Smart Crime Book Reviews
Blind Goddess: A Hanne Wilhelmsen Novel by Anne Holt
Read by Tracy April 2013
Tracy recommends as not meandering and unconvincing.
I had no idea that Blind Goddess by Anne Holt was first published in 1993 when I started reading it, although I did wonder whether the police force were the most archaic in the world, but can now rest easy that a few decades later we have seen tremendous change in technology. But then again with the recent proliferation of Scandinavian crime novelists, the re-release of this book which is the start of the Hanne Wilhelmsen series (there have subsequently been eight books in the series). It is a strange name for the series, as Hanne Wilhelmsen, although in the book, for me, wasn’t the main character, I felt that Karen Borg was a more interest character and could imagine the story covering both police and legal procedures being more open to storylines. However, it is the Hanna Wilhelmsen series and I presume in subsequent books we learn more about Hanne and her devotion to the police force.
Blind Goddess sees Karen Borg uncover a mutilated body on her morning walk. The body turns out to be low level drug dealer. Ludvig Sandersen, and when his murderer is quickly arrested you would think that would be the end of the story – but no, many twists and turns are about to proceed. The murderer, Dutchman Han van der Kerch refuses to talk, except to advice he wants Karen Borg to represent him. Karen is more at home in the commercial world and has not worked a criminal case since graduating law school. All of a sudden it feels like the bodies are piling up with the murder of attorney Hans E. Olsen, the deaths in custody of Kerch and Jacob Frostrup, all with the slightest links which are gradually uncovered by Wilhelmsen and policy lawyer Hakon Sand who argue that used-car salesman Roger Stromsjord and lawyer Jorgen Ulf Lavik head a huge drug consortium. As they start to piece the puzzle together, it appears that a huge network of corruption exists, which encompasses their own areas and that of the Norwegian government. The bad guys and slowly identified and sometimes are not who you have expected at all. What is interesting is the focus on procedural police work and how quickly some of the puzzle comes together, but when Sand and Wilhelmsen can’t get their high-ups to also agree, just how difficult it is to have all the pieces aligned to ensure that it is not quickly shredded by the prosecution. I was totally surprised by Peter Strup and his place in the story, I had definitely tagged him as being someone different.
It makes a change that a book focuses on the investigation and just how time consuming it is for police to follow procedures exactly, there are no short cuts and you need strong evidence before being able to get warrants. Especially in this case where evidence is almost impossible to find and when they do it is in an almost unbreakable code. In the end the book thrives best when it is looking at the political deception and policing processes, but becomes a bit bogged down with scenic narrative. Of course Ms Holt was Norway’s Justice Minister, so would know a bit about both!
Black Water Rising by Attica Locke
Read by Tracy January 2013
Tracy recommends as not meandering and unconvincing.
It is the 1980's and Jay Porter is a struggling lawyer (not words that are normally written about a lawyer) in Houston. He is trying to make ends meet, but nothing goes his way. In his youth he was a Black Power activist campaigning against segregation in the American South and narrowly avoids prison, but he is he never forget the injustices of Southern law enforcement and his own understand that his colour is something to look down on, even his own father had died when after receiving a bashing from rednecks, his wife took him to a white hospital who refused to treat him and left him to die. On his wife's, Bernie's birthday, he rents a boat (romantic - hmm well not exactly), it is a ramshackle boat bearly worthy of the title and even Jay seems embarrassed about what he has provided in an attempt to make the night memorable. His wife is heavily pregnant and he seems to lack the joy this should bring him, he feels he is on the edge and constantly worries about making ends meet. As they are slowly meandering through the Buffalo Bayou in Houstin, they are stopped by the screams of a woman, quickly followed by gunshots and then splashes. Jay jumps in a soon surfaces with a woman, one who is unwilling to share anything. It turns out a man was killed near where they found the women, Jay finds himself unwilling to put it all behind him and is driven to investigate.
Another plot is unfolding surrounding union unrest with the black longshoremen threaten to strike for equal pay, opportunities and rights. One of the union men is supposedly attached and Jay has been asked to represent him by his very powerful father-in-law, who is a minister. Jay isn't sure and doesn't want to be involved, but increasingly finds himself one of the few voices of reason. He is also called upon to open communication channels with the Houston Mayer, a blast from Jay's past - but someone who owes him a big favour. The mayor (Cynthia) is a fascinating character, she was heavily involved in politics during college, but then disappeared, reinventing herself into a Reaganite and becoming Mayor.
