"For Books are not absolutely dead things, but doe contain a potencie of life in them to be as active as that soule was whose progeny they are; nay they do preserve as in a violl the purest efficacie and extraction of that living intellect that bred them." - John Milton
I enjoyed The Woman In The Blue Cloak. It’s a well done police
procedural with an excellent backdrop of modern-day South Africa.
This novella is the
latest in a series featuring Captain Benny Greisel. I hadn’t read
the previous ones, but it works very well as a stand-alone book.
It’s a good mystery beginning with the discovery of a body covered
in bleach by the side of a country road and leads to a story of Old
Masters and greed. I liked the quiet tone of the prose, which gives
the book a sense of reality, as does the excellent picture of South
Africa today as a very convincing but never intrusive backdrop.
Meyer’s characters are well painted and the story, while perhaps
not entirely plausible in the end, held me and kept me reading.
This is a brief
book, and all the better for it, I think. It’s an enjoyable read
and I’m encouraged to look out previous Benny Griesel novels.
(My thanks to Hodder
& Stoughton for an ARC via NetGalley.)
I loved Broadsword Calling Danny Boy. It’s funny, affectionate but
knowing and rather insightful in places.
this is written for people who know the film Where Eagles Dare and
preferably who love it – a group which includes most of us who were
teenage boys when it came out in late 1968. I still remember seeing
it for the first time at the cinema, and, for example, the roar of
laughter when Richard Burton announces that he has uncovered a plot
to assassinate the Führer. Geoff Dyer approaches the film in the
same way – loving its absurdities while pointing them out and
relishing the gleeful excitement, dated attitudes and haircuts and so
much else. He made me laugh regularly, while also providing some
genuinely interesting and illuminating background. He perhaps dwells
a little too much on Burton’s drinking and fading-star status, but
otherwise I think he gets the tone just right.
Not all reviewers
agree with me; several don’t share Dyer’s sense of humour, for
example, but I found it a delight, which also has the immense merit
of being under 130 pages long and not over-stretching itself.
Personally, I can recommend this very warmly.
(My thanks to
Penguin Books for an ARC via NetGalley.)
I enjoyed The Truth About Archie And Pie. It’s a comic mystery
which is actually funny and which has some genuine content to it as
Be warned, the plot
is bonkers. Tom Winscome, a rather smug pillock in PR (who narrates
the book) comes into possession of some mathematical manuscripts, and
as his life then comes apart he finds himself in the middle of murder
plots, possibly being threatened by the Belarusian mafia and so on
while having to solve some mathematically-based mysteries to find out
what is going on and save himself and his friends. Put like that, it
sounds pretty terrible, but it’s well written, witty enough to make
me laugh out loud several times, the maths elements are enjoyable and
simply explained, and it has a plot which is just (just!) coherent
enough to make a decent mystery.
Jonathan Pinnock has
an easy, readable style with neatly-painted (if sometimes absurdly
extreme) characters, like the vicar who “had a plummy, earnest
voice that managed to sound sympathetic and judgemental at the same
time,” and he gets Tom’s hopeless lack of self-awareness very
well. I liked this little line after he has been a pain to his
girlfriend who has left him a note saying that she has gone out with
Samantha to discuss man problems: “Samantha’s boyfriend was an
arse, so I wasn’t a bit surprised by this.” Tom does develop a
little during the book, which is also a good aspect.
Pinnock also takes
some neat, humorous swipes at a lot of modern idiocies, like
‘What if he’s
got a gun?’
Hoxton, Tom. If anyone found a gun in Hoxton, they’d use it in some
kind of post-ironic artwork.’
OK, it’s an easy
target, but it’s nicely done and there’s plenty of enjoyable
stuff in the same vein about internet behaviour, conspiracy theories,
absurd corporate language and so on.
This isn’t a
comedy classic for me; I couldn’t quite give it five stars because
I felt it could do with a little tightening up in places, but it’s
a very enjoyable read and I will be looking out for the sequel.
I thought Shell Game was very good. I enjoyed Sara Paretsky’s
early books but I haven’t read one for many years. I’m pleased
to say that she’s still as good as ever.
Here, Vic is drawn
into two apparently separate investigations involving friends and
family as a young great-nephew of a close friend is suspected of
murder while a niece (sort of – it’s complicated) comes to her
because her sister has vanished. A complex plot develops involving
stolen Middle Eastern artefacts, corporate malfeasance, Russian
mobsters, Vic getting knocked about...well, it’s classic Paretsky.
There is a monumental coincidence at its heart, but it hangs together
well and makes an exciting and involving read.
