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Alfred J. Kwak

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The Day the Leader Was Killed
The Day the Leader Was Killed
Prix : EUR 9,08

5.0 étoiles sur 5 A classic, 27 novembre 2015
Ce commentaire fait référence à cette édition : The Day the Leader Was Killed (Format Kindle)
Powerful novella with brief chapters about a love tragedy in Cairo, Egypt, with significant political and religious undercurrents. It all ends in September 1981, the country groaning under the effects of years of economic liberalization and a retreating state. The already privileged, the well-connected and the ruthless grow fabulously rich, many millions on fixed salaries lose out despite working second jobs. They fail to outperform inflation. The novella is primarily about Elwan and Randa, who grew up together with their families’ apartments one on top of the other. They have been in love and engaged for 11 years, even share the same employer. Now that they are both 26, they cannot afford to marry. They have only kissed.
Their sad predicament affects everyone in their close circle of family and colleagues, incl. Elwan’s grandfather, who is fond of him and tries to lift his spirits with wisdoms drawn from the Book. The now devout octogenarian— living in with his son & his wife and grandson, passing his remaining days watching soaps on TV and reading the Book—is also keenly aware that Elwan and his parents live harsher lives in less hopeful times than he himself: when young, there was little opprobrium to fulfilling one’s natural desires, letting go, partying, drinking, consorting with generous prostitutes (all sins to be atoned for in later life). It was also easier to find affordable housing and marry young. Grandfather is a Sufi Muslim and would love to be able to perform miracles for Elwan and everyone like him. Aware of his spiritual limits, he increasingly welcomes the coming of the angel the Almighty sends to collect His every creation’s soul.
One character pronounces solemnly that Egypt in 1981 truly hit rock bottom, it cannot get any worse. What a prophecy! During a recently-decreed National Holiday, live on TV, Elwan’s frustration and fury finally explode. Then, nation-wide, TV-screens go dark, then the sounds of military march music, then chants from the Book…

African Trio: Talatala- Tropic Moon- Aboard the Aquitaine
African Trio: Talatala- Tropic Moon- Aboard the Aquitaine
par Simenon Georges
Edition : Relié

4.0 étoiles sur 5 Colonial-era thriller, 25 novembre 2015
Ce commentaire fait référence à cette édition : African Trio: Talatala- Tropic Moon- Aboard the Aquitaine (Relié)
[This review concerns only “Aboard the Aquitaine”, FR title “45 degrées à l’ombre”/”45 degrees in the shade”]
Eventful 1936 novel about a lost era of ships plying fixed routes with mail, cargo and different classes of passengers, between half a dozen European powers and their colonies in Asia, Africa and the Caribbean. The long outward voyage by officials, entrepreneurs, adventurers, etc and the return trip highlighting the career men and/or their student-age children, the fabulously rich, the failed and the crazy, has spawned a rich literary genre, not only in Europe: “The Cat’s Table” (2011) by Canadian author Michael Ondaatje is a recent addition.
Here, Georges Simenon describes the return voyage of SS Aquitaine (25.000 MT) to its home port Bordeaux. On its first leg it damaged in Dakar, Senegal its propeller. Leaving its final destination Matadi, Congo, rocks hidden beneath the swirling rapids of the Congo River rip apart one of its ballast tanks, causing the ship to list. In another minor FR colonial port of call, it takes on board 300 ‘Annamese’ contract workers returning to Vietnam via France. Kept separate, they cook, fight and gamble on their deck and hold. Soon, one of them dies. Was it dysentery or worse, yellow fever? The man describing everything is Dr. Donadieu (“gift to God”), the ship’s doctor. He is about 40, passive, but with an all-seeing eye and understanding. He has seen it all before, never disembarks during stops, soothes himself at night with opium. Once again, he sees how the suffocating, endless heat will prompt the first class passengers to excess drinking, irritations, minor incidents turning bad, and wives behaving out of character…
Donadieu often contemplates the concept of Fate. Is everyone really predestined or do some individuals escape certain doom? After all, most people are eaten, only a few thrive by eating others. When young Huret, his distraught wife and moribund baby board ship, he spotted in Huret a soul marked for disaster, a man he decides to follow and possibly, like God himself, to save… Otherwise, spot-on re context and characters like the horrible colonist Lachaux, glib purser Neuville and various women. Another Vietnamese dies, then another. Will the underpowered, listing ship survive the Bay of Biscay’s high waves and will every first class passenger live to endure this ordeal?
Short psychological novel, addictive as opium, good finish, not to be missed!

