Book Diary – February 2014

‘Live By Night’ by Dennis Lehane

Friday 31st January – Monday 10th February

As with ‘The Given Day’ this took me a little while to get into, but once I did, I read 80% over the course of a weekend, and finished it off at the earliest opportunity during my lunch hour on the Monday.

I think in the past I’ve been a little dismissive of Dennis Lehane’s ability as a writer (and I would still maintain that he is my least favourite of the group of writers from The Wire) but time and time again he is proving himself to be well capable of writing an intelligent page-turner. His more recent, epic novels are also showing that he is making a significant improvement from book to book.

My main criticisms this time would be a lack of what I would consider to be balance in the story. The catalyst for many of the events is the disappearance of a significant character from the early chapters. It’s pretty obvious that this character will reappear, but when they do, they are promptly and summarily dismissed from the story never to return. The second criticism would be the very sudden ending, in which another significant event occurs in the space of the last three pages. I was left wondering where that had come from and why, and then the next page was the acknowledgements.

‘Nobody Ever Says Thank You: Brian Clough, the Biography’ by Jonathan Wilson

Tuesday 11th February – Sunday 9th March

I honestly don’t know how it has taken me so long to get around to reading this book. After all, it is the most complete record of the life of the most iconic person in the history of Nottingham Forest, written by my favourite football journalist, Jonathan Wilson.

Perhaps my reluctance to start turning the pages was down to the fact that I have read several books on Clough, including his autobiography and so I felt I would spend a long time covering familiar ground. To a small extent, this proved to be true, but Wilson’s incredibly detailed research and clear re-telling of the familiar stories showed me just how little I actually knew and how distorted the tales had become.

The greatest difference that was revealed by this book was between my impression of Clough and what Jonathan Wilson convincingly depicts as the reality. A lot of Forest fans I know, swayed by the anomalous success he brought our club, are still in a thrall to Clough, years after his death, and the impression given is always that of a charismatic eccentric. However, he is revealed as an arrogant, erratic and unpleasant man, deviously manipulative and given to provoking confrontation for his own satisfaction and amusement.

The greatest compliment I can pay Jonathan Wilson’s writing is that for 547 out of the 550 pages of NESTY, my sympathy and respect for Brian Clough was completely eroded by JW’s unbiased and unsentimental portrayal of Clough’s awkward personality, and then, in the final 3 pages, he managed to claw enough back for me to pity Clough.

Book Diary – July 2013

‘Fatherland’ by Robert Harris

Monday 1st July – Sunday 7th July
For some unknown reason, I had put off reading this book repeatedly since picking it up for mere pennies in a charity shop last autumn. Now that I’ve read it, I regret the delay immensely.

‘Fatherland’ is set in an alternative history in which Germany was triumphant in World War 2. It makes for a very interesting premise for what is, at its heart, a straightforward detective story. However, it is also something of a history lesson – much of what is reported as happening pre-1945 is true – and a political thriller.

I’ve read one Robert Harris before, several years ago, and a common characteristic is his ability to make you read on and on. I read the last two hundred pages in little over a day, and had a fantastic time doing so.

I would thoroughly recommend the book to anyone who enjoys a good thriller. I have read a lot of detective stories over the last three or four years and this is one of the very best. All the more impressive given that it was Robert Harris’s debut novel.

‘Killer’s Choice’ by Ed McBain

Monday 8th July -Wednesday 10th July

Having enjoyed ‘Fiddlers’ last year and thus started at the very end of Ed McBain’s 87th Precinct series, I stumbled across another, much earlier, novel a few months ago and rapidly bought it.

I didn’t enjoy this quite as much as ‘Fiddlers’, partly because there wasn’t a great deal of detection going on (the killer is discovered by complete chance) and there are two cases running side by side, neither of which is especially interesting. However, McBain’s writing elevates this above the rather weak material and makes the book very readable if somewhat forgettable.

‘The Given Day’ by Dennis Lehane

Wednesday 10th July – Saturday 27th July

What happened here then eh? Dennis Lehane goes epic.

This is a funny book to read after all the other Dennis Lehane books – it’s as if he wrote one of his normal stories and then went back and added shedloads of detail.

This brings out conflicting feelings in some ways – firstly, I’m pleased and impressed that DL has taken his writing to the next level; however, I’m also a little surprised, as it seems a little out of character for him, and I would also have said (prior to reading this book) that he was the weakest of the four writers I have discovered through The Wire. The opening does little to dispel the feeling that he is blagging things a little bit, as it bears a certain resemblance to the start of Don DeLillo’s ‘Underworld’.

That said, the criticism I level at him seems unfair. As the book progressed I felt that rather than this being a limited writer attempting to imitate someone better, it was far more likely that this was Lehane putting his very best into it for perhaps the first time. I’m sure that writing is far harder than anyone who hasn’t done it could ever guess, but this shows his Kenzie and Gennaro series for the small-scale, run-of-the-mill detective fiction it is, however enjoyable it may be. The only previous book of his that comes close to this quality is ‘Mystic River’. With hindsight, that was probably his first attempt at breaking out of the detective genre and into something larger in scope.

The amount of research ‘The Given Day’ must have required is incredible, and the hard work pays off as the city becomes more than mere backdrop for the first time in DL’s writing. His tone is more serious too, but he hasn’t lost his talent for readability and I devoured the book in large chunks – 50, 70 pages at a time. He also added genuine suspense, and made the book so believable that I had no idea how things would pan out of the main characters.

All in all, a far superior read to his previous work and one which makes me feel I owe him an apology for every doubting the quality of his writing.

‘Jar City’ by Arnaldur Indridason

Saturday 27th July – Wednesday 31st July

July has been a pretty good month. Not only have I managed to read four books, but three of them have been pretty good.

‘Jar City’ starts as a fairly run-of-the-mill police procedural with a host of familiar conventions observed. The murder is a little odd andthe detective is a grumpy middle-aged divorcee with a difficult relationship with his children.

The book’s real quality only shows through towards the end as a note of optimism creeps in. Not only is the detective trying to be a better man but more importantly the killer is not some raving lunatic but a real human being with understandable motive.

This was one of the better Scandinavian crime novels I’ve read, mostly due to its heart.