Reading Highlights – January 2016

January was another pretty good month for reading. I completed seven books, again helped by three audiobooks. Four crime novels and three general fiction. I also managed to include a novel in Spanish for the first time in many months. Hope to keep this up.  Here is the full list of books read, or listened to.

Nature of the Beast, by Louise Penny – the latest mystery for Armand Gamache the former head of Homicide Quebec. More murder in sleepy Three Pines.

The Meursault Investigation, by Kamel Daoud – an intriguing novel about Algeria under the French occupation. Both the main character, Meursault, and the narrator, are fictional characters from Albert Camus’ novel The Stranger.

Silent Valley, by Malla Nunn – the third novel by Swaziland born Nunn about the early years of apartheid in South Africa. Another murder for Detective Sergeant Emmanuel Cooper and his team to solve.

Snowblind, by Ragnar Jonasson – this debut novel is a kind of whodunnit, set in Siglufjörður, one of the most isolated fishing villages on Iceland’s norther coast. Dark goings on to match the dark climate.

The Hypnotist, by Lars Kepler – the first of the series of murder mysteries to feature Detective Inspector Joona Linna. A vicious triple murder in Stockholm sets the scene for a pretty gruesome, but exhilarating tale.

Riña de gatos: Madrid 1936, by Eduardo Mendoza – an ironic, comedy of manners, set in the weeks before the outbreak of the Spanish civil war.

Hear the wind sing, by Haruki Marukami – a young man recounts his experiences with his firs three girlfriends. Marukami’s first, very short novel.

All of the books were enjoyable and interesting and I would recommend them all. I would pick out the following two as worthy of a special mention.

Silent Valley, by Malla Nunn  – I have now read three of Malla Nunn’s novels set in the early years of apartheid. All are excellent.  Though they are set in different parts of South Africa, all feature the same key set of characters. Detective Sergeant Emmanuel Cooper, the main investigator, has his own demons to fight, dating back to his experiences during the Second World War. He is admirably helped by Zulu constable Samuel Shabalala. As the story is about the murder of a young Zulu girl in a rural area, Shabalala is an essential guide to Cooper as he tries to weave a delicate balance between the white farmers and the local Zulus.

Riña de gatos: Madrid 1936, by Eduardo Mendoza – this novel is also available in an English translation as An Englishman in Madrid.  The setting is Madrid in March 1936, on the eve of the outbreak of the civil war. The Englishman is Anthony Whitgelands an expert on the works of Velázquez. He has been invited, secretly, to Madrid to authenticate a hitherto unknown painting by the master. The owner, a duke, needs to sell the painting to raise funds for the Falangists in their coming struggle against the left wing government. This is an unusual novel in that it deals with a very serious and important moment in history, but does so within the framework of a light touch comedy of manners. A difficult task, but one which Mendoza carries off with aplomb. Whitelands is an innocent abroad, and gets himself involved in a series of political and amorous entanglements. Lurking in the background and occasionally in the foreground are the brutal precursors of the civil war. Mendoza successfully manages to weave into his tale some of the real people of the time. In particular José Antonio Primo de Rivera, leader of the Falange. An intriguing and entertaining novel which offers a different insight into the dark and shady world of cat fights that passed for life in Madrid 1936.




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