Books

Yes. Milkman is a literary masterpiece whereas this is a brutally honest account of a woman’s tragedy in the Belfast of the 70s. Milkman had me gasping with delight at the wizardry of the language, this is more like a gut punch, left me literally shaking and angry at the callous stupidity of such a place, my dad’s place actually. Louise Kennedy and her family fled south to Sligo in the 70s after some similar events to those depicted in the novel.

Just picked up a couple of history jobbies on Audible….Mary Beard’s SPQR and Emperors of Rome. Now I’m mystified as to wherher Catiline was as guilty of conspiracy to burn Rome to the ground in 63BCE or was Cicero gilding the lily? I wonder if I still have my copy of Sallust we did in Year 11.

And a copy of Napoleon the Great by Andrew Roberts…37 hours of easy listening.

Somewhat redolent of Gaza today.

I read an article by a young Catholic who grew up in Derry in the 70s, whose life was constantly at risk from the army, the police, the IRA and the Prod militants.

And every clampdown by the military was a recruiting bonanza for the IRA.

Same as Gaza for non-Hamas Palestinians.

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Gonna recommend Library At Mount Char again.

I’m a Pratchett/Gaiman/Adams/Heinlein/R Rankin fan.

So if that’s your go…
I know many want to claim the throne.
(Of CS Lewis etc)…
But this is…pretty, pretty good.

Just finished The Woman Who Knew Too Little by Olivia Wearne. It’s a fictionalised account through the eyes of a woman police officer, who purportedly saw the dead man leaning back against the seawall on Somerton Beach in Adelaide in 1948, and all the red herrings and dead ends the investigation went down. All through the eyes of a female police officer, Kitty Wheeler, whose role was definitely not in the detective bureau.

If you knew anything about the case, whereby the identity of the dead man was only discovered (?) by familial DNA in 2022, or about Kerry Greenwood’s Tamam Shud, the final words in the Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam, one of the dead ends, it’s an interesting read.

Now onto Bryan Brown’s The Drownings. I’ve previously read his book of short stories, Sweet Jimmy, and yes, it is the actor.

Bryan Brown - The Drowning

Set with an eclectic cast of characters in a northern NSW surfing town.
A little indigenous boy is found drowned in the ocean, but it doesn’t sit right in his family. He’s a river boy, not ocean.
Then there are backpackers, surfers, drug dealers, bikies, lawyers, undercover cops and a stalker/kidnapper.

It’s written in just the style you’d expect from Bryan Brown and it’s a decent read.

Now back to my spy books with The Frenchman Returns by Jack Beaumont.

And on Audible in the car, SPQR by Mary Beard, a prominent Roman Historian.

I’ve read a few recently.

Two more by Bret Easton Ellis, The Shards and Less Than Zero. Less Than Zero was his first novel and it reads like a first novel. It’s only short. Like the others of his that I have read, its cast mostly consists of the children of hyper-rich Los Angeles parents, mostly in the movie business. The sole interests of the children seem to be taking drugs of different types, spending money and having sex; not one of them seems to have a serious thought in his or her head.

The Shards is strange. It’s told in the first person, with the main character being Ellis himself, or to be more precise a particular version of himself that (I hope) bears little relation to his actual self. More money, more drugs, more sex (a lot of it gay sex this time), plus the American Psycho ingredients of extreme cruelty, torture and gore. It holds the attention and you have to work hard to figure out even half of what is really going on, but it’s so full of nastiness that I really didn’t enjoy it.

Then The Bee Sting, by Paul Murray, one of the Booker shortlist. Irish. Complicated story told from the points of view of multiple characters, all members of the one family. The ultimate cop-out ending, where multiple strands of the story are building to a climax that could end as some sort of redemption for all or an unspeakable tragedy – and the book just ends. Stops. No resolution of anything. I was so ■■■■■■ off after almost 600 pages of following this complicated series of events, flashing backwards and forwards in time and from one point of view to another, that I slammed to book down on the table and swore. The job of the novelist is to tell a story, and this novelist failed at that most basic task.

Back to history. I’ve just downloaded Richard Evans’ history of Europe in the 19th century, which, if it’s anywhere near as good as his histories of the Nazis, will be well worth 41 hours of listening.

