Thursday 29 August 2013

The Shape of Water (Salvú Montalbano, #1)The Shape of Water by Andrea Camilleri
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I was again frightened of being blindsided by a PD James phenomenon of not understanding why the writer is hallowed in the world of crime writing, and whether at all the book I just finished can be considered as crime fiction. But, then I started reading Andrea Camilleri’s The Shape of Water, featuring his protagonist, the great Salvu Montalbano, and immediately felt assured that come what may this reading experience won’t turn into a disaster, and that maybe I will end up liking this book a lot. And, that’s what happened precisely.
The plot of the book is a classic whodunit. A local high flying politician dies under unnatural circumstances, and as the local establishments try to cover up the death by marking it as due to natural causes, Montalbano smells foul and decides to carry on with the investigation. As the victim was a politician, the writer had the opportunity to enlarge the suspect pool, but thankfully he kept it limited within his family and his close associates. The ending was good, and it was laced with a number of twists which made it more enjoyable.
Salvu Montalbano comes out as a policeman who is easily irritated and at times irritates the reader too. Which means, I enjoyed his character. The plot had its fair share of violence, but it also had a nice dose of dark humor. There are scenes in this book which if judged from the point of brutality is very brutal, but still manages to make the reader laugh as it is written with a vein of dark humor.
Definitely a page turner, I enjoyed this book immensely. And, I would recommend this book to anyone who is in search for a page turner, set in a foreign country.

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Tuesday 27 August 2013

Bullet for a StarBullet for a Star by Stuart M. Kaminsky
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

There is a certain pleasure, which I get, while reading fiction filled with original events and characters. This phenomenon was limited to my WW 2 or Cold War spy novels where actual historical figures were made to appear in the books, given dialogues, and scenes. Stuart Kaminsky’s “Bullet For A Star” his first novel to feature the 40’s era Hollywood based private detective Toby Peters, had the same theme, but with a different colour. Here instead of political figures, the men to feature where actual movie stars of that era. The main plot itself is based on the actor Erroll Flynn, while Humphrey Bogart, Jack Warner and at the very end Judy Garland makes cameo appearances.

The plot centres on Eroll Flynn. Someone is trying to blackmail him, as the studio agrees to pay the blackmailer, Peters is called upon by Warner Brothers to make the payment on their behalf. The whole scheme goes wrong as Peters is blindsided, and soon he finds his gun missing, him a murder suspect with dead bodies piling around him. As far as the plot goes there was nothing in it, which has not been written before. But, there was this added factor of the real actors which added a dose of extra pleasure while reading. There is a scene between Peters and Bogart which would go down as one of my the most favourite scene of all times.

I will certainly recommend this book to everyone. This is not only for crime readers. Stuart Kaminsky, kept his book short and made it interesting. In his part he created a plot centred on living figures, which never turned into a parody. This is by far one of the best P.I. books I have read in recent times.

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Sunday 25 August 2013

A Walk in the Woods: Rediscovering America on the Appalachian TrailA Walk in the Woods: Rediscovering America on the Appalachian Trail by Bill Bryson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Bill Bryson is awesome, but his friend Stephen Katz is more awesome.

Published in 1998, Walk in The Woods, saw Bryson and his friend Stephen Katz team up once again(they travelled together in Europe, which is described in Neither Here Nor There) to hike the Appalachian Trail. The beginning of the book shows Bryson talking about the difficulties of the hike, as he tries to buy his hiking gear without embarrassing his son(who works in the store). Later as none of his friends responds to his call for becoming his hiking partner, he finds salvation in the form of his childhood friend Stephen Katz from his hometown of Des Moines. Thus they begin their journey from the state of Georgia, as Bryson realises that neither hiking is easy, nor Katz is fit for hiking.

The book is a trademark Bryson, where he mixes non-fiction with a great dose of humour. Though compared to his other books or travelogues the humour quotient of this book was much less. But, nonetheless, where he got the chance, he managed to bring out belly aching laughter from the reader through his descriptions and words. But, what made this book stand apart, or rather makes every Bill Bryson book stand apart is the simplification of the non-fiction part to an extent where not only does the facts and the figures lose any of their importance, but also never becomes boring to read. In a way they merge into the main stream of the travelogue without disturbing its flow.

But, clearly Bill Bryson is not the hero of the adventure, Stephen Katz is. Normally when Bryson travels, he becomes the undisputed King of Laughter. But, with passing pages I gradually realized, that with his dialogues, his guffaws and his penchant for throwing away things, Stephen Katz became the undisputed hero of the books. So much so, that the part where Bryson hikes the smaller parts of the trail without Katz, the book becomes much less interesting. Without Katz the trail loses its glamour!!!

P.S. Cant wait to see the movie with Robert Redford as Bill Bryson, and Nick Nolte as Stephen Katz.

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Friday 23 August 2013

Death at La Fenice (Commissario Brunetti, #1)Death at La Fenice by Donna Leon
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

“A policeman, married to a thief, with a computer monster and an anarchist for children”

Whenever I start a new book by a female author, I start suffering from the PD James-Syndrome, which simplified, means that whether this book will turn out to be another mediocre fiction in the garb of Crime Writing, with nothing to get excited about, and everything (from reading to the money spent on the book) to be sad about. Why PD James-Syndrome? Because this kind of things generally happens with me after reading her books. But a couple of chapters down the line, Donna Leon settled my anxiety, and gifted me with a fast paced police procedural, which not being too much dependent on either violence or twisted plot, was enjoyed by me.

