Wednesday, 27 June 2018

The Riviera Set by Mary S. Lovell

"All went well until the matador slew the bull and presented Rita with the bloody ear."

On a recent trip to Canberra, I was lucky enough to enjoy a visit to the Cartier exhibition. I was struck by the jewels of one Daisy Fellowes and eager to find out more about the tantalising life of the Singer Sewing Machine Heiress. That led me to this book where she is name checked. Unfortunately she is only a minor character in the proceedings. The book focuses on Maxine Elliot and her palatial digs on the French Riviera.
Her initial rise to fame and riches is intriguing and once established the focus changes to her development of the Ch√Ęteau de l'Horizon and then the history of its hey day from the thirties until the demise of its next owner, Prince Ali Khan.

This is an easy read with some interesting tid-bits - particularly for those interested in the social life of Winston Churchill or my favourite pin up, Rita Hayworth. There are a gaggle of well known names here and some interesting bon-mots which could have perhaps provided even further salacious details to keep the reader on board. Not that the book isn't fantastic, I just wanted a smudge more.

4 out of 5, right now I'm dreaming of expensive vacations on the Riviera while dealing with a rubbish winter.

Wednesday, 20 June 2018

Saturday by Ian McEwan

"Henry can't resist the urgency of his cases, or deny the egotistical joy in his own skills, or the pleasure he still takes in the relief of the relatives when he comes down from the operating room like a god, an angle with the glad tidings – life, not death."

This was one of those occasions where I made the mistake of purchasing the e-book rather than the physical variety. I wish I hadn't. This was so great that it really deserved sharing. There is so much going on here in so few pages, it is expertly rendered and almost poetic in its depth.

One of the more unexpected notes is the literary references which pepper a novel about a neurosurgeon. It is really interesting to see the interactions within a family peopled by the artistic, creative types - Hugo the musician, Daisy the poet; and the practical - Henry the surgeon and his wife , the journalist, a chronicler of facts. It was almost hand crafted for someone trying to finish the 1001 list of novels to read before you die ( hello – that's totally me!).

It is amazing how McEwan captures the heightened sensations of a post 9-11 world, coupled with much more immediate threats of violence. This book has non-stop thrills and spills that have your heart beating at a faster pace, while it also tugs at your fears about ageing and dementia.  How can so much fit within such a slim volume? It truly is a masterpiece.

I feel it would be terribly mean of me to give away the main action, other than to say it is gripping and you definitely need to get yourself a copy. Energy, suspense, depth of feeling, this one has it all.

5 out of 5 this one really spoke to me.

Sunday, 17 June 2018

The Tenth Man by Graham Greene

"Nevertheless no collaborator felt a more hunted man than Charlot, for his past was equally shameful: he could explain to no one how he had lost his money — if indeed it was not already known."

In the author's introduction to this tale, its origin story points to cinematic aspirations and I think that is very clear from the prose. I could envisage each scene in front of me on the big screen or as a play, at its heart is a character study of how people behave when their life is on the line.

In prison during the war in France, the Nazis have undertaken to execute every tenth prisoner and ten men have to decide who will be the unlucky one.When our protagonist, a wealthy lawyer, is the loser through drawing lots, he promises all his assets to the man who will take his place. Javier sees an opportunity for his family and takes the unpleasant deal.

Four years later, Chavel returns to the town he left behind and that's where things get interesting. Rather than give too much away, I mean there are only about 200 pages to read after all; I'd suggest you peruse the pages yourself. Returning back to the story's cinematic feel— I'm not sure that this has been adapted and if it hasn't it should be.

You might be wondering why I've subtracted a point and I think that is more about the timing of the novel's end. There is a lengthy build up for a rather speedy finale, which added to my perceptions of its movie-like quality. Usually you can develop more within the novel framework as there's more scope and time. This is not my favourite Greene novel by any means and yet it is still pretty darn great.

 4 out of 5 repercussions are never fun.

Thursday, 14 June 2018

McMafia: Seriously Organised Crime by Misha Glenny.

"Behind the desk an exceptionally good-looking woman in her twenties shares the look of infinite boredom which I note is as essential to whorehouses as the high heels."

After I had finished watching the intensely gripping BBC tv series with the same name, I was compelled to purchase the nonfiction source material and was not disappointed. Absent (the very easy on the eye) James Norton, an exploration of the dark side of organised crime across the planet proved to be just as interesting, possibly more so, because the stories are real.
Glenny’s journalistic skills embed the narrative with a sense of immediacy and the book is at its most powerful when it draws a connection between nefarious activities and the way they impact the everyday lives of his readers. It highlights the way people turn a blind eye towards criminal activities in order to feed our desires, be they cheap movies, illicit substances or  cheap thrills.

Weirdly, by examining the growth of organised crime across the globe, Glenny demonstrates how it doesn't matter where you come from, or your beliefs, when faced with hardship, a Machiavellian approach to attaining financial security is a pretty common human approach. Certainly it underscores the notion that the promise of an extremely well paying job, requiring no specific skills, with vague terms in a far away land is likely to end in either prostitution, drug smuggling or modern slavery of some kind. 

So while the tv series gave a glossy insight into the corrupting influence of power and money from a top down perspective, its source material delves deeper down. Combined they provide insightful entrees into what goes on  everywhere from down the back alleys, to the backrooms, up to the boardrooms across the globe . The picture they paint isn't pretty.

5 out of 5

Tuesday, 5 June 2018

Not Fade Away by Jim Dodge

"At the moment I took off in that stolen Eldorado I wasn't contemplating the exquisitely bottomless metaphysical definitions of freedom, you understand, I was feeling  the wild, crazy joy of actually cutting loose and doing it."

Are you ready to take a wild ride in a snazzy vehicle? Well fasten your seat belt sonny Jim and let's get cracking. This road trip features stolen vehicles, strange characters, wacky hats and a bizarre LSD trip. It has moments of pure brilliance that convince you of being out of control and behind the wheel. Combine that with the music of the Big Bopper and his tragic aeroplane companions - indeed the book title refers to the Buddy Holly song.

George Gastin is a kind of shonky guy, a minor criminal with a dodgy insurance scam on the go. When he has to wreck a Cadillac that was supposed to be gifted to the late Big Bopper from a fan, he takes off in the vehicle for a pilgrimage / adventure that makes for an entertaining read.

Am I 100% on board with this one? Well I felt there were a few off patches, but I'm not sure whether that was more to do with reading it piecemeal and being a little stressed with work. What a surprise I hear you say? Yes, it seems to be a thing. Conversely there were moments where I legitimately felt completely immersed in the action; behind the steering wheel, encountering crazy characters and having strange, messed up, drug-addled experiences.

4 out of 5 road trips involve long drives which can be tiring - stop, revive, survive.