Tuesday, 17 July 2018

Camoran "strikes" again


The third in the Cormoran Strike series by Robert Galbraith ( JK Rowling) and easily the best and from what I have read the authors favourite as well. When a severed leg turns up at Strikes office addressed to his secretary Robin Ellacott the pair are confronted with an evil from Strikes past and someone who will stop at nothing to cause havoc and retribution.

Although the story itself is excellent, ending with a spell bounding cliffhanger, it is the information and attention to detail that sets this novel above a simple police procedural. For me I would describe the writing as Agatha Christie for the modern audience, with a list of possible perpetrators and the final unveiling cleverly hidden by an accomplished author. The real issue debated at some length concerns a group of people who are probably best referred to as "amputee wannabes"  who chop off their own limbs to feel normal. Individuals who are willing to take drastic measures to mutilate themselves because they aspire to be disabled. This condition is known as BIID body integrity identity disorder and it gives people a fierce desire to rob themselves of healthy limbs. Of course there is a neat little association to Strike as he lost his right leg below the knee when in Afghanistan  an IED exploded under a vehicle he was travelling in. Strike is convinced that one of three associates from the past, is not only seeking revenge but feeding his warped desires as he preys on defenseless young women before cutting and mutilating them in the most horrific fashion.

This is a much more blood thirsty tale than books one and two in the series and adds a real gritty dialogue to some exceptional observations...."A vast unfocused rage rose in her, against men who considered displays of emotion a delicious open door; men who ogled your breasts under the pretence of scanning the wine shelves; men for whom your mere physical presence constituted a lubricious invitation."...."He would never understand what rape did to your feelings about your own body; to find yourself reduced to a thing, an object a piece of fu**able meat".....For me Strike is an antihero, not a conventional detective but almost a freak who has to hobble around London on a prosthetic surviving on little sleep constantly fuelling his broken body with foods of convenience and copious amounts of his favourite tipple Doom Bar. The son of an absentee rock star; Jonny Rokeby, and a drug addicted mum Leda he spent his childhood moving between squats in Whitechapel and Brixton. "Career of Evil" has a 572 page count and never once did I find my attention waning so engrossed was I in this bloody yet brilliant third outing for a private detective battling against his own inner demons and physical infirmities. The fact that he is attracted to his glamorous partner Robin (and she to him) only adds to the fun and I am sure this relationship will be explored in greater detail as the series progresses....Highly Recommended.


Wednesday, 11 July 2018

Not his best


Michael Lamb a priest decides the only way to save Owen Kane, a youth in the care of the catholic church, is to flee with him to mainland England. With a small legacy inherited from a dead relative they travel as far as London. With no plan and diminishing resources he accepts an invitation to share a squat under the direction of Haddock a man of questionable morals and sexuality who he by chance meets in a bar. The police have started a country wide search and with increasing interest of the media Lamb makes a decision which sets him on a course and a meeting with his destiny.

Together with John Boyne, and David Park I also enjoy the writing of Bernard MacLaverty  but I found reading Lamb somewhat tedious, there appeared to be no real story and no real direction. Michael Lamb obviously thought that by running away from a desolate home on a wild Atlantic coastline he is saving Owen from the fate and hate of an overzealous regime under the iron rod of the Principal Brother Benedict. He loves Owen, not in a physical or sexual sense but as a protector and friend (although I do question his actions on the occasion he left Owen alone in the squat at the mercy of the morally repulsive Haddock) For all his grandiose ideas Lamb is ultimately portrayed as a weak man who squanders his legacy on an ill thought plan leading to a final journey where hope and redemption fade as the fate of Lamb and Owen is finally revealed.

Sunday, 8 July 2018

Slipping into depression

The story of Ester Greenwood is the story of a young girl trying to find her place in life. She wins a scholarship to work at a fashion magazine in New York and strives to live the perfect life with perfect friends, perfect career aspirations, perfect looks, and a I want it all now mentality. But running alongside her desires is the slow onslaught of mental illness, and her sinking into hopelessness and despair. The more she descends the more the bell jar encases and surrounds her sapping her strength to break free.

