For my money The Zebra-Striped Hearse shows Ross Macdonald at the top of his writing. The story is less violent and more psychologically-nuanced than earlier books on the series. The plot is brilliantly developed with the twists and turns needed to maintain suspense and element of surprise. The writing is both graceful and spare, perfectly capturing the essentials of the detective noir genre. My only complaint is the title which turns out to be something of a red herring -- or maybe that's entirely intentional. I won't say anything further lest I give away a spoiler alert.
I consider myself a Scott Turow fan. I have read all his books available on Audible and several in hard copy, never with less than overall appreciation for his ability to draw the reader into his narrative and his skill as a writer. Until now. I feel both puzzled and disappointed by Personal Injuries. Several reviewers have described the plot as boring, presumably because it moves along very slowly, frequently punctuated by digressive descriptions of minor characters and descriptive details of settings, clothing etc. It is, in short, more "literary" than the typical crime procedural mystery. My criticisms are more specific and do not take the author to task for writing a book that departs from my general expectations. I would argue that the books fails in ways that transcend genre. For example, the tensions between Robbie, the protagonist anti-hero sleazeball lawyer, and Evon, the constipated FBI agent assigned to undercover duty in Robbie's office, are artificial, tortured, and ultimately the stuff of television soap opera. Throwing in Robbie's wife dying a slow, painful death from ALS over the span of the story only reinforces this unfortunate impression. The cast of corrupt cops and judges comes across as more caricature than credible. Even poor Sandy Stern, the stately Argentine-American attorney from earlier Turow novels, is dragged in toward the end for a cameo appearance. In desperation perhaps, to lend some credibility? Finally one point that some might regard as nitpicking: the story is told in the person by George. George wafts in and out of the storyline, sometimes omniscient (or nearly so) and other times a relatively uninteresting and incurious observer of events. Turow attempts some unconvincing justification of how George could be cognizant of virtually all the things that are going on in the lives and thoughts of the other characters but it just doesn't fly. Creative writing technique aside, it is never a good thing when the reader is distracted by wondering who is narrating and why. Note: After I wrote this review I did a little research and learned that Time magazine named Personal Injuries as the Best Fiction Novel of 1999. I am left wondering who was on the jury and if they actually read the book.
I bought this book because of an interest in speculative geopolitics. The idea of China invading Alaska in the aftermath of a sovereign debt depression intrigued me. However, neither the geopolitical speculation nor the story grabbed me. Instead I suffered through endless (and repetitive) descriptions of military weaponry, battle scenes described in the most purple of purple prose (worthy of first prize in a "bad writing" contest), cartoonishly shallow characters (to call them cardboard would be to insult inanimate fiber material), rampant stereotyping and cultural chauvinism, etc. I disliked this book on every level imaginable. In the end, however, it failed to connect with my interest in geopolitics and near-future sci-fi.
For my money this is the best of the post-Smiley books. It is not only sophisticated in its understanding of the moral ambiguities and contradictions of the ongoing -- no end in sight -- conflict in the Middle East, it is a compelling psychological study of a young woman on the fringes of left-wing politics who is drawn -- more accurately kidnapped -- into a plot to thwart a terrorist bombing. Charlie is a theater actress of only modest success, which is to say she makes a living but only barely. She is the quintessential anti-heroine of the story. Sexually promiscuous and co-dependent, an abused girlfriend (of the cretinous "Long Al," a fellow actor), drawn to but also repelled by the brutal logic of terrorism and counter-terrorism, and finally an accidental if not unwilling savior of innocent lives. This is also a love story, counterposing Charlie and "Joseph," a Mossad operative who despite his legendary status as the coolest, toughest spy among the best of both types, is fraught with existential doubt about the consequences of meeting violence with more violence. Le Carre's prose is, as always, superlative. Little Drummer Girl stands up to anything ever written in this genre, including Graham Greene at the top of his game. Michael Jayston's narration is a perfect match for Le Carre's prose.
