RAMA SHOWS ITS AGE IN A HARMLESS TALE OF A SIMPLE PITSTOP

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rendezvous-with-rama-book-coverThe first weeks of January are rather like embarking on a journey. According to Lao Tsu “The journey of a thousand miles begins with one step” and so this brings me to this month’s book club read, Rendezvous with Rama by Arthur C. Clarke.

Clarke along with Isaac Asimov were the leading science fiction writers of there time; still today they are held in high regard for their ground breaking insights into the future development of space travel. Clarke alone wrote 62 books on the subject. He’s best known for his book 2001 a Space Odyssey and is also seen as the person responsible for the modern communication satellite.

Originally written in 1973 Rendezvous with Rama is set in future, 2131 to be precise. Space travel is quite advanced, so much so that we have colonized the Moon as well as Mars and have discovered life on other planets in the solar system, along with developing working relationships with them. When a radar station on Mars detects a large object entering our solar system a probe is sent to investigate; what it finds is a large cylindrical ship. Due to having exhausted the Greek and Roman mythologies for names of celestial bodies the astronomers name this visitor Rama after the Hindu god of courage. Commander Norton and the crew of the space ship Endeavour are sent to investigate, what they find inside is a world with cities, oceans and seasons, but no life. Where are the crew, where has it come from and where is it going? The answers to these questions will have repercussions for both mankind and the other inhabitants of the galaxy.

 

This is the first book in a quadrilogy, it was meant to be a one off but in 1989 Clarke wrote Rama II with Gentry Lee, then in 1991 and 1993 they wrote Garden of Rama and Rama Revealed. Lee subsequently wrote two further Rama books. The descriptive writing in Rendezvous with Rama is brilliant, you do struggle to get your minds eye around the size of a vessel which is somewhere in range of 50 – 60 miles long by 30 miles wide.  At the start you’re filled with anticipation at a possible first contact with visitors from another world and I was galloping through numerous scenarios as to what the crew of the Endeavour would find inside. The story of what they might find in this mysterious vessel is intriguing. But that’s where it ends because nothing happens, until the end when the ship continues on its merry way having done nothing more threatening then recharge it’s engines with solar energy from the sun….

The book is short at 246 pages and the chapters are never more then 2 – 8 pages long, theoretically it could be read in one or two sittings. But overall I found it showed its 40 years, in the storytelling and plotting, one of the crew is seemingly able to disarm a guided long range missile with a pair of wire cutters !!!! (I Think there’d be a bit more to it then that, even one hundred years in the future).

There’s no real drama, when they do encounter machines inside Rama they pose no real threat and take no real notice of the crew; readers of this generation would probably find it boring and tame, why? Well for one reason no one dies, someone dies in any film or TV programme of this genre now a days. Star Trek which had been up and running on television for seven years before Clarke wrote Rama, had some un-named member of the crew die in almost every episode.

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As for the characters, they are nondescript. We get to know very little about them bar some minor back story. Only Commander Norton has some sort of history and is an almost exact replica of Captain James T. Kirk, being portrayed as a sort of womanizer, with two wives and families one on Earth and the other on Mars (Not exactly out of the ordinary back in the seventies).

When Rama was originally written, we’d been to the moon, but further space exploration and whether there was life out there beyond the stars was still a fantasy. We’ve since had the explosion of science fiction on the big and small screen as well as in computer gaming and it’s this that has sated and fueled our hunger for space adventures and drama of which this book has none.

But before you pass on a Rendezvous with Rama. Remember it AAJV001052was intended as a stand alone, possibly to leave you wondering. But now it’s the first in a series and as you read the final pages, where the crew of Endeavour watch Rama round the sun and disappear off into space, you do ask yourself where is it going? This has made me and should hopefully make you want to read the other books. Because from what I’ve read online and heard from various sources they are more plot and character driven, as well as exciting and do hopefully answer these questions.