Dirty Snow
Dirty Snow
par Georges Simenon
Edition : Broché
Prix : EUR 14,19

5.0 étoiles sur 5 Horrific, nihilistic masterpiece, 19 novembre 2015
Ce commentaire fait référence à cette édition : Dirty Snow (Broché)
In perhaps his longest novel full of stark, chilling contrasts, Georges Simenon (GS) composed a near-total evil person in the form of Frank (almost 19), son of brothel keeper Lotte. He already dominates her, provides her with fresh girls and drinks and deals with criminals profiteering from a war economy. Its venue is France under German occupation during the harsh winter of 1944-5. Given the many German names, the region is Alsace-Lorraine, the town Mulhouse or Strasbourg. Readers will be startled by the depth of collaboration and its perks as opposed to the general lack of food, clothing, heating and comfort of the Others.
Part 1, ‘Timo’s Customers’ deals with Frank’s background, his warm circumstances and associates and his two first murders. And his fixation re his opposite neighbor Holst and his daughter Sissy (16). Holst drives a streetcar/tram, but looks as someone who led a more exalted life earlier. Frank made him a near-witness of his first murder. Warmly-dressed and well-fed from Lotte’s brothel and the bars and closed clubs he frequents, Frank wonders what is inside Holst’s lunch box and the man’s mind, and what occupies Sissy during his absence...
Part 2, ‘Sissy’s Father’ and Part 3, ‘The Woman at the Window’, describe the aftermath of what happened to Sissy, who had a secret crush on Frank. Stupidly, she had hopes and faith in him, but Frank had other plans for her… This reviewer will read on, but leaves further conclusions to other readers. Why? Because of its nihilistic, disturbing content. Deep distress is described either very explicitly or kept vague. Much earlier, I found J.M. Coetzee’s “Disgrace” so morally shocking that I abandoned it after its terrible Part One. This is a shocker too, said to be more of a manifest of existentialism than JP Sartre’s novels and a resounding reply to Camus’ 1942 novel ”The Stranger” about a killer without motive.
The internet offers many more reviews of this terrible masterpiece. My US edition also has a perceptive afterword and some curious, telling observations in GS’s profile. Surely, one of GS’ deepest, most devastating psychological novels,

A Spy by Nature
A Spy by Nature
par Charles Cumming
Edition : Broché

3.0 étoiles sur 5 Too much psychology, 15 novembre 2015
Ce commentaire fait référence à cette édition : A Spy by Nature (Broché)
Much acclaimed 2001 debut novel situated mainly in London during 1995-7. A blurb from 'The Mail on Sunday' on my paperback's cover likens it to John Le Carré's early novels. How so? Reading on and on right to the end, 511 pages later, this reader concludes that CC is a splendid writer indeed, but that 'The Mail''''s comparison is dead wrong. Readers will glean plenty more insight about what is at stake from the book's abstracts and other reader comments'
The book is quite unlike early JLC, who never wrote so many pages, in the I-form, about a scheming, chatty, ambitious, self-conscious, insecure and opinionated proto-spy such as Alec Milius here. In addition, everything Milius says or does is immediately followed by him commenting or explaining why he acted as such, adding easily 150-200 pages to the narrative, slowing everything down, making for overlong, sometimes tedious chapters. JLC also never mentioned infamous spies by name, nor made chance remarks on e.g. ongoing elections, political parties, politicians, the NHS, phone bills, landlords with foreign names or call the French or the EU names that cannot repeated here. Such opinionated padding makes books rapidly appear dated, although the state of the NHS appears unchanged, twenty years later.
The basic plot is quite good and style wise there is nothing wrong. The book just suffers from too much self love of the author projected onto his main protagonist. However, if 'A Spy by Nature' is meant to show deep professional incompetence, its message has come across loud and clear.

