Category: Books

Book Review: The Black Ice — Michael Connelly

We’re only two Bosch novels in and already the man finds himself fighting a bull. It’s difficult not to think “we’re at this point already?” For a policeman who is supposed to be grounded in his approach to the law, Bosch finds himself caught up in multiple flights of fancy in The Black Ice. It’s hard to say whether he does more or less bad police work than in his previous outing, but he’s still a fun guy to hang around.

Book Review: Argylle — Elly Conway

What they don’t tell you about ageing is that you get tired of cynical corporate synergy movie tie-in exercises. In a brighter, more innocent world, someone might see Argylle, the novel released one month ahead of a movie of the same name that is not based on the novel but is instead based on a “fictionalised” version of the author of the novel, who probably doesn’t exist, and say “Wow! The thin gruel of this spy novel is great grist for the mill of a metanarrative from one of the more irritating auteurs of the 21st century!”
The wide-eyed ingenue who might have thought that died years ago, and in his place is someone just shy of forty who can almost see through the thin veneer – and yet is still not smart enough to opt out entirely.

Book Review: I’m Glad My Mom Died — Jennette McCurdy

From the mid-noughts to the mid-tens, Jennette McCurdy played the breakout character in a Nickelodeon sitcom, which got her a degree of fame and fortune (allegedly garnished due to a bureaucratic failure). Then she kind of faded away. Her memoir, I’m Glad My Mom Died, has generated a lot of buzz, which seems unusual to an outsider to the Nickelodeon ecosystem. iCarly was watched by millions, but as McCurdy herself says, it was the dead-end fame of child acting, an ecosystem that can be near impossible to escape.

Internationally, at least, it could be said that McCurdy is now more famous for this book than she ever was for iCarly or Sam & Cat. The 65 weeks on the New York Times hardcover best seller list certainly isn’t hurting her, but it’s also proof that her success isn’t entirely down to her notoriety: a combination of good publicity and a compelling story have allowed her to escape the walled garden of childhood fame for literary stardom and a potential new career.

Book Review: Lowdown Road – Scott Von Doviak

Hixploitation! Scott Von Doviak is a genre man par excellence. What he did for multigenerational heist mysteries in Charlesgate Confidential he does for murderous road movies in Lowdown Road. This is the sort of book designed to be read in a day, if not a single sitting. It’s Hard Case Crime, so you know you’re there to, at the very least, bask in the cover.

Book Review: With Love, From Cold World — Alicia Thompson

Workplace romance, enemies to lovers, locked in overnight … it seems that the romance novels that litter the pop fiction landscape these days are designed to hit certain keywords for maximum SEO. With Love, From Cold World is a refreshingly uncynical entry in the genre, with a warning at the beginning that it features “Christmas content”. It lines up its targets and knocks them down, but one wonders if one of the enemies has to be so unthinkingly cruel for so much of the lead up. Nothing inside can quite match up to the cover and title, both of which are inviting, but this is a fine enough example of a genre that grows ever more inclusive.

Book Review: The Black Echo — Michael Connelly

When you take on a project to read a detective who’s been going for thirty years, it can be daunting at the beginning. In 1992, when Bosch debuted on the page, the Vietnam War was still providing residual trauma to a nation that had nothing to show for their pointless incursion, and fictional law enforcement was allowed to be actively homophobic and more than casually transphobic into the bargain.1 Michael Connelly’s The Black Echo introduces one of the better named policemen to the criminal milieu, but the man and the author are, at the outset, very much products of their time.

When Detective Harry Bosch is called out to inspect a body in a drainpipe, what was initially discounted as a simple overdose immediately becomes apparent as a murder. Bosch identifies the victim as someone he knew back in the tunnels of Vietnam, and almost immediately finds himself deeply embroiled in a case spanning jurisdictions, departments, and decades.

Book Review: Heat: An Amateur’s Adventures as Kitchen Slave, Line Cook, Pasta-Maker, and Apprentice to a Dante-Quoting Butcher in Tuscany — Bill Buford

By the time Bill Buford’s Heat and its impossibly long subtitle came out in 2006, the modern era of food writing was well and truly kicked off; Anthony Bourdain was on his fourth book and second television series. Buford is not Bourdain, but no one was. Rather than being from a chef turned writer, Heat: An Amateur’s Adventures as Kitchen Slave, Line Cook, Pasta-Maker, and Apprentice to a Dante-Quoting Butcher in Tuscany is the tale of its author’ journey from writer to at least cook, if not a chef.

Heat is different to read fourteen years later, especially as the man who opened so many doors for Buford was ultimately revealed to be a sex pest (to put it mildly), but fortunately it’s about so much more than that.

Book Review: A Song for the Dark Times — Ian Rankin

After taking a breather in 2019, John Rebus is back for dark times indeed. In a post-Brexit-vote but pre-COVID world, is there room for a retired detective for whom everything is changing too fast? Ian Rankin returns with his most enduring character and his two sidekicks still on the force, for whom he feels varying degrees of affection, and none of them are found wanting.

Book Review: The Survivors — Jane Harper

Before The Survivors, Jane Harper had written three books: two set in drought stricken and lonely Australian wilderness, and one set in dense forestation. The drier books were intense and deep, but the forest floundered in not being able to locate a purpose for its characters or a compelling setting for them to come apart in. In The Survivors, Harper offers readers a new environment in the cold beaches of Tasmania, and she works it. That it's her third book about a pariah returning to the society that shunned them to reckon with their past is something that we'll politely gloss over at this point.

Book Review: Westwind — Ian Rankin

Westwind: the Ian Rankin novel that got away. Published to little fanfare and few reviews back in 1990, Rankin's attempt at the "the sort of high-tech thriller that sold by the pallet-load in airports and railway stations” disappeared without trace after scarcely receiving a first printing. Fortunately for Rankin, the Rebus novels started to pay off, rendering Westwind a mere footnote until 2019. An unlikely cocktail of Twitter queries and, presumably, the concept of a calendar year looming without a new Rebus title, lead to Westwind being reissued, slightly renovated and given an introductory segment more interesting than the book that follows.