prank. And then Margo disappears.  The phenomenon of paper towns was unfamiliar to me until I read this book...  The setup, and to an extent the main character, who is not the narrator, is familiar from Green's Looking for Alaska, but this is an altogether different thing, and makes you laugh and cry, and believe, as I did as a teenager, that dysfunctional teens are probably the best.

The strange case of the composer and his judge, by Patricia Duncker [audiobook]. Read by Maggie Mash. Rearsby, Leics.: Clipper, 2010.

Hunters in the Jura come across a strange sight: a semi-circle of dead bodies, staring upwards into the sky.  Dominique Carpentier, a judge with more than a passing interest in cults, is called up by a policeman who is also her old lover; the pair start to investigate, and realise that there is a connection between the dead and a composer and conductor, Friedrich Grosz.  This is a strange sort of book - half police procedural, half a search into a mystical realm, and I'm not entirely sure it's successful; but it's a good listen, with an excellent reader.