A unique presentation gives an old story a new twist. Told in first-person from the view of main character George Stroud with additional chapters by pA unique presentation gives an old story a new twist. Told in first-person from the view of main character George Stroud with additional chapters by peripheral players, the thriller (unusually) does not start until half way through. The first half is full of allusions to the big clock of time and to impending danger associated with Pauline Delos, i.e. the femme fatale.
Stroud, an editor, has an affair with Delos, who is actually the girlfriend of publishing magnate Earl Janoth or rather, Stroud's boss. Things turn complicated when Delos is murdered and it's up to Stroud and his investigative team of reporters to find the man last seen with her. The second half of the book turns into high suspense with Stroud trying to avoid being caught out as the man in question.
This is an unusual read because although the characters are memorable, not a single one is particularly likable or even sympathetic. There is solid suspense but it's not enough to compensate for an unsatisfying and (I felt) dishonest conclusion. If quirky characterisation is not enough to sustain your interest in a book, I would stay away from this one. ...more
It's quite sad to read the last of the Martin Beck series and to farewell the weary policeman and his idiosyncratic crew. Did Sjowall and Wahloo foresIt's quite sad to read the last of the Martin Beck series and to farewell the weary policeman and his idiosyncratic crew. Did Sjowall and Wahloo foresee the role terrorism would play in today's world? Or did they just recognise that terrorism would overshadow other crimes and would become increasingly important as a threat to modern society?
The novel begins as Martin Beck is called as a witness for the legal defence of Rebecka Lund, an 18 year old single mother charged with robbing a bank. The prosecutor is the gung-ho Bulldozer Olsson (featured first in The Locked Room, but even he takes a backseat to the comical defense attorney Theobald Braxen.
Meanwhile, Gunvald Larsson is sent overseas to learn about security measures for state visits. That all goes horribly wrong, of course, ruining his new, tailor-made suit in the process.
Back in Sweden, a director of pornographic movies is killed in Malmo and Per Mansson investigates.
All of these are somehow tied to the preparations for a state visit by an unpopular US senator to Stockholm. Martin Beck is put in charge and must prevent harm to the senator from the unseen terrorists of Heydt and Kaitan and Kamakazi.
The anti-capitalist sentiment is not subtle but makes sense given Sjowall and Wahloo's surreal plot and extreme twists. A very enjoyable tale with unforgettable characters and a clever stroke of heightened suspense near the end. ...more
Viktor Palmgren, CEO, is shot while giving a speech at the Savoy Hotel in the coastal town of Malmo. The shooter leaves through a window and escapes tViktor Palmgren, CEO, is shot while giving a speech at the Savoy Hotel in the coastal town of Malmo. The shooter leaves through a window and escapes through the bungling of uniform regulars Kristiannson and Kvant.
Martin Beck is summoned from Stockholm to Malmo to investigate, alongside the toothpick-chewing Per Mansson. As the case progresses it becomes increasingly clear that there's little reason for sympathy towards the victim, his crooked business colleagues or his trophy wife.
The story lacks the intensity of the other Beck novels, if only because it is fairly vague in back story and sketching the characters involved in the case. However, this is made up for by deeper involvement with the regulars such as Gunvar Larsson's relationship with his sister, how Asa Torell is getting on as a policewoman and Zachrisson as the new recruit.
All in all, it's a disheartening story that shows the justice system isn't always just. ...more
This is a good introduction to the historic circumstances underlying the dominance of English as a global language. I read the 2002 edition and foundThis is a good introduction to the historic circumstances underlying the dominance of English as a global language. I read the 2002 edition and found it dated, especially with regard to the internet and international communications such as within the EU. The most outstanding information is to be found in Chapter 2, outlining the historical context and providing lots of statistics for the growing number of English speakers all over the globe.
With regard to the social factors for the rise of English and the implications for future use, these are more or less common-sense and Crystal has nothing extra to add. The US debate over whether English should be "officialised" is interesting but seems to be a theoretical point, rather than pragmatic measure, as is the discussion of whether English should be a global language.
Might be worthwhile trying to learn another language instead of reading this. ...more
The problem with autobiography is that extraordinary people are not necessary good writers. Daniel Tammet has an extraordinary mind - he can visualiseThe problem with autobiography is that extraordinary people are not necessary good writers. Daniel Tammet has an extraordinary mind - he can visualise numbers, recite pi to record-breaking decimal places and learn languages with astounding ease*. This is linked to his Asperger's and also to epilepsy.
