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Mr. Joe (Glendale, CA USA)

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Three Stations
Three Stations
by Martin Cruz Smith
Edition: Paperback
Price: £6.39

0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Arkady guns down Dopey. OMG!, 27 July 2014
This review is from: Three Stations (Paperback)
"'It's Dopey,' Vaksberg said. 'You killed Dopey.'" ‒ from THREE STATIONS, said to Arkady Renko, Dopey being one of Snow White's Seven Dwarfs (in Disney's 1937 version)

This book's title, THREE STATIONS, refers to that public open space, Moscow's Komsomolskaya Square, on the edges of which are situated three mainline railroad termini, Leningradsky and Yaroslavsky on the north and Kazansky on the south. And, to make things even more bustling with potential mischief, the Komsomolskaya Metro station serving a pair of underground lines lies between the former two.

The Three Stations square serves pretty much as the focal point for both the main plot and the subplot of this police Investigator Arkady Renko thriller by Martin Cruz Smith. Within the former, Renko persists, against the direct order of his boss, Prosecutor Zurin, to pursue a serial killer. Within the latter, to which Arkady has little if any connection, a prostitute, Maya, escapes with her infant girl-child, Katya, the rural brothel in which she was virtually imprisoned and takes a train to Moscow. While aboard the train, Katya is stolen, and Maya spends the rest of the book searching the Three Stations for some clue as to her whereabouts.

I've read some, but not all, of the Renko police procedurals. He contributes above-average entertainment to this story, but his character is still derivative from previous installments ‒ a weakness that perhaps strikes all fictional series that feature a continuing hero regardless of the impact made on readers at his/her first appearance on the literary scene, which, in Arkady's case, was Gorky Park. So here, it's actually Maya's search and Katya's haphazard odyssey that's the more interesting story line.

THREE STATIONS is a perfect escapist read for a day at the beach or a plane ride to Shangri-La, but it's not memorable or unique enough to rate five stars.

Call for the Dead
Call for the Dead
by John le Carré
Edition: Paperback
Price: £6.74

5.0 out of 5 stars A blast from the past ‒ for both of us, 24 July 2014
This review is from: Call for the Dead (Paperback)
"Smiley was no material for promotion and it dawned on him gradually that he had entered middle age without ever being young, and that he was ‒ in the nicest possible way ‒ on the shelf." ‒ from CALL FOR THE DEAD

I've been a tremendous fan of John le Carré's George Smiley for years. How could one not be, especially after having seen the BBC's exemplary television adaptations of Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy : Complete BBC Series [DVD] [1979] and Smiley's People [1982] [DVD], both starring Alec Guinness?

CALL FOR THE DEAD was first published in 1962 when I was but thirteen. (It's hard to believe I was ever that juvenile. I may have read the book in the intervening years, though I suspect not. But, alas, memory fails.)

At this late date after Smiley has disappeared from le Carré's repertoire and Sir Alec is deceased, the chief delight for me in CALL FOR THE DEAD was learning about George's induction into the Secret Service, his early assignments recruiting and running German agents against the Nazi regime, and his marriage to Ann. Even Smiley was young once, though he apparently missed the high points.

Smiley's introduction to the readers of spy fiction takes place in his world of 1961 when George, while investigating the apparent suicide of a Foreign Office official shortly after being interviewed (by George) regarding his wartime membership in the Communist Party, encounters a blast from his own wartime past.

To those who've followed George's adventures over the years, it's evident in CALL FOR THE DEAD ‒ which was also the author's very first novel ‒ that the Smiley's character is in for considerable development over future years. Indeed, George must rely on the efforts of others, particularly an Inspector Mendel, to bring this case to a successful conclusion. Without Mendel, I doubt that Smiley would've pulled it off. In le Carré's later stories featuring George , especially when he's up against the Soviet master-spy controller Karla, our hero takes center stage, however low key and inscrutable in manner, and relinquishes it to no one.

For readers of today's younger generations who may only be familiar with the author's most recent works and know nothing of Smiley, CALL FOR THE DEAD is the place to start. The Cold War is over, but George is timeless.

In the Blood
In the Blood
by Robert J. Sullivan
Edition: Paperback
Price: £5.83

4.0 out of 5 stars Does "Book him, Skiti!" have the right ring to it?, 11 July 2014
This review is from: In the Blood (Paperback)
Anything I write about IN THE BLOOD must be qualified by the fact that police procedural novels aren't ones I read much. Only a couple of titles by Joseph Wambaugh even stand out in my memory. However, IN THE BLOOD came my way and, since it had an inventive angle and promised to be a quick read, I caved.

