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I live in Bristol UK literary fiction and crime are my books of choice and when not reading I like to run

The sacrifice and the slaughter

Private Peaceful - Michael Morpurgo

One of the most tragic events of the 20th century was the senseless slaughter and sacrifice of many young men on the battlefields of the Somme,Verdun and Passchendaele. The iconic 1914 recruitment poster of Lord Kitchener, wearing a cap of a British Field Marshall, stares and points at the viewer pleading to their sense of allegiance and responsibility by declaring..."Your country needs you" The specially constituted "pals battalions" resulted in friends, neighbours and colleagues enlisting together at local recruiting drives with the promise that they could serve alongside each other. However many of these battalions sustained heavy causalities and this had a significant impact on their communities at home.

 

In the small Devon town of Hatherleigh lives young Tommo Peaceful with his brother Charlie and the girl they both adore, Molly. This is family life, village life, captured in the idyllic Devon countryside before the encroachment and black clouds of world war 1 destroys the dreams and aspirations of so many in pointless sacrifice ensuring that life would never be the same again....."We'd lie amongst the grass and buttercups of the water meadows and look up at the clouds scudding across the sky, at the wind-whipped crows chasing a mewing buzzard"....Tommo and Charlie are gripped in the romantic notion of helping to eradicate the threat of the Hun who were attempting to grow their military might and realize their imperialistic ambitions. So the two brothers and close friends from the village march blindly off to war where the initial patriotic enthusiasm dies tragically amidst pointless butchering when the reality of war is revealed...."I could no longer pretend to myself that I believed in a merciful god nor in a heaven, not anymore, not after I had seen what men could do to one another. I could believe only in the hell I was living in, a hell on earth and it was man-made, not God-made"......."the terror that is engulfing me and invading me, destroying any last glimmer of courage and composure I may have left. All I have left now is my fear"....

 

Michael Morpurgo expertly portrays the senseless  slaughter and sacrifice of world war 1 to a young impressionable adult audience. This is achieved by comparing the beauty and peacefulness of the English countryside with the shell ravaged mud filled trenches of France....this was the raw reality of war. Private Peaceful is a sombre novel to be read by young and old. It's simplistic language is very effective in creating an image of a time when the romantic notion of war quickly became a vision of hell and where the loss of millions was seen as an acceptable price for the march of imperialism and the misguided ambitions  of WW1 military leaders. Highly Recommended.

A little uneven and disappointing

Dark Sacred Night - Michael Connelly

Bosch and Ballard together solving crimes in downtown LA, sounds a recipe for success, unfortunately my original enthusiasm was not realized. Ballard is the new kid on the block, first introduced last year in the excellent "The Late Show". She has a lot to prove, riding the night shift, surfing in the morning accompanied by her faithful dog Lola. It's tough working as a female detective always open to criticism and ridicule and constantly under the watchful eye of her male colleagues just waiting for disaster to strike.

 

Bosch of course is the grizzled vet, working out of the San Fernando police dept on "cold cases" that still remain unsolved after a number of years. Daisy Clayton was murdered nine years ago, her body found naked and bleached clean to hide all trace of DNA. Ballard discovers Bosch working on this unsolved murder and she decides to help him in her downtime. So up to a point this story is full of potential and hope. However this is not the only case the detectives are involved in and that's where the narrative comes undone. When I read a detective story I want the author to concentrate and build the storyline one theme or murder (or numerous murders as in the case of a serial killer) This gives the reader time to become acquainted with the various issues raised and characters introduced. By running a number of sub plots/storylines the main theme, which in this case is the killing of Daisy Clayton, becomes diluted and loses its impact and effectiveness. Harry at the same time is involved in a crime case with gangland connections that goes terribly wrong. Ballard has her own heavy work load including a potential rape case that becomes something different entirely.

 

Having said that a Michael Connelly novel always contains some great moments with Harry Bosch at the centre. He is a maverick investigator refusing to admit that he could ever be a target, but on this occasion he is wrong. In addition he is harbouring an unexpected house guest and the fallout from this has a tragic outcome. So "Dark Sacred Night" is not a bad novel it is simply that I expect such high standards from the author. The partnership of Ballard and Bosch works to an extent but the Daisy Clayton killing seems to lose its impact as it becomes lost amongst the ever increasing workload that forms the agenda of our two hard working detectives. The conclusion of the story indicates the possibility of future adventures/assignments and I hope that will not happen. Bosch is a loner, a detective who shirks instructions, and this is the very quality that makes him so attractive to his many adoring readers. Yes lets develop the career of Renee Ballard.....but not on Harry's watch!

