My pile of books read but not reviewed yet is taller than I like, so here are two shorter reviews to catch up a little.
Europe in Autumn by Dave Hutchinson
Only Hutchinson’s second novel, but you can tell the author has been writing other stuff for ages. Europe in Autumn, published in 2014, is the first in a sequence (followed now by Europe at Midnight and Europe in Winter).
It garnered a shortlisting for the Arthur C Clarke Award in 2014, but is more than just SF. It’s speculative fiction set in the near future such as Christopher Priest would write, (e.g. here) but its espionage plotline is the heir to Le Carré’s Smiley novels, with a bit of Kafka strangeness mixed in.
Hutchinson’s Europe is presciently post-Brexit – a chilling vision of what may happen:
In the latter years of the twentieth century, Europe had echoed with the sound of doors opening as the borderless continent of the Schengen Agreement had, with some national caveats, come into being.
It hadn’t lasted. …
The Union had struggled into the twenty-first century and managed to survive in some style for a few more years of bitching and infighting and cronyism. Then it had spontaneously begun to thrown off progressively smaller and crazier nation-states, like a sunburned holidaymaker shedding curls of skin….
The big thing in Europe these days was countries, and there were more and more of them every year. (p26/7)
It is in this Balkanised Europe that we meet Rudi, an Estonian cook in a restaurant in Krakow. It is increasingly difficult now to get across borders, the number of which are increasing all the time. Rudi is recruited by Dariusz, head of the local protection racket, to join the secret organisation Les Coureurs des Bois, who are effectively a resistance/spy network. Maintaining his cover as a chef, Rudi takes to this new career, smuggling, people, information, whatever needs to move between countries, including getting into ‘The Line’, a trans-Europe railway line, now a sovereign state in its own right. Things will go wrong of course. Rudi will find himself compromised and stuck deep within a massive conspiracy, I don’t want to say any more.
This novel seemed to combine all my favourite things to read in one book – a literary spy story that is a science fiction thriller. Europe in Autumn is immaculately plotted and written with great intelligence. I can’t wait to read the next books in the series. Highly recommended. (10/10)
Source: Own copy.
Dave Hutchinson, Europe in Autumn (Solaris, 2014) paperback, 384 pages
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The Wicked Go To Hell by Frédéric Dard
Translated by David Coward
Dard is my latest French crime discovery. Turns out he wrote 284 novels, and was influenced by and friends with Simenon. This is the second Dard of four planned reissues in sparkling new translations (each by a different translator) in the Pushkin Vertigo crime imprint. Like Simenon, Dard’s novels are novella length, designed to be devoured in one sitting.
The Wicked Go To Hell was first published in 1956. The premise is simple: To trap an enemy spy, an undercover cop is asked to go so deep undercover that he ends up in jail with the man.
Our man has got to escape and escape he will… with you!
He looked at me to see my reaction but I’d long been used to letting the sky fall on me without batting an eyelid.
“We’ll lock you both up in the same jail cell… a tough one… the sort of place that gives kindly old ladies the shivers. The pair of you will escape!
“You’ll try to hole up somewhere and you’ll wait. The breakout will be big news. The head of the organization, knowing that his man has escaped, will want to get him back… At some point or other, he’ll break cover… Then, when you’ve got your hands on him…”
He made a chopping notion with the side of his hand. The gesture meant death. (p13)
The scene set, we meet Frank and Hal in jail, but cleverly Dard doesn’t let on which is which at this stage and we’ll only gradually work it out. They’re both suspicious of each other, but need each other to effect an escape becoming what we’d call these days ‘Frenemies’.
The prison break-out is engineered and executed. The pair end up on a private beach where they meet Dora, whose birthday it is. They are led to a place of temporary safety … and this is where the supposedly mis-matched pair will find out that they are more alike than different. Dard’s psychological insight into the two men really keeps you on your toes, because even a bad guy has a good side, and vice versa – we’re all human after all.
So, yet another French crime writer to add to my growing Pantheon. I loved this and can’t wait to read more from Frédéric Dard.
Source: Publisher – thank you.
Frédéric Dard, The Wicked Go To Hell, (Pushkin Vertigo, 2016) Paperback original, 160 pages.
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