Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Book Review: Those in Peril by Wilbur Smith

Wilbur Smith is one of my all time favorite authors. I’ve travelled time and again through his novels to central and southern Africa and to ancient Egypt. The Courtneys, the Ballantynes and the magus Taita are some of the most memorable literary heroes and I admit that I have spent many hours of agony and reading joy with them.
     In Those in Peril we don’t meet any of them though. The main protagonists are a couple of seemingly opposite characters that have nothing much in common: Hector Cross who runs a security firm and Hazel Bannock, an ex tennis player and the head of a big oil company.
     Hazel doesn’t like nor trust Hector, despite the fact that her late husband had a very high opinion about his person. Since the latter died she’s being working hard to earn her place in a most competitive world, where men hold all the power, and she’s been doing fine. However, in order to do even better she has to get rid of the heavy shadow that her husband still casts over her whole being and from the past that he created for her. It’s in this past that she considers Hector to belong to. But at the exact moment that she’s getting ready to get rid of him, something happens that turns her plans and her world upside down: her luxurious yacht is taken over by pirates in the open waters east of Somalia and her daughter Cayla who was aboard is taken as a prisoner. Now this seemingly all powerful woman has to all that she can to secure her release. So she leaves the emirate of Abu Zara, where one of her oil fields is based in a rush, and heads for the US where she gets in touch with the FBI and the secret services of her country, and even with the president himself, asking for help. As she’s soon to find out there’s nothing much they can do for her, thus, left with no other option she swallows her ego and half-heartedly calls Hector, the only man who can make things happen. He will start planning a rescue mission right away, a mission however which will take a lot of time to come to be, since the pirates have as their base a semi-independent region of Somalia, where the only laws that apply are the ones dictated by the old sheikh. As the information starts to accumulate and the plans of the mission reach their final stages, Hazel almost unwillingly finds herself forming a close relationship with Hector, and feels her disgust of him turn into something completely different, something she couldn’t think possible to happen ever again. Under the direst circumstances she feels the touch of love.
     This novel can be read as a big adventure, but as a love story as well. The main characters are rich but nonetheless lonely people, who are desperately trying to find something or someone to fill their blanks and bring a touch of happiness into their lives. The action in many scenes is fast paced, sometimes there are torrents of blood and the violence is pretty brutal, but every now and then things slow down and the narration becomes tender and deeply humane. All you need is love, the author seems to say and he’s trying to prove that when there’s that no obstacle is too big for people to overcome. Sometimes they do, but sometimes they don’t. And that is a fact of life.
    I’d say that the strength of this novel lies heavily on its well-crafted heroes, since it’s not only Hector and Hazel who manage to impress us with their psyches, but also -the gun and fist crazy- Irishman Paddy, the Russian superwoman Nastiya, quiet Tariq, as well as the villains. However, I wouldn’t say that this is one of his best novels because despite all the lovemaking and the action something seems to be missing; exactly what I cannot really say. What I can say though is that when I finished reading it I felt like it didn’t reach the high standards set by the author himself in his previous novels. A good read nevertheless.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Book Review: The Dead Kid Detective Agency by Evan Munday

I think that Neil Gaiman’s fans would love The Dead Kid Detective Agency for one reason or another. To begin with a lot of the action takes place in a graveyard, then the main character somehow reminds us of Coraline and Bod and, finally, every now and then the narration becomes dark, without lacking though a sense of humor.
     This is the story of October Schwartz, a thirteen year old girl that moves with her manic-depressive father to the town of Stickville where the latter is hired as a science teacher.
     October is a lonely girl, with a healthy imagination, and pretty sad since her mother passed away ten years before. She’s growing up very much alone since her father seems to be enclosed in a world all of his own, and her only joy comes from reading books. She really loves reading a lot, her favorite author is Stephen King, but she also likes to write. She’s currently, and for quite some time actually, working on her first novel titled Two Knives, One Thousand Demons, even though her muse seems to have abandoned her lately.
     The place she likes the most in the new city is the cemetery, which is conveniently situated very close to her home. She often goes there at night to think, to reminiscence and to read. And all is well, until there comes a time when she sees a transparent figure sliding away into the darkness; and then another. As she’s soon to find out every night the cemetery becomes the playground for the ghosts of five dead children. It’s exactly with these kids, her dead friends, that she’ll found The Dead Kid Detective Agency.
     The first case that they’ll hire themselves to investigate is that of the murder of the French teacher, October’s favorite teacher. The six of them, along with her best (living) friends, Yumi and Stacey, will start on a journey into a world of mystery, full of obstacles and colored with agony, which will make their friendship even stronger, but that will also bring out the best of each and every one of them. October, that lonely soul, will all of a sudden find herself in the epicenter of the attention not only of the people around her, but also of somebody else, who doesn’t seem to have her best interests in mind. Each new day will bring with it a surprise, now and then pleasant, most of the times not, and every night will pave the way to new unrest. And, sooner or later, she’ll also come to realize that everything happens for a reason, and that her unwilling arrival at that place served a purpose after all; to create a new beginning for her life.
     The landscape where the events of this story take place is bleak, but not scary. The author talks in a superb way about death and the traces it leaves behind in its passing, about loneliness, about the imagination, which is sometimes the only thing that can keep us going, but he also takes a good look into the fragile but complicated souls of his young heroes; especially his heroine’s. October seems to be brave but nevertheless frightened, strong but with lots of weaknesses, determined but willing to take a step back when the circumstances demand it of her. She’s a girl of this modern age, though she seems to remind us every now and then of a heroine from times past.
     This is a well-crafted adventure, with a big heart, which can bring much reading joy to young and adult readers alike.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Book Review: The Stranger You Seek by Amanda Kyle Williams

