Playback – Raymond Chandler

Los Angeles PI Philip Marlowe is mixing business with pleasure – he’s getting paid to follow a lovely mysterious redhead called Eleanor King. And wherever Miss King goes, trouble is sure to follow. But she’s easy on the eye and Marlowe’s happy to do as he’s told. But one dead body later and what started out as a lazy afternoon’s snooping soon becomes a deadly cocktail of blackmail, lies, mistaken identity – and murder.

There are very few series of books with which I feel compelled to collect them specifically based on their covers, but the Philip Marlowe series has such stylish appeal that after reading The Big Sleep, I just had to grab these classy covers before they were reissued.

Reworked from a screenplay – and it shows – written years before, Playback is my least favourite Marlowe novel.  Although tersely written, and straight in with no preamble, I did enjoy the important details picked out by the detectives eye, making for a sparseness of description but one which brings the images given a rich authenticity.

Marlowe is a great character; cynical, intelligent, wary, hard, honest.  He is the greatest strength of the novel, his realist attitude and devotion to what he does allows the reader sympathy with him, despite probably not always agreeing with his life choices. Continue reading “Playback – Raymond Chandler”

What Was Lost – Catherine O’ Flynn

A lost little girl with her detective notebook and toy monkey appears on the CCTV screens of the Green Oaks shopping centre, evoking memories of Kate Meaney, missing for twenty years. Kurt, a security guard with a sleep disorder, and Lisa, a disenchanted deputy manager at Your Music, follow glimpses of the girl through the centre’s endless corridors – a welcome change from dealing with awkward customers, colleagues and the Green Oaks mystery shopper. But as this after-hours friendship grows in intensity, it brings new loss and new longing to light.

The first time I read this book I did so in a twelve-hour single sitting, the writing style and the with the all too familiar take on retail, which I spent years in, were both compelling and moving.  What Was Lost is a  gritty and melancholy read with touches of humour that really hit the spot for those looking for a bit of mystery set in an all too familiar locale.

The story itself switches between two different threads, those of Kate Meaney (private investigator), and Kurt and Lisa, set twenty years later.  The story’s strengths lies in the wonderfully well-written characters and the differences in attitude, both in terms of the time periods and the characters within them.

The Green Oaks shopping centre is a character in itself, much like the island in the TV show Lost, it pulls people into it and changes lives.  It’s a monument to the staggering waste of time, heart and effort spent in these places for both workers and shoppers. Continue reading “What Was Lost – Catherine O’ Flynn”

The Dark Tower I: The Gunslinger – Stephen King

In the Gunslinger, Stephen King introduces the reader to one of his most enigmatic heroes, Roland of Gilead, the Last Gunslinger.  He is a haunting figure, a loner, on a spellbinding journey into good and evil, in a desolate world which frighteningly echoes our own.

In his first steps towards the powerful and mysterious Dark Tower, Roland encounters an alluring woman named Alice, begins a friendship with Jake, a kid from New York,  and faces an agonsiing choice between damnation and salvation as he pursues the Man in Black.

Starting on this odyssey once again and treading the well worn, familiar paths of Roland’s world has been both a pleasure and an eye-opener.  There is plenty of foretelling liberally scattered throughout this first book, and I forgot just how well it was written. Part western, part fantasy, and erring into sci-fi realms this fusion of genres and ideas are a stirring mix of unpredictability for the reader to experience.

The Gunslinger throws the adventurer into a strange, bleak world of obscure references to people and places, full of tantalising glimpses into a world passed and Roland’s own enigmatic history.  On my first read through this technique made me both eager to understand, and infuriated at not having the answers to hand, but the intrepid reader’s efforts will be rewarded as the series unfolds..

Likewise Roland’s world is a familiar, yet alien place with an atmosphere of decay, but is full of detail and mystery.  King manages to show so much whilst leaving even more open to question.  This form of crumb dropping is an enticement for this reader to carry on, to seek understanding of the world, and the lives there, but it will most likely split readers according to their tolerance for curiosity. Continue reading “The Dark Tower I: The Gunslinger – Stephen King”

No One Writes to the Colonel – Gabriel García Márquez

Fridays are different. Every other day of the week, the Colonel and his ailing wife fight a constant battle against poverty and monotony, scraping together the dregs of their savings for the food and medicine that keeps them alive. But on Fridays the postman comes – and that sets a fleeting wave of hope rushing through the Colonel’s ageing heart.

