Quite a lot of last week (and I predict equally large swathes of next week) were spent in doctors’ and hospital waiting rooms. The e-reader has revolutionised such experiences. No longer do I have to wonder if I have enough left in the book I’m reading to last for however long the delay is between the time I was supposed to see the doctor/consultant/osteopath (delete as applicable) and the time I actually get into the consulting room. These days I can have as many books with me as I think I’m going to need and even a couple of spares in case I feel an urge for something different halfway through the wait.
I don’t know about you but I find I can’t concentrate on anything too demanding under these circumstances, where you always have to have at least half an ear cocked for fear you might miss the magical moment when your name is actually called and, as a consequence, find yourself still waiting to be seen two days and half a dozen clinics later. Thus, I have got through quite a lot of crime fiction this week as well as one book that I wanted to ask advice about.
For my Wednesday morning group I found myself reading Suzanne Joinson’s A Lady Cyclist’s Guide to Kashgar, a novel that has attracted a fair amount of praise and which has been long listed for a number of awards. To say that I couldn’t make head nor tail of this book would be unfair. I followed what was happening perfectly well. But, I couldn’t for the life of me see why it had garnered such praise. It’s one of those books that is split into different time periods and if you’re going to do that then I do think that there needs to be more than just a plot link between the two stories, there needs to be something thematic going on as well, which as far as I could see there wasn’t. I also didn’t think there was anything out of the ordinary in the style of writing either. To be honest, it wasn’t a book I would have finished if I hadn’t needed it for the group but, at least, I thought, someone there will be able to explain to me what it is I’ve missed. Well, no one could because we all felt the same way about it, so can anyone reading this enlighten us as to why this book has been rated so highly. At the moment we’re all feeling rather dumb.
The other two books I’ve read fared much better. The first was the third in Harry Bingham’s new crime series, The Strange Death of Fiona Griffiths. I came to this straight from the latest in another series which I’ve stuck with because of the plot lines even though I knew there was something that bugged me about the main character. This book helped to pinpoint what that was. Fiona Griffiths might not be the most typical of police women but I do recognise her as a real woman, whereas the heroine of the other series isn’t. She’s a man’s view of what a woman is like and let’s face it, some men just really don’t know, do they.
Actually, this third novel is all about identity. It sees Fiona taking on an undercover job and at times finding it difficult to remember just which persona is the real one. Ironically, as she comes out of what is a really harrowing experience, she finds herself with a better understanding of who she really is and what she wants from the life to which she returns than she had when the assignment began. Coming, as it does, in the wake of certain high profile cases where police officers have found it difficult to maintain the necessary divide between the role they have adopted and their real identity, this is a first class exploration of what going under cover really means. Bingham’s series is rapidly becoming one of my favourites and if you haven’t read it then I strongly recommend his work, although do start with the first one. You really do need to read these in order.
And another series that needs reading in order, although perhaps less so than Bingham’s, is the Frieda Klein series written by husband and wife duo, Nicci French, which in Thursday’s Children reaches its fourth episode. This sees Klein, still haunted by the killer from her first outing, Blue Monday, returning to her East Anglian roots, ostensibly to convince the local police that the death of the fifteen year old daughter of an ex-school friend was not suicide, but also to confront some of the demons that have haunted her own life since she was a similar age.
The strength of French’s novels for me always lies in the characters and here we catch up with our old friends such as Josef and Reuben as well as meeting Frieda’s past school friends who greet her return with what I felt was a very realistic set of differing responses. The highly fraught world of teenage relationships both present day and in Frieda’s past is very convincingly explored and while she needs to return to the scenes of her childhood both to gain justice for Becky and to lay certain ghosts of her own, this novel is a clear warning to anyone who thinks that going back to the old school reunion is ever going to be a good idea. This is another series I strongly recommend.
So, now to select my reading for next week’s excursions into the world of our National Health Service. I think the latest Lindsey Davis novel, Enemies at Home and the most recent of Gordon Ferris’s Douglas Brodie series, Gallowglass, should fit the bill nicely. But will two be enough…..?