Here, Earthling homicide detective Sam Dane travels to the planet Procrustes, populated by a mixture of human colonists and the indigenous Zherghi, to help investigate a series of slasher killings - all victims being human - that seems to coincide with the festival and mating season of Utu when festival-goers dress up in costumes and lose their inhibitions. Sam is helped in his investigations by officers Tarah Manning and Skiti Poimar, human and Zherghi respectively.

How many times has the theme of a fictional film or book revolved around a cop taken totally out of his element to help solve a whodunit in an unfamiliar cultural milieu? Here, it could just as well have been Detective Dane from New York City on assignment in New Orleans during Mardi Gras. But author Robert Sullivan chose to make it more interesting with a dash of sci-fi, and that, for me, was the hook.

At two-hundred twenty-three pages, IN THE BLOOD isn't really long enough to allow the plot to evolve and play-out with finesse. It's an uncomplicated formula crime novel against an alien backdrop.

The reason I'm rating the novel as high as I am is because Sam is a thoroughly engaging and eminently capable tough-guy hero whose character can only but continue to attract fans if Sullivan chooses to make this book the first in a Dane series. And I would expect future episodes to become increasingly more polished. If the author pens a next installment, I'll buy it.

Technically, Males Are Dummies and Other Stories
Technically, Males Are Dummies and Other Stories
by Mr. Robert J. Sullivan
Edition: Paperback
Price: £5.35

4.0 out of 5 stars The perambulations of a versatile imagination, 9 July 2014
(Review of a complimentary paperback copy kindly supplied by the author)

"In the moonlight coming through my single window, I saw the loose ends of the laces on my sneaker rise tentatively in the air ... The first lace rose gently into the air, the aglet pointing like the head of a cobra, questing, searching. The second lace joined it a moment later." - from TECHNICALLY, MALES ARE DUMMIES AND OTHER STORIES

In this book, the title of which I'll shorten to MALES ARE DUMMIES for the sake of convenience and because doing so should appeal to the other gender, author Robert J. Sullivan presents eleven of his short stories, some previously published elsewhere.

Sullivan has also published the novels IN THE BLOOD and This Honest Man (Sam Dane Thriller Book 2), both featuring his hero Sam Dane, an interplanetary cop.

The strength of the MALES ARE DUMMIES collection lies in the versatility of the author's imagination, which skips about among different centuries, worlds, and universes. Some of them have a Twilight Zone: Complete Collection [DVD] [1959] [Region 1] [US Import] [NTSC] quality, that television series being one of my faves back in the past century when first aired and even now when I stumble upon repeats.

I found "First Shots" and "Gruff Samples Spanish Wines" particularly good because they respectively feature heroes Jericho Pierce, a Prohibition era Tough Guy out to right wrongs, and Alistair Gruff, a cheeky English soldier of fortune of the Elizabethan period. Should Sullivan ever give up on Sam Dane as a viable going concern for reasons I offered in my review of THIS HONEST MAN, then I'd be delighted if the author transitioned to a series built around the latter.

I won't say that all of this volume's shorts were significantly entertaining, but most were. And, in the aggregate, the whole is a fine introduction to Robert's writing talent.

The Last Places On Earth: Journeys in Our Disappearing World
The Last Places On Earth: Journeys in Our Disappearing World
by Gary Mancuso
Edition: Paperback
Price: £10.65

4.0 out of 5 stars In search of that elusive "music moment", 6 July 2014
"The Dani penis gourd, or koteka, is made from a long, skinny gourd that is hollow at the bottom. The bottom, hollow portion of the gourd is set over the man's penis and sticks straight up. It can be as long as several feet and is held up in place by a thin string wrapped around the man's waist or back (for really long ones)." ‒ from THE LAST PLACES ON EARTH, in West Papua. (Mae West would've been mightily impressed: "Is that a koteka, or are you just happy to see me?")

