Each one of the books below deserves a full review, but, as I was saying just yesterday, I cannot afford that luxury when I am so far behind with my reviews. The adjectives in the title describe pretty much every single one of the books in the selection below: they all have their poignant, funny, sad moments. And all except the Sedaris are unsettling and more than slightly disturbing.
A magnificent blend of genres and styles, sinister moments alternating with lighter ones. The author cranks up the tension almost unbearably without ever resorting to graphic nastiness. A rather endearing anthropologist suffering from Asperger’s (now that’s an unlikely notion, but produces clever and hilarious results), Hesketh Lock, is hired to investigate underlying patterns of a spate of suicidal saboteurs and children turning feral and criminal. The latter, in particular, is a most unsettling notion, especially since Hesketh has a rather lovely relationship with his stepson. This book poses many questions about the world of adults and children, ‘them’ and us mentality, wishing to remain uninvolved and also the future of our planet. So ambitious themes, but handled with great ingenuity and suspense.
Whenever I moaned about my struggles with the French language since moving to Geneva, friends recommended this book and I finally read it. It’s not all about the author’s experiences of France, its language and its people, but it certainly is very funny and relatable when it does touch on that topic. It feels at times almost like a stand-up routine: ranting with purpose and humour. Trying to remember the gender of French nouns, trying to survive language classes with a sadistic French teacher, life in a small village – I was chuckling with recognition throughout. It’s not just the French who have to endure Sedaris’ sharp tongue, his Greek father, Americans abroad, New York eccentrics and many more all come in for a share of his satire. Because we have just celebrated Easter, let me share with you this delightful passage. The classmates are trying to explain, in their broken French, what Easter is to a Moroccan friend:
The Poles led the charge to the best of their ability. ‘It is,’ said one, ‘a party for the little boy of God who call his self Jesus and… oh, shit.’ She faltered and her fellow countryman came to her aid.
‘He call his self Jesus and then he die one day on two… morsels of… lumber.’
The rest of the class jumped in, offering bits of information that would have given the pope an aneurysm.
‘He die one day and then he go above of my head to live with your father.’
‘He weared of himself the long hair and after he die, the first day he come back here for to say hello to the peoples.’
‘He nice, the Jesus.’
‘He make the good things, and on the Easter we be sad because somebody makes him dead today.’
New Orleans is just as much the star of the show in this novel as is Claire DeWitt, a private investigator using decidedly unconventional methods (and more than a little partial to some recreational smoking). However, it’s a post-Katrina city, with many residents still missing or flooded out of their homes. It’s a city of decay and death, of criminality and corruption, and Gran spares no one’s feelings. But there is also much empathy and sadness in her heroine. Claire is a hard-boiled detective with a mystical side and an almost unearthly devotion to her former teacher and an old book of detection written by a Frenchman. It’s a colourful, intriguing and very unusual crime novel, in which the mystery is almost secondary to the fresco of life. I’m looking forward to seeing and hearing Sara Gran in Lyon.
This is a book written by an expert in UK military police and SAS. And it shows, in more ways than one. On the plus side, it is chillingly plausible and conjures up an explosive atmosphere of distrust and fear. On the negative side, it is sometimes a bit too detailed and full of jargon in its description, at least for this reader without a passionate interest in weapons and combat techniques. Robert Finlay, the aging protagonist, is very sympathetic and the plot will keep you on your toes till the very end (without resorting to Hollywood film clichés), so it’s an excellent read for thriller fans. Plus, look at the gorgeous cover!