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robtwinem

runner

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

Overcomplicated Plot

Lethal White - Robert Galbraith

Now let's agree on something at the start of this review, I love the writing of Robert Galbraith. This is the fourth outing for PI Cormoran Strike and his now partner in crime the effervescent Robin Ellacott. At just under 650 pages Lethal White is not for the faint hearted, dip in and out, casual browser, it requires some serious concentration and reading time. It is not really the length of the book that is the problem to me, the first 3 in the series are all around the 600 page mark and the authors style of interactive, descriptive writing lends itself to a heavy page count. The real issue I have with Lethal White is an over complicated plot and a story that at times seems to run around in ever repeating circles (thank goodness for those lighter moments involving Strike, Robin and Mathew) We have a murder, a possible historical murder, blackmail, complicated family structures and a seemingly endless list of well heeled yuppies (upper class twits to you and me) who do not speak in the vernacular but rather their own adapted version of the English Language (think ya instead of yes and you get the idea!) and with an ever flourishing list of gold collar names....Kinvara, Izzy, Fizzy, Venetia, Raff, Torquil, Jasper, Tegan. This scenario creates an endless list of possible perpetrators that would be the envy of a hardened Agatha Christie devotee.

 

However the real enjoyment from this series is the interplay and relationship, if any, between Robin and Cormoran now that the former has married her childhood sweetheart and controlling boyfriend Matthew. Strike is a damaged Afghanistan war veteran who lost a leg when his vehicle encountered an improvised explosive device (IED) As a PI in modern day London he must perform his job with the additional handicap of a prosthetic lower right leg. We the reader feel the grief and agony as our damaged antihero must battle not only evil, but the constant pain and suffering from an unforgiving and over used body. The best book in the Strike series is No 3 Career of Evil when a gruesome amputated limb is received at the PI's London office. Book 3 is a gritty affair relying a lot more on action and plot rather than endless "upper-class" dialogue the downfall of Lethal White. I accept that the Strike series is not an arena for serial killers but equally it should not be the playground of an Oxford/Cambridge debating society so let's hope for a much more gritty detective in outing No 5. A worthy but essentially disappointing read.

Hauntingly beautiful

The Silent Land - Graham Joyce

Waking up on a cold winter's morning, after a snowfall, and the streets are eerily quiet. Snowfall always seems to create an uneasy, sometimes sombre atmosphere, invading our structured world and our cosy existence. White snowy  panoramic pictures have been used to great effect in the past in such bestsellers as The Shining by Stephen King, The Snowman by Jo Nesbo, Snowblind by Ragnar Jonasson (although all Nordic crime could probably be included) and not forgetting the excellent Snowblind by Michael McBride and the hauntingly alluring Travelling in a Strange Land by Irish author David Park.

 

The title "The Silent Land" by Graham Joyce instantly creates for the reader a bare and deserted landscape..."There wasn't a track anywhere to be seen in the light, powdery snow. The grey pregnant clouds loured above them, but there were blue smudges in the sky. A transforming power had breathed over the land and turned it into a perfect wedding cake"..... Into this wintry scene steps Zoe and Jake enjoying themselves on a skiing holiday in the French Pyrenees when an avalanche, the dread of all skiers and climbers, strikes without warning and buries our two adventurers. They survive but on returning back to the ski village they discover a place devoid of any human contact, seemingly deserted, and each time they attempt to walk/ski out, strangely, they always return back to the same starting point. As time passes, and the hope of any rescue seems to fade, both are troubled by visions and dreams and soon they come to the realization that perhaps no one actually survived the avalanche.

 

Graham Joyce has written a beautifully balanced tale of two lovers facing an uncertain future knowing that having cheated death they do in fact remain in a very precarious position. The author has ample time to explore the lives of Zoe and Jake and in particular I enjoyed the scene with Jake's father Peter suffering from bone cancer and cruelly beginning to lose his mind..."And yet now that he saw his father lying on the hospital bed he wanted to hug him. This father who suddenly, inexplicably and contrary to a lifetime of restraint had started swearing"......This short novel contains many surprises which thankfully I have not disclosed, a story that could and should be read in one sitting, preferably on a cold winters night with all doors securely locked and only a roaring log fire and a tumbler of hot whisky for company!....highly recommended

The Hangman of Prague

HHhH - Laurent Binet, Sam Taylor

Reinhard Heydrich..."the most dangerous man in the Third Reich, the Hangman of Prague, the Butcher, the Blond Beast, the Goat"....has an unenviable reputation of being one of the most vicious and ruthless Nazi thugs during the second world war. As well as being a master swordsman, an accomplished violinist, he was equally up to the task of murder, genocide and the removal of any human being that did not conform to the Aryan idea of the master race.