(First Published http://www.murphysview.blogspot.com 2013)

NESBO TRYS TO HELP HARRY BURY THE PAST IN PHANTOM

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phantom-jo-nesboIt’s that time of year again when we try to lay the ghosts of the past year and prepare ourselves for the fresh bright new days of 2013. The dark, cold winter evenings are at their height and if it’s not snowing (it’s been two years since we had a white Christmas in Ireland), then its either raining or blowing a gale. The perfect reason to stay in by the radiator with a good book.  Another person trying to rid himself of the ghosts of his past and wishing he was back in a warm climate is ex police inspector Harry Hole (pronounced Hool). Norwegian Crime writer Jo Nesbo’s creation is now in his ninth book, Phantom. But at time of reviewing this, the tenth Harry Hole book has been translated into english.

Phantom finds harry back in his native Oslo far from his current life as a debt collector for a Hong Kong Businessman. He’s a changed man following his run in with the serial killer “The Snowman”, both mentally and physically. The events of the previous two books have ripped his life apart. He returns to a different Oslo that he worked the streets as a leading police detective; the city is now in the grip of a new drug.

Harry had no intention of returning, but when Oleg the son of his ex girlfriend Rakel is found guilty of murdering a Junkie. He feels he has no option but to try to re-open a seemingly straightforward case of murder. It’s easier said then done as the Oslo police, once his colleagues now don’t want a bumbling, on the wagon, ex cop walking all over their case. But harry is never one to take no for an answer and goes about attempting to solve the case in his usual unorthodox way, while trying to re kindle the relationship between himself and Rakel. On top of all this, his every movement his being watched and somebody wants him dead.

You have to hand it to Jo Nesbo his writing is vivid and the situations he gets harry into are tension filled but also slightly madcap. In one instance in the book he goes about plundering the grave of the victim in the dead of night with a straight laced lawyer for assistance. Which then turns into a pursuit across the city dressed in the same muddy, sweat and blood stained suit he’s been wearing for days, with a large cut on his neck which is stitched Rambo style with sewing thread and reinforced with gaffer tape, making him appear to the minds eye like a sort of cross between Frankenstein and John McClane. He’s also carrying the large scar from a previous encounter years ago on his cheek, talk about having that “lived-in” look. Not forgetting Harry is also supposed to be quite and blonde, that is until Tom Cruise gets his hands on the role.

Jo again delivers another great read, with harry back on familiar jo nesboground and leading us up and down the mysterious streets of Oslo. I’ve never been but after reading a number of these books I’d like to walk in Harry’s footsteps through the almost unpronounceable street names and areas of the city. If there’s one down side to the book it’s the whole chapters given over too one of the minor characters in the book talking to his dead father which stop-starts the whole story.

So if your looking to escape the festive hula-baloo, then take up a glass of one warming spirit and follow harry and his into the new year.

(First published  www.murphysview.blogspot.com  2012)

JORDAN DELIVERS A DOUBLE DOSE OF DUBLIN LIFE WITH MISTAKEN

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Mistaken cvrThey say everyone has a double in the world. Even if it’s from behind, we’ve often heard stories of people running up to total strangers, tapping them on the shoulder and greeting them like long lost friends. Only for the stranger to turn around and leave the greeter stumped and embarrassed when they realise they’re facing a total stranger. I’ve done it myself, with some very embarrassing consequences.  This is the premise for Irish Film director Neil Jordan’s fifth book “Mistaken”.

Kevin Thunder has a look-a-like, Gerald Spain; they live on different sides of Dublin city. Kevin lives on the Northside and Gerald on the Southside.  But Kevin is forever being mistaken for Gerald, he’s thrown out of amusement arcades, accused of shoplifting and meets girls Gerald has dated and who mistake him for the Southside charmer, eventually he deliberately starts interloping into Gerald’s life. Kevin’s life is that of an only child to a near permanently absent bookmaker father and a loving mother who goes swimming daily and takes in lodgers in a house next door to where Bram Stoker lived.

Gerald grows up in an affluent family on the Southside where he goes to one of the best schools in Ireland and goes on to be a famous writer. We then through the eyes of Kevin and his recanting to Emily, Gerald’s daughter retrace their strange lives and how their paths criss-crossed over the years for good and bad.

The book was recently presented to my local book group and it is a great read, this being echoed by the majority of the group. I found it a nice easy read with a great tour round almost every part of Dublin and a few foreign places. As you would expect from an accomplished film director and scriptwriter it is well written. I found it strangely erotic in his descriptions of the central characters shared romantic involvement, more so then Fifty Shades. Also it’s a very exciting concept, innocently walking into someone else’s life pretending to be them and successfully carrying it off without even trying, it’s like a voyeurs wet dream.