A serial killer, The Stranger You Seek of the title one could say, is on the loose creating chaos and spreading panic over the city of Atlanta; the city where Keye Street, a private detective, lives. Keye used to work for the Behavioral Analysis Unit of the FBI and could have had a bright future in the Bureau if it wasn’t for her drinking, which first led to her losing her job and then her marriage falling apart.
     Now, after being clean for a while, Keye runs her own P.I. firm, and spends her time going after small-time criminals, who somehow didn’t make it to the court for their trials, serving warrants and acting as an investigator for a big law firm. However, no matter how hard she tries to fill her days with work and nothing more than work, so that she’ll have no time to think about the past, she feels that something is really missing from her life. What? Love maybe, but also the chase. She misses chasing the really bad guys; those that provided her with a challenge. Thus, when the murderer called the Wishbone Killer gets to work, Keye is more than happy to help the police as a consultant. What they expect of her, of course, is not to capture the killer, but to create his profile, something that’s not going to prove easy to do. The person behind the murders seems to be highly intelligent and very organized and is not one of those people that leave anything to chance. He does his killings in an almost clinical way, leaving no trace behind, apart of course from his signature, which consists of certain cuts and bruises on the bodies.
     Despite everyone’s efforts, the perp remains free, the bodies keep piling up, and so does the pressure on the authorities. Thus those in power have to find a scapegoat to appease the spirits, even for a little while, and surely no one but Keye could be better for the part. The media, with the help of some of her so-called friends, will start digging into her past and dragging her into the mud, while the police after buying its moment of peace, will hire an ex-colleague of hers, an analyst who now makes a living appearing in trials as an expert witness and a name by showing up in one TV show or another, to offer his valuable input. Keye is sure that he’s not the man for the job, since he seems to have lost his work ethics, but that’s none of her business. However, she has no doubt that things are not the way they look and she’d like to do something about it; but what? Her hands are tight. Besides she has a lot of work to do of her own, so the cops, or rather their bosses, well, they can go to hell. Like it or not though, the case will keep following her, haunting her, since for some reason the killer wants her working on it and will do anything to keep her put.
     While all that happens we also get a chance to take a look at the personal life of the detective; a life that from the very beginning was set on the road to catastrophe, since death seemed to follow her every step. She spends every waking moment living with her personal phantoms and looks to be heading from one dead end to the next. Keye, simply seems to be one of those desperate souls who, however how hard they try, they can never be happy.
      The world that the author creates is bleak, just as bleak as the real world. Some of the subjects that occupy her mind, apart from crime of course are those of homosexuality, of the people that seem unable to fall in love, and of family relations that are kept together by a thin invisible thread, which can at any single moment break and thus break them.
     The Stranger You Seek is a finely crafted novel that could be read not only as a thriller but also as a travel story; a story that traverses the places and the souls of its heroes. A job well done.
     This book comes out in the US on the 30th of August.