Although a novel human story, this does not provide much insight into how Tammet's brain works and why other brains are not like his. I expected his unique cognition would be illuminated through precise examples and that these would shed more light on cognitive psychology. Instead, this is a human interest story and can be only enjoyed as such.
*It is interesting that Tammet's rapid language learning is attributed to his uncanny ability to learn and apply rules but no mention is made of his lack of social inhibition, which is a huge stumbling block for adult language learners....more
In what other children's series can you find the word "ersatz"? Or, as the Lemony Snicket points out, the words "grief", "woeful" and "Count Olaf in dIn what other children's series can you find the word "ersatz"? Or, as the Lemony Snicket points out, the words "grief", "woeful" and "Count Olaf in disguise"?
In this installment, the Baudelaire orphans find themselves farmed out to the Squalors whose main purpose in life is to be "in". The story is quite enjoyable but the writing does seem to suffer from a mid-series lull with fewer jokes and less wordplay. The formula is showing some wear and the antics are bizarre rather than clever. Here's hoping the next is better. ...more
Although a solid police procedural, does not have the same impact as the previous books in the Martin Beck series. More from the point of view of DeteAlthough a solid police procedural, does not have the same impact as the previous books in the Martin Beck series. More from the point of view of Detective Gunvald Larsson, who is not as well liked by the other series regulars but who seems more personable. The POV shifts between the characters and there is no interaction with the perpetrators which makes it less engaging. There is however a very touching moment between Beck and his daughter, which to me is the highlight of the book. The swift action of the ending is also memorable....more
This was my introduction to Kurt Wallander and a good one too, seeing as it's the first of the ten Wallander books. I read it almost in parallel withThis was my introduction to Kurt Wallander and a good one too, seeing as it's the first of the ten Wallander books. I read it almost in parallel with Maj Sjowall and Per Wahloo's The Laughing Policeman and the influence from that is obvious in this novel. At first, it was difficult even to keep Beck and Wallander as separate characters. Both are marked by a strong sense of emptiness and sadness over the state of crime and society in Sweden, not to mention a neglect of familial duties. However, there is a stronger sense of the absurd in Sjowall & Wahloo's Beck and more significant family issues in Manning's inspector.
Going back to Faceless Killers: an elderly farm couple are killed in a gruesome manner. The senselessness and violence of the crime reverberates through Skane and hints that it has to do with "foreigners" do not help, especially given the presence of refugees in the community. Wallander has his hands full with the investigation but meanwhile, he also has to cope with his relationship with his ex-wife, his distant daughter and his crotchety father who appears to be going senile.
There is great restraint in Mankell's writing so even though Wallander is a typical detective (he drinks too much, doesn't eat right, works all hours and has family problems), the formula still works. Other elements that give the story an edge is the unusual location in rural (almost bucolic!) Sweden and the bigger picture of Europeans wrestling with the issue of immigration.
I would love to read this in the original Swedish....more
The body of a young woman is found at the locks of Borenshult. The local police call in Martin Beck and his team from Stockholm to help identify her aThe body of a young woman is found at the locks of Borenshult. The local police call in Martin Beck and his team from Stockholm to help identify her and catch her killer. Thorough and meticulous investigations follow.
There's a strong sense of patience and time in Roseanna, as in Sjowall & Wahloo's The Laughing Policeman. I like the reality of long stretches of time, the deliberate treatment of procedural details that, instead of being tedious, give a heightened sense of reality and show the painstaking tenacity of the police at work. It all seems more human somehow than the (usually American) drama of solving the case overnight and then swooping in in the nick of time and and nabbing the (usually serial) killer.
There's also a strange sense of calm and lots of sitting and sleeping and waiting. Heightened emotion is illustrated by action and by sweat. It works and it makes for an especially turbulent climax. I'm still surprised at how such a candid story can have such startling impact. ...more
This is a breath of fresh air to one used to reading English and American crime fiction. Part of the Martin Beck series, it details the case of a massThis is a breath of fresh air to one used to reading English and American crime fiction. Part of the Martin Beck series, it details the case of a mass murder on a bus in Stockholm.
It's written in a clean and simple style by Swedish journalists Sjowall and Wahloo, who incidentally were also husband and wife. It's damn good writing, dominated by the quirky consistency of the characters and the gloom of Swedish weather.
I can't recommend this enough for its straightforward storyline, the neat police procedural and yet still a great reveal at the end. ...more
The battlefields of WWI is an interesting topic and an original one too for a mystery. The storyline is very similar to that of The Old Vengeful, byThe battlefields of WWI is an interesting topic and an original one too for a mystery. The storyline is very similar to that of The Old Vengeful, by the same author. However, it's a lot of military history and scholarly conjecture and not enough thrills.
