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Thursday, 22 March 2018

Review of 'Soul of Fire' by Eliot Pattison

Soul of the Fire (Inspector Shan, #8)Soul of the Fire by Eliot Pattison

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

For those who have not read 'The Skull Mantra', the first in the series, you really ought to do so. Author Pattison is a fine writer with a lucid style and a way of making difficult thoughts and ideas understandable. Whilst every novel stands alone, and can be read without having read the others in the series, a reader will miss the full impact of what the author is asking us to think about and consider.

Each book is not just a mystery set in a foreign country, readers are asked to think about political systems, about the use of violence, about deliberate destruction of a culture and way of life, about torture and gulags, and about human kindness. No, there are no rants, the complex plots speak for themselves. We're talking about Tibet, the Chinese invasion and the terrible things which are still done to Tibetans. Forcible removal to China as slave labour, children forcibly taken to special boarding schools, renamed, indoctrinated, the language forbidden, brutal policing. It reads like Hitler's Germany. However the books are not intended as a polemic, each has a good story to tell against the background of Chinese brutality and one big question is always asked: 'What is the purpose of our life, what is each person's life for and about?

In Soul of Fire Shan is forced by Public Security, to leave his post in the little village and become a member of a special international commission investigating those terrible Tibetan suicides by immolation, because the Tibetan member has suddenly died. His old friend Lokesh is dragged along too but put into gaol. Of course, the Tibetan was murdered and then a monk sets himself on fire in front of the commissioners and Shan realises that this is another whitewash attempt by the Chinese government to fool the international community. But the Public Security officer running the Commission, Major Ren, has Lokesh, who is an old and frail Tibetan, beaten and tortured, forcing Shan to toe the line and be Beijing's mouthpiece. Shan has to find the murderers, protect Lokesh and reveal a truth which could help all Tibetans.

The plot is tense, tight and nicely twisty. The characters are 3D and complex. Shan is Chinese himself which does help balance the nastiness of many of the Chinese officials. If Shan can treat Tibetans well perhaps other Chinese can?

I learn so much reading this series and Soul of Fire is no exception. It's a great book in a great series, and ought to be on every reader's to read list.

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Wednesday, 7 March 2018

Review of 'Soot' by Andrew Martin.

SootSoot by Andrew Martin

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Impressive until the ending! And did that ending annoy me!

18th C and a murder, a nasty one. An artist who makes silhouettes is found stabbed with his large cutting scissors. No one is discovered as the murder so the artist's dissolute son, who had heard of Fletcher Rigge's ability to solve mysteries, makes him an offer. Rigge is stuck in the debtor's prison, but if he solves the crime he will be free. He is offered freedom for one month, but in that time, he must find the killer. If he fails, back into gaol he goes. With only the copies of the last 6 silhouettes, for one of them must be the murderer, Fletcher Rigge begins his search.

It's a well written well plotted book with 3D characters and a nasty twist. Written from several people's points of view it takes a bit of concentrated reading at first but the story will pull the reader on.

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Thursday, 22 February 2018

Review: The House of Unexpected Sisters by Alexander McCall Smith

The House of Unexpected Sisters (No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency #18)The House of Unexpected Sisters by Alexander McCall Smith

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Once again we have a delightful story about gentle people and the author uses the story to explore forgiveness.

Those readers used to McCall Smith's bent for philosophy, and who enjoy thinking about what he writes, will enjoy this new episode of the Number One Ladies' Detective Agency. Precious Ramotswe adored her father and treasures his memory. In this story she has to re-examine her ideas on the problems of first impressions and what forgiveness really means.

Easy reading, lots to think about and a book to enjoy many times.

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Review: The Rat Catchers' Olympics by Colin Cotterill

The Rat Catchers' OlympicsThe Rat Catchers' Olympics by Colin Cotterill

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I am still laughing. The idea of the People’s Democratic Republic of Laos, in 1980, sending a team to the Olympic games in Moscow, which were boycotted by most of the Western world, is hilarious. They didn't have athletes. In fact the Russians come to train them. The trainer's advice to the boxers, 'Take the hit, then lie on the mat until the counting is finished' gives you some idea of the standards.

If you have not met Colin Cotterill's Dr Siri Paiboun, his wife, and misfit/crazy companions you are missing a chance to poke fun at politicians, politics, bureaucracy, and the human race. And laugh out loud as you read.