Friday, August 19, 2011

The Dagger shortlists announced

This year's shortlists for the Gold Dagger, Ian Flemming's Steel Dagger and John Creasey's New Blood Dagger have been announced by The Crime Writers Association today, along with the ITV3 People's Bestseller Dagger shortlist. The nominated books in each category are:

CWA Gold Dagger shortlist:

Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter by Tom Franklin
Snowdrops by AD Miller
The End of the Wasp Season by Denise Mina
The Lock Artist by Steve Hamilton

CWA Ian Fleming Steel Dagger shortlist:

Before I Go To Sleep by SJ Watson
Cold Rain by Craig Smith
The Good Son by Michael Gruber
The Lock Artist by Steve Hamilton

CWA John Creasey (new blood) Dagger:

Before I Go To Sleep by SJ Watson
Kiss Me Quick by Danny Miller
The Dead Woman of Juárez by Sam Hawken
The Dogs of Rome by Conor Fitzgerald

ITV3 People's Bestseller Dagger:

The Sixth Man by David Baldacci. Read my review here
Worth Dying For by Lee Child. Read my review here
Good As Dead by Mark Billingham
Dead Man's Grip by Peter James
Before the Poison by Peter Robinson

Book Review: Death and the Penguin by Andrey Kurkov

This is one of those special novels that one just feels happy to read. The truth is that I didn’t even know the name of its author, until I watched a show about him on Greek TV, and that was it; I’ve decided to dive into his world and, according to those who know best, there’s no better way to start than by reading Death and the Penguin.
     This story could be described as a kind of satire. It’s not laugh-out-loud funny, but funny it is, even though it describes a world more or less bleak, where the most outrageous and serious things can happen; one after the other, or at once.
     It all begins when Viktor, a short-story writer and journalist, who has a penguin as a pet, is offered a job to write obituaries for a newspaper. He never thought he could do that, but since the money is good he decides to give it a go. Besides, he can work from home and that’s a bonus.
     Before too long he comes to realize that he’s really good in this field of writing and his boss seems to be more than happy with his work. So, as the time passes, more and more requests will start coming his way, and along with them more money. And thus all his financial worries will vanish. However, some day, by pure chance, he’ll find out that all those people whose obituaries he’s asked to write, die shortly afterwards, and most of them under suspicious circumstances. Something stinks and he knows it, but he’s not inclined to dig deeper into this matter, since he can sense danger all around him.
     In the meantime he, who until now used to be very lonely, spending more or less all his time in his house in Kiev, starts to make some new friends: Militiaman Sergey, little Sonya, who suddenly invaded his home and his heart, and her nanny, Nina, all of sudden come to claim a part in his life. So in a building that used to house only him and Misha the penguin, now come to live two, or at times three, more people. What the hell is going on; one would ask, but the truth is that in this story anything goes. And that’s why, soon enough we’ll see Misha becoming a kind of minor celebrity himself, as some rich people more than happy to pay a lot of money in order to have him present at one funeral or another, will start hiring him. However, fame, as usual, brings trouble, and Misha will one day find himself in the sights of a man, who has some dark plans for him.
     The author has created a unique crime novel parody, in which black humor sets the pace, and where the most unlikely things are likely to happen; things even stranger than the ones we’ve already mentioned. So, somebody breaks into Viktor’s house and instead of stealing leaves some money for him on the table, a man dies with his last request being of his house to be burned, and a young attractive woman falls in love with a much older and graceless man, but not for his money.
     Viktor is not only an animal lover and a philanthropist, but also a kind of everyday philosopher and a poet. So, he considers his job “death as planned economy”, while he thinks that the best season for one to write obituaries is, “autumn, season of dying nature, of melancholy, of seeking the past”. Finally, somewhere he claims that, “the pure and sinless (people) did not exist, or else died unnoticed and with no obituary”.
     This novel was so successful that Kurkov decided to write a sequel, Penguin Lost, which we will review for you next month. In the meantime read this interview he gave to the Guardian.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Book Review: The Preacher by Camilla Läckberg

