Book Review

The Gamal by Ciarán Collins

The Gamal is an Irish term which seems to equate to the village idiot and this novel is narrated by the Gamal. For the village idiot, he is pretty bright and also, happy to say, quite witty. He is writing this book as an exercise for his psychiatrist and as a way to deal with a trauma that has badly affected him.
While it is hard to trust his narration of a series of events, he is definitely worth reading. The tale borrows a bit from Othello and Romeo and Juliet – so you can probably tell it won’t be a happy tale, but the telling is full of humour. The writing is fresh and rather unique. Perhaps it is a bit over long and the Gamal can wander down some navel gazing paths that may have been best edited out but it is a bloody good read.
Give it a go – you will be glad you did.
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Fourteen J T Ellison

Not sure why I keep trying American crime. It doesn’t do it for me. In this one, our heroine is a homicide detective. She is drop dead gorgeous and wealthy. She is a shot first and ask questions only when necessary type. Her assistant is an FBI profiler who doesn’t do a lot of profiling. But he is drop dead gorgeous and probably wealthy but we aren’t told this. Also in the mix is another profiler. She is drop dead gorgeous and wealthy.
So for a start, give me an honest British crime solver. They are usually not that good looking, have personal problems and drink lots of tea. But at least they are normal humans.
I would hate to write a ‘what is wrong with the plot’ scenario, but it wouldn’t be hard. There is a shit load of co-incidence in the plot. Let the quote tell it all “Tell me again, it’s too fantastic for words.” Sorry to be harsh, but I can see why the Americans are embracing crime from Sweeden etc.
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The Tennis Stars’ Balls Stephen Fry

I was a bit reluctant to pick up a Stephen Fry novel. Not sure why, he is witty and intelligent and an insatiable desire to acquire knowledge. But perhaps he is a bit up himself.
All these attributes come out in this novel. It starts off really, really well. Intriguing. Then we work out it is the Count of Monte Christo set in the 80’s. This was a bit disappointing as it had seemed we were onto something quite original. In the retelling, Fry is witty and can’t help showing off his substantial knowledge. But we need to accept some pretty big co-incidences and at times the book feels overwritten. Nothing wrong with his characters and the plot does move along.
The comedy disappears towards the end as the revenge part kicks in. The main character who was presented as very likable turns more than a bit nasty.
Good read for a Sunday arvo after your weeds have been controlled.
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The Streets of Laredo – Larry McMurty

I wouldn’t normally go near a Western, but I have been wanting to read one of these books ever since the mini-series Lonesome Dove was aired. This is a lengthy book and is, on the whole, character driven. Of course there is a plot – good guys vs bad guys, but the lines can become a bit blurred. If our main good guy gets into a rage, he is likely to beat the object of his rage to death. It is also very bleak. There may have been a female character who hadn’t been raped (and most multiple times) but I can’t recall one. Most had been beaten and plenty of them murdered. Children don’t escape either with rape, torture and nasty deaths happening at regular intervals. It is also a story about old age and its effects. Our hero has become quite elderly and arthritis and failing eyesight are as much his enemies as the psychopaths he is hunting.
The characters are well drawn, but it is difficult to feel empathy for the male characters. The female characters mainly show great strength and compassion in their hideous world.
I will read another one of these one day and would recommend this book – but don’t expect any laughs.
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The Grove John Rector

Sorry, John Rector, I couldn’t get through your book. This is a murder mystery told in the first person by a character with problems. His main problem is that he has a mental illness, but his greater problem is that he refuses his medication and can’t remember his aggressive outbursts. He finds the body of a young woman in his paddock and decides that he needs to discover who killed her himself. The body is left to the elements while he hits the booze – which is rarely helpful mental illness or not.
After about a quarter of this book, I found myself disliking this bloke so much that I just didn’t want to go on. It is very sad that some people are afflicted by mental illness, but this character is unlikely to progress any cause toward generating empathy for this tragic problem.
Time for me to move on.

