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Rob Kitchin

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Flashman (The Flashman Papers)
Flashman (The Flashman Papers)
by George MacDonald Fraser
Edition: Paperback
Price: £8.99

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Full of adventure, scrapes and japes, 9 Nov. 2014
Flashman was published in 1969, purporting to be the first instalment of the recently discovered reminisces of Sir Harry Paget Flashman VC KCB KCIE. The story starts with setting the record straight on his expulsion from Rugby School, as recounted in Tom Brown’s School Days published in 1857 by Thomas Hughes, and then follows his exploits from the time he entered the British Army as teenager to when he returns to Britain two years later having taken part in Kabul retreat. Flashman is an interesting character. Six foot two and handsome, he’s a self-acknowledged scoundrel, liar, cheat, thief, bully, coward, and toady. Openly misogynist and racist, he claims only three natural talents: horsemanship, an ear for languages, and fornication. To that should be added luck and cunning. He has a habit of getting himself moved into harm’s way, but always somehow manages to survive, usually through someone else’s bravery and then claiming credit and glory. He would be an easy character to dislike except that he is also self-deprecating, brutally honest, something of an anti-hero, his wife has the measure of him, and his account has a nice dose of wit. The story is undoubtedly politically incorrect, but knowingly so, and also true to attitudes of the time, and it is full of adventure and scrapes. It is also chocked full of well researched historical detail, Fraser using Flashman to tell the story of the disastrous retreat from Kabul and the First Anglo-Afghan war. It’s one of those tales that that anyone familiar with political correctness feels they shouldn’t really like, but it’s telling means that one can’t help but doing so.


The Bellini Card (Yashim the Ottoman Detective)
The Bellini Card (Yashim the Ottoman Detective)
by Jason Goodwin
Edition: Paperback
Price: £8.99

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars good sense of place, characterisation and historical detail, plot less convincing, 2 Nov. 2014
The strengths of The Bellini Card are the sense of place, characterisation, and historical detail. Goodwin places the reader in both Istanbul and Venice -- the landscape and architecture, the sights, sounds and smells, and the social strata and living conditions. The descriptions are wonderfully evocative and come to life in one’s mind’s eye. This is aided by a melting pot of nicely drawn characters -- a mix of fading aristocrats, bureaucrats, servants and criminals -- and their interactions conditioned by social standing. This is all well framed with respect to byzantine politics and the long history of connections between the two cities. The plot, however, is also somewhat byzantine. It might have been because I was tired when reading, but as the story progressed I became increasingly lost as to logic driving the story and I reached the end without really understanding the denouement. Maybe if I read it again it would become clear, but on first reading the complex weave and twists in the story never fully unravelled to reveal themselves. The result was a tale I enjoyed for the rich portrait of people and places, but where the plot became evermore incidental.


Geek Sublime: Writing Fiction, Coding Software
Geek Sublime: Writing Fiction, Coding Software
by Vikram Chandra
Edition: Paperback
Price: £14.99

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Interesting but uneven, 2 Nov. 2014
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Vikram Chandra has made a living as a programmer and also written award winning literary fiction. In Geek Sublime he reflects on the writing of fiction and code, their points of connection and departure, drawing on his own experiences and the observations of others. In particular, he makes reference to literary theory, especially that relating to Indian texts, languages, philosophy, mythology and poetry, using it to reflect on ideas of the structure, aesthetics, logic, and the work of text as fiction and code. In the main it’s an interesting read, engaging with ideas little used in the consideration of code, but it is a little to uneven in its analysis, and also lopsided in its treatment of fiction and code, with too much attention paid to the former. Indeed, while there is some engagement with literary theory, there is no attention paid to its equivalent of software studies or critical code studies, though there are some references to computer science views of programming. Nor is there any reference to code poetry, the most obvious example of where code and fiction directly interface, or in thinking about code in relation to storytelling, for example in framing and generating the narrative of games or CGI movies. Overall then, an interesting read that introduces a number of new ideas, but is somewhat uneven and limited in its comparison of writing fiction and code.