As he continues to investigate the shooting, he finds himself uncovering corrupt practices of oil companies, and even more corrupt practices of government officials. This is the storyline I wanted more of - the greed of oil companies who will do anything to keep their grip on global politics. I would also be fairly unhappy if I was one of Jay's actual paying clients as he never seems to really finish anything to a satisfactory conclusion. The theme of a lawyer
Attica Locke has a new book out - The Cutting Season.
Doors Open by Ian Rankin
Read by Tracy January 2013
Tracy recommends as a heist novel with a twist.
I picked this book up because Stephen Fry has been cast to play the role of the art expert, Professor Gissing in this TV adaptation. I should also state I have not read any of his books previous, and they include the crime novels about Detective Inspector John Rebus. This is his first post-Rebus novel (after 17 novels in that series) and covers art, risk and crime and is a stand-alone crime thriller. Boyd Tonkin (The Independent) interviews Rebus on his thoughts from such topics as, will Rebus haunt him, as Sherlock Holmes haunted his maker.
Doors Open follows the stories of several successful inhabitants of Edinburgh and how they can be caught up in something that spirals out of control. The name of the book Doors Open is twofold - one meaning is the open door of opportunity and decisions (one door swings open, and the other slowly closes) and also the open door scheme in the UK where government buildings thrown open their doors for civilians to wander through. Luckily the doors open scheme is about to start.
The main character of the book is Mike Mackenzie, an excessively rich ex-software mogul, who is bored after selling his company, leaving him with nothing better to do that trawl through auction houses and galleries buying art. Mike is friends with Allan Cruickshank a high net worth banker. Allan is going through an extremely expensive divorce which has seen him become increasingly bitter and he realises he will never be able to afford the luxury of art to fill his walls, something he would appreciate compared to some of his clients and his employer. Not that he had fallen out of love with his wife, instead trying to woo her back. The third musketeer is Professor Robert Gissing who is nearly retired and a lover of art, who has the idea of liberating some paintings from the National Gallery warehouse. The warehouse holds all the paintings that Edinburgh galleries don't display due to space considerations. Mackenzie is the first one to agree to the idea, mulling over what percentage of the worlds art was actually kept in bank vault, but being no better himself in wanting it hanging on his walls instead.
As the story progresses, the characters seem to revert to their true ideals - Mike becomes more assertive, Allan becomes more involved with the intricacies of the plan and Gissing becomes secretive. Realising they will be short of the required muscle, Mackenzie contacts an gangster criminal Chib Calloway, who luckily went to school with Mackenzie, although it wasn't a very chummy friendship, but Calloway soon realises that the scheme has merit and can also see possibilities for future transactions. Unfortunately he has also involved in a small spat with some Hells Angels which sees the power shift in his crime organisation. Also involved in the sidelines of the story is Inspector Ransome, he isn't the most creative inspector and the answers to his questions fall in his lap. The book isn't all high flying, there are some gritty and violent scenes as all the main characters scheme and ultimately they realise they were the ones taken for the ride and they have to work with what options they have left.
Keep up to date with Ian Rankin at his website.
Midwinter Sacrifice by Mons Kallentoft
Read by Tracy November 2012
The cover states: Larsson. Nesbo. Now there's a new king of crime. So no pressure on Mons Kallentoft to top those two authors. However, I felt it was also similar to Alice Sebold's The Lovely Bones with the use of supernatural elements and thoughts from beyond. Midwinter Sacrifice is the debut novel for Kallentoft and it isn't bad, but it is definitely not worthy of the comparison which sets the book up the fail in my opinion.
It is a simple plot - the body of Bengt Andersson, found hanging from the tree in the bitterly cold town of Linkoping and the resultant police investigation. The story follows Malin Fors, one of the investigating officers and we watch her try to juggle her home life, her work life and her desire for a life in general all whilst working all the hours possible, her seeming addition to Tequila and the constant cold. I think Nesbo does a much better job of describing the weather in his books, but nevertheless Kallentoft certainly makes you glad you live somewhere a tad warmer. Malin tries to be a mother to her teenage daughter, Tove who suddenly introduces her boyfriend onto the scene. Her relationship with Tove is actually fairly realistic, both of them trying to find the balance as they grow and adjust into their new relationship after the divorce. Malin though, still harbors a deep desire for her ex-husband which keeps her fantasies ticking over, although she does have a few prospective new husbands in the firing line, if only she could step away from work for a while. The story also follows a large range of local characters which are highlighted in a small town situation. There were a lot of background stories, probably too many with too many leads and too many non-leads which detracted from the suspense. As the story unfolds and Malin unravels the life of Bengt Andersson, there are a myriad of theories and about would be so vengeful.
