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.
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.
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.