The Cat
The Cat
par Simenon
Edition : Poche

5.0 étoiles sur 5 Masterpiece, 9 novembre 2015
Ce commentaire fait référence à cette édition : The Cat (Poche)
The less said the better for fresh readers, because this is a fantastic account of the cold war between Emile and Marguerite. They are 73 and 71 when the book starts and have not spoken for years. They communicate and pester each other in writing and follow each other’s every emotion and movement closely. Emile married her after his retirement at 65 and moved in with her. Both had recently lost a spouse, are childless and financially secure. So what could go wrong? And why do they do they stay together, sleep in the same bedroom like Siamese twins, when early on, things turn sour and deteriorate further. After all, they knew beforehand they differed re class and temperament. What kicks off this drama is Emile’s bringing his cat Joseph along. And everything is told from Emile’s perspective…
Stupendous novel written in 1966 when Simenon was 63, and the best of the 12+ GS novels (only 2 Maigrets) I’ve read so far. Conclusions about GS so far? He may well—as experts say-- have written his best novels in the 1950s. GS used flashbacks expertly during his most productive years (early 1930s) and has gradually perfected the technique to dizzying heights in “The Cat”. This reader is less sure about another expert opinion, that GS focuses more on emotions than on events. Events do shape emotions, but in this book about an elderly couple, long-lost memories and anxious dreams do erupt, raise their ugly heads, becoming Events, clouding and confusing aging minds. Technically, plot wise, and emotionally a brilliant novel, not to be missed. Highly recommended.

Mr Hire's Engagement
Mr Hire's Engagement
par Georges Simenon
Edition : Broché
Prix : EUR 10,33

3.0 étoiles sur 5 The voyeur and the milkmaid, 6 novembre 2015
Ce commentaire fait référence à cette édition : Mr Hire's Engagement (Broché)
Early on in this somewhat disappointing 1933 ‘roman dur’ there is talk of a murdered and robbed prostitute in a Paris suburb. It slowly emerges that Mr. Hire, who is the focus of the book, is the prime subject. Does he know? He is a lonely man whose daily routines rarely change. He runs a mild form of postal fraud and entertains passive, rather infantile dreams about love. He lives in a single room apartment in a poorly-constructed tenement managed by a nosy female concierge. His window faces the bedroom of luscious Alice who undresses with the lights on. Whilst the first 5 chapters concentrate on his inability to communicate with The Others, the next chapters give Mr. Hire more background, depth perhaps. It transpires during a rare face to face with Alice that he knows who killed the prostitute and where the evidence is hidden…
Throughout the novel he is under surveillance, which he shakes off more than once. This is classic Simenon behavior: where you and I would wait out the storm or inform the police, not Mr. Hire. He panics and gradually inflicts tragedy on himself. But questions remain: why should a quaint appearance or background (he is short and fattish, half Jewish /half Armenian) inspire instant hostility in strangers or suspicion, hatred and worse from neighbors? Lots of symbolism re weather and colors (grey squares vs. pink and red) and plenty of clues and red herrings. Strong on expressing loneliness via the sounds in the building.
Written in fifth gear in 15 days max., perhaps this one in five, because GS could produce 60-70 pp. per day at the time, this reader cannot fathom what he had in mind with this weird tale, what his message could possibly be. Unless the novel’s moral is never to trust a milkmaid or girls called Alice.

