2015: The Year of Crime

fletcherAs I mentioned in my review there, 2015 is going to be very crime focussed because I have so many books on my Kindle waiting to be read which fall into that genre. And here they are:

A Tap On The Window by Linwood Barclay (currently reading, will be review 1 in Cannonball Read 7)

Agatha Raisin: There Goes The Bride by M.C.Beaton

Agatha Raisin: As The Pig Turns by M.C. Beaton

Agatha Raisin & The Busy Body by M.C. Beaton

Agatha Raisin; Hiss & Hers by M.C. Beaton

Agatha Raisin: Kissing Christmas Goodbye by M.C. Beaton

Agatha Raisin & The Deadly Dance by M.C. Beaton

Agatha Raisin & The Perfect Paragon by M.C. Beaton

Agatha Raisin: Love, Lies & Liquor by M.C. Beaton

Agatha Raisin: A Spoonful of Poison by M.C. Beaton

In my defence there, all the Raisin books were on offer for 85p each ūüôā

Good As Dead by Mark Billingham

Faithful Place by Tana French

The Silkworm by Robert Galbraith

The White Lie by Andrea Gillies

The Point of Rescue by Sophie Hannah

Burial Rites by Hannah Kent

Blind Eye by Stuart MacBride

Dark Blood by Stuart MacBride

Close To The Bone by Stuart MacBride

Birthdays for the Dead by Stuart MacBride

Dying Light by Stuart MacBride

Flesh House by Stuart MacBride

Broken Skin by Stuart MacBride

Shatter The Bones by Stuart MacBride

Again, all those MacBride books were a Kindle Advent offer last December (!) and were all 99p. ¬†I couldn’t resist

In The Morning I’ll Be Gone by Adrian McKinty

Dissolution by C.J. Sansom

Gorky Park by Martin Cruz Smith

The Farm by Tom Rob Smith

Derby Day by D.J. Taylor

 

Cannonball Read 6, Book 58: Agatha Raisin & The Haunted House by MC Beaton

9781849011471The other day, I looked at my “Already on the Kindle” shelf over on Goodreads and I thought to myself “you know, I have a LOT of crime books here. Like a LOT”. So I decided, there and then, to make 2015 my Year of Crime. While I’m not going to devote myself solely to reading crime novels, they will make up the majority of my Cannonball 7 input. The plan originally was to end Cannonball 6 with¬†Station Eleven,¬†but it was so good I burned through it in record time and was left with a bit more time than I thought. So I am kickstarting the Year of Crime a bit early with the 14th (yes really) entry into the tireless Agatha Raisin series.

So here we are again. Back on familiar territory with our Agatha. They have made a TV movie out of the first book in the series, which aired here on Boxing Day. I have been wondering why on earth they didn’t make a¬†Midsomer Murders¬†style show out of the books years ago, and finally, my wishes have possibly been answered. That Raisin, a stout but sexy mid-fifties headstrong woman with a cut glass accent to hide her Birmingham upbringing is being played by someone ten years too young and 100% too Scottish is vexing, but hey ho. In my mind, she’s always been Frances Barber, and that is how she will stay. If they make more and don’t cast Tom Hollander as Charles Fraith, then I give up.

Anyway, I digress. So Agatha is once again bored and once again fawning over her handsome new neighbour and once again getting herself caught up in a murder mystery. There is not one single millimetre of new territory being explored here, but then you don’t read these books for them to re-invent the wheel. Amusing pop culture references to Oprah Winfrey and Lolita aside, Beaton is still setting feminism back decades while seemingly thinking she’s advancing it. Her only true friend Bill Wong notes that she’s of a generation who can’t help but fall in love with every handsome man they meet, or something along those lines. First of all, bullshit. Second of all, it does NOT stack up, and never has that someone as forthright and brittle as Agatha would turn into some awful mewling fool every time someone vaguely handsome walks within 100 yards of her and has always been my biggest bugbear of the books.

The identity of the murderer won’t tax your brain, and the whole thing with the haunted house is very silly. It also gets bogged down with some heavy plodding work about Roundheads and Cavaliers and some comedy amateur dramatics. All in all, this is a perfectly acceptable entry into the series, and if you’ve read the previous thirteen books, there’s nothing new I (or indeed MC Beaton) can tell you. However, my other bugbear has at last been addressed. The book ends with Agatha turning down an offer of work from her ex-colleague because she’s going to open her own detective agency. Thank heavens for that.

