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Alfred J. Kwak

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Captain Nemo's Library
Captain Nemo's Library
by Per Olov Enquist
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £12.95

1.0 out of 5 stars Unreadable, 20 July 2016
This review is from: Captain Nemo's Library (Hardcover)
Am a great fan of Nordic writers and have reviewed many works by Sjowall & Wahloo, Mankell and Idriadison. Snapped up this book in pristine hardcover condition at a market stall for < 1 euro. Began to read, thumbed forward to other sections, then consulted different Amazon sites. No reviews there. Why? Because it is unreadable from start to finish. It is impenetrable and autistic right from the beginning and it does not improve later on. First time for me to award 1 star.


Sarah's Key
Sarah's Key
by Tatiana De Rosnay
Edition: Paperback
Price: £8.99

5.0 out of 5 stars Stunning, 20 July 2016
This review is from: Sarah's Key (Paperback)
Sarah’s Key
Title, Timely masterpiece full of emotion
It is quite fitting that this novel starts with a quotation from Irene Nemirovsky’s stunningly disquieting “Suite francaise” about the French army’s cowardice in 1940 and the nation’s widespread apathy, indifference and collaboration later on, esp. regarding its Jews. “Sarah’s Key” is a work of fiction based on facts: 76.000 French Jews were deported and never returned. The Nazi occupiers delegated much of the work to collaborating French authorities. French police played a key role, as did French concierges, bus and train drivers.
The story itself is a particularly dramatic case study and begins with a massive cliff-hanger that runs until halfway into the story. Events in 1942 are italicised, present-time events not, in brief chapters that converge beautifully. The other half concentrates on Julia, the novel’s US-born hero and her quest for more details about the drama that took place in 1942 in the Parisian apartment that came into her French in-law family’s possession soon after a dawn razzia in July 1942. Her reconstruction of events is plausible, but contains one seriously implausible fact or gap that even a seasoned author like Tatiana de Rosnay failed to solve or cover up. Attentive readers will spot it.
Otherwise, it is clearly a book targeting woman readers and female worries and concerns. It tries to bond with working women on both sides of the Atlantic and shuns few clichés re perfumes, sights and sounds of Paris and New York and its males.
Bought my home in Amsterdam in 1985. Until 1942, its neighbourhood was 66% Jewish. In the Netherlands 102.000 Jews were deported, much along the lines described above. I recently agreed to stick a poster with the personalia of the Jewish family who until the summer of 1942 owned or rented my home, to my front window on 4 May, the annual day to commemorate our war dead, for every passerby to see: they are Leizer Sonnenberg (b. Lancut, 8 July 1894), wife Dina Steiner: b. Rzeszow, 16 July 1900 and their children Rachela (1937), Lea (1930) and Toni (1924). Toni was born in Duisburg, Germany, his sisters in Amsterdam. The mother and children were all murdered in Auschwitz on 7 September 1942, most likely upon arrival. The father was killed on 11 February 1944. Michel and Sarah are well described and will be remembered. Please, say a little prayer too for Leizer, Dina and their kids.


A Way in the World: A Sequence
A Way in the World: A Sequence
by V. S. Naipaul
Edition: Paperback
Price: £8.99

4.0 out of 5 stars Ultra-rich & hard to summerize, 17 July 2016
This novel retraces in a unique fashion the settlement history of Trinidad, starting with the aboriginal Caribs and Arawaks, but not chronologically. On top of describing Spanish- and British-led immigration of waves of black African slaves (and contract workers from the Indian subcontinent), VS Naipaul (VSN ) also discusses the fate of a few great-grandsons and -daughters who later escaped Trinidad to pursue a life elsewhere, like senior clerk Blair and the author himself.
Written aged 61 and first published in 1994, VSN reassesses the hopes, ambitions and mistakes of his early writing years. It produces a highly personal book written with zest and great enthusiasm, occasionally a bit shady, opinionated or nasty. It contains nine interdependent stories about Trinidad against the backdrop of the author’s own development in life. VSN has always been an acute observer of the impact of race on human relations. Every one of the stories deals with race and each of them is rich enough to deserve a review of its own.
This sprawling collection is beautifully written, at times overwritten because VSN is unstoppable when he gets going. Many of the stories refer vaguely to his earlier published works, but 3/9 stories are prototypes for books he never wrote. Are they more thrilling than the rest? The middle one is boring. They occupy lots of space and frustrate the flow VSN may have intended. Much of the book reads like true history, personal, Caribbean and African (Benin, Uganda). He presents four (4) key persons who helped shape his worldview and he gives them colourful biographies. Sir Walter Raleigh and the Venezuelan revolutionary Miranda are real, rather shifty historic characters, meticulously researched in archives and books. English author/advisor Foster Morris and peripatetic Caribbean revolutionary Lebrun are constructs, fruits of VSN’s imagination.
Does it matter? It is poetic license and why this work is advertised as a novel. Does it have flow and is it a pleasant read? No. It is super-rich in content, strange characters, dialogues, writing styles and descriptions of landscapes and weather, but unbalanced re lengths of chapters. Its longest—about Trinidad < ten years after Britain chased out the Spaniards—depicts the worst traits of Empire: penury, corruption, impunity, and intrigue and conspiracy from aristocratic French slave-owners exiled by the French Revolution, then from a slave uprising in Haiti. Perhaps its best and most disturbing chapter.
Found this a true challenge to review in so few words.