Siri is an elderly retired coroner, his companions are all a little odd, his wife is delightful. When news breaks that a Laotian team is heading to Moscow there is no way Siri is going to miss out. Forbidden by the government as not a good representative for their country he manages, by devious means, to be the only doctor available.

Of course when they get to Moscow for the 1980 Olympic Games they soon find themselves involved in a murder mystery. One of their team is accused of murder, and it soon becomes a race between Siri and the Moscow authorities to clear up the muddle and clear the Laotian team.

And the rats? Well that is one competition they don't lose.
One of the better Siri novels and well worth a read.

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Thursday, 8 February 2018

Review: 'Dogstar Rising' by Parker Bilal

Dogstar Rising (Makana, #2)Dogstar Rising by Parker Bilal

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is number two in a series I've had problems getting from the library. Finally I have managed to find the later ones in the series. And the novels do improve as the author becomes more confidant in his writing style and more comfortable with his main character. Certainly the series is well worth reading.

'Dogstar Rising' is an unusual mystery novel set in contemporary Egypt. Young boys are turning up dead and mutilated. In the muddle that is Eygpt's mix of cultures someone is trying to stir up trouble and blame the Coptic Christians.

Investigator Makana, a mystery man from the Sudan, a refugee form the war there, becomes involved when he sees a murder. He finds a thread linking that murder to those of the boys. Suddenly the police and state security services are breathing down his neck and all hell breaks loose.

Tightly written, the second in a series, and well worth a read for the exotic locations.

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Thursday, 1 February 2018

Review: 'The Dry' by Jane Harper

The DryThe Dry by Jane Harper

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

'The Dry' is meant to be the first of a series. Author Jane Harper will have a hard time coming up with a plot as good as this one is. I wish it was a stand alone book because what the plot does is sort out the main character's past and set him free. To me that's a complete and finished story. What else can one do with that character now? Still that's the author's problem. And she's a lovely tight writer with a sharp eye for thriller plot details.

'The Dry' is set in contemporary Australia, the action takes place in the drought stricken outback. Aaron Falk, who works for the government unravelling tax frauds receives a note saying his old friend, Luke, is dead, and demanding he come to the funeral. The past has reached out to terrify him. Twenty years ago as a teenager he was accused of murder, and Luke was his alibi. Falk and his father were chased out of town despite Luke’s steadfast claim that the boys had been together at the time of the crime. But they weren't, and now Luke is dead, and someone is threatening Falk.

What a great set up for a story and it carries on as cleverly. This author is no slouch when it comes to writing a tight and twisty plot for Falk and the local police officer are puzzled over Luke's supposed suicide and begin to investigate. And then all sorts of nasty little secrets start popping up and the murdered girl's family are intent on revenge.

The setting, a drought stricken farming community, only adds tension to the story and the author includes some lovely details of the outback and outback life.

Altogether a great read for any whodunit fan and well worth reading by any reader who likes a well written, better than most, unusually original story.

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Tuesday, 30 January 2018

Review: The Sixteen Trees of the Somme

The Sixteen Trees of the SommeThe Sixteen Trees of the Somme by Lars Mytting

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Brilliant! And full marks to the translator who kept the rhythm and lyrical prose in his English translation. This really is a must read for the prose, the story and the ideas.

It's a good job the cover clearly states 'novel' because I could easily believe that this novel was faction, based on a true story. It isn't, but it ought to be! Set in Norway, and the Shetland Isles, with a brief trip to France and the Somme, author Lars Mytting's research is solid. He certainly got the upper middle class Scottish attitudes spot on. His descriptions of the battlefields are haunting.

I don't want to give away the plot or the importance of the sixteen trees because really the novel is about a young man growing up, breaking out of his shell, and becoming what he chooses to be.

Edvard is orphaned when he is three. He has vague memories and his grandfather won't tell him anything. After his grandfather dies he takes a physical journey to find out what happened and in doing so he has to make decisions and choices which will make him become the Edvard we hope he will become. He could easily have made different choices but we readers are glad he didn't.

It is a book to savour, reread and marvel over. Readers who like a good intelligent challenging read will enjoy this novel. I found myself thinking about it for days after I'd returned it to the library.

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