And that’s it for Cannonball Read 6 and 2014. Cannonball Read 7 is on the horizon so stay tuned. And in the meantime, check out everyone else on Cannonball Read. Use the links to buy any books you fancy and consider joining in next year too, why not? All the money the site raises goes to cancer charities, so it’s a win/win.

Cannonball Read 6, Book 57: Station Eleven by Emily St John Mandel

22733864Station Eleven¬†made a lot of noise when it was published earlier this year. It was heaped in critical praise and when it began to be shortlisted for prestigious awards, even more noise was made about how Mandel had written a novel so brilliant it had defied the limitations of its genre. Such hyperbolic waffle tends to make me roll my eyes and end up disappointed (I’m looking at you, Donna Tartt), so I approached¬†Station Eleven¬†with caution. And as any regular reader will know, the caution proved unnecessary as this is one hell of a book.

The book opens with a brilliant MacGuffin. Arthur Leander, a renowned Hollywood star, has returned to the stage to play the title role in King Lear (think Michael Keaton in Birdman, only not bonkers). One night during the performance, he up and dies on stage from a heart attack in mid-sentence. An ex-paparazzi turned trainee EMT (who used to stalk Arthur in their previous lives) tries to save him while a child actress looks on in horror. Later that night, a deadly flu virus, previously contained to Georgia (not the US Georgia) breaks its borders and over a very short time, takes out 99.9% of the world population.

Mandel then weaves together multiple narratives and time strands to create a world where everything we took for granted is gone. One chapter is devoted to listing everything that is now gone in the brave new world the Georgia Flu created. Leander was a MacGuffin but he’s also the epicentre. All the characters in the novel somehow come back to him. Kirsten, the child actress, becomes a performer with the Travelling Symphony, going from town to town acting out Shakespeare plays for the remaining few. Jeevan holes up with his crippled brother to try and escape contracting the virus. Arthur’s wives, ex-wives, best friend and his child are all in the mix as Mandel leaps back in forth in time to give us Arthur’s history and where they all end up in the post-civilisation America.

It could have gone horribly wrong. With so many different strands and a non-traditional structure, Mandel could so easily have come unstuck. But she takes all those strands and weaves them together as delicately and effortlessly as a seasoned Chanel seamstress. She creates moments that will make you laugh, moments that will terrify (Kirsten’s encounter with the insane Prophet who has taken over a township is not for the faint-hearted) and many more moments that will bring a lump to your throat. If David Mitchell hadn’t published¬†The Bone Clocks, then this would be my outright winner of 2014. As it is,¬†Station Eleven¬†will have to share the podium. I’m sure Mandel won’t mind :-).

Cannonball Read 6, Book 56: Gulp: Adventures On The Alimentary Canal by Mary Roach

19008318Even the most casual and brief visitor to my blog will note that I am not much of a non-fiction reader. But this was greeted with rapture by lots of reviewers and by a couple of people over on Cannonball Read. So when it popped up as a Daily Deal on Kindle, I thought “why not?” and my goodness am I ever glad I did because I LOVED it.

Roach clearly has an intense fascination with the human body. She’s published books about dead bodies and copulating bodies (both of which I now plan to read). Gulp¬†takes us inside the body, covering everything that we do to our food, how and why. It also segues into pets digestion, by way of an intensely glorious chapter about pet food science and tasters. Yes, tasters. One of the reasons this book is such a joy to read is Roach’s style, humour and the fact that she is unabashed about her curiosity. Also, she never once patronises the people she meets for her research.

So the book structure takes us on a journey from mouth hole to bunghole and every possible stop in between. It’s arranged in biological order, you could say. Along the way, Roach takes as much delight in autopsy photos of giant colons as she does in debunking the Fletcherism fad. I learned a lot of stuff I never knew or really even thought about before and I thoroughly enjoyed doing it. Roach made me laugh out loud many times. Her wit is the only thing about this book that is even remotely dry.

