Just a few books you (or I) might like to read

I'm afraid I am still somewhat devoid of inspiration for blog posts, so just to note for those who don't read Friend Feed that Rob Kitchin has written an excellent review of John Lawton's Black Out, which renews my determination to read this well-regarded novel. (Prof Kitchin, by the way, has some distressing characteristics in common with yours truly.)

National Public Radio has an admirable "list" post. So often these reading recommendations are utterly tedious or obvious, but this collection of recommended reading, Mysteries you might have missed along the way, reads as if it were put together by someone who actually reads and enjoys mystery novels. It is well worth a look, a mix of old and new. One of the recommendations is The Caveman's Valentine, which I read some years ago when it was still called The Caveman, which I highly recommend. Quite a different novel. I haven't read Jane Haddam but I am tempted to, reading the NPR post.

My latest discovery is Gunnar Staalesen, thanks to this post by Glenn at International Noir Fiction. These novels are listed in the excellent Euro Crime database so those that are translated and cost less than £100 are on their way to me as I write.

The next book I intend to read, by the way, is Close up by Esther Veerhoef, partly because the publisher kindly sent me a copy a while back, and partly because of this review at It's a Crime. If the killer sudoku in the Times had not been so tough today, I would have started this book already on my journey home, but the puzzle is a real devil. Am I losing my touch? It is a long while since a killer sodoku has beaten me, but today's is perhaps it.

Testimony and Explorers of the New Century

I read a couple of good reviews recently of books that I am thinking of reading (though have not yet decided to buy). Becky of A Book A Week reviews Anita Shreeve's Testimony:

Shreve uses multiple points of view to reveal the various characters and what they are thinking. By including the voices of even very small players (the boy from town who provided the liquor) she adds layers of nuance to her story.

And Kim of Reading Matters homes in on Explorers of the New Century by Magnus Mills:

…starts out as a rather fun, light-hearted story about two groups of explorers competing to reach the "furtherest point from civilisation". One group — Scandinavian, small and efficient — follows a dry riverbed; the second — British, large and disorganised — takes a different route across an endless landscape of scree………….just as you're coming to grips with this new turn of events, he delivers another surprise twist that turns everything, and I mean everything, on its head.

It isn't as if I exactly need any more books to read…

The Source by Michael Cordy — and a lack of geology

The Source by Michael Cordy is not, I suspect, my type of book, being a historical adventure crime thriller of the religious "Indiana code" variety (this time to do with the Garden of Eden rather than the Ark or the descendants of Christ). However, I was taken with Michelle Peckham's review on Euro Crime (she recommends the book), and this part in particular:

The main character, Ross Kelly is apparently a geologist, and I thought this might have been used to more effect as they searched for and then reached the garden. But his skills in reading rocks and geological formations were not really used in his quest.

It seems a wasted opportunity, to write a book about a lost archaelogical artefact, featuring a geologist, and not have these scientific skills involved in the solution to the mystery, or otherwise be critically useful. Surely a specialist knowledge of the type of rock at a crucial moment in the plot, or a convenient hammer kept strapped to the ankle underneath the trousers, could have been worked in? Sedimentary, my dear Watson.

Welcome to Crime Watch and Lab Literal

I welcome to new blogs to the merry world of the internet. One of them isn't that new, actually, but I've only just become aware of it. It's called Crime Watch, and is Craig Sisterson's news and musings on New Zealand and international crime/thriller writing. Craig is a features writer and crime-fiction reviewer; in fact he is already writing for Euro Crime – here's his recent review of Mark Billingham's Bloodline – I just shortsightedly hadn't noticed that he also has a blog. You might enjoy his excellent feature on an old favourite of mine, Ngaio Marsh. (Is she the most famous NZ crime-fiction author ever?)

The second blog, Lab Literal, really is new – born yesterday, when Bill Hanage kicked off LabLit's new blog – or as he puts it, "Spurs supporters look away now". (That's no problem among some residents of Petrona Towers though others have a quiet nostalgia for the team featured in Hunter Davis's The Glory Glory Game). If you want to know a bit more about the blog, and LabLit (dedicated to the culture of science in fiction and fact), visit here.

Welcome to the blogosphere, Craig and Bill. I've subscribed to both blogs in my RSS reader, and might even get around to updating my sadly cobweb-covered blogroll one of these days.

