Tuesday, 24 February 2009

All the Colours of Darkness

by Peter Robinson
Inspector Alan Banks is in love and spends all his free time in London with Sophia. He is very reluctant to give up any of their time together.

Annie Cabbot is equally reluctant to disturb him when he is with his new girlfriend. But when an apparent suicide leads to the discovery of a murder in the residential area of the rich and influential she is ordered to call him back to Eastvale.

At first Banks is annoyed at having to give up his vacation and considers the case an open and shut, but he is soon drawn into the investigation. He suspects that there is more to the case than meets the eye and can't stop pursuing the truth. The question is what his inability to let go of the case will cost him.

Peter Robinson's books are always well written and constructed. I am attached to Alan Banks and Annie Cabbot and am following their development with great interest.

Robinson never repeats himself when it comes to the intrigues of his books, and this too is ingeniously plotted even if it has certain elements that I personally am not so fond of.

And maybe it is his focus on these types of elements that causes this book not to end up on my Top Robinson Books-list. I recommend this book to everyone who like me is a faithful Robinson-reader, but for someone who has yet to read anything by Peter Robinson I would rather recommend for example In a Dry Season.

Sunday, 15 February 2009

Oscar Wilde and the Ring of Death

US title: Oscar Wilde and a Game Called Murder
by Gyles Brandreth
In 1892 Oscar Wilde is at the top of his fame, his play Lady Windermere's Fan is a success and he is celebrated wherever he goes. Wilde regularly gathers what he calls the Socrates' club at Cadogan Hotel in London. This the evening of May 1st the company consists of Oscar himself and six of his friends. His friend has each in turn invited one person putting the total of the company to 14 persons. Several of the celebrities of this time can be found within this group.

At this meeting Oscar initiates a game he calls Murder. Each one in the party has to anonymously write down the name of someone they would like to murder if there were no risk of getting caught on a piece of paper. The task of the group is then to find out who put which name and why. As the names from the notes are read out and the names of some of the members in the group are listed the game does not seem so much fun anymore. The party breaks up with the participants all trying to convince it other that it was - after all - only a game.

But already the next day the person whose name was first listed dies suddenly. When more people on the list die Oscar Wilde has to apply his sharp mind to finding out who has turned his game into a sinister reality.

I noticed this book in a bookstore in Copenhagen thanks to its beautiful cover. When I realised it was a crime novel with Oscar Wilde as the lead character it became irressistable.

And this is an amazing book that cleverly mixes real people with ficticious characters, real time events with ficticious events - everything located in Wilde's London. Many of the famous quotations of Oscar Wilde's find a natural place in the text as well as statements by other famous people from the time. The book is also written in a lovely language.

Wilde is also very well suited as a crime investigator. He was friends with Arthur Conan Doyle - who also has a role in this book - and many claims he was the model for Sherlock Holmes' brother Mycroft. He is observant, has an eye for details, imaginative but also logical and analytical.

I believe you can take a lot of pleasure from this book without knowing too much about Oscar Wilde and his friends, but some statements and passages takes on a deeper meaning and are more fun if you do. Among other things Wilde mentions regarding someone who has been buried at the Père-Lachaise cemetery how "that's not much of an achievement, they will accept anyone there". It is in Père-Lachaise you can since 1908 find Wilde's own grave.

The cast of characters is fascinating; I know a little about some and want to know more about them all;
  • Arthur Conan Doyle;
    doctor, writer and creator of Sherlock Holmes
  • Willie Hornung;
    writer and creator of the gentleman thief Raffles
  • Bram Stoker;
    writer and creator of Dracula
  • Walter Sickert;
    famous painter and among those suspected of being Jack the Ripper
This would go on far too long if I were to list all the people I became intrested in finding out more about so I will limit myself to these and instead recommend people to read the book.

Saturday, 14 February 2009

Bad Things

by Michael Marshall
Bad things don't just happen to other people...