There are many tidbits you can drop into party conversation if you wanted to (Elvis died of constipation, for example). Roach is many things, and thorough is definitely one of them. She watches (though does not partake in) fecal transplants while at the other end of the spectrum, she tries out to be an olive oil taster, which involves consuming and rating WAY too much of the stuff. That’s another huge plus in Roach’s favour. She isn’t afraid to get her hands dirty. Having read the book, I have no doubt that if she became ill with something that could be cured with a transplant of someone else’s liquidised poop, she’d not even blink.

If you have any kind of interest in the human body and its various functions, you should definitely read this. And if you haven’t, you should read it anyway. Roach is a warm writer and a good laugh. You’ll enjoy your time with her. To quote Joey Tribbiani, you’ll be lovin’ and learnin’ at the same time.

Cannonball Read 6, Book 55: Revival by Stephen King

19196719Yes, I know I know. I should just re-title my blog “I Read A Lot of Stephen King”. But he’s been my go-to author for nearly thirty years and given that he had a brush with death fifteen years ago now and toyed with retiring twelve years ago, so any new book from him is a cause for me to skip about and click my heels. That this is his second book of the year and there is another on the horizon already for next year, well, hallelujah. And I have said over and over again that a really satisfying ending is the one thing that eludes his work more often than not, so the jacket copy promising that¬†Revival¬†has “the most terrifying conclusion King has ever written” inspires excitement and nervousness from me, in roughly equal measure.

Our hero is Jamie Morton, a vaguely successful musician and an incredibly successful heroin addict (no surprise there). Casting a shadow over his entire life is Reverend Jacobs. When Jamie is a young boy, the Jacobs family move in down the road and the Rev has a profound effect on Jamie and his family. Rev Jacobs is obsessed with electricity and experimenting with its restorative uses. Everything is ticking along nicely until a tragedy strikes the Reverend and he then ends up being fired from his job after giving what comes to be known as “The Terrible Sermon” (and it’s one of the most brilliantly awful parts of the book when it happens).

The Reverend vanishes but re-appears at key moments of Jamie’s life, having re-invented himself as a carny show healer who would make Jim Bakker look restrained and unimaginative. His experiments with electricity sees him performing real healings, with some fake ones thrown in for show. He has harnessed electricity to cure things conventional medicine cannot. He cures Jamie of his heroin addiction, for starters. There are side effects though, unpleasant ones and never will the banality of the phrase “something happened” seem so gruesome.

As they both grow older, Jacobs obsession with electricity grows exponentially, his grip on sanity loosens and his claws sink ever deeper into Jamie’s life as we head towards the apparently terrifying conclusion. And I am going to give nothing further away about the story or its conclusion than that. Whether or not you find it terrifying is up to you, but what I will say is that it seems King has found his showdown mojo. His latest two or three works have all had final chapters which range from chilling to heartbreaking, but are all richly satisfying. And this is most definitely satisfying. And after the grand finale, there’s an epilogue to really hammer things home. Up until the final portion, when King goes full on Frankenstein’s Monster, this is an intriguing and well crafted novel. Thereafter, it’s a demonstration of how lame¬†American Horror Story¬†really is and an abject lesson in how reading something can scare you into sleeping with the lights on.

Cannonball Read 6, Book 54: It by Stephen King

644173I have long held the opinion that¬†It¬†is King’s masterpiece. I read it when I was 13 years old and then read it many more times during my teens. But it occurred to me recently that I haven’t read it for a long time. Then I gave it some more thought and realised it’s getting on for twenty years since I read it. Twenty motherfucking years. This caused me to think a) fucking hell I am getting old and b) I wonder if it holds up, twenty years later?

Even more frightening, it’s closing in on thirty years since the book was first published. And even more frightening than THAT, it’s the 13th book in his career. King has been publishing books for most of my life. Sweet mother of God. ANYWAY, so¬†It.¬†As we all know, it tells the story of Derry, Maine and the dark, malevolent, child murdering force which inhabits it. Every 27 or so years, it re-surfaces and murders some children to feed itself, then hibernates for a generation. That is until seven teenagers, The Losers Club, are drawn together and try to fight It in 1958. They win, but swear a pact that if It comes back, they’ll come back and fight It to the death.