For fifteen years he’s watched the mail launch come into harbour, hoping he’ll be handed an envelope containing the army pension promised to him all those years ago. Whilst he waits for the cheque, his hopes are pinned on his prize bird and the upcoming cockfighting season. But until then the bird – like the Colonel and his wife – must somehow be fed. . .

No one writes like Márquez either, so after years away from his works – apologies for such an oversight in my reading schedule – even one of his minor tales feels like a privilege to read.  This succinct story is packed full of melancholy, humanity and wonderful writing, each line seem precisely weighted for maximum enjoyment.

Waiting plays a big part throughout these pages, life is staid and conventional, poised but never moving on whilst all around ages towards the inevitable.  Will that pension ever arrive to allow living to progress again?  The limbo is palpable.

The unfair nature of so many circumstances in the novella are nothing new, especially those who despite fighting in wars are the first to be forgotten when it comes to what they are owed – even though they are afforded respect.  Márquez, however, adds to this with his sense of the bigger picture, from the inane bureaucracy of governments, the sense or lack of loyalty from neighbours, to the sheer brutal chances of life choices. Continue reading “No One Writes to the Colonel – Gabriel García Márquez”

Old Habits…

After spending half a week face deep in a manuscript, a wander into Derbyshire was much called for yesterday.  Inevitably, it was hard to avoid the second hand bookshops, and after going in ‘just to look’, it would have been rude to leave without buying anything.  So I did.

In my defence – as if one were needed – a couple of fine book were unearthed.  Having read, and loved I, Claudius last year it was a pleasant surprise to bump into the sequel in almost mint condition, and as an added bonus with the same cover style as its companion book.

The Dostoyevsky was again close to mint condition and as it’s been a while since I had read anything by him (and the price was right) it made sense to not only indulge again but actually plan write a review for the blog when I’m done reading, as I seem to have missed reviewing all three books previously read by the author.

Now I just have to find the time to get into them as I am taking on a new quest, as well as the usual, but more of that in a week or two.

Tender is the Night – F. Scott Fitzgerald

Set on the French Riviera in the 1920s, American Dick Diver and his wife Nicole are the epitome of chic, living a glamorous lifestyle and entertaining friends at their villa. Young film star Rosemary Hoyt arrives in France and becomes entranced by the couple. It is not long before she is attracted to the enigmatic Dick, but he and his wife hold dark secrets and as their marriage becomes more fractured, Fitzgerald laments the failure of idealism and the carefully constructed trappings of high society in the Roaring Twenties.

This somewhat autobiographical novel is an interesting read, not only for the story itself, but also for the extra examination of Fitzgerald’s dependency on alcohol and his wife’s Schizophrenia.  This, his final and favourite novel is certainly a mixed bag but well worth picking up.

The old cliché about Americans who visit other countries is reinforced here as many of the characters retain a strong American identity but seem purposefully oblivious (and superior) to the cultures that surround them.  The locals tolerating their shenanigans partly because of America’s role in the war and, inevitably, the riches brought to a shattered continent recovering from the horrors of the First World War.

There is a vacuous nature to the majority of the characters, at one point I began to wonder if I would be bothered by the fates of any of them.  In a world filled with frivolous parties and empty conversations, the carefully manufactured and cultivated superficial facades mean so much to the characters, who like actors are putting on a well rehearsed show.

“When there were enough Americans on the platform the first impression of their immaculacy and their money began to fade into a vague racial dusk that hindered and blinded both them and their observers.” Continue reading “Tender is the Night – F. Scott Fitzgerald”

The Bridge of Little Jeremy – Indrajit Garai

Jeremy’s mother is about to go to prison for their debt to the State. He is trying everything within his means to save her, but his options are running out fast. Then Jeremy discovers a treasure under Paris. This discovery may save his mother, but it doesn’t come for free. And he has to ride over several obstacles for his plan to work. Meanwhile, something else is limiting his time…

After reading two volumes of Garai’s short stories this is the first novel by the author, once again the focus is on the troubled times of his characters, and how they respond to the problems presented.  The down to earth approach to telling a story gives it the edge over those authors that attempt to force an emotional response from the reader with unneeded flourishes.

Taking place in Paris – a source of artistic and literary inspiration for many throughout the ages – I was pleased to see that both made appearances within the story, whilst Garai’s eye for natural beauty – and degradation – in the often ignored urban areas helps layer a further feeling of the city’s atmosphere and depth.

The titular character Jeremy is interesting in his introspective, self-examining ways.  His solitary approach to life – somewhat enforced thanks to circumstances – gives him the drive to fix things, even if they don’t always work out in the way he intended. Continue reading “The Bridge of Little Jeremy – Indrajit Garai”