Having previously read The End of the Affair a few years ago and thinking it a minor Greene book, I have raised it to my A-list based on Colin Firth's extraordinary narration. Firth approaches perfection in bringing out the rhythm's and nuance of Greene's unpretentious but beautifully crafted prose. If there's any weakness here it is Greene's preoccupation with Roman Catholicism, which becomes a bit wearisome toward the end of story. Though not as great a novel as The Heart of the Matter, which appears on many lists of the 100 greatest novels ever written, The End of the Affair as narrated by Colin Firth is a must listen.
The very negative reviews of this book might well be the result of the jarring difference in style, tone, and narrative from the Shardlake series. Winter in Madrid is written in a literary style" with a weak plot, third person narration, flashbacks, and a generally bleak mood. As a fan of the Shardlake series I was unpleasantly surprised by all of the above. I wouldn't consider Winter in Madrid to be a failure or a bad novel, but it was neither what I expected or enjoyed. For anyone interested in the Spanish Civil War I would recommend Orwell's Homage to Catalonia.
Bill Bryson fans, please don't hate me. I'm actually one of yours. However, I grew as weary of this book as Bill must have felt slogging across the Appalachian Trail. The story starts out strong, as Bill prepares for the adventure by a hilarious visit to his local sporting goods store. It builds nicely in momentum as he and his less than stalwart companion travel to the hinterlands of Georgia and embark on the Trail. They immediately encounter the eccentrics that populate Bryson's books, and Bill makes the most of his raw material. But all too soon the narrative deteriorates into the usual "man against mountain" (or ocean, jungle, outer space, or whatever) story, with the usual overwhelming circumstances, narrow escapes from the jaws of death, etc. Some people like reading about this kind of thing. I do not. As the book loses its strength (along with the hikers' resolve), and similar scenes seem to reoccur (bad weather, impossible terrain, psychological weariness), Bill interrupts his trip to take a break. He should have realized there and then there wasn't a complete book to be had from the experience. It's always a pleasure to hear Bill Bryson read his books. I imagine he's the kind of guy you'd like to hang out with for a beer or two (or three), soaking up his quirky sense of humor and basking in his overall bonhommie. But not this book, for this reader/listener, at least not after the first few chapters.
I am huge Bill Bryson fan, and I could pleasurably listen to him and his quirky digressions for hours and hours. That said, I was expecting more social history instead of the extended foray into the science of the physical universe and biological life. So the "nearly everything" in the title needs to be taken with a large grain of salt. I opted for the abridged version because I love Bryson's narration. I'm not sure what was cut out of the complete book, but judging by what was left in, the subect matter was about all I could take. I followed up this book with Bryson's "At Home," which was much more my cup of tea.
As a Le Carre fan I've exhausted Audible's selection of his books. So I turned to the dramatised production of Russia House in hopes of getting more. I have ot say it's a bit of a letdown, with a lot of over-acting and irritating sound effects that I found distracting. Although Russia House was made into a pretty bad movie (starring Sean Connery), some of Le Carre's books have been successfully adapted to film and television (Smiley's People with Alec Guinness is simply superb). It's not an impossible task to capture Le Carre's distinctive prose style and nuanced characters in a medium other than the printed word. This dramatised version of Russia House falls far short of excellence. I hope that Audible will add the book to its offerings at some point.
Whoever edited the audio productions must be a big fan of shopping center music. A VERY LOUD Latin rhythm or British band music interrupts the narration every five minutes (or so it seems) at the end of every chapter and between sections within chapters. It was like being tapped in an elevator for 7 plus hours, which very nearly ruined the book for me. "Our Man in Havana" is one of Greene's lightest works, an absurd comic plot but with serious (and prescient) political insights. The reader is adequate. The story itself is well worth the time if you can live with the frequent musical interruptions.
Report Inappropriate Content