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Missionary Stew
Missionary Stew
par Ross Thomas
Edition : Broché
Prix : EUR 15,21

5.0 étoiles sur 5 Pure delight, 23 juillet 2014
Ce commentaire fait référence à cette édition : Missionary Stew (Broché)
This delightful novel has many strengths and no weaknesses and is situated in the Central African Republic (CAR), the US and a fictional Central American dictatorship in and around 1981-2. The main character is Morgan Citron, a travel writer in his forties, who spent 13 months in a jail in CAR and is trying to come to terms with life as a free man. Time and again he is asked the same question about his ordeal: “Was the incumbent emperor/president/chief spear chucker really a cannibal?
Other characters include Draper Haere, an electoral rainmaker with a sideline in direct mail, Morgan’s estranged mother Gladys, a gangster named Byron Shelley Keats and his daughter Velveeta, and Baldwin Veatch, governor-elect of the state of California and his wife Louise, to mention a few. Several plotlines intersect and are woven into a thrilling tale whose outcome is uncertain until the end. The backdrop of all the action and casualties is a secret that could spell mayhem for the incumbent president of the USA and perhaps propel Mr. Veatch into the White House even before the planned elections of 1984…
All characters, including the minor ones, are well drawn and convincing, the dialogue crisp and sometimes funny, the writing smooth, the plots effortlessly paced and full of sudden twists and turns. Ross Thomas has clearly gone the extra mile by endowing each of his characters with a few (not so) endearing personal traits and habits, which lifts the novel far above the usual level of the genre. I found it totally engrossing and was sorry when it ended. I will try to find more of his books. Not long ago I rediscovered John D. McDonald and his series with salvage consultant Trevor McGee. This is a discovery from the same era. Highly recommended.


Pictures from the Water Trade
Pictures from the Water Trade
par John David Morley
Edition : Relié

4.0 étoiles sur 5 Difficult but rewarding book about Tokyo's seedier bars, 18 juillet 2014
Ce commentaire fait référence à cette édition : Pictures from the Water Trade (Relié)
The first person thanked in this debut is Diana Athill, Morley’s editor and a legend at Andre Deutsch, a publisher who launched many literary careers. Today she is 96 years old and if GRANTA is to be believed, still active. This reader suspects that the first draft of Morley’s work was written in the I-form, first person singular as an ego document. And that Ms Athill with the author rewrote it in the he-form, occasionally causing stilted prose and dialogue, but allowing easier inclusion of Morley’s many insights about Japan.
Is this a novel? Much of the book is a painstaking account of a Brit called Boon’s efforts over three years to immerse himself in Japanese culture. His quest for the soul of Japan is helped mightily when 3 months after his arrival and still with poor language skills, he is accidentally taken along on a bar-hopping tour in Tokyo. For him, studying an ancient, rigid and highly- regimented culture and opaque language, this was a breakthrough, a game changer. Alas, in the next 100 or so pages readers are offered lots of very dry fare of (convincing) sociological analyses of Japanese language use, the concept of family, the importance of calligraphy, etc., etc.
The book is saved from this scholarly focus by the chapter entitled ‘Mariko’, which describes Boon becoming besotted by a barmaid. It starts before the middle of the book and the affair takes some 45 pages before Boon realizes it is a hopeless venture.... Whereupon this reader invites other readers to proceed and judge the rest of the book.
This book became a bestseller in Japan. It is perhaps a must for fans of translated Japanese authors like Murakami, Kawabata or Natsuo Kirino. And surely for anyone studying Japanese language and culture. Its main defect for me, novel or not, was my inability to bond with Boon as much as I did with Ransom, an American in Japan, hero of Jay McInerney’s second novel, also published in 1985.


The Deep Blue Goodbye: Introduction by Lee Child: Travis McGee, No. 1
The Deep Blue Goodbye: Introduction by Lee Child: Travis McGee, No. 1
Prix : EUR 3,13

