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Alfred J. Kwak

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Blue Hammer, Ross (Lew Archer Novels)
Blue Hammer, Ross (Lew Archer Novels)
by Ross Macdonald
Edition: Paperback
Price: £9.77

4.0 out of 5 stars Both dead men were part of the California fine art scene and linked, 28 Jun. 2015
Lew Archer (ex-police ) is a private detective in San Teresa, California. This 1976 thriller revolves around a missing painting done by an artist who also disappeared, 25 years ago. The action moves forward incrementally in 43 brief chapters highlighting a growing network of past and present fans and former associates of the missing artist. Right after being hired by the owner’s wife to retrieve the painting, Archer faces a murder and a suspicious drowning. Both dead men were part of the California fine art scene and linked, indirectly, with the missing painter. The ramifications are many…
Stylistically, Ross Macdonald is no match for Raymond Chandler (who is?). Plotwise, he is a craftsman infusing the investigation with plenty of dialogue and questioning. His language use is economical. His hero Lew Archer is in his fifties, not alcoholic, not easily frightened or impressed, not averse to female charms, but not looking for a lasting union either. Most of all, Archer thinks and works fast on behalf of his client.
Finally, has it aged well? Modern readers will laugh out loud about a copper tycoon’s palatial 450.000 dollar mansion or the 1976 cost of breakfast at a diner. Otherwise, the answer is yes, because in this digital age many professions like private eye will remain the preserve of human beings, despite Smartphones, CC-TV or other ways of mass surveillance unknown back then. Digital tools cannot replace private investigators completely. Cheaply available advanced technology makes their work easier and more efficient. Real results often come from men on gumshoes, knocking on doors, following up hunches methodically, to access persons able to provide a final breakthrough.

by Michael Dibdin
Edition: Paperback

4.0 out of 5 stars Thatcher era Gothic novel?, 22 Jun. 2015
This review is from: Tryst (Paperback)
This reader daily watches the BBC news from his perch on the continent. It reports almost weekly about Britain’s underperforming and cash-strapped NHS, its waiting lists and being overwhelmed in A&E and emergency psychiatric care by more patients it can cope with. Judging from Michael Dibdin (MD; 1947-2007)’s “The Tryst”, first published in 1989, little has changed and little progress seems to have been made in the 25+ years since.
This slim but searing and exquisitely-worded tale has a lot to say about care, its providers and its beneficiaries in the Thatcher era. MD sculpts and weaves a masterful tale full of dreams, doom and doubt using two characters in particular: unhappy therapist Aileen and good for nothing squatter Steve, aged 17. Approaching the half-way mark, readers (m/f) will know more about Aileen than about Steve, but both lives foreshadow grief and perhaps worse to happen… Gradually, a third character, a reclusive WW I veteran assumes a bigger, but passive role, eventually linking Steve and his squatter family, to Aileen…
Throughout, mental and bodily violence occur in the present as well as the past, which creeps up on the present again, crossing many decades in a truly Gothic atmosphere full of recurring images and symbols. Good read.

Reykjavik Nights: An Inspector Erlendur Novel
Reykjavik Nights: An Inspector Erlendur Novel
by Arnaldur Indridason
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £16.93

4.0 out of 5 stars Second prequel, 16 Jun. 2015
Some fans may deplore the lack of chronology of this series re original date of publication and year of translation. Much of this is the author’s own choice and doing: it enabled Arnaldur to link certain crimes with unique Icelandic historical facts or major incidents and events. An earlier prequel was partly an indictment of Iceland's horrific pre-WW II treatment of TB, introducing series hero Elendur only in its last sentence as a young uniformed cop. Another thriller occured on the margins of the epic Reykjavik chess match between Bobby Fischer and Boris Spassky in 1972. In a later book, Iceland’s unique genetic characteristics and excellent medical and death records attracted new crime forms. By then Elendur had become fat, long divorced and father of two children going nowhere.
In this second prequel, Elendur is 28 again, fit, single, still in uniform and always on nightshifts as a traffic policeman. It is hard to date. One clue re a key national celebration, suggests 1974. A reference to a serialized work in Icelandic by writer duo Sjöwall & Wahlöö, points to 1968 or -69, well before fast food invaded Iceland (where roadside restaurants still served boiled sheep heads and Elendur himself preserved other traditional delicacies in a covered bucket ). I prefer 1968 or -9 as the year this case took place.
This book’s unique Icelandic focus is alcoholism and its rich literature, often dramatising its terrible climate withpeople disappearing as a result, described in prose and verse over centuries. Over time, young Elendur has amassed a collection of works dealing with Iceland’s frosts and blizzards and resultant disappearances. This book will disclose the reason for his interest in the genre…
This is largely a solo police procedural conducted by Elendur during daytime in street clothes into the death by drowning of an alky vagrant called Hannibal. It expands slowly and surely, covering any number of persons or institutions able to provide further information and clues, a feast to follow. Otherwise, expertly plotted with short chapters, occasional Nordic gloom and a few surprises along the way, esp. on the last straight to the finish.

