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Thursday, January 29, 2015

Forward Dash to Bookcase Six

I have finished Forward Slash and found it reasonably enjoyable, although I am beginning to weary a bit of the spree killer stories which have been my main experience of the crime/thriller section so far. The start of this book was terrific and got me immediately hooked on the story, wanting to know more. The main plot centres around Internet dating and social networking as a way of luring women to their deaths, as such it's a book that will be out of date in a few years time because the pace of technology is so fast that readers before long won't follow some of it. As with all of these books, the psychopath of course kills minor characters very quickly but lingers over the death of the central figures in the story, which gives them time to escape/strike back. If I take all this as artistic licence and to be almost expected of the genre, I still found the end to be a bit disappointing and contrived. If only the authors had given the ending as much thought as the beginning, rather than just a way of wrapping up the book as it started to approach the optimal length, I would give it a higher mark, but it still gets a respectable 7/10.

 For Bookcase Six (Crime and Thrillers, R-S) I had the full choice of the bookcase, with the exception of Wilbur Smith whom I have read one non-crime book by. In the end I picked The Whispering Gallery by Mark Sanderson. It's set in the 1940s, unlike all the other crime fiction I have read which has taken place in the present day. The story still seems to revolve around the inevitable spree killer (note to myself, the next book shouldn't contain a spree killer), and it's set in London (note to myself, I have to move away from books set in England), but at least it's got an historical theme to make it a bit different to what I have already read. There'll be no tweets or plot devices based upon Facebook security settings in this book!

Monday, January 26, 2015

State of Play

While I am busy reading Book 6 here is a quick update on the current State of Play.

BookcaseSectionTitleAuthorPages ReadRating (1-10)
6Crime & ThrillersThe Whispering GalleryMark Sanderson310
5Crime & ThrillersForward SlashLouise Voss/Mark Edwards4007
4True CrimeGone: The Disappearance of Claudia LawrenceNeil Root2702
3Crime & ThrillersDead Man WalkingPaul Finch3108
3Crime & ThrillersThe Black DahliaJames Elroy20Rejected
2Crime & ThrillersUnder Your SkinSabine Durrant3107
1Crime & ThrillersErrors of JudgementCaro Fraser2904

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Going, Going, Gone

Gone by Neil Root was very disappointing I am afraid to say, I award it a measly 2 out of 10. Neil Root has attempted mission impossible in even writing about the Claudia Lawrence case, because you could summarise the whole mystery in a sentence the length of a tweet: one day Claudia Lawrence set off to walk to work, she never arrived and was probably kidnapped and possibly killed. Nobody (except presumably the person responsible) knows anything and therefore writing a 270 page book on the subject is a big ask. Neil Root of course is not a friend or relative of Claudia, if he was then a first person account might have improved things a bit, but the terse replies he has received from Claudia's dad to a few basic questions are not enough to form a basis of any book. It's a rambling, repetitive work which I spent the first 100 pages of waiting for something to happen. What it became apparent that it wasn't going to, I dutifully read the rest as a kind of punishment.

It's frustrating to pick a bad True Crime book because I'd imagined that this was an area that I was fairly well read in, maybe in my top dozen non-fiction categories, as I must have chalked up over 100 True Crime books in the 33 years since I bought my first book about Denis Nilsen in WH Smiths. Since then I've read books about murderers. rapists, kidnappers, gangsters, drug users and dealers, prostitutes, fraudsters, bank robbers and burglars, but I have rarely read a book as bad and as pointless as this one. The book by Madeleine Mccann's mum about her daughter's disappearance is much better than Gone because it is told from the heart, and of course a but more happened after she disappeared.

I hope that both these well know cases reach a conclusion one way or another one day, for their families's sake's, and I'll definitely read Neil Root's sequel if the Claudia Lawrence story is one day uncovered. As it is I'll have to read over 130 other library books before I can return to the only True Crime bookcase in Dorking Library to pick something else. Who knows, the crime might have been solved and the sequel written and sat there waiting for me by the time I head to this area of the library again!