Helmut Wellauer dies while conducting an opera at Teatro la Fenice. Almost immediately, foul play is suspected and Commissario Guido Brunetti is called on the scene to be handed the responsibility of uncovering the culprit. The plot, was moderate, nothing over the top. For a debut author, it was good as she managed to end the book with a solution which although never left me open mouthed with surprise, but nonetheless made me feel satisfied on reading a good work of crime fiction.

Commisario Brunetti is a family man, and as described in the quote above, married to a schoolteacher who cheats at Monopoly, having a son who is a young radical Communist, but never stops at driving a hard bargain in Monopoly, and a daughter who pesters her father for a personal computer. Although the main plot in itself doesn’t have any traces of humour, but the personal conversations between the family members, specially the conversations during the playing of Monopoly, really gets the reader tickled in the right places.

Summing up, this is a wonderful addition to my reading experience, and although not being over the top or being the epitome of twists, this book will be enjoyed by any reader who loves reading police procedurals.

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Tuesday 20 August 2013

Tell No OneTell No One by Harlan Coben
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

What happens when a soccer match, where a hyped and much talked about team was supposed to win with a margin of 5-0, wins by 2-1. The winning team fails to justify the hype and aura surrounding it, though the record books would show that they won. The same problem got associated with this book. It was too much hyped, everywhere you saw. “Tell No One” got blurb-ed as the book which will keep you awake throughout the night just so that you finish it. As far as justifying this hype, the book fell short of its mark. But once you take the hype factor away, it comes out as a neat, fast and twisted crime thriller, filled with a twisted plot, enjoyable(though not believable) characters, and a happy ending.

The plot though air tight was predictable. By the half of the book, any seasoned crime reader would get to know who’s the bad guy. But, knowing the baddie would also make the reader want to know why he did all those bad things. And, although the main baddie gets pointed out, there are other characters whose behaviour and actions would tell the reader loudly that they have got secrets too, which would make the reader stay glued. In short by midway the book transfers from a WHODUNNIT to a WHYDUNNIT or rather WHAT’S HAPPENING.

In toto, this is a arithmetically correct, i.e. no loose ends, work of crime fiction, which is fast and pulpy. Although I enjoy reading Coben’s Myron Bolitar novels more, as they have Myron in them, I nonetheless enjoyed reading this one too. I guess others would enjoy it too, if they are not searching for detailed psychology analysis, or exquisite writing style and impeccable language.

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Monday 12 August 2013

The Monkey's Raincoat (Elvis Cole, #1)The Monkey's Raincoat by Robert Crais
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The Monkey’s Raincoat is the debut effort by much celebrated American crime novelist Robert Crais. The novel features his protagonist; Vietnam Vet turned Private Investigator, Elvis Cole and his business partner and sidekick Joe Pike.

The novel starts with Ellen Lang, who comes to Crais’ office asking for his help in finding out her husband Mort and their son Perry. Mort was supposed to pick up Perry from school, but neither the husband nor the kid ever reached home. Crais’ writing style baffled me. Frankly speaking, the over-the-top quirky dialogues were not helping me. They seemed unreal and glib. Reading them made me feel that Crais and Cole were both trying too hard.

The plot was not much on the suspense quotient. By 3/4th of the book the plot ceases to have any suspense left in it. But, Crais’ managed to portray Ellen Lang’s troubles and her process of developing her self confidence in a credible manner. The action scene in the climax was good. It was good enough for me to read through the whole scene without skipping a single page.

All in all, a decent debut effort from a famous author. For me it wasn’t a Great Read but it didn’t disappoint me either.

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Saturday 3 August 2013

Open Season (Joe Pickett, #1)Open Season by C.J. Box
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Open Season by C.J. Box, published in the year 2001, is the first in the series of crime fiction novels featuring the protagonist Joe Picket, a Game Warden in the Twelve Sleep County, Wyoming. The books opens with a prologue as Picket tries to stop a poacher. The events start piling up from the first chapter itself as the same poacher who Joe had confronted in the prologue is found dead and murdered in his backyard. The police after a routine investigation close the case, and handing over a culprit. But, Joe takes it personally, as the body was found in his own backyard, and apparently not satisfied with the result of the investigation starts to dig deeper into the case. As he digs deeper, he is confronted with the risk of losing the job he loves and thereby losing his family.

The book was nothing extraordinary, as in respect to the plot. This sort of crime novel has been written before and by the half of the book it becomes obvious as to the identity of the culprit. But, what made this one an enjoyable read was the setting. Most of the times a very exceptional thriller gets dull as it doesn’t get the required support from the setting. The setting fails to inject any sort of suspense or sense of adventure in to the plot. But, here wild Wyoming added the perfect amount of adventure quotient, to keep the reader moving on in a steady pace. For a city dweller like me, a crime novel based in the wild becomes much more than a regular crime thriller, it sort of turns into a thriller-cum-travelogue, as it happened here.

Joe Pickett is a family man, with the values in the right places. At times he may seem dull, but given the fact that this is the first book in the series, he comes out as a strong man, who supports his family, and despite all the luring stays true to his profession and values. He is shown in a much toned down human way. Although based in the wild, he is no Tarzan or Lone Ranger. He has emotions, he confesses to be a lousy shot, he even manages to lose his gun.

A well written book, with smooth dialogues, this will be enjoyed by anyone who wants to try a crime novel set outside the dreariness of a concrete jungle, and set in the lush green of the wild.

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