I felt the book was too long, and because it just didn't grab me, I have been reading it on and off for a long time as it lacked the imagination of other crime books of late. That being said, it is nice to see a strong female police figure who doesn't attempt to be at the front of everything, instead she works twice as hard at following all the leads and tying up the loose ends.
Revenge of the Tide by Elizabeth Haynes
Read by Natalie September 2012
Natalie recommends as a gripping and intriguing mystery
Genevieve is finally living her dream on a house boat in Kent. Having at last escaped the demands of her day job in sales and the seediness of her night job pole dancing in a gentleman’s club in London, all she wants now is a quiet life. But her past catches up with her when the morning after her boat-warming party, a body washes up alongside her new home and it’s someone she recognises. As the police are called to investigate, Gen initially remains coy about knowing the victim, her best friend from the club, Caddy. Desperate to find out what happened to her, she risks a phone call to Dylan, the man who helped her escape her past. Despite his warnings to never contact him, but instead wait for his call, Genevieve risks it, anxious to hear his voice again and find out if he still harbors any feelings for her, five months after she left. When Dylan cuts her off and then switches his phone off, Gen is distraught. Things start to get a lot worse when it appears Caddy’s body was deliberately dumped next to her boat and the very people Gen thought she had escaped might have actually found her. As an increasing number of disturbing events keep occurring, Gen is forced to call Jim, a police officer who left his number when everything first started going wrong.
As Jim and Genevieve begin a dangerous and forbidden affair, Gen tries desperately to hide her past from the first person she has felt safe with since Dylan. She knows Jim isn’t buying it however and although she slowly reveals pieces of her past to her neighbour Malcolm, she refuses to tell Jim the real story, even after she is attacked and left unconscious one night. Things reach breaking point however when Gen discovers Dylan calling, on Jim’s mobile phone. Trying to work out exactly who she can trust and what game Jim is playing with her, Gen starts to get some answers when Dylan finally gets back in contact, ordering her to get off her boat. Seeing him again, all of her buried feelings resurface and as she desperately tries to hang on to him this time, everything from her past catches up with her – big time. Going back to her boat when she realises it’s not just her life at risk anymore, both Gen and Dylan are ambushed. With Jim stuck in London and unable to reach her in time, it looks like Gen might lose everything. Can she escape the men who are after her and will she be able to convince Dylan to stay this time, or is it too late?
This is my second Elizabeth Haynes book and definitely another great read. Told from Gen’s POV, the story moves between the present as she tries to go about fixing up her new boat, and the past where she lands a job pole dancing in a club that gradually turns into something seedier. Over time we watch as Gen begins a new “relationship” with Jim, despite still wanting Dylan, as well as see how her initial working relationship with Dylan turned to friendship and finally something more. We also learn about the series of events that landed her in hot water in the first place and forced her to escape London. Gen was a great character, strong and determined and refusing to let anyone get the better of her. But I have to say, I absolutely loved the quiet yet strong Dylan, he was my favourite character in the book from the minute we met him and I was so frustrated at some of the actions and feelings from him that Gen initially missed. The story was fast moving and very intriguing and kept me turning the pages long into my 12 hour flight. Elizabeth has a fabulous way of building intrigue and suspense and creating likeable but very unusual characters. I was desperately hoping Gen could escape her past and finally get her man back – did she, well...I’d hate to ruin it for you! Definitely one of my favourite authors, pick this one up, you won’t be disappointed.
The Killing Hour by Lisa Gardner
Listened to by Natalie July 2012
Natalie recommends as a good story ruined by really bad narration
Kimberley Quincy is a FBI new entry officer who is in the final stages of her training at Quantico when she stumbles across a dead body on her PT course. Already struggling to live up to her famous father’s (a former FBI profiler) reputation, Kimberley doesn’t do herself any favours as the youngest recruit the FBI has seen, when she alienates her classmates with her closed off demeanour. Having previously lost her own sister and mother to a violent criminal who used Kimberley to try and get access to her father, she is determined to remain stoic and strong, even if it means not letting anyone get close to her. Enter Georgia cop “Mac” McCormack a man who has been on the trail of a serial killer for years. Knowing this killer always kidnaps 2 girls, leaving the first girl in an obvious location with clues on her body pointing to the location of the second girl, who has been left alive in an effort to tease the police into finding her in time, he recognises his killer’s MO immediately. Repeatedly blocked by the FBI/NCIS’s efforts to keep this investigation in-house, and even temporarily becoming a suspect himself, Mac enlists the help of Kimberley to not only thwart the authorities, but eventually track down the missing girl. As Kimberley takes a surprising leave of absence from the academy to help Mac, her father reappears as a hired consultant. When Mac and Kimberley strike out alone, enlisting the help of some scientists to help narrow down their search area, her father gradually realises he would be better helping them, than the FBI. As they race to find the missing girl, it becomes apparent the killer has upped the ante this time by kidnapping 4 girls. When the second and then third bodies are finally found, Kimberley and Mac fear they are running out of time and as Mac desperately tries to save one more girl and finally nail the killer whose been haunting him for years, Kimberley struggles with the grief and memories she has of her own sister and mother’s deaths. Finally cracking the code on the fourth girl’s location, it becomes a race against the clock to find her before the killer, a man closer than they realised, takes further action. Thrown into all of this is a sizzling romance between Mac and Kimberley which is made up of cheesy innuendo and dialogue and ends with a cementing of their future in Mac’s hometown of Atlanta, as well as a change of direction for Kimberley’s father and his live-in girlfriend, which gives a little depth to the characters.
