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SgtPluck (Madrid, Spain)

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Naomi's Room
Naomi's Room
by Jonathan Aycliffe
Edition: Paperback
Price: £7.99

3.0 out of 5 stars First half, best horror I've ever read. Second half - one of the worst., 27 July 2016
This review is from: Naomi's Room (Paperback)
It’s rare that I read a horror or ghost story, simply because I’ve never been frightened by them. However, the first half of Aycliffe’s ‘Naomi’s Room’ really gave me the chills. I had the hair standing up on my arms and I genuinely felt a chill.

However, the wheels started to come off from about half way, and the run in was merely an exercise in cliché and poor execution. Aycliffe’s couldn’t keep the pressure on and I got the feeling that the plot got away from him a bit in the second half.

I’ve put my specific problems in the comments, to save any spoilers here, so if you haven’t read the book, don’t read the comments.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Jul 27, 2016 6:52 AM BST

For All the Gold in the World
For All the Gold in the World
by Massimo Carlotto
Edition: Paperback
Price: £9.98

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Down-the-line average. Not Carlotto's worst, but far from his best., 21 July 2016
I was quite disappointed with the last Alligator novel (Gang of Lovers), so I approached this one with a degree of trepidation. All in all, it's down-the-line-average. It's a coherent narrative, but really lacks the political punch, or the sheer noir-ness of The Goodbye Kiss or Bandit Love. I didn't get much in the of development in Buratti's character, and his compadres, Max and Beniamino, didn't have much to work with either. The story, such as it was, was reasonable. It had enough intrigue to keep me interested, but really fizzled out with no great climax. One big mistake I found was an Epilogue, which didn't do what Epilogues normally do and tie up any loose ends of give a continuation of the main plot after the end of the 3rd act. No, this Epilogue started on a completely new plot line altogether, to the extent where it could really have been the first chapter of a new book, not tacked on the end of this one.

This is 3.5 star book, in my opinion, but normally where I'd mark up to 4, I'm marking down to 3 here. Carlotto's previous work has shown a real insight into the political, which is what I believe true noir really needs. This is little more than a straight shoot-em-up, and I believe that he's better than that. I find it a bit lazy, all in all, and in the next instalment, I'd like to see Buratti (and the reader) get challenged more.

Bastards of Pizzofalcone, The (World Noir)
Bastards of Pizzofalcone, The (World Noir)
by Maurizio de Giovanni
Edition: Paperback
Price: £10.99

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A promising start to a new series...., 9 May 2016
This is the first of de Giovanni’s novels that I’ve read, and it sits more in the procedural than in true noir territory.

In short, I liked it, but it wasn’t a classic. A group of police officers, who, for varying reasons, have been discarded from their normal posts, have been installed in the ‘Pizzofalcone’ station, after the incumbents there were all found to be dealing in drugs. If you can get past this seemingly illogical act (if you want to show that the station is, in fact, a credible one, then you put the best you can find there, not the worst), it’s a nice set up. I thought the characters were drawn out nicely – they were all very different, and yet throughout the book, they each come alive and form themselves into a more or less coherent unit.

It’s clear that de Giovanni is in this for the long run - while there is a whodunnit to be solved in ‘bastards’, there are a number of strings left untangled, and honestly, I’d be quite happy to continue with them.

So, why the average rating? Well, I saw nothing about clever about the mystery. It’s fairly bog-standard procedure that doesn’t really unfold, it leaps to a conclusion, and for the reader, I thought there was any number of possibilities that could’ve proved just as logical. Furthermore, although this novel is set in Naples, the reader never really gets this feeling. I like the location in my noir novels to be just as much of a protagonist as the protagonists themselves, and I disagree with the other reviewer above – I think the reader could indeed, quite easily consider this to be happening in any coastal city (and that’s only because the sea is mentioned a lot. Without that, it could be Rome, or Pisa, or Verona, wherever).

I haven’t tried de Giovanni’s “Riccardi” series yet, but I probably will. I think in ‘Bastards’, de Giovani has the beginnings of a decent series, but I’d like to see it flesh out Naples, and get a bit darker in tone.

Still loving the actual books themselves – Europa Editions is my favourite imprint, and this book really sits nicely with the Lucarelli’s and the Carlotto’s on the shelf.


The Vanishing Man: In pursuit of Velazquez
The Vanishing Man: In pursuit of Velazquez
by Laura Cumming
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £15.90

1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Illuminating, educational and exciting., 21 April 2016
Cumming’s study of the lost Velazquez is real page-turner. Alternating analysis and introspection of the great painter’s work with the trials – literally – or poor old John Snare, the Reading bookseller whose sharp eye picked out the portrait in the first place, Cumming creates a compelling and educational narrative.

I did think that the waxing lyrical on Velazquez’s work sailed a little close to pretension at times, but Ms. Cumming is an art critic after all, and such things are to be expected! She manages to avoid cliché quite well, though, and her observations are, at times, illuminating.