5.0 étoiles sur 5 Wonderful, 24 juin 2014
Apart from working and living among its friendly people, one of the few joys of working in Sudan in the late 1970s and -80, was being a TCM (third country member) of the American Club in Khartoum. I recently spied on it via Google Earth, and yes, its swimming pool is still there, looking clean and filled with water. Its bar was shut in September 1983 when Sharia Law was declared. It organised many events, had good food and best of all, a library full of left- behind books like Gibbon’s three-volume ‘Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire’ but also a wall of crime and spy novels. This how I became a fan of John D. McDonald.
Fact is that when the bar was still in business, I was one of many people who loved his books. Why? I think it is because his series’ character, Travis McGee, a self-styled Salvage Consultant, lives as a free man. On a houseboat-with-engines, always ready to move from Fort Lauderdale to somewhere else. He lives from restoring stolen (rights to) property to their rightful owners. His clients see him as their last chance to obtain justice and agree to what he charges, his expenses plus 50% of the value of what he retrieves.
Travis McGee is not unlike Lee Child’s hero Jack Reacher. He is a loner, big and strong and a nasty fighter. He is highly and cunningly intelligent with good social skills and not a compulsive macho when dealing with women. Is Reacher a clone of Travis? I would say yes, indeed. Another likeable feature is that one learns a lot about scams and odd professions in Florida. Finally, the books are very well paced and written.
This book is the first of the series. It is about the quest for a treasure hidden by a WW II-veteran who died in prison. And how his cellmate upon his release ingratiates himself with the deceased’s family, searching for clues...


The Care of Time
The Care of Time
Prix : EUR 8,68

4.0 étoiles sur 5 Timeless classic, 22 juin 2014
Ce commentaire fait référence à cette édition : The Care of Time (Format Kindle)
The last of 18 thrillers and spy books by Eric Ambler (1909-1998; EA), active in WW II, author of many screenplays and said to have inspired Len Deighton, John Le Carré and Robert Ludlum. Was twice awarded the coveted Golden Dagger for best thriller of the year. His works have recently been reprinted.
This 1981 novel is written in the I-form by the survivor of a spying operation, Robert Halliday (RH). He is a former foreign and war correspondent in the Middle East, now a sought-after ghost writer for the rich and famous. RH is lured into new territory via a bomb threat and a picture of the Mansour Hotel in Baghdad, where he was held years ago for nine months by Iraqi security. The sender of the bomb (it does arrive) and the picture, correctly assumes RH feels he has a score to settle in Iraq.
The book gathers pace very slowly because of all the technicalities raised by RH in the first half. He is asked to write a book based on two manuscripts: a shady MS by a 19th century Russian anarchist, the other still unwritten, dealing with future acts of world-wide terrorism. His source person on this also sent him the bomb and postcard. He is a secretive trader in intelligence called Zander. His and Robert’s life will be in ever present danger: a rich Gulf person or ruler has put a price of USD 20m on Zander’s head to prevent him from disclosing to Robert what he knows… I leave the outcome to readers.
Over time Ambler develops his lead character Robert from a pedantic person obsessed by contract technicalities into a real flesh and blood man.
Ambler has written a timeless novel by not mentioning brand names, types of cars or airplanes. Well-structured and –paced and written in a precise style. Deserves to be read again.


Doors Open (English Edition)
Doors Open (English Edition)
Prix : EUR 6,99

3.0 étoiles sur 5 Intermezzo, 17 juin 2014
Ce commentaire fait référence à cette édition : Doors Open (English Edition) (Format Kindle)
Ian Rankin, Doors Open
Title, Intermezzo
This is a diversion in Rankin’s oeuvre, a crime novel situated in his beloved Edinburgh without Inspector John Rebus. He is absent, resulting in a lighter than usual, carefully-plotted tale in 30+ chapters about an unlikely trio of amateurs planning to commit a perfect crime without victims: stealing masterpieces by Scottish painters from among the National Galleries of Scotland’s vast number of works gathering dust in storage.
The trio consists of a bored, youngish (37) retired software developer, a multimillionaire keen on collecting art, keen on one painting in particular. Next, a soon to retire Head of the Edinburgh College of Art, appalled by museums, banks and other bodies keeping some 90% of their collections hidden from the public eye. The third is a divorced banker wanting to redeem himself in the eyes of his ex and his children for being so boring, hoping to achieve fresh respect, somehow. His role is to assess risks.
When the trio realizes more help is required to bring the plan to fruition, Chib Calloway, uncrowned crime boss in Edinburgh, is enlisted to provide the logistics and extra manpower required… This reader stops here, because from then on lots of dramatic events happen.
Stealing masterpieces is a popular theme in literature and film. A scam/robbery as depicted by Rankin is unrealistic and unlikely to succeed, but his technical skills move the plot on and on. Sadly, many of the actors remain cartoon characters, hard to bond only. Compared with this work the book I read before this one, Julian Barnes early ‘Staring at the Sun’ (1986) was a feast to read with brilliance shining from almost every page. Barnes’ mastery of dialogue and images dwarfs Rankin’s book, which is entertaining at best.
I may have compared apples with pears. I admire the energy invested in writing “Doors Open”, but miss the usual bite.