A boy, in The Preacher, at the crack of dawn, discovers the naked corpse of a young woman in the otherwise serene Swedish seaside town of Fjällbacka, and rushes to inform his parents. As expected they call the police, and since because of the holiday period the local precinct is undermanned, the chief calls in detective Patrik Hedström, who’s the only cop on leave readily available. He, somewhat reluctantly, since his girlfriend is eight months pregnant, agrees to visit the scene of the crime, but once he arrives there he comes to realize that he did the right thing, since apart of the body of the woman they also recover the bones of two other females who presumably died many years before.
     As the mystery deepens and the plot thickens, and some ghosts from the distant past come out in the open again, we spend some time watching Patrik’s girlfriend Erica, a usually overactive soul as she tries to come to terms with her boredom, but also survive the visits of some of her relatives that only remember that she exists when the holiday season arrives. At the same time we take a look at the everyday lives of the members of an unusual family who, one way or another, have a lot of secrets to hide and are not in good terms with the police, or with anyone at that.
     Patrik, despite his constant worrying about Erica, has to work hard and fast to get results, because there’s pressure on the cops from everyone; from the local politicians and the media, as well as from the shop owners who see their businesses suffer big losses, as the tourists start to leave the town in a rush. But no matter how much he wants to solve the case as fast as he can, luck will not to prove to be on his side, as a young woman will soon disappear from the face of the earth, leaving behind no trace, and everyone will think that the killer is behind the new crime as well. As one would expect tensions rise and the police has a lot of explaining to do. Patrik, keeping a cool head, couldn’t care less about the press and the politicians but he knows that things have to start moving faster. And they do. And it’s exactly then when he comes to realize that these two crimes are somehow connected with some others which took place twenty five years ago. But, how could that be? The prime suspect for those incidents is dead, so it really doesn’t make any sense. Or does it?
     Through the thoughts and the memories of her heroes, and through official and unofficial documents, the author takes us back in time and brings to light some appalling secrets, she talks about religious zealotry and the deceits that go with it, and she points out the fact that some people are simply too weak to escape their past and come to terms with modern day reality.
     This is not so much an action packed thriller as a mystery story. The author simply takes a dive into the minds and souls of these characters in order to present them as they really are; weak, and wicked and full of faults. Everything happens for a reason, she seems to think, and as the story progresses she proves just that, by bringing together the various threads and leading the reader to the grand finale.
     However, she’s not only interested in crime and the darkness of the psyche, but also in love; especially the forbidden love, but also the love which can only reach its peak by following many different and hard travelled paths. Everything is fair in love and war, the saying goes, and the good author seems to agree with that. But she also seems to think that even in love there are some gray areas.
     The Preacher is yet another great crime novel by a Swedish writer.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Book Review: Worth Dying For by Lee Child

Worth Dying For is the first novel by Lee Child that I’ve come to read, but I wouldn’t dare say that this is much of a surprise since there are so many good crime novels out there that no matter how hard you try you’ll never get to read them all.
     Anyway, the author, whose 61 Hours has been awarded the best crime novel of the year prize recently in the U.K., for one more time delivers to the fans an adventure by his famous hero, Jack Reacher. The action takes place during a two day period in an unnamed town in Nebraska. That’s exactly where Reacher arrives on a cold winter night and, as if from a habit, right away he gets involved in a case that has nothing to do with him. He just sits in the bar of the motel, doing nothing in particular, when the guy that sits next to him, a drunk who turns out to be the local doctor, receives a phone call from a woman called Eleanor Dunkan who says that her nose is broken. He refuses to pay her a visit because, to start with, he is bored, but also because he knows that things like that happen to Eleanor all the time, since her husband Seth is known to have a short temper and a long arm. Reacher though, who has no clue about what is really going on, persuades him to go and see the woman. He even offers to drive him there. So, off they go. And thus the adventure begins, as Reacher will soon find himself in the center of a local clan cyclone. The Dunkans, as he’s to find out are the absolute rulers in the region. They are the law. Everyone is afraid of them and they all detest them, but no one ever dares question their authority. Well, that’s about to change as Reacher will attack Seth and break his nose, provoking the wrath of his immediate family, with the exception of the wife of course.
     While the Dunkans will start making plans to take their revenge on him, he will little by little come to learn all there is to know about the infamous family; or just about all, since there’s a secret that no one apart from them knows. Reacher, who was just planning to pass through the town, will decide to stay for a little longer. And the longer he stays the worse the things get for the Dunkans, as he starts taking out one after the other their cronies, and thus making them feel all the more vulnerable, and so breathing hope into the lives of the poor people. The vagabonds sooner or later will come to realize that the more they deal with Reacher, the more casualties they’ll have to suffer. So left with no other option they ask for the help of their Italian brothers in crime, which doesn’t really seem to be such a good idea since a few Lebanese and Iranian guys will decide to drop in as well. What a fine mess! And it’s exactly this mess that Reacher will have to sort out with the help of a handful of people. Maybe taking a break in that town was not such a good idea after all.
     If Reacher reminds me of someone I’d say that would be Bruce Willis in the Die Hard movies. Reacher though is a real lone wolf, who doesn’t seem interested in creating tide bonds with people, no matter how much he cares for them. He only cares about the road. The road is his destination he seems to think, even though there’s a different image in his mind’s eye.
     This is a brilliant thriller, written in an almost cinematic way, which will surely offer great reading pleasure to all the fans of the genre.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Book Review: The Keeper of Lost Causes by Jussi Adler-Olsen