John Henderson used to live with his wife and two sons at Murdo Pond in Black Ridge, Washington State. A beautiful summer afternoon his four year old son Scott had found his way out on the jetty and John ran as fast as he could to prevent him from falling into the lake. Despite making it out on the jetty before Scott can fall into the lake, he is still unable to save his life. Scott had looked at his father as if he couldn't recognise him and with an expression of tremendous fear he just fell down dead. The physicians were unable to explain why it had happened.

Three years later John has a different life. He has left Black Ridge and now lives alone leading a fairly anonymous existence. He has limited contact with his ex-wife and youngest son. Until he receives an e-mail from someone claiming to be able to explain what happened to Scott.

He returns to Black Ridge and finds himself caught in a chain of events that inevitably seem to lead to unhappiness for a lot of people, among others himself, his wife and son. He is desperately trying to figure out what is happening and find a way to save his family.

Another well written and extremely scary thriller by Michael Marshall. This is the kind of book I like against my own better judgement; I am immediately drawn into it and can hardly put the book down - depsite being scared out of my wits I just have to understand what is going on and find out how it will all end.

This book to is centered around the idea of there being more between heaven and earth than what is obvious. And it is so cleverly constructed that it is hard for me not to start believing that this might very well be the case.

I wouldn't recommend this book to anyone who gets nightmares from scary stories or branches scraping against the window, but to everyone else who wants to find a thrilling book that is difficult to put down.

The Intruders

by Michael Marshall
Jack Whalen and his wife Amy have left Los Angeles and moved north to the small town of Birch Crossing. Amy is going to keep working for an ad agency, now as a traveling problem solver reporting to the head offices in Seattle. Jack has left his work with the police and will be working from home writing a book.

One day an old school friend of Jack's, Gary Fisher, gets in touch. Fisher is working as a lawyer in Chicago but he wants Jack's help finding a person from Seattle. Bill Andersson's wife and son have been murdered and Bill is missing, suspected of the killings. Gary has his own reasons for believing Bill is innocent and wants Jack to help him prove it as well as find Bill. Jack however believes the police are right and turns Fisher down.

But then Amy fails to come home from a business trip to Seattle and Jack goes there to try to find her. What he finds out makes him wonder if it is Amy who is in danger or his marriage. This is when Fisher contacts him again with information that suggests a possible connection between Amy and Bill Andersson.

It is difficult to relate the content of this book in a way that does the book justice while at the same time avoiding revealing too much. This is not a common thriller focusing on solving disappearances and murders even though that is part of the story, here you will find more complicated, not to say mystical elements. Think Harlan Coben meets Stephen King and the X-files.

The mystical elements are uncovered gradually through the connection of several different plot lines. This slow introduction makes them feel scarily credible. The book is not without violence but above all it is frighteningly exciting and you struggle understand the context and find a rational explanation.

I recommend this book to those who wishes to read a really exciting thriller and who likes or at least can tolerate supernatural segments.

Wednesday, 4 February 2009

Martin Misunderstood

by Karin Slaughter
Martin Reed is at the bottom of the pecking order, even his own mother keeps pointing out his flaws and short-comings. Those who bullied him at school are now his colleagues and still bullying him.

Martin has resigned to his situation and is finding comfort in books, especially in crime fiction. Then unexpectedly one day he finds himself accused of not one, but two murders. Suddenly everyone is regarding him with a new respect and he gets to know the female detective Anther Albada who he falls hopelessly in love with.

The only question is whether Martin is guilty or just misunderstood.

This is a novella written by Karin Slaughter for the celebration of The Month of the Thriller in the Netherlands. It has been made into an audiobook with Wayne Knight (Newman in Seinfeld) as the reader.

It's a pretty big step away from her other writing which is often dark and visceral. This is a light and humoristic story. It is also packed with references to other crime fiction writers and their books and characters.

I prefer Karin Slaughter's other books but I still enjoyed this one as well. And I am a little curious to hear the audiobook - I suspect it might be very funny.

Sunday, 18 January 2009

The Brass Verdict

by Michael Connelly
Mickey Haller from The Lincoln Lawyer is getting ready to start working again after not having practiced in a year. He's not going to make the same mistake as the last time he thought himself ready; this time he really will make a slow start of it. But then he is called to the offices of Los Angeles Head Judge Mary Downes Holder and everything changes.

