Post-Holiday Book Review Round-Up

Posted by Lou. The time is 3.08pm here in London UK.

I made a dreadful mistake on holiday and only took three books! Three! What was I thinking? That I'd be, like, doing stuff instead of just lying around by the pool/ at the beach/ on the balcony?

Anyhoo, those three were Audrey Niffenegger's latest novel Her Fearful Symmetry, a Hurricane Katrina-based crime novel called The Tin Roof Blowdown, and the fourth of Laurie R King's Mary Russell/ Sherlock Holmes series The Moor.

After finishing them with several days to spare I resorted to the hotel's small multi-lingual collection and the sparse selection of Athens airport and went crime-and-mystery-tastic with Michael Connolly's The Scarecrow, Ruth Rendell's Some Lie and Some Die, and Agatha Christie's Murder On The Orient Express.

Yes, yes, hardly intellectual reading, but you try and pay attention to prose when you're in view of this:

Or this:

Or indeed, this:

Mmm 'kay?


Her Fearful Symmetry

The only Niffenegger book I have read is our beloved The Time Traveller's Wife (TTW), truly a great piece of contemporary writing and one I know I will return to again and again as the years pass (and oh how they pass!). So, yes, I had high hopes for Her Fearful Symmetry (HFS) and indeed saved it up for this holiday. I was... well, I was disappointed.

The story concerns identical twins - two sets, in fact. The book opens on the death of one identical twin, who leaves her London property and fortune to her estranged US-based twin's own identical twins. They are Very Strange Girls who move to live in their aunt's property and find themselves visited by the ghost of their aunt.

While the sci-fi reasoning of TTW's time travel was complex, innovative and served to further the emotional story, the ghostly elements of HFS actually did the opposite for me. I thought it was tired (ghost stories are the oldest of the old, after all - and I really didn't think this one brought anything new), a bit banal, and provided a barrier to believing in the emotions of the characters and story.

All-in-all it left me cold and I'm sort of going to have to detach it from TTW in my memory and pretend like Niffenegger only wrote one book.


The Tin Roof Blowdown

I was aware of the existence of several novels that had started to come out set within and after Hurricane Katrina, so having already been down the non-fiction route did some research and decided upon this crime novel by James Lee Burke.

The story centres on a family-man Detective based in the Parish of Iberia who is called upon to help out in a murder investigation in the confusion that prevails after Hurricane Katrina has fucked the people and the city of New Orleans. Two black looters have been shot, one - a teenager with no criminal record - killed instantly, and in a symbolic gesture to hide a thousand injustices the Feds want to bring a (white) perpetrator to justice.

A complex plot emerges with a varied set of characters, the mind-fuck situation of this one murder investigation perfectly merging with the mind-fuck that was the greater situation plunging Louisiana into hell.

I really enjoyed the book - whilst I do like the odd bit of fluff in the genre of crime mystery (hey, I have three coming up below!), it is much more my style to have the characters and a fatalistic outlook on how fucked up the world is dominate beyond mere attempts at clever plot.

And oh boy is the outlook expressed in this novel fatalistic - in fact, the writer reverts to the almost biblical when describing the New Orleans of August and September 2005, complete with the racial and economic inequalities that were brought to the fore by the burst levees.

Hmm, doesn't really sound like beach reading does it? Perhaps one to save for the dark depths of winter.


The Moors

You're not really interested, are you? I mean, you either read the Laurie R King books or you don't, yeah?

Here's a picture anyway.

Wait, I can hear Bel's voice saying "What books?".

King has written a series of books that feature a young female protagonist called Mary Russell who meets an ageing Sherlock Holmes and teams up with him on a few big cases. True to the style of Conan Doyle, the books are written as if they are manuscripts found by King that are written by Russell herself. Okay?


The Scarecrow

Not much to say about such a plot-driven, formulaic crime novel is there? To be fair, the author tries to make it innovative and contemporary by setting it around an internet criminal. But that is pretty much meaningless when the actual crime takes place off the web. So, um, just one to read when you've run out of books and there is little else in the hotel "library" really...


Some Lie and Some Die

I chose this book based on the very good criteria that it was short, and thus easier to read when lying on the beach. It was quite cute really - a 1973 Ruth Rendell crime novel set at a music festival. I knew I was in for a treat when I read the dedication at the beginning, which was to her son who "goes to festivals". Doesn't everyone go to festivals in the UK? Oh wait, this was 1973! Just three years after the debut of what was to become Glastonbury:

Check out the crazy pyramid stage! Can you imagine the twitches people who work in the field of occupational health and safety must develop when looking at that!

To be fair to Rendell, the whole driving force for her novel seems to be her enthusiasm for being "down with the kids" - for showing off how tolerant of youth culture she was at a time when everyone still hated the youth. (As opposed to now when seemingly we all want to be like them, look like them, like the same stuff as them - I guess I'll be learning more about this sentiment when I turn Officially Old later this year.)

Yeah, as above, not much to say really... except at least for this one I had the bonus of groovy clothes being described.


Murder On The Orient Express

I was at the airport looking through the one rack of books I could find that were in English when I suddenly realised that despite having seen the entire Poirot Collection of my company's owned TV episodes, I have never seen Murder On The Orient Express. Happily it turns out to be exactly the length required to get one through a mild flight delay and then 4 hours Athens - London.

I do quite like Agatha Christie - she dreamed up a plethora of unexpected and interesting scenarios in which to set her murder mysteries; and manages to write the same motivations and mechanisms for murder a thousand different ways.

So I won't complain that her writing is vacuous - I mean, it's not like you pick it up expecting depth of meaning - and will instead end this post on a picture of your hero and mine, David-Suchet's-Hercule-Poirot:

One thought on “Post-Holiday Book Review Round-Up”

  1. Haha I recently watched that Poirot episode when he was in Greece! I am now fusing your trip and that as one in my mind...

    I've also read "Her Fearful Symmetry", I burned through it on a day off sick recently. Agreed, very tired. Several people I've spoken to saw the 'twists' coming a mile off too...

    It's a lame version of Sweet Valley High meets The Lovely Bones. TTW FTW!!