Paretsky uses her
very well-drawn characters to cast light on the present-day USA, with
a convincing picture of the increasing, mindless conflation of
“muslim” and even “immigrant” with “terroroist,” and some
sharp stabs at the current political situation in general. Some are
a little crude, but for the most part she gives an intelligent
critique and creates a very convincing atmosphere.
Shell Game shows
that Sara Paretsky deserves her place in the pantheon of great
contemporary crime writers and that she is writing as well as ever.
I enjoyed it very much and I can recommend it warmly.
(My thanks to Hodder
& Stoughton for an ARC via NetGalley.)
Graham Norton has
shown himself to be a very good, insightful and humane writer. All
these qualities are plain in A Keeper, but as a novel I didn’t
think it quite delivered.
The story is told in
two time-frames; Elizabeth Keane returns to the small town in the
west of Ireland where she grew up to deal with the estate of her
recently dead mother. She discovers a cache of letters from the
father she never knew and we get the intercut stories of her search
for the truth of her origins and of the events of the past as they
happened. It’s a sad, rather bizarre story whose lessons are
mirrored in current events for Elizabeth.
Graham Norton writes
beautifully. As in Holding (which I enjoyed very much) it is a
delightful surprise that an apparently frivolous, rather waspish TV
host can create such rounded, human and sympathetic characters and
conjure atmosphere and sense of place so evocatively. Early on, for
example, we get a poignant picture of the emotional bleakness of
revisiting a now-unoccupied childhood home and excellently painted
portraits of relatives whose desperation to pry and to get their
hands on things from the house is dressed up as concern for
A Keeper is a
pleasure to read in this respect, but I didn’t find enough real
content to keep me fully engaged. There is a tension, but its
resolution is signalled early on, the Life Lessons applied to
Elizabeth’s current situation felt a bit clunky, and the emotional
insights didn’t seem that original, however beautifully portrayed
the characters may be.
Overall, this didn’t
deliver as much for me as Holding. However, this may be just a
personal response; A Keeper is very well written and well worth a try
to see if it suits you, even if I’m a little lukewarm about it.
Rebus may have been
told that he is in a “managed decline,” but I’m delighted to
say that Ian Rankin certainly isn’t. In A House Of Lies is
When long-dead body
is discovered in an abandoned car Siobhan Clarke and Malcolm Fox are
part of the MIT investigating. Rebus, now well retired from the
force, was part of the original investigation and becomes involved in
this, too – not always to the delight of the team. It’s classic
Rankin: complex, well structured and nuanced, with his three central
characters especially being extremely well drawn.
There’s a lot of
good crime fiction being written at the moment, but for me, this
shows why Ian Rankin still stands out from the rest and remains among
among the very best writers in the genre. He generates an excellent
and wholly unforced atmosphere, sense of place and feel of police
work and his characters, plot and dialogue are all completely
convincing to me. That long, shadowy, complex relationship between
Rebus and Big Ger Cafferty is still a brilliant feature and Rankin is
doing an excellent job of widening the central focus of the books to
include Clarke and Fox. Most of all, In A House Of Lies is
completely compelling; I was hooked and sorry to reach the end.
Probably all that
really need be said is that this is a very fine Ian Rankin novel.
The man is still at the peak of his form and I can recommend this
very warmly indeed.
I enjoyed Battlestar
Suburbia; it is witty, imaginative and well written, but it did go on
rather too long for me.
Chris McCrudden has
taken an old SF trope and given it a fresh and amusing tweak. It is
several millennia in the future; machines rule the world and permit
humans only to perform menial cleaning functions and to live on
orbiting “Dolestars”. However, McCrudden’s machines are the
products of a type of evolution which gives them character traits
reminiscent of their original ancestors – a homely, domestic
breadmaker or a bossy, arrogant smartphone, for example. He uses the
story of the accidental spawning of a human rebellion to sling
satirical barbs at a good deal of current human activity, including
use of the internet, sexism, scaremongering totalitarian politicians
and much besides. It’s well done and often made me smile and even
chuckle once or twice; the notion of a nuclear missile with the
personality of a sulky teenager might give you the idea. (And, by
the way, I liked that, without making a fuss about it, almost all the
chief protagonists were women.)
It’s a good read
which, crucially, never feels as though it’s congratulating itself
on being so cleverly amusing. However, I found it became very
fractured at times and even the willing suspension of disbelief
didn’t quite make up for some of the more absurd developments and
illogicalities in the machines’ make-up. I found that the central
tenet didn’t quite support the book until the end and it could have
done with a little tightening up.
I can recommend
Battlestar Suburbia. It is the first of a series, though, and I’m
not sure that I’ll rush to read the next book; I think that for me
the idea may have run its course.