Another gallimaufry round up of books read recently but not written about in longer blog posts...
Mad Blood Stirring by Simon Mayo
I stand guilty as charged for perhaps making unwarranted assumptions about 'celebs' who write fiction and I really should know better. Simon Mayo (who has a radio programme here in the UK and prefers to be called a broadcaster, not a disc jockey) has a degree in history and politics and is thus well-qualified to research and write a book about Dartmoor Prison in 1815. It was obvious I would have to read it.
Based on true events the book creates a fictional account of the influx of American prisoners held in Dartmoor following a bit of a spat between Britain and America in 1812. Conditions are bleak, and deprivation and violence prevail. At the request of the white American prisoners the black Americans were segregated in their own block within the prison under the 'rule' of self-appointed leader King Dick. There will be conflict and there will be drama, a production of Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet to be precise. I enjoyed the book, it is pacy and unusual, and Simon Mayo weaves unexpected elements of compassion and civility into this brutal environment.
I actually finished reading it sitting on the quay at Dartmouth whilst waiting for Simon Mayo's speaking event about Mad Blood Stirring to start. He was a lucid and learned speaker, providing plenty of insight into the book, so it would be worth getting to an event if he is nearby. Meanwhile no hiding for me. The BBC filmed the Dartmouth event for our local news and if only I had £1 for every person who has said 'Saw you on the tele...' even the woman in the post office.
Slow Horses by Mick Herron
This is all the fault of Adele Geras who recommended the Mick Herron 'Jackson Lamb' spy series (five books). I made a start with Slow Horses, the first one, on both Kindle and Audible, mixing reading with listening and I loved it. The premise is that Slough House is the backwater for failed MI5 spooks, the ones who have somehow messed up, or whose reputations are tarnished by scandal, and are consigned to the rubbish assignments, literally in this instance...sorting through the bins of a journalist under surveillance. River Cartwright, himself the grandson of an agent, is one of those trying to redeem himself under the auspices of the large, uncouth and scathing eye of Jackson Lamb. This first book sets the scene and establishes the characters beautifully (the computer geek, the alcoholic) around a terrorist plot to execute a captive in the UK live on social media. I was gripped both reading and listening and have number two Dead Lions lined up ready.
To the Back of Beyond by Peter Stamm
'After returning from a pleasant holiday with his wife, Astrid, and their two children, Thomas leaves the house. He walks down the street, and he keeps on walking. At first Astrid asks herself where he's gone, and then when he's coming back, and finally whether he is even still alive. '
Well it was all a bit deja vue after eight episodes on the trot of Keeping Faith where almost the same thing happens. There is disbelief, denial and shame on Astrid's part as her life is dissected and picked over in an effort to discover what may have happened, along with an enigmatic ending open to multiple interpretations (or so it seemed to me) This was a great read and one that has me keen to read more by Peter Stamm.
It's time we had some recommends... have you read any good books lately...