Tuesday, 3 August 2010

What I Read in July

SHADOWPLAY - Karen Campbell
Published: 2010
Publisher: Hodder and Stoughton
Setting: Glasgow
Protagonist: Chief Inspector Anna Campbell
Series?: 3rd
First Line: 'On a hill swept by oak, a single soft glow shines from a darker bulk.'
Anna Cameron has been promoted to Chief Inspector and moved to a new Division. A fresh start and a clean sheet should be just the ticket. Unfortunately, Anna discovers that she now has the worst boss in the world. On top of that her Mum - who she doesn't have a great relationship with - is seriously ill. Anna has plenty of work to keep her busy - the racially motivated attack of a young man, the disappearance of an elderly lady from a nursing home, added to the fact that someone is threatening one of her officers. Underlying everything in this book is the theme of motherhood. This is one of the best books I've read this year. The first two in the series were excellent but this is something else - gorgeous and atmospheric writing, a wonderful sense of place with a mix of darkness and humour that is the very heart and soul of Glasgow, an authentic depiction of police work that makes you wonder why anyone wants to join up, characters that you really get to know and an absorbing plot. Gritty, witty, and pretty bloody amazing. I was totally captivated from start to finish.

Published: 2010
Publisher: Preface Publishing
Setting: Edinburgh
Protagonist: Gus Dury
Series?: 4th
First Line: '
The doctor was a no-nonsense west-coaster, type that called a spade a shovel and if you didn't like it would add, You got a problem with that?'
Gus Dury is back on the bevvy - and no bloody wonder after what happened in book 3. Not only is he back on the drink but he's in hospital and in a bad way after being run down by an old lady on a mobility scooter. When his best friend Hod visits and asks him to help him investigate the death of a student - son of a high-profile actress, Gus is reluctant - let's face it, his career as a PI hasn't turned out very well for him so far, has it? However, since he feels partly responsible for the cash-strapped state in which Hod currently finds himself, he agrees. One more bad decision in a whole string of bad decisions. Sometimes it feels as though nothing Gus does is ever going to be right. For me he's a thoroughly noir protagonist. He's constantly trying to dig himself out of a hole that's too big for him to scrabble out of. What's more, fate is standing giggling at the top, shovelling in more earth on top of him. And, when someone does finally throw down a shovel, it hits Gus on the head. This is a very dark book, but relieved by Gus' cynical, self-deprecating humour. After this entry in the series, I want a little gladness for Gus. Wonderful stuff.


Published: 2009
Publisher: Sphere
Setting: Bradfield and Worcester
Protagonist: DCI Jordn and Dr Tony Hill
Series?: 6th
First Line: '
"It all comes down to blood in the end. Some wrongs you can get past. File under lessons learned, dangers to avoid in the future. But certain kinds of betrayal need to be answered. And sometimes only blood will do."
Carol Jordan is under pressure - her new boss is threatening to break up her team, and has also insisted that she can no longer use Tony as profiler any more. So her team needs to bring in results. As well as a nasty little cold case involving a mother and child who disappeared over ten years ago, they're also faced with a serial killer targeting teenagers who use a social networking site. Tony, on the other hand, has been seconded to another division, and is coming to terms with the inheritance left to him by the father he never knew. And the inheritance is not just financial. Val McDermid does a brilliant job of bringing every single character to life - from the members of her team down to the most minor of bit parts. She shows us the lives of the teenagers, the suffering of the grieving parents, even the shock of the unfortunate people who find the bodies, and makes us care about the characters. She also shows us how the horrific cases affect the team, giving the reader a real insight into how the work takes its toll on every one of them. At times it made me feel very sad. It's a thrilling, chilling, thoroughly gripping read - a story about families, relationships, legacies and the impact of the past on the present. Great stuff.

BADFELLAS - Tonino Benacquista (translated by Emily Read)
Published: 2010
Publisher: Bitter Lemon Press
Setting: South of France
Protagonist: The Blake family
Series?: Standalone
First Line: 'They took possession of the house in the middle of the night.'
None of the Blake family are particularly happy to be moving to a quiet town in Normandy. However, as they're really the Manzoni family from New Jerse,y and are in the Witness Protection Programme after Fred ratted out of his former Mafia colleagues, the family don't really have a great deal of choice. So they settle into small town life...somewhat. Fred decides he's going to be a writer, his wife Maggie assuages her guilt by doing charity work and watching the neighbours (with the help of the FBI men who have moved in nearby to protect them and to make sure they don't do anything stupid), and children Warren and Belle do what they need to do to get by at school. And each of them does their thing more or less on their own. They could not be described as a cohesive family unit. Much more cohesive is the Family (best said with cotton wool balls in the cheeks) who are trying to track them down. This would make a great film - there are some scenes that made me grin from ear to ear and the whole book is a pacy black comedy. For me, however, the characters were just too lightly drawn. They held my interest but I didn't really care about them one way or the other.

Published: 2010
Publisher: Tyrus Books
Setting: California
Protagonist: Fiona Yu
Series?: Standalone
First Line: 'It all started with my missing hymen.'
Fiona Yu is a successful attorney in her late 20s, commanding a nice office and a big salary. However, she's also a virgin who lives at home with her traditional (oh so traditional) parents. Her Dad is constantly trying to fix her up with a nice boy and reminding her to wear lipstick. Fiona has had to pretend to be something she isn't for most of her life. So now she's decided to rebel against everything her family and their culture stands for. However, the only thing she seems to have control over is her hymen. So her rebellion takes the form of using a dildo (sorry Dad) to break her own hymen - that will get that pesky 'family honour' she's been hauling around off her shoulders. However, when she discovers that she never actually had a hymen in the first place, she seeks medical assistance to get it reconstructed so that she can have the pleasure of breaking it. Enter gynaecologist and old schoolfriend Sean, who Fiona last saw just before he was taken off to a juvenile detention centre for setting a classmate's hair on fire. Fiona and Sean renew their friendship and have a few nights out. Strangely, all their nights out are followed by the discovery of a body the next day (not the same body each time, I hasten to add). Black comedy at its strangest - humourous and enjoyable if you can suspend your disbelief right from the start. I didn't like either of the main characters though and would have been quite happy if Sean had sprayed himself and Fiona with hairspray and lit a match. Enjoyable enough but ultimately unsatisfying.

1 comment:

  1. I read Karen Campbell and Tony B this month as well and I agree with everything you say. Karen has got to be one of the finest stylists out there at the moment.