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The Shining Girls Lauren Beukes

Absolute ripping yarn territory. A time traveling serial killer – what else do you need? Like any time travel book, you need to keep your wits about you. The story is told in an almost linear manner – from the perspective of the characters – but not quite. The characters are given dimension, even those who appear briefly and are then slain. The dialogue is snappy and enjoyable. The research into previous times is thorough. This is a real page turner and I found it very hard to put down when the paddock chores were calling. Perhaps not a book for the squeamish, but a real treat for me.
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City of Ice John Farrow

After just finishing a Canadian book, I found myself reading of all things, a Canadian book. Could not be more different apart from the cold weather. While the last book was very much a character piece, this one is plot, plot and plot. It is a whopper and has so much plot, that there is not a whole lot of room for character development. Like the last book, I nearly gave this up a couple of pages in at the prologue – old renowned cop attends a covert operation by a newly formed police elite who want to recruit him – operation goes tits up and elite are shown up as bumblers. Sounded like the author has seen one too many American cop movies. But again, I persisted and was rewarded by a remarkable crime novel. Perhaps the best I’ve read. The plot goes places where credibility is stretched (but not snapped) and some of this stuff is based on real events.
I found it fast paced and tense. The main character is a bit of a Sherlock Holmes with remarkable attention to detail and a pretty darn big intellect. He needs it to stay half a step ahead of the opposition. He is ethically rather than legally driven which would have to be excruciatingly difficult for a cop, and can only be this way owing to his smarts. Loved it. Out of 10, for me 11.
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Late Nights On Air Elizabeth Hay

I was a fair way into this book when I asked myself why I was reading it. Answer is that this is a Canadian award winner and if it beat those other great Canadian authors, then it must be very, very good. It is character driven with very little plot and it is awfully off putting that there are constant hints that something big is going to happen. Stop hinting and get on with it, I say. The ‘action’, when it occurs is a descriptive journey into the North of Canada and I loved it. Made me want to be there, except I can’t stand the cold.
Apart from the journey, the setting is in a remote radio station with internal political difficulties and office romances. As a bit of a side story there is the consultation with the populace regarding a proposed pipeline through remote country.
This is a lengthy novel with not a lot of plot, and would probably be categorised as a romance. Not really for me, but very well written and worth a go.

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Winter in Madrid C J Sansom

So I love this persons work with the excellent Shardlake series. If you haven’t heard of it, Shardlake is a hunchback lawyer in Tudor times, specifically, Henry 8. He is a great character who gets into all sorts of strife and then gets out of it. Winter in Madrid is a departure from Tudor times and bangs us into the Spanish civil war. Just goes to show that a great author can move through time and space and give us a ripping yarn. And that is just what this is – a ripping yarn well written. If that is your bag – ( a ripping yarn in the historical fiction genre ) then go for it. You won’t be sorry. Promise.

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The Lower River Paul Theroux

I should read more of his books as I always enjoy them. Having said that, I nearly ditched this one a couple of pages in. The theme: Old guy returning to a place where he was happy as a young guy. I think we all know you can’t go back anywhere without being disappointed. These days it seems if you turn your back on somewhere for more than 5 minutes, it will have changed for the worse. And our hero is going back to a very small remote village in Africa after about 40 years. It was never going to go well.
Anyhow, I persisted and was rewarded with a great yarn. I’m not going to give you anything of the plot as anything would be a spoiler. So long as you are happy that the main character is a rather ordinary old guy, then give this a go. Not ripping yarn material, but very readable and rather intriguing.
You may as well know it is a bit cynical, so here’s a quote:

“That seemed to be a feature of life in the country [Malawi]: to welcome strangers, to let them live out their fantasy of philanthropy – a school, an orphanage, a clinic, a welfare center, a malaria eradication program, or a church; and then determine if in any of this effort and expense there was a side benefit – a kickback, a bribe, an easy job, a free vehicle. If the scheme didn’t work – and few of them did work – whose fault was that? Whose idea was it in the first place?”

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