20 May 2014

Our Man in Havana, by Graham Greene

An audio book, from the PC Library.

I know that I must have read this book before, many years ago, but I had forgotten most of it, and was enchanted by the plot as well as Greene's wonderful prose.

An essay by Peter Hulme.

James Wormold is a vacuum-cleaner dealer in Havana, single father of a teenage daughter. Business is not very good in pre-revolutionary Cuba (ca. 1958), so when Wormold is approached by an agent of British Secret Service with an offer of money to gather and transmit intelligence to London, he is persuaded to cooperate.

Wormold is a hopeless secret agent, and he knows it. Instead of actually recruiting sub-agents or doing any real spying, he creates a fantasy list of people and bogus information -- and he is very successful at it. London is thoroughly taken in.

There is just enough humor to relieve pathos, and just enough romance to make it a nicely understated love story.

Fall on Your Knees, by Ann-Marie MacDonald

From the PC Library. MacDonald is a Canadian author. This is her first novel.

I must be on an unintentional first-novel gothic kick.

Another fabulous, escapist page-turner, also with a twin theme (I know!). I thoroughly enjoyed this very entertaining book.

Publisher's Weekly review.

The story just goes on and on. If it wasn't obvious by the number of pages remaining, a reader would think the novel had ended several times long before the end. This was not a bad thing, as I was happy to read more of MacDonald's terrific writing.

The Thirteenth Tale, by Diane Setterfield

This could be described, in a way, as a book about books, or perhaps a story about stories. Another important theme in The Thirteenth Tale is the concept of twins. The protagonist is a young woman, unusually bookish and asocial, who lives with her parents, and helps her father run a rare book business.

Review at The Independent

Glancing at the above review, I was surprised to note that this was Setterfield's first novel. Perhaps I knew that already, but I hadn't remembered. It is masterfully written, and shows no signs of inexperience. It's a true gothic page-turner with plenty of Bad English Weather, mystery, cups of tea, ghosts, and scandalous intrigue. Jane Eyre is invoked and evoked throughout its pages, as are other similar books.

The review covers the plot very well, I won't bother to paraphrase that here. I wouldn't classify this book as great literature, but I would call it very good literature, and it provided many hours of terrific entertainment.

Faceless Killers, by Henning Mankel

An audio book.

One of the Kurt Wallander series of detective novels. Translated from Swedish.

I think I've noted before that I suspect translation hurts these novels a little. Wallander's life is so depressing that it starts to rub off when I read one of these. As a commuter's boredom relief it was okay. I wonder about the structure.

Real police work is probably something like what is related here. False leads, loose ends, periods of time during which nothing happens. Whether this makes good crime fiction is debatable. Perhaps Mankel is more interested in simply writing a novel about a character who experiences a great deal of adversity in his life, and how he deals with it.

This story begins with a gruesome and violent murder of an elderly couple in a remote farmhouse. As the plot progresses, we learn that the husband's life was a little more complicated than his neighbors thought. There is a clue that the perpetrators may have been "foreign." This leads to some public reaction to the large numbers of refugees living in the area. Hate crimes are committed.

As the plot progresses, Wallander's life is complicated by his father's dementia, which is beginning to get out of hand. As acting police chief during a time when more than one horrible crime has been committed, he is ill prepared to deal with this situation.

One of the issues that was never resolved to my satisfaction is the brutality of the murder, including the use of a certain eclectic knot in a cord used to strangle one of the victims. Why Mankel imagined the murder in this way, and added that detail, as well as others, is not clear to me. This is one area where I expect something did not come through the translation process -- or it may simply be my own sloppy reading.