Listening to this book was an interesting experience and not something I do often. It’s hard to stay focused and concentrate on the story and even more difficult when you want to flick back and clarify some fact or plot point. Eventually however, I did get engrossed in the story and had a couple of theories about the killer’s identity, one of which was correct. What really ruined it for me however, was the narration, which to be honest, was awful. The various accents and voices the “actress” put on where painfully cheesy and seemed to demean several characters in the process. What was worse was how overdone they were initially, before petering off as that character’s dialogue continued. I would much rather she had just spoken in the same voice for the whole story rather than attempt to put on different personas. I can see why she reads audio books rather than acts on the big screen. While I would certainly be interested in reading more of Lisa Gardner’s books, particularly as it appears these characters have an ongoing series, I will definitely be reading them, rather than enduring the audio version!
Into the Darkest Corner by Elizabeth Haynes
Read by Natalie June 2012
Natalie recommends as a page turning mystery/thriller with a great ending
Into the Darkest Corner is the story of Catherine, a carefree 24 year old who loves going out every night with her friends, having a good time and making the most of single life. That is until she meets Lee Brightman, a charismatic and good looking man who seems to be very interested in Catherine. As they begin a passionate affair, fuelled by their strong attraction to each other, Catherine believes she has finally found the one; a gorgeous and caring man she can settle down with. Although Lee routinely disappears for days at a time to carry out a job he can’t tell Catherine about, she quickly finds herself smitten with this charming man who also manages to win over her friends. However things soon start to go wrong when the initially charming and smitten Lee becomes possessive and controlling. Virtually moving himself into Catherine’s house when he isn’t working, Lee soon starts to dictate who Catherine sees, what she wears and when she goes out. To make matters worse, it becomes apparent that even when he is working, he is still watching her and even stranger still, sneaking into her house to leave cryptic clues as to his presence. When Catherine is burgled one day, Lee rushes to comfort her and take control of the situation, his newly revealed job as an undercover police detective coming in handy. However you get the sense, that there is more to this burglary than meets the eye and when Lee’s tiny clues left around her house start to get more disturbing, Catherine begins to get more and more fearful. Making matters worse is her friend’s disbelief in the whole situation with Lee, who they all believe to be the perfect catch. Trying to convince Catherine that she is lucky to have found someone so wonderful, Catherine begins to feel more and more isolated as their suggestions that it is her who is the problem start to be vocalised. As Catherine tries desperately to plot an escape from a man who has now become extremely abusive and violent, she almost makes it. However when Lee shows up and uses his police credentials to capture her, Catherine knows it is now only a matter of time before he kills her.
The storyline runs in parallel to a storyline set four years later where we see a completely different Catherine, now living in London and a shadow of her former self. Scarred, both physically and emotionally, she is suffering from extreme OCD and PTSD and struggling just to get by. No longer in contact with any of her former friends, she fills her days and most of her nights with work and the continuous and desperate need to constantly check her surroundings and her flat. When a new neighbour moves in however, she finally finds someone she can talk to, particularly when he saves her from an unfortunate run-in with a work colleague. When Stuart reveals he is a psychologist and wants to help Catherine, she is initially fearful, having spent months in hospitals and psychiatric wards trying to recover whilst becoming extremely distrustful of the medical community. However, at the same time she feels strangely safe with Stuart and while she begrudgingly accepts his offer of help, she also forms a friendship that gradually turns into more. Then one day Catherine receives a phone call telling her that Lee is about to be released from prison. Although scared and knowing that he is going to come looking for her, she tries to go about her life, hoping that he doesn’t know where she is. As her relationship with Stuart continues to move forward, tiny clues that suggest Lee has found her start to be revealed. Initially telling Stuart about these, Catherine desperately wants him to believe her, while at the same time she tries to convince herself that Lee isn’t really here. When the police confirm his presence in Lancaster, Catherine uses this as a way to strengthen herself, finally deciding that she isn’t going to be afraid of him anymore and will be prepared when he finally does find her. When a chance run-in with her old friend Sylvia, a woman who took Lee’s side during the trial is followed by Lee turning up to interview for a job at Catherine’s company, it becomes apparent that he has indeed found her, although his motivations for this are unclear. Keeping more and more of Lee’s strange behaviour from Stuart, Catherine reaches out to Sylvia in an attempt to learn more. When it finally becomes clear that she is also under Lee’s control, the story culminates in Lee’s appearance at Catherine’s apartment where Stuart is also under threat.
