21 October 2010

Holiday Reading - Five Book Reviews

As one who writes, I enjoy a good read.  I get the best opportunity to read when on holiday and do little else, actually.  My beloved is the same.  We spent two fabulous weeks on Kefalonia in June and got through a serious amount of reading between us, pausing only to grunt at each other occasionally in an effort to decide whose turn it was to get the beers.  In September, we had a week in a cottage in Ireland which was a bit more active in that we had my in-laws to entertain.  Nevertheless, I managed to read another book.

I thought I would share my thoughts on what I read.  These reviews are, of course, personal opinions.  You will no doubt be able to find other reviews that totally contradict my views; there is no accounting for taste...

The Butcher's Theatre - Jonathan Kellerman

I bought this book on the recommendation of the shop assistant.  It is a long read, probably three times the length of your average paperback, but with two weeks in front of me that in itself was no disincentive.  I had never read anything by this author before, so it was quite a risk to take on such a huge volume as an introduction.  I was not disappointed.

This psychological thriller is about the search for a serial killer in and around Jerusalem. The book is well-plotted with excellent characterisations.  The bad guy is despicable and could, if you are at all squeamish, put you off finishing the book.  The good guys are utterly believable, flawed human characters.  The writing itself is excellent with a clear style and flowing easily, what you would call a 'smooth read'.

Assuming the facts were well-researched, the book is also very informative about its setting.  Certainly, as someone who has spent a couple of weeks in Jerusalem, nothing jarred with me.

There is a particular scene near the end of the book that really fired my imagination.  Kellerman describes a fight between two of the characters with staccato phrasing that is anything but smooth: it captures the frantic desperation of a hand-to-hand battle that can only end with a death; it sucks you in and keeps you reading.

Conclusion: this was a thoroughly satisfying read, with red herrings and twists along the way, culminating in a thoroughly satisfying ending.

American Wife - Curtis Sittenfeld

This is a work of literary fiction based around the life of a real American First Lady.  The story is told in autobiographical form, and falls into three parts: the first about her growing up through various traumas and tragedies, the second about her relationship and life with her man and his family, the third about their time in Office.  The first part I found delightful, the second less so - but then, once you realise which President it relates to, that is no surprise.  The third part I found less satisfying but still interesting.  It was very well written throughout - but then you would expect that in this genre.

Conclusion: well worth a read, if literary fiction is your thing.

Acid Row - Minette Walters

I sometimes wonder about the excerpts from reviews that get printed on book covers.  'Breathtaking' this one said.  Er, no; except in the same way that manually loading a piano on the back of an elephant is.  The book reads like a screenplay for a second rate television drama, which may be what the author is pitching for.  Actually, it would not be a bad second rate television drama but, for a novel, I found the plot about paedophiles and riots contrived and the characterisation poor and underdeveloped.

Conclusion: I started, so I finished.  I doubt I will start another by this author.

The Bourne Sanction - Eric Van Lustbader

This one I picked up from the bookshelves in the resort by way of exchange for American Wife the day before we were due to travel home.  I really enjoyed the Bourne Trilogy films so thought I might enjoy this book.  Wrong.  Cliche upon cliche.  I started but could not be bothered to finish it.

I have never read any of the books that the films were based on so I cannot judge how well this one compares.  Since it is written by someone other than Robert Ludlum, the author of the original Bourne books, it may not reflect Mr Ludlum's talent at its best, although I presume whoever is running the franchise must have approved of what was written.

Conclusion: glad I hadn't paid for it.

True Detectives - Jonathan Kellerman

I bought this book in the airport to read in Ireland on the strength of my enjoyment of The Butcher's Theatre.  I was really looking forward to getting my teeth into another good read but I was disappointed.

It was nowhere near as good in any sense as the other book.  I found the characters two-dimensional, the plot about two feuding step-brothers involved in the same investigation into the disappearance of young woman somewhat thin, the red herrings floundering and the resolution pedestrian.  The setting (LA) appears to have infected the writing style and not just the dialogue, the whole book seeming to be written in cop-speak.

Clearly, Mr Kellerman is capable of excellent writing, and I will give him the benefit of the doubt with this one and try again.  I wonder if the pressure from publishing houses for authors to produce is not counter-productive when it comes to capturing a following...

Conclusion: all-in-all, very middle of the road. 


  1. I've got "The Murder Book" by Kellerman if you'd like to borrow it - I enjoyed it, but can't remember much about it a year or so later. I might have a look at the Sittenfield book - sounds interesting.
    Two out of five, ain't bad.
    Especially when you have standards. As for me, I'm easily pleased...

  2. Thanks, that would be good. I'll let you have a read of the two I have and you could register your concurrence or disagreement.

  3. LOVE the use of smileys, usually hate the damn things but your creative application of them made me, well, smile =] Might give the Butcher one a bash at some point, so thanks for the heads up.

  4. Thanks, Linus. Actually, I even drew them myself. I'm such a smart-arse.