Night Soldiers
Night Soldiers
by Alan Furst
Edition: Paperback
Price: £7.98

8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars full of intrigue, adventure, friendship and dark encounters, 2 Nov. 2014
This review is from: Night Soldiers (Paperback)
Night Soldiers is the first in Alan Furst’s series of espionage novels that take place in 1930s and 40s Europe. It’s an ambitious book charting the adventures of Khristo Stoianev between 1934 through to 1945, starting with the death of his younger brother, killed by Bulgarian fascists, and his recruitment by a Russian agent. The story then switches to his training by the NKVD in Moscow, followed by a posting in Spain, then flight to pre-war Paris, followed by his war years. Criss-crossing Europe and playing games with soldiers, spies, and others, Khristo lives a life full of incident whilst trying to stay in the shadows. Furst is an excellent storyteller and the narrative is expressive and engaging throughout, and full of historical detail. The characterisation is well realised, with some very nice interactions and points of departure and reconnection across the story. The first half of the tale, up to Khristo’s time in Paris is excellent, being tight in focus and absorbing. The second half, however, is much less convincing, with the storyline becoming stretched and thin in places and the denouement fanciful. The story in the end became too expansive and reliant on unlikely threads and connections. Nonetheless, Night Soldiers is a very good read, full of intrigue, adventure, friendship and dark encounters.


Villain
Villain
by Shuichi Yoshida
Edition: Paperback
Price: £8.99

5.0 out of 5 stars thoughtful and thought-provoking piece of literary crime fiction, 26 Oct. 2014
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This review is from: Villain (Paperback)
Villain is a thoughtful and thought-provoking read that could have easily been titled ‘Victim’, since the two roles are thoroughly entwined in Yoshida’s absorbing tale of the murder of a young insurance sales agent. The great strength of the story is its telling, characterisation, contextualisation, atmosphere and plotting. While keeping the temporal structure linear, Yoshida tells the tale from multiple perspectives using both third and first person voices to detail the relationships between characters and their interactions. It’s a technique that works surprisingly well, I suspect because Yoshida’s narrative has an understated style, avoiding any melodrama, and yet captures the subtleties of emotion and human relations. He does a particularly nice job of detailing the relationships between friends and family members and their petty jealousies, awkward moments, lonely reflections, secret fantasies and encounters. These are nicely contextualised with respect to the social relations of Japanese society. The result is a layered, nuanced and interesting tapestry of views that thorough unsettles and blurs any notion of villain and victim, and a compelling plot that charts the aftermath of the murder and how the case unfolds to a resolution, but never from the perspective of the police. In this sense it’s a kind of police-less procedural. I especially like the denouement that threw up as many questions as it answered, creating closure but leaving the reader pondering the tale. In my view an excellent piece of literary crime fiction.


The Spy Who Changed The World
The Spy Who Changed The World
by Mike Rossiter
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £16.59

2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Well told account of Klaus Fuch's spying, 26 Oct. 2014
Given the importance and scale of the material Klaus Fuchs passed on to the Soviets, Mike Rossiter claims he was the most significant spy of the twentieth century, and The Spy Who Changed The World tells Fuchs story drawing on declassified archive material in Britain, Germany and Russia. It’s a fascinating read, told through an engaging narrative that both maps out Fuch’s activities but also tries to make sense of them. The final chapters covering Fuch’s confession are particularly interesting because they seem so odd, Fuch’s being allowed to continue his work despite being under investigation and the slightly, amateurish comic cat-and-mouse game that was played out with British intelligence services. Rossiter admits that there are holes in the story, but that in some cases they are never likely to be filled due to the lack of documented evidence, and in others the material is still classified. Nevertheless, he’s done a good job of marshalling what material there is providing a nicely told biography.


All God's Children
All God's Children
by Arthur Lyons
Edition: Paperback

0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars run of the mill PI tale, 19 Oct. 2014
This review is from: All God's Children (Paperback)
All God’s Children is a fairly glib affair that felt like a fairly standard episode of the Rockford Files or Columbo -- more small screen than big; more everyday than exceptional -- but with a lead character who lacks warmth, depth and vitality. At the one level, this provides a degree of social realism -- Asch is a fairly ordinary guy working as a private investigator. At another, it took a mix of rich family searching for a runaway child, a cultish commune, and a thuggish motorcycle gang, and made them pretty mundane. Moreover the denouement felt weak. The result was an okay, run-of-the-mill story that lacked sparkle and edge.


