Tuesday, 31 May 2016

The Flowers of Evil by Charles Baudelaire

New translation by Anthony Mortimer

Poetry tends to take me out of my comfort zone when reading and so I don’t read a lot of it. I do like to try new things though and I was intrigued by this controversial collection by Charles Baudelaire. 

Condemned in 1857 as offensive to public morality, The Flowers of Evil is now considered one of the most influential volumes of poetry published in the nineteenth century. 

Charles Baudelaire (1821-67) drew on his experiences of life in Paris to examine humanity in all its forms and across a variety of themes including beauty, sex and sensuality, city life and religion. 

The poems are in different forms too; some are mini essays almost or small speeches on a topic whereas others are lilting and lyrical. I preferred the ones that seemed softer and more rhythmic as the words flowed nicer for me which was a nice balance against some of the darker, more serious themes that are explored. 

There were two elements in a lot of the poems that I particularly enjoyed. One was mythological references, which for me provided strong imagery and an element of storytelling. The second one was the sense of smell or references to scents, fragrances or perfume. Although lots of the poems are very descriptive in terms of sights or feelings, there seemed a recurring theme about the power of scents connected to people or events and I really liked the imagery that those olfactory descriptions provided. 

I’m by no means an expert of poetry and I won’t even start to say that I understood everything in this volume. Some of the verses are quite intense and so I dipped in and out of it rather than trying to read it all in one go. 

Published by Alma Books, this translation by Anthony Mortimer (who has also translated the works of authors such as Dante, Villon and Petrarch) is a dual text edition and so has the original French besides the English. My secondary school French was nowhere near up to scratch to take on the French side of things but I’m sure it is just as powerful in its original language. 

A brave and intense volume, I can see why these poems are still being published today and I’d imagine this to be a worthwhile addition to any poetry fan’s collection. 

Wednesday, 25 May 2016

The Silent Dead by Tetsuya Honda

This was my first taste of Japanese crime fiction and if this internationally bestselling book by Tetsuya Honda can be used as the standard for this genre, then I will happily add more to my book list. 

Readers are introduced to Reiko Himekawa, a talented young Lieutenant who has risen quickly in the ranks and is famed for her crime solving capabilities. She has keen observation skills and a sharp intellect that enables her to make connections that others may never have made without more concrete evidence. 

Her skills are put to the test when a body is discovered dumped in a seemingly random location. Wrapped in blue plastic, the victim has been brutally slain including a fatal slash to the neck and a nasty gash in the stomach.  

Reiko and her team begin their investigation but as the body count rises with the victims bearing similar marks of brutality, the Homicide department realise they have the work of a deranged serial killer on their hands. 

The murder scenes are wonderfully gory and graphic. You get to see some of the killer’s story before they are fully revealed too which gave an intriguing sinister aspect to the story. What I found most interesting about the novel was actually how the Japanese police operated. I found the whole hierarchy, politics and operation of the Japanese police to be fascinating. This does also mean that there are a lot of characters with lots of unfamiliar names and I sometimes found it hard to keep track of who was who. There is a handy cast list at the start of the book which helps with that though! 

As a female who has climbed the ranks quickly and often outshines her colleagues, Reiko is not the most popular person ever. She has plenty of competition and some officers will go above the law to get ahead in the investigation. Reiko is heavily influenced by her troubled past and the reader learns a lot about her, almost as much as she learns about herself. This is the start of a series with Reiko in the spotlight and there is so much scope for her character to grow. 

The Silent Dead is a dark and gritty thriller in which Tetsuya Honda has introduced a new crime fiction heroine to champion in a series set for continuing worldwide success. 

Thursday, 12 May 2016

Tenacity by J.S. Law

When a sailor’s body is found hanging on board a submarine, naval Special Investigator Lieutenant Danielle Lewis is hand-selected to investigate his suicide. However there is more to the case than meets the eye and Dan knows that the sailor’s wife was brutally murdered days before her husband then took his own life. 

The course of the investigation finds Dan entering the confines of HMS Tenacity in order to interview the crew in a bid to get to the truth. Trapped deep under the sea, Dan is a lone female and in the aftermath of a previous high-profile case involving one of their own, she is outnumbered and an unwanted presence on the submarine. 

Things are certainly not easy or straightforward for the lone investigator and, as it soon becomes apparent that the killer is most likely on board, what started as a search for answers fast becomes a battle for survival. 