Together with SPQR, I bought her Emperors of Rome, plus Napoleon the Great by Andrew Roberts…that’s going to need a lot of trips to Melbourne…37 hours worth.

I started listening to Illywhacker. I’ve never been a big fan of Peter Carey; in fact the only one I’ve enjoyed all the way through was The Tax Inspector, and even then I think I was a bit disappointed at the end.

Several people have said Illywhacker is his best, so I gave it a go. It’s long, about 24 hours on audible. But really, about a third of the way through, I really wasn’t interested in what happened to the story or any of the characters. Gave up. Can’t be bothered.

I was confusing it with Cloudstreet by Tim Winton. I found that boring.

I thought Cloudstreet was okay, but not as good as all the hype that surrounded it.

Just finished Dark Arena, the sequel to The Frenchman, by Jack Beaumont, a former DGSE operative (think MI6 or CIA).

It’s pretty much 2 years ago, and a lot of its timeliness is affected by the need to translate.

It concerns the time preceding Putin’s invasion of Ukraine and Alec de Payns (the Frenchman) is made aware of a mission in the works to affect the gas supply in Europe.

The Bureau (Le Bureau de Légendes) on SBS gives you an idea of French spy networks and the fact that they have different enemies than the British and Americans.

Lots of tradecraft involved.

Just finished Bad Art Mother (2022), the second novel by Edwina Preston. A story focused mainly on a female poet in mid-late 20th C Melbourne. Told mostly from the perspectives of a mother and her son, the former battling some demons and the sexism of the times. I thought it was very good*. Interesting characters and lots of quirky little references and observations that I could relate to, being a child of that era in Australia.

*Edwina was a housemate of mine some 30 years ago, and although I’ve not seen her in decades, I may be a little biased, though I’ve tried not to be.

Her first novel, The Inheritance of Ivorie Hammer (2012), is also quite good, although I found it a little laborious at first and it took me a couple of attempts to finish.

Just finished The Dinner Party by Rebecca Heath. Set in the Adelaide suburbs starting in 1979 and finishing in 2020.

4 pairs of neighbours are having a dinner party with their children left at home alone, and a 4-month old baby disappears.

A foundation is set up in her name to find missing people and a podcast is being run in the baby’s case. Then, 40 years later, a woman turns up and claims to be the missing girl, potentially to claim the $100K reward.

Everyone is sucked in bar the missing girl’s niece. And everything runs from there.

The author keeps talking about how safe it was to leave the kids alone, and I’m thinking…Adelaide in the 60s and 70s…the Beaumont children…the disappearance of two girls from Adelaide Oval in 1966 and 1973. Bevan van Einem from 1979-83.

It’s a pretty good read. I’d read her first adult fiction book…The Summer Party, which isn’t bad either.

Two more Australian crime books, one of which the crimes are secondary…

The Good Dog by Simon Rowell…his third Zoe Mayers novel…Zoe is back after her heroic foiling of a terrorist attack on the MCG on Grand Final Day, but now she suffers severe problems if she hears a helicopter or a drone and has a service dog, Harry. She’s called into a murder case on Mount Macedon where an accused grifter who’s just been found not guilty of scamming $22 million in a property scam, and the lawyer who got him acquitted.

Good read.

The second one is Mayo Street by Peter Fitzpatrick, set in Tennyson, a fictional Melbourne suburb where there are 15 houses, and each one has a story. The main protagonist is 14-15 year old Abby McIndoe who is wise in a lot of regards but innocent in so many. There are DV offenders, custody battles, problems with the bins and the roses, guys cheating on their wives, an Indian guy whose son Sachin is an avid cricketer and his GP wife, a vicar who has a secret internet habit and others.

It’s well written and absorbing. I really enjoyed it.

Onto the Kindle now to clear out some of my backlog, and included there are a few VBA instruction books so I can automate a few of my Excel and Word projects.

Just finished The Secrets of Strangers by Charity Norman, the audio version is beautifully narrated by Julie Maisey.

A group of strangers find themselves held hostage in a London cafe. Weaves their stories with that of the perpetrator and the hostage negotiator. Lovely writing, superb narration for those fans of audio.