Anyway, onto Book 5, and a return to Crime and Thrillers. After bookcases 1-3 of Crime, I am now working my way through, I think, five bookcases of books ordered by A-Z of the author's name. I am not sure whether the first 3 cases that I have been through already are crime and these five are thrillers, although if so I don't envy the person who has to decide which side of the divide each book falls. I am sure there is some reasoning behind it though, it doesn't really matter, all I have to do is pick a book from every book case.

I'm heading backwards through the alphabet, so am starting on S-Z. The book I selected is Forward Slash, which is unusually by two authors (Louise Voss and Mark Edwards), neither of whom I have come across before.

In fact the only author I was excluded from on this bookcase was Barbara Vine (aka Ruth Rendell). I picked this one because it stood out being placed, Waterstones-style, on the bookcase with the cover facing outwards. That probably means it's just been returned, rather than some implicit recommendation by the library, but in either case it's obviously a book which has recently seen some usage. It caught my eye as well because it has a reference to Facebook and Twitter on the front cover, so it's positioned as a thriller set in the modern world of the Internet, which as a software developer and heavy user of the web, I hope I will relate to.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

A break from Crime

I am glad I switched books on Bookcase 3 and ended up reading Dead Man Walking by Paul Finch because I very much enjoyed this book. I was expecting a standard police chasing serial killer book but it was far from a routine piece of fiction. Setting the book in rural Cumbria was a masterstroke, the geography and isolation of this part of the world in winter is a major part of the plot and a makes the book quite original. The main body of the book, the part when the killer is on the loose, is a great piece of suspense and kept me turning the pages. I averaged over 100 pages a day reading this book, which is very fast for me, and I was quite disappointed as the end of the book approached. I wasn't especially impressed by the ending, or the whole reason why the main characters had assembled in Cumbria in the first place, but I'll take that as artistic licence because once the story got going it was very addictive. My score for this book is 8/10, it's been the best yet.

The next bookcase is tucked away in the corner of the library, surrounded by crime novels, and that is True Crime. I must confess that I have never noticed this bookcase before I started my tour of the library, but I certainly have read plenty of True Crime books in the past 30 years. I have always been interested in what drives people to do senseless things like mass murder so have read lots of books about serial killers, especially the British ones. There were only six books on the case I was not allowed to read as I had read before, or had read other books by the same author. These books included a couple works on Jack the Ripper, one on the Austrian kidnapper Josef Fritzl and a non-fiction book by Gabriel García Márquez, who I thought was just a novelist.

In the end I selected Gone by Neil Root, about a woman who vanished one day near York on her way to work. I have read plenty of books about criminals, but not many about the victims. I can only think of the books by Kate McCann and Kevin Wells that I have read about their missing children, which it would be ghoulish to say I enjoyed but I read with interest and sympathy. This book is about an adult who disappeared, and no explanation has ever been found of why she vanished, let's see what it is like....

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Book 3 substitution

I am afraid I didn't make much of The Black Dahlia by James Elroy and I have had to go to the substitute's bench for a replacement. I read the first 20 pages and couldn't really make much of it. I normally give a book 20 pages and if I am not sure whether to continue I decide again after 50. Occasionally I might bail out later, but once I get to page 100 I am generally committed. With this book I found it difficult to follow the story or really develop any sort of interest in it. These are probably my own inadequacies, not the book's, I should add.

Anyway, what's the point in reading a book I hate when there are 100 more to choose from on the same bookcase?! Fortunately I had a couple of replacements lined up, and I have already read enough of the first one Dead Man Walking by Paul Finch to nail myself to its mast.

This is another British book I'm afraid, unusually set in Cumbria (the last two were both London-based) , but at least it's by a male author so I have deviated a bit from the pattern of the first two selections. It's fairly chunky at over 450 pages long and I suspect there's going to be quite a few murders in this book judging by the contents of the first few pages and the sheer amount of content yet to come.

So, just to summarise, here is my reading so far:

Bookcase 1 (Crime and Thrillers): Errors of Judgement by Caro Fraser (290 pages) Score: 4/10
Bookcase 2 (Crime and Thrillers): Under Your Skin by Sabine Durrant (310 pages). Score 7/10
Bookcase 3 (Crime and Thrillers): The Black Dahlia by James Elroy (rejected after 20 pages):

On to Bookcase Three

Yesterday I completed the second book in my one man mission to go round the library: Under Your Skin by Sabine Durrant (310 pages). This is a Kafkaesque crime story where a woman finds a murder victim in the opening chapter and gradually becomes drawn into the case. It's impossible to discuss the storyline too much without spoiling the plot but it certainly has lots of twists a rather unusual ending! It was a fairly easy, enjoyable book to read, certainly better than Bookcase One's Errors of Judgement. I award it 7/10!

