26 September 2011

The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest, by Stieg Larsson

Without reservation I will say:

  • I loved this book.
  • It is every bit as good as the other two.
  • I read it slowly, read every word.
  • It is bitterly disappointing that Mr. Larsson is unable to write any more. 
May he rest in peace.

What the Dog Saw, By Malcolm Gladwell

A good friend recommended this book, and everyone should have such a good friend. Each one of the essays is nothing less than fascinating, and the overall effect of the book is delightful. Gladwell is a masterful writer with a great curiosity about people, what they do, and why they do it.

The title of the book comes from an essay about Cesar Millan, popularly known as the "dog whisperer." Gladwell gives a brief biography of this very interesting man, and some anecdotes about his work with people.

The Man from Beijing, by Henning Mankell

The beginning of this book is grisly, and astonishing, which gives it great promise. Unfortunately, it simply fails to deliver.

The plot is complicated and interesting, and one suspects that the characters could be as well. Why aren't they?

I know that Henning Mankell created the Wallander series, from which there have been some excellent TV adaptions. This leads me to suspect that Mankell really is good, but that the translator of this particular book may have fallen down.

There is too much bland exposition, and too little use of nuance. Tools such as foreshadowing, and some believable stream-of-consciousness might have helped. I was disappointed, but I might try another Mankell (and another translator) just to see what that might be like.

24 March 2011

The Road, by Cormac McCarthy

Audio book

One of the nicest, most patient, and kind men ever born and his son walk the Earth during the days after some kind of horrible apocalypse, the details of which we do not know. There has been fire everywhere, though, and ash continues to rain from the sky, seemingly years and years later. Except for a very few people, life on the planet is gone. Animals and plants are not present. The grass and trees are dead. The ocean is gray and lifeless. Bones lay on the beach.

The Ultimate Good Luck, by Richard Ford

This is, compared to what I've read so far by Richard Ford, very different. The style of writing is roughly the same, lots of time-stretching interior sentences, fine descriptions of place nuanced with what is happening, and well-drawn characters, but instead of following a story placed in the America of the late twentieth century, we are in Mexico in the 1980s, and the term fiction noir comes to mind.

Too late to hire Humphrey Bogart, but one imagines this becoming a screenplay that would be a fitting vehicle. Miss Bacall would have a role as well.

If I were a star-giver, I'd give it Five.

15 March 2011

Rain Gods, by James Lee Burke

Audio book.

A hell of a good book by James Lee Burke, the author of the Dave Robicheaux series. This book is set in Texas, and features a small-town sheriff named Hackberry Holland.

Holland discovers a mass grave containing 9 Asian women recently killed by gunfire. Further investigation reveals that these women are heroin "mules," with drug balloons in their stomachs.

As the story unfolds, several colorful characters emerge. Holland's deputy is Pam Gaddis, a young woman with more than workplace affection for the sheriff. An unfortunate young couple, Vicky and Pete, become involved in the investigation and endangered by the numerous hardened criminals exposed in the process.

Of the bad guys, "Preacher" Jack Collins is the worst. He is at best a psychopath, at worst pure Evil.

James Lee Burke never fails to please, and this was a thoroughly enjoyable novel.

05 March 2011

The Mission Song, by John leCarré

Audio book.

Excellent, of course, which is no surprise. "Salvo," Bruno Salvador is a British subject born in The Congo. He is a brilliant interpreter with a command of many African languages and dialects, as well as several European. In the usual leCarré fashion, he winds up recruited by British Intelligence, and does several jobs for "Mr. Anderson," interpreting sound interceptions and interviews from recordings.

The story gets into gear when Salvo is sent on an unusual mission, where he is to use an assumed name and identity, for people with whom he's not acquainted. This happens coincidentally with his discovery -- through an interpreting job -- of the love of his life, although he is a married man.

While this novel does not depart from leCarré's dark view of modern history and international affairs and the cold-hearted, cynical people who orchestrate them, its denouement is uncharacteristically uplifting, in a way still consistent with the writer's world, drawn from his own history and experiences.

26 February 2011

The Highest Tide, by Jim Lynch

I liked Border Songs so much that I had to read this book. It's a good story, and I read it in a day. It's about a young boy, Miles O'Malley, who lives on Skookumchuck Bay near Olympia, WA. I don't think there is a bay named that, but it's the name of a river, and the area he describes certainly could exist near Olympia.

Miles is very aware of the life on the tidal flats near him, and a big fan of Rachel Carson's books.

This is basically a coming-of-age story, overlaid with a little ecological awareness and sense of setting.

Djibouti, by Elmore Leonard

A great read by an old master. The only fault I find with this is that everyone in this book talks like an Elmore Leonard character. "The hell is that?" "He wants to know makes you so sure?" etc.

But Mr. Leonard, having created so many novels, films, TV shows and stories, can get away with quite a bit of license.

