Book Group 4 – Books Read 3: M-S

About the book and a review

NonFiction  |  Fiction:  Authors A-G  |  Authors  H-L Authors  M-S   |  Authors T-Z   

Black Run           )
A Cold Death       )  by Antonio Manzini
Out of Season      )
Spring Cleaning   )

TV adaptations of these novels entitled “Rocco Schiavone: Ice Cold Murders” were recently shown on E4.  I enjoyed them and so have read the available books (translated from Italian).

Rocco Schiavone is a Deputy Chief Inspector in the Aosta police department.  The Aosta region of Italy is a mountainous area between Turin and France.  Rocco has been in the job a few months after having been transferred (against his will) from his native Rome.  Like Montalbano, he is brilliant and keen on justice, but unorthodox.  In most countries he would be seen as corrupt!

Rocco likes to start each day in his locked office with a joint, keeps wearing out his favourite footwear (desert boots), as he refuses to wear anything more appropriate to the climate and seems to treat the women he has affairs with very badly.  At the end of the day he goes home and talks to his wife.  During the first book it becomes apparent that his wife is in fact dead and that he is unable to move on with his life.

The books are very enjoyable, the characters are well drawn and interesting, the plots are engaging.  Antonio Manzini studied under Camillieri (author of Montalbano) and is a screenwriter, an actor and a film director.

Gone With The Wind by Margaret Mitchell

I decided to reread a classic book.  I think I find that I get some comfort reading a book I know well, where I know the ending.  It’s always been a loved book for me – I read it as a teenager.  I admit I fell in love with Rhett Butler that dangerous bad boy image.  Lol.

The characters are well developed and bring to life a terrible era in American history.  I know some criticise what they term the romanticised depiction of slavery, but this is a book published in 1936 when ideals were different.

The Monkey King by Timothy Mo

This was published in 1978 but is set in the 1950s.  Timothy Mo is the son of an English mother and a Cantonese father and was born in Hong Kong, and much of what he wrote about was from his own knowledge. 

In Macau Wallace Nolasco, of mixed Portuguese and Chinese descent, thinks of himself as being somewhat superior to the ordinary Chinese.  However, an arranged marriage to the daughter of wealthy Hong Kong businessman, Mr Poon, by his lowly second concubine, puts Wallace at the bottom of the hierarchy of the Poon family.  But Wallace has hidden reserves and refuses to be stay down – like the Monkey King of Chinese legend.  Used as a convenient scapegoat for one of Mr. Poon’s dodgy dealings, he and his wife are sent to a remote village.  Here Wallace comes into his own, making a natural disaster into a business success and diverting the threat of warfare with a rival village.  On their return to the family home, Wallace finds a shift in his position and soon becomes ‘top dog’.

This is very much a light, humorous story but it does touch on the dark side of life in Hong Kong – such as the effects of opium addiction, the casual cruelty of a husband towards his wife. 

The Taxidermist’s daughter by Kate Mosse

A gothic thriller! 

The Taxidermist is grossly affected by an atrocious deed committed by four of his contemporaries and consequently he turns to drink.  His daughter falls down the stairs and makes a very slow recovery, especially her memory.  However, about 10 years later, in 1912, in a Sussex churchyard, the yearly midnight parade of the ghosts of those who will die in the next year appear.  This starts to trigger her memory and finally during the floods, where she takes refuge in an old house, all is revealed.

It is difficult to put down this book, as it twists and turns after the graveyard episode and the now adult daughter’s returning memory.

Unputdownable!  Possibly Kate Mosse’s best book even compared with Labyrinth and Sepulchre.

The Secret Life of Mr Roos by Håkan Nesser

This next book was a breath of fresh air after the Frost series.  Håkan Nesser is a Swedish  writer

Valdemar Roos is a dull man with a dull job and a younger wife, whose friends he doesn’t like much.  Every week week he does the lottery, he uses the same numbers that his father used – on the principle that eventually they will come up, just be patient.  Then – he wins!

He tells no one, but he quits his job and buys an isolated house in the countryside.  He doesn’t tell his wife that he no longer works, so everyday he gets up and goes to his new place, to sit and contemplate nature.

Anna Gambowska is a girl in her early 20s who is trying to straighten her life out.  She is staying at a private treatment centre for addiction, but then decides to leave.  She ends up at Valdemar’s cottage and they become friends.  He lets her stay there overnight while he goes home to his wife.  Then a violent ex-boyfriend of hers turns up…….