This novel immerses the reader right into the nitty gritty of naval politics and procedure. I’m usually not a huge fan of military based novels, but this story is a crime investigation tale that happens to centre on the navy, and so is interesting and thrilling to read. The level of detail is immense and for me sometimes the navy side was a bit too much but on the other hand that all added to the authenticity of the story and made it even more realistic. 

The setting of the submarine was brilliant for creating tension and suspense. The restrictions of the submarine and the notion of being confined underwater really projected a claustrophobic sense of urgency and danger that added excitement to the story. With the killer left unknown until so close to the end and so many possible suspects, you become thoroughly gripped by the story and eager to find out the truth. The ending is particularly explosive and unexpected which was a great finish to a fantastic novel. 

Dan is probably one of the hardest, most strong willed leads I’ve come across in a long while, although as a female in any male-dominated environment that’s hardly surprising. Her determination and sheer stubbornness at times is something to be admired but also gets her into trouble and I think after everything her character has been through, it will be interesting to see how her character progresses in the future. 

For a debut novel, this is very impressive. Tenacity is pacey, taut and a thoroughly riveting read.  

Monday, 9 May 2016

The Arrival of Missives by Aliya Whiteley

With seemingly not enough hours in the day for me to read at the moment, this short but stylish offering by Aliya Whiteley was perfectly sized for me to devour and enjoy, and I’m still thinking about it after finishing it. 

In the aftermath of a terrible war, we are introduced to a defiant young woman named Shirley, who dreams of defying the conventions of her village and of becoming a teacher. She also has ideas about the schoolmaster, a scarred veteran from the war who in pushing Shirley away, only deepens her resolve to ally herself to him. 

When he finally allows her close to him and reveals a prophecy of a terrifying future, she finds herself put in a difficult situation that will have resounding effects for generations to come. 

This novel is a well put together blend of historical fiction, sci-fi and something even a little mythological. Within these genres, there are plenty of themes explored including fate and destiny, and female societal roles which when blended in such a unique way made for a mind stimulating read. 

This is my first read from this author and I found that Aliya Whiteley has a lovely simple yet lyrical way of wording things that sparked my imagination and kept me engaged. 

I really liked Shirley’s character at first. She’s headstrong and passionate and had all the makings of a great heroine. Towards the end, I didn’t agree with some of the decisions she came to but I think that her intentions are generally good and she remained an interesting character throughout. I liked the element of mystery surrounding the schoolmaster Mr Tiller and how things concluded with his character – very intriguing! 

Thought-provoking and skilfully written, I really enjoyed The Arrival of Missives and I’m interested in reading more works from this already acclaimed author. 

Friday, 6 May 2016

The House with No Rooms by Lesley Thomson

Engrossing hardbacks seem to be a running theme for me this year so far, and The House With No Rooms is a prime example of complex storytelling on a grand scale and a great way to kickstart the month. 

During a hot seventies summer, a young girl witnesses an awful crime and subsequently suppresses the secrets of her childhood. As an adult, these secrets hide an even darker truth that falls to detective’s daughter Stella Darnell to uncover before a murderer gets away with their terrible acts. 

Stella and her train driver friend Jack are drawn into a case that has links with Stella’s past and they strive to unravel a forty year old mystery that has very real dangers for all those involved. 

The way the story dips back and forth in time cleverly links the past and present, and also creates extra layers of mystery as snippets of information are revealed bit by bit. 

Stella is a sensible, stable lead whose history with other lead characters anchors her role firmly in the story. She wasn’t a character I particularly liked or disliked, but she is realistic and central to the storyline. Where she is rational and practical, Jack is led more by his intuition which makes them work surprisingly well as an investigative partnership. 

I was really intrigued by Jack, a night-owl who has an uncanny knack for identifying what he calls a ‘True Host’, which is someone with the capacity to murder. It’s almost like he has radar for secret psychopaths and as he stalks the night harbouring his own secrets and theories, it lends some quite sinister undertones throughout the whole story which made for compelling reading. I’m looking forward to learning more about him and his past in future stories. 

Set in London, a lot of the action takes places in and around Kew Gardens which I thought was an imaginative and memorable location for the story. Even though I’ve never visited Kew (although it is on my list of places to go), I had vivid imagery of all the plants and greenery, artful garden sculptures and old fashioned buildings that stand silent and empty at night. It all added to the atmosphere which was tense all the way through. 

During the story, when the action has lulled, it is a bit of a slow burner although in this case, that wasn’t a bad thing. Some crime novels are non-stop, fast and furious content. The House With No Rooms is at the other end of the scale with an intricate story that stealthily holds your attention throughout towards a thrilling and gripping finale.