Wednesday, 27 April 2016

Coffin Road by Peter May

The story starts with a man being washed up on a sandy beach – he has no idea of who he is or what happened to him.  Gradually he finds out more about himself – his name is Neal MacLean and he is living on an island in the Outer Hebrides.  He seems to be writing a book about the strange disappearance of the lighthouse keepers from the Flannan Isles in 1900.  However there are no clues about him in his cottage and no evidence on his computer to show that he is writing a book.

The book shifts to Edinburgh where we are introduced to a rebellious teenage girl called Karen whose father committed suicide two years previously. She suspects that he is still alive and sets out to find him.

A third mystery involves a dead body found on the largest of the Flannan Isles.  The local detective from Stornoway has to find out who the man is and who killed him.

I found the book fascinating as the book moved between the different stories.  The description of Neil’s frustration as he cannot remember anything about himself was heartrending, especially when he thinks he may have killed the man on the island. At one point in the book Neil says that without a past he has no present and without a present he can have no future. 

As in all Peter May’s books, the descriptions are vivid and the story moves along at a good pace.  The three mysteries do gradually come together although I did not see the ending coming!

As this book is set in Scotland it will also qualify for the Read Scotland 2016 Challenge although it is not one of the books on my list.


Tuesday, 19 April 2016

Death is a Welcome Guest by Louise Welsh

Louise Welsh is a writer living and working in Glasgow, Scotland, and the author of
six novels.  She was writer in residence for
The University of Glasgow and Glasgow School of Art from Nov 2010 until April 2012.  This is the first book I have read for my Read Scotland 2016 challenge.

Death is a Welcome Guest is the second book in Louise Welsh’s Plague Times Trilogy.  The first book in the trilogy, A Lovely Way to Burn, introduced the plague named “the sweats”.  This pandemic is now sweeping across the whole world killing indiscriminately.  This book introduces Magnus McFall, a young Orcadian comedian who is working in London.  He ends up in prison after trying to save a young woman from being raped.  Here he meets Jeb, an enigmatic prisoner, and together they manage to escape.  They leave London and end up staying in a large country house which is being run as a community, led by an army chaplain. The author describes the tensions which arise in this community very well. Eventually, Magnus, Jeb and some other survivors set off north towards Orkney.  By the time they reach the north coast of Scotland only Magnus and a young boy are left as the others have decided to stay further south.  Magnus is hoping to find some surviving family members in Orkney.  When he comes ashore on one of the Orkney Islands he is greeted by a woman with a rifle.  She tells him there is no-one with the name of McFall on the island. 

Magnus would have liked to have filled his pockets with stones and walked back into the water, but he had the boy to think of and so he followed her, over the dunes, towards the road.
I hope that we find out what happens to Magnus in the next book – he is a likeable character who does try to act properly despite the lawlessness of the new society.  He is loyal and looks after Jeb when he breaks his leg.
I found this book interesting as it raised questions about how a society would cope after such a catastrophe which sweeps away all the trappings of civilisation.  Are people able to go back to an earlier way of life?  Do they have the practical skills to grow their own food and organise themselves or will society break down completely? The quotes from Edwin Muir’s poem The Horses were very appropriate.


Wednesday, 6 April 2016

Reykjavík Nights by Arnaldur Indriðason

Reykjavík Nights is the first of the prequel stories by the Icelandic author, Arnaldur Indriðason.  It is set in 1974 and features the police officer, Erlendur at an early stage in his career. Having read a few of the later books in this series I found this first book interesting as it explains how Erlendur became a detective.  In this book he is a traffic cop but takes on two investigations in his own time – one into the death of a homeless man called Hannibal and the other the disappearance of a woman.  Through speaking to many homeless people on the streets of Reykjavík, Erlendur is able to piece together what happened to Hannibal.  He is given an ear-ring found in the place where Hannibal was last seen and this clue helps him find out what happened to the missing woman. 

What comes through in this story is Erlendur’s compassion towards other people – he is sympathetic to the homeless people and seems able to talk to them.  He builds up a good relationship with Hannibal’s sister and finds out the background to Hannibal’s problems.  However Erlendur does not seem to be so successful in his personal life.  He is in a relationship in this book but seems unwilling to commit to anything permanent although this may change as his girlfriend has informed him that she is pregnant.  He seems to be a loner who does not feel entirely at home in the city although he moved there with his parents at the age of 12.  He still “looked back with nostalgia, regretting he no longer lived beside the sea.”

At the end of the book, his superior Marion is impressed with Erlendur’s investigations despite having broken every rule in the book. The book ends with this passage in which Erlendur retraces the last steps of another missing person – a schoolgirl who had disappeared many years earlier.   This looks forward to Oblivion, a later book in the series when he investigates this case. (see my review on this book)

“He was filled with the old sense of sadness as he followed the girl along the street for the last time.  They walked towards the site where Camp Knox had once stood, like a bleak memorial to the occupation and the nation’s impoverished past.  There he stopped and watched her go on, her outline fading into the softly falling rain.”