That is a summary of the first 180 pages of the book.  I rapidly became interested in the characters and to care about them.  I recommend it.

West with Giraffes by Linda Rutledge

Woodrow Wilson Nickel, at age 105, feels his life ebbing away.  But when he learns giraffes are going extinct, he finds himself recalling the unforgettable experience he cannot take to his grave.

It’s 1938.  The Great Depression lingers.  Hitler is threatening Europe, and world-weary Americans long for wonder.  They find it in two giraffes who miraculously survive a hurricane while crossing the Atlantic.  What follows is a twelve-day road trip in a custom truck to deliver Southern California’s first giraffes to the San Diego Zoo.  Behind the wheel is the young Dust Bowl rowdy, Woodrow.  Inspired by true events, the tale weaves real-life figures with fictional ones, including the world’s first female zoo director, a crusty old man with a past, a young female photographer with a secret, and assorted reprobates as spotty as the giraffes.

I couldn’t put this down.  I like giraffes, I did before, but can’t imagine not loving them after this.  I put their survival down to their ability to read hearts and trust the good ones.

Sovereign  by C J Sansom

One of Sansom’s very popular ‘Shardlake’ series.

In Autumn 1541, King Henry VIII sets out on a progression to meet previously revolt subjects in the North, including York.  Lawyer, Martin Shardlake, and assistant, Jack Barak, are at York to process local petitions to the King.  Shardlake has reluctantly undertaken a special commission for Archbishop Cranmer – to ensure the welfare of an important but dangerous conspirator who is to be returned to London for interrogation at The Tower.

But the murder of a York glazier involves Shardlake in deeper mysteries, connected not only to the prisoner in York but to the Royal family itself.  When Shardlake and Barak stumble upon a cache of secret documents which could threaten the Tudor throne, a chain of events unfold that would lead to Shardlake facing the most terrifying fate of the age ……. 

The book is hard to put down!  Sansom creates so many adventures and events that keep turning.  He has also won awards for another book in the ‘Shardlake’ series – Dissolution – and would recommend this as well.

Frankenstein  by  Mary Shelley

If you have only seen the films, you probably don’t know the story as Mary Shelly intended it.  Although gothic in writing style, it is so much more than a horror story about a man who creates a monster, and can be read on many levels.  I read this years ago in the original version and found it deeply moving and disturbing.  I see on Amazon that the book has been revised and edited in various versions since.  If you prefer to read a book which hasn’t been edited for a modern audience, you will need to seek out the original.

The book is partly about Frankenstein, a troubled, brilliant, and lonely young man, who becomes obsessed with creating life and eventually succeeds in doing so by reanimating a corpse.  His ‘monster’ is like a child who needs to be taught how to live by his creator, but Frankenstein is horrified by his creation and rejects him.  The book follows the monster as he goes out into the world in a search for understanding, love, and acceptance.  I felt sorry for the monster, who is desperately lonely and wants friends and a normal life, but is ultimately rejected by almost every one he meets.  In the end this tortured soul turns on his creator and goes on a blood filled rampage of revenge.  I don’t want to write too many spoilers, but it does not end well.

My Italian Bulldozer by Alexander McCall Smith

When writer Paul Stewart heads to the idyllic Italian town of Montalcino to finish his already late book, it seems like the perfect escape from stressful city life.  Upon landing, however, things quickly take a turn for the worse when he discovers his hired car is nowhere to be found.  With no record of any reservation and no other cars available it looks like Paul is stuck at the airport.  That is, until an enterprising stranger offers him an unexpected alternative.  While there may be no cars available there is something else on offer: a bulldozer.  With little choice in the matter, Paul accepts, and so begins a series of laugh-out-loud adventures through the Italian countryside.

Intriguing title!  The mind boggles at seeing anyone driving a bulldozer on main roads, etc., on days out.  ALEXANDER McCALL SMITH certainly knows how to attract readers.  It is a light-hearted love story, intelligently written, with gentle humour on a ‘gourmet’s working holiday in Italy.’  As the introduction says this book is funny, elegant and moving … a long love letter to Italy.  Best taken with a glass of Brunellodi Montalcino …and perhaps, cum grano salis (a pinch of salt)!