 

HHhH by Lauren Binet creates a fictional account, from the known facts, of the events leading up to and including the death of Obergruppenführer Reinhard Heydrich in Prague on June 4th 1942. It is an unusual book written in a very readable style and as an introduction to the world of this ruthless man makes a worthwhile contribution. I particularly enjoyed (if this is the correct term) the tension and the build up to the to the assassination by two specially trained agents, Jozek Gabcik and Jan Kubis. The aftermath and reprisals of the Nazis was a heartless and cowardly way to break the will of the Czech  populace reminding them of their need for subservience to the mighty German overlord.

Rollicking adventure

Mutiny on the Bounty - John Boyne

John Jacob Turnstile earns his living on the streets of Portsmouth as a petty thief. He has no real life, no real friends, employed in the services of Mr Lewis and used periodically to feed the sexual desires of propertied gentlemen. When the theft of a pocket watch leads to the arrest of young Master Turnstile it seems he is destined to spend a year incarcerated until an unexpected opportunity results in a change of fortune. John Turnstile is informed that if he joins the crew of the Bounty, on her mission to Otaheite, better known as Tahiti, he will on his return be a free man. On the Bounty he is of little importance his main role attending to the whims and desires of none other than Captain William Bligh.

 

What follows is a rollicking adventure as we sail the high seas in the company of a motley crew including the infamous Christian Fletcher. It of course comes as no surprise for me to tell you that a mutiny takes place and young Turnstile together with 18 crew members are set adrift in the Pacific ocean. Every page of John Boyne's extraordinary novel bristles with the taste and feel of what it was like to sail the high seas at the end of the 18th century. The crew faces the constant battering of inclement weather, the fear of pillaging pirates, and the threat of Scurvy, the disease of discovery,  which ravaged both body and mind, and was caused by chronic vitamin C deficiency, brought on by lack of fresh fruit and vegetables. In the second part of the book when the mutiny takes places our survivors, under the remarkable leadership of Bligh, cling to life on a minuscule diet in the hope that they can replenish and refuel at the numerous Polynesian islands in the vicinity of Tahiti. This in turn leads to further turmoil when hostile inhabitants seem content on killing our brave sailors and cannibalizing their remains.

 

From the opening paragraph to the very satisfactory, poignant and just conclusion once again John Boyne has proved himself a master storyteller. Every page of his fictional account (but based on the known facts) sparkles with energy and a vibrancy that is so often missing in writing today. It is not only a boys own adventure but a beautiful coming of age story as John Turnstile uses opportunity offered to turn himself from a worthless street urchin into a man of some standing. Readers and admirers of Boyne will be delighted at this change in direction, if the art of a storyteller  can be measured in his ability to create a narrative and compose a picture out of any situation then surely John Boyne has no equal. Wonderful colourful writing by one of my favourite authors and oh so highly recommended.

 

 

Reading progress update: I've read 61%.

Mutiny on the Bounty - John Boyne

great colourful writing from John Boyne shows that a good storyteller can lend his hand to any genre..

Magnificent achievement

By John Boyne The Absolutist - John Boyne

The Absolutist is a conscientious objector, one who refuses not only to be involved in the dirty business of taking arms against an enemy but also to help in any way the war effort by carrying out ancillary tasks. They were nicknamed Feather men....  (The notion of a white feather representing cowardice goes back to the 18th century, arising from the belief that a white feather in the tail of a game bird denoted poor quality. To 'show the white feather' was therefore to be 'unmanly)Tristan Sadler and Will Bancroft two fresh faced recruits meet in Aldershot as they prepare for life in the trenches, the defining image of World War 1. "In Aldershot they weren't teaching us how to fight, they were training us how to extend our lives for as long as possible"......

 

John Boyne's writing is magnificent as always, his scenes of young raw recruits standing like lambs to the slaughter, or waiting to be butchered by the enemy's machine gunfire, is heartbreaking to read...."We forget that we have very nearly died today as we wait to die again tomorrow"......"Each of us fell at a different point on the spectrum from pacifism to unremitting sadism"...... At the start of the story Tristan is travelling to Norwich to meet Will's sister and deliver some personal letters, he is also hoping to unburden himself by revealing a secret, a secret that he has held within him for many years. The narrative alternates between the start and finish of WW1 and those who survived returned home deeply traumatized  to a country unable to cope with  or indeed understand the repercussions of shell shock more commonly known today as PTSD...."Twenty boys. And only two came back. One who went mad and myself. But that doesn't mean we survived it. I don't think I did survive it. I may not be buried in a French field but I linger there"........

