September reading report and book of the month

Although I didn’t post any reviews here on Petrona during September, three of my pieces came out at Euro Crime: Vanishing Point by Val McDermid, “an excellent mixture of media-inspired, over-the-top drama and intense suspense as the hunt for Jimmy seems to be doomed to fail. A great holiday read.” [full review here]; The Murder of Halland by Pia Juul, tr Martin Aitken, “in many ways a perfect “literary” crime novella” [full review here]; and Deon Meyer’s 7 Days, translated by K L Seegers, “tense and exciting……a marvellous crime novel which must be a strong contender for best crime novel of 2012.” [full review here].

I read several other books during September, notably eight books in the Joanne Kilbourn series by Gail Bowen. I very much enjoyed these books, which are quick to read but which address serious themes. I didn’t think the most recent two, The Brutal Heart and The Nesting Dolls, were as good as the previous books in the series because they focus on Jo’s excessively lovey-dovey marriage at the expense of her roles as a lecturer of political science and TV panellist, as well as jettisoning the minor, semi-recurring characters and there not being much of a mystery to them. I am hoping that Jo will be back on form in Kaleidoscope, which is not yet possible to buy in the UK.

I also re-read Michael Connelly’s first Harry Bosch novel, The Black Echo, which was still a good read after 20 years. In a generous act of serendipity, a good fairy then sent me a proof of The Black Box, not published until November. It is a compelling read, though the last section, when Bosch leaves LA on the trail of his case, is a disappointment. Interestingly, the book opens 20 years ago at the scene of the riots in LA over the killing beating [post corrected] of Rodney King, harking back to the first book.

Finally, I read two non-crime novels in September: Sweet Tooth by Ian McEwan, as ever a beautifully written book with many memories for me of what it was like to be a (very!) young woman in 1970s Britain. I was hoping the book was going to take a particular turn that it never did, but even though the male characters were a pretty grim lot, I enjoyed the book very much. The other novel I read was Parade’s End by Ford Maddox Ford (actually 4 novels, totalling more than 900 pages). I didn’t enjoy it that much, finding its existential fragmentation rather jerky and erratic. The TV series, adapted by Tom Stoppard, captured the essence of the books very well, though the main character was somewhat sanitised and idealised, and there was a strange debate between teachers about Marie Stopes’s ideas on sex (in marriage), which was not in the books.

In sum, on the crime front I read 13 books, 10 by women and 3 by men. The geographical distribution is: Canada, 8; USA, 2; Denmark, 1; South Africa, 1; and UK, 1. Two of these are translated. My book of the month? Almost a tie between The Black Box by Michael Connelly and 7 Days by Deon Meyer. No crime author writing today can top Bosch’s mesmeric intensity when he has the bit between his teeth, and I treasure Connelly’s occasional lurches into beautiful, yearning poetic prose – but for me, 7 Days pips The Black Box at the post for an equally compelling “cold case” plot, as well as having a more rounded, satisfying ending.

As usual, for other bloggers’ choices of books of the month for September, please visit the round-up post at Mysteries in Paradise.

Previous reading reports at Petrona.

26 thoughts on “September reading report and book of the month

  1. Maxine – Thanks for your summing-up. It sounds as if you had an interesting variety, which is always good I think. And I couldn’t agree more about the ‘staying power’ of most of the Harry Bosch series. And as for 7 Days? I am looking forward to reading that (I’m in the queue at our library…

    • Thanks, Margot. Hope you enjoy Deon when you get around to him — hard to put it down (an over-used phrase but applicable here).

  2. I’ve never quite got into Connelly. I’ve liked the ones I’ve read well enough, but not quite enough to chase his whole back catalogue. 7 Days is on my ‘to read’ list – I’ve enjoyed most of Meyer’s previous books. But I ran out of patience with McEwan after Amsterdam – the ending made me so cross I pitched the book against a wall!

    • I have to confess I identify with these intense loners eg Bosch and Erlunder (Indridason), Sharon….often feel the shock of recognition when reading about them. Agree McEwan is uneven (I could not like Solar very much, and Saturday was silly in the end) but I just adore his prose style, he puts all the pretentious lit types to shame by showing how it can be done.

  3. Looks like you have a great month Maxine. Glad you like Sweet Tooth too, I read some mixed review about this book.

    • Yes, me too Jo, but I am very glad I read it. My daughter is half-way through it and enjoying it, so it has cross-generational appeal!

  4. I’ve never enjoyed Ian McEwan as much as other readers so it is interesting to hear you liked his latest book. ‘Parades End’ comes highly recommended by my husband but I’m not rushing to read it. ‘Seven Days’ is on my list for this week.

