Reviews and Such Books Reading Round Ups

November Reading Round Up*

*I have the star at the end of the title because I skipped an October Round Up and a couple of the books in this month’s round up were October selections. Most of my reading for November is in the area of crime fictions and mainly from two writers. I also have a couple of food related books that I will put off until later, so that this post isn’t incredibly long.

Previous Month

March, April, May, June, July, August, September

Jo Nesbo November cover
The Bat is the first book in Jo Nesbo’s Harry Hole series.

The BatJo Nesbo

The Bat is the first in a series of, novels featuring Norwegian detective Harry Hole(pronounced Hooli. although in the book he settles for Holy). I decided to look into Nesbo’s books after Ian Rankin spoke highly of him during Rankin’s visit to Winnipeg.
The first novel sees Hole going to Australia to liaise with the Sydney police after a young Norwegian is found murdered in the city. He is meant strictly to be an observer, and is assigned Aboriginal colleague, Andrew Kensington. Of course, it is not long before Hole finds himself involved in the middle of the case and what appears to be the act of a serial killer.
Hole is a fish out of water in Sydney, but Kensington serves as a great cultural interpreter. The reader is given insight into Australian history of the relationship between the settler community and the Aboriginals. Many of the issues dealt with would be familiar to Canadian readers as they parallel relationships between the settler community and Indigenous people in this country.
Beyond that the story is gripping in the search for the killer. There are many twists and turns. Hole’s attempts to investigate are complicated by interference from the Sydney police. They are further complicated by Hole’s alcoholism, and entanglement with a young Swedish woman named Birgitta.
The suspense builds throughout and the ending is quite memorable. Unfortunately, when I picked up the book from the library, I read the list of books in the wrong order, so I didn’t get around to the second book, but I will be soon.

More Inspector Gamache for November – Louise Penny

When I last reviewed the Inspector Gamache series by Louise Penny, I said that I found the Inspector’s back story a little much. The fourth book in the series A Rule Against Murder, adds another layer to that back story, one involving Gamache’s father, and by the end of it I was almost ready to give the series a pass.
The story itself is quite good. Gamache and his wife, Reine-Marie are on their honeymoon at a fancy chateau, sharing the space with a family of rich eccentrics. The rich eccentrics turn out to be the family of Peter and Clara Morrow, residents of Three Pines and, Clara in particular, good friends of Inspector Gamache.
The family gathering involves the unveiling of a statue dedicated to the memory of Peter’s father. As the mystery unwinds we discover just how dysfunctional Peter’s family is, and discover the reason why he and Clara have abandoned them for life in Three Pines.
Penny’s writing of place and character is as strong as ever. However, I didn’t thing the story line involving Gamache’s father and his behaviour at the time of the Second World War were a necessary edition. I increasingly find Gamache’s character veering towards the unbelievable. If he becomes any more self-aware, I half suspect he will disappear into some sort of existential black hole.
If A Rule Against Murder almost turned me off the Inspector Gamache series, The Brutal Telling won me back over. The story begins in a cabin in the woods, with an old man and a young man sitting there, one telling the other a fantastical, mythical, tale. Soon enough the old man is found dead, and the suspicions turn to Three Pines.
As the story unfolds we find that things are not as they seem with the denizens of Three Pines. Something is wrong in the circle of friends that we have been introduced to. Among other things a new family has moved into the old Hadley residence, which has played such a significant role in Gamache’s relationship to Three Pines.
The story moves along at a brisk pace, and along the way the reader is introduced to questionable economic activities on the part of one Three Pines resident. We meet characters who profited from the arrival of Eastern European refugees after the fall of communism, and who have dealt in deceit.
Among the articles that show up as clues to the murderer are a series of intricate carvings created out of the epic story that weaves it’s way through the mystery. The final reveal of the murderer leaves the reader wondering what will happen to the community of Three Pines and the friends that have grown together over the first few murders.
Penny’s writing in this story reaches another level, and did leave me wondering whether or not the series will continue to remain at something close to this level or will drop off in subsequent books.
I also read The Hangman. which is a novella featuring a story of revenge. Of the Three Pines characters, only Myrna and Gabri appear in this story. It is a tightly plotted, and well executed(no pun intended) story.