I think that the book may benefit from a re-read, or at least a review of the key evidence. There are a variety of twists and turns during which Snare attempts to establish the provenance of the piece, and even more twists after Snare’s death and during the author’s investigations. That the author seemingly finds a smoking gun of sorts in an obscure book by a Victorian poet is testimony to the depth of her investigation. However, I was a little confused about who had what and when, and who might have had something but didn’t etc etc.

The book does raise a big question for me that I don’t believe was ever addressed in the text. In 1790, when the 2nd Earl of Fife was presenting the work to a Mr. Pennant, he describes it as a “Velasco” that used to belong to the Duke of Buckingham. Now, on Buckingham’s death in 1628, his art collection contained a number of portraits of his good friend Charles I, all of which were attributed (but none to Velazquez) except two. Ms. Cumming, quite logically, therefore, suggests that the Velazquez was likely to be one of those two. So far, so good.

Question, however, is – if none of the works in Buckingham’s collection (that was dispersed after his death in a variety of ways) were attributed to Velazquez, then how did the 2nd Earl of Fife 150 years later get it into his head that his was a Velazquez? There must have been some kind of connection after Buckingham’s death between the portrait and Velazquez in order for the Earl to have this in mind. That it was later proved to be the work of a different painter is neither here nor there. The Earl was convinced of its provenance of Velazquez.

I suppose it’s possible that the portrait left Buckingham’s collection before his death, was attributed (and that attribution now lost), and therefore wouldn’t form part of the inventory on his passing. All things are possible, I suppose – it’s just something that’s been niggling away at me.

Anyway, anyone with a warm heart for art should read this book. Even if (and it’s a big IF) Snare spent the whole of his adult life being wrong about his paintings provenance, it’s hard not to feel desperately sorry for him, as the Scottish gentry come at him in a desperate attempt to discredit him and ultimately gain the painting ‘back.’

I’m fortunate enough to live in Madrid, and I’m inspired now to go and view the Velazquez’s that hang in the Prado. I’m sure I’ll be seeing them with fresh eyes after reading this book. Excellent, indeed.


Crabtree & Evelyn Sandalwood Shave Soap in Wooden Bowl 100g
Crabtree & Evelyn Sandalwood Shave Soap in Wooden Bowl 100g
Offered by Apotheker Stefan Bauer & Compagnie
Price: £26.00

3.0 out of 5 stars Nice box, average performance., 13 April 2016
The presentation of this soap in its little wooden box is great. However:

Lather: is thin and dries off rapidly. Bubbly rather than creamy. And that's using a decent badger-hair brush, and making lots of effort.

Smell: Subtle, which is nice if you like that. Personally, I love the smell of sandalwood and I think it could do with being a bit stronger.

My soap of choice is Taylor's of Old Bond Street Sandalwood, which is perfect in every way. I ordered the C+E when I first started straight razor shaving as some variety, but I've stopped using it and have bought a new Taylor's instead.

Undermajordomo Minor
Undermajordomo Minor
by Patrick DeWitt
Edition: Paperback
Price: £12.08

5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Quirky fairy tale, but with little substance., 6 April 2016
This review is from: Undermajordomo Minor (Paperback)
Undermajordomo Minor has the obligatory arresting title and cover artwork of “The Sisters Brothers”, and I’d prepared myself that if it would read anything like half as well, then I’d be in for a treat.

Well, it does….but it doesn’t.

The quality of the writing I thought was decent enough, although I found it hard to take to the protagonist, Lucien (Lucy) Minor. He comes across as being either a likeable young man with a mean streak, or a mean-spirited young man with a likeable streak. He therefore has little to endear the reader to him as a sympathetic protagonist, yet isn’t nasty enough to warrant any interest in his fall, should there be one.

So, Lucy Minor take a position at the castle Aux, working for the incumbent Baron’s majordomo, the mildly eccentric Myron Oldenglough. There is a small village outside the castle’s gates, where Lucien meets the love interest, Klara, and there seems to be guerilla action in the forests where the local militia is fighting some kind of war against and unseen and unknown enemy.

And that’s really about it. The story is readable, but I never felt as if there was any depth to it. The love story I found unconvincing, for various reasons, and some of the rest falls a bit flat. Klara’s father, Mewel, tells a story about his childhood that seems to have no life lessons, nor allegorical merit, which left me a bit puzzled. When questioned about the enemy and why the local men are fighting some kind of war, we get landed with “Men never really need a reason to kill each other”. Which may be true enough, but sounds less like true insight than simple cod philosophy.

His book is really a collection of vignettes, some of which are hilarious (the custard tart and the ballroom scene was eye-wateringly funny), some are mildly humorous and some fall flat. Undermajordomo minor is a fairytale of sorts, but even fairy stories have a meaning, a theme to teach children about some element of the human condition. This book reads like an adult fairy tale, but has no pay-off. It’s like a mildly peculiar dream, one that fades quickly in the morning without requiring any reflecting on.

It’s a reasonably quick read, is entertaining, but ultimately, is of no substance. I feel a bit disappointed.


The North Water
The North Water
by Ian McGuire
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £11.99

2 of 4 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Straight down-the-line average., 29 Mar. 2016
This review is from: The North Water (Hardcover)
Firstly, I have to say that it is to the credit of this book that I managed to get past my distaste of the present tense and finish it. Normally, my first test in a bookshop is to flick through and if it appears to be wholly written in the present tense, it gets put back on the shelf tout suite.