Simplistic, observational, evocative

The Heather Blazing - Colm Tóibín

An elderly judge Eamon Redmond lives with his wife Carmel and travels to the fair city of Dublin everyday to fulfill his high court role. A quiet, thoughtful, deeply intellectual man Eamon often reflects on his life in the present and moments of his childhood that helped shape and create the person he is today. His childhood was a time of order, daily chores, and routine but always under the auspices of the only binding force in the community; the catholic church. A church that demanded allegiance and in return for such devotion and faith man could be saved from the evils of the world, but "without God’s help, we will all die in our sinful condition and remain separated from God forever". The truth of the situation was that the church offered few answers for a young man exploring his sexuality, trying to make sense of the often painful passage from boyhood to manhood. However politics and the allegiance to a particular party played a much more prominent role in the life of the citizens with its constant reminder of past struggles and romantic leaders most prominent of which was Eamon de Valera and the famous Easter rising of 1916 against British rule. As Eamon Redmond becomes immersed in the politics of the age he meets and falls in love with a young party worker Carmel who is equally smitten by her admirer's  oratory skills and his ambitions within the political arena.

 

The story is told in two parts a reflection, often romantic, view of childhood with its warmth and sadness at the passing of close relatives, and in contrast adulthood, responsibilities and complex decisions that constitutes the daily routine of a high court judge. To me The Heather Blazing celebrates the importance of family and how the youthful formative years impress and influence our decisions and mindset into adulthood. Colm Toibin is a great observe of daily routines and the Ireland he describes reminds me, as an Irishman, of my own childhood with simple family routines embedded forever in my mind....."They all settled around the fire, the women with glasses of sherry, the men with beer, the three boys with glasses of lemonade. Eamon watched as his father tipped his glass to the side and poured the beer in slowly, letting it slide softly down the edge of the glass"....The harsh beautiful untamed Irish landscape with wild unpredictable seas somehow compliments the simplistic yet deeply moving narrative of one of Ireland's finest authors.

Strike 1

The Cuckoo's Calling - Robert Galbraith

This is the first of the Cormoran Strike  novels written by JK Rowling under the pseudonym Robert Galbraith. The story revolves around a beautiful troubled model Lula Landry who one cold snowy winters night falls from the balcony of her penthouse London flat. Was it suicide or was she pushed? Her brother John Bristow is convinced she was murdered and employs the services of Private Investigator Cormoran Strike to uncover the perpetrator.In Cormoran Strike we have a wonderful fictional detective, even his offices with a steel spiral staircase and unfashionable London location has a touch of Philip Marlowe, Chandler's finest creation. Strike is a man who is deeply scared both mentally and physically by his experiences in war torn Afghanistan. His right leg below the knee is missing the result of an improvised explosive device (IED) when he also saved the life of one of his comrades. The pain from his missing limb is a constant reminder of the hell of Helmand province. His childhood was no less traumatic, living in squats with his drug addicted mother Leda and rarely seeing his rock star father Jonny Rokeby

 

Strike has acquired a new secretary Robin and it soon becomes clear that this highly intelligent woman is a golden asset in the disorganized lifestyle that our PI leads. Although Robin is engaged to the controlling Mathew there is certainly an attraction between this ambitious lady and her older damaged employer. Strike is aware of this danger but he cannot help himself admiring the beauty and intelligence displayed before him..."but having normal sight and an unimpaired libido, he was also reminded every day she bent over the computer monitor that she was a very sexy girl."..

 

A good crime author will always attempt to shield the identity of the killer until the final chapters and Robert Galbraith is a master of illusion and deception. The reader is taken on a descriptive journey through the beating heart of London where..."its colourful windows displayed a multitudinous mess of life's unnecessities"....and on that journey an eclectic  mix of characters is on show including the extravagant camp designer Guy Some...."nearly a foot shorter than Strike and had perhaps a hundredth of his body hair. The front of the designers tight black T-shirt was decorated with hundreds of tiny silver studs which formed an apparently three-dimensional image of Elvis's face"...and Lula's birth mother Marlene Higson..."she was wearing a pink Lycra vest top under a zip-up grey hoodie, and leggings that ended inches above her grey-white ankles. There were grubby flip-flops on her feet and many gold rings on her fingers; her yellow hair, with its inches of greying brown  root, was pulled back into a dirty towelling scrunchie".....

 

I must confess that I have managed to read the 3 books in the series out of order but that has certainly not ruined my enjoyment. The writing is of the highest quality and it has been a great adventure discovering the complicated background of Cormoran Strike and his beautiful assistant Robin. The dynamics of this relationship is something that Galbraith explores in more detail in the later books and it all adds to the excitement of this highly accomplished beautifully written novel.

 

The futility and the sacrifice

Journey's End (Heinemann Plays) - R C Sherriff

A modern movie of Journey's End has just been released in the UK and I was recently privileged to view, quite frankly I was astounded by what I saw, so moved by this sober and thoughtful interpretation that I decided to acquire and read the original dramatic play published in 1928 by R C Sherriff who based his novel on his own experiences of life (if we can call it that) in the trenches of Northern France during the spring of 1918.