My Father's Book (The Swiss List)
My Father's Book (The Swiss List)
by Urs Widmer
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £14.50

5.0 out of 5 stars Stunning companion volume, 14 Jun. 2015
Early on, there is the anecdote about the constipated nun, whose prayers finally answered, produced enough brick-hard material to build a chapel. More wonderful stories follow.
The intriguing mountain state of Switzerland is better known for discreet banking and precision engineering, creating top pharmaceutical and food companies than for its contributions to the arts. This fantastic brief novel is a companion volume to Urs Widmer (UW; 1938-2014)’s “My mother’s lover” whose sheer imagery in its Italian parts invokes Bertolucci’s movie classic “Novecento” and in which UW’s father was mentioned just once. The omission is richly compensated in this portrait full of strong, colorful prose and ideas and with surprises on almost every page.
In mother Clara’s book, UW tried to dispel the notion of Switzerland being immune to the arts by highlighting its early embrace of modern 20th century classical music. Here, the focus is on his father Karl’s passion for books and literature (and music and the visual arts}. Karl is creative all the time, teaching, translating, organizing events and amassing tons of books and gramophone records. Swiss artists are depicted at best as epigones, elite Swiss as clever early buyers of promising, foreign artists whose works are today the pride of museums worldwide. Father Karl also becomes a Communist and forgets to file his taxes… Time and again, readers already familiar with Clara’s life story, will find new reasons to love this volume.
It all starts with father Karl’s ancient mountain Swiss tribal initiation into manhood at the age of twelve, a fairy tale almost. [Its location and much of its imagery will return many decades later when ancestral duty prescribes that the son makes the arduous foot journey again to collect and carry down the coffin made at his dad’s birth, who died the day before.]
Traumatic Swiss events discussed in Clara’s book are retold, e.g. the bloody general strike of 1918, the crash of 1929, coping creatively with WW II, but differently: we learn, for example, that its writers union asked the authorities--who let in very few asylummseekers-- to forbid aliens to publish anything anywhere
Finally, I confess to have read both volumes in awesomely competent and elegant Dutch translations, which gave them the drive, flow and depth the books deserve. Readers want exceptional big novels to go on forever. I galloped through Clara’s exceptional tale, then held my horses reading about Karl, attending to long-overdue chores every few pages, to make the bliss last longer. Highly recommended.

by Philip Kerr
Edition: Paperback
Price: £7.99

3.0 out of 5 stars Not for me, not now, 6 Jun. 2015
This review is from: Research (Paperback)
A golden rule as reader is to ask myself at page 50, am I curious about what is on the next page and how this book ends? I dismiss “Research” for these reasons. Why? Because of its tone and structure. Narrator and Scotsman Donald Irvine is one of four ghostwriters of a writing ‘atelier’ that has helped make John Houston the world’s bestselling author, with John providing rock-solid, perfectly researched 75-page outlines and the atelier fleshing them out into blockbusters. They were well paid incl. copious royalties until they were all dismissed. Not much later, John’s wife is found shot dead in their Monaco apartment and John is missing along with his Land Cruiser…
As a police procedural, it progresses at snail’s pace because of the narrator’s verbosity. As a chronicle of the publishing industry, it contains real eye openers and many lesser bits compared to e.g. Martin Amis, whose name is dropped repeatedly along with many others. Chatty, opinionated and witty beyond belief about all sorts of things, Kerr slowed, then stalled my appetite for the next 300 pp …
Undoubtedly rich in many respects and probably a joyful excursion from normal duty for the author. Out of respect for his oeuvre, three stars. May return to this book later and even upgrade my vote.