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Of the two main characters, Gerald is rather washed over, and so are his family, but there is a good explanation for this. The story jumps back and forth through time and geographically when told through one main character, if we’d had it told through both characters the reader would have probably got confused very quickly and given up on the book, this is something Jordan has learned from his film work and from the basic premise of all story telling, “KISS” – keep it simple stupid.

You do start to wonder how these two can look so a like and there were thoughts of something a kin to the “Time Travellers wife” by Audrey Niffenegger or the result of weird medical experiments, when all in all it’s actually a rather mundane reason for their shared resemblances. The minor downsides to this book are some very woefully editing, which was picked by other members of the book group, including the misspelling of the name of a very well known Italian restaurant in Dublin and the re-routing of a certain bus route in south Dublin.

There are a couple of characters who should maybe have been cut from the story in the drafting process, namely Daragh a friend of Kevin’s who suffers a breakdown after getting caught up in their sordid double life and the recurring ghost of Bram Stoker which does nothing to drive the story on.

Overall this is a great read from a master story-teller of the celluloid Neil jordanand print genres, so open this book and let your voyeuristic side out and lose yourself in the back waters and thoroughfares of  Dublin’s fair city.

(First published http://www.murphysview.blogspot.com  2012)

THE PIRATE’S DAUGHTER, LIKE HER FATHER. RUNS AWAY FROM CEZAIR THOMPSON AND LEAVES READERS HIGH AND DRY.

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Capt. PugwashPirates have for decades had a sort of pantomime feel to them especially in literature. Thanks to the likes of Long John Silver, Captain Pugwash, parrots and pieces of eight. But in reality they never lost their fearsome bloodlust,  they just started wearing t-shirts and cut-off jeans , dumped cutlasses for Uzi’s and AK 47’s  and made the  coast of Somalia a no go area, thanks to the reach of 24/7 news. While on the silver screen, the swashbuckler’s of old had lost their appeal until Disney and Captain Jack Sparrow, allowed them to remerge and capture a new audience. But before Johnny Depp, there were a few very successful pirate actors. The off screen life of one of them, Errol Flynn is the basis for Margaret Cezair Thompson’s book, ‘The Pirates Daughter’.

Cezair Thompson’s second book tells the story of a young Pirates dghtrJamaican girl called Ida Joseph, who is lives a simple life on the Caribbean island in 1946 when Hollywood film star Errol Flynn is run aground in his boat during a hurricane. He immediately falls in love with the island and with the help of Ida’s dad, Eli, a local entrepreneur cum ‘Delboy’.  He sets up home and starts bringing the cream of Hollywood to the island as well as his playboy antics. He soon charms the young teen and ends up getting her pregnant. But then he goes back to America to film and when he returns he’s married to another woman and goes about avoiding her. The book goes on to tell the story of how she strives to raise her daughter May and get on with their lives with the ghost like presence of Flynn in the background, even in death.

The writing in the book is very descriptive and immediately immerses you into the tropical, spice rich life of Jamaica. This was a sentiment expressed by the book group when it was presented recently. It comes across as a well researched piece of fiction, which it is but that’s a grey area as the life and loves of Errol were numerous and regularly got him in trouble.  But where the book falls down is that it is overrun with characters and on a number of occasions I found myself getting slightly waylaid while trying to figure out who was who.

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Something else myself and the other members of the group agreed on, was that this book was about a hundred pages too long. I personally think the book loses its sole purpose when the central character is killed off. Not Errol’s fault just Cezair Thompson’s mis-alignment of the story chronologically and her clumsy attempts to wing  some sort of a romantic story on the memory of Errol Flynn.

Cezair thompsonSo before you set sail in this book, beware it’s more a slow boat to china then a fanciful adventure based on the sordid rum soaked later life of a movie icon.

(First published http://www.murphysview.blogspot.com 2012)

WITH ONE HUNDRED AND TWO SEDUCTIONS BETWEEN THEM, JAMES AND HERBERT LEAVE ME GREY.

