Brazzaville Beach

William Boyd’s writing style is so unique and identifiable. He is a real master at being concise and seems somehow able to inject x factor into even the most innocuous activities of his characters. That notwithstanding, the story here is excellent and follows Hope Clearwater, who is beautifully characterised via a no holds barred account of her life. The novel interchanges two periods of her life throughout the book. One with her hopelessly doomed marriage to a physicist in England and another tracking chimpanzees in Africa. Brutal, moving, thrilling and philosophical – Boyd never disappoints. 

Murder on Lake Garda

The third book from Tom Hindle who I’ve come to realise is relatively local to me! Never met him though. I loved his first, thought his second was rather mundane, but I’m pleased to say his third is a return to form. While it still doesn’t quite reach the level A Fatal Crossing reached, this is a thoroughly enjoyable romp through through a murderous Italian wedding. He paints a beautiful picture of the grotesque nature of spoilt rich people and, although the solution at the heart of the mystery is not too difficult to guess, it still provides a lot of fun. It’s a bit like a feature length episode of Death in Paradise – which in my eyes is a good thing.

A Colder War

I have enjoyed some of Charles Cumming’s other spy novels and enjoyed the first of the series that features MI6 agent Thomas Kell. While there are hints of Cumming’s later written efficiency, this book always felt a bit hollow – like a Spanish villa that ran out of funding before it was completed. The book doesn’t really do much other than display some procedural intrigue while the ending is abrupt and feels unfinished. It was written some time ago and as far as I’m aware, there have been no others in the series leading me to believe he abandoned the franchise. I think probably that was a good idea. The main character was a bit mundane. Enjoyable enough read though. 

Killers of the Flower Moon

This was a phenomenal non-fiction book well worth all the praise it gets. I avoided the film (as I did with Lost City of Z, his previous excellent effort) as I didn’t want any preconceptions – the book for me is the main event.
Just a fantastically well paced, concise and thrilling account of an extraordinary and terrifying conspiracy and scandal from the American West in the 1920s.

Although non-fiction, he manages to arrange events in a way that constantly creates suspense – chapters end with shocks or twists in the same way a thriller would. But not in a cheesey cliched way. Clearly Grann has a huge talent for this sort of thing and I can’t wait to read his next one (The Wager).

Perfume

This literary and mildly fantastical novel is all about a wretched soul, born in Paris in the 1700s with a seemingly superhuman ability to smell. He also turns out to be a bit of a pyschopath.

Not quite sure whether there is some sort of allegorical element to things but if nothing else, it impresses due to the sheer variety and eloquence with which it conveys fragrance. It also manages to paint a vivid and abrupt picture of the grotesque and macabre. Perhaps it is a comment on the sheer variance of humanity from sheer beauty to utter repulsiveness. I think they made a film starring Ben Wishaw. I won’t lie, I’ll probably give it a miss. Enjoyble read though and not too long so if you don’t like it, no harm done.

Words of Radiance part 2

Next book in this still enjoyable and maturely written fantasy book. As soon as you begin reading, Sanderson has a knack of keeping you completely engaged. Page turning stuff which, considering it is a pretty slow moving epic, is an incredible feat of writing in my opinion.

More of the same and it is fortunate that the same is just really good stuff.

Colditz

I saw Ben Macintyre present this book at Hay festival last year and thoroughly enjoyed it. Having heard a lot about it however, I thought I’d delay reading it so it was a bit more fresh. I needn’t have worried as there is so much detail and wonder in this book that his talk on it barely touched the surface. 

I often wonder about how many incredible untold stories that there surely must be surrounding the events of the second world war. Macintyre has already proven himself an expert on sifting out the best ones and creating hugely enjoyable and assured accounts of them. It seems odd that this sort of Macintyre-esque account of Colditz has not happened before. Thankfully it’s the man himself who has tackled it and it just gets more and more interesting as it goes along. Just when you think you’ve heard it all – crazy escape attempts, class clashes between prisoners and guards alike and even the building of an escape glider right under the Germans’ noses – it shifts to the end of the war and the logistics of getting out unharmed by the SS and Gestapo who start descending like flies as their war is falling away from them. 

Can’t recommend this enough. Plus, with the last Colditz film being made before, as far as I’m aware, I was born, I’ll be blown away if there isn’t another film before long.

Last Murder at the End of the World

I am a big fan of Stuart Turton after reading his previous two excellent books. While excellently plotted, written, paced and imagined, I also liked the settings of his two previous books.

This one begins in a sort of dystopian, post apocalyptic world which is at odds with the cosy country mansion or the closed environment of a sailing ship that made for such good reading last time.

It gave off a vibe reminiscent of Margaret Atwood’s Oryx and Crake which I didn’t get on with. However, Turton’s expert imagination and execution brought me back, perhaps not to where I was with his previous works but still to the point where I would still say this is a strong novel.
Mystery surrounds the characters who live on this island, each with the same voice in their head, speaking to and guiding them. All the while a strange mist of plague like insects begins to close in on them, triggering a race against time to get to the bottom of the complex mystery behind it all.

Often with this sort of thing, the end point to which everything races can feel anti-climactic when the reader gets there but this is not the case here I don’t think. Well worth a read, but not his best. 

NB – Very cool ‘post credits’ bit at the end that’s worth reading for Turton fans.

The Cold War

I picked this up at Dover castle with all the historical enthusiasm of the day still racing through my veins. Since then, it has sat on my book shelf with a foreboding air about it. Before I read it, I worried that I’d gone and picked a stuffy inaccesible and out of date and therefore obselete tome. 

This was written in 2005 and rather than detract from the experience, it actually gave an excellent and unbiased history of the cold war up until its supposed end without the potentially altering context of recent history. The declaration in the prologue that all its troubles were long gone was particularly eye opening and interesting. While the author got that wrong, the rest of it is exceptionally well written. I had braced myself for a rather boring and overly detailed account. Quite the opposite. It is not too long and gives some excellent concise insights into the main events of the cold war, along with some more far reaching observations about how we deal with significant events that we live through.

If you know nothing about the cold war, probably not for you, but if you know the basics, then it builds and adds depth to the whole debacle. A really good read.

Die Trying

This is the second Reacher novel. Having resisted for a long time, I think I’m sold on this franchise now. Its a ridiculous romp that reads like a no nonsense 90s action thriller. Yes in places it is far fetched and the Jack Reacher worship is a bit over the top, but then again, that’s part of the fun. This guy is just perfect and invincible and that’s fine. After a certain point, I found myself just smashing through it (like Reacher smashes through bad guys or mental arithmatic) until I finished it. If this is not the definition of a page turner, then I don’t know what is.