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Reading for pleasure

21 January 19

This month's selection of leisure reading, chosen by the Journal's book review editor

by Tom Johnston, David J Dickson (review editor)

Evil Things

Katja Ivar (Bitter Lemon Press: £8.99; e-book £6.59)

In the month of September the Iguazu River is little more than a foot deep. It meanders and spreads itself widely. Then suddenly it cascades into violent turbulence as it plunges downwards to form the Iguazu Falls, a waterfall which dwarfs Niagara.

Reading Evil Things, Katja Ivar’s debut novel, one experiences something similar. Hella Mauzer, the central character, is a Finnish detective. In 1952, being a woman in the man’s world of the Helsinki police is a rarity. For reasons not immediately disclosed, she finds herself exiled to a station in Lapland. A letter arrives from the far north reporting the disappearance of local man Erno Jokinen. Against her superior’s wishes – a cop with a problem with authority, gosh – Mauzer ventures north to investigate. Thus we are led into well narrated Nordic noir territory.

The cast is an intriguing one. There is Timo, the Orthodox priest with a past; Irja, his thwarted artist wife, and Kalle, six year old grandchild of the missing man. Throw in malevolent Martta, Jokinen’s sister, and Karppinen, the evil dwarf-like neighbour, and Ivar has plenty to work with. For the first 90% of the book she does well. Titbits of information emerge, as do snippets about Mauzer’s past. But when the cascade starts, in the last 30 pages, everything is as out of control as my metaphorical waterfall. A change of pace in a narrative is no bad thing, but in this case there was too much to take in and, frankly, too little that was believable. Perhaps the most astonishing thing is the fact that Mauzer will almost certainly keep her job. We know this, as the novel is billed “The first in the Hella Mauzer crime series”.

In spite of my misgivings about this particular work, I will be in the market for Ivar’s next book. Her narrative and description are excellent. The characters are well developed, and, in Hella Mauzer, we have a person worth following (assuming we haven’t been given too much in book one). Given some firmer editing and a revision of the closing section, this could have been a very good addition to the genre.

Middle England

Jonathan Coe (Penguin: £16.99; e-book £9.99)

Comic novelist Jonathan Coe brings us the first truly Brexit novel. We follow Coe's characters on their journey from April 2010 until September 2018. Benjamin Trotter, who longed for Cicely but lost her to an Australian medic, finds himself, having sold their London flat to buy a beautifully located and furnished converted watermill in the country. He does not need to work but has written a magnum opus within which a pearl lies. His niece Sophie is sent on a drivers' rehabilitation course having been caught speeding, and hooks up with her tutor, Iain. They marry and find themselves on opposing sides of the Brexit debate, while along the way, Iain finds himself caught up in the London riots. Iain's mother is that archetypal “bigoted woman” upon whose words Prime Minister Gordon Brown floundered.

We follow the cast through the London riots, the Olympic Games, the London bombings and ultimately the outcome of the 2016 referendum. Coe brilliantly delves below the surface, exposing the contradictions, fears and concerns which the referendum so graphically exposed. Iain's mother is cared for by a diligent and caring Polish national, yet when she observes her being racially abused after the referendum, can only suggest she go home to Poland. In doing this (along with other nuggets), the author suggests that for many, a world they no longer recognised nor one with which they could engage also lay behind their decision to seek withdrawal from the EU. This book is worthy reading.

Crashed

Adam Tooze (Allen Lane: £30; e-book £12.99)

This magisterial arc of a book is essential reading for anyone who seeks a deeper understanding of the global financial crisis of 2008 but equally the impact and far reaching consequences of that crash. Some would suggest that the crash was a significant feature in the decision of the 37.7% of those 46 million eligible to vote who viewed remaining a member state of the EU as of no value.

Tooze quotes the then President of France, Sarkozy, who said “It's a multipolar world now.” Tooze's basic contention is that to view the 2008 meltdown as a singularly American issue is to misunderstand and underestimate its historical and economic significance. The world economy was placed under intolerable strain by the “humdrum market for American real estate”. Contrary to the accepted narrative, Tooze asserts the Eurozone crisis of 2010 which saw, most notably but not singly, Greece face bankruptcy, was a direct consequence of the 2008 crash. Thereafter in detail, written with a clear eye and offering a guiding hand, the author takes us through the EU, USA and China en route to the ultimate wresting of a bailout from Germany, and Brexit. The author reflects rather than looking forward with solutions, but assuredly sets out what underpins the continuing austerity. A worthy, patient read.

 

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