Woodcutter, Lifeblood and Black Sheep in The Times

So, I continue with my self-imposed task, started last week:


Now that The Times has made its online content subscription-only, I thought I might provide readers of this blog with a regular update of books reviewed in the Saturday Review section, which I read in print each weekend (usually Sunday morning). I don't subscribe to the online version of the paper, though I do buy and read the print edition each day except Sunday.

Saturday's (17 July) Times featured a round-up of crime novels (last week was thrillers, as The Times 
Woodcutterdefines them). Marcel Berlins has about 500 words to review three books: 

The Woodcutter by Reginald Hill (HarperCollins, £17.99 – a publisher owned by the publisher of the Times). This is an "outstanding novel of force and beauty", according to the reviewer. The plot sounds very convoluted, about a business tycoon and "vengeance, betrayal, sexual obsession, fraud, espionage, miscarriage of justice, pornography, many deaths, dysfunctional English families and a black woman prison psychiatrist". Sounds a rich mix (and I wonder why the colour of the psychiatrist was mentioned?). The verdict of the Times reviewer: "far fetched and the characters a touch exaggerated, but 
Lifeblood  Hill's elegant writing, erudition and imagination make such reservations seem petty."

Lifeblood, by N. J. (previously Natasha) Cooper (Pocket books, £7.99), is the second book to feature forensic psychologist Karen Taylor. I reviewed the first in the series, No Escape, for Euro Crime. In this novel, Taylor believes a recently released prisoner will reoffend, and is proved right (and her superiors wrong). "Excellent tension, and convincing psychology, especially about the power relationships between rapists and their victims" writes Marcel Berlins.

Bank of the Black Sheep by Robert Lewis (Serpent's Tail, £7.99) is the third of a trilogy (I have a copy of it, kindly sent by the publisher, but had not realised it is part of a trilogy). It's said by the Times to be "viciously funny…for the goodish reason that the Welsh private eye is soon to die of cancer……..bleak, witty, engaging, curiously moving and an absolute delight to read."

In keeping with my fascinated horror with the "Saturday Review" overall, I'll briefly mention the composition of the rest. Two whole pages of an extract from "Those Wonderful Folks Who Brought You Pearl Harbor", being republished 40 years on. I have to say I was absorbed by this extract from the book that inspired 
Bank  Mad Men (the author is an advisor on the series) – even though I began watching Mad Men series 1 some time ago but could not bear to continue with it after the first few episodes. I just could not bear to watch the way women were treated in those days, even though I realised it was satire, and very beautiful, and all that. It just made me sick, sorry. The book does look good on the basis of what was in the Times, though my experience of buying books on the basis of extracts is that the extract is the best bit (often by a long way).

There is a whole-page article about Louise Bagshawe, author of "women's commercial fiction" (a.k.a. chick lit) and now a Tory MP; two pages about ugly architecture and Milton Keynes, archetypal ugly town ("born ugly" I always think); a Q/A with TV starlet Honeysuckle Weeks, late of Foyle's War (another failed experiment of mine) and about to attempt Eliza Doolittle on stage; a double-page spread of pop record covers; and an interview of a woman doing for Italy what Peter Mayle did for Provence (or trying to). 

The main book review of the week is that of midget Peter Mandelson's memoir, as if Times readers aren't sick to death of him (if they weren't already) after three days of extensive extracts taking up pages of the main paper (including the entire front page twice), followed by two days of more pages taken up with hypocritical shock at how upset the Labour party is at what he said in it. I ask you – who wouldn't be upset at the way the Times presented the contents of the book? (Publisher again is HarperCollins, say no more.) A couple of interesting books are reviewed, one about China's population and another a novel about the discovery of Pluto. A couple of "Gothic" children's books are briefly reviewed – White Crow by Marcus Sedgwick and The Glass Demon by Helen Grant. In the various little brief blurbs scattered among all this is one by (?) Tess Gerritsen, who is asked what she's currently into in this week's "they're reading" column. She picks "The Man Who Invented History: Travels with Herodotus", a travel memoir by Justin Marozzi, who followed the same journeys as his subject. "I've long been obsessed with Herodotus", writes Tess Gerritsen – whose latest book has just been published in the UK, as noted in the column (not published by HarperCollins, though).


