Not all of the books I read warrant a full review, so here are some short ‘also ran’ mentions. Good comfort reading for a rather stressful month.
Erich Kästner: Emil and the Three Twins, transl. Cyrus Brooks
To be honest, I cannot remember if I read this in my childhood or if I saw a film or TV series, but I do clearly remember certain aspects of it, especially the little island with a palm tree in the North Sea. Sadly, the rest was not quite as fun or good as I thought I remembered: a barely there suspense story and criminal deed, a desperate attempt to bring back the charm and quirky characters of the original Emil stories and a bit too much preachiness (for instance, regarding the relationship between Emil and his mother). If you loved Emil and the Detectives, then I’d recommend The Flying Classroom or Double Lottchen (the original book behind the film The Parent Trap) instead.
Anthony Horowitz: The Word is Murder
What one might call an ‘amuse bouche’ if we were dining at a French restaurant – something to tickle your palate and while away the time while you wait for the main course. Not quite as experimental and ground-breaking as Magpie Murders, but a bit tongue-in-cheek about the author himself, his profession and his bumbling abilities as an amateur detective.
Penelope Lively: Treasures of Time
A TV crew descends on the house of the distinguished (now deceased) archaeologist Hugh Paxton and the Neolitich barrow which made him famous. His widow Laura is delighted, his daughter Kate is dismayed and Kate’s boyfriend Tom is bemused, baffled and rather too pleased with himself. Lively is, as always, such a skilled and detached observer of human nature, although the book has aged a little – it had a very 1970s feel to it.
John Boyne: A Ladder to the Sky
Another book that was great fun and easy to read: psychopaths and narcissists always make for good subject matter, all the more so when it’s set in the literary world. Boyne is clearly playing around with that far too frequently uttered question at literary events: ‘Where do you get your ideas from?’ The handsome, self-centred Maurice Swift, who wants to become a prize-winning, famous writer, has got a problem: he has no ideas of his own. So he steals other people’s ideas and stories, breaking hearts, destroying reputations and lives along the way. Maurice is shallow but not too one-dimensional (especially when seen by other people) – however, he is no Ripley. Never once was I tempted to wish him to succeed.