 

The Absolutist is about friendship, unrequited love, the morals of the time, and what happens if we try to live outside what society views as righteous and good. It is about the evil and brutality that humans can inflict on each other and in its graphic descriptions it illustrates what life (if we can call it that) was like for young men in the trenches...most would be lucky to survive more than 6 weeks....." I close my eyes for a moment . How long will it be, I wonder, two minutes, three, before I am over the sandbags too? Is my life to end tonight?"In the last chapter we meet Tristan as an old man, success as a writer has done little to ease his conscience or dampen the memory of those bygone days. The final sentence is probably one of the most poignant I have read for many years. A truly outstanding novel John Boyne once again asserts himself as not only a gifted author but possessing an uncanny understanding of the human spirit and what is to live. to love, and for that love never to be returned. Highly, highly recommended

Indulging the stereotypes of crime fiction

No way Out - Cara Hunter

The crime genre is tightly packed with budding authors eager to display their writing skills as they start a new story with new characters and usually a slightly flawed lead detective. The hope is that if the story and main players are welcomed by an eager reading audience then further books will follow as a series is born. The problem is that there are now far too many so called authors plying their trade with the result that the writing is often bland and stereotypical in its delivery.

 

No way out is the third in a series featuring DI Adam Fawley and his intrepid band of warriors; Gislington , Quinn, Somer and Everett. A fire has occurred in a residential property, one child dead and one child clinging to life. It would appear that the parents are not in residence, and so the search is on to find them, the hope being that they can provide clues and answers to this appalling crime. Due to personal circumstances DI Fawley has stepped down as lead detective and has entrusted the investigation to her colleague Gis promoted as acting DS on this occasion

 

This is your average crime thriller, one of many competing for attention in a crowded diluted market. The usual suspects are present; an overworked DI with personal problems, bright- eyed junior detectives eager to prove their worth and a rather odd misguided sense of humour...We are investigating the death by burning of children and so our young band of police officers are working 24/7 it could be said they are on fire....not so sure I welcome this attempt at humour. Reading an average thriller only highlights the great difference between aspiring authors and established heavyweights such as Ian Rankin or Robert Galbraith. I have recently read, indeed consumed with vigour, the  3 Cormoran Strike novels which are simply outstanding and only serves to reinforce my opinion  that good writing is the preserve of a few and only a minority ever attain this status. Many thanks to the good people at netgalley for a gratis copy in exchange for an honest review and that it what I have written.

Tour de force

Harry's Game - Gerald Seymour

The passage of time does little to detract from this brilliant tour de force novel set in the blood soaked streets of Belfast in the mid 1970's. Henry Danby government minister is murdered in front of his wife and children by professional hitman Billy Downs....."Others determined the morality. Others turned his work into victories. He did as he was told, expertise his trade mark. The soldier in his army"...... Once his mission is accomplished Downs returns post haste to Belfast losing himself in the working class republican enclaves of the Ardoyne and the Falls. Harry Brown fresh from intelligent work in Aden and Albania is tasked with the job of going undercover in Belfast in order to seek out and eliminate Downs. He is well suited to the venture being a native of the province born and bred in the county of Armagh. His cover is that of merchant seaman Harry McEvoy back in the "auld country" after a long absence. The locals very quickly become suspicious and find his accent somewhat unconvincing. As the hunter and hunted circumnavigate each other they set the scene for the final bloody conflict and it soon becomes apparent that death may well be the inevitable outcome for Harry and his nemesis Billy Downs.

 

Harry's Game was first published in 1975 and in my opinion possibly the best book that the author Gerald Seymour wrote in his long and distinguished writing career. He brilliantly shows Belfast in the mid 70's when the "troubles" was at its highest......"It was the adventure playground par excellence for the urban terrorist"....... You can feel the tension, the hatred, the parochial entrenched attitude of both catholic and protestant inhabitants, as they go about their normal day committing murder and mayhem against their fellow neighbour, all in the name of misguided religious and political beliefs. Highly Recommended

A remarkable lady

The Choice: Embrace the Possible - Edith Eva Eger, Edith Eva Eger

To read any story about the holocaust is always painful. How can a country under the leadership of a dictator perpetuate such horrendous crimes against fellow human beings in the name of a misconceived ideology; the creation of a master Aryan race.

 

Edith Eger lived with her mother, father and two sisters Magda and Klara in Kosice Slovakia. One morning in May 1944 she and her family (minus Klara who successfully managed to hide from the jack booted thugs) together with a great number of fellow Slovak residents were arrested and bundled into animal transporters then taken to Auschwitz birkenau extermination camp. What followed was one of the greatest acts of mass genocide ever committed. On arrival at Auschwitz the new residents would be greeted by the quietly spoken Dr. Mengele...."I recognize the uniformed officer from the selection line. I know it's him, the way he smiles with his lips parted, the gap between his front teeth. Dr. Mengele, we learn. He is a refined killer and a lover of the arts".......The good doctor gives directions either to the left or right. Those who went left, children and those over 40 received an immediate death sentence under the guise of a communal shower. This was the last time that Edith ever saw her parents again. Edith and Magda survived, Edith being discovered discarded and naked barely alive hidden beneath a pile of bodies.