However, the premise looked pretty good, so I swallowed my gall and read it.

All in all, it’s not a bad story. A whaling vessel strikes off to the northern whaling grounds, being crewed by a variety of people, all of whom are more or less alike in their unlikeability. And that’s really about it – there’s really not much story above the normal hazards aboard a whaling vessel. Part of the problem is that no-one changes. This might well be the author’s intention – that the whaling vessel is a small microcosm of Hell, unchanging in its darkness – but it makes for quite uninteresting reading. Sometimes the writing is visceral but this smacks more of sensationalism, given that there is little context. These people were violent at the beginning, violent throughout and violent at the end. So, the violence comes across as violence for violence’s sake. There is the small matter of a violent crime committed on board, but this is wrapped up in about 30 seconds, and the perpetrator is obvious to the reader from the beginning, so this hardly engenders much interest.

The only potentially interesting character – the thoroughly evil Henry Drax – is barely used. He disappears about a third of the way in and pops up later in the ending for little more than a brief cameo. The surgeon, Sumner, on board to provide some kind of balance to Drax, and the only half-sympathetic character in the whole book, is given more to work with than anyone. However, there’s no substantial change in him either. So, there’s nobody to care about, which slows down any interest for the reader. I thought the setting and the atmosphere was really well written, though.

The North Water is a relatively quick read, and is entertaining enough as, I suppose, but I saw nothing in it that elevates it above the average.

Gang of Lovers, The (Alligator 4)
Gang of Lovers, The (Alligator 4)
by Massimo Carlotto
Edition: Paperback
Price: £8.99

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars This book ain't big enough for the both of us., 26 July 2015
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
A new Carlotto is a cause for celebration in htis house. Ever since I read The Goodbye Kiss way back when, I was blown away by Carlotto's style and his completely amoral Giorgio Pellegrini. I then immediately chased up Carlotto's available novels in English - the first two Marco Buratti - aka The Alligator - books (The Master of Knots and The Colombian Mule). I found these to be fairly run of the mill, but the second was better than the first. Then came the third Alligator - Bandit Love - which was excellent. Then came Pellegrini's second outing in At The End of a Dull Day, which wasn't as good as The Goodbye Kiss (but then again, what would be?)

Basically, as far as I'm concerned, Buratti's trajectory is getting better, while Pellegrini's is taking a dip. Unfortunately, Gang of Lovers does neither of them any favours. They are both great characters, but I don't think either of them have anough individual traction yet to feature in the same book. Take Michael Connelly for example - his Harry Bosch series had about 15 books and his Mickey Haller had about 7/8 before Connelly decided to bring them together. When he did, it worked - he even threw in some familial tie between the two, and now they sit just fine together. When Michael Mann brought Al Pacino and Robert de Niro together in the film Heat, it worked because both had enough presence as heavyweight actors to make their scenes work. I just feel that Pellegrini and Buratti need a bit more or a workout before bringing them together. And, when you do, like Pacino/De Niro, one of them has to go down, and not have them both still standing at the end.

I have other issues with this book. For a start, Gang of Lovers as a title. Means nothing and bears no reflection to the plot of the book. I thought At the End of a Dull day was a poor title, but Gang of Lovers is really poor.

Secondly, the plot is poorly paced. In a relatively slim 200-page novel, I expect a tight plot, a cat and mouse between Buratti's group and the nefarious Pellegrini. What I got was 50 pages of Buratti's back story - what he'd been doing for the last year. Pellegrini's inclusion is late, and then little more than a cameo, like the crocodile (or Alligator!) in a Punch and Judy show. Watch out, he's behind you!

Furthermore, I was disappointed with Pellegrini in parts. Sometimes he comes across as almost a pantomime villain, and the dialogue that he comes out with grinds on my ears. It's a diversion from the cold, scheming villain that he was in his previous two outings into an arrogant big mouth here, and that's never been his way.

Finally, as alluded to above, the denoument is a cop-out and while it sets things up nicely for another go-around between the two, my feeling is that Pellegrini and Buratti shouldn't have come anywhere near each other yet for about another 10 years. I love them both as characters, but I didn't like them together so soon.

I would still thoroughly recommend Carlotto to new readers, but start from the beginning, not here.

The Girl Who Couldn't Read
The Girl Who Couldn't Read
Price: £6.49

4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Doesn't make much sense....., 13 Mar. 2015
I read Florence and Giles last year and was blown away by it. Not only was it a great story, but it was clear that John Harding is a wonderful stylist. I held off reading “The Girl….” for weeks after I bought it, teasing myself with it.

However, after finishing it, I confess to feeling quite disappointed. I know I’ll, be in a small minority, but nothing really gelled in the book. There’s nothing really wrong with the style….well, there is…..but I’ll put my issues with the book in the comments below, to save any spoilers here. So, if you haven’t read it yet, don’t read the comments!
Comment Comments (2) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Jul 27, 2015 3:32 PM BST

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