The protagonist in The Keeper of Lost Causes, by the greatly acclaimed Danish writer Jussi Adler-Olsen, is detective Carl Mörch. This is one of those characters that once a reader meets he can never forget, because of how they really are: eccentric, moody, peculiar, short-tempered, with issues with authority etc; but on the other hand: faithful to friends, stubborn, all-heartily devoted to what they do, if they are not in a lazy bastardly mood that is.
     And it’s exactly like that, like a lazy annoying bastard, with serious psychological problems that Carl first appears in the eyes of the reader. He’s just come back to work, after surviving a lethal trap with just a wound on the head, while a couple of his buddies haven’t been so lucky. The fist one died on the spot, while the second is hardly alive and is kept at a catatonic state in the hospital. Carl feels responsible in a big way for what happened. If he had drawn out his gun fast enough, if he got a shot on their assailant, things would be different. But he didn’t, and now he has to live with the consequences of his actions; consequences that turn out to be quite hard to bear, since right now he seems to walk through the paths of everyday life utterly alone, something that doesn’t really help him escape his dark thoughts.
     Carl is one of those guys who can more easily create enemies than friends. The people who really like him are just a few, and they get less by the minute, and so it comes as no surprise that some people in the Copenhagen police are looking hard to find a way to get rid of him. They cannot really fire him, since he’s considered a hero, so with no other options left, they give him a promotion and name him head of a new police unit, just created for political reasons, which will have as its sole mission to investigate cold cases. He accepts this so-called promotion half-heartily and in a kind of resigned way, as he thinks that, well, he could just as well spend his time doing absolutely nothing. However, as time goes by, and the cases start piling in his newly created underground office, his mood begins to change. Without allowing his bosses a moment of peace, since he really loves to speak his mind out and stick it in their noses, he slowly starts to find his way into this new world they created for him. And, as it turns out, it’s a more exciting world than he expected. The first case that he decides to re-open, with the valuable help of his idiosyncratic assistant Hafez el-Assad, is the one concerning the suicide of a young and beautiful politician, Merete Lynggaard, from five years before. As a high profile case it attracted a lot of attention both from the police and the media back then, however sooner or later it had to be dropped, since her body has never been discovered. At the time there was talk about her being murdered and Carl thinks that that just might be true. Thus he decides to run an investigation of his own, loosely based on the findings of his colleagues. The more he investigates the more he comes to realize that the job done back in the day was less than perfect; the morons did almost everything wrong. Now it’s up to him to get things right at last. In the meantime, the very same people who blew up that case, are now investigating a murder, and he’s the one, the outsider, who points them to the direction they have to follow, while at the same time he’s also trying to cope with the demands of his estranged wife, a hugely untalented woman who considers herself a painter, and her disobedient son, whom she neglected to take with her when she left.
     This is an extremely well written novel, with a great plot and some amazingly crafted characters, which deserves to be a read by anyone who considers himself a crime fiction fan. The author has created some unique heroes: people with as sense of humor and people who love to hate; with psychological issues and outstanding endurance; with dark secrets and awful unuttered truths; people who struggle to live and who fight to die; everyday people, with their weaknesses and their flaws, with their problems and their unavoidable pettiness.
     The book comes out in the U.S. on the 23rd of August

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Book Review: Call Me Princess by Sara Blaedel