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52-seductions-us-cover2Bette Midler once asked “If sex is such a natural phenomenon, how come there so many books on how to? Sex and literature have always gone well together, whether it’s harking back to Lady Chatterley’s lover, Mills and Boon, Jilly Cooper in the eighties or onto the nineties when Candice Bushnell was throwing open the doors to the taboo laden closet with her column and books. But just when we thought we’d hit the bottom and got immune to the numerous repeats of Carrie or more appropriately Samantha’s bedroom gymnastics, along comes the likes of EL James and Betty Herbert.

This year in March it was my turn to present a book to my book group. I was trying to repeat my success of last year when I put forward Emma Donoghue’s The Room. Over Christmas I stumbled on Betty Herbert’s The 52 Seductions, thinking this would be a rather jovial thing to present to the literary gathering, and a way of pushing the boundaries of the group.

The 52 Seductions is  a book by Betty Herbert  a blogger who writes an online sexual advice column www.bettyherbert.com. It describes herself and her husband’s (supposedly, I think it’s a work of fiction) attempts to re-invigorate their sex life by having sex every week of a year, fair play to them. Most of us are happy if it happens twice to three times a month and would think we’d died and gone to heaven if it happened every week. But the pressures of daily life, stress and fatigue etc all take their toll preventing us from achieving anywhere close to this.

The first thing that hits you about the book is that to protect her husbands identity she calls him Herbert, so his name comes out as Herbert Herbert. So either his parents weren’t very bright.  Or Betty and her editor aren’t very inventive and couldn’t have come up with something more original then that. As most fiction writers will tell you and prove to you, creating a believable but fictitious name is easy enough.

Betty Herbert

The book starts off very well and for the first couple of months or chapters, because that’s how they’re set out. It’s entertaining and educational (I’m not that innocent, but I didn’t know what the Reverse Cow Girl was until then). It also caused amusement and embarrassment to some of my book group colleagues, when they found it in the self-help section or had to go asking for it.

But just as Betty and Herbert find it hard to keep to the schedule, so does the book. Okay, so there are a couple of subplots centering  on them wanting to have a baby and Betty’s gynecological problems, but apart from that what starts out as and looks promising,  gets rather tired and laborious at the end. This was an opinion that most members of book group who read it expressed.

As for how I would describe The 52 Seductions? Its all mouth and no trousers… Excuse the pun.

When the storm broke about EL James’ Fifty Shades trilogy I decided my readers and followers on twitter and other social media should be given my view of this current hot topic.

Fifty Shades of Grey has stormed out of nowhere to become this fifty-shades-of-grey-book-coveryears literary must read. Ripping up records and dispatching contenders from all other genres off the top spots in all the sales charts. If you’ve been stuck in a hermitage or marooned on a desert island for the past six months the main synopsis is as follows. Ana Steele a mid twenties final year student in a Seattle university goes to interview a wealthy young dot com entrepreneur Christian Grey, for the university paper. There a spark ignites between them  and what follows is a very “little left to the imagination” trip into the dark and seedy world of bondage, dominance, sadism and masochism often referred to as BDSM. What we discover is that Christian wants to dominate Ana sexually, using an array of devices in his “Playroom”. But also Christian has a dark past hence the fifty shades.

Maybe it’s because I’m a man. But I again found the book initially interesting, then certain things about the story, led me think this is totally unbelievable, although isn’t most porn. Firstly, Ana is a virgin…. She’s twenty four, has been to an average US College and is, we are led to believe, very attractive but has never once been with anyone sexually… This is very hard to believe in this day and age, unless she was studying at a convent. Which, she wasn’t.

There’s other things like her alcohol intake, she hasn’t taken the pledge, but the first time she gets really drunk is on the night she finishes her exams, on this occasion Christian rides to her rescue. Again she comes across as too pure as driven snow, so much so the Virgin Mary looks rather second fiddle to her. Also her food intake, she hardly eats and if were real would most probably be Anorexic.

But on the diet of a sparrow she and Christian go at it with the vim and vigour of two olympic athletes, who must be using some sort of steroid or having intravenous lines of a leading energy drink pumped into them. Also if he’s not using some sort of Co. Cork mass produced prescription aphrodisiac, then he’s fitter then Atlas, or has a serious health problem. I’m fit but my stamina would be rather depleted after the energy these two expel on a daily basis.