I enjoyed this book and thought the translation is excellent. It was perhaps a little slower than some other books in the series as there was less action.  However there were enough twists and turns in the story to keep the reader interested. 


Tuesday, 5 April 2016

Oblivion by Arnaldur Indriðason

This is the third book in Arnaldur Indriðason’s Reykjavík Murder Mystery prequel stories but only the second one to be translated into English.  It is actually the 11th book by Arnaldur Indriðason.  This book features the Icelandic detective Erlendur and his superior Marion Briem.  It is usual to use first names in Iceland as so many surnames are identical. 

The story is set in 1979 during the Cold War when the Americans have an air base at Keflavík. The body of an Icelander is found in a lava lake and the signs are that he has been murdered.  The investigations take Erlender and Marion to the American air base as the dead man worked there.  They are thwarted in their investigations by the American authorities but manage to enlist the help of Caroline, a military police officer stationed on the base.  With her help the case is solved and the suspects handed over to the Icelandic police. 

Erlendur has a fascination with missing persons and in this book sets out to find out what happened to Dagbjört, a 16 year old school girl who disappeared in 1953 on her way to school.  “She haunted him like a ghost risen from the grave, ensuring that he was subject to constant reminders of her.” (p23)  By speaking to various people who had contact with her, Erlendur solves the case. 

I particularly liked:-

·        the character of Erlendur – obviously we learn more about him in the later books and the reason why is seems to be obsessed with missing person cases

·        although the investigations are carried out by two detectives, this is not a police procedural novel – all the interviews are informal and take place outside the police station. 

·         the tensions between the Americans and the Icelanders are well described.  

·        the author describes the weather and the Icelandic landscape very well so that you can sympathise with the Americans who were posted there but hated the dark, cold winters.  “Exposed to open sea and northern blast, only the toughest of plants survived here, their stalks barely protruding above the level of the stones”. (p1)

·       the  ending is satisfactory in that both cases are solved in a dramatic fashion

I think this book works as a traditional detective story but also on a deeper level describing the clash of cultures between the Icelandic people and the richer Americans.  Neither group is happy about the situation which the local people see as threatening their traditional way of life.  However the additional jobs created by the air base are welcomed.

The author has written a number of books featuring Erlendur including Reykjavík Nights (the first of the prequel stories), Jar City, Silence of the Grave and many more.


Monday, 4 April 2016

Read Scotland 2016

I have found another reading challenge - this time to read books by Scottish authors or books set in Scotland.  You can find out about Read Scotland 2016 on Peggy Ann's Post.  There are various levels for this challenge depending on how many books you plan to read during the year.  I'm going to go for Just a Keek (1 - 5 books) as I have just discovered this challenge.

Here is my list which is a mixture of classics and modern thrillers:-
Additional books read
I have achieved Just a Keek this year Having read 6 books which meet the criteria of this challenge.  I managed to read Sunset Song which is one book from A Scots Quair trilogy but I haven't managed to write a review of this book.  I've enjoyed this challenge and hope it may be repeated next year. 

Sunday, 3 April 2016

The Pickwick Papers chapters 1 and 2

This is the first instalment of the anniversary read-along of The Pickwick Papers.  In the first chapter of the book we are introduced to Mr Pickwick and his friends - Tupman, Snodgrass and Winkle who have become members of a new branch of the Pickwick Club entitled "The Corresponding Society of the Pickwick Club" and they must send "authenticated accounts of their journeys and investigations" back to the club.  And so the friends set out on their travels, not to some exotic destination, but merely to the outskirts of London.

In chapter 2 we meet the stranger who manages to extricate Mr Pickwick from an altercation with a cab-driver. The stranger joins Mr Pickwick's party in the coach and they set off for Rochester.  Here they enjoy a good meal and plenty of liquid refreshment. 

When they become  aware of a ball upstairs in the tavern, the stranger expresses a wish to attend but unfortunately does not have any suitable clothing.  However Mr Tupman comes to the rescue by suggesting he borrow Mr Winkle's coat as he has fallen asleep by this stage.  The stranger and Mr Tupman go to the ball where the stranger annoys a local worthy, Doctor Slammer surgeon to the 97th, by stealing his dance partner. This leads to a difficult situation for Mr Winkle the next day when he finds out that Doctor Slammer has challenged him to a duel.  However everything works out well and Doctor Slammer is invited back to the inn to meet the other members of Mr Winkle's party.  Will the stranger also be there?

I have enjoyed the introduction to the book and am keen now to read on and see if we find out who this stranger is.  So far The Pickwick Papers has been an easy read and not as dark and depressing as Dickens' later novels. I am enjoying the humour and Dickens' keen observations of character.

This illustration is by Robert Seymour who did some the early illustrations in the book.