Sunday, 30 April 2017

Shelter - Sarah Franklin

I enjoyed this book much more than I thought I was going to when I started it. It seemed as if it was going to be yet another overwritten, debut novel. And to a certain extent that is exactly what it is. But it  meanders along with some considerable charm. If you want to try and ‘genrealise’ (is that a word even, or did I make it up?) it’ll fit into WWII, historical fiction or chick lit very nicely.

It’s a grand little tale of what the war can do, and indeed does do, to people, their families and their lives. It asks questions about the nature of imprisonment that goes beyond mere physical incarceration. It’s about secrets and the divulging of these secrets. It’s about family in its broadest sense and some of the decisions women face and have faced throughout time.

This may smack of criticism and negativity but I did find it somewhat predictable and cliched.  So what? What does it matter? Does a book have to be different and overtly original? If reading is about enjoyment, as it should be, I enjoyed reading this. It was well written and the characters were likeable and accessible. Connie is a very real person, maybe not always behaving as convention might demand but she is honest. She is the pivot that drives the rest of the story along, the maypole to which several of the other characters are attached. Many of them experiencing life dilemmas brought about by situations they could not influence. And if it feels like things you’ve read before then there’s some comfort in the familiar isn’t there? 

The writer’s deep love of the forest location goes a long way to lifting the narrative out of its potential stereotypical trappings of war story. The descriptions offer a tangible sense of being within a forest that offered a sanctuary , the ‘shelter’ of the title, living and breathing trees. So much so that the forest becomes as much a character as the humans in the book. 

It’s a credible debut novel from this writer and I will watch the progress of this book with interest.

Friday, 28 April 2017

Hunting the Hangman - Howard Linskey

This is a very clever piece of work. For it can be accessed on a number of levels which surely guarantees it reaching a wider audience. It can be taken as a good old WWII yarn. It can be read as a spy/resistance thriller. You can enjoy it as an historical fiction. Students of the Holocaust will find it of interest. There’s even some fleeting chick lit appeal!

2017 is the 75th anniversary of the attempted assassination of Reinhard Heydrich who earned himself a number of nicknames none of which match what I’d like to call him but unprintable in this context! This book is a fictional account of that assassination attempt. 

And the result is an extremely readable and engaging book which may sound paradoxical given the subject matter. And it’s no mean feat either. A straightforward non fiction account of this event could have come across as somewhat turgid and inaccessible. I believe readers who might ordinarily eschew a book of this nature would be surprised at how much they gain from reading it. Mr. Linksey has liberally punctuated this book with humanity. The paradox of all the Nazis stood for in many ways? 

The narrative flows easily and gathers momentum as the book progresses. The historical research is impeccable and what shines though is Mr. Linskey’s passion for his subject. Without that this story would be just another tale. But he makes every word count. He makes his characters come to life and we care about those we are supposed to care about. 

I am not unfamiliar with Howard Linskey’s work and I love the way he has developed as a writer. But this book has elevated him even further in my opinion. And to know that it has been seventeen years in the making fills me with awe. 

I have a strong belief that the damage carried out by the Third Reich should never go unforgotten for the sake of those who perished innocently and those who gave their lives to resist the evil onslaught. So this is an important book. It also celebrates Jan Kubis and Josef Gabcik - all that they did and all that they stood for. Celebrate may seem an inappropriate choice of word for which I only partly apologise. 

Tuesday, 25 April 2017

Well of the Winds - Denzil Meyrick

I was delighted to renew my acquaintance with DCI Jim Daley and his colleagues in the current Daley mystery. This is a meaty thriller which will appeal to crime fans and, in the spirit of genre fusion, there’s a hefty dollop of World War II intrigue to tantalise aficionados of that genre too. Can it get much better? Yes, it can!! 