Bookcase 3 was completely uncharted territory for me as none of the authors or books I had read before. In the end, after two books by female former broadsheet journalists, I opted for a book by a male American writer, not the sort of book I would normally read, but that's the whole point of this project, to re-examine my own selection process for what it is that I decide to pick.

The book I chose was The Black Dahlia by James Elroy, someone I have not come across before. It (or at least the author) had a glowing recommendation from a British broadsheet The Independent on Sunday on the cover, which I suppose vaguely continues my theme so far.

Should I not like this book, I have a couple of back-ups from Bookcase 3, which like most of the shelves in the crime section, contain impressively recent publications (I think books 1 and 2 were published in 2013 and 2014 respectively).

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

A Lifetime of Crime

While I am working my way through the crime section (I am currently two thirds of the way through the second book Under Your Skin) it's worth looking back on the crime writers I have read a lot of in the past.

When I started reading adult books I read a lot of Agatha Christie, almost 20 books I think, before I got bored of the repetitive nature of her novels. She was one of those writers who found a formula and churned out dozens of very similar books. A lot of readers are quite happy to be have a similar tale retold again and again. I tend to be a bit more demanding and want something more original after the first few books. Consequently it's quite rare for me to have read anyone's complete output.

An author who I discovered at the age of 15, and is normally classed as a crime writer (although you could argue the case that she doesn't belong there at all) is Patricia Highsmith. I have enjoyed all her books, even the ones with fairly weak plots (and there are a few) and I still read them today 30 years on. If you haven't read a book for 20 years it's almost like reading it again so I try and read a Highsmith book every year in the order they were written. I have tried to find similar authors to her over the years, but never really been successful. I have read her influences, supposedly Poe, Henry James and Dostoevsky. I have read counterparts of Highsmith like Eric Ambler and Graham Greene, but none of them have really hit the spot like Highsmith did. If anyone knows of any writers similar to Patricia Highsmith then please let me know! Or maybe I'll discover the next Patricia Highsmith on my way round the library!

The only other crime writer that I have read in large numbers in Ruth Rendell (aka Barbara Vine). A few of her books are very good, but there are too many mediocre ones and I have stopped reading her altogether, although I have managed to rack up about 20 Rendell books in the 30 years I have been reading adult books for.

Friday, January 9, 2015

Over 100 Books to Choose From: Bookcase 2

Bookcase 2 represented the first full size bookcase I have encountered to date. There were well over 100 Crime and Thriller books on it. There were only about half a dozen books  I had read before on it: a few Sherlock Holmes books I read in my early teens and a book by Louise Doherty, who coincidentally I came to see give a presentation at Dorking Library on her book Apple Tree Yard, which I came away with a signed copy of, that I subsequently enjoyed.

The book I selected Under Your Skin is by a former Guardian writer Sabine Durrant that I haven't come across before. It's definitely a crime book unlike my last selection because there's a murder victim found by the protagonist in the first chapter! I'm hoping for a intelligent suspense novel with lots of twists and turns, and it seems fairly promising after the first couple of chapters.

Going back to Louise Doherty, who I re encountered on Bookcase 2, but couldn't select books by for this project because of my rule about not reading authors I have read before, Surrey Libraries have fairly frequent author events that cost a small fee to attend, and you get to hear authors talk about their books, answer questions from the audience and sign copies of their latest works. It was one of these events that I came too when Louise and a younger writer called Susie Steiner both spoke, very well in fact.

You can even find a list of events coming up on the library web site on their Library Events page. I've been to a few I think and they are well worth attending. I'll be mentioning from time to time on here the services that libraries like those in Surrey offer as I am sure not everyone appreciates the full range of things that are organised by them (including probably me!).