Sunday Salon: enchancing the reading experience

TSSbadge3 Clare Dudman, on her blog Keeper of the Snails, writes about the ways in which the internet can enhance the experience of reading a book. In addition to her list, there is an interesting group of suggestions in the comments discussion, as well as a debate about whether the pleasure of reading is best limited to the book itself, rather than including secondary activities such as looking up the location of the setting on Google maps.

For me, the main way in which the internet enhances the reading experienceis to use the plethora of online book reviews. If I am deciding whether or not to read a book, I might search for the title/author and then skim reviews on blogs or other websites (eg newspapers) - but not read them very thoroughly as I don't want to know too many details or opinions at that stage. After I have read the book, however, I very much enjoy reading other people's review of the book to see other perspectives on it  - and, if there are online comments for the review I'm reading, I like reading those and perhaps joining in the discussion.

Our Friend Feed crime and mystery group (which anyone is welcome to join – if you are quick you can be the 100th subscriber as we reached 99 this morning) is an extension of this process. Links to reviews of books are posted, either automatically or manually. The stimulating book-focused discussions that develop, either at Friend Feed or at the linked article, can either persuade me to read the book (or not to read it!), or bring out aspects of it that had not previously occurred to me.

The internet is so good at enabling one to discover books and to read them, either by visiting good book websites (my favourite is Euro Crime as I am becoming increasingly taken with translated fiction) or by general searches. Buying the chosen book online is also a huge advantage on the old days (pre-Internet) of traipsing round bookstores and not finding a desired title in stock (but being tempted into buying other books in the process, of course). Although Amazon does feature "customer reviews" of books, I don't usually find these as useful or engaging as the reviews I read on blogs (particularly the blogs I regularly visit) or via an internet search, which identifies newspaper or magazine reviews as well as reviews on blogs I didn't previously know about. So I tend to use Amazon (or other bookselling site) mainly for the purchasing function and not for the reviewing/recommending option.

Holiday reading statistics and highlights

I am back from my holiday and return to work tomorrow, so will be in catch-up mode for a while or for ever. Before memories fade irretrievably, I'll report that I read 16 books while I am away – there were four books on the pile in the previous post that I could not in the end take for weight reasons (!), although I did buy Too Close to Home by Linwood Barclay at the airport and slipped it into my hand baggage; so when I finished all those I bought a few more: Kjell Eriksson's The Cruel Stars of the Night and The Demon of Dakar; Michael Palmer's The First Patient and Stephen White's Dead Time (the last of which I began reading at 2 a.m. today when I woke up with my brain convinced it was morning – very good so far). In return, I left a few titles behind, donated to future visitors.

Of the 16 books I read, eight (half) were translated – five from Swedish, one Danish, one Dutch and one German. The remainder were a mix of English, Irish, US, Canadian and Australian. Outstanding among these is Johan Theorin's The Darkest Room*, the highlight of my holiday. I also found the following to be excellent reads and would highly recommend them: The Crow Trap by Ann Cleeves, Back to the Coast by Saskia Noort, Cop Killer by Maj Sjowall and Per Wahloo*, Woman with Birthmark by Hakan Nesser* and the two by Kjell Eriksson*.

You may notice a trend here: of 16 books read, seven are very good (which is an excellent average based on my pre-blogging years 😉 ).  Six of these seven are translated. (!) The remaining nine varied from "OK" through "meh" (Bernadette's expressively economical term) to "not my cup of tea"/boring.

Further reports will be in the shape of reviews on as many of these titles as I can manage. I'll just note, though, how impressively the Sjowall/Wahloo holds up compared with the rest of my selection, all written some time later. Although dated in some minor details, the book, the ninth in their Martin Beck series, is consistently compelling, not only in its story but also in its clearly articulated authorial viewpoint. it was particularly interesting to read the books by other Swedes, Theorin, Nesser and Eriksson, as part of the same "splurge" as the Sjowall/Wahloo title, as all these books are (to a greater or lesser degree) police procedurals with a social context, each reflecting their own author's preoccupations.

Thank you very much to all those who provided welcome recommendations, either directly for the purpose or via reviews and discussion during the previous few months or so. 

[* denotes series, best read in chronological order (see author bibliographies at Euro Crime for correct (and recommended) reading order). The Crow Trap is also a series, but this is the first title in it.]