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.

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