Jerry Vincent has been found murdered in his car, shot at close range. Like Mickey Jerry was running a one-man-firm and they had both put each other down as formal back-up in the case anything would happen to one of them. Now Mickey is suddenly responsible for 31 clients and their cases. They have the right to choose another lawyer if they wish to, but Harry has the first chance to take on their case.

One of the clients is Walter Elliot. Elliot is an executive in a movie studio and accused of having killed his young wife and her lover. The kind of client that would bring fame and fortune to the lawyer assigned his case. To be allowed to keep Elliot as his client Mickey has to promise to not ask for any continuences and the pressure is high getting the defence ready in time.

At the same time he is under pressure from the detective investigating Vincent's murder, Harry Bosch to provide some clues to who might want to kill Vincent and why. Bosch points out that the killer might believe that Haller now is in possession of all the information Vincent had and therefore a target himself. Haller wants to see Vincent's murderer caught and works with Bosch as far as possible without breaking the rules of the bar. He is also willing to put himself in danger if that is what it takes.

There are some writers you can depend upon. At least it's that way for me; it's like their style is on my wavelength and reading their books is as easy as thinking for me. Michael Connelly is one of those writers for me. If I start reading one of his books I'm hooked until it is finished, and I miss it as soon as I put the book down.

It was the same with The Brass Verdict, I was hooked from the first page. I am always nervous when I know I'm going to get an outsider's perspective on Harry Bosch; he is one of my favourite men and no one but me is allowed to critisize him. As most of Connelly's characters Bosch has flaws, as do Mickey Haller.

And I like Haller a lot too. He has a sharp intellect, but is not suffering from arrogance but makes sure to surround himself with competent people he can trust; his ex-wife Lorna and the investigator Cisco. He keeps reminding himself that everybody lies, the police lie, the lawyers lie, the witnesses lie, even the victims lie. But he is not cynical, he can still feel compassion and is willing to offer a second chance.

Despite the inherent suspicions between defence lawyers and the police an understanding is developing between Bosch and Haller. The faithful Connelly reader will know why this might be the case, and this is also revealed later in the book.

The intrigue in the book is very cleverly constructed. And the tempo varies in a way that makes me feel involved. Connelly has a great sense for when he should share the details of the work Haller is doing preparing for the trial and when he needs to speed up the text to increase the excitement.

I've previously held Scott Turow's book Presumed Innocent as the best legal thriller; a detailed insight into a crime investigation, someone seemingly falsely accused, several other possible suspects but no obvious guilty party, lies, betrayal and tension right up until the last moment. And then the astonishing reveal of the true culprit. But I believe The Brass Verdict has now put itself on that number one position.

Also this is not a book that wallows in violence or graphic descriptions of violence. It is the analysis of information and human behaviour that is the focus of this book. And goodness and compassion win in the end.

I recommend everyone to read this book.

Saturday, 17 January 2009

The Uncommon Reader

by Alan Bennet
The English court and the Prime Minister have a problem. The Queen who used to be so reliable, conscientious, punctual and predictable has a new passion that offers her a new perspective on life. She was one day led by her disobedient dogs to the book bus that regularly visits the castle. To be polite she borrowed a book and when she came to return it she found herself borrowing another.

Now she sneaks a book with her to all kinds of events. She has learned to pretend to be attentive, smile and wave at the same time as she is really reading a book carefully kept out of sight of the spectators. Many attempts are made to cause the Queen's books to be left behind but that only causes her to be more unpredictable and difficult to control. Something has to be done to end the Queen's disturbing addiction to reading.

I had read a lot of good things about this book and the language was just as I had hoped a perfectly worded British English. And for someone who loves to read it is always lovely with books that centers around the love of books and reading. And this book is filled with references to books and authors and the Queen's opinions on the same.

But my expectations might have been too high. I think it is obvious that Bennet mostly writes drama. The great things about the book is the language, the dialogue, the sharp observations and the love of reading. But the book is short and for me it also seemed thin; no real richness in characters or storyline.

I still recommend this book to all those who love reading. Perhaps as the book equivalent of a refreshing sorbet between two heavier courses.