Category Archives: Books – 2.5 stars

Rob Grant – Incompetence

Incompetence takes place in a near-future Europe, where anti-discrimination laws have been taken to extremes: no one can be denied employment (or discriminated against) on any basis – even simple incompetence. The results include blind airline pilots and a police chief with serious anger management problems (and a loaded gun). The plot is your basic espionage/thriller: the main character, a secret agent, travels through Europe trying to find out who killed his colleague, and incidentally getting framed for various crimes, beaten up, and having his shoes stolen along the way.

The book is of mixed quality. Some of the vignettes and short scenes are excellent (Such as when the main character talks his way onto a plane without a ticket by pretending to have short-term memory problems . He simply replays the same conversation with the stewardess until she gives up and lets him on board.) But in the end, the fast pace becomes frenetic, and all the amusing touches can’t disguise the book’s lack of such essential ingredients such as characterisation, or any complexity of plot.

If you like Grant’s other magnum opus (the TV series Red Dwarf), then you will probably like this book. If not, well, maybe give this one a miss.

Henning Mankell – Faceless Killers

This is the first in Mankell’s Kurt Wallander series. It’s a competent thriller, but it clearly shows that he hadn’t yet hit his stride. Wallander comes across as a stereotypical depressed policeman: miserable because his wife has left him, out of touch with his daughter, fighting with his father, and getting drunk far too often. He is also the stereotypical highly committed policeman: working until all hours, doggedly following down leads that others had given up on, and racking up large numbers of cuts and bruises in the course of the investigation. In the end he fights against his own personal decline as much as he fights against the decay he sees creeping over Swedish society. You’re left with the impression of a capable character: one who can overcome the obstacles thrown at him. But is he really likeable? Would I have read more Wallander books if this was the first one I had picked up? Maybe not.

George P. Pelecanos – Hell To Pay

Derek Strange and Terry Quinn deal with racism, poverty, prostitution, drugs and murder, as well as their own personal relationship and anger management issues. It’s a gritty, downbeat novel that makes many important points about many important issues. It’s also rather slow and dull. The pace doesn’t pick up until the last 50 pages or so, but by then it’s too late to salvage a decent crime story from the overbearing worthiness of the book’s central themes.