Then there’s the all but creepy aide of Grey’s called Taylor who seems to hover just out of sight. God if he  was interrogated wouldn’t it be a delightful modern take on “What the Butler Saw” or heard in this case.  Also one slightly quirky character in the book is Ana’s subconscious that takes on a very almost human form and reminds me of the Mother Nature character in a current tampon TV advert.

I didn’t finish Fifty Shades because it got rather repetitive and I couldn’t see myself reading the other two books in the trilogy, even though the big mystery is what in Grey’s past has made him such a damaged person. Also any book that has to fill a whole chapter with the complete text of a legal document is lacking in something.

EL James

If asked to describe Fifty Shades, it’s a poor cross between Pretty Woman and Nine And A Half Weeks. So the hordes of women who are burning up the lines to Amazon down-loading the electronic versions and clearing out shelves of it in book stores across the world will most probably make the movie a world wide hit when it’s released next year and Ms. James even more wealthy. My only interest now is to see how she will top this success and what she’ll write about next.

I Think Somerset Maughan said it well when he said. “there is hardly anyone whose sexual life, if it were broadcast, would not fill the world at large with surprise and horror”.

(First Published http://www.murphysview.blogspot.com  2012)

 

VLAUTIN ROCKS ON, DESPITE BEING PIPPED THE AT POST FOR IMPAC WITH A SURE FIRE WINNER

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lassie & timmySome of the best stories down through the years are those that have featured a kid and their pet or an animal that they’ve built a rapport with, whether it‘s a kangaroo, rough collie, kestrel, whale or a horse. But try to marry that with musicians who’ve taken up the pen in the literary sense, not to write their ramblings of the hedonistic days at the height of their careers, there’s a select few. Josh Ritter recently promoted his first novel, Bright’s Passage at Dublin Writers week. Other famous singers who’ve become authors include, Madonna, Nick Cave and Alice Cooper who, strangely enough, wrote a golfing self- help book.

Last week a journalistic colleague introduced me to another, Willy Vlautin. He’s actually the front man for the country rock band Richmond Fontaine. His third book is Lean on Pete which was shortlisted for the highly acclaimed Dublin IMPAC literary award 2012.

Lean on Pete tells the story of Charley Thompson, a fifteen year old whose lone parent father drags him across the American lean on petenorthwest from one dead beat job to another. After arriving in Portland, Charley comes across a local race course while out running. To feed himself he gets a job from Del Montgomery a struggling alcoholic race horse trainer and his, well past it horse, the titular ‘Lean on Pete’. Del isn’t up for any awards for employer or horse owner of the year and neither is the Charley’s dad in the parenting department for that matter. When his dad dies at the hands of a large Samoan whose wife he’d been fooling around with and Del tries to sell Pete, Charley takes his new best friend and they set off on road trip for pastures new and to try and find Charley’s only remaining relative, his aunt on his dad’s side, whose last known address was Boise, Idaho about four hundred and thirty miles away.

Vlautin’s gritty and realistic descriptions of Charley and Pete’s hand to mouth existence prior to and on the road along with their adventures, which has them at one stage enduring a trek across a desert, had me humming America’s – Horse with No Name. Coupled with the mixed bag of characters they encounter is evidence of why this book made it to the shortlist of IMPAC.

I’m a martyr to my emotions at the best of times and animal movies always set me off.  I just about managed to keep things in check while being gripped by this solid page turner. But there was a thin line between the strong-willed book reviewer and a gibbering crumpled heap in the corner.

Willy Vlautin

I haven’t read Vlautin’s other two books, The Motel life and Northline. But after this one, I’ll definitely be reading these and as we enter the summer holiday season and we all head away for our two weeks recharging the vitamin D levels, I’d definitely recommend this book for inclusion in your stable of holiday reads.

As for the musical side of Vlautin’s life, Richmond Fontaine where in Kilkenny for the Roots festival in May and will be back on these shores in November playing a gig at Roisin Dubh in Galway, for more info on their tour dates check the bands website www.richmondfontaine.com .

