PINNOCK’S WINNING ALGORYTHM DOESN’T MINSK ABOUT IN HIS HILARIOUS FOURTH INSTALMENT

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What do you know about Belarus? I’m guessing like me, just enough to fill a post-it. If we wrote the facts out in large print. You probably had an idea that it was somewhere in eastern Europe (its wedged in between Ukraine, Russia, Lithuania and Poland). According to Wiki, it’s the thirteenth largest country in Europe. Potatoes form a large part of its national dishes, and its most famous export is the tennis player and former world number one Victoria Azarenka, which is a damn site better than its neighbour Ukraine, whose most famous export is radiation from Chernobyl.

The Belarus capital is Minsk, and when I looked to see what one would do if you fancied a city break there when we eventually can travel internationally again, there wasn’t much. Apart from maybe walking around the city with a portable Geiger counter watching it click incessantly – seeing as the city is less than two hundred miles from the site of the afore mentioned nuclear plant. Which is why this month’s second book review is aptly titled. The book is “Bad Day in Minsk” by Jonathan Pinnock and published by Farrago Books (www.farrago.com)  on the 8th April.

Tom Winscombe is a junior PR executive, who, a couple of weeks ago shared a train carriage with the auto-biographer of a couple of deceased mathematicians, the Vavasor twins, who died in mysterious circumstances a number of years ago. Following the other chap’s untimely death later that night, Tom is left with a locked case containing papers belonging to the twins. Since then, he and his girlfriend Dorothy have found themselves thrust unwittingly into the murky world of international terrorism. While breaking into the offices of a dodgy “Think Tank” in London one night, Tom is kidnapped by a covert government agency run by a shadowy female figure called Matheson (they’ve had run-ins in the previous books), who sends malicious what’s-app messages to Dorothy claiming Tom’s been unfaithful and then forces our hero to impersonate a British mathematician, who is selling his skills to members of the Belarus Mafia. Matheson wants to find out who the buyer is. From the moment he lands in Minsk, Tom is kidnapped by another mafia family, his passport taken and is whisked off to the Ukrainian border. Can he get help from anyone back home? No!! Matheson has threatened deniability and Dorothy isn’t talking to him. Now he finds himself caught in the crossfire as the two main mafia groups battle for power, in one of the city’s luxury hotels, where he’s stranded on the top floor. Will he get the information for Matheson, get out of Belarus with his life and can he patch things up with Dorothy?

It recently came up at our monthly book group, that the members are struggling to get in right frame of mind to read as a result of the negative influence of the pandemic. It had only been discussed by myself and Georgina (my wife and fellow Librarian), that the recent book choices in the group were uninspiring and hard going.

Ronnie Corbett in Sorry!(BBC)

But I at least had this book to review and from outset got a great laugh from reading about the trials and tribulations of Tom Winscombe. It’s been a while since a book has made me laugh out loud, but this did from the outset and right the way through. Some of the situations he finds himself in are ludicrous, but there is clear proof that when Pinnock lets his imagination off the leash, he gives it full reign, and this delivers the laugh out loud and spirit lifting experience to the reader.

The story moves along at a cracking pace. I could have read this two-hundred-and-ninety-page bundle of joy in one sitting. It reads like the plot of great British comedy from the past – helped in no small part by Tom’s self-deprecation. If you are old enough to remember Ronnie Corbett in his TV series “Sorry!!”, his Character Timothy, is who I envisaged Tom Winscombe being like. Corbett’s character was a librarian in a suburban English town, who got into all types of bother locally and had various mishaps in his love life. While having to deal with an array of weird and wonderful characters, including his parents. Tom also has to deal with a menagerie of weird and wonderful characters.

Jonathan Pinnock

There is a slight downside to my experience of this book and that has nothing to do with Pinnock or his story telling abilities. It is down to this book being part of a series, so I was trying most of the way through to gather what I’d missed in the previous three, although fair play to Jonathan, he does his best to bring the reader up to speed, without detracting from the narrative too much, but it is advised to have read the previous instalments first.

This is English author Jonathan Pinnocks (www.jonathanpinnock.com) fourth book in the Mathematical Mystery Series featuring lowly PR executive Tom Winscombe. The other are The Truth About Archie and Pye (2018), A Question of Trust (2019), and The Riddle of the Fractal Monks (2020). He’s previously written seven other books they include, the novel Mrs Darcy Versus the Aliens (2011), The short story collection – Dot Dash (2012), a bio-historical memoir Take It Cool (2014) and a poetry collection Love and Loss and Other Important Stuff (2017). He grew up in Bedford and studied Mathematics at Cambridge, before working as a software developer. Currently he lives with his family in Somerset.