    • I think Atonement is brilliant; that’s the one I recommend if people ask. I suspect that if you don’t like that, then he isn’t for you. He does seem to write about rather unpleasant people I have to say. (Yet when he tried not to do that, ie his protagonist in Saturday, I think that worked less well.)

  5. Maxine, nice to see you back at Petrona. I read Seven Days in two gulps, but because it was hardback and we were away for a few days those gulps were separated by reading two Reginald Hill Dalziel and Pascoe paperbacks. Perhaps that is the reason I did not think it was quite as good as Trackers. But Seven Days was very clever at using plot devices that seemed familiar.

    • thanks, Norman. Yes, 7 days has a conventional crime novel format (two dovetailing investigations) compared with Trackers, which was more original in covering 4 (?) apparently disparate stories. Both are excellent!

  6. Regarding your reference to Rodney King in the third paragraph: He was beaten, not killed, by police. King died recently at his home.

  7. Welcome back to blogville! And glad to see some well-reviewed selections for us to pursue. I will read the McDermid, the Meyer and the Connelly sometime soon, when I recover from Broken Harbor, a good, riveting but harrowing book (which needed a bit more editing in the last 1/3).

    • Thanks, Kathy, I’ve just started The Cutting Season by Attica Locke which I’m enjoying but it is very slow. Good & absorbing so far, but I wonder if she’s going to continue at this pace throughout?

  8. Thank you for making me feel normal by reading that much in a month!

    I gave Parade’s End a go, but didn’t finish and I probably won’t go back. I’ve never really liked Ford Maddox Ford, and even the thought of the television adaption wasn’t enough to keep me going. ‘Tis a pity, as I normally love really long novels.

    A Dutch colleague has offered me a Deon Meyer book in the original to try, but my Dutch is pretty awful, so I doubt I’m up to Afrikaans. I know my uni bookshop has some of his books in German translation, so I’ll have to look at one. All those bloggers I trust can’t be wrong!

    Oh, and I read four Bruno, Chief of Police novels, in lieu of actually having a holiday somewhere warm involving lots of wine. Better than nothing, I suppose.

  9. Oops – the last remark is a bit ambiguous. It’s a comment on the value of books as a holiday substitute, not a negative review of the Bruno books!

    • Nice to hear from you, Lauren. Deon Meyer has said in some recent interviews that he works very closely with K L Seegers on the Eng lan translations, if that’s any help. Personally, I think his later books are better than the first (starting with Blood Safari..well, that’s where I started). I liked the first Bruno book, but that was enough for me. Glad we agree on Parade’s End – he goes on about the dearth of any decent English novels in the 17-19 C, but if you ask me, authors like Trollope & Dickens are much better (more readable, anyway) than him 😉

  10. Maxine: I am always impressed by the depth and variety of your reading. I was amazed you read 8 of Gail’s books in a month. I find that if I read more than a couple of an author’s books in a short period I find myself not liking the series as much. I am glad you enjoyed the books. I think Kaleidoscope is one of the best in the series. Please do not be too hard on her love interest in her 50 plus Saskatchewan lawyer husband. He is the only one in that category that I know of in crime fiction.

  11. If you’re still looking for a series set in Latin America, Luis Alfredo Garcia-Roza’s series featuring Inspector Espinosa is quite good. Written by a former philosophy and psychology professor, the series contains a lot of character development and thinking, not quick action. The books aren’t page-turners, but unravel personalities, motives and relationships. When one is in a certain reading mood, these books hit the spot. (And Espinosa loves books and bookstores.)
    I think you’ve read one or two of these. I’m definitely hooked.
    A friend found some of the books in Portuguese and he’s enjoying them.

    • Thanks, Kathy. I read the first two of these a while ago and rather liked them. Not up there with the very best, but enjoyable and probably my favourite from Brazil.

  12. Black Box and 7 Days……well jealous! Though they would only sit on an ever-increasing pile of unread books. Read Trackers last year, with his others on mount TBR. Currently reading Mike Nicol’s Payback which I’m enjoying more than Trackers, I reckon he could well be better than Meyer, though I’d probably need to read more by both before unreservedly stating that!

  13. FYI: A friend read Defending Jacob, which I recommended after reading the review here. (I haven’t read it yet.) She thought it was fantastic, and no other book has hit the spot since she finished it. So now I must read it. (I just sent her the link to this post.)
    Also a question: Is the book you referred to another blog, which contained bigoted words and some other offensive ideas the one here by Maddox Ford? (I like to know in advance what to avoid, and I can’t put up with that.)

    • Yes, Parade’s End by Madox Ford- a book written 80 years or so ago, hence containing some of the typical social attitudes (among upper class Brits) of the day.

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