Books update (or ‘Books 3’)

Still dipping into Palomar by Gilbert Hernandez (it’s still excellent – just had a lot of other books get in the way – here’s a few to explain why I haven’t posted a proper write up of this one yet)

The Narrows by Michael Connelly – This is one of those ‘un-put-down-able’ books, and in fact is the not-entirely unexpected sequel to ‘The Poet’, which was not a Harry Bosch novel. Instead with ‘The Poet’ Connelly wrote one of his most tightly wound stories, in Bosch style, but using a new character, a journalist, who formed a slightly unlikely partnership with an FBI agent to pursue a very cunning serial killer. [Yeah I know, how many crime fiction stories have dealt with serial killers, in particular since Thomas Harris’s incredible ‘Red Dragon’ & ‘Silence of the Lambs’ novels – but anyway some really do live up to the standards Harris set, rather than being of the cheaper imitation style] So back to ‘The Narrows’ – despite being difficult to put down, it’s not quite as successful as the original. Maybe this is because the big twists of ‘The Poet’ are known, and in this case the FBI prove to be predictably bad at what they do, often out maneuvered by the policeman-hero, as well as by the villain. This all makes it sound rather poor, but I suppose that is only in comparison to the excellent original. In itself this is a very good read.

Nightwatch by Terry Pratchett – I don’t quite now how to describe this fantastically clever book. Pratchett just gets better and cleverer, funnier and more subtle with every book. It’s amazing that he still manages to write books that some might consider only ‘humour’ or ‘fantasy’ or some blend of the two. In fact what he’s been writing for a very long time are the cleverest stories full of contemporary references to literature, popular culture, myth and legend as well as every aspect of the sword and sourcery fantasy genre itself. These are definitely not children’s books (although many might be enjoyed by teenagers and above). What these really are is masterpieces of wit, clever plotting and perfect pacing. They are truly books which I love reading and never tire of. More please!

Wartime Britain 1939-45 by Juliet Gardiner – This is a thick book and despite it’s massive appendices has about 690 pages of reading. What Gardiner has done here is to pretty much ignore the war as it was conducted in all foreign theatres, and instead she has concentrated on the ‘Home Front’, on how every aspect of the conflict affected those in the British Isles during the duration of the war. From blackout, rationing and conscription to the blitz, interment of foreigners and conscientious objectors. I’ve read a lot of stuff about the Second World War, but most of this book was new to me, and startlingly so at that. I really thought I knew about all of these things, but the personal nature of her sources and the thoroughness of her research has made for a book full of fascinating stories of deprivation, loss and survival. I’d never realised before how much the ‘Home Front’ genuinely contributed to the winning of the war.

The Forgotten Man by Robert Crais – It seems like it’s been a long wait since the last Elvis Cole story from Crais. Maybe that is partly a sign of how much I like these books. Crais has a great grasp of the balance between action and stand-off, between humour and the serious themes. His regular characters, Cole and his deadly partner Joe Pike are as beautifully written as ever here; Cole has all the stand-up qualities, the need to confront the corrupt, and meet out justice, to make a joke in even the most inappropriate of circumstances and the physical prowess to get himself out of the worst scrapes. Plus of course he has killing machine Pike to come to his rescue should he get out of his depth. Oh, and to add to the delight of this story Crais brings in a character from one of his best non-Elvis novels, Carol Starkey, ex-bomb disposal expert, now a cop and on Cole’s side plus beginning to realise she thinks he’s cute! Read it and weep (with joy!)

Maigret Sets a Trap by Georges Simenon – It’s interesting that Simenon often wrote Maigret as a slightly fallible character. I mean he nearly always gets it right in the end, but a number of the stories feature a Maigret who genuinely feels perplexed by the crimes facing him. This is one such novel. A fabulous story, as they all are, this evokes Paris, hot summer weather, policemen at their wits end, desperate for a break in a seemingly insoluble series of attacks. And leading them a man, not entirely sure of himself, not convinced that the course of action he undertakes wont be an abject failure and worse that it might result in another victim. How soothing I find these stories… why I don’t know, but they are masterfully good reads, slightly nostalgic for a period I personally don’t remember. Simenon was a prolific writer, arguably formulaic, but is that also part of the appeal? You know what you’re going to get, and he never disappoints.


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