This was a fantastic story which really kept me hooked. The whole book alternates between 2003 when Catherine meets Lee and 2007 when she has escaped from him. Each story features a completely different Catherine and as they both move forward you start to learn why Catherine in the present is so traumatised and different to Catherine in the past. You also start to see Lee’s possessive and controlling behaviour which not only turns extremely violent, but emotionally manipulative. The tiny things he does and clues he leaves when he sneaks into her house in the past and apartment in the present are really quite chilling and you start to understand why Catherine developed her OCD behaviour. Told completely from Catherine’s POV, as the reader you never really understand the full explanation of Lee’s obsession with her or Sylvia’s behaviour, but you definitely get the sense of desperation and isolation that Catherine felt. The book actually begins with a court transcript from 2004 which features questioning and cross examination of Lee and is followed by a short section on a 2001 murder of a woman called Naomi. This beginning comes full circle at the end with another court transcript featuring Sylvia’s testimony in 2009 and the 2010 discovery of Naomi’s body following a letter Catherine receives from Lee. This letter is an absolute fantastic ending to the whole story and the second page of it is truly chilling. A gripping story of obsession, control and violence, this one will have you turning the pages and making sure the door is locked!
Prime Cut by Alan Carter
Read by Natalie April 2012
Natalie recommends as a great crime novel, full of twists, turns, hilarious dialogue and memorable characters
Prime Cut tells the story of disgraced former detective Phillip “Cato” Kwong. Once a poster child for the WA police force, an early mistake during his rookie years where he mistook “helping out the team” for proper police work, he has been banished to the Stock Squad, a section of the police force who spend their days investigating road kill and barely keeping his dignity intact. When a dead body washes up on shore in Hopetoun, a tiny town currently going through a mining boom, Cato is ordered down there to investigate by his former boss and the man he essentially took the fall for all those years ago. Told to lay low and basically do nothing until the “real cops” arrive in a week, Cato also finds himself face to face with Tess Maguire (aka Taser Tess – a hilarious incident showcases her talents later in the book), his former partner and lover and a woman who has escaped to Hopetoun after nearly dying whilst trying to break up a pub brawl. Tess is barely holding it together herself, unable to communicate with her teenage daughter, still traumatised by the incident that nearly cost her her life and still in the dark as to why Cato left her all those years ago. As these two struggle to work together and solve the crime, things start to escalate when Jim Buckley, Cato’s new partner is murdered, a missing Indonesian naval officer shows up, a drug ring is unearthed with ties back to Perth and a brawl occurs at the mine site. Throw in the arrival of DI Hutchins, Cato’s former boss; his team including the mysterious Lara Sumich; a retired Sunderland police officer who is also brother-in-law to Jim Buckley and still chasing an unsolved crime from Sunderland 1973; a Chinese worker confessing to a crime he clearly didn't commit; and a psychotic murderer who is forced into action again by Cato’s Chinese whispers and things are about to get a whole lot messier! The book is set against the backdrop of the WA mining boom, and describes the huge financial gains of industry, even in the face of the global financial crisis, the exploitation of immigrant workers and the effects these industries and their workers have on the previously quiet and secluded coastal towns. As the headcount increases, a never ending list of suspects is presented and the seemingly unconnected crimes start to link together and overlap. In amongst it all is some truly hilarious dialogue from a writer who has a gift for both sarcasm and observational nuances and this is a really great read. Sometimes a little hard to follow with the ever increasing list of characters, it still finds a way to tie together most of the stories and solve all of the crimes, including the 1973 Sunderland Cup final murders.
I had the pleasure of seeing Alan talk at the Perth Writer’s Festival, where he described the process of writing Prime Cut, his first novel. Given the greatest gift of all by his wife, a year off to write the book he always dreamed of writing, Alan has a gift for story-telling and a wonderful sense of humour. While there are several issues that are still unresolved by the end of the book, namely Cato’s redemption, his relationship with Tess and exactly why he did leave her in the first place, as Alan is hard at work on the follow-up novel, one can only assume some of those questions might be answered next time around. Shortlisted for the 2010 Crime Writer's Association Debut Dagger Award, if you’re looking for a great read that is both entertaining and interesting, and full of complex and highly amusing characters then pick this up, you won’t be disappointed.
Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy by John le Carre
Read by Tracy in October 2011(OurBookClub book pick of the month for November 2011)
Tracy recommends as a thrilling espionage novel
Set in the 1970's this novel is a look at the disenfranchisement of the spy game after the cold war and the lengths those within the British Secret Intelligence Service (SIS) will go to uncover and by some, hide, a Soviet mole. This is no James Bond or Jason Bourne style novel, there is no glitz and glamour, it is all about the compromises that are made as the once young guns of the SIS reach middle age and must face their own demons in a beige world where disenchantment has taken its toll. Le Carre eloquently captures the decay facing a once mighty empire who is now on the back foot and trying to assimilate into a changed world where there is a new game in town.
Control, the Circus chief, uncovers information that adds to his suspicions there is a KGB mole, who is codenamed Gerald, within the upper echelons of the SIS. For the five possible informants he assigns a code name - Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Poorman and Beggarman so that information that uncovers the mole can easily be relayed back to him. Years later a new younger spy (Ricki Tarr) uncovers similar information and advises his superior Peter Guillam, who years previously had ignored Control's theories and now wants to make amends and notifies Oliver Lacon who is now the civil servant in charge of SIS. Enter George Smiley, recruited back into the SIS, who with the help of Guillam is to clandestinely investigate and ultimately uncover the mole responsible for leaking secrets to the Soviets for years. Smiley soon finds that the Circus is now a different place, run by wannabees that Control had named as possible spies. Smiley has to go back painstakingly through the files to when the Mole first became known and put the parts of the jigsaw together. I love the descriptions of "the Circus" (the highest echelon of the SIS) which seems to be a maze of narrow corridors and buildings that you could walk by without even wondering what lies behind the doors and all guarded by seemingly invisible people. Using Controls files, Smiley is able to name the different nominees for the Mole award - Tinker: Percy Alleline, Tailor: Bill Haydon, Soldier: Roy Bland and Poor Man: Toby Esterhase, who have all subsequently risen to positions of prominence within the Circus. Smiley is able to uncover that Gerald was responsible for the failure of Operation Testify where a SIS spy was shot in the process of kidnapping a Czech army General. The spy was Jim Prideaux and the failed operation saw the dismissal of both Control and Smiley. Smiley interviews Prideaux and discovers Operation Testify was created to uncover the moles identity and that this fact was already known by Moscow in his subsequent interrogations. I have to say at some points I did wonder if the spy was Smiley himself, what a great cover, the ability to work on the sidelines and to read all the most top secret documentation, it would be easy to point the finger at someone else. What raises more of a smile is when Guillam infiltrate’s the Circus to find the log files that recorded some vital information, he describes telex machines, filing cabinets, microfiche machines and paper documents – how things have changed for the Y generation and the introduction of the mobile phone and GPS. Of course one of the biggest changes to office life was the dominance of the women only typing pools which have been removed with the introduction of the computer. Smiley starts to investigate a source code-named Merlin and the possibility that the information is false and instead of providing information to the SIS, Merlin is in fact sending information back to the Soviets which is agreed in a ruse to protect Merlin's identity and as such the new leadership at the Circus, headed by Percy Alleline ensure that any rumours of a mole are suppressed. During the investigation, Smiley, who has always been extremely protective of his personal life discloses he is having problems in his marriage, especially after he finds his wife Ann and Bill Haydon have been having an affair and this starts to clouds his impartiality. In the end Smiley uncovers the use of a safe house and is able to link some of the possible moles with the confirmed Soviet Mole of Polyakov and in their desire to obtain more information from Merlin the real SIS mole has been able to leak genuine British information unbeknownst to the others. Le Carre has a wonderfully descriptive writing style. When he explains the drive towards dower house to meet Ricki Tarr, I could imagine the beautiful houses with white fences. Even small details such as his description of the old boys club and Haydon having to read news on tickertape – now those would have been the days and I am sure most men regret their gradual demise in the face of equality. Of course one of the lines in book that I really loved was Smiley’s theory on each of us having only a quantum of compassion so that if we lavish our attention on every stray cat, we never get to the centre of things, this is what breaks the case of course. The ending can be a real cliff hanger and it is a surprise.