I found myself continually questioning how investigating 1915 relates to the impetus of the plot and consistently came up empty. This is a huge pitfall because there is no threat and not all that much suspense and consequently little engagement, only a fog of historical minutiae....more
"Vengeful" is a historical fishing trip featuring Paul Mitchell, WWI historian and spy. It's unclear what his mission is when superior David Audley se"Vengeful" is a historical fishing trip featuring Paul Mitchell, WWI historian and spy. It's unclear what his mission is when superior David Audley sends him to investigate Elizabeth Loftus, history teacher and daughter of a deceased naval hero. It's hard to say more without giving away the plot, but Loftus and Mitchell travel to France accompanied by another agent, Aske, to find out what happened to the survivors of a long-sunk battleship.
I've never been interested in naval history and I particularly dislike war-related literature, but it's clear that Price knows his stuff. Reading this as part of the Crime Masterworks series, the mystery seems to be an academic exercise in picking through historical debris. The pedantic details are however sweetened by the cast of characters, especially the subtle romantic tension between the leads.
History buffs would appreciate this. It would also make for a solid movie, beginning especially with the intrigue of the prologue....more
"The Oxford Murders" combines mathematics and murder, both fascinating subjects. It's set in the university town of Oxford and narrated by an Argentin"The Oxford Murders" combines mathematics and murder, both fascinating subjects. It's set in the university town of Oxford and narrated by an Argentinian doctoral student with wry observations of English mannerisms. So far then, so good.
However the story is not engaging. The characters are distant and not at all personable. The mathematics is basic and does the story no great service. The danger in setting a detective story against a mathematical puzzle is that the solution of one may not be a very good solution to the other, even if they are intrinsically bound. "The Oxford Murders" falls into this trap thereby giving us a flimsy crime story....more
Ten year old Liesel is sent to live on Himmel Street in Munich during the years of WWII.
At first, I couldn't help but think that we've had enough ofTen year old Liesel is sent to live on Himmel Street in Munich during the years of WWII.
At first, I couldn't help but think that we've had enough of young girls in Nazi Germany (When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit, The Diary of Anne Frank, Number the Stars), not to mention books about WWII. But I suppose a scar as deep as this one does not go away, especially not if you're the grandson of German-Austrian grandparents who lived through it, as author Zusak is.
The Book Thief is a great read. Narrated by Death, it is the story of Liesel Meminger, who makes friends with a boy named Rudy, hides a Jew in her basement, steals books and survives things that no adolescent should ever experience.
It is a big book, written for younger readers, but this older reader found it very satisfying and satisfactory. The story spans Liesel's adolescence from when she is removed with her brother to the safety of Munich and separated from her mother to when she is 14.
The writing is clever, initially almost too clever and distracting. Thankfully, the stop-start sentences and the interruptions slow down and stop detracting from the story itself, which is a lovely story full of happiness and tears and friendship and mostly, words. Being a war story, it cannot help but be tormented by heartbreak and filled with great humanity. In some ways, the foul-mouthed Rosa Hubermann and the silver-eyed, accordionist/housepainter Hans Hubermann are caricatures, but lovable all the same.
The story presented in the Book Thief is at once typical and unique. Through the child's point of view, Zusak recognises the power of words: on the one hand, it's the stuff of propaganda and destruction, on the other, a gift of hope. It is the recognition that words are a doubled-edged sword. It is full of the catch-22s of war, of great love, great hate, great joy and great despair - it was Nazi Germany after all. The Book Thief presses all the right buttons and if one measure of a book is the emotional reaction it produces, this one is right up there with A Little Princess. ...more
I am reading the series of Unfortunate Events out of order but it doesn't matter a jot. This book opens with the three Baudelaire siblings in the bullI am reading the series of Unfortunate Events out of order but it doesn't matter a jot. This book opens with the three Baudelaire siblings in the bullet-ridden car boot of their nemesis, Count Olaf. They find themselves at a carnival (of all things) in the middle of the wilderness. I won't ruin the story but as promised by its gloomy narrator, the book ends with the children once again in the "belly of the beast".
Wordplay seems to have taken precedent over the plot, which is thin, but I couldn't help smiling at each and every incidence. Still, it was surprising to see the phrase "la petite mort" in a children's book. There's not much in the way of character development either (all the carnival folk are freakishly similar) but the joy of turning those rough-cut pages and the ironic narration make it all worthwhile. ...more