My resolution to vary my reading a bit this year continues to bear fruit. Last month I only read two crime novels, the lowest number in that genre that I can remember. Both were very good and by two of my favourite crime writers. Dead Point by Peter Temple and The Drowning by Camilla Läckberg. I managed to read two non-fiction books. The Lost Art of Walking by Geoff Nicholson, sounded like it would be an interesting book, but it was more about Nicholson himself and his life than about walking. OK in parts. The other was a more substantial read, an academic collection of essays on Dundee in the late 19th and 20th centuries. Entitled Jute No More and edited by Jim Tomlinson and Chris Whatley, this had some very interesting chapters on the making of modern Dundee. Since my involvement in the Great Tapestry of Scotland and the panel on Victorian Dundee, I have become keen to find out more about the city. To my surprise I read four non crime fiction novels. All were by authors new to me. One, The Stronger Sex was translated from the original German language novel by Hans Werner Kettenbach. Sometimes listed as a crime thriller, it is no such thing, it deals with a rather nasty and randy octogenarian who tries to get his former mistress dismissed. Quite good, but a bit laborious at times. The Spies of the Balkans by Alan Furst is a good spy novel as you might expect from the title. Set mainly in Greece just before and just after the Italian invasion. Though this was my first book by Alan Furst, I had recently seen another of his novels adapted for TV. This was Spies of Warsaw and very good too. I very much enjoyed JK Rowling’s first novel for adults, The Casual Vacancy. The final fiction novel was in Spanish, as I managed to keep up my challenge of reading at least one book in Spanish each month. This was Caligrafía de los Sueños by Juan Marsé. As well as The Casual Vacancy, which I have already reviewed here, the following two books are worth a special mention.
Dead Point is the third of four novels in the Jack Irish series. I am a great admirer of Peter Temple’s work and enjoyed the first two in this series. This one was even better. Jack Irish is a lawyer who always seems to work, when he is working, on the rough borders of the law. In addition to his work as a lawyer, Jack is involved on and off with a horse racing gambling group and sometimes helps out a skilled old time cabinet maker. This time these other two activities feature less prominently and the novel benefits from this. Most of the focus this time is on solving two cases, though one does involve the horse racing syndicate. In the other case Jack is employed by a judge. This turns out to be a very complicated case involving the usual suspects – politicians, business and a bit of corruption. Jack’s love life is another important feature of this wonderful novel.
Caligrafía de los Sueños is the latest novel by Catalan writer Juan Marsé, one of Spain’s most lauded writers. Published in 2011, this is my first encounter with the world of Marsé. From what I can gather, almost all his work centres around Barcelona in the post civil war years. This one certainly does. Though not in any sense an autobiography, the novel is based on Marsé’s own experiences growing up in Barcelona in the 1940’s. The main character is 15 year old Ringo, and the narrative mainly revolves around him. Though this is not really a narrative novel, at least not a simple, conventional one. More a collection or rather recollection or memories of the lives of the key people who influenced Ringo as a young lad. The memories vividly recreate the people, the circumstances and the precariousness of life in those years, all through the limited perspective of a teenager.