The book is based loosely on the revelations during the 1950's/60's of real life moles within the SIS in the names of Guy Burgess, Donald Maclean, Anthony Blunt, John Cairncross and probably the most famous of them all, Kim Philby, who I think were all eventually repatriated back to Russia.
Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy is the first novel of the Karla Trilogy, the second and third novels being The Honourable Schoolboy (1977) and Smiley's People (1979), later published in an omnibus edition as The Quest for Karla (1982). To find out more information on John le Carre, visit his website.
In 2011 a movie of the book was released. Directed by Tomas Alfredson (Let the Right One In) and starring Gary Oldman as George Smiley, Colin Firth as Bill Haydon and John Hurt as Control. Click here to read more about the movie . This follows on from a 1979 BBC TV adaptation which starred Alec Guinness.
Robert Ludlum's The Bourne Dominion by Eric Van Lustbader
Read by Tracy August 2011
Tracy recommends as an lacklustre attempt at reprising the role of Jason Bourne
Yes I know not my usual reading fodder, but I wanted something light and having recently watched the three Bourne movies, felt that this would be a great book to get ready for the release of The Bourne Legacy which I think is hitting the movies in 2012, might even be back in Australia for that one.
What can I say about this book, firstly very puzzled at why it is called Robert Ludlum's The Bourne Dominion when he didn't write it, but anyway that is off track. Secondly I thought this book lacked the excitement and tension of the three I have so far seen, but note I have seen the movies and have not read the books, so maybe the books weren't that good either. Oh well, back to this book. Jason Bourne is now on the trail of the Severus Domna, a terrorist organisation that wants to destroy America (ho hum) and is going to do it through natural resources which are in desperate need by the US for their military program. There are snippets of information from Bourne's past and his lack of memory which draws out the book a bit more and there are also hints to Alex Conklin and the reinstatement by the current US President of the Treadstone program. In the end Bourne has to rely on Boris Karpov, a Russian spy and now head of FSB-2 to help him uncover the try story of Severus Domna and find the leader and put an end to his dastardly plan. As well as relying on a variety of other government organisations throughout the world to pop up every now and then. In the end Bourne is kind of double crossed in a nice way and leaves the way open for another book. There were just too many gaps in the story and it seems to have become just another action hero book soon to become movie.
The Stone Cutter by Camilla Lackberg
Read by Tracy April 2011
Tracy recommends as a lacklustre crime novel
On the front cover this book has a sticker - if you like Jo Nesbo you'll love this. As I am not sure whether I like Jo Nesbo, couldn't really use that as a guide. However there seems to be a dearth of Scandanavian crime writers/books out there at the moment, so thought I would try it. This book could do with some professional editing as it repeats some of the history several times and in other places doesn't quite flow and I am not sure if that is just the English translation. However, it starts off promising. A young girl is found drowned and we are then taken on an investigation by Patrick the lead detective. Patrick and his partner Erica have just had a baby, so you wonder if his mind is on his job and you can see from missing gaps in the investigation and his lack of attention to detail i.e. the slip of paper given to him by Annika which he forgets but it holds a crucial piece of evidence. Of course that is not helped by some very stupid work colleagues (Ernst in his handling of child pornography and Morgan's Asperbergs Syndrome) who just want to undermine his authority. Anyway, whilst investigating the present case, we are also transported to the 1920's where we learn about the history of Anders and Agnes and their tryst that ended with the death of the child. It has a great premise by looking at small communities and their incestuousness and the gossip that is raised over the smallest deviation from what is called normal, but the writing just didn't grab me and I was left wondering about so many points. Combined with the perfect ending where everything fell into place the book was too kitsch and formulaic. There were several characters which I felt deserved further analysis - Martin and Morgan, but Lackberg really only provided a history and information on Lackberg. Maybe there are other books that will grow the initial storyline. Overall it was a quick read where you didn't have to think too hard.
I do wonder if a lot of people are riding on the coat tails of Stieg Larsson, but just don't have his imagination or eye for detail.
Invisible by Paul Auster
Read by Natalie 2010
Natalie recommends this as very different but very interesting reading.
This story is told from 3 people's perspectives and spans several decades and countries. It all begins when a young university student meets a French couple at a party and develops a strange ongoing relationship with them both. He is attracted to the young woman and bewildered by the older man. A random act of violence by one of them then sets in motion a complete change in all of their lives. It is interesting having the story told by 3 different characters, although the middle character is not really a part of the story, but more an avenue for the university student to continue with his part. There are a number of twists and turns in the book, including a truly bizarre but beautifully written sequence in the middle and the ending leaves you wondering exactly who was telling the truth and what the real story was. This is my third Paul Auster book and I have really enjoyed all of them. He creates an air of mystery and crime, but it is not your typical who dunnit novel. Highly recommended.
