Book review: Career of Evil by Robert Galbraith

Well, she can certainly churn them out, I’ll give her that.

I’ve bumped a couple of books out the way so I could get to this one: the third in the Cormoran Strike series, skilfully penned by J.K. Rowling’s alter-ego. I thoroughly enjoyed the first two, and so expectations were running pretty damn high for book number three. And I’m happy to say that I wasn’t disappointed… for the most part anyway.

This episode has our hero  wading through the dregs of human society to solve find a serial killer who’s struck a little too close to home. The book follows much the same setup as the previous two (why change a winning formula): a gentle intro for the newcomers, a grisly murder, then  a classic whodunnit skilfully woven around a tale of unrequited something. Epic stuff, and I would have enjoyed it as much as the first two books, except for one small thing: too many words.

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Now it could be because I’m focussed on editing my own stuff at the moment, so perhaps I’m a little sensitive, but I did find that the book meandered around a bit. Every location was described in poetic prose that was a little strained at times, and the omnipotent viewpoint could have been smoother. I’ve never been a fan of leaping from brain to brain over the course of a few sentences. It’s wonderful device when you can pull it off, but we can’t all be Virginia Woolf, so I did find the overall effect a little jarring in places.

The pace was much much slower than previous books in the series, which gives the reader time to reflect on the changing relationship between Strike and his partner Robin (female – just sayin’). They continue to be wonderfully believable, flaws and all, as were the rest of the cast: the heroes were instantly likeable, and the perverts were about as scummy and unpleasant as you can possibly get.

The plot was intricate, beautifully crafted, and burned slowly up until the last few pages when someone lit the blue touch paper and we cannoned to a conclusion  I hadn’t seen coming. (From about a third way through the book I was convinced I knew who the killer was; now I know that I was cleverly steered in the wrong direction).

As I said, the book had a few problems that could have been sorted out with a few more rounds of editing, but on the whole it was a cracking good read, not so much for the thriller aspect as the fascinating relationship between Strike and Ellacot.

Definitely recommended.

Seven out of ten.

 

 

Book review: Us by David Nicholls

I’ve been looking forward to reading this; I’ve been a huge fan of David Nicholls’s work since someone lent me a copy of One Day. Nicholls seems to have carved himself a niche that, on the surface, seems a little hard to define. The best I can come up with is that he writes about ordinary people who suddenly find their lives turned inside out by an extraordinary situation. Us is no exception. We are introduced to Douglas, a biochemist married to Connie, a bohemian free-spirit whom he suspects he doesn’t deserve (he is punching slightly above his weight), and his son Albie whom he has almost no connection with. After twenty-five years of marriage, Connie announces that when Albie leaves home for university, then she’ll be leaving Douglas too.

1433134101_thumb.jpegDouglas, being a scientist, deduces that the best way to save his marriage, and salvage any kind of relationship with his son, is to use a trip across Europe as a way to heal old wounds and forge new bonds. And so the reader accompanies the three of them across the continent, along with the uneasy feeling that none of this is going end well.

As always, it is an extremely well-written book. Nicholls crafts his prose concisely and with a certain terseness that flows easily from page to page. His characters are equally well-crafted, but having read a few of his books I’m starting to get the feeling that I’ve met them before. They’re all slightly detached and very sardonic. I do like this because it gives his dialogue a flat, dry wit, but I am starting to think that I’m reading about the same people in different situations.

The road-trip itself is funny and sad and extremely vivid. You do get a sense that you’re right there with them experiencing Douglas’s frustration; he seems to live behind a sheet of glass with his wife and son on the other side. At times though, I thought the exposition into art galleries and landmarks got a little too dense, a bit like reading a travel brochure, and I found that it detracted from the main story. As we headed towards the end, I think I became a little impatient with all the tourist paths; I really wanted to know things turned out. I know how important it is not to rush the ending of a good novel, but by the same token, you can stretch things out a little too far.

But overall, I really enjoyed Us, and would recommend it as a cracking good read, though I didn’t like it as much as One Day or Starter for Ten.

I’m going to give it a very respectable seven out of ten.

Book review: An Iliad – A Story of War by Alessandro Baricco

I seem to be reading a lot of this fella’s stuff at the moment. His writing really appeals to me. It’s thought-provoking and beautifully crafted without going overboard on metaphors.
I had high hopes for An Iliad because I’m a bit of a greek mythology buff which is why I dived straight in right after reading Silk.
And that might not have been the best idea.

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An Illiad is the story of the Trojan War told from a range of perspectives:
heroes (alive, dead or about to be killed); kings, prophets; slaves … at one point, even the river outside Troy has its say.  It’s more approachable (and shorter) than Homer’s original work, but I think the style of it wasn’t particularly to my liking. I don’t mind working a bit harder for a good read, but I’m a bit of a stickler for consistency, and the prose tended to meander between the comic-book and the poetic. The battle scenes were bloody and magnificent, but weren’t overcooked. Baricco deliberately kept the gods out of it which allows the reader to focus on the men: their fear, their loneliness; their petty jealousies; but mainly their egos. Let’s face it, the whole ten years was about one man’s ego so it’s no surprise there was plenty of it to go around.
I did enjoy the book as a whole, I think. It was originally written in Italian, so I wonder if perhaps some of the original feel of the book was lost in translation. I should probably learn Italian and find out.
Although I didn’t like it as much as Silk, I haven’t lost faith in Mr Barricco. I’m going to read Without Blood next, and in the meantime give An Iliad six out of ten.