Some good reads from pre-blog days, and what I thought about them then… #6

It’s the spreadsheet that keeps on giving. Here are five more capsule reviews that I wrote pre-blog. All these ones are from 2006 or earlier – and the authors all happen to begin with ‘B’…

The Neon Rain by James Lee Burke (1987)

In the creation of Dave Robicheaux, Burke has created a one of the great fictional detectives (along with Michael Connelly’s Harry Bosch, Lawrence Block’s Matt Scudder and the immortal Philip Marlowe in my humble opinion).  Here again is a man on the edge – trying to hold his life together, and trying to get a job done.  The two collide spectacularly almost leading him totally off the rails.  The settings are vivid, you can almost feel the Louisiana heat and humidity – a climate that brings out extremes in behaviour in the inhabitants.  I eagerly look forward to reading the rest of the Robicheaux novels – highly recommended.

[I really ought to read more from this series – but somehow haven’t – yet! Ed]

Notes from a Big Country by Bill Bryson (1998)

Another tome of brilliantly sparkling gems from Bill Bryson.  What I found funniest was that his wife and family, all born and raised in England, appeared to find American life like being let loose in a toyshop – reveling in becoming optimistic Americans. Whereas our Bill has absorbed so much Britishness in his twenty years here, he has almost become a Brit! This makes his exasperation with queuing, bad shop assistants, and bureaucracy of the US kind even funnier than ever.  In some of the columns he tries to be more positive and these, as he admits, are the more sentimental. Would that each of the pieces were double the length though – I got through the pages just too quickly.

Undue Influence by Anita Brookner (1999)

This is the first of Anita Brookner’s novels that I’ve read.  Initially I found it slow to get into, but as you get familiar with the main character Claire, it draws you into her rather lonely life.  Claire works in a bookshop where she meets Martin – an academic who retired to look after his invalid wife, Cynthia. Martin is a reticent and shy man somewhat older than Claire, who in her imagination gives him a life in which he is unhappy victim of his manipulative wife.  When Cynthia dies, Claire sets her cap at Martin and tries to uncover more about this enigmatic man, only to experience disappointment.  A thoughtful dissection of a young woman’s infatuation.

One Fine Day in the Middle of the Night by Christopher Brookmyre (1999)

What happens when you hold a high school reunion party aboard an oil-rig that’s being converted into a hotel & leisure complex and there are unwelcome visitors in the shape of a band of mercenaries with their own rather different party in mind? This high-octane thriller starts off at a sedate pace. We meet the mercenaries; we meet the former pupils – both officially invited and not, and find out how their lives have moved on after 15 yrs. Then the action starts happening and everything accelerates to the final showdown at breakneck speed. In between the action with its gruesomely realised scenes of ultraviolence, we get loads of laughs in Brookmyre’s unique style. Most of the characters are truly awful, but we are drawn to burnt-out comic Matt and wronged-wife Simone who in blockbuster movie tradition become heroes. Another unputdownable novel from one of Scotland’s best talents.

Brazzaville Beach by William Boyd (1990)

This novel follows the life of a young woman who is taking refuge living in an African beach house while she sorts her life out.  In flashback the novel pulls the two main strands of her life together. Pre-Africa there is her life as a post-grad student, meeting her husband, getting a job away from home, his breakdown and tragic death. Then there is her life working on a chimpanzee reserve in Africa and all the feuding  and manipulation going on between the staff; mirrored in the chimp’s behaviour! Her only relief is lover Usman, a fighter pilot she sees on the provisioning trips into town, and his dream of a beach house. In a skillfully blended narrative, this novel gripped from start to finish. Masterful.

Have you read any of these books?

12 thoughts on “Some good reads from pre-blog days, and what I thought about them then… #6

  1. Elizabeth says:

    I recommend more James Lee Burke! Robicheaux’s saga reaches its peak (IMO) in IN THE ELETRIC MIST WITH CONFEDERATE DEAD (which also has the best title ever). After that, you can quit 🙂

  2. Rebecca Foster says:

    Now this is a classic Bryson book! My husband and I have gotten endless entertainment from its essays, particularly the one on filling in your tax return. I’ve only read one Brookner novel, Hotel du Lac, but this sounds rather similar — I think all her work had that same tone. I’ve always meant to try more Boyd (I’ve only read Any Human Heart), so I’ll look out for this one.

    • AnnaBookBel says:

      The first few Brysons were all brilliant – loved them all, but at about A Walk in the Woods I started being not so bothered. That said, the audioguide he did for the Roman Baths at Bath is excellent! I’ve only read 3 or 4 by Boyd, and very much enjoyed them all. Any Human Heart is one I have a copy of – I remember The New Confessions was brilliant, but I read that so long ago. I’ve read a few Brookners and yes, the tone doesn’t vary much, but strangely I’ve not read Hotel du Lac which is the one remaining on my shelves.

    • AnnaBookBel says:

      I remember being underwhelmed by The Rules of Engagement, but the rest I’ve read blur into each other.

    • AnnaBookBel says:

      A particularly good 5 books this time, I think. I’m terribly behind on Brookmyre – I’ve got at least half a dozen to read already on the shelves. Burke, I shall have to search out.

  3. Susan Kavanagh says:

    Brazzaville Beach is such a wonderful book. So glad to see it mentioned in a blog. Brazzaville Beach and Any Human Heart are my favorite William Boyd books, although I really like almost anything he writes.

  4. Col says:

    We Scots are a parochial lot so I’ve read and loved that Chris Brookmyre book and Brazzaville Beach was my first William Boyd book- since then I loved Any Human Heart and also thought his most recent book Love Is Blind was terrific. Bill Bryson is one of the few writers who I find laugh-out-loud funny – I’ve loved Big Country though I differ from you on Walk in the Woods as I thought that was hilarious!

    • AnnaBookBel says:

      I have a lot of Brookmyres, Christopher and Chris to catch up on! Any Human Heart seems to be a favourite Boyd with so many, I will have to find it on my shelves – I know it’s there somewhere.

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