This is a bit of a cheat because I didn’t read all these books over the summer. Normally we go away and I have suitcase full of books to work though but this year a combination of having a mega assignment to write and deciding our holiday would involve interrailing round Europe so lugging books wasn’t a priority, meant that I didn’t really read a huge amount in summer and never got round to blogging. Anyway, having just grabbed a week away with plenty of time to read, I thought I’d get round to it. So here, in no particular order, is my reading from the summer, October and a couple from in-between.
- All Shot Up by Chester Himes
I think I got this one for Christmas and I saved it. This was one I took interrailing because it’s nice and thin. I love a detective and these are ones I’ve written about them before here. There’s something so ridiculous about the situations that happen in these books but the writing is exquisite. There are whole passages that serve as supreme examples of everything we try and get kids to write about. I loved it. I’m trying to read them in a sort of order but you don’t really need to (although the first one ‘A Rage in Harlem’ does introduce the detectives Coffin Ed Johnson and Grave Digger Jones). I think this might be my favourite so far and there is a chase scene so perfect that I read it out loud to Howard.
2. Around The World in Seventy-Two Days and Other Writings by Nellie Bly
Well this was a find. A sort of ‘summer and ongoing’ book really. This is a collection of writings by Nellie Bly, one of the first female journalists and ‘stunt girl’ reporters.
Starting with her work in 1885 and moving to 1919, it covers some extraordinary undercover reporting where she gets herself committed to a lunatic asylum in order to expose hideous treatment practices, and her solo journey around the world to break the fictional record set by Jules Verne. Quite why she’s not more widely known I have no idea, but she was one hell of a woman and I urge you to have a look – you don’t need to read it all at once as it’s comprised of articles she wrote across her career and easy to dip in and out of.
3. Cockroaches by Jo Nesbo
It’s been ages since I read the first Harry Hole book and whilst I bought this almost straight afterwards it became a casualty of my need for small books to take on holiday I think. Whilst he’s a Norwegian detective, the first one’s set in Australia and this one is in Bangkok. I quite like the change of scenery making for different story elements but I found the writing a bit clunky in places. I don’t know if that’s down to the translation or the originality of an alcoholic detective but I reckon it’ll be a case of remember to buy the next one at some point rather than ‘collect em all’.
4. The Armada Boy by Kate Ellis
Now these I love and there’s loads of them. I took this one of the epic train journey because it’s small.
I haven’t written about this series before but this is the second one. The central detective is Wesley Peterson – the cop from the Met returning to a more rural life (Devon in this case). The thread through these is that he studied archaeology at university and his cases invariably have a link to local archaeological digs run but his friend Neil so there’s ongoing snippets from the past (not necessarily connected with the case, just running alongside). It’s got a sort of Midsomer vibe (but Devon and with history) with them covering a wide area with lots of murder potential in tiny villages.
5. Good Omens by Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaimen
It’s the end of the world and there’s an angel and demon who aren’t particularly keen on this happening so they set out to stop the antichrist and everything else. My brother bought it for me a bit ago and I never got round to it (spotting a theme here) and I rather wanted to read it before the TV series is out. It was everything I was hoping for (and I always love a Dog).
6. An Unhallowed Grave by Kate Ellis
Number three in the series. This one starts with a hanging in a churchyard and a trail though Devonshire villages and history with an archaeological uncovering of another body from the same tree five hundred years earlier.
The Wesley Peterson series started in the late 90s and are still going, but it means these early ones must’ve hit the shelves as Time Team (which I adored) was peaking and there’s a good element of that in there. It also means that there’s not a huge amount of mobile phone/ internet stuff so I’m looking forward to carrying on the series and things like that changing the feel of the books a bit.
7. The Magic Strings of Frankie Presto by Mitch Albom
Ooh, this was lovely. I bought ‘The Five People You Meet in Heaven’ on a bit of a whim years ago and I leant it to a friend who then read everything by Albom she could lay her hands on and I finally read another one. This follows the life of Frankie Presto with his talent for music – from a war-time birth, journeys around the globe, to a dramatic ending. Throughout his life Frankie finds inspiration in and inspires musical icons like Duke Ellington, Elvis and KISS (kinda Forrest Gump-ish but not really). It starts, and is threaded, with people remembering Frankie at his funeral and there’s something about knowing a character dies that I find quite comforting. That’s not to say there aren’t shocks and surprises, but it knew where I was heading. I never like giving things away when I’m talking about books so this really doesn’t do it justice but I loved it and kinda miss it, which I always think is a mark of a good book.
8. Mythos: The Greek Myths Retold by Stephen Fry (audio book)
I’ve not actually finished this yet. I took it for the train journeys and loved it. I had a lot of cassettes of comedy sketches and stand up when I was younger and quite a few had Stephen Fry’s voice on them which I found surprisingly nostalgic when it came to this. I really enjoyed Neil Gaiman’s retelling of Norse Mythology so I was looking forward to this and when the Eleanor Oliphant audio book failed to impress I swapped it and wasn’t disappointed. The stories are brilliantly told and I managed to produce some excellent background to sculptures in galleries we visited. There’s a wealth of etymology for etymology fans and so many names it’s impossible to remember everything (I tried listening to it in the car but it stuffs my working memory and I can’t listen and drive ) so I’ll probably get the book too.