Passenger 23: An Audible Original Drama
Passenger 23: An Audible Original Drama
Offered by Audible Ltd

4.0 out of 5 stars Scary and quasi-challenging a wordlwide industry, 5 July 2016
Fitzek’s scary novels deal with psychopaths long able to disguise their true nature. They are exceptionally well- plotted -paced, -researched and –written, and situated in Germany. This thriller starts in Berlin and quickly turns very international, to a mega cruise liner plying the oceans with many thousands of passengers and crew. With no law enforcement on board, but with lots of underpaid workers, carefully-operating thieves and other nasty guests, what other crimes can be perpetrated with impunity in international waters beyond the reach of mobile phones?
Read this and shiver.
This book’s hero is Martin Schwartz, a deeply-distressed Berlin undercover police detective whose wife and son disappeared five years earlier during a cruise on the ‘Sultan of the Seas’. Ever since, he is prepared to take risks well beyond standard German police protocols. When he receives an urgent call for help, he deserts his job without notice, flies out and books himself on board the very same mega cruise ship in Southampton, with New York as its destination.
Its relentless pace, constant (sub-)plot twists and brief chapters with cliff hangers will delight lovers of fear and horror, some quite disturbing indeed. Otherwise, I found the book’s characters unconvincing, alone or interacting; found it hard to bond with any of them. However, its background is superbly-realistic, based on websites following the cruise industry and law firms that thrive on its mistakes and mishaps. [Its content and fear of lawsuits may have scared EN language publishers from bringing out a paper version. I read it in book form in Dutch translation].
Fitzek’s imagination is boundless, his writing is inspired and rich, his discipline is iron and his helpers many, as always acknowledged and thanked in his trademark ebullient fashion.


The Fourth Deadly Sin (The Edward X. Delaney Series)
The Fourth Deadly Sin (The Edward X. Delaney Series)
Price: £5.62

5.0 out of 5 stars Totally convincing, 1 July 2016
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
One Friday afternoon, a New York psychiatrist tells his psychologist wife to drive ahead to their weekend home, having a late appointment and joining her later in his own car. He never arrives, never even sets off: instead he is found dead in his office, killed with a hammer.
With four or five homicides a day, New York in the mid-1980s was far more violent than today, with the NYPD short of funding, struggling to create a more diverse force. Constant internal political infighting and outside interference prompted Edward X Delaney (EXD) to take early retirement. He is LS’ best ever book character, methodical, compassionate and a judge of character, consuming his creative sandwiches bent over the sink. In this book he is recalled to the NYPD as a consultant to prop up this sensitive murder investigation that was poorly conducted from the start and career-threatening for some senior police grandees.
EXD assembles a task force of two men he trusts, then six more men and women detectives to investigate the six likeliest clients prone to violence, according to the widow. Here I stop and hope today’s new readers will enjoy thrillers written before the age of mobile phones and internet. Excellent plot, some amazing detection and surveillance techniques, believable characters, authentic background and lots and lots of donkeywork. How to do a jigsaw puzzle? First find the four corner pieces, then sort out all pieces with a straight side to make a frame. Use the rest to fill it up. Says Edward X Delaney.
Possibly Lawrence Sanders’ best police procedural.


The Eighth Commandment (The Commandment Series)
The Eighth Commandment (The Commandment Series)
Price: £6.71

4.0 out of 5 stars Great entertainment, 27 Jun. 2016
Delightful hunt for an ancient Greek coin worth perhaps 350.000 USD in 1988. Due for auction, it vanishes. Who to blame? Mary Lou aka Dunk, because she signed for it when it arrived in its box at the Manhattan auction house where she is the numismatic expert. The box was empty and Dunk is suspended without pay... To clear her name she starts an investigation alongside NYPD detective Al and insurance fraud ace Jack.
Have never read chick lit novels, but if this is an example, the genre has a future. It is very well written from the self-deprecating perspective of a determined beanstalk (six-two) formerly of Des Moines, Iowa, who is keen on telling her story, incl. what she wore of ate at many occasions. So does Jack Reacher, so what? But unlike him, she is quite forthcoming with brandnames too. Well-paced with 9 page chapters, this entertaining crime story puts many people on edge, resulting in three murders. Some strong characterization but Dunk herself is the book’s principal asset.