Call Me Princess is an astonishing novel is preoccupied with two of the most important issues of our times: online dating and sexual assaults against women.
     The facts in this case take place in modern day Copenhagen. Detective Louise Rick is getting ready to go home after a hard day’s work, when she receives a call that puts her plans for a nice evening with her companion into hold. A woman lies in a hospital bed injured after she’s been battered and raped and she’s willing to testify about who was the person behind the attack. Things though do not turn out to be so simple, since the unfortunate woman, cannot really remember the face of the man, while the name he has given her is not his real one either. Suzanne, who lives in an apartment, just under her own mother’s home, seems to be at a loss. The shock she’s going through is quite severe and she wants badly to get over it and move on with her life, but at the same time she knows that if she doesn’t see that man behind bars she will never have peace of mind again. She also knows that now is the time to move away from her mother and the negative influence she has on her being. Rick, who from the very first moment monitors Suzanne closely, soon comes to realize that the mother is the one who inflicts the most pain on the woman’s psyche, and is determined to help her out any way she can.
     However, while these events take place, the perpetrator hits again, and this time the things get completely out of control, as his new victim, a woman called Christina ends up dead. As the two parallel cases begin to unfold the investigators soon find out that both of the women met their future rapist in some internet dating websites. In a world where people seem to be withdrawing into their own selves all the time and becoming more and more lonely, websites like that are supposed to offer a way out for those seeking their life’s partner, but at the same time they give the opportunity to some twisted souls to make true some of their most danger fantasies; and it’s exactly that world that Rick needs to infiltrate in order to achieve her goals.
     The author is not only preoccupied with the crimes but also with the personal life of her heroine. Rick seems to be a solid, strong woman; however she’s full of small weaknesses and big insecurities. For the past few months she’s been living with her boyfriend, a fact that she likes and dislikes at the same time; every now and then she thinks that she should at last have a kid, especially when she’s hanging out with her best friend’s son, but the idea also scares the shit out of her; and finally she’s trying to have some stability in her life, some set rules and practices, but of course that’s impossible since she’s married with the job. An all and all complex character, hers is.
     The world that Blaedel presents to as is somehow bleak, but not worst from our everyday reality. Right here, in these pages, we meet people trapped in their personal little boxes, sinful souls, women dressed in melancholy. Every single one of them seems to be looking for something to hold on to; either that is a brief love affair, a good old family or just a relationship. Internet for some of them is the solution, for some others the problem. But loneliness remains.
     This is a novel that talks about crime, but also about the undercurrents of society, and as such it can be read by anyone, no matter if he’s a fan of the genre or not. Where are we heading? That seems to be the question in the author’s mind, but the answer is not to be found anywhere in the text, since it lies deep within each one of us.
     Call me Princess is a great story about modern day life, written by a great writer, who seems to be able to look with a clear eye in the darkness that lurks in the heart of man. Well done.
     This book comes out in America next week.Watch a video about the book below:

Monday, August 8, 2011

Book Review: Smokin’ Seventeen by Janet Evanovich

Smokin' Seventeen is one of those books that one enjoys not so much for their plot and action, but for their humor. The author seems to be interested more than anything to entertain the reader and she does that in a splendid way, as she leads her main character Stephanie Plum from one hilarious situation to the next.
     Stephanie works as a bail bonds officer, or rather enforcer, in her cousin Vinnie’s office in Trenton, New Jersey. Her job is to arrest those whom Vinnie bailed out of jail, but somehow failed to meet their obligations. Even though she sounds a bit angry and whiny every now and then, it’s more than obvious that her job suits her fine. She just loves the action, the nonstop movement, the fact that things over there never get boring. But there comes one day, when they turn out to be a little more than interesting, as just behind the “bus” where the business office is housed, just for a little while, the corpse of a member of mafia is discovered. And that will be only the fist, as another few are to follow. These facts will somehow convince Stephanie that probably she’s a future target as well; but, why? That is the question.
     As expected the answer will not come easily. Besides the woman has absolutely no free time to look for it, since she’s busy as ever, as she has two arrests to make. The first one has to do with an old man, who’s more than convinced that he’s a vampire, and is scared to death of daylight, and the second of a circus bear that was given to Vinnie as a guarantee, and which has somehow managed to escape.
     And as if that’s not enough Stephanie has to cope with a few things in her personal, or rather love life as well, as she thinks that it’s just about time for her to decide, which of the men in her life she would like to take as her permanent partner: Will it be Morelli, the cop, her official lover, or Ranger, the private security guy with whom she feels better when in bed? Or how about following her dear mother’s advice and pursue a new relationship with an attractive man from the past, an ex athlete and seemingly great guy, who’s pretty hot as well, and apparently knows his way around the kitchen?
     As one can surely understand her life is nothing but easy. However she manages to live it day by day and handle any problems the moment they arise. The thing is though that during the last few days everything seems to be going wrong for her. Could it be that Morelli’s grandma’s curse really worked or should she just blame herself for what is happening? This question will follow her every step from the very beginning to the inescapable end of this story, and as long as the answer eludes her she’ll never manage to get some peace of mind.
     However difficult life seems to be for her though, its depiction is more than enjoyable to the reader, since while reading about it he or she’ll come face to face with some hilarious characters, like her sidekick Lula, who can eat a mountain for breakfast, while some of the scenes are simply laugh-out-loud funny. As for the killer, one just has to put two and two together to discover who it is, but that doesn’t matter much, because by then, he or she will simply enjoy a beautiful ride and come out of it with a big smile.