(First Published  www.murphysview.blogspot.com  2012)

NOTARO LEAVES US WITH PROOF SHE HAD THE LITERARY X FACTOR.

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a-moment-like-this-anita-notaroIt’s always tragic when you hear of someone struck down in their prime or on the cusp of success. There are examples of this across the musical, acting and literary fields. For instance , Elvis, Buddy Holly, Richie Valens and the actors  River Pheonix and Heath Ledger come to mind. In the literary world we have in the past couple of years had the sudden death of Stieg Larsson, days after submitting the three manuscripts for the Millenium trilogy; Terry Pratchett diagnosed with early onset Alzheimer’s and then most recently in Ireland the news that acclaimed author Anita Notaro has been diagnosed with a rare form of dementia.

Her sixth and what is now her final book is called A Moment Like This. It tells the story of Antonia Trent a shy twenty-something and a carer for her stroke victim mother. They live in the County Wicklow village of Glenvarra. Her only social outlet is her participation in the local church choir and this is where we discover she has a natural talent – the voice of an angel as her friends keep telling her. When her mother dies suddenly she is thrust into a brave new world of having to fend for herself with out her only real companion, or so she thinks. But then the day after the funeral a letter arrives from the national TV station telling her she’s made the auditions for “That’s Talent!”, Ireland’s answer to the ‘X Factor’. Unbeknownst to her, the leader of the choir sent in a CD of Antonia singing.

What follows is a journey through the hectic world of the talent shows, seen from the perspective of the shy and naive. Along the way we meet a mixed bag of characters from the decent people who can’t do enough for you to the be-grudgers, hangers-on and twisted weirdo’s who all inhabit this world.  Some of the characters are cut straight from real life, such as Maurice Prendergast the reality show judge and music promoter who is basically the very loveable Louis Walsh down to a tee. Also thrown in for good measure is a romantic element involving a dashing young doctor.

This book has “decent and heart-warming” stamped all over it. “Chick Lit” it’s not because , whilst that’s a rather derogatory term that I could never use for this book, also it’s not’ mushy’ and keeps the reader engaged and gets you behind Antonia.  A Moment Like Mary ByrneThis stands out there with the likes of P.S. I Love You as an original tale or maybe even a modern day The Commitments. The story is ripped straight from that of Susan Boyle and Mary Byrne’s exploits, except that Antonia is younger and more representative of the hundreds of young girls and boys who queue up in their thousands each year for a lottery style chance to make it big. Not forgetting the wannabees who return year after year in the hope of getting somewhere. Anita has those types represented too, in the characters of Amanda and Damien.

If it were to be made for TV or film, I could conceivably see the lead being made more mature, with maybe Mary Byrne playing the lead, but don’t you just know that if push comes to shove, they’ll give it to some little known Irish pop starlet.

One of the most heart wrenching parts of the book is the acknowledgement at the end which is written by Anita’s husband, Gerry. It brings home the fact that this is her last book and reads sort of like a living will. It would take a very strong person not be moved by this glowing tribute to her many friends and readers.

Anita Notaro

So if you like heart warming stories of shy unknown talent finally making it big and going from rags to riches, and you missed Mary’s most recent gigs with Phil Coulter and The Susan Boyle Story on in a theatre near you. Then this book is definitely worth a read and even better at more than half the price of those tickets.

Anita’s previous books are: Back after the Breakbehind The ScenesThe WWW ClubTake a Look at Me Now and No Ordinary Love.

(First published http://www.murphysview.blogspot.com  2012)

O’DONOVAN DELIVERS PACE BUT NEEDS A PRAYER TO REPEAT THE ORIGINALITY OF PRIEST

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Dublin DeadI’ve always steered clear of Irish crime fiction. I don’t know why really. Maybe it’s because I have the plots of a number of books inside me, that I don’t want to see already written about when I open up some Sunday paper hack’s latest attempt to fill the remaining hours of their days and weekends, when they’re not sleeping, eating, drinking or just catching up with the family.

I think it’s because when put up against the likes of Morse, Reacher, Bosch etc; they don’t have the same romanticism. I live in and visit the settings on a regular if not daily basis and find it hard to picture them in the same way as a Midwest American two horse town or the cobbled bicycle congested lanes of Oxford.

