04/11/2009

Book reviews

I've been away on business for a couple of days and the time on the train and in a hotel room has given me the chance to do some solid reading.  Although you may choose to disagree with my definition of "solid" once you see what I've been reading.

"Good Omens" by Terry Pratchett & Neil Gaiman
I'm not very familiar with any of Neil Gaiman's solo outings but I've read plenty of Terry Pratchett's books and this one has many familiar Pratchett elements: the sometimes groan-worthy (but nearly always funny) jokes, the silly character names (there's a witch called "Anathema Device", for example), and the way that the action accelerates towards the end.  It's set in modern-day England rather than on Discworld but the same plot could have been transplanted to Ankh-Morpork with minimal changes.

I think the biggest difference between this book and Pratchett's others is that "Good Omens" seems to be making a point - subtly and not in a hectoring way - whereas the Discworld novels are generally pure entertainment.  Perhaps that's Gaiman's influence.  I think this one is about organised religion and free will.  I think - I'm not very good at getting points, particularly not subtle ones (just ask my wife).  For example, here's what Adam Young, an 11 year old boy says towards the end (he's talking to, well, let's say some representatives of religion):
... if you stopped tellin' people it's all sorted out after they're dead, they might try sorting it all out while they're alive.
I like this book (it's about the fourth time I've read it) because it's amusing, the characters are interesting and there's plenty of action, plus an undercurrent of seriousness that's sometimes missing from Terry Pratchett's other books.  So perhaps I should be going and investigating Neil Gaiman's books.

"Boiling A Frog" by Christopher Brookmyre
I really like Christopher Brookmyre's books and I've read most of them several times.  This came with me on my journey because I knew it was a reliably entertaining read.

Unlike in the previous book, which is attempting to make a gentle point, Brookmyre's characters have very strongly worded opinions.  Because all the opinions are in character, you can't definitively say that any are the author's views, but you can usually guess because the characters that end up maimed, jailed or dead are probably the bad guys and so we can assume that what they said is intended to be satire; whereas the good guys - the ones who maim, kill or jail the bad guys - have more defensible positions.  Or so I think.  But I'm a bleeding heart liberal, so what do I know?

Anyway, "Boiling A Frog" is a pretty typical Brookmyre novel in that it is set in Scotland, has plenty to say about religion, politics and the media (very little of it nice) and has a satisfyingly involved plot, which finishes with the good guys winning and the bad guys coming to a variety of sticky ends.  Which is one of the things I enjoy about his books - they are escapist fantasy, for all their points about the real world.  I do like happy endings.

"The Melting Man" by Victor Canning
As you can tell, I like re-reading books.  I like knowing the endings.  Sometimes I even peek to see how things turn out.  But I do read new books!  New to me, that is.  Like this one - and I didn't even look at the ending before I got to it.

Victor Canning is an author few people seem to have heard of; as his Wikipedia entry says, his "reputation has faded since his death in 1986".  I used to read his books a lot when I was younger because my Mum did, and some of them are excellent if I recall (I might change my mind when I read them again).

I don't recall this one.  It's a thriller, set in England and Europe and features Rex Carver, a private detective who is lazily attractive to women, always getting in and out of sticky situations, personally reckless etc etc.  Sound familiar?

The plot is quite entertaining and moves quickly but some of the characters are pretty thin and that casual late-60s racism is on display with a couple of African villains.  It kept me occupied for a train journey and I wasn't bored.  But I probably won't read it again.  However, I will go back and try and find some of the other books I enjoyed when I was younger.

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