Meyrick’s books are deceptive. You can be fooled into thinking that you’re ‘just’ reading a bog standard, enjoyable crime novel but the sub text in his books tend to stay with you for a good while after. There’s an explosive implication at the end of this book which won’t leave my head!! And I’m sorry I cannot say any more than that because I cannot risk a spoiler.

The Rat Stone Serenade scared the bejesus out of me but this latest offering was more cerebral. And at the conclusion I’m still not sure that I ‘got’ it all!! Intentionally I don’t believe all the ends were tied up but that is sort of the appeal of these books. You are required to think. 

Another feature of these books is how Scotland almost becomes an additional character, part of the team almost. Meyrick clearly loves his country and allows us to do so too. And as you read it seems impossible that this chain of events could happen anywhere but within this landscape so palpably described by the author.

The plot is a complex one following a dual chronology where some characters endure in both time frames. It’s not a laid back read, you do need to pay attention for Meyrick doesn’t waste words. He uses contemporary issues alongside historical ones and shows how the past can define the present.

The fishing industry plays a prominent part in the way of an abundant red herring harvest.  Secrets abound. So much so that police, Special Branch and MI5 or MI6 get involved as do the other emergency services.

Jim Daley is a dour Scot who has much to be dour about in this book but he was pretty dour in the last! I warm more to D.S. Scott with his sardonic wit and  Chief Superintendent Carrie Symington. There are numerous characters in the story all with fairly pivotal parts to play demanding attentive reading. No one is quite who they seem.

It’s a entertaining and thought provoking read.In fact,  I’d rather read the book than the reviews!!

Friday, 21 April 2017

The Borrowed - Chan Ho-Kei

As a detective novel this is pretty unusual. It documents the life and work of Hong Kong detective Inspector Kwan through five decades. Nothing so unusual about that but what sets this apart from other such works is the structure of the book which is unusual.

The book is a translation from its original Chinese. And the chapters start in 2013 and end in 1967. I will bravely confess that initially I felt a dreadful error had occurred on the part of the editor and publisher. They had failed to recognise that the Chinese read and write from top to bottom, right to left so, to us, their books are being read backwards. I thought the chapters had been wrongly ordered. They should run from 1967 to 2013 and the book would enjoy a greater cohesion. However when I got to the afterword I found that this reverse chronology was intentional on the author’s part. Boy, did I feel stupid!!

But I still think I would have enjoyed the book better had it begun in 1967 and concluded in 2013. I found it a little frustrating to read about what had happened before it had happened if that makes sense! If I were to reread it I’d like to start at the end and read backwards!

To appraise it as a crime novel though is straightforward enough. Some intricate crimes minutely dissected by the intrepid Inspector Kwan, who is something of an oriental Sherlock Holmes, were detailed and cleverly thought out but the dissemination of them and some of the questioning leading to the solving of the crime, although fascinating, did get tedious. I can see some readers being put off by that. I also found myself getting confused by many of the Chinese names. There were so many characters throughout the book all with similar but different monikers!

But the book is elevated beyond just a collection of crime stories with the backdrop of Hong Kong. I learnt a great deal and found the descriptive passages very evocative creating a palpable atmosphere. But also the politics and the socio-economic divisions were developed throughout the book offering an historical perspective also. And I suppose the reverse chronology worked better within that context.

So all in all an extremely interesting, absorbing read. And well written as far as I can tell. As far as I can tell? Well, this is a translation and I always feel that if you aren’t reading a work in its native language there has to be some loss along the way - idioms, nuances of language, but all credit to Jeremy Tiang who has rendered this work accessible to those of us confined to the English language.

Sunday, 16 April 2017

The Freedom Broker - K.J.Howe

I sometimes wonder if there are a finite number of plots for crime and thriller novels? And I guess the more you read the less books there are that can overwhelm and amaze you. That may sound as if I am heading for an underwhelming opinion of K.J.Howe’s debut novel but I’m not. I really enjoyed it. 

it’s a good book, but not a great book. It’s action packed. It’s one of those stories where you know it’s the good guys against the bad guys and because it’s a fiction you can be pretty sure the good guys will win, it’s a matter of how they do it, and how long that takes! 

