Reading Highlights – October 2015

October saw a slight increase in the number of books I managed to complete, up from four to six. No doubt helped by listening to three audio books!  As usual crime novels dominated with four of the books in that particular category. I also succeeded in extending my reading repertoire by including books by two authors new to me.

One of these new authors goes by the name of Lars Kepler, but this is a pseudonym. Lars Kepler is really the husband and wife duo of Alexander Ahndoril and Alexandra Coelho Ahndoril. The Sandman is the fourth of their novels to feature Stockholm detective Joona Linna. The case revolves around the mysterious appearance of  a young boy, Mikael, who had disappeared with his sister 13 years ago. Michael remembers virtually nothing, but says his sister is still alive and that the person who kidnapped them was known as the Sandman. Could he be the notorious serial killer Jurek Walter? But Walter is locked up in a secure psychiatric unit. Cue for lots of suspense and a fair bit of violence. The link between Walter and Linna turns out to be very personal which only increases Linna’s determination to solve the mystery. Though the fourth in the series, this reads well as a stand alone novel.

The other crime novels were all by well known Scottish writers. The Lewis Man is the second in Peter Mays’s Lewis trilogy and again features Finn Macleod, who has left the police in Edinburgh and is now living in his mother’s old croft. The story begins with the discovery of a dead body in a peat bog in Lewis. It soon emerges that the body was murdered in the 50s as the dead man has a tattoo of Elvis Presley and his song Heartbreak Hotel, a hit from 1956. Finn gets involved in the investigation when they discover that DNA links the corpse to Tormod MacDonald, the father of Marsaili, Finn’s first love. To complicate matters,  Tormod now suffers from dementia and furthermore is believed to have been an only child with no known relatives. The mystery now extends to who really is Tormod, and where did he come from? Lots of surprises are in store as the sad and tragic life of Tormod emerges from the past.

Keep the midnight out is the 12th novel by Alex Gray to feature Glasgow detective Bill Lorimer. I have read all of this series and very good it is. This time the mystery starts in the island of Mull, where the by now detective superintendent Lorimer and his wife are on their annual holiday. Their usual tranquility is shattered when Lorimer discovers the body of a red-haired young man on the shore near his holiday cottage. Aspects of the body strongly reminds Lorimer  of another murder: a twenty year old Glasgow case that he failed to solve as a newly fledged detective constable and which has haunted him ever since. Is there in fact a connection and can Lorimer get involved outside his jurisdiction?

Blood, Salt, Water is by Denise Mina, another prolific Scottish writer. I have read most of her novels. This one is the fifth in an ongoing series featuring Glasgow detective Alex Morrow. I have read the first two in this series, but have somehow managed to miss the next two. It does not really matter as though Alex Morrow is the connecting link, the novels are very much read alone. This time the events take place mainly in Helensburgh, now a fading tourist town on the Clyde and close to Glasgow.  The tale starts with the murder of a young woman by Iain Fraser, a recently released convict. He has done this on the orders of a local crime boss. Meanwhile in Glasgow, DI Morrow is investigating the disappearance of Roxanna Fuentecilla, a woman who seems to be involved with Ecuadorian money-laundering. Is there any connection between the two cases?

The Hopeless Life of Charlie Summers is the fourth novel by Paul Torday. Today came late to writing, but has produced a string of successful novels, the best known probably his first, Salmon Fishing in the Yemen. The Hopeless Life of Charlie Summers is another fine novel. It is written with a light and elegant touch. However the subject matter is rather dark. Despite the title, the novel is as much about the life of the narrator, Hector Chetwode- Talbot, as it is about Charlie Summers. Both in their own way are conmen, though in very different spheres and with very different results. Hector is the charming front man for a rather dodge hedge fund which seems to be an elaborate Ponzi scheme. Hector is also out of his depth as regards finance and the business, but is happy to ask no questions. Charlie operates on an altogether lower level, trying and failing to make money out of very dubious cons, such as selling off rubbish as luxury Japanese dog food. It’s all about greed as my late mother would say, and in this case the greed and self-deception brings no good to either Charlie or Hector. Both somehow manage to redeem themselves, though in a most unexpected way.

My Brilliant Friend is the first novel of a quartet set mainly in Naples. It is by Elena Ferrante and is an absolutely terrific read. A real surprise as I picked up my copy in a second hand bookstore, just out of curiosity. A real gem as it turned out. My Brilliant Friend as the title suggests is the story of the friendship between two Neapolitan girls. This novel recounts their life as girls and teenagers, growing up in one of the poorest parts of post World War Naples. The story is told by Elena, known as Lenù to her friends. At primary school she becomes friends with Raffaella, who for some reason is called Lila by Elena. The two girls become inseparable at primary school, though they embark on different choices afterwards. Lila goes to work in her father’s shoe shop, while Elena continues with her education in secondary school with increasing success.

The novel is in part a moving story of the ups and downs of friendship, but also a vivid and equally moving account of life in the poorer parts of Naples. Grinding poverty is the norm for most of the inhabitants of their barrio. Violence is also a frequent visitor as family quarrels and affronts to honour are settled by vicious and bloody fights. Despite this background people somehow not only survive, but some also manage to prosper. This is a wonderful novel and a I excitedly look forward to the second volume.




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