"... once (Central Africans) confirmed that I was from the States I would get the familiar, knowing one-word of 'Obama-a-a.' Although I found the whole Obamania fad amazing, I would also be saddened to know that it must ultimately end in disappointment. No one man could possibly live up to all the hope, hype, and promise that Obama seemed to be representing at the time." ‒ from THE LAST PLACES ON EARTH. ("How strange when an illusion dies. It's as though you've lost a child." ‒ Judy Garland)

"... I saw three middle-aged English travelers getting into a nice red SUV parked facing in the same direction I was going ... I asked if I could hitch a ride toward Ranomafana. To my relief, they were going right by the park and welcomed me aboard. This made the journey much more fun." ‒ from THE LAST PLACES ON EARTH, in Madagascar, after two miserable hours aboard a cramped local minivan transport sitting next to a mother whose baby drooled on the author's shirt. ("But that's the whole aim of civilization: to make everything a source of enjoyment." ‒ Leo Tolstoy)

"... I again thought about why I was doing my travel project, and all the reasons why I couldn't stop now came up again. The most important reason was simply that I hadn't finished ... This travel project was the fulfillment of my lifelong dream to do an extended period of uninterrupted travel ‒ to really know the world. And most urgently of all my reasons, the rapidly accelerating changes taking place all over the world meant that much of what I sought to experience would soon be gone, or, at best, become a vastly watered-down version of the real thing. I had to press on." ‒ Gary Mancuso, after more than 4 years of travel. ("Bully for you."‒ Teddy Roosevelt)

So, the back story behind THE LAST PLACES ON EARTH is apparently this. Gary Mancuso is a key software developer for a Los Angeles investment bank. He earns enough at this gig to buy a "beautifully decorated home near the ocean" in West L.A. and accumulate investments, a wife, and cars. However, having fretted about globalization and the disappearance of ecosystems, he sells the house and cars and sets out to realize a personal dream, (which he names) the Disappearing World Travel Project, a journey of several years (!) of uninterrupted travel supported by the money from said assets to experience first-hand the world's vanishing cultures, animals, and ecosystems. Gary's book is his report back to us.

Fair enough, though I haven't ascribed such significance to my own international excursions that I've named them. I mean, it's not as if I was looking for Elvis while in the backwaters of Ceausescu's Romania back in '79, though I did hear rumors while there that ... well, never mind. (However, the wife and I will be hiking Kaua'i in September; maybe I'll call it "The Buggy, Muggy Slog in Search of Detective Danno." Whaddya think?)

As a travel essay, THE LAST PLACES ON EARTH should meet and perhaps exceed the expectations of the armchair traveler. Mancuso opens a window on a far-flung array of places off tourism's beaten path: Papua New Guinea, Indonesia, Venezuela, Brazil's Amazonia, rural China, Myanmar, Uganda, Zambia, Madagascar, Mongolia, Caucasian Georgia, Togo, Borneo, North Korea, Tanzania, the Central African Republic, and Antarctica. Gary's book, for the most part, does what a good travel narrative should do; it lucidly and colorfully details reasons why a particular place should inspire in readers compelling reasons to either visit or avoid it. (If the reader is left feeling wishy-washy about a destination, the volume has, in my mind, failed the whole point of the exercise.) Mancuso evidently took good notes during his years abroad, and he's a literate writer. For that, honor is due.

On the other hand, the author also visits a multitude of other locales but gifts them only a word or two in the narrative, an incomplete tally of which includes (North) Vietnam, Istanbul, Morocco, Cairo, India, Taiwan, South Korea, Dubai, Gabon, Laos, Bhutan, Tasmania, and the Galapagos Islands, all of which contained something that was "disappearing" and thus made his endangered list. So, what were those all about? I want to know. Moreover, though he was constantly taking photographs, not so much as one grainy snap appears in THE LAST PLACES ON EARTH, and that grievous omission is what causes me to deduct a rating star more than any other reason I've mentioned, or will mention, here. He didn't even put the best of his pics on a website and provide the link. I mean, how tough can that be for a man with his IT skills?

My favorite travel writers are such as Bill Bryson, H.V. Morton, and Joe Bennett. Without taking themselves or their journeys oh so seriously, they impart knowledge with a good humor that is sometimes self-deprecating, while causing me to recall the good fun I've had while traveling abroad and reminding me that there are places I should make efforts to see while I still can. On the other hand, Mancuso's Disappearing World Travel Project soon became for him a grinding obsession to which he sacrificed his physical and emotional health and his marriage on its stone-cold altar, perhaps best shared in the chapter entitled "Rootless." Does Gary expect us to feel sorry for him for his self-inflicted wounds? Oh, surely not, you think? In any case, I didn't and don't. The only useful lesson which endured for me from that gratuitously self-centered portion of the text is that solitary travel can be crushingly lonely. But, if one believes Country Western laments, that fact becomes obvious simply by being a long-distance trucker along Interstate 10 between Phoenix and El Paso, and I learned it decades ago driving solo between solitary hotel rooms in Vienna and Munich, or some such similar stretch.