Naturally, they didn’t defeat It (if they did, it would be a much shorter book than the 1376 pages of the current paperback edition). The book jumps between 1958 and 1985 and the action is interspersed with chapters detailing the fictional history of Derry. Several of my friends are huge fans and dislike him being called a horror writer. One of them believes he is our generation’s Tom Sawyer, another goes even further and calls him our generation’s Charles Dickens. This book is probably the best example to show what a phenomenal storyteller King is. Juggling seven main characters is no easy feat, and they are each fully realised and fleshed out. They’re also relatable (as a fat kid (and adult, let’s face it), I was always Team Hanscom). While the psychotic bully of Henry Bowers might be a little broadly drawn, he is more plot device than anything else.

But let’s not lose focus of the fact that King IS a horror writer too. And he knows more about frightening his Constant Readers than anyone. And It¬†is terrifying, no doubt about it. It’s the biggest failing of every circus in the world that they think clowns are fun and funny. No, fuck off, they’re terrifying and nobody likes them. King knows this and so It’s most common form is Pennywise The Clown. It can take the form of your deepest fears and turn them into a terrifying reality. The sequences where the children are terrorised and murdered found their way into my dreams when I first read the book, and not in a fun way. I can pay the book no higher compliment.

However, there is one thing that has evaded King many MANY times over his career (and has been mentioned before) and that is the properly satisfying conclusion. This is where I remember¬†It¬†falling down when I read it in my teens, and it still falls down and falls down hard when I re-read it as a nearly 40 year old. While I appreciate King’s “pull no punches” attitude to killing off characters, the final showdown and aftermath just feels lame, especially when everything that came before has set the bar so very high. It’s a fumble, but a fumble I can forgive, oddly enough. The less said about the teenage gang bang as a way to escape from the sewers in the 1958 sequence though, the better.

So, is it a great book? Yes. Is it flawed? Oh yes. Does it still hold up? Most definitely.

 

Cannonball Read 6, Book 53: The Girl On The Train by Paula Hawkins

21840310This should have been my Cannonball. One of the joys of becoming a Cannonball Reader and starting this blog has been occasionally managing to get my hands on an advance reading copy of an upcoming novel. And this one, which is published mid January 2015, is a real treat. It’s being touted as the next¬†Gone Girl¬†and the first must read book of 2015. SJ Watson, who made a huge splash with his own debut novel a few years back, is quoted on the cover. And for once, the book lives up to the hype.

 

To everyone else in this carriage I must look normal; I’m doing exactly what they do: commuting to work, making appointments, ticking things off lists.

Just goes to show.”

Rachel takes the same train to work every day. And every day, the train stops at a red signal where Rachel can see into the house of a seemingly perfect couple. She observes them doing nauseating Perfect Couple things and she creates names and narratives for them in her mind. Then one day, Rachel sees something she shouldn’t and when one half of said Perfect Couple is then reported missing, Rachel is pulled into a mystery, one that becomes more dangerous with every turn. And Rachel has secrets of her own….

Hawkins clearly owes a debt to Hitchcock and to Christie with the set up of her debut. And with a central character who can’t recall a pivotal event along with a shady member of the medical profession who may or may not be involved, it also owes a slight debt to SJ Watson. And I was reminded of the long forgotten 80s Jane Fonda film,¬†The Morning After.¬†So that’s a lot of influences and homages, but Hawkins uses all of that as a framework to hang a very identifiable character on. Rachel is wholly three dimensional, deeply flawed, hugely frustrating, but you want her to succeed in finding out what happened to her Perfect Couple as much as you want to smack her upside the head and shout “GET A GRIP, LADY”.

Hawkins has written what can only really be described as an accomplished debut. It pulls you in right from the start and she handles the shift in narrative voices very well. They’re all easily distinguished (and if any reader doesn’t want to knife the awful smug new mother who pops up, then more power to you) and well crafted. I couldn’t put it down and burned through it in a matter of days. I had a couple of issues with the ending. Having set everything up so meticulously, Hawkins does make a bit of a mess when she knocks it all down. But the mess isn’t so awful that you can’t forgive it. It’s more a new puppy peeing on the rug than your awful ex spilling a glass of red wine on your cream carpet.

Essentially, it’s a great book and if you love twisty little thrillers, then 2015 is going to start very well for you.