9 thoughts on “Woodcutter, Lifeblood and Black Sheep in The Times

  1. Maxine – Thanks for sharing all of this : ). By the way, I completely agree with you about extracts from books. It’s a bit like movie trailers, which I almost never trusts. It’s interesting what they say about Hill’s new book. I always pause at the word exaggerated, as it takes a very good book for me to suspend my disbelief. But I generally like Hill, so we shall see…

  2. Very interesting reviews. I haven’t read Reginald Hill yet, but was planning to start with “Dialogues of the Dead,” which sounds fascinating. But what happened with Foyle’s War? I love watching this on PBS here–the plots, characters and actors are just great. I do enjoy Honeysuckle Weeks as well as the main actor. One of the few series I won’t miss when it’s on. I was rather sad when it was over.

  3. I had really thought Reginald Hill was done and dusted but have been so impressed by the last two Dalziel and Pascoe novels that I will look forward to reading this one (I know it isn’t part of the series). It’s quite inspiring to think that someone of his …er….advanced years can still pump out such imaginative stuff.
    I agree with you about Mad Men – I so wanted to watch it as I think John Ham is a brilliant actor but I only got through about 3 episodes before deciding that I really didn’t need to see women being treated so badly.
    However I do need to take issue with you on one point – why won’t you tell us how you really feel about peter Mandelson?
    By the way do you use google reader for news feeds? I do and have noticed over the last couple of weeks that non-blogger blogs like yours and mine are taking forever to show up – up to 24 hours in some instances, whereas blogger blogs show up instantrly. Never used to be like this. Oh well – thank heavens for Friend Feed.

  4. interesting book! I just could not bear to watch the way women were treated in those days, even though I realised it was satire, and very beautiful, and all that

  5. Hi Bernadette, yes I do use an RSS reader and thanks for the tip about the slow uploads. At the moment I am so busy I only check it once a day, but that’s bad about the timings. Hopefully just a temporary glitch.
    So you noticed I don’t like slimy hypocrites very much, then?
    On The Woodcutter – as Bernadette knows I used to enjoy the Dalziel and Pascoe books but then went off them- and read a couple of Joe Sixmiths but he soon palled. Maybe I should try this one as it is a standalone, but it certainly sounds very busy. I’ll look forward to your review, Martin, maybe that will sway me one way or the other.

  6. Kathy, thanks for the comment. I watched the first two series of Foyle’s War on DVD, when my children were getting a bit older and I thought (mistakenly it turned out) that the programme was one we could all watch together. The girls found it risible and would not watch it. Prof P and I got through the 2 series but though it started very well I fear I found it degenerated into clunkiness and predictability (plot wise) though as usual with TV the atmosphere was lovingly recreated, etc. The guy playing Foyle (Michael Kitchin) was so deadpan I think his face would crack if he tried to smile. Did he ever smile in all of the series? I think that Honeysuckle Weeks had a certain sort of girl down to a T, though, she was very good.

  7. Michael Kitchin did smile. But there were a few episodes that took place after the war, including one about racism among U.S. soldiers posted there and he was quite good. Honeysuckle Weeks was no longer his driver, but she was working in a house and falling in love, too. Someone loaned me a box-set of Midsomer Mysteries, haven’t watched them yet. I may be alone on this but I prefer Foyle’s War, Inspector Lewis and a few more contemporary detectives rather than Miss Marple and Hercule Poirot.
    And I did like Inspector Lynley with his woman side-kick. I liked her a lot, too.

  8. I like the contemporary ones on the whole, too, Kathy. I am waiting for Michael Connelly’s Harry Bosch ever to be filmed or “TV”d – they keep trying. The author has just launched an action to get the rights back from the last studio that optioned them. I think Mel Gibson would make a good Harry but he seems to be persona non grata because of his bad behaviour (though what that has to do with acting ability beats me!).

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