A Wilde November

The one book in this series that I didn’t photograph, was the first one: Oscar Wilde and a Death of No Importance.
I am a huge fan of British Panel shows. One of the great advantages of YouTube is that you can find whole episodes online, often only a few hours after they are posted. My two favourites, are Have I Got News For You, and QIAmong the people I’ve been introduced to through these shows is Gyles Brandreth, journalist, biographer, former Conservative MP, and novelist. I enjoy his contributions on panel shows, but he can occasionally take the wind out of the room, as evidenced in his latest QI appearance.
However, as I was wandering through the Winnipeg Public Library mystery section, I happened upon a couple of his Oscar Wilde mystery novels. Brandreth is a very good story-teller, so I couldn’t resist picking up a couple to try. In a word, they are fantastic.
I’ve made my way through four of the novels. I’m not going to review them work by work, because unlike most detective novels, they are not sequential in their chronology. In each of the novels the main characters are real people from Oscar Wilde’s life and lifetime. The novels are narrated by Robert Sherrard a friend and biographer of Wilde. The other main character in the series is Arthur Conan Doyle, the creator of Sherlock Holmes. As an aside I find Wilde and Doyle more compelling than Houdini and Doyle.
Along the way we meet other characters who had real life interactions with Oscar Wilde. From Edward Prince of Wales, and his son Eddy, to Bram Stoker the creator of Dracula, to Lord Alfred Douglas, whose relationship with Wilde helped bring about Wilde’s downfall. We also meet Douglas’s father the Marquess of Queensbury, codifier of boxing rules, and Charles Brookfield, two individuals who worked to make sure that Wilde would be convicted when charged with sodomy.
Brandreth’s research is meticulous, which make the conceit of Wilde as a detective all the more believable. In the series Wilde is portrayed as a real life Sherlock Holmes, which given his wide breadth of knowledge and circle of acquaintance isn’t all that much of a stretch.
Not surprisingly, most of the murders have a sexual element to them, either homosexual or heterosexual. Sexuality was of great interest to the Victorians, so it is in keeping with the era that the novels would display much the same interest. It is also in keeping with Wilde’s own real life biography. The Victorian era also had a real fascination with the macabre and the way the murders are committed also fit well into that era.
An interesting although not important point, is that although the murders are set in the time of Jack the Ripper, Brandreth does a good job of mentioning this, without making it a major point in any of the novels.
Brandreth has created Wilde as a fully developed, though flawed human being. Wilde’s flaws are not glossed over, and it is clear that in the end, he was as much the author of his own downfalls as anything. I particularly like that Brandreth’s Wilde seems true to life, massively charismatic, but not always likable. Brandreth also gives strong representation of Wilde as a man drawn to the Christian faith, and particularly to Catholic teaching. This aspect of Wilde’s life is often left out of contemporary accounts or indeed of contemporary productions of such tales as The Selfish Giant. 
Brandreth uses Wilde’s wit, but also includes his own bon mots in such a fashion as to make the unnoticeable unless you have some sort of encyclopedic knowledge of Wilde’s witticisms. Throughout the books, Wilde is shown to always be generous and to be a loving, if somewhat prodigal husband to his wife, Constance.
The mysteries themselves seem at time a little too complex, but on the whole the stories are compelling and pull the reader along at a breakneck pace. These are books that are hard to put down, and I will definitely be finishing off the series once I can get my hands on the remaining volumes.

By Donald McKenzie

Anglican priest, and food blogger. This blog is focused on Food. It will feature reviews of places to eat books, and the odd recipe. I also write about what it means to gather together around food.