This is quite a harrowing story make all the more real by the matter of fact unhurried story telling...."Wrapping my coat around me like my own sweet shadow, I unscrewed the bottle of pills and started taking them swiftly, between gulps of water, one by one. At first nothing happened but as I approached the bottom of the bottle, red and blue lights began to flash before my eyes. The bottle slid from my fingers and I lay down."........"I had locked myself in the bathroom, and run a tub full of warm water and taken out a Gillette blade".....The challenges of life the perception of people the need to be happy and successful all pale into insignificance when the body and mind shuts down as senses are overwhelmed.

Plath's writing explores the attitudes of society towards those who suffer from  mental illness and describes in some barbaric detail the use of electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) which is still used today as a means to relieve the symptoms of mental health...."I tried to smile but my skin had gone stiff, like parchment. Doctor Gordon was fitting two metal plates on either side of my head. He buckled them into place with a strap that dented my forehead, and gave me a wire to bite"......The Glass Jar appears semi biographical and to me is an attempt in part by the author to come to terms with her own mental issues. It is sad to note that one month after publication in the UK Sylvia Plath herself committed suicide by sticking her head in an oven in her London flat. It cannot help but make me wonder was the writing of The Glass Jar a cry for help and if so was it too little too late. The general tone and feeling of nihilism that prevails this book is best summed up in the following quote....."why I couldn't sleep and why I couldn't read and why I couldn't eat and why everything people did seemed so silly, because they only died in the end"......The Bell Jar is as powerful today as when it was first published and demands to be read if only to understand the human condition and to realize that mental health and the inevitable fallout is still very present in our everyday lives.

Tuesday, 3 July 2018

A very enjoyable read

It was with curiosity, fondness and indeed excitement that I commenced reading The Silkworm by JK Rowling  under the pseudonym Robert Galbraith. Cormoran Strike is not the conventional detective. He is a man not only shaped by his unusual upbringing (son of famous rock star Jonny Rokeby) but deeply affected by his experience in war torn Afghanistan which resulted in him not only saving the life of a close friend but also the loss of his leg. That injury serves as a constant and painful reminder of the futility of war and the source of all his nightmares. Strike is best described as an antihero and with his disability he does not conform to the public's perception of a Private Investigator. His drab office with a central metal staircase pays homage to the fictional Philip Marlowe and certain passages only add to that illusion...."The geometrically perfect steel-grey bob, a black suit of severe cut and a slash of crimson lipstick gave her a certain dash. She emanated that aura of grandeur that replaces sexual allure in the successful older woman"......His young assistant Robin adds perception and glamour under the watchful eye of jealous boyfriend Matthew.

The novelist Owen Quine has been missing for 10 days and his wife Leonora has employed the services of Strike to find him. Quine has written a soon to be published bitter and twisted novel that depicts his acquaintances as grotesque caricatures. If such a novel was brought to the attention of an adoring public the lives of many would be sullied and ruined. So when the badly decomposed body of the author, minus his intestines, is discovered the list of potential perpetrators would be the envy of an Agatha Christie novel!

Although the story at its best is a good police procedural the attention and sympathy of the reader is directed towards the flawed character of Cormoran Strike. Here is a PI who must hobble around the snowy, wintry streets of London on an ill fitting prosthetic. You can almost feel the pain and frustration of a driven individual (fuelled by copious amounts of his favourite tipple Doom Bar) hampered by his own inadequacies and relying totally on his glamorous, intelligent assistant Robin who will undoubtedly play a more important role as the later stories develop... An accomplished second book in the series with some astute observations...."We are mammals who need sex, need companionship, who seek the protective enclave of the family for reasons of survival and reproduction. We select a so-called loved one for the most primitive of reasons"...I look forward to reading the rest in the series.

Friday, 29 June 2018

Astounding

Love is Blind by William Boyd is a truly memorable story with wonderful characterization. His colourful writing instantly transports the reader to Scotland at the end of the nineteenth century and continues the journey through mainland Europe at a time of great change and gathering turmoil in the years immediately preceding the 1st World War.