So, if like me you need a little light-hearted, if also totally madcap, reading to escape the doom and gloom of pandemic restrictions. Download or Click and Collect the four books in this series from your local book shop and start from the beginning, then see if a Bad Day in Minsk can make yours a good one.

Reviewed by  Adrian Murphy

This review is part of a Random Things Blog Tour, to see what the other reviewers thought visit their blogs listed below. Then, if you get a copy of the book, comeback and tell us what you thought. We’d really appreciate the feedback.

FREEMAN SWOOPS IN TO RELIEVE A BLEAK MIDWINTER

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T’was the week before Christmas and all through the house, not a creature was stirring not even a mouse….” 

That’s not entirely true for us this week, as our youngest cat (Edison) has very kindly left two rather angry and bewildered mice on our back step over a forty eight hour period. The same can also be said of the next verse of Clement Clarke Moore’s famous yuletide poem.

The children were settled all snug in there beds…” well not in this months second  book review which is Children Of The Valley  by Castle Freeman and published by Farrago Books (www.farragobooks.com) December 10th.

Lucian Wing is Sheriff in Cardiff a sleepy little town in the backwoods of Vermont. They have crime but its usually harmless mischief. That is until a big New York lawyer, Carl Armentrout, arrives into his office asking for help tracking down his client’s step-daughter. His client is Rex Lord, a big wig in the city. Lucian has never heard of him. He agrees to keep an eye out for the step-daughter, Pamela DeMorgan, who has gone AWOL from a fancy school up in Boston. Then Lucian gets a call from a local character, by the name of Ms Truax, a retired teacher, who says she had trespassers camping in her woods. Going up into the woods, he finds a tent and a makeshift camp, with girls clothing in it. He assumes its his missing girl. Then, a couple of days later, the camp is found shot up and he when he finally crosses paths with Pamela, she’s actually with a local boy, whose a classmate at the same school. She says she’s not running a way from school, but her step-fathers attentions. Soon it transpires that the stepfather isn’t the problem, it’s Armentrout and his goons. Thus, follows a game of cat and mouse, with Lucian moving the kids from one makeshift safe house to another. Can Sheriff Wing restore law and order, while also trying to deal with day-to-day life in the town, including an oversized wild boar that’s running amok around the county, and his high spirited wife and the kid’s weird and colourful parents?

Unlike quite a few books I read, Castle Freeman’s it appears, isn’t one for wasting paper. His books, well this one at 170 pages in length, and I guess his previous ones in this series, are short and to the point. Almost Novella-esque, but in doing so he delivers a serious but highly entertaining and witty story of the life and loves a of a sheriff in modern day America.

Castle Freeman (Thesnipenews)

If this book is like anything, it is a James Herriot novel. That’s if he wasn’t a vet in Yorkshire but a local lawman in Vermont. With his very hokey, but wonderfully colourful cast of support characters who inhabit Cardiff, VT, Lucian Wing isn’t a know-it-all type of character. He’s a real take him as you find him type of guy. A quick witted and smooth operator, who could charm the birds out of the trees, if needed.

I loved this book from the start and felt very much at home in Cardiff, Vermont. Thanks to Freemans no nonsense but well-structured style of storytelling. Even though this isn’t Freeman’s first outing with Sherriff Lucian Wing, the well-placed back stories, mean you don’t have to have read the previous books to know what going on. At times it’s like being driven through the county by the central character and every now and then he’d point to a place and say That’s Old man Holler’s place, he did that and or this happened back then, etc, etc

This is American author Castle Freeman’s ( http://www.castlefreemanjr.com)  fifth book, his other in the Lucian Wing series are All That I have (2009), Old Number Five (2020) and two others not in the series are Go With Me (2008) and The Devil In The Valley (2015). He was born in Texas and is an award-winning writer of personal essays, reporting, op-ed material, history and natural history, while also being a regular contributor to several periodicals, including “Old Moore’s Almanac”. He lives with his wife in South-western Vermont.

After reading this book I could move to Vermont and live happily in Cardiff! When the pandemic subsides, of course! So, as we enter the week of madness that normally comes with the run up to the 25th December, this maybe an ideal escape with a mice glass of wine or Egg Nog. Then I suggest you keep it local as per Covid 19 restrictions and click and collect from your local book shop, or download a copy. 

Oh, and have a Happy Christmas from both of us here at The Library Door.

Reviewed by Adrian Murphy

This book review is part of a Random Things blog tour, to see what the other reviewers thought visit their sites listed below. Then if you get a copy and read it, comeback and tell us what you thought. We’d really appreciate the feedback.