Summer Holiday Books 2014 – Part 2

Headhunters is the first book I have chosen to read by ex-football player, ex-rock star turned writer Jo Nesbo because as far as I am aware it is not part of a series. In the story Roger Brown is an Oslo based headhunter who specialises in recruiting CEO’s for top companies and who is married to a beautiful wife who runs an art gallery.

What we soon find out is that Brown is also an art thief who uses details gleaned from various recruitment interviews to pinpoint works of art he can pilfer. It also helps that he has a man working inside the company that look after most of the house alarms for the rich and famous in Oslo.

It is the opportunity of a lifetime – to steal a long thought lost Rembrandt that gets the story rolling, and once it’s on a roll boy does it keep rolling. Nesbo’s writing is fast-paced, keenly observed and intelligent while delivering top-notch thrills, spills, twists and turns. I am suddenly a big Nesbo fan and you should expect to see a lot more of his books mentioned in my posts from this point onwards – I have nine plucked from various charity shop shelves (and I admit two from W H Smith) arranged in order on my already overburdened ‘to read’ bookshelf.

I would love to say more about the plot of Headhunters but I want this post at least to stay spoiler-free. Suffice to say that the story is believable at a push and no less realistic than say Gardner’s Bond books. The Plot-Prediction-Alarm that went off like a klaxon when I read Cornwell’s Sea Lord failed to alert me to quite a few plot points and that’s one of the reasons I enjoyed the book so much. I guess also having the opportunity to read it in one sitting at the pool in Greece helped somewhat.

 

Continuing with the idea of reading blockbuster children’s novels not featuring a character called Harry I brought The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins with me on holiday. Originally when I got wind of this story it was via a promotional event for the film at one of the Memorabilia exhibitions I have attended. My immediate reaction was to notice that it seemed like a rip off of Battle Royale and there were a few questions around that subject to the cast members who had turned up. They shrugged them off saying they had not seen the film and Collins herself doesn’t mention it in the Q&A session tagged on the end of the book. I haven’t seen the film or its sequel, but probably will once I have read the books. Sometimes ideas sprout in parallel and I’ll give the author the benefit of doubt. Lord knows I’ve had a few close shaves with writing ideas that would have, unknown to me, almost duplicated other people’s work – The Time Traveller’s Wife being the closest.

The Hunger Games was pretty much as I expected. It skirts around most of the violence as it is told from a rather pacifist person’s perspective (despite her hunting and survivalist credentials), the only romantic scenes are limited to hugs and kisses (and only for show for the hidden cameras – so it’s not real kissing readers) and the main character doesn’t witness most of the deaths of the other twenty or so ‘tributes’ (and because it’s written in a first person present tense narrative neither do we). The story and style were pretty much on a par with Northern Lights and coincidentally they from the same publishers.

The violent nature of the tale is controversial for a kids book, but then I’m wizened enough to remember the hoo-ha the BBC and Daily Mail made over the Fighting Fantasy role playing paperbacks (especially Deathtrap Dungeon with it’s classic ‘wrong move buddy, a trap slices through your guts and your entrails spill like grey fleshy rope from the bleeding wound…’ entry). I also remember absolutely loving those books as a young boy and doing a lot more reading as a result.

 

For my next book I had another look at the collection in the hotel foyer and choose Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail ’72 by Hunter S Thompson. Thompson’s crazy Las Vegas book sits on my shelf alongside Gene Wolfe and Tolkein of all things, and I’m a big fan, but I was a little dubious of the subject matter of this much larger tome having very little knowledge or interest in US politics.

However, I ploughed on with the idea I might learn something and be tickled along the way by Thomson’s ascerbic prose and balls out no fear descriptions and assassinations of characters who were out and about on the campaign trails of McGovern and Nixon.

Unfortunately by page 167 of about 500 my attention had wavered and when I was passed the following book by a fellow holidaymaker who could see I was truggling I decided to shelve Thompson until I got home; and so it sits alongside all the Nesbo stuff on my ‘to read’ shelf.

Fun fact – I am pretty sure my father went to school with cartoonist Ralph Steadman who did the illustrations for both the Thompson books mentioned here. There’s a biographical documentary on Sky starring Johnny Depp that I might try and catch.

 

The Day of the Jackal is one of my favourite books but I have not read much else by Frederick Forsyth, so it was with great interest I began The Kill List. I was pleasantly surprised by this contemporary tale concerning the hunt to find an online ‘preacher’ encouraging acts of terrorism in the UK and USA.

There’s a few thriller clichés along the way – for example a teenage hacker who works out of his parent’s attic and can hack into anywhere he wants easy as pie – see Kevin Smith’s character in Die Hard 4 for a similar trope, although he wouldn’t fit through the attic hatchway so he’s in the basement. Another one is the writer making the main mission a personal vendetta after the death of a loved one to up the ante a notch – see Call of Duty Ghosts campaign story line for a recent example, or Shooter’s ‘they killed his dog now they’re gonna pay…’ storyline.

All in all it’s an entertaining yarn with a realistic ending (despite some real suspension of disbelief at other times) and a tale which showcases Western society’s advanced counterterrorism technology while still acknowledging the very real need for ‘hands on’ special forces approach every now and again. I finished this the day before our flight home and before the BBC reported that stricter security controls were being enforced at airports for flights to the USA. Seems that some of Forsyth’s foresights were coming true.

 

So it was with a heavy heart and a little dash of media fuelled fear that we went home via one of the most shambolic airports I’ve travelled through. Packed into my carry-on was Bernard Cornwell’s Sharpe’s Tiger the first book in chronological order of his very long Sharpe series. I have no concrete plans to read the entire series but I was quite happy to pick this up from the hotel as it is a very small book and one I could read without worrying about breaking chronology as I have done at other times with Cornwell’s other books. Won’t review it here as I am still reading it – for such a small format (pocket size I think you call it) it has a lot of tightly packed text on a lot of pages.

 

Again I would like to give a big shout out to the charity shops where most of these books came from – Sue Ryder, Care UK and Oxfam.

 

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