Brodie Moncur is a piano tuner in the employ of Channons of Edinburgh and when the opportunity is offered to manage the Paris store he readily agrees. Brodie is an ambitious and proactive manager and believes that the best way to expand and promote the "Channon" brand is to employ the services of piano virtuoso John Kilbarron thus advancing the Company's pianos throughout Europe. This association leads to a fateful meeting between Brodie and the beautiful alluring Russian singer Lydia Blum, Kilbarrons on off girlfriend. A passionate clandestine  affair develops that results in Brodie and Lydia fleeing from city to city hotly pursued by Malachi Kilbarron seeking revenge for his wronged brother.

I often think that the mark of a good story is the author's ability to take me the reader with him on a journey of discovery, to remove from the mundanity  of modern living and surround me with the smells, sounds and excitement of the animated world he is describing. We therefore enter the preserve of piano virtuoso's at a time in history when piano use and production was at its highest and live performances  although the privilege of the wealthy still attracted a mass following. Welcome to a place where the combustion engine has made an entrance, where consumption has destroyed the lives of young and old, and when true gentlemen resolved their differences by resorting to a dueling contest.

An exciting story brilliantly executed by one of England's greatest living authors..Many thanks to the good people at netgalley for a gratis copy in exchange for an honest review, and that is what I have written. Highly Recommended

Monday, 25 June 2018

The first in the series

There is nowhere better for me to try to understand the mindset of Harry Bosch or indeed his creator Michael Connelly by starting again where it all began book one in the series.

Harry is best described as "a detective who would do the right thing no matter what the cost. A man with a sharp worn code of conduct. A classic outsider.".... In The Black Echo we learn about Harry's activities as a tunnel rat during the Vietnam war and how the horrors of this underground hell helped shape him as a detective with the will to survive and a loner's code of justice. When the body of a fellow "rat" Billy Meadows is discovered in a drain outlet, Harry is determined to find the perpetrator responsible and bring justice to his onetime comrade in arms. In this endeavour he is joined by FBI agent Eleanor Wish, a relationship develops that becomes personal and leaves Harry wondering if her intentions are honourable or does she harbor an underlying agenda.

The weakness of the story is the plot; dirty money profits from Saigon laundered as diamonds/precious stones and kept secret in a bank vault in downtown LA. The only way to retrieve the hidden stash is to tunnel deep into the innards of the bank. In contrast the strength of the story is the superb charactization of the main players. Bosch, Eleanor Wish and Deputy Chief Irvin Irving who appears to be on a one man crusade against what he views as underhand tactics by a maverick lone detective.

As always Michael Connnelly is razor sharp in his acute observations of the human spirit....."Sunsets did that here. Made you forget it was the smog that made their colors so brilliant, and that behind every pretty picture there could be an ugly story."....."He was a worn-out old man whose eyes had quit caring about anything but the odds on three year olds"..."I believe that shit happens. I believe that the best you can do in this job is come out even".......

Saturday, 16 June 2018

A story of our times

A story that explores the controversial subject of the indoctrination of the ISIS philosophy into a sympathetic yet ultimately misguided populace.

Isma Pasha followed her dream to America leaving behind her elegant sister Aneeka and her vulnerable yet impressionable brother Parvaiz. Eamonn, the son of outspoken Home Secretary Karamat Lone, becomes captivated by the beauty that is Aneeka. Does Aneeka reciprocate this love or is she merely using Eamonn to help rescue her twin brother Parvaiz who has since travelled to Syria but very quickly lives to regret this decision.

There is a nice balance in this novel between the Pasha family whose father Adil, had been a jihadi and had gone to Afghanistan to fight with the Taliban  and died for his beliefs, and Home Secretary Karamat Lone a traditionalist and yet a reformer. He loathed those citizens irrespective of  beliefs or culture..."who treated the privilege of British citizenship as something that could be betrayed without consequences"...and further..."I hate the Muslims who make people hate Muslims"......

I can understand why Home Fire was the winner of the Women's Prize for fiction 2018 and whilst the first part of this novel was a little reticent and slow to impress the second half presented neatly formulated ideas and beliefs all leading to a very sudden unexpected conclusion. Home Fire is a story of the modern world and shows what happens when the corrupt and misguided prey on the weak and receptive.