Wednesday, May 27, 2015

(No.288) "Part 2 of some enjoyable reading"

"Part 2 of some recommendations for enjoyable reading"

by Alastair Rickard

In my previous RickardsRead column (No.287) I began providing a list of fiction that have read recently. I did not find them all to be of equal value as enjoyable reading but I did find them all to be worthwhile.

In this second instalment of these brief notes on (mostly) recently published fiction I have provided some further recommendations for your attention.


Regular readers of this column will know of my fondness for several novelists. Among then is the Scot Philip Kerr. His series of novels in which the lead character is the German cop/private detective Bernie Gunther and his 'adventures' before, during and after World War II is for me irresistible reading.

"The Lady From Zagreb", the 10th in the Gunther novels, is set mid-war. At the direction of the Reich's propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels Gunther is sent on a mission that takes him from war torn Berlin to Switzerland and Croatia.

For me this novel, well-researched like all of Kerr's work,  does not provide quite the same level of enjoyment as did the gold standard provided by the first three Gunther novels (available as a trilogy entitled "Berlin Noir") but this latest novel in the series is still a rewarding read.

Loren D. Estleman is a professional novelist who lives in Michigan. Among his more than 70 novels are 22 in a detective series featuring former Detroit cop and now private detective Amos Walker.

While the setting is the depressed (and depressing) contemporary Detroit area Walker is a throwback not so often seen in crime fiction these days, a sort of Philip Marlowe character who navigates 'hard-boiled' mysteries but in in an environment that would seem like Mars to Raymond Chandler.

Estleman is a genuine professional writer and his award-winning novels, whether a throwback to an older style or not, are a treat to read. The latest two novels in the Walker series, both published in 2014, are "Don't Look For Me" and "You Know Who Killed Me".

Richard Price is an established New York-based novelist. For some reason his latest novel "The Whites" appears as "Richard Price writing as Harry Brandt". The focus of the book is a former hot shot New York City street cop named Billy Graves who, after a highly publicized accidental shooting, has been content to be on a career back shelf for years.

"Whites" is a sort of cop speak reference to suspects that detectives were unable to charge and convict but whose guilt was certain. Graves has such a "white" as do each of the members of Graves' group of former colleagues from 20 years ago.

Old cases of his and theirs haunt his life as does an event from his wife's teenage years.

The plot is absorbing and the writing superior.

The fourth novel featuring Spanish police detective Max Camara is set in his hometown of Valencia. The author of "Blood Med" is Jason Webster, an Englishman who really knows both contemporary Spain and the country's history. His stories have a verisimilitude that is a great strength of each of the Camara novels.

Webster's plots are inventive and frequently touch on the influence on the novel's characters of events in the Spanish civil war of the 1930s. As a character Camara reminds me of  Ian Rankin's Edinburgh D.I. John Rebus -- and that is high praise.

"World Gone By" is Dennis Lehane's 12th novel. He is a genuine star of American bestseller lists. These are not necessarily places to locate rewarding new fiction but Lehane's latest is a novel that is difficult to put down, so well told is the story.

It has an interesting plot involving certain members of a Florida-based organized crime family and their activity and rivalries in Florida and Cuba during a particularly interesting time: World War II. Lehane is a very accomplished storyteller.

Peter Robinson is an Englishman who divides his time between Toronto and Yorkshire. "Abbatoir Blues" is the 22nd novel in a series featuring the Yorkshire detective Alan Banks, now a D.C.I.

Robinson is an accomplished writer to whom I was introduced (literally and figuratively) some years ago by my wife Pat. He is one of her favourite novelists. His success through the years is based on genuine talent as this latest Banks novel illustrates yet again.




previous columns & blog archive:
to access previous columns and this blog's archive, the links to which
are listed chronologically in the margin beside each column
as it appears on the website, go to
a recent column and use the links

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in order to receive automatic notice of new columns
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Tuesday, May 26, 2015

(No.287)"McCarry, Kanon & other enjoyable reading"

"Novels by Charles McCarry, Joseph Kanon and other writers
who provide enjoyable reading"

by Alastair Rickard

Over the years some RickardsRead columns have been devoted to books I have enjoyed reading and consider sufficiently worthwhile to recommend to readers.

It should be noted that in these columns I have not taken the time or effort to write reviews of books I regard as not worth recommending. Indeed I disqualify myself from writing  -- at least in this forum -- so-called literary criticism, what the English writer Cyril Connolly once described as the thankless task of drowning other people's kittens.

It's not that I don't benefit from regular reading of negative as well as positive book reviews, the former an invaluable aid to avoiding the wasting of one's time. Depending on the reviewer I very often can pick up indications of books I am likely to enjoy -- and many of them do turn out to be enjoyable; others not.

These days, when literally thousands of novels annually cascade into the marketplace -- many of them closer to what can be called typing than to writing while many others are merely trendy but pretentious dross, I value the opinions of reviewers. I welcome assistance in compiling a reading list in an era when so many novels contain more promise than achievement, more prospect of reading enjoyment than actual pleasure.

With that in mind I once again use this column and the next one to share some books I have read recently. I did not find them all of equal value as enjoyable reading but I found them worthwhile. For that reason I draw them to your attention. Most are recently published.

Depending on readers' particular tastes in fiction some may share my favourable opinions; doubtless others will not.


"The Winter Family" by Clifford Jackman (2015) is a just published first novel by a young Canadian lawyer. It is set in the American civil war and frontier during a period running from the 1860s to the 1890s. It tracks the activities and relationships of the members of a gang of outlaws, the so-called Winter Family, during a changing west.

The novel is as dark in tone as the period's unromantic history. It reminds me of another recent novel set in Oregon and California of the 1850s also by a young Canadian novelist, the award-winning Patrick deWitt,  "The Sisters Brothers" (2011). Both novels are violent but not gratuitously so and are fascinating tales.

"Istanbul Passage" and "Leaving Berlin" are the two most recent novels by the superb American writer  Joseph Kanon. All his novels have been set in different cities in the years soon after the end of the Second World War. His superior plots and writing have been likened to what would be created by a combination of John LeCarre and Graham Greene.

These two espionage novels are marked by complexity and suspense set against well-researched historical backgrounds. They feature superior writing and believable plots.

Charle McCarry is a former American intelligence operative in the field who later turned to fiction. He has not been prolific in the writing of novels over the years but what he has produced is very good indeed. Among novelists who have produced 'espionage' thrillers and spy stories he ranks very highly indeed.

Those of McCarry's intermittent novels involving members of the Hubbard-Christopher clan of American intelligence operatives range through the period from the 1930s to the present day. They are stunningly effective stories and he is expert at plotting that covers multiple characters who appear and reappear over long periods. McCarry's prose is as elegant and pleasing to read as Kanon's.

Read and enjoy for example McCarry's "The Old Boys", "Christopher's Ghosts", "The Last Supper" and "Second Sight".





previous columns & blog archive:
to access previous columns and this blog's archive, the links to which
are listed chronologically in the margin beside each column
as it appears on the website, go to
a recent column and use the links

to set a "Google alert' for RickardsRead columns
in order to receive automatic notice of  new clumns
as they are posted to, go to