The now customary triliogy (as I used to put it) of InMadrid-aimed book reviews – recorded here for posterity in order of appreciation by me. The last such set for the time being – life is too busy to spend on something so trivial as high literature…
Hypothermia, Arnaldur Indriðason
The apparent suicide of a young woman, still grief-stricken at the death of her mother two years earlier, appears an open-and-shut case. Found hung at the lakeside holiday home she shared with her husband, the same place where her father died decades previously, it seems that the emotionally overwrought academic had simply endured too much; yet, when her best friend contacts the Reykjavík police force with proof of unusual behaviour shortly before the tragedy, Detective Erlendur finds himself compelled to quietly investigate further. Tormented by events from his own past – his failings as a husband and father; two long unsolved missing person cases; the disappearance of his own brother during childhood – Erlendur must confront his own demons while he struggles to uncover what motivated someone to throw their life away. Arnaldur Indriðason has been the best-selling author in Iceland for years and it isn’t hard to see why. There is a lot more here than just criminal investigation. He creates a subdued, darkly authentic world and his morose hero’s journey through it strikes the same empathetic chord as those of Colin Dexter’s Inspector Morse. This is a moving story of flaws and failures; simple, sad and powerful.
The King´s Gold, Arturo Pérez-Reverte
It is refreshing to encounter historical fiction that tells it how it was, not how contemporary correctness tells us it must be remembered. In the 17th Century of Arturo Pérez-Reverte, the Spanish hate the English. They hate other Europeans, Africans and Jews, are actively slaughtering the Flemish and most of the time they hate each other too – and everyone else feels the same way. Striding though this bloodbath comes Captain Alatriste and his plucky sidekick Íñigo, good Toledo steel in hand, charged with defending the interests of their king for a handful of gold, if they survive. All lines are blurred between good men and bad, honour and corruption, love and obsession, duty and murder. Pérez-Reverte paints a vivid picture of a lost Spanish era, but this short novel is more anecdote than epic, a pause for breathless action within a longer journey. He spends as much time mentioning adventures past or those still to come as he does telling the tale at hand, and there are more breaks for period prose than throats slit or trusts betrayed. Still, this is an entertaining romp in a classic style, if not really strong enough to stand alone and carry the day.
Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters, Jane Austen and Ben H. Winters
I have it on sound authority (E. Blackadder III) that, in keeping with a popular marketing strategy of the 1800s, Jane Austen was actually “a huge Yorkshireman with a beard like a rhododendron bush”, merely masquerading as a ladygirl in order to secure a paying readership. Returning from the grave to rerecord his greatest hits, it seems appropriate that Mr. Austin should be teamed up with a string of miniskirted bimbos and his current squeeze can usually be found flouncing about the shoe section under the pen-name Ben H. Winters. Their follow up to the unexpected success that was Pride and Prejudice and Zombies combines those two things most beloved by fans of Emma Thompson: high-waisted gowns and flesh-eating sea mutants, and it is the juxtaposition (or “mash-up” to the SMS crowd) of high lit with wry wit whence entertainment is no doubt meant to spew. There are one-liners, and there are long jokes; now there are three-hundred-and-fifty page one-liners. It is still Jane Austen, more or less, but that joke wears thin fast. Come the end, probably the worst thing you can expect is to feel indifference. And the best? At least it’s an end to the boredom…