Reading Highlights – July 2015

After the heights of June it was back to normality again last month. Only five books were completed in June. Though I did start a book in Spanish – La Luz es mas antigua que el amor – but ran out of time to finish it. Of the five I did complete, two were audiobooks and three were crime novels. All except one were by authors familiar to me.

When the Devil Drives by Chris Brookmeyer is the second of his novels to feature private investigator Jasmine Sharp and Detective Superintendent Catherine McLeod. I enjoyed the first one, Where the Bodies are Buried, so much that I went straight to this second instalment. I was not disappointed as When the Devil Drives is an equally gripping and well written novel. It starts with a murder on a Highland estate which lands on Catherine McLeod’s desk. Jasmine Sharp meanwhile gets asked to investigate the disappearance and presumed murder of a young girl some 20 years ago. Lots of mysteries and subplots to uncover and unravel. The still rather mysterious ex gangster Glen Fallon reappears and of course the two investigations intertwine to produce an unexpected ending. Good stuff.

Come Death and High Water is the second crime novel by Ann Cleeves. I know her work from her Shetland novels and the TV version of her Vera novels. I had not realised that she has been writing for such a long time. Come Death and High Water appeared in 1988 and is set on the privately owned island of Gillibry, off the north coast of Devon. The island is now a bird sanctuary, run by a trust. The members are on the island for a meeting and discover to their horror that the owner of the island is planning to sell the island. And surprise, surprise, he turns up dead the next day! Lots of possible suspects and the chair of the trust, George Palmer-Jones lends the police a helping hand in finding the culprit. I have since discovered that Palmer-Jones, with the assistance of his wife, Sally, are the protagonists in a series of novels, all set among the world of bird watchers. I enjoy Ann Cleeves’ writing and it was a pleasure to discover this earlier work. Will dip into this series again.

The Lion’s Gate was the third of the crime novels I read last month. It is by Norwegian author Anne Holt. She is another prolific writer whose work I greatly enjoy. The Lion’s Gate is the second in the Hanne Wilhemsen series of novels. As is often the case their publication in English is out of sequence to the original Norwegian titles. I have previously read the last to date, 1222 and the first, Blind Goddess. The Lion’s Gate is the fourth in the series, so I am all over the place with the series. Never mind the novels are all very good and enjoyable on their own. Hanne Wilhemsen is a police officer in Oslo, though in this novel she is on leave. Not that this stops her getting involved. The case this time is about the most serious a police department can face – the suspicious death of the Prime Minister. Brigitte Volter is also Norway’s first woman Prime Minister and her death sends shock waves across the country. The investigation slowly builds up and takes the investigators way back in time to an earlier mystery. Could this mystery be linked to the death of the Prime Minister?

New Finnish Grammar is my first encounter with the work of Italian writer Diego Marani. This is a very strange and unsettling novel about identity, language and memory. A wounded man is found lying on the quayside in Trieste during World War 2. He is unable to speak and knows nothing about himself. He is taken onboard a German hospital ship. The only information about this mysterious person is a tag inside his jacket with the name Sampo Karjaleinen. The doctor on the ship is of Finnish origin and recognises the name as Finnish. He naturally assumes that the man is Sampo and Finnish. He starts to teach the man Finnish and to tell him about Finland. When he has sufficiently recovered, though still with no memory, he is sent back to Helsinki in the hope that once back in his homeland he will gradually recover his memory. Can Sampo find out who he really is?

Midnight in Europe by Alan Furst is another in his series of novels set in Europe in the years leading up to the Second World War. We are in the dark and nasty world of spies and secret agents. With Midnight in Europe the focus is on the Spanish civil war. Not the war itself in Spain, though that does feature briefly. The action takes place in other parts of Europe, in particular Paris and Greece. Paris is where the Spanish Republic’s main office for the procurement of arms is located. Christián Ferrer is the son of Spanish emigrants who lives in Paris and is recruited to work for this office. Helping him is the mysterious Max de Lyon, a former arms dealer, who has the contacts. Can they get enough weapons to the Republican army in Valencia? This is another very good, cloak and dagger novel, which paints a realistic portrait of life in these very difficult and dangerous times.

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