The Complaints
The Complaints
by Ian Rankin
Edition: Paperback
Price: £3.85

4.0 out of 5 stars Debut of a new crime fighter in Edinburgh, 6 Jun. 2015
This review is from: The Complaints (Paperback)
In 19 successful, award-winning, televised books Ian Rankin (IR) let Inspector John Rebus (JR) age and mature like a single malt whisky, then retired him. His new hero has abstained from drink for 5 years, but a few molecules of a single malt poured yards away in the pub reach his nose and make his mouth water. His name is Malcolm Fox (MF), a big lad in his forties, once briefly married, living alone, paying for his ailing father's care in a retirement home and keeping an eye on his alcoholic sister. Despite his appearance, he has earned the nickname "Foxy", because he is clever. He serves with the Internal Affairs (IA) section of a branch of the Edinburgh police.

In real life and in many crime novels the IA section and its staff are deeply loathed by policemen. IA is what the Military Police is for the army. It investigates complaints from within the police and from citizens. They range from parking a police car on a place earmarked for invalids to accusations of corruption and links with criminals. Lee Child has written a series of great books about a former MP called Jack Reacher. But a police procedural written from within IA is rare. Unique?
At the start of the book MF has little time to rejoice about the suspension and possible prosecution of a shifty police inspector living a high life, when he is asked to discretely investigate brigadier Jamie Breck (JB). He is suspected of being part of a child pornography ring run by a policeman in Australia. A day later the body is found of his sister's abusive boy friend. And the investigator of this murder is JB...
Enough has been said. "The Complaints" takes 18 days in February 2009 to introduce the new hero, his problems and his search for solutions. The novel unfurls at the height of Scotland's own banking and credit crisis, with money-laundering project developers pursued by criminal investors who want their money back, lots of abandoned construction projects, bankers treated as pariahs, and Edinburgh traffic in turmoil thanks to a payment dispute with the German contractor of a new tram line.
IR makes a diverse cast of characters work hard to turn "The Complaints" into a memorable read. Readers in the UK have been overwhelmingly positive about his new creation Malcolm Fox. Many hope MF will one day find a reason to bring back John Rebus out of retirement. If not, IR has created the basics of a new star investigator operating from a deeply-hated department. Perhaps too much dialogue and a wee bit too long.

61 Hours: (Jack Reacher 14)
61 Hours: (Jack Reacher 14)
by Lee Child
Edition: Paperback
Price: £5.99

4.0 out of 5 stars Unexpected, deferred ending, 4 Jun. 2015
Jack Reacher was a brilliant MP major until Uncle Sam retired him in a major downsizing campaign. Born on a West Berlin army base, he received his final marching orders on another army base. Since then JR has lived a nomadic life in the US, without livestock or baggage, buying a full set of clothes every 4 days.

This 14th adventure finds him in the ice-cold small town of Bolton, SD. Only John Sandford writing about Minnesota in winter, Martin Cruz Smith in his wintry Soviet/Russian thrillers starring Arkady Renko and Lionel Davidson in his masterpiece "Kolymsky Heights" situated in Siberia, rival LC's horrific account of moving about in South Dakota in extreme winter weather.

On this occasion, Lee Child elevates JR to new heights school-wise, adding more countries to his CV and more feats accomplished on active duty: his secret personal file has 73 separate entries about his efficient execution of duties (in and out of service) and his rare lapses of judgment or overreaction. Otherwise, readers and reviewers love him as the thinking man's action hero: great powers of induction and deduction, physical prowess and "knowing 5 seconds ahead of everyone else what is going on". Simple good manners and his wish to move on also endear him to local law enforcement.

This thriller targets secret buildings from WW II, such as a small brick house in the prairie west of Bolton SD, its entry guarded by a posse of speed-trading bikers on behalf a ruthless crime boss called Plato, from Brazil or Mexico. Truly chilling book with at least three undeserving casualties. However, this was not an open and shut case. Lee Child truly shocked and enraged his fans by ending this tale with a simple sentence: to be continued. [The sequel is called “Worth dyiing for” ].