Make Me: (Jack Reacher 20)
Make Me: (Jack Reacher 20)
Prix : EUR 6,50

4.0 étoiles sur 5 Compelling, intriguing, slightly worrying, 4 novembre 2015
Ce commentaire fait référence à cette édition : Make Me: (Jack Reacher 20) (Format Kindle)
Murderously eventful and intelligently composed 20th adventure of action hero Jack Reacher (JR), a former ‘downsized’ MP major without fixed abode, who has been discovering his fatherland for the past 13 years. Sublimely written, but what it really is about remains a mystery until the final pages. A book like an onion, with many layers. Therefore, lots of travel within the US.
A minor distraction is enough for JR to assume care of private eye Michelle Chang (ex-FBI) searching for a colleague, also ex-FBI. She looks for him in a small Oklahoma agro center called ‘Mother’s Rest’, where JR stepped off the train, intrigued because of its name. They cannot find him. Instead, they clash repeatedly with some of the locals who want them gone. What follows next is for readers to savor. After all, for fans, a new Jack Reader adventure is a joy to enjoy privately.
Re technical and security matters, two issues gradually raise their ugly heads: the deep internet and the role of workers in telecom companies. In Europe (from where I write), telecoms were state monopolies whose workers were thoroughly vetted before and during their employment for reliability re national security. After decades of privatizations worldwide, today’s telecom staff appears more vulnerable to indiscretion than ever. Heroes of other US crime writers always had their own private contacts within telecom outfits, but never as blatantly mercenary, corrupt and cash-based as in this book. If they can be so easily bought by JR and Michelle’s cash, what about crime syndicates, terrorists and other routine users of throwaway mobile phones? Lee Child’s picture of the Deep Web is unsettling in more than one respect. It exists, no doubt, full of evil content and impossible to reach for simple human beings. Why? Read this book.
Fortunately, Reacher’s reptile brain still forewarns the rest of his mind, instantly whirring its best logical outcome to his body to turn into a machine producing lightning feats of incapacitating or terminal violence, described in slow motion. As always, quite entertaining, but with one proviso. I find ’Mother’s Rest’ more reminiscent of an abstract Mondrian painting full of yellow with a few thin blue and black lines, crossing at right angles, than any farming region or community I’ve seen or read about. A community of ten? And a massive train stopping twice a day without letting passengers off or on, is straight from some SF novel or movie.

par G. Simenon
Edition : Broché

5.0 étoiles sur 5 Perfect Simenon, 31 octobre 2015
Ce commentaire fait référence à cette édition : THE FUGITIVE (Broché)
Not sure whether or not "The Fugitive" and "The Disintegration of JPG", both from 1936, are the same books. Please advise if yes or no.
In his psychological novels Georges Simenon (GS) regularly created characters leading normal lives, then becoming totally unsettled by a chance occurrence or drama, unleashing all manner of high drama and emotion. Experts agree that in GS’ novels emotions and feelings always take precedence over action, which often consist of flash backs. E.g. in “The Blue Room” (1964) readers (m/f) are left ignorant about what happened to the dead spouses of the adulterous couple, with GS highlighting the swarm of emotions of the male suspect.
Something akin happens in this novel to a teacher of German in the fishing town of La Rochelle. His pupils call him JPG, his initials. He is stiff and stolid, married for 18 years with Jeanne, two children, home owner and a man with fixed routines like walking to work to stay fit. One morning he spots a woman he knew in his early past, starting in 1905. The chance event shakes him deeply and in the next few days he crumbles, disintegrates as the person his family, his school and his town knew. Whilst the accused in “The Blue Room” appeared unwilling to put up a fight to prove his innocence, a mentally upset JPG chooses for flight rather than fight…
Do GS’s novels ever end well? Its original French title is “The Fugitive”. A quite thrilling record of old, almost completely- suppressed traumatic events and the explosion of near-madness triggered by a chance observation some 30 years later. As always, composed with plenty of intriguing key flash backs, zooming in on the powers of memory and how it can stun even the most deceitful person into madness. Rich in local smells and atmosphere and no doubt written in 15 days, GS’ self-imposed deadline.