In this novel, there is a documentary filmmaker (Dara), her close friend and assistant (Xavier), who are from New Orleans. They travel to Djibouti where Dara hopes to film a documentary about Somalian pirates. In the course of this rather complicated plot (further complicated by Leonard jumping back and forth between Dara and Xavier's conversations about what they have filmed and actual "real-time" action) they run afoul of a very crazy bad guy (this is an Elmore Leonard novel) named Jama, nee James Russell.


15 February 2011

The Angel's Game, by Carlos Ruiz Zafón

Translated from Spanish by Lucia Graves.

I am not certain what to think or say about this novel. I expect it might be described as "gothic." It' s not Stephen King in Barcelona, but it has some hints at the occult. From nearly the beginning I expected the mysterious "publisher" to be revealed as Lucifer, but this is never exactly done.

This book might have been a waste of time. It was entertaining.

A Most Wanted Man, by John le Carré

I "read" this as an audio book.

In the ongoing mess of world affairs one suspects a high degree of incompetence, subterfuge, and mindlessly selfish power-grabbing. Le Carré does nothing to allay this suspicion.

This book is set in Hamburg, Germany. It deals with a young refugee from Chechnya, amazingly naive in spite of the brutal treatment he has endured on his flight from torture and imprisonment. The story is, of course, detailed and complex. Some people in Germany try to help him, and a very many do not.

If one is disposed to be paranoid or depressed about current events it might be best to skip this one.

Another excellent novel in concept and execution.

29 January 2011

Nine Dragons, by Michael Connelly

A Harry Bosch novel, with a little bit of the Lincoln Lawyer at the end. Not bad, really. This was an audio book. The person who read it was a little bit intrusive. He did voices, which isn't always objectionable, and it wasn't the worst I've heard, but it was just a little bit too much.

I will read, or listen to, more of these.

Murder of a Chinese storekeeper that appears to be a Triad killing leads Bosch to arrest a Triad bag man. The plot goes very quickly and violently from this point, taking Bosch to Hong Kong, and back to Los Angeles.

Our Kind of Traitor, by John Le Carre

I've never read a bad LeCarre, and the streak continues. Perry and Gail meet Dima in Antigua. They are more or less ordinary people from England on a holiday. He is, as it turns out, a rather highly-placed member of Russian organized crime, who (of course) wishes to defect to the UK.

Zero History, by William Gibson

(audio book)

Newest in series involving Hubertus Bigend, Hollis Henry, etc.

Hollis Henry searches for the footage, and eventually encounters Cayce Pollard.

Absolutely marvelous, absorbing, totally enjoyable.

Spook Country, by William Gibson

I had thought this was first in the series, but apparently Pattern Recognition comes first, and it is the first one I "read" (as an audio book -- this one is an audio book too). Hollis Henry is the central character in this one. In this book Hollis travels to Vancouver, BC, on a quest to locate the mysterious hacker Bobby Chombo (not sure of the spelling, this is an audio book) (Chombo appears in Zero History) and a shipping container that turns out to hold laundered money. Some amazing Cuban-Americans in an ancient sleeper cell are featured, as well as the former members of "Curfew," Hollis' band.

First class.

The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, by Stieg Larsson

Translated from Swedish by Reg Keeland.

Excellent, just excellent. Try to put this book down. Just try.

Mikael Blomkvist is an investigative financial journalist. At the beginning of the novel he has been convicted of libel, and will be paying a large fine as well as doing prison time.

He is hired by Henrik Vanger, an elderly, retired industrialist, to investigate the unsolved disappearance of his granddaughter Harriet in 1966. (The novel takes place circa 2003.)

As this story unfolds, we are treated to glimpses into the life of Lisbeth Salander, an unusual young woman with a great deal of difficulty in her life, as well as a great deal of talent and skill.

Salander and Blomkvist come together to solve one of the best mysteries I've ever read.

Neuromancer, by William Gibson

Read maybe 1/3, couldn't finish it. It's too vague, the opposite of the book by Greg Egan that I recently tried to read, which had too much exposition. This one doesn't have enough, there's too much assumption that the reader will just figure out what's going on, and I fail to live up to this assumption. I was disappointed,  having recently very much enjoyed 3 other novels by Gibson.

03 January 2011

Winter's Bone, by Daniel Woodrell

This is a very unusual book. It is short, only 193 pages, reads faster than hell (less than 8 hours), uses colloquial language, and is absolutely excellent.

Set in the Missouri Ozarks of today, Winter's Bone tells the story of Ree Dolly and her family, who live in the midst of raw, horrible, bone-crushing, bloody monsters from a time in the mythological past, but who at the same time are just kinfolk, who "cook crank," and live by a strict and awful code far more strict and harsh than any mere law enforced by the civilization that, we are scarcely aware, exists all around them.

Ree's dilemma is that her father has jumped bail, and if he is not found in time to make a court appearance, the bondsman will take all she and her family (her mother, drugged into oblivion on psychotropic medication, and her two little brothers, Harold and Sonny) has, which is their house and the land it is on. This home has been in her mother's family for at least a century, and is the treasure of this family. They have nothing else.

This is truly fine writing.