Holiday Books 2017

As usual I would like to present here a quick rundown of the books I read while on my summer vacation. For the first time in years this did not feature a Bernard Cornwell book – mainly because I read one a few weeks before I went, not because I’ve gone off him. Honest.

I See You by Clare Mackintosh is her second book after the wildly successful I Let You Go which I haven’t read. Indeed, this kind of crime chicklit isn’t my normal read, but I enjoyed Girl On The Train recently and thought I would give it a go. I passed it to Siggy once I was done with it, which saved her having to pack another book.

Mackintosh does a good job of lining up the suspects for who is running a web site that tracks women’s commutes into London and sells the details. While I did figure out the culprit’s helper, I didn’t figure out the main culprit and so I was happy that it wasn’t too predictable. I can’t really say a lot more about it without providing spoilers. It was an easy read, well paced and while not as stylish as Girl on the Train equally as entertaining.

Then it was on to another Jack Reacher book by Lee Child. This one was The Hard Way. It’s one of the best ones I have read so far. Reacher, as ever in the wrong place at the wrong time just having a coffee on Mew York, is not completely infallible in his investigations into the kidnap of a private armed services boss’s wife and child. He makes a few mistakes and doesn’t guess who the inside man is even though it is staring the reader in the face.

There’s a couple of red herrings and twists, but this one is really about the bits where Reacher ends up in the UK. London and Norfolk to be precise. Child has a bit of fun pointing out the differences between American and British culture when he can and the inevitable final showdown in a farm is great.

George R R Martin’s A Knight Of The Seven Kingdoms is a collection of three prequel novellas set one hundred years before Game of Thrones. Dunk aka Ser Duncan The Tall is a novice hedge knight who takes on a young bald boy called Egg as his squire.

Egg turns out to be of noble blood, of the house Targaryen line, and yet remains Dunk’s squire despite the dire ending of the first tale which sees one of the Targaryens suffer an accidental death at the hands of his brother during a tournament battle in true Martin style.

The second tale is a relatively simple one of disputed land between a minor lord and lady, and the third is a more complicated story about a potential uprising of traitors against the king in which Dunk and Egg are unwitting and ultimately unwilling participants. All have a flavour of the original Fire and Ice novels mixed with a kind of Don Quixote vibe. I thoroughly recommend this book if you are a fan of the series.

End of Watch by Stephen King is the final book in the trilogy which also contains Mr Mercedes and Finders Keepers. After recent terrorist attacks in the UK, the opening segment, which revisits the car-based attack on a job fair featured in Mr Mercedes, had a whole extra level of nastiness to it, and the fact that the perpetrator is stopped from bombing a pop concert (and left in a coma for the second book) is also rather chilling.

Brady Hartsfield, aka Mr Mercedes, develops special powers while recovering from his coma (a subject close to my heart, since my current writing project contains the same premise which I first came across in King’s The Dead Zone). In Finders Keepers we were teased with these powers being telekinetic in nature, however King either changed his angle or didn’t want to reveal Brady’s much stronger power – that of mind control.

Being the ‘prince of suicide’ Brady puts this power to use via handheld games consoles inducing people to kill themselves. It is up to Bill Hodges and chums to stop him. The use of handheld technology as the delivery mechanism in the story harks back to King’s book Cell, but this isn’t a criticism. The hypnosis technology seems plausible and when coupled with a bit of supernatural flim flam makes for a compelling read.

Also for once, although the ‘here come the calvary’ ending is rather predictable, King has managed to deliver a pretty cool ending and it was great to see ‘what goes around comes around’ embodied in Brady’s demise. As for why it’s called End Of Watch, Hodges unfortunately won’t be riding again, although it is perhaps plausible that we haven’t seen the last of the Finders Keepers private investigation agency.

Then it was on to a book I didn’t pack but found on the multilingual hotel bookshelf. It was slim pickings this year and so Bullseye by James Patterson and Michael Ledwidge was the only one that really caught my eye. After reading fifty badly written cliche-filled pages, I couldn’t continue. If people think Lee Child writes pulp fiction they really should get a load of Bullseye. Terrible. Bullshit more like.

Luckily I was holding a slim book in reserve for on the flight home. Isaac Asimov’s The Gods Themselves is a Hugo and Nebula award winner for best science fiction novel in the year of its release – 1972 I think. I can see why it won the awards, but only after I got through the first third.

The story is told in three stages. The first stage is a rather dull account of the discovery which leads to the construction of an electron pump which provides an endless supply of free energy to earth. The main issue here seems to be who should get the credit for setting up the pump when it couldn’t have been done without the help of the residents of a parallel universe. It’s not all that interesting and when it finally does get interesting – when questions of safety arise – the point of view changes over to the parallel universe.

However, this is a good thing – because the alternate life forms and their culture in the parallel world described by Asimov is really very good. It also becomes clear why the creatures want to continue to operate the pump on their side despite their knowledge of the catastrophic ramifications for Earth. I would have happily continued reading about these weird creatures and their lives, but the focus shifts back to the other universe.

The final section of the book is based on the Earth’s moon and revolves around a discredited scientist and an intuitive woman born in the moon base – trying to prove the safety issues around the pump and moreover trying to discover a safer energy source. Again this section is far more interesting than the first section and helps draw all the sections together into a thought provoking tale about the politics of science and how individuals and indeed societies can be selfish. In this age of Trumpist denial science fiction from the past once again casts a light on the reality of today.

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