 

At the start of world war 1 there appeared to be no shortage of young men following the advice from Lord Kitchener..."Your country needs you" These young romantic conscripts happily boarded troop trains heading for the trenches of St Quentin in northern France in order to fight for king and country. What they encountered was an entrenched position as two opposing sides faced each other across a muddy desolate no man's land. Life in the trenches was abominable. As well as the constant fear of mortars  with the resulting shrapnel, soldiers cut to ribbons, muddy conditions giving rise to trench foot and a large expanding rodent problem. If we add to this the overzealous use of mustard gas then a picture reminiscent of a living hell is an apt description.

 

Given these facts there seemed to be no shortage of volunteers eager to travel through this dystopian landscape where the average life expectancy of a soldier or officer was a mere six weeks. There was a total lack of reality in the minds of commanding officers quite happy to send millions of men to an untimely death cut down by machine gun fire, entangled in barbed wire, or simply blown to pieces by a direct shell hit. If we are to believe numerous accounts the stiff upper lip prevailed and the language of the time; rugger, chap, topping, jolly introduced a surreal quality to this living hell....."A dugout got blown up and came down in the men's tea. They were frightfully annoyed"...."He was the skipper of rugger at Barford, and kept wicket for the eleven. A jolly good bat, too"...

 

I have been very moved by reading Journey's End and the final images instills a very sombre note. The book explores issues of friendship and comradeship, the desolation of the human mind under extreme conditions, the utter futility of war, and the senseless sacrifice of millions of lives by an inept leadership who was utterly blind to the realities of battle in the blood drenched battlefields of Northern France

When Death comes calling......

The Book Thief - Markus Zusak

What makes this story unique and a novel enjoyed by both young and old is due primarily  to two outstanding elements. First, is the use of "Death" as the narrator; Death is devoid of all emotion and his role is simple that of an impartial observer and the story teller of events as they unfold. He retains no particular allegiance to those who die either as a result of actions caused by the Nazi party or bombing of the allies, he is simply there to collect souls and business is good. Equally important the story is viewed through the eyes of children. The young are totally unaware of the gathering storm and cannot appreciate the enormity of what is about to happen....but the adults know (and so do you and I dear reader) Germany has embarked on a course of annihilation, at its head a tyrannical fascist and his jackbooted  henchmen. (the innocence of children is also dramatically explored in another great novel; "The boy in stripped pajamas" when the child Bruno exchanges his clothes so he can copy  his friend Shmuel....those who have read will know what heartbreak follows) The adults understand the significance of "Kristallnacht" the night of broken glass, the persecution of the Jewish population or any individual or party who dared to stand in opposition to the Fuhrer.

 

Liesel Meminger lives with her adoptive parents Rosa and Hans Hubermann. She enjoys care free days with her friend Rudy Steiner and is besotted with Max Vandenburg who lives in the basement of the Hubermann residence..."The basement was the only place for him as far as he was concerned. Forget the cold and loneliness. He was a Jew and if there was one place he was destined to exist, it was a basement or any other such hidden venue of survival"....."Imagine smiling after a slap in the face. Then think of doing it twenty-four hours a day. That was the business of hiding a Jew"..... She collects books and loves to listen to stories recited by her friend Max and is always excited when stepdad Hans plays on his piano accordion reading magical stories into the night. But as the war comes even closer the comfort she has known and the love she cherishes begins to fade when the walls of innocence start to tumble....when Death comes calling....

 

Markus Zusak as an author has a unique poetic voice as he describes the horrific events unfolding in Nazi Germany from the mid 1930's. This is a very emotional tale with few survivors and one patiently waiting narrator....."I see their ugliness and their beauty, and I wonder how the same thing can be both. Still they have one thing that I envy. Humans, if nothing else, have the good sense to die"...."one opportunity leads directly to another, just as risk, life leads to more risk, life to more life, and death to more death"....

 

Poignant and soul searching

Paris Echo - Sebastian Faulks

Tariq Sandrine, a Moroccan teenager, has taken the decision to travel to Paris in part to discover something about his Parisian born mother...."Paris and its beauty, by its pavement cafes and its trees and bridges, by its cathedral floating on the stream and all the other charms to which no sane person could fail to respond"...... Hannah is in Paris as part of her studies; a thesis she is writing on the women of Paris during its occupation by the Germans in 1940-1944. When Tariq and Hannah meet by chance a strange alliance develops between them, a meeting of lost souls in a city with a troubled war history.