Tales of the Wolf
Tales of the Wolf
by Lawrence Sanders
Edition: Hardcover

4.0 out of 5 stars Thrilling tales of a dirty-minded investigator, 23 Jun. 2016
This review is from: Tales of the Wolf (Hardcover)
This early (1968) work by Lawrence Sanders is a collection of insurance fraud cases investigated and solved by Wolf Lannihan, hard-drinking, smart and always armed. He works out of the Manhattan office of Triple I, a company headed by a retired USMC lt. general to which insurance companies turn when faced with large claims that do not appear entirely kosher, but cannot be invalidated by their own experts. Sanders had impressive forebears like Raymond Chandler, whose influence is clear, and unfortunately, Mickey Spillane, hugely popular in the 1950s, forgotten today.
Lawrence Sanders confirmed his writing talent again and again In later police procedurals and crime novels that sold tens of millions of copies. These stories/cases are well paced and expertly written. There is smart thinking, plenty of legwork, benefits gained from mainframe computers and statistics, lots of violence and intimations of sex. The tales of the wolf are perfect entertainment and good teaching material for aspirant claims investigators. Perfect early work? Perhaps. Why? Because in this day and age, one aspect of Wolfie back in 1968 is unacceptable: he leers at women and worse, touches them when possible and hello, they responded then and there as they never would today, in the office, homes, hotel rooms. Choose your own word for someone like him.
My paperback copy stems from 1988. Only a dumb publisher would reprint this book again without some editing or a cautioning foreword explaining that works of fiction reflect the age in which they were created.

PS: Lawrence Sanders (1920-98) disowned this book later. My 1986 copy of “The Fourth Deadly Sin” lists “The Anderson Tapes” (1968) as his debut. Wikipedia says the year was 1970 and ignored this title.


Chronicler Of The Winds
Chronicler Of The Winds
by Henning Mankell
Edition: Paperback
Price: £8.99

5.0 out of 5 stars Living on the World's Edge, 21 Jun. 2016
This novel was written well before Henning Mankell (HM) became a brandname, reaching worldwide fame with his Wallander police procedurals, later filmed and marketed by Swedish and British producers, sometimes based on scripts blessed rather than written by HM. The original ten or so Wallander novels are uneven re quality; what he published beyond the series was not always brilliant either. I disliked some of them, but love this book.
HM was long closely associated with the national theater of Maputo, Mozambique, whose roof, in this tale, is the deathbed of Nelio (10), shot in the chest twice. During his final nine days he tells his lifestory to the man who saved him, a baker since his sixth, who learned to read only at age 15. What Nelio tells him is this novel’s substance: the spirits of one’s ancestors are aware of one’s earthly crimes and failings, and are ready to punish you once you join them.
HM created Nelio to embody the terror of simple country folks fleeing from their so-their called liberators, who kill and maim, ordering children to kill their siblings or friends, to survive, who susvive as diplaced and street children in a chaotic post-colonial city. Very rich in evoking the spiritual world, the brutishly short lives of street children and their take on the secure and settled. Intriguing cast of characters and told in the best African story-telling tradition. Full of magic.


Vanishing Games
Vanishing Games
by Roger Hobbs
Edition: Paperback
Price: £3.85

4.0 out of 5 stars Perfect beach-side thriller, 14 Jun. 2016
This review is from: Vanishing Games (Paperback)
Quite enjoyable page-turner and sequel to “Ghostman”, which I have not read. It is situated around Hong Kong and Macao with frequent flashbacks to other continents and heists: Jack and Angela parted ways six years ago after a failed high-end criminal robbery in Kuala Lumpur. Both are/were ‘ghostmen’ with multiple identities, untraceable, using military-style electronic tools to communicate, detect and evade on behalf of rich and powerful clients. When Angela sends a distress signal, Jack rushes to Macao, where life has become rather hectic for Angela: she received the head of her team leader in a cardboard box along with a message and deadline...
Perfectly-paced and -researched, this is a mid-Atlantic thriller re euros and dollars, pounds and kilos, full of criminal tradecraft, thieves’ language and paranoia. This reader cannot assess how believable this novel’s copious background data are. Written better than others in this genre, with 10-page chapters full of cliffhangers, it is perfect holiday reading.


The Old Boys
The Old Boys
by William Trevor
Edition: Paperback
Price: £8.99

5.0 out of 5 stars The mischief of seniors, 12 Jun. 2016
This review is from: The Old Boys (Paperback)
Read two John Le Carre thrillers situated in minor public schools, but most modern UK authors seem to have attended alternative school types. Found this re-issue of a 1965 novel an eye-opener about the English public school system and its lasting effects on the psyche of boys spending five years there, subject to fagging (serving pupils two years ahead), caning and all manner of intimidation and hardship. For centuries it has produced future UK top politicians, academics and entrepreneurs, but also victims, pupils forever cowed by the experience.
WT’s wonderfully -intriguing novel focuses on alumnae of a 500 year-old institution. Its key values are laid out in the first chapter by its late, legendary housemaster HL Dowse and his best enforcer and lifelong advocate of his philosophy, Mr. Jaraby, who aged 72, hopes to become the next President of the Committee governing the Association of Old Boys. WT closely follows the other Committee men during a sweltering summer in short chapters: Mr.Turtle, Mr.Cridley, Mr.Sole, Mr. Nox and others.
WT writes that middle age is frightful, having to worry about one’s children and aging parents. Once turned early 70’s, men are more carefree, but still harbouring hopes and ambitions, small in some, substantial in others... A pleasure to read, written in terse and exact, understated middle class English, it describes the mindsets of 70-72 year olds in an English setting and reminded me occasionally of Georges Simenon’s “The Cat” (1967) and John Banville.


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