Reading Highlights – February 2012

February was another good month for reading and I managed to complete another 10 books.  This time three were audio versions.  Fully a half were translations, while one was in Spanish.  So only four of the 10 were by authors writing in English.  As usual crime novels featured highly with six of the novels in that genre.  This time around I only managed works by three new writers.  I made progress with four of my reading challenges.  A couple of Nordic novels – The Return by Håkan Nesser and The Woman from Bratislava by Leif Davidsen; a vintage mystery – The Big Sleep by Raymond Chandler; an East European novel – Murder on the Leviathan by Boris Akunin; and one in Spanish – Atajo al Paraíso by Teresa Solana.  In fact the only challenge I have yet to start is the Aussie Women Writers.  Next month is marked down for this.  The other books I read were:  The chalk Cirlcle Man by Fred Vargas – France;  August Heat by Andrea Camilleri – Italy;  Lying Dead by Aline Templeton – Scotland;   Trespass by Rose Remain – England;  Nemesis by Phillip Roth – USA.

I have already reviewed two of the books, The Big Sleep here, and The Woman from Bratislava here.  Below are three other highlights from the month.

Atajo al Paraíso/Shortcut to Paradise is the second novel by Teresa Solana to feature the rather excentric private detectives, the Martínez twins, Borja and Eduard.  Though the novel revolves around a murder, the winner of a prestigious literary prize, it is even less of a crime novel than the first in the series.  Here the twins play a secondary role in the story, which is mainly about the intrigues, infighting and pretensions of the literary establishment in Catalunya.  As usual it is written in a mocking but witty and satirical style.   There is a delicious conceit about the title of the novel.  The woman who is murdered has just been awarded a literary prize for her latest novel, called Atajo al Paraíso.  And this novel is about an italian countess by the wonderful name of Lucrècia Berluschina de Castelgandolfo, who has just won a literary prize for her latest novel, called Atajo al Paraíso, whereupon she is murdered.  Wonderful stuff.

Murder on the Leviathan is the third novel by Boris Akunin in his Erast Fandorin series of crime and mystery novels.  Set in 1878, the action starts with the audacious and brutal murder of Lord Littleby and his 10 servants in Paris.  However the rest of the action takes place on the Leviathan, a luxury steamship bound for Calcutta.  A number of clues from the scene of the crimes leads detective inspector Gauche to believe that the murder is on board this voyage.  As is of course Erast Fandorin.  The rest of the novel is the rather hapazard attempts of the suitably name Gauche to try and solve the mystery.  It is of course left to Fandorin to uncover the culprit.  The particular charm of this novel is that Akunin has used it as a vehicle to both gently mock and pay hommage to the Poirot novels of Agatha Christie.  Gauche represents the more pretentious side of Poirot while Fandorin uses his little gray cells to unmask the murderer.

Nemesis is the latest novel by Phillip Roth.  It is quite a short book, but packs a lot into its few pages.  Set in Weequahic, the Jewish suburb of Newark, during the hot summer of 1944, the background to the novel is an outbreak of a polio epidemic which causes consternation throughout the city.  There is no cure and no vaccination at that time.  Just about everyone is frightened, even terrified of the spread of the epidemic.  Scapegoats are sought and people try to flee the city to the seaside or the mountains.  The novel revolves around the central figure of Buck Cantor a young sports teacher who runs a playground for children.  He is an idealistic, religious Jew with simple beliefs.  The effects of the epidemic test him and his faith to breaking point.  This is a compelling tale about how an individual and a community struggle and cope or not cope in the face of terrible and unexpected suffering.

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