This Body of Death by Elizabeth George
Read by Tracy 2010
Tracy does not recommend, but if you must, be warned you will think you are having a case of deja vu
As soon as I started reading this book, I immediately sensed I was reading a book I had already read, but I hadn't and I just couldn't place where I had read something so similar as nothing in this book surprised me. The book revolved around Acting Detective Inspector Isabelle Ardery and Detective Inspector Thomas Lynley and their attempts to solve the murder of a young woman. The case is constantly mishandled and assumptions are made, no doubt to drag out the storyline! Typically the ending ties everything together very nicely with the usual idyllic romances fulfilled. Not sure if this should be a crime novel or a bodice ripper. It is the first time I have read Elizabeth George but the comment on the front of the book that she is one of the best crime novelists around was for me very overstated. it was however, a very easy holiday read and I finished it in two days.
The Yiddish Policemen's Union by Michael Chabon
Read by Tracy 2010
Tracy recommends this for an old fashioned read with a predictable ending
Chabon won the Pulitzer Prize for his third novel (2001) - The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay where his narrative included such diverse themes as the Holocaust, McCarthyism, homophobia, friendship and the relationship between art and political resistance. I picked up this book based on those reviews and how Chabon is now touted as the shining hope of American literature. The premise of this book is what would happen if the Jews were allowed to settle in Alaska instead of Israel. The book (Chabon's fourth) is set in the imaginary city of Sitka. I had to reread the first chapter twice to be able to absorb the language that Chabon created and get used to the names which initially were very similar. The book is basically an old fashioned detective story (in the same vein as Chandler) that traverses through the frozen Jewish settlement. The date for reversion is set (whereupon the land is to be returned to the Alaskans and the Jews will become homeless once again) and all open police cases are to be closed to make way for the new administration. However, there is one case that Meyer Landsman must solve and in attempting to do so involves all levels of Jewish, American and Alaskan society. Eventually his partner and ex-wife both become involved and onboard with his plans. The book did not fully capture my imagination and although cleverly written in parts, it did have a predictable ending.
Click here for The Yiddish Policemen's Union Book Club discussion questions.
Crooked by Brian M. Wiprud
Read By Natalie February 2010
Natalie recommends this as a comedic crime novel with some very funny dialogue
Crooked is the story of Nick, a slightly dodgey insurance investigator who doesn't mind playing both sides if it means he stays alive. After all, it's better to be crooked than dead! Sent in to investigate the disappearance of a priceless painting entitled Trampoline Nude 1972, which incidently features neither nudity nor a trampoline, Nick finds himself interrogated by the cops and at the mercy of art dealer BB. Throw in the alledged death of a fellow criminal/investigator, which he is asked to investigate and he is being pulled from all sides. Nick is also a bit of a ladies man, so the investigation sees him crossing paths with many of his ex-flames, some of whom aren't too happy to see him. The investigation takes a turn for the interesting when Nick discovers that buried beneath New York City is a treasure trove of gold, just waiting to be dug up and claimed. The story is twisting, turning, convoluted and funny, although sometimes it is just a bit much. The dialogue is very funny and Nick certainly gets himself into many a crazy situation. Pick this up if you fancy a lighthearted read, that will have you entertained and laughing.
The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold
Read by Tracy 2010
Tracy recommends reading with a box of tissues
This book was huge and everyone was talking about the book and/or the movie adaptation. Based on the murder of Susie Salmon (14 years old), we read as she looks down telling us her tale and her observations of the impact of her death on those close to her. Initially there is hope within the community and they search for her, but as hope diminishes we follow Susie as she watches her killer as he tries to cover his tracks and she tries to leave clues leading to him, but is never able to reach the right people at the right time. I thought the book lost the plot several times and left me with many questions as to why Susie could only affect certain parts of reality. However, it is certainly a sad read and had me sobbing at the end.
Check out the movie adaptation of The Lovely Bones.
The Murder Room by P.D. James
Read by Tracy in 2009
This is my first PD James book, so I think I missed a bit of the story in relation to Commander Adam Dalgliesh in James' previous books. In this story Dalgliesh is assigned to investigate murder of one of the trustees in the Murder Room of the Dupayne Museum in Hampstead, London. We find out that the museum is under threat of closure and any changes requires the agreement of all three trustees. The murder is similar in style to one of the murders depicted in the Murder Room of the Museum so Dalgleish must find the copycat killer. I think there was meant to be a romantic undertone, but I didn't really get that, but maybe because I have not read any of the previous books. It was interested and had me thinking of who did it!