Friday, August 5, 2011

Book Review : Pigeon English by Stephen Kelman

If someone asked me to describe this book in just a few words I’d say that Pigeon English is this year’s Room. And that because the narrator is a young boy here as well, but not one kept in captivity, but an immigrant that arrives to London from Ghana with his mother and older sister, and having to live in a housing project, which feels like a ghetto, is trying hard to adapt to this new reality.
     Harrison Opuku is a boy gifted with lots of imagination and love for the others as well. A kid, like the kids used to be, before the digital era arrived with all its side effects: hard and tender at the same time, poor but satisfied with his life, a big dreamer, but above all someone who cares about other people. The hard facts of his life so far may have made him a bit more mature than other kids of his age, but the cruelty of this world did not manage to take away his goodness. If he becomes strong headed and hard every now and then he does so in order to survive, and he’d never try to bring harm to anyone; at least not intentionally. Harri, if nothing else is someone who knows how to love. He loves his mother, who’s trying quite unsuccessfully to put the fear of god, or rather of her, into him, to give him discipline; he loves his sister, Lydia, who every now and then seems to be somehow losing it; but most of all he loves Agnes, his little sister who’s stayed behind in Ghana, and who’s going through a serious illness. And he sure loves his dad, and misses him, since he was left behind too.
     Harri, however, doesn’t only care about playing all day or just for his family. He also cares about the people around him, especially if something bad comes their way; anything bad. And that’s exactly what happened to a boy his age, who was killed for his lunch. Harri, having his friend Dean by his side, is determined to find out who the killer is, since the police doesn’t really seem to care that much, and bring him to justice. Of course it will not prove so easy to accomplish this mission, due to the lack of experience and founding. However, using tricks they pick up from CSI and their very special binoculars, the boys will set out on a journey of discovery. During it Harri will come to learn and understand more about the country that’s now his home and will also start creating new words, while throwing in a few aphorisms for good measure, every now and then as well: “I do know the shape of a mother’s grief”, “Grown-ups love sad news, it gives them something special to pray for”, “Laughing is the best way to make them admire you”, “That’s why people wave to each other, because it makes them belong”. Wearing his new shoes, which are definitely Bo-styles, he’ll also come to realize that he’s the best runner at school and that will prove handy in a number of occasions.
     The narration though, even it has at its epicenter Harri’s everyday life, is also used as a tool to criticize the modern English society. A society where crime became a way of life for many kids, where the people living in the poor areas feel and are excluded from the equal opportunities that everyone talks about but no one is working hard enough to establish, and where the authorities do not do too much to stop things that are considered disgraceful when happening in the third-world countries, from taking place on their own turf.
     Kelman seems to have taken over the body and the mind of his narrator, so his voice sounds more than convincing. Harri is an eleven year old kid and he sounds exactly like that. He may have been through a lot already, but his soul remains pure, childish; but also kind of sly and curious.
     This is a great novel about growing up and coming to terms with the world around you, and is highly recommended to anyone who’s interested in good literature.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Book Review: The Magician King by Lev Grossman

This is the sequel to The Magicians, a bestselling novel that came out a couple of years ago to much critical acclaim.
     In The Magician King we find the protagonists of the first novel in the land of Fillory, which they now rule. Eliot, Quentin, Julia and Janet are the kings and queens of that magical place, with the first holding the post of the High King. Since the day they settled there they spend their days in idle tranquility, without many, or any rather, ups and downs, and all over their realm there’s peace. However, as they are soon to find out, that peace is fragile, and if they do not act promptly, as a cranky seer advices them to, it will be shred to pieces, and catastrophe and death will ensue.
     The four of them, at the beginning, will not take that prophecy too seriously, because, well, who would really believe the bleak ramblings of a talking animal, but time will prove them wrong. Before that though, Quentin, as if suddenly awoken from a beautiful dream, will come to realize how boring his life has become, and so he’ll set on a seemingly not that important quest; he’ll sail to a far away island in order to receive the taxes ought to the kingdom. But in order to do that there are some other things he has to take care of first. To start with he has to find the perfect ship and then the best warrior there is to take along as his bodyguard. Later rather than sooner he gets ready and he sails away, in the company of some fearless sailors, the said bodyguard, a young cartographer and Julia, the most accomplished of the magician-rulers of the land.
     What though starts as a simple journey ends up as a big adventure. An adventure that will lead our heroes first to their destination and from there onwards to Chesterton, Massachusetts, Quentin’s birthplace, and after that to Venice, where they’ll meet Josh an old friend of his, and a strange girl called Poppy. The city of the filthy waters and the endless canals, where they’ll also meet a dragon, won’t be but a simple stop in their adventurous journey, as soon they’ll return for a brief spell to Fillory, before setting off again for the Neitherlands, which seems to have fallen victim to the wrath of the gods. Their quest will one day lead them even to the underworld, but until that happens they will go through a lot of troubles; troubles which will finally open their eyes to the truth and make them realize that the animal’s prophecy is about to come true. Unless… Unless they discover the seven golden keys that can save their world from the coming doom.
     As these things take place in the present time, the author gives us in a parallel narration the back-story of Julia, a now almost all-powerful witch, who in the past though failed to pass the exams and thus study in the same school her friends did. And a sad story it is. Her life until reaching a unique school in France and the utopia of Fillory has been full of hardship and pain, violence and disappointment. What we read makes us better comprehend her complex character and understand her cold manners; her unwillingness to smile.
     Grossman does not hesitate to talk about sex and rape in a language that at some points can be described as harsh, but nevertheless, necessary. These are just (or not just, ok) couple of facts of everyday life, he seems to think, and as such they deserve to be explored; especially the impact they can have on one’s psyche.
     He also doesn’t hesitate to pay respects to some other authors and books, or even legends, so here and there we read about the exploits of Merlin and Harry Potter, about The Chronicles of Narnia and even Shakespeare (one of the characters is called Failstaff).
     The Magician King is a great fantasy novel, which will surely offer much joy to the friends of the genre. If I can judge by its ending, I’d say that there’s more to come in these series, and I for one look forward to it.
     This one comes out in the U.S. next week.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Book Review: Bad Intentions by Karin Fossum

