Category Archives: Books – 4 stars

David McRaney – You Are Not So Smart

Two very minor things bothered me about this book. First of all, the repeated use of the refrain “You are not so smart” in almost every chapter. The book is adapted from David McRaney’s blog. If you’re reading an article a week, then the repetition might just be a fun running joke. When I was reading many chapters in quick succession (they’re very short), it quickly became annoying.

The second thing was that many of the cultural references and analogies just felt…weird. It wasn’t until I read the acknowledgements at the end that I discovered that the book’s manuscript has been “adapted” for the UK edition. Here’s an example from chapter 39, “The Anchoring Effect”

Does a £500 Louis Vuitton purse function better than a £10 handbag from Tesco? … If Tesco offered a purse at £500, it would never leave the shelf.

I don’t have a copy to the US edition to compare it with, but I suspect that “Tesco” would have been WalMart, and that the pounds would have been dollars.

Every time I came across such an explicitly British reference in a book whose tone felt so American, my internal proofreader knew that something was wrong. I understand why the publisher would do such an English-to-English translation, but I found it jarring. Maybe it wouldn’t bother you. But if you’re planning to buy a copy, I’d recommend getting the US edition just in case.

Great book, otherwise. Lots of fascinating nuggets that prompted self-reflection.

John Sandford – Stolen Prey

“Somewhere along the line, it occurred to him that he hadn’t spoken to Virgil Flowers. He’d probably taken the day off, and knowing Flowers, he’d done it in a boat. The thing about Flowers was, in Lucas’s humble opinion, you could send him out for a loaf of bread and he’d find an illegal bread cartel smuggling in heroin-saturated wheat from Afghanistan. Either that, or he’s be fishing in a muskie tournament, on government time. You had to keep an eye on him.”

This is the first John Sandford book I’ve read in a couple of years. Much though I love Virgil Flowers as a character, his spin-off series didn’t quite catch fire for me, and I felt that the Prey series had gone off the boil. Stolen Prey, however, is Sandford back on good form. A nice, tight thriller, with some excellent character touches.

Michael Marshall – The Intruders

Although it is not immediately obvious, The Intruders is set in the same world as Marshall’s Straw Men series—there’s a tiny reference to the events at the end of Blood Of Angels, but it’s easy to miss. The Straw Men don’t play any part in this book; instead, there’s an entirely different shadowy ancient organization pulling strings and manipulating events. Michael Marshall has always had a knack for evoking the unseen and the unsettling. If you like your thrillers with a dose of the supernatural thrown in, this will be up your street.

One of the things I liked most about The Intruders was the way Marshall ends the book: rather than leave you breathless with an explosive climax and an abrupt finale, he takes the time to explore the aftermath, and tie up some loose ends while unravelling certain others. There is something very finely judged about it, and it left me with a lasting sense of depth to the world just at the point when I was ready to leave it behind.

Christopher Fowler – Ten Second Staircase

This is the fourth book in Christopher Fowler’s Bryant and May series, but the first one I have read. I picked it up in the book shop because it looked interesting, non-standard, and a little bit quirky. Arthur Bryant and John May are detectives in London’s Peculiar Crimes Unit (PCU), a division that was set up during the second World War to deal with sensitive cases that had the potential to capture the public’s imagination and damage morale, thus harming the war effort. Bryant and May have been part of the Unit since its beginning, and are still there in the present day, well past their retirement age, but too dedicated (or set in their ways) to step back from the job.

I had expected the book to be on the funny side of quirky, but it isn’t. Although it has many amusing moments, it’s a serious police mystery where the characters–and the crime–just happen to be somewhat off the wall. A figure dressed as an eighteenth-century highwayman is killing minor celebrities in impossible circumstances, and then vanishing into thin air. The case seems somehow connected to a series of killings the Unit had failed to solve many years ago, and which May is reluctant to revisit, because his own daughter eventually became a victim. Bryant, meanwhile, is keen to use every unorthodox investigative technique at his disposal to get to the bottom of both cases.

Overall it’s a carefully paced, thoughtful thriller, full of London details and well-drawn, engaging characters, with a satisfying kick at the end. I will definitely be picking up the rest of this series.

Michael Connelly – The Poet

I started reading this not realizing that it was written in 1997, and was put off by the clunky use of technology (laptops, digital cameras, modems??). Once I got that cleared up, though, it turned into a great little serial killer thriller.