The book is populated with what I like to call ’Houdini Heroes’  who survive the most overwhelming of odds and emerge relatively unscathed. And in good contemporary fashion, at the forefront, is yet another feisty female who strives to be both Lisbeth Salander and Katniss Everdene but never quite makes it. But please don’t let that put you off for Thea Paris is an delightful tour de force and drives this novel along. Thea is a member of a K and R team who finds herself in the unenviable position of having to rescue her kidnapped father.

To return to my original premise I felt I’d read it all before and if that sounds critical maybe it is but it didn’t detract from an easy, entertaining read. One song can have several interpretations that all work maybe thriller plots can too! And it does work here. Some of the intended red herrings were ordinary herring colour and I never thought I’d say it but I am becoming quite an expert on munitions! Glocks and Sig Sauers hold no mystery for me any more. The final denouement was not so surprising, the clues were readily available. There was a tenuous opening for a sequel, maybe?

I found this a very visual novel. I could imaging it translating well to the big screen. (How about Jennifer Lawrence and Bradley Cooper as Thea and Rif?) There’s some morality and social comment thrown in for good measure. 

Initials seem to be another contemporary totem for anticipated success andiIt worked successfully for JK, and for SJ to a certain degree maybe it’ll work for KJ too.  The book is probably overlong, often a failing of debut novels and the writers’ unbridled enthusiasm. The acknowledgements went on for six pages!! Is this a record? 

But if you like a good action packed thriller and are happy to be carried along with the unfolding events I think you’ll enjoy this one.

Thursday, 6 April 2017

The Original Ginny Moon Benjamin Ludwig

I guess Mark Haddon set the benchmark for novels embracing autism. So for any writer setting out with the intention of creating such a work it’s always going to be a big ask and for a debut writer it might pose questions as to their sanity! I fear I approach such works with anxiety as the subject is one I’m close to. My nephew is autistic. And he breaks my heart. I’ve never met such a pure, gentle soul as he, incapable of an unkind thought and more vulnerable for it. So I worry that when I come to read book about autism I may not be as objective as someone more removed from the subject.

When I began to read the book and realised it was narrated in the first person I started to worry more. For how can anyone ever really, truly understand the mind of an autistic person? However I am more than happy to admit that my fears were unfounded and I did enjoy this book. It is not just a novel about autism it is also about fostering and adoption and the issues faced by the adoptee, the adoptive parents and the birth parents. And I think this book goes a long way to raise the consciousness of these issues. The book is set in the USA where protocols and structures are different from the UK but the feelings and emotions experienced are universal.

What I liked about this book is that there is no attempt to sugar coat the situations. At times it is plain uncomfortable reading but that is the point surely? There is a frustration too as you beg the adults in this book to understand Ginny and that is one of the flaws for me; that it took so long for the root of Ginny’s desire to return to her mother to be understood by the therapist at the very least. But then of course there wouldn’t have been a story!! This is fiction not fact so I need to respect that.

I realise too that the writer has drawn upon a wealth of experience from conversations with other parents at Special Olympics basketball practice and in the true spirit of an enthusiastic debut novelist has sought to include them all in this book which was possibly another flaw. Too many ’incidents’? 

But, hey, I’m beginning to sound like a representative from ’”. This is a captivating book. It is well written. And, as Mark Haddon did in ‘The Curious Incident……..’  there is a heart wrenching accuracy in showing how important numbers and colours and routines and schedules are to an autistic person. This book will spiral it’s way into your heart. And you will embrace Ginny Moon and root for her every step of the way. It flies a flag for autism and adoption. I inevitably return to my nephew and if this book helps others understand and accept him then it will be the best book in the world right now. For every adopted person and every autistic person in this world today I hope it is a best seller.