Mancuso, of course, learned much more from his 6-year long trudge of discovery; that's evident from the last chapter "Our Disappearing World." Gary is a True Believer. And he found his "music moment":

"It was during (the) ride through the western edge of the Usambara Mountains that I had my 'music moment.' In movies involving long dramas or epic journey, there is often a time when the main character realizes some large goal, the completion of a quest, or some other major personal milestone. Dramatic music plays in the background, and grand scenery, memory flashbacks, or some idyllic scene is portrayed to illustrate the special realization."

Since Gary invested so much effort into his grand quest, I suspect his mental symphony went something like "Also Sprach Zarathustra" (of 2001 - A Space Odyssey [Blu-ray] [Region Free] fame) composed by Richard Strauss. Myself, I prefer a snippet of Rod McKuen's free-style poetry done to Anita Kerr's musical accompaniment on the late 60's album Sea:

"... I'm just a man, who needs and wants mostly things he'll never have, looking for that thing hardest to find - himself. I've been going a long time now, and along the way I've learned a few things. You have to make the good times yourself. Take the little times and make them big times, and save the times that are alright for those that aren't so good ... "
Comment Comments (2) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Jul 19, 2014 9:29 PM BST

Redemption: The Further Adventures of Huck Finn and Tom Sawyer
Redemption: The Further Adventures of Huck Finn and Tom Sawyer
Price: £2.71

4.0 out of 5 stars Name recognition gimmick goes only so far, but perhaps far enough, 21 Jun. 2014
"The last time you heard of me and Tom was in that book Sam Clemens wrote ... Now Tom and I are a mite older and a lot of water has gone under the bridge since then ... We've been reading a lot of books and our English has improved a little." ‒ Huck Finn, from the opening lines of REDEMPTION

By the end of the first couple of paragraphs of REDEMPTION by Andrew Joyce, the author manages to separate Tom and Huck from anything that came before in their previous lives created by Mark Twain. Why, even Becky was rumored to have run off with a corset salesman back in '54. Indeed, the improved language skills from all that fancy book learnin' that our heroes hoisted aboard make them virtually unrecognizable. Whatever adventures they have here or in the future as adults, they're on their own.

REDEMPTION takes up at the beginning of the Civil War when Huck and Tom join the Confederate Army. After a minor tussle, during which they pick up a sidekick for the plot's duration, a young Union soldier named Jed, the story jumps forward twelve years to Colorado Territory, where it pretty much remains except for an aside in Hawaii and a brief closing in New York City (!) in 1895. Huck is the first-person narrator for the bulk of the tale. It doesn't seem like there'll be any sequels or prequels.

REDEMPTION is a classic Western morality play of good vs. evil far removed from those lazy days on the Missouri side of the Mississippi where our two heroes of yore grew up. The players in the White Hats are, of course, Huck, Tom and Jed. And all three are square-jawed, determined, honest, upright, brave, principled and straight-shootin' WASP American fellers that any frontier mother would be proud to have as sons-in-law, by God. There are no grey areas of personal character here (such as in Eastwood's award winning film Unforgiven [1992] [DVD].)

Speaking of Westerns in the film genre, I gather Joyce has seen his share. While reading REDEMPTION, I detected strains of at least Shane [DVD] [1953], Dances With Wolves [DVD] [1990], and Wyatt Earp [DVD] [1994]. As a matter of fact, Andrew's sagebrush saga would probably make a pretty decent movie with the right director and cast.

As a book worth reading or not, REDEMPTION is certainly the former, though the plot elements are formulaic and the Huck, Tom and Jed personae aren't particularly stressed by any challenges to their stalwart codes of conduct. As pure escapism for filling a couple of hours on a plane or while on lunch breaks during the work week, it's more than adequate 4-star entertainment if you're not expecting nuanced conflicts. So, saddle-up, pardners.

