Sonny boy

25 03 2017

The Son by Jo Nesbo

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Sonny Lofthus, in his early thirties, has been in prison for the last dozen years: serving time for crimes he didn’t commit. In exchange, he gets an uninterrupted supply of heroin—and the unexpected stream of fellow prisoners seeking out his uncanny abilities to soothe and absolve. His addiction started when his father committed suicide rather than be exposed as a corrupt cop, and now Sonny is the center of a vortex of corruption: prison staff, police, lawyers, a desperate priest—all of them focused on keeping him stoned and jailed, and all of them under the thumb of Oslo’s crime overlord, the Twin. When Sonny learns some long-hidden truths about his father he makes a brilliant escape, and begins hunting down the people responsible for the hideous crimes he’s paid for. But he’s also being hunted, by the Twin, the cops, and the only person who knows the ultimate truth that Sonny is seeking. The question is, what will he do when they’ve cornered him?

Sinister, dark and with lots of complicated twists and turns it’s a classic Jo Nesbo. Drugs, criminals and many dodgy characters there is the full range of Scandi noir stuff in here. If you like this kind of thing, and I really do, then it’s well worth it.

 

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Losses adjusted

18 03 2017

Armadillo by William Boyd

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Lorimer Black may suffer from a serious sleep disorder and an obsession with the labyrinths of the British class system, but  Armadillo’s peculiar protagonist is the star insurance adjuster of London’s Fortress Sure PLC, unaffectionately known as “the Fort”. At the very start of William Boyd’s noirish 7th novel, however, things take a decided swerve for the worse. On a bleak January morning one of his cases has apparently chosen to kill himself rather than talk: “Mr. Dupree was simultaneously the first dead person he had encountered in his life, his first suicide and his first hanged man and Lorimer found this congruence of firsts deceptively troubling.”

Soon our hero, who himself has a lot to hide, finds himself threatened by a dodgy type whose loss he has adjusted way down and embroiled with the beautiful married actress Flavia Malinverno. “People who’ve lost something, they call on you to adjust it, make the loss less hard to bear? As if their lives are broken in some way and they call on you to fix it,” Flavia dippily wonders. Lorimer also has his car torched and instantly goes from an object of affection to one of deep suspicion at the Fort. Then there is another case, the small matter of the rock star who may or may not be faking the Devil he says is sitting on his left shoulder.

Needless to say, Lorimer is “becoming fed up with this role of fall guy for other people’s woes.” Boyd adds a deep layer of psychological heft and a lighter level of humour to this thinking-person’s thriller by exploring Lorimer’s manifold personal and social fears. This is a man who desperately collects ancient helmets even though he knows they offer only “the illusion of protection.” Another of Armadillo’s many pleasures: its dose of delicious argot. Should Lorimer “oil” the apparent perpetrator of the Fedora Palace arson before he’s oiled himself? Or perhaps he just needs to “put the frighteners” on him. Boyd definitely puts the frighteners on his readers more than once in this cinematically seedy and dazzling literary display.

Darkness, death and lots of dodgy goings on. It’s a good effort from Boyd but perhaps not quite what it should be. Enjoyable enough though.

 





Goodbye, farewell

11 03 2017

Goodbye to all that by Robert Graves

 

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In 1929 Robert Graves went to live abroad permanently, vowing ‘never to make England my home again’. This is his superb account of his life up until that ‘bitter leave-taking’: from his childhood and desperately unhappy school days at Charterhouse, to his time serving as a young officer in the First World War that was to haunt him throughout his life.

It also contains memorable encounters with fellow writers and poets, including Siegfried Sassoon and Thomas Hardy, and covers his increasingly unhappy marriage to Nancy Nicholson. Goodbye to All That, with its vivid, harrowing descriptions of the Western Front, is a classic war document, and also has immense value as one of the most candid self-portraits of an artist ever written.

Just brilliant this and one of the best autobiographies I can recall. Graves somehow manages to encounter just about every notable artist around during his time in the trenches but also beyond. There is some comedy as well as tragedy in here, most notably when Graves’ unit is sent, in error, to Cork instead of York thanks to a Morse code mistake. Highly recommended

4.5 stars





Bleedin’ hell

4 03 2017

Bleeding Edge by Thomas Pynchon

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It is 2001 in New York City, in the lull between the collapse of the dotcom boom and the terrible events of September 11th. Silicon Alley is a ghost town, Web 1.0 is having adolescent angst, Google has yet to IPO, Microsoft is still considered the Evil Empire. There may not be quite as much money around as there was at the height of the tech bubble, but there’s no shortage of swindlers looking to grab a piece of what’s left.

Maxine Tarnow is running a nice little fraud investigation business on the Upper West Side, chasing down different kinds of small-scale con artists. She used to be legally certified but her licence got pulled a while back, which has actually turned out to be a blessing because now she can follow her own code of ethics – carry a Beretta, do business with sleazebags, hack into people’s bank accounts – without having too much guilt about any of it. Otherwise, just your average working mum – two boys in elementary school, an off-and-on situation with her sort of semi-ex-husband Horst, life as normal as it ever gets in the neighbourhood – till Maxine starts looking into the finances of a computer-security firm and its billionaire geek CEO, whereupon things begin rapidly to jam onto the subway and head downtown. She soon finds herself mixed up with a drug runner in an art deco motorboat, a professional nose obsessed with Hitler’s aftershave, a neoliberal enforcer with footwear issues, plus elements of the Russian mob and various bloggers, hackers, code monkeys and entrepreneurs, some of whom begin to show up mysteriously dead. Foul play, of course.

With occasional excursions into the Deep Web and out to Long Island, Thomas Pynchon, channelling his inner Jewish mother, brings us a historical romance of New York in the early days of the Internet, not that distant in calendar time but galactically remote from where we’ve journeyed to since.

It’s very Pynchon and, while some of the tech speak isn’t wholly convincing, it’s still a really impressive offering and perhaps not that remote from where we are now.

stars-3-5








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