I begin the New Year with a brief look back at last month’s reading. Once again only four books were completed, though this time I also managed to fit in a couple of short stories by Anton Chekhov – The Student and Anna on the neck. For the rest I managed two crime novels, one general fiction and one non-fiction book. The last was particularly encouraging as I have not kept up with non-fiction works as much as I would like.
This was the non-fiction book and an excellent overview of the background to the decisions to go to war in 1914. At 660 pages it is not just an overview but at times a very detailed and well researched account of the actions in the decade before 1914. Christopher Clark’s intention is to focus on the how it was that Europe ended up in a general war, as opposed to trying to locate the guilty party or parties. It is an interesting and fruitful approach. Another merit of the book is that is places Serbia in the foreground of the pre-war scene. Not many people and none of the states come out of Clark’s analysis with much credit. While according to Clark no-one sought the war, equally no-one did much to prevent one, hence the title – The Sleepwalkers. For anyone interested in finding out more about the great war which started 100 years ago this is a highly recommended place to start.
Jo Nesbø is one of my favourite crime writers and Police is his latest instalment in the series featuring Harry Hole, the sometimes hard drinking Oslo detective. In this book Harry has retired from the force, having somewhat miraculously recovered from what looked like certain death at the end of the previous novel. However what soon emerges as a spate of serial killings of police officers brings Harry back into the fold in a semi-official capacity. Another great effort from Nesbø in which the corruption and darker side of the links between politicians, criminals and the police form the background to the investigation.
This was our reading group’s book for January and a very good choice it was. William McIlvanney is one of the leading Scottish authors. He writes in a variety of genres and with Laidlaw he broke new ground as the father of Scottish noir. Written way back in 1977 Laidlaw is the prototype of the hard, but damaged detective. In this case a young woman has been found murdered and sexually assaulted in Glasgow. A link to gangland leaders is established and a race is on as Laidlaw tries to find the guilty ones before other gang leaders destroy all the evidence.
William Boyd is another of my favourite authors and Brazzaville Beach is a relatively early novel. It is an ambitious tale as it effectively encompasses five different, though linked stories. The link is Hope Clearwater, an English scientist, the main protagonist of the novel. Most of the action takes place in an unnamed African country (most probably Angola) and the narrative switches back and forth through time. Hopes ends up living in Brazzaville Beach, hence the title of the novel. But before reaching this relative safety she has had to survive a series of personal and professional struggles and tragedies. This includes a failed marriage in England, a tension riven spell researching chimpanzees and a traumatic spell of captivity in the hands of a rebel band in the civil war. A compelling tale, though none of the main characters evoke much sympathy. More a tale of physical and psychological survival.