by Colm Tóibín
Edition: Paperback
Price: £6.74

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars About old Ireland, 3 Jun. 2015
This review is from: Brooklyn (Paperback)
This book has perhaps been written with female readers in mind, rather than men. The author is male and a good writer, because what he has done is full of risks and pitfalls. He portrayed an unemployed Irish girl with a head for figures, her father deceased four years earlier, her three brothers having moved to Birmingham, there being no jobs in SE Ireland in the early 1950s. Thoughts, conventions, fears of what neighbors might think, 1950s brand names and business practices are superbly described.
Living with her mother and elder sister in a state of respectable poverty, Eilis Lacey (EL), is offered the chance of a lifetime by a visiting Irish priest to work in the US, in Brooklyn, NY, in a department store specialized in women's clothing.
Strict Irish conventions delay EL's ability to react to new situations and her own feelings. This becomes clear during her sea voyage to America, at work and the first months in the boardinghouse for single girls of Irish extraction in Brooklyn. Suffering badly from homesickness, the same priest who arranged for her to come here, arranges evening studies for her and involves her in parish Christmas dinners for the poor and invites her to attend fund-raising Friday night dance parties.
Now the book picks up pace. She meets Tony, a very good boy indeed. They plan a life together, but when fate strikes in Ireland. she has to return. And there she meets Jim again, a much-changed person...
Readers must take over and read and enjoy this book and decide, perhaps in book discussion meetings, what prevails, love or responsibility? What about the role of Eilis' mother? And is Eilis a naïve or a bad girl? Highly recommended.

The Reversal
The Reversal
by Michael Connelly
Edition: Paperback

4.0 out of 5 stars Intriguing, 2 Jun. 2015
This review is from: The Reversal (Paperback)
Harry Bosch begins this investigation just four months after losing his ex-wife in Hong Kong. He returned to the US with their daughter, who is successfully integrating in a high school in LA, living with Harry.
This is a legal thriller and a police procedural investigating an case of 24 years earlier when a 12-year old girl was strangled. The killer was convicted on the basis of hairs found in his truck, traces of sperm on her dress and a 13-year old witness, the victim’s older sister. But new DNA techniques show that the long-dead stepfather of the girls was the source of the sperm. Whereupon the killer is released and immediately rearrested to be tried again.
Bosch joins a team composed of his newly-discovered half brother Mickey Haller and Maggie McPherson, Mickey’s no.1 ex-wife and mother of his only daughter, a very competent public prosecutor. An A-team, except that Mickey was tempted or forced somehow to prosecute this case with his ex-wife as his assistant and his half-brother HB as his investigator. Conflicts and irritations are pre-programmed.
This book is quite addictive and readable, but ends with plenty of loose ends. MC simply had too many objectives. Another weakness concerns the inconsistent portrayal of the accused.

Dead Heat
Dead Heat
by Dick Francis
Edition: Paperback
Price: £8.99

5.0 out of 5 stars Thrilling, 2 Jun. 2015
This review is from: Dead Heat (Paperback)
"Dead Heat" is a co-production of Dick Francis and his son Felix, who has been his researcher and agent for decades. Max, a successful restaurateur in Newmarket, a centre of the UK's horse trade, suddenly and inexplicably suffers a series of severe, life-threatening setbacks from outside and within his restaurant and his wider network. Great damage is done to life and property in this book, with Max barely staying one step ahead of his foes and he has no idea who they are.
In the 1970's and 80's Dick Francis's thrillers were hits in NL. The books of this ex-jockey who won 350 races were popular, despite the fact that breeding, training, racing and betting on (saddled) horses was already in decline. Their magic stemmed from two qualities.
First, the plots are about fight-backs by hopelessly compromised single-minded heroes, wrongly accused, never sure whom to trust, always at least badly bruised, more often suffering broken bones or bullet wounds in their quest for full rehabilitation and justice. Like a jockey on a horse in last position, determined to outrun and outwit the rest, finishing first, DF’s heroes always come out on top.
The second quality is that DF's novels are always very well researched, zooming in on all manner of forensic matters and professions. This reminds this reader of John D. McDonald, a sadly-forgotten US author of thrillers starring Travis McGee, a self-styled `salvage consultant`, each of whose novels introduced readers to how certain jobs are really done.
"Dead Heat" is a real thriller and instructive about how to run a restaurant or have a career in a top orchestra. After this masterpiece, Dick Francis and son Felix wrote two more thrillers. Dick Francis passed away in late 2010 at the age of almost 90. His legacy is some 45 superbly researched and written books. Hundreds of people worldwide are proud and happy to own them all. Highly recommended

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