Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Short reviews and mentions

The pile of books in the room where I work is getting completely out of hand. All of these books deserve, in my opinion, at least a mention here, and most of them deserve a proper review. But, life being what it is, they aren't going to get it. Hours in the day, and so forth. Instead, we're just going to have to make do with some short reviews and mentions.

No one in the entire world, I suspect, would enjoy every one of these books. But each of the books listed here is going to be just what somebody, somewhere, is looking for. And if nothing else I hope to help you to find out whether a particular book is the ideal one for you.

Random order, by the way.

Ken Bruen: Cross

Ken Bruen is another Irish crime writer; but, unlike Benjamin Black and Brian McGilloway, he's been going for a while. Cross is, by my count, his seventeenth book, and it shows in the skill level. You soon discover that you're in the hands of a pro. His prose is sharp and funny, with a telling eye for detail.

The lead character is Jack Taylor, a complicated (aren't they all?) ex-cop now private eye. Not young, not even a recovering alcoholic, and going deaf at 50. This isn't a whodunnit -- we know who done the crime -- but it's a gripper.

Regular crime readers probably know of Bruen already; but if not, he's recommended. The book came to me, I think, from Shots magazine, and the publisher is Bantam, who've done an excellent design job on the trade paperback (12/16 pt Sabon; good choice, boys -- or girls).

Jack Saunders (editor): Postcards from Pottersville, vol. 3 -- Adventures in the Underground

Long-time readers of this blog may remember Jack Saunders, who edits, and contributes several items to, this anthology. Jack has been writing for 35 years, is working on his 275th book (or was, when Postcards vol. 3 was published), and serialises the books he writes, on a daily basis, on the web. One of nature's eccentrics then: by rights he ought to be English, but he ain't.

Postcards calls itself an anthology of art and literature, and it contains essays, interviews, poems, and short fiction. Also a few photographs and drawings.

The title of the book suggests that all the contributors come from the 'underground' -- which I take to mean a sub-division of the book world which isn't entirely accepted and respectable in the eyes of the literary establishment, but which isn't obviously commercial or genre-based either. Of course I may have got that entirely wrong, but that's the way I read it. In his introduction, Jack Saunders suggests that underground writers are the people who are 'out there banging their heads against the brick stone wall of the world's indifference.' Which I like.

I hope the other contributors won't all jump on me together for saying so, but I found Jack's own contributions the most interesting. It seems to me that Jack understands the writing business with painful clarity. Here is just a sample:

You'd better get your reward out of doing the best you can with what you have to work with and knowing that, whatever happens, you do not quit, turn bitter, or sell out. You might wear down. Attrition might get you. You finally might just not have anything left. You might exhaust yourself. Short of that, I don't see anything that will stop you.
I warmly recommend this collection to anyone who has ever had a rejection slip. You will learn, for instance, that submitting poetry for publication is an even more thankless task than sending out fiction; you will also come across some sound common sense, wisdom, and good humour.

Publisher is the Pottersville Press, who request that you buy the book from them if poss. They are supporting local artists by publishing their work.

Natasha Mostert: Season of the Witch

If Mr Shatzkin is right, the world of fiction will become ever more concentrated into niches. The old genres of crime, romance, and so forth, will be analysed out into large numbers of sub-genres: not just romance any longer, or even Regency romance, but lesbian explicit red-haired humorous touches Regency romance.

That being so, how the hell do you pigeon-hole Season of the Witch? The UK publisher (Bantam again) clearly has no idea: or at least, gives none on the cover. Chapter 1 suggests that we might have a techno-thriller about hacking into computers. Chapter 2 look like a private-eye book. Chapter 3 is a bit skiffy -- second sight, remote viewing, clairvoyance type of thing. And the ending suggests that it's really a love story.

Actually I know exactly what this book is, but knowing it is no help to anyone. In theory this book should carry a banner on the cover which says: In the tradition of Dennis Wheatley. The problem is, no one under the age of 60 knows who Dennis Wheatley is any more, though in his day (say the 1940s-60s) he was a huge seller. Anyway, the book is a supernatural thriller.

As such it held my attention throughout. It's an unusual read, but a good one. Natasha Mostert's agent, by the way, is Jonny Geller. Which seldom hurts a writer's career.

Brian Garfield: The Meinertzhagen Mystery

The author and title combination suggests that this is a novel. But it ain't. It's non-fiction: a biography, and a scholarly biography at that, the product of an author plus team of researchers, and published complete with 90 pages of notes and a 12-page bibliography.

Brian Garfield will be best known to readers of a certain age as a thoroughly professional crime writer who suddenly happened to touch a public nerve with a novel called Death Wish. This was the tale of a guy who got fed up with criminals and decided to get his own back. The book was a huge seller, and the film version (directed by Michael Winner) was an even bigger success.

Meinertzhagen was, by his own account, a British war hero, a secret agent, and an internationally famous expert on ornithology. In fact, as the subtitle of Garfield's book suggests, the Colonel was a colossal fraud. Garfield goes through his subject's life, year by year and exploit by exploit, and reveals that most of the stories that Meinertzhagen told about himself were either total fiction, or took considerable liberties with some underlying truth.

It's an extraordinary story, and one which fiction writers might do well, in my opinion, to have a look at. It has at least the potential to reveal much to us about a certain type of man, and about the willingness of others to take people at their own estimation.

Lewis Hyde: The Gift

The Gift was first published in 1979. It is described as 'an enquiry into the place of creativity in our market-orientated society', and it ranges across anthropology, literature, economics, and psychology. It is said to have been one of the books which influenced ideas about the 'gift economy' on the internet. Which is why I bought it. Sad to say, I found it tedious.

The chief problem with the book, as far as I was concerned, was that there were far too many quotations: from poets, visionaries, mystics, politicians, and academics -- to mention just a few. It seemed to me that the author ought to have more faith in his own ability to think. I also came to the conclusion that the author's argument could have been better made in a book half the length.

However, someone, somewhere, as I said at the beginning, is undoubtedly going to find this inspiring.


Anonymous said...

I picked up 'Season of the Witch' in an airport on what promised to be a long dull journey. It was - and, for me, SotW didn't justify the weight in the luggage.

It sets up vivid pictures in the mind - really lush - and I wanted story and characters to match. But, for me, they didn't. I like creepy but it's not even in Witchcraft Wheatley's class, and I don't think he's the best. Good analogy, though, because it had his thin characters, lack of humour, taste for Weird Practices and tangled plot.

Also, interestingly from a female author, his black and white morality, particularly in the view of women - sort of recoil or devotion but both from a distance. Funny old Dornford Yates had a hint of it as well. (One detects the hint of a shudder, to be honest.)

In the Witch, I REALLY couldn't be doing with Which Twin is the Good Sister? Even backing the right horse - well the name gave it away - wasn't any consolation.

Nice anorak, though. Wish he hadn't been killed off so soon. And some lovely visual writing, especially in the fantasy house. Will certainly try her next one.


savannah said...

3 hits in one read..thank you, sir!