Book 1 Completed

I have completed the first book Errors of Judgement (390 pages) on the train last night. Although this was in the Crime and Thrillers section in the library the book was neither. It was basically a soap opera set in the legal profession, but there were no crimes in the book and any legal cases in the plot are very peripheral to the story, so in no way is it a crime novel. The plot, just like a soap, flitted between different characters, and there were several contemporaneous story lines. Most of the story lines involved sex, intrigue and relationships, and there were endless trips to expensive London wine bars, restaurants and casinos along the way. As there are so many characters you could run and run with this format, like a long-running soap, bringing different people to the forefront in each book. As there are eight books set in the same office (this is the eighth in the series), I gather that's exactly what the author Caro Fraser has been doing for the last 20 years. The book was competently written, and it achieved its objective because I have never read anything quite like it before. But I only award it 4/10 because it just seemed a bit "light" and purposeless.

In my next update I will reveal the identity of Book 2, which I have already started, another novel from the Crime section.

Thursday, January 8, 2015

First of the Shelf Featured in the Dorking Advertiser

My project to read a book from every shelf in Dorking Library was featured in this week's Dorking Advertiser (p.13). It's nice to have a bit of publicity and if it encourages people to use the library more and/or to read more then it's very welcome.

I have less then 100 pages left in the first book Errors of Judgement and soon will be embarking on a new challenge, also from the Crime and Thrillers section.

Monday, January 5, 2015

An Error of Judgement

It was an error of judgement, almost the title of my first book, to only select one volume off the first bookcase. I borrowed the book on a Saturday and of course the library is closed on a Sunday, so by the time I had read a couple of chapters and realised I didn't think too much of Errors of Judgement, then it was too late too change.

Errors of Judgement was put in the Crime and Thrillers section but it is neither (in the first 100 pages anyway). It's set in the legal profession, so there is some sort of tenuous connection to crime I suppose, but is basically what I would call a soap opera of the characters who work for this law firm Caper Court.

The book's characters seem to spend most of the time drinking in expensive wine bars, conducting sexual affairs with beautiful people of both sexes and talking about their vast salaries. Office politics bores me in real life so I have no interest in reading 400 pages of a fictional version.

That said 100 pages in and I have developed a slight interest in the storyline so I'll probably plough through the next 300 pages to complete this book. I have invested too much time and effort to start again with some other book. But from now on I will be getting more than one book from each bookcase. It's very difficult to judge a book by its cover, as the phrase goes.

Saturday, January 3, 2015

The Mission Begins: Bookcase 1

Today I went to Dorking library and the saw the scale of that task the I have committed myself to! There were a total of - I think - 141 bookcases in the adult library, excluding temporary bookcases to hold books that people have just returned. (The actual total might be slightly different in case I missed any out or double counted some, but it's broadly accurate I think). Given that I read around 70 books a year that means it is going to take me at least 2 years to get around the library, and maybe a bit longer if I read books other than printed library books. That's not a problem though, hopefully both I and the library will survive in our current guises for another couple of years at least!

I then chose my first book from the nearest shelf to the door. This is actually a fairly nondescript unnamed shelf containing around 30 books and which is a kind of over-spill for the Crime and Thrillers section which is where I am starting.

I hadn't read any of the 30 books on Bookcase 1, and the only one of the authors I had read before was Ruth Rendell. So that meant I had nearly the full selection to choose from. After some deliberation the book, shown below, that I picked was by Caro Fraser.

I confess that I have never heard of the author, and I gather this is one of a series of books (I'd rather start at the beginning but it's never obligatory and it won't be the first time that I have read a book out of sequence). Caro Fraser is British and she's a woman, which ticks two boxes for me. Generally I prefer books by women to those by men, because the characterisation I finds tends to be better with female authors Men are inclined to write more pacy action-packed thrillers and the characters are more sterotyped than with their female counterparts in my experience, although it's certainly not a hard and fast rule. But I prefer slower, more thoughtful books, and women tend to deliver these more consistently than men. That said, I have probably over 50 fiction books to read on my tour of the library so I'll make sure I get my fair selection of authors by both genders.

If I don't like this book I shall have to return it to the bookcase and select another of the 29 books on it, plus or minus of course a few that have been returned or borrowed since I was last there. The library is an ever-changing beast.