If you got tired of the fast paced American thrillers and the British mysteries, of the noir novels of the European south and even of the Man himself, Stieg Larsson, and you seek something different as far as crime fiction is concerned, then you’d better take a look at the work of Karin Fossum. Her novels have been translated in 25 languages so far and according to the press in the English speaking world, she’s "The Norwegian queen of crime."
     I must say that Fossum writes unlike any other crime author I’ve read so far. The mystery in Bad Intentions doesn’t seem so important to her, she hardly pays any attention to it. And that’s exactly why she kind of points out straight from the start how things are going to end up. However, by the time that happens, she embarks on a journey into the souls of her characters and the dark that lies within them, and through the dialogues she tries to share with the reader some philosophies of life. And finally, she points out that any given fact, even a simple, though tragic accident can change somebody’s life for good and, if he’s weak enough, even shred it to pieces.
     It all begins when three friends travel to the Dead Water Lake for the weekend. One of them, Jon, is on leave from a psychiatric facility where he’s been treated for depression. As it looks, a few months back, something happened, which made him lose his will for life; but exactly what we’re not to discover really soon. We’ll find out however that the three of them share a terrible secret. And it’s exactly that secret that led Jon initially to depression and after that to suicide; because yes, Jon will die. He’ll fall from the boat they are riding into the deep waters of the lake and simply vanish, right in front of his friends’ eyes. One of them, Reilly, will want to try and save him, while the other, Axel, will stop him from doing so, because he’s sure that there’s nothing he can do about it; the waters are deep and dangerous and if he dives in he’ll end up drowning himself, he says. So, with no other option available, they return to their cabin, and try to make up the story that they will tell the cops the next day in the morning, when they’ll call them. Axel seems to be on top of the situation, while Reilly is at a loss. He’s so badly shaken that if he doesn’t pull himself together they’ll blow their cover. Things though will go fine after all, as when they meet the cops, inspector Konrad Sejer and his partner Jacob Skarre, they’ll manage to stick to their story. But even if they sound truthful, Sejer has doubts about their sincerity. Something smells fishy to him and he’s determined to find out what.
     As time goes by nothing changes for Axel, who’s confident as ever in everything he does, but the same thing cannot be said about Reilly, who seeks refuge in the words of the Koran, which he’s started studying at just about the same time as Jon’s life took the turn for the worse. He and Axel continue to meet very often and usually their discussions have to do with just one subject: the death of their friend. Every now and then though they talk about their respective philosophies of life and that’s exactly when their differences come to light. They both meditate deeply about life and they both like to shoot aphorisms to make a point. “Imagine if people always told the truth, it wouldn’t work. Society would fall apart”. “If freedom is a torment, then it’s not worth much”. “How quickly it can change, the life we think has been marked out for us”. “Every life is unique and so is every death”. “Better starve free than be a fat slave” (old proverb).
     The dialogues cover a quite big part of the book; dialogues between friends, between cops, between mothers. Every single one of them seems to carry his or her own ghost. Some of them know to cope with it and some don’t.
     In the end the solution to the riddle concerning Jon’s death, will be provided by life itself, by nature, as one more body will appear on the surface of a different lake, and then the cops will only have to put two and two together to set things straight.
     This is fine novel that can be easily read and enjoyed by every fan of fiction; crime or otherwise.
     It comes out in the USA next week