Sunday, 17 May 2009

The Black Monastery by Stav Sherev

DATE PUBLISHED: 2009 DATE READ: May 2009 NOTES: (One of my Vine Voice choices) Kitty Carson, best selling crime novelist retreats to the Greek island of Palassos only to find herself embroiled in a real-life mystery. Two young people have been found murdered in a horribly ritualistic manner – closely followed by the murder of a local priest. The local chief of police, Nikos, leads the hunt for the killer but we soon know that he has his own secrets. The formula is as follows: - an exotic location with lots of hidden secrets - a dogged and inquisitive amateur sleuth - a policeman with his own personal problems So the ingredients were all in place for a successful crime thriller. Some of the writing is very good and the sense of place is very well developed. The main characters are well portrayed but some of the lesser characters are only one dimensional. However the main let-down was the plotting. This is overcomplicated with a mish-mash of gory murder, drug dealing, police corruption, paedophilia, and hippy cults. And the centipedes were just plain ridiculous. Lots of things didn’t quite add up so the final solution was somewhat unsatisfactory. And why do culprits explain their crimes so graphically when they are confronted by the authorities? This only happens in books – in real life they would just say “no comment”!

Friday, 15 May 2009

The Hidden by Tobias Hill

DATE PUBLISHED: 2009 DATE READ: May 2009 NOTES: After an unsuccessful marriage and an uncompleted university thesis Ben Mercer travels to Greece. He settles in to working in a restaurant where he is very much the outsider – although he does manage to strike up a sort of friendship with another member of staff. Following a chance meeting with an ex-uni colleague he decides to join an archaeological dig at Sparta. Here he still finds himself very much the outsider but gradually inveigles his way into the group – at the same time rejecting the friendship of some local workers. The Hidden is interspersed with sections describing ancient Sparta and its warriors and as the narrative unfolds it becomes clear that there are direct parallels between the elite group of diggers and the Spartans. Just as the Spartans had little time for outsiders this group of five also feel scant regard for anyone else. But Ben is fascinated by them and is slowly accepted into the group. He ignores the hints that darker forces may be at work and when he realises what exactly is going on it is too late. It is an intriguing book which is beautifully written. The narrative moves slowly and is overshadowed by menace. It is very much a slow burning fuse – but the final part moves swiftly and makes compulsive reading. The morally ambiguous Ben is well portrayed. I would have liked more differentiation of the elite group of five – their characters could have been better defined.
A book to be savoured slowly.

Sea of Poppies by Amitav Ghosh

DATE PUBLISHED: 2008 DATE READ: May 2009 NOTES: Another tremendous piece of storytelling from Ghosh. In Sea of Poppies he brings together a disparate group of characters who all find themselves aboard the Ibis as she sails from the Hoogly River in Calcutta to Mauritius in the 1830s. The Ibis is a “blackbirder” – a ship previously used as part of the slave trade and is now used to transport opium and other supplies to China. But with the Opium Wars looming it is decided to use the ship to take indentured labourers to Mauritius. The opium trade is brilliantly researched and shows us the devastating effect it has on the peasants forced to grow poppies rather than food. Class and caste issues loom large throughout in a society where everyone knows where they stand in the pecking order. Only on the Ibis does this hierarchy break down as the passengers realise that they are (literally) all in the same boat. The narrative moves swiftly and rarely slackens. The story culminates in a real cliffhanger and leaves the reader wanting to know what will happen next. (Sea of Poppies is the first part of a trilogy). The characterisations are strong and vivid although I do feel that some of the things that happen are somewhat far-fetched! Much of the dialogue is bold and bawdy and uses lots of Anglo-Indian and Hindustani terms. This added to the rich brew of this novel although I can understand that others may find it irritating. An energetic, ambitious and immensely moving book.