Girl With a Squint
Girl With a Squint
par Georges Simenon
Edition : Relié

3.0 étoiles sur 5 Unconvincing, 23 octobre 2015
Ce commentaire fait référence à cette édition : Girl With a Squint (Relié)
Psychological novel from 1951 about Sylvie and Marie, who in the summer of 1922 work in a holiday guesthouse on the French west coast. They have known each other since school days but are very different: Marie is a single child, her dad was killed at Verdun, she and her mother exchange letters daily; she is physically unattractive and squints, with one eye wandering outward. Sylvie is the oldest of 8 children, very beautiful and with an eye for promising men; she hates her family. Such duo’s are not unusual: one stunning, cold and calculating, with clear objectives, the other serving as contrast and decoration, warm, a follower. Early on, Sylvie tells ugly Marie that one day she will become her servant. When the guesthouse locks up for the winter, the pair, 23 or so, departs the countryside for Paris where a room has been arranged for them. Both find work quickly, but their differences in personality deepen further. Then, Sylvie does something that destroys her roommate Marie’s world completely…
Sylvie sees Marie back again decades later in 1944, briefly and accidentally in a crowd during the celebrations of the liberation of Paris. Then again in 1950, this time not by accident, but by tracking her down using memories and landmarks from 1922. She needs Marie badly to safeguard her financial future. She needs her as a spy… Will Marie drop whatever she is doing and let herself be duped again? Or will she take the opportunity to exact a sweet revenge?
This novel covers several Simenon themes: exploiting female personnel, marital infidelity , the French institution of the rich keeping a young maîtresse, and inheritance wars starting well before someone expires. Some Simenon novels grab attention from page one and are frenzied, passionate roller coasters up to the very last pages, whereby a final twist is not unheard of. This one is different with a shallow and contrived, quasi-larmoyant ending without any moral or message in sight. Huge time gaps, question marks about much else. Not well planned. Not well told.

par William Goldman
Edition : Relié

5.0 étoiles sur 5 Totally delightful, 20 octobre 2015
Ce commentaire fait référence à cette édition : Brothers (Relié)
William Goldman’s brilliant 1986 sequel to his stunning 1974 book and movie hit “Marathon Man” (MM) is severely under reviewed. So is MM itself. MM was a shockingly thrilling novel rooted in reality combining the outcome of McCarthy-era witch hunts with ghosts from the Holocaust and modern-day Soviet plotting in the US. It also gave countless readers and viewers a severe trauma about seeking dental help. At the end of MM, hero Babe’s life is saved by his older brother Doc, a mysterious professional killer in the employ of the Division, a shady DC-based US security agency. But Doc was disemboweled in the process and died.
Not quite. His resurrection years later, is the outcome of untold rounds of hazardous, experimental surgery and lengthy, solitary survival training on a remote Caribbean islet. One day Doc, work name Scylla, hears a helicopter approach. The start of a new life, a comeback? Yes to both questions. In the first half of “Brothers”, readers witness the exploits of a pair of brilliant scientists in the field of chemistry (a subject Doc/Scylla detested in school) and the tests he undergoes to assess his ‘fitness’. A third type of scholarship, reminiscent of Ira Levin’s “The Boys from Brazil” is unveiled later. I would be a spoiler if I said more.
Fantasy plot full of surprises, beautifully paced and -written and with a truly dramatic finish. Plenty of violence, exquisitely described, esp. a duel that left this heights-fearing reader with clammy hands. Also, great fun for Doc’s reactions to the world after years awayand the powerful dialogues. And because much in the book is wonderfully politically incorrect and the author stridently opinionated, as for example about Heathrow airport. Few novels have a basketball addict as a villain. Goldman must be a sports fanatic too.
Other than William Goldman’s, more great writers from the 1970s and -80s (e.g. John D Macdonald, Trevanian, Ross McDonald, Ira Levin} are poorly reviewed too, despite some recent reprints. Why? Perhaps 1995- 6 was a watershed re internet and reviewing, giving readers the chance to vote for the books they like best, with a forward focus… Read this pair of books and Goldman’s many other masterpieces!

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