 

The Choice is a story of survival. It is the account of a woman badly traumatized  by inhuman treatment yet able to use this terror and in a positive way help others address their own issues and grief...."Just remember, no one can take away from you, what you've put in your mind. We can't choose to vanish the dark, but we can choose to kindle the light.".......In life there is always a choice and by sharing openly our greatest fear, and with the help and guidance of professional psychologists living can be worthwhile and meaningful again. Many thanks to the good people of netgalley for a gratis copy in exchange for an honest review and that is what I have written.

Beautifully written heartbreaking to read

Swallowing the Sun - David Park

Martin Waring is the curator of the Ulster Museum in Belfast. He is married to Alison and they have two children Rachel and Tom. Rachel is the apple of her father's eye and he is overjoyed when he learns that his daughter has acquired 10 top grades, ten stars, and is destined to be accepted into one of the great institutions of learning....Oxford or Cambridge beckons. One night both Martin and his daughter make wrong decisions the outcome of which alters their lives, in a way that I as a reader did not see, and what follows is both harrowing and heart-wrenching in equal measures. It is difficult to actually discuss Swallowing the Sun without disclosing the plot and indeed the final outcome. We learn of a tough and abusive childhood with a vicious and drunken father and a mother too weak to protect the innocence of her sons; Martin and his brother Rob. In Belfast Martin has associations with loyalist gangs and sympathizers from the early hard days of his youth. As the story progresses he finds himself drawn back to his connections in an attempt to find answers as his life begins to unravel, spiraling out of control. The ending is a stroke of pure genius as the curator of the museum struggles to make sense of what has happened, creating a space that will forever act as a reminder of his loss and pain.

 

The characters in this story like all of us are flawed and the repercussions of decisions taken will always have a ripple effect on members of the family. Martin Waring openly displays his frailties yet as the novel progresses I  began to develop an admiration for him as both he and his wife Alison learn to cope with a heartache  that will forever remain. David Park has written a sublime novel, the open wounds of pain and regret on every page and every word and expression he uses adding to the feeling of hopelessness and sadness..."where the past is cared for and preserved, where nothing is allowed to decay or be destroyed"...."So why doesn't he come in now, sit on her bed and give her some advice? Tell her the things he knows. About how you find someone to love"....."He feels only the stirring of his doubt now, a loss of confidence, wonders if she will be able to read in his body the drive of his desperation, the depth of his need"....."where the past is cared for and preserved, where nothing is allowed to decay or be destroyed"....

 

If I were to choose one book that is both lyrical and thought provoking my choice would be this brilliant novel by David Park. Highly Recommended.

An elegant wordsmith

The Rye Man - David Park

John Cameron has returned to the school of his youth in his new role as headmaster. He is a man with a troubled past, increasingly disturbed by the frequency and darkness of his dreams, desperately needing the love of his wife Emma, both badly shocked by their own personal tragedy..."a new house would be good for her, help her to heel more quickly".....

 

His colleagues at school are somewhat adversarial to the new Principal and reluctant to adopt to change that Cameron is keen to introduce. His attention is drawn to the fragile Jacqueline McQuarrie and he is saddened that his predecessor Reynolds did little to promote or help the interests of a child with acute special needs. Cameron recalls a time in his youth when with his father's help he rescued a boy who faced abuse on a daily basis....."Completely naked the raised ridges of his ribs pushing through his skin. He was crouched in a nest of straw like a small bird and then he stood up, his skinny sticks of legs were brown and misshapen and covered in pussed scabs like scene on the surface of stagnant water".....His interest in the welfare of Jacqueline continues and when he discovers bruises on her arm he decides to visit the McQuarrie household to uncover the truth. Meanwhile his relationship with Emma deteriorates as darkness from the past drowns them further in sorrow.

 

This is beautifully written dark fiction that reminds me in part of the American author Greg f Gifune. The writing and descriptions are simply sublime and add greatly to the uneasy feeling of sadness and fear that pervades throughout the pages from first to last....."the way the dark rolled in across the fields to beach soundlessly against the lines of the house, the feeling it brought of being isolated from the rest of the world but secure and solid in the sanctuary of the shadows".....I am a great admirer of the writing of David Park. His novels are often based around the violent and bloody conflict that was an everyday event in the towns and rural settlements of Northern Ireland. He never allows "the troubles"  to encroach or play centre stage in his writings but simply acknowledges their existence, preferring to concentrate on the story at hand yet deeply aware that the mindset and parochial attitude of "Ulstermen" forms a rocky platform as the events in his story unfold.

 

This is wonderful, heartfelt writing of the highest order from one outstanding author.

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