GI Brides: The wartime girls who crossed the Atlantic for love
GI Brides: The wartime girls who crossed the Atlantic for love
by Duncan Barrett
Edition: Paperback
Price: £7.99

4.0 out of 5 stars "We're British. We can stand anything.", 18 Jun. 2014
"Overpaid, overfed, oversexed, and over here." ‒ a phrase, popularized by the English wartime comedian Tommy Trinder, concerning the Yanks

"We got through the war. We're British, we can stand anything." ‒ from GI BRIDES, a bride`s reply when asked why she didn't leave a domineering GI husband

"Keep Calm and Carry On" ‒ from a motivational poster produced by the British Government for its citizens prior to World War II

GI BRIDES by Duncan Barrett and Nuala Calvi is the story of four young English women ‒ Margaret, Sylvia, Gwendolyn and Rae ‒ who married American servicemen ‒ Lawrence, Bob, Ben and Raymond respectively ‒ and moved to the United States ‒ Georgia, Maryland, California and Pennsylvania respectively.

On one hand, I liked this volume a lot as a vivid telling of this wartime phenomenon of inter-tribal marriage. Reproached by returning British soldiers for abandoning them, and vilified by American women for stealing their menfolk, the expatriate brides had then to endure the culture shock of coming to America.

On the other hand, by the time I reached the book's end and decided that I wouldn't have wished any of these four marriages on anyone, I began to wonder if the narrative was skewed. One of the co-authors, Nuala Calvi, was the granddaughter of Margaret, that one of the four who was treated perhaps the worst by her Yank spouse. Did Nuala have an axe to grind? In the Acknowledgements, the authors admit to having interviewed over sixty brides in thirty-eight states. Yet, if GI BRIDES is taken as representative of the lot, then no one of them melded seamlessly into the "American Dream" at the side of a husband who wasn't in some way dysfunctional. Rather, the American men portrayed here seem to be alcoholics, gamblers, philanderers, or Momma-boys. Or maybe it's just that author's view of men in general. For this gut feeling, I'm knocking a star off what would've otherwise been a five-star award.

As Gwendolyn wonders at one low point:

"Were any GI brides living happily ever after?"

Mr. Beck's Underground Map
Mr. Beck's Underground Map
by Ken Garland
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £12.95

5.0 out of 5 stars Not just any casual lines doodle, 14 Jun. 2014
"... (Beck) was as absorbed as ever with the more or less continuous task of updating and improving (the Underground Map). The Becks' whole house would be strewn with the clutter of work in progress, even the bedroom: Nora, his wife, would find little piles of sketches under his pillow when she made the bed in the morning. And his niece ... recalls seeing very large copies of the Diagram covering the living room carpet as he crawled over them making amendments." ‒ from MR BECK'S UNDERGROUND MAP

"Beck's long custodianship of the Diagram had understandably induced in him a passion for detail that sometimes appeared obsessive." ‒ from MR BECK'S UNDERGROUND MAP

Gee, you think?

As I shamelessly admitted in my review of Underground, Overground: A Passenger's History of the Tube, riding the Underground ("Tube") could front as the essence of my pure, unadulterated joy at being in London. I love the escalators, the advert posters, the occasional busker in busy tunnels, the Tube logo and maps, the Cadbury dispensers, the "Mind the Gap" announcements, the smell and blow of the air along the platform as a train approaches, the sway of a moving car (especially when standing and steadied by a hand-grip), and the magic of descending into a hole in the ground and emerging across town at my desired destination. The experience provides a rush both literally and figuratively.

My first visit to London was in 1975, some fifteen years after Henry Beck lost design control of his famous Underground Map, which was first published for the public's use in 1933. But even today in other custodians' hands, the Map is obviously the direct descendent of Beck's brilliant conception. Honor is due from anyone who has "minded the gap."

MR BECK'S UNDERGROUND MAP by Ken Garland is a beautiful work of tribute to Henry's graphic. Sandwiched between sections dealing with Underground maps pre and post Beck is a comprehensive narrative summary of the evolution of Beck's Diagram while in his hands from 1931 to 1960. The hardcover, nearly square at 10.75 by 9.75 inches, is filled with full color reproductions of Beck's map as it evolved over the years. As the Underground itself is enormously complex, so is the map. Yet, each revised version is lucidly described in each reproduction's caption as well as in the body of the book's text. Moreover, in the latter, the appearance in time of each version is clearly referenced in relation to the previous and Beck's changes ‒ sometimes only minor ‒ described.

If your eyesight is failing with age, such as mine, or even if it isn't, a magnifying glass at hand is advisable when examining the maps and perhaps when reading their captions.