Because The Night
Because The Night
Price: £1.99

3.0 out of 5 stars more Marvel comic than traditional police procedural, 12 Oct. 2014
This review is from: Because The Night (Kindle Edition)
Because the Night is the second book in the Lloyd Hopkins trilogy. As with other Ellroy novels the narrative is infused with a dark, vivid intensity, each scene either full of tension or eruptions of graphic violence and populated by strongly defined characters. The style makes for a gripping read, but it this case was off-set by a story line that felt it belonged more in Marvel comic book than police procedural -- mad psychiatrist super-villain versus rogue super-cop. Both cop and villain play loose and fast with other peoples’ lives and both assume that they’ll ultimately triumph and will be able to continue on with their activities despite the fall-out from their tussles. The result was a tale that was vividly told, but that at no time felt credible. Nonetheless, the tale is an engagingly told noir police procedural.


The Great Gatsby (Penguin Modern Classics) by Scott Fitzgerald. F. ( 2000 ) Paperback
The Great Gatsby (Penguin Modern Classics) by Scott Fitzgerald. F. ( 2000 ) Paperback

0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars classic American novel but left me cold, 12 Oct. 2014
The Great Gatsby is considered one of the classic novels of American Literature -- a tragic tale of lost love, hedonism, jealousy, and the quest to live the American dream. For me, it’s one of those novels that seems more satisfying when one has completed reading it, than when working one’s way through the story. I think this is most due to the fact that it’s a slower burner of a tale, with not much happening in the first two thirds as Fitzgerald manoeuvres elements of the story into place for the final denouement. It is only at this point that tale gains resonance as the enigmatic Gatsby and his back story are exposed to view and starts to unwind. And while Fitzgerald’s prose is engaging, with many quotable sentences, the characters are nonetheless shallow and vapid and there is little to like about any of them, though this undoubtedly the point. Overall, a story that some may love for its social commentary on a certain strata of American society and the dream of many to join that class, but which left me cold for the most part.
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Black Rock: An Eddie Dougherty Mystery (Eddie Dougherty Mysteries)
Black Rock: An Eddie Dougherty Mystery (Eddie Dougherty Mysteries)
by John McFetridge
Edition: Paperback
Price: £5.87

2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars great sense of place, good historical detail, and a well constructed tale, 5 Oct. 2014
There’s much to like about Black Rock, a historical police procedural set in Montreal in 1970 -- attention to historical detail, the sense of place, the intersecting story lines, and the characterisation. McFetridge bases the story around two real cases -- the ‘vampire killer’, a serial killer operating in the city, and the Front de libération du Québec (FLQ), a separatist terrorist movement that left hundreds of bombs across the city before moving on to kidnapping two high profile officials -- placing his central character, rookie cop, Eddie Dougherty, on the periphery of both cases. Dougherty is still trying to work out his place in the city, and on the force, both of which are increasingly dominated by Francophones. He’s a regular cop, competent but not exceptional, but since he knows the family of the fourth 'vampire' victim he becomes determined to try and help solve the murders when the investigation is put on the back burner to concentrate on capturing the key members of the FLQ. His problem is he only has one clue to go on, the sighting of a white car with a black top that was seen near to where the latest victim was discovered. It’s a slim lead and he’s not really sure how to pursue it. By focusing on Dougherty and his stuttering, hesitant investigation and not one of the lead investigators of either the murders or FLQ actions, McFetridge stifles the potential tension somewhat, the story simmering along without ever really boiling over, but that’s actually one of the reasons I liked the tale so much. The story focuses on the everyday, mundane policing in exceptional circumstances; on trying to grind out a result with limited resources and experience. Moreover, McFetridge does a great job of placing the reader in Montreal in 1970. The result, is a slice of social realism that I imagine would translate into a great television series.


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