I’ll be honest, I could’ve done more reading this summer but sometimes I just watched telly instead. I did however read some gudduns, particularly following my call for suggestions and I’ve still got a couple from that list that I’ve not got to yet. Last year I included my books from the Easter holidays in my summer reviews but I won’t get into the habit of that so I’ll just say that I read Sue Perkins’ ‘Spectacles’ and Neil Gaiman’s ‘Norse Mythology’ on holiday in April and both are worth your attention.
So. My readings…
Book 1: Cast Iron by Peter May
May’s books appear frequently in my run-throughs of summer reading and Enzo has had his place. This is the last in the series of six books featuring forensic expert Enzo Macleod and his challenge to solve seven of France’s unsolved murders. It’s been a while since the last book (and I waited for the paperback so they matched on my shelves) but worth the wait and some good plot devices to bring in characters from previous quests.
I was going to read this regardless of quality obviously but it didn’t disappoint at all and rounded off the series most satisfactorily. I think there were initially seven books planned (from memories of looking at May’s website) so I don’t know how the intended plot changed but it didn’t seem rushed together. All the main characters are there – from the people to the locations and if you’ve read the others it’s worth finishing them off.
Book 2: A Rage In Harlem by Chester Himes
This was an author suggested by James Theobald. Oh my goodness. I loved this so much I can hardly describe it but I immediately bought another one which is below. They’re set in 1950s Harlem and described on one of the covers as ‘mayhem yarns’ which I never knew was a genre but describes it perfectly.
The book is set on the streets of Harlem and this is the first of Himes’ novels to feature detectives Coffin Ed Johnson and Grave Digger Jones – although it’s more of an introduction to them in this one. It’s a fast paced tale of a simpleton who gets swept up in all sorts of criminal activity with farcical slapstick that slams into grizzly reality at every turn. The language is so sublime that you almost don’t notice it – nothing is held back and it somehow comes across as both a throwaway caper and a raw snapshot of life.
From the con man dressed as a nun to the slashing of throats and a hearse chasing through the streets there is nothing to disappoint.
Book 3: Silent Scream by Angela Marsons
The body count mounts quickly and there are enough twists and red herrings to satisfy without them seeming too obviously placed or clichéd. Having said that I don’t know whether I’ll rush to read another one. There were bits that seemed a little clunky (sometimes I wonder if detective books are being written with TV adaptations in mind) and the parallels between the case and Stone’s history were a bit much at times – having said I won’t rush into the next one it’ll be interesting to see how she develops when the case isn’t as close to home.
If you’re looking for a new detective then give this a go and I don’t think you’ll be disappointed. I was probably still mourning Enzo a bit.
Book 4: One Good Turn by Kate Atkinson
I read ‘Case Histories’ quite a while ago and this is the second of Atkinson’s books featuring detective Jackson Brodie. I’d enjoyed the first and Twitter reminded me I’d not read any more so I was looking forward to it. My mistake was to have a break of 48 hours between starting it and picking it up again half way through. There are so many characters and interwoven storylines that I struggled to keep up with everything when they crossed over.
The novel is set in Edinburgh during the festival and the feel of this was spot on. I think every aspect of the criminal world is covered somewhere is this with most of the characters having a hand in another’s business but there was just a bit too much crammed in for me I think. One of the characters is a writer who imagines writing a book like a matryoshka doll with layers fitting together and this is clearly the concept for this one. I just think I’d prefer a 5-doll set to the 15.
I did like it and I don’t think I’ll wait as long before reading the next in the series (there are four I think), but I’ve got to go back to Harlem first…
Book 5: The Real Cool Killers by Chester Himes
I saved this one for after the others rather than getting to it too quickly. I think I slightly prefered this to Rage In Harlem as it kept all the features but had a more flowing plotline and featured more of the detectives. It would stand on its own but there are threads that follow on so definitely read the first.
This one gets in quickly with a bar fight that is both brutal and hilarious in its farce. There’s a chase, a kidnapping, a fart scene. The language is on point once more and I wish I’d made a note of some of the descriptions and off the cuff remarks but I wasn’t going to break my flow. It’s described on the cover as ‘Hieronymus Bosch meets Miles Davis’ and I think that says it all.
I can’t believe I’d never heard of these before and at around 200 pages they’re perfect for polishing off in a day. I still can’t quite describe what they’re like so I’ll just end up sounding like a gushing thesaurus and there’s no use in that so I shall just ask that you give them a go whilst I buy some more.
Links to books are (almost all) The Guardian Bookshop again because of tax and monopolies etc.