Here’s a quick post about the books I took with me and read on a two-week beach holiday this year, presented in the order in which I read them.
James Joyce – A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man
Is a kind of ‘bucket list’ book I guess, but I have to admit I only took it with me because it was a very small lightweight paperback that fitted easily into my carry-on luggage. The novel starts off well but then descended rather too much into navel-gazing rambles about religion and the decision of whether or not to join the priesthood. Religion, especially Catholicism, is something I have very little time for and so I found the second half of the book quite a tedious read. I also don’t see much ‘art’ in this short novel if I am honest. I guess it was a pretty poor choice as a ‘summer read’ and so moving on…
Bob Mortimer – And Away
In some respects this autobiography by Vic Reeves’s comedy partner, who is fast becoming a national treasure, thanks to his successful fishing show with Paul Whitehouse, has some similarities with the Joyce novel in that it covers Bob’s formative years in some detail. However, I enjoyed it far more than Joyce’s Portrait. I’d also go as far as saying that I enjoyed it more than Adam Buxton’s similar (in that he was once part of a popular comedy duo) autobiography Ramble Book.
Bob’s very candid story of his life is at turns endearing, touching and a little sad, but most of all very funny. I don’t think Bob knows how not to be funny even when he’s describing the horrible job he once did at a chicken factory. The book had me genuinely laughing out loud a few times and tittering to myself on several more occasions. Definitely a good choice of book for reading in the sun – the writing style is very conversational and the structure is good in that every other chapter jumps back the present where he is dealing with the after effects of heart surgery.
Bernard Cornwell – Sharpe’s Assassin
This new paperback from Cornwell sees the welcome return of Richard Sharpe and Irish sidekick Patrick Harper. This books follows events immediately following Sharpe’s Waterloo (which I read the last time I was on my summer holidays in Greece) and is set mostly in Paris before the events of the ‘last’ Sharpe book – Sharpe’s Devil. I have always tried to read at least one Bernard Cornwell book when I go on my summer holidays and so it was very fortuitous that this came out in time to take with me this year.
Old Nosey, The Duke of Wellington needs a favour from his go-to guy Sharpe. Napoleon’s army was defeated at Waterloo, and rumour has it that a shadowy group of fanatical revolutionaries are hell-bent on revenge. Wellington wants Sharpe to rescue a prisoner and with his help uncover the truth about this cabal and it’s plans for assassination or Napoleon’s enemies. It’s a good setup for a new adventure and while we know nothing of great import is going to happen to our beloved characters (since they appear in one piece in the next book) it’s a great instalment for a fan like me.
Anthony Horowitz – The House of Silk
This 2011 novel, the first authorized by the Conan Doyle Estate, is as usual written from the point of view of Doctor Watson and he explains that the case he will divulge to the reader was too shocking to be revealed until many years after the other cases he wrote up.
It starts with a visit from Edmund Carstairs, an art dealer whose client is murdered in America, who fears the murderer is stalking him on his return to Blighty. Sherlock Holmes, who we actually see too little of in the course of the story in my opinion, employs the Baker Street Irregulars, his trusty gang of street urchins, to find the stalker and report back. Ross, one of the newest Irregulars, waits outside the stalker’s hotel until Holmes, Watson, and their client arrive. Upon arrival Ross appears horror-stricken, disappears into the night and is later found brutally killed, his broken body marked with a length of white silk as a warning from the shadowy House of Silk. Whatever that is.
Unfortunately Holmes is framed for another murder under the influence of opium and sent to prison. His brother warned him not to investigate further, but Holmes has the death of a child on his conscience. The devious and clever Holmes escapes prison and is able, with Watson’s enduring side-kickery, to follow clues to solve the mystery and aid the police in rounding up the perpetrators. However, despite arrests being made, the Silk House case does not come to trial, due to a royal family member having been involved. The case of the stalker is also neatly tied up with a silk bow by the end of the book. Given recent events in the real world this book really leaves you wondering about things, but I won’t say any more that that as I am trying to avoid major spoilers. It’s definitely worth a read, and Horowitz does well to write the story in the expected style so it fits nicely into the ‘canon’.
Jennifer Saint – Ariadne
Is a modern feminist novel based on Greek myth mainly about Ariadne but also features the story of her sister both daughters of wealthy king Minos of minotaur fame (in fact the minotaur is Ariadne’s brother). Despite her sisterly love for her deformed brother, Ariadne helps Theseus to navigate the labyrinth and kill the mighty beast lurking therein. That much I already knew, it’s what happens next that’s so interesting and also how Saint paints the mighty heroes of Greek myth in a starkly different light. Yes we know the gods can be absolute dicks, but then also the heroes aren’t much better, in some ways even worse.
Ariadne compares very favourably with Madeline Miller’s Circe and like Circe covers a lot of Greek mythology beside just Ariadne’s story. It’s well worth a read for any fans of Greek mythology or fantasy in general, and don’t be put off with the rather drippy character the princess has to begin with, it’s not long before the realisation of the reality of her situation makes her embark on more independent and modern-feeling character arc.
Stephen King – Billy Summers
Last but not least we have this new non-horror novel by Stephen King about a veteran sniper caught up in a ‘last job gone bad’ story. Summers is a hitman for the mob, but only kills bad people. He is an expert at disappearing after the event, but his last job goes south quite quickly and is complicated by him rescuing a rape victim from dying of exposure outside of his hideaway. It feels like King has been reading and admiring the work of Lee Child, but while there are some similarities Summers knows he is essentially a bad person with a good heart whereas I’m not sure we’ve ever had Jack Reacher question his moral compass or psychotic behaviour. There’s no self-doubt for Reacher.
We get to learn all about Summers’s life through a memoir he is writing while waiting for the green light for assassination job. So the story is half thriller half war story and has a level of depth to it you’d expect from King but maybe not from the genre – and that’s great. He can’t help throw in a little bit about another one of his books, but unlike the Mr Mercedes books, there’s no supernatural element to this. Again I won’t say any more than that. Of all the books listed here I enjoyed this one the most, it’s such a treat for King fans for him to write a very impressive ‘straight’ non-horror book and I hope he continues to write more crime fiction.
On the plane home, I did start reading another book on my Kindle app, but I’ll write about that some other time.