 

Tariq finds employment in the guise of a fast food outlet where he is introduced to the joys of smoking hash and loose women. As a 19 year old and a late developer his part in Paris Echo is his coming of age. It is however the experiences of Hannah and her attempt to source surviving evidence either written or recorded that lends to Paris Echo a great sense of loss and hopelessness. She learns of the attitude of Parisian women to the German occupation and tearfully researches such brave resistance fighters as Andree Borrel, a young French woman trained by the Special Operations Executive (SOE) Through an act of betrayal Borrel is captured  and sent to "Natzweiler" the only concentration camp ever built in France...."but when her turn came, Andree was still conscious and fought back, tearing flesh from the face of her murderer with her fingernails as he pushed her into the flames"....Fraternization, collaboration and betrayal was what defined Paris at this time..."the indifference of others; the racial hatred and propaganda and the deportations to the death camps"......

 

This is a poignant sobering story blending historical fact into a modern setting. Two young people trying to interpret this business of living and their role within that. For Tariq it will mean friendship, manhood and winning the girl of his dreams. For Hannah true love has always been close but will she discover its tender touch before it disappears. Paris Echo is a story full of hope with a simple message that life is for the taking and only by action can we understand the true meaning of what it is to exist. 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.

Disappointing

Death Row - Michelle Lyons

Michelle Lyons acts as a go between for the Huntsvilles Walls unit in Texas and press, families etc. Essentially Death Row is a chronicle of the time she spent there, the prisoners executed and the people she knew. The novel reads like a diary as she recalls those awaiting death by injection and explains how attached she became to so many. There are some interesting facts such as the number of executions greatly increased under the Bush presidency and delays of up to 20 years before most residents could expect their final meal in preparation for that unavoidable meeting with their creator. I find it difficult to write a review on this book as it is essentially just a record of her time at the unit, how it affected both herself and her immediate family (she was divorced twice) and how she was forced to retire due to intimation and bullying. 

Cormoran "strikes" again....

Career of Evil - Jay R. Galbraith

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.

Not his best

Lamb - Bernard MacLaverty

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.

Slipping into depression

The Bell Jar - Sylvia Plath

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 Bell 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.

A very enjoyable read

The Silkworm - Robert Galbraith

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.

Astounding

Love is Blind - William Boyd

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

A masterclass in storytelling

The Heart's Invisible Furies - John Boyne

My first and only previous encounter with John Boyne was the excellent young adult story "The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas". So when the opportunity arose and I was gifted early review status on "The Heart's Invisible Furies" I was happy to accept, read and review....and I am so glad I did!. This is a work of great literary intent with bawdy undertones, an easy assimilated tale about the life of Cyril Avery, born out of wedlock and immediately given up for adoption. The story spans a period from the mid 1940's and moves at a ferocious pace up until the present and relayed to the reader in bite size 7 year chunks. Even though the novel stretches to some 600 pages once Boyne grabs your attention from the opening paragraph his colourful and descriptive prose holds you in awe until the final and very fitting conclusion.

 

Adoptive wealthy parents Charles and Maud guide the young Cyril in his early infant years. A childhood friend Julian Woodbead allows Cyril to discover and question his own sexuality. This soon leads to a realization that will form part of his decision making throughout his life. From Dublin to the waterways of Amsterdam, the streets of New York and finally returning to Dublin we travel with Cyril experiencing the good times the bad, the sad, the funny and the indifferent. Boyne explores successfully and with great humour and gusto attitudes of bigotry and tolerance against the background of a god fearing catholic population, an aids frightened society, and a world in panic immediately following the events of 9/11. At times you will want to laugh out loud or perhaps shed a tear. I can honestly say that I have rarely been so moved by a story, the eloquent use of language, and the unveiling and interpretation of the issues raised and debated. Let's enjoy a few moments of the John Boyne magic...... "Cork City itself, a place she had never visited but that her father had always said was filled with gamblers, Protestants and drunkards"........"one man had been accused of exposing himself on the Milltown Road but the charges had been dismissed as the girl had been a Protestant"........"It was 1959, after all. I knew almost nothing of homosexuality, except for the fact that to act on such urges was a criminal act in Ireland that could result in a jail sentence, unless of course you were a priest, in which case it was a perk of the job.".........."Christ alive, said the sergeant, shaking his head in disbelief. I never heard of such a thing. What type of a woman would do something like that?.......The very best type , said Charles."

 

This book to me celebrates the sheer joy of the printed word. Life, love and loss it is all here in a 600 page extraordinary extravaganza! If you love to read and you love books then "The Heart's Invisible Furies" is sheer magic...so buy, cherish and appreciate as you are unlikely to read anything better this year, or possibly any year. A great big thanks to the good people at netgalley for this early opportunity to read and review this masterpiece in return for an honest review and that is what I have written.

The first in the series

The Black Echo - Michael Connelly

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".......

A story of our times

Home Fire - Kamila Shamsie

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.