Garland's volume contains a section of enormously illustrative Appendices, e.g. rough pencil sketches done by Beck to help him solve design problems. Perhaps one of the most interesting is a two-page spread depicting the Tube's true geographic scale vs. its diagrammatic distortion on the Underground Map. It's this inclusion which best illustrates Henry's genius compared to what came before.

MR BECK'S UNDERGOUND MAP was published in 1994, and the latest Diagram included is the 1994 Journey Planner, which was constructed "to incorporate all known projected extensions and new lines." A worthwhile visual exercise is to compare this with a 2014 map of London's rail system. (You'll immediately notice on the latter the Overground system, something conspicuously missing from the former. Can you imagine the single-minded delight with which Beck would've dealt with that challenge to his creation?)

MR BECK'S UNDERGROUND MAP is a niche book only for Tube aficionados and graphic designers. For me, who gives away vastly more books than he keeps for lack of library space, it will have a permanent home on the shelf of "keepers."

Lastnight: The 5th Jack Nightingale Supernatural Thriller
Lastnight: The 5th Jack Nightingale Supernatural Thriller
by Stephen Leather
Edition: Paperback
Price: £6.39

1 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Who is Jack fooling?, 10 Jun. 2014
"You can summon a demon if you wish to make a deal; we are not to be called just because you have a question you want answering. That's what Google is for ... I'm not the phone-a-friend option to be used whenever you're in trouble." - Proserpine to Jack

A number of reviewers seem so sure that Jack Nightingale is dead. Please, give his creator Stephen Leather more credit for inventiveness.

In LASTNIGHT, Jack is pressured by his old nemesis in the Met, Superintendent Chalmers, to donate his time investigating the grisly murder of five Goths. Grisly meaning sliced and skinned alive.

Leather has a talent for intentionally painting his ongoing literary heroes - Nightingale and Dan "Spider" Shepherd - into corners that transcend the immediate storyline. With the latter, it's currently having Shepherd balanced precariously on the fence that separates sanctioned (legal) and unsanctioned (illegal) wet ops. Only his MI5 boss, Charlie Button, seems to have a clear idea of what's needed in today's big, bad world; I've been lobbying the author for Charlie's own series for a long time now, but he doesn't listen. (See my review of True Colours: The 10th Spider Shepherd Thriller.)

In Jack's case, as is implied in the very first chapter, it's how he's to pull-off a resurrection from being very, very dead and keep on battling supernatural forces of evil. As a matter of fact, I'm going to go out on a limb and assert that LASTNIGHT was intended by Leather from its conceptual inception as a vehicle for Nightingale to turn a major corner in his life and get out of a rut. In the meantime, LASTNIGHT is a pretty good story all by itself that will keep Jack's fans happy.

For me, a main attraction in the Nightingale series is the ongoing, albeit tense (and dangerous for Jack), relationship between Jack and the demon Proserpine, who wants his soul. In whatever corner of the world the former ends up, I hope Proserpine and her collie follow; it's an interpersonal dynamic that's even more intriguing than that between Shepherd and Button.

One final thought, or perhaps it's a wish. What would happen if Proserpine and Mrs. Steadman started hurling lightning bolts at each other and Jack got caught in the free-fire zone? I'd pay to read about that! You taking notes, Stephen?

The Battle For Dole Acre
The Battle For Dole Acre
Price: £4.49

3.0 out of 5 stars The sometimes wiser approach is "less is more", 9 Jun. 2014
"As a rule of thumb, don't fall in love with people who want you dead." ‒ from THE BATTLE FOR DOLE ACRE

A thumbnail summary of THE BATTLE FOR DOLE ACRE, the second novel by Ian Marchant, might go something like this:

After being fired for tossing a can of pineapple chunks at his boss's head, a renowned London chef washes up in the northwest of England in a tourist-trap town, opens a poncy restaurant, stalks a perceived girlfriend, and helps save a protected herd of donkeys from a life of misery in a children's zoo. And, he's a total wanker.

Although I delighted in the author's first novel, In Southern Waters, I suspected trouble when noticing that the cast list of characters for this one took up one and a quarter pages. Really?

I won't say that this book isn't amusing; it occasionally is. However, the crowd of eccentric dramatis personae comes together in a big crunch of frenetic silliness in an ending that left me wishing for something more subtle.

In some ways, the best part of THE BATTLE FOR DOLE ACRE is the front cover on which your apparent visual perspective is of two donkeys peering down at you lying flat on the ground looking up. A nice touch, that.

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