Reading for pleasure
This month's selection of leisure reading chosen by the Journal's Book Review Editor
A Delicate Truth
John Le Carré (Viking: £18.99)
John Le Carré, the master spy novelist has written a superb page turner. Operation Wildlife, a counter terrorist operation, is scheduled to take place in Gibraltar, with the aim of taking out by extraordinary rendition a major jihadist arms dealer. The operation involves Fergus Quinn, a broadly spoken, Glasgow Labour MP, who is deeply ambitious. To tell the outcome of that operation wold ruin the suspense and thrill encapsulated in this book, which holds with brilliant delight. Who knew what, when, and who are "they"? Diplomats, bureaucrats, special forces, mercenaries, politicians: all are a delicious blend in the hands of Le Carré as he crafts this story of corruption and whistleblowing, where we witness the "unappeasable craving for money, power and respect" where "what the gods and all reasonable humans fought in vain... was sheer, wanton, bloody indifference to anybody's interests but their own".
A Tourist in the Arab Spring
Tom Chesshyre (Bradt: £9.99; e-book £7.21)
This is one of the most engrossing, readable, well researched and emotive travelogues I've read for some time. Chesshyre – it should be said through an agency – travelled to Tunisia, Libya and Egypt just before the first anniversary of the so called Arab spring. These were uncertain, dangerous times and he travelled with caution in the company of local guides. As he indicates, after his visits the Commonwealth war graves at Benghazi were badly damaged, western journalists abducted, the British ambassador’s convoy attacked and the United States ambassador murdered. Cairo and Tripoli remain unstable.
However, with that health warning, Chesshyre describes the struggles faced by locals in each country as they faced up to the regimes, describing as he does the extremes of wealth in each country as well as life under the previous rulers, whose rule was enforced as ever by severe and cruel security forces. He poignantly tells how Mohamed Bouazizi, the Tunisian fruit seller, who facing one more corrupt official had his scales and cart – his livelihood – confiscated, set himself alight outside the governor’s office in protest; and how Khaled Said, a 28 year old businessman, was beaten to death by police in Cairo, each leading to unrest and the removal of two leaders. The role played by others on modern media to garner support is quite fascinating. He tells of the magnificence of Leptis Magna and other Roman remains in Libya, as well as his hair-raising journey when he genuinely feared abduction. A brilliant read.
Francesca Brill (Bloomsbury: £11.99; e-book £4.12)
The story of Stevie Steiber, feisty American journalist, begins at Happy Valley racecourse in Hong Kong in June 1940. It goes through to September 1945, taking in the Japanese occupation and its grim effects. Her life is intertwined with those of the other main dramatis personae, Major Harry Field, Jishang, Takeda and Madame Kung. The mix of British intelligence officer, Chinese publisher, Japanese attaché and sister in law of Chiang Kai-shek is a pretty fair selection of characters with which to create a very fine debut novel. While some of the incident may flow almost inevitably from tales of that time and place, we end up with characters about whom we care, and whose endings have meaning for us. One of the cover notes describes it as “an intelligent romance immersed in its historical setting, and with a thread of steel running through it”. Quite.
The Sound of One Hand Killing
Teresa Solana (Bitter Lemon Press: £8.99)
This is a romp featuring Barcelona-based private detectives, the twins Eduard Martinez and Borja Masdeu. Yes, it's that sort of book. Our accident-prone heroes get involved with a priceless stolen antique, the murder of a CIA agent, a missing memory stick and some other scrapes. In between times they solve the murder of the head of a homeopathy centre. Teresa Solano has fun at the expense of alternative medicine along the way, while featuring herself as a character in her own novel and shamelessly plugging her last two.
This is ideal holiday reading. As light as the froth on your morning cappuccino, it still leaves you looking forward to the next one.