Thursday 17 November 2011

Recent Reads - November 2011

I have been quite busy reading wise recently and have managed to include some new authors this time around.  I am currently reading El Enigma de París by Pablo de Santis.  This is my second book in the Ficciones Argentina Reading Challenge.  El Enigma is a crime novel, but rather unusual in that it features 12 Detectives.  They form an elite group of detectives from all over the world and meet up in Paris 1898 for the Great Exhibition.  Their founder, from Buenos Aires, cannot attend and sends his young assistant instead.  It is this assistant who narrates the events.  It is beginning to get very interesting as one of the detectives has been found dead at the bottom of the Eiffel Tower.  Who dunnit?
As usual my list includes a good number of crime novels.  One was by a new author for me - Johan Theorin who wrote Echoes from the Dead.  Theorin is from Sweden and this is his first novel which is set in the island of Öland off the east coast of the country.  It is a very sad and dark tale about the re-opening of the case of a young boy who went missing twenty years earlier.
A Death in Calabria by Michele Giuttari is the third crime novel I have now read by this Italian writer.  The first was A Florentine Death, followed by The Death of a Mafia Don.  All in fact heavily feature the mafia, though in A Death in Calabria it is the local variety - the ‘Ndrangheta.  Very matter-of-factly and sparsely written they are all terrific reads.  A common thread is provided by Chief Superintendent Michele Ferrara who leads the investigations in all three books
Death of a Red Heroine is the second book I have read by Qiu Xiaolong, a Chinese writer who now lives in the USA.  This is in fact the first in the series which features Inspector Chan of the Shanghai police.  Here he has to find out who murdered a beautiful national model worker.  This brings him into conflict with the higher echelons of the party.  Set in 1990 this is not just a good crime mystery but a good insight into the recent history of China.  
I have also managed to sneak in a couple of audio versions of crime novels.  The first was About Face by Donna Leon, another in the Comisario Brunetti series.  Though set in Venice, this tale spreads far and wide and has some similarities with A Death in Calabria.  Once again the mafia are involved as is the illegal trafficking of toxic waste.  The other audio novel was Dark Water by Caro Ramsay.  Another very dark tale of murders most foul.  Not to mention a bit of police infighting.  Gripping and atmospheric and very well read by James MacPherson, who does a mean Liverpool accent.
Though crime as usual dominates, I did manage to read a couple of other novels.  All were by new authors to me.  The Coffee Trader by David Luss is set in Amsterdam in the mid 1600s and though the newly developing coffee trade is the background for the tale it is about a lot more.  The greed, gambling and corruption at the heart of the stock exchange reads like a pretty good description of what happens today.  The novel also touches on the complex relationships both within the Jewish community in Amsterdam and elsewhere and their relationships with non Jews.  The heart of the story though is about trust and betrayal.  
Pereira Maintains by Antonio Tabucchi.  This was published in Italy in 1994, though the story is set in Lisbon in 1938.  Portugal is now a dictatorship run by Salazar, while Spain is in the throes of its civil war.  Pereira is an elderly apolitical journalist who edits a literary supplement for a low circulation newspaper.  Not wanting to get involved in anything his life is changed by a chance meeting with a young man and the man’s girl friend.  Gradually Pereira grows in awareness of the ugly and murderous reality of the regime in Portugal.  The novel slowly builds up to an unexpected climax.  Great atmospheric descriptions of Lisbon and life in a dictatorship.
I listened to the audio version of The Eye of Jade by Diane Wei Liang.  Like Qiu Xiaolong, Liang is a Chinese writer who now lives in the USA.  This novel is set mainly in Beijing in the year before the uprising at  Tiananmen Square.  The main character is Mei a private detective.  Though she does work on a case, this is not really a crime novel.  Though there are plenty of crimes.  However the crimes have more to do with recent Chinese history and the cultural revolution than anything else.  The novel is mainly about Mei’s attempts to find out what really happened to her father, who was sent to a labour camp, where he died.  Who sent him there and why?  The book also deals with Mei’s difficult relationship with her mother and younger sister.  Ultimately a rather sad and poignant tale, with no happy ending.

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