Wednesday, July 20, 2016

reading exploits

hello there

My, my. Before I clicked on to compose mode to add this post I noted, look you see, my stats. Apparently over 200 people from Russia have visited today. That's normally a sign that someone in Russia has gotten it into their head to try and hack me. What can I say, sorry if the site goes down then.

Well, here we go proper. In the context of the last year, which is to say the time when my time reading on the bus was taken away from me due to Arriva destroying any practical means of taking the bus to and from verk, two reviews for you sooner than has come to be usual.

Why such a fast read? Well, the second book was one I selected to read on the train to and from London. It was selected mostly on the basis of size and price, and indeed I was able to read the bulk of it – some 66% - on my travels.

A look at the two books which I have most recently read? Of course.

Yes, that does indeed represent a crisp (hello, Faye) fiver spent on literature. Clever you and all that maths stuff that you are good at.

How about a quick, spoiler free review? Certainly. In the overall context of the sometimes great, often preposterous world of Scott Mariani novels, Star Of Africa is quite good but frustratingly – and undeclared – the dreaded “part one” of a story. Dying For Christmas by Tammy Cohen is frustrating as most of it feels ridiculous, except the pay off at the conclusion makes it more or less worthwhile and there’s some possibly accidental good material on the way.

Onwards, then, with a closer look. The usual disclaimers, then – any links to the novels are purely for convenience, and not a recommendation or endorsement as to where one should, if interested, purchase them. Also, as of now, *** POSSIBLE SPOILER WARNINGS *** lie ahead for you, but as ever I will try to keep them out of it.

Starting off with Star Of Africa off of Scott Mariani, then. This is, internet says, the 13th adventure featuring Ben Hope, and so I take it as it’s Scott Mariani’s 13th novel.

Plot? Ex-SAS and ultra hard man good guy Ben Hope is still drifting around, feeling sorry for himself, drinking a lot and engaging in the occasional act of random vigilante violence. He somehow ends up at his old training base in France, where he finds that his business partner has arranged for his secret son to head off on some merchant navy trip ahead of joining the navy.

The merchant ship the son is on is, alas, being used to smuggle the biggest diamond what the world has known. A diamond that, totes inevitably, is one that quite a few very bad, nasty and violent people want, and wish to get their hands on.

Being half a story – with no warning that this would be the case prior to reading – is made all the more frustrating by just how good it is. Also, it’s barbaric. Scott Mariani has gotten bold, for he does not hold back in just how stomach churning and terrible the atrocities carried out by self anointed African warlords are. The Western World, for the most part, has no idea, and when confronted with it turns a blind eye and deaf ear, safely hiding behind the convenient excuse of it “being racist” to say what black people do.

The quality of Scott Mariani as a writer, mindful of the fact that he’s not ever claimed to be prize winning, has improved considerably. The much darker, more barbaric material handled here could have seen it all go quite bad with his usual tone, but he pulls it off very well. It’s on a par with The Forgotten Holocaust, arguably his finest work and one I read despite swearing off his novels, what with the premise being so interesting and important.

Part two of this story, The Devil’s Kingdom, is due out in November. I look forward to finding it at the cigarette counter at Morrisons (for that is the provenance of this first part) then, and that’s probably my Christmas reading sorted.

On the subject of Christmas, Dying For Christmas by Tammy Cohen was bought to read on the train, as I said. The provenance is The Works shop, and it was purchased for ₤1 off of their sale box. It was the perfect “small paperback” size to take on the train, and the font size was decent.

Plot? A rather plain, unobtrusive lady called Jessica Gold is out Christmas shopping. She is approached by an apparent stranger who invites her back to his place. For no apparent reason she goes. It turns out that the stranger is something of a psychopath, and intends holding her prisoner over the twelve days of Christmas. On each of these twelve days she is given a gift, with each one being more bizarre and disturbing that the last. Jessica believes that she will be killed by the time the 12th present is unwrapped…..

To say much else is to give much away. And not giving anything away is the problem and the genius of this book. It would be very fair to say that I was bored, uninspired and lacking any enthusiasm for the novel up to around the halfway point, but hey it did the job on the train. The second half, however, makes much of what is banal, bizarre and preposterous all of a sudden make sense, and turns it, on the whole, into a rather good novel.

Tammy Cohen has undoubtedly had more success than me as a writer, so far be it from me to cast too many stones but it has to be said her writing style is somewhat patchy. The “split narrative” idea (you’ll see what I mean if you read) is kind of essential to telling the story the way it is told, but is irritating at times.

The element which impressed me the most was a secondary character, Kim, a policewoman assigned to the case of the apparent abduction. Her story is presented in a small scale way, but is highly effective. Without preaching or relying on stereotypes she is used as a conduit to reveal the actual pressures on women in a professional work environment, perfectly illustrating the disparity and double standards used between how men and women are treated in the light of identical issues.

Would I recommend Dying For Christmas? Almost. As I said it was the case that I found myself willing, through my refusal to ever abandon a novel, to force reading it. It turned out to be quite worthwhile to do this, but I suspect – maybe fear – many would have given up on it after 50 or so pages.

So, there we go. One book that’s very good but sadly has no ending as such as yet, and one book that starts off dodgy but comes right at the end.

It’s quite likely the case that the next set of reviews will take a now usual amount of time, as with no train journeys in my immediate future it’s not likely that I shall get a mountain of time to read a lot.

As for what I shall be reading first as the next of the two books I will be reviewing, over to Spiros for this one.

In a quite rare move, Spiros has read a work of fiction (I think this is only the 2nd or 3rd not real book he has touched in a decade) and what he read was so good that he insisted on purchasing me a copy of it. I thank him kindly for this, and shall show gratitude by making it my priority reading.

Until the next time, then………

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