Reading for pleasure
18 June 12
This month's selection of leisure reading from the Journal's Book Review Editor
Dave & Nick: The Year of the Honeymoon
Ann Treneman: Robson Press, £14.99 (e-book £8.92)
Ann Treneman is the political sketch writer for the Times. This brilliant anthology collects her writing in the first year of the coalition Government. The writing is sharp, witty and just seems, as always, to capture the moment, context and atmosphere. Of the Queen's Speech of 10 May 2010 she writes: "'The first priority is to reduce the deficit', said Her Majesty, voice tinkling like a harpsichord, never betraying that she was un-saying all the things she had said last time." She calls the last Parliament the "Manure Parlament", and describes the last Prime Minister's Questions thus: "Gordon Brown had tried to stage manage his exit with all the subtley of a bulldozer". However neither of the other party leaders is given an easier ride. She describes the launch of the Liberal campaign as "with the television cameras showing him talking to some shadowy people in what appeared to be his bedroom". On the Prime Minister employing a photographer, Treneman reported: "Smile, Dave, you've been papped at PMQs". This book is great fun but with a true journalistic eye on recording events as they unfold.
Michael Frayn: Faber & Faber, £15.99 (e-book £7.20)
Dr Norman Wilfred is due to attend the Toppler Foundation on the Greek island of Skios to give the prestigous annual speech on the scientific management of science, on which he is a world authority, to the great, the good and the incredibly wealthy, while Oliver Fox is having a secret liaison with Georgie on the same island at the luxury villa of friends of his erstwhile girlfriend. A presumption and an innocent look on the part of Nikki Hook, who has organised the keynote speaker, as she collects Dr Wilfred from the airport, leads to Dr Wilfred and Oliver Fox taking on the role of the other, only one of them unwittingly making the most of the unexpected opportunities. Nikki reflects on whether she will net Dr Wilfred while she conspires to take on the directorship of the Foundation. Chaos, mayhem, near misses and unrequited romance follows. This book is a delight, and for anyone on the conference circuit, beware!
Murder on Page One
Ian Simpson: Troubador, £7.99 (e-book £2.63)
Debut novelist former Sheriff Ian Simpson appears to have taken the advice of a managing editor and opens the book placing murder on page 1. There then follow six further murders of literary agents by various gruesome means until all, including the culprit, is revealed at a writer's retreat deep in the Highlands. While the number of murders become a bit repetitive, this remains an enjoyable, witty, page turner brought to life by the well drawn, believable characters, in particular those of DS Flick Fortune and her colleagues, and their dialogue and occasional tensions between them, as they trawl through the unpublished manuscripts of unpublished authors. Give it a shot!
The Road to Hell
Gillian Galbraith: Polygon, £14.99 (e-book £6.71)
This is the fifth DS Alice Rice brought to us by former advocate Gillian Galbraith. This book is slightly different than her previous books, and all the more enjoyable for it, as she has kept her characters and writing fresh. This one sees the death of a woman on Blackford Hill, with the inevitable enquiry to identify her and the reason for her death, an enquiry that sees Rice return to sadly familiar territory of the homeless and needy of Edinburgh. Another death occurs, in equally unexpected circumstances, and while saying much more would spoil the fun, each brings its own issues and surprises. As before, Galbraith describes Edinburgh to a tee and the imagery is quite remarkable. This is a terrific read and, as said before, we look forward to more from what we hope is Galbraith's restless pen. Surely time for a TV series.
Elaine Proctor: Quercus, £14.99 (e-book £8.99)
I got my first taste of rhumba some years ago during a hair-raising taxi ride from central Brussels to the airport. I was distracted from the sight of the driver steering with his knees by the up-tempo rhythms coming from the sound system. I asked the driver what was playing and was told it was a Congolese artist called Papa Wemba. Its infectious cheerfulness got me to relax and stop clinging to the upholstery.
That incident came back to me on reading this impressive first novel. African rhumba music and dance form the background to the tale of Flambeau, a young Congolese boy trafficked into London seeking a better future. As he searches for his mother in an underworld populated by gangsters, pimps and people traffickers, it becomes clear that the life he left behind is never very far away. He is helped in his quest by Eleanor, his beautiful Scottish neighbour, and her lover Knight, the super cool “Sapeur”. Knight has troubles of his own, however, and these conspire to threaten his future happiness and that of his young friend.
There is a cinematic feel to the work, revealing the author’s previous experience as a script writer. This is particularly evident in the scenes in Africa, the dance hall and the church. The book is well researched and never flinches from depicting the harsh reality of being vulnerable in a place where human beings are bought and sold routinely. It increases the reader’s awareness of the issues involved in people trafficking without becoming overly sentimental. It has a strong plot and well drawn characters, and deserves a wide readership. I look forward to reading Elaine Proctor’s next novel.