The Sisters Brothers
The Sisters Brothers
par Patrick deWitt
Edition : Broché
Prix : EUR 7,74

1 internaute sur 1 a trouvé ce commentaire utile :
4.0 étoiles sur 5 Absurdist but attractive novel, 28 mai 2014
Ce commentaire fait référence à cette édition : The Sisters Brothers (Broché)
Much enjoyed Patrick deWitt’s debut “Ablutions” for its being written in the accusative and in second person, a feat rarely done. And for of his graphic powers of description of awful things. Many online reviewers disliked his sly, alcoholic barkeeper hero and gave the book poor marks, which was stupid and unfair, like killing the messenger bringing bad news. TSB is told in a more conventional style by Eli, the younger, fatter, kinder and more generous of the Sisters brothers. Eli does have a temper, which explodes when brother Charlie is in danger. And Patrick deWitt’s talent for graphically describing violence, mishap and decay remains formidable.
Early in this novel situated during the 1850s California gold rush, it emerges that Eli’s older brother Charlie is the leader, Eli the follower. They are feared hired killers, now travelling on horseback from Oregon City to gold-crazy California to kill Hermann Kermit Warm, but not before extracting from him his ‘recipe’ related to extracting gold easier.
Being no expert on Western films or novels, I wondered every 50 pages what this book was really about. Why do the brothers on their slow ride to California kill so many people? Why are their conversations so weird and their ambitions so vague (although Eli saves to open a shop one day). Is it a parody of the Western genre: killing your dad, shooting people in the back, pulling the trigger early in a duel? Most importantly, is there a message, a moral hidden in the book? This reader curiosity was persostent about what was on the next page.
Do the brothers find Mr. Warm? Yes, they do. And that is all this reader gives away.
What defines this book of is the tone of Eli’s writing about his love for and his constant mood changes about his smarter (?), brandy-swigging brother Charlie. Eli’s own thoughts, dialogues with Charlie and the description of their dealings with others are at times wishful, poetic, sentimental, ironic, and in the face of danger and death, solemn. Totally intriguing Western novel.


Dead Air
Dead Air
par Iain Banks
Edition : Broché
Prix : EUR 12,08

3.0 étoiles sur 5 Winter book, 26 mai 2014
Ce commentaire fait référence à cette édition : Dead Air (Broché)
‘Dead air’ is radio talk for unwanted silence when on air. The book’s Scots hero Ken Nott (35) never shuts up. He is a radio DJ, rarely lasting a year in earlier jobs for his controversial take on the world. Now he is a true shock jock upsetting listeners from a London commercial radio station just before and after 9/11, 2001. In the quite cinematic first chapters, Ken emerges as an early detractor of the UK going to war in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Ken’s dialogues with his best Scottish friend Craig, his black club DJ buddy Ed and his producer Phil (on air and in the pub) are quite ok. So are the excerpts from his phone-in late morning radio show reproduced in many chapters. It shows him as what the French call a ‘râleur’, a contrarian moaner about persons, political parties, countries, religions, etc., but also about the perils of riding a bike in London. He likes to be labeled a militant Liberal and has his own wall of fame with framed first complaints, death threats and other negative job-related trophies. Another aspect of his radio career is his being Scottish, which is highlighted off and on air, to some delight to this reader.
What propels the novel forward is his professed love for his three friends and for the real, female kind. Ken was married once and has been quite opportunistic and successful since. Until he meets beautiful Celia, married to a ruthless crime boss, whose many businesses have almost become mainstream… No more from this reader about their affair, which dominates much of the book.
Weaknesses: (1) Iain Banks, not an economical writer by nature or choice, wrote chapters that are way too long for me; (2) Found Ken not someone to bond when as the story progressed, and (3) Banks’ increasing concern with Ken’s thoughts and fears led me to skip paragraphs or read in a FFW-way the more action-packed second half.
Many fantastic bits cannot undo later tedium. Good winter book.


House of the Sleeping Beauties and Other Stories
House of the Sleeping Beauties and Other Stories
par Yasunari Kawabata
Edition : Broché

