Tuesday, November 03, 2009

Also reads books

Having wearied my readers' patience with maps, maps and more maps over the past couple of weeks, it's with some relief that ::Acquired Taste returns to the business of books today. I've read a couple of crackers over the past week, and I like to share...

The first was the recent Macmillan New Writing title The Incendiary's Trail, by James McCreet. This Victorian melodrama owes much to Poe and Holmes, but also to Dickens in its depiction of the seedy underside of London life. The plot is lively and enjoyably lurid, with vividly-drawn characters. Reviews I've read of the book have not been especially favourable--many comment on the overly intrusive authorial voice with dismay. In this, though, McCreet is merely being true to 19th century sensation novels he clearly admires, and the device allows him to play some interesting games with the reader. Modern readers have become used to unobstrusive third person narratives, but done well, the engaged third person can be a treat. There is a second novel in the works and I look forward to reading it.

Even better was A Quiet Flame, the fifth in Philip Kerr's series of novels about the career of Bernie Gunther, the German private detective we first met in 1930s Berlin. Gunther now finds himself, courtesy of an unwilling spell in the SS, in post-war Argentina under an assumed name. Co-opted into the Argentine secret police, he finds his new home all too similar to the one he fled. Kerr handles the dark themes of the period with skill, and the Marloweque Gunther makes enough of a connection with the reader to avoid charges of stereotyping. Kerr has a problem in extending the series in that, for a tough guy, Gunther is now getting old (internal evidence suggests he's in his mid-50s). Much of A Quiet Flame is told in flashback to 1930s Berlin, and the sixth novel in the series seems to employ the same device. Much as I enjoy these novels, I do hope that Kerr remembers to quit while he's ahead. Regular readers will expect me to mention Patricia Cornwell here, and I like to oblige my readership...

Meanwhile, I have had an Amazon splurge and treated myself to two eagerly-anticipated works: Hilary Mantel's Wolf Hall (always a sucker for the Tudors) and the latest Macmillan New Writing release, Ryan David Jahn's Acts of Violence. Mantel has a bestseller by virtue of winning the Booker Prize, but the buzz around Acts of Violence gives us hope that this could be the first MNW title to join it.

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