Thursday, 11 October 2018

Deon Meyer - The Woman In The Blue Cloak

Rating: 4/5

A good mystery

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. Recommended.

(My thanks to Hodder & Stoughton for an ARC via NetGalley.)

Tuesday, 9 October 2018

Geoff Dyer - Broadsword Calling Danny Boy

Rating: 5/5

A delight

I loved Broadsword Calling Danny Boy. It’s funny, affectionate but knowing and rather insightful in places.

Fairly obviously, 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 F├╝hrer. 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.)

Sunday, 7 October 2018

Jonathan Pinnock - The Truth About Archie And Pye

Rating: 4/5

Readable and funny

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 well.

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?’
‘We’re in 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.

(My thanks to Farrago for an ARC via NetGalley.)

Sunday, 30 September 2018

Sara Paretsky - Shell Game

Rating: 5/5

Classic Paretsky

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.)

Wednesday, 26 September 2018

Graham Norton - A Keeper

Rating: 3/5

Excellently written but slightly disappointing

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 Elizabeth.

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.

(My thanks to Coronet for an ARC via NetGalley.)

Sunday, 23 September 2018

Ian Rankin - In A House Of Lies

Rating: 5/5

Classic Rankin

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 excellent.

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.

(My thanks to Orion for an ARC via NetGalley.)

Wednesday, 19 September 2018

Chris McCrudden - Battlestar Suburbia

Rating: 4/5

Enjoyably witty

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.

(My thanks to Farrago for an ARC via NetGalley.)