4.0 étoiles sur 5 Eros, sleep, death, 14 mai 2014
Ce commentaire fait référence à cette édition : House of the Sleeping Beauties and Other Stories (Broché)
Eros, sleep and death
The title story of this collection is a careful, sensual description of the visits old man Enuchi (67) pays to a house where men who are no longer men can spend the night—on appointment and against payment—with a girl who has been artificially put into a comatose sleep. Where in the face of their inevitable demise they can find solace next to a warm, naked body in order to surrender themselves more intensely to their memories from the past, when they were still real men, which crop up ever more frequently these last few years. The main house rules: no alcohol, no penetration.
But old Mr. Enuchi is still in denial. In every chapter he asserts he has not yet lost it and conversing with the lady caretaker (the only dialogues in the story) he gently, slyly probes what other rules, read possibilities there are for him. Each time he visits the house he sleeps beside another girl. Their smells stir up long forgotten images and associations in him. So does what he hears (their breathing, the roaring ocean outside, falling flakes of wet snow on quiet nights). Even what old Mr. Enuchi sees, tastes and feels in the darkened causes a flood of memories, musings and conjectures. The house provides two sleeping pills to its guests, but they do not give Mr. Enuchi the deep sleep of his bedfellows and he is resentful of his suffering bad dreams, visions and nightmares. How should such a story end?
In 1968, Yasunari Kawabata (1899-1972) became the first Japanese to win the Nobel prize for literature. This reader finds this book utterly Japanese. It is full of images from this and the nether world, youth and old age, eros and death, beautifully written and paced, but also full of mystery about the Japanese worldview. Some readers may find some of old Mr. Enuchi’s thoughts and actions occasionally distasteful, even shocking. Given its content, this story is an unlikely choice for reading groups.


The World Is Flat: A Brief History of the Twenty-first Century
The World Is Flat: A Brief History of the Twenty-first Century
par Thomas L. Friedman
Edition : Relié

4.0 étoiles sur 5 Brash but brilliant, 11 mai 2014
Ce commentaire fait référence à cette édition : The World Is Flat: A Brief History of the Twenty-first Century (Relié)
This dynamic and intelligent book about globalisation is mainly based on interviews with key CEOs in the US, India and China was first published in 2005. It has no footnotes or references to academic works. It is cleverly composed and reads at times like a thriller. Good journalism always beats applied science re speed and readability. It will take the science community ages to undo the messages contained in this book, if it feels challenged to do so.
This reviewer acquired the book for 1 Euro on Amsterdam’s flee market. What? Is it book already old hat, obsolete? I think not. Friedman’s wonderful description of 10 main historic events (starting with the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989), which have made the world a more level playing field for entrepreneurs than ever before, takes over 200 pages. This section alone should be, and remain a key resource for students of history, policy makers, journalists and entrepreneurs for long.

In his next chapters Friedman predicted how IT would further revolutionize industry, services and entire nations. Many of his prophesies have come true, esp. in China, but not in his beloved India due to myriad legal, infrastructural and other problems. And both powerhouses also suffer from rather high rates of corruption and capital flight. (Friedman could not investigate Russia and its entrepreneurs, whose murky financial dealings help underpin London’s Square Mile and inflate its real estate market).

How much has it aged? The book’s index shows that some key IT companies have not evolved as predicted: in 2005, Google was still small and unlisted. There is no mention of Facebook, Twitter or other key players. Apple had invented the I-Pad, but the I-Phone came later. Skype is mentioned once. Instead, Friedman's text is still full of Firefox, an only recently recovering internet provider. Another unforeseen development is the success in Kenya of banking by telephone, a model for the rest of the world. Real experts can add to the list. But it remains a timely, important and well-written book.


Nocturnes
Nocturnes
par Kazuo Ishiguro
Edition : Broché
Prix : EUR 10,90

3.0 étoiles sur 5 Chatty collection without much passion or thrill, 8 mai 2014
Ce commentaire fait référence à cette édition : Nocturnes (Broché)
This collection of five stories was my introduction to this author, who is reputedly a long distance type, not a sprinter. These stories aim to create stand-alone literary middle- distance works of art. The stories were either written in the early 1990s or more recently, avoiding all mention of modern media or other tell-tale external events. Music is the link between the stories and perhaps also love and the passing of time, as the back cover says.
This reader long hoped the opening story “Crooner”, situated in Venice, would follow in the footsteps of Ian McEwen and Susan Hill, who both contrived in their novels to kill the male spouse of a newly-wed couple there. The story’s object, legendary singer Tony Gardner and his wife Lindy survived their honeymoon in Venice 27 years ago. But during their anniversary, celebrating their deep love and planned career-boosting divorce, no attempt on Tony’s life is made. (Lindy reappears in another story).
I found this collection disappointing for such a successful novelist. Each story is told by a very chatty person in first person singular. Not all are musicians, but all are in various degrees floundering in life and career and are annoyingly ingratiating to whoever they deal with. Time and again I skipped paragraphs and pages to help the end come nearer, without missing anything essential, it seems. And the stories do not lead to startling endings either. Despite his promising choice of narrators, some clever word play between stories and superb writing skills, Kazuo Ishiguro’s collection remains rather bland and longish.


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