The Confidence Men

This is a hugely entertaining and well told account of an extraordinary escape (of sorts) from a prisoner of war camp during WW1. It dips into the world of seance, spiritualism and magic, as well as being a detailed and evocative description of the reality on the ground during the Ottoman campaign. In a way, it also highlights the fragility of humankind’s grasp on reality and rationalism and how its collective mind can so easily be manipulated for the gain of others; something that is as relevant now as it ever was. 

The Enigma of Room 622

 

I enjoyed The Harry Quebert Affair so the prospect of a mystery room in a hotel complete with intrigue and murder from the same author appealed to me. It takes the form of an author (supposedly Joel Dicker himself) staying at the aformentioned hotel where he stumbles upon a murder mystery which must be solved.

However, this aspect for me didn’t ever quite work. It seemed to me as if he never quite worked out how to juggle his sections with the retrospective telling of the actual story and in the end, it almost gave the impression of him almost adding in superfluous half-chapters at various stages at the end of the writing process having forgotten how he had set it all up. 

The book could have been redeemed if only for this but unfortunately it misfires for other reasons too. For a start, it is far too long. The build up to the murder, the victim of which we discover about four fifths of the way through, is painfully slow. Much of the detail is unnecessary and mundane. Which is a shame as the last fifth is genuinely clever and full of twists. That said the whole thing could have been far slicker and more concise and it would have lost nothing. Indeed it would have gained from the streamlining process. 

Finally, and most crucially, the writing just wasn’t very good. Now I am aware that the book is a translation from its original French. Impossible to know whether this is the problem or not but it really does read like a summary. The whole way through. The language is so simple and there is next to no description. As such it just got quite boring. 

Had this been shorter, it might have worked but ultimately, there are better books out there to spend your time reading. 

The Murder Game

This is a murder mystery set over new years which I somehow managed to read inadvertently over new years! I enjoyed Hindle’s first book – A Fatal Crossing – so was keen to see what this one was like. Perhaps not quite as good this one but still an enjoyable traditional murder mystery with all the twists and turns one expect with a group of suspects stuck in an old hotel together. It didn’t try anything particularly new but if you like a good old fashioned Agatha Christie style whodunnit, you will probably enjoy this. 

The Romantic

This one I had been saving up and it did not disappoint. While it didn’t have quite as great an impact as Any Human Heart had on me, it was nevertheless a masterclass in writing. Every word counts with William Boyd. The story is as exciting and imaginative as it is enthralling. The fact that the events through which the main character lives and the situations in which he finds himself throughout his long life seem almost far fetched only heighten the entertainment value. Still, Boyd always manages to hall it back from being totally unbelievable. Perhaps this is because of the very real frailties and tragedies of a long life that he sows into the narrative along the way making this a hugely wise and thought provoking novel. 

The Shortest History of England

Fresh from reading Powers and Thrones, my thirst for history had not yet been quenched. And so I thought a quick recap on some aspects of history would be useful. This book is short and perhaps not quite as good as I had hoped. This really is a whistle-stop tour of English history and one that, I think, could have been executed a bit better. At times, threads didn’t tie together as well as they might have, leaving the text a bit all over the place. Condensing such a vast body of information into such a short book is no easy feat but I still felt a little let down with this one. 

Powers and Thrones

 

This is a big old book and had sat on my bookshelf for quite some time before I decided to tackle it. I’m glad I did. For a subject with the potential to overwhelm itself, Dan Jones writes with a flow and clarity that really brings the period to life and carries you along with ease. At no point did I get a bit bored. It was a fascinating journey that filled in more than a few gaps in my knowledge of the time.

Lessons

A ‘whole-life’ novel from Ian McEwan. The first I read of this genre (if you can call it that) was Any Human Heart by William Boyd and remains my favourite novel. Try as I may, it is difficult not to compare Lessons to the standard in my mind. 

Unsurprisingly it doesn’t measure up but that doesn’t mean Lessons is not a good book. It’s a reflective and poignant read, with reflections on the passing of time, the values we each hold within our life and the ways in which these change and warp as time passes. I can’t quite get on board with McEwan’s writing style but that may be personal preference. Where Boyd makes every sentence count, meaning his story flows and moves at pace, McEwan is  less concise and at times, dare I say it, relatively rambling. This does create passages in which I found myself a little bored. That said, it is still emotive an emotive read at points and drives introspection, all of which means it is still definitely worth a read. 

Wild Hope

This is not normally a book I would pick up from the shelves unprovoked. In this case, its author is someone I went to infant school with but with whom I have since lost touch. 

It’s a book exploring the waves made by the Roe vs Wade decision in the context of the world her mother faced during the late 70s. A good example of the cyclical nature of history and all the warnings that humanity seemingly fails to heed with alarming regularity. A good insight for me into how such passionate feminism can develop. Poignant, well written and timely. 

Fake Law

I read his (her?) first book and enjoyed it. Quite dry and necessarily detailed in places and this one was no different. He writes superbly well and paints a detailed but concise picture of the issues surrounding law and the way it is presented and twisted within our media. Evokes a good deal of frustration at the malleability of the fellow human. But I learned more than a little. Most importantly of all, the ‘legal paper’ yellow edges remain a great gimmick.