Back in February my partner gave me a copy of Gerard O’Donovan’s latest book “Dublin Dead” as a Valentines Day present. I think I gave her a voucher for M&S… Hmm, true romantics both of us… Anyway I let the book sit on my bedside locker as a reminder that it was on my TBR (To Be Read) list. Then as I ran out the door last week to my sisters wedding in Italy without anything to read, the love of my life suggested rather subtlety that I hadn’t read “… That book I gave you for Valentines”.  So into the bag it went, displacing Anita Notaro’s latest from a round trip to Lake Garda.

gerard O'Donovan

This is O’Donovan’s second book after “Priest”, both feature the Dublin DI Mike Mulcahy and Sunday paper journalist Siobhan Fallon. In “Dublin Dead” both are a year on from their encounter with a deranged priest who via back story we discover impaled Fallon on the papal cross in Dublin’s Phoenix Park. Now that’s what I call original and made me sit up and take note. Anyway in this outing Fallon is working through her Post Traumatic Stress on a dead end suicide story which then leads to a missing persons, while Mulcahy is following up the murder of a Dublin gangster in Spain and the link to the largest haul of drugs off the cork coast and the involvement of an internationally feared Colombian hit-man, while trying to prevent the closure of his Drug Liaison Unit by the end of the week. Soon both hero and heroine find themselves pursued and pursuers with a climactic finale in west cork.

O’Donovan’s own back story reads a little fantastically, he’s had a job in the Irish civil service, worked abroad as a barman, gherkin bottler and philosophy teacher…. Umm, if you can figure how you go from pushing paper in Dublin to pushing knobbly green veg into bottles, answers in the comments box below. I suppose teaching philosophy is similar to that of the gherkin bottler, you’re pushing knobbly shaped theories into empty vessels.

The book slams you straight into the action from the first page andThe Priest the pace is relentless to the end. The story line is topical, inspired by a recent botched drug run on a yacht off the south coast and with references to NAMA and the perilous state of the economy. Where it is disappointing is in the final confrontation, here it feels a bit limp and goes down a well worn path. For someone who had one of his lead characters crucified on a 116ft high monument over looking Dublin previously I expected a better ending and some more dramatic set pieces through out the book, but take my word for it this is well worth the read and probably even better if you start with “Priest” .

(First published  www.murphysview.blogspot.com  2012)

FIFTY YEARS ON LEE STILL HAS PEOPLE FLOCKING TO READ HER LITERARY CLASSIC

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to-kill-a-mockingbirdFor years people have been saying to me, if you have to read one book before you die, you’ve go to read Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird. Not that I’m ready to die now that I’ve read it, but having done so I can certainly tick it off my “Bucket List”.

Published in 1960, it’s the only book Lee wrote and with it she created one of the greatest literary works of our time and in it gave us one of the great literary characters, in the shape of Atticus Finch. A father figure coveted by every kid in Christendom or at least the child inside everyone whose ever read the book or seen the Oscar winning film, starring Gregory Peck (Atticus) and a very young Robert Duvall (Boo Radley). In my view, if they ever wanted to replace Father Christmas; they wouldn’t be far wrong replacing him with Atticus Finch. I have to admit to looking back while reading this book and seeing aspects of Atticus in my late father or maybe it’s more to do with aspects of Atticus in all our fathers.

The book follows the young lives of Jem Finch and his sister “Scout” or Jean Louise, to give her full name. As they grow up in the small town of Maycomb in America’s Deep South during the 1930’s when the issue of race is at its height. Their father Atticus is a widower and local lawyer who is tasked with defending a young black man accused of raping a local white girl. The town takes sides and the ugly spectacle of mob justice and small town back-biting comes knocking on the quiet suburban door of the Finch family, The court case and the ripples it causes in the small town are seen through the eyes of young Scout, a girl wise beyond her years.

Maycomb has its usual gathering of weird and wonderful characters from the mysterious Boo Radley, who lives a secluded to-kill-a-mockingbird-movie-posterlife in his parent’s house across the street from the Finches. To the various women in the neighbourhood who help open the children’s eyes to the harsh realities of life.  But time and again the most outstanding character in the book is the kid’s father Atticus, a man who gives his kids just enough leeway to enjoy themselves but also someone worldly–wise, principled and unafraid  to stand up  for what is right.

The book was selected by my book group and I must say it was a fantastic read, although it does take a while to get to the courtroom drama. The run up to it is a good scene setter and the descriptions of the town are excellently done but once the court room drama is over, the book takes on a sedentary pace till the very end, when Lee hits us with a curve ball out of left field. At ten to one the other morning I was just about throw the book down and not finish it, when I reached the last two chapters and’ bam!’ I was hit square on by the turn of events and my determination to finish the book was rejuvenated.

There was a bit of confusion caused by the book during the past month among the book groupers; one of them thought we were supposed to be reading ‘Catcher in the Rye ‘(Don’t ask me how). On another occasion, a friend my partner and I had met for a drink asked me what the book was about, I quipped it’s like an episode of ‘Matlock,’ in three hundred pages. To which my partner said, ‘no! You’re confusing it with the guy in the wheelchair.’ We both looked at her and said, ‘Err that’s Ironside’.

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So, take my advice if you haven’t read To Kill A Mockingbird yet, and your looking for a good read, you’ll not be disappointed by this book and like me and many others around the globe including one Victoria Beckham (she supposedly named her daughter Harper, after reading the book)  you too can take it off your great “To Do” list.

(First published http://www.murphysview.blogspot.com  2012)

TOWNSEND’S LATEST RAISES A SMILE, BUT FAILS TO GET OUT OF BED IN OTHER WAYS

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wman who wnt to bed cvrWe all like our beds and relish the chance of a good old lie-on, usually at the weekends but if it occurs on a weekday you sometimes feel like you’ve won the lottery. Well I do anyway, especially as I’m a night owl who can survive on six hours sleep. So the thought of going to bed for an extended period might make some of us wet ourselves with anticipation. This is the premise for Sue Townsend’s latest book, The Woman Who Went To Bed For A Year.

It’s thirty years since The Leicester born playwright and novelist’s first book The Secret Diary Of Adrian Mole Aged 13 ¾  hit the shelves, I can remember reading her Adrian Mole column in my mother’s  Woman’s Realm magazine before it got published. I empathized with him because we were both christened Adrian, were around the same age and had a passion for writing. Since then there have been a further seven Adrian Mole instalments and a TV adaptation as well as five other novels including The Queen and I and Number Ten.

The Woman Who Went To Bed For a Year, charts the year in the life of Eva Beaver a housewife and mother. She’s married to Dr. Brian Beaver an Astronomer and they have two highly intelligent twins Brian Jnr. and Brianne. The day they both go off to university she decides to take to her bed, to supposedly find herself after years of looking after the kids and Brian. Along the way she enlists the help of her dreadlocked handyman Alexander to help her drastically de-clutter her life, wardrobe and bedroom. While on her journey of self discovery she picks up a menagerie of followers as word of her plight spreads around the globe.

I was disappointed by the book It is a funny read for three quarters of way but at the end it felt flat and came across as having lost its way. This is easy to see as its four hundred and thirty pages long. There are too many characters in the book to keep track of and it appears as if the editor missed cutting out a few of them, especially a Chinese classmate of the twins who has no real purpose in the story and has a whole chapter on his parents receiving a letter from him. This might have brought the page count under four hundred.

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Most of Townsend’s previous books seem to feature dysfunctional families and relationships and the main dwellings always feel like a halfway house for society’s lame ducks and make you want to hum a Madness hit. The same applies here, early on in the book Eva discovers her husband has been having an eight year affair with a colleague, in the shed it the back garden. She then forms a relationship with Alexander the handy man, which stumbles through the book.

The main characters are well written and the basic idea of the story is interesting, but I think that because it deals with the subject of ScrtDiary of AMolemental health and how society views it. This subject and humour do not make the best bed fellows, unless dealt with by a sound comedic writer like Townsend, here she fails. As for the conclusion, we never really discover if Eva found herself and what happened after she got out of bed. The book just seems to come to a dead stop, leaving a load of loose ends.  So if you feel like getting out of bed for